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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.16.15

03/16/15 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:
 
* A new Gallup poll shows the favorability ratings for both major political parties dropping below 40%, including a sharp drop for Republicans since the midterm elections last fall. It's the first time since Gallup began asking the question 23 years ago that both parties' support has dropped this low.
 
* Despite strong public support for a minimum-wage increase, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) told a New Hampshire audience over the weekend that he does not support the popular idea.
 
* With just one day remaining until Israeli elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, fearing defeat, has begun lashing out at "a huge international effort," which he claims is "partnering up with leftist organizations here and also with media figures" to defeat him.
 
* New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) presidential ambitions have faltered of late, but he's nevertheless telling party insiders that he's ready to make "overhauling" Medicare and Social Security the centerpiece of his national campaign. Nothing helps a struggling candidate more than promising to cut popular social-insurance programs, right?
 
* Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is still quite cautious when taking jabs at Jeb Bush, but he's getting less subtle. He said late last week, "I just think voters are going to look at this and say, 'If we're running against Hillary Clinton, we'll need a name from the future -- not a name from the past -- to win.'"
 
* Apparently convinced there isn't enough money in political campaigns, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) intends to push eliminating caps on contributions altogether.
 
* Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) briefly slipped over the weekend, referring to himself as a presidential "candidate" on Twitter. The tweet was soon after deleted -- Paul's campaign is still officially unannounced.
Governor Scott Walker (R-WS) speaks to Republican organizing meeting in Concord, N.H., March 14, 2015. (Photo by Dominick Reuter/Reuters)

Walker's tall tales about Reagan (updated)

03/16/15 11:36AM

[Updated below] The AP started backing off the story the day after publishing its original report. Note the update at the bottom of this piece.
 
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) recently insisted that Ronald Reagan firing air-traffic controllers in 1981 was "the most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime." It was at that point that an important truth became clear: Walker's Reagan worship is just a little creepy.
 
But taking a step further, listening to the governor, it also became clear that Walker didn't quite have his facts straight, either. But when it comes to the Republican icon, it appears the details aren't especially important to the Wisconsin governor.
At a 2013 Reagan Day dinner in Milwaukee, Walker told a Reagan story that he said "gives me a little bit of a shiver."
 
He described being invited by Nancy Reagan to give a speech at the Reagan Library near Los Angeles in November 2012, five months after he won a recall election that stemmed from his successful effort to curtail the union rights of public employees in his state. [...]
 
Walker went on to describe how, during a tour of the library before the speech, the library curator "unbeknownst to me" had taken the Reagan family Bible out of its display and readied it for him to look at.
The Progressive magazine highlighted this YouTube clip of Walker's remarks, in which the GOP governor said that officials at the Reagan Library "brought over a pair of white gloves to me and they said, 'No one has touched this since President Reagan. It is his mother's Bible that he took the oath of office on. Mrs. Reagan would like you to hold it and take a picture with it.'"
 
The AP report added that audience members "can be heard gasping" in response to Walker's comments.
 
The problem is, the facts of the story aren't quite in line with the governor's anecdote.
Senator Rand Paul, R-KY, speaks during a discussion on reforming the criminal justice system at Bowie State University on March 13, 2013 in Bowie, Md. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)

Iran policy trips up Rand Paul

03/16/15 10:46AM

Last month, in honor of Valentine's Day, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) thought it'd be funny to create a fake Pinterest page to mock Hillary Clinton -- because there's nothing more amusing than jokes that combine Valentine's Day and Benghazi conspiracy theories. The page, dismissed as "sexist, unfunny and painfully lame," was taken down soon after.
 
The Republican senator is not, however, done playing little online games. His political action committee's Facebook page launched a quiz late last week, asking visitors "to guess whether remarks over U.S.-Iranian negotiations are from Hillary Clinton or a spokesman for Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei."
 
Of course, given the larger context, Paul's latest Internet enterprise might be more compelling if he hadn't just signed on to the Senate GOP letter intended to sabotage American foreign policy, side with Iranian hardliners, and end international nuclear diplomacy with Iran.
The reason Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) signed onto a controversial letter to the leaders of Iran was to give President Barack Obama more leverage in his negotiations over the country's nuclear program, the would-be presidential candidate said Sunday.
 
"There's no one in Washington more against war and more for a negotiated deal than I am," Paul said in an interview at SXSW in Austin, Texas. "But I want the negotiated deal to be a good deal. So my reason for signing onto the letter, I think it reiterates what is the actual law, that Congress will have to undo sanctions. But I also signed onto the letter because I want the president to negotiate from a position of strength which means that he needs to be telling them in Iran that 'I've got Congress to deal with.'"
In some respects, this might be the worst of both worlds. For far-right politicians like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), last week's unprecedented stunt was at least coherent -- he and other Republicans wanted to derail the diplomatic efforts, betray President Obama, undermine American foreign policy, and push the world closer to a military confrontation with Iran. Putting aside whether or not the letter was disgusting, there was at least an obvious parallel between the letter and its objectives.
 
