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First Thoughts: Boston becoming a political football

Boston becoming a political football -- this time regarding intelligence… GOP establishment fully pushing immigration with new TV ad featuring Rubio… Rand Paul’s flip-flop on drones?… Bush on his relationship with Dick Cheney: “You know, it’s been cordial”… Tuesday’s big 2014 developments: 1) Baucus isn’t seeking re-election, and 2) Kim Reynolds says no to IA SEN bid… And Mark Sanford is still talking about that trespassing charge.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill, April 23, 2013.

*** Boston becoming a political football: Last week, we told you that Washington was biding its time before diving into the politics of Boston. Well, here’s the splash as it relates to intelligence gathering. The Boston Globe: “Russian authorities contacted the US government with concerns about Tamerlan Tsarnaev not once but ‘multiple’ times, including an alert it sent after he was first investigated by FBI agents in Boston, raising new questions about whether the FBI should have paid more attention to the suspected Boston Marathon bomber, US senators briefed on the investigation said Tuesday.” NBC’s Pete Williams cautions that FBI officials are insisting -- again -- that they were contacted about Tamerlan Tsarnaev only once, in early 2011, by the Russian intelligence service, which said it had reason to believe that he was becoming a follower of radical Islam. Nevertheless, when you have U.S. senators alleging that the FBI was contacted “multiple” times, you have a situation that’s turned into a political football.

*** Hindsight is always 20-20, of course: There also are questions being raised by lawmakers about “stove-piping” -- that is, intel agencies not sharing information. But how much of this is hindsight and how much of this is truly a systemic problem? And let’s not forget the personal liberties issue. Just how much was the FBI supposed to be tracking someone that they had no hard (or even soft) evidence of becoming a terrorist threat? It’s very possible the FBI came to a reasonable conclusion that the Russian warning was as much about them harassing a Chechen as it was anything else. That said, one potential policy change to keep an eye on, post-Boston, is increased surveillance on those who traffic in any kind of radical Islamic rhetoric on social media. And that, of course, will usher in another debate about the line between personal liberties and security.

*** GOP establishment fully pushing immigration reform: On immigration, the group Americans for a Conservative Direction -- led by Haley Barbour, former Jeb Bush Chief of Staff Sally Bradshaw, Facebook’s Joel Kaplan, Dan Senor, and Rob Jesmer -- is up with a TV ad selling immigration reform to Republicans. And the ad features Sen. Marco Rubio, who says, “Anyone who thinks what we have right now on immigration is fooling themselves. What we have in place today is de-facto amnesty.” A narrator then adds, “Conservative leaders have a plan -- the toughest enforcement measure in the history of the United States.” And the narrator concludes, “Stand with Marco Rubio to end de-facto amnesty.” Per the Tampa Bay Times, the seven-figure ad buy will air statewide in Florida, plus markets in Texas, Utah, North Carolina, Iowa, and Kentucky.” If you wanted another example how the GOP establishment is fully behind immigration reform, it’s this ad. More importantly, the ad is targeted in states with key Republican senators who could either torpedo immigration (Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul), or help it get to 75 votes (Orrin Hatch, John Cornyn, Richard Burr, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley).

*** Bush on his relationship with Cheney: “You know, it’s been cordial”: A day before the dedication of George W. Bush’s presidential library, C-Span has this sound of the former president talking about his relationship with Dick Cheney. “You know it’s been cordial — but he lives in Washington and we live in Dallas.” More: “One of the saddest things about departing Washington is that you miss your pals and a lot of people were there for all eight years and I became good friends with them, like Vice President Cheney. …  You know, I just I don’t see him — much. And I don’t see many of the people I worked with much and it’s kind of sad. It’s great to be in Texas, however.” And then: “I really don’t miss Washington. … “So while we’ve got friends in Washington I’m not all that friendly to Washington.” For what it’s worth, Cheney has no real role in the library and museum. While Bush veterans like Andy Card, Josh Bolten and Condi Rice are among the Bushies who do videos and have roles in the interactive portions of the Bush library, there’s nothing from Cheney, although he will be in attendance tomorrow.

*** 2016 alert: Rand Paul’s flip-flop on drones? There’s some trouble in Paul Land. Here’s Foreign Policy: “Ron Paul's vibrant fan base is in open rebellion today over Rand Paul's perceived reversal on domestic drone strikes. The Kentucky senator, whose famous 13-hour Senate floor filibuster did much to strengthen his ties with his father's hardcore following, told Fox Business Network on Tuesday he's OK with drone strikes on American citizens who, for instance, rob a liquor store. ‘I've never argued against any technology being used when you have an imminent threat, an active crime going on,’ Paul said. ‘If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and fifty dollars in cash. I don't care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him.’” Paul later released this statement: "My comments last night left the mistaken impression that my position on drones had changed. Let me be clear: it has not. Armed drones should not be used in normal crime situations. They only may only be considered in extraordinary, lethal situations where there is an ongoing, imminent threat. I described that scenario previously during my Senate filibuster.”

*** Tuesday’s big 2014 developments: Yesterday should have been a high-five day for the Republican Party in its quest to pick up the six Senate seats needed to win the majority in 2014. First, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) announced he wasn’t running for re-election, thus giving Republicans a prime pick-up opportunity in a state where Obama won just 42% of the vote in 2012. But just minutes later, Democrats were able to counter that popular ex-Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer is leaning toward running for the vacant seat, while the GOP still hasn’t found a top-notch candidate. Then after that, the GOP received its own bad news: As NBC’s Alex Moe first reported, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds decided not to run for the seat vacated by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). So with Rep. Tom Latham passing on a Senate bid, and with Rep. Steve King appearing to lean against it, the Reynolds news means that Republicans will likely have to turn to second- and third-tier candidates in the Hawkeye State.

*** Examining the GOP’s IA-MT-SD path: The GOP’s path to winning the Senate goes directly through the Midwest/Mountain West. Republicans have to win AT LEAST two of the three of Iowa, Montana, and South Dakota to pick up those six Senate seats. They look good in South Dakota, where they have former Gov. Mike Rounds already in the race. But they’re now dipping into their second tier of candidates in Iowa, where Democrats have already recruited a top candidate in Rep. Bruce Braley. And in Montana, Democrats right now appear more prepared to land a good candidate (Schweitzer) than Republicans do, although that is still far from settled. But if you were to tell Republicans that -- all before April 30, 2013 -- they would have three open seats in Iowa, South Dakota and Montana, Mitch McConnell might already be measuring the drapes in the Senate majority leader’s office. But all three things have happened, and only one of those races looks like a good bet for a GOP pickup. Then again, it’s April 2013…

*** Sanford still talking about that trespassing charge: You know the saying: When you’re in a hole, stop digging. But Mark Sanford doesn’t appear to be following that advice. “First Congressional District candidate Mark Sanford, who previously has said he was in his ex-wife’s home Feb. 3 because he didn’t want his youngest son to watch the Super Bowl alone, said Tuesday for the first time that a second son was at the home, too.”

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