Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* A new Quinnipiac poll is the latest to show Donald Trump with a significant national lead in the Republican presidential race. He tops Scott Walker in the poll, 20% to 13%, followed by Jeb Bush at 10%. The rest of the massive field is at 6% or lower.
* The same Quinnipiac poll, however, asked voters about a hypothetical general-election match-up with Trump. The apparent GOP frontrunner trailed Hillary Clinton by 12 points, 48% to 36%, and Trump is down eight points to Bernie Sanders, 45% to 37%.
* On a related note, against Jeb Bush, Quinnipiac found Clinton trails by one point while Sanders is down by five, and against Walker, Clinton leads by one while Sanders again trails by five.
* Though I can't speak to the reliability of this pollster, a new St. Pete Polls survey shows Trump leading Jeb Bush in Florida, 26% to 20%. Scott Walker is third in the poll with 12%, followed by Marco Rubio with 10% in his own home state.
* Speaking of Rubio, when the far-right Floridian launched his campaign, he asked those who contributed to his Senate re-election campaign to transfer their support to his White House campaign. Bloomberg Politics found that "more than 260" of these donors chose not to, and at least 64 of these donors have written checks to Rubio's national rivals.
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, Bernie Sanders supporters held several thousand house parties nationwide last night, with a reported 100,000 people signed up to attend an event in their area.
When Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) recently kicked off his presidential campaign, the understandable reaction from many Americans was simple: "Another one?" The GOP field was already packed with 15 candidates, but Kasich nevertheless created a Sweet 16 for his party.
But those who responded to the news by assuming the Republican field couldn't possibly get any bigger jumped to the wrong conclusion. Yesterday, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) filed his paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, becoming the 17th candidate.
The Republican said back at the beginning of July that he planned a White House run.
"I bring to the table experience that others don't have," Gilmore said in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch in July. He told the paper that he'll make his announcement during the first week of August. He served as Virginia's governor from 1998 to 2002.
The Virginian will reportedly launch his national bid in a formal event early next month.
I hesitate to say this -- these days, you just never know -- but Gilmore's entry really does seem to complete the Republicans' 2016 field. Back in May, I put together what I saw a fairly comprehensive list of possible GOP candidates, and I came up with 22 names. Of those 22, 17 have launched White House bids, while four others have bowed out.
That leaves former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R), who spent some time in New Hampshire earlier this year and expressed an interest in the race, but who has effectively disappeared from the public stage in recent months.
In other words, the current GOP field of 17 is done. Probably. I think.
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) hasn't exactly endeared himself to House Republican leaders. The conservative New Jersey congressman voted against House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) re-election and recently said he's refused to pay his National Republican Congressional Committee dues because the NRCC has supported a couple of gay Republican candidates.
Or put another way, Scott Garrett believes his far-right party is simply too friendly towards gay people.
Something interesting happened, however, after this news came to public light. Bloomberg Politics reported yesterday Garrett is suddenly "facing a revolt by corporate and Wall Street donors."
Earlier this month, in what financial lobbyists said was a sign of things to come, the Big 4 accounting firms and their trade association abruptly canceled a fundraising event for the New Jersey Republican. In addition, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has decided to stop making political action committee donations to Garrett, people familiar with the matter said.
Other firms are likely to follow suit, and some in the industry have debated whether to take a more drastic step and ask for their contributions back from Garrett, said the people, who asked for anonymity so as to not antagonize a lawmaker who oversees their industry. Financial lobbyists have also raised concerns with Republican House leaders, the people said.
Keep in mind, Garrett is on the House Financial Services Committee and chairs the panel on Capital Markets and Government-Sponsored Enterprises. Not to put too fine a point on this, but this is generally a post in which donors from the financial industry trip over themselves, rushing to give guys like Garrett as much money as they possibly can.
But if Bloomberg Politics is correct, Garrett's far-right politics is troubling "some banks and accounting firms, which often tout their diversity as a means of attracting workers and clients."
