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Ann Kirkpatrick waves as she enters a room full of supporters during an election night in Flagstaff, Ariz., Nov. 6, 2012.

Kirkpatrick to take on McCain in Arizona

05/26/15 11:20AM

Sen. John McCain (R) has been running in congressional elections in Arizona for a third of a century, and in that time, he's had exactly tough races against Democratic challengers. McCain won the closest general election of his career in his home state by 21 points.
 
With a record like this, even ambitious Arizona Democrats might steer clear of the longtime incumbent, but as Roll Call reports, the candidate the DSCC recruited has reportedly said yes.
Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick will challenge Republican Sen. John McCain for Senate, according to a source with knowledge of Kirkpatrick's plans, giving Democrats a top recruit and a potential pickup opportunity.
 
Kirkpatrick made calls Monday to inform people of her plans, the source told CQ Roll Call. Her bid also opens up Arizona's 1st District, a GOP-leaning seat that 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney captured by a 3-point margin in 2012.
Kirkpatrick, you'll recall, was a top target last year, though she persevered anyway, bolstered by her "Boots" ad -- one of the cycle's more memorable Democratic spots.
 
Realistically, the congresswoman would start the race against McCain as an underdog, but there may be more to this race than appears at the surface.
Senatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, (R-Colo.), left, gestures during a debate with incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, (D-Colo.), in Denver on Oct. 6, 2014. (Brennan Linsley/AP)

Senate Republicans return to controversial contraception posture

05/26/15 10:42AM

Last fall, Cory Gardner's Republican Senate campaign in Colorado found itself in a tough spot. The far-right candidate had spent much of his career trying to ban common forms of birth control -- which made him look like an extremist -- and Gardner continued to support a federal "personhood" policy, which he'd been caught lying about repeatedly.
 
In early September 2014, the Republican tried to fix his problem with a sort of Hail Mary pass: Gardner, despite years of service as a right-wing culture warrior, told Coloradans that he's actually a progressive champion of contraception access. To prove it, the conservative congressman vowed to introduce legislation to make birth control available over the counter without a prescription.
 
It was a brazen move, which was largely successful: Gardner won the race. As the Denver Post reported late last week, the GOP lawmaker followed through on the promise he made last fall.
The legislation encourages drug manufacturers of "routine-use contraceptives" to file an application with the Food and Drug Administration to sell their products over the counter.
 
Gardner is sponsoring the Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. Their bill also would repeal the Affordable Care Act's restriction on the use of health, medical and flexible savings accounts to purchase over-the-counter drugs without a prescription.
As longtime readers may recall from last fall, this may seem like a reasonable resolution to an ugly mess. If anti-contraception employers don't want to cover birth control as part of employees' health plan, and religiously affiliated employers have moral objections to insurers' paperwork, this over-the-counter approach makes the purchases more direct: if the FDA approves contraceptive medications for over-the-counter sales, it wouldn't matter what employers, insurers, or even physicians like or dislike.
 
But in practice, it's not quite so simple.
Workers prepare the stage for the Fox News/Wall Street Journal/South Carolina GOP debate at the Sheraton Myrtle Beach Convention Center on Jan. 16, 2012 in Myrtle Beach, S.C. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Creating the wrong kind of political incentives

05/26/15 10:03AM

The ground rules for the first round of Republican presidential debates have taken shape, and at least for now, they don't seem to have many fans. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has helped lead the charge, likely because he'll be excluded given the current criteria, but Ben Carson has also been critical, despite the fact that he's all but certain to make the cut.
 
Roll Call's Stu Rothenberg called the current rules "unfair" and recommended an alternative approach:
The obvious answer is to divide the field in half, randomly assigning individual hopefuls to one of the two debates. Of course, not everyone will like the group he or she is in, and the makeup of each group would determine the particular dynamic of that debate.
 
After a couple of debates, the hosts of additional debates will have just cause to limit the number of debaters. But doing so in the first couple of debates is inherently unfair and could end up damaging the party's image. You'd think that that would be something the RNC would want to avoid.
Despite the recent criticism, there's been no indication from party officials or the relevant networks that the recently announced criteria for participation may be revisited.
 
One of the under-appreciating angles to the problem is the system of incentives debate organizers have inadvertently created.
US Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC, talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on July 8, 2014.

Lindsey Graham's 'pool room' education

05/26/15 09:20AM

It was a few weeks ago when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) shared a pretty dumb observation with a Boston audience: "Everything that starts with 'Al' in the Middle East is bad news." To bolster his point, the Republican even started rattling off some examples: al Qaeda, al-Nusra, al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, etc.
 
