Jeb Bush appears to shift tone on Indiana religious freedom law

Jeb Bush appears to tell two different audiences two different things on Indiana law … The problem for Bush here: He ends up pleasing no one … Cruz blasts “Fortune 500” companies for endorsing “the radical gay-marriage agenda” … Latest on the Iran talks, per NBC’s Andrea Mitchell … Menendez: “I am not going anywhere” … Will New Jersey Dems regret coming to Menendez’s defense? … And NBC/WSJ poll on Pope Francis. 

FIRST THOUGHTS

*** Jeb Bush appears to tell two different audiences two different things on Indiana law: In this era of modern politics – with smartphones, social media, and constant events – one of the dangers for a politician is saying two different things to two different audiences. Or even appearing to. And that’s what Jeb Bush seems to have stepped into when it comes to Indiana’s controversial religious-freedom law.

  • Here was Bush on Monday to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt in support of the law: “I think once the facts are established, people aren’t going to see this as discriminatory at all.” Those comments came BEFORE Indiana Gov. Mike Pence admitted on Tuesday that the law created a perception problem, and that it needed to be fixed.
  •  But then here was Bush on Wednesday at a closed-door fundraiser in Silicon Valley, according to the New York Times: “‘By the end of the week, I think Indiana will be in the right place, which is to say that we need in a big diverse country like America, we need to have space for people to act on their conscience, that it is a constitutional right that religious freedom is a core value of our country,’ Mr. Bush said. But ‘we shouldn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation,’ he said. He continued, ‘So what the State of Indiana is going to end up doing is probably get to that place.’”

To recap: On Monday, Bush was implying that critics were misunderstanding the law. Two days later, he was calling to strike a balance between religious freedom and discrimination. But there is some nuance here. Per Business Insider, which also got a recording of the remarks in California, Bush also said: “But I do fear that certain freedoms that historically have been part of our DNA as a country now are being challenged and I don’t think it’s appropriate. I do think if you’re a florist and you don’t want to participate in the arrangement of a wedding, you shouldn’t have to be obliged to do that if it goes against your faith because you believe in traditional marriage. Likewise if someone walked into a flower shop as a gay couple and said I want to buy all these off the rack, these flowers, they should have every right to do it. That would be discrimination. But forcing someone to participate in a wedding is not discrimination; it is, I think, protecting the first amendment right.”

*** The problem for Bush here: He ends up pleasing no one: So that nuance is important. But it’s also hard to ignore the change in tone from Bush on Monday (to Hugh Hewitt) and then on Wednesday (to an audience in Silicon Valley). The problem for Bush is that all of this only feeds the narrative that conservatives can’t trust him on these types of issues – compared with the rest of the GOP field. It also cuts against the identity he has created for himself – as someone who prefers running a general-election campaign instead of a race to please the base. It’s a tricky place to be in, because it ultimately ends up pleasing no one.

*** Cruz blasts “Fortune 500” companies for endorsing “the radical gay-marriage agenda”: Meanwhile, here was Ted Cruz on the Indiana/Arkansas issue yesterday while in Iowa. “The Fortune 500 is running shamelessly to endorse the radical gay-marriage agenda over religious liberty to say: ‘We will persecute a Christian pastor, a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi,’” Cruz said, per the Des Moines Register. “Any person of faith is subject to persecution if they dare disagree, if their religious faith parts way from their political commitment to gay marriage.”

*** Latest on the Iran talks: Here’s the latest update on the Iran nuclear talks from NBC’s Andrea Mitchell: “Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif this morning told a scrum of reporters there has been significant progress but no deal yet. He indicated they will still try to draft an agreement today, but may just have a summary of what they’ve done – and what is left to do in the months between a hoped-for final agreement in June. This came about three and a half hours after he and Kerry had broken to get some rest, following an all-night negotiating session.” Bottom line: The Obama administration is looking for an elegant way to postpone construction of the final-final agreement until June 30. But will Congress give the administration more time?

*** Menendez: “I am not going anywhere”: Speaking of Congress and one of the main Democratic architects of additional sanctions against Iran, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was indicted yesterday on corruption/bribery charges. But understand this: Menendez is going to fight. Don’t worry about New Jersey holding a special election anytime soon due to Menendez resigning from his Senate seat, because that isn’t happening. NBC News: “Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez angrily responded to his indictment on federal corruption charges Wednesday, telling a cheering crowd he is ‘outraged’ by the charges and declaring, ‘I am not going anywhere.’ Menendez was charged Wednesday for allegedly accepting nearly $1 million in lavish gifts and campaign contributions from a political donor in return for political favors.” That said, Menendez did step down from his post as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – which could have an impact when it comes to the Senate’s check on the Iran talks.

*** Will New Jersey Dems regret coming to Menendez’s defense? However, we wonder if New Jersey Democrats are going to REGRET blasting out praise for Menendez after his indictment. Check out this release from the New Jersey Democratic State Committee: “Avalanche of NJ Officials Supporting Senator Bob Menendez.” Whoever is running the state party, they’ve made Democrats now own Menendez and whatever happens to him.

