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First Read’s Morning Clips

OBAMA AGENDA: U-turn?

As the Obama administration weighs military re-engagement in Iraq, the Wall Street Journal calls it "a remarkable U-turn for a president who campaigned in 2008 on ending the war there and has cited the removal of U.S. troops as one of his top successes."

The latest in Iraq, from the New York Times: "Sunni insurgents pressing toward Baghdad were reported on Friday to have fanned out to the east, taking two towns near Iraq’s border with Iran, further splintering the country into hostile fiefs and raising the stakes in a perilous regional crisis."

One reason this is so complicated: "As many as 500,000 Iraqis fled Mosul this week after the city was besieged by the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, many of them Sunnis who seemed less fearful of the beheadings and summary justice that the group is known for than of their own government and the barrage it might unleash in an effort to take the city back."

From the Wall Street Journal: "In short, the conflicts unleashed in Iraq and Syria have merged to become the epicenter of a struggle between the region's historic ethnic and religious empires: Persian-Shiite Iran, Arab-Sunni Saudi Arabia and Turkic-Sunni Muslim Turkey. Those three, each of whom has dominated the whole of the Middle East at one time or another in past millenniums, are now involved in the battle for influence from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf." Also : The United States has been secretly flying drones over Iraq to gather data about the insurgents.

On Morning Joe, Arizona Sen. John McCain fumed that Obama’s entire national security team should be fired as a result of the Iraq situation.

The Bergdahl story still has legs -- he's back in the United States, and new letters show that he said he left his post in Afghanistan because of what he called poor leadership in his unit.

Reuters: "The Obama administration has quietly repatriated a dozen detainees from a small U.S. military prison in Afghanistan, moving a modest step closer toward winding down the United States' controversial post-9/11 detainee system."

CONGRESS: Sessions drops out of majority leader race

Rep. Pete Sessions is out of the race for Majority Leader, Roll Call first reported, saying "Today, it became obvious to me that the measures necessary to run a successful campaign would have created unnecessary and painful division within our party."

That appears to clear the way for Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy to slide into the job, although conservatives are still trying to get a challenger - like Rep. Raul Labrador - to commit to a race.

One reason McCarthy's path seems pretty clear: People just plain like the guy. The Washington Post quotes Rep. David Schweikert of Arizona calling him "a savant of relationships."

OFF TO THE RACES: Testy

Here's our wrap of Hillary Clinton's testy conversation with NPR's Terry Gross about gay marriage.

The exposure may be taking the shine off of Hillary Clinton's approval rating. Bloomberg finds her approval at 52%, down from 56% in March and 70% at the end of 2012. (A little reality check, though: In this political environment, anyone with numbers above 50% is doing more than OK.)

Chris Christie’s sure feeling bullish, seeming confident when asked on The Tonight Show if he could “hypothetically” beat Clinton in a 2016 matchup. “Hypothetically? You bet.”

ALASKA: Rep. Don Young is slamming Mark Begich in a new video, via the Anchorage Daily News: ""I don't appreciate the ads that are being run on his behalf right now," Young says. "Don't take credit for something you did not do. And when we do something together, say, 'We did it.' I think it would be a lot better."

ARKANSAS: Mitt Romney formally endorsed Tom Cotton on Thursday, saying he'll "fight Obamacare, stop Washington's runaway spending, and support policies that will create jobs for hardworking Arkansans."

IOWA: Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum are heading to Iowa this weekend to address the Republican Party of Iowa’s state convention.

KENTUCKY: Elizabeth Warren will stump for Alison Lundergan Grimes.

MISSISSIPPI: Former presidential candidate Ron Paul will stump for Chris McDaniel this weekend at a "2nd Amendment Rally," per McDaniel's campaign.

By the way, McDaniel assessed Cantor's defeat as "good stuff," reports the Clarion-Ledger. "It just shows people are waking up ... This is a big time for us as conservatives. People are beginning to fight again."

WPA Opinion Research finds McDaniel leading at 49 percent, with Cochran at 41 percent.

OKLAHOMA: Retiring Sen. Tom Coburn is not happy with outside money in the race to succeed him, writes The Hill. "The current political advertisements by groups such as Senate Conservatives Fund and Oklahomans for a Conservative Future supporting T.W. Shannon have crossed an important line — they simply aren't truthful and they mischaracterize James Lankford's service in Congress,” he said.

TENNESSEE: Could a Brat-like upset happen in Tennessee? Reuters says.. yeah, not so much, quoting an anonymous Tea Party leader who calls Joe Carr "just not Senate material."

VIRGINIA: The New York Times looks at the relationship of Virginia congressional candidates David Brat and Jack Trammell, who play together on a faculty basketball team at Randolph-Macon College.

Brat's economic views confuse some experts, the piece notes. "'I did find him pretty confusing,' said Justin Wolfers, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan, and a fellow at the Brookings Institution. 'This dude just really wants us all to go to church, and that appears to be his economic policy conclusion.'"

PROGRAMMING NOTES.

*** Friday’s “The Daily Rundown” line-up: NBC’s Chuck Todd interviews NBC’s Richard Engel, Iraq’s Amb. to U.S. Lukman Faily, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Telemundo’s Jose Diaz Balart, The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, Politico’s Manu Raju, NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell

*** Friday’s “Jansing & Co.” line-up: Chris Jansing interviews Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Col. Jack Jacobs, MSNBC’s Joy Reid, Vox Editor in Chief Ezra Klein, MSNBC Political Analyst Jonathan Alter, Former DNC Communications Director & MSNBC Political Analyst Karen Finney, Washington Post Opinion Writer and MSNBC Contributor Jonathan Capehart, and Telemundo’s Jose Diaz Balart.

*** Friday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: Tamron Hall interviews Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), General Barry McCaffrey and Terrorism Analyst Evan Kohlmann on Iraq; Ady Guzman-DeJesus, a mother who embraced her daughter’s killer in an act of forgiveness; MSNBC.com’s Trymaine Lee on President Obama’s visit today to Standing Rock Sioux Reservation; and Nina Teicholz, author of “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.

*** Friday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews Sen. John McCain, Ken Pollack, Rep. Chris Smith, NBC's Chuck Todd and Richard Engel, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and the Cook Political Report's Amy Walter.

*** Friday’s “The Reid Report” line-up: MSNBC’s Joy Reid interviews Time International Editor Bobby Ghosh, Reuters Investigative Reporter David Rohde, Daily Beast Contributing Writer Kimberly Dozier and Global Post Reporter Matt Negrin.

*** Saturday’s “MSNBC Live Weekends” line-up at 2pmET: Richard Lui fills in for Craig Melvin and his guests include Col. Jack Jacobs, The Daily Beast’s Kim Dozier, Bloomberg News’ Jonathan Allen, Fmr. Rep. Patrick Murphy, Slate’s Jeremy Stahl, Roll Call’s Christina Bellantoni, Angela Kelley of the Center for American Progress, Republican Strategist Rich Galen, The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, and Susan Brennan who won the “Cheap Chic Weddings Toilet Paper Contest”.

*** Sunday’s “MSNBC Live Weekends” line-up at 3pmET: Richard Lui fills in for Craig Melvin and his guests include Reuters investigative reporter David Rohde, Washington Examiner’s David Drucker, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, UT Prof. Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, and Tray Chaney, actor from “The Wire”.