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Thursday's Mini-Report, 5.19.16

05/19/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* The latest on Flight MS804: "An EgyptAir flight en route from Paris to Cairo fell out of the sky over the Mediterranean Sea early Thursday with 66 people onboard, and Egyptian officials said that terrorism was the more likely culprit than technical problems."
* That's not enough: "The Senate approved a broad appropriations bill Thursday, including $1.1 billion in Zika virus funds. Senators voted 89-8 on the merged Transportation-Housing and Urban Development, military construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill."
* A welcome shift: "The House of Representatives voted to bar the Confederate flag from being flown at cemeteries operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs in the latest movement against displaying the rebel banner at federal sites."
* This was supposed to be done weeks ago: "House Republicans have introduced a bill to deal with the Puerto Rico debt crisis. The bill was introduced a little before midnight Thursday and Puerto Rico's representative in Congress, who has been pushing U.S. lawmakers to take action to help its island territory, soon after issued a statement saying the bill was much improved from an earlier version."
* And speaking of overdue: "Missouri's St. Louis County has agreed to drop charges against a pair of reporters who were arrested in 2014 while covering protests in Ferguson, Mo., concluding a nearly two-year-long drama that unfolded in the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown."
* The impeachment push is absurd: "The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee says a House effort to impeach IRS Commissioner John Koskinen has no chance of moving through the Senate. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the most senior Senate Republican, on Thursday said his colleagues and Koskinen don't always agree but that those conflicts shouldn't cost the commissioner his job."
The south steps of the state Capitol are seen in Oklahoma City, April 7, 2014.

State passes anti-abortion bill described as 'insane'

05/19/16 03:41PM

Republican policymakers in Oklahoma are aware of the fact that they cannot simply ban all abortions. The Supreme Court has already considered flat prohibitions and deemed them unconstitutional.
Oklahoma's GOP-led legislature has nevertheless concluded that it can ban doctors from performing abortions. Tulsa World reported today:
The Oklahoma Senate on Thursday sent Gov. Mary Fallin a bill that would make it a felony to perform abortions in Oklahoma, despite a federal court case legalizing it.
Senate Bill 1552, by Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, would also allow the revocation of medical licenses for physicians who perform abortions. The measure passed by a vote of 33-12 with no debate.
The article added that there's one physician in the state Senate, Republican Ervin Yen, who characterized the legislation as an "insane" measure that would inevitably face a court challenge.
Of course, it will first have to be signed into law by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R), who recently received some good advice from the editorial board of the New York Times: "For years, anti-abortion forces have relied on onerous regulations on providers to limit abortion services and lied about their true purpose because they know that a vast majority of Americans support a woman's right to choose and that the Supreme Court has affirmed that right for more than four decades. Governor Fallin would save everyone the time and expense of litigation by vetoing the bill."
Keep in mind, by approving a policy that's obviously unconstitutional, and which is certain to fail in the courts, state lawmakers are asking Oklahoma taxpayers to foot the bill for a political exercise that will serve no practical or policy purpose.
But just below the surface, there's another nagging question: don't policymakers in Oklahoma have real work to do? Why invest time and resources in a culture-war bill that will inevitably be struck down?
Image: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Spokane, Washington

Unconventional no more: Donald Trump becomes what he opposed

05/19/16 12:45PM

In early August, Donald Trump appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press," and summarized his unique qualities as a presidential candidate. Nine months later, the quote has taken on even greater salience.
"I don't have pollsters, I don't want to waste money on pollsters," the Republican candidate told Chuck Todd. "I don't want to be unreal. I want to be me. I have to be me. You know, we have enough of that in Washington with pollsters telling everybody what to say and everybody being controlled by the special interests, and the lobbyists, et cetera, and the donors."
Every single one of these boasts is no longer applicable. Lobbyists now run Team Trump; Republican mega-donors now finance Team Trump; and as of this week, the candidate who had no use for pollsters has, in fact, hired a pollster.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump will hire pollster Tony Fabrizio, a strategic shift as he reconfigures his campaign with an eye toward the general election.
A source close to the Trump campaign confirmed to NBC News the hire, which was first reported by Politico. Fabrizio is a veteran Republican pollster who most recently worked on Sen. Rand Paul's presidential campaign and Florida Gov. Rick Scott's campaign. He also conducted polling for then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry during the 2012 presidential race.
To be sure, there are some qualities that make Donald Trump a candidate like no other. He's never even sought public office; he has no real understanding of how government works; he's refusing to disclose the kind of information other candidates have shared as a matter of course; he's taken steps to condone violence at his campaign events; and he's advocated the kind of racially charged xenophobic agenda that major-party nominees have traditionally not wanted to be part of.
But it's against this backdrop that Trump has, in many ways, done the one thing he vowed not to do: become conventional. Every modern Republican nominee has relied on lobbyists, mega-donors, and pollsters, and as of this week, Trump is now just an inexperienced, unqualified version of his GOP predecessors.
He's even started using teleprompters, even after having said, "When you're really, really, really smart like me ... I don't need teleprompters."

