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First Thoughts: Obama dips his toes in the 2014 waters

Obama dips his toes in the ’14 waters… WH on guns: Let’s make a deal… Obama to give up 5% of his pay as sequester takes effect; who else will follow?... GOP’s return to social issues: Priebus hits Planned Parenthood, Cuccinelli defends anti-sodomy statute… And SENATE MADNESS enters the Elite 8.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

President Barack Obama looks out as House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (in red) points out toward the ocean during a Democratic fund raiser at the home of billionaire former asset manager Tom Steyer in San Francisco April 3, 2013.

*** Obama dips his toes in the 2014 waters: In his first events for the still-developing 2014 midterm cycle, President Obama hit a pair of fundraisers last night in California for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Mindful of all the GOP concern that Obama’s main focus is politics and the ’14 midterms (see the questions he received at that House GOP conference meeting just a few weeks ago), Obama went out of his way to emphasize the need to work with Republicans on guns, immigration, and the budget. “Look, my intention here is to try to get as much done with the Republican Party over the next two years as I can, because we can’t have perpetual campaigns,” he said at one of the fundraisers.  “I am looking to find areas of common ground with Republicans every single day.” But he also told the attendees that he wants to help Pelosi become speaker again. “I want her once again as a fully empowered partner for us to be able to move our agenda forward.” Obama put it more bluntly at the second fundraiser. “I would be dishonest if I didn’t say that it would be a whole lot easier to govern if I had Nancy Pelosi as speaker.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama will wrap up the final two of four fundraisers in the Bay Area for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the DNC, fulfilling the promise he's made to the Congressional Democrats to bank early campaign cash for 2014. The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports.

*** Why Obama had to start these fundraisers so early: Despite Obama’s insistence that he wants to work with Republicans on guns, immigration, etc., don’t be surprised if GOPers focus on WHERE he was not WHAT he said. If it had its druthers, we’re guessing the White House would have preferred to hold off on some fundraising for a bit. But there’s another reason why Obama agreed to these early funders.  The president had his own intra-party politics to worry about which. Some House and Senate Dems are nervous the president is more focused on raising money for Organizing for Action rather than help the party, so this is an attempt to quiet down those critiques. Also, the Obama campaign gave the DCCC and DSCC virtually no financial help in 2012, and the folks on Capitol Hill noticed. Today, Obama remains in California, where he hits two more fundraisers -- this time for the Democratic National Committee. 

*** Let’s make a deal: Speaking of that balance between Obama being his party’s leader but also a president who wants to sign bipartisan legislation, the White House signaled yesterday that it’s willing accept any kind of compromise on gun background checks that it can get. “What the president wants to sign is the strongest gun bill he can sign,” White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer said a Politico-sponsored breakfast yesterday. “What we have to make sure is that whatever we do is better than current law.”   To us, that’s a clear message to someone like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), essentially saying: “Take what you can get from Tom Coburn or any other Republican and just pass it.” It’s not every day the White House signals he’ll sign just about anything, as long as there is the smallest incremental improvement.  Sticking with the issue of guns, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy will sign his state’s gun-control legislation at noon ET, and Maryland appears poised to pass gun-control legislation, too. We said this earlier in the week and others are now picking up on it: While passing gun control might be a difficult feat in Washington, states (especially those controlled by Democrats) are having a much easier time.

*** Who else is going to give up their pay? In other White House-related news yesterday, we learned that Obama will return 5% of his salary to the U.S. Treasury at a time when other federal workers are being furloughed as part of the mandatory “sequester” cuts. This is purely a symbolic move by the president, but as the Washington Post’s Cillizza notes, it could put pressure on Republicans who are more than content that the sequester remains in place. How? For one thing, don’t be surprised if Obama’s action forces GOP leaders like John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Mitch McConnell if they also will return 5% of their salary to the U.S. Treasury. It’s a gambit, no doubt. But it’s a gambit that seemed to catch the GOP a bit off guard yesterday.

*** GOP’s return to social issues Remember when Republican elites were looking to downplay social issues (like gay marriage and abortion) as a way to broaden the party’s appeal? Well, as NBC’s Mike O’Brien writes, two high-profile Republicans in the last 24 hours were pushing hot-button social issues. RNC Chair Reince Priebus, whose “Growth and Opportunity Project” released last month recommended that the GOP be more “inclusive and welcoming,” wrote an op-ed in Red State blasting Planned Parenthood and accusing it of supporting “infanticide.” He wrote, “In the last election, Republicans were repeatedly asked about whether they supported cutting funding to Planned Parenthood. It’s time Democrats are asked whether they still support funding an organization that refuses to care for a newborn.” Folks, it’s not an accident that after the GOP has decided not to engage on gay marriage, the RNC chair is playing up abortion and Planned Parenthood. It looks like a way to appease social conservatives, who are still needed inside the GOP tent. However, the question is whether targeting abortion and Planned Parenthood is the best way to improve on the party’s struggles with female voters. But for now, realize this seems all about base politics with evangelicals.

*** Priebus hits Planned Parenthood, Cuccinelli takes on anti-sodomy statute: The other example yesterday of a high-profile Republican engaging on social issues came from Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli. The Washington Post: “Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has challenged a recent court ruling finding Virginia’s anti-sodomy law unconstitutional... A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled on March 12 that Virginia’s ‘Crimes Against Nature’ statute, which banned oral and anal sex, violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. One judge dissented, agreeing with a lower court that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas on sodomy laws applied only to consenting adults. The case in question involved a teenage girl and a 47-year-old man, William Scott MacDonald, who was convicted of soliciting a minor to commit a felony.” Cuccinelli’s campaign maintains that the challenge is all about “protecting children from sexual predators,” but because the statute in question bans all oral and anal sex, critics charge that it’s anti-gay. Two points here: 1) If Cuccinelli had resigned as AG, he wouldn’t have to be dealing with cases like this; and 2) he still hasn’t made a pivot to jobs and the economy, a la Bob McDonnell. By the way, don’t miss this campaign video by GOP LG candidate Pete Snyder that hits Dem Terry McAuliffe. In this crowded LG field, the GOP candidates are looking for ways to separate from the pack (and from Cuccinelli).

*** Senate Madness -- yesterday’s results: In the 19th Century, #1 Daniel Webster defeated #5 Sam Houston, and #3 Charles Sumner bested #2 John C. Calhoun… In the Mixed Era, #1 Henry Clay trounced #4 Robert La Follette, and #14 Scoop Jackson upset #2 Henry Cabot Lodge… In the 20th Century, #1 LBJ beat #12 Richard Russell, and #11 Mike Mansfield edged #2 Everett Dirksen… And in the Modern Era, #1 Ted Kennedy triumphed over #5 Hubert Humphrey, and #2 Daniel Patrick Moynihan beat #11 Joe Biden.

*** Senate Madness -- the Elite 8: In today’s match ups, Daniel Webster squares off against Charles Sumner in the 19th Century bracket, Henry Clay faces Scoop Jackson in the Mixed Era, LBJ goes toe to toe against Mike Mansfield in the 20th Century bracket, and Ted Kennedy battles Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the Modern Era.

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