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In this photo taken Tuesday, March 3, 2015 the New Hampshire Statehouse is seen in Concord, N.H.

House GOP congressman faces resignation pressure

05/19/15 10:40AM

It's safe to say Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.) did not have a good day yesterday. Rocked by a campaign-finance scandal, the Republican congressman faced calls for his resignation from U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, state Senate President Chuck Morse, state House Speaker Shawn Jasper, and Executive Councilor Chris Sununu. All four of these officials are Republicans.
 
New Hampshire's WMUR reported overnight, however, that Guinta's state party, as a whole, is not yet ready to call for his ouster.
The state Republican Party's Executive Committee on Monday night declined to call for U.S. Rep. Frank Guinta's resignation over his well-publicized campaign finance issues, saying that he is ultimately accountable to his constituents.
 
Guinta telephoned into the meeting of the party's top officials while his chief of staff, Jay Ruais, was in the room for the closed door session.... The specific question of calling on Guinta to resign was not presented for a vote, according to sources familiar with the meeting.
The party committee, by majority vote, endorsed a statement that concluded Guinta is "accountable to his constituents ... and has assured us he will continue to be available to answer their questions."
 
Answering any questions would be a step forward for the GOP congressman. Roll Call reported last night that it pressed Guinta yesterday for a defense, but he had very little to say:
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence pauses while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Feb. 27, 2015 in National Harbor, Md.

Indiana's Pence to seek re-election, skipping White House race

05/19/15 10:00AM

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) clearly thought about running for president this year. Indeed, it was just last month that the far-right Hoosier traveled to Las Vegas in the hopes of impressing GOP mega-donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. There was ample chatter about Pence's national ambitions, and the Republican governor did nothing to downplay the scuttlebutt.
 
All the while, however, Pence seemed all too aware that he'd have to make a choice soon: the Indiana Republican would have to choose between a White House campaign and a gubernatorial re-election bid. As of last night, the governor appears to have settled on the latter. The Indianapolis Star reported:
Any speculation that Gov. Mike Pence would pass on a re-election bid following a highly contentious start to 2015 was extinguished Monday.
 
Indiana Republican Party Chairman Jeff Cardwell issued a statement on the party's website saying the 55-year-old governor would formally announce that he'd be seeking re-election in 2016 during the INDGOP's Spring Dinner in June.
Local scuttlebutt suggests Pence has his eyes on the 2020 presidential race, which would likely only be an option if his party loses next year. (As the Star recently put it, "Even Pence's mother has suggested he should wait until 2020 to seek the White House.")
 
Make no mistake, however, about the circumstances surrounding the governor's ambitions: for much of the spring, Pence seemed likely to run for president, right up until the fiasco surrounding his "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" touched off a national debate over right-to-discriminate proposals. Had the debacle not occurred, today's news might well have been quite different.
Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 29, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Bernie Sanders makes the pitch for free college tuition

05/19/15 09:20AM

Even Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) most ardent supporters would probably concede, albeit grudgingly, that he faces very long odds in the 2016 presidential race. So why run? Because there's value in having a national platform for bold, progressive ideas that might otherwise be ignored.
 
Bloomberg Politics reported yesterday, for example, on Sanders' new plan to make public college tuition-free in the United States.
The plan will provide tuition-free higher education to students at four-year colleges, the statement said, and is modeled after the way many European nations handle the costs of college.
 
"Countries like Germany, Denmark, Sweden and many more are providing free or inexpensive higher education for their young people," Sanders said in the statement. "They understand how important it is to be investing in their youth. We should be doing the same."
That point about overseas examples is no small detail. The more the United States invests in an educated workforce, the greater our competitiveness on the international stage. There's no better way to guarantee America's role as a 21st-century superpower than lowering the barriers to higher education.
 
And if major economies like Germany can make tuition at public colleges free, there's no reason the United States can't, too. So what's the next step?
Potential Republican 2016 presidential candidate Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua, N.H. April 18, 2015. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)

The one thing holding Jindal back

05/19/15 08:40AM

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has made no secret of his presidential ambitions, and as msnbc's Kasie Hunt reported yesterday, the two-term Republican took a formal step towards a national campaign by forming an exploratory committee.
Speaking about the committee launch, Gov. Jindal said: "For some time now, my wife Supriya and I have been thinking and praying about whether to run for the Presidency of our great nation. We'll make a final decision in June, after the legislative session in Louisiana ends.
 
