Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In Iowa, the new Quinnipiac poll shows Bernie Sanders with the edge over Hillary Clinton, 49% to 45%.
* At the national level, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Clinton leading Sanders by nearly 20 points, 55% to 36%.
* At an Iowa event yesterday, Donald Trump welcomed an endorsement from Joe Arpaio, the controversial right-wing sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona.
* Chris Christie doesn't apologize often, but he apologized yesterday to the mayor of North Wildwood, "whom he referred to the night before as 'crazy.'"
* Jeb Bush's super PAC has slammed Marco Rubio repeatedly over his previous support for the bipartisan immigration reform package, but this week, Right to Rise is also hitting Rubio over the senator's misuse of a party credit card in Florida.
* Ted Cruz's favorability ratings have taken a sharp turn for the worse over the last couple of weeks, coinciding with his escalating feud with Trump.
* President Obama and Bernie Sanders don't have a strong personal relationship, but the senator will visit the White House today for a private meeting. Their chat will reportedly be held in the Oval Office.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) has already blinked on the Medicaid expansion fight, reversing course on the campaign promises he made last year. But as the Lexington Herald-Leaderreports, the Tea Party governor unveiled his budget plan yesterday and he's moving forward with plans to scrap the state's Kynect health-insurance exchange.
The Republican governor who took office Dec. 8 was specific in saying that Kynect "is going away" and added that it won't be in existence a year from now. The exchange offers a website to shop for health coverage.
Bevin predicted that a move to the federal exchange, Healthcare.gov, will save the state millions of dollars each year.
Kynect is a popular system that's worked beautifully, but Bevin is determined to scrap it anyway, in part because of knee-jerk partisanship -- "Obamacare" is bad, or something -- and in part because the new Republican governor believes the move will save the state money.
Except, it won't. State officials have already estimated that dismantling the successful Kynect system will cost taxpayers $23 million.
Just as importantly, Kentucky received millions more in federal funds to create Kynect, and the governor's decision to tear it down means the state will likely have to pay Washington back for the investment Kentucky no longer wants.
What's more, as we discussed a few weeks ago, there's also an under-appreciated irony to all of this: Bevin, a far-right governor, is also abandoning the tenets of his own ideology. By scrapping Kynect, the Kentuckian is shifting power from his state to Washington, D.C., on purpose, without explanation.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the only member of the Bush/Cheney cabinet whom President Obama kept in place, has been critical at times of the Democratic president's style.
But it's nothing compared to what Gates, now retired from the public sector, has to say about the Republican Party's 2016 field. Gates, who considers himself a Republican, was asked on MSNBC last week about the GOP's national candidates. "First of all they, they don't know what they're talking about," he responded.
Gates added, "[P]art of the concern that I have with the campaign, particularly when it comes to national security, is that the solutions being offered are so simplistic and so at odds with the reality of the rest of the world, with the way the world really works."
The Guardianreported that Gates went even further yesterday.
"The level of dialogue on national security issues would embarrass a middle schooler," Gates said of the Republican contenders at a Politico Playbook event in Washington on Monday. "People are out there making threats and promises that are totally unrealistic, totally unattainable. Either they really believe what they're saying or they're cynical and opportunistic and, in a way, you hope it's the latter, because God forbid they actually believe some of the things that they're saying."
Reading Gates' criticisms, I was reminded of the recent reaction to a GOP debate from Dan Drezner, a center-right scholar, who wrote last month, "When it comes to foreign policy, the GOP's candidates for president in 2016 are either ignorant or insane."
Ordinarily, one might not necessarily connect flamethrowers with contemporary American politics, but the devices have come up more than once lately.
Last summer, for example, Rand Paul put together some online videos in which he literally destroyed the U.S. tax code. Unconcerned with appearing presidential, the Kentucky Republican invited people to vote on their preferred method of attack: chainsaw, wood chipper, or flamethrower. (If you're curious, the chainsaw was the most popular.)
The senator's campaign hasn't gone especially well, but the political relevance of flamethrowers has endured. Bloomberg Politics' Josh Green published this eye-opening report yesterday:
Eliot Engel, a Democratic congressman from New York, is a big Saturday Night Live fan and an even bigger fan of former "Weekend Update" anchor Seth Meyers. He also thinks flamethrowers are dangerous. These are the salient facts behind what is surely the best-named legislation in the history of the U.S. Congress -- a bill (H.R. 4009) recently introduced by Engel called the "Flamethrowers? Really? Act."
The bill, which would regulate flamethrowers like machine guns, came about after Engel discovered that flamethrowers are unregulated in all but two states, Maryland and California. You can even order them through the mail, a fact that left Engel incredulous. "It's not something I'd thought about before," he admitted, "because you'd just assume -- right? -- that flamethrowers would be regulated. It just causes you to scratch your head and say, 'Really?'"
