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Militant Islamist fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of northern Raqqa province

At the intersection of a political campaign and a counter-terrorism campaign

09/19/14 10:56AM

On the one hand, the United States is in the midst of a political campaign season. On the other hand, the United States is also in the midst of an aggressive military campaign against Islamic State terrorists. There's apparently an ugly point at which the two intersect.
 
Evan McMorris-Santoro reported this week that the White House has made a conscious decision: "President Obama will not tout his war on ISIS on the campaign trail." Polls generally show support for the president's approach, but there's no appetite to even try to exploit this for partisan gain.
 
Congressional Republicans apparently feel differently.
[The National Republican Congressional Committee] airing TV ads on the issue, questioning whether Democrats are tough enough on terrorists (see here, here and here). It's 2002-2004 all over again! Here we are, six weeks from Election Day and the GOP is potentially going to close with a message on national security -- not on health care or the economy. Who would have thunk it 6 months ago?
To say this is getting ugly in a hurry is to understate matters. It arguably started in late August when Sen. Tom Udall's (D) Republican challenger in New Mexico featured footage of an ISIS beheading video in a campaign ad, but Republicans have only grown more aggressive since.
Image: Barack Obama

The difference between military commanders and the Commander in Chief

09/19/14 10:16AM

The Washington Post reported overnight that when it comes to U.S. efforts to combat Islamic State terrorists, President Obama and military leaders aren't necessarily on the same page.
Flashes of disagreement over how to fight the Islamic State are mounting between President Obama and U.S. military leaders, the latest sign of strain in what often has been an awkward and uneasy relationship.
 
Even as the administration has received congressional backing for its strategy, with the Senate voting Thursday to approve a plan to arm and train Syrian rebels, a series of military leaders have criticized the president's approach against the Islamic State militant group.
It's hard to say with confidence just how widespread the disagreements really are. For that matter, even among those military leaders voicing disagreement, there's a variety of opinions.
 
For his part, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday that Pentagon leaders are in "full alignment" and in "complete agreement with every component of the president's strategy."
 
And that's fine, but let's not forget that it's not really their call. Pentagon leaders don't actually have to be in "complete agreement with every component of the president's strategy."
 
NBC's First Read noted yesterday, "Remember the battle cry of some Democrats during some of the darkest days of the Iraq war -- that Bush and Cheney were not listening to the commanders? Well, given where all the military leadership is on this strategy, it is now Obama, the Democrat, who is open to criticism that he is not listening to his commanders."
 
But there's no reason to necessarily see that as "criticism."

Regional differences on children, corporal punishment

09/19/14 09:32AM

Among the many recent controversies surrounding the National Football League is the case of Adrian Peterson, who was recently indicted for beating his 4-year-old son with a tree branch, which the player characterized as a form of discipline. A new NBC/Marist poll gauged public attitudes on this and related issues, and some of the results were unexpected.
 
For example, the poll asked respondents, "Do you think it is right or wrong for parents to discipline their children by striking them -- either with a paddle, switch, or belt?" Overall, 60% consider it wrong, while only 34% believe it's right. But like Judd Legum, I found the demographic differences amazing.
 
Every group of Americans, regardless of age, race, gender, education, marital status, or income felt largely the same way: striking children, respondents said, is wrong. But note what happens when the results are broken up by region:
 
It turns out, Southerners were literally the only group in the entire poll in which a majority of respondents said striking children is appropriate.
Senator John McCain speaks during a hearing in Washington

McCain vs. McCain on ground troops

09/19/14 08:48AM

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) seemed disgusted, and perhaps a little hysterical, this week when condemning President Obama for targeting Islamic State terrorists without U.S. ground troops. "It's going to take an army to beat an army," Graham told Fox News, adding, "I will not let this president suggest to the American people we can outsource our security and this is not about our safety.... This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home."
 
It was of interest, then, when Amanda Terkel reported that the South Carolina Republican, as recently as a few months ago, had effectively argued the opposite. "I don't think we need boots on the ground," Graham told Fox News on June 10. "I don't think that is an option worth consideration."
 
Now that President Obama agrees with Lindsey Graham I, Lindsey Graham II is outraged.
 
But as it turns out, the South Carolinian isn't alone. This week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been in high dudgeon, demanding a more expansive U.S. military operation against ISIS in Syria, though a Democratic source alerted me overnight to comments McCain made to msnbc's Andrea Mitchell on June 13.
"I think you have to explain to the American people what kind of a threat that an ISIS takeover of Iraq would pose to the United States of America. Can you imagine a caliphate or a center of violent Muslim extremism dedicated to attacking the United States, the consequences of that? That has to be explained to the American people.
 
"I would also explain to the American people that I do not envision a scenario where ground combat troops are on the ground."
A few moments later, McCain added, "I would not commit to putting Americans boots on the ground."
 
