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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.13.15

10/13/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* On the eve of the first debate for the Democratic presidential field, Hillary Clinton attended a labor rally just outside the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas, organized by the Culinary Workers Union. According to the New York Times' account, the candidate "spoke for less than five minutes, but she was forceful and energized, her voice sometimes so loud that the microphone’s feedback clipped out as she brought the crowd to its most fervent pitch with a poignant word: Trump."
* Bernie Sanders picked up his second congressional endorsement yesterday, with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) throwing his support to the Vermont senator. Both of Sanders' Capitol Hill supporters are the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
* Jeb Bush is scheduled to unveil his health care plan today, sketching out his alternative to the Affordable Care Act, which he intends to repeal. Jonathan Cohn took a closer look at the Bush plan, and the degree to which it's inferior to "Obamacare.'
* John Kasich, meanwhile, is rolling out a plan of his own today, presenting his "entitlement reform package" at an event in New Hampshire.
* In Maryland, the latest Washington Post/University of Maryland poll shows Hillary Clinton leading the Democratic presidential field with 43%, followed by Vice President Biden at 26% and Bernie Sanders at 20%. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, in the state he led for eight years, is a distant fourth with just 4% support.
* Sanders, perhaps feeling vulnerable on an issue of concern to progressive voters, has begun moving to the left a bit on gun policy.
* Rick Santorum traveled to Texas yesterday, where he unveiled his economic plan built on tax breaks for the wealthy.
California Gov. Jerry Brown signs one of the hundreds of bills he has left to deal with as Garciela Castillo-Krings, his deputy legislative secretary, looks on at his Capitol office in Sacramento, Calif., Oct. 9, 2015. (Photo by Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

Automatic voter registration signed into law in California

10/13/15 11:20AM

Following up on a report from last month, it was earlier this year when Oregon took a historic step, turning the traditional model for voter registration on its head. Though the trend in recent years has shown some Republican state policymakers making registration more difficult in many states, Gov. Kate Brown (D) and the Democratic-led legislature made Oregon the nation’s first state with an opt-out, rather than an opt-in, model.
For years, the burden has been on the individual -- if you’re eligible to vote, it’s up to you to take the affirmative steps needed to register. Oregon, however, embraced automatic voter registration, though anyone who wants to withdraw from the system voluntarily is free to do so.
And now, Oregon has some company.
In the aftermath of record-low voter turnout in California’s most recent midterm election, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed a landmark measure into law on Saturday that would allow all eligible citizens of the state to be automatically registered to vote when they go to the Department of Motor Vehicles’ office to obtain or renew a driver’s license.
The “New Motor Voter Act’ would allow Californians to opt out of registering to vote. In the November 2014 election, just 42% of registered voters cast ballots. According to Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who sponsored the bill, nearly 7 million Californians were eligible but not registered to vote.
The law will take effect in January.
So, for voting-rights advocates, that's two down, 48 to go. Which state is next?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 24, 2015.

McConnell eyes changes to rules he used to exploit

10/13/15 10:57AM

In 2009 and 2010, Democrats enjoyed sizable majorities in the House and Senate, and they used that power to approve some landmark legislation. But as anyone who watched Capitol Hill over those two years knows, Dems wanted to do far more -- but were thwarted by Republican obstructionism.
Then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), ignoring the national election results, hatched a plan: he invested all of his energy in keeping his caucus together, blocking every Democratic proposal, rejecting every attempt at bipartisan outreach, and exploiting Senate procedural rules in ways with no precedent in the American tradition.
McConnell assumed, accurately, that the public at large has no understanding whatsoever of Senate procedures. All Americans would see is a Democratic House and Democratic Senate struggling at times to approve their own priorities in the face of GOP filibusters. The Republican leader gambled that the public would blame Dems, not the GOP, and that gamble quickly paid dividends.
Five years later, there's a Republican House and a Republican Senate that's struggling to approve far-right priorities, while Democrats play by the same rules McConnell wrote. And wouldn't you know it, the Kentucky leader is suddenly ready to remove the institutional roadblocks he used to find useful.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is opening the door to changing the filibuster in response to growing pressure from Republicans angered that Democrats have blocked legislation from reaching the White House.
McConnell has appointed a special task force to explore changes to the filibuster rule and other procedural hurdles -- including whether to eliminate filibusters on motions to proceed to legislation.
The task force, according to The Hill's report that has not been verified by MSNBC or NBC News, will include Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).
McConnell, reflecting on the possible changes, said, “A number of the new senators have come in looking around saying, ‘Why are we doing things this way and not that way.'"
Yes, and I imagine there were some new Democratic senators who had the same reaction in 2009. At the time, McConnell said every obstructionist tool is sacrosanct, and if Democrats wanted to govern, that wasn't his problem.
It's funny what lessons leaders learn when they make the transition from minority to majority, isn't it?
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson participate in the Republican presidential primary debate on Aug. 6, 2015 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)

