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U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks to promote themes from his State of the Union address at McKinley High School in Baton Rouge, La., Jan. 14, 2016. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Conservative pundit: Obama's integrity 'taken for granted'

02/09/16 12:40PM

With less than a year remaining in Barack Obama's presidency, many observers are already focusing on the substantive elements of his legacy: ending the Great Recession, bringing affordable health care to millions, rescuing the American auto industry, restoring the nation's international credibility, and so on.
 
But every president is judged not only by what they accomplish in office, but also what they bring to the presidency itself. What kind of people were they? What kind of leadership qualities did they demonstrate? How did they conduct themselves in one of the world's most difficult jobs?
 
The New York Times' David Brooks, in the midst of a mild panic about what's become of his Republican Party, devoted his column today to an under-appreciated facet of the Obama era: the president's capacity for dignity and grace. The center-right columnist, not surprisingly, makes clear he disagrees with many of Obama's "policy decisions," but Brooks says he's going to miss this president anyway.
[O]ver the course of this campaign it feels as if there's been a decline in behavioral standards across the board. Many of the traits of character and leadership that Obama possesses, and that maybe we have taken too much for granted, have suddenly gone missing or are in short supply. [...]
 
Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I'm beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.
Brooks' compelling case highlighted the president's (1) "basic integrity" and ability to maintain a "remarkably scandal-free" administration; (2) sense of "basic humanity"; (3) "soundness in his decision-making process"; (4) "grace under pressure"; and (5) "resilient sense of optimism."
 
It's a welcome assessment, not just because it's a Republican pundit praising a Democratic president, but because Brooks is entirely right about this aspect of the Obama era being taken for granted.
 
Though, once he leaves office, that's likely to change.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.9.16

02/09/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a prominent Marco Rubio booster, tried to defend the Florida senator against criticism yesterday from Chris Christie. As part of the pushback, Issa said the New Jersey governor is "a lot overweight."
 
* If John Kasich struggles in today's New Hampshire primary, his campaign is likely finished, so it was of interest yesterday when the Ohio governor's super PAC made six-figure ad buys in Nevada and South Carolina -- the next two states holding nominating contests.
 
* On a related note, Christie would presumably be in big trouble if he fares poorly tonight, but his campaign released a schedule of upcoming Christie events in South Carolina, suggesting the governor intends to stick around for a while.
 
* Speaking of Christie, two of Mitt Romney's closest advisers decided to become campaign contributors to the New Jersey governor after seeing his performance in Saturday night's debate.
 
* Marco Rubio continues to rack up endorsements from Capitol Hill, where Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) threw her support to the Florida senator yesterday.
 
* The Iowa Democratic Party conducted a review of last week's caucus results, and though it discovered "errors in the results from five precincts," it concluded that Hillary Clinton still narrowly defeated Bernie Sanders.
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks in Davenport, Iowa, Nov. 11, 2015. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

For some, the fight over marriage equality isn't over just yet

02/09/16 11:20AM

The fight over marriage equality certainly appears to be over. The Supreme Court ruled; discriminatory laws have been replaced; couples are getting married; and most of the political world has simply moved on.
 
But Marco Rubio isn't done fighting. In November, the Florida senator told TV preacher Pat Robertson's cable show that he's still "endeavoring" to "change" the law back to the way it was. "I continue to believe that marriage law should be between one man and one woman," Rubio said at the time.
 
Yesterday, on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, MSNBC's Emma Margolin reported on an instance in which Rubio ran into a voter who challenged him over this issue.
"So Marco, being a gay man, why do you want to put me back in the closet?" asked Timothy Kierstead, who was dining at the restaurant. Rubio came over to shake his hand, but the woman sitting next to Kierstead appeared to refuse.
 
"I don't," Rubio replied. "You can live anywhere you want. I just believe marriage is between one man and one woman."
When the local voter explained that he's "already married," and he didn't appreciate the candidate's effort "to say we don't matter," Rubio responded, "No, I just believe marriage is between one man and one woman.... I think that's what the law should be, and if you don't agree, you should have the law changed by the legislature."
 
For the record, New Hampshire's legislature actually changed the law before the Supreme Court's ruling, though Rubio apparently isn't aware of that.
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is seen as the sun sets on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Congressional GOP 'unwilling to even talk about the budget'

02/09/16 10:40AM

For all the talk about President Obama coming up short when reaching out to congressional Republicans, we're occasionally reminded who's ultimately to blame for the partisan dysfunction in the nation's capital.
 
Today, for example, the White House will unveil its final budget blueprint to Congress, and while the public at large probably won't find this particularly noteworthy, these documents are routinely pretty interesting. Obama's latest budget plan, for example, includes all kinds of innovative ideas on infrastructure, opioid abuse, and even a "moonshot" on cancer research.
 
