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Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, left, looks on as Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, speaks during a news conference on Sept. 27, 2013. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Ted Cruz starts to make his move

10/09/15 09:38AM

I wouldn't say literally every center-left pundit I know expects Marco Rubio to win the Republicans' 2016 presidential nomination, but it's awfully close to 100%. For most of the political observers I know, it's practically a foregone conclusion -- the pieces have already fallen into place for the far-right Floridian.
Nate Silver recently said, "I sometimes feel with Rubio like he’s the contestant on a reality show where it’s totally obvious that he’s eventually going to win, but the network needs to create dramatic subplots for 17 weeks before it happens."
And all of these assumptions may very well be true. As I argued a month ago, if the Amateur Trio currently leading the GOP polls fades, the race for the Republican nomination is likely to come down to two governors (Jeb Bush and John Kasich) and two senators (Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio). The Florida senator has reason to be optimistic -- Bush is struggling badly, and Kasich is fading.
But there's still that Ted Cruz character out there, and his current standing in the race is largely under-valued.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas brought in more than $12 million for his presidential campaign during the last fund-raising quarter, which ended on September 30, his campaign announced on Thursday. [...]
...Mr. Cruz’s amount is double what one rival, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, announced raising over the same period, despite Mr. Rubio’s popularity among some of the Republican Party’s biggest donors. The $12 million figure suggests that Mr. Cruz -- who has battled fiercely with his own party’s leaders -- has amassed a committed following of small donors.
Rubio's $6 million quarterly haul is a sharp drop-off from the second quarter. His campaign aides had some excuses, but those same fundraising obstacles applied to Cruz, and he raised twice as much as Rubio did.
The Texas Republican has considerable resources, a real ground game, a credible reputation as an enemy of the GOP establishment, and decent poll numbers that are likely to grow if fickle voters grow tired of the Amateur Trio. Indeed, the senator has carefully positioned himself to benefit from his rivals' eventual decline.
Why shouldn't Cruz be seen as a plausible nominee?
Speaker of the House John Boehner talks with Rep. Paul Ryan in the House of Representatives chamber at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Wanted: One House Speaker (no experience necessary)

10/09/15 08:57AM

When House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) unexpectedly announced his retirement two weeks ago, many on Capitol Hill feared an ugly free-for-all, with a dozen or more House Republicans hoping to take advantage of the unique opportunity.
GOP leaders, desperate to avoid such chaotic circumstances, moved quickly, rallying behind House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). He faced two challengers -- one of whom entered the Speaker's race late -- but the unruly mess of a massive field of candidates never materialized.
Instead, a different kind of unruly mess forced McCarthy to quit.
There's no shortage of questions about what happens now -- to the party, to the country -- but the most immediate question is who will to try to be the next Speaker of the House.
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) threw his hat into the ring yesterday, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is reportedly "considering" it. Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Dan Webster (R-Fla.), both of whom took on McCarthy, are very likely to give it another shot.
Rep. Tom Cole's (R-Okla.) name came up quite a bit yesterday as a more mainstream option, while Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) heard their names floated.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who resigned in disgrace nearly two decades ago, said yesterday he's open to reclaiming his old post if Republicans rally behind him. (Seriously, that's what he said.)
And while it's certainly possible that one of these men may end up as the GOP's nominee, let's not pretend any of them are at the top of the Republican wish-list. Politico noted the Republican Party's favorite.
It's all about Paul Ryan right now. [...]
The Wisconsin Republican is getting bombarded with calls and one-on-one appeals from GOP lawmakers, urging him to be the party's white knight. Boehner has had multiple conversations with the Ways and Means Committee chairman. Even before he dropped his own bid, McCarthy told Ryan he should do it. And the list goes on: House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) spoke to him about it on the House floor, and Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) also has pushed Ryan to reconsider.
Referring to Ryan, Trey Gowdy said, “I have spent more time trying to talk him into running [for Speaker] than I did my wife into marrying me.”
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif. answers a question during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 8, 2015, after stepping down as a nominee for House Speaker to replace John Boehner. (Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

