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Thursday's Mini-Report, 2.4.16

02/04/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Flint: "Members of a congressional committee looking into the Flint Water crisis issued a subpoena to the city's former Emergency Manager Darnell Earley on Thursday requesting that he come to Washington, D.C. for a deposition on February 25th."
* Related news: "Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked action on a comprehensive energy bill that had drawn broad bipartisan support after lawmakers failed to agree on including a $600 million amendment to address the crisis over lead-tainted water in Flint, Mich."
* Shkreli: "Former drug executive Martin Shkreli, who called members of Congress "imbeciles" on social media, faced members of that legislative body on Thursday morning during a hearing on pharmaceutical pricing. The normally talkative Shkreli invoked the Fifth Amendment when he appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to discuss his actions in raising the price of Daraprim by more than 5,500 percent."
* Oregon: "A federal grand jury has indicted 16 people in connection with their roles in the Oregon wildlife refuge standoff, charging them all with a count of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States."
* I wish I could agree with this, but I don't: "Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said late Wednesday that partisan extremism is damaging the public's perception of the role of the Supreme Court, recasting the justices as players in the political process rather than its referees."
Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Rodham Clinton talk before the CNN Democratic presidential debate on Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by David Becker/AP)

The first one-on-one debate of the 2016 cycle

02/04/16 04:36PM

As recently as a couple of days ago, it wasn't altogether clear whether tonight's Democratic debate would take place. Fortunately, the negotiations worked out, and as Rachel noted on the show last night, "It's on."
With Marin O'Malley no longer in the race, this will be the first one-on-one debate of the 2016 cycle, and the first ever face-off between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. It also comes at a key moment in the race: this is the only time these two will face off in the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary.
The moderators will be "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd and our own Rachel Maddow, who'll kick things off tonight at 9 p.m. ET.
The fine folks at NBC's First Read helped set the stage in a piece this morning:
Tonight's Democratic debate — the first one-on-one showdown between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders— comes 1) after the close race in Iowa, 2) five days before Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, and 3) as the party appears more divided than at any point during the Obama Era.
Who is a progressive? (Sanders yesterday charged that anyone who takes money from Wall Street and has a Super PAC doesn't meet the standard, while Clinton replied that Sanders' purity test would disqualify many in her party.) Who is the *real* Democrat in this race? (Clinton has listed her long time working for the party, while Sanders has never associated with it until now.) What is the best way to create political change? (Is it through Clinton's experience and perseverance? Or Sanders' revolution?) And what is the top job for the next Democratic president? (Is it protecting the gains made over the last seven years and improving them at the margins? Or is it by going in a completely different direction?)
MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald also highlighted "four things to watch" during tonight's showdown.
Meanwhile, there can be little doubt who enters the debate favored in the first-in-the-nation primary:
Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in the President's Emergency Operations Center in Washington in  the hours following the September 11, 2001 attacks in this U.S National Archives handout photo

Powell, Rice received sensitive info through private emails

02/04/16 02:15PM

When the political world's interest in Hillary Clinton's State Department emails was near its peak, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza defended the media's fascination with the story. "Democrats, ask yourself this," Cillizza wrote in August. "If this was a former [Republican Secretary of State] and his/her private e-mail server, would it be a 'non-story'?"
As a rule, I continue to believe that's a smart way for political observers to look at every story. If the situations were reversed, how would you react to a controversy? If the accusations targeted someone you detest, as opposed to someone you like, would you see the story as legitimate?
The problem in this case, however, is that Cillizza's question wasn't really a hypothetical. We learned nearly a year ago from a Politico article that former Secretary of State Colin Powell "also used a personal email account" during his State Department tenure. Several months later, MSNBC found that Powell conducted official business from his personal email account managed through his personal laptop.
"But wait," Clinton's critics in the media and Republican circles protest, "what about emails that were later deemed to include sensitive information?" NBC News reports today that both of the Bush/Cheney-era Secretaries of State fall into the same category.
State Department officials have determined that classified information was sent to the personal email accounts of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and the senior staff of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, NBC News has learned. [...]
In a letter to Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy dated Feb. 3, State Department Inspector General Steve Linick said that the State Department has determined that 12 emails examined from State's archives contained national security information now classified "Secret" or "Confidential." The letter was read to NBC News.
According to the report, of those 12 emails, two were sent to Powell's personal account, while the other 10 were sent to personal accounts of senior aides to Condoleezza Rice.
None of this is to suggest Powell or Rice's office is guilty of wrongdoing. In fact, Powell told NBC News the messages in question include information that's "fairly minor."
There's no reason whatsoever to believe otherwise.
Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. and Jeb Bush speak at a break during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Jan. 14, 2016. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)

