Fox News First

High stakes at high court

FILE: 2013: The Supreme Court building, in Washington, D.C.

FILE: 2013: The Supreme Court building, in Washington, D.C.  (AP)

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Buzz Cut:
• High stakes at high court
• Troubled vets agency turns to ObamaCare sales
• Trumka to tear into Obama on trade
• Making ‘em squeal in Iowa
• Dems’ Koch habit will be expensive
• And all you did was bring a form to the office…

Can the federal government force American business owners to subsidize activities they believe to be unconscionable? That’s the question before the Supreme Court today as justices hear arguments in two cases involving employers who are refusing to obey ObamaCare requirements. In one case, the family-owned Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores has agreed to cover 16 of the 20 birth-control measures required of insurance policies under the 2010 law. But the chain’s owners, the members of the Green family, refuse to cover the other four – which can terminate pregnancies in their initial stages – because their Christian beliefs strictly prohibit abortion. The Obama administration is seeking a ruling against conscience exemptions for corporations, arguing that Americans’ religious freedoms do not extend to their businesses. The other case involves a Mennonite-run cabinet company in Pennsylvania, Conestoga Wood Specialties, the owners of which are also forbidden by their faith to be party to abortion at any stage. More details here.

[Watch Fox: Correspondent Shannon Bream has the latest on the case from the Supreme Court.]

Why it matters - So why does this matter to non-business owners or to those who are not abortion activists? Simply put, the Supreme Court may take the chance to broadly redefine what the religious rights of Americans may be and whether the other challenges aimed at President Obama’s troubled law and its mandates may succeed. Of course, justices may opt to steer around the issue by narrowing the scope of their decision. But with what Americans consider their “first freedom” on the line as well as the implementation of the controversial health law, the attention on the court’s arguments today is intense.

For the left: “Corporations are not people. Corporations cannot have religious views. If religious rights are extended to corporations, it puts us on a slippery slope where any private company could argue that religious beliefs prevent it from offering vital employee protections… Although this country predominantly descends from a Judeo-Christian tradition… All sets of beliefs should be treated equally, but allowing any belief to override insurance law opens the door to many more extreme beliefs being able to do the same.” – WaPo OpEd from Democratic California state Senate candidate Sandra Fluke, made famous by her fight to force her Jesuitical alma mater, Georgetown University, to subsidize birth control for students.

For the right: “In this case, the administration is insisting that those who form and operate a family business based on religious beliefs must disobey what they believe is God’s standard in order to obey the government’s program. The administration wants everyone to render unto Caesar not only what is Caesar’s but also what is God’s. If it wins, the first purpose on which the United States was founded would be severely damaged. I used to own the letter that President Thomas Jefferson penned in February 1809 to the Methodist Episcopal Church of New London, Conn. … In that letter, Jefferson thundered, ‘No provision in our constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of civil authority.’ My prayer is that the Supreme Court will agree with Jefferson.” Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. and author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” in a WaPo OpEd.

Washington Examiner: “The Department of Veterans Affairs sent veterans and other Americans in its database a seven-page color brochure titled ‘The Affordable Care Act: For Veterans Who Need Health Care Coverage,’ with a letter dated March 7 that appears addressed to individuals who don’t use VA health insurance. The packet urges them to enroll in either VA coverage or Obamacare to ensure that they meet the federal mandate to carry health insurance or pay a fine. A VA spokesman told the Washington Examiner that the department estimates that up to 1.3 million veterans are uninsured, about 1 million of whom are eligible for VA health care. The spokesman did not dispute that the VA also is seeking to encourage uninsured veterans to consider Obamacare as a health insurance option. The VA is collaborating with other departments on the implementation of Obamacare, the spokesman said.”

WSJ: “Several states running their own insurance exchanges are laying contingency plans to allow some consumers to finish signing up for health coverage after next week's enrollment deadline. Some states are worried that lingering technical problems may prevent people from completing the sign-up process, especially if a surge of enrollees clogs sites in the final days. Consumers have until March 31 to sign up for insurance coverage and avoid facing a financial penalty for 2014 under the Affordable Care Act. On Monday, Minnesota said it would extend a completion deadline for anyone who starts the process of enrolling in a plan by midnight on March 31 but doesn't finish it. Maryland and Nevada also have extended the deadline for people who can show they began to sign-up before the end of the month…While the health law requires individuals carry insurance starting this year, it does allow for a gap of no more than 90 days, or up to March 31, for people who are currently uninsured.”

