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Friday's Mini-Report, 3.27.15

03/27/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* The latest out of Germany: "Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot believed to have crashed his jet into the French Alps on purpose, apparently hid an illness from his employer, investigators said on Friday."
 
* Yemen: "Forces aligned with the Iranian-backed Houthi movement continued their advance into areas of southern Yemen on Friday as Saudi Arabia conducted a second day of airstrikes intended to stop them."
 
* Seriously, no rush: "Janet L. Yellen, the Federal Reserve chairwoman, said on Friday that the Fed planned to raise interest rates more slowly than during past recoveries because of the unusually fragile condition of the American economy."
 
* It looks like a done deal: "But by mid-afternoon, [Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid] had endorsed New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, no. 3 in the current hierarchy, as his chosen successor -- and Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin's office made it clear that the Illinois senator would also back his colleague and former Capitol Hill roommate."
 
* Reid was doing a live interview with Nevada Public Radio this morning when President Obama called in to extend his best wishes. It was a sweet moment.
 
* This ought to be interesting: "France's foreign minister said Friday his country will propose a U.N. Security Council resolution in the coming weeks that could present a framework for negotiations toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
 
* New ethics controversy: "The House Ethics Committee announced Friday that it has opened an investigation into Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) regarding allegations that he improperly used his office to help his wife lobby Congress on behalf of the Humane Society."
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R-WS) speaks to supporters at a barbeque in Greenville, S.C. on March 19, 2015. (Photo by Jason Miczek/Reuters)

Walker points to Boy Scouts as preparation for the White House

03/27/15 04:41PM

Just a month ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was asked how he'd confront terrorist threats as president. The Republican governor quickly turned to his political fights against union members in his home state. "If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world," Walker said.
 
The governor took some heat for seemingly comparing union members to ISIS, which missed the point, and wasn't even true. What mattered about the response is that, in Walker's mind, union-busting in Wisconsin was preparation for combating ISIS and global terrorism.
 
The ridiculousness of the governor's answer raised concerns among powerful Republican players -- if this is his response to an obvious question in the midst of crises abroad, Walker may not have a mature understanding of what international leadership requires.
 
His answer to a similar question this week won't help matters. The Capital Times in Madison reports today:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who achieved the rank of Eagle Scout as a teen, has taken that motto seriously. His Eagle Scout status has him so prepared, he indicated this week, he's ready to serve as commander in chief of the U.S. military.
Uh oh.
 
The issue came up at a Chamber of Commerce event in Arizona this week, where Hugh Hewitt asked the governor, "Does the prospect of being commander in chief daunt you? Because the world that you describe when you're talking about safety is going to require a commitment to American men and women abroad, obviously at some point. How do you think about that?"
 
Walker replied, "That's an appropriate question." And things went downhill from there.
Senator Rand Paul, R-KY, speaks during a discussion on reforming the criminal justice system at Bowie State University on March 13, 2013 in Bowie, Md. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)

Rand Paul blames marriage-equality debate on 'moral crisis'

03/27/15 03:29PM

As recently as last fall, Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) opposition to marriage equality was less than definite. "I believe in old-fashioned traditional marriage," he told CNN in an interview, "but I don't really think the government needs to be too involved in this and I think the Republican Party can have people on both sides of the issue."
 
Asked if he might shift from his position against equal-marriage rights, Paul, quite literally, shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, "Who knows?"
 
That was October 2014, and the Kentucky Republican has moved sharply to the right ever since. He told Fox News earlier this month that marriages between same-sex couples "offend" him "and a lot of other people." This week, as Right Wing Watch reports, the GOP senator went even further.
In a video posted yesterday by the Christian Broadcasting Network, Rand Paul addressed "a group of pastors and religious leaders at a private prayer breakfast" in Washington D.C. on Thursday about the need for "revival" in America complete with "tent revivals" full of people demanding reform.
 
He suggested during the event that the debate about legalizing same-sex marriage is the result of a "moral crisis" in the country.
That's not an exaggeration. Paul talked to CBN and the video shows him telling social conservatives, "[T]here's a moral crisis that allows people to think that there would be some sort of other marriage."
 
It's a striking argument -- not only is Rand Paul opposed to marriage equality, he believes the debate itself shouldn't exist and is the result of a "moral crisis" in the United States.
 
