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Friday's Mini-Report, 7.11.14

07/11/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Crisis in Israel: "Rocket fire from both the Gaza Strip and Lebanon struck Israel Friday morning as the Israeli military continued its air assault on the coastal enclave, where officials said the death toll rose to 98."
* Japan: "A minor tsunami hit Miyagi prefecture in Japan early Saturday after a strong 6.8-magnitude quake jolted the country's northeastern Pacific coast, prompting advisories for regions including around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant."
* Ukraine: "Rebels attacked a Ukrainian military camp in eastern Ukraine on Friday, killing as many as 30 soldiers and border guards, the Ukrainian authorities said."
* Afghanistan: "Secretary of State John Kerry began a series of meetings in Kabul on Friday in hopes of finding a way out of a presidential election crisis that has threatened to split the Afghan government and prompted Western officials to warn that Afghanistan risked losing billions of dollars in aid on which it depends."
* There's still no GOP alternative: "President Obama's request of $3.7 billion in emergency funding for the border is too high, the House chairman with purview over spending said Friday. 'No, that's too much,' Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said when asked whether the House would pass the spending bill outlined by the administration."
* Time for the CDC to get its act together: "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday said it has closed two laboratories and halted some shipments of dangerous disease samples after discovering new safety breaches, including one that involved the dangerous avian flu."
* Deficit: "The White House predicted Friday that the federal budget deficit will dip below $600 billion this year for the first time since the Great Recession hit in 2007."
* Mississippi: "[S]tate Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) said Friday that his campaign and his supporters have found 'over 8,300 questionable ballots cast' in the runoff election for U.S. Senate, which Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) won."
* Ari Berman reports from North Carolina, where the future of the Voting Rights Act is on the line: "Eleven witnesses -- a mixture of civil rights activists, legislators and election experts -- testified against the law, known as House Bill 589, over the course of four days."
Sen. Mitch McConnell

McConnell believes 'most of the barriers' for women 'have been lowered'

07/11/14 04:06PM

On some level, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) realizes that the gender gap is putting his career in jeopardy. He's facing a competitive challenge from a very talented woman, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D), who will almost certainly give McConnell the toughest re-election fight of his career.
It's why the long-time Republican incumbent, worried about women voters putting Lundergan Grimes over the top, has occasionally been reduced to making claims about his record on women's issues that aren't quite in line with reality.
That said, this new report from Joe Sonka suggests McConnell is still a little confused about how to address issues of particular concern to women. Consider his remarks this week about the vanishing barriers American women now face:
"We've come a long way... in pay equity and uh... there are a ton of women CEOs now running major companies...
"I could be wrong, but I think most of the barriers have been lowered. And I'm a little skeptical about arguments that -- particularly people like my party who are hostile to women -- what kind of nonsense is that? I think my opponent is going to make that argument to all of you this fall, that somehow I'm promoting policies that are harmful to women. I don't think that kind of agenda exploitation for political purposes makes any sense. The last time I ran I got 50 percent of the women votes in the state. So I don't grant the assumption that we need to sort of give preferential treatment to the majority of our population, which is in my view, leading and performing all across the... you know, maybe I'm missing something here."
In this case, yes, maybe he's "missing something here" and he "could be wrong."
Indeed, it's almost as if Mitch McConnell is daring women to vote against him.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner gestures before President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address on Jan. 28, 2014 at the US Capitol in Washington.

'It's not about executive actions'

07/11/14 03:08PM

House Speaker John Boehner, on Sunday, complaining about the White House:
"[T]oo often over the past five years, the President has circumvented the American people and their elected representatives through executive action."
House Speaker John Boehner, four days later, complaining about the White House (thanks to my colleague Mike Yarvitz for the heads-up):
"This is about the legislative branch ... and it's not about executive actions."
I'm glad Boehner could clear this up for us.
We talked earlier about the Speaker's lawsuit and its lack of merit, but looking over the transcript from Boehner's press conference yesterday, it's hard not to get the impression that the House Republican leadership started with the answer (let's sue the President Obama), then struggled to work backwards (let's figure out why).
As a rule, this isn't how government is supposed to work.
Worse, it wasn't the only presidential criticism from Boehner's press conference that lacked coherence. When the issue of the border crisis came up, for example, a reporter noted that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) warned his party that if they do nothing, the GOP will "get blamed for perpetuating the problem."
"This is a problem of the president's own making!" Boehner replied, pointing to proof that doesn't exist. "He's been president for five-and-a-half years! When's he going to take responsibility for something?"
If the fury on Boehner's face was indicative of sincerity, the Speaker apparently believed what he was saying. Which is a shame, because this doesn't make any sense.

