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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives to take questions from members of the press following a weekly policy luncheon with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 13, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

GOP rolls out new Obamacare repeal gambit

07/29/15 09:20AM

Last month's Supreme Court ruling seemed to serve as a coda in the mind-numbing political fight over the Affordable Care Act. The legal questions have been resolved; the ACA is working effectively for consumers; polls show increasing support for the law and the U.S. system; and it was painfully obvious that the "Obamacare repeal" crusaders need a new hobby.
 
And yet, Republicans just can't help themselves. Bloomberg Politics reported late yesterday:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell championed a renewed push to bypass a filibuster and repeal Obamacare with 51 votes on Tuesday, he announced in a joint statement with Utah Senator Mike Lee, one of the most conservative Republicans in the chamber.
 
"Republicans are united in working to repeal the broken promises of Obamacare," McConnell said in the statement, adding that the Senate will "continue our effort to use reconciliation ... to fulfill the promise we made to our constituents."
The legislative maneuvering gets a little tricky, but here's the gist: GOP lawmakers realize that if they bring up a bill in the Senate to repeal the ACA and strip millions of Americans of their health care benefits, Senate Democrats will filibuster. There are 54 Republicans in the chamber, not 60, so this won't work.
 
But under Congress' often bizarre budget rules, lawmakers can sometimes pursue their goals through the "reconciliation" process, which bypasses filibusters.
 
If Senate Dems can't block the GOP scheme, does this mean the plan has a legitimate shot?
Speaker of the House Boehner listens as his fellow Republicans speak to the media after a conference meeting with House Republicans

House Republican takes aim at Boehner's job

07/29/15 08:40AM

In recent months, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has taken some fairly aggressive steps to enforce party unity, which has included meting out punishments for members who ignore the GOP leadership.
 
Near the top of the list is Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who helped create the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, and who was temporarily stripped of a subcommittee chairmanship after irritating the Speaker's office once too many times. (Meadows regained the gavel soon after.)
 
In June, amidst the behind-the-scenes turmoil, the North Carolina Republican hinted that he might try to take Boehner down. Apparently, as NBC News reported last night, Meadows wasn't kidding.
A House Republican often at odds with John Boehner launched a bid Tuesday to kick the speaker of the house out of his job -- an almost unheard-of rebellion but one that has been simmering for months.
 
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, filed a motion to "vacate the chair" -- a parliamentary maneuver that could be used to depose Boehner, R-Ohio.
The motion accuses Boehner of having "endeavored to consolidate power and centralize decision-making, bypassing the majority of the 435 Members of Congress and the people they represent," and of using "the power of the office to punish Members who vote according to their conscience instead of the will of the Speaker."
 
Is there any chance this could actually work? Is Boehner's job actually in jeopardy?
Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, pauses while speaking in Ames, Iowa, U.S., on July 18, 2015. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)

Team Trump capable of regret after all

07/29/15 08:03AM

Presidential campaigns have been known to struggle from time to time with problematic surrogates. The Romney campaign in 2012, for example, had its share of official representatives who struggled to stay on message, and four years earlier, the McCain campaign ran into some trouble with surrogate Carly Fiorina.
 
But leave it to Donald Trump's presidential campaign to break new ground in this area. MSNBC's Anna Brand reported:
Donald Trump is in the headlines again for comments about rape -- only it wasn't the presidential candidate who made the remarks this time around, but rather his attorney.
 
Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, in response to decades-old allegations resurfaced in a recent article regarding Trump's ex-wife, said "you can't rape your spouse."
The trouble started with a Daily Beast investigation into a rape allegation Ivana Trump made in 1989, a claim she has since walked back. The Daily Beast talked to Michael Cohen about the allegation, and the Trump attorney said, "You're talking about the front-runner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as private individual who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand that by very definition, you can't rape your spouse."
 
That, of course, is the opposite of the truth.
 
According to the published report, Cohen went on to tell the Daily Beast reporter working on the story, "I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we're in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don't have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know. So I'm warning you, tread very f----ing lightly, because what I'm going to do to you is going to be f----ing disgusting. You understand me?"
 
Trump's lawyer added, "You write a story that has Mr. Trump's name in it, with the word 'rape,' and I'm going to mess your life up ... for as long as you're on this frickin' planet ... you're going to have judgments against you, so much money, you'll never know how to get out from underneath it."
 
