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Iran deal's next hurdle: American politics

Iran deal's next hurdle: American politics

07/20/15 09:38PM

Steve Clemons, Washington editor-at-large for The Atlantic, talks with Steve Kornacki about the American political calculus taking place among members of Congress as they decide on their position with respect to the nuclear deal with Iran. watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 7.20.15

07/20/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* I never thought I'd see the day: "The United States and Cuba restored full diplomatic relations Monday after more than five decades of frosty relations rooted in the Cold War."
* Turkey: "An apparent suicide blast in a Turkish town near the Syrian border tore through a political meeting Monday, killing at least 30 people in an attack officials called a 'terrorist' strike."
* Yemen: "The death toll in Yemen from the Shiite rebel shelling of a town near the southern port city of Aden rose Monday to nearly 100, the head of an international aid group said, describing it as 'the worst day' for the city and its surroundings in over three months of fighting."
* Increased security: "The military plans to increase security at recruiting stations and reserve centers, following the shooting rampage in Chattanooga, Tennessee, last week that left five service members dead, two defense officials told NBC News on Monday."
* Wisconsin: "Just in time for his nascent presidential campaign, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill Monday banning abortion at 20 weeks -- without an exception for rape and incest and with only a narrow emergency exception."
* Sandra Bland case: "The lawyer for the family of a woman found dead in a Texas jail cell last week said dashcam video from the roadside traffic stop that led to her arrest shows the encounter grew confrontational after she refused an officer's demand to put out her cigarette."
* Greece: "Greek banks reopened Monday for the first time in three weeks, but strict limits on cash withdrawals and higher taxes on everything from coffee to diapers meant the economic outlook for the recession-battered country was far from back to normal."
* Quite a sight: "A fast, wind-whipped wildfire swept over a crowded California freeway Friday, sending drivers running for safety and setting more than a dozen vehicles ablaze, officials said."
This May 14, 2012 file photo shows conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh speaking during an event in Jefferson City, Mo. (Photo by Julie Smith/AP)

Limbaugh: 'Trump can survive this'

07/20/15 04:30PM

The conventional wisdom came together with lightning speed: Donald Trump went too far, even for Republicans, when he went after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Saturday. The backlash from many GOP candidates and even the Republican National Committee was proof, the argument went, that Trump's days as a leading presidential candidate were numbered.
There's just no way to recover from this one, the conventional wisdom said. Trump would soon find himself without a friend in his party.
As the New York Times reports this afternoon, these assumptions are already looking pretty shaky.
The conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who has a substantial following among grass-roots Republicans, came to the defense of Donald J. Trump on Monday as prominent leaders in the party stepped up their criticism of Mr. Trump's pointed comments about Senator John McCain.
Such a defense is not entirely surprising, since Mr. Limbaugh's distaste for the Republican establishment is deep and well documented. But the supportive words from Mr. Limbaugh may provide Mr. Trump with the inoculation he needs to survive the scorn of the party's elders long enough to be included in the presidential debates.
"Trump can survive this, Trump is surviving this," Limbaugh told his audience, celebrating the fact that Trump, instead of backing down and apologizing, instead told "everybody to go to hell."
Remember, Limbaugh has some experience of his own in the area of denouncing U.S. military servicemen and women: in 2007, the host said any American soldier who disagreed with him on the war in Iraq is a "phony soldier." Democrats complained bitterly at the time about Limbaugh's shot at U.S. troops, but Republicans didn't much care and Limbaugh's status as a leading GOP voice was unaffected.
Regardless, Limbaugh's supportive comments towards Trump are a reminder that many of the initial assumptions may turn out to be wrong. Indeed, the right-wing radio host wasn't the only figure in conservative media coming to Trump's defense today.
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.

