Paul Butler, Georgetown Law professor and former federal prosecutor, talks with Rachel Maddow about what is means that the Justice Department will likely file federal hate crimes charges against the Charleston church shooter for killing nine people. watch
* More on this in the morning: "After no shortage of fits and starts, the centerpiece of President Barack Obama's trade agenda -- Trade Promotion Authority -- is finally heading to his desk."
* The Pakistani death toll has topped 800: "After four days of punishing heat that killed hundreds of people in this southern port city, the temperature and death toll were lower on Wednesday. Health and rescue officials said the number of deaths, which have surpassed 800, was down on Wednesday as the temperature dropped to 98 degrees Fahrenheit."
* Ali Awni al-Harzi: "An American drone strike last week killed a midlevel operative with the Islamic State who had been a conduit for the militant group's outreach to extremists in North Africa, Defense Department officials said on Monday."
* France: "French President Francois Hollande branded alleged spying by the National Security Agency on him and two predecessors as 'unacceptable' on Wednesday."
* South Carolina: "The Chief Magistrate widely criticized for soliciting sympathy for the family of a man accused of fatally shooting nine people during a Bible study last week has been replaced, according to a Wednesday order from the S.C. Supreme Court."
* Baltimore, Part I: "Freddie Gray suffered a single 'high-energy injury' to his neck and spine -- most likely caused when the police van in which he was riding suddenly decelerated, according to a copy of the autopsy report obtained by The Baltimore Sun."
* Baltimore, Part II: each of the officers charged in the Gray case has pleaded not guilty.
* Boston: "A choked-up Dzhokhar Tsarnaev apologized in court Wednesday to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings, then was formally sentenced to die for the attack. 'You told us just how unbearable it was, this thing I put you through,' Tsarnaev said at a hearing in Boston. 'Now, I am sorry for the lives that I have taken.'"
* Eastern Europe: "The U.S. will spread about 250 tanks, armored vehicles and other military equipment across six former Soviet bloc nations to help reassure NATO allies facing threats from Russia and terrorist groups, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Tuesday."
There was a point late last year in which Mitt Romney clearly wanted to run once again for president. Romney and his aides kept telling reporters about his interest, and just as importantly, they told Republican donors to wait before rallying behind a 2016 favorite.
Team Romney realized that Jeb Bush was well positioned to be the GOP establishment's candidate of choice, but Romney and his staff also saw Bush as vulnerable. "You saw what they did to me with Bain [Capital]," Romney reportedly told allies behind closed doors. "What do you think they'll do to [Bush] over Barclays?"
The argument may have lacked self-awareness, but it raised a legitimate point. Jeb Bush's work with the investment banks Lehman Brothers and Barclays would likely be a problem if he wins the Republican nomination.
But perhaps no candidate would be as closely associated with Wall Street as Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R). The Democratic National Committee circulated this clip today of the Ohio Republican talking about his private-sector background.
"My military reform activities were basically completed, so I decided to leave Washington [in 2001]. So, I went out and spent 10 years in the private sector and I just loved it. I never thought that I would be back in politics."
Kasich made similar comments to Time magazine just last week. Asked whether he has any regrets from his time in the private sector, the Ohio Republican was incredulous.
"It was fantastic," Kasich told Time. "Are you kidding? Regrets? I thought it was a fantastic time. I traveled all over the country. I got an incredible education. I worked my tail off. It was great."
As much as I appreciate the governor's enthusiasm, there's a small problem with his "fantastic" experiences in the private sector.
It was just a week ago that a gunman murdered nine people in a Charleston church, renewing an ongoing debate over, among other things, the public's easy access to guns.
Given the way the argument usually goes, it was hard for cynics not to wonder how quickly some policymakers would expand gun rights after the massacre. Now we know.
Scott Walker expanded gun rights in Wisconsin on Wednesday by signing into law two bills that, respectively, get rid of the state's 48-hour waiting period and let retired or off-duty law enforcement officials carry concealed firearms into public schools. [...]
Walker, who is expected to jump into the 2016 presidential race in the next few weeks, often touts his efforts to roll back gun laws in the state. He also has an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association.
