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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 4.7.15

04/07/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Infrastructure: "Widespread power outages affected the White House, the Capitol, museums, train stations and other sites across Washington and its suburbs Tuesday afternoon - all because of an explosion at a Maryland power plant, an official said."
 
* Judicial sanity: "A U.S. appeals court on Tuesday rejected a challenge to President Barack Obama's 2012 executive action granting deportation relief to immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, upholding a lower court's earlier ruling."
 
* Kansas: "Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has signed legislation making Kansas the first state to ban a common second-trimester abortion procedure that critics describe as dismembering a fetus. Brownback signed the measure Tuesday in a private ceremony at the governor's residence. A photo posted by his office on Twitter shows him flanked by anti-abortion leaders and large photos of fetuses."
 
* Iraq: "Emboldened as they mop up the last Islamic State forces in the city of Tikrit, Iraqi military leaders are already vowing to follow up that operation with a much more ambitious one: marching into the vast Sunni heartland in western Iraq to root out some of the most significant militant strongholds."
 
* Encouraging economic report: "Job openings climbed to a 14-year high in February, indicating companies are optimistic about the prospects for sales and the U.S. economy after a recent setback."
 
* Climate crisis: "Climate change isn't just a danger to the planet. It's hazardous to your health. That's the message the White House will present Tuesday as it releases a report on the warming planet -- and announces steps that companies like Google and Microsoft are taking to mitigate its impact on human health, from air quality to the spread of disease."
 
* Gov. Jack Dalrymple: "North Dakota's Republican governor sent a memo to 17 government departments on Monday saying discrimination against anyone is unacceptable, just two hours before every Democrat in the Legislature delivered a letter calling on him to go further and issue an executive order prohibiting bias against gays and lesbians."
In this March 19, 1987 file photo, President Reagan gestures during a news conference at the White House in Washington.

Rand Paul vows to follow Reagan's poor example on Iran

04/07/15 04:45PM

A critically important international debate unfolded last week once a framework was in place to curtail Iran's nuclear program. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), however, skipped the argument, remaining silent while on vacation.
 
The senator did, however, broach the subject in his presidential announcement speech in Kentucky this afternoon:
"I envision a national defense that promotes, as Reagan put it, 'peace through strength.'
 
"I believe in applying Ronald Reagan's approach to foreign policy to the Iran issue. Successful negotiations with untrustworthy adversaries are only achieved from a position of strength."
You know, there was a point -- say, around 1987 -- when the very idea of a Republican presidential candidate emulating Reagan's policy towards Iran probably seemed rather ridiculous.
 
After all, Reagan's the one who tried to illegally sell weapons to Iran, in exchange for hostages, in order to finance an illegal war in Central America. Reagan was caught lying about his administration's criminal scheme, and 14 members of his national security team, including his Defense Secretary, faced multiple felony counts in one of the most serious scandals in American history.
 
Rand Paul wants to apply "Reagan's approach to foreign policy to the Iran issue"? Does Rand Paul remember Iran-Contra? How about Reagan cutting and running from Iran's allies in Lebanon?
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during an event, Jan. 23, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Schumer endorses GOP plan on Iran agreement

04/07/15 04:10PM

When it comes to the international agreement to curtail Iran's nuclear program, the White House's information campaign has been pretty aggressive. President Obama and just about every member of his foreign policy team are fanning out, communicating with lawmakers, journalists, and the public at large, trying to build a base of support for this once-in-a-generation opportunity.
 
I've seen some suggestions that the president's team is facing an uphill climb trying to win over congressional Republicans. Let's make this plain: that fight is already over. Indeed, it was never going to start -- GOP lawmakers condemned the international agreement before it existed and they aren't open to White House arguments now. Their goal is to increase the threats and prepare for a possible military confrontation with Iran -- which is the roughly the opposite of this framework, which moves us further from a war, not closer to one.
 
But Obama doesn't need to win Republicans over. He just needs to keep Democrats on his side. As Burgess Everett reported last night, that's easier said than done.
Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, one of Capitol Hill's most influential voices in the Iran nuclear debate, is strongly endorsing passage of a law opposed by President Barack Obama that would give Congress an avenue to reject the White House-brokered framework unveiled last week.
 
