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Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and a Republican presidential contender, speaks on the floor of the U.S. Senate, May 20, 2015, at the Capitol in Washington, during a long speech opposing renewal of the Patriot Act. (Photo by Senate TV/AP)

The point of Rand Paul's 10-hour spectacle

05/21/15 08:00AM

One of the more noteworthy points of Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) relatively brief political career came two years ago with a 13-hour speech. Taking advantage of John Brennan's CIA nomination, the Republican senator demanded to know, "Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?"
 
It's a shame, in a way, that this was a defining moment for Paul, because his question didn't really make much sense. The Justice Department responded a day later with a one-sentence reply -- no, the president does not have that authority -- and Paul said he was satisfied.
 
But the substance was largely overlooked, and the spectacle impressed many of Paul's core supporters and much of the political media. His limited understanding of the issue didn't matter -- "Stand With Rand" was born.
 
Which brings us to yesterday, and the Kentucky lawmaker's latest attempt at a Senate spectacle. Paul took the Senate floor mid-day, and as NBC News reported, wrapped up shortly before midnight.
Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul has ended a more than 10 ½-hour filibuster-like speech on the Senate floor to protest the renewal of the Patriot Act, highlighting his opposition to the National Security Agency's controversial bulk collection of telephone data.
As his speech got underway, Paul said on Twitter, "I've just taken the senate floor to begin a filibuster of the Patriot Act renewal. It's time to end the NSA spying!"
 
Strictly speaking, that's not quite right. For one thing, it wasn't a filibuster. For another, the bill pending on the Senate floor at the time was a trade measure, not renewal of the Patriot Act. And finally, Paul's 10-hour speech won't end the NSA's surveillance program, or really have much of an impact on public policy at all.
 
So if Paul's explanation for the stunt paints an incomplete picture, what was the actual point of yesterday's drama on the Senate floor?

Pipeline operator's record and other headlines

05/21/15 07:44AM

Pipeline operator in Santa Barbara oil spill has high rate of safety infractions. (L.A. Times)

What Rand Paul accomplished in a 10 hour, 31 minute stand off against the PATRIOT Act. (Bloomberg Politics)

Mike Huckabee decides to skip the Iowa straw poll. (Des Moines Register)

Months before U.S. raid, bin Laden contemplated leaving Pakistan compound. (Washington Post)

Japan approves third nuclear plant for restart. (Reuters)

ISIS in control of Palmyra ruins, activists say. (AP)

Letterman signs off with a roast from nearly every living president. (Politico)

read more

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 5.20.15

05/20/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* The latest oil spill: "Crews are rushing to contain an oil spill that has befouled four miles of scenic California coastline just before the Memorial Day holiday. The spill, about 20 miles up the coast from Santa Barbara, was estimated at 21,000 gallons. The Coast Guard said a planned flyover Wednesday morning would give authorities a better sense of scope."
 
* Nebraska: "Nebraska lawmakers voted to abolish the death penalty Wednesday with enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto. Lawmakers voted 32-15 on a bill to replace the death penalty with life without parole as the state's highest penalty. Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) has vowed to veto the bill, but the legislature is expected to have enough votes to override the veto."
 
* Newly declassified OBL documents: "In his Pakistani redoubt where he hid for years from American intelligence services, Osama bin Laden worked as a CEO-in-exile for al Qaeda, sending letters to his operatives, critiquing the current state of jihad, and offering strategic lessons on staying relevant and out of harm's way, newly released documents show."
 
* Some drama on the Senate floor: "Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul has begun a filibuster-like speech on the Senate floor to protest the renewal of the Patriot Act, highlighting his opposition to the National Security Agency's controversial bulk collection of telephone data."
 
* It passed on a 387-to-35 vote: "The House on Tuesday approved a two-month extension of funding for transportation projects, setting up what could be a defining fight over money for highways and other infrastructure this summer after years of stopgap measures."
 
