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Voting booths await voters in Red Oak, Iowa, Tuesday, June 3, 2014, ahead of the Iowa primary elections.

Dems renew push for Voting Rights Act

06/24/15 09:20AM

Three months ago, President Obama delivered a powerful speech in Selma, Alabama, where he, among other things, called for Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act with a bipartisan bill. Former President George W. Bush, who signed a VRA reauthorization during his tenure, stood and applauded Obama's call.
 
But soon after the event honoring those who marched at the Edmund Pettus Bridge a half-century ago, Bush's Republican allies made clear that they would ignore the appeal. Asked if Congress should repair the Voting Rights Act formula struck down by the Supreme Court, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) replied, "No," blaming the Obama administration for having "trumped up and created an issue where there really isn't one." As we reported at the time, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) made similar remarks.
 
The push to put things right, however, isn't over. MSNBC's Zack Roth reports that a new bill to strengthen the Voting Rights Act is ready for consideration.
Lawmakers and civil rights groups said Tuesday evening that they will introduce new legislation aimed at strengthening the Voting Rights Act, ahead of the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court's ruling that badly weakened the landmark civil rights law.
 
The new measure is in many ways stronger than the bipartisan legislation offered last year with the same goal, which has yet to even receive a hearing in the GOP-controlled Congress.
Last year's bill, the "Voting Rights Amendment Act," was co-authored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who proved to be one of the only GOP lawmakers committed to working on the issue.
 
This time, the new bill, the "Voting Rights Advancement Act," is championed by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) in the House and Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) in the Senate, and it's an improved approach to protecting Americans' voting rights.
 
Which will probably be a little problematic when it comes to actually getting the proposal to the Oval Office.
Image: Handout of U.S. President Obama meeting with national security staff to discuss Syria in White House

The nature of the nation's security threats

06/24/15 08:43AM

With the benefit of hindsight, the timing of the piece was extraordinary. Last Monday, the New York Times published an op-ed from UNC sociologist Charles Kurzman and David Schanzer, the director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University, on the "growing right-wing terror threat."
 
The piece explained, "In a survey we conducted with the Police Executive Research Forum last year of 382 law enforcement agencies, 74 percent reported anti-government extremism as one of the top three terrorist threats in their jurisdiction; 39 percent listed extremism connected with Al Qaeda or like-minded terrorist organizations. And only 3 percent identified the threat from Muslim extremists as severe, compared with 7 percent for anti-government and other forms of extremism."
 
Just two days later, a white supremacist massacred nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) in Charleston. For many, it was an act of terror -- a politically motivated radical, seeking a race war, murdered Americans, though his apparent target was far broader and more encompassing.
 
Far too often, when Americans think of terrorism, we think of the Middle East, al Qaeda, and ISIS militants. There's ample evidence, however, that suggests these assumptions are wrong and overdue for a re-examination. The New York Times reports today, for example, that the statistical breakdown on the ideologies behind U.S. terrorist attacks "may come as a surprise."
Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a count by New America, a Washington research center.
 
The slaying of nine African-Americans in a Charleston, S.C., church last week, with an avowed white supremacist charged with their murders, was a particularly savage case. But it is only the latest in a string of lethal attacks by people espousing racial hatred, hostility to government and theories such as those of the "sovereign citizen" movement, which denies the legitimacy of most statutory law. The assaults have taken the lives of police officers, members of racial or religious minorities and random civilians.
The piece pointed to data that showed seven lethal attacks by Islamic militants since 9/11, while there have been 19 such attacks by non-Muslim extremists.
Image: Nathan Deal

Georgia's Nathan Deal second guesses Confederate plates

06/24/15 08:00AM

A bipartisan trio of Southern governors -- Virginia's Terry McAuliffe (D), Tennessee's Bill Haslam (R), and North Carolina's Pat McCrory (R) -- all made similar announcements yesterday, moving their respective states away from official Confederate license plates. Georgia's Nathan Deal (R) took a different course -- at first.
 
Midday yesterday, the Peach State's Republican governor acknowledged the growing trend away from Confederate symbols, but he nevertheless announced his continued support for state-sponsored license plates featuring the Confederate flag emblem. As the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported, Deal told reporters, "I was asked this question during the campaign, as was my opponent. Both of us said we didn't have a problem with the license plate. And my position hasn't changed."
 
Soon after, he position changed.
Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday he wants a redesign of a state-sponsored license plate featuring the Confederate flag emblem, as a growing list of other Southern governors call for similar changes.
 
