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E.g., 2/9/2016

Experienced GOP candidates continue to struggle most

02/04/16 11:23AM

Following up on a point we've been kicking around for months, I put together this chart in October showing the years of experience in government for the original field of 17 Republican presidential candidates (before anyone had dropped out). I've updated it this morning with arrows pointing to each of the candidates who've quit.
To make this analysis a little more straightforward, lets frame it in a slightly different way. When the GOP's presidential field reached its height, most of the field -- 9 of the 17 candidates -- had more than 15 years' worth experience in the public sector.
Of those nine candidates with the most experience, six have since quit, including four of the five candidates with the most years in public service.
On the other hand, when the GOP's presidential field reached its height, 8 of the 17 candidates had less than 15 years' worth experience in the public sector. Of those eight, only two have exited the race.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio waits to speak at a caucus site on Feb. 1, 2016 in Clive, Iowa. (Photo by Paul Sancya/AP)

High-profile backer can't name any Rubio accomplishments

02/04/16 10:55AM

About a week ago, Chris Christie made the case that Marco Rubio is "a 44-year-old first-term senator who's never accomplished anything." It's an assessment the Florida Republican's supporters no doubt disagree with.
Their challenge, however, is explaining why. This morning, Rick Santorum, just 12 hours after the demise of his own presidential campaign, appeared on MSNBC and was asked to name a single Rubio accomplishment from his five years in the U.S. Senate. Santorum made a valiant effort at spin, but he couldn't think of anything.
Santorum floundered right off the bat when asked to list Rubio's "top accomplishment" while in office. "Well, I mean, I would just say that this is a guy who's been able to, No. 1, win a tough election in Florida and pull people together from a variety of different spots. This is a guy that I think can work together with people," he said. "That's the thing I like about him the most."
And while that's nice, the question was about his accomplishments. So, Santorum was confronted with the question again, and again, and again. Eventually, he responded, "I guess it's hard to say there are accomplishments." Santorum blamed congressional "gridlock" on the fact that Congress gets so little done, making it difficult for any senator to develop a record of success.
When the question was expanded to include literally any Rubio bill, whether it passed or not, Santorum pointed to an obscure risk-corridor measure on health care policy -- which (a) is an awful policy; and (b) happens to be an example of Rubio taking credit for others' work.
In other words, pressed to identify anything Rubio has done of value after five years of work on Capitol Hill, his newest high-profile backer came up with one example that turns out to be bogus.
And there's a very good reason for this.
The City of Flint Water Plant is illuminated by moonlight on Jan. 23, 2016 in Flint, Mich. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty)

Cruz injects bogus partisanship into Flint crisis

02/04/16 10:05AM

At a certain level, it's encouraging anytime Republican presidential candidates notice the crisis in Flint, Michigan, and incorporate concerns about the scandal into their message. Take Ted Cruz, for example, who spoke to a New Hampshire audience about this yesterday:
"You know, you look at what's happening in Flint. Flint is an absolute outrage. You've got your own government poisoning the citizens. You look at the basic responsibilities of government, making sure our water's clean is really near the top. I mean, we're not talking rocket science here. This isn't even broadband Internet. This is, 'Don't have the water coming out of my sink poison me.'"
What's wrong with this? Not a darned thing. Flint is an absolute outrage and I'll gladly give the senator credit for focusing on it. The problem, however, is what Cruz said next:
"You know, there's an interesting parallel between Flint and New Orleans. Both cities have been governed with one-party government control of far-left Democrats for decades."
Oh, I see. Flint is an absolute outrage if it can be worked into a partisan frame that Ted Cruz can use to advance his presidential campaign.
Republican U.S. presidential candidate and Senator Ted Cruz looks over at rival candidate Senator Marco Rubio after Pope Francis' address on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Sept. 24, 2015. (Photo by James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

