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Lousy lingo traps White House on Islamists

Administration says group is an 'armed insurgency' that participates in terrorist activity


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Buzz Cut:
• Lousy lingo traps White House on Islamists
• Obama serves up pie in the sky for House Dem retreat
• Mitt calling: Romney the frontrunner, but can he stay there?
• Power Play: Hillary in hiding
• To thine own self be true

The White House has been doing a tremendous job of kicking its own backside on foreign policy of late. The latest and best example came as the president’s press secretary sought to explain how the Taliban can be on a government list of terrorist groups but not be terrorists. The reason for the semantic gymnastics is that President Obama would not like to be the one who gets credit for establishing the new standard that the U.S. negotiates with terrorists, as his administration did in swapping five high-ranking Taliban prisoners of war for an American soldier. And since a determination of the desertion charges against the soldier in the trade is expected soon, the administration is feeling extra pressure. Five terrorist for one deserter would not exactly sound like the deal of the century. Five “armed insurgents” for one prisoner of war, on the other hand, sounds like at least a slight improvement.

[In the latest Fox News poll, President Obama gets low marks on his overall handling of foreign policy with a 57 percent disapproval rating from voters.]

Prima facie - Soon after Press Secretary Josh Earnest tried to dismount from the rhetorical pommel horse, two new reports wiped out White House hopes to stick the landing. First, we found out that one of the five Taliban released in the prisoner swap is already back on the job, trying to get his fellow terrorists, or by White House definitions, “armed insurgents,” back to work. And then, as if to leave no doubt, the Taliban took credit for killing three American civilian contractors working at a military post in Kabul. Was it terrorism or a military mission? Only the White House communications office seems to care.

The Hill: “Members of the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday passed a bill that would impose sanctions on Iran if a comprehensive agreement to roll back its nuclear program is not reached by June 30. The bill, co-authored by Sens. Mark Kirk [R-Ill.] and Robert Menendez [D-N.J.], passed in the committee by an 18-4 vote. All 12 Republicans on the committee voted for the bill, as did six Democrats…The bill, which is softer than one proposed last year by Kirk and Menendez, would allow the president to waive sanctions indefinitely for 30 days at a time.”

[In the latest Fox News poll, 70 percent believe President Obama has not been tough enough on Iran and 62 percent believe that military force will be necessary.]

“The notion that the Iran sanctions effort can be stopped was killed by the American people at the ballot box when they elected a Republican Senate. This is going to move forward in the Senate regardless of what the president’s feelings are on it.” --Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said in an interview with Bloomberg

USA Today: “The Senate voted Thursday to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, despite a long-standing veto threat from the White House. After three weeks of debate on 41 amendments, the Senate voted 62-36 to pass a bill approving the north-south pipeline for Canadian oil that Republicans say will create thousands of U.S. jobs. The tally was short of the 67 votes the Senate would need to override a presidential veto…The House passed a similar bill Jan. 9, the 10th time the House has passed such legislation, but since the Senate bill has been amended, the two chambers will have to agree on one version before the bill goes to the president…Indicating the importance Republicans have placed on the Keystone bill, they assigned it bill number S. 1, the first bill of the new GOP-controlled Senate.”

Fox News: “President Obama called for an end to ‘mindless austerity’ on Thursday as he announced his desire to end ‘sequester’ spending cuts in his budget for 2015. The across-the-board cuts, agreed to by both parties, have been in effect since 2013, after lawmakers were unable to produce a more strategic deficit-cutting plan. Members of both parties have problems with the cuts, which indiscriminately affect both domestic and defense programs. Obama's proposed $74 billion in added spending, about 7 percent, would be split about evenly between defense programs and the domestic side of the budget.”

“We need to stand up and go on offense, and not be defensive about what we believe in...And I promise you, I'm not going out the last two years sitting on the sidelines.”President Obama at House Democratic Conference in Philadelphia Thursday

Reuters: “The United States will begin accepting applications on Feb. 18 for temporary legal status from children of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States with their parents, under a plan announced by President Barack Obama last November. The U.S. Customs and Immigration Service [USCIS] said on Thursday the applications for the program to defer deportation and obtain a 3-year legal status would be available to undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children before 2010. They will be the first group of immigrants who will benefit from Obama's sweeping immigration reform announced on Nov. 20. The plan will let up to 4.7 million of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States stay without threat of deportation, including about 4.4 million who are parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.”

[Byron York writes that the Obama administration has left public opinion, which overwhelmingly opposes increased immigration, out of the debate: “With Republicans now in control of Congress, it's an open question whether GOP lawmakers can craft legislation that moves the nation's immigration policy forward while still respecting public opinion.”]

Chris Wallace
welcomes Fox News Military Analyst Gen. Jack Keane and Fox News Foreign Affairs Analyst Ambassador Dennis Ross to discuss U.S. policy in the Middle East. Former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett and Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, will talk about the controversies surrounding Common Core. Hall of Fame NFL running back John Riggins is this Super Bowl Sunday’s Power Player. “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace” airs at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. ET on Fox News. Check local listings for air times in your area.

