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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 8.25.15

08/25/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Another wild ride: "U.S. stocks closed lower, after a failed attempt to rally from the Dow's worst 3-day point decline in history, as investors lost confidence amid continued concerns about China and global growth."
 
* New Jersey: "A $225 million deal between Gov. Chris Christie's administration and Exxon Mobil over dozens of polluted sites and nearly 2,000 retail gas stations was approved by a New Jersey judge on Tuesday."
 
* Turkey: "Turkish and U.S. officials have concluded 'technical talks' over their cooperation on operations against the Islamic State group, Turkey's foreign minister said Tuesday."
 
* It's nearly a done deal: "The one member of the Senate Democratic leadership who had yet to announce a position on the Iran deal is supporting it. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Tuesday in a statement provided to CQ Roll Call ahead of release that she would be joining with Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois in lining up in favor of the international agreement regarding Iran's nuclear development."
 
* Some of our closest allies have no idea what Republicans are complaining about: "Given the sound, fury and millions of dollars swirling around the debate in Washington over the Iranian nuclear deal, the silence in Europe is striking. It's particularly noticeable in Britain, France and Germany, which were among the seven countries that signed the deal on July 14."
 
* What will the far-right say about this? "People living in the United States illegally have a constitutional right to bear arms but are still barred from doing so by a separate law, a federal appeals court ruled."
Ben Carson announces his candidacy for president during an official announcement in Detroit, May 4, 2015. (Photo by Paul Sancya/AP)

Carson eyes drone strikes along U.S. border

08/25/15 04:45PM

There is a contingent within Republican politics that is deeply concerned with the idea of government drones flying over American soil. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) may not understand the issue quite as well as he should, but he nevertheless once held the Senate floor for about 13 hours to draw attention to this very issue.
 
It came as something of a surprise, then, when Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson campaigned in Arizona last week and raised the prospect of drone strikes along the U.S./Mexico border.
 
The retired neurosurgeon, asked about the use of military drones, was quoted saying, "I'm suggesting we do what we need to do to secure the border whatever that is." Carson reportedly added, "You look at some of these caves and things out there -- one drone strike, boom, and they'd [be] gone."
 
Since national candidates don't usually make "boom" references when talking about using military resources over American soil, CNN pressed Carson for some kind of explanation over the weekend. He responded:
"Read my lips. Listen very carefully to what I am saying. I said there are caves. There are caves that they utilize. Those caves can be eliminated. There are a number of possibilities. [Drones] could be one of them.
 
"I am not talking about killing people, no people with drones."
So, a President Carson might use military drones to strike on American soil, but only to blow up caves, which hopefully won't have people in them.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush participates in a town hall at Turbocam International in Barrington, N.H., on Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Gretchen Ertl/Reuters)

Jeb trips over 'women's health issues' yet again

08/25/15 03:59PM

It was earlier this month when Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush not only went after Planned Parenthood for reasons he couldn't explain, he also said publicly, "I'm not sure we need half a billion dollars for women's health issues."
 
A day later, the former governor said he'd strip the health care organization of funding, but would then "redirect those funds to other women's health" groups. This approach, Bush added, would be "in line with my Florida record." As it turns out, that wasn't entirely true.
 
Any way the GOP candidate could make this just a little worse? Of course there is.
Jeb Bush attacked Planned Parenthood on Tuesday, doubling down on his assertion that the organization should not receive any federal funding because it's not actually tackling women's health issues.
 
"I, for one, don't think Planned Parenthood ought to get a penny though, and that's the difference because they're not actually doing women's health issues," the Republican presidential candidate said.
Unprompted, Bush added that Planned Parenthood is "involved in something way, way different than" women's health issues.
 
I have no idea what Jeb is talking about, and more to the point, Jeb doesn't seem to know what he's talking about, either. Going after Planned Parenthood -- a group championed for years by Bush's father and grandfather -- is itself odd, and to date, the Florida Republican has struggled to explain why, exactly, he intends to deny the organization public funding.
 