He added, "We need a revival in the country. We need another Great Awakening with tent revivals of thousands of people saying, 'Reform or see what's going to happen if we don't reform.'"
 
I can't help but wonder if the senator realizes the degree to which he's abandoned what made him "interesting" to the political world.
Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) addresses a packed house during CPAC2105 (Conservative Political Action Conference) at the Nation Harbor Gaylord on Feb. 26, 2015, in Oxon Hill, Md. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty)

FEMA plays hardball with climate deniers

03/27/15 12:41PM

Everyone had a good laugh the other day when an official from Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) administration tried to get through a legislative hearing on emergency preparedness without using the words "climate change." But before the story fades from view, it's worth pausing to appreciate the substantive question behind the humor.
 
At issue is a FEMA requirement that states develop a "climate-change plan" in order to receive preparedness dollars. This became literally laughable in the Florida example -- Scott's chief of emergency management said the state will eventually have a hazard-mitigation plan with "language to that effect."
 
But let's back up a minute. FEMA is requiring states come up with a "climate-change plan"? The conservative Washington Times reported this week that new guidelines pose a potential challenge to climate deniers in gubernatorial offices.
The rules say that states' risk assessments must include "consideration of changing environmental or climate conditions that may affect and influence the long-term vulnerability from hazards in the state."
 
The policy, which goes into effect in March 2016, doesn't affect federal money for relief after a hurricane, flood, or other natural disaster. But states seeking disaster preparedness money from Washington will be required to assess how climate change threatens their communities, a requirement that wasn't included in FEMA's 2008 guidelines.
That's an important detail. If a natural disaster strikes in your area, FEMA is on the way whether your state government accepts scientific evidence or not. These new rules, however, apply to disaster-preparedness resources -- if states want funds to better prepare for natural disasters, the Obama administration expects those states to incorporate the effects of the climate crisis into those plans.
 
Or in FEMA's more bureaucratic language, "The risk assessment must provide a summary of the probability of future hazard events. Probability must include considerations of changing future conditions, including the effects of long-term changes in weather patterns and climate."
 
You might guess some of the governors who aren't happy about this.

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.27.15

03/27/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
 
* It's only been a few hours since Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced his retirement, but all of the early buzz about his possible successor is focused on Catherine Cortez Masto (D), the former Nevada Attorney General.
 
* The latest Suffolk poll in New Hampshire shows Jeb Bush leading the Republican presidential field with 19% support, followed by Scott Walker at 14%. Donald Trump, believe it or not, is fourth in the poll, leading Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio.
 
* Rick Perry is running hard in Iowa and will release a new online ad today that "stresses his commitment to spending time in Iowa and features cameos of Iowans he's talked to this year."
 
* Hillary Clinton is making frequent use of social media this week, using Twitter to celebrate the ACA's fifth anniversary a few days ago, and sending another message yesterday condemning Indiana's new right-to-discriminate law.
 
* Common Core critics on the far-right will probably not like the fact that Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education is offering a course on the benefits of the curriculum.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) delivers remarks during a press conference, March 21, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

McMorris Rogers gets an earful on ACA

03/27/15 11:16AM

For much of 2013 and 2014, Republicans were on a quest to discover "Obamacare victims." GOP officials were convinced the Affordable Care Act was wreaking havoc on families' lives, and Republicans everywhere were hunting for horror stories.
 
In nearly every instance, those stories fell apart in the face of routine scrutiny, and most of the "victims" were actually far better off with the ACA than without it. One of the more notable examples arose early last year when Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the House Republican Conference chair, used her party's official response to the State of the Union to introduce America to "Bette in Spokane."
 
Predictably, the story unraveled and McMorris Rodgers was pressed for an apology after pushing a misleading story. A year later, the Republican congresswoman hasn't given up.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House GOP conference, took to Facebook to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act by asking to hear real-life horror stories from real people.
This did not go according to plan. McMorris Rodgers generated plenty of responses, most of which were from people who see the ACA as a lifesaver for their families.
An exam room at the Whole Women's Health Clinic, one of the abortion providers that sued the state for a stringent new rule on clinics of its type, in McAllen, Texas.

