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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 7.21.15

07/21/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Honoring four victims: "Flags will fly at half-staff at the White House and on federal grounds through sunset on Saturday to honor the service members killed in the shooting rampage last week in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Obama administration announced on Tuesday."
* Deal? "A bipartisan Senate deal to fund highway and transit projects for three years hit a speed bump on Tuesday when Democrats blocked consideration of the bill to buy more time to read through the details. The deal, struck by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), would provide $47 billion to pay for the extension of the transportation program, which is set to expire at the end of the month if Congress doesn't act."
* Another one: "On Tuesday, an anti-abortion group known as the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released the second of what it said will be a series of secretly recorded videos of abortion providers and Planned Parenthood executives." [Disclosure: my wife works for Planned Parenthood.]
* Illinois: "[A] federal appeals court in Chicago on Tuesday threw out five of 18 counts against convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, vacated his 14-year sentence and ordered him retried on the five counts. While finding five of the counts invalid on technical grounds, the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals called the evidence against Blagojevich 'overwhelming' and made clear that the former governor was not entitled to be released from prison in the meantime."
* Be alarmed: "Earth dialed the heat up in June, smashing warm temperature records for both the month and the first half of the year. Off-the-charts heat is 'getting to be a monthly thing,' said Jessica Blunden, a climate scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. June was the fourth month of 2015 that set a record, she said."
* ISIS: "The Islamic State uses terror to force obedience and frighten enemies. It has seized territory, destroyed antiquities, slaughtered minorities, forced women into sexual slavery and turned children into killers. But its officials are apparently resistant to bribes, and in that way, at least, it has outdone the corrupt Syrian and Iraqi governments it routed, residents and experts say."
Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks with reporters as he leaves the Senate Republicans' policy lunch on June 16, 2015. (Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

GOP circus starts spinning out of control

07/21/15 04:16PM

The Republican National Committee made no secret of the fact that party officials saw the 2012 presidential cycle as a mess. There were too many candidates, too many debates, and too much disjointed messaging, all of which undermined the party's chances. Next time, the party leaders agreed, would have to be less chaotic.
How's that working out?
Reporting from South Carolina today, msnbc's Jane C. Timm noted that GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump quite literally read Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) cell-phone number out loud today, on stage, to a sizable group of voters -- twice.
While Trump touched on policy proposals and current affairs, he spent most of his Tuesday speech in the early-voting state boasting about himself and attacking fellow Republicans. He repeatedly attacked Sen. Lindsay Graham, the state's longtime Republican senator who called Trump a "jackass" on Monday, as an "idiot" who "doesn't seem too bright."
"You have this guy Lindsey Graham, a total light weight. Here's a guy -- in the private sector, he couldn't get a job, believe me, couldn't get a job," Trump said, later reading aloud Graham's phone number to the crowd and encouraging audience members to call it, which they did. (One attendee reported back to Trump that Graham did not pick up. His voicemail is now full.)
The pattern is hard to miss. John McCain criticized Trump's presidential campaign, and Trump returned the favor by going after McCain's military service. Lindsey Graham criticized Trump's antics, so Trump shared Graham's personal cell-phone number. Rick Perry criticized Trump, so Trump blasted Perry as a dumb guy who "put glasses on so people will think he's smart."
At this stage of the race, most candidates are content to rely on subtlety, but Trump has skipped this phase and decided every slight deserves a ferocious and excessive response, proportionality be damned.
And it's only going to get worse.
Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses hecklers and supporters at the Netroots Nation 2015 Presidential Town Hall in the Phoenix Convention Center on July 18, 2015 in Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo by Charlie Leight/Getty)

