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First Thoughts: Years of change

How much -- and quickly -- the country has changed in the past four years… Obama, in Africa, comments on the SCOTUS decisions and Snowden… Senate immigration bill hits the home stretch… Rubio: Immigration debate has been “a real trial for me”… Perry calls for another legislative session after the Wendy Davis filibuster… Massachusetts turnout: How low can you go?... Quinnipiac poll: Thompson makes his move in NYC mayoral race… And Jessica Taylor on the gay-marriage rulings and 2013.

NBC's Domenico Montanaro reports on the political news of the day including the cloture vote in the Senate on immigration, President Obama's remarks on the Voting Rights Act and the latest poll in the New York mayoral race showing Christine Quinn leading Anthony Weiner.

*** Years of change: If you follow American politics day by day, tweet by tweet, poll by poll, and speech by speech, it’s easy to lose sight of the biggest story over the past five years -- just how much change (both socially and demographically) this country has witnessed over the past four years. The nation has its first African-American president who won re-election a year ago. A majority of Americas now support gay marriage, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that married same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits. The country is on track to be a majority-minority nation 30 years from now. And the Senate is poised to pass immigration legislation giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. Taken together, this is a stunning amount of social change in a very short period of time. And all of that change helps to explain much of the partisanship and politics over the past four years. After all, when one side is pursuing change, the other side is often resisting it. In fact, the last time this country witnessed so much social change was in the 1960s (first Catholic president, civil-rights movement, environmental movement, Medicare, resistance to Vietnam War), and the politics back then was far nastier. Yet between the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and Obama’s election, the country was mostly running in place when it came to big social change. It’s why the two parties for those 30-plus years worked so hard to copy each other, rather than distinguish themselves. That’s not true anymore. 

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

A gay rights activist runs out of the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, June 26, 2013, as rulings were handed down that impact same-sex relationships. In two separate and significant victories for gay rights, the Supreme Court struck down a provision of a federal law denying federal benefits to married gay couples and cleared the way for the resumption of same-sex marriage in California. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

*** Obama comments on SCOTUS gay-marriage decisions: On his first full day in Africa, President Obama held a press conference with Senegal President Sall, and the headline from this very NEWSY presser was Obama suggesting it was his desire to apply the Supreme Court overturning the Defense of Marriage Act to all 50 states. “Well, first of all I think the Supreme Court ruling yesterday was not simply a victory for the LGBT community, I think it was a victory for American democracy.” He added, “It's my personal belief, but I'm speaking now as a president as opposed to a lawyer, that if you've been married in Massachusetts and move some place else, you're still married and that under federal law, you should be able to obtain the benefits of any lawfully married couple. But again I'm speaking as a president and not a lawyer.”

*** No map For Voting Rights Act? Maybe the biggest policy news from the press conference was how Obama reacted to the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act. While calling the decision a “mistake,” he also signaled he was opened to a new congressional remedy that did NOT include a special map. He simply called on Congress to pass a law that makes it easier for people to vote anywhere, in any district, any state. In other words, he’s open to Congress passing a law that doesn’t include a pre-clearance formula that singles out just a region or a state; instead, he wants it to pass legislation applying to all Americans. This opening bid on a compromise Voting Rights Act might not sit well with some civil rights groups, but it’s an acknowledgement by the president of what’s possible out of this Congress.

President Obama remarks on the situation with admitted NSA leaker Edward Snowden, saying he has no plans to disrupt relations with Russia and China, nor to scramble jets to capture the "29-year-old hacker."

*** Obama calls Snowden just some “hacker”: The president, as aides have told us privately, is bemused by the media’s fascination with Edward Snowden. But he clearly doesn’t believe the hunt for Snowden is as big of a deal as the press is making it to be. While calling on any country that is contemplating helping him to return him to U.S. custody, he also downplayed the importance of the issue in regards to the relationship with China and Russia. He said he hasn’t spoken to either president about Snowden and said he didn’t want the issue so elevated it becomes a bargaining chip on other bilateral disagreements between the two other U.S. rivals. And of course, the quote of the press conference was in reference to Snowden and the idea the U.S. military could intervene:  I “won’t be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.”

