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Georgia Republican makes the case against Sunday voting

09/09/14 04:06PM

When it comes to Republican efforts to restrict voting rights, some arguments are easier than others. Voter-ID laws, for example, are awful and unnecessary, but on the surface, the right can at least sell the idea in a coherent way by raising the specter of "fraud." It's why polls generally show pretty consistent support for voter-ID measures -- they needlessly disenfranchise many Americans, but most of the public doesn't know that.
But other aspects of the "war on voting" are much harder to defend, even on a rhetorical level. Why, for example, would Republican policymakers oppose voting the Sunday before the election? If most people in the community have the day off, and find Sunday voting convenient, why deny voters that opportunity?
As a rule, GOP officials opposed to Sunday voting have a tough time rationalizing the policy -- though they keep trying to cut off Sunday voting anyway -- but Rick Hasen brings our attention to an interesting report out of Georgia.
Apparently, DeKalb County, home to Atlanta, has extended early voting to include Oct. 26 -- a Sunday -- with a polling station at a popular local shopping mall. As the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported, it led state Sen. Fran Millar (R) to write an angry response.
"How ironic! Michele [sic] Obama comes to town and Chicago politics comes to DeKalb. [...]
"Now we are to have Sunday voting at South DeKalb Mall just prior to the election. Per Jim Galloway of the AJC, this location is dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American mega churches such as New Birth Missionary Baptist. Galloway also points out the Democratic Party thinks this is a wonderful idea -- what a surprise. I'm sure Michelle Nunn and Jason Carter are delighted with this blatantly partisan move in DeKalb.
"Is it possible church buses will be used to transport people directly to the mall since the poll will open when the mall opens? If this happens, so much for the accepted principle of separation of church and state."
Hmm. Let's unpack this a bit, because it offers a fascinating perspective.
Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., speaks to people demonstrating against the health care bill on the U.S. Capitol steps a day before Congress is set to vote on health care reform on Saturday, March 20, 2010 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Kingston gives away the game on Congress' ISIS debate

09/09/14 01:00PM

President Obama will deliver a prime-time address tomorrow night from the White House, speaking to the nation about "the threat posed by ISIL" and presenting "the United States' strategy for degrading and ultimately destroying the terrorist group."
It's part of an ongoing, multi-faceted campaign, which includes airstrikes in Iraq, international coalition building, detailed briefings for members of both the House and Senate, and as of tomorrow, a rare national address from the president.
But while Obama and his team keep quite busy preparing for the next phase of a national-security mission in the Middle East, it's hard not to notice that Congress isn't exactly busy. Will lawmakers make any effort to do their duty and engage in a real debate about U.S. foreign policy?
Democratic leaders in the Senate and Republican leaders in the House want to avoid a public vote to authorize force, fearing the unknown political consequences eight weeks before the midterm elections on Nov. 4.
''A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, 'Just bomb the place and tell us about it later,' '' said Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, who supports having an authorization vote. ''It's an election year. A lot of Democrats don't know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don't want to change anything. We like the path we're on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long.''
Though Kingston's candor is appreciated, this is still a pretty remarkable thing for a member of Congress to say out loud and on the record.
The quote offers a peek behind the curtain -- quite a few members of Congress are content to simply complain from the sidelines, constitutional obligations notwithstanding.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.9.14

09/09/14 12:04PM

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:
* In the new Washington Post/ABC News poll, Republicans lead Democrats on the generic ballot, 47% to 44%, among likely voters. Among registered voters, Democrats lead, 46% to 44%.
* On a related note, the poll shows a big gender gap: Democrats lead by 12 points among women, while Republicans lead by eight points among men.
* Today is the final Primary Day of 2014, with contests in Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island. Among the key races to watch: Rep. John Tierney's Democratic primary in Massachusetts.
* Former Sen. Scott Brown (R) was introduced by a supporter at an event yesterday, who shared a story about a local voter who wanted to meet the Republican candidate. The local voter "always thought Scott was kind of a phony from Massachusetts," but now realizes "he's a phony from New Hampshire that just happened to live in Massachusetts for a little while."
* In Michigan's U.S. Senate race, a new PPP survey shows Rep. Gary Peters (D) with a growing lead over Terri Lynn Land (R). The Democrat is now up by seven in this poll, 43% to 36%.
* On a related note, the same poll showed Michigan's gubernatorial race nearly tied, with incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder (R) leading Mark Schauer (D) by just one point, 43% to 42%.
* The latest Gallup poll puts Congress' approval rating at just 14%. That's "one of the lowest Gallup has recorded in the fall of a midterm election year since Gallup first measured approval of Congress in the current format in 1974."
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) speaks at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference, March 16, 2013 in National Harbor, Md.

