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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 10.27.15

10/27/15 05:30PM

Today’s edition of quick hits:
* A stunning video from Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina: "The FBI has been asked to investigate an incident at a South Carolina high school Monday in which a police officer appeared to body slam a female student and drag her across a classroom."
* Middle East: "Iran has been invited to participate for the first time in international talks over Syria's future, U.S. officials said Tuesday, a shift in strategy for the United States and its allies as they seek to halt the four-year civil war and eventually ease President Bashar Assad out of power. Iran has yet to reply, the officials said."
* This, notably, was not part of the budget deal: "The House on Tuesday approved a measure to extend federal transportation funding for three weeks in an effort to prevent a highway funding stoppage. The bill, H.R. 3819, would extend federal transportation spending, currently set to expire Oct. 29, until Nov. 20. It was approved by voice vote after a brief debate."
* ISIS: "Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Tuesday that the U.S. will begin 'direct action on the ground' against ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria, aiming to intensify pressure on the militants as progress against them remains elusive."
* Related news: "Turkey has confirmed that it struck positions in Syria held by Kurdish militias that over the last year have become the most important allies within Syria of the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State."
* Usually, when House Republicans rebel, it's right-wing members. Not on the Export-Import Bank, however: "A small but powerful band of House Republicans rebelled against party leadership Monday night, a near-constant theme of Speaker John A. Boehner’s tenure the past five years."
* Oklahoma: "An abortion law that was set to go into effect Sunday was put on hold Monday by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The law, Senate Bill 642 by Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, would require abortion providers to take a sample of the fetal tissue when the abortion patient is younger than 14 and send it to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation."
President Barack Obama holds a jersey and poses for photographs during a ceremony to honor the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup champion U.S. National Soccer Team, Oct. 27, 2015, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Obama explains what 'playing like a girl' really means

10/27/15 04:21PM

President Obama honors winning U.S. sports teams all the time, but his event in the White House this morning celebrating the U.S. National Women's Soccer Team featured remarks that were arguably more important than most.
Note, for example, the broader context in which the president characterized Abby Wambach’s "not-so-quiet dominance."
"Abby said that she wanted her final World Cup to be like a fairytale. And I’m not sure she could have written a better ending: a world champion at last, draped in the Stars and Stripes, showing us all how far we’ve come -- on and off the field -- by sharing a celebratory kiss with her wife."
This was soon followed by a celebration, of sorts, of feminism itself.
"This team taught all America’s children that 'playing like a girl' means you're a badass. (Laughter and applause.) Perhaps I shouldn’t have used that phrase. (Laughter.) Playing like a girl means being the best. It means drawing the largest TV audience for a soccer match –- men or women’s –- in American history. It means wearing our nation’s crest on your jersey, taking yourself and your country to the top of the world. That’s what American women do. That's what American girls do. That’s why we celebrate this team."
There was even a little room for some campaign politics in Obama's remarks. Commenting on Carli Lloyd, the president said:
President Barack Obama greets Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as Vice President Joe Biden looks on, in the Capitol's House chamber before Obama delivered his State of the Union address, Jan. 20, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

In bipartisan budget deal, not all 'cuts' are created equal

10/27/15 12:47PM

When Rachel asked Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) last night about the tentative budget agreement between the White House and congressional Republican leaders, the presidential hopeful conceded he hadn't yet read the agreement, but he was skeptical.
"Our goal is to expand Social Security benefits [and] to push for a Medicare-for-all single-payer program," Sanders said. I will not be supportive of cuts in those programs."
It's a safe bet that many progressive policymakers will feel the same way, which may raise doubts about the viability of the newly announced deal.
In practice, however, there are "cuts" and then there are "cuts."
Democrats have quite a few reasons to like the budget deal -- $80 billion in sequestration relief goes a long way -- on top of the peace of mind that comes with eliminating the possibility of government shutdowns and debt-ceiling crises until 2017.
But did President Obama accept entitlement cuts in exchange? I'm reluctant to start parsing the meaning of the word "cut," but the Washington Post's Greg Sargent talked to a progressive expert this morning who sounded an optimistic note.
On Medicare and Social Security: Nancy Altman, the president of Social Security Works, a group that strenuously opposes benefits cuts and argues for their expansion, tells me that the deal “doesn’t actually cut benefits or really hurt beneficiaries who aren’t gaming the system.”
Altman says the Medicare cuts are all on the provider side, which could harm beneficiaries at some point, but it’s not a major concern.
It's true that the deal includes "reforms" to the Social Security Disability Insurance program, which was facing major deadlines of its own, and Republicans had previously said they'd only divert funding from Social Security's retirement insurance program to SSDI if Democrats accepted benefit cuts.
But Obama wasn't willing to go that far and GOP leaders gave up on that demand.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.27.15

