By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
THE COURTSHIP CONTINUES: President Obama's newly initiated charm offensive with Republicans just might work as he tries to deal with sequester cuts and avert another budget showdown near the end of the month, lawmakers on Capitol Hill said over the weekend, according to ABC's Arlette Saenz. "If we're going to really get to an agreement, this is a good step," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told George Stephanopoulos on ABC News' "This Week." "You have to start meeting with people. You have to start developing relationships. You've got to spend a fair amount of time figuring out what we agree on first." Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who called the president "my friend," said on NBC's "Meet the Press": "I'm welcoming with open arms. I think the president is tremendously sincere. I don't think this is just a political change in tactic." Coburn and Johnson were among the dozen Republican senators who dined with Obama at the Jefferson Hotel last week - the president's first overture in his GOP courtship. http://abcn.ws/12FUXsC
NO TWO-MINUTE WARNING: Last week, President Obama also sat down for lunch at the White House with Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget committee, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the committee's ranking Democrat. Yesterday, Ryan described the meeting as his first ever detailed discussion with the president. "This is the first time I've ever had a conversation with the president lasting more than, say, two minutes or televised exchanges," Ryan said on "Fox News Sunday." "I've never really had a conversation with him, on these issues before. I am excited that we had the conversation. We had a very frank exchange. We come from different perspectives. I ran against him in the last election."
BUT NO HARLEM SHAKE EITHER: As Obama makes an effort to meet with Republicans (he is expected to continue his wooing of lawmakers this week, traveling to Capitol Hill over three days to attend each party's weekly meetings), Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said he doesn't expect the outreach to result in an agreement immediately, saying on NBC's "Meet the Press," "I hope that he's genuine, but I don't think we'll be doing the Harlem Shake anytime soon."
TWITTER WATCH: Just after 11 a.m. ET today First Lady Michelle Obama will answer questions on Twitter about her Let's Move! initiative using her @FLOTUS twitter account, ABC's Mary Bruce notes.
ABC's DEVIN DWYER: President Obama's so-called GOP "charm offensive" has received mostly rave reviews as it enters a second week. Now, the question is whether the political thaw will last. Several leading Republicans said Sunday they believe Obama's overtures are sincere, but that the true test of a relationship reset will be seen in his actions, not his words. Translated: they want clear concessions from Obama in future deficit reduction talks, and curbed anti-GOP rhetoric in stump speeches on the road. The president will make his case this week before the full Republican and Democratic conferences in the House and Senate in separate, private meetings at the Capitol. Then he's back on the road Friday to talk about energy policy in Argonne, Illinois. Will we see an Obama speech with a different political tone?
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: Let's read the tea leaves this morning, shall we? "I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy." ?Rabindranath Tagore. Just a positive quote to start the week? No. It's a tweet @AshleyJudd sent out last night. Does it mean she's in? Well maybe not, but those who want to see her get into the race to unseat Mitch McConnell believe she will do it and it's just a matter of time until she makes it official. Her biggest current obstacle is her living situation. She currently lives in Tennessee and famously said earlier this month that she "winters in Scotland." Before she gets in the race she needs to establish residency in her home state of Kentucky. That has to be her first move before anything official whether it's an exploratory committee or something more. Is she house shopping in Kentucky? Then we will know this is real.
ABC's RICK KLEIN: Everyone loves a good celebrity candidate - but a Hollywood liberal in Kentucky? As buzz grows toward the now seemingly inevitable announcement that Ashley Judd will take on Sen. Mitch McConnell, it's hard to figure out who's more excited - Democrats or Republicans. Perhaps GOP efforts to tag Judd as the party's "top recruit" are meant to scare her off. But her off-screen record and personal life are ripe for lampooning, and - if Republicans get their way - not even taking seriously. On the flip side, a celebrity candidate with unlimited sources of national campaign cash is better for Democrats that trotting out a serviceable but probably doomed homegrown Democrat to take on McConnell. The biggest reason Democrats may be keen on a Judd run: Every defensive dollar diverted to Kentucky in 2014 is a dollar missing from efforts to chip away at the Democratic majority.
ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: Jeb Bush, tell us how you really feel. "Man, you guys are crack addicts. You really are obsessed with all this politics," the former Florida governor and potential 2016 presidential contender said in an interview on "Meet the Press" yesterday. That shocker came in response to a question about whether the "hottest Florida politician right now" was him or Sen. Marco Rubio. "OK, heroin addict. Is that better?" Bush added. He appeared to be joking, but there was something about his body language during the exchange that seemed to betray more than a little bit of tension just underneath the surface. The prospect of two prominent Florida politicians seeking to make immigration reform a signature issue has left many wondering whether the spotlight is big enough for the both of them. At least publicly, Bush says it is: "We've got big challenges, and Marco Rubio, to his credit, is working on those. And he deserves a lot of credit for it, and I'm very proud of him."