The comments Monday by the Democratic leader-in-waiting illustrate the enormity of the task ahead for Obama and his team: While there's no guarantee that Congress would ultimately reject an agreement with Iran, there's an increasingly bipartisan consensus that Congress should at least have the ability to do so.
There's no getting around the fact that empowering Congress to have veto power over an international agreement is likely to have the practical effect of a sabotage strategy. These kinds of agreements have never been subjected to lawmakers' approval before -- in fact, the status-quo deal that's currently in place wasn't put to a vote in Congress, either -- and there's no legal or procedural reason to give lawmakers that authority now.
 
But GOP lawmakers are demanding a congressional sign-off authority anyway. These are the same Republicans who sent a letter to Iranian officials, telling them not to trust U.S. officials, for the express purpose of derailing a diplomatic solution.
 
Chuck Schumer, the next Senate Democratic Leader, has endorsed the Republican legislation anyway, endorsing a GOP plan that gives Congress the power to kill the popular, effective agreement.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky gestures at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., March 14, 2013. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Rand Paul wants to be president ... of the United States

04/07/15 01:05PM

One of my favorite anecdotes about Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was published about a year and a half ago by National Journal, reporting on a trip the senator made to his adopted home state of Kentucky.
Rand Paul was talking with University of Louisville medical students when one of them tossed him a softball. "The majority of med students here today have a comprehensive exam tomorrow. I'm just wondering if you have any last-minute advice."
 
"Actually, I do," said the ophthalmologist-turned-senator, who stays sharp (and keeps his license) by doing pro bono eye surgeries during congressional breaks. "I never, ever cheated. I don't condone cheating. But I would sometimes spread misinformation. This is a great tactic. Misinformation can be very important."
It sure can.
 
The oddball senator, just four years into his career in public service -- a career in which he has never actually passed a piece of legislation into law -- is formally launching his first presidential campaign today. Rand Paul is making the announcement in Kentucky's appropriately named Galt House Hotel.
 
Given the senator's background, beliefs, and agenda, it's tempting to pause at this point to ask, "President of what?" Rest assured, however, that Paul, a self-accredited ophthalmologist just five years ago, is asking voters to elect him to the White House. The junior senator from Kentucky believes he's ready to be the leader of the free world.
 
There is, however, quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.7.15

04/07/15 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. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is kicking off his Republican presidential campaign today. We'll explore this in more detail in the next post, but for now, let's note that his campaign is accepting Bitcoin campaign contributions.
 
* Welcoming Paul to the race is a dark-money group called the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America, led by a Swiftboat strategist Rick Reed, which is launching a $1 million advertising buy painting the Kentucky Republican as "dangerous." The campaign, targeting Paul from the right, highlights the senator's 2007 argument that treating Iran as a national security threat is "ridiculous."
 
* The latest Monmouth University Poll shows Jeb Bush leading the Republicans' 2016 field nationally with 13% support, followed closely by Scott Walker and Ted Cruz, with 11% each. Donald Trump is roughly in the middle of the pack, leading prominent candidates such as Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio.
 
* Jeb Bush identified himself as "Hispanic" on his 2009 voter-registration forms. Responding to the controversy yesterday, the former governor said on Twitter, "My mistake! Don't think I've fooled anyone!"
 
* Though Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had suggested he'd retire at the end of his term, the longtime incumbent said overnight that he will run for re-election in 2016, describing himself as "ready for a new fight." McCain will be 80 on Election Day.
 
* Right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who'll reportedly kick off his presidential campaign in early May, has raised $2.1 million from 36,000 donors through his exploratory committee.
 
* Speaking of fundraising, it matters that Hillary Clinton will have access to "Obama's vaunted 2012 campaign list of roughly 12 million supporters, and a separate list of about four million people gathered over the last two years by the outside group Ready for Hillary."
Former Florida Governor and potential Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush arrives for an early morning GOP breakfast event on March 18, 2015 in Myrtle Beach, S.C. (Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty)

Jeb Bush 'has the Electoral College'?

04/07/15 11:31AM

It's awfully early to start thinking about which presidential candidate is likely to win which state -- we have no real idea who the Republican nominee will even be -- but electability is clearly an important consideration during this phase of the campaign. And the more primary/caucus voters weigh a candidate's chances, the more various players will try to convince the public that they're the one with the best odds.
 
