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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.20.14

10/20/14 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
* In Iowa's U.S. Senate race, Public Policy Polling's latest survey shows Bruce Braley (D) inching past Joni Ernst (R), 48% to 47%. Nearly all other recent polling shows Ernst with a narrow lead.
* Some statewide Democratic candidates are still eager to campaign with President Obama, which was evident yesterday with events in Maryland and Illinois.
* Former President Bill Clinton, meanwhile, continues to campaign for Democrats who are less eager to be seen with Obama, as was clear at an event for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) in Louisiana yesterday.
* It didn't take long for the Florida Democratic Party to create a new ad, poking fun at Gov. Rick Scott (R) for hiding backstage before last week's debate over a small electrical fan.
* It seems hard to believe, but a new Suffolk poll in New Hampshire shows Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) with a narrow lead over former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), 49% to 46%.
* In Massachusetts' gubernatorial race, Martha Coakley (D) declined to participate in a debate last week against Charlie Baker (R), which apparently had the effect of giving Baker "a full hour on the largest network affiliate in the Springfield broadcast TV market."
Seth Moulton at a Democratic Party unity breakfast Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014, in Boston.

Congressional hopeful downplays military heroism

10/20/14 11:29AM

Recent history offers plenty of examples of politicians exaggerating their accomplishments, using embellishments to advance their ambitions. In 2012, Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) exaggerations were pretty embarrassing for the far-right congressman, and two years earlier, Mark Kirk's (R-Ill.) exaggerations very nearly ended his career.
It is a rare and welcome treat, then, to see a congressional candidate exaggerate in the opposite direction. The Boston Globe reported over the weekend on Seth Moulton, whose military heroism is even more impressive than he's been willing to admit.
The American political graveyard has more than a few monuments to politicians and public officials who embellished details of their military service, in some cases laying claim to medals for heroism or other military honors they never received.
And then, uniquely, there is Seth W. Moulton, the Democratic nominee for Congress in the Sixth Congressional District, a former Marine who saw fierce combat for months and months in Iraq. But Moulton chose not to publicly disclose that he was twice decorated for heroism until pressed by the Globe.
In 2003 and 2004, during weeks-long battles with Iraqi insurgents, then-Lieutenant Moulton "fearlessly exposed himself to enemy fire" while leading his platoon during pitched battles for control of Nasiriyah and Najaf south of Baghdad, according to citations for the medals that the Globe requested from the campaign.
The Globe apparently did extensive research into Moulton's career, and noticed some omissions -- the Democratic candidate hadn't bragged nearly enough. Moulton earned the Bronze Star medal for valor and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medal for valor, but hadn't even told his staff -- or his parents.
After covering this campaign cycle closely all year, this might be my favorite story of them all -- the candidate who thinks it's inappropriate to talk about the amazing feats of bravery he performed for his country.
Secretary of State John Kerry (R) shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif after a ceremony at the United Nations in Geneva on Nov. 24, 2013.

Obama looks to steer clear of Congress on Iran deal

10/20/14 10:54AM

Just last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that a nuclear deal with the West is likely. According to Iranian broadcaster Press TV, Rouhani told his constituents, "We will find a solution to the nuclear subject and we believe that the two sides will certainly reach a win-win agreement."
Obama administration officials have been far more circumspect when it comes to setting expectations for the nuclear talks, but most accounts suggest there's reason for cautious optimism -- at a minimum, the negotiations appear to be moving in the right direction.
But there is a complication: any deal that requires Congress to govern in any meaningful way should necessarily be considered suspect. The White House knows this all too well, and David Sanger reports today that officials are acting accordingly.
No one knows if the Obama administration will manage in the next five weeks to strike what many in the White House consider the most important foreign policy deal of his presidency: an accord with Iran that would forestall its ability to make a nuclear weapon. But the White House has made one significant decision: If agreement is reached, President Obama will do everything in his power to avoid letting Congress vote on it.
Even while negotiators argue over the number of centrifuges Iran would be allowed to spin and where inspectors could roam, the Iranians have signaled that they would accept, at least temporarily, a "suspension" of the stringent sanctions that have drastically cut their oil revenues and terminated their banking relationships with the West, according to American and Iranian officials. The Treasury Department, in a detailed study it declined to make public, has concluded Mr. Obama has the authority to suspend the vast majority of those sanctions without seeking a vote by Congress, officials say.
And for the administration, that would at least move the process forward. That said, Sanger notes that Congress has approved sanctions that would remain in place without additional action from lawmakers -- action that seems impossible, at least for now.
Negotiators realize this, and hope to work into the deal a lengthy process that would delay the need for legislation for years.
If this dynamic sounds familiar, there's a good reason for that.
The White House seen from the South Lawn in Washington. (Photo by Susan Walsh/AP)

