**Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here**
• Gates raises new trust questions for embattled Obama
• Al Qaeda resurgent
• Thune offers ObamaCare opt-out for employers
• Wait, ‘white supremecy’ did what?
• But was it locally sourced, cage-free meth?
GATES RAISES NEW TRUST QUESTIONS FOR EMBATTLED OBAMA - Public confidence in the commander in chief and his team is taking another hit today in the wake of new allegations about President Obama’s political calculations on military strategy. Robert Gates, Obama’s first-term secretary of Defense, has rattled Washington and disrupted the president’s intended narrative for the midterm election year. As the president tries to shift the conversation to an attack on Republican resistance to expanded welfare spending, Gates’ bombshell memoir is raising new questions about the trustworthiness of a president still reeling from the revelation that he misled voters with a claim that Americans would be able to keep their health insurance and physicians under ObamaCare. On top of that, there is lingering public concern about Obama’s expansion of domestic surveillance programs. The timing for Gates’ claims could hardly be worse. The money line from the former secretary: “I felt that agreements with the Obama White House were good for only as long as they were politically convenient.”Fox News has more.
Micromanaged by politicos - In his book, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” set for release on Tuesday, Gates claims that Obama was skeptical of his own policy toward the war in Afghanistan and was “outright convinced it would fail.” According to excerpts reviewed by Fox News, Gates never questioned Obama’s commitment to U.S. troops but rather “only his support of their mission.” A carry-over from President George W. Bush’s administration, Gates says he was often “seething” because he felt President Obama and his administration lacked trust or confidence in him. Gates wrotes: “With Obama, however, I joined a new, inexperienced president determined to change course—and equally determined from day one to win re-election. Domestic political considerations would therefore be a factor, though I believe never a decisive one, in virtually every major national security problem we tackled.”
[The Hill looks at what looming departures by seniors staffers will mean for the infamously insular Obama White House.]
And Hillary, too - Gates offers a stinging critique of how former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her decision to oppose the “Iraq surge,” a strategy from the Bush White House that turned the tide in a war Clinton initially supported: “Hillary told [Obama] that her opposition to the  surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary. . . . The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying.”
[Hill-itary industrial complex - The Clintonista political action committee, Ready for Hillary, is boasting a $4 million 2013 cash haul. The committee behind the 2016 Democratic frontrunner announced Tuesday it raised $2.75 million in the last half of the 2013 alone. WaPo has more.]
Oh no, Sheriff Joe! - Some of the more caustic criticisms in Gates’ memoir were directed at Vice President Joe Biden. While the former Pentagon chief called Biden “a man of integrity,” he also observed, “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” The White House fired back that the president disagrees with Gates’ assessment in a statement saying, “Joe Biden has been one of the leading statesmen of his time, and has helped advance America’s leadership in the world. President Obama relies on his good counsel every day.”
[Photo illustration - In a rare move the White House is allowing photographers access to Biden’s regular lunch with the president today.]
Playing defense - On NBC’s “Today” show, former White House Adviser David Axelrod called Gates’ language “vague” and “confusing.” “[N]ot only did [Gates] praise [Obama] for the Bin Laden raid, but he thought [Obama] made the right decisions on Afghanistan, that he was a clear, thoughtful, decisive decision-maker. So his big complaint is that he thinks that [Obama] wasn’t sufficiently personally in his heart committed enough to his own strategy. I don’t think that’s true.” Axelrod claimed there had been “no Afghanistan strategy” prior to Obama taking office and that Obama focused on a limited mission against al Qaeda and bringing the troops home.
AL QAEDA RESURGENT - U.S. officials suspect Abu Sufian bin Qumu, a former inmate at Guantanamo Bay was involved in the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on an American outpost in Benghazi, Libya. WaPo has more. Chief Intelligence Correspondent Catherine Herridge notes the allegations undercut recent claims that al Qaeda was not involved in the raid.
Kelly File: Obama’s Abandonment - Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr., R-Calif., a Marine veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, told Megyn Kelly that the surge by Islamist militants in Iraq are a consequence of President Obama’s withdrawal policy. “What I see here is a political squandering of military victories and an abandonment by this administration of everything we did in Iraq.” Hunter said he believes the president abandoned the war in Iraq for “purely political reasons and that he’s “not surprised” that Obama, according to former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, appeared to doubt his own strategy in Afghanistan. Watch the full interview from “The Kelly File.”
