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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.28.14

07/28/14 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:
 
* On the generic congressional ballot, a new CNN poll shows Democrats leading Republicans by four among registered voters, 48% to 44%. Among all respondents, the Dems' lead is a little bigger, 48% to 42%.
 
* In a bit of a surprise, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce intends to support Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D) re-election campaign in Louisiana. The business lobby is nearly always closely aligned with Republicans.
 
* In Iowa's closely watched U.S. Senate race, where Rep. Bruce Braley (D) has lost his lead against right-wing state Sen. Joni Ernst (R), the Democrat shook up his campaign team late last week, replacing his pollster and admaker.
 
* With two weeks remaining before Hawaii's Democratic U.S. Senate primary, the League of Conservation Voters hopes to boost appointed Sen. Brian Schatz (D), launching a $380,000 TV ad buy. Schatz faces a tough fight against Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D).
 
* In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott (R) recently refused to take a stand on climate science, telling reporters, "I'm not a scientist." His rival, former Gov. Charlie Crist (D), said over the weekend, "I'm not a scientist either but I can use my brain and I can talk to one." Crist made the comment before attending a presentation on global warming by Professor Jeff Chanton of Florida State University's Earth and Atmospheric Science Department.
Darrell Issa

Dem offers Issa a 'Senator Joseph R. McCarthy Memorial Truth Pond'

07/28/14 11:41AM

It's fairly common for Democrats to accuse House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) of orchestrating "witch hunts" -- the accusations are based in fact -- so to help formalize the congressman's habits, one House Dem suggested a more expedited method. Colby Itkowitz reported:
Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) is prepared to toss the likes of former IRS official Lois Lerner, U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder and White House political adviser David Simas into water to see if they'll sink or swim. An above-ground pool (naturally, it would be unrealistic to have an in-ground one) would be placed inside the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing room.
 
"We are picking winners and losers, when it is clearly obvious that witches can only be found by dunking them in water. If they float they're a witch. If they don't, installing a pool will allow us to retrieve the non-witch before he or she drowns," Cardenas said in an actual press release. "Like the Chairman, I am interested in effective government oversight and reform. This pool will allow that to take place, wasting far fewer taxpayer dollars in the process."
Under Cardenas' proposal, the pool would have its own official name: the "Senator Joseph R. McCarthy Memorial Truth Pond." A plaque near the pool would read, "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"
 
When not being used on suspected witches, the pool, the California Democrat added, could be used by members and their staff recreationally.
 
Cardenas' office told Itkowitz that it is, of course, a ridiculous idea, intended to "underscore the ridiculous" situation the House Oversight Committee finds itself under Issa's tutelage.
Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., attends the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 14, 2013.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Cotton tripped up by his voting record

07/28/14 11:22AM

Much of Arkansas was ravaged by heavy flooding last month, so farmers and ranchers were relieved last week when U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack designated 23 eastern Arkansas counties as disaster areas. The designation makes agriculture producers in the affected areas eligible for emergency financial assistance from the federal government.
 
Not surprisingly, Arkansas' political leaders, including Senate hopeful Rep. Tom Cotton (R), applauded the Obama administration's announcement. "I appreciate Secretary Vilsack's quick approval of Governor Beebe's disaster declaration request for the 23 impacted counties," Cotton said in a press release. "I have heard from many farmers about the impact of the recent flooding, and I look forward to working with our friends in Arkansas to make sure farmers are able to access the emergency funds they need."
 
The problem, as Alex Lazar reported, is that Cotton opposed the disaster aid, which was included in the farm bill the congressman voted to kill.
"It takes a special kind of arrogance for Congressman Cotton to take credit for disaster relief funds that he consistently and recklessly opposed," Pryor campaign spokesman Erik Dorey said.
 
"If Congressman Cotton wants credit for disaster recovery programs he voted against, he first needs to admit he was wrong when he opposed the Farm Bill and apologize to Arkansas's farmers and ranchers for siding with his out-of-state billionaire buddies against our state's rural economy," Dorey added.
Cotton recently defended his opposition to the farm bill, arguing that it should have, among other things, done more to treat food-stamp recipients as possible drug addicts.
 
Of the four House Republicans from Arkansas' delegation, Cotton was the only one to oppose the farm bill -- a vote that continues to dog his Senate campaign.
 
