2016 Power Index: Jeb’s adversary and his alternate

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Buzz Cut:
• 2016 Power Index: Jeb’s adversary and his alternate
• Clinton courtiers still haggling, but spring launch looks likely
• Boehner ready to run the rapids on immigration
• Power Play: Can Congress push Obama on ISIS?
• Rebounder

The three top-tier candidates for the Republican nomination came out of the big Conservative Political Action Conference event better than they went in. Frontrunner Jeb Bush took a moderate message to a conservative gathering and came out unscathed. (His team also demonstrated organizational chops in busing in some prepster-looking folks in Jeb! ’16 stickers from the Hill and downtown to fill up empty space in the hall.) Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., scored a surprisingly close second in the event’s closely watched straw poll. While Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., delivered an expected win with the youngish, libertarian-leaning activists, Walker being just 5 points off the lead with so many conservative alternatives on the ballots is a testament to his surge. And there was no doubt that Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., won new admirers for his nimble, direct answers. And now we start to see some clearer contours of the race.

[Watch Fox: Chris Stirewalt joins Gretchen Carlson on “The Real Story” in the 2 p.m. ET hour with the latest on who’s up and who’s down in the 2016 Power Index.]

Different roles - While Rubio and Walker are far apart in public polling, they are the two people most likely to be the nominee other than frontrunner Bush. But for very different reasons. Walker has emerged as the man most likely to beat Bush, a role the party’s conservatives are eager to fill. In 2012 the establishment-backed frontrunner knocked down a series of “Not Romney” rivals, but this time, conservatives seem to be coalescing behind one well-funded candidate. A similar effect emerged in 2012 for Rick Perry, but he broke down at the first turn. Walker looks much more likely to go the distance. Rubio, on the other hand, looks like a good alternate for Bush if the former Florida governor proves unwilling or unable to pacify his restive party. Rubio, who is less mistrusted by conservatives, has consistently impressed big-money donors both center-right and right-wing. If Bush can’t get the job done, Rubio looks ready.

And here’s this week’s full Power Index ranking: 1) Jeb Bush; 2) Scott Walker; 3) Marco Rubio; 4) Rand Paul [+1]; 5) Ted Cruz [-1]; 6) Rick Perry; 7) Ben Carson; 8) Chris Christie; 9) Carly Fiorina [first ranking]; 10 (tie) John Kasich [-1]; Mike Huckabee.

On the Radar - Rick SantorumBobby JindalMike Pence

Biggest winner –
There’s little doubt that Carly Fiorina was the candidate who got the most out of her CPAC venture. While she has impressed elsewhere, her tough speech that lacerated Hillary Clinton’s claims of experience was a huge hit. Her stock as a potential running mate is way, way up.

[What would you say? - Give us your take on the GOP field and we will share the best and brightest with the whole class. Send your thoughts to FOXNEWSFIRST@FOXNEWS.COM]

Reuters: “Jeb Bush will not sign any ‘no new taxes’ pledges or any other pledges if he decides to seek the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, a spokeswoman said on Saturday. The statement from Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell was in response to an appeal from anti-tax champion Grover Norquist for Bush to sign his Taxpayers Protection Pledge, in which candidates agree to oppose tax increases. ‘If Governor Bush decides to move forward, he will not sign any pledges circulated by lobbying groups,’ Campbell said in a statement. ‘His record on tax cuts is clear. He didn’t raise taxes.’ Bush’s opposition to such pledges is longstanding. He did not sign such pledges in any of his three previous campaigns for Florida governor, an aide said…”

[Bush will campaign at a retirement community in Las Vegas today, giving a speech and taking questions in the early primary state.]

Fox News:  “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a presumptive 2016 Republican presidential candidate, says he has changed his immigration stance and no longer backs comprehensive reform that would allow illegal immigrants to be penalized but remain in the country…Walker in 2013 said a plan in which illegal immigrants can become United States citizens by first paying penalties and enduring a waiting period ‘makes sense.’ However, he is now saying such a plan is tantamount to amnesty, amid criticism that he has flip-flopped on that issue and others, including right-to-work legislation in his home state. ‘I don’t believe in amnesty,’ said Walker, who finished second Saturday in the Conservative Political Action Conference’s straw poll for potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates…Walker also is among the 25 Republican governors who have joined in a lawsuit challenging the president’s 2014 executive action that defers deportation for millions of illegal immigrants.”

Hires former RNC hands - TIME: “Walker’s political group, Our American Revival, has hired Danny O’Driscoll and Wells Griffith, according to a spokesperson, adding to a team heavy with former talent from the Republican Party’s national office, including former political director Rick Wiley as campaign manager.”

