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First thoughts: Obama takes up immigration

Obama takes up immigration in speech at 10:50 am ET… Why immigration reform isn't easy this year and why it won't be easier in 2011… WWJMD -- What Will John McCain Do?... Obama also will be raising Arizona in his speech today… Financial reform passed the House last night, while Senate won't take it up until the week of July 12 (due to today's remembrance of Robert Byrd and the upcoming July 4 recess)… Dems announce their four finalists for the 2012 convention… And the politics of LeBron James.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Obama takes up immigration: Here's what else we know this Thursday morning: After completing her testimony yesterday, Elena Kagan is well on her way to winning confirmation to the Supreme Court… With last night's House vote, Congress is one step closer to clearing the financial reform legislation for President Obama's signature, though there's still plenty of Senate drama… Also last night, the Senate -- once again -- was unable to block a GOP filibuster against legislation extending unemployment benefits… And despite whatever President Obama says in his speech today on immigration reform at 10:50 am ET in DC, the legislative reality is that it won't happen this year. (Indeed, just consider how difficult financial reform, once viewed as a shoo-in for passage, has turned out to be.) So the question becomes: What are the chances next year, and is it simply a political tool for Democrats to try and create a wedge inside the GOP?

*** Immigration reform won't be easier in 2011: According to reform advocates, the prospects and the math don't necessarily get easier in 2011. For starters, there won't be that many Senate Republicans willing to back comprehensive immigration reform next year. In 2006, 23 GOP senators, including Arlen Specter, voted for the comprehensive immigration package that passed the Senate. But this year -- after the last two election cycles and after Specter's defection -- that number now stands at 11. And come next year, it will dwindle to seven (and that's if John McCain wins re-election). In addition, if Republicans win back the House this November, that would likely catapult conservative Rep. Lamar Smith (R) to be chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who is no champion of comprehensive immigration reform. And lastly, next year will bring us the start to the race for the GOP presidential nomination, and we're already hearing that Republicans aren't all that eager to have an immigration debate play out during those primaries because the politics will inevitably pull the primary conversation to the right. (Remember what the immigration debate did to the Republican presidential campaign debate in 2007-08.)

*** WWJMD? On the other hand, reform could end up being a win-win for everyone -- including the Obama White House (which would be looking to fulfill a campaign promise and mobilize Latino voters) and the Republican Party (which would want to make sure it wasn't digging its own demographic grave). "It's a win-win situation," Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg argues to First Read. "At some point, the Republican Party is going to have to abandon their anti-immigration views or they are going to be a minority party." Yet the key to all of this might very well be John McCain. If he wins his primary and re-election, does he once again become an important player on immigration reform? Or does he stand on the sidelines? What will John McCain do?

*** Raising Arizona: In addition to immigration reform, we're hearing that the other big component of Obama's speech this morning will concern Arizona's tough anti-illegal immigration law and the administration's likely lawsuit against the law. By the way, MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," which airs at 1:00 pm ET, will discuss immigration with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D).

*** Financial reform and remembering Robert Byrd: By a vote last night of 237-192, with three Republicans joining the Democrats, the House passed the reconciled financial reform legislation, NBC's Luke Russert reports. The Senate will take up the legislation the week of July 12 -- after the July 4 recess -- given that the chamber doesn't have the time to vote due to the memorial services for the late Robert Byrd, who lies in rest at the U.S. Capitol today. Per NBC's Kelly O'Donnell, a black-draped platform is already inside the Senate chamber this morning. As the hearse arrives outside the Capitol steps later this morning, it will be met by Byrd's current Senate staff "family." Then the coffin will be met at the top of the Capitol steps by Byrd's family. And then it's anticipated that Vice President Biden will lead his colleagues into the Senate chamber for a prayer by the chaplain.

*** 2012 watch: First Read has confirmed that the Democratic National Committee has chosen four cities to be the finalists for host of the party's 2012 convention, which will take place the week of Sept. 3. The four (in front-runner order): Charlotte, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Cleveland. Republicans have already selected Tampa, FL for their site, although that decision still must be ratified by the Republican National Committee. The GOP convention will take place the week of August 27. Everything we're hearing points to Charlotte as the front-runner -- given that it's a key city in a battleground state where the demographics are trending Democratic, while St. Louis is in a state where the state is slowly growing toward the Republicans. By the way, could the DNC find a way to use the losing convo cities in another way? One more wrench for the Democrats: They are restricting how much corporate money can be used in a city's bid and one of the four cities could end up having to drop out if they can't find the money. And here's a little trivia for you: In presidential contests, Democrats have not lost a state that hosted their convention since 1988 (Georgia), while Republicans haven't won a state that has hosted their convention since 1992 (Texas).

*** The politics of LeBron James: Here's a little Thursday fun, given LeBron James' free-agency, which is now official: He has turned into a political football, er, basketball. Keeping him in Cleveland has become an issue in Ohio's gubernatorial race (remember that Gov. Ted Strickland participated in that "We are LeBron" song). And the debate about the economic impact to downtown Cleveland is real. Also, what happens if James heads to Obama's Chicago? Or to Miami in the battleground state of Florida? New York Post even took a shot at New York politicians about the Miami prospect, since the one benefit for LeBron by signing with a Florida team is no state income tax.

Countdown to AL run-off: 12 days
Countdown to GA primary: 19 days
Countdown to OK primary: 26 days
Countdown to KS and MO primaries: 33 days
Countdown to CO and CT primaries: 40 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 124 days

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