A couple of months ago, Rush Limbaugh reflected on the series of school shootings in the United States, and the Republican host drew a partisan conclusion: "The people that are shooting up schools more than likely vote Democrat."
There's no evidence to suggest this is true, but accuracy obviously isn't a priority. The goal with rhetoric like this is to distract from potential policy solutions while exploiting violence for partisan gain.
And in an unexpected twist, a Republican presidential hopeful yesterday made the implicit case that Limbaugh wasn't ambitious enough. For Ted Cruz, it's not just school shooters who are Democrats, but violent criminals in general who are members of the party he holds in contempt. Politicoreported yesterday:
Ted Cruz on Monday equated Democrats with violent crime.
In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Monday, the Texas senator said that "the simple and undeniable fact is the overwhelming majority of violent criminals are Democrats."
In the same interview, the Texas Republican added, "There's a reason why the Democrats for years have been viewed as soft on crime. The Democrats know convicted felons tend to vote Democrat."
Media Matters posted the audio clip and transcript of the exchange.
The Cruz campaign hasn't substantiated the claim, but again, the point of partisan vitriol isn't to make substantive policy arguments. The presidential hopeful is being provocative for the sake of being provocative.
From the outset, one of the more important flaws in the Republican campaign against Planned Parenthood was its post-policy rationale. As we discussed a few months ago, when GOP lawmakers in Congress first saw controversial videos about the health organization over the summer, Republicans quickly hatched a plan to accuse the group of outrageous crimes and abuses.
There was just one nagging detail: there's literally no evidence Planned Parenthood did anything illegal. It didn't sell fetal tissue for a profit; it didn't misuse public resources, and it didn't violate any laws. The Republican plan was based on a foundation of quicksand.
GOP lawmakers, however, wouldn't let these pesky facts get in the way. They proceeded to launch hearings, investigations, and a new select subcommittee anyway, without much regard for whether the anti-Planned Parenthood campaign made any substantive sense.
For Democrats, this seemed like an annoying distraction from Congress' real-world priorities. But after a series of attacks on Planned Parenthood facilities, including last week's deadly mass shooting in Colorado Springs, BuzzFeed reports that congressional Dems are starting to see the Republican campaign as less of an aggravation and more of a danger that needs to end.
Democrats in Congress are using the recent shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado to once again put pressure on Republicans to disband a select committee tasked with investigating the women's health organization.
Returning to Washington after Thanksgiving break on Monday, some Democrats more forcefully called for ending the committee, which was formed by House Republicans after the release of a series of undercover videos accusing Planned Parenthood of selling aborted fetuses' organs and tissues. Democrats also referred to the shooting on Friday, which killed three people, as an act of terror -- language that abortion rights supporters have pushed lawmakers to use to suggest that a network of anti-abortion groups and advocates have helped fuel violence.
Among the lawmakers calling for Congress to scale back its anti-Planned Parenthood crusade are Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who also happens to be a member of the new select committee.
Remember, the panel, which is currently hiring taxpayer-financed staffers and which has held no hearings, has not yet explained its purpose for existence. Writing in the Washington Post yesterday, Paul Waldman noted, "The idea, as it seems to be in most congressional investigations Republicans launch, is that while they don't really know what they're looking for, if they look hard enough then they'll find something that can be used against Planned Parenthood."
And while such a shamelessly partisan fishing expedition seemed exasperating before, the question now is whether congressional Republicans are contributing to a dangerous, toxic political climate for no substantive reason.
Congressional Republican efforts to sabotage U.S. domestic policy is unique in modern American history. For generations, Democrats and Republicans have waged fierce fights over all kinds of policy measures, but even bitter partisans didn't make much of an effort to weaken existing American laws and programs after they were implemented -- though that's exactly what Republicans did during the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
But U.S. policymakers taking steps to sabotage U.S. foreign policy is qualitatively different, and far more alarming -- and in the Obama era, far more common.
We've occasionally seen individual Republicans taking steps to undermine the White House on the global stage. For example, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) traveled to Guatemala last year and worked against U.S. foreign policy during the migrant-children crisis. In 2010, then-House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) traveled to Israel in the hopes of undermining U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. As long-time readers know, actions like these used to be unheard of in the American tradition, but once President Obama took office, Republicans largely re-wrote the rules.
Earlier this year, 47 Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), took the campaign to an entirely new level, sending a letter to Iran, telling officials not to trust the United States. The goal wasn't subtle: GOP lawmakers hoped to sabotage their own country's foreign policy in the midst of delicate international nuclear talks.
A month later, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of the nation's most aggressive climate deniers and the man Senate Republicans chose to lead the Senate committee on environmental policy, boasted, "The Tom Cotton letter was an educational effort." As global climate talks get underway at the COP21 conference in Paris, Republicans hope to apply the lessons of the educational effort to try to sabotage the White House once more.
