Even die-hard GOP partisans sometimes find it difficult to justify the House Republicans' Benghazi committee. The party struggled to explain why it was necessary in the first place -- the deadly 2012 attack was already examined by seven other congressional committees -- and the rationale is even more elusive now that the investigation is the longest in the history of the United States.
Making matters slightly worse, the GOP-led committee has conducted itself in such a way as to raise concerns that the entire endeavor is little more than a taxpayer-funded election scheme.
Keep that in mind when reading about House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) -- the likely next Speaker of the House -- and his interview on Fox News last night. Roll Callreported this morning on the Republican leader's on-air comments:
“What you’re going to see is a conservative Speaker, that takes a conservative Congress, that puts a strategy to fight and win. And let me give you one example. Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?
“But we put together a Benghazi special committee. A select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known that any of that had happened had we not fought to make that happen.”
Michael Kinsley once said a political gaffe occurs when a politician accidentally tells the truth. By this measure, the man who's likely to become Speaker of the House next month made an important mistake last night.
Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina spoke at an event yesterday hosted by the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, where she reflected on the difference between the worlds of politics and business. "Politics is a fact-free zone," she said. "People just say things."
Even by 2015 standards, the irony was almost overwhelming. The principal criticism of Fiorina is that she has an unfortunate habit of saying things that aren't true -- and then embracing those falsehoods with unnerving vigor when confronted with reality.
Take Fiorina's Planned Parenthood lie, for example. It started with a bogus claim during a recent debate, which was quickly discredited, but which the GOP candidate falsely claimed was true over and over and over again. When pressed for evidence, Fiorina's campaign staff tried to bolster the falsehood, but the "proof" wasn't true, either.
The video depicting a live fetus allegedly being kept alive to harvest its organs that Carly Fiorina described during the last Republican presidential debate has been published in full online, according to its creator.
Gregg Cunningham, the founder of the group that collected the footage, called the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, told TIME magazine that the full video was released on Tuesday, as a YouTube clip titled “Carly was right.”
The problem, of course, is that the video doesn't prove that at all. Vox's Sarah Kliff unpacked the key details:
Courtney Kube, NBC News national security producer, talks with Rachel Maddow about the counter-offensive planned by Afghan forces to retake the city of Kunduz from the Taliban, and the role the U.S. will play in the operation. watch
Rachel Maddow offers a coda to the story of the capital of Oregon taking The Rachel Maddow Show's suggestion for a more explicit attack-owl warning sign with news that TRMS graphic artist Allegra Flores has been honored with an award for helping the city. watch
Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood Federation of America president, talks with Rachel Maddow about the favor Planned Parenthood enjoys with Americans because of the health services they provide, and what she sees as an obsession among elected Republicans to end women's reproductive health care. watch
Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood Federation of America president, talks with Rachel Maddow about the five hours of testimony she gave in Congress today, and explains the facts (surprisingly unfamiliar to many members of Congress) of what Planned Parenthood actually does, how its funding works, and truth about the role of Planned Parenthood in... watch
* Afghanistan: "Afghan forces backed by a U.S. airstrike launched a 'large-scale operation' to rout the Taliban from a key city after militants seized a provincial capital in a stunning setback for the Western-backed government."
* In theory, this doesn't have to be pointless: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker John Boehner are opening budget negotiations with President Obama. McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Tuesday that he and Boehner (R-Ohio) spoke to Obama last week and expect to sit down more officially with the administration 'soon.'"
* My MSNBC colleague Irin Carmon showed extraordinary patience -- and perseverance -- by attending the entire House Oversight Committee hearing today. She reported on what she saw.
* That was quick: "A sudden swell of enthusiasm for Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) to make a late-entry bid into the race for House majority leader faded almost as quickly as it began."
* Georgia: "Despite an 11th-hour appeal from Pope Francis, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has rejected a clemency bid by Kelly Gissendaner, the mother of three scheduled to die by lethal injection Tuesday evening for her role in her husband's 1997 murder."
* Worth watching: "Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. shares fell the most in four years after Democrats in the U.S. House asked to subpoena the company for documents relating to drug price increases, the latest move by politicians seeking to curb price hikes on drugs."
