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
Our brutal system of picking a president
Jeb Bush is set to officially announce his presidential campaign on June 15 -- almost exactly six months after saying that he was actively exploring a White House run. And for Jeb, the official announcement couldn’t come soon enough: Aside from questions whether he’s violated the spirit (or even the letter) of campaign-finance laws during this time, he’s gone from the singular GOP frontrunner to someone who’s on the verge of losing any frontrunner status. But the Jeb story over the last six months is also a story almost every other presidential contender shares: Running for president is a BRUTAL process, and it’s certainly more brutal than it was eight years ago. (Remember “Hope and Change”?) With the possible exceptions of Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders, every White House hopeful we’ve covered has taken a hit. Hillary (enough said). Jeb (see above). Huckabee (see the Duggar story). Even Scott Walker. The presidential process -- including our role in the political media -- is no longer just kicking the tires to see who is suitable to sit in the Oval Office; it’s wrecking the whole car. And the ultimate winner is going to be the candidate who best survives this brutal, brutal process.
Jeb’s announcement setting doubles down on his pro-immigrant message
As for Jeb’s presidential announce on June 15, it will take place at Miami Dade College, which just happens to be one of the largest universities/colleges in the country. And it also happens to be the place where many immigrants are getting their degrees. In some ways, it’s a perfect general-election setting for Jeb. He’s doubling down on being pro-immigrant and his “Right to Rise” message. The question, of course, is whether it’s the message that Republican primary voters want to hear.
Rick Perry makes it official -- as he remains under indictment in his home state
Speaking of announcements, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry officially enters the presidential race today from Addison, TX (just right outside of Dallas). The Washington Post’s Dan Balz notes how Perry’s announcement contrasts from four years ago: He’s gone from instant GOP frontrunner (in Aug. 2011) to someone who’s struggling to get an invite to the first ‘16 GOP debate (now). But there’s one other point worth making -- Perry is still under indictment in his home state. “At issue is a threat Perry made as governor in 2013 to veto funding for the state’s public integrity unit, part of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, unless county District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, resigned after being arrested for drunk driving,” McClatchy wrote last month. “She pleaded guilty – the arrest and booking videotape shows her being belligerent to officers – but refused to resign, and Perry vetoed the funding. He’s charged with two felonies: abusing his office and coercing a public servant.” And lest anyone believes Perry’s indictment is a Democratic witch hunt, don’t forget that the presiding judge is a Republican and the special prosecutor isn’t a partisan. Perry already had to clear a high hurdle in his presidential do-over (“Oops”). But this indictment makes that hurdle even more daunting.
Eight years ago, O’Malley argued that Democrats needed to focus on the center, not the left
Martin O’Malley is running as a progressive with a gubernatorial record to back it up. The latest example came yesterday, when he vowed he “would never give up” on efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform, per NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell. But contrast today’s Martin O’Malley with this 2007 Washington Post op-ed he co-wrote with Harold Ford Jr. (!!!) entitled: “Our Chance to Capture the Center.” In the op-ed, the two said, “Some on the left would love to pretend that groups such as the Democratic Leadership Council, the party's leading centrist voice, aren't needed anymore. But for Democrats, taking the center for granted next year would be a greater mistake than ever before.” More: “Contrast the collapse of a conservative president with the success of the last centrist president. Bill Clinton ran on an agenda of sensible ideas that brought America a decade of peace and prosperity. He was the only Democrat to be elected and reelected president in the past seven decades, and he left office more popular than almost any other president in recent memory.”
Remembering the context of that 2007 op-ed
Don’t forget the context of that Aug. 2007 op-ed: It came when Hillary Clinton (whom O’Malley had already endorsed) was facing Barack Obama and John Edwards from her left. What’s more, that entire message -- Democrats must stick to the center to win the White House -- was pretty much undercut by Obama’s successful presidential victories in 2008 and 2012. One of the reasons why some progressives haven’t been jumping on the O’Malley bandwagon was the sense that he ALWAYS hasn’t been a progressive. And this 2007 op-ed, plus his endorsement of Hillary over Obama in 2008, only adds to that sense, despite his progressive record as Maryland governor.
Reached for comment about this 2007 op-ed, the O'Malley campaign cited a 2002 Baltimore Sun article with O'Malley calling himself a "progressive liberal." The article, however, also recounts O'Malley's appearance at a Democratic Leadership Council event. "O'Malley said he was recruited to join the DLC soon after he was elected mayor three years ago. He said that although he enjoys debating strategy with the organization, he doesn't subscribe to all the positions of its leadership," the Sun article says. "He said he made clear his differences in discussions that included leaders such as Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and Evan Bayh of Indiana and focused on what the council calls the 'battle over the soul of the Democratic Party.'"
Hillary to talk voting rights in Texas
Meanwhile, Rick Perry isn’t the only 2016 presidential contender in Texas today. “Hillary Rodham Clinton is calling for an expansion of early voting and pushing back against Republican-led efforts to restrict voting access, laying down a marker on voting rights at the start of her presidential campaign,” the AP says. “The Democratic presidential candidate is using a speech Thursday at historically black Texas Southern University to denounce voting restrictions in North Carolina, Texas, Florida and Wisconsin and to encourage states to adopt a new national standard of no fewer than 20 days of early in-person voting, including weekend and evening voting.” A couple of points here: 1) Hillary is on much safer ground when the conversation turns to policy; 2) Being the Democratic juggernaut allows her to focus on Republicans and general-election themes.
Cruz apologizes for Joe Biden joke, but it was a bad gaffe
“Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has apologized for making a joke about Joe Biden just days after the vice president's eldest son died from brain cancer,” NBC News reported. “‘Vice President Joe Biden. You know the nice thing? You don't need a punchline,’ the Texas senator said at a GOP dinner in Howell, Michigan, on Wednesday night.” More: “After a considerable backlash on social media, Cruz posted on his Facebook page late Wednesday saying ‘it was a mistake to use an old joke about Joe Biden during his time of grief, and I sincerely apologize.’” Yes, we know that Cruz’s Biden joke is a standard applause line from his stump speech. Still, it was a BAD gaffe.
Chafee calls for U.S. to switch to metric system, creating endless 2016 punch lines
Lastly, Lincoln Chafee has found a surefire way of getting media attention -- by calling for the U.S. to switch to the metric system. "Here's a bold embrace of internationalism: let's join the rest of the world and go metric," he said, per NBC’s Andrew Rafferty. Get ready for all of the metric system punch lines: “It’s a game of centimeters.” “We’re not going to touch this story with a 3.048-meter pole.” “That person is the 362 kilogram gorilla in the race.”