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Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Scott Brown's noticeable absences on border security

10/02/14 10:15AM

Over the summer, former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) held a forum in his new home state of New Hampshire, where he focused much of his attention on border security. "We have a breakdown in immigration," the Republican argued. "So why is there a breakdown? Do we need more examiners? More judges? What is it?  I've had hearings on it. I've tried to work on it."
Unfortunately for Brown, this is about as true as his claims about secret meeting with kings and queens. Sean Sullivan reported yesterday:
Former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown (R) has run several attack ad scriticizing Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) for failing to secure the U.S.-Mexico border. But as a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, he missed all six hearings on border security that he was eligible to attend, records suggest.
Brown was absent from five hearings in 2011 and one in 2010, according to a review of public records and congressional transcripts and video. Of the six, four were full committee hearings and two were meetings of the subcommittee on Disaster Recovery and Intergovernmental Affairs, to which he belonged.
The obvious problem is that Brown has based much of his campaign on concerns about border security -- an issue he never showed much of an interest in until he left his home state to run somewhere new. Indeed, the fact that he skipped six out of six hearings on the subject during his brief tenure in the U.S. Senate suggests Brown's passion for border security is a sudden and unexpected development.
But arguably more important still is a basic question of honesty. Brown told New Hampshire voters that he's developed some expertise on this issue he never used to care about. "I've had hearings," the Republican boasted. "I've tried to work on it."
Except, it now seems clear that that he didn't.
A Secret Service agent watches as U.S. President Barack Obama boards the Marine One helicopter, Aug. 26, 2014.

NC's Tillis finds a way to politicize the Secret Service

10/02/14 09:40AM

The congressional hearing this week on recent incidents involving the Secret Service was alarming, and at times a little frightening. The Q&A and the revelations it produced were striking enough that they contributed to the Secret Service director resigning just one day later.
But watching the hearing unfold, there was one oddly refreshing thing about it: there was nothing overtly political about Congress' concerns. In a typical hearing, Democrats and Republicans are deeply at odds, with their own witnesses and agendas, but this week, both sides expressed sincere concern about the agency, its practices, and its lapses. The lack of partisan cheap shots was a welcome change of pace.
And then Thom Tillis decided to weigh in.
North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis criticized the Obama administration Wednesday for its handling of security breaches at the White House, saying the incidents reflect a need to be more serious about national security.  [...]
"How on earth can you protect the nation if you can't protect the White House?" Tillis said to the group.
Asked later about his comments, the Republican candidate, behind in the polls against Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), added, "It's just another example of failures in this administration. They need to start getting serious about homeland security and national security."
I just don't know what possesses someone to make remarks like these while seeking important public offices. Who's the intended audience for such nonsense?

GOP to women: elections are like shopping for wedding dresses

10/02/14 09:00AM

The Republican base tends to be older, which has forced the party to get creative when reaching out to younger voters. Earlier this year, for example, the RNC unveiled a pitch to millennials featuring a young man with ill-fitting clothes, awkwardly reading cue cards on energy policy. Last year, a Koch-financed group rolled out ads featuring someone in a creepy Uncle Sam costume with a giant head eager to perform gynecological exams.
But arguably nothing is quite as jaw-dropping as the latest Republican ad campaign targeting young women, which msnbc's Irin Carmon described as the party's "most condescending ad yet."
The College Republican National Committee thinks it has unlocked the key to speaking to young women about pending gubernatorial elections: Make it about pretty wedding dresses. That's how the party is attempting to win over a demographic it has long struggled to attract.
The committee is spending $1 million on digital ads like "Say Yes to the Candidate." Each one show a young woman eagerly browsing wedding dresses, in the mold of TLC's "Say Yes to the Dress," and treating each prospective dress as if it were a real-life candidate for office.
As best as I can tell, nearly identical ads have been created for Republican candidates in Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Each ad features a young woman named Brittany shopping for a wedding dress, facing pressure from her mother to buy a less appealing Democratic dress, and then celebrating the Republican dress instead.
In the Florida ad, for example, the young woman uses five words never before uttered together in the English language: "The Rick Scott is perfect."
Last month, the Republican message was that politics is like a lingerie party. This month, the Republican message is that politics is like shopping for a wedding dress.
Sometimes. it's hard not to wonder whether Republicans are trying to drive women voters away on purpose.