Arizona measure would push lies into exam rooms

03/27/15 10:41AM

For much of the fight over the Affordable Care Act, Republicans condemned the very idea of government putting itself between patients and their physicians. The charge never made much sense as it relates to "Obamacare," but for GOP policymakers, the principle was all the same: keep politics out of exam rooms.
 
They never meant a word of it.
 
In Kansas a couple of years ago, Republican state lawmakers approved a proposal called the "Women's Right to Know Act," which, among other things, required doctors to tell abortion patients that there's a link between breast cancer and terminating pregnancies. In reality, the National Cancer Institute insists there is no link, but GOP policymakers in Kansas didn't care. In effect, they mandated state-endorsed lying.
 
As Amanda Marcotte noted yesterday, something similar is unfolding in Arizona.
Doctors in Arizona might soon be required to tell women that abortions can be "reversed." As the Washington Post reports, the Arizona legislature just passed a bill that is the latest in state-based attempts to ban women from using their own health insurance to pay for abortion. What makes this bill especially Orwellian is this attempt to force doctors to put the stamp of medical authority on the fantastical belief that women en masse are regretting their abortions hours after getting them and are miraculously getting them reversed through heroic interventions by Christian doctors. [...]
 
Forcing doctors to "inform" patients about an intervention that isn't medically useful and isn't really in demand serves no other purpose but to inject anti-choice histrionics into what is already a stressful situation for many patients. You should be able to get through an abortion without having to indulge a right-wing delusion.
Evidently, Republicans in Arizona's legislature don't find this persuasive.
US-VOTE-2012-REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN

Jeb's 'I am my own man' pitch takes another hit

03/27/15 10:06AM

Jeb Bush's mother is helping him raise money for his super PAC. Jeb Bush's brother is helping him raise money for his super PAC. And now Jeb Bush's father is getting in on the game.
Ahead of a fundraiser he's attending Thursday evening in Houston, former President George H.W. Bush has penned a letter to potential donors asking them to give "even $25" to a super-PAC supporting his son, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. 
 
In the two-page letter obtained by Bloomberg Politics, the former president says his son, who is considering his own presidential campaign, "stands out for his refreshing and complete lack of interest in negative attacks."
Putting aside the fact that the former governor launches negative attacks against President Obama on a daily basis, it seems Jeb Bush is running out of famous relatives -- though I suppose there's nothing stopping Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Jeb's son, from joining the fun.
 
"I love the fact that we have a united family," Jeb Bush told Fox News Radio yesterday.
 
To be sure, there's nothing illegal or untoward about candidates relying on their immediate family members for campaign help -- though few have families this powerful -- and the Florida Republican has focused most of his energies of late on filling his campaign coffers.
 
But as we discussed the other day, there's another angle to all of this that's more politically problematic.
Governor Scott Walker (R-WS) speaks at a Republican organizing meeting in Concord, New Hampshire on March 14, 2015. (Photo by Dominick Reuter/Reuters)

Scott Walker's immigration position is as clear as mud

03/27/15 09:35AM

On practically all the major issues, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), an unannounced presidential candidate, has adopted a doctrinaire, far-right posture. No one would look at the Republican governor's agenda and call him a "moderate."
 
But Walker has evolved on some issues in ways that may make some GOP voters nervous. Over the course of a long career -- Walker became a political candidate at age 22 and has spent half his life in public office -- the Wisconsinite has shifted his stances on issues like energy policy, education, and even gun safety.
 
But immigration remains the most problematic of them all. This Wall Street Journal report yesterday caused quite a stir.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told a private dinner of New Hampshire Republicans this month that he backed the idea of allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the country and to eventually become eligible for citizenship, a position at odds with his previous public statements on the matter.
 
Mr. Walker's remarks, which were confirmed by three people present, vary from the call he has made for "no amnesty" -- a phrase widely employed by people who believe immigrants who broke the law by entering the country without permission shouldn't be awarded legal status or citizenship.
The governor's aides vehemently deny the accuracy of the WSJ piece and insist his position has not changed. As best as I can tell, there's no tangible evidence to clear this up. Some Republican attendees said Walker endorsed a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants; the governor denies it. Who's right? It's hard to say.
 
