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Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson addresses the National Press Club Newsmakers Luncheon Oct. 9, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Ben Carson should probably stop talking about Hitler

10/09/15 03:57PM

It's only natural for presidential candidates to focus on a handful of issues that are of particular importance to them, but Ben Carson's preoccupation with Hitler seems like a bad idea.
In the Republican candidate's new book, Carson argues that German gun-control policies 80 years ago contributed to the Holocaust. Yesterday, Wolf Blitzer asked the retired right-wing neurosurgeon to elaborate on his bizarre thesis.
Carson, a former neurosurgeon, has drawn criticism for invoking the Holocaust when discussing gun control. In an interview Thursday on CNN, Carson said, “the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed,” prompting an immediate backlash.
He added, "There's a reason these dictatorial people take the guns first."
A Washington Post piece tried to characterize this nonsense in the most charitable way possible, writing that Carson "has generated headlines repeatedly for speaking his mind."
The problem, of course, is what's actually on Carson's mind. His unguarded qualities may seem refreshing, but when candidates for the nation's highest office make offensive comments divorced from reality, it's not a positive development.
In this case, Jonathan Greenblatt, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, explained in a statement that Carson “has a right to his views on gun control, but the notion that Hitler’s gun-control policy contributed to the Holocaust is historically inaccurate.” Greenblatt added that “gun control did not cause the Holocaust."
Common sense suggests this would be the point at which Carson walked back his comments, but instead, he said the ADL's reference to historical facts were “total foolishness.”
Because, really, who are you going to believe about the Holocaust -- the Anti-Defamation League or an unhinged presidential candidate?
Republican members of the House react after the election for the Speaker of the House was thrown into chaos in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill Oct. 8, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Benghazi panel plagued by partisan disputes

10/09/15 01:06PM

Earlier this week, it became clear that Democrats on the Republicans' Benghazi committee are out of patience. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) accidental honesty may have been the final straw, but the Dems' frustration has been growing steadily for months.
And so, on Monday, all five committee Democrats wrote to Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), warning him that they intend to start unilaterally releasing full, unedited transcripts to the public, providing Americans with information Republicans have tried to keep under wraps.
Dems gave Gowdy five days to get back to them, flagging potentially sensitive information that may need to be redacted. “We do not take this action lightly," they said. "We have held off on taking such action for more than a year, but we will no longer sit and watch selective, out-of-context leaks continue to mischaracterize the testimony the Select Committee has received."
Two days later, Gowdy did, in fact, respond with a lengthy, angry missive. The full, 13-page letter is online here (pdf), and though it's difficult to excerpt, there was one claim raised by the GOP congressman that stood out for me. Responding to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Gowdy wrote:
"[I]t is you, not the Republicans, who has selectively leaked information to promote your own false narrative -- that this Committee is political -- or protect Democrat [sic] political figures, when it is a fact Democrats and you are the ones who have treated the Committee as political from the outset."
Or put another way, Gowdy, annoying by accusations that he and his team have been responsible to deceptive leaks, effectively seems to be arguing, "I know you are but what am I?"

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.9.15

10/09/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In Kentucky's gubernatorial race, Matt Bevin (R) may seem like a ridiculous candidate, but a new Mason-Dixon poll shows him trailing state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) by just two points, 43% to 41%.
* Obviously, this is the right call: "The super PAC working to draft Joe Biden into the 2016 presidential race will not air the emotional 90-second ad they produced this week after the vice president expressed disapproval through an aide."
* Ben Carson, whose bizarre ideas are increasingly alarming, believes Nazi gun control was responsible the Holocaust.
* On a related note, when the Anti-Defamation League explained that Carson's argument is plainly inaccurate, Carson said the ADL's reference to reality to "total foolishness."
* Among California Republicans, the new Field Poll shows Donald Trump leading the presidential field with 17%. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, meanwhile, are right behind him, at 15% and 13%., respectively.
* Speaking of Fiorina, the inexperienced GOP candidate continues to slowly pick up congressional endorsements. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska threw his support to Fiorina this week.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) listens to a question at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York May 13, 2015. (Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Rubio weighs in on possible Russian conflict

