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U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum at the 2015 NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits on April 10, 2015 in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Marco Rubio rolls the dice

04/13/15 12:40PM

The status quo for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is actually quite comfortable. He's a U.S. senator from one of the nation's largest states, where he enjoys favorable support. The Florida Republican is on the committees he likes; he gets plenty of attention from the Beltway media; and he's a young, 43-year-old politician who'd probably be able to stay in this cushy position for the next several decades.
 
But later today, Rubio will put it all on the line for a chance at the White House.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Flo.) told donors Monday morning that he is running for president in 2016 and that he is "uniquely qualified" to be the GOP nominee, a campaign source in Miami confirmed to msnbc.
 
Rubio is set to officially announce his campaign for president Monday at 6 p.m. in his hometown of Miami, adding his name to a growing list of official candidates.
While Sen Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is working diligently to ensure he can run for president and for re-election at the same time, Rubio has vowed to pursue a more daring course: the Florida Republican will give up his Senate seat to seek national office.
 
In other words, if his White House bid comes up short, Rubio will be left with nothing in January 2017.
 
That's no small risk given that Rubio enters the race as an underdog. At this point, the Real Clear Politics averages show him running seventh in the crowded GOP field, while the Huffington Post poll aggregator has him running eighth. How many national polls to date have shown Rubio even reaching double-digit support among Republican voters? So far, zero.
 
He's not even doing especially well in his home state.
 
That's not to say Rubio doesn't have some selling points as a presidential candidate, but he has a lot of ground to make up, which isn't easy when there's a field of 10 to 12 rivals battling for time, attention, and media oxygen.
 
Ironically, part of Rubio's problem is that he's far more right-wing than the political world seems to realize.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.13.15

04/13/15 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:
 
* Iowa Democrats have made clear they'd like to see Hillary Clinton campaign for their support, and the newly announced Democratic candidate appears happy to oblige. The former Secretary of State's road trip to Iowa began yesterday.
 
* In a significant surprise, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater (R) announced over the weekend that he will not run for the Marco Rubio's (R) Senate seat in 2016. With polls showing Atwater as the frontrunner, Democrats were thrilled with the announcement.
 
* Speaking of people who we thought might run for the Senate but who've decided against it, Rep. Bill Foster (D) seemed likely to run in Illinois, but he reversed course over the weekend and threw his support to Tammy Duckworth, the likely Democratic nominee.
 
* In New Hampshire, the latest NH1 poll shows Scott Walker with the advantage over Jeb Bush in the first Republican presidential primary, 23% to 17%. Rand Paul is a close third with 15%, and no other candidate reaches double digits.
 
* Speaking of Walker, the Wisconsin governor's familiarity with foreign policy -- or in his case, the lack of familiarity -- has been an obvious problem for his candidacy, but he's hired full-time foreign policy aides to get him up to speed. The team includes several Hill staffers, including aides from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
US Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) smiles at the crowd while delivering remarks announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination to run for US president March 23, 2015 in Lynchburg, Va. (Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty)

Meet Ted Cruz's billionaire

04/13/15 11:20AM

In the last presidential election, the first with super PAC proliferation, the mega-donors sometimes received nearly as much attention as the candidates they were bankrolling. Names like Sheldon Adelson, Foster Friess, Harold Simmons, the Koch brothers, and others quickly became prominent figures in national politics, thanks to their overwhelmingly generous investments in GOP candidates.
 
The Oprah joke was apt: you get a billionaire benefactor; and you get a billionaire benefactor; everybody gets a billionaire benefactor!
 
Four years later, the dynamic is similar, though as the New York Times noted over the weekend, some of the names have changed.
The two men share a passion for unbridled markets, concerns about the Internal Revenue Service and a skeptical view of climate change. Now the two -- Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, and Robert Mercer, a Wall Street hedge-fund magnate -- share another bond that could link them through November 2016: Both want to see Mr. Cruz elected president.
 
Mr. Mercer, a reclusive Long Islander who started at I.B.M. and made his fortune using computer patterns to outsmart the stock market, emerged this week as a key early bankroller of Mr. Cruz's surprisingly fast campaign start. He is believed to be the main donor behind a network of four "super PACs" supporting Mr. Cruz that reported raising $31 million just a few weeks into his campaign.
Trevor Potter, a campaign finance lawyer who served as a Republican member of the Federal Election Commission, told the Times that just one low-profile donor can make an enormous difference in transforming a presidential candidate in a competitive, top-tier challenger.
 
"It just takes a random billionaire to change a race and maybe change the country," Potter said.
 
