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Thursday's Mini-Report, 5.28.15

05/28/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Breaking news late this afternoon: "The Justice Department has indicted former House Speaker Dennis Hastert on reporting evasion charges and lying to the FBI as part of an effort to pay off victims of 'prior bad acts.'" I'll have more on this in the morning.
 
* Silly people and their conspiracy theories: "Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of meddling in FIFA's affairs and hinted that it was part of an attempt to take the 2018 World Cup away from his country."
 
* Speaking of the Russian autocrat: "The deaths or wounds of Russian soldiers in 'special operations' can be classified as military secrets, even in peacetime, President Vladimir V. Putin decreed on Thursday. The decree comes as Russia faces accusations that it is sending its soldiers clandestinely to fight in Ukraine, an allegation the Kremlin denies."
 
* FIFA: "Sepp Blatter, the president of world soccer's governing body, acknowledged the 'unprecedented and difficult times' for his organization on Thursday and said it must do a better job of policing itself, but he largely avoided taking responsibility for the actions of 'a tiny minority' arrested in a corruption inquiry this week."
 
* Baltimore: "A 31-year-old woman and a young boy were shot in the head Thursday, becoming Baltimore's 37th and 38th homicide victims so far this month, the city's deadliest in 15 years."
 
* IRS: "The FBI has opened an investigation into the recent data breach at the Internal Revenue Service, CNBC has learned Thursday. The FBI said that people contacted by the IRS should take the necessary steps to monitor and safeguard their online presence and information. Any suspicious activity should reported to the FBI at www.ic3.gov."
 
* A tough year for Senate staffers: "Known as a fixture on Capitol Hill until his January 2010 retirement, longtime Senate staffer Robert Lee Foster is now making headlines for his alleged involvement in a scheme to defraud vulnerable women for approximately $500,000."
Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaks to reporters during a hearing in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 4, 2015. (Photo by Bloomberg/Getty)

A brief history of secret plans

05/28/15 04:07PM

We talked earlier about Donald Trump, who announced last night that when it comes to ISIS, he knows of "a method of defeating them quickly and effectively and having total victory." And what, pray tell, is that method? Trump refuses to say.
 
"If I run, and if I win, I don't want the enemy to know what I'm doing," he told Fox's Greta Van Susteren.
 
This led my colleague Will Femia to ask a good question: Didn't Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also have "a secret plan to defeat an enemy but he'd only reveal it if America elected him?"

Actually, yes.
 
During McCain's 2008 campaign, he frequently reassured audiences that, if elected, he'd implement a secret plan to get Osama bin Laden. Naturally, many soon wondered why McCain didn't just share the secret plan with the Bush/Cheney administration, which had largely given up on targeting the al Qaeda leader. The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2008:
"One thing I will not do is telegraph my punches. Osama bin Laden will be the last to know," he said today while riding on the back of his bus between Florida events. In other words: he's not telling.
 
Why not share his strategy with the current occupant of the White House? "Because I have my own ideas and it would require implementation of certain policies and procedures that only as the president of the United States can be taken."
That latter part of McCain's response didn't really make much sense, even at the time, but the Republican senator stuck to it and never revealed his secret get-OBL plan. (As it turns out, President Obama had his own ideas on the subject.)
 
But as long as we're on the subject, it's worth nothing that McCain and Trump aren't alone.  Perhaps the most famous example came in 1968, when Richard Nixon told voters he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam, but he wouldn't share it before the election. Nixon won, but there was no secret plan, and the conflict continued.
Smoke raises behind an Islamic State flag after Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters took control of Saadiya in Diyala province from Islamist State militants, Nov. 24, 2014. (Photo by Stringer/Reuters)

A party in search of a message on ISIS

05/28/15 12:44PM

Likely Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump appeared on Fox News last night and  boasted he knows exactly what to do to "defeat ISIS very quickly." He quickly added, however, "I'm not going to tell what you it is."
 
When host Greta Van Susteren suggested he should share his secret plan, Trump replied, "If I run, and if I win, I don't want the enemy to know what I'm doing." He added, however, that there really is "a method of defeating them quickly and effectively and having total victory."
 
