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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 8.31.16

08/31/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* More on this in the morning: "The Supreme Court will not allow North Carolina in the coming election to use a strict voting law that a lower court found was enacted 'with almost surgical precision' to blunt the influence of African American voters."
 
* Try to contain your surprise: "After months of promising to use his skills as a negotiator to get Mexico to pay for a wall at the country's border with the U.S., Donald Trump said Wednesday that he and Mexican President Enrique Pea Nieto did not discuss who would pay for the wall."
 
* The vote was 61 to 20: "Brazil's Senate voted to impeach embattled President Dilma Rousseff on Wednesday, the latest turn in a political saga that has gripped the country and left the government sputtering in a months-long crisis."
 
* Flooding is likely to be a problem: "A tropical depression in the Atlantic strengthened into a tropical storm Wednesday afternoon, the National Weather Service said. Tropical Storm Hermine formed in the Gulf of Mexico and was about 415 miles away from Tampa, Florida as of 2 p.m. ET. It had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph."
 
* Abu Mohammed al-Adnani: "Moscow claimed credit Wednesday for killing ISIS' spokesman and chief strategist in an airstrike.... A U.S. defense official dismissed that assertion. 'We have no reason to believe Russia's claim,' the official told NBC News. Earlier, a U.S. defense official told Reuters, 'Russia's claim is a joke.'"
 
* A historic flight: "The first scheduled passenger jet service in history from the United States to Cuba took off Wednesday morning from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., another important step toward normalized relations between two former Cold War foes."
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the American Legion's 98th Annual Convention at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati, Ohio on Aug. 31, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

The debate over 'American exceptionalism' is turned on its head

08/31/16 04:35PM

Of all the odd lines of attack conservatives have launched against President Obama, one of the strangest has been whining about "American exceptionalism." This year, the entire dynamic has been flipped on its head in ways that would have been hard to predict a few years ago.
 
When the right has gone after Obama over "exceptionalism," the idea has been to question his patriotism and love of country by questioning his perceptions of the United States' unique greatness. Four years ago, for example, Mitt Romney's stump speech insisted that while he and Republicans saw America as a place of special and historical excellence, the president believes "America's just another nation with a flag."
 
The conservative complaints have never really made any sense, but this line has nevertheless been a staple of Republican rhetoric for nearly eight years. It's become a litmus-test issue of sorts: genuine U.S. patriotism, the argument goes, requires a belief in "American exceptionalism."
 
That is, until this year, when the right lost control of the debate.
Hillary Clinton offered a vigorous case on Wednesday for America's place as a singular and vital leader in the world, drawing a sharp contrast with the "America first" approach espoused by Donald J. Trump.
 
"If there's one core belief that has guided and inspired me every step of the way, it is this: The United States is an exceptional nation," Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, said in an address to the American Legion's national convention.
In her address, Mrs. Clinton championed the notion of American exceptionalism, a term that has traditionally been embraced by Republicans.
 
It's hard to overstate just how eager Clinton was today to drive the point home. When her campaign distributed a transcript of her speech to reporters this afternoon, the headline read, "In Cincinnati, Clinton Touts American Exceptionalism." A quick review of the transcript found that the Democratic presidential hopeful used the word "exceptional" eight times while speaking to the American Legion.
 
This was arguably the most striking: "[M]y opponent in the race has said very clearly that he thinks American exceptionalism is insulting to the rest of the world. In fact, when Vladimir Putin, of all people, criticized American exceptionalism, my opponent agreed with him saying, and I quote, 'If you are in Russia, you don't want to hear that America is exceptional.' Well maybe you don't want to hear it, but that doesn't mean it's not true."
Gov. Paul LePage speaks at a news conference at the State House, Jan. 8, 2016, in Augusta, Maine. (Photo by Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

LePage vows not to resign, promises media silence

08/31/16 12:47PM

It was literally yesterday morning when Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) publicly said he may resign before the end of his term. Late yesterday, he dismissed the "rumors" the governor himself initiated, and this morning, as the Boston Globe reported, LePage shot down his own idea.
"I will not resign," Governor Paul LePage of Maine said Wednesday morning, a day after he had floated that possibility in a radio interview.
 
The combative governor made the declaration after meeting with Drew Gattine, the Democratic state representative whom he had berated in an obscenity-laced voicemail message and mused about shooting between the eyes in a duel.
LePage also said he would not seek "professional help," but rather, would rely on "spiritual guidance" with his wife and children going forward.
 
Asked about other possible changes he's prepared to make, the beleaguered Republican governor said, "I will no longer speak to the press ever again after today. And I'm serious. Everything will be put into writing. I'm tired of being caught in the gotcha moments."
 
