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First Thoughts: The battle to define health care's implementation

The battle to define health-care’s implementation… Obama holds implementation event at 2:40 pm ET, while House Republicans hold another vote next week to repeal the law… When a talking point isn’t a talking point… The Gang of Eight sticks together during first day marking up the immigration legislation… Rand Paul speaks in Iowa tonight, and he represents the anti-“compassionate conservative” crowd… Bosom Buddies: Biden talks up his relationship with Obama… First Read’s weekly 2016 round-up… And grinding things to a halt.

Deborah Cannon / AP

President Barack Obama speaks during a visit to the Applied Materials facilities in Austin, Texas, Thursday, May 9, 2013.

*** The battle to define health care’s implementation: In recent weeks, President Obama has stressed the importance of the health-care law’s implementation at a Planned Parenthood conference, and he also argued at a White House news conference that implementation affects just a fraction of Americans (mostly the uninsured). Today, he returns to the topic when he holds a 2:40 pm ET event -- with women and families, just before Mother’s Day -- on the health-care law that’s fully up and running by next year. Per the White House, the audience for this event will consist of representatives from women’s organizations who “will help amplify the benefits of the Affordable Care Act for women and help us communicate … the benefits that are now available to them and their families.” This comes, of course, as Republicans are doing the opposite: emphasizing how chaotic the implementation will be. As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday, “The president should rethink the purpose of this event. I hope he will use it instead as a platform to prepare women for the actual consequences many of them will soon face under Obamacare.” This also comes as House Republicans will vote next week to repeal the health-care. GOP leaders say this will be the 38th vote to repeal or replace parts of the health-care law (four of which were changes that the president signed into law), according to NBC’s Frank Thorp.

*** The name of the game: getting Americans to enroll: As we’ve indicated before, this is a different type of campaign and policy fight. White House will be doing events like today a lot more between now and April 2014 (the end of the enrollment period). The name of the game for them is convincing younger HEALTHIER uninsured Americans to enroll. Why? Because without younger healthier Americans, the numbers don’t work. As for the GOP, this is their last shot at stopping this law, and they know it. Once it’s in place and Americans are enrolled, they’ll have a harder and harder time trying to unwind it. Time is not on their side.

*** When a talking point isn’t a talking point: The news today on the Benghazi front once again puts the spotlight on Hillary Clinton’s State Department. The issue in question appears to be just how active the State Department was in trying to rewrite the talking points in the hours and days after the attack. Both the Weekly Standard and ABC News have versions of the same story, quoting specific email exchanges between the CIA, the White House, and State suggesting it was the State Department that kept insisting on revisions. While the politics of this continues to get ugly -- especially as it relates to conservative groups targeting Hillary Clinton, the latest is from Karl Rove’s American Crossroads -- every day creates more questions for Clinton’s State Department. So expect more Republicans to do what Speaker Boehner did yesterday (calling on the White House to release all emails related to the incident) or what Sen. Lindsey Graham did as well (calling on Clinton to come back and testify before Congress).

*** The Gang sticks together -- so far: NBC’s Carrie Dann covers the first day of the Senate Judiciary Committee marking up the Gang of Eight’s bipartisan immigration legislation. Bottom line: The legislation was largely kept intact. “As expected, Democrats on the 18-member Senate Judiciary Committee were joined by two Republican members of the bipartisan Gang of Eight in opposing the most stringent border security amendments offered by opponents of the bill, ranging from a massive influx of boots on the ground at the nation’s southern border to delays to the program that would make undocumented immigrants eligible for a probationary legal status.” More: “But the panel also adopted a total of 21 amendments, including eight proposed by Republicans. Those included measures to beef up oversight of the legislation’s implementation, offer greater flexibility to the Department of Homeland Security to allocate funds for technology and infrastructure, and include private landowners in a task force consulting on border security.” As leading opponent Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), said: “The Gang stuck together – as we’d been told they would – on anything that significantly impacted their legislation that they drafted with their friends.”

*** Enter Rand Paul: Still almost 1,000 days before the first votes in the 2016 contest, Republicans right now are split into two camps about how to move forward after their two-straight presidential losses. The first camp -- highlighted by all the George W. Bush nostalgia from his presidential library opening last month -- wants the GOP to return to “compassionate conservatism.” These are the people (think Jeb Bush, the Bush campaign alums, the RNC, and Marco Rubio) who support comprehensive immigration reform, believe the party must do a better job of appealing to minorities, and think there’s a role for government (albeit not as much as Democrats do). The other Republican camp largely found its voice in REACTION to the Bush years and President Obama. These folks don’t believe in a role for government; they’re suspicious (if not downright hostile) to military force; and they don’t think it’s a priority for the GOP to woo minority voters. Representing this camp is former presidential candidate Ron Paul and his son Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who speaks tonight at the Iowa GOP’s Lincoln Day dinner in Cedar Rapids, IA. You could call this second camp -- which includes Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) -- the anti-“compassionate conservatives.”

