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Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz leaves the stage after speaking during the Republican Jewish Coalition spring leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas on April 25, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nev.

Cruz tries to blame Obama for 2008 crash

04/30/15 05:02PM

A few years ago, a statewide poll in Louisiana found that nearly a third of Republicans in the Pelican State blamed President Obama for the poor federal response to Hurricane Katrina. The nonsense was almost amusing -- Katrina hit in August 2005; Obama was inaugurated in January 2009.
 
But Louisiana Republicans aren't the only ones blaming the president for things that happened before he took office. Philip Bump had this nice catch yesterday:
Speaking at an event hosted by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) linked the economic policies of President Obama with those of the much-maligned Jimmy Carter. "Historically, the economy has grown 3.3 percent a year since World War II," he said. "There are only two four-year periods where growth averaged less than 1 percent: 1978 to 1982, coming out of the Jimmy Carter administration, and 2008 to 2012. Same failed economic policies."
 
If you didn't catch it, Cruz employed a nifty little bit of rhetorical spin there. What he's actually comparing isn't Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. It's Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush.
Exactly right. Cruz is playing a dishonest little game, assuming that his audience isn't smart enough to notice the con. Indeed, the right-wing senator told the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that President Carter and President Obama both embraced "out-of-control spending" (which is brazenly wrong), approved higher taxes (Obama has cut middle-class taxes); and produced "stagnation" (which doesn't accurately describe the Obama era).
 
But the real trick is which numbers Cruz chooses as important.
Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott responds to a question during a gubernatorial debate against Democrat Charlie Crist on Oct. 10, 2014, in Miramar, Fla. (Photo by Lynne Sladky/AP)

Florida has its 'Keep the government out of Obamacare' moment

04/30/15 04:18PM

Way back in August 2009, the estimable Tim Noah took note of an annoying trend among far-right activists: "'Keep your government hands off my Medicare.' It was funny the first two or three times this angry citizen's cry against health reform got repeated ... but the joke is starting to wear thin."
 
Periodically, some have wondered when we might reach a "Keep your government hands off my Obamacare" moment, and today in Florida, it seems that time is upon us -- or at least, it's awfully close.
 
The Republican-run state government in Florida has found itself in a terrible mess lately, and divisions among GOP policymakers over the Affordable Care Act have gotten a little ugly. As we talked about yesterday, the Republican-run state Senate wants to accept Medicaid expansion, bolster state finances, extend coverage to 850,000 low-income Floridians, and clear the way for another tax cut. The Republican-run state House, meanwhile, wants to oppose "Obamacare" because, well, it's "Obamacare."
 
Today, Gov. Rick Scott (R) issued a press statement, sketching out his opposition to Medicaid expansion. Most of the statement is filled with boilerplate rhetoric, but Charles Gaba flagged the fun part:
"Putting the cart before the horse by trying to grab the limited-one-time-only offer of so-called 'free' money from Obamacare, on the other hand, will cost Florida taxpayers at least $5 billion over 10 years and could eventually result in the state having to raise taxes to afford the growth of government. Expanding Obamacare in Florida would also further tie us to a federal government that has already walked away from our Low Income Pool healthcare program.

"The proposed Obamacare expansion plan would also force Floridians who currently have private insurance on the federal exchange into the government-run Medicaid program -- causing them to lose the plans they liked and were told they could keep, practically overnight." [emphasis added]
It's that part in bold that arguably matters most.
Marco Rubio, senateur republicain de Floride, lors de la CPAC  2015, conference d'action politique conservatrice, a National Harbor

Rubio's advocacy for Corinthian Colleges draws scrutiny

04/30/15 12:54PM

In the world of for-profit education, this week brought big news: Corinthian Colleges announced Sunday that it's closed each of its 28 colleges, effective immediately. The move, displacing 16,000 students, is "believed to be the biggest shutdown in the history of higher education in the United States."
 
The news did not, however, come out of the blue. As NBC News reported, the Corinthian announcement came on the heels of a federal investigation in which the U.S. Department of Education alleged the enterprise "misrepresented job placement data and altered grades and attendance records." The department said it would fine Corinthian $30 million for its suspected misdeeds.
 