10/27/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* According to a new Monmouth poll, Hillary Clinton has opened up an enormous lead over Bernie Sanders among Iowa Democrats, 65% to 24%. This is the first major statewide poll since last week's Benghazi hearing, though no other recent Iowa polling shows Clinton with this kind of massive advantage.
* At a closed-door event in Houston, former President George W. Bush made a joint appearance with Jeb Bush. The elder brother assured donors, “It’s one reason Jeb is going to win because he’s a fierce competitor."
* Reflecting on his drop in some recent polling, Donald Trump said on MSNBC this morning, “I don’t get it."
* The former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party told the Boston Globe this week that the 2016 GOP field has a "lousy" ground game in the Granite State. "All the Republicans put together don’t have as good of an organization as Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders,” Fergus Cullen said.
* Ben Carson has a new television ad, which has already aired in South Carolina, in which he stands alongside an empty cardboard box labeled “Washington political class.” He tells viewers, "I’m very much outside the box.”
* In response to concerns from Black Lives Matter and immigration-reform advocates, Hillary Clinton will no longer "accept donations from PACs and lobbyists working on behalf of private prisons."
U.S. Representative Paul Ryan returns to his office after a Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Oct. 9, 2015. U.S. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Paul Ryan adds corporate lobbyist to his new team

10/27/15 11:24AM

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been so cozy with corporate lobbyists in recent years, they've effectively had a seat at the table for every major policy dispute. When Congress worked on Wall Street reform, Boehner huddled with financial-industry lobbyists. When Congress worked on health care reform, he huddled with insurance lobbyists. When Congress worked on climate change, Boehner huddled with energy lobbyists.
We'll learn soon enough whether his successor will pursue a similar course, but the Washington Post reported over the weekend on Paul Ryan's new chief of staff.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has selected David Hoppe, a former adviser to Republican congressional leaders and a longtime Washington lobbyist, to serve as his chief of staff, should Ryan be elected House speaker this week, as is widely expected.
The hiring was finalized after Hoppe and Ryan, both Wisconsin natives and proteges of the late New York congressman Jack Kemp, had conversations about Ryan’s desire to staff the speaker’s office with seasoned aides who are also deeply familiar with conservatism, according to people briefed on the talks.
In a written statement, the incoming Speaker said of Hoppe, “Dave has been a foot soldier in the conservative movement, and he is a good friend. His decades of experience fighting for the cause and his passionate commitment to conservative principles are just what I’m looking for to create a new kind of speakership.”
For those who are concerned about corporate lobbyists already having outsized influence over Capitol Hill policymaking, Paul Ryan's first big hire probably isn't encouraging news. And to be sure, Hoppe has had success on K Street, coming to the incoming Speaker's office from Squire Patton Boggs, a powerhouse D.C. firm, after having worked at Quinn Gillespie & Associates, as well as his own Hoppe Strategies.
His client list includes some very familiar, very lucrative names: Delta, AT&T, Ford, Cayman Finance, and Amazon, among others.
Image: A statue of the United States first President, George Washington, is seen under the Capitol dome in Washington

What in the world is a 'Freedom Foyer'?

10/27/15 10:41AM

The Obama White House and congressional Republican leaders have a tentative budget deal, which is already drawing fierce fire from GOP lawmakers in both chambers. It's safe bet that we'll quickly see a "hope yes, vote no" dynamic emerge, in which Republicans want the bipartisan agreement to pass, even if they don't want to alienate right-wing activists by voting for it.
There are, however, some sweeteners added to the package. Take the "Freedom Foyer," for example.
The text of the full, 144-page package is online here, but note literally the very last provision of the legislation. On the bottom of page 144, the budget agreement would designate the "small House rotunda" on the first floor of the Capitol to serve as a "Freedom Foyer."
I'm not making this up.
In fact, reader D.R. emailed this morning to note the official 15-page summary of the package, which concludes with the header, "Sec. 1201. Designating Small House Rotunda as 'Freedom Foyer.'" It explains, with some specificity:
This section designates the first floor area of the House of Representatives wing of the U.S. Capitol known as the small House rotunda as “Freedom Foyer.” Busts of Winston Churchill, Lajos Kossuth, and Vaclav Havel are on display in the Freedom Foyer.
Really? Twelve years after Freedom Fries, we're now embracing a Freedom Foyer?
Maine Gov. Paul LePage speaks to the media at a homeless shelter on July 28, 2014, in Lewiston, Maine.

Maine's LePage: 'That’s like giving my wife my checkbook'

10/27/15 10:00AM

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is already facing an abuse-of-power scandal that may lead to his impeachment, which might lead a typical governor to take steps to bolster his or her statewide support.
But there's nothing about the far-right Mainer that's typical.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) compared public campaign financing [last week] to handing his checkbook over to his wife to spend money, reported website and podcast
An initiative on the November ballot in Maine would allow candidates who were being far outspent by their opponents to "re-qualify for additional public financing," according to the report.
At a town-hall gathering, LePage added, in reference to public financing, "That’s like giving my wife my checkbook. I’m telling you, it’s giving your wife your checkbook. Go spend."
The comments were captured on video and were not well received.
“The governor’s attitude toward women, toward relationships and toward money are so dated as to be bizarre,” Eliza Townsend, executive director of the Maine Women’s Lobby, said.
The silhouettes of emissions are seen rising from stacks of the Duke Energy Corp. Gibson Station power plant at dusk in Indiana, July 23, 2015. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg/Getty)