Have you been slacking on your Super Bowl knowledge and now face the prospect of heading to the big party and looking like a poser? It’s understandable since the two teams are not exactly fan favorites outside of their geographic bases. But other than the fact that the AFC champs like a tender football to toss and that the star running back for the NFC champs really, really does not like the press, do you know enough to make it for the lulls in between the commercials? Forbes offers 49 things to know about the 49th Super Bowl. You’ll not only be well equipped with actual knowledge, you will also possess this little nugget: “Super Bowl Sunday is the second biggest day of food consumption in the U.S. after Thanksgiving. The National Chicken Council projects 1.25 billion chicken wings will be consumed on Sunday. Numbers from the Snack Food Association include 11.2 million pounds of potato chips, 8.2 million pounds of tortilla chips and 3.8 million pounds of popcorn.”

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Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval
: Approve – 45.7 percent//Disapprove – 49.7 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 33.4 percent//Wrong Track – 57.6 percent

In the latest Fox News poll, Mitt Romney leads the 2016 Republican field with 21 percent followed by Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul at 11 percent and Jeb Bush at 10 percent. With Romney hovering around the 20 percent mark in other polls, the big question for the frontrunner, the party: Does that number reflect a base of support for a 2016 campaign to build on or is the ceiling? The question is sure to permeate the atmosphere at a conference call Romney will hold today to update staff and supporters. As the 2012 GOP candidate continues his exploration of a third run rivals will undoubtedly press the point with donors that Mitt has maxed out. Without Romney in the race, Jeb leads the pack in the Fox News poll with 15 percent of voters followed closely by Huckabee and Paul at 13 percent.

[In the latest Fox News poll, a matchup between Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton would result in a tie at 46 percent, while Hillary beats Rand, Jeb and Chris Christie.]

“We’ve got a former presidential candidate on the other side who suddenly is just deeply concerned about poverty. That’s great!  Let’s go!  Come on!  Let’s do something about it!”President Obama needles Mitt at the Democratic House Retreat in Philadelphia

Mitt donors jump ship - AP: “[Key state] donors, in interviews with The Associated Press, said they see in Bush what they liked about Romney in 2012, namely what they believe it takes to serve successfully as president, but also something Romney could not muster in his two previous campaigns: what it takes, both in personality as a candidate and in a supporting staff, to win the White House for the GOP.  Also, the donors said, they took the former Massachusetts governor at his word when he said he would not run for president a third time.”

“It would be great to have [Mitt Romney’s] active support or his counsel as an elder statesman in the party. If he chooses to run, we’ll just beat him.” – A Bush-backing GOP operative quoted by David Drucker.

Jeb nabs top Iowa hand - Fox News: “Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has recruited a top Iowa Republican operative, and former adviser to Mitt Romney, to work on his political operation as he weighs a 2016 presidential bid. Bush is hiring David Kochel as a senior strategist for his newly launched Right to Rise PAC. If Bush formally pursues a White House bid, Kochel could take on a bigger role.”

Houston Hoedown - Bush attended private meetings and fundraisers for his PAC last night.

Republican strategist Lauren Zelt and Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky join Power Play host Chris Stirewalt to discuss the winners and losers among potential Republican 2016 contenders coming out of a pair of big conservative gatherings in Iowa and California. Did the Rep. Steve King’s Freedom Summit and the Koch network’s Freedom Partners forum produce any breakouts? WATCH HERE.

Rand dings on dynasty - Politico: “Sen. Rand Paul [R-Ky.], the 2016 field’s most prolific adopter of social media, has posted what aides wryly call a ‘secret tape’ of a fake phone call between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. RAND PAC, Paul’s political organization, used actors to portray the conversation, which hits both rivals on the dynasty issue. ‘Bush’ tells her he’s thinking about running for president: ‘I just wanted to call and give you a heads-up in hopes we could work something out.’ ‘Clinton’ says: ‘We both agree on so many issues: bigger government, Common Core, and amnesty for illegal immigrants.’ Paul, who this week gave an interview to CNN via Snapchat, plans to distribute the audio via Twitter and other social platforms. Click here to listen.

Texas takedown? Rand wins support in Cruz, Perry land - WSJ: “Sen. Rand Paul [R-Ky.] is stealing political support from his rivals’ backyard. Texas GOP Chairman Steve Munisteri is set to announce Friday that he is resigning his party post in early March and joining Mr. Paul’s team of advisers for a possible 2016 presidential campaign. Mr. Munisteri, in throwing in with Mr. Paul, is giving a cold shoulder to Texas Republicans thinking about presidential bids, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. …Mr. Munisteri has wide fundraising connections in Texas, where he has been chairman of the Texas GOP since mid-2010 as well as experience on several national presidential campaigns.”

