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First Thoughts: Obamacare Deadline Extended, Again

A 'surge in demand' has prompted the Obama administration to again extend the deadline for enrollment in the federal health care marketplace.

If you’ve been paying attention to the health-care law’s implementation over the past few months -- with all the delays and rule changes -- the news that broke last night shouldn’t have been surprising. If anything, it probably was inevitable. “The Obama administration has decided to give extra time to Americans who say that they are unable to enroll in health plans through the federal insurance marketplace by the March 31 deadline,” the Washington Post first reported. “Federal officials confirmed Tuesday evening that all consumers who have begun to apply for coverage on, but who do not finish by Monday, will have until about mid-April to ask for an extension.” The Obama administration defended the move, saying it’s doing everything it can to make enrollment easier for consumers. (It also probably wants to avoid any horror stories of individuals who tried to sign up but couldn’t.) “We are experiencing a surge in demand and are making sure that we will be ready to help consumers who may be in line by the deadline to complete enrollment-either online or over the phone," an administration told NBC News. On the other hand, Republicans are arguing that this is yet another example of the administration making up the rules as they go along. “Another day, another Obamacare delay from the same Obama administration that won’t work with Republicans to help Americans suffering from the unintended consequences of the Democrats’ failed health-care law,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement.

Obama to talk about Ukraine, European security in his major address at 12:45 pm ET

Overseas, President Obama will deliver a speech in Brussels at around 12:45 pm ET, and the major thrust of the address will be on the situation in Ukraine. “The speech itself is an opportunity for him to step back and look at the current events in Ukraine in a broader context. Standing at the heart of Europe in Brussels, the center of the European project, he will be able to speak about the importance of European security, the importance of not just the danger to the people of Ukraine but the danger to the international system that Europe and the United States have invested so much in that is a consequence of Russia’s actions,” a senior administration told reporters yesterday. “But he’ll also be able to speak more broadly about why the alliance between the United States and Europe is so important to European security but also to the progress of democracy and the sustainment of international law around the world.” A few months ago, this speech was supposed to be heavy on trade and the economy as the president has been trying to negotiate a major regional trade deal between the U.S. and the EU; now it’s much heavier on security and Ukraine. It’s another reminder how events on the ground can change things, even a major speech’s subject matter.

Protesting Saudi Arabia’s decision not to allow a Jerusalem Post reporter to cover Obama’s visit there

On Tuesday, the White House Correspondents Association formally protested Saudi Arabia’s refusal to allow a reporter -- from the Jerusalem Post -- to enter the country to cover President Obama’s visit there later this week. “The denial is an affront not only to this journalist, but to the entire White House press corps and to the principle of freedom of the press that we hold so dear,” the WHCA said. White House adviser Ben Rhodes also criticized Saudi Arabia: “We were very disappointed by the Saudi decision. We expressly reached out to the Saudi government through multiple channels when we became aware of this issue. We made it clear how important it was to us that this journalist, like any other journalist, have access to cover the president’s trip.” Bottom line: We know Saudi Arabia is frustrated that it doesn’t have a better relationship with President Obama. But that government’s actions -- including the lack of human rights there -- is only going to make it harder for future American presidents to have a close relationship with it, especially when the United States relies less and less on Middle East oil. For a country that used to be seen as being among the most political savvy about its Washington relationships, the country’s government has become remarkably tone deaf of late. This decision to bar the Jerusalem Post reporter is just the latest example.

*** Unforced errors by three prominent Senate candidates: Over the last 48 hours, we’ve witnessed MAJOR unforced errors by three prominent Senate candidates across the country. As we mentioned yesterday, likely candidate to-be Scott Brown (R) gave this disinterested response to a question about if the former Massachusetts senator (and resident) is ready for the challenge to represent New Hampshire. "Do I have the best credentials? Probably not. 'Cause, you know, whatever. But I have long and strong ties to this state," he told the AP on Monday. "People know." Cause, you know, whatever? Swing and a miss. Then on Tuesday, video from a GOP tracker (from an event back in January) showed Bruce Braley (D), who’s running for Iowa Senate, criticizing Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) as “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school” who could be the next Senate Judiciary Committee chairman if the GOP wins the Senate in November. Braley appears to be criticizing Grassley’s credentials more than Iowa’s farmers, but it still comes off condescending. And it was certainly an unforced error in a race the GOP wants to make more competitive, and Braley apologized to Grassley, per the Des Moines Register.

Hoop Dreams -- or Hoop Gaffes?

And also on Tuesday, it was discovered that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign first released a web video that mistakenly used footage of Duke (!!!) basketball instead of the state’s beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats. And then after the campaign replaced the footage -- to instead feature UK freshman star Julius Randle -- the university sent a cease-and-desist letter (the use of a student athlete’s image in an advertisement isn’t permissible). The McConnell campaign released a statement last night saying it had taken down the video. “It was our intention to honor our great Kentucky basketball traditions. Our campaign apologizes for any inconvenience this may have caused,” McConnell’s spokesman Allison Moore, a UK grad, said.

Reinforcing negative stereotypes

The biggest problem for Brown, Braley, and McConnell is that each of these unforced errors reinforced a stereotype that the candidates are trying to avoid (and the opposition is trying to paint). For Brown, the stereotype is that he’s a bit lazy and undisciplined -- and, of course, that he isn’t a true Granite Stater. For Braley, the stereotype is that he’s an elitist trial lawyer who doesn’t understand Iowa’s farming ways. (And it didn’t help that Braley’s unforced error came on the same day as potential GOP opponent Joni Ernst’s buzzy new TV ad about castrating pigs. The error also will probably spur Grassley to play a bigger role in this race, something past Democratic candidates have carefully avoided.) And for McConnell, the stereotype is that he’s gone Washington and is out of touch with Kentucky. (Duke footage instead of Kentucky’s? And why even RISK anything that could be a potential NCAA violation with the big Kentucky-Louisville game coming up?)

A dead heat in DC

Finally, an NBC4/Marist poll released on Tuesday shows a neck-and-neck race in D.C.’s Democratic mayoral primary, with challenger Muriel Bowser getting the support of 28% of likely Democratic voters and incumbent Mayor Vince Gray getting 26%. No other candidate gets more than 11% in the crowded primary. This is a reversal from the same poll last month, when Gray held an eight-point lead over Bowser, 28%-20%. (The current poll also is in line with a new Washington Post survey, which has Bowser at 30% and Gray at 27%.) The other good news for Bowser in the poll is that she’s the top second choice among Democratic likely voters, meaning she has room to grow. The good news for Gray is that his supporters are more committed and enthusiastic than Bowser’s. The final candidate debate is tonight, and the primary is April 1.

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