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First Thoughts: Obama tries to stake middle ground in NSA debate

Obama tries to stake middle ground in NSA debate… But it’s not going to end the debate… Bergen Record names those who have been subpoenaed in the NJ bridge scandal… Christie heads to Florida to raise money for RGA, Rick Scott… Oops, she did it again: Barbara Bush on Jeb: “I would hope that someone else would run”… Senate passes $1.1 trillion omnibus… Coburn to retire at end of the year… And Feinstein, Rogers, and Gates to appear on “Meet” this Sunday.  

*** Obama tries to stake middle ground in NSA debate: In his 11:00 am ET speech on reforming the NSA in the wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures, President Obama will say that the federal government should no longer be the entity holding on to the bulk of phone and internet records, or metadata. NBC's Kristen Welker has learned that Obama will ask Attorney General Eric Holder and the intelligence community how the United States can preserve this program but outside the federal government, and he will ask Congress for its input as well. This is Classic Obama -- staking a middle ground that tries to stay consistent with the values he campaigned on in 2008, but that also recognizes that his duty is to protect the country from national-security threats. Of course, when you take the middle road, you often end up pleasing no one (in this case, privacy advocates who want the program ended or national security-hawks who believe it shouldn’t be changed). So what Obama will be proposing as it relates to the NSA’s metadata program will likely be judged two different ways. Supporters will argue he’s trying to change the program as much as he can, given the competing privacy and national-security concerns. Detractors -- from both the right and left -- will contend that all he’s doing is punting, and there’s no immediate answer where the bulk data should live. It’s all in the eye of the beholder. 

*** Who will hold the metadata? Again, the president is NOT going to be calling the end of bulk data collection; he simply doesn’t believe the government should hold that data. So who holds the data? The phone/tech companies don’t want to do it. So if a third party does it, will the public consider that government or not? Obviously, it’s also important to note that the president will be ending any warrantless searches of this collection. But again, the core issue that blew up in the public -- mass collection of data by the government -- is not ending. And now it’s up to Congress to come up with a Plan B.

*** But it won’t end the debate: Yet if the Obama administration’s goal was to put this issue behind them, proposing this middle ground isn’t going to do this. Bottom line: The debate won’t end, and now it will involve Congress -- and maybe even the 2016 field. Indeed, how Republicans react will be fascinating to watch. You will see the Rand Pauls vs. the Peter Kings (and maybe even the Chris Christie’s). This issue could be a pretty divisive one in a Dem primary, too but if there’s no serious contender to Hillary Clinton, she might not have to deal with it in the same vein that the candidates on the GOP side will.  

*** Bergen Record names those who have been subpoenaed in the New Jersey bridge scandal: Speaking of Christie, the New Jersey Democrats investigating the bridge-closure scandal have issued 20 subpoenas directed at Christie’s administration. And per the Bergen Record, those subpoenaed include fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly, former campaign manager Bill Stepien, Communications Director Maria Comella, Spokesman Michael Drewniak, Chief Counsel Charles McKenna, outgoing Chief of Staff Kevin O’Dowd, and incoming Chief of Staff Regina Egea. We have a feeling the emails and record will keep investigators -- and investigative reporters -- busy for A LONG time. 

*** Christie heads to Florida to raise money for the RGA, Rick Scott: Meanwhile, Christie is heading to Florida this weekend to raise money for the Republican Governors Association and Florida Gov. Rick Scott. On Saturday, he and Scott hit Orlando, Palm Beach, and Fort Lauderdale. And on Sunday, he attends two additional fundraisers in Palm Beach. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports that Christie will travel to Texas and Illinois next month to raise money for the RGA, which he chairs. But here’s something that’s beginning to percolate: Should Christie temporarily step down from his RGA perch until the bridge investigation has ended -- due to all the scrutiny Christie is getting? That’s a question that some Republicans are quietly asking right now. There’s no one prominent ready to call for Christie to temporarily step aside publicly, but if his fundraising on behalf of GOP governors generates bad-to- mediocre press consistently -- beyond the “gee whiz” coverage of this weekend’s trip -- don’t be surprised if the chatter gets louder.

*** Barbara Bush again on Jeb: “I would hope that someone else would run”: Former First Lady Barbara Bush made news -- again -- when it comes to whether her son Jeb should run for president in 2016. “If we can’t find more than two or three families to run for higher office, that’s silly. Because there are great governors and great eligible people to run,” she told C-SPAN for an upcoming interview. “There are a lot of ways to serve, and being president is not the only one, and I would hope that someone else would run.” That’s very similar to what she said on “TODAY” about Jeb. And again, it’s just as much commentary about Hillary Clinton as it is about Jeb Bush. Yet the fact she said it a second time means Jeb: 1) hasn’t asked his mom to ratchet back the public comments, 2) hasn’t convinced her that he should run, or 3) isn’t running and doesn’t care what she says publicly on this topic.

*** Senate passes $1.1 trillion omnibus: Per NBC’s Frank Thorp and the rest of NBC’s Capitol Hill team, the Senate yesterday passed the $1.1 trillion omnibus government-funding bill by a 72-26 vote. The legislation now goes to President Obama's desk for his signature. The bill funds the government through Sept. 30 at the level agreed upon by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) during their budget negotiations in December.  The omnibus wraps all 12 appropriations bills into one massive 1,582-page bill. All 55 Democrats, as well as 17 Republicans voted for the legislation; 26 Republicans voted against it. 

*** Coburn to retire at end of the year: NBC’s Kasie Hunt confirmed the news last night that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who has been battling prostate cancer, will retire at the end of the year. Since his Senate seat isn’t up for re-election, his exit will likely trigger a special election, one in which the Republicans would be the heavy favorite (Obama got just 33% of the vote in the state in 2012). And if there’s an interim appointment to fill the seat, remember that a Republican (Mary Fallin) is governor. "Carolyn and I have been touched by the encouragement we've received from people across the state regarding my latest battle against cancer,” Coburn said in a statement. “But this decision isn't about my health, my prognosis or even my hopes and desires. My commitment to the people of Oklahoma has always been that I would serve no more than two terms.”  

*** On “Meet” this Sunday: NBC’s David Gregory will interview Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), as well as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

*** OFA up with new health-care video: Lastly, President Obama’s Organizing for Action is up with another video testimonial on those who say they are benefitting from the new health-care law.">Click here to sign up for First Read emails.

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