Hagel Nomination Likely To Be Tough Fight For Obama

From NBC News' First Read:

Yesterday’s official rollout of Chuck Hagel for defense secretary went about as well as it could have for the Obama White House. Statements of praise for Hagel by folks like Colin Powell and Robert Gates? Check. A statement of past praise from John McCain (who said in 2006 Hagel would make a “great secretary of state”), even though McCain is now taking a skeptical look at the nominee? Check. And getting Chuck Schumer, perhaps the Democratic senator with the most reservations about Hagel, to issue a non-committal statement? Check. So the White House feels pretty good about where things stand, although this won’t be an easy fight. Yet what Team Obama can’t afford is any new negative information, any other shoe to drop. Bottom line: There is no margin for error from this point onward. Hagel’s support, at best, in the Senate is an inch deep and that “inch” would get him the votes he needs. But it wouldn’t take much for the bottom to, well, fall out. This is going to be a precarious few weeks. Very few senators are in D.C. right now, so the interest groups will be front and center. Hagel needs his confirmation hearing sooner, rather than later, but right now, it’s unclear when those hearings will be scheduled. Hagel also needs FACE time with senators, and he won’t have that opportunity for a good week or so. 

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Obama Seen As 'Fiscal Cliff' Winner

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Poll: 8% Say They Are Tea Party Members

Has the Tea Party reached the end of the line? From Rasmussen Reports:

Views of the Tea Party movement are at their lowest point ever, with voters for the first time evenly divided when asked to match the views of the average Tea Party member against those of the average member of Congress.  Only eight percent (8%) now say they are members of the Tea Party, down from a high of 24% in April 2010 just after passage of the national health care law

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that only 30% of Likely U.S. Voters now have a favorable opinion of the Tea Party. Half (49%) of voters have an unfavorable view of the movement. Twenty-one percent (21%) are undecided. 

The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on January 3-4, 2013 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence.

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Obama Hikes Pay Of Select Officials

As millions of Americans face smaller paychecks if the government fails to act to avoid the fiscal cliff, President Obama has raised the ire of some conservative critics by quietly handing over pay hikes — estimated to cost more than $1 billion a year — to Congress, high-ranking federal officials, judges and Vice President Joe Biden.

“It’s a bad idea because Americans everywhere are hurting due to the fragile economy and the fiscal cliff,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “If the government is asking people to take a hit, surely senior government officials should take the hit, too.”

Neither O’Connell nor University of New Hampshire political science professor Andy Smith think Obama will suffer for approving the pay boost.

While the president’s executive order calls for a relatively small percentage pay increase, 0.5 percent, congressional Republicans say a preliminary estimate by the Congressional Budget Office puts the overall cost at about $11 billion over 10 years. The pay increase goes into effect in March.

Federal workers not on the list also may feel left out, O’Connell said. “There is a pay freeze on lower-end federal workers and I’m sure they’re not going to be too thrilled,” he said.

Read more from Gary J. Remal at the Boston Herald

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Rep. Nancy Pelosi Back In Driver's Seat

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appears to command more votes in the "fiscal cliff" negotiations than the speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner of Ohio.

That's because the San Francisco Democrat leads a unified caucus whose votes will be needed to pass any deal to avert more than $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts come Jan. 1.

Boehner's Republicans, by contrast, are rebellious and fractured, having abandoned their leader.

That Pelosi should control the majority from the minority is a huge embarrassment to Republicans and a powerful lever for Obama.

"She has her caucus more in lockstep with the White House than Boehner does with himself," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. "In the House, there's no way around it. Unless fiscal conservatives say, 'All right, I see the greater strategy here,' there is no way to do this without votes from Pelosi's caucus."

"A lot of fiscal conservatives feel that they don't want to compromise principle, and for them, raising tax rates violates their principle," O'Connell said. "Personally, I think that game theory may be a lost art among fiscal conservatives. They don't recognize that Boehner was trying to move the ball down the field by lobbing Plan B to the Senate so he could minimize what Obama's political victory would be.

Read more from Carolyn Lochhead at the San Francisco Chronicle

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Obama Looks To Retain Upper Hand As Fiscal Talks Resume In Washington

President Obama will strive to retain the political upper hand in negotiations over deficit reduction when he returns to Washington Thursday morning.

Obama had been in Hawaii with his family since Saturday but is scheduled to arrive back at the White House just before noon as the nation approaches the year-end fiscal cliff.

Results like that put a spring in Democrats’ collective step. But Republican strategists argue that public opinion can be volatile. They also suggest that Obama has his own imperatives for coming to a deal.

