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First Read's Morning Clips

OBAMA AGENDA: “Drop by drop by drop”

Noted: This quote from the end of Obama's remarks Wednesday night at the Shoah Foundation, per a transcript: "I have this remarkable title right now -- President of the United States -- and yet every day when I wake up, and I think about young girls in Nigeria or children caught up in the conflict in Syria -- when there are times in which I want to reach out and save those kids -- and having to think through what levers, what power do we have at any given moment, I think, “drop by drop by drop,” that we can erode and wear down these forces that are so destructive; that we can tell a different story."

Hillary Clinton called the kidnappings in Nigeria "abominable," "criminal" and "an act of terrorism" at a philanthropy event last night in New York, NBC's Alex Moe reports.

Michelle Obama tweeted support for the missing girls as well.

The latest in Ukraine, via the Wall Street Journal: "The main pro-Russian separatist groups in eastern Ukraine decided on Thursday to go ahead with a referendum on secession set for Sunday, defying an appeal from Russian President Vladimir Putin a day earlier to postpone the vote to facilitate dialogue with the government in Kiev."

Per two new Pew polls:

  • 77% of Ukrainians say Ukraine should remain united (including 93% from West Ukraine and 70% from East Ukraine), while just 14% say regions should be allowed to secede
  • Only 41% say the current Ukraine government is having a good influence on the country
  • By a 67%-22% margin, Ukrainians believe Russia is a bad influence on the country
  • And 83% of Russians express confidence in Putin to handle world affairs.

The American Legion is now calling for Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, the New York Times reports.

CONGRESS: In contempt

From NBC's Frank Thorp and Andrew Rafferty: 'House Republicans voted Wednesday to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about the agency’s improper targeting of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. In a partisan 231-187 vote, the House passed the contempt resolution, sending the matter to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. Six Democrats voted for the measure."

Meanwhile, the House is expected to formally approve the special select committee to investigate Benghazi today.

That Senate energy efficiency bill and the Keystone XL pipeline vote are likely doomed after yesterday's partisan fights over amendments, per Roll Call.

Republicans were hoping for more health care bad news from insurers at a House hearing yesterday, but they didn't get it, writes the New York Times.

OFF TO THE RACES: Attacking their own

"Conservative groups have together spent nearly $3 attacking Republican candidates for every $1 spent slamming Democrats, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of federal independent expenditure disclosures," Dave Levinthal writes on NBCNews.com. "In all, from Jan. 1 through Tuesday, identifiably conservative political action committees, super PACs and nonprofit groups have spent about $10 million attacking Republican congressional candidates in advertisements and other communications."

And/ but: The Hill writes that Mitch McConnell and establishment Republicans may have “neutered” the Senate Conservatives Fund, the organization founded by former Sen. Jim Demint to knock out old guard pols.

What's the most Republican company in America? The NYT tracks it down -- and the answer isn't what you'd think.

Wall Street Journal hed, after much of the analysis of Tuesday's primaries chalked up big wins for the GOP establishment: "Tea Party Impact Still Looms Large: Democrats, Republicans Say GOP's 'Establishment' Candidates Are Embracing Movement's Principles"

A pro-Keystone organization's polling finds Republican Steve Daines leading Democrat John Walsh 49-37% in the state's Senate race. The same poll also found tight Senate races in Kentucky and Iowa, while Democrats Gary Peters in Michigan and Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire narrowly lead their GOP rivals.

Republican women running for the Senate will help the party defend itself against Democrats' "war on women" attacks, writes The Hill's Jessica Taylor.

Chris Christie campaigned with Gov. Paul LePage of Maine Wednesday at a shorefront diner. The New York Times reports that "patrons in the diner were happy to meet Mr. Christie, but the bridge scandal remained a topic of every conversation."

ALASKA: Lt.Gov. candidate Dan Sullivan apologized Wednesday for comparing union membership and payment of dues to slavery, per the Anchorage Daily News. His statement: ""To me, the term has no racial connotations except that people of all races may be prohibited from holding certain jobs unless they pay tribute to an organization they may not support. I do, however, understand the sensitivity that the term slavery connotes and I apologize if the use of the word offended anyone."

ARKANSAS: Embattled Sen. Mark Pryor appeared with the president he's tried to distance himself from yesterday when Obama visited tornado damage in the state. Roll Call looks at why the red state Democrat made the move.

GEORGIA: The Washington Post's Paul Kane checks in on the Georgia Senate race, where tea party-affiliated candidates who seemed poised for success have struggled to catch on.

IOWA: Bidenwatch, per the Des Moines Register's Jennifer Jacobs: "When Vice President Joe Biden heard a couple hundred Iowans were in town for an annual lobbying trip, he decided to drop by to chat them up. Biden was an unannounced guest tonight at a party hosted by the Greater Des Moines Partnership at the W Hotel Rooftop and Terrace."

KENTUCKY: Alison Lundergan Grimes is up with her first TV ad of the campaign. The spot, described by the campaign as a "significant, six-figure" statewide buy, touts her work on a military voting initiative.

McConnell's GOP primary opponent, Matt Bevin, has not yet signed a pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee, Sam Youngman reports.

NORTH CAROLINA: Roll Call makes this point about the state's new GOP Senate nominee. 'Before the North Carolina state speaker can fully focus his sights on Hagan in one of Republicans’ best pickup opportunities, Tillis must first survive the legislative session, where policymaking can produce potential pitfalls for any candidate for higher office."

PROGRAMMING NOTES.

*** Thursday’s “Jansing & Co.” line-up: MSNBC’s Chris Jansing interviews Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), NBC News Terrorism Analyst Evan Kohlmann, Deputy Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program Council on Foreign Relations Gayle Lemmon, MSNBC Contributor Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, Former Bush-Cheney Senior Advisor Robert Traynham, Senior Fellow at Demos Bob Herbert, Politics Reporter at the Washington Post Jackie Kucinich, and Founder of Fifteen Minutes Public Relations Howard Bragman.

*** Thursday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: Craig Melvin interviews Robin Sanders, Former US Ambassador to Nigeria and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee on the missing Nigeria girls; TIME’s Michael Scherer on their Ukraine cover story; Sports Illustrated’s Kostya Kennedy on the NFL draft and Shelly Sterling’s comments on keeping the LA Clippers; USA Today’s Yamiche Alcindor on her article regarding the wrongfully convicted; and Ret. Marine Sgt. Adam Kisielewski & Ret. Maj. Gen. Timothy McHale on Homes for our Troops program.

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, NBC’s Chuck Todd, Richard Engel and Bill Neely, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Victoria Kennedy and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza.

*** Thursday’s “The Reid Report” line-up: MSNBC’s Joy Reid interviews writer and social commentator Lola Adesioye about the efforts to free 276 kidnapped Nigerian girls. The Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson joins Joy for our Thursday Strategy Session. And Joy talks Draft Day with NBCSN Football Analyst and fmr. NFL player Jon Richie & “You Can Play” Exec Dir. & Fmr. NFL Player Wade Davis.