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Women hold up signs during a women's pro-choice rally on Capitol Hill, July 11, 2013 in Washington, DC.

'Rape is a four-letter word'

07/25/14 08:41AM

Shortly after the 2012 elections, after a significant gender gap contributed to a series of Republican defeats, Republican strategists, consultants, and pollsters started hosting tutorials for GOP officials. The topic: how to speak to and about women.
As best as I can tell, the first formal lessons were offered in January 2013, but we've seen reports of similar rhetorical training sessions on several occasions since.
It appears the coaching needs constant reinforcing. Jeremy Peters reported yesterday:
It was not on the public schedule for the Republican National Committee's spring meeting at the stately Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis. But inside a conference room, a group of conservative women held a boot camp to strengthen an unlikely set of skills: how to talk about abortion.
They have conducted a half-dozen of these sessions around the country this year, from Richmond, Va., to Madison, Wis. Coaches point video cameras at the participants and ask them to talk about why they believe abortion is wrong.
They review the video, and critiques are rendered. "Rape is a four-letter word," one of the consultants often advises. "Purge it from your lexicon."
This is, by the way, almost word for word the same advice GOP consultants started offering immediately after the party's 2012 failures.
Whether Republican strategists realize this or not, the advice is fundamentally flawed.
A U.S. Army unit marches during the annual Veterans Day Parade in NYC, Nov. 11, 2013.

House GOP poised to kill veterans-aid bill

07/25/14 08:00AM

These days, it's awfully difficult for major legislation on high-profile issues to generate broad, bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. The parties are usually too far apart to build consensus and strike deals.
But in mid-June, the Senate nevertheless came together to support a bipartisan veterans-aid package, written by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). There was some token opposition from the far-right, but they were easily outnumbered -- the bill passed with a whopping 93 votes.
At the time, success seemed like a foregone conclusion. The VA scandal was literally front-page news and the demands for action were ubiquitous. When the Senate bill advanced on a 93-3 vote, many assumed the legislation would be on President Obama's desk within a week.
That was six weeks ago. House Republicans now appear ready to kill the bill altogether.
Democrats and Republicans are struggling to agree on how to pay for legislation that could cost between $25 billion and $30 billion. That logjam is transforming the VA debate from one that united both parties to yet another fiscal fight, prompting the same type of partisan finger pointing that has become familiar after years of budget showdowns.
"They have walked away from it," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said of House Republicans. "It's unfortunate, because we had a strong bipartisan vote, and that doesn't mean much to the House."
The bill is currently in a conference committee -- the process intended to reconcile competing bills from the House and Senate on the same subject. But in this case, the GOP-led House won't compromise.
Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, said yesterday House Republicans presented him with a "take-it-or-leave-it gambit," effectively telling the upper chamber to accept the GOP plan or the entire effort would die.
Sanders has offered a series of concessions, all of which have been deemed inadequate by House Republicans.
Any chance House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) might step in and show some leadership on this?

Refugee status? and other headlines

07/25/14 08:00AM

Pres. Obama meets the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras today as his administration weighs giving Honduran children refugee status. (AP)

Israel braces for 'Day of Rage' after deadly protests overnight (NBC News) while Sec. of State Kerry proposes a week-long truce starting Sunday. (NY Times)

Army War College to investigate plagiarism claims against Sen. John Walsh. (NBC Montana)

Sen. John McCain calls Arizona's nearly 2-hour execution 'torture.' (Politico)

FL judge doubts state's flawed Congressional map can be fixed quickly. (AP)

