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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie addresses the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, DC on Feb. 26, 2015.

The other part of Christie's 'record' on abortion rights

02/27/15 10:40AM

At CPAC yesterday, Laura Ingraham asked New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) a common question about his presidential ambitions.  "Where does social conservatism and Chris Christie live together?" the conservative media figure asked. Ingraham noted there are plenty of "strong social conservatives" in the 2016 field, and asked, "How do you compete?"
 
The governor replied:
"I just stand on my record. I mean, I'm pro-life. I ran as a pro-life candidate in 2009 unapologetically, spoke at the pro-life rally on the steps of the statehouse. The first governor to ever speak at a pro-life rally on the steps of the statehouse in New Jersey, and vetoed Planned Parenthood funding five times out of the New Jersey budget."
Planned Parenthood, of course, has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support. In fact, Christie should probably ask President Romney about the political utility of attacking the non-profit health organization*.
 
But even putting that aside, when Christie says he can appeal to social conservatives by standing on his "record," that's probably more complicated than he'd like to admit. The governor boasted yesterday that he "ran as a pro-life candidate in 2009," but it was necessary to clarify the year because Christie has not always run as a candidate opposed to abortion rights.
 
For much of the 1990s, Christie was unapologetically pro-choice -- and he used to brag to voters in his early elections about the personal donations he'd made to Planned Parenthood.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at an event on Sept. 26, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

Ted Cruz tries triangulation with a twist

02/27/15 10:02AM

Successful presidential candidates have often made good use of a "triangulation" strategy. Different political scientists may offer competing definitions of the phrase, but the basic idea is to exploit public disapproval of both parties by positioning a candidate as something altogether separate -- and better.
 
Bill Clinton was known for his embrace of triangulation, offering himself as a "third way" between the left and right, though George W. Bush dabbled in this, too. In late 1999, the then-Texas governor said of his own party's budget plan, "I don't think they ought to balance their budget on the backs of the poor." (We were supposed to note the use of "they," instead of "we.")
 
When both parties are unpopular, this can be a smart and effective tactic. Many voters will gravitate towards national candidates willing to criticize both parties, including their own. And with this in mind, it was interesting yesterday to see Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) try a similar move in his CPAC remarks (thanks to my colleague Nick Tuths for the heads-up).
Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) came out swinging against members of his own party Thursday, telling a conference of conservative activists that GOP leaders in Congress had sold out to Democrats on immigration and that presidential contenders should be judged by their willingness to stand up to the party establishment.
 
"The biggest division we have in the country is not between Republicans and Democrats,'' Mr. Cruz, a likely 2016 presidential contender, told the Conservative Political Action Conference. "It is between career politicians in Washington and the American people."
"If you have a candidate who's stood against Democrats, that's great," the Republican senator said, quickly adding, "When have you been willing to stand up against Republicans? When have you been willing to stand with the people?"
 
To be sure, this is not, strictly speaking, how triangulation has traditionally been defined -- Cruz isn't putting himself between the two parties.
 
But it's arguably triangulation with a twist. Instead of rejecting two parties as the extremes, Cruz is saying he opposes what he sees as two moderate parties. The Texas senator doesn't want to be above or between Democrats and Republicans; he wants to be to their right.
Dropping hints of a 2016 presidential run, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on Feb., 26, 2015.

Walker: Union-busting prepared me for ISIS

02/27/15 09:20AM

On the first day of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) appears to have delivered the most memorable line. Unfortunately for him, that's not a compliment.
As a governor, Walker's portfolio has been light on foreign policy compared to the senators in the race, and he offered little in specifics when asked how he'd confront the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria while generally pledging to protect America from attacks. But he did suggest that his battles with unions over collective bargaining rights might help prepare him for the job.
 
"If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world," he said.
I've seen some on the right argue that Walker wasn't necessarily drawing a moral parallel between unions and ISIS, and as defenses go, it's a fair point.
 
But what the governor did argue, unambiguously, is that he believes union-busting in Wisconsin prepares him for combating ISIS and global terrorism. And that's plainly ridiculous.
 
