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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 5.3.16

05/03/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Iraq: "An American serviceman died in an ISIS attack in northern Iraq, U.S. officials said Tuesday. Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said the U.S. serviceman was advising and assisting Kurdish Peshmerga forces north of Mosul when ISIS fighters attacked."
* New York: "Sheldon Silver, who rose from the Lower East Side of Manhattan to become one of the state's most powerful and feared politicians as speaker of the New York Assembly, was sentenced on Tuesday to 12 years in prison in a case that came to symbolize Albany's culture of graft."
* Turkey: "Members of Turkey's governing AK party and pro-Kurdish politicians have traded blows in parliament over plans to strip MPs of their immunity from prosecution. The brawl erupted as a committee met to discuss the government-backed changes to the constitution. Some parliamentarians launched themselves into the melee from a table, others threw water or aimed punches."
* It'd be a good thing if Congress were able to govern responsibly: "Hours before Puerto Rico missed hundreds of millions of dollars of bond payments, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Monday issued a new and urgent call for Congress to pass legislation allowing the territory to restructure the $72 billion it owes to creditors."
* Climate crisis: "As India, the world's second-most populous country, reels from an intense drought, the World Bank has released a new report finding that perhaps the most severe impact of a changing climate could be the effect on water supplies."
* Alabama: "The Oxford City Council has scheduled a special meeting Wednesday 'to discuss potentially recalling' an ordinance making it a crime to use a public restroom different from the gender on a person's birth certificate."
* Would could possibly go wrong? "Full-time employees at Tennessee's public colleges and universities can now carry handguns on campus under a bill that became law Monday, although without the governor's signature."
Donald "Don" Blankenship, former chief executive officer of Massey Energy Co., center, and his attorney, left, exit the Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse in Charleston, W. Va., on Dec. 3, 2015. (Photo by Calvin Mattheis/Bloomberg/Getty)

A familiar face joins an anti-Clinton protest in West Virginia

05/03/16 04:20PM

With a week remaining before West Virginia's Democratic presidential primary, it wasn't too surprising to see Hillary Clinton make an appearance in the state over the weekend. Similarly, it didn't come as a shock to see Donald Trump supporters and coal-industry workers hold a protest outside of Clinton's visit at the Williamson Wellness and Health Clinic in Mingo County.
What was surprising, however, was one of the people who joined the protest. The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported:
More than 100 protesters stood in the pouring rain on the corner of Second Avenue and Pike Street, holding umbrellas over their Donald Trump signs, chanting about coal and booing Clinton. Even former Massey Energy Co. CEO Don Blankenship, a Mingo County resident who has been sentenced to a year in prison for conspiring to violate mine safety laws, made an appearance in the crowd.
Blankenship was a dominant player in West Virginia politics for years, donating millions of dollars to Republican causes and politicians. His former political aides and operatives continue to play an outsize role in state Republican politics.
Approached by a Gazette-Mail reporter for an interview, Blankenship responded, "Are you joking?"
As a general rule, presidential candidates don't enjoy being confronted with angry protestors, and I can imagine Clinton was uncomfortable at times facing the crowd's jeers and insults.
But Blankenship's role arguably makes this one of those rare instances in which a candidate is actually delighted to see a critic. After all, if there's one person in West Virginia whose hatred a Democratic presidential hopeful would welcome, it's Don Blankenship.
Sen. Ted Cruz speaks with Donald Trump during a Tea Party Patriots rally against the Iran nuclear deal on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sept. 9, 2015. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Bloomberg/Getty)

Cruz no longer believes all that nice stuff he said about Trump

05/03/16 02:54PM

It might be easier to believe Ted Cruz's latest condemnations of Donald Trump if Cruz hadn't spent months saying the exact opposite.
Ted Cruz went on a blistering ramble against Donald Trump on Tuesday, delivering a list of stinging personal attacks that included calling the GOP front-runner a "serial philanderer," "pathological liar" and a "narcissist." [...]
"This man is a pathological liar. He doesn't know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth," Cruz told reporters in Evansville, Indiana.
To the extent that facts still matter, Cruz's criticisms are rooted in fact. The senator is obviously feeling desperate, and working from the assumption that a furious tirade late in the process might help his floundering candidacy, but that doesn't mean his attacks are incorrect.
The problem, rather, is what Cruz used to say about Trump.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump walks out from backstage before delivering a speech about his vision for foreign policy at the Mayflower Hotel on April 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