The fury of a staffer scorned?

09/09/14 11:46AM

Back in March, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the chair of the House Republican Conference and the #4 leader in the chamber, received some good news and some bad news from the House Ethics Committee. The panel, as Zack Roth reported at the time, declined to appoint a special investigative panel "to probe whether a top Republican improperly used official funds to boost her political career," but it didn't drop the case, either.
McMorris Rodgers was accused of improperly co-mingling campaign and official funds and the Ethics Committee was interested enough in the case to recommend subpoenas for two former members of McMorris Rodgers' team.
It's unusual for a member of the House leadership to face ethics allegations like these, but in the months that followed, the McMorris Rodgers controversy largely faded away. That is, until yesterday, when a former staffer for the Washington Republican made an unusually aggressive move. Roll Call reported:
A former communications director for House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers sent reporters a 1,959-word email Monday accusing the Washington Republican of "retribution" in connection with an ethics complaint against her office -- a serious charge that is the latest alleged impropriety in an ongoing Ethics Committee investigation. [...]
In his email, [Todd Winer] alleges the Ethics Committee is now investigating McMorris Rodgers' efforts to "intimidate and punish" him. In fact, Winer says the Washington Republican's staff spread lies about him to the media -- an act that he says rises to "the level of defamation."
It's hard to know exactly what to make of the story. Initial reports suggested Winer was the original source of the ethics complaint against McMorris Rodgers, though the former aide denies this. But as Winer tells it, the congresswoman's office is nevertheless targeting him for "retribution," which in turn has led him to "break [his] silence" and release a memo to the media about McMorris Rodgers alleged misdeeds.
Colorado Republican Congressman Cory Gardner in Denver on Saturday, March 1, 2014.

Colorado's Gardner still struggling to move to the left

09/09/14 11:04AM

Rep. Cory Gardner (R), still in the midst of a very competitive U.S. Senate race in Colorado, seems to believe the key to success is pretending he's a liberal.
For example, the far-right congressman, known for his social conservatism on culture-war issues, recently urged voters to overlook his support for "personhood" measures that would ban common forms of birth control, and instead see him as a progressive champion when it comes to contraception access.
Now, Gardner's suddenly an environmentalist, too.
In one of the GOP lawmaker's new television ads, Gardner stands in front of wind turbines and tells voters, "What is a Republican like me doing at a wind farm? Supporting the next generation, that's what." The congressman boasts that he helped "launch our state's green-energy industry," before the ad tells viewers that Gardner is a "new kind of Republican."
There are two main problems with the claim. First, Gardner didn't actually help launch Colorado's green-energy industry.
GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner, framed by sunflowers and wind turbines, tells voters in a campaign ad this week that he co-wrote a law to launch Colorado's green-energy economy. He leaves out that the law was repealed five years later, deemed useless for not enabling a single project. [...]
The Clean Energy Development Authority, which was set up by the law, was intended to assist in the financing of clean-energy projects such as improvements to electricity transmission lines.
Second, the notion that Gardner is presenting himself as some kind of champion of progressive environmental policy is pretty silly -- the League of Conservative Voters publishes a scorecard documenting every member's votes on environmental legislation. Gardner's most recent rating: 4%. No one in the Colorado delegation did worse.
Obviously, this is not the record of a "new kind of Republican." But let's not brush past the fact that Gardner feels the need to pretend to be more progressive.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., July 10, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Pat Roberts stumbling towards the finish line