The Republican stopped short of calling for the Sons of Confederate Veterans tags to be phased out or eliminated entirely, as the leaders in North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee announced Tuesday. He said the redesign, though, would seek to eliminate the bigger visage of the flag that covers the background of the entire tag. The change, he added, wouldn't require legislative action.
"It's time we take a further look at it," the GOP governor told reporters.
 
While Deal's change of heart came as a surprise, what's especially striking is the speed with which he changed direction. The governor's position was unambiguous fairly late in the afternoon: "I don't think that it is something that we should be that concerned about." Very quickly thereafter, it was something Deal was quite concerned about.
 
How quickly? I'm glad you asked.

Action on guns? and other headlines

06/24/15 07:43AM

Sens. Manchin and Toomey both interested in reviving gun-control push. (Washington Post)

GA Gov. Nathan Deal now wants a redesign of his state's confederate flag license plate. (Atlanta Journal Constitution)

The Citadel votes to remove and relocate its confederate navy flag. (USA Today)

Confederate, Jim Crow tributes go well beyond battle flag. (AP)

Autopsy of Freddie Gray shows "high-energy impact." (Baltimore Sun)

AP exclusive: document outlines big-power nuke help to Iran. (AP)

Women's rights groups plan to deliver abortion drugs to Poland by drone. (Time)

Exxon-Mobil halts drilling on 3 platforms after Santa Barbara oil pipeline break. (AP)

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Citations for the June 23, 2015 TRMS

06/24/15 01:57AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Myrlie Evers, Civil rights icon and chairman of the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute
  • Jerry Mitchell, investigative reporter for the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger
  • South Carolina State Representative Todd Rutherford

Tonight's links:

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.23.15

06/23/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* ISIS: "Kurdish forces say they seized a military base from ISIS fighters just 30 miles from the self-declared caliphate's capital city in Syria, another gain in an offensive that is pushing deeper into militant strongholds."
 
* Fast-track hangs on: "With no votes to spare, the Senate salvaged President Barack Obama's trade agenda on Tuesday, putting a measure to give him enhanced powers to strike free trade deals on track to be signed into law by the end of the week."
 
* This will affect the schedule on trade votes: "House GOP leaders announced Tuesday afternoon they would end the week's legislative business Thursday in an effort to allow members more time to travel to Charleston, S.C., to participate in funeral proceedings for the nine victims of last week's church massacre."
 
* New York: "Police vehicles on Tuesday afternoon were converging on a campground in upstate New York near the Adirondack Mountains cabin where searchers found DNA of two escaped murderers. State police officials conveyed a sense of urgency and described the situation as 'active and developing.'"
 
* Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asked on the Senate floor this morning about guns, "Is that asking too much? Couldn't we at least do this little thing to stop people who are mentally ill, people who are criminals from purchasing guns?" Apparently, the answer to the first question is "yes"; the answer to the second question is "no."
 
* Keep an eye on this one: "President Obama on Wednesday will announce that the government will no longer threaten criminal prosecution of the families of American hostages who are held abroad by groups like the Islamic State if they attempt to pay ransom for the release of their loved ones."
 
* 113 degrees Fahrenheit: "A scorching heat wave across southern Pakistan's city of Karachi has killed at least 436 people, authorities said Tuesday, as morgues overflowed with the dead and overwhelmed hospitals struggled to aid those clinging to life."
Iraqi soldiers train with members of the U.S. Army 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, at Camp Taji, Iraq, in this U.S. Army photo released June 2, 2015. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Cody Quinn/Reuters)

Congress gets a 'reality check' on Iraq, ISIS

06/23/15 05:03PM

The Washington Post's Walter Pincus reported yesterday on the latest House Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. policy in the Middle East, and from his description, it was a lively "reality check." The discussion featured several hours of questions for Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
 
But the exchange that stood out for me came towards the end of Pincus' column.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) a former Army and Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq as a civil affairs officer from 2005 to 2006, said he felt "there ought to be some U.S. military personnel forward with Iraqi forces" because when he was in Iraq, Americans who joined in patrols "really emboldened the confidence of those Iraqi soldiers."
 
Dempsey shot back, "I would not recommend that we put U.S. forces in harm's way simply to stiffen the spine of local forces. If their spine is not stiffened by the threat of ISIL [the Islamic State] on their way of life, nothing we do is going to stiffen their spine."
Well said. There's a great demand in Republican circles for American troops on the ground in Iraq, combatting ISIS militants, but Coffman's argument -- it would "embolden" Iraqi troops -- probably isn't the talking point that's going to win the day.
 
