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Confetti lie over the floor on the last day of the 2012 Republican National Convention.

The pitfalls of 2016 polling

12/16/14 04:02PM

Just because the 2016 presidential election is 23 months away doesn't mean it's too early for national polling. But at this stage in the race, all of the data should come with a big "caveat emptor" stamped at the top.
 
To be sure, the race is just starting to take shape and likely candidates are moving forward with preliminary plans. Jeb Bush is setting up an exploratory committee; Bernie Sanders is in Iowa; Martin O'Malley is hiring staff; Ben Carson is ... doing whatever it is Ben Carson does; etc.
 
And as this preliminary phase unfolds, there's national polling, too. Here's the latest from McClatchy/Marist:
If Romney did run, the poll found that he would be supported today by 19 percent of Republicans and Republican independents, followed by Bush with 14 percent. They'd be followed by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, each with 9 percent, and physician Ben Carson with 8 percent. The rest of the potential field trails behind in smaller single digits.
 
If Romney didn't run, Bush would lead with 16 percent, followed by Huckabee with 12, Christie with 10 and Carson with 8.
And here's the Washington Post/ABC News poll:
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents released Tuesday shows [Jeb] Bush running first in a GOP field without Mitt Romney, though not leading by a statistically significant margin. He gets 15 percent, compared to 11 percent for both Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
 
In a field with Romney, Romney leads Bush 20-10 percent, with Paul at 9 percent and Ryan at 8 percent.
And what does this tell us about the 2016 race? Not as much as one might hope. Let's take a stroll down memory lane:
The sun begins to set behind the US Capitol in Washington, D.C.

A whole new day on filling the federal courts

12/16/14 12:54PM

For much of President Obama's tenure, there have been plenty of complaints from the left -- including some from me -- about the way in which Democrats dealt with judicial nominees. The White House seemed slow to send would-be judges to the Senate for consideration, and the White House would respond there was no rush -- Senate Republicans were blocking too many nominees anyway.
 
It wasn't too long ago that judicial vacancies had reached a crisis level, and the problem seemed intractable with dozens of qualified Obama nominees stuck in Senate quicksand.
 
Slowly but surely, however, there's been some amazing progress on the issue. The Associated Press reported this morning:
No longer impeded by Republican blocking tactics, Democrats are on track to win confirmation of up to 88 of President Barack Obama's top judicial nominations this year, a total that would be the highest for any president in two decades.
 
Last year, Democrats made it harder for Republicans to derail Obama's nominations by weakening the Senate's rule on filibusters. So far this year, the chamber has approved 76 federal court of appeals and district court judges, all of them lifetime appointments.
To put that 76 figure in context, the Senate confirmed 43 judicial nominees in 2013 and 49 in 2012.
 
Also note, this year's total isn't done. Thanks to Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) blunder, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was able to move 12 more judicial nominees towards confirmation this week, which may ultimately bring the overall total for the year to 88 -- more than double last year's tally, and the most since Bill Clinton's second year in office.
 
As of this minute, 291 of Obama's judicial nominees have been confirmed to the federal bench -- one more than Reagan at this point in his sixth year, 37 more than W. Bush, and just seven fewer than Clinton. If, however, the 12 pending nominees are approved this week, Obama will be outpacing them all.
 
Brookings' Russell Wheeler told the AP that Obama and the Democratic-led Senate have "changed the face of the judiciary."
Ohio Gov. John Kasich talks about recent Republican party gains and the road ahead for his party during a press conference at the Republican governors' conference in Boca Raton, Fla. on Nov. 19, 2014. (J Pat Carter/AP)

Kasich's poor choice for a signature issue

12/16/14 12:13PM

About 20 years ago, John Kasich was effectively the Paul Ryan of his day. The Ohio Republican was chairman of the House Budget Committee; Kasich was considered a numbers wonk by the Beltway media; he had national ambitions; and he was wrong about practically everything.
 
It was Kasich, after all, who took the lead telling Americans that President Clinton's economic plan would be an epic disaster for the nation. Oops.
 
Two decades later, however, Kasich is the governor of Ohio and eyeing a 2016 presidential campaign. As James Hohmann reported yesterday, he's also bringing back an idea he liked back during his Capitol Hill days.
"Republicans have a [national] convention, and all they do is have a debt clock up there and talk about how bad it is," Kasich said in an interview. "You've got to do something about it!"
 
Now Kasich is trying to do something about it, something that's never been done in American history and is all but certain to fail again: He's launching a national campaign to pass an amendment to the Constitution through the states, in this case to require a balanced federal budget. Success, though, may be almost beside the point: Worst case, Kasich is out there fighting for his cause, and raising his profile, ahead of a potential 2016 presidential candidacy.
Yes, plenty of ambitious politicians choose a signature issue, and for Kasich, that issue is changing the U.S. Constitution to prevent deficits forever more. The Republican governor seems to realize that Congress won't approve such a measure anytime soon, so the Ohio governor has an alternative approach in mind.
 
