Rachel Maddow explains why the 2016 presidential campaign launched today by Sen. Ted Cruz is really a bid to be named a more moderate candidate's vice president. Todd Gillman, Dallas Morning News DC bureau chief, discusses the timing of the announcement. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on vandalism done to the only abortion clinic left in Mississippi, as new, "more militant" protesters have arrived to harass the clinic and its clients, and as legal tricks to undermine abortion rights are failing in several courts. watch
* Unexpected contrition: "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized Monday for comments he made in the final hours of last week's election, in which he warned of a left-wing conspiracy to bus in Arab Israeli voters, who he said were voting 'in droves.'"
* On a related note, one of today's under-appreciated stories: "White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough made clear in a speech to a left-leaning Israel advocacy group that President Barack Obama isn't letting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu off the hook for his dismissal of a two-state solution."
* Yemen: "The evacuation of 125 United States Special Operations advisers from Yemen in the past two days is the latest blow to the Obama administration's counterterrorism campaign, which is already struggling with significant setbacks in Syria, Libya and elsewhere in the volatile region, American officials said Sunday."
* Climate crisis: "According to a new study just out in Nature Climate Change by Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a group of co-authors, we're now seeing a slowdown of the great ocean circulation that, among other planetary roles, helps to partly drive the Gulf Stream off the U.S. east coast. The consequences could be dire – including significant extra sea level rise for the U.S. east coast."
* UVA: "After a long investigation, the Charlottesville Police Department said it is unable to substantiate many of the claims made in an explosive November Rolling Stone article, which alleged that a gang rape occurred on the University of Virginia campus and that the school's administration looked the other way."
* Florida: "The FBI's civil rights division will meet this week with Fort Lauderdale police officials after an internal investigation led to the firing of three police officers over racial slurs used in text messages and a mock movie trailer. A fourth police officer, who created the video titled 'The Hoods,' resigned before the completion of the five-month Internal Affairs investigation, authorities said."
* No one noticed? "The cover of the University of North Georgia's course catalogue does not beat around the bush: Featuring a stock photo that shows two white men in suits beating a woman and a black man at a race, it proves that you can automatically win anything you put your mind to, as long as you are a white man."
Last fall, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) voter-ID law became one of election's biggest fiascos. Despite the fact that there were no documented incidents in modern Wisconsin history of a voter committing voter fraud, Republican officials in Wisconsin sought to impose a needlessly difficult ID law that could, according to independent estimates, disenfranchise roughly 300,000 legal, eligible Wisconsin voters.
All to address a problem that doesn't exist.
In October, just weeks before Election Day, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked implementation of the state measure, kicking the issue to the new year. For voting-rights advocates, it was a temporary reprieve, which appears to have ended today -- the high court announced today it will not consider the case on the merits.
As a practical matter, this means the voter-suppression tactic will be implemented in next year's election cycle, thanks to a ruling from the 7th Circuit. That said, msnbc's Emma Margolin noted that some voting-rights proponents believe today's inaction "may be a blessing in disguise."
As Election Law Blog's Rick Hasen writes, taking the Wisconsin case -- Frank v. Walker -- to the nation's highest court "divided the civil rights community." The Department of Justice did not file a supportive brief urging the Supreme Court to take the case. And Daniel Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University, recently told msnbc's Zack Roth that it was a mistake for the Wisconsin plaintiffs to ask the Supreme Court for review, rather than wait for a different case out of Texas to make its way through the appeals process.
That's because Wisconsin officials, who lost at the trial court level but prevailed in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, stood a very good chance at swaying a majority of the Supreme Court justices to uphold the voter ID law and set a strong precedent in favor of similar measures.
Legal strategizing can get tricky. For voting-rights advocates, the broader goal is to have the Supreme Court hear the case that gives voting proponents the best chance for sweeping success. It's not that these progressive voices like the Wisconsin law -- they don't -- it's just that they believe it's in voters' interest for the justices to hear a different case.
There were multiple reports a couple of weeks ago that Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), a longtime climate denier, has effectively muzzled state officials when it comes to global warming. Officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection claim to have been ordered not to use the terms "climate change" or "global warming" in any official communications.
