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First Read's Morning Clips

<p>A roundup of the day’s most important political stories.</p>

OBAMA AGENDA: Dealing with the drought in California

“California's severe drought, stalled Middle East peacemaking and Syria's civil war would appear to have little, if anything, in common, but President Barack Obama will address all three, and possibly other issues, on his first visit of the year to the nation's most populous state,” the AP writes. “Obama was traveling Friday to the Fresno area of central California, in the San Joaquin Valley, to draw attention to the state's worst drought in more than 100 years. The president was announcing more than $160 million in federal financial aid, including $100 million in the farm bill he signed into law last week for programs that cover the loss of livestock. … Obama also will call on federal facilities in California to immediately limit water consumption.”

Also, “During his visit to California on Friday, President Obama will announce a new $1 billion resilience fund for communities battling climate change,” The Hill writes. “The Climate Resilience Fund, meant to help communities better adapt to the impacts of climate change, is a part of the administration's new drought response efforts that Obama will launch on Friday after visiting with farmers in Fresno, Calif.”

Obama’s also meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah at a California retreat.

“Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will rally House Democrats after all,” Roll Call writes. “Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz told reporters Thursday that even though weather forced Biden to scrap his planned address, he would make the trip with President Barack Obama on Friday.”

“The United States and Russia promised to try to break the stalemate in Syria peace talks, a U.N. mediator said Thursday, as Syrian activists said government shelling and airstrikes with makeshift barrel bombs killed about 400 people in the country's largest city so far this month,” AP writes.

Reuters: “Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that President Barack Obama has asked for possible new policy options on Syria given the worsening humanitarian situation there.”

The government’s running ads on five national TV cable channels aimed at young people to sign up for health care. “U.S. government data released this week show the demographic of adults aged 18-34 rose only slightly by the end of January to 25 percent of total enrollment in private Obamacare plans,” Reuters writes. “That is well below the 38 percent that administration officials have talked about achieving to give insurers a strong mix of healthier members, whose premium payments help offset the cost of older, sicker policyholders.”

Obama’s heading to Saudi Arabia in March in conjunction with his European trip. Aides reached out to Saudis yesterday to discuss security.

Charles Barkley interviewed Obama for TNT Thursday. Its set to air Sunday during the pre-game show of the All-Star game at 7 pm ET.

CONGRESS: Cruz’s goal -- to punish Republicans?

Was Ted Cruz’s goal actually to punish Republicans? Check out what he told conservative radio host Mark Levin: “A lot of the Republicans wanted exactly what Barack Obama wanted, exactly what Nancy Pelosi wanted, exactly what Harry Reid wanted, which is to raise the debt ceiling, but they wanted to be able to tell what they view as their foolish, gullible constituents back home they didn’t do it. … It’s like they think the American people are just a bunch of rubes, that we don’t remember what they say.”

National Journal looks at how tough it is to be in minority in the House as Democrats huddle at their retreat.

Republican Senator Bob Corker is upping his rhetoric trying to dissuade VW workers in Tennessee from unionizing. He “told Reuters on Thursday that he is ‘very certain that if the UAW is voted down," the automaker will announce new investment in the plant ‘in the next couple weeks.’ Corker's latest remarks seemed to contradict an earlier statement by Frank Fischer, chief executive of VW Chattanooga, that there was ‘no connection’ between the vote at its three-year-old Tennessee plant and a looming decision on whether VW will build a new crossover vehicle there or in Mexico.” The voting ends tonight.

“Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives unveiled plans on Thursday to try to force Republicans to move on President Barack Obama's stalled bid to raise the federal minimum wage,” Reuters writes. “Democratic leaders said they would circulate a "discharge petition," which, if signed by half of the House's 435 members, would require Republicans to bring the measure up for a vote. Democrats admitted that it would be an uphill battle to muster the needed signatures in the House, which is held by Republicans 232-200, with three vacancies.”

They saw The SignNational Journal notes that the Class of 1994 revolutionaries is all but disappeared with Doc Hastings’ retirement: “The House GOP won 54 seats in 1994, part of a Republican wave that year led by future House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But only five of them are trying to return to Congress in 2014: Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., Walter Jones, R-N.C., Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and Ed Whitfield, R-Ky.”

OFF TO THE RACES: Skin like a rhino

Hillary Clinton spoke at NYU yesterday and her advice for women: “Grow skin like a rhinoceros.” Priorities USA is holding an event for Clinton Feb. 27 in New York City.

National Journal notes that the White House delays on Obamacare put 2016 Democrats (aka Hillary Clinton) in a pickle.

