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Republican presidential hopeful U.S. Sen.Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Republican Leadership Summit on April 18, 2015, in Nashua, N.H.

Ted Cruz adopts a new posture on disaster aid

05/29/15 09:20AM

The storms in Texas this week have caused deadly flooding, affecting communities across much of the state. According to NBC News' latest reporting, "at least 23 people have died in flooding across the state this week."
 
Given the disaster, it's hardly surprising to see member of Texas' congressional delegation speaking up in support of federal disaster relief. TPM reported yesterday:
"There are a series of federal statutory thresholds that have to be satisfied. Initially, it appears those thresholds are likely to be satisfied by the magnitude of the damage we're seeing," Cruz said while touring the flooding in Wimberley, Texas, according to Texas television station KSAT.
 
"Democrats and Republicans in the congressional delegation will stand as one in support of the federal government meeting its statutory obligations to provide the relief to help the Texans who are hurting."
This is, of course, exactly what one expects of a senator after his state is confronted with a crisis. Indeed, note the senator's specific phrase: "statutory obligations." For Cruz, it's not even optional -- Americans have a duty under the law to come to Texas' aid.
 
But as the TPM report added, Cruz took a very different posture in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, when he opposed federal disaster relief.
 
"This bill is symptomatic of a larger problem in Washington -- an addiction to spending money we do not have," the Texas Republican said at the time. "The United States Senate should not be in the business of exploiting victims of natural disasters to fund pork projects that further expand our debt."
 
As best as I can tell, he made no references to "statutory obligations" at the time.

GOP senator complains: 'The Lego Movie' wasn't awesome

05/29/15 08:40AM

Perhaps no sitting senator is more vulnerable in 2016 than Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson, who'll have to overcome some important hurdles, including his far-right record, to win a second terms.
 
It's tempting to think, then, that Johnson would be on his best behavior, desperate to put his best foot forward, eager to show Wisconsin voters how much he excels in his job.
 
Or, alternatively, he can complain bitterly about "The Lego Movie."
 
The story has followed a curious trajectory. Johnson recently told a local audience that the popular animated film is, in his mind, "insidious" propaganda. When the Huffington Post found this amusing, Johnson apparently took great offense, complaining on Twitter, and publishing a 500-word piece to his official Senate website about how right he is.
Some liberal writer at the Huffington Post was excited to find out that I've been talking to Wisconsinites about how enthusiastically the entertainment media spread a "business is bad" message.
 
He seems to get hung up on the way I mentioned "The Lego Movie," a children's movie "in which the bad guy is a heartless businessman intent on destroying the world for profit. 'That's done for a reason,' Johnson said. 'They're starting that propaganda, and it's insidious.'"
Johnson encourages readers to watch the video of him complaining about the movie "because I think I'm making a pretty good point" (if he does say so himself).
 
The GOP lawmaker, recently elevated to chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, repeats his belief that the movie is "anti-business" and added some links to movie reviews that raise similar assertions.
 
There are two broad areas of concern here, one artistic, the other political. Johnson appears to have failed on both.
Former Representative J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) listens at an event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa January 2, 2008. (Photo by Keith Bedford/Reuters)

Former GOP Speaker rocked by criminal indictment

05/29/15 08:00AM

From 1998 to 2006, House Republicans suffered one ugly scandal after another. Democrats used the "culture of corruption" label to great effect, precisely because it was true -- from Gingrich to Livingston, DeLay to Cunningham, Ney to Foley, the GOP's House majority just couldn't stay out of trouble.
 
But Dennis Hastert was always seen as the exception. No matter how many scandals surrounded House Republicans, the party pointed to the humble Speaker from Illinois as the squeaky clean leader, elevated to the post from relative obscurity because of his above-the-fray reputation. Hastert was the island of stability and propriety in a sea of Capitol Hill scandals.
 