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 7.24.14

07/24/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Air Algerie Flight AH5017: "A commercial jetliner carrying 116 people disappeared over west Africa after losing contact with air traffic controllers early Thursday, a Spanish charter company said. Air Algerie Flight AH5017 vanished about 50 minutes after it left Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, according to the Algerian Press Service. The jet took off at 1:17 a.m. local time (9:17 p.m. ET on Wednesday) bound for Algiers, Algeria."
* Gaza: "A series of explosions at a school run by the United Nations sheltering hundreds of Palestinians who had fled their homes for safety from Israeli military assaults killed at least 16 people on Thursday afternoon and wounded many more. The cause was not immediately clear."
* Ukraine: "Arseniy Yatsenyuk resigned as Ukraine's prime minister Thursday after the ruling coalition in parliament collapsed, accusing lawmakers of imperiling the nation by putting politics above urgent needs during wartime."
* Iran: "Three American citizens, including The Washington Post's correspondent in Iran, appear to have been detained this week in Tehran, U.S. officials and the newspaper said Thursday."
* Gun violence in Pennsylvania: "A gunman opened fire inside a hospital psychiatric unit on Thursday, leaving one hospital employee dead and a second injured before being critically wounded himself, a prosecutor said."
* Border crisis: "As House Republicans struggle to figure out whether their proposed response to the border crisis can pass the House, given opposition to action among conservatives, it's increasingly likely they'll need House Dems to get anything through the lower chamber." Democrats are leaving Republicans with two choices, neither of which the GOP will like.
* This seemed unimaginable six weeks ago: "Negotiations between the House and Senate over legislation reforming the Veterans Affairs Department melted down on Thursday, raising the probability that Congress will leave for the August recess without approving a bill."
* He's right: "Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), the chairman of the health committee and a chief author of Obamacare, tore into an appeals court ruling this week that forbid the federal exchange to provide subsidies to millions of Americans in 36 states. 'It's nuts,' he told TPM in an interview in the Capitol on Thursday."
* The jokes write themselves: "New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took the 'upper level' -- helicoptering over the George Washington Bridge -- to beat rush hour traffic from his home state to a recent GOP fundraiser with Connecticut gubernatorial contender Tom Foley."
* Keep an eye on this one: "Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) has accused House oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) of inappropriately intervening in an ongoing Federal Trade Commission case against a company being represented by a legal group run by a former Issa staffer."
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks during a gala prior to the start of the Virginia GOP Convention in Roanoke, Va., Friday, June 6, 2014.

Paul Ryan, you, and your new life coach

07/24/14 05:02PM

When evaluating proposals from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), it's tempting to grade on a curve. After all, Ryan has unveiled some pretty offensive blueprints over the years -- most of them needlessly extreme, some of them based on data that just didn't add up -- and if we compare today's anti-poverty plan to those recent offerings, this new package isn't the worst thing the Wisconsin Republican has presented to the public.
But that doesn't make it a good plan.
In the interest of magnanimity, let's acknowledge some of the good stuff. Ryan bucks his party, for example, by endorsing expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), an issue on which Democrats can and should welcome the opportunity to work with him. He's also prepared to embrace sentencing reforms, which is heartening, and his recommendations on occupational licensing aren't bad, either.
Perhaps most importantly, Ryan doesn't include any of the deep spending cuts to the safety net that have helped define the congressman's far-right budget proposals.
With this in mind, there's plenty not to like in this conservative approach to combating poverty, including the block-grant boilerplate and the anti-environmental regularly "reforms," but it's only fair to acknowledge that this isn't just the same old Paul Ryan plan. It's qualitatively different, and in some respects, better. It's not good by any stretch, but it's a small step in a sensible direction.
But there's one part of Ryan's proposal that I can't quite wrap my head around. From his speech:
"[W]hat we need to do is coordinate assistance to families in need. Get the public and private sector working together. That's how we can smooth the transition from assistance to success. The fact is, each person's needs fit into a coherent whole: a career. And each person fits into a coherent whole: a community. So if the public and private sector work together, we can offer a more personalized, customized form of aid -- one that recognizes both a person's needs and their strengths -- both the problem and the potential."
As part of this "customized form of aid," Washington would give money to states, which states would then be expected to help low-income Americans through "certified service providers." The "providers," in Ryan's vision, would include non-profits, for-profits, or community groups, each of which would "provide personalized aid through case management."
If you're thinking that's a little weird, wait, it's probably worse than you think.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, talks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 24, 2014.

