Senator Claire McCaskill talks with Rachel Maddow about why she is not running for president (despite Maddow's estimation that she could win), and states explicitly her support for "the first woman president, Hillary Rodham Clinton." watch
Taylor: "I am planning to challenge the ruling of the Kansas Secretary of State, who serves on Pat Roberts’ Honorary Committee."
* Ukraine: "With Ukraine the primary focus of the NATO summit meeting here Thursday, the Ukrainian president, Petro O. Poroshenko, said he would seek to establish 'a bilateral cease-fire' on Friday between Ukraine's armed forces and pro-Russian separatists that would lay the foundation for a 'stage-by-stage peace plan' for his country."
* Overdue: "The European Central Bank surprised many analysts on Thursday by cutting interest rates from their already record-low levels and said it would soon begin buying packages of bank loans, in its continuing efforts to stimulate lending in the faltering eurozone economy."
* I'll have more on this in the morning: "Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) denied Democrat Chad Taylor's request to be removed from the Senate ballot on Thursday."
* Ferguson: "Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced plans Thursday afternoon to conduct a federal investigation into the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department to determine whether its officers have routinely engaged in racial profiling or a pattern of using excessive force."
* NATO: "President Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain have called on NATO to reject 'isolationist' impulses and confront the rising terrorist threat posed by Sunni militants in the Middle East, saying the United States and Britain 'will not be cowed by barbaric killers.'"
* BP: "A federal judge in New Orleans on Thursday ruled that BP's 'gross negligence' and 'willful misconduct' had caused the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and that the company's 'reckless' behavior made it subject to fines of as much as $4,300 a barrel under the Clean Water Act."
* The fight for terrorist primacy: "Al Qaeda has released a video announcing the establishment of a new branch on the Indian subcontinent, saying it is meant to revive jihadist activity in a region that was once 'part of the land of Muslims, until the infidel enemy occupied it and fragmented it and split it.'"
* On a related note, the New York Times ran a stunning report on Ali Hussein Kadhim, an Iraqi soldier, who shared amazing details about his experience surviving an ISIS massacre. Note, the report is brutal, and includes graphic images, but is nevertheless important.
* Noted without comment: "'So, here is the Factor tip of the day: When you hear something on a partisan-driven program, do not believe it,' [Bill O'Reilly] told his audience."
Proponents of equal marriage rights have had a lot to celebrate over the last year, with a series of victories nationwide in state and federal district courts. And while those successes matter a great deal, and have advanced the cause of civil rights at a pace few thought possible, the legal fights at the federal appellate level are just as important, if not more so.
A U.S. appeals court on Thursday struck down gay marriage bans in both Wisconsin and Indiana, adding to a rush of major victories for the marriage equality movement in the last year alone.
Now that a three-judge panel in Chicago's 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled unanimously that both Midwestern marriage bans were unconstitutional, a total of 21 states recognize marriage for same-sex couples.
In his ruling, which is available online here (pdf), Judge Richard Posner, a Reagan appointee, wrote. "The discrimination against same-sex couples is irrational, and therefore unconstitutional even if the discrimination is not subjected to heightened scrutiny, which is why we can largely elide the more complex analysis found in more closely balanced equal-protection cases."
The ruling, a key breakthrough for supporters of same-sex marriage, does not come as too big of a surprise. Just last week, the attorneys arguing against marriage equality faced a barrage of very tough questions, which they struggled badly to answer.
Indeed, as Chris Geidner reported, Posner referred to arguments from Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher, whose job it was to defend the anti-gay laws, as "pathetic," "ridiculous," and "absurd."
Naturally, then, the 7th Circuit concluded today, "The challenged laws discriminate against a minority defined by an immutable characteristic, and the only rationale that the states put forth with any conviction -- that same-sex couples and their children don't need marriage because same-sex couples can't produce children, intended or unintended -- is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously."
The jury trial of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) has occasionally been a sordid, too-dramatic-for-fiction tale. Today, it came to a striking conclusion.
A jury has reached a verdict in the corruption trial of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen.
Both McDonnells were found guilty on the majority of the 14 criminal charges they were faced with. The ex-governor was convicted on 11 counts, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and his wife was found guilty on eight counts. Maureen McDonnell was also convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding.
The Washington Post has done extraordinary reporting on this story from the outset, and this report from Rosalind Helderman and Matt Zapotosky is well worth your time.
