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Hillary Clinton brings her Presidential Campaign back to Iowa (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty).

Making history, Clinton wants an end to Cuba embargo

07/31/15 11:10AM

As a Miami native, I've seen the pattern more than once. Democratic candidates, especially presidential hopefuls, would go to vote-rich South Florida, bash Castro, defend the U.S. embargo of Cuba, and hope to pick up at least some support from Cuban-American voters who've traditionally allied with Republicans.
 
Democrats who were skeptical of the old, ineffective U.S. policy towards Cuba might be willing to express concerns, but they'd do so quietly, far from the Sunshine State, and hope that Miami didn't notice.
 
With this in mind, it's genuinely amazing to see how much American politics has changed over a short period of time. Not only has President Obama restored full diplomatic relations with the island nation -- one of his more important foreign-policy accomplishments -- but msnbc reported that Hillary Clinton wants to end our economic embargo, too.
Hillary Clinton will call for lifting the trade embargo on Cuba Friday in a speech in the backyard of two pro-embargo Republican presidential candidates.
 
In a speech at Florida International University in Miami, Clinton will call on Congress to lift the 50-year-old embargo on the island nation, and attack Republican arguments in favor of the blockade failed policies of the past, her campaign said Wednesday.
The fact that this is happening in Miami makes the speech that much more extraordinary. It wasn't long ago that this scenario was simply unthinkable -- a competitive Democrat wouldn't deliver this speech anywhere, least of all South Florida. The very idea would be seen as electoral suicide.
 
But not anymore. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) said this week that Clinton's position is an example of "political expediency."
 
I can't speak to Clinton's motives, but even Bush's criticism is unintentionally fascinating -- politically expedient positions, practically by definition, tend to be adopted because they're popular. In other words, the Republican presidential candidate is effectively arguing, "Clinton wants to lift the Cuba embargo because a lot of voters will agree with her."
 
Note to Team Jeb: that doesn't sound like criticism.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., heads to the Senate subway following a vote in the Capitol on Jan. 8, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

White House mocks Cotton as 'international man of mystery'

07/31/15 10:21AM

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) traveled to Vienna last week and, after returning home, the right-wing freshman claimed he uncovered "secret side agreements to the Iran nuclear deal," struck by Iranian officials and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
 
Cotton's allegations came up during the White House press briefing yesterday, and it appears the Obama administration isn't especially impressed with the senator's investigatory skills. The conservative Washington Times reported:
White House spokesman Josh Earnest belittled Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas as an "international man of mystery" Thursday following the lawmaker's claim to have uncovered a secret side deal of the Iranian nuclear accord while on a mission to Europe -- information Mr. Earnest contended was readily available on the Internet.
 
"I hope that Senator Cotton had a pleasant trip to Vienna, but his travel was not necessary to learn the information he claims to have obtained," said Mr. Earnest, dubbing the freshman senator "Tom Cotton, international man of mystery" -- a reference to the 1997 Austin Powers movie about a goofy, hipster secret agent.
According to the transcript, Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters, "The documents that Senator Cotton claims to have learned of during his trip to Vienna were actually documents that were previously discussed in material that we put forward some time earlier. So the fact is, Senator Cotton didn't really learn of anything in Vienna that wasn't already available to be learned, and this is information that was disclosed on the IAEA website."
 
I reached out to an administration official this morning to ask about the materials, and sure enough, the source directed me to this IAEA page, which fleshes out the agency's "road map" for future inspections of Iranian facilities.
 
The document was published online on July 14 -- more than two weeks ago -- which is the day the international nuclear agreement was first announced.
 
In other words, it doesn't seem especially "secret" and it's certainly not the kind of document a senator would have to travel to Vienna in order to "uncover."
Florida Gov. Rick Scott during his State of the State speech Tuesday, March 4, 2014.

The wrong way to honor Florida's Rick Scott

07/31/15 09:20AM

After five years in office, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has not made many friends among those concerned with the environment, the climate crisis, or the state's natural resources.
 
"By most expert accounts, Gov. Rick Scott's tenure in Tallahassee has been a flat-out catastrophe for the Sunshine State's already-fragile environment," the Miami New Times reported this week. "He slashed water management budgets and stacked regulatory boards with developers. He battled tooth-and-nail against new clean water mandates. Even muttering the words 'climate change' was banned in state offices."
 
With this in mind, the Tampa Bay Times' Craig Pittman found it curious when a Florida group announced that the far-right governor is receiving an award for his work on the environment.
The award, announced via email last week, is being given to Scott later this year by the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida, which functions as a support group for the state's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is run by gubernatorial appointees.
 
