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This Jan. 21, 2016 photo shows the water tower at the Flint, Mich., water plant. (Photo by Perry Rech/American Red Cross/AP)

Michigan GOP casts Obama admin as Flint villain

02/05/16 03:34PM

Ted Cruz this week reflected on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which the Republican presidential hopeful blamed, at least in part, on the city having been governed "with one-party government control of far-left Democrats for decades."
 
The fact that the crisis was created by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's (R) administration and his emergency manager in Flint -- local Democratic officials had no decision-making authority -- was a detail the Texas Republican appears to have missed.
 
But if Cruz exploiting a man-made disaster for partisan gain seemed crude, the Michigan Republican Party has him beat. The Huffington Post reported today:
The Michigan Republican Party would like you to know that Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has been busy trying to heal the city of Flint while the malevolent Obama administration has only stood in the way.
 
That's the message of an infographic the state party started putting out on social media on Thursday. The light blue water droplets on the left represent actions Snyder has taken since October, when his administration admitted its own mistakes created a crisis in Flint, a city whose 100,000 residents still can't drink the water because of high lead levels. The dark blue droplets supposedly show unhelpful actions taken by the Obama administration, such as the refusal to declare a federal disaster area in the state (it declared an emergency instead).
As of this minute, the image is still available on the Michigan Republican Party's Facebook page. If it's taken down, it appears that the fine folks at Eclectablog, a Michigan-based site, have published the same image.
 
We know, of course, what state Republicans were thinking when they created this absurd infographic. GOP officials, recognizing the severity of this catastrophe and scandal, are desperate to avoid blame. Taking responsibility for Republicans' mistakes is hard; reflexively lashing out at the White House, even if it doesn't make any sense, is easy.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump pantomimes a candidate with low poll numbers as he address the audience at a campaign rally in Nashua, N.H., Jan. 29, 2016. (Photo by Gretchen Ertl/Reuters)

As Primary Day nears, latest polls show more competitive race

02/05/16 12:49PM

The New Hampshire primary is just four days away, and the results of this contest appear likely to have a powerful impact on the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
 
And while polls only offer hints about the state of the race, the latest survey results offer some important insights. Here, for example, is new NBC/WSJ/Marist poll of Granite State Republicans, conducted entirely after the Iowa caucuses.
 
1. Donald Trump: 30% (down from 31% before two weeks ago)
2. Marco Rubio: 17% (up from 11%)
3. Ted Cruz: 15% (up from 12%)
4. John Kasich: 10% (down from 11%)
5. Jeb Bush: 9% (up from 8%)
6. Chris Christie: 4% (down from 7%)
 
A new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll, also conducted after Iowa, has the race shaping up this way:
 
1. Donald Trump: 29% 
2. Marco Rubio: 19%
3. John Kasich: 13%
4. Jeb Bush: 10%
5. Ted Cruz: 7%
6. Chris Christie: 5%
 
And then there's the CNN/WMUR poll, also conducted after Iowa.
 
1. Donald Trump: 29% (down from 30% last week)
2. Marco Rubio: 18% (up from 11%)
3. Ted Cruz: 13% (up from 12%)
4. John Kasich: 12% (up from 9%)
5. Jeb Bush: 10% (up from 6%)
6. Chris Christie: 4% (down from 8%)
6. Carly Fiorina: 4% (unchanged)

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.5.16

02/05/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* When the remaining Republican presidential candidates take the stage for their debate tomorrow night, only seven of the nine will be participating. ABC announced last night that Carly Fiorina and Jim Gilmore didn't make the cut, and there will be no kids-table debate.
 
* Though most national polling shows Hillary Clinton with relatively comfortable leads over Bernie Sanders, the new Quinnipiac poll shows Clinton's advantage shrinking to just two points.
 
* Hillary Clinton's campaign announced yesterday it raised $15 million in January, which would be an extremely impressive haul were it not for the fact that Bernie Sanders' campaign raised $20 million over the same period.
 
* Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) threw his support to Chris Christie today. Only five sitting GOP governors have made endorsements this cycle, and three of them are backing Christie.
 
* When Marco Rubio taught a class at Florida International University in Miami, he reportedly "worked less than 10 hours a week and missed three-in-10 classes during his first semester of teaching -- all while making more than most part-time visiting professors."
 
* Former President George W. Bush is reportedly the star of a new campaign commercial crafted by Jeb Bush's super PAC. The 30-second spot is set to begin airing in South Carolina today.
 
* Ted Cruz told voters in New Hampshire yesterday that "in the media newsrooms and in the Washington establishment circles," Marco Rubio is "the chosen one." Reflecting on the Iowa caucus results, Cruz added, "In the media's telling, bronze is the new gold."
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at a town hall meeting at a Toyota dealership on Feb. 4, 2016 in Portsmouth, N.H. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty)

Cruz sees border wall as solution to drug abuse

02/05/16 11:20AM

When Ted Cruz reflected this week on the crisis in Flint -- which he inexplicably blamed on local Democratic officials who had no decision-making authority -- he wrapped up his thoughts by reflecting on the road ahead for struggling cities like Flint. The solution, Cruz added, is to "go with the policies that work" -- such as giving taxpayer money to private schools.
 
It was a bit jarring. A discussion about poisonous water led the Republican presidential hopeful to think about privatizing education -- as if, on some unidentified level, the two unrelated topics were pieces of the same puzzle.
 
Yesterday, we saw something eerily similar happened at an event in New Hampshire. The Wall Street Journal reported:
Ted Cruz spent 18 minutes telling an emotional, gripping story of his family's history of drug and alcohol abuse. His older half-sister and later his father, he told an addiction policy forum, got hooked and became addicted. His sister died, his father survived only after becoming religious, Mr. Cruz said in a Baptist church here.
 
So it was jarring to hear Mr. Cruz then pivot to his policy solution: building a wall along the nation's southern border to stop illegal immigration and halt the flow of drugs from Mexico.
"If we want to turn around the drug crisis we have got to finally and permanently secure the border," Mr. Cruz said. "We need to solve this problem; we need to build this wall."
 
At a certain level, my expectations have fallen to such a low point, I'm inclined to give Cruz at least some credit for acknowledging an actual, real-world problem. There's a drug epidemic; it's destroying lives and families; and policymakers at every level desperately need to take it seriously. While some Republicans have dismissed the addiction crisis as meaningless, it seems like a small step in the right direction for Cruz to recognize, even briefly, that the problem exists.
 
If only his proposed solution were serious, we might be getting somewhere.
Voting booths await voters in Red Oak, Iowa, Tuesday, June 3, 2014, ahead of the Iowa primary elections.

House Speaker says he's helpless on voting rights

02/05/16 10:42AM

In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, clearing the way for a variety of conservative states to impose new restrictions, putting more hurdles between voters and their elections process. The justices, in a 5-4 ruling, effectively told Congress it'd be up to legislators to revise the landmark law.
 
To that end, President Obama and congressional Democrats are championing a fix called the "Voting Rights Advancement Act," introduced last June. In the House, the bill has picked up 157 co-sponsors, all 157 of whom are members of the Democratic minority. In the Senate, it has 41 co-sponsors, 40 of whom are in the Democratic minority. (Alaska's Lisa Murkowski is the exception.)
 
In other words, if there's going to be any progress on this issue, supporters of voting rights are going to need some Republican allies. The good news is, the top GOP lawmaker in Washington is sympathetic to the Democrats' push. The bad news, reported yesterday by The Hill, is that this lawmaker doesn't intend to do anything about it.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told black lawmakers Wednesday that he supports new voting rights protections they've championed, but said he won't bypass a committee chairman to move legislation, according to a Democrat who attended the gathering.
 
