It was arguably the most important moment in this week's congressional hearing on Planned Parenthood. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight panel, was slowly building his case against the health care organization, leading Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards towards his grand finale: a chart that purports to show the number of prevention services provided by the health care group steadily declining, while the number of abortions steadily increasing.
Chaffetz even boasted that his devastating evidence came "straight from [Planned Parenthood's] annual reports."
Unfortunately for the Utah Republican, Chaffetz's evidence ended up embarrassing him, not his target. The chart's data had been manipulated in a deceptive way, and it had come from an avid anti-abortion group, not Planned Parenthood's annual reports. His winning argument was a disaster, which left the chairman momentarily speechless. The GOP lawmaker eventually concluded he would "get to the bottom" of this.
[CNN host Wolf Blitzer] asked Chaffetz about a chart from anti-abortion group Americans United For Life that the congressman used during the hearing. The chart reflects the number of abortions and cancer screenings provided by Planned Parenthood between 2006 and 2013. But the lines on the chart make it seem like the organization performs more abortions than cancer screening if one cannot see the numbers.
Chaffetz said he did not believe the chart was misleading. "I stand by the numbers. I can understand where people would say the arrows went different directions, but the numbers are accurate. And that’s what we were trying to portray," he told Blitzer.
I can appreciate why the Republican chairman was disappointed by how his hearing turned out. He did, after all, expect to make a powerful case against Planned Parenthood, which obviously didn't happen. On the contrary, Chaffetz's show trial even disappointed his allies.
But he really shouldn't "stand by" a stunt that went horribly awry.
Stories about Hillary Clinton's email server management, which has somehow become one of the most important political developments of 2015, tend to follow a certain trajectory. First, we're confronted with a startling, provocative headline about new revelations that, at first blush, seem important. This is followed by a round of commentary about the lingering significance of an elusive, hard-to-identify "scandal."
Finally, we discover that those startling, provocative headlines weren't entirely true, and that the revelations aren't especially controversial at all. Then a few days go by, at which point the cycle begins anew.
Last night, for example, the AP's headline seemed design to sound an alarm: "Emails: Russia-linked hackers tried to access Clinton server."
Russia-linked hackers tried at least five times to pry into Hillary Rodham Clinton's private email account while she was secretary of state, emails released Wednesday show. It is unclear if she clicked on any attachment and exposed her account.
Clinton received the infected emails, disguised as speeding tickets from New York, over four hours early the morning of Aug. 3, 2011. The emails instructed recipients to print the attached tickets. Opening the attachment would have allowed hackers to take over control of a victim's computer.
Security researchers who analyzed the malicious software in September 2011 said that infected computers would transmit information from victims to at least three server computers overseas, including one in Russia.
The lead story on Politico overnight featured a similar, top-of-the-page headline: "Hackers targeted Hillary Clinton's email account; Virus in spam attack traced to Russia."
There's just one problem with the breathless coverage: we're talking about an email account that received some spam. That's it. That's the story. The coverage of the 2016 presidential race has reached the point at which major news organizations consider it very important that Hillary Clinton received some of the same generic phishing spam that everyone gets all the time.
Chiding the AP's overwrought report, MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin joked, "This is a scary headline for what seems to be, 'Email account got spam.'"
With just hours to spare, Congress approved a funding bill that will prevent a government shutdown -- at least until December. President Obama signed the legislation, the White House said late Wednesday.
The House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon passed a short-term spending plan by a 277-151 vote margin. The bill, however, only keeps the government funded until Dec. 11, around the time when the Treasury Department is expected to hit the debt ceiling and run out of borrowing authority.
With this Republican-led Congress, the bar has been lowered for what constitutes "successful governing," but there's no reason anyone should see yesterday's developments as a meaningful accomplishment. As recently as last week, the odds of another GOP-imposed shutdown were quite high, and lawmakers managed to avoid a disaster with mere hours to spare.
The only thing that prevented a shutdown in this case was the unexpected resignation of Congress' most powerful member -- the one whose members were prepared to ignore his pleas.
