As the race for the Republican presidential nomination continues, the right's anti-immigration rhetoric is growing louder and more ferocious. It's hard not to wonder, is there some kind of ceiling? Will we soon reach the limit on conservative extremism?
I can't answer that with confidence, but I certainly hope that pro-slavery arguments represent the right-wing cliff.
[J]ust this week, Media Matters reported that well-known conservative radio host Jan Mickelson said that any undocumented immigrant that does not self-deport by a certain time-frame should become "an asset of the state."
"Well, I think everybody would believe it sounds like slavery?" said one listener who called in to challenge Mickelson.
"Well, what's wrong with slavery?" he responded.
This is, alas, quite real. Earlier this week, Mickelson, an influential conservative in Iowa, told his radio audience that he has a bold, new plan to deal with undocumented immigrants. Under the host's vision, those who don't deport themselves voluntarily after 60 days' notice would automatically become "property of the state" and forced into "compelled labor."
That labor would include -- you guessed it -- building a wall along the U.S./Mexican border.
"We will compel your labor," Mickelson said. "You would belong to these United States. You show up without an invitation, you get to be an asset. You get to be a construction worker."
When a listener raised the question of slavery, the radio host not only asked "Well, what's wrong with slavery?" he soon after added, "You think I'm just pulling your leg. I am not."
The number of Republican presidential candidates opposed to birthright citizenship -- the 14th Amendment's constitutional principle that if you're born in the United States, you're a citizen of the United States -- just keeps growing.
[Sen. Ted Cruz], in an interview on the Michael Medved radio show, made his position clear: "We should end granting automatic birthright citizenship to the children of those who are here illegally."
The presidential candidate acknowledged that a change in the law would be a heavy lift, saying "I think it is possible, but any constitutional amendment by its nature is difficult to achieve."
Acknowledging Donald Trump's role in adding the issue of birthright citizenship to the fight for the Republican nomination, the Texas senator said, "I welcome Donald Trump articulating this view. It is a view I have long held."
It's worth clarifying, though that Cruz seems to believe it's time to amend the Constitution to alter the 14th Amendment's guarantee, while Trump believes in passing laws that challenge the 14th Amendment in the courts.
Stepping back, and referencing this helpful piece from Bloomberg Politics, we can start breaking up the massive GOP 2016 field into some factions on the issue of birthright citizenship.
1. Those who've expressed unambiguous opposition to birthright citizenship: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal
2. Those who were opposed, but who've since hedged a bit: Scott Walker
3. Those who are open to changing the law related to birthright citizenship: Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina [updated, see below]
4. Those who support birthright citizenship: Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Jim Gilmore, and George Pataki
5. Those who just don't want to talk about it: Rick Perry
Realistically, will Republicans actually be able to scrap the constitutional principle?
With the international nuclear agreement picking up increased support from congressional Democrats, opponents are not only discouraged, they're also looking for something to help derail the deal's progress. Yesterday, at least for a little while, the right seemed to think it had found new ammunition against the diplomatic solution.
An Associated Press report said the agreement it obtained would allow Tehran to use its own inspectors to investigate a military site where Iran is suspected to have worked on developing a nuclear weapon, which the nation has denied.
[Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)] blasted the reported arrangement. "Why should Iran be trusted to carry out its own nuclear inspections at a military site it tried to hide from the world? How does this not set a precedent for future inspections at suspicious military sites in Iran?" he said.
The Republican leader added, "The Obama administration has a lot of explaining to do."
Soon after, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) pointed to the same AP report as damning proof of how right Republicans are about the international agreement. "This revelation only reinforces the deep-seated concerns the American people have about the agreement," Cornyn said in a statement.
Well, that certainly sounds serious. What's this all about?
Chris Hayes noted yesterday that the term "anchor baby" is "disgusting and dehumanizing." He added, "I can't believe anyone in 'mainstream' American politics uses it."