Scott and his press office have insisted that the reports are wrong and there's been no such order curtailing DEP officials' word choice. In the governor's defense, there's no documented evidence to the contrary -- only anecdotal claims from a wide variety of former employees at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, each of whom said they received unwritten instructions about climate-related words to avoid.
The story took an unsettling turn last week when a DEP employee was "reprimanded, sent home and told to get medical clearance before returning to the office" after criticizing the Keystone XL pipeline project and talking about his concerns surrounding the climate crisis.
But as the Miami Heraldreported, the story also took a far more amusing turn at a state Senate hearing last week.
Gov. Rick Scott's chief of emergency management, Bryan Koon, testifying Thursday before the Legislature, had a half-dozen chances to use the term "climate change."
But he would not say the C-words.
To be sure, it's sad to see a state official who oversees emergency management go to great lengths to avoid using the words "climate change" out loud at a public hearing, but in this case, hearing lawmakers and the audience literally laughing out loud at the Scott administration official, was also kind of hilarious.
Ask a typical congressional Republican why he or she still wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and you'll likely get an economic answer: "Obamacare," according to the law's critics, is a "job-killer."
More than 90 new health-care companies employing as many as 6,200 people have been created in the U.S. since Obamacare became law, a level of entrepreneurial activity that participants say may be unprecedented for the industry. [...]
The health law, which took full effect in 2014, represents the most dramatic change to the U.S. health system in 50 years. Entrepreneurs, including some from within President Barack Obama's administration, have founded companies that target employers, health insurers, hospitals, doctors and consumers looking to navigate new requirements and possibilities.
Bloomberg talked to Bob Kocher, a doctor and former Obama adviser who is now a partner at New York-based venture capital firm Venrock Associates. "The claim that the Affordable Care Act is a job-killer is just factually untrue," Kocher said, adding that the ACA has "created the most enormous opportunity to build health-care companies ever."
The argument from conservatives wasn't just limited to the health-care sector. The right said "Obamacare" would, of course, undermine job growth throughout the medical system, as well as stunting job growth throughout the economy.
We already knew the latter was wrong -- the job market's hot streak started in March 2010, the same month the ACA was signed into law. Last year was the first full year for ACA implementation and it was the best year for American job creation since the '90s.
But we're also learning that the right underestimated the degree to which the Affordable Care Act would spur "entrepreneurial activity" in the health care sector, too.
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:
* Why did Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) launch his presidential campaign today? Roll Callreports the Affordable Care Act's fifth anniversary had something to do with it.
* To the delight of the DSCC, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) announced overnight that he's running for the U.S. Senate in Florida, hoping to fill the seat Sen. Marco Rubio (R) will likely give up to run for president. Murphy, who turns 32 next week, is perhaps best known for narrowly defeating former Rep. Allen West (R) in 2012 in a competitive South Florida swing district.
* Gov. Chris Christie (R) spoke with Republican donors over the weekend in South Florida, and the New Jersey Republican urged them to be wary of presidential hopefuls who've flip-flopped on important issues. He was likely referring to Gov. Scott Walker (R), though Christie is not without vulnerabilities on the issue -- the New Jersey governor used to be pro-choice.
* Though he's officially undecided about 2016, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) will make his first trip to New Hampshire this week to test the waters.
* In fundraising news, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised nearly $5.2 million in February, which helped pay down the committee's 2014 debts. The National Republican Congressional Committee, meanwhile, raised just a little less, collecting $5 million last month.
Sometimes, where a presidential candidate launches his or her campaign is every bit as significant as what's said in the campaign kick-off. In February 2007, for example, Barack Obama began his journey to the White House where Abraham Lincoln denounced slavery a century and a half earlier.
"[I]n the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still live, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States," Obama said.
The literal, physical place carried its own significance, and was intended to convey a thematic message to the country about what kind of candidate Obama wanted to be.
Similarly, eight years later, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) launched his presidential campaign this morning at Liberty University, an evangelical school in Lynchburg, Virginia, created by the late TV preacher Jerry Falwell. And this, too, carries its own significance, conveying a specific message about the Republican senator.
As longtime readers may recall, Liberty University is burdened with an ironic name. The restrictions placed on Liberty's students are the stuff of legend – its code of conduct dictates that students are prohibited from seeing R-rated movies, listening to music that is not “in harmony with God’s word,” drinking alcohol, dancing, or kissing. Women on campus are prohibited from wearing dresses or skirts “shorter than the top of the knee."