The case against the case against Ron Klain

10/20/14 10:00AM

The trajectory of the Republicans' "czars" argument has been a sight to behold. In the first couple of years of the Obama presidency, GOP lawmakers were absolutely convinced that these policy coordinators, common in the Clinton and Bush administrations, were an outrageous and unconstitutional abuse. Over the last few weeks, however, Republicans changed their minds, demanded that the president name an Ebola "czar" without delay.
So, the president did just that on Friday, introducing Ron Klain as the official who'll help oversee the federal response, prompting a brand new round of GOP complaints.
At this point, we can point to four specific areas of concern raised by the right since Friday afternoon.
1. Klain is not a scientist or medical professional.
2. Klain is a political "operative," comparable to Karl Rove.
3. Klain helped implement the Recovery Act.
4. We don't need an Ebola czar at all.
I can't say with any confidence what will happen next when it comes to the U.S. response to Ebola, but if these are the best complaints the right can come up with, conservatives are going to need some better talking points.
Let's take these one at a time.
Scott Brown, Mitt Romney

Scott Brown sees Mitt Romney as an Ebola repellent

10/20/14 09:10AM

Ordinarily, candidates for major public offices get better as campaigns progress. The improvements tend to be organic -- politicians do more interviews, make more appearances, deliver more speeches, and answer more questions, and the process hones their skills. Practice makes perfect.
Scott Brown, however, is one of those rare candidates who defies the odds. As the only politician in the country who's run in three separate U.S. Senate campaigns in four years, one might assume he'd be the sharpest and most pitch-perfect candidate in America.
And yet, the Republican is arguably getting worse. Brown has gone from suggesting terrorists will strike by sneaking through Mexico with Ebola to arguing that Mitt Romney could stop Ebola with his amazing Romney-esque talents.
Scott Brown told Fox News' Brian Kilmeade Friday that Ebola wouldn't be a problem for America if Mitt Romney had won in 2012.
"Gosh can you imagine if Mitt was the president right now?" Brown said. "He was right on Russia, he was right on Obamacare, he was right on the economy. And I guarantee you we would not be worrying about Ebola right now and, you know, worrying about our foreign policy screw ups."
Clearly, all of our assumptions about candidates getting better with practice need to be revised. Brown's on-air comments may position him to lead the Mitt Romney Fan Club in whichever state Brown ends up living in next, but they're not the words of a sensible political observer.
Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next U.S. Surgeon General, prepares to testify on Capitol Hill, Feb. 4, 2014, in Washington, DC.

