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E.g., 10/5/2015
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Republican presidential candidate Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters).

Rand Paul facing the question no candidate wants to hear

10/05/15 10:44AM

At an event last week, Kentucky gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin (R) initially said he'd supported Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) presidential campaign, but with Walker out, Bevin now likes Ben Carson. A few hours later, the Kentucky Republican switched gears and said he’s actually backing Kentucky’s Rand Paul.
Evidently, Bevin forgot that his third choice is supposed to be his first.
And just a few days later, Bevin stood alongside his home-state ally for a campaign rally that the Lexington Herald-Leader described as "subdued."
About 50 people came out on a rainy Saturday morning to see U.S. Sen. Rand Paul rally for Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin.
Hmm. A month before Kentucky voters choose a new governor, the Republican nominee joined Kentucky's own presidential candidate -- on a weekend -- for a high-profile event. Just 50 people showed up?
The underwhelming turnout also came the same week as Rand Paul's presidential campaign announced it raised about $2.5 million from July to September -- a weak showing and a sharp drop-off from the $7 million the senator raised the quarter before.
Adding insult to injury, on Friday, American Bridge 21st Century, a progressive super PAC, reached out to contacts, letting them know that going forward, the super PAC will focus its attention on Paul as a vulnerable U.S. Senate candidate -- as opposed to a competitive presidential candidate.
There's arguably nothing more insulting than having one's critics decide you're just not that important anymore.
Senator Marco Rubio and then-Governor Jeb Bush attend Mitt Romney victory campaign Rally at Bank United Center on Oct. 31, 2012 in Miami, Fl. (Photo by Vallery Jean/FilmMagic/Getty)

The fight to be the non-amateur GOP nominee

10/05/15 10:00AM

On Thursday night in Iowa, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) hosted an unremarkable campaign event, which became interesting for non-traditional reasons. The action, it turns out, wasn't on the stage, but rather, was in the audience -- a super PAC supporting Jeb Bush sent a tracker to the Rubio event. The senator's aides noticed and kicked the tracker out.
It was a reminder that the rivalry between Bush and Rubio -- two former friends from their days in Florida's state capitol -- has taken a more confrontational turn. MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin had a terrific report on this over the weekend.
After a campaign dominated for months by Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s various feuds, a new rivalry is taking center stage that may ultimately have a far bigger impact on the GOP race: Jeb Bush versus Marco Rubio.
Rubio’s message, which has always emphasized his youth and novelty in American politics, is growing more pointed as the campaigns converge. And the sharp end of the rhetorical stick is clearly aimed at a certain unnamed candidate more than the others.
There's really no subtlety to the messaging. As Sarlin's report makes clear, when Rubio takes aim a certain unnamed candidate, he's taking on Bush.
At first blush, the dynamic might seem odd: there are simmering tensions and an increasingly public feud brewing between the candidates running in fourth and fifth place. What about the presidential hopefuls in slots one through three? Shouldn't they be the principal targets since they're the ones who are winning?
Not necessarily.
Handguns are displayed in the Remington booth during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits on May 5, 2013 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Focusing on guns and mental health means talking about the ACA

10/05/15 09:20AM

In the wake of every mass-shooting -- events that occur with heartbreaking regularity in the United States, but no other industrialized democracy -- political rhetoric tends to follow a predictable trajectory. Democratic officials, in general, raise the prospect of new policies to curtail gun violence.
And Republican officials, in general, decry such efforts as anti-freedom, preferring to focus on practically anything else. For some on the right, mass shootings serve as an excuse to renew conversations about violent entertainment (though plenty of other countries enjoy similar cultural fare without violent consequences). For others, gun massacres are reason to start merging religion and public schools (as if the Second Amendment is inviolate, but the First Amendment is malleable).
But in recent months, a focus on mental health -- which must have tested well with focus groups -- has become one of the GOP's principal talking points. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), the day of the mass-shooting in Oregon last week, urged President Obama to back Cornyn's bill "to address mental health factor in mass violence incidents."
In the Washington Post over the weekend, University of Chicago professor Harold Pollack described some provisions of Cornyn's proposal as "helpful and constructive," but highlighted a missing piece of the puzzle.
Cornyn's proposal does not address the most glaring issue in American mental health policy: the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion. Medicaid expansion was always the public health cornerstone of ACA. It remains the single most important measure to expand access to mental health and addiction treatment, serving severely vulnerable populations such as the homeless, addressing the complicated medical and psychiatric difficulties of many young men cycling through our jails and prisons.
I suspect that for many Republicans, the idea of "Obamacare" playing a meaningful role in preventing mass-shootings must sound ridiculous. After all, "Obamacare" is inherently bad, even when it's good, and all of its provisions must be rejected because, well, just because.
But Pollack is entirely correct, and if GOP officials are going to ignore gun-safety measures to focus on mental health, they should probably grow up and reconcile their mental-health rhetoric with their mindless, knee-jerk hostility towards Medicaid expansion through the ACA.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy leaves the House Chamber after the House approved a stopgap spending bill to keep the federal government open, Sept. 30, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