With this in mind, The Hill ran a piece the other day from Eric Ham saying Hillary Clinton may have "inevitability" on her side, but it's Jeb Bush who "has the Electoral College" on his side.
[The former Secretary of State's] inevitability -- should she decide to run -- is real. Based on early polling numbers, Clinton has the path of least resistance to the Democratic nomination. Yet a head-to-head battle with Bush could spell doom, as his advantage in the all-important Electoral College is unquestioned.
Actually, it's easily questioned.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker fields questions from Bruce Rastetter at the Iowa Ag Summit on March 7, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Obama urges Walker to 'bone up on foreign policy'

04/07/15 10:54AM

President Obama sat down yesterday with NPR's Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, and not surprisingly, the discussion focused on the preliminary international agreement with Iran. Inskeep noted the political environment surrounding the debate, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) vow to destroy the global framework if elected.
 
The host asked, "If you conclude a deal and Congress has not formalized it, will that, as a practical matter, be within the power of the next president to withdraw from the deal on day one?" Here's the president's entire reply:
"Keep in mind, Steve, that there is long precedent for a whole host of international agreements in which there's not a formal treaty ratified by Congress, by the Senate, in fact, the majority of agreements that we enter into around the world of that nature, including those in which we make sure that our men and women in uniform, when they're overseas, aren't subject to the criminal jurisdiction of those countries.
 
"And, you know, I am confident that any president who gets elected will be knowledgeable enough about foreign policy and knowledgeable enough about the traditions and precedents of presidential power that they won't start calling to question the capacity of the executive branch of the United States to enter into agreements with other countries.
 
"If that starts being questioned, that's going to be a problem for our friends and that's going to embolden our enemies. And it would be a foolish approach to take, and, you know, perhaps Mr. Walker, after he's taken some time to bone up on foreign policy, will feel the same way."
The substance is clearly on the president's side. The Wisconsin governor's posture is an ignorant mess, and if Walker is able to get up to speed on the basics, the Republican candidate might even realize how ridiculous his recent rhetoric has been.
 
Walker responded with the predictable palaver about Obama's "failed leadership," and this morning's statement made no effort to walk back the bizarre position the governor tried to articulate last week. Indeed, the Wisconsin Republican still seems to believe he can improve the United States' "standing in the world" by thumbing his nose at America's allies and abandoning international agreements negotiated in part by American diplomats.
 
But from a purely electoral perspective, I also found it interesting to see the president reference Walker by name -- again.
Early daffodils bloom as two Washington State Patrol troopers walk toward the Capitol, Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, in Olympia, Washington.

Sometimes, a flag is just a flag

04/07/15 10:05AM

If you have a wacky uncle who consumes conservative media all day, it's a safe bet you'll receive an email about this story, if you haven't already.
The Washington state capitol put up the Chinese flag last week in honor of Gov. Jay Inslee's (D) trade meeting with Cui Tiankai, China's ambassador to the United States. But on Saturday morning, a small group of tea party activists went and protested the flag, outraged that it was flying alongside the U.S. and state flags.
As manufactured outrages go, this one is more ridiculous than most.
 
A Chinese ambassador went to Olympia last week, so officials at the state capital did what they always do when a foreign dignitary visits: they raised the visitor's flag alongside the U.S. and Washington flags as a goodwill gesture.
 
A right-wing activist on Facebook complained, and that apparently reached Alex Jones. From there it went to fringe blogs, then WorldNetDaily, and then Fox News, which told its audience that "local patriots" were "not pleased" that a Democratic governor "decided to fly a Communist China flag ... right between Old Glory and the state flag."
 
Fox's report added that the "local patriots ... said that flying the flag of Communist China at the same height as the stars and stripes was disrespectful."
 
So, how should you respond to your angry uncle's all-caps email? With the truth -- which happens to be far more amusing than the far-right's effort to create a scandal where none exists.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) makes a speech where he announced his candidacy for a presidential bid at Liberty University on March 23, 2015 in Lynchburg, Va.(Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty)

Cruz touts radical court-stripping scheme

04/07/15 09:21AM

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was in Iowa yesterday, where the presidential hopeful reflected on the possibility of a Supreme Court ruling endorsing marriage equality. The far-right senator told his audience, "The first thing and I think the most important thing every one of us can do, is pray. Lift up in prayer."
 