Issa goes on a 'subpoena binge'

07/11/14 02:32PM

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) hasn't had it easy lately.
His obsession with assorted "scandals" turned out to be pointless. His Benghazi probe proved to be so directionless that House Republican leaders took the issue away from him. His party has started to see him as inept. And worst of all, Issa's tenure as chairman will come to an end later this year after having accomplished practically nothing.
The California Republican doesn't seem to be handling the pressure well.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa has issued a subpoena to a senior Obama administration to testify on the Hatch Act.
Issa is calling on David Simas, the director of the White House Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, to provide testimony on that office's role in political campaigns. The Hatch Act is a 20th-century legislation prevents executive branch employees from engaging in partisan political activity.
On the surface, there's no reason to think Simas actually violated the Hatch Act -- that's what the Bush/Cheney team did,  back when Issa didn't seem to care -- which makes the subpoena hard to justify.
But just below the surface, note that Issa issued the subpoena without any debate -- or even a vote -- from the Oversight Committee's members. Issa's been doing that a lot lately.
In fact, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote to Issa today to urge the chairman to be more responsible: "Over the past several weeks -- ever since House Speaker John Boehner took the Benghazi investigation away from the Oversight Committee and transferred it to the new Select Committee -- you have been engaged in a subpoena binge, issuing more unilateral subpoenas than at any point during your tenure, and all with no debate or votes by our Committee."
Perhaps a chart can help drive the point home.
Attorney General Eric Holder testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 6, 2013.

'Building a case' for impeachment, but not Obama's

07/11/14 12:09PM

This week helped make clear that there's a sizable Republican contingent that desperately wants to impeach President Obama. It's not altogether clear why, though as Norm Ornstein put it, the GOP's "Impeach Obama crowd" may be "the lunatic fringe," but it's starting to go "mainstream."
Advancing the cause will, however, be quite difficult. House Republican leaders aren't on board, and plenty of rank-and-file GOP lawmakers fear political blowback. Impeachment crusaders have an uphill climb.
At least, that is, when it comes to targeting the president. National Review's Joel Gehrke published a piece yesterday noting that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and several House Republicans are "building a case for impeaching Attorney General Eric Holder," and by some measures, they're "getting more traction with that idea than impeaching the president himself."
"Impeding justice is intolerable and he should not be permitted to refuse the American people a true investigation into the actions of those who used the machinery of government to target, intimate, and silence them for politically driven reasons," Cruz said during a June 26 floor speech.
Cruz had made such comments before, but this speech was different. He spent 40 minutes laying out the case for Holder's impeachment -- spending the bulk of that time on the IRS scandal, but also citing the Justice Department's failure to enforce various laws, the department's Operation Fast and Furious, and Holder's role in the administration obtaining journalists' phone records.
What I love about this is the unstated frustration that must be evident on Capitol Hill. "We may not be able to impeach the president," some GOP lawmakers are likely thinking, "but gosh darn it we're going to have to impeach someone."
Scott Walker

Jobs issue trips up Wisconsin's Walker again

07/11/14 11:28AM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has had his share of troubles in his first term, but arguably none is as important as his difficulties with job creation.
As a candidate in 2010, Walker was so confident about the strength of his platform that he made a striking prediction: if elected, he'd create 250,000 jobs in Wisconsin in his first term. Four years later, he'll struggle to reach half of his goal. More recently, Walker declared he'd retroactively picked a different target: the creation of 17,000 new businesses. But upon further inspection, he hadn't reached this goal, either.
There's certainly room for debate about just how much one official can reasonably be held accountable for statewide economic conditions, but the fact remains that Walker made specific promises he couldn't keep on voters' top priority.
And this week, things got just a little worse for the governor.
At least two companies that received money from Gov. Scott Walker's chief economic development agency later outsourced jobs to foreign countries, WKOW-TV reported Wednesday.
One of the companies received a second award from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation after the fact, the television station reported.
Yeah, that's not good.
Karl Rove

