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First Thoughts: Jeb Bush lays down his marker

Jeb Bush lays down his marker… Don’t make TOO MUCH of Bush’s opposition to a path to citizenship (he worked on the book before that bipartisan Senate framework was announced)… The sequester’s political radioactivity and why Obama waved the white flag… NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews John Kerry… Bipartisan deal on legislation to curb gun trafficking… Another miss by a conservative media outlet?... Primary day in L.A. mayoral race… And Dems hit Cuccinelli with new website.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd talks with former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., about immigration, the GOP party and whether he will run for president in 2016.

*** Jeb Bush lays down his marker: With his new book and all the interviews he’s given over the past 24 hours (including to NBC News), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is sending the signal he wants to be a key player in the political debates about immigration and the future of the Republican Party. And he’s not ruling out a potential 2016 bid, either. “I’ve accomplished some things in my life that allow me now to have that kind of discretion to be able to think about [a White House bid],” Bush told one us yesterday. Think about it: Had Hillary Clinton said what Bush did -- that is, leaving the 2016 door wide open -- it would have produced a political earthquake in Washington. Now this doesn’t mean that Bush will run (he still has to contend with his last name and being out of politics since 2006). And it also doesn’t mean he’d clear the field if he does run (but he would probably start out as the front-runner). But what Bush is doing is essentially saying, “Save a seat for me at the table,” whether it’s 2016 or the GOP’s future. And it is significant that, after nearly a decade of some Republicans asking (even begging) for Jeb to truly step into the national spotlight, he’s finally saying yes. Make no mistake: Every major Republican donor and power player in the country who prefers to be with a front-runner than a longshot now has to wait to see what Jeb’s going to do before signing on with someone else.

*** Don’t make TOO MUCH of Bush’s opposition to a path to citizenship: The big policy news from Bush’s new book on immigration reform, as well as from his numerous media interviews, is that he apparently opposes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. That pathway is something he’s supported in the past, and something that the bipartisan group of senators pushing for comprehensive reform has advocated. But as Bush points out, he was working on this book well before that bipartisan group produced its immigration framework containing a path to citizenship. “Remember this is a proposal that we attempted to put out prior to the election, to create a consensus for conservatives to actually get in the game,” Bush said in his interview with NBC News. (As National Journal’s Beth Reinhard writes, “In other words, Bush's party unexpectedly moved a lot faster than the book publishing world.”)  Bush also said that a path to citizenship -- if it’s included in the final legislation -- isn’t a deal-breaker for him. “I think we need comprehensive reform. And if there is a path to citizenship that has enough of a realization that we have to respect the rule for law, then so be it.” Bush seems to be tacitly admitting that he was trying to craft a proposal that would get broad support from Republicans. As it turns out, many in the GOP moved faster to the citizenship idea than Bush thought.  For more on where Bush sees the GOP, his brother’s legacy, Rick Scott, the Cuban-American vote in Miami and more, see the full interview on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” later this morning.

Eric Gay / AP

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush talks about education as he addresses the Texas Business Leadership Council, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Austin, Texas.

*** The sequester’s political radioactivity: Want another reason why President Obama waved the white flag in the budget battle over the sequester, as well as the possibility of a government shutdown? A new CBS poll shows that Americans -- by just five percentage points -- place more blame on congressional GOPers (38%) for the difficulty in reaching a deal than on Obama (33%). In other words, Obama was only going to get hurt in a protracted battle with Republicans. Sure the GOP would be hurt more, but Obama would be dragged down. Our NBC/WSJ poll from last week seemed to suggest that. And this CBS survey backs that up. Watch for more of the White House pivot on to new topics later this week.

*** Andrea Mitchell’s interview with John Kerry: In an interview, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell presses newly installed Secretary of State John Kerry why the U.S. has not armed Syrian rebels. Kerry responded, “The president has put in place sanctions, the president has led an effort to try to pull together the Syrian opposition, identify it, clarify it- get it unified, to speak with one voice, and NOW the president has raised the American engagement to the level of giving directly to the Syrian opposition and the Syrian military.” He also continued to call for a “diplomatic resolution,” urging Assad to “negotiate.” “The president is also, I think, determined to make sure that the United States do its part going forward to help define a diplomatic resolution,” Kerry said. “We don't want this killing. President Assad could quickly decide to come to the table and negotiate.” On Iran, Kerry said, “President Obama's preference clearly stated, is to ask the Iranians to come to the table in good faith, in mutual respect and do what they say they're doing.” And on Dennis Rodman and North Korea, Kerry quipped, “Dennis Rodman was a great basketball player, and as a diplomat, he was a great basketball player. And that's where we'll leave it.”

