(CNN)-It's early, and State of the Union is bringing you the best of the morning headlines to go with your cup of coffee.
On our radar this morning: The firestorm over the W.H.'s contraception policy, Mitt Romney's Maine win, and the untimely death of Whitney Houston.
Check out what we're reading, and be sure to watch our interview with W.H. Chief of Staff Jacob Lew and GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum at 9am/12pm ET.
Administration officials said the White House had never expected to get the bishops’ support, given their absolute opposition to contraception, and was surprised when the initial statement of the bishops conference on Friday was noncommittal and went so far as to call the president’s modification a step in the right direction.
Already three lawsuits have been filed against the birth control mandate, two by religious colleges and one by a Catholic media outlet.
The number of votes cast in a straw poll of conservative activists was only a couple thousand fewer than the total at Maine caucuses. But for Mitt Romney, the verdict of attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference may have been a more significant victory Saturday.
It was the best showing for any Republican presidential hopeful since George W. Bush won 42% of the vote at CPAC's 2000 confab. But it wasn't Romney's first victory there; he won the straw polls from 2007 to 2009.
Not since Reagan in 1976 has the voice of an also-ran been so influential, some Republicans argue, because the party needs the energy that his supporters can bring. Romney in particular has been noticeably solicitous of Paul’s goodwill.
“Ron Paul is the only Republican whose endorsement matters in turning out voters in the general election,” said anti-tax activist Grover Norquist. “He’s building a wing of the modern Republican Party.”
While the Republican race has been marked by any number of twists, the decline in turnout has been consistent from the first contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, with the number of self-identified Republican voters falling everywhere but South Carolina. The burst of enthusiasm there followed two closely watched debates and 11 days of fierce campaigning. But it failed to carry forward.
Turnout has fallen in every contest since: down 14% in Florida, 26% in Nevada, 6% in Colorado, 23% in Minnesota and 58% in Missouri
This time around, Mr. Obama has vowed that he will not extend the tax cuts for upper-income Americans, and no matter who wins the presidential election in November, Mr. Obama will be in the White House on Expiration Day. That will put pressure on Republicans in Congress to prevent a sudden return to the tax code of the 1990s.
Of course, if the G.O.P. wins control of the White House and both houses of Congress, Republican leaders could allow those wholesale tax increases to take place, with the expectation that they will overturn them once they assume control later in January. They could use a parliamentary mechanism called reconciliation
Officials say the ministers could discuss a joint observer mission with the UN and recognition of the main opposition group.
DEATH OF WHITNEY HOUSTON
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