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Did Kennedy tip his hand in Obamacare case? And more on politics today

Here's everything you need to know about politics today — from US-Israel relations to Hillary Clinton's 'new beginning" and fact-checking Scott Walker.

Obama-Netanyahu feud gets even worse… WH Chief of Staff McDonough talks of Israel’s “occupation,” and WSJ reports on allegations that Israel spied on the Iran nuclear talks… Can anyone else remember another instance of two allies being this angry at each other?... James Baker also criticizes Netanyahu, making the U.S. criticism bipartisan… Wrapping Cruz’s appearance on the Today Show… Krauthammer knocks Cruz’s experience -- or lack thereof… Hillary talks about having a “new beginning” in relationship with political press corps… Fact-checking Scott Walker’s stump speech… Bernie Sanders to campaign for Rahm Emanuel’s opponent… And did Kennedy tip his hand in Obamacare case?


*** Obama-Netanyahu feud gets even worse: A week after Prime Minister Netanyahu’s election win last Tuesday, relations between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu aren’t getting better -- they’re getting worse.

  • Exhibit A: White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough’s speech to the liberal-leaning American Jewish group J Street, where he assailed Israel’s “occupation” of Palestinian territories. “An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end, and the Palestinian people must have the right to live in and govern themselves in their own sovereign state,” McDonough said.
  • Exhibit B: A Wall Street Journal report that has the Obama administration accusing the Israelis of spying on the closed-door Iran talks. “The espionage didn't upset the White House as much as Israel's sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran's nuclear program, current and former officials said. ‘It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,’ said a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter.” 
  • Exhibit C: The Israeli government’s icy response to the WSJ story. “These allegations are utterly false. The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel's other allies. The false allegations are clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel and the security and intelligence relationship we share."

*** Can anyone else remember another instance of two allies being this angry at each other? We’re having a hard time thinking of another time when two allies have been THIS angry and been THIS public about their disagreements. Talk about venom and score-settling. As with most angry disagreements between friends, it’s hard to remember who landed the first punch. In 2010, Israel announced new housing settlements -- at the same time that Vice President Joe Biden was in the country. Then, just days later, President Barack Obama reportedly snubbed Netanyahu when he was visiting the White House. During the 2012 presidential race, Netanyahu implicitly -- if not openly -- backed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Last year, an unnamed Obama administration official described Netanyahu as a "chickenshit" to the Atlantic's Jeffery Goldberg when it comes to trying to achieve peace with the Palestinians. And topping it all off was Netanyahu’s speech to Congress earlier this month.

*** James Baker also criticizes Netanyahu: By the way, you can now say that the U.S. anger at the Netanyahu government is bipartisan. Here’s former Bush 41 Secretary of State James Baker at the same J Street conference. “Blasting ‘diplomatic missteps and political gamesmanship,’ former Secretary of State James Baker laid in hard to the Israeli prime minister on Monday evening, criticizing him for an insufficient commitment to peace and an absolutist opposition to the Iran nuclear talks,” Politico writes. “Baker told the gala dinner for the left-leaning Israeli advocacy group J Street that he supported efforts to get a deal with Tehran — but he called for President Barack Obama to bring any agreement before Congress, even though he may not legally be required to do so.” As it happens, Baker is a listed foreign-policy adviser for Jeb Bush’s all-but-certain presidential campaign. Wonder if we see Jeb distance himself from Baker’s remarks. And don’t miss this: Netanyahu yesterday apologized for his pre-election remarks exhorting his supporters to go to the polls because Arab Israelis were turning out in droves. "I know that my comments from a few days ago offended Israeli Arab citizens. This was never my intent. I apologize for this,” Netanyahu said.

*** Wrapping Cruz’s appearance on the "Today" Show: A day after officially announcing his presidential bid, Ted Cruz -- with his wife Heidi -- appeared on “Today” to discuss the 2016 campaign. “We need to build a broad coalition … the old Reagan coalition,” Cruz said. “People are hurting, and they are looking for a change.” When NBC’s Matt Lauer asked Cruz if liberal, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage Americans could be a part of that Cruz coalition, the Texas senator answered, “Absolutely. We welcome a broad tent.” Cruz also said he was willing to compromise and take a “half a loaf” from the opposition, but then railed against compromise that grows the government – like last year’s “Crominbus” appropriations bill.

*** Krauthammer knocks Cruz’s experience — or lack thereof: If Cruz does take off, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer yesterday revealed the playbook you’ll see his opposition use to bring him back down. “His real problem, I think, is this, I mean senators are going to have a hard time; first-term senators, we already tried a first-term Senator,” Krauthammer said on Fox News. “Cruz talks about you have to walk the walk rather than just talk the talk, you have to have done something. But that’s not his record in the Senate.”

*** Hillary talks about having a “new beginning” in relationship with political press corps: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports on two stops that Hillary Clinton made yesterday -- one with President Obama at the White House, and two at a journalism foundation dinner, where she talked about trying to have a better relationship with the press. “I am well aware that some of you may be a little surprised to see me here tonight. You know, my relationship with the press has been at times, shall we say, complicated. But I am all about new beginnings. A new grandchild. Another new hairstyle. A new email account. Why not a new relationship with the press?”

