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Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.30.14

10/30/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Kaci Hickox: "The nurse who has been (technically) quarantined in Maine because she treated Ebola patients went for a leisurely bike ride Thursday morning, following through on her vow to ignore the voluntary quarantine order."
 
* The story isn't over: "Several hours after the bike outing, Gov. Paul LePage said that efforts to negotiate with Hickox had failed. Citing confidentiality laws, he did not specify his next steps. But his office pledged in a statement: 'The governor will exercise the full extent of his authority allowable by law.'"
 
* Pakistan: "An American drone strike killed at least six militants early Thursday in the South Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan, a senior Pakistani security official said."
 
* Syria: "More than 1,000 foreign fighters are streaming into Syria each month, a rate that has so far been unchanged by airstrikes against the Islamic State and efforts by other countries to stem the flow of departures, according to U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials."
 
* Israel: "Under heavy pressure and the threat of new Israeli-Palestinian strife, Israel announced on Thursday that it would reopen a contested holy site in the Old City of Jerusalem on Friday morning, a day after closing it for the first time in years."
 
* And speaking of Israel: "Sweden on Thursday became the biggest Western European country to recognize a Palestinian state, prompting a strong protest from Israel, which swiftly withdrew its ambassador from Stockholm."
 
* In still more news about Israel: "Secretary of State John Kerry is condemning remarks from an administration official who labeled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as 'chickens**t,' calling the comment 'disgraceful' and 'damaging.'"
 
* Wall Street: "It would be the Wall Street equivalent of a parole violation: Just two years after avoiding prosecution for a variety of crimes, some of the world's biggest banks are suspected of having broken their promises to behave."
President Barack Obama speaks at an event with American health care workers fighting Ebola, Oct. 29, 2014. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

'America has never been defined by fear'

10/30/14 04:53PM

Perhaps the largest chasm in American politics is the gap between President Obama's beliefs and the beliefs his far-right critics ascribe to him.
 
For six years, Republicans have levied all kinds of creative attacks against the president, but among the most persistent is the one that questions Obama's love of country. The attack on the president's patriotism has been unrelenting -- he rejects "American exceptionalism," conservatives insist. He "doesn't believe that America is a force for good in the world," GOP lawmakers proclaim. Obama sees the United States as "just another country," Republicans declare.
 
I wonder, though, whether the right paid any attention to the president's forceful remarks yesterday, delivered in front of medical professionals who've helped combat Ebola.
"[W]hen disease or disaster strikes anywhere in the world, the world calls us. And the reason they call us is because of the men and women like the ones who are here today. They respond with skill and professionalism and courage and dedication. And it's because of the determination and skill and dedication and patriotism of folks like this that I'm confident we will contain and ultimately snuff out this outbreak of Ebola -- because that's what we do. 
 
"A lot of people talk about American exceptionalism. I'm a firm believer in American exceptionalism. You know why I am? It's because of folks like this. It's because we don't run and hide when there's a problem. Because we don't react to our fears, but instead, we respond with commonsense and skill and courage. That's the best of our history -- not fear, not hysteria, not misinformation. We react clearly and firmly, even with others are losing their heads. That's part of the reason why we're effective. That's part of the reason why people look to us."
Obama's remarks, delivered without a teleprompter and largely without notes, was practically a celebration of the United States taking the global lead. After explicitly touting his support for "American exceptionalism" -- twice -- the president said recent progress against Ebola is the direct result of "American leadership."
Republican candidate for the United States Senate Scott Brown speaks at a campaign rally at Gilchrist Metal Fabricating in Hudson, N.H. on Oct. 5, 2014.

When the going gets tough, Scott Brown falls to pieces

10/30/14 04:01PM

In a season in which plenty of politicians are trying to deliberately terrify voters, Republican Scott Brown stands out -- offering a unique combination of demagoguery, cynicism, cowardice, and confusion.
 
The former senator, hoping to re-join the Senate after his other home state rejected him two years ago, started hitting the panic button in early September, seizing on Americans' fears about Islamic State terrorists to baselessly argue that ISIS may attack through the Mexican border. Brown later added that terrorists with Ebola may also try to infiltrate the Southern U.S. border.
 
The more anxiety the public feels, the more Scott Brown descends into rambling, fear-based incoherence. If crises reveal a person's true character, recent tumult reveals the New England Republican has the spine of a marshmallow.
 
Today, however, Dave Weigel reports that Brown's desperate hopes of scaring voters have taken an unintentionally hilarious turn.
In an interview with NH1, Brown rejected the idea that he was running on "fear" -- Ebola, he said, was the "No. 1, 2, and 3" issue on the minds of voters he talked to.
 