Take a moment to pause, read that sentence again, and consider its weight. The idea of one random person having the power to possibly change the world is enshrined in the American ethic, but this isn't quite what the myth is all about. Potter isn't describing a "ripple of hope" narrative, so much as he's describing a "one guy can buy the White House for his friend" kind of story.
Rancher Cliven Bundy stands near a metal gate on his 160 acre ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada on May 3, 2014. (Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters)

Cliven Bundy hosts 'freedom celebration' one year later

04/13/15 10:48AM

It's hard to forget the armed confrontation between federal law enforcement and Cliven Bundy's well-armed supporters in Nevada. In fact, the standoff, which the Obama administration, in the interest of public safety, chose not to escalate, was exactly one year ago.
 
The L.A. Times noted that the controversial rancher, who claims not to recognize the legitimacy of the United States government, threw a "shindig" over the weekend -- a "freedom celebration" to honor the anniversary.
This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of when federal agents swooped onto the public lands near Bundy's ranch to round up hundreds of cattle that the 67-year-old had been grazing without permits. The land is administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
 
The raid didn't go well: Hundreds of supporters -- self-named citizen militiamen, many with semiautomatic weapons -- rallied around their new leader, creating at tense standoff between two armed camps. In the end, on last April 12, the federal government backed down, released the cattle agents had corralled and -- poof! -- vanished.
The underlying dispute has not been resolved. Bundy has still ignored multiple court orders and still owes the United States more than $1 million after he was fined for grazing on protected land.
 
Bundy's posture, as a long-term proposition, remains unsustainable -- a fact he seems to realize. "It's hard to tell, but the feds, they're probably going to do something," Bundy told the L.A. Times. "[T]hey're probably just standing back, looking at things."
 
He added, however, in reference to the Bureau of Land Management, "They know if they make a move, they'll upset America. And I don't think they want to do that."
 
It's an ominous choice of words from a fringe activist who may not enjoy quite as much support as he thinks he has.
US President Barack Obama speaks with Cuba's President Raul Castro on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas at the ATLAPA Convention center on April 11, 2015 in Panama City. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)

Republicans balk at U.S./Cuba breakthrough

04/13/15 10:04AM

This year's Summit of the Americas promised to be more newsworthy than most, and the gathering in Panama didn't disappoint. President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro met face to face -- a development unseen in more than a half-century.
 
Obama acknowledged that after decades of a policy that accomplished nothing, "it was time to try something new." The U.S. leader acknowledged "there's still going to be deep and significant differences between our governments," but remained hopeful that both countries are "in a position to move on a path toward the future."
 
As the Washington Post reported, Republicans were, right on cue, outraged.
President Obama's face-to-face meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro on Saturday angered Republican candidates vying to succeed him -- and might help elevate an issue that so far hasn't resonated widely among GOP primary voters. [...]
 
The rapidly expanding Republican presidential field also includes several candidates deeply opposed to Obama's worldview and some -- given their home state politics, family lineage or general opposition to Obama -- are especially angered by his overtures to Cuba.
The usual suspects repeated the usual complaints, and were led by Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. None bothered to defend the old policy that wasn't working, but the GOP presidential contenders nevertheless condemned the White House for embracing a new policy.
 
Rubio, in particular, called Obama's willingness to pursue a new course "ridiculous."
 
What's striking is the degree to which Republicans appear to be the only people in the world who are thinking this way.
Senate Republicans Hold News Conference On Debt Ceiling

Rand Paul's past vs. Rand Paul's future

04/13/15 09:25AM

On "Meet the Press" yesterday, host Chuck Todd and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) spoke a bit about the senator's father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), and the fact that Rand Paul said a few years ago that "the Ron Paul revolution is the last best hope for saving the GOP from oblivion."
 
The Kentucky Republican laughed it off as "rhetorical flourishing," but added that he's a "great fan" of his dad. "I think he's one of the few honest and genuine people in politics," Rand Paul said. "So, I do mean that in my support."
 
It led to this memorable exchange:
TODD: Where do you disagree with your dad? Give me three areas.
 
PAUL: You go first. Where do you disagree with your dad and then I'll go to mine.
This could theoretically be a compelling response if Chuck Todd were a presidential candidate, if Chuck Todd's father was a former presidential candidate, and if Chuck Todd had spent much of his adult life promoting a strange political movement based on his odd familial worldview.
 
But since none of those elements is true, the senator's response wasn't altogether satisfying.
 
It was, however, a reminder that the Kentucky Republican has a past that he'd like voters and reporters to overlook.
US President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with members of the Central American Integration System (SICA) in a hotel in Panama City on April 10, 2015, in the framework of the VII Americas Summit. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)

Obama reminds McCain how foreign policy works

04/13/15 08:40AM

Late last week, Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei took issue with the United States' characterization of the recently negotiated nuclear framework, though the White House was dismissive of the Iranian leader's posturing.
 