The "Really?" part of the equation may have been inspired by the Seth Meyers bit, but none of this is a joke. Obtaining an unregulated flamethrower is, in reality, surprisingly easy throughout most of the country, so the New York Democrat introduced legislation to add some federal restrictions. "Qualified law enforcement officers" would be exempt.
Officials from both of the major parties desperately hoped to avoid drama over presidential candidates' debates during the 2016 campaign. So far, that's not going well -- by last night, both parties were embroiled in unexpected controversies.
Let's start with Republicans, where the lineup is set for tomorrow night's Fox News debate in Des Moines, Iowa, but the GOP frontrunner, at least for now, doesn't intend to show up.
Donald Trump said Tuesday that he "most likely" will not participate in Thursday night's FOX News-Google debate, citing the participation of "lightweight" Megyn Kelly as well as FOX's "wise-guy" press release poking fun at Trump's rhetoric. [...]
After the press conference, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandoski told reporters that the real estate mogul "will not be participating in the Fox debate" and that it is "not under negotiation."
As Rachel noted on the show last night, Trump has made similar threats before, though this one seems far more serious and the language used by his campaign is more categorical.
As the afternoon progressed, Fox responded by mocking Trump and refusing to consider his demands, which only seemed to harden the leading Republican candidate's position.
So now what happens? There's still time for Trump and Fox to work something out -- the GOP frontrunner said he'll only speak with News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch -- so it's probably best not to make any ironclad assumptions. Ted Cruz responded to the news by challenging Trump to a one-on-one debate with no moderator, but that's unlikely to happen, too.
Perhaps the more salient question is what effect a debate boycott would have on Trump's candidacy.
Next year, on the day the next president is inaugurated, three Supreme Court justices will be over the age of 80. It creates a rare and powerful opportunity for President Obama's successor to shape the course of the court for a generation.
But what if Obama himself were considered for one of those likely vacancies? MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald reported yesterday that Hillary Clinton was asked about the possibility at an event in Iowa, and she seemed to like the idea.
At a town hall meeting here five days before the Iowa caucuses, a voter asked the Democratic presidential candidate if she would be open to nominating Obama, a former constitutional law professor and president of the Harvard Law Review, to the nation's highest court. Clinton laughed and marveled that no one had ever asked that question.
"That's a great idea," she said, noting that the next president may be able to appoint as many as four justices. "I would certainly take that under advisement. I mean, he is brilliant and he can set forth an argument."
The Democratic candidate acknowledged that the Senate confirmation hearings might be a little tricky, which seems like a perfectly fair point.
Chances are, Clinton, if elected, wouldn't pick this particular fight with Senate Republicans, who make little effort to contain their contempt for President Obama, so this is more a fun thought experiment than an analysis of a likely event.
But just for kicks, let's ask three pertinent questions.
On Jan. 2, a group of well-armed militants drove to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, took control of its headquarters, and posted guards in camouflage outside. The militia members, led in part by to Ammon and Ryan Bundy, Cliven Bundy's sons, said they were willing to kill and be killed if necessary in their effort to have federal land turned over to local authorities.
Yes, the anti-government radicals were demanding a government handout from Washington in the form of free land.
Almost immediately, the threat of violence seemed quite real, but in the days that followed, very little happened. If the militants were expecting some kind of armed confrontation, they were probably surprised to discover that law enforcement officials can be extraordinarily patient.
Last night, however, the calm was interrupted by gun fire. NBC News reported this morning:
Oregon occupation protest leaders Ammon and Ryan Bundy were arrested Tuesday in a highway traffic stop that ended in gunfire and left an anti-government rancher dead. Five others were also detained. [...]
One of their supporters, Arizona rancher LaVoy Finicum, 54, was killed in the shooting, his daughter told NBC News.... Finicum had previously stated that he preferred death to jail, telling NBC News in a Jan. 6 interview that he had no intention of being taken into custody.
Three others were arrested at the scene, and two more were arrested later "in separate but related incidents." They will reportedly face "federal felony charges of conspiracy to impede federal officers from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats."
As is always the case in a situation like this, many of the details of what transpired are still coming together, but based on what we know, it appears no one from law enforcement was hurt during last night's confrontation.
Katy Tur, NBC News political reporter, talks with Rachel Maddow about the game of chicken between Fox News and Donald Trump in which Fox News insists on including its host, Megan Kelly, in the debate, so Donald Trump says he won't participate. watch
Rachel Maddow reminds viewers of tomorrow's MSNBC town hall special from Flint, Michigan, and points out that even though the event is full, many viewers are organizing their own watch parties see the special together. watch
Rachel Maddow reports breaking news that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder will be asking the federal government to provide long term health coverage for the children of Flint exposed to lead-tainted water. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver joins on the phone to explain the details of the needs of Flint's kids. watch
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.