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A1: The stories you need to read before your first conference call.
-- White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors will assist the Department of Veterans Affairs in an investigation into practices that led to massive backlogs at VA hospitals in Phoenix, Fort Collins, Colo., and elsewhere. Chief of Staff Denis McDonough asked Nabors to help out as Congressional anger over dozens of patients who died waiting to see a doctor mounts. (Washington Post)
-- VA Secretary Eric Shinseki testifies before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee today. Ranking member Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and committee member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) have called on Shinseki to resign, though Republican leaders have stopped short of calling for his head.
-- Afghan voters will head to the polls June 14 to vote in a runoff between former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, an election commission said Thursday. Abdullah led the first round with 45 percent of the vote, compared with 32 percent for Ghani. Turnout in that election was up 50 percent over the 2009 presidential elections. (New York Times)
-- New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson found out just weeks before she was fired Wednesday that she was making considerably less than her predecessor, Bill Keller. She and managing editor Dean Baquet had clashed over Abramson's decision to offer a co-managing editor position to Janine Gibson, a senior editor at The Guardian. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. made the decision earlier this month to let Abramson go. (New Yorker, Capital New York, New York Times)
-- The Post's Erik Wemple weighs in: "What an awful day for the New York Times. It beheads its first female executive editor, Jill Abramson, with brutal efficiency and finality. In his very limited remarks to Times staffers regarding the move, Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said, 'It is not about the quality of our journalism, which in my mind has never been better.' The executive editor's first responsibility is the quality of the journalism. The disconnect between that statement and the treatment meted to Abramson will haunt the New York Times -- perhaps not in an immediate staff revolt, but likely in a hesitancy of top women news leaders to embrace a career at the newspaper."
-- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday he opposes the nomination of Michael Boggs to a federal district court in the northern district of Georgia, citing votes Boggs took on abortion, same-sex marriage and a Confederate emblem on the state flag. Reid will consult with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.). (Washington Post, BuzzFeed)
-- This is about a larger procedural issue, though. Paul Kane's take: The White House was bound by tradition in nominating Boggs, thanks to the practice known as "blue slips." Home-state senators are sent slips, which are actually blue, that must be signed affirmatively before a confirmation hearing can be held. The only way the White House can get nominees confirmed for a conservative state like Georgia is to negotiate judicial picks that Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) like; those nominees are going to be conservative. Leahy has been a big defender of blue slips, and the Boggs nomination could be the moment when Reid decides to eliminate the tradition. This is the next procedural nuclear option.
-- House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) warned colleagues last week that the upcoming select committee on Benghazi could become a rabbit hole that devolves into conspiracy theories. Rogers, House Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) all opposed forming the committee, which will essentially double-check their earlier investigations. (Daily Beast)
-- Front Pages: WaPo leads with the Clintons fighting back (see below) and fronts the FCC's net neutrality fight. NYT highlights a shift in the government's approach to AIDS prevention. WSJ worries about falling global bond rates, while USA Today looks at hackers holding computers hostage. All four papers have front-page images of the deadly mine disaster in Turkey that has claimed at least 274 lives.
National Roundup: What's happening outside the Beltway.
-- WH'16: Speaking in Washington Wednesday, Hillary Clinton offered a loud defense of her tenure as Secretary of State while husband Bill mocked Karl Rove's suggestion that Hillary had suffered a brain injury. It's a sign that Clinton is moving on from post-Foggy Bottom decompression into a more active stage of consideration. (Washington Post) Great line from Mark McKinnon here: "There is no 'above the fray' in politics anymore. There is only 'the fray.'"
-- Nebraska: In case you haven't heard, Ben Sasse's win in Tuesday's primary is evidence the Tea Party is alive and well. Or is it? The two driving forces behind the buzz Sasse generated in conservative D.C. circles: Karl Rove and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), both of whom urged outside groups to advertise on Sasse's behalf.
