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President Barack Obama answers a question at a town hall meeting on reducing gun violence at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., on Jan. 7, 2016. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty)

Poll: US mainstream sides with Obama on guns

01/08/16 10:40AM

President Obama made clear last weekend that he was getting ready to announce some new reforms to gun policy, setting the stage for the latest round of a heated debate. On cue, Republicans screamed bloody murder, not only after learning of the White House plan, but also before they knew any details.
 
Call it an "anticipatory tantrum" -- GOP politicians knew they were outraged, even before they knew why.
 
But if their goal was to persuade the public, the party failed miserably. Last night, CNN released the results of a new national poll.
The American public is broadly supportive of the executive actions issued by President Barack Obama this week aimed at increasing the reach of federal background checks for gun purchases and improving enforcement of existing laws. [...]
 
A new CNN/ORC poll finds 67% say they favor the changes Obama announced, and 32% oppose them.
To be sure, there's widespread skepticism that the administration's policy will make a significant difference, but the public is nevertheless supportive of the effort itself. In fact, one of the key takeaways from this survey is how broad the backing is: most Democrats (85%), independents (65%), and Republicans (51%) favor Obama's initiative. Most gun owners (57%) and rural residents (56%) are on board, too.
 
This doesn't come as too big of a surprise, especially given polling from recent years showing roughly 90% of the public endorsing background checks on gun buyers.
 
In a polarized era in which partisans seem to agree on practically nothing, a rough, mainstream consensus has taken shape around this issue. The question is why this doesn't create the conditions necessary for change.
Marco Rubio

These boots are made for mocking, and that's just what they'll do

01/08/16 10:03AM

Casual news consumers may have noticed something odd this week: widespread references to Marco Rubio's footwear. Many are probably wondering why in the world this is popping up, and if it's my job to help folks navigate political waters, I suppose it's worth one explanatory blog post.
 
First, a little historical context. It seems about once a presidential election cycle, prominent candidates are confronted with -- and annoyed by -- coverage of seemingly meaningless trivia, accompanied by just a dash of symbolic significance. John Edwards, for example, faced stories about his haircuts. Al Gore was slammed repeatedly by breathless chatter about wearing "Earth tones." Barack Obama saw a mind-numbing amount of chatter about arugula.
 
And in that same vein, Rubio's lovely leather boots this week have been the focus of similar interest. Donald Trump is talking about them. So is Rand Paul. And Ted Cruz. And Carly Fiorina.
 
Yesterday, the Florida senator apparently couldn't take it anymore.
"So let me get this right: ISIS is cutting peoples' heads off, setting people on fire in cages, Saudi Arabia and Iran are on the verge of a war, the Chinese are landing airplanes on islands that they've built…in international waters, our economy is flat-lining, and the stock market's falling apart -- but boy, are we getting a lot of coverage about a pair of boots!"
 
"This is craziness! Have people lost their minds?" Rubio asked, incredulously.
This is a perfectly natural, healthy reaction, and to a very real extent, Rubio is right to be gobsmacked. John Kerry's affinity for wind-surfing was also a pointless distraction from issues that mattered. Some might argue that Mitt Romney's treatment of his family's dog wasn't important, either.
 
But the funny thing about presidential campaigns -- one of them, anyway -- is that the candidates don't get to choose which of these little idiosyncratic stories take root.

Even the right can't deny job market's hot streak

01/08/16 09:11AM

We talked earlier about the new job numbers, which showed 2015 ending on a very strong note. But let's also take a moment to add some context to the data.
 
Overall, the U.S. economy added 2.65 million jobs in 2015 last year, 2.55 million jobs in the private sector alone. Was the year as strong as 2014? Not quite, but it was close -- and the back-to-back performance matters.
 
Even looking at 2015 in isolation, the year saw better job growth than in any year of the Bush/Cheney era -- or the Bush/Quayle era, for that matter. But when 2015 is combined with 2014, we see a job market on a two-year hot streak unmatched since 1998 and 1999.
 
Not too shabby.
 
Of course, there's a political angle to this that's worth broader consideration. Congressional Republicans and GOP presidential candidates believe with absolute certainty that many of President Obama's domestic policy accomplishments -- the Affordable Care Act, higher taxes on the wealthy, Wall Street regulations, et al -- are crushing the economy and stifling the American job market.
 
