In a normal year, in a normal party, with a normal candidate, it would be the kind of controversy that effectively kills a presidential candidate's chances of success. In January, Donald Trump skipped a Republican debate in order to host a fundraiser for veterans. He boasted at the time that he'd raised $6 million for vets -- which led to a related boast that Trump contributed $1 million out of his own pocket.
The Washington Postreported this week that Trump's claims simply weren't true. He did not, for example, raise $6 million. And what about the $1 million check the Republican bragged about? His campaign manager insisted this week that Trump did make the contribution.
Except, that wasn't true, either. The Postreported last night:
Almost four months after promising $1 million of his own money to veterans' causes, Donald Trump moved to fulfill that pledge Monday evening -- promising the entire sum to a single charity as he came under intense media scrutiny.
The check is apparently going to a group called the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, whose chairman received a call from Trump on Monday night, the day the campaign controversy broke.
Let's put aside, for now, why the Trump campaign said he'd made a donation that did not exist. Let's instead ask why it took nearly four months for the candidate to do what he claimed to have already done.
"You have a lot of vetting to do," Trump told the Washington Post yesterday.
That might be a decent response were it not for the fact that the New York Republican doesn't appear at all interested in vetting veterans' groups -- as the story of the sketchy "Veterans for a Strong America" helps prove.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) may be among the Senate's most far-right members, but when it comes to a federal response to the Zika virus threat, the Florida Republican finds himself in strong agreement with President Obama and his administration. Rubio yesterday condemned the inadequacies of the House GOP's Zika bill and pleaded with lawmakers start taking the matter seriously.
"I urge the American people to make next week a tough one on those who are home from Congress," Rubio said, referring to the latest in a series of breaks congressional Republicans have scheduled for themselves.
But given what's unfolding on the other side of Capitol Hill, the senator may want to have a chat with the Speaker of the House.
Yesterday afternoon, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) published a Twitter message asking people to retweet a message: "Mosquitoes carrying Zika must be killed." It included a link to a press statement from the Speaker's office featuring Ryan's new plan to address the public-health threat: weakening EPA regulations of pesticides.
It was at this point that the House Republicans' response to the Zika threat made the transition from reckless to offensive. The Huffington Posthighlighted the most glaring problem with the GOP's plan:
While eliminating the clean water protections would make life easier for mosquito sprayers in some respects, environmental advocates say the restrictions on spraying are entirely irrelevant to a potential Zika outbreak for several reasons.
First among them is that if one particular pesticide has polluted a certain lake or stream, there are other options, said Mae Wu, a policy expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council.... On top of that, the clean water regulations apply only to areas larger than 6,400 acres. And if there is an outbreak, the rules specify that mosquito control authorities can act immediately, and get any needed permits after the fact.
The New York Timesadded that exceptions to EPA regulations "already exist for emergency situations like fighting Zika."
Making matters slightly worse, Paul Ryan's statement said policymakers should heed the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control -- which might make more sense if Paul Ryan weren't ignoring the CDC's pleas to Congress to pass the Obama administration's Zika response plan.
Rachel Maddow notes how the Trump campaign has tried to intimidate those who would question Donald Trump's past conduct with women even as Trump himself makes aggressive attacks on Bill Clinton, and wonders why the Clintons would not fight back. watch
* Syria: "U.S.-allied forces in Syria launched a large-scale offensive on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa on Tuesday, the group said. The Syrian Democratic Forces, an umbrella group including Kurdish and Arab fighters, said on the social network that it launched a three-pronged attack on the extremists' de facto capital."
* South Carolina: "Nearly a year since gunfire interrupted a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church, federal prosecutors said Tuesday that they will seek the death penalty against Dylann Roof, the 22-year-old suspect in the attack that killed nine people."
* VA: "Veteran Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald refused to apologize Tuesday for comparing the long wait for medical care at his agency's facilities to lines at Disneyland." He added, "If I was misunderstood, if I said the wrong thing, I'm glad that I have the opportunity to correct it," he said. "I'm only focused on one thing, and that's better caring for veterans. That's my job, that's why I'm here."
