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Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks to the media after turning himself in to authorities at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center on August 19, 2014 in Austin, Texas.

When Rick Perry 'said and did nothing'

08/21/14 10:30AM

Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) legal troubles started over a year ago, when Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving. After an ugly scene in April 2013, Lehmberg, a Democrat, pleaded guilty, apologized, and served 20 days behind bars.
 
Despite the fact that this was the district attorney's first offense, Perry called for her resignation. Lehmberg refused. As we discussed over the weekend, this set a series of steps in motion: the governor announced that if she did not resign, he would use his veto power to strip her office of its state funding. When Lehmberg ignored the threat, the governor followed through and vetoed the funding, in the process scrapping resources for the Texas Public Integrity Unit.
 
Now, for those who are skeptical of the case against Perry, the governor's actions hardly seem unreasonable. Indeed, it's not exactly outrageous to think a governor would want to see a district attorney step down after she spent a few weeks in jail.
 
But the Dallas Morning News added an interesting wrinkle to this argument.
Rick Perry was outraged at the spectacle of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg's drunken-driving arrest last year. But he didn't feel that strongly when two other district attorneys faced the same charges under similar circumstances.
 
In those cases, he said and did nothing.
This is no small detail. If Perry was convinced a DUI was a disqualifier for a district attorney, why did the governor apply this standard so selectively?
 
Democratic strategist Jason Stanford put it this way: "The key difference was that one of the DAs was investigating his administration for corruption and the other two DAs weren't."
Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., speaks to the crowd at the Republican Party of Virginia post election event at the Omni Hotel in Richmond, Va., on Tuesday Nov. 6, 2012.

'Growing rancor and division' rocks Virginia GOP

08/21/14 10:00AM

Virginia Republicans haven't had it easy lately. The trouble seemed to start in earnest during last year's elections -- GOP candidates lost all of the statewide races -- and went downhill from there.
 
Former Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) was indicted on corruption charges. Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) was thrown out of office by his own party in a shocking primary. Party leaders hoped to make this year's U.S. Senate race in the commonwealth a key battleground, but have so far failed miserably.
 
This week, the intra-party fights took a turn for the worse, to the point that msnbc's Tim Noah said it looks like "the entire Virginia GOP is having a nervous breakdown." Jenna Portnoy reported yesterday:
The battle for control of the Republican Party of Virginia continued to rage this week with revelations of new discord between three prominent elected officials and a group of increasingly powerful conservative activists.
 
The conflict centers around a request from three of Virginia's Republican congressmen to state GOP leaders urging them to postpone a meeting last Saturday that was widely expected to feature a contentious showdown over control of party leadership posts.
I can appreciate why a dispute between congressmen and local party leaders over leadership posts may not seem important, but let's not forget that a dispute like this was a precursor to Cantor's stunning defeat earlier in the summer.
 
And given that Virginia is one of the nation's key swing states, the fact that its state GOP is suffering through "growing rancor and division," as the congressmen put it, may very well carry consequences down the road.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks at a meeting of university officials in Little Rock, Ark., Nov. 1, 2013.

Health-care debate turned upside down in Arkansas

08/21/14 09:21AM

As of a few months ago, the U.S. Senate race in Arkansas, one of the nation's most competitive contests, looked fairly predictable. On health care, incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D) would generally avoid the Affordable Care Act, while Rep. Tom Cotton (R) would run far to the right, base much of his platform on destroying the law, and promise to eliminate benefits for millions.
 
As of this week, those expectations have been shaken up rather dramatically. Indeed, what's playing out in Arkansas is emblematic of the changing nature of the debate everywhere.
 
Pryor, for example, supported the Affordable Care Act that has helped Arkansans enormously, and as Greg Sargent reported yesterday, the conservative Democrat is no longer afraid to tout his record.
In what may be the first, and certainly the most ambitious, such effort of the year, Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas is going up with a new and emotional ad that is focused solely on presenting his vote for health reform as a positive:
 
The ad is backed by a significant, six-figure statewide buy, I'm told. The spot tells the story of Pryor's own battle with cancer, and features the Senator sitting alongside his father, David Pryor.
The 30-second spot is available online here.
 
Note, Pryor doesn't mention the law by name -- or its nickname -- but he doesn't have to. Instead, the senator emphasizes the popular benefits the Affordable Care Act provides for those who need it. "No one should be fighting an insurance company while you're fighting for your life," he tells viewers. "That's why I helped pass a law that prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick, or deny coverage for preexisting conditions."
 
As striking as this is, the larger context is just as important. While Democrats in red states start boasting about ACA benefits, Republicans are moving away from their health care attack ads and struggling to answer questions about Medicaid expansion.
 
