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Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, in Fitchburg, Wis.

Opening a Pandora's Box on campaign coordination

10/15/14 04:27PM

This federal district court ruling hasn't received too much attention over the last 24 hours, which is a shame because its scope is pretty significant.
A federal judge Tuesday blocked enforcement of a Wisconsin election law that's at the center of an investigation into Gov. Scott Walker's 2012 recall campaign and more than two dozen conservative groups.
 
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa granted the request to block the law from the Milwaukee-based group Citizens for Responsible Government Advocates while the conservative group's underlying lawsuit challenging its constitutionality goes forward.
Let's back up for a minute, because there's an important context to all of this.
 
As regular readers may recall, Wisconsin election laws prohibit officials from coordinating campaign activities with outside political groups. Gov. Scott Walker (R) and his team have been accused of breaking these laws by directly overseeing how outside groups -- including some allegedly non-partisan non-profits -- spent their campaign resources during the governor's recall campaign.
 
When Judge Randa, a Republican appointee active in far-right judicial/political circles, first heard the case involving Walker, he ruled in the governor's favor -- not because Walker was innocent, but because the judge believed the law against coordination is effectively impossible to break. For Randa, the law was intended to prevent bribery and explicit corruption, which means so long as politicians are coordinating with groups that agree with them, anything goes.
 
As Alec MacGillis explained in June, "This is a striking claim, reminiscent of the Supreme Court's recent rulings against limits on campaign contributions -- that limits can only be justified as bars against explicit attempts to bribe politicians to change their stances on issues."
 
Under Randa's reasoning, it doesn't matter if allegedly non-partisan non-profit groups exert influence over an election, so long as the groups don't exert influence over an elected official.
 
The consequences of such thinking have the potential to be quite broad.
Ryan speaks at the SALT conference in Las Vegas

Paul Ryan's forceful rejection of climate science

10/15/14 03:53PM

The official Republican line on climate change has spread far and wide: "I'm not a scientist." The poll-tested response threads a needle -- it's intended to avoid straight-up denial of science and evidence, while at the same time, keeping the GOP's far-right base satisfied.
 
But House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has his own take, which not only involves ignoring science, but taking the next step of questioning what the science actually says. Jane C. Timm reported yesterday:
A full 97% of researchers taking a stance on climate change say it's man-made, as do 97-98% of the most frequently-published climate scientists. But according to Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, they're all wrong.
 
When asked during an election debate Monday if he believed humans cause climate change, the former Republican vice presidential nominee joined the growing number of Republicans who refuse to acknowledge the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are influencing the Earth's climate. "I don't know the answer to that question," he said according to the Associated Press. "I don't think science does, either."
Remember, according to much of the Beltway, Paul Ryan, the failed vice presidential candidate, is supposed to be one of his party's most intellectually engaging policy wonks.
 
According to the AP's report on the debate, the Republican lawmaker went on to say that "we've had climate change forever," adding, "The benefits do not outweigh the costs."
 
I'll confess, as annoying as "I'm not a scientist" is, it's marginally less ridiculous than Paul Ryan's forceful rejection of reality. He's effectively saying he knows what scientists have found, he's heard the warnings, and he's aware of the potential consequences, but Ryan just doesn't care.
In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014 photo, a voter casts his ballot at an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas.

Appeals court revives Texas' voter-ID law

10/15/14 12:40PM

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos not only ruled against Texas' voter-ID law, she did so in a powerful and forceful way. The 147-page opinion reads like a beautiful recitation of history, before concluding that the voting restrictions imposed by Texas Republicans for no reason violates both the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act and the constitutional prohibition against poll taxes.
 
Ramos also found "that the law not only had the effect of discriminating against minorities, but was designed to do so."
 
It did not, however, last long. Zach Roth reported last night:
A U.S. Appeals Court has ruled to put Texas's strict voter ID law back in place for the upcoming election. [...]
 
A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday afternoon unanimously stayed an order issued Saturday by U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos that had blocked the controversial law.... "Based primarily on the extremely fast-approaching election date, we STAY the district court's judgment pending appeal," Judge Edith Brown Clement, an appointee of President George W. Bush, wrote. It cited Purcell v. Gonzalez, a 2006 case in which the Supreme Court stopped an Arizona voting law from going into effect close to an election, to avoid causing confusion among voters.
Of course, if the goal was to make the process less confusing, Texas is moving in the wrong direction. Roth added in a separate report that the 5th Circuit may have revived the voter-suppression law, "but while the state was pushing to get the law reinstated, it stopped issuing IDs. It said Wednesday morning that it has started again. The on-again-off-again schedule could add to the hurdles and confusion that voters face in obtaining an ID. And it offers a window into the GOP-controlled state's approach to voting: In a nutshell, critics say, Texas jumped at the chance to stop issuing IDs, even though it was far from clear that a halt was required by law."
 