What's more this isn't the first time Cotton's approach to disaster aid has caused him trouble.
A cell phone with an American flag cover is held up during a rally  in Sterling, Virginia.

Petition the government for redress of cellphone grievances

07/28/14 10:42AM

The White House's "We The People" petition process has always struck me as a good idea. For those unfamiliar with the initiative, regular ol' Americans can submit questions and/or ideas online; the public can vote on its favorites; and if enough people endorse the petition, the Obama administration will offer an official response.
 
Last year, the White House raised the threshold for minimum number of votes -- to get a response, an idea needs 100,000 endorsements -- in order to help weed out more trivial questions.
 
As long time readers may recall, one idea in particular stood out as significant. Over 114,000 Americans endorsed a "We The People" petition on smartphone unlocking. R. David Edelman, the White House senior adviser for Internet, innovation and privacy, said the administration agreed with the petition. "It's common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers' needs," he said at the time.
 
In an amazing twist, this actually produced a positive result.
Smartphone owners may unlock the devices to switch wireless carriers after service contracts expire under legislation that passed Congress today and is headed for President Barack Obama's desk.
 
The measure reverses a 2012 ruling by the Librarian of Congress that said unlocking phones violated copyrights. Unlocking is done by entering a software code so that phones can connect to a different network.
 
A Senate bill that would legalize unlocking passed the House without a recorded vote. That sent the measure to Obama, who said in an e-mailed statement that he looks "forward to signing this bill." Obama called the measure "another step toward giving ordinary Americans more flexibility and choice, so that they can find a cell phone carrier that meets their needs and their budget."
This is the first time a White House petition led to an actual bill, that was actually passed, and will actually become law.
 
It's practically a textbook example of how the process was designed to work: a citizen submitted an idea to the White House; the public liked it; the administration threw its support behind it; and Congress passed a law. "We The People" petitions usually make headlines for being funny -- I trust everyone remembers last year's Death Star discussion -- but here's an example of meaningful, substantive work getting done.
 
That, at least, is the good news.
Smoke rises over the Airport Road area after heavy fighting between rival militias broke out near the airport in Tripoli July 25, 2014.

GOP blames Obama for Libyan violence

07/28/14 10:04AM

Violence between rival Libyan militias drew closer to the American Embassy in Tripoli recently, prompting a careful U.S. military operation over the weekend. As Kareem Fahim reported, military jets provided air cover during a predawn evacuation of the embassy's staff, which appeared to go without incident. The report added U.S. officials described the evacuation as a temporary measure after fighting drew too close to the embassy.
 
Any chance congressional Republicans were glad the Obama administration took the precautionary step? No, GOP lawmakers were too busy blaming the president for the Libyan militias' violence.
The violence in Libya that caused U.S. embassy personnel to flee the country on Saturday is partly due to President Obama's inability to bring calm to the region, key Republican members of Congress said on Saturday.
 
According to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the "deteriorating security posture" that is playing out across the region "is what happens when the United States is not engaged and lacks a clear foreign policy that includes strong U.S. leadership."
 
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, echoed the sentiment that the Obama administration is to blame for not doing enough to bring security to Libya.
In fairness, not all Republicans on Capitol Hill were quite so crass. House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon (R-CA) issued a statement extending his well-wishes to the troops and diplomatic team. "As Americans evacuate from Tripoli, I want to express my deep gratitude for the US forces who have been on standby alert there," McKeon said. "My thoughts and prayers are with all Americans in Libya. I wish them a safe return, and for the safety of American troops watching over them."
 
But among GOP leaders and committee chairs, McKeon was alone -- his colleagues from his party were too busy blaming U.S. leaders for violence between warring Libyan militias. Royce, in particular, cited "the lack of direction and leadership from this Administration" in a statement.
 
In reality, it's not clear how much the clashing militias really care about "direction and leadership" from the White House.
 
In the larger context, though, it appears we now have another example of a disturbing pattern.
Marijuana plants for sale are displayed at the medical marijuana farmers market at the California Heritage Market in Los Angeles, California July 11, 2014.

NYT editorial board calls for end to pot 'prohibition'

07/28/14 09:21AM

The New York Times' opinion section has taken some curious steps in recent months when talking about marijuana. Last month, for example, Maureen Dowd wrote about a terribly unpleasant incident in which she ingested far too much pot and ended up "in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours ... panting and paranoid."
 