Making matters worse, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau accused the for-profit colleges of using "inflated placement rates to recruit students," who in turn took out "expensive private loans, which made up about 85 percent" of Corinthian's revenue. The CFPB took the business to court to challenge the allegedly crooked business practices.
 
Given all of this, it's only natural to wonder why Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) went to bat for Corinthian Colleges during the investigation into its allegedly corrupt business practices.
Last summer, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida asked the U.S. Department of Education to "demonstrate leniency" toward Corinthian Colleges by permitting the wealthy for-profit company to continue accessing millions of dollars in federal financial aid while it was cooperating with a federal investigation. [...]
 
The top-tier Republican presidential candidate had made his plea in a letter -- obtained by Bloomberg Politics -- dated June 20, 2014 and addressed to Jim Shelton, the deputy secretary of education, and Ted Mitchell, the undersecretary for post-secondary education.
Rubio's letter argued that the Obama administration "can and should demonstrate leniency" towards Corinthian, despite the allegations of fraud. The same letter also complained about federal investigators placing "extreme financial constraints" on Corinthian, restricting the company's "timely access to federal financial aid."
 
Given the broader controversy, why did the Florida senator advocate on Corinthian's behalf? Bloomberg Politics reported that Rubio "described his letter as written on behalf of his constituents."

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.30.15

04/30/15 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:
 
* Mississippi is one of only three states that will host gubernatorial elections this year, and a new Mason-Dixon poll shows incumbent Gov. Phil Bryant (R) with an insurmountable lead over his Democratic challenger, 61% to 30%. If the poll is right, Bryant is also one of the nation's most popular governors with a 72% approval rating (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the heads-up).
 
* Republican presidential hopeful Scott Walker continues to publicly support a possible constitutional amendment on marriage rights, but asked about a possible "personhood" amendment over the weekend, the Wisconsin governor replied, "Well, the personhood would require an amendment and the president, no matter who it is, doesn't handle any constitutional amendments."
 
* In Iowa, former Secretary of State Matt Schultz (R) was one of Rick Santorum's key in-state supporters in 2012, but this year, Schultz is teaming up with Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) presidential campaign.
 
* Right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who'll launch his campaign next week, recently said Congress should remove judges from the federal bench if they rule in support of marriage equality.
 
* Last fall, when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was scaring people by giving out bogus information about the Ebola virus, he was also skipping several congressional hearings with detailed information about Ebola and the U.S. response.
US military soldiers march during the Veterans Day Parade in New York on Nov. 11, 2014. (Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)

House targets predatory lending protections for US troops

04/30/15 11:21AM

Predatory lending practices affect plenty of Americans, but as NBC News reported earlier this year, military families are "especially vulnerable." The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a report in December calling for greater protections.
 
And right now in the U.S. House, there's an important fight underway about just how far those protections can go. The Huffington Post summarized the policy landscape nicely:
In 2006, Congress passed legislation imposing a 36 percent cap on interest rates for payday loans, auto title loans and tax refund anticipation loans to military families. Lenders responded by slightly tweaking the terms of their loans to avoid the limits. Since the law applied to payday loans with terms of 91 days or less, and amounts of $2,000 or less, credit companies were able to shirk the rules with 92-day loans, or loans of $2,001.
 
Big banks were even more creative, issuing "deposit advance products" -- functionally almost identical to payday loans, but with a different name and with effective annual interest rates of around 300 percent. Congress responded to these tricks in 2012 by passing another law directing the Pentagon to fix these loopholes, and new rules were finalized in September of last year.
So, problem solved, right? Wrong. The new protections are poised to take effect -- much to the chagrin of banking lobbyists -- so House Republicans tucked a provision into the military spending bill to delay implementing the new protections for at least another year.
 
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest called the proposal "shameful" and Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Iraq War veteran, has led the charge against the Republican measure.
A protestor walks away as police in riot gear advance on the crowd after a 10 p.m. curfew went into effect in the wake of Monday's riots following the funeral for Freddie Gray, April 28, 2015, in Baltimore. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

A misguided attempt to connect Baltimore, same-sex marriage

04/30/15 10:40AM

Understanding the complexities of developments in Baltimore is difficult and time consuming. Recent developments -- and some developments that aren't so recent at all -- touch on all kinds of societal factors related to the criminal justice system, race, education, law enforcement, and economics.
 
