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First Thoughts: What a week

What a week in news this is shaping up to be… Issues touch almost every great social debate of our time (race, gay marriage, immigration, climate change)…. Senate to vote on Hoeven-Corker amendment at 5:30 pm ET today… Obama to make his move on climate change with speech on Tuesday… The Supreme Court and race in America… Catch Me If You Can: Snowden story highlights United States’ uneasy relationship with China, Russia… And First Read’s two dispatches from Netroots Nation. 

*** What a week: Politicians, journalists, and political observers might want to buckle their seat belts over the next four or five days, because the issue terrain touches almost every great social debate of our time -- race, gay marriage, immigration, even climate change. This week, the Supreme Court will issue decisions on affirmative action, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, and California's Proposition 8 gay-marriage ban. On Monday afternoon (around 5:30 pm ET), the Senate will vote on the Hoeven-Corker border security amendment to the "Gang of Eight" immigration bill, and it will probably hold a final-passage vote on the overall legislation by Thursday. And on Tuesday, President Obama will deliver a major speech on climate change, in which he's expected to announce limiting emissions from existing power plants. With each of these issues, we’re talking about the great divide on the role of government when it comes to legislating equality, diversity, and even energy usage. What’s more, you add the strange story about Edward Snowden (that involves matters of national security, privacy, world affairs, and diplomacy) and you have yourself quite the week. Oh, and Nelson Mandela is in critical condition in South Africa. If anyone was thinking about making news beyond these stories, that person might want to consider holding off until next week. 

*** Senate to vote on Hoeven-Corker amendment at 5:30 pm ET: As NBC’s Carrie Dann has reported, Senate negotiators on Friday officially submitted the compromise border-security amendment -- sponsored by Republican Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Bob Corker (R-TN) -- setting up the first vote on the amendment at 5:30 pm ET. It needs 60 votes to pass, and if it does, that means the final vote on the overall legislation could take place as early as Thursday. The Senate remains on track to pass the bill with as many as 70 to 75 votes. But as we wrote on Friday, the legislation’s fate in the House looks as unpredictable as ever, given the Republican leadership’s inability to pass the farm bill. Some other things to consider: the August recess and town halls (as Hotline’s Reid Wilson notes) and Democrats’ warning that the GOP needs plenty of Democratic votes if the legislation is to pass the House (as Greg Sargent relays). Interestingly, while there are many immigration reformers who are concerned about the August recess and believe a bill HAS to be passed before August, take note of Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), who said on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” that reformers shouldn’t fear August and that it’s just as likely they get a bill in September or October. Meanwhile, at 2:00 pm ET, President Obama meets with business leaders to encourage Congress to pass immigration reform (there’s a pool spray at the top of this event). The White House’s preference continues to be getting a bill signed BEFORE Labor Day.

*** Obama to make his move on climate change: While Obama today holds an event on immigration, his focus tomorrow will be on climate change -- some six-plus years in the making. As the Washington Post wrote over the weekend, the president will give a speech Tuesday on his intention “to limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, increase appliance efficiency standards and promote renewable energy development on public lands” -- all via executive action. More from the Post: “In the speech at Georgetown University, according to individuals briefed on the matter who asked not to be identified because the plan was not yet public, Obama will detail a government-wide plan to not only reduce the nation’s carbon output but also prepare the United States for the near-term impacts of global warming... Obama can undertake all of these policies without congressional input. Though Congress could theoretically overturn an Environmental Protection Agency rule to regulate existing utilities under the Clean Air Act, Democrats have the votes they need in the Senate to block such an effort.” Many environmentalists are voicing concern this morning that the president may be using his climate speech and policy proposals as cover to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. The logic: The move to limit emissions from power plants COULD give the administration some cover with environmentalists if Keystone is approved.  

*** The Supreme Court and race in America: If the Supreme Court, as expected, overturns parts of the Voting Rights Act and affirmative action in higher education, the Paula Deen story isn’t necessarily good timing for the court. Why? Because it suggests that some things about race haven’t changed in the country, especially in the South. As the New York Times reported from outside of one of Deen’s restaurants: “In the line Saturday, some pointed out that some African-Americans regularly used the [N-]word Ms. Deen had admitted to saying. ‘I don’t understand why some people can use it and others can’t,’ said Rebecca Beckerwerth, 55, a North Carolina native who lives in Arizona and had made reservations at the restaurant Friday.” Yes, the country has a black president who was just re-elected -- in large part due to minority voters going to the polls. And, yes, Americans are less supportive of affirmative action than they once were, according to our most recent NBC/WSJ poll. But the Deen story is a reminder that race remains a complicated issue in this country. And it’s not just the Deen story; the Zimmerman trial is also a reminder that for a large segment of the population (again in the South), there’s a belief that the country isn’t ready to have government’s hand removed from the racial equality process. 

*** Catch Me If You Can: More than anything else, the strange Snowden story shines a spotlight on the United States’ uneasy relationships with China and Russia. Remember, Snowden departing Hong Kong and arriving in Russia (though NOT leaving to Cuba for now as many had expected) comes after Obama’s recent meeting with China’s new president, as well as that awkward bilateral with Putin at the G-8. Neither nation is an ally, nor an enemy, and the Snowden news highlights that fact. But don’t be surprised if Putin DOES cooperate with the United States in the end -- perhaps explaining why Snowden didn’t board that flight to Cuba. Putin is a transactional guy, and he is unpredictable. Best to simply put the Beatles tune, “Long and Winding Road” on to your Spotify, because today could be an odd one.

*** Two dispatches from Netroots Nation: Over the weekend, one of us attended the Netroots Nation liberal confab in San Jose, CA, and had two broad observations. One, even if some of the liberal activists are opposed to the NSA surveillance programs, they don’t consider Obama as a “Bush Lite.” Per the story, “They said that while they may be disappointed in some things, they still support the president, because he agrees with them on a majority of issues -- from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the discontinuation of “torture” tactics, as well as passage of the health-care law, the push for immigration reform and support for same-sex marriage.” Two, the liberals in attendance who had booed Hillary Clinton twice have more than warmed up to her as she might run for president in 2016. “‘A lot of people are looking to Hillary Clinton right now,’ said Alan Franklin, political director of Progress Now Colorado. He supported Barack Obama over Clinton in the 2008 primary and hopes Clinton, who is mulling another presidential run, will run again. ‘She’s arguably the most powerful woman in America. She’s set herself up for president well in 2016.’” 

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