Latest StoriesRSS

select from:

E.g., 4/29/2016
E.g., 4/29/2016
Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, Dec. 10, 2013.

A Do-Nothing Senate gives itself another week off

04/29/16 12:53PM

Last night, the Senate finally confirmed Roberta Jacobson to be the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, prompting Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) to pat the chamber on the back. "The United States' relationship with Mexico is essential to our country's economy and security, and our Ambassador serves as a critical nexus for this partnership," Cornyn said after the vote. "Today is a key step towards filling what is a crucial diplomatic post not just to Texas, but for the nation as a whole."
 
What Cornyn neglected to mention is that Jacobson, a State Department veteran, was nominated nearly 11 months ago. Despite impeccable credentials and no real critics, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) blocked her nomination because he doesn't like President Obama's policy towards Cuba.
 
If this is a "crucial diplomatic post" for the entire United States, why did it take 11 months for the Republican Senate to unanimously confirm an uncontroversial nominee?
 
The answer is this Senate just doesn't seem to function well. Remember the agreement on funding the federal Zika response that was supposed to be wrapped up today? Senators decided to punt on the issue for a while. Even far-right members are getting frustrated.
"I hope that there is real urgency about dealing with this," Rubio said. "I understand this is not a political issue. There is no such thing as a Republican position on Zika or Democrat position on Zika because these mosquitoes bite everyone. And they're not going to ask you what your party registration is or who you plan to vote for in November." [...]
 
"My advice to my colleagues is we're going to deal with this, and I hope we deal with it at the front end, because not only is it better for our people, it's better for you," he added. "You're going to have to explain to people why it is that we sat around for weeks and did nothing on something of this magnitude."
Democrats said senators should stay in session until an agreement comes together. Republicans refused -- and then left town for a 10-day break. This comes on the heels of a two-week break in March, and it comes in advance of a seven-week break that starts in mid-July.

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.29.16

04/29/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* Any minute now, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) will reportedly endorse Ted Cruz's presidential campaign.
 
* At an event in Oregon yesterday, Bernie Sanders started talking up some of the changes he'd like to see in the electoral process, including open primaries in every state and automatic voter registration. Though some of these fall outside the Democratic National Committee's purview, expect a related push in the debate over the party's platform.
 
* This keeps happening: "Ted Cruz got crushed in Virginia on primary day, but even Donald Trump's forces believe he's about to stuff the state's national convention delegation full of supporters anyway."
 
* Though Sanders still hopes to prevail in Indiana next week, his campaign is scaling back its ad budget. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has stopped advertising in upcoming primaries altogether.
 
* The latest primary poll in Oregon shows Donald Trump leading the GOP pack with 43%, followed by Ted Cruz at 26% and John Kasich at 17%. Note, the "deal" announced this week between the Cruz and Kasich camps was based in part on the assumption that Kasich was positioned to do well in Oregon.
 
* On a related note, Cruz yesterday downplayed the existence of a deal with Kasich.
 
* By the end of March, the Sanders campaign had spent "nearly $166 million," which the Washington Post reported created "a financial windfall for his team of Washington consultants."
 
* It took a surprisingly long time, but Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) yesterday finally agreed to forgo a donation from disgraced former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. The Missouri Republican gave the contribution he received from Hastert to a local charity.
Republican members of the House and House Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy react after the election for the Speaker of the House was thrown into chaos on Capitol Hill, Oct. 8, 2015. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Pentagon pushes back against Benghazi panel's demands

04/29/16 11:23AM

The House Republicans' Benghazi Committee not only still exists -- today is its 722nd day -- it also continues to make demands of the Pentagon. As of yesterday, I'm starting to get the sense that the Defense Department is getting a little tired of the GOP's panel's requests.
 
Committee Democrats issued a document this morning that's worth paying attention to.
Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, Rep. Adam Smith, the Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Adam Schiff, the Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, released a letter from the Assistant Secretary of Defense to Select Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy exposing the latest abuses by Select Committee Republicans.
The three-page letter, which is available in its entirety online (pdf), is from Assistant Secretary of Defense Stephen C. Hedger, and was sent to Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) yesterday. In it, Hedger goes into quite a bit of detail noting the extent to which the Pentagon has already cooperated with the panel's request for materials and information, but the letter also suggests Gowdy and his Republican colleagues are ... what's the phrase I'm looking for ... pushing their luck.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during a meeting with journalists after a live broadcast nationwide call-in in Moscow, Russia, April 14, 2016. (Photo by Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Donald Trump gives voice to the GOP's Vladimir Putin wing

04/29/16 10:43AM

The first sign of trouble came late last year. Donald Trump, during an MSNBC interview, was asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin's habit of launching invasions and targeting critics. "He's running his country, and at least he's a leader," Trump replied, "unlike what we have in this country."
 
