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Tassels hang from a cap during commencement exercises on May 9, 2014.

Debate takes shape on affordable higher ed

04/14/15 11:22AM

It was back in January that President Obama unveiled his plan to make tuition at community colleges free for students who qualify. Though the president emphasized the idea in his State of the Union address soon after, Congress' disinterest pushed the proposal from the political world's radar.
 
The White House, however, hasn't given up on the measure. Just a few days ago, Vice President Biden devoted the official White House weekly address to the issue, highlighting the broad benefits associated with the policy.
 
A few hours later, however, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) campaigned in Iowa, where he pushed an alternative approach.
"The president wants to offer you free college," Paul said, referring to President Barack Obama's State of the Union proposal to fund two years of community college (not an education at a place like Iowa State, which is a public university) for any American who wanted it. "Sounds good, at first, until you really think about it. How could it be free?  Won't somebody still bear the cost of paying professors, paying for electricity, paying janitorial services?  I've got a better idea -- let's let college students deduct the cost of their education over their working career!"
If this sounds at all familiar, it may be because the fictional Bartlett White House considered a similar idea on "The West Wing" in its fourth season.
 
Before kicking around the details, the debate itself is heartening. In recent years, we've seen Democrats talk about various proposals to make higher ed more affordable to more Americans, which Republicans have generally rejected -- too much spending, too much government, not enough free market.
 
Paul's comments at least create the basis for a more progressive debate: let's have a discussion about how, not whether, policymakers will help create educational opportunities for young adults.
 
That's the good news. The bad news is, the Kentucky Republican's idea is deeply flawed.
Republican Senator from Florida Marco Rubio on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC on January 28, 2014.

Rubio called for, then skipped, foreign-policy hearing

04/14/15 10:44AM

The problem with the recent reports on Republicans failing to show up for congressional hearings is that they're the equivalent of a ticky-tack foul in sports: it matters, but only in an inconsequential way. Sure, it's annoying that Republicans made committee attendance a key part of their 2014 campaign message, but at the end of the day, it's tough to get worked up over this.
 
But lawmakers who specifically call for a hearing, requesting certain information, and then fail to show up, that's a very different kind of story. Andrew Kaczynski had this interesting piece yesterday.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is expected to announce that he is running for president Monday, skipped a series of hearings in the aftermath of Osama Bin Laden's death, including a specific hearing Rubio had called for on talk radio days before he skipped it.
 
"Do you want the Foreign Relations Committee to be holding hearings soon into the circumstances of bin Laden's death, and the circumstances of his being harbored in Pakistan," radio host Hugh Hewitt asked Rubio on May 2, 2011. "Well, I sit on two committees that I think are going to look at this. The first is the Intelligence Committee, and I know we meet twice a week, and we'll be meeting tomorrow, and I think there'll be some questions answered there," Rubio responded.
As the BuzzFeed report makes clear, the Florida Republican specifically urged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to hold a hearing examining U.S. policy towards Pakistan. Three days later, the panel held a hearing called, "Assessing U.S. Policy and Its Limits In Pakistan."
 
Rubio skipped the hearing.
Unidentified International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors (2nd-3rd L) and Iranian technicians disconnect the connections between the twin cascades for 20 percent uranium production at nuclear power plant of Natanz, some 300 kilometres south of Teh

Republicans turn a blind eye to the science of the Iran debate

04/14/15 10:11AM

The Republican Party's strained relationship with modern science has grown more serious in recent months. GOP leaders have struggled, repeatedly, when confronted with scientific questions related to climate change, evolution, contraception, vaccinations, and in one recent instance, hand-washing.
 
But it now appears we can add a new one to the list: the science of nuclear policy in Iran.
 
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), will formally begin tackling a very controversial bill today: a proposal to expand Congress' role in international nuclear talks. In theory, the technical details surrounding the still-ongoing diplomatic efforts would be critically important, but Politico had an interesting piece the other day noting that congressional Republicans have effectively decided science doesn't matter.
Republicans will present plenty of arguments against the Iran deal in the coming weeks — but there will be no big push to knock down the scientific case for the deal, according to GOP aides and outside experts.
 
