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Democrats look to seize upon GOP disarray

Democrats look to seize upon Republican disarray

10/09/15 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow outlines the historic degree to which the Republican Party is coming unhinged, and shows how Democrats are working to seize upon structural advantages in the coming election to potentially retake the Senate - a prospect that may force Rand Paul to abandon his presidential ambitions and take his Senate reelection more seriously. watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 10.9.15

10/09/15 05:30PM

Today’s edition of quick hits:
* A change in Syria: "The Pentagon on Friday announced it was ending its failed $500 million program to 'train and equip' Syrian rebels and replacing it with a far less ambitious plan, defense officials said. The 'training' part of the program -- which managed to field only 'four or five' Syrian rebels into the battle against ISIS at a $50 million price tag -- has been halted, according to senior defense officials."
* Capital punishment: "An Arkansas judge has placed a temporary hold on the upcoming executions of eight death row inmates as they challenge the state’s lethal injection protocols."
* Related news: "With two dozen scheduled executions in limbo, Ohio sent a forceful letter to Washington on Friday asserting that the state believes it can obtain a lethal-injection drug from overseas without violating any laws."
* Oregon: "President Barack Obama on Friday met with families and survivors of last week's shooting at a community college in Oregon."
* Nobel: "A coalition of labor union leaders, businesspeople, lawyers and human rights activists won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday 'for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011.'”
* South Carolina: "The city of North Charleston, South Carolina, agreed Thursday to pay $6.5 million to the family of Walter Scott, the unarmed African-American man who was shot in the back by a white police officer in April, settling a potential lawsuit after six months of negotiations."
* One congressman in particular is going to have an interesting weekend: "House Republicans, struggling to regroup and reunify their conference in the face of a leadership crisis, achieved no new clarity on Friday about who might step forward to claim the speaker’s gavel as attention remained focused on Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who has said repeatedly he does not want the job."
Handguns are displayed in the Remington booth during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits on May 5, 2013 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Despite school shootings, new laws face long odds

10/09/15 04:56PM

Many Americans woke up this morning to news of a shooting at an Arizona university that left one person dead and three injured. A few hours later, the public learned of a separate shooting at a Texas university that reportedly killed one person and wounded another. And then a few hours after that there were reports of a shooting at a technical college in Kentucky. [Update: See below]
It's enough to make one wonder if public officials might take some steps to reduce gun violence.
Senate Democrats unveiled plans on Thursday for gun control reforms that include closing background check loopholes, expanding the background check database, and tightening regulations on illegal gun purchases.
The push is being led by Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who on Wednesday sent a letter to their Senate colleagues outlining the proposals. During the press conference the lawmakers recounted deadly mass shootings across the nation over the past several years and stressed that personal conversations with the victims' relatives and friends helped underscore the need for "sensible gun reform legislation."
The package of reforms, which stand no credible chance of success in a Republican-led Congress, would "bolster the background check system by strengthening it and stopping those who try to evade it," and target straw purchases.
The Democratic measures are intended to "echo the failed Manchin-Toomey bill of 2013, bipartisan legislation that called for universal background checks in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre." That bill was derailed by a Republican filibuster.
It was, however, bipartisan, with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) throwing his support behind the popular reforms. Any chance he might endorse the newly unveiled Democratic proposal?
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson addresses the National Press Club Newsmakers Luncheon Oct. 9, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Ben Carson should probably stop talking about Hitler

10/09/15 03:57PM

It's only natural for presidential candidates to focus on a handful of issues that are of particular importance to them, but Ben Carson's preoccupation with Hitler seems like a bad idea.
In the Republican candidate's new book, Carson argues that German gun-control policies 80 years ago contributed to the Holocaust. Yesterday, Wolf Blitzer asked the retired right-wing neurosurgeon to elaborate on his bizarre thesis.
Carson, a former neurosurgeon, has drawn criticism for invoking the Holocaust when discussing gun control. In an interview Thursday on CNN, Carson said, “the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed,” prompting an immediate backlash.
He added, "There's a reason these dictatorial people take the guns first."
A Washington Post piece tried to characterize this nonsense in the most charitable way possible, writing that Carson "has generated headlines repeatedly for speaking his mind."
The problem, of course, is what's actually on Carson's mind. His unguarded qualities may seem refreshing, but when candidates for the nation's highest office make offensive comments divorced from reality, it's not a positive development.
In this case, Jonathan Greenblatt, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, explained in a statement that Carson “has a right to his views on gun control, but the notion that Hitler’s gun-control policy contributed to the Holocaust is historically inaccurate.” Greenblatt added that “gun control did not cause the Holocaust."
Common sense suggests this would be the point at which Carson walked back his comments, but instead, he said the ADL's reference to historical facts was “total foolishness.”
Because, really, who are you going to believe about the Holocaust -- the Anti-Defamation League or an unhinged presidential candidate?
Republican members of the House react after the election for the Speaker of the House was thrown into chaos in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill Oct. 8, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Benghazi panel plagued by partisan disputes

