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A pen, a phone, a duck, ObamaCare

President Obama boards Air Force One, Jan. 15, 2014, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. before traveling to North Carolina where he will speak about the economy.

President Obama boards Air Force One, Jan. 15, 2014, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. before traveling to North Carolina where he will speak about the economy.  ((AP))

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Buzz Cut:
• A pen, a phone, a duck, ObamaCare
• Baier Tracks: Bailout squeeze play
• Moving the ObamaCare goalposts, again
• Brown out, will Schweitzer light them up?
• Shut your beak, yo

President Obama
bragged Tuesday that he had “a pen” and that had “a phone” and wouldn’t wait for Congress to act in order to implement his second-term agenda. But given the fact that Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., is willing to meet with Obama in private at the White House tonight but not in appear in public with him in her home state today, how credible are the president’s increasing claims of not being a lame duck? Quack, quack. Hagan faces increasingly long odds in winning a second term thanks to upset in her state over Obama policies, particularly the unpopular health law. Once upon a time, Obama nearly won North Carolina in 2008 and picked Charlotte for his re-election kickoff in 2012, but now the state is looking redder and redder. Obama is there to sell a jobs training program, but the visit is doing far more to expose the vulnerabilities of Obama-backing Democrats in midterm elections.

[On the agenda - Sources say that topic for tonight’s White House huddle between Obama and Senate Democrats is laying out Obama’s income inequality message ahead of the Jan. 28 State of the Union address.]

The National Republican Senatorial Committee blasts Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., for not joining President Obama for his visit today to the Tar Heel state. In a release the NRSC says, “In 2011 when Obama visited North Carolina, Hagan jumped at the opportunity to campaign alongside the president. Now, as President Obama's approval rating tanks, as folks in North Carolina and across the country continue to disapprove of the way that he has handled the economy and ObamaCare, the only time Hagan will likely appear side by side with Obama is behind closed doors in Washington.”

“The New York Times details major worries by Democrats about a series of attack ads dealing with the health law, suggesting that vulnerable Democrats still do not believe they are anywhere near out of the woods on the issue. Which brings up the question: If the House passed legislation banning a bailout of insurance companies (as appears increasingly likely) then would the pressure on red state Democrats be too intense on the Senate side? It was the plan of Republicans who wanted to put the squeeze on the same Democrats during the government shutdown - which failed.   Could the equation work this time?   We'll see.” – Bret Baier.    

More On This...

[BFF - Watch the new Americans for Prosperity ad they’re all talking about here.]

On the ground - Americans for Prosperity is organizing members to greet President Obama with a large protest when he visits Raleigh, N.C. today. The group is already spending millions in the Tar Heel State on advertising to slam the president and Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C. over ObamaCare, The Charlotte News and Observer reports.

[Government is the problem - According to a new Gallup poll, most respondents rank government as the top problem facing the U.S.]

The White House previously said it needed 38 percent of ObamaCare enrollees to be in the coveted 18-to-34 age group. National Journal’s Sam Baker points out Team Obama is moving the goalposts again after revealing that only 24 percent of those who have enrolled are in the target demographic.“Now that standard is down to about 30 percent. Or maybe even 24 percent—where the mix stands now…. once again, administration officials are lowering their own standards for success—ditching targets they set or embraced, and redefining success as anything that's good enough to avoid a total collapse. It was the White House that set the initial target of 38 percent enrollment for young adults. But officials wouldn't stand by that figure this week.”

Another deadline delay - As insurers are still determining who is actually enrolled under ObamaCare, the administration has announced the delay of another deadline. Team Obama is extending the enrollment deadline for those with pre-existing conditions. The Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday it was moving the deadline from Jan. 31 to March 15. Fox News has more.

Maryland ObamaCare site limps onward - Despite Maryland’s abysmal efforts at launching its own ObamaCare Web site, Gov. Martin O’Malley, D-Md., says the state will not make the switch to the federal site. O’Malley said the, “risks associated with the transition to the federal site would outweigh the benefits.” WSJ has more. –Watch Fox: Chief National Correspondent Jim Angle is tracking ongoing problems with ObamaCare’s state exchanges.

From Fox News Capitol Hill hardy Chad Pergram: “The House is expected to debate and vote on a $1.012 trillion omnibus spending bill today. The measure would put to bed the spending fights in Congress until the fall. It funds the government through October 1, the start of the next fiscal year… probably sometime after 2:30 or so, the House will begin debate on the actual omnibus with a final vote by 4:30 pm ET at the latest.

These times are subject to change.

