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U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., speaks to Illinois Republican Senate leader Christine Radogno during a Kirk fundraiser, on March 16, 2015, in Chicago.

GOP critic of Iran deal goes completely over the top

07/16/15 08:00AM

If there's a secret competition among Republicans to see who could say the most ridiculous things about the international nuclear agreement with Iran, organizers can call off the contest. Reading this BuzzFeed report, it's clear that Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has won an ignominious prize.
Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, says the nuclear agreement with Iran "condemns the next generation to cleaning up a nuclear war in the Persian Gulf."
 
Kirk, who has consistently spoken out against the deal with Iran, told WRKO's Financial Exchange radio program on Tuesday that he believes "tens of thousands of people in the Middle East are gonna lose their lives because of this decision by Barack Hussein Obama."
The increasingly erratic Republican senator, who's facing a tough re-election campaign next year, went on to say, "This is the greatest appeasement since Chamberlain gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler." Kirk added that he believes the corruption charges against Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) are part of an elaborate conspiracy to punish critics of the administration's foreign policy.
 
The Illinois lawmaker, just to abandon any sense of subtlety or propriety, concluded that President Obama "wants ... to get nukes to Iran."
 
Remember, these quotes weren't from some radio shock-jock or a strange right-wing blogger. Mark Kirk is an actual, elected member of the U.S. Senate.
 
As sad a display as this was, Kirk's unfortunate tantrum did include an element of unintentional humor. The GOP senator, as part of the same unhinged tirade, said the president will make nuclear diplomacy a "viciously partisan issue."
 
No, seriously, that's what he said. The hysterical Republican who believes "Barack Hussein Obama" will be responsible for a nuclear attack and tens of thousands of deaths, who thinks the president has concocted a scheme to deliberately turn Iran into a nuclear power and criminalize dissent, also believes Obama might be "viciously partisan."
 
Obviously, these are not the words of an official who should be taken seriously. But there's a broader point to all of this: as he draws closer to next year's election, Mark Kirk's rhetoric is getting increasingly alarming.

Presidential prison visit and other headlines

07/16/15 07:55AM

Obama will go to prison for a fairer justice system. (AP)

Fmr. Pres. George H.W. Bush in stable condition after fall. (Washington Post)

Chris Christie's debut brings no bounce as he risks missing the Fox News debate. (Bloomberg Politics)

George Pataki posts weakest GOP fundraising tally. (Wall Street Journal)

Newt Gingrich's 2012 presidential campaign still owes $4.6 million. (Political Wire)

Texas prisoner set for execution. (AP)

House Republicans to investigate Planned Parenthood. (New York Times)

read more

Second tier Republicans scramble to make cut

Second tier Republicans scramble to make cut

07/15/15 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow looks at how back-of-the-pack Republican primary candidates are strategizing to boost their national poll numbers in order to qualify for the Fox News debate, including a Rick Perry Super PAC buying ads on national outlets like Fox News. watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 7.15.15

07/15/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Eurozone: "Greece headed toward a critical vote Wednesday night on its bailout package as its creditors renewed a divisive debate over giving the country a break on its debt."
 
* More on this tomorrow: "The House voted Wednesday to approve an $8 billion bill to extend federal transportation funding until December. The funding extension was approved in a 312-119 vote."
 
* She's right: "Janet L. Yellen, the Federal Reserve chairwoman, told lawmakers on Wednesday that proposals to increase congressional oversight of the central bank could cause collateral damage to the broader economy."
 
* Major Garrett probably shouldn't expect a White House Christmas card: "President Barack Obama publicly scolded CBS News' Major Garrett during a gathering of the press corps at the White House on Wednesday, chastising the reporter for asking if the president is 'content' to celebrate the Iran nuclear deal while four American hostages remain in Iran. 'That's nonsense. And you should know better,' Obama replied."
 
* California: "Dramatic video released Tuesday showing Gardena police officers shooting two unarmed men -- one fatally -- is once again igniting debate about police use of force. And like other cases, some people view the same video in very different ways. A judge's decision to release the tape capped months of legal battles, with the city fighting to keep the tape private."
 