For some Republicans, President Trump is a real possibility

05/03/16 12:57PM

Donald Trump may be lacking in a great number of qualities, but when it comes to self-confidence, his cup runneth over. Naturally, this extends to the Republican presidential frontrunner's campaign, which he assumes will be a great success.
The Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted this morning that Trump told an Indiana audience yesterday that defeating Hillary Clinton in a general election will hardly pose any challenge at all. "Folks, I haven't even started yet," the GOP candidate said. "Now I'm going to start focusing on Hillary. It's going to be so easy."
Trump isn't the only Republican who's exceedingly, albeit bafflingly, optimistic about a future Trump White House. During an online chat yesterday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), rumored to be eyeing his party's vice presidential nomination, insisted that "all 50 states could be in play" with Trump at the top of the Republican ticket this fall.
He did not appear to be kidding. As Gingrich sees it, literally every state -- no matter how "blue," no matter how diverse, no matter how consistently it's supported Democrats in the recent past -- will be competitive thanks entirely to Trump's broad national appeal.
What's more, the Washington Examiner's Byron York reported last week he's had "private conversations with several stalwart Republicans," including a former top party official, former members of Congress, and two former managers of GOP presidential campaigns, and he was struck by some of their hopefulness about November.
They know that dozens of polls have shown Clinton trouncing Trump, often by double digits. But they were struck by a recent George Washington University Battleground Poll that showed Clinton winning by just 3 points. It's just one poll, but for some it confirmed the idea that there might be a different dynamic at work in the race once Trump becomes the nominee and the contest is simply Donald vs. Hillary. The fight will become more even.
"Trump does bring a little magic to this in that he could shuffle the traditional battleground map," one former presidential campaign manager told me. "I haven't seen any data on that, but I'm just getting a feeling that he's going to put a couple of Midwestern states in play."
York added that GOP insiders may be "deluding themselves," but some influential Republicans are nevertheless "beginning to question the assumption that Trump is guaranteed to lose big."
Perhaps it's best not to brush past the "deluding themselves" observation too quickly.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.3.16

05/03/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* On the heels of Donald Trump complaining about the "woman's card," Hillary Clinton reportedly raised $2.4 million, her biggest short-term fundraising boost of the campaign thus far.
* Trump may be the Republican frontrunner, but as the AP discovered, he's "collected little information about tens of millions of voters he needs to turn out in the fall. He's sent few people to battleground states compared with likely Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, accumulated little if any research on her, and taken no steps to build a network capable of raising the roughly $1 billion needed to run a modern-day general election campaign."
* In Wisconsin, Freedom Partners Action Fund, financed in part by the Koch brothers, have launched $2 million in attack ads targeting former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in his race against incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R), a favorite of far-right donors.
* Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) has said he's considering a U.S. Senate campaign against incumbent Sen. Angus King (I) in 2018, and many progressive activists, hoping for a "Hindenberg-level disaster," are encouraging the governor to do exactly that.
* In a bit of a surprise, Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.), who is retiring at the end of this Congress, announced yesterday that he will not run for governor in New York in 2018.
* There's no clear frontrunner in next year's gubernatorial race in Virginia, but former state A.G. Ken Cuccinelli (R), who failed in his 2013 statewide bid, announced that he isn't going to try again in 2017.
California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature, Jan. 21, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. (Photo by Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