What an extraordinary -- and wholly unnecessary -- fiasco in a state where over 600,000 registered voters don't have the kind of ID Texas now expects them to show for the first time in order to cast a ballot. The policy has already caused voting problems in the Lone Star State and those problems are poised to get considerably worse.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.15.14

10/15/14 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:
 
* Georgia's U.S. Senate race has quickly become one of the nation's premier contests. A new SurveyUSA poll shows Michelle Nunn (D) pulling into the lead over David Perdue (R), 48% to 45%.
 
* In related news, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee may be moving away from Kentucky, but it's increasingly interested in Georgia, where the DSCC is reserving $1 million in ad time in support of Nunn.
 
* Also note, the same poll found Georgia's gubernatorial race all tied up, with Gov. Nathan Deal (R) and Jason Carter (D) each generating 46% support.
 
* In Iowa's U.S. Senate race, Quinnipiac's new poll shows Joni Ernst's (R) lead over Bruce Braley (D) shrinking to just two points, 47% to 45%, down from Ernst's six-point advantage a month ago.
 
* Colorado may very well be on pace to elect its most right-wing U.S. senator in state history, with a new CNN poll showing Rep. Cory Gardner (R) leading Sen. Mark Udall (D) by four, 50% to 46%.
 
* In the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Democrats lead Republicans on the generic congressional ballot among all voters, 46% to 42%, but Republicans lead Democrats on the generic ballot among voters who actually intend to show up, 46% to 44%.
 
* In Maine's gubernatorial race, the latest Bangor Daily News poll shows Rep. Mike Michaud (D) with a six-point lead over Gov. Paul LePage (R), 42% to 36%. Independent Eliot Cutler is third in the poll with 16% support (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the heads-up).
The Sangre de Cristo Mountains, seen here from the Great Sand Dunes National Park, are the backbone of a proposed conservation area announced Friday with a billionaire's pledge to protect 90,000 acres from development.

Colorado A.G. candidate: it's time 'we took back' federal land

10/15/14 11:38AM

About a third of Colorado's 100,000 square miles is national public land, which is managed by the federal government and owned by the people of the United States. It's a pretty familiar dynamic in many Western states, which has a wide variety of national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges.
 
But ThinkProgress reported on a Colorado candidate for state Attorney General who apparently isn't satisfied with the status quo.
In previously unreported comments that were captured on video, Colorado Republican attorney general candidate Cynthia Coffman can be seen telling supporters that she intends to lead a legal fight against the U.S. government to seize America's national forests and public lands for state ownership and control.
 
The video appears to have been posted publicly by the Independent attorney general candidate David Williams in July. It shows Coffman describing her plan to attend the annual Conference of Western Attorneys General this summer with a "mission" to build support for taking over America's public lands. Coffman says public land "has been taken from us" and that "it is time that the Western attorneys general join together and fought back against the federal government, and we took back that land."
I don't mean to sound picky, but Colorado can't simply "take" federal land because it wants to. That's plainly at odds with the American legal system.
 
Hunter joked, "Coffman also surely has to know that her proposed remedy of 'taking back' federal land is unconstitutional, though I imagine the remedy is to simply rewrite the offending parts until we get to the desired outcome. Those national parks aren't going to frack themselves, after all."
 
But the larger question is, what's up with these far-right state A.G. candidates?
Scott Brown works the phone banks at the New Hampshire GOP Salem headquarters on Sept. 17, 2014 in Salem, N.H. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty)

Scott Brown combines ISIS, Ebola, and border security

10/15/14 11:08AM

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was dismissive yesterday of an unfounded concern: Islamic State terrorists using the Ebola virus. In remarks to the Association of the United States Army, Johnson specifically said, "We've seen no specific credible intelligence that [ISIS] is attempting to use any sort of disease or virus to attack our homeland."
 
That's good to hear, of course, but the fact that it was necessary for the DHS secretary to make these comments was itself rather striking.
 
As a friend reminded me yesterday, we've heard quite a bit about possible threats from ISIS terrorists; and we've heard plenty about the dangers of Ebola; but we've apparently entered a new phase in which ISIS may strike with Ebola.
 
