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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie attends a news conference in New York, N.Y. on Sept. 15, 2014. (Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Good news, bad news for Christie

09/19/14 04:42PM

Given all of our previous discussions about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) bridge scandal, it's only fair to note, as Rachel did last night, new reporting that prosecutors have not yet tied the governor directly to the infamous misdeeds.
The U.S. Justice Department investigation into Gov. Chris Christie's role in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal has thus far uncovered no evidence indicating that he either knew in advance or directed the closure of traffic lanes on the span, federal officials tell NBC 4 New York.
The September 2013 closures -- where several entrance lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee were shut down, causing a traffic nightmare for commuters -- has been the subject of several federal and state investigations.
Federal officials caution that the investigation that began nine months ago is ongoing and that no final determination has been made, but say that authorities haven't uncovered anything that indicates that Christie knew in advance or ordered the closure of traffic lanes.
We don't yet know the source of this leak or its veracity, but it may very well be entire true that prosecutors haven't directly tied Christie personally to the bridge closings. Indeed, as of late yesterday, the governor seemed to be feeling pretty good about his standing, as if this WNBC report exonerated him.
But even if we assume the report is accurate, and we also assume that federal prosecutors never close in on Christie personally in the investigation into this scandal, the governor and his allies may still not fully appreciate the broader circumstances.
The Arizona-Mexico border fence near Naco, Ariz., March 29, 2013.

GOP congressional candidate eyes 'laser' attacks at border

09/19/14 03:48PM

The race in North Carolina's congressional district isn't likely to be competitive. It's one of the reddest districts in a red state, and a conservative candidate named Mark Walker (R) is well on his way to becoming a freshman congressman next year.
And so it's of interest that Mr. Walker held an event in the district earlier this summer, where he fielded a question from a voter who asked about the possible use of military force "to secure our southern border." The congressional candidate replied:
"Well, my first answer for that is we need to utilize the National Guard as much as we can. But I will tell you, if you have foreigners who are sneaking in with drug cartels, to me that is a national threat.
"And if we've got to go laser or blitz somebody with a couple of fighter jets for a little while to make our point, I don't have a problem with that, either."
This actually drew considerable applause from attendees.
In fact, when the applause died down, someone in the audience added, "I hope you wouldn't have any qualms about starting up a little war with Mexico." Walker responded, "Well, we did it before, if we need to do it again, I don't have a qualm about it."
I realize that an anti-immigrant posture has become the norm in Republican politics, with many candidates fighting for position to be more extreme than the next, but North Carolina's Mark Walker, a Baptist minister by trade, may be the only GOP candidate in the nation who's open to literally starting a war with Mexico -- complete with lasers.
Michele Bachmann will be out of Congress at the end of the year, but the radical torch will be passed to a new generation of extremists soon enough.
Gov. Nathan Deal speaks at a news conference in the Capitol on Tuesday, July 5, 2011 in Atlanta.

An old conspiracy theory makes a comeback

09/19/14 01:05PM

We've probably all heard the saying, "A good craftsman never blames his tools." But with that in mind, I have a new maxim to remember: "A good political figure never blames the Bureau of Labor Statistics."
Back in 2012, when the U.S. unemployment rate dropped quickly, President Obama's critics came up with an explanation: administration officials had orchestrated an elaborate conspiracy. The right took this nonsense seriously for a while, though one AEI scholar eventually told conservatives such talk "should be confined to crazytown."
Two years later, some similar suggestions have entered the political bloodstream once again.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, says something fishy is going on with his state's unemployment numbers -- and he thinks federal bureaucrats may have something to do with it.
The state saw its unemployment rate tick upward in August despite what his administration describes as robust job growth that month.
At a public event Thursday, Deal described an inexplicable "influence" on the unemployment rate in Republican-led states.
The Republican governor, who's in the midst of a tough re-election fight, told reporters yesterday, "It's ironic that in a year in which Republican governors are leading some of the states that are making the most progress, that they almost, without exception, are classified as having a bump in their unemployment rates, whereas states that are under Democrat governors' control, they are all showing that their unemployment rate has dropped. And I don't know how you account for that. Maybe there is some influence here that we don't know about."
The Democratic Governors Association and Deal's rivals in Jason Carter's (D) campaign were eager to distribute a clip of the governor's comments.
Let's unpack this a bit because this is an important issue and the public should understand that Georgia's Republican chief executive is, at a minimum, being wildly irresponsible in trying to defend his record.