For quite a while, there was some consensus on this point. We'd occasionally hear far-right congressional Republicans like Tom Tancredo and Louie Gohmert using the phrase, but most avoided the label as overly crass and offensive.
But Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump has embraced it, and as MSNBC's Amanda Sakuma noted last night, even Jeb Bush is now using the phrase.
Speaking on Bill Bennett's conservative radio show "Morning in America" Wednesday, Bush went as far as using the derogatory term "anchor baby" to describe his support for tighter enforcement on children born in the U.S. to immigrant parents.
"If there's abuse, people are bringing -- pregnant women are coming in to have babies simply because they can do it, then there ought to be greater enforcement," Bush said in the interview, which was written about by POLITICO. "That's [the] legitimate side of this. Better enforcement so that you don't have these, you know, 'anchor babies,' as they're described, coming into the country."
An audio clip of Bush's comments, recorded by American Bridge 21st Century, is online.
It wasn't long before Hillary Clinton, responding to Bush on Twitter, replied simply, "They're called babies." Ouch.
Given the reaction, I have a hunch the former governor will probably avoid using the phrase again, but that brings us back to the larger concern about Jeb Bush's clumsiness as a candidate. The Weekly Standard's John McCormack, a conservative writer, two weeks ago asked the question on the minds of many: "Isn't one benefit of an establishment candidate supposed to be that he's not going to make gaffes like this?"
Political scandals that matter tend to have clear allegation. Even if the charges prove baseless, controversies of consequence are built on a foundational question. Did Nixon order the break-in? Did Reagan sell weapons to Iran to finance an illegal war? Did Clinton have sexual relations with that woman?
The clarity adds definition. Scandals can grow and expand, but legitimate controversies still have an accusation at their root that people can either confirm or deny, believe or not believe, prove or disprove.
The Hillary Clinton email "scandal" isn't nearly as ... clean. Ask the typical person what the former Secretary of State is accused of, specifically, and you'll probably hear a mishmash of the words "emails" and "servers." Republicans seem excited -- some GOP presidential candidates are talking publicly about Clinton going to jail -- and quite a bit of the media is heavily engaged --- Bob Woodward compared the story to Watergate this week -- but nailing down the root allegation is proving to be surprisingly difficult.
Politicoreported yesterday that there are "accusations swirling that the former Secretary of State put national security secrets at risk by using a private email server." Oh. So the "scandal" is about proper email server management? That's what the political world is worked up about?
Mother Jones' Kevin Drum had a good take on this that rings true.
I'm perfectly willing to believe that Clinton's use of a private server was unwise. It probably was, something that I think even she's acknowledged. And Clinton has certainly provided some dodgy answers about what she did, which naturally raises suspicions that she might have something to hide. [...]
That said, even when I do my best to take off my tribal hat and look at this affair dispassionately, I just don't see anything.... [W]hat exactly is being investigated at this point? If you just want to argue that Clinton showed bad judgment, then go to town. That's a legitimate knock on a presidential candidate. But actual malfeasance? Where is it?
That need not be a rhetorical question. I'm eager to know, too. After months of coverage, the fact that the allegations themselves are ambiguous isn't a good sign about the merits of the "scandal."
Katy Tur, NBC News reporter following the Trump campaign, talks with Rachel Maddow about the Republican candidates converging on New Hampshire but failing to overshadow Donald Trump, whose appeal is undiminished by a lack of specific policy plans. watch
Rachel Maddow celebrates the return of Bad Lip Reading videos to the political realm with their first video of the 2016 campaign, misinterpreted highlights from the first Republican debate that takes an unexpected turn into song. watch
Jon Ralston, host of Ralston Live on PBS in Nevada, talks with Rachel Maddow about Martin O'Malley smart political move to align himself with workers protesting at Donald Trump's Las Vegas hotel, and the political power of Las Vegas unions. watch
Turn that frown upside down, America. Rick Perry offers assurances of "an extraordinary amount of dollars": http://t.co/2Li3gvL931
* A huge get for proponents of the Iran deal: "Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, is supporting the Iran nuclear agreement. In a statement released Wednesday, Donnelly, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said only the 'steadfast resolve' of the U.S. and its allies can stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."
