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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 6.3.15

06/03/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* China: "Divers battled submerged debris and crews sliced into the upturned hull of a Chinese cruise liner Wednesday in a last-ditch hunt for survivors two days after the ship capsized with 456 people aboard.... At least 19 bodies have been recovered, leaving more than 420 people unaccounted for -- most of whom were retirement-age tourists on an 11-day cruise."
* Boston: "A terrorism suspect alleged to have been plotting a beheading was not shot in the back when he was killed by police in Boston, as his family claimed, community leaders said Wednesday after police took the unusual step of showing them video of the encounter."
* I wonder where these numbers come from: "A U.S. official said Wednesday that more than 10,000 Islamic State fighters have been killed by American-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria in nine months, offering a first body count for a campaign that has yet to blunt their advance."
* Speaking of ISIS: "An air strike in the Iraqi town of Hawijah completely levelled one of the Islamic State group's largest car bomb factories, causing heavy casualties and extensive destruction, officials said."
* The Obama administration's interest in India isn't subtle: "With a dash of the requisite South Asian pomp and a heap of expectations for the future, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter met on Wednesday with senior Indian officials to inch forward with military ties to a country that the United States sees as a crucial future partner in Asia."
* FIFA: "A former American soccer official linked to the FIFA corruption scandal admitted that he and others on the organization's executive committee had accepted bribes for their support in the bidding to host the 1998 and 2010 World Cups, according to papers filed in the official's criminal case and released on Wednesday."
* Texas kills a lot of people: "A 67-year-old man who was convicted of killing four men more than three decades ago has asked the Supreme Court to keep him from becoming the oldest Texas prisoner put to death in an execution scheduled for Wednesday evening."
In this photo taken on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee talks with The Associated Press during an interview at his Statehouse office in Providence, RI. (Photo by Stephan Savoia/AP)

Chafee brings a unique resume to presidential race

06/03/15 04:23PM

With so many people running for president in the 2016 cycle, we've already seen some battle lines drawn based on qualifications: some of the Republican governors, for example, have suggested they, and not the Republican senators, have a rightful claim to the GOP nomination.
But despite the many candidates, only one national candidate this year has been a mayor, a governor, and senator. His name is Lincoln Chafee, and as msnbc's Alex Seitz-Wald reports, he's formally entering the race later today.
Lincoln Chafee is hardly a household name, but he's expected to declare his presidential candidacy Wednesday night in what a spokesperson is billing as a "major announcement" about his 2016 plans.
Chafee, if he gets in, will join a Democratic field so dominated by Hillary Clinton that most potential top-tier potential candidates have stayed out.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, Chafee accidentally said he's running for president back in April during a national television interview, only to have his staff scramble soon after to say his comments were not a formal announcement.
As if Chafee, the first official from Rhode Island to ever seek the White House, didn't already bring a unique resume to the table, he also has the distinction of having been a Republican, an Independent, and a Democrat. Indeed, in 2003, he was also the only Republican in Congress to oppose George W. Bush's disastrous invasion of Iraq.
Will any of this translate into support in the Democratic primaries? That seems unlikely.
Pope Francis followers as he arrives in St. Peter's Square for his weekly general audience, in the Vatican City on April 22, 2015.

Santorum to Pope: Leave 'science to the scientists'

06/03/15 03:24PM

Pope Francis' interest in combating the climate crisis is, by all appearances, as serious as it is sincere. It's an unwelcome development for many Republicans, who don't seem to be responding well.
Take Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, for example. Jane C. Timm reported for msnbc today:
Santorum describes himself as a "huge fan" of the pope, but on "The Dom Giordano Show" on Monday, he said "the church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we're really good at, which is ... theology and morality."
He continued, "When we get involved with political and controversial scientific theories, I think the church is probably not as forceful and credible."
It really is amazing to see conservatives, who generally want religious leaders to help guide people through the major challenges of the day, suddenly say the exact opposite when the pope demands action on the climate crisis.
It's also fascinating to see Santorum make the case that somehow a global threat to much of the planet's human population is divorced from questions of "morality."
And while we're at it, Pope Francis also happens to have a post-graduate degree in chemistry. He arguably brings more credibility to the subject of science than the conservative former senator.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks to a group at a Politics and Pie at the Snow Shoe Club on April 16, 2015, in Concord, N.H. (Photo by Jim Cole/AP)

