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On Homeland Security funding, it's Obama 1, Boehner 0

03/03/15 12:50PM

The Republican plan for funding the Department of Homeland Security never really made any sense. As GOP lawmakers saw it, they'd refuse to fund the cabinet agency unless Democrats agreed to destroy President Obama's immigration policy -- but it was painfully obvious all along that Dems would never accept such terms.
The resolution was always going to be the same: Congress would have to pass a "clean" DHS bill, funding the department, and go after the White House's immigration policy through the courts. It was only a matter of time before Republicans realized they had no other credible option.
House Speaker John Boehner told congressional Republicans Tuesday morning that he will bring up a vote to pass a "clean" bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security with no strings attached, according to NBC News.
With his back up against a wall and funding for the critical government agency set to run dry by Friday at midnight, Boehner alerted the House GOP conference during a closed door session Tuesday that the lower chamber will be voting on the clean bill as early as that afternoon. Boehner's announcement was met with dead silence from the room, NBC News reported.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of Congress' fiercest anti-immigrant voices, told the AP after the meeting that this resolution is "the signal of capitulation," a complaint that happens to be true. But again, the question has always been when, not whether, congressional Republicans would fund Homeland Security. They could play games, fight with one another, point fingers, and make all kinds of threats, but sooner or later, a clean bill would clear Capitol Hill and become law.
Boehner could have saved himself quite a bit of hassle and humiliation if he'd guided his conference in this direction weeks ago -- the Speaker knew as well as anyone that this day was inevitable -- but he just isn't in a strong enough position to lead effectively.
On the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, meanwhile, there's President Obama, who's won another round.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.3.15

03/03/15 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:
* Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) announced this morning that he will not run for Sen. Barbara Mikulski's (D) seat next year. "I am hopeful and confident that very capable public servants with a desire to serve in the Senate will step up as candidates for this important office," he said. "I will not be one of them."
* In related news, Rep. Chris Van Hollen's (D-Md.) office says he's "very likely" to run to succeed Mikulski, though the primary may soon get crowded. Keep an eye on, among others, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D).
* As if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) weren't having enough trouble, a new Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll shows his approval rating in his home state dropping to just 35%. A majority of Christie's own constituents now disapprove of how he's doing his job.
* Speaking of Christie, some of the governor's financial backers are launching their "first event for bundlers." A total of 25 donors, who'll raise between $25,000 and $100,000 each for Christie's political action committee, will meet later this month in suburban Bernardsville, N.J.
* Though paid speeches are unusual for presidential candidate, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) will deliver a paid speech to the American Council of Life Insurers today in Las Vegas. It will reportedly be his last paid speech before officially kicking off his campaign.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Christie's Exxon deal spurs questions

03/03/15 11:24AM

The New York Times had a report out of New Jersey last week that probably deserved more attention than it received. Today, the paper moved the ball forward with an interesting development that seems to make matters worse.
Before we get to that, let's recap what we know.
A long-fought legal battle to recover $8.9 billion in damages from Exxon Mobil Corporation for the contamination and loss of use of more than 1,500 acres of wetlands, marshes, meadows and waters in northern New Jersey has been quietly settled by the state for around $250 million.
Keep in mind, Exxon's culpability was effectively already decided -- the talks among the lawyers was not whether the oil giant was responsible for severely damaging New Jersey wetlands, but rather, how much Exxon would pay in damages.
As the Times' report explained, the costs were enormous, because the state had a high burden "restoring and replacing the resources damaged by decades of oil refining and other petrochemical operations, as well as of the public's loss of use of the land."
Indeed, this was no small contamination -- we're talking about 7 million gallons of oil, ranging in thickness from 7 feet to 17 feet. It's no wonder New Jersey sought $8.9 billion in damages when its Democratic governor first filed suit in 2004. By all estimates, it would cost billions just to repair some of the obvious environmental damage.
And yet, there was the Christie administration last week, settling the case for roughly $250 million. As Rachel asked on Friday's show, "Did Exxon just get the deal of the century from the state of New Jersey?"
U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and Jordan's King Abdullah II, right, shake hands following their joint new conference at the King's Palace in Amman, Jordan, Friday, March 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Abdullah endorses Obama line on ISIS

