First Read is the NBC Political Unit's morning briefing on the day's most important political stories and why they matter
A foreign-policy election (more or less) is upon us
As the 2016 presidential race picks up speed, expect the issue terrain to involve more guns -- and less butter. Consider all of the different foreign-policy/national security storylines from just this week:
- The United States is helping to bomb ISIS in Iraq, with a little help from Iran;
- The U.S. is aiding Saudi Arabia (and others) to oust the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen;
- The U.S. and Iran are racing to complete a nuclear deal;
- GOP frontrunner Scott Walker said he'll tear up this nuclear deal on his first day in the Oval Office;
- And potential Republican 2016er John Bolton wrote a NYT op-ed saying the U.S. should bomb Iran.
Yes, the economy and domestic issues always play an important role in presidential elections. And, yes, things do change -- the 2008 presidential election turned immediately into an economic-focused race after Lehman Brothers' collapse. But with an unemployment rate at 5.5% and falling, it sure feels more like March 2007 than March 2011. And instead of Iraq being the central debate point, it could be Iran now.
And what that means
So what does a more foreign-policy-focused election mean? Well, candidates' credentials and worldview are going to matter. The current and former governors (Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee) are going to have to demonstrate a familiarity with all of the different (and complicated) moving parts. The voting records of the current senators (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio) are going to get examined. And the foreign-policy record of the Democratic frontrunner -- the former U.S. secretary of state -- is going to receive extra scrutiny, especially in light of all the instability in the Middle East.
Walker's views on immigration are now all over the place
Scott Walker is touring the Texas-Mexico border today with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott -- just as his views on immigration seem to have become increasingly unclear. As one of us wrote yesterday, here are all of his zigs and zags on the issue:
2006: Signed a resolution calling on Congress to pass the McCain-Kennedy comprehensive immigration-reform bill.
2013: In an interview with the Wausau Daily Herald's editorial board, appeared to endorse a pathway to citizenship.
March 1, 2015: Told Fox News that his views on McCain-Kennedy and citizenship have changed. "My view has changed. I'm flat-out saying it."
March 13, 2015: Told New Hampshire Republicans at a private dinner, per the Wall Street Journal, that he could still support a pathway to citizenship.
March 26, 2015: Hours after that Wall Street Journal article surfaces, Walker's emerging campaign said the WSJ piece was false.
But who hits him on it?
These apparent flip-flops on immigration have the potential to neutralize the immigration issue if you're a Jeb Bush (who supports comprehensive immigration reform) or Marco Rubio (who helped draft the Gang of Eight immigration bill). But as we've seen before, primary voters tend to reward the flip-flopper rather than the person who stands their ground, if the flip-flopper is "evolving" to the position they have. The logic: Voters care more about where you CURRENTLY stand on an issue, rather than how you got there. And here's the other question: Who hits Walker for his flip-flops from the right? With the exception of Ted Cruz, no "anti-amnesty" Republican is pure on the issue. (Yes, that includes you, Rand Paul, and you, Mike Huckabee).
Welcome to Chuck Schumer's Senate Democratic caucus
The breaking news this morning from one of us: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid isn't running for re-election in 2016. And this has two immediate consequences: One, it most likely hands the Democratic reins over to heir-apparent Chuck Schumer. And two, it creates what could be one of the most competitive Senate contests in the country. Given that it's a presidential year, that probably helps the Democrats, slightly. But who will be their candidate? Nevada political expert Jon Ralston says it could be former state AG Catherine Cortez Masto. It could also be former Secretary of State Ross Miller. On the Republican side, does sitting Gov. Brian Sandoval run? If he does -- and escapes a GOP primary -- he could be a cinch. But neither looks like a likely scenario for him. Meanwhile, while Schumer does seem like a lock to replace Reid as leader, Dick Durbin may make some noise and two dark horses to keep an eye on: Patty Murray and Michael Bennet, both of whom are up for re-election in 2016.
Senate Republican budget passes
After over 15 hours of amendment votes, the Senate passed the Senate Republican budget, 52-46, a non-binding fiscal blueprint that would balance in 10-years, NBC's Frank Thorp reports. Two Republicans with 2016 aspirations (Ted Cruz, Rand Paul) joined all Democrats in voting against the measure. More from Thorp: Because the House-passed budget is different than the Senate version, the two chambers will now begin negotiations to meld the two versions together into a single piece of legislation, a process they hope to conclude by April 15. House Republicans passed their budget on Wednesday along party lines, 228-199. During negotiations between the House and Senate, Republicans will determine how they will deal with deep defense cuts that are scheduled to hit as a part of sequestration. Republicans will also decide if they will use a procedure called "reconciliation" to allow for a filibuster-proof vote on provisions such as a repeal of Obamacare, or other Republican priorities.