*** Bipartisan deal on legislation to curb gun trafficking: A bipartisan group of senators has reached a deal on a bill that would make it a federal crime to buy a gun for someone who isn't legally allowed to own one, NBC's Kasie Hunt reports. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy announced the agreement on the Senate floor last night. As Hunt explains, illegal gun “straw” purchases -- made by a buyer on behalf of someone who cannot pass a background check -- are often not prosecuted under current law, usually because conducting such a sale yields such a weak penalty. "Instead of a slap on the wrist or treating this like a paperwork violation, these crimes under our bill would be punishable by up to 25 years in prison," said Republican Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who is a co-sponsor of the legislation. Other co-sponsors are: Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). Hunt adds that the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the trafficking bill on Thursday, when it also plans to consider three other pieces of gun control legislation -- an assault-weapons ban, a school-safety measure and a bill to require background checks for all gun buyers. By the way, after some momentum, there is some concern among supporters of the expanded background check bill that attempts to get a broad bipartisan consensus in the Senate is losing speed.

As he starts a tour to publicize his new book about immigration reform, former Florida governor Jeb Bush is initiating a tough conversation about his party's inability to reach minority voters. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

*** Another miss by a conservative media outlet? Just a couple of weeks ago, it was the debunked Friends of Hamas story. Now it’s this, via the Washington Post. “An escort who appeared on a video claiming that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) paid her for sex has told Dominican authorities that she was instead paid to make up the claims and has never met or seen the senator, according to court documents and two people briefed on her claim. The woman said a local lawyer had approached her and a fellow escort and asked them to help frame Menendez and a top donor, Salomon Melgen, according to affidavits obtained by The Washington Post.” While this news doesn’t exculpate Menendez from his ties to Melgen and while the conservative Daily Caller is standing behind its original story about the prostitutes, this Washington Post story is a reminder about the important role the Mainstream Media still plays. Beat up the MSM all you want, but there’s a reason why even partisan sides wait and see if the MSM can confirm stories in the anything-goes world of partisan websites. The MSM actually has the resources to check out a story. And trust us, many a news organization didn’t just take someone’s word for it regarding Menendez -- we checked it out. And now we know why no significant news organization could verify the claims. Ironically, had Menendez himself not brought up the specifics of the allegations against him, there would even have been serious coverage of these prostitution allegations.

*** I Love L.A. (We love it!): Bored with the battle over sequester? Want instead a race involving accusations of corruption, bankruptcy, gender politics, Will Ferrell, grave-digging, even drilling for oil in Beverly Hills? Then pay attention to today’s free-for-all primary in Los Angeles’ mayoral contest, where these backs-and-forths have been taking place for weeks, as one of us wrote yesterday. The race to succeed term-limited L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pits City Councilman Eric Garcetti (D), City Controller Wendy Greuel (D), conservative talk-show host Kevin James (R), and City Councilwoman Jan Perry (D). If no one gets more than 50% of the vote, the top-two finishers -- regardless of party -- advance to a May 21 runoff. A recent USC/L.A. Times poll found Garcetti as the narrow front-runner with 27%, just ahead of Greuel at 25%. Polls close at 11:00 pm ET.

*** Dems hit Cuccinelli: As Politico writes, the Virginia Democratic Party is out with website hitting Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli for his national ambitions, including speaking at an Iowa dinner and at CPAC later this month. The website’s not-so-subtle suggestion: Cuccinelli is more interested in his national ambitions than Virginia. Since he first ran for governor in 2009, Republicans have hit Terry McAuliffe for not being enough of a Virginian. But this seems to be the counter to that – that Cuccinelli is more interested in the national scene than Virginia. And Cuccinelli brought this attack upon himself by his decision to have a national rollout for his book, including interviews in some of the key presidential primary states. This book rollout has been a bit sloppy.

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