Dem fractures deepen on ObamaCare

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Buzz Cut:
• Dem fractures deepen on ObamaCare
• Warren to the rescue in Braley’s farmer fiasco
• Dem candidate charged in guns for funds sting
• Top 2016 contenders converge on The Strip
• This candidate’s got stones, man!

A long-promised remedy from moderate Democrats to some of ObamaCare’s worst problems debuts today. The question is will Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the rest of Team Obama let the suite of legislation see daylight. That’s not clear. Given the propensity of the president to act alone in changing ObamaCare, he seems unlikely to allow his fellow Democrats to start yanking on the unsteady law. But the dozens of delays, carve-outs and alterations President Obama has conjured have not so far been enough to protect vulnerable Democrats from public outrage over the false promises and botched implementation of the law. The Democratic Party’s increasing liberalism over the past decade has left little tolerance for moderate triangulators like those offering the fixes rolling out today. Among the co-sponsors are Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va.; Mark Begich, D-Alaska; Mary Landrieu, D-La.; Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.; Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; and Sen. Angus King, I., Maine.

[A Quinnipiac poll released this morning shows Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., ahead of Republican frontrunner Ed Gillespie, 46 percent to 31 percent. Offering hope to Republicans: The president is stuck at 44 percent job approval and 52 percent of voters oppose his signature health law.]

Tough medicine for Obama to take - Among provisions expected to be unveiled by the centrist six today include lower-cost insurance options than those allowed by ObamaCare, allowances for insurers to compete across state lines, small-business tax credits and exemptions for mid-sized employers. Most objectionable to President Obama and his allies in the insurance industry would be a proposal seen by some as potentially wiping out the deadline for ObamaCare enrollment. [Read more about the provisions.] Some of the measures could no doubt pass the Senate, but Reid and Obama have been working desperately to shift the discussion away from America’s number one political issue, not towards it. The president has made a point of dismissing bipartisan calls for congressional action on his law, but vulnerable Democrats obviously need more relief than Obama can provide with his pen and phone.

[Watch Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., preview the legislation in an interview with Fox News colleague Gretchen Carlson.]

Ill prognosis - While this move does increase the pressure on Republicans to unite behind an ObamaCare alternative, it mostly marks an acceleration of Democratic fracturing. The worse the midterm results look, the greater the value there will be in dissing the president and his law. A reasonable accommodation by Obama would be to allow vulnerable Dems to talk some trash and have some votes that go nowhere. But with a law so unsteady and so despised, Obama may not be willing to take that chance and Reid has shown little willingness to ever buck the boss. And remember, Obama is notorious for neglecting the political needs of Democrats other than himself. But Reid does occasional ignore Obama, as he did on gun control and is currently doing on trade. Is the majority leader worried enough to break ranks? We’ll see.

[Watch Fox: Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., appears in the 2 p.m. ET hour.]

Oops - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is under scrutiny for hinky campaign payments to his granddaughter, made an unfortunate excuse for the most recent ObamaCare delay, citing the Internet incompetence of Americans “who are not like my grandchildren who can handle everything so easily on the Internet.”

Meanwhile… WaPo reports that Reid’s political action committee its next installment of attack ads against a couple of little known guys from Kansas.

Who got WaPo to blow Koch story? - Powerline Blog’s John Hinderaker considers whether congressional Democrats were behind the WaPo’s erroneous report linking the Koch brothers to the Keystone Pipeline.

WSJ: “Insurers fear that past-deadline enrollees could complicate efforts to calculate premiums for next year, which will be filed with regulators from this spring. Health plans want to know who has signed up this year and their medical needs, so they can gauge what to charge in 2015…Insurers have also pushed for enrollment periods to be tightly restricted, to avoid the prospect of healthy people waiting until they have an accident or illness to obtain coverage now that health plans can no longer bar people based on their medical condition.

[“[ObamaCare] is full of so many holes, so many arbitrary exemptions. Who knows what the rule of law is because [President Obama’s] not supposed to write the law, he’s supposed to execute the law. So this is really gotten to a point where who knows what ObamaCare is anymore, and what the exemptions are.”—Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on “Hannity” Wednesday.]