10/09/15 11:31AM

As Rachel noted on the show this week, the skies over Syria and its neighbors have been contentious of late. Just this week, Russian jets violated Turkey's air space at least twice, prompting Turkey -- a member of NATO -- to scramble its own jets, intercept the Russian warplanes, and escort them away.
On Wednesday, a U.S. jet bombing ISIS targets in Syria had to reroute its course to avoid Russian warplanes that were flying over the same part of the country.
It's against this backdrop that some presidential candidates -- in both parties -- have raised the prospect of a no-fly zone. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) made the case for the idea in an interview the other day with CNBC's John Harwood.
HARWOOD: You think Putin would back off if we had a no-fly zone?
RUBIO: I don't think he's going to go into a safe zone, absolutely. I don't believe he will look for a direct military conflict against the United States in order to go into a safe zone.
HARWOOD: What if he was?
RUBIO: Well, then you're going to have a problem. But that would be no different than any other adversary.
Harwood suggested Americans might have a problem with the idea of a "hot military conflict with Russia." The far-right senator, who's basing much of his candidacy on national security matters, responded, "Sure, but the consequences of not doing anything would scare [the American people] even more."
I don't think that's true. I'm not an expert on Americans' foreign-policy attitudes, but the prospect of a hot war between the United States and Russia is right up there among the scariest international prospects on the planet.
Rubio clearly doesn't see this dynamic the same way, suggesting that if U.S. forces fired on Russian jets over Syrian skies, it would be "no different than any other adversary."
But Russia isn't just another adversary; it's a nuclear power. Wars between nuclear powers tend to be ... problematic.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks during a forum on substance abuse, Oct. 1, 2015, in Boston, Mass. (Photo by Steven Senne/AP)

Clinton unveils a plan that Wall Street won't like

10/09/15 10:55AM

One of the principal concerns from the left about Hillary Clinton's campaign is that she might be overly friendly towards Wall Street. The Democratic presidential hopeful has been going out of her way to put those fears to rest.
Back in April, a week after her campaign announcement, Clinton told an audience she intended to “take a hard look at what is now being done in the trading world, which is just trading for the sake of trading.” That same week, she tapped Gary Gensler, a “former top federal financial regulator and strong advocate for strict Wall Street rules,” to be her campaign’s CFO.
Yesterday, as MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald reported, the Democratic frontrunner "rolled out a comprehensive Wall Street reform plan Thursday promising to crack down on rule breakers in the financial industry and impose new regulations and taxes on large banks to prevent another financial meltdown."
First, it would punish individuals, not just corporations, that violate the law and make sure they face serious penalties, including imprisonment. It would impose a “risk fee” on riskier bets made by the nation’s largest banks to discourage over-leveraging among “too-big-to-fail” financial institutions. It would also impose stricter regulations on so-called “shadow banking” and impose a tax on high-frequency trading.
Clinton also vows to defend the Dodd-Frank financial reform act passed by Congress in the wake of the financial crisis and strengthen to Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, which was championed by Elizabeth Warren before ran for Senate, along with the Securities and Exchange Commission. She would also restore the law’s “swaps push-out” rule, which was removed in a controversial congressional vote last winter. And she would strengthen the so-called Volker Rule, which is meant to prohibit banks from using taxpayer money to make speculative bets.
The entire plan is online at the campaign's website, and to Clinton's credit, it's not brief. It's also not the sort of thing a candidate who's overly cozy with Wall Street would propose.
Former Florida Governor and republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks to voters at the Heritage Action Presidential Candidate Forum Sept. 18, 2015 in Greenville, SC. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty)

Jeb Bush balks at Voting Rights push

10/09/15 10:23AM

In March, President Obama delivered a powerful speech in Selma, Alabama, where he, among other things, called for Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act. Former President George W. Bush was on hand for the event, and to his credit, the Republican president who last reauthorized the VRA stood and applauded Obama’s call.
If we're looking for areas in which Jeb Bush disagrees with his brother, we appear to have a new addition to the short list.
The former Florida governor appeared yesterday in Iowa and was asked by an audience member about the Voting Rights Act. Jeb Bush responded:
"I think if that it’s to reauthorize it to continue to provide regulations on top of states, as though we were living in 1960, because those were basically when many of those rules were put in place, I don’t believe that we should do that. There’s been dramatic improvement in access to voting -- I mean exponentially better improvement.
"And I don’t think there’s a role for the federal government to play in most places -- could be some, but in most places -- where they did have a constructive role in the ‘60s. So I don’t support reauthorizing it as is."
It's safe to say that's not quite what voting-rights advocates hoped to hear from the Republican presidential hopeful.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, left, looks on as Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, speaks during a news conference on Sept. 27, 2013. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Ted Cruz starts to make his move