California's Jerry Brown has a response for Florida's Rick Scott

05/03/16 11:00AM

Last week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) decided to pick a curious fight with California. In retrospect, he probably should have thought this through a little better.
To briefly recap, the Republican governor announced that he was on his way to the Golden State, where he'd try to convince business leaders to relocate. As part of the pitch, Scott, relying on his economic development organization, launched radio ads touting Florida's lower minimum wage, non-existent state income tax, and weaker regulations.
The response from California Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) press secretary was pretty compelling in its own right, but the governor himself took some time to reply to Rick Scott directly yesterday. The L.A. Times reported:
Brown's letter to Gov. Rick Scott was billed as a plea for the Florida Republican to get engaged on the issue of climate change. But he also made it clear that he sees nothing wrong with California's economic health these days.
"Rick," Brown wrote, "a fact you'd like to ignore: California is the 7th largest economic power in the world. We're competing with nations like Brazil and France, not states like Florida."
As it turns out, Brown didn't just send correspondence to his cross-country critic. The Californian also sent a report from a non-partisan climate initiative: "Come Heat and High Water: Climate Risk in the Southeastern U.S. and Texas."
As Brown seemed eager to note, the report said, "Florida faces more risk than any other state that private, insurable property could be inundated by high tide, storm surge and sea level rise. By 2030 up to $69 billion in coastal property will likely be at risk of inundation at high tide that is not at risk today. By 2050, the value of property below local high tide levels will increase to up to about $152 billion."
The Democratic governor concluded, "So while you're enjoying a stroll on one of California's beautiful beaches this week, don't stick your head in the sand. Take a few minutes to read the rest of this report. There's no time to waste."
Bernie Sanders speaks as Hillary Clinton looks on as they discuss issues during the MSNBC Democratic debate at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H., Feb. 4, 2016. (Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)

Sanders hopes to prioritize later primaries over earlier ones

05/03/16 10:18AM

On the surface, the race for a presidential nomination seems relatively straightforward: candidates compete in a series of primaries and caucuses, hoping to earn pledged delegates to their party's national convention. Get enough delegates and you're the nominee.
But just below the surface, things get a little complicated. Especially for candidates who are likely to come up short, there are often spirited attempts to suggest the only metric that matters isn't the only metric that matters. In recent months, for example, Bernie Sanders' campaign has put forward a variety of arguments intended to shift the focus away from the fight for pledged delegates: maybe blue-state contests matter more; perhaps Southern victories "distort reality"; maybe successes in closed primaries are less impressive, and so on.
Yesterday, Sanders' top campaign strategist, Tad Devine, came up with a brand new one. The Huffington Post reported:
"Let's suppose that in the next six weeks, Bernie Sanders goes on a tear like he has gone on before. And let's suppose in the 10 states and the four other contests that are out there, he wins the vast majority of them -- he wins California by a huge margin, he racks up an impressive set of victories," said Devine. "Should we then say the only benchmark is who has got more pledged delegates? Shouldn't those superdelegates take into consideration a totality of the circumstances?"
Asked if he believed that later contests were more important than earlier ones, Devine didn't flinch. "I think they are," he said,
I've seen some Sanders critics already suggest, in response to Devine's comments, the idea of later victories mattering more than early victories is absurd. And while I can appreciate the point, history offers an interesting counter-example.
Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, interact at the conclusion of the CNN republican presidential debate at The Venetian Las Vegas on Dec. 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Trump's latest conspiracy theory is a doozy, even for Trump

05/03/16 09:26AM

By any fair metric, Donald Trump is well positioned to win the Republicans' presidential nomination, and is already starting to shift his focus to the general election. But to think that the GOP frontrunner is finished complaining about his intra-party rival is to make a mistake.
Take this morning, for example, when Trump, repeating a story he saw in a tabloid, alleged that Ted Cruz's father was seen palling around with Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963. Politico reported this morning:
"His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald's being -- you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous," Trump said Tuesday during a phone interview with Fox News. "What is this, right prior to his being shot, and nobody even brings it up. They don't even talk about that. That was reported, and nobody talks about it."
"I mean, what was he doing -- what was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting?" Trump continued. "It's horrible."
No, really, that's what he said.
In keeping with his m.o., Trump's odd broadside against his rival's father comes on the heels of Rafael Cruz, a prominent surrogate for his son's campaign, telling conservatives that a Trump presidency could lead to "the destruction of America."
Evidently, Trump heard this and decided to respond with a JFK assassination conspiracy theory.
For what it's worth, there's no real reason to actually believe the conspiracy theory, but in the mind of Donald Trump, there's little relationship between evidence and wild-eyed theories that he's inclined to embrace and disseminate with great enthusiasm.
Children from McKamy Elementary School in Carrollton, Texas select food from the school cafeteria, Friday, Aug. 19, 2005.