They're the kind of ideas that would be the start of an important budget debate with Congress. Except, as the New York Times reports, Republican lawmakers have announced they're not even willing to have this conversation: they don't know what's in the administration's budget plan, and they don't care
Breaking with a 41-year-old tradition, the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees announced that they would not even give the president's budget director, Shaun Donovan, the usual hearings in their panels this week.
 
G. William Hoagland, who was the Republican staff director at the Senate Budget Committee for much of the 1980s and 1990s, and is senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, said he could not recall a year since the modern budget process took effect in the 1970s when a president's budget director was not invited to testify before the budget committees.
Hoagland told the Times, "While the last budget of an outgoing president is usually aspirational, and sets a theme for what he or she hopes will be followed up by his or her successor, it nonetheless should be reviewed by the Congress."
 
And ordinarily, it would be. For decades, once a White House unveils a federal budget plan, the House and Senate Budget Committee schedule hearings with the president's budget director. It's just how the process has worked, regardless of which party has power at the time. In plenty of instances, these hearings have offered lawmakers a chance to press administration officials on the parts of the budget they disagree with.
 
But this year, GOP committee chairmen have decided not to bother. They just don't care.
Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump waves has he arrives for a campaign rally, Feb. 8, 2016, in Manchester, N.H. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

Trump hasn't lost the ability to surprise

02/09/16 10:00AM

Donald Trump hosted his final rally before the New Hampshire primary last night, speaking to roughly 5,000 supporters in Manchester. And while the New York developer was hardly the only candidate hoping to seal the deal on the eve of the nation's first primary, MSNBC's Ali Vitali reported that Trump was the only one using "an epithet for female anatomy to describe a Republican rival on stage at a rally."
In context, the Republican frontrunner was complaining about Ted Cruz not being enthusiastic enough in his support for torture.
 
"You know he's concerned about the answer because well, some people," Trump said pointing to a woman in the crowd, "she just said a terrible thing. You know what she said? Shout it out 'cause I don't wanna."
 
Then he said it anyway: "She said, 'He's a p—y.'"
The crowd erupted in laughter and cheers. Moments later, a "Trump" chant broke out. Trump faux-chastised the woman, for the good of the press, as he's done before when one of his attendees has shouted out something uncouth. "That's terrible! Terrible."
 
There may be some who shrugged this off, saying to themselves, "There he goes again." But I hope Trump hasn't desensitized us to such a degree that we're no longer capable of surprise.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks at the Margate Resort on Feb. 3, 2016 in Laconia, N.H. Bush is campaigning in the lead up to the The New Hampshire primary, Feb. 9. (Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty)

Jeb Bush's Citizens United criticisms come with a catch

02/09/16 09:21AM

Ordinarily, criticisms of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling come from progressive critics concerned about the role of money in politics. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, for example, have condemned the current system, which they believe was made worse by the 2010 court decision.
 
It came as something of a surprise, then, when Jeb Bush, on the campaign trail in New Hampshire yesterday, had some unkind words for the Citizens United ruling. MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin reported:
Jeb Bush turned heads on Monday when he issued a call for a constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to unlimited money groups like the pro-Bush powerhouse Right to Rise. However, his campaign quickly clarified that Bush was only reiterating an existing position, creating confusion over the remarks.
 
"The ideal situation would be to overturn the Supreme Court ruling that allows for ... unregulated money for the independent and regulated for the campaign," Bush said at a town hall in Nashua. "I would turn that on its head if I could."
The details matter, because while Bush's criticisms of Citizens United may have initially seemed encouraging to reform advocates, the Florida Republican envisions a system that reformers probably wouldn't like at all.
 
On the surface, the fact that Bush has a problem with the post-Citizens United world is unexpected. The Supreme Court's controversial ruling opened the door to super PACs, and no national candidate has had more success exploiting this campaign-finance dynamic than Jeb and his allies. The Right to Rise super PAC has been extraordinarily prolific in his fundraising, reportedly raising over $117 million last year in support of Bush's candidacy.
 
But it's the policy just below the surface that matters.
In this Dec. 3, 2015, file photo, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks during the C40 cities awards ceremony, in Paris. (Photo by Thibault Camus/AP)

Former NYC mayor inches closer to independent 2016 bid

02/09/16 08:43AM

It's been about two weeks since the New York Times first reported that Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Independent former mayor of New York City, is interested in running a third-party presidential campaign. At the time, the report added that Bloomberg has already "taken concrete steps toward a possible campaign."
 
The Washington Post reported late yesterday that the former mayor isn't done floating trial balloons.
Michael Bloomberg confirmed to the Financial Times on Monday that, yes, he was considering a presidential run. "I find the level of discourse and discussion distressingly banal and an outrage and an insult to the voters," Bloomberg told the paper in the first instance on record of Donald Trump being called "banal."
The Financial Times' article has been restricted to the newspaper's subscribers, which is why I haven't linked to it directly.
 