Jobless claims improve, stay below key threshold

10/02/14 08:38AM

For the first time since before the start of the Great Recession, initial unemployment filings have dropped below 300,000 for three consecutive weeks.
The number of people applying for new unemployment benefits fell by 8,000 to 287,000 in the last week of September, yet another sign that layoffs remain low and the labor market continues to improve.... Economists polled by MarketWatch expected claims to rise to a seasonally adjusted 298,000 in the week of Sept. 21 to Sept. 27.
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, fell by 4,250 to 294,750, just a hair above an eight-year low. The four-week average reduces seasonal volatility in the weekly data and is seen as a more accurate barometer of labor-market trends.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it's worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it's best not to read too much significance into any one report.
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it's considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. At this point, we've been below 330,000 in 26 of the last 29 weeks. (We've also been below 300,000 in 7 of the last 11 weeks.)
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) takes an elevator at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 5, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

GOP running out of options in Kansas

10/02/14 08:00AM

For Kansas Republicans, most notably Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), the last several weeks have been devoted to a specific goal: creating a multi-candidate U.S. Senate race to help improve Sen. Pat Roberts' (R) odds. As of yesterday, those efforts have run their course.
A few weeks ago, when Democrat Chad Taylor announced the termination of his campaign, creating a head-to-head match-up pitting Roberts and Greg Orman (I), Kobach and his party tried to force Taylor to keep his name on the statewide ballot. The ensuing controversy went to the Kansas Supreme Court, which ruled that Taylor's name must be removed.
And while that seemingly ended the legal fight, Kobach had other ideas: he then demanded that Kansas Democrats pick a replacement candidate. This, too, led to a court fight, and as Dave Helling reported, the Republican litigation again came up short.
A three-judge panel in Topeka ruled Wednesday that Kansas Democrats need not nominate a candidate for the 2014 Senate race.
The ruling is expected to help independent Senate candidate Greg Orman's campaign against incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts.
The obvious question is, "Won't Kobach and the GOP just appeal this and keep the fight going?" He might try, but with Election Day now just 33 days away, there are some practical and logistical problems: Kansas has to send its ballots to be printed. Indeed, the deadline for completing the ballot was supposed to be yesterday. There was reportedly some chatter that Kobach's office might push it to today, but in either case, there simply isn't time for more pointless legal wrangling and emergency appeals.
Which suggests the process has run its course; Pat Roberts (R) will face Greg Orman (I). This obviously makes Republicans nervous from Wichita to Washington, and new evidence suggests those fears are well grounded.

Ebola response criticism and other headlines

10/02/14 07:54AM

U.S. ebola patient's nephew says he was the one who had to call the feds. (NBC News)

Koch group drops its guard in new attacks. (NY Times)

Voter registration surges in Ferguson, MO after Brown killing. (USA Today)

Grand jury considering the Ferguson shooting is being investigated for misconduct. (Washington Post)

Pres. Obama is in Illinois today to speak about the economy. (AP)

Hong Kong protesters face a tough choice as China draws a hard line. (NY Times)

Why Russia's president is "Putin the Great" in China. (Wall Street Journal)

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'Farmer' insult could cost Democrats Senate

'Farmer' insult could cost Democrats Senate

10/01/14 10:53PM

Kasie Hunt, MSNBC political correspondent, talks with Steve Kornacki about apparent good news for Democrats in Kansas, while Iowa Democratic Senate candidate Bruce Braley struggles to overcome an image problem with rural voters. watch

Ahead on the 10/1/14 Maddow show

10/01/14 06:20PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Rep. Gerry Connolly, Democratic congressman from Virginia and member of the Oversight and Government Reform committee 
  • Kasie Hunt, MSNBC Political Correspondent
  • Dr. Seema Yasmin, public health professor at the University of Texas at Dallas and staff writer for the Dallas Morning News

Check out a previous of tonight's show after the jump read more

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 10.1.14

10/01/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Kobach loses again in Kansas: "A three-judge panel in Topeka ruled Wednesday that Kansas Democrats need not nominate a candidate for the 2014 Senate race. The ruling is expected to help independent Senate candidate Greg Orman's campaign against incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts."
* A hospital's misstep: "The man in Texas who tested positive for Ebola told hospital officials he had traveled from West Africa when he sought treatment on Friday, but that information was not relayed to everyone treating him at that time, authorities said Wednesday. As a result, the man was diagnosed with a 'low-grade, common viral disease' and sent home that day."
* More on the Ebola case: "A man who flew to Dallas and was later found to have the Ebola virus was identified by senior Liberian government officials on Wednesday as Thomas Eric Duncan, a resident of Monrovia in his mid-40s."
* Hong Kong: "As thousands of protesters continued Wednesday to paralyze large parts of Hong Kong, leaders on both sides of the conflict have begun strategizing with an eye toward the end game."
* I don't think Boehner agrees with this: "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said lawmakers should be ready to debate and vote on a measure laying out the U.S. military's authority to wage war against Islamic State when they return to Washington after November's midterm elections."
* Florida: "Michael Dunn, the man who shot and killed African-American teen Jordan Davis, was found guilty of first-degree murder in a retrial on Wednesday. The Florida man made national headlines in November 2012 after he approached a vehicle outside a convenience store that was playing loud rap music."
* Latin America: "President Obama has approved a plan to allow several thousand young children from Central American countries to apply for refugee status in the United States, providing a legal path for some of them to join family members already living in America, White House officials said Tuesday."
* Israel: "President Obama met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at the White House on Wednesday, against the backdrop of a radically altered landscape in the Middle East that Mr. Netanyahu said he believed could help revive the moribund peace process with the Palestinians."
* The search for Eric Frein: "State police searching for a man accused of killing a trooper said Tuesday they found two pipe bombs in the Pennsylvania woods during their manhunt that were capable of causing significant damage. The bombs were not deployed, but they were fully functional and had both trip wires and fuses, Lt. Col. George Bivens said at a news conference."
Militant Islamist fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of northern Raqqa province