It's worth noting for context that when LePage left his threatening, expletive-lacked voicemail message last week, the governor specifically told his Democratic target, "I want you to record this and make it public."
 
In other words, a media "gotcha" moment it wasn't.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.31.16

08/31/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* According to an NBC News report, prosecutors in Florida are investigating the voter registration of Donald Trump's campaign CEO, Stephen Bannon.
 
* Trump is scheduled to appear at the predominantly black Great Faith Ministries in Detroit this weekend, but according to the Detroit Free Press, the Republican candidate is not expected to actually speak to the congregation directly.
 
* Reflecting on the bizarre controversy surrounding Trump's personal physician and his over-the-top letter describing the Republican candidate's health, Tim Kaine said yesterday, "[T]his is either too funny to be true or too true to be funny, I can't decide."
 
* The latest Monmouth University poll shows Hillary Clinton up by eight points over Trump in Pennsylvania, 48% to 40%. The same results found for Libertarian Gary Johnson with 6% and Green Party nominee Jill Stein with 1%.
 
* The same Monmouth poll showed Katie McGinty (D) leading incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey (R) in Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, 45% to 41%.
 
* In Indiana, Senate hopeful Todd Young (R) was asked whether he's comfortable giving the nation's nuclear codes to Trump, whose candidacy the congressman supports. Young refused to answer the question directly.
 
* It still seems unlikely that Clinton will defeat Trump in Utah, but note that the Clinton campaign launched a direct-mail piece in the state this week, calling Trump "unfit and unprepared" for the presidency.
Donald Trump Donald Trump campaign rally, Aug. 22, 2016 in Akron, Ohio. (Photo by Amy Harris/REX/Shutterstock)

Trump makes a familiar mistake about American political history

08/31/16 11:00AM

I'm not surprised Donald Trump would make this argument; I'm surprised it took him so long to get to this point.
"The Republican Party is the party of Abraham Lincoln. Not bad," said Trump, speaking at a rally in the Seattle suburb of Everett. "Not bad. It's also the party of freedom, equality and opportunity."
 
"It is the Democratic Party that is the party of slavery, the party of Jim Crow and the party of opposition," Trump said, drawing boos from the supportive crowd, which was heavily white.
As the Washington Post's report noted, Trump was reading from prepared remarks, which sometimes gives him trouble: his mention of "party of opposition," for example, was supposed to be "part of oppression."
 
Nevertheless, it was only a matter of time before Trump, more pundit than candidate, adopted one of the more popular historical arguments embraced by conservative commentators.
 
Unfortunately for the Republican presidential nominee, it's a point he doesn't seem to understand especially well.
 
As regular readers know, we usually revisit this story about once a year, and in light of Trump's rhetoric in Washington last night, now is as good a time as any to set the record straight once more.
Governor Paul LePage speaks during the Republican Party State Convention, May 6, 2012. (Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald/Getty)

Maine Republican leaders ready to overlook LePage's controversies

08/31/16 10:03AM

Facing a variety of controversies, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) publicly acknowledged yesterday morning that he might resign before the end of his term. Later in the day, the Republican governor dismissed the "rumors" about his possible resignation, apparently oblivious to the fact that LePage himself was responsible for creating the scuttlebutt in the first place.
 
There's no shortage of questions about the governor's mess, but among the most pressing is what in the world Maine Republicans intend to do about it. Because the fact remains that if GOP legislators in the Pine Tree State turn on LePage, the governor's decisions about his future could very well be made for him.
 
With this in mind, as Rachel noted on the show last night, Maine's Republican state lawmakers took the highly unusual step last night of holding an out-of-session caucus meeting to discuss what to do about their flailing governor. The answer, apparently, is nothing. The Portland Press Herald reported this morning:
The Republican minority caucus in the Maine House has decided not to take any action to address recent inflammatory comments by Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
 
The House Republicans decided they would stand by the governor Tuesday following a more than two-hour private meeting where they discussed recent racially charged comments LePage has made at [a] series of public meetings and an obscenity-laced voice mail the governor left for a Democratic lawmaker last week.
State House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R) said he and his GOP colleagues in the state House "are going to go out there and start talking about the issues and start talking to the voters because we believe that's what's important." He added, "We are not coming back in for a special session to talk about this."
 
The implication is that, as far as the state House Minority Leader is concerned, Paul LePage's erratic and offensive behavior is not "important," and shouldn't be considered one of "the issues" facing Maine.