What Graham apparently didn't realize is that "al," is the Arabic word for "the." One of the Republican Party's most prominent voices on foreign affairs shared an insight that made him appear quite foolish.
 
At the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City, Graham didn't make things any better. The BBC reported:
Senator Lindsey Graham, the first speaker Friday morning, appearing from Washington via video, spoke of losing his parents as a teenager, working in a pool hall and having to help raise his younger sister -- and how it relates to his leadership style.
 
"Everything I learned about Iranians I learned working in the pool room," he said. "I met a lot of liars, and I know Iranians are liars."
In context, Graham didn't seem to be arguing that Iranians were dishonest pool players in the South Carolina hall where he used to work, but rather, he got to know dishonest pool players, giving him finely tuned lie-detection skills, and those skills now tell him that Iranians are just like those pool sharks he used to know.
 
Iran, of course, is a nation of roughly 78 million people. Whether or not Graham knows any of them is unclear.
Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul

It's May 26; do you know where your Patriot Act is?

05/26/15 08:40AM

Love him or hate him, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) knows a thing or two about operating his chamber. With this in mind, when McConnell unveiled his pre-Memorial Day plan last week, it was tempting to give him the benefit of the doubt.
 
At this point, however, no one's thinking that anymore. The Republican leader's plan failed and the policy consequences are likely to be significant.
 
It's worth appreciating what McConnell attempted to do. First, he'd invest a big chunk of Senate time on "fast-track" authority, even though there were was no pending deadline. Second, McConnell would allow a vote on the "USA Freedom Act," the House-approved compromise on NSA surveillance, which the Senate Majority Leader opposed and expected to fail.
 
And third, with time running out and the policy poised to expire, members would have no choice but to approve a temporary extension of the status quo.
 
The first two-thirds of the plan went fairly well: the Senate passed trade-promotion authority and filibustered the USA Freedom Act, just as McConnell hoped. But his plans for a temporary extension failed, too -- McConnell asked for a two-month reprieve, then a week, then a few days, then one day. His ostensible ally, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) responded to every request with the same two words: "I object."
 
With existing policy set to expire on June 1, and with lawmakers nowhere near Capitol Hill, is it possible Congress will simply let elements of the Patriot Act expire altogether. The short answer is, yes. The less-short answer is, members haven't given up just yet. The New York Times reported this morning:
Senior lawmakers are scrambling this week in rare recess negotiations to agree on a face-saving change to legislation that would rein in the National Security Agency's dragnet of phone records, with time running out on some of the government's domestic surveillance authority.
 
Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said a series of phone calls and staff meetings over the weeklong Memorial Day break should be enough to reach agreement on changes to the USA Freedom Act. Three senators need to be won over for the Senate to pass the USA Freedom Act, which has already been approved by the House and would change the post-Sept. 11 Patriot Act's provision that the N.S.A. has used to sweep up phone records in bulk.
That's not an outrageous goal. The House bill had 57 votes in the Senate, which is obviously a majority, but three short of breaking a filibuster.
 
And what about the White House?
A Yes supporter shows her campaign badge in central Dublin, Ireland on May 21, 2015. (Photo by Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

A breakthrough on the Emerald Isle

05/26/15 08:00AM

At first blush, one might not expect to find an international breakthrough on gay rights in Ireland. The country is overwhelmingly Catholic, for example, and has a sizable population.
 
But on the issue of marriage equality, the Emerald Isle has set an example for the rest of the world to follow. NBC News' Lisa McNally reported over the holiday weekend:
Ireland became the first country in the world to vote in favor of legalizing gay marriage Saturday after a resounding victory for "Yes" campaigners.
 
At final count, 62% voted in favor of legalizing gay marriage in the country, while 38% voted against it.
The point isn't that Ireland is the first country to embrace equal marriage rights; it's not. Rather, the significance is how and by what margin Irish voters endorsed the new policy.
 
Around the world, marriage equality arrives through one of three options: judicial rulings, legislation, or popular referendum. As of a few days ago, no nation had ever successfully pursued that third option -- until the Irish made their voices heard.
 
What's more, it wasn't close. The results would still count had it been a 51%-49% squeaker, but the fact that the progressive approach won by a landslide ends the debate with an emphatic exclamation point.

