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A voter steps into a voting booth to mark his ballot at a polling site for the New Hampshire primary, Feb. 9, 2016, in Nashua, N.H. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

The Voting Rights Caucus gets to work

05/25/16 10:42AM

The list of caucuses in Congress isn't short. These officially recognized groups of lawmakers, who get together in pursuit of a common agenda, include names that are probably familiar to many Americans -- the Congressional Black Caucus, for example -- but there are plenty that are far more obscure. Before this morning, for example, I'd never heard of the Congressional Bourbon Caucus or the Congressional Explosive Ordnance Disposal Caucus, both of which evidently exist.
Up until yesterday, however, there was no Voting Rights Caucus. Yesterday, as the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth reported, Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) changed that.
"The Supreme Court 2013 ruling that gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act set in motion what many feared: the subjection of minorities, seniors, and low-income Americans to unfair, punitive barriers preventing them from exercising their most basic right as American citizens," Veasey said by email.
In June, caucus members plan to introduce a bill, the Poll Tax Prohibition Act, which would block identification requirements that result in voters bearing an "associated cost," such as acquiring a birth certificate or incurring travel costs.
The caucus appears to already have 50 members, and though the list doesn't identify lawmakers by party, a quick review suggests all 50 are Democrats.
"It is a shame that in 2016 we still need a caucus," Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), who will co-chair the new caucus, told Roll Call.
It's an important point. A caucus committed to protecting and expanding voting right may seem woefully overdue, but the truth is, the right's organized voter-suppression campaign is fairly new. In the modern era, there was no national effort to gut the franchise -- the Voting Rights Act used to enjoy broad, bipartisan support until conservatives on the Supreme Court took a hatchet to it -- so the need for a Voting Rights Caucus didn't exist.
That's obviously changed in recent years.
Clouds fill the sky in front of the U.S. Capitol on October 7, 2013 in Washington, DC.

A case study in how not to impeach someone

05/25/16 10:00AM

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) launched a curious fundraising pitch this week. As part of his drive for cash, the far-right congressman, who's also currently running for the U.S. Senate, posted an appeal this week with an all-caps headline that read, "Impeach the IRS Commissioner."
DeSantis' pitch added, "IRS Commissioner John Koskinen needs to go! His conduct -- the destruction of key emails, false testimony before Congress, and failure to produce emails -- violated the public trust, and he must be impeached! Sign the petition if you agree!"
The text stood alongside a box labeled "Contribute."
For now, let's overlook the fact that, in reality, Koskinen didn't do what the congressman says he did. Let's also look past the overuse of exclamation points. Instead let's focus on the most glaring problem of all: as Politico reported, DeSantis is fundraising off the impeachment scheme, despite recently having been "tapped to lead the IRS impeachment hearings."
Although many congressional investigators at least try to give the impression that their probes are not politically motivated, DeSantis seems to have little reservation about mixing his Senate run with a politically explosive action like impeaching the head of a major federal agency.
Privately, a number of Republicans said it's cause for concern. "You don't fundraise off investigations," quipped one member who declined to go on-record criticizing a colleague.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who isn't exactly known for his restraint and commitment to propriety, told Politico, "We never fundraised on our investigations."
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) added, "If you're going to be a phony, at least try to act sincere about it. He's not even pretending to be sincere about the substance of this process."
Right. Some partisan hackery is expected -- and in some cases, tolerable -- but those responsible for the partisan hackery should at least try to keep up appearances. No one is going to believe that House Republicans are trying to impeach the IRS commissioner as part of a responsible, reasoned process, but DeSantis' fundraising abandons all subtlety.
The brazen politicization is offensive, but what's notable in this case is the far-right congressman's indifference towards pretending.
Gov. Paul LePage speaks at a news conference at the State House, Jan. 8, 2016, in Augusta, Maine. (Photo by Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Maine's LePage fails to defend the indefensible