The ruling is a stunning result for a man who was once a rising star in GOP politics, widely considered a likely candidate for national office.
McDonnell was facing 13 counts in all, and though it's obviously small consolation, he was found not guilty on two of them. That said, the former Republican governor was convicted of 11 counts, including charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to obtain property to which he was not entitled.
U.S. District Judge James Spencer set sentencing for Jan. 6. Under the worst case scenario for McDonnell and his wife, the two could face "decades in federal prison, though their actual sentence could fall well short of that."
An appeal is all but certain. McDonnell's attorney briefly told reporters this afternoon he is "very disappointed but not deterred."
Following up on our coverage from June, Ohio Republicans have been extremely aggressive in recent years, imposing new restrictions on voting rights. In February, for example, GOP policymakers in the state ended the so-called "Golden Week," when Ohioans can register and vote on the same day, and at the same time, they also made it harder for voters to receive absentee ballots.
Soon after, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) curtailed early-voting opportunities and announced Sunday voting would be eliminated entirely statewide. Voting-rights advocates looking for some compelling explanation for these moves found none.
As it turns out, a federal court was also unsatisfied with state officials' explanation. Zack Roth reported today on an important new court ruling.
A federal judge has blocked Ohio's cuts to early voting and its elimination of same-day voter registration -- a major voting rights victory in the nation's ultimate presidential battleground state.
Judge Peter Economus ruled Thursday that the cuts violated the Voting Rights Act's ban on racial discrimination in voting, as well as the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. He issued an injunction barring them from going into effect before the November election, and directed Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to add a second Sunday of early voting.
The ruling is available in its entirety here (pdf). As the ACLU explained in a press statement, it's a rather sweeping victory, restoring the first week of early voting and Sunday voting, the latter of which has been a key Republican target because of "Souls to the Polls" drives organized by predominantly African-American churches.
If the outcome seems at all familiar, there's a good reason for that. As Zack noted, Judge Economus, a Clinton appointee, has ruled twice before against Ohio Republicans on the issue of voting rights, including a decision earlier this summer restoring some early voting.
Last week, the public received a peek at what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tells supporters when he doesn't think voters can hear him. At a private summit hosted by the Koch brothers, the Republican senator told conservatives that if he's promoted to Majority Leader, "we're not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That's all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage."
Yesterday, however, McConnell told the ABC affiliate in Louisville that if economic growth improves, "raising the minimum wage might make sense."
It was a striking reminder about the politics of the issue: public support for a minimum-wage hike is so strong, Republicans find it difficult to defend their fierce opposition.
Indeed, complicating matters for the GOP, the issue will go directly to voters in a handful of states this year.
Voters in Arkansas will decide whether to raise the minimum wage, Secretary of State Mark Martin (R) said Wednesday, after supporters turned in more than twice as many signatures as required to make the ballot.
The measure, Issue No. 5, would raise the state's minimum wage to $7.50 an hour beginning Jan. 1, 2016, and to $8.50 an hour on Jan. 1, 2017.
This obviously matters a great deal to low-wage workers, but Arkansas is also home to two important statewide races this year -- Sen. Mark Pryor's (D) re-election campaign and an open gubernatorial race -- and it's widely believed that having a minimum-wage increase on the ballot boosts turnout, especially among voters who may be inclined to support Democrats.
The non-partisan Cook Political Report's Jennifer Duffy recently told Greg Sargent, "It's important. One way Democrats hope to get their base out is by putting ballot initiatives in states with tough races, to give people a reason to vote." She added the issue is likely to boost turnout among working class women and African Americans in particular.
Also note, Arkansas isn't alone -- similar measures will be on statewide ballots elsewhere in 2014, including Alaska, which also happens to be hosting competitive races for the U.S. Senate and the governor's office.
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:
* For the second time this week, a poll of Kentucky's U.S. Senate race shows Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) leading Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) by four. This time, it's a CNN poll that gives McConnell the edge, 50% to 46%.
* In Iowa's U.S. Senate race, Democrats still hope to characterize Joni Ernst (R) as a far-right extremist, and to that end, Rep. Bruce Braley (D) has a new ad on the Republican's support for "personhood" measures that would ban abortions and some common forms of birth control.
* In Florida's gubernatorial race, competing polls this week offer completely different results. One statewide survey shows Gov. Rick Scott (R) with a five-point advantage over former Gov. Charlie Crist (D), while another shows the two candidates tied.