But for Bush to pretend Planned Parenthood isn't "actually" working on "women's health issues" is just bizarre, even for him.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 21, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Paul Sancya/AP)

Cruz sees a road to the GOP nomination

08/25/15 12:45PM

It's difficult at this stage in the Republican presidential race to see Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as a top-tier contender. In the crowded field for the GOP nomination, Cruz is closer to the middle of the pack in most polling, and he has very little backing from the party establishment.
 
But the far-right senator's plan appears to be coming together, and it's fairly credible. Indeed, RedState's Erick Erickson, a prominent figure in Republican media, said just last week that Cruz "has a very plausible path to the nomination."
 
Part of Cruz's strategy is clearly based on cozying up to Donald Trump, and hoping to pick up many of his supporters if/when the GOP frontrunner falters before voters start showing up. If Trump benefits from positioning himself as an enemy of Republican insiders, Cruz can easily make the case that he's cut from the same cloth.
 
As Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) national ambitions appear increasingly unrealistic, Team Cruz also believes it can bring Paul's backers into the fold. Indeed, top officials on the Texan's team have already begun "quietly reaching out to Rand Paul's early supporters and endorsers," making their case in one-on-one meetings.
 
Cruz also sees himself as a possible Tea Party favorite, and the Associated Press reported Saturday that Cruz was "the hands-down favorite of an Americans for Prosperity gathering this weekend, if the number and volume of ovations during the speeches of five presidential candidates who addressed the summit of Tea Party activists was the measure."
 
But perhaps the biggest piece of the puzzle for the Republican senator is social conservatives and the religious right movement. MSNBC's Emma Margolin reported yesterday:
Faced with stiff competition for the social conservative vote, Sen. Ted Cruz is kicking his assault on Planned Parenthood into high gear this week with the launch of an ambitious 50-state campaign to end taxpayer support for the women's health organization.
 
The Texas lawmaker and Republican presidential candidate has invited 100,000 pastors to participate in a conference call Tuesday about how to defund Planned Parenthood.
Obviously, 100,000 pastors is an enormous group of faith leaders, many of whom will have no interest in backing Cruz. But the outreach is likely to pay at least some dividends, and it's part of a multi-faceted effort.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.25.15

08/25/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* For the second time in two weeks, a New Hampshire poll shows Bernie Sanders leading Hillary Clinton. This time, it's PPP, which shows the Vermont Independent ahead by seven, 42% to 35%. Jim Webb is third with 6%.
 
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, the chairman of Rick Perry's presidential campaign in Iowa has quit, further reinforcing the perception that the former Texas governor is in deep trouble.
 
* Anthony Scaramucci, a national finance co-chair for Scott Walker's campaign, reportedly met with Donald Trump on Monday "and discussed the possibility of leaving the Wisconsin governor's camp to work for the GOP presidential front-runner's campaign." I'd recommend keeping a close eye on stories like these.
 
* Several major Democratic fundraisers have been "invited to meet with Vice President Joe Biden at his residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory after Labor Day." Note, however, that many top Obama backers "are now strongly committed to Clinton, and said they would remain so even if Biden jumped in."
 
* Scott Walker said Friday there are a "handful of reasonable, moderate followers of Islam who don't share the radical beliefs that these radical Islamic terrorists have." Offered a chance to clarify, and note there are more than just a "handful" of moderate Muslims with no interest in radicalism, the Walker campaign declined.
 
* A new Quinnipiac poll shows Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) with a 61% approval rating in his home state, making him the most popular governor in the Republican presidential race.
Razor wire-topped fence at the abandoned "Camp X-Ray" detention facility at the US Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on April 9, 2014. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty)

GOP starting to panic over Guantanamo plan

08/25/15 11:23AM

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters a few weeks ago that officials are "in the final stages of drafting a plan" to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility for good. As part of the process, military personnel are "assessing sites on U.S. soil that might serve as facilities for Guantanamo Bay detainees."
 