Yesterday, the House okayed a stopgap spending bill to prevent a government shutdown tonight. The agreement which re-opened the government in October funded federal programs through tonight. But there wasn’t sufficient time for both the House and Senate to process the omnibus in time. So they approved the emergency spending measure which runs through Saturday night.

The Senate is expected to vote on the interim spending bill around 12:15 pm ET today. The Senate can't tackle the omnibus until Friday. It will have one procedural hurdle to jump through (possibly) to end debate. That vote would need 60 yeas. But final passage in the Senate only needs a simple majority.”

Senate Republicans are standing their ground against Majority Leader Harry Reid’s efforts to prevent them from adding amendments to his jobless benefits measure. Reid twice failed to get the 60 votes he needed to push through the no-strings-attached resumption of extended federal welfare payments for unemployed Americans who have exhausted their states’ unemployment insurance programs. Without a compromise on paying for the $6.4 billion in benefits, the measure looks doomed. Fox News has more.

[A new study by the Employment Policies Institute finds President Obama’s calls for a $10.10 could result in massive job loss. According to the study the wage hike could result in a loss of over 1 million jobs. Daily Caller has details.]

Selfies for liberty – “Senator Paul always looks for a way to engage Americans of all ages. Snapchat will allow everyone to follow the Senator as he travels around the nation and spreads the message of liberty.” – Sen. Rand Paul spokesman Sergio Gor announcing that the Kentucky Republican is joining the popular social networking site and will post his first chat tonight.

The National Security Agency won’t tell Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. whether or not it harvests data on members of Congress. In a letter to Sanders, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander wrote, “Nothing NSA does can fairly be characterized as ‘spying on members of Congress or other American elected officials.” Sanders said in a statement the letter did not rule out that records obtained by the agency could include data on elected officials that could be abused. Alexander wrote that privacy protections wouldn’t allow him to disclose whether the agency had ever harvested “incidental” information about members of Congress.

[NYT previews new restraints President Obama is expected to place on his controversial spy program and what measures he will leave up to Congress ahead of his speech on the NSA’s surveillance programs Friday. Hint: He’s not as big of a fan of executive authority on this topic.]

Try wrapping your computer in tinfoil - According to documents from leaker Edward Snowden obtained by NYT,  the National Security Agency has placed software on nearly 100,000 computers around the world that allows the U.S. to conduct surveillance on those machines using radio frequency technology. The secret technology allows the agency to gain access to computers that other countries have tried to protect from spying or cyber attacks, even if while they may not be connected to the Internet. Fox News hasmore.

When Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was asked on “FOX & Friends” to explain his criticism of Vice President Joe Biden in Gates’ newly released memoir, the former Pentagon boss didn’t struggle with specifics. Gates provided an itemized list of occasions when he believes Biden has been wrong on foreign policy – four decades worth. “Starting with voting against the aid package for South Vietnam in the mid-1970s, he opposed virtually every element of President Reagan’s defense program and approach to the Soviet Union and he voted against the first Gulf war.” Gates defended his own record saying, “In a paralyzed and polarized city, where nothing seems to work, I made it work.”

Obama’s time with brass an ‘obligation’ - In an appearance on “Hannity,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said President Obama respected senior military leaders, but was also “suspicious of their motives.” Gates said the time Obama spent with the brass was an “obligation rather than something he enjoyed.”  Gates also said that despite his much-publicized criticism of the political influence over military decision making in the Obama White House, he admired Obama’s decision to order the troop surge in Afghanistan in 2010 against the advice of all of his advisers. “I think the key is to focus on the actions here and the fact that he sustained this effort despite his reservations.”

A wave of bombings swept across Iraq today, killing 44, including 16 people attending a funeral. The violence comes on the heels of the fall of Fallujah to Islamist militants and increased pressure on the Obama administration from members of Congress and the Iraqi government to do more to help Iraq quell the violence and fend off a resurgent al Qaeda.

Black flag abroad, red alert at home? - With the Iraqi city of Fallujah in the hands of Islamist militants, the House Homeland Security Committee, led by Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, is probing the expansion of al Qaeda and affiliated groups in the region. – Watch Fox: Chief Intelligence Correspondent Catherine Herridge examines the rise of al Qaeda.

KELLY FILE: WHO IS ‘PRO-WAR?’ - Retired Navy SEAL Marcus Lutrell pushed back on media criticism that the movie “Lone Survivor,” based on his account of his experience in Afghanistan. Megyn Kelly asked Lutrell about an article that claimed the movie glorifies war. “I mean, is [pro-war] a real term?” Lutrell asked, “Because there’s nothing glorious about war. I mean, there’s not. There’s nothing glorious about holding your friends in your arms and watching them die... Bottom line is there’s bad people everywhere. And every now and again, we’re going to have to step to them to make sure that we preserve our way of life.” Watch “The Kelly File” interview here.