That said, a significant percentage of the public at large remains quite open to the idea. From the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll
An Amazon.com package is prepared for shipment in Palo Alto, Calif.

Retail options start to dwindle for Confederate customers

06/23/15 04:11PM

Major American retailers are always in fierce competition, usually in the hopes of being first. But as we're seeing this week, when it comes to selling controversial, racially charged merchandise, no one wants to be the last store selling offensive materials.
 
As msnbc's Joy Y. Wang reports, merchandise bearing Confederate flag imagery "will soon get harder to find."
Walmart, the country's largest retailer, will no longer sell Confederate flag merchandise, the company announced in a statement on Monday. Retail company Sears Holding Corp, which operates Kmart and Sears department stores, also said it would remove Confederate flag items sold on its website via third parties, a spokesman told Reuters.
 
And Amazon confirmed on Tuesday that they too are pulling Confederate flag items.
There was a point this afternoon at which the list grew at a surprising pace. Walmart and Sears got the ball rolling late yesterday, but this afternoon Amazon joined the club, pulling its Confederate merchandise. Then eBay made the same announcement. Then etsy joined in. 
 
Then Valley Forge Flag, described by Reuters as one of the nation's most prominent flag makers, announced it will stop making and selling Confederate flags.
 
Remember, no one wants to be last. No corporate p.r. office wants to field this question from a journalist: "Most major American retailers have pulled their Confederate merchandise; can you explain why these controversial materials are still on your shelves?"
 
All of these retailers, by the way, made the decision despite the fact that some consumers, for reasons I won't try to understand, have been buying Confederate merchandise in droves over the last couple of days. The companies, to their credit, are effectively leaving money on the table rather than being associated with racially charged materials.
 
And if all of this weren't quite enough to ruin the day of Confederate admirers, the news from some state governments won't make them feel any better.
US House Speaker John Boehner returns to his office after a visit to the House floor for procedural votes for legislation to fund the Department of Homeland Security at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 27, 2015. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

House Republicans balk at leaders' 'culture of punishment'

06/23/15 01:01PM

It started in earnest at the start of the Congress. After two dozen of his own members voted against his re-election as Speaker, John Boehner and the House GOP leadership team starting punishing recalcitrant members.
 
The second wave reached Capitol Hill last week, when House Republicans shook up their whip team, dumping three members who opposed the leadership's position on a procedural vote the week before.
 
More retribution came yesterday when House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) took a subcommittee gavel away from Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), again because of the June 11 procedural vote.
 
Politico reports that the tensions among House Republicans are on the rise.
A key bloc of conservatives is laying plans to throttle legislation on the House floor and will meet privately this week to discuss a shake-up of GOP leadership.
 
The group is irate at what one called a "culture of punishment" that Speaker John Boehner's leadership team has instituted against dissenting members.
Meadows, who helped create the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, has quickly become a ringleader of sorts, challenging GOP leaders' tactics, and his faction will reportedly meet today "to discuss their next move." The North Carolina Republican decried the very idea of members facing "retribution" based on their voting record.
 
There's also reported chatter about targeting Boehner's gavel, but we've heard similar scuttlebutt repeatedly in recent years and it's tough to take the talk seriously.
 
The broader point, however, is important. Why is the Speaker playing hardball and why are rank-and-file Republicans throwing such a fit?

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.23.15

06/23/15 12:00PM

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:
 
* In the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Hillary Clinton enjoys a 60-point advantage over Bernie Sanders among Democratic primary voters, 75% to 15%.
 
* In the same poll, the Democratic frontrunner appears to be well positioned nationally against her leading Republican rivals. The results showed Clinton leading Jeb Bush by eight points (48% to 40%), Marco Rubio by 10 points (50% to 40%), and Scott Walker by 14 points (51% to 37%).
 
* I'm highly skeptical of the results, but a new Suffolk poll out of New Hampshire shows Jeb Bush leading the GOP presidential field with 14% support. In second place: Donald Trump with 11%. No other candidate in the poll reached double digits.
 
* Speaking of Trump, the bombastic Republican officially filed his statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission yesterday. He has not yet filed his financial disclosure form.
 
* Credit where credit is due: former New York Gov. George Pataki (R) was the only GOP presidential candidate to call for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina capitol grounds well in advance of Gov. Nikki Haley's press conference.
 
* Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) put an end to retirement rumors yesterday, announcing he will seek re-election next year. Yarmuth is the only Democrat in Kentucky's congressional delegation.

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