How quickly Karl Rove forgets

07/11/14 10:51AM

Karl Rove, a former aide and strategist in the Bush/Cheney White House, has a new line of criticism against President Obama: he attends too many fundraisers during moments of crisis. Obama "makes time for [fundraising] no matter how pressing world or national affairs are," Rove complained.
And if, at this point, you're thinking that Rove's old boss also made time for fundraising during moments of crisis, a habit Rove never complained about before, Simon Maloy has you covered.
On March 2, 2004, suicide bombers conducted coordinated attacks on Shiite shrines in Baghdad and Karbala that coincided with the holy day of Ashura. Nearly 200 people were killed, which made it the deadliest day in Iraq since Bush had declared major combat operations over. The next evening, Bush flew out to Los Angeles for a fundraiser, where he joked about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s role in Terminator 3.
Just over a week later, on March 11, 2004, terrorists exploded bombs on commuter trains in Madrid in a coordinated attack that left nearly 200 people dead and over 1,800 wounded. That morning, Bush condemned the attacks. That evening, he flew to New York for a Bush-Cheney campaign fundraiser.
On October 2, 2006, eight U.S. soldiers were killed in Baghdad by small arms fire and roadside bombs. Another three soldiers had been killed in the previous two days. Bush spent the evening of October 2 in Nevada at a fundraiser for Dean Heller.... A week later, on October 9, 2006, North Korea detonated its first nuclear weapon.... The next evening he jetted off to Macon, Georgia to headline a fundraiser for Mac Collins.
Note, Rove did not remain at the White House for the entirety of Bush's two terms, but he was a top presidential aide during each of these fundraisers. In other words, Rove was in a position to say, "Sir, you couldn't possibly leave Washington for a campaign fundraiser during this time of crisis," but he didn't.
Rove only discovered his outrage later, once President Obama was in office, taking on some of the same fundraising responsibilities his predecessor did.
Arguably just as interesting, though, is how often this comes up.
West Palm Beach, Florida.

Florida GOP 'made a mockery' of redistricting process

07/11/14 10:07AM

Florida's reputation for ridiculous elections -- hanging chads, butterfly ballots, deliberately long lines, bruising lawsuits -- is deeply unfortunate. It's also accurate; the Sunshine State has never exactly been a shining example of democracy at its finest.
But Florida is at least supposed to be better than most when it comes to the once-a-decade process in which state policymakers re-draw the lines of the state's congressional districts. Two years ago, however, that apparently didn't go well.
In a ruling released late Thursday, Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis blasted the Republican establishment that created Florida's congressional map, saying they "made a mockery" of transparency, allowed for "improper partisan intent" and he ordered that two of the state's 27 districts drawn in 2012 violate the Fair District standards.
In his 41-page ruling, the judge rejected challenges to districts in South Florida and that Tampa Bay but said that District 5, held by Democrat U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, and District 10, held by Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, "will need to be redrawn, as will any other districts affected thereby."
The ruling doesn't pull any punches, blasting Republican operatives and consultants for making "a mockery of the Legislature's transparent and open process of redistricting," "conspiring to manipulate and influence the redistricting process," while "going to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan and their participation in it."
There are lingering questions about just how much GOP lawmakers knew about the outside interference, though in this case, we'll never know for sure -- the Florida Republicans involved in the process destroyed emails and other redistricting documents before the matter went to court.
"There is no legal duty on the part of the Legislature to preserve these records, but you have to wonder why they didn't,'' the judge wrote.
Wait, you mean there was shameless Republican manipulation of a process related to fair elections -- in Florida? Who would have guessed?
Senior adviser Ed Gillespie briefs reporters as they accompany Mitt Romney to Weyers Cave, Va., Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012.

Ed Gillespie's wrong turn on the minimum wage

07/11/14 09:21AM

The debate over the minimum wage is usually pretty straight forward. For most on the left, the federal minimum is far too low and should be increased, expanding workers' buying power and putting more money in struggling Americans' pockets. For the most on the right, raising the minimum wage would cut into employers' profits. Some Republicans have even called for the wage to be lowered to zero.
But in Virginia, where former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie is his party's U.S. Senate nominee, voters have heard a new argument: working for the minimum wage is awesome. Gillespie told a Virginia Beach gathering that states and municipalities can do as they please, but he'd oppose a federal wage increase if elected.
"A lot of those jobs are second-earners in the family. A lot of them are first time workers, it's the first job they've ever had. A minimum wage job is where you learn to get to work on time. It's where you learn the great feeling at the end of getting that paycheck and knowing you gave an honest week's work. It's where you learn the social aspect of work, where you play on a softball team or go for a beer after work."
Wow, that sounds great, doesn't it?
Alex Wagner's on-air response yesterday rings true: "The great feeling of spending your hard-earned dough on a beer after work -- a beer which, if you're making the current federal minimum wage of $7.25, might cost you exactly as much as your hourly take-home pay."
Gillespie's vision of Americans having fun earning poverty wages is certainly condescending, but it's also based on unfortunate misconceptions. The suggestion that these workers are teenagers, learning the value of a buck for the first time, is wrong -- the reality is the vast majority of Americans who work for the minimum wage are over the age of 20. About half of them work full time.
If Gillespie or his allies can explain how American adults are supposed to live, pay bills, and maybe help support a family on poverty wages, all while playing on the softball team and grabbing an after-work beer, I'm eager to hear about it.
Todd Akin And Newt Gingrich Hold Press Conference In Missouri

