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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."
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, April 25, 2016, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (Photo by Mel Evans/AP)

Trump wants to take 'the woman card' off the table

04/28/16 12:49PM

Following this week's primaries, the 2016 presidential general election is, after more than a year of campaigning, coming into focus. It's not yet a done deal in either party, but odds are, Donald Trump will face Hillary Clinton in the fall. What's less clear is what Trump intends to do about it.
 
In recent months, the Republican frontrunner has prioritized insulting labels for his rivals, hoping to define them quickly in voters' eyes. Jeb Bush was "low energy"; Ted Cruz is "Lying Ted"; Marco Rubio became "Little Marco"; and so on. Trump's message about the Democratic frontrunner is still taking shape, but he's clearly begun trying out some lines of attack.
 
"If Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get 5 percent of the vote," Trump declared Tuesday night. The "only card she has is the woman's card," the Republican frontrunner added. On NBC this morning, Trump stuck to the line.
A day after his chief rival picked a woman as a running mate, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump defended comments he made about Hillary Clinton playing "the woman card" saying the Democrat couldn't even win a local election if she were a man.
 
"The primary thing that she has going is that she's a woman and she's playing that card like I have never seen anybody play it before," he said Thursday on TODAY.
Co-host Savannah Guthrie noted, "But Mr. Trump, for you to say, 'If she were not a woman, she would be getting 5 percent' suggests the only thing she has going for her is that she's a woman -- not that she was a former senator, a former Secretary of State and a lawyer. Do you understand why people find that to be a kind of demeaning comment?"
 
Trump was unfazed. "No, I find it to be a true comment," he replied. "I think the only thing she's got going is the fact that she's a woman."
 
Trump added, "Nobody respects women more than I do. And I wasn't playing the woman's card; it's true she is playing the woman's card. Everything she says is about the woman's card."
 
If there's a smart political strategy lurking somewhere in all of this nonsense, it's hiding well.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.28.16

04/28/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* Despite talk from some of his supporters about rejecting the Democratic ticket in the fall, Bernie Sanders told MSNBC yesterday, "I will do everything that I can, and I think Hillary Clinton and I agree on this, that we will do everything we can to make sure that a Republican does not win the White House. I will knock my brains out, I will work seven days a week to make sure that that does not happen if I am the nominee and if I am not the nominee. That's what I will do."
 
*  Donald Trump's success in Pennsylvania is even more impressive than it initially appeared: "NBC News reached out to all 54 delegate winners after the polls closed Tuesday night. Interviews reveal that as of Wednesday afternoon 35 said they intend to support Trump on the first ballot at the convention -- a number that could rise north of 40 when the final 10 delegates are reached."
 
* For the record, I don't care that Trump used a teleprompter yesterday. I do care that he used a teleprompter after saying a few months ago, "When you're really, really, really smart like me ... I don't need teleprompters."
 
* Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), a former Marco Rubio supporter, officially threw his backing to Ted Cruz yesterday. Believe it or not, for all the Capitol Hill anxiety surrounding Trump, Gardner is only the fourth of 54 Senate Republicans to back Cruz, and only the second since mid-March.
 
* Despite the agreement that was supposed to help give Ted Cruz a "clear path" in Indiana, John Kasich continues to campaign in the Hoosier State.
 
* Rep. Marlin Stutzman's Republican Senate campaign in Indiana appears to be moving in the wrong direction: he reportedly "failed to report $1,100 in expenses to federal campaign officials, including a private plane trip last month from a friend with a real estate development business."
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) holds up hands his new running mate, Carly Fiorina, at a campaign rally at the Pan Am Plaza on April 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Ind. (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty)

The fine art of picking a good running mate

04/28/16 11:24AM

Everything about Ted Cruz creating a "ticket" with Carly Fiorina is a mistake. While a vice-presidential vetting process usually requires months of scrutiny, Cruz tapped Fiorina after about a week and a half, suggesting very little care even went into the decision.
 
It was an odd decision, made in haste, that does little for Cruz, all while reflecting a lack of seriousness of purpose. The Texas senator did, however, manage to tell the public something important about himself.
 
I've seen some suggestions that the political world's general fascination with the "Veepstakes" process is misplaced, since so few voters consider running mates when deciding how to vote. But I'm inclined to defend the preoccupation: presidential hopefuls face a series of important tests ahead of an election, and none is more important than their VP selection.
 
This one decision speaks volumes about a candidate's judgment and priorities in ways no other campaign development can match.
 
For Cruz, it made yesterday something of a disaster. Fiorina is not only unqualified for national office, but the way in which Cruz made the announcement -- as part of a rushed, desperation ploy, intended as a gimmick to boost a struggling campaign -- points to a candidate who isn't taking the race as seriously as he's supposed to. We're finally learning something useful about Cruz's judgment under fire, and it's not at all encouraging.
 
If the Texas senator thinks he can ride a wave of cynicism to the nomination, after coming up far short in the primaries and caucuses, he's likely to be disappointed.
 
All of which serves as a news peg for a thesis longtime readers may recognize. Running mates tend to fall into one of three categories: August, November, and January.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) at the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Cedar Rapids, Iowa April 11, 2014.

Paul Ryan has a message for those with pre-existing conditions

04/28/16 10:45AM

After seven years of waiting for a Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) at least claims to be moving closer to a resolution. The GOP leader appeared on MSNBC yesterday and said his party's plan might even be ready in time for the Republican National Convention, which begins in July.
 
There's ample reason for skepticism, but who knows, maybe Ryan will manage to pull something together. But while we wait, it's worth appreciating the fact that even if an "Obamacare" alternative emerges -- it's unlikely, let's imagine it for the sake of conversation -- Americans probably aren't going to care for it. Consider this new Reuters report:
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan called on Wednesday for an end to Obamacare's financial protections for people with serious medical conditions, saying these consumers should be placed in state high-risk pools.
 
In election-year remarks that could shed light on an expected Republican healthcare alternative, Ryan said existing federal policy that prevents insurers from charging sick people higher rates for health coverage has raised costs for healthy consumers while undermining choice and competition.
"Less than 10 percent of people under 65 are what we call people with pre-existing conditions, who are really kind of uninsurable," Ryan told a Georgetown University audience yesterday. "Let's fund risk pools at the state level to subsidize their coverage, so that they can get affordable coverage. You dramatically lower the price for everybody else."
 
Ryan doesn't talk about health policy details often, so these comments were a welcome contribution. They were also an important hint of what's to come.

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