Reminded that Putin is accused of ordering the murder of journalists, Trump effectively said he doesn't actually believe the accusations and ultimately doesn't much care. "Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also," the Republican frontrunner said in December.
 
John Kasich's campaign soon after launched a Trump-Putin 2016 website, complete with the tagline, "Make Tyranny Great Again."
 
This week, New York's Jon Chait noticed that Trump's widely derided foreign-policy speech included an under-appreciated message about a possible friendly shift in Putin's direction.
The universal headline summary of Donald Trump's prepared foreign-policy speech yesterday was that it lacked details. Trump's campaign encouraged this conclusion by leaking in advance that it would contain few specifics, and media correctly primed to think of Trump as an ignorant blowhard covered it as such. But the speech, in fact, contained an important and somewhat-curious idea: The United States should form a closer relationship, even an alliance, with Russia.
If you missed the speech, the transcript bolsters the point. Trump believes, if elected, he will be able to ease "tensions" between Russia and the United States, "improve relations," and end "this horrible cycle of hostility." While the GOP candidate talked about all of the things he expects countries like China and Mexico to do to make a Trump administration happy, he made no comparable demands of Russia or its leaders.
 
Indeed, even while talking about "tensions" and "hostility" between Russia and the United States, Trump made no effort to even hint at who's ultimately responsible for the diplomatic strains.
An election worker checks a voter's drivers license at a polling place in Charlotte, N.C. March 15, 2016. (Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters)

Accidental Republican candor about voter-ID laws

04/29/16 10:00AM

The number of Republicans who are accidentally telling the truth about voter-ID laws continues to grow. Right Wing Watch reported yesterday:
Jim DeMint, the former South Carolina senator and Tea Party firebrand who is now the president of the Heritage Foundation, became the latest in a string of conservatives to admit that restrictive voting laws such as voter ID requirements are an attempt to help Republicans win elections, telling a St. Louis radio host yesterday that voter ID laws help elect "more conservative candidates."
At first, I thought DeMint might have been making a more general statement about the unintended effects of the policy, but a closer read points to intent.
 
The Republican senator-turned-activist initially complained during the radio interview about Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) restoring the voting rights of former felons, before insisting that Democrats are trying to have "illegals" vote for them.
 
But DeMint then turned to voter-ID laws. "[I]t's something we're working on all over the country because in the states where they do have voter ID laws you've seen, actually, elections begin to change towards more conservative candidates," he said.
 
In case anyone, including DeMint, needs a refresher, the line Republicans and proponents of voter-suppression tactics are supposed to take is that voter-ID policies have nothing to do with partisanship or affecting the outcome of elections, and everything to do with the integrity of the voting process. "We're not trying to disenfranchise Democrats," GOP officials say, "that's just the accidental byproduct of our policies."
 
The argument is obviously untrue, but at least in public, Republicans generally try to pretend that the talking points have merit.
 
Except that's not at all what DeMint said. Rather, the Heritage Foundation chief argued that the right is working on voter-ID policies across the country "because" these laws help elect conservatives.
 
It's one of those classic cases of someone making a mistake by accidentally telling the truth.
US military soldiers march during the Veterans Day Parade in New York on Nov. 11, 2014. (Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)

Debate over women, selective service takes an unexpected turn

04/29/16 09:20AM

It's been about five months since the Obama administration took the historic step of opening all combat jobs to women. As Defense Secretary Ash Carter said at the time, "We cannot afford to cut ourselves off from half the country's talents and skills."
 
But as regular readers know, it wasn't long before the next logical question came up: if there are no gender-related restrictions on combat service, why is the selective-service system limited to young men? The top uniformed leaders from the Army and Marine Corps have already made the case that it's time for a change, too: there's no reason, they said, young women should be treated differently when it comes registering for a draft.
 
The ensuing debate has cut across lines in unexpected ways, with some prominent Republicans, including John McCain and Jeb Bush, endorsing equal treatment, while others, including Ted Cruz, have insisted the system must treat women differently.
 
All of this reached a new level on Capitol Hill this week, with an unexpected development in the House. NBC News reported:
Women would be required to register for the military draft under a House committee bill that comes just months after the Defense Department lifted all gender-based restrictions on front-line combat units.
 