In the announcement, the foundation's chairman, Miami real estate developer and lobbyist Rodney Barreto, hailed Scott for being "instrumental in helping develop a strong connection between fish and wildlife conservation and traditional outdoor activities like hunting and especially fishing."
The Sierra Club's Frank Jackalone told the Tampa Bay Times, "No one in their right mind would give Rick Scott an award for protecting wildlife."
 
Asked for an explanation, Brett Boston, the foundation's executive director, insisted the group is "very apolitical." And what about the governor's critics, who find it ridiculous that Scott would receive an environmental award?
 
"People complained about Mother Teresa," Boston said.
 
I'm going to assume that this is the first -- and quite likely the last -- time anyone has tried to draw a parallel between Rick Scott and Mother Teresa.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Feb. 27, 2015. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Pelosi has to remind GOP about its own record

07/31/15 08:50AM

At its root, the recent and ongoing controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood is about fetal-tissue research. That's not necessarily good news for the group's Republican critics.
 
Sure, abortion is the underlying issue, but as Mother Jones' Kevin Drum explained this week, "If you think abortion is murder, then of course you object to the use of organs and tissue from aborted fetuses. If you don't, then you think it's fine. There's nothing new going on here. It's just a slightly different twist on the same fight between pro-lifers and pro-choicers that's been going on for decades."
 
I think that's right, though there's an additional complication: up until about a week ago, Republicans were on record supporting the very fetal-tissue research they're now outraged by. It's a detail House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reminded GOP leaders about yesterday.
"When [legislation] was passed enabling research to go forward, I remind that Mitch McConnell voted for that," she said at a news briefing Thursday in response to several questions about Planned Parenthood's undercover video controversy. [...]
 
Pelosi refers to legislation passed in 1993 that allowed federal funding to be used for medical research involving fetal tissue, under certain conditions.
The law prevents abortion providers from turning a profit, but it also permits providers to make tissues available for scientific research.
 
And for Republicans exploiting deceptively edited videos, this poses a real problem. For one thing, there's no evidence of Planned Parenthood ever profiting from fetal-tissue research. For another, there's also no evidence of the healthcare group making tissues available to anyone but medical researchers.
 
And finally, plenty of prominent GOP leaders actually voted for the bill that made this possibleThe Huffington Post's Laura Bassett had a great report on this earlier in the week:

'They just want somebody to fall in love with'

07/31/15 08:00AM

The parlor game for 2016 campaign observers is based on a straightforward question: "If Donald Trump's support is eventually going to fall, what will be the cause?"
 
The "if" poses its own challenge, but even if we accept the premise, it's not unreasonable to wonder what will cause Trump's lead in the polls to evaporate. Some Republicans assume this is a fleeting fad that cannot be sustained . Others believe the GOP's primary contest won't really begin in earnest until after the debates begin and TV ads start airing, making Trump's early surge irrelevant. Still others assume the former reality-show host will eventually say something so outrageous that he'll effectively commit political suicide.
 
But the point that brings comfort to many in the political establishment is the issue of electability -- Trump would face extremely long odds as a general-election candidate, and Republican primary voters, desperate for a win, will start thinking strategically in 2016.
 
Or will they? As Rachel noted on the show last night, the latest NBC News/Marist poll asked Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire for their 2016 preferences, but they also asked a question that was arguably more interesting:
"Which is more important to you: a Republican nominee for president who shares your position on most issues, or a Republican nominee for president who has the best chance of winning the White House?"
The results weren't even close. In New Hampshire, 67% of GOP voters want a candidate they agree with, while only 29% are principally concerned with electability. In Iowa, the results were practically identical.
 
This isn't about Trump, per se. This is about what we're learning about Republican voters themselves.
GOP field expands to 17 with Gilmore added

GOP field expands to 17 with Gilmore added

07/31/15 06:53AM

Rachel Maddow reports that former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore has filed paperwork to run for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, even as the criteria for the first major Republican event, the Fox News debate, remain shrouded in mystery. watch

Citations for the July 30, 2015 TRMS

07/31/15 01:34AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Jessica Greif, reporter for The Oregonian
  • Lonnie and Sandy Phillips, whose daughter, Jessica, was killed in the Aurora theater gun massacre, sued online weapons vendors
  • Jonathan Lowy, Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence

Tonight's links:

read more

Thursday's Mini-Report, 7.30.15

07/30/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Ohio: "The University of Cincinnati officer indicted for murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed motorist pleaded not guilty Thursday morning and is being held on $1 million bond. Ray Tensing, 25, appeared briefly in Cincinnati court shackled and wearing a prison jumpsuit."
 
