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President Barack Obama arrives for a rally for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Eakins Oval in Philadelphia, Penn. on Sept. 13, 2016. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Poll: Most Americans see the country on the right track

10/27/16 11:20AM

Those who see the 2016 cycle as a "change election" point specifically to right-right/wrong-track polls. As we discussed last week, it's a deeply flawed metric, but many pundits continue to say there's a broad public appetite for radical change -- for proof, they point to the fact that most Americans consistently say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

But sometimes, the wording of a question can produce unexpected results. Take this new CNN poll, for example.
More Americans than at any time in Barack Obama's presidency now say that things in the United States are going well, a sharp uptick in positive views and the best reviews of the country's trajectory since January 2007, according to the latest CNN/ORC poll.

Overall, 54% say things in the country today are going well, 46% badly. That's a reversal from late July when 54% said things were going poorly and 46% said they were positive.
While right-track/wrong-track polling has been common for many years, this poll asked respondents, "How well are things going in the country today -- very well, fairly well, pretty badly or very badly?" A combined 54% majority said things are going very well or fairly well.

To be sure, 54% isn't an overwhelming number, but it is the highest we've seen in this poll since before the Great Recession started nine years ago. The number of Americans who believe things are going very well has now reached a decade-long high.

The electoral implications of these attitudes are real.
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A woman fills out her ballot in a voting booth in the New York, in the U.S. presidential primary election, as her young son looks on, Grafflin School in Chappaqua, N.Y., April 19, 2016. (Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)

'Ballot selfies' prompt unexpected constitutional debate

10/27/16 10:40AM

Yesterday, entertainer Justin Timberlake did something that seemed rather routine: he took advantage of early voting and cast a ballot in his native Tennessee. In fact, the celebrity took the additional step of encouraging others to follow his example: Timberlake took a "ballot selfie," posted it to Instagram, and urged the public to "choose to have a voice."

This, ordinarily, wouldn't be particularly noteworthy, except for the fact that the picture was technically illegal. Though the local district attorney's office said it wouldn't bother wasting resources on the case, it's actually a crime for voters in Tennessee to take a photo like Timberlake's.

Indeed, the entertainer took down the photo after it caused a minor legal stir.

And while I generally avoid celebrity news, the hubbub got me thinking about the underlying constitutional question and the reason half of the nation's states passed laws prohibiting ballot selfies. Why in the world would anyone care whether or not someone takes a picture of themselves and the ballot?

As it turns out, there is a reason. Mother Jones' Kevin Drum explained the rationale:
Just for the record, then, there is a reason for selfie bans in voting booths: it prevents vote buying. After all, the only way it makes sense to pay people for their votes is if you have proof that they voted the way you told them to. Back in the day that was no problem, but ever since secret ballots became the norm vote buying has died out.

Selfies change all that. If I give you ten bucks to vote for my favorite candidate for mayor, I can withhold payment until you show me a selfie proving that you voted for my guy.
That's not a bad argument. I haven't seen any evidence that vote buying is a real concern, but these laws at least have a meaningful, well-intentioned rationale.

But facing legal scrutiny, they're dropping like flies anyway.
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Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill, on Sept. 29, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

Utah Republican joins the flip-flop-flip brigade on Trump

10/27/16 10:08AM

It was just a few weeks ago that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) declared he'd seen enough of Donald Trump. Shortly after audio surfaced of the GOP presidential nominee boasting about sexual assault, the Utah congressman told a local outlet, "I'm out."

"I can no longer in good conscience endorse this person for president," Chaffetz said. "It is some of the most abhorrent and offensive comments that you can possibly imagine.... My wife and I, we have a 15-year-old daughter, and if I can't look her in the eye and tell her these things, I can't endorse this person."

The House Oversight Committee chairman's "conscience" apparently changed over the course of 19 days. As Politico noted last night, Chaffetz has gone from supporting Trump, to not supporting Trump, to supporting him again.
Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz again reversed his position on Donald Trump's presidential candidacy on Wednesday night, saying he'd vote for the Republican nominee but wouldn't endorse him.

