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First Thoughts: State Dinner Serves Apologetic Undertones

<p>First Thoughts: State visit by French President Holland is a nice way to reward support for Syria reversal.</p>
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A state dinner means never having to say you’re sorry… Watching tonight’s guest list for the 8:40 pm ET Obama-Hollande dinner… House GOP leaders float debt-ceiling proposal, but can it get 217 votes?... Another day, another Obama health-care delay… Christie heads to Chicago, and so do all of the negative distractions… To be RGA chairman, or not to be RGA chairman -- that is the question for Christie… Was Bevin for TARP before he was against it?... Midterm TV ads to watch (in FL-13 and AR GOV)… And tonight’s mayoral election in San Diego… Polls close at 11:00 pm ET.

A state dinner means never having to say you’re sorry

There are essentially three kinds of White House state dinners to welcome foreign leaders to the United States. There’s the we-need-to-be-better friends state dinner (think the one President Obama gave for India, which got overshadowed by the party-crashers). There’s the thank-you-for-always-being-a-great-friend state dinner (think the ones for Germany and Mexico). And there’s the I’m-sorry state dinner -- which is largely the context for tonight’s 8:40 pm ET state dinner for French President Hollande. Why sorry? Because Hollande and France backed President Obama’s initial decision to launch targeted strikes in Syria as a response to the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. But, of course, Obama eventually nixed that decision after trying to get congressional approval first and after reaching a negotiated deal for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons. While Syria has become somewhat of a political afterthought in the United States, the episode hurt Hollande back in France. Then again, Syria is small potatoes for Hollande; he’s got all sorts of problems driving down his approval ratings, not the least of which is now his personal life (why he’s going solo at this dinner). Both Obama and Hollande hold a joint news conference at noon ET.

Watching tonight’s guest list

With state dinners also comes the guest list, which the White House usually releases in the late afternoon. And don’t be surprised if the guest list pretty much matches the re-election campaign’s bundler list -- this White House has one more BIG campaign to raise money for: Obama’s future presidential library.

House GOP leaders float debt-ceiling proposal, but can it get 217 votes?

Per NBC’s Luke Russert, House Republican leaders yesterday floated their plan to raise the debt ceiling for one year, which includes a repeal of the cost-of-living-increase benefit cut to military pensions. (To pay for that spending increase, GOP leaders suggested extending a Medicare cut that is already part of the sequester for another year.) And a vote could come as soon as tomorrow. But if you’ve seen this movie before, you know that House Republicans won’t have an easy time getting the 217 votes needed to pass it. Why? Because you already have a sizable chunk of House Republicans who oppose ANY debt-ceiling increase, which means that Democratic votes become essential to pass it. Indeed, members told Russert that roughly three-quarters of those who spoke in the GOP meeting were AGAINST the leadership plan. And one estimated to Russert that just 40 to 50 House Republicans would support it, meaning the rest would need to come from Democrats. Another said they're going to have to whip it hard and see if House GOPers realize that doing nothing means they have to take whatever the Senate says. Bottom line: As we’ve said before, it looks more and more likely that you will see a clean or clean-ish debt-ceiling hike. We’ve come a long way in these debt ceiling debates -- the Republican plan is essentially including a spending ask, not a cutting ask. No wonder many of the rank-and-file have little interest in this plan. And if this bill can’t pass, the vote probably won’t happen; no way Speaker Boehner allows a vote to be held that he’s going to lose.

Another day, another health-care delay

Republicans are jumping all over another delay the Obama administration announced when it comes to the health-care law. The Treasury Department on Monday unveiled its final rule for the employer mandate for businesses, NBC’s Shawna Thomas reports. Under these rules, if your business has between 50-99 workers, you don’t need to provide health insurance for your employees until 2016. But if it has 100 or more workers, you must offer insurance to 70% of workers by 2015 and 95% by 2016, or pay a penalty. On the one hand, we’re not surprised Republicans are attacking what seems to be another delay -- it would be political malpractice not to try to capitalize on it. On the other hand, the attacks ring a little hollow. After all, this is the rule-making process for ALL laws; rule-making gives the executive branch (whether it’s run by Democrats or Republicans) a lot of leeway in implementing laws. In addition, it’s hard for Republicans to hate mandates (whether it’s for employers or individuals) and then be upset when the mandate is softened to help employers implement the law.

Christie heads to Chicago, and so do all of the negative distractions

Embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) today travels to Chicago, where he raises money for the Republican Governors Association (which he chairs), and where he speaks to the Economic Club of Chicago luncheon at 1:30 pm ET. The good news for Christie: The RGA is announcing that he and other GOP governors helped the committee raise $6 million last month -- more than twice as much as the RGA has ever raised in the month of January. But here’s the bad news for Christie: His fundraising for the RGA remains a distraction. The Democratic National Committee has organized an 11:00 am ET press conference in Chicago with former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) to draw additional attention to the scandals rocking the Christie administration. What’s more, the Democratic Governors Association is highlighting all the GOP gubernatorial candidates who are refusing to appear with Christie on these road trips. “[I]n what is becoming a trend, billionaire gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner and his fellow Republicans vying for the nomination refuse to appear with Christie. Just last week, Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott refused to attend a Christie fundraiser,” the DGA says in a memo.

To be RGA chairman, or not to be RGA chairman -- that is the question

The political question remains: Does Christie eventually give up his RGA chairmanship because he’s become too much of a distraction? On the one hand, there’s the argument that he shouldn’t; you can never show weakness. On the other hand, Christie isn’t the only one trying to survive -- so are all of the other GOP governors and candidates running this cycle. And the danger for Christie is, at some point, those other Republicans looking to survive might outnumber Christie. Sometimes it’s better to TEMPORARILY step aside than have a drumbeat of folks go public. Let’s see how things go on the RGA front for the next few weeks. If things calm down for Christie, perhaps he can weather it. But if they don’t, he’ll likely have to revisit this issue… again.

Was Bevin for TARP before he was against it?

Turning to the 2014 races, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s camp is using this to hit GOP primary opponent Matt Bevin: As Politico writes, “Matt Bevin … calls the 2008 federal bailout of banks and Wall Street giants ‘irresponsible’ and says he would have opposed it as a senator. Yet back in 2008, as an investment fund president, Bevin backed the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, as well as the government takeover of troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. McConnell supported TARP, and the Bevin campaign repeatedly reminds voters that the Senate minority leader calls that vote ‘one of the finest moments in the history of the Senate.’”

Midterm TV ads to watch

Also on the 2014 front, there are a couple of ads worth pointing out. The first is one by a Democratic Super PAC -- in next month’s special congressional election in Florida -- hitting David Jolly (R) for being a lobbyist pushing to privatize Social Security. The other is a TV ad the RGA is airing in Arkansas tying Dem gubernatorial Mike Ross to President Obama and Nancy Pelosi -- something that doesn’t always happen in gubernatorial contests.

Tonight’s mayoral election in San Diego

As we previewed on Monday, San Diego voters head to the polls today to elect a new mayor -- either Democrat David Alvarez or Republican Kevin Faulconer -- after Bob Filner (D) resigned from office. Polling places close at 11:00 pm ET. Here is a link to the election results from San Diego County.

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