* Discouraging news out of Syria: "The commander of a group of Syrian fighters trained by the United States has been kidnapped by Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, his group said in a statement Thursday."
 
* Georgia: "Atlanta police said surveillance footage shows two men placing Confederate flags at two of Atlanta's most notable landmarks early Thursday: Ebenezer Baptist Church and Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site Visitor Center. As investigators worked to identify the men and their motive, church and civic leaders decried the act as terrorism, vowing not to be threatened."
 
* At this point, the Senate bill defunding Planned Parenthood is likely to get a vote next week, but it doesn't appear to have the support needed to pass.
 
* The Iran bill picked up another notable supporter today, with Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) endorsing the international nuclear agreement.
 
* On a related note "[House Minority Leader Pelosi] on Thursday hailed Obama for keeping the global negotiators at the table, characterizing the deal as 'a diplomatic masterpiece.' She said House Democrats are lining up behind the deal in numbers sufficient to uphold a veto of the expected Republican effort to sink the deal."
 
* Highway bill: "The Senate passed its long-term highway bill Thursday, though their work on federal infrastructure funding isn't over. Senators voted 65-34 to approve the six-year bill, which funds federal highway and infrastructure projects for three years."
Paul LePage

Just when things couldn't get worse for Paul LePage...

07/30/15 04:52PM

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is caught up in a doozy of a controversy. As regular readers know, a Maine charter school recently hired state House Speaker Mark Eves (D), but LePage, a fierce opponent of Democratic legislators, threatened the school -- either fire Eves or the governor would cut off the school's state funding. In effect, LePage played the role of a mobster saying, "It's a nice school you have there; it'd be a shame if something happened to it."
 
The school, left with no options, reluctantly acquiesced. The problem, of course, is that governors are not supposed to use state resources to punish people they don't like. By most measures, it's an impeachable offense.
 
As of today, as the Portland Press Herald reported, it's also the basis for a civil suit.
Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves will file a civil lawsuit Thursday against Gov. Paul LePage, alleging that the governor used taxpayer money and the power of his office to prevent his hiring at a private school in Fairfield.
 
The lawsuit, to be filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, has been anticipated ever since the board of directors at Good Will-Hinckley voted to rescind its offer to pay Eves $150,000 a year to become the organization's next president. Eves said that the board told him before his contract was terminated that LePage threatened to eliminate $530,000 in annual state funding for the school unless it removed him from the job.
"Acting out of personal rage, vindictiveness and partisan malice, Gov. Paul LePage blackmailed a private school that serves at-risk children into firing its president, the Speaker of Maine's House of Representatives," the complaint reads.
 
The discovery phase of this case ought to be a doozy.
 
Remember, the Tea Party governor hasn't actually denied the allegations, and neither have LePage's allies. The Maine Republican did argue this morning, however, that when he threatened the school it was comparable to LePage intervening in a domestic-violence dispute.
 
"It's just like one time when I stepped in ... when a man was beating his wife," the governor said. "Should have I stepped in? Legally, No. But I did. And I'm not embarrassed about doing it."
 
I honestly haven't the foggiest idea what that's supposed to mean in this context. Unless the state House Speaker intended to physically assault the charter school, the comparison appears to be gibberish.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Medicare Bill, July 30, 1965. (Photo by White House Press Office/Archivio GBB/Agenzia Contrasto/Redux)

50 years later, Medicare stands strong amidst attacks

07/30/15 04:03PM

Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush is eager to "phase out" Medicare and replace the system altogether. The Paul Ryan budget plan, widely embraced by GOP officials, would have scrapped Medicare and replaced it with a voucher system. Marco Rubio, another national 2016 candidate, is also fighting to eliminate Medicare -- social-insurance programs like these, he's said, have "actually weakened us as a people."
 
Exactly 50 years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law, and the Republican attacks against the system have been pretty consistent ever since -- as the 2016 race shows. But looking at the bigger picture, the Huffington Post's Jonathan Cohn had a great piece today on the half-century of progress, despite the partisan conflicts.
[I]f some seniors still struggle with medical bills, the situation is far better than it was five decades ago, when half of the elderly population had no insurance at all. Studies have shown that Medicare has meant substantially smaller out-of-pocket spending for seniors and maybe (though not certainly) longer lives.
 
The financial protection that the program provides to beneficiaries helps explain why just one in 10 seniors now lives in poverty. That's roughly a third of what it was in the mid-1960s.
I'm often fascinated with how profoundly wrong Republicans have been in their predictions about the Affordable Care Act -- pretty much every possible forecast the GOP made turned out to the opposite of what happened -- but conservative predictions about Medicare, before and after its passage, are arguably even more striking.
 
Take Ronald Reagan, for example.

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