Traveling in Kuwait, Secretary of State John Kerry responded to stinging criticism of his efforts to broker a peace deal between Israel and Palestine. Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon called Kerry “messianic” in an interview and hoped that the American diplomat would soon get a Nobel Prize so he would leave the region alone. Yaalon apologized after the remarks went public, saying he did not intend to cause offense. Kerry accepted the apology. “We can't let one set of comments undermine [the peace process],” Kerry said, “We know all along this is hard work and will take time. I will work with willing partners willing to make peace.”

Newly declassified documents refute the Obama administration’s claims of preparedness on the eve of the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya. A set of ‘Top Secret’ documents obtained by Fox News reveal that Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testified in a secret congressional hearing last year that what the White House characterized as a meeting on Sept. 10, 2011 on security posture ahead of the Sept 11 anniversary ‘was actually a conference call.’ Moreover, Dempsey testified, Libya was never even discussed during the call, despite a persistent and increasingly worrisome stream of threats reporting from that country, and from Benghazi in particular. Fox News Chief Washington Correspondent James Rosen reports.

Is economic equality a worthy goal, or is it about or economic mobility? Economist Douglas Holz-Eakin of the conservative American Action Forum considers The Faulty Inequality Debate: “Inequality means little. It would be a terrible day when students earn the same as middle-aged workers at the peak of their careers. Or when wages in the buggy whip industry match those in mobile broadband applications. Or if Jeff Spicoli had the same income as Warren Buffett. The obvious point is too often forgotten: the most affluent, successful economy in the history of the planet got that way by paying success more than failure, effort more than slackitude, and rewarding individuals that plan over their entire life-cycle. Inequality is not the issue. Poverty, however, is bad.”

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Real Clear Politics Averages

Obama Job Approval: Approve – 42.0 percent//Disapprove – 53.4 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 29.3 percent//Wrong Track – 62.8 percent 

Generic Congressional Ballot:  Democrats – 42.5 percent// Republicans 42.0percent 

From the LAT: “Gov. Jerry Brown [D-Calif.] said Tuesday that he will not run for president in 2016, dashing political speculation that he might make a fourth bid for the White House. ‘No, that’s not in the cards. Unfortunately,’ he told reporters at a news conference …” With new concerns about Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton – revelations from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates about her political calculations on Iraq, liberal concerns about her hawkishness and a new book exploring the vendettas and enemies lists of the Clinton organization – populist and liberal Democrats are running out of options. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., bowed to Hillary and promised not to run. Now longtime Clinton rival Brown is out. The only remaining contender for the dovish, populist base of the party seems to be former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, but he is still being coy about his potential candidacy. With the Clintons’ vast fundraising apparatus already humming and Wall Street and K Street ready for a coronation, have the grassroots already been mowed down?

Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., used his State of the State address to continue what he started in last week’s nearly two-hour press conference on his aides tormenting a politically uncooperative mayor with traffic jams. “What has occurred does not define us or our state,” Christie said. The Garden State governor warned he would not let current investigations – there are several into the traffic mischief and another into a federal probe into his decision to use federal storm relief dollars for election-year TV commercials featuring himself – bog down his administration. Christie did pledge to “cooperate with all appropriate inquiries.” Fox News has more

Weathering the storm - A Quinnipiac University poll of New Jerseyans released this morning shows 54 percent of respondents feel Christie is more of a leader than bully, tying his best-ever measure in that category. The poll shows overall high approval for Christie and his administration, but most significantly, that 66 percent of respondents felt that he was being honest in saying that he didn’t know about the traffic scheme.

After 23 years in the House of Representatives, Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., is calling it quits. The senior member of the House Appropriations Committee is expected to make the announcement this morning. Moran, who represents Alexandria, joins Rep. Bill Owens, D-N.Y, who announced his retirement Tuesday, as the latest Democrat who will not seek re-election in November. Owens’ swing district in Upstate New York will be tough for Democrats to defend. The retirement of the scandal-singed Moran probably makes it a little easier for the Blue Team to hold that seat, which represents a bevy of federal workers and government contractors.

Tampa-area Republicans have chosen a former aide the late Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., to seek to serve out Young’s term through the end of this year. Lobbyist David Jolly will face off with failed 2010 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink.  Jolly took Tuesday’s crowded GOP primary with 45 percent of the vote, with a wide lead over the next closest contender. The March 11 special election pits Jolly against Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby. The Tampa Bay Times has more.