"If I run, my candidacy will be based on the idea that the American people are ready to try a dramatically different direction.  Not a course correction, but a dramatically different path."
Of course, when Jindal promises a "dramatically different path," he almost certainly means it. In fact, he told Louisiana voters largely the same thing eight years ago, and they believed him.

They were not, however, pleased with the results. As Jindal himself told a New Hampshire audience last month, "I'm here to tell you, my popularity has certainly dropped at least 15 to 20 points" after he implemented his governing agenda.
 
In other words, the governor promised voters he'd pursue a conservative policy agenda, and once he delivered on that promise, the conservative residents of his red state in the Deep South discovered they hated his policies.
 
Jindal 2016?
Possible Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie greets supporters after speaking at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester, in Manchester, N.H., May 12, 2015. (Photo by Dominick Reuter/Reuters)

Christie-brand leadership: The buck stops over there

05/19/15 08:00AM

About a week ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) sat down with CNN's Jake Tapper, who asked about the governor's "Bridgegate" scandal. The Republican presidential hopeful made it seem as if the entire fiasco had nothing to do with him.
 
"I'm the governor; it happens on my watch," Christie said. "But you can't be responsible for the bad acts of some people who wind up in your employ."
 
A day later, the Garden State governor told the editors of the New Hampshire Union Leader, "I've learned to be less trusting and ask more questions, first off. The fact is my general nature is to be a trusting person."
 
All of which led to yesterday's Christie interview with Fox News' Megyn Kelly, who asked about the scandal that's helped drag down the governor. From the transcript, by way of Nexis:
KELLY: So far there's nothing tying you to giving the order in the bridge gate scandal.
 
CHRISTIE: Nor will there be.
 
KELLY: But the case is not yet closed and so some say, what if you get indicted? Are you a risky bet?
 
CHRISTIE: No, the U.S. Attorney said in his press conference a weeks ago, that there will be no further charges in the bridge matter. He said that affirmatively three or four times. This has been 15 months of investigation and there's been no connection to me because there is no connection to me. I had nothing to do with it, knew nothing about it and nor will there be evidence come to the contrary because it just didn't happen.
The more the governor says the scandal has "nothing to do with" him, the harder it is to take his defense seriously.
 
Indeed, looking back at Christie's comments to Jake Tapper, note that he refers to his former aides -- now under criminal indictment -- as people who "wound up" working for him, as if the governor showed up at his office one day and discovered some random people who just happened to somehow end up in his administration.

Sandstorm strike and other headlines

05/19/15 07:39AM

ISIS fighters seized advantage in Iraq by striking during a sandstorm. (NY Times)

Broad coalition rallies to defeat Obama on trade deal. (Bloomberg Politics)

State Department proposes January deadline for release of Hillary Clinton emails. (Wall Street Journal)

Idaho legislators pass bill that had been nixed over fears of Sharia law. (AP)

White House to unveil strategy to protect honeybee habitat. (Washington Post)

"Serial" star Adnan Syed gets a major boost to his case for a new trial. (Baltimore Sun)

Gloria Steinem is in North Korea for a peace march. (NBC News)

The true face of Shakespeare revealed--in a 16th-century botany book. (Country Life Magazine)

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Monday's Mini-Report, 5.18.15

05/18/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* The latest from Waco: "A brawl-turned-shootout between rival biker gangs left nine people dead and 18 injured outside a crowded sports bar in Waco, Texas.... [Waco police Sgt. Patrick Swanton] Swanton said that 165 to 175 bikers were being booked into the county jail. Earlier, he gave a figure of 192. He said the charges could be upgraded, up to capital murder."
 
* Great timing: "The day after a mass shooting between rival biker gangs in Texas left nine people dead, lawmakers in the state discussed a bill on Monday that would allow licensed gun owners to openly carry their weapons in public."
 
