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First Thoughts: Obama jumps back into the gun debate

Obama jumps back into gun debate with 11:40 am ET White House event… Obama, bipartisan group still optimistic on immigration reform… Could social conservatives bolt the GOP over gay marriage?... Big news out of Boston -- Menino won’t seek re-election as mayor… Judd takes a pass on KY SEN run… And more Senate Madness!

Larry Downing / Reuters

Vice President Joe Biden listens as President Barack Obama talks in the Oval Office of the White House, March 27, 2013.

*** Obama jumps back into the gun debate: With some GOP senators vowing to filibuster the legislation coming to the floor next month and with some analysts saying that reformers have already lost, President Obama today steps back into the gun debate with an event at the White House at 11:40 am ET. Per the White House, Obama will stand with mothers, law-enforcement officials, and Vice President Biden in urging Congress to take action on the upcoming Senate legislation, which includes universal background checks. As we have written before, those checks -- supported overwhelmingly in public opinion polls -- will ultimately define success or failure for gun-control advocates. Democrats, led by Sen. Chuck Schumer, are trying to get Republicans to back some type of compromise on background checks, given that the filibuster threat means 60 votes will be needed to even begin considering the legislation. That’s why Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns is airing TV ads in key states to also apply pressure. Meanwhile, Politico reports that Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top GOP lawmaker on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is drafting his own Republican gun bill (without background checks), which “could further complicate what will already be a difficult lift for Democrats and the White House.”

Democrats and the White House are facing increasingly long odds of passing tough gun control measures. Now, even tougher background checks – the centerpiece of the watered-down Democratic bill – may be in jeopardy. NBC's Mark Murray reports.

*** Obama, bipartisan group still optimistic on immigration reform: While Obama uses the bully pulpit today on guns, yesterday he used it on immigration by granting interviews to the top Spanish-language TV news outlets. “If we have a bill introduced at the beginning of next month -- as these senators indicate it will be -- then I'm confident that we can get it done certainly before the end of the summer,” Obama told Telemundo regarding the Senate bipartisan activity on immigration, per NBC’s Carrie Dann. “I'm optimistic,” he added. “I've always said that if I see a breakdown in the process, that I've got my own legislation. I'm prepared to step in. But I don't think that's going to be necessary. I think there's a commitment among this group of Democratic and Republican senators to get this done.” Speaking of that bipartisan group senators, four of them (Schumer, John McCain, Jeff Flake, and Michael Bennet) held a press conference yesterday in Arizona, where they also expressed optimism. “I’d say we are 90 percent there,” Schumer said, according to Roll Call. “We have a few little problems to work on; we’ve been on the phone all day talking to our other four colleagues who aren’t here. McCain chimed in: “Nobody is going to be totally happy with this legislation -- no one will be because we are having to make compromises, and that’s what makes for good legislation. It’s compromise that brings everybody together.”

*** Could social conservatives bolt the GOP over gay marriage? Over the past week, we’ve noted the relative silence from GOP lawmakers when it comes to the gay-marriage cases that the Supreme Court considered on Tuesday and Wednesday. The reason for the silence is easy to understand: Public opinion no longer appears to be on their side. The question is whether that silence could alienate social conservatives, a key part of the Republican Party’s base. Some aren’t too happy. “The silence was absolutely deafening and very disappointing to the millions of value voters that are in the party,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., told National Journal. And former Arkansas Gov. (and presidential candidate) Mike Huckabee warned that evangelicals could bolt the GOP if it eventually supports gay marriage. "They might. And if they do, they're going to lose a large part of their base because evangelicals will take a walk," he said in an interview. But writing for the New York Times, Tom Edsall doubts that social conservatives would bolt. “[T]he Republican Party can afford to marginalize Tony Perkins and other Christian right leaders because evangelical social conservatives, who make up more than a third of the Republican electorate, are not going to vote Democratic. Nor are they going to join an exodus to a third party. Rush Limbaugh to the contrary, they won’t stay home either.”

*** Big news out of Boston -- Menino won’t seek re-election as mayor: “Mayor Thomas M. Menino will announce at a Faneuil Hall event Thursday afternoon that he will not seek a sixth term in office, say officials familiar with his decision,” the Boston Globe writes. “Menino arrived at his decision late last week and reconsidered it for the last several days to be sure he felt comfortable following through, the ­officials said.” The Globe on a possible reason for his decision not to run: In recent months, Menino has endured a string of maladies that left him hospitalized for eight weeks at the end of last year. He was initially diagnosed with blood clots and a ­severe respiratory infection, and doctors later determined he fractured a vertebra and has Type 2 diabetes.” By the way, this means three of the country’s biggest cities -- New York, LA, Boston -- will all have new mayors this year. Menino’s announcement, per NBC affiliate WHDH, will take place at 4:00 pm ET. 

*** Judd takes a pass on KY Senate race: And in another announcement of not running, we learned yesterday that Ashley Judd is taking a pass on challenging Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. The biggest result from that announcement is that it denies the news media from making it the most-watched Senate contest in the country (due to Judd’s celebrity and McConnell’s position as GOP Senate leader). Democrats are now turning their hopes to Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, but we’re not so sure that she -- or another other Democrat -- will have a better chance of defeating McConnell in 2014, despite his underwhelming poll numbers. After all, Mitt Romney got more than 60% of the presidential vote in Kentucky in 2012, and that was a Democratic year. Democrats winning gubernatorial contests in Kentucky is one thing; winning Senate contests in the state is another.

*** Senate Madness -- results from yesterday’s contests: In the 19th Century region, Stephen Douglas and Sam Houston advanced… So did John Sherman Cooper and Richard Russell in the 20th Century region… In the Modern Era region, Ed Brooke upset Strom Thurmond and Hubert Humphrey also advanced… And in the Mixed Era region, Robert La Follette and George Norris moved on. See here and here for the results.

*** Senate Madness -- today’s first-round match ups: These are our final first-round contests. In our #3 and #14 seed match-ups, it’s Charles Sumner vs. Franklin Pierce (19th Century), Barry Goldwater vs. John Stennis (20th), Jesse Helms vs. Ted Stevens (Modern Era), and Hiram Johnson vs. Scoop Jackson (Mixed). And in the #6 and #11 seeds, it’s Jefferson Davis vs. James Buchanan (19th), Claude Pepper vs. Mike Mansfield (20th), Howard Baker vs. Joe Biden (Modern), and William Borah vs. Reed Smoot (Mixed).

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