Rand Paul's argument, on the other hand, is more of a mess.
Former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

He's Mike Huckabee and he approves a suspect message

03/16/15 10:09AM

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's latest video has the look and feel of an infomercial, because to a very real degree, that's exactly what it is.
 
Those who go to the "Diabetes Reversed" website are greeted with an auto-play video from the Republican presidential hopeful, in which Huckabee tells viewers about an "amazing" treatment option of people with Type 2 diabetes (thanks to reader P.A. for the tip).
"Hello, I'm Mike Huckabee. Let me tell you that diabetes can be reversed. I should know because I did it and today you can too. It's all about making simple lifestyle changes and healthier food choices. And there is no other way to reverse diabetes.
 
"Prescription drugs aren't going to cure you. They're only going to keep you a loyal, pill-popping, finger-pricking, insulin-shooting customer so Big Pharma and the mainstream medical community can rake in over $100 billion a year annually.
 
"But that's not your only option. You can avoid the side effects that could lead to needing more drugs. You don't have to be a part of this failed system any longer, because today you have an amazing opportunity to stop diabetes in its tracks -- and actually reverse it, just as I did, simply and naturally."
In the video, the former governor proceeds to make a pitch for a "profound" diabetes treatment option, which he claims leads "most" people to be rid of medication "within four weeks." To "make the plan work," Huckabee says, customers will need the kind of "structure" provided by the infomercial's sponsor. "I should know; it works," he assures viewers about the "natural secrets that are backed by real science."
 
Blurring the lines between infomercial and campaign ad, the Republican ends the video by saying, "I'm Mike Huckabee and I approve Barton Publishing's Diabetes Solution Kit."
 
A New York Times report added, "The American Diabetes Association and the Canadian Diabetes Association caution against treatments like the one peddled by the company Mr. Huckabee represents."
 
So what in the world is the former Fox News host and likely presidential candidate doing?
U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton speaks during a televised debate at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark. on Oct. 14, 2014.

Being Tom Cotton means never having to say you're sorry

03/16/15 09:20AM

A week after  attempting to sabotage American foreign policy and doing real damage to U.S. credibility on the international stage, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) sat down with Bob Schieffer yesterday to explain himself. True to form, the right-wing freshman boasted he has "no regrets at all."
 
Of course not. Being Tom Cotton means never having to say you're sorry for undermining your own country's attempts at international diplomacy.
 
At one point, towards the end of the interview, the "Face the Nation" host asked the Arkansas senator about his alternative solution if the talks collapse. Cotton didn't offer any specifics, but he did express concern about Iranian influence in the region.
"[W]e have to stand up to Iran's attempts to drive for regional dominance. They already control Tehran. Increasingly, they control Damascus and Beirut and Baghdad, and now Sanaa as well."
The fact that Iran maintains influence in other countries with Shia majorities in the region is hardly a new development, but the fact that Cotton is concerned about Iranians "already controlling Tehran" seemed like an odd thing to say. Tehran, of course, is the capital of Iran. In effect, the Republican senator was lamenting Iranian dominance of Iran, concerned that Iranians "control" the capital of their own country.
 
Making matters slightly worse, if Cotton is troubled by Tehran's influence in Baghdad, he should probably know that Iran's dominance is the direct result of the U.S. invasion he supported and participated in. In other words, it was the senator's own preferred foreign policy that created the conditions he now finds so alarming.
 
Which should probably raise some questions about his judgment now.
Loretta Lynch is sworn in during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 28, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

McConnell subjects Lynch to ransom-based governing

03/16/15 08:40AM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed last week that the delay over Loretta Lynch's Attorney General nomination would soon end, but his promise lacked specificity. The Republican leader announced Lynch would finally get a vote "next week" -- which is to say, this week -- but for reasons that no one could explain, McConnell wouldn't say which day, exactly.
 
Yesterday, the GOP strategy became clearer. McConnell seems to have kept things vague because he intended to break his word.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says there'll be no vote to confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general until Republicans and Democrats resolve a dispute over a human trafficking bill.
 
"If they want to have time to turn to the attorney general," then "we have to finish the human trafficking bill," McConnell said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
The Majority Leader added that he "had hoped" to allow the Senate to vote on Lynch, whose nomination has, by most measures, already waited longer than any other A.G. nomination in American history, but Lynch "will be put off again" unless Democrats agree to pass the human-trafficking bill that stalled last week.
 
McConnell went on to say, "We have to finish the human trafficking bill. The Loretta Lynch nomination comes next."
 
