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First Thoughts: Hillary fully steps out of Bill Clinton's shadow

Hillary fully steps out of Bill Clinton’s shadow… But a reminder how Bill can immediately grab headlines: Politico reports on how he disagrees with Obama on Syria… Social conservatives gather in DC… Why Republicans are struggling when talking about abortion -- they don’t have good answers explaining why they oppose exceptions to rape/incest/health of mother… Snowden charges that the U.S. hacks into China’s computers… And a conservative group comes to Gomez’s aid in MA SEN.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talks about the need to provide more economic opportunities for women while speaking in Chicago Thursday.

*** Hillary fully steps out of Bill Clinton’s shadow: Today beginning at 10:00 am ET, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton share the stage together at the Clinton Global Initiative gathering in Chicago -- a town that used to be associated with Hillary but that is now more associated with the current occupant of the White House. (Think of today as the debut of Hillary’s courtship of Obama’s Chicago.) And if you’ve followed Hillary’s career since she became a national figure in 1992, something pretty remarkable has happened over the past four years: She now, more than ever before, has a political brand and identity that’s separate from her husband’s. And that’s a pretty powerful development when thinking about 2016, because it means she’s not as associated with any potential baggage (Lewinsky, Marc Rich, etc.) as she was when she ran for president in 2008. “In '08, she was coming out of Bill’s shadow,” said one Democratic strategist who worked on her presidential campaign. “Now there is no shadow in the world big enough to cover her.” The reasons for this separate and distinct brand come from her holding one of the biggest jobs in the world as secretary of state; from her stepping away from domestic politics; and from her quick embrace of -- and loyal work for -- President Obama since losing the Democratic nominating fight. “People have gotten to see her in a different way,” the Democratic strategist adds. During the 2008 campaign, Bill Clinton at times was Hillary’s greatest asset and liability all rolled up into one. Come 2016, the Big Dog’s shadow won’t see so large. And yet…

Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images file photo

Former first lady and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks with her husband former president Bill Clinton as they attend the opening ceremony of the George W. Bush Presidential Center April 25, 2013 in Dallas, Texas.

*** Bill Clinton disagrees with Obama on Syria: Bill Clinton can still immediately grab headlines and stir up controversy -- for anyone. Just look at this latest piece from Politico: “Bill Clinton told Sen. John McCain [at a closed-press event yesterday] he agrees that President Barack Obama should act more forcefully to support anti-Assad rebels in Syria, saying the American public elects presidents and members of Congress ‘to see down the road” and ‘to win.’” More from the piece: “The former president also said commanders-in-chief should be mindful of looking like ‘a total fool’ by over-interpreting public opinion polls about whether the United States should get involved in crises overseas.” Set aside the personal annoyance some in the White House might have with Clinton siding with one of Obama’s former adversaries, it’s worth noting how Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s own experiences are actually dictating their positions on Syria. For Clinton, he regrets not intervening in Rwanda and had success in Bosnia; for Obama, he’s learned from the lessons of Iraq and Libya that intervening can be messy -- especially when there doesn’t seem to an end game. By the way, our most recent NBC/WSJ poll showed that the American public is VERY skeptical about intervening in Syria. Just 15% say they favor U.S. military action; 11% want to provide arms to the opposition; 42% prefer to provide only humanitarian assistance; and 24% believe the U.S. shouldn't take any action. Foreign Policy's Gayle Tzemach Lemmon takes a look at the White House's current deliberations on Syria and comes to the conclusion that while there is a divide among some in the administration on this  issue, it’s Obama, personally, driving the policy.

*** Social conservatives gather in DC: The Clinton Global Initiative conference in Chicago -- where New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks on Friday -- isn’t the only place where potential 2016ers will be speaking over the next couple of days. The Faith & Freedom Coalition, the Ralph Reed-founded group of social conservatives, is holding its “Road to Majority” conference in DC. Speaking today -- beginning at noon ET -- are Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rand Paul (R-KY), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Mike Lee (R-UT). On Friday, featured speakers include former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC). And on Saturday, the featured speakers are Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former presidential candidate Herman Cain, Virginia Lt. Gov. nominee E.W. Jackson, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Just sayin’, but if you needed a starker example of how Chris Christie is, well, a different kind of Republican these days, just look at where he’s NOT going: to Washington for the Faith & Freedom event.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., talks about pregnancies due to rape at a House markup of an unborn child protection act Wednesday.

*** Why Republicans are struggling when talking about abortion: Speaking of social conservatives… .Democrats are jumping all over Rep. Trent Franks’ (R-AZ) comment on Capitol Hill that the incidences of pregnancy as a result of rape “are very low.” A new DNC memo says Franks’ words are “echoing similar comments made last year by Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin.” And the Democratic Super PAC American Bridge has re-launched its “It’s Not Just Akin” website. But it’s important to note that what Franks said is a bit DIFFERENT than Akin. As New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait writes, “Franks didn't say the ‘rate’ of pregnancy from rape is low. He said the ‘incidence’ is low. He didn't say it's hard to get pregnant when you're raped. He said rape-induced pregnancy doesn't happen very often.” Yet the bigger political story here is that Republicans have a SERIOUS problem when talking about why they oppose exceptions to anti-abortion laws -- on the basis of rape, incest, or the health of the mother. Not too long ago, Republicans seemed to have mastered talking about abortion, keeping Democrats on the defensive on this issue. But many of them no longer have a good answer why they oppose the rape/incest/health exceptions. Of course, part of the reason is that being in favor of exceptions is no longer acceptable to many mainstream anti-abortion groups. So as GOP’s mainstream position on abortion has changed, that has caused the GOP’s current linguistic struggles on abortion.

*** Snowden charges that U.S. hacks into China’s computers: Here’s the latest development regarding NSA leaker Edward Snowden: He told the South China Morning Post that he plans to stay in Hong Kong and fight any extradition back to the United States. But he also said something else. “Snowden said that according to unverified documents seen by the Post, the NSA had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and on the mainland since 2009. None of the documents revealed any information about Chinese military systems, he said. One of the targets in the SAR, according to Snowden, was Chinese University and public officials, businesses and students in the city. The documents also point to hacking activity by the NSA against mainland targets. ‘We hack network backbones – like huge internet routers, basically – that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one,’ he said.” Snowden appears to be doing himself -- or his supporters -- no favors when it SEEMS like he’s cozying up to China in this interview.

*** Conservative group comes to Gomez’s aid: Lastly, the first GOP outside group is now getting involved in Massachusetts’ Senate race. “A new conservative outside group is launching a big ad buy in Massachusetts on behalf of Republican Gabriel Gomez’s special election campaign,” the Washington Post says. “The group, called Americans for Progressive Action, is spending about $700,000 on ads over the next week, according to a person familiar with the buy.” Figure that -- a conservative outside group with the name “Progressive.” Interesting…

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