* Asia-Pacific: "President Obama urged Vietnam on human rights matters Tuesday while hailing its warming relations with the United States, calling the evolution from bitter wartime foes to growing partners a lesson for a world besieged by modern conflicts."
* Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) "says he knows nothing about a federal investigation of contributions to his 2013 campaign for governor."
* This may not seem like much, but it's a life-changing shift in the island nation: "Cuba announced Tuesday that it will legalize small- and medium-sized private businesses in a move that could significantly expand private enterprise in one of the world's last communist countries."
* Responding to the simmering controversy, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has now told reporters, "All I can say is, I never told anybody to give money to Donald J. Trump. I've told people if I had money to give, I'd give it to the House and Senate candidates. It is important to unite our party, our House and our Senate candidates. If you want to help Mr. Trump, God bless you."
Republican state policymakers have approved voter-suppression policies across much of the country in recent years, but GOP officials in Ohio went further than most, going out of their way to place new hurdles between Ohioans and their democracy.
About a decade ago, in response to a messy and needlessly complex voting system, Ohio created a vastly improved process for the state's voters. In 2010, however, Republicans took control of Ohio government, deliberately undid the improvements, and by 2014, the state had imposed harsh new restrictions on voter registrations, absentee ballots, and early voting.
As the measures were being approved, the editorial board of the Cleveland Plain Dealerargued, "Ohio House Republicans appear poised to pass two measures that, disguises aside, aim to limit voting by Ohioans who might vote for Democrats. That's not just political hardball. It's an affront to democracy."
Republicans, led by Gov. John Kasich (R), imposed the restrictions anyway. Today, the Columbus Dispatchreported that a federal judge pushed back against the far-right tide.
The GOP-dominated legislature unconstitutionally violated Ohioans' voting rights by eliminating "Golden Week" and other actions that cut access to the ballot, a Republican federal judge ruled today.
Judge Michael H. Watson of U.S. District Court in Columbus ordered Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine to stop enforcing the decreased voting period.
If the ruling stands, that means Ohioans will now be able to vote 35 days before the November general election -- including for a so-called "Golden Week" in which an eligible resident can register to vote and cast an absentee ballot at the same time.
Judge Michael H. Watson, by the way, was appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush. He's also the former chief counsel to former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft -- who also happens to be a Republican -- making today's ruling that much more striking.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is wrapping up his lengthy career at the end of this year, but that doesn't mean he's indifferent to the partisan makeup of the chamber he loves. The Nevada Democrat told MSNBC's Joy Reid that he has some advice for Hillary Clinton as she evaluates running mates: don't pick a senator from a state with a Republican governor.
"If we have a Republican governor in any of those states, the answer is not only no, but hell no. I would do whatever I can, and I think most of my Democratic colleagues here would say the same thing," Reid told MSNBC's "AM Joy" when asked about the possibility of Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) or Sherrod Brown (Ohio) being named Clinton's No. 2.
Reid added that he would "yell and scream to stop that."
It's easy to understand the motivation behind Reid's concerns. Democrats need to earn a net gain of five Senate seats this year to reclaim the majority, and that's no easy task. If Clinton chooses a senator from a state with a Republican governor, it may make the party's task that much more difficult.
And given some of the likely VP contenders, this is more than just a thought experiment. Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and Cory Booker would each bring quite a bit to a national ticket, but each of them represent states with a Republican governor, who would gladly appoint a Republican successor if any of them were promoted.
MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald recently took a closer look at this and noted that state laws vary quite a bit, but Clinton "would have to contend with an extra Republican in Senate for a minimum of about five months if she picked Warren, or nearly two years if she picked Brown."
And given the amount of important legislating that can -- and often does -- happen in the first part of a new president's first year, that's a valuable chunk of calendar.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, the DNC has reached an agreement with Bernie Sanders campaign over the party's platform committee. Instead of the DNC choosing each of the panel's 15 members, Hillary Clinton's campaign will have six selections, Team Sanders will have five, and the party will have four. This has been a top priority for the senator for weeks.