Trusting souls - Washington Examiner: “The Obama administration on Wednesday insisted that they would allow consumers who tried to register for Obamacare before the deadline to complete the process but sidestepped questions about how they would verify any late applications… Asked by a reporter if they were relying on an ‘honor system,’ officials said enrollees would be filling out an ‘official federal application.’ [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokeswoman Julie Bataille] said she believed most people were ‘truthful’ on such forms.”

[“The administration is now resorting to an honor system…What the hell is this, a joke?” – House Speaker John Boehner in a press conference Wednesday.]

Fox News: “President Obama met Pope Francis at the Vatican Thursday amid a complex backdrop of conflict over contraception, concern for the plight of the poor, and the pontiff's emergence as a powerful persona on the world stage… the relationship between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church is a fraught one. But in Francis, the White House sees the popular pope and his emphasis on economic disparity as a form of moral validation of the president's economic agenda… Vatican Radio, in an article in advance of the visit, took special note that Obama's papal audience takes place ‘in the context of a complex phase of the administration's relations with the Church of the United States.’ It went on to mention implementation of the health care law and legalization of gay marriage.”

Ouch - CNN Money is out with its list of The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders. Atop the ranking is Pope Francis and behind the pontiff is German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Former President Bill Clinton appears, as do figures like Ford CEO Alan Mulally, U2 frontman Bono and Yankees captain Derek Jeter. Not on the list? President Obama.

Top human rights post still vacant - Daily Beast: “Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry made calls to senators urging them to confirm the State Department’s top human rights official; he thought the Senate leadership was on board. But suddenly, the White House stepped in and bumped the human rights nominee in favor of Joseph William Westphal, the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, only days before President Obama is set to visit the country to repair a damaged relationship. Westphal was confirmed Wednesday night. Tom Malinowski, the nominee to become Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, has lingered in limbo after being nominated over 250 days ago…”

Fox News: By a widening margin, more voters think the United States is weaker since Barack Obama became president.  And the highest number in a decade feels the country is less safe than it was before 9/11, according to a Fox News poll…”
[The same poll finds a majority of Democrats disapprove of President Obama’s handling of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s incursions in the Ukraine, with 60 percent saying he has not been tough enough with the Russian leader. Overall, 66 percent of respondents share similar sentiments.]

Straw men make good cannon fodder - George Will: “Obama evidently harbors the surreal hope that Putin will continue to help regarding Syria and Iran. Continue? Putin’s client in Damascus, Bashar al-Assad, is winning his civil war. And regarding attempts to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Putin’s helpfulness, if not fictitious, has been ineffective. Obama, always a slayer of straw men, has eschewed something no one has contemplated, ‘a military excursion in Ukraine.’ The American Heritage Dictionary defines ‘excursion’ as ‘a usually short journey made for pleasure.’’’

[Listen to Fox: Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, joins Kilmeade and Friends to discuss ObamaCare’s latest delay and the situation in the Ukraine in the 11 a.m. ET hour.]

JudgeAndrew Napolitano weighs the constitutional requirements of probable cause against how today’s intelligence community operates: “The constitutional requirement of probable cause is not political fancy; rather, it saves us from tyranny…”

Peter McGraw
and Joel Warner ponder if animals have a sense of humor and what it could mean for the future of antidepressants for Slate: “… in multiple experiments [Northwestern University biomedical engineering professor  Jeffrey Burgdorf] has demonstrated… rats’ 50 kilohertz chirping is only associated with positive experiences. For example, the rats only made this sound during rough and tumble play when the animals were of similar size… He and his colleagues are testing a new antidepressant medication on rats, to see if it makes them ‘laugh,’ or chirp happily. If all goes well, Burgdorf believes the resulting medication could eventually be approved for humans. Rats, so often seen as a malicious pest, could end up making the world a happier place.”

