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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 5.25.16

05/25/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Afghanistan: "Four days after their leader was killed in an American drone strike, the Taliban broke their silence early Wednesday to announce that a lesser-known deputy, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, would take over and continue the group's war against the Afghan government."
* Related reporting: "The U.S. drone strike that killed the Taliban's leader has also set up a potential leadership struggle between two of the terror group's up-and-comers -- and may signal more attacks on Western targets."
* So much interest in bathrooms: "Eleven states have sued the Obama administration over its sweeping directive requiring all public school districts to grant transgender students access to the bathrooms that correspond with their gender identities."
* It sure does seem like we knew all of this already: "Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton violated federal records rules through her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, a State Department audit has concluded."
* Japan: "The brutal murder of an Okinawa woman, allegedly by a U.S. military contractor, dominated a meeting between the American and Japanese leaders Wednesday night, with President Obama expressing his 'deepest regrets' to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over the 'tragedy.'"
* South Carolina: "S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law Wednesday a ban on abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later. The ban offers no exceptions for rape or incest – omissions that opponents say will harm some of the state's most vulnerable women."
* My preferred solution is to not go anywhere: "The head of the Transportation Security Administration, facing fierce criticism over long lines at airport security checkpoints, said Wednesday that passengers would most likely continue to experience longer than normal wait times because of an expected increase in summer travel."
Mary Lou Bruner, 69, candidate for State Board of Education, District 9. (Photo by Rachel Rutledge/The Northeast Texan)

Unhinged Texas activist comes up short in key statewide election

05/25/16 04:41PM

Even among those who've come to expect some pretty nutty positions from Texas Republicans, Mary Lou Bruner stood out as unique. Plenty of right-wing activists believe some ridiculous conspiracy theories, but Bruner publicly embraced ideas so hopelessly bizarre, she made national headlines when she became the frontrunner for a seat on the Texas State Board of Education -- a department that helps decide, among other things, what goes into textbooks in the nation's second-largest school system.
Bruner ran on a platform of -- I kid you not -- keeping gay "subliminal messages" out of textbooks. Somehow, this did not persuade Texas voters, who yesterday decided to go in a different direction.
[A]s conspiracy theories in Bruner's old Facebook posts surfaced, her lead shrunk. Voters ultimately chose fellow Republican Keven Ellis, a local school board president, for the GOP nomination. Bruner lost by about 18 percent in the primary runoff. [...]
"Texas escaped an education train wreck tonight," Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller said in a statement. "If Bruner had ultimately won election to the board, she would have instantly become the most embarrassingly uninformed and divisive member on a board that already too often puts politics ahead of making sure our kids get a sound education."
The results are reassuring, though before the national spotlight turns away from the story altogether, it's worth pausing to appreciate some of the ideas Mary Lou Bruner publicly espoused:
Ryan Bundy, one of the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, walks through the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Jan. 8, 2016, near Burns, Ore. (Photo by Rick Bowmer/AP)

Jail imposes limits on Bundy Brothers' freedoms

05/25/16 04:06PM

As 2016 got underway, Americans were treated to a story that still seems hard to believe. A group of well-armed militants drove to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, took control of its headquarters, and posted guards in camouflage outside. The military members, led in part by Ammon and Ryan Bundy, controversial rancher Cliven Bundy's sons, said they were willing to kill and be killed if necessary in their effort to have federal land turned over to local authorities.
Not surprisingly, federal officials weren't willing to meet the militants' demands, and nearly six weeks after the controversy erupted, the militia members exited the wildlife refuge, and Ammon and Ryan Bundy, among others, were taken into custody.
The organizers of this standoff are still awaiting trial, but Oregon Public Radio reports that the Bundy brothers are not satisfied with the conditions of their detention.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy are actively considering whether they should pursue a civil rights lawsuit against the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office for conditions at the county detention center.
In court documents released Tuesday, the leaders of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation give a list of conditions at the jail they said are violating their constitutional rights.
Among the complaints, the Bundys and several other occupiers -- including Kenneth Medenbach, Pete Santilli, Jason Patrick, Blaine Cooper and Ryan Payne -- said they should have more access to the jail's law library, discovery materials, office supplies and religious underwear.
It's hard to evaluate the complaints on the merits, though I was struck by something from a written statement from Ryan Bundy.
"My rights are being violated," he said. "My right to life is being violated. All of my First Amendment rights are being violated. My right to freedom of religion is being violated. My Second Amendment rights are being violated. I never waived that right."
Just so we're clear, Ryan Bundy is currently incarcerated. And while it's true that prisoners don't forfeit all of the civil liberties while they're wards of the state, jails tend to frown on prisoners having access to firearms.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets supporters at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., May 16, 2016. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

