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Pope Francis to champion combating climate change

Pope Francis is preparing to weigh in heavily on the issue of climate change.
Pope Francis salutes the crowd as he arrives for his weekly general audience in St Peter's square at the Vatican on April 22, 2015. (Photo by Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty)
Pope Francis salutes the crowd as he arrives for his weekly general audience in St Peter's square at the Vatican on April 22, 2015.

Could Supreme Court provide GOP an escape hatch on gay marriage? While all eyes are fixed on the violence in Baltimore (and we have something to say on it below), the biggest political story today is playing out at the Supreme Court, which hears oral arguments in the case to decide whether there’s a right to gay marriage. And here’s the reason why it’s the biggest political story: The court could give the GOP an escape hatch on an issue that’s become a HUGE problem for the party in 2016 and beyond. As our March NBC/WSJ poll shows, 59% of Americans favor gay marriage. That includes 74% of Democrats and 60% of independents -- but only 40% of Republicans. It’s also an issue that younger Americans almost universally support: 74% of those ages 18-34 back gay marriage, versus just 45% of seniors. So by ruling for a right to gay marriage, the Supreme Court might be doing the Republican Party a big favor -- potentially taking the issue off the table in 2016. “They would be doing the Republican presidential field an incredible favor by giving them the potential gift of moving this as a hot-button cultural issue more than a year out from Election Day,” the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans told the New York Times. And if gay marriage becomes legal across the U.S., here’s a question to ponder: Will we see opposition to same-sex marriage in the GOP platform in July 2016?

More on today’s oral arguments: NBC’s Pete Williams sets the stage for today’s oral arguments before the court. “The court has set aside an unusually long time for courtroom argument — two and a half hours — and will release an audio recording later in the day,” he writes. The case ‘is about the fundamental question of how our democracy resolves debates about social policy,’ argues Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. ‘The people, not the courts, have the right to define marriage,’ he said.” More: “But advocates for same-sex couples say the courts must step in when fundamental rights are in jeopardy. ‘The states don't have the right to violate the constitutional rights of individuals. And that includes same-sex couples who want the freedom to marry,’ said James Esseks of the American Civil Liberties Union.” Also, don’t miss the look by one of us at how much and how fast public opinion has moved on the issue of gay marriage. And here’s NBC’s Perry Bacon on how social issues like gay marriage have thrown the GOP 2016ers off balance.

A leadership test in Baltimore: Turning to the violence and police standoffs in Baltimore, the situation in the city has become a significant leadership test for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. In today’s climate, we’re unsure any politician -- even George Washington or Abraham Lincoln -- would look good as police clash with rioters and as citizens loot stores and burn down buildings. The question for these leaders is how long the violence lasts and how the city REACTS to what happens last night. Rawlings-Blake, in particular, is in hot water after her comments Saturday night suggesting she wanted to give “space” to protestors who “wished to destroy.” What she said: “It’s a very delicate balancing act because while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.” Blake tried to explain her quote at her news conference last night and blamed the media for misinterpreting her. But the fact is, she appeared to condone some level of violence. Perhaps she didn't mean to condone and was only trying to explain policing tactics, but that isn't how it has came across. 

How money has defined both Hillary and Jeb: We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Maybe the most significant 2016 story over the past week has been money. There’s the Clinton Foundation. The Koch and Adelson primaries. And Jeb’s Super PAC. And it’s noteworthy how both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are being defined by money at this early stage of the presidential race. Jeb boasted to donors that his Right to Rise Super PAC has raised more money in 100 days than any other GOP organization (of course, one big reason why is because Super PACs can receive unlimited donations). Hillary, meanwhile, is going to raise a TON of money, too (and she’s raising money in NYC today). Of course, Hillary’s main money story right now is the Clinton Foundation. And there’s a new Clinton Foundation story out there via the New York Post. “The Clinton Foundation in 2008 reported that it had received a contribution of between $1 million and $5 million from Amar Singh, a member of India’s Parliament and a pal of Bill Clinton. The size of the donation relative to Singh’s net worth raised questions about whether Singh was the true source of the cash, according to “Clinton Cash” author Peter Schweizer. The 2008 contribution was made as Congress debated approval of a nuclear agreement between the United States and India.

Why being defined by money isn’t a good thing: And being defined by money stories is rarely a good thing; it just steps on your message and emphasizes the dynastic subplots to their candidacies.

Rand Paul: It was a mistake to remove Saddam Hussein: Speaking to Orthodox Jewish leaders in Brooklyn yesterday, Rand Paul said the United States erred in removing Saddam Hussein and Qaddafi from power, the New York Times says. “Speaking at the headquarters of the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, Mr. Paul was unambiguous in arguing that Tehran had only become more powerful since the fall of Mr. Hussein, who he said had been a ‘bulwark’ against Iran’s influence in the region. ‘It was a mistake to topple Hussein,’ the senator said. And he called the 2011 overthrow of Colonel Qaddafi — which he labeled ‘Hillary’s war,’ referring to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the secretary of state at the time — an ‘utter disaster.’”

