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U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a 2016 Republican White House hopeful, speaks to a group of state legislators at Murphy's Diner in Manchester, New Hampshire on Jan. 14, 2015. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Rand Paul takes on disability claims

01/14/15 03:19PM

Of all the people Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) could have complained about, he picked people who receive disability benefits?
Actually, yes. At an event in New Hampshire this morning, the unannounced presidential candidate suggested many Americans who rely on disability insurance don't actually deserve it.
"The thing is, in all of these programs there's always somebody who's deserving, but everybody in this room knows somebody who is gaming the system.
"What I tell people is, if you look like me and you hop out of your truck, you shouldn't be getting your disability check. Over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts. Join the club. Who doesn't get up a little anxious for work every day and their back hurts? Everybody over 40 has a little back pain."
Let's unpack this a bit. First, the Republican senator's statistics appear to be off -- as the Huffington Post reported, "In its latest annual report, the Social Security Administration says 14 percent of disability beneficiaries suffered 'mood disorders' and 27.7 percent had diseases of the musculoskeletal system or connective tissue, which would include back pain."
But more important is the implicit argument that Americans on disability are committing some degree of fraud, "gaming the system," and receiving benefits they do not deserve.
And on this point, Rand Paul doesn't seem to know what he's talking about.
Voting booths are illuminated by sunlight as voters cast their ballots at a polling place on Nov. 6, 2012. (Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)

Voting Rights Act faces Republican opposition

01/14/15 01:08PM

In theory, congressional support for a renewed Voting Rights Act shouldn't be too heavy a lift. On a substantive level, a legislative remedy to the Supreme Court ruling gutting the law is necessary, and there's at least some bipartisan backing for a new law.
And on a political level, Republicans have been forced to deal with some racially charged controversies of late, and restoring a landmark voting-rights statute from the civil-rights era would go a long way towards helping the GOP's standing with minority communities.
The problem is, Republicans just don't want to expand voting rights. In fact, as of this morning, one key lawmaker suggested he doesn't see the point.
House Republicans have determined that it's not "necessary" to enact a legislative fix to the Voting Rights Act in the wake of the 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted a centerpiece of the law, the chairman with jurisdiction over the law told reporters on Wednesday.
"There are still very, very strong protections in the Voting Rights Act in the area that the Supreme Court ruled on, which is the question of whether or not certain states -- there were, I think 11 states, all Southern states that were required by law to seek precleareance of any changes in where polling places are located and other matters like that," House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
The Virginia Republican added that the Supreme Court "found that the instances of discrimination were very old" -- a claim that might even appear true if one ignores all of the minority voters disenfranchised by GOP-imposed restrictions in recent years.
I suspect some voting-rights advocates may see Goodlatte's comments and respond, "Well of course a Republican Congress isn't going to work on the Voting Rights Act."
And while some cynicism may be understandable, it's important to realize that voting rights weren't a partisan issue up until very recently.

Mississippi school to kids: Want to be gay? Ask your parents

01/14/15 12:26PM

You know your home state has rolled forward a good bit when some of the high school kids want to form a gay club. That's the news today where I grew up, in Rankin County, Mississippi.

Their elders, on the other hand, don't sound so welcoming. When the idea of a club for gay students came up at a school board meeting last night, superintendent Lynn Weathersby suggested that the best way to curb clubs they "don't want to endorse and don't want" is to make the kids first get permission from their parents. From the Jackson Clarion-Ledger's report on the new policy: read more

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.14.15

01/14/15 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:
* Mitt Romney will reportedly attend this week's winter meeting of the Republican National Committee. It will be his first public appearance since Romney signaled a genuine interest in the 2016 presidential campaign.
* Asked about a third Romney campaign, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who ran two failed campaigns of his own, told reporters this week, "I don't know, man, it's a free country."
* Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) continues to move forward with his national plan, hiring strategist Chip Englander to oversee "the day-to-day execution" of the senator's operation. Englander last year helmed Gov. Bruce Rauner's (R) gubernatorial campaign in Illinois.
* Speaking of Paul, the Kentucky Republican was asked this week about Romney's apparent interest in the 2016 race. "Look, I like Governor Romney, I like him personally, I think he is a good person, I think he was a great businessman," Paul said. "But you know that's yesterday's news."
* Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has said dozens of times she's "not running for president" so yesterday Sheila Bair asked the same question with a different tense: "Are you going to run for president?" The senator replied, "No."
* John Podesta, a top adviser in the Obama White House, is reportedly set to "take on a senior advisory role in Hillary Clinton's emerging presidential bid." Podesta is set to leave his White House post next month, while Clinton will announce her intentions in the spring.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Road to Majority Conference in Washington on Thursday, June 13, 2013.