* A narrower case moves forward: "A federal judge overseeing the corruption case against Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and a Florida ophthalmologist on Monday dismissed some bribery charges, though allowed most to stand."
* Keep an eye on this one: "The House Ethics Committee has extended its review of Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) and his congressional office over allegations by a former staffer of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment."
Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, who'll be on tonight's show, no doubt expected a contentious hearing today when she appeared before the House Oversight Committee. But what she probably didn't expect is what Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) had in store for their exchange.
As the accompanying video shows, the Utah Republican put a chart on display, purporting to show that over the last decade, the number of prevention services provided by the health care group has steadily declined, while the number of abortions has steadily increased.
Part of the problem, as MSNBC's Zack Roth reported, is that the information in the chart is misleading [Update: this is what the chart would have looked like if it were honest]. But nearly as important is the fact the congressman presenting the image as devastating evidence simply didn't know what he was talking about.
When Richards said she’d never seen it before, Chaffetz replied: “It comes straight from your annual reports.”
Moments later, Richards shot back: “My lawyers just informed me that the source of this information is Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group. I would check your source.”
The Utah Republican lectured the Planned Parenthood chief, certain that the misleading image had come from Planned Parenthood materials. It apparently didn't occur to Chaffetz to actually look at the darned thing -- it literally says, "Source: Americans United for Life," in all capital letters, on the chart he was so excited about.
The GOP lawmaker thought he'd use this "proof" to embarrass Planned Parenthood, but it was Chaffetz who looked ridiculous.
Of course, this was just part of a long, multi-part hearing. Perhaps other Republican members of the Oversight Committee were better prepared?
A week ago, the House Republicans' four-member leadership team was in place and secure. This week, the dynamic can fairly be characterized as chaotic.
The New York Times, among other news organizations, highlighted the "Draft Gowdy" movement that came together quickly among House Republicans overnight.
House conservatives, fearful that the post-John A. Boehner era of leadership may look more like a modestly renovated old house than a newly built one, have begun to cast about for one of their own to join the upper ranks: the head of the committee that has been ripping into Hillary Rodham Clinton for well over a year.
While Representative Kevin McCarthy of California appears to have the momentum to become the next speaker of the House, the race for his current job, majority leader, has been thrown into a bit of chaos, with the only female candidate for the post withdrawing from consideration and an incipient grass-roots effort emerging to persuade Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, who has been leading the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email account as secretary of state, to step into the race.
Gowdy was tasked with examining the deadly 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, but his panel has since evolved into a taxpayer-funded anti-Clinton operation -- which has led to widespread praise for the South Carolinian among his GOP colleagues.
Indeed, there was quite a bit of chatter overnight that some House Republicans actually hoped to persuade Gowdy to run for Speaker of the House, though as the morning progressed, it seemed more likely that he'll compete for House Majority Leader.
Gowdy has not yet officially announced whether he'll pursue any position in the GOP leadership, though some of his closest allies are now pushing his unannounced candidacy with great vigor.
Of course, Gowdy's plans aren't the only source of intrigue. With an old adage, "You can't tell the players without a scorecard," in mind, let's take stock of how the post-Boehner landscape is taking shape.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Ben Carson publicly addressed the idea of running outside the Republican Party yesterday, telling a radio host, “If I had to, I would, but I don’t think it’s necessary." When the host pressed further, asking whether he'd run as an independent if he failed to win the GOP nomination, Carson replied, “No, I didn’t say that at all. That’s not what I’m saying. I have no intention of running an outside campaign. Zero.”
* Hillary Clinton's new TV ad shines a light on her prescription-drug plan, but pay particular attention to its reference to Turing Pharmaceuticals' controversial CEO, Martin Shkreli.
* Clinton also went after Jeb Bush yesterday, slamming the Republican's "free stuff" remarks last week as "deeply insulting."
* For his part, as was noted on last night's show, Team Jeb is starting to invest heavily in TV ad time in early nominating states, "setting aside $4.6 million in New Hampshire alone. The campaign was also placing $1 million in ads in Iowa and $2.2 million in South Carolina."
