First Read: Politics Take Back Seat to SC Shooting

by Mark Murray , Chuck Todd and Andrew Rafferty /  / Updated 
Image: Flowers for the victims of Wednesday's shootings, are laid near a police barricade in Charleston, South Carolina
Flowers for the victims of Wednesday's shootings, are laid near a police barricade in Charleston, South Carolina, June 18, 2015. Police in Charleston were searching for a white gunman on Thursday who killed nine people in a historic African-American church, in an attack that police and the city's mayor described as a hate crime. REUTERS/Randall HillRANDALL HILL / Reuters

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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.

Politics takes a back seat to the tragic shooting in South Carolina

All of today’s political news -- the Pope calling to fight climate change, the trade battle, Rand Paul’s tax plan, Hillary Clinton speaking to a Latino convention in Vegas, Scott Walker forming a “testing the waters” committee -- takes a back seat to last night’s horrific shooting in Charleston, SC. Indeed, Jeb Bush has cancelled his foreign-policy-themed campaign event that was set today in Charleston. The latest news, per NBC News: “Police were scouring on Thursday morning for a white man who gunned down nine people at an historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, as chilling details emerged about the horrific attack. Authorities said the unidentified shooter arrived at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church nearly an hour before opening fire. He asked for the church's pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, and sat next to him during a Bible study meeting, a survivor later told one of Pinckney's cousins... Pinckney played a key role in passing a bill mandating that police officers wear body cameras, according to the Rev. Joseph Darby of Beaufort AME Church. The law came into effect after a white policeman killed Walter Scott, an unarmed black man in North Charleston on April 4.”

South Carolina’s shootings will influence -- one way or another -- next year’s primaries in the state

Do note that this is the second high-profile race-related crime in South Carolina -- after a policeman was caught on camera shooting a fleeing black man. So these shootings will forge a backdrop to both the Democratic and Republican primaries that will take in South Carolina early next year. The two events aren’t connected, but yet they are.

Pope puts GOP candidates on the spot on climate change

Just like the issue of gay marriage, the Pope and the Catholic Church have gone from being wedge issues that benefitted the GOP in 2004 to ones that now favor Democrats. Today’s news from the Vatican, per the AP: “Pope Francis called Thursday for a bold cultural revolution to correct what he calls the ‘structurally perverse’ economic system of the rich exploiting the poor that is turning Earth into an ‘immense pile of filth.’ In a sweeping manifesto aimed at spurring action in U.N. climate negotiations, domestic politics and everyday life, Francis explains the science of global warming, which he blames on an unfair, fossil fuel-based industrial model that he says harms the poor most. Citing Scripture and past popes' and bishops' appeals, he urges people of all faiths and no faith to undergo an awakening to save God's creation for future generations.” What this news does is guarantee that climate change is a conversation in GOP presidential debates, especially since several of the candidates (Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum) are Catholic.

Cherry-picking when faith should (and shouldn’t) matter in politics

Campaigning yesterday in Iowa, Bush responded to the Pope on climate change. “I respect the Pope, I think he’s an incredible leader, but I think it’s better to solve this problem in the political realm… I don't go to mass for economic policy or for things in politics, I’ve got enough people helping me along the way with that.” But there’s a problem with that kind of answer: When you’re a politician who brings faith into your own decision-making, you could be living in a glass house. Just see the Terri Schiavo controversy. “It’s appropriate for people to err on the side of life. I’m completely comfortable with it,” Bush said about the Schiavo case earlier this year. But while the left is cheering the Pope’s call to action on climate change, he does have an anti-abortion message that they might not like as much. “Francis also included a strong criticism of abortion while also belittling the argument that population control represented a solution to limited resources and poverty,” the New York Times writes.

O’Malley tries to capitalize on today’s climate-change news

Martin O’Malley, who is sitting in the low single digits in post polling, is trying to capitalize on today’s climate-change news. “The former Maryland governor, who is a practicing Catholic, plans to issue a white paper Thursday morning that declares that the United States has a ‘moral obligation’ to address climate change and outlines steps he would take to accelerate a move toward clean energy -- including several that build upon Obama administration policies and some that depart from them,” the Washington Post says.

House set for TPA re-vote: Roll Call

“Pro-trade lawmakers are moving ahead with a vote on TPA without Trade Adjustment Assistance, which aids U.S. workers displaced by international trade. The success of their plan hinges on whether Democrats who voted for TPA will still support that measure without immediate certainty they’ll also get TAA, which trade opponents voted down on June 12 to derail the entire package.”

Rand Paul make big opening tax-cut bid with 14.5% flat-tax proposal

Turning back to the 2016 race, Rand Paul has placed a HUGE opening tax-cut bid that will likely force other Republicans to try to match. “Sen. Rand Paul is pledging to “blow up the tax code and start over” with a federal flat tax of 14.5%, as he seeks to boost his support among conservatives in the Republican presidential field,” according to the Wall Street Journal. The Paul campaign is calling it the “largest tax cut in American history.” But as we saw in 2012 -- remember Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan? -- when the GOP candidates try to outdo each other in promising the biggest tax cut, they put themselves in a potential bind for the general election. If they’re trying to BOTH cut taxes and cut the deficit, you can’t do both without cutting A LOT of spending, which makes for effective TV ads in the general for the opposition.

Scott Walker sets up “testing the waters” committee

“Stepping closer to an all-but-inevitable White House bid, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has created a ‘testing the waters’ committee that allows him to raise money for a presidential campaign,” the AP writes. The two-term Republican governor has already been raising unlimited political donations through a tax-exempt group since January. And in April, former senior aides created a super PAC to bring in even more. The new committee allows Walker to raise money for the first time that will be controlled exclusively by him and his prospective campaign.” The Walker campaign tells NBC News that this committee is recognized by the FEC, and all the money raised during the period will be “hard dollars” that can be used for the campaign. Walker is set to officially announce his presidential bid next month.

Recapping yesterday’s NALEO conference

Per NBC’s Hallie Jackson, Ben Carson addressed the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) conference -- the only Republican 2016er to speak there. "We do have an illegal immigration problem that would be solved if you seal the borders and you cease the benefits, so that people wouldn't see a reason to come here," Carson said. Speaking before him was HUD Secretary Julian Castro. "When I look at you, many of whom have been trailblazers in your own communities, I know America has worked its magic in the Latino community -- and vice versa," Castro said, later adding: "Soon enough, I have no doubt, in due course, there will be a Latino or a Latina in the White House." Also in Las Vegas yesterday was George P. Bush, Jeb Bush’s eldest son, Jackson reports. Hillary Clinton today addresses the NALEO conference in Las Vegas

On the trail: Elsewhere today: Chris Christie is in New Hampshire… And Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio speak at the Faith and Freedom event in DC.

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