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Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush gestures while speaking during a town hall event at a VFW hall in Norfolk, Va. on Aug. 28, 2015. (Photo by Jay Westcott/Reuters)

Jeb Bush after Oregon massacre: 'Stuff happens'

10/02/15 04:46PM

Yesterday afternoon, as much of the nation was still learning about the tragic mass-shooting in Oregon, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said on Twitter, "Praying for Umpqua Community College, the victims, and families impacted by this senseless tragedy."
It was simple and unobjectionable. Today, however, the former governor adopted a slightly different tone.
At a South Carolina event, a questioner suggested there might be less violence, such as the murders in Oregon, if only we started merging religion and public schools. Bush responded:
"We're in a difficult time in our country and I don't think more government is necessarily the answer to this. I think we need to reconnect ourselves with everybody else.
"It's very sad to see, but I resist the notion, and I did, I had this challenge as governor, 'cause, we had, look, stuff happens. There's always a crisis. And the impulse is always to do something, and it's not necessarily the right thing to do."
I suspect different audiences will have competing reactions to comments like these. For some, it was a callous way to describe senseless violence that causes mass casualties. For others, it was more of a convenient excuse to ignore efforts to combat gun violence. Perhaps it was a little of both. [Update: See below.]
After the event, Bush spoke with reporters, one of whom asked whether his comments were a mistake. "No," he responded, "that wasn't a mistake. I said exactly what I said. Explain to me what I said wrong."
When the reporter noted his use of the phrase "stuff happens" in describing a massacre, Bush, obviously annoyed, quickly added, "Things happen. 'Things.' Is that better?"
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during the Values Voter Summit, held by the Family Research Council Action, Sept. 25, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Jose Luis Magana/AP)

Rubio needs a new excuse to ignore the climate crisis

10/02/15 03:41PM

As recently as two years ago, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) made his favorite case for doing absolutely nothing about the climate crisis. First, the far-right senator argued “government can’t change the weather,” suggesting the Floridian's understanding of the issue lacked maturity.
But Rubio then added, "There are other countries that are polluting in the atmosphere much greater than we are at this point. China and India, they're not going to stop doing what they're doing."
This year, the Republican repeated the talking point at a Koch brothers event: "[A]s far as I can see, China and India and other developing countries are going to continue to burn anything they can get their hands on.”
This rationale for simply allowing the crisis to continue with no American leadership at all was always bankrupt, but last week, it started collapsing in new ways. China, for example, announced its first-ever commitment to a cap-and-trade policy -- a step Rubio and others on the far-right insisted China would never take.
And now India is taking steps of its own.
Under growing pressure to join in an international accord to battle climate change, India on Thursday announced its long-term plan to reduce its rate of planet-warming greenhouse gas pollution and to aggressively ramp up its production of solar power, hydropower and wind energy.
So, when Rubio said China and India are "not going to stop doing what they're doing," he had it largely backwards.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., leaves the House chamber following a vote on Sept. 30, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

McCarthy commits to a 'fight to the end'

10/02/15 12:56PM

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), likely the next Speaker of the House, caused an unexpected stir this week when he appeared on Sean Hannity's Fox News show. When the Republican leader effectively confessed that his party's Benghazi committee is a taxpayer-funded election stunt, it touched off a significant, lasting controversy.
But that wasn't the only exchange of interest during the interview. At one point, the conservative host rattled off his top four priorities: "defunding Planned Parenthood, defunding executive amnesty and immigration, defunding Obamacare, and this Iranian deal is an unmitigated disaster that will lead to a modern-day holocaust." On these issues, Hannity asked, "if Kevin McCarthy is the Speaker of the House, will you tell conservative America tonight that you will fight to the end" on these priorities? Will the GOP leader "encourage every member to defund on all of those issues and use that power of the purse? Are you willing to go that far tonight?"
McCarthy replied, "The answer is yes."
The New Republic's Brian Beutler explained very well why this matters.
Hannity surely misunderstands a lot of things, but he isn’t confused about the tools available to Republicans in Congress. Planned Parenthood’s federal reimbursements, like the money that finances Affordable Care Act subsidies, can’t be turned off without new legislation that the president agrees to sign. President Barack Obama’s temporarily stymied deportation relief policies are similarly self-financed under current law. The nuclear agreement with Iran isn’t a new expenditure or a policy that entails novel administrative costs.
When Hannity says he wants these initiatives “defunded” through the “power of the purse,” he’s asking McCarthy to attach amendments to annual government spending bills or the debt limit and to give Obama and the Senate a choice between enacting them or turning government operations and the economy into collateral damage.
Quite right. It gets to the heart of why House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) earned the ire of the Republicans' far-right base -- and his own right-wing members -- ultimately leading to his historic resignation.