Instead, the GOP case will rest largely on convincing the public that the deal would give away too much and end too soon and won't spend a lot of time challenging the Obama administration on the science.
The report noted that the White House has focused heavily on the scientific details, "arguing that there are enough technical restrictions to guarantee that it couldn't build a bomb without getting caught." To that end, the administration has not only emphasized technical arguments from Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, the former MIT physics professor, but other proponents of the framework "have gathered enough signatures from nuclear nonproliferation specialists, including scientists, to show that there's a lot of support for the deal from experts."
 
One White House official told Politico, "We're never going to win over those playing politics, but [for] all those seeking to make sound judgments -- then yes -- we expect the science to be compelling."
 
To which Republicans have effectively replied, "Science, schmience. This is about politics."
A wedding cake for same-sex couples at a celebration on July 1, 2013.

Marriage-equality debate already making its mark on 2016 race

04/14/15 09:29AM

In her campaign announcement video on Sunday, Hillary Clinton featured a diverse group of Americans preparing to tackle a variety of new challenges. One was a young man preparing to marry another young man -- a reminder that Democrats now see marriage equality as an issue that works in their favor.
 
Republicans, meanwhile, are struggling to find their footing as the ground shifts beneath them. Dana Bash asked Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for example, why a libertarian would want the government to block equal marriage rights. The Republican senator endorsed the idea that what people do in their own homes "is your own business," to which the CNN host added, "But not when it comes to marriage."
Paul responded by differentiating between traditional marriage and a "contract" between gay people.
 
"Well, no. I mean states -- states will end up making the decisions on these things. I think that there's a religious connotation to marriage. I believe in the traditional religious connotation to this," Paul answered. "But I also believe people ought to be treated fairly under the law. I see no reason why if the marriage contract conveys certain things that if -- if you -- if you want to marry another woman that you can do that and have a contract."
Putting aside the separate-but-equal dilemma at the heart of the argument, Paul's response obscures the rest of his position.
 
Talking to major, mainstream news organizations, the Kentucky Republican makes it sound as if he's eager to be inclusive and treat all Americans "fairly." But when Rand Paul is talking to far-right audiences, the GOP lawmaker's message loses its accommodating veneer.
 
It was just a few weeks ago that Paul told a group of far-right pastors that he not only opposes marriage equality, he also believes the debate itself shouldn't exist and is the result of a "moral crisis" in the United States. Two weeks prior, the Republican told Fox News that marriages between same-sex couples "offend" him "and a lot of other people."
 
Of course, it's not just Rand Paul. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who kicked off his presidential bid yesterday, sat down with NPR's Steve Inskeep, who asked about the same issue.
Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, Dec. 10, 2013.

Congress giving up on authorizing ISIS mission

04/14/15 08:40AM

President Obama launched a military offensive against ISIS targets in August 2014. He publicly called on Congress to authorize the mission in December 2014. He used part of his State of the Union address to urge lawmakers to act in January 2015. At Congress' insistence, the White House even sent draft legislative language to Capitol Hill in February 2015.
 
Congress' Republican majority, however, hasn't actually done any real work on the issue, and according to the House Majority Leader's comments yesterday, that's not going to change.
President Obama's request to use military force against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria terrorists is dead in the House, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy declared on Monday.
 
The California Republican told reporters Obama's request for an authorization of use of military force, or AUMF, could not attain a simple 218-vote majority in the lower chamber.
According to Roll Call's report, McCarthy specifically told reporters, in reference to the White House's draft resolution, "I do not think there is [sic] 218 votes for what the president sent up.... I usually don't bring bills up unless I think they can pass "
 
The California Republican did suggest the Armed Services Committee might consider the issue, but the Roll Call report added, "[H]e didn't commit to the AUMF getting on the floor for a vote -- particularly if it's just a doomed exercise.... McCarthy signaled that the draft might never get a vote." The legislative branch could consider writing it own legislative draft, but apparently, that idea isn't under consideration, either.
 
As we discussed last week, Congress' intention to do nothing does not mean that the mission against ISIS must cease. On the contrary, Obama continues to launch airstrikes on ISIS targets and help lead an international coalition. He's just doing so without any real limits or new legal authorization (the administration is relying on the post-9/11 AUMF as its legal basis). Lawmakers have effectively told the administration, "Go ahead and wage war. We're staying out of it."
 
But, in the same press event, McCarthy also told reporters yesterday that he intends to move as quickly as possible on legislation empowering Congress to intervene on international nuclear talks with Iran.
 
