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Senator Thomas "Tom" Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, listens during an interview in Washington, D.C., U.S., March 17, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Cotton talks up benefits of striking Iran

08/05/15 08:40AM

The debate over U.S. policy towards Iran tends to follow a predictable trajectory. The Obama administration has told lawmakers that they have a choice: they can allow the international, diplomatic agreement to move forward, or they can push us closer to yet another military conflict in the Middle East.
 
For Republicans and their allies, this has been labeled a "false choice." U.S. conservatives don't want a war, they insist, they just want a different diplomatic solution. What might that alternative policy look like? Republicans, at least for now, haven't the foggiest idea.
 
But once in a while, prominent GOP officials slip up and acknowledge that the choice isn't quite as "false" as they like to pretend. Last week, for example, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) seemed quite enthusiastic about the prospect of a war with Iran. The Times of Israel has a related report today on Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) talking up the benefits of military strikes in Iran.
Speaking to the Israel Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Cotton -- who retired from the US Army with the rank of captain -- called for the US to make plain to the Iranians that it wouldn't hesitate to use force if it felt the need to do so. [...]
 
"You can destroy facilities. I don't think any military expert in the United States or elsewhere would say the US military is not capable to setting Iran's nuclear facilities back to day zero," Cotton said. "Can we eliminate it forever? No, because any advanced industrialized country can develop nuclear weapons in four to seven years, from zero. But we can set them back to day zero."
There are two broad problems with this.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks during a town hall meeting campaign stop at the Medallion Opera House in Gorham, Massachusetts July 23, 2015. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters).

Incoherence on women's health trips up Jeb Bush

08/05/15 08:01AM

Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush was in Nashville yesterday, speaking at a Southern Baptist Convention event, where he made a comment that voters are likely to hear more than once in the coming months. The quote is a little long, but I'm including the whole thing so readers can see the full context:
"The next president should defund Planned Parenthood. I have the benefit of having been governor and we did defund Planned Parenthood when I was governor. We tried to create a culture of life across the board. The argument against this is, well, women's health issues are going to be, you're attacking, it's a 'war on women' and you're attacking women's health issues.
 
"You could take dollar for dollar -- although I'm not sure we need half a billion dollars for women's health issues -- but if you took dollar for dollar, there are many extraordinarily fine organizations, community health organizations, that exist, federally sponsored community health organizations, to provide quality care for women on a wide variety of health issues. But abortion should not be funded by the government, any government, in my mind."
Most of the sentences in Bush's quote include an error of fact or judgment. The former governor has never been able to explain why Planned Parenthood -- a health organization championed by his father and grandfather -- should lose its public funding. He also knows that taxpayers aren't funding abortion -- that's already illegal -- and for Bush to argue otherwise is needlessly dishonest.
 
But the real problem was with his offhand reflection: "I'm not sure we need half a billion dollars for women's health issues." At this point, the GOP candidate didn't seem to be referring to Planned Parenthood, so much as Bush was questioning investing in women's health in general.
 
And since taxpayer funding for abortions is already legally prohibited, it suggests Bush was referring to spending on cancer screenings, prenatal care, and STD tests. Given that there are over 158 million women in the United States, $500 million for "women's health issues" hardly seems excessive.
 
Democrats, not surprisingly, were quick to take advantage of Bush's gaffe, which his campaign quickly tried to walk back with a clarification.

Obama's Iran deal push and other headlines

08/05/15 08:00AM

Obama: Iran vote most important international debate since the Iraq war. (AP)

Obama begins campaign in Congress for Iran nuclear deal. (New York Times)

Where is Donald Trump's support coming from? (NBC News)

FBI looking into the security of Hillary Clinton's private e-mail setup. (Washington Post)

Truck driver wins Democratic nomination for Mississippi governor. (AP)

Drone drops drugs into prison yard. (Fox 8 Cleveland)

Mormons publish photos of "seer stone" used by founder. (AP)

read more

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 8.4.15

08/04/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Momentum is on diplomacy's side: "Today, three Democratic Senators came out for the Iran deal: Tim Kaine of Virginia, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Barbara Boxer of California. The math now looks increasingly difficult for the deal's opponents."
 
* Fortunately, it appears no one was injured, but the shots are nevertheless alarming: "At approximately 11:45 a.m. today, Soldiers training at the Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center reported shots fired along Peret Tower Road, near the southern Mississippi training post."
 