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.2.15

10/02/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In the new USA Today/Suffolk poll, Hillary Clinton still has a double-digit lead in the race for the Democratic nomination. The survey shows her with 41% support, followed by Bernie Sanders' 23% and Vice President Biden's 20%.
* Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said in September that he's open to the United States taking in Syrian migrants. This week, he changed his mind: “I’m putting people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win, they’re going back!”
* Speaking of Trump, he told CNBC’s John Harwood this week that if his poll numbers collapse, he's likely to simply walk away. "Right now, I’m leading every poll, in most cases big," Trump said. "If that changed, if I was like some of these people at 1 percent or 2 percent, there’s no reason to move forward.”
* A group attacking Sen. David Vitter's (R-La.) gubernatorial campaign from the right has created a new TV ad featuring a baby wearing a diaper. It's led to questions as to whether the Gumbo PAC is referencing the far-right senator's prostitution scandal.
* Speaking of Louisiana, Clinton appears to have very strong support in the latest statewide poll of Democrats. She leads with 57%, followed by Biden's 22% and Sanders' 7%.
* The same poll shows Ben Carson leading among Louisiana Republicans with 23%, followed by Trump's 19%. Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), in his own state, is running eighth with just 3%.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, walks to the House Floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Sept. 28, 2013. (Photo by Molly Riley/AP)

Washington eyes a new self-imposed crisis

10/02/15 11:20AM

Before 2011, Congress tended to transition from one legislative priority to the next. Some bills would pass, some would fail. Some would get a president's signature, some would be vetoed. Gridlock would occasionally muck things up, but there was a general sense that Capitol Hill was at least trying to address national challenges.
We've since entered a different phase of political history. Under the status quo, Congress doesn't transition from one priority to the next; it transitions from one self-imposed crisis to the next.
This week, for example, lawmakers narrowly averted a government shutdown, while at the same time, setting the stage for another shutdown fight in December. In between, it turns out, members will have to pass a debt-ceiling increase. Roll Call reported late yesterday:
The Treasury Department said Thursday it would reach the debt limit a bit earlier than was expected by many on Capitol Hill.
Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew told Congress in a new letter that thanks in part to lower-than-expected quarterly tax receipts, the extraordinary measures to forestall breaching the debt limit, combined with the new revenues, will run their course just a week after the resignation of Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, takes effect. That makes it all the more likely the debt limit will need to be addressed before his departure.
Boehner's last day is reportedly set for Oct. 30.
Almost immediately, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a press statement, calling on lawmakers to be responsible. “Failure to protect the full faith and credit of the United States would have a devastating impact on hard-working families across the country -- including tumbling retirement savings and rising interest rates for student loans, mortgages, credit cards and car payments.
"The Republican Congress must take the prospect of a catastrophic default off of the table.  The credit rating of the United States is not a hostage to serve Republicans’ toxic special interest ideology.  Yet time and again, the crisis-addicted Republican majority has threatened to shatter the foundation of our economy to advance their destructive partisan agenda.”
Well sure, when you put it that way, it sounds bad.
Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson speaks to the crowd at the Heritage Action Presidential Candidate Forum Sept. 18, 2015 in Greenville, S.C. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty)

Ben Carson asks, 'Gravity, where did it come from?'

10/02/15 10:57AM

Two prominent Republican presidential candidates offered their thoughts on the climate crisis on Wednesday, and came to two very different conclusions. The challenge comes in determining which one was worse.
Let's start with Ben Carson, who was asked by a voter in New Hampshire to explain his disbelief in climate change. The New Republic's Rebecca Leber reported on the GOP candidate's response:
"Is there climate change? Of course there's climate change," Carson replied. "Any point in time, temperatures are going up or temperatures are going down. Of course that's happening. When that stops happening, that's when we're in big trouble.” [...]
Though he had been asked about climate change, he continued, "As far as evolution is concerned, you know, I do believe in micro-evolution, or natural selection, but I believe that God gave the creatures he made the ability to adapt to their environment. Because he's very smart and he didn't want to start over every 50 years."
Carson, whose views on science are genuinely bizarre, especially for a retired physician, added, “Just the way the Earth rotates on its axis, how far away it is from the sun. These are all very complex things. Gravity, where did it come from?”
At around the same time, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), the alleged "moderate" of the bunch, fielded a very similar question. He responded:
Congress Struggles With Funding Repairs To U.S. Capitol Dome