One of the striking things about Trump's national campaign is that it never apologizes and never seems to show any regrets. In this case, however, a spokesperson for the Republican presidential hopeful said that Trump "didn't know" of Cohen's comments, but the candidate "disagrees with him."

Trump and Kochs and other headlines

07/29/15 08:02AM

The Kochs freeze out Trump. (Politico)

Under oath, Donald Trump shows his raw side. (New York Times)

House Republican seeks to oust Speaker Boehner. (The Hill)

New video shows more of Sandra Bland's time in Texas jail. (AP)

Is Mullah Omar dead? Afghanistan probes reports about Taliban leader. (NBC News)

Eurontunnel says 37,000 migrants have tried to cross the English Channel this year. (NBC News)

New evidence should free 'Happy Birthday' from copyright, lawyers say. (New York Times)

read more

Ignoring Fox News debate game, Kasich surges

Ignoring Fox News debate game, John Kasich surges

07/28/15 10:35PM

Kasie Hunt, MSNBC political reporter, talks with Rachel Maddow about how Ohio Governor John Kasich's strategy of ignoring the Fox News debate qualification rules and focusing instead on early primary states is bearing fruit in polls in those states. watch

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 7.28.15

07/28/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* More on this on tonight's show: "Convicted spy Jonathan J. Pollard will be released from prison on Nov. 21 under an order issued Tuesday by the U.S. Parole Commission. The only U.S. citizen ever sentenced to life in prison for spying for an American ally, Pollard will be freed after serving 30 years of a life sentence for passing U.S. intelligence secrets to Israel."
 
* An important pickup for agreement proponents: "Representative Sander M. Levin, Democrat of Michigan and the longest-serving Jewish member now in Congress, said Tuesday he would support the Iran nuclear accord, lending a hefty voice of approval in a chamber deeply skeptical of the deal."
 
* Related news: "Seven former U.S. diplomats and State Department officials sent a letter Monday to leaders in Congress urging them to support the nuclear deal with Iran.... Former ambassadors to Israel -- James Cunningham, William Harrop, Daniel Kurtzer, Thomas Pickering and Edward Walker Jr. -- signed the letter."
 
* Scouts evolve: "Facing declining membership, legal threats, and -- likely, above all -- 'rapid changes in society,' the top policy-making body of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) on Monday voted 45-12 to formally end its longstanding blanket ban on openly gay adult leaders."
 
* Hacked: "Planned Parenthood, already a target of an anti-abortion group alleging illegal activity and congressional Republicans bent on defunding it, has confirmed that hackers have attempted to breach its systems." [Disclosure: my wife works for Planned Parenthood.]
 
* Avoiding an infrastructure shutdown: "Senate leaders said Tuesday they would take up legislation the House plans to move this week that would extend funding for the nation's highways, bridges and roads for another three months. "
 
* Good for Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.): "A bill to eliminate the 55-year-old U.S. embargo on Cuba will be introduced Tuesday by an unlikely member of Congress: a Republican in the House of Representatives."
(Photo by Carlos Barria/Pool/AP)

More information leads to more support for Iran deal

07/28/15 04:46PM

Before the international nuclear agreement with Iran was announced, U.S. polls consistently found the same results: Americans approved of the process. Despite skepticism about Iran, the U.S. mainstream repeatedly said it supported the Obama administration's efforts to find a diplomatic solution.
 
But now that an agreement has been reached and announced, polling data isn't quite as consistent. The Washington Post/ABC poll found that most Americans support the deal, while CNN found that most Americans don't support it. Public Policy Polling and Pew Research also released results pointing to contradictory public attitudes.
 
So, what do people really think? And why do the polls suddenly point in unhelpful directions?
 
Part of the issue here is that most Americans don't follow these issues closely, so gauging public opinion can get a little tricky. How pollsters word the question -- how much information Americans are given by the poll itself -- makes a big difference. Note, for example, how PPP presented the issue:
"The US and other countries have reached an agreement to place limits on Iran's nuclear program in order to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. In exchange for limiting its nuclear program, Iran would receive gradual relief from US and international economic sanctions. The International Atomic Energy Agency would monitor Iran's facilities and if Iran was caught breaking the agreement, the current economic sanctions would be imposed again. Would you say you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program?"
That's a pretty fair summary for someone who doesn't know much about the debate, and PPP found that a 54% majority either "strongly" or "somewhat" supports the agreement.
 
