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First Thoughts: Northern Exposure

Rep. Don Young addresses a Choose Respect rally in front of the state Capitol on Thursday, March 28, 2013, in Juneau, Alaska.
Rep. Don Young addresses a Choose Respect rally in front of the state Capitol on Thursday, March 28, 2013, in Juneau, Alaska.Becky Bohrer / AP

Northern Exposure: Young’s “wetback” remarks don’t help a GOP struggling with Latinos… Young issues statement: “I meant no disrespect”… Obama: “Shame on us if we’ve forgotten” Newtown… Obama talks the economy and infrastructure in Miami, FL at 2:00 pm ET… Surprising shifts in attitudes on same-sex marriage… This week’s 2014 and 2016 round-ups… And Senate Madness moves to the second round.

Rep. Don Young addresses a Choose Respect rally in front of the state Capitol on Thursday, March 28, 2013, in Juneau, Alaska.Becky Bohrer / AP

*** Northern Exposure: For a Republican Party that desperately wants to improve its image among Latinos and is looking to pin any blame on President Obama for failing to achieve immigration reform, this news is an unwelcome development. In an interview this week with a local radio station, longtime Alaska Congressman Don Young, a Republican, referred to immigrant workers as "wetbacks," NBC’s Mike O’Brien reports. "My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes," Young said, discussing the number of jobs that have been made irrelevant due to advances in automation. "It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine." Yes, this is just one congressman. And yes, the 79-old Young is known for saying what he thinks, as NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell noted on “TODAY.” But when you add this instance to all the other rhetoric we’ve heard in the immigration debate since 2005-2006, Young’s comments not only put pressure on the GOP to condemn them but also vow that they don’t happen again. Bottom line: Just like Todd Akin’s remarks on abortion and rape and just like the past dialogue on Obama’s citizenship, Young’s comments aren’t helping his party.

*** “We’ve got to stop being the stupid party”: Indeed, the episode reminds us of what Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said at the RNC Winter Meeting in January: "We've got to stop being the stupid party. It's time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults. We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I'm here to say we've had enough of that."

*** “I meant no disrespect”: Young released a statement last night, saying that he “meant no disrespect” with his comments. "During a sit down interview with Ketchikan Public Radio this week, I used a term that was commonly used during my days growing up on a farm in Central California. I know that this term is not used in the same way nowadays and I meant no disrespect,” he said. "Migrant workers play an important role in America's workforce, and earlier in the said interview, I discussed the compassion and understanding I have for these workers and the hurdles they face in obtaining citizenship. America must once and for all tackle the issue of immigration reform."

*** Don’t you … forget about me: Meanwhile, words that Obama used yesterday signaled that the political momentum for achieving real reform on guns has stalled, at least when it comes to Congress. “I read an article in the news just the other day wondering is Washington -- has Washington missed its opportunity, because as time goes on after Newtown, somehow people start moving on and forgetting,” the president said at a White House event flanked by parents and victims of gun violence. “Shame on us if we've forgotten. I haven't forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we've forgotten.” There is still more than a chance that Senate Democrats are able to strike some sort of compromise with a handful of GOP senators on universal background checks. But there is a reason why Obama used the bully pulpit yesterday: The Democrats’ gun efforts have hit a wall in Congress.

*** I’m in Miami… : Today, Obama heads to Miami, FL to discuss the economy and infrastructure at 2:00 pm ET. Per the White House, the president “will tour a tunnel project before delivering remarks on ways to create jobs and strengthen the economy by investing in infrastructure.” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus issued this statement in advance on Obama’s Florida visit. “President Obama’s jaunt to Miami is nothing more than a PR stunt when we need real action to get people back to work,” Priebus said. “Another speech isn’t going to put food on the dinner table of a family trying to make ends meet in Obama’s economy.”

*** Surprising shifts in attitudes on same-sex marriage: Liberal-leaning groups have become the strongest supporters of same-sex marriage over the last decade, but there are some surprising shifts in attitudes from conservative-leaning groups as well, as one of us reported yesterday. In fact, the largest shift of any group has come from blue-collar workers. In the March 2004 NBC/WSJ poll, they were staunchly opposed (18% favor/80% oppose). In the latest NBC/WSJ poll to ask the question (December 2012), a plurality blue-collar workers said they were in favor of letting same-sex couples marry by a 47%/43% margin. That’s a 66-point net change. A majority of voters 65 and older are and people who live in the South are still opposed, but they have become far less opposed, shifting by 47 points and 43 points, respectively. President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage appears to have had a big impact on left-leaning groups, particularly African-American voters, who went from a majority opposing (32%/53%) in just October 2009 to a majority in favor (51%/37%). And perhaps most surprisingly, there’s been no distinction in increase of support by political party. Despite Democrats overwhelmingly favoring same-sex marriage and Republicans being two-thirds against, Democrats, Republicans, and independents have increased their support at the same rate over the past decade. Democrats have become more favorable by 39 points, Republicans 38 points, and independents 36 points.

*** This week’s 2016 round-up: On Monday, Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a hawkish defense/military speech in Kentucky (which happens to be Sen. Rand Paul’s home state)… Both Rubio and Paul have threatened to filibuster the Democratic-backed gun legislation moving to the Senate floor next month… Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is writing a book … And New Jersey Chris Christie has a 70% approval rating, per a Quinnipiac poll.

*** This week’s 2014 round-up: And as a bonus, here was this week’s 2014 activity: On Tuesday, Tim Johnson (D-SD) said he wouldn’t seek re-election next year… On Wednesday, Democrat Ashley Judd said she was taking a pass on challenging Mitch McConnell in Kentucky… Also, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) says he’s leaning toward a Senate bid, per the Des Moines Register… And Congressman Phil Gingrey became the latest Republican to jump into Georgia’s open Senate contest.

*** Senate Madness -- results from yesterday’s contests: In the 19th Century bracket, Charles Sumner and James Buchanan advanced… In the 20th Century bracket, John Stennis upset Barry Goldwater, and Mike Mansfield beat Claude Pepper… In the Modern Era, Jesse Helms and Joe Biden moved on… And in the Mixed Era, Scoop Jackson and William Borah advanced.

*** Senate Madness -- next week’s match ups: Our second round begins next week, and we have some intriguing match ups: #5 Sam Houston vs. #4 Stephen Douglas (19th Century); #10 William Fulbright vs. #2 Everett Dirksen (20th Century); #1 Ted Kennedy vs. #8 Robert Byrd and Joe Biden #11 vs. #3 Jesse Helms (Modern Era); and #7 Arthur Vandenberg vs. #2 Henry Cabot Lodge (Mixed Era).

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