Bloomberg would hardly be the first hyper-wealthy American to launch a third-party presidential campaign, but he might be the first to be motivated by concerns over "the level of discourse." As a rule, candidates for the nation's highest office are principally focused on substantive, not rhetorical, goals.
 
At least for now, it's difficult to say with confidence just how serious Bloomberg may be about this endeavor. As we discussed two weeks ago, the former NYC mayor spent a fair amount of time in 2008 considering an independent White House bid, and then repeated the process in 2012. In both instances, Bloomberg's interest caused a stir, but he eventually passed on the campaigns.
 
The problem, of course, is that there is no realistic scenario in which Bloomberg is actually elected president. Indeed, in the two weeks since people close to him first launched this trial balloon, there's been no public clamoring for his potential candidacy.
 
The only people cheering Bloomberg on are Republican officials and insiders, not because they see a great national leader, but because they see him as a candidate who would help split the center-left and make it that much easier for the GOP to control the White House and Congress in 2017 and 2018.
 
Whether or not Bloomberg recognizes this is unclear.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., talks to supporters, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Miami. (Photo by Luis M. Alvarez/AP)

Rubio glitches again, this time while condemning U.S. culture

02/09/16 08:00AM

Marco Rubio confirmed many of the worst fears about his preparedness over the weekend, panicking during a debate and getting stuck in a recursive loop in which he mindlessly attacked President Obama's patriotism over and over again, using nearly the exact same words four times.
 
And last night, already facing ridicule, the overly scripted senator did it again. The New York Times reported:
Maybe it was just the end of a long, tiring day of campaigning. Or maybe Senator Marco Rubio's opponents have gotten into his head.
 
But on Monday, Mr. Rubio, the Florida Republican, who has been under relentless criticism for uttering his talking points over and over in Saturday's presidential debate, had another repetitious lapse.
You can watch the clip here. He begins by complaining about the difficulties of raising children "in the 21st century" in light of "the values they try to ram down our throats." And then, moments later, the rattled senator said nearly the same thing, complaining once more about how hard it's become to raise children "in the 21st century" because of "the values they try to ram down our throats."
 
If you watch the clip, pay particular attention to the 0:26 mark, when Rubio actually pauses. He seems to realize that he's stuck, once again repeating the exact same talking point, but he was unable to break free of the script.
 
I saw some journalists question last night whether this actually happened, or whether Rubio critics edited the video to make him appear foolish. The authenticity of the clip, however, is confirmed.
 
There are two broad angles to this. The first, obviously, is the fact that Rubio's bad habits are catching up to him at an inconvenient time. The senator has long struggled with depth of thought, preferring superficial scripts to meaningful analysis. And while that may dazzle some observers for a while, eventually someone is going to expect a candidate to come up with an original thought that wasn't written on a notecard and handed to a would-be president to memorize.
 
And on this front, Marco Rubio just isn't ready for prime time. It's almost shocking how unimpressive he can be when pressed to think for himself.
Root of Rubio gaffe: confirming suspicions

Root of Rubio gaffe: confirming suspicions he's scripted

02/08/16 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow reports on chaos in the polling of the Republican presidential primary field in New Hampshire, made even more chaotic by the interruption of Marco Rubio's momentum by his awkward debate performance they seemed to confirm a pre-existing narrative that he is over-scripted. watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 2.8.16

02/08/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Fighting the Zika virus: "President Barack Obama will ask the U.S. Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to fight the mosquito-borne Zika virus in the United States and other countries, the White House said on Monday."
 
* Good advice: "President Obama sought to assure Americans that the spread of the Zika virus should not evoke the panic that has accompanied past public health scares."
 
* North Korea "launched a long-range rocket Sunday, drawing stern condemnation from the U.S., Japan and the United Nations. While Pyongyang said the rocket carried a satellite, the launch was widely viewed as a cover for testing ballistic missile technology -- in defiance of United Nations sanctions."
 
* Related note: "The United Nations on Sunday condemned North Korea's satellite launch as a 'dangerous and serious' violation of international restrictions, and threatened new sanctions aimed at dissuading the rogue nation from building missiles capable of delivering weapons against distant adversaries, including the United States."
 
* It's not just Saudi Arabia: "A top official in the United Arab Emirates said Sunday that his country is prepared to send ground troops to Syria to fight Islamic State militants as part of an international coalition."
 
* Taiwan: "A powerful earthquake struck southern Taiwan Saturday, killing at least 14 people and leaving more than 150 people missing in one building alone, officials said."
 
* North Carolina: "Federal judges struck down late Friday two majority black congressional districts in North Carolina, saying race was the predominant factor in drawing those lines but state legislators lacked justification in using that practice."

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