In Washington, congressional Republicans have drawn a line against the president’s climate initiatives, and the House is scheduled to vote this week on legislation that would undo new Environmental Protection Agency rules on power-plant emissions -- a major element of the administration’s efforts to address climate change.
The legislation is unlikely to become law, but Republicans hope it shows the international climate negotiators that the nation is not united politically behind the president’s proposals.
It's that last sentence that carries the most weight: congressional Republicans aren't participants in the international climate talks, but they're nevertheless hopeful that they can play a role in derailing the negotiations from afar.
Chris Jansing, NBC News senior White House correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow about the world leaders gathered in Paris to work on a climate change agreement, and the hard diplomatic work President Obama is doing personally to help make an agreement happen. watch
Rachel Maddow outlines the context of the history of threats and attacks on abortion providers and facilities across the United States, and reviews what little is known so far about the Colorado Springs shooter, and singles out Republican senator and presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, for his bizarre, distinctly unpresidential response to the... watch
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, talks with Rachel Maddow about Friday's deadly shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood, the security measures clinics are forced to take, and the recent increase in violence and threats as Republicans have amplified anti-abortion extremists' opposition to Planned Parenthood. watch
* Colorado: "The man accused of killing three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic made his first court appearance Monday, where he was told that he could face the death penalty. Robert Lewis Dear, 57, wore a protective vest and cast his eyes downward as he spoke to the judge via closed circuit TV, while victim's relatives watched from the El Paso County courtroom."
* Maryland: "As many as 80 potential jurors filed into a Baltimore courtroom Monday morning as the first trial in the death of Freddie Gray got underway. Jury selection for Officer William Porter's trial began Monday. When asked by Judge Barry Williams, every juror called said they knew about the Freddie Gray case, were aware of the curfew imposed following the protests and knew about the $6.4 million settlement between the city and Gray's family."
* Pittsburgh: "It began as an ordinary cab ride. But by the time it was over, the Pittsburgh taxi driver -- a 38-year-old Muslim man from Morocco -- had a bullet wound in his upper back and was lucky to be alive, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette."
* Research initiatives like these matter: "President Obama and Microsoft founder Bill Gates are expected to stand with counterparts from more than 20 countries on Monday in announcing the unprecedented efforts, which are aimed at spurring rapid advances in research and development for clean energy, U.S. officials confirmed Sunday."
* Boko Haram: "West Africa's Boko Haram Islamist militant group is expanding and there is only a small window of opportunity to stop it, the top U.N. aid official in Cameroon said on Monday."
* University of Chicago: "A suspect has been arrested after a top-ranked university had to cancel classes due to a threat of gun violence against its campus community. Jabari Dean, 21, was arrested for allegedly threatening to murder University of Chicago students and staff, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois announced Monday."
* Shutdown Watch: "House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Monday shrugged off the possibility of a government shutdown over funding for Planned Parenthood, saying Republicans are more focused on preventing terrorism in the wake of the Paris attacks."
The Paris Climate Conference, known as COP21 (Conference on Parties), began this morning, and while the gathering has been in the works all year, it's not lost on any of the participants that the French capital suffered a deadly terrorist attack two weeks ago.
"President Hollande, Mr. Secretary General, fellow leaders. We have come to Paris to show our resolve.
"We offer our condolences to the people of France for the barbaric attacks on this beautiful city. We stand united in solidarity not only to deliver justice to the terrorist network responsible for those attacks but to protect our people and uphold the enduring values that keep us strong and keep us free. And we salute the people of Paris for insisting this crucial conference go on -- an act of defiance that proves nothing will deter us from building the future we want for our children. What greater rejection of those who would tear down our world than marshaling our best efforts to save it?"
It's no small detail. Organizers of the climate conference have noted that COP21 is the largest gathering of international heads of state in the history of, well, the world. That this is occurring just 17 days after Paris was gripped by violence and bloodshed is itself rather extraordinary, and Obama's well justified to celebrate the circumstances.
If terrorists hoped the world would be frightened off by the events of Nov. 13, they failed.
As part of the same remarks, Obama was apparently supposed to be brief. The president, however, wasn't overly concerned about the arbitrary constraints.
Officials from around the world began high-level talks in Paris today, as the United Nations climate change conference kicked off a 10-day gathering intended to combat the intensifying climate crisis. President Obama is on hand and delivered a speech to attendees this morning.
The U.S. leader's challenges are obvious. For one thing, there's plenty of international resistance to making any kind of short-term sacrifice to deal with global warming, and given the scope of the crisis, dramatic changes are required. For another, the Obama administration has to deal with the fact that an entire American political party is actively trying to sabotage American officials' efforts at the Paris gathering.
But there's also the fact that the president, who's been laying the groundwork for these talks for quite a while, only has one year remaining in office, and much of the work will have to continue after Obama's successor is elected. Depending on who that successor is, that could be very good news for our environmental future or very bad news.