Peace with Perry - WaPo: “[Texas Gov. Rick Perry] also addressed a small dust-up between himself and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who appeared to compare labor protesters in the United States to Islamic State terrorists during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday. Responding to the remarks, Perry told MSNBC that the comparison was ‘inappropriate.’ During the CNN interview Sunday, however, the former Texas governor said he accepted Walker’s explanation. ‘I think the initial response when I heard that: ‘That’s not right. You don’t make that connect.’ The governor has gone back and clarified his remarks since then and clearly said that’s not what he was talking about,’ Perry said. ‘I respect that clarification and support him on that.’”

“And I want to make it clear right now.  I’m not comparing [ISIS and government worker unions]. What I meant was it was about leadership. The leadership we provided under extremely difficult circumstances, arguably, the most difficult of any governor in the country, and maybe in -- in recent times. To me, I apply that to saying if I were to run and if I were to win and be commander-in-chief, I believe that kind of leadership is what's necessary to take on radical Islamic terrorism.” –Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., on “Fox News Sunday” Watch here.

Backs Bibi - Walker penned an op-ed for NRO declaring his support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Tuesday: “If the president continues to call into doubt our friendship with Israel while seeking rapprochement with Iran, he will harm more than just the U.S.–Israeli relationship. He will undermine the trust of our remaining friends and partners in the Middle East.”

AP: “Nearly a dozen people close to [Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.], including GOP officials, fundraisers and his advisers, say Rubio has told them he is in the final stages of planning the launch of his presidential run and will formally join the crowded field of Republican hopefuls as early as April. … Rubio’s advisers have told party leaders that they should expect to recruit a candidate to run for his Senate seat in 2016, according to four people involved in the talks… Rubio’s team is preparing for a national campaign. His top political adviser and likely campaign manager, Terry Sullivan, has been recruiting operatives — including Jim Merrill, who ran [Mitt Romney’s] New Hampshire campaigns and was at Rubio’s side for a two-day visit to the state last week. Spokesman Alex Conant is leaving Rubio's Senate office this week to begin work at his political action committee.”

Says Obama desire for Iran nuke deal trumps ISIS war - Palm Beach [Fla.] Post: “President Barack Obama’s desire for a nuclear deal with Iran is blocking the military defeat of Islamic State forces, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio contends. … But in an interview with The Palm Beach Post on Saturday, Rubio argued that while Iran has ‘tolerated some U.S. airstrikes on a limited basis,’ it sees a larger U.S. role as a threat…”

[So much for spring break in Caracas - Rubio is among a group of officials and politicians who were banned from entering Venezuela over the weekend by President Nicholas Maduro.]

Double cheddar - WaPo examines fundraising viability and the $75 million question confronting the vast potential Republican field, the apparent threshold to be considered a top-tier candidate.

In an interview with David Drucker following her standout CPAC performance, Carly Fiorina drew a line between running for president because she is a woman and being a woman who is running for president: “I’ve never been a token in my life, and, if I run, I’m not running because I am a woman. The facts are, I am a woman, and as a woman, I think I bring the perspective of 53 percent of voters today who are also women and a voice that is too often missing.”

Is puny planet Pluto about to get a big head? Some scientists think so. While everyone knows the distant orb is tiny (smaller than our moon) throw in its atmosphere and Pluto’s planetary stature becomes, well, big. Buzzfeed: “Michael Summers, a NASA scientist working on the New Horizons mission to Pluto, posted [an] image on the mission’s blog last week. He wrote: The “outer limit” of Pluto’s atmosphere is very difficult to define, although we know that it is very far from the surface. If one defines it similar to the way we define the exobase of Earth’s atmosphere, then Pluto’s atmosphere has an outer limit of at least seven times Pluto’s radius above it surface. This means that the volume of Pluto’s atmosphere is over 350 times the volume of Pluto itself!” The New Horizons mission will be taking measurements in plutospace later this year.

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Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval
: Approve – 44.6 percent//Disapprove – 51.1 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 32.2 percent//Wrong Track – 59.2 percent

WSJ: “Many within [presumptive Democratic nominee’s Hillary Clinton’s] camp have advocated her staying out of the fray until the summer. Jumping in sooner would help the Democratic field take shape, reassuring party leaders and donors that the former first lady, senator and secretary of state is running. A super PAC loyal to Mrs. Clinton has faced hesitation from donors who don’t want to make big pledges until she is a candidate. Such concerns would evaporate after she announces. But Mrs. Clinton would become an even larger target for Republicans when she enters the race. She also would be pressed to opine on a raft of thorny issues in the news, including how to combat the military advances of Islamic State militants in the Middle East. One influential proponent of an earlier announcement is John Podesta, who is expected to play an important role in Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign, one person familiar with the matter said.”

The struggle is real - Politico has some nitty-gritty details on Chelsea Clinton’s struggle with her father’s faction inside the lucrative world of Clinton fundraising.