As Rachel reported on the show last night, however, of late yesterday, all of those perceptions have suddenly changed quite dramatically. From Benjamin Landy's msnbc report:
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who led the Republican majority in Congress from 1999 to 2007, was indicted Thursday by the Justice Department for illegally structuring cash withdrawals to evade bank reporting requirements and lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
 
According to the Chicago U.S. Attorney's Office, the indictment alleges Hastert agreed to pay out $3.5 million to an individual "in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct." Hastert is accused of purposefully structuring the payments in increments, beginning in 2012, in order to avoid triggering bank reports to the IRS that are required for cash withdrawals over $10,000.
Hastert, who became a D.C. lobbyist after retiring from Congress, has resigned from his position in the wake of yesterday's criminal indictment.
 
The story is still fairly new, and at this point, there are some key questions about the controversy that do not yet have answers.

Senators demand answers in Santa Barbara oil spill

05/29/15 07:47AM

Senators list seven questions about Santa Barbara oil spill. (Santa Barbara Independent)

After indictment, former House Speaker Hastert resigns lobbying position. (The Hill)

Former aide to ex-Congressman Aaron Schock talking to FBI. (Politico)

More flooding, rescues in Texas. (Dallas Morning News)

Police prep for protest outside Phoenix mosque. (AZ Central)

"The horrible reason one woman had to wait 77 years for her PhD." (Washington Post)

Bob Schieffer, host of "Face the Nation," signing off after 24 years. (New York Times)

National spelling bee ends in a tie for second straight year. (NBC News)

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Citations for the May 28, 2015 TRMS

05/29/15 01:03AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Lynn Sweet, DC bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times
  • Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia
  • Danny Vargas, former GOP National Hispanic Assembly chairman

Tonight's links:

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Even GOP field amplifies debates' importance

Even GOP field amplifies debates' importance

05/28/15 09:47PM

Danny Vargas, former GOP National Hispanic Assembly chairman, talks with Rachel Maddow about how Republicans can conduct fair debates that don't put too much authority in national polls that are frequently not borne out by actual elections. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 5.28.15

05/28/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Breaking news late this afternoon: "The Justice Department has indicted former House Speaker Dennis Hastert on reporting evasion charges and lying to the FBI as part of an effort to pay off victims of 'prior bad acts.'" I'll have more on this in the morning.
 
* Silly people and their conspiracy theories: "Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of meddling in FIFA's affairs and hinted that it was part of an attempt to take the 2018 World Cup away from his country."
 
* Speaking of the Russian autocrat: "The deaths or wounds of Russian soldiers in 'special operations' can be classified as military secrets, even in peacetime, President Vladimir V. Putin decreed on Thursday. The decree comes as Russia faces accusations that it is sending its soldiers clandestinely to fight in Ukraine, an allegation the Kremlin denies."
 
* FIFA: "Sepp Blatter, the president of world soccer's governing body, acknowledged the 'unprecedented and difficult times' for his organization on Thursday and said it must do a better job of policing itself, but he largely avoided taking responsibility for the actions of 'a tiny minority' arrested in a corruption inquiry this week."
 
* Baltimore: "A 31-year-old woman and a young boy were shot in the head Thursday, becoming Baltimore's 37th and 38th homicide victims so far this month, the city's deadliest in 15 years."
 
* IRS: "The FBI has opened an investigation into the recent data breach at the Internal Revenue Service, CNBC has learned Thursday. The FBI said that people contacted by the IRS should take the necessary steps to monitor and safeguard their online presence and information. Any suspicious activity should reported to the FBI at www.ic3.gov."
 
* A tough year for Senate staffers: "Known as a fixture on Capitol Hill until his January 2010 retirement, longtime Senate staffer Robert Lee Foster is now making headlines for his alleged involvement in a scheme to defraud vulnerable women for approximately $500,000."
Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaks to reporters during a hearing in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 4, 2015. (Photo by Bloomberg/Getty)

A brief history of secret plans

05/28/15 04:07PM

We talked earlier about Donald Trump, who announced last night that when it comes to ISIS, he knows of "a method of defeating them quickly and effectively and having total victory." And what, pray tell, is that method? Trump refuses to say.
 
