Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* As part of an increasingly personal back and forth between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, the Texas senator yesterday called the Republican frontrunner a "sniveling coward." Asked, however, if he intends to support his rival if Trump wins the nomination, Cruz would only say he doesn't believe Trump will be the GOP nominee.
* President Obama's approval rating has reached three-year highs in the new CNN and Bloomberg Politics polls. This won't help improve Republicans' chances of electoral success.
* After Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) announced his support for holding a hearing on Judge Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination, the Tea Party Patriots Citizen Fund said it's prepared to support a possible primary challenger against the Kansas Republican. Moran is up for re-election this year.
* Bernie Sanders picked up a union endorsement yesterday, with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union announcing its support for the senator yesterday.
* Ben Carson, who endorsed Trump, was asked yesterday to defend Trump's record of deceptions. "Tell me a politician who doesn't tell lies?" Carson replied, as if that were a defense.
* Lindsey Graham, fresh off announcing his backing for Cruz, said yesterday the Republican Party "can lose in 2016 and probably will."
* Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has been under pressure to make a statement about his party's presidential primary. "I'm not a Trump fan," he told the Associated Press yesterday. "I don't think he should be the nominee. At this point in time, I have no idea who the candidates are going to be or who I'm going to vote for."
* Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, was asked this week about his preferred candidate's record of offensive rhetoric. The Republican congressman said yesterday Trump has "been misquoted, and they've taken things out of context."
In the wake of this week's terrorist attack in Brussels, President Obama's critics raised familiar and predictable complaints. Why isn't the Obama administration going after ISIS? When is the White House going to get tough on terror?
We were reminded again this morning, however, that the gap between perceptions and reality is often significant.
ISIS' second in command, Haji Imam, was killed during a raid this month, U.S. defense officials announced Friday.
Imam was a finance minister who oversaw all the funding for ISIS' operations, said Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
Imam's death comes on the heels of a U.S. airstrike in Syria that reportedly killed another top ISIS commander, Omar al-Shishani. The combination of the two, NBC News reported, "are major scores for U.S.-led coalition forces in taking out the biggest names on the U.S.'s terror hit list."
These announcements coincide with the Washington Post's report that, on the battlefield, ISIS is "a rapidly diminishing force." The article added, "Nowhere are they on the attack. They have not embarked on a successful offensive in nearly nine months. Their leaders are dying in U.S. strikes at the rate of one every three days, inhibiting their ability to launch attacks, according to U.S. military officials."
As for the territory controlled by ISIS, according to Pentagon officials, the terrorists' area has shrunk by 40 percent since its 2014 peak, "a figure that excludes the most recent advances."
In fairness, we've seen reports like these before, only to learn soon after that ISIS has regrouped and made fresh gains.
That said, much of the evidence is not in dispute: ISIS is obviously still capable of pulling off deadly strikes against civilian targets, but on the ground in Syria and Iraq, the terrorist network is losing leaders and land. The U.S. military offensives have made a difference.
The political question is when Republicans are going to notice.
About a week ago, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump was asked what might happen if his party denies him the nomination at July's convention in Cleveland. "I think you'd have riots," Trump replied. "I think you'd have riots. I'm representing a tremendous many, many millions of people."
The comments, not surprisingly, generated quite a bit of attention, even after notable Trump allies said the candidate wasn't being literal about the prospect of convention violence. New Jersey Chris Christie said a week ago, "I don't think he meant literal riots. I think he meant political riots, and I think that is what would happen." (For the record, I'm not altogether sure what a "political riot" is.)
What's more, Trump's comments came against a backdrop of multiple, physical confrontations at several of the candidate's events between his supporters and those protesting his candidacy.
Sen. Dean Heller (R) of Nevada has watched all of this play out, and according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the senator may skip his own party's convention "over concerns of his own safety."
"Things could get pretty testy," the Nevada Republican told KSNV-TV, Channel 3, which reported Heller had seen recent protests at Donald Trump rallies.
"Frankly my biggest concern is security, whether or not I feel it is safe enough to attend a convention."
The Republican National Convention's communications director told the paper that officials confident about hosting "a safe and productive convention," and that organizers are "working with local, state and federal partners" on security plans.
In October, less than a year into his congressional career, Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) raised a curious complaint: the economy in and around the nation's capital, he said, was simply too good. After taking a picture of several DC-area construction cranes, the Iowa Republican said via Twitter, "We need to cause a recession ... in Washington DC."
This week, the same congressman repeated the same call, complaining about the excessive health of inside-the-Beltway economic development. "DC needs a recession," Blum said on Monday, alongside another picture of construction cranes. (The congressman sent this from both his personal Twitter account and his congressional account.)
To put it mildly, it's extremely unusual for an American official to want a recession inside a major American city, and as Roll Callreported, the GOP freshman's comments have drawn some attention.
The Iowa City Building Trades Council said Blum's wish was "out of touch."
Jerry Hobart, business manager of Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 125 said, "Rod Blum further clarified how little he understands about working people. Cranes are operated by workers. Walls of buildings are constructed by workers. New construction creates service jobs for workers. I would be happy to give Rod Blum an Economics 101 lesson, but it seems more appropriate that he take a class in Common Sense 101."
The backlash on Twitter included blaming him for the reasons Americans don't approve of Congress and questioning why anyone would call for a recession.
An ABC affiliate in Blum's Iowa district talked to Mike Sadler II, a business agent for the Cedar Rapids Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 125, who said it's "hard to believe anyone, let alone an elected official, would call for a recession anywhere in the country."
