Let’s get started with this terrific piece by Philip Rucker and Anne Gearan recapping the not-terribly-courageous response from the GOP presidential candidates to the post-Charleston-shooting debate about race and the fate of the Confederate flag in South Carolina:

The massacre last week at a church in Charleston, S.C., opened a leadership opportunity for the nearly two dozen politicians running to be the next president. But few stepped forward to seize it.

The Republican hopefuls mostly stammered and stumbled in response to the shootings. At first, some resisted calling the massacre racially motivated, only to reverse course when it became obvious it was.

Most stopped short of calling for South Carolina leaders to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the state capitol in Columbia. Some, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, declined to comment at all. Only after South Carolina’s Republican governor, Nikki Haley, emotionally declared Monday that the flag should come down did most GOP candidates join the chorus…

Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, by contrast, has forcefully initiated a conversation about race and bigotry in recent days. At this moment of national trauma, the Republican candidates seemed as though they didn’t know what to say.

“This is a leadership opportunity for candidates to show the kind of moral clarity and risk-taking leadership it will take to lead the free world,” said Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “I think that candidates who are skittish are demonstrating that they’re not aware of where the country is right now.”

As the piece notes, Clinton’s willingness to wade so aggressively into the debate over race — a topic she’s struggled with in the past — could have something to do with ongoing cultural and demographic changes in the increasingly diverse Democratic Party. The question — on many culturally-charged issues — is whether those changes are mostly unique to the party or are reflective of broader mainstream cultural changes that are increasingly leaving core GOP voter groups behind.

The piece also notes that Jeb Bush was slow to acknowledge the racial dimension to the slaughter, though he did highlight the fact that Florida removed the Confederate flag to a museum when he was governor. Marco Rubio at first said the fate of the flag should be left to South Carolina to decide. And note this from Walker:

Walker acknowledged Saturday night that the shooting was committed by “a racist and evil man” but withheld an opinion on the Confederate flag. After Haley’s statement on Monday, Walker tweeted that he supported her decision. His aides insisted that he had arrived at his position days earlier but declined to weigh in because he did not want to distract from the period of mourning.

Walker’s whole schtick was supposed to be that he’s a no-nonsense, reform-minded executive who represents a new generation of leaders in the GOP — just the Republican with the profile to show that Hillary Clinton is a politician of the past. Yet here he is calling for a Constitutional amendment that would allow states to ban same-sex marriage if the Supreme Court declares that gays and lesbians have a Constitutional right to marry, and now his campaign is making weak-sounding excuses for playing catch-up on the Confederate flag. Does anyone else think this kind of stuff cuts against his main political selling points?

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Update: My first version of the above post mis-characterized Scott Walker’s position on a Constitutional marriage amendment. I’ve edited the above for accuracy; apologies for the error.

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* NEW DATA SHOWS SHARP DECLINE IN UNINSURED RATE: The New York Times reports that the highly respected National Health Insurance Survey will release new data today showing a sharp drop in the uninsured rate, with particularly good news among the poor:

The share of poor Americans who were uninsured declined substantially in 2014, according to the first full year of federal data since the Affordable Care Act extended coverage to millions of Americans last year…The share of uninsured among the poor and lower middle class, called “near poor” by the federal government, declined by 7 percentage points and 7.6 percentage points respectively, compared with a 2.5 percentage point decline for Americans who were not poor. 

While the Medicaid expansion played a large role in the drop in poor uninsured Americans, the subsidies were also important, the Times notes. This underscores the stakes of the coming Court ruling, which could erase subsidies for millions of those people.

* PAUL RYAN REJOICES ABOUT ‘END’ OF OBAMACARE: Meanwhile, GOP Rep. Paul Ryan is celebrating the possibility that a victory before the Supreme Court could destroy the law:

“This is the beginning of the end of the Affordable Care Act,” Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in an interview…”The key is to get into 2017,’’ Mr. Ryan said. “That’s why the court ruling is so devastating to him. It will expose this law, and make it certain that Congress will be rewriting this law fully once he’s gone.”

Thus, the evolving Republican “contingency fix” plan would repeal Obamacare in 2017, whereupon the GOP president and Congress would implement the alternative Republicans have been promising for over four years now.

* GOP LAWMAKERS FACE OBAMACARE DILEMMA: The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating look at the “tug of war” looming for one GOP lawmaker, Rep. Bradley Byrne of Alabama, whose district has up to 21,000 people who could lose ACA subsidies. Says one constituent:

As part of the same law, her insurer can’t charge her more than it charges anyone else even though her husband has a brain tumor and she has anemia, a twisted spine, high blood pressure and asthma. “If they take Obamacare from me, I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Mrs. Wright said. “It’s his responsibility to make this stay,” she said of Mr. Byrne. 

As noted the other day, a non-trivial number of GOP lawmakers have 10s of thousands of people in their districts who stand to lose subsidies and possibly health coverage.

* DEMS FACE TOUGH TRADE VOTE: With a bloc of 14 pro-trade Senate Dems pondering whether to help move Fast Track forward on the understanding that Trade Adjustment Assistance for workers will pass later, the Hill reports that a number of them remain undecided:

Sens. Maria Cantwell and Heidi Heitkamp said Monday they are still reviewing their options, while Sen. Ben Cardin insisted he wants fast-track to remain bundled with Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), an aid program for workers hurt by foreign competition. Democratic Sens. Chris Coons, Michael Bennet, Jeanne Shaheen and Claire McCaskill declined to say Monday evening how they would vote.

The White House can only afford to lose a handful of them in order to get 60 to move this forward; with many still undecided, this is looking too close to call. The first key vote is today.

 * HILLARY HOLDS LARGE LEAD OVER GOP RIVALS: A new NBC/WSJ poll finds:

Looking ahead to the general election, Clinton also leads Bush by eight points (48 percent to 40 percent), Rubio by 10 points (50 percent to 40 percent) and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker by 14 (51 percent to 37 percent).

Still, a huge majority of Democratic voters say they want her to face a contested primary.

* AND REPUBLICANS DIG IN AGAINST SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: A new CBS News poll finds that majorities of Americans and most voter groups now support same-sex marriage, while Republicans remain opposed:

As the Supreme Court considers its ruling on same-sex marriage, 54 percent of Americans think there should be a federal law regarding same-sex marriage for all fifty states. Fifty-seven percent of Americans support legalizing same-sex marriage. Majorities of Democrats (69 percent) and independents (59 percent) support it, while 55 percent of Republicans do not.

Other polls have shown the same; there may be an incentive for some GOP presidential candidates to keep up the crusade against cultural change even after a court ruling.