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• Islamist threat overshadows Obama’s domestic sales pitch
• Dems have lost more than 900 statehouse seats since 2010
• RNC ready to roll on debate, primary plans
• Santorum’s money man ready for another run
• At least the ACLU couldn’t complain
ISLAMIST THREAT OVERSHADOWS OBAMA’S DOMESTIC SALES PITCH
Just as President Obama is hitting the campaign trail to sell a reboot of his domestic policies ahead of next week’s State of the Union Address, the threat from Islamist militants is again crowding out his messages. Starting eight days ago with the deadly attack in Paris, the president has struggled to gain traction for his calls for more spending, higher taxes and new regulations. The Obama media strategy, on which its authors have been congratulating themselves at length in the political press, is to roll out the speech day after day to targeted geographic and demographic groups. This is not unlike what we saw last year when Islamists in Iraq and Syria destroyed the Democratic midterm communications strategy and focused national attention on concerns over the president’s foreign policy. The president’s campaign to avoid lame duck status looks similarly imperiled.
Islamist killing fields in Nigeria - Fox News: “Amnesty International has released satellite images that it says show widespread destruction in two Nigerian towns attacked by Boko Haram last weekend. The international human rights organization says that the photos show the towns of Baga and Doron Baga in northeast Nigeria, before and after the attacks. The images were taken on Jan. 2 and Jan. 7 of this year. Boko Haram fighters seized a military base in Baga on Jan. 3 and, according to witnesses, killed hundreds of civilians in cold blood in the ensuing days. …Amnesty International calculates that 3,700 homes and other structures were demolished by the Islamic militants over the course of the attack.”
[Fox News Poll: 64 percent of voters say the threat from Islamic extremists is increasing while 55 percent say President Obama is not prepared to do whatever it takes to defeat them.]
ISIS gains territory - Fox News: “The Islamic State terror group reportedly has increased the amount of territory they control in Syria as the U.S.-led bombing campaign approaches its four-month anniversary. The Wall Street Journal, citing U.S. government and independent assessments, say that the Islamic State, commonly known as ISIS, has control of a large swath of northeastern Syria and is creeping toward key cities in the country's west, including Aleppo, a center of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.”
[Fox News Poll: 56 percent of voters disapprove of President Obama’s handling of ISIS and 57 percent disapprove of his overall foreign policy record.]
Five Yemeni Islamists released from Gitmo - WashEx: “The Obama administration late Wednesday released five Yemeni al Qaeda fighters from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, sending four of them to Oman, which shares a border with Yemen. The move is likely to inflame GOP lawmakers who proposed Tuesday to bar further such releases, especially to Yemen, a country wracked by sectarian violence where the local al Qaeda affiliate has claimed credit for last week's deadly attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The four sent to Oman … were considered either medium-risk or high-risk detainees. A fifth, Ahmed Abdul Qadir, judged to be a medium risk, was sent to Estonia.”
[Fox News Poll: 54 percent of voters think that President Obama has exceeded his authority when transferring suspects out of Guantanamo Bay while 59 percent feel that ISIS terrorists should be sent there.]
THE JUDGE’S RULING: Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst JudgeAndrew Napolitano says that speech isn’t as free in the West as Paris protesters and their American supporters would have you believe. “And how hypocritical was it of the French government to claim it defends free speech! In France, you can go to jail if you publicly express hatred for a group whose members may be defined generally by characteristics of birth, such as gender, age, race, place of origin or religion…. What’s going on here? What’s going on in France, and what might be the future in America, is the government defending the speech with which it agrees and punishing the speech with which it disagrees.”
[Fox News Poll: 35 percent of voters are very concerned that recent attacks will limit free speech in America.]
OBAMA TO ADD LEAVE TIME FOR FED WORKERS, SEEK NEW RULES FOR PRIVATE SECTOR
USA Today: “President Obama will call on Congress to require companies to give workers up to seven days of paid sick leave a year, a senior adviser said Wednesday. Obama will also take executive action to give at least six weeks of paid leave to federal employees after the birth or adoption of a child, Senior White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett said.”
[Fox News Poll: While 60 percent of voters want to repeal all or parts of ObamaCare, 66 percent of voters agree that employer-paid health insurance should be guaranteed at 30 hours a week.]
Calls for crackdown on natural gas - WSJ: “The Obama administration released proposed methane regulations set to go in effect in 2016 which include lowering levels of emissions by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels. These rules are designed to meet the commitment President Obama made in Beijing last November to lower greenhouse gases and would only impact new or modified locations.”