Appreciating the contradiction at the heart of these two positions is critical. Indeed, the point isn't lost on the White House.
Marco Rubio (Photo by Alan Diaz/AP)

Rubio adds new paint to old ideas

04/14/15 08:00AM

Late yesterday in Miami, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) made it official, launching his 2016 presidential campaign with a not-so-subtle message: he's this cycle's new, fresh face.
"Just yesterday, a leader from yesterday began a campaign for president by promising to take us back to yesterday," Rubio said, referring to Clinton's own campaign launch on Sunday. "Yesterday is over, and we are never going back. We Americans are proud of our history, but our country has always been about the future."
The speech, which much of the political press fawned over, emphasized certain words over and over again. "Yesterday" got five mentions, as did the word "new." The senator used the word "future" five times, and he added seven references to "generation."
 
There were a whopping 13 references to "century," mostly in reference to "new century" and "21st century."
 
I half expected to hear "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" over the loudspeakers, though the song tends to be associated with someone else.
 
At the surface, it's not a bad pitch. But in Rubio's case, there are more salient questions about the messenger than the message.
 
The Florida Republican, for example, expressed dismay that American leaders are "taxing, borrowing and regulating like it's 1999." It was as foolish as it was wrong -- in 1999, not only were tax rates higher than now, but the government wasn't "borrowing" at all thanks to the federal surpluses that existed in the Clinton era.
 
At the time, the economic boom was reaching new heights, unemployment was reaching new lows, the nation was actually shrinking the national debt for the first time in generations. Rubio sees 1999 as some kind of dystopia to be avoided, but by any sane metric, those were economic conditions America should strive for, not avoid.
 
But even putting aside glaring and unnecessary factual errors, the more thematic problem was Rubio denouncing those who are "busy looking backward," while at the same time, pushing an agenda that would roll back the clock.

Citations for the April 13, 2015 TRMS

04/14/15 12:55AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Guy Cecil, veteran senior strategist from Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign, who has also been advising her this time as she begins another quest for the presidency in 2016.
  • Marc Caputo, a longtime Florida political reporter who now covers the state for Politico.

Tonight's links:

read more

Rubio running for president 'without a net'

Marco Rubio running for president 'without a net'

04/13/15 09:35PM

Marc Caputo, Politico Florida senior writer, talks with Rachel Maddow about how much Marco Rubio has put on the line in announcing a bid for the White House, the kind of scrutiny he should expect from the national media, and his chances with Republicans. watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 4.13.15

04/13/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* North Carolina shooting: "Police were searching Monday for the gunman who fatally shot a Wayne Community College employee and sent the North Carolina college campus into lockdown, officials said."
 
* Oklahoma: "A Tulsa, Oklahoma reserve sheriff's deputy was charged with second-degree manslaughter Monday for the shooting death of an unarmed black man, the Tulsa County district attorney said."
 
* Blackwater sentencing: "A federal judge in Washington handed down prison terms of 30 years to life behind bars to four Blackwater Worldwide guards convicted in a deadly 2007 shooting that killed 14 unarmed Iraqis and injured others in a Baghdad traffic circle."
 
* ISIS targeted: "Iraqi security forces launched a counter-attack on Islamic State in the western province of Anbar on Monday, seeking to reverse an early setback in a new campaign to recapture the country's Sunni heartland."
 
* Afghanistan: "Taliban fighters swarmed over Afghan army posts in the country's northeast, killing at least 18 soldiers and beheading some in a major attack to mark the start of the country's summer fighting season, authorities said Monday."
 
* Capitol shooting: "The U.S. Capitol Building was locked down for about two hours Saturday afternoon after a man carrying a gun killed himself near the front steps and a suspicious package was found nearby, officials said."
 
* Tennessee: "The Tennessee Supreme Court has halted four executions originally scheduled to take place over the next year, effectively suspending capital punishment in the state for the time being."
Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney listens as his wife Lynne Cheney speaks about her book "James Madison: A Life Reconsidered" on May 12, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty)

'Cheney 2016' gets its first endorsement

04/13/15 04:59PM

On ABC's "This Week" yesterday, George Stephanopoulos asked his roundtable who "the most promising Republican" is who isn't in the 2016 presidential race.
 
