Morning Briefing: March 1, 2012

The Senate will vote today on an amendment by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) that would let any employer drop any health care service to employees for moral reasons. The legislation is a response to President Obama’s new rule requiring employers to provide contraception coverage.

GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney broke with his party and came out against the Blunt Amendment yesterday, only to recant an hour later after social conservatives had already begun expressing outrage. His spokesperson, and later Romney himself, said the candidate strongly supports Blunt.

Democrats have the edge in the ongoing policy debates about health care reform, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey. The poll found that 58 percent of people trust President Obama on health care, compared to between 33 and 43 percent for his GOP challengers. Respondents also most agreed with the Democrats’ position on Medicare and the contraception debate.

President Obama hosted a dinner Wednesday for more than 100 Iraq veterans — his first major tribute to the servicemembers since officially withdrawing the troops from the Mideast nation. “You succeeded in your mission,” Obama said. “All of you taught us a lesson about the character of our country.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) plans to skip Affordable Care Act repeal votes until after the November elections, a move which may anger influential conservative activists who have demanded repeated repeal votes.

A federal judge sentenced a former Massey Energy security chief to three years in prison yesterday for obstructing a criminal investigation into the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine explosion that killed 29 miners.

The STOCK Act, a Congressional ethics reform bill to stop insider-trading by members is limping toward passage, but only after House Republicans stripped out the most far-reaching provision, which many saw as poison pills. Even Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) had complained the bill had been “hijacked.”

NATO said two American soldiers were killed this morning by Afghan soldiers, the latest in a rash of violence from the allied troops. It’s not clear if the attack, apparently by two soldiers, is connected to the burning of Qurans on an American base last month.

President Obama defended his decision to issue a formal apology for the accidental Quran burning. Republican presidential candidates have criticized the apology for days, but Obama told ABC News it helped “calm things down” and was done to “save lives and to make sure our troops who are there right now are not placed in further danger.”

A new Quinnipiac University poll shows that 57 percent of New Jerseyans support marriage equality, the highest number ever recorded in the state. The poll was conducted in the week following Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) veto of a bill that would have granted same-sex couples full marriage equality.

And finally: President Obama was Linsane before you were. “I’ve been on the Jeremy Lin bandwagon for a while,” Obama told sportswriter Bill Simmons yesterday. Obama said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who played basketball at Harvard, told him about Lin before he became famous.

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