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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) walks from a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 22, 2016. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Congressional Republican leaders face an uncertain future

10/21/16 11:20AM

If recent polling is accurate, House Democrats are likely to gain seats in this year's election cycle. That said, they'll need a net gain of 30 seats to reach majority status, and that may well too tough a hurdle to clear with the Republicans' structural advantages.

On the other side of the aisle, House Republicans will be relieved if they can maintain their majority status, but the relief may be short lived -- because the rumblings about a leadership shake-up are getting louder. CNN had this report yesterday:
Rep. Mark Meadows said Thursday the effort to remove Speaker Paul Ryan is "picking up some steam" because many GOP lawmakers and a stream of callers to the North Carolinian's congressional offices are incensed the Wisconsin Republican hasn't embraced fully Donald Trump's candidacy for president. [...]

Meadows, one of the 30-plus members of the ultra-conservative and powerful House Freedom Caucus, said there "will be real discussions after November 8 on who our leadership will be and what that will look like going forward."
This coincides with a report from The Hill, which quoted an unnamed Freedom Caucus member saying it is "a pretty sure bet there will be" a GOP challenger taking on Paul Ryan for the Speaker's gavel.

There's also some pressure from outside Capitol Hill, with prominent voices from Republican media pushing for Ryan's ouster.

To be sure, some of this is premature. We can't say with certainty, for example, that there will still be a House GOP majority in the new year. It's likely, but real intra-party fights will depend on the election results.

That said, I also wouldn't dismiss Mark Meadows' efforts too quickly. The North Carolina Republican hasn't gone into too much detail -- he says the anti-Ryan campaign is "picking up some steam," but what that means in practical terms is unclear -- though Meadows' track record is highly relevant.
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A man crosses the Central Intelligence A

Trump still has no use for U.S. intelligence agencies

10/21/16 10:40AM

A couple of months ago, ahead of his first intelligence briefing as a presidential candidate, Donald Trump was asked about whether he'd trust the information he receives. "Not so much from the people that have been doing it for our country," the Republican said, adding, in reference to U.S. intelligence agencies, "I won't use them because they've made such bad decisions."

Evidently, this wasn't an off-hand comment. At least when it comes to Russia, Trump simply does not believe American intelligence officials.
Donald Trump continued his extraordinary repudiation of U.S. intelligence agencies Wednesday night when he expressed "doubt" about their conclusion that Russia has been interfering in the U.S. election through a hacking campaign -- even though intelligence officials briefed him on the Russia link in person months ago.

"Our country has no idea," who is doing the hacking, the Republican nominee said during the final presidential debate, after Hillary Clinton challenged him to accept the conclusion of the CIA and other agencies that the Russian government was behind the leaks of internal Democratic emails.

When moderator Chris Wallace pressed Trump on whether he was disputing the assessment from U.S. intelligence officials, he replied, "Yeah, I doubt it. I doubt it."
Note, it's not just the agencies Trump distrusts. The Dallas Morning News published a report yesterday noting that the candidate's stance "was particularly inexplicable because in a debate prep session Monday, one of his own national security advisers, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, told Trump that in his judgment ... the hacks were directed by Russia."

McCaul told the newspaper, "I have personally briefed him on that and told him that in my opinion ... this was in fact a nation-state attack by Russia."

So, does Trump just reflexively oppose American intelligence assessments or is this a situation in which the Republican just believes Vladimir Putin's government so implicitly that he literally can't believe any evidence that reflects poorly on his Russian allies?
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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walks off the stage as Republican nominee Donald Trump remains at his podium after their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate in Las Vegas, Nev., Oct. 19, 2016. (Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters)

'Sometimes a lady needs to be told when she's being nasty'

10/21/16 10:00AM

After the backlash to the "Republican war on women" hurt GOP candidates in 2012, many party officials and strategists insisted Republicans change the way they talk to women and about women. Training sessions, some of which were led by Kellyanne Conway, now Donald Trump's campaign manager, tried to coach GOP candidates on how to avoid costly missteps on gender issues.

It may be time for a refresher course or two.

At this week's presidential debate, Trump, unprompted, interrupted Hillary Clinton to say she's "such a nasty woman." CNN reports that Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) appeared on Alan Colmes' radio show yesterday and defended the remark.
"You know what, she's saying some nasty things," the Texas congressman answered.

Colmes asked again if the comment was appropriate, to which Babin responded, "Well, I'm a genteel Southerner, Alan."

"So that means no?" Colmes asked.