At one point, Liberty even banned students who wanted to form an on-campus Democratic Party group.
A couple of years ago, however, Liberty announced that students would be allowed to carry loaded firearms on campus.
Liberty University, the largest religion-affiliated U.S. school, is loosening restrictions for carrying firearms on its Lynchburg, Va., campus.
Liberty students who have an easy-to-obtain Virginia concealed carry permit and permission from campus police will now be able to carry a loaded gun into classrooms, according to a March 22 revision to school policy.
On the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act becoming law, there's value in reflecting on the systemic advances, which we did earlier. But it's also a good time to look ahead and consider where the policy fight is headed.
Congressional Republicans, for example, who've already voted literally several dozen times to repeal the law, released budget plans last week that would -- you guessed it -- uproot the American health care system, replacing it with an alternative that Republicans can neither explain nor identify.
As if that weren't quite enough, the GOP budget plans would likely double the uninsured rate, while eliminating $1 trillion in tax revenue that pays for the ACA. Because the Republican budget blueprint relies on bizarre gimmicks and fraudulent arithmetic, the plan offers no explanation for how it would cover the $1 trillion loss and no details about how Congress would help the millions of families that would lose access to affordable medical care after Republicans take their benefits away.
The GOP budget also makes no effort to address the possibility that Republican justices on the Supreme Court may soon scrap subsidies to consumers in two-thirds of the country in the ridiculous King v. Burwell case. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), however, is on the case -- he doesn't have a policy solution, but Ryan has a plan to persuade state policymakers to help congressional Republicans' broader game plan.
Rep. Paul Ryan urged state lawmakers to resist setting up state insurance exchanges if the Supreme Court rules that key parts of the Affordable Care Act can only continue if they do so.
"Oh God, no... The last thing anybody in my opinion would want to do, even if you are not a conservative, is consign your state to this law," the Wisconsin Republican told state legislators Thursday during a conference call organized by the Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative think-tank.
Ryan reportedly went on to say, "If people blink and if people say, 'This political pressure is too great, I'm just going to sign up for a state-based exchange and put my constituents in Obamacare,' then this opportunity will slip through your fingers."
The right-wing Wisconsinite is known for some pretty extreme postures, but this is a brazen move, even for Paul Ryan.
In his latest Sunday-show appearance, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) felt the need to give the White House some advice on diplomacy and foreign policy: embrace Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"The president should get over it," McCain said of Netanyahu's pre-election antics. "Get over your temper tantrum, Mr. President." The senator added that Obama may be "delusional" and suffers from "screwed up" priorities.
As a rule, this is a subject McCain should probably avoid -- foreign policy has never been his strong suit -- and to date, I've seen no evidence of Obama losing his cool when dealing with the controversial Israeli leader. But even putting that aside, I have to admit it's amusing to hear the longtime senator talk about how tiresome temper tantrums should be. When it comes to throwing fits in Washington, McCain tends to be in a league of his own.
* In a “heated dispute over immigration-law overhaul” [in 2007], McCain screamed at Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), “F*** you!” He added, “This is chickens*** stuff…. You’ve always been against this bill, and you’re just trying to derail it.” [5/19/07]
* In a discussion over the “fate of Vietnam MIAs,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) asked McCain, “Are you calling me stupid?” “No,” replied McCain, “I’m calling you a f***ing jerk!” [Newsweek, 2/21/00]
* At a GOP meeting in fall 1999, McCain “erupted” at Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and shouted, “Only an a**hole would put together a budget like this.” When Domenici expressed his outrage, McCain responded, “I wouldn’t call you an a**hole unless you really were an a**hole.” [Newsweek, 2/21/00]
If anyone knows about the fine art of temper tantrums, it's the senior senator from Arizona.
But there's a larger significance to McCain's advice, which was echoed soon after by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy: congressional Republicans believe disagreements between the Obama administration and Netanyahu's government should simple evaporate, the sooner the better, and it's up to the White House to let bygones be bygones.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of Congress' fiercest anti-immigrant voices, has cultivated a reputation for offending a whole lot of people with racially charged rhetoric. Even House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) no longer makes any effort to defend him, last year dismissing King as an "a**hole."
Friday, however, the far-right congressman broke new ground, adding a new group of people to his list.