10/09/15 09:38AM

I wouldn't say literally every center-left pundit I know expects Marco Rubio to win the Republicans' 2016 presidential nomination, but it's awfully close to 100%. For most of the political observers I know, it's practically a foregone conclusion -- the pieces have already fallen into place for the far-right Floridian.
Nate Silver recently said, "I sometimes feel with Rubio like he’s the contestant on a reality show where it’s totally obvious that he’s eventually going to win, but the network needs to create dramatic subplots for 17 weeks before it happens."
And all of these assumptions may very well be true. As I argued a month ago, if the Amateur Trio currently leading the GOP polls fades, the race for the Republican nomination is likely to come down to two governors (Jeb Bush and John Kasich) and two senators (Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio). The Florida senator has reason to be optimistic -- Bush is struggling badly, and Kasich is fading.
But there's still that Ted Cruz character out there, and his current standing in the race is largely under-valued.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas brought in more than $12 million for his presidential campaign during the last fund-raising quarter, which ended on September 30, his campaign announced on Thursday. [...]
...Mr. Cruz’s amount is double what one rival, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, announced raising over the same period, despite Mr. Rubio’s popularity among some of the Republican Party’s biggest donors. The $12 million figure suggests that Mr. Cruz -- who has battled fiercely with his own party’s leaders -- has amassed a committed following of small donors.
Rubio's $6 million quarterly haul is a sharp drop-off from the second quarter. His campaign aides had some excuses, but those same fundraising obstacles applied to Cruz, and he raised twice as much as Rubio did.
The Texas Republican has considerable resources, a real ground game, a credible reputation as an enemy of the GOP establishment, and decent poll numbers that are likely to grow if fickle voters grow tired of the Amateur Trio. Indeed, the senator has carefully positioned himself to benefit from his rivals' eventual decline.
Why shouldn't Cruz be seen as a plausible nominee?
Speaker of the House John Boehner talks with Rep. Paul Ryan in the House of Representatives chamber at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Wanted: One House Speaker (no experience necessary)

10/09/15 08:57AM

When House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) unexpectedly announced his retirement two weeks ago, many on Capitol Hill feared an ugly free-for-all, with a dozen or more House Republicans hoping to take advantage of the unique opportunity.
GOP leaders, desperate to avoid such chaotic circumstances, moved quickly, rallying behind House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). He faced two challengers -- one of whom entered the Speaker's race late -- but the unruly mess of a massive field of candidates never materialized.
Instead, a different kind of unruly mess forced McCarthy to quit.
There's no shortage of questions about what happens now -- to the party, to the country -- but the most immediate question is who will to try to be the next Speaker of the House.
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) threw his hat into the ring yesterday, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is reportedly "considering" it. Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Dan Webster (R-Fla.), both of whom took on McCarthy, are very likely to give it another shot.
Rep. Tom Cole's (R-Okla.) name came up quite a bit yesterday as a more mainstream option, while Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) heard their names floated.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who resigned in disgrace nearly two decades ago, said yesterday he's open to reclaiming his old post if Republicans rally behind him. (Seriously, that's what he said.)
And while it's certainly possible that one of these men may end up as the GOP's nominee, let's not pretend any of them are at the top of the Republican wish-list. Politico noted the Republican Party's favorite.
It's all about Paul Ryan right now. [...]
The Wisconsin Republican is getting bombarded with calls and one-on-one appeals from GOP lawmakers, urging him to be the party's white knight. Boehner has had multiple conversations with the Ways and Means Committee chairman. Even before he dropped his own bid, McCarthy told Ryan he should do it. And the list goes on: House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) spoke to him about it on the House floor, and Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) also has pushed Ryan to reconsider.
Referring to Ryan, Trey Gowdy said, “I have spent more time trying to talk him into running [for Speaker] than I did my wife into marrying me.”
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif. answers a question during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 8, 2015, after stepping down as a nominee for House Speaker to replace John Boehner. (Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

GOP finds itself lacking leadership, direction, and purpose

10/09/15 08:00AM

Not long after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) stunned the political world by ending his bid for Speaker, National Review's Rich Lowry asked the Republican whether the House of Representatives is still "governable."
"I don't know," McCarthy replied. "Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom."
The question was a good one, as was the response, though its subtext matters. We know, of course, that the House can be governed -- as recently as 2010, under Nancy Pelosi's leadership, the institution functioned effectively and efficiently. Some Americans approved of the chamber's policymaking and some didn't, but no one questioned whether the House itself could function as a legislative body.
The more salient question is more partisan: are Republicans still capable of being a governing party? The Washington Post's Karen Tumulty summarized the broader dynamic quite nicely in just 23 words:
Less than a year after a sweeping electoral triumph, Republicans are on the verge of ceasing to function as a national political party.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told reporters yesterday that his House Republican conference has descended into a "banana republic."
And while that may seem harsh, especially as an intra-party condemnation, there's simply no denying that this is a party lacking in leadership, direction, and purpose. A year ago, voters rewarded the party with considerable power, though Republicans simply lack the means and the collective will to exercise that power with even a modicum of maturity.
What political observers should not do, however, is consider this a new development. It's not.
Limited options may trap Boehner as speaker