"No, I think sometimes a lady needs to be told when she's being nasty," Babin replied. "I do."
It's almost as if they're trying to lose.
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U.S. Senator John McCain, Immigration - 08/27/2013

GOP senators offer inconsistent support for democratic principles

10/21/16 09:21AM

After Donald Trump balked in this week's debate at accepting the outcome of the presidential election, it was inevitable that many congressional Republicans would be asked for their reactions, and to their credit, many were quick to criticize their party's nominee. But there's another part of their agenda that casts these principles in a less flattering light.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), for example, said it's "imperative" for Trump to say he'll accept the results of the election. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) issued a similar statement, explaining that if Trump loses, "it will not be because the system is 'rigged' but because he failed as a candidate." Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said Trump's comments during the debate were "beyond the pale."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), meanwhile, went further than most to defend democratic principles against the criticisms from his party's nominee. This is an excerpt from a longer written statement:
"I didn't like the outcome of the 2008 election. But I had a duty to concede, and I did so without reluctance. A concession isn't just an exercise in graciousness. It is an act of respect for the will of the American people, a respect that is every American leader's first responsibility.

"Whatever our differences we owe each other that respect, which we express by defending the democratic values and practices that protect us all.

"I don't know who's going to win the presidential election. I do know that in every previous election, the loser congratulates the winner and calls them, 'my president.' That's not just the Republican way or the Democratic way. It's the American way. This election must not be any different."
Though McCain didn't call out Trump by name, the senator's statement was a welcome rebuke of his party's presidential candidate and his assault on democratic norms.

But as encouraging as McCain's statement was, the Arizona Republican may not fully appreciate the degree to which his message is burdened by inconsistencies.
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Voting booths inside the Early Vote Center, Oct. 5, 2016, in Minneapolis, Minn. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/AFP/Getty)

Why Trump's claims about dead voters don't make sense

10/21/16 08:40AM

Most of the time, when Donald Trump says something outlandish and is pressed for evidence, he relies on some combination of his memory, right-wing conspiracy websites, or actual proof he misunderstood. With this in mind, something the Republican nominee said at this week's presidential debate is worth a closer look.
"If you look at your voter rolls, you will see millions of people that are registered to vote -- millions, this isn't coming from me, this is coming from Pew Report and other places -- millions of people that are registered to vote that shouldn't be registered to vote."
At an event in Ohio yesterday, Trump repeated the claim, but added an element of criminality.
"1.8 million people are dead. But they're registered to vote. Some of whom vote even though they're dead, which is really a hard thing to do. But it's easy if fraud is involved, right? So you have 1.8 million people who are dead who are registered to vote. And some of them vote."
And this got me thinking about what, exactly, the Pew Center found in the study Trump is so eager to tout. Did Pew actually issue a report that bolsters some of the GOP candidate's claims?
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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks to the media on June 3, 2016 in Doral, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

After taking some shots from Rubio, Obama returns the favor

10/21/16 08:00AM

During his ill-fated presidential campaign, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) based much of his message, especially as the primaries got underway, on the idea that President Obama is trying to destroy the United States on purpose. In effect, the far-right Floridian believed the way to connect with GOP voters was to accuse the sitting president of treason.

Yesterday, Obama traveled to Miami, where the president was able to fire back at Rubio, reminding voters that the senator is supporting Donald Trump's campaign, despite Rubio's previous insistence that Trump is a "con artist" and "dangerous." The Tampa Bay Times reported:
"I'm even more confused by Republican politicians who still support Donald Trump," Obama said. "Marco Rubio is one of those people. How does that work? How can you call him a con artist and dangerous and object to all the controversial things he says and then say, 'But I'm still gonna vote for him?' C'mon, man!"

"C'mon, man," he repeated.

"You know what that is? It is the height of cynicism. That's the sign of somebody who will say anything, do anything, pretend to be anybody, just to get elected. And you know what? If you're willing to be anybody just to be somebody, then you don't have the leadership that Florida needs in the U.S. Senate.... That's why you've got to vote for Patrick Murphy. That's why you've got to vote for Hillary Clinton."
Obama went on to note that Rubio doesn't like to show up for work regularly; the senator abandoned the immigration reform bill that he helped write, just to satisfy his party's anti-immigration base; and continues to inexplicably deny climate change.

"If you see the ocean coming up through the streets how can you deny what is right in front of you?" Obama asked. "I thought he was from Miami."

It's almost as if the president does not think highly of Marco Rubio.

Of course, Obama wasn't just admonishing the far-right senator for the sake of doing so; Rubio is in the middle of a re-election fight in Florida and the senator is doing his part to help the incumbent's opponent, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.), prevail.

But as of this week, it appears Obama and party officials aren't exactly on the same page: just as the president was making his case against Rubio in the Sunshine State, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was deciding to effectively give up on the Florida race and direct its resources elsewhere.
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Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.20.16

10/20/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Iraq: "A U.S. service member died Thursday from wounds sustained in the explosion of an improvised explosive device in northern Iraq, the U.S.-led military coalition said."

* Iraq: "Kurdish forces opened a new front in the Iraqi campaign to recapture Mosul on Thursday morning as thousands of peshmerga fighters began to attack from the north."