03/03/15 10:47AM

For much of last year, Republicans celebrated Russian President Vladimir Putin as an exemplary leader they wished President Obama would emulate. A few crises, invasions, and economic collapses later, the right quietly decided their Putin affections may have been misplaced.
More recently, however, Republicans settled on a new favorite: King Abdullah of Jordan. At one point last week, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins suggested Abdullah was "responding in a more direct and authoritative way to these attacks of ISIS than our own president," prompting Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) to respond, "That is true. Other countries seem to be doing more or taking it more seriously." (It's not true; U.S. airstrikes on ISIS targets far out number Jordan's.)
Fox News was so enthralled with Abdullah that "The Daily Show" devoted a whole segment to the Republican adulation for the Jordanian king.
It looks like conservatives will now have to pick a new foreign leader to adore.
Fox News has been talking up King Abdullah of Jordan for weeks as a strong leader going after ISIS in contrast to President Obama's ineffectiveness. He opened up about the fight against ISIS in an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria yesterday, talking about how this is the "third world war by other means." But beyond that, he actually said something that the people at Fox might not be so keen about, when he showed agreement with President Obama in not calling ISIS Islamic extremists.
Fareed Zakaria asked if Obama is right not to call ISIS "Islamic extremists" and King Abdullah said, "I think he is right." He said that ISIS is "looking for legitimacy that they don't have inside of Islam" because they are "outlaws on the fringe of Islam."
Remember, in some Republican circles, President Obama's military offensive against ISIS doesn't count and is better left ignored. What really matters is the president's word choice -- much of the right is heavily invested in whether the president uses phrases like "radical Islam" and/or "Islamic terrorism." Whether Obama's broader national security strategy is effective is largely irrelevant.
Except, here's King Abdullah of Jordan -- the man the right has cheered on in recent weeks -- reminding Americans that Obama is right and Republicans are not.
 Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker waits to speak on Jan. 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Walker embraces a familiar anti-intellectualism

03/03/15 10:08AM

As president, George W. Bush had an annoying habit of telling one specific joke over and over again: "I remind people that, like, when I'm with Condi, I say, 'She's the Ph.D. and I'm the C student and just look at who's the president and who's the advisor.'"
Republican audiences invariably laughed whenever Bush told the joke, but the humor always struck me as misplaced. It's not exactly a positive message to young people: study, get good grades, and work hard in school, and someday you too can take orders from a guy who struggled to graduate.
In 2011, then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) made similar jokes, poking fun at his poor grades and boasting about what a lousy student he was in school. "I graduated in the top 10 of my graduating class -- of 13," Perry bragged, invariably prompting laughter and applause from GOP audiences.
This year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) isn't yet offering similar punch-lines, but he is keeping the anti-intellectual strain alive.
Walker responded by ticking through his recent itinerary of face time with foreign policy luminaries: a breakfast with Henry Kissinger, a huddle with George P. Shultz and tutorials at the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution.
But then Walker suggested that didn't much matter. "I think foreign policy is something that's not just about having a PhD or talking to PhD's," he said. "It's about leadership."
I don't much care that Walker dropped out of college and never got a degree. I do care, however, about him dismissing those with doctorates, as if vague platitudes about "leadership" are a meaningful substitute for actual expertise.
The bronze 'Charging Bull' sculpture that symbolizes Wall Street is photographed Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2006, in the financial district of New York.