* On a related note, even Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) conceded this week that the problem with the highway bill "is really more Republicans than Democrats."
 
* Israel: "Responding to intense criticism, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Wednesday abruptly shelved a contentious pilot project introduced this week that prohibited Palestinians returning to the West Bank from riding on the same buses as Israelis headed to Jewish settlements."
 
* Good move: "Oregon Gov. Kate Brown made her state the third to outlaw the use of conversion therapy on minors on Monday, eliminating the controversial practice that President Barack Obama called to ban in early April."
Demonstrators protest during an immigration reform rally in front of the U.S. Capitol on Capitol Hill in Washington in this October 13, 2009 file photo.

What consensus on immigration looks like

05/20/15 04:01PM

It was just a few years ago when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) endorsed a "commonsense path to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The Republican governor last year evolved a bit, saying he no longer wanted to talk about his position. This week, the reversal was complete -- he told Fox News he opposes the position he used to support.
 
But reading msnbc's Aliyah Frumin's report, one thing jumped out at me: how, exactly, Christie wants to proceed on the issue.
"I think that, quite frankly, what Hillary Clinton's doing right now is pandering. That's pandering. We need to have an intelligent conversation about this and bring the American people along to where we can find consensus."
I'd love to hear more about how Christie defines the word "pandering." For example, is it pandering when a Republican presidential hopeful, struggling to make inroads with his party's right-wing base, inexplicably flip-flops on immigration -- bringing himself in line with the conservative knee-jerk litmus test?
 
Because by some measures, it certainly seems as if someone in this story is pandering, and it's not the former Secretary of State.
 
But even more important is Christie's goal: finding "consensus." On this, I'm afraid I have bad news for the GOP governor: you're too late. Policymakers already found consensus.
Barack Obama, George W. Bush

Put Iraq blame where it's due

05/20/15 12:50PM

For most of the last week, as Republican presidential candidates have been asked whether they would have invaded Iraq and started a disastrous war, the GOP line has been simple: blame it on the intelligence community.
 
The Republican message, predicated on short memories, is that George W. Bush was a responsible leader, trying to do the right thing, who based life-or-death decisions on the best available information. As we discussed on Monday -- and as Rachel explained in a segment I hope you saw on Monday night -- this line isn't even close to being true.
 
All of which leads us to Republican Talking Point #2: blame President Obama.
Blame President Barack Obama, not his predecessor, for the turmoil in Iraq, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told New Hampshire's WMUR.com. [...]
 
"I blame Obama for Iraq, not Bush," Graham said as he toured New Hampshire.
Graham, an unannounced Republican presidential candidate, said the same thing on CNN this week: "At the end of the day, I blame President Obama for the mess in Iraq and Syria, not President Bush."
 
Kristol brought his preternatural ability to always be wrong about everything to Twitter this week, arguing that when Bush/Cheney left office, Iraq was "calm." Then that rascally Obama screwed everything up.
 
James Woolsey, the former CIA director and war proponent, told TPM this week that the only thing that could have changed his mind about the invasion -- even with the benefit of hindsight -- was President Obama. "'I should have said in '03, 'No, I don't want us to go to war under Barack Obama," Woolsey said.
 
David Kurtz, mocking the Republican line, paraphrased the nonsense this way: "We had a good thing going in Iraq, then boom, six years after the invasion, Obama took office and messed the whole thing up."

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.20.15

05/20/15 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:
 
* In Kentucky's Republican gubernatorial primary, Matt Bevin now holds an 83-vote lead over Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer, but Comer has asked for a re-canvass. It's been scheduled for the morning of May 28.
 
* Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) huddled with congressional Republicans on Capitol Hill yesterday, and reportedly told the 75 members on hand "to imagine what they could do with majorities in Congress and a bold conservative in the White House."
 
* On a related note, Walker is apparently still getting used to the pressure of a national campaign, complaining to CNN yesterday, "I'm probably the most scrutinized politician in America."
 