Iran deal enjoys broad support - except in Congress

07/20/15 12:45PM

For months, every national, independent poll showed broad U.S. support for the international nuclear talks with Iran. But as the negotiations continued, it was still in the realm of the hypothetical -- Americans were effectively endorsing the pursuit of a deal, not the agreement itself.
Now that a deal is complete and the debate has entered the next phase, would public support fade? Evidently, no -- at least not yet.
Americans by a broad 19-point margin support the nuclear deal with Iran announced last week, even as two-thirds in an ABC News/Washington Post poll express skepticism it'll work -- and relatively few give Barack Obama credit for bringing it to pass.
The public by 56-37 percent backs the agreement, a signature foreign policy goal of the Obama administration. It lifts economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran agreeing not to produce nuclear weapons and allowing international inspectors to monitor its nuclear facilities.
The caveats are noteworthy -- the public is clearly skeptical about Iran's commitments -- but they're also largely irrelevant given the current context. The question before policymakers is whether the diplomatic agreement should proceed or be destroyed. At this point, after months of far-right pushback, the public still supports the deal. If it doesn't work, the policy falls apart. If it does work, Americans will be pleasantly surprised.
As of this morning, the United Nations Security Council is also on board, voting unanimously for a resolution that "creates the basis for international economic sanctions against Iran to be lifted."
Members of Congress aren't happy about the fact that the international agreement was taken up by the U.N. before it was debated on Capitol Hill, but let's not forget that the Obama administration is following "in the footsteps of the George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush administrations," both of which took matters of national security to the U.N. before Congress.
So where does this leave us?

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.20.15

07/20/15 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:
* A new Monmouth poll in Iowa shows Scott Walker continuing to lead the Republicans' presidential field with 22% support in the state, followed by Donald Trump with 13%. At this point, no other GOP candidate reaches double digits in Iowa.
* It was quite a scene in Phoenix over the weekend when protesters effectively "shouted two presidential candidates off stage on Saturday at Netroots Nation, demanding policy proposals on racial tensions and police brutality."
* Later in the day, however, Bernie Sanders drew a big crowd of over 11,000 people at a rally in downtown Phoenix.
* Chris Christie's super PAC has made a $1.1 million ad buy in New Hampshire, focusing on the New Jersey governor's opposition to international nuclear diplomacy with Iran. In the spot, Christie claims to be "the only candidate who has actually been responsible for fighting terrorism."
* Jeb Bush, probably taking a subtle shot at Marco Rubio this morning, mocked members of Congress "who sometimes seem to regard attendance and voting as something optional." Rubio has the worst attendance record of any member of the U.S. Senate.
* Hillary Clinton's campaign has reserved "nearly $8 million in television time for a fall advertising blitz" in Iowa and New Hampshire, with commercials set to air "as early as the first week of November."
Republican Presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during the Freedom Summit on May 9, 2015 in Greenville, S.C. (Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty)

Rubio: 'More Scalias and less Sotomayors'

07/20/15 11:22AM

On the campaign trail last week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) turned his attention to the U.S. Supreme Court, which he sees, correctly, as one of the key issues in the 2016 presidential race.
"We apparently have five justices on the Supreme Court today that have forgotten the proper role of the Supreme Court. They view themselves as Super Legislators - basically the supervisors of the republic. They invent rights, they, they find and are basically writing law. The job of the Supreme Court is not to create law, it's to interpret the Constitution as originally constructed and applied.
"The next president of the United States must nominate Supreme Court justices that believe in the original intent of the Constitution and apply that. We need more Scalias and less Sotomayors."
Looking past some of the grammatical errors, Rubio's ideological case is dubious. For example, Justice Antonin Scalia has become an alarming laughingstock, and the idea of filling the high court with more justices cut from the same cloth is rather terrifying.
For that matter, it's kind of amusing to hear a Republican senator condemn the idea of justices playing the role of policymakers -- GOP officials on Capitol Hill have made clear more than once they see hope to see conservative justices play the role of governing partners, advancing Republican priorities when Congress can't.
That said, the focus on the court itself makes a lot of sense. Consider this chart:
A sign at an Affordable Care Act outreach event in Los Angeles, California, September 28, 2013.