House GOP leaders face a different kind of rebellion

10/02/15 10:22AM

One of the many advantages to being in the congressional majority leadership is near-total control over the agenda. In practical terms, House leaders can veto every bill, simply by refusing to bring it to the floor for a vote.
Immigration reform had enough votes to pass? Too bad -- the House GOP leadership didn't want a vote on the bill, so it died. Firearm background checks enjoyed the support of 92% of the American public? Oh well -- Republican leaders decided it wasn't worth lawmakers' time.
In theory, one might assume that bill backed by a majority of the House will pass the chamber. But in the real world, will of the House majority is secondary to the will of the House majority leadership.
There is one notable exception, though. Consider this report from Politico yesterday.
Supporters of the Export-Import Bank have secured enough Republican support to bring an extension of the agency's charter to the House floor later this month, according to sources involved in the whipping.
More than 30 Republicans have signed on to a discharge petition, which would force a vote on reauthorizing the government-backed credit agency. Republicans expect at least a dozen more supporters. The vast majority of Democrats are expected to sign the discharge petition, a rarely invoked procedural maneuver that sidesteps the committee process.
I didn't include the phrase "discharge petition" at the top of this piece, because I was afraid you'd stop reading, but hear me out because this is interesting.

Obama's challenge: comparing gun deaths to terror deaths

10/02/15 09:39AM

President Obama delivered angry remarks at the White House late yesterday on the nation's latest mass shooting, and included a challenge to journalists:
"I would ask news organizations -- because I won't put these facts forward -- have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports. This won't be information coming from me; it will be coming from you.
"We spend over a trillion dollars, and pass countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so. And yet, we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths.  How can that be?"
Americans have come to expect a robust governmental response to terrorism, with officials, agencies, and cabinet departments going to great lengths to protect the public from violent attacks. At the same time, however, mass shootings routinely kill thousands of Americans each year.
Just how significant is the imbalance? Let's take the president up on his challenge.

Job growth cools over the summer

10/02/15 08:44AM

When U.S. job creation fell short of expectations in August, many hoped it was a temporary setback. Today, however, we learned that job totals came up short in September, too.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the U.S. economy added 142,000 jobs in September, well below the 200,000 expected by economists. The overall unemployment rate remained 5.1%, which is still the lowest point since April 2008, more than seven years ago.
Making matters slightly worse, though summer revisions often paint a more encouraging picture, today's data points in the opposite direction. July's job totals were revised down, from 245,000 to 223,000, while August's totals were also revised down, from 173,000 to 136,000. That's a combined 59,000 jobs we thought we'd created, but didn't.
For those rooting for the U.S. economy, this isn't the report we were hoping for.
That said, overall, the U.S. has added 2.75 million jobs over the last 12 months, which is actually pretty good. September was the 60th consecutive month of positive job growth -- the best stretch since 1939 -- and the 67th consecutive month in which we’ve seen private-sector job growth, which is the longest on record.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (L) speaks while flanked by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) during a news conference at GOP headquarters on Capitol Hill, July 22, 2015. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

GOP leader tries to undo damage after Benghazi concession

10/02/15 08:00AM

On Tuesday night, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) acknowledged a fact that everyone knows, but which Republicans aren't supposed to admit out loud: the GOP's taxpayer-financed Benghazi committee is all about the Republicans' “strategy to fight and win” against Hillary Clinton. It’s not, in other words, about investigating an attack that left four Americans dead.
As the uproar continued yesterday, McCarthy and GOP leaders spent the day "scrambling to undo the damage." That included the California Republican sitting down with Fox News' Bret Baier in the hopes of putting out the fire. McCarthy, the likely next Speaker of the House, stuck to an awkwardly worded script.
"I did not intend to imply in any way that [the committee's] work was political. Of course it is not; look at the way they have carried themselves out. [...]
"I do not want to make that harm Benghazi committee in any way because it’s not political.”
On a substantive level, McCarthy's explanation was a mess. Just two days after acknowledging reality, the GOP leader now wants to pretend the obvious partisan exercise isn't "political" at all. As proof, he urges us to "look at the way they have carried themselves out." That's clumsy phrasing, but if we do examine how the committee has conducted itself, a picture of a brazenly political tool emerges.
On a rhetorical level, McCarthy didn't exactly inspire confidence. At one point in the interview, he said, "It wasn't what I, in my mind, was saying out there." Good to know.
Behind the scenes, some Republican insiders are quietly starting to refer to McCarthy as "the new Dan Quayle." I don't think they mean it as a compliment.
Gun control advocates look beyond Congress

Gun control advocates look beyond broken Congress for solutions

10/01/15 09:52PM

Lori Haas, whose daughter was killed in the Virginia Tech shooting, talks with Rachel Maddow about the vast network of gun violence survivors and smart gun policy advocates who are working toward better gun policy at the local level because Congress and Washington, D.C. is too broken to address the problem. watch


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