05/25/16 09:21AM

It was the sort of story that made Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) look so awful, he managed to even surprise his critics. In mid-April, the far-right governor vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have allowed pharmacists to dispense an effective anti-overdose drug without a prescription. But it was LePage's explanation that added insult to injury.
"Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose," LePage said in a written statement. As we discussed at the time, the governor, in a rather literal sense, made the case that those struggling with opioid addiction don't have lives worth saving.
Maine's legislature soon after overrode LePage's veto, but the governor recently hosted a town-hall meeting at which he defended his position. The Bangor Daily News reported:
"A junior at Deering High School had three Narcan shots in one week. And after the third one, he got up and went to class. He didn't go to the hospital. He didn't get checked out. He was so used to it. He just came out of it and went to class," LePage said.
That's quite an anecdote, which the Republican governor appears to have completely made up.
The Huffington Post reported yesterday that the principal at Deering High School described LePage's story as "absolutely not true," adding that the anecdote doesn't even make sense -- because Narcan isn't available at the school.
On Monday, the governor again insisted the story was accurate, and pointed to Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck as someone who could verify the incident.
Soon after, Sauschuck also said every relevant detail of LePage's story is wrong.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump walks past the guns of the USS Iowa after speaking on the battleship in San Pedro, Los Angeles, Calif., United States Sept. 15, 2015. (Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Caught fibbing, Trump scrambles to address veterans controversy

05/25/16 08:41AM

In a normal year, in a normal party, with a normal candidate, it would be the kind of controversy that effectively kills a presidential candidate's chances of success. In January, Donald Trump skipped a Republican debate in order to host a fundraiser for veterans. He boasted at the time that he'd raised $6 million for vets -- which led to a related boast that Trump contributed $1 million out of his own pocket.
The Washington Post reported this week that Trump's claims simply weren't true. He did not, for example, raise $6 million. And what about the $1 million check the Republican bragged about? His campaign manager insisted this week that Trump did make the contribution.
Except, that wasn't true, either. The Post reported last night:
Almost four months after promising $1 million of his own money to veterans' causes, Donald Trump moved to fulfill that pledge Monday evening -- promising the entire sum to a single charity as he came under intense media scrutiny.
The check is apparently going to a group called the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, whose chairman received a call from Trump on Monday night, the day the campaign controversy broke.
Let's put aside, for now, why the Trump campaign said he'd made a donation that did not exist. Let's instead ask why it took nearly four months for the candidate to do what he claimed to have already done.
"You have a lot of vetting to do," Trump told the Washington Post yesterday.
That might be a decent response were it not for the fact that the New York Republican doesn't appear at all interested in vetting veterans' groups -- as the story of the sketchy "Veterans for a Strong America" helps prove.
An Aedes Aegypti mosquito is seen in a lab of the International Training and Medical Research Training Center (CIDEIM) in Cali, Colombia, Feb. 2, 2016. (Photo by Jaime Saldarriaga/Reuters)

Republicans' response to the Zika threat takes an offensive turn

05/25/16 08:00AM

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) may be among the Senate's most far-right members, but when it comes to a federal response to the Zika virus threat, the Florida Republican finds himself in strong agreement with President Obama and his administration. Rubio yesterday condemned the inadequacies of the House GOP's Zika bill and pleaded with lawmakers to start taking the matter seriously.
"I urge the American people to make next week a tough one on those who are home from Congress," Rubio said, referring to the latest in a series of breaks congressional Republicans have scheduled for themselves.
But given what's unfolding on the other side of Capitol Hill, the senator may want to have a chat with the Speaker of the House.
Yesterday afternoon, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) published a Twitter message asking people to retweet a message: "Mosquitoes carrying Zika must be killed." It included a link to a press statement from the Speaker's office featuring Ryan's new plan to address the public-health threat: weakening EPA regulations of pesticides.
It was at this point that the House Republicans' response to the Zika threat made the transition from reckless to offensive. The Huffington Post highlighted the most glaring problem with the GOP's plan:
While eliminating the clean water protections would make life easier for mosquito sprayers in some respects, environmental advocates say the restrictions on spraying are entirely irrelevant to a potential Zika outbreak for several reasons.
First among them is that if one particular pesticide has polluted a certain lake or stream, there are other options, said Mae Wu, a policy expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council.... On top of that, the clean water regulations apply only to areas larger than 6,400 acres. And if there is an outbreak, the rules specify that mosquito control authorities can act immediately, and get any needed permits after the fact.
The New York Times added that exceptions to EPA regulations "already exist for emergency situations like fighting Zika."

