Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) is giving every indication that he's planning another presidential campaign, and over the weekend at a religious right rally, he gave a hint of the kind of national platform he'll pursue.
"Why are Bibles no longer in public schools? Don't give me the Supreme Court. The reason Bibles are no longer in the public schools is because we let them take them out of the public schools."
He added a variation on President Obama's campaign chant: "You say, 'Well we can't get them back in.' Yes we can. Yes we can!"
"How much are you willing to sacrifice?" the Republican continued. "One person got the Bibles out of the schools. We have more than one person here! But you've got to have the same passion in preserving our country as they do to transform it."
Santorum, who actually went to law school and served as a federal lawmaker for 16 years, is apparently a little confused. He made repeated references to a troublesome "they" -- it was "they" who made public schools secular; "they" are trying to transform the country -- but his condemnations are at odds with certain basic facts.
The new Congress started a little over two months ago. As of this afternoon, this Congress already features two House Republicans resigning. The first was Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), who resigned in January, and the second is Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) who announced his departure today.
Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock resigned Tuesday, less than 12 hours after POLITICO raised questions about tens of thousands of dollars in mileage reimbursements he received for his personal vehicle.
Schock billed the federal government and his campaign for logging roughly 170,000 miles on his personal car between January 2010 and July 2014. But when he sold that Chevrolet Tahoe in July 2014, it had only roughly 80,000 miles on the odometer, according to public records obtained by POLITICO under Illinois open records laws. The documents, in other words, indicate he was reimbursed for 90,000 miles more than his car was ever driven.
It's hard to know whether this one controversy pushed the Illinois Republican over the edge. It's just as likely Schock suffered from a cumulative effect -- the congressman's troubles began in earnest six weeks ago with the story about his office's "Downton Abbey" décor, but it's been followed by a series of related controversies involving Schock using funds inappropriately.
The GOP lawmaker's resignation letter says his departure is effective March 31. Schock does not acknowledge wrongdoing, but he said "the constant questions over the last six weeks have proven a great distraction that has made it too difficult for me to serve the people of the 18th District with the high standards that they deserve and which I have set for myself."
Schock is one of Congress' youngest members and he's been a very public face for his party -- at times even becoming a literal cover model -- hoping to present Republicans in a more youthful light. His career, however, now appears to be over.
As of a few months ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expected to win another term with relative ease. But as the polls pointed to a much closer race, and Netanyahu's position became far less secure, the prime minister started to succumb to degrees of political panic.
Indeed, today is Election Day in Israeli, and Netanyahu appears to be losing his cool a bit.
"The right-wing government is in danger," Netanyahu wrote in a Facebook post. "Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out." [...]
Some 20 percent of eligible voters in Israel are Palestinians, also referred to as Israeli Arabs.
As the Washington Post's report noted, many Palestinians have chosen not to participate in national elections in recent years in order to protest Israeli policies the West Bank and Gaza. This year, however, "a coalition of Arab parties opted to run on a joint ticket."
And though Netanyahu's social-media message was no doubt intended to motivate the Israeli right, there's some anecdotal evidence that the prime minister may also be creating a backlash. BuzzFeed talked to a Palestinian woman named Nour Aslan who was on the fence about whether to vote today -- right up until she saw Netanyahu's controversial rhetoric.
"This is an outrage. It is embarrassing. Are we not citizens of Israel? Do we not deserve to vote?" Aslan said, adding that the prime minister's message left her "shaking with anger. "
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:
* With Israeli elections underway today, two far-right American actors -- Chuck Norris and Jon Voight -- released new ads yesterday expressing their support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
* I don't want to alarm anyone, but a new CNN poll shows Democratic and Republican voters differ on whether or not the Hillary Clinton email story matters. As best as I can tell, the CNN poll did not ask respondents about Republican presidential candidates with similar email issues.
* There is apparently a downside to Jeb Bush's fundraising prowess: expectations are now so high that anything short of amazing will seem like a disappointment. (If I worked for Scott Walker, I'd be telling every reporter I could find that Bush is on track to raise $17 trillion this quarter.)
* Speaking of the former Florida governor, Bush will make his first campaign swing through South Carolina today. He's "lined up friendly audiences," scheduling events with local Chambers of Commerce members.
* Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist wrote on his Facebook page yesterday that he's decided not to run for the Senate next year. "I will not be seeking office in 2016," he said, "but I will be working alongside you. Too much is at stake for our beautiful Florida to be on the sidelines."
* Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) appears increasingly serious about a presidential bid, hiring some notable Republican operatives, including a former spokeswoman for House Speaker John Boehner, as campaign aides for his national bid.
