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Republican presidential hopeful Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks during the 2015 Southern Republican Leadership Conference on May 21, 2015 in Oklahoma City, Okla. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

The one thing Scott Walker that has his rivals lack

05/22/15 10:17AM

If it seems like there's a confab for Republican presidential hopefuls about once a week, it's not your imagination. The series of "cattle calls" is practically endless, including the Southern Republican Leadership Conference that began yesterday in Oklahoma City, drawing much of the GOP field.
Most of the rhetoric was roughly what one might expect, but there was something Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said that stood out for me.
"There's a lot of great people out there who are thinking about, or are currently in the race, for president on the Republican side. Now, there are some people, there are some of those folks, particularly those in Washington, who are really good fighters -- they're fighting the good fight, they're waving the flag, they're carrying the banner -- but they haven't won a whole lot of victories yet.
"And then there's some other folks out there that they have done a really effective job of winning elections -- a lot of friends of mine, governors or former governors who got elected and they got re-elected. They won a lot of elections, but they haven't taken on a lot of those fights.
"I gotta tell you, ladies and gentlemen, part of the reason why I'm even thinking about what I'm thinking about -- we haven't announced anything yet, won't until after the end of June when our state budget is done -- I have yet to see anyone in the field or in the emerging field who's done both."
And that, in a nutshell, is Scott Walker's core 2016 pitch. What's more, it's largely true.
A sign at an Affordable Care Act outreach event in Los Angeles, California, September 28, 2013.

Republicans experience cognitive dissonance over ACA

05/22/15 09:32AM

The latest report from the Kaiser Family Foundation offers plenty of good news for those hoping to see the American health care system succeed. For example, a combined 74% of consumers who purchased coverage through an exchange consider their coverage either "good" or "excellent," which is up a couple of points from last year.
This is exactly the kind of numbers proponents of the Affordable Care Act hoped to see. For all the predictions that consumers would avoid the exchanges and hate their ACA-backed coverage, we now see largely the opposite.
But the same survey found that Republicans, many of whom like the coverage they've received through "Obamacare," continue to hate the law anyway. Mother Jones' Kevin Drum thinks this is "crazy" and he raises a fair point.
This isn't a general survey of all Americans. It's a survey specifically of people who don't have group coverage. Most of them (probably more than two-thirds) have actually purchased Obamacare plans and therefore have personal experience with them, but favorability is nonetheless still driven mostly by party ID. You can buy an ACA plan on the marketplace, get a subsidy, and be happy with your plan -- but if you're a Republican you still overwhelmingly hate Obamacare by 74-25 percent.
Folks, that is hardcore.
Agreed. For years, we've seen polls showing Americans expressing general support for the provision that make up the ACA, even if they claim not to like the ACA itself, but this is just a little worse. We're not looking at a group of folks who received coverage through the system, like the coverage they received, but still reflexively oppose the law that gave them the coverage they want to keep.
N.J. Gov. Chris Christie speaks at an event in Tyson's Corner, Va., May 1, 2015. (Photo by Cliff Owen/AP)

In the wake of scandal, Christie sees himself as a victim

05/22/15 08:47AM

There was quite a bit of attention overnight to Gov. Chris Christie's (R) expletive-laced speech at the annual New Jersey media roast this week, and it's understandable why. We're not generally accustomed to hearing a presidential candidate tell reporters to "clean the s**t out of your ears" and "get the f**k away from me."
But in fairness, the remarks were not intended for the public, and there's an expectation at the roast that speakers are going to use vulgar language. By all accounts, no one at the event was shocked by Christie's use of profanity -- given the event, it would have been more surprising if he didn't deliver an expletive-laced speech.
Far more interesting were the New Jersey Republican's on-the-record comments yesterday in which he characterized himself as some kind of victim. Politico reported:
Chris Christie says the media owes him an apology over the Bridgegate scandal.
"I do believe there's an absolute bias and a rush to judgment. You all know this, you saw the coverage of me 15 months ago. I was guilty, I had done it," Christie said on CNBC Thursday morning. "Now we're 15 months later, where are the apologies pouring in? Not one thing I said the day after the bridge situation has been proven wrong."
He added that news coverage of his scandal was too intense as compared to reporting on the IRS. "At the time Bridgegate was outgunning, six or seven to one the IRS scandal," Christie said.
The editorial board of the Newark Star-Ledger said this week, in reference to a separate matter, that the governor seems to have "lost his marbles." After seeing his comments yesterday, the criticism seems apt -- Christie's whining about his own scandal is simply bonkers.
US President George W. Bush, followed by