"He said it right in front of everybody -- he said he supports the [Jim] Sensenbrenner bill," Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), said after Ryan met with the group on Capitol Hill.
 
"So somebody was saying, 'Well, why don't you go tell your committee chair to do it?' " Cleaver added. "And he said, ... 'Look, I can't do that.' "
Except, of course, he can.
Barack Obama, Edna Pemberton

'Obamacare' enrollment points to continued success

02/05/16 10:04AM

When the first open-enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act began in October 2013, it failed miserably thanks largely to a website that simply didn't work. After a month, an underwhelming total of 106,185 consumers signed up for insurance through an exchange.
 
And Republicans thought this was hilarious. The GOP's "Obamacare" critics, not at all shy about rooting for failure, openly mocked the system, pointing to sports venues with more than 106,185 seats. For the right, low enrollment totals stood as undeniable proof that the Affordable Care Act was "hurtling toward failure," and conservatives could hardly contain their glee.
 
A little more than two years later, the right's laughter has disappeared -- right along with the low enrollment totals.
About 12.7 million Americans signed up for 2016 health insurance coverage through the government insurance exchanges, surpassing its expectations, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said on Thursday.
 
That means Republicans running in this year's elections may find it harder to deliver on their promise of repeal, while Democrats may yet be able to tap the newly insured as a voting constituency.
"Open enrollment for 2016 is over and we are happy to report it was a success," Burwell told reporters. "It's clear that marketplace coverage is a product that people do want and need."
 
Going into the open-enrollment period, the Obama administration projected totals between 11 million and 14 million, and yesterday's announcement put the actual figure almost exactly between those two points.
 
So far, I haven't seen any congressional Republicans pointing to stadiums that can hold 12.7 million people. Maybe they're still looking.
Republican presidential candidate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie arrives in the backyard at a house party in Salem, N.H., July 17, 2015. (Photo by Winslow Townson/AP)

'Budding alliance' hopes to change GOP race before it's too late

02/05/16 09:34AM

The contours of the Republican presidential race are increasingly obvious. A three-man top tier -- Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio -- are positioned to compete for the party's nomination, and if that trio represents the top three in the New Hampshire primary early next week, their rivals will likely find their paths to success permanently blocked.
 
Every GOP candidate is well aware of this, and some of those who expected to come up short in New Hampshire decided to quit in recent days. But of particular interest are Chris Christie and Jeb Bush, who've invested heavily in the Granite State, and who are quietly beginning to cooperate a bit. The New York Times reported this week on the "back-channel" cooperation between the two camps, both of which are facing possible elimination.
While emails, texts and phone calls between operatives in rival campaigns are not uncommon in the tight-knit world of political strategists, the contact among senior aides in the two campaigns has drifted toward musings about what can be done to stop or at least slow Mr. Rubio, the operatives said.
 
In a sign of a budding alliance, the aides have, for example, exchanged news articles that raise potential areas of vulnerability for Mr. Rubio. There is no formal coordination, the operatives stressed, but rather a recognition of a shared agenda.
It's tempting to think of this as a non-aggression pact, but that's an incomplete description. Bush and Christie haven't just decided to avoid attacking each other, they've also agreed to start attacking the candidate they see in their way.
 
So, what are they offering? Both Republican governors slammed Rubio yesterday for the fact that he's never actually accomplished anything in public office -- a nagging detail the senator and much of the party prefer to overlook --- and Christie told a New Hampshire audience yesterday, in reference to the Florida senator, "He's not ready to be president."
 
But there was something else Christie said during an MSNBC interview that struck me as interesting.

Unemployment rate drops below 5%, reaches 8-year low

02/05/16 08:51AM

After a sizzling jobs report surprised nearly everyone a month ago, a less impressive report seemed almost inevitable. Projections pointed to growth under 200,000 for the month.
 