In fairness, it's important to emphasize, as the Politicoreport does, that these state measures have been in the works for quite a while -- the Wisconsin bills are unrelated to developments in Charleston.
Still, the timing is jarring. To expand gun rights so soon after yet another mass shooting suggests a certain indifference to the broader debate.
As for the policy itself, Wisconsin Democrats reminded the state's GOP majority that a 48-hour waiting period has been an effective "cooling-off period for those contemplating suicide or who might shoot another person in a fit of passion, especially in cases of domestic abuse."
Walker and his Republican allies were evidently not persuaded.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) announced on Monday that she wants to see the Confederate battle flag taken down from the state capitol grounds. But under state law, the decision isn't entirely hers to make -- the governor will need the cooperation of the Republican-run state legislature.
With this in mind, as we noted on Monday, the Post and Courier newspaper is maintaining a head-count, updated in real time, listing state lawmakers' position on the issue. As of a few minutes ago, support for removing the flag appeared to have the necessary votes in the state Senate, and they're nearing the threshold in the state House.
But it's not unanimous. The Huffington Postflagged one South Carolina lawmaker who's inclined to vote "no."
South Carolina state Rep. Bill Chumley (R) told CNN he thinks the nine victims of a shooting in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, "waited their turn to be shot."
Chumley was defending the use of the Confederate flag at the South Carolina capitol grounds when he made the remarks, blaming "misuse and miseducation of the flag" for the debate over its use. Chumley argued access to guns, not the Confederate flag, is what South Carolina lawmakers should be focusing on in the aftermath of the massacre.
"These people sat in there and waited their turn to be shot," Chumley said. "That's sad. Somebody in there with a means of self-defense could've stopped this."
TPM's report added that Chumley, in the same interview, tried to explain that he's representing his constituents who want the Confederate symbol to remain in place. "We're focusing on the wrong thing here," he said. "We need to be focusing on the nine families that are left and see that this doesn't happen again."
And if he'd just stopped there, his comments would have gone without notice. But the GOP lawmaker just kept going -- suggesting the victims of a mass murder bear some responsibility for the death toll.
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:
* Progressive activists waiting to hear party leaders call the Charleston massacre "terrorism" had reason to take note of Hillary Clinton's speech yesterday. In remarks in Missouri -- not far from the Michael Brown shooting -- the Democratic frontrunner called last week's murders "an act of racist terrorism perpetrated in a house of God."
* To the great disappointment of the DSCC, former Sen. Kay Hagan (D) has decided not to make a comeback bid next year, leaving Democrats with no top-tier challenger in North Carolina to take on incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R).
* In Kentucky, one of three states hosting gubernatorial elections this year, PPP now shows a tight race, with Matt Bevin (R) leading Jack Conway (D), 38% to 35%, with independent Drew Curtis drawing 6%. In a head-to-head matchup, Bevin's lead shrinks from three points to two.
* The Kentucky poll was touted by Republican staffers who've previously said all PPP surveys should be ignored.
* On a related note, Conway, the state's attorney general, announced this morning that he supports removing a Jefferson Davis statue from the state capitol. The Democrat was much slower to draw this conclusion than he should have been.
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) will reportedly announce his presidential plans "by the end of the month." Since June ends on Tuesday, this suggests we can expect a decision within the next six days.
* Right-wing provocateur Ann Coulter blasted South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) last night as "an immigrant" who "does not understand America's history." Haley was born in South Carolina and is not an immigrant.
There's been a flurry of progress in recent days in both the public and private sectors on moving away from Confederate symbols. South Carolina, of course, is at the heart of the developments after last week's massacre in Charleston, and an effort is underway to remove the Confederate battle flag from its capitol grounds.
The broader effort has spread quickly to other Southern states, including Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia. Mississippi is ready to take a fresh look at its official state flag -- a move endorsed this morning by Sen. Roger Wicker (R) -- and Kentucky, with bipartisan backing, is weighing a plan to remove a Jefferson Davis statue from its capitol.
Today, in an unexpected development, the movement reached Alabama in a rather striking way. The Birmingham News had this report this morning:
On the order of Gov. Robert Bentley, the Confederate battle flag which stands at the foot of the confederate memorial on the state Capitol grounds was taken down this morning.
