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First Thoughts: April's shower of activity on Capitol Hill

Brace yourselves for April’s shower of activity on Capitol Hill… Waiting on Marco Rubio on immigration reform… Two paths for Obama’s upcoming budget… Will SCOTUS gay-marriage cases unleash chaos?...  Boehner, RNC blast Young, forcing him to apologize for slur… But as the GOP tries to improve its standing with Latinos, is it the tone or the policy?... SC-1 GOP run-off takes place tomorrow… And our second round of SENATE MADNESS begins!!!

NBC's Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro highlight the stories that will shape political news in April, including immigration, the gun control debate and the release of President Obama's budget.

*** April’s shower of activity on Capitol Hill: This month is shaping up to be a busy -- and consequential -- month in Washington. When Congress returns from its Easter/Passover break next week, the Senate is expected to consider the Democrat-backed gun legislation that a handful of GOP senators have threatened to filibuster (and that’s still missing Republican support). Also around the same time, the eight bipartisan senators working on immigration reform are on track to announce an agreement on the bill they’re drafting.  “I am very, very optimistic that we will have an agreement among the eight of us next week,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on “Meet the Press” yesterday. Added Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ): “We've still got a ways to go in terms of looking at the language and making sure that it's everything we thought it would be. But we're closer, certainly.” And on April 10, President Obama is scheduled to finally send his budget to Congress. Yet of these three different moving parts, the one we bet we’re still talking about come May and the summer is immigration reform. How April goes could very well determine if Obama signs that reform into law in the next few months.

Sen. Marco Rubio voices tempered optimism, but the Gang of 8 on Capitol Hill seems to be making progress on a guest worker plan. NBC's Tracie Potts reports.

*** Waiting on Marco Rubio: And that brings us to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), another member of the bipartisan group of senators working on immigration reform. As Schumer and Flake expressed optimism about its prospects, especially after organized labor and the Chamber of Commerce reached an important agreement on guest workers as part of the package, Rubio tapped the brakes. “I’m encouraged by reports of an agreement between business groups and unions on the issue of guest workers. However, reports that the bipartisan group of eight senators have agreed on a legislative proposal are premature,” he said in a statement issued yesterday. “We will need a healthy public debate that includes committee hearings and the opportunity for other senators to improve our legislation with their own amendments... In order to succeed, this process cannot be rushed or done in secret.” It’s a legitimate question to ask: What is Rubio up to here? If his role is to sell the legislation to conservatives, he can’t afford to be seen as rushing it through, so his tapping of the brakes is smart. On the other hand, if you’re an immigration-reform advocate, you have to be a bit concerned about the totality of the statements coming from him and office. (Remember, Rubio is a recent convert on comprehensive immigration reform.) Make no mistake: Rubio is the difference between the Senate bill getting 60 votes or 75 votes. And if it gets 75 votes, it has a MUCH better chance of clearing the House with a path to citizenship.

*** Two paths for Obama’s upcoming budget: As Obama is set to unveil his budget next week, it raises these two questions: Will it simply reaffirm what Senate Democrats recently passed? Or will it lay out a potential path to compromise with House Republicans? After all, White House budgets typically come BEFORE the Senate and House act on theirs. But Obama’s budget is coming AFTER the two chambers already passed their respective budgets. And it puts the White House in a bind. If it lays out a potential path to compromise (offering “chained CPI” on Social Security, for example), then that could tick off Senate Democrats who could wonder why they had to take the vote they did. But if it simply reaffirms what Senate Democrats produced, then that would open up the White House to criticism that it’s not trying to find a way forward in resolving Washington’s budget impasse. We’ll find out what message the White House is trying to send on April 10.

*** Supreme Chaos? On Sunday, LA Times columnist Doyle McManus made a smart point analyzing last week’s Supreme Court oral arguments on gay marriage. “If the Supreme Court decides the two gay marriage cases it heard last week the way most court watchers believe it will, expect legal and political chaos,” he writes assuming that the court essentially punts Prop. 8 back to California. McManus then asks, “What happens to two gay men who marry in New York and then move to Salt Lake City? Will they still be married? If they have children, will the kids have two parents under Utah law? And will their federal benefits, such as survivors' Social Security benefits, travel with them, even though they've moved to a state where their marriage isn't valid? Will they file their federal tax returns jointly but state returns separately? And don't even think about the issue of divorce. This kind of legal patchwork virtually guarantees that politicians in states that don't recognize gay marriage will be debating and legislating the issue for years, making for an even more confusing situation. The ensuing chaos could harm more than just gay couples; the Republican Party stands to lose too.”

Larry Downing / Reuters

The Capitol Dome is seen on Capitol Hill, Nov. 9, 2012. To the left is the U.S. House of Representatives.

*** Boehner, RNC blast Young, forcing him to apologize: After Rep. Don Young (R-AK) referred to immigrant laborers as “wetbacks” and after his non-apology for those remarks (“I meant no disrespect”), Republican leaders denounced Young on Friday. “Congressman Young’s remarks were offensive and beneath the dignity of the office he holds,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. “I don’t care why he said it – there’s no excuse and it warrants an immediate apology.” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus added, “The words used by Representative Young emphatically do not represent the beliefs of the Republican Party… Offensive language and ethnic slurs have no place in our public discourse.” Those statements prompted Young to offer an apology. "I apologize for the insensitive term I used during an interview in Ketchikan, Alaska.  There was no malice in my heart or intent to offend; it was a poor choice of words,” he said. The GOP criticism of Young, especially from the RNC, deserves a lot credit for a party trying to improve its standing with Latinos and minority voters. The rebuke was swift, and Young took a while to get the message. Perhaps he realized if he hadn’t issued the second -- and more complete -- apology there would have been calls for resignation?  

*** But is it the tone or the policy? Yet as Republicans try to improve their standing with Latinos, this LA Times piece is a sobering reminder for them. “Latinos, who have the lowest rates of health coverage in the country, are among the strongest backers of President Obama's healthcare law. In a recent national poll, supporters outnumbered detractors by more than 2 to 1. Latinos also overwhelmingly see guaranteeing healthcare as a core government responsibility, surveys show. Yet congressional Republicans continue to make repeal of the 2010 Affordable Care Act a top agenda item and have renewed calls for deep cuts in health programs such as Medicaid, which are very popular with Latinos.” And that raises this important question to consider: What’s more important for Republicans as they try to win over minority voters -- tone or policy?

*** SC-1 run-off takes place tomorrow: Tomorrow brings us the special GOP congressional primary run-off in South Carolina featuring former Gov. Mark Sanford vs. Curtis Bostic. And more and more, it looks like Sanford is well on his way toward winning the run-off. But does Sanford winning give Democrats a better-than-expected chance in the May 7 general? That’s a question that both Democrats and Republicans are asking themselves.

*** Senate Madness -- the 2nd round begins: Our Senate Madness contest continues, this time with second-round match-ups from our 19th Century and Mixed Era brackets. In the 19th Century, it’s #1 Daniel Webster vs. #8 William Seward, #4 Stephen Douglas vs. #5 Sam Houston, #3 Charles Sumner vs. #11 James Buchanan, and #2 John C. Calhoun vs. #7 Thomas Hart Benton… In the Mixed Era, it’s #1 Henry Clay vs. #9 Sam Ervin, #4 Robert La Follette vs. #12 George Norris, #6 William Borah vs. #14 Scoop Jackson, and #2 Henry Cabot Lodge vs. #7 Arthur Vandenberg. Tomorrow, we’ll feature the 2nd-round match-ups from the 20th Century and Modern Era brackets.

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