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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 9.9.15

09/09/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Keep expectations low: "The Kremlin says leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine have had a conference call to discuss the implementation of a peace deal for eastern Ukraine."
* Anti-ISIS coalition: "Australia will launch airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria within days and resettle an additional 12,000 refugees from the deepening humanitarian and security crisis in the Middle East, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Wednesday."
* EU: "Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Union’s executive arm, called on the bloc on Wednesday to accept 160,000 migrants, imploring leaders not to remain indifferent in the face of one of Europe’s toughest humanitarian challenges in decades."
* Shutdown: "Here are four congressional budget analysts' predictions on how likely it is that the government will shut down. We'll start with the most conservative estimate -- which is still 'well over 50 percent.'"
* New Mexico: "Once an integral part of the Republican Party’s rise to power under Gov. Susana Martinez’s stewardship in this Democratic stronghold, the secretary of state, Dianna Duran, has now been abandoned by her party, threatened with impeachment by her political opponents and called on to resign by one of the state’s leading newspapers."
* Brett O'Donnell fesses up: "A communications strategist who has worked with some of the best-known names in Republican politics -- including several presidential candidates -- has pleaded guilty to lying to congressional ethics investigators about campaign-related coaching he provided to a lawmaker that cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars."
Former Vice President Dick Cheney speaks about Iran at the American Enterprise Institute on Sept. 8, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

Some Iran deal critics admit they’re ready for war

09/09/15 04:40PM

The debate over U.S. policy towards Iran has been strikingly consistent for months. As we talked about in July, the Obama administration has made lawmakers' choices abundantly clear: members can allow the international, diplomatic agreement to move forward, or they can push us closer to yet another military conflict in the Middle East.
Republicans and their allies like to call this the “false choice.” U.S. conservatives don’t want a war, they insist, they just want a different diplomatic solution. What might that alternative policy look like? Republicans, at least for now, haven’t the foggiest idea, but they're reluctant to endorse yet another military confrontation in the Middle East.
That is, at least most of them are reluctant to say so publicly. Some, as TPM reported yesterday, are a little more candid.
In a speech slamming President Obama's Iran deal -- which Congress is debating this week -- former Vice President Dick Cheney suggested that only the threat of military action could prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons program.
"As soon as President Obama went on Israeli TV and effectively ruled out the option of force, the Iranians knew that they had won," Cheney said, speaking Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute.
Let's pause to note that, in our non-Cheney reality, President Obama never ruled out the use of force. In fact, in reality, President Obama did the opposite. Either Cheney is once again confused by the basics of current events or he's once again deliberately trying to mislead the public.
But the failed former vice president "went on to outline previous circumstances when the U.S. and its allies used force to attack a country's nuclear weapons program."
Cheney added, "Iran will not be convinced to abandon its programs peacefully unless it knows it faces a military action if it refuses to do so." (Let's note for context that officials in the Bush/Cheney administration concluded that a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities “would be a bad idea -- and would only make it harder to prevent Iran from going nuclear in the future.” Cheney, in other words, couldn't even convince members of his own team to follow his lead.)
Meanwhile, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton offered House Republicans advice on national security last night, and just two weeks ago, Bolton declared, "If the real objective is stopping Iran... preemptive military action is now inescapable."
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) have also both offered enthusiastic support when discussing the prospect of a war with Iran.
And in a way, that's probably a good thing -- not as a matter of foreign policy, but as a way of defining the terms of the debate.
Jeb Bush

Jeb to repeat his brother's mistakes, expects different results

09/09/15 12:54PM

For several years, the phrase itself was itself a sad political punch-line: "Bush Tax Cuts." The Bush/Cheney White House, in 2001 and 2003, cut taxes well beyond what the country could afford, making bold promises about job growth, vast prosperity, and balanced budgets.
Unfortunately for everyone, the jobs boom never happened; economic growth was weak; and the Bush/Cheney administration quickly added several trillion dollars to the national debt with very little to show for it. "Bush Tax Cuts" became synonymous with failure and conservative governance gone wrong.
Seven years later, Jeb Bush believes he's ready to be president and the Florida Republican is eager to share "Bush Tax Cuts: The Sequel." The former governor, whose campaign has struggled of late, makes his pitch for the "Reform and Growth Act of 2017" in a new Wall Street Journal op-ed.
...I want to lower taxes and make the tax code simple, fair and clear. It should be easy to understand and make it easy for people to fill out their own tax forms.
We will cut individual rates from seven brackets to three: 28%, 25% and 10%. At 28%, the highest tax bracket would return to where it was when President Ronald Reagan signed into law his monumental and successful 1986 tax reform.
There are basically two broad ways to scrutinize Jeb's "plan," such as it is: as a matter of policy and a matter of politics.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.9.15