In case it's not obvious, 21st-century superpowers aren't supposed to operate this way.
But before we turn our attention to December, when the threat of a shutdown will be real once more, last night's House vote is worth considering in detail. At first blush, the outcome appears one-sided -- the stop-gap spending measure needed 218 votes to pass, and it ended up with 277.
What matters, however, is how those 277 votes came together -- because under the rules Republicans usually play by, this bill shouldn't have even reached the floor.
It's been about a day since the political world was confronted with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) unexpected candor: the Republican's taxpayer-financed Benghazi committee, he acknowledged, is all about the GOP's "strategy to fight and win" against Hillary Clinton. It's not, in other words, about investigating an attack that left four Americans dead.
The response to the likely House Speaker's confession was swift and severe. Consider, for example, what Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), a member of the Select Committee on Benghazi, told Rachel on the show last night.
"[T]he committee is a joke and I think Democrats ought to call it what it is and say we`re not going to participate in this anymore.
"And that's my initial reaction -- I`ll listen to my leadership on this and perhaps they will again have greater wisdom -- but it just has been an embarrassment."
It's no idle threat. In light of Kevin McCarthy, the likely next Speaker of the House, admitting what Democrats have long feared, there's a very real possibility that Dems on the panel may decide to simply walk away from a process that's been corrupted. If the committee is now nothing more than a taxpayer-funded election tool, some Democrats no longer see the point in participating in a farce.
Indeed, Smith isn't the only one with these concerns. Yesterday, other Democratic committee members, including Reps. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), called on the Benghazi panel to disband, though they have not yet indicated whether they're prepared to resign in protest.
Dan Moynihan, 9/11 first responder, talks with Rachel Maddow about the effort he and other advocates are exerting to convince Congress to reauthorize the Zadroga Act to provide health benefits for 9/11 first responders who continue to suffer deadly ailments as a result of their exposure to conditions at Ground Zero. Seven first responders have... watch
Rachel Maddow questions the timing of Jeb Bush's use of his brother, former President George W. Bush, to promote his campaign when so much of the scary news from the Middle East has an association with the former president. watch
Congressman Adam Smith talks with Rachel Maddow about the admission by Kevin McCarthy that the House Select Committee on Benghazi is a political tool to undermine Hillary Clinton's candidacy, and whether Democrats, including Clinton, should boycott the committee in protest. watch
* Syria: "Russia began carrying out strategic airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday, warning the U.S. to steer clear of the country's airspace as its warplanes joined in the fight against ISIS. But the U.S. State Department said Moscow's request would be ignored, adding that American jets would continue to fly missions as part of a separate air campaign to root out the militants."
* School shooting: "The principal of a South Dakota high school was shot and lightly wounded Wednesday in a shooting at the school, but authorities said a suspect was in custody and no students were reported hurt."
* The Senate voted 78 to 20 today to approve a stop-gap spending bill that keeps the government funded through early December. About an hour ago, House passed the identical bill, 277 to 151, preventing a government shutdown until December.
* Georgia execution: "Even a plea from Pope Francis could not save Kelly Renee Gissendaner. The Georgia woman whose case drew a call for mercy from the pontiff was executed at 12:21 a.m. Wednesday after a flurry of last-minute appeals failed. She sang 'Amazing Grace' before dying, according to witnesses."
* Oklahoma execution: "Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin halted the execution of Richard Glossip at the last-minute on Wednesday to investigate questions about lethal injection protocols. The announcement came about an hour after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to stop the execution of Glossip, whose case drew a call for mercy from Pope Francis."
* Afghanistan: "The test facing the Afghan government now is not just whether it can quickly mount a counterattack and retake Kunduz, the northern city that fell to the Taliban on Monday, but whether it can prevent a nearby provincial capital from falling as well."
* East coast, take note: "Hurricane Joaquin rapidly intensified overnight and is now a Category 1 tracking west toward the Bahamas. Though there continues to be a high amount of uncertainty in the forecast, Hurricane Joaquin could track toward the East Coast this weekend, which is now in the cone of the National Hurricane Center forecast."