He just doesn't want to tell anyone what this method is.
 
It's obviously easy to laugh at buffoonery, but there's a larger significance to exchanges like these: Republican presidential candidates are eager to talk about ISIS and U.S. foreign policy in the region. They're just not sure what to say.
 
On msnbc yesterday morning, for example,Joe Scarborough asked Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) about the ISIS threat. The Republican senator has apparently come up with a plan:
"You know, I think the ultimate answer is getting Arab coalitions and boots on the ground that will stop them. You need Turks fighting. The Turks need to have their army up on the board and they need to fight. [...]
 
"I would recognize the Kurds, I would give them weapons, I would take all the weapons in Iran and Afghanistan and give them to the Kurds. But I would do simultaneously is, I would get a peace treaty between the Kurds and the Turks and I would say, 'Look,' the Kurds, 'you've got to give up any pretensions to any territory in Turkey. Turkey, let's go ahead and get along and together wipe out ISIS."
He neglected to mention his intention to rely on magical unicorns to help establish peace throughout the land.
 
I mean, really. Paul is going to defeat ISIS, right after establishing peace between the Kurds and the Turks? Does he realize they don't quite see eye to eye? There's some history there? As a rule, telling a country like Turkey, "Let's go ahead and get along" -- because Rand Paul says so -- isn't a sure-fire plan for a diplomatic solution.
 
But this goes beyond Paul and Trump.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.28.15

05/28/15 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:
 
* A new, national Quinnipiac poll asked Republicans for their top choice in the Republican presidential race. There was, oddly enough, a five-way tie for first place: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker each got 10% support.
 
* The same poll showed Hillary Clinton leading everyone in the GOP field in hypothetical general-election match-ups, though she fared far better against Bush and Walker than against Rubio and Rand Paul.
 
* To the delight of Nevada Democrats, Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) has decided to run for re-election, rather than run against former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D) in a U.S. Senate primary.
 
* A new University of New Hampshire poll shows a very competitive Senate race taking shape in the Granite State, where incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) leads Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) in a possible match-up, 45% to 43%. For the record, Hassan has not yet formally made her 2016 plans clear.
 
* Carly Fiorina thought it'd be fun to troll Hillary Clinton yesterday at a South Carolina hotel, but when reporters considered it a silly stunt, Fiorina got defensive and left.
 
* A new super PAC, called "Generation Forward," is now up and running, intended to benefit former Gov. Martin O'Malley's Democratic campaign.
Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders waves to the crowd of supporters after speaking at a campaign kickoff rally in Burlington, Vt., May 26, 2015. (Photo by Brain Snyder/Reuters)

The tax rates that don't cause Bernie Sanders to 'flinch'

05/28/15 11:29AM

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is many things, but subtle isn't one of them. Take a look at these comments the Democratic presidential candidate made to CNBC about higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
"These people are so greedy, they're so out of touch with reality," he said. "They think they own the world.... I'm sorry to have to tell them, they live in the United States, they benefit from the United States, we have kids who are hungry in this country. We have people who are working two, three, four jobs, who can't send their kids to college.
 
"Sorry, you're all going to have to pay your fair share of taxes," he asserted. "If my memory is correct, when radical socialist Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the highest marginal tax rate was something like 90 percent."
That last part is true, by the way. In the 1950s, when Republicans were far more interested in deficit reduction than tax breaks, Eisenhower was committed to helping pay off World War II-era debts. He kept Roosevelt's 90% top marginal rate in place, and the post-war economy boomed anyway. (It wasn't until JFK in 1961 that Washington approved a "peace dividend," and even then, some Republicans of the era balked, still preferring to focus on the debt, not tax breaks.)
 
But Sanders' support for similar rates is so far from mainstream norms that his comments strike much of the political world as somehow bizarre. The New York Times noted with incredulity that the Vermont senator "doesn't flinch over returning to the 90 percent personal income tax rates of the 1950s for top earners."
 
Over at Salon, it led Simon Maloy to raise a good point: "We've become so accustomed to historically low rates of taxation for the wealthy that when someone like Sanders comes along and says the rich can and should pay a far higher rate, people assume he's out to lunch."

