4:45: President Obama hosts cast and crew members of the television show 1600 Penn for a screening at the White House
Must-read from Michael Grunwald:
I pledged awhile back, after a certain media mogul trashed President Obama for failing to solve global warming, that I would not spend all my time ridiculing the Obama-bashing disillusionment addicts of the left. (Pretty good week for that mogul, huh?) I mostly kept my word for 18 months, until their whiny response to the fiscal cliff deal inspired me to launch a Twitter tirade about Ivory Soap liberals, Choose Your Own Adventure liberals, Heighten The Contradictions liberals, and progressive utopianism in general. Now that I’m back from vacation, I thought I’d try to explain in more than 140 characters what I meant….
Norman Ornstein (The New Republic): One of the most stunning outcomes of the 2012 elections was the Democrats’ two-seat gain in the Senate. With 23 seats at risk to only ten for Republicans, Democrats were hoping simply to hold their own or keep their losses to a minimum. A gain of a single seat was almost wildly optimistic; picking up two seemingly unrealistic.
But just as important as the overall gain was the nature of the new class of Democrats sworn in to the Senate last week. With the addition of Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, Tim Kaine and Chris Murphy, and the possibility of Barney Frank joining them for a few key months and being followed by Ed Markey, the Senate has seen an infusion of liberal talent. Thanks to an impressive class of 2006…. and the class of 2008, the Senate has a core of assertive, brainy liberals greater than we have seen in decades…..
Politico: The Presidential Inauguration Committee on Wednesday named the Inaugural poet, who will appear at President Barack Obama’s swearing-in ceremony on Inauguration Day. Richard Blanco will be the country’s youngest Inaugural poet and also the first Hispanic and first member of the LGBT community to serve in the position, according to a statement from the committee:
“I’m honored that Richard Blanco will join me and Vice President Biden at our second Inaugural,” Obama said in the statement. “His contributions to the fields of poetry and the arts have already paved a path forward for future generations of writers. Richard’s writing will be wonderfully fitting for an Inaugural that will celebrate the strength of the American people and our nation’s great diversity.”
Charles Pierce: …… If you remember all the way back to 2008, you will recall that the president took some altogether justified heat for picking noted multimillionaire faith-based grifter Rick Warren to give the invocation. Now, I don’t think there even should be an invocation to any Deity as part of the ceremony by which we install the leader of one-third of our secular government … but if we are going to Pause For Prayer, we should do a lot better than Warren …. And, thanks be to Whoever, the president has managed to do so.
…. In too many other places, people choose to remember the [Civil Rights] Movement as a triumph for the American nation and not a victory for basic human rights that had to be wrenched out of the nation itself. And the struggle is ongoing. There is a substantial portion of the American people who will not accept the legitimacy of a black president 50 years after the March On Washington. It took Myrlie Evers-Williams 31 years to get simple justice for her husband’s murder. It will be nice to hear a prayer from someone with so very few illusions.
CNN: The Obama administration is considering the possibility of removing all U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission officially finishes at the end of 2014, White House officials said Tuesday.
The comments by Ben Rhodes, the White House’s deputy national security adviser, come as the Pentagon and White House mull over the number of troops that could be left in Afghanistan after 2014 to fight insurgents and train Afghan security forces.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and President Obama are scheduled to meet on Friday in Washington.
Washington Post: Groups within the Obama administration are pushing to keep no more than a few thousand troops in Afghanistan after 2014, U.S. officials said …. As the debate over the size and scope of the post-2014 coalition mission nears its end, some in the administration are pressing for a force that could be as small as 2,500, arguing that a light touch would be the most constructive way to cap the costly, unpopular war.
ABC: Richard Engel, the chief foreign correspondent at NBC News, and his production team have been released amid gunfire at a Syria checkpoint after they were taken prisoner in the civil war-torn country.
“After being kidnapped and held for five days inside Syria by an unknown group, NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel and his production crew members have been freed unharmed. We are pleased to report they are safely out of the country,” NBC said in a statement.
Engel, 39, and his crew vanished Thursday after crossing into northwest Syria from Turkey, the network said, adding that there had been no contact between the Engel and NBC since last week
10:15: President Obama receives the presidential daily briefing
12:30: Jay Carney briefs the press
4:35: President Obama meets with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
Steve Benen: As fiscal talks in Washington continue, it’s generally wise not to react too strongly, one way or the other, to various offers and counteroffers …. Two weeks ago, for example, a lot of folks seemed convinced that President Obama was poised to accept an increase in the Medicare eligibility age, and now that idea is apparently “a line White House is unwilling to cross.”
… [but] there is ample evidence that Obama and Boehner are inching closer to a deal….. it’s worth paying close attention to its most glaring flaws … From a progressive perspective, “chaining” the CPI is obviously the most problematic element. For many Democrats in Washington, there seems to be a sense that some kind of entitlement cut will invariably be part of any bipartisan deal, and that the CPI measure is arguably the least offensive of bad options, but that’s not much of a defense.
…. For what it’s worth, the NYT noted that Obama is “insisting on some protections for what he has called the ‘most vulnerable populations,’” as part of this CPI provision, but it’s unclear at this point what those protections might be …. we should know more fairly soon, including whether the entire process will completely fall apart.
Greg Sargent: …… The big picture: With this deal Obama will have broken the GOP’s fundamentalist opposition to raising tax rates on the rich (albeit only on income over $400,000) something that would have been deemed very unlikely a year ago. He will have held the line against the GOP demand for two years of Medicare — a victory. Debt ceiling hostage taking will have been deferred for two years, meaning it won’t get tied up in the next elections. He will have obtained stimulus spending — on infrastructure, and in the form of an extension of unemployment benefits — and as Paul Krugman notes, that wouldn’t happen if we go over the cliff. (I’m told the talks have not focused on the exact sum of stimulus spending the White House wants.) The price: The expiration of the payroll tax cut and the cut in Social Security benefits. That’s bad, but the damage could be limited, if the White House insists on it.
Washington Post: President Obama on Monday began the first serious push of his administration to attempt to reduce gun violence, directing Cabinet members to formulate a set of proposals that could include reinstating a ban on assault rifles.
The effort will be led by Vice President Biden …. The tentative steps ended a paralyzing debate within the administration over how hard to pursue gun-control legislation, which has been a politically perilous issue for many Democrats. There were signs Monday, however, that such fear was abating on the Democratic side of the aisle.
Democratic Sens. Harry Reid, Joe Manchin and Mark R. Warner made clear that Congress should consider a range of options to address the issue; all three have been strong supporters of gun rights. Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she would introduce legislation that would reimpose the assault-rifle ban that lapsed in 2004.