New endorsements point to changing Republican race

02/04/16 09:26AM

Donald Trump, the only leading Republican presidential candidate with literally zero endorsements from GOP governors or members of Congress, boasted the other day that the supporters are ready to line up behind him. The endorsements are coming "very soon," he said. He added, "You watch."
While we wait for these looming supporters, who may or may not exist, to make their official announcements, one of Trump's rivals is starting to pick up endorsements in large chunks. Politico reported overnight:
Sen. Marco Rubio locked up a handful of congressional endorsements on Wednesday.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), and Reps. Steve Womack and Rick Crawford, both Arkansas Republicans, all endorsed the Florida senator. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) reportedly plans to endorse Rubio on Thursday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Those announcements coincided with Rubio also picking up support from former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who officially ended his own presidential campaign last night, while throwing his backing to the Florida senator.
FiveThirtyEight, which maintains a very helpful "endorsement tracker," reported last night that Jeb Bush has been replaced as the GOP leader on this metric, surpassed by Rubio. The piece added that Rubio picked up a lot of endorsements between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, "but that momentum stalled." It now appears to be picking up again.
And that's hardly surprising. As things stand, the results out of Iowa suggest the race for the Republican presidential nomination is effectively a three-man contest between Rubio, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz. Given these choices, it seems painfully obvious that GOP members of Congress are going to rally behind the Florida senator, even if they have reservations, since they consider the alternatives so obviously unacceptable.
But let's not miss the forest for the trees here.
People walk past the U.S. Capitol dome in the hours before President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington, Jan. 12, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Senate GOP fails to walk the walk on national security

02/04/16 08:40AM

When it comes to talking about national security, congressional Republicans are ready and willing. When it comes to doing actual work, however, the GOP lawmakers who have all kinds of things to say seem to struggle with follow-through.
Yesterday, for example, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) asked for unanimous consent to approve an important counter-terrorism nominee, who's been awaiting a confirmation vote for months without explanation. As The Hill reported, it didn't go well.
Shaheen ... tried to get consent to confirm Adam Szubin to be an under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes for the Treasury Department. Democrats have repeatedly pointed to Szubin's nomination to criticize Republicans for holding up national security nominations. 
[Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah], however, objected to Shaheen's request on behalf of Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who chairs the Banking Committee.
Shaheen said that while Shelby was in Washington on Wednesday, "it's disappointing that he's not on the floor to talk about what his objections to Adam Szubin are."
Of course, as Shaheen knows, it wouldn't much matter if Shelby were on the floor to explain his objections, because he can't. The Alabama Republican can't admit what's plainly true: Shelby opposes President Obama's nominee because he's President Obama's nominee.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque in Catonsville, Md., Feb. 3, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Obama makes first-ever mosque visit, draws ugly fire from Rubio

02/04/16 08:00AM

President Obama yesterday made his first visit to a mosque since getting elected, delivering remarks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, and in the process showing some real leadership on an important issue.
"[I]f we're serious about freedom of religion -- and I'm speaking now to my fellow Christians who remain the majority in this country -- we have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths," the president explained. "And when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up. And we have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias, and targets people because of religion."
It was a message of inclusion and respect, a defense of religious liberty, and an explicit reminder to Muslim Americans that they are part of the fabric of the nation. "If you're ever wondering whether you fit in here, let me say it as clearly as I can, as President of the United States: You fit in here," Obama said. "You're right where you belong. You're part of America, too. You're not Muslim or American. You're Muslim and American."
Watching this, I was struck by a few things. The first was how genuinely heartening it was to see a sitting president reach out to a minority community with warmth and gratitude. The second was that Obama was doing exactly the opposite of what terrorist groups like ISIS want -- since their entire message is built on the lie that the West will never accept Muslims as friends and neighbors.
And third, I found myself thinking, "Even the most unhinged, right-wing Republican is going to have a hard time disagreeing with the president's efforts to bring people together." Apparently, I underestimated what Marco Rubio is capable of. The Washington Post reported on the senator's response to the Obama's remarks.
"I'm tired of being divided against each other for political reasons like this president's done," Rubio said. "Always pitting people against each other. Always."
"Look at today -- he gave a speech at a mosque," Rubio continued. "Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims. Of course there's going to be discrimination in America of every kind. But the bigger issue is radical Islam... [I]t's this constant pitting people against each other -- that I can't stand that. It's hurting our country badly."
Remember, we've been told repeatedly that he's the smart one in the GOP field.
Incomplete picture at Congress Flint hearing

Incomplete picture in testimony at Flint hearing in Congress

02/03/16 09:38PM

Congressman Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, talks with Rachel Maddow about what he learned at the first congressional hearing into the Flint water crisis, and how he hopes to keep up the pressure to hear testimony from witnesses who actually had a role in the decisions that led to the toxic water, like Governor... watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 2.3.16

