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Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz speaks at the Americans for Prosperity Road to Reform event on Aug. 14, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by John Locher/AP)

Following cancer announcement, Carter draws fire from Cruz

08/21/15 04:54PM

Five days after Beau Biden's death, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) appeared at a Michigan fundraiser where he publicly mocked Vice President Biden. A reporter for the Detroit News asked Cruz after his remarks about the propriety of taking rhetorical shots at Biden, so soon after his son' death, and Cruz simply walked away without answering.
A day later, the far-right senator realized he was wrong. "It was a mistake to use an old joke about Joe Biden during his time of grief, and I sincerely apologize," Cruz said in a statement.
It was, of course, the right decision. Politics can get rough, but basic human dignity requires at least some sense of limits.
Two months later, however, here we are again. NBC News reported from the Iowa State Fair:
In his “soapbox” remarks at the Iowa State Fair on Friday, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz criticized Jimmy Carter’s presidency - a day after Carter’s moving public admission about his cancer.
“I think where we are today is very, very much like the late 1970’s. I think the parallels between this administration and the Carter administration are uncanny, same failed domestic policy, same misery, stagnation and malaise, same feckless and naive foreign policy. In fact, the exact same countries, Russia and Iran, openly laughing at and mocking the president of the United States.”
On a substantive note, Cruz's rhetoric is plainly ridiculous and deeply at odds with reality. Even he ought to know better.
But even putting facts and pesky policy details aside, it was literally yesterday when former President Jimmy Carter, now 90, spoke publicly about cancer spreading to his brain and the medical treatment he's receiving.
Cruz couldn't take cheap shots at the ailing former president some other time?
Paul LePage

GOP governor to voters: 'Just ask me to leave'

08/21/15 03:42PM

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R), among his many other legislative problems, is facing the possibility of impeachment as part of an abuse-of-power scandal. In an unexpected twist, the Tea Party governor has said impeachment may be unnecessary -- because he's willing to resign from office.
If you missed last night's show, the Bangor Daily News reported this week on a LePage interview from July 30, in which he suggested he'll step down if Mainers personally ask him to.
When LePage was asked if he's worried about an impeachment proceeding, he responded:
"If the people of Maine want me, I'll do the job. If they don't want me, just ask me to leave. You don't have to impeach me.... So far, I've only got four people write me that wanted me to resign."
We know of a retired librarian in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, who wrote to his governor, asking LePage to step down. The note was not well received -- LePage wrote back personally, saying, "Not going to happen."
But might it happen? In that radio interview, the governor made it sounds as if resignation is on the table -- if enough Mainers write to the governor's office, asking him to step down, he'd actually consider it.
Thomas J. Donohue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, answers questions after speaking at his annual "State of American Business" address at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington

Chamber of Commerce readies a risky bet

08/21/15 12:46PM

The next national elections are still 444 days away, but the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is already hard at work, intervening in all kinds of races. For the most part, the influential business lobby is directing campaign resources to vulnerable allies, but the Chamber's plans for the cycle actually go much further.
Politico reported last month that the Chamber, "frustrated after much of its agenda has been stymied by a small pocket of conservative GOP lawmakers," is gearing up to take on some congressional Republicans in primaries. The message to allies on Capitol Hill wasn't subtle: the more Republicans block policy priorities important to Big Business, the more likely the Chamber will back those lawmakers' intra-party rivals.
Conversely, the Associated Press reported yesterday that the Chamber of Commerce is also taking an unexpected interest in Democratic primaries.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is weighing a major role in Democratic primaries in key congressional races nationally, which could produce weakened nominees who would be more easily defeated by Republicans, according to an internal memo obtained on Thursday by the Associated Press.
The unorthodox strategy could heighten Democratic upheaval in states like Florida and Pennsylvania where the party is struggling to unite around a nominee as it fights to retake the Senate -- and that appears to be precisely the Chamber's goal.
According to the AP's report, the Chamber's internal memo "lists nine races -- four for the Senate and five for the House of Representatives -- in which it is considering getting involved in the Democratic primaries to benefit Republican candidates."
The document was reportedly written by the Chamber's "top two political officials," Rob Engstrom and Scott Reed, and sent to "members of the Chamber's Public Affairs Committee."