Tick, tick, tick - With less than one week to go until ObamaCare’s enrollment deadline, vulnerable Senate Democrats are looking for some electoral relief. A proposal offered by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen , D-N.H., and backed by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Kay Hagan D-N.C., would extend the time Americans have to comply with the law before fines are levied. But so far, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has kept it on ice. As Democratic hopes of holding the Senate slide, will Reid be moved to give the bill a chance?  –Watch Fox: Chief Congressional Correspondent Mike Emanuel has the latest.

[The Atlantic breaks down recent polling to explain why the uninsured aren’t buying into ObamaCare.]

The Hill’s Elise Viebeck explains why patients with ObamaCare are having a harder time getting top-shelf prescription drugs. “ObamaCare participants are twice as likely to face administrative barriers to using certain prescription drugs as people who receive health coverage through an employer, according to a new analysis… The research from consulting firm Avalere Health points to a little-known facet of policies on the ObamaCare exchanges known as ‘utilization management controls.’... At least 51 percent of brand-name mental health meds come with special controls on the exchanges, compared with only 11 percent on the employer-based market, the analysis found.”

Fox News: “The Senate voted 78-17 to advance a Ukraine aid package Monday sought by the Obama administration, setting up a final vote for later this week… Ahead of the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sharply attacked Republicans, suggesting because of previous inaction they helped Russia annex Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and he urged the GOP to consider ‘how their obstruction affects United States’ national security as well as the people of Ukraine’… Many Republicans support aid for Ukraine, but want the IMF provisions stripped from the bill. The actual impact on U.S. taxpayers is a matter of debate, as the changes call mainly for moving money around -- for the U.S., shifting roughly $63 billion from a crisis fund to a general lending fund.”

[Watch Fox: Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., discusses the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine in the 2 p.m. ET hour]

Republicans respond - “We are deeply concerned that the Ukraine aid legislation reported by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee contains ‘reform’ provisions that would unnecessarily double the United States contribution to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), part of the largest proportional increase ever, yet ultimately undermine our influence in that body in a manner that provides no actual relief to Ukraine.” – Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in a letter from GOP lawmakers to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Monday

Watch “Special Report with Bret Baier” in the 6 p.m. ET hour for an exclusive interview with outgoing National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander. Bret goes inside the walls of America’s most secretive agency to ask Alexander questions about domestic surveillance and the leaks from former contractor Edward Snowden.

Obama to call for changes in domestic surveillance - AP: “The Obama administration this week is expected to propose that Congress overhaul the electronic surveillance program by having phone companies hold onto the call records as they do now, according to a government official briefed on the proposal.”

Baseball purists are complaining about the first game of the Major League season being played over the weekend in Australia, where the Dodgers dueled with the Diamondbacks. But it’s nothing new. Smithsonian magazine’s Tom Clavin revisits the 1914 world tour of the Giants and the White Sox. Legendary players, including the great Jim Thorpe, went to Sri Lanka, met the pope and rode the Lusitania 100 years ago. Way cool!

Got a TIP from the RIGHT or LEFT? Email FoxNewsFirst@FOXNEWS.COM

Real Clear Politics Averages

Obama Job Approval: Approve –  43.1 percent//Disapprove – 52.4 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 27.0 percent//Wrong Track – 61.8 percent
Generic Congressional Ballot:  Democrats – 41.2 percent// Republicans 40.8 percent

Richard Trumka
, the head of America’s largest labor union, will rally liberal activists today against President Obama’s trade policies. Fox News First has a preview of the AFL-CIO leader’s speech to the Center for American Progress. The message is that Obama’s request for new trade authority is a bad deal. From the prepared remarks for Trumka’s speech to the group this morning: “We wanted a new template, one we could endorse. We can’t endorse these. We’ve seen nothing but the same [North American Free Trade Agreement]-era framework…But make no mistake about it, NAFTA-style trade deals that put Wall Street first and workers last are goners, no matter how ‘progressive’ their advocates portray them to be. We are ready to stand with President Obama in realizing the vision of global economic growth and equity.  But first he has to decide if that is the vision that will animate his trade policies.”

Not every campaign ad begins thusly: “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm, so when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.” That’s the new message today from Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican hoping to emerge from a crowded primary field for the chance to run for the seat being left vacant by retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin. Ernst is a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard who has won backing from, among others, Mitt Romney. Shekeeps it real in her first ad, which features a squealing piglet in a pen as she touts her, ahem, cutting ability. Ernst says: “As a mother, I want to make sure that we pass along to my daughter and her generation the same great nation we inherited. To do that, we will have to get Washington to stop borrowing 40 cents out of every dollar our government spends, and repeal and replace [Democratic frontrunner Rep. Bruce Braley's] Obamacare with common-sense, market-driven solutions.” You know you’re going to watch this.

