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Timing is everything: Charges for Menendez but not Lerner

Shown here are former IRS official Lois Lerner, left, and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.

Shown here are former IRS official Lois Lerner, left, and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.  (AP)

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Buzz Cut:
• Timing is everything: Charges for Menendez but not Lerner
• Obama shows zeal of the converted on gay rights
• Jeb slips, stalls in swing state poll
• Reid’s rationale for Hillary: Women are ‘not combative’
• Rock, paper, scissors, chicken, bra

As President Obama extended again his self-imposed deadlines for landing the Spruce Goose of a nuclear negotiation with Iran, the administration dropped a bomb of its own on one of the harshest critics of the deal. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., will face a load of federal charges for his relationship with a Medicare mega-doc in Florida, for whom Menendez did favors. The payola charges have been rattling around at the Justice Department for years so why did they have to drop as Menendez’s main issue – opposition to the Obama nuke deal – was hitting yet another milestone moment amid deepening opposition? Why not do it before the legislation Menendez is sponsoring to constrain the administration’s Iran dealings was underway? Doing it now looks too much like the administration is sending a message to critics and, fairly or not, further stamps the Obama Justice Department as a political operation.

[In the latest Fox News poll, 76 percent of voters say President Obama should be required to get congressional approval on an Iran deal.]

The political consequence of the timing was made more pungent to congressional Republicans coming, as it did, alongside another decision from the Justice Department: No charges will be brought against the central figure in the IRS political targeting scandal, Lois Lerner, for refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena. Lerner has been stonewalling investigators about her role in the agency’s targeting of Obama’s political enemies. This twin-bill of highly charged decisions from the Justice Department could be all coincidental, but if that were so, prudence would demand outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder do something to prevent the appearance of impropriety. It seems instead that that he is just fine with that.

David Axelrod
wrote that President Obama had publicly opposed same-sex marriage despite his personal support for the practice because of political pressures. Obama said that Axelrod’s claim was not true. In February, the president told BuzzFeed that his 2012 flip was, as he had previously maintained, the result of a long spiritual evolution, and that he eventually came to reconcile his Christian faith with his desire for equality. It was not, Obama and his spokespeople said, an instance of the pandering to voters as cultural norms changed.  And yet, when asked about the Indiana religious liberty law, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest condemned on Obama’s behalf those who justified discrimination on religious grounds: “I do think that, in the mind of the president, the thought that we would have state legislatures in the 21st century in the United States of America passing laws that would use religion to try to justify discriminating against people because of who they love, is unthinkable.” WaPo’s Chris Cillizza points out that the high dudgeon from White House ignores some basic math: “After all, President Obama has opposed gay marriage for longer than he’s supported it in the, to borrow Earnest’s words, ‘21st century in the United States of America.’”

Indianapolis Star: “Indiana Republicans said Thursday morning that they are presenting an addition to the controversial RFRA legislation that will make it clear no one ‘be able to discriminate against anyone at any time.’ Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis said at a press conference at the Statehouse that leaders will present the proposal to lawmakers [today] after speaking with corporate and civic leadership this week. ‘Hoosier hospitality had to be restored,’ Bosma said. … ‘It was never intended to discriminate against anyone,’ Long said. ‘That perception led to the national protests we’ve seemed’

More - “[Long and Bosma] spent 90 minutes meeting late Wednesday evening discussing the deal with top staff and Gov. Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Jim Atterholt…The deal was hammered out in private between Bosma, Long, Atterholt and a small handful of business leaders, including Republican powerbroker and Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Mark Miles, throughout the day Tuesday and Wednesday. However early discussions about the ‘fix’ began last Friday, one day after Pence signed the law in a private ceremony.”

Jeb wants a fix - NYT: “Jeb Bush appeared to modify his public comments about Indiana’s ‘religious freedom’ law on Wednesday in a closed-door Silicon Valley fund-raiser, telling a small group of potential supporters that a ‘consensus-oriented’ approach would have been better at the outset… ‘By the end of the week, I think Indiana will be in the right place, which is to say that we need in a big diverse country like America, we need to have space for people to act on their conscience, that it is a constitutional right that religious freedom is a core value of our country,’  Mr. Bush said. But ‘we shouldn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation,’ he said. He continued, ‘So what the State of Indiana is going to end up doing is probably get to that place.’”

