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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie delivers a speech at an event in Rolling Meadows, Ill., on Feb. 12, 2015. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Christie sees bluster, bravado as a credible foreign policy

04/15/15 10:01AM

Last year, just a few days after Russian forces entered Crimea, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was asked for his perspective on the developments. It didn't go well -- the New York Times reported that the governor, "usually known for his oratorical sure-footedness, offered a wobbly reply, displaying little grasp of the facts."
One of the Republican activists in the room described Christie's response as "disturbingly heavy on swagger and light on substance." Another called it "uncomfortable to watch."
The New Jersey governor's pitch, in effect, was that Vladimir Putin wouldn't take such provocative steps if Christie were president because the Russian leader would be so intimidated by his bluster. "I don't believe, given who I am, that he would make the same judgment," Christie said.
This underwhelming posture was, in fairness, several months ago, and Christie has been taking lessons on how to talk and think about foreign policy since. With this in mind, Hugh Hewitt posed a related question to the governor yesterday.
HEWITT: How do you think you could stand up against the Russian autocrat and his PRC counterparts?
CHRISTIE: How do you think, Hugh?
HEWITT: (laughing)
CHRISTIE: I mean, you know...
HEWITT: I just ask the questions, Governor.
CHRISTIE: Listen, most of the time, you know, you'll see a lot of people in the media who criticize me for being too tough, and being too direct and too blunt. Let me put it this way. My view is this. There would be no misunderstandings between me and any foreign leaders if I decided to run for president and was elected. Our allies would know that I would stand firmly with them without reservation, and our adversaries would know that this United States under that leadership would stand firmly opposed to those things which we believe are contrary to American interests.... There would be no misunderstandings between Mr. Putin and I if I were president.
In other words, very little has changed. Christie still genuinely seems to believe foreign-policy challenges can be resolved with bravado and tough-guy posturing.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,speaks with reporters in the Capitol on June 10, 2014, in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

McCain's dilemma: trust Ayatollah or trust U.S. officials?

04/15/15 09:19AM

When Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei disagreed with the U.S. interpretation of the recently negotiated nuclear framework last week, the White House was quick to dismiss the posturing. Congressional Republicans weren't so sure.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), in particular, seemed to endorse the Ayatollah's credibility over the U.S. Secretary of State's. "I think you're going to find out that they had never agreed to the things that John Kerry claimed that they had," McCain said Friday.
Yesterday, as Sahil Kapur reported, McCain went a little further.
One of the ironic things about the Iran nuclear deal is that it has left skeptics torn over whether to trust Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei against the word of the United States government. [...]
"The fact is there are stark differences between John Kerry's version of what this agreement is, and what the ayatollah -- who doesn't stand for election -- says about what the agreement is," McCain told a scrum of reporters Tuesday in the Capitol.
Asked if he considered the Iran supreme leader's version of the truth more believable than the American version, McCain added, "I don't know... I don't know who's more believable."
Just so we're clear, the Republican senator could trust American officials -- including John Kerry, his friend and former colleague -- or the ayatollah. McCain freely admits he feels torn on the matter.
This really is bizarre. For years, McCain and others have argued that Iran is led by radical and dangerous madmen who were not to be trusted under any circumstances. But when Iranian leaders disagree with the Obama administration, GOP leaders effectively respond, "Well, let's not dismiss rhetoric out of Tehran too quickly."
Republican contempt for President Obama is intense, but it was hard to predict John McCain would go quite this far in his skepticism of U.S. officials.

Congress actually does something

04/15/15 08:41AM

After the Republican gains in the 2010 midterms, Congress has fallen on hard times. The legislative branch has had no meaningful legislative accomplishments in over four years, and congressional productivity has dropped to lows unseen in modern American history. As the public respect for the institution deteriorates, it's been hard to watch.
It's also why it was such a pleasant surprise to see Congress actually do something.
The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved sweeping changes in the way Medicare pays doctors, clearing the bill for President Obama and resolving an issue that has bedeviled Congress and the Medicare program for more than a decade.
The 92-to-8 vote in the Senate, following passage in the House last month by a vote of 392 to 37, was a major success for Republicans, who devised a solution to a complex policy problem that had frustrated lawmakers of both parties. Mr. Obama has endorsed the bill, saying it "could help slow health care cost growth."
At the risk of sounding ungenerous, I'm not sure I'd call it a "major success for Republicans," so much as this was a rare example of bipartisan policymaking. Far-right GOP lawmakers still opposed the compromise, but their objections were not enough to derail the deal.
The details of the package get a little wonky -- readers can revisit our coverage from March to get an overview -- but the underlying point is to resolve the "doc fix" problem that has annoyed lawmakers for years, ask high-income seniors to pay a little more for their Medicare coverage, and extend funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program, which was facing a dangerous cliff this year, for two additional years.
In the bigger picture, this compromise is easily the most significant health care legislation approved by Congress since the Affordable Care Act passed more than five years ago, and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say it's the biggest legislative accomplishment for Congress in over four years.
What's more, let's not overlook how this happened: House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) approached House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and effectively said, "Let's try to work something out here." And they did.
The question then becomes: maybe this can happen again?
Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) speaks during a roundtable discussion with students and educators on April 14, 2015 in Monticello, Iowa. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Clinton's platform comes into focus, including some surprises

