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Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) speaks during a roundtable discussion with students and educators on April 14, 2015 in Monticello, Iowa. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Clinton's platform comes into focus, including some surprises

04/15/15 08:00AM

The conventional wisdom suggests Hillary Clinton, lacking a credible primary rival, will effectively run a general-election campaign for the next year and a half. The Democratic frontrunner, who's never been the most liberal member of the party, will have the luxury of aiming for the center, much to the chagrin of the party's progressive base.
 
But as Clinton's campaign gets underway this week, it may be time to reassess those assumptions. Joy-Ann Reid reported from Iowa yesterday:
Clinton ... articulated four pillars of her still-to-come campaign platform; four "big fights" she foresees on the horizon: building "the economy of tomorrow, not yesterday," strengthening families and communities, fixing "our dysfunctional political system and get[ting] unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment," and protect[ing] our country from the threats that we see, and the ones that are on the horizon."
According to a transcript made available to reporters by a campaign aide, Clinton struck a pretty populist tone during her remarks at Kirkwood Community College, emphasizing her concern that the "deck is still stacked in favor of those already at the top."
 
She added, "There's something wrong when CEOs make 300 times more than the typical worker. There's something wrong when American workers keep getting more productive, as they have, and as I just saw a few minutes ago is very possible because of education and skills training, but that productivity is not matched in their paychecks. And there's something wrong when hedge fund managers pay lower tax rates than nurses or the truckers that I saw on I-80 as I was driving here over the last two days."
 
For all the chatter about the left's suspicions of Clinton and the challenges she'll have in earning liberals' trust, it's worth appreciating the fact that her message yesterday was decidedly progressive -- and that's without the pressure of a primary challenger pushing her closer to party orthodoxy.
 
The one comment that arguably raised the most eyebrows was Clinton's reference to political reforms: "We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment."
 
It wasn't an explicit call for changing constitutional language, but for many reform activists, it was a high-profile near-endorsement -- and a pleasant surprise.
Rubio, Paul talk circles on gay rights

Rubio, Paul stumble taking two sides on gay rights

04/14/15 09:24PM

Rachel Maddow shows Marco Rubio and Rand Paul struggling to be appropriately anti-gay for their base without offending the more tolerant mainstream. Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary, talks about "trap door" questions on the campaign trail. watch

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 4.14.15

04/14/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* An unexpected breakthrough: "The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved legislation granting Congress a voice in negotiations on the Iran nuclear accord, sending the once-controversial legislation to the full Senate after President Obama withdrew his opposition rather than face of a bipartisan rebuke."
 
* Greg Sargent walks through the political considerations of the compromise, which the White House has said the president is prepared to sign. (Sen. Bob Corker's gloating seems inappropriate and surprisingly immature given the circumstances and his position.)
 
* AQAP: "Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said Tuesday that one of its top leaders, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who had a $5 million bounty on his head, had been killed in an American drone strike. AQAP, al Qaeda's branch in Yemen, issued a statement mourning the cleric, Ibrahim al-Rubeish."
 
* Yemen: "After weeks of closed-door negotiations between diplomats from Persian Gulf states and Russia, the Security Council on Tuesday imposed an arms embargo on the Houthi fighters battling for control of Yemen and left it to the secretary general to negotiate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemenis who have endured nearly three weeks of Saudi-led airstrikes."
 
* Tick tock: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he is "optimistic and hopeful" the chamber will approve the $200 billion "doc fix" bill just in time to prevent double-digit cuts to Medicare doctors."
 
* What passes for progress: "More than three months into the new Congress, Senate Republicans held their first vote on one of President Barack Obama's judicial nominees on Monday evening."
 
* Boehner-brand hardball: "Remember when two Florida Republican representatives voted against John A. Boehner for speaker and got themselves removed from the House Rules Committee? They haven't been reinstated -- but they have been replaced."
U.S. President Barack Obama (C) speaks as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) and U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta listen at a cabinet meeting at the White House on November 28, 2012 in Washington, DC.

The ticket that can't lose -- but won't happen

04/14/15 04:49PM

Before we get into Brian Beutler's much-discussed new piece, let's stipulate some simple truths. First, Hillary Clinton has been a presidential candidate for roughly two days, so speculating about her possible running mate is premature. Second, we can say with absolute certainty that Clinton, if she's the Democratic nominee, will not invite President Obama to be her running mate. Any discussion along these lines is intended as little more than fun poli-sci chatter.
 
That said, Beutler makes the case anyway, reflecting on the Democrat's unique position and electoral needs in the 2016 cycle.
[There's] no reason Democrats should tinker with a winning formula. If Clinton can turn out Obama's voters, she will win.
 