Making matters slightly worse, Paul Ryan's statement said policymakers should heed the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control -- which might make more sense if Paul Ryan weren't ignoring the CDC's pleas to Congress to pass the Obama administration's Zika response plan.
Trump works to keep dirty attacks one-sided

Trump works to keep dirty attacks one-sided

05/24/16 09:21PM

Rachel Maddow notes how the Trump campaign has tried to intimidate those who would question Donald Trump's past conduct with women even as Trump himself makes aggressive attacks on Bill Clinton, and wonders why the Clintons would not fight back. watch

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 5.24.16

05/24/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Syria: "U.S.-allied forces in Syria launched a large-scale offensive on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa on Tuesday, the group said. The Syrian Democratic Forces, an umbrella group including Kurdish and Arab fighters, said on the social network that it launched a three-pronged attack on the extremists' de facto capital."

* South Carolina: "Nearly a year since gunfire interrupted a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church, federal prosecutors said Tuesday that they will seek the death penalty against Dylann Roof, the 22-year-old suspect in the attack that killed nine people."

* VA: "Veteran Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald refused to apologize Tuesday for comparing the long wait for medical care at his agency's facilities to lines at Disneyland." He added, "If I was misunderstood, if I said the wrong thing, I'm glad that I have the opportunity to correct it," he said. "I'm only focused on one thing, and that's better caring for veterans. That's my job, that's why I'm here."
* Asia-Pacific: "President Obama urged Vietnam on human rights matters Tuesday while hailing its warming relations with the United States, calling the evolution from bitter wartime foes to growing partners a lesson for a world besieged by modern conflicts."
* Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) "says he knows nothing about a federal investigation of contributions to his 2013 campaign for governor."
* This may not seem like much, but it's a life-changing shift in the island nation: "Cuba announced Tuesday that it will legalize small- and medium-sized private businesses in a move that could significantly expand private enterprise in one of the world's last communist countries."
* Responding to the simmering controversy, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has now told reporters, "All I can say is, I never told anybody to give money to Donald J. Trump. I've told people if I had money to give, I'd give it to the House and Senate candidates. It is important to unite our party, our House and our Senate candidates. If you want to help Mr. Trump, God bless you."
Voting stickers are seen at the Ohio Union during the U.S. presidential election at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio November 6, 2012.

Ohio voter suppression smacked down by Republican judge

05/24/16 04:17PM

Republican state policymakers have approved voter-suppression policies across much of the country in recent years, but GOP officials in Ohio went further than most, going out of their way to place new hurdles between Ohioans and their democracy.
About a decade ago, in response to a messy and needlessly complex voting system, Ohio created a vastly improved process for the state's voters. In 2010, however, Republicans took control of Ohio government, deliberately undid the improvements, and by 2014, the state had imposed harsh new restrictions on voter registrations, absentee ballots, and early voting.
As the measures were being approved, the editorial board of the Cleveland Plain Dealer argued, "Ohio House Republicans appear poised to pass two measures that, disguises aside, aim to limit voting by Ohioans who might vote for Democrats. That's not just political hardball. It's an affront to democracy."
Republicans, led by Gov. John Kasich (R), imposed the restrictions anyway. Today, the Columbus Dispatch reported that a federal judge pushed back against the far-right tide.
The GOP-dominated legislature unconstitutionally violated Ohioans' voting rights by eliminating "Golden Week" and other actions that cut access to the ballot, a Republican federal judge ruled today.
Judge Michael H. Watson of U.S. District Court in Columbus ordered Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted and Attorney General Mike DeWine to stop enforcing the decreased voting period.
If the ruling stands, that means Ohioans will now be able to vote 35 days before the November general election -- including for a so-called "Golden Week" in which an eligible resident can register to vote and cast an absentee ballot at the same time.
Judge Michael H. Watson, by the way, was appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush. He's also the former chief counsel to former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft -- who also happens to be a Republican -- making today's ruling that much more striking.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton talks with Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) at Riley's Cafe on Jan. 24, 2016 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty)