"I will not defend or endorse @realDonaldTrump, but I am voting for him," Chaffetz tweeted Wednesday. "[Hillary Rodham Clinton] is that bad. HRC is bad for the USA."
The far-right Utahan isn't the only congressional Republican to play semantics games this election cycle, but it's worth emphasizing that if an elected official publicly announces he's voting for a presidential candidate, and takes steps to help that candidate win the election, pretending that doesn't count as an "endorsement" is tough to take seriously.

What's striking, however, isn't just Chaffetz's weak and malleable principles, and his willingness to put partisanship over his own conscience, but also how increasingly common this shift has become.
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Khizr Khan, who's son Humayun (L) was killed serving in the U.S. Army, speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Penn., July 28, 2016. (Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Trump returns to a topic he should avoid: the Khan family

10/27/16 09:24AM

Over the last year and a half, Donald Trump's presidential campaign has featured a series of deeply unfortunate moments. But by some measures, one of the lowest points came in early August, when the Republican candidate inexplicably clashed with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son, U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq.

Trump's criticism of a Gold Star family prompted a fierce backlash, with even many Republicans denouncing their party's presidential nominee. Under the circumstances, this seems like a topic Trump would want everyone to forget -- and yet, he just can't seem to help himself.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump today doubled down on his assertion that slain U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, a Muslim soldier who died in Iraq in 2004, "would be alive today" if Trump had been in the White House.

"Had I been president, Captain Khan would be alive today. We wouldn't have been in this horrible, horrible mistake, the war in Iraq," Trump said in an exclusive interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.
The claim is based on Trump's belief that he opposed the war in Iraq from the outset, which continues to be one of his favorite lies. Adding insult to injury is the underlying ugliness of the argument itself.

"This is the most cruel thing you can say to grieving parents, that if I was there this would not have happened," Khan told ABC News, responding to Trump's comments. "There's no sincerity in those remarks.... This is one character that a leader must have to be the leader of a great country, to be the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the United States: empathy. And this person totally lacks that."

Apparently unable to help himself, Trump kept going in the same ABC interview, boasting about military expertise that exists only in his mind.
A group of Hofstra University students stand in front of a CNN trailer with images of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at Hofstra University, Sept.25, 2016, in Hempstead, N.Y. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Latest polls offer mixed results for Clinton, Trump

10/27/16 08:44AM

With only 12 days remaining ahead of Election Day, there's plenty of new presidential polling available, all of which paints a picture that's looking a little murky.

Let's start with the latest national polls, where Hillary Clinton is leading Donald Trump by a little or a lot, depending on the survey. The latest USA Today/Suffolk poll offers the Democratic ticket good news:

Hillary Clinton: 47%
Donald Trump: 38%
Gary Johnson: 4%
Jill Stein: 2%

The latest Fox News poll offers the Republican ticket better news, at least insofar as Clinton's advantage is considerably smaller:

Hillary Clinton: 44%
Donald Trump: 41%
Gary Johnson: 7%
Jill Stein: 3%

In case the differences between these two surveys weren't notable enough, the picture gets even murkier still. The latest Associated Press poll, for example, shows Clinton with a dominant, double-digit lead, while the latest tracking poll from ABC News shows Trump cutting his 12-point deficit in half, to just 6 points, over the last week.

The takeaway from all of these competing figures is simple: keep looking at the averages. Right now, all things considered, Clinton's advantage is about six percentage points, which is down just a little over the last week or so.

Of course, there's also plenty of state-based polls to consider as well:
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Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a primary night campaign event, May 3, 2016, in Indianapolis. (Photo by Darron Cummings/AP)

Ted Cruz ready for an indefinite Supreme Court blockade

10/27/16 08:00AM

Early last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) accidentally said what he was thinking about Senate Republicans' tactics regarding the Supreme Court. "I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up," the GOP declared during a radio interview. "I promise you...."

What McCain was describing, of course, was a continuation of a Republican blockade, unprecedented in American history, blocking any high-court nominee from a Democratic president, regardless of merit. A controversy ensued and McCain walked back his emphatic "promise."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), however, is less concerned with appearances. The Washington Post reported yesterday:
Speaking to reporters after a campaign rally for a Republican U.S. Senate candidate here, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said that there was "precedent" for a Supreme Court with fewer than nine justices — appearing to suggest that the blockade on nominee Merrick Garland could last past the election.