House GOP faces drama in unsettled race for Speaker

10/05/15 08:40AM

Almost immediately after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) shocked the political world with his unprecedented resignation announcement, attention turned to his successor. Party leaders, fearing a leadership vacuum, wasted no time in making clear that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was poised to get a promotion.
But with four days remaining until the behind-closed-doors, secret-ballot election, uncertainty reigns.
Last week, McCarthy did himself no favors, accidentally telling the truth about his party's Benghazi scheme and then clumsily trying (and failing) to clean up his mess. But the more Republicans were confronted with doubts about whether the Californian is genuinely up for such an important job, the more they were confronted with the realization that he had no credible rivals for the post.
At least, he didn't. With only a few days left to campaign, the dynamic has changed.
Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah has thrown a curveball into the race for House speaker, officially announcing on Sunday that he’ll take on House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy for the high-profile position.
Chaffetz, who chairs the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, painted himself as an outsider and argued on “Fox News Sunday” that he can better “bridge the divide” between moderate and far-right GOPers.
To be sure, the odds do not appear to favor the Utah Republican, who has even less experience than the inexperienced McCarthy. Chaffetz, however, has at least chaired a committee -- something McCarthy, incredibly, has never done -- and the Utahan has broader support among social conservatives in the GOP caucus.
In the meantime, the simple realization that McCarthy seems to lack the skills necessary to be a competent and effective House Speaker appears to be dawning on a growing number of party insiders. The fears that started as whispers continue to increase in volume.
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters during a political rally at the Phoenix Convention Center on July 11, 2015 in Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo by Charlie Leight/Getty)

Latest polls likely to make the GOP establishment sweat

10/05/15 08:00AM

In July, it was fairly common to hear the Republican establishment and much of the media see Donald Trump atop 2016 GOP polling and ask, "Sure he's leading now, but can he sustain this advantage into August?" And then in August, they'd ask, "Sure he's leading now, but can he sustain this advantage into September?" And then in September, they'd ask, "Sure he's leading now, but can he sustain this advantage into October?"
It's October. Here are the latest national results from the Pew Research Center.
1. Donald Trump: 25%
2. Ben Carson: 16%
3. Carly Fiorina: 8%
3. Marco Rubio: 8%
5. Ted Cruz: 6%
6. Jeb Bush: 4%
7. Mike Huckabee: 2%
7. Rand Paul: 2%
The remaining candidates are at 1% or below in the Pew findings. (Note, this is the first survey of the cycle from the Pew Research Center, so I didn't include figures as to whether the candidates' support was increasing or decreasing.)
In addition to Trump's role as the frontrunner -- a role he hasn't relinquished since surging to the top in the early summer -- pay particular attention to Jeb Bush's surprisingly poor showing. It may be an outlier, but if the Florida Republican's national backing has dropped to just 4% -- a number, ironically, Bush has placed great significance in -- it suggests his standing may be reaching the point of no return.
Indeed, though John McCain and Mitt Romney hit rough patches before securing their party's nomination in 2008 and 2012, respectively, neither one ever came close to a 4% floor.
And while national results like these will give much of the GOP establishment heart palpitations, the news is no better at the state level.

