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Obama Looks for Fresh Start in 2014

After a polarized, gridlocked and unproductive year when everybody’s poll numbers took a nosedive -- President Obama’s, the Republican Party’s, the Democratic Party’s -- official Washington returns to work. The president is back at the White House after his two-week vacation to Hawaii; the Senate convenes at 2:00 pm ET; and the House returns tomorrow. The question is whether 2014 will be a fresh start, or whether it will be more of the same. And this is especially true for Obama. Make no mistake: This is a big month for the president. There’s the State of the Union on Jan. 28, the push for jobless benefits (more on that below), the NSA reforms he’ll announce next week, and the continued implementation of the health-care law. Indeed, this month could very well be one of his last where he has this much control in setting the agenda. Another way to look at it: January presents him with an opportunity to hit the reset button on his second term. Either January is the start of his political comeback, or it is a missed opportunity -- and perhaps one of his last. 

Senate to vote on unemployment benefits, YellenAt 5:30 pm ET (or after it), the Senate is set to vote on the motion to proceed on the bipartisan effort to extend unemployment benefits for three months. (It also will vote on Janet Yellen’s nomination to be Fed chair). Per NBC’s Kasie Hunt, it’s unclear if the 60 votes are there to clear the procedural hurdle on the unemployment benefits. "Hopefully, we can get four more Republicans," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on CBS' Face the Nation. But, Hunt adds, he noted that Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., is a cosponsor of the extension, and that it should be easy to find the four additional GOP votes needed. "Remember, Dean Heller is not some maverick that is out spewing socialism," Reid said. That said, so far, it’s unclear where those four votes would come from -- Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is out, but watch Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mark Kirk of Illinois, John McCain of Arizona.

Liz Cheney drops out of WY SEN race

Late last night, NBC News confirmed the story that Liz Cheney -- daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney -- was withdrawing her primary challenge against Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY). In a statement she released this morning, Cheney cited “serious health issues” to her family as the reason. "Serious health issues have recently arisen in our family, and under the circumstances, I have decided to discontinue my campaign. My children and their futures were the motivation for our campaign and their health and well-being will always be my overriding priority.” But her exit comes after she was already trailing Enzi in the polls, after her well-known spat with her gay sister Mary (over gay marriage), after carpet-bagging charges (she moved from Northern Virginia), and after she was unable to pinpoint a fire-able offense the conservative Enzi made (other than his age and mild-mannered demeanor). Bottom line: Cheney came across as a candidate who was entitled to the Senate seat and didn’t figure out a way to earn it. In the process, she made Enzi look like a victim. Why she didn’t wait for him to ultimately retire is a mystery…

And she preserves a chance to run again

The good news for Liz Cheney, however, is that she preserves her ability to run again. If she was going to beat Enzi in this primary, it was going to have to be UGLY. And losing would have tarnished her for any future run. How can dropping out help you in the future? Look no further than Andrew Cuomo in New York, who ran a horrible race in 2002, dropped out, and is now the Democratic governor of the Empire State.

Liz Cheney drops from Senate race in Wyoming 2:16