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OFF TO THE RACES: Rick Perry makes it official

From Reuters: "White House hopefuls raking in record amounts of money in the 2016 presidential race are already being accused by watchdog groups of breaking campaign fundraising laws. But the Department of Justice is unlikely to prosecute possible violations and halt the funding free-for-all, say current and former department officials."

BUSH: While Jeb Bush was struggling to answer questions about his view of the Iraq War, his brother held a private reception to benefit his PAC, POLITICO reports.

One of us(!) writes that he’ll announce on June 15.

CHAFEE: Perry Bacon Jr. writes that Chafee's longshot candidacy will still cause some headaches for Hillary Clinton.

And msnbc.com's Alex Seitz-Wald interviewed Chafee, who pulled no punches when it came to Clinton's record.

CLINTON: From the Washington Post: "Clinton Foundation accepted Qatari donation amid concerns over bribes"

The Washington Post also notes: "A once-sleepy Democratic presidential primary contest is fast coming alive as Hillary Rodham Clinton’s poll numbers fall and a diverse array of long-shot opponents step forward to challenge her."

During a speech on Thursday, Clinton will press for an expansion of early voting and a rollback of restrictions on voting access.

POLITICO writes about the campaign to put Julian Castro on Hillary Clinton's VP shortlist.

CRUZ: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has apologized for making a joke about Joe Biden just days after his son died of brain cancer.

PERRY: From one of us(!): Rick Perry announced on his campaign web site this morning that he's officially in the presidential race. He'll make a formal announcement later on Thursday.

And around the country...

MARYLAND: Kathleen Matthews will run for Chris Van Hollen's House seat.

NEVADA: From the Las Vegas Review-Journal: "Gov. Brian Sandoval’s many-pronged education spending and reform package approved by the just-concluded 2015 Legislature represents the most significant change to the public school system in 60 years."

OBAMA AGENDA: American exceptionalism, revisisted

Interesting piece from the Washington Post on how Obama has reimagined American exceptionalism. "While American exceptionalism in recent decades has centered around the exercise of American power and influence in the world, Obama’s conception is more inwardly focused. It’s a patriotism that embraces the darker moments in American history and celebrates the ability of the unsung and the outsiders to challenge the country’s elite and force change."

The Hill writes that Obama's trade push is falling flat on Capitol Hill.

The New York Times: "For more than six years, President Obama has directed his national security team to chase terrorists around the globe by scooping up vast amounts of telephone records with a program that was conceived and put in place by his predecessor after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Now, after successfully badgering Congress into reauthorizing the program, with new safeguards the president says will protect privacy, Mr. Obama has left little question that he owns it."

PROGRAMMING NOTES.

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: We will be carrying Rick Perry’s live announcement he’s running for President from Addison, Texas. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell will interview Fmr. Florida Republican party Chairman Al Cardenas, USA Today’s Susan Page, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, msnbc’s Kasie Hunt and NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski and Sarah Dallof.

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