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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 4.1.15

04/01/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* One delay deserves another: "Iran and six world powers extended their negotiations on a nuclear deal for yet another day Wednesday, agreeing to resume talks Thursday as Iran called on the global powers to 'seize the moment and use this opportunity which may not be repeated.'"
* Arkansas: "Following intense criticism from businesses, politicians and even his own son, Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson reversed course Wednesday and said that he would not approve the religious freedom measure currently awaiting his signature unless lawmakers changed it to directly mirror a federal version. The governor had previously said he would sign the legislation."
* Nigeria: "Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria's opposition leader and a former military dictator, has won the country's presidential elections, the BBC reports. This is a major moment in the history of Nigeria's young democracy: the first time an opposition candidate has ever beaten a sitting president, in this case President Goodluck Jonathan."
* California: "Facing catastrophic water shortages across California, Gov. Jerry Brown is taking drastic action to impose water rationing for the entire state. Brown, a Democrat, unveiled an executive order Wednesday mandating a 25% reduction of water usage statewide."
* Yemen: "Shiite rebel forces backed by tanks and heavy machine guns pushed deeper into Yemen's second-largest city on Wednesday in a bid to strengthen their hold even as Saudi-led airstrikes attempt to cut off their supply lines and cripple their capabilities."
* Good for him: "In a rebuke of fellow Republicans, Gov. John Kasich used his line-item veto authority today to kill language that would have targeted out-of-state college students who register to vote in Ohio to quickly obtain in-state licenses and vehicle registrations."
* Boehner in Israel: "If the speaker of the House visits Israel, and does not say anything substantive, does it have any effect on the troubled relations between Washington and Jerusalem?"
Senate Holds Hearing On Financial Stability And Data Security

New Jersey's Menendez faces corruption charges

04/01/15 05:18PM

There's been chatter for years that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) would face a criminal indictment, but the charges never came. As we discussed a month ago, some of the allegations against the Democratic senator were quickly discredited, while others simply faded away.
But the investigation into the New Jersey lawmaker continued, and as of this afternoon, the rumored indictment finally arrived: Bob Menendez is now facing federal corruption charges stemming from alleged benefits he provided to Florida optometrist Salomon Melgen.
The expected indictment of Menendez follows a months-long investigation into his relationship with Melgen. The senator has admitted he accepted free private plane trips from Melgen, including a 2008 trip to the luxury resort of Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic. Menendez claimed to have later repaid almost $70,000 for his trips on the doctor's jet.
The Justice Department had been looking into whether, in exchange for the gifts, Menendez improperly lobbied U.S. officials to help Melgen with business matters. Two key issues include whether the senator improperly helped Melgen in Melgen's efforts to secure a port security deal worth tens of millions of dollars, as well as helping the eye doctor with Medicare regulators looking into whether Melgen had overbilled Medicare.
As is usually the case, the Justice Department isn't saying much about the indictment, though it did acknowledge the charges have been filed.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) speaks at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference, March 16, 2013 in National Harbor, Md.

GOP leader: the popular parts of Obamacare don't count

04/01/15 04:41PM

Last week, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the House Republican Conference chair, thought she'd come up with a clever way to engage the public in a debate over health care. On Facebook, in honor of the Affordable Care Act's fifth anniversary, the Republican lawmaker asked constituents to tell her about their horrible experiences with the ACA system.
It failed rather spectacularly -- people responded to McMorris Rodgers' request with testimonials about how "Obamacare" has been a lifesaver for their families. The GOP congresswoman's stunt backfired.
As news of McMorris Rodgers' misstep spread, the Republican leader was pressed for an explanation. Consider her response to the Spokesman-Review:
McMorris Rodgers said Monday that many of the success stories seemed to be centered on reforms that both parties agreed on, rather than her concerns with the health care package.
"The stories are largely around pre-existing conditions and those that are getting health insurance up to age 26," she said. "That's broad, bipartisan support for those provisions."
Ah, right. The Affordable Care Act, which McMorris Rodgers has voted literally dozens of times to destroy in its entirety, is filled with popular and effective provisions that help millions of families nationwide.
According to McMorris Rodgers, however, those provisions don't really count because she doesn't hate those elements of the ACA, her voting record notwithstanding. She only hates the unpopular provisions.
It's a shallow, self-serving posture that simply cannot withstand serious scrutiny.
Thousands of opponents of Indiana Senate Bill 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, gathered on the lawn of the Indiana State House to rally against that legislation, March 28, 2015. (Photo by Doug McSchooler/AP)