GOP finds itself lacking leadership, direction, and purpose

10/09/15 08:00AM

Not long after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) stunned the political world by ending his bid for Speaker, National Review's Rich Lowry asked the Republican whether the House of Representatives is still "governable."
"I don't know," McCarthy replied. "Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom."
The question was a good one, as was the response, though its subtext matters. We know, of course, that the House can be governed -- as recently as 2010, under Nancy Pelosi's leadership, the institution functioned effectively and efficiently. Some Americans approved of the chamber's policymaking and some didn't, but no one questioned whether the House itself could function as a legislative body.
The more salient question is more partisan: are Republicans still capable of being a governing party? The Washington Post's Karen Tumulty summarized the broader dynamic quite nicely in just 23 words:
Less than a year after a sweeping electoral triumph, Republicans are on the verge of ceasing to function as a national political party.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told reporters yesterday that his House Republican conference has descended into a "banana republic."
And while that may seem harsh, especially as an intra-party condemnation, there's simply no denying that this is a party lacking in leadership, direction, and purpose. A year ago, voters rewarded the party with considerable power, though Republicans simply lack the means and the collective will to exercise that power with even a modicum of maturity.
What political observers should not do, however, is consider this a new development. It's not.
Limited options may trap Boehner as speaker

Boehner may be trapped in speaker role as GOP faces limited options

10/08/15 11:05PM

Jay Newton-Small, Washington correspondent for Time Magazine, talks with Rachel Maddow about the irony that conservatives who drove John Boehner from the House speakership may be stuck with him after they've objected to his replacement, and notes that no one is going to want the speaker job any time soon because of looming tasks that are... watch

'Shock!' as McCarthy bails on speakership

'Shock!' as Kevin McCarthy bails on speakership

10/08/15 10:41PM

Rachel Maddow reports on how Kevin McCarthy's withdrawal from the race for House speaker left political observers in a dizzy fit of stunned confusion, and looks back on how McCarthy's path to the speakership, once seen as inevitable, slowly fell apart. watch

Wrong drug used in Oklahoma execution

Wrong drug used in Oklahoma execution

10/08/15 09:51PM

Rachel Maddow reports on autopsy finding that show that Oklahoma used the wrong drug when it executed a prisoner in January, raising questions about the execution prior to that in which the prisoner writhed in pain for over 40 minutes, leading to a new round of investigations. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.8.15

10/08/15 05:30PM

Today’s edition of quick hits:
* I'd love more information about this: "Senior defense officials tell NBC News that out of 26 cruise missiles launched off Russian warships, four landed in Iran, well short of their Syrian targets. The officials report that all four missiles launched from the Russian ships in the Caspian Sea impacted in a remote, rural area of Iran and there were apparently no casualties."
* Chaos: "The sudden decision Thursday by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) to withdraw from the speaker’s race thrust congressional Republicans into chaos and left the contest wide open, with a crowd of lesser-known players jockeying for power and rank-and-file members fretting that the political unrest on the hard right that drove McCarthy and House Speaker John A. Boehner away from the position has left the party unmanageable in the lower chamber."
* "I’m sure they’ll find somebody who is capable of accepting the honor," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters.
* Oklahoma: "An autopsy report shows that correctional officials used the wrong drug in the January execution of Charles Warner, the first prisoner put to death in Oklahoma since the state botched the lethal injection of another inmate last year."
* Related news: "A Montana judge ruled Tuesday that the state's method of lethal injection is unlawful because it uses a drug that fails to meet the law's requirement for 'ultra-fast-acting.'"
* Ugh: "Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch apologized for his Wednesday night tweet, which suggested that President Barack Obama is not a 'real black president.'"
* Oh, Florida, what are we going to do with you: "Police say a Florida man set up fake job interviews and even collected urine samples from potential applicants, so he could access their Social Security numbers, bank information and other personal data."
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, holds his weekly on camera news conference in the Capitol on June 19, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Just when Boehner thought he was out, they pulled him back in

10/08/15 04:16PM

Ordinarily, a Quote of the Day comes from the specific day in which it's honored, but today's Quote of the Day was uttered last week. We just didn't know how important it was until now.
Speaker John Boehner, who plans to leave office a day before Halloween, told a group of Republican colleagues last week he had an awful nightmare.
“I had this terrible nightmare last night that I was trying to get out and I couldn’t get out,” the Ohio Republican joked, according to one of his longtime friends, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). “And a hand came reaching, pulling me.”
Welcome, John Boehner, to your own personal nightmare.
At this point, there's a group of people who want to be Speaker of the House, but they don't have the support. There's another group that may have the support, but they don't want the job.
And that leaves the current Speaker "trying to get out," but discovering that he can't. The plan, obviously, was to have an intra-party election today, when House Republicans were supposed to rally behind Boehner's chosen successor, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). That would be followed by an Oct. 29 floor vote, and Boehner's resignation from Congress a day later.
That plan has now been thrown out the window. Indeed, the Ohio Republican issued a statement this afternoon saying he intends to stick around, indefinitely, until his replacement is elected.
“We will announce the date for this election at a later date, and I’m confident we will elect a new Speaker in the coming weeks," Boehner said.
And if they don't? Well, then things start to get a little messy.
Maddow: Obvious GOP choices are non-viable