04/15/15 08:00AM

The conventional wisdom suggests Hillary Clinton, lacking a credible primary rival, will effectively run a general-election campaign for the next year and a half. The Democratic frontrunner, who's never been the most liberal member of the party, will have the luxury of aiming for the center, much to the chagrin of the party's progressive base.
But as Clinton's campaign gets underway this week, it may be time to reassess those assumptions. Joy-Ann Reid reported from Iowa yesterday:
Clinton ... articulated four pillars of her still-to-come campaign platform; four "big fights" she foresees on the horizon: building "the economy of tomorrow, not yesterday," strengthening families and communities, fixing "our dysfunctional political system and get[ting] unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment," and protect[ing] our country from the threats that we see, and the ones that are on the horizon."
According to a transcript made available to reporters by a campaign aide, Clinton struck a pretty populist tone during her remarks at Kirkwood Community College, emphasizing her concern that the "deck is still stacked in favor of those already at the top."
She added, "There's something wrong when CEOs make 300 times more than the typical worker. There's something wrong when American workers keep getting more productive, as they have, and as I just saw a few minutes ago is very possible because of education and skills training, but that productivity is not matched in their paychecks. And there's something wrong when hedge fund managers pay lower tax rates than nurses or the truckers that I saw on I-80 as I was driving here over the last two days."
For all the chatter about the left's suspicions of Clinton and the challenges she'll have in earning liberals' trust, it's worth appreciating the fact that her message yesterday was decidedly progressive -- and that's without the pressure of a primary challenger pushing her closer to party orthodoxy.
The one comment that arguably raised the most eyebrows was Clinton's reference to political reforms: "We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment."
It wasn't an explicit call for changing constitutional language, but for many reform activists, it was a high-profile near-endorsement -- and a pleasant surprise.
Rubio, Paul talk circles on gay rights

Rubio, Paul stumble taking two sides on gay rights

04/14/15 09:24PM

Rachel Maddow shows Marco Rubio and Rand Paul struggling to be appropriately anti-gay for their base without offending the more tolerant mainstream. Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary, talks about "trap door" questions on the campaign trail. watch

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 4.14.15

04/14/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* An unexpected breakthrough: "The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved legislation granting Congress a voice in negotiations on the Iran nuclear accord, sending the once-controversial legislation to the full Senate after President Obama withdrew his opposition rather than face of a bipartisan rebuke."
* Greg Sargent walks through the political considerations of the compromise, which the White House has said the president is prepared to sign. (Sen. Bob Corker's gloating seems inappropriate and surprisingly immature given the circumstances and his position.)
* AQAP: "Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said Tuesday that one of its top leaders, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who had a $5 million bounty on his head, had been killed in an American drone strike. AQAP, al Qaeda's branch in Yemen, issued a statement mourning the cleric, Ibrahim al-Rubeish."
* Yemen: "After weeks of closed-door negotiations between diplomats from Persian Gulf states and Russia, the Security Council on Tuesday imposed an arms embargo on the Houthi fighters battling for control of Yemen and left it to the secretary general to negotiate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemenis who have endured nearly three weeks of Saudi-led airstrikes."
* Tick tock: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he is "optimistic and hopeful" the chamber will approve the $200 billion "doc fix" bill just in time to prevent double-digit cuts to Medicare doctors."
* What passes for progress: "More than three months into the new Congress, Senate Republicans held their first vote on one of President Barack Obama's judicial nominees on Monday evening."
* Boehner-brand hardball: "Remember when two Florida Republican representatives voted against John A. Boehner for speaker and got themselves removed from the House Rules Committee? They haven't been reinstated -- but they have been replaced."
U.S. President Barack Obama (C) speaks as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) and U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta listen at a cabinet meeting at the White House on November 28, 2012 in Washington, DC.