The real-world implications of right-to-discriminate laws

04/01/15 04:16PM

In uncertain times, it's good to know there are some things we can count on to be true -- things such as the unreliability of Bill Kristol's predictions.
Over the weekend, for example, the Weekly Standard editor predicted that the media would "flood Indiana looking for instances of wanton discrimination against gays." Kristol was confident, however, that news organizations "won't find any."
A couple of days later, an Indiana business owner said he's already begun discriminating against gay customers, though it was tough to corroborate the claims -- the man wouldn't provide any pertinent details about his business. An ABC affiliate in Indiana, however, reported on a more concrete example this morning.
A small-town pizza shop is saying they agree with Governor Pence and the signing of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The O'Connor family, who owns Memories Pizza, says they have a right to believe in their religion and protect those ideals.
"If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no," says Crystal O'Connor of Memories Pizza.
The pizza shop's owners said they wouldn't deny service to gay customers, but if asked, they would refuse to cater a wedding with their pizzas. (I'll leave it to you to wonder just how many gay weddings would want to cater their reception with pizzas.)
The store's owners told WBND in Indiana that Memories Pizza is "a Christian establishment," which to them means applying certain religious beliefs to their business. "We're not discriminating against anyone," O'Connor said, explaining she simply doesn't want to provide some services to gay customers that she would provide to straight customers.
This is the sort of policy opponents of the Indiana policy, who've turned out in droves to protest the right-to-discriminate statute, have warned against.
Of course, the point isn't to poke fun at Kristol for another failed prediction, or even some small business owner who may not fully appreciate what "discrimination" means. In fact, it's not just about businesses that cater to weddings.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) participates in a conversation about American foreign strategy and statesmanship at the Hudson Institute on March 18, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

McConnell borrows from 'Tom Cotton's playbook'

04/01/15 02:50PM

Last month, 47 Senate Republicans surprised much of the world by sending a letter to Iranian officials, trying to derail international nuclear talks and sabotage American foreign policy. The stunt didn't work, but the initiative itself was dangerous: when the United States communicates with foreign nations, it's important that the world hears one voice.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and his 46 friends told a foreign foe the opposite: they told Iran not to trust U.S. negotiators.
This month, ThinkProgress reports that Cotton's stunt has apparently inspired a copycat.
In an effort to undermine international negotiations aimed at combating climate change, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is telling other countries not to trust President Obama's promise to significantly reduce the United States' carbon emissions.
In a statement released Tuesday, McConnell warned other countries to "proceed with caution" before pledging any carbon emissions reductions to the United Nations, saying the U.S. would likely not be able to meet its own climate goals.
"Mitch McConnell has evidently stolen Tom Cotton's playbook for undermining American leadership in the face of international crises," a Sierra Club official said in a statement.
The parallel between the two stunts matters.
President George W. Bush (L) smiles at his brother Florida Governor Jeb Bush before making remarks at an event in Sun City Center, Fla., on March 8, 2006. (Photo by Chris Livingston/EPA)