Republican attitudes on Iraq trip up GOP candidates

05/28/15 10:54AM

It was just two weeks ago when Jeb Bush accidentally touched off a national debate, saying he "would have" launched the war in Iraq in 2003, even "knowing what we know now."
 
The response wasn't kind. Laura Ingraham, hardly a liberal critic, told her audience, "You can't still think that going into Iraq, now, as a sane human being, was the right thing to do. If you do, there has to be something wrong with you." The Washington Examiner's Byron York, another prominent voice in conservative media, described Jeb Bush's answer as "disastrous."
 
It took a while, but eventually Bush gave a less ridiculous answer, and nearly everyone in the Republican presidential field answered the same question, but it's worth appreciating why Jeb and others struggled with the question in the first place.
 
Some of this, to be sure, is the result of a failed Bush legacy that the party has yet to come to terms with. The dominating influence of neoconservatives doesn't help, either. But part of the challenge is that this is the phase of the campaign in which GOP candidates desperately try to convince the Republican Party's base that they're in sync with the party's rank and file. And on this issue in particular, there's a huge gap between Republican voters and the American mainstream. Take this new Quinnipiac poll, for example:
Going to war with Iraq was the wrong thing to do, American voters say 59 - 32 percent. Republicans support the 2003 decision 62 - 28 percent, while opposition is 78 - 16 percent among Democrats and 65 - 26 percent among independent voters.
The wording of the question was unambiguous: "Do you think going to war with Iraq in 2003 was the right thing for the United States to do or the wrong thing?"
 
Most Americans answered one way; most Republicans answered another.
The Arizona-Mexico border fence near Naco, Arizona, March 29, 2013.

Border reality should change GOP talking points

05/28/15 10:18AM

Among Republicans, certain basic truths are so widely understood, they're not even questioned. They know Obama increased the deficit. They know "Obamacare" is government-run healthcare. And they know the Obama administration has been woefully indifferent to securing the border.
 
Of course, all of these truths are plainly wrong -- in fact, they're the opposite of reality -- including that last one. The Washington Post has a great piece this morning on the changing nature of the debate about border security.
As the Department of Homeland Security continues to pour money into border security, evidence is emerging that illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest level in at least two decades. The nation's population of illegal immigrants, which more than tripled, to 12.2 million, between 1990 and 2007, has dropped by about 1 million, according to demographers at the Pew Research Center. [...]
 
Homeland security officials in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations -- who have more than doubled the Border Patrol's size and spent billions on drones, sensors and other technology at the border -- say enhanced security is driving the new trends.
R. Gil Kerlikowske, commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told the Post, "We have seen tremendous progress. The border is much more secure than in times past."
 
To be sure, it's a complex picture, and the shifts in immigration trends are probably the result of several overlapping changes, some of which relate to security measures, some of which don't.
 
That said, when Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) argues that the Obama administration and its allies are "refusing to secure our border," we know for certain that's the opposite of what's actually happened.
 
And when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) insists that the U.S. border is "porous," and officials must "secure our own borders" to prevent "ISIS infiltration," I'm sure it's a successful applause line among partisan activists who don't know any better, but it's also the sort of thing a politician says if he doesn't know what he's talking about.
Former New York Governor George Pataki speaks at the Freedom Summit on May 9, 2015 in Greenville, S.C. Pataki joined eleven other potential candidates in addressing the event hosted by conservative group Citizens United. (Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty)

George Pataki gets his day in the spotlight

05/28/15 09:15AM

Quick quiz: which elected office has produced the most U.S. presidents? The answer is ... the office of the governor of New York, which has produced four future presidents (Van Buren, Cleveland, and both Roosevelts).
 
As of this morning, former New York Gov. George Pataki (R) announced his hopes to follow in their footsteps. NBC News' Carrie Dann reported this morning:
In a four-minute campaign video, Pataki says "it is time to stand up, protect our freedom and take back this country."
 
"If we are to flourish as a people, we have to fall in love with America again," he says in the video, which features images of the Freedom Tower and the 9/11 memorial in New York City.
By implication, it sounds as if Pataki is under the impression that Americans stopped loving America. I'm not sure why he would think that.
 