Todd Akin is ready for another close-up

07/11/14 08:41AM

In 2012, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) was facing a tough re-election fight in Missouri, so she helped boost the Republican she assumed would be the easiest to beat: then-Rep. Todd Akin (R). The plan worked extraordinarily well.
Akin was an extremist by any measure, but the far-right lawmaker secured a spot in the Awful Candidates Hall of Fame when he famously said women impregnated during a "legitimate rape" have a magical ability to "shut that whole thing down."
Akin soon after lost by 15 points.
All of this unpleasantness, however, was two years ago. Now the far-right Missourian is back and he wants the spotlight again.
Todd Akin takes it back. He's not sorry.
Two years after the Missouri Republican's comments on rape, pregnancy and abortion doomed his campaign and fueled a "war on women" message that carried Democrats to victory in the Senate, one of the few regrets he mentions in a new book is the decision to air a campaign ad apologizing for his remarks. "By asking the public at large for forgiveness," Akin writes, "I was validating the willful misinterpretation of what I had said."
Hmm. Todd Akin's problem was that he was too ... conciliatory?
Making matters worse, as Joan Walsh noted, Akin is not only retracting his 2012 apology, he's also back to defending the comments that caused him so much trouble in the first place. "My comment about a woman's body shutting the pregnancy down was directed to the impact of stress of fertilization," Akin argues in his new book, adding that "this is something fertility doctors debate and discuss."
Republican officials are clearly aware of Akin's willingness to re-litigate whether women can "shut that whole thing down," and they have a message for the former congressman: for the love of God, please stop talking.
Barack Obama, John Boehner

An embarrassing swing and a miss for Speaker Boehner

07/11/14 08:01AM

The public first learned about House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) plan to file an anti-Obama lawsuit on June 24, more than two full weeks ago. Asked for an explanation, the Republican leader struggled -- Boehner knew he wanted to sue the president, though he didn't know why -- but the in the process, he gave his team all kinds of time to think of something.
As the put-up-or-shut-up moment approached, the pressure was on the Speaker to follow through in a big way. Yesterday, Boehner blew it.
Speaker John Boehner has released a bill that would authorize him to sue the White House over its implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
"The current president believes he has the power to make his own laws – at times even boasting about it," Boehner said in a statement Thursday. "He has said that if Congress won't make the laws he wants, he'll go ahead and make them himself, and in the case of the employer mandate in his health care law, that's exactly what he did."
In reality, delaying implementation of a minor provision of a law and making law unilaterally are not the same thing. Indeed, the Speaker's office went on to say the White House "literally waived" the law, which simply isn't true -- delaying part of a law isn't the same as literally waiving it. Those who can't understand the difference probably shouldn't pursue a career in legislating.
Regardless, even many of Obama's most vituperative critics would be forgiven for asking, "That's it?" at this point. For weeks, Boehner characterized the president as an out-of-control tyrant, but when push came to shove, the Speaker ignored his party's concerns about immigration, the environment, and economic measures, and instead moved forward on one thing: a year-old delay in an obscure policy most Americans have never heard of.
For all the overheated rhetoric about the president's lengthy list of abuses, this was the best Boehner could come up with. As Brian Beutler put it, "Today's story is that the GOP has spent weeks and weeks accusing Obama of unbridled lawlessness, when they didn't really have the goods."
Looking ahead, what's the likely result of the lawsuit? It's probably easier to consider this in Q&A form.

Broke at the border and other headlines

07/11/14 07:58AM

DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson: border agencies near broke. (The Hill)

U.S. officials: no more migrant buses to Southern California. (USA Today)

Southern California Catholic churches open their doors to migrants. (NBC Los Angeles)

Revolutionary War hero a step closer to citizenship. (L.A. Times)

Judge rules Florida Legislature broke law on congressional district maps. (First Coast News)

Palestinian death toll nears 100 as Hamas promises more attacks on Israel. (NY Times) 

Sec. of State Kerry makes a surprise trip to Afghanistan to try to help sort out its election crisis. (AP)

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Tough guy talk not helpful on border matters

Tough guy talk not helpful on border matters

07/10/14 10:29PM

Rachel Maddow reviews the gaffes and humiliations of Texas governor Rick Perry's bumbling presidential campaign to examine why he thinks tough talk on the immigration crisis is a political win even though it's not helpful as a practical solution. watch