Trump's unique ability to help Clinton unite Democrats

05/25/16 12:49PM

One of the most common questions in Democratic politics is obvious, though it's not easy to answer: Once the primaries are over, how will Hillary Clinton unify progressive voters ahead of the general election? Much of the discussion involves speculation about Bernie Sanders' strategy, the party's convention, the party's platform, Clinton's eventual running mate, etc.
But there's a piece to this puzzle that sometimes goes overlooked: Clinton will try to bring Democrats and progressive independents together, but it's Donald Trump who'll seal the deal.
Last October, Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi covered the House Republicans' Benghazi Committee and its 11-hour grilling of Clinton, and he wrote a very memorable piece soon after. Taibbi, a Clinton detractor, conceded at the time that he started to feel more sympathetic towards the Democrat, not out of pity, but in response to the GOP's outrageous antics.
Those idiots represent everything that is wrong not just with the Republican Party, but with modern politics in general. It's hard to imagine a political compromise that wouldn't be justified if its true aim would be to keep people like those jackasses out of power.
In context, none of this had anything to do with Bernie Sanders or the Democratic primary, but Taibbi's point -- there's value in compromise if it means keeping "those jackasses out of power" -- lingered in my mind because I suspect many of Sanders' die-hard supporters will be making a similar calculation in the coming months.
And Donald Trump, whether he realizes it or not, is going to help.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.25.16

05/25/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Protests against Donald Trump at an event in New Mexico last night turned violent, and there was at least one arrest.
* On a related note, we can apparently remove New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R), the chairwoman of the Republican Governor's Association, from VP consideration. Martinez steered clear of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee during his trip to New Mexico, and Trump blasted the governor during his speech in Albuquerque.
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, Bernie Sanders' campaign has launched a $1.5 million ad buy in California, two weeks ahead of the state's Democratic primary.
* Speaking of the Vermont senator, Sanders has also formally requested Kentucky re-canvass last week's primary results, which showed Hillary Clinton narrowly winning the primary. If the initial tally was incorrect and the taxpayer-funded re-canvassing succeeds, Sanders may net an additional delegate or two.
* Clinton won yesterday's non-binding primary in the state of Washington yesterday. Though voter turnout was quadruple that of Washington's caucuses in March, when Sanders prevailed, the primary will not affect the delegate count.
* In the latest Farleigh Dickinson poll in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie's (R) approval rating is down to a woeful 26%.
* Sen. Richard Burr (R), facing a tougher-than-expected re-election fight in North Carolina, conceded yesterday that even he isn't pleased with the state's new anti-LGBT law. Burr said the state's Republican legislators "botched what they were trying to do," and passed a law that "was far too expansive."
Bob Corker

Republican VP contender's finances draw FBI scrutiny

05/25/16 11:20AM

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has been the subject of a lot of vice-presidential speculation, and on paper, it's easy to understand why. In fact, by some measures, the Tennessee Republican is the mirror opposite of Donald Trump: Corker is an experienced insider; he's well liked within the party; and he's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. When it comes to VP speculation, that's a lot of checked boxes.
Plus, unlike many other prominent GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Corker doesn't seem to hate the presumptive Republican nominee. Indeed, this week, the senator "declined an invitation to join President Barack Obama's historic trip to Asia," but Corker "did find time for a New York meeting with Donald Trump on Monday," where the two reportedly chatted about foreign policy.
All things considered, the Tennessean certainly looks like the kind of guy who'd make Trump's short list for the Republican ticket. There is, however, a problem, which Politico highlighted overnight:
The FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission are scrutinizing Tennessee GOP Sen. Bob Corker's personal finances, including stock transactions involving one of the nation's top developers of shopping centers and malls, according to multiple sources familiar with the probe.
Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a potential vice presidential pick, failed to report millions of dollars in assets and income on his annual financial disclosure until The Wall Street Journal revealed the discrepancy last fall. In the wake of that report, Corker was forced to revise years' worth of disclosure reports.
It's worth emphasizing that the exact nature of the FBI's and SEC's scrutiny is unclear -- there have been no reports of a possible indictment -- and Corker insists he's done nothing wrong. Whether these probes will amount to anything is, at least for now, entirely speculative.
That said, when a senator's finances draw interest from the FBI and the SEC, that's generally the sort of thing that might keep a guy off his party's national ticket.
Then again, this is Donald Trump we're talking about, so maybe if Corker were in actual legal trouble, he'd be even more appealing to the presumptive Republican nominee.
A voter steps into a voting booth to mark his ballot at a polling site for the New Hampshire primary, Feb. 9, 2016, in Nashua, N.H. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