"You know, I think there will be plenty of time for debate on that issue," said Cruz, when he was asked whether a Republican-controlled Senate should hold votes on a President Hillary Clinton's nominees. "There is certainly long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices. I would note, just recently, that Justice Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That's a debate that we are going to have."
Keep in mind, after McCain's comments, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) conceded that Republicans "can't just simply stonewall" any Democratic nominee, just because he or she is a Democratic nominee. Yesterday, Cruz effectively responded, "Well, maybe we can."

It's an amazing posture. Since February, GOP senators have repeatedly argued that the next president, not President Obama, must have the opportunity to fill Supreme Court vacancies. Now, however, there are some Republicans who seem to be suggesting, "Maybe the president after the next one can handle this."
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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 10.26.16

10/26/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "Taliban insurgents on Wednesday killed 26 Afghan civilians after abducting them in the remote central province of Ghor the previous day, officials said, the latest brutal attack targeting the local population in one of the country's most lawless areas."

* Smart move: "Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the Pentagon on Wednesday to stop clawing-back the bonuses that thousands of soldiers got for reenlisting to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan."

* Raqqa: "The offensive to oust ISIS from its capital will get underway within weeks, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told NBC News in an exclusive interview Wednesday."

* The Trump of Asia-Pacific: "President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who nurses a longtime grudge against the United States, has declared he wants 'a separation' and on Wednesday added that he wants American troops out of his country in two years."

* North Africa: "The Pentagon has secretly expanded its global network of drone bases­ to North Africa, deploying unmanned aircraft and U.S. military personnel to a facility in Tunisia to conduct spy missions in neighboring Libya."

* Progress: "The United States on Wednesday abstained for the first time in 25 years on a U.N. resolution condemning America's economic embargo against Cuba, a resolution it had always vehemently opposed."
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U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton smiles as she greets supporters while arriving for a rally at Lincoln High School, Aug. 10, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters)

Pro-Clinton super PAC eyes competitive congressional races

10/26/16 12:40PM

Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) has generated quite a bit more attention than the usual congressional freshman. Less than a year into his career on Capitol Hill, the Iowa Republican complained that the economy was too good around the nation's capital. "We need to cause a recession … in Washington DC," Blum declared. In March, the congressman said it again.

In May, Blum accused the editor of an Iowa newspaper -- which actually endorsed his candidacy -- of looking at him incorrectly. "Well, you're looking at me funny," the lawmaker said during an interview. "I mean, I don't appreciate that. I don't appreciate that. That's kinda condescending. I don't appreciate it." (The editor said he had no idea what the congressman was talking about.)

Now, however, Blum is receiving a very different kind of attention. The Washington Post reports today:
The super PAC aligned with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is expanding its target list into the House, beyond a pair of Senate races in which it is already tying Republicans to their presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

Priorities USA, an independent group designed primarily to elect Clinton, is now funding a 30-second ad in Iowa that has the double effect of hitting Trump for his controversial statements and tagging freshman Rep. Rod Blum (R) for his continued support of his party's presidential nominee.
The fact that Priorities USA is taking an interest in a U.S. House race is itself unexpected. The super PAC's raison d'etre was quite specific: helping Hillary Clinton get to the White House. But now that Clinton's victory appears more likely, Priorities USA is expanding its focus, which in this case includes targeting an Iowa congressman who some Democrats call "Recession Rod."

The contrast with the Trump campaign couldn't be clearer. The Republican presidential nominee appears to have abandoned joint fundraising efforts with his party altogether, and has spent a fair amount of time in recent weeks blaming GOP leaders, most notably House Speaker Paul Ryan, for Trump's campaign difficulties.

Clinton and her allies, meanwhile, are doing largely the opposite.
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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.26.16

10/26/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* Hillary Clinton's campaign unveiled its "closing argument" ads this morning -- one spot focused on families, and another with a broader message narrated by actor Morgan Freeman. [Update: links fixed]

* Former Gov. Bill Weld, the Libertarian Party's vice presidential nominee, issued a statement this morning urging voters who "remain torn" between the two major-party candidates not to vote for Donald Trump. Weld expressed no comparable concerns about Clinton.