Republican candidates eye dangerous Russian confrontation

10/13/15 10:02AM

When it comes to President Obama's policy in Syria, the Washington Post's Dan Drezner, a center-right scholar of international affairs, is generally unimpressed. Drezner explained yesterday, however, that the administration's policy has "one virtue" in its favor.
"The president has determined that Syria is not a core American interest and therefore does not warrant greater investments of American resources," the Tufts professor said. "It’s a cold, calculating, semi-competent strategy. But it has the virtue of being better than the suggested hawkish alternatives."
And speaking of hawkish alternatives, let's consider the latest rhetoric from the most scandal-plagued candidate in the Republican presidential field, who apparently is looking for some attention.
Languishing at the bottom in polls of the Republican presidential field, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey ramped up his tough talk on foreign policy on Monday, calling President Obama a “weakling” and saying that the United States should threaten to shoot down Russian planes conducting airstrikes in Syria.
“My first phone call would be to Vladimir, and I’d say, ‘Listen, we’re enforcing this no-fly zone,'” Mr. Christie said on MSNBC. “And I mean we’re enforcing it against anyone, including you. So don’t try me. Don’t try me. Because I’ll do it.” [...]
In a separate interview on Fox News, Mr. Christie said the United States faced a choice between letting Russia try to reconstitute the Soviet Union by expanding its influence in the Middle East or engaging in a military confrontation. Asked whether he thought it was wise to engage in a military conflict with Russia if it breached such an American no-fly zone, Mr. Christie said it would be necessary.
During the Fox News appearance, Christie said of Russian warplanes, “You take him down," according to the New York Times' account.
This comes on the heels of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also raising the prospect of shooting down Russian jets over the skies of Syria, inviting a U.S./Russia hot war. Asked what a Rubio administration would do if Putin's forces entered a no-fly zone, the far-right senator responded, "Well, then you’re going to have a problem. But that would be no different than any other adversary."
When I've argued in recent years that the Republican Party needs a clearer, well-defined foreign policy, I didn't mean GOP presidential candidates who have a cavalier attitude about the start of World War III.
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson bows his head in prayer before speaking at a town hall meeting, Oct. 2, 2015, in Ankeny, Iowa. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

As his campaign thrives, Carson sees liberal 'schizophrenia'

10/13/15 09:20AM

As Ben Carson's propensity for bizarre ideas and rhetoric becomes more alarming, it's tempting to think his campaign for the nation's highest office would start to unravel. After all, voters have traditionally tried to put the presidency in the hands of grounded individuals.
But the retired right-wing neurosurgeon is blazing his own trail. The New York Times reports today that Carson's aides "feared that his habit of inflammatory remarks would sink his presidential hopes," and they even "sent him to media training," the lessons of which he evidently disregarded. As it turns out, however, it doesn't matter -- Carson's unhinged qualities don't seem to be hurting his campaign at all.
The Times' report noted, for example, that after Carson said religious minorities he doesn't like should be disqualified from the presidency, "his campaign has watched grass-roots support grow and donations pour in." Aides who were worried about public reactions to the candidate's bizarre antics have "backtracked, deciding, in the words of one, to 'let Carson be Carson.'"
And when Carson is himself, he apparently accuses liberals of "schizophrenia." The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported on the GOP candidate's trip to a Georgia megachurch over the weekend, where Carson shared his views on blurring the lines between religion and government.
“The pledge of allegiance to our flag says we are one nation under God. Many courtrooms in the land on the wall it says ‘In God We Trust.’ Every coin in our pocket, every bill in our wallet says ‘In God We Trust.’
“So if it’s in our founding documents, it’s in our pledges, in our courts and it’s on our money, but we’re not supposed to talk about it, what in the world is that? In medicine it’s called schizophrenia. And I, for one, am simply not willing to kick God to the curb.”
Let's unwrap this a bit, because it's a good example of Carson having firm opinions about subjects he knows very little about.
Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) of the House Select Committee on Benghazi speaks to reporters on the findings of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's personal emails on March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Gabriella Demczuk/Getty)