* After Gov. Chris Christie (R) said his constituents believe he'd be a bad president because they don't want him to leave New Jersey, the editorial board of the Newark Star-Ledger said the governor "lost his marbles on national TV."
 
* On a related note, Christie told New Hampshire voters this week that his "experience" running against Barbara Buono (D) in New Jersey in 2013 helped prepare him for running against Hillary Clinton at the national level. He didn't appear to be kidding.
 
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, Hillary Clinton, responding to several questions from voters, has instructed her policy team "to draw up solutions to the burgeoning opiate epidemic."
Texas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott speaks to member of the media following a meeting with President Barack Obama and newly elected governors at the White House on Dec. 5, 2014. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

When the GOP abandons its commitment to local control

05/20/15 11:20AM

About a year ago, a variety of states and cities had grown tired of waiting for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage, so they began doing it on their own. Oklahoma's Republican-run state government took action of its own, but largely in reverse.
 
According to a state law signed by Gov. Mary Fallin (R), communities that want to raise their local minimum wage or create their own paid-sick-leave policies are prohibited from doing so. The state would simply not allow for local experimentation with progressive ideas.
 
As we talked about at the time, contemporary conservatism generally celebrates "local control" as an valuable governing principle. For the right, the government that's closest to the people -- literally, geographically -- is best able to respond to the public's needs.
 
But when communities consider progressive measures Republicans don't like, those principles are quickly thrown out the window. Sometimes, GOP policymakers declare, states much intervene and snuff local control out.
 
This happens quite a bit. Take this Reuters report out of Texas this week.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Monday signed a bill into law that prohibits cities and towns from banning an oil drilling practice known as hydraulic fracking, giving the state sole authority over oil and gas regulation.
 
Lawmakers in Texas, a state that is home to the two of the most productive U.S. shale oil fields, have been under pressure to halt an anti-fracking movement since November, when voters in the town of Denton voted to ban the oil and gas extraction technique.
Now, that political "pressure" is no more. Even if a city in Texas wants to protect itself from potential fracking hazards, the state government simply won't allow it.
 
It's amazing how often this happens nationwide, not just on fracking and the minimum wage, but with almost anything state Republicans consider offensive at the local level. This Associated Press report from Monday was striking:
2016 presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks at the National Rifle Association convention, April 10, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Mark Humphrey/AP)

Ted Cruz questions whether liberals are 'obsessed with sex'

05/20/15 10:40AM

In April, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) was asked about anti-gay discrimination, which the right-wing senator dismissed as a relatively trivial concern. Cotton told CNN he thinks "it's important that we have a sense of perspective about our priorities. In Iran they hang you for the crime of being gay."
 
It was an odd argument. Not only does it compare the United States to a Middle Eastern theocracy on the issue of civil rights, but Cotton's suggestion is that so long as gay people aren't being executed, the LGBT community shouldn't complain about public discrimination.
 
On the campaign trail yesterday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) offered a similar message in his home state. The Washington Post reported:
...Texas's junior U.S. senator -- visiting Beaumont to meet privately with county officials and others -- got in a light sparring round with reporters, mainly working on his attacks on Hillary Rodham Clinton and defending his views on same-sex marriage.
 
"Is there something about the left -- and I am going to put the media in this category -- that is obsessed with sex?" Cruz asked after fielding multiple questions on gay rights. "ISIS is executing homosexuals -- you want to talk about gay rights? This week was a very bad week for gay rights because the expansion of ISIS, the expansion of radical, theocratic, Islamic zealots that crucify Christians, that behead children and that murder homosexuals -- that ought to be concerning you far more than asking six questions all on the same topic."
The far-right senator then started complaining bitterly about msnbc, for reasons that weren't entirely clear.
 