"The test of whether or not that framework can be memorialized in a deal is not going to be a comment on any given day by a particular Iranian leader," deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters Friday.
 
But in a bizarre twist, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) 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. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) made similar remarks.
 
To put it mildly, it was an unexpected development. For months, Republicans insisted, "We can't trust Iranian leaders." And yet, on Friday, McCain and Graham suggested rhetoric from Ayatollah Khamenei should be accepted at face value -- while arguments from the American White House should not.
 
During a press conference at the Summit of the Americas, President Obama seemed visibly frustrated by the GOP's increasingly unhinged approach to international affairs.
"When I hear some, like Senator McCain recently, suggest that our Secretary of State, John Kerry, who served in the United States Senate, a Vietnam veteran, who's provided exemplary service to this nation, is somehow less trustworthy in the interpretation of what's in a political agreement than the Supreme Leader of Iran -- that's an indication of the degree to which partisanship has crossed all boundaries. And we're seeing this again and again. We saw it with the letter by the 47 senators who communicated directly to the Supreme Leader of Iran -- the person that they say can't be trusted at all -- warning him not to trust the United States government.
 
"We have Mitch McConnell trying to tell the world, 'Oh, don't have confidence in the U.S. government's abilities to fulfill any climate change pledge that we might make.' And now we have a senator suggesting that our Secretary of State is purposely misinterpreting the deal and giving the Supreme Leader of Iran the benefit of the doubt in the interpretations."
Obama added this isn't how the United States is "supposed to run foreign policy, regardless of who's president or secretary of state." The president concluded that this is "a problem" that "needs to stop."
Hillary Clinton announces her presidential campaign, April 12, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Hillary for America)

Clinton's unique opportunity to make history

04/13/15 08:00AM

For months, the political world chattered about Hillary Clinton's expected announcement, and we can now finally abandon the rhetorical caveats. The former Secretary of State is no longer an "unannounced" candidate; she isn't a "presumptive" White House hopeful; she isn't "likely" to launch a national campaign. As of yesterday afternoon, the Democrat is officially a candidate.
 
As we discussed yesterday, the kickoff told us quite a bit about the kind of campaign Clinton intends to run, and the key differences from her previous candidacy. There's also increased clarity on Clinton's rationale: "Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion." As one-sentence summaries go, that's not a bad pitch.
 
But as yesterday's developments unfolded, I found myself thinking about history.
 
Historical Angle #1: The opportunity for the first woman president.
 
The most obvious historical angle is also arguably the most important: if successful, Clinton would be the first woman ever elected president of the United States. Quantifying political chatter is tough, but this potential breakthrough doesn't seem to be generating the bulk of the attention, which in itself is evidence of an evolution of sorts.
 
In 2007, much of the discussion focused on the competition between the first competitive African-American candidate, the first competitive woman candidate, and whether or not Americans are "ready" for a president who isn't a white man. Eight years later, Clinton's gender and the electorate's openness, at least for now, is the subject of less speculation, but the opportunity to make history is no less significant.
 
Historical Angle #2: An instant intra-party frontrunner without precedent.
 
Clinton and her team have abandoned the "inevitability" posture embraced in 2007 -- expect nothing but humility -- but the degree to which she's the presumptive Democratic nominee is extraordinary. In the modern era, other than incumbents and sitting vice presidents, how many candidates start off with the kind of intra-party advantage Clinton now enjoys? Zero, it's just never happened.
 
To be sure, Clinton was a frontrunner who was defeated eight years ago, so it's understandable that skeptics will wonder whether something similar could happen again, but there is no Barack Obama among her Democratic rivals, and Clinton's advantage is vastly stronger now that it was in 2007.
 
Historical Angle #3: Clinton brings a unique resume to voters.
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at an award ceremony for the 2015 Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting March 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Clinton announces: 'I'm hitting the road to earn your vote'

04/12/15 03:55PM

The question wasn't whether former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would announce her 2016 presidential candidacy, but when, how, and with what message. This afternoon, the plan came into focus. Alex Seitz-Wald reports on the video announcement much of the political world has been waiting for.
The former secretary of state, senator, and first lady declared in a video posted to her new website Sunday afternoon, "I'm getting ready to do something too – I'm running for president."
 
The 2 minute and 18 second video features a wide range of everyday Americans, from a small businessman to a immigrant speaking Spanish, telling the camera they're getting ready for something: Home improvements, moving, home repairs, Kindergarten.
Everything about this announcement is strikingly different, not only from Clinton's first campaign eight years ago, but also from what we've seen from the other official candidates. Note, for example, that in her launch video, Clinton doesn't even speak a word until it's nearly three-fifths over.
 
