The fact that members of Congress feel the need to raise enormous amounts of money isn't new. Sometimes, the question that matters is how lawmakers solicit contributions.
Fundraising in the wake of a terrorist attack, for example, can raise awkward questions about basic propriety. NPR reported yesterday on one vulnerable Senate incumbent who's arguably approaching an ugly line:
Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey's campaign manager sent out a fundraising email, based on his opposition to letting Syrian refugees into Pennsylvania.
"Senator Toomey believes nothing is more important than the security of the American people. To that end, he is pushing to suspend the admission of Syrian refugees into the United States until we are able to determine, with full confidence, that there are no security risks among them. ... If you agree with Senator Toomey, that nothing trumps the security of the American people, join the cause here."
The link brings supporters to a "contribute" page.
To be sure, there's fundraising and then there's fundraising. If a statewide office-holder or presidential candidate includes a perfunctory donate "button" on all of his or her websites and mailings that's not quite the same thing as telling prospective donors, "Terrorists killed people, you're afraid of the refugees fleeing the terrorists, so you should send me money."
But that's close to what some politicians are doing this week. The letter from Team Toomey in Pennsylvania was in questionable taste, and so too is the letter Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) sent to supporters yesterday.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* The new national PPP poll shows Hillary Clinton expanding on her national lead over Bernie Sanders, and the race now stands at 59% to 26%. The news for Sanders was far better in New Hampshire, where a Fox News poll shows him with a one-point advantage, 45% to 44%.
* Speaking of the Democratic contenders, it's a big day for both candidates, with Clinton speaking this morning about her plans to combat ISIS, and Sanders speaking this afternoon in defense of socialism.
* In Louisiana, where the gubernatorial race is nearly over, a PAC supporting John Bel Edwards (D) has a new ad insisting that Edwards opposes taking in Syrian refugees. The issue has quickly become the centerpiece of David Vitter's (R) pitch.
* Donald Trump has a new, 60-second radio ad in which he assures voters, "I will also quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS. We’ll rebuild our military and make it so strong no one, and I mean no one, will mess with us."
* Social conservatives and the religious right movement was not pleased with Ben Carson recently dismissing the Terri Schiavo matter as "much ado about nothing." In damage-control mode, the Republican said this week, “I am steadfastly opposed to euthanasia. I have spent my entire career protecting life, especially the life of children. I regret that my recent comments about Teri Schiavo have been taken out of context and misinterpreted.”
* Jeb Bush called for the deployment of U.S. ground forces in the Middle East to combat ISIS. He apparently intends to be the third President Bush to send troops into war in the region.
* By some accounts, Martin O’Malley’s Democratic presidential campaign is "perilously close to financial collapse."
* In New Jersey, the latest Fairleigh Dickinson University poll shows Donald Trump leading the GOP field with 31%, followed by Marco Rubio's 18%. Ben Carson is the only other candidate who reached double digits -- he's third with 11% -- while Chris Christie is fourth in his own home state with 9%.
We talked last week about a middle-aged Kentucky man who relies heavily on Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act, but nevertheless voted for Gov.-elect Matt Bevin (R), who ran on a platform of destroying Medicaid expansion.
“[I]t doesn’t look to me as if [Bevin] understands," the man said, struggling with the consequences of his own vote. "Without this little bit of help these people are giving me, I could probably die." It's a problem that apparently didn't occur to him until after he backed the far-right candidate.
And he's not alone. The Lexington Herald-Leaderreported today on Owsley County, Kentucky, where most local residents receive health coverage through Medicaid, but where most local residents also voted for the anti-Medicaid candidate.
Lisa Botner, 36, belongs to both camps. A Kynector -- a state agent representing Kynect in the field -- recently helped Botner sign up for a Wellcare Medicaid card for herself and her 7-year-old son. Without that, Botner said, she couldn't afford the regular doctor's visits and blood tests needed to keep her hyperthyroidism in check.
"If anything changed with our insurance to make it more expensive for us, that would be a big problem," Botner, a community college student, said Friday at the Owsley County Public Library, where she works. "Just with the blood tests, you're talking maybe $1,000 a year without insurance."
So why in the world would she support Bevin and vote to undermine her own interests? "I'm just a die-hard Republican," the woman said.