[Tampa Bay Times’ Political Editor Adam Smith notes why Alex Sink shouldn’t underestimate David Jolly.]

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is slated to be the keynote speaker at the National Republican Congressional Committee’s March fundraiser. The event is the NRCC’s largest annual fundraising event. The group is hoping Rice will provide a boost as it trails its Democratic counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in fundraising this cycle by $8 million. The Hill has details.

Former Michigan Secretary of State and Republican Senate hopeful Terri Lynn Land raised $1.6 million during the fourth quarter of 2013. The total includes a $600,000 personal donation, bringing her war chest to $3.34 million. Polls show a tightening between Land and Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., vying to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. Peters has not yet disclosed his fundraising figures. The Detroit News has more.

The stakes are high for Democrats come November as they need to limit Republican gains in the Senate to five or fewer in order to retain control of the upper chamber. If the GOP can flip six seats from blue to red this year, the dynamics in Washington will change in a big way. Fox News First wants to know which six Democratic-held seats are most vulnerable. The current consensus among readers: (in order of times selected): Arkansas, Montana, Louisiana, West Virginia, South Dakota and North Carolina. But wait! Reader Kelly Thomas notes Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., could be at risk after his office was caught pressuring Colorado’s Division of Insurance to downplay the number of insurance cancellations under ObamaCare in the state.  Duly noted, Kelly.
Share your top six picks. Email them – just your top six, please – to FOXNEWSFIRST@FOXNEWS.COM or tweet @cstirewalt

Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis holds a slight lead over Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott in fundraising. Davis, who rose to fame for her ultimately unsuccessful fight to preserve access to elective late-term abortions in the state, leads Abbott, the GOP frontrunner, with $12 million to his $11.5 million raised during the last half of 2013. Davis has been showered with cash by abortion activists and pro-choice groups from around the country. Abbot’s campaign said it has $27 million cash on hand, touting that 97 percent of donors were from Texas. The Democrat’s campaign has yet to release those figures. The Dallas Morning News has more.

Supreme Court justices will hear arguments today over a Massachusetts’ law creating a 35-foot buffer zone around the entrances to facilities where abortions are performed. Pro-life protesters argue their right to free speech is being unconstitutionally infringed. The court previously upheld a more restrictive law, but the makeup of the court has changed since then. Watch Fox: Correspondent Shannon Bream considers the implications of buffer zones on free speech and has the latest from the Supreme Court.

Florida Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, will share the spotlight at the most prestigious gathering of Washington journalists. Crist, who bolted the GOP after getting upended in a Senate primary by Marco Rubio in 2010 and is now seeking to return to office as a Democrat, will offer punch lines at the Gridiron Club’s annual white-tie fundraiser on March 8. Cruz, who is better known for his filibuster than his funnies, will don fancy dress and do the same for the Red Team. As Bloomberg points out, a pot-legalization referendum being bankrolled by Crist’s top political patron and aimed at helping turnout for the Blue Team this fall, could provide some material for Cruz.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded over $178 billion in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2012 with another $39 billion going to conservation subsidies. Among the beneficiaries: thousands of residents of the farm-less Washington D.C., metro area. Washington Examiner’s Susan Ferrechio reports, “…thousands of residents in and around the nation's capital receive millions of dollars every year in federal farm subsidies, including working-class residents in Southeast, wealthy lobbyists on K Street and well-connected lawmakers on Capitol Hill.”

Was the newly-married LeBron James playing a pick-up game during his visit to the White House Tuesday? James was on hand as President Obama honored the team for winning the 2013 NBA championship. NBC Associate Producer Stacey Klein there to cover the event Instagrammed: “Pretty decent day at the WH today. The Miami HEAT gave a "POTUS" jersey to the head honcho and I watched LeBron ask a girl for her number, right in front of me. He just got married in September. #happilyeverafter #champions #picstitch.” She later revised the posting to: “The HEAT at the WH today. Team presented a ‘POTUS’ jersey to the head honcho.” Washington Examiner has the story.

Police in Mexico City stopped motorist Guillermo Reyes as part of a routine traffic checkpoint. As police approached his car, they heard a voice exclaiming, “He’s drunk, he’s drunk.” Police were stunned to find the voice belonged to Reyes’ beloved pet parakeet. A sobriety test confirmed the bird’s squawks and his owner was promptly sent to El Torito, the capital city's “hangover prison.” The bright spot for Reyes, cops allowed the pet to stay him after he claimed it would cause him stress if they were separated.  The New York Daily News has more.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here. To catch Chris live online daily at 11:30 a.m. ET, click here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.