“Absolutely, he has the upper hand,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell admitted. “But the White House wants to get its agenda through before 2014. Now there is some concern that, if they go over the cliff, that complicates everything else: gun control, immigration, regulations. They want to make sure this deal goes through.”

Read more from Niall Stanage at The Hill

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Kennedy Run Could Throw Dem Rivals Into Lion’s Den

Edward M. Kennedy Jr.’s emergence in the Bay State’s latest looming special U.S. Senate election would be a tectonic game changer, forcing leading local Democrats to think twice about jumping in and bringing a tidal wave of national money, influence and headlines to both sides of the race — again.

With the late senator’s son mulling a run, according to his brother Patrick J. Kennedy, Democrats are already gaming their options for the expected race to replace U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry if he is confirmed as secretary of state. Nationally, it’s a chance for the party to bring the late Liberal Lion’s name back to the Senate. For Republicans, that name is a red flag that could fire up the right opponent’s campaign.

Kennedy would have access to “the brightest political minds and strategists” and an avalanche of campaign cash, Ferson said. But a top Republican strategist notes that cuts two ways.

“National Democrats are longing to bring Camelot back,” said GOP operative Ford O’Connell. “Republicans have a chance to narrow Democrats’ lead in the Senate.”

While U.S. Sen. Scott Brown — about to surrender his seat to U.S. Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren — is seen as an automatic GOP nominee if he wants it, Democrats could jeopardize their own chances with a prolonged primary fight. Other top Democrats seen as possible candidates include Obama strategist David Simas, and U.S. Reps. Edward J. Markey, Stephen Lynch and Michael E. Capuano.

“Time is not on their side,” O’Connell said. “I think you may see some internal pressure because they realize a primary bloodbath benefits Scott Brown, especially considering Ted Kennedy Jr. is inexperienced.”

Read more from Chris Cassidy at the Boston Herald

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NRA's Sandy Hook Press Conference: What Can It Say?

After nearly a week of laying low since the Dec. 14 elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., the National Rifle Association holds a press conference Friday – a rare event for the largest and wealthiest of American gun-rights organizations.

No one expects the NRA to give ground on any gun-control measures under discussion, such as a new federal ban on certain assault weapons or on high-capacity ammunition magazines. But in billing the 10:45 a.m. Eastern time news conference as “major” and saying that the organization is “prepared to offer meaningful contributions” to help prevent another Newtown, the NRA has raised the stakes for its role in the public debate. 

“The NRA is between a rock and a hard place because kids were involved,” says Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist. “The one thing the NRA must do is at least look like it’s a willing partner in this conversation.”

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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Hillary Clinton Must Answer For Benghazi

It's almost as if many in the mainstream press wish we could switch temporarily to a monarchy. That way we could coronate Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and assure her role as our next leader and be done with it.

But before we measure the drapes and size the crown, there is the not-insignificant matter of Benghazi to consider. The Secretary of State has acknowledged she is responsible for the safety of the diplomats in her employ and has "accept[ed]"—whatever that means—the findings of an independent panel that looked into the attacks that left four Americans dead, including high-ranking diplomat Christopher Stephens.

If Hillary wants to be president—and all indications are she does—it's fair to wonder why she can't find time in her schedule to appear before Congress and set this to rest. Would it expose fissures between her and the president? Were there larger failures that would hurt her 2016 prospects? Did Rice know more than the administration claims when she went on the Sunday talks?

Whatever … four Americans lay dead because of these failures, and most of the media seems entirely comfortable with this being swept under the rug. Unless Republicans want to see Gingrich finally get a prediction right, they need to keep the heat on.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at U.S. News & World Report

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Obama Taps Biden To Go After Guns

From USA Today:

President Obama appointed Vice President Biden on Wednesday to lead an effort to develop new policies to combat gun violence.

"We have a deep obligation -- all of us -- to try" and end gun violence, Obama said at the White House. "This time, the words need to lead to action."

Obama added: "It won't be easy, but that can't be an excuse not to try."

The president said this is not your "typical Washington commission." Obama said Biden will complete his work in a month, and that the horror of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting should remain vivid in so short a time.

Obama said he picked Biden because of his experience in the Senate, including a major role in the 1994 crime bill that included an assault weapons ban that lapsed in 2004.

The president said he believes in the Second Amendment, and he is betting that hunters and gun enthusiasts will support common sense restrictions. "An unbalanced man should not be able to get a military-style assault weapon," he said.

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