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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 10.26.16

10/26/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "Taliban insurgents on Wednesday killed 26 Afghan civilians after abducting them in the remote central province of Ghor the previous day, officials said, the latest brutal attack targeting the local population in one of the country's most lawless areas."

* Smart move: "Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon on Wednesday to stop clawing-back the bonuses that thousands of soldiers got for reenlisting to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan."

* Raqqa: "The offensive to oust ISIS from its capital will get underway within weeks, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told NBC News in an exclusive interview Wednesday."

* The Trump of Asia-Pacific: "President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who nurses a longtime grudge against the United States, has declared he wants 'a separation' and on Wednesday added that he wants American troops out of his country in two years."

* North Africa: "The Pentagon has secretly expanded its global network of drone bases­ to North Africa, deploying unmanned aircraft and U.S. military personnel to a facility in Tunisia to conduct spy missions in neighboring Libya."

* Progress: "The United States on Wednesday abstained for the first time in 25 years on a U.N. resolution condemning America's economic embargo against Cuba, a resolution it had always vehemently opposed."
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U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles as she greets supporters while arriving for a rally at Lincoln High School, Aug. 10, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters)

Pro-Clinton super PAC eyes competitive congressional races

10/26/16 12:40PM

Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) has generated quite a bit more attention than the usual congressional freshman. Less than a year into his career on Capitol Hill, the Iowa Republican complained that the economy was too good around the nation's capital. "We need to cause a recession … in Washington DC," Blum declared. In March, the congressman said it again.

In May, Blum accused the editor of an Iowa newspaper -- which actually endorsed his candidacy -- of looking at him incorrectly. "Well, you're looking at me funny," the lawmaker said during an interview. "I mean, I don't appreciate that. I don't appreciate that. That's kinda condescending. I don't appreciate it." (The editor said he had no idea what the congressman was talking about.)

Now, however, Blum is receiving a very different kind of attention. The Washington Post reports today:
The super PAC aligned with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is expanding its target list into the House, beyond a pair of Senate races in which it is already tying Republicans to their presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

Priorities USA, an independent group designed primarily to elect Clinton, is now funding a 30-second ad in Iowa that has the double effect of hitting Trump for his controversial statements and tagging freshman Rep. Rod Blum (R) for his continued support of his party's presidential nominee.
The fact that Priorities USA is taking an interest in a U.S. House race is itself unexpected. The super PAC's raison d'etre was quite specific: helping Hillary Clinton get to the White House. But now that Clinton's victory appears more likely, Priorities USA is expanding its focus, which in this case includes targeting an Iowa congressman who some Democrats call "Recession Rod."

The contrast with the Trump campaign couldn't be clearer. The Republican presidential nominee appears to have abandoned joint fundraising efforts with his party altogether, and has spent a fair amount of time in recent weeks blaming GOP leaders, most notably House Speaker Paul Ryan, for Trump's campaign difficulties.

Clinton and her allies, meanwhile, are doing largely the opposite.
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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.26.16

10/26/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* Hillary Clinton's campaign unveiled its "closing argument" ads this morning -- one spot focused on families, and another with a broader message narrated by actor Morgan Freeman. [Update: links fixed]

* Former Gov. Bill Weld, the Libertarian Party's vice presidential nominee, issued a statement this morning urging voters who "remain torn" between the two major-party candidates not to vote for Donald Trump. Weld expressed no comparable concerns about Clinton.

* A year before launching his presidential campaign, Trump sat down with biographer Michael D'Antonio for a series of recorded interviews. In one notable exchange, the New York Republican conceded, "I don't like to analyze myself because I might not like what I see."

* In a normal year, a story like this one might be the basis for a meaningful controversy: "Donald Trump used small donors' money to buy nearly $300,000 worth of books from the publisher of his Art of the Deal last month, continuing a pattern of plowing campaign money back into his own businesses."

* The latest ABC News tracking poll shows Clinton with a comfortable lead over Trump, 49% to 40%, though the Democratic advantage on the congressional ballot is much smaller, 47% to 46%.

* Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who's kept a very low profile in recent months, was asked at an event yesterday whether he agrees with Trump that the election is "rigged." According to the AP's account, McConnell simply "laughed and walked away."

* That said, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) declared this week that he believes Trump's correct and the "election is rigged." The Republican governor added that the voting system "doesn't seem fair to me at all."

* Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a Trump ally, told his audience yesterday that in 2005, Billy Bush was a secret operative for the CIA who "set up" Trump to make comments about sexual assault.

* Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) hoped to woo Latino voters at an event over the weekend in Orlando, where he was reportedly booed off the stage.
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The sun begins to rise behind the dome of the US Capitol that is covered in scafollding for repairs, on Nov. 4, 2014 in Washington, DC.