* TPP isn't dead yet: "Days after negotiators failed to wrap up an Asia trade agreement, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed confidence on Tuesday that the pact would be completed, calling it vital for the economic well-being of the region."
 
* Bland family: "The family of Sandra Bland -- the 28-year-old black woman found dead in her jail cell last month -- is suing the Texas state trooper who arrested her in what started as a routine traffic stop, but took a tragic turn."
 
* California:" Firefighters were working aggressively to regain control after a raging Northern California fire jumped a highway that had served as a containment line for the massive blaze — one of 20 wildfires burning in California."
 
* Good thinking: "As Islamic State militants set out to destroy Iraq's history and culture, including irreplaceable books and manuscripts kept in the militant-held city of Mosul, a major preservation and digitization project is underway in the capital to safeguard a millennium worth of history."
 
* The investigation in New Mexico is ongoing: "Back-to-back explosions rattled two churches in a New Mexico town Sunday morning, police said. No one was injured in either explosion, and damage to each church was 'relatively minor,' according to a statement from the Las Cruces Police Department."
Inside The American Electric Power Co. Coal-Fired Power Plant

The coal industry's problems go far beyond Obama

08/04/15 03:58PM

If you own a coal-fired power plant, chances are pretty good you aren't impressed with President Obama's new Clean Power Plan. The policy, unveiled yesterday, will further scale back carbon pollution, which is the opposite of what the coal industry wants to hear. For those invested in the "war on coal" talking point, yesterday was striking proof of the conflict.
 
But pesky details keep getting in the way of the rhetoric. The New Republic's Rebecca Leber argues effectively in a new piece that the industry is struggling badly anyway, for reasons unrelated to the White House.
In 2008, when Obama took office, almost 18,000 coal miners were employed in Kentucky, 14,000 of them in Eastern Kentucky. Today, fewer than 6,000 miners remain in the region. Yet the real cause of the industry's decline isn't Obama. It's the free market that Republicans love to embrace. As renewables and natural gas have driven coal prices down, coal jobs have shifted away from Central Appalachia, where coal is more expensive, to Wyoming, where it is cheaper to mine. Mining coal is simply no longer an economically viable option in Kentucky.
That will remain true, of course, no matter who's in the Oval Office, whether an administration is combating the climate crisis or ignoring it.
 
The question then becomes who has a credible plan to assist communities affected by commercial, regulatory, and environmental changes. As Leber's piece makes clear, the Obama administration has proposed "a stimulus for coal country," which would include "job training for laid-off workers and investments in health care and retirement security for miners and their families." Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D), not surprisingly, supports the initiative.
 
And then there's the Republican plan -- which is nothing.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Marc Mezvinsky

Decades later, GOP still sees value in sex scandal

08/04/15 12:58PM

There were plenty of interesting moments in last night's forum in New Hampshire for the Republican presidential candidates, but by some accounts, this was the moment that sparked some chatter in the audience.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) missed the Planned Parenthood vote to attend the forum, where he turned heads with an attack on Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton's honesty that referenced her husband's affair with an intern, Monica Lewinsky, while in office. 
 
"I'm fluent in Clinton speak," Graham said. "When Bill says 'I didn't have sex with that woman,' he did...."
Graham, you'll recall, was in the U.S. House during the Lewinsky scandal, and served as an "impeachment manager" when the Senate weighed whether to remove then-President Clinton from office.
 
What does the '90s-era controversy have to do with the 2016 presidential race? Not a whole lot, but Lindsey Graham's rhetoric wasn't completely out of the blue, either. Stepping back, this seems to be an area of preoccupation for some of the Republican Party, despite the fact that the initial affair happened 20 years ago, and despite the fact that Bill Clinton won't be on the ballot.
 
Just three weeks ago, when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) launched his presidential campaign, he was introduced by television personality Rachel Campos-Duffy, who told attendees, "Scott has been married to Tonette for 24 years; 24 is Bill Clinton's favorite age."
 
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), meanwhile, has made so many references to the Lewinsky story that it became a little creepy.
 
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, meanwhile, told msnbc's Andrea Mitchell last year that, as far as he's concerned, the decades-old sex scandal is one of many issues that are "on the table."
 
Is this really going to continue intermittently for the next 15 months?