And it's against this backdrop that some congressional Republicans are starting to panic. Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) co-authored a Wall Street Journal piece yesterday, laying out the GOP's best case. The choice of lawmakers isn't coincidental -- Roberts' home state is home to Fort Leavenworth, which houses the American military's only domestic maximum-security prison, while Charleston is home to an impressive Naval Brig.
 
So, what do the far-right lawmakers have for us?
[T]hroughout his presidency, Mr. Obama has prioritized personal legacy over the safety and security of the nation -- and he is still pursuing an effort to move the terrorists at Guantanamo into our backyards.
That's an unusually scurrilous charge for sitting senators to make against a war-time Commander in Chief, and I'm a little surprised it didn't cause more of a stir yesterday. Roberts and Scott actually believe, and put in print, that the president of the United States prioritizes personal vanity over America's national security.
 
Even for congressional Republicans, this is bonkers. But just as importantly, it's also demonstrably wrong. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wants to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. So does Adm. Mike Mullen, Dempsey's predecessor; former Secretary of State Colin Powell, himself a former Joint Chiefs chairman; former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was originally appointed by the Bush/Cheney administration; and even retired Gen. David Petraeus. Are we to believe they're all more interested in President Obama's legacy than "the safety and security of the nation," or are Roberts and Scott just spewing brazen nonsense?
 
Indeed, closing the Guantanamo prison was part of Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) 2008 platform. Is he indifferent to America's security needs, too?
 
The entire op-ed is a reminder that Republicans have had seven years to come up with good arguments for this debate, and they still can't come up with anything.
The Michigan Statehouse, Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Lansing, Mich.

In Michigan sex scandal, 'there are criminal allegations involved'

08/25/15 10:54AM

Following up on a report from two weeks ago, Michigan's legislature has completed a preliminary investigation into two Republican lawmakers' sex scandal, and so far, the findings paint an unflattering picture. MLive Media reported yesterday afternoon:
Michigan state Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat misused taxpayer resources in an attempt to hide their extra-marital affair, according to preliminary findings from a House Business Office probe.
 
"After completing the investigation, we have preliminary findings of both misconduct and the misuse of taxpayer resources by both representatives," Director Tim Bowlin said in a Monday afternoon statement.
The full report has not yet been released to the public. Rather, the findings have been sent to outside counsel for "an independent review."
 
State House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R), who ordered the investigation two weeks ago, said "further disciplinary actions" may be necessary. State House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D), who wants the office of the state Attorney General to get involved, added, "There are criminal allegations involved here."
 
If you missed our earlier coverage, as sex scandals go, this one's a doozy. Two right-wing state representatives, Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, had an extra-marital affair, which would itself be noteworthy since Courser and Gamrat are "among the most vocal opponents of gay rights and defenders of 'traditional marriage' in the state legislature."
 
But as the Detroit News reported in early August, the real trouble came when these two allegedly "used their taxpayer-funded offices to maintain and cover up their relationship."
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters during a political rally at the Phoenix Convention Center on July 11, 2015 in Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo by Charlie Leight/Getty)

New polling tells GOP what it doesn't want to hear

08/25/15 10:22AM

It's certainly possible that, one day soon, the Donald Trump balloon will burst and the race for the Republican nomination will return to something resembling normalcy.
 
But today is not that day. Public Policy Polling released new survey results this morning out of New Hampshire, the nation's first primary state.
 
1. Donald Trump: 35%
2. John Kasich: 11%
3. Carly Fiorina: 10%
4. Jeb Bush: 7%
4. Scott Walker: 7%
6. Ben Carson: 6%
 
Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio each have 4% support in the poll, while Rand Paul is now in 10th place with 3%.
 
Note, Jeb Bush has long been seen as the likely frontrunner in the Granite State, but if PPP is correct, at this point, Trump's support in New Hampshire is now five times greater than the former governor's. Adding insult to injury, only 38% of GOP primary voters in the state have a favorable opinion of Bush, while 41% have a negative impression.
 
