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US Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a 2016 Republican White House hopeful, listens to members and their guests at the Londonderry Fish and Game Club in Litchfield, NH, Jan. 14, 2015. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Rand Paul's past continues to haunt him

04/16/15 10:00AM

About four years ago, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) faced booing during debates for the Republican presidential candidates when he said American foreign policy led to the 9/11 attacks. The response -- from the audience and the other candidates -- made clear that the party has no use for such an argument.
 
Four years later, it's Ron Paul's son who's now running for president -- and he's said largely the same thing.
Rand Paul said in 2007 interview that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East was at the core of the reasons for terrorism and that the 9/11 Commission showed that the September 11th attacks were made in response to U.S. presence in foreign lands. [...]
 
In the interview, Paul went on to take aim at then-President George W. Bush, calling him "ridiculous" for saying "they hate us for our freedom." Paul said Americans should try to understand "why they hate us" and what policies create terrorism.
As the BuzzFeed report noted, Rand Paul said in the 2007 interview, "I mean, you have to recognize what policy creates terrorism. Because you can't kill every Muslim in the world. There's a billion Muslims. We have to learn to live together to a certain point."
 
Is it any wonder the Kentucky Republican is eager to declare his pre-Senate remarks as irrelevant?
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie holds a town hall meeting at Londonderry Lion's Club April 15, 2015 in Londonderry, New Hampshire

Despite 1% status, Christie says he's 'not wealthy'

04/16/15 09:10AM

The median household income in the United States is about $52,000 a year. Politicians would be wise to remember that.
 
One Republican congressman last year said lawmakers "don't make a lot of money," despite his $174,000 annual salary. In 2011, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) complained about driving "a used minivan" and how much he "struggles" to pay his bills, despite his large congressional salary. Around the same time, another GOP lawmaker, with a net worth about $56 million, said he and his family were "struggling like everyone else."
 
And yesterday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) joined the ignominious club.
Nov. Chris Christie insists he's not rich, but is nonetheless confounded by the complexity of his tax returns and again hinted that he might back a simplification of the U.S. income tax code should he run for president.
 
"The fact that my wife and I, who are not wealthy by current standards, that we have to file a tax return that's that thick ... is insane," Christie told the editorial board of the Manchester Union-Leader on Monday, holding his thumb and forefinger several inches apart. "We don't have nearly that much money," he said.
Actually, the Christies are very well-off. According to the governor's 2013 tax returns -- the most recent information available -- the Christie family's annual income is about $700,000That's not just 1 percent status, that's 0.8 percent status.
 
The nj.com report added that Christie makes more than eight times the median household income in New Jersey.

Jobless claims climb again, reach six-week high

04/16/15 08:40AM

The level itself is not alarming, but we hoped to see initial unemployment claims moving away from the 300,000 threshold, not moving towards it.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment-insurance benefits rose by 12,000 to 294,000 in the week that ended April 11, hitting the highest tally in six weeks and signaling some pickup in the pace of layoffs, according to Labor Department data released Thursday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits to hold steady at 281,000 in the most recent weekly data. The four-week average of new claims rose 250 to 282,750.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it’s worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it’s best not to read too much significance into any one report.
 
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it’s considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 25 of the last 31 weeks.
Loretta Lynch is sworn in during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 28, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

GOP obstructionism on Loretta Lynch becomes farcical

04/16/15 08:00AM

Take the last seven U.S. Attorney General nominees and add together how long they had to collectively wait for a confirmation vote. Then double that total. Loretta Lynch has waited longer than that.
 
President Obama's nominee to replace Eric Holder has now been waiting 159 days -- nearly 23 weeks -- and everyone involved in the process agrees that Lynch has the votes necessary to prevail. 
 
But the Senate Republican leadership, which is allowing other confirmation votes, still won't allow members to vote on Lynch. As Politico reported, some civil-rights advocates are taking their frustrations to the next level.
Loretta Lynch's allies are launching a hunger strike until she's confirmed as attorney general, but they could be waiting weeks if Republicans follow through on their threat to delay Lynch even longer. [...]
 
The advocacy group founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, along with female civil-rights leaders, are planning the hunger strike, in which groups of fasters will alternate days abstaining from food until Lynch is confirmed to replace Eric Holder at the Justice Department.
Sharpton, of course, is the host of msnbc's "Politics Nation."
 
GOP leaders continue to insist that Lynch, who's being subjected to treatment without precedent in Senate history, will not receive a vote until Democrats meet the Republicans' demands: advancing an unrelated bill with anti-abortion language in it. The Democratic minority said again yesterday that holding Lynch's nomination hostage like this is ridiculous -- a position that has the benefit of being true.
 
Making matters slightly worse, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said yesterday the chamber will soon move on to a measure related to Iran policy, which means delaying work on the human-trafficking bill, which in turn means delaying Lynch even further.