"If I run, and if I win, I don't want the enemy to know what I'm doing," he told Fox's Greta Van Susteren.
 
This led my colleague Will Femia to ask a good question: Didn't Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also have "a secret plan to defeat an enemy but he'd only reveal it if America elected him?"

Actually, yes.
 
During McCain's 2008 campaign, he frequently reassured audiences that, if elected, he'd implement a secret plan to get Osama bin Laden. Naturally, many soon wondered why McCain didn't just share the secret plan with the Bush/Cheney administration, which had largely given up on targeting the al Qaeda leader. The Wall Street Journal reported in January 2008:
"One thing I will not do is telegraph my punches. Osama bin Laden will be the last to know," he said today while riding on the back of his bus between Florida events. In other words: he's not telling.
 
Why not share his strategy with the current occupant of the White House? "Because I have my own ideas and it would require implementation of certain policies and procedures that only as the president of the United States can be taken."
That latter part of McCain's response didn't really make much sense, even at the time, but the Republican senator stuck to it and never revealed his secret get-OBL plan. (As it turns out, President Obama had his own ideas on the subject.)
 
But as long as we're on the subject, it's worth nothing that McCain and Trump aren't alone.  Perhaps the most famous example came in 1968, when Richard Nixon told voters he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam, but he wouldn't share it before the election. Nixon won, but there was no secret plan, and the conflict continued.
Smoke raises behind an Islamic State flag after Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters took control of Saadiya in Diyala province from Islamist State militants, Nov. 24, 2014. (Photo by Stringer/Reuters)

A party in search of a message on ISIS

05/28/15 12:44PM

Likely Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump appeared on Fox News last night and  boasted he knows exactly what to do to "defeat ISIS very quickly." He quickly added, however, "I'm not going to tell what you it is."
 
When host Greta Van Susteren suggested he should share his secret plan, Trump replied, "If I run, and if I win, I don't want the enemy to know what I'm doing." He added, however, that there really is "a method of defeating them quickly and effectively and having total victory."
 
He just doesn't want to tell anyone what this method is.
 
It's obviously easy to laugh at buffoonery, but there's a larger significance to exchanges like these: Republican presidential candidates are eager to talk about ISIS and U.S. foreign policy in the region. They're just not sure what to say.
 
On msnbc yesterday morning, for example,Joe Scarborough asked Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) about the ISIS threat. The Republican senator has apparently come up with a plan:
"You know, I think the ultimate answer is getting Arab coalitions and boots on the ground that will stop them. You need Turks fighting. The Turks need to have their army up on the board and they need to fight. [...]
 
"I would recognize the Kurds, I would give them weapons, I would take all the weapons in Iran and Afghanistan and give them to the Kurds. But I would do simultaneously is, I would get a peace treaty between the Kurds and the Turks and I would say, 'Look,' the Kurds, 'you've got to give up any pretensions to any territory in Turkey. Turkey, let's go ahead and get along and together wipe out ISIS."
He neglected to mention his intention to rely on magical unicorns to help establish peace throughout the land.
 
I mean, really. Paul is going to defeat ISIS, right after establishing peace between the Kurds and the Turks? Does he realize they don't quite see eye to eye? There's some history there? As a rule, telling a country like Turkey, "Let's go ahead and get along" -- because Rand Paul says so -- isn't a sure-fire plan for a diplomatic solution.
 
But this goes beyond Paul and Trump.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.28.15

05/28/15 12:00PM

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:
 
* A new, national Quinnipiac poll asked Republicans for their top choice in the Republican presidential race. There was, oddly enough, a five-way tie for first place: Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker each got 10% support.
 
* The same poll showed Hillary Clinton leading everyone in the GOP field in hypothetical general-election match-ups, though she fared far better against Bush and Walker than against Rubio and Rand Paul.
 
