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First Read’s Morning Clips

OBAMA AGENDA: When in doubt, bring James Taylor out

“President Obama and Senator Robert Menendez traded sharp words on Thursday over whether Congress should impose new sanctions on Iran while the administration is negotiating with Tehran about its nuclear program, according to two people who witnessed the exchange,” reports the New York Times.

Obama is asking Congress for as much as $68 billion more than the current budget, a 7 percent increase, writes Bloomberg.

USA Today on David Cameron’s meeting with Obama today: “Cameron is looking at what could be a tough re-election battle in May as he, Obama and other world leaders deal with renewed fears of terrorism, tensions with Russia and concerns about global economic growth.”

The Associated Press picks up a theme we've been seeing the last few days: "The State of the Union just isn't what it used to be."

The latest from Europe: "Belgian police were questioning 13 suspects on Friday detained during raids against an Islamist group they feared planned to attack police and two other people were held in France, state prosecutors said."

John Kerry is offering a “big hug” to the French with a trip including flowers and a James Taylor performance.

CONGRESS: Ernst to deliver GOP’s State of the Union response

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst will deliver the GOP response to the State of the Union.

NBC's Frank Thorp and Alex Moe report on Republicans' debate over immigration strategy at their annual retreat.

NBC’s Shaquille Brewster notes how the debate over voting rights has been reignited heading into the MLK holiday.

OFF TO THE RACES: Romney’s big speech

David Brooks offers this: "Rating the Republicans." Atop his assessments: Kasich, the A-grade winner, is wildly underestimated; Bridgegate wasn't fatal for Christie, and he gets an A- for working to understand the worries of the poor; Scott Walker and Mike Pence both get a B+.

(Somehow, Brooks didn’t bother to grade Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, or Mike Huckabee.)

From the Washington Post: "Republican leaders on Friday plan to unveil new rules for presidential debates, marking the most aggressive effort yet by a national party committee to limit the number of forums and to shape the environment for the nominating season."

BUSH: The Bergen Record: "At a time when Governor Christie continued to signal strong interest in a potential 2016 presidential campaign, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was courting a group of top-tier New Jersey Republican donors, activists and officials right in Christie’s own back yard. Bush met with about 15 New Jersey Republicans — some of whom backed Christie’s two campaigns for governor — in a private, sit-down dinner at the Union League Club in midtown Manhattan on Jan. 8, according to three people who attended the dinner."

Sounds like Jeb is heading to New Hampshire? NHJournal.com: "Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas told the New Hampshire Journal Thursday night he received a phone call from the likely presidential contender at about 4:30 p.m. and the two spoke for about 30 minutes about “quite a few issues,” including health care."

CARSON: From Kasie Hunt: "Neurosurgeon Ben Carson on Thursday suggested that Americans can learn from the Islamic State's willingness to die for their cause, comparing ISIS to the Americans who waged the Revolutionary War against the British."

CHRISTIE: NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports: "New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he can remain friends with the Bush family and run against Jeb Bush should he decide to enter the Republican presidential race. "I don't think it means it has to end a relationship between me and Jeb or me and the president and Laura," Christie said during his monthly "Ask the Governor" appearance on a New Jersey radio station."

PERRY: The outgoing Texas governor stressed bipartisanship in his farewell address.

Analysis from the Texas Tribune: "Everything he said made perfect sense if you were watching a governor in his last big public address. And a lot of it looked pretty good if you were tuning in to see a candidate making the turn from a successful run in one office to a bid for an even bigger job."

Perry has spent $1 million fighting his indictment, reports the Houston Chronicle.

ROMNEY: A scathing critique from Peggy Noonan: "There is no such thing as Romneyism and there never will be. Mr. Romney has never encompassed a philosophical world. He has never become the symbol of an attitude toward government, or an approach to freedom or fairness. “Romneyism” is just “Mitt should be president.” That is not enough."

The Wall Street Journal previews Romney's address at the RNC Winter Meeting: "Many GOP officials have the same question for him: How would it be different this time?"

RUBIO: S.V. Date offers some perspective on the Bush-Rubio relationship.

WALKER: The Wisconsin governor cast himself as a "new, fresh leader" during remarks to the RNC last night.