It followed a David Brooks column from earlier this year in which he noted his own experimentation before concluding that he wants a society in which "government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned."
 
One of the problems with Brooks' piece, of course, is that the United States doesn't just "discourage" the use of marijuana; we spend billions to fight it, imprisoning many of those who embrace the "lesser pleasures." It is, in other words, a prohibition -- which the editorial board of the New York Times now wants to end.
It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.
 
The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.
 
We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times's Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.
On the surface, it may not seem especially important to think a newspaper ran an editorial on legalizing marijuana. Lots of newspapers run editorials on all kinds of issues every day.
 
But in practice, the New York Times isn't just any paper, and the editorial board's willingness to adopt a bold stance on drug policy is emblematic of a national conversation has fundamentally changed -- and may never be the same.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, Feb. 27, 2014, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Congress reaches preliminary deal on veterans' aid

07/28/14 08:43AM

As of Thursday, a pending bill to expand veterans' benefits appeared to be just about dead. What had been a bipartisan issue had turned into yet another partisan food fight, with House Republicans rejecting multiple compromise offers and walking away from the negotiating table. The Senate Democratic caucus, led in this fight by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), was apoplectic, blasting House GOP lawmakers for killing legislation that should be approved easily.
 
If the goal of the Democratic outrage was to force House Republicans to reconsider, the apoplexy worked. GOP lawmakers, reluctant to get blamed for killing another veterans-aid package, were shamed into renewing talks, and last night, negotiators struck a deal.
According to a summary of the agreement obtained by CQ Roll Call, the negotiators agreed to $15 billion in emergency mandatory spending -- $10 billion for a new private care option for veterans and another $5 billion for improvements within the VA, like hiring doctors and nurses and upgrading facilities. That's $5 billion more than Miller offered on Thursday and about $10 billion less than Sanders sought.
 
To qualify for the private care option, veterans would have to be experiencing long wait times or be located more than 40 miles from a VA facility. They would be able to access providers who already participate in Medicare.
Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, will reportedly join House Veterans' Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) at a Capitol Hill event this afternoon to unveil their compromise.
 
If the price tag is any indication, Sanders compromised quite a bit -- the Senate bill, which passed in June on a 93-to-3 vote, had a price tag of $35 billion over 10 years. This new agreement with the GOP-led House has reduced the aid package to $15 billion, less than half the original total.
 
It's worth adding a note of caution: just because the relevant lawmakers agreed to a compromise does not mean that the process is over. Congress will still have to pass the deal and neither chamber will be able to amend the agreement. That said, the odds of success appear high.
 
So, good news, right? For veterans and their advocates, the announcement is obviously encouraging, but before anyone starts using the "maybe Congress can function effectively after all" talking point, I'd recommend keeping the praise to a minimum.
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 19, 2014.

House GOP leader leaves presidential impeachment on the table

07/28/14 08:00AM

House Republicans recently had to elect new leaders, and rank-and-file conservatives insisted that at least one far-right Tea Partier join the team. They succeeded: Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), a fan of debt-ceiling crises and a lawmaker who believes President Obama may be trying to create a "dictatorship," was chosen as the new House Majority Whip.
 
Yesterday was something of a coming-out party for the Louisiana Republican: Scalise sat down with Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday," his first Sunday show appearance of this Congress. It didn't go especially well. As Adam Serwer noted, the congressman, recently chosen as the third-ranking GOP official in the House, refused to take presidential impeachment off the table.
Wallace: Will you consider impeaching the president?
 
Scalise: This might be the first White House in history that's trying to start the narrative of impeaching their own president. Ultimately, what we want to do is see the president follow the laws. But the president took an oath to faithfully execute the laws of this land, and he's not. In fact, the Supreme Court, unanimously, more than 12 times, unanimously said, the president overreached, and actually did things he doesn't have the authority to do.
First, that's not even close to what the Supreme Court said, and the fact that a member of the House Republican leadership team would repeat such nonsense on national television -- in response to a question he was no doubt prepared for -- is alarming.
 
Second, and perhaps more important, was the fact that Scalise didn't answer the question. To his credit, Wallace followed up, asking, "So if he overreaches again on executive action to defer more deportations, what will the House do?" Again, the new House Republican leader dodged. So Wallace asked again whether or not impeachment is "off the table."
 
