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By Mark Murray, Chuck Todd and Carrie Dann

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

Why it makes sense for Jeb to compete in Iowa

It was another busy weekend in the 2016 presidential race -- another GOP cattle call in Iowa, more Iraq questions, Bernie Sanders pressing Hillary Clinton on trade. But here was maybe the weekend’s most significant news: Jeb Bush vowed to “campaign hard” in Iowa. “I'm going to campaign hard here,” Bush said at a press conference in Iowa City, per NBC’s Perry Bacon. "It's my intention to win. Period. I'm a competitive person, my hope is to win any place where I'm competing." Bush’s statement came after his announcement that he would skip August’s Iowa straw poll, and also after a Buzzfeed report suggesting he might skip Iowa altogether. But as we wrote last week, history has proved that serious candidates can’t afford to skip it -- because it’s a general-election battleground state. Maybe more importantly, in a big and well-financed field, it’s possible you could win the Iowa caucuses by getting just ONE-FIFTH of the vote. Here are the past winning percentages for GOP presidential candidates in Iowa:

  • 1980: George H.W. Bush 31.6%
  • 1988: Bob Dole 37.4%
  • 1996: Dole 26%
  • 2000: George W. Bush 41%
  • 2008: Mike Huckabee 34.4%
  • 2012: Rick Santorum 24.6%

It’s more than possible, in 2016, that the winning percentage could be lower than Santorum’s 24.6%. And if money isn’t an issue for Jeb, why not compete?

Sanders pushes Hillary to make up her mind on trade agreement

After all of the debate on the topic, most politicians have made up their minds on the merits of the free-trade agreement that the Obama administration wants to reach with Asian countries -- with one big exception: Hillary Clinton. And yesterday, Democratic presidential rival Bernie Sanders pressed her to make up her mind. ‘You can’t be on the fence on this one. You are either for it or you’re against it,’ Mr. Sanders said, referring to Mrs. Clinton during an interview on CNN’s ‘State of the Union,’” per the Washington Times. “‘No fence-sitting on this one,’ he declared.”

Rubio: “It was not a mistake for the president to go into Iraq based on the information he was provided as president”

Any day the Republican presidential field is parrying questions on the 2003 Iraq war isn’t a good day for the GOP and its candidates. The latest example: Marco Rubio. After Jeb Bush’s rough week on the subject, Rubio faced tough questions from Fox’s Chris Wallace. “It was not a mistake for the president to go into Iraq based on the information he was provided as president,” Rubio answered. “Today, we know of their -- if we -- if the president had known that there were no weapons of mass destruction at the time, you still would have had to deal with Saddam Hussein. But the process would have been different. I doubt very seriously that the president would have gotten, for example, congressional approval to move forward with an invasion had they known there were no weapons of mass destruction.” (Liberals like Paul Krugman counter that Iraq “wasn’t an innocent mistake, a venture undertaken on the basis of intelligence that turned out to be wrong. America invaded Iraq because the Bush administration wanted a war.”)

Paul: “I think when Hussein was toppled, we got chaos”

Iraq also was a subject that dominated Rand Paul’s interview on “Meet the Press.” Paul said: “Is it a good idea to topple secular dictators? And what happens when we do? I think when Hussein was toppled, we got chaos. We still have chaos in-- in Iraq. I think it emboldened Iran. I think-- we now have the rise of radical Islam in Iraq as well. But I think the same question, to be fair, ought to be asked of Hillary Clinton, if she ever takes questions. They should ask her, ‘Was it a good idea to invade Libya? Did that make us less safe?’” It was interesting how Paul used the question to effectively attack Hillary. Maybe more importantly, this issue is MUCH MORE comfortable ground for Paul. Since the rise of ISIS, he’s been tying himself into knots on foreign policy. But on this issue, he’s much more consistent.

Walker defends George W. Bush on Iraq

Scott Walker, meanwhile, used his Sunday show appearance on CBS to defend George W. Bush. “I did stand up and defend the president, President Bush, that is, saying, I think any president, regardless of party, probably would have made a similar decision to what President Bush did at the time with the information that he had available.” (One person who was on the record AGAINST that decision is the current occupant of the White House.) More Walker: “Remember, even Secretary of State, then Senator Clinton voted for measures supporting the Iraq War. I think it was a failure in many cases of the intelligence that was given to the president and to the Congress at the time. Knowing what we know now, I think it's safe for many of us, myself included, to say we probably wouldn't have taken that tack.”

Mixed news in the campaign against ISIS

Speaking of Iraq, the weekend brought mixed news on the campaign against ISIS in the region. First: “U.S. Special Operations Forces killed a senior leader of ISIS overnight Friday during a rare and risky ground raid in Syria and freed a young woman who was enslaved in his compound, the White House announced Saturday.” Second: “Islamic State militants likely killed up to 500 people — both Iraqi civilians and soldiers — and forced 8,000 to flee from their homes as they captured the city of Ramadi, a provincial official said Monday, while the government-backed Shiite militias vowed to mount a counter-offensive and reclaim the Anbar provincial capital.”

White House to limit military equipment to police

The White House’s news today is that it will limit military equipment for police. Politico: “Bayonets, weaponized vehicles and grenade launchers are no longer available to local police, following a report from a presidential task force on the militarization of law enforcement released Monday. And if local cops want riot gear and other types of armored vehicles, they’re going to have to meet many new standards for training and data collection.”

Patriot Act on life support

That’s the headline from The Hill, which notes that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a bit of a rough spot. A stalemate in the Senate would leave the FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) without powers they have used to track terrorists for years, say supporters of the Patriot Act. Without action by the end of the month, key provisions of the Patriot Act will expire, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argues would put the United States at a pre September 11, 2001-footing. Yet McConnell has no definite path to extend those provisions. He and other hawkish senators are pressing for an extension of the key Patriot Act measures, but they are opposed by other senators, the White House and a majority of House lawmakers in both parties.” Rand Paul, in Philadelphia, is holding a roundtable discussion on the subject. On “Meet” yesterday, Paul didn’t commit to filibustering the Patriot Act.

On the trail today

Hillary Clinton is in Mason City, Iowa… Chris Christie delivers a foreign-policy speech in New Hampshire ("American exceptionalism isn’t a punchline – it’s a set of principles,” he is expected to say.)… And Jeb Bush delivers remarks at a grassroots fundraising event in Miami.

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