National Review's Jim Geraghty, who isn't exactly a knee-jerk liberal, explained, "That is a terrible response... [T]aking on a bunch of protesters is not comparably difficult to taking on a Caliphate with sympathizers and terrorists around the globe, and saying so suggests Walker doesn't quite understand the complexity of the challenge from ISIS and its allied groups."
 
Keep in mind, Walker has spoken quite a bit about ISIS and the terror threat in recent months, and he's had plenty of time to formulate his views and his talking points. This wasn't some curveball about whether President Obama is a Christian; this was a question about one of the more pressing issues on the planet.
 
And yet, once again, the Republican governor seemed wholly unprepared.

When snowball fights reach the Senate floor

02/27/15 08:40AM

Members of Congress routinely look for ways to draw attention to themselves, which occasionally leads to some theatrics and stunts on the House and Senate floors. Yesterday, however, offered one of the more disappointing spectacles we've seen in a long while.
Sen Jim Inhofe (R-OK), a staunch opponent of claims that humans have contributed to climate change, took to the Senate floor Thursday to make his case with an unconventional prop.
 
"You know what this is?" Inhofe asked on the Senate floor, holding a recently-made snowball. "It's a snowball just from outside here. So it's very, very cold out. Very unseasonable."
 
"So, Mr. President, catch this," Inhofe added before tossing the snowball to an aide.
Congratulations, America. Yesterday, a kind of snowball fight reached the floor of the institution once known as the world's most deliberative body.
 
In this case, Inhofe, one of the nation's highest profile climate deniers, believes a snowball found outside during the winter is proof of ... something. As Rachel joked on the show last night, "Obviously, the existence of a snowball in the winter time disproves climate change. Case closed, America. Argument over."
 
And while much of the public may find Inhofe's antics cringe-worthy, it's probably worse than they realize. Indeed, the context matters: Senate Republicans recently decided that the guy who thinks snow is proof against climate change should be the chairman of the Senate Environment Committee.
 
In other words, the GOP majority, recently elected by the public, is convinced Mr. Snowball should help oversee Senate policymaking when it comes to the environment.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio responds to reporters about the impasse over passing the Homeland Security budget because of Republican efforts to block President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration, on Feb. 26, 2015.

House Speaker forgets how leverage works

02/27/15 08:00AM

[Update: This afternoon, Boehner's preferred solution for Homeland Security funding was rejected -- his own members killed his plan. It's part of a familiar of pattern of House Republicans ignoring their ostensible leader.]

As his weekly press conference was getting underway yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), before he starting making odd kissing noises, tried to argue that Democrats are responsible for the Homeland Security mess his party created.
 
"I just think it's outrageous that Senate Democrats are using Homeland Security funding for blackmail to protect the actions of the president," the Speaker argued.
 
Boehner shouldn't use words if he doesn't know what they mean; it ends up being embarrassing for him and annoying for everyone else. In this case, Republicans are holding DHS funding hostage and Democrats aren't prepared to pay the ransom. In English, that's not what "blackmail" means.
 
But with 16 hours remaining until Homeland Security funding expires, it seems Boehner doesn't know what "leverage" means, either.
House Republicans are floating a plan to delay a possible shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security by voting on a short-term measure to keep the agency funded and continue their immigration fight into next month.
 
GOP House members met behind closed doors late Thursday to plot a plan forward, even as the Senate prepared to approve a "clean" DHS bill not tied to measures that would halt the president's executive actions on immigration.
As recently as Wednesday, the Republican Speaker said the House wasn't prepared to do anything until the Senate acted. So, the GOP Senate leadership prepared its own spending bill, which it would pass today and send to the House to avoid a shutdown.
 
Last night, Boehner decided to ignore what he'd said the day before, and instead prepared a new plan: kicking the can down the road three weeks, guaranteeing we can all experience this same mess in mid-March.
 
Can't anybody here play this game?