GOP candidates try to put a positive spin on gridlock

10/26/16 11:20AM

By the time a party's candidates get to the "vote for me as a check against the other party's presidential candidate," they're effectively giving up on their own party's national ticket. The Associated Press reported yesterday that many Republicans have already reached this point.
With polls showing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump facing a steep path to victory, GOP candidates are increasingly seeking voters' support by saying they will check [Hillary] Clinton's agenda. Republicans hope that a loathing for Clinton will drive voters to the polls who otherwise might stay home because of their aversion to Trump.
Some Republicans aren't exactly being subtle about this message. One of Sen. John McCain's (R) re-election ads in Arizona tells voters, "If Hillary Clinton is elected president, Arizona will need a senator who will act as a check, not a rubber stamp, for the White House."

At a certain level, it's easy to imagine some voters finding this persuasive. If you're skeptical about Clinton, you might see some value in keeping Congress in Republican hands, despite the party's performance in recent years, to keep a Democratic White House from going "too far."

But it's important that voters also understand the practical implications of such a strategy: the question is less about the value of "checks," and more about the public's appetite for gridlock.
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Voters cast their vote in the Presidential elections on November, 6, 2012 in Janesville Wisconsin. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty)

Wis. clerk rejected voting site because she feared helping Dems

10/26/16 10:38AM

After voters at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay experienced long voting lines during the state's April 5 presidential primary, a variety of student groups -- including those representing campus Republicans and Democrats -- encouraged the city to add an early-voting location on university grounds. The city, Wisconsin's third largest, refused.

Green Bay instead said it would have one early-voting site for the entire city: a clerk's office with limited hours, which isn't within walking distance from the campus. Officially, City Clerk Kris Teske, an ally of Gov. Scott Walker (R), said Green Bay didn't have the necessary resources for another voting location.

But unofficially, it was a very different story. The Nation's Ari Berman, relying on documents obtained through an open-records request by the One Wisconsin Institute, reported yesterday:
[P]rivately Teske gave a different reason for opposing an early-voting site at UW–Green Bay, writing that student voting would benefit the Democratic Party.

"UWGB is a polling location for students and residents on Election Day but I feel by asking for this to be the site for early voting is encouraging the students to vote more than benefiting the city as a whole," she wrote on August 26 in an e-mail to David Buerger, counsel at the Wisconsin Ethics Commission. "I have heard it said that students lean more toward the democrats.... I have spoken with our Chief of Staff and others at City Hall and they agree that budget wise this isn't going to happen. Do I have an argument about it being more of a benefit to the democrats?"
State Rep. Eric Genrich, who's tried unsuccessfully to expand voting opportunities in Green Bay, told The Nation, "Whether or not more students voting benefits Democrats is beside the point and that shouldn't be the position of a nonpartisan city clerk. I don't know what Kris's politics are, but it's really unfortunate to see her echoing the sentiments of Republicans in Wisconsin, who have been making it really difficult for citizens to vote in this state."
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Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President and CEO of the NRA, speaks at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum at the George R. Brown Convention Center, the site for the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Houston, Texas May 3, 2013. It is time to stop...

The NRA presents its members with an alternate reality

10/26/16 10:01AM

A key element of Donald Trump's electoral strategy is convincing as many Americans as possible that the United States is in ruins. That rascally President Obama created a dystopian nightmare, the argument goes, which in turn created conditions that demand radical change that only a controversial television personality can provide.

It is, to be sure, an odd pitch in a country with low unemployment, low crime rates, the lowest uninsured rate on record, falling poverty, the highest graduation rates on record, and a relatively popular president. But the Republican presidential nominee feels like he doesn't have much of a choice: if he doesn't convince voters their lives are a living hell, they're unlikely to vote for him.

As it turns out, the National Rifle Association is thinking along similar lines. Media Matters had an interesting report this week on the NRA's new election-season message, which is striking in its departure from reality.
The leader of the National Rifle Association insisted he wasn't "crazy," "paranoid," or "nuts" before ranting to NRA members in an "urgent" video message where he made claims at odds with reality, including claiming that his widely ridiculed prediction that President Obama would come for Americans' guns "came true."

During a six-minute get-out-the-vote video, NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre described America after eight years of Obama as president in hellish terms unrecognizable to anyone who actually lives here, claiming that the president has "laid waste to the America we remember" causing the country to "completely unravel."
That may seem hyperbolic, but the Media Matters report included a transcript, and LaPierre's tirade is as amazing as advertised.

"When I said Barack Obama would come for our guns and do everything in his power to sabotage the Second Amendment, they savaged me. They called me a liar," the NRA leader proclaimed. "But every one of those predictions came true."

Now, I like to think of myself as someone who pays fairly close attention to current events, but I have no recollection of the president coming for Americans' guns. The White House also proposed nothing that would "sabotage" the Second Amendment.

