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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.2.15

10/02/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In the new USA Today/Suffolk poll, Hillary Clinton still has a double-digit lead in the race for the Democratic nomination. The survey shows her with 41% support, followed by Bernie Sanders' 23% and Vice President Biden's 20%.
* Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said in September that he's open to the United States taking in Syrian migrants. This week, he changed his mind: “I’m putting people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, they’re going back!”
* Speaking of Trump, he told CNBC’s John Harwood this week that if his poll numbers collapse, he's likely to simply walk away. "Right now, I’m leading every poll, in most cases big," Trump said. "If that changed, if I was like some of these people at 1 percent or 2 percent, there’s no reason to move forward.”
* A group attacking Sen. David Vitter's (R-La.) gubernatorial campaign from the right has created a new TV ad featuring a baby wearing a diaper. It's led to questions as to whether the Gumbo PAC is referencing the far-right senator's prostitution scandal.
* Speaking of Louisiana, Clinton appears to have very strong support in the latest statewide poll of Democrats. She leads with 57%, followed by Biden's 22% and Sanders' 7%.
* The same poll shows Ben Carson leading among Louisiana Republicans with 23%, followed by Trump's 19%. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), in his own state, is running eighth with just 3%.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, walks to the House Floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 28, 2013. (Photo by Molly Riley/AP)

Washington eyes a new self-imposed crisis

10/02/15 11:20AM

Before 2011, Congress tended to transition from one legislative priority to the next. Some bills would pass, some would fail. Some would get a president's signature, some would be vetoed. Gridlock would occasionally muck things up, but there was a general sense that Capitol Hill was at least trying to address national challenges.
We've since entered a different phase of political history. Under the status quo, Congress doesn't transition from one priority to the next; it transitions from one self-imposed crisis to the next.
This week, for example, lawmakers narrowly averted a government shutdown, while at the same time, setting the stage for another shutdown fight in December. In between, it turns out, members will have to pass a debt-ceiling increase. Roll Call reported late yesterday:
The Treasury Department said Thursday it would reach the debt limit a bit earlier than was expected by many on Capitol Hill.
Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew told Congress in a new letter that thanks in part to lower-than-expected quarterly tax receipts, the extraordinary measures to forestall breaching the debt limit, combined with the new revenues, will run their course just a week after the resignation of Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, takes effect. That makes it all the more likely the debt limit will need to be addressed before his departure.
Boehner's last day is reportedly set for Oct. 30.
Almost immediately, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a press statement, calling on lawmakers to be responsible. “Failure to protect the full faith and credit of the United States would have a devastating impact on hard-working families across the country -- including tumbling retirement savings and rising interest rates for student loans, mortgages, credit cards and car payments.
"The Republican Congress must take the prospect of a catastrophic default off of the table.  The credit rating of the United States is not a hostage to serve Republicans’ toxic special interest ideology.  Yet time and again, the crisis-addicted Republican majority has threatened to shatter the foundation of our economy to advance their destructive partisan agenda.”
Well sure, when you put it that way, it sounds bad.
Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson speaks to the crowd at the Heritage Action Presidential Candidate Forum Sept. 18, 2015 in Greenville, S.C. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty)

Ben Carson asks, 'Gravity, where did it come from?'

10/02/15 10:57AM

Two prominent Republican presidential candidates offered their thoughts on the climate crisis on Wednesday, and came to two very different conclusions. The challenge comes in determining which one was worse.
Let's start with Ben Carson, who was asked by a voter in New Hampshire to explain his disbelief in climate change. The New Republic's Rebecca Leber reported on the GOP candidate's response:
"Is there climate change? Of course there's climate change," Carson replied. "Any point in time, temperatures are going up or temperatures are going down. Of course that's happening. When that stops happening, that's when we're in big trouble.” [...]
Though he had been asked about climate change, he continued, "As far as evolution is concerned, you know, I do believe in micro-evolution, or natural selection, but I believe that God gave the creatures he made the ability to adapt to their environment. Because he's very smart and he didn't want to start over every 50 years."
Carson, whose views on science are genuinely bizarre, especially for a retired physician, added, “Just the way the Earth rotates on its axis, how far away it is from the sun. These are all very complex things. Gravity, where did it come from?”
At around the same time, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), the alleged "moderate" of the bunch, fielded a very similar question. He responded:
Congress Struggles With Funding Repairs To U.S. Capitol Dome