* Climate agenda: "The Obama administration on Tuesday proposed the first federal regulations requiring the nation's oil and gas industry to cut emissions of methane as part of an expanding and increasingly aggressive effort to combat climate change."
* West Virginia: "One of the last executives charged in a chemical spill that left 300,000 West Virginians without clean tap water for days pleaded guilty to federal pollution violations Tuesday. Former Freedom Industries executive Dennis Farrell entered his guilty plea in federal court in Charleston."
* Ohio: "The Ohio Department of Corrections intended to illegally import drugs for executions, according to an FDA letter obtained by BuzzFeed News.... In a June letter, the FDA wrote to Ohio, warning the state that importing the drugs would be illegal."
* Texas: "Two first-degree felony charges against Attorney General Ken Paxton were dismissed Tuesday and replaced with new indictments that clarify the securities fraud allegations.... Special prosecutor Brian Wice said the new indictments were issued to provide greater clarity and to defuse arguments typically made by defense lawyers that charges are ambiguous. The underlying fraud allegations remain unchanged, he said."
* Egypt: "In a significant leap toward harsher authoritarian rule, Egypt has enacted a draconian new anti-terrorism law that sets a sweeping definition for who and what could face a harsh set of punishments, including journalists who don't toe the government line."
As a rule, it's a mistake for most politicians to tell the public what Martin Luther King Jr. would believe if he were alive today. Someone probably ought to let Mike Huckabee know.
Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee believes Martin Luther King, Jr. would be "appalled" by the Black Lives Matter movement -- telling CNN that racism is "more of a sin problem than a skin problem."
During an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday evening, the former Arkansas governor touted the "all lives matter" mantra and said he was troubled that the movement focuses on one ethnicity. Huckabee added that the late civil rights leader would feel the same.
According to the Politico piece, Huckabee said, "When I hear people scream, 'black lives matter,' I think, of course they do.... But all lives matter. It's not that any life matters more than another. That's the whole message that Dr. King tried to present, and I think he'd be appalled by the notion that we're elevating some lives above others."
Let's unwrap this a bit, because Huckabee may not understand the issue nearly as well as he thinks he does.
The Black Lives Matter movement was, at least in part, a response to a series of violent incidents involving police officers killing unarmed African Americans. Part of Dr. King's "whole message" was focused on this issue as it existed a half-century ago. Indeed, In King's most famous speech, he specifically proclaimed, "We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality."
So, right off the bat, Huckabee's notion that MLK might somehow object to, or be uncomfortable with, the Black Lives Matter movement seems dubious.
But more troubling is the degree to which the far-right Republican seems to have no idea why the Black Lives Matter movement exists.
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), seen as an on-the-fence Democrat on the international nuclear agreement with Iran, announced his support for the diplomatic deal this morning. His endorsement came on the heels of three Democratic senators announcing yesterday that they're backing the agreement, too.
Republican leaders seem resigned to the fact that they're probably going to lose this fight and the deal will likely be implemented, but the number of GOP lawmakers willing to support the deal still stands at zero.
But away from Capitol Hill, the picture changes. We talked this week about some notable Republican figures who may not have a vote, but who nevertheless back the Iran agreement, including former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Brent Scowcroft, a veteran National Security Advisor to several Republican presidents, who also served as the chairman of George W. Bush's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. A reader reminded me that I neglected to mention former Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), a former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who's also offered support for the deal.
"What we're really seeing here are the last vestiges of a Reagan/HWBush-era Republican Party that took foreign policy seriously on its merits."
He added that Republicans like Scowcroft and Lugar are better labeled the GOP's "grown-ups."
That's true. It also raises a broader point about the slow disappearance of these "grown-ups" and their declining influence over Republican policymaking, especially in the area of international affairs.