Rule of law questions loom for Holder replacement

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Buzz Cut:
• Rule of law questions loom for Holder replacement
• Thad Cochran’s win may hint at Romney strategy
• Jeb floated plan to deport millions of visa overstays
• Benghazi panel Dem: Hillary ready to testify
• What’s worse than a fake blizzard?

The most important legacy Eric Holder will likely leave as attorney general seems to be his willingness to insulate President Obama from politically damaging issues. The main question today for Holder’s designated successor, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, is whether she will reassert the often-vaunted but seldom-seen independence of the office. Lynch is not controversial, but the agency and its current leader certainly are. That’s where you can expect to see fireworks in her confirmation hearing today.

[Watch Fox: Chief Congressional Correspondent Mike Emanuel has the latest on Lynch’s nomination live from Capitol Hill.]

As Holder leaves office, he leaves his all-but-certain successor with a host of unresolved controversies, including IRS targeting, Fast and Furious, reporter snooping and the legitimacy of the president's executive actions. Senate Republicans have once chance to pin down Lynch on these hot bottom issues and achieve what conservatives call a “restoration” of the office to its traditional role. What she says today will help define the parameters of the administration’s legal pioneering for the closing days of the Obama era.

The Hill: “The House is taking action to sue President Obama over his executive actions that gave legal status to millions of illegal immigrants. Speaker John Boehner [R-Ohio] apprised House Republicans of the plan, which is still being finalized, during the weekly conference meeting Tuesday morning. ‘We are finalizing a plan to authorize litigation on this issue, one we believe gives us the best chance of success,’ Boehner told members, according to a source in the room. Under the emerging plan, members would vote on a resolution authorizing the House to take various legal actions. Options could include filing a new lawsuit against the president or joining the states' lawsuit against the executive action. Last year, the House voted to sue Obama over his use of executive actions delaying the healthcare law's employer mandate, which requires businesses with 50 or more full-time workers to provide insurance. Boehner's announcement comes a day after GOP leadership pulled a controversial border security bill from the floor.”

[Watch Fox: Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, sits down for an exclusive interview on “Special Report with Bret Baier” tonight at 6PM ET.]

Obama backs off plan to tax college savings - Fox News: “President Obama has dropped his plan to end tax breaks for popular college savings accounts known as 529s, sources told Fox News on Tuesday. The decision comes in the wake of stern criticism from Republicans and pleas from top Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to drop the plan…Administration officials had claimed last week that they were going after the 529 accounts because they unfairly benefit high-income people. Under the proposed change, Americans eventually would have had to pay taxes on the earnings when they were withdrawn. A White House official told Fox News late Tuesday afternoon that the 529 provision was a ‘very small component’ of Obama's plan to cut taxes for the middle class. ‘Given it has become such a distraction, we’re not going to ask Congress to pass the 529 provision so that they can instead focus on delivering a larger package of education tax relief that has bipartisan support, as well as the President’s broader package of tax relief for childcare and working families,’ the official said.”

[Keystone cops - National Journal: “As a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline creeps closer to the finish line, the Senate will consider language on liquefied natural gas exports, campaign finance reform and climate change as part of a massive vote series. The Senate will vote on 18 amendments [today] starting at 2:30 p.m. as party leaders push to finish up the bill -- which would approve the controversial Alberta-to-Gulf-Coast oil sands pipeline -- before the end of the week.”]

[The confirmation hearing for Defense Secretary nominee Ashton Carter is scheduled for February 4.]

Politico: “Chuck DeFeo, the RNC deputy chief of staff who engineered a $100 million tech overhaul …  is set to join i360, a data and analytical powerhouse that will receive part of an $889 million cash infusion from the Koch Brothers and other conservative megadonors to help elect Republicans in 2016. Also, former Facebook engineer Andrew Barkett is giving up his title as the RNC’s chief technology officer…. Replacing DeFeo and Barkett are a mix of veteran GOP tech specialists. Mindy Finn, a former Twitter consultant and top Mitt Romney and George W. Bush digital staffer, will return to the RNC as an interim senior digital adviser. Azarias Reda, currently the RNC’s chief digital officer, will take over Barkett’s job as CTO. And Jesse Kamzol is also being promoted to chief data officer from his current post as Reda’s deputy.”