MSNBC's Tony Dokoupil had an interesting report over the holiday weekend on the candidates' preparedness on the issue.
The Associated Press invited eight climate and biological scientists to grade the scientific accuracy of candidates in both parties. The material included debates, published interviews and tweets. The candidates' names were not known to the reviewers. As an added protection against bias, the scientists were selected by professional scientific societies.
The grades, which ran from 0 to 100, were mostly abysmal. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was the strongest and the wrongest, receiving a grade of 6 points for accuracy. All eight evaluators placed Cruz dead last. Michael Mann, a Pennsylvania State University meteorology professor, wrote of Cruz's statements: "This individual understands less about science (and climate change) than the average kindergartner."
Of course, with Cruz, it's often difficult to know whether and when he's playing a political game. Is he actually ignorant or is he saying foolish things he knows to be wrong in the hopes of winning votes from his party's right-wing base?
Regardless, if Cruz fared the worst, who fared the best?
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Last week, Donald Trump's campaign scheduled an event for today in which the Republican candidate would receive an endorsement from 100 or so African-American pastors. Yesterday, Team Trump canceled the event after some of the pastors involved said they are not, in fact, supporting the GOP presidential hopeful.
* Ben Carson toured a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan over the weekend, and told reporters soon after that he didn't "detect any great desire" among the refugees "to come to the United States." Note, it's hard to say with certainty what Carson saw -- journalists were prohibited from joining the Republican on his tour.
* After picking up an endorsement from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D) yesterday, Hillary Clinton unveiled a $275 billion infrastructure plan, including a $25 billion investment to support a national Strategic Infrastructure Bank. The campaign said the package would be paid for through business tax reform, though Clinton aides were vague about the specific details.
* Donald Trump last week drew fire for apparently mockingNew York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who was born with deformities in his hands and lower arms. Trump later claimed he doesn't remember meeting Kovaleski or knowing anything about the journalist's disability.
* On a related note, Trump reiterated yesterday that he will not back off his discredited claim about American Muslims cheering on 9/11 when the Twin Towers fell. He insisted on "Meet the Press" yesterday that his bogus claims are true, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
About a month ago, Ted Cruz was campaigning in Iowa, where a voter asked the Texas senator about the Supreme Court.
"One more liberal justice and our right to keep and bear arms is taken away from us by an activist court," Cruz said. "One more liberal justice and they begin sandblasting and bulldozing veterans memorials throughout this country. One more liberal justice and we lose our sovereignty to the United Nations and the World Court."
None of these dire warnings were rooted in reality in any way, but they were nevertheless a reminder of the significance of the high court as a 2016 campaign issue. MSNBC's Irin Carmon explained late last week that Republicans, arguably more than Democrats, are acting as if the Supreme Court itself is "essentially on the ballot."
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has said, "The stakes are too high and the issue too important to simply cede the will of the people to five unaccountable justices." Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has long complained of politicians who would "allow black-robed and unelected judges the power to make law as well as enforce it."
For Republicans running for president, the Supreme Court itself is essentially on the ballot. Democrats? Not so much. [...] Democrats have shown little of the intensity or emphasis shown by the Republicans. That isn't lost on the liberal activists who are focused on the judiciary and outraged by many of the Supreme Court's recent decisions.
To be sure, Election Day is over 11 months away, and we can't yet say with certainty which issues will ultimately define the cycle. Democrats are no doubt aware of the court's future -- at a Hillary Clinton event in Massachusetts over the weekend, a speaker reminded the audience, "We are one justice away..." -- and the party may yet turn the spotlight on the rare opportunity at the heart of next year's election.
But it's not unreasonable to think Democrats have good reasons to focus on the court with the same zeal as their Republican counterparts.
Marco Rubio was in Iowa last week, telling an audience the day before Thanksgiving that ISIS has created a dynamic in which we "find ourselves today in a clash of civilizations" between the "civilized world" and "radical animals."
The Guardian reported that an attendee at the Cedar Rapids forum was concerned about the senator's rhetoric, arguing that phrases like "war of civilizations" was a mischaracterization that might "inflame Islamophobia." The voter described ISIS as "a fanatical splinter group that is obviously quite dangerous, but it's not a war of civilizations, it's a war against a particular group."
Rubio responded by sticking to his sound-bite script.
"This is not a geopolitical conflict. This is not a conflict between ISIS because they want us out of the Middle East," Rubio said. "This is a civilizational conflict -- not with Islam -- with radical Islam, particularly their interpretation of radical Islam." [...]
"This is not an anti-Muslim.... Radical jihad is a view of civilization that we must reject and defeat for what it is. Either they win, or we do."
The audience, according to The Guardian's report, "erupted" in applause, which is probably why Rubio keeps using rhetoric like this.
The problem, however, is that the concerned voter was correct and the senator was not.