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First Read's Morning Clips

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

OBAMA AGENDA: Watching the chaos in Yemen

The New York Times on Yemen: "The American-backed government of Yemen abruptly collapsed Thursday night, leaving the country leaderless as it is convulsed by an increasingly powerful force of pro-Iran rebels and a resurgent Qaeda. The resignation of the president, prime minister and cabinet took American officials by surprise and heightened the risks that Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, would become even more of a breeding ground for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has claimed responsibility for audacious anti-Western attacks — including the deadly assault on Charlie Hebdo in Paris this month. "

The U.S. has pulled staff out of its embassy in Yemen amid the growing crisis, Reuters reports.

The New York Times editorial board: "The United States and Yemen’s neighboring countries must nudge the antagonists in this crisis toward a compromise that avoids the wholesale collapse of the state. The implications of a complete unraveling of government institutions would be catastrophic."

The Associated Press looks back at the life of Saudi King Abdullah, dead at 90: "His changes looked minute to the outside world. But in a kingdom where ultra-conservative Muslim clerics long have held a lock on all aspects of society, King Abdullah's incremental reforms echoed mightily."

The Wall Street Journal looks at his death's possible impact on oil policy: "Even after the death of King Abdullah, announced early Friday, the kingdom is likely to continue to pump crude in the face of a global glut, which has helped push prices down by more than 55% since last June."

The Washington Post on the Cuba-U.S. diplomacy talks: "The sober descriptions of what still divides the two governments deflated some of the enthusiasm for rapid change that has been building on both sides. But the delegations said they would set an early date for another meeting and were committed to the public pledge made by President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro last month to restore diplomatic relations and then begin to tackle other areas of discord."

From NBC News: "President Barack Obama will not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu when he visits the United States in March, his administration announced Thursday, citing a "long-standing practice" of avoiding appearances with heads of state in close proximity to their elections."

CONGRESS: Abortion politics

Our Capitol Hill team on yesterday's House action on abortion: "The day after GOP leaders scrapped consideration of a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the House has passed another measure to further ensure that federal funds cannot be spent on abortions."

The Washington Post's take: "The episode exposed a growing concern within the GOP that emphasizing culture-war issues in the new Congress could distract from the party’s broader agenda and upend hopes of retaking the White House."

House and Senate Republicans are meeting behind closed doors to talk about the details of a potential border bill, reports Roll Call.

OFF TO THE RACES: Rubio makes new 2016 moves

From the New York Times, on the Bush-Romney summit: "Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney did not reach an agreement during a Salt Lake City lunch meeting on Thursday on how to reconcile their competing plans to run for the White House next year, advisers to both men indicated after the talk ... Republicans close to both Mr. Romney and Mr. Bush were notably tight-lipped about the long-planned meeting, which the two would-be candidates and their advisers were unhappy had been revealed publicly."

From the Washington Post: "For the first time, a private gathering of wealthy conservative political donors brought together by Charles and David Koch will allow a look inside its much-scrutinized conclaves. On Sunday night, the group will share with news organizations a live Web stream of one of its final panels set to be held in the weekend at a luxurious Palm Springs resort. The session will feature three potential 2016 presidential contenders: Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida."

BUSH: "The New Hampshire Journal has learned that a top Washington-based political strategist, Sara Taylor Fagen, has been inquiring about local operatives who might be willing to work with a Bush campaign in the state, should he run."

CHRISTIE: "Gov. Chris Christie's appointment of an emergency manager to oversee Atlantic City gives the appearance of a take-charge leader doing everything he can to help a desperate city ... But the move also underscores a big risk to Christie's 2016 presidential prospects: That he could be selling his management skills to the country while an iconic American city spirals out of control under his watch, with thousands of jobs lost and hulking empty towers left behind as city residents complain of skyrocketing property tax bills."

GRAHAM: NBC's Leigh Ann Caldwell reports: "Americans might know Sen. Lindsey Graham from television appearances alongside his cohort, Arizona Sen. John McCain, pushing an aggressive foreign policy. But now that he has announced his exploration for president, Republicans in his home state of South Carolina have let out a collective sigh, shaking their heads in confusion."

PATAKI: Pataki-watch: He's headed to New Hampshire next week, writes

ROMNEY: Mother Jones' David Corn: "It is time for liberals to cheer Mitt Romney. Not because his possible entry into the 2016 Republican presidential contest could cause chaos for the GOP. But because Romney, apparently seeing the error of his "severely conservative" ways, has become a progressive crusader."

RUBIO: NBC News confirms that Rubio is taking new steps toward a possible 2016 run, including the hiring of Anna Rogers from the Karl Rove-backed group American Crossroads as a new finance director. He has planned early state visits for next month and is skipping Senate votes next week to raise money in California.

WALKER: David Polyansky, the top strategist for Joni Ernst's 2014 campaign and Mike Huckabee's onetime Iowa guru, has signed on to be Scott Walker's senior adviser in Iowa, per the Des Moines Register.

The Journal Sentinel: "Money will be a challenge for Scott Walker. But the Republican presidential race is open-ended enough and his political record is distinctive enough that the Wisconsin governor has one of the more plausible paths to his party’s nomination in 2016. That’s the view of many top party officials outside Wisconsin."

And around the country:

CALIFORNIA: Tom Steyer won't run for Senate in California, he announced via The Huffington Post.

NEW YORK: Prosecutors say New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's law firm was a front to mask about $4 million in payoffs. Silver turned himself in yesterday; he's been slapped with a five-count indictment.

OHIO: In a brief interview with NBC News on Thursday, newly announced Senate candidate PG Sittenfield (D), 30, cast himself as a Washington outsider and a new generation of political leaders stepping up. He accused sitting Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) as a “creature of Washington” and an “architect of the Bush budget” when he worked in the Bush administration.


*** Friday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: Frances Rivera sits in for Tamron Hall. She speaks with Washington Post Sports Editor Cindy Boren about allegations that the New England Patriots deflated footballs in the NFL AFC championship game, GasBuddy Senior Petroleum analyst Patrick Dehaan about falling gas prices and what it means for the economy, and in our on-going series Born in the USA: The founders of Doc Popcorn Rob and Renee Israel talk about the story behind their company.

*** Friday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: Andrea hosts a special edition of Andrea Mitchell Reports live from Havana, Cuba. She’ll have an exclusive interview with Cuba’s Foreign Minister Josefina Vidal, an exclusive interview with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Brookings Institution’s Bruce Riedel and former Patriots Quarterback Damon Huard.