Last week, during a memorable Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tried to press Secretary of State John Kerry on a variety of key challenges abroad. It didn't go well -- Rubio stumbled badly on several key details, and Kerry made him look pretty foolish.
Soon after, Rhonda Swan, a Florida-based journalist, wrote that the Republican senator "should be embarrassed." Swan added, "By his own standard that the next president have a 'clear view of what's happening in the world' and a 'practical plan for how to engage America in global affairs,' Rubio fails the test."
This week has been just as bad. Rubio delivered remarks yesterday, which were quickly celebrated by neoconservatives, insisting that President Obama is nicer towards Iran than Israel.
"If there are differences, they need to be dealt with privately, like you do with other allies. And more than anything else, they deserve to be treated with more respect, not less than the respect this President and this White House is giving the Supreme Leader of Iran. For he would not dare say the things about the Supreme Leader of Iran now that he is saying about the Prime Minister of Israel because he wouldn't want to endanger his peace deal or his arms deal that he's working out with them."
We know this is ridiculously untrue in part because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said largely the opposite. He told AIPAC earlier this month, "I deeply appreciate all that President Obama has done for Israel, security cooperation, intelligence sharing, support at the U.N., and much more."
Any chance Iranian leaders would celebrate "all that President Obama has done for Iran"?
Jon Chait added that Obama's policy towards Israel, even going forward, involves "continuing to provide several billion dollars a year in aid, and also providing aid in the case of attack, as happened when Hamas launched a rocket assault."
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments fairly soon on marriage equality, and civil-right proponents are cautiously optimistic that the court majority will endorse equal marriage rights for all. Depending on the shape and scope of the ruling, the practical effect of a court victory will likely mean same-sex couples will be able to get legally married, as is already the case in most states.
But how the right responds to this scenario is another matter entirely. Some, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), have pointed to a possible effort to change the U.S. Constitution. At the state level, meanwhile, Republican policymakers in places like Georgia, Arkansas, and Oklahoma are taking up bills "that would make it easier for businesses and individuals to opt out of serving gay couples on religious grounds."
It's not an entirely new fight. Last year, then-Gov. Jan Brewer (R) of Arizona vetoed a related right-to-discriminate measure. But with the high court weighing in, and several states scurrying to act, the fight is taking on additional salience.
Complicating matters, of course, is that this is unfolding in the midst of a burgeoning presidential campaign, with several Republican candidates trying to convince a far-right GOP base that they're the right's standard bearer. Yesterday, Jeb Bush weighed in on the subject for the first time.
Likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush threw his support on Thursday behind religious discrimination legislation, warning that an upcoming ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on marriage equality would make such measures necessary.
The former Florida governor made the remarks on the steps of the Georgia Statehouse when asked about the legislation pending in that state, but his response -- which was often convoluted -- was broad enough to apply to all such bills everywhere.
If the former governor is looking for a way to present himself as a forward-thinking candidate, this is the wrong way to go.
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:
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has hired Jamie Johnson to serve as the senior of director of the governor's political action committee. Johnson, a former Rick Santorum aide, is perhaps best known for suggesting God does not want a woman serving as president.
* Asked to explain the hiring decision, Perry told reporters yesterday, "I'm the candidate. And my views are the ones that matter." (Note to Perry: you're not yet a "candidate." Describing yourself as one causes legal problems you'd prefer to avoid.)
* Speaking of stories from last night's show, Hillary Clinton delivered a paid speech in New Jersey yesterday to the Tri-State CAMP Conference. "I think we have a fun deficit in America," the likely presidential candidate said to applause.
* How serious is Louisiana's budget problem? At this point, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) hasn't set aside money for the state's presidential primaries in 2016. Given that Jindal's name is likely to be on the ballot, this seems like a fairly serious problem.
* In fundraising news, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee outraised the National Republican Senatorial Committee in February, $4.3 million to $3.8 million.
"There are some potentially helpful electoral college reform ideas that deserve further consideration and analysis," the Washington Post's editorial board noted yesterday. "The Michigan proposal, based on raw partisanship, is not one of them."
And which Michigan proposal would that be? As Dave Weigel reported the other day, it's the scheme to rig the state's electoral votes, which apparently won't go away.