Speaking of Clinton, Charlie Cook writes, “Clinton turns 67 this October. At that age, she will likely be making her candidacy decision, and if nominated Clinton would turn 69 two weeks before the 2016 general election, notably the same age Ronald Reagan was when he was first elected in 1980. The choice to run for president is effectively a nine-year commitment: one year to run, another four years if she wins a first term—finishing up that term at age 73—and then, assuming she runs for reelection and wins, serving four more years to end a second term at 77 years of age. None of this is to say that the age issue could successfully be used against her. After all, Reagan won the presidency at the same age. But how many 67-year-olds make nine-year commitments, and what concerns have to be addressed if they do?”

CALIFORNIA: “Republican Kevin Faulconer's big win in San Diego's mayoral race Tuesday highlighted the first case of what could be a persistent Democratic problem in 2014: low turnout,” National Journal notes, adding, “Majority-minority San Diego starts out as more friendly turf for Democrats, but the locals face the challenge of turning the demographic advantage into a political one.” More: “Nearly 470,000 people voted in the previous San Diego mayoral race, a massive turnout that coincided with the presidential race, a hotly contested congressional election, and several consequential statewide ballot initiatives. On Tuesday, fewer than 290,000 voters cast ballots. That works out to about 43 percent of registered voters, at the very bottom edge of turnout levels Democrats were hoping for to capitalize on Alvarez's apparent surge late in the campaign.”

INDIANA: A statewide same-sex marriage ban took a major hit yesterday.

KENTUCKY: “Two years ago, Sen. Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor to deride President Barack Obama for a speech that called for developing biofuel from algae — dismissing it as nothing more than a ‘pipe dream,’” the Louisville Courier-Journal writes, adding, “But a few years earlier, McConnell, R-Ky., himself worked to obtain a $30 million grant for a company that wanted to build a plant in Springfield, Ky., to turn algae, switchgrass, corncobs and other such materials into ethanol — a plant that ultimately was never built and a grant that was never spent.”

MICHIGAN: Democrats are in trouble here. Republicans lead in both the governor’s and Senate races, according to a new EPIC/MRA poll. Former Secretary of State Terry Lynn Land (R) leads Democratic Rep. Gary Peters (D) 41%-38%. Forty percent or more said they didn’t recognize Land or Peters’ names, so there’s still a lot of campaigning to do. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) leads Democrat Mark Schauer 47%-39%.

NEW JERSEY: Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) says Chris Christie should “be a little more humble.” Well, that’s good, at least no one died as a result of the bridge traffic jam that Christie aides orchestrated.

NORTH CAROLINA: Even in a Dem robo poll (which does not meet NBC’s polling standards) Sen. Kay Hagan trails her Republican opponents and her approval rating is underwater.

TEXAS: Former Obama campaign workers and vendors are cashing in on Wendy Davis (D). The Dallas Morning-News: "The Davis campaign for governor and Battleground Texas, a group of former Obama political organizers assisting her, have spent more than $1.5 million on operatives and vendors who were part of Obama's national re-election effort... More than half the expenditures listed on the Wendy Davis for Governor report alone have gone to members of the president's 2012 political team.” (h/t: Political Wire.)

VIRGINIA: “Virginia's gay marriage ban is unconstitutional,” NBC Washington reports. “U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen's decision makes Virginia the second state in the South to have a ban on gay marriages overturned.”

Tough choices… “A new budget forecast showing the state pulling in less tax revenues than previously expected is prompting Gov. Terry McAuliffe to propose trimming the state's budget by $140 million,” NBC Washington writes. “McAuliffe's office announced the new budget numbers Wednesday at the Capitol after briefing lawmakers.”

WASHINGTON: Doc Hastings is retiring. He’s chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. His district should not affect the balance of power, as Romney got almost 60% there in 2012. He’s the 33rd member of the House calling it quits and the 21st Republican.

WEST VIRGINIA: Wild and wonderful… Americans for Prosperity continues its 2014 ad-buying blitz, going up against Nick Rahall (D), tying him to the health-care law.


*** Friday’s “The Daily Rundown” line-up: Chuck interviews NBC’s Luke Russert live from the House Democratic Retreat in Cambridge, MD. Then, we’ll take a Deep Dive into the drought in California with Brian Fuchs of the National Drought Mitigation Center and the Washington Posts’ Reid Wilson. Plus, our Friday Gaggle with Robert Costa of the Washington Post, National Editor of the Cook Political Report Amy Walter and Political Editor for The Grio Perry Bacon. All that plus a packed data bank, the latest on the deadly winter weather and Chuck’s Friday Takeaway.

*** Friday’s “NOW with Alex Wagner” line-up: MSNBC’s Alex Wagner’s guests include the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart, former Obama White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, Wes Clark, and the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grimm.

*** Saturday’s and Sunday’s “Disrupt with Karen Finney” line-up: MSNBC’s Karen Finney interviews (on Saturday) Michelle Cottle , Sahil Kapur , Ken Padowitz and Phillip Agnew; and she interviews (on Sunday) Celinda Lake and Howard Dean.