And where is such talk coming from? Greg Sargent reported yesterday on the latest remarks from former Sen. Scott Brown (R), now running in New Hampshire after losing two years ago in Massachusetts. In this case, the Republican was asked whether he supports travel restrictions on countries in West Africa. Brown replied:
"We need a comprehensive approach and I think that should be part of it. I think it's all connected. For example, we have people coming into our country by legal means bringing in diseases and other potential challenges. Yet we have a border that's so porous that anyone can walk across it. I think it's naive to think that people aren't going to be walking through here who have those types of diseases and/or other types of intent, criminal or terrorist. And yet we do nothing to secure our border."
Brown has dabbled in this before, but I think this was the most direct he's been to date to tie together the disparate threads of terrorism, Ebola, and border security, all at the same time, all in the hopes of exploiting public anxiety to advance his personal ambitions. (North Carolina's Thom Tillis recently pushed a similar tack, though he didn't go for the full trifecta.)
 
The politics of fear isn't pretty, and as Brown makes clear, it's getting worse. The public can, however, take at least some comfort in the fact that the New England Republican doesn't seem to have any idea what he's talking about.
File Photo: U.S. Marines from the Marine 1st Division take down a Saddam Hussein statue April 9, 2003 in Baghdad, Iraq. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images, File)

Conservatives continue to get Iraqi WMD story wrong

10/15/14 10:21AM

The New York Times has a powerful, front-page article today on Iraqi chemical weapons from the Saddam Hussein era. It's an impressive piece of investigative journalism from C.J. Chivers -- which the right is unwisely seizing on for reasons that don't make sense.
 
The article itself doesn't need embellishment. As Jessica Schulberg summarized, the Times' report reveals that "between 2004-2011, American troops fighting in the Iraq War found over 5,000 chemical warheads, shells, and aviation bombs. The discoveries were never publicly disclosed by the military; U.S. soldiers who were exposed to nerve agents like sarin and mustard gas while attempting to remove conventional weapons were denied appropriate medical care and ordered to remain silent about yet another miscalculation of the Iraq War. "
 
The article deserves to be read and taken seriously. Some on the right, however, see a different kind of opportunity. As Simon Maloy explained:
[F]or many conservatives, the real news broken by the Times is that BUSH WAS RIGHT ABOUT IRAQ.
 
It's incredible that I have to write this sentence in October 2014, but here it goes. No, George W. Bush was not right about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Now, I know what you're going say. "But look! The Times says they found WMDs in Iraq! The liberal media was wrong! Bush was right!" No, Bush was still very wrong. Very, very wrong.
Brad Dayspring, a Republican operative and former aide to then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, argued overnight that "those who mocked any statement that there were WMD's in Iraq ... were/are wrong." Someone at the conservative Media Research Center published a variety of triumphant tweets, including this gem: "Every single thing media told us about Iraq and WMD was wrong."
 
I can appreciate why the right is still a little sensitive on this. A Republican president lied the nation into a disastrous war, the consequences of which we're still struggling to address, based in large part on weapons stockpiles that didn't exist. That conservatives are still searching for some kind of evidence to justify the catastrophic Bush/Cheney failure isn't too surprising.
 
But today's New York Times report does not offer the evidence the right wants to believe.
Alison Lundergan Grimes (David Stephenson/AP)

Dems shift focus away from key Kentucky race

10/15/14 09:26AM

With just 20 days until Election Day, both parties are having to make tough decisions about how best to spend limited resources. There are going to be plenty of contests that the parties want to win, and think they might be able to win, but which will be sacrificed in a biennial exercise in electoral triage -- the parties will grudgingly give up on competitive races because they feel like they have slightly better odds elsewhere.
 
All of which sets the stage for a surprising decision yesterday in Kentucky. Benjy Sarlin reported:
In a sign national Democrats no longer believe Alison Lundergan Grimes can defeat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is going off the air.
 
"The DSCC has now spent more than $2 million in Kentucky and continues to make targeted investments in the ground game while monitoring the race for future investments, but is currently not on the air in the state," CQ Roll Call quoted a DSCC official as saying.
For the benefit of those who don't follow campaign politics in granular detail, I should note, "continues to make targeted investments in the ground game while monitoring the race for future investments" is another way of saying, "No more campaign ads from us."
 
Remember, bluffing isn't really an option for the parties at this point. There's no doubt that Democratic officials would love to defeat Mitch McConnell, and the polls suggest that the race remains close, but the DSCC can only invest in so many races -- and recent developments in South Dakota, Georgia, and elsewhere have made the Democrats' financial strategizing that much more difficult.
 
Sarlin talked to one Democratic strategist who was reportedly shocked by the DSCC's decision, pointing to internal polling that suggests Grimes is well positioned to prevail. "There's nothing on the ground that would validate this foolish decision," the strategist said. The DSCC,  obviously, reached the opposite conclusion.
 