Latest polls show post-Iowa fallout

02/04/16 01:01PM

It's only natural for voters to be swayed by media hype. Especially when it comes to casual news observers, who don't usually follow the day-to-day details too closely, the general thrust of news coverage has a direct effect in shaping public perceptions.
And so, when the public is led to believe Donald Trump failed in Iowa while Marco Rubio succeeded -- when though the first-time candidate received more votes than the Florida senator -- a shift in attitudes soon follows. Rachel reported an exclusive first look last night at the new national Republican poll from Public Policy Polling, which found the race shaping up like this:
1. Donald Trump: 28% (down from 34% in December)
2. Ted Cruz: 21% (up from 18%)
2. Marco Rubio: 21% (up from 13%)
4. Ben Carson: 11% (up from 6%)
No other candidate topped 5%. Note, the survey included Rand Paul, who didn't announce his withdrawal until after the poll was in the field, and whose support was at 5%.
All of the usual caveats apply, of course, most notably the fact that this is only one poll. There's some additional post-Iowa data that doesn't show nearly as much of a shakeup.
But if PPP is correct, Trump's second-place showing in Iowa is costing him dearly, while the cheerleading surrounding Rubio has given him an enormous boost, despite his third-place finish behind Trump.
Also note Carson's unexpected increase -- his first signs of electoral life in months -- which raises an interesting question about where those voters will go once the retired neurosurgeon quits the race. It's long been assumed Carson backers would move (and by many measures, have already moved) to Cruz, but the recent animosity between the two camps might complicate matters.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.4.16

02/04/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Asked about his party affiliation, Bernie Sanders said last night, "Of course I am a Democrat and running for the Democratic nomination." The comments came as a surprise to Vermont Democrats -- Sanders has been running in Vermont elections regularly since 1972, and he's never run as a Democrat.
* Looking ahead to a general-election debate with Hillary Clinton, Chris Christie vowed yesterday, "I'll beat her rear end on that stage."
* As Ben Carson's fundraising dries up, he's begun downsizing his campaign and eliminating about half of his paid staff.
* As things stand, Carly Fiorina will not qualify for participation in Saturday night's Republican debate, and there will be no kids-table debate. Fiorina has been lobbying the RNC, however, to include her given the size of the shrinking Republican field.
* The day after the Iowa caucuses, Bernie Sanders' campaign reportedly had its best day of fundraising ever, raising an extraordinary $3 million on Tuesday alone.
* According to Gallup's latest analysis, there are now 20 "red" states, as compared to 14 "blue" states. This is "the first time in Gallup's eight years of tracking partisanship by state that there have been more Republican than Democratic states."

Experienced GOP candidates continue to struggle most

02/04/16 11:23AM

Following up on a point we've been kicking around for months, I put together this chart in October showing the years of experience in government for the original field of 17 Republican presidential candidates (before anyone had dropped out). I've updated it this morning with arrows pointing to each of the candidates who've quit.
To make this analysis a little more straightforward, lets frame it in a slightly different way. When the GOP's presidential field reached its height, most of the field -- 9 of the 17 candidates -- had more than 15 years' worth experience in the public sector.
Of those nine candidates with the most experience, six have since quit, including four of the five candidates with the most years in public service.
On the other hand, when the GOP's presidential field reached its height, 8 of the 17 candidates had less than 15 years' worth experience in the public sector. Of those eight, only two have exited the race.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio waits to speak at a caucus site on Feb. 1, 2016 in Clive, Iowa. (Photo by Paul Sancya/AP)