On paper, Pataki has the appearance of a potential powerhouse. He's a former mayor, former state lawmaker, and the former three-term governor of one of the nation's largest states. In a crowded GOP field, few can boast this kind of resume.
 
But resumes do not win nominations.  A new national Quinnipiac poll was released this morning, and it asked Republican voters to choose from a list of 16 GOP candidates. Pataki was one of only two candidates to have support under 1%. Some recent polls haven't bothered to even include Pataki's name in the mix at all.
 
The point, of course, isn't to laugh at the New York Republican's misfortunate, but rather, to note that with support this low, Pataki will almost certainly fail to qualify for any of the upcoming debates. He effectively has no national profile within his party, despite having held a major office -- one that he vacated nearly a decade ago.

Jobless claims climb a bit, reach five-week high

05/28/15 08:40AM

It's never good news when initial unemployment claims go up, especially a few weeks in a row, but no one is sweating numbers like these, at least not yet.
The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits in late May rose to a five-week high, but the rate of layoffs in the U.S. economy remained near a record low. Initial jobless claims climbed by 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 282,000 in the week stretched from May 17 to May 23, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to fall to 270,000 from a slightly revised 275,000 in the prior week.
 
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, increased by 5,000 to 271,500. A week earlier the monthly average had dropped to a 15-year low.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it’s worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it’s best not to read too much significance into any one report.

In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it’s considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 31 of the last 37 weeks.

Obamacare lawsuit and other headlines

05/28/15 08:00AM

First hearing today in House lawsuit against Obamacare. (AP)

Feds order pipeline company to clean up Santa Barbara coastline. (L.A. Times)

Swollen rivers cause Texas cities to worry about flooding. (AP)

Fewer immigrants are crossing the U.S. border illegally. (Washington Post)

Disgraced Chicago cops posed with black suspect wearing deer antlers. (USA Today)

3 British schoolgirls who ran off to Syria have reportedly made contact with their families. (ITV)

Funny campaign website '404' pages are a thing now. (Wall Street Journal)

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Nebraska lawmakers sit in the dark Legislative Chamber during second-round debate, May 15, 2015, in Lincoln, Neb., on a bill to abolish the death penalty. (Photo by Nati Harnik/AP)

An unexpected win for death-penalty opponents in Nebraska

05/28/15 08:00AM

Since 2000, six states have banned the death penalty, and all six can fairly be described as "blue" states. Four of the six -- Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland -- are in the Northeast, and the other two -- Illinois and New Mexico -- are hardly conservative strongholds.
 
But as Rachel reported on the show last night, there's a new addition to the list, and it's one that would have been hard to predict as recently as a few months ago. From Amanda Sakuma's msnbc report:
The Nebraska legislature abolished the death penalty Wednesday in a down-to-the-wire vote overriding Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto, making Nebraska the first red state in decades to strike capital punishment from its books.
 
In a 30-19 vote that crossed party lines, the unicameral legislature defied the Republican governor's opposition to the death penalty repeal, garnering the exact number of votes needed to overcome his veto.
Nebraska, with its unusual unicameral legislature, technically has a non-partisan state government, but it's hardly a secret that Republican policymakers dominate in this ruby-red state. It made yesterday's vote that much more satisfying.
 
The key to success, oddly enough, was framing the debate in a conservative way -- proponents of the change made the case that the flawed existing system is too expensive; it's at odds with the values of honoring life; and the governments that kill their own citizens are the biggest of all possible governments.

It was close, and the state's Republican governor lobbied hard to keep the death penalty in place, but the argument won the day.
 
Nebraska will now join 18 states and the District of Columbia in banning capital punishment. But how secure is the victory?
FIFA in turmoil as Women's World Cup begins

FIFA in turmoil as Women's World Cup begins

05/27/15 09:40PM

Megan Rapinoe, Olympic gold medalist with the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team, talks with Rachel Maddow about the arrests of nine FIFA officials on corruption charges, objections to artificial turf, and rising status of women's soccer in the U.S. watch

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