Scalise responded, "The White House wants to talk about impeachment and ironically they're going out and trying to fundraise off that, too." Once more, the host said, "I'm asking you, sir." The GOP lawmaker again refused to answer, saying, "The White House will do anything they can to change the topic away from the president's failed agenda."
 
Of course, Congress won't approve the president's agenda, making the criticism rather odd, but even putting that aside, Wallace gave the new House Majority Whip multiple chances to answer a straightforward question. In each instance, Scalise refused.
 
Which is exactly what Democrats wanted to see.

Vets bill deal reached and other headlines

07/28/14 07:52AM

Senate and House negotiators reached a deal on the veterans bill over the weekend. (Washington Post)

In the House's final week before recess, Republicans want to show they can govern. (The Hill)

U.N. Security Council calls for Gaza cease-fire as Eid-al-Fitr begins. (Reuters)

U.S. says images show direct Russian role in Ukraine fighting. (Wall Street Journal)

The trial of fmr. VA Gov. Bob McDonnell begins today. (Richmond Times Dispatch) And his former AG, Ken Cuccinelli, may be called as a witness for the defense. (AP)

New York Times editorial board comes out in favor of legal pot. (NY Times)

Two Americans stricken with deadly Ebola virus in Liberia. (NBC News)

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This Week in God, 7.26.14

07/26/14 09:24AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a story out of New Orleans, where opponents of abortion rights decided to hold an impromptu protest in an unusual place: inside a church, during church services, while the congregation was in the middle of a moment of silence.
Flip Benham's group Operation Save America disrupted the services of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans on Sunday while the congregation was honoring a member who had died. The organization framed their action as simply an effort to "present the truth of the Gospel in this synagogue of Satan" as part of their efforts "to defeat the culture of death."
Apparently, hundreds of activists who oppose abortion rights gathered in New Orleans this week to hold a series of protests, but Operation Save America members took it upon themselves to interrupt this church's worship service, telling members of the congregation they don't have the "true faith," presumably because Unitarian Universalist churches are pro-choice.
 
Operation Save America's name may not sound familiar, so it's worth noting the group used to be called Operation Rescue National, an organization that developed a reputation for extremist, sometimes violent, activism.
 
In this case, members of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans, no longer able to hold a moment of silence to honor a congregant who recently died, sang while the anti-abortion activists disrupted their services.
 
The Rev. Deanna Vandiver, the UU speaker during Sunday's service, later argued, "No one should invade the sanctuary of another’s faith to terrorize people as they worship."
 
It would appear Operation Save America disagrees.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:

Cocktail Moment: The Prescription Julep

07/26/14 01:21AM

Adapted from the Rachel Maddow Show transcript

Other than not containing any bourbon, the Prescription Julep is pretty similar to a regular Mint Julep.

Start with the sugar. You can use simple syrup where the sugar and water are already combined into a syrup, but for this drink, I like to just use a teaspoon of granular sugar and then add the water right in the glass - an ounce of water. Use more sugar if that's your taste. It doesn't need to be perfectly dissolved but you want that to dissolve at least a little bit.

Then you need good fresh mint - a half dozen leaves or so. Don't use the whole sprig because the stalk of the mint isn't the flavor or the texture that you want.

Smoosh it around a little bit. You don't need to go crazy with the muddling. Just use the back of your bar spoon. Get the mint, the sugar, and the water incorporated with each other.

Add 1½ ounce of cognac or brandy. The better the liquor the better the drink!

Add a ½ ounce of delicious rye whiskey.

Add as much ice as you can to the drink. A proper julep would have ice that was crushed so finely that it was basically turned into powder, but plain old crushed ice also serves. 

Stir it up. Stir it for as long as you can stand to without drinking this thing.

Add a sprig of mint as a garnish.

As juleps go, this is bogus but it works and it is delicious!

Video after the jump.

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Worst... Congress... Ever...

Will do-nothing Congress do nothing on VA?

07/25/14 11:02PM

Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, talks with Rachel Maddow about whether this Congress, arguably the worst Congress ever, has the ability to pass a badly-needed bill addressing the needs of veterans and the V.A. watch

House asserts role on troops to Iraq

House asserts role on troops to Iraq

07/25/14 10:57PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the passage of a bill in the House insisting that President Obama seek permission from Congress before sending more troops to Iraq beyond the 60-day limit, which will expire while Congress is away on recess. watch

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