The Voting Rights Caucus gets to work

05/25/16 10:42AM

The list of caucuses in Congress isn't short. These officially recognized groups of lawmakers, who get together in pursuit of a common agenda, include names that are probably familiar to many Americans -- the Congressional Black Caucus, for example -- but there are plenty that are far more obscure. Before this morning, for example, I'd never heard of the Congressional Bourbon Caucus or the Congressional Explosive Ordnance Disposal Caucus, both of which evidently exist.
Up until yesterday, however, there was no Voting Rights Caucus. Yesterday, as the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth reported, Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) changed that.
"The Supreme Court 2013 ruling that gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act set in motion what many feared: the subjection of minorities, seniors, and low-income Americans to unfair, punitive barriers preventing them from exercising their most basic right as American citizens," Veasey said by email.
In June, caucus members plan to introduce a bill, the Poll Tax Prohibition Act, which would block identification requirements that result in voters bearing an "associated cost," such as acquiring a birth certificate or incurring travel costs.
The caucus appears to already have 50 members, and though the list doesn't identify lawmakers by party, a quick review suggests all 50 are Democrats.
"It is a shame that in 2016 we still need a caucus," Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), who will co-chair the new caucus, told Roll Call.
It's an important point. A caucus committed to protecting and expanding voting right may seem woefully overdue, but the truth is, the right's organized voter-suppression campaign is fairly new. In the modern era, there was no national effort to gut the franchise -- the Voting Rights Act used to enjoy broad, bipartisan support until conservatives on the Supreme Court took a hatchet to it -- so the need for a Voting Rights Caucus didn't exist.
That's obviously changed in recent years.
Clouds fill the sky in front of the U.S. Capitol on October 7, 2013 in Washington, DC.

A case study in how not to impeach someone

05/25/16 10:00AM

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) launched a curious fundraising pitch this week. As part of his drive for cash, the far-right congressman, who's also currently running for the U.S. Senate, posted an appeal this week with an all-caps headline that read, "Impeach the IRS Commissioner."
DeSantis' pitch added, "IRS Commissioner John Koskinen needs to go! His conduct -- the destruction of key emails, false testimony before Congress, and failure to produce emails -- violated the public trust, and he must be impeached! Sign the petition if you agree!"
The text stood alongside a box labeled "Contribute."
For now, let's overlook the fact that, in reality, Koskinen didn't do what the congressman says he did. Let's also look past the overuse of exclamation points. Instead let's focus on the most glaring problem of all: as Politico reported, DeSantis is fundraising off the impeachment scheme, despite recently having been "tapped to lead the IRS impeachment hearings."
Although many congressional investigators at least try to give the impression that their probes are not politically motivated, DeSantis seems to have little reservation about mixing his Senate run with a politically explosive action like impeaching the head of a major federal agency.
Privately, a number of Republicans said it's cause for concern. "You don't fundraise off investigations," quipped one member who declined to go on-record criticizing a colleague.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who isn't exactly known for his restraint and commitment to propriety, told Politico, "We never fundraised on our investigations."
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) added, "If you're going to be a phony, at least try to act sincere about it. He's not even pretending to be sincere about the substance of this process."
Right. Some partisan hackery is expected -- and in some cases, tolerable -- but those responsible for the partisan hackery should at least try to keep up appearances. No one is going to believe that House Republicans are trying to impeach the IRS commissioner as part of a responsible, reasoned process, but DeSantis' fundraising abandons all subtlety.
The brazen politicization is offensive, but what's notable in this case is the far-right congressman's indifference towards pretending.
Gov. Paul LePage speaks at a news conference at the State House, Jan. 8, 2016, in Augusta, Maine. (Photo by Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Maine's LePage fails to defend the indefensible