The Cedar Rapids Gazette, a newspaper in Blum's congressional district, talked to the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building Trades Council, which called for an apology from the Republican lawmaker.
"We better hear an apology for this outrageous statement, and it better come fast," Rich Good, vice president of the trades council, said in a statement. Patrick Loeffler, president of the trades council, added. "I have seen a lot of out-of-touch statements from Rod Blum throughout his short career in Washington, but I honestly never thought I would see him -- or any reasonable human for that matter -- actually call for a recession."
It's become something of a fad among conservative policymakers: what the country really needs is drug testing for low-income Americans who rely on the social safety net. This week, as the NBC affiliate in Huntington reported, the policy reached West Virginia.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has approved a drug-testing proposal for some West Virginia welfare applicants.
The Democratic governor signed off Wednesday on the three-year statewide drug-testing pilot program for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program applicants. The Republican-led Legislature passed it.
The way the policy is structured, caseworkers will be responsible for determining which welfare applicants trigger a "reasonable suspicion" of drug use. Failing a test once will require substance-abuse treatment; failing a test more than once will cost applicants' benefits.
One proponent of the measure, Republican Delegate Scott Cadle, argued during the legislative debate, “I expect people who live off my tax money to be drug tested."
Except, strictly speaking, that's not quite true. West Virginia has plenty of government contractors who receive public funding, and they won't be drug testing. More to the point, state employees -- including elected members of the state legislature -- also "live off" their taxpayer-financed salaries, but they won't be subjected to drug testing, either.
After this week's deadly terrorist attack in Brussels, Republicans are certain President Obama should go somewhere. They just aren't sure where.
Ted Cruz, for example, declared at a press conference, "President Obama should be back in America keeping this country safe, or President Obama should be planning to travel to Brussels." The Texas senator didn't have any specific rationale for such a challenge, probably because his rhetoric didn't make a lot of sense. Whether or not the president cut short his overseas trip would have no bearing on Americans' security, and the last thing Brussels needs right now is the added burden of preparing security precautions for an Obama visit.
But as TPM noted yesterday, Gov. Rick Scott (R) has an entirely different itinerary in mind for the president: what Obama really ought to do in the wake of terrorism in Brussels is go to ... Florida.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) thinks the best way for President Barack Obama to address the concerns of Americans troubled by Tuesday's deadly terrorist attacks in Brussels is to head to the Sunshine State.
"Not only do I believe that President Obama should immediately return to America, I am inviting him today to come to Florida and address the concerns of American tourists considering travel to Europe," Scott said in a statement released Thursday.
I've read the governor's press release a few times, trying to make sense of it, but I have no idea what Scott's talking about. Apparently, the Florida Republican is worried about European tourism suffering in the aftermath of an attack, so Scott wants the president to visit Florida to reassure Americans who are considering trips across the Atlantic.
Perhaps the governor was searching for a new way to complain about Obama, and this was the best he could come up with?
The arithmetic on the Senate Republicans' Supreme Court blockade certainly leans in the party's favor. The GOP conference has a 54-member majority. If there's a filibuster against Judge Merrick Garland, as seems likely, he would need 60 votes to have a chance at confirmation.
Are there 14 Republican senators who might break ranks and join with 46 Democrats to advance Garland's nomination? Objectively, it's difficult to imagine such circumstances -- so long as the far-right GOP conference sticks together, linking arms on a gambit never before tried in American history, odds are Republicans will succeed in blocking the same Supreme Court nominee some GOP senators urged President Obama to choose.
But as the process continues to unfold, there's at least some evidence that Republicans are not yet united. The Washington Postreported yesterday:
A third Republican senator broke with party leadership this week to say that Supreme Court nominee Merrick B. Garland ought to be granted hearings, according to a news report.
The Garden City Telegram reported that Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) told a small group gathered in a Cimarron, Kan., courthouse on Monday that GOP senators "should interview Garland and have a hearing on his nomination," in the paper's words.
According to the local report, Moran said he expects to oppose Garland's nomination, but the senator nevertheless believes "the process ought to go forward." In a separate local report, the Kansas Republican was also quoted saying, "I think we have the responsibility to have a hearing, to have the conversation and to make a determination on the merit."
Before yesterday, only Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) had endorsed confirmation hearings for Garland. Moran, a former chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee who also happens to be up for re-election this year, has joined a very small club.
Senator Amy Klobuchar talks with Steve Kornacki about the partisan past that led to the current rancor over President Obama's Supreme Court nomination and the unprecedented level of obstruction Republicans have reached. watch
Matea Gold, national political reporter for The Washington Post, talks with Steve Kornacki about Republican donors rallying to protect Republicans in Congress from any political damage that may come from Donald Trump's new role as the party's standard bearer. watch
Steve Kornacki reports on the continued outrage over long wait times to vote in Arizona's primary, particularly in Maricopa County, with new calls for a federal investigation and new legislation filed to ensure it doesn't happen again. watch
Robert Costa, national political reporter for The Washington Post, talks with Steve Kornacki about Donald Trump's path to the Republican nomination and the strategies of his opponents to beat him. watch
Mary Spicuzza, politics reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, talks with Steve Kornacki about Wisconsin's role as the next major primary prize, the anti-Trump effort to stop the GOP front runner's steady advance, and the Sanders campaign's need for watch
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.