Which six Democrat-held Senate seats present the most likely path for the GOP to win back control of the upper chamber for the first time in eight years? The current consensus among Fox News First readers: Arkansas, Montana, Louisiana, South Dakota, North Carolina and West Virginia. Reader T.J. Blue of Lady’s Island, S.C., says, “I agree with your current selections but with things looking up I would be interested in seeing what the second six is looking like… Maybe once a week you could provide that insight.” Read on, T.J. Blue! Read on!

Share your top six picks. Email them – just your top six, please – to FOXNEWSFIRST@FOXNEWS.COM or tweet @cstirewalt.

Until the end of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Fox News First is inviting readers to pick their midterm bracket busters. Pick a candidate who looks like an easy out on paper but who you just know is a lock. That’s what FNF subscriber Sandra McQuillen of Iowa City, Iowa did. She picked Republican Senate hopeful Mark Jacobs for the seat being left open by the retirement of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. McQuillen not only sees businessman Jacobs emerging from the crowed GOP primary field but going on to beat frontrunner Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa., the presumptive Democratic nominee, in the finals this November.  Tweet your own long-shot selections to @cstirewalt and we’ll share the best ones here.

A George Washington University Poll out this morning finds Democrats have a long way to go to make oil tycoons Charles and David Koch into effective 2014 stand ins for 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney. Democrats hope to replicate the success President Obama had in vilifying Romney, whom Obama’s campaign famously called a “vampire” for his work at Bain Capital, with this cycle’s top conservative benefactors, the Koch brothers. While Democrats can be glad that they have so far helped give the Kochs a net negative rating of 13 percent favorable, 25 percent unfavorable, the painful part for the blue team is in the fact that 52 percent of respondents had never heard of the Kochs and another 11 percent had no opinion. The press will help Democrats introduce Americans to the Kochs and reinforce damaging narratives, but is the party ready to spend the millions it would take to keep up the Koch attacks long enough to make their name a household word?

[The same GWU poll finds a tight top tier for the 2016 GOP nomination. Leading the pack is Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., with 38 percent, Former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., 36 percent, and embattled Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., 34 percent.]

WRAL: “…Sen. Kay Hagan’s,[ D-N.C.,]  re-election campaign is getting some help from two outside spending groups who plan to air commercials on her behalf this month…[Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Senate Majority PAC] will spend $1 million airing the ads across North Carolina – double what the group plans to spend in other states that will see pieces of the same campaign.… A coalition of environmental groups will also come to Hagan’s aid as part of a $5 million national ad buy they are making on behalf of several members of Congress. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy ‘will sponsor the North Carolina series of ads, thanking Senator Hagan for protecting North Carolinians from dangerous air pollution,’ according to a news release… The ad also riffs on the Koch brothers theme, starting its 30-second run by asking ‘Who’s behind the attacks on Kay Hagan? Oil industry billionaires, that’s who.’’’

WSJ: “The latest television spot in…[American’s for Prosperity’s] $30 million media blitz is airing in Michigan, where the U.S. Senate race pits the former secretary of state, Republican Terri Lynn Land, against Democratic Rep. Gary Peters. Like other AFP ads, the spot features a personal horror story … Shannon Wendt of Grand Rapids, a mother of five children, says the law forced her insurer to cancel the family’s health care plan, and the replacement ‘is not affordable at all.’ She adds, ‘It feels like a kick in the gut…Congressman Peters’ vote for Obamacare is a vote that’s destroying the middle class.’’’

The Boston Globe explains why Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., is pushing incipient Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown to limit contributions from outside groups: “The spending levels from out-of-state Republican groups have already surpassed what Mitt Romney’s campaign spent on ads during the entire 2012 New Hampshire primary. Close observers expect the Senate race to cost at least $20 million, setting records in New Hampshire — a small state of 1.3 million where a crush of outside money could have a big effect.” Democratic National Committee Member and former State Senator Peter Burling told the Globe, “Let me be clear: I am worried. . . . Democrats are in for a couple months of real worry and anxiety.”

The Hill: “The first ad in Sen. Brian Schatz’s (D-Hawaii) primary bid showcases his multiracial extended family and touts his defense of Social Security. Schatz says he opposes cuts to Social Security because of the 200,000 Hawaiians who depend on the program — including his wife’s parents…Schatz has been running to Rep. Colleen Hanabusa’s (D-Hawaii) left in the primary. Hawaii’s Democratic politics are often split along race and class lines, and Schatz’s ad, featuring his Chinese-American in-laws, seems designed to help bridge the gap between cultures.”