Wall Street loves Obama's brand of socialism

03/03/15 09:31AM

When Rudy Giuliani recently attacked President Obama's patriotism, the former mayor thought he could clean up his mess by making additional dumb comments. Eventually, the New York Republican was defending his ugly thesis by saying Obama had been "influenced" by communists "from the time he was 9 years old."
At this point, it seems the how-to-be-a-good-communist lessons just didn't stick. If the president is a hyper-liberal opponent of capitalism, he's executing his plan very poorly.
The last time the tech-laden Nasdaq stock closed above 5,000, Bill Clinton occupied the White House, America Online had agreed to buy Time Warner for $165 billion and beloved "Peanuts" cartoonist Charles Schulz had died in his sleep.
The index closed slightly above that level on Monday, unofficially ending Monday at 5,008.10, up 44.57 or nearly 1 percent, as investors celebrated an interest rate cut in China and upbeat economic data. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 also advanced.
Some of this interest, I'll concede, is the result of people liking round numbers. In a practical sense, Nasdaq 5000 isn't more exciting than Nasdaq 4999.
But the numeric milestone nevertheless offers an opportunity to pause and consider the big picture. Since President Communist took office, the Nasdaq index has nearly tripled. The same is true of the S&P. Looking back over the last several generations, Wall Street gains under Obama are far stronger than under Reagan, and rival the bull market of the Clinton era.
Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary Clinton at the center of email flap

03/03/15 08:40AM

Congress' latest Benghazi committee asked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make available emails from her official State Department account. There was just one problem: Clinton never used email through her official State Department account.
Likely presidential candidate Hillary Clinton may have run afoul of federal record keeping regulations by using only a personal email account during her entire tenure as secretary of state, according to a new report from The New York Times. [...]
Clinton did not have an official government account while at State, using a personal email account to conduct all her business, the Times reported Monday evening.
A spokesperson for Clinton told the New York Times her use of the personal account is consistent with the "letter and spirit of the rules," though it's not yet clear how.
There's no shortage of problematic angles to this. Obviously, there's the question of transparency and compliance with the Federal Records Act. Clinton wasn't the first Secretary of State to make use of a personal email account -- Colin Powell did the same thing during his tenure in the Bush/Cheney administration -- but preservation rules have changed and Clinton apparently faced more stringent requirements.
There's also the matter of security: as Secretary of State, Clinton sent and received highly sensitive information on a daily basis, including classified materials, from officials around the world. By relying on private email, instead of an encrypted State Department account, Clinton may have created a security risk.
Politically, though, Republicans find themselves in an awkward position. The RNC issued a statement asking, "[I]t all begs the question: what was Hillary Clinton trying to hide?"
Putting aside the misuse of "begs the question," the Republican track record makes this a difficult question to ask.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, on March 2, 2015. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Netanyahu heads to Capitol Hill as Dems balk

03/03/15 08:00AM

At the invitation of the House Republican leadership, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will address a joint session of Congress today. His goal is simple: the Israeli leader, in the midst of his own re-election campaign, hopes to derail international diplomatic talks with Iran.
Quite a few congressional Democrats, who have no interest in bolstering Netanyahu's goals, have decided to make other plans today.
[T]he impending speech has further strained already-tense relations between the White House and House Republicans. And now, dozens of Democrats -- including 2016 hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren, according to a scoop by The Boston Globe -- have announced that they will not be attending Netanyahu's speech.
Estimates vary on exactly how many Dems intend to skip Netanyahu's address -- NBC News puts the total at 47 members (39 in the House, 8 in the Senate), while The Hill's tally shows 55 members (47 in the House, 8 in the Senate) -- but the fact remains that what was a small contingent has obviously grown considerably in recent weeks.
What's more, the totals don't include Vice President Biden, who will also not attend, and President Obama, who said he will not meet personally with the prime minister during his D.C. visit.
The entire incident, as has been well documented, has put an ugly and unnecessary strain on U.S./Israeli relations, and cut across some of the predictable lines: on the one hand, there are some Democrats who will welcome Netanyahu, while on the other, many notable Israeli leaders, including former members of Netanyahu's own cabinet, have criticized the speech and urged the prime minister to cancel.
Jeffrey Goldberg added last week, "For decades, it has been a cardinal principle of Israeli security and foreign-policy doctrine that its leaders must cultivate bipartisan support in the United States, and therefore avoid even the appearance of favoritism. This is the official position of the leading pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington, AIPAC, as well, which is why its leaders are privately fuming about Netanyahu's end-run around the White House. Even though AIPAC's leadership leans right, the organization knows that support for Israel in America must be bipartisan in order for it to be stable."
Netanyahu and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) are putting all of this at risk, and it comes to a head on Capitol Hill later this morning.