Following up on our previous coverage, the Justice Department's reports on local government in Ferguson, Missouri, were, in many instances, heartbreaking. The documented evidence was hard to ignore -- we were confronted with a picture of systemic, institutional racism on the part of members of the local police and municipal court officials.
There are a variety of ways to respond to the revelations, though Andrew Kaczynski yesterday highlighted one of the more discouraging reactions I've seen.
The lieutenant governor of Missouri says "there is more racism in the Justice Department" than in the St. Louis area, pointing the finger at President Obama and the Justice Department who, he says, often incited "the mob" in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown back in August of 2014.
The comments came by way of Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who told NewsMaxTV's Steve Malzberg that the Justice Department is "staffed with radical, hard-left radical, leftists lawyers."
After condemning Attorney General Eric Holder as being "unlike any previous attorney general," Kinder added that "many" DOJ officials "have spent most of their careers defending Black Panthers and other violent radicals."
Kinder also argued that Obama and Holder were directly responsible for "inciting" a mob and "encouraging disorder in Ferguson and disrupting the peaceable going-about of our lives in the greater St. Louis region." The lieutenant governor went on to argue that there's "more racism in the Justice Department than there is any, uh, yes, anywhere that I see in the St. Louis area."
According to the BuzzFeed piece, Kinder argued, "It is the left. It is the Eric Holder and Obama-left and their minions who are obsessed with race. The rest of us are moving on beyond it."
There's nothing to suggest the Republican official was kidding.
From the White House podium, press secretary Josh Earnest is usually pretty circumspect in his criticisms of lawmakers. Yesterday, however, President Obama's spokesperson was far less guarded -- the Senate Republicans' handling of Loretta Lynch's Attorney General nomination, and their willingness to connect this to an unrelated human-trafficking bill, was just too much for Earnest.
"You've got to hand it to Republicans, that they've taken even a measure as common sense as [combating human trafficking] and turned it into a partisan controversy.
"That is not a reflection of a flaw in the bill. It's a reflection of inept leadership."
Specifically on Lynch, the White House press secretary added that the A.G. nominee is being subjected to "an unconscionable delay." Reflecting on whether or not President Obama can "trust" GOP leaders on Capitol Hill, Earnest noted that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed to bring Lynch's nomination to the floor this week, before reversing course.
"There is no question that Republicans are playing politics with the nomination of the nation's top law enforcement official, and it should come to an end," Earnest added.
For his part, McConnell told reporters yesterday that the previous Senate Democratic majority could have voted on Lynch during last year's lame-duck session, but they didn't, delaying the vote until the new Congress. McConnell "failed to point out that that delay was at his request," the president's spokesperson reminded reporters yesterday.
Senate Republicans have struggled so far to defend their posture and demands -- McConnell has said Lynch will wait indefinitely until Democrats approve the Senate GOP version of the human-trafficking bill -- and in an unexpected twist, Senate Republicans actually ran into trouble yesterday at the hands of House Republicans.
It's hard to miss the evidence that the 2016 presidential race is already well underway. We have plenty of ambitious politicians raising lots of money, hiring staff, opening field offices, doing interviews, taking subtle jabs at rivals, and spending an inordinate amount of time in Iowa and New Hampshire. Pollsters are conducting surveys; news organizations are scheduling debates; and various groups are organizing straw polls. For all intents and purposes, the race is on.
What we don't have are actual candidates.
Listen to any of the would-be presidents talk about the race and you'll hear perfunctory qualifiers: "if I run"; "if we move forward"; "we're still planning the next steps"; etc. At this point, several candidates have created super PACs or exploratory committees, but a grand total of zero people have launched their presidential campaigns.
The result is a curious complaint: we've grown accustomed to the political world expressing dismay at how early the campaign process begins, but this year, we've reached mid-March, and we're still waiting for someone, anyone, to deliver a formal kick-off speech.
To put this in perspective, by mid-March of 2007, seven Democrats and four Republicans had already launched their campaigns. One candidate, then-Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D), had already announced his candidacy and dropped out of the race by this point in the process eight years ago.
And yet, here we are. We have a pretty good sense of who the candidates are going to be, and the race certainly seems to be underway, but as a technical matter, the field remains empty. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) over the weekend briefly referred to himself as a "candidate" on Twitter, only to quickly delete the tweet soon after, scurrying back to his "unannounced for now" status.
What's driving this? It's not that the candidates are being coy. Rather it has to do with fundraising laws. The Wall Street Journalreported the other day:
One of the most discouraging facets of Republican governance in recent years is the aggressive new restrictions on voting rights, unlike anything Americans have seen since the Jim Crow era.
