* Malaysia Airlines Flight 17: "At least one American citizen died in the Malaysia Airlines flight that was shot down in eastern Ukraine, President Obama said Friday at the White House. Obama called the crash an "outrage of unspeakable proportions" and expressed sympathy for the Netherlands, where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 originated on Thursday."
* Related news: "The president confirmed that a surface-to-air missile launched from an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists downed the plane in Ukraine. The airliner was flying at about 33,000 feet when it last made contact with radar Thursday. Obama added that the U.S. is still gathering evidence on who ordered the attack on the flight and why. 'The shot was taken within territory that is controlled by the Russian separatists,' Obama said."
* Among the victims: "A number of AIDS researchers and prevention advocates, including pioneering expert Dr. Joep Lange, presumably perished on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which crashed Thursday in eastern Ukraine having been shot down by a missile. The activists were en route to Melbourne, Australia, for the 20th International AIDS Conference, due to begin on Sunday."
* Gaza: "Even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that he had ordered Israel's military to 'prepare for the possibility of widening, significantly,' its ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, troops operated mainly near Gaza's borders in what Israeli officials emphasized was a modest mission targeting tunnels into their territory."
* A poor start: "The United States is 'very concerned' that international investigators were only given 75 minutes to survey the wreckage of the Malaysian Airlines jet shot down over rebel-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine, the State Department said Friday."
* EU: "German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday it was too soon to move on tougher sanctions against Russia after the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17."
* LGBT: "President Barack Obama on Monday will sign an executive order banning workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers of federal contractors and the federal government."
* Marriage equality: "The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday affirmed a second decision striking down a state's gay marriage ban -- this time in Oklahoma. The decision was expected after the court issued a similar ruling last month finding a gay marriage ban in Utah also violated the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection and Due Process clauses. The decision Friday was stayed to give time for appeal, possibly to the Supreme Court, as Utah has done."
There's been a striking amount of progress -- some of it substantive, some of it rhetorical -- on the debate over sentencing reforms, but today's news may be one of the most significant developments to date.
About 50,000 federal prisoners convicted of drug crimes can seek a shorter sentence, after the commission that sets guidelines for criminal punishments voted Friday to apply a recent amendment to old cases.
The 46,290 inmates represent about 21% of all federal prisoners. The amendment this year by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which altered the formula for calculating penalties for drug-trafficking offenses, could lop off an average of 25 months from the sentences of eligible prisoners.
Judge Patti Sarisn, the commission chair, said in a press release, "This amendment received unanimous support from Commissioners because it is a measured approach."
Note this isn't just a suggestion or an academic exercise -- the U.S. Sentencing Commission is a policymaking body. When it approves a retroactive change to federal guidelines for drug convicts, the commission members are opening the door for tens of thousands of people to be paroled.
So what happens now? An interesting put-up-or-shut-up political fight is poised to begin in earnest.
It's a number that gives Democrats chills: $125 million. That's the widely reported number reflecting how much the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity intends to spend on this year's midterm elections. In practical terms, it means Democrats will effectively be running against two rivals: Republicans and the Republicans' outside allies.
Reid Wilson reports today, however, that the scope of the AFP operation isn't done expanding.
Americans for Prosperity, the on-the-ground wing of the network of conservative organizations spearheaded by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, will open new state chapters in South Dakota and Alaska in coming weeks, the group's president said. In an interview, Tim Phillips said that would bring to 35 the number of states where AFP has permanent offices. [...]
Phillips said early reports that his organization will dish out $125 million on the midterm elections understates the actual amount they will spend.
If you're starting to see AFP as something resembling an actual political party, there's a good reason -- the lines have blurred. The Koch-funded group has hundreds of field operatives, just like a party. It's opening field offices in dozens of states, just like a party. It's focusing on GOTV operations, just like a party.
And, of course, it's investing millions in anti-Democratic attack ads, just like a party.
But unlike other national far-right forces, the Kochs' group (just like a party) also intends to help "influence the makeup of state legislatures." Tim Phillips told the Washington Post, "A lot of times a local property tax battle will bring a whole new group of people out. It's easier to get movement on the state level."
All of this, incidentally, doesn't include the AFP's "action fund."
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:
* In Michigan's closely watched Senate race, a new statewide EPIC-MRA poll shows Rep. Gary Peters (D) with a growing lead over Terri Lynn Land (R), 45% to 36%.
* On a related note, the same poll shows a more competitive gubernatorial race in Michigan, with incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder (R) leading Mark Schauer (D) by just three, 46% to 43%.
* In Massachusetts, where the Boston Globe is now running weekly polls in this year's gubernatorial race, Democratic state Attorney General Martha Coakley still leads Republican Charlie Baker, but her margin has shrunk from nine points to three, 39% to 36%.