But as the Dallas Morning News noted, that's not all Cruz said.
He reiterated his vow to press for a constitutional amendment that would clarify the power of state legislatures to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. If the high court does legalize gay marriage nationwide, he added, he would prod Congress to strip federal courts of jurisdiction over the issue, a rarely invoked legislative tool.
The prospect of changing the U.S. Constitution to block marriages seems a little silly, especially since most Americans actually support equal marriage rights.
 
But it's that other part that stood out for me.
 
"Court-stripping" -- or "jurisdiction-stripping," as some call it -- is a fringe idea that doesn't come up often, largely because it's just too bizarre for most policymakers to even consider. The idea isn't complicated: under this scheme, Congress would pass a federal law effectively telling the courts, "We've identified a part of the law that judges are no longer allowed to consider."

Congress' approach to food safety is 'tough to swallow'

04/07/15 08:41AM

It may seem easy to forget, but towards the end of the Bush/Cheney era, Americans were confronted with some major food-safety controversies. After consumers purchased, among other things, tomatoes with salmonella and spinach with E. coli, Rick Perlstein coined the phrase "E. coli conservatism" in response to lax governmental regulations.
 
In 2010, President Obama and the Democratic-led Congress approved a sweeping overhaul of the nation's food-safety system, expanding the FDA's ability to recall tainted foods, increase inspections, demand accountability from food companies, and oversee farming. It was the biggest effort on food safety in more than 70 years, all in the hopes of preventing unsafe food from reaching consumers' tables.
 
More than four years later, Congress' Republican majority is reluctant to fund the mission. The New York Times reports today:
After thousands of people were sickened by tainted eggs, peanut butter and spinach, Congress passed a sweeping food safety law in 2010 that gave the Food and Drug Administration new powers to prevent additional outbreaks. But lawmakers have not provided enough money for the mission.
 
The Congressional Budget Office said the F.D.A. would need a total of $580 million from 2011 to 2015 to carry out the changes required by the Food Safety Modernization Act. So far, Congress has appropriated less than half of that amount, even as the agency is moving to issue crucial rules under the law this year.
The GOP-led House held a committee hearing in March on funding the effort and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said the budget request for food safety "will be tough to swallow."
 
Congressman, I don't know if you were playing with irony, but you know what's actually "tough to swallow"? Tainted food.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott during his State of the State speech Tuesday, March 4, 2014.

Florida governor's 'conscience' takes a costly turn

04/07/15 08:00AM

It was just two years ago that Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) made a surprise announcement. In a policy breakthrough, the far-right governor said he'd changed his mind about Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act, and Scott wanted to embrace the policy he'd once rejected.
 
"I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care," the Republican said in February 2013. Scott added at the time that Medicaid expansion is "a compassionate, common sense step forward."
 
The governor's "conscience" has apparently shifted. The Miami Herald reported yesterday:
Republican Gov. Rick Scott backed off his support of Medicaid expansion Monday, triggering a political backlash and giving the Florida House ammunition in its ongoing budget battle with the Senate.
 
Scott, who had thrown his support behind expanding Medicaid two years ago, expressed strong doubts about a government proposal to extend federally subsidized health insurance to nearly 800,000 poor Floridians.
For the record, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it has no idea why the governor suddenly doubts the federal funding commitment to the Medicaid program. Nothing has changed since Scott's 2013 breakthrough decision.
 
I've seen some reports that this represents a "flip-flop" for the far-right Floridian, but that's not quite right.

Rand and Ron and other headlines

04/07/15 07:37AM

Rand Paul announces today. (USA Today) And Ron Paul will be there. (Wall Street Journal)

After Jeb Bush order ending race-based college admissions, Florida universities cope with shrinking black enrollment. (Washington Post) 

Pres. Obama on the Iran deal. (NPR)

Iranian hardliners stage protest against nuclear deal. (AP)

Sen. John McCain says he will run for reelection. (NBC News)

Elections to watch today in Chicago, IL; Ferguson, MO, and Wisconsin. (Sun Times/Post-Dispatch/Journal Sentinel)

'Scary' Lucille Ball sculptor apologizes and offers to fix 'unsettling' statue. (Hollywood Reporter)

read more

GOP candidates dogged by political baggage

GOP candidates dogged by political baggage

04/06/15 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow talks to Courier-Journal political reporter Joe Gerth about Sen. Rand Paul’s imminent presidential bid and how several GOP candidates are dragging political baggage that could hurt their chances at winning the White House. watch

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