House GOP leaders face a different kind of rebellion

10/02/15 10:22AM

One of the many advantages to being in the congressional majority leadership is near-total control over the agenda. In practical terms, House leaders can veto every bill, simply by refusing to bring it to the floor for a vote.
Immigration reform had enough votes to pass? Too bad -- the House GOP leadership didn't want a vote on the bill, so it died. Firearm background checks enjoyed the support of 92% of the American public? Oh well -- Republican leaders decided it wasn't worth lawmakers' time.
In theory, one might assume that bill backed by a majority of the House will pass the chamber. But in the real world, will of the House majority is secondary to the will of the House majority leadership.
There is one notable exception, though. Consider this report from Politico yesterday.
Supporters of the Export-Import Bank have secured enough Republican support to bring an extension of the agency's charter to the House floor later this month, according to sources involved in the whipping.
More than 30 Republicans have signed on to a discharge petition, which would force a vote on reauthorizing the government-backed credit agency. Republicans expect at least a dozen more supporters. The vast majority of Democrats are expected to sign the discharge petition, a rarely invoked procedural maneuver that sidesteps the committee process.
I didn't include the phrase "discharge petition" at the top of this piece, because I was afraid you'd stop reading, but hear me out because this is interesting.

Obama's challenge: comparing gun deaths to terror deaths

10/02/15 09:39AM

President Obama delivered angry remarks at the White House late yesterday on the nation's latest mass shooting, and included a challenge to journalists:
"I would ask news organizations -- because I won't put these facts forward -- have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports. This won't be information coming from me; it will be coming from you.
"We spend over a trillion dollars, and pass countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so. And yet, we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths.  How can that be?"
Americans have come to expect a robust governmental response to terrorism, with officials, agencies, and cabinet departments going to great lengths to protect the public from violent attacks. At the same time, however, mass shootings routinely kill thousands of Americans each year.
Just how significant is the imbalance? Let's take the president up on his challenge.

Job growth cools over the summer

10/02/15 08:44AM

When U.S. job creation fell short of expectations in August, many hoped it was a temporary setback. Today, however, we learned that job totals came up short in September, too.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the U.S. economy added 142,000 jobs in September, well below the 200,000 expected by economists. The overall unemployment rate remained 5.1%, which is still the lowest point since April 2008, more than seven years ago.
Making matters slightly worse, though summer revisions often paint a more encouraging picture, today's data points in the opposite direction. July's job totals were revised down, from 245,000 to 223,000, while August's totals were also revised down, from 173,000 to 136,000. That's a combined 59,000 jobs we thought we'd created, but didn't.
For those rooting for the U.S. economy, this isn't the report we were hoping for.
That said, overall, the U.S. has added 2.75 million jobs over the last 12 months, which is actually pretty good. September was the 60th consecutive month of positive job growth -- the best stretch since 1939 -- and the 67th consecutive month in which we’ve seen private-sector job growth, which is the longest on record.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (L) speaks while flanked by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) during a news conference at GOP headquarters on Capitol Hill, July 22, 2015. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

GOP leader tries to undo damage after Benghazi concession

10/02/15 08:00AM

On Tuesday night, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) acknowledged a fact that everyone knows, but which Republicans aren't supposed to admit out loud: the GOP's taxpayer-financed Benghazi committee is all about the Republicans' “strategy to fight and win” against Hillary Clinton. It’s not, in other words, about investigating an attack that left four Americans dead.
As the uproar continued yesterday, McCarthy and GOP leaders spent the day "scrambling to undo the damage." That included the California Republican sitting down with Fox News' Bret Baier in the hopes of putting out the fire. McCarthy, the likely next Speaker of the House, stuck to an awkwardly worded script.
"I did not intend to imply in any way that [the committee's] work was political. Of course it is not; look at the way they have carried themselves out. [...]
"I do not want to make that harm Benghazi committee in any way because it’s not political.”
On a substantive level, McCarthy's explanation was a mess. Just two days after acknowledging reality, the GOP leader now wants to pretend the obvious partisan exercise isn't "political" at all. As proof, he urges us to "look at the way they have carried themselves out." That's clumsy phrasing, but if we do examine how the committee has conducted itself, a picture of a brazenly political tool emerges.
On a rhetorical level, McCarthy didn't exactly inspire confidence. At one point in the interview, he said, "It wasn't what I, in my mind, was saying out there." Good to know.
Behind the scenes, some Republican insiders are quietly starting to refer to McCarthy as "the new Dan Quayle." I don't think they mean it as a compliment.
Gun control advocates look beyond Congress

