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President Barack Obama arrives to speak in the Rose Garden of the White House July 1, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

U.S. re-establishes diplomatic ties to Cuba

07/01/15 12:47PM

The White House's Rose Garden, located just outside the Oval Office, has played host to quite a bit of history lately. On Thursday, President Obama delivered a brief address in the Rose Garden to highlight the Supreme Court's ruling in support of the Affordable Care Act. A day later, he returned to the same location to celebrate national marriage equality.
 
And this morning, there was Obama speaking again from the Rose Garden, and once again making history. NBC News reported:
President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the United States and Cuba have struck a deal to open embassies in each other's capitals and re-establish diplomatic relations between them for the first time in half a century. [...]
 
This formal step follows Obama's call to normalize relations and economic ties between the two countries after decades of Cold War hostilities. In another major move, the U.S. said in May it was removing Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
"More than 54 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, the United States closed its embassy in Havana," Obama said this morning. "Today, I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and re-open embassies in our respective countries. This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas."
 
This isn't to say the United States and Cuba are suddenly buddies -- Obama emphasized that we'll "continue to have some very serious differences" -- but that the failed policy of the last half-century is no more.
 
The president said this morning, "Instead of supporting democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, our efforts to isolate Cuba, despite good intentions, increasingly had the opposite effect -- cementing the status quo and isolating the United States from our neighbors in this hemisphere. The progress that we mark today is yet another demonstration that we don't have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isn't working, we can -- and will -- change."
 
Anticipating Republican complaints, Obama added, "Yes, there are those who want to turn back the clock and double down on a policy of isolation. But it's long past time for us to realize that this approach doesn't work. It hasn't worked for 50 years. It shuts America out of Cuba's future, and it only makes life worse for the Cuban people."

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.1.15

07/01/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
 
* In Iowa, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Scott Walker continuing to lead the Republican field with 18%, followed by Donald Trump and Ben Carson who are tied for second with 10% each. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are right behind them with 9% each, followed by Jeb Bush at 8% and Marco Rubio with 7%. Mike Huckabee, once thought a major power in Iowa, is in eighth place.
 
* A new national CNN poll shows Bush leading his rivals with 17%, followed by Trump at 12%. Carson and Rand Paul are tied for third with 8%, followed by Rubio at 7% and Scott Walker at 6%.
 
* The same poll showed Hillary Clinton with sizable leads over GOP candidates in hypothetical match-ups, with the Democratic frontrunner leading Bush by 13 points, Chris Christie by 19 points, Rubio by 17 points, and Walker by 19%. The Democrat's biggest advantage comes against Trump, whom she leads by 25 points.
 
* In Michigan, the latest PPP survey shows Walker leading the pack with 15%, while Bush, Carson and Trump are tied for second with 14%. No other candidate reaches double digits.
 
* The same poll shows Clinton with a 32-point advantage over Bernie Sanders among Michigan Democrats. She also leads the Republican candidates in hypothetical match-ups by margins ranging from 3 to 10 points.
 
* At an event in Maine this morning, scandal-plagued Gov. Paul LePage (R) endorsed scandal-plagued Gov. Chris Christie's (R) presidential campaign. For Christie, the former chairman of the Republican Governors' Association, it's the first endorsement since yesterday's launch.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder applauds during a luncheon May 21, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty)

Michigan's Snyder targets local control on minimum wage

07/01/15 11:20AM

In Oklahoma last year, state officials saw the national clamoring for an increase to the minimum wage, and they took decisive action. It was not, however, the kind of action workers have been waiting for.
 
In April 2014, Gov. Mary Fallin (R) announced that Oklahoma not only wouldn't raise the state's minimum wage, but going forward, the state would also block any effort by local Oklahoma communities to raise wages at the municipal level.
 
As the Detroit News reported, Michigan's Republican-led state government adopted a very similar law yesterday.
Municipalities in Michigan will be prohibited from setting local minimum wages above the state rate and imposing new requirements on employers for sick time and other fringe benefits under a bill Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law Tuesday.
 
House Bill 4052 bans future municipal ordinances that regulate the hours, compensation and terms of private sector employment, but it does not impact existing ordinances, Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said.
Originally, GOP legislators wanted the legislation to apply retroactively, scrapping existing local laws that go beyond state minimums, but the Republican governor agreed that would be excessive.
 
How gracious of him.
 
Snyder said he signed the legislation into law in order to avoid a "patchwork" of laws statewide, which would be bad because, well, just because.
 
The broader point, however, is that the right sees local control as an important principle, except when it doesn't.
Roy Moore

Even in Alabama, public officials aren't 'ministers of God'

07/01/15 10:44AM

Roy Moore, the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, has long taken a non-traditional view of American law. Moore, sometimes known as the "Ten Commandments Judge," willing to use his public position to advance his religious agenda, has argued repeatedly, for example, that states can ignore federal court rulings whenever they chose.
 