A divided Armed Services Committee backed the provision in a sweeping defense policy bill that the full House will consider next month, touching off a provocative debate about the role of women in the military.
The funny part about all of this? The Republican author of the measure to require women to register for the draft opposes his own policy -- he brought it up to make a point, assuming his colleagues would vote against it, only to watch the whole scheme go sideways.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley delivers the State of the State in the House chambers at the South Carolina Statehouse, Jan. 20, 2016, in Columbia, S.C. (Photo by Sean Rayford/AP)

Haley shows how not to make the case against Guantanamo transfers

04/29/16 08:45AM

The Obama administration has already reduced the Guantanamo Bay prison population to 80 individuals, but the White House isn't done trying to reduce that total to zero. Under a recently released blueprint, the administration still intends to transfer some of the remaining detainees to U.S. facilities, including possibly the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina.
 
The state's Republican governor, Nikki Haley, was on Capitol Hill yesterday to make her case against any possible transfers, though her arguments were surprisingly weak. The Huffington Post reported:
It's "the city we call the holy city," "the number one vacation spot in the country," "the friendliest state in the union," "the most patriotic state in the Union," Haley told members of the House Oversight and Management Efficiency Subcommittee. "Why would anyone want to put terrorists in Charleston?"
 
The South Carolina governor then switched to a more somber note. "We looked hate in the eye last year," she said, referring to the shooting by a white gunman, who killed nine people at a historic black church in Charleston. "Our state is still recovering from that."
The governor may not have fully thought this one through. Haley was referring, of course, to the brutal mass shooting at Mother Emanuel in Charleston last year, which she and others characterized as an act of domestic terrorism. And yet, the shooter was arrested and locked up -- in a Charleston prison.
 
The terrorist's imprisonment hasn't affected the community's tourism, its patriotism, or its friendliness.
 
Indeed, one of the strangest things about Haley's argument is the extent to which it seems to be a case against having corrections facilities altogether. It's "the city we call the holy city," "the number one vacation spot in the country," "the friendliest state in the union," and "the most patriotic state in the Union." So why would anyone want to put murderers, rapists, and child molesters in Charleston?
 
But the governor stuck to her unpersuasive arguments anyway, insisting that "tourism and economic development would suffer" if even some prisoners were transferred to South Carolina facilities. The problem, of course, is that this argument has already been proven false.
The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Republican Party's popularity drops to 24-year low

04/29/16 08:00AM

Republican officials aren't at all pleased with the prevailing political winds, or the likelihood of Donald Trump becoming the party's presidential nominee. But they have at least one thing going for them: they have time to put together a plan to mitigate their losses.
 
With that in mind, the New York Times reports today that GOP incumbents and candidates are shifting their focus to "ticket-splitting voters" who have no qualms about dividing up their election ballot, supporting Democratic and Republican candidates at the same time. The thinking, obviously, is predicated on the notion that at least some of the electorate might reject Trump at the top of the ballot, while also supporting GOP hopefuls down-ballot.
 
And while Republicans may not have any other choice but to pursue such a strategy, their challenge is exacerbated by the GOP plunging support. As Rachel noted on the show last night, the Pew Research Center published a striking new report yesterday:
The Republican Party's image, already quite negative, has slipped since last fall. Currently 33% of the public has a favorable impression of the Republican Party, while 62% have an unfavorable view. Unfavorable opinions of the GOP are now as high as at any point since 1992.
 
In October, 37% viewed the Republican Party favorably and 58% viewed it unfavorably. The decline in favorability since then has largely come among Republicans themselves: In the current survey, 68% of Republicans view their party positively, down from 79% last fall.
To add some perspective, note that in early 2009, Republicans were in deep trouble, with their unfavorable rating 15 points higher than their favorable rating. As bad as that seemed, now that gap has nearly doubled.
 
To be sure, Democrats aren't winning any popularity contests. Pew found Dems have 45% favorability rating, while 50% of respondents said they have an unfavorable opinion of the party. That's not great, but (a) it's significantly better than their GOP counterparts; and (b) it's at least been pretty stable in recent years. The Democratic numbers are roughly in line with where they were last year and the year before.
 
Republicans, on the other hand, have seen their support deteriorate in recent years, reaching their lowest point in nearly a quarter-century. Making matters worse, the GOP is underwater with women and men; whites, blacks, and Latinos; Americans of every age group; and voters of every level of education.
 
Adding insult to injury, much of the recent downward shift for the Republican Party is the result of GOP voters themselves saying they're not satisfied with the state of their own party.
 