Kochs' picks and other headlines

05/26/15 07:51AM

Koch brothers plan to fund 'several' GOP 2016 presidential hopefuls. (Bloomberg Politics)

Talks during break seek Senate deal on N.S.A. and phone data. (New York Times)

Nebraska inmate on death row for 30 years dies in prison. (Omaha World Herald)

Drama in the Texas House over abortion legislation. (Texas Tribune)

Cleveland, Justice Department reach policing deal. (AP)

Turkey, U.S. to provide air protection to Syrian rebels. (AP)

Michelle Obama urges activism in Oberlin College commencement speech. (Bloomberg Politics)

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A Memorial Day Ceremony in Washington.

Memorial Day 2015

05/25/15 10:00AM

In honor of Memorial Day, MaddowBlog will likely be pretty quiet today, but we'll be back to normal tomorrow.
 
In the meantime, there was something President Obama said in his weekly address over the weekend that stood out for me:
Milton Persinger, left, and Robert Povilat wait for a marriage license at the Mobile County Probate office, Feb. 10, 2015, in Mobile, Ala. (Photo by Sharon Steinmann/AP)

This Week in God, 5.23.15

05/23/15 09:43AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a rare example of a religious leader actually getting arrested for exercising her religious liberty -- but in a way that social conservatives are inclined to care about. AL.com reported this week:
A Prattville minister arrested after offering to perform a same-sex wedding inside the Autauga County Courthouse in February pleaded guilty Monday to misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
 
Anne Susan DiPrizio, 44, was sentenced to 30 days in the Autauga Metro Jail, which was suspended in lieu of six months unsupervised probation, the Montgomery Advertiser reported. She was ordered to pay a $250 fine and other court costs.
By all accounts, the Unitarian minister, following the dictates of her conscience and the tenets of her faith tradition, hoped to perform matrimonial services for two women who had already received a marriage license, thanks to a February court ruling. But because the Autauga County Probate Office had blocked all marriage ceremonies in the office, DiPrizio and the couples were turned away.
 
The minister refused to leave before she could exercise her beliefs, and local officials had her taken into custody.
 
This might seem like the sort of thing that would cause apoplexy among "religious liberty" proponents -- government officials had a clergy arrested? -- but to date, DiPrizio received no support from any of the usual suspects.
 
The Box Turtle Bulletin added, "[I]t's worth noting that amidst all the hue and cry turning cake bakers into martyrs in the name of religious freedom, here is an actual ordained minister who was jailed and fined for seeking to practice her faith and support same-sex marriage."
 
A federal judge ruled Thursday that same-sex couples have the right to marry in every Alabama county, but the ruling is on hold pending the Supreme Court's verdict in a related case. The decision is expected next month.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
State Department releases of Clinton emails

State Department begins release of Clinton emails

05/22/15 09:00PM

Michael Schmidt, reporter for the New York Times, talks with Steve Kornacki about the contents of the newly released Hillary Clinton e-mails from personal server during her time as secretary of state, and the confusing redactions by the State Department. watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 5.22.15

05/22/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* More on this on the show tonight: "The State Department has released over 800 pages of emails sent and received on Hillary Clinton's private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State."
 
* Clinton responds: "After the event, Clinton, took questions from the press for the second time this week. She defended her use of private emails after being asked by NBC's Andrea Mitchell. 'All of the information in the emails has handled appropriately,' she replied, adding that she was glad the emails are coming out. 'I want people to be able to see all of them.'"
 
* A dash of reality: "Conspiracy-minded conservatives, be warned: The trove of Clinton emails don't prove much about her culpability for the infamous 9/11 anniversary attacks."
 
* No rush: "Janet L. Yellen, the Federal Reserve chairwoman, said on Friday that she still expected the Fed to start raising its benchmark interest rate later this year."
 
* Refugio oil spill: "Officials at the company that owns the pipe that ruptured and spilled up to 105,000 gallons of heavy crude in Santa Barbara County said Friday they will not appeal a federal order to take corrective steps."
 
* California's water crisis: "California water regulators have accepted an unprecedented proposal from Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta farmers to voluntarily cut water use by 25% -- or fallow a quarter of their cropland -- in an effort to avoid harsher, government-imposed cuts."
 
* A historic opportunity: "Irish citizens in places as far-flung as Australia and California were flying back to their home country on Friday to cast ballots in a referendum that could make Ireland the first country to adopt same-sex marriage by a popular vote."
 
* What was he thinking? "To the right stands former Virginia delegate Joe Morrissey, 57, a Democrat running for a Virginia state Senate seat as an Independent after Democratic Party officials rejected his attempt to seek office. Joining Morrissey are his 19-year-old receptionist, Myrna Pride, and their 9-week-old son Chase, a child Morrissey publicly acknowledged as his son for the first time Wednesday."

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