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U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz speaks during an interview at his office at the Department of Energy in Washington July 18, 2013. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Obama cabinet secretary the GOP can't help but like

07/29/15 11:20AM

When an important international agreement is being negotiated, it stands to reason that diplomats will do most of the heavy lifting, But as the P5+1 nuclear deal was coming together, it wasn't just Secretary of State John Kerry helping lead the talks -- Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz played a critical role, offering scientific and technical expertise that made a real difference.
 
By most measures, the Secretary of Energy is not one of a cabinet's high-profile roles. I quizzed myself last night, trying to think of how many of Moniz's predecessors I could name from memory, only two -- Steven Chu and Bill Richardson -- came to mind.
 
And yet, all of a sudden, Ernest Moniz is drawing raves, even from White House critics who generally have no use for members of President Obama's cabinet. The Washington Post reported yesterday:
He's blinding them with science. Or intellectually charming them anyway. That's how Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz seems to be winning fans in the difficult fight to sell the Iran deal on Capitol Hill, even as skeptical lawmakers reserve plenty of vitriol for his partner on the journey, Secretary of State John Kerry.
 
Moniz, a nuclear physicist with mad-scientist hair, has already been credited as the administration's secret weapon in the lengthy negotiations to secure an Iran deal that will prevent the rogue country from securing a nuclear weapon.
It was surprising to see just how many congressional Republicans were willing to go on the record praising Moniz. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), for example, had positive things to say about the Energy Secretary following a closed-door briefing. So did Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.).
 
Even Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) "can't help but speak well of Moniz."
 
Remember, we're talking about a political environment in which GOP lawmakers don't usually speak well of anyone in the Obama administration.
 
But the nuclear physicist and longtime MIT professor is suddenly the most popular cabinet secretary in Washington.
Scott Walker (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty).

Walker, Clinton, and 'the company they keep'

07/29/15 10:40AM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) op-ed in the Des Moines Register yesterday:
You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep. Hillary Clinton is no exception. [...]
 
Much of Clinton's time [during her most recent trip to Iowa] was spent in meetings with union bosses. The fact that Clinton is shunning everyday Iowans in favor of big-labor special interests sends a clear message about where her true loyalties lie.
A Politico report, published just hours earlier:
Four leading GOP presidential candidates – Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker – are traveling to a Southern California luxury hotel in coming days to make their cases directly to the Koch brothers and hundreds of other wealthy conservatives planning to spend close to $1 billion in the run-up to the 2016 election. [...]
 
Freedom Partners' annual summer conference is set for August 1 through August 3, and is expected to draw 450 of the biggest financiers of the right... Most have the capability to write seven- or even eight-figure checks to the super PACs fueling the GOP presidential primary.
The Republican governor's timing certainly could have been better. It's odd enough for Walker to condemn Clinton for meeting with Iowa labor leaders, but for him to argue that it's wrong to "shun everyday" people as he hops on a jet to SoCal for a luxury gathering with far-right billionaires is a bit jarring.
 
Does this "send a clear message" about where his "true loyalties lie"?
 
The disconnect reminded me of Dana Milbank's recent Washington Post piece on Walker and why the columnist sees the governor as "so dangerous."
President Barack Obama speaks during his visit to the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution outside Oklahoma City July 16, 2015. (Photo Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Why criminal justice reform has a chance

07/29/15 10:00AM

Just a couple of weeks ago, President Obama put criminal-injustice issues up front and center in ways that were hard to miss.
 
On July 13, he commuted the sentences of dozens of non-violent drug offenders, some of whom were serving life sentences. On July 14, the president delivered a striking address at the NAACP's annual convention on the need for criminal-injustice reform. And on July 16, Obama became the first sitting president to personally visit a federal prison, even meeting with a group of non-violent convicts.
 
And in response, Republicans said ... very little. In an era in which Obama can barely wake up in the morning without GOP condemnations, Republicans -- on Capitol Hill, on the presidential campaign trail, in conservative media -- offered nothing in the way of presidential criticisms.
 
It wasn't long ago that any Democratic talk about criminal-injustice reforms would be met with immediate, knee-jerk talking points about "soft-on-crime" liberals who want to "coddle" criminals. Last month, however, as Rachel noted on the show, even House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he "absolutely" supports bipartisan reforms.
 