Christie: ‘Fix the problem and move on’ - New Jersey Star-Ledger: Breaking nearly two days of silence over the controversial Indiana law that’s ignited national debate over religious freedom and discrimination based on sexual orientation, Gov. Chris Christie Wednesday night said he believes the state’s Republican Gov. Mike Pence will ‘fix the problem and move on.’…‘Well, we should not have a situation where people perceive that anybody will be denied service. But, I can tell you this, I know Mike Pence, and he’s got nothing but love in his heart for people and I just do not believe that in any way Mike Pence would intend for anything that happen in his state on his watch to be discriminatory towards any person,’ Christie said in a statement…”

Cruz: No fix needed - WaPo: “Sen. Ted Cruz [R-Texas] reiterated his support for Indiana's controversial religious freedom law Wednesday, despite a fresh push by that state's governor to ‘fix’ the measure. … Cruz staked his claim to the right of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who signed the law but said he wanted to see ‘a fix’ to the law that makes clear it does not give businesses license to deny services to customers on the basis of sexual orientation, and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) who asked lawmakers Wednesday to recall or amend a religious freedom bill. ‘We're seeing in the news right now a lot of noise because the state of Indiana bravely stood up and passed a law defending religious liberty. I’ll say this: I will commend the state of Indiana for doing the right thing,’ Cruz said.”

The Judge’s Ruling - Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano traces the circuitous constitutional route that led to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and concludes: “Because discrimination based on sexual orientation is not prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Indiana and all other states are free to prohibit it or to look the other way in the face of it. But they are not free to encourage it or to make it lawful.”

As the nation marks the sesquicentennial of the War Between the States – which on this day in 1865 saw the Confederate line at Petersburg breeched – the Library of Congress has posted the first of over 500 rare Civil War photographs from the collection of Robin G. Stanford of Houston, Texas. During the past four decades, the 87 year-old Texas grandmother has gathered images that include Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Ill., draped in black-and-white mourning cloth, scenes of plantation life during the war and haunting battlefield images, including a battlefield from the Virginia Wilderness campaign a year after the war, trees stripped by musket fire. “It took 40 years, maybe” to gather, Stanford told the Washington Post. “I’m a little old lady, so I’ve had plenty of time to do it.” The images can be viewed here. More images will be added each month, until all are online.

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Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval
: Approve – 45.6 percent//Disapprove – 49.8 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 30.5 percent//Wrong Track – 60.8 percent

[The latest Fox News polls on 2016 primaries and hypothetical matchups, Hillary’s email troubles and the current state of ObamaCare will be released on “Special Report with Bret Baier” tonight at 6 p.m. ET.]

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has seen his frontrunner status drop considerably in his home state and watched his fortunes falter with GOP voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania. That’s according to a new poll of key swing states released today by Quinnipiac University. The survey found that 24 percent of Florida Republicans picked Bush in their presidential primary, down 8 points from February. Gov. Scott Walker shot up to second place with 15 percent, a 6 point gain from the prior month, surpassing home state Sen. Marco Rubio at 12 percent.

Weak on the road, too - In Ohio, Bush finished fourth at 8 percent, behind native son Gov. John Kasich at 20 percent and Walker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 9 percent each. Bush was back in the pack in Pennsylvania as well with 9 percent, dropping 3 points from his February numbers to finish in a 4-way tie behind Walker who came out on top with 14 percent. Cruz, the only officially declared candidate, drew 7 percent in Florida and Pennsylvania and 9 percent in Ohio, a slight bump over his February numbers in each state. A little more than half of the nine-day survey was conducted after the Texan announced his bid for the White House.

Hillary dimmed but still dominant - Controversy over emails and donations have only slightly shaded Hillary Clinton’s glow for Democratic primary voters in today’s Q poll. Her margins over second place rivals: 54 points in Florida, 40 points in Ohio, 33 points in Pennsylvania.

[Jeb Bush continues his California fundraising sweep in San Francisco today at a luncheon hosted by venture capitalists Jay and Katie Kern as well as investors Bill and Susan Oberndorf.]