Jeb Bush finds area of disagreement with his brother

05/22/15 08:00AM

Jeb Bush seems to realize how awkward his position is in the 2016 race. He's the brother of a failed president, which creates some understandable resistance to his candidacy, and which puts some pressure on the Florida Republican to distance himself and his brethren -- even as he surrounds himself with his brother's staff and espouses his brother's ideas.
For the most part, the former governor has tried to carefully thread a needle, passively acknowledging that "mistakes were made" during the Bush/Cheney era, even while refusing to say who made the mistakes or what they were.
It was an unsustainable posture, and as msnbc's Benjy Sarlin reported, Jeb Bush finally tried a different course while campaigning in New Hampshire yesterday.
Bush was responding to a question from a voter at sports bar in Concord, who asked – in light of his reluctance to criticize the last Republican president on Iraq last week – for "an example of an issue where there is big space" between the two siblings.
"Are there differences? Yeah, sure," Bush replied. "I think in Washington during my brother's time Republicans spent too much money."
The former governor added, in reference to his brother, "I think he could have used the veto power, he didn't have line item veto power, but he could have brought budget discipline to Washington, DC. Now, that seems kind of quaint right now given the fact that after he left, budget deficits and spending just went up astronomically, but having constraints on spending across the board during this time would have been a good thing."
It's important to note that when it comes to the fiscal details, Jeb Bush is badly confused. After George W. Bush left office, budget deficits got smaller, not bigger, and federal spending has increased slower, not faster. The fact that Jeb Bush has the entire picture completely backwards is a little unsettling -- these are supposed to be basic details that a credible national candidate understands.
News gods are testing your outrage tolerance

News gods are testing your capacity for outrage

05/21/15 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow shares recent news stories that are pushing her outrage-o-meter into the red zone, including a Colorado law that requires the family of an Aurora mass-shooting victim to pay $220,000 in legal fees to the ammunition maker they tried to sue. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 5.21.15

05/21/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* What a catastrophe: "Crews are working around the clock to clean up the site of an oil spill in Santa Barbara County that has sent tens of thousands of [gallons of] crude into the Pacific Ocean and left even more saturating the soil."
* Related note: "Two days after a ruptured oil pipeline spewed crude into the waters off of California -- tainting 9 miles of ocean teeming with coastal creatures -- environmentalists are scrambling to assess how mucked up the ecosystem is."
* Syria: "ISIS militants executed 17 people, some by beheading, in their first day in control of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, a monitoring group said Thursday.... It also said that ISIS killed 49 people around Palmyra as it advanced toward the city."
* Trade-promotion authority: "The Senate voted 62-38 to move forward on a bill that would give Obama 'fast track' authority to negotiate, without the threat of congressional filibusters or added amendments, a massive 12-nation trade pact known as the Trans Pacific Partnership."
* A story to watch: "The Chinese navy repeatedly warned a U.S. surveillance plane to leave airspace around disputed islands in the South China Sea, a sign that Beijing may seek to create a military exclusion zone in a move that could heighten regional tensions."
* Overdue: "Boy Scouts of America President Robert Gates said on Thursday that the organization's existing ban on gay leaders 'cannot be sustained' and urged for an eventual change of course in order to avoid potential litigation."
A U.S. and Cuban flag hang from the same balcony in Old Havana, Cuba, Dec. 19, 2014. (Photo by Ramon Espinosa/AP)

As diplomacy with Cuba advances, Rubio clings to past

05/21/15 04:59PM

It's been about five months since President Obama's unexpected breakthrough on U.S. policy towards Cuba, and the New York Times reports today that diplomatic progress has brought the countries to a point that seemed unthinkable in the recent past.
The United States and Cuba are closer than ever to reaching an agreement to fully restore diplomatic relations and reopen embassies, officials in both countries said as negotiators met Thursday in Washington for another round of talks to iron out remaining details and discuss possible dates.
The move toward full diplomatic relations broken decades ago during the Cold War has been seen as a key step toward ending hostilities and normalizing ties with a historic opponent that once agreed to allow Soviet nuclear missiles on its soil and repelled an invasion by American-backed insurgents.
A senior State Department official told the paper, "I'm trying not to sound too Pollyannaish. But I do think we're closer than we have been in the past, and I think my counterparts are coming up here with a desire to get this done."
It's against this backdrop that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) -- the one who characterizes himself as a forward-thinking foreign-policy expert, unwed to the old way of doing things -- has vowed to block any nominee the White House sends to the Senate to serve as a U.S. Ambassador to Cuba. Yesterday, the Florida Republican also condemned loosened travel restrictions.
Rubio summarized his case in a fairly straightforward way at the Council on Foreign Relations last week: "In recent years, the ideals that have long formed the backbone of American foreign policy -- a passionate defense of human rights, the strong support of democratic principles, and the protection of the sovereignty of our allies -- have been replaced by, at best, caution, and at worst, outright willingness to betray those values for the expediency of negotiations with repressive regimes."
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during an event on May 11, 2015.

