In the last presidential election, Mitt Romney chose to float a provocative idea on Veterans' Day. "Sometimes you wonder," the Republican asked, "would there be some way to introduce some private sector competition" into veterans' care?
A spokesperson for Veterans of Foreign Wars very quickly made clear the VFW "doesn't support privatization of veterans' health care," and Romney backpedaled soon after, saying he was just kicking around a hypothetical scenario he didn't intend to pursue.
Four years later, however, as Rachel has noted on the show, some of the 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls have included at least partial VA privatization plans in their platforms -- Ben Carson went so far as to say, "We don't need a Department of Veterans Affairs" -- despite the VA's record of excellence, and the fact that the VA system as a whole "outperforms the rest of the health care system by just about every metric. Surveys also show that veterans give VA hospitals and clinics a higher customer satisfaction than patients give private-sector hospitals."
It's important to remember, though, that GOP proposals are part of a broader ideological campaign. In their latest issue, my friends at the Washington Monthly published a fascinating investigative report on the effort to privatize the VA launched by Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), a conservative outfit that's received support from the Kochs' operation.
Over the last year, every major GOP candidate with the exception of Donald Trump has made a pilgrimage to gatherings put on by Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), a group that had barely formed during the 2012 primary cycle. Whereas candidates back in the day were under pressure from the old-line veterans' groups to promise undying support for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its nationwide network of hospitals and clinics, the opposite has been true this season. Candidates at CVA rallies have been competing with each other to badmouth the VA and its allegedly shabby treatment of veterans. And all have pledged fealty to the CVA's goal of moving as many vets as possible out of the VA into private care. Even Trump is calling for more "choice."
And while that's certainly of interest when it comes to the 2016 campaign and the scope of the Republican agenda looking ahead, there's an even more timely aspect to this that matters right now.
When Bernie Sanders says current polling shows him as a strong general-election candidate, a point he emphasizes in nearly every speech, interview, and public appearance, he's 100% correct. The polling data is readily available, and it says exactly what he claims it says. Political scientists are quick to point out that the evidence isn't quite what it appears to be, but for Team Bernie, those details don't negate the survey results themselves.
And yet, Republicans can see the same polling results as everyone else, and they appear to be convinced that Sanders would be vastly easier to defeat.
Indeed, Republicans aren't just operating under those assumptions, they're acting on them. Karl Rove's Crossroads operation started boasting in February about its efforts to boost Sanders, and other Republican outfits have launched similar efforts to help the Vermont senator. In January, the RNC's chief strategist conceded he was eager to "help" the Sanders campaign.
So, what explains the discrepancy? With so many polls showing Sanders faring better than Hillary Clinton in general-election match-ups, why would Republicans go out of their way to try to line up a race with the candidate who appears stronger?
Bloomberg Politics reported yesterday that Republican operatives "are chomping at the bit to face Sanders," because they believe it would be easy to change the trajectory of those polls.
"Republicans are being nice to Bernie Sanders because we like the thought of running against a socialist. But if he were to win the nomination the knives would come out for Bernie pretty quick," said Ryan Williams, a former spokesman for 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney's campaign. "There's no mystery what the attack on him would be. Bernie Sanders is literally a card carrying socialist who honeymooned in the Soviet Union. There'd be hundreds of millions of dollars in Republican ads showing hammers and sickles and Soviet Union flags in front of Bernie Sanders."
"Hillary Clinton is a much more centrist candidate in comparison," Williams said, and she would have a better chance of winning over moderate and undecided voters, despite numerous polls showing that many Americans, even in the Democratic Party, don't view her as honest and trustworthy. "Bernie's numbers are better than hers right now because she's been in the political arena for 30 years getting beat up," he said.
Former RNC spokesperson Doug Heye added that Republicans look at some of Sanders' success "with bemusement," because they think it would be easy to define Sanders as "out of the mainstream."
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Amidst a pretty significant staff shake-up, Donald Trump's national field director has left the Republican's campaign team.
* Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said yesterday's he's "increasingly optimistic that there will actually be a second ballot" at the Republican National Convention. It was an interesting choice of words for a GOP leader who hasn't endorsed any of the remaining candidates.
* John Kasich was asked yesterday why he's 1 for 37 in nominating contests so far this year. The governor didn't seem to appreciate the line of inquiry.
* In a potential problem for the NRSC, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R) conceded late last week that he's considering a primary challenge to Sen. Jerry Moran (R) in Kansas.
* As corporate sponsors move away from the Republican National Convention, largely to avoid any association with Donald Trump, it's also hurting the Democratic National Convention at the same time -- companies don't want to be seen supporting one and not the other.