-- New Hampshire: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) was looking for an election-year boost with a bipartisan energy bill that died this week on the floor. But former Sen. Scott Brown called Senate Republican leaders urging them to kill the bill; ultimately, only three Republicans -- Portman and Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) -- voted with Democrats to end debate. (Huffington Post)
-- Idaho: Rep. Raul Labrador (R) will back state Sen. Russ Fulcher (R) in next week's primary because Gov. Butch Otter (R) has "lost his way," Labrador said at a press conference in Boise on Wednesday. Labrador has also backed a challenger to the sitting state Controller. (Spokane Spokesman-Review) Can anyone think of a sitting member of Congress who's endorsed a challenger to a governor of his or her own party? We're drawing a blank.
-- California: Gov. Jerry Brown (D) says the state will face $1.2 billion in unanticipated costs from expanding Medi-Cal, the state Medicaid program, under the Affordable Care Act. Officials said 1.4 million more people enrolled in Medi-Cal than they initially projected. In a revised budget proposal, Brown also said the state will take in $2.4 billion more in revenue than they had expected in tax revenue. (Sacramento Bee)
-- Pennsylvania: A U.S. District Judge in Philadelphia will hear arguments today over Pennsylvania's ban on recognizing same-sex marriages conducted in other states. Pennsylvania is the only state in the northeast that doesn't recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
-- Nevada: Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) gets the Mark Z. Barabak treatment in a front-page profile today. "For all the buzz about Republicans' strong gubernatorial bench … there has been strikingly little talk about Sandoval. … Perhaps the greatest impediment to Sandoval's national advancement is his record since taking office in January 2011, which includes a broken promise to reduce taxes, support for legal abortion, embrace of the federal healthcare law and a decision to drop the state's legal fight against same-sex marriage." (Los Angeles Times)
DC Digest: What's on tap today in DC.
-- President Obama and the First Lady tour the new National September 11 Memorial and Museum this morning before departing New York City and heading back to D.C. Vice President Biden addresses the 33rd annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the Capitol. He spends the afternoon in meetings at the White House.
-- The Senate will move to invoke cloture on three Arizona District Court nominees and a Fifth Circuit Court nominee, and will hold votes on confirming an Assistant Attorney General and an Ambassador to Angola. Debate continues on the tax cut extenders bill.
-- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee meets this morning to hear testimony on the threats posed by Boko Haram, the Nigerian terrorist organization. USAID assistant administrator Earl Gast and State's principle deputy assistant Secretary for African Affairs Robert Jackson will testify.
-- Treasury Secretary Jack Lew gives the commencement address at Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy at 5 p.m. today.
House Minute: Our take on the battle for the House of Representatives.
-- Over the last few weeks, we sat down with strategists on both sides of the aisle involved in the battle for the House. Together, they mentioned 32 Democratic-held seats and 19 Republican-held seats that are at least a little bit competitive. We'll lay out the seats they mentioned in coming days, but here are some topline observations:
-- There's a lot of overlap between the most competitive Senate races and the most competitive House contests. Iowa, Michigan, Arkansas, Colorado, New Hampshire and Virginia all feature both Senate and House contests, making investments in field campaigns all the more crucial. If one side really is better at turning out voters than the other, you'll see it in House races too.
-- Republicans are still dealing with primaries, but most of their favored candidates are leading early. Primaries in Arizona, New Hampshire and Iowa will impact November lineups. Worth noting: Democrats have primaries in CA 21 and CA 31 that could cost them seats.