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.21.15

08/21/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* The center-right Hispanic Leadership Network has warned Republican candidates for years: don't talk about "anchor babies." Jeb Bush has been active with the Hispanic Leadership Network, but he nevertheless defended his use of the phrase yesterday.
* Marco Rubio, meanwhile, said yesterday he does not use the phrase.
* Speaking of rhetoric, Jeb Bush told voters yesterday that being a president means being a "decider." Maybe there's some kind of family script the Bushes are expected to stick to?
* In Wisconsin, the new Marquette poll shows former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) leading incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R), 47% to 42%, in their rematch.
* The same poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders among Wisconsin Democrats, 44% to 32%. The poll included Vice President Biden, who was third with 12% support.
* Clinton is in far better shape in North Carolina, where she leads Sanders, 55% to 19%, according to PPP.
* Campaigning in Iowa this week, John Kasich met a voter who asked , "In Ohio, I know half of the abortion centers closed. Can you do that in the country if I vote for you?" The Republican governor replied, "We'll do our best."
Former business executive Carly Fiorina prepares to speak to guests gathered at the Point of Grace Church for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition 2015 Spring Kickoff on April 25, 2015 in Waukee, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Fiorina looks past the complexities of governing

08/21/15 11:32AM

Looking back throughout U.S. history, presidential experience has varied quite a bit. Some were governors, some were senators. Many wore the uniform. Some served in an executive-branch cabinet, a few served in the U.S. House. A handful checked more than one of these boxes.
But here's a good trivia question for you: who was the last president to get elected without ever serving in the military or holding public office? It's actually a trick question: it's literally never happened. Every American president has either held office, worn the uniform, or both before getting elected.
This year, however, a few Republicans believe they can buck the historical trend, and that group includes Carly Fiorina, a failed U.S. Senate candidate who had a rough tenure in the private sector. The Washington Post reports today on a Fiorina event in Iowa, where the GOP candidate fielded a question from a veteran who said he was having trouble getting a doctor's appointment through Veterans Affairs.
"Listen to that story," Fiorina said. "How long has [VA] been a problem? Decades. How long have politicians been talking about it? Decades."
Fiorina said she would gather 10 or 12 veterans in a room, including the gentleman from the third row, and ask what they want. Fiorina would then vet this plan via telephone poll, asking Americans to "press one for yes on your smartphone, two for no."
"You know how to solve these problems," she said, "so I'm going to ask you."
It's a curious approach, both to policymaking and presidential leadership. Fiorina apparently believes she can round up a dozen veterans -- who may or may not have an administrative background -- who can resolve years of challenges facing the VA.
Fiorina, at least for now, isn't offering her own solution to VA troubles, other than to rely on veterans with cell phones to vote in a telephone poll on whether they like what 10 or 12 other veterans came up with. (If enough vets press "two for no," are we to assume Fiorina will simply find another dozen servicemen and women and put them in a room until they come up with some other plan for her?)
There are a variety of ways to describe such an effort. A "serious approach to federal policymaking" isn't one of them.
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) (Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters).

