William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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SHORT TAKES ON THE DRIFTING WRECKAGE – AT 11:41 P.M. ET:

STATE OF THE MESS – The president delivered his State of the Union message tonight.  Notice the difference?  It was the usual grab bag, and will be forgotten tomorrow.  Marco Rubio gave the GOP response.  As John King said on CNN, the president always owns this night and no response can equal the majesty of the president addressing Congress.  But I think Rubio acquitted himself very well.  He was articulate warm and engaging, if looking a bit young.  Give him three years.  He'll be great in 2016.

TROUBLE EVEN BEFORE THE SPEECH – Going into the speech, the president's poll numbers were nothing to brag about.  Gallup reports that he gets negatives in every major issues category except national defense, where voters think he's pursuing Bush policies.  Even on foreign policy he's in minus territory, with 46% approving and 48% disapproving.  On the economy Obama is a disaster, 39% positive, 60% negative.  How did he win the election?

HAGEL HALFWAY – Chuck Hagel's nomination to be secretary of defense was approved, as expected, by the Senate Armed Services Committee on a party-line vote.  But some Republicans are pledging to use Senate rules to require a 60-vote total for Hagel to be confirmed.  Assuming all 55 Dems vote for Hagel, and the two Republican senators pledged to him don't change their minds, that gives Hagel 57 votes.  Those three more would have to come from Republicans, and those votes might not be there.  Also, some moderate Dems from pro-defense states are taking a big risk in voting for Hagel.  If they think he may lose, they may simply not vote.  This isn't over.

STRANGE – Much buzz today about a strange comment by UN Ambassador Susan Rice.  When asked how the United States would respond at the UN to the North Korean nuclear test, Rice said, "We'll do the usual drill."   What an odd remark.  What was Rice saying?  We know she must be mightily disappointed in being passed over for secretary of state after being sent out by the administration to tell a false story about Benghazi.  Was this her way of retaliating, by saying that we'll go through another useless exercise?  Was this her signal that she would have been much tougher?  I don't know, but a comment like that is very undiplomatic.

February 12, 2013