The focus is on people -- a diverse group of all kinds of people -- not on Clinton. In her 2007 kickoff, her big applause line was, "I'm in it to win it." In 2015, Clinton's pitch is fundamentally different: "I'm hitting the road to earn your vote. Americans need a champion and I want to be you're champion. It's your time."
 
The shift in message and tone is the exact opposite of what we've come to expect from candidates who put themselves at the center of their pitch. Clinton, to great effect, is flipping that model on its head.
 
In her first campaign, the organization was "Hillary Clinton for President." Today, it's "Hillary for America." Campaign manager Robby Mook reminded staffers yesterday, "This campaign is not about Hillary Clinton and not about us -- it's about the everyday Americans who are trying to build a better life for themselves and their families."
 
And what about the big speech in front of thousands of cheering, sign-holding supporters? There won't be one. Clinton is sticking to her strengths, which means avoiding forums that require big, bold oratory.
A same-sex couple exchanges rings at a wedding.

This Week in God, 4.11.15

04/11/15 08:46AM

First up from the God Machine this week is the unexpected argument from a longtime leader of the religious right movement, who raised the prospect of an American "civil war" over marriage equality.
 
Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, a pioneer among social conservatives for the last generation, has fiercely opposed equal-marriage rights over decades, so it was all quite routine this week when he said same-sex unions would likely lead to "a general collapse" of the nation.
 
But as Right Wing Watch noted, Dobson went quite a bit further reflecting on the possible consequences of a Supreme Court ruling in support of marriage equality.
After Janet Porter, the creator of a new "documentary" about how the gay rights movement will outlaw Christianity, discussed her "restraining order" campaign to convince Congress to strip the Supreme Court of its authority to rule on marriage cases, Dobson said that his fellow activists "need to be realistic about what we're up against here."
 
He said that the gay rights issue has reached an unprecedented "level of intensity" and put the country on the brink of conflict: "Talk about a Civil War, we could have another one over this."
Simon Brown thinks Dobson's fears probably aren't rooted in reality: "Same-sex marriage has been legal in Massachusetts for 11 years, and somehow America has not descended into chaos. As others have joined the Bay State over time, it has not brought us any closer to internecine armed conflict."
 
As a rule, far-right predictions about domestic violence in response to progressive policy breakthroughs tend to be wrong. It was just five months ago that then-Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said Americans would "go nuts" if President Obama advanced his immigration policy. "[Y]ou could see instances of anarchy," the Republican said, adding, "You could see violence."
 
The violent uprising never occurred, and chances are, Dobson's argument will fare about as well. After all, most of the country already has -- and already supports -- marriage equality. Still, the fact that the Focus on the Family founder is using such over-the-top rhetoric is emblematic of a movement reaching new levels of desperation.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
ND House panel guts funding for rail safety

ND House Panel guts funding for rail safety

04/10/15 09:40PM

Rachel Maddow examines the North Dakota oil boom, and how Republican lawmakers in the state want to slash funding for rail inspections despite a 233 percent increase in rail traffic between 2000 and 2012, and a spate of recent accidents. watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 4.10.15

04/10/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Iraq: "Islamic State fighters launched a heavy attack on government-held territory in Anbar Province late on Thursday and on Friday, killing 25 Iraqi police officers and soldiers, and then executing 15 family members of local police officers, according to Iraqi officials."

* South Carolina: "New evidence may shed light on why Walter Scott, an unarmed black man shot and killed here by a police officer last weekend, ran from the officer during a routine traffic stop shortly before the fatal encounter."
 
* Illinois: "Emergency teams were combing through the damage Friday from deadly tornadoes in Illinois, as forecasters predicted severe lighting storms would strike from New York to the Gulf Coast."
 
* Kansas: "A 20-year-old Topeka man was arrested and charged on Friday with plotting to detonate a suicide car bomb on the military base at Fort Riley, Kan."
 
* Another Secret Service problem? "A uniformed officer in the Secret Service's Foreign Missions Branch was put on leave and his security clearance suspended Friday after he was arrested in Washington, the agency said."
 
* Summit of the Americas: "President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro will hold a bilateral meeting Saturday on the margins of the Summit of the Americas here, the first such encounter between the two nations in more than 50 years, White House officials said."
 
* It's starting to look like a deliberate strategy: "Only two days after the recently announced Republican 2016 candidate was criticized for his agitated interview with 'TODAY' co-host Savannah Guthrie, [Sen. Rand Paul] walked off the set of a live interview Friday with The Guardian after he was pressed on the specifics of his criminal justice reform advocacy."
 
* One of the week's under-appreciated stories: "A ruling this week by a federal appeals court signals bad news for Republican-led lawsuits seeking to stop President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration, immigration law experts say."

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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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