* It's a striking statistic: of all the money raised by super PACs this election cycle, 41% of the money has come from just 50 mega-donors and their relatives.
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have had some bitter arguments in recent months over the minimum wage, but the two aren't that far apart. The Vermont senator supports an increase to $15 an hour, while the former Secretary of State support an increase to $12, though if Congress sent her a bill raising the minimum to $15, Clinton has said she'd gladly sign it.
For the two Democratic candidates, increasing the federal minimum wage from its current $7.25 is a no-brainer. The question isn't whether to approve an increase, but rather, how much and how quickly.
And then there's the other side of the aisle. Congressional Republicans continue to insist there will be no increase so long as the GOP is in the majority, and on the presidential campaign trail, Republican candidates continue to not only oppose an increase, but to oppose the very existence of the minimum wage. Politicoreported the other day:
Ted Cruz assailed the concept of minimum wage as "bad policy" on Friday, suggesting that companies will ultimately choose machines over humans when it becomes more cost-efficient to do so.
"I think the minimum wage systematically hurts the most vulnerable," the Texas senator said in an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box." ... "I think it's bad policy," Cruz added.
The senator said states should have the authority to approve their own minimums if they choose, but Cruz nevertheless suggested that the federal minimum shouldn't exist at all.
Or put another way, while the Democrats fight over $12 vs. $15, Cruz likes the idea of $0, at least as far as federal policymaking is concerned.
This is the first election cycle in modern times in which opposition to the existence of the minimum wage has become quite common.
When Republican policymakers in North Dakota passed a "fetal heartbeat" bill in 2013, they almost certainly knew they were inviting a lawsuit the state would inevitably lose. The state law was written to ban abortions after just six weeks of pregnancy, effectively requiring some women to terminate unwanted pregnancies before they even knew they were pregnant.
The law, however, was never actually implemented. Courts imposed an injunction, confident that the policy wouldn't withstand scrutiny. Soon after, federal district and appellate courts were unanimous in rejecting the law, just as everyone expected.
The rulings ended the legal controversy, except for one final detail: legal fees. Slatenoted the other day:
[H]aving lost a constitutional case in court, North Dakota is now required to pay the attorneys' fees of the law's triumphant challenger. On Thursday, the state and Red River agreed on a settlement of $245,000, which will go to [Red River Women's Clinic's] counsel, the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights.
An international reproductive rights advocacy group, the CRR routinely wins lawsuits against restrictive abortion laws worldwide. It led the legal campaign against Texas' onerous new clinic regulations, a fight that recently reached the Supreme Court. North Dakota's sizable payout will help the organization continue to combat measures much like ... North Dakota's.
Remember, North Dakota's Republican policymakers realized in advance that banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy wouldn't pass court muster, but they did it anyway, as something of a legal/political experiment.
It was an expensive test, paid for by North Dakota taxpayers who probably could have come up with better uses for that money.
What's striking, however, is how often stories like these pop up.
Few states need Medicaid expansion more than Louisiana, which made it all the more difficult to justify former Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) refusal to consider the policy. By all appearances, the Republican made a plainly political decision without regard for the state's needs: Jindal wanted to be president (yes, of the United States), so he took a firm stand against "Obamacare."
Louisiana's current governor, Democrat John Bel Edwards, ran on a platform of Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act, won his election fairly easily, and immediately adopted the policy. The Times-Picayune in New Orleans reported yesterday that the governor went directly to the legislature to explain why this was the smart move for Louisiana.
Medicaid expansion is estimated to save Louisiana $677 million over the next five years and more than $1 billion over the next decade, Department of Health and Hospitals officials told Senate Health and Welfare Committee members Monday (April 18).
The cost estimates came after Gov. John Bel Edwards testified before the committee about his decision to expand Medicaid eligibility to about 375,000 people between July 1 and June 30, 2017. DHH officials will make an effort in the coming weeks to educate legislators about the benefits of Medicaid expansion and what they said was misinformation given to the Legislature to justify not expanding Medicaid under former Gov. Bobby Jindal.
"I believe the folks in the prior administration who said we couldn't afford Medicaid expansion, they took the worst case scenario on every variable," Edwards told lawmakers in the GOP-led legislature. "If you look at what we're doing in light of experience in other states ... we know we're going to save money."
Since early February, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have faced off in 37 nominating contests, and in that time, some patterns have emerged. Sanders has done extremely well in caucuses; Clinton has done better in primaries. Sanders has excelled with younger voters; Clinton has picked up greater support from older voters. Sanders has thrived in states with less racial and ethnic diversity; Clinton has been buoyed by African-American and Latino support.
