Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow about the challenges inherent in attacking ISIS, including not just reprisals but the power vacuum that would be left behind. watch
* It's like watching an invasion in slow motion: "Tanks, artillery and infantry have crossed from Russia into an unbreached part of eastern Ukraine in recent days, attacking Ukrainian forces and causing panic and wholesale retreat not only in this small border town but also a wide section of territory, in what Ukrainian and Western military officials described on Wednesday as a stealth invasion."
* An emotional appeal: "The mother of an American journalist held by the militants of ISIS pleaded with his captors on Wednesday to spare his life and 'please release my child.' In a video message, Shirley Sotloff directly addressed the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, by his preferred title -- 'the caliph of the Islamic State' -- and asked him to show mercy on her son, Steven."
* More ISIS news: "The United States has begun to mobilize a broad coalition of allies behind potential American military action in Syria and is moving toward expanded airstrikes in northern Iraq, administration officials said on Tuesday." President Obama is also weighing "airstrikes and airdrops of food and water around the northern Iraqi town of Amerli, home to members of Iraq's Turkmen minority."
* More on this tomorrow: "The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress."
* A stunning story: "A coroner's report obtained exclusively by NBC News directly contradicts the police version of how a 22-year-old black man died in the back seat of a Louisiana police cruiser earlier this year -- but still says the man, whose hands were cuffed behind his back, shot himself."
* Proponents of marriage equality, watching developments at the 7th Circuit closely, have reason for optimism: "Lawyers for Indiana and Wisconsin on Tuesday tried, with little success, to explain to three judges why their laws banning same-sex couples from marrying were constitutional."
* House Republicans look for an excuse: "Congress should not give President Obama additional authority to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) until the administration provides a strategy for defeating the militant group, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said Wednesday."
* Jindal really hopes we forget that he was a Common Core supporter up until very recently; "Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday accusing the U.S. Department of Education of illegally coercing states to adopt the Common Core academic standards by requiring states that want to compete for federal grants to embrace the national standards."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), with welcome candor, recently told Americans what they can expect if Republicans retake the Senate majority. McConnell's plan is to include policy measures in spending bills that gut Obama administration policies, and if the White House balks, GOP lawmakers will shut down the government.
As it happens, much of what McConnell says in public is what he also says in private.
"So in the House and Senate, we own the budget. So what does that mean? That means that we can pass the spending bill. And I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what's called placing riders in the bill. No money can be spent to do this or to do that. We're going to go after them on health care, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board. ... All across the federal government, we're going to go after it," McConnell said at a private summit hosted by the Koch Brothers.
In practice, it means a Republican Congress -- if there's a Republican Congress -- might pass a spending bill that includes a policy provision: no money in this bill can be used to implement safeguards against Wall Street. Or fund health care exchanges. Or promote clean air. Or all of the above.
And, of course, if President Obama refuses to go along, the GOP response will be exactly what it was last fall: "Fine. We're shutting down the government."
When reports on this initially surfaced, McConnell and his allies pushed back a bit, arguing the Republican leader never explicitly promised more shutdowns if/when the GOP has more power. That said, as Brian Beutler explained well, "McConnell can't sidestep the implications of his publicly declared strategy. He can't say 'when we're in power, we're going to put two and two together,' and then get angry when the headlines say, 'McConnell promises four.'"
Regardless, that's not all McConnell said behind closed doors at the Koch brothers' event in June.
About a year ago, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was asked about the radicalism of some of his political agenda. "You know, the thing is, people want to say it's extreme," he said. "But what I would say is extreme is a trillion-dollar deficit every year. I mean, that's an extremely bad situation."
The same week, then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told Fox News that Congress should be "focused on trying to deal with the ultimate problem, which is this growing deficit."
Neither lawmaker was making sense, even at the time. The United States isn't running "trillion-dollar deficits every year"; the deficit isn't "the ultimate problem"; and the budget shortfall, as we were reminded today, isn't "growing."
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) on Wednesday raised its projection for this year's federal deficit to $506 billion.
The budget office's last report in April had projected the deficit for fiscal 2014 would top out at $492 billion on Sept. 30.
The minor difference between the latest figures -- which are not final until the fall -- and the previous projection are a gap in corporate income taxes, which will affect the final tally at the end of the fiscal year. (The entirety of the latest CBO report is online here.)
Regardless, at this point, the deficit is on track to reach a six-year low, and is expected to fall further next year. In fact, looking ahead, the CBO projects modest deficits for another decade.
The Republican line on Charles and David Koch, better known as the Koch brothers, has always been a little tricky. As we discussed in June, GOP politicians certainly welcome the massive amounts of campaign cash the Kochs are willing to spend, but as the Kochs have become better known, Republicans have also struggled to defend the idea that voters should support candidates backed by controversial billionaires.
Earlier in the summer, Dan Sullivan, Alaska's Republican Senate hopeful, was asked whether he would benefit from the Kochs' support. Sullivan "paused for 25 seconds" before dodging the question.
But away from the cameras and notepads, Republicans tend to be a little more forthcoming about their wealthy benefactors. Sam Stein reported overnight:
Three top Republican Senate candidates heaped praise on the political network built by the conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch during a secretive conference held by the brothers this past summer, according to audio of the event.
Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst and Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton directly credited donors present at the June 16 retreat in Dana Point, California, for propelling them forward. Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner told attendees that his race would likely be decided by the presence of "third party" money -- an obvious pitch for generosity from the well-heeled crowd.
The presence of Gardner and Cotton was previously reported by The Nation magazine, though it is unclear if Cotton ever confirmed his appearance. Ernst's attendance had not previously been reported.
Iowa's Ernst, in particular, said it was the Kochs and their allies that "really started my trajectory" towards the U.S. Senate, adding, "And this is the thing that we are going to take back -- that it started right here with all of your folks, this wonderful network."
Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
* The latest Pew Research Center poll shows Democrats leading Republicans on the generic congressional ballot by five, 47% to 42%. The margin is slightly higher than most other recent national polls.
* In Iowa's U.S. Senate race, the new PPP survey shows Rep. Bruce Braley (D) up by one over state Sen. Joni Ernst (R), 41% to 40%, in a multi-candidate race. In a head-to-head match-up without third-party candidates, the two are tied in the poll at 42% each.
* In Arkansas' U.S. Senate race, Sen. Mark Pryor's (D) campaign launched a provocative new ad this week that plays on public fears of the Ebola virus -- it reminds voters that Rep. Tom Cotton (R) voted to "cut billions from our nation's medical disaster and emergency programs." The far-right congressman was one of only 29 lawmakers to cast the vote.
* In Ohio, the Cleveland Plain Dealerreports that Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ed FitzGerald's campaign is starting to lower expectations about its chances and take steps to help protect Democrats down-ballot. FitzGerald is running against incumbent Gov. John Kasich (R).
* President Obama was in North Carolina yesterday, where Sen. Kay Hagan (D), facing a tough re-election fight, was willing to be seen with the president, despite speculation she wouldn't.
* Miami Republican David Rivera, the scandal-plagued former congressman, tried to launch a misguided comeback bid this year, but it came to an abrupt halt yesterday with a primary defeat.