The Herald-Leader article quoted a political scientist who crunched the numbers and found that the Kentucky counties most reliant on Medicaid expansion were also the most likely to vote for the candidate who vowed to tear down Medicaid expansion.
Owsley County Judge-Executive Cale Turner responded, "To be honest with you, a lot of folks in Owsley County went to the polls and voted against gay marriage and abortion, and as a result, I'm afraid they voted away their health insurance."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has been quite cautious when going on the offensive against his Republican presidential rivals, occasionally mixing it up, but almost always in response to someone else.
At this phase in the race, however, Rubio doesn't have the luxury of passivity. Despite all of the media hype, the Florida senator is not yet leading anywhere -- not even in his home state -- and he remains effectively tied with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). If he's going to break out, Rubio is going to have to overcome some of his competitors.
Keep that in mind when reading what Rubio told conservative host Hugh Hewitt yesterday.
"There are policy differences between the candidates. You know, Senator Cruz, over the last three years, is someone I like personally. We get along, and we share a lot of views. On some of the defense issues, we’ve parted ways. [...]
"[H]e was a part of that coalition that worked with the Democrats like Chuck Schumer and the ACLU to harm our intelligence programs. And so Senator Cotton, and I’ve joined him today in this effort, are trying to get that reversed, so that we can have the metadata collection program reinstated for the long term so that this country does not lose a valuable tool in the war on terror."
The motivation for this couldn't be more obvious. Not only does Rubio have reason to highlight any areas of disagreement with Cruz, but with the right in a panic over Paris, Rubio also wants to remind Republicans that he supports an expansive National Security State with broad surveillance powers, while Cruz has backed limits on government authority.
The problem with Rubio's pitch, however, is that he doesn't seem to appreciate how risky it is.
Press a Republican politician on his or her opposition to Syrian refugees, and they'll eventually point to the vetting process that's currently in place. Most GOP lawmakers, governors, and candidates have no interest in endorsing explicit bigotry, instead saying they have concerns about the rigor of the screening process refugees must go through. Some on the right like to pretend the process doesn't even exist.
The trouble comes when pressed for policy details or any kind of substantive analysis. The New York Timesreported today:
When pressed, most Republicans could not specify which aspects of the rigorous refugee vetting program that they found inadequate. [House Speaker Paul Ryan's] staff members cited a Bloomberg poll of 1,002 adults released on Wednesday, conducted by Selzer & Company, that found that 53 percent of those surveyed said the resettlement program should be halted.
Of all the domestic coverage I've seen this week about U.S. politicians and their reactions to Paris, this might be my favorite paragraph to date. Republicans know they have a problem with the vetting process, but they have no idea why.
And when House Speaker Paul Ryan -- a celebrated "wonk," according to much of the media -- was asked about his concerns, his office pointed to, of all things, a poll.
In other words, Americans who have no real understanding of the rigorous refugee vetting program are leading elected policymakers, whose job it is to know better. The new Republican Speaker can't identify actual problems with the vetting system, but Ryan can stick his finger in the air, read a poll, put together a meaningless "task force," and tell his party to ride the wave of panic whether it makes sense or not.
Talking to reporters this week about the terrorism in Paris, the Wisconsin lawmaker argued, "It's clear this was an act of war, and that the world needs American leadership."
It is, to be sure, a nice sentiment, but what the Speaker didn't say is what he thinks "American leadership" looks like in this situation. Does it mean Congress voting to authorize a military offensive against ISIS? For the last year and a half, the answer has been no. Does it mean Congress voting this afternoon on an anti-refugee bill, which is exactly what ISIS wants to see? According to Paul Ryan, the answer is yes.
In the wake of the terrorist violence in Paris, there was no shortage of pundits who made a specific prediction: the race for the Republican presidential nomination would finally turn away from Donald Trump.
And while the New York developer may yet falter, the latest evidence suggests the attacks have done little to derail the Trump campaign. Here's a new national Bloomberg Politics poll:
1. Donald Trump: 24% (up three points from September)
While Rubio and Cruz are clearly competitive with double-digit support, note that their combined backing still trails Trump. The poll is roughly in line with the latest WBUR poll, which also surveyed New Hampshire Republicans, and found Trump with double the combined support of Rubio and Carson, his next closest competitors.
Note, all three of these polls were conducted in the days after the Paris attacks. In other words, if the terrorism was going to drive voters away from the inexperienced candidates and into the waiting arms of more establishment candidates, it hasn't happened yet.