Indeed, in February, Moore caused quite a bit of trouble when he ordered Alabama probate judges to defy the federal courts on marriage equality.
 
That, of course, was before the U.S. Supreme Court brought marriage equality to the entire country in a ruling Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) didn't like but is prepared to follow.
 
As AL.com reported this morning, now it's Moore's lawyer urging the governor to ignore the rule of law.
In harsh words and a lecturing tone, a lawyer who works for Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore has written a letter seemingly directed at Gov. Robert Bentley rebuking him for saying Alabama will obey the U.S. Supreme Court ruling declaring same-sex marriage legal.
 
While the letter from attorney Win Johnson never calls Bentley by name or title, a spokeswoman for Bentley said the letter was directed at the governor.
Johnson's letter reads, "Public official, what will you do?  Will you stand up for the law of Alabama, for the people, for the weak and vulnerable, for the law of God?  Or will you capitulate?  Will you become complicit in the takeover by the wicked?"
 
Johnson, it's worth noting, is the director of the legal staff of the Administrative Office of Courts, which runs the state's court system, and which is led by Moore.
 
Of particular interest, though, was the point in Johnson's letter when he argued, "Public officials are ministers of God assigned the duty of punishing the wicked and protecting the righteous."
 
That, right there, seems to be the heart of the problem. Moore and his lawyer are under the impression that the United States is a theocracy. It's this assumption that leads them to believe public officials -- judges, governors, county clerks, et al -- are obligated to follow religious dictates, as defined by Moore and his lawyer's interpretation of Scripture.
 
And though this probably shouldn't be necessary, now might be a good time to remind them that if they're looking for public officials whose job it is to punish the wicked and protect the righteous. Moore and his lawyer are clearly in the wrong country.
Scott Walker speaks to supporters at a barbeque in Greenville, SC, March 19, 2015. (Photo by Jason Miczek/Reuters)

What Scott Walker gets wrong about pay equity

07/01/15 10:11AM

In recent years, conservative opponents of pay-equity measures have come up with a variety of unpersuasive arguments against women receiving equal pay for equal work. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has added his name to an ignominious list.
 
For regular readers, the right's talking points are probably familiar. The executive director of the Texas Republican Party, for example, said women in the workforce would be better compensated if they became "better negotiators." Fox News' Martha MacCallum dismissed the issue altogether last year, declaring, "Many women get paid exactly what they're worth." Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) argued a while back that it's "condescending" towards women to even try to prevent wage discrimination.
 
But the Wisconsin State Journal reported on Walker trying a different tack.
Hillary Clinton's support for legislation that would address a disparity between what men and women earn is a political tactic to "pit one group of Americans versus another," Gov. Scott Walker said last week.
 
Walker's comments were made June 17 on the radio show "Boston Herald Drive" in Boston and published online by the liberal blog Right Wing Watch on Tuesday.
The Right Wing Watch piece, which includes an audio clip, is online here.
 
The radio host asked the unannounced Republican presidential candidate about Clinton's advocacy for pay-equity measures, and Walker responded, "[T]his is sadly something that would make her consistent with the president, and that is I believe that the president and now Hillary Clinton tend to think that politically, they do better if they pit one group of Americans versus another."
 
A campaign spokesperson added soon after that the governor believes Democrats like President Obama and Hillary Clinton are "being divisive on an important issue instead of working to provide solutions for Americans."
US presidential hopeful Donald Trump delivers remarks at the Maryland Republican Party's 25th Annual Red, White & Blue Dinner on June 23, 2015 at the BWI Airport Marriott in Linthicum, Md. (Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty)

Trump's post-announcement bounce continues

07/01/15 09:35AM

There's some evidence of late that suggests Republican presidential hopefuls get a bump in the polls after their campaign kickoffs. It's a dynamic that makes sense -- when a candidate launches a bid for national office, he or she briefly gets the spotlight and puts his or her best foot forward.
 
When Ted Cruz formally entered the 2016 race, he saw his support grow, before it started to fade. Marco Rubio saw something similar. And with this in mind, it probably shouldn't have been too shocking to see Donald Trump get a bounce in the polls after his highly publicized announcement two weeks ago.
 
But the alarming thing is, at least for now, that bounce hasn't started to come down.
 
Last week, two polls out of New Hampshire -- the nation's first primary state -- found Trump in second place in the crowded GOP field. Polls from Suffolk and CNN each showed Jeb Bush in the lead, with Trump close behind. Both surveys also found that Bush and Trump were the only candidates to generate double-digit support in the Granite State.
 
Nationally, a Fox News poll last week also showed Trump in second place.
 