"We've got a lot of people in prison, frankly, that don't really in my view need to be there," the Republican leader told reporters, pleasantly surprising reform proponents. "It's expensive to house. Some of these people are in there for what I'll call flimsy reasons."
 
The New York Times reported yesterday that the winds of change have shifted in a way that makes real progress possible for the first time in at least a generation.
...Congress seems poised to revise four decades of federal policy that greatly expanded the number of Americans -- to roughly 750 per 100,000 -- now incarcerated, by far the highest of any Western nation.
 
Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who has long resisted changes to federal sentencing laws, said he expected to have a bipartisan bill ready before the August recess.
The details of Grassley's bill are not yet available, but the fact that the effort is moving forward at all is an amazing development.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives to take questions from members of the press following a weekly policy luncheon with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 13, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

GOP rolls out new Obamacare repeal gambit

07/29/15 09:20AM

Last month's Supreme Court ruling seemed to serve as a coda in the mind-numbing political fight over the Affordable Care Act. The legal questions have been resolved; the ACA is working effectively for consumers; polls show increasing support for the law and the U.S. system; and it was painfully obvious that the "Obamacare repeal" crusaders need a new hobby.
 
And yet, Republicans just can't help themselves. Bloomberg Politics reported late yesterday:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell championed a renewed push to bypass a filibuster and repeal Obamacare with 51 votes on Tuesday, he announced in a joint statement with Utah Senator Mike Lee, one of the most conservative Republicans in the chamber.
 
"Republicans are united in working to repeal the broken promises of Obamacare," McConnell said in the statement, adding that the Senate will "continue our effort to use reconciliation ... to fulfill the promise we made to our constituents."
The legislative maneuvering gets a little tricky, but here's the gist: GOP lawmakers realize that if they bring up a bill in the Senate to repeal the ACA and strip millions of Americans of their health care benefits, Senate Democrats will filibuster. There are 54 Republicans in the chamber, not 60, so this won't work.
 
But under Congress' often bizarre budget rules, lawmakers can sometimes pursue their goals through the "reconciliation" process, which bypasses filibusters.
 
If Senate Dems can't block the GOP scheme, does this mean the plan has a legitimate shot?
Speaker of the House Boehner listens as his fellow Republicans speak to the media after a conference meeting with House Republicans

House Republican takes aim at Boehner's job

07/29/15 08:40AM

In recent months, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has taken some fairly aggressive steps to enforce party unity, which has included meting out punishments for members who ignore the GOP leadership.
 
Near the top of the list is Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who helped create the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, and who was temporarily stripped of a subcommittee chairmanship after irritating the Speaker's office once too many times. (Meadows regained the gavel soon after.)
 
In June, amidst the behind-the-scenes turmoil, the North Carolina Republican hinted that he might try to take Boehner down. Apparently, as NBC News reported last night, Meadows wasn't kidding.
A House Republican often at odds with John Boehner launched a bid Tuesday to kick the speaker of the house out of his job -- an almost unheard-of rebellion but one that has been simmering for months.
 
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, filed a motion to "vacate the chair" -- a parliamentary maneuver that could be used to depose Boehner, R-Ohio.
The motion accuses Boehner of having "endeavored to consolidate power and centralize decision-making, bypassing the majority of the 435 Members of Congress and the people they represent," and of using "the power of the office to punish Members who vote according to their conscience instead of the will of the Speaker."
 
Is there any chance this could actually work? Is Boehner's job actually in jeopardy?
Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, pauses while speaking in Ames, Iowa, U.S., on July 18, 2015. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)

Team Trump capable of regret after all

07/29/15 08:03AM

Presidential campaigns have been known to struggle from time to time with problematic surrogates. The Romney campaign in 2012, for example, had its share of official representatives who struggled to stay on message, and four years earlier, the McCain campaign ran into some trouble with surrogate Carly Fiorina.
 
But leave it to Donald Trump's presidential campaign to break new ground in this area. MSNBC's Anna Brand reported:
Donald Trump is in the headlines again for comments about rape -- only it wasn't the presidential candidate who made the remarks this time around, but rather his attorney.
 
Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, in response to decades-old allegations resurfaced in a recent article regarding Trump's ex-wife, said "you can't rape your spouse."
The trouble started with a Daily Beast investigation into a rape allegation Ivana Trump made in 1989, a claim she has since walked back. The Daily Beast talked to Michael Cohen about the allegation, and the Trump attorney said, "You're talking about the front-runner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as private individual who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand that by very definition, you can't rape your spouse."
 
That, of course, is the opposite of the truth.
 
According to the published report, Cohen went on to tell the Daily Beast reporter working on the story, "I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we're in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don't have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know. So I'm warning you, tread very f----ing lightly, because what I'm going to do to you is going to be f----ing disgusting. You understand me?"
 
Trump's lawyer added, "You write a story that has Mr. Trump's name in it, with the word 'rape,' and I'm going to mess your life up ... for as long as you're on this frickin' planet ... you're going to have judgments against you, so much money, you'll never know how to get out from underneath it."
 
One of the striking things about Trump's national campaign is that it never apologizes and never seems to show any regrets. In this case, however, a spokesperson for the Republican presidential hopeful said that Trump "didn't know" of Cohen's comments, but the candidate "disagrees with him."

Trump and Kochs and other headlines

07/29/15 08:02AM

The Kochs freeze out Trump. (Politico)

Under oath, Donald Trump shows his raw side. (New York Times)

House Republican seeks to oust Speaker Boehner. (The Hill)

New video shows more of Sandra Bland's time in Texas jail. (AP)

Is Mullah Omar dead? Afghanistan probes reports about Taliban leader. (NBC News)

Eurontunnel says 37,000 migrants have tried to cross the English Channel this year. (NBC News)

New evidence should free 'Happy Birthday' from copyright, lawyers say. (New York Times)

read more

Ignoring Fox News debate game, Kasich surges

Ignoring Fox News debate game, John Kasich surges

07/28/15 10:35PM

Kasie Hunt, MSNBC political reporter, talks with Rachel Maddow about how Ohio Governor John Kasich's strategy of ignoring the Fox News debate qualification rules and focusing instead on early primary states is bearing fruit in polls in those states. watch

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 7.28.15

07/28/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* More on this on tonight's show: "Convicted spy Jonathan J. Pollard will be released from prison on Nov. 21 under an order issued Tuesday by the U.S. Parole Commission. The only U.S. citizen ever sentenced to life in prison for spying for an American ally, Pollard will be freed after serving 30 years of a life sentence for passing U.S. intelligence secrets to Israel."
 
* An important pickup for agreement proponents: "Representative Sander M. Levin, Democrat of Michigan and the longest-serving Jewish member now in Congress, said Tuesday he would support the Iran nuclear accord, lending a hefty voice of approval in a chamber deeply skeptical of the deal."
 
* Related news: "Seven former U.S. diplomats and State Department officials sent a letter Monday to leaders in Congress urging them to support the nuclear deal with Iran.... Former ambassadors to Israel -- James Cunningham, William Harrop, Daniel Kurtzer, Thomas Pickering and Edward Walker Jr. -- signed the letter."
 
* Scouts evolve: "Facing declining membership, legal threats, and -- likely, above all -- 'rapid changes in society,' the top policy-making body of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) on Monday voted 45-12 to formally end its longstanding blanket ban on openly gay adult leaders."
 
* Hacked: "Planned Parenthood, already a target of an anti-abortion group alleging illegal activity and congressional Republicans bent on defunding it, has confirmed that hackers have attempted to breach its systems." [Disclosure: my wife works for Planned Parenthood.]
 
* Avoiding an infrastructure shutdown: "Senate leaders said Tuesday they would take up legislation the House plans to move this week that would extend funding for the nation's highways, bridges and roads for another three months. "
 
* Good for Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.): "A bill to eliminate the 55-year-old U.S. embargo on Cuba will be introduced Tuesday by an unlikely member of Congress: a Republican in the House of Representatives."
(Photo by Carlos Barria/Pool/AP)

More information leads to more support for Iran deal

07/28/15 04:46PM

Before the international nuclear agreement with Iran was announced, U.S. polls consistently found the same results: Americans approved of the process. Despite skepticism about Iran, the U.S. mainstream repeatedly said it supported the Obama administration's efforts to find a diplomatic solution.
 
