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The ‘f’ word: Could Congress become functional?

Oct. 4, 2013:  U.S. Capitol Dome in Washington.

Oct. 4, 2013: U.S. Capitol Dome in Washington.  (Reuters)

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Buzz Cut:
• The ‘f’ word: Could congress become functional?
• More questions, still no answers on Hillary email scandal
• Dem chairwoman: No limits on abortions
• Tax Day: Rubio looks to sell his plan
• ‘Nays’ beat eyes

Budgets are moving ahead on schedule. The annual charade of blocking Clinton-era cuts to Medicare has officially ended. And now, lawmakers have actually asserted their clout on foreign policy for the first time in memory. Forcing the president to back down on his bid to circumvent Congress with his plan to lift sanctions on Iran may not sound like the biggest deal in the world. And there certainly is a large trap door built into the back of the plan that would give the president an ample opportunity to slip congressional oversight in the end. But for a president who started out with a plan to flout Congress using executive power and the UN to end up acceding to congressional review is something of a signal moment. It’s more significant given the fact that Congress has so consistently, miserably failed to take any action on foreign policy despite years of bitter criticism and invective.

This matters for a couple of reasons. First, it could shape the way other initiatives are handled. Now that rebellious Democrats have found that the president will cave on key issues, they will keep pushing. The administration has backed off before, but succumbing to open defiance from the minority leader in waiting, Chuck Schumer, and others will invite further intra-party brigandage. And Obama, legacy-minded as always, may see newfound merit in achievement over ideological purity and ego protection. If congressional Republicans have sufficiently sorted out – or put on hiatus – their various blood feuds to avoid successive collapses over the next 18 months, Washington could stand in a very different light. And that could shape the political narrative for 2016. Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has a campaign message predicated on making Washington work again. So how would she fare if Washington was (kinda) working?

There’s no chance for sweetness, light and grand bargains, but if Washington has found its way to something that actually works, it would be a miracle. After a decade of intensifying dysfunction, even basic operation would be welcome to most voters. That would likely help the ratings of both parties. The less Washington makes America think about it, the better America likes Washington. And that could deprive Clinton of her self-designated role as the technocratic leader born to make government work again. That could also give the eventual Republican nominee a better chance to avoid the label as an extremist or hostage taker.

[House Speaker John Boehner is out with a Tax Day video pitching a suite of legislation aimed at corralling the IRS.]

The day after Republicans took control of both the House and the Senate last fall, House Speaker John Boehner and then-elect Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set a detailed agenda for what they wanted to accomplish. Today marks 100 days since the new Congress began, and it’s time for a progress report on how they’re doing.

Keystone - Check this off the list. Although President Obama vetoed the Keystone Pipeline XL bill, it was the first piece of legislation Sen. McConnell brought to a vote in the new Congress.

Veterans - The House passed the Hire More Heroes Act unanimously only hours after being sworn in, but it is still under review in the Senate. Over at the VA, major problems still abound.

Tax reform - Doubtful. Both sides have talked about a broad-based plan, and new House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan keeps pushing. But Hill watchers are skeptical that a grand bargain could come together, especially with funding and spending deadlines looming at the end of September. And after that, the vortex of 2016 elections will have Congress fully in its thrall.

Education - “We’ll also consider legislation…to support innovative charter schools around the country,” Boehner and McConnell wrote back in November. While education choice has been a hot topic in several cities and states around the country the new Congress hasn’t really touched on it.

Terrorism - While Boehner and McConnell vowed to fight Terrorism, that’s not really in their job descriptions. Aside from funding, there’s not much for Congress to do. But the budget plans floating around Capitol Hill provides full funding for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

Government regulation - While there have been lots of hearings, Congress hasn’t yet done much on this front.

Obamacare - No, not repealing it. Boehner and McConnell decided to try and reverse Obamacare’s definition of full-time employment. Eighteen House Democrats joined Republicans to pass the Save the American Worker Act, which restores the definition of a full work-week as 40 hours verses Obamacare’s 30 hours. It’s awaiting Senate action and subject to a threatened presidential veto.

[A special election date for former Illinois Rep. Aaron Shock’s seat will be September 10, and primary election on July 7, reports the Chicago Tribune.]