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.19.16

05/19/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* The latest national Fox News poll shows Donald Trump leading Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, 45% to 42%. Just about every other national poll released in recent months has shown the Democrat ahead.
* In New Jersey, which hosts its presidential primary on June 7, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Clinton leading Bernie Sanders, 54% to 40%. To keep up pace with his nominating goals, the senator would have to win the Garden State by over 35 points.
* The same poll shows Clinton leading Trump in New Jersey, 45% to 38%.
* Bill Kristol and his pals have renamed their anti-Trump endeavor the "Renegade Party," which launched a Twitter account this week. The party's logo looks quite a bit like the Radio Shack logo, though that's probably a coincidence.
* Despite receiving fewer votes in the Kentucky primary this week, Sanders told supporters yesterday he scored a "great victory" in the Bluegrass State.
* Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the House Republican Conference chair, issued a statement late yesterday announcing her support for Trump's candidacy.
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, the Sanders campaign said it wants yet another Democratic debate, this time on Fox News ahead of the California primary. In the unlikely event Clinton agrees to such an event, it would be the 10th debate between the two candidates -- a number that reaches 23 if candidate forums are included.
Budget Battle

Republicans get serious about impeachment, but not Obama's

05/19/16 11:15AM

Quick quiz: when was the last time the U.S. Congress actually impeached an appointed executive branch official? It was 1876 -- 140 years ago -- when the House impeached Ulysses S. Grant's War Secretary, William Belknap, over corruption allegations.
Nearly a century and a half later, House Republicans appear eager to give Belknap some company. The Washington Post reported yesterday:
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) introduced a resolution on Wednesday to censure IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, raising the stakes in the GOP war against the tax collector days before a hearing on whether to impeach him.
The four-page resolution seeks Koskinen's resignation or removal by President Obama and calls on the IRS chief to forfeit his federal pension.
Chaffetz, the far-right chairman of the House Oversight Committee, explained in a statement yesterday, "I view censure as a precursor to impeachment." He added a few weeks ago, "My foremost goal is impeachment and I'm not letting go of it."
No, of course not. That might be responsible.
By any sane metric, the idea of congressional impeachment against the IRS commissioner is bonkers. House Republicans are apparently still worked up about an IRS "scandal" that doesn't exist, and though Koskinen wasn't even at the agency at the time of the alleged wrongdoing, GOP lawmakers want to impeach him because they disapprove of his handling of the imaginary controversy.
Given that the year is half over, Koskinen won't be in the job much longer -- he'll likely leave office when the Obama administration wraps up -- and there's no credible reason to believe the Senate will remove the IRS chief from office, why bother with impeachment? Politico reported something interesting yesterday:
Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, talks to a reporter before the senate luncheons. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Cal/Getty)