* ISIS: "Thousands of Iran-backed militiamen were massing on Monday to help retake the city of Ramadi after ISIS captured the Anbar provincial capital in a stunning setback for Iraq's government. At least 500 people have been killed in Ramadi while around 8,000 have fled, a spokesman for the governor of Anbar told NBC News."
 
* Afghanistan: "A Taliban suicide car bomber attacked a convoy from the European Union police training mission Sunday near the Afghan capital's international airport, killing at least three people, including a Briton, authorities said."
 
* EU: "The European Union on Monday approved plans to use military force to take on migrant smugglers in the Mediterranean, significantly escalating Europe's response to a crisis that has left at least 1,800 people dead this year."
 
* State of Washington: "Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency for Washington on Friday, with mountain snowpack at 16 percent of average and water levels in rivers and streams drying to a trickle not seen since the 1950s. He said that residents should also be prepared for an early and active fire season that could reach higher elevations in the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges, where many spots are already completely clear of snow."
 
* Climate crisis: "There has always been an odd tenor to discussions among climate scientists, policy wonks, and politicians, a passive-aggressive quality, and I think it can be traced to the fact that everyone involved has to dance around the obvious truth, at risk of losing their status and influence. The obvious truth about global warming is this: barring miracles, humanity is in for some awful s**t."
President Bush declares the end of major combat in Iraq as he speaks aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the California coast, in this May 1,this May 1, 2003 file photo. Democratic congressional leaders on Tuesday, May 1, 2007 sent Iraq...

The right candidates, the wrong debate

05/18/15 05:14PM

It's been about a week since Jeb Bush told Fox News that he would have launched the war in Iraq, even if he knew then what he knows now, touching off a renewed debate about the calamitous conflict and the degree to which Republicans understand the scope of the failed invasion. Not surprisingly, the question Bush struggled to answer became the new GOP litmus test.
 
And in some ways, that's a good thing. Over the course of a presidential campaign, there's real value in having White House hopefuls -- in both parties -- talk about the biggest foreign policy and national security fiasco in a generation. Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) cringe-worthy incoherence on the subject yesterday, for example, told voters something important -- about his preparedness, about his depth of understanding, and about his flawed judgment.
 
But more valuable still would be better answers to better questions.
 
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) talked to the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin late last week, and when asked the "if you knew then..." question, the Republican governor offered a striking response:
"Any president would have likely taken the same action [President George W.] Bush did with the information he had, even Hillary Clinton voted for it, but knowing what we know now, we should not have gone into Iraq."
Walker quickly pivoted to blaming President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for not stabilizing Iraq enough to satisfy Republicans after the failed Bush/Cheney war destabilized the entire Middle East.
 
But the notion that any president, given the information Bush had, would have "taken the same action," is demonstrably ridiculous. Indeed, the absurdity of Walker's line is a reminder of how flawed last week's debate really was -- as if the argument can be narrowed to those who believe Iraq had WMD and those who didn't.
 
Reality paints a very different picture. Indeed, as informative as it's been to see leading GOP candidates struggle mightily with the obvious question, the problem is the question itself lets Republicans off the hook in ways it shouldn't.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas waits to be announced to speak at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) meeting, April 29, 2015, at the National Press Club in Washington. (Photo by Cliff Owen/AP)

Cruz warns of 'mandatory' same-sex marriage

05/18/15 04:16PM

A few weeks ago, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) condemned Democrats' "devotion to mandatory gay marriage in all 50 states." On Friday, as Right Wing Watch's Brian Tashman noted, Cruz used the phrase again.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the Republican presidential candidate who believes that the gay "jihad" may soon lead to the imprisonment of pastors and the end of free speech, told a right-wing radio host yesterday that the legalization of same-sex marriage represents the greatest threat to religious liberty in the history of the United States. [...]
 