Indeed, voters are hearing from a large field of far-right White House hopefuls who insist, literally every day, that the only way to create jobs in this country is to do the exact opposite of what President Obama has done.
 
And yet, here we are, with over 3 million jobs created in 2014, 2.65 million jobs in 2015, and an unemployment rate that's been cut from 10% to 5% in fairly short order.
 
Why Americans would feel an urgent need to dramatically change economic direction is entirely unclear.

Job market wraps up 2015 on a very strong note

01/08/16 08:44AM

Many economists predicted the U.S. job market would end 2015 on a strong note, but few expected it to be this strong.
 
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the U.S. economy added 292,000 jobs in December, well above projections. The overall unemployment rate remained at 5.0%, which is still the lowest it's been since February 2008, nearly eight years ago.
 
Making matters even better, the revisions were also heartening: October's job totals were revised up, from 298,000 to 307,000, while November's totals were also revised up, from 211,000 to 252,000. Combined, that's an additional 50,000 previously unreported jobs.
 
All things considered, this should be considered one of the best jobs reports of the year. Anyone rooting for the American economy should feel very good about this data.
 
Overall, the U.S. economy added 2.65 million jobs in 2015 -- 2.55 million in the private sector alone -- which in modern times represents a solid year for job growth. December was the 63rd consecutive month of positive job growth -- the best stretch since 1939 -- and the 70th consecutive month in which we've seen private-sector job growth, which is the longest on record.
In this Jan. 7, 2015 file photo, Republican Gov. Paul LePage delivers his inauguration address in Augusta, Maine. (Photo by Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

GOP governor under fire following racially charged comments

01/08/16 08:00AM

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R), already facing possible impeachment in an abuse-of-power scandal, is no stranger to controversies involving race. Early on in his term, for example, the Republican governor got in a dispute with the Maine NAACP over his decision to skip events honoring Martin Luther King. In reference to the civil-rights group, LePage said, "Tell them to kiss my butt."
 
Two years later, according to Republican attendees to a LePage gathering, the far-right governor complained that President Obama doesn't emphasize his biracial heritage because the president "hates white people." He later denied having made the comments.
 
This week, however, LePage went just a little further still. The Portland Press Herald reported on comments the governor made at a town-hall meeting on Wednesday night.
About 30 minutes into the meeting, which was rebroadcast Thursday night, LePage responded to a question about how he was tackling substance abuse in Maine. He began talking about how much of the heroin is coming into Maine from out-of-state drug dealers.
 
"These are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty ... these types of guys ... they come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, they go back home," LePage told a large crowd. "Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue we have to deal with down the road."
By way of a defense, as Rachel noted on the show last night, the governor's spokesperson said in a statement to reporters, "The governor is not making comments about race. Race is irrelevant."
 
Look, I feel bad for anyone who has to defend Paul LePage's rhetoric; it must be an unpleasant and incredibly difficult job.
 
But if the governor's office expects to be taken seriously, pretending LePage wasn't making comments about race only makes matters worse.
Flint water donations run dry, no state plan

Water donations run dry in Flint, no action from Governor Snyder

01/07/16 09:21PM

Stephanie Gosk, NBC News correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow about how the people of Flint have been relying on scarce water donations to replace their toxic water supply as Governor Rick Snyder has increased the amount he's talking about the crisis without taking any actual short-term action for the people of Flint who are without... watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 1.7.16

01/07/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* I hope you're not retiring right now: "U.S. stocks closed sharply lower Thursday as China news overnight and low oil prices renewed concerns about global economic growth."
 
* Tensions still rising in the Middle East: "A diplomatic crisis roiling the Middle East intensified Thursday as Iran claimed that a Saudi airstrike overnight hit its embassy in Yemen, a charge not supported by signs of damage but that nevertheless raised tensions between the rivals."
 
* Korea: "As the world unravels North Korea's self-proclaimed hydrogen bomb test, the timing ahead of ruler Kim Jong Un's birthday this week and a major government gathering in May suggest a ruler trying to reassert his authority amid increased scrutiny -- including possible, internal pressure from the ruling elite."
 
* Texas: "[Brian Encinia], the Texas state trooper charged with perjury in the arrest of Sandra Bland has turned himself in to authorities.... A grand jury indicted Encinia a day earlier on a misdemeanor perjury charge for allegedly lying about the circumstances of his arrest of Bland last summer.... The Texas Department of Public Safety announced after the indictment that it would begin the process of firing Encinia."
 