"Carrying diseases doesn't need to be Ebola," said Brown. "but the whooping cough and polio and other types of potential diseases are coming through."
Yes, the often-confused Republican believes polio -- a disease that no longer exists in the Western hemisphere -- may be sneaking into the United States. So New Hampshire should make him a senator again ... so he can tackle an issue he's never shown any interest in ... which he has no working understanding of ... and he can oppose a bipartisan immigration reform bill that strengthens border security.
A voter shows his photo identification to an election official at an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas on Feb. 26, 2014. (Eric Gay/AP)

A poll tax by another name is still a poll tax

10/30/14 12:48PM

For supporters of voting restrictions, opposition to voter-ID laws seems practically inexplicable. After all, they argue, having an ID is a common part of modern American life, and if these laws prevent fraud, the requirements deserve broad support.
 
We know, of course, that the fraud argument is baseless, but it's often overlooked how difficult getting proper identification -- never before necessary to cast a ballot in the United States -- can be in practice. To that end the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU published a report this week on "stories from actual voters" in Texas who are facing disenfranchisement for no good reason. Emily Badger flagged one especially striking example:
Olester McGriff, an African-American man, lives in Dallas. He has voted in several Texas elections. This year when he went to the polls he was unable to vote due to the new photo ID law. Mr. McGriff had a kidney transplant and can no longer drive; his driver's license expired in 2008. He tried to get an ID twice prior to voting. In May, he visited an office in Grand Prairie and was told he could not get an ID because he was outside of Dallas County. In July, he visited an office in Irving and was told they were out of IDs and would have to come back another day.
 
He is unable to get around easily. Mr. McGriff got to the polls during early voting because Susan McMinn, an experienced election volunteer, gave him a ride. He brought with him his expired driver's license, his birth certificate, his voter registration card, and other documentation, but none were sufficient under Texas's new photo ID requirement.
One person was prohibited from voting because his driver's license  "was taken away from him in connection with a DUI." Another Texan discovered he'd need a replacement birth certificate and a new ID, which required a series of procedural steps and a $30 fee he'd struggle to afford.
 
To hear opponents of voting rights tell it, voter-ID laws sound simple and easy. The practical reality is obviously far different -- and in all likelihood, the laws' proponents know this and don't care. Indeed, a federal district court recently concluded that Texas' law was designed specifically to discriminate against minority communities.
 
Under the circumstances, it seems hard to deny that we're talking about a policy of modern-day poll taxes.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.30.14

10/30/14 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:
 
* In Iowa's U.S. Senate race, BuzzFeed discovered Joni Ernst (R) published several pieces in local newspapers with text "copied word for word" from Republican templates.
 
* In North Carolina's U.S. Senate race, the new Elon University poll shows Sen. Kay Hagan (D) with a four-point lead over Thom Tillis (R), 45% to 41%.
 
* In Colorado's U.S. Senate race, Quinnipiac continues to tell Republicans what they want to hear, this time with a seven-point lead for Rep. Cory Gardner (R) over Sen. Mark Udall (D), 46% to 39%.
 
* Though most recent polling shows Wisconsin's gubernatorial race nearly tied, the last Marquette University Law School Poll shows Gov. Scott Walker (R) with a surprisingly large lead over Mary Burke (D), 50% to 43%.
 
* In Massachusetts' gubernatorial race, the new Suffolk poll shows Charlie Baker (R) leading Martha Coakley (D), 46% to 43%. Given all of the recent data, Baker has to be considered the favorite at this point.
 
* As Rachel talked about on the show last night, Sen. Angus King (I) had endorsed Eliot Cutler's (I) gubernatorial candidacy in Maine this year, but with Cutler now certain to lose, the independent U.S. senator is now urging voters to support Rep. Mike Michaud (D) over incumbent Gov. Paul LePage (R).
Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, right, embraces Georgia Republican U.S. Senate candidate David Perdue during a campaign event. on Oct. 29, 2014, in Augusta, Ga. (David Goldman/AP)

GOP overinvests in 'arrogance' talking point

10/30/14 11:37AM

Benjy Sarlin reported overnight on developments in Georgia's U.S. Senate race, including a curious new complaint from Republican candidate David Perdue about President Obama.
At a rally alongside Romney, Perdue attacked the president for encouraging voters to support his Democratic opponent, Michelle Nunn.
 
