First up from the God Machine this week is a highly unusual inter-faith squabble among House Republicans, many of whom aren't accustomed to being subjected to Biblical lectures from their own congressional colleagues. Roll Callreported on Thursday:
House Republicans at a conference meeting heard a Bible verse that calls for death for homosexuals shortly before the chamber voted Thursday morning to reject a spending bill that included an amendment barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. [...]
Georgia Rep. Rick W. Allen led the opening prayer by reading from Romans 1:18-32, and Revelation 22:18-19.... Gay rights advocates called on top Republicans to condemn the "vile and dangerous remarks" and censure Allen.
There's apparently some question about the details. We know that Rep. Rick Allen (R-Ga.), a relatively low-profile House freshman, delivered the prayer to his Republican colleagues on Thursday morning, behind closed doors, shortly before House members were scheduled to vote on a spending bill that included an anti-discrimination provision social conservatives didn't like. We also know that the Republican read Scriptural verses related to punishing humanity's sins, including homosexuality.
It's less clear what, exactly, Allen intended with his opening prayer, and whether it was related to the morning's legislative business.
Either way, some House Republicans weren't pleased with Allen's remarks and walked out of the caucus meeting in protest. One toldPolitico, "A good number of members were furious."
Another GOP lawmaker toldThe Hill, in reference to Allen's prayer, "It was f---ing ridiculous."
Remember, 43 House Republicans voted for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s (D-N.Y.) anti-discrimination measure, and it stands to reason many of them weren't interested in a lesson on Biblical morality from their freshman colleague.
As for Maloney, the New York Democrat who's championed the anti-discrimination policy, the congressman heard about Allen's prayer and found it telling. "To suggest that protecting people from being fired because of who they are means eternal damnation, then I think they are starting to show their true colors," Maloney toldRoll Call.
"I think we are living in a new world of Donald Trump and a Republican Party that is driving itself further and further away from common sense and further toward a radical approach to government," he added.
Michael Medved, syndicated talk radio host, talks with Rachel Maddow about whether Donald Trump will change his tone for the general election and where conservatives might look for comfort in the 2016 election. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on concerns within the Democratic Party about tensions between the Clinton and Sanders camps for upcoming state conventions as Republicans fall in behind Donald Trump without any of the strife originally expected. watch
Rachel Maddow shares the details of a letter from Bernie Sanders campaign lawyers to the DNC threatening to disrupt the national convention unless two co-chairs of the Standing Platform and Rules Committees are removed. watch
* ISIS: "A U.S. airstrike has killed a local leader of the terror group ISIS in Fallujah, Iraq, a spokesman for an American-led coalition fighting the group said. U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren said the strike Wednesday on ISIS' headquarters in Fallujah killed local commander Maer a-Bilawi."
* Donald Trump announced this afternoon "that he won't debate Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders after all."
* Japan: "Barack Obama called for a world without nuclear weapons on Friday as he became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the site of the Hiroshima atomic bombing.... A helicopter and motorcade brought Obama to the Hiroshima Peace Park Memorial, where he spent a short time in the site's museum and then solemnly placed a wreath at the arched monument."
* This seems like a story worth following closely: "For the first time, researchers have found a person in the United States carrying bacteria resistant to antibiotics of last resort, an alarming development that the top U.S. public health official says could mean 'the end of the road' for antibiotics."
* This investigation led to one resignation: "More than 40 Secret Service employees have been disciplined for improperly accessing sensitive private information about a prominent congressional critic last year, an 'appalled' Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Thursday."
* The effects of the Zika virus: "More than 100 prominent physicians, bioethicists and scientists from around the world posted a letter Friday urging WHO Director-General Margaret Chan to exert pressure on Olympic authorities to move the Olympics from Rio de Janeiro or delay the games because of public health concerns over the Zika virus."
* Gun access is part of the difference: "There was a time when it looked as if Chicago would follow New York and Los Angeles into a kind of sustained peace. Then progress stalled in 2004, and the city has been through some harrowing years leading up to another alarming spike in homicides this year."
* The U.S. economy "is picking up speed after a slow start to the year, with resilient consumer spending and a buoyant housing market just about making up for a falloff in investment by cautious companies. But the overall gains are still likely to fall short of what many experts -- not to mention ordinary workers -- would hope to see as the recovery nears the end of its seventh year."
Donald Trump obviously has no record in elected office or the public sector, so to evaluate his preparedness for the White House, it's necessary to scrutinize the Republican's business record. And while Trump has had plenty of lucrative successes, some of the details of his private-sector background are far less flattering.