Intel agencies aren't being thrown 'under the bus'

10/01/14 04:46PM

On "60 Minutes" the other day, Steve Kroft asked President Obama whether it was "a complete surprise" that Islamic State militants were able to take control of "so much territory" in Iraq and Syria. The president replied, "[O]ur head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria."
What Obama said was, of course, true -- Clapper really did recently acknowledge that intelligence agencies underestimated what had been taking place in Syria, as well as Iraqi security forces' capacity to engage ISIS fighters. But Republicans and much of the media was nevertheless annoyed with the president's response.
Intelligence officials weren't exactly thrilled, either.
[B]y pointing to the agencies without mentioning any misjudgments of his own, Mr. Obama left intelligence officials bristling about being made into scapegoats and critics complaining that he was trying to avoid responsibility.
The New York Times quoted one unnamed intelligence official who said, "Some of us were pushing the reporting [on ISIS], but the White House just didn't pay attention to it. They were preoccupied with other crises."
Naturally, White House officials deny this, but the broader significance is that the intelligence community is trying to avoid responsibility, while pushing back against the president's suggestion that agencies underestimated ISIS.
Soon after the NYT piece ran, Foreign Policy published a related item, noting U.S. spies were complaining Monday that the president "thrown us under the bus," as one former official put it.
Given the context, I don't think that's what Obama did, exactly, but it raises the larger question of what U.S. intelligence agencies missed when it comes to Islamic State militants.
Secret Service Director Julia Pierson (C) arrives to testify to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the White House perimeter breach at the Rayburn House Office Building on Sept. 30, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Pierson resigns as Secret Service director

10/01/14 03:53PM

The writing was on the wall. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, suggested this morning that Secret Service Director Julia Pierson may need to resign to help restore confidence in the agency. Soon after, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) endorsed Cummings' concerns.
The beginnings of a political avalanche took shape. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told Fox this morning it was time for Pierson's ouster, and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) scheduled a press conference for this afternoon in which he would do the same.
Left with no options, and with the Secret Service burdened by a series of frightening missteps, Pierson had no choice but to step down.
Embattled Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned Wednesday following embarrassing missteps that placed the president and the first family at risk, the Department of Homeland Security announced.  [...]
Under Pierson's watch, an armed intruder managed to jump the White House fence and run deep into the building brandishing a knife as ran past a stairwell leading to the first family's private residence... Separately, the president was in an elevator in Atlanta two weeks with an armed security contractor with assault convictions.
According to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, Joseph Clancy, a retired special agent and the former head of the Presidential Protective Division, will serve as an interim acting director until Pierson's successor is in place. [Disclosure: Clancy is currently serving as the director of Comcast Corporate Security, and Comcast owns NBC Universal.]
Pierson, who was not in charge for all of the recent controversies -- the 2011 shooting incident, for example, was before her tenure -- took over as director in March 2013.
People wait in line to vote in Wilson, North Carolina, October 18, 2012.

Appeals court blocks some N.C. voting restrictions

10/01/14 02:44PM

Of all the states that imposed new voting restrictions since 2010 -- and there have been so many -- no state was quite as ambitious as North Carolina. As we've discussed before, Republican policymakers in the state, led by Gov. Pat McCrory (R), slashed early voting, placed new limitations on voter-registration drives, made it harder for students to vote (and even register to vote), ended same-day registration during the early voting period, and made it easier for vigilante poll-watchers to challenge eligible voters.
All of these measures, according to the state's own numbers, disproportionately affect African-American voters.
When voting-rights advocates filed suit, trying to block implementation of the new measures, they came up short at the district court. As of this afternoon, however, proponents of voting rights had far more success at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Zach Roth reports this afternoon:
A federal appeals court put a hold Wednesday on two key provisions of North Carolina's sweeping and restrictive voting law, but left other parts in place. [...]
By a 2-1 vote, a three-judge panel blocked the law's elimination of same-day voter registration, and its ban on counting out-of-precinct ballots. It green-lighted the law's elimination of a week of early voting, as well as several other provisions, including the elimination of a popular "pre-registration" program for high-school students. Barring a reversal, those planks will be in effect for the state's fall elections, which include a tight U.S. Senate race.
In this 2-1 ruling, the majority included two judges appointed by President Obama.
Ari Berman's report took a closer look at the restrictions that will remain in place, many of which were imposed on North Carolinians for no apparent reason.
So, what happens now?