Specifically, as Hohmann reported, Kasich has created a nonprofit group called "Balanced Budget Forever," that intends to amend the Constitution by way of a constitutional convention. He'll need 34 states to call for such a gathering, and then 38 states to ratify the agreed upon changes.
 
To put it mildly, it's a longshot.
 
But it's important to understand that Kasich's long odds are a good thing -- a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution is among the worst ideas in the history of bad ideas.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks during the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 1, 2014. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty)

Jeb Bush moves forward with his presidential plans

12/16/14 11:03AM

Former Florida Gov. John Ellis "Jeb" Bush (R) has given mixed signals of late about his presidential ambitions. On the one hand, the Republican is releasing materials and delivering speeches in ways that suggest he'll be a candidate. On the other, Bush has recently expanded his financial-sector enterprise, and it seemed unlikely he'd walk away from his investors.
 
This morning, however, the former Florida governor brought some clarity to his plans. Through social media, Jeb Bush explained his family's recent discussions:
"We also talked about the future of our nation. As a result of these conversations and thoughtful consideration of the kind of strong leadership I think America needs, I have decided to actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States.
 
"In January, I also plan to establish a Leadership PAC that will help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation. The PAC's purpose will be to support leaders, ideas and policies that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans."
Note, Bush has not yet launched his presidential campaign, per se. Rather, in an awkward sentence, he's decided to "actively explore the possibility" of running for president.
 
The next question, of course, then becomes whether Jeb Bush will actually become president.
US Senator David Vitter (C) speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill, September 30, 2013.

Vitter gears up to fight Lynch's A.G. nomination

12/16/14 10:14AM

In early November, President Obama introduced U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch as his choice to be the nation's new Attorney General, at which point Senate Democrats had a decision to make. Would the outgoing majority hurry up and try to confirm Lynch in the lame-duck session, making it more difficult to tackle other priorities, or would Dems put the nomination on the backburner, confident that Senate Republicans would eventually approve Lynch for the job?
 
Democrats ultimately went with the latter approach. One far-right Republican senator believes he can make Dems regret that decision.
One of the new Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee says next year's Senate should block President Barack Obama's attorney general nominee.
 
Louisiana Sen. David Vitter is trying to stop the nomination of Loretta Lynch, the current U.S. Attorney based in Brooklyn, over Obama's recent executive action on immigration.
In a press release, Vitter characterized his obstructionist plan as retribution for an immigration policy he doesn't like. "I'm looking forward to providing a check on President Obama's illegal executive amnesty," the far-right Louisianan said, adding, "We'll have the opportunity to push back on executive amnesty with one of our first major battles: the Attorney General nomination. The attorney general is one of the linchpins to Obama's amnesty plan, and I'll be working to get the new Congress to block this nomination."
 
No one has ever accused Vitter of having great strategic instincts, but this gambit seems unusually misguided, even for him.
US President Barack Obama (R) listens to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a bilateral meeting in Los Cabos on June 18, 2012 on the sidelines of the G20 summit.   (Photo Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian economy faces freefall conditions

12/16/14 09:34AM

A friend of mine recently asked why I'm so hung up on Russian President Vladimir Putin and the adulation he's received from Republicans in the U.S. I think it comes down to two things.
 
The first is that GOP gushing over the Russian autocrat has always struck me as a historical oddity: I simply can't think of a comparable moment in modern American history in which the United States butted heads with a major foreign rival, and prominent figures from an American political party started publicly praising the other country's leader. It served as a reminder that Republican contempt for President Obama has reached levels that defy simple, patriotic norms.
 
The second, however, is more basic: a variety of conservative Americans not only expressed their admiration for Putin, they also saw him as a strategic mastermind, guiding Russia towards power and greatness, and demonstrating the kind of leadership needed in the United States.
 
And so, as we watch conditions in Russia deteriorate to alarming lows, I continue to believe it's incumbent on Republicans to offer an explanation for how spectacularly wrong they were.
A funny thing happened on the way to Vladimir Putin running strategic laps around the West. Russia's economy imploded.
 
The latest news is that Russia's central bank raised interest rates from 10.5 to 17 percent at an emergency 1 a.m. meeting in an attempt to stop the ruble, which is down 50 percent on the year against the dollar, from falling any further. It's a desperate move to save Russia's currency that comes at the cost of sacrificing Russia's economy. So even if it "works," things are about to get a lot worse.
In a not-so-subtle shot at Putin's American fans, Matt O'Brien's terrific report concluded, "Putin might be playing chess while we play checkers, but only if we lend him the money for the set."
 