With roughly six months remaining before Election Day, there's time for improvement, but no major party ever wants to find itself facing these conditions.
Ted Cruz is 'Lucifer in the flesh'

Ted Cruz is 'Lucifer in the flesh'

04/28/16 09:01PM

Rachel Maddow exposes the widespread distaste for Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz from members of his own party, including former House Speaker John Boehner who said Cruz was “Lucifer in the flesh” and would be elected “over my dead body.” watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 4.28.16

04/28/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Syria: "The U.S. blamed the Syrian government Thursday for a direct airstrike on an Aleppo hospital that killed more than a dozen doctors and patients. Two of the eight doctors working at the Al Quds hospital, which is located in rebel-held Aleppo and specializes in treating children, were killed in Wednesday's air attack, the Doctors Without Borders medical charity reported."
 
* Afghanistan: "A senior U.S. official says that about 16 U.S. military personnel, including one general officer, have been disciplined for mistakes that led to the bombing of a civilian hospital in Afghanistan last year that killed 42 people."
 
* A surprise in Iraq: "Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Iraq Thursday for a visit intended to help resolve a political crisis that's hindering efforts to defeat the Islamic State group. Biden flew overnight from Washington to the Iraqi capital."
 
* San Bernardino: "Federal officials say warrants were issued on Thursday in relation to the deadly San Bernardino mass shooting and that the new charges are not terrorism related. According to the U.S. Attorney's California office, three people with family connections to Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters in the deadly terrorist attack at the San Bernardino Inland Regional Center in December were arrested this morning on federal conspiracy, marriage fraud and false statement charges."
 
* Smart move: "The Federal Reserve left its benchmark interest rate unchanged after meeting in Washington on Wednesday afternoon, and officials offered little new guidance for when they might be ready to raise it again."
 
* Another smart move: "Most inmates in halfway houses after release from prison will be eligible for Medicaid benefits under a new federal policy announced Thursday. The change, part of a larger push by the Obama administration to help former inmates or reduce sentences, means nearly 100,000 people in halfway houses in states where they would be eligible for Medicaid should soon have access to health care, mental health and substance abuse treatment."
Voting booths await voters in Red Oak, Iowa, Tuesday, June 3, 2014, ahead of the Iowa primary elections.

Automatic voter registration expands its reach

04/28/16 04:24PM

As recently as 14 months ago, there wasn't a state in the nation with automatic voter registration. As of this afternoon, there are now four states that have taken the leap.
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has signed into law a bill that automatically registers eligible residents to vote when they apply for a driver's license. [...]
 
The Democratic governor signed the measure Thursday. It streamlines voter registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles with a system that identifies eligible Vermont residents and automatically sends their information to the town or city clerk for addition to the checklist, unless they opt out.
In his official press statement, Vermont's Democratic governor celebrated the reversal of the broader national trend restricting voting rights. "While states across the country are making it harder for voters to get to the polls, Vermont is making it easier by moving forward with commonsense polices that remove unnecessary barriers and increase participation in our democracy," Shumlin said.
 
While Vermont isn't the first state to adopt the policy, the Green Mountain State did it with notable enthusiasm. In the Democratic-led legislature, automatic voter registration passed the state House 125 to 1, while in the state Senate, the vote was 28 to 0.
 
Vermont's law will take effect next year, on July 1, 2017.

Economic growth cools in first quarter of 2016

04/28/16 03:49PM

Despite all of the recent progress in the U.S. job market, the nation's overall economic growth continues to lag. The Commerce Department announced this morning that GDP growth in the first quarter -- covering January through March -- was just 0.5%. The New York Times reported:
Whatever the answer, it's clear that businesses have grown much more wary of new investments recently, and the clearest evidence of that has emerged in the last two quarters.
 
Much of the recent downturn in business spending is a result of much lower prices for oil, metals and other commodities, and fears of a slowdown in China and elsewhere around the world that are putting a crimp on investment opportunities.
"It doesn't look like there's any danger of recession, but the global economy and commodities are weak," Kevin Logan, chief United States economist at HSBC, told the Times. "The global commodity shock has affected growth in the U.S. in a way that was unexpected, especially in terms of the energy industry."
 
It's worth noting that this morning's total is a preliminary estimate that will be revised twice more in the coming months. Whether it's revised up or down remains to be seen.
 
Marketwatch reported that most economists believe today's discouraging data "is unlikely to carry over in the spring." New York magazine added, "While it's possible that these are the first signs of a looming recession that will propel Donald Trump to the Oval Office and America to its untimely death, there are several reasons to be bullish about the economy's near-term prospects."

Pages