As Bernie Sanders rises, attacks from the right get ugly

07/21/15 02:08PM

Last September, facing an unexpectedly tough re-election fight, Sen. Pat Roberts was getting a little desperate. The Kansas Republican, struggling in the polls, decided the way to hold onto his seat was to become as brazenly right-wing as possible, telling one audience, "We have to change course because our country is heading for national socialism."
It was a curious moment. Pat Roberts, after spending more than three decades on Capitol Hill, was either arguing that America is headed towards Nazism or was using the phrase "national socialism" without knowing what it means.
About a year later, the phrase has popped up once more. National Review, ostensibly one of the leading media outlets in U.S. conservatism, published this piece from Kevin Williiamson about Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) presidential campaign.
In the Bernieverse, there's a whole lot of nationalism mixed up in the socialism. He is, in fact, leading a national-socialist movement, which is a queasy and uncomfortable thing to write about a man who is the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and whose family was murdered in the Holocaust. But there is no other way to characterize his views and his politics.
Is that so. When describing the Vermont senator's liberal approach to politics, Williiamson and National Review are effectively powerless -- they must reference national socialism. There is, the author assures us, "no other way."
Remember, unlike Pat Roberts, Williiamson isn't just throwing the phrase around unknowingly. This is deliberate -- the conservative is connecting the liberal candidate to the phrase most commonly associated with the Nazi's political system.
That members of Sanders' family were murdered during the Holocaust apparently didn't stop Williiamson -- or his editors, or the fact-checkers, or the publishers -- from making the connection anyway.
Ohio Governor John Kasich speaks during the "Road to Majority" conference June 19, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

Why Ohio's John Kasich faces such long odds

07/21/15 12:57PM

As if the field of Republican presidential candidates wasn't quite big enough already, Kasie Hunt and Elyse Perlmutter-Gumbiner reported for msnbc this afternoon that yet another notable figure has thrown his hat into the ring.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich became the 16th Republican to enter the 2016 presidential race on Tuesday, telling supporters here he has the skills and experience to run the country.
"I have the experience and the testing, the testing, which shapes you and prepares you for the most important job in the world," Kasich said at Ohio State University in Columbus. "And I believe I know how to work and help restore this great United States, and I have to tell you it's a daunting challenge."
This is Kasich's second run for the White House, following a failed effort 15 years ago, when he was still a congressman, chairing the House Budget Committee.
This year, however, it's tempting to see the Ohio Republican as a real contender, at least at first blush. Kasich is relatively popular in one of the nation's most important swing states; Ohio's economic growth has been pretty good since he took office (which is more than the other three sitting governors in the race can say); and he's quite far to the right on issues such as voting rights, reproductive rights, labor unions, renewable energy; and the fiscal debate.
On top of this, Kasich has experience as a paid political Fox News pundit and he even worked on Wall Street, serving as a managing director at Lehman as it collapsed in 2008.
For much of the American mainstream, this won't sound like a compelling c.v., but in Republican circles, Kasich brings a perfectly credible resume to the table.
And yet, if we're being charitable, Kasich enters the race as a longshot, whose weak support in the polls will probably exclude him from the GOP debates -- including the one held in his home state in two weeks. So what's the problem?

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.21.15

07/21/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Asked about the John McCain controversy, Donald Trump said on Fox News last night, "I have respect for Sen. McCain. I used to like him a lot. I supported him. I raised a lot of money for his campaign against President Obama and certainly if there was a misunderstanding, I would totally take that back."
* The editorial board of the Des Moines Register published a piece last night calling Trump a "feckless blowhard" and urging him to end his Republican presidential campaign.
* The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Hillary Clinton with a 52-point advantage over Bernie Sanders among Democratic voters nationwide, 68% to 16%. When Vice President Biden is added to the mix, Clinton leads with 63%, followed by 14% for Sanders, and 12% for Biden.
* During a live Facebook Q&A yesterday, Hillary Clinton also used the phrase "Black lives matter" in response to a question from the Washington Post's Wesley Lowery.
* The fine folks at NBC's First Read have crunched the numbers and believe these six Republicans are likely to be excluded from the upcoming debates: Rick Santorum, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, and George Pataki.
* Lindsey Graham said yesterday that Donald Trump is "becoming a jackass." Though I suspect "jackass" was the word that was supposed to jump out, I got stuck on "becoming."
Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaks to guests at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition 2015 Spring Kickoff on April 25, 2015 in Waukee, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Nothing says 'presidential' like a chainsaw stunt

