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First Read's Morning Clips

A roundup of the day's most important political stories

OBAMA AGENDA: The importance of Europe

In Brussels today, Obama is expected to focus on the importance of Europe in a speech at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, the New York Times writes. "President Obama will deliver a speech here on Wednesday that aides say is designed to explain and honor Europe’s role in the global democratic movement and to demonstrate how Russia’s use of military force in Ukraine threatens to undermine the rules that free nations have fought to establish." More: “[M]ost of the address will invoke broader themes, especially about the importance of the relationship between the United States and its European allies. That message could help to soothe some hurt feelings among European leaders, who watched with dismay over the last several years as Mr. Obama talked about a ‘pivot toward Asia’ in American foreign policy. The president did not seek to abandon Europe in adjusting his foreign policy, but many on the continent took it that way."

After his busy visit to the Hague, here’s the headline in De Telegraaf, the largest Dutch daily morning newspaper: "Obama steelt de show op top" -- "Obama Steals the Show"

Breaking overnight: More misconduct in the Secret Service, which adopted new rules after a booze-and-prostitutes scandal in Cartagena, Columbia, two years ago. The Washington Post: "Three Secret Service agents responsible for protecting President Obama in Amsterdam this week were sent home and put on administrative leave Sunday after going out for a night of drinking, according to three people familiar with the incident. One of the agents was found drunk and passed out in a hotel hallway, the people said." "People who have been trying to sign up for health insurance on the new Obamacare exchanges may be able to buy themselves some time beyond the looming March 31 deadline, administration officials said Tuesday night. But White House officials balked at calling the move an extension, saying it was more like letting people vote past the time the polls close if they were already in line."

The New York Times explains the extension, noting that several states that run their own exchanges have made a similar move in recent weeks: "Under the move planned by the administration, some people will be given a special enrollment period, beyond the deadline, if they can show they were not able to enroll because of an error by the federal exchange or by the Department of Health and Human Services. Federal officials allowed a special enrollment period, on a case-by-case basis, for some people who were unable to meet the Dec. 24, 2013, enrollment deadline for coverage starting Jan. 1 of this year."

As we wrote yesterday, passing either of the similar proposed NSA telephone surveillance overhauls through Congress will be no easy feat. The Wall Street Journal: "The proposals, offered in separate announcements on Tuesday, signified a rapidly expanding consensus among lawmakers, intelligence agencies and civil-liberties groups on how to overhaul the National Security Agency program. But the developments didn't offer assurance of quick congressional passage, which would require support from lawmakers who favor more limitations on surveillance. Moving any legislation through Congress in an election year will be challenging, particularly highly sensitive bills."

The New York Times editoralizes that Obama should bypass Congress and enact his proposed NSA metadata reforms on his own. "If President Obama really wants to end the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records, he doesn’t need to ask the permission of Congress, as he said on Tuesday he would do. He can just end it himself, immediately."'s Adam Serwer checks in with privacy advocates, who say neither the House Intelligence Committee's proposal nor the White House NSA overhaul plan go far enough.

Michelle Obama's trip to China hasn't been all sightseeing and tai chi, the New York Times reports. "At a high school here on Tuesday, Mrs. Obama pointedly told students that the United States championed 'the right to say what we think and worship as we choose,' even as she conceded that Americans still lived those ideals imperfectly and that minorities had struggled to overcome a legacy of discrimination." More: "It was the second time in four days that Mrs. Obama spoke openly about free expression and minority rights — messages that resonate in a society where the Internet is censored and the central government ruthlessly represses Tibetans and other ethnic minorities."

NBC's Pete Williams offers his take on yesterday's high-stakes Obamacare arguments at the Supreme Court: "At an oral argument, it did not appear that there were five votes on the court willing to make a sweeping declaration that for-profit companies should have the same right as a church to claim a religious exemption from the law."


Senate Democrats drop IMF reforms from Ukraine aid packageDemocrats have dropped proposed reforms to the IMF from the Senate's Ukraine aid package. NBC: "Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had considered dropping the provision earlier Tuesday; the standoff had stalled debate over Ukrainian assistance by two weeks. Reid suggested after party luncheons that he had come to agree with Secretary of State John Kerry that expediting the aid package was a top priority."

Eying midterms, Democrats are setting up votes on economic issues in the coming weeks, the New York Times reports. "The effort is set to begin within the next two weeks in the Senate when Democrats will call a vote on their proposal to increase the minimum wage to $10.10, and it will continue through spring and summer with additional legislation to eliminate the pay gap between men and women, lower interest rates on college loans and close tax loopholes that benefit corporations with business overseas. The votes will be timed to coincide with campaign-style trips by President Obama, with the first planned around the time of the minimum-wage vote."

