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First Thoughts: GOP miscalculates on filibuster?

GOP miscalculates on filibuster against gun legislation, especially as Newtown families begin to lobby Congress?.... Latest on the Manchin-Toomey talks… Too soon to read the 2014 tea leaves… Robin Kelly expected to cruise to victory in IL-2 special; polls close at 8:00 pm ET… Colbert Busch releases first TV ad of general election in SC-1… On the unbalanced “special relationship”… And Henry Clay wins First Read’s SENATE MADNESS contest.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to the press after the weekly Senate Republicans policy luncheon on March 19, 2013 in Washington, DC.

*** GOP miscalculates on filibuster? As the Senate is expected to consider gun-regulation legislation in the next few days, President Obama’s speech in Connecticut on Monday had one purpose: to shame Republicans vowing to filibuster the legislation. “When I said in my State of the Union address that these proposals deserve a vote … virtually every member of that chamber stood up and applauded,” Obama said. “And now they’re going to start denying your families a vote when the cameras are off and when the lobbyists have worked what they do? You deserve better than that. You deserve a vote.” We know why Senate Republicans want to filibuster the legislation (they want to block it, of course), and we know why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has joined the effort (he doesn’t want any opposition from the right as he runs for re-election next year). But it’s hard not to view the filibuster attempt as a potential strategic error just on the politics. Why? Because it paints the GOP as obstructionists, and it lowers the bar for victory for Obama (to simply beating the GOP filibuster). Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said as much over the weekend. “I don’t understand it,” he said. “What are we afraid of?…If this issue is as important as all of us think it is…why not take it up and debate?”

*** Especially as Newtown families begin lobbying Congress: And as these Newtown families begin lobbying -- NBC’s Kristen Welker says there are 11 family members in DC today pushing Congress for stiffer gun laws -- this obstruction strategy could end up backfiring, with some Republican senators who might not think this is worth the political capital. Remember, Senate Republicans already have a built in “pocket veto” of sorts on the legislation itself -- it’s called the Republican controlled House of Representatives. While we understand the base politics on this issue, this seems to be yet another way the GOP brand is getting tarnished with swing voters, even with voters who may be sympathetic with the pro-gun argument but are turned off by the idea of how politics is practiced in Washington right now.

*** Latest on the Manchin-Toomey talks: Meanwhile, NBC’s Welker reports that Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) are making PROGRESS on reaching a compromise on background checks, according to a source familiar with the talks (who puts the odds at success at 50%-50%). The compromise would require background checks for purchases at gun shows and on the internet -- but NOT for person-to-person sales.  The deal would also require sellers to keep a record of background checks. One other event of note today: At 2:00 pm ET, Vice President Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder deliver remarks at the White House to press Congress to enact gun-control changes.

*** Too soon to read the 2014 tea leaves: The Cook Political Report’s Charlie Cook examines the two competing narratives about the still-developing 2014 midterms. The first is that the GOP’s unpopularity and its tattered brand will dominate next year’s races, which would produce minimal gains/losses in the House and the inability for Republicans to win control of the Senate. The second narrative is that problems implementing Obama’s health-care law, as well as the incumbent party’s “six-year itch” performance, will hurt Democrats and possibly give the GOP an opening to retake the Senate. Cook’s ultimate conclusion: “At this point, it’s just wisest to watch over the next six or eight months to see which of these narratives seem to gain traction, or alternatively, if some other dynamic seems to be taking hold.” After all, in April of ’09, few could see that the GOP was poised for a historic midterm win about 20 months later. Similarly, in April of ’11 (when the unemployment rate was at 9%), few were expecting a decisive 2012 cycle for the Democrats.

*** But several moving 2014 parts: Still, there also are several moving 2014 storylines out there. One, it appears Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has two different primary challengers… Per the AP, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) might not run for Iowa’s open Senate seat… And in South Dakota, you have two Democrats potentially vying for that open seat (Tim Johnson’s son, as well as former Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin).

*** Kelly expected to cruise to victory in IL-2 special: Today, Chicago-area voters head to the polls in the special general election to fill the congressional seat vacated by former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL). And the Democratic nominee, Cook County Chief Administrative Officer Robin Kelly, is expected to easily win. For one thing, the district overwhelmingly leans Democratic. Secondly, as Roll Call writes, Republican nominee Paul McKinley is a convicted felon, serving nearly 20 years in state prison for burglary and aggravated battery. Polls close at 8:00 pm ET.

*** Colbert Busch releases first general-election TV ad: Speaking of special congressional elections, Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch is up with her first general-election TV ad in that South Carolina contest, and it’s a positive bio spot. “I’m Elizabeth Colbert Busch, and as a single mom raising three young children, I had to be independent and do what’s right for them. Now, I’m going to take that lesson to Congress,” she says in the ad. “I won't take any special-interest pledges or follow any party line. To create jobs in South Carolina, we need a well-educated and skilled workforce, and we need to get rid of government waste. The deficit is killing jobs.”

*** Unbalanced “special relationship”: It’s ambassador-picking season again, and top donors are likely to be part of the equation for plum posts once again. Ambassadors to the United Kingdom have so overwhelmingly been political appointees -- just one career diplomat has served as the top man in London in more than 200 years of the U.S. sending envoys to Britain. This is very different than the way the U.K. picks ambassadors to Washington. They are traditionally the best-of-the-best career diplomats. The one American Foreign Service Officer who’s held the post is Raymond Seitz under George H.W. Bush. Seitz is regarded as one of the best ambassadors to the U.K. post-World War II. One of us tracked him down and interviewed him on the state of play of doling out ambassadorships and looks at the reasons for the unbalanced “special relationship” when it comes to picking ambassadors. Seitz, by the way, now retired, is living in a small New Hampshire town, where he’s proudly the non-salaried deputy supervisor of the town dump. “It is a kind of political appointment,” he said, “but I take my duties seriously.”

*** Senate Madness -- The Winner: Henry Clay: Out of more than 4,500 votes cast yesterday, Henry Clay (“The Great Compromiser”) defeated Ted Kennedy (“The Last Lion”) in our Senate Madness contest pitting history’s most consequential senators. Thanks to everyone who participated in this fun -- and very educational -- exercise.

*** Who was Henry Clay? Henry Clay’s (D-R-Whig, 1777-1852) ability to navigate a fractured Senate is credited with fending off war between slave-owning and free states -- at least three times. He was pivotal in the negotiations in the creation of the Missouri Compromise, which allowed the United States to continue its Western expansion. For his efforts, Clay earned the nicknames “The Great Compromiser” and “The Great Pacificator.” How revered was he? Abraham Lincoln called him "my beau ideal of a statesman" and often used his quotes in his speeches. He was the first ever to receive the honor of being laid in state in the Capitol Rotunda. Clay also engineered the only censure of a president -- Andrew Jackson. Clay's death, which took place a decade before the Civil War's start, was regarded as the end of the Senate's "Golden Era."

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