Harry Reid ready to 'yell and scream' about VP selection process

05/24/16 12:53PM

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is wrapping up his lengthy career at the end of this year, but that doesn't mean he's indifferent to the partisan makeup of the chamber he loves. The Nevada Democrat told MSNBC's Joy Reid that he has some advice for Hillary Clinton as she evaluates running mates: don't pick a senator from a state with a Republican governor.
"If we have a Republican governor in any of those states, the answer is not only no, but hell no. I would do whatever I can, and I think most of my Democratic colleagues here would say the same thing," Reid told MSNBC's "AM Joy" when asked about the possibility of Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) or Sherrod Brown (Ohio) being named Clinton's No. 2.
Reid added that he would "yell and scream to stop that."
It's easy to understand the motivation behind Reid's concerns. Democrats need to earn a net gain of five Senate seats this year to reclaim the majority, and that's no easy task. If Clinton chooses a senator from a state with a Republican governor, it may make the party's task that much more difficult.
And given some of the likely VP contenders, this is more than just a thought experiment. Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and Cory Booker would each bring quite a bit to a national ticket, but each of them represent states with a Republican governor, who would gladly appoint a Republican successor if any of them were promoted.
MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald recently took a closer look at this and noted that state laws vary quite a bit, but Clinton "would have to contend with an extra Republican in Senate for a minimum of about five months if she picked Warren, or nearly two years if she picked Brown."
And given the amount of important legislating that can -- and often does -- happen in the first part of a new president's first year, that's a valuable chunk of calendar.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.24.16

05/24/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, the DNC has reached an agreement with Bernie Sanders campaign over the party's platform committee. Instead of the DNC choosing each of the panel's 15 members, Hillary Clinton's campaign will have six selections, Team Sanders will have five, and the party will have four. This has been a top priority for the senator for weeks.
* Despite getting much of what he wants, Sanders said yesterday the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia could be "messy" but that "democracy is not always nice and quiet and gentle." What's unclear is how or why Sanders would benefit from convention strife.
* After nine televised debates and 13 forums, the Clinton campaign has no interest in adding to the list: it formally turned down Fox News' request yesterday for yet another Democratic debate.
* In California, which will host its primary two weeks from today, a SurveyUSA poll shows Clinton leading Sanders by 18 points. This is actually an improvement for Clinton over her 14-point lead in the same poll a month ago.
* Speaking to the SEIU yesterday about Trump, Clinton warned, "He could bankrupt America like he's bankrupted his companies. I mean, ask yourself, how can anybody lose money running a casino?"
* On a related note, the Clinton campaign released an interesting new video overnight mocking Trump for celebrating the housing-market crash that helped create the Great Recession.
Donald Trump and his wife Melania are applauded before a dinner hosted by the Sarasota Republican Party honoring him as Statesman of the Year in Sarasota, Fla., August 26, 2012. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Reuters)

What would it take to be 'beyond redemption'?

05/24/16 11:20AM

It's hardly a secret that today's Republican Party faces serious demographic challenges: in a country that's increasingly diverse and multi-cultural, the contemporary GOP is increasingly white and homogeneous.
But Republicans are not literally devoid of diversity. There are, for example, some prominent Hispanic conservatives who are nearly always aligned with GOP candidates up and down the ballot. Given that Donald Trump is the party's presumptive presidential nominee, what are they thinking right about now? The Hill had an interesting report on this the other day.
Prominent Hispanic conservatives say they could back Donald Trump if the presumptive GOP nominee changes his tone and walks back some of his policy positions.
Republican Latino leaders have chaffed at Trump's call for a wall on the southern border and statements from his campaign launch about rapists and criminals coming across the border from Mexico.... But prominent voices in the conservative Hispanic world say they're ready to move toward Trump if he can move toward them.
Alfonso Aguilar, a former White House official under President George W. Bush who now leads the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said, "If in the process of unification, he were to seek my support and show he's willing to change his tone and be open to some form of legalization, I would be willing to reconsider my position."
Former Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), who's also a former RNC chair, was asked a few months ago about Trump. "If there is any, any, any other choice, a living, breathing person with a pulse, I would be there," he said at the time. Last week, however, Martinez said he's undecided on whether to endorse Trump and he'll be "continuing to see how things develop."
The Rev. Sam Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, added, "Is it too late to redeem the narrative with the Latino and Hispanic community, even the Latino and Hispanic pro-faith community? I don't know.... No one is beyond redemption."
The Hill also reported that the Trump campaign has dispatched an adviser to "quietly" open backchannels "within Muslim and Middle Eastern communities in the U.S. in an attempt to win over a small but increasingly important voting bloc." The report added, "Some Muslim Republicans and conservative Middle Eastern activists have also engaged with other top campaign officials about furthering Trump's outreach to those communities."
No, seriously, that's what the article said.