Washington Examiner: “…[O]n April 5, [Mississippi Republican Senate challenger Chris McDaniel] plans to take a brief detour from the campaign trail in the Magnolia State and travel to Louisville, Ky., to speak at ‘FreePAC Kentucky.’ The event, sponsored by FreedomWorks, is a political rally being staged to boost [Matt Bevin], the wealthy businessman running against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky’s May 20 Republican primary… FreedomWorks is billing the Louisville event as a national gathering of conservative activists and pundits, with television host Glenn Beck mentioned as the featured guest. FreedomWorks is among the Washington-based Tea Party groups backing McDaniel over [Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.,] and Bevin over McConnell. Republican insiders rate McDaniel’s chances higher than Bevin’s. But the Mississippi race is far from decided, and it’s unusual for a candidate in McDaniel’s position to get involved in another state’s GOP primary.”

National Journal’s Charlie Cook explains why no matter how Democrats work the numbers or take shots at the messengers, the party’s hopes for holding the Senate are slipping. “If you had to bet today on the outcome, the odds would strongly favor Republicans getting halfway to their goal of a net gain of six seats in Democratic open seats: GOP candidates are favorites in South Dakota, West Virginia, and, to a slightly lesser extent, Montana. Four Democratic incumbents are embroiled in very tough races: Mark Begich in Alaska, Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, and Kay Hagan in North Carolina. All are running roughly even, slightly ahead, or even behind their GOP rivals. The races, in our view, are absolutely in the Toss-Up column.”

[Thomas Sowell makes his case for How Republicans Can Win Black Votes: “Voters who want what the Democrats offer can get it from the Democrats. Why should they vote for Republicans who act like make-believe Democrats?”]

Sen.Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told the St. Louis Dispatch that she and 2016 Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton “are fine.” McCaskill was one of the first to enlist in the Clintonista group Ready for Hillary, but her 2008 endorsement of then-Sen. Barack Obama is just part of the bad blood between her and Hillary. A recent book on the Clinton campaign machine says the former first lady was furious with McCaskill over comments she made in 2006 in which stated she would not let former President Bill Clinton near her daughter. “Are we besties for the rest of our lives? No,” McCaskill said, but assured the paper that they could work together to retain Democratic control of the White House.

Dynastic road show - AP: “Their presidential plans may be uncertain but one thing is clear: [former Florida Republican Governor] Jeb Bush and [2016 Democratic frontrunner] Hillary Rodham Clinton keep bumping into each other. Bush and Clinton were taking the podium Monday at a higher education conference in suburban Dallas organized by Bush… It is at least the third time in the past year that Bush and Clinton were crossing paths.”

[Good break - Gov. Susana Martinez, R-N.M., will get a boost from Jeb Bush as he attends fundraisers today and tomorrow in the Land of Enchantment.]

Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., is hitting the airwaves with a $2 million ad buy to blast Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist over his support of ObamaCare. The ad features Crist saying the president’s signature entitlement program has “been great” for the Sunshine State despite 300,000 insurance policies being cancelled in the state.

It’s been a sweet season for Katie Francis and her customers and it isn’t over yet. The 12-year-old Girl Scout from Oklahoma is laying claim to a new national cookie-selling record of 18,107 boxes as of Sunday night, and is aiming for 20,000 by the end of March. For those wondering if they’ve got enough milk to wash ‘em down, that would be the equivalent of 506,996 Thin Mints. The sixth-grader told USA Today that she needed a bigger goal after setting the state record for cookie sales in 2013 and 2012. Her recipe for success? Time, persistence… and asking everyone she sees to buy a box. Since the start of the cookie-selling season this winter, Francis has been hustling mot weekdays from when she gets out of school until about 9:30 p.m. and 12 or 13 hours on weekends. Francis and her mom did some research to find that the previous national record was set by Elizabeth Brinton, who sold about 18,000 boxes in one year in the 1980s and 100,000 boxes over her career. A state Girl Scout official told ABC News that the organization will wait until sales end on March 30 to discuss Francis’ claim.

Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer will take on President Obama’s former campaign manager and political strategist David Plouffe Sunday evening at George Washington University. Tickets to the 90-minute debate are available to the public. Learn more here.

“[Russian ruler Vladimir Putin] has on the border of Ukraine 20,000 troops, artillery, and attack helicopters and we are now going to give the Ukrainians, what, tuna sandwiches?” – Charles Krauthammer, on “Special Report with Bret Baier.” Watch here.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.