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Obama's prison visit signals political shift

Obama's prison visit signals political shift

07/16/15 09:51PM

Rachel Maddow reports on President Barack Obama's visit to a federal prison in Oklahoma today, the first such visit by a sitting president ever, and notes that as remarkable as the president's comments are, so is the lack of political pushback. watch

Aurora shooter guilty after harrowing trial

Aurora shooter guilty after harrowing trial

07/16/15 09:44PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the guilty verdict in the trial of the Aurora, Colorado mass shooter, and shares video excerpts of the dramatic trial testimony of some of the 256 witnesses to the horrific event. The jury rejected the defense of insanity. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 7.16.15

07/16/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Criminal justice: "President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to see the inside of a federal prison on Thursday in Oklahoma, capping a week of events aimed at rallying support for criminal justice reform. 'There but for the grace of God,' Obama told reporters after meeting with six non-violent drug offenders ... and gazing into one of the 90-square foot cells in which they live."
 
* Eurozone: "Germany's finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble, suggested on Thursday that Greece might be better off leaving the euro, saying that a temporary exit from the common currency could give the country additional flexibility to reduce its crippling debt load."
 
* Education: "No Child Left Behind is a step closer to a major overhaul giving far more flexibility to states to act -- or not -- on poorly performing schools. The vote on the Senate bill -- 81 to 17 -- sends it to a conference with the House bill, which the White House threatened to veto."
 
* Israel: "When President Obama called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday to discuss the nuclear deal with Iran, the American president offered the Israeli leader, who had just deemed the agreement a "historic mistake," a consolation prize: a fattening of the already generous military aid package the United States gives Israel."
 
* Middle East: "U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter will travel to Saudi Arabia as part of the Obama administration's efforts to convince skeptical allies in the region about the benefits of the Iran nuclear deal, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on Wednesday."
 
* A worthwhile endeavor: "President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged the expansion of high-speed Internet access to low-income children in rural communities by talking about a young woman who once had to stand on a rock to get cell-phone service."
 
* Alabama: "A Cullman-based attorney has filed a lawsuit against Alabama's governor saying Robert Bentley didn't have the authority to remove Confederate flags from the grounds of the state Capitol."
The windows of the Armed Forces Recruitment Center have several bullet holes from a shooting as the area is cordoned off with blue shell casing markers in the parking lot, July 16, 2015 in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press/AP)

Tennessee mass shooting leaves four Marines dead

07/16/15 04:23PM

The timing of today's news is itself gut-wrenching. The gunman in the Charleston mass shooting was in court this morning; the verdict in the Aurora mass shooting is expected later today; and this afternoon, a gunman killed four Marines in attacks on two military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
 
NBC News' Pete Williams and Courtney Kube reported this afternoon:
The gunman was killed after a shootout with police at the second facility, authorities said. It was not immediately clear whether police killed him or he killed himself. [...]
 
Bill Killian, the top federal prosecutor for eastern Tennessee, said the attack was being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism. The shootings happened about 40 minutes and six miles apart, first at a military recruitment station and then at a Navy and Marines reserve center.
A police officer and a Marine recruiter were among those injured in the mass shooting. Their injuries are not expected to be life-threatening, and the recruiter is reportedly already been treated and released.
 
We don't yet know anything about the gunman or his motives, though officials believe he acted alone. We also do not yet have the names of the victims, whose families are still being notified.
Image: 83409718

McCain knows all about 'firing up the crazies'

07/16/15 02:40PM

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) talked to msnbc's Andrea Mitchell last week, and seemed eager to put some distance between himself and Donald Trump, calling the Republican candidate "offensive."
 
The senator went further talking to the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza.
"It's very bad," McCain, who was eager to talk about Trump, told me on Monday when I stopped by his Senate office. The Senator is up for re-election in 2016, and he pays close attention to how the issue of immigration is playing in his state. He was particularly rankled by Trump's rally. "This performance with our friend out in Phoenix is very hurtful to me," McCain said. "Because what he did was he fired up the crazies." [...]
 
"We have a very extreme element within our Republican Party," McCain said. ... "Now he galvanized them," McCain said. "He's really got them activated."
His criticisms have real merit. By national standards, McCain is pretty far to the right, but for much of the GOP base -- inside Arizona and out -- he's a moderate sellout worthy of conservatives' wrath. The senator has seen the "crazies" and the Republican Party's "extreme element" up close, so he knows of what he speaks.
 
But reading McCain's concerns, there's a nagging question: isn't this the guy who wanted to put Sarah Palin one heartbeat from the presidency of the United States?
 
When McCain elevated the former half-term governor to national prominence, was it because the senator saw her as a brilliant visionary, or was it because he wanted her to "fire up the crazies" and get them "activated"?

The money race leaves some candidates behind

07/16/15 01:10PM

There's no shortage of money circulating in the 2016 presidential race. NBC News' First Read, taking note of the official second-quarter fundraising reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, reports $385 million has already been donated to either candidates or affiliated entities like super PACs.
 
Given that the actual presidential election is still 69 weeks away, that's a pretty striking figure.
 