THUNE OFFERS OBAMACARE OPT-OUT FOR EMPLOYERS - Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., wants to offer businesses that hire new workers from the ranks of the long-term unemployed a break on ObamaCare costs. Thune’s proposed amendment to the administration-backed plan for another three-month extension of emergency benefits for those who have exhausted their state unemployment insurance would also give employers a six-month reprieve from their share of the payroll tax. It would also provide long-term unemployed individuals a low-interest loan, up to $10,000, to help them relocate in search of a new job. The $6.4 billion jobless benefits bill cleared its first procedural hurdle in the Senate Tuesday. Read more from Fox News here.
WHAT DOES THAT COST?: OBAMACARE’S OLYMPIC SIZED PITCH - Team Obama is hoping to seize on Olympic sized audiences to promote ObamaCare during next month’s winter games in Sochi, Russia. The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed Tuesday it has purchased advertisements in markets with high rates of uninsured individuals to air Feb. 7-23 during the Winter Olympics. HHS declined to specify the size of the ad buy. Politico has the details.
[The House is set to vote Friday on a bill that would require weekly reporting on the status of ObamaCare. The proposal from Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., would require Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to regularly report the number of paying ObamaCare enrollees, new Medicaid beneficiaries and other data. Breitbart has more.]
MARYLAND DEMS MIGHT BAIL ON STATE’S OBAMACARE SITE - The abysmal launch of Maryland’s ObamaCare Web site is causing some of the state’s top Democrats to consider abandoning it altogether and sending residents to the crash-prone federal site. Gov. Martin O’Malley, D-Md., had been initially opposed to the idea but with only 18,000 residents enrolled as of Dec. 27, he appears to be open to the option until his state’s Web site improves. Fox News has more.
ROLLBACK: WALMART PLANS BETTER DEALS THAN OBAMACARE - A Washington Examiner comparison has found health plans offered to Walmart employees are not only cheaper than those offered by ObamaCare, but they provide better access to high-quality medical care as well. Examiner reports “...a 30-year-old smoker would pay up to $428 per month, in contrast to roughly $70 each month for a Walmart employee. A family of four could pay a $962 premium, but the same Walmart family member would pay about $160.”
NOT-SO FINEST - Eighty former members of the NYPD and FDNY were busted Tuesday for allegedly faking mental illness in a $400 million disability scam. Joseph Morrone of the NYPD netted $109,930 since 2009 claiming a fear of large crowds, only to be nabbed while serving cannoli at packed street festival in Little Italy. Read more scams in the NY Post here.
[Watch Fox: Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and former Bush administration drug czar John Walters debate marijuana legalization in the 1p.m. ET hour.]
CASULATIES OF A 50-YEAR WAR - On this date in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared a “War on Poverty,” going on to win passage of a host of new federal welfare programs aimed at eradicating what were then shrinking but stubborn pockets of poverty in the nation. As a new report shows, poverty is on the rise in America, with 15 percent of the nation living below the federal poverty line. National Public Radio looks at the continuing struggles of the Kentucky county that was central to Johnson’s sales pitch. U.S. News offers a remarkable photo essay on the topic.
WITH YOUR SECOND CUP OF COFFEE...John Stossel hits back at claims that the rich are getting richer at the expense of the poor for Fox News Opinion. From Equality Versus Liberty: “It's true that today, the richest 1 percent of Americans own a third of America's wealth. One percent owns 35 percent! But I say, so what? Progressives in the media claim that the rich get richer at the expense of the poor. But that's a lie…Bill Gates took a huge slice of pie, but he didn't take it from me. By starting Microsoft, he baked millions of new pies. He made the rest of the world richer, too. Entrepreneurs create things…Inequality may seem unfair, but the alternative -- government-forced equality -- is worse. It leaves everyone poor.”
Got a TIP from the RIGHT or LEFT? Email FoxNewsFirst@FOXNEWS.COM
POLL CHECK - Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval: Approve – 42.8 percent//Disapprove – 53.7 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 30.4 percent//Wrong Track – 63.3 percent
Generic Congressional Ballot: Democrats – 43.3 percent// Republicans 42.9 percent
SENATE DEMS TAKING BROWN BID SERIOUSLY - The Senate Majority PAC, run by former aides to Majority Leader Harry Reid, is launching a $150,000 ad buy in New Hampshire attacking former Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown. Brown, who seems to be leaning toward a run in his newly adopted home state, hasn’t declared yet. The script of the snarky ad: “When Scott Brown was the senator from Massachusetts… he delivered for Wall Street — saving big banks $19 billion in taxes. And Brown wrote legislation helping big banks make risky investments. Now he’s shopping for a Senate seat in New Hampshire. Really? That’s good for Wall Street and great for Scott Brown, but it doesn’t make sense for New Hampshire.”