Cruz to appear on Iowa radio show following 'slavery' flap

08/21/15 10:51AM

Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson, an influential figure among the state's conservatives, shared his preferred immigration policy with his listeners this week, and it raised a few eyebrows. As Mickelson sees it, undocumented immigrants would get 60 days to deport themselves, after which they would automatically become "property of the state" and forced into "compelled labor."
When a listener called in to suggest that this "sounds like slavery," Mickelson responded, on the air, "Well, what's wrong with slavery?"
The comments caused a bit of stir, and I hope you saw Chris Hayes' segment on this last night. But the interesting twist came yesterday, when Mickelson told his listeners.
"Good morning everybody, welcome back to the conversation. I'm Jan Mickelson. We have some open line time between now and the bottom of the hour when The Big Show starts. Tomorrow's program, at a little bit after 9 o'clock [AM CST] we'll be talking with Senator Ted Cruz. He will be out here as a presidential candidate. That should be lots and lots of fun and very, very interesting."
As Media Matters' report noted, this will not be Cruz's first appearance on Mickelson's radio talk show.
Under the normal rules of politics, this might seem crazy. A media figure generated national attention for suggesting immigrants should be enslaved in the United States, which should probably make him politically radioactive, at least for a while.
But the rules have clearly changed.
Donald Trump speaks to media at a press conference before a town hall meeting in Derry, N.H., August 19, 2015. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty)

Trump wants to tell you about the 'real' unemployment rate

08/21/15 10:11AM

On the first Friday of every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a report on monthly U.S. job totals and the nation's unemployment rate. In the most recent report, the rate was 5.3% -- its lowest point in more than seven years, and far from its peak of 10% in 2009.
In Republican circles, this poses a bit of a problem. President Obama and his agenda are supposed to be causing an economic nightmare of historic proportions, with "job creators" crying over their balance sheets when they're not being dragged into the streets for their ritual tar-and-feathering. With job creation improving so much, so quickly, conservatives find themselves looking for new ways to talk about the issue.
For some, conspiracy theories are a convenient crutch -- that rascally White House, the argument goes, must be manipulating the data to fool everyone -- while other Republicans make the case that there's a difference between the unemployment rate and the real unemployment rate.
Consider GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump's comments to Time magazine this week:
"We have a real unemployment rate that's probably 21%. It's not 6. It's not 5.2 and 5.5. Our real unemployment rate -- in fact, I saw a chart the other day, our real unemployment -- because you have ninety million people that aren't working. Ninety-three million to be exact. If you start adding it up, our real unemployment rate is 42%."
Note, over the course of a few seconds, Trump said the "real unemployment rate" doubled from 21% to 42%. That escalated quickly.
We're left with two very different sets of numbers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Labor Department have official data that shows a rate of 5.3%. On the other hand, Donald Trump "saw a chart the other day" and came up with 42%.
I'd ordinarily just shrug this off as Trump being Trump, but with so many conservatives looking for ways to question good news, it's worth pausing to appreciate what they're trying to say.
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks during the National Right to Life convention, July 10, 2015, in New Orleans. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/AP)

Can Rubio's biography trump Rubio's agenda?

08/21/15 09:28AM

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) traveled to Detroit yesterday, where he delivered remarks on his tax plan -- a key component of his presidential campaign. Bloomberg Politics had a good summary of the Florida Republican's pitch:
Rubio's plan slashes the corporate tax rate and scrap taxes on dividends, estates and capital gains. It also creates a $2,500 child tax credit and replace the standard deduction and personal exemption with a refundable personal credit. It's not clear how the plan, co-authored by Senator Mike Lee and released earlier this year, a Utah Republican, would be paid for. Democrats say it would increase the deficit.
When dealing with tax plans from Republican presidential candidates, it's best to think about the proposals in terms of degrees of radicalism. Sen. Rand Paul's approach to tax policy, for example, is ... how do I put this gently ... not normal. The Kentucky Republican has a plan that would effectively dismantle much of the federal government and its operations.
By this standard, Rubio's approach seems almost moderate. It even expands some middle-class tax credits, which helps reinforce the impression that the plan isn't completely stacked in favor of the wealthy.
That said, the rich would make out like bandits under Rubio's vision of tax policy. The Center on Budget & Policy Priorities published an analysis in March of the Rubio/Lee package, which concluded the plan is "outrageously" tilted "in favor of the country's highest-income people." The "big losers" under the plan, the CBPP added, "would be the working-poor people who feed and bathe the elderly, care for preschoolers, clean offices, and perform other essential tasks. The big winners would be the country's highest-income 400 filers, at a cost of much higher deficits."
It may not be quite as radical as what some of his 2016 rivals are recommending, but Rubio's plan is far to the right of anything proposed by George W. Bush, John McCain, or even Mitt Romney.
But as a matter of politics, the far-right Floridian believes he can overcome these details. In fact, by some measures, Rubio seems to think the substance isn't nearly as important as his biography, which as Jon Chait noted yesterday, is apparently supposed to trump policy.
In this July 14, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, speaks during a campaign event in Las Vegas. (Photo by John Locher/AP)