*** Can a small political machine conquer the GOP? Politico has a different story on Paul: Can his relatively small team have success in 2016, if he runs? “When Rand Paul touches down in Iowa Friday, it will be almost exactly three years to the day after his landslide 2010 Senate primary victory – an unlikely and decisive triumph over the Republican establishment that instantly transformed Paul into a national political phenomenon. Now, as Paul weighs a 2016 presidential bid, a different kind of challenge confronts him: Can the plain-spoken former Bowling Green ophthalmologist build a campaign to back up his popular appeal? For all Paul’s success as a media brand and a mobilizer of the conservative grassroots, the Kentucky senator has done relatively little since 2010 to assemble a political machine around his own personality. For now, the Rand Paul project is a high-wire act that works largely without a net.”

*** Bosom Buddies: In other 2016 news, Vice President Biden spoke to historian Douglas Brinkley for an article in Rolling Stone, and the gist Biden gives Brinkley: “Look at how close Obama and I are.” As Brinkley writes, “Never before have a president and vice president been as close personally and professionally as Barack Obama and Joe Biden – just think about the past 80 years. FDR switched out VPs with the regularity of a farmer rotating his crops. Harry Truman had little use for the lightweight Alben Barkley. Dwight Eisenhower never really trusted Richard Nixon... Of course, Al Gore and Dick Cheney were formidable presences in the past two White Houses. But by the time both of those men left Washington, their relationships with their bosses were strained.” Biden tells Brinkley in the interview: “I spend an average of four to five hours a day with him, every single day… Literally, every meeting he has, I'm in. You don't have to wonder what the other guy's thinking; I don't have to guess where the president's going. So it's been really great.”

*** First Read’s weekly 2016 round-up: After the Benghazi hearing Wednesday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) landed back in the GOP crosshairs after a four-year hiatus... But she’s still leading potential GOP contenders Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Bob McDonnell (R-VA) in potential 2016 matchups in their home states, despite their over-60% approval ratings, according to new NBC/Marist polls... Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) took aim at Clinton on FOX and in a USA Today op-ed… The political world discovered that Christie had lap-band surgery, and he also told NBC’s Brian Williams: “I'll worry about the presidency if and when I ever decide to run for it. But if you're saying to me, how do I feel as a Republican? I'm a damn good Republican and a good conservative”  … Vice President Joe Biden (D) told a Sierra Club volunteer that he was against the Keystone Pipeline but, he added, “I am in the minority.” … Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R-LA) voucher plan was struck down by the Louisiana Supreme Court … Martin O’Malley is dealing with the fallout of a prison scandal and he went nose-to-nose with the Dalai Lama. No word if he gave him a Flacco jersey, too. … New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) went on air with his “Clean Up Albany” campaign that sounds and looks like a message one could hear from a presidential candidate… And Paul Ryan (R-WI) criticized progressivism and again said Republicans have to do a better job selling their agenda to the nation.

*** Grinding things to a halt: Yesterday, we noted that there were some mixed numbers when it comes to measuring the state of the Republican Party’s brand. On the one hand, our NBC/Marist poll found the GOP with an upside-down fav/unfav in the crucial state of Virginia, 37%-53%, and a Pew poll found respondents blaming Republicans by 20 points (42%-22%) for failing to better work with President Obama on key issues. On the other hand, the same Pew survey showed the Republican Party either even or slightly ahead of Democrats on top issues like guns, the economy, and immigration. But here’s a legitimate question to ponder: Is the GOP’s full-scale obstruction is the best way to improve the party’s long-term standing? Consider all the recent activity, per CQ Roll Call’s David Hawkings: Senate Republicans have blocked Obama’s nomination to head the Labor Department, Tom Perez, from moving to the floor; Senate Republicans also BOYCOTTED a hearing to prevent advancement of Gina McCarthy’s nomination to lead the EPA; and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner announced their refusal to name recommendations to serve on the federal health-care law’s Independent Payment Advisory Board. Several years ago, any of these stories would have been closely scrutinized news. Now? They’ve become routine.

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