Late yesterday morning, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) turned to Twitter to deliver a message to Senate Republicans: "Don't take something that should be above politics -- our sacred duty to veterans -- and pull it down into the muck of petty politics."
It quickly became clear exactly what the Democratic leader was referring to -- and the degree to which GOP senators were inclined to ignore her suggestion. The Washington Postreported late yesterday:
The burgeoning controversy over Planned Parenthood's fetal-tissue practices may have claimed its first victim: a bipartisan bill to help wounded veterans have children.
The Women Veterans and Families Health Services Act, a bill authored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) that would require fertility treatment and counseling for "severely wounded, ill, or injured" military members or veterans, had been expected to proceed through the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday. But Murray said she has asked that the bill be pulled thanks to proposed amendments from Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) -- including one that would have, in Tillis's words, prevented the Department of Veterans Affairs from working with "organizations that take human aborted babies' organs and sell them."
Left with little choice, Murray had to pull her bill -- a measure that had been considered uncontroversial -- because of the Republicans' new-found interest in crusading against Planned Parenthood.
It was a discouraging setback for proponents of expanded veterans' benefits, but it was probably just the opening salvo in a much larger campaign. Politicoreported overnight that some GOP lawmakers intend to connect Planned Parenthood to a pending highway bill, too:
Rachel Maddow shows that Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has so taken over the party primary race that candidates who want national attention to help them qualify for the Fox News debate need to make themselves part of the Trump story. watch
Rick Santorum, Republican candidate for president, talks with Rachel Maddow about the challenge of running in the crowded 2016 field and whether the Fox News debate rules put an undue burden on candidates to make a national splash. watch
Rachel Maddow alerts viewers to an upcoming appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers and shares a clip in which the two speculate about how Donald Trump will out-do himself in order to retain the media spotlight. watch
Neal Katyal, who represented Guantanamo detainees before the Supreme Court, talks with Rachel Maddow about how President Obama could fulfill his goal of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, with or without the cooperation of Congress. watch
Rick Santorum, Republican candidate for president, debates with Rachel Maddow about the Constitutional role of the Supreme Court in the United State government, and expresses his regret for his now infamous use of "man on dog" in arguing against gay... watch
* South Carolina: "Dylann Roof, the man accused in the mass shooting last month at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury on 33 counts, including federal hate crime charges, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced."
* An important detail: "A service member opened fire on the Chattanooga gunman after he crashed the gates of a military reserve center last week, an FBI investigator disclosed on Wednesday."
* Related news: "A Lawyer representing the uncle of Chattanooga gunman Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez says his client has been questioned for five days by the FBI and Jordanian intelligence without access to a lawyer."
* Iran: "The Washington Post appealed to the United Nations on Wednesday to help secure the release of jailed reporter Jason Rezaian, accusing the Iranian government of flagrant human rights violations in a year of 'arbitrary and unlawful' detention of the veteran journalist, company officials said."
* Though nearly all recent polling shows Americans endorsing international nuclear diplomacy with Iran, a Pew Research Center poll found a plurality disapproving of the deal, with Republican taking their cues from party leaders and turning against the agreement.
* Afghanistan: "After suffering setbacks and heavy casualties at the hands of the Taliban in 2014, Afghan security forces came into this year with what Afghan and Western officials acknowledge were relatively modest goals: hang on till the end of the fighting season without major collapses."
* Keep expectations low: "Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Wednesday that he has 'some significant issues' with the 1,030-page highway bill that was unveiled by Republican leaders in the Senate on Tuesday."
Republican lawmakers in plenty of states have gone after reproductive rights in recent years, but in 2013, North Dakota lawmakers went much further than most. While the trend among conservative policymakers has been to impose abortion bans after 20 weeks of pregnancy, North Dakota passed a "fetal heartbeat" bill -- which banned abortions after just six weeks of pregnancy.
The measure, which would have required some women to terminate unwanted pregnancies before they even knew they're pregnant, was never actually implemented, since a district court judge said the law was unlikely to prevail in the courts.
And on the heels of North Dakota's defeat at the lower court, the state lost again at an appellate court today. Politicoreported:
A federal appeals court has struck down the earliest state ban on abortion in the country, a move that could invite the Supreme Court to weigh in on one of the nation's most controversial social issues in the middle of a presidential election year.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday struck down a 2013 North Dakota law banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, or about six weeks into a pregnancy. The court said the North Dakota law violates Supreme Court precedent establishing that abortion is legal until a fetus is viable outside of the womb, usually about 24 weeks into pregnancy.
When North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) created the law two years ago, he acknowledged that legal fights were inevitable, but he saw the measure as "a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade."
In other words, North Dakota taxpayers were on the hook, financing an experiment of sorts -- the state would create a dubious law, knowing it would likely fail, as a political test. In the unlikely event that the law survived court challenges, policymakers would have successfully curtailed reproductive rights. If the law failed in the courts, North Dakota would have wasted time, money, and energy, which state Republicans were glad to invest in a culture-war cause.
The state can now appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but there's no guarantee the justices will want to hear the case, and even many on the right would prefer to see North Dakota quit now, rather than risk setting a new precedent in a case conservatives would almost certainly lose.
Just last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) complained that he's still waiting for a formal Obama administration plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. In May, the Republican senator, who's occasionally expressed lukewarm support for closing the detention facility, reportedly met with President Obama about the issue, and McCain says he told the president, "Okay, give me a plan. Give me a plan, okay?'