*** Fact-checking Scott Walker’s stump speech: Meanwhile, NBC’s Perry Bacon kicks the tires of the four claims Scott Walker is making to Republican voters – that he’s very conservative, that he’s accomplished at winning elections, that he’s courageous in promoting GOP causes, and that he’s a self-made man.

*** Bernie Sanders to campaign for Rahm Emanuel’s opponent: Yesterday, per MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald, we learned that Sen. Bernie Sanders is headed to Chicago on April 2 to attend a rally for mayoral candidate Chuy Garcia, who is taking on Rahm Emanuel in the Windy City’s April 7 runoff. It’s the latest example of the liberal-vs.-establishment fight playing out in that Democratic race.

*** Did Kennedy tip his hand in Obamacare case? Finally, when Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy testified on Capitol Hill yesterday, did he tip his hand in how he will vote in King vs. Burwell -- the case involving whether subsidies should be available to states that didn’t establish their own exchanges? Bloomberg: “A representative asked Kennedy about his previously expressed concerns that the court handles many politically charged issues. Kennedy answered by saying that a ‘responsible, efficient, responsive’ Congress and president can alleviate some of the pressure on the court. Kennedy went on: ‘We routinely decide cases involving federal statutes, and we say, “Well, if this is wrong, the Congress will fix it.” But then we hear that Congress can't pass a bill one way or another, that there is gridlock. Some people say that should affect the way we interpret the statutes. That seems to me a wrong proposition. We have to assume that we have three fully functioning branches of the government." The interpretation some are making here: If Kennedy believes Congress should be assumed to be functioning, then he might send the case back to Congress to fix. Then again, Obamacare defenders might argue that if Congress is indeed functioning, shouldn’t its INTENT -- when it passed the law in the first place -- matter most of all?

OBAMA AGENDA: Obama meets Afghan president at White House

From the AP: "President Barack Obama welcomes Afghanistan's new president to the Oval Office on Tuesday with a fraught question staring them in the face: Will the U.S. slow its departure from Afghanistan — and for how long?"

The New York Times: "President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan is expected to urge President Obama in a White House meeting on Tuesday not to pull American military forces out of his country as quickly as planned, requesting an extension of assistance in combating a tenacious Taliban insurgency."

Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized for his remarks about Arab voters, but the White House isn't backing down on criticism of the comments he made shortly before his reeelection.

From the Wall Street Journal: "Israel Spied on Iran Nuclear Talks With U.S." MORE: "The espionage didn’t upset the White House as much as Israel’s sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program, current and former officials said."

The White House’s florist left the day before Valentine’s Day, and no one seems to know why.

CONGRESS: GOP tries to get creative in breaking budget deadlock

Roll Call finds a quirky rule that could help Republicans figure out their budget deadlock.

OFF TO THE RACES: How ISIS and Iran could shape 2016

The Wall Street Journal notes a phenomenon that's probably not great news for Rand Paul: ISIS and Iran are changing the calculation for presidential candidates.

BUSH: Then-President George W. Bush turned down several requests for disaster aid for his brother, the Boston Globe notes.

He's doing a fundraiser with his brother in Dallas Wednesday.

CLINTON: She "road-tested two themes likely to shape her pitch to voters in the 2016 presidential campaign—the value of working together and the need to combat economic inequality" during her appearance at the Center for American Progress, writes the Wall Street Journal.

She met with Obama for about an hour yesterday, the White House said.

CRUZ: Via the friendly folks at Facebook, his announcement video was viewed over 700,000 times on his Facebook page.

The New York Times, on Ted Cruz: "[A] brilliant and unusually ambitious upstart who chafed at orders from superiors and often rubbed people the wrong way but always saw himself destined for a lofty place in history."

The Des Moines Register notes that Cruz's path must run through Iowa.

The Washington Post editorial board: "[T]he most notable characteristic of Mr. Cruz’s brief time in elected politics has been his aversion to values that are essential to democracy’s functioning: practicality, modesty and compromise."

Cruz's entry means the race for the political right is on, notes the Washington Post.

KASICH: The AP's profile of the Ohio gov: "Kasich, 62, a two-term governor in one of the nation's most important swing states, a former House Budget Committee chairman, Lehman Brothers executive and Fox TV host, will reintroduce himself to New Hampshire voters Tuesday in public and private events that will help him assess his prospects. He'll be in Maine, New York, Michigan and the big primary state of South Carolina in coming weeks."

Here's what his day in New Hampshire looks like, via Paul Steinhauser.

JINDAL: From the Washington Post: "Jindal’s tax plan blessed by Norquist, cursed by conservatives in Louisiana"

PAUL: His first official campaign event in Iowa will target young voters, reports the Des Moines Register.

And around the country...

New York: POLITICO takes a look at the rise and fall of Andrew Cuomo, who has been "totally trapped" by Hillary Clinton.

Additional reporting by Carrie Dann.