Execution on hold and other headlines

03/03/15 07:22AM

Georgia woman's execution postponed because of problem with drug. (WXIA)

Cross section of Democrats to snub Netanyahu's speech. (New York Times)

Obama: Iran must halt key nuclear work for at least a decade. (NBC News)

Obamacare case: all eyes on two Justices. (Politico)

McConnell's move to quickly pass DHS bill attracts grumbling. (The Hill)

Fierce clashes outside Iraq's Tikrit after new offensive. (AP)

'Jihadi John' recording: Mohammed Emwazi denied extremism. (BBC)

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Citations for the March 2, 2015 TRMS

03/03/15 12:56AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Ayman Mohyeldin, NBC News foreign correspondent
  • Chris Jankowski, former Republican State Leadership Committee President, former RedMap executive director

Tonight's links:

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Mikulski retirement alters Democratic dynamic

Mikulski retirement alters Democratic dynamic

03/02/15 09:22PM

Rachel Maddow salutes retiring Senator from Maryland, Barbara Mikulski, for her pioneering role as the longest serving woman in the Senate, and points out that the vacated Senate seat may hold more appeal for Martin O'Malley than a run for president. watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 3.2.15

03/02/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* ISIS: "The Iraqi military, alongside thousands of Shiite militia fighters, began a large-scale offensive on Monday to retake the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State, a battle that could either become a pivotal fight in the campaign to reclaim north and west Iraq or deepen the country's bloody sectarian divide."
* Stunning news out of Moscow: "A prominent Russian opposition leader, Boris Y. Nemtsov, was shot dead in central Moscow late Friday night within sight of the Kremlin walls."
* BBC published a list of "violent deaths" suffered by Vladimir Putin's Russian opponents.
* LAPD: "An enhanced version of a video recording of L.A. police officers fatally shooting a homeless man on skid row Sunday appears to show the man's hand reaching in the direction of an officer's waistband. A Times review of the video shows the officer quickly pulling away at that moment. Then, three of his colleagues open fire on the man."
* Tamir Rice: "In a response to a lawsuit filed by the family against the officers, the City of Cleveland last week blamed Rice and his family for his death. The injuries alleged by the child and his family 'were directly and proximately caused by their own acts, not this Defendant,' the city wrote."
* Ferguson: "The Justice Department has nearly completed a highly critical report accusing the police in Ferguson, Mo., of making discriminatory traffic stops of African-Americans that created years of racial animosity leading up to an officer's shooting of a black teenager last summer, law enforcement officials said."
* A tough sell: "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to defuse tensions Monday ahead of his highly-anticipated address Tuesday before the U.S. Congress.... 'My speech is not intended to show any disrespect for President Obama,' he said."
* Nebraska joins a growing club: "On Monday, U.S District Judge Joseph Bataillon -- a President Bill Clinton appointee -- struck down the Cornhusker State's voter-approved amendment prohibiting gay and lesbian couples from marrying.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney walks out of a Republican Senate luncheon, Nov. 2011.

Dick Cheney has found his base

03/02/15 03:20PM

The running joke for much of the Bush/Cheney era was that it was hard to know where Vice President Dick Cheney was on any given day because he was always at "an undisclosed location." Lately, however, his location isn't a mystery at all: Cheney spends a lot of time on Capitol Hill.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney will speak to the House Republican whip team Monday evening, a source familiar with the meeting said.
Cheney will likely address the series of foreign policy issues before Congress, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's upcoming joint address on Tuesday and the ongoing negotiations with Iran over Tehran's nuclear program.
In addition to the Politico report this morning, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise's (R-La.) office later confirmed that Cheney will, in fact, participate in tonight's meeting with the House Republican whip team.
The point of these meetings, by the way, is fairly specific: when Congress is in session, the House GOP whip team meets weekly to "outline its strategy and message for the week." Apparently, they're looking for some guidance from the former vice president.
Cheney will be back on Capitol Hill in a few weeks to headline a fundraising dinner for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
All of this comes on the heels of a briefing Cheney delivered in the fall to House Republicans on foreign policy.
Which came on the heels of Cheney meeting with members of the Republican Study Committee.
Which came on the heels of Cheney delivering a foreign policy briefing to House Republicans.