In 2011, that state's Republicans joined Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin in considering legislation to split up the state's electoral votes by congressional districts. While Democratic gubernatorial wins in Pennsylvania and Virginia have ended the push in those states, last week saw an electoral vote-splitting bill come back to the Michigan legislature.
House Bill 4310 would assign one presidential elector to the winner of each district and two to the winner of the state. Had this system been in place in 2012, Mitt Romney would have lost Michigan by nearly 450,000 of 4.7 million votes, but walked away with nine of the state's 16 electoral votes.
To be sure, this is not the first time GOP lawmakers in Michigan have toyed with the idea, and in each previous instance, the scheme died, in part due to public revulsion.
But Michigan Republicans are not only keeping the plan alive, they've also come to believe that public revulsion is overrated -- as Weigel noted, Gov. Rick Snyder (R), as a candidate, assured voters he didn't intend to sign right-to-work legislation. He then took office, did the opposite, faced criticism, and won re-election anyway. The "lesson of 2014," Dave noted, "was that Republicans can get away with plenty and not worry about being unseated by the left."
You've heard of "Obamacare." But how about "Obamacow"?
[Missouri state lawmakers] on Thursday sent a bill aimed at spurring growth in Missouri's dairy industry to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's desk, one of the first bills to make it that far this session.
Touted by sponsor Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, as the Dairy Revitalization Act, the measure earned a second nickname Thursday: "Obamacow."
There's a good reason for that. As the AP report explained, the main purpose of Missouri's Dairy Revitalization Act is to "subsidize federal dairy insurance for up to 70 percent of farmers' premium payments."
It passed the state House with relative ease, 110 to 49, and fared even better in the state Senate, where the vote was 31 to 2. After clearing the Republican-led legislature, the bill heads to Gov. Jay Nixon (D), who's expected to sign it into law.
And for dairy farmers in the state, it's no doubt good news to hear that the cost of insuring their cows is about to improve. But state Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican, questioned why the GOP-led legislature is eager to provide subsidies to insure cows, while those same Republicans remain fiercely opposed to providing subsidies to insure human families.
Or as state Rep. Jeremy LaFaver (D-Mo.) put it, under the "Affordable Cow Act," insurance subsidies for cows are fine, but "not for people."
Last summer, President Obama unveiled an aggressive plan to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants, setting a goal of cutting emissions 30% by 2030. As part of the administration's agenda, states would have some flexibility in how they reach the target.
It was just two weeks ago, however, that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wrote an op-ed with some specific advice for states: ignore the White House altogether. In effect, the Republican leader doesn't just want state officials to pretend that climate change doesn't exist, he also wants states to ignore the EPA and federal regulations. McConnell said the courts might derail the administration's policy, so in the meantime, state officials can and should do nothing.
None other than Christine Todd Whitman, the head of the EPA under the Bush/Cheney administration, responded to McConnell with an op-ed of her own. "I was brought up to believe that following the law isn't optional," she wrote. McConnell, Whitman added, "can rail against EPA, cut its budget, do all that he has the power to do within the law if he must, but he cannot and should not call on others to ignore a law."
As it turns out, the New York Timesreports today that McConnell was just getting started.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has begun an aggressive campaign to block President Obama's climate change agenda in statehouses and courtrooms across the country, arenas far beyond Mr. McConnell's official reach and authority. [...]
Since Mr. McConnell is limited in how he can use his role in the Senate to block regulations, he has taken the unusual step of reaching out to governors with a legal blueprint for them to follow to stop the rules in their states. Mr. McConnell's Senate staff, led by his longtime senior energy adviser, Neil Chatterjee, is coordinating with lawyers and lobbying firms to try to ensure that the state plans are tangled up in legal delays.
We're well past the strange op-ed stage; McConnell yesterday "sent a detailed letter to every governor in the United States laying out a carefully researched legal argument as to why states should not comply with Mr. Obama's regulations."
On the Senate floor yesterday afternoon, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) shared some striking concerns about U.S. foreign policy. He also offered a rather profound example of a politician failing a test of self-awareness.
Earlier in the day, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters that when it comes to the U.S. policy towards Israel, "We're currently evaluating our approach." The comments were important, but not surprising -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent antics were bound to carry some consequences.
