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.
Jeb’s new campaign manager signals that the last few months haven’t gone well
It’s not extraordinary in presidential politics when a campaign manager gets replaced; it frequently happens, especially during tough times. But what IS extraordinary is bringing in a new manager before the campaign officially begins. And that’s why yesterday’s news that Jeb Bush hired GOP communications strategist Danny Diaz to be his new campaign manager -- after previously tapping David Kochel (who was Mitt Romney’s chief Iowa strategist in 2012) to fill the position -- is a big deal. It’s a tacit acknowledgement that the last few months for Team Jeb haven’t gone well. If the goal of the Jeb pre-campaign was to create enough of a juggernaut to scare off some potential rivals, it didn't work. Only Mitt Romney was forced out. Not Rubio, not Christie, and not Kasich, who remarked last week: “I thought Jeb was just going to suck all the air out of the room, and it just hasn’t happened.” The New York Times has some details about the drama in Jeb World: “[B]eneath the surface, there were rumblings that a change was imminent. Incoming staff member[s] traded whispers about whether Scott Jennings, a former George W. Bush White House official who was present for the meetings, was still in line to be the political director, and whether Mr. Kochel would be left in place… Making matters even more complicated for Mr. Bush, his advisers have been geographically separated: [Sally] Bradshaw lives in Tallahassee, [Mike] Murphy is in Los Angeles and Mr. Kochel and the campaign are based in Miami.”
Jeb’s Euro Trip
So right after hiring a new campaign manager and right before officially launching his presidential bid next week, Jeb Bush embarks on a five-day trip to Germany, Poland, and Estonia. NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell previews Bush’s European tour. “In Berlin, Bush will speak at the Economic Council of the Christian Democratic Party's annual conference where he will take the stage before Germany's president Angela Merkel. He'll then head to Estonia and Poland where he will hold meetings with government and business leaders to ‘better understand the concerns and views of our European allies on a range of topics’ that include Russia, terrorism, trade and economic growth, his spokesperson Allie Brandenburger said.” According to excerpts of the 12:20 pm ET speech Bush will deliver in Germany today, he will talk about the global economy and Putin. “Russia must respect the sovereignty of all of its neighbors. And who can doubt that Russia will do what it pleases if its aggression goes unanswered?” Bush is expected to say.
The first rule of going abroad: Do no harm
In his preview of Bush’s Europe trip, MSNBC’s Benjy Sarlin reminds us that past European excursions haven’t gone well for Republican presidential candidates. “Mitt Romney’s world tour in the summer of 2012 turned into a debacle after the then-Republican nominee offended British leaders by questioning preparations for the London Olympics and angered Palestinians by implying that Israel’s economy demonstrated the Jewish state’s cultural superiority over the occupied West Bank and Gaza... The curse has continued into the current election cycle. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who’s also eyeing a bid for the GOP nomination, caused a stir in February after he called for a ‘balance’ between public health and parental choice in vaccinations. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker sought to sidestep hot-button topics during a U.K. trip later the same month but created a multi-day distraction when he also took a ‘punt’ on a British journalist’s question on the theory of evolution.” This is one of the reasons why Bush doesn’t have too many public events, especially involving answering reporters’ questions, on this trip. The first rule of going abroad is -- do no harm.
The New York Times digs into Rubio’s finances…
One of Marco Rubio’s Achilles Heels in this presidential campaign will be questions about his finances -- the Florida GOP credit card he used for personal purchases, the house he bought with David Rivera, his relationship with billionaire Norman Braman. The New York Times today takes a deeper dive into Rubio’s finances. “For years, Senator Marco Rubio struggled under the weight of student debt, mortgages and an extra loan against the value of his home totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. But in 2012, financial salvation seemed to have arrived: A publisher paid him $800,000 to write a book about growing up as the son of Cuban immigrants,” the Times writes. “In speeches, Mr. Rubio, a Florida Republican, spoke of his prudent plan for using the cash to finally pay off his law school loans... But at the same time, he splurged on an extravagant purchase: $80,000 for a luxury speedboat, state records show.” The Times adds, “A review of the Rubio family’s finances … reveals a series of decisions over the past 15 years that experts called imprudent: significant debts; a penchant to spend heavily on luxury items like the boat and the lease of a $50,000 2015 Audi Q7; a strikingly low savings rate, even when Mr. Rubio was earning large sums; and inattentive accounting that led to years of unpaid local government fees.”
… And Rubio’s campaign punches back
The Rubio campaign has responded to the article by blasting the New York Times -- never a bad play when your audience is GOP primary voters. Said spokesman Alex Conant: “The New York Times today attacked Marco because he could not afford to pay for college, arrogantly describing his student loan debt as ‘a deep financial hole of his own making.’ The attack from The Times is just the latest in their continued hits against Marco and his family.” More Conant: “First The New York Times attacked Marco over traffic tickets, and now they think he doesn’t have enough money. Of course if he was worth millions, The Times would then attack him for being too rich, like they did to Mitt Romney." Politically, what makes Rubio less vulnerable to this kind of story is that he ISN’T wealthy, especially compared with his 2016 rivals. (Indeed, the Rubio camp notes how the senator has paid off more than $150,000 in student loans -- similar to the story the Obamas told in 2008.) But the danger here for Rubio is what later entrapped former Virginia Bob McDonnell: You see the money your donors and ex-aides have, and you make questionable decisions trying to have the same lifestyle.
Obama talks health care and King vs. Burwell: “Congress could fix this whole thing with a one-sentence provision”
At 11:45 am ET in DC, President Obama -- just back from his own trip to Germany -- delivers remarks to the Catholic Health Association Assembly on his health-care law. "Five years in, what we’re talking about is no longer just a law. This isn’t about the Affordable Care Act. This isn’t about Obamacare. This isn’t about myths or rumors that won’t go away. This is reality. This is health care in America," Obama is expected to say, according to excerpts released from the White House. This speech comes a day after his press conference in Germany, where he was asked a question about the King vs. Burwell Supreme Court case that could wipe out health-care subsidies for millions of Americans. “A, I’m optimistic that the Supreme Court will play it straight when it comes to the interpretation. And, B, I should mention that if it didn't, Congress could fix this whole thing with a one-sentence provision.”
An independent wins in Mexico
Yesterday, we talked about the elections in Turkey; today, it’s Mexico. USA Today: “Jaime ‘El Bronco’ Rodríguez, who is fond of cowboy boots and cussing, bucked Mexico's entrenched political system and history by becoming the first independent to win a governor's seat. The charismatic Rodriguez, who won the race in wealthy Nuevo León state in northern Mexico, was one of several upsets in the country's midterm elections, marked by citizen contempt for Mexico's corruption-plagued political parties.” We’ve seen this dynamic play out in the United States, too: An independent having success by attacking the entrenched political parties…