For all the assumptions about Donald Trump's stalled support in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, the New York developer hasn't relinquished his national lead. On the contrary, the new USA Today/Suffolk poll shows Trump with a double-digit advantage over his next closest rival.
1. Donald Trump: 23% (up six point from July)
2. Ben Carson: 13% (up nine points)
2. Carly Fiorina: 13% (up 12 points)
4. Marco Rubio: 9% (up four points)
5. Jeb Bush: 8% (down six points)
6. Ted Cruz: 6% (unchanged)
7. Mike Huckabee: 2% (down two points)
7. John Kasich: 2% (up one point)
7. Rand Paul: 2% (down two points)
10. Chris Christie: 1% (down two points)
10. Lindsey Graham: 1% (up one point)
10. Bobby Jindal: 1% (unchanged)
Note, to provide the most complete picture possible, I've highlighted whether candidates' support has gone up or down since the last USA Today/Suffolk, but it was taken in July. And I think it's fair to say quite a bit has changed since July.
"It has now come down to the GOP 'gang of six,' " says David Paleologos, director of the Political Research Center at Suffolk University in Boston. That would be Trump, Carson, Fiorina, Rubio, Bush and Cruz. "These six contenders swallow up nearly three-quarters of the Republican vote."
That may yet change, of course, but I'm struck by the fact that, even now, Trump's position atop national polls hasn't changed, despite the fact that his support is no longer soaring higher.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took a very specific message to the Values Voter Summit last week: "the political class" in D.C. seems incapable of getting things done, and it's earned the scorn of the Republican base.
The situation on Capitol Hill has gotten so bad, the GOP candidate argued, that "people cannot help but ask: how can it be that we sent a Republican majority to Congress, and yet they're still not able to stop our country from sliding in the wrong direction?"
It sounded like the sort of message a GOP governor might offer, or perhaps rhetoric from one of the Republican amateurs sitting atop the polls. But instead, it was Rubio -- a member of the congressional majority complaining about Congress. It was a senator with no legislative accomplishments to his name whining about his own party's lack of accomplishments, and making no effort to acknowledge the disjointed nature of the complaint.
There was, in other words, a noticeable disconnect between Rubio's record and his rhetoric. Last night, a similar problem emerged.
Marco Rubio, a career politician, is trying to make the argument that he's not an insider as outsiders Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina generate buzz.
"Yes, I've worked in the Senate for four years. But I'm not of the Senate," Rubio told Sean Hannity last night. Rubio said he went to the Senate because "I didn't like the direction of this country" and that's why he's dumping the Senate and running for president.
It's entirely possible that conservative voters will find this compelling -- Rubio continues to rise steadily in state and national polling -- but his message is increasingly odd for anyone who stops to think about it.
When House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) stunned much of the political world with his resignation announcement last week, he wasted no time in signaling his preference in a successor. The GOP leader didn't officially endorse House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), at least not publicly, but Boehner made his wishes clear.
The outgoing Speaker did not, however, send any signals for the rest of the House Republican leadership team. Is Boehner taking a hands-off approach?
Perhaps not. Politico, with a piece that has not been confirmed by MSNBC or NBC News, reports today that Boehner met "secretly" with Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) yesterday, in the hopes of convincing the South Carolinian to run for Majority Leader.
The previously undisclosed meeting reveals new behind-the-scenes involvement by Boehner, who has not endorsed any candidates in the leadership race. That the Ohio Republican inserted himself in the contest underscores his concern about who succeeds him in GOP leadership. Boehner requested the meeting after word spread that Gowdy was considering a bid for the post.
Many Republicans close to Boehner and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy believe Gowdy could help protect the California Republican’s right flank. McCarthy allies fear hard-line conservatives could block his ascent to the speaker’s chair during the vote on the House floor, throwing the chamber into turmoil.
As it turns out, by late yesterday, Gowdy made clear he intended to stay where he is -- leading the increasingly indefensible Benghazi committee that no longer seems especially interested in Benghazi.
But if these reports are accurate, it's noteworthy that the House GOP will soon end up with a Majority Leader who isn't the one the party really wanted for the job.