10/09/15 01:06PM

Earlier this week, it became clear that Democrats on the Republicans' Benghazi committee are out of patience. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) accidental honesty may have been the final straw, but the Dems' frustration has been growing steadily for months.
And so, on Monday, all five committee Democrats wrote to Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), warning him that they intend to start unilaterally releasing full, unedited transcripts to the public, providing Americans with information Republicans have tried to keep under wraps.
Dems gave Gowdy five days to get back to them, flagging potentially sensitive information that may need to be redacted. “We do not take this action lightly," they said. "We have held off on taking such action for more than a year, but we will no longer sit and watch selective, out-of-context leaks continue to mischaracterize the testimony the Select Committee has received."
Two days later, Gowdy did, in fact, respond with a lengthy, angry missive. The full, 13-page letter is online here (pdf), and though it's difficult to excerpt, there was one claim raised by the GOP congressman that stood out for me. Responding to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Gowdy wrote:
"[I]t is you, not the Republicans, who has selectively leaked information to promote your own false narrative -- that this Committee is political -- or protect Democrat [sic] political figures, when it is a fact Democrats and you are the ones who have treated the Committee as political from the outset."
Or put another way, Gowdy, annoying by accusations that he and his team have been responsible to deceptive leaks, effectively seems to be arguing, "I know you are but what am I?"

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.9.15

10/09/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In Kentucky's gubernatorial race, Matt Bevin (R) may seem like a ridiculous candidate, but a new Mason-Dixon poll shows him trailing state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) by just two points, 43% to 41%.
* Obviously, this is the right call: "The super PAC working to draft Joe Biden into the 2016 presidential race will not air the emotional 90-second ad they produced this week after the vice president expressed disapproval through an aide."
* Ben Carson, whose bizarre ideas are increasingly alarming, believes Nazi gun control was responsible for the Holocaust.
* On a related note, when the Anti-Defamation League explained that Carson's argument is plainly inaccurate, Carson said the ADL's reference to reality was "total foolishness."
* Among California Republicans, the new Field Poll shows Donald Trump leading the presidential field with 17%. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, meanwhile, are right behind him, at 15% and 13%., respectively.
* Speaking of Fiorina, the inexperienced GOP candidate continues to slowly pick up congressional endorsements. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska threw his support to Fiorina this week.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) listens to a question at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York May 13, 2015. (Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Rubio weighs in on possible Russian conflict

10/09/15 11:31AM

As Rachel noted on the show this week, the skies over Syria and its neighbors have been contentious of late. Just this week, Russian jets violated Turkey's air space at least twice, prompting Turkey -- a member of NATO -- to scramble its own jets, intercept the Russian warplanes, and escort them away.
On Wednesday, a U.S. jet bombing ISIS targets in Syria had to reroute its course to avoid Russian warplanes that were flying over the same part of the country.
It's against this backdrop that some presidential candidates -- in both parties -- have raised the prospect of a no-fly zone. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) made the case for the idea in an interview the other day with CNBC's John Harwood.
HARWOOD: You think Putin would back off if we had a no-fly zone?
RUBIO: I don't think he's going to go into a safe zone, absolutely. I don't believe he will look for a direct military conflict against the United States in order to go into a safe zone.
HARWOOD: What if he was?
RUBIO: Well, then you're going to have a problem. But that would be no different than any other adversary.
Harwood suggested Americans might have a problem with the idea of a "hot military conflict with Russia." The far-right senator, who's basing much of his candidacy on national security matters, responded, "Sure, but the consequences of not doing anything would scare [the American people] even more."
I don't think that's true. I'm not an expert on Americans' foreign-policy attitudes, but the prospect of a hot war between the United States and Russia is right up there among the scariest international prospects on the planet.
Rubio clearly doesn't see this dynamic the same way, suggesting that if U.S. forces fired on Russian jets over Syrian skies, it would be "no different than any other adversary."
But Russia isn't just another adversary; it's a nuclear power. Wars between nuclear powers tend to be ... problematic.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a forum on substance abuse, Oct. 1, 2015, in Boston, Mass. (Photo by Steven Senne/AP)