Jeb throws the 'I am my own man' pitch out the window

04/01/15 12:53PM

After Jeb Bush turned to his mother, father, and brother to help raise money for his super PAC, I joked last week that the Republican might have to turn to Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Jeb's son, for the next fundraising appeal. What I didn't realize at the time was that it's tough to joke about these guys.
Rachel noted on the show last night that George P. Bush did, in fact, write the latest fundraising pitch for his father's Right to Rise PAC.
The former Florida governor is, as he recently boasted, his "own man," though as Rachel explained, "every member of his powerful political family would like to have a word with you about sending Jeb some money."
Of course, it's not just about cash. We recently learned that practically every member of Jeb Bush's foreign policy team worked for his father, brother, or both, and Reuters reported last night that he's embracing his brother's economic team, too.
Glenn Hubbard and Kevin Warsh, veteran Republican economic policymakers and critics of the Fed's ultra-loose monetary policy, have emerged as top economic advisers to likely presidential candidate Jeb Bush, Republican sources said on Tuesday.
Hubbard, who served as the top White House economist for former President George W. Bush, was one of the architects of Bush's tax cuts. Hubbard also advised Mitt Romney in his 2012 bid for the presidency.
After we learned that Condoleezza Rice has helped advise Jeb Bush, a source close to the campaign said there's some "sensitivity" about signaling to the public that Bush "would be a carbon copy of his brother's administration."
We're apparently well past that now.
But in the case of Glenn Hubbard, we're not just talking about one of the architects of the Bush/Cheney economic agenda, we're also talking about a unique political voice.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.1.15

04/01/15 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:
* "Right to Rise Policy Solutions" will be able to receive unlimited, anonymous contributions: "Jeb Bush has given his tacit endorsement to a new group that can collect unlimited amounts of money in secret, part of a bold effort by his advisers to create a robust external political operation before he declares his expected White House bid."
* The process to replace Harry Reid as the Senate Democratic Leader has proven to be quite easy -- New York's Chuck Schumer has it wrapped up -- but the race for Senate Democratic Whip is more complicated. Current Whip Dick Durbin claims Schumer privately assured Durbin he can keep his post, but Schumer denies having made such a promise. Patty Murray, meanwhile, is rumored to be interested in Durbin's post.
* The new Washington Post/ABC poll shows congressional Democrats more popular than congressional Republicans, with approval ratings of 38% to 27%, respectively. President Obama remains far more popular than both, with 47% support.
* Retired Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), eyeing a possible comeback in 2016, has added his voice to the criticism of his home state's new right-to-discriminate law.
* Though most of the major presidential candidates are likely to formally launch their campaigns this month, right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson said yesterday he won't announce his official plans until the first week in May.

Dems target college campuses over Congress' spring break

04/01/15 11:22AM

Congress' spring break is underway, with lawmakers away from Capitol Hill through the end of next week, and Roll Call reports that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is using the opportunity to take the Dems' message to college campuses.
House Democrats will launch a series of attacks on Republicans over college affordability over the next two weeks, when members of Congress will fan out across the country for the Easter recess.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will hit 15 Republicans via advertisements in student newspapers at colleges and universities in their districts, according to a release provided first to CQ Roll Call. The ads attack these Republicans for not supporting Pell Grants -- which provide funding for low-income students working toward undergraduate degrees.
Among the campuses the DCCC is focusing on is the University of Arizona in Tucson, pictured above. It's represented by freshman Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.).
For many young people and their families, this is clearly a potent issue -- the House GOP budget, approved last week, would impose a 10-year freeze on maximum Pell Grant awards. The Senate Republicans' plan would "no longer guarantee funding" for Pell Grants going forward.
But stepping back, there's an even larger trend underway, with GOP policymakers at the state level dramatically scaling back investment in higher education.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Frank-Walter Steinmeier during the talksin Vienna, Austria, Nov. 24, 2014.