House GOP rejects effort to improve their anti-Obama lawsuit

07/24/14 03:57PM

Sometimes, the most interesting part of a vote in Congress is what happens just before the vote. Today, for example, the House Rules Committee advanced a resolution authorizing Speaker Boehner's (R-Ohio) anti-Obama lawsuit.
The panel voted along party lines to move forward with legal against Obama over his delay of the healthcare law's employer mandate, which Republicans say was outside his authority as president.
The House is expected to approve the lawsuit before lawmakers leave town next week for a five-week summer recess.
Away from Capitol Hill, as Greg Sargent reported this morning, Democrats are actually delighted with the GOP's scheme, eager to seize on the lawsuit as a key election-year message. 
But the funny part today came just before the House Rules Committee held their party-line vote on this misguided case.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., March 6, 2014.

Paul Ryan makes the case for his anti-poverty vision (again)

07/24/14 12:55PM

A funny thing happened last week when House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) delivered a big speech on poverty at Hillsdale College: it was ignored. The former vice presidential candidate can usually generate some Beltway buzz with his speeches, but last week's remarks were largely overlooked.
Brian Beutler noticed, however, that the speech highlighted the rhetorical evolution of Ryan's far-right ideology. The congressman and Ayn Rand fan "replaced his oft-drawn dichotomy between makers and takers, and the linked concepts of debt and dependency, with 'the American Idea.'" And as it turns out, Ryan believes "the American Idea," as enshrined by the Declaration of Independence, just happens to be his Republican vision for dismantling social-insurance programs.
On the heels of last week's unnoticed speech, the Wisconsin Republican was at it again today, delivering another speech on his anti-poverty vision, including the usual conservative call for block grants to states in areas such as food stamps and housing aid. As msnbc's Suzy Khimm explained, however, Ryan's vision now includes a twist.
Individuals would receive aid by going to certified case managers who would tailor aid based on "a customized life plan to provide a structured roadmap out of poverty," according to proposal. [...]
All participants would be required to meet work requirements to receive aid, and states would be required to give beneficiaries the option of going to non-profit and for-profit organizations for case management. Ryan suggests having participants "sign a contract with consequences for failing to meet the agreed-upon benchmarks" for achieving life goals, as well as rewards for meeting goals ahead of schedule, such as saving bonds.
We'll probably need some more information about this new anti-poverty bureaucracy that Ryan has in mind, but the plan is actually quite broad. As Dylan Matthews explained, it includes, among other things, EITC expansion, sentencing reforms, and changes to occupational licensing.
Jared Bernstein sees a plan that's "misguided" for all sorts of reasons.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.24.14

07/24/14 12:07PM

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:
* Wisconsin's gubernatorial race is shaping up to be one of the year's biggest contests. A Marquette Law School Poll released yesterday found Gov. Scott Walker (R) leading Mary Burke (D) by one point, 46% to 45%, among registered voters, but among likely voters, Burke leads, 47% to 46%.
* After dodging the question for literally months, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) announced this week that he does not support Democratic proposals to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
* Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was quoted earlier this year saying it's "not my job as a U.S. senator, to bring industry to this state." The quote is the basis for a new ad from his challenger, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D).
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has big leads in the polls as he runs for re-election, but that doesn't take away from the seriousness of his handling of "a high-powered commission" he created last summer "to root out corruption in state politics."
* In Georgia's U.S. Senate race, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is launching a new video against David Perdue (R), using Republicans' criticism of him during the heated, multi-candidate GOP primary.
Former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land talks during a Political Action Committee reception Wednesday, May 28, 2014, at the 2014 Mackinac Policy Conference at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Mich.

Terri Lynn Land's $3 million problem

07/24/14 11:35AM

Terri Lynn Land, the Republican U.S. Senate hopeful in Michigan this year, served eight years as Michigan's Secretary of State. This put the GOP official in charge of, among other things, overseeing the state's campaign-finance laws.
Land should probably know, then, that this Detroit Free Press report is a bit of a problem.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land has given her own campaign nearly $3 million this year and last, but nowhere in her federal financial disclosure form has she listed any bank accounts or other assets in her control worth that much.
Her campaign says it's an oversight, claiming Land ... inadvertently failed to disclose a joint account she has with her husband, Dan Hibma. But it still leaves unanswered questions about the source of the funds. And it raises questions about if such a transfer -- if from her husband's assets -- violates the spirit of the campaign contribution law.
Controversies involving campaign finance and disclosure reports can get a little tricky sometimes, but this one is actually pretty straightforward: Land has given her Senate campaign nearly $3 million of her own money. What's wrong with that? In theory, nothing -- there are no legal limits on how much candidates can spend on their own behalf.
But in Land's case, the Michigan Republican said she doesn't have $3 million. On the contrary, she specifically filed disclosure forms reporting assets of roughly $1.5 million.
The result is something of a mystery: where'd all this other money come from? How can Land give herself money she doesn't have?
Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL, wipes his brow as he speaks during a discussion on the American family and cultural values." at Catholic University on July 23, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Rubio tries and fails to thread culture-war needle