It leads to an important question: is this the key to combating Republican radicalism?
The national debate over capital punishment has proceeded in a variety of disparate directions, with some states deciding to end the practice altogether. But in North Carolina, the Republican-led legislature has apparently concluded that the status quo on executions needs to be tweaked in a more alarming way -- making it easier for the state to kill people with greater secrecy.
WRAL in Raleigh reported earlier this week (thanks to reader G.S. for the tip):
With little debate, the North Carolina Senate voted along party lines 33-16 Monday night to approve a bill aimed at restarting executions in the state.
The legislation, House Bill 774, would repeal the current law requiring that a physician be present to monitor all executions.... The bill would also remove from public record the names of companies that make, supply or deliver the drugs used in lethal injection, and it would exempt the execution protocol itself from the oversight of the state's Rules Review Commission.
There would be no public oversight of the protocol, nor would that information -- from the types of drugs to the doses to the sequence -- be required to be made public.
According to local reports, North Carolina hasn't been able to kill any of its prisoners since 2006, in large part because doctors in the state balked, creating a de facto moratorium.
So, GOP state lawmakers determined that if state law requires doctors to oversee executions, and doctors won't go along, it's time to change the law so that doctors need only sign the death certificate after the execution takes place. Instead, the new state law would allow physician assistants, nurse practitioners, or EMTs to monitor the executions.
As for the secrecy, North Carolina has a Public Records Act, but this new push would create an exception to the state law -- when North Carolina kills prisoners with a chemical cocktail, the contents can be kept secret. The names of the pharmaceutical companies that supply the drugs will also be hidden from public scrutiny.
The name of the legislation is the "Restoring Proper Justice Act," apparently because its sponsors' sense of humor leans towards the macabre.
Earlier this week, President Obama held a press conference in Ethiopia and took a moment to marvel at the recklessness of Republican rhetoric surrounding the international nuclear agreement with Iran. He specifically noted Mike Huckabee's Holocaust rhetoric -- it "would be considered ridiculous if it weren't so sad" -- but Obama also highlight the larger pattern.
"We've had a sitting senator call John Kerry Pontius Pilate," the president noted. "We've had a sitting senator who also happens to be running for president suggest that I'm the leading state sponsor of terrorism. These are leaders in the Republican Party." Obama added that, historically, officials used to recognize "that these issues are too serious, that issues of war and peace are of such grave concern and consequence that we don't play fast and loose that way."
The "Pontius Pilate" reference came from right-wing freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), but it was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who threw around the "sponsor of terrorism" nonsense. In fact, the GOP presidential candidate specifically told far-right activists, "If this deal goes through, without exaggeration, the Obama administration will become the world's leading state sponsor and financier of radical Islamic terrorism."
As Politiconoted, Cruz liked his rhetoric so much, he repeated it soon after.
According to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran is essentially financing terrorism. And he's not backing down after the president called his comments "outrageous."
"If this deal is consummated, it will make the Obama administration the world's leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism," Cruz said during a round table Tuesday. "Billions of dollars under control of this administration will flow into the hands of jihadists who will use that money to murder Americans, to murder Israelis, to murder Europeans."
This morning, even Mitt Romney said Cruz was going too far. "I am opposed to the Iran deal," the former GOP presidential nominee said, "but [Cruz] is way over the line on the Obama terrorism charge." Romney added that such rhetoric "hurts the cause."
Going into this morning, the most recent data showed the economy actually shrunk a little in the first quarter, covering January through March, which only helped make this morning's GDP report that much more important.
Most economists expected the gross domestic product to grow in the second quarter, covering April through June, at around a 2.5% rate, and that's roughly in line with what happened.
The U.S. economy picked up modestly in the spring after a lackluster start to the year, expanding at an annual 2.3% rate in the second quarter. Growth was led by consumer spending on big-ticket items such as new cars as well as home construction, the government said Thursday. [...]
Consumer spending, the main engine of U.S. growth, rose 2.9%.