Decryptomaddowlogical #109

02/26/15 06:48PM

Last night Rachel described the chaos in Washington, D.C. surrounding both the funding of the Department of Homeland Security and the vote on the confirmation of Loretta Lynch for attorney general. Counterproductive partisan lock-up is obviously not uncommon in Congress lately, but in this case, Republicans are working against their own interests in keeping Eric Holder in office longer by delaying votes on Loretta Lynch. And whatever message conservatives want to send to President Obama, no one thinks not funding Homeland Security is a good idea. So this is weird beyond partisanship. It's...

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 2.26.15

02/26/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Identifying the man known as Jihadi John: "The identity of the masked executioner clutching a knife in ISIS beheading propaganda videos was revealed on Thursday. A U.S. intelligence official confirmed to NBC News that a Londoner named Mohammed Emwazi is the person known as 'Jihadi John' in the ISIS videos depicting the murders of American and British citizens."
 
* Speaking of ISIS: "The Islamic State group released a video on Thursday purportedly showing militants using sledgehammers to smash ancient artifacts in northern Iraq, describing the relics as idols that must be removed. The destructions are apparently part of a campaign by the ISIS extremists who have destroyed a number of shrines -- including Muslim holy sites -- in order to eliminate what they view as heresy."
 
* Kicking the can down the road? "House Republican leaders are eying a stopgap funding bill to avert a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security and punt the immigration fight for potentially three weeks, GOP sources said Thursday."
 
* In related news, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) told reporters this afternoon, "We really, as a governing party, we got to fund DHS, and say to the House, 'Here's a straw so you can suck it up.'"
 
* House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), perhaps struggling with the pressure, was reduced to blowing a kiss at a reporter during a press conference late this morning.
 
* Ebola: "Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf paid emotional tribute to the American people on Thursday as the United States formally wound up its successful five-month mission to combat the west African nation's Ebola outbreak."
Ron Johnson - 09/26/13

A DHS shutdown by any other name...

02/26/15 04:20PM

In the summer of 2013, when the right had high hopes that congressional Republicans would shut down the federal government, Heritage Foundation was reluctant to use the actual word "shutdown." Instead, it preferred the phrase "a temporary slowdown in non-essential federal government operations."
 
That proved to be a little clunky. When GOP lawmakers actually shut down the government, Fox News went with the more streamlined "slimdown" label.
 
With just one day remaining before the Department of Homeland Security runs out of funds, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has an entirely different argument in mind: a shutdown isn't really a shutdown. A Democratic source flagged this exchange between the Republican senator and radio host Vicki McKenna yesterday:
MCKENNA: Here's another proposal. Because the thing is, it seems like we always walk up to the eleventh hour. And then we say, 'Okay, well now we're stuck. I agree.' If on Friday, even though it won't -- there will be no such thing as a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.
 
JOHNSON: And I've pointed that out.
 
MCKENNA: Yes, you have. In fact, you were the first one to point that out.
 
JOHNSON: I paid a price for pointing it out.
The Wisconsin lawmaker was probably referring to comments he made in mid-January, when Johnson said he wasn't concerned about the DHS deadline. "Even in the last government shut down only 13.6% of DHS employees were furloughed," the senator said last month. "So the national security aspects, the aspects of the department that keeps America safe, are continuing to function no matter what happens in this very dysfunctional place."
 
Johnson, incidentally, was recently made the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. One assumes his indifference to whether DHS employees start missing paychecks will not go over well among the agency's massive workforce.
 
The basic idea here is that a shutdown isn't really a shutdown, so the public shouldn't be too concerned. That's likely to be a convenient excuse for failure if GOP lawmakers don't approve a funding bill by tomorrow at midnight, but it's not an especially compelling argument.
Loretta Lynch listens during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Jan. 28, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

Loretta Lynch clears hurdle, heads for Senate floor

02/26/15 03:31PM

Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been eager to express his frustration with how Loretta Lynch has been treated by the Republican majority. "I've been here 40 years and no attorney general -- no attorney general -- has ever had to wait this long for a vote," he said this week.
 
Lynch's wait, however, may soon be over.
After a lengthy confirmation hearing process, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-8 Thursday to advance the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be U.S. attorney general. The full Senate will likely vote on her nomination next month.
 
