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First Read Flash: Summers school

No Summers break. "Facing dissent from Congressional Democrats, President Obama on Wednesday offered a strong defense of his potential choice of Lawrence H.
Lawrence Summers, then director of the White House's National Economic Council, departs after an interview at the Newseum in Washington, October 2, 2009.  (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Lawrence Summers, then director of the White House's National Economic Council, departs after an interview at the Newseum in Washington, October 2, 2009.

No Summers break. "Facing dissent from Congressional Democrats, President Obama on Wednesday offered a strong defense of his potential choice of Lawrence H. Summers to head the Federal Reserve, though he said no final selection had been made," the New York Times reports. "Speaking to members of the House Democratic caucus on Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama said in answer to a sharp question from Representative Ed Perlmutter of Colorado that he believed Mr. Summers had been maligned in the liberal news media, according to several House Democrats who attended the meeting."

Jones confirmed for ATF. "The Senate on Wednesday confirmed a director to head the agency that regulates firearms and investigates gun and explosives crimes, ending an extraordinary seven-year run in which the agency has been without a permanent, full-time leader," the Washington Post reports. "By confirming B. Todd Jones, the U.S. attorney for Minnesota and the acting part-time director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives by a vote of 53 to 42, Congress provided the Obama administration with a rare victory in its efforts to advance sweeping gun proposals. None of President Obama’s other legislative initiatives survived the congressional debate that followed the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December." NBC News notes that "the nomination was almost sunk earlier Thursday, when the Senate came close to rejecting President Barack Obama's nominee, jeopardizing the fragile deal that's allowed other controversial nominees to be confirmed. Senate leaders were forced to hold open a procedural vote for hours to wait for Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp to arrive in Washington and cast the 60th vote."

Family Feud. The Washington Post looks deeper into the ongoing feud between Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie , and its roots in the rise of libertarians within the GOP: "Libertarianism once again appears to be on the rise, particularly among the young. But its alliance with the Republican establishment is fraying, as demonstrated by the increasingly personal war of words between two leading potential 2016 presidential contenders...This kind of rancor is pretty much the last thing the Republican Party needs right now as it struggles to broaden its appeal and find its footing in the wake of two successive presidential defeats."

Picking Cotton. "Arkansas Republican Rep. Tom Cotton plans to announce his bid next week to challenge two-term incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in next year's elections, according to a person familiar with the congressman's plans," the AP reports. "The freshman congressman has scheduled an event Tuesday with supporters in his hometown of Dardanelle....Pryor is viewed by many Republicans as the most vulnerable Senate incumbent next year, especially after recent GOP gains in Arkansas. Republicans in November took over the state Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction and swept all four of the state's U.S. House seats."

To the map! At a briefing with reporters Wednesday, DSCC Chairman Michael Bennet acknowledged that the Democrats had a difficult task in defending seats in 2014 – opening with a slide titled “The Hand We Were Dealt” – but reminded that Republicans had been favored in past elections and lost very winnable races before – in Nevada and Delaware in 2010, and in Indiana and Missouri in 2012. He said they’re still “actively recruiting” candidates in South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia – all Democratic-held open seats in red states that the party must now defend and hasn’t had recruiting success so far.  Republicans have a thin bench in Montana too, and Rep. Steve Daines, the most likely candidate, hasn’t made his bid official yet.

Arguing that the fields weren’t set in those open seat contests yet and refusing to write them off, Bennet said the majority would be won or lost in six states -- North Carolina, against first term Democrat Kay Hagan; in Louisiana against Democrat Mary Landrieu; in Alaska against Democrat Mark Begich; in Arkansas, where Democrat Mark Pryor is about to get a top challenger in Rep. Tom Cotton, and in Georgia’s open seat contest  and Kentucky against Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

With Cotton announcing next week, Bennet said Republicans would "regret recruiting someone so ideological who  was just elected last year," and compared the freshman to Republican Rick Berg, another first-term House member who ran for Senate in North Dakota and lost in 2012 to Democrat Heidi Heitkamp.

Bennet’s pitch boiled down to Democrats playing offense in red states like Kentucky and Georgia – still uphill contests – but gleefully pointed out that divisive GOP primaries in both the Bluegrass and Peach State could give them an opening, while the committee’s putting its full weight behind both Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky and Michelle Nunn in Georgia. Bennet said Kentucky would be the “most competitive race in the country.”

“The lay of the land favors Democrats keeping the majority,” said Bennet. “Republicans are mired in primaries and held hostage by the far right.”

Gift giving. After embattled Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said Tuesday he would return gifts he and his family received from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, running to succeed McDonnell this fall against Democrat Terry McAuliffe, said Wednesday he wasn't planning to do the same. AP: "Cuccinelli says he's glad Gov. Bob McDonnell is returning all the gifts he received from a major political donor. But he has no plans to repay the more than $18,000 in gifts he received from the same benefactor. Cuccinelli told reporters Wednesday that Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams didn't give him the kind of gifts that can be returned. Among the gifts from Williams listed in Cuccinelli's financial disclosure statements are a $1,500 catered Thanksgiving dinner, private jet trips and vacation lodging. Cuccinelli said, 'There are some bells you can't unring.'"

Shifting blame. "Mayor Bob Filner’s legal strategy appears to be to shift blame on the city for his alleged inappropriate behavior toward women because he didn’t receive sexual harassment training as required under the municipal code," the San Diego Union Tribune reports. "In a Monday letter to the City Attorney’s Office, Filner’s attorney Harvey Berger said the city has a legal obligation to provide such training to all management-level employees within six months of being hired. Berger said Filner was scheduled to receive the training, but it was canceled by the coordinator and never rescheduled."