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.19.14

09/19/14 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:
* Another plagiarism controversy trips up a candidate: this time it's Wisconsin gubernatorial hopeful Mary Burke (D), whose economic plan includes text lifted from other candidates. Burke's office blamed a consultant who has since been fired.
* Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), one of Congress' most vulnerable Democratic incumbents, picked up a welcome endorsement yesterday from the National Rifle Association. Democrats rarely get NRA endorsements.
* In Alaska's closely watched U.S. Senate race, the latest statewide poll shows incumbent Sen. Mark Begich (D) up by five over Dan Sullivan (R), 39% to 34%.
* On a related note, Republicans have now begun criticizing Begich in Alaska for only "pretending" to ride snowmobiles.
* Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is apparently taking a renewed interest in the 2014 elections, donating $10 million to Karl Rove's attack operation, Crossroads GPS. Adelson also reportedly "promised a similar amount" to a conservative group called the American Action Network.
* There aren't too many vulnerable House Republicans this cycle, but Michigan Rep. Dan Benishek is one of them, and the National Republican Congressional Committee invested $1 million in air time to help bolster the incumbent.
Barack Obama, Edna Pemberton

Another GOP talking point on 'Obamacare' bites the dust

09/19/14 11:32AM

In April, President Obama stunned much of the political world with a striking announcement: 8 million Americans had enrolled through an exchange marketplace for health care coverage, well ahead of earlier projections. After a couple of months in which the Affordable Care Act didn't work, the enrollment figures were powerful evidence of a remarkable success story.
Republicans, slightly stunned, scrambled to come up with a new complaint. The White House, they argued, "cooked the books." The 8 million may sound impressive, GOP officials argued, but no one should take it seriously because we don't know how many consumers will pay their premiums. Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus said as many as a third of these Americans don't really count towards the overall tally.
In May, congressional Republicans were so invested in this talking point, they even released a painfully ridiculous "report" that was thoroughly discredited soon after its publication -- the GOP lawmakers were exposed as having publishing fraudulent claims.
The conservative talking points look even worse now.
The Obama administration said Thursday that 7.3 million people who bought private health insurance under the Affordable Care Act had paid their premiums and were still enrolled.
Marilyn B. Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, disclosed the latest count at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
In other words, a little over 91% of the 8 million consumers who enrolled through an ACA exchange marketplace ended up getting insurance and paying for it. Everything Republicans claimed and predicted about this figure turned out to be wrong -- which is a sentence I feel like I've typed quite a few times when it comes to Republicans and "Obamacare."
Of course, 7.3 million isn't exactly 8 million, and 91% isn't 100%. Is this cause for concern for those hoping to see the American system succeed?
Militant Islamist fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of northern Raqqa province

At the intersection of a political campaign and a counter-terrorism campaign

09/19/14 10:56AM

On the one hand, the United States is in the midst of a political campaign season. On the other hand, the United States is also in the midst of an aggressive military campaign against Islamic State terrorists. There's apparently an ugly point at which the two intersect.
Evan McMorris-Santoro reported this week that the White House has made a conscious decision: "President Obama will not tout his war on ISIS on the campaign trail." Polls generally show support for the president's approach, but there's no appetite to even try to exploit this for partisan gain.
Congressional Republicans apparently feel differently.
[The National Republican Congressional Committee] airing TV ads on the issue, questioning whether Democrats are tough enough on terrorists (see here, here and here). It's 2002-2004 all over again! Here we are, six weeks from Election Day and the GOP is potentially going to close with a message on national security -- not on health care or the economy. Who would have thunk it 6 months ago?
To say this is getting ugly in a hurry is to understate matters. It arguably started in late August when Sen. Tom Udall's (D) Republican challenger in New Mexico featured footage of an ISIS beheading video in a campaign ad, but Republicans have only grown more aggressive since.
Image: Barack Obama

The difference between military commanders and the Commander in Chief

09/19/14 10:16AM

The Washington Post reported overnight that when it comes to U.S. efforts to combat Islamic State terrorists, President Obama and military leaders aren't necessarily on the same page.
Flashes of disagreement over how to fight the Islamic State are mounting between President Obama and U.S. military leaders, the latest sign of strain in what often has been an awkward and uneasy relationship.
Even as the administration has received congressional backing for its strategy, with the Senate voting Thursday to approve a plan to arm and train Syrian rebels, a series of military leaders have criticized the president's approach against the Islamic State militant group.
It's hard to say with confidence just how widespread the disagreements really are. For that matter, even among those military leaders voicing disagreement, there's a variety of opinions.
For his part, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday that Pentagon leaders are in "full alignment" and in "complete agreement with every component of the president's strategy."
And that's fine, but let's not forget that it's not really their call. Pentagon leaders don't actually have to be in "complete agreement with every component of the president's strategy."
NBC's First Read noted yesterday, "Remember the battle cry of some Democrats during some of the darkest days of the Iraq war -- that Bush and Cheney were not listening to the commanders? Well, given where all the military leadership is on this strategy, it is now Obama, the Democrat, who is open to criticism that he is not listening to his commanders."
But there's no reason to necessarily see that as "criticism."