*** NBC/WSJ poll Pope Francis: From one of us: “Americans have an overwhelmingly positive view of Pope Francis, with just six percent of respondents in a new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll saying they view the pontiff negatively. As many around the country prepare to celebrate Easter this weekend, 55 percent of Americans said they view Pope Francis positively, with 34 percent saying they give him a “very positive” rating. Twenty-four percent said they are neutral and 15 percent said they were not sure. Feelings for the newest leader of the Catholic Church, who ascended to the post in March 2013, are even warmer among American Catholics. Three-quarters — 74 percent — say they rate him positively, compared to just 3 percent with a negative view.”

OBAMA AGENDA: Attack in Kenya

Breaking overnight: At least 15 are dead after a terror attack by Al-Shabab gunmen at a university in Kenya.

 The latest on the Iran nuke negotiations, from NBC’s Andrea Mitchell: “United States, Iran and European Union leaders working on a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program took a several-hour pause to sleep early Thursday after a marathon session that lasted through the night. Two days beyond the longstanding deadline to reach a deal, the all-night talks were focused on whether the U.S. and EU would agree to ease banking, oil and financial sanctions, apart from United Nations sanctions, officials said. The discussions ended around 6:05 a.m. local time (midnight ET).”

CONGRESS: Menendez after indictment: “I’m not going anywhere”

All the latest on Bob Menendez, from our NBC team: “Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez angrily responded to his indictment on federal corruption charges Wednesday, telling a cheering crowd he is “outraged” by the charges and declaring, “I am not going anywhere.”

Star-Ledger op-ed on Menendez: “Resign and spare us the drama”

Yahoo’s Michael Isikoff has details on one of Dr. Salomon Melgen’s girlfriends, for whom feds allege Menendez intervened to arrange a U.S. visa.

Adam Nagourney reports from Las Vegas that Harry Reid is focused on helping his successor.

In Israel, John Boehner told POLITICO: “The world is on fire.” More, on Iran: “What bothers me is it looks like the administration is so hungry for a deal just to have a deal so they can say they have a deal,” Boehner said. “The rest of the world wants something real out of this.”

Steve Scalise talked to The Hill about his speech to a white supremacist group, saying that he was “frustrated” by media coverage that he called unfair.

OFF TO THE RACES: The latest 2016 polling

A new Washington Post/ABC poll finds Jeb Bush leading among Republicans and Ted Cruz surging.  

From The New York Times: “State laws seen as discriminatory against gay couples have laid bare and intensified longtime divisions in the party between social conservatives opposed to gay rights and the pro-business wing of the party that sees economic peril in the fight.”

Early state watch: Democrats in South Carolina are trying to pass a bill to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.

BUSH: The New York Times reports: “Jeb Bush appeared to modify his public comments about Indiana’s “religious freedom” law on Wednesday in a closed-door Silicon Valley fund-raiser, telling a small group of potential supporters that a “consensus-oriented” approach would have been better at the outset.”

The founder of a new Bush-aligned fundraising group says he might disclose his donors, reports the Washington Post.

CHRISTIE: Christie said on Wednesday night that Mike Pence will “fix the problem and move on” from the religious freedom controversy.

CLINTON: Writes Reuters: “Warren’s backers are already fanning out in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire to push Clinton to shift toward economic populism and away from the pro-business policies of her husband, former President Bill Clinton. Activists told Reuters they plan to show up at town halls and rallies to publicly call on Clinton to adopt policies such as breaking up big banks and expanding the Social Security retirement program.”

POLITICO reports that a slew of Ready for Hillary staff are joining up with her campaign.

CRUZ: Here’s Cruz doubling down in Iowa: “The Fortune 500 is running shamelessly to endorse the radical gay marriage agenda over religious liberty”

The Wall Street Journal reports that Ted Cruz has raised about $4 million since announcing his candidacy.

George Will writes that Ted Cruz’s Barry Goldwater-esque theory of mobilizing the most conservative voters gets it wrong.  

PATAKI: He’s preparing to announce his NH steering committee for his PAC - and opening up office space.

O’MALLEY: He and Jim Webb will address South Carolina Democrats at the end of April, per CNN’s Peter Hamby.

Also around the country…

ILLINOIS: Equality Illinois praised Sen. Mark Kirk for opposing Indiana’s religious-freedom law: “I strongly oppose what Governor Pence did. We should not enshrine bigotry under the cover of religion. It’s not just bad practice – it’s un-American,” Kirk said.

Per a release: “Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, the state’s oldest and largest advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Illinoisans, said Kirk’s strong statement set a standard that should be followed by all Illinois statewide officials. ‘Sen. Mark Kirk has done the right thing in calling out Indiana’s hateful law, and we applaud him for it,’ Cherkasov said. ‘True leadership is not standing silent in the face of laws that encourage blatant discrimination, and Illinois deserves to have all our public officials speak out against Indiana’s law that targets lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people under the cover of religious freedoms.’”

NBC News’ Mark Murray and Carrie Dann contributed reporting.

Jeb Bush appears to shift tone on Indiana religious freedom law