09/09/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Hillary Clinton posted a message to supporters on Facebook overnight, telling them she's sorry for the controversy surrounding her email-server management.
* In South Carolina, one of the key early nominating states, a new Public Policy Polling survey shows Donald Trump leading the Republican presidential field with 37%. Ted Cruz is second with 21%, while Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz are tied for third with 6% each. Note, Bush's and Cruz's combined support, times three, doesn't quite match Trump's backing in the poll.
* The same South Carolina survey found Hillary Clinton with a big lead in the Democratic race. She enjoys a 30-point advantage over Vice President Biden, 54% to 24%. Bernie Sanders appears to be struggling in South Carolina -- he's third with 9%.
* Speaking at Brookings Institution this morning, Clinton praised the international nuclear agreement, and looked ahead to enforcement. “By now, the outcome of the deal in Congress is no longer in much doubt. So we’ve got to start looking ahead to what comes next: enforcing it, deterring Iran and its proxies, and strengthening our allies,” Clinton said. She added, “I will not hesitate to use military force if Iran attempts to obtain a nuclear weapon.”
* Rick Perry's presidential campaign moved one step closer to permanently turning the lights off yesterday, shutting down its headquarters in South Carolina.
* CNN moved the starting time for its prime-time debate next week from 9 p.m. to 8 p.m. eastern. The so-called kids-table debate will wrap up 15 minutes prior. The event(s) will be held a week from tonight.
* Former Sen. Mary Landrieu, a conservative Louisiana Democrat, still has $150,000 left in her campaign fund, and she plans to spend some of it to help some of her former colleagues in their re-election bids. Despite Republicans ending her career, Landrieu is even prepared to help Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
Republican presidential candidate retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson answers questions at the Commonwealth Club public affairs forum Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in San Francisco. (Photo by Eric Risberg/AP)

The rise of the other inexperienced, unqualified candidate

09/09/15 11:21AM

The Republican establishment couldn't have been pleased by the latest national Monmouth poll. It found that one inexperienced, unqualified candidate, who's never served a day in public office and who has a habit of making outrageous comments, had more support than Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio combined.
The candidate, of course, was Ben Carson.
In fact, in Iowa, the latest NBC/Marist poll also showed the retired neurosurgeon with as much support as Bush, Walker, Rubio, Cruz, and Huckabee put together.
It's hardly a secret that Donald Trump has dominated the race for the Republican nomination in recent months, but Carson's steady rise into the GOP's top tier is every bit as bizarre. In fact, most recent polling shows Carson as the most well liked candidate in the Republican field, and in one instance, the only GOP candidate who'd defeat Trump in a one-on-one match-up.
MSNBC's Jane C. Timm reported the other day on Carson's role as the "stealth candidate."
In a primary where Trump’s bombast and braggadocio have given him indefatigable popularity, Carson’s contrasting humility and soft-spoken demeanor -- paired with his outsider credibility and far-right views -- has wowed voters across the country.
“Ben Carson may be the perfect answer to people who are sick and tired of traditional politics and the politicians that practice it, but without the pomp and arrogance of Donald Trump,” Republican strategist Rich Gallen told msnbc. “He’s got Jeb’s thoughtfulness and Trump’s outsiderness.”
In the abstract, this was hard to predict. Carson, running in his first-ever campaign for public office, doesn't seem to know what he's doing. His policy pronouncements are often bizarre. He's personally participated in fetal-tissue research, and struggled to explain his research. He's struggled repeatedly with the basics of current events. His campaign operation has been a chaotic mess.
And yet, at least for now, Republican voters don't seem to mind. Carson has the perfect combination of inexperience, radicalism, and temperament.
The dome of the Capitol is reflected in a puddle in Washington, Feb. 17, 2012.

