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Is Baltimore Obama's moment to lose restraint?

During his presidency, Obama has sometimes shied away from matters involving race. But can he continue to stay away from Ferguson, Staten Island, or Baltimore?
US President Barack Obama (R) speaks at a joint press conference with Shinzo Abe (L), Prime Minister of Japan, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington DC on April 28, 2015.
US President Barack Obama (R) speaks at a joint press conference with Shinzo Abe (L), Prime Minister of Japan, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington DC on April 28, 2015.

“Buck It” Time: Is Baltimore Obama’s Moment to Lose Restraint on Racial Politics?... Hillary to call to “end the Era of Mass Incarceration”… O’Malley walks the streets of Baltimore -- and gets heckled… Sanders to announce presidential bid on Thursday… Jeb addresses national Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference… And don’t miss this Clinton Foundation story: “181 Clinton Foundation donors who lobbied Hillary’s State Department.”


*** “Buck It” Time: Is Baltimore Obama’s Moment to Lose Restraint on Racial Politics? Speaking on Tuesday about the violence in Baltimore, President Obama was blunt and as incensed as he gets. “If our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could,” he said during his joint news conference with Japan’s prime minister. “It’s just it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant -- and that we don't just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns.” But Obama also admitted that the politics are difficult. “I think we all understand that the politics of that are tough because it’s easy to ignore those problems or to treat them just as a law and order issue, as opposed to a broader social issue.” But if the fourth quarter of his presidency is the time to say “Buck It” -- as he joked in his White House Correspondents Dinner speech -- shouldn’t this be one of those issues? During his presidency, Obama has sometimes shied away from matters involving race with good reason (remember the Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrest?) But can he continue to stay away from the streets of Ferguson, or Staten Island, or Baltimore? Isn’t it time to say, “Buck it”?

*** Hillary to call to “end the Era of Mass Incarceration”: In a speech she will deliver at Columbia University this morning, Hillary Clinton will address the unrest in Baltimore and call to “end the Era of Mass Incarceration” -- a rebuke to one of her husband’s policy legacies. According to an aide, Clinton will say that the U.S. needs to reform its criminal justice system by changing the way the country approaches punishment and prison, including offering alternative penalties for low-level offenders. She also will call for body cameras for every police department in the country. Hillary’s remarks follow an apology of sorts that Bill Clinton issued earlier this week in a new foreword on a book about criminal justice reform. “By 1994, violent crime had tripled in 30 years,” he wrote. “Our communities were under assault. We acted to address a genuine national crisis. But much has changed since then. It’s time to take a clear-eyed look at what worked, what didn’t, and what produced unintended, long-lasting consequences.” By the way, Bill and Hillary Clinton aren’t the only ones talking about criminal justice reform. In the same book featuring that Bill Clinton foreword, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Martin O’Malley, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Jim Webb all write about solutions to criminal justice. Even The Daily Show has picked up on the fact that this is an issue uniting right and left.

*** It’s an issue she’s taken up before: MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald adds that Hillary Clinton has been vocal on the issue of criminal-justice reform leading up to her presidential announcement. Here she was back in December: “In her strongest comments yet this year on criminal justice, Hillary Clinton called for grappling with ‘hard truths’ about racial discrimination in the justice system, and said ‘weapons of war’ have no place on the streets of American communities,” Seitz-Wald wrote last year.

*** O’Malley walks the streets of Baltimore -- and gets heckled: Meanwhile, another potential presidential candidate -- who just happens to be a former Baltimore mayor and former Maryland governor -- is in Charm City after cutting short paid speeches he was set to deliver overseas. The New York Times: “Wearing a crisp white button-down collar shirt over a white T-shirt, Mr. O’Malley walked up Pennsylvania Avenue with aides and Blaize Duggan, the chief executive of Penn North Community Resource Center, a nonprofit organization nearby... ‘Is it safe out there?’ Mr. O’Malley asked Mr. Duggan, who told him about the festival atmosphere that had taken hold in the street. Mr. O’Malley then asked if it would be ‘O.K. if I come out.’ It was.” But it wasn’t all positive reaction for O’Malley:

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“You made a lot of promises,” the man shouted.“And I did the best that I could,” the former mayor said.“In what community? Not in the black community!”

Indeed, the Washington Post was a bit pointed about the reaction O’Malley got while in Baltimore: “Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley was heckled on a packed street corner in West Baltimore Tuesday, after he cut short a trip to Europe to return to the city he led as mayor for seven years... He was confronted by two men on motorcycles who shouted expletives and blamed the recent violence in the city on O’Malley’s tough-on-crime policies from 1999 to 2007.”

*** Sanders to announce presidential bid on Thursday: Yesterday afternoon, we learned that Hillary would be getting her first official Democratic primary challenger -- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who will announce his presidential bid on Thursday. The news was first reported by Vermont Public Radio, which said Sanders will release a statement on Thursday and hold a campaign kickoff weeks later. Sanders is already up with an op-ed in the Des Moines Register calling to expand Social Security -- not cut it.