Of course, the money isn't divided evenly. I put together the above chart to show how the most competitive candidates are doing, omitting candidates who've raised below $3 million.
 
Note, the lighter colors -- red for Republicans, blue for Democrats -- show how much money the candidates have raised through their campaigns, while the darker colors show how much has been raised by the candidates' allied, outside groups.
 
For some, it's not a pretty picture. The race for votes is obviously paramount, but at this stage in the election cycle, the race for donors matters, too.
 
Some caveats are in order, just to help add some context to all of this:

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.16.15

07/16/15 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:
 
* Gov. Scott Walker's Republican presidential campaign received some good news this morning when the Wisconsin Supreme Court blocked "a secret investigation into millions of dollars spent on financing of recall election victories by Walker and other Republicans."
 
* Walker has also tried to clarify this week's comments about protecting Boy Scouts from gay leaders. He's trying to argue now that he meant protecting the Scouts from a political controversy.
 
* Ted Cruz wants Fox News to change its criteria for upcoming debates, only including national polls with at least 1,000 respondents, all of which are contacted via phone instead of online, and which must not be conducted over a Friday or Saturday. The number of polls conducted this year that would pass that criteria? Zero.
 
* Speaking of Cruz, the far-right Texas senator has apparently landed on the New York Times best-seller list after all. The presidential hopeful's book is now #7 on the list for hardcover non-fiction.
 
* A new PPP poll in Nevada shows Hillary Clinton leading each of her Republican rivals by relatively modest margins. Marco Rubio comes the closest, trailing the Democratic frontrunner by five points, 48% to 43%.
 
* On a related note, the same poll shows a very competitive open U.S. Senate race in Nevada, with Catherine Cortez Masto (D) leading Rep. Joe Heck (R) by just one point, 42% to 41%.
In this March 19, 1987 file photo, President Reagan gestures during a news conference at the White House in Washington.

When 'hard-liners' dominate the GOP

07/16/15 11:40AM

Given that the American right has opposed every diplomatic nuclear agreement in modern times, it hardly comes as a surprise that conservatives are apoplectic about the new international deal with Iran. As we talked about yesterday, even Ronald Reagan -- a man with near-religious status in GOP circles -- was accused of "appeasement" and compared to Chamberlain by conservatives in the mid-1980s.
 
The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne Jr. has more details on this in his new column.
When President Ronald Reagan met Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva in November 1985, he whispered to the Soviet leader: "I bet the hard-liners in both our countries are bleeding when we shake hands."
 
Reagan had a point. His inclination to negotiate with the Evil Empire left many of his conservative friends aghast. In an otherwise touchingly affectionate assessment of the 40th president's tenure, my Post colleague George F. Will said that Reagan had "accelerated the moral disarmament of the West  ... by elevating wishful thinking to the status of political philosophy."
 
Further right, the conservative activist Howard Phillips accused Reagan of being "a very weak man with a very strong wife and a strong staff" who had become "a useful idiot for Kremlin propaganda."
If you're under the impression that Reagan's exalted, glorious status among Republicans has always been true, you're mistaken. When the GOP president was actually in office, the right disagreed with him fairly regularly.
 
And in the case of nuclear diplomacy, vehemently. The comparisons to 2015 are admittedly imprecise, but Reagan's negotiations were arguably more shocking -- the Soviet Union was a nuclear superpower. We were in the midst of a Cold War against a powerful foe committed to the destruction of the United States, with the military resources needed to destroy the United States altogether.
 
Reagan ignored the "hard-liners" in both countries and struck a deal. The right howled, but they lost the debate, and history vindicates the negotiations.
 
But Dionne's column got me thinking: 30 years later, where are the Republicans who aren't "hard-liners"?
United States Representative Scott Garrett speaks during a Reuters Finance Summit in Washington February 28, 2011.

House Republican sees his party as too gay-friendly

07/16/15 11:00AM

On Capitol Hill, members have an expectation that their party will be there for them when they need it. So, for example, if an incumbent lawmaker is facing a tough re-election fight, he or she will count on their party to invest resources in the district or state.
 
But the relationship is also supposed to work both ways, and there's an equal expectation that members will be there for their party. To that end, members are expected to pay "dues" to their relevant campaign committees -- House Democrats, for example, are supposed to pony up money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which exists to recruit and elect House Democratic candidates.
 
The DCCC's counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), has had some trouble lately collecting dues from members who'd rather not pony up. Members have their own reasons, but Politico reports today on one recalcitrant member in particular.
[New Jersey Rep. Scott Garrett] has angered GOP leaders and many members of the committee. He voted against Boehner's bid for another term as speaker, bucked leadership on a critical procedural vote and has refused to pay National Republican Congressional Committee dues.
 
Garrett first responded that his procedural vote against leadership was a matter of conscience. Then he stunned the room with this explanation: He had not supported the NRCC in the past, he said, because it actively recruited gay candidates and supported homosexuals in primaries.
Yes, a House GOP lawmaker from New Jersey is convinced that the National Republican Congressional Committee is just too friendly towards gay people.
 
