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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering at a town hall meeting, March 17, 2015, in Freehold, NJ. (Photo by Mel Evans/AP)

Christie tries to recapture discarded persona

04/10/15 10:13AM

It's not yet clear when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) will launch his presidential campaign, but we're getting a good sense of the kind of message he'll push once he officially kicks off his race for national office.
 
Yesterday, the Republican governor published a series of social-media messages boasting about how great his no-nonsense persona really is. "What you see is what you get," Christie said at one point, adding, "[B]eing 'vanilla' just isn't me."
 
This comes on the heels of a town-hall meeting this week in which one of the New Jersey governor's constituents suggested he maybe "tone it down a little bit if you want to become president of the United States." NJ.com reported that Christie said he appreciated the suggestion, but he has no interest in adopting a more presidential temperament.
"There are some people who just believe that if you're a public figure that they're allowed to be rude, that they can say and do anything to you and that because you're a public figure you have to respond nicely," Christie said. "I don't see it that way."
 
People deserve politicians who are willing to be straight with their constituents, Christie argued.
 
"When I think that I've said something that's over the line, I'll apologize," he said. "But the one thing people never have to wonder about me is what I'm thinking."
It's a curious pitch. Christie, who earned a reputation for bullying after a wide variety of unpleasant confrontations with voters who annoyed him, seems to think he can reach the White House in part through sheer, brash force. In the modern era, this has rarely been a model for electoral success.
 
But just as important is the fact that Christie leaves people wondering "what he's thinking" all the time.
William Kristol

The GOP's 'journey to the hawk side'

04/10/15 09:36AM

After the Bush/Cheney era ended, and Tea Partiers became ascendant in Republican politics, the party was presented with a rare opportunity for self-definition. Specifically on foreign policy, what kind of party would the GOP be?
 
There were even some competing factions making their case. One contingent, led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and his allies, envisioned a more isolationist approach with a modest dose of civil libertarianism applied to the national security state. Another contingent, led by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) insisted Republicans stick to the neoconservative model, it's catastrophic failures during the Bush/Cheney era notwithstanding.
 
Dan Drezner, a center-right foreign-policy expert, argued persuasively yesterday that the debate, such as it was, is over. The GOP's "journey to the hawk side," he said, "is now complete." Specifically, Drezner was considering the question of whether Bill Kristol still matters in contemporary politics.
[E]ven though Republican voters are genuinely split about the Iran negotiations, the 2016 GOP field and the folks who are funding them are not split at all. There continues to be hawkish outbidding on Iran in particular and foreign policy in general in order to appease key financial backers -- all of whom share Kristol's basic worldview. The lone exception, Rand Paul, has been on the defensive since his announcement earlier this week.
 
To be clear, I'm really not saying that any of this is [Bill] Kristol's doing. I'm saying that, on the GOP side of the ledger, it doesn't matter whether Kristol matters. In 2016, it's still Kristol's world -- or, rather, his worldview.
The evidence that emerged just this week is hard to overlook. Not only are GOP presidential hopefuls tripping over each other to condemn -- and vow to destroy -- international nuclear diplomacy with Iran, but Jeb Bush was reportedly poised to hire a new member of his national security team, only to back off when the aide was deemed insufficiently friendly to the neocon cause.
 
This, of course, follows Bush backing away from former Secretary of State James Baker -- perhaps the most respected member of his father's national security team -- who dared to publicly criticize Benjamin Netanyahu's disrespectful antics towards the United States.
Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham speaking at a press conference on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. (Karen Bleier/Getty Images)

Tsarnaev conviction undermines argument from McCain, Graham

04/10/15 08:47AM

A jury this week convicted Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for his role in the Boston Marathon, nearly two years to the day after he and his brother set off a bomb that killed three people and injured 260 more. Tsarnaev faced 30 criminal counts and was found guilty on each of them.
 
But in the interest of accountability, it's worth reflecting on the political leaders who pushed for a very different legal process.
 
As regular readers may recall, after Tsarnaev was captured, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) urged the Obama administration to treat the suspect as an "enemy combatant." Rachel noted on the show this week that their plan was to deny him Miranda warnings and prevent the appointment of defense counsel.
 
The case involved an American citizen, captured on American soil, accused of committing a crime in America. The Republican senators, however, said these were irrelevant details. They were joined soon after by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.).
 
