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Game On: Confrontation Already Marks The Start of New Political Year

The last 48 hours have been marked by big rhetoric and party clashes.
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If there’s one word that sums up the last 48 hours in American politics, it’s a word we’re pretty used to by now -- confrontation. What’s unusual, however, is just how early this confrontation has come in the 114th Congress. It started with President Obama’s triumphant and muscle-flexing State of the Union address on Tuesday. Democrats loved it. But GOP pollster Neil Newhouse writes that this what Republicans heard from the president that night: “You won nothing in November. The 2014 election had no consequences for my Administration whatsoever. You may have beaten my party and members of my team in the mid-term elections, but you’ve never beaten me. And, now you never will. All this talk about compromise and working together means you do what I want, because I’m not meeting you halfway on anything.” The morning after the State of the Union, House Speaker John Boehner one-upped Obama by announcing that he had invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress -- ostensibly to criticize the nuclear-weapons deal the Obama administration is trying to strike with Iran. That infuriated the Obama White House, even though you have to read between the lines of the diplomatic-speak: “The typical protocol would suggest that the leader of a country would contact the leader of another country when he’s traveling there,” White Press Secretary Josh Earnest said yesterday. “That certainly is how President Obama’s trips are planned when he travels overseas. This particular event seems to be a departure from that protocol.”

Don’t forget that Netanyahu’s visit is about his own domestic politics

Regarding Netanyahu’s invitation to address Congress in February, it’s important to realize that it’s also about the Israeli prime minister’s own domestic politics -- with his country’s elections slated for March. It’s a campaign swing for him, allowing him to demonstrate his influence with the American Congress which, like in 2011, probably will give him bigger bipartisan applause than what President Obama received during his State of the Union address. (Think about that for a minute.) It is possible that Netanyahu will stop short of criticizing the nuclear deal the Obama administration is trying to forge with Iran, and instead talk simply about the Israel’s bond with the United States and the dangers of a nuclear Iran. But make no mistake: Boehner’s invitation and Netanyahu’s presence are sending the message intended to be sent. As a pure political move, this is pretty shrewd by Netanyahu, who right now is having to fend off criticism at home that his antagonistic personal relationship with Obama has hurt the US-Israel relationship. With the help of Netanyahu's close political aide and ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, Netanyahu gets a chance for some key photo-ops just a month before his election. And just wait until he forces a photo-op with Obama. While tempting for the White House to snub Netanyahu on this trip, is it worth the risk if he wins?

Jeb and Mitt to break bread in Utah

The scoop from the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin: “Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney are scheduled to meet privately this week in Utah, raising the possibility that the two former governors will find a way to avoid competing presidential campaigns that would split the Republican establishment next year.” But there’s also this: The Jeb-Mitt meeting was scheduled BEFORE Romney began making his move on a possible third presidential bid. “The original idea was for Mr. Bush … to show his respect for Mr. Romney, the Republican Party’s 2012 nominee. The meeting stayed on both men’s calendars even as Mr. Romney took steps to test the presidential waters, moves that could make the meeting awkward.” And guess what: Political reporters have already spotted Jeb Bush at the airport:

  • "Ran into Jeb Bush at DCA gate for Delta’s Salt Lake flight. Asked about Romney meetup. ‘I have no comment about that,’ he said.” – via the Wall Street Journal’s Reid Epstein
  • “Spotted: Jeb Bush boarding a flight to Salt Lake City. Asked if NYT is correct he told @CBSNews ‘I like to ski. I can't comment.’” – via CBS’ Julianna Goldman.

Here’s the deal: As our new NBC/WSJ survey finds, Romney polls the better of the two. There’s no question about that. But among DC operatives, Jeb Bush appears to be the favored one. But also keep this mind: Romney has taken several punches over the past couple of weeks, and he’s still standing. That’s significant.

Hillary hugs Obama -- again

Giving a paid speech in Canada yesterday, Hillary Clinton once again went out of her to back the Obama administration in a key policy/political fight. Our dispatch: “Potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Wednesday backed President Barack Obama's opposition to additional congressional sanctions on Iran, saying that sanctions would create an ‘excuse’ for Iran, Russia and China to back out of ongoing talks. ‘If we're the reason -- through our Congress -- that in effect gives Iran and others the excuse not to continue the negotiations, that would be, in my view, a very serious strategic error,’ Clinton said.” She also praised Obama’s State of the Union address, calling the president’s economic proposals an “important start for a critical debate.” Folks, for all of the past talk of Hillary distancing herself from Obama, it’s important to remind everyone that outside of Syria and that interview she gave to Jeffrey Goldberg, there’s been almost no daylight between Hillary and Obama.

WaPo/ABC poll: Hillary leads Bush and Romney by double digits

Speaking of Hillary, Jeb, and Mitt, a new Washington Post/ABC poll shows Clinton with double-digit leads over these two Republicans -- Clinton has a 13-point edge over Bush, 54%-41%, and a 15-point advantage over Romney, 55%-40%. It’s important to take VERY EARLY 2016 polls with a grain of salt. But you can’t ignore them, either.

GOP leaders pull anti-abortion bill

Finally, with today being the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, don’t miss this story, per NBC’s Frank Thorp and Alex Moe: “House Republicans are scrapping their plans to consider a controversial anti-abortion bill Thursday after a group within the GOP conference raised objections.” National Journal adds that the move is “sure to enrage antiabortion activists, who will descend on Capitol Hill Thursday for their annual March for Life.” More: “Some Republicans worried that the 20-week abortion measure might alienate millennials and female voters. But many female lawmakers were also furious over its clause stating that women can be exempt from the ban in cases of rape only if they reported the rape to authorities.”

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