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Ms. Merkel Goes to Washington Amid High-Stakes Ukraine Debate

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When it comes to the renewed hostilities in eastern Ukraine, the most important person in the world is arguably German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and she’s in Washington today to meet with President Obama. Why is Merkel so important? Because Germany is the key actor in European pressure on Vladimir Putin’s Russia. And right now, Merkel is against sending arms to bolster Ukraine’s fight against the Russia-aided separatists. On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry refused to say that the U.S. would be sending military assistance to Ukraine. “Well, I'm not going to go into precisely what items are going to be provided to Ukraine. But I have no doubt that additional assistance of economic kind and other kinds will be going to Ukraine. And we do so understanding that there is no military solution. The solution is a political, diplomatic one.” But what we can tell you is that the Obama White House favors it; indeed, this is the rare issue where Republican hawks and the White House are actually united. The dissenter is Merkel, and she is meeting with Obama today. The two hold a news conference at 11:40 am ET.

Kerry: This is put-up-or-shut-up time in the Iran nuclear talks

In his “Meet the Press” appearance, Kerry made this other news: The United States won’t extend its nuclear talks with Iran unless there are broad outlines for an agreement. “Well, the only chance I can see of an extension at this point in time would be that you really have the outlines of the agreement,” he said. “But if we're not able to make the fundamental decisions that have to be made over the course of the next weeks, literally, I think it would be impossible to extend.” In other words, this is put-up-or-shut-up time. And this is the one area where congressional pressure (despite the White House’s public complaints) has made a difference. Democratic Iran hawks like Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Bob Menendez (D-NJ) have said they’ll hold off on their Iran sanctions legislation until late March. So that late March date appears to be true deadline.

Good news and bad news for Jeb in New Hampshire

In 2016 news, a Bloomberg poll released on Sunday had Jeb Bush in the lead in New Hampshire at 16% among likely GOP primary voters, followed by Rand Paul at 13%, Scott Walker at 12%, Chris Christie at 10%, and Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson tied at 6%. So that’s the good news for Jeb -- he’s leading in New Hampshire (compared with his early poll position in Iowa). The bad news for Jeb -- his overall fav/unfav in New Hampshire (among general-election voters) is upside down at 35%-50%. Folks, as Mitt Romney will attest, fav/unfav matters. Unless your name is Rick Scott and you have hundreds of millions of your own money to spend, it is very hard to win a general when your fav/unfav is in the negative territory.

Hillary has anew campaign team, little to no intra-party opposition. But will SHE be any different?

Hillary Clinton has a different campaign team (as she’s lured key parts of Obama World). She also is in a MUCH DIFFERENT place than she was in than 2008 (given that she’d as a quasi-incumbent with little to no intra-party opposition). But the Washington Post’s Dan Balz asks a great question: What about her? Is she any different? “She is sending signals that she accepts that this campaign must be different than the last. But the answer to what kind of candidate she will be rests squarely on her shoulders — and remains to be answered,” Balz writes. And if Sunday’s New York Times piece -- on the more than 200 policy experts giving her advice on an economic message -- is any indication, then she still has some work to do on this front. “Although people close to Mrs. Clinton say she has not yet settled on a specific platform, she is expected to embrace several principles. They include standard Democratic initiatives like raising the minimum wage, investing in infrastructure, closing corporate tax loopholes and cutting taxes for the middle class. Other ideas are newer, such as providing incentives to corporations to increase profit-sharing with employees and changing labor laws to give workers more collective bargaining power,” the Times says.

As another liberal group urges Warren to run, here’s the reason why Hillary won’t get a primary challenge -- because she continues to hug Obama

Meanwhile, even though Elizabeth Warren has said she’s not running for president -- in either the present or future tense -- another liberal organization is asking her to run. And this time, it’s from Hillary’s backyard. The New York Times: “Leaders of New York’s Working Families Party on Sunday urged Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts to seek the Democratic nomination for president next year, formally calling on her to enter the 2016 race for the White House.” Despite this news, the biggest reason why Hillary is unlikely to receive a serious primary challenge (from either Warren or Vice President Biden) is that she has hugged President Obama at every opportunity. And that prevents a primary challenge. If Hillary ends up in public split with Obama, she can do it in the general -- but there’s no reason to do it now.

Clinton up by 41 points in New Hampshire

Speaking of Clinton and Warren, the aforementioned Bloomberg poll shows Clinton leading Warren by 41 points in New Hampshire, 56%-15%, with Biden and Bernie Sanders tied at 8% each.

London Calling, Part 2

The latest potential 2016er to visit London is Scott Walker, who will be in city from today through Friday. So far, there is just one event that is open to the press -- Walker’s talk at Chatham House on Feb. 11.

Shades of George Wallace?

Finally, don’t miss the news out of Alabama. “In a dramatic show of defiance toward the federal judiciary, Chief Justice Roy S. Moore of the Alabama Supreme Court on Sunday night ordered the state’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples on Monday, the day same-sex marriages were expected to begin here,” the New York Times writes, adding: “His argument has deep resonance in a place where a governor, George Wallace, stood in a doorway of the University of Alabama in 1963 in an unsuccessful bid to block its federally ordered integration.”

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