Three Republicans joined all the Democrats on the committee in endorsing Lynch as America's next top law enforcement officer. Those included Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake.
There was some doubt about whether Lynch would get committee support, though she needed three Republican votes today and that's exactly what she received. On the Senate floor, the A.G. nominee will need at least five GOP votes to get confirmed, which means finding two more Republicans, assuming Hatch, Graham, and Flake don't change their minds.
 
At this point, I'd say her odds are quite good. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has suggested she's likely to back Lynch, as might Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).
 
That said, none of this has been -- or will be -- easy. As Politico noted this morning, several Republican senators who met privately with Lynch and said they were inclined to support her -- a group that includes John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), among others -- have since reversed course without explanation.
 
After sailing through her confirmation hearings, Lynch appeared to be on track for an easy confirmation vote. For reasons even Republicans struggle to explain, she's now just hoping for a narrow majority.

FCC approves landmark net neutrality policy

02/26/15 02:49PM

Proponents of net neutrality have been on a bit of a political roller coaster over the last couple of years, but as of today, the ride ended right where they wanted it to.
After more than a year of heated public debate, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday passed "net neutrality" rules: They allow the agency to prohibit Internet service providers from granting faster access to companies that pay for the privilege.
 
The new rules treat broadband providers as "common carriers" under Title II of the Telecommunications Act -- the same category as utility companies that provide gas, electricity, etc. -- in which all customers have equal access to service.
The policy shift was set in motion by President Obama, who, just a week after the 2014 midterms, announced a bold move on net neutrality. The president, a longtime champion of the policy, endorsed the "strongest possible rules" to protect net neutrality and urged the FCC to reclassify consumer broadband service to be regulated more like a public utility.
 
Earlier this month, the FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler signaled a willingness to do exactly that, leading to today's vote from commission members. Predictably, the FCC was split along party lines -- the three Democratic members voted for it, the two Republican members opposed it.
 
Timothy B. Lee added, "Consistent with longstanding practice, the FCC did not release its proposal in advance of today's vote.... However, the agency has released a four-page fact sheet describing its major provisions. And it reads like a wishlist for network neutrality activists."
 
And then, of course, there are net neutrality's many opponents among GOP lawmakers.
Bill O'Reilly appears on NBC News' "Today" show. (Photo by Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty)

Fox's O'Reilly parses the meaning of the word 'see'

02/26/15 12:49PM

Fox News Bill O'Reilly has long been a controversial media figure, though the last week has been an especially awkward time for the conservative host. Specific claims he made about his work covering the Falklands war, for example, have struggled under scrutiny. Soon after, the public learned that O'Reilly's claims about the suicide of a JFK assassination figure also appear to be, at best, suspect.
 
But perhaps the most striking angle to this story deals with claims O'Reilly made about seeing nuns murdered in El Salvador. If you missed last night's show, Rachel's segment on this stood out for me in part because of O'Reilly's explanation.
 
First, a little backstory. Soon after the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, O'Reilly spoke on the air about the nature of evil. "I don't think a lot of people understand," he said. "My mother, for example, doesn't understand evil. When I would tell her, 'Hey, mom, I was in El Salvador and I saw nuns get shot in the back of the head,' she almost couldn't process it. She couldn't process it."
 
In reality, while Catholic nuns were executed during El Salvador's civil war in December 1980, O'Reilly could not have seen them get shot -- he was not in El Salvador in December 1980. He arrived in the country the following year.
 
Since there's no way O'Reilly could have seen what he claims to have seen, Fox News gave "The Rachel Maddow Show" a statement from O'Reilly, which read as follows:
"While in El Salvador, reporters were shown horrendous images of violence that were never broadcast, including depictions of nuns who were murdered. The mention of the nuns on my program came the day of the Newtown massacre. The segment was about evil and how hard it is for folks to comprehend it. I used the murder nuns as an example of that evil. That's what I was referring to when I say, 'I saw nuns get shot in the back of head.' No one could possibly take that segment as reporting on El Salvador."
That's a pretty remarkable response for a couple of reasons.

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