07/21/15 11:07AM

Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) presidential campaign has hit a bit of a rough patch. It's early, but as the 2016 race takes shape, the Republican senator's support in the polls is underwhelming; his fundraising is unimpressive; his endorsement total is anemic; and his ability to generate attention isn't working.
For Team Paul, it's apparently time for desperate measures -- or in this case, it's time for a p.r. stunt involving a chainsaw. Business Insider reported this morning:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) released an intense new video on Tuesday where he appears to be literally destroying the US tax code.
Paul has made tax reform central to his presidential campaign. To draw attention to his plan, Paul is asking his supporters to vote how they want to see him shred the current tax system. The options for his supporters are: chainsaw, fire, and wood chipper.
This might sound like a joke. It's not -- or at least, it's not intended to be. The Paul campaign actually released this 51-second video today in which the Kentucky Republican is seen setting fire to large stacks of paper, putting the paper through a wood-chipper, and literally using the chainsaw.
That third option was apparently the campaign's favorite, since it was released as a separate video, featuring slightly more footage.
Sounding very much like a used-car salesman making a low-budget commercial, the senator tells viewers, "Hey I'm Rand Paul and I'm trying to kill the tax code -- all 70,000 pages of it."
Oh my.
Donald Trump speaks during a press conference at The Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa on July 18, 2015. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump's religious talk causes unease among social conservatives

07/21/15 10:21AM

There's a reason so many Republican presidential hopefuls traveled to the Family Leadership Summit this past weekend: social conservatives are a dominant force in Iowa Republican politics, and this forum caters specifically to religious right activists.
With this in mind, moderator Frank Luntz asked Donald Trump on Saturday, "Have you ever asked God for forgiveness?" The question elicited some laughter from the audience, though the Republican candidate seemed to take the matter seriously.
"I'm not sure I have," Trump said. "I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don't think so. I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't."
He quickly added in garbled syntax, "We I take, when we go, and church and when I drink my little wine -- which is about the only wine I drink -- and have my little cracker, I guess that's a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed, OK? But, you know, to me that's important, I do that, but in terms of officially, I could say, 'Absolutely!' and everybody, I don't think in terms of that. I think in terms of, let's go on and let's make it right."
The comments, obviously, were largely overlooked because they were soon followed by his controversial criticisms of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), but Byron York reported yesterday that it was Trump's religious rhetoric that arguably mattered more to this specific audience.
A senior Iowa Republican who was in the room, sitting with a group of grassroots activists as Trump spoke, was dumbfounded by the candidate's views of religion. "While there were audible groans in the crowd when Trump questioned whether McCain was a war hero," the senior Republican said via email, "it was Trump's inability to articulate any coherent relationship with God or demonstrate the role faith plays in his life that really sucked the oxygen out of the room."
The senior Republican continued: "Milling around talking to activists in the hallways/lobby after Trump's speech, THAT is what those Iowa conservatives were discussing, not the McCain comment."
It's probably best not to overstate this -- Trump did receive a standing ovation at the end of his appearance, so if the social conservatives on hand for the event were bothered, they hid it well.
But given the setting and the audience, it's rather extraordinary that Trump didn't seem to have the foggiest idea how to even pretend to talk about matters of faith.
U.S Congressional Delegation from Washington D.C. Senators John McCain, Joseph Lieberman,Lindsay Graham leave a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, Libya  Friday, Aug. 14, 2009.

An unwanted reunion show for the 'Three Amigos'

07/21/15 09:32AM

The more the Bush/Cheney foreign policy failed, the more Americans heard from the "Three Amigos" -- Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) maintained a very high national profile, eagerly telling Americans not to believe their lying eyes. The wars were noble, worthwhile successes, they said. We were just supposed to trust them.
Much of the political media swooned over the trio, but Americans in general soured on the Bush/Cheney catastrophes anyway, and in 2008, McCain's presidential campaign fell far short.
In the years that followed, the group lost a member -- Lieberman left the Senate and became a lobbyist -- and the public's appetite for more Middle Eastern invasions faded. But yesterday, as the New York Times reported, the "Three Amigos" were nevertheless back together again for a reunion show of sorts, this time to condemn an international nuclear agreement with Iran.
Mr. Graham, a Republican presidential hopeful from South Carolina who is one of the most hawkish voices in his party, repeatedly invoked the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, just over three miles from the Women's National Republican Club in Midtown Manhattan, where the "No Nukes for Iran" forum was held.
"My friends, what we will see is a nuclearized Middle East," said Mr. Graham of the deal's implications, arguing it would extend well beyond Iran. "They view New York as a symbol of America. This is the place they would choose to hit us again if they could."
Graham, of course, made the comments with McCain and Lieberman literally by his side.
And in the process, we were reminded anew why the "Three Amigos" added so little to the public debate over national security and foreign policy.
Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush answers questions from employees of Nephron Pharmaceutical Company June 29, 2015 in West Columbia, S.C. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty)