* To the delight of Nevada Democrats, Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) has decided to run for re-election, rather than run against former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D) in a U.S. Senate primary.
 
* A new University of New Hampshire poll shows a very competitive Senate race taking shape in the Granite State, where incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) leads Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) in a possible match-up, 45% to 43%. For the record, Hassan has not yet formally made her 2016 plans clear.
 
* Carly Fiorina thought it'd be fun to troll Hillary Clinton yesterday at a South Carolina hotel, but when reporters considered it a silly stunt, Fiorina got defensive and left.
 
* A new super PAC, called "Generation Forward," is now up and running, intended to benefit former Gov. Martin O'Malley's Democratic campaign.
Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders waves to the crowd of supporters after speaking at a campaign kickoff rally in Burlington, Vt., May 26, 2015. (Photo by Brain Snyder/Reuters)

The tax rates that don't cause Bernie Sanders to 'flinch'

05/28/15 11:29AM

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is many things, but subtle isn't one of them. Take a look at these comments the Democratic presidential candidate made to CNBC about higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
"These people are so greedy, they're so out of touch with reality," he said. "They think they own the world.... I'm sorry to have to tell them, they live in the United States, they benefit from the United States, we have kids who are hungry in this country. We have people who are working two, three, four jobs, who can't send their kids to college.
 
"Sorry, you're all going to have to pay your fair share of taxes," he asserted. "If my memory is correct, when radical socialist Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the highest marginal tax rate was something like 90 percent."
That last part is true, by the way. In the 1950s, when Republicans were far more interested in deficit reduction than tax breaks, Eisenhower was committed to helping pay off World War II-era debts. He kept Roosevelt's 90% top marginal rate in place, and the post-war economy boomed anyway. (It wasn't until JFK in 1961 that Washington approved a "peace dividend," and even then, some Republicans of the era balked, still preferring to focus on the debt, not tax breaks.)
 
But Sanders' support for similar rates is so far from mainstream norms that his comments strike much of the political world as somehow bizarre. The New York Times noted with incredulity that the Vermont senator "doesn't flinch over returning to the 90 percent personal income tax rates of the 1950s for top earners."
 
Over at Salon, it led Simon Maloy to raise a good point: "We've become so accustomed to historically low rates of taxation for the wealthy that when someone like Sanders comes along and says the rich can and should pay a far higher rate, people assume he's out to lunch."

Republican attitudes on Iraq trip up GOP candidates

05/28/15 10:54AM

It was just two weeks ago when Jeb Bush accidentally touched off a national debate, saying he "would have" launched the war in Iraq in 2003, even "knowing what we know now."
 
The response wasn't kind. Laura Ingraham, hardly a liberal critic, told her audience, "You can't still think that going into Iraq, now, as a sane human being, was the right thing to do. If you do, there has to be something wrong with you." The Washington Examiner's Byron York, another prominent voice in conservative media, described Jeb Bush's answer as "disastrous."
 
It took a while, but eventually Bush gave a less ridiculous answer, and nearly everyone in the Republican presidential field answered the same question, but it's worth appreciating why Jeb and others struggled with the question in the first place.
 
Some of this, to be sure, is the result of a failed Bush legacy that the party has yet to come to terms with. The dominating influence of neoconservatives doesn't help, either. But part of the challenge is that this is the phase of the campaign in which GOP candidates desperately try to convince the Republican Party's base that they're in sync with the party's rank and file. And on this issue in particular, there's a huge gap between Republican voters and the American mainstream. Take this new Quinnipiac poll, for example:
Going to war with Iraq was the wrong thing to do, American voters say 59 - 32 percent. Republicans support the 2003 decision 62 - 28 percent, while opposition is 78 - 16 percent among Democrats and 65 - 26 percent among independent voters.
The wording of the question was unambiguous: "Do you think going to war with Iraq in 2003 was the right thing for the United States to do or the wrong thing?"
 
Most Americans answered one way; most Republicans answered another.

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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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