In December 2012 congressional investigators asked Hillary Clinton directly if she used a private email account while serving as secretary of state. Her answer: Silence. The question, in a letter from House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and first reported by the New York Times, was posed seven weeks before Clinton’s tenure ended. When the State Department eventually responded to Issa’s demand in March 2013, nearly two months after she left office, officials also ignored the question about Clinton’s digital hygiene. Given Clinton’s admission that she used a personal account (and a private server) exclusively as secretary, news of this apparent dodge ads to a scandal that has cost the Democratic presidential candidate dearly in polls. As the drip of damaging details continues, when and in what venue Clinton will address the growing scandal is the question.

[LAT reports that the entertainment industry has swung fully into line this time and will not buck Clinton’s second bid.]

Poll finds strong yearning among Dems for an alternative - USA Today: “A 55% majority of Democrats say it's ‘very important’ to them to see strong challenges to Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination. Another 25% call it ‘somewhat important.’”

[Sen. Elizabeth Warren D-Ma. participates in the Levy Economics Institute’s annual conference on the “State of the U.S. and World Economies” in Washington, D.C. today]

Clinton ally De Blasio will wait to endorse Hillary - The Hill: “New York Mayor Bill de Blasio doubled down on his reluctance to endorse Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid during a news conference in New York on Tuesday. ‘This is an election that’s a year and a half away and a candidate who has not been in the public eye in this sense for eight years and we are still beginning to hear what she stands for,’ the progressive Democrat said.”

[The Hill: “Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday heaped lavish praise on Hillary Clinton as among the most qualified presidential contenders in generations. But the House minority leader stopped short of officially endorsing the 2016 Democratic hopeful.]

Iowa debut: Clinton cordial, but hardly a commoner - Des Moines Register: “As an exercise in showing Clinton out interacting with everyday Americans, the early part of the trip was a mixed bag. She was cordial, if a bit formal, with the panelists. After the meeting, she directed a group photo and chatted a bit with a student headed to the Naval Academy, but didn’t hug anyone.…If you’re expecting a Hillary Clinton who is letting her hair down and hangin’ with regular folks in the heartland, better keep looking.”

[Watch Fox: Chief White House Correspondent Ed Henry reports on Hillary’s events live from Norwalk, IA]

Sometimes we just need to get back to the basics. Charles Dickens The Pickwick Papers were an unpopular series of installments of Dickens book Pickwick meant to entertain the newly forming middle class. Pickwick told the story of Mr. Pickwick and his friends searching through England for new information leading to the betterment of mankind. The story didn’t catch with audiences until the character Sam Weller, a young shoe polisher with quick wit, was introduced to the tale. Working-class Weller immediately related with audiences and sales skyrocketed. Pickwick stayed on the bestseller list for thirty years.

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Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval
: Approve – 44.8 percent//Disapprove – 49.9 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 29.7 percent//Wrong Track – 60.7 percent

Megyn Kelly
pressed Democratic National Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz on her response to a question on abortion from 2016 Republican contender Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Asked about his views on exceptions to late term abortion, Paul told reporters to ask the Democratic leader “if she is OK with killing a seven-pound baby that is not born yet.” On “The Kelly File,” Schultz defended her opposition to restrictions on late-term abortion:

“The state has a right to step in on behalf of the fetus and say at some point that fetus does obtain rights,” Kelly pressed. “You would admit that you can’t have women aborting third trimester just on a whim?” “Certainly not on a whim,” Schultz responded. “There is no ambivalence here. We are very clear. We believe that that decision is best left not to government, but between a woman and her doctor. So, I can’t tell you a specific date and time past which we on all cases are certain that choice shouldn’t be made. Because that decision is very unique and individual to the woman and should be in consultation with her conscience and her God and her doctor. That is a decision left to her.” Watch the full interview here.

Fresh from his campaign announcement, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is back in Washington and using Tax Day to hawk the tax plan he crafted with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. Rubio and Lee are speaking today at the conservative Heritage Foundation, but the two have faced substantial blowback from the right for not calling for a steeper reduction for the top bracket and not eliminating more deductions. Rubio is the only top-tier candidate with a specific tax-reform proposal, which means that he is the only one who can face specific attacks. If Rubio can draw his rivals into a tax debate, though, he might force them to back up promises and claims with actual proposals.