But to connect Baltimore and marriage equality is a real stretch.
[Tuesday] on "Washington Watch," Family Research Council President Tony Perkins hosted Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, to discuss the anti-marriage-equality rally outside of the Supreme Court that both had attended that morning.
 
During the interview, Flores bizarrely suggested that gay marriage will somehow lead to a breakdown of the family model and an increased number of single-parent-led households, contributing to poverty and the conditions which led to the Baltimore riots:
Alas, this is not a joke. The report from Right Wing Watch published the audio clip of their discussion.
 
The FRC chief argued that the "redefinition of marriage" would "accelerate" societal problems, which the Texas congressman said is "exactly right."

Flores added, "You look at what's going on in Baltimore today, you know, you see issues that are raised there. And healthy marriages are the ones between a man and a woman because they can have a healthy family and they can raise children in the way that's best for their future, not only socially but psychologically, economically, from a health perspective.
 
"There's just nothing like traditional marriage that does that for a child. Each of us has a mother and a father, and there's just no way to get around that."
 
If policymakers want to have a serious conversation about the sweeping effects of mass incarceration, and the impact it has on families, that's a terrific idea. But to connect same-sex marriage and unrest in Baltimore is very hard to take seriously.
Sen. Bernie Sanders pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 16, 2015, to discuss Republican efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare and other programs. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Bernie Sanders joins Democratic presidential field

04/30/15 10:03AM

By all appearances, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the prohibitive favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, but as of today, she's not running unopposed. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is throwing his hat in the ring.
Sanders, who plans to formally announce his 2016 campaign on Thursday, told the Associated Press and USA Today that he's running. "I am running for president," he told the AP. 
 
"I've been traveling around the country for the last year trying to ascertain whether there really is grass-roots support in terms of people standing up and being prepared to take on the billionaire class," Sanders elaborated to USA Today. "I believe that there is."
A formal announcement is expected later today, along with a D.C. press conference.
 
Sanders has already begun making the media rounds this morning, striking a very optimistic tone during an ABC interview. "I think we're going to have a surprise for you: we're going to win this thing," the Vermont independent said, adding, "People should not underestimate me."
 
For those who've followed the senator closely, that's probably good advice, though it's hard to deny the fact that he has an uphill climb ahead -- one national poll conducted last week showed Sanders trailing Clinton among Democratic voters by a mere 52 points, 60% to 8%.
 
But for Sanders, who's long embraced the "socialist" label, the long odds are hardly a deterrent.
Demonstrators protest during an immigration reform rally in front of the U.S. Capitol on Capitol Hill in Washington in this October 13, 2009 file photo.

GOP lawmakers take aim at constitutional principle

04/30/15 09:22AM

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution doesn't leave much in the way of wiggle room: the rights of American citizenship are given to "all persons born or naturalized in the United States." It's a principle generally known as "birthright citizenship," and after its enactment following the Civil War, the Supreme Court has protected the tenet many times.
 
But as Republican politics moved sharply to the right, and anti-immigration sentiments within the GOP became more extreme, the party's "constitutional conservatives" decided the principle, championed by Republicans nearly 150 years ago, needs to go. Shortly after the "Tea Party" gains in 2010, ending birthright citizenship was added to the far-right's to-do list.
 
And yesterday, as Dana Milbank explained, a congressional panel actually considered a plan to scrap the existing constitutional provision.
A House Judiciary subcommittee took up the question Wednesday afternoon, prompted by legislation sponsored by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and 22 other lawmakers that, after nearly 150 years, would end automatic citizenship.
 
The 14th Amendment, King told the panel, "did not contemplate that anyone who would sneak into the United States and have a baby would have automatic citizenship conferred on them." Added King, "I'd suggest it's our job here in this Congress to decide who will be citizens, not someone in a foreign country that can sneak into the United States and have a baby and then go home with the birth certificate."
 