Clinton unveils a plan that Wall Street won't like

10/09/15 10:55AM

One of the principal concerns from the left about Hillary Clinton's campaign is that she might be overly friendly towards Wall Street. The Democratic presidential hopeful has been going out of her way to put those fears to rest.
Back in April, a week after her campaign announcement, Clinton told an audience she intended to “take a hard look at what is now being done in the trading world, which is just trading for the sake of trading.” That same week, she tapped Gary Gensler, a “former top federal financial regulator and strong advocate for strict Wall Street rules,” to be her campaign’s CFO.
Yesterday, as MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald reported, the Democratic frontrunner "rolled out a comprehensive Wall Street reform plan Thursday promising to crack down on rule breakers in the financial industry and impose new regulations and taxes on large banks to prevent another financial meltdown."
First, it would punish individuals, not just corporations, that violate the law and make sure they face serious penalties, including imprisonment. It would impose a “risk fee” on riskier bets made by the nation’s largest banks to discourage over-leveraging among “too-big-to-fail” financial institutions. It would also impose stricter regulations on so-called “shadow banking” and impose a tax on high-frequency trading.
Clinton also vows to defend the Dodd-Frank financial reform act passed by Congress in the wake of the financial crisis and strengthen to Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, which was championed by Elizabeth Warren before ran for Senate, along with the Securities and Exchange Commission. She would also restore the law’s “swaps push-out” rule, which was removed in a controversial congressional vote last winter. And she would strengthen the so-called Volker Rule, which is meant to prohibit banks from using taxpayer money to make speculative bets.
The entire plan is online at the campaign's website, and to Clinton's credit, it's not brief. It's also not the sort of thing a candidate who's overly cozy with Wall Street would propose.
Former Florida Governor and republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks to voters at the Heritage Action Presidential Candidate Forum Sept. 18, 2015 in Greenville, SC. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty)

Jeb Bush balks at Voting Rights push

10/09/15 10:23AM

In March, President Obama delivered a powerful speech in Selma, Alabama, where he, among other things, called for Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act. Former President George W. Bush was on hand for the event, and to his credit, the Republican president who last reauthorized the VRA stood and applauded Obama’s call.
If we're looking for areas in which Jeb Bush disagrees with his brother, we appear to have a new addition to the short list.
The former Florida governor appeared yesterday in Iowa and was asked by an audience member about the Voting Rights Act. Jeb Bush responded:
"I think if that it’s to reauthorize it to continue to provide regulations on top of states, as though we were living in 1960, because those were basically when many of those rules were put in place, I don’t believe that we should do that. There’s been dramatic improvement in access to voting -- I mean exponentially better improvement.
"And I don’t think there’s a role for the federal government to play in most places -- could be some, but in most places -- where they did have a constructive role in the ‘60s. So I don’t support reauthorizing it as is."
It's safe to say that's not quite what voting-rights advocates hoped to hear from the Republican presidential hopeful.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, left, looks on as Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, speaks during a news conference on Sept. 27, 2013. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Ted Cruz starts to make his move

10/09/15 09:38AM

I wouldn't say literally every center-left pundit I know expects Marco Rubio to win the Republicans' 2016 presidential nomination, but it's awfully close to 100%. For most of the political observers I know, it's practically a foregone conclusion -- the pieces have already fallen into place for the far-right Floridian.
Nate Silver recently said, "I sometimes feel with Rubio like he’s the contestant on a reality show where it’s totally obvious that he’s eventually going to win, but the network needs to create dramatic subplots for 17 weeks before it happens."
And all of these assumptions may very well be true. As I argued a month ago, if the Amateur Trio currently leading the GOP polls fades, the race for the Republican nomination is likely to come down to two governors (Jeb Bush and John Kasich) and two senators (Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio). The Florida senator has reason to be optimistic -- Bush is struggling badly, and Kasich is fading.
But there's still that Ted Cruz character out there, and his current standing in the race is largely under-valued.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas brought in more than $12 million for his presidential campaign during the last fund-raising quarter, which ended on September 30, his campaign announced on Thursday. [...]
...Mr. Cruz’s amount is double what one rival, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, announced raising over the same period, despite Mr. Rubio’s popularity among some of the Republican Party’s biggest donors. The $12 million figure suggests that Mr. Cruz -- who has battled fiercely with his own party’s leaders -- has amassed a committed following of small donors.
Rubio's $6 million quarterly haul is a sharp drop-off from the second quarter. His campaign aides had some excuses, but those same fundraising obstacles applied to Cruz, and he raised twice as much as Rubio did.
The Texas Republican has considerable resources, a real ground game, a credible reputation as an enemy of the GOP establishment, and decent poll numbers that are likely to grow if fickle voters grow tired of the Amateur Trio. Indeed, the senator has carefully positioned himself to benefit from his rivals' eventual decline.
Why shouldn't Cruz be seen as a plausible nominee?