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 possible. The Huffington Post's Laura Bassett had a great report on this earlier in the week:
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.
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
Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter was killed in the shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, talk with Rachel Maddow about challenging the legality of online weapons and ammunition sales like the ones that supplied their daughter's killer. watch
Raw audio and video of the 911 calls, Lafayette Police Department radio traffic and police dashboard camera footage of the emergency response to the shooting at the Grand Theatre in Lafayette, Louisiana on July 23, 2015:
Rachel Maddow shows poll results that explain that Republican voters care more about a candidate they agree with than one that can win, so they aren't bothered by the fact that Donald Trump loses in head-to-head match-ups with both leading Democrats. watch
Jessica Greif, reporter for The Oregonian, talks with Rachel Maddow about the dramatic, and physically dangerous confrontation between protesters in kayaks and hanging from ropes who attempted to block a Shell Oil icebreaker from its Arctic mission. watch
* 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."
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 Heraldreported, 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.
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.
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.
In April 2011, the newly elected House Republican majority was ready, if not eager, to shut down the government. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), just three months into his tenure, told the White House that without some spending cuts, GOP lawmakers simply would not keep the government's lights on.
There was a flurry of meetings, and both sides worked out a deal for some modest cuts. But then Boehner went back to Democrats with a fresh demand: Republicans wanted to cut Planned Parenthood, too.
President Obama refused, Boehner backed down, and the matter was resolved, but more than four years later, the demand has made a comeback. Politico published this report overnight.
Calling next week's Senate roll call to defund Planned Parenthood a "legislative show vote," GOP firebrand Ted Cruz said Republicans should do everything they can to eliminate federal money for the group — even if it means a government shutdown fight this fall.
He's not alone. On Wednesday afternoon, 18 House Republicans told leadership that they "cannot and will not support any funding resolution ... that contains any funding for Planned Parenthood." Meanwhile, GOP social conservatives like Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Jeff Sessions of Alabama said they'd consider supporting an effort to attach a spending rider that would eliminate Planned Parenthood's $528 million in annual government funding to must-pass spending legislation this fall.
It's probably worth noting that Politico's headline, "How Planned Parenthood could shut down the government," paints a picture that's slightly askew -- the health care organization itself wouldn't cause a shutdown; Republicans' opposition would.
Conservative media is likely to be on board with the plan. Last night, Erick Erickson, a prominent far-right voice in Republican media, published an angry missive under the headline, "Shut Down The Government. Now." He wrote, "If Barack Obama is willing to risk a government shutdown because he demands our tax dollars continue funding an organization that kills our children and sells their organs, we should have that fight."
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* A new Quinnipiac poll is the latest to show Donald Trump with a significant national lead in the Republican presidential race. He tops Scott Walker in the poll, 20% to 13%, followed by Jeb Bush at 10%. The rest of the massive field is at 6% or lower.
* The same Quinnipiac poll, however, asked voters about a hypothetical general-election match-up with Trump. The apparent GOP frontrunner trailed Hillary Clinton by 12 points, 48% to 36%, and Trump is down eight points to Bernie Sanders, 45% to 37%.
* On a related note, against Jeb Bush, Quinnipiac found Clinton trails by one point while Sanders is down by five, and against Walker, Clinton leads by one while Sanders again trails by five.
* Though I can't speak to the reliability of this pollster, a new St. Pete Polls survey shows Trump leading Jeb Bush in Florida, 26% to 20%. Scott Walker is third in the poll with 12%, followed by Marco Rubio with 10% in his own home state.
* Speaking of Rubio, when the far-right Floridian launched his campaign, he asked those who contributed to his Senate re-election campaign to transfer their support to his White House campaign. Bloomberg Politics found that "more than 260" of these donors chose not to, and at least 64 of these donors have written checks to Rubio's national rivals.
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, Bernie Sanders supporters held several thousand house parties nationwide last night, with a reported 100,000 people signed up to attend an event in their area.
When Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) recently kicked off his presidential campaign, the understandable reaction from many Americans was simple: "Another one?" The GOP field was already packed with 15 candidates, but Kasich nevertheless created a Sweet 16 for his party.
But those who responded to the news by assuming the Republican field couldn't possibly get any bigger jumped to the wrong conclusion. Yesterday, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) filed his paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, becoming the 17th candidate.
The Republican said back at the beginning of July that he planned a White House run.
"I bring to the table experience that others don't have," Gilmore said in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch in July. He told the paper that he'll make his announcement during the first week of August. He served as Virginia's governor from 1998 to 2002.
The Virginian will reportedly launch his national bid in a formal event early next month.
I hesitate to say this -- these days, you just never know -- but Gilmore's entry really does seem to complete the Republicans' 2016 field. Back in May, I put together what I saw a fairly comprehensive list of possible GOP candidates, and I came up with 22 names. Of those 22, 17 have launched White House bids, while four others have bowed out.
That leaves former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R), who spent some time in New Hampshire earlier this year and expressed an interest in the race, but who has effectively disappeared from the public stage in recent months.
In other words, the current GOP field of 17 is done. Probably. I think.