Walker: no place Hillary went that isn’t ‘more screwed up’ - In an interview with Milwaukee talk radio host Charlie Sykes Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was asked about how he would feel about facing down Hillary Clinton, especially given her service as a former secretary of state. Walker was blunt: “There’s no place on earth where she’s been that is not more screwed up before she got there.” Asked about whether he would support a law for Wisconsin like the controversial measure in Indiana, Walker said it was a moot point: “We don't need it in Wisconsin; we have it in our constitution. I believe in protecting religious freedoms.”

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Teasing the media machine that’s been following his every move, Gov. Scott Walker said he would have a major announcement Wednesday morning. Then he pulled an April Fool's joke.  It started with this tweet at 9 a.m. Then at 10 a.m., he tweeted this.”

Cruz reports $4 million raised in eight days - WSJ: “Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas raised about $4 million in the eight days after he formally announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign staff said, indicating donations are coming at a faster clip than for some GOP candidates in past years. The fundraising tally comes as Mr. Cruz tries to answer questions about whether he can raise enough money to compete with big-donor magnets such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush…His campaign is likely to rely more heavily on small-dollar donors, many identifying with the tea-party movement, than on the party’s wealthiest supporters. Of the total raised in the eight days after Mr. Cruz’s announcement, 95% were contributions of $100 or less…The average donation was about $83.”

[Cruz continues his two-day swing through Iowa today with stops in Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines before heading to South Carolina.]

Rand signs pollster - Politico: “Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has signed Tony Fabrizio, a veteran Republican pollster, to join his 2016 presidential campaign, according to a source familiar with the move…Fabrizio’s resume is a long one: He worked on then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign - Perry recently inked Greg Strimple to poll for his likely campaign - and was a top strategist on Bob Dole’s 1996 bid. Fabrizio also serves as a top adviser to Florida Gov. Rick Scott.”

NYT “[Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid] called Mrs. Clinton, the secretary of state under Mr. Obama, the obvious favorite to win the presidency, for one overwhelming reason: ‘This is the time for a woman to run.’ ‘Women and some men, like me, if they are anything like me,’ he said, ‘they have come to the realization that women have qualities that we’ve been lacking in America for a long time, to be the leader of the country.’ ‘Women are much more patient,’ Mr. Reid said. ‘They can be, if they are pushed the wrong way, combative, but they are not combative. A lot of we men are combative just by nature.’”

[In the same interview, Reid was asked about becoming a lobbyist in retirement from the Senate. “I’d rather go to Singapore and have them beat me with whips.”]

Cast off: Hillary campaign getting underway - Do you hear that groan of ancient timbers? The sound of a low wind filling damp sails? Hillary Clinton’s official campaign vessel is getting underway. One of the presumptive Democratic nominee’s designated super PACs is being folded into her soon-to-launch campaign. In one of the final signs that Clinton is getting ready to enter the official phase of what is expected to be a $2 billion effort to return to the White House, NYT reports that the grassroots organizers who have been part of her shadow campaign will be given berths in the legally-compliant apparatus. A christening of some kind is expected this month.

O’Malley signs up press handler - Martin O’Malley is bringing Haley Morris onboard as press secretary. A Maryland native, Morris is a veteran of campaigns across the Midwest and in New Hampshire. “She is one of the most creative, aggressive, and talented young Democratic communicators in the country,” says O’Malley spokeswoman Lis Smith, “[A] great addition to our team.”

WKYT: “Police say they arrested a 31 year old Lexington [Ky.] woman after she strangled a stranger with her bra. ‘I thought I was going to die that night,’ said the victim, Patricia Leece. … ‘It happened about 12:30 the other night. Someone came to my doors, banging, screaming and hollering.’ Leece says she opened the door to her home on Harrogate Road because she thought it was her granddaughter. Instead, she tells WKYT that the woman standing there was Ashley Sies. Leece says the 31 year old pushed her way inside and wrapped her bra around her neck. ‘She choked me down and we fought for a good 15 to 20 minutes. Finally I saw one of my (ceramic) chickens on the floor so I picked it up and started bashing her on the head with it,’ Leece explained. After she knocked her out, she called police.”

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.