* Though the U.S. Chamber of Commerce nearly always limits its political support to Republican allies, the business lobby's leaders will formally endorse Rep. John Barrow (D) at an event in his Georgia district this week. Barrow, interestingly enough, is the fourth House Dem to receive Chamber backing this election cycle.
* Medicare support continues to be a key 2014 issue, and in Alaska's U.S. Senate race, the DSCC has launched a new ad blasting Republican Dan Sullivan, accusing him of undermining Medicare by calling for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
* Speaking of Alaska, Sen. Mark Begich (D) pulled one of his ads this week. The spot referenced an Alaska murder case, and following a request from the victim's family, the campaign agreed to stop airing the commercial.
In "Peanuts," Lucy assures Charlie Brown that this time, she won't pull the football away at the last moment. Poor Charlie always falls for the trick, ending up on his backside.
It was hard not to think of the animated scene yesterday, as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Congress might "do immigration reform in a responsible way next year," and this time he won't pull the football away at the last minute, just so long as President Obama doesn't take matters into his own hands through executive actions.
If the embattled Speaker hoped everyone involved in the debate would laugh uproariously at him, his comments were a striking success. It was Boehner and his House Republican caucus, after all, who killed immigration reform without a coherent explanation. Why in the world would anyone expect conditions to be different in 2015? The Speaker didn't say.
But on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue in our nation's capital, there's a more serious debate underway. Benjy Sarlin reported overnight:
As the White House debates whether to go forward with major executive action on immigration, supporters of reform are torn over whether to accept a potential delay until after the midterm elections.
President Obama said in June that he would take unilateral steps to revamp the immigration system by the end of the summer. Recently, however, he said that the administration's ongoing efforts to deal with a wave of Central America minors at the border could alter his timeline.
"There is the chance that it could be before the end of the summer, there is the chance that it could be after the summer," White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Tuesday.
This was not the first hint of a possible delay. Though many were preoccupied with the color of his suit, President Obama also said in his press conference last week, in response to a question about immigration, "I've been very clear about the fact that our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. And my preference continues to be that Congress act. I don't think anybody thinks that Congress is going to act in the short term, but hope springs eternal that after the midterm elections they may act."
It was the first real, direct-from-the-president evidence that an announcement is no longer imminent.
So what's behind the apparent intra-Democratic debate?
Just two weeks ago, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) surprised much of the political world with a powerful television ad. Though the conventional wisdom was that Pryor, facing a tough re-election fight, would avoid talking about the Affordable Care Act, but the senator nevertheless did the opposite, boasting about the benefits he's delivered for Arkansans through the ACA.
"No one should be fighting an insurance company while you're fighting for your life," Pryor said in the spot. "That's why I helped pass a law that prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick, or deny coverage for preexisting conditions."
Karl Rove's attack operation, Crossroads GPS, responded with an ad of its own, saying it doesn't matter if those benefits are good; what matters is that the benefits are part of "Obamacare." (Attacking the brand name is all the right has left.) What's more, Crossroads and Pryor's opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton (R), have tried moving to the left, accusing Pryor of voting for Medicare "cuts" when the Affordable Care Act passed.
Would Pryor back down? As it turns out, no. MaddowBlog received an exclusive first look at the Pryor campaign's new campaign ad, which is the second spot in which the Arkansas senator boasts about ACA benefits.
For those who can't watch clips online, the ad features Pryor, speaking directly to the camera:
"My opponent knows I did not cut Medicare benefits. I cut waste and protected benefits.
"Insurance companies were charging $115 for every $100 of services, ripping off taxpayers. Cutting this waste adds years to the life of Medicare and provides for more doctor visits and preventative care.
"I'm Mark Pryor and I approve this message because making sure seniors get the health care they need is responsible. Overpaying insurance companies isn't."
It's an effective message, which has the added benefit of being accurate, which is more than can be said about the Crossroads attacks.
But let's not miss the forest for the trees here: the politics of health care are changing, quickly and dramatically, and this spot is emblematic of the broader shift.
As a rule, it's always best to treat politicians' family members as off-limits. Candidates and elected officials invite public scrutiny when they choose to enter the political arena, but their kids, spouses, parents, and siblings do not. So long as they're private citizens, they deserve to be left alone, regardless of their famous relatives.