Two workers came out of the Capitol building about 8:20 a.m. and with no fanfare quickly and quietly took the flag down. They declined to answer questions.
When Alabama's Republican governor left his office, he acknowledged that he ordered the flag's removal.
Asked for his reasoning, Bentley told the Birmingham News, "This is the right thing to do. We are facing some major issues in this state regarding the budget and other matters that we need to deal with. This had the potential to become a major distraction as we go forward. I have taxes to raise, we have work to do. And it was my decision that the flag needed to come down."
The governor added that his office checked state law and determined he had the authority to act.
As the Senate prepared to vote yesterday on a key procedural measure on trade, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) made an announcement. Though he'd recently voted for Trade Promotion Authority -- better known as "fast track" -- the Texas Republican had changed his mind, and explained himself in a piece for a right-wing website.
Cruz argued, in a piece circulated to reporters by Heritage Action, that congressional Republican leaders in both chambers struck a secret deal with Democrats to renew the Export-Import Bank and tied the policy to trade bill. There's no proof of any of this -- Cruz's piece didn't include any -- and GOP leaders denied the claims.
But as Roll Callnoted, the senator was just getting started.
[Cruz] went after Boehner for punishing conservatives, "wrongly stripping Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., of his subcommittee chairmanship, and reportedly threatening to strip other conservatives of their chairmanships as well."
If that wasn't direct enough, Cruz had a couple of questions: "Why does Republican Leadership always give in to the Democrats? Why does Leadership always disregard the promises made to the conservative grassroots?"
He added later in the day, "I think it was wrong for the Speaker to punish a conservative for voting his conscience." [For more on this story, see our report from yesterday.]
Cruz has repeatedly partnered with House Republicans -- the senator has teamed up with the lower chamber so often that he's earned the "Speaker Cruz" nickname -- but this was an unusually brash shot across the House GOP's leadership's bow.
It was also a curious move. Cruz's enthusiastic "fast track" support was supposed to be an opportunity for him to prove his interest in actual policymaking. But just as TPA was poised to pass, the Texan ran to Breitbart to thumb his nose at his ostensible Capitol Hill allies.
Roll Call added that after his announcement, "senior GOP aides were practically lining up Tuesday to offer anonymous quotes bashing Cruz."
A poll was released in Louisiana about a month ago that showed President Obama's approval rating in the Pelican State is down to 42%. It didn't come as too big of a surprise, of course -- Louisiana is a deep-red state in the Deep South, and the president lost his re-election bid here by 17 points.
What was surprising, though, was that the same poll found that Obama was four points more popular in Louisiana than Gov. Bobby Jindal (R). Indeed, by some measures, Jindal is the single least popular governor in the United States.
With such ignominy in mind, one might assume the far-right governor would want to run away. Jindal, however, has decided to run for president -- yes, of the United States. MSNBC's Jane C. Timm reported this morning:
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is expected to declare his candidacy for president here on Wednesday, which would make him the 13th Republican to get into the race, after years of injecting himself into the national conversation on everything from terrorism in the Middle East to education.
Speaking from Kenner, in the Louisiana district that first elected Jindal to Congress in 2004, Jindal is set to pitch himself as the candidate who can offer a viable Republican alternative to everything from Common Core to Obamacare.
It's safe to say Jindal, who's wrapping up his second term this year, faces incredibly long, Pataki-like odds of success. Nearly all recent polling shows the Louisianan generating between 0% and 1% support, putting him roughly last in a crowded GOP field, and effectively guaranteeing that he will not participate in the upcoming Republican primary debates.
And to a very real extent, this is a rare example of political meritocracy working effectively. Candidates for national office aren't supposed to parlay failure into promotions.
I've kept an eye on Jindal for a long while, marveling at his bizarre approach to governing, but I still believe the best summary of the governor's troubles came just a few months ago.
Three months ago, President Obama delivered a powerful speech in Selma, Alabama, where he, among other things, called for Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act with a bipartisan bill. Former President George W. Bush, who signed a VRA reauthorization during his tenure, stood and applauded Obama's call.