Michael Tomasky explained yesterday how very wrong they were.
Their argument was that holding Tsarnaev as a combatant for a certain period of time would allow the government to ascertain things like whether he had any al Qaeda connections. Graham said at the time that being able to question Tsarnaev without a defense lawyer present was his whole point. That might sound reasonable, if it weren't for, you know, the Constitution.
Republicans said an "enemy combatant" designation was necessary for intelligence purposes and to ensure justice. The Obama administration ignored the GOP demands. Two years later, it's the president's approach that's vindicated.
Handguns are displayed in the Remington booth during the 2013 NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits on May 5, 2013 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

As NRA event begins, who's in and who's out?

04/10/15 08:00AM

The National Rifle Association's annual conference kicks off today in Nashville, with an estimated 70,000 gun enthusiasts expected to attend. Given that this is the NRA's last major national gathering before the 2016 presidential race gets underway in earnest, attendees can expect a heavy dose of partisan GOP politics at the gathering.
 
Indeed, the guest list features a lengthy list of announced and unannounced Republican candidates: Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, Donald Trump, and Scott Walker.
 
Mike Pence was expected to address the gathering, but he canceled yesterday after the death of a friend. Sarah Palin was also scheduled to appear, but withdrew without explanation.
 
In theory, these cancellations could make room for some of the other GOP candidates who were not initially included, but that apparently isn't going to happen. Chris Christie, for example, has moved quickly to the right on guns recently, but the National Rifle Association still does not see him as a reliable enough ally to the cause.
 
And what about Rand Paul? As Benjy Sarlin reported late yesterday, there's some behind-the-scenes drama between the group and the Republican senator.
Almost every Republican presidential hopeful will pay tribute to gun rights at the National Rifle Association's annual meeting on Friday, but one of the few missing candidates is taking shots at the organization instead.
 
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), fresh off his presidential announcement on Monday, is complaining that he was left off the speakers' list despite boasting an "A" rating from the group.
As Paul sees it, he's been friendly with the National Association for Gun Rights -- a hyper-conservative rival to the NRA -- which he believes hurt the NRA's feelings and led to this intentional snub. Paul's campaign is so invested in the idea that it spent yesterday complaining about the snub, and sharing his theory, to news organizations over and over and over and over again.
Obama receives warm welcome in Jamaica

Obama receives warm welcome in Jamaica

04/09/15 09:38PM

Rachel Maddow talks to NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell about President Obama’s trip to Jamaica and his upcoming visit to Panama where he will meet with Cuban President Raul Castro. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 4.9.15

04/09/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Deals like these are never easy: "Iran's supreme leader on Thursday challenged two of the United States' bedrock principles in the nuclear negotiations, declaring that all economic sanctions would have to be lifted on the day any final agreement is signed and that military sites would be strictly off limits to foreign inspectors."
 
* Yemen: "Houthi insurgents in Yemen defied Saudi airstrikes and enlarged their territory Thursday, Al Jazeera reported, seizing an important eastern provincial capital in the increasingly unstable country."
 
* ISIS: "Canada conducted its first airstrike in Syria on Wednesday, after its government voted last week to expand its mission against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and extend it for another year."
 
* Iraq: "Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. offered an upbeat assessment of the battle against Islamic extremists in Iraq on Thursday, saying the government in that country was making 'significant and growing' progress with help from the United States and its allies in the region."
 
* South Carolina: "In the five days since North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager allegedly fatally shot Walter Scott in South Carolina, information provided by civilians and authorities has clarified some questions about the incident. But there are still several unknown facts."
 
* Cuba: "A review of the U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring countries that puts Cuba in company with Iran, Syria and Sudan is completed, President Barack Obama said hours before he was to head to Panama for a gathering of Western Hemisphere countries."
 
* Secret Service: "The U.S. Secret Service suffered another embarrassing blow on Wednesday, when it was revealed that Xavier Morales, a senior supervisor in the agency, has been placed on leave and suspended amid allegations of sexual misconduct."
The White House seen from the South Lawn in Washington. (Photo by Susan Walsh/AP)

'We the People' gets results on so-called 'conversion therapy'

04/09/15 05:01PM

One of the Obama White House's more successful online innovations is the "We The People" petition process, which has long struck me as a good idea. It works like this: regular people can submit questions and/or ideas online; the public can vote on its favorites; and if enough people endorse the petition, the administration will offer an official response -- and quite possibly take official action.
 
