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First Read: Say Hello to Washington's Next Political Battle

Move over Iran and Loretta Lynch (at least for the time being), and say hello to the next political battle in Washington that has already produced strange bedfellows and promises to put Hillary Clinton on the spot -- trade.
Image: TPP protester holds up a sign during Froman trade hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington
A policewoman removes a man protesting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman (R) testifies before a Senate Finance Committee hearing on "President Obama's 2015 Trade Policy Agenda" on Capitol Hill in Washington January 27, 2015. The top U.S. trade official urged Congress to back the administration's trade agenda on Tuesday and said an ambitious Pacific trade pact is nearing completion. Froman said the administration looked to lawmakers to pass bipartisan legislation allowing a streamlined approval process for trade deals, such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS CIVIL UNREST)KEVIN LAMARQUE / Reuters
/ Source: NBC News

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

The fast-track trade war has begun

Move over Iran and Loretta Lynch (at least for the time being), and say hello to the next political battle in Washington that has already produced strange bedfellows and promises to put Hillary Clinton on the spot -- trade. “The leaders of congressional tax-committees in both chambers agreed to legislation Thursday to grant President Barack Obama ‘fast track’ authority to negotiate on a sweeping, multinational trade deal,” per NBC News. “The measure ensures Congress' right to vote on a trade accord, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim nations, but blocks legislators from adding amendments that might slow down the measure's progress.” Here’s what’s fascinating about this fight: President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, and House Ways and Means Chair Paul Ryan support the fast-track legislation, while organized labor, progressives, and some congressional Republicans (who don’t want to give Obama any kind of win) are against it. The fast-track battle also creates an interesting dilemma for Hillary Clinton -- does she support it (and risk creating an opening on her left), or does she oppose it (and tick off the business community and put daylight between herself and Obama)?

A big test for Hillary

Remember, during the 2008 primary fight in Ohio, both Clinton and Obama competed in a contest who was more ANTI-trade, even though Hillary’s husband signed the NAFTA, and even though Obama has turned into a pro-trade president. So there’s plenty of precedent for Democrats to oppose free trade in the primaries and support it in the general election and once in the White House. The question is: After NAFTA and Obama’s newest free-trade push, can the left believe Democratic presidential politicians when they say they oppose free trade/fast track?

How fast track works and the concessions Democrats got from Republicans

The New York Times has more on how “fast track” works, and the concessions that Democratic supporters extracted from Republicans on the legislation. How it works: “The bill would make any final trade agreement open to public comment for 60 days before the president signs it, and up to four months before Congress votes. If the agreement, negotiated by the United States trade representative, fails to meet the objectives laid out by Congress — on labor, environmental and human rights standards — a 60-vote majority in the Senate could shut off ‘fast-track’ trade rules and open the deal to amendment.” The concessions Democrats got: “To win over the key Democrat, Mr. Wyden, the Republicans agreed to stringent requirements for the deal, including a human rights negotiating objective that has never existed on trade agreements... To further sweeten the deal for Democrats, the package includes expanding trade adjustment assistance — aid to workers whose jobs are displaced by global trade.”

Reid says he’ll force a vote on Loretta Lynch’s stalled nomination -- but he’ll need five Republicans to support him

Speaking of Loretta Lynch’s stalled nomination, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow yesterday that if a vote on Loretta Lynch's nomination for attorney general is not announced soon he will attempt to force a vote on her nomination, NBC’s Frank Thorp reports. The move may not really work, as Reid would need 51 votes to move into executive session. And even though there are five Republicans who have publicly said they will support Lynch's nomination (putting them at 51), it's not likely those same five would go against their own leadership to force this vote. That said, the word we’re getting from Democrats is they think they’ll get a vote on Lynch soon, because there’s been movement on the anti-trafficking legislation that’s been holding up her nomination. And get this: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s top communications aide tweeted that Lynch’s nomination will be taken up next week.

Granite State of Mind

Turning to the 2016 presidential race, we’re all going to be a Granite State of Mind over the next few days -- with Republicans gathering in New Hampshire today and tomorrow for the “First in the Nation Republican Leadership Summit, and with Hillary stumping in the state on Monday and Tuesday. Here is the rough speaking schedule for that GOP cattle call in Concord, NH:


Pataki (after 9:00 am ET)

Perry, Gilmore, Christie, Jeb (after noon ET)

Rubio (after 7:00 pm ET)


Paul (after 8:00 am ET)

Fiorina, Jindal, Graham, Huckabee, Cruz (after noon ET)

Walker (after 6:00 pm ET)

Jeb calls to confirm Lynch, gets blowback from the right

Stumping in New Hampshire yesterday, Jeb Bush said the Senate should work to confirm Loretta Lynch. “I think presidents have the right to pick their team,” Bush said. Check out this headline from Breitbart on the news: “ACT OF LOVE: JEB BUSH PUSHES REPUBLICANS TO CAVE TO OBAMA EXECUTIVE AMNESTY, APPROVE LORETTA LYNCH.” Ouch.

Scott Walker’s approval rating sinks in Wisconsin

Yes, it’s just one poll. But it’s from the best pollster in Wisconsin, and it’s bad news for Scott Walker. A new Marquette University Law poll -- considered the gold standard in Wisconsin -- shows that Walker's job-approval rating in the state has sunk to 41% among registered voters. That's down from 49% in October before his successful re-election. The poll also shows Walker trailing Hillary Clinton in the battleground state by 12 points in a hypothetical general-election match up, 52%-40%. And in a possible 2016 Senate rematch, the poll finds Republican Sen. Ron Johnson trailing 2010 Dem opponent Russ Feingold by a whopping 16 points, 54%-38%.

Hillary’s early role in the Iran negotiations

Meanwhile, here’s NBC’s Perry Bacon on Hillary Clinton’s early role in the Iran negotiations. “Hillary Clinton was deeply involved as secretary of state in President Obama's decision to hold direct talks with Iran to reduce its nuclear weapon arsenal and has supported the process since she left the State Department, putting her at the center of a policy that Republicans are unified in opposing and even some Democrats are wary of. In Clinton's own telling, as described in her 2014 book ‘Hard Choices,’ she personally helped initiate the negotiations. She details a one-on-one meeting on January 12, 2011 in Muscat, Oman, where the Sultan of Oman told her ‘I can help’ in setting up a process for negotiations between the two nations. Returning home, the secretary of state briefed President Obama on the discussion.”

On the trail: In other campaign activity today, Jeb Bush is in New Hampshire for a “Politics and Eggs” breakfast; Marco Rubio tours Manchester Community College at 10:45 AM ET and attends a house party in the afternoon. And Chris Christie will hold multiple events in New Hampshire.

On “Meet” this Sunday: NBC’s Chuck Todd will interview Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, as well as others.

Our new @MTP daily video: Finally, just another reminder: Our daily First Read Minute video has a new look -- as well as a new name, @MTP. Follow it on Twitter and check out yesterday’s video.

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