OFF TO THE RACES: Talking ‘bout my generation

The Wall Street Journal's Neil King Jr. looks at how millennials are no longer the Democratic stronghold they were for Barack Obama's first campaign.

Vice President Joe Biden brushed off the 2016 question in first-in-the-nation primary state New Hampshire yesterday, NBC's Alex Moe reports. "I'm here about jobs, not mine,” Biden told reporters.

Republicans haven't been as successful as they had hoped in recruiting women to run for Congress, writes the Boston Globe. "Although there is still time to recruit more, the number of Republican women running for Congress in 2014 is falling well short of 2012: Seventy-four, including 17 incumbents, are running or are expected to run for House seats this year, compared with 108 in 2012, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. In the Senate, that figure is 16, the same as it was in 2012."

POLITICO writes that the scandal still swirling around Gov. Chris Christie's administration has opened the door for a behind-the-scenes flurry of campaign jockeying. "Christie’s 'Bridgegate' stumbles have now thrown the race wide open: Strategists for likely and potential candidates all see the Garden State Republican as deeply and perhaps fatally compromised. Reform-minded Republican governors are eyeing the race more eagerly, thanks to the void opened by the Fort Lee traffic scandal. Others in the field, like Rubio, could find their nuts-and-bolts preparatory work all the more valuable in view of Christie’s woes."

GEORGIA: Benjy Sarlin of visits Georgia for a look at Republicans' problematic primary field in the Senate race there. "The solid red state is shaping up as a key boost to Democratic hopes of retaining the Senate thanks to a GOP primary field both sides believe could produce a nominee too hobbled, too extreme, or too gaffe-prone to win in November."

IOWA: Iowa political guru David Yepsen tells the Des Moines Register that the video that captured Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley calling Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school" will hurt Braley's Senate campaign. "It’s too early in the 2014 campaign for something like this to be fatal for a candidate, [Yepsen] said, but it will give new hope to Republicans who didn’t think they had a chance against Braley and were instead focusing on the Iowa governor’s race and 3rd District congressional race. 'The biggest effect will be to energize Republicans,’ he said. 'This will be a bloody shirt that they wave in front of GOP audiences from here on out.'" Braley has apologized for the remark.

One of the Iowa Republicans vying for the Senate seat is out with her first television ad, which offers a heavy focus on -- what else? -- pig castration.

KENTUCKY: Is there a worse state to make a hoops-related gaffe in than basketball-crazed Kentucky? And is there a worse team to make it *about* than Duke? "That’s the flub that Kentucky senator and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell faced Tuesday, when his campaign posted an online video that included a brief clip of the Duke basketball team celebrating after the 2010 national championship game," one of us wrote yesterday. In an email, McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore attributed the mistake to a vendor and said the campaign was 'horrified by the error.'

TEXAS: No country for old men: Roll Call's Abby Livingston writes that influential conservative groups are lining up behind GOP congressional candidate John Ratcliffe, the attorney challenging the oldest serving member of Congress, Rep. Ralph Hall.

VIRGINIA: "Former Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife want separate trials on the federal corruption charges they both are facing, saying in court filings late Tuesday that a joint proceeding would prevent Maureen McDonnell, in particular, from taking the witness stand to exonerate her husband," reports the Washington Post.


*** Wednesday’s “The Daily Rundown” line-up: NBC’s Luke Russert interviews Washington Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen, Time’s Bobby Ghosh, NBC Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell, NBC’s Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd and Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

*** Wednesday’s “Jansing & Co.” line-up: Chris Jansing interviews Geologist David Montgomery, the Atlantic’s Steve Clemons, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), The Dean of the School of Public Health at Georgia State University Michael Eriksen, Senior Fellow at Center for American Progress Action Fund Aisha Moodie-Mills, Senior Editor for Beth Fouhy, and Political Editor for Buzzfeed McKay Coppins.

*** Wednesday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: Tamron Hall interviews Jon Claque, geologist and environmental science professor on the Washington mudslide; Rep. James Clyburn on the ACA anniversary & minimum wage; New York times columnist Annie Lowrey on the wealth divide; Rose Preston, a woman who got out of an ambulance and says she transported herself after responders wouldn't stop arguing; and Natasha Eubanks, founder of YBF, on the Nick Cannon whiteface controversy.

*** Wednesday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Gov. Jay Inslee, GA State Senator Jason Carter, former Washington Post CEO Don Graham, DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, Atlantic Council President and CEO Fred Kempe, NBC’s Chuck Todd and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza.

*** Wednesday’s “The Reid Report” line-up: MSNBC’s Joy Reid interviews Col. Lawrence Wilkerson -- former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) and Gordon Chang – a Forbes contributor who writes primarily about China.