GOP blames Obama for obstruction on Surgeon General

10/20/14 08:30AM

Last week, as public anxiety over Ebola grew, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) issued a statement demanding that the White House withdraw Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination to be Surgeon General. "Now more than ever, our nation needs to have an experienced and effective Surgeon General to help coordinate the government's Ebola strategy," the GOP senator argued. "It has been clear for almost a year that the president's nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy is not the right person for this consequential job.
Except, it's not "clear" at all." Congressional Republicans seem to agree that it's in the nation's interests to have a Surgeon General, but they don't want to take responsibility for derailing a qualified nominee. On the contrary, they now seem eager to blame President Obama for their knee-jerk obstructionism.
On "Meet the Press" yesterday, for example, Chuck Todd asked Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) about the vacancy in the Surgeon General's office. "This seems to be politics," the host noted. "The NRA said they were going to score the vote, and suddenly everybody's frozen. That seems a little petty in hindsight, does it not?"
Blunt replied, "Well, you know, if the president really ought to nominate people that can be confirmed to these jobs, and frankly, then we should confirm them."
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) went even further during an interview with CNN's Candy Crowley.
CROWLEY: Do you think it would have helped ... had there been a surgeon general in place to kind of calm what has become the fear of Ebola?
CRUZ: Look -- look, of course we should have a surgeon general in place. And we don't have one because President Obama, instead of nominating a health professional, he nominated someone who is an anti- gun activist.
To hear the Texas Republican tell it, Dr. Vivek Murthy isn't even a "health professional," which is the exact opposite of reality.
A voter shows his photo identification to an election official at an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas on Feb. 26, 2014.

Supreme Court clears Texas voter-ID law

10/20/14 08:00AM

It was just 10 days ago that voting-rights advocates had reason to celebrate developments in Texas. U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos had eviscerated the Lone Star State's voter-ID law, issuing a powerful ruling condemning the restrictions imposed by Texas Republicans without cause. Among other things, the district court concluded that the measures violated both the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act and the constitutional prohibition against poll taxes.
The success for voting supporters, however, was short lived. On Tuesday, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals re-imposed the restrictions for this year's elections, and over the weekend, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed, Zach Roth reported on Saturday:
The Supreme Court has approved Texas's strict voter ID law for use in the upcoming election. The decision, which clears a path for a law, which this month was deemed a poll tax by a federal judge, that could put thousands of Texas voters in danger of being disenfranchised.
The brief order was released early Saturday morning, with Justices Scalia filing the majority opinion, and Justices Sotomayor, Kagan and Ginsburg issuing a strong dissent.
It's worth emphasizing that the appeals focused largely on a procedural question: the so-called "Purcell principle" discourages judicial intervention on elections laws close to the election itself. There was some debate, however, about what constituted the actual change -- the imposition of a pointless voter-ID law, requiring Texans to show documentation they've never needed to show before, or the move away a voter-ID law that was expected to be in place for the 2014 elections.
Lyle Denniston's report added, "This apparently was the first time since 1982 that the Court has allowed a law restricting voters' rights to be enforced after a federal court had ruled it to be unconstitutional because it intentionally discriminated against minorities."
Roth went on to note that "more than 600,000 Texas voters, disproportionately minorities, don't have the kind of ID required under the law." According to the district court, Texas Republicans deliberately crafted the law to discriminate against minority communities, though the conservative appellate judges were unmoved by the findings.
Early voting in Texas begins this morning.
Of particular interest in this case was the six-page dissent from Justice Ginsburg, who seemed eager to condemn the majority's findings.

TX voting starts today and other headlines

10/20/14 07:48AM

Early voting starts today in Texas, after the Supreme Court allows the state's new voter ID law to apply to November's election. (Texas Tribune)

Pres. Obama casts his early ballot in Illinois today. (NY Times)

Both parties poured big money into early voting. Who has the edge? (Washington Post)

New military medical team to begin training to help with Ebola in the U.S. (AP)

CDC to revise Ebola protocol. (AP)

U.S. drops weapons to Kurds fighting to save Syrian city from ISIS. (NBC News)

Police officer in Ferguson, MO is said to recount a struggle with Michael Brown (NY Times) while authorities say Michael Brown's blood was found on the gun, inside the police car. (Washington Post)

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Week in Geek: Mars gets company today, from Comet Siding Spring

10/19/14 10:35AM

There's a high-speed flyby taking place today, but not here on Earth -- on Mars. At 2:27 P.M. Eastern, a comet going over 125,000 mph will buzz by Mars at less than a third the distance between the Earth and the Moon, just under 90,000 miles. The comet is named Comet Siding Spring, a first-time visitor to the inner Solar System from the Oort Cloud (like Comet ISON was last year).

