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First Read's Morning Clips

A roundup of the most important political news stories of the day

OBAMA AGENDA: Calling for paid leave

"President Obama will announce Thursday that he is directing federal agencies to give their employees up to six weeks of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child, a benefit he wants to extend to all American workers," writes the New York Times.

NBC's Kelly O'Donnell and Kristen Welker confirm that four top officials at the Secret Service have been asked to leave their posts.

The Wall Street Journal writes: "More than three months of U.S. airstrikes in Syria have failed to prevent Islamic State militants from expanding their control in that country, according to U.S. and independent assessments, raising new concerns about President Barack Obama ’s military strategy in the Middle East."

David Cameron is pressuring Obama on encryption issues, the Wall Street Journal reports. "British Prime Minister David Cameron plans to lobby President Barack Obama this week to more publicly criticize U.S. technology companies, such as Facebook Inc., that offer encrypted communications that can’t be unscrambled even with a court order, two people familiar with the matter said."

From the New York Times: Disputed Claims Over Qaeda Role in Paris Attacks

POLITICO writes of the State of the Union: "[A]s for the State of the Union tradition of unveiling big announcements for a year-ahead agenda, Obama’s done with that. The country’s been done with that for a while, aides say, and the White House has finally caught up. They believe they’ve now redefined the State of the Union model, not just for this year and next but for the next couple of presidents at least.”

CONGRESS: Foiled plot

The AP: "A 20-year-old Ohio man's Twitter posts sympathizing with Islamic terrorists led to an undercover FBI operation and the man's arrest on charges that he plotted to blow up the U.S. Capitol and kill government officials. Christopher Lee Cornell, also known as Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah, told an FBI informant they should "wage jihad," and showed his plans for bombing the Capitol and shooting people, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Ohio Wednesday. The FBI said Cornell expressed his support for the Islamic State."

From NBC News: "The Ohio man accused of plotting an attack on the U.S. Capitol became interested in "anarchy" during high school and would make "radical" comments about the government, a former schoolmate told NBC News."

Reuters reports: "A federal judge in Texas is set to hear arguments on Thursday in a lawsuit brought by two dozen states that seeks to block Obama administration efforts to reduce the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants."

The Washington Post: "An internal CIA panel concluded in a report released Wednesday that agency employees should not be punished for their roles in secretly searching computers used by Senate investigators, a move that was denounced by lawmakers last year as an assault on congressional oversight and a potential breach of the Constitution."

Per a release: “Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce is announcing the launch of the new Plan For Economic Growth, a roadmap for individuals and organizations devoted to fiscal responsibility and a smaller, more effective government.”

OFF TO THE RACES: Christie -- odd man out?

CHRISTIE: POLITICO characterizes Chris Christie as "the odd man out" for the 2016 GOP race.

From the New York Times: "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. The approach is intended to soothe anxious allies who are fretting over the sudden emergence of two potent rivals, Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, and indications from donors that they are under pressure to pick a candidate now."

CRUZ: From The Hill: "Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who repeatedly clashed with GOP leaders in the last Congress, has not been asked to return as vice chairman of grassroots outreach for the Senate Republican campaign arm."

O’MALLEY: Martin O’Malley will give paid speeches after he leaves office, the Washington Post reports. “He characterized the decision as part of an effort to make ‘my family as secure as I can for the next few months as we weigh a big decision.’”

PAUL: Rand Paul defended his sometimes aggressive style during an interview with "I try never to start it. I just finish it," he said.

Paul also riled up Democrats for suggesting that many people who receive disability benefits are "gaming the system."

PERRY: In his final address to the legislature, outgoing Gov. Rick Perry is expected to emphasize bipartisanship. "'There is room for different voices, for disagreement,' he plans to say, according to prepared remarks provided to The Texas Tribune. 'Compromise is not a dirty word if it moves Texas forward.'"

ROMNEY: "Mitt Romney is beginning to assemble a campaign team, and is turning to a former aide with ties to Chris Christie to work as a liaison with the media as the 2012 GOP presidential nominee takes steps to once again run for the White House,” writes CNN.

SANTORUM: "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."

And from around the country…

CALIFORNIA: Another Democrat looking at that Senate seat: Rep. Xavier Becerra. And Elizabeth Warren has endorsed Kamala Harris.

MICHIGAN: “The Republican National Committee's top officers formally censured Michigan member Dave Agema today for what they called "harmful rhetoric" and demanded his resignation,” reports the Detroit Free Press.

OHIO: The dates for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland are set for July 18-21.

SOUTH CAROLINA: The State: "Gov. Nikki Haley used her second inaugural address Wednesday to press S.C. lawmakers to pass ethics reform in the wake of recent scandals. Haley did not name anyone. But her speech on the State House steps came on the same day that former state Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, pleaded guilty to misconduct in office and three months after former House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, resigned amid charges of misusing campaign money."


*** Thursday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: Tamron Hall talks Mayor of Atlanta Kasim Reed about his firing of firing Police Chief Kelvin Cochran after he did not seek permission to publish his book that violated the Atlanta city's standard of conduct, Mayor of New Orleans Mitch Landrieu about ending homelessness for veterans in New Orleans, and Variety editor Ramin Setoodeh about the Oscar nominations.

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: Andrea Mitchell interviews State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf, NBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel from Istanbul, NBC Justice Correspondent Pete Williams, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, The New York Times Mark Mazzetti, Associated Press White House Correspondent Julie Pace, Tina Brown and NBC’s Hallie Jackson from El Capitan.