02/03/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* It's going to be a good one: "The Democratic National Committee has agreed to sponsor four more Democratic debates, beginning with the MSNBC debate on Thursday moderated by Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow in New Hampshire."
* More on this on tonight's show: "The water crisis in Flint, Mich., threatened Wednesday to derail the first major federal energy bill in nearly a decade while stirring partisan passions in both the Senate and the House, where members of an oversight committee grilled officials from Michigan and the federal Environmental Protection Agency over their flawed response."
* Porter Ranch gas leak: "Southern California Gas Co. on Tuesday was charged with failing to immediately notify state authorities about the natural gas leak in Aliso Canyon."
* Syria: "Just two days after declaring an official start to the first international peace talks on Syria since 2014, the United Nations mediator said Wednesday that he was suspending the process for three weeks because of a lack of progress."
* Israel: "Three Palestinians armed with automatic rifles, knives and bombs killed an Israeli police officer in the heart of Jerusalem on Wednesday before they were shot dead by police, Israeli officials said."
* ISIS: "Advances in the campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq are forcing the extremists to abandon territory there, generating concerns that they are carving out a new stronghold in oil-rich Libya, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Tuesday."
Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) speaks at a town hall meeting, Oct. 7, 2015, at Briar Cliff University, a Catholic university in Sioux City, Iowa. (Photo by Jerry Mennenga/ZUMA)

Santorum poised to quit, GOP field will shrink to nine

02/03/16 04:22PM

Rick Santorum's 2012 presidential campaign was a lot more successful than many remember. Despite his humiliating re-election loss in Pennsylvania in 2006, Santorum managed to win 11 primaries and caucuses in 2012, and he did so on a shoe-string budget and without much of a campaign operation.
With those successes in mind, last spring, Santorum reminded RNC officials that over the last half-century, Republicans have nominated just three types of people for president. "No. 1, they were a vice president," Santorum said. "No. 2, they were the son of a former president. No. 3, they came in second place the election before, and ran again."
His point was hardly subtle: Santorum fell comfortably into that third category -- which meant the former senator had a perfectly credible claim to being the "next in line." Unfortunately for Santorum, voters didn't seem to care.
Rick Santorum is expected to end his presidential run and throw his support behind a rival candidate during an appearance on Fox News Wednesday night, according to aides.
The news was first reported by CNN and has not been independently confirmed by NBC News.
If the reporting is accurate, Santorum's decision comes on the heels of his 11th place finish in the Iowa caucuses this week, 10 places below his Iowa victory in 2012.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush waits to speak at a campaign event at the Greasewood Flats Ranch in Carroll, Ia. Jan. 29, 2016. (Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Jeb Bush urges audience, 'Please clap'

02/03/16 03:09PM

The Iowa caucuses didn't go quite as well for Jeb Bush as he would have liked: he finished sixth with about 3% of the vote. Though some spun this as Bush taking the lead in the "governors' lane" -- he finished ahead of other governors in the race -- the problem is that lane is a made-up metric that doesn't actually mean anything.
The Florida Republican is likely to fare better in New Hampshire, where he's invested far more resources, and where polls show him in a more competitive position. But some anecdotal evidence suggests Bush still has some work to do. MSNBC reported this morning on a town-hall event the former governor held in Hanover last night.
"I will not trash talk. I will not be a divider in chief or an agitator in chief. I won't be out there blowharding, talking a big game without backing it up. I think the next president needs to be a lot quieter but send a signal that we're prepared to act in the national security interests of this country -- to get back in the business of creating a more peaceful world," Bush declared to the crowd Tuesday evening.
He was met with a long beat of silence.
"Please clap," he pleaded, drawing applause and awkward laughter.
Watching the video, I have no doubt the comment was intended to be funny. Bush had just delivered fiery comments about a serious subject, and he was likely looking for a quip to lighten the mood a bit.
But it was equally clear that Bush thought his rhetoric would spark some kind of reaction from his audience, which sat in stony silence. "Please clap" is just a heartbreaking phrase because it comes from a candidate who thinks he's delivering powerful, inspirational rhetoric, but who's also reminded from time to time that in order to get any kind of real validation, he literally has to ask for it.