GOP's Benghazi Committee starts to unravel

10/13/15 08:40AM

The House Republicans' Benghazi Committee has seen better days. Indeed, just when it seemed things couldn't get much worse for the taxpayer-funded political exercise, the New York Times included an interesting tidbit in a report yesterday on the panel's shift away from its stated purpose:
Senior Republican officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing confidential conversations, said that [House Speaker John Boehner] had long been suspicious of the administration’s handling of the attacks and that Mrs. Clinton’s emails gave him a way to keep the issue alive and to cause political problems for her campaign.
Is that so.
Taken together, we now have House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) characterizing the committee's work as an election scheme to undermine Hillary Clinton; we have a former Republican staffer for the committee complaining that the committee's sole interest was in tearing down Hillary Clinton; and now we have senior Republican officials acknowledging that GOP leaders directed the Benghazi committee to focus on email server management -- instead of, you know, Benghazi -- in order to "cause political problems" for Hillary Clinton.
At this point, even the most rabid Republican partisans are going to have a hard time justifying the committee's continued existence. Why should American taxpayers continue to fund such a farcical exercise? (Remember, "because there's an election coming up" is not an acceptable answer.)
Slate's Jamelle Bouie explained that the entire investigation has now been "thoroughly discredited as a partisan sham," adding the committee's unraveling calls into question the legitimacy of the Clinton email "controversy" itself.

While Paul Ryan ponders, Speaker Cheney gets an endorsement

10/13/15 08:00AM

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), just one year removed from the House, was asked for his thoughts about the tumult in the chamber in which he used to serve. The far-right senator responded with his choice for the next Speaker.
“Look, these are trying times for our nation," Cotton told Politico. "It’s important to have a steady hand on the helm during times like this. I think experience really counts in a matter like this. I think House leadership experience really matters. And as you know the Speaker doesn’t have to be a member of the House: So therefore, Vice President Cheney for Speaker.”
Asked if he was kidding, the Arkansan replied, in reference to Cheney, “He’s a man of the House, he says that himself.”
There's no reason to believe the failed former V.P. would want the job, and even if he did, there's no reason to assume House Republicans would consider him right-wing enough. Remember, Cheney is a proponent of marriage equality, increased government spending, supported the Wall Street bailout, and added over $5 trillion to the national debt. By the standards of today's House GOP, Cheney might as well be labeled a liberal.
So, who is likely to get the Speaker's gavel? Jake Sherman reported overnight that House Republicans are still waiting for a final decision from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
It's the Paul Ryan paralysis syndrome and it's gripping any House Republican who wants to be speaker.
The Wisconsin Republican has said he doesn’t want to be speaker of the House, but he is considering it. And until he flatly rules it out, the other potential candidates for the chamber’s top job -- a list nearly two dozen names long and growing -- are forced to proceed gingerly. With one breath they're gauging support, with the next they're letting would-be backers know their interest could be temporary if the Ways and Means Committee chairman gets in.
Yes, Ryan has already said he doesn't want the job, but he's also signaled to his colleagues that he'd think about it. And so, the political world is forced to simply wait for a definitive, no-wiggle-room, final decision. If the Wisconsin congressman succumbs to the pressure, he'll enjoy quite a bit of intra-party support; if Ryan balks and stays where he is, the free-for-all will begin in earnest.

All Rand all day and other headlines

10/13/15 07:51AM

Rand Paul to livestream his entire day of campaigning in Iowa today. (The Hill)

Hillary Clinton makes surprise appearance at Donald Trump protest. (Huffington Post)

Donald Trump says he will live-tweet tonight's "very boring" Democratic debate. (@realDonaldTrump)

Judge orders Arkansas to disclose source of execution drugs. (AP)

U.S.-made weaponry is turning Syrian conflict into a proxy war with Russia. (New York Times)

Dutch investigators say Russian missile downed Malaysia Airlines flight over Ukraine. (USA Today)