GOP, voters at odds over policy towards Iran

04/01/15 10:47AM

International nuclear talks with Iran were facing a deadline yesterday, but the nice thing about self-imposed deadlines is that they can be as flexible as the participants want them to be.
With this in mind, the P5+1 process continued today, with a State Department spokesperson telling reporters there's been "enough progress" of late to warrant additional diplomatic efforts. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), fresh off his failed effort to sabotage the talks and undermine American foreign policy, announced yesterday that he wants the diplomacy to end immediately.
The posturing was predictable -- congressional Republicans have made clear they do not want a diplomatic solution when a military confrontation remains available. The American mainstream, however, clearly has a very different take.
By a margin of 4-1 or higher, voters in three critical swing states, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, prefer a negotiated settlement to reduce Iran's nuclear program rather than military intervention, according to a Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll released today.
Voters also support by margins of more than 2-1 an agreement in which the U.S. and other nations lift some economic sanctions against Iran if Iran restricts its nuclear program, the independent Quinnipiac University Poll finds.
To be sure, this isn't a national poll, but it surveyed respondents in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania -- three large, politically competitive states. A majority of those polled also believed the sabotage letter, organized by Cotton and signed by 47 Senate Republicans, was "not appropriate."
The results are entirely consistent with two recent national polls -- one from the Washington Post/ABC News, another from CNN -- both of which showed broad public support for the international nuclear talks.
I bring this up, of course, because the right continues to believe the public is siding with Republicans against the talks.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush smiles while talking to the media after visiting Integra Biosciences during a campaign stop in Hudson, New Hampshire on March 13, 2015. (Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

That's not what 'moderate' means

04/01/15 10:05AM

About a month ago, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) appeared on an Iowa radio show, addressing listeners who seemed skeptical of his conservative bona fides. "There's nothing in my record that would suggest that I'm a moderate," Bush said on March 6. He added that he doesn't accept "the narrative."
But as the 2016 race takes shape, it's interesting to see who does accept "the narrative."
Politico published this report overnight about reactions from GOP leaders about Indiana's controversial SB101.
Bush took a moderate line, underscoring his strategy of running a general election campaign even before the primaries: He denied that the Indiana measure was discriminatory and echoed Pence's argument that Democrats like Bill Clinton had backed similar measures in the past. "This is really an important value for our country ... in a diverse country, where you can respect and be tolerant of people's lifestyles, but allow for people of faith to be able to exercise theirs," he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
My goal is not to pick on Politico, per se, but rather to highlight the flaw in making assumptions about presidential candidates, then shoe-horning developments into narratives that match those assumptions. If folks start from the assumption that Jeb Bush is the centrist in the race for the GOP nomination, then everything he does starts to appear mainstream.
But when it comes to Indiana's right-to-discriminate law, there's simply nothing "moderate" about Bush's stance.
Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to the media in regards to her use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State in New York, on March 10, 2015.

Benghazi panel wants private, not public, Clinton testimony

04/01/15 09:26AM

It's been clear for months that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would do for the new congressional Benghazi committee exactly what she's done for the other congressional Benghazi committees: answer questions and provide pertinent information. The issue was never whether Clinton would testify, but rather, when.
Alex Seitz-Wald reported yesterday that Clinton, the unannounced Democratic presidential hopeful, continues to volunteer her time to the House panel, but she's facing some unexpected resistance about the nature of the forum.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, the Republican who leads the House Select Committee on Benghazi, summoned Clinton Tuesday morning to sit for a private interview with the committee before May 1. Clinton has previous said she is ready and willing to testify, and a spokesperson reiterated that position Tuesday afternoon.
"Secretary Clinton already told the committee months ago that she was ready to appear at a public hearing. It is by their choice that hasn't happened. To be clear, she remains ready to appear at a hearing open to the American public," spokesperson Nick Merrill said.
This may seem counter-intuitive given the circumstances. The House Select Committee on Benghazi -- the eighth congressional panel to seek answers to questions that have already been answered -- seems to exist solely to undermine Clinton and her likely White House ambitions.
Given this, it's tempting to assume that Gowdy, the far-right GOP chairman of the panel, would want as big a public spectacle as possible, featuring cameras, crowds, and drama, as Republicans pound the table and demand answers. Similarly, it's also tempting to assume Clinton would want a private, closed-door discussion, shielded from public scrutiny, so as to deny attention to discredited conspiracy theories and prevent voters from seeing her on the defensive in response to GOP grilling.
Except, those assumptions are backwards -- Clinton wants a public hearing for all the world to see, while Republicans have invited the former secretary to a "private interview."
Why is that?
US Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) (L) and Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) arrive for a news conference about their goal of permanently extending Bush-era tax rates at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 2, 2010. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Mike Pence's contradictory assurances