Remember, in the Republican National Committee's post-2012 autopsy, party officials said Republicans need to appeal to "gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too."
 
Apparently, some in the party not only feel differently, they're willing to withhold party dues in protest.
Traffic is at a standstill on Interstate 65 northbound as officials work to clear abandoned vehicles in Hoover, Ala. Jan.  29, 2014.

A case study in how not to govern responsibly

07/16/15 10:14AM

The Highway Trust Fund, which plays a key role in financing U.S. infrastructure projects, was set to run out of money in May, but Congress approved a two-month extension. The stop-gap measure was necessary -- it prevented an abrupt halt to a variety of ongoing projects -- but the need for a real, lasting solution didn't disappear.
 
The good news is, even Republicans don't want the Highway Trust Fund to run dry. The bad news is, with another deadline looming in two weeks, members are once again weighing a short-term extension.
 
And the worst news is how the GOP-led House is crafting its solution.
 
The House yesterday approved a five-month extension of the Fund -- it passed 312 to 119 -- which is intended to give members even more time to work on a long-term package. The Washington Post reported yesterday on what some Republican leaders have in mind.
House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) backed the five-month extension in hopes of using the extra time to finalize a plan to pay for a long-term reauthorization of the fund through a pot of money generated by changing the tax code for multinational corporations. While [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell] does not favor this approach, the bipartisan House vote could  increase pressure on Senate Republicans to now embrace a short-term extension of the program so negotiations over a years long extension can be given a chance to work. [...]
 
Money for highway funding would come from a one-time tax on all of the cash and assets companies are already holding overseas, a process known as "deemed repatriation."
 
The broad outlines of the plan are in place but critical details, like what rates companies will pay, have not yet been determined.
This probably sounds complicated, but stick with me. This is going somewhere.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker fields questions from Bruce Rastetter at the Iowa Ag Summit on March 7, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Wisconsin's Walker overeager on drug testing and welfare

07/16/15 09:30AM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker kicked off his Republican presidential campaign this week, and in his launch speech, the governor included a specific boast about his record.
 
"In Wisconsin, we enacted a program that says that adults who are able to work must be enrolled in one of our job training programs before they can get a welfare check," Walker said. "Now, as of the budget I just signed, we are also making sure they can take a drug test."
 
As ThinkProgress noted, the GOP-led state legislature originally added a provision that would have limited the drug testing of low-income residents to welfare applicants with "reasonable suspicion" of drug abuse, but Walker scrapped the caveats -- he wanted no limits.
 
This opens Wisconsin to likely litigation, but Walker isn't worried about being sued. In fact, as the Huffington Post reported yesterday, Walker is actually filing a related lawsuit of his own.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, one of many Republicans seeking their party's presidential nomination, is suing the federal government over his plan to make some food stamp recipients pee in cups to prove they're not on drugs.
 
Federal law doesn't give states much room to impose new conditions on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. The program is known informally by its former name, food stamps, and in Wisconsin it's called FoodShare.
Just so we're clear, Walker can -- and will -- impose drug tests on some struggling Wisconsin residents when they apply for state aid. But as of this week, the governor also wants to impose drug tests on Wisconsin residents who apply for federal aid in the form of food stamps.
 
Federal law won't let him do that. "Gov. Walker hasn't read the law," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told The Huffington Post yesterday. "It's always a good idea before you start litigation to understand what the law is."
 Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) of the House Select Committee on Benghazi speaks to reporters at a press conference on the findings of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's personal emails at the U.S. Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

Benghazi committee goes off the rails

07/16/15 08:41AM

The existence of the House Select Committee on Benghazi has always been hard to explain, even for those who support it enthusiastically. It's only now that the panel's purpose is coming into sharper focus.
 
The trouble, of course, is that the committee is wholly unnecessary. Over the course of two years, the deadly 2012 terrorist attack in Libya was investigated by the independent State Department Accountability Review Board, the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. None of these probes uncovered evidence to substantiate right-wing conspiracy theories.
 
And yet, House Republican leaders decided what Congress really needs is another committee to re-do what the other committees have already done.
 
The explanation is ugly, but increasingly obvious. The Associated Press reported this week that the GOP-led panel "has devolved from an investigation into the deaths of four Americans in Libya into a political fight over Hillary Rodham Clinton's emails and private computer server -- a battle that is likely to stretch into the 2016 presidential election year."
 
Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and his GOP brethren are no longer being subtle about this. Just yesterday, several Democratic members of the committee wrote to Gowdy to remind him of his own Benghazi-related schedule, which Republicans are now ignoring. From the letter:
"At the beginning of this year, Select Committee Republicans provided Democrats with detailed information about their plans to hold 11 hearings between January and October on a wide range of topics relating to the Benghazi attacks. Since then, however, Republicans have completely abandoned this plan -- holding no hearings at all since January and instead focusing on former Secretary Hillary Clinton. Amazingly, the last eight press releases on the Select Committee's webpage deal entirely with Secretary Clinton."
It's almost as if the House's Benghazi committee no longer has any interest in Benghazi.

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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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