Maddow: The obvious GOP choices for speaker are non-viable

10/08/15 01:20PM

Rachel Maddow reacts to the news of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy dropping out of the race for House speaker after losing his footing to a major political gaffe, public awkwardness, and finally a challenge by the party's right wing, and considers who else Republicans might put forth. watch

Kevin McCarthy is seen in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, June 26, 2014. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

GOP leader shocks colleagues, withdraws from Speaker's race

10/08/15 01:00PM

Thirteen days ago, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) shocked the political world by announcing his plan to resign. This morning, Boehner's successor followed up with a shock of his own.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has abruptly pulled out of the race for Speaker of the House on the same day that he was widely expected to be nominated for the position.
The nominating contest in the GOP conference set for Thursday afternoon in the House has been postponed.
There is a degree of irony to all of this: Benghazi didn't bring down Hillary Clinton, but it did prevent Kevin McCarthy from becoming Speaker.
The California Republican faced two challengers for his party's Speaker nomination, but by all appearances, he had the support he needed to go to the floor as his party's official choice. As recently as last night, McCarthy's bid was on track to move forward.
The problem was the looming floor vote on Oct. 29 -- the opposition to his promotion from the far-right was significant and he faced a real challenge in pulling together 218 GOP votes.
Even if he prevailed, McCarthy would have immediately taken the gavel and become an even weaker Speaker than Boehner.
A week ago, the landscape seemed relatively clear. The GOP establishment had rallied behind McCarthy, and though there were some questions about the other top posts, we'd have a sense of the new Republican leadership team by this afternoon.
Now, however, there's nothing but chaos in the Republican ranks. It's reminiscent of late 1998, when then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) resigned in disgrace, and his successor, Speaker-designate Bob Livingston (R-La.), also had to resign in disgrace after a sex scandal came to light.
The difference now is, the only scandal is the radicalization of Republican politics.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.8.15

10/08/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Hillary Clinton's decision to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, at least for now, is an announcement with broad political implications.
* It took a while, but Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign picked up its first congressional endorsement yesterday: Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) threw his support to the Vermont senator.
* In Ohio, a new Quinnipiac poll shows former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) with a narrow lead over incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R) in next year's Senate race, 46% to 43%.
* The same poll offered better news for Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R): his approval rating in his home state is up to an all-time high of 62%. He's the only sitting governor in the presidential race who's actually popular with his constituents.
* In Florida, the new Quinnipiac poll shows both of the Democrats running for the U.S. Senate -- Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson -- with early leads over the top GOP contenders.
* The results were better for Republicans in Pennsylvania, where Quinnipiac found incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey (R) with double-digit leads over his Democratic rivals.
* In New Hampshire, a Republican group called One Nation -- an offshoot of Karl Rove's Crossroads operation -- launched a $1.4 million ad campaign in support of Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s (R) re-election campaign.
U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin (R-Ky), speaks to a gathering at FreePAC Kentucky, Saturday, April 5, 2014, at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, Ky.

Drug tests for Medicare recipients?

10/08/15 11:20AM

In recent years, a growing number of Republican officials, especially at the state level, have pushed drug-testing programs for Americans on "welfare." The idea is predicated on an unfortunate assumption: if you're struggling and need to rely on a safety net, the government should suspect you of drug addiction and check your bodily fluids.
The drug-testing programs have, in general, been a costly and pointless disaster. But in Kentucky, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Matt Bevin has expressed support for expanding drug testing to include senior citizens on Medicare.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reported yesterday on the latest debate between Bevin, who has never held public office, and state Attorney General Jack Conway (D).
...Conway asked Bevin about his statement from April that recipients of Medicaid and Medicare should be drug-tested.
In April, Bevin said during a Louisville Tea Party forum that he supports random drug testing for recipients of both programs. "I firmly believe we frankly should drug test people that are on Medicaid and Medicare," Bevin said at the time. "We just should."
During Tuesday night's debate, Bevin didn't back away from that call, saying "there should be expectation of you as somebody who is a recipient, or, as it's often referred to in this state, on the draw."
After the debate, Bevin said he was referring to Medicaid beneficiaries, suggesting the GOP candidate is more comfortable going after low-income families than seniors. I'll concede that I did not see the debate, but the Lexington Herald-Leader's article added that Conway "interrupted Bevin to make clear that he was asking about Medicare and not Medicaid."
Bevin responded, "Understood."
Incidentally, let's not overlook the fact that Bevin called for drug testing seniors at an event co-sponsored by the AARP.
A sign is pictured at the entrance to a Planned Parenthood building in N.Y. on Aug. 31, 2015. (Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