Breaking down "Vote-A-Rama"
Thorp adds that final passage came after a 15-hour 'Vote-A-Rama,' where over 50 amendments were considered in a row. 34 amendments from both sides of the aisle were adopted, but they are all non-binding and are used as a way for each side to get each other on the record on various policy provisions. It's fascinating to examine these votes when considering the handful of senators from each side of the aisle who most frequently voted with the other party. We will have a more detailed breakdown of the new "center of the Senate" later today, but that's the most useful aspect of the Vote-A-Rama, is outing the dealmakers
VOTE-A-RAMA AMENDMENT VOTE HIGHLIGHTS:
- Vote #1: Sanders amendment to increase minimum wage FAILS, but sees GOP Sens Collins and Portman vote for the measure.
- Vote #4: Rubio amendment to increase defense spending without offsetting cuts FAILS, 32-68. The measure needed 60 votes to pass.
- Vote #5: Rand Paul amendment to increase defense spending WITH offsetting cuts FAILS, 4-96. Only Sens Enzi, McConnell, Paul and Vitter voted 'Yes'.
- VOTE #6: Murray amendment to fund legislation to allow Americans to earn paid sick time PASSES 61-39. While Sen Johnson (R-WI) says he voted for the measure by mistake, the other 14 GOP Senators who supported the amendment gives it a filibuster-proof 60 votes.
- VOTE #15: Vitter amendment to establish a spending-neutral reserve fund relating to requiring the Federal Government to allow states to opt out of Common Core without penalty PASSES along party lines.
- VOTE #20: Kirk amendment to reimposing waived sanctions and imposing new sanctions against Iran if a deal is not reached on that country's nuclear program PASSES, 100-0.
- VOTE #21: Coons amendment to establish a war tax to offset the costs of operations against the Islamic State FAILS along party lines.
- VOTE #26: Thune amendment to establish a fund to allow for the permanent elimination of the Federal estate tax PASSES along party lines.
- VOTE #27: Bennet amendment to establish a fund relating to responding to the economic and national security threats posed by human-induced climate change PASSES 53-47, with seven Republicans supporting the amendment.
- VOTE #28: McConnell amendment to take away penalties for states regarding EPA greenhouse gas emissions regulations PASSES, 57-43, with 3 Democrats voting for the measure.
- VOTE #36: Schatz amendment to establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to ensuring all legally married same-sex spouses have equal access to the Social Security benefits PASSES, 57-43, with 11 Republicans voting for the measure.
- VOTE #38: Motion to waive Nelson amendment to create a point of order against legislation that would use tax dollars to censor publicly-funded climate science FAILS 51-49, needing 60 votes to pass. 5 Republicans voted for the measure.
- VOTE #39: McCain amendment to establish a fund relating to deterring migration of unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras PASSES, 58-42, with four Democrats voting for the measure.
- VOTE #44: Menendez amendment to establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to strengthening the national do-not-call registry PASSES by voice vote.
- VOTE #46: Vitter amendment to require President, Vice President and Members of Congress to obtain their health care through the ACA exchanges PASSES, 52-46.
- VOTE #49: Lee amendment to stop Congress from using the reconciliation process to raise the debt limit PASSED, 54-44.
- VOTE #51: Rubio amendment to increasing funding for the relocation of the United States Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem PASSED by voice vote.
- VOTE #52: Kaine amendment to provide for sequestration replacement PASSES, 50-48.
The GOP is facing a 16 million-person problem when it comes to Obamacare
Finally, don't miss this piece by NBC's Perry Bacon: "With the Obama administration announcing this month that some 16 million people have obtained health insurance since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the Republicans' intense focus on completely repealing the law is increasingly looking unrealistic." More: "Republicans blasted Obama for disrupting the health insurance of Americans to enact his policy vision, as the early days after the law's enactment including thousands of Americans having their existing insurance plans canceled. Now, with Obamacare more entrenched, Republicans would face the political backlash from a huge overhaul if they went through with their plans to repeal and replace the ACA."