Clinton on guns and other headlines

10/05/15 07:52AM

Clinton tacks to Sanders' left with new gun-control push. (New York Magazine)

Oregon gunman's father dismayed by the lack of gun legislation. (New York Times)

Bernie Sanders draws big crowds in Massachusetts. (Boston Globe)

Koch brothers, other mega donors warm to Carly Fiorina. (Reuters)

Turkish F-16s intercept Russian war plane after airspace violation. (NBC News)

U.S. aims to put more pressure on ISIS in Syria. (New York Times)

Doctors Without Borders says it's leaving Kunduz, Afghanistan after airstrike on hospital. (New York Times)

Nobel Prize week begins with an award in Medicine. (AP)

read more

This Week in God, 10.3.15

10/03/15 07:36AM

First up from the God Machine this week a look at the taxpayer-funded Congressional Prayer Caucus that may seem hard to explain in a country that honors the separation of church and state.
There are, to be sure, all kinds of congressional caucuses. Wikipedia has a list of them, and it totals 246. Some of the names are probably familiar to many Americans -- the Congressional Black Caucus, the Blue Dog Coalition, the Tea Party Caucus, etc. -- but many more are obscure. Ordinarily, most of these semi-formal groups of lawmakers keep a fairly low profile.
But this week, USA Today's Paul Singer highlighted the congressional caucus that exists to "defend the role of (mostly) Christian faith and prayer in the U.S. government."
The caucus was created by Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., in 2005, and now includes about 90 members of the House, nearly all Republicans, one U.S. senator and one paid staff member. [...] Like other congressional caucuses, several members kick in shares from their taxpayer-funded office accounts to cover the approximately $50,000 annual salary of the staff member, Amy Vitale, who tracks legislation, drafts letters and generally supports the work of the caucus.
The Prayer Caucus also has an outside non-profit organization that supports its efforts, as are many other caucuses. The Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation operates out of a Chesapeake, Va., building Forbes owns that also houses his campaign office. His wife, Shirley Forbes, is one of three unpaid directors of the foundation. The foundation has one paid staff member, executive director Lea Carawan, but operates entirely on private funds.
As odd as this may seem, the Congressional Prayer Caucus, subsidized with public funds, occasionally plays a role akin to an activist group, working to "extend the reach of faith and prayer in public life." In practice, that may mean, as Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) explained, promoting legislation to reflect "American, Christian values," or its efforts may also include national outreach to local officials to "protect" their interpretation of "religious liberty."
The Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, meanwhile, has a mission statement that says it intends to create a "movement" to "reverse" a trend that includes "negating the influence that the Christian faith had on establishing the principles upon which our liberties are secured."
As for whether the blurred lines between religion and government are legally problematic, to my knowledge, the constitutionality of the Congressional Prayer Caucus hasn't been tested. It's not clear who would even have standing to bring such a challenge, though it'd likely make for an interesting case.
Also from the God Machine this week:
McCarthy hurt by blurt, draws challenger

McCarthy hurt by blurt, draws challenge from Chaffetz

10/02/15 08:59PM

Rachel Maddow looks more closely as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's peculiar speaking, and notes a new report confirmed by NBC News that Congressman Jason Chaffetz will challenge McCarthy for the House speakership as McCarthy has suffered a political setback after accidentally revealing the Republican strategy behind the Benghazi... watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 10.2.15

10/02/15 05:31PM

Today's edition of quick hits.

* Syria: "President Barack Obama is rejecting Russia's military campaign in Syria, saying it fails to distinguish between terrorist groups and moderate rebel forces with a legitimate interest in a negotiated end to the civil war."
* This seemed new: "President Obama vowed Friday that he would not sign another short-term funding measure, pushing lawmakers to craft a long-term budget agreement."
* Obama's focus hasn't changed: "For the second day in a row, President Obama spoke forcefully about the scourge of gun violence in America."
* VW: "A bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from at least 30 states and the District of Columbia are organizing a fast-moving investigation into the possibilities of consumer fraud and environmental violations by the German automaker Volkswagen."
* A sigh of relief on the East Coast? "A powerful and slow-moving hurricane that battered the Bahamas on Friday, causing severe flooding and widespread wind damage, is now forecast to stay out at sea as it moves north, largely sparing the East Coast a direct hit."
* Afghanistan: "Thirteen people, including six American service members, were killed early Friday when a U.S. C-130 transport plane crashed while taking off from an airport in Afghanistan, a U.S. military official said.... A cause for the crash has not been determined. The military official said there were no reports of hostile activity in the area at the time of the crash."
* Not good: "The director of the Secret Service knew that unflattering, private information about a congressman was circulating among agency staff members before it was leaked to the news media, contrary to an earlier statement made to federal investigators, according to two government officials briefed on the investigation."