On the contrary, by some measures, Trump's support has never been higher than it is right now.
It's been nearly a week since the terrorist violence in Paris, and too many of the reactions have shown American politics at its worst. Governors, members of Congress, and Republican presidential candidates have been reactionary, prone to mindless panic, resistant to reason, and lashing out wildly in incoherent directions. It's been painful to watch.
At the local level, the picture hasn't been quite as ugly. A wide variety of mayors, for example, have stepped up in recent days with heartening displays of compassion and common sense.
But not all mayors. Consider this report from the Roanoke Times in Virginia.
Citing internment of Japanese following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Roanoke Mayor David Bowers on Wednesday called for the region’s governments and nongovernmental agencies to suspend help in relocating Syrian refugees to the Roanoke Valley.
Bowers’ invocation of the World War II-era camps in which thousands of Japanese and Japanese-Americans were imprisoned triggered stern rebukes from fellow council members, Democratic and Republican leaders and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
This may seem like an offensive joke, but the Roanoke mayor was apparently quite serious. "I'm reminded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from Isis [sic] now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then," Bowers said in a statement.
Unlike most of the high-profile refugee critics, the mayor is a Democrat -- who was promptly removed from Hillary Clinton campaign's Virginia leadership council.
And if there's a contest for Worst Reaction to Paris, David Bowers will obviously be a top contender, but he won't be the only challenger. In Missouri, state Rep. Mike Moon (R) is calling for a special legislative session to stop “the potential Islamization of Missouri.”
In Tennessee, state Rep. Glen Casada (R), the chairman of the state House Republican Caucus, yesterday called for the National Guard to round up recent Syrian refugees who might already be in Tennessee, so they could be forcibly removed -- even if they've done literally nothing wrong.
President Obama has heard some of the Republican hysteria about Syrian refugees, and he's clearly unimpressed. "These are the same folks oftentimes who suggest that they’re so tough that just talking to Putin or staring down ISIL, or using some additional rhetoric somehow is going to solve the problems out there," the president yesterday. "But apparently, they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion.
"First, they were worried about the press being too tough on them during debates," Obama added. "Now they’re worried about three-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me."
Evidently, this has hurt Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) feelings.
“Let me suggest something Mr. President: If you want to insult me, you can do it overseas, you can do it in Turkey, you can do it in foreign countries. But I would encourage you, Mr. President, come back and insult me to my face,” Cruz said. “Let’s have a debate on Syrian refugees right now. We can do it anywhere you want. I’d prefer it in the United States and not overseas where you’re making the insults.”
In context, Cruz's school-yard taunts concluded with the senator calling for some kind of one-on-one debate with the president. "We’ll do it on any station," the Texan added. "I’m sure any one of the TV stations would be glad to host it.”
I'm going to go out on a limb and predict the White House won't make time for a televised conversation with a right-wing presidential candidate who's accused the Obama administration of turning the United States into a state-sponsor of terrorism.
Call it a hunch.
What's more, Cruz is doing more than just posturing and thumping his chest for the cameras. As the Washington Postreported, the senator "introduced a bill Wednesday that would prohibit refugees from any country the State Department has determined is controlled in part by a foreign terrorist organization from entering the United States."
How would blocking victims of terrorism help? Cruz hasn't explained, though it's the sort of move that's likely intended to impress Republican primary voters.
Rachel Maddow explains the history behind the ban on certain quantities of liquids on airplanes and points out that while there are many well-known failures of terrorist bombs, the Paris suicide bombs apparently worked, making maker of those bombs a particular threat. watch
Rachel Maddow reports that among the responses to the terrorist massacre in Paris, the Telegram messaging app used by ISIS to arrange ransom for hostages has now closed 78 channels on their server that were being used by ISIS. Just now. watch
Rachel Maddow reports that while a global climate conference scheduled to be held in Paris will still happen, the major marches expected to be held at the beginning and end of the conference have been banned in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris. watch
Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow about what information French investigators hope to learn from studying the clues left behind by the explosive in the Paris terrorists' suicide bombs. watch
Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow about what is known so far about a deadly raid on an apartment housing terrorists in a Paris suburb, and what further answers authorities hope to learn as they sift through the evidence. watch
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.