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First Thoughts: Déjà vu all over again?

Déjà vu all over again? Will Reid’s threat to change the filibuster rules accomplish what Bill Frist’s threat did back in 2005?... What to watch in the filibuster fight over the next two days… Where’s the leadership?... Obama’s statement on Zimmerman verdict… Bush 41 returns to the White House… Republicans catch a break in Montana… Bracing for McDonnell’s resignation in Virginia?... And Perry defends anti-abortion legislation that passed in Texas last week.

*** Déjà vu all over again? Back in 2005, then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) took the Senate to the brink, threatening to change the filibuster rules to clear some of George W. Bush’s controversial judicial nominees. The move paid off: Cooler heads prevailed, Democrats and Republicans agreed on a compromise, and many -- but not all -- of those judicial nominees are now serving on the courts. Eight years later, with a different party in control of the Senate and White House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is hoping to get a similar result by threatening the “nuclear option” to change the filibuster rules for only executive-branch appointments. The logic: This kind of threat is the only way to get some of President Obama’s appointees through the Senate, including the previously blocked picks to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board (who are now serving as recess appointments). NBC’s Kasie Hunt reports that Sen. John McCain -- like he did in 2005 -- is trying to broker a deal.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid talks about Congress' dismal approval rating with the American people and the stalemates that plague the legislative branch.

*** Temporary victory vs. a lasting one: If there is a deal, it would be a victory for both sides. Reid and the Democrats would get their appointees, and the CFPB and NRLB wouldn’t wither away. But Republicans would have won a more lasting victory from their 2005 brinksmanship. They ended up getting lifetime judges, while Democrats are seeking only appointees who will serve out the remainder of Obama’s second term. For the most part, there is general agreement from the public and politicians that presidents should get their term-limited appointees, barring qualification issues or an extraordinary situation. If Reid proposed this change to take effect with the NEXT Congress, rather than immediately, we’d bet this wouldn’t be nearly as controversial. Surprised someone isn’t talking about a permanent change and championing outside this showdown between Reid and McConnell.

*** Watching the filibuster fight over the next two days: Here are the events to watch over the next two days in this filibuster fight. At 10:30 am ET, Reid delivers a speech at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress about ending the gridlock in Washington. Then, at 6:00 pm, Senate Democrats and Republicans hold a joint meeting to discuss these changes. And on Tuesday, Reid has scheduled cloture votes for the following nominees (in order): CFPB head Richard Cordary; NLRB members Richard Griffin, Sharon Block, and Mark Pearce; Export-Import Bank President Fred Hochberg, Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Reid justified threatening to change the filibuster rules. “We're not doing anything that affects lifetime appointments. We're doing nothing that affects legislation. Here is what we're doing. A President, whether it's President Obama, the new President Clinton, or the new Bush, whoever is President should be able to have the people on their team that they want.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell responded on the program this way: “We have an opportunity to pull back from the brink in this joint meeting that we're going to have of all senators in the old Senate chamber Monday night. I hope we'll come to our senses and not change the core of the Senate. We have never changed the rules of the Senate by breaking the rules of Senate.”

*** Where’s the leadership? Over the weekend, the AP’s Jim Kuhnhenn wrote about all of the legislative paralysis we covered last week -- the impasse over immigration, the GOP omitting food stamps from the farm bill, etc. And he noted that the Obama White House is holding its tongue at least for now when it comes to immigration. “While White House aides and advisers believe Republicans will inflict long-lasting political damage on their own party if they continue to block a comprehensive immigration bill, those advisers say Obama is not ready to hit the road and wage a full-throated partisan fight. ‘We’re doing meetings, we’re talking to folks, we’re behind the scenes at every step,’ Pfeiffer said. Asked when the pressure might mount, he said: ‘There might be a moment where the hammer comes out. But we’re not there yet.’” There’s no doubt that Obama is in a box on immigration (if he speaks out that will only energize conservative opponents), and there’s also no doubt that dealing with divided government -- especially in these times -- is no easy chore. But it raises a question we’ve posed in the past: Where is the leadership? What is Obama willing to fight for? Could you also pose the same question to House Speaker John Boehner. Neither the president nor Boehner seems comfortable leading in these challenging divided-government times. Both seem resigned to the fact that they are victims of political circumstance and the power of the conservative movement.

*** Obama’s statement on the Zimmerman verdict: On Sunday, Obama released a statement on the “not guilty” verdict of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. “The death of Trayvon Martin was a tragedy. Not just for his family, or for any one community, but for America,” Obama said. “I know this case has elicited strong passions. And in the wake of the verdict, I know those passions may be running even higher. But we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken. I now ask every American to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son. And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.” Reading between the lines, this isn’t a president who is calling for federal charges to be brought against Zimmerman; instead, he’s calling to respect the verdict but also have a national conversation.