But now that an agreement has been reached and announced, polling data isn't quite as consistent. The Washington Post/ABC poll found that most Americans support the deal, while CNN found that most Americans don't support it. Public Policy Polling and Pew Research also released results pointing to contradictory public attitudes.
 
So, what do people really think? And why do the polls suddenly point in unhelpful directions?
 
Part of the issue here is that most Americans don't follow these issues closely, so gauging public opinion can get a little tricky. How pollsters word the question -- how much information Americans are given by the poll itself -- makes a big difference. Note, for example, how PPP presented the issue:
"The US and other countries have reached an agreement to place limits on Iran's nuclear program in order to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. In exchange for limiting its nuclear program, Iran would receive gradual relief from US and international economic sanctions. The International Atomic Energy Agency would monitor Iran's facilities and if Iran was caught breaking the agreement, the current economic sanctions would be imposed again. Would you say you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program?"
That's a pretty fair summary for someone who doesn't know much about the debate, and PPP found that a 54% majority either "strongly" or "somewhat" supports the agreement.
 
Other pollsters, however, provide respondents with little or no information. A Vox report concluded, based on the four most recent national polls, "the more information the pollster provided, the more likely the respondents were to support the deal."
 
That's probably a good sign for the merits of the agreement.
Arminda Murillo, 54, reads a leaflet at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, Calif., March 27, 2014. (Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

'Obamacare' thrives in nation's largest blue state

07/28/15 03:26PM

Many U.S. consumers have no doubt seen reports about the Affordable Care Act and predictions of significant increases in premiums in the very near future. Those worried about the projections should take note of the latest developments in California. The L.A. Times reported:
Defying dire predictions about health insurance rate shock across the country, California's Obamacare exchange negotiated a 4% average rate increase for the second year in a row.
 
The modest increase for 2016, announced Monday, may be welcome news for many of the 1.3 million Californians who buy individual policies through the state marketplace, known as Covered California.
 
California's rates are a key barometer of how the Affordable Care Act is working nationwide, and the state's performance is sure to be hotly debated among supporters and foes of the healthcare law, including the current crop of presidential candidates.
In case it's not obvious, a 4% average rate increase is tiny, and a small fraction of recent reports pointing to skyrocketing premiums. It's also much smaller than the kind of rate hikes that were common before "Obamacare" was signed into law.
 
What's more, as Mother Jones' Kevin Drum reported, with subsidy values also climbing a bit, and the even-more-modest increases in silver plans through the ACA, a lot of consumers are about to see their premiums shrink, not grow.
 
"I have a feeling this number is not going to be widely reported on Fox News," Kevin added.
 
That's a good line, but let's not brush past the underlying point too quickly.
Voting booths are illuminated by sunlight as voters cast their ballots at a polling place on Nov. 6, 2012. (Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)

The twists and turns of Missouri's gubernatorial race

07/28/15 12:51PM

Earlier this year, the Missouri's open gubernatorial race took a tragic turn when state Auditor Tom Schweich (R) committed suicide. Soon after, state Sen. Mike Parson (R), who had vowed to skip the race, threw his hat into the ring, only to recently drop out again.
 
In the meantime, one of the five Republicans still in the race, state Sen. Bob Dixon, is claiming to be a former gay person. TPM reported yesterday:
Dixon, who is now married to a woman and had three children with her, revealed in 1991 that he had identified as gay for five years until a "religious experience" led him to be straight again, according to a 1992 report from the Springfield News-Leader, which was resurfaced last week by the Riverfront Times. [...]
 
In 1991, Dixon told attendees at a Springfield, Mo., city council meeting about his time as a gay man, but did not elaborate on his "religious experience," which he said happened in October 1988, according to the News-Leader.
Dixon is now running on a statewide platform that includes opposition to marriage equality.
 
Missouri's Springfield News-Leader reported late yesterday that Dixon says he was abused as a child, "and this abuse led to the confusion he felt about his sexuality," leading him to identify as gay for five years.
 
In a statement, the Republican lawmaker added, "I have put the childhood abuse, and the teenage confusion behind me. What others intended for harm has resulted in untold good. I have overcome, and will not allow evil to win."

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