*** Jeb addresses national Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference: After spending yesterday in Puerto Rico, Jeb Bush is in Houston today, where he speaks at the national Hispanic Leadership Conference (Huckabee also addresses the group later tonight). Here was the AP on Bush in Puerto Rico yesterday: “Florida’s former governor Jeb Bush confronted one of the Republican Party’s touchiest debates Tuesday, telling Puerto Ricans that conservatives should be proud that America is ‘an immigrant nation” and value the contribution immigrants make to the United States. Bush, a 2016 GOP presidential prospect, delivered a speech on economic opportunities peppered with Spanish. His audience responded with hearty applause.”

*** Don’t miss this Clinton Foundation story: There have been so many Clinton Foundation stories in the past week, but don’t miss this one: “181 Clinton Foundation donors who lobbied Hillary’s State Department.” Folks, this is AFTER the safeguards/disclosures put in place after Clinton became Obama’s secretary of state to avoid conflicts of interest. This should be the question for Hillary going forward: If you become president, how do you create safeguards that you won’t be influenced by those who have given money to the Clinton Foundation or Bill Clinton (through his speaking fees)?

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OBAMA AGENDA: Soul-searching time

Here's our story on Obama's call for "soul-searching" in the wake of Monday's riots in Baltimore.

The city was mostly quiet last night after some initial skirmishes. From the Baltimore Sun: "Under guard, Baltimore cleans up and looks ahead"

One of us(!) looked back at our September 2014 polling on faith in law enforcement to show the difference in how African-Americans perceived police in their communities very differently than whites respondents did.

NBC's Pete Williams gives this take on yesterday's Supreme Court arguments on same-sex marriage.

The New York Times: "In a telling moment at Tuesday’s Supreme Court arguments over same-sex marriage, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. suggested that he may have found a way to cast a vote in favor of the gay and lesbian couples in the case."

The AP notes that Justice Anthony Kennedy sent less mixed signals during oral arguments two years ago.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in a case questioning lethal injection.

CONGRESS: Fight over NSA data collection

The congressional fight over NSA data collection in on, writes the Washington Post.

The Wall Street Journal: "Republican lawmakers’ effort to finalize their first budget agreement in nearly a decade hit a snag Tuesday amid an internal row over whether it relies too heavily on gimmicks to avoid unpopular spending cuts."

OFF TO THE RACES: Has Jeb already lost the Adelson Primary?

From the New York Times, on Baltimore and 2016: "An emerging presidential campaign characterized so far by upbeat announcement speeches and mostly abstract agendas on Tuesday confronted shocking scenes of violence and rage in a city not an hour away from the White House. It was a jarring, concrete crisis — and many of the 2016 contenders seemed either caught off guard or uncertain of how, or even whether, to respond."

BUSH: The National Review writes that Jeb Bush is "already a dead man" in the race to woo megadonor Sheldon Adelson, in large part because of adviser James Baker's address to left-leaning Jewish organization J Street.

CLINTON: The Washington Post: "A charity affiliated with the Clinton Foundation failed to reveal the identities of its 1,100 donors, creating a broad exception to the foundation’s promise to disclose funding sources as part of an ethics agreement with the Obama administration."

She'll call for body cameras for all police in a speech today at Columbia University, we write.

CRUZ: From Bloomberg: "Senator Ted Cruz, who wants to be the Republican Party's lead crusader against gay marriage, ducked the opportunity to play a critical role in turning back the movement in its infancy."

FIORINA: After a barnstorming tour, Iowa officials say Carly Fiorina is "picking up speed" in the state.

O'MALLEY: He faced hecklers when he visited Baltimore, including from some who blamed the current violence on his policies as that city's mayor.

RUBIO: He called on Japan’s prime minister to acknowledge the country’s exploitation of “comfort women” during World War II.

SANDERS: From one of us(!): Bernie Sanders will launch his presidential bid on Thursday.

In a Des Moines Register op-ed, Sanders writes: "We do have an urgent problem on our hands, but it's not Social Security. Millions of middle-class Americans are facing a retirement crisis as a result of inadequate income and growing wealth inequality. Social Security isn't the problem. It's an essential part of the solution."

He'll head to New Hampshire after launching his 2016 campaign, writes

And around the country ...

UTAH: Things are heating up around that potential Mike Lee primary.

PROGRAMMING NOTES *** Wednesday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: Tamron Hall speaks with VICE News Correspondent Monica Villamizar, Baltimore Sun reporter Erica Green, Def Jam records founder Russell Simmons and Founding Principal of the Eagle Academy School for young men David Banks about the latest on the riots in Baltimore, and Supreme Court Expert from SCOTUS Blog Tom Goldstein about the latest on the Supreme Court of the United States taking on Same Sex Marriage.

*** Wednesday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell will interview Baltimore Police and Maryland State Police veteran Neill Franklin, the Baltimore Sun’s Christopher Assaf, Baltimore City Paper photo editor J.M. Giordano, NAACP Legal Defense Fund Director Sherrilyn Ifill, msnbc Supreme Court expert Tom Goldstein, Designer Prabal Gurung, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Ruth Marcus, Human Rights Campaign Pres. Chad Griffin, NBC’s Rehema Ellis and WRC’s Shomari Stone.

Carrie Dann contributed reporting to this article.