*** Bush 41 returns to the White House: At 1:45 pm ET, the president and the first lady hold an event at the White House honoring former President George H.W. Bush to recognize the winner of the 5000th Daily Point of Light -- the volunteer organization established by the 41st president. More from the AP: “Bush’s wife, Barbara, the former first lady; their son Neil, and other relatives are expected to attend; son and former President George W. Bush is not. Also scheduled to attend is Michelle Nunn, CEO of the Points of Light organization and a possible Democratic Senate candidate from Georgia. She’s the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga... During the event, Obama will announce creation of a federal task force to come up with new ways for the public and private sectors to collaborate to support national service as a means of tackling national priorities, the White House said.” The Obamas also have a closed-door lunch with the Bushes before the event.

*** Republicans catch a break in Montana: It was bad news for Democrats -- and good news for Republicans -- when the political world learned on Saturday that former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) wouldn’t run for Max Baucus’ (D) soon-to-be vacant Senate seat next year. Had Schweitzer run, he would have been the favorite in the race, even in a state where Obama received just 42% of the vote in 2012. (But there is now some question as to just how politically strong Schweitzer would have been. It’s an open secret that the opposition research file on him was growing by the day, which may have contributed to his surprising decision to say no.)  Republicans think they will be able to recruit either Congressman Steve Daines or former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, while Dems are hoping to get EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock, Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau, Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen, or others. The break in Montana gives Republicans a doable -- but narrow -- path to pick up the six Senate seats needed to win the majority in 2014. The GOP is favored in South Dakota and West Virginia, and thus need to win FOUR of these SIX competitive races: Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, and North Carolina. And that’s assuming Democrats don’t win a single GOP-held Senate seat. Another way to look at it: If Republicans win SD, WV, MT, and AR, then they need to win just two of AK, IA, LA, and NC.

*** Top 10 Senate takeovers: With Schweitzer’s decision not to run in Montana, here is First Read’s Top 10 Senate takeovers (in order of seats most likely to flip from one party to the other) compiled by Jessica Taylor:
1. West Virginia Open (Rockefeller, D)
2. South Dakota Open (Johnson, D)
3. Arkansas (Pryor, D)
4. Montana Open (Baucus, D)
5. Alaska (Begich, D)
6. Louisiana (Landrieu, D)
7. North Carolina (Hagan, D)
8. Kentucky (McConnell, R)
9. Iowa Open (Harkin, D)
10. Michigan Open (Levin, D)

*** Bracing for McDonnell’s resignation or removal from office? On Sunday, the Richmond Times Dispatch’s Jeff Schapiro wrote that it’s Republicans -- not Democrats -- who are contemplating the resignation or removal of embattled Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). “Defending their majority this fall, House of Delegates Republicans will cut and run on the first sign that McDonnell’s problems are becoming theirs. Their survival instinct will demand it. An alarming harbinger for Republicans: conservative bloggers, who had already turned against McDonnell for raising taxes, report as fact that his resignation is inevitable, part of a plea agreement with prosecutors. An administration that ordinarily ignores the blogs did otherwise this time, issuing a forceful denial. Should pressure intensify because of hostile public opinion, fed by unflattering news reports that go unanswered by McDonnell, House Republicans may have no option than to tell him he has none: that it’s time for him to go.”

*** The latest in VA GOV: Speaking of Virginia, the Terry McAuliffe (D) campaign is up with a new one-minute TV ad that appears to be hitting Ken Cucinnelli (R) in the rural part of the state. “I was born and raised in Southwest Virginia, very fine people, good neighbors, a good place to live a good place to raise your family,” a woman, Shirley Keene, says to the camera. “Since the energy companies has come in, they have been making millions from the gas that is coming from our property. They are going to extract your gas and leave you with nothing. I haven’t seen one penny. Ken Cuccinelli’s office was giving information to the energy companies to fight us. Then Cuccinelli got $100,000 for his Governor’s campaign. He has made it perfectly clear he cannot be trusted. When you help an energy company against the people that have elected you to office that is wrong, you have let your people down, you have let the community down and I do not trust him.” Meanwhile, ahead of this Saturday’s first gubernatorial debate, the Cuccinelli campaign has released questions it wants answered about McAuliffe’s finances.

*** Perry defends Texas anti-abortion legislation: Finally, late on Friday, the Texas state Senate passed its anti-abortion legislation, sending it “to Republican Gov. Rick Perry to sign into law after weeks of protests and rallies that drew thousands of people to the Capitol and made the state the focus of the national abortion debate,” the AP said. Appearing on CNN yesterday, Perry defended the bill. “Most people, I think, in this country, and in Texas certainly, believe that six months is too late to be deciding whether or not these babies should be aborted or not, and we put the limit at five months in this bill,” he said.

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