"The arrogance of this guy, coming into Georgia on our radio station in Atlanta and saying you got to elect Michelle Nunn because I need her in Washington to continue my policies to do good for America," Perdue told a crowd of several dozen supporters, referring to a recent interview by the president. "Not on my watch."
Wait, now it's "arrogant" for a president to campaign in support of a candidate he supports? Since when?
 
The president hopes Nunn wins, and he made an appearance in local media to encourage voters to support her. In what sense is this a display of "arrogance"? If Perdue wins and runs for re-election in 2020, and President Ted Cruz encourages Georgians to vote for him, would that be "arrogant," too, or does this only apply to Obama?
 
It seems like this comes up far more often than it should. We talked recently, for example, about the Republican line of criticism that Obama uses first-person pronouns more than they'd like. The complaints turned out to be baseless, at least if one compares this president to his modern predecessors, but it was all part of the GOP line about Obama's alleged "arrogance."
New York City Attempts To Remove Occupy Wall St Protestors From Park Encampment

Republicans blast 'Obamacare for Banks'

10/30/14 11:02AM

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), still scrambling to save his career, told voters in Kentucky last night about his disdain for "Dodd/Frank." The longtime senator quickly added, "If you don't know what that is, it's Obamacare for banks."
 
It's an increasingly common phrase, especially from McConnell.
McConnell attacked the Dodd/Frank financial reform bill in further audio obtained by this week by Windsor, calling it "Obamacare for banks."
 
McConnell said he would "definitely" defund the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, calling it "the biggest part of the Dodd/Frank bill."
It's not just the Minority Leader, either. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also blasted Dodd/Frank this week. "If you don't know what that is, it's Obamacare for banks," the failed vice presidential candidate complained.
 
For those unfamiliar with the law, "Dodd/Frank" is a shorthand label for the financial regulatory reform bill approved by lawmakers in 2010, applying new safeguards and restrictions on Wall Street in the aftermath of the 2008 crash. The bill's principal authors were then-Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and then-Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).
 
True to form, Republican lawmakers, who reject nearly all regulations of the financial industry on ideological grounds, strongly opposed Wall Street reform when it was under consideration, and continue to complain incessantly about it four years later.
 
But it's worth pausing to appreciate exactly what GOP leaders mean when they condemn the law as "Obamacare for banks."
U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) takes questions from reporters after the weekly Republican caucus luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington March 11, 2014.

'Mean McCain' never left

10/30/14 10:19AM

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), this week:
[McCain] blasted Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) on the North Carolina campaign trail, saying she skipped meetings of the Senate Armed Services Committee while Islamic militants executed two U.S. citizens.
 
"Here we are with Americans being beheaded, and Sen. Hagan doesn't even show up for the briefing," McCain told reporters after a Tuesday stop for GOP Senate hopeful Thom Tillis, The Charlotte Observer reported.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), two years ago:
Senator John McCain is demanding answers on the Benghazi attack, but his office tells ABC News he missed a classified briefing on the subject because of a "scheduling error."
 
The classified briefing was held on Wednesday before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee – of which Senator McCain is a member – and lasted three hours.... During part of the briefing, McCain was holding a press conference demanding answers about the administration's handling of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Maybe the Arizona Republican should have picked something else to complain about.
 
Of course, McCain isn't just complaining about Hagan. The Republican traveled to New Hampshire this week to complain about Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's (D-N.H.) work on the  Senate Armed Services Committee. "I don't see her at very many of the hearings," McCain said, citing his detail-free impressions. He added he doesn't consider Shaheen a "serious member" of the committee.
 
Because if there's one person who knows all about "seriousness," it's the notoriously wrong senior senator from Arizona.
 
Politico reported yesterday, "Mean John McCain is back on the campaign trail." I suppose that's true, though I'm wondering, when was the last time anyone saw Affable John McCain?
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks during a news conference, March 26, 2014, in Washington, D.C.

Lindsey Graham promises results for white men

10/30/14 09:31AM

Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) principal focus is probably on this year's re-election campaign, which he's expected to win easily, though the senator has also begun hinting about his national ambitions and plans for two years from now.
 
And if the South Carolinian does become a serious presidential candidate, it stands to reason quotes like these will be a problem.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is toying with the idea of a presidential bid, joked in a private gathering this month that "white men who are in male-only clubs are going to do great in my presidency," according to an audio recording of his comments provided to CNN. [...]
 
The audio snippets were provided to CNN on Wednesday by two separate South Carolina Democrats who received the recordings from a person using an anonymous Gmail address. Graham confirmed the recordings in an interview Wednesday with CNN.
The senator also joked about Baptists who drink alcohol but don't admit it, though it's likely the "white men" quote will have a greater impact.
 