Taliban withdraw from Kunduz, Afghanistan. (AP)

read more

House GOP pines for reluctant Paul Ryan

House GOP pines for reluctant Paul Ryan

10/12/15 11:26PM

Jake Sherman, senior congressional reporter for Politico, talks with Melissa Harris-Perry about crisis within the Republican Party to find someone capable of leading the party and the House, and why Paul Ryan is their best, if distant, hope. watch

Ben Carson comments, favorability misaligned

Ben Carson comments, favorability misaligned

10/12/15 09:56PM

Melissa Harris-Perry reviews the highlights from the No Labels convention in New Hampshire and the latest poll numbers, and notes the remarkable favorability rating of second-place Republican Ben Carson, despite a recent string of outrageous statements. watch

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a community forum campaign event at Cornell College in Mt Vernon, Iowa, October 7, 2015.

Hillary Clinton was Never Going to Support TPP

10/12/15 06:42PM

For labor unions and the base of the Democratic Party, TPP is not just one issue among many. It is the issue. Very few Democrats in Congress support the deal, or any free trade deal for that matter. In other words, there was no way Hillary Clinton could ever support it. read more

Monday's Mini-Report, 10.12.15

10/12/15 05:30PM

Today’s edition of quick hits:
* A heartbreaking tragedy in Turkey: "Two devastating explosions struck Saturday morning in the heart of Ankara, the Turkish capital, killing at least 95 people who had gathered for a peace rally and heightening tensions just three weeks before snap parliamentary elections."
* Iran: "Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, imprisoned in Tehran for more than 14 months, has been convicted in an espionage trial that ended in August, Iranian state television reported."
* Syria: "Russian warplanes are carrying out more airstrikes in support of Syrian government ground troops as rebels are firing more American antitank weapons, deepening the impression that a proxy war between the United States and Russia is joining the list of interlocking conflicts in Syria."
* Punishing the poor: "A Florida congressman is threatening to strip $104 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget in the latest  dispute over public housing tenants who make too much money to qualify for federal subsidies."
* Bergdahl: "Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on Monday that he would call a Senate hearing if accused Army deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl avoids punishment. 'If it comes out that he has no punishment, we’re going to have to have a hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee,' said McCain, the committee’s chairman, according to The Boston Herald."
* California has become "the first state to ban schools from using the 'Redskins' team name or mascot Sunday, a move the National Congress of American Indians said should be a 'shining example' for the rest of the country."
President Obama Attends Annual UN General Assembly

Watching international affairs through a Republican lens

10/12/15 05:07PM

Republicans deserve quite a bit of credit for creating political conditions in which the establishment internalizes GOP talking points. The party -- through a combination of repetition, marketing, and effective messaging -- has managed to convince a wide variety of observers to witness current events through a Republican lens. Putting merits aside, it's an impressive display of public-relations acuity.
The dynamic is hard to shake. Whenever President Obama does much of anything, the political establishment's questions are shaped in large part by how Republicans are likely to perceive current events.
Take, for example, President Obama's latest interview with CBS's Steve Kroft, which aired on "60 Minutes" last night. The correspondent pressed the president on developments in Syria -- Kroft even complained at one point that Obama was going into too much detail with lengthy answers -- and even offered tacit support for the Republican view that Russia's Vladimir Putin is leading effectively. From the CBS transcript:
Kroft: You said a year ago that the United States -- America leads. We're the indispensible nation. Mr. Putin seems to be challenging that leadership.
Obama: In what way? Let-- let's think about this-- let-- let--
Kroft: Well, he's moved troops into Syria, for one. He's got people on the ground. Two, the Russians are conducting military operations in the Middle East for the first time since World War II, bombing the people that we are supporting.
Obama: So that's leading, Steve? Let me ask you this question. When I came into office, Ukraine was governed by a corrupt ruler who was a stooge of Mr. Putin. Syria was Russia's only ally in the region. And today, rather than being able to count on their support and maintain the base they had in Syria, which they've had for a long time, Mr. Putin now is devoting his own troops, his own military, just to barely hold together by a thread his sole ally. And in Ukraine--
Kroft: He's challenging your leadership, Mr. President. He's challenging your leadership--
Obama: Well Steve, I got to tell you, if you think that running your economy into the ground and having to send troops in in order to prop up your only ally is leadership, then we've got a different definition of leadership.
And watching the exchange unfold, it became clear that they do, in fact, have different definitions of leadership.