09/09/14 10:18AM

Looking back at Sen. Pat Roberts' (R-Kan.) lengthy career on Capitol Hill, there's something striking about his electoral background: he's never really faced a tough race. As a U.S. House member, the Republican Kansan cruised to easy victories. As a three-term senator, each of his statewide wins has been by landslide margins.
And in a way, that's unfortunate for Roberts -- politicians who never experience a challenging election fail to develop valuable political skills. It's like a muscle that can either grow stronger or atrophy from lack of use.
It's become clear that Roberts, whatever his merits as a legislator may or may not be, never learned how to hit the trail like a pro.
Back in July, facing a primary challenge that shouldn't have been close, Roberts told a radio audience, "Every time I get an opponent -- I mean, every time I get a chance, I'm home." The senator was struggling with questions regarding his in-state residency at the time.
After the primary, the longtime incumbent effectively stopped campaigning, with one of his top campaign officials announcing that Roberts had returned "home." In this case, that meant going back to Roberts' residence in Washington, D.C., since the senator doesn't actually own a home in the state he represents.
Andrew Kaczynski uncovered the latest trouble for the incumbent.
Incumbent Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts says he's "damn proud" to live in Dodge City -- noting he's only been home "about seven times" this year -- at a state fair debate with lurking independent challenger Greg Orman.
"My home is Dodge City and I'm damn proud," Roberts said in the debate.
When Orman noted in the debate that he'd probably been to Dodge City more often than Roberts this year, the senator interrupted to ask how many times he'd been to the city. Four times, Orman said.
Roberts responded he'd been to Dodge City "about seven times," which may have been the accurate number, but was nevertheless the wrong thing to say.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe during a news conference at the Patrick Henry Building in Richmond, Va.,  Monday, March 24, 2014.

McAuliffe can only go so far on Medicaid expansion

09/09/14 09:39AM

In the early summer, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) dropped not-so-subtle hints about his intentions: he was fully prepared to embrace Medicaid expansion by somehow circumventing Republican state lawmakers.
The governor said in June his Department of Health and Human Resources "will have a plan on my desk by no later than September, first detailing how we can move Virginia health care forward even in the face of the demagoguery, lies, fear and cowardice that have gripped this debate for too long."
McAuliffe, who ran on a platform of Medicaid expansion during his successful campaign last year, followed through, but it turns out there's a pretty severe limit on what a governor can do in the face of unyielding legislative opposition.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who vowed in June to defy the Republican-controlled legislature and expand healthcare to 400,000 uninsured Virginians, unveiled a much more modest plan Monday after being thwarted by federal rules and a last-minute change to state budget language.
McAuliffe outlined measures to provide health insurance to as many as 25,000 Virginians, just a fraction of those he had hoped to cover by expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
No one can doubt the governor's efforts -- he tried everything he could think of. But in order for Virginia to do the smart and responsible thing, the GOP-led legislature would have to do what policymakers in most states have done: embrace the basic arithmetic of Medicaid expansion.
And Virginia Republicans simply would not budge. To this extent, far-right GOP lawmakers "won" the fight -- roughly 375,000 low-income Virginians will not have access to affordable medical care, for reasons that defy moral comprehension.
 Former Vice President Dick Cheney boards an elevator at the U.S. Capitol.

Republicans just can't get enough of Dick Cheney

09/09/14 08:54AM

It was just a few months ago when the Republican Study Committee, a group of far-right House GOP lawmaker, invited former Vice President Dick Cheney to Capitol Hill to complain about President Obama for a while. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), now a member of the House GOP leadership, said at the time, in reference to Cheney, "He's got a lot of credibility when it comes to talking about foreign policy."
I don't think he was kidding.
Apparently, this thinking remains quite pervasive among GOP lawmakers, who keep extending invitations to Cheney, his spectacular failures and incompetence notwithstanding. The Washington Post reported late yesterday:
The leading architect of the Iraq war will be on Capitol Hill for a private chat with House Republicans on Tuesday, just as Congress is grappling again with how involved the United States should be in the region's snowballing unrest.
Yes, as in Dick Cheney, one of the war's most ardent defenders. The former vice president was invited by the GOP's campaign arm to speak at its first weekly conference meeting since Congress's five-week break, a House GOP official confirmed.
It says something important about Republican lawmakers that to better understand international affairs, they not only keep turning to failed former officials, they keep seeking guidance from the same failed former official.
Indeed, this isn't a situation in which was Cheney was just wandering around, looking for someone who'd listen to his mindless condemnations of the president who's cleaning up Cheney's messes, and GOP lawmakers agreed to listen as a courtesy. Rather, Congressional Republicans have gone out of their way to make the former V.P. one of their most sought after instructors.
Just in this Congress, Cheney has been on Capitol Hill advising GOP lawmakers over and over and over again.
It's tempting to start the usual diatribe, highlighting all of Cheney's horrific failures, his spectacular misjudgments, and his propensity for dishonesty on a breathtaking scale. But let's skip that, stipulating that Cheney's tenure in national office was a genuine disaster, the effects of which Americans will be dealing with for many years to come.
Let's instead note how truly remarkable the timing of Cheney's latest invitation to Capitol Hill is.