Does yesterday's news mean Grimes' campaign is effectively finished? It's a major setback, to be sure, but it's not entirely over just yet.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks at a meeting of university officials in Little Rock, Ark., Nov. 1, 2013.

Cotton's latest whopper deals with student loans

10/15/14 08:45AM

In a wide variety of states, U.S. Senate candidates have held quite a few debates recently, and if the national media is to be believed, the most important takeaway from the discussions is what the candidates are saying about President Obama. That's a shame, because this kind of coverage obscures more meaningful revelations about policy.
 
On Monday, for example, the Beltway's interest in Alison Lundergan Grimes' 2012 vote overshadowed more alarming and consequential rhetoric about health care policy from Mitch McConnell. Yesterday in Arkansas, the Mark Pryor/Tom Cotton debate generated more headlines about the president, which obscured the latest evidence that the right-wing congressman makes a lot of claims that aren't true.
Republican Tom Cotton said during an Arkansas U.S. Senate debate on Tuesday that "Obamacare nationalized the student loan industry."
 
The first-term congressman added, "That's right, Obamacare grabbed money to pay for its own programs and took that choice away from you."
Tom Cotton may be many things. Truth-oriented isn't one of them.
 
The right-wing Arkansan recently said voters in his state should worry about ISIS terrorists joining forces with Mexican drug cartels, which really doesn't make any sense. The congressman was also recently caught brazenly lying about Congress' farm bill, and when confronted with reality, Cotton said he didn't care and would repeat the falsehoods anyway.
 
And now the Republican wants Arkansans to believe "Obamacare nationalized the student loan industry," which suggests Cotton either doesn't understand the policy he's whining about, or he does understand it and is deliberately telling voters something that isn't true.
 
Let's recap in case anyone is tempted to believe Cotton's new argument.
Abortion rights supporters rally on the floor of the State Capitol rotunda in Austin, Texas, July 12, 2013.

Supreme Court offers reprieve for Texas women's clinics

10/15/14 08:00AM

Two weeks ago, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a major blow to reproductive rights in Texas, allowing the state to begin enforcing sweeping abortion restrictions. The result, among other things, meant only eight women's health clinics would remain open in the massive state.
 
Reproductive-rights supporters had one just remaining option: appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a bit of a surprise, as Irin Carmon reported last night, the effort paid off.
The Supreme Court has temporarily reversed the devastating impact of Texas's restrictive abortion law, blocking a law that earlier this month had closed all but eight legal abortion clinics in the second-largest state. The immediate result, a rare victory for abortion rights, is the expected reopening of 13 clinics that closed on October 2. [...]
 
The main provision the Supreme Court addressed Tuesday requires abortion clinics to spend millions of dollars to turn into mini-hospitals; it has had the most sweeping impact. Combined with an earlier provision requiring abortion providers have hospital admitting privileges, which the Supreme Court allowed to take effect.
The Supreme Court's ruling was 6 to 3, with Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan in the majority, and Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas in the minority. The brief court order is available online here (pdf).
 
For supporters of abortion rights, the fact that Roberts and Kennedy joined the more progressive justices on this came as a very pleasant surprise, and offers  new hope to pro-choice advocates about the future legal fights.
 
As a practical matter, before Texas' law was approved, the state had more than 40 women's clinics, a total that dwindled to 21, and then just 8 a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday's developments at the high court will mean 13 facilities that recently had to close their doors can begin seeing patients again.
 
It's worth emphasizing that this is not the end of the legal road for Texas' restrictions. As Carmon's report makes clear, "Tuesday's action is temporary and doesn't bind the justices' votes if and when they hear the case in full. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had waved in the law earlier this month, still will have its say."

New U.S. Ebola case and other headlines

10/15/14 07:59AM

Another health care worker tests positive for Ebola in Dallas. (Dallas Morning News)

Nurses union cites sloppy conditions in Ebola care.  (AP)

The secret victims of Iraq's abandoned chemical weapons. (NY Times)

Senate Democrats' campaign arm has stopped buying ad time in the race for Sen. McConnell's seat. (MSNBC)

Pres. Obama plans campaign push in seven governor's races. (AP)

Forensic evidence shows teen shot at St. Louis officer, police say. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

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Smoke bomb thrower an unnerving mystery

Smoke bomb thrower an unnerving mystery

10/14/14 11:15PM

Rachel Maddow reports on a mysterious, disquieting incident in New York City, in which a man emerged from a subway hatch in the sidewalk, threw a smoke bomb at a restaurant, and disappeared back underground. watch

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