But Cotton, the right-wing freshman in his second month in the Senate, called Psaki's comments "worrisome" -- for a very specific reason.
"While Prime Minister Netanyahu won a decisive victory, he still has just started assembling a governing majority coalition. These kinds of quotes from Israel's most important ally could very well startle some of the smaller parties and their leaders with whom Prime Minister Netanyahu is currently in negotiations.
"This raises the question, of course, if the administration intends to undermine Prime Minister Netanyahu's efforts to assemble a coalition by suggesting a change to our longstanding policy of supporting Israel's position with the United Nations."
Hold on a second. Cotton is now concerned about U.S. officials "undermining" foreign officials "currently in negotiations"?
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat down with msnbc's Andrea Mitchell, the Israeli leader said he'd already spoken with Secretary of State John Kerry, and he expected to connect with President Obama soon. Their chat apparently happened soon after.
President Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday to congratulate him on winning his country's election Tuesday.
The president phoned Netanyahu to congratulate "his party's success in winning a plurality of Knesset seats," according to a White House statement.
When is a congratulatory call less than a congratulatory call? When the U.S. leader feels the need to point out that the Israeli leader's party won "a plurality," as opposed to a majority.
Or put another way, Netanyahu's Likud party, which received roughly 24% of the vote, did about as well in Israel this week as President Obama did in 2012 -- in Utah. (Of course, Israeli has a multi-party system, so 24% represents a significant win. When combined with the votes for other far-right parties and Likud offshoots, Netanyahu's agenda and provocative pandering actually enjoyed broad support this week.)
According to the White House's official readout on the president's call with Netanyahu, Obama also mentioned "the difficult path forward to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," the White House's "long-standing commitment to a two-state solution," and the president's ongoing focus "on reaching a comprehensive deal with Iran."
Or to put this another way, Obama effectively told the prime minister, "Nice job getting 24% of the vote. If you think your re-election changes anything, think again."
At first blush, it seemed like progress yesterday when senators argued about Loretta Lynch's pending nomination as the next Attorney General, but the headway was illusory -- they were debating the wrong thing.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) argued that the Republican majority was asking the first African-American woman ever nominated for A.G. for "sit in the back of the bus," which led to a bitter dispute. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who expressed support for Lynch before changing his mind without explanation, took offense to the Rosa Parks analogy.
Away from the drama, however, a different realization was setting in: the Senate wrapped up its work for the week late yesterday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had given his word that the Lynch nomination would receive a vote this week, and with the announcement that there would be no more roll-call votes until next week, we now know McConnell broke his vow, making a promise he chose not to keep.
In theory, that might seem problematic, and Senate Democrats are understandably furious. But as Politicoreported overnight, the Republican majority has made clear that it just doesn't care.
"Zero," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said when asked how much pressure his party is feeling to confirm [Lynch] to the Justice Department position.
Why not? "Because there's zero," he reiterated.
Lynch was nominated 132 days ago. The first African-American woman ever considered for this post has waited longer for a vote than any A.G. nominee in history, and longer than the last five A.G. nominees combined. Even her fiercest critics have struggled to raise substantive objections to her qualifications, background, temperament, or judgment.
But the GOP line is, Lynch will simply be ignored, indefinitely, unless Democrats vote for an unrelated bill with anti-abortion language in it.
Rachel Maddow reports on the formation of a Post-9/11 veterans caucus in the House of Representatives, and talks with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard about the need for Congress to address U.S. actions against ISIS and overall strategy for Iraq. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on headlines from some of the bigger names likely to pursue the presidency in 2016, including a Hillary Clinton speech on summer camp for adults, Rick Perry's questionable new hire, and the influence of Scott walker's union busting. watch
Carol Leonnig, national reporter for The Washington Post, talks with Rachel Maddow about new testimony by Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy, and explains how the Secret Service ended up overwriting the video of the recent incident at the White House. watch
Last night we learned about 18 million pounds of dicarded, very explosive artillery propellant that local residents are hoping they can convince the government not to burn into the open air. Unlike the military chemical weapons stockpile being destroyed in Colorado, the propellant is not stored neatly. Instead it is strewn around an open field in a way that could best be described as...
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