Jeb Bush's Swift Boat defense comes up short

07/21/15 08:42AM

Almost immediately after Donald Trump's controversial remarks about Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) military service, Republican officials denounced the criticism in a specific way. "There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably," the Republican National Committee said in an official statement.
The problem, of course, is that Republicans appear to apply that principle selectively. In 2004, John Kerry faced ridiculous lies about his heroic military service, and at the time, GOP leaders saw great political value in smearing a decorated war veteran.
Take Jeb Bush, for example. In January 2005, the day before his brother's second inaugural, the Florida governor wrote a letter to the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" ringleader, expressing his appreciation for the smear campaign. Celebrating the "Swifties," as Jeb Bush called them, the Republican wrote to retired Col. Bud Day, "Please let them know that I am personally appreciative of their service to our nation. As someone who truly understands the risk of standing up for something, I simply cannot express in words how much I value their willingness to stand up against John Kerry."
In this case, "stand up to" was apparently a euphemism for "tell lies about."
And yet, a decade later, Bush is now disgusted by Trump's rhetoric about John McCain's service. Why is the former governor comfortable with ugly attacks that smeared one decorated veteran but not another? Here's what Bush's campaign spokesperson told CNN's Jake Tappe yesterdayr:
"We reject the entire premise. A thank you letter to Col. Bud Day, Medal of Honor winner and Air Force Cross recipient, twice captured as a POW, is not in any way analogous to condemning Donald Trump's slanderous attack on John McCain."
There are a couple of problems with the response.
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at the Republican Party of Arkansas Reagan Rockefeller dinner in Hot Springs, Ark. on July 17, 2015. (Photo by Danny Johnston/AP)

Trump's GOP lead reaches double digits

07/21/15 08:00AM

For Republican insiders eagerly waiting for Donald Trump's downfall, the timing couldn't be much worse. Much of the political discussion was focused yesterday on the GOP candidate's ugly comments about Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), which Trump's conservative detractors hoped would be the beginning of the end of his time in the 2016 spotlight.
It was against this backdrop that a new national poll became the latest setback for the Republican Party.
Businessman Donald Trump surged into the lead for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, with almost twice the support of his closest rival, just as he ignited a new controversy after making disparaging remarks about Sen. John McCain's Vietnam War service, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
While some recent national polling has shown Trump inching ahead of his GOP rivals, the Washington Post-ABC News poll was far more dramatic: he leads with 24% support. That's a striking figure -- in a massive field of 16 candidates, it's tough for most candidates to even reach double digits -- that no Republican has reached in any Post/ABC polls this year.
Scott Walker is in second with 15% -- that's nine percentage points behind Trump -- followed by Jeb Bush at 12%. No other candidate reached double digits. Indeed, there are four sitting U.S. senators running for president -- Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Rand Paul -- and their combined support is 19%, five points shy of Trump's total in this poll.
For Republicans waiting desperately for Trump  Mania to end, the poll is a disaster. There is, however, a silver lining for the GOP establishment. From the report:

Trump making peace? and other headlines

07/21/15 07:42AM

Donald Trump takes step toward making peace with the GOP. (Wall Street Journal)

Clinton weighs using Trump against his party. (New York Times)

Rand Paul readying a Hill push for guns on military bases and in recruiting stations. (Washington Post)

FBI investigating Abdulazeez confronted by a kid with a fake gun. (WDEF)

President Obama talks to veterans in Pittsburgh today. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

New details released in Sandra Bland's death in Texas jail. (New York Times)

More than 1,200 guns, 2 tons of ammo found at upscale SoCal home. (NBC Los Angeles)

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Citations for the July 20, 2015 TRMS

07/21/15 12:52AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Liz Mair, former director of online communication for the RNC
  • Karen Tumulty, Washington Post national political correspondent
  • Steve Clemons, Washington editor-at-large for The Atlantic

Tonight's links:

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