This is, of course, a preliminary estimate that will be revised twice more in the coming months. Also note, though previous reporting showed the economy contracting slightly in the first quarter, this morning's report said the economy actually grew a little -- the final tally showed 0.6% growth, instead of 0.2% contraction.
So, what's the broader takeaway? I'm reminded of something Neil Irwin wrote in April about why economic observers care more about the second quarter's GDP than the first.
Despite fresh evidence that the Affordable Care Act is working very well, the Republican repeal crusade hasn't quit. GOP lawmakers continue to explore new ways to gut the American health care system, and Republican presidential candidates, just as a matter of course, talk openly about their plans to kill the successful and effective law.
The GOP's principal problem, however, hasn't changed: Republicans know they hate "Obamacare" for reasons they can't fully explain, but as has been the case for over five years, the party simply has no idea what to offer as an alternative.
Never fear, Donald Trump has it figured out. The leading Republican presidential hopeful sat down yesterday with CNN's Dana Bash, and according to the Nexis transcript, this was their exchange about health care:
BASH: So, you're in the Oval Office, you're saying Obamacare...
TRUMP: It's got to go.
BASH: It's got to go.
TRUMP: Repeal and replace with something terrific.
Oh, something terrific. Why didn't Republicans just say so? I was concerned they might try to replace the ACA with something wholly inadequate, but if the plan will be "something terrific" -- no doubt, it'll be classy, too -- then American families obviously have no reason to worry about Republicans taking their health care benefits away.
All joking aside, when Bash asked Trump to elaborate a bit on what "terrific" plan he has in mind, the GOP candidate added that the system will depend on "private companies" that will do great with "competition."
It's easy to laugh at this, but let's not lose sight of the larger context: Trump's six-word health care plan -- "repeal and replace with something terrific" -- is every bit as specific as the health care plan outlined by GOP leaders on Capitol Hill.
Indeed, what makes Trump's comment especially amusing is its broad applicability in describing Republicans' approach to policymaking.
Tom Costello, veteran aviation correspondent for NBC News, talks with Rachel Maddow about breaking news of the discovery of a part of a wing from a 777, which authorities believe is from the missing Malaysia Air flight 370. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on more than a dozen protesters dangling on ropes from a bridge to block the passage of an icebreaker ship that had been in port for reports, holding up Shell Oil's planned Arctic drilling operation. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on Hillary Clinton's expected call for an end to the embargo on Cuba, and Bernie Sanders rallying 100,000 grassroots supporters, and both candidates perform well in head-to-head polling against potential Republican opponents. watch
Every time I have a chance to read through the local Oklahoma news, the news gods make it worth my while: http://t.co/ewZSJMlLxU
* A murder charge in Ohio: "A University of Cincinnati officer was indicted for murder Wednesday for fatally shooting an unarmed black man in the head following a routine traffic stop earlier this month. A Cincinnati grand jury has decided to indict University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing in the July 19 death of 43-year-old Samuel DuBose, who was pulled over for not having a front license plate on his car."
* There's skepticism because we've seen reports like these before: "The Taliban's longtime leader Mullah Omar was dead, the Afghan government announced Wednesday after a day of feverish speculation. 'I can confirm that Mullah Omar is dead,' the spokesman for Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security Abdul Hassib Sediqi told NBC News."
* Economy: "The Federal Reserve offered a slightly more upbeat assessment of the economy Wednesday but provided little insight into when it will raise its benchmark interest rate for the first time in nearly a decade."
* EPA: "The Obama administration has decided to give states more time to comply with proposed regulations that will require dramatic cuts in greenhouse-gas pollution from power plants, people familiar with the plans said Tuesday."
* GOP in disarray: "House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) brushed off a challenge to his leadership from Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.) on Wednesday, but not without showing some irritation."
* He doesn't have much of a choice: "President Obama would sign a three-month highway funding bill, the White House said Wednesday, though it ripped Republicans in Congress for failing to agree on a long-term solution."