Got a TIP from the RIGHT or LEFT? Email FoxNewsFirst@FOXNEWS.COM

Real Clear Politics Averages

Obama Job Approval: Approve –  42.6 percent//Disapprove – 53.5 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 29.8 percent//Wrong Track – 61.6 percent
Generic Congressional Ballot:  Democrats – 42 percent// Republicans 40.3 percent

Liberal leader Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is wading in to help embattled Senate candidate Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa. Braley’s campaign is reeling this week after a video from conservative opposition research group America Rising caught Braley belittling Iowa farmers while he was soliciting contributions for his campaign from a group of his fellow trial lawyers in Texas. Warren has lent her name to the ultra-liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee for a Braley bailout. Warren also plumps for long-shot South Dakota Democrat Rick Weiland in the appeal.

[The Des Moines Register reports that the National Republican Senatorial Committee is making robocalls to 305,000 Iowa households starting today, hitting Braley over the controversial comments.]

Piling on - The conservative group Priorities for Iowa is hitting the airwaves in a $250,000 ad buy blasting Rep. Bruce Braley’s, D-Iowa, recent comments calling Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a “farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.” From the ad: “We’d rather bet the farm on Grassley, than a bunch of trial lawyers from Texas.”

In the latest edition of “Power Play with Chris Stirewalt,” Chris tries his hand at breaking down Michigan’s Senate race in just 90 seconds.  Retiring Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich, is looking to hand over the keys to Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., after the election. Chris considers how former Republican Secretary of State, Terri Lynn Land, could snatch those keys away before that happens. Watch “Power Play” here.

Peters makes personal pitch in ad debut -
Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., who is facing a competitive race to succeed retiring Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., plans to make a splash during two Wolverine State Sweet Sixteen games. Roll Call reports: “Peters’ first spot will air Friday as fans settle in to watch the games featuring Michigan State University and the University of Michigan…The Democrat’s campaign will air two spots – a 30-second ad and a 60-second version – over a seven-week period as part of a seven-figure buy, according to the Peters campaign. The ads are positive and biographical in nature. ‘I’m Gary Peters, I was raised in an average Michigan middle class home,’ the House Democrat says straight to camera. ‘Dad was a teacher. Mom was a nurse’s aide. I was able to go to college, and earn three degrees while going to school at night. I served in the Navy Reserve, and after 9/11, I volunteered again. My wife Colleen and I want to be able to give our own kids what our parents gave us: the chance to do a little better.”‘

In a new web video, Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is hitting Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., over attending Hollywood fundraisers and advancing a liberal agenda. From the ad: “Sen. Pryor went to Hollywood to get big Tinseltown money for his campaign. They just love his liberal record. Help us decide which Hollywood movie describes what’s wrong with Pryor’s left wing record in Washington…”

Former Gov. Haley Barbour, R-Miss, is coming to embattled Sen. Thad Cochran’s, defense.  In a local OpEd, Barbour hit back at attacks from the Conservative Club for Growth that claim Cochran voted to fund ObamaCare, calling them “fraudulent.” Barbour further warns Mississippi voters “Don’t be swayed by some out-of-state phonies who couldn’t tell you the difference between Pascagoula and Pontotoc.”

Incipient New Hampshire Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown is reprising is famous GMC pickup truck in a new Web ad featuring footage of his listening tour across the Granite State. From the ad: “I want to thank the people of New Hampshire, you’ve welcomed us into your homes, businesses, and the places where you live and work…”

Pick Six: New hopes for GOP in New Hampshire?
Republicans need to flip an additional six seats from blue to red to gain control of the Senate. Which seats are most likely to change hands this year?  The current consensus among Fox News First readers: Arkansas, Montana, Louisiana, South Dakota, North Carolina and West Virginia. But wait! FNF reader S.W. Laroche says, “add N.H. to the list,” seeing a tight race between potential Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

Share your top six picks. Email them – just your top six, please – to FOXNEWSFIRST@FOXNEWS.COM or tweet @cstirewalt.

Who’s your bracket buster? - Until the end of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Fox News First wants you to pick your midterm bracket busters. Choose a candidate who looks like an easy out on paper but who you just know isn’t a sure lock. Tweet your long shot selections to @cstirewalt and we’ll share the best ones here.