* A year before launching his presidential campaign, Trump sat down with biographer Michael D'Antonio for a series of recorded interviews. In one notable exchange, the New York Republican conceded, "I don't like to analyze myself because I might not like what I see."

* In a normal year, a story like this one might be the basis for a meaningful controversy: "Donald Trump used small donors' money to buy nearly $300,000 worth of books from the publisher of his Art of the Deal last month, continuing a pattern of plowing campaign money back into his own businesses."

* The latest ABC News tracking poll shows Clinton with a comfortable lead over Trump, 49% to 40%, though the Democratic advantage on the congressional ballot is much smaller, 47% to 46%.

* Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who's kept a very low profile in recent months, was asked at an event yesterday whether he agrees with Trump that the election is "rigged." According to the AP's account, McConnell simply "laughed and walked away."

* That said, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) declared this week that he believes Trump's correct and the "election is rigged." The Republican governor added that the voting system "doesn't seem fair to me at all."

* Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a Trump ally, told his audience yesterday that in 2005, Billy Bush was a secret operative for the CIA who "set up" Trump to make comments about sexual assault.

* Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) hoped to woo Latino voters at an event over the weekend in Orlando, where he was reportedly booed off the stage.
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The sun begins to rise behind the dome of the US Capitol that is covered in scafollding for repairs, on Nov. 4, 2014 in Washington, DC.

GOP candidates try to put a positive spin on gridlock

10/26/16 11:20AM

By the time a party's candidates get to the "vote for me as a check against the other party's presidential candidate," they're effectively giving up on their own party's national ticket. The Associated Press reported yesterday that many Republicans have already reached this point.
With polls showing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump facing a steep path to victory, GOP candidates are increasingly seeking voters' support by saying they will check [Hillary] Clinton's agenda. Republicans hope that a loathing for Clinton will drive voters to the polls who otherwise might stay home because of their aversion to Trump.
Some Republicans aren't exactly being subtle about this message. One of Sen. John McCain's (R) re-election ads in Arizona tells voters, "If Hillary Clinton is elected president, Arizona will need a senator who will act as a check, not a rubber stamp, for the White House."

At a certain level, it's easy to imagine some voters finding this persuasive. If you're skeptical about Clinton, you might see some value in keeping Congress in Republican hands, despite the party's performance in recent years, to keep a Democratic White House from going "too far."

But it's important that voters also understand the practical implications of such a strategy: the question is less about the value of "checks," and more about the public's appetite for gridlock.
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Voters cast their vote in the Presidential elections on November, 6, 2012 in Janesville Wisconsin. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty)

Wis. clerk rejected voting site because she feared helping Dems

10/26/16 10:38AM

After voters at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay experienced long voting lines during the state's April 5 presidential primary, a variety of student groups -- including those representing campus Republicans and Democrats -- encouraged the city to add an early-voting location on university grounds. The city, Wisconsin's third largest, refused.

Green Bay instead said it would have one early-voting site for the entire city: a clerk's office with limited hours, which isn't within walking distance from the campus. Officially, City Clerk Kris Teske, an ally of Gov. Scott Walker (R), said Green Bay didn't have the necessary resources for another voting location.

But unofficially, it was a very different story. The Nation's Ari Berman, relying on documents obtained through an open-records request by the One Wisconsin Institute, reported yesterday:
[P]rivately Teske gave a different reason for opposing an early-voting site at UW–Green Bay, writing that student voting would benefit the Democratic Party.

"UWGB is a polling location for students and residents on Election Day but I feel by asking for this to be the site for early voting is encouraging the students to vote more than benefiting the city as a whole," she wrote on August 26 in an e-mail to David Buerger, counsel at the Wisconsin Ethics Commission. "I have heard it said that students lean more toward the democrats.... I have spoken with our Chief of Staff and others at City Hall and they agree that budget wise this isn't going to happen. Do I have an argument about it being more of a benefit to the democrats?"
State Rep. Eric Genrich, who's tried unsuccessfully to expand voting opportunities in Green Bay, told The Nation, "Whether or not more students voting benefits Democrats is beside the point and that shouldn't be the position of a nonpartisan city clerk. I don't know what Kris's politics are, but it's really unfortunate to see her echoing the sentiments of Republicans in Wisconsin, who have been making it really difficult for citizens to vote in this state."
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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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