* Climate crisis: "Last year was the second hottest on record in the contiguous United States, and included 10 major weather and climate events, such as droughts and storms, that each led to over $1 billion in damages, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Thursday."
 
* Guantanamo: "The first two of the 17 detainee scheduled to be released from Guantanamo Bay prison this month will be transferred to Ghana, U.S. military officials announced Wednesday."
 
* All things considered, the job market fared quite well last year: "The number of Americans who applied for new unemployment benefits in 2015 fell to the lowest level in 42 years."
U.S. President Barack Obama departs after speaking about the shooting attacks in Paris, from the White House in Washington Nov. 13, 2015. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

GOP rep: censure Obama over gun policy

01/07/16 04:25PM

Over the course of five years in Congress, Rep. Steven Palazzo (R) of Mississippi has maintained a relatively low profile. He's offered a spirited defense of the Confederate flag, and he opposed emergency disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy victims while supporting it for his home state, but in general, the far-right congressman hasn't developed much of a national profile.
 
That may soon change. TPM reported this afternoon:
Staunch gun rights advocate Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) introduced a resolution on Wednesday to "censure and condemn" President Barack Obama over his newly announced executive actions on gun control.
 
"For seven years, the President has gradually expanded his powers through executive overreach," the Mississippi lawmaker wrote in a statement published on his website. "His actions this week to take away the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens is just the latest, if not most egregious, violation of the separation of powers found in the United States Constitution."
The congressman's statement is online here, but it does not include any explanation of why Obama's executive actions on gun policy -- actions the NRA said do not actually do anything of significance -- "take away" anyone's constitutional rights.
 
Palazzo should probably work on this a bit before Congress takes the historic step of officially condemning a sitting president for modest, incremental administrative tweaks to existing gun laws.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) prepares to speak at his weekly media briefing inn the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 10 2015. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

Paul Ryan captures what's wrong with the gun debate

01/07/16 12:52PM

One of the more unusual reactions to President Obama's new measures on gun policy came from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). For example, the congressional leader condemned an "executive order" from the White House that doesn't exist.
 
But more important was this quote in reference to the president: "His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty."
 
It's hard not to get the impression that Ryan seems intimidated by the wrong things. Is the Republican leader alarmed by the routinization of deadly mass-shootings? No, what Paul Ryan finds intimidating is presidential rhetoric about background checks. What an odd thing to say.
 
Part of the problem for the House Speaker is that he may not be fully on board with his own talking points. The Huffington Post had a good catch earlier this week.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) criticized President Barack Obama on Monday for planning to use his executive authority to implement gun control measures.
 
But take Obama out of the equation, and Ryan is just fine with tighter background checks on gun sales -- the very thing Obama is expected to focus on -- and with a president taking executive actions on major policy issues.
As recently as 2013, the Wisconsin lawmaker told the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel efforts to close the so-called gun-show loophole are "reasonable" and "obvious." Ryan added that the issue arose on Capitol Hill shortly after his first election. "At the time I remember thinking, 'You know, there is a loophole here. We should address that,'" he said.
 
This week, however, the GOP leader said, "There is no loophole.... This is a distraction."
 
Keep in mind, that interview isn't from some point in the distant past. It was the year before, in 2012, that Ryan was on his party's national ticket as the Republican vice presidential nominee.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.7.16

01/07/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* The latest PPP poll in New Hampshire shows Hillary Clinton narrowly leading Bernie Sanders, 47% to 44%, with Martin O'Malley trailing with 3%. Clinton fares very well among Democrats; Sanders fares just as well with independents planning to vote in the Democratic primary.
 
* Does Vice President Biden regret his decision not to run for president? "I regret it every day," he said yesterday, "but it was the right decision for my family and me."
 
* Clinton unveiled additional details on her autism initiative this week, and Roll Call reports that experts are "optimistic" that her agenda would make a significant difference.
 
* I don't much care about Marco Rubio relying heavily on private jets, but I think it's a shame his campaign told reporters for months that the Florida senator flies commercial -- and sits in coach.
 
* Speaking of Rubio, Rand Paul is also turning his attention to his Florida colleague, arguing yesterday, "I think Rubio is the weakest candidate on national defense because he's weak on border security."
 