*** The rest of Obama’s day in Africa: Later today, Obama tours the Goree Island Slave House and Museum at 11:15 am ET, meets with U.S. embassy staff at 1:45 pm ET, and attends the official dinner with President Sall at 4:10 pm ET. In fact, the president hopes to bring a lot more attention to Africa beyond just answering questions about U.S. developments. At the end of his presser, he seemed to lecture the U.S. media, reminding them that focusing on Africa outside of crisis is important. He then noted that other U.S. economic rivals -- including China and Brazil -- had been more focused on Africa and that U.S. needed to match and surpass. It’ll be a theme of the president’s visits to all three countries on his Africa itinerary. Of course, hovering over the visit, Nelson Mandela’s health, a topic the president addressed generally, noting his first political activism as a young adult was at Occidental College protesting South African apartheid.

*** Senate immigration bill hits the home stretch: The Senate today holds a cloture vote (needing 60 to pass) on the overall “Gang of Eight” bipartisan immigration-reform bill; NBC’s Carrie Dann says the vote will take place around 11:30 am ET. Final passage is slated on Friday (30 hours after today’s cloture vote), but Senate Democratic leaders are hoping to obtain unanimous consent to move up the final-passage vote to today (and it’s looking like that’s going to happen). Meanwhile, Dann wraps two of yesterday’s developments. First: The Senate formally adopted the Hoeven-Corker “border surge” amendment by a 69-29 vote. Second: “After days of wrangling about edits to the bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio clashed on the Senate floor over Portman’s calls for a standalone vote on an amendment he sponsored with Democrat Sen. Jon Tester to tighten rules regarding E-Verify, a system for employers to ensure that workers have legal status.” Bottom line: Don’t expect Portman to be among the Republicans supporting the legislation. And it means supporters might not get 70 votes for passage..

*** Rubio: Immigration debate has been “a real trial for me”: With the Senate slated to pass the immigration bill either today or tomorrow, “Gang of Eight” member Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) gave a speech addressing the criticisms he’s received from the right on his support for the bill. “Getting to this point has been very difficult. To hear the worry and the anxiety and the growing anger of the voices of so many people who helped get me elected to the Senate, who I agree with on virtually every other issue, it’s been a real trial for me,” he said on the Senate floor. “I know they love America, and they’re deeply worried about the direction this administration is trying to take our country. But when I was a candidate, I told you I wanted to come here and fight. I wanted to fight to protect what’s good for America. And fight to stop what’s bad for America. And I believe what we have no on immigration is hurting our country badly, and I simply wasn’t going to leave it to Democrats alone to figure out how to fix it.” Rubio now has political scars from this immigration debate. The question: Do these scars make him more formidable in the future (bipartisan achievement, taking on part of his party)? Or weaker?

*** Perry calls for another special legislative session: Yesterday, we wrote that the success of Wendy Davis’ filibuster in Texas would probably be short lived. And guess what: On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) announced that he was calling for yet another special legislative to begin on July 1, so the state legislature could pass the anti-abortion measure Davis was filibustering. Meanwhile, just a day after the Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Perry “signed the Lone Star State’s new congressional map into law, ending the state’s long and twisted redistricting saga of the 2012 cycle,” Roll Call says.

*** How low can you go? Yesterday, we also remarked on the VERY LOW turnout in Tuesday’s special Senate election in Massachusetts. Well, the turnout was even WORSE than we had thought. It saw the fewest people ever vote in a Senate race in Massachusetts. The secretary of state predicted 1.6 million would turnout -- the lowest ever. But 400,000 fewer voters than that showed up.

*** Quinnipiac poll: Thompson makes his move in NYC mayoral race: After a Marist poll found Anthony Weiner jumping into the lead in the Democratic race for New York mayor, a new Quinnipiac poll shows a slightly different situation -- a three-way tie. “Former City Comptroller William Thompson moves up as City Council Speaker Christine Quinn slumps to create a three-way tie for the Democratic primary for New York City mayor, with Quinn at 19 percent, former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner at 17 percent and Thompson at 16 percent,” Quinnipiac says. The Marist poll also showed Thompson’s fav/unfav numbers spiking.

*** The gay-marriage rulings and 2013: Lastly, our colleague Jessica Taylor writes about how yesterday’s SCOTUS rulings could impact this year’s gubernatorial races. “In New Jersey, Democrat Barbara Buono finds herself polling far behind popular Republican Gov. Chris Christie, but she’s seized on Christie’s opposition to gay marriage as a possible boost for her uphill campaign. And in the much closer Virginia gubernatorial contest, Democrats have always pointed to GOP nominee Ken Cuccinelli’s conservative positions on social issues, but the ruling could be one way for them to get Democrats to go to the polls in an off-year contest where they’ve historically seen substantial drop off.” And by the way, Christie blasted the DOMA ruling, calling it “wrong” and an example of “judicial supremacy,” Politico writes.

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