Dems afraid to criticize - WSJ: “A handful of prominent Democrats not named Hillary Clinton are talking seriously about running for president. None of them seem to want it badly enough that they’re willing to criticize Mrs. Clinton, distinguish themselves from her, explain why they’d be a better choice for the party nomination – or, heck, even speak her name.”

[Conservatives are looking to pressure Clinton with an ad asking her to pick sides on the ongoing flap over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress this week.]

National Journal: “After cutting a last-minute deal Friday night to fund the Homeland Security Department for one week, [Speaker John Boehner] now has a vital choice to make: Does he stand with the conservative members of his party who insist that the funding measure must be used as a chance to block President Obama’s immigration action, or does he work with Democrats and the moderates in his own party to pass a clean funding measure that avoids a DHS shutdown but leaves immigration alone…Despite the last week’s tumult, there’s no real indication right now that Boehner’s speakership is in jeopardy…. But this week, with the shutdown clock again running may just set the tone for the duration of his leadership and show whether or not he’s able to keep his party together while ensuring that the government stays open.”

“We do have some members who disagree from time to time over the tactics that we decide to employ. But, remember, Republicans are united in this idea that the president has far exceeded his constitutional authority.  And we all want to do things to stop the president from his illicit activity.” –Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on CBS’s “Face the Nation”.

GOP plan provides path from ObamaCare - In this joint WaPo op-ed, Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., lay out their plan to “create a bridge away from Obamacare” should the Supreme Court rule that the administration acted illegally by using the IRS to deliver subsidies to millions of Americans. It’s a promise that may reassure Chief Justice John Roberts that mass disruptions would not ensue. As for what the plan would look like in practice, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., laid out the leading proposal last week.

Republican Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, discusses the constitutional issues that  Chris Stirewalt that President Obama needs a workable plan, not additional authorization, to defeat ISIS.  Stewart says he thinks most American would support such a plan, but the Congressman has concerns that the president is reluctant to engage in more aggressive action. WATCH HERE.

In his address to Congress Tuesday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will reportedly push lawmakers delay the deadline and make changes to what he says is an unacceptable deal that leaves Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon intact. In what has become a high speed rhetorical centrifuge, Democrats and Republicans are accusing each other of injecting too much politics into the speech. Fox News: [In an interview with ABC News,] “Secretary of State John Kerry said Netanyahu was welcome to speak in the United States and that the administration did not want the event ‘turned into some great political football.’…. House Speaker John Boehner [who] invited Netanyahu last month to address Congress without consulting the White House… told [CBS News] that the White House has “attacked” him and Netanyahu over the issue. [Kerry] also said that he talked to Netanyahu as recently as Saturday and argued that Israel is safer as a result of the short-term nuclear pact that world powers and Iran reached in late 2013…. [Netanyahu] considers unacceptable any deal that does not entirely end Iran’s nuclear program. But Obama is willing to leave some nuclear activity intact, backed by safeguards that Iran is not trying to develop a weapon.”

“Israel is safer today because of the interim agreement that we created. The 20 percent enriched uranium has been reduced to 0. We have stopped the centrifuge production. We are inspecting inside of their facilities. We have stopped the Iraq plutonium reactor in its tracks. Israel is safer today and that is the standard that we will apply to any agreement going forward. It is to guarantee that we will know that Iran cannot develop a nuclear weapon under the procedure that we're putting in place.” – Secretary of State John Kerry on ABC’s “This Week”.

Who’s up next? - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations Samantha Power are featured at today’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee morning conference session. U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. speak later tonight.

[Watch Fox: Chief Washington Correspondent James Rosen covers the AIPAC conference and Netanyahu’s speech to the lobbying group ahead of Tuesday’s controversial joint Congressional address.]

Mikulski to announce departure from Senate - WaPo: “Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who has served in Congress longer than any woman in history, will announce at a news conference Monday that she is retiring from the Senate after five terms in office, three sources familiar with her plans said. Mikulski, 78, was the first woman to chair the powerful Appropriations Committee, a post she had to give up this year when the Democrats lost control of the Senate.” Potential Democratic contenders to fill the seat include former Gov. Martin O’Malley, D-Md., and former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, D-Md.

A would-be thief in Ireland ran into an unexpected obstacle as he attempted to break into a car or perhaps the obstacle ran into him. The Irish Independent reports that after using a small stone repeatedly to try to break the glass, the man gets a brick and with a running start gives it one last effort. The window didn’t budge instead the brick ricocheted off the car back at the man knocking him out. The car’s owner Gerry Brady was leaving his nearby pub when he came upon the man lying on the sidewalk. The situation took a bizarre turn when Brady said the man attempted to blackmail him for money. But when the police picked him up, Brady said the man began claiming assault, “He started claiming that I attacked him. He was still telling them that in the station when I came in with the footage of him getting knocked out by his own brick.” Thanks to that security footage, Brady was able prove his innocence.

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