Pope Francis to champion combating climate change: This is a fascinating story. “Since his first homily in 2013, Pope Francis has preached about the need to protect the earth and all of creation as part of a broad message on the environment. It has caused little controversy so far,” the Times writes. But now, as Francis prepares to deliver what is likely to be a highly influential encyclical this summer on environmental degradation and the effects of human-caused climate change on the poor, he is alarming some conservatives in the United States who are loath to see the Catholic Church reposition itself as a mighty voice in a cause they do not believe in.” And don’t forget that Pope Francis will be addressing Congress later this year. “‘I think Boehner was out of his mind to invite the pope to speak to Congress,’ said the Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst at the National Catholic Reporter. ‘Can you imagine what the Republicans will do when he says, ‘You’ve got to do something about global warming’?”

On the trail: Jeb Bush is in Puerto Rico, where he attends two events (and speaks in English and Spanish at both)… Chris Christie fundraises in DC… Hillary Clinton raises money in New York City… And Carly Fiorina hits New Hampshire.

OBAMA AGENDA: The latest out of Baltimore

The very latest on riots and looting in Baltimore, via the Baltimore Sun and NBC News.

POLITICO, with a big picture on Baltimore: "Obama and Congress are busy arguing over the Iran nuclear negotiations, a trade deal, what could become the broadest climate change agreement in history. But each city that erupts is a reminder of how little’s been done to address the hopelessness that’s hitting Americans in some communities across the country much more immediately."

Here's Pete Williams with a preview of today's oral arguments on gay marriage in the Supreme Court.

Attitudes about gay marriage have shifted dramatically over the past 12 years. Here's a look back at the data, from one of us(!)

In a New York Times op-ed, Fordham Law School professor Joseph Landau floats a theory of why John Roberts might support gay marriage.

Pope Francis is preparing to weigh in heavily on the issue of climate change. From the New York Times: "[A]s Francis prepares to deliver what is likely to be a highly influential encyclical this summer on environmental degradation and the effects of human-caused climate change on the poor, he is alarming some conservatives in the United States who are loath to see the Catholic Church reposition itself as a mighty voice in a cause they do not believe in."

There’s a new front in the fight over fast-track, Roll Call reports, and it’s over currency manipulation.

CONGRESS: GOP negotiators reach compromise on budget

“Republican negotiators on Monday reached a compromise on a joint budget between the House and the Senate, the first common congressional budget in a decade,” the New York Times writes. “The deal would increase military spending and take aim at President Obama’s signature health care law. It would also cut education and entitlement programs, like Medicare, but negotiators dropped a proposal by Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin and a former chairman of the House Budget Committee, to turn Medicare into a largely private voucher program.”

OFF TO THE RACES: Christie: Media to blame for my low poll numbers

The New York Times notes how both Republicans and Democrats running for president are talking about changing the justice system and reversing the trend towards mass incarceration of the 1990s.

Our own Perry Bacon Jr. on how Republicans are struggling to answer questions about issues like gay marriage and marijuana as public opinion rapidly changes.

BUSH: “Jeb Bush, the potential GOP presidential candidate who once identified himself as Hispanic on a voter registration form, is marching into the Latino voter space this week. The former Florida governor who has yet to declare his candidacy was to visit Puerto Rico Tuesday for an event at the Universidad Metropolitana de Cupey and for a town hall with the Republican Party of Puerto Rico,” NBC’s Sandra Lilley writes.

CLINTON: National Journal looks at Clinton's sharp drop in approval ratings and her "squandered goodwill" since leaving the State Department.

She's telling activists she'll help rebuild the Democratic Party around the country, POLITICO reports.

CHRISTIE: He's blaming media coverage for his sinking approval ratings. "If you're going to have relentlessly negative coverage from the media, it's going to affect your poll numbers," he said.

HUCKABEE: He's heading to Iowa in early May, the day after announcing his presidential intentions.

O'MALLEY: The former Maryland governor is cutting short an overseas trip amid the violence in Baltimore.

PAUL: He told an audience of Orthodox Jews that it was “a mistake” to topple Saddam Hussein and engage in a war in Libya, per the New York Observer.

RUBIO: The Des Moines Register ed board, with some praise for Marco Rubio: "While he could be self-effacing and conversational, Rubio exhibited an impressive grasp of public policy detail. He held forth extemporaneously on a broad spectrum of issues that included the economy, immigration, health care, education, energy, the environment, Medicare, Social Security and a whirlwind tour around the globe to highlight all the threats to U.S. national security."

TRUMP: He says he's "made up his mind" about what he'll do about a 2016 run and that he'll announce "by June or July, at the latest."

WALKER: The New York Times writes that Scott Walker is ceding some fundraising momentum to Jeb Bush as he works on his policy knowledge and fundraising strategy.

Carrie Dann contributed reporting to this article.