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* At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, lawmakers demanded that secretary of defense nominee and former Nebraska GOP senator Chuck Hagel explain controversial remarks he has made and votes he has taken. Hagel struggled to defend his record on Iran, Israel, and nuclear weapons, among other issues. At one point, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) even used charts and video clips from a 2009 interview with Al Jazeera English to highlight his concerns with Hagel.

* Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) announced that he will vote against confirming Hagel, citing issues with the former senator on Cuba, Iran, Israel, North Korea, and defense budgets.

* Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) officially launched his special election Senate campaign, taking an apparent shot at Rep. Edward J. Markey (D) in the process. "Shame on us to allow someone to clear the field, box out all the other candidates, and buy the election,” Lynch said. Markey's welcoming of Lynch wasn't so warm, either. "I urge him to join me in committing to the people's pledge to prevent outside special interests groups from injecting millions into this campaign," Markey said of the considerably more moderate Lynch.

* The Senate approved a measure to temporarily suspend the debt ceiling by a 64-34 margin, sending the legislation to President Obama's desk for approval.

* Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) was set to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) on Thursday to discuss a Senate bid. Following Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin's decision to retire, Braley is viewed as the top potential Democratic recruit for the race.


* Media personality Geraldo Rivera says he's considering running for the Senate in New Jersey as a Republican.

* The Republican National Committee raised $2.3 million in the month of December, and ended the year with $4.7 million in the bank and no debt, the committee announced on Thursday.

* Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is getting some early air cover from a third-party group called the "Stronger Montana Fund." The group is spending $275,000 on a TV ad thanking Baucus for leading the effort to permanently exempt family farmers and ranchers from the estate tax earlier this month.

* The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee outraised the National Republican Congressional Committee $183.8 million to $155.7 million in the 2012 cycle.

* Beyonce admitted to lip-syncing the national anthem at Obama's inaugural ceremony. But she won't be lip-syncing at the Super Bowl this Sunday.


Congrats, 79ers, you earned it.

With Aaron Blake