It's no small task to undo a principle, enshrined in the Constitution and upheld by the Supreme Court, that defines the United States as a nation of immigrants. It's particularly audacious that House Republicans would undo a century and a half of precedent without amending the Constitution but merely by passing a law to reinterpret the 14th Amendment's wording in a way that will stop the scourge of "anchor babies" and "birth tourism."
That's no small detail. In the American system of government, if federal lawmakers want to alter constitutional law, they have to actually amend the Constitution. But King and his cohorts have a different idea: they intend to simply pass a regular ol' law voiding the unambiguous language of the 14th Amendment.
 
Remember, these are the same folks who are convinced President Obama is a radical who ignores constitutional principles he doesn't like.

Jobless claims improve to 15-year low

04/30/15 08:40AM

With initial unemployment claims hovering just below 300,000 in recent weeks, many wondered when -- and if -- we'd see real progress again. Thankfully, the good news arrived this morning.
Applications for U.S. jobless benefits declined last week to the lowest level in 15 years, showing employers view a first-quarter slowdown in the economy is probably temporary.
 
First-time filings for unemployment insurance fell by 34,000 to 262,000 in the week ended April 25, the lowest since April 15, 2000, a Labor Department report showed Thursday in Washington. The figure was smaller than the lowest projection in a Bloomberg survey of economists.
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. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 27 of the last 33 weeks.
Police gather at North Ave and Pennsylvania Ave in Baltimore, Md., April 28, 2015. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Reuters)

Leaked document blames Freddie Gray for his injuries

04/30/15 08:00AM

The recent unrest in Baltimore is the result of many factors which stretch back generations, but the recent tumult is largely tied to the death of one man: Freddie Gray.
 
By now, the basic details are no doubt familiar: the 25-year-old Gray was arrested two weeks ago, reportedly on a weapons charge, and then died a week later. According to family attorneys, Gray's death was the result of a severed spine, which local officials have not yet explained.
 
Last night, the Washington Post reported on a leaked document, written by a Baltimore police investigator, that takes the story in a rather striking direction.
A prisoner sharing a police transport van with Freddie Gray told investigators that he could hear Gray "banging against the walls" of the vehicle and believed that he "was intentionally trying to injure himself," according to a police document obtained by The Washington Post.
 
The prisoner, who is currently in jail, was separated from Gray by a metal partition and could not see him. His statement is contained in an application for a search warrant, which is sealed by the court. The Post was given the document under the condition that the prisoner not be named because the person who provided it feared for the inmate's safety.
Though the claims are extraordinarily hard to believe, this is the first tidbit of information the public has received from inside the official investigation into Gray's death.
 
As Rachel noted on the show last night, "Leaks like this always serve somebody's purpose. We have no idea who gave this to the Washington Post or what their interests are in having done so."
 
An attorney representing the Gray family said in a statement, "We disagree with any implication that Freddie severed his own spinal cord."

Bernie Sanders is running and other headlines

04/30/15 07:40AM

Bernie Sanders: 'I am running in this election to win.' (USA Today)

Many in Baltimore incorrectly expect police report on Freddie Gray to be released tomorrow. (Baltimore Sun)

Report says American Psychological Association collaborated on torture justification. (New York Times)

GOP plans for reacting to Supreme Court ruling on health law. (AP)

Mayoral race in South Dakota to be decided by chance. (Daily Republic)

Rescuers pull Nepal quake survivor from rubble 5 days later. (AP)

Nigeria says it has rescued another 'large group' from Boko Haram. (NBC News)

read more

Frustration mixes with hope in Baltimore

Frustration mixes with hope in Baltimore

04/29/15 11:17PM

Trymaine Lee, reporter for MSNBC, and Baltimore resident April Love talk with Rachel Maddow about the day's protests and the hopes among Baltimore residents that recent events will help move the city forward. Joy-Ann Reid joins with further perspective. watch

Resistance as Baltimore curfew takes effect

Resistance as Baltimore curfew takes effect

04/29/15 10:55PM

Joy-Ann Reid, national correspondent for MSNBC, talks with Rachel Maddow as the 10 p.m. curfew in Baltimore approaches and many people remain on the street even as leaders like Congressman Elijah Cummings implore them to go home. watch

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