And yet, in LaPierre's mind, it's time for a proud victory lap -- because the anti-Obama predictions that appear kind of silly in hindsight, in his mind, actually "came true."
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Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a rally with Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Riverfront Sports athletic facility on Aug. 15, 2016 in Scranton, Pa. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty)

Trump ready to go 'to the back of the barn' to confront Biden

10/26/16 09:20AM

At a campaign event in Pennsylvania last week, Vice President Biden made no effort to contain his disgust with Donald Trump, following the release a recording in which the Republican boasted about sexual assault. "The press always asks me, don't I wish I were debating him?" Biden told the audience. "No, I wish we were in high school, and I could take him behind the gym. That's what I wish."

It took a few days, but the GOP nominee heard about Biden's rhetoric and responded at a rally in Florida last night.
Trump remembered the comments slightly differently -- he said, "did you see Biden wants to take me to the back of the barn?" -- but wasn't deterred by the sentiment behind them.

"I'd love that," he said of the idea of the two grown men tussling as if they were high schoolers. "Oh, some things in life you could really love doing," Trump added.

Trump attacked Biden as a "Mr. Tough Guy when he's standing behind a microphone by himself."
For what it's worth, I don't think any of this posturing does anyone any good, and Biden shouldn't have started this pointless spat. He's clearly an emotional guy who wears his heart on his sleeve, and at a certain level it may seem understandable that Biden would respond to Trump's "Access Hollywood" tape in a candid way, but he's a sitting vice president. Biden shouldn't be talking publicly about his desire to beat up a major-party presidential nominee.

Having said that, if there were some kind of showdown between Biden and Trump, history is on the Democrat's side: vice presidents have an undefeated record in these kinds of violent confrontations.
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Former Secretary of State Colin Powell speaks in Providence, R.I.,  (Photo by Steven Senne/AP File)

Colin Powell makes his presidential preference clear

10/26/16 08:40AM

On Oct. 25, 2012, former Secretary of State Colin Powell praised President Obama's record and announced his support for the president's re-election. Exactly four years to the day later, on Oct. 25, 2016, Powell once again weighed in on the nation's presidential race, and again expressed support for the Democratic nominee.
Colin Powell said Tuesday that he is endorsing and voting for Hillary Clinton, NBC News has confirmed. [...]

He has been highly critical of Trump, calling him a "national disgrace" but has also been critical of Clinton. But unlike many Republicans who say they can't vote for Trump but have also said they can neither back Clinton, Powell has come out for Clinton.

He has been a tangential figure this election cycle as hacked emails show that Powell told Clinton when she was beginning her tenure as secretary of State that he used his personal email while at State.
Powell's support doesn't come as too big of a surprise given his criticisms of Trump -- Powell has referred to his party's nominee as a "national disgrace" -- though he obviously could've remained neutral.

It's tough to gauge the impact of a development like this, though it's probably fair to say Powell remains a popular figure, despite his tenure in the Bush/Cheney administration, and one of the nation's most widely respected Republicans. Clinton and her team have made a concerted effort to reach out to mainstream GOP voters, telling them that this is one of those cycles in which they really should vote Democratic, and Powell's backing makes that pitch a little easier.

But of particular interest is how Republicans might try to explain this one away.
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Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio, Oct. 22, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Trump undermines Republican Party with controversial strategy

10/26/16 08:00AM

A couple of weeks ago, the Republican Party faced crisis conditions. Donald Trump was reeling after a tape emerged of boasting about sexual assault; GOP lawmakers were distancing themselves from their party's presidential nominee; Trump backers held protests outside Republican National Committee headquarters; and party officials were generally at each other's throats. A former GOP senator noted, "It's every person for himself or herself right now."

As Election Day draws closer, that assessment is even more true now. As Rachel noted on last night's show, the Washington Post published a scoop that's almost hard to believe.
Donald Trump's campaign said Tuesday that it has scheduled no more big-money fundraising events to benefit the Republican Party, another sign of the GOP nominee's struggling campaign and a serious blow to the party's get-out-the-vote operations with less than two weeks to go until Election Day.

The consequences of halting major fundraisers will compound the challenges facing a candidate and a party already straining to match Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's much larger and better-financed operation. Unlike Clinton, who has an extensive turnout operation of her own, Trump and many other GOP candidates down the ballot are relying heavily on the Republican National Committee to bring voters to the polls.
With two weeks remaining, Clinton and Democrats are still trying to build as large a financial advantage as possible, not just for the presidential ticket, but to help Democratic candidates up and down the ballot. Vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine didn't have any major rallies scheduled yesterday, but when he sat down with Rachel last night, the interview was scheduled in between five separate fundraisers the senator was headlining just yesterday.

Meanwhile, Steven Mnuchin, Trump's national finance chairman, told the Post that Trump Victory, a joint fundraising operation intended to benefit the candidate and the party, held its last formal fundraising event on Oct. 19 -- three weeks ahead of Election Day -- and no additional events are on the calendar.

Mnuchin added that while online donations continue to come in, "We've kind of wound down."

It's an astonishing strategy, adopted by a Republican presidential nominee who appears increasingly indifferent to his party's needs.
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