The challenge, then, is to make sure Clinton's age and ethnicity don't discourage Obama's youthful, diverse supporters from turning out in November 2016. Fortunately, there's an easy way to make sure that doesn't happen. Clinton simply has to select Barack Obama as her running mate.
Brian acknowledges the potential constitutional pitfalls -- he calls the scenario "somewhat controversial" -- but he seems confident it's surmountable. "As a purely textual matter, the Constitution merely prohibits Obama from being elected to a third term," the piece argues. "It doesn't necessarily prohibit him from actually being president again, should Hillary Clinton no longer be able to serve."
 
Arguments like these have come up before. Eight years ago, a handful of pieces were published urging then-candidate Barack Obama to choose Bill Clinton as his running mate. Four years earlier, some made the same suggestion to John Kerry.
 
Let's be very clear: this isn't going to happen. Barack Obama will not be on the ballot in 2016. But I've received a few reader emails about this, wondering what is and isn't possible, so let's engage in the thought experiment, just for the sake of nerdy entertainment.
US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shake hands at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, Saturday, April 11, 2015. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Obama removes Cuba from terror list

04/14/15 03:49PM

Over the weekend, as the Summit of the Americas was wrapping up, President Obama emphasized how pleased he is to launch "a new relationship between the people of the United States and the people of Cuba." Obama added, "[T]he United States will not be imprisoned by the past. We're looking to the future and to policies that improve the lives of the Cuban people and advance the interests of cooperation in the hemisphere."
 
This wasn't just rhetoric. The White House is evidently quite serious about turning the page on the failed foreign policy the United States stuck to for far too long.
The White House says President Barack Obama is removing Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a key step in President Barack Obama's bid to normalize relations between the two countries. [...]
 
Obama made the final decision following a State Department review of Cuba's presence on the list. The U.S. has long since stopped actively accusing Cuba of supporting terrorism.
Ben Rhodes, Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor, said on Twitter, "Put simply, POTUS is acting to remove Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list because Cuba is not a State Sponsor of Terrorism."
 
Ben, there's no reason to drag logic into this.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie calls on an audience member to ask a question during a town hall meeting on March 24, 2015, in Whippany, N.J. (Photo by Julio Cortez/AP)

Christie shapes platform, eyes Social Security cuts

04/14/15 12:56PM

About a month ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) started telling party insiders that he's ready to make "overhauling" Medicare and Social Security the centerpiece of his national campaign.
 
He apparently wasn't kidding. The scandal-plagued Republican is launching a major swing through New Hampshire this week, announcing a nine-stop tour in the nation's first primary state, starting today at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester. According to the Wall Street Journal, social-insurance programs are at the top of the agenda.
Gov. Chris Christie called for reduced Social Security benefits for seniors earning over $80,000 and eliminating the benefit entirely for individuals making $200,000 and up, along with raising the retirement age to 69 from 67.
 
In a speech here Tuesday morning, the potential Republican candidate spoke about the need to overhaul Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and disability insurance -- perhaps the most significant policy proposal to date in the 2016 race.
Though some of specific details are not yet available, according to a copy of the speech made available to the media, Christie intends to raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67 by 2040, and again to 69 for the following generation.
 
As for Social Security, the GOP governor and likely presidential candidate envisions benefit cuts for those making more than $80,000 per year, as well as phasing out Social Security payments "entirely for those that have $200,000 a year" of non-Social Security income.
 
Christie apparently sees this as part of his bold persona, telling his audience today, "Washington is afraid to have an honest conversation about Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid with the people of our country. I am not."
 
No, he's afraid to have an honest conversation about a variety of other things.
 
In the context of the 2016 race, Christie no doubt realizes how challenging it is to cut through and generate interest in his candidacy with so many high-profile rivals already on the campaign trail. The governor has apparently concluded running as the guy who supports Medicare and Social Security cuts is the way to differentiate himself from the pack. I'm skeptical of the gambit -- much of the Republican base tends to be older -- but he's evidently prepared to take the risk.
 
It also sets the stage for a terrific debate with Democrats, many of whom are "pushing the party not just to defend benefits but to increase them"

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.14.15

04/14/15 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:
 
* Hillary Clinton will be in Monticello, Iowa, today for her first event as a presidential candidate since 2008. The event is a roundtable discussion -- not a massive rally -- with educators and students.
 
* The day after launching his presidential campaign, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will tend to his congressional duties today and will spend much of the week raising money. His first public campaign event isn't until Friday in New Hampshire.
 
* Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) acknowledged yesterday that he's "seriously considering" a presidential campaign, though he has not spelled out his timetable. It would be the Ohio Republican's second White House run, following a brief campaign in 2000.
 
* Right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson has made no secret of his White House ambitions, and he'll reportedly launch his national campaign on Monday, May 4.
 
* In Illinois, where Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) faces a tough re-election campaign next year, the Republican incumbent said the other day that people "drive faster through" African-American communities. George Mitchell, president of the NAACP's Illinois State Conference, said in response, "I think what he was trying to say is, he was trying to relate that to crime. But boy, it was a poor choice of phraseology."
Tassels hang from a cap during commencement exercises on May 9, 2014.