* Despite getting much of what he wants, Sanders said yesterday the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia could be "messy" but that "democracy is not always nice and quiet and gentle." What's unclear is how or why Sanders would benefit from convention strife.
* After nine televised debates and 13 forums, the Clinton campaign has no interest in adding to the list: it formally turned down Fox News' request yesterday for yet another Democratic debate.
* In California, which will host its primary two weeks from today, a SurveyUSA poll shows Clinton leading Sanders by 18 points. This is actually an improvement for Clinton over her 14-point lead in the same poll a month ago.
* Speaking to the SEIU yesterday about Trump, Clinton warned, "He could bankrupt America like he's bankrupted his companies. I mean, ask yourself, how can anybody lose money running a casino?"
* On a related note, the Clinton campaign released an interesting new video overnight mocking Trump for celebrating the housing-market crash that helped create the Great Recession.
It's hardly a secret that today's Republican Party faces serious demographic challenges: in a country that's increasingly diverse and multi-cultural, the contemporary GOP is increasingly white and homogeneous.
But Republicans are not literally devoid of diversity. There are, for example, some prominent Hispanic conservatives who are nearly always aligned with GOP candidates up and down the ballot. Given that Donald Trump is the party's presumptive presidential nominee, what are they thinking right about now? The Hill had an interesting report on this the other day.
Prominent Hispanic conservatives say they could back Donald Trump if the presumptive GOP nominee changes his tone and walks back some of his policy positions.
Republican Latino leaders have chaffed at Trump's call for a wall on the southern border and statements from his campaign launch about rapists and criminals coming across the border from Mexico.... But prominent voices in the conservative Hispanic world say they're ready to move toward Trump if he can move toward them.
Alfonso Aguilar, a former White House official under President George W. Bush who now leads the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said, "If in the process of unification, he were to seek my support and show he's willing to change his tone and be open to some form of legalization, I would be willing to reconsider my position."
Former Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), who's also a former RNC chair, was asked a few months ago about Trump. "If there is any, any, any other choice, a living, breathing person with a pulse, I would be there," he said at the time. Last week, however, Martinez said he's undecided on whether to endorse Trump and he'll be "continuing to see how things develop."
The Rev. Sam Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, added, "Is it too late to redeem the narrative with the Latino and Hispanic community, even the Latino and Hispanic pro-faith community? I don't know.... No one is beyond redemption."
The Hill also reported that the Trump campaign has dispatched an adviser to "quietly" open backchannels "within Muslim and Middle Eastern communities in the U.S. in an attempt to win over a small but increasingly important voting bloc." The report added, "Some Muslim Republicans and conservative Middle Eastern activists have also engaged with other top campaign officials about furthering Trump's outreach to those communities."
CBS's Norah O'Donnell talked with Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama, in a much-discussed interview that aired over the weekend, and much of the Q&A focused on one familiar thesis. Here, for example, was the first question, on the subject of Judge Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination.
"Valerie, this is probably one of the last big fights of the president's term in office. And he can't even get Senate Republicans to give him a hearing. Most Republicans won't even meet with Judge Garland. Does that say something about President Obama's inability to reach across the aisle? To have friends on the other side?"
When Jarrett explained that Senate Republicans' handling of the Garland nomination has more to do with politics than personal relationships, O'Donnell was unmoved. "But in two terms, seven years, why hasn't the president been able to find a Republican that he can call up and say, 'Help me out on this'?" the reporter asked. "Does he have any Republican friends?"
As Mother Jones' Kevin Drum noted, the interview just kept going along these lines, with O'Donnell asking nine questions in a row -- literally, nine -- about whether the president is sufficiently friendly with congressional Republicans. "Isn't politics about schmoozing?" she asked. "And isn't politics about friendship?"
If all of this sounds at all familiar, it's because pundits and other political observers, eager to blame the president for Beltway dysfunction, have been pushing the "schmoozing" thesis for years. If only Obama were willing to become pals with GOP lawmakers, the argument goes, Americans would finally see bipartisan policymaking and Washington function as it should.