Jeb Bush's 'alternative universe'

06/03/15 12:48PM

The standard Republican talking point on the economy is that things may be better than they were when President Obama first took office, but they're just not good enough. It's at least the basis for a grown-up conversation -- we can talk about why conditions haven't improved faster, just so long as we agree that conditions in June 2015 are vastly improved from January 2009.
But once in a great while, a Republican will forget the standard talking points and veer into ridiculous territory. In 2012, for example, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said President Obama made the economy "worse." No sane person could believe that.
A similar argument came up yesterday. Fox News' Neil Cavuto talked to former Gov. Jeb Bush, and the host paraphrased some recent comments from Obama. "The president, real quickly, sir, had said today, 'Take a look at what has happened under my stewardship. Jobs are booming. The economy is better. Look what I inherited. Look where things stand.' I think he was talking about your brother and saying, 'We are now the most respected country on Earth.'"
The Florida Republican seemed to find the very idea absurd.
"Yeah, I saw that interview. It's breathtaking. It's like our president is living in an alternative universe. Median income is down in the sixth year of the recovery. Disposable income for families is down. Workforce participation rate is lower than it was 30 years ago.
"People just have given up. And he's saying that things are better. You know, look, it's just not true."
Bush's aides liked the exchange so much, they put the whole thing on YouTube.
The problem, of course, is that the GOP candidate would have been better off sticking to the usual party line, because denying that "things are better" is ridiculous.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.3.15

06/03/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
* Voters in Mississippi's 1st District held a special congressional election yesterday, and elected local District Attorney Trent Kelly (R) to replace the late Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R), who died earlier this year. Kelly defeated Democrat Walter Zinn by 38 points.
* Appearing in Florida yesterday, Mike Huckabee said of Gov. Rick Scott (R), "Anything I can do to suck up to him and his donors, by God I want to do."
* Huckabee was also confronted yesterday with reports of some unfortunate attempts at humor he made earlier this year on transgender issues. "Now I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE," Huckabee said. "I'm pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, 'Coach, I think I'd rather shower with the girls today.'"
* To Jeb Bush's disappointment, and Rand Paul's delight, Nevada will stick with its presidential caucus system, rather than shift to a primary. The state will hold its nominating contest early next year, following Iowa and New Hampshire.
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, Bernie Sanders is pushing for more debates, not just between the Democratic presidential candidates, but also bipartisan debates featuring candidates from both parties.
* Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) will make a "major announcement" -- presumably launching his longshot presidential campaign -- on the morning of June 24.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a grassroots-organizing event on May 18, 2015 in Mason City, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Clinton putting voting rights up front and center

06/03/15 11:20AM

Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton is still in the process of choosing signature issues that will help define her candidacy, though she's apparently basing many of her priorities on feedback from voters she's meeting on the campaign trail. And what's on Democrats' minds?
Evidently, voting rights. According to her press secretary, Clinton will deliver remarks tomorrow addressing Republican-imposed restrictions on voting rights, while also urging Congress to take "swift action" on restoring the Voting Rights Act.
Clinton will deliver the remarks in Houston, Texas -- a state that has had more than its share of problems related to new barriers between voters and their democracy.
But it's important to note that this pushback goes further than just shining a light on the issue. As msnbc's Zachary Roth reported this week, the Democratic frontrunner's top campaign lawyer filed "a new legal challenge to a slew of restrictive voting laws signed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker."
The complaint, filed Friday in federal court, charges that the "right [to vote] has been under attack in Wisconsin since Republicans gained control of the governor's office and both houses of the State Legislature in the 2010 election."
It seeks to overturn not only the state's controversial voter ID law, but also a host of other restrictive measures that have largely flown under the radar. All these measures, the suit alleges, have already made it harder for Wisconsinites to cast a ballot, and target "African-American, Latino, young, and/or Democratic voters in Wisconsin in particular," in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
The suit wasn't filed by Clinton for America, per se, but Marc Elias, the campaign's general counsel, is one of the lawyers who brought the case.
And it's not just Wisconsin. Similar litigation is underway in Ohio.
Police gather at North Ave and Pennsylvania Ave in Baltimore, Md., April 28, 2015. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Reuters)