Congressional GOP can't even cook the books properly

09/09/15 10:42AM

As 2015 got underway, congressional Republican leaders had a decision to make. It wasn't one of their high-profile choices -- whether or not to shut down the government, whether or not to sabotage American foreign policy, etc. -- but it nevertheless mattered quite a bit.
In practical terms, GOP leaders had to pick their accountant. Doug Elmendorf's term as head of the Congressional Budget Office was nearly over, and Republicans were under pressure to reappoint him to another term. The recommendations made sense -- Elmendorf developed a reputation as a respected, impartial economist, who was pretty effective in telling lawmakers -- and by extension, all of us -- how much stuff costs.
As we talked about late last year, the argument from mainstream conservatives was that Elmendorf could extend meaningful credibility to GOP proposals through favorable scores -- if Elmendorf said Republicans’ numbers add up, everyone would know GOP lawmakers were taking their responsibilities seriously.
Soon after, right on cue, Republicans showed Elmendorf the door, and introduced Keith Hall, a "Republican stalwart," as the new CBO chief. The strategy wasn't subtle: GOP leaders wanted a Congressional Budget Office that would tell conservatives what they wanted to hear. Elmendorf wouldn't, so he had to go.
In an amusing twist, it turns out that Hall isn't the reliable ally Republicans expected him to be.
The new Republican-appointed director of the Congressional Budget Office delivered some bad news ... to the party's "Reaganomics" devotees: Tax cuts don't pay for themselves through turbocharged economic growth.
Keith Hall, who served as an economic adviser to former President George W. Bush, made the pronouncement at his first news conference after the CBO reduced its 2015 budget deficit forecast by $60 billion.
Hall spoke to reporters recently, shortly before lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill, and he threw cold water at one of the Republican Party's top economic principles. "No, the evidence is that tax cuts do not pay for themselves," Hall told reporters. "And our models that we're doing, our macroeconomic effects, show that."
Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis and her attorney, along with Gov. Mike Huckabee, appeared before cameras after her release from jail.

Kim Davis puts marriage fight on GOP front-burner

09/09/15 10:03AM

They were reluctant to admit it publicly, but in private, Republican insiders were delighted with the Supreme Court's ruling in June on marriage equality. The American mainstream had already embraced equal-marriage rights, and the longer the GOP pushed against the wave, the more the party risked getting washed away as out of touch.
The New York Times reported in late June that Republican officials saw the high court's ruling as an opportunity for the GOP to "pivot" away from a losing issue. The piece noted that some Republican strategists privately characterized the ruling as “nothing short of a gift from above.”
As Bloomberg Politics noted this morning, it's a gift some GOP presidential candidates prefer to return.
Just when they thought they were out, Kim Davis pulled them back in.
Republican strategists are worried that the return of same-sex marriage as a presidential campaign piñata could hurt the party in the 2016 general election, putting it on the wrong side of a growing majority of Americans that believes gay couples should have the right to marry. National Republicans operatives hoped the issue was settled in June when the Supreme Court ruled to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.
But Davis upended that.
“I think the longer this lingers, the worse it is for the Republican Party and for the conservative movement,” John Feehery, a longtime Republican strategist and lobbyist, told Bloomberg. “Civil disobedience never works well for conservatives. And in this case, it smacks of bigotry.”
Ya don't say. An anti-gay clerk wants to deny marriage licenses to couples she considers morally deficient, in defiance of her oath, a Supreme Court ruling, and federal court orders. Several Republican presidential candidates have decided this clerk not only shouldn't be punished for her defiance, they've actually labeled her a hero -- one they're eager to be seen with.
Party insiders see risks with this little gambit? Imagine that.
Senator Lindsey Graham (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty).

Looking for options, Graham targets IAEA

09/09/15 09:22AM

Opponents of the international nuclear agreement with Iran seem to realize at this point that they've come up far short. The policy's critics, nearly all of whom are Republicans, had high hopes that they could kill the diplomatic solution, using Congress' August break to apply pressure, but their strategies backfired.
It's against this backdrop that GOP lawmakers are scrambling to find last-ditch efforts. What if Republicans hold the vote on the anniversary of 9/11? What if they delay the vote and mount a new p.r. campaign?
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a struggling presidential candidate, has a very different approach in mind: the Republican senator wants to "strip the IAEA, a United Nations agency, of the U.S. portion of its funding."
He's not kidding. The International Atomic Energy Agency, whose inspectors will help ensure Iranian compliance with the nuclear agreement, receives roughly $88 million a year from the United States -- and for those who take inspections seriously, that's money well spent.
But for weeks, Graham has seen IAEA defunding as a kind of sabotage scheme: if the international agency doesn't have the resources it needs to operate, there won't be on-the-ground weapons inspectors monitoring Iran's activities. Roll Call reported a few weeks ago:
Speaking to a few dozen people at a “No Nukes for Iran” town hall meeting in his home state, Graham also said Monday that he plans to block the transfer of $88 million in U.S. funds to the International Atomic Energy Agency until Congress gets access to so-called “side agreements” related to the Iranian nuclear agreement.
Graham has power in this situation because of his role as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.... Graham said that without the military facilities being subject to inspection, it would be impossible to determine the prospect of development.
Just so we're clear, Graham is a fierce opponent of Iran's nuclear ambitions. The senator nevertheless opposes an international agreement intended to block those ambitions and he's even prepared to deny funding to the agency that's responsible for making sure Iran isn't cheating.
Graham can't block the deal that puts inspectors in Iran, so he's willing to undermine the inspections themselves.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at the American Action Forum, Jan. 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Walker's new posture: 'There is no such thing as a hypothetical'