When it comes to the Garland nomination, the idea that schmoozing could possibly make a difference is genuinely bizarre. "Help me out on this?" Seriously? Republicans would be amenable to replacing Scalia with a center-left judge if Obama and Mitch McConnell were buddies? It's laughable on its face.
But the broader problem is the degree to which the Beltway media takes the entire thesis seriously -- and applies it broadly. The argument reflects a dramatic misunderstanding of how contemporary politics works, and it's long past time for its proponents to recognize its spectacular flaws.
Maybe it'd be helpful to do this in explainer style.
If you've been waiting for cooler heads to prevail, and for House Republicans to give up on its ridiculous impeachment crusade, you're going to be disappointed by today's developments.
When the House Judiciary Committee convenes on Tuesday to consider the alleged misdeeds of the Internal Revenue Service commissioner, John Koskinen, it will contemplate action that has not been taken in more than 140 years, and that in some respects has never been pursued: the impeachment of an agency head of Mr. Koskinen's rank.
Tuesday's hearing on accusations by House Republicans that Mr. Koskinen lied under oath to Congress and defied a congressional subpoena is a remarkable moment, even for a Washington long fractured by partisanship.
Koskinen has decided not to appear at the "misconduct" hearing, at which GOP lawmakers will lay out its case for impeachment, insisting he hasn't had enough time to prepare a defense against allegations that obviously have no merit.
Of course, even if Koskinen had agreed to participate in the charade, the end result would be the same. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the far-right chairman of the House Oversight Committee, hasn't exactly been subtle about his intentions: "My foremost goal is impeachment and I'm not letting go of it."
Do the allegations against the IRS commissioner have merit? No. The IRS "scandal" was discredited years ago -- Koskinen wasn't even at the tax agency when the imaginary controversy unfolded -- and as Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) documented this morning, charges that Koskinen was part of some kind of after-the-fact cover-up don't make any sense.
Will the impeachment push succeed anyway? Not in its ultimate goal. House Republicans will likely get a simple majority to impeach Koskinen, but to remove Koskinen from office, they'll need a two-thirds majority in the Senate. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has said that's not going to happen. "[F]or the most part he's been very cooperative with us," the Utah Republican conceded last week.*
All of which raises the question of why in the world the far-right House majority is so desperate to pursue such an absurd course, targeting a dedicated public servant who'll leave his post at the end of the year anyway.
The real scandal here is not Koskinen's actions, but rather, the way in which House Republicans are conducting themselves.
The number of prominent, die-hard, "Never Trump" voices in Republican politics is pretty small, but one of those voices had been quite loud. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), arguably more than anyone else in his party, had spent the better part of a year telling anyone who'll listen that Donald Trump must never be the president of the United States.
Which is probably why this CNN report, published on Sunday, came as something of a shock.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Donald Trump's fiercest critics, is now calling on Republicans to support their presumptive nominee.
Graham urged GOP donors at a private fundraiser Saturday in Florida to unite behind Trump's campaign and stressed the importance of keeping likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton from the White House.... "He did say that we need to get behind him," Teresa Dailey, a prominent Florida Republican fundraiser who attended the private event, told CNN on Sunday.
[Update: CNN has since amended its original reporting. See the note below.]
I held off on writing about this yesterday largely because I wanted to give Graham a day to forcefully deny the accuracy of the report. There doesn't appear to be a recording of the senator's remarks at the event, and the CNN coverage was based on second-hand accounts, so there was at least some grounds for skepticism. If Graham and his aides insisted that the senator never said what his audience claimed he said, maybe Graham should get the benefit of the doubt.
But that's not what happened. Instead, Graham's spokesperson confirmed that he attended the fundraiser, and remained coy about what, exactly, the senator said about supporting the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Pressed for an explanation yesterday, Graham had an opportunity to deny the accuracy of the CNN report, but he didn't. "You vote the way you want to vote for president," the senator told reporters. "I've decided to take a pass on that race."
Except, that's not entirely true. Graham has had plenty to say about the presidential race.