NRCC owes less - WaPo: “The National Republican Congressional Committee started 2015 with less debt than the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, fundraising tallies revealed this week show. The NRCC had $7.8 million in debt going into the year. The DCCC kicked off 2015 carrying $10 million in debt.”

Have you heard about the scientific study that proves that coffee is good for you, or bad for you, or is good for gout or will help your tomato plants grow… You get the idea. Harvard researcher Mark Shrime wanted to see how easy it would be to get an article in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Fast Company looks at how $500 and a loose spam filter can get you published. Using, Shrime came up with an article, “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs?” Over two weeks, he submitted it to 37 journals and has been accepted by 17 thus far, none have published it without the $500 “processing fee.” Despite sounding like legitimate medical journals, upon further investigation, Shrime found that many had suspicious addresses including one that housed a strip club. Researchers in developing countries seem to be the target of this scam which angers Shrime, who says, “They’re preying on people who aren’t able to get into the mainstream medical journals because they come from a university that nobody recognizes or they have some other scientific disadvantage.” For those with concerns, the National Library of Medicine creates an approved list of medical journals called PubMed.

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Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval
: Approve – 45.4 percent//Disapprove – 49.3 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 32.2 percent//Wrong Track – 58.8 percent

[Watch Fox: The latest Fox News polls on President Obama’s job ratings, terrorism and the economy are released tonight on “Special Report with Bret Baier” at 6PM ET.]

Mitt Romney
is set to give a speech tonight laying out his vision for the country and a broader rationale for his potential third presidential campaign in Starkville, Miss. Romney will be speaking in a packed, 1,000-seat hall at Mississippi State University, with organizers adding an overflow room to handle additional demand. Mississippi, the nation’s poorest state, is an appropriate venue for Romney to deliver a framing speech since the candidate has vowed to focus on the issue of poverty – as well as global warming and education – if he proceeds with another run. But it’s also significant because it is where his top political adviser, Stuart Stevens, staged a goal-line stand to save Republican Sen. Thad Cochran in a runoff election last year.

[Making hay - NYT: “Mitt Romney … will be inducted into the elite [Alfalfa Club] on Saturday at their annual Washington dinner, according to a member…”]

Game changer? - Working for Cochran, Stevens, with the help of a coalition of establishment GOP forces, delivered a surprise win for the embattled incumbent, who has held the seat since 1978. Notable was that rather than wooing the state’s GOP electorate, Cochran’s campaign altered it by bringing traditionally Democratic voters, especially African Americans, out to vote in the runoff. Could Romney, who is trying to shake his reputation as ideologically accommodating, follow a similar strategy? Thad Cochran ran and won as a moderate in a conservative state. Romney might be hoping to do the same in a conservative national party. It would be a long shot, perhaps. But in a crowded field, broad appeal will be less valuable than durable core support.

‘Determined to rebrand himself as authentic’ - WaPo: “If he runs again in 2016, Romney is determined to rebrand himself as authentic, warts and all, and central to that mission is making public what for so long he kept private. He rarely discussed his religious beliefs and practices in his failed 2008 and 2012 races, often confronting suspicion and bigotry with silence as his political consultants urged him to play down his Mormonism.”

Love it or list it? - Boston Globe: “Two years ago, Mitt Romney … simultaneously began building two multimillion-dollar homes, one [in La Jolla, Calif.] on the Pacific Ocean and another outside Salt Lake City. He also bought a third, a slopeside ski chalet in Park City, Utah…. He is taking steps to shed some of his property, including retaining a broker who is currently showing the La Jolla home to potential buyers, according to a Romney aide.”

No doubt about it, the race is on and it’s time for your Fox News First 2016 GOP Power Index. From Mitt to Jeb and Rand to Ben, Chris Stirewalt breaks down the rundown of the top Republican contenders with their eye on a White House bid. WATCH HERE.