High-profile backer can't name any Rubio accomplishments

02/04/16 10:55AM

About a week ago, Chris Christie made the case that Marco Rubio is "a 44-year-old first-term senator who's never accomplished anything." It's an assessment the Florida Republican's supporters no doubt disagree with.
Their challenge, however, is explaining why. This morning, Rick Santorum, just 12 hours after the demise of his own presidential campaign, appeared on MSNBC and was asked to name a single Rubio accomplishment from his five years in the U.S. Senate. Santorum made a valiant effort at spin, but he couldn't think of anything.
Santorum floundered right off the bat when asked to list Rubio's "top accomplishment" while in office. "Well, I mean, I would just say that this is a guy who's been able to, No. 1, win a tough election in Florida and pull people together from a variety of different spots. This is a guy that I think can work together with people," he said. "That's the thing I like about him the most."
And while that's nice, the question was about his accomplishments. So, Santorum was confronted with the question again, and again, and again. Eventually, he responded, "I guess it's hard to say there are accomplishments." Santorum blamed congressional "gridlock" on the fact that Congress gets so little done, making it difficult for any senator to develop a record of success.
When the question was expanded to include literally any Rubio bill, whether it passed or not, Santorum pointed to an obscure risk-corridor measure on health care policy -- which (a) is an awful policy; and (b) happens to be an example of Rubio taking credit for others' work.
In other words, pressed to identify anything Rubio has done of value after five years of work on Capitol Hill, his newest high-profile backer came up with one example that turns out to be bogus.
And there's a very good reason for this.
The City of Flint Water Plant is illuminated by moonlight on Jan. 23, 2016 in Flint, Mich. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty)

Cruz injects bogus partisanship into Flint crisis

02/04/16 10:05AM

At a certain level, it's encouraging anytime Republican presidential candidates notice the crisis in Flint, Michigan, and incorporate concerns about the scandal into their message. Take Ted Cruz, for example, who spoke to a New Hampshire audience about this yesterday:
"You know, you look at what's happening in Flint. Flint is an absolute outrage. You've got your own government poisoning the citizens. You look at the basic responsibilities of government, making sure our water's clean is really near the top. I mean, we're not talking rocket science here. This isn't even broadband Internet. This is, 'Don't have the water coming out of my sink poison me.'"
What's wrong with this? Not a darned thing. Flint is an absolute outrage and I'll gladly give the senator credit for focusing on it. The problem, however, is what Cruz said next:
"You know, there's an interesting parallel between Flint and New Orleans. Both cities have been governed with one-party government control of far-left Democrats for decades."
Oh, I see. Flint is an absolute outrage if it can be worked into a partisan frame that Ted Cruz can use to advance his presidential campaign.
Republican U.S. presidential candidate and Senator Ted Cruz looks over at rival candidate Senator Marco Rubio after Pope Francis' address on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Sept. 24, 2015. (Photo by James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

New endorsements point to changing Republican race

02/04/16 09:26AM

Donald Trump, the only leading Republican presidential candidate with literally zero endorsements from GOP governors or members of Congress, boasted the other day that the supporters are ready to line up behind him. The endorsements are coming "very soon," he said. He added, "You watch."
While we wait for these looming supporters, who may or may not exist, to make their official announcements, one of Trump's rivals is starting to pick up endorsements in large chunks. Politico reported overnight:
Sen. Marco Rubio locked up a handful of congressional endorsements on Wednesday.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), and Reps. Steve Womack and Rick Crawford, both Arkansas Republicans, all endorsed the Florida senator. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) reportedly plans to endorse Rubio on Thursday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Those announcements coincided with Rubio also picking up support from former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who officially ended his own presidential campaign last night, while throwing his backing to the Florida senator.
FiveThirtyEight, which maintains a very helpful "endorsement tracker," reported last night that Jeb Bush has been replaced as the GOP leader on this metric, surpassed by Rubio. The piece added that Rubio picked up a lot of endorsements between Labor Day and Thanksgiving, "but that momentum stalled." It now appears to be picking up again.
And that's hardly surprising. As things stand, the results out of Iowa suggest the race for the Republican presidential nomination is effectively a three-man contest between Rubio, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz. Given these choices, it seems painfully obvious that GOP members of Congress are going to rally behind the Florida senator, even if they have reservations, since they consider the alternatives so obviously unacceptable.
But let's not miss the forest for the trees here.
People walk past the U.S. Capitol dome in the hours before President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington, Jan. 12, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Senate GOP fails to walk the walk on national security