Obama pushes back against GOP line on Iraq

05/21/15 03:51PM

Last week, Republicans were heavily invested in a specific talking point: don't blame George W. Bush for the disastrous war in Iraq, blame the intelligence community. This week, this has clearly been replaced with a full-throated replacement talking point: don't blame George W. Bush or the intelligence community, blame President Obama.
We talked yesterday about prominent Republican voices pushing this line quite aggressively, but the argument is spreading like a virus in GOP circles. Jeb Bush has embraced it, as have other Republican presidential candidates, and even a member of Congress.
Not surprisingly, the president has a very different perspective. He talked at length about developments in the Middle East with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, and given the latest Republican meme, these comments seemed noteworthy (via Caitlin MacNeal).
"As you said, I'm very clear on the lessons of Iraq. I think it was a mistake for us to go in in the first place, despite the incredible efforts that were made by our men and women in uniform. Despite that error, those sacrifices allowed the Iraqis to take back their country. That opportunity was squandered by Prime Minister Maliki and the unwillingness to reach out effectively to the Sunni and Kurdish populations."
Though neither Obama nor Goldberg specifically referenced the latest GOP talking point, the president did reference the Republican complaints in general.
"It is important to have a clear idea of the past because we don't want to repeat mistakes. I know that there are some in Republican quarters who have suggested that I've overlearned the mistake of Iraq, and that, in fact, just because the 2003 invasion did not go well doesn't argue that we shouldn't go back in. And one lesson that I think is important to draw from what happened is that if the Iraqis themselves are not willing or capable to arrive at the political accommodations necessary to govern, if they are not willing to fight for the security of their country, we cannot do that for them. We can be effective allies. I think Prime Minister Abadi is sincere and committed to an inclusive Iraqi state, and I will continue to order our military to provide the Iraqi security forces all assistance that they need in order to secure their country, and I'll provide diplomatic and economic assistance that's necessary for them to stabilize."
What's striking about this, at least to me, is how gracious and contextual Obama's is given the circumstances.
Podiums for this evening's debate between the then four remaining Republican presidential candidates stand ready at the North Charleston Coliseum on January 19, 2012 in Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

The GOP's complicated debate plans take shape

05/21/15 12:50PM

We've known for months that the Republican Party is facing a difficult logistical challenge: with an enormous field of presidential candidates,  how in the world are debates supposed to work?
As Rachel noted on the show last night, the plan is finally coming into focus. Rachel Kleinman reported for msnbc last night, for example, that the first debate will reportedly have (at least) 10 candidates.
According to information first reported by The Washington Post and confirmed by NBC News, Fox News, which will host the event Aug. 6 in Cleveland "will require participants to place in the top 10 in an average of the five most recent national polls in the run-up to the event," noting that "[n]o GOP primary debate has ever featured more than 10 candidates." Fox News has used similar criteria for past debates.
Not to completely exclude those polling poorly, the right-leaning cable news channel will offer some air time to those who don't make the cut.
With a GOP field that may reach 19 candidates, that means nearly half of the Republicans running will be on the outside looking in on debate night.
Also yesterday, Politico reported that CNN has adopted its own plan for its Sept. 16 debate: the top 10 candidates will have one debate, and there will be a separate debate for the other candidates who have at least 1% support in national polling.
It's hard not to sympathize with debate organizers, who have a very difficult task, but these preliminary plans come with some complications.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.21.15

05/21/15 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:
* Just a week after Jeb Bush bowed out of the Iowa Straw Poll, Mike Huckabee has now done the same. I'd bet good money they won't be the last two to make this decision.
* Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign has hired Lorella Praeli, a high-profile Dream Act activist, as Latino Outreach Director.
* In a mayoral race that drew national attention, Florida businessman Lenny Curry (R) was elected as Jacksonville's new mayor this week, narrowly defeating a Democratic incumbent. There are very few big-city GOP mayors.
* In the state of Washington, Public Policy Polling shows incumbent Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and incumbent Sen. Patty Murray (D) in pretty good shape next year. Former Attorney General Rob McKenna is the strongest Republican contender against both, though the Dems are ahead in hypothetical match-ups.
* Gallup's new report shows President Obama's favorability reaching its highest level in nearly two years. As the 2016 race takes shape, the president's popularity is likely to make a significant difference.
* At an event in D.C. this week with dozens of House Republicans, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said the fact that he's not a college graduate could help his presidential campaign.
In this file photo taken July 26, 2014, U.S. Rep. and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Tom Cotton speaks at a campaign event in Little Rock, Ark. (Photo by Danny Johnston/AP)

Cotton eyes 'permanent' surveillance state

05/21/15 11:20AM

When it comes NSA surveillance, the Senate has a decision to make. The upper chamber could settle for the House's watered-down version, which the Obama administration is willing to live with. It could also keep pushing for a temporary extension of the status quo.
Whatever the Senate's preference, it will have to decide fairly quickly -- Congress has until June 1 to extend the provision of the Patriot Act that authorizes the collection of telephone records, and lawmakers are supposed to be out all of next week.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has clearly made his preference clear, but National Journal today takes a closer look at his intra-party allies pushing aggressively in the other direction (via Greg Sargent).
Driving that strategy are Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, and a handful of others. Their ranks include Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a freshman Republican who voted for a version of the reform bill -- known as the USA Freedom Act -- last year but has since come out strongly in favor of the NSA's authorities due in part to "hours and hours" spent with members of the intelligence community and increased access to information as a new member of the Intelligence Committee.
"My preference would be to permanently extend all three authorities," Cotton said in an interview, referring to the bulk-collection power as well as a provision allowing surveillance of "lone wolf" suspects not linked to any formal terrorist group or government, and another allowing "roving wiretaps" to target individuals instead of a specific device.
Wait, did he say "permanently?