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 4.15.15

04/15/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Tehran pays attention to current events: "Iran's president on Wednesday dismissed the compromise worked out between the Obama administration and Congress over an impending nuclear agreement as internal American politics, saying the Iranians were negotiating with six countries, not just the United States.'
 
* The complexities of the Middle East: "Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Tuesday that he fears the ongoing military intervention by Saudi Arabia in Yemen will lead to regional sectarian war, and he added that the Obama administration shares his concerns."
 
* Fortunately, no one appears to have been hurt: "The U.S. Capitol Police have arrested a single occupant of a gyro-copter that landed on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. According to the Tampa Bay Times, a Florida mailman was trying to deliver a message on campaign reform to Congress."
 
* A movement takes shape: "In what organizers are calling the largest ever mobilization of American workers seeking higher pay, low-wage employees from a range of sectors walked off the job and rallied in hundreds of cities across the country Wednesday."
 
* Menendez case: "The Florida doctor charged in a political corruption case along with Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey was charged on Tuesday in a 76-count indictment. Prosecutors accused him of a Medicare fraud that they said sought to cheat the health care program of as much as $190 million."
 
* Arizona: "Police released video that shows an Arizona officer running over an armed suspect last month, sparking a debate over whether the cop saved the man's life or used excessive force."
 
* DEA: "Lawmakers expressed outrage on Tuesday at the punishments imposed on Drug Enforcement Administration agents who were accused of participating in sex parties with prostitutes while stationed in Colombia."
 
* Good thinking: "In an effort to ensure investors are getting truly objective advice, the Labor Department on Tuesday issued a proposed rule that would require all advisors who offer retirement advice to put their clients' interests first."
In this image from the U.S. Library of Congress, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln sits for a portrait on Feb. 5, 1865. (Photo by Alexander Gardner/U.S. Library of Congress/Getty)

How not to honor the Lincoln legacy

04/15/15 05:07PM

Abraham Lincoln died exactly 150 years ago today, so there's a fair amount of media coverage this week about the nation's legendary 16th president. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) joins the commemoration with a USA Today op-ed honoring Lincoln -- and using the opportunity to take a gratuitous jab at President Obama.
 
Much of the piece is roughly what one would expect. Rubio celebrates Lincoln as a courageous, transformational figure; he talks a bit about himself and his agenda; and then he decides to use the Lincoln anniversary to disparage Obama's ideology (via Ed Kilgore).
Our current president ran for office on calls of opportunity and unity. He claimed the mantle of Lincoln. While his intentions were genuine, his presidency has only deepened our divisions and cost us opportunities. This is not because of a flaw in his character, but rather a flaw in his ideas.
 
His ideas tell us that becoming better off requires someone else becoming worse off. They tell us the only way to climb up the economic ladder is to pull someone else down. They tell us there are two Americas -- one of haves, one of have-nots -- and that government is the best hope for those in search of a better life.
Even if we put aside the question of propriety -- is it really necessary to go after the current president while honoring Lincoln on the anniversary of his death? -- Rubio's description of Obama's vision can charitably be described as absurd. If the far-right senator actually believes this nonsense, it's alarming how little attention he's paid to current events over the last six years.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., joined by attorneys Paul D. Clement, far left, and Rick Esenberg, second from left, announces that he has filed a lawsuit to block the federal government from helping to pay for health care coverage for members of Congress and th

An 'unfortunate political stunt' gets thrown out of court

04/15/15 03:56PM

In January 2014, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was so eager to demonstrate his opposition to the Affordable Care Act that he filed a deeply strange lawsuit against "Obamacare": he wanted to make coverage more expensive for people who work on Capitol Hill. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Johnson's home state of Wisconsin, said at the time that the senator's lawsuit was "frivolous" and an "unfortunate political stunt."
 
In July 2014, a federal district judge threw Johnson's case out of court. This morning, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, an appeals court also blew off the Republican senator's misguided case.
A federal appeals panel sided with a lower court Tuesday to throw out a lawsuit over Obamacare brought by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and one of his aides.
 
Johnson's suit attempted to force members of Congress and their staffs to stop getting subsidies for their health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, which is widely known as Obamacare.
The 7th Circuit's decision, which was unanimous, is online here (pdf).
 
As we discussed last summer, the problem here has always been one of "standing": how would the Republican senator demonstrate that he's been harmed by the health care policy he doesn't like? When filing a lawsuit challenging the legality of a law, it's not enough for plaintiffs to say, "I don't like it." Johnson had to demonstrate that he'd been adversely affected by ACA benefits.
 
The far-right senator's lawyers rolled out a creative line -- coverage for congressional staff led to Johnson's "damaged political reputation," according to the suit -- which has now failed miserably.
 
And which, ironically, has damaged Johnson's political reputation.
President Barack Obama laughs with former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, April 25, 2013.