Congress takes a discouraging turn on school lunches

05/03/16 08:48AM

When it comes to public schools providing meals for low-income children, congressional Republicans have built up a discouraging record in recent years. In 2014, for example, a GOP congressman from Georgia suggested struggling children should either pay more for school meals or tackle janitorial tasks in their schools in exchange for food.
Around the same time, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) delivered a speech suggesting kids who rely on school lunches aren't cared for as much as kids who bring their own lunch to school. The far-right lawmaker, we later learned, was relying on an anecdote that turned out to be made-up.
That was the last Congress. In this Congress, Jared Bernstein and Ben Spielberg made the case in the Washington Post yesterday that Republican lawmakers are eyeing new restrictions on the federal program.
Under current law, changed by Democrats in 2010, schools don't have to verify which individual students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Rather, if a school serves a community in which 40% of the kids are eligible for meal assistance -- called the "Identified Student Percentage" -- the schools can make food available to all of its students. It streamlines the bureaucracy and verification process, cuts down on paperwork, and helps ensure children receive the benefits to which they're entitled under the law.
A new GOP proposal wants to change the status quo. From the Bernstein/Spielberg piece:
[A] new proposal by congressional conservatives would restrict community eligibility, substantially increasing administrative burdens in more than 7,000 schools and threatening 3.4 million students' access to school meals. For no good reason that we can see, lawmakers from the Education and the Workforce Committee may vote soon to raise the ISP threshold from 40 percent to 60 percent. Because [Identified Student Percentage] numbers don't capture low-income students who must typically apply for free or reduced-price meals, this threshold would render all but the highest-poverty schools (generally those in which more than 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals) ineligible for community eligibility.
Raising the threshold would save a little bit of money, as fewer students would qualify for free school meals, but the overall savings of about $1.6 billion over 10 years wouldn't come close to offsetting the administrative burden, increased social stigma for low-income students, and negative health and academic effects it could create.
And that's a problem.
An election worker checks a voter's drivers license at a polling place in Charlotte, N.C. March 15, 2016. (Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters)

Republicans' voter-ID laws 'work' as intended

05/03/16 08:00AM

In recent weeks, we've seen some high-profile examples of Republicans accidentally telling the truth about voter-ID laws. Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.), a far-right freshman congressman, admitted a month ago, for example, that these laws are likely to make a difference boosting Republicans in the 2016 elections.
Former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), now the head of the Heritage Foundation, added last week that Republicans have kept up the crusade in support of this policy "because in the states where they do have voter ID laws you've seen, actually, elections begin to change towards more conservative candidates."
But what sometimes goes overlooked is the fact that anti-voting policymakers aren't just spinning their wheels, pushing an idea that may or may not have some effects on the margins. As the New York Times reported yesterday, Republicans are championing voter-ID laws precisely because they have the intended effect.
Since their inception a decade ago, voter identification laws have been the focus of fierce political and social debate. Proponents, largely Republican, argue that the regulations are essential tools to combat election fraud, while critics contend that they are mainly intended to suppress turnout of Democratic-leaning constituencies like minorities and students.
As the general election nears -- in which new or strengthened voter ID laws will be in place in Texas and 14 other states for the first time in a presidential election -- recent academic research indicates that the requirements restrict turnout and disproportionately affect voting by minorities.
The Times highlighted a study published by Zoltan Hajnal, a UC San Diego political science professor, whose research found that "strict voter ID laws double or triple the gap in turnout between whites and nonwhites."
None of this is accidental. It's a feature, not a bug, of a deliberate assault on democracy. Republicans, frustrated by a series of defeats, had a choice: change and adapt in order to appeal to a larger group of American voters, or take steps to rig the game in order to give GOP candidates a built-in advantage.
In recent years, the party has preferred the latter, finding it vastly easier than actually earning more public support.