ABC's TOM SHINE: First there was Chuck Hagel's nasty Senate confirmation hearing. Then the vote delay in the Senate followed by the newly-minted Defense Secretary's messy trip to Afghanistan. Now comes a tough letter from two women senators - Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. - who want Hagel to "immediately provide" them "detailed information" about Lieutenant General Craig Franklin's decision to dismiss the case against star Air Force pilot Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson, convicted by an all-male jury of sexually assaulting a female contractor. "This is a travesty of justice," they write. "We ask that you immediately provide detailed information including whether you have the authority to overturn the dismissal … and work with us to consider legislative options." The Washington Post says under military law, a commander in Franklin's position can reduce a sentence, and dismiss a conviction without giving a reason for doing so. The paper says no one in the Air Force can overrule Franklin's decision and it can't be appealed." Tomorrow, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., will introduce legislation to change all of that. The next day Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., will hold a hearing on sexual assaults in the military - the first senate hearing in more than a decade.
VIDEO OF THE DAY
WILL NEW WOMEN IN COMBAT RULES 'PICK THE BEST PEOPLE' FOR THE JOB? Staff Sgt. Jennifer Hunt is one of four women who filed a lawsuit to end the policy that kept women from the front lines of battle. Hunt, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan and was rewarded a purple heart for her time in Iraq, said in an interview with ABC's Martha Raddatz for the ABC/Yahoo Power Players series "On The Radar" that ending the ban was long overdue. But critics of the change in policy argue that women are not strong enough, and lack the upper body strength to, for example, pull a fellow comrade out of harm's way. "This combat exclusion policy put gender ahead of any physical qualifications. It said we don't care if you're strong," says Hunt. "This lifting of policy is really going to say, 'Let's look at all the qualifications - let's pick the best people for the best job.'" WATCH: http://yhoo.it/13P3HvW
THIS JUST IN: President Obama will formally inaugurate Organizing for Action, his newly-formed independent advocacy group, with a headline speech Wednesday night before the group's "Founders' Summit" at Washington's St. Regis Hotel. Obama's appearance, confirmed to ABC News' Devin Dwyer by an OFA official, will be his first in-person with the group's core team of advisors, donors and grassroots organizers since its formation following the 2012 election. It also follows some criticism from government watchdog groups and Republicans, who have accused OFA of courting would-be donors with promises of access to the president at quarterly meetings. The summit, which will stretch over two days, will include a "series of meetings," discussions and brainstorming sessions aimed at shaping the group's advocacy agenda and grassroots mobilization strategy. Among the top priorities, officials said, would be how to best engage Obama's electoral base in the fights for new gun-control measures and comprehensive immigration reform. Obama's planned speech at the OFA "Founders' Summit" was first reported by Politico.
JEB BUSH: I'M 'IN SYNC' WITH LINDSEY GRAHAM ON IMMIGRATION REFORM. During an interview for "This Week," former Florida governor Jeb Bush told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that he was "in sync" with South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham on the issue of immigration reform. Graham, a key member of the bipartisan group of senators pushing for immigration reform, took Bush to task after the former Florida governor said Monday that he did not support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, which is a key component of the plan being pushed by the Senate group. Bush subsequently reversed course and said he could in fact support a plan that included a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already living in the United States. "Senator Graham and I talked. He was responding to concerns that were expressed before the book was actually published," Bush told Stephanopoulos. "I told him that I support his efforts and I applaud what he's doing. And he concluded, after he heard what the thesis of the book is that we're in sync. We're on the same - on the same path." http://abcn.ws/13NrCvM
WILL FRACTURED HOUSE REPUBLICANS UNITE? Tomorrow morning, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan will release the latest version of his budget blueprint, setting the federal government on a course to balance annual revenue and spending levels by the year 2023. ABC's John Parkinson reports that until now, the former Republican vice presidential nominee has never proposed a budget that balanced in just a decade. While Ryan is the chief author of the GOP's budget proposal, he does not work alone and there are varying perspectives. The Budget committee is a melting pot of lawmakers representing the interests of the House's most powerful committees, especially the Ways and Means committee, which Ryan also sits on, and the Appropriations committee. And some GOP insiders confidentially question whether Ryan can pass his budget out of a committee markup this week. Republicans hold a narrow 22-17 seat advantage over Democrats on the committee. With Democrats ideologically against his proposals, Ryan can only afford losing two Republicans before a third dissenter stalls the resolution in committee. "Ryan's budget is facing opposition from many sides, including within his own committee," one Republican congressional source said on the condition of anonymity. "He loses votes on everything from Medicare and entitlement changes to his drastic discretionary cuts, and it will be difficult for him to pass his budget out of committee, let alone the House floor." http://abcn.ws/ZtxMdH
DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: GABBY GIFFORDS IS 'DOING SO WELL.' Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., DNC Chair and close friend of former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, said "Gabby is doing so well." Wasserman Schultz joined ABC News in a web exclusive after her appearance on the "This Week" roundtable Sunday, discussing her political career and personal motivations, Chuck Hagel's selection as defense secretary, in addition to sharing news about Giffords. "Gabby is doing so well. She's made tremendous progress. She continues to make progress," Wasserman Schultz said. "She's given a couple of short speeches. We saw how incredible she was during her testimony in front of the United States Senate. She's started an organization with her husband, Mark Kelly, Americans for Responsible Solutions. And they're advocating all over the country for a responsible approach to dealing with gun violence and gun safety." Watch the full Q&A with ABC's Kaye Foley: http://abcn.ws/14K2z8O
WILL THE REAL FRANK UNDERWOOD PLEASE STAND UP? Is Rep. Kevin McCarthy the real Frank Underwood? ABC's Chris Good notes that the real-life House majority whip told CNN's Candy Crowley that he gave Kevin Spacey one of his signature lines in the Netflix hit show "House of Cards," the main character of which is Spacey's Frank Underwood, an ultra-manipulative, Machiavellian House majority whip who plots to snag the vice presidency and ruins a few lives in the process. Confronted by two rank-and-file caucus members poised to vote against a bill he supports, Spacey tells them: "I'm gonna say to you what I say to every congressman that sits where you're sitting now: Vote your district, vote your conscience, don't surprise me. Now, the most important one of those is don't surprise me." Spacey delivers the line with a high degree of drawl-infused menace. And apparently he got it from McCarthy, the California lawmaker who coauthored the 2010 book, "Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders," with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Budget Chairman Paul Ryan. The three are seen as a relatively young (McCarthy is 48), tea-party power crew driving conservative policy in the lower chamber. "I gave him that line," McCarthy said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday. "I didn't deliver it that way, but I gave him that line." http://abcn.ws/Y4eG0x
OBAMA: "WHO KNEW GENE COULD BE SO INTIMIDATING?" President Obama made light of the recent spat between White House economic adviser Gene Sperling and journalist Bob Woodward Saturday night when he turned on his comedic charm before an elite group at the annual Gridiron Club Dinner, reports ABC's Arlette Saenz. "This whole brouhaha has had me a little surprised," President Obama said. "Who knew Gene [Sperling] could be so intimidating? Or let me phrase it differently: Who knew anybody named Gene could be this intimidating? "You notice that some folks couldn't make it this evening. It's been noted that Bob Woodward sends his regrets, which Gene Sperling predicted. … I know that some folks think we responded to Woodward too aggressively, but hey, can anybody tell me when an administration has ever regretted picking a fight with Bob Woodward? What's the worse that could happen?" Obama said. The argument between Sperling and Woodward came to the spotlight after Woodward revealed the White House economic adviser told him he would "regret staking out that claim" that President Obama was "moving the goal posts" on additional revenue. http://abcn.ws/Y1zc1P
BACKSTORY: The Gridiron Club is one of Washington, D.C.'s most exclusive organizations for journalists. The annual event, which held its 128th dinner Saturday, features musical skits poking fun at Republican and Democratic lawmakers. The president's appearance at the Gridiron Dinner marked his second time addressing the elite club. He attended the dinner one other time, in 2011. In addition to the president, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal headlined the dinner for each of their respective parties. But amid all the laughs of the evening, the president extended an appreciation for the journalists that cover him each day. "In an age when all it takes to attract attention is a Twitter handle and some followers, it's easier than ever to get it wrong. But it's more important than ever to get it right. And I'm grateful for all the journalists who do one of the toughest jobs there is with integrity and insight and dedication and a sense of purpose that goes beyond a business model or a news cycle," he said.
WHAT WE'RE READING
"SENATOR SQUATTER? HELLER WON'T GIVE UP OFFICE SPACE," by Roll Call's Meredith Shiner. "Staffers for Sen. Dean Heller have been bullying other senators' aides to protect the Nevada Republican's space in the Russell Senate Office Building, CQ Roll Call has learned. As part of the biennial Senate office lottery, junior members are obligated to show their office suites to more senior members, who then have 24 hours to decide whether to claim that space as their own. Heller's office suite - which he inherited after the scandal-fueled resignation of Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. - may be particularly attractive to other senators because its floor plan includes a larger-than-average member office. Though special courtesies are usually extended to aides and members visiting offices, Heller staffers repeatedly tried to keep them from seeing the spacious member office, sources reported, saying meetings were ongoing and could not be interrupted. Several Senate offices lodged complaints with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, according to several sources familiar with the attempted visits to Heller's office." http://bit.ly/ZDc7RD
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX:
RNC CHAIRMAN WRAPS UP LISTENING TOUR: From an RNC media advisory: "Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, Reverend A.R. Bernard, and New York State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox will hold a media availability Monday, March 11th at 2pm, at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York. The media availability will immediately follow an African-American engagement and listening session with African American business, political and governmental leaders. The listening session is one in a series of meetings held by the Republican National Committee as part of the Growth and Opportunity Project to gather input from different communities across the country to help grow and renew the GOP." Priebus has been traveling the country in recent weeks holding similar sessions.
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