Cruz said that the fights over "religious freedom" laws in Indiana and Arkansas were "heartbreaking" examples of how the Democratic Party has "gotten so extreme and so radical in its devotion to mandatory gay marriage that they've decided there's no room for the religious liberty protected under the First Amendment."
It remains a deeply odd perspective. For one thing, there's nothing "extreme" or "radical" about support for marriage equality -- it's already legal in most of the country and a clear majority of Americans already support the idea. If anyone's taking the "extreme" view in the debate, such as it is, it's Cruz.
 
For that matter, the notion that proponents of equal-marriage rights will scrap religious freedom altogether is very hard to take seriously. The right-wing senator is probably referring to his concerns about business owners being able to discriminate against gay customers, but as Cruz probably knows, that's really not what "freedom of religion" is all about.
 
But then there's that other phrase the Texas Republican keeps using.
Law enforcement officers, including a sniper perched atop an armored vehicle, watch as demonstrators protest the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo.

Obama follows through on police militarization

05/18/15 02:48PM

When violence erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, last year, it was a multi-faceted crisis, but one of the details many Americans found surprising was the militarization of local law enforcement. As the unrest grew more serious, we saw images of police officers relying on weapons of war when confronting civilians.
 
And for a brief while, it seemed like action on the issue was at least possible. As we talked about at the time, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) chaired a Senate hearing in September on police militarization, and even some Republicans endorsed reforms to the Pentagon's "1033" program. In the House, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) drafted legislation.
 
But as is often the case, Congress' attention span was limited; the Ebola virus began to dominate the political world's attention; and police groups lobbied lawmakers to back off. The debate effectively vanished.
 
The White House, however, did not forget about the issue, and as msnbc's Trymaine Lee reports, President Obama will unveil today "a ban on the transfer of some types of military weapons to local police departments."
The ban is part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to ease tensions between police and communities of color across the country, including Ferguson and Baltimore, theaters of unrest following the deaths of unarmed black men killed by police. [...]
 
The new restrictions are being rolled out as a policing task force. A 116-page report will urge the country's police agencies to "embrace a guardian -- rather than a warrior-- mindset to build trust and legitimacy both within agencies and with the public."
According to White House materials released this morning, the banned items include armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and .50-caliber ammunition. As NBC News' report added that if local police departments "want other, less-imposing military equipment, local law enforcement agencies will have to submit to stringent federal oversight and restrictions."
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at a dinner during the Republican National Committee Spring Meeting on May 14, 2015 in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Photo by Laura Segall/Getty)

Jeb Bush rediscovers the culture war

05/18/15 12:51PM

Late last year, much of the political press was unimpressed with a series of book events Hillary Clinton hosted, prompting chatter that in the years since her last campaign, the Democrats may have lost many of her political skills. Campaign analyst Charlie Cook, comparing her to a baseball pitcher past his or her prime, said Clinton may have "lost her fastball."
 
Around the same time, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said of Clinton, "She's not really good at politics."
 
Six months later, we're hearing very similar rhetoric, but it's not directed at the former Secretary of State. Rather, it's Jeb Bush whose ineptitude has raised questions about his competence as a national candidate. BuzzFeed reported on Friday, "In interviews with more than half a dozen Republican foreign policy hands and veterans of the George W. Bush administration, the reaction to Jeb's dithering on Iraq ranged from disappointment to disbelief."
 
Politico added that "many" Bush supporters "are getting jittery because he appeared ill-equipped to appreciate and manage the demands of the modern-day, 24-hour news cycle."
 
There's some evidence, however, that the former Florida governor believes he can get back on track by shifting his focus to the culture war. Drew Katchen reported for msnbc over the weekend on Bush suddenly stressing his opposition to marriage equality.
Speaking during an interview with The Brody File on the Christian Broadcasting Network, Bush, whom BuzzFeed dubbed "2016's Gay-Friendly Republican,' called traditional marriage 'a sacrament.'
 
"To imagine how we are going to succeed in our country unless we have committed family life, a child-centered family system is hard to imagine," he told David Brody. "So, irrespective of the Supreme Court ruling ... because they are going to decide whatever they decide, I don't know what they are going to do, we need to be stalwart supporters of traditional marriage."
For context, the Christian Broadcasting Network was created by right-wing TV preacher Pat Robertson, whose "700 Club" program still airs on the channel.

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