Seeks new federal control of Internet - Des Moines Register: “Speaking in Cedar Falls, Iowa, a city that invested in broadband access as a municipal utility, President Obama unveiled new grant and loan opportunities for Internet service providers as well as ensuring the Federal Communications Commission has the regulatory power it needs to assist municipal utilities in providing internet access.”
Conservative counterpoint - The Koch brothers-backed conservative group, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce is launching a new Plan for Economic Growth, a plan that focuses on fiscal responsibility and smaller government. “The first six years of the Obama administration have been defined by massive debt, broken promises, harmful regulations and an increasingly incompetent federal government,” said Freedom Partners spokesman James Davis. The three pillars of the agenda include tax and regulation reforms, repair ineffective government programs and restore a fiscally accountable government.
[Watch Fox: Fox News Polls on the economy and the mood of the country will be released tonight on “Special Report with Bret Baier” at 6 p.m. ET.]
MEXICO PAVES WAY FOR AMNESTY APPLICANTS
AP: “The Mexican government today will start issuing birth certificates to its citizens at consulates in the United States, seeking to make it easier for them to apply for U.S. work permits, driver's licenses and protection from deportation.”
DEMS HAVE LOST MORE THAN 900 STATEHOUSE SEATS SINCE 2010
WaPo: “Everyone knows by now that 2010 and 2014 were very good to the Republican Party. What they don’t understand (or understand well enough) is just how good. Yes, Republicans now control the Senate and have their largest majority in the House since World War II. But it’s downballot (way downballot) where the depth of the Republican victories over the past three elections truly reveal themselves -- and where the impact will be felt over the long term. In the past three elections, Republicans have gained 913 state legislative seats, according to calculations made by Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia…Now, there are more 7,000 state legislative seats in the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which makes that 913 number slightly less eye-popping. Still, the Democratic losses between 2010 and 2014 amount to 12 percent of all state legislative seats nationwide.”
WITH YOUR SECOND CUP OF COFFEE...
Meet Dwight McCarter, finder of lost souls. Over the years he has rescued dozens of hikers, mostly children, who have lost their way in the deep, dense Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. Garden & Gun’s Daniel Wallace introduces us to McCarter. “We’re hiking lazily down a trail for fifteen minutes before I realize we are tracking a bear. ‘There she is,’ he says. He kneels, and picks up the smallest of twigs. It’s freshly broken. The toothpick-size twig itself is a slate gray, but where it’s broken is white. A dot of white, no bigger than a bread crumb. ‘This is how I find the children,’ he says. ‘I look for the white. This tells me where they went.’” Read it, and it will give you chills.
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Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval: Approve – 44.7percent//Disapprove – 50.1 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 28.9 percent//Wrong Track – 63.4 percent
RNC READY TO ROLL ON DEBATE, PRIMARY PLANS
With the date of the 2016 Republican Convention set for July, a final verdict on the GOP presidential debate schedule and adoption of proposed primary rules are the highly anticipated announcements up next at the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting in San Diego. The early national convention date (July 18 - 21 in Cleveland) is part of move by the RNC to condense the nominating process and allow the party’s eventual nominee to access general election funds sooner. The timing and number of debates, which the committee wants to limit, along with adoption of strict rules to make the primary season more orderly, are part of a strategy meant to avoid a repeat of 2012’s drawn-out primary schedule and seemingly endless debates. Most states have signaled a willingness to go along with the new RNC rules, though moving the convention to July could create problems for those with primaries falling within 45 of the July 18 convention start date.
On the dais - While most of the recent press this week has centered on Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, potential 2016 hopefuls Ben Carson and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are scheduled speakers today at the RNC winter meeting at the seaside Hotel del Coronado. On Friday, Romney will deliver remarks aboard the nearby USS Midway aircraft carrier museum. Bush is not slated to attend the RNC meeting, but will be courting donors in southern California.
[Watch Fox: Campaign Carl Cameron is on hand at the 3-day RNC winter meeting and points out that Ben Carson & Scott Walker would have been headliners were it not for the sudden emergence of Mitt Romney as a 2016 player. Campaign Carl takes the pulse of the event and tracks the 2016 contest.]
Looking down the trail - Campaign Carl wants to know if Romney will attend the upcoming 2016 cattle call in Iowa Jan. 24 hosted by Rep. Steve King, Citizens United and Bob Vander Plaats of the conservative evangelical group, Family Leader. Romney nearly won Iowa’s caucuses, why wouldn’t he go if he’s seriously looking for feedback and support?
