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First Read’s Morning Clips

OBAMA AGENDA: Massacre in Iraq?

The latest in Iraq from the Wall Street Journal: "The radical Sunni militia that has plunged Iraq into chaos bragged on Sunday that it had executed hundreds of Shiite Iraqi soldiers, even as the Obama administration said it is preparing to open direct talks with Iran on how the two longtime foes can counter the insurgents." More: "The U.S.-Iran dialogue, which is expected to begin this week, will mark the latest in a rapid move toward rapprochement between Washington and Tehran over the past year."

Reuters: “A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Sunday that Washington was considering making contact with Iran to find ways to aid the Baghdad government. Publicly, the White House said no such contacts had yet taken place. The U.S. overture came a day after Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate elected last year, said Tehran would consider working with the United States in Iraq if it saw Washington was willing to confront "terrorist groups".

The American embassy in Baghdad plans to evacuate much of its personnel as tensions increase, the Washington Post writes.

Via the New York Times, Obama's push will be for a unity government in Iraq: "As President Obama weighs airstrikes against marauding militants in Iraq, he has concluded that any American military action must be conditioned on a political plan to try to heal Iraq’s sectarian rifts, a senior administration official said on Sunday."

The AP writes: "Despite securing the release of five top detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, there are few indications that the Taliban will head into peace talks with the Afghan government any time soon."

The VA scandal continues, with a new report in the New York Times that internal critics were ignored or punished. "Staff members at dozens of Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals across the country have objected for years to falsified patient appointment schedules and other improper practices, only to be rebuffed, disciplined or even fired after speaking up, according to interviews with current and former staff members and internal documents."

Obama over the weekend, at UC Irvine's commencement: "There are some who duck the question by saying, 'Hey, I'm not a scientist.' Let me translate that for you: What that means is, 'I accept that man-made climate change is real, but if I admit it, I'll be run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate science is a liberal plot.'"

CONGRESS: Scalise vs. Roskam in majority whip race

Reuters profiles Rep. Steve Scalise, who the paper says has "the potential to be a bridge between the party's leadership and Tea Party rebels."

The Washington Post writes that Scalise has gained support by arguing that the number three leadership post must be filled by a Southern conservative lawmaker.

The Wall Street Journal on Kevin McCarthy's speedy rise to power: "What was once a long, gradual process of building trust through years of legislative work in House and Senate committees is now a much quicker march up the leadership ladder that builds more on political connections than legislative acumen."

OFF TO THE RACES: Romney back in the political spotlight

NBC's Kasie Hunt, from Park City: "The wealthy, well-connected donors who raised more than $1 billion for Mitt Romney in 2012 are looking for somebody—anybody—who is capable of beating Hillary Clinton."

On Meet the Press, Romney slammed Clinton's tenure as "a monumental bust" and said her statements about the Bergdahl release were "clueless."

One of us(!) writes that a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg Survey finds that Bill Clinton is the most admired president over the past 25 years.

The New Republic on Scott Walker and the divided politics in Wisconsin.

The Hill writes that conservative talk hosts are wading into House leadership races like never before.

All politics is less local? The New York Times, on the Mississippi Senate and Virginia congressional races: "For all the talk about how partisan polarization is overwhelming Washington, there is another powerful, overlapping force at play: Voters who are not deeply rooted increasingly view politics through a generic national lens."

TV ad spending on Senate races has surpassed $100 million, the Washington Post reports.

Howard Dean on what Eric Cantor’s loss means for Democrats. “… Democrats need to learn from Cantor’s loss that anything can happen in 2014. Even on the morning of the election, not a single major pundit or politician thought the majority leader would lose. Cantor was considered invincible, and Republicans were expected to win big in November. But voters have minds of their own and the tea party’s right-wing base helped it usher in a truly unexpected result.”

IOWA: The Des Moines Register on this weekend's GOP convention: "Unlike the last convention, it wasn't a liberty movement crowd – resurgent establishment Republicans and evangelical Christian conservatives iced out Iowa's diehard Ron Paul backers from the majority of delegate slots. But Paul's son, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, was well received. He argued that the GOP can win the next presidential election if they call for unabashedly lowering taxes and warding against government intrusion into voters' private lives."

The power play might mean the end of the Ames Straw Poll, POLITICO writes. "Branstad said the annual ritual has “outlived its usefulness,” and other critics say it’s become a spectacle that raises a lot of money for the party but has little significance politically. Pro-Paul forces, however, enthusiastically support the event and want to keep it going."

The party rejected amendments to the GOP platform on specific issues like abortion and taxes, with party leaders arguing that a broader platform is more useful.

MISSISSIPPI: Ron Paul threw his support behind Chris McDaniel at a rally over the weekend: "I understand we’re going to have a great celebration 10 days from now, and my son Rand Paul is going to get some help up there in Washington, D.C., in the U.S. Senate," he said, per the Hattiesburg American.

Meanwhile, Cochran is raking in cash from big donors in DC.

NORTH CAROLINA: Kay Hagan is getting a boost from EMILY's List, up with a new ad hitting Thom Tillis on education.

Here is the TV ad, which Emily’s List tells NBC News is a “significant, upper-six-figure” buy.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Lindsey Graham, hugging the Tea Party after avoiding a runoff last week: "When I talk to the Tea Party about my solution on immigration, most of 'em understand,. ‘At least, he's trying.’"

PROGRAMMING NOTES.

*** Monday’s “The Daily Rundown” line-up: NBC’s Chuck Todd interviews NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin, Fmr. Amb. Chris Hill, Washington Post’s Dan Balz and USA Today’s Susan Page, Kansas City Star’s Dave Helling, Politico’s Ken Vogel

*** Monday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: Tamron Hall interviews Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Gen. Barry McCaffrey and Karen DeYoung from the Washington Post on the crisis in Iraq, and Ady Guzman-DeJesus, the woman who forgave her daughter’s killer in court.

*** Monday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: Former Defense Secretary William Cohen, the New York Times’ David Ignatius, the Daily Beast’s Kimberly Dozier, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Ruth Marcus and USA Today’s Alan Gomez.

*** Monday’s “The Reid Report” line-up: Joy Reid discusses the turmoil in Iraq with NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin and the diplomatic dilemmas with Former U.S. Ambassador Marc Ginsberg. Plus, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray joins Joy to discuss a new lawsuit filed by Seattle business owners who are fighting to stop the city’s $15 minimum wage.