Let's unwrap Cruz's little tantrum, because I think this is important in the context of the 2016 race.
Pedro Rojas holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, before the February 15th deadline on Feb. 5, 2015 in Miami, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Obamacare critic gets sick, changes his mind

05/20/15 10:01AM

It's hardly a secret that the Affordable Care Act has plenty of fierce critics, but once in a while, we're confronted with amazing anecdotes about consumers who thought they hated "Obamacare," right up until they needed it.
 
Last year, for example, we were introduced to a Philadelphia-area man who was convinced he wanted no part of the ACA, based on coverage he'd seen on Fox News. But when the man ran into health trouble, a friend convinced him to give "Obamacare" a try, and he soon after had life-saving valve-replacement heart surgery. Had he not changed his mind, the man later said, he "probably would have ended up falling over dead."
 
There are plenty of similar examples elsewhere, but Luis Lang seems to be a special case. The South Carolina man gained quite a bit of notoriety online after Lang refused to get health insurance, discovered he'd suffered several mini-strokes, began to lose his eyesight, and found himself unable to work.
 
Lang, at least initially, blamed the Affordable Care Act for his troubles. Though that obviously didn't make any sense, the lifelong Republican ignored enrollment deadlines, but assumed the system would help him in the event of a crisis.
 
Lang may have benefited from Medicaid expansion, but he lives in South Carolina -- which means his Republican-led state government is willing to leave him and people like him behind. Lang eventually turned to a crowdfunding campaign, urging volunteer donors to help him raise money to pay the surgery he needs but can't afford.
 
In an interesting twist, ThinkProgress' Tara Culp-Ressler reported this week that Lang has learned a lot from his ordeal -- and he's even walking away from the GOP.
"Now that I'm looking at what each party represents, my wife and I are both saying -- hey, we're not Republicans!" Lang said. He added that, though he's not a political person by nature and has never voted solely along party lines, he wants to rip up his voter registration card on national television so Americans will have proof that he's making the switch.
If a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged, perhaps a Democrat is a Republican who needs medical care.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks to the press on Dec. 17, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty)

Marco Rubio tests the limits of the politics of fear

05/20/15 09:20AM

If last year's midterm elections were defined by anything, it was fear. In the closing weeks of the cycle, Republicans did everything they could to scare the bejesus out of voters, telling Americans to be terrified of ISIS terrorists, Ebola, and quite possibly ISIS terrorists with Ebola.
 
The politics of fear prevailed and Republican candidates had a terrific year at the ballot box. It's a lesson Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) may be taking a little too seriously.
 
The New Republic's Jeet Heer explained yesterday the degree to which Rubio "wants to scare Americans into voting for him."
[Monday], Marco Rubio announced the new theme of his campaign: "The fundamental problem we have in America is that nothing matters if we aren't safe." According to Rubio, "The world has never been more dangerous than it is today," which means "the economic stuff" has to take a backseat to national security. [...]
 
This black-and-white language negates the possibility that security is one value among others, that it needs to be balanced against competing values such as liberty or peace. It's hard to imagine cruder appeals to fear. And by appealing to fear in the name of security, they only ensure they'll get less of what they say they want.
Part of the challenge for Rubio is overcoming his general distaste for policy depth, especially in areas of national security. The Florida Republican has a great affinity for catchphrases and over-simplified principles, which frequently generate applause from far-right audiences feasting on red meat, but which often makes it seem as if the senator has no idea what he's talking about.
 
Last week, for example, Rubio declared "our strategy" on national security should mirror Liam Neeson's catchphrase in the film "Taken": "We will look for you, we will find you and we will kill you."
 
Soon after, the candidate's team unveiled the "Rubio Doctrine," described by Charles Pierce as "three banalities strung together in such a way as to sound profound and to say nothing."
 
If a national campaign for the White House were an elaborate test to identify which candidate is best as sloganeering, Rubio would have an excellent chance at success. But there is -- or at least should be -- a little more to it.

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