Regional differences on children, corporal punishment

09/19/14 09:32AM

Among the many recent controversies surrounding the National Football League is the case of Adrian Peterson, who was recently indicted for beating his 4-year-old son with a tree branch, which the player characterized as a form of discipline. A new NBC/Marist poll gauged public attitudes on this and related issues, and some of the results were unexpected.
For example, the poll asked respondents, "Do you think it is right or wrong for parents to discipline their children by striking them -- either with a paddle, switch, or belt?" Overall, 60% consider it wrong, while only 34% believe it's right. But like Judd Legum, I found the demographic differences amazing.
Every group of Americans, regardless of age, race, gender, education, marital status, or income felt largely the same way: striking children, respondents said, is wrong. But note what happens when the results are broken up by region:
It turns out, Southerners were literally the only group in the entire poll in which a majority of respondents said striking children is appropriate.
Senator John McCain speaks during a hearing in Washington

McCain vs. McCain on ground troops

09/19/14 08:48AM

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) seemed disgusted, and perhaps a little hysterical, this week when condemning President Obama for targeting Islamic State terrorists without U.S. ground troops. "It's going to take an army to beat an army," Graham told Fox News, adding, "I will not let this president suggest to the American people we can outsource our security and this is not about our safety.... This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home."
It was of interest, then, when Amanda Terkel reported that the South Carolina Republican, as recently as a few months ago, had effectively argued the opposite. "I don't think we need boots on the ground," Graham told Fox News on June 10. "I don't think that is an option worth consideration."
Now that President Obama agrees with Lindsey Graham I, Lindsey Graham II is outraged.
But as it turns out, the South Carolinian isn't alone. This week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been in high dudgeon, demanding a more expansive U.S. military operation against ISIS in Syria, though a Democratic source alerted me overnight to comments McCain made to msnbc's Andrea Mitchell on June 13.
"I think you have to explain to the American people what kind of a threat that an ISIS takeover of Iraq would pose to the United States of America. Can you imagine a caliphate or a center of violent Muslim extremism dedicated to attacking the United States, the consequences of that? That has to be explained to the American people.
"I would also explain to the American people that I do not envision a scenario where ground combat troops are on the ground."
A few moments later, McCain added, "I would not commit to putting Americans boots on the ground."
This sounds awfully similar to what the president is saying now, to McCain's great consternation.
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts makes his victory speech at a Johnson County Republican's election watch party Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014, in Overland Park, Kan. (Photo by Charlie Riedel/AP)

Court clears way for two-man race in Kansas

09/19/14 08:00AM

In Kansas' amazing U.S. Senate race, the stage was set for the Kansas Supreme Court to have the final say. Chad Taylor (D) terminated his campaign weeks ago and wants off the ballot; brazenly partisan Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) hopes to boost incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts (R) by forcing Taylor to stay on the ballot.
As expected, the state court ruled late yesterday in Taylor's favor.
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Democratic Senate candidate's name be removed from the ballot ahead of November's election. [...]
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach ... ruled that Taylor couldn’t withdraw his name from the ballot, citing a state law that requires candidates to be “incapable” of serving if they wish to withdraw from a race. The court settled the matter Thursday.
“[Kobach] shall not include Taylor’s name on any ballots for the office of United States Senate for the general election on November 4, 2014,” Judge Michael J. Malone wrote to conclude his ruling.
The entirety of the ruling, which featured no dissent, is online here (pdf).  There is no additional appeal.
The panic within GOP circles is understandable. Polls show Roberts, an unpopular, longtime incumbent, with a vastly better chance of success if his opposition is divided between Taylor and Independent Greg Orman. With Taylor out, Orman is fairly well positioned to win the seat.
But the story isn't done just yet. Secretary of State Kobach, who said the matter had to be resolved by last night in order to prepare state ballots, magically discovered* late yesterday that he could extend the deadline another eight days. To what end? As the Republican official sees it, Kansas Democrats can now be required to choose a replacement candidate to take Taylor's slot on the ballot.
Kobach really isn't making much of an effort to conceal his partisan agenda here. That said, this latest maneuver probably won't work, either.

The (Re)United Kingdom and other headlines

09/19/14 07:57AM

Scotland rejects independence in record-breaking vote. (NBC News)

A registered Democratic voter sues to force the party to name a new Senate nominee in Kansas. (AP)

Chris McDaniel files appeal arguments in his fight to overturn his Republican primary loss in Mississippi. (AP)

GOP tries to scare donors into giving top dollar. (Time)

Administration officials discuss Obama's strategy for midterm campaigning. (Wall Street Journal)

The biggest plagiarism offenders of the 2014 election. (Washington Post)

Want to read newly declassified CIA performance reviews? (Washington Post)

read more

Scottish independence vote count under way

Scottish independence vote count under way

09/18/14 10:48PM

Alastair Jamieson, NBC News digital journalist reports live from Scotland as votes for and against independence are being counted and discusses whether a late push by the "no" campaign will be enough to keep the United Kingdom united. watch