The ticket that can't lose -- but won't happen

04/14/15 04:49PM

Before we get into Brian Beutler's much-discussed new piece, let's stipulate some simple truths. First, Hillary Clinton has been a presidential candidate for roughly two days, so speculating about her possible running mate is premature. Second, we can say with absolute certainty that Clinton, if she's the Democratic nominee, will not invite President Obama to be her running mate. Any discussion along these lines is intended as little more than fun poli-sci chatter.
That said, Beutler makes the case anyway, reflecting on the Democrat's unique position and electoral needs in the 2016 cycle.
[There's] no reason Democrats should tinker with a winning formula. If Clinton can turn out Obama's voters, she will win.
The challenge, then, is to make sure Clinton's age and ethnicity don't discourage Obama's youthful, diverse supporters from turning out in November 2016. Fortunately, there's an easy way to make sure that doesn't happen. Clinton simply has to select Barack Obama as her running mate.
Brian acknowledges the potential constitutional pitfalls -- he calls the scenario "somewhat controversial" -- but he seems confident it's surmountable. "As a purely textual matter, the Constitution merely prohibits Obama from being elected to a third term," the piece argues. "It doesn't necessarily prohibit him from actually being president again, should Hillary Clinton no longer be able to serve."
Arguments like these have come up before. Eight years ago, a handful of pieces were published urging then-candidate Barack Obama to choose Bill Clinton as his running mate. Four years earlier, some made the same suggestion to John Kerry.
Let's be very clear: this isn't going to happen. Barack Obama will not be on the ballot in 2016. But I've received a few reader emails about this, wondering what is and isn't possible, so let's engage in the thought experiment, just for the sake of nerdy entertainment.
US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shake hands at the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama, Saturday, April 11, 2015. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Obama removes Cuba from terror list

04/14/15 03:49PM

Over the weekend, as the Summit of the Americas was wrapping up, President Obama emphasized how pleased he is to launch "a new relationship between the people of the United States and the people of Cuba." Obama added, "[T]he United States will not be imprisoned by the past. We're looking to the future and to policies that improve the lives of the Cuban people and advance the interests of cooperation in the hemisphere."
This wasn't just rhetoric. The White House is evidently quite serious about turning the page on the failed foreign policy the United States stuck to for far too long.
The White House says President Barack Obama is removing Cuba from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, a key step in President Barack Obama's bid to normalize relations between the two countries. [...]
Obama made the final decision following a State Department review of Cuba's presence on the list. The U.S. has long since stopped actively accusing Cuba of supporting terrorism.
Ben Rhodes, Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor, said on Twitter, "Put simply, POTUS is acting to remove Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list because Cuba is not a State Sponsor of Terrorism."
Ben, there's no reason to drag logic into this.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie calls on an audience member to ask a question during a town hall meeting on March 24, 2015, in Whippany, N.J. (Photo by Julio Cortez/AP)

Christie shapes platform, eyes Social Security cuts

04/14/15 12:56PM

About a month ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) started telling party insiders that he's ready to make "overhauling" Medicare and Social Security the centerpiece of his national campaign.
He apparently wasn't kidding. The scandal-plagued Republican is launching a major swing through New Hampshire this week, announcing a nine-stop tour in the nation's first primary state, starting today at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester. According to the Wall Street Journal, social-insurance programs are at the top of the agenda.
Gov. Chris Christie called for reduced Social Security benefits for seniors earning over $80,000 and eliminating the benefit entirely for individuals making $200,000 and up, along with raising the retirement age to 69 from 67.
In a speech here Tuesday morning, the potential Republican candidate spoke about the need to overhaul Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and disability insurance -- perhaps the most significant policy proposal to date in the 2016 race.
Though some of specific details are not yet available, according to a copy of the speech made available to the media, Christie intends to raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67 by 2040, and again to 69 for the following generation.
As for Social Security, the GOP governor and likely presidential candidate envisions benefit cuts for those making more than $80,000 per year, as well as phasing out Social Security payments "entirely for those that have $200,000 a year" of non-Social Security income.
Christie apparently sees this as part of his bold persona, telling his audience today, "Washington is afraid to have an honest conversation about Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid with the people of our country. I am not."
No, he's afraid to have an honest conversation about a variety of other things.
In the context of the 2016 race, Christie no doubt realizes how challenging it is to cut through and generate interest in his candidacy with so many high-profile rivals already on the campaign trail. The governor has apparently concluded running as the guy who supports Medicare and Social Security cuts is the way to differentiate himself from the pack. I'm skeptical of the gambit -- much of the Republican base tends to be older -- but he's evidently prepared to take the risk.
It also sets the stage for a terrific debate with Democrats, many of whom are "pushing the party not just to defend benefits but to increase them"

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.14.15

04/14/15 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:
* Hillary Clinton will be in Monticello, Iowa, today for her first event as a presidential candidate since 2008. The event is a roundtable discussion -- not a massive rally -- with educators and students.
* The day after launching his presidential campaign, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will tend to his congressional duties today and will spend much of the week raising money. His first public campaign event isn't until Friday in New Hampshire.
* Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) acknowledged yesterday that he's "seriously considering" a presidential campaign, though he has not spelled out his timetable. It would be the Ohio Republican's second White House run, following a brief campaign in 2000.
* Right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson has made no secret of his White House ambitions, and he'll reportedly launch his national campaign on Monday, May 4.
* In Illinois, where Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) faces a tough re-election campaign next year, the Republican incumbent said the other day that people "drive faster through" African-American communities. George Mitchell, president of the NAACP's Illinois State Conference, said in response, "I think what he was trying to say is, he was trying to relate that to crime. But boy, it was a poor choice of phraseology."


About The Rachel Maddow Show

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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