* Despite the controversy surrounding his extramarital affair North Dakota Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley (R) said he planned to run for governor next year. Yesterday, he changed his mind, and withdrew from consideration.
* CNN made a point of letting Vice President Biden know that if he chooses to run for president, he will qualify for the upcoming debate for Democratic candidates. That event is just two weeks from tonight.
Over the summer, Republican policymakers crafted a plan they were very excited about. Taking advantage of highly edited, controversial videos, GOP officials would create a Planned Parenthood "scandal," tear down the health care organization's reputation, strip its public funding, and launch investigations to uncover Planned Parenthood wrongdoing.
Republicans were quite confident the whole gambit would be awesome.
Adding insult to injury, the latest NBC News poll shows public support for Planned Parenthood going up, not down, over the summer -- to the point that the group is now far more popular than both of the major political parties. Other recent polling has offered similar results.
It's against this backdrop that the Washington Post's Dave Weigel reports that GOP lawmakers are more than a little frustrated.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was perplexed. Two long months had passed since the Center for Medical Progress started releasing undercover videos in which current and former Planned Parenthood employees described the grim economics of fetal tissue harvesting. Since then, a long congressional recess had come and gone and Republican-run states had redoubled their efforts to defund the family planning titan. Yet in the most recent poll from Reuters/Ipsos, 54 percent of voters still favored federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
"Those numbers are news to me," said King. "I haven’t paid any attention to the polls. But am I surprised? Yes."
Weigel added, "Republican messaging has been impeccable.... Yet the numbers haven't moved."
If they have moved, the numbers have shifted slightly in Planned Parenthood's favor.
The good news for Carly Fiorina's Republican presidential campaign is that it's largely where she and her supporters want it to be. Polls show her as a top-tier contender, and with that backing comes more attention, more fundraising, and more endorsements.
The bad news for Fiorina is that with top-tier status comes top-tier scrutiny -- and for a candidate who's never won an election or held public office, having the spotlight can bring trouble.
The GOP candidate's stubborn insistence that fiction is fact has already caused her campaign some headaches. Yesterday, a new problem emerged when Fiorina sat down with Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff.
Positioning herself as a steely advocate of aggressive counterterrorism programs, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina offered a vigorous defense of CIA waterboarding as a tactic that helped “keep our nation safe” in the aftermath of 9/11.
“I believe that all of the evidence is very clear -- that waterboarding was used in a very small handful of cases [and] was supervised by medical personnel in every one of those cases,” Fiorina told Yahoo News. “And I also believe that waterboarding was used when there was no other way to get information that was necessary.”
She added that she's aware of the report from the Senate Intelligence Committee, several years in the making, which found that waterboarding was as brutal as it was ineffective, but Fiorina dismissed the bipartisan findings as "disingenuous."
In other words, as is the case in Fiorina's other controversy, she's aware of what the facts are, but she prefers her version of reality to everyone else's.
As recently as May, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) looked like a fairly competitive presidential candidate. He was a top-tier contender in nearly all national polls, some of which the senator actually led. In June, Paul's average national support was still in double digits -- a status most of the Republican field has never claimed.
The summer, however, was less than kind to the Kentucky lawmaker, and Paul's support has slowly evaporated. The latest NBC poll found him in eighth place with just 3% support, and that was one of his better showings. The latest Fox News poll showed Paul in 10th place with 2%, while the latest Quinnipiac results pointed to Paul at just 1% -- tied with George Pataki, who's barely trying.
And it's against this backdrop, as he makes the transition from contender to afterthought, that Rand Paul has decided to "turn his attention to fundraising for his Senate reelection efforts."
Paul, who is running for president and reelection to the Senate simultaneously, will attend fundraisers for his Senate campaign on Wednesday and Thursday in Washington, D.C., according to invitations for the events obtained by The Hill.
One Republican operative with close ties to Kentucky politics warned against reading too much into Paul’s Senate fundraisers, saying it’s not a sign that Paul is giving up on running for president, but rather a necessity of running for two offices at once.
Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.