Marco Rubio's awkward fight for the future

01/14/15 11:28AM

It's among the most repeated of all political cliches: "Elections are about the future, not the past." Overused or not, the principle is one most political professionals take very seriously.
Note, for example, a Jeb Bush backer arguing the other day, "If donors are wistful about the past they can wait for Mitt [Romney]." Note, neither Bush nor Romney has won an election since 2002 -- and both of them got a head start in politics because of their fathers -- so there's an inherent challenge associated with them presenting themselves as the Face of the Future.
But then there's Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who can at least claim a more forward-thinking outlook. In fact, the Florida Republican is arguably preoccupied with the subject.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) criticized former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an interview with Katie Couric for Yahoo News, saying her policies are "20th century relics."
"If we don't begin to address 21st century problems with 21st century ideas, we're going to leave millions of people behind permanently," Rubio said. "We can't afford that. That would be a death blow to the American dream."
The senator used similar rhetoric on Fox News the other day: "[T]he truth is, the 20th century is over. The 21st century is here. The future is now. We need to begin to address 21st century problems with 21st century ideas. "
And at face value, that's not a bad pitch at all. Rubio is young in a party that relies on older voters for support, he's Latino in a party that relies on white voters for support, and he's energetic in a party stuck with a stale, discredited agenda.
The problem, though, is with Rubio's approach to governing. The senator's most notable recent contribution to the public discourse, for example, was unpersuasive condemnations of President Obama's breakthrough foreign policy towards Cuba.
The likely Republican presidential candidate who has no use for "20th century relics" is the same Republican defending an ineffective trade embargo that was created in 1960 and failed to produce any meaningful results over the course of 54 years.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie shakes hands with audience members before the annual State of the State address on Jan. 13, 2015 in Trenton, N.J. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty)

Christie has one foot out the door in New Jersey

01/14/15 10:45AM

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) delivered the annual "State of the State" address to Garden State lawmakers yesterday, which is ostensibly the governor's opportunity to reflect on New Jersey's progress over the last year and lay out a vision for the future.
But before the speech even began, it seemed pretty obvious that Christie wasn't thinking about New Jersey.
Christie did not invite New Jersey press to an off-the-record meeting just hours ahead of his annual speech, several local reporters tweeted on Tuesday. But he did invite outlets such as ABC, NBC, CNN, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press, according to WNYC reporter Matt Katz.
"When is a State of the State address about more than the 'State'? When in-STATE reporters are ditched for a national press only briefing," tweeted Luke Margolis, a State House reporter for News 12 New Jersey.
Journalists in New Jersey were, by some accounts, "apoplectic," and the governor's office would not explain to them why they were excluded from Christie's pre-"State of the State" briefing.
Of course, there's no great mystery to all of this. The governor, who's currently in the process of setting up a leadership political action committee, is already spending less and less time in the state he represents, so it stands to reason he'd shift his focus away from New Jersey and its media. Christie has his eyes on the White House, and reporters in Trenton aren't going to help him get there.
The speech itself was therefore predictable, but in a way that reinforced the governor's broader electoral challenges.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest arrives for a daily briefing at the White House on Oct. 15, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

On national security, rhetoric shouldn't trump reality

01/14/15 10:03AM

In the immediate aftermath of last week's terrorist violence in Paris, several Republican senators were outraged ... that President Obama doesn't use the phrase "war on terror."
Sure, the Obama administration has been extremely aggressive in using force against terrorist targets, but as Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) argued, proper conservative word choice is "the first step to actually dealing with [the security threat] on a realistic basis."
As it turns out, there's another phrase the right is demanding to hear. The conservative Washington Times reported this morning:
The White House tried to explain Tuesday why it has refused to use the term "radical Islam" in describing the Islamist terrorists responsible for last week's Paris attacks and other acts of violence across the globe.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration doesn't want to legitimize those terrorists or the "warped" view of Islam they hold. Also, Mr. Earnest said, the phrase "radical Islam" simply is not an accurate way to describe the enemies of the U.S., France and other nations across the globe.
When Earnest told reporters this week about an upcoming summit to discuss strategies to combat violent extremists, Fox News' Ed Henry wanted to know, "Why isn't this summit on countering Islamic extremism?"
The White House press secretary explained, "Because violent extremism is something we want to be focused on, it is not just Islamic violent extremism that we want to counter. There are other forms." The Fox News correspondent wasn't satisfied, adding, "Paris, Australia, Canada. Isn't that violent Islamic extremism?"
Maybe a stroll down memory lane is in order.
Then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally at West Hills Elementary School March 4, 2012 in Knoxville, Tenn. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Team Romney: if Mitt had won, there'd be no ISIS

01/14/15 09:20AM

Shortly before he lost his second U.S. Senate race in as many years, Republican Scott Brown presented a curious argument to New Hampshire voters: if Mitt Romney had won in 2012, Brown said, "I guarantee you we would not be worrying about Ebola right now."
Three months later, I still have no idea what Brown was talking about. But the thought experiment itself is nevertheless a fun parlor game for Republicans: what would conditions be right now if Romney's 2012 campaign hadn't failed?
As the Boston Globe reported overnight, some folks in Team Mitt apparently have some thoughts on the subject.
If Romney were president, one longtime adviser said, "There wouldn't be an ISIS at all, and Putin would know his place in life. Domestically, things would be in better shape."
Look, I realize Romney and his party are in a tough spot. They're not exactly able to say, "If Romney had won, we'd see a big drop in unemployment, cheaper gas, and much stronger economic growth," because Obama won and we got all of those things anyway.
But we should at least try to stick to reality here. ISIS, an outgrowth of Al Qaeda in Iraq, would exist regardless of the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. Vladimir Putin already knows his place in life -- it's the place where President Obama has outmaneuvered him at every turn and in every way.
I half-expect Romney backers to start telling us if Mitt had won, we'd all have unicorns and sports cars, too.
The dome of the US Capitol is seen in Washington, D.C., September 20, 2008.

