* Israel: "The military and political confrontation between Hamas and Israel showed no signs of abating Wednesday, with Gaza militants launching more rockets into Israeli territory and the military responding with further airstrikes. The Health Ministry in Gaza said the death toll there stood at 53 since Saturday and 45 since Monday."
* President Obama will reportedly deliver a statement from Dallas in about an hour on the border crisis. Something to look out for.
* A new Glenn Greenwald NSA scoop based on materials from Edward Snowden: "An online news site reported Wednesday that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies monitored the e-mails of several prominent Muslim American activists and attorneys, prompting cries of protest from civil liberties advocates and strong pushback from the government."
* Fed: "The Federal Reserve intends to wrap up an unprecedented effort to stimulate the economy in October, drawing the curtain on one of the most controversial periods in the bank's 100-year history. Minutes released Wednesday from the bank's June meeting showed officials plan to cease their massive bond purchases after a policy meeting in October."
* That doesn't sound good: "When President Obama placed a call to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany last Thursday, he had a busy agenda: to consult with a close ally and to mobilize wavering Europeans to put more pressure on Russia to end its covert incursions in Ukraine. What Mr. Obama did not know was that a day earlier, a young German intelligence operative had been arrested and had admitted that he had been passing secrets to the Central Intelligence Agency."
* Sexual assaults in higher ed: "Colleges and universities are not doing enough to fight campus sexual assault, and the results of a survey organized by Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri could provide the evidence needed to spur policy changes at schools and in Congress."
* Julian Castro was confirmed today to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, following a 71-26 vote. More than half of all Senate Republicans opposed the nomination, for reasons that aren't entirely clear.
* Sanders' opinion matters a lot here: "Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) voiced his support Wednesday for the Obama administration's pick to lead the troubled Veterans Affairs Department, hinting at a smooth confirmation process. Sanders labeled his hourlong Tuesday sit-down with former Procter & Gamble executive Robert McDonald 'a really good meeting.'"
If you've ever watched a congressional hearing featuring Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in a bad mood, you know the Arizona Republican can get pretty quarrelsome with witnesses who annoy him in some way.
Take today, for example.
During a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on the ongoing border crisis, McCain was outraged by a recent memo saying visitors to detention facilities had to check cell phones with cameras. The senator, outraged, demanded that Thomas Winkowski, a Deputy Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, explain himself (thanks to my colleague Nazanin Rafsanjani for the heads-up).
McCAIN: Mr. Winkowski, I've been representing the state of Arizona for many years and I've never seen anything like your instructions to signed by your name, 'interim protocol for visitations and tours to CBP detention facilities.' Are you telling me, when I visit a detention facility that I can't bring a cellphone with me? Are you saying that? A United States Senator visiting a facility. These are the instructions that you have signed. Is that what you're saying?
WINKOWSKI: That the visitors can't bring cell...?
McCAIN: Visiting congressional deleg, uh, member of Congress.
WINKOWSKI: I don't recall saying that. What I recall....
McCAIN: Let me provide you with a copy. It says see distribution. R. Gil Kerlikowske, Commissioner interim, protocol for visitations and tours to CBP detention facilities. You didn't see your own memo?
You might have noticed the problem. R. Gil Kerlikowske wrote the memo. McCain was yelling at Thomas Winkowski.
For the record, R. Gil Kerlikowske and Thomas Winkowski are not the same person. Their names may rhyme, but I'm afraid that doesn't much matter. Senators in high dudgeon should probably get these details right before upbraiding a witness publicly.
In any case, R. Gil Kerlikowske was sitting next to Thomas Winkowski, and so McCain's bellicose line of questioning continued after the identity question was straightened out.
Have most folks heard of the game called "Telephone"? In some parts of the world, it's apparently called "Chinese Whispers," and it works like this:
Someone whispers a message to another, who is then supposed to share the exact same message with someone else, who then whispers to another person, and so on. The point of the game is that the message invariably changes -- along the way, someone misunderstands or misspeaks, altering the original whisper in some fundamental way.
Occasionally, this happens in politics, too.