And as those projections were a little overly optimistic. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the U.S. economy added just 151,000 jobs in January. And while that's a disappointing figure -- which will be revised in the coming months -- the overall unemployment rate inched lower to 4.9%, reaching a low last seen in February 2008, exactly eight years ago.
 
While the overall total on job creation fell short, it's also worth noting that this report pointed to an increase in average hourly earnings, which was quite encouraging.
 
In terms of the revisions, today's report is the once-a-year report that revises every month from the previous calendar year. On this front, the news is also good: we previously believed the U.S. economy created 2.65 million jobs in 2015, but the new, final tally is 2.74 million.
 
January was the 64th consecutive month of positive job growth -- the best stretch since 1939 -- and the 71st consecutive month in which we've seen private-sector job growth, which is the longest on record.
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on stage before the start of the Democratic presidential debate sponsored by MSNBC at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H., Feb. 4, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

The big winner in the fiery New Hampshire debate? Democrats

02/05/16 08:00AM

Those hoping for some fireworks in last night's Democratic debate in New Hampshire weren't disappointed. In their first one-on-one debate of the cycle, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were fierce advocates of two competing approaches to politics and policy.
 
But to perceive their aggressive confrontations as some kind of election-year food fight would be a mistake. As MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald reported overnight:
Thursday's Democratic presidential debate on MSNBC offered the clearest, rawest, and most specific examination of two fundamentally different philosophies about the character and future of the Democratic Party voters have seen yet. [...]
 
Clinton represents one view, calling for continuity and pragmatism, while Sanders represents the polar opposite, with his outspoken calls for "revolution."
Sanders specifically called for a "political revolution" three times last night, while Clinton made clear from the outset, "I'm not making promises that I cannot keep." Pressed by Rachel Maddow why, in light of some of the more moderate parts of Clinton's record, liberal Democrats should support her, Clinton responded, "Because I am a progressive who gets things done. And the root of that word, 'progressive,' is 'progress.'"
 
It's "theory of change" debate at its core: one candidate intends to fight for progress through incremental gains; the other candidate believes a president can uproot the existing political system and replace it, institutional limits be damned.
 
As good debates often do, last night's discussion helped expose the weaknesses and the strengths of both candidates. Clinton, for example, continues to face criticism over Wall Street, which she hoped to rebut by emphasizing her ambitious policy agenda that would further restrict the financial industry.
 
Sanders, meanwhile, continues to face pressure over foreign policy in general. Chuck Todd noted at one point, "You know, Senator Sanders, nobody knows who your foreign policy advisers are. You haven't given a major foreign policy speech. And it doesn't sound like ... foreign policy is a priority." The senator stresses some key positions -- Sanders continues to emphasize his 2002 opposition to the war in Iraq -- but it's an area of his platform clearly lacking in depth.
 
So, who won? As is nearly always the case, it's a subjective question and I don't think there's any real consensus about one candidate dominating the other. That said, Political Wire's Taegan Goddard, who described the debate as "truly great" and "easily the best of the campaign so far," made a comment that stood out for me.
 
"The real winners were Democratic voters," Goddard wrote overnight. "Anyone who watched learned a lot. It made the Republican debates look like over-produced game shows."

Thursday's Mini-Report, 2.4.16

02/04/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Flint: "Members of a congressional committee looking into the Flint Water crisis issued a subpoena to the city's former Emergency Manager Darnell Earley on Thursday requesting that he come to Washington, D.C. for a deposition on February 25th."
 
* Related news: "Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked action on a comprehensive energy bill that had drawn broad bipartisan support after lawmakers failed to agree on including a $600 million amendment to address the crisis over lead-tainted water in Flint, Mich."
 
* Shkreli: "Former drug executive Martin Shkreli, who called members of Congress "imbeciles" on social media, faced members of that legislative body on Thursday morning during a hearing on pharmaceutical pricing. The normally talkative Shkreli invoked the Fifth Amendment when he appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to discuss his actions in raising the price of Daraprim by more than 5,500 percent."
 