* It was a big news day yesterday; it's a shame this didn't get more attention: "In a broad, sometimes rousing speech, President Obama on Tuesday laid out an ambitious road map for re-imagining America's criminal justice system, saying the present system is 'particularly skewed by race and by wealth,' and not only costly to taxpayers, but to society as a whole."
 
* Bill Clinton at the NAACP's annual national convention: "Former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday said the tough on crime bill he signed as president put too many people in jail whose punishment did not fit their crimes.... 'I signed a bill that made the problem worse. And I want to admit it,' he said."
President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House. (Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Obama plays devil's advocate ... to himself

07/15/15 05:02PM

President Obama hosted a White House press conference this afternoon, the bulk of which dealt with the details of the international nuclear agreement with Iran. Reporters pressed Obama on several angles, and the president, to his credit, didn't dodge anything -- he offered detailed responses and defenses to every inquiry.
 
And then Obama did something I've never seen him -- or really, any president -- do. From the transcript:
"All right. Have we exhausted Iran questions here? I think there's a helicopter that's coming. But I really am enjoying this Iran debate.
 
"Topics that may not have been touched upon, criticisms that you've heard that I did not answer.... I just want to make sure that we're not leaving any stones un-turned here."
It's really worth watching the video of this portion, because I've never seen anything like it at a White House press conference. In effect, Obama wanted to hear every possible criticism -- from Republicans, from Israeli officials, from the media, anyone -- of the Iran deal so that he could explain, in detail, why those criticisms are wrong.
 
Ordinarily, in response to a breakthrough diplomatic achievement like this one, you might expect to see a president sidestep criticisms and focus on praise and international support, all in the hopes of building public and congressional support. It's typical, and arguably natural, for a president to downplay the role of naysayers.
 
Obama did the exact opposite. He welcomed criticisms. He literally sought them out. The president seemed eager, if not genuinely enthusiastic, about hearing the very worst critics could come up with. Obama effectively stood at the podium for an hour and said, "Give me your best shot."
 
Indeed, after calling on specific reporters by name, Obama moved to a freer, more open press conference towards the end, pointing to those who had something negative to ask about the deal, all because the president was looking for critical talking points that he could debunk in real time.
 
Take a close look in the above clip at what the president does towards the end: he reaches into his pocket, pulls out a note, and says, "I'm just going to look -- I made some notes about many of the arguments -- the other arguments that I've heard here...."
Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney listens as his wife Lynne Cheney speaks about her book "James Madison: A Life Reconsidered" May 12, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

The failure Cheney doesn't want to talk about

07/15/15 04:20PM

President Obama and his team, working with our allies and negotiating partners, reached a historic diplomatic agreement with Iran yesterday, effectively ensuring that a dangerous Middle East foe will not acquire nuclear weapons.
 
And wouldn't you know it, Dick Cheney is outraged. MSNBC's Eric Levitz reported this morning:
By reaching a historic deal that forces Iran to significantly scale back its nuclear program, President Obama has brought the world closer to nuclear war than it has been since World War II, according to former Vice President Dick Cheney.
 
Cheney told Fox News' Sean Hannity on Tuesday that the deal will not only enable Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, but motivate its enemies in the Middle East to develop their own nukes, setting off a potentially catastrophic arms race.
"What Obama has done is, in effect, sanctioned the acquisition by Iran of nuclear capability," the failed former vice president said, apparently content to turn reality on its ear.
 
Cheney added that he believes the agreement to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program will "put us closer to use -- actual use of nuclear weapons than we've been at any time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II."
 
Got that? There was a Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, but the international agreement that stops Iran's nuclear weapons is, from the unique perspective of Dick Cheney, even more dangerous.
 
Rather than going point by point, fact-checking every error of fact and judgment the former V.P. made, it's probably more informative to shine a light on the detail Cheney chose not to mention.
The Confederate flag is seen outside the South Carolina State House Building in Columbia, S.C., on June 23, 2015. (Photo by John Taggart/EPA)

Can Confederate flags cause a government shutdown?

07/15/15 12:45PM

House Republican leaders tried to vote last week on a spending bill to fund the Interior Department, but it didn't turn out well. The measure included amendments on displaying Confederate flags on graves in federal cemeteries and the sale of Confederate flag and national park gift stores, which caused an ugly fight, and which led GOP leaders to pull the bill altogether.
 