As I've mentioned before, comets from the Oort Cloud are thought to be remnants of the formation of the Solar System. Any opportunity to study them up close and personal gives us more insight into how our planet formed and how other planets around other stars might be forming. Not only will many Earth-based telescopes be observing the comet's close approach today, but so will several of the instruments we've sent to the Red Planet. The Opportunity and Curiosity rovers will be watching from the surface, while the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey, and MAVEN satellites will observe it from orbit.

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U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz addresses a crowd at a church on Oct. 16, 2014 in Houston, Tex.

This Week in God, 10.18.14

10/18/14 09:24AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a story out of Houston, where Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is convinced pastors may be literally imprisoned for opposing marriage equality.
Indeed, that's exactly what the far-right senator said this week to David Brody, a political reporter for TV preacher Pat Robertson's cable network.
In an exclusive interview with The Brody File, Senator Ted Cruz says pastors being hauled off to jail by the government for preaching against homosexuality is a "real risk" in the future.
"I think that is a real risk," Cruz tells me. "Some in the media ridicule that threat saying there is no danger of the government coming after pastors. That is the usual response." But he adds: "The specter of government trying to determine if what pastors preach from the pulpit meets with the policy views or political correctness of the governing authorities, that prospect is real and happening now."
In the same interview, Cruz was asked if we may "soon go through a period where pastors are hauled off to jail for a hate crime because they are speaking for traditional marriage." The Texas Republican replied, "I think that is a real risk."
In reality, that's not even close to what's "happening now" and there is no such "risk." In fact, under the First Amendment, the scenario Cruz is warning against simply cannot happen.
As Right Wing Watch explained this week, at issue is a case out of Houston, where social conservatives are trying to repeal the city's anti-discrimination ordinance. Pro-bono lawyers defending the existing policy have arguably been overzealous, subpoenaing materials from local pastors, but city officials have criticized the move, which is unlikely to fare well in the courts.  [Update: Carlos Maza has more on the Houston controversy today.]
But for the religious right, the controversy itself has become a rallying cry -- proof, they say, that supporters of gay rights will try to exploit the law to silence, and perhaps even imprison, conservative ministers.
The fact remains, however, that pastors have always been free to speak out on moral issues of the day, and this constitutionally protected speech will always be protected. The notion of the government "coming after pastors" based on sermons about marriage sounds like a dystopian novel that might appeal to Pat Robertson's viewers, but it's certainly not "happening now," and under the American system, it never will.
Also from the God Machine this week:
Rand Paul stoops low to stoke Ebola fears

Rand Paul stoops low to stoke Ebola fears

10/17/14 10:32PM

Rachel Maddow points out the schemes and scammers that are exploiting Ebola fear in the U.S., and directs particular disdain at Senator Rand Paul who abuses his authority to spread misinformation and fear for political gain. watch

'OMG I would totally ROCK that game!!'

10/17/14 09:48PM

Are you a real and actual fan of The Rachel Maddow Show?

Do you shout, "WAIT FOR IT" ten minutes into the opening segment because you know it's about to take that revelatory turn?

Do you sing, "What's your function?" when you see the Debunktion Junction animation (even though that song isn't even in there).

Do you roll your Rs when you pronounce the name Reince Priebus?

Do members of your extended family know not to call you between 9 and 10 at night?

Or perhaps you're part of the hockey stick legion that gives our web traffic a sudden spike at the end of the day when the video clips are published?

Was your dog startled when you found out that TRMS is playing a new game on Fridays called The Friday Night News Dump, and you jumped up on the couch with a loud hoot and boasted that you'd be the most dominant player that game would ever see?

Well such a player you can, in fact, be.

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Ahead on the 10/17/14 Maddow show

10/17/14 07:49PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Michael Beschloss, NBC News Presidential historian
  • Jeffrey Jarman, KSN-TV Political Analyst and professor Wichita State University
  • Shauna Edson, commanding Friday News Dump player

Be sure to stay tuned until the end of the show tonight -- we are debuting a new segment! 

....Ok, Cory's video blew up my computer tonight, so we may have to skip this one.

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