Last year, the White House raised the threshold for minimum number of votes -- to get a response, an idea needs 100,000 endorsements -- in order to help weed out more trivial questions.
This was not a trivial question. On the contrary, it's another step forward on an important issue.
In yet another bold move in support of LGBT rights, the Obama administration announced late on Wednesday that it would support efforts to end so-called "conversion therapy" for gay and transgender youth. The decision comes in the wake of the tragic death of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn, who referenced attempts by religious therapists to make her identify as a boy in her suicide note.
 
The White House released a lengthy statement on its website, penned by longtime Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, calling for a ban on therapy which claims to "repair" LGBT youth. The statement supports a petition that has received over 120,000 signatures in the last few months.
"The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm," Jarrett said. "As part of our dedication to protecting America's youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors."
This July 26, 2012 file photo shows an AR-15 style rifle. (Photo by Alex Brandon/AP)

When fake guns are banned and real guns are protected

04/09/15 03:32PM

Three years ago, Tampa was getting ready to host the Republican National Convention, and local officials took a variety of steps to improve public safety for those attending the event. Among the items prohibited in the area outside the convention center? Water guns -- but not real guns. The former was deemed a possible threat to public safety, while the latter was protected by state law.
 
A similar issue came up recently in Tennessee.
The Tennessee House of Representatives passed a bill Monday night that makes it illegal to take a squirt gun -- but not a real gun -- within 150 feet of a school.
 
The new ban was included in a larger bill that would nix any local laws prohibiting people with gun permits from taking guns to parks.
The headline in The Tennessean read, in all seriousness, "House bill bans fake guns -- not real guns -- near schools."
 
What's especially striking about this story are the circumstances that led state lawmakers to take a look at gun policy in the first place.
Republican 2014 - 10/02/2013

So much of politics is just showing up

04/09/15 12:53PM

In retrospect, Republicans probably shouldn't have made committee hearing attendance one of the centerpieces of their 2014 election messages.
Kentucky. Sen Rand Paul has skipped most Homeland Security hearings since 2014, a review of videos and documents related to the hearings show. BuzzFeed News was only able to verify Paul's attendance at five out of 73 hearings since last January, less than ten percent overall.
No, really, Republicans probably shouldn't have made committee hearing attendance one of the centerpieces of their 2014 election messages.
While Sen. Marco Rubio was on a big fundraising swing through California, he missed a top secret intelligence briefing on ISIS from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and two closed Intelligence Committee briefings from that period, according to records. [...] The Intelligence Committee also shows two closed briefings from the week in which Rubio was on his fundraising haul.
Seriously, Republicans probably shouldn't have made committee hearing attendance one of the centerpieces of their 2014 election messages.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.9.15

04/09/15 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:
 
* To the delight of the DSCC, former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto (D) kicked off her U.S. Senate campaign yesterday, hoping to succeed Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The retiring senator has already thrown his support to the former state A.G.
 
* Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) announced yesterday she will not run for re-election next year. It's generally considered a reliable "blue" district and Democrats are optimistic about keeping the seat.
 
* A wide variety of Republican presidential hopefuls will address the NRA's annual convention this weekend, but as Rachel noted on the show last night, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky will not be there -- because they weren't invited.
 
* The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Jeb Bush among Hispanic voters by nearly a three-to-one margin, 71% to 26%. A new msnbc/Telemundo poll added that even Latino voters who consider themselves politically conservative have soured on the Republican Party.
 
* In New Jersey, a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll shows Gov. Chris Christie's (R) approval rating dropping further among his constituents. A 54% majority now say they disapprove of the governor's overall job performance, while 41% approve.
 
* In advance of his presidential kickoff on Monday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) now has an allied super PAC on his side. Conservative Solutions PAC launched today.

GOP candidates eye vouchers for veterans

04/09/15 11:21AM

On Veterans' Day 2011, then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney was in South Carolina, visiting with roughly a dozen veterans, and raised the prospect of privatizing VA care.
 
"Sometimes you wonder," the Republican said, "would there be some way to introduce some private sector competition, somebody else that could come in and say, you know each soldier gets X thousand dollars attributed to them and then they can choose whether they want to go on the government system or the private system and then it follows them."
 