The senator added last week, "I have not heard a word since."
This was familiar rhetoric from McCain, though I've never been entirely clear on what kind of "plan" he's looking for. The plan seems to involve (1) transferring the prisoners; followed by (2) closing the prison.
But it turns out, there's a little more to it than that, and a more detailed blueprint is nearly complete. Timereported this afternoon:
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday confirmed that a plan to "safely and responsibly close" the prison at Guantanamo Bay is currently being drafted by members of the Administration. Earnest said closing the prison is in the national security interest of the United States.
"The administration is, in fact, in the final stages of drafting a plan" to close the prison, Earnest told reporters. "It is a priority of the president. He believes it's in our national security interest to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay."
The timing of the remarks matters. The New York Timesreported this morning that the administration's "fitful effort to shut down the prison is collapsing again," in part the result of ongoing Pentagon resistance.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) has adopted a strategy that's worked pretty well for him. Slate's Jamelle Bouie summarized it simply as "divide and conquer."
Reporting on the Republican's message in Iowa, Bouie noted earlier this year that Walker delivered an "effective, unwavering, and uncompromising" message to conservative activists. The governor believes he's won statewide office -- twice, in a state President Obama carried twice -- by rallying far-right voters and pushing an unapologetic, aggressively partisan agenda.
It came as a bit of a surprise, then, when the AP reported yesterday that the Walker campaign sees the candidate as a "uniter."
Scott Walker's top adviser said Tuesday that the Republican governor who survived an attempt to recall him from office is running for president as someone who can bring together a polarized electorate.
"I think he is running as a uniter," Walker adviser Rick Wiley said during a luncheon hosted by the political website Wispolitics.com.
As proof, Wiley pointed to Walker's victory in his 2012 recall election. "If he's able to unite this state and win that recall when it was the most polarized state at the time," Wiley argued, "his message works."
It's a bizarre argument. Walker was so polarizing, pushing such a radical agenda, that a big chunk of his constituents tried to force him from office hallway through his first term. The governor held on, but not before drawing the ire of nearly half of Wisconsin.
"See what a uniter he is?" one of Walker's top aides effectively asks.
The funny part of this isn't just how wrong the argument is. There's also the fact that Walker himself is pushing in the exact opposite direction. Consider this Washington Postreport from last week:
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* If you're waiting for Donald Trump to apologize for giving out Lindsey Graham's private cell-phone number, stop. "I did it for fun," Trump told Fox News this morning. Trump added, in reference to Graham, "He calls me names, you have to fight back."
* Though national polling shows Hillary Clinton faring pretty well in hypothetical matchups against leading Republicans, new Quinnipiac polling paints a different picture at the state level. The new results show Clinton trailing Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker in in Colorado, Iowa, and Virginia -- three states President Obama won twice.
* Though Scott Walker's presidential campaign is still too new to have real fundraising totals, some affiliated entities, including a super PAC, have reportedly raised $26 million for the Republican Wisconsin governor.
* Speaking of fundraising, Jeb Bush, in his first two weeks as an official candidate, reportedly received contributions from "at least 136 top-tier donors to his brother, former President George W. Bush, signaling that the family's vaunted fundraising network is quickly mobilizing to push a third Bush presidency."
* Scott Walker has apparently scheduled a motorcycle tour of New Hampshire, and he'll be accompanied for part of it by former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown (R), whose Senate bid in the Granite State failed last year.
* A year ago, Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R) political operation in Kentucky called Matt Bevin a "con man" who lies "pathologically." This week, McConnell agreed to hold a fundraiser in support of Bevin's gubernatorial campaign.
Rand Paul huddled with Art Laffer and Steve Moore yesterday ahead of a new push to promote his tax plan.
And before Republican presidential hopeful John Kasich kicked off his national campaign, he chatted with some of the exact same people.
Just after his recent New Hampshire foray, he met in New York with an influential group of fiscal conservatives including the former CNBC host Larry Kudlow, Reaganite economist Arthur Laffer, and the Heritage Foundation's Stephen Moore.
I can appreciate the fact that Art Laffer and Stephen Moore aren't household names, so the fact that they're having conversations with national GOP candidates probably won't raise a lot of eyebrows with the American mainstream. But these chats nevertheless touch on an important point about Republican politics: being discredited is not a barrier to success.
Republican leaders have generally been content to ignore former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democratic presidential hopeful, focusing their energies instead on Hillary Clinton, but that wasn't the case yesterday. The Huffington Post reported:
Republicans are outraged that Democratic presidential contender Martin O'Malley cited actual scientific research in comments about how climate change has contributed to internal conflicts in Syria.
In an interview with Bloomberg on Monday, O'Malley discussed the national security implications of climate change. "One of the things that preceded the failure of the nation state of Syria and the rise of ISIS, was the effect of climate change and the mega-drought that affected that nation, wiped out farmers, drove people to cities, created a humanitarian crisis that created the symptoms -- or rather, the conditions -- of extreme poverty that has now led to the rise of ISIS and this extreme violence," he said.
Republicans and their allies pounced. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus called the Democrat's comments "absurd." In conservative media, Fox' Stuart Varney dismissed O'Malley's concerns as "nonsense," while another conservative outlet said the former governor is "saying truly brazenly silly things to get attention."
It's hard to say what role facts and evidence play in a dispute like this, but isn't O'Malley correct?
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