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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.
Federal Housing Finance Authority Director nominee Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., listening as President Barack Obama announces Watt's nomination for the, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, May 1, 2013.

Former lawmaker heard 'unseemly' Hastert rumor 15 years ago

06/02/15 06:31PM

When news of the scandal surrounding former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) first broke, so much of the political world was surprised because of his reputation. While ugly rumors often dog high-profile lawmakers -- some of them true, some of them not -- the Illinois Republican was never the subject of scandalous gossip.
But the Huffington Post's Sam Stein reported this afternoon that "at least one member of Congress was likely aware" of the allegations surrounding Hastert.
Relatively early on during Hastert's speakership, Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) was approached with news about the alleged abuse, according to a source with knowledge of the conversation that took place with Watt. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter.
According to the source, the person who approached Watt was an intermediary for the family of the abuse victim and knew the North Carolina congressman informally.
The Rachel Maddow Show received a comment from Watt, who now directs the Federal Housing Finance Agency, this afternoon:
"Over 15 years ago I heard an unseemly rumor from someone who, contrary to what has been reported, was not an intermediary or advocate for the alleged victim's family.  It would not be the first nor last time that I, as a Member of Congress, would hear rumors or innuendoes about colleagues.  I had no direct knowledge of any abuse by former Speaker Hastert and, therefore, took no action."

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.2.15

06/02/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* China: "At least 400 people were missing Tuesday more than 20 hours after their tourist ship capsized in stormy weather on China's Yangtze River, state-run media reported."
* Northeast Nigeria: "Less than a week after Muhammadu Buhari, a former army general, took over as Nigeria's new president and vowed to crush Boko Haram, the group has intensified its attacks in the country's northeast, killing scores in a series of assaults and suicide bombings."
* Hard truths: "U.S. President Barack Obama said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's terms for diplomacy that might lead to a Palestinian state meant Israel had lost international credibility as a potential peacemaker."
* FIFA: "Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA and the most powerful man in world soccer, abruptly announced his resignation on Tuesday, less than a week after the sport's governing body was engulfed by a corruption scandal."
* Baltimore: "Investigators are looking into how Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) rowhouse in West Baltimore caught fire on Tuesday morning. At 10:42 am firefighters got a call to come to the Maryland congressman's house, according to The Baltimore Sun. The fire fighters found smoke coming out of the roof. The one-alarm fire was under control by 11 a.m."
* The federal judge in former Speaker Dennis Hastert's (R-Ill.) criminal case also happens to be a former Hastert donor. To be sure, Judge Thomas Durkin made the contributions before taking the bench, but it's an awkward dynamic.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) answers questions following the weekly Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 13, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Senate ignores McConnell, approves 'U.S.A. Freedom Act'

06/02/15 04:46PM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) started the debate over surveillance reforms with a clear plan in mind: defeat the House-backed U.S.A. Freedom Act and extend the status quo.
When that plan failed spectacularly, McConnell moved to his hastily thrown-together backup plan: amend the U.S.A. Freedom Act to make it more conservative.
This afternoon, this strategy flopped, too. The New York Times reported:
In a remarkable reversal of national security policy formed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Senate voted on Tuesday to curtail the federal government's sweeping surveillance of American phone records, sending the legislation to President Obama's desk for his signature.
In an amusing twist, the Senate fight featured a tense showdown between two ostensible allies: Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell and Kentucky Republican Rand Paul. The former saw the bipartisan House bill as going too far, while the latter argued the House bill didn't go nearly far enough.
And as the dust settles on Capitol Hill, both GOP senators managed to walk away with defeats and neither got what they wanted.
The final vote on the House bill, which enjoyed President Obama's backing and was crafted in part with the NSA's input, was 67 to 32.
A flag for the Texas Longhorns waves at the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

Texas moves forward on 'campus carry'

06/02/15 04:00PM

Texas' system of public universities doesn't actually want more loaded firearms on campuses, but the Republican-run state government has its own ideas on the subject. The Dallas Morning News reports today:
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott – surprising no one – signaled in a radio interview on Tuesday that he will sign the contentious firearms measure to allow licensed Texans to carry concealed handguns in most state university buildings.
"I'm now proud to say that Texas is going to be ... one of the states that does have campus carry, ensuring that we further provide Second Amendment rights to our constituents," he said on The Mark Davis Show on KSKY-AM.
A Politico report noted this week that the chancellor of the University of Texas System warned state lawmakers that "campus carry could adversely affect faculty recruitment," which apparently led to a legislative compromise: university presidents will have the authority to declare some areas on campus -- but not all -- off-limits to loaded firearms.
The governor insisted this morning that having more guns around will create a safer academic environment.
"Shooters will understand next time that they cross a Texas campus, somebody is going to be watching them and have the ability to do something about it to stop them," Abbott said.
How students and faculty will know to "watch" potential gunmen is unclear.