It's easy to say, however, that Walker, even before yesterday's report, has struggled to bring clarity to his position on immigration.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. waits for the start of a joint meeting of Congress, March 25, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Harry Reid to retire after 30 years in Senate

03/27/15 08:36AM

My favorite Harry Reid story comes from an incident that unfolded fairly early in his career, not long after he was appointed to chair the Nevada Gaming Commission, which meant confronting systemic organized crime. In July 1978, a man named Jack Gordon offered Reid $12,000 to approve some new gaming devices for casino use.
 
Reid, of course, quickly contacted the FBI, which set up a sting operation. The trap was set: Reid would host a meeting with Gordon, with FBI agents waiting in the next room, watching on secret video cameras recording the exchange for use in trial. Reid would say, "Is this the money?" at which point, the agents would rush in and arrest Gordon.
 
But when it came time for the sting, Reid, a former boxer, found it hard to control his temper. As the New Yorker reported several years ago, "the videotape shows [Reid] getting up from his chair and saying, 'You son of a bitch, you tried to bribe me!' and attempting to choke Gordon." The FBI agents rushed in to arrest Gordon -- and to pry Reid away from the man trying to bribe him.
 
I've always thought American politics should have more lawmakers who try to strangle those who offer bribes and fewer lawmakers who accept bribes.
 
I thought of this story this morning after learning that the Senate Minority Leader has decided to retire.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid will not run for reelection next year, he announced Friday morning through a YouTube videoThe Nevada lawmaker has been recovering from injuries he endured from an exercise accident on New Year's Day.
 
"The decision that I have made has absolutely nothing to do with my injury, has nothing to do with my being minority leader, and it certainly has nothing to do with my ability to be reelected," he said.
Reid, who'll wrap up his 30-year career at the end of 2016, leaves behind an amazing legacy of legislative accomplishments. After leading Senate Democrats for a decade, his departure also shakes up the Capitol Hill landscape quite a bit.
The dome of the Capitol is reflected in a puddle in Washington, Feb. 17, 2012.

Vulnerable Republicans discover the value of liberal ideas

03/27/15 08:00AM

A little after 3 a.m. eastern this morning, the Republican-led Senate approved a far-right budget plan, slashing public investments and dismantling social-insurance programs like Medicare. The final vote, 52 to 46, did not come as a surprise -- the question was when, not if, GOP senators would approve their budget blueprint.
 
What did come as a surprise, however, was a vote late yesterday on a top progressive priority.
 
The reason it takes so long for the upper chamber to vote on a budget is that members introduce hundreds of proposed amendments -- 739, to be exact -- several dozen of which reach the floor as part of a process affectionately called the "vote-a-rama." The measures, like the budget itself, is non-binding, but members see value in getting senators on the record, voting up or down, on a wide range of priorities.
 
One of those measures was championed by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who pushed a proposal for paid sick leave. Oddly enough, it passed -- and the way in which it passed tells an interesting story.
Just a few weeks ago, the Healthy Families Act -- which would allow employees to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave -- seemed like just another White House proposal doomed to die in the newly Republican Senate. But this afternoon, it gained a surprise vote of confidence: 61 senators voted for an amendment to the budget that would do essentially the same thing.
 
That doesn't mean it will become law. Budget resolutions are not binding, so it's a largely symbolic move. But it's important: If family-friendly policies gain enough bipartisan support, they could end up substantially improving conditions for millions of workers who've long gone without any paid time off at all.
As the Washington Post piece makes clear, the finally tally wasn't particularly close: it passed with 61 votes, including 12 Republicans. In fact, every GOP incumbent who's worried about re-election next year -- Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) -- threw their support behind paid sick leave.
 
Yes, it was non-binding, but the broader salience of the vote was hard to miss: vulnerable Republicans sometimes see value in embracing progressive ideas. Paid sick leave may be a top priority for President Obama and congressional Democrats, but much of the GOP also realizes it's a very popular idea with the American mainstream.
Weak link in airline safety: Humans

Weak link in airline safety: Humans

03/26/15 11:40PM

Rachel Maddow reviews the circumstances of past cases pilots or co-pilots trying to crash a plane, with the lessons of some instances contradicting the lessons of others, and the only common thread being the human fallibility of the pilots. watch

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