• Dealmaker: Sen. Joe Manchin says he can bring NRA, Congress together

    Top Line

    In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., a surprising voice has emerged: Sen. Joe Manchin, a proudly pro-gun Democrat from West Virginia, has put himself forward as a possible dealmaker on new gun control laws.

    "Never in my life did I ever think we would have 20 children slaughtered," says Manchin. "So it changed everything, it changed me, it changed all of us."

    Manchin says it is difficult to get people even talking about the issues, namely gun control and mental illness, but says he has started, and he began with the biggest group.

    "My friends at the NRA ... they're hurting as much as anybody right now," says Manchin.

    "We need to have the NRA at the table, you cannot have meaningful changes unless you understand all sides of the issue," adds the senator, who says he believes he can bring the NRA and other sides of the party together.

    Manchin says he will defend the Second Amendment and that he is a proud NRA member. But adds that he also has a responsibility to speak

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  • Man in the middle: Israeli ambassador gives inside account of Obama-Netanyahu relationship

    Political Punch

    In a lot of ways, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren has been the man in the middle. Oren was born in New York and raised in New Jersey but gave up his American citizenship to take on the position of ambassador--a role that puts him squarely between two leaders who don't always see eye to eye.

    "I'll tell you that the relationship is friendly, is frank, sometimes it's funny," says Oren. "That doesn't mean we've agreed on everything." After the election, Obama unequivocally supported what Israel was doing in Gaza, and the U.S. lobbied against the resolution for Palestinian statehood. Yet, after all of that, more settlements were announced, which left American supporters of Israel questioning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's relationship with Obama.

    "If Palestinians are going to take unilateral actions in the U.N., we want to send a message that someday we might build there," says Oren, who said they were not new settlements, but apartment blocks

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  • Sens. Stephen Colbert and Ashley Judd? The rocky road from stardom to politico

    Top Line

    The speculation for the 2014 elections has already begun, and some of the Senate names being discussed you would expect to see on the silver screen rather than a ballot. Can you imagine a Sen. Ashley Judd? How about Sen. Stephen Colbert?

    There's a long, and somewhat checkered history of celebrity politicians proving that Hollywood success can pave the road to Washington--Ronald Reagan being the ultimate example. Of course there are other examples as well, like the Govenator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and professional wrestler Jesse Ventura who wrestled his way to governor of Minnesota.

    When celebrities become candidates, their notoriety brings attention to their race. As useful as name recognition may be when running for office, what's more important--and sometimes more difficult to determine--is whether they are qualified to hold public office and, of course, if they're serious.

    Ashley Judd seems serious about considering a run for senate in her home state of Kentucky. The

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