As we talked about the other day, John Fund made an observation in a National Reviewpiece that was accurate: "Did you know the Obama administration's position has been defeated in at least 13 -- thirteen -- cases before the Supreme Court since January 2012 that were unanimous decisions?" It's not altogether interesting -- I think we knew that the Obama administration is to the left of the Supreme Court -- but it's nevertheless true. In 13 occasions, the Obama administration urged the court to rule in one way, but the justices ruled in another.
But then the game of "Telephone" started. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) told Fox News that the Supreme Court has ruled unanimously on 13 occasions "that the president has exceeded his constitutional authority." That's completely wrong. Most of the cases, including the "buffer zone" case, had nothing to do with Obama at all.
Soon after, former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) also told a conservative radio show that the Supreme Court issued 13 unanimous decisions that said "the president or the administration exceeded its constitutional authority." Again, that's plainly false.
The good news for Colorado's Cory Gardner, the Republican congressman running for the Senate, is that the broader political conversation has shifted slightly away from an uncomfortable subject. The bad news for Cory Gardner is that the conversation has shifted towards a different subject that's nearly as difficult for him.
Last week, the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling put contraception access on the nation's front burner, which did Gardner no favors. The far-right congressman repeatedly endorsed "Personhood" measures that would have banned some common forms of birth control, before flip-flopping, but not really. After the court ruling, the Colorado Republican was left arguing in support of employers restricting contraception access and arguing in support of greater contraception access.
But that was last week. This week, immigration has the spotlight, and Gardner's party is pushing for deportations for Dream Act kids, falsely blaming President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy for the humanitarian crisis at the Southern border.
As Greg Sargent explained, this puts Gardner in a very awkward position once more.
In Colorado, the Latino vote can help decide statewide races, and Democrats there have been hitting Gardner for failing to say whether he supports citizenship for the 11 million here illegally. Gardner has responded by arguing that he supports legalization for those who serve in the military, which suggests he sees the issue as problematic for him. Dems have countered by noting that Gardner voted for a 2013 Steve King amendment that would have ended Obama's ability to deprioritize deportation of the DREAMers.
Now the current crisis allows Dems to renew criticism of that vote -- and jam him on it further. When Gardner voted for the King amendment, he wasn't a statewide candidate, and the vote was largely a sop to the right. But now many Republicans are renewing the case for ending DACA as their preferred policy response to an active, ongoing crisis.
The congressman has struggled to break through in his Senate race, at least so far, largely because his record as a far-right culture warrior has alienated so many women voters. Can Gardner risk alienating Colorado Latinos, too?
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:
* In Kansas, Sen. Pat Roberts' Republican challenger, Tea Partier Milton Wolf, doesn't have quite enough money to run TV ads at this point, but he's now airing radio spots hitting the incumbent for his recent gaffe: "Every time I get an opponent, uh, I mean every time I get a chance, I'm home [in Kansas]." (Update: Wolf has had the resources to air statewide television spots, but this isn't one of them.)
* In Montana, appointed Sen. John Walsh (D) has a tough fight on his hands against Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), but Walsh has an effective new ad featuring three elderly women who aren't happy with Daines' anti-Medicare votes.
* Some potential trouble for the GOP Senate campaign in Michigan: "When Terri Lynn Land poured $1.66 million of her own money into her U.S. Senate campaign last year, she boasted about her family's west Michigan real estate business that is credited as the source of her wealth.... But as the November election quickly approaches, Land has separated herself from the actions of Land & Co. She has denied ever working for the company -- despite public records suggesting otherwise."
* Republicans hoping to see New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) lose this year should probably keep their expectations low. A new Wall Street Journal/WNBC-TV/Marist poll shows the incumbent Democrat leading his Republican challenger by a whopping 35 points, 59% to 24%.
For all the nation's deep partisan divides, it's not unrealistic to think sentencing reform can be a bipartisan issue.
About a year ago, for example, Attorney General Eric Holder made a compelling case that existing sentencing laws cost too much, ravage families and communities unnecessarily, and have no practical law-enforcement rationale. The response from the right was uncharacteristically supportive.
The issue has generated less attention on Capitol Hill, though as of yesterday, that's starting to change. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have a good idea.
