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Hagel's Confirmation on Hold For Now: Associated Press: "Republicans have, for now, blocked Chuck Hagel's nomination to become defense secretary. The Senate [this evening] came up two votes short of the 60 needed to move Hagel's nomination forward as lawmakers prepare to leave town for a week's break. Democrats hold a 55-45 edge in the Senate."
The Backstory: Washington Post: "It is the first time a national security nominee has ever faced a filibuster.... Reid had called for a vote on Friday -- which Democrats and Republicans then agreed should be sped up to Thursday -- to highlight what he sees as unprecedented Republican obstruction. Democrats also say the Republican push for a delay, even a brief one, is a tactic designed to allow more time to bloody the nominee and that, in fact, the GOP will never be satisfied with the amount of information released about Hagel."
The White House Reaction (Rhymes!): "We urge Republicans in the Senate to drop their delay," principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One today. "These delaying tactics are unconscionable and they should end right away."
Illinois Just Got One Step Closer To Passing Gay Marriage: Chicago Tribune: "The Democratic-led Senate delivered a Valentine’s Day victory to gay and lesbian couples today, passing legislation for the first time that would allow same-sex marriage in Illinois. The gay marriage measure now goes to the House, where the fight is expected to be tougher. Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign the bill if it reaches his desk. ... Under the measure, marriage officially would be changed in state law from an act between a man and a woman to two people. The legislation explicitly says nothing in the proposed law would force a religious denomination or minster to 'solemnize any marriage.' People in civil unions would be able to convert them to gay marriages within a year of a same-sex marriage law going on the books in Illinois."
Al Capone's Got Company: Associated Press: "A drug kingpin in Mexico who has never set foot in Chicago has been named the city's new Public Enemy No. 1—the same notorious label assigned to Al Capone at the height of the Prohibition-era gang wars. The Chicago Crime Commission considers Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman even more menacing than Capone because he's the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, which supplies most of the narcotics sold in the city. 'What Al Capone was to beer and whiskey during Prohibition, Guzman is to narcotics,' said Art Bilek, the commission's executive vice president. ... The commission—a non-government body that tracks city crime trends—designated Capone Public Enemy No. 1 in 1930. It has declared other outlaws public enemies, but Capone was the only one deemed No. 1. Until now." Guzman is thought to be hiding in the mountains of western Mexico.
Booker's Path to the Senate Is Now All But Clear: Newark Star-Ledger: "U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a pugnacious and plain-spoken Democrat who has represented New Jersey for three decades, will not seek re-election to a sixth term next year. ... The decision by Lautenberg, 89, who has been giving mixed signals for months, marks the end of a political era in New Jersey and one that is likely to set off a fierce primary battle as Democrats, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker, jockey for the rare open seat."
Lautenberg's Statement: "I am not announcing the end of anything. I am announcing the beginning of a two-year mission to pass new gun safety laws, protect children from toxic chemicals and create more opportunities for working families in New Jersey. While I may not be seeking re-election, there is plenty of work to do before the end of this term and I'm going to keep fighting as hard asever for the people of New Jersey in the U.S. Senate.”
Yes, That's Billion With a B: U-T San Diego: "Former San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor took $2 million from a nonprofit foundation to feed a gambling addiction in which she lost more than $1 billion over an eight-year period, federal prosecutors said Thursday. O’Connor, 66, appeared in federal court and pleaded not guilty to a money laundering charge as part of a deferred prosecution. Under the arrangement with federal prosecutors, she has two years to repay the $2 million taken from the R.P. Foundation, a nonprofit set up by her late husband, Robert O. Peterson. Peterson was the co-founder of the Jack-In-The-Box restaurant chain and later Southern California First National Bank Corp., which eventually became part of the Union Bank empire."
While We're On the Topic of Billions: The Hill: "Senate Democratic leaders unveiled a $110 billion sequester-replacement bill at a closed-door caucus meeting Thursday that would replace $85 billion in automatic spending cuts set to hit March 1. The package is split evenly between spending cuts and provisions raising new tax revenues, according to a Democratic source. It would raise nearly $54 billion in taxes by implementing the Buffett Rule, setting a minimum effective tax rate for wealthy individuals and families. It would raise additional revenues by changing the tax treatment of oil extraction from oil sands. This version of the Buffett Rule would phase in a 30-percent effective rate for incomes between $1 million and $2 million."
Penny For Your Thoughts, Speaker: Wall Street Journal: "John Boehner challenged the Senate to pass a bill to avoid the across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester, saying the House won’t act to do so first. At a weekly press conference, Mr. Boehner declined to comment on a Senate Democratic bill that is expected to be unveiled later Thursday .... He said that until the Senate passes such a bill, there was no reason for him to comment on it. The Republican leader said the House had passed legislation last year to shift the burden of the cuts away from defense and other key federal programs. But that bill died at the end of the last Congress, House GOP leaders don’t plan to reintroduce it this year. Absent congressional action, the sequester cuts will begin to take place on March 1."
Future Tense: Who's Lying: Tesla or the New York Times? Maybe Neither.
The Big Business Deal of the Day: Reuters: "Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and Brazilian private equity firm 3G Capital will buy ketchup maker H.J. Heinz Co for $23.2 billion in cash, a deal that combines 3G's ambitions in the food industry with Buffett's hunt for growth. Including debt assumption, Heinz valued the transaction, which it called the largest in its industry's history, at $28 billion. ... [Analysts] said the deal could be the first step in a broader wave of mergers for the food and beverage industry. ... The surprise purchase satisfies, at least in part, Buffett's hunt for growth through acquisition. He was frustrated in 2012 by the collapse of at least two unnamed deals in excess of $20 billion and said he might have to do a $30 billion deal this year to help fuel Berkshire's growth engine."
Breakingviews: Heinz Deal Gives Taste of New Buyout Secret Sauce
So Close and Yet So Far: Associated Press: "The miserable passengers aboard the ill-fated Carnival cruise line were slowly making their long journey home Thursday after crews repaired a broken tow line, another bad break that briefly set the ship adrift off the Alabama coast. As passengers came within sight of land and a cellphone signal, a clearer picture of the scene aboard the ship began to emerge. They described overflowing toilets, sewage backed up in showers, scarce food, people getting sick and a tent city on what was supposed to be a tanning deck. What began as a four-day voyage in the Gulf of Mexico had turned into a vacation nightmare, not at all the luxury cruise touted in brochures."
I Once Was Blind: New York Times: "The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved the first treatment to give limited vision to people who are blind, involving a technology called the 'artificial retina.' With it, people with certain types of blindness can detect crosswalks on the street, burners on a stove, the presence of people or cars, and sometimes even oversized numbers or letters. ... The approval marks the first milestone in a new frontier in vision research, a field in which scientists are making strides with gene therapy, optogenetics, stem cells and other strategies. ... With the artificial retina or retinal prosthesis, a blind person cannot see in the conventional sense, but can identify outlines and boundaries of objects, especially when there is contrast between light and dark — fireworks against a night sky or black socks mixed with white ones in the laundry."
A Few More Quick Hits From Slate—
Moneybox: Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Coming in March
Map of the Week: Obama’s 297 Drone Strikes
Brow Beat: How Mofo Got Its Mojo
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This post was updated at 5:15 p.m. with additional information about the Senate vote.