Trump's 35% is the strongest showing of any Republican in any New Hampshire poll this year. His New Hampshire support, at least for now, is roughly equivalent to the support for Bush, Walker, and Rubio combined -- times two.
 
Also this morning, a new Monmouth poll is out, showing the Republicans' standing in South Carolina, the nation's second primary state. Maybe it will offer better news for the GOP establishment waiting for Trump Mania to end? Maybe not.
Traders exit the trading floor after the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Aug. 24, 2015. (Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

How not to respond to Wall Street turbulence

08/25/15 09:20AM

Yesterday morning, with Wall Street indexes falling, right-wing TV preacher Pat Robertson offered his audience an explanation. The stock market was falling, Robertson said, because of divine retribution for Planned Parenthood.
 
"[P]ossibly if we were to stop," the televangelist added, "stop all of this slaughter, the judgment of God might be lifted from us."
 
Other Republicans were equally eager to cast blame, but chose more terrestrial targets. GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, for example, said market turmoil is the result of "poor planning and allowing China and Asia to dictate the agenda." Which "agenda"? No one knows. Around the same time, a variety of figures on Fox News blamed President Obama and called for tax cuts.
 
But it was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) who seemed even more eager than most to join the if-I-say-dumb-things-people-might-pay-attention-to-me crowd.
Shortly after Wall Street witnessed a dramatic drop in stocks Monday, Gov. Chris Christie -- a Republican presidential candidate -- told a New Hampshire restaurant filled with voters they should place the blame on President Obama's reliance borrowing money from China. [...]
 
Christie responded by blasting Obama, saying the Democratic president borrowed "lots and lots of money from the Chinese" to bolster America's economy. [...] "Because we've been irresponsible as a government," Christie added. "This president has been irresponsible as a president. And yes, this Congress has been irresponsible. ... We better start being fiscally responsible."
Before we dig into the specifics, the broader context really is amazing. In early 2009, with the Great Recession in full swing, Republicans blamed the faltering stock market on President Obama, just months into his first term. Soon after, Wall Street soared, sustaining a years-long hot streak, at which point the right quickly decided the major indexes weren't important anymore.
 
That is, until yesterday, when Republicans decided to blame Obama all over again.
Governor Scott Walker (R-WS) speaks to Republican organizing meeting in Concord, N.H., March 14, 2015. (Photo by Dominick Reuter/Reuters)

Walker's 'unbearably silly' approach to China

08/25/15 08:40AM

More than one presidential candidate has struggled with foreign policy this year, but few have had as much trouble as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R). In March, the far-right governor, recognizing his troubles, arranged for a "crash course" in international affairs.
 
If yesterday was any indication, the tutorials really aren't going well. The Washington Post reported:
Angry anti-China rhetoric from U.S. politicians escalated Monday as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) called on President Obama to cancel Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to the White House next month. [...]
 
"Why would we be giving one of our highest things a president can do -- and that is a state dinner for Xi Jinping, the head of China -- at a time when all of these problems are pending out there?" Scott Walker told reporters following a visit to the Carolina Pregnancy Center in Spartanburg, S.C., on Monday afternoon.
As the governor sees it, China would "actually respect" us more if President Obama snubbed the Chinese leader. Let that thought roll around in your head for a moment.
 
In a written statement, Walker also said there are a series of major Chinese issues of great concern to the United States -- the economy, currency manipulation, cyber-security, militarization of the South China Sea, human rights, etc. -- and the Wisconsin Republican seems to think the best way to address these issues is for the White House to withdraw its invitation to the Chinese leader.
 
"We need to see some backbone from President Obama on U.S.-China relations," Walker added.
 
Maybe the governor who's afraid of his own positions on immigration should steer clear of backbone" rhetoric.
 
Dan Drezner, a center-right foreign-policy scholar and Washington Post contributor, called Walker's argument "unbearably silly," which is both fair and the kind of label presidential candidates should try to avoid.

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