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First Read: What Republicans Can Learn from the Indiana Law Controversy

First Read is the NBC Political Unit’s morning briefing on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Protesters
Thousands of opponents of Indiana Senate Bill 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, gathered on the lawn of the Indiana State House to rally against that legislation Saturday, March 28, 2015. Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill Thursday prohibiting state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)Doug McSchooler / AP
/ 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.

Indiana teaches Republicans an important lesson as 2016 race begins

Here’s the bad news for Republicans: The political fight over religious freedom and gay rights that erupted in Indiana has forced Gov. Mike Pence to retreat; put the Republican 2016 contenders to the RIGHT of Pence; and further exposed that the GOP is in a different place on gay rights than the rest of the country. That includes big business. But here’s the good news for the party: They’re learning this lesson early -- as opposed to having it play out next spring or even in the fall of 2016. As political scientist Jonathan Bernstein writes, "The positions that play well in a small bubble of party politics and on Fox News may go wrong when the larger November 2016 electorate is exposed to them." Indeed, according to last month’s NBC/WSJ poll, 59% of all Americans, 74% of Democrats, and 60% of independents favor gay marriage -- versus just 40% of Republicans. And a 2014 Pew poll found 49% of all Americans, 64% of Democrats, and 51% of independents believe that businesses SHOULDN’T be able to refuse wedding services to same-sex couples for religious reasons -- versus only 28% of Republicans who do. So this split was always going to be exposed. But at least it’s being exposed now rather than later.

What erupted in Indiana now spills over into Arkansas

Meanwhile, that Indiana political/cultural fight has now spilled over into Arkansas. USA Today: “The Arkansas House of Representatives approved a ‘religious freedom’ bill on Tuesday, and it is now headed to the governor's desk for signature. The bill would prevent state and local governments from infringing upon someone's religious beliefs without a ‘compelling’ interest. It has drawn sharp criticism from opponents, who say it will allow widespread discrimination against gays and lesbians. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said if bill passed, he would sign it. Hundreds of protesters filled the Arkansas Capitol urging Hutchinson to veto the bill.” More: “Some local leaders and businesses, including Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, and Acxiom Corp., have released statements urging Hutchinson to veto the bill. The CEOs at Yahoo!, Apple and Walmart have also urged a veto.”

April will likely shower us with presidential announcements and FEC filings

Since it’s now April 1, here’s a friendly reminder that the month is likely going to shower us with presidential announcements and FEC filings. The reason: If you want to show a big second-quarter in fundraising (April 1-June 30), you need to start raising that money ASAP. So far, we still have just one major candidate who has announced -- Ted Cruz -- but we already know we’re going to add two more to that list in the next two weeks. Here’s a handy calendar of the 2016 events and activities we’re going to see in the next two weeks:

  • April 7: Rand Paul announcement in Kentucky
  • April 9: Cruz, Huckabee, Jindal, and Santorum speak at Homeschool Iowa event
  • April 10: NRA Leadership Forum (Bush, Walker, Perry, Santorum, Pence, Jindal, Rubio, Cruz, Carson, Huckabee, etc. are all speaking)
  • April 13: Rubio announcement in FL
  • April 15: Filing deadline for first-quarter finance numbers

So much for that March 31 deadline in the Iran nuclear talks

Negotiators in Switzerland continued working past their self-imposed deadline in the Iran nuclear talks. An update from NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and Abigail Williams: “The first meeting of the day has begun – Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and other ministers are in attendance, but Russia, China and France are represented by their political directors. The foreign ministers of Russia and France have departed Switzerland, and China's left earlier yesterday. They are finalizing language in a statement that would come later in the day, barring complications.” The New York Times has more: “As the talks resumed here on Wednesday, an initial accord was potentially within reach but there was still much to work out. Nobody was ruling out the possibility that the negotiations — which also involve Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — might be extended into the week. ‘Fingers crossed, and we hope to get there during the course of the day,’ Philip Hammond, Britain’s foreign secretary, told reporters.”

Desperately seeking a deal

Bottom line: The United States blowing past this deadline makes it seem like the Obama administration is DESPERATE to make a deal. Yes, it’s maybe a reflection that killing the talks is a worse option. (Does Iran go back to increasing its nuclear production? What happens to international support for furthering sanctioning Iran?) Still, the optics don’t look good, especially when other world foreign ministers have left Switzerland.

Democratic drama in the Senate

NBC’s Frank Thorp reports on some potential Democratic Senate drama now that Chuck Schumer has emerged as the party’s leader-in-waiting after Harry Reid’s announced retirement last week. Per Thorp: “Senate Democrats could soon be in the middle of a messy battle for the No. 2 spot in leadership after what appeared to be a late night deal between Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to support each other in their respective leadership races apparently never happened, according to a person close to Schumer. According to a Durbin aide, he and Schumer spoke early Friday morning near the end of the 15-hour budget amendment Vote-A-Rama about the impending announcement that Reid would be retiring. According to the Durbin aide, Durbin stated he would support Schumer for leader, and Schumer in return said he would support Durbin to remain as whip. But according to a person close to Schumer, that never happened. “That did not happen, and they know it,” that person told NBC News, noting that Durbin had approached Schumer offering him his support for leader, but that Schumer never reciprocated. The he-said-she-said leaves the door open for another candidate for Whip to possibly emerge, with Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) on the top of the list.”

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