Senate GOP 'simply shameful' on ambassador nominations

09/09/14 08:00AM

Back in July, political scientist Norm Ornstein noted that "blocking ambassadors when the world is in turmoil and America's national interest is at stake is simply shameful." At the time, Senate Republicans just didn't care.
The question now, as Rachel explained on last night's show, is whether GOP senators are prepared to be more responsible now that their five-week break is over.
For example, when it comes to addressing ISIS, there are few countries on the planet more important than Turkey. Consider the White House's full-court press.
The Obama administration on Monday began the work of trying to determine exactly what roles the members of its fledgling coalition of countries to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria will play, with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel huddled with the leaders of the one country the administration has called "absolutely indispensable" to the fight: Turkey.
But after hours of meetings here, there were no announcements of what the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might do. In fact, Turkish officials meeting with Mr. Hagel eschewed the news conferences that usually accompany high-level visits from American officials.
Diplomatic progress with Turkey is critical when it comes to an international response to ISIS, but Senate Republicans have refused to allow the United States to have an ambassador to the country to help with the talks. Obama was forced to dispatch the Bush/Cheney ambassador to Turkey in a temporary capacity because of the immediacy and urgency of the situation.
Note, the problem is not with Obama, who months ago nominated a highly qualified, career foreign-service officer, John Bass, to fill the post. Rather, there's no U.S. ambassador to Turkey right now because of a Republican tantrum.
And it's not just Turkey. The United States wants to help respond to the Ebola crisis in Western Africa, but Republicans won't confirm an ambassador to Sierra Leone. U.S. officials want to address the humanitarian crisis in Central America, but Republicans won't confirm an ambassador to Guatemala. The Department of Homeland Security doesn't even have Senate-confirmed policy chiefs in place to handle terrorism and cybersecurity threats because Republicans haven't allowed votes on pending nominees.
It's important to understand why.

The last primary day and other headlines

09/09/14 07:47AM

It's primary day in 5 states. (Politico)

Obama unlikely to seek formal authorization for military strikes against ISIS in Syria, congressional aides say. (Washington Post)

Obama hosts foreign policy experts, laying groundwork for speech on ISIS. (NY Times)

Dick Cheney meets with House Republicans today. (Politico)

New V.A. chief vows to learn lessons from Phoenix problems. (AP)

The Ferguson, MO City Council meets tonight to discuss policing. (KSDK)

Missouri and Texas plan executions tonight. (AP)

A fourth American ebola patient comes home for treatment today. (AP)

What on earth can you do with an 8+ pound tomato? (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

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Abuse video brings unprecedented shame to NFL

Abuse video brings unprecedented shame to NFL

09/08/14 10:51PM

Juliet Macur, sports reporter for the New York Times, talks with Rachel Maddow about the newly public video of football player Ray Rice punching his then-fiancé unconscious, and the pressure on the NFL not to look the other way on domestic violence. watch

Obama immigration reversal flusters advocates

Obama immigration reversal flusters advocates

09/08/14 10:50PM

José Díaz-Balart, host of the José Díaz-Balart show on MSNBC, talks with Rachel Maddow about the frustrated confusion among immigration reform advocates at President Obama's emphatic promise to take action before summer's end and sudden delay... watch