Committeeman censured for toxic social media presence - Detroit Free Press: “The Republican National Committee’s top officers formally censured Michigan member Dave Agema [Wednesday] for what they called ‘harmful rhetoric’ and demanded his resignation. National Party Chairman Reince Priebus announced the censure of Agema, a former state representative from Grandville, who has been roundly criticized for remarks and posts on social media considered insensitive to gays, Muslims and blacks. ‘Agema’s history of harmful and offensive rhetoric has no place in our party, which is why the RNC Executive Committee acted in the swiftest way possible to avoid giving him a platform,’ Priebus said [Wednesday night] as the RNC's Winter Meeting was set to get under way outside San Diego.”
SANTORUM’S MONEY MAN READY TO FUND ANOTHER RUN
WaPo: “Foster Friess, a wealthy conservative donor whose funds propelled Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign, will host a private gathering in Scottsdale, Ariz., this weekend to rally support behind Santorum’s potential 2016 bid. A group of Republican business executives, as well as GOP consultants from South Carolina and Iowa, are scheduled to have conversations with Santorum about his strategy and with Friess about financing a national political operation. … In an e-mail exchange last week with The Washington Post, Friess said that 20 Republican governors invited him to their inaugural celebrations this month, including a potential Santorum rival, Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.).But, he added, ‘I am clearly in the Santorum camp.’”
[Cold shoulders - As Santorum builds out his campaign, he will likely be doing so without his trademark sweater vest from 2012, reports Fox News colleague Serafin Gomez.]
Cruz not shy about 2016 - The [Harrisburg] Patriot News: “For an afternoon the lobby at the Hershey Lodge resembled a corridor at the U.S. Capitol. Scores of congressmen, some in obligatory dark suits, others sporting far more casual attire, filed in throughout Wednesday afternoon to check in for a two-day retreat billed as part policy and strategy generating, part bonding. Unlike Congress, though, these officials were only Republicans…Sporting an unbuttoned sheepskin jacket and a green button-down shirt, Sen. Ted Cruz [R-Texas] arrived alone and made a beeline for the check-in line. The Texas conservative, who was swept into Congress by the tea party in 2012, didn't hesitate when answering a question about a possible bid for the 2016 presidential ticket: ‘I'm looking at it very seriously. I expect the field will form in the next several months. By June we should have a good picture of who is running.’”
Rand stays swinging - New Hampshire Journal: “[Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.,] testing the proverbial waters in first-primary state New Hampshire [Wednesday] …sharply portrayed [Mitt Romney] and [Jeb Bush] as relics of an outdated version of the GOP that now must move ahead and broaden its base with fresh ideas, and fresh faces…‘I think we do need somebody and something new,’ Paul said…He said Republicans must figure out how to attract those voters to the GOP, ‘and I think that’s going to take a new approach, a fresh approach.’ Paul said Romney and Bush ‘occupy the same space and are competing somewhat for the same voters – people who want something that is safe, something that is sort of historical. But even people who are looking for ‘safe’ realize that ‘safe’ hasn’t won in the past.’ But overall, he reiterated about Romney and Bush, ‘the more the merrier.’”
Crowded by Jeb and Mitt, Christie looks to exude calm - NYT:“Amid the most aggressive, early and elbows-out jockeying for a presidential nomination in a generation, a contender known for his mercurial and impulsive style is delivering a surprising message to his top supporters and donors: Relax. There is no great rush to wade into the Republican primary, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey assures them. There’s enough money to go around, his advisers and allies explain.”
FOMO APPARENTLY DOESN’T APPLY TO VOTING
WaPo: “Elections keep getting older, but the young voters stay the same age. And those young voters, by and large, keep on not voting. There’s a lot of benefit to getting younger voters involved in campaigns: they’re often tireless volunteers, and having a strong advocate in a home with regular voters certainly doesn’t hurt. But 18- to 24-year-olds are often among the smallest percentage of the electorate… The age of Boomer-controlled politics is fading. Gen Xers are ascendant. #Millennials, the generation that’s done so much to shape our culture, have largely yet to appear on the political scene.”
AT LEAST THE ACLU COULDN’T COMPLAIN
Two new rugs at the Pinellas County, Fla. Sheriff’s Office administration building sure looked nice while they lasted. WFTS reports that the $500 bright green rugs emblazoned with the sheriff’s emblem were placed at the front entrance several weeks ago. But just this week, one astute deputy working security detail at the building discovered an error. Rather than saying, “In God We Trust,” the rugs actually said “In Dog We Trust.” The manufacturer, American Floor Mats, took responsibility for the error and is currently working on replacement rugs for the sheriff’s office according to a spokesperson.
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“The way the administration is always focused on what you call core al Qaeda, as if you can ignore all the other elements, the other scattered Islamist groups around the world and you denigrate them as jayvee, that just doesn’t wash anymore. It just, it doesn’t make any difference.” – 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 here.