04/01/15 08:44AM

Six days ago, on March 26, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed his state's new "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" into law, and he couldn't have been more pleased.
"Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith," the governor said in a statement released shortly after he signed Senate Bill 101.
Three days ago, on March 29, Pence agreed the law may need to be changed.
Gov. Mike Pence, scorched by a fast-spreading political firestorm, told The Star on Saturday that he will support the introduction of legislation to "clarify" that Indiana's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not promote discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Two days ago, on March 30, Pence reversed course, saying the law would not be changed.
"Look, we're not going to change the law, OK?"
One day ago, on March 31, Pence held a press conference to say the law must be fixed.
"Let me say I believe this is a clarification, but it's also a fix.... We will fix this and we will move forward."
And then yesterday afternoon, still on March 31, Pence told Fox News' Sean Hannity the law doesn't need to be fixed.
"I stand by this law. The law doesn't need to be fixed."
So, which is it?
Asa Hutchinson

Following in Indiana's footsteps?

04/01/15 08:00AM

Republican policymakers in Indiana, led by Gov. Mike Pence (R), were warned that approval of a right-to-discriminate bill would spark a civil-rights backlash against the Hoosier State. Pence and his allies didn't listen. They should have.
Condemnations of Indiana's new anti-gay measure have been fierce and widespread, and the GOP governor finds himself under intense fire from the private, public, and non-profit sectors. Pence is now open to making some changes, but while we wait, the damage has already been considerable.
And yet, 600 miles to the South, another group of Republican policymakers are watching this fiasco unfold, and they're effectively asking themselves, "How can we bring a similar firestorm of criticism to our state?"
Arkansas' Republican-controlled House of Representatives gave its final stamp of approval Tuesday to House Bill 1228, otherwise known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), according to KARK. It now heads to the desk of the state's Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who said last week that he would sign the bill. [...]
Arkansas' legislation is nearly identical to Indiana's RFRA, which has become the subject of widespread condemnation from businesses, organizations, celebrities and politicians.
As Emma Margolin's msnbc report noted, Wal-Mart, a retail behemoth headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas, yesterday announced its opposition to the measure and urged the governor to veto it.
"Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits of diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve," CEO Doug McMillon said in a statement. "It all starts with our core basic belief of respect for the individual. Today's passage of HB1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold. For these reasons, we are asking Governor Hutchinson to veto this legislation."
We'll learn later today whether Hutchinson, just three months into his first term, takes the advice seriously. But in the meantime, it's worth appreciating the degree to which Arkansas is deliberately following in Indiana's footsteps, despite Indiana's self-imposed political crisis.

Walmart wants a veto in Arkansas and other headlines

04/01/15 07:17AM

Walmart calls on Arkansas governor to veto the just-passed "religious freedom" bill. (Arkansas Times)

A day after missing deadline, Iran nuclear talks resume. (AP)

Iraqi prime minister declares victory against ISIS in Tikrit. (Washington Post)

Watchdog groups say 2016 hopefuls are dodging campaign finance rules. (Wall Street Journal)

Secret, unlimited donations could boost a Jeb Bush run. (Washington Post)

Scott Walker, allergic to dogs, may run against political history. (New York Times)

After Christie's privatization, NJ Lottery missing targets. (AP)

Obama commutes sentences of 22 people in federal prison. (AP)

What a typhoon looks like from space. (@AstroSamantha)

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About The Rachel Maddow Show

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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