A window sign on a downtown Indianapolis florist, March 25, 2015, shows it's objection to the Religious Freedom bill passed by the Indiana legislature.
Photo by Michael Conroy/AP

Good news and bad news for the GOP

Updated

Indiana teaches Republicans an important lesson as 2016 race begins… What erupted in Indiana now spills over into Arkansas… April will likely shower us with presidential announcements and FEC filings… So much for that March 31 deadline in the Iran nuclear talks… And Democratic drama in the Senate: Is Dick Durbin about to lose his No. 2 job?

FIRST THOUGHTS

*** Indiana teaches Republicans an important lesson as 2016 race begins: Here’s the bad news for Republicans: The political fight over religious freedom and gay rights that erupted in Indiana has forced Gov. Mike Pence to retreat; put the Republican 2016 contenders to the RIGHT of Pence; and further exposed that the GOP is in a different place on gay rights than the rest of the country. That includes big business. But here’s the good news for the party: They’re learning this lesson early – as opposed to having it play out next spring or even in the fall of 2016. As political scientist Jonathan Bernstein writes, “The positions that play well in a small bubble of party politics and on Fox News may go wrong when the larger November 2016 electorate is exposed to them.” Indeed, according to last month’s NBC/WSJ poll, 59% of all Americans, 74% of Democrats, and 60% of independents favor gay marriage – versus just 40% of Republicans. And a 2014 Pew poll found 49% of all Americans, 64% of Democrats, and 51% of independents believe that businesses SHOULDN’T be able to refuse wedding services to same-sex couples for religious reasons – versus only 28% of Republicans who do. So this split was always going to be exposed. But at least it’s being exposed now rather than later. 

*** What erupted in Indiana now spills over into Arkansas: Meanwhile, that Indiana political/cultural fight has now spilled over into Arkansas. USA Today: “The Arkansas House of Representatives approved a ‘religious freedom’ bill on Tuesday, and it is now headed to the governor’s desk for signature. The bill would prevent state and local governments from infringing upon someone’s religious beliefs without a ‘compelling’ interest. It has drawn sharp criticism from opponents, who say it will allow widespread discrimination against gays and lesbians. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said if bill passed, he would sign it. Hundreds of protesters filled the Arkansas Capitol urging Hutchinson to veto the bill.” More: “Some local leaders and businesses, including Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, and Acxiom Corp., have released statements urging Hutchinson to veto the bill. The CEOs at Yahoo!, Apple and Walmart have also urged a veto.”

*** April will likely shower us with presidential announcements and FEC filings: Since it’s now April 1, here’s a friendly reminder that the month is likely going to shower us with presidential announcements and FEC filings. The reason: If you want to show a big second-quarter in fundraising (April 1-June 30), you need to start raising that money ASAP. So far, we still have just one major candidate who has announced – Ted Cruz – but we already know we’re going to add two more to that list in the next two weeks. Here’s a handy calendar of the 2016 events and activities we’re going to see in the next two weeks:

  • April 7: Rand Paul announcement in Kentucky
  • April 9: Cruz, Huckabee, Jindal, and Santorum speak at Homeschool Iowa event
  • April 10: NRA Leadership Forum (Bush, Walker, Perry, Santorum, Pence, Jindal, Rubio, Cruz, Carson, Huckabee, etc. are all speaking)
  • April 13: Rubio announcement in FL
  • April 15: Filing deadline for first-quarter finance numbers

*** So much for that March 31 deadline in the Iran nuclear talks: Negotiators in Switzerland continued working past their self-imposed deadline in the Iran nuclear talks. An update from NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and Abigail Williams: “The first meeting of the day has begun – Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and other ministers are in attendance, but Russia, China and France are represented by their political directors. The foreign ministers of Russia and France have departed Switzerland, and China’s left earlier yesterday. They are finalizing language in a statement that would come later in the day, barring complications.” The New York Times has more: “As the talks resumed here on Wednesday, an initial accord was potentially within reach but there was still much to work out. Nobody was ruling out the possibility that the negotiations — which also involve Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — might be extended into the week. ‘Fingers crossed, and we hope to get there during the course of the day,’ Philip Hammond, Britain’s foreign secretary, told reporters.”

*** Desperately seeking a deal: Bottom line: The United States blowing past this deadline makes it seem like the Obama administration is DESPERATE to make a deal. Yes, it’s maybe a reflection that killing the talks is a worse option. (Does Iran go back to increasing its nuclear production? What happens to international support for furthering sanctioning Iran?) Still, the optics don’t look good, especially when other world foreign ministers have left Switzerland.