Other pollsters, however, provide respondents with little or no information. A Vox report concluded, based on the four most recent national polls, "the more information the pollster provided, the more likely the respondents were to support the deal."
 
That's probably a good sign for the merits of the agreement.
Arminda Murillo, 54, reads a leaflet at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, Calif., March 27, 2014. (Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

'Obamacare' thrives in nation's largest blue state

07/28/15 03:26PM

Many U.S. consumers have no doubt seen reports about the Affordable Care Act and predictions of significant increases in premiums in the very near future. Those worried about the projections should take note of the latest developments in California. The L.A. Times reported:
Defying dire predictions about health insurance rate shock across the country, California's Obamacare exchange negotiated a 4% average rate increase for the second year in a row.
 
The modest increase for 2016, announced Monday, may be welcome news for many of the 1.3 million Californians who buy individual policies through the state marketplace, known as Covered California.
 
California's rates are a key barometer of how the Affordable Care Act is working nationwide, and the state's performance is sure to be hotly debated among supporters and foes of the healthcare law, including the current crop of presidential candidates.
In case it's not obvious, a 4% average rate increase is tiny, and a small fraction of recent reports pointing to skyrocketing premiums. It's also much smaller than the kind of rate hikes that were common before "Obamacare" was signed into law.
 
What's more, as Mother Jones' Kevin Drum reported, with subsidy values also climbing a bit, and the even-more-modest increases in silver plans through the ACA, a lot of consumers are about to see their premiums shrink, not grow.
 
"I have a feeling this number is not going to be widely reported on Fox News," Kevin added.
 
That's a good line, but let's not brush past the underlying point too quickly.
Voting booths are illuminated by sunlight as voters cast their ballots at a polling place on Nov. 6, 2012. (Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)

The twists and turns of Missouri's gubernatorial race

07/28/15 12:51PM

Earlier this year, the Missouri's open gubernatorial race took a tragic turn when state Auditor Tom Schweich (R) committed suicide. Soon after, state Sen. Mike Parson (R), who had vowed to skip the race, threw his hat into the ring, only to recently drop out again.
 
In the meantime, one of the five Republicans still in the race, state Sen. Bob Dixon, is claiming to be a former gay person. TPM reported yesterday:
Dixon, who is now married to a woman and had three children with her, revealed in 1991 that he had identified as gay for five years until a "religious experience" led him to be straight again, according to a 1992 report from the Springfield News-Leader, which was resurfaced last week by the Riverfront Times. [...]
 
In 1991, Dixon told attendees at a Springfield, Mo., city council meeting about his time as a gay man, but did not elaborate on his "religious experience," which he said happened in October 1988, according to the News-Leader.
Dixon is now running on a statewide platform that includes opposition to marriage equality.
 
Missouri's Springfield News-Leader reported late yesterday that Dixon says he was abused as a child, "and this abuse led to the confusion he felt about his sexuality," leading him to identify as gay for five years.
 
In a statement, the Republican lawmaker added, "I have put the childhood abuse, and the teenage confusion behind me. What others intended for harm has resulted in untold good. I have overcome, and will not allow evil to win."

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.28.15

07/28/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* In New Hampshire, a new Monmouth poll shows Donald Trump with a surprisingly large advantage in the Republican presidential primary, leading Jeb Bush by a two-to-one margin, 24% to 12%. No other candidate reaches double digits, though Scott Walker and John Kasich are tied for third with 7% each.
 
* Asked about Mike Huckabee's offensive Holocaust rhetoric yesterday, Jeb Bush positioned himself as the grown-up in the GOP field. "The use of that kind of language is just wrong," he told reporters. "This is not the way we're going to win elections and that's not how we're going to solve problems. So, unfortunate remark -- not quite sure why he felt compelled to say it."
 
* Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker will be in Southern California this week, presenting themselves "to the Koch brothers and hundreds of other wealthy conservatives planning to spend close to $1 billion in the run-up to the 2016 election." Carly Fiorina will also be there, and while Rand Paul was invited, his attendance appears unlikely.
 
* Who'll be eligible to participate in next week's GOP debate? NBC's First Read team believes John Kasich, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, and George Pataki will fail to make the cut.
 
* In Florida, a new Mason-Dixon poll shows two wide-open Senate primaries. On the Democratic side, Alan Grayson has a small lead over Patrick Murphy, 33% to 32%, though "undecided" leads them both. On the Republican side, David Jolly appears to have the early edge, though he only has 16% support in the crowded GOP field.
 
