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First Read: Could the Supreme Court Give the GOP an Escape Hatch on Gay Marriage?

Image: Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Historic Marriage Equality Case

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: Protesters hold pro-gay rights flags outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images) ivier Douliery/Ge / Getty Images

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter

Could Supreme Court provide GOP an escape hatch on gay marriage?

While all eyes are fixed on the violence in Baltimore (and we have something to say on it below), the biggest political story today is playing out at the Supreme Court, which hears oral arguments in the case to decide whether there’s a right to gay marriage. And here’s the reason why it’s the biggest political story: The court could give the GOP an escape hatch on an issue that’s become a HUGE problem for the party in 2016 and beyond. As our March NBC/WSJ poll shows, 59% of Americans favor gay marriage. That includes 74% of Democrats and 60% of independents -- but only 40% of Republicans. It’s also an issue that younger Americans almost universally support: 74% of those ages 18-34 back gay marriage, versus just 45% of seniors. So by ruling for a right to gay marriage, the Supreme Court might be doing the Republican Party a big favor -- potentially taking the issue off the table in 2016. “They would be doing the Republican presidential field an incredible favor by giving them the potential gift of moving this as a hot-button cultural issue more than a year out from Election Day,” the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans told the New York Times. And if gay marriage becomes legal across the U.S., here’s a question to ponder: Will we see opposition to same-sex marriage in the GOP platform in July 2016?

Question of Same-Sex Marriage Returns to Supreme Court 1:11

More on today’s oral arguments

NBC’s Pete Williams sets the stage for today’s oral arguments before the court. “The court has set aside an unusually long time for courtroom argument — two and a half hours — and will release an audio recording later in the day,” he writes. The case ‘is about the fundamental question of how our democracy resolves debates about social policy,’ argues Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. ‘The people, not the courts, have the right to define marriage,’ he said.” More: “But advocates for same-sex couples say the courts must step in when fundamental rights are in jeopardy. ‘The states don't have the right to violate the constitutional rights of individuals. And that includes same-sex couples who want the freedom to marry,’ said James Esseks of the American Civil Liberties Union.” Also, don’t miss the look by one of us at how much and how fast public opinion has moved on the issue of gay marriage. And here’s NBC’s Perry Bacon on how social issues like gay marriage have thrown the GOP 2016ers off balance.

A leadership test in Baltimore

Turning to the violence and police standoffs in Baltimore, the situation in the city has become a significant leadership test for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. In today’s climate, we’re unsure any politician -- even George Washington or Abraham Lincoln -- would look good as police clash with rioters and as citizens loot stores and burn down buildings. The question for these leaders is how long the violence lasts and how the city REACTS to what happens last night. Rawlings-Blake, in particular, is in hot water after her comments Saturday night suggesting she wanted to give “space” to protestors who “wished to destroy.” What she said: “It’s a very delicate balancing act because while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.” Blake tried to explain her quote at her news conference last night and blamed the media for misinterpreting her. But the fact is, she appeared to condone some level of violence. Perhaps she didn't mean to condone and was only trying to explain policing tactics, but that isn't how it has came across.

How money has defined both Hillary and Jeb

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Maybe the most significant 2016 story over the past week has been money. There’s the Clinton Foundation. The Koch and Adelson primaries. And Jeb’s Super PAC. And it’s noteworthy how both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are being defined by money at this early stage of the presidential race. Jeb boasted to donors that his Right to Rise Super PAC has raised more money in 100 days than any other GOP organization (of course, one big reason why is because Super PACs can receive unlimited donations). Hillary, meanwhile, is going to raise a TON of money, too (and she’s raising money in NYC today). Of course, Hillary’s main money story right now is the Clinton Foundation. And there’s a new Clinton Foundation story out there via the New York Post. “The Clinton Foundation in 2008 reported that it had received a contribution of between $1 million and $5 million from Amar Singh, a member of India’s Parliament and a pal of Bill Clinton. The size of the donation relative to Singh’s net worth raised questions about whether Singh was the true source of the cash, according to “Clinton Cash” author Peter Schweizer. The 2008 contribution was made as Congress debated approval of a nuclear agreement between the United States and India.

Why being defined by money isn’t a good thing

And being defined by money stories is rarely a good thing; it just steps on your message and emphasizes the dynastic subplots to their candidacies.

Rand Paul: It was a mistake to remove Saddam Hussein

Speaking to Orthodox Jewish leaders in Brooklyn yesterday, Rand Paul said the United States erred in removing Saddam Hussein and Qaddafi from power, the New York Times says. “Speaking at the headquarters of the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, Mr. Paul was unambiguous in arguing that Tehran had only become more powerful since the fall of Mr. Hussein, who he said had been a ‘bulwark’ against Iran’s influence in the region. ‘It was a mistake to topple Hussein,’ the senator said. And he called the 2011 overthrow of Colonel Qaddafi — which he labeled ‘Hillary’s war,’ referring to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the secretary of state at the time — an ‘utter disaster.’”

Pope Francis to champion combating climate change

This is a fascinating story. “Since his first homily in 2013, Pope Francis has preached about the need to protect the earth and all of creation as part of a broad message on the environment. It has caused little controversy so far,” the Times writes. But now, as Francis prepares to deliver what is likely to be a highly influential encyclical this summer on environmental degradation and the effects of human-caused climate change on the poor, he is alarming some conservatives in the United States who are loath to see the Catholic Church reposition itself as a mighty voice in a cause they do not believe in.” And don’t forget that Pope Francis will be addressing Congress later this year. “‘I think Boehner was out of his mind to invite the pope to speak to Congress,’ said the Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst at the National Catholic Reporter. ‘Can you imagine what the Republicans will do when he says, ‘You’ve got to do something about global warming’?”

On the trail

Jeb Bush is in Puerto Rico, where he attends two events (and speaks in English and Spanish at both)… Chris Christie fundraises in DC… Hillary Clinton raises money in New York City… And Carly Fiorina hits New Hampshire.

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