Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* The details of Donald Trump's position on immigration are still a little murky, but he apparently wants to pursue mass deportations, followed by limited re-entry. "We got to move 'em out, we're going to move 'em back in if they're really good people," the leading Republican told CNN this week.
* In Kentucky, where the gubernatorial race is just three months away, the new Bluegrass Poll shows state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) with a very narrow lead over Matt Bevin (R), 45% to 42%.
* Ohio Gov. John Kasich's (R) presidential campaign still seems like a longshot, but at least financially, he's better off than many of his rivals. The governor's two PACs reported yesterday "raising a total of $11.7 million for his campaign" in the second quarter.
* Hillary Clinton hasn't said exactly how much she'd like to raise the federal minimum wage, but she spoke favorably yesterday of Sen. Patty Murray's (D-Wash.) proposal to raise the minimum from $7.25 to $12 an hour. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, wants an increase to $15.
* The wealthy Ricketts family, influential in Republican circles, is reportedly rallying behind Scott Walker's presidential campaign. This includes a $5 million check from billionaire investor Joe Ricketts to the governor's super PAC.
* The Trump campaign hired Michael Glassner, a former aide to Bob Dole and Sarah Palin, to serve as political director. Trump is also reportedly receiving guidance from Pat Caddell, a conservative Fox News Democrat.
As a Miami native, I've seen the pattern more than once. Democratic candidates, especially presidential hopefuls, would go to vote-rich South Florida, bash Castro, defend the U.S. embargo of Cuba, and hope to pick up at least some support from Cuban-American voters who've traditionally allied with Republicans.
Democrats who were skeptical of the old, ineffective U.S. policy towards Cuba might be willing to express concerns, but they'd do so quietly, far from the Sunshine State, and hope that Miami didn't notice.
With this in mind, it's genuinely amazing to see how much American politics has changed over a short period of time. Not only has President Obama restored full diplomatic relations with the island nation -- one of his more important foreign-policy accomplishments -- but msnbc reported that Hillary Clinton wants to end our economic embargo, too.
Hillary Clinton will call for lifting the trade embargo on Cuba Friday in a speech in the backyard of two pro-embargo Republican presidential candidates.
In a speech at Florida International University in Miami, Clinton will call on Congress to lift the 50-year-old embargo on the island nation, and attack Republican arguments in favor of the blockade failed policies of the past, her campaign said Wednesday.
The fact that this is happening in Miami makes the speech that much more extraordinary. It wasn't long ago that this scenario was simply unthinkable -- a competitive Democrat wouldn't deliver this speech anywhere, least of all South Florida. The very idea would be seen as electoral suicide.
But not anymore. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) said this week that Clinton's position is an example of "political expediency."
I can't speak to Clinton's motives, but even Bush's criticism is unintentionally fascinating -- politically expedient positions, practically by definition, tend to be adopted because they're popular. In other words, the Republican presidential candidate is effectively arguing, "Clinton wants to lift the Cuba embargo because a lot of voters will agree with her."
Note to Team Jeb: that doesn't sound like criticism.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) traveled to Vienna last week and, after returning home, the right-wing freshman claimed he uncovered "secret side agreements to the Iran nuclear deal," struck by Iranian officials and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Cotton's allegations came up during the White House press briefing yesterday, and it appears the Obama administration isn't especially impressed with the senator's investigatory skills. The conservative Washington Timesreported:
White House spokesman Josh Earnest belittled Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas as an "international man of mystery" Thursday following the lawmaker's claim to have uncovered a secret side deal of the Iranian nuclear accord while on a mission to Europe -- information Mr. Earnest contended was readily available on the Internet.
"I hope that Senator Cotton had a pleasant trip to Vienna, but his travel was not necessary to learn the information he claims to have obtained," said Mr. Earnest, dubbing the freshman senator "Tom Cotton, international man of mystery" -- a reference to the 1997 Austin Powers movie about a goofy, hipster secret agent.
According to the transcript, Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters, "The documents that Senator Cotton claims to have learned of during his trip to Vienna were actually documents that were previously discussed in material that we put forward some time earlier. So the fact is, Senator Cotton didn't really learn of anything in Vienna that wasn't already available to be learned, and this is information that was disclosed on the IAEA website."
I reached out to an administration official this morning to ask about the materials, and sure enough, the source directed me to this IAEA page, which fleshes out the agency's "road map" for future inspections of Iranian facilities.
The document was published online on July 14 -- more than two weeks ago -- which is the day the international nuclear agreement was first announced.
In other words, it doesn't seem especially "secret" and it's certainly not the kind of document a senator would have to travel to Vienna in order to "uncover."
After five years in office, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has not made many friends among those concerned with the environment, the climate crisis, or the state's natural resources.
"By most expert accounts, Gov. Rick Scott's tenure in Tallahassee has been a flat-out catastrophe for the Sunshine State's already-fragile environment," the Miami New Timesreported this week. "He slashed water management budgets and stacked regulatory boards with developers. He battled tooth-and-nail against new clean water mandates. Even muttering the words 'climate change' was banned in state offices."
With this in mind, the Tampa Bay Times' Craig Pittman found it curious when a Florida group announced that the far-right governor is receiving an award for his work on the environment.
The award, announced via email last week, is being given to Scott later this year by the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida, which functions as a support group for the state's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is run by gubernatorial appointees.
In the announcement, the foundation's chairman, Miami real estate developer and lobbyist Rodney Barreto, hailed Scott for being "instrumental in helping develop a strong connection between fish and wildlife conservation and traditional outdoor activities like hunting and especially fishing."
The Sierra Club's Frank Jackalone told the Tampa Bay Times, "No one in their right mind would give Rick Scott an award for protecting wildlife."