Walker struggles to win over his own constituents

08/21/15 08:42AM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's Republican presidential campaign isn't quite where it wanted to be at this point in the process. The far-right governor entered the race as a top-tier contender, a credible choice for the GOP nomination, and a clear favorite to win the Iowa caucuses.
But as August nears its end, Walker's standing isn't nearly as strong as many expected and his once-dominant position in Iowa has slipped, thanks largely to a certain New York real-estate developer.
Walker could really use some good news. Yesterday, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, he received the opposite.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker still leads the GOP presidential primary field in his home state, but his job approval level has dipped and he trails Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton in a head-to-head matchup here, a new poll from the Marquette University Law School shows.
So far, Walker's presidential run is proving no gift to his standing at home.
The Marquette poll, generally considered the best source for Wisconsin surveys, is a bit of a disaster for Walker. It shows, for example, the governor's approval rating dipping to 39% less than a year after his successful re-election campaign. He leads the GOP's 2016 field, but only 25% of Wisconsin Republicans -- a group that should arguably represent Walker's ardent base -- choose their own governor as their preferred presidential candidate.
All of which leads us to the gut-punch: in a head-to-head match-up against Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, Scott Walker trails by double digits -- 52% to 42% -- in his own state. A PPP poll released in the spring showed Walker trailing Clinton in Wisconsin by nine points, suggesting things aren't getting any better for the governor among the voters who know him best.
As if that weren't quite enough, the Marquette poll shows Jeb Bush more competitive against Clinton -- again, in Wisconsin -- than Walker (Bush only trails by five).
It creates an awkward dynamic for Walker and his national campaign. If a GOP voter asks, "Why should I vote you if you're losing in your own state?" there's no easy answer to the question.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., heads to the Senate subway following a vote in the Capitol on Jan. 8, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Tom Cotton puts bad information to good use

08/21/15 08:00AM

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) issued a press release yesterday afternoon with a provocative headline, no doubt intended to raise eyebrows: "Cotton Statement on the Revelation that Iran will be Permitted to Inspect its Own Nuclear Facilities." It quoted the far-right freshman saying:
"Allowing Iran to inspect its own nuclear facilities is reckless and illustrates yet again that this deal is little more than a dangerous list of concessions made by the United States.... This revelation should be the last straw for any undecided Members of Congress. [...]
"Entrusting Iran to verify itself turns what is a bad deal into a farcical one. And the only ones laughing are the ayatollahs."
Well, not the only ones. Anyone who read Cotton's press release who's also aware of reality probably got a chuckle, too.
All of this stems from an Associated Press report from Wednesday that, at least initially, claimed Iran had struck a side deal with the IAEA about Iranians inspecting its own nuclear site. The problem is the AP article turned out to include several key errors -- an issue that became even more alarming when key paragraphs went missing from the AP piece without explanation.
Some news consumers may not remember this, but we saw similar dynamics unfold in 2002 and 2003 -- someone would leak misleading information related to national security to major news outlets; the news outlets would publish mistaken reports; and war proponents would exploit those reports to further an ideological cause.
Referencing the AP's flawed report this week, Borzou Daragahi, a reporter based in the Middle East, said the press is "starting dangerous fires."
And in Tom Cotton's case, politicians desperate to derail diplomatic solutions -- and a little too eager to start yet another war in the Middle East -- are only too glad to fan those flames.


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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.

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