* In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie (R) has an unfortunate habit of giving "plum state positions, including judgeships," to his friends from high school.
Republican Mike Huckabee speaks at the Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, in this Jan. 24, 2015 file photo. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Huckabee ignores critics after Holocaust uproar

07/28/15 11:35AM

Mike Huckabee's repulsive comments on nuclear diplomacy and the Holocaust were tough to defend, but the far-right Republican candidate told NBC's Matt Lauer  that "Jewish people" liked what he had to say, so there's no real problem here.
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says if he was president, he would use the same language when referring to potential deals with Iran -- and that the response from Jewish people to his controversial comments has been "overwhelmingly positive."
 
"We need to use strong words when people make strong threats against an entire group of people as the Iranians have made toward the Jews," the former Arkansas governor said Tuesday in an interview with Matt Lauer.
Huckabee added, "The response from Jewish people have been overwhelming positive."
 
Remember, the GOP candidate said President Obama, by working with our allies and partners on an agreement to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, would "take the Israelis and basically march them to the door of the oven."
 
I really have to hand it to the GOP -- only Republicans could argue that President Obama is both Hitler and Chamberlain at the same time.
 
Faced with bipartisan criticism yesterday, Huckabee refused to apologize. I'm curious, though, whether he's seen the criticism from Israel. USA Today reported:
In this July 14, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, speaks during a campaign event in Las Vegas. (Photo by John Locher/AP)

Walker puts EPA in the crosshairs

07/28/15 11:05AM

Republican hostility for the Environmental Protection Agency isn't exactly new, but it was nevertheless striking to see a leading Republican presidential candidate explain his plans yesterday to effectively eliminate most of the EPA's responsibilities.
 
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) talked to the conservative Washington Examiner yesterday, and began by talking generally about shifting powers from the federal to the state level on "everything from Medicaid to transportation, workforce development, environmental protection, education." The Republican presidential hopeful then got more specific:
"All 50 states have the equivalent of an Environmental Protection Agency. In my state, it's called the Department of Natural Resources. Other states have different names, but again, I'd shift that power and that money out of Washington and basically just leave in place an umbrella organization that really is limited to mediating interstate conflicts over, say, where a body of water or a piece of land goes through multiple states.
 
"Other than that, I'd leave those requirements and those responsibilities to the state government, where the people making those decisions have to live with them. And I think that's part of the balance."
Asked if he'd consider eliminating the environmental agency altogether, the Wisconsin governor added he would "essentially take their responsibilities and send them back to the states."
 
If there was a "dispute" between states -- your neighboring state allows toxic chemicals to be dumped in rivers, for example, but those rivers reach your state -- the EPA in a Walker administration would be able to mediate, if it chooses to.
 
This probably won't get as much attention as Donald Trump calling Mexican immigrant "rapists," but Walker's vision is every bit as radical. As the AP report on this added:
US President Barack Obama delivers a speech at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa on July 28, 2015. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Obama says he 'could win' a theoretical third term

07/28/15 10:26AM

It's surprisingly common to hear two-term U.S. presidents, mid-way through their seventh year, start to talk openly about their desire for a third term. Eisenhower did it, as did Reagan and Clinton.
 
So perhaps it shouldn't have come as too big a surprise to see President Obama, speaking this morning to the African Union, reflect on his willingness to serve.
"I am in my second term. It has been an extraordinary privilege for me to serve as the president of the United States. I cannot imagine a greater honor or a more interesting job. I love my work, but under our Constitution, I cannot run again. I can't run again.
 
"I actually think I'm a pretty good president. I think if I ran, I could win. But I can't. So there's a lot that I'd like to do to keep America moving, but the law is the law, and no one person is above the law, not even the president."
The context, of course, is important. Obama wasn't signaling his disappointment with the 25th Amendment, so much as he was rebuking those African leaders who refuse to relinquish power, regardless of their country's laws or popular will. Listening to the president's speech, there is no doubt Obama's remarks were directed at those presidents who should transfer power to a lawful successor, but who choose not to.
 
Keep this in mind when you get an all-caps email from your uncle who watches Fox all day, demanding to know whether the White House is going to suspend American elections so Obama can stay in office indefinitely.
 
But before we move on, the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol whined this morning that it's "embarrassing" to hear "an American president saying this while abroad." Bill, I'm afraid I have some bad news for you.

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