Boehner may be trapped in speaker role as GOP faces limited options

10/08/15 11:05PM

Jay Newton-Small, Washington correspondent for Time Magazine, talks with Rachel Maddow about the irony that conservatives who drove John Boehner from the House speakership may be stuck with him after they've objected to his replacement, and notes that no one is going to want the speaker job any time soon because of looming tasks that are... watch

'Shock!' as McCarthy bails on speakership

'Shock!' as Kevin McCarthy bails on speakership

10/08/15 10:41PM

Rachel Maddow reports on how Kevin McCarthy's withdrawal from the race for House speaker left political observers in a dizzy fit of stunned confusion, and looks back on how McCarthy's path to the speakership, once seen as inevitable, slowly fell apart. watch

Wrong drug used in Oklahoma execution

Wrong drug used in Oklahoma execution

10/08/15 09:51PM

Rachel Maddow reports on autopsy finding that show that Oklahoma used the wrong drug when it executed a prisoner in January, raising questions about the execution prior to that in which the prisoner writhed in pain for over 40 minutes, leading to a new round of investigations. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.8.15

10/08/15 05:30PM

Today’s edition of quick hits:
* I'd love more information about this: "Senior defense officials tell NBC News that out of 26 cruise missiles launched off Russian warships, four landed in Iran, well short of their Syrian targets. The officials report that all four missiles launched from the Russian ships in the Caspian Sea impacted in a remote, rural area of Iran and there were apparently no casualties."
* Chaos: "The sudden decision Thursday by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) to withdraw from the speaker’s race thrust congressional Republicans into chaos and left the contest wide open, with a crowd of lesser-known players jockeying for power and rank-and-file members fretting that the political unrest on the hard right that drove McCarthy and House Speaker John A. Boehner away from the position has left the party unmanageable in the lower chamber."
* "I’m sure they’ll find somebody who is capable of accepting the honor," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters.
* Oklahoma: "An autopsy report shows that correctional officials used the wrong drug in the January execution of Charles Warner, the first prisoner put to death in Oklahoma since the state botched the lethal injection of another inmate last year."
* Related news: "A Montana judge ruled Tuesday that the state's method of lethal injection is unlawful because it uses a drug that fails to meet the law's requirement for 'ultra-fast-acting.'"
* Ugh: "Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch apologized for his Wednesday night tweet, which suggested that President Barack Obama is not a 'real black president.'"
* Oh, Florida, what are we going to do with you: "Police say a Florida man set up fake job interviews and even collected urine samples from potential applicants, so he could access their Social Security numbers, bank information and other personal data."
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, holds his weekly on camera news conference in the Capitol on June 19, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Just when Boehner thought he was out, they pulled him back in

10/08/15 04:16PM

Ordinarily, a Quote of the Day comes from the specific day in which it's honored, but today's Quote of the Day was uttered last week. We just didn't know how important it was until now.
Speaker John Boehner, who plans to leave office a day before Halloween, told a group of Republican colleagues last week he had an awful nightmare.
“I had this terrible nightmare last night that I was trying to get out and I couldn’t get out,” the Ohio Republican joked, according to one of his longtime friends, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). “And a hand came reaching, pulling me.”
Welcome, John Boehner, to your own personal nightmare.
At this point, there's a group of people who want to be Speaker of the House, but they don't have the support. There's another group that may have the support, but they don't want the job.
And that leaves the current Speaker "trying to get out," but discovering that he can't. The plan, obviously, was to have an intra-party election today, when House Republicans were supposed to rally behind Boehner's chosen successor, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). That would be followed by an Oct. 29 floor vote, and Boehner's resignation from Congress a day later.
That plan has now been thrown out the window. Indeed, the Ohio Republican issued a statement this afternoon saying he intends to stick around, indefinitely, until his replacement is elected.
“We will announce the date for this election at a later date, and I’m confident we will elect a new Speaker in the coming weeks," Boehner said.
And if they don't? Well, then things start to get a little messy.