A report from WCSH, the NBC affiliate in Portland, added that state House Republican leaders "said they do expect a genuine apology from Gov. LePage, but when asked by several reporters what exactly they think needs to happen next, they were unclear, only saying that they hope to move forward to the issues at hand and upcoming elections."
An Aedes Aegypti mosquito is seen in a lab of the International Training and Medical Research Training Center (CIDEIM) in Cali, Colombia, Feb. 2, 2016. (Photo by Jaime Saldarriaga/Reuters)

In Zika fight, CDC nearly 'out of money'

08/31/16 09:21AM

Before Congress broke for its lengthy summer recess, President Obama and public-health officials implored the Republican-run House and Senate to do one thing: approve funding for the fight against the Zika virus. GOP leaders instead played partisan games with the bill and left Capitol Hill without having accomplished anything to address the threat.
 
As NBC News reported yesterday, their negligence carries consequences.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is almost out of money to fight the Zika virus, the agency's director said Tuesday -- just hours before Florida announced three fresh homegrown cases of the infection.
 
Zika has now infected 46 people locally in Florida, presumably spread by mosquitoes. One case is part of an outbreak in Miami Beach and health officials say they're trying to trace the origins of two others.
 
And the CDC, which has been helping Florida track cases and fight mosquitoes, is almost broke.
"Basically, we are out of money and we need Congress to act," CDC Director Thomas Frieden told reporters yesterday.
 
But congressional Republicans have chosen not to act, in part because of an instinctive discomfort with new government spending, and in part because some GOP lawmakers are skeptical about the seriousness of the Zika threat itself.
 
This has left officials like Frieden to raise the volume while ringing the alarm, hoping greater awareness of the problem might prompt Congress to do what's necessary to protect the public. From the NBC News report:
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)

House Democrat ousted on year's last big primary day

08/31/16 08:42AM

On the last big primary day of 2016, nearly all of the key races wrapped up as expected. In Arizona, for example, Sen. John McCain (R) easily dispatched his primary rival. In Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio (R) and Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) won their respective Senate primaries, and will face off for a closely watched contest in the fall.
 
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) faced a competitive rival in her Florida district, but she prevailed with relative ease, despite her challenger receiving an endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
 
But what caught my eye was the outcome of the primary in Florida's 5th congressional district. The Tampa Bay Times reported overnight:
Indicted U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville was defeated Tuesday night, scandal upending her long congressional career as Al Lawson of Tallahassee blew past her.
 
Brown, first elected in 1992, has endured controversy before, but in June was indicted on fraud charges over connection to a charity, One Door for Education Foundation Inc. She and others are accused of taking money intended for scholarships.
 
She also had the challenge of a redrawn district that extended into former state Sen. Lawson's turf.
We discussed the criminal indictment against Brown a couple of months ago, and the allegations, which the congresswoman denies, are quite serious. It's not impossible for a member of Congress to win an election while facing public-corruption charges, but it definitely makes things awkward for the incumbent.
 
With nearly all of the precincts reporting, Brown lost by about 8 percentage points. Given the district's Democratic leanings, Lawson is widely expected to win the seat in November.
 
But in the larger context, Brown joins a very small club: members of Congress ousted in 2016 during a primary.
Donald Trump Gives Address On Immigration In Phoenix

Donald Trump takes a big risk with last-minute Mexico trip

08/31/16 08:00AM

It's become fairly common in recent years for presidential candidates in both parties to visit a foreign country during their campaign, and in some respects, it's not a bad idea. There's real value in having the public see candidates, especially those with little foreign-policy experience, engage in some international diplomacy, shake hands with foreign officials, and if all goes well, return home with additional gravitas.
 
At least, that's the theory. In practice, as Donald Trump is about to discover, these foreign excursions carry risks, too.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump will meet with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto ahead of a major speech on immigration on Wednesday.
 
The Washington Post first reported that Pena Nieto had extended invitations to both Trump and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, to travel to Mexico City for a meeting. Trump and the Mexican leader later confirmed the meeting on Twitter.
It's apparently going to be quite a day for the Republican presidential nominee. Trump is scheduled to deliver a "major speech" in Arizona this evening on immigration policy, which may help address some of the confusion about the candidate's position, but those remarks will apparently come after Trump's jaunt to Mexico for a public-relations stunt.
 
I don't necessarily mean that in a pejorative way; plenty of successful national campaigns have used public-relations stunts to great effect over the years. But there can be no doubt that Trump intends to take a brief sojourn to Mexico City because he hopes the time investment will pay electoral dividends.
 
The question, of course, is whether those benefits will actually materialize. The odds are against it.

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