This sounds awfully similar to what the president is saying now, to McCain's great consternation.
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts makes his victory speech at a Johnson County Republican's election watch party Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, in Overland Park, Kan. (Photo by Charlie Riedel/AP)

Court clears way for two-man race in Kansas

09/19/14 08:00AM

In Kansas' amazing U.S. Senate race, the stage was set for the Kansas Supreme Court to have the final say. Chad Taylor (D) terminated his campaign weeks ago and wants off the ballot; brazenly partisan Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) hopes to boost incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts (R) by forcing Taylor to stay on the ballot.
 
As expected, the state court ruled late yesterday in Taylor's favor.
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Democratic Senate candidate's name be removed from the ballot ahead of November's election. [...]
 
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach ... ruled that Taylor couldn’t withdraw his name from the ballot, citing a state law that requires candidates to be “incapable” of serving if they wish to withdraw from a race. The court settled the matter Thursday.
 
“[Kobach] shall not include Taylor’s name on any ballots for the office of United States Senate for the general election on November 4, 2014,” Judge Michael J. Malone wrote to conclude his ruling.
The entirety of the ruling, which featured no dissent, is online here (pdf).  There is no additional appeal.
 
The panic within GOP circles is understandable. Polls show Roberts, an unpopular, longtime incumbent, with a vastly better chance of success if his opposition is divided between Taylor and Independent Greg Orman. With Taylor out, Orman is fairly well positioned to win the seat.
 
But the story isn't done just yet. Secretary of State Kobach, who said the matter had to be resolved by last night in order to prepare state ballots, magically discovered* late yesterday that he could extend the deadline another eight days. To what end? As the Republican official sees it, Kansas Democrats can now be required to choose a replacement candidate to take Taylor's slot on the ballot.
 
Kobach really isn't making much of an effort to conceal his partisan agenda here. That said, this latest maneuver probably won't work, either.

The (Re)United Kingdom and other headlines

09/19/14 07:57AM

Scotland rejects independence in record-breaking vote. (NBC News)

A registered Democratic voter sues to force the party to name a new Senate nominee in Kansas. (AP)

Chris McDaniel files appeal arguments in his fight to overturn his Republican primary loss in Mississippi. (AP)

GOP tries to scare donors into giving top dollar. (Time)

Administration officials discuss Obama's strategy for midterm campaigning. (Wall Street Journal)

The biggest plagiarism offenders of the 2014 election. (Washington Post)

Want to read newly declassified CIA performance reviews? (Washington Post)

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Congress ducks out as US military fights ISIS

Congress ducks duty as US military engages ISIS

09/18/14 10:23PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the Senate's passage of expanding the training of Syrian rebels, and points out the abject dereliction by Congress to give itself more months off without addressing the war on ISIS while the U.S. military continues the fight. watch

Ahead on the 9/18/14 Maddow show

09/18/14 06:23PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Dave Helling, political reporter for the Kansas City Star
  • Matt Wells, US blogs and networks editor at the Guardian
  • Alastair Jamieson, reporter, editor and homepage producer for NBC News live from Scotland
  • John Wisniewski, New Jersey state representative, New Jersey legislative investigation committee co-chair

Check out a preview of tonight's show from executive producer Cory Gnazzo after the jump:

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 9.18.14

09/18/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Another ISIS video: "ISIS released a propaganda video showing a captive British photojournalist promising to illuminate 'the truth' behind the militants' network and criticizing his government and the United States. John Cantlie, a photographer who worked for Britain's Sunday Times, was taken captive by militants in Syria alongside GlobalPost's James Foley nearly two years ago."
 
* The future of Scotland: "With the future of the United Kingdom in the balance, Scottish voters streamed to polling booths on Thursday at the culmination of a spirited, emotional and divisive campaign that will determine whether they maintain their union with the rest of Britain or secede."
 
* Historic address: "Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Thursday called on Congress to provide more help to combat the pro-Russian rebels that have taken over eastern parts of the country, saying the incursion is not just an assault on Ukraine but all of the free world."
 
* Related news: "Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told reporters following a meeting with President Obama on Thursday he was 'satisfied' with the military assistance offered by the U.S., despite the administration declining his call for lethal aid to Ukraine's military."
 
* Nigeria: "Boko Haram insurgents have been blamed after at least 13 people died during a shoot-out between police and suspected suicide bombers at a teacher training college in northern Nigeria."
 
* A good policy working well: "The number of privately-insured women getting no-cost birth control pills has more than quadrupled under Obamacare, new data from the Guttmacher Institute shows. The new research, published in the journal Contraception, shows the percent of privately-insured women who paid nothing for the pill rose from 15 percent in the fall of 2012 up to 67 percent this spring."
 
* What a strange Beltway story: "President Obama has 'strong confidence' in Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the White House said Thursday after a report suggested that the Florida congresswoman had fallen out of favor with the president and top Democratic lawmakers."
 
* I wish I could make this stuff up, but it's real: "Obama's arrogance is so apparent, according to Gingrich, that it can even be seen in the way he golfs -- and it will doom the final years of his presidency, in the end."

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