First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
It was a status-quo debate, which benefits Clinton
In last night’s ninth -- and possibly final -- Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders fired off the rhetorical weaponry that they had been accumulating over the last two months. And most of the shots sounded very familiar (In fact, as a colleague remarked, it sounded a lot like a college-dorm-room argument between the campus socialist and the president of the student body.)
Clinton knocked Sanders over that New York Daily News interview, his gun record, not raising money for Democrats, and for his inability (so far) to release his tax returns. Sanders countered by firing back at Clinton on judgment, Wall Street, for not being a consistent voice in raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and for her inability to release her Goldman Sachs speech transcript. It was a status quo debate – which benefits the frontrunner (Hillary Clinton) who leads in the polling in New York and in the overall delegate race, especially with Sanders traveling to Rome and Clinton raising money in California over the next two days. By the way, the New York Times is reporting that the Pope will NOT meet with Sanders while he’s in Rome.
Last night’s clash over Israel
If there was new ground last night, it was the clash over Israel and whether it’s response in Gaza was disproportionate in 2014. Sanders said it was. Clinton responded that Israel has every right to protect itself.
“I don't know how you run a country when you are under constant threat, terrorist tact, rockets coming at you. You have a right to defend yourself,” she said. Sanders’ rebuttal: “The question is not does Israel have a right to respond, nor does Israel have a right to go after terrorists and destroy terrorism. That's not the debate. Was their response disproportionate? I believe that it was, you have not answered that.” Sanders added, “I read Secretary Clinton's statement speech before AIPAC. I heard virtually no discussion at all about the needs of the Palestinian people. Almost none in that speech.”
Bottom line: Sanders was speaking mostly to American liberals (who are increasingly sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians), while Clinton was speaking to New Yorkers (whose Jewish community is still pretty pro-Israel). And by the way, yesterday’s NBC New York/WSJ/Marist poll -- which came out before the debate -- showed Clinton leading Sanders among Jewish Democrats in New York by a 2-to-1 margin, 65%-32%.
Sanders’ toughest ad yet
As MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald reports, the Sanders campaign is now up with its toughest TV ad yet in New York aimed at Clinton, though it doesn’t refer to her by name. “While Washington politicians are paid over $200,000 an hour for speeches, they oppose raising the living wage to 15 dollars an hour,” the ad’s narrator says. “Two-hundred thousand dollars an hour for them. But not even 15 bucks an hour for all Americans. Enough is enough.” But as Clinton clarified (again) last night, she backs a federal $12 per hour minimum-wage hike, though is supportive of states and localities who want to go higher. And she said she’d sign a $15 per hour minimum wage hike if it reaches her desk as president.
Trump vs. the RNC (continued)
Turning to the GOP race, Donald Trump is out with a Wall Street Journal op-ed criticizing -- once again -- the Republicans’ nominating process. “On Saturday, April 9, Colorado had an ‘election’ without voters. Delegates were chosen on behalf of a presidential nominee, yet the people of Colorado were not able to cast their ballots to say which nominee they preferred… In recent days, something all too predictable has happened: Politicians furiously defended the system. ‘These are the rules,’ we were told over and over again. If the ‘rules’ can be used to block Coloradans from voting on whether they want better trade deals, or stronger borders, or an end to special-interest vote-buying in Congress—well, that’s just the system and we should embrace it.” What Trump and his campaign are doing here: discrediting the process to make 1,150 or 1,200 a winning number instead of 1,237. Yet in response (it seems), the RNC is out with a campaign-style memo to reporters. “The rules surrounding the delegate selection have been clearly laid out in every state and territory and while each state is different, each process is easy to understand for those willing to learn it. It ultimately falls on the campaigns to be up to speed on these delegate rules.”
Cruz doubles down on accusation that McConnell lied to him
“Texas Sen. Ted Cruz during a MSNBC town hall on Thursday doubled down on an accusation that Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lied to him, all the while insisting that he would work well with congressional leadership,” per Jane Timm. “‘Every word I said there is true and accurate. No one disputed a word I said,’ he told the audience in Buffalo, New York, of his scathing floor speech condemning his party's Senate leader over Export-Import bank legislation. ‘The reaction in the Senate is how dare you say that out loud? They're not upset that somebody lied to them!’” But do realize that Team Cruz is going to need the party insiders to prevail over Donald Trump.
Gov. McCrory to appear on “Meet” this weekend
On “Meet” this Sunday: NBC’s Chuck Todd will interview North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory.
On the trail
Hillary Clinton heads to California to raise money… Bernie Sanders attends the Pontifcal Academy of Social Sciences conference at the Vatican…Donald Trump campaigns in Plattsburgh, NY and Connecticut… Ted Cruz spends his day in New York… Ditto John Kasich… And both Bill and Chelsea Clinton stump in New York City.