This week, it's more of the same. Consider the new national CNN poll.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and businessman Donald Trump top the list of GOP presidential contenders following their back-to-back campaign launches in mid-June, and are the only two Republican candidates holding double-digit support among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.
According to the CNN results, Bush leads the GOP field  with 17%, followed by Trump with 12%, and every other Republican candidate is further back with single-digit backing.
 
What's more, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Trump tied for second in Iowa, while the latest PPP poll shows Trump in second in Michigan.
 
One poll can be dismissed as an outlier or a fluke. Overlooking all of these polls isn't quite so easy.
Surrounded by security personnel, rancher Cliven Bundy, middle, sings the National Anthem outside of Bunkerville while gathering with his supporters to challenge the BLM on April 12, 2014.

Rand Paul, Cliven Bundy are 'in tune with each other'?

07/01/15 08:42AM

A little over a year ago, right-wing rancher Cliven Bundy and some of well-armed friends forced a dangerous confrontation with federal law enforcement. Cooler heads prevailed when the Obama administration, in the interest of public safety, chose not to escalate the situation, and thankfully no one was hurt.
 
But Bundy quickly became a cause celebre in far-right circles, celebrated by Fox News and Republican officials, right up until the rancher's racist views came to light. Conservatives who were cheering Bundy on quickly discovered the problems with celebrating an unhinged activist who claimed to be an expert on "the negro" and who believes black people were "better off as slaves."
 
Soon after, the Nevada affiliate of the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity started scrubbing its online messages offering praise for Bundy and his radical campaign.
 
Given this history, why in the world would Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul choose to spend time with Cliven Bundy? MSNBC's Eric Levitz reported yesterday:
The Kentucky senator met the indebted rancher on Monday, when Paul held a question-and-answer session for "about 50 supporters and activists interested in land rights," in the town of Mesquite, Nevada, the Associated Press reported. [...]
 
"In general, I think we're in tune with each other. I don't think we need to ask Washington, D.C. for this land. It's our land," Bundy told the AP after his meeting with Paul.
Some of the initial reports suggest their "meeting" was fairly innocuous, with Bundy simply attending a Rand Paul event in Nevada. Candidates can't always control who shows up at a gathering open to the public, so it wouldn't necessarily be the senator's fault if Bundy appeared at a campaign Q&A session.
 
But according to Bundy, there's far more to it.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Frank-Walter Steinmeier during the talksin Vienna, Austria, Nov. 24, 2014.

Diplomacy with Iran enjoys strong support from US public

07/01/15 08:00AM

The good thing about an arbitrary, self-imposed deadline is that it can be moved without consequence. The international diplomatic talks with Iran, for example, were supposed to wrap up yesterday, but negotiators believe they're still making progress so they gave themselves an extension -- the new deadline is next Tuesday, July 7.
 
It's still unclear if an agreement will ultimately come together, and recent posturing from Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei hasn't helped. But the process continues to move forward, and just yesterday, the International Atomic Energy Agency reportedly concluded that Iran is complying with requirements that it reduce its stocks of enriched uranium. Had the IAEA uncovered evidence to the contrary, the talks may have very well unraveled.
 
As for the domestic politics surrounding the nuclear negotiations, Senate Republicans continue to complain bitterly about the diplomatic efforts, though it's clear the public feels differently.
By a 2-to-1 margin, more Americans support the United States and other world powers pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran than oppose it, according to new results from the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
 
Thirty-six percent of respondents say they back the deal, which intends to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon by allowing inspections into the country's nuclear sites in exchange for reducing economic sanctions that are currently in place. By comparison, 17 percent oppose it.
These results are largely unchanged from a similar poll a few months ago.
 
They're also in line with the latest Quinnipiac poll, which found most Americans support the potential agreement. Three other independent polls released since March showed similar public backing for the P5+1 process.
 
We're accustomed to seeing the occasional disconnect between the Beltway and the public, but the differences here are especially striking.

Trade deal leaks and other headlines

07/01/15 07:59AM

Leaked: what's in Obama's trade deal. (Politico)

Greece bailout prospects remain unclear. (Washington Post) 

Another black church in South Carolina burns; cause unknown. (AP) Update: probably not arson. (AP)

The 15 juiciest revelations from Hillary Clinton's emails. (New York Magazine)

FBI investigating 11 attacks on San Francisco-area internet lines. (USA Today)

Myanmar fisherman goes home after 22 years as a slave. (AP)

See the works of art that prisoner Richard Matt allegedly traded with a guard. (NBC News)

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Send it to Rachel!

06/30/15 08:46PM

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Most recently, you'll recall, Rachel talked about an unusual RNC mailer that looked like a voting ballot. That came to our attention by way of a viewer's e-mail. Specifically an e-mail to Rachel@msnbc.com, which is actively staffed and processed daily.

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