But soon after the event honoring those who marched at the Edmund Pettus Bridge a half-century ago, Bush's Republican allies made clear that they would ignore the appeal. Asked if Congress should repair the Voting Rights Act formula struck down by the Supreme Court, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) replied, "No," blaming the Obama administration for having "trumped up and created an issue where there really isn't one." As we reported at the time, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) made similar remarks.
The push to put things right, however, isn't over. MSNBC's Zack Roth reports that a new bill to strengthen the Voting Rights Act is ready for consideration.
Lawmakers and civil rights groups said Tuesday evening that they will introduce new legislation aimed at strengthening the Voting Rights Act, ahead of the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court's ruling that badly weakened the landmark civil rights law.
The new measure is in many ways stronger than the bipartisan legislation offered last year with the same goal, which has yet to even receive a hearing in the GOP-controlled Congress.
Last year's bill, the "Voting Rights Amendment Act," was co-authored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who proved to be one of the only GOP lawmakers committed to working on the issue.
This time, the new bill, the "Voting Rights Advancement Act," is championed by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) in the House and Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) in the Senate, and it's an improved approach to protecting Americans' voting rights.
Which will probably be a little problematic when it comes to actually getting the proposal to the Oval Office.
With the benefit of hindsight, the timing of the piece was extraordinary. Last Monday, the New York Times published an op-ed from UNC sociologist Charles Kurzman and David Schanzer, the director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University, on the "growing right-wing terror threat."
The piece explained, "In a survey we conducted with the Police Executive Research Forum last year of 382 law enforcement agencies, 74 percent reported anti-government extremism as one of the top three terrorist threats in their jurisdiction; 39 percent listed extremism connected with Al Qaeda or like-minded terrorist organizations. And only 3 percent identified the threat from Muslim extremists as severe, compared with 7 percent for anti-government and other forms of extremism."
Just two days later, a white supremacist massacred nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) in Charleston. For many, it was an act of terror -- a politically motivated radical, seeking a race war, murdered Americans, though his apparent target was far broader and more encompassing.
Far too often, when Americans think of terrorism, we think of the Middle East, al Qaeda, and ISIS militants. There's ample evidence, however, that suggests these assumptions are wrong and overdue for a re-examination. The New York Timesreports today, for example, that the statistical breakdown on the ideologies behind U.S. terrorist attacks "may come as a surprise."
Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a count by New America, a Washington research center.
The slaying of nine African-Americans in a Charleston, S.C., church last week, with an avowed white supremacist charged with their murders, was a particularly savage case. But it is only the latest in a string of lethal attacks by people espousing racial hatred, hostility to government and theories such as those of the "sovereign citizen" movement, which denies the legitimacy of most statutory law. The assaults have taken the lives of police officers, members of racial or religious minorities and random civilians.
The piece pointed to data that showed seven lethal attacks by Islamic militants since 9/11, while there have been 19 such attacks by non-Muslim extremists.
A bipartisan trio of Southern governors -- Virginia's Terry McAuliffe (D), Tennessee's Bill Haslam (R), and North Carolina's Pat McCrory (R) -- all made similar announcements yesterday, moving their respective states away from official Confederate license plates. Georgia's Nathan Deal (R) took a different course -- at first.
Midday yesterday, the Peach State's Republican governor acknowledged the growing trend away from Confederate symbols, but he nevertheless announced his continued support for state-sponsored license plates featuring the Confederate flag emblem. As the Atlanta Journal Constitutionreported, Deal told reporters, "I was asked this question during the campaign, as was my opponent. Both of us said we didn't have a problem with the license plate. And my position hasn't changed."
Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday he wants a redesign of a state-sponsored license plate featuring the Confederate flag emblem, as a growing list of other Southern governors call for similar changes.
The Republican stopped short of calling for the Sons of Confederate Veterans tags to be phased out or eliminated entirely, as the leaders in North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee announced Tuesday. He said the redesign, though, would seek to eliminate the bigger visage of the flag that covers the background of the entire tag. The change, he added, wouldn't require legislative action.
"It's time we take a further look at it," the GOP governor told reporters.
While Deal's change of heart came as a surprise, what's especially striking is the speed with which he changed direction. The governor's position was unambiguous fairly late in the afternoon: "I don't think that it is something that we should be that concerned about." Very quickly thereafter, it was something Deal was quite concerned about.
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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