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First Thoughts: What the farm bill's defeat tells us about immigration's chances

What the farm bill’s defeat tells us about immigration’s chances in the House… Leaderless in Washington… Senate still working on the Hoeven-Corker amendment… Obama to announce Comey’s nomination to head the FBI at 2:05 pm ET… Day 1 at Netroots Nation… This week’s 2016 news… McConnell to bring up IRS controversy in speech… And the final campaigning in Massachusetts.

*** What the farm bill’s defeat tells us about immigration’s chances in the House: The farm bill’s surprising defeat in the House yesterday was a stinging defeat for Speaker John Boehner and the GOP leadership, as well as another sign of the dysfunction on Capitol Hill. And the legislation’s defeat reminds us of some important lessons, especially when it comes to how the House might handle the immigration legislation the Senate is debating. First, conservative outside groups -- like Heritage Action and Club for Growth -- are almost as powerful (maybe more so) than GOP leaders. They opposed the farm bill, and 62 Republicans voted against it. Second, when those groups are part of the opposition, that means the GOP leadership needs to find Democratic votes for passage. Yesterday, just 24 Democrats supported the farm bill due in large part because the House legislation cut the food-stamp program more than the already-passed Senate bill did and because the GOP added an amendment applying welfare-work requirements for food stamps; the White House had also issued a veto threat. In other words, the so-called “Hastert Rule” -- only bringing legislation to the floor that has support from a majority of the majority -- goes so far; if enough Republicans are going to vote against legislation, then they have to be replaced by Democratic votes. Third and perhaps most importantly, the House is so unpredictable. Yesterday, in fact, was hardly the first time that Republican leaders thought they had the votes to pass something but ultimately didn’t. They can’t count votes.

*** Leaderless in Washington: So yesterday was a reminder how leaderless Washington is right now. It’s most pronounced in the House. But it’s also evident at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., where President Obama and his team have been struggling over the past month. For the White House, it hasn’t just been the controversies or the president not yet finding his voice when it comes to the NSA surveillance. It also was present overseas this week, especially when he was unsuccessful in getting G-8 consensus on Syria. And even when it comes to immigration, the president is -- by design -- taking a backseat. By comparison, the Senate DOES appear to be working at the moment, with bipartisan support for the immigration bill. But how long does that last? Bottom line: Nobody is really running Washington right now, and the public is noticing.

*** Still working on the Hoeven-Corker amendment: As far as the immigration legislation the Senate is considering, NBC’s Carrie Dann reports that the chamber adjourned late last night without the Hoeven-Corker border security amendment filed yet. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he hoped to have it completed by this morning.

*** Obama to announce Comey’s nomination to lead the FBI: At 2:05 pm ET, per NBC’s Kristen Welker, President Obama will announce he’s nominating James Comey, who served as Deputy Attorney General during the Bush administration, to lead the FBI. The AP: “Comey is perhaps best known for a remarkable 2004 standoff over a no-warrant wiretapping program at the hospital bed of Attorney General John Ashcroft. Comey rushed to the side of his bedridden boss to physically stop White House officials in their attempt to get an ailing Ashcroft to reauthorize the program. If confirmed by the Senate, Comey would serve a 10-year tenure and replace Robert Mueller, who has held the job since the week before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Mueller is set to resign on Sept. 4 after overseeing the bureau's transformation into one the country's chief weapons against terrorism.”

*** Day 1 at Netroots Nation: One of your authors is attending the liberal “Netroots Nation” confab in San Jose, CA. Here are some of the highlights from Day 1: President Obama addressed the 3,000-plus activists in a video. “We won’t always agree on everything, and I know you’ll tell me when we don’t,” Obama said. “But if we work together, then I’m confident we’ll keep moving this country forward, so thanks.”… Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) delivered a speech that was mostly a pep talk for progressives and about the economy. He only alluded to the NSA controversy by calling for the declassification of FISA court decisions and a truly open debate. But it was really just a passing line. (One of the observations so far we’re going to flesh out from this conference: The handwringing from the left about Obama isn’t as pronounced as Washington might think.)… And Howard Dean spoke, reflecting on the 10 years since his presidential bid and what has taken place during that stretch -- gay marriage, the health-care law, ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Is the president perfect? No. But it is sure a whole lot better than having Bain Capital, I mean, Mitt Romney in there. Progress has been made."

*** This week’s 2016 news: Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) joined the “Ready for Hillary” PAC, while a GOP Super PAC created a “Stop Hillary” website… In addition, a Quinnipiac poll showed Hillary Clinton topping Jeb Bush (50%-43%) and Marco Rubio (53%-41%) in Florida; Vice President Biden, however, trailed both – Bush 47%-43% and Rubio 45%-43%... Biden talked about the administration’s executive actions to stop gun violence, spoke at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast (where he championed comprehensive immigration reform), addresses the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Las Vegas today, and campaigns for Ed Markey on Saturday…  Marco Rubio said he backs  the Corker-Hoeven amendment to the “Gang of Eight” legislation and became a punching bag at a Tea Party rally on Wednesday… And National Journal (channeling First Read) says don’t sleep on Scott Walker when it comes to 2016 :

*** McConnell to bring up IRS controversy in speech: At 10:00 am ET, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will deliver a speech at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, where he will talk about the IRS’s targeting of conservative-sounding groups. "As serious as the IRS scandal is, what we're dealing with here is larger than the actions of one agency or any group of employees," McConnell is expected to say, per the AP. "This administration has institutionalized the practice of pitting bureaucrats against the very people they're supposed to be serving, and it needs to stop."

*** The final campaigning in Massachusetts: Less than a week before Tuesday’s special Senate election in Massachusetts, Jessica Taylor reports that former Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) will campaign for Republican Gabriel Gomez on Monday. And as we mentioned above, Vice President Biden will stump for Democrat Ed Markey on Saturday.

*** Dynasty! Finally, don’t miss this piece by MSNBC’s Michael LaRosa, who writes about the dynastic candidates running -- or thinking about running -- in next year’s midterms. They include Michelle Nunn of Georgia (daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn), Gwen Graham of Florida (daughter of former Sen. Bob Graham), and Bill Daley of Illinois (son of former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley).

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