Over right's objections, 'Obamacare' scores another win

07/20/15 10:42AM

For anti-healthcare activists, the strategic options are starting to dwindle. Gutting the Affordable Care Act through the courts obviously isn't going to happen, and the odds of Congress repealing the law anytime soon are zero.
If the goal is to prevent ACA benefits from reaching more American consumers, the right can continue to fight against Medicaid expansion at the state level, but conservatives are quietly failing on this front, too, even in "red" states.
In April, Montana, hardly a bastion of liberalism, ignored the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity and approved Medicaid expansion. Last week, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) did the same. And just one day later, a deal was struck in Utah. The Salt Lake Tribune reported:
The so-called Gang of Six -- Gov. Gary Herbert, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, House Speaker Greg Hughes, House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan and Sen. Brian Shiozawa -- huddled this week constructing the skeleton of a new Medicaid plan to replace the governor's Healthy Utah and the House's Utah Cares proposals.
On Friday, they announced their agreement, saying it was sustainable and would protect other key areas of the budget.
"There is still work to be done," Herbert said in a statement, "but I believe we now have a framework in place that will provide care for Utahns most in need while being responsible with limited taxpayer funds."
This puts Utah on track to become the 31st state to accept Medicaid expansion -- 32nd if we include the District of Columbia -- through "Obamacare." Estimates vary, but roughly 120,000 low-income Utahans are expected to gain coverage through the compromise agreement, assuming the Obama administration signs off on the deal.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., prepares to address the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference which featured speeches by conservative politicians at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, June 18, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP)

Did Rand Paul enter the witness-protection program?

07/20/15 10:09AM

About a month ago, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced a new stunt: the senator would, in his official capacity, sue the Internal Revenue Service. As p.r. gambits go, it seemed pretty silly, but this is exactly the sort of maneuver Paul has repeatedly exploited for attention and fundraising.
Show of hands: how many of you heard about this anti-IRS lawsuit last month? Chances are, most of you didn't -- Paul has made a splash with various press stunts in recent years, but this one was largely ignored. The Republican presidential candidate has a shtick and for some, it's getting a little stale.
Of course, it's not just the ineffective schemes; Paul's support has also faded recently in national Republican polling -- he'll have no trouble qualifying for GOP debates, but at least for now, few see him as a top-tier contender. As the bulk of the political world's attention turns to other candidates, I've heard jokes about Rand Paul maintaining such a low profile that he's presumably entered the witness protection program.
The Lexington Herald-Leader's Sam Youngman explained the other day that the "reality of presidential politics is seeping in, and the limitations of what was always a long-shot strategy are coming into focus."
The long and short of all of this is that Paul is stuck, afraid of alienating core GOP voters while trying to woo independents he might never get the chance to face.
Or put another way: When he tries to lure the independents who are disgusted by the comments of Bundy or Trump, he risks losing Republican primary voters who see truth in both.
The result is milquetoast responses to the issues of the day that leave "the most interesting man in politics" not really all that interesting.
Anthony Terrell and Mark Murray reported for msnbc last week that as far as Team Paul is concerned, there's a deliberate strategy unfolding: the campaign is playing "the long delegate game," avoiding "sharing the crowded space with other Republican presidential candidates."
Look, I like tortoise-hare analogies as much as the next guy, but some basic truths are unavoidable: at this stage in the race, Paul's support in the polls is underwhelming; his fundraising is unimpressive; his endorsement total is anemic; and his ability to generate attention isn't working. Against this backdrop, the senator's aides can say everything is going according to plan, but it's a little hard to believe.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage during a news conference March 10, 2014, in Brunswick, Maine.

Governor faces tough questions: is he 'playing with a full deck'?

07/20/15 09:20AM

Politico is not known for cheap name-calling, so when it publishes a piece characterizing Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) as "America's Craziest Governor," asking whether the Republican is still "playing with a full deck," it stands out as noteworthy.
... LePage -- a pugnacious, hot-headed, sometimes vulgar Tea Party-style conservative -- is facing a bipartisan investigation into potential abuse of power, a nascent impeachment effort by opponents in the lower State House chamber, and a federal lawsuit by the outgoing Democratic House speaker, who has accused the governor of blackmailing a non-profit school into revoking their job offer to him.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Republican-controlled state Senate and many Republicans in the House have turned on the governor,helping overturn hundreds of his vetoes and line-item vetoes in lightning-paced voting sessions, sometimes at a rate of one every 25 seconds. His veto of the bipartisan budget was overturned, narrowly avoiding a state government shutdown. An aggressive attempt to appropriate wider veto authority for his office has been rebuffed by lawmakers and legal experts, but still threatens to plunge the state into a constitutional crisis.
Well, sure, when you put it that way, it sounds like LePage is having a tough time.
But to assume that the worst is behind the Tea Party governor is a mistake -- his troubles are very likely poised to get worse.
Former New York governor and probable 2016 Republican presidential candidate George Pataki listens to a question at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua

GOP turns up the volume on anti-gay rhetoric

07/20/15 08:40AM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) caused a stir last week, arguing that the Boy Scouts shouldn't change its policy banning gay adult leaders. The status quo, Walker said, has "protected children."
The Republican presidential candidate walked that back a bit a day later, but on NBC's "Meet the Press," former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), another 2016 White House hopeful, embraced the anti-gay argument without hesitation. ThinkProgress reported:
Meet the Press' Chuck Todd asked Perry, who served as the governor of Texas from 2000 – 2015, whether his views on openly gay scout leaders had changed since 2008, when he wrote that "openly active gays, particularly advocates, present a problem. Because gay activism is central to their lives, it would unavoidably be a topic of conversation within a Scout troop. This would distract from the mission of Scouting; character building, not sex education."
Perry said he still stood by that statement. "I believe that scouting would be better off if they didn't have openly gay Scout masters," he said.
The video of the exchange is online here.
Also yesterday morning, CNN's Dana Bash asked Walker if he believes sexual orientation is a choice. "I don't know," the Wisconsin Republican replied. "I don't know the answer to that question. So, I'm saying I don't know what the answer to that is."
It's worth noting that the governor has spent his adult life in politics, tackling countless debates over social issues. It seems hard to believe Walker still hasn't come to a conclusion about whether he believes sexual orientation is a matter of personal preference -- a debate that was settled in reality many years ago.
The bizarre rhetoric from the GOP candidates looks even worse when considered in the larger context. At the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, over the weekend, one Republican leader after another condemned marriage equality, while on Capitol Hill, GOP lawmakers continue to move forward with legislation to push back against the recent Supreme Court ruling. 
Away from the political sphere, the American mainstream is increasingly supportive of marriage equality, but the same isn't true of Republican voters -- a new Gallup poll shows GOP voters continue to oppose equal marriage rights by a greater than two-to-one margin.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa on July 18, 2015. (Photo by Nati Harnik/AP)

Trump has no regrets after smearing McCain's service

07/20/15 08:00AM

Last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made clear how unimpressed he is with Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump. The candidate is firing up "the crazies," McCain said, adding that Trump has "galvanized" a "very extreme element" within the Republican Party.
As msnbc's Benjy Sarlin reported over the weekend, Trump fired back during an appearance at a major GOP event in Iowa, which in turn may have put his newfound position as a Republican leader in jeopardy,
"He's not a war hero," Trump said during an onstage Q&A at the conservative Family Leadership Summit, an event that features a number of Republican presidential contenders. "He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, okay?"
Perhaps realizing he had gone too far -- even for him -- Trump followed up by saying "perhaps he's a war hero" before repeating his criticism of McCain's academic record in the U.S. Naval Academy over five decades ago.
There are many in the GOP who've been eager to condemn Trump, but who've hesitated, unwilling to risk alienating the candidate's nativist supporters. But Trump's ugly rhetoric about McCain's military service offered Republicans an excuse to go after the candidate with a vengeance.
Party officials and candidates quickly -- and at times, ferociously -- denounced Trump and his line of attack. Even the Republican National Committee, which has treated Trump's racist incidents with kid gloves, said in an official statement, "There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably."
For his part, Trump, who received multiple deferments to avoid serving in Vietnam -- he cited a foot injury, though he doesn't remember which foot -- talked to ABC's Martha Raddatz yesterday and said he doesn't owe McCain an apology "at all." He struck a similar tone in a new USA Today op-ed.
For a variety of pundits, this effectively marked the end of Trump's campaign -- it was the ultimate flame out, the argument goes, for a narcissistic candidate who simply can't control his impulses.
And those assumptions may very well prove to be true, but I wouldn't bet on it just yet.