Asked for an explanation, Brett Boston, the foundation's executive director, insisted the group is "very apolitical." And what about the governor's critics, who find it ridiculous that Scott would receive an environmental award?
"People complained about Mother Teresa," Boston said.
I'm going to assume that this is the first -- and quite likely the last -- time anyone has tried to draw a parallel between Rick Scott and Mother Teresa.
At its root, the recent and ongoing controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood is about fetal-tissue research. That's not necessarily good news for the group's Republican critics.
Sure, abortion is the underlying issue, but as Mother Jones' Kevin Drum explained this week, "If you think abortion is murder, then of course you object to the use of organs and tissue from aborted fetuses. If you don't, then you think it's fine. There's nothing new going on here. It's just a slightly different twist on the same fight between pro-lifers and pro-choicers that's been going on for decades."
I think that's right, though there's an additional complication: up until about a week ago, Republicans were on record supporting the very fetal-tissue research they're now outraged by. It's a detail House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reminded GOP leaders about yesterday.
"When [legislation] was passed enabling research to go forward, I remind that Mitch McConnell voted for that," she said at a news briefing Thursday in response to several questions about Planned Parenthood's undercover video controversy. [...]
Pelosi refers to legislation passed in 1993 that allowed federal funding to be used for medical research involving fetal tissue, under certain conditions.
The law prevents abortion providers from turning a profit, but it also permits providers to make tissues available for scientific research.
And for Republicans exploiting deceptively edited videos, this poses a real problem. For one thing, there's no evidence of Planned Parenthood ever profiting from fetal-tissue research. For another, there's also no evidence of the healthcare group making tissues available to anyone but medical researchers.
And finally, plenty of prominent GOP leaders actually voted for the bill that made this possible. The Huffington Post's Laura Bassett had a great report on this earlier in the week:
The parlor game for 2016 campaign observers is based on a straightforward question: "If Donald Trump's support is eventually going to fall, what will be the cause?"
The "if" poses its own challenge, but even if we accept the premise, it's not unreasonable to wonder what will cause Trump's lead in the polls to evaporate. Some Republicans assume this is a fleeting fad that cannot be sustained . Others believe the GOP's primary contest won't really begin in earnest until after the debates begin and TV ads start airing, making Trump's early surge irrelevant. Still others assume the former reality-show host will eventually say something so outrageous that he'll effectively commit political suicide.
But the point that brings comfort to many in the political establishment is the issue of electability -- Trump would face extremely long odds as a general-election candidate, and Republican primary voters, desperate for a win, will start thinking strategically in 2016.
Or will they? As Rachel noted on the show last night, the latest NBC News/Marist poll asked Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire for their 2016 preferences, but they also asked a question that was arguably more interesting:
"Which is more important to you: a Republican nominee for president who shares your position on most issues, or a Republican nominee for president who has the best chance of winning the White House?"
The results weren't even close. In New Hampshire, 67% of GOP voters want a candidate they agree with, while only 29% are principally concerned with electability. In Iowa, the results were practically identical.
This isn't about Trump, per se. This is about what we're learning about Republican voters themselves.
Rachel Maddow reports that former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore has filed paperwork to run for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, even as the criteria for the first major Republican event, the Fox News debate, remain shrouded in mystery. watch
Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter was killed in the shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, talk with Rachel Maddow about challenging the legality of online weapons and ammunition sales like the ones that supplied their daughter's killer. watch
Raw audio and video of the 911 calls, Lafayette Police Department radio traffic and police dashboard camera footage of the emergency response to the shooting at the Grand Theatre in Lafayette, Louisiana on July 23, 2015:
Rachel Maddow shows poll results that explain that Republican voters care more about a candidate they agree with than one that can win, so they aren't bothered by the fact that Donald Trump loses in head-to-head match-ups with both leading Democrats. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on new polling data showing that even though Donald Trump is the dominant frontrunner within the Republican Party, when matched head-to-head against Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, poll show Americans prefer the Democrats. watch
Jessica Greif, reporter for The Oregonian, talks with Rachel Maddow about the dramatic, and physically dangerous confrontation between protesters in kayaks and hanging from ropes who attempted to block a Shell Oil icebreaker from its Arctic mission. watch
* Ohio: "The University of Cincinnati officer indicted for murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed motorist pleaded not guilty Thursday morning and is being held on $1 million bond. Ray Tensing, 25, appeared briefly in Cincinnati court shackled and wearing a prison jumpsuit."
* Discouraging news out of Syria: "The commander of a group of Syrian fighters trained by the United States has been kidnapped by Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, his group said in a statement Thursday."
* Georgia: "Atlanta police said surveillance footage shows two men placing Confederate flags at two of Atlanta's most notable landmarks early Thursday: Ebenezer Baptist Church and Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site Visitor Center. As investigators worked to identify the men and their motive, church and civic leaders decried the act as terrorism, vowing not to be threatened."
* At this point, the Senate bill defunding Planned Parenthood is likely to get a vote next week, but it doesn't appear to have the support needed to pass.
* The Iran bill picked up another notable supporter today, with Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) endorsing the international nuclear agreement.
* On a related note "[House Minority Leader Pelosi] on Thursday hailed Obama for keeping the global negotiators at the table, characterizing the deal as 'a diplomatic masterpiece.' She said House Democrats are lining up behind the deal in numbers sufficient to uphold a veto of the expected Republican effort to sink the deal."
* Highway bill: "The Senate passed its long-term highway bill Thursday, though their work on federal infrastructure funding isn't over. Senators voted 65-34 to approve the six-year bill, which funds federal highway and infrastructure projects for three years."
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