Just so we're clear, there's no procedural concern or rule that must be followed. McConnell could bring Lynch's 128-day wait to an end this morning, and by all appearances, she'd have the votes necessary to be confirmed.
 
But McConnell doesn't want to. Rather, he prefers to stick to the ransom-based model of governing that he and his party have grown overly fond of.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks to the media after visiting Integra Biosciences during a campaign stop in Hudson, N.H. on March 13, 2015.

Jeb Bush's email troubles grow more serious

03/16/15 08:00AM

The political world knew that the 2016 presidential race would take shape early this year, but few could have guessed that email access and email security would be one of the dominant issues in the nascent election cycle.
 
Hillary Clinton's private email account during her tenure as Secretary of State has been the subject of enormous interest to the media and Republicans, with former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) helping lead the charge. "For security purposes, you need to be behind a firewall that recognizes the world for what it is, and it's a dangerous world, and security would mean that you couldn't have a private server," the Republican complained last week. "It's a little baffling, to be honest with you, that didn't come up in Secretary Clinton's thought process."
 
It's equally baffling that Bush had no idea how vulnerable he was on the issue he's chosen to complain about.
Jeb Bush used his private e-mail account as Florida governor to discuss security and military issues such as troop deployments to the Middle East and the protection of nuclear plants, according to a review of publicly released records.
 
The e-mails include two series of exchanges involving details of Florida National Guard troop deployments after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the review by The Washington Post found.
The Washington Post's report on the security risks surrounding Jeb Bush conducting official business on his private account coincided with a New York Times article, which noted that it took the former governor more than seven years "to comply fully with a Florida public records statute" on email disclosure.
 
The report quoted a non-partisan expert with the Florida-based First Amendment Foundation who said Bush's disclosure policy was "a technical violation of the law." The governor was required to turn over records pertaining to official business "at the expiration of his or her term of office," and the Republican waited more than seven years to meet these obligations.
 
And while the revelations are themselves noteworthy, what seems especially problematic for Bush is the broader context in which these details appear.

McConnell threatens Lynch delay and other headlines

03/16/15 07:18AM

Mitch McConnell threatens to delay Attorney General confirmation vote. (L.A. Times)

John Boehner expected to announce new House investigation into Hillary Clinton's email practices. (ABC News)

Arrest made in the shootings of 2 police officers in Ferguson, MO. (KSDK)

10 health-care workers return to U.S. after exposure to Ebola. (Wall Street Journal)

Legal duo says Canadian-born Ted Cruz is eligible to seek presidency. (AP)

Boston breaks snowfall record. (Boston Globe)

Kerry: U.S. increasing efforts to pressure Syria's Bashar al-Assad into negotiation. (Washington Post)

CIA cash ended up in coffers of al Qaeda. (New York Times)

Robert Durst of HBO's 'The Jinx' says he 'killed them all.' (New York Times) 

read more

Bill O'Reilly appears on NBC News' "Today" show. (Photo by Peter Kramer/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty)

This Week in God, 3.14.15

03/14/15 09:00AM

First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected group of critics raising concerns about suspect tales from Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.
 
As regular readers know, activism in the political sphere from Roman Catholic nuns has become increasingly common in recent years, as evidenced by the Nuns on the Bus tour in 2012, criticizing Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) far-right budget plan.
 
Soon after, Sister Simone Campbell and her group, NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, invited Mitt Romney "to spend a day with Catholic Sisters who work every day to meet the needs of struggling families in their communities." (He declined.)
 
Rachel noted on the show that summer, "I have one thing to say here personally, not as a TV show host here but just as a person who happens to be related to some nuns: don't mess with nuns. It's not a warning. It's not advice. It's not a threat. It's fact that I have learned from personal experience. Ask anybody in my family, if you mess with nuns, you will lose every time. You will always regret messing with nuns."
 
With this in mind, Fox's Bill O'Reilly has faced increased scrutiny recently, claiming that he "saw nuns get shot in the back of the head" while he was in El Salvador in the early 1980s. When evidence made clear that was impossible, O'Reilly said he was referring to photographs he'd seen.
 
This week, some nuns seemed unimpressed by the Fox host's comments, most notably nuns from the Maryknoll Sisters who issued a statement to Brian Stelter.
"Maryknoll Sisters were deeply saddened when our Sisters were killed in El Salvador, and shocked when we learned of Mr. O'Reilly's statement inferring he witnessed their murder," the statement said.
 
"This is, of course, untrue and we hope Mr. O'Reilly will take greater care in the public statements he makes in the future," it added.
 
The Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland also offered a statement, calling for reporters covering the tragedy to do so with a spirit of "integrity and honesty."
As best as I can tell, O'Reilly has not yet responded to the nuns' criticisms. I reached out to Fox News for comment yesterday, but I haven't heard back. I will update this piece if the network responds.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:

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