Russia suddenly has nothing but awful options. Falling oil prices has crushed Russian currency, which leads to brutal inflation. In response, Russia's central bank -- in a panicked, middle-of-the-night move -- created much higher interest rates, which will crush Russian economic growth.
 
All the while, Putin's military misadventures have isolated the country economically and diplomatically, leaving Russia with sanctions that make matters even worse.
 
All of which brings us back to the fact that much of America's right was absolutely convinced of Putin's genius.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) at the U.S. Capitol, October 8, 2013 in Washington, D.C., was been identified as one of two Republican senators who placed a hold on Sen. Franken's new mental health bill.

Dr. No is wrapping up his career on a disheartening note

12/16/14 08:35AM

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has a nickname that he's apparently always liked. The right-wing physician-turned-politician is often referred to as "Dr. No" because of his willingness to oppose popular measures with broad support. In fact, Coburn almost seems to revel in his role as a one-man obstruction machine.
 
And as the Oklahoma Republican wraps up his final week on Capitol Hill -- Coburn is retiring before his term is up due to health reasons -- he's ending his career in the most disheartening way possible.
 
An energy-efficiency bill written by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) already passed the House, but it's stuck this week because of Coburn's objections. The Senate is trying to reauthorize the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, but Coburn is blocking that, too.
 
And as Rachel noted on the show last night, the Senate is eager to approve the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act, which cleared the House last week with unanimous support, but Coburn is literally the only member standing in the way.
Veterans groups blasted Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn Monday for blocking a bill intended to reduce a suicide epidemic that claims the lives of 22 military veterans every day.
 
"This is why people hate Washington," said Paul Rieckhoff, CEO and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an advocacy group. Rieckhoff accused Coburn of single-handedly blocking a bill that could save the lives of thousands of veterans.
Coburn delivered remarks on the Senate floor yesterday, attempting to explain himself. See for yourself whether or not the senator's defense made any sense:
Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next U.S. Surgeon General, prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Feb. 4, 2014. (Photo by Charles Dharapak/AP)

Vivek Murthy 1, NRA 0

12/16/14 08:00AM

The National Rifle Association has certain expectations when it comes to dictating developments on Capitol Hill. But once in a while, the NRA picks an important fight and loses. Take yesterday, for example.
The Senate on Monday narrowly confirmed President Obama's pick for surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, after the nomination was held up for more than a year. The Senate voted 51 to 43 to confirm Murthy, who received both an M.B.A. and M.D. from Yale. 
 
More than a year has passed since anyone has served as the U.S.'s top doctor; the country's most recent surgeon general, Regina Benjamin, served from 2009 to 2013.
The final roll call on Murthy's confirmation is online here. Note, three conservative Senate Democrats -- Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) -- voted with Republicans to defeat the nomination. One Republican, Illinois' Mark Kirk, voted with the Democratic majority.
 
For Murthy, the fact that he's qualified and well suited for the position was never in doubt. As regular readers know, the nation's new Surgeon General-designate is an impressive medical professional with sterling credentials. He's also an attending physician, an instructor, and a public-health advocate -- who, like so many in his field, sees a connection between gun violence and public health.
 
And that alone was enough to draw fierce opposition from the NRA, conservative media, and nearly every Republican in the Senate, including alleged "moderates" like Maine's Susan Collins.
 
Indeed, let's not forget that when Murthy's nomination first reached the Senate floor back in March, Republicans derailed him, at least temporarily, with the help of nervous red-state Dems with election-year jitters, which is why the nation didn't have a Surgeon General during the Ebola public-health scare.
 
So what changed? A couple of things, actually.

Taliban attacks school and other headlines

12/16/14 07:36AM

126 killed, including dozens of children, in Taliban attack on Pakistan school. (LA Times)

The latest on the manhunt for Pennsylvania man who allegedly killed six people. (Allentown Morning Call)

Senate may confirm up to 88 judges. (AP)

Iowa Gov. seeks to end Iowa GOP straw poll. (AP)

Ted Cruz quietly seeks peace with GOP's big spenders. (National Journal)

Family of executed Ohio inmate sues expert witness. (AP)

Democrats in Congress fight to allow gay men to donate blood. (National Journal)

Senate GOP announces new committee assignments. (The Hill)

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Democrats take advantage of Cruz showboating

Democrats take advantage of Cruz showboating

12/15/14 10:41PM

Rachel Maddow reports on how political grandstanding against President Obama's immigration actions by Ted Cruz in the Senate allowed Senate Democrats more time to confirm more presidential nominees, including Vivek Murthy for Surgeon General. watch

Ahead on the 12/15/14 Maddow show

12/15/14 08:46PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Josh Koskoff, a lawyer whose firm is representing ten Sandy Hook families suing Bushmaster Firearms
  • Ziva Branstetter, enterprise editor for Tulsa World

And here's executive producer Cory Gnazzo with a preview of what we're working on...

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