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 hurdle: Little room for error
The two biggest names in the 2016 presidential race -- Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush -- both have had rocky rollouts at this early stage. For Hillary, it’s been the questions over her emails and the Clinton Foundation. For Jeb (who is technically not a candidate but is certainly running), it’s been questions about Jim Baker, George W. Bush, and now the Iraq war. But there is one big difference between the two White House hopefuls: Hillary is leading the Democratic race by 40-50 points in the polls and thus has lots of room to make mistakes especially within her party, while Jeb has little margin for error in the wide-open GOP contest. Indeed, our NBC/WSJ poll last week found Bush with the lowest fav/unfav score among conservatives (33%-28%) for all the Republican 2016ers it tested. And look who have been arguably the biggest critics of Bush’s Iraq answers -- conservatives like the Washington Examiner’s Byron York and radio talker Laura Ingraham (whose beef with Jeb goes well beyond this week’s news). Getting the benefit out of the doubt is a powerful thing in politics, and right now Hillary is receiving it from her party. Many (though not all) Democrats are giving her a pass for not having a clear position on trade. But Jeb? He’s not getting the same benefit of the doubt from his own party.
An incomplete cleanup
If you’re a politician signaling you’re going to clean up a problem, then fully CLEAN IT UP. But that wasn’t the case for Jeb when he went on Sean Hannity’s radio program to talk about his recent Iraq answer -- that knowing what he knows now, he’d still authorize the 2003 invasion of Iraq. “I interpreted the question wrong, I guess,” Bush said. “I was talking about given what people knew then would you have done it -- rather than knowing what we know now. And knowing what we know how, you know, clearly there were mistakes.” Then Hannity asked him if, with 20/20 hindsight, he would make a different decision than his brother. “I don’t know what that decision would have been. That’s a hypothetical, but the simple fact is that mistakes were made, as they always are in life.” Iguess I misheard the question. Idon’t know what kind of decision I would make. Mistakes were made. Those answers are a very incomplete cleanup.
Looking backward instead of forward
Conservative writer David Frum, who was a speechwriter for George W. Bush, made this point after Jeb’s appearance on Hannity’s radio program: “Jeb Bush has just converted an election that should be about the past eight years into an election about the eight years before that.” And that, fundamentally, is the problem with Jeb’s candidacy: Fair or not, his last name sparks a debate that looks backward -- instead of forward.
Hillary takes just nine questions from the press vs. Bill’s 30-plus
As we said above, Hillary Clinton has had a rocky rollout herself. And according to one count, Hillary has taken just NINE questions from the press since she announced her presidential bid. By comparison, her husband Bill – in his recent interviews with NBC, CNN, and Letterman last night – has taken MORE THAN 30 questions.
Did Senate Democrats strengthen their hand on trade?
Or did they just prolong a nasty Dem-vs.-Dem storyline? It’s important not to over-read yesterday’s Democratic filibuster against giving their own president trade-promotion authority (TPA) as Elizabeth Warren vs. Obama or progressives vs. Obama. After all, there are about 10 pro-trade Democratic senators who are willing to give him this authority, which gives you 60-plus votes to clear any filibuster. But these Democrats withheld their support as a way to get more leverage over Republicans -- to get assurances that three other trade-related bills will pass the Senate in addition to TPA. The problem with this Dem play is that it only prolongs this trade debate that exposes a clear Dem-vs.-Dem storyline. Exhibit A: You had Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) say that Obama was being “disrespectful” to Elizabeth Warren for referring to her by her first name. (Buzzfeed has found at least three examples of Obama referring to Brown as “Sherrod.”) On "Morning Joe," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest replied, "Sen. Brown is a stand-up guy, and I'm confident after he's had a chance to look at the comments he made yesterday, that he'll find a way to apologize." We’ve spent the last four years covering the GOP-vs.-GOP ideological war. But yesterday was maybe the clearest example of Dem-vs-Dem violence in the Obama Era. And it’s probably only going to get worse.
It’s still possible that TPA passes the Senate
Per NBC’s Frank Thorp, “Senate Democratic leadership has reached out to Republicans in an effort to break the impasse on the fast-track Trade Promotion Authority bill, which resulted in Democrats blocking a key procedural motion related to the bill on Tuesday. According to a Senate aide, Sens Harry Reid (D-NV) and Chuck Schumer (R-NY) reached out to Republicans this afternoon offering to give them enough votes to move forward on the trade bill if they were given a standalone vote on a key currency manipulation provision favored by Democrats, but opposed by many Republicans, as well as the White House.” Politico adds, While [Reid's] initial overture likely won’t settle the issue, and top Republicans said they were skeptical of Reid’s proposal, Democrats’ willingness to return to the bargaining table suggests the trade measure may not be dead. And pro-trade Democrats huddled with the White House on Tuesday evening, as the administration looked for a way forward.
Rubio to unveil his foreign-policy “doctrine” in Council on Foreign Relations speech
Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio will describe what his foreign-policy "doctrine" would be if he wins the White House, according to advance excerpts of the speech he will deliver Wednesday afternoon to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He says the doctrine consists of three pillars -- 1) American strength through "adequately" funding the U.S. military; 2) using U.S. power "to oppose any violations of international waters, airspace, cyberspace, our outerspace"; and 3) supporting "the spread of economic and political freedom" across the globe.
Sen. Lee tells Ari Melber that “timing is right” to change NSA program
In an interview with MSNBC’s Ari Melber, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) explained that the “timing is right” to get Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act, which changes the NSA’s bulk data-collection program. “I think the timing is right - I think we could win this. We've got strong support; we've got the committees, both the House Intelligence Committee and also the House Judiciary Committee have signed off on this – regardless of whether of any of these have ever been found to be unlawful, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's fully consistent with the text and the historical understanding of the constitution, both the letter and the spirit of the law.”
On the trail
Elsewhere today: Jeb Bush is in Nevada… Hillary Clinton fundraises in New York… Carly Fiorina addresses the RNC spring meeting in Arizona… Martin O’Malley and Chris Christie are in New Hampshire… And Mike Huckabee delivers remarks in DC to the National Association of Realtors.