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First Thoughts: What's next in the gun debate?

What’s next in the gun debate?... It all comes down to background checks… With immigration reform on the fast track, some GOP senators are trying to slow it down… Obama’s day in Israel… RNC report ignores social conservatives?... Rubio vs. Rand… (Not-so) Great Scott… And Mark Sanford advances -- and catches a break.

*** What’s next in the gun debate? It’s hardly surprising that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided not to include an assault-weapons ban in the gun legislation he’ll bring to the Senate floor next month (though it will be voted on as an amendment). After all, the votes were never there. But it’s also not surprising that gun-control advocates are disappointed. “Obviously I'm disappointed," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who authored the assault-weapons ban, said yesterday, per NBC’s Kasie Hunt. The New York Daily News also expresses this sentiment on its cover. “Shame on U.S.,” it states. So where does the gun legislation go from here? The New York Times takes a stab: “This month, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed four pieces of gun legislation: the straw purchasing measure; the assault weapons ban, which included limits on gun magazine sizes; a grant program for school security; and enhanced background checks for gun buyers. The Senate bill is likely to include the school safety measure, and it may be expanded to include the enhanced background checks. But Mr. Reid is weighing the relative merits of bringing that measure to the floor, which for now has limited support from Republicans.” 

T.J. Kirkpatrick / Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks to the press after the weekly Senate Democrats policy luncheon on March 19, 2013 in Washington, DC.

*** It all comes down to background checks: The fact that Reid is “weighing” whether to bring the universal background-check proposal -- supported by overwhelming majorities in polls and viewed by observers as the most realistic chance at reform -- has to trouble gun-control advocates. We are hearing it’s LIKELY that Reid will attach the background-check part to the eventual legislation. But this is the game, folks, and it’s always been the case: Background checks will define success or failure. As we said above, the assault-weapons ban never had a chance for passage, and folks will still get an opportunity to vote on it (which gives red-state Democrats a chance to vote against).

Sen. Rand Paul explains portions of his immigration reform plan on Tuesday while speaking at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Legislative Summit.

*** With immigration reform on the fast track, some GOP senators are trying to slow it down: Turning to the immigration debate… If you covered the issue from 2005-2007, the last time Congress considered immigration reform, it’s striking to see how the question has changed from “Does any kind of legal status = amnesty?” to “How are you defining a path to citizenship?” -- which was the question asked after Rand Paul’s immigration speech yesterday. Indeed, it’s hard to disagree with this New York Times take: “Republican opposition to legalizing the status of millions of illegal immigrants is crumbling in the nation’s capital as leading lawmakers in the party scramble to halt eroding support among Hispanic voters.” But there are still opponents to immigration reform out there, and they are saying right now: Let’s slow down. Yesterday, six GOP senators (Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Jeff Sessions, John Cornyn, Mike Lee, and Ted Cruz) sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy not to rush any legislation that the bipartisan “Group of 8” produces. “If we are serious about protecting our national interest and the best interests of American workers, we must provide all members of the Senate, and, most importantly, the public, a full and fair opportunity to become adequately informed,” they write. By the way, the fact that Rand Paul isn’t joining the Ted Cruzes and Mike Lees is pretty significant.

President Barack Obama delivers remarks shortly after arriving in Israel Wednesday.

*** Obama’s day in Israel: President Obama arrived in Israel earlier this morning. And as with all diplomatic events, what matters today isn’t necessarily what Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu say; rather, it’s how they say it. The goal -- for both -- is to appear to be on the same page. Another goal for Obama is to improve his own personal standing with Israelis and Palestinians (don’t ignore the role that domestic politics over the past four years played on Obama’s personal standing; the Israeli media follows domestic American politics very closely).

*** RNC report ignores social conservatives? In the debate over the new RNC “autopsy” report and its recommendations after the GOP’s losses in 2012, Buzzfeed makes an interesting point: The report leaves evangelical Christians and social conservatives behind. “Some leaders of the religious right are openly worried this week after a sprawling 98-page report released by the Republican National Committee on how the party can rebuild after its 2012 implosion made no mention of the GOP's historic alliance with grassroots Christian ‘value voters.’ Specifically, the word ‘Christian’ does not appear once in the party's 50,000-word blueprint for renewed electoral success. Nor does the word ‘church.’ Abortion and marriage, the two issues that most animate social conservatives, are nowhere to be found.”

*** Rubio vs. Rand: Meanwhile, don’t miss the piece by NBC’s Mike O’Brien looking at how Marco Rubio and Rand Paul -- both elected in 2010, both under the Tea Party banner, and both in the news recently -- are both jockeying in the 2016 spotlight. “Both senators have carefully worked to build their national profiles following the 2012 election, using high-profile opportunities to plot slightly different paths toward the same goal. On no issue is that more apparent than immigration.”

*** (Not-so) Great Scott: Here’s why Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is the most endangered governor in the country as we head into next year’s midterms: A Quinnipiac poll finds ex-Gov. Charlie Crist (D) leading Scott by a whopping 16 points (50%-34%) among registered voters in a hypothetical match-up. What’s more, Scott doesn’t break 50% in a hypothetical GOP primary against Ag Commissioner Adam Putman (47%-24%).

*** Sanford advances -- and catches a break: Lastly, as expected, former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, finished first in yesterday’s special GOP congressional primary, getting 37% of the vote. And here’s where he caught a break in the upcoming April 2 run-off: “Former Charleston County councilman Curtis Bostic held a slim lead over state Sen. Larry Grooms for second place. But the margin is so narrow, less than one percent, that it will trigger an automatic recount,” the AP reports. So for a run-off that’s now less than TWO WEEKS until now, there’s uncertainty over who Sanford might be facing, which only helps him. Politico notes that Bostic said in a telephone interview that he’s “moving forward with a runoff campaign against Sanford — recount or not.” Bostic, however, doesn’t live in the congressional district and doesn’t have much money, both of which could be problems. Make no mistake: Sanford has his work cut out for him; 63% of voters cast their ballot for someone other than him. But he has more than a shot of making his political comeback. On the Democratic side, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, finished in first as expected, but she would be the big underdog in the general election in this conservative district.

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