Jeb floated plan to deport millions of visa overstays - Tampa Bay Times: “During [Jeb Bush’s] speech before the National Automobile Dealers Association, Bush seemed to be trying to find the sweet spot on immigration. Noting how many people come to the U.S. with valid visas but never go home, Bush had this response: ‘We ought to be able to find where they are and politely ask them to leave.’”

Big talk - Byron York writes: “Bush seemed to propose an organized effort to deport millions of illegal immigrants. If Bush actually did what he appeared to say should be done, he would deport as many illegal immigrants from the United States as President Obama has legalized with his unilateral executive action. ‘A great nation needs to control its border,’ Bush told the audience in San Francisco, ‘not just at the border, which is hugely important, but also the 40 percent of the people that have come here illegally with a legal visa and overstayed their bounds. We ought to be able to figure out where they are and politely ask them to leave.’ Politely ask them to leave? The phrasing won't win him much support from law-and-order Republicans, but, Bush appeared to suggest that U.S. authorities track down and deport more than four million people out of the total 11-plus million who are in the country illegally.”

Iowa kingmaker declares Walker, Cruz winners of weekend cattle call - Bloomberg: “[Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa] had intended to watch the speakers, and watch how the audience reacted. ‘Part of this is a measure of the interpretations of talking to a good number of people that are highly invested in this,’ he said. ‘We sat around Saturday night and chewed the fat.’ And who won? ‘Basically, the press reports I read were mostly accurate in their analysis,’ said King. ‘I think [Texas Senator] Ted Cruz had the highest bar to reach, and I think he cleared that bar. I don't know how much greater than expectations it was, but he at least met and then exceeded expectations. I'm confident that he did for the people who had not heard him speak before.’ Who else performed above expectations? ‘Probably the person who helped himself the most would be Scott Walker,’ said King. ‘The bar wasn't as high, and he gave a good speech. He connected with the audience in a good, constructive way.’”

Walker gets his own super group - Fox News: “Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Tuesday that he was ‘very interested’ in a possible run for president on 2016, hours after he announced the launch of a new political committee…Walker, who gave a well-received speech to a forum of conservative voters in Des Moines, Iowa, on Saturday, set up the committee ‘Our American Revival’ on Jan. 16. A new website for the so-called 527 organization, which will help him get his message out as he works toward building his political clout, went live Tuesday morning.”

Hope springs in Rubio’s world - Bloomberg: “[Sen. Marco Rubio’s] backers are sounding increasingly optimistic about the future…That vision also includes what his potential presidential campaign would look like, and Rubio told about 30 core supporters that he would decide by the spring about whether to run for president, according to two Republicans who attended Saturday's meeting and agreed to speak about it on the condition of anonymity.”

Langone looks to build out Christie campaign - WSJ: “Ken Langone, a co-founder of Home Depot Inc. and a major Republican donor, is anxious about the state of the U.S. these days and he thinks he knows who can fix it: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie . Mr. Langone has become one of the most visible backers of Mr. Christie’s possible run for president in 2016, and he is now tapping his extensive network of fellow donors to try to line up financial support…Mr. Langone is separately reaching out to his network for a series of private events for potential supporters to get to know Mr. Christie, with the first dinner set for New York City on Wednesday. The gatherings are informal meetings, not fundraisers, Mr. Langone said.”

Not an early primary state - Mike Huckabee continues his book tour for “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy” with three stops in North Carolina today.

Carson: ‘My voice is the voice of the people, and the people have something to say’ - [Baton Rouge] Advocate: “Dr. Ben Carson, a rising star on the national political scene who is often mentioned among the GOP’s presidential prospects for 2016, won over Louisiana business leaders with a speech Tuesday that called for less government regulation, lower taxes and an alternative to the federal Affordable Care Act. …He said he thought the buzz would die down well before the 2016 field started to form. ‘It just kept building and building,’ Carson said. ‘My voice is the voice of the people, and the people have something to say.’”