The REDEEM Act proposal would encourage states to raise the age of criminal responsibly to 18 years of age; expunge or seal the records of juveniles who commit non-violent crimes before they turn 15; place limits on the solitary confinement of most juveniles; and establish a system to allow eligible nonviolent criminals to petition a court to ask that their criminal records be sealed. Sealing the records would keep them out of FBI background checks requested by employers and likely make it easier for those former offenders to secure a job.
Currently 10 states set the age at which someone can be tried in adult criminal court below 18, a move that the senators said in their statement "sends countless kids into the unforgiving adult criminal system." In hopes of reversing the trend, Booker and Paul propose giving states that change the minimum age preference when applying for federal community police grants. The same preference would be given to states that allow nonviolent offenders to petition to have their criminal records sealed. Once the records are sealed, an offender could lawfully claim that their records don't exist.
To be sure, the odds of this bill becoming law in 2014 are practically non-existent. Congress has some must-pass bills to tackle, and the House has some manufactured "scandals" to play with before the elections, but it's unrealistic to think the REDEEM Act will reach the floor in either chamber before the end of the year.
But reforms like these generally take time. Unveiling the bill this year and generating some conversation helps lay the groundwork for possible action next year.
What's more, note that there are related bills that may yet get some attention, reinforcing the impression that this is an area ripe for progress.
In every speech, in every op-ed, at every press conference, in every interview, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) always stresses the same talking point: House Republicans have passed a bunch of "jobs bills," which those rascally Senate Democrats have ignored.
When Boehner wrote an op-ed defending his prospective anti-Obama lawsuit, he stuck to the script:
"The House has passed more than 40 jobs bills that would help. But Washington Democrats, led by the President, just ignore them."
When Politico published a recent piece on Congress' inaction on the economy, the Speaker wrote a letter to the editor yesterday responding to the charge:
"The House is listening to the American people and passing jobs bill after jobs bill. There is a list of about 40 on Speaker.gov."
I'm curious if Boehner has actually looked at the list. He should -- it doesn't say what he thinks it says.
Part of the problem, as we talked about the other day, is the political world's mistaken drive to constantly look for historical parallels that don't apply. Every manufactured, faux controversy that pops up gets the "Obama's Watergate" label, and every policy challenge seems to get the "Obama's Katrina" label. As of this week, there are at least 10 of each (and counting).
But as Alec MacGillis explained, the broader problem is that there's a complex problem for the nation to consider, and sticking a lazy label on it obscures the details that actually matter.
There are countless facets of the crisis to consider. What role are child trafficking laws playing in hamstringing the Obama administration in sending the kids back home? Should we, in fact, reevaluate our asylum laws to reckon with the claims of the new arrivals that they are fleeing rampant political and gang violence in El Salvador and Honduras? Where should the children be housed in the interim while their final status is being adjudicated, given the NIMBYism that has quickly sprung up in some of the locations under consideration?
One could delve into these questions. Or, if among the Beltway commentariat, one could just dwell on the political optics, which means asking, for the ninth time in the past five and a half years, “Is this Obama’s Katrina?”
Political bumper stickers, hashtags, sloganeering, and soundbites are easy. Problem-solving is hard. The more there's a focus on labels the less there's a focus on solutions (or in this case, Congress' reluctance to consider solutions). I'm not suggesting political considerations are irrelevant to every policy challenge -- that's obviously not the case; I obsess over politics just about every day -- but the over-simplification of thorny problems doesn't do anyone any favors.
Besides, the comparison itself really doesn't stand up well to scrutiny.
For a U.S. Senate race in a competitive swing state, Iowa's Joni Ernst is a remarkably far-right Republican candidate. As Rachel noted on the show last month, Ernst has said she would ban abortions and many forms of birth control; she would privatize Social Security and abolish the minimum wage; she would back an anti-gay amendment to the Constitution; and she believes there's secret information that Saddam Hussein really did have weapons of mass destruction.
In other words, if Ernst is elected this year, the Iowa Republican would instantly join a fringe element on Capitol Hill, far from the American mainstream.
And what does this radical element want? The impeachment of President Obama.