Welcome decency from a former senator in his dying days

05/19/16 10:40AM

The 2010 election cycle was pretty brutal for Democrats, but it wasn't much fun for mainstream Republicans, either. As GOP politics went further over the right-wing cliff, a variety of Republicans who'd spent their careers as prominent GOP public servants found themselves in a party they no longer recognized.
It was the year Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter and Florida's Charlie Crist were forced from the party. South Carolina's Bob Inglis, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, and Delaware's Mike Castle lost in primaries because they were deemed insufficiently conservative. And then there was Utah's Bob Bennett, a three-term Republican senator with a conservative record, who was thrown out of office by his own party in rather dramatic fashion.
At the Utah Republican Convention in 2010, GOP activists needed to choose two candidates who'd face off in a Senate primary. Bennett, after 18 years of service, came in third behind two Tea Party contenders.
More recently, Bennett experienced serious health problems, including a tough fight with pancreatic cancer, followed by a stroke. The Daily Beast reported last night, however, that the former senator's focus as his life wound down was actually about 2016 politics.
Between the hectic helter-skelter of nurses, doctors, and well wishes from a long-cultivated community of friends and former aides, Bennett faced a quiet moment with his son Jim and his wife Joyce.
It was not a moment for self-pity. Instead, with a slight slurring in his words, Bennett drew them close to express a dying wish: "Are there any Muslims in the hospital?" he asked.
"I'd love to go up to every single one of them to thank them for being in this country, and apologize to them on behalf of the Republican Party for Donald Trump," Bennett told his wife and son, both of whom relayed this story to The Daily Beast.
According to the article, Bennett brought up the issue of Muslims in America, and Trump's offensive posturing, "over and over again" in his dying days, with family members and reporters.
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during his rally at the Charleston Civic Center on May 5, 2016 in Charleston, W. Va. (Photo by Mark Lyons/Getty)

Trump's new line: Tax returns from thee, not from me

05/19/16 10:03AM

About four years ago at this time, Mitt Romney ran into a bit of trouble. He insisted on keeping his tax returns hidden, which was a problem made more acute when the Republican asked potential running mates to turn over their returns from the previous 10 years.
Apparently, Team Romney believed a thorough examination of a national candidate's record meant a close review of tax materials -- even while Romney said American voters couldn't make a comparable examination of his own record.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Candidates hoping to earn a spot as Donald Trump's running mate are reportedly expected to submit their tax returns to the campaign, even though the presumptive GOP nominee has said he has no immediate plans to make his own taxes public.
NBC's Katy Tur reported Wednesday that all vice presidential hopefuls would be required to submit their returns as a standard part of the vetting process.
When NBC's Katy Tur asked a Trump campaign source about the apparent hypocrisy, the source responded, "Trump's not running for vice president."
That's cute, I suppose, but it only reinforces the absurdity of the candidate's posture. The idea that disclosure and transparency requirements should be tougher for a vice presidential candidate than a presidential candidate is tough to defend.
Making matters worse, with each passing day, new questions arise about Trump's finances. USA Today reported this morning that a fresh analysis found Trump's businesses "have been involved in at least 100 lawsuits and other disputes related to unpaid taxes or how much tax his businesses owe."
A member of the National Health Foundation fumigates against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, vector of the dengue, chikungunya fever and zika viruses, in Gama, Brazil, Feb. 17, 2016. (Photo by Evaristo SA/AFP/Getty)

Congressional Republicans reject robust response to Zika threat

05/19/16 09:24AM

The more serious the public health threat posed by the Zika virus, the less serious congressional Republicans are about addressing it.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a Republican-backed bill Wednesday night to combat the Zika virus that the White House has already threatened to veto as inadequate.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, would provide $622 million to fight the virus -- less than a third of what President Barack Obama asked for three months ago.
A Senate bill, which is already inadequate, plans to invest $1.1 billion, well short of the $1.9 billion the administration and public-health experts believe is necessary.
Because the House and Senate passed a very different bill, there will now be a conference committee to work out the differences. By some accounts, it may be "well into the summer, or even longer" before Congress approves a final bill.
I'm sure the virus will do us all a favor and wait while Republicans try to get their act together.
The alternative approach, of course, was simply approving the package sent to Capitol Hill by the Obama administration -- a package endorsed by the CDC and public-health experts -- but Republicans refused. When the Senate considered the White House plan, it had bipartisan support, but not enough to pass.
At one point yesterday, as the Huffington Post reported, GOP Senate leaders said they're open to funding the Zika response, but only if Democrats accepted cuts to Obamacare.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addresses a campaign rally in Salem, Ore., May 10, 2016. (Photo by Rob Kerr/AFP/Getty)