07/24/14 10:54AM

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has been quite candid on most of the hot-button social issues of the day, and despite national ambitions, the Florida Republican has positioned himself well to the right of the American mainstream on issues like contraception, reproductive rights, and marriage equality.
But the senator nevertheless believes he has a strong case to make when it comes to the culture war, and yesterday he delivered a big speech his staff billed as an address on "the breakdown of the American family and the erosion of fundamental values that has followed." The remarks, which can be read in their entirety here or watched online here, covered a fair amount of ground, though as Benjy Sarlin explained, there was a special emphasis on gay rights.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio acknowledged Wednesday that American history was "marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians." But in a speech at Catholic University in Washington, Rubio drew the line sharply at marriage equality and accused supporters of same sex unions of "intolerance." 
"I promise you even before this speech is over I'll be attacked as a hater or a bigot or someone who is anti-gay," Rubio said. "This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy. Support for the definition of marriage as one man and one woman is not anti-gay, it is pro-traditional marriage."
Rhetoric like this is familiar -- the right has long believed it's unfair for the left to be intolerant of intolerance. Despite its repetition, though, the argument always seems to come up short.
Consider the underlying point Rubio is trying to make. On the one hand, he and his allies intend to keep fighting, hoping to use the power of the state to deny equal rights and basic human dignity to Americans based on sexual orientation. On the other hand, Rubio and his allies would appreciate it if no one said mean things about them while they push these policies.
I'm afraid the public discourse doesn't quite work this way. No one is suggesting Rubio must abandon his opposition to civil rights for LGBT Americans, but if he wants to avoid criticism while pushing public policies that create second-class citizens, he appears to have chosen the wrong line of work.
That said, let's not overlook the part of the speech in which Rubio also tried to position himself as a critic of anti-gay discrimination.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, watches President Barack Obama speak during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, June 24, 2014.

Boehner wants Obama to act 'on his own' on border crisis

07/24/14 10:08AM

The new House Republican leadership team held a brief press conference yesterday following a closed-door caucus meeting, fielding a few questions, all of which related to the humanitarian crisis at the U.S./Mexico border. One exchange between a reporter and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) stood out for me.
QUESTION: Just a follow up on that: are you still committed to having a vote before you leave? And, given the concerns within your own conference about the costs of this border bill, can you pass something?
BOEHNER: Listen, I, I'd like to act. We've got a humanitarian crisis on the border, and that has to be dealt with. But the president clearly isn't going to deal with it on his own, even though he has the authority to deal with it on his own.
Wait a second. Hold on. Boehner has spent months shouting, sometimes literally, about President Obama's out-of-control power grabs. As the Speaker and his caucus see it, Obama no longer gives a darn about separation of powers, and he's embraced a tyrannical model in which the president is king. Boehner is so outraged by Obama's willingness to act unilaterally that the Speaker is literally going to take the White House to court.
But when push comes to shove, Boehner's apoplexy is a sham. When the Speaker wants a shift in U.S. policy in Iraq, he demands that Obama deploy troops on his own, whether Congress approves of the administration's policy or not. When Boehner wants a shift in border policy and finds he's incapable of passing a bill, he again suggests the president can do as he pleases, without regard for lawmakers' approval.
If the Speaker of the House believes Obama should take fewer unilateral actions, fine. If Boehner believes the president should take more unilateral actions, that's OK, too. But right now, Congress' top Republican official is making both arguments at the same time, which suggest the Speaker isn't even taking his own rhetoric seriously.