House GOP creates new anti-Planned Parenthood panel

10/08/15 10:40AM

To date, House Republicans have uncovered no evidence of actual wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood, but that doesn't mean they're done looking for proof to justify the conclusions they've already drawn.
The House has voted to create a special committee to investigate Planned Parenthood in the wake of GOP outcry about the group’s handling of tissue from aborted fetuses.
The vote was 242 to 184, with two Democrats voting in favor and one Republican voting against.
This is not a measure that will require Senate approval or President Obama's signature. On the contrary, the House GOP will now move forward with the plan to create a 13-member panel to scrutinize the health care organization, privately funded abortions, and the donation of fetal tissue to medical researchers.
Not surprisingly, congressional Democrats have a hunch this is yet another brazenly partisan, taxpayer-funded election exercise. "Here we go again," Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) told the Associated Press. "Planned Parenthood is the new Benghazi."
Before anyone on the right suggests Frankel is being unfair, let's not forget that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has already suggested he intends to turn Planned Parenthood into the next Benghazi.
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson bows his head in prayer before speaking at a town hall meeting, Oct. 2, 2015, in Ankeny, Iowa. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Carson runs into the 'learning curve' again

10/08/15 09:56AM

Not long after launching his bid for the nation's highest office, Ben Carson conceded he has limited knowledge about government and public policy. The Republican candidate, perhaps embarrassed by the scope of his ignorance, went so far as to acknowledge that the “learning curve of a candidate” can be daunting.
That was in March. Carson's "learning curve" problem isn't going away.
Most of the time, when the retired right-wing neurosurgeon makes headlines, it's because Carson has said something offensive -- about the victims of mass-shootings, religious minorities he doesn't like, “highfalutin scientists,” etc. But there's an entire other category of rhetorical missteps covering instances in which Carson has no idea what he's talking about in areas of public policy.
Yesterday, for example, the GOP candidate spoke with Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal, who asked Carson about the looming crisis surrounding the debt ceiling -- an issue that's been in the news on several occasions over the last four years.
Ryssdal: As you know, Treasury Secretary Lew has come out in the last couple of days and said, "We're gonna run out of money, we're gonna run out of borrowing authority, on the fifth of November." Should the Congress then and the president not raise the debt limit? Should we default on our debt?
Carson: Let me put it this way: if I were the president, I would not sign an increased budget. Absolutely would not do it. They would have to find a place to cut.
Ryssdal: To be clear, it's increasing the debt limit, not the budget, but I want to make sure I understand you. You'd let the United States default rather than raise the debt limit.
Carson: No, I would provide the kind of leadership that says, "Get on the stick guys, and stop messing around, and cut where you need to cut, because we're not raising any spending limits, period."
Ryssdal, to his credit, kept trying to clarify what the federal debt limit is. Carson kept giving answers that could charitably be described as gibberish.
It seemed painfully clear that Ben Carson doesn't have the foggiest idea what the debt ceiling is -- and he didn't know how to fake his way through the interview.
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a community forum campaign event at Cornell College in Mt Vernon, Iowa, Oct. 7, 2015. (Photo by Scott Morgan/Reuters)

Latest Clinton email story fits a familiar pattern

10/08/15 09:16AM

Last week, a pattern began to emerge. Every time there's a new development in the saga surrounding Hillary Clinton’s email server management, the coverage follows a specific trajectory: (1) the public sees startling, provocative headlines that, at first blush, seem important; (2) pundits reflect on the degree to which the hard-to-identify “scandal” is lingering; (3) the new developments prove to be unimportant.
Rinse and repeat.
A week ago today, the coverage focused on the fact that Clinton received the same kind of spam the rest of us receive all the time. Why was this important? It wasn't, but news consumers were nevertheless confronted with over-dramatized headlines such as, “Emails: Russia-linked hackers tried to access Clinton server.”
Today, the pattern offers another example. The Associated Press' headline reads, "Clinton subject to hack attempts from China, Korea, Germany." Sounds serious, right?
Hillary Rodham Clinton's private email server, which stored some 55,000 pages of emails from her time as secretary of state, was the subject of attempted cyberattacks originating in China, South Korea and Germany after she left office in early 2013, according to a congressional document obtained by The Associated Press.
The AP's scoop, such as it is, apparently came by way of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), whom Republicans chose to chair the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
So, where's the part of the story in which we learn nothing particularly important happened?