Rep. Steve King of Iowa said he doesn't understand how American Jews can be "Democrats first and Jewish second" and support President Obama's approach to Israel.
"Well, there were some 50 or so Democrats that decided they would boycott the president's speech. One thing that's happened is -- just look at the polling, that means -- here is what thing that I don't understand, I don't understand how Jews in America can be Democrats first and Jewish second and support Israel along the line of just following their president," said the Iowa Republican on Boston Herald radio Friday, asked about members of Congress who did not attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress earlier in the month. [...] Asked if anti-Semitism was a factor, he said it was a component along with "just plain liberalism."
Even for King, this is pretty nutty stuff. The decision not to attend the prime minister's speech to Congress was a complex one, based in large part on Benjamin Netanyahu's unprecedented partnership with congressional Republicans who ignored U.S. protocols in the hopes of sabotaging American foreign policy. For Steve King to suggest the Democrats are anti-Semitic because they disagree with Netanyahu and a GOP stunt is ridiculous.
But more striking still is the notion that American Jews need lessons from a right-wing Catholic about the nature of Jewish identity.
The 2016 presidential race has arguably been underway for months, but it lacked an important element: officially announced candidates*. That changed overnight, when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) kicked off his campaign with an announcement on Twitter, unveiling a 30-second video filled with stock imagines and a voice-over from the far-right senator.
"It's going to take a new generation of courageous conservatives to help make America great again, and I'm willing to stand with you to lead the fight," Cruz said in the video, which featured footage of churches, baseball games, cornfields and other campaign-friendly imagery.
Cruz will follow the Twitter announcement with a formal kick-off event this morning in Lynchburg, Virginia, where the senator will deliver a speech at Liberty University, a right-wing evangelical school founded by the late Jerry Falwell, a radical TV preacher perhaps best known for blaming 9/11 on Americans. The Texan's speech is expected to begin around 10 a.m.
To get a sense of Cruz's platform, the candidate's campaign website is up and running, and he stakes out the positions most would expect him to embrace. The site also glosses over the fact that Cruz hasn't actually accomplished much since joining the Senate two years ago -- note the text that uses phrases like "fought for" and "sponsored." (The campaign's online presence also overlooks Cruz's most notable exploit since reaching Capitol Hill: the senator took a leading role in shutting down the federal government in October 2013.)
Of course, as any presidential campaign gets underway, the first question is always the same: does the candidate stand a good chance at success? In the case of Ted Cruz, answering the question isn't as straightforward as it is with his likely rivals.
Exactly five years ago today, the White House hosted a signing ceremony in the East Room for one of the most important policy breakthroughs in a generation. Policymakers from both parties have talked about providing health security for all of the nation's families for roughly a century, but on March 23, 2010, officials gathered not just to talk but to celebrate action.
Vice President Biden introduced President Obama to the audience and, in comments that weren't intended for the public's ears, said to the president off-mic, "This is a big f***ing deal." Five years later, there's little doubt that Biden was entirely correct.
If you'd told me five years ago that on March 23, 2015, the Affordable Care Act would exceed expectations on every possible metric, including reducing the nation's uninsured rate by a third, I'd say "Obamacare" would look like a great success. And fortunately for the country, that's exactly what's happened.
Anniversaries are a good time to pause, reflect, and take stock, and when it comes to health care reform, objective observers are going to find it easy on the ACA's fifth anniversary to appreciate the law's triumphs. But it's also a good time to take a moment to acknowledge those who told Americans exactly what to expect from the Affordable Care Act -- and who got the story backwards.
Failed Prediction #1: Americans won't enroll in the ACA
In 2009 and 2010, it was widely assumed among Republicans that Democrats had fundamentally miscalculated public demand and consumers would show no real interest in signing up for coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Indeed, among some on the right, this was a foregone conclusion -- Americans wouldn't trust "Obamacare." We now know, of course, that the opposite is true and that millions of families have eagerly signed up for benefits through the ACA.
Failed Prediction #2: The ACA won't meet its enrollment goals
OK, so maybe some consumers would enroll, Republicans eventually said, but the ACA would inevitably lose the numbers game when the enrollment projections proved overly ambitious. In reality, both this year and last year, enrollment totals exceeded the Obama administration's preliminary projections.
Failed Prediction #3: Insurers will want no part of the ACA system
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