Earlier this year, all of this was supposed to be impossible. Republicans, we were assured, would stay on the offensive, attacking "Obamacare," while Democrats desperately hid from the issue. And yet, here we are, watching the conventional wisdom get turned upside down. Indeed, Pryor's ad is a reminder that while voters say they don't like the reform law, they love what's in the reform law -- even in a red state in the Deep South.
 
The politics have become so topsy turvy that Cotton's far-right allies have begun attacking Pryor for not being liberal enough.

Jobless claims drop below key threshold, beat expectations

08/21/14 08:37AM

As we discussed earlier this month, since the start of the Great Recession, the very idea of initial unemployment claims dropping below the 300,000 threshold seemed rather fanciful. But the latest data from the Labor Department shows that it's now happened three times in the last five weeks.
The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell below 300,000 for the third time in five weeks, signaling once again that layoffs remain at a post-recession low amid an uptick in hiring in most major U.S. industries. Initial jobless claims fell by 14,000 to 298,000 in the week of Aug. 10 to Aug. 16, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to drop to 300,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis.
 
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, climbed by 4,750 to 300,750. Although that's a four-week high, the monthly average is still near the lowest level in eight years.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it's worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it's best not to read too much significance into any one report.
 
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it's considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. At this point, we've been below 330,000 in 21 of the last 24 weeks.
The Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, Arlington County, Virginia.

Pentagon's rescue mission came up short

08/21/14 08:00AM

In recent years, it's easy to think of instances in which American servicemen and women are sent on a dangerous mission, which has gone very well. The mission to free Richard Phillips from his captors in 2009, for example, was a great success. So was the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. More recently, the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, the alleged ringleader of the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, went off without a hitch.
 
But sometimes these missions come up short.
The Pentagon attempted a rescue operation to free James Foley and other U.S. hostages held in Syria by Islamist militants, but the mission failed because the hostages weren't where U.S. planners thought they were, U.S. officials told NBC News on Wednesday.
 
The attempted rescue occurred early this summer when Special Operations forces in helicopters, under air cover from U.S. fighter jets, swarmed a compound and were engaged by enemy forces, U.S. officials told NBC News.
An American helicopter pilot suffered a minor injury, but that was the full extent of the U.S. casualties. On the other hand, Defense Department officials said "many ISIS fighters were killed" during the raid and subsequent gunbattle.
 
The hostages, however, simply weren't there.
 
A New York Times report added some additional details, including the fact that the mission was carried out by a team of two dozen Delta Force commandos, dropped by helicopter into Syria, who raided an oil refinery in the northern part of the country.
 
Lisa Monaco, President Obama's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, said in a written statement that the administration had an opportunity and acted on "what we believed was sufficient intelligence," but the raid was too late.
 
"Given the need to protect our military's operational capabilities, we will not be able to reveal the details of this operation," Monaco added. "But the President could not be prouder of the U.S. forces who carried out this mission and the dedicated intelligence and diplomatic professionals who supported their efforts. Their effort should serve as another signal to those who would do us harm that the United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will spare no effort to secure the safety of our citizens and to hold their captors accountable."

Ransom demand and other headlines

08/21/14 07:59AM

ISIS demanded ransom from U.S. before killing reporter. (NY Times)

James Foley's death isn't changing views in Congress. (AP)

Six arrests in Ferguson, MO last night. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

4 of the grand jurors who indicted TX Gov. Rick Perry are offended by suggestions their action was political. (Houston Chronicle)

High court blocks same-sex unions in Virginia. (AP)

North Carolina hears from the public about fracking. (Winston-Salem Journal)

Judge: Justice Dept. must provide list of 'Fast and Furious' documents. (Washington Post)

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Terrorist's accent alarms security officials

Terrorist's accent alarms security officials

08/20/14 10:58PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the White House reaction to the murder of American James Foley by the ISIS terrorist group and notes the concern of western security experts that the person on the propaganda tape apparently has a London accent. watch

Storm rolls over Ferguson

Storm rolls over Ferguson

08/20/14 10:55PM

Rachel Maddow shows weather tracking data as of a thunder storm system passing over Ferguson, Missouri, bringing heavy rain and the potential for hail. watch

Mixed reaction to media in Ferguson

Mixed reaction to media's presence in Ferguson

08/20/14 10:51PM

Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC's "All In with Chris Hayes," reports live from Ferguson, Missouri with a description of the protest atmosphere, the reaction to Attorney General Eric Holder's visit, and how the media is being received. watch

McDonnell turns on wife on witness stand

McDonnell turns on wife on witness stand

08/20/14 10:49PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the apparent defense strategy of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell to cast his wife and marriage in a negative light to somehow excuse any wrongdoing while he was in office. watch

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