-- Colorado's Sixth district will be the most expensive race in the country. Rep. Mike Coffman (R) and former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D) will spend a combined $7 million or more, and outside groups will probably double that number. (Research question: How many senators first won their seats in races that cost less than $15 million? We're betting 85+)
-- Tale of the Tape: Cook Political Report rates 14 races as tossups, 14 as lean Democratic and 16 as lean Republcian. (Chart here) Rothenberg lists 7 pure tossups, 5 tossup/tilt-Democratic, 9 lean-Democratic, 4 tossup/tilt-Republican and 9 lean-Republican seats. (List here) Sabato's Crystal Ball calls 10 seats tossups, 16 seats lean Democratic and 15 seats leaning Republican. (Chart here)
TV Time Out: Our exclusive look at who's advertising, and where
-- Iowa: State Sen. Joni Ernst gets all the buzz these days, but don't forget businessman Mark Jacobs (R). Jacobs has bought about $480,000 in ads between now and the June 3 primary, amounting to about 750 points in the Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Sioux City markets per week. That's about ten times the amount Ernst's campaign has bought over the same period.
-- South Dakota: State Sen. Larry Rhoden (R) is launching his first ad buy in his bid to replace retiring Sen. Tim Johnson (D). Rhoden will spend $12,000 on cable in Rapid City and Sioux Falls this week. Former Gov. Mike Rounds (R), the front-runner, is in the middle of a six-week, $110,000 cable run of his own.
-- American Energy Alliance: Chalk up another arm of the Kochtopus. The American Energy Alliance, the political wing of the Institute for Energy Research reportedly funded by the Koch brothers network, debuts a new $330,000 ad buy against Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) today. Before targeting Udall, the group spent about $700,000 against Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska).
The Buried Lede: The nuggets that deserve the spotlight.
-- Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, segregation is making a comeback, according to researchers at UCLA. "Blacks are now seeing more school segregation than they have in decades, and more than half of Latino students are now attending schools that are majority Latino."
-- "In New York, California and Texas, more than half of Latino students are enrolled in schools that are 90 percent minority or more, the report found. In New York, Illinois, Maryland and Michigan, more than half of black students attend schools where 90 percent or more are minority." (Associated Press)
B1: Business, politics and the business of politics
-- The FCC will vote today on rules that would allow internet service providers like Verizon to charge companies to deliver content through priority lanes. The proposed rules are being advocated by Tom Wheeler, a Democratic appointee to the commission, angering Silicon Valley technologists who once saw an ally in the Obama administration. Google, Facebook and Yahoo are among the signers on a letter opposing the policy. (Washington Post)
-- At least one phone company, Sprint, raised questions about the NSA program of systematically collecting bulk calling data from American citizens beginning as early as July 2009, according to declassified documents. The documents redact the name of the company, but The Washington Post reported Sprint's involvement last month. The documents appear to contradict Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Judge Claire Eagan, who wrote in August 2013 that no record-holder had challenged the legality of the program. (New York Times, Washington Post)
-- Markets are down slightly in early-hours trading after the Dow lost 100 points on Wednesday. World markets are mixed. (CNN)
C1: The long reads you'll need to check out before tonight's cocktail party.
-- The far-right U.K. Independence Party is poised to take the largest share of votes in next week's European parliamentary elections, marking the first time in more than a century that a party other than Labor or the Conservatives has won an election. UKIP advocates for leaving the EU and closing down borders to immigrants; for years, other parties have dismissed them as xenophobes and racists. They're getting support both from the right and from blue collar Labor voters -- Britain's version of the Reagan Democrat. (Washington Post)
Attn Matt Drudge: Things conservatives will get outraged by today.
-- The tax cut extenders bill the Senate passed Wednesday would broaden a $15 million deduction for movie and television production to include theater shows as well. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) sought the tax break for Broadway shows, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says it will help Las Vegas shows too. But before you fiscally conservative press secretaries go looking for burlesque shows on the Strip to denounce, remember the tax credit excludes "sexually explicit" shows. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Attn HuffPo: What outrages liberals today
-- Missouri women seeking an abortion would have to wait three days under a measure passed overwhelmingly by the legislature on Wednesday, even in the case of rape or incest. Only Utah and South Carolina set a three-day waiting period on the books. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) has not said whether he'll sign the bill. (Associated Press)