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.4.15

08/04/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* If Donald Trump's national advantage wasn't surprising enough, a new WMUR Granite State Poll also shows him leading in New Hampshire with 24% support. Jeb Bush is second with 12% -- half of Trump's backing -- while Scott Walker is third with 11%. Bush and Walker combined still fall short of the unexpected frontrunner.
 
* The new, national Fox News poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders among Democratic primary voters, 51% to 22%. The poll included Vice President Biden, who was a distant third with 13%.
 
* Following last night's Senate vote on defunding Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America launched negative ads targeting three vulnerable GOP incumbents facing tough re-election fights next year: New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte, Ohio's Rob Portman, and Wisconsin's Ron Johnson. It's unclear whether the spots will air on TV or whether they'll exist only online.
 
* In New Jersey, the latest Rutgers-Eagleton poll also found Donald Trump leading among Garden State Republicans with 21% support. Gov. Chris Christie (R) is second, but he only enjoys the support of 12% of his own constituents from his own party.
 
* Though it didn't generate much buzz, the latest Marist poll found Hillary Clinton leading each of the top Republican presidential candidates in hypothetical matchups, including a 6-point advantage over Jeb Bush, 7-point lead over Scott Walker, and a 16-point lead over Trump.
 
* The Democratic Governors Association is reportedly working on a project called "Unrig the Map," which would create "a fund dedicated to winning races in states where governors have some control over congressional redistricting." Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) is reportedly helping spearhead the initiative.
 
* Facing financial troubles, Rick Santorum's campaign has reportedly dispatched "several top staffers" to a new super PAC. The list includes the former senator's campaign manager, Terry Allen.
Presidential Candidate Donald Trump Greets A Crowd After Taping TV Interview on July 22, 2015. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty).

Trump enters debate week in dominant position

08/04/15 11:23AM

Many campaign observers, including me, assumed Donald Trump had reached a poll ceiling of sorts. The Republican presidential hopeful, who was in the low single digits as recently as April in national polling, has obviously rocketed to the top of the field, but many of us saw his relatively modest advantages as fleeting. It's not like he was crushing his rivals.
 
But those assumptions are due for an overhaul. As Republicans get ready for their first debate, Trump's position in national polling is, in fact, dominant. Here's the latest Fox News poll released last night:
Businessman Donald Trump continues to gain ground in the race for the Republican nomination.  What's more, the number of GOP primary voters saying they would at least consider backing Trump has more than doubled in the last two months. [...]
 
Trump receives the backing of 26 percent of self-identified Republican primary voters -- up from 18 percent in mid-July and 11 percent a month ago. That's not only the highest level of support for Trump, but it's also the highest any GOP candidate has received since the Fox poll began asking the question in December 2013.
Jeb Bush is second in the poll with 15%, followed by Scott Walker at 9%. Do the math -- Bush's and Walker's support combined falls short of Trump's backing in this poll.
 
This morning, a new Bloomberg Politics national poll also showed Trump with a significant lead over his GOP rivals. The former reality-show host leads with 21%, followed by 10% for Bush and 8% for Walker. Yes, that means another poll in which Trump tops the combined support for his next two closest rivals. (Yesterday's Monmouth poll also found Trump leading Bush and Walker combined.)
 
In the largest primary field in American history -- 17 Republicans are competing for their party's nomination -- it's tough for any candidate to enjoy support from a significant chunk of the GOP, but on average, Trump has the backing of roughly a fourth of Republican voters.
 
No candidate has put up numbers like these all year.
Texas attorney general Ken Paxton departing after testifying at a Texas Texas Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing on Planned Parenthood videos covertly recorded that target the abortion provider, July 29, 2015. (Photo by Eric Gay/AP)

Texas A.G. faces criminal charges

08/04/15 10:50AM

In theory, a state attorney general is the state's highest ranking law-enforcement official. It's therefore problematic when a state A.G. finds himself facing criminal charges.
 
The Texas Tribune reported yesterday on the latest developments involving the lone Star State's Republican attorney general.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the state's top law enforcement officer, turned himself into jail Monday to be booked on felony securities fraud charges.
 