[Rubio’s campaign produced a lush-looking behind-the-scenes video of the Florida senator’s announcement day, mixing lines from the speech with family photos and scenic shots from around the country.]

Wait. What? - In an interview with MSNBC, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz called fellow Floridian Rubio “a prune” with “some tinsel around it.”

Jeb promises he will ‘never disparage’ Rubio - Bloomberg Politics: “Former Florida governor Jeb Bush vowed Tuesday that he would not criticize his friend, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, though the two men will likely go head to head for the Republican presidential nomination. ‘He is my friend, and I care for him a lot,’ Bush told reporters after speaking at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce annual meeting in Columbus. ‘I really admire him a lot.’' Bush went on to say that he's ‘not good at playing like I'm something I'm not,’' and that he wouldn't think of going negative against Rubio in a campaign. ‘I am his friend, and he’s mine, and I'm never going to disparage him,’ Bush added. For his part, Rubio has been equally kind to his prospective rival. ‘Jeb is my friend. He is still my friend. He will continue to be,’ Rubio told ABC News on Monday.”

Tag team - Tampa Bay Times: “Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio blasted President Obama’s decision to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, a step in normalizing relations with the island country...”

Auf Deutsch: Walker trade trip continues - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Speaking in Germany on Tuesday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker backed a new trade agreement being pursued by the United States and the European Union. The GOP governor and all-but-certain presidential candidate spoke about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership while visiting the Hannover Messe trade show, part of a three-country trip to Western Europe. … In another sign of Walker's likely presidential run, he is expected to cut his participation in this week's trip short to join other GOP contenders for political events over the weekend in the key early primary state of New Hampshire. Walker will serve as the keynote speaker for the Republican Leadership Summit in Nashua on Saturday and meet with other Republicans from the state, including U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.”

[‘What about your gaffes?’ - Bloomberg honed in on one dropped “e” in Walker’s use of German.]

Kelley Paul has advice for her husband: ‘Open up’ - WaPo: “As Rand Paul runs for president, wife Kelley Paul has a new role: helping soften the public image of her husband, an ophthalmologist who can be alternately prickly and blunt. Her prescription for the doctor: the policy is great - just add in some of the personal. She urged him to share a story on the trail about performing cataract surgery on a couple in Guatemala; after the operations, they could see one another clearly for the first time in years. ‘He told me that and I started welling up, and so did he - and I was like, you need to share a little bit about who you are from the heart,’ she said. ‘So that’s probably not his natural thing to put things like that in speeches.’ Kelley, a writer and former marketing manager, has edited her husband’s speeches since he ran for Senate in 2010.”

[Kelley Paul also heads to the Granite State today for a women’s event and signing for her new book.]

With Rubio, Cruz and Paul off and running the pressure is building on the rest of the GOP field to officially join the race. How much time is left? Can they afford to wait? Chris Stirewalt details the factors would-be candidates are considering as the presidential launch window begins to shrink and does it all in 60 seconds.  WATCH HERE

Christie says he’s ready, points to June start - WashEx: “The New Jersey governor, who revealed he has no regrets about not running in 2012 amid calls to do so, said he's finally ready for a White House run. ‘I wasn't ready,’ Christie told Yahoo News. ‘...And so there was no way I would have won in 2012. I wouldn't have, because I wasn't ready.’ When reporter Matt Bai asked Christie if he is ready for a 2016 run, the New Jersey governor quickly responded, ‘Yes.’ Christie said he could wait until June to make a final decision on whether or not he will run for the Republican presidential nominee.”

[Christie’s New Hampshire swing started under a strain as he faced questions about looming potential federal corruption indictments. Christie told reporters he blamed his nature as “a trusting person” for the misdeeds by underlings. Christie continues campaigning today.]

UPI: “The Minnesota Senate voted to keep rules banning senators from making eye contact during floor debate and from having drinking water on the floor. Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, spoke in favor of striking the rule that bars senators from looking at one another during floor debate, requiring them to instead keep their eyes on the Senate president. ‘I find this particular rule of the Senate, dare I say, antiquated,’ Limmer said. However, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said the rule is still relevant to the process. He said looking at one another during debates could cause deliberations to become personal. ‘Our decorum would probably not be as Senate-like as we would like to have it’ if the rule was changed, Bakk said. The Senate sided with Bakk in a 15-44 vote.”

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

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.