Some discussion followed with Mitt Romney, John Thune, and John Kasich getting mentions, but leave it to Bill Kristol -- yes, he's apparently still getting Sunday show invitations -- to take the discussion in the most Kristol-esque direction.
"If they get to nominate Hillary Clinton, why don't we get to nominate Dick Cheney? I mean, he has a much -- he has a much better record. He has a much better record."
Tavis Smiley, part of the same panel, could be heard responding a moment later, "God help us all."
 
Kristol didn't elaborate on what he sees as the strengths of Cheney's "record," but the odds of the failed former vice president running again are roughly zero -- largely because Democrats aren't that lucky.
 
As the Republican V.P. was leaving office, a Washington Post/ABC News poll asked respondents, "Do you approve or disapprove of the way Dick Cheney has handled his job as vice president?" Only 30% approved, while twice as many Americans, 60% disapproved.
 
A year and a half later, Gallup found Cheney's favorability rating had inched just a bit higher -- all the way to 36%. For contrast, note that Gallup shows Hillary Clinton with a 48% favorable rating and President Obama with a 49% rating.

ACA pushes uninsured rate to new lows

04/13/15 03:44PM

This sure would be an awful time for Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court to gut the American health care system.
The uninsured rate among U.S. adults declined to 11.9% for the first quarter of 2015 -- down one percentage point from the previous quarter and 5.2 points since the end of 2013, just before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. The uninsured rate is the lowest since Gallup and Healthways began tracking it in 2008.
 
The percentage of uninsured Americans climbed from the 14% range in early 2008 to over 17% in 2011, and peaked at 18.0% in the third quarter of 2013. The uninsured rate has dropped sharply since the most significant change to the U.S. healthcare system in the Affordable Care Act -- the provision requiring most Americans to carry health insurance -- took effect at the beginning of 2014.
A variety of prominent conservative voices, as recently as last year, argued that the ACA would fall short on this basic goal. Avik Roy, for example, argued, "At the end of the day, for all of the rhetoric and promises about what Obamacare would achieve, the health law's most ardent supporters have stuck to their guns because of one thing: coverage expansion. But new data suggests that Obamacare may fail even to achieve this goal."
 
As it turns out, like so much of the conservative rhetoric surrounding the Affordable Care Act, the dire assessments turned out to be wrong. The law intended to expand coverage and reduced the uninsured rate, and the latest data suggests this one of many areas in which the ACA is succeeding in its principal goals.
 
What's more, it's worth emphasizing that the new results would be even better if more "red" states would do the right thing on Medicaid expansion, but on this front, progress is clearly slow. Greg Sargent has more on this angle.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum at the 2015 NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits on April 10, 2015 in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Marco Rubio rolls the dice

04/13/15 12:40PM

The status quo for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is actually quite comfortable. He's a U.S. senator from one of the nation's largest states, where he enjoys favorable support. The Florida Republican is on the committees he likes; he gets plenty of attention from the Beltway media; and he's a young, 43-year-old politician who'd probably be able to stay in this cushy position for the next several decades.
 
But later today, Rubio will put it all on the line for a chance at the White House.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Flo.) told donors Monday morning that he is running for president in 2016 and that he is "uniquely qualified" to be the GOP nominee, a campaign source in Miami confirmed to msnbc.
 
Rubio is set to officially announce his campaign for president Monday at 6 p.m. in his hometown of Miami, adding his name to a growing list of official candidates.
While Sen Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is working diligently to ensure he can run for president and for re-election at the same time, Rubio has vowed to pursue a more daring course: the Florida Republican will give up his Senate seat to seek national office.
 
In other words, if his White House bid comes up short, Rubio will be left with nothing in January 2017.
 
That's no small risk given that Rubio enters the race as an underdog. At this point, the Real Clear Politics averages show him running seventh in the crowded GOP field, while the Huffington Post poll aggregator has him running eighth. How many national polls to date have shown Rubio even reaching double-digit support among Republican voters? So far, zero.
 
He's not even doing especially well in his home state.
 
That's not to say Rubio doesn't have some selling points as a presidential candidate, but he has a lot of ground to make up, which isn't easy when there's a field of 10 to 12 rivals battling for time, attention, and media oxygen.
 
Ironically, part of Rubio's problem is that he's far more right-wing than the political world seems to realize.

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