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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)

read more

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.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.18.15

05/18/15 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:
 
* Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) confirmed this morning that he'll officially announce his presidential plans on June 1.
 
* At a campaign event over the weekend, Graham told a group of Iowa Republicans, "If I'm president of the United States and you're thinking about joining al-Qaeda or ISIL, I'm not gonna call a judge. I'm gonna call a drone and we will kill you."
 
* Though there were reports last week that Jeb Bush might skip the Iowa caucuses altogether and focus his resources elsewhere, the former Florida governor made clear over the weekend that he intends to compete in the nation's first GOP presidential caucus.
 
* Rep. Loretta Sanchez's (D) Senate campaign in California is off to a very rough start. Early last week, there were contradictory messages about her campaign's launch, and late last week, Sanchez used a racially charged gesture while referencing Native American Indians. It took a couple of days, but the congresswoman apologized yesterday.
 
* Republican insiders are reportedly "dismayed" by Hillary Clinton's "durability" as a national candidate. The Washington Post reported that "months of relentless, negative press coverage" hasn't affected the Democrat's ratings much, which in turn is giving GOP insiders "a serious scare."
 
* In Kentucky's Republican gubernatorial primary, Hal Heiner had largely ignored allegations that rival James Comer abused his college girlfriend, but Heiner changed his mind late last week, launching a new attack ad about the controversy. The primary is tomorrow.
Dr. Ben Carson speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference annual meeting in National Harbor, Md., March 8, 2014.

Carson echoes Huckabee on EMP 'threat'

05/18/15 11:20AM

At his official presidential campaign kickoff two weeks ago, former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) said Americans face "threats of an electromagnetic pulse from an exploded device that could fry the entire electrical grid and take this country back to the Stone Age in a matter of minutes."
 
On the campaign trail over the weekend, Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson said largely the same thing.
"The other thing that worries me significantly is EMP -- electro-magnetic pulse.... [T]here have been mentions by North Korea, China, and Russia about using such techniques, so it's not out of the question. And what could happen?  Particularly with an electric grid that is outdated?"
The retired right-wing neurosurgeon did not, for the record, endorse President Obama's call for infrastructure investments in improved, smart-grid technology. Maybe that'll come later.
 
It's often difficult to know which issues will be deemed important by Republican presidential candidates, but this EMP talk is a little unexpected. As we talked about after Huckabee's reference, fears of weapons with electromagnetic pulses are often a very big deal in right-wing circles. WorldNetDaily, the fringe conspiracy-theory website, has published "dozens of articles over the years warning its readers of an impending attack on the U.S. – possibly by Iran, North Korea, or Cuba – with an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon that could leave '9 out of 10 Americans dead.'"
 
Salon's Simon Maloy had a good piece on this recently,:
The dome of the US Capitol is seen in Washington, D.C., September 20, 2008.

House Republican faces resignation chatter after FEC fine

05/18/15 10:43AM

One of the more interesting things about Rep. Frank Guinta (R-N.H.) is his unusual electoral history. In 2010, the New Hampshire Republican faced off against then-Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) and won, but the two faced off again in 2012 and this time Guinta came up short. They had a re-rematch in 2014, which Guinta won. He'll probably face Shea-Porter for the fourth consecutive cycle next year.
 
That is, if he's still in Congress. The Boston Globe reported the other day on the GOP congressman getting caught up in a campaign-finance scandal, which has suddenly left him without many friends.
After five years of denying wrongdoing, Guinta was found by the Federal Election Commission to have accepted $355,000 in illegal contributions from his parents. He has said the money he used for his first congressional campaign was also his, but now Guinta must refund the full sum to his parents and pay a $15,000 fine.
 
But it gets worse. On Friday, the conservative publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader ran a six-word editorial with his picture: "Frank Guinta is a damned liar." The state's highest-ranking Republican, US Senator Kelly Ayotte, described the incident as "serious and troubling." Former US Representative Jeb Bradley, a Republican who once employed Guinta on his staff, said Guinta "is on a pretty lonely island" these days.
As a rule, "damned liar" is one of those phrases politicians try to avoid.
 
The underlying campaign-finance controversy isn't especially complicated. In 2010, looking to boost his campaign, Guinta loaned himself $355,000, which wouldn't have been particularly controversial, except for the fact that his disclosure forms suggested he didn't have $355,000. He said at the time it was from a previously unreported bank account and amended his financial disclosure forms.
 
When pressed on whether he received the money from his parents, Guinta repeatedly denied the allegation. The FEC, which only seems able to act on the most brazen irregularities, found that the Republican lawmaker did, in fact, receive the money from his parents, which Guinta now justifies by saying he'd put his own money over the years into his parents' account -- so he considered it his money.
 
Yesterday, the Union Leader, arguably the most conservative newspaper in New England, called on Guinta to resign.
Smoke raises behind an Islamic State flag after Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters took control of Saadiya in Diyala province from Islamist State militants, Nov. 24, 2014. (Photo by Stringer/Reuters)

The disconnect between rhetoric and reality on ISIS

05/18/15 10:00AM

Back in February, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) insisted the United States must "aggressively ... take the fight to ISIS" and demonstrate that "we're willing to take appropriate action" against terrorist targets. It led ABC's Martha Raddatz to ask Walker, "You don't think 2,000 air strikes is taking it to ISIS in Syria and Iraq?" The governor didn't answer.
 
It was part of a familiar, months-long pattern: the more President Obama launched military offenses against ISIS targets in the Middle East, the more Republicans pretended those strikes weren't happening.
 
This is, oddly enough, still happening. Over the weekend, Walker told a Republican audience in Iowa that Americans "need a commander-in-chief" who'll "act" on the terrorist threat. At the same event, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) questioned why the president isn't doing more to target terrorist leaders. The governor challenged Obama to "do his job" and "hunt down and kill these terrorists."
 
It seemed as if Walker and Jindal had absolutely no idea what had transpired less than 24 hours earlier. NBC News reported over the weekend:
U.S. Special Operations Forces killed a senior leader of ISIS overnight Friday during a rare and risky ground raid in Syria and freed a young woman who was enslaved in his compound, the White House announced Saturday.
 
American Delta Force commandos took off from northern Iraq in Blackhawk helicopters and Osprey aircraft, going deep into ISIS-controlled territory with no allies on the ground. Their target, SIS leader Abu Sayyaf, did not go down quietly. [...] Twelve enemy fighters were killed in the operation, while no American forces were hurt, U.S. officials said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called the strike "picture perfect."
 
That said, the news was far less encouraging yesterday. NBC News reported overnight:

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