Dem senators make a big move on police shootings, transparency

06/03/15 10:40AM

Just a few months ago, FBI Director James Comey delivered a powerful, memorable speech on race and law enforcement, acknowledging "hard truths" in a surprisingly candid way. The Republican, appointed by President Obama, covered quite a bit of ground in his speech at Georgetown University, but there was one observation that continues to stand out.
"Not long after riots broke out in Ferguson, I asked my staff to tell me how many people shot by police were African American. They couldn't, and it wasn't their fault," Comey said. "Demographic data regarding officer-involved shootings is not consistently reported to us through our Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Because reporting is voluntary, our data is incomplete and therefore, in the aggregate, unreliable."
The remarks touched an unfortunate truth: it's hard to have a substantive debate, focused on specific solutions, without a foundation of accurate data. The problem relates to race, but it's not limited to race -- as Wesley Lowery noted yesterday, there is currently "no accurate, comprehensive data available about how many people are killed by American police officers each year."
To that end, a couple of Democratic U.S. senators have new legislation to change that. The Washington Post reported:
Days after the launch of two newspaper database projects aimed at tracking killings by police officers, two Democratic senators announced Tuesday that they will introduce legislation that would require all states to report to the Justice Department anytime a police officer is involved in a shooting or any other use of force that results in death.
The legislation, introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), would require reporting of all shootings by police officers -- including non-fatal ones -- which is a step further than the Death In Custody Reporting Act, which was approved by Congress last year. Each state would be required details including age, gender, race and whether the person was armed for any police shooting.
In a press statement, Booker said, "The first step in fixing a problem is understanding the extent of the problem you have. Justice and accountability go hand in hand -- but without reliable data it's difficult to hold people accountable or create effective policies that change the status quo."
Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL, wipes his brow as he speaks during a discussion on the American family and cultural values." at Catholic University on July 23, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Marco Rubio's 'house of horrors'

06/03/15 10:05AM

Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio recently took aim at Hillary Clinton, condemning the impression of "constant scandal" surrounding her candidacy. All things considered, the Florida senator may not be the ideal messenger for this message.
Recently, some of Rubio's own controversies have drawn scrutiny. The New York Times reported, for example, on the senator's ties to Florida billionaire Norman Braman, who hired Rubio and his wife and gave the Rubios access to his private plane. For his part, the Republican policymaker "has steered taxpayer funds to Mr. Braman's favored causes, successfully pushing for an $80 million state grant to finance a genomics center at a private university and securing $5 million for cancer research at a Miami institute for which Mr. Braman is a major donor."
More controversial still are Rubio's connections to former Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) and the home Politico's Marc Caputo calls the "house of horrors."
Marco Rubio finally sold his money-pit of a home in Tallahassee on Tuesday, freeing the presidential candidate from a nagging financial liability and allowing him to distance himself from his scandal-plagued co-owner, former Rep. David Rivera, Florida Republican sources familiar with the transaction tell POLITICO.
Rubio and Rivera closed on the home with an as-yet-unnamed buyer who purchased the home for $117,000 -- $8,000 less than the asking price and $18,000 less than the two men paid for it in March 2005 when they both served as state legislators, sources said.
"Free at last," one Rubio friend told POLITICO.
Well, sort of. The GOP presidential hopeful now appears to be free of the house he was desperate to sell, but he's not yet free of questions surrounding Rivera -- an almost comically scandal-plagued politician Rubio has described as his "most loyal friend and supporter."
A photo posted online on April 7, 2015 shows ISIS or "Islamic State" group militants posing in Yarmouk (Yarmuk) Palestinian camp, located in a suburb of Damascus, Syria, that is partially now under their control. (Photo by Balkis Press/Sipa USA/AP)