02/04/16 08:40AM

When it comes to talking about national security, congressional Republicans are ready and willing. When it comes to doing actual work, however, the GOP lawmakers who have all kinds of things to say seem to struggle with follow-through.
Yesterday, for example, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) asked for unanimous consent to approve an important counter-terrorism nominee, who's been awaiting a confirmation vote for months without explanation. As The Hill reported, it didn't go well.
Shaheen ... tried to get consent to confirm Adam Szubin to be an under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes for the Treasury Department. Democrats have repeatedly pointed to Szubin's nomination to criticize Republicans for holding up national security nominations. 
[Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah], however, objected to Shaheen's request on behalf of Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who chairs the Banking Committee.
Shaheen said that while Shelby was in Washington on Wednesday, "it's disappointing that he's not on the floor to talk about what his objections to Adam Szubin are."
Of course, as Shaheen knows, it wouldn't much matter if Shelby were on the floor to explain his objections, because he can't. The Alabama Republican can't admit what's plainly true: Shelby opposes President Obama's nominee because he's President Obama's nominee.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque in Catonsville, Md., Feb. 3, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Obama makes first-ever mosque visit, draws ugly fire from Rubio

02/04/16 08:00AM

President Obama yesterday made his first visit to a mosque since getting elected, delivering remarks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, and in the process showing some real leadership on an important issue.
"[I]f we're serious about freedom of religion -- and I'm speaking now to my fellow Christians who remain the majority in this country -- we have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths," the president explained. "And when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up. And we have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias, and targets people because of religion."
It was a message of inclusion and respect, a defense of religious liberty, and an explicit reminder to Muslim Americans that they are part of the fabric of the nation. "If you're ever wondering whether you fit in here, let me say it as clearly as I can, as President of the United States: You fit in here," Obama said. "You're right where you belong. You're part of America, too. You're not Muslim or American. You're Muslim and American."
Watching this, I was struck by a few things. The first was how genuinely heartening it was to see a sitting president reach out to a minority community with warmth and gratitude. The second was that Obama was doing exactly the opposite of what terrorist groups like ISIS want -- since their entire message is built on the lie that the West will never accept Muslims as friends and neighbors.
And third, I found myself thinking, "Even the most unhinged, right-wing Republican is going to have a hard time disagreeing with the president's efforts to bring people together." Apparently, I underestimated what Marco Rubio is capable of. The Washington Post reported on the senator's response to the Obama's remarks.
"I'm tired of being divided against each other for political reasons like this president's done," Rubio said. "Always pitting people against each other. Always."
"Look at today -- he gave a speech at a mosque," Rubio continued. "Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims. Of course there's going to be discrimination in America of every kind. But the bigger issue is radical Islam... [I]t's this constant pitting people against each other -- that I can't stand that. It's hurting our country badly."
Remember, we've been told repeatedly that he's the smart one in the GOP field.
Incomplete picture at Congress Flint hearing

Incomplete picture in testimony at Flint hearing in Congress

02/03/16 09:38PM

Congressman Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, talks with Rachel Maddow about what he learned at the first congressional hearing into the Flint water crisis, and how he hopes to keep up the pressure to hear testimony from witnesses who actually had a role in the decisions that led to the toxic water, like Governor... watch


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