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First Read: Where 2016 Contenders Stand on Indiana's Religious Freedom Law

First Read is the NBC Political Unit’s morning briefing on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Indianapolis Reacts To Indiana's Controversial Religious Freedom Act
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 30: Demonstrators gather outside the City County Building on March 30, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The group called on the state house to roll back the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say can be used to discriminate against gays and lesbians. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)mages) / Getty Images
/ Source: NBC News

First Read is the NBC Political Unit’s morning briefing on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.

Battle lines fully drawn in first cultural fight of early presidential contest

The political battle lines have now been drawn in the first cultural fight of this very early presidential contest, with all the major Republicans backing Indiana’s controversial religious-liberty law, and with Hillary Clinton opposing it. But there are some differences among the GOP candidates: Jeb Bush states that Indiana’s law is being misunderstood and it’s not discriminatory, while Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio flat-out argue that people of faith (and by extension, the companies they own) should be able to live out their lives according to their religious beliefs. Yesterday, we wrote that the Indiana law has produced a split between two major parts of today’s Republican Party -- social conservatives and big business. Well, we know which side the GOP candidates are on. They’re with social conservatives. Here’s where the individual candidates stand on the issue:

  • Jeb Bush: "I think once the facts are established, people aren't going to see this as discriminatory at all," he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, per NBC’s Perry Bacon.
  • Ted Cruz: “Indiana is giving voice to millions of courageous conservatives across this country who are deeply concerned about the ongoing attacks upon our personal liberties. I'm proud to stand with [Indiana Gov. Mike Pence], and I urge Americans to do the same."
  • Marco Rubio: “The issue were talking about here is should someone who provides a professional service be punished by the law because they refused to provide that professional service to a ceremony that they believe is in violation of their faith? I think people have a right to live out their religious faith in their own lives,” he said on Fox News, according to NBC’s Emily Gold.
  • Scott Walker: "As a matter of principle, Gov. Walker believes in broad religious freedom and the right for Americans to exercise their religion and act on their conscience,” per a spokeswoman.
  • Hillary Clinton: “Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn't discriminate against ppl bc of who they love,” according to her tweet from last week.

Other moving parts in the dispute over Indiana’s religious-liberty law

Here are some of the other moving parts in the political fight over Indiana’s religious-liberty law, which gay-rights supporters argue could lead to discrimination. Gov. Pence (R) pens a Wall Street Journal op-ed, contending that the law isn’t discriminatory. “As governor of Indiana, if I were presented a bill that legalized discrimination against any person or group, I would veto it. Indiana’s new law contains no reference to sexual orientation. It simply mirrors federal law that President Bill Clinton signed in 1993.” The Indianapolis Star has this headline: “FIX THIS NOW.” The editors write, “We are at a critical moment in Indiana's history. And much is at stake. Our image. Our reputation as a state that embraces people of diverse backgrounds and makes them feel welcome. And our efforts over many years to retool our economy, to attract talented workers and thriving businesses, and to improve the quality of life for millions of Hoosiers. All of this is at risk because of a new law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that no matter its original intent already has done enormous harm to our state and potentially our economic future.” And nine of the largest Indiana-based companies are calling on Indiana’s political leaders to reform the controversial law.

Update on the Iran talks: Looks like they’re deferring -- err, punting -- until June

With today’s deadline on the Iran nuclear talks, here’s the dispatch from NBC’s Andrea Mitchell in Switzerland: “Negotiators are working on a statement that will close this round of the Iran talks, leaving several tough issues to be decided in the coming months, including the timing of sanctions relief on Iran and limits on Iran's research and development. They will carefully avoid calling this an ‘extension’ -- something all sides said they didn’t want. The new phase will instead be to finalize technical points as envisioned by June 30. But the reality is, there is much more than technical points unresolved.” More from Mitchell: “Failure to break through logjams on these key points will make it significantly harder for the administration to fight off pending congressional legislation to assert control over any future deal -- a move the White House has said will sabotage future negotiations to finalize the agreement with Iran.” And: “In the end, Iran kept insisting on the removal of sanctions up front. The administration and several of its allies could not go along with that, insisting it needs incentives to keep Iran honest by carefully phasing out the UN and unilateral U.S. sanctions.”

That allows Congress to further sink its teeth into the talks

As Mitchell notes above, perhaps the biggest consequence of the Iran nuke talks not being fully ironed out until June 30 is that it allows Congress to sink its teeth into them. And the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent sounds the alarm on the left. “[T]here is a real possibility, the White House believes, that Congress could kill a final deal even before it is agreed upon, with the willing participation of Senate Democrats. Republicans are widely expected to oppose the deal, whatever is in it. But even some Democrats who may support the deal could end up helping to scuttle it. Here’s how. In mid-April, the Senate may vote on the Bipartisan Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 — a bill that is co-sponsored by Republican Bob Corker and at least eight Senate Dems, which puts it in striking distance of a veto-proof majority… The idea behind the Corker measure is to give Congress more oversight over the process — a laudable goal. But it’s unclear whether this bill is even needed to accomplish that: After a final deal is reached, Congress could theoretically vote to block it at any point it wished, even without passing the Corker measure first.”

Rubio confirms he will announce his presidential intentions on April 13

On Monday, Marco Rubio confirmed to Fox News that he will announce his presidential intentions on April 13, per NBC’s Emily Gold. “We haven’t reserved a specific site yet. I won’t confirm that. But I will announce on April 13 what I'm going to be next in terms of running for president or the U.S. Senate, so were gonna formally announce that on the 13th.”

The latest Q-polls on Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania

Beware of general-election battleground polls -- especially in a presidential contest where there’s been just ONE major announced candidate so far. Still, here are some Quinnipiac poll numbers among registered voters to chew on:

  • Florida: Bush 45%-Clinton 42%; Clinton 46%-Rubio 44%
  • Ohio: Clinton 47%-Bush 38%; Clinton 49%-Walker 38%; Clinton 46%-Paul 41%.
  • Pennsylvania: Paul 45%-Clinton 44%; Clinton 46%-Bush 40%; Clinton 46%-Walker 41%.

Quinnipiac also finds this about Clinton after the email controversy

“Clinton’s favorability rating is down in each state, but she still does better than Republican contenders, except for Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida. Clinton is not honest and trustworthy, Florida voters say 50 – 41 percent and Pennsylvania voters say 49 – 44 percent. Ohio voters are divided as 47 percent say yes and 46 percent say no.”

Rahm Emanuel appears to be pulling away in runoff

Ahead of next week’s mayoral runoff in Chicago, incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel is leading challenger Chuy Garcia by nearly 30 points, 58%-30% per a Chicago Tribune poll. That’s “double the margin of a similar survey three weeks ago, when the mayor led his opponent by 14 percentage points. Another 9 percent were undecided in the latest poll, which was conducted March 25 through Sunday and has an error margin of 3.7 percentage points.”

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