Bernie Sanders faces a 'then what' problem

05/19/16 08:53AM

It's safe to say May hasn't gone quite as well as Bernie Sanders and his supporters had hoped. He needed landslide victories in several primaries, and he came up short. After steadily gaining on Hillary Clinton in national Democratic polls for months, the senator has seen his support slip in recent weeks. In Nevada, Sanders' supporters caused a near-riot at the state Democratic convention, based on allegations of party wrongdoing that have struggled to withstand scrutiny.
Sanders' candidacy has had some highs and some lows, but all things considered, this hasn't exactly been a month to remember. For his legions of supporters, it's no doubt discouraging.
The race for the Democratic nomination, however, still has about a month to go, and the New York Times reports that Team Sanders isn't backing down, delegate arithmetic notwithstanding.
Defiant and determined to transform the Democratic Party, Senator Bernie Sanders is opening a two-month phase of his presidential campaign aimed at inflicting a heavy blow on Hillary Clinton in California and amassing enough leverage to advance his agenda at the convention in July -- or even wrest the nomination from her.
It's at this point when Sanders and campaign operation start to run into a "then what?" problem.
According to the Times' piece, for example, Team Sanders believes it may yet win the California primary, where polls show him trailing, which might have "a psychological impact" on Democrats. OK, but then what? If the idea is that Democratic insiders will ignore the will of the voters and the delegate count because of one primary result, awarding Sanders the nomination despite his second-place finish, there's no reason to believe such a scenario is plausible.
The same article said Team Sanders is willing to hurt Clinton, on purpose, even as the general-election phase gets underway. OK, but then what? There's still no reason to believe this will prompt party officials to override the primary and caucus results.
A Sanders supporter told the Times, "We want to have progressive values and socialism on the convention's agenda." OK, but then what? It's not clear how, exactly, one puts "socialism" on the "agenda," but even if that were possible, what happens afterwards?
Tad Devine, a top Sanders strategist, told the Washington Post's Greg Sargent yesterday that the Sanders campaign may ask for some changes among convention committee assignments. OK, but then what? What are the practical effects of changing which Democrats sit on which convention committees, and why should a second-place candidate dictate convention committees' membership?
A general view of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, Dec. 30, 2014. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty)

Donald Trump has a plan for the U.S. Supreme Court

05/19/16 08:00AM

Back in February, during one of the Republican debates, Donald Trump was pretty specific about the kind of jurists he'd like to see added to the Supreme Court in the wake of Justice Antonin Scalia's passing: Judges Diane Sykes and Bill Pryor, both of whom are far-right Bush/Cheney appointees. Yesterday, however, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee went much further.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Wednesday released the names of 11 potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees that he would choose from to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
The list, first reported by the Associated Press, includes judges from around the country: Steven Colloton of Iowa, Allison Eid of Colorado and Raymond Gruender of Missouri, Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania, Raymond Kethledge of Michigan, Joan Larsen of Michigan, Thomas Lee of Utah, William Pryor of Alabama, David Stras of Minnesota, Diane Sykes of Wisconsin and Don Willett of Texas.
Trump's list, released in a written press statement yesterday afternoon, will reportedly be a "guide": the Republican didn't say he would definitely choose from these 11 when nominating Supreme Court justices, but these are the kind of folks he'd consider.
And for the right, that's probably reassuring. The future of the judiciary is one of the top considerations for many conservative leaders, and it's been a leading cause for concern among far-right Trump skeptics. Yesterday's announcement was no doubt intended to assuage their fears, making it abundantly clear that Trump has every intention of moving the judiciary to the right by releasing a list of 11 very conservative jurists.
Of course, at the same time, the developments should also serve as a reminder to the left: those hoping that Trump might lean towards moderation when nominating judges are obviously mistaken. Trump expects to name as many as five justices to the Supreme Court, and the consequences would be felt by Americans for at least a generation, if not more.
But as much of the political world considers Trump's list and its potential impact, there's one name in particular that's worth paying attention to.
Trump's sister recuses self from bridge case

Trump's sister recuses self from bridge case

05/18/16 09:59PM

Rachel Maddow reports that Donald Trump's sister, U.S. Third Circuit Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, will not be available to hear the case of whether to release the names of unindicted co-conspirators in the New Jersey bridge case, a list that may include Governor Christie. watch