When the far-right isn't far-right enough

01/14/15 08:42AM

For about four decades, far-right members of Congress have enjoyed a special group separate from the Republican mainstream. It's called the Republican Study Committee and it's always been home to the House's most rigid ideologues and reactionary voices. The faction even releases its own budget plan, and in recent years, has deemed Paul Ryan's blueprint as far too moderate.
The group has even offered something of a gauge for the party's overall direction -- the larger the RSC's membership, the more obvious it was that House Republicans had been radicalized.
Now, however, some far-right Republicans have decided some of their brethren just aren't far-right enough. Politico reported yesterday afternoon:
More than a dozen of the House's most conservative lawmakers will splinter from the decades-old Republican Study Committee to form a new organization designed to push the GOP caucus to the right.
The currently unnamed group will be led by Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Raúl Labrador of Idaho, sources involved with the planning said, and will probably include 30 or more Republicans -- many of them among the most vocal critics of GOP leadership.
Jordan, it's worth noting, is the former chairman of the Republican Study Committee. In other words, he's leaving his own group to form an even-more-conservative entity.
At last count, the RSC listed 173 members -- that's more than two-thirds of the entire House Republican conference -- while this new faction had 37 conservative lawmakers at their inaugural meeting earlier this week.
In an amazing twist, National Journal added that this group will be "invitation-only." For those who may not be familiar with these Capitol Hill membership groups, ideological caucuses usually encourage lawmakers to join. Indeed, the whole point is to grow in the hopes of wielding more influence.
But for these far-right Republicans, the message seems to be, "Don't call us; we'll call you."
Of course, all of this helps bolster the larger point: in the wake of a successful election cycle, Republican divisions are a genuine problem.
Beyonce, Jay-Z

Huckabee takes aim at Obamas, Beyonce

01/14/15 08:02AM

As former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) considers another national campaign, he's releasing a new book, "Gods, Guns, Grits and Gravy," with some provocative content. The former Fox News host writes, in reference to airport security, "After years of this indignity, much of the flying public thinks little of it, and they usually don't complain. They just dutifully stand there, bend over, and take it like a prisoner."
In light of Huckabee's rape joke, it seemed rather ironic that the same book complains about Beyonce and Jay-Z for promoting sexually suggestive entertainment.
Indeed, it turns out Huckabee has a certain preoccupation with the superstars.
Potential 2016 candidate Mike Huckabee seems to be dedicating a disproportionate amount energy to criticizing pop star Beyonce.
In a recent interview with People magazine, Huckabee skewers President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama's parenting skills because they allow their teenage daughters Malia and Sasha to listen to the "Drunk In Love" singer.
Huckabee concedes in the interview that the Obamas "are excellent and exemplary parents in many ways," but added, "I don't understand how on one hand they can be such doting parents and so careful about the intake of everything -- how much broccoli they eat and where they go to school and making sure they're kind of sheltered and shielded from so many things -- and yet they don't see anything that might not be suitable for either a preteen or a teen in some of the lyrical content and choreography of Beyonce, who has sort of a regular key to the door [of the White House]."
I continue to think it's a shame when the right tries to bring the president's children into the political debate. For that matter, given Huckabee's apparent ambitions, it's probably not a great idea for a politician to keep going after one of the most popular and accomplished entertainers in the world.
But even putting that aside, seeing Huckabee complain about the propriety of Beyonce's work quickly led me to a very different question: isn't this the guy who pals around with Ted Nugent?

Charlie Hebdo reborn and other headlines

01/14/15 08:01AM

Al Qaeda in Yemen claims responsibility for Paris attack. (New York Times)

Charlie Hebdo special edition goes on sale. (NBC News) Where to buy one. (Time)

Vietnam vet with PTSD is first person to be executed in 2015. (Macon Telegraph)

Virginia lawmaker wins special election from jail. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Rand Paul announces campaign manager for likely 2016 campaign. (Washington Post)

House votes on amendment to defund Pres. Obama's action to delay deportations. (The Hill)

U.S. aims to cut methane emissions by nearly half. (AP)

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Citations for the January 13, 2015 TRMS

01/13/15 11:58PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Karen DeYoung, Washington Post senior national security correspondent
  • Greg Whiteley, director of the documentary "Mitt"
  • Adjoa Adofo, passenger on stopped D.C. Metro that filled with smoke

Tonight's links, after the jump...

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