Lone Star two-step - Rand will deliver a speech today at a Reagan Day Dinner in Dallas and another tomorrow at a Lincoln Day Dinner in Fort Worth.

Christie beefs up foreign affairs with Brits - In another signal of a 2016 run – appearances overseas – Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., leaves for London this weekend. Christie is scheduled to be in the United Kingdom Feb. 1 through Feb. 3., and is slated to meet with business leaders, local companies, dignitaries and government officials. This is Christie’s fourth international trip since taking office, and the third of his second term.

Walker talks faith in Iowa - WSJ: “Gov. Scott Walker [R-Wis.] won a national following among conservatives for taking on pubic-sector unions in Wisconsin. Now, as he gears up for a presidential campaign, he also is talking about part of his profile that could prove equally important, his faith as an evangelical Christian. Given a Republican field that could include a dozen or more candidates, Mr. Walker’s newly hired political team believes that he has a chance to draw support from three of the party’s core groups, tea-party activists and business supporters who like his stance on fiscal issues, as well as the community of evangelicals…”

[Walker will be speaking at the conservative American Action Forum in Washington today.]

Pecans and Peaches - Mike Huckabee’s book tour continues this weekend through South Carolina and Georgia.

The press is pinging, Team Hillary is hiring, but Democratic 2016 frontrunner Hillary Clinton is staying under the radar. Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky and Republican strategist Lauren Zelt join Power Play host Chris Stirewalt to discuss the tactical risks and benefits of Clinton’s apparent determination to keep a low profile before announcing her much anticipated bid for the White House. WATCH HERE.

Hillary hitched plenty of private jet rides with Wall Street backers - Bloomberg: “Hillary Clinton took more than 200 privately chartered flights at taxpayer expense during her eight years in the U.S. Senate, sometimes using the jets of corporations and major campaign donors as she racked up $225,756 in flight costs. Clinton, 67, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, reported the travel in official filings with the Senate. The records were provided to Bloomberg News by a Republican operative. Some of the companies whose planes she used included Coca-Cola Co., Citigroup Inc. and Saban Capital Group Inc. While the flights fell within congressional rules and were not out of the ordinary for senators at the time, they could play into the emerging Republican line of attack that Clinton’s wealth and years in government office have left her out of touch with the voters she’ll court on the campaign trail.”

Hillary still slipping among Democrats - Fox News: “Among Democratic contenders for their party’s nomination, Clinton still dominates -- although her numbers continue to slip. She now comes in at 55 percent among self-identified Democrats, down from 62 percent last month and a high of 69 percent in April 2014. Vice President Joe Biden makes gains in the new poll. He comes in second with 17 percent. That’s up from 10 percent last month. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is third with 12 percent -- unchanged from December.”

Super Sunday: 200 ‘Run Warren Run’ events planned - Wash Times: “The ‘Run Warren Run’ campaign, comprised of members from the groups, Democracy for America and Ready for Warren, is planning more than 200 ‘organizing house parties’ in 46 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam to try to develop ideas for how they can convince her to run.”

O’Malley dips toes in N.H. and S.C. - WaPo: “Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley [D], who continues to weigh a 2016 presidential bid, confirmed plans Thursday to travel to two early nominating states in coming months.”

#mediabuzz: Hillary and the 2016 Horserace
This week Howard Kurtz welcomes Republican strategist Mercedes Schlapp, FORTUNE’s Nina Easton and Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky to consider conservative commentators going after Sarah Palin and the latest reports on Hillary Clinton. Plus Brian Kilmeade joins the fun from Arizona to talk about Super Bowl coverage in the year of deflated balls. Watch “#mediabuzz” Sunday at 11 a.m. ET, with a second airing at 5 p.m.

You’ve got to know your professional limitations. The Palm Beach [Fla.] Post reports on a robbery plan that ended up like a scene from an Albert Brooks movie. Stewart Charles McNeal walked into a Dunkin’ Donuts store wearing a mask, but decided to get in line and wait his turn to hold up the cashier. He reportedly even told an employee, “Forgive me for what I’m about to do.” When he made it to the counter, McNeal pulled out what he later said was a fake gun. But the cashier never acknowledged him, and went on helping a customer. After waiting for a few minutes, McNeal pulled off the mask and continued to wait for an employee to recognize him so that he could pull off his robbery. McNeal eventually gave up and fled the scene in a Honda Accord he borrowed from a friend, but turned himself in to police soon thereafter. He admitted his guilt, telling police he “wasn’t very good at the robbery thing.” He faces charges of robbery with a firearm and is being held in jail in lieu of $20,000 bond.

“I think what the Republicans ought to do is simply ignore his budget. I mean, [President Obama’s] tax plans are so absurd his budget is going to be dead on arrival so when it arrives you toss it in the wastebasket.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier” Watch here.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News.  Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up

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.