Context, of course, is everything in a case like this, and according to CNN's report, Graham was speaking to an all-white audience earlier this month at an all-male club, which had invited the senator to deliver "irreverent" remarks.
 
"I'm trying to help you with your tax status," Graham says in the recording. "I'm sorry the government's so f***ed up. If I get to be president, white men in male-only clubs are going to do great in my presidency."
 
He was apparently trying to be funny.

Economic growth exceeds expectations in 3rd quarter

10/30/14 08:52AM

Going into this morning, it was tough to know what to expect from the new report on U.S. economic growth. The economy was a bit of a mess in the first quarter (January through March), contracting sharply and unexpectedly, but growth looked impressive in the second quarter (April through June).
 
And what of the third quarter (July through September)? Most projections pointed to growth of about 3%. As it turns out, it looks like the economy was even stronger than that.
The U.S. economy grew at a 3.5% annual pace in the third quarter, aided by a surge in exports and a big jump in military spending, the government said Thursday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had predicted gross domestic product would expand by a seasonally adjusted 3%. The increase in consumer spending, the main source of U.S. economic activity, slowed to a 1.8% annual pace from 2.5% in the prior quarter. Business investment on equipment, while up 7.2%, also decelerated, as did outlays on housing construction. Yet exports surged 7.8% while imports dropped 1.7%, making trade the biggest contributor to economic growth in the third quarter.
 
A 10% jump in federal spending, mostly on Pentagon hardware, also bolstered growth. It was the biggest increase in federal spending since 2009, when the Obama administration put in place a huge economic stimulus package.
The overall GDP figure is encouraging, but that part about Pentagon spending points to a potential downside to the new data -- that jump in spending won't continue.
 
Still, the news looks pretty good overall, and the report reinforces the impression that the economy is growing steadily. Indeed, this is the first time since before the 2008 crash that we've seen growth above 3% in four of the last five quarters.

Jobless claims inch higher, but remain low overall

10/30/14 08:36AM

It's disappointing when initial unemployment claims climb two weeks in a row, but given the overall direction of late, it's hard to feel too discouraged by the new data.
Applications for U.S. unemployment benefits rose slightly in late October, but the level of jobless claims continued to point to an improving labor market in which companies are holding onto the workers they already have while slowly beefing up their staffs. Initial jobless claims climbed by 3,000 to 287,000 in the week ended Oct. 25, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected claims to fall to a seasonally adjusted 281,000.
 
Claims have been under the key 300,000 benchmark for seven straight weeks for the first time since the recession ended. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, dipped by 250 to 281,000. The four-week average reduces seasonal volatility in the weekly report and is seen as a more accurate barometer of labor-market trends.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it’s worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it’s best not to read too much significance into any one report.
 
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it’s considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. At this point, we’ve been 300,000 in 11 of the last 21 weeks.
John Boehner rebukes conservative groups who oppose the pending bipartisan budget compromise, Dec. 12, 2013.

House GOP's lawyers give up on anti-Obama lawsuit

10/30/14 08:00AM

More than four months after House Republicans announced their historic plan to sue President Obama, the litigation, like so many initiatives from GOP lawmakers, has become a fiasco. Josh Gerstein and Maggie Haberman reported overnight that the Republicans' lawyers have given up on the case -- again.
House Speaker John Boehner's still-unfiled lawsuit against President Barack Obama for exceeding his constitutional power is in more trouble.
 
For the second time in two months, a major law firm has backed out of an agreement to pursue the case, sources say.
Apparently, the attorneys responsible for the case decided to give up "in recent weeks," but we're just learning about their decision now. Boehner's office wouldn't comment on why they quit the case, though a spokesperson for the Speaker told Politico, "The litigation remains on track, but we are examining the possibility of forgoing outside counsel and handling the litigation directly through the House."
 
The piece added that some in the D.C. legal community "believe it's possible no suit will ever be filed."
 
To appreciate the severity of the fiasco, consider this timeline of events:

Quarantine battle and other headlines

10/30/14 07:57AM

Quarantined nurse emerges, plans legal fight. (Portland Press Herald)

IRS eases tax burden on Ebola donations. (Wall Street Journal)

How an ugly, intra-party state Senate race could save the Democrats a House seat. (National Journal)

More turmoil for House GOP lawsuit against Obama. (Politico)

Officials: Ferguson police chief to leave his post. (Washington Post)

Abortion foes working to shut down North Alabama's only clinic get their day in court. (AL.com)

Troops to be checked for chemical exposure in Iraq. (NY Times)

Peshmerga troops start entering Syrian town of Kobani to fight ISIS. (AP)

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