But once in a great while, there are notable -- and justifiable -- exceptions.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for example, appears to be gearing up for a presidential campaign. It's interesting, then, that his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), has become a 9/11 truther conspiracy theorist -- a line he's begun pushing with increasing enthusiasm. (You can almost hear the senator saying, "Dad, you're embarrassing me!")
And then there's Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) father, Rafael Cruz. Andrew Kaczynski reported this week:
The father of Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said black people "need to be educated" about Democrats, so that they will vote Republican. Rafael Cruz, who made the comments at the Western Williamson Republican Club's August meeting, added "the average black does not" understand that the minimum wage is bad.
The elder Cruz specifically said, "If we increase the minimum wage, black unemployment will skyrocket." He added that Jason Riley, a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, "understands it, but the average black does not."
As a substantive matter, all of this is ridiculous. What's more, any right-wing figure giving lectures on what "the average black" does or does not understand is asking for trouble.
But as a matter of electoral politics, it also stands to reason that Ted Cruz is probably wondering right about now whether he can buy a one-way ticket for his dad to visit some far-away location until 2017.
Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, appeared on a local radio show this week and caused a bit of a stir. Specifically, he suggested his supporters in neighboring states should come to the Granite State, take advantage of same-day registration, and vote for him, in effect calling for voter fraud on a massive scale.
The problem, of course, was that Brown was kidding. If you listen to the audio, it seems he probably wasn't serious about the scheme, though given his personal circumstances, this is an odd thing for Brown to joke about.
But a day later, the former senator was entirely serious when he made these comments to a group of voters:
"Here's the thing. People say, 'What are you going to do to create jobs?' I am not going to create one job, it is not my job to create jobs. It's yours. My job is to make sure that government stays out of your way so that you can actually grow and expand. Obamacare's a great example. The number one job inhibitor right now is Obamacare.... We have to repeal it."
As is too often the case, Brown seems a little confused about public policy. On health care, there's literally nothing to suggest the Affordable Care Act is undermining job growth, just as there's literally nothing to suggest unemployment will improve if Scott Brown takes health care benefits away from millions of Americans. The very idea is bizarre.
But that, of course, is secondary to the Republican's boast that he is "not going to create one job." This is so misguided, it's the kind of comment that's likely to linger for a while.
The recent news on initial unemployment claims has been so encouraging that minor increases are no longer cause for any alarm. Take today's data from the Labor Department, for example.
The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week rose slightly to 302,000, but layoffs remain low and initial claims continue to hover near an eight-year bottom. Initial claims increased by 4,000 in the period of Aug. 24 to Aug. 30 from an unrevised 298,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to rise to 300,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis.
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, edged up by 3,000 to 302,750. The monthly average is less erratic than the weekly figure and offers a better look at underlying trends in the labor market.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it's worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it's best not to read too much significance into any one report.
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it's considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. At this point, we've been below 330,000 in 23 of the last 26 weeks. (We've also been below 300,000 in four of the last seven weeks.)
At first blush, the dynamic is completely counter-intuitive: a competitive statewide election in which Democratic odds of success improve when there's no Democratic candidate. It happened in 2012 in Vermont's U.S. Senate race; it happened this week in Alaska's gubernatorial race.
Democratic nominee Chad Taylor has withdrawn from the Kansas Senate race, setting up a competitive race between longtime Republican Sen. Pat Roberts and independent candidate Greg Orman.
Normally, a Democratic nominee dropping out in September would be a disaster for national Democrats. Paradoxically, Taylor's withdrawal gives the party a significant boost in their effort to retain control of the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections.
To appreciate why, consider our coverage from last week. Pat Roberts (R), who's been in Congress for over three decades, who no longer owns a home in the state he represents, and who struggled in a recent primary against a political novice, is clearly vulnerable. But recent polling has nevertheless shown the incumbent senator with a modest lead, largely because Taylor (D) and Orman (I) have split Roberts' opponents.
Just before yesterday's legal deadline, however, Taylor "terminated" his campaign, creating what is effectively a two-person race, pitting an increasingly popular independent against an increasingly unpopular Republican.
Kansas may be a ruby-red state, but there's ample evidence that Roberts' re-election is very much in doubt. And with control of the Senate on the line, yesterday's news out of Kansas may ultimately help dictate which party is in control of Congress' upper chamber in 2015 and 2016.
There are, of course, plenty of unanswered questions.