* CNN’s Dana Bash moves the ball on what I reported earlier today: The bipartisan group of Senators working on a bill to expand background checks is making real progress.
Crucially, it looks as if the bill is focusing on closing the private seller loophole — with exceptions — and not just on improving the database within the current framework.
* Jonathan Bernstein on the GOP establishment’s complicity in encouraging a political atmosphere that enables insurgent Tea Partyers to thrive — and the party’s need to move past policy symbolism if it is to remake itself.
* E.J. Dionne on the GOP “rebranding” and the contradiction between its softer rhetoric about government and the middle class and the GOP “reform” governors who are slashing government and redistributing wealth upwards.
* How bad would the sequester cuts be? House Dems release a report gaming out the specific impact they will have on government, which would be dramatically cut, slowing growth. Be. Very. Afraid.
* Obama assures House Dems he’s ready for a major public fight if Republicans keep insisting on averting the sequester only through cuts, an effort to put the GOP on notice that they face another fiasco if they keep this up.
* Excellent point from Paul Krugman on GOP efforts to expunge the Bill Clinton years from the historical record, in hopes of obscuring which party has the less illustrious history on deficits.
* Digby blisters Senate Democrats for being willing to offer cuts up front in the coming talks to avert the sequester, and reminds them that overall, Dems have already conceded far more in cuts than Republicans have in revenues.
* John Brennan had his confirmation hearings today, and one notable moment came when, asked if waterboarding is torture, he replied that he believes it is reprehensible, but that he is not a lawyer. Marcy Wheeler replies:
In other words, this man, who can’t (or refuses to) say whether waterboarding is torture because he is not a lawyer, is entrusted every Tuesday to make far more difficult legal decisions, both on the subjective feasible and imminent questions, but also on specific international laws.
The “feasible” and “imminent” questions relate to the Justice Department white paper spelling out the view that targeting American citizens suspected of being members of Al Qaeda is legal if the threat of violent attack is “imminent” and capture is not “feasible.”
* Adam Serwer on the five questions Brennan dodged at today’s hearing.
* And Marco Rubio gets the cover of Time magazine. Ed Kilgore has this bizarre idea that we should evaluate Rubio’s national viability by looking at his — get this — extreme right wing policy positions. Which Kilgore proceeds to do.
Also see Steve Benen, who marvels at the notion that the GOP’s “savior” of the moment would be someone who’s “anti-contraception, anti-science, anti-VAWA, and anti-Social Security.”