But there's another key consideration that often gets overlooked: the kind of primary or caucus has a big effect on the outcome. More specifically, the question to keep in mind is whether the nominating contest is "closed" (only Democrats can participate) or "open" (anyone can help choose the Democratic nominee).
It's surprising just how much this matters. In closed contests, Clinton tends to have more success, while in open contests, Sanders, Congress' longest-serving independent, has consistent enjoyed an advantage.
All of this is of particular interest today, of course, because New York's presidential primaries are closed -- Democratic voters will choose the Democratic candidate and Republican voters will choose the Republican candidate.
For Team Sanders, this creates a challenge. The Washington Postreported this week that were it not for independent voters casting ballots in open contests, the Vermont senator "probably would've been sunk long ago."
In Michigan, where Sanders won his greatest upset, Clinton beat him by 18 points among self-identified Democrats, according to exit polls. In Oklahoma, one of the few states that Clinton won in 2008's primary but lost this year, she beat Sanders by nine points with Democrats. In Wisconsin, Sanders won overall by 13 points; he split the Democratic vote with Clinton 50-50.
In each case, independents who felt like pulling a Democratic ballot were able to vote for Sanders. In New York, many of the people who crowded Sanders's rallies -- some lining up for hours, Bernie buttons on their winter coats -- admitted that they had not understood that New York's rules were different.
And as a result, those independent supporters will have no choice but to remain on the sidelines today. That doesn't necessarily mean Sanders is doomed in the Empire State, but it creates an additional wrinkle in his attempt at an upset.
Complicating matters further, there are 16 contests remaining in the Democratic race, including today's New York primary, and half of them limit participation to registered Democratic voters.
One of the best running jokes in American politics is the one about Republicans releasing their own alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Any day now, GOP leaders have been saying for many years, they're going to have a plan that rivals "Obamacare," and it's going to be awesome.
Yesterday, The Hillreported on the latest installment in this ongoing fiasco.
A group of senior House Republicans is promising to deliver proof that the party is making headway in its six-year struggle to replace ObamaCare.
"Give us a little time, another month or so," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told reporters this week. "I think we'll be pretty close to a Republican alternative."
Upton is not just some random figure in the broader effort: The Michigan Republican is a key committee chairman and a member of House Speaker Paul Ryan's "task force," responsible for coming up with the GOP's reform alternative.
Upton said the Republican group is currently in "listening mode" -- which it's apparently been in since its creation 14 months ago.
And yet, we're apparently supposed to believe that in "another month or so," House Republican lawmakers will be "pretty close" to having their own reform plan.
Who knows, maybe the GOP is making enormous strides towards its goal. Maybe "listening mode" is going so well that the Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act is nearly complete. Maybe, with "a little time," they're ready to deliver.
It's certainly possible, but the odds are heavily against it.
When news reports popped up yesterday about the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton facing accusations about an illegal fundraising scheme, I largely assumed the charges were being levied from the right. As Rachel noted on the show last night, those assumptions were incorrect.
In an unexpected twist, the accusations were actually coming from Bernie Sanders, who now believes a joint Democratic fundraising committee violates campaign finance laws. The Washington Postreported:
In a letter to the Democratic National Committee, a lawyer for Sanders said the joint committee, which can accept far larger donations than Clinton's campaign, appeared to be improperly subsidizing her campaign by paying Clinton staffers with funds from the committee and cited other alleged violations as well. [...]
The Sanders letter cited a February report by The Washington Post that detailed the Clinton campaign's expansive use of a joint fundraising committee it set up last year with the DNC and 32 state party committees.
To put it mildly, it's not at all common for a Democratic presidential candidate to accuse his own ostensible party, late in the primary process, of being involved in an illegal scheme, but 2016 really isn't a normal year.
Regardless, do the accusations have merit? Have the DNC and the Clinton campaign hatched an improper operation that violates campaign-finance laws? It's a real stretch.
Suzanne Carlson, political reporter with the Virgin Island Daily News, talks with Rachel Maddow about the particularly vituperative fight within the Virgin Islands Republican Party and the two separate slates of unbound delegates that are claiming to represent the party for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. watch
Andrea Mitchell, NBC News correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow about accusations by the Bernie Sanders campaign that Hillary Clinton is breaking fundraising rules with big money DNC events, raising already high tensions between the two camps ahead of Tuesday's New York primary. watch
Rachel Maddow reviews the recent campaign of New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino as an example of the peculiarity of New York Republican Party politics that helps explain the massive lead polls show Donald Trump holds in the current presidential primary race. watch
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