The New York Daily Newsreported last week, for example, on a post-9/11 program, designed to help small businesses around Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks. According to the article, the state "didn't enforce federal guidelines on what defines a small business" at the time, and Donald Trump took advantage, receiving $150,000 in taxpayer money for "swanky property" he owned on Wall Street.
The Daily Newsadded that the money was supposed to help "mom and pop shops make it through an incredibly difficult stretch," and yet, Trump, a self-professed billionaire, sought and received a slice of the pie.
Today, the New York Timesreports that Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), whose district includes Ground Zero and Lower Manhattan, wrote an open letter to Trump, asking for a refund.
"When do you plan on returning the taxpayer money that was designated to ease the suffering of our city's small-business owners?" Mr. Nadler wrote in the letter, a copy of which his office provided to The New York Times. [...]
"It's been reported that on your grant application, you claimed 40 Wall Street L.L.C. -- which employed 28 people and had $26.8 million in annual revenues at the time -- as a 'small business,'" Mr. Nadler wrote. "Despite the federal definition of a small business as having less than $6 million in revenue, you accepted a $150,000 payout."
He added, "In grabbing that money with both fists, you took it out of the pockets of small-business owners in New York who were truly hurting, and prevented them from taking full advantage of the relief so generously offered by their fellow citizens."
The Democratic lawmaker went on to urge Trump to "return the funds you received or donate them to a charitable organization dedicated to providing legitimate support for the victims of 9/11."
Nadler concluded, "Whatever the size of your business, we need no further proof that you are a small man."
The pattern is a familiar one: voters in red states put conservative Republicans in complete control of state government; GOP lawmakers implement their agenda; and the results are discouraging for everyone. We saw it in Louisiana, where former Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) failed, and we're seeing in Kansas, where Gov. Sam Brownback's (R) radical experiment is a fiasco.
The Washington Postreported yesterday, meanwhile, that a similar dynamic is unfolding in Oklahoma -- a state where President Obama lost literally every county, twice.
Some public schools are starting summer vacation several days early. Others are contemplating a four-day week to cut costs. And more than 200 teachers in Oklahoma City were handed pink slips in March.
But instead of addressing a burgeoning budget crisis that threatens public education and other critical state services, Oklahoma lawmakers have been busy debating proposals to criminalize abortion, police students' access to public bathrooms and impeach President Obama.
In theory, Oklahoma's GOP-led state government should be focused on the state's $1.3 billion budget shortfall, the result of tax breaks and reduced oil revenue. But much of the focus has been on the culture war, not the state's financial mess.
During a recent debate in the state House over an obviously unconstitutional anti-abortion proposal -- which was later vetoed -- state Rep. David Brumbaugh (R) told his colleagues, "Everybody talks about [Oklahoma's] $1.3 billion deficit. If we take care of the morality, God will take care of the economy."
Wishful thinking about divine intervention hasn't worked out in Oklahoma's favor.
State Sen. David Holt (R) told the Post he's "ashamed" of how much time his colleagues invested in a bill related to transgender restroom use. "[W]hile students in my district were quite literally marching in the streets to the Capitol to plead with the legislature to do something about how the budget shortfall will affect their schools," he said, "we were addressing something that virtually no one had contacted me about and that was arguably not a pressing issue."
Former Gov. David Walters (D), who served in the early 1990s, added, "You don't do all this craziness by accident. I think they're literally trying to create a smokescreen to cover what has to be one of the most irresponsible government periods in state history."
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Bernie Sanders hoped to get an additional delegate by requesting a recanvassing of the Kentucky primary results, but the results released yesterday were nevertheless unchanged. In a press statement, the Sanders campaign said it "accepts the results in Kentucky," though it nevertheless complained that the Democratic primary was limited to Democratic voters.
* Donald Trump said yesterday he'd expect a charitable donation of $10 million to $15 million in order to debate Sanders ahead of the June 7 primary in California. The Republican National Committee won't put up that kind of money, but it's nevertheless excited about the possibility of such an event advancing the GOP's interests.
* And speaking of the RNC, Jeff Weaver, Sanders' campaign manager, singled out Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus for praise yesterday during an MSNBC interview.
* In Arizona, the Eagle Forum's Phyllis Schlafy has thrown her support behind Sen. John McCain's Republican primary challenger, Kelli Ward.
* The Koch brothers Freedom Partners Action Fund has purchased $3 million in airtime in Pennsylvania, hoping to boost incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey's (R) bid for a second term.
* In a move that seemed oddly predictable, Martin Shkreli, the 33-year-old former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, has endorsed the Trump campaign.