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First Thoughts: Guns, immigration set to take center stage next month

Guns, immigration set to take center stage next month… The gun legislation (with a background check) is about to reach the Senate floor, but it has little to no bipartisan support (yet)… Meanwhile, immigration has plenty of potential bipartisan support, but no actual legislative language… Obama’s speech playing well in Israel… Obama holds presser with King Abdullah in Jordan at 11:45 am ET… Friday’s 2016 wrap… Guess who’s heading to South Carolina on Saturday? (Answer: Martin O’Malley.)… Could a joint Santorum-Newt ticket have beaten Romney?... And the result from our first Senate Madness contest: Lloyd Bentsen beats Phil Gramm. 

*** Guns, immigration set to take center stage next month: As USA Today notes, the ceasefire in Washington’s warfare over the budget has cleared the way for two big legislative priorities -- immigration and guns -- to take center stage when Congress returns in April from its Easter/Passover break. So after March’s thaw, April will shower us with big pieces of legislative activity. And the two priorities are progressing in different ways, each with their own challenges. On guns, NBC’s Kasie Hunt reports, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will bring a gun-regulation bill to the Senate floor that includes a universal background check. “This bill will include the provisions on background checks, school safety and gun trafficking reported by the Judiciary Committee," Reid said in a statement last night. But the question is whether Senate Democrats can find compromise on background checks to get GOP support to clear the 60-vote hurdles that have become all-too routine in the chamber. Quinnipiac polls taken recently show that universal background checks are VERY popular nationally (88% support them, including 85% of gun owners) and in states like Florida and Ohio. By the way, Sunday’s “Meet the Press” will have a discussion on guns with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and top NRA official Wayne LaPierre. 

Recommended: Budget battles - What you need to know

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Members of the group Casa In Action demonstrate for immigration reform in the Hart Senate Office Building March 21, 2013 in Washington, DC.

*** Gun legislation lacking bipartisan support, immigration lacking actual legislation: Meanwhile, the situation on immigration is the exact opposite: There is plenty of bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration (see the “Group of Eight,” Rand Paul, the RNC, even Raul Labrador), but there is no bill and no movement out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. As NBC’s Carrie Dann has reported, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy lamented, “Because we do not yet have legislative language to debate, the Senate Judiciary Committee will not be able to report a comprehensive immigration bill by the end of April, which was my goal.” So one priority (guns) has legislation that’s about to reach the Senate floor, but it has little to no bipartisan support yet. And a second priority (immigration) has plenty of potential bipartisan support, but there isn’t actual legislation yet. 

*** Obama’s speech playing well in Israel: So how is Obama’s speech from yesterday playing in Israel? It’s receiving positive feedback, especially in the Hebrew press. Here’s an example from Israel News Today (a translated summary of the Hebrew media): “‘You are not alone,’ uttered in Hebrew, is the most quoted excerpt in today’s headlines from the speech US President Barack Obama gave yesterday. In their commentary on the American president’s speech, all the journalists gush in their praise of Obama’s charisma and rhetorical skills. As Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronoth notes: ‘Obama invested all his rhetorical skill in the speech. His skills in this sphere are incredible: he sounded amiable when he wanted to sound amiable, passionate when he wanted to sound passionate, profound when he wanted to sound profound, amusing when he wanted to sound amusing. Every American president sets himself the goal of conquering the heart and mind of his audience. Obama conquered the audience by storm.’” One of Obama’s missions on this trip was to win over the Israeli public. And judging by the commentary, he’s gone a LONG way to change a stereotype of him (created in large part by domestic politics in the U.S.) that had crept into the Israeli intelligentsia.   

NBC's Mark Murray shares the latest 2016 presidential headlines.

*** Obama’s day in the Middle East: On the final full day of his overseas trip, Obama already laid wreaths and Herzl’s tomb and Rabin’s grave, and he toured Yad Vashem. Later today, he meets with Jordan’s King Abdullah and holds a press avail with him at 11:45 am ET, which could be interesting given Abdullah’s critical comments of the Muslim Brotherhood.  

*** Friday’s 2016 wrap: On Monday, Hillary Clinton released a video announcing her support for gay marriage… On Tuesday, Rand Paul delivered a speech on immigration reform, in which he appeared to back a path to citizenship… On Wednesday, Chris Christie said “he's undecided on whether the state should ban the controversial use of ‘gay conversion therapy,’ but the Republican governor still opposes same-sex marriage,” per the Star Ledger … On Thursday, the House approved -- on a mostly partyline vote -- the budget Paul Ryan drafted… And also on Thursday, Vice President Biden stood with NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and chided members of Congress for not being brave enough when it comes to gun control. "It must be awful, being in public office and concluding that even though you might believe you should take action that you can't take action because of the political consequence you face. What a heck of a way to make a living.”  

*** Guess who’s heading to South Carolina? And Iowa, too? The early 2016 news continues through the weekend. Tomorrow, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley heads to Charleston, SC to deliver a speech to the South Carolina Democratic Party. And in the next two months, Rick Santorum (on April 15), Rand Paul (May 10), and Scott Walker (May 23) will all be heading to Iowa.  

*** Could a joint Santorum-Newt ticket have defeated Romney? And for a little 2012 news, Bloomberg’s Josh Green reports that in the weeks leading up to the Michigan presidential primary, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich discussed forming a “unity” ticket as a way to topple Mitt Romney. But there was just one hitch: They couldn’t agree who would be at the top of the ticket. (It brings to mind the movie “My Fellow Americans.”) “‘We were close,’ former Representative Bob Walker, a Gingrich ally, says. ‘Everybody thought there was an opportunity.’ ‘It would have sent shock waves through the establishment and the Romney campaign,’ says John Brabender, Santorum's chief strategist.” More: “‘I was disappointed when Speaker Gingrich ultimately decided against this idea, because it could have changed the outcome of the primary,’ Santorum says. ‘And more importantly, it could have changed the outcome of the general election.’”  

*** Senate Madness -- Bentsen beats Gramm: In our inaugural match up of our Senate Madness contest, Lloyd Bentsen (R-Texas) beat Phil Gramm (R-Texas) -- by an online vote of 69%-31% -- for the right to be the #16 seed in our Modern Era region. That means that Bentsen will face off against #1 seed Ted Kennedy. We will unveil our entire Senate Madness bracket, as well as our first-round match ups, on Monday. 

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