05/25/16 09:21AM

It was the sort of story that made Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) look so awful, he managed to even surprise his critics. In mid-April, the far-right governor vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have allowed pharmacists to dispense an effective anti-overdose drug without a prescription. But it was LePage's explanation that added insult to injury.
"Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose," LePage said in a written statement. As we discussed at the time, the governor, in a rather literal sense, made the case that those struggling with opioid addiction don't have lives worth saving.
Maine's legislature soon after overrode LePage's veto, but the governor recently hosted a town-hall meeting at which he defended his position. The Bangor Daily News reported:
"A junior at Deering High School had three Narcan shots in one week. And after the third one, he got up and went to class. He didn't go to the hospital. He didn't get checked out. He was so used to it. He just came out of it and went to class," LePage said.
That's quite an anecdote, which the Republican governor appears to have completely made up.
The Huffington Post reported yesterday that the principal at Deering High School described LePage's story as "absolutely not true," adding that the anecdote doesn't even make sense -- because Narcan isn't available at the school.
On Monday, the governor again insisted the story was accurate, and pointed to Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck as someone who could verify the incident.
Soon after, Sauschuck also said every relevant detail of LePage's story is wrong.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump walks past the guns of the USS Iowa after speaking on the battleship in San Pedro, Los Angeles, Calif., United States Sept. 15, 2015. (Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Caught fibbing, Trump scrambles to address veterans controversy

05/25/16 08:41AM

In a normal year, in a normal party, with a normal candidate, it would be the kind of controversy that effectively kills a presidential candidate's chances of success. In January, Donald Trump skipped a Republican debate in order to host a fundraiser for veterans. He boasted at the time that he'd raised $6 million for vets -- which led to a related boast that Trump contributed $1 million out of his own pocket.
The Washington Post reported this week that Trump's claims simply weren't true. He did not, for example, raise $6 million. And what about the $1 million check the Republican bragged about? His campaign manager insisted this week that Trump did make the contribution.
Except, that wasn't true, either. The Post reported last night:
Almost four months after promising $1 million of his own money to veterans' causes, Donald Trump moved to fulfill that pledge Monday evening -- promising the entire sum to a single charity as he came under intense media scrutiny.
The check is apparently going to a group called the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, whose chairman received a call from Trump on Monday night, the day the campaign controversy broke.
Let's put aside, for now, why the Trump campaign said he'd made a donation that did not exist. Let's instead ask why it took nearly four months for the candidate to do what he claimed to have already done.
"You have a lot of vetting to do," Trump told the Washington Post yesterday.
That might be a decent response were it not for the fact that the New York Republican doesn't appear at all interested in vetting veterans' groups -- as the story of the sketchy "Veterans for a Strong America" helps prove.
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)

Republicans' response to the Zika threat takes an offensive turn

05/25/16 08:00AM

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) may be among the Senate's most far-right members, but when it comes to a federal response to the Zika virus threat, the Florida Republican finds himself in strong agreement with President Obama and his administration. Rubio yesterday condemned the inadequacies of the House GOP's Zika bill and pleaded with lawmakers to start taking the matter seriously.
"I urge the American people to make next week a tough one on those who are home from Congress," Rubio said, referring to the latest in a series of breaks congressional Republicans have scheduled for themselves.
But given what's unfolding on the other side of Capitol Hill, the senator may want to have a chat with the Speaker of the House.
Yesterday afternoon, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) published a Twitter message asking people to retweet a message: "Mosquitoes carrying Zika must be killed." It included a link to a press statement from the Speaker's office featuring Ryan's new plan to address the public-health threat: weakening EPA regulations of pesticides.
It was at this point that the House Republicans' response to the Zika threat made the transition from reckless to offensive. The Huffington Post highlighted the most glaring problem with the GOP's plan:
While eliminating the clean water protections would make life easier for mosquito sprayers in some respects, environmental advocates say the restrictions on spraying are entirely irrelevant to a potential Zika outbreak for several reasons.
First among them is that if one particular pesticide has polluted a certain lake or stream, there are other options, said Mae Wu, a policy expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council.... On top of that, the clean water regulations apply only to areas larger than 6,400 acres. And if there is an outbreak, the rules specify that mosquito control authorities can act immediately, and get any needed permits after the fact.
The New York Times added that exceptions to EPA regulations "already exist for emergency situations like fighting Zika."

Making matters slightly worse, Paul Ryan's statement said policymakers should heed the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control -- which might make more sense if Paul Ryan weren't ignoring the CDC's pleas to Congress to pass the Obama administration's Zika response plan.