GOP-led Science Committee subpoenas climate researchers

10/27/15 09:25AM

It's hard to say exactly when the House Science Committee became a national joke, but I'd argue the laughter began three years ago this month. Then-Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) delivered some jaw-dropping public remarks in which he described pillars of modern science -- including evolutionary biology and the big bang -- as quite literally “lies straight from the pit of Hell.”
When the political world learned that Republicans had put Broun on the House Science Committee, of all things, the panel started drawing additional scrutiny. It wasn't long before a portrait emerged of a committee led by right-wing lawmakers with a brazen hostility towards empiricism, evidence, and the scientific canon.
But if this were simply a matter of a congressional panel filled with unqualified GOP members, the House Science Committee could remain a harmless national punch-line. But the Washington Post reported late last week on a development that's far more alarming.
The head of a congressional committee on science has issued subpoenas to the Obama administration over a recent scientific study refuting claims that global warming had “paused” or slowed over the last decade.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and a prominent congressional skeptic on climate change, issued the subpoenas two weeks ago demanding e-mails and records from U.S. scientists who participated in the study, which undercut a popular argument used by critics who reject the scientific consensus that man-made pollution is behind the planet’s recent warming.
The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.), insisted that Smith is “furthering a fishing expedition,” which brings the "legitimacy of this committee" into question.
That's true, though she's being charitable with her restraint.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Donald Trump on the stage  in the Republican presidential primary debate, Aug. 6, 2015. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)

Latest polling points at a new GOP frontrunner

10/27/15 08:40AM

Every major, independent poll of Republican voters has shown the same result since July: Donald Trump leading the GOP presidential field nationally. The durability and consistency of Trump's standing surprised many, and caused sleepless nights for many Republican insiders.
The good news for the GOP establishment is that, for the first time in four months, Trump's advantage has slipped. The bad news is, the candidate who's now out in front is an unhinged retired neurosurgeon who talks about Nazis a little too often.
The new poll results from a national New York Times/CBS News survey are going to raise eyebrows.
1. Ben Carson: 26% (up three points from September)
2. Donald Trump: 22% (down five points)
3. Marco Rubio: 8% (up two points)
4. Jeb Bush: 7% (up one point)
4. Carly Fiorina: 7% (up three points)
Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Rand Paul, and Mike Huckabee are tied for sixth place with 4% each. The remaining candidates are at 3% or below.
It's worth emphasizing that this is only one poll, which may prove to be an outlier. Indeed, all other recent national polling suggests Trump's frontrunner status remains fairly secure.
With this in mind, if these new results are a just a blip on the radar, it will soon be forgotten. But if it's correct and a sign of things to come, the New York Times/CBS News poll may mark a turning point in the race.
What's more, while national polling matters, the race for presidential nominations are a state-by-state process, which makes the latest trends out of Iowa that much more striking.

Obama, GOP leaders reach sweeping budget deal, but can it pass?

10/27/15 08:00AM

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who'll wrap up his lengthy congressional career this week, has told reporters in recent days that he's determined to "clean the barn up" before his successor takes his place. In practical terms, the Republican leader is referring to Congress' lengthy to-do list -- Boehner doesn't want to leave lawmakers in an untenable position as he heads for the exits.
The outgoing Speaker apparently wasn't kidding. To the surprise of many, he and other GOP leaders negotiated a budget deal with President Obama that's rather extraordinary in its scope. NBC News reported overnight:
Congressional leaders have reached a breakthrough tentative budget deal with the White House that would set government funding levels for the next two years and extend the nation’s debt limit through 2017, avoiding routine talks of a government shutdown. [...]
If approved, the agreement would be a milestone after years of gridlock and annual threats of government shutdowns.
The full, 144-page bill was posted online late last night and is available here (pdf). The timing of the posting matters: its availability on Monday night will make it easier for House Republican leaders to set up a floor vote as early as tomorrow.
What immediately stands out in the deal is the negotiators' ambition -- this one package includes new federal spending levels through September 2017, a debt-ceiling increase through March 2017, $80 billion in sequestration relief that's likely to help the economy and the Pentagon, and measures to help seniors facing Medicare Part B premium spikes.
If approved, the deal would likely eliminate the possibility of any self-imposed crises, cliffs, or hostage standoffs between now and early 2017, which sounds awfully appealing to almost everyone. Paul Ryan, who was not part of these negotiations, could begin his tenure as Speaker with a clean slate and no major deadlines looming overhead.
But a familiar question looms large: can it pass?

Carson edges Trump and other headlines

10/27/15 07:59AM

Carson edges Trump in a national poll. (New York Times)

Pres. Obama to present his case for overhauling sentencing laws. (New York Times)

FBI chief again says Ferguson having chilling effect on law enforcement. (Washington Post)

Manhunt in rural Kentucky. (AP)

Video shows school resource officer flipping student in South Carolina. (The State)

China warns U.S. Navy after ship sails by Chinese-built island. (AP)

Saving a rare tree worlds away. (New York Times)

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About The Rachel Maddow Show

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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