* Flint: "The inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday that the agency should have issued an emergency order to protect residents of Flint, Mich., from lead-tainted water seven months before it actually did."

* If true, it's quite a haul: "Investigators pursuing what they believe to be the largest case of mishandling classified documents in United States history have found that the huge trove of stolen documents in the possession of a National Security Agency contractor included top-secret N.S.A. hacking tools that two months ago were offered for sale on the internet."

* A worthwhile, overdue gesture: "Decades after homosexuality was decriminalized in Britain, the government announced on Thursday that it would posthumously pardon thousands of gay and bisexual men who were convicted, in essence, of having or seeking gay sex. Since 2012, men with such convictions who are still alive have been able to apply to have their names cleared."

Not bad, though the total doesn't include cable and online viewers: "Preliminary data for the third and final presidential debate of 2016 on Wednesday night show that viewership numbers increased from the second debate, but were still well below the record-setting Sept. 26 showdown between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. According to Nielsen early returns, Wednesday's debate from Las Vegas generated a 39.7 overnight rating. That equates to 34.6 million viewers among the big four networks."
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally, Oct. 13, 2016, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump says he'll accept election results, 'if I win'

10/20/16 02:55PM

Donald Trump is no doubt aware of the controversy he created last night when he refused to say whether or not he would accept the outcome of the election. On the campaign trail in Ohio today, the Republican nominee responded to concerns in the most Trump-like way possible.
The GOP nominee doubled down on controversial and unprecedented claims that he may not accept the results on November 8, first made at the third and final presidential debate Wednesday.

Warning of a "major announcement," Trump led off his first public appearance since the debate with the "promise and pledge" to his supporters: "I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election -- if I win." The brief pause and defiant words that came after it immediately incited cheers from the crowd.
Here's a clip of the comments, which Trump's followers seemed to enjoy.

The GOP nominee clearly doesn't understand the nature of the controversy, adding at today's event that it's "unprecedented" to have to concede results before they're known. But no one has suggested anything of the kind. Indeed, in the first presidential debate, Trump was asked if he would accept the outcome of the election, regardless of the outcome. He said, "The answer is, if she wins, I will absolutely support her."

If he'd stuck to the exact same answer last night, there wouldn't have been an uproar. But Trump instead rolled out a new position: "I will look at it at the time.... I'll keep you in suspense. OK?"

This isn't about conceding unknown results or ruling out legal scrutiny in the event of a 2000-like scenario. It's a simple question of honoring the electoral process and respecting the outcome after voters have had their say. Trump is the first modern major-party nominee to create some doubt: he may not consider the process legitimate and he may not accept the results.

Unless, of course, he wins.
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Republican Speaker of the House from Wisconsin Paul Ryan prepares to speak to the media about upcoming votes in the House, including Zika funding, Sept. 8, 2016, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

In the fight for party's future, GOP voters turn on Paul Ryan

10/20/16 12:46PM

By any fair metric, Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is the most ideologically extreme House Speaker in modern American history. And yet, Donald Trump has taken deliberate steps in recent weeks to chastise the GOP leader and blame Ryan for the Republican presidential ticket's difficulties -- despite the Speaker's endorsement, which hasn't been withdrawn.

Considered at a distance, it's a bizarre set of circumstances. When John Boehner, under pressure from the far-right, was effectively forced to step down as Speaker, Ryan was hailed as the one Republican -- the only Republican -- who could credibly lead the party. When the Wisconsin congressman balked, GOP insiders begged him to take the gavel. Ryan grudgingly agreed.

It may seem hard to believe, but that was literally one year ago this week.

Now, however, Trump has made Ryan out to be an enemy to the conservative cause; prominent far-right activists are accusing him of being involved in conspiracies against the GOP; and leading voices in Republican media have labeled Ryan a "saboteur" who needs to be replaced on Capitol Hill.

And as it turns out, this is having the intended effect. The latest YouGov/Economist poll found that 64% of Trump voters have an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Speaker of the House, while only 28% have a favorable opinion. In a result that's hard to believe, the same survey found Ryan slightly more popular among Hillary Clinton's supporters than Trump's.

New results from a Bloomberg Politics poll point in a similar direction.
The poll's findings showed the extent to which Trump, with his hardline positions on immigration and trade, has triumphed among the party's supporters over Ryan, with his vision of a pluralist conservative party that focuses on cutting taxes and spending.

When asked which leader better represents their view what the Republican Party should stand for, 51 percent of likely voters who are or lean Republican picked Trump, while 33 percent picked Ryan and 15 percent said they weren't sure.
The same poll found Trump's favorability slipping among Republicans to 76% -- a poor number at this point in a national campaign -- but Ryan's support is actually "fading faster ... dropping 11 points to 50 percent since September among likely voters who are or lean Republican."
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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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