* The DNC is launching its first Spanish-language video of the cycle, hitting Republicans on, of all things, guns. "The majority of gun owners support universal background checks," the ad says. "But all of the Republican candidates oppose the prevention of firearm violence."
 
* In Virginia, Rep. Dave Brat (R), who won one of the biggest primary upsets in modern history in 2014, will face a primary challenge of his own this year from Henrico County Sheriff Mike Wade (R).
Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. John McCain, and Sen. Ted Cruz listen to the State of the Union address, Jan. 28, 2014.

Why McCain's shot across Cruz's bow matters

01/07/16 11:07AM

There was a fleeting moment around this point eight years ago in which some questioned John McCain's eligibility for the presidency. The Republican senator, well on his way to becoming his party's nominee, was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936, prompting some pointless questions about whether he was literally a "natural-born citizen."
 
Few took those questions seriously; even McCain's harshest critics dismissed the concerns out of hand; and the Senate quickly approved a resolution -- written and sponsored by Democrat Claire McCaskill -- declaring, "John Sidney McCain, III, is a 'natural born citizen' under Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States." It passed without opposition.
 
The recent history adds a degree of irony to McCain's comments about Ted Cruz yesterday.
Arizona Sen. John McCain said he doesn't know if the Canadian-born Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is eligible to be president, saying the Supreme Court might have to decide if Cruz is eligible to be president.
 
"I don't know the answer to that," said McCain on the Chris Merrill Show on KFYI550 on Wednesday of Cruz's eligibility.
As the BuzzFeed report added, McCain went on to say, in reference to Cruz, "I think it's worth looking into." McCain added he thinks Cruz should try to get ahead of these eligibility issues, though without access to a time machine, how he'd go about doing this is a bit of a mystery.
 
It's a genuine shame that Donald Trump has pushed this issue into the spotlight, because as best as I can tell, this entire line of attack is misguided. For all intents and purposes, natural-born citizens are those who were citizens at the time of their birth. This applies to Cruz. End of story.
 
I can think of about a thousand reasons to be concerned about a Cruz presidency, but his eligibility isn't one of them.
 
What I find more interesting, however, is Cruz's sudden need for friends in high places.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) listens to a question at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York May 13, 2015. (Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Rubio takes a turn, follows Trump's lead on 2016 tone

01/07/16 10:15AM

Over the summer, Donald Trump soared to the top of Republican presidential polls, vowing to "make America great again." At the time, Marco Rubio made a conscious, deliberate effort to reject his rival's pitch.
 
Trump's wrong, Rubio said in August, because America is already great. "I know what [Trump] is trying to say," the senator added in September, "but my problem is that America is a great country."
 
That was four months ago. Last night, at a campaign event in Iowa, Rubio told his audience, "We are going to be a great country again ... if you give me the chance to be your president."
 
The difference isn't subtle. All of that stuff Rubio said over the summer, rejecting the idea that America is somehow falling short of greatness, no longer applies. The Florida senator has stopped rejecting Trump's line and started echoing it.
 
And this is hardly the only example. Bloomberg Politics reported this morning that Rubio's "tone has darkened as he chases rivals Donald Trump and Ted Cruz for his party's nomination."
Marco Rubio has adopted a darker tone in the first week of 2016, deploying increasingly apocalyptic rhetoric and fiercer attacks on Republican rivals that provide a stark contrast with the relatively non-confrontational brand of sunny optimism that had characterized his presidential campaign through 2015.
The Bloomberg article lists some striking examples of Rubio changing his posture dramatically, pushing fear-based messages that are as hysterical as they are dumb. "Barack Obama released terrorists from Guantanamo, and now they are plotting to attack us," Rubio foolishly claimed in a new TV ad. "His plan after the attack in San Bernardino: take away our guns," the senator added, repeating an obvious, demagogic lie.
 
"If we get this election wrong, there may be no turning around for America," Rubio told voters this week, the same day he blamed the United States for North Korea's provocative weapons tests.
 
A Washington Post piece noted this morning that Rubio has "de-emphasized the optimistic language about 'a new American century' that was the hallmark of 2015." It added Rubio's condemnations of Democrats have grown "more piercing, the elbows he is throwing at his GOP opponents are sharper and his warnings about the national security risks of siding with them over him are more dire and more frequent."
 
So much for sunny, Reagan-esque optimism.

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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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