*** Democratic drama in the Senate: NBC’s Frank Thorp reports on some potential Democratic Senate drama now that Chuck Schumer has emerged as the party’s leader-in-waiting after Harry Reid’s announced retirement last week. Per Thorp: “Senate Democrats could soon be in the middle of a messy battle for the No. 2 spot in leadership after what appeared to be a late night deal between Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to support each other in their respective leadership races apparently never happened, according to a person close to Schumer. According to a Durbin aide, he and Schumer spoke early Friday morning near the end of the 15-hour budget amendment Vote-A-Rama about the impending announcement that Reid would be retiring. According to the Durbin aide, Durbin stated he would support Schumer for leader, and Schumer in return said he would support Durbin to remain as whip. But according to a person close to Schumer, that never happened. “That did not happen, and they know it,” that person told NBC News, noting that Durbin had approached Schumer offering him his support for leader, but that Schumer never reciprocated. The he-said-she-said leaves the door open for another candidate for Whip to possibly emerge, with Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) on the top of the list.”

OBAMA AGENDA: Resuming talks
The latest on the Iran talks, from NBC News: “Iran and six world powers resumed nuclear talks on Wednesday, hours after an earlier deadline passed without an agreement.”

More, from The New York Times: “As the nuclear negotiations dragged into overtime here on Tuesday, some uniquely American and Iranian political sensitivities were permeating the marathon negotiating sessions, leading many to wonder whether two countries that have barely spoken for 35 years are just not ready to overcome old suspicions.”

The Wall Street Journal writes that more companies are blocking their employees from filing lawsuits.

According to a new Washington Post-ABC poll, Obama’s approval stands at 47 percent – down from 50 percent in January – although he has regained some ground since the midterms.

CONGRESS: Messy Democratic drama in the Senate
From our own Frank Thorp: “Senate Democrats could soon be in the middle of a messy battle for the No. 2 spot in leadership. An alleged late-night deal between Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and New York’s Chuck Schumer to support each other in their respective leadership races apparently never happened, according to a person close to Schumer.”

The House committee investigating Benghazi wants to interview Clinton behind closed doors before May 1, but a spokesman says she “remains ready to appear at a hearing open to the American public.”

OFF TO THE RACES: Campaign-finance complaints against likely 2016ers
Campaign finance groups have formally filed complaints against Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rick Santorum and Martin O’Malley.

Ouch. The Indy Star leads its web coverage with an op-ed from Matthew Tully: “Pence was never meant to be a governor. A partisan and dysfunctional Congress that lives on bright line divisions was his home for 12 years, and that’s where he belongs — in a place where a person can rise high by talking well and digging in and not really doing much.”

An Arkansas religious freedom bill is headed to the governor’s desk.

McClatchy’s David Lightman: “The furor this week over Indiana’s religious freedom law means new trouble nationally for a Republican Party that’s been fighting an image of intolerance for years.”

Msnbc.com’s Benjy Sarlin on GOP arguments about the way to win: “Some blame Romney’s loss on a failure to fire up the party’s white base, while others point to a desperate need to reach out to voters outside the GOP’s usual wheelhouse. More than any one single policy fight, this broad demographic argument over what the next Republican president’s winning coalition will look like defines the battle lines of the presidential primaries.”

BUSH: Writes The Washington Post: “Jeb Bush has given his tacit endorsement to a new group that can collect unlimited amounts of money in secret, part of a bold effort by his advisers to create a robust external political operation before he declares his expected White House bid. The nonprofit group, Right to Rise Policy Solutions, was quietly established in Arkansas in February by a friend and former Bush staffer. The group shares the name of two political committees for which Bush has been aggressively raising money — blurring the line that is supposed to separate a campaign from independent groups.”

California donors still aren’t sold on him, writes POLITICO.

CLINTON: Could another Democrat beat her? The New York Times looks at potential blueprints.

CRUZ: NH1 reports that he’ll keynote a Young Republicans convention in New Hampshire next month.

PAUL: The Des Moines Register: “It looks like presidential hopeful Rand Paul has found a clever way to champion ethanol, with an issue that’s in harmony with his keep-government-out-of-the-marketplace mentality.”

WALKER: It turns out Scott Walker is allergic to dogs, reports The New York Times.

Additional reporting by Mark Murray and Carrie Dann.

Arkansas, Indiana and Iran

Good news and bad news for the GOP

Updated