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* President Obama is slated to announce in his State of the Union address that he is ordering the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to be reduced by more than half over the next 12 months. Obama will also defend the role of government in the speech. According to excerpts, he'll say: "It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation of ours.”

* Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will focus his official GOP response on entitlement programs, arguing that Medicare and Social Security need to be saved. Rubio's office also released photos of the senator preparing to deliver the official GOP response.

* House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters that Obama "doesn’t have the courage to take on the liberal side of his own party,” and that "he just doesn’t have the courage to lead when it comes to our long-term spending problem.” In terms of making tough decisions on the nation's deficit, Boehner said: “I don’t think he has the guts to do it.”

* Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel cleared the Senate Armed Services Committee on a vote that fell along party lines Tuesday, with 14 Democrats voting for him, 11 Republicans voting against him, and one Republican who had been critical of Hagel -- Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana  -- absent from the vote. Hagel must now be cleared by the Senate to win confirmation.

* Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said "it’s pretty clear to me that the sequester is going to go into effect," and added that he's "not interested in an 11th-hour negotiation.” McConnell's remarks represented his bleakest comments yet about averting automatic spending cuts set to kick in on March 1.

* First Lady Michelle Obama’s State of the Union guest list includes a teacher from Sandy Hook Elementary School, a police officer who responded to the massacre at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and the parents of a girl killed by gunfire in Chicago earlier this month.

* Businessman and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez (R) officially announced his Massachusetts Senate campaign, promising in a Web video to run a "very different kind of campaign." Gomez, the son of Colombian immigrants, begins and ends the video by speaking Spanish.


* Stay tuned to Washingtonpost.com, The Fix, and Post Politics for continuing coverage of tonight's State of the Union address.

* Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will call on Republicans to be more welcoming of immigrants when he delivers his tea party response to Obama's speech later tonight.

* Newark Democratic Mayor Cory Booker's finance director has stepped down from her position in his nascent Senate campaign after less than two weeks in the position. Samantha Maltzman is leaving her post but may continue to do some work for the campaign. Maltzman formerly served as former finance director for Hillary Clinton, New Jersey Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, and Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.). Booker is exploring a Senate bid, but has not officially announced that he will run.

* Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin will be a guest of Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) at the State of the Union speech. King is potential candidate for retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin's seat.

* New Jersey state Sen. Barbara Buono (D), who is running against Gov. Chris Christie (R), was in a minor car accident Monday night and suffered minor cuts on her face. "Thanks for all the well wishes. Grateful everyone’s fine. Don't make same mistake as me: wear a seatbelt no matter where you're sitting," tweeted Buono.

* Arkansas Lt. Gov. Mark Darr (R) announced that he won't run for governor in 2014, and endorsed former congressman Asa Hutchinson (R) for the job. Hutchinson is seen as an early front-runner in the race.


The SOTU as imagined by Jimmy Fallon.

With Aaron Blake