Vulnerable Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C. is no doubt wincing at news that Democratic Mayor Patrick Cannon of Charlotte – North Carolina’s largest city and the site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention – resigned Wednesday after he was charged with corruption and bribery in an FBI sting. In office just six months, Cannon is accused of accepting more than $48,000 from undercover FBI agents posing as businessmen, along with airline tickets, a hotel room and the use of a luxury apartment. Hagan, already in under fire for her support of ObamaCare and facing stiff odds for re-election, can’t be helped by the blowout local coverage of Cannon’s arrest and resignation. More.

California state Sen. Leland Yee faces federal charges in a scheme to rack up campaign cash from a gun trafficking conspiracy for his run for secretary of state. Yee, a San Francisco Democrat and an outspoken gun control advocate, wanted donations in return for connecting a gangster from New Jersey with an international arms dealer according to an FBI complaint. The astonishing complaint describes a series of meetings between co-conspirators and undercover FBI agents. LAT has the details, including this exchange: “The agent told Yee he wanted up to $2.5-million worth of weapons. After they arrived in Newark, some would be sent to North Africa or Sicily, the agent said. Yee asked if he wanted automatic or semiautomatic guns, according to the complaint -- the same kind of weapons the senator has sought to restrict. During a Feb. 25 meeting, Yee said he had to be careful because of a separate case involving Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello), who was wrapped up in a federal bribery sting. But according to the criminal complaint, that didn’t stop him from continuing to discuss a potential weapons deal.”

Several top 2016 GOP contenders will be getting some valuable face time in the days ahead with billionaire casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson. Aides to Adelson, whose $92 million in political spending in 2012 helped keep alive the doomed campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, told WaPo that Adelson is seeking a candidate with broader appeal. Blue-state Govs. Chris Christie, R-N.J., Scott Walker, R-Wis., and John Kasich, R-Ohio, will all have audiences with Adelson during the Republican Jewish Coalition Conference, which runs through this weekend in Las Vegas. Adelson is set to celebrate former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., in a dinner this evening.

[A new Marquette University Law School poll finds Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., leads Democrat Mary Burke 48 percent to 41 percent.]

Whale of a donor - The A.B. Stoddard underscores the role Adelson could play as a Republican kingmaker: “Not only can Adelson shut down the circus primary earlier on by supporting the more electable candidate, but that nominee’s general election campaign can start earlier and be far better funded until the end with Adelson’s help. [2016 Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton] will have her own super-PACs funding her campaign, should she run. But we all know she would prefer Adelson get behind someone real crazy.”

[Washington Examiner: “It may not be conventional thinking, but Hillary Clinton is good for Jeb Bush, according to an influential GOP political pollster.”]

Not much more than an asteroid, really - 2016 Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton is not the only potential presidential candidate with her own astronomical object. Vice President Joe Biden is getting in on the planetary action, as astronomers are calling a recently discovered dwarf planet just beyond Pluto “2012 VP113” or “Biden” for short. AP has more.

[AP: “Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Mike Ross criticized Republican rival Asa Hutchinson Wednesday for his role in prosecuting the impeachment case against former President Bill Clinton…]

Daily Caller: “A Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate had a painful candidate’s forum Tuesday; not because of his performance, but because he was in the process of passing a kidney stone when it occurred… state Treasurer Steve Grossman, a Democrat, suffers from chronic kidney stones, and in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, he began to pass one. The pain was ‘a 10 on a scale of 1-to-10,’ according to Grossman’s spokesman Chandra Allard, but he declined to change his campaign schedule, showing up at the forum and at least one other event as planned. Grossman apparently finally passed the stone at an awards ceremony after the candidate’s forum.”

“[ObamaCare] is one of the longest laws in American history, thousands of pages, and you never hear anybody referring to section 706-b, or whatever, because what’s written in the law, for all those words, none of them really matter because they get changed arbitrarily after the law is passed.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier

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