* In Florida, former Gov. Charlie Crist, hoping to get his old job back, introduced Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chairwoman Annette Taddeo-Goldstein as his running mate yesterday. Taddeo-Goldstein is also a Colombian-American businesswoman in addition to her role in Democratic politics.
* In Oregon, Sen. Jeff Merkley's (D) re-election campaign claims that Freedom Partners has just bought at least $1.9 million in television advertising in the state, ostensibly in support of Republican Senate hopeful Monica Wehby. Freedom Partners has been described as the Koch brothers' "secret bank."
* Speaking of the Koch brothers, Charles Koch does not usually make personal contributions to candidates, but this week, he, his wife, his son, and his daughter-in-law each donated the legal maximum to Joni Ernst, the far-right Senate hopeful in Iowa.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) just hasn't had a great year. His efforts to manufacture scandals have been a bust. His confrontations with Democrats have been embarrassing. His selective leaks to gullible reporters have backfired.
But the far-right congressman arguably suffered his greatest humiliation in May when House GOP leaders decided his investigation into the Benghazi attack was so inept, they took the issue away from him. It led to the creation of a new committee, led by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-Calif.), whom Republicans considered more reliable.
The move didn't just embarrass Issa; it actually seemed to change him.
Suddenly, the Oversight Committee chairman started unilaterally issuing a bunch of unnecessary subpoenas, despite having promised not to. He scheduled hearings at weird times, apparently hoping to spite other Republican committee chairs. He accused the Obama White House of violating the Hatch Act, and when pressed for proof, Issa pointed to events that took place under the Bush/Cheney White House.
Andrew Prokop is wondering whether Issa has suddenly "gone rogue."
A group of House Republicans (and one Democrat) led by House Oversight chair Darrell Issa has traveled to Central America on a fact-finding mission related to the child migrant crisis. This is a little strange, since a different group of House Republicans just returned from a very similar trip days ago -- a trip organized and approved by House leadership.
Though Issa's office denies it, Jonathan Strong of Breitbart News quotes a Republican source calling Issa's trip a "rival" effort to the leadership's.
This is pretty odd behavior for a lawmaker in Issa's position.
The last time Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) sat down for a big public interview with Ron Fournier, it was 2008, at a gathering of the nation's newspaper editors. Fournier, who had considered a role as a member of McCain's staff, greeted the presidential hopeful with a box of his favorite donuts ("Oh, yes, with sprinkles!" McCain said at the time).
Six years later, the two sat down again, and this interview was surprising for an entirely different reason.
It's hard to imagine that one of the most vocal supporters of sending troops to Iraq during the 2007 surge, now says that in hindsight, he would've acted differently if he were in charge.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said that had he won the presidential election in 2000, he would've been more hesitant about sending troops to Iraq.
"You'll find this surprising, but I think I would've been more reluctant to commit American troops," McCain told CNN's Jake Tapper and Ron Fournier of the National Journal at a "Politics on Tap" event in Washington on Thursday.
In fairness, I didn't actually see the interview, so maybe McCain was kidding and they all had a good laugh after the senator made the comment. But if this was intended to be funny, none of the reports reflected it.
McCain reportedly added, "I think I would have [voted the same way on invading Iraq], but I think I would have challenged the evidence with greater scrutiny [as president]. I think that with my background with the military and knowledge of national security with these issues that I hope that I would have been able to see through the evidence that was presented at the time."
I'm not entirely sure what this means. McCain was a senator at the time. He had his "background" and "knowledge." He was able to consider "the evidence that was presented at the time." And McCain's conclusion was that invading Iraq was a great idea.
Indeed, the Arizona Republican, who's usually predisposed towards armed confrontations abroad, maintained his role as one of the war's most enthusiastic cheerleaders, condemning anyone, including President Obama, who dared to call for the conflict's end. For that matter, McCain is still condemning the president for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraqi soil, despite the fact that the senator has been wrong about practically every aspect of the debate since its inception.
"You'll find this surprising, but I think I would've been more reluctant to commit American troops"? "Surprising" isn't quite the word that comes to mind, though this is a family blog and I'll keep the more applicable words to myself.
The Obama administration recently scrapped plans for a White House bowling alley renovation project, but that didn't stop House Republicans this week from voting to prohibit funding for the project that had already been canceled. (As Steve Stockman helped remind us the other day, GOP lawmakers are comfortable routinely solving imaginary problems.)
Explaining the move, Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.), who spearheaded opposition to the White House bowling alley, said the project constitutes a "want," not a "need."
Fine. But if we're going to talk about what politicians "want" versus what they "need," perhaps it's time for a conversation about just how much the House Republicans' anti-Obama lawsuit is going to cost.
Democrats on the House Rules Committee said that voters had a right to know at least a projection of how many taxpayer dollars would be spent on a lawsuit they dubbed a "political stunt."