Debate takes shape on affordable higher ed

04/14/15 11:22AM

It was back in January that President Obama unveiled his plan to make tuition at community colleges free for students who qualify. Though the president emphasized the idea in his State of the Union address soon after, Congress' disinterest pushed the proposal from the political world's radar.
 
The White House, however, hasn't given up on the measure. Just a few days ago, Vice President Biden devoted the official White House weekly address to the issue, highlighting the broad benefits associated with the policy.
 
A few hours later, however, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) campaigned in Iowa, where he pushed an alternative approach.
"The president wants to offer you free college," Paul said, referring to President Barack Obama's State of the Union proposal to fund two years of community college (not an education at a place like Iowa State, which is a public university) for any American who wanted it. "Sounds good, at first, until you really think about it. How could it be free?  Won't somebody still bear the cost of paying professors, paying for electricity, paying janitorial services?  I've got a better idea -- let's let college students deduct the cost of their education over their working career!"
If this sounds at all familiar, it may be because the fictional Bartlett White House considered a similar idea on "The West Wing" in its fourth season.
 
Before kicking around the details, the debate itself is heartening. In recent years, we've seen Democrats talk about various proposals to make higher ed more affordable to more Americans, which Republicans have generally rejected -- too much spending, too much government, not enough free market.
 
Paul's comments at least create the basis for a more progressive debate: let's have a discussion about how, not whether, policymakers will help create educational opportunities for young adults.
 
That's the good news. The bad news is, the Kentucky Republican's idea is deeply flawed.
Republican Senator from Florida Marco Rubio on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC on January 28, 2014.

Rubio called for, then skipped, foreign-policy hearing

04/14/15 10:44AM

The problem with the recent reports on Republicans failing to show up for congressional hearings is that they're the equivalent of a ticky-tack foul in sports: it matters, but only in an inconsequential way. Sure, it's annoying that Republicans made committee attendance a key part of their 2014 campaign message, but at the end of the day, it's tough to get worked up over this.
 
But lawmakers who specifically call for a hearing, requesting certain information, and then fail to show up, that's a very different kind of story. Andrew Kaczynski had this interesting piece yesterday.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is expected to announce that he is running for president Monday, skipped a series of hearings in the aftermath of Osama Bin Laden's death, including a specific hearing Rubio had called for on talk radio days before he skipped it.
 
"Do you want the Foreign Relations Committee to be holding hearings soon into the circumstances of bin Laden's death, and the circumstances of his being harbored in Pakistan," radio host Hugh Hewitt asked Rubio on May 2, 2011. "Well, I sit on two committees that I think are going to look at this. The first is the Intelligence Committee, and I know we meet twice a week, and we'll be meeting tomorrow, and I think there'll be some questions answered there," Rubio responded.
As the BuzzFeed report makes clear, the Florida Republican specifically urged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to hold a hearing examining U.S. policy towards Pakistan. Three days later, the panel held a hearing called, "Assessing U.S. Policy and Its Limits In Pakistan."
 
Rubio skipped the hearing.
Unidentified International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors (2nd-3rd L) and Iranian technicians disconnect the connections between the twin cascades for 20 percent uranium production at nuclear power plant of Natanz, some 300 kilometres south of Teh

Republicans turn a blind eye to the science of the Iran debate

04/14/15 10:11AM

The Republican Party's strained relationship with modern science has grown more serious in recent months. GOP leaders have struggled, repeatedly, when confronted with scientific questions related to climate change, evolution, contraception, vaccinations, and in one recent instance, hand-washing.
 
But it now appears we can add a new one to the list: the science of nuclear policy in Iran.
 
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), will formally begin tackling a very controversial bill today: a proposal to expand Congress' role in international nuclear talks. In theory, the technical details surrounding the still-ongoing diplomatic efforts would be critically important, but Politico had an interesting piece the other day noting that congressional Republicans have effectively decided science doesn't matter.
Republicans will present plenty of arguments against the Iran deal in the coming weeks — but there will be no big push to knock down the scientific case for the deal, according to GOP aides and outside experts.
 
Instead, the GOP case will rest largely on convincing the public that the deal would give away too much and end too soon and won't spend a lot of time challenging the Obama administration on the science.
The report noted that the White House has focused heavily on the scientific details, "arguing that there are enough technical restrictions to guarantee that it couldn't build a bomb without getting caught." To that end, the administration has not only emphasized technical arguments from Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, the former MIT physics professor, but other proponents of the framework "have gathered enough signatures from nuclear nonproliferation specialists, including scientists, to show that there's a lot of support for the deal from experts."
 
One White House official told Politico, "We're never going to win over those playing politics, but [for] all those seeking to make sound judgments -- then yes -- we expect the science to be compelling."
 
To which Republicans have effectively replied, "Science, schmience. This is about politics."

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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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