Between the Supreme Court's ruling on the Voting Rights Act and the coordinated GOP campaign, half the nation's states "have adopted measures making it harder to vote" since 2011. Ari Berman recently added that from 2011 to 2015, "395 new voting restrictions have been introduced" in 49 states.
But while the national tide is moving in a regressive direction when it comes to voting rights, some states are doing the opposite. David Ingram reported yesterday on a breakthrough policy taking root in Oregon.
New legislation signed into law [on Monday] in Oregon paves the way for the state to one day have close to 100% voter registration. The new law takes the federal "motor voter" law to new levels and registers a person to vote when they obtain or renew a state driver's license or ID – and it's partially retroactive.
The law dictates that once residents interact with the state DMV -- whether to get a license or ID for the first time, or renew an existing one -- they'll become registered to vote if they aren't already. The registration will be provisional for 21 days, during which time applicants will be notified of their new status and be given a chance to become affiliated with a political party or to opt-out of the voting process altogether.
That opt-out provision is key. In recent years, whenever ideas like these have come up, conservatives have argued that it's unconstitutional to force eligible Americans to register to vote if they don't want to. In effect, Americans have a right to forgo the benefits of citizenship if they want to.
Oregon is acknowledging this by giving the public a choice: eligible residents will be included in the system, but those who want to withdraw voluntarily are free to do so.
It's flipping the traditional model on its head. Currently, in all states, the burden is on the individual -- if you're eligible to vote, it's up to you to take the affirmative steps needed to register. There are groups committed to helping people do that, though in recent years GOP policymakers in states like Florida have made these voter-registration efforts more difficult, too.
But Oregon is poised to do the exact opposite, shifting the burden from the individual to the state.
As last week progressed, and the scope of the fiasco surrounding the Senate Republicans' letter to Iran became more obvious, many GOP officials on Capitol Hill furiously tried to think of excuses. The scramble was understandable: Republicans had tried to sabotage American foreign policy, and the stunt hadn't gone well.
Over the course of three days, congressional Republicans came up with at least four different excuses, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) blaming a D.C.-area snowstorm the week before. None of the arguments was particularly persuasive.
But National Review's Deroy Murdock yesterday presented the most amazing excuse yet: the 47 Senate Republicans shouldn't be criticized for sending a letter to Iran since they didn't literally, physically "send" anything.
Before U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and 46 of his GOP colleagues are frog-marched to the gallows and hanged for treason, one vital point of confusion must be cleared up. Say what you will about the Republicans' open letter "to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran." The Cotton/GOP letter regarding Tehran's atom-bomb talks with Obama was not sent to the ayatollahs.
Had Cotton & Co. actually delivered their communique to Iran's mullahs -- perhaps via a Swiss diplomatic pouch or something even more cloak and dagger -- their critics would be on less swampy ground in calling them "traitors," as the New York Daily News screamed.
The National Review piece added that "the Cotton Club" -- Tom Cotton and his 46 GOP cohorts -- "did not send its letter anywhere." Murdock added, "Cotton & Co. never even dropped an envelope in the mail."
How do we know for sure this is an unpersuasive argument? Because Tom Cotton himself says so.
Americans learned yesterday that the Affordable Care Act has extended health care coverage to 16.4 million people, slashing the nation's uninsured rate by over a third, against the backdrop of related system-wide good news. This puts "Obamacare" critics in an unenviable position: trying to characterize a law that's working as a horrible failure, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who's struggled in this area before despite being the Senate GOP's point person on health care, gave it his best shot. "Millions of people have lost coverage they liked," the far-right senator told the New York Times, repeating a dubious claim unsupported by the evidence. He added that extending coverage to millions through Medicaid expansion is "hardly worth celebrating."
He didn't say why, exactly, he finds it discouraging when low-income families receive coverage through Medicaid.
But the funnier reaction came by way of a Wall Street Journalpiece.
Edmund Haislmaier, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, said the report also doesn't include essential information on how many people who signed up on exchanges were previously uninsured.
"It's premature to say it's ACA-related," Mr. Haislmaier said.
The number of uninsured historically also has been closely aligned with the economy, with numbers rising during recessions and falling as conditions improve.
Joe Berlinger, award-winning documentarian, talks with Rachel Maddow about the role HBO's "The Jinx" documentary about Robert Durst played in leading prosecutors to re-open a murder case in which Durst is accused, and the timing of evidence presented. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the case of Cecil Clayton, who suffered a head injury requiring the removal of 20 percent of the frontal lobe of his brain. Clayton faces execution in Missouri for murder despite never having had his competency tested. watch
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