Forgetting the not-so-distant past

04/15/15 12:48PM

Perhaps no portion of Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) presidential kickoff speech was more memorable than this:
"While our people and economy are pushing the boundaries of the 21st century, too many of our leaders and their ideas are stuck in the 20th century.
 
"They are busy looking backward, so they do not see how jobs and prosperity today depend on our ability to compete in a global economy. So our leaders put us at a disadvantage by taxing, borrowing and regulating like it's 1999."
It may have been some kind of attempt at a Prince joke, but Rubio couldn't have picked a worse point of comparison. As Roll Call noted yesterday, "The problem with the senator's statement is that the government is neither taxing, nor borrowing, nor regulating like it did in 1999."
 
In 1999, the U.S. economy was still in the midst of a Clinton-era boom. We had higher taxes, faster growth, and lower unemployment. What's more, we weren't "borrowing" at all -- by 1999, the deficit had disappeared entirely and the nation was running a large surplus.
 
As we talked about yesterday, Rubio sees 1999 as some kind of dystopia to be avoided, but by any sane metric, those were economic conditions America should strive for, not avoid.
 
But the Florida Republican's remarks came just days after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) argued, "The last president we had was Ronald Reagan that said we're going to dramatically cut tax rates. And guess what? More revenue came in, but tens of millions of jobs were created." None of this is even remotely true.
 
The week before, George Will mis-remembered Reagan's jobs record. A few weeks prior, Gov. Scott Walker (R) argued that Reagan firing air-traffic controllers was "the most significant foreign policy decision" of his lifetime -- which is plainly ridiculous.
 
Taken together, a common thread starts to emerge: prominent Republican leaders have no real memory of the 1980s and 1990s. It's like some kind of mass amnesia has taken root in GOP circles.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.15.15

04/15/15 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:
 
* As if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) didn't have enough troubles, a poll out this week found that nearly 70% of his own constituents say he would not make a good president. A 58% majority of Garden State residents say "presidential" does not describe the governor "at all."
 
* How wide open is the race for the Republican presidential nomination? A USA Today/Suffolk University Poll released yesterday found every candidate in single digits. Scott Walker narrowly led the field with 9% support, followed by Jeb Bush at 8% and Ted Cruz at 7%. Rand Paul was fourth with 5%.
 
* Jake Tapper reminded Marco Rubio yesterday, "You are casting yourself as a candidate of a new generation. But there is an issue where you are very out of step with younger voters, even younger Republican voters. On that issue, same-sex marriage, senator, you're the candidate of yesterday."
 
* Around the same time, Fox News' Andrea Tantaros argued that Hillary Clinton may have had lunch at Chipotle this week as part of "Hispanic outreach."
 
* Where was Rand Paul when he skipped all of those Senate Homeland Security Committee hearings? BuzzFeed took a closer look. In most instances, it seems the senator blew off official business to appear on TV or to attend fundraisers.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greets supporters at George Washington University in Washington on June 13, 2014.

Why the GOP can't turn Clinton into Romney

04/15/15 11:23AM

The fact that Hillary Clinton has no competitive rival for the Democratic nomination offers the candidate plenty of benefits. She won't have to worry about spending tens of millions of dollars, for example, to overcome intra-party competitors. Clinton can also keep an eye on Election Day, effectively running a 19-month general-election campaign.
 
But the downsides are equally obvious -- most notably the fact that there will be a massive field of Republican candidates, each of whom will spend every day of their campaigns taking shots in Clinton's direction. Every Republican committee, PAC, super PAC, oppo firm, and allied entities won't have to divide their attention or resources. They'll have one enemy.
 
They'll of course have to settle on a line of attack, and if this Politico report yesterday is correct, Republicans seem to be on the wrong track.
A consensus is forming within the Republican Party that the plan of attack against Hillary Clinton should be of a more recent vintage, rooted in her accumulation of wealth and designed to frame her as removed from the concerns of average Americans. [...]
 
The out-of-touch plutocrat template is a familiar one: Democrats used it to devastating effect against Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. While Hillary Clinton's residences in New York and Washington may not have car elevators, there's still a lengthy trail of paid speeches, tone-deaf statements about the family finances and questions about Clinton family foundation fundraising practices that will serve as cornerstones of the anti-Clinton messaging effort.
The headline said the Republicans' plan is to "turn Hillary into Mitt Romney."
 
Right off the bat, it's hard not to appreciate the dramatic shift in GOP thinking. In 2012, when Democrats rolled out the "out-of-touch plutocrat" line of criticism, Republicans spent months in fainting-couch apoplexy. Democrats are engaging in "class warfare," they said. Democrats are "trying to divide the nation," voters were told. Democrats are "condemning success," GOP operatives insisted.
 
Three years later, however, these same Republicans suddenly want to adopt Democratic talking points as their own? It's almost as if the pushback in defense of Romney was insincere.
 
But that's really just the start of the problem.

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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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