Gun control advocates look beyond broken Congress for solutions

10/01/15 09:52PM

Lori Haas, whose daughter was killed in the Virginia Tech shooting, talks with Rachel Maddow about the vast network of gun violence survivors and smart gun policy advocates who are working toward better gun policy at the local level because Congress and Washington, D.C. is too broken to address the problem. watch

Obama enraged over gun massacre repeat

Obama angry as America replays gun massacre routine

10/01/15 08:59PM

Rachel Maddow shares video of a visibly upset President Obama addressing the latest mass gun killing, and talks with Pete Williams, NBC News justice correspondent, about what few concrete facts are known about today's deadly shooting incident at Umpqua Community College. watch

President Barack Obama speaks at the White House in Washington, Oct. 1, 2015, about the shooting at the Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore. (Photo by Susan Walsh/AP)

An angry president argues, 'Thoughts and prayers are not enough'

10/01/15 07:46PM

President Obama has made clear, more than once, that one of his greatest frustrations has been Congress' refusal to consider legislation to reduce gun violence. Indeed, the image of a disappointed leader, addressing the nation in the wake of yet another deadly mass shooting, has become all too familiar.
As the accompanying video makes clear, this doesn't just bother the president; it angers him. Watching him deliver remarks this afternoon, in the wake of the deadly shooting in Oregon, Obama seemed disgusted -- not just with the tragedy and heartbreak, but also with the political circumstances that allows these deadly events to keep happening, over and over again.
The transcript of the president's remarks follows. We will have much more on this story on tonight's show.

Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.1.15

10/01/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* The latest from Oregon: "State police said they believed there was only one shooter, who they said 'is no longer a threat.'"
* Syria: "The United States and Russia will begin talks Thursday morning aimed at calming tensions between their opposing military operations in Syria, two senior defense officials told NBC News. The 'very high-level' discussions will begin at 11 a.m. ET, one official said."
* Related news: "In a second day of raids in Syria, Russian warplanes carried out a new round of airstrikes on Thursday that once again -- contrary to Moscow’s assertions -- appeared for the most part to be targeting not the Islamic State but a rival insurgent coalition."
* Afghanistan: "Afghan government forces rallied on Thursday for the first time in four days against Taliban fighters who had taken the city of Kunduz, engaging in heavy fighting near the city center, residents and government officials said. By nightfall, however, witnesses said the battle for the city was still undecided."
* Rough crowd: "People booed and hissed at House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) on Thursday as she defended her party's ongoing Benghazi probe and its connection to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton."
* A dramatic mistake: "The Secret Service apologized Wednesday to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a prominent critic of the agency, for violating federal privacy law by improperly accessing sensitive personal information about him dozens of times in little more than a single week."
* The Atlantic Coast is on alert: "East Coast states are alerting residents to prepare as potentially historic rainfall and flooding is set to wreak havoc into the weekend -- whether or not Hurricane Joaquin, which was upgraded to an 'extremely dangerous' Category 4 storm on Thursday afternoon, makes U.S. landfall."
US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold a bilateral meeting in Northern Ireland, June 17, 2013.

The right's rekindled affection for Russia's Putin

10/01/15 12:53PM

It was early last year when Republicans decided Russian President Vladimir Putin was an autocrat worthy of their gushing affections. In March 2014, Rudy Giuliani (R) said of Putin, “That’s what you call a leader.” The same month, Mike Rogers, at the time the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, expressed his own admiration: “Putin is playing chess and I think we are playing marbles, and I don’t think it’s even close. They’ve been running circles around us.”
At one point last summer, a Fox News personality went so far as to say she wanted to see Putin serve as “head of the United States,” at least for a little while.
By late last year, however, Republicans were no longer drawing hearts on their pictures of Putin. Russia's economy was deteriorating quickly; Putin was isolated on the international stage; Russia's standing and credibility around the world was in tatters; and the sanctions President Obama helped impose on Russia were making a real difference.
Suddenly, the U.S. conservatives who'd enrolled in the Putin fan-club fell quiet, realizing that their contempt for the American president led them to praise the wrong foreign leader.
As of this week, however, many Republicans have apparently come full circle.
One day after President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin made little headway in their standoff over Syria at their first formal meeting in more than two years, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump is agreeing with Putin on his backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad. [...]
"I will tell you that, in terms of leadership, [Putin's] getting an 'A' and our president is not doing so well," he said.
Jennifer Rubin, a conservative voice at the Washington Post, added this morning, "In taking this action just days after meeting with President Obama, Putin is delivering one more finger in the eye of a president whom he continues to out-wit and out-muscle."
Yes, we've apparently reached the point again at which Republicans once more see Putin as some kind of strategic mastermind.