"The American people have endured enough waste from this House Majority and we are demanding an estimate so that Members of Congress and the American public will know the true cost of the House's petty partisan lawsuit against the president," Rep. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), the top Democrat at House Rules Committee, said on Thursday.
In a letter to Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas), Democrats conceded that it'd be difficult to know in advance exactly how much the litigation will cost, "but they expressed concern that the draft resolution for the litigation placed no limit on how much could be spent, and that the costs of paying for outside lawyers would be covered with transfers from other House accounts."
Slaughter argued, "Responsible members of this body have an obligation to ensure taxpayer money is not turned into a slush fund for high-priced outside lawyers with connections to Republican lawmakers."
Two weeks ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) appeared on CNBC and was asked whether he agrees with the Supreme Court's ruling in the Hobby Lobby case on contraception access. "Who knows if the Supreme Court is right?" the Republican responded, unwilling to state an opinion.
Christie added that it's important for him, as a "leader," to avoid sharing his perspective on major issues of the day: "If I allow people to put me into that box? Then shame on me – I'm not a good politician, I'm not a good leader."
The evasiveness was bizarre for a politician who purports to be a no-nonsense straight-talker. It was also unsustainable -- Christie could only hide from the issue for so long.
Yesterday, the scandal-plagued governor traveled to Iowa, as part of a not-so-subtle effort in advance of his likely presidential campaign, and had this exchange, as recorded by American Bridge:
Unidentified man: Can I ask you a question?
Christie: Sure you can!
Man: Do you support the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case?
Christie: Do I support the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case? I do.
Man: Do you support Hobby Lobby's position on birth control for its employees?
Christie: Well I just said I support the case, so if I support the case and they support the Hobby Lobby....
At this point, the governor moved on to other people at the Iowa restaurant where this was recorded.
This probably would have been a pretty significant political revelation yesterday, had it not been for more meaningful news internationally, but we almost certainly haven't heard the last of this one.
I had assumed the Most Tone-Deaf Elitism of the Week Award was all locked up by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. After all, the Kentucky Republican's "Not everybody needs to go to Yale" comments effectively argued that the nation's elite institutions of higher ed would be for students from rich families -- and no one else.
But then Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) came along. The far-right Senate candidate snatched the award for Most Tone-Deaf Elitism of the Week right out from under McConnell yesterday with this jaw-dropper.
Arkansas Senate candidate Rep. Tom Cotton (R), who is challenging Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), defended his vote against an agriculture and nutrition assistance bill by characterizing food stamp recipients as addicts.
Cotton made his comments about food stamps during a July 8 tele-town hall, in audio sent to The Huffington Post.
"I don't think that we should be using farmers as a way to pack more welfare spending into Barack Obama's government," Cotton said. according to the Huffington report "Nor should we have a food stamp program that isn't reformed, that doesn't have job training and work requirements, that doesn't have drug testing requirements, so we can get people who are addicted the help they need. Or make sure that long-term addicts or recidivists are not abusing taxpayer dollars."
There are a few striking elements to this. The first is the rather twisted political philosophy behind Cotton's argument: if your family is struggling and needs food stamps to get by, you may very well be a drug addict. Note, the far-right congressman isn't speaking metaphorically about recipients being addicted to government assistance; he's being more literal -- those who need help buying food may well be addicted to drugs.
It's part of a vision of America that says the poor are to blame for being poor. Maybe if you weren't taking drugs, you wouldn't need help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
For several weeks, congressional Republicans learned about the influx of unaccompanied migrant children from Central America, and as the humanitarian crisis worsened, GOP lawmakers demanded action from the White House. President Obama took the calls seriously, and on July 7, he unveiled a credible emergency plan.
There was reason for optimism. After all, within hours of the plan's release, House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) initially suggested the president's appeal would be approved. Better yet, there was plenty of time -- the House wouldn't leave for its summer break until the end of the month, and July is literally the only month in all of 2014 in which lawmakers are scheduled to work four weeks in a row.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) raised doubts Thursday that Congress will be able to fulfill President Obama's funding request to address the influx of illegal migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border before lawmakers leave Washington for their summer recess in two weeks. [...]
Asked about the prospect of approving Obama's $3.7 billion request before a five-week break begins Aug. 1, Boehner said, "I would certainly hope so, but I don't have as much optimism as I would like to have."
I'm reminded of something Kevin Drum recently said: "Well, of course it won't happen. The crisis along the border is tailor made for Republicans. It makes their base hopping mad, it juices their campaign fundraising, and anytime the government is unable to address a problem it makes Obama look bad. Why on earth would Republicans want to do anything to change any of this? As long as Obama is president, chaos is good for Republicans. After all, most voters don't really know who's at fault when things go wrong, they just know there's a crisis and Obama doesn't seem to be doing anything about it."
I was skeptical when Kevin wrote this, but his assessment is looking quite prescient now.