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First Read: The 2016 Race is About to Get a Bit More Crowded

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
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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

The presidential race gets a bit more crowded

Over the next two weeks, the 2016 presidential field gets a bit more crowded with five candidates announcing their White House bids. Tomorrow, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum gets into the race. On Thursday, former New York Gov. George Pataki makes his move. On Saturday, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley will become the third official candidate in the Democratic field. Then, next week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announces on June 1. And former Texas Gov. Rick Perry goes on June 4. None of these expected entrants is considered top tier, and it’s more than likely that their official announcement will be their biggest news day -- before they drop out. But here is something we can guarantee: A minor candidate or two will pop. We saw it in 2008 (with Mike Huckabee). We also saw it in 2012 (with the aforementioned Santorum).

One reason why these candidates might be announcing in late May/early June

They get to downplay their 2nd quarter fundraising reports: If you are a minor candidate who’s not expected to raise a lot of money, there is a strategic reason why you might want to announce in late May or early June: You’re able to downplay your 2nd quarter fundraising report. With the 2nd quarter ending on June 30 (and with reports not due until July 15), a candidate could, “Look, I didn’t raise as much as my competition because I’ve only been a candidate for a month, versus others like Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio, who all announced close to the start of the fundraising quarter.” Of course, there are perhaps other reasons why these five candidates are announcing over the next two weeks. But this is one reason why you’d go close to the end of the quarter.

Why you shouldn’t dismiss Bernie Sanders

One candidate who is ALREADY in the 2016 field -- Sen. Bernie Sanders -- holds his big presidential kickoff event at 5:00 pm ET in Burlington, VT, where he was mayor before being elected to Congress. MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki writes that political observers shouldn’t count him out. Indeed, he’s set up to be perhaps Hillary’s top competition on the Democratic side. “It’s easy to dismiss Sanders as nothing more than a niche candidate, an avowed ‘democratic socialist’ with a diehard following on the far-left... But write him off completely at your own peril, because Sanders actually has a few things working in his favor. There’s his message, for one thing, a frontal assault on the political system and a pledge to directly combat the ‘billionaire class.’... There’s also his personality and his image – grumpy demeanor, disheveled appearance, disinterest in discussing anything not related to policy, contempt for personal questions. He is the antithesis of a packaged political candidate.” For political historians out there, think of Sanders as a potential Eugene McCarthy. McCarthy's ability to gain traction against LBJ drove LBJ out in 1968 and sparked more Dems to run. If Sanders gets enough traction to actually knock off Clinton in an early state, then Katie bar the door. Then again, Hillary is leading the Dem race by 40-50 points.

State Department expected to produce timetable to release more Hillary emails

As for Hillary, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported on “TODAY” this morning that the State Department is under court order to produce a timetable later today for releasing more of the 55,000 pages of emails Clinton handed over last December from her private server. Mitchell added that a federal judge ordered the emails to be released on a rolling basis -- every 60 days, something Clinton has said she supports. "I want people to be able to see all of them, and it is the fact that we have released all of them that have any government relationship whatsoever," Clinton said. As far as the emails we saw last week, one person with which she corresponded a lot was former journalist/former Clinton White House aide Sidney Blumenthal (who was blocked from serving in the Obama administration). What’s the bigger story from the emails? The details? Or the company she’s keeping?

Ash Carter blasts Iraqi military for losing Ramadi

“They failed to fight”: Perhaps the biggest political news over the Memorial Day weekend was Defense Secretary Ash Carter criticizing the Iraqi military for losing Ramadi. “What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” Carter told CNN. “They were not outnumbered but in fact they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight. They withdrew from the site. And that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves.” Ouch. (To take some sting out of Carter’s comments, the White House on Monday released a readout of Vice President Biden’s phone conversation with Iraq’s prime minister, in which Biden “recognized the enormous sacrifice and bravery of Iraqi forces over the past eighteen months in Ramadi and elsewhere,” per the statement.) To be so public about the Iraqi military’s shortcomings presents three choices for policymakers: 1) You send in more U.S. troops, 2) you hope the Iraqi military improves, or 3) you let Iraq’s Shiite militia’s take over. They’re all bad choices.

Lawmakers scramble to strike deal on NSA phone data collection

Compared with the last four years, Capitol Hill has been more productive and bipartisan than it’s been a while. But the Senate hit a snag right before the Memorial Day holiday. “Senior lawmakers are scrambling this week in rare recess negotiations to agree on a face-saving change to legislation that would rein in the National Security Agency’s dragnet of phone records, with time running out on some of the government’s domestic surveillance authority,” the New York Times says. “Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said a series of phone calls and staff meetings over the weeklong Memorial Day break should be enough to reach agreement on changes to the USA Freedom Act. Three senators need to be won over for the Senate to pass the USA Freedom Act, which has already been approved by the House and would change the post-Sept. 11 Patriot Act’s provision that the N.S.A. has used to sweep up phone records in bulk.”

Some bad news on the health-care front?

Over the past year, most of the news regarding the health-care law has been positive. But health-care law critic Megan McArdle points to some potential bad news. “So the proposed 2016 Obamacare rates have been filed in many states, and in many states, the numbers are eye-popping. Market leaders are requesting double-digit increases in a lot of places... The reason? They say that with a full year of claims data under their belt for the first time since Obamacare went into effect, they're finding the insurance pool was considerably older and sicker than expected.” McArdle admits that these aren’t the FINAL rates. “[T]he proposed rates will not end up being the final rate. Regulators are going to push back on these rates as hard as they can, with some success.” And these are just for the biggest insurers. “Smaller insurers may price lower in an attempt to grow their business.” Still, this is something to watch.

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