* Oregon: "A federal grand jury has indicted 16 people in connection with their roles in the Oregon wildlife refuge standoff, charging them all with a count of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States."
 
* I wish I could agree with this, but I don't: "Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said late Wednesday that partisan extremism is damaging the public's perception of the role of the Supreme Court, recasting the justices as players in the political process rather than its referees."
Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Rodham Clinton talk before the CNN Democratic presidential debate on Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by David Becker/AP)

The first one-on-one debate of the 2016 cycle

02/04/16 04:36PM

As recently as a couple of days ago, it wasn't altogether clear whether tonight's Democratic debate would take place. Fortunately, the negotiations worked out, and as Rachel noted on the show last night, "It's on."
 
With Marin O'Malley no longer in the race, this will be the first one-on-one debate of the 2016 cycle, and the first ever face-off between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. It also comes at a key moment in the race: this is the only time these two will face off in the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary.
 
The moderators will be "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd and our own Rachel Maddow, who'll kick things off tonight at 9 p.m. ET.
 
The fine folks at NBC's First Read helped set the stage in a piece this morning:
Tonight's Democratic debate — the first one-on-one showdown between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders— comes 1) after the close race in Iowa, 2) five days before Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, and 3) as the party appears more divided than at any point during the Obama Era.
 
Who is a progressive? (Sanders yesterday charged that anyone who takes money from Wall Street and has a Super PAC doesn't meet the standard, while Clinton replied that Sanders' purity test would disqualify many in her party.) Who is the *real* Democrat in this race? (Clinton has listed her long time working for the party, while Sanders has never associated with it until now.) What is the best way to create political change? (Is it through Clinton's experience and perseverance? Or Sanders' revolution?) And what is the top job for the next Democratic president? (Is it protecting the gains made over the last seven years and improving them at the margins? Or is it by going in a completely different direction?)
MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald also highlighted "four things to watch" during tonight's showdown.
 
Meanwhile, there can be little doubt who enters the debate favored in the first-in-the-nation primary:
Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in the President's Emergency Operations Center in Washington in  the hours following the September 11, 2001 attacks in this U.S National Archives handout photo

Powell, Rice received sensitive info through private emails

02/04/16 02:15PM

When the political world's interest in Hillary Clinton's State Department emails was near its peak, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza defended the media's fascination with the story. "Democrats, ask yourself this," Cillizza wrote in August. "If this was a former [Republican Secretary of State] and his/her private e-mail server, would it be a 'non-story'?"
 
As a rule, I continue to believe that's a smart way for political observers to look at every story. If the situations were reversed, how would you react to a controversy? If the accusations targeted someone you detest, as opposed to someone you like, would you see the story as legitimate?
 
The problem in this case, however, is that Cillizza's question wasn't really a hypothetical. We learned nearly a year ago from a Politico article that former Secretary of State Colin Powell "also used a personal email account" during his State Department tenure. Several months later, MSNBC found that Powell conducted official business from his personal email account managed through his personal laptop.
 
"But wait," Clinton's critics in the media and Republican circles protest, "what about emails that were later deemed to include sensitive information?" NBC News reports today that both of the Bush/Cheney-era Secretaries of State fall into the same category.
State Department officials have determined that classified information was sent to the personal email accounts of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and the senior staff of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, NBC News has learned. [...]
 
In a letter to Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy dated Feb. 3, State Department Inspector General Steve Linick said that the State Department has determined that 12 emails examined from State's archives contained national security information now classified "Secret" or "Confidential." The letter was read to NBC News.
According to the report, of those 12 emails, two were sent to Powell's personal account, while the other 10 were sent to personal accounts of senior aides to Condoleezza Rice.
 
None of this is to suggest Powell or Rice's office is guilty of wrongdoing. In fact, Powell told NBC News the messages in question include information that's "fairly minor."
 
There's no reason whatsoever to believe otherwise.

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