Soon after, Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) appeared on a conservative radio show and got pretty worked up about the issue. "That was [the Democrats'] battle flag, not our battle flag, our battle flag was the stars and stripes with President Lincoln," Olson said. "[Democrats] have no credibility. Just shut up. Apologize now."
 
It's not altogether clear what the congressman wants Democrats to apologize for, but his over-the-top reaction is emblematic of an amazing breakdown in the legislative process that's currently underway. Roll Call reported yesterday afternoon:
Don't expect any more appropriations bills to make it through the House chamber any time soon. Not until Republicans and Democrats work out issues on the Confederate flag.
 
That was the message to members on Tuesday from Speaker John A. Boehner, according to Rep. John Fleming. Boehner reportedly told Republicans during their weekly closed-door meeting there was a hold on all spending bills until they could figure something out on the Confederate flag.
Think about that for a minute. In 2015 -- a mere century and a half after the end of the Civil War -- the U.S. House of Representatives can't pass spending bills because of Confederate flags.
 
It's even raising the specter of a possible government shutdown. No, seriously.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.15.15

07/15/15 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:
 
* In the new USA Today/Suffolk poll, Hillary Clinton leads each of her Republican rivals in hypothetical general-election match-ups. Jeb Bush comes closest, trialing by only four points, followed by Marco Rubio who trails by six. Mike Huckabee is down by eight, Scott Walker by nine, and Rand Paul by 10. Clinton's advantage over Donald Trump is 17 points.
 
* On a related note, Trump said of Clinton this week, "The last person she wants to face is Donald Trump." He must have missed the poll.
 
* A new national Monmouth poll shows Clinton leading Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) among Democrats nationwide by 34 points, 51% to 17%. A month ago, the same pollster showed Clinton's Democratic advantage at 45 points.
 
* The new Washington Post/ABC News poll found Hillary Clinton's favorability ratings trending up in recent months. In May, she was underwater at 45-49 favorable-unfavorable, while the new results show those figures largely reversed at 52-45.
 
* Donald Trump appeared via phone on msnbc this morning, once again vowing, "I'll get the Hispanic vote. I have so many thousands that work for me"
 
* Rick Perry's super PAC, eager to see the former Texas governor qualify for the debates, is skipping television ad buys in Iowa and New Hampshire, and instead buying "hundreds of thousands of dollars" worth of ad time on Fox News and other national cable channels.
Same-sex couple exchange rings during their wedding ceremony (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty).

So much for the GOP's 'pivot' on marriage rights

07/15/15 11:20AM

It was just two weeks ago that the New York Times reported that many Republican insiders saw a bright, silver lining to the Supreme Court case bringing marriage equality to the nation. The ruling offers the GOP a chance to "pivot" away from an issue on which the party is "sharply out of step with the American public."
 
The piece noted some Republican strategists privately characterized the high court decisions as "nothing short of a gift from above."
 
It is, however, a gift that the party apparently doesn't want. The Hill reported this week:
Pressure is mounting on House GOP leaders to call a vote this month on a religious-freedom bill banning the federal government from punishing churches, charities or private schools for actions in opposition to same-sex marriage.
 
The legislation, dubbed the First Amendment Defense Act, is gaining steam.
That's a fair characterization. In the House, the bill is up to 124 co-sponsors -- including 17 who've signed on just this week -- and in the Senate, a companion measure has 34 co-sponsors, which is nearly two-thirds of the Senate Republican caucus.
 
Heritage Action isn't just pushing party leaders to support the legislation, the far-right group is including co-sponsorship of the bill as a "key vote" that will go towards members' ratings on Heritage scorecards. (Usually, "key votes" are actual votes on legislation. Heritage is going one step further on this, treating sponsorship as a vote.)
 
Even Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a relatively constructive member who's close to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said he hopes to see the proposal on the House floor. "Members going home for August town halls would like to have had an opportunity to stake out their position on this," Cole said, adding, "There's clearly quite a head of steam."
 
So much for the "pivot."

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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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