CASSIDY CLOSING IN ON LANDRIEU IN CASH RACE - Louisiana Republican Senate hopeful Rep. Bill Cassidy raised more than $1 million during the last three months of 2013. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., raised slightly more, collecting $1.4 million during the fourth quarter of 2013. Still, in a sign Landrieu is fighting for her political life, the Democrat spent more to fend off attacks against her support of ObamaCare during the same period. The spending has increased Cassidy’s cash-on-hand by a larger margin. Landrieu’s war chest is $6.37 million compared to Cassidy’s $4.2 million. The Advocate of Baton Rouge has the details.
PICK SIX: SPOILER ALERT - The 2014 midterm elections could tip the balance of power in the Senate to the Republicans if the GOP can pick up six seats. Fox News First wants to know which six blue seats you think are most likely to turn to red this year. The consensus among readers so far (in order of times picked by readers): Arkansas, Montana, Louisiana, West Virginia, South Dakota and North Carolina. But a reader notes the GOP path to victory in South Dakota is more complicated than it would appear. Reader Don Peckham of Aberdeen, S.D., says former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler’s run as an independent could complicate matters. Pressler, who subsequently left the GOP and twice backed President Obama, represented South Dakota in the Senate as a Republican from 1979 to 1997 and could still draw some GOP votes. Peckham wrote: “Pressler made the comment that he didn’t care if he would be the spoiler for South Dakota.”
BIPARTISAN SCRAMBLE TO FILL LATHAM SPOT - Operatives on both sides of the aisle tell Roll Call the field of House hopefuls in 2014 is thin for one of the most competitive districts – the one currently held by retiring 10-term incumbent Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa. There’s another catch for Republicans if there is a crowded field of lesser-known candidates. Under current rules, the GOP must hold an additional nominating convention if no candidate receives more than 35 percent of the vote in a primary.
VIRGINIA DEMOCRAT COMPARES REPUBLICANS TO RAPISTS - Virginia Democratic state Senate candidate Jennifer Wexton is taking to the airwaves comparing Tea Party Republicans to violent rapists in her bid to replace Mark Herring¸the Democrat who won a cliffhanger race for Virginia attorney general last November. In the ad Wexton exclaims, “…as a prosecutor I put violent offenders in prison. In the Virginia Senate, I'll fight just as hard against Tea Party Republicans…”
CANTOR PUSHES SCHOOL CHOICE - From The Hill:“House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Wednesday will hail the movement for greater school choice as ‘the surest way’ to end the cycle of poverty, lending his voice to a new conservative push for solutions to help the nation’s poorest families. The Virginia Republican will deliver a speech at the Brookings Institution, where he plans to tout a House-passed education bill and push for an expansion of charter schools and voucher programs. He also will call out the new liberal mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, for his plans to tighten restrictions on charter schools.”
[Watch Fox: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor will appear on “The Kelly File” tonight in the 9 p.m. ET hour]
Midterm exam - Dave Brat, an economics professor, is launching a primary challenge to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Brat and Cantor will square off in a June 10 primary. The Richmond Times-Dispatch has more.
WAIT, ‘WHITE SUPREMACY’ DID WHAT? - Salon’s Brittney Cooper seems to believe that the problem with MSNBC host Melissa Harris Perry’s recent mocking of the Romney family for having adopted an African-American child was that Harris Perry and her guests did not treat it seriously and harshly enough. From Cooper’s column “White supremacy wins again: Melissa Harris Perry and the racial false equivalence”: “For good or ill, we care about the lives and livelihoods of little black boys. And we wonder what kind of man [the adopted child] will grow up to be. We know that the lie we are being asked to believe is that the Romneys, despite their politics and religious affiliations, have transcended race so much that [the child’s] blackness is just an accident of birth.”
ANNOUNCING THE PASHMINA CAUCUS -Will Washington’s emergence from the polar vortex mean the passing of Rep. Joe Garcia’s “fabulous” fashion fad? Buzzfeed notes the Florida Democrat’s deep commitment to big scarves.
BUT WAS IT LOCALLY SOURCED, CAGE-FREE METH? - An Oregon couple is facing drug-related charges for their creative tip. According to officials, Ryan Benson and Erica Manley used a gift card to pay their bill for dinner and drinks. For a tip, the couple offered the waitress an envelope with a question mark written on it. Once the server realized the envelope contained methamphetamine she immediately called police. Police arrived to find the couple still in the restaurant and discovered more than 17 ounces of meth in Manley’s purse. An investigation of the pair’s hotel room at a nearby Holiday Inn Express produced a small meth lab. KPTV has the story.
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…“And look, the problem isn't that a president makes mistakes. Bush made horrible mistakes in Iraq. Reagan made a terrible mistake in Lebanon. Lincoln made years of mistakes until he found his general. But if you order something, if you order a mission, and your heart isn't in the mission, it’s a question of conscience here” –Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report wit Bret Baier” Watch here.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace." He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.