09/09/15 08:40AM

Last week, Politico described Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) as "the biggest loser of the summer." The piece quoted an unnamed Iowa Republican saying the GOP presidential candidate "can't seem to find his way on any given issue with a handheld GPS."
The Iowan added, "He's been on all three sides of every two-sided issue. For the last two months hasn't made a single policy pronouncement that he or his staff hasn't had to clarify or clear up within two hours.... 'Unintimidated' has given way to 'uninformed' and 'unprepared.'"
Another Iowa Republican said, "Not since, well, Tim Pawlenty has a candidate so hyped or seemingly invincible had their bubble burst in this way."
The Washington Post reports today that Walker maintains an aggressive campaign schedule, but he's investing quite a bit of time "convincing voters he is still viable" as a national candidate.
Staying constant, however, has been one of his biggest challenges. On key issues of the day -- from calls to end birthright citizenship to the jailing of a Kentucky county official who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses -- Walker has struggled more than other candidates to clearly explain where he stands.
On several issues, he has attempted to not take a side -- including when asked this week what he would do to directly address the crisis facing Europe as hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries search for a safe place to live.
Talking to reporters yesterday in New Hampshire, the Republican governor said, “I’m not president today, and I can’t be president today. Everybody wants to talk about hypotheticals; there is no such thing as a hypothetical.”
Especially this year, campaign observers have grown accustomed to quite a bit of gibberish from White House hopefuls, but Walker insisting that there's "no such thing as a hypothetical" might be one of the most bizarre claims of the campaign.
It rivals Walker's claim last week that he's not a "career politician," despite the fact that the Wisconsin Republican has spent literally most of his life -- including 22 of the last 22 years -- seeking and holding elected office.
Republican presidential candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during an education summit, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015, in Londonderry, N.H. (Photo by Jim Cole/AP)

Christie picks the wrong day to complain about 'lawlessness'

09/09/15 08:00AM

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) still hopes to get his struggling presidential campaign back on track, and he's even come up with a new pitch he seems excited about: the scandal-plagued governor wants to blame President Obama for street crimes.
“Whether it is New York, Chicago or San Francisco, it is happening everywhere,” Christie said on MSNBC yesterday. “The president has encouraged this lawlessness."
As the GOP candidate sees it, White House executive orders are illegal (they're not), and because criminals are so attuned to current events, they see the president's lax attitudes on enforcing laws (which doesn't exist) and decide to break laws themselves.
It's hard to imagine anyone taking such nonsense seriously, but just as importantly, Christie has atrocious timing. While the Republican governor complains about "lawlessness," one of his aides has already pleaded guilty to a charge in Christie's "Bridgegate" scandal, and two more of his top staffers are facing multiple criminal charges. By late yesterday, it seems a fourth member of Christie's team may soon join the indictment club.
The chairman and CEO of United Airlines is stepping down in connection with an investigation into the airline’s dealings with the agency that operates New York airports.
United Continental Holdings Inc. said Tuesday that Jeff Smisek and its executive vice president of communications and government affairs and its senior vice president of corporate and government affairs had resigned.
According to United, the departures "are in connection with the company’s previously disclosed internal investigation related to the federal investigation associated with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.”
What does this have to do with Team Christie? Everything.

EU plan to take 160,000 refugees and other headlines

09/09/15 07:56AM

European Union calls for mandatory refugee quotas. (USA Today)

Australia to take 12,000 more. (New York Times)

TV camerawoman fired after tripping migrants fleeing Hungary cops. (NBC News)

Ben Carson calls for guest-worker status for immigrants. (AP)

Clinton to weigh in on Iran deal as Trump and Cruz try to crush it. (New York Times)

Hillary Clinton address concerns over email server... in an email. (Huffington Post) 

State department to shift 50 staff to boost office handling Clinton emails. (Reuters)

Russia confirms it has military advisers in Syria. (New York Times)

Marine Corps' women-in-combat experiment gets mixed results. (Washington Post)

read more

Lessig to campaign on campaign finance only

Lawrence Lessig to campaign on sole issue of campaign finance reform

09/08/15 09:43PM

Rachel Maddow reports that Lawrence Lessig has reached a fundraising milestone to allow him to enter the Democratic primary, in which he will run on the sole issue of campaign finance reform. Monmouth University Polling Institute director Patrick Murray discusses how pollsters take campaigns like Lessig's into account in polls. watch


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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.



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