Almost immediately, a spokesperson for Veterans Of Foreign Wars announced its opposition to the idea: "The VFW doesn't support privatization of veterans health care." That was that -- Romney backpedaled soon after, saying he was just kicking around a hypothetical scenario he didn't intend to pursue.
 
Four years later, however, the idea is apparently increasingly popular among the new crop of Republican presidential candidates.
[Former Gov. Jeb] Bush, sitting in front of an untouched breakfast at an IHOP in Colorado Springs, told a group of veterans that he favors transferring some elements of veterans' care to private hospitals from government-run Veterans Affairs facilities.
 
"This is where I think empowering people with the equivalent of a voucher that gives you the same economic benefit of receiving care inside of a clinic or a hospital," Mr. Bush said in a video of the public event recorded by the Democratic firm American Bridge. "If you had a chance to go to another place where the money followed the patient, it would give the veterans — you wouldn't have these kind of hostile reactions, my job is protected for life, don't mess with it."
The Florida Republican made a similar comment last month, telling a New Hampshire audience, "I know it has a pejorative for some, but I'm all in on the voucher thing."
 
The Wall Street Journal report added that Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul have also voiced support for expanded privatization of veterans' care, which is also a top priority for a conservative group called Concerned Veterans for America, which is backed by the Koch brothers.
US President Barack Obama walks from Marine One to Air Force One, April 29, 2014.

Why Obama went to Jamaica

04/09/15 10:50AM

President Obama will meet this week with leaders from throughout the Hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas, hosted this year in Panama, where attendees are expected to cover quite a bit of ground on energy policy, security, and economic measures.
 
But before the U.S. leader reaches the Central American country, Obama is making some stops, including a visit yesterday to Jamaica. It was his first visit as president, and only the second sitting president to visit the Caribbean nation since its independence.
 
It does raise the question, though, of why Obama made the trip, if there was no official reason to stop in Jamaica. The White House characterized it as little more than a goodwill excursion in which the president played tourist, but I think there's a little more to it.
 
The New York Times published a piece exactly three years ago this week about international affairs that continues to be of great interest.
A brand new $35 million stadium opened here in the Bahamas a few weeks ago, a gift from the Chinese government.
 
The tiny island nation of Dominica has received a grammar school, a renovated hospital and a sports stadium, also courtesy of the Chinese. Antigua and Barbuda got a power plant and a cricket stadium, and a new school is on its way. The prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago can thank Chinese contractors for the craftsmanship in her official residence.
 
China's economic might has rolled up to America's doorstep in the Caribbean, with a flurry of loans from state banks, investments by companies and outright gifts from the government in the form of new stadiums, roads, official buildings, ports and resorts in a region where the United States has long been a prime benefactor.
And this most definitely includes Jamaica, where a Chinese company has invested heavily in sugar estates, and where the Chinese government has loaned Jamaica several hundred million dollars in loans for infrastructure.
 
We are, of course, far removed from a Cold War environment in which two global superpowers battled for influence and alliances around the globe, but the broader dynamic is not dissimilar -- it's clear that China sees itself as a 21st-century power, and it's eager to make inroads just about everywhere, including the Caribbean.
 
This is a part of American foreign policy that isn't often discussed, which Republicans tend to ignore, and which the White House cares deeply about in a very quiet way.
Calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers are seen floating on the water on July 30, 2013 in Qaqortoq, Greenland.

Wisconsin also stifles 'climate change' talk

04/09/15 10:04AM

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) recently generated national headlines after officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection claimed they were ordered not to use the terms "climate change" or "global warming" in any official communications.
 
As is turns out, Florida isn't the only state hoping to narrow the scope of the climate discourse.
Discussing climate change is out of bounds for workers at a state agency in Wisconsin. So is any work related to climate change -- even responding to e-mails about the topic.
 
A vote on Tuesday by Wisconsin's Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, a three-member panel overseeing an agency that benefits schools and communities in the state, enacted the staff ban on climate change.
Matt Adamczyk, the Republican state Treasurer who sits on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, said concerns about the climate crisis fall outside the board's "mission."
 
The Bloomberg Business report added that the new policy, banning the phrases GOP officials don't like, leaves staffers at the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands "in the unusual position of not being able to speak about how climate change might affect lands it oversees."
 
Wisconsin Secretary of State Douglas La Follette (D), said this week, "Having been on this board for close to 30 years, I've never seen such nonsense.... We've reached the point now where we're going to try to gag employees from talking about issues."

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