The magazine every Republican wants to be in

06/03/15 09:20AM

About a year ago, after President Obama imposed another round of sanctions on Russia, Vladimir Putin responded by imposing entry bans on several U.S. officials, including members of Congress. The listed Americans couldn't have been more pleased.
Russia's edict targeted a bipartisan group, including John Boehner, Harry Reid, and John McCain. Louisiana's Mary Landrieu (D) was included, and she was so happy about it, the incumbent senator actually included the Russian rebuke in one of her re-election ads.
Soon, much of Congress was filled with lawmakers wondering what they could do to annoy Putin and get included on the same list. It was a badge of honor that lawmakers were eager to wear -- "You think Putin hates you? No, no, Putin hates me."
A year later, U.S. politicians are less interested in making Putin's enemies list and more interested in getting noticed by ISIS. BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski reported yesterday:
Speaking with the Lars Larson Show, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum noted he was featured in ISIS' online magazine.
"I don't know if you know this but last month I was featured in an online, it was the magazine of ISIS," said Santorum. "They had a picture of me and quote in their magazine under the words, 'in the words of our enemies.' That was the headline of the article."
"I make the comment, they know who I am and I know who they are," Santorum added on a phrase he used in his announcement speech.
Really, can you blame Santorum for trying to exploit this? ISIS radicals may not fully appreciate this, but their condemnation is arguably better than any single endorsement an American presidential candidate can receive from anyone on the planet.
Santorum is now in a position to turn to any of his 2016 rivals and say, "Sure, we both intend to destroy ISIS, but I didn't see you identified in an ISIS magazine as their enemy...."
Barack Obama, Edna Pemberton

'Obamacare' continues to exceed expectations

06/03/15 08:41AM

Waiting for bad news about the Affordable Care Act? Keep waiting. The Hill reported yesterday:
A total of 10.2 million people bought ObamaCare during the most recent sign-up period, federal officials announced Tuesday.
The Obama administration is now officially on track to meet its self-stated 2015 target of 9.1 million customers, the second year in a row that it has achieved a revised enrollment goal.
In a press statement, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell noted what is plainly true: "The Health Insurance Marketplaces are working. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans now rely on the health and financial security that comes from affordable coverage through the Marketplaces."
For a more detailed look at the latest tally, the estimable Charles Gaba's report yesterday is a must-read. (Go for the meticulous analysis; stay for the pretty chart.)
An Associated Press report added the latest data also shows that "nearly 9 out of 10 adults now have health insurance."
But the release of the heartening data, welcomed by those hoping to see the American system succeed, came against a scary backdrop: all of this success may be destroyed very soon and there's very little affected families can do about it.
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Rand Paul, in an elevator after speaking at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 2, 2015, calling for the 28 classified pages of the 9-11 report to be declassified. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

Rand Paul comes up short, pretends otherwise

06/03/15 08:00AM

Just 48 hours ago, the conservative Washington Times published a report noting that as far as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was concerned, the debate over the government's Patriot Act powers was going swimmingly.
Sen. Rand Paul on Monday hailed a "big victory for privacy" in his fight against the National Security Agency's bulk data collection program after key provisions of the post-9/11 Patriot Act lapsed late Sunday.
"Actually, I think we're winning," the Kentucky Republican said on Fox News when asked if the legislative fight was over for the moment. "The president will be rebuked and the president will no longer be able to illegally collect our records all the time, so I think it's a big victory for privacy."
It seems as if this is the prevailing attitude right now. President Obama signed the "USA Freedom Act" overnight, effectively ending this phase of the debate, while Paul and his backers seem to believe they, for lack of a better word, won.
Except that's really not what happened.
To be sure, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is left with egg on his face, losing at every step in the process. But his Kentucky brethren ended up with nothing, too.