Sarah Palin might have called for the impeachment of President Barack Obama Tuesday, but Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst actually beat her to the punch by six months.
At a Montgomery County, Iowa, candidate forum in January, Ernst told a crowd that she believed Obama had "become a dictator" and that he needed to face the consequences for his executive actions, "whether that's removal from office, whether that's impeachment."
Ernst, in her January remarks, added, "As a U.S. senator, though, we have to push that issue, we can't be silent on things like that."
Yesterday afternoon, as the public heard more about this, the Republican candidate issued a public statement, kinda sorta walking her comments back, but only a little. "To be clear, I have not seen any evidence that the President should be impeached," Ernst said in the written statement. "I obviously do not believe the president is a dictator, but his repeated use of unilateral action sure makes him look like one."
It would appear that the Republican U.S. Senate nominee in the great of state of Iowa doesn't quite understand what a dictator is.
Regardless, Ernst's rhetoric led political scientist Norm Ornstein to note that the GOP's "Impeach Obama crowd," which he described as "the lunatic fringe," is starting to go "mainstream."
As the humanitarian crisis along the nation's Southern border became more serious, with tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children entering the country illegally, Republicans demanded a response from President Obama. The White House reminded GOP policymakers that comprehensive immigration reform would help enormously.
No, Republicans replied. The GOP wants action, but not this kind of action.
Yesterday, the Obama administration went a step further, requesting $3.7 billion in emergency funding to deal with the problem. As the Washington Postreported, the resources are needed to build detention centers, add immigration judges, and beef up border security, all while expediting deportations that will hopefully discourage an additional influx.
[T]he proposal was quickly met with broad skepticism among Republican lawmakers, who were doubtful that the package would be approved quickly -- if at all.
But GOP leaders, who have called on Obama to take stronger action, said they were reluctant to give the administration a "blank check" without more-detailed plans to ensure that the money would help stem the crisis at the border.... Asked if he thought lawmakers would approve the proposal, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said, "No, given the mood here in Washington, I don't have confidence it will happen."
Oddly enough, soon after the White House made the request for emergency funds, House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) suggested the president's appeal would be approved. This seemed like it might be one of those rare crises that generated a bipartisan response, not another partisan food fight.
But within a couple of hours, the winds shifted. Republicans want a response to the problem, but apparently, if the White House has a new plan, the GOP isn't inclined to approve it. The Republican reaction to the proposal, as of this morning, is "almost universally negative."
All of which leads to a straightforward question: do Republicans want a solution to the crisis or do they want to complain about the crisis. They can't have both.
The Supreme Court's conservative majority had its say on contraception last week. As msnbc's Irin Carmon reports, Senate Democrats will kick off their legislative response today.
On Wednesday, congressional Democrats plan to introduce the "Protect Women's Health From Corporate Interference Act," which according to a summary provided to msnbc, "ensures that employers cannot interfere in their employee's decisions about contraception and other health services." The bill states that all insurance plans -- including those provided by for-profit corporations -- must cover contraception, though it keeps the exemption for houses of worship and the "accommodation" for religious nonprofits.
The charge is being led by Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who said at the time of the decision that it "sets a dangerous precedent and takes us closer to a time in history when women had no choice and no voice." She added, "Since the Supreme Court decided it will not protect women's access to health care, I will."
For Democrats and proponents of reproductive rights, this is no small development. Murray will host a press conference this morning to unveil her bill, standing alongside Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Mark Udall (D-Colo.); Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.); as well as the National Women's Law Center's Marcia Greenberger, NARAL Pro-Choice America's Ilyse Hogue, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund's Cecile Richards.
A simple, perfunctory rollout this isn't.
What's more, Murray's bill, which will immediately feature a companion measure in the House, will have the White House's full support. Indeed, the measure was reportedly "put together in consultation with the Obama administration."
For the Senate Democratic leadership, the question isn't whether the chamber will tackle this bill, but rather, when. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said yesterday the Protect Women's Health From Corporate Interference Act will be near the top of his to-do list.
"The one thing we're going to do during this work period, sooner rather than later, is to ensure that women's lives are not determined by virtue of five white men," Reid said.
Looking ahead, there are two broad angles to keep an eye on.