Pence takes gamble on Medicaid plan - Indianapolis Star: “After months of wrangling between Gov. Mike Pence and the Obama administration, Indiana won approval to expand its own brand of Medicaid that injects personal responsibility into the healthcare program for the poor. About 350,000 low-income Hoosiers who lack insurance could benefit from the program, whose approved expansion was announced Tuesday, the day enrollment began. Coverage could start as early as Feb. 1. Pence said the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0, a revamped version of a program started by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, goes beyond standard Medicaid expansion by requiring that participants contribute to the cost of their care…. [Pence said] ‘HIP 2.0 is not intended to be a long-term entitlement program. It's intended to be a safety net that aligns incentives with human aspirations.’”

Perry prosecution proceeding - AP: “A Texas judge on Tuesday refused to dismiss a felony abuse-of-power case against former Gov. Rick Perry on constitutional grounds, ruling that criminal charges against the possible 2016 presidential candidate should stand.”

The Hill: “Hillary Clinton is willing to testify before the House Select Committee that is investigating the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, according to the panel’s top Democrat. Rep. Elijah Cummings [D-Md.] on Tuesday said he has spoken to Clinton about the possibility of testifying at the request of Rep. Trey Gowdy [R-S.C.], the panel’s Republican chairman, and she ‘did not hesitate for one second.’ ‘She said ... I’ll do it, period,’ Cummings said after the committee's third hearing. Cummings said Clinton, who was secretary of State at the time of the Benghazi attacks, indicated to him last year that she ‘wanted to come in December’ to testify but could also come in January. ‘The fact is that she was very clear,’ Cummings said.”

[Ed note: The question is whether House Democrats will have more incentive to cut and run from the committee since doing so would create the perfect excuse for Hillary to demur.]

Up to Obama to push Hillary leftward - National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar notes: “It’s a gamble that will determine whether his landmark legislation will remain law, or be rolled back by a new Republican president….[H]e’s boxed her into a corner. [Clinton] can’t afford to publicly break with a president whose fortunes align closely with hers. Yet she’s undoubtedly aware that her odds of winning the Democratic nomination are very strong, and moving away from the center won't help her in a general election….Team Clinton continues to be anxious about whether [Elizabeth Warren] jumps into the race, forcing Clinton to take positions to the left of the political sweet spot. She's focused on the wrong Democrat. For all the hype, Warren is unlikely to run and won't be the Democrat pushing Clinton to the left. It will be Obama himself.”

[Warren lies low - “Sen. Elizabeth Warren [D-Mass.] is not expected to speak at the Congressional Progressive Caucus retreat in Philadelphia next month,” Politico reports. “A leading progressive voice in Congress, the Massachusetts senator was invited to keynote the issues retreat for the 70-person liberal caucus for House and Senate members.”]

Forbidden fruit - While the White House wasn’t always The Garden of Eden for the Clintons, former President Bill Clinton came up with biblical nickname for himself were he and Hillary were to move back in 2017. USA Today: “Talk show host Rachael Ray asked Clinton what he would be called if he returns to the White House as the spouse of the first female president. His suggestion? ‘Adam’ — as in the first man. “If a woman became president … I could be called Adam. I don’t know,” Clinton told Ray…“We’re joking about this, but it’s a serious decision. Serious decision for Hillary, serious decision for the country and the world.”…For the record, Hillary Clinton has suggested her husband’s title if they return to the White House would be ‘first man’ or ‘first mate.’”

While they can’t claim they survived the great Blizzard of 2015, five people endured the Facebook-apocalypse that hit the site for about an hour early Tuesday morning. CBS 5 in San Francisco reports that emergency dispatchers received five calls from East Bay residents to report the site outage. A dispatcher posted this reminder on a local blog, “We have nothing to do with Facebook and when Facebook isn’t working, it’s not an emergency. Our lines are dedicated to handle life and death calls, and even though Facebook is important to a lot of people, it’s not a matter of life and death when it stops working.” The anonymous dispatcher wrote that one of the social-media-starved callers called back to say the dispatcher was rude when explaining that the situation was in fact not a life threatening emergency. Facebook blames the outage on an internal glitch and not a third party attack. For future reference visit this site to find out the latest updates and resolutions the next time the site goes down.

“What it took [Adolf] Hitler to do in seven years can now be done in seven hours, in one day with nuclear weapons.  And we are talking as if we’re ready to live with an Iranian state that has that.” – 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