Wearing a pin-striped suit and a red tie, he smiled slightly for his mugshot. Then, he was promptly released from the Collin County Jail on $35,000 bond, according to records with the local sheriff's office. Afterward, he apparently slipped out of the courthouse undetected, avoiding the throng of waiting media and Democratic protesters.
Paxton's attorney told reporters that the far-right A.G., less than a year into his first term, does not intend to resign, and will plead not guilty during his upcoming arraignment.
 
In the meantime, however, Paxton is facing a three-count felony indictment, including two charges for alleged securities fraud.
 
At issue is a Texas computer company called Servergy, which is facing an investigation into whether it defrauded investors, but which also paid Paxton a commission when he found new Servergy investors. According to the indictment, Paxton successfully encouraged people to invest more than $600,000 in the company, without disclosing his personal financial interests, and despite the fact that he wasn't licensed as an investment adviser.
 
The Texas Republican Party issued a brief, almost perfunctory statement asking the public to be patient -- the state A.G. "deserves to have his say in a court of law," GOP officials said -- which suggested the party may not be optimistic about Paxton's future. Indeed, the AP report added, "[U[nlike when Rick Perry smiled for his mug shot last year, Republicans are not rushing to Paxton's defense."
An America's History text book sits on a student's desk in an AP U.S. History class in Colorado. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post/Getty)

Changes to AP History make conservatives happy

08/04/15 10:12AM

The first national salvo in the fight caught many off guard. Exactly one year ago next week, members of the Republican National Committee gathered for a regularly scheduled meeting, and took up a fairly obscure resolution: RNC activists voted to condemn Advanced Placement U.S. History classes for presenting a "consistently negative view of American history."
 
Perhaps the vote shouldn't have come as too big of a surprise -- in far-right circles, the complaints about AP history courses have been loud and frequent. By one count, Republican officials in as many as six states "attempted to crudely politicize our past" by going after the curriculum. In Oklahoma, some lawmakers voted to ban the class altogether.
 
It was a new, rather odd front in the larger culture war. At one point, Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson went so far as to argue that the Advanced Placement course might encourage young Americans to "sign up for ISIS."
 
With rhetoric like that, it's tempting to think the campaign against AP History burned itself out, becoming too ridiculous for its own good. But as it turns out, the opposite happened -- Vox's Libby Nelson explained yesterday that the right's attacks had their intended effect.
Now, after nearly a year of uproar, the College Board, the group that writes the AP exam, has made major changes to the framework -- and it's won conservatives over, in part by putting less emphasis on racism.
 
The earlier frameworks, before the 2014 version, had been a long list of events in American history. The goal of last year's framework was to replace that with a more coherent, specific narrative of American history, framed by a few central questions. The new version has abandoned part of that sweeping narrative, getting more specific in some areas and toning down some of its most stark historical judgments.
The new version is nicer to Ronald Reagan, to the delight of GOP partisans, but even more important is the way in which AP History will explore the issue of race.
Susan Collins

When 'moderate' is a relative term

08/04/15 09:21AM

When Senate Republicans voted to defund Planned Parenthood late yesterday afternoon, the process unfolded exactly as expected -- with one exception. Every senator on the floor voted as everyone assumed they'd vote, except Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine.
 
Collins, ostensibly the Senate GOP's most moderate member, had expressed opposition to the bill in recent days, leading observers to assume she'd vote against the bill. But while Maine's junior senator, Independent Angus King, voted with the Democratic minority, Collins raised a few eyebrows by siding with the far-right Republican majority.
 
The Portland Press Herald reported:
Collins issued a statement late Monday saying that she and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, had introduced legislation that would "promote and protect women's health and also investigate Planned Parenthood's practices."
 
"I was sickened when I viewed the recently released videos featuring Planned Parenthood physicians..." Collins said on the Senate floor. "The callousness that the Planned Parenthood employees displayed in discussing the sale of fetal tissue is appalling.
Of course, rhetorical tone isn't a good reason to cut off funding for popular and effective health care organizations. Collins said she had an alternative proposal -- "investigate Planned Parenthood facilities that participate in fetal tissue donation, and defund them if they broke the law" -- but Senate GOP leaders ignored Collins' bill.
 
That left the Maine Republican with a choice: vote to defund Planned Parenthood, knowing the bill would fail, and knowing there's no evidence the group actually did anything wrong, or side with her far-right colleagues. She chose the latter.
 
And while it's probably fair to characterize Collins as the Senate GOP's most centrist member, yesterday was a reminder that the label just doesn't mean much anymore.

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