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Thursday's Mini-Report, 1.7.16

01/07/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* I hope you're not retiring right now: "U.S. stocks closed sharply lower Thursday as China news overnight and low oil prices renewed concerns about global economic growth."
 
* Tensions still rising in the Middle East: "A diplomatic crisis roiling the Middle East intensified Thursday as Iran claimed that a Saudi airstrike overnight hit its embassy in Yemen, a charge not supported by signs of damage but that nevertheless raised tensions between the rivals."
 
* Korea: "As the world unravels North Korea's self-proclaimed hydrogen bomb test, the timing ahead of ruler Kim Jong Un's birthday this week and a major government gathering in May suggest a ruler trying to reassert his authority amid increased scrutiny -- including possible, internal pressure from the ruling elite."
 
* Texas: "[Brian Encinia], the Texas state trooper charged with perjury in the arrest of Sandra Bland has turned himself in to authorities.... A grand jury indicted Encinia a day earlier on a misdemeanor perjury charge for allegedly lying about the circumstances of his arrest of Bland last summer.... The Texas Department of Public Safety announced after the indictment that it would begin the process of firing Encinia."
 
* Climate crisis: "Last year was the second hottest on record in the contiguous United States, and included 10 major weather and climate events, such as droughts and storms, that each led to over $1 billion in damages, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Thursday."
 
* Guantanamo: "The first two of the 17 detainee scheduled to be released from Guantanamo Bay prison this month will be transferred to Ghana, U.S. military officials announced Wednesday."
 
* All things considered, the job market fared quite well last year: "The number of Americans who applied for new unemployment benefits in 2015 fell to the lowest level in 42 years."
U.S. President Barack Obama departs after speaking about the shooting attacks in Paris, from the White House in Washington Nov. 13, 2015. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

GOP rep: censure Obama over gun policy

01/07/16 04:25PM

Over the course of five years in Congress, Rep. Steven Palazzo (R) of Mississippi has maintained a relatively low profile. He's offered a spirited defense of the Confederate flag, and he opposed emergency disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy victims while supporting it for his home state, but in general, the far-right congressman hasn't developed much of a national profile.
 
That may soon change. TPM reported this afternoon:
Staunch gun rights advocate Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) introduced a resolution on Wednesday to "censure and condemn" President Barack Obama over his newly announced executive actions on gun control.
 
"For seven years, the President has gradually expanded his powers through executive overreach," the Mississippi lawmaker wrote in a statement published on his website. "His actions this week to take away the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens is just the latest, if not most egregious, violation of the separation of powers found in the United States Constitution."
The congressman's statement is online here, but it does not include any explanation of why Obama's executive actions on gun policy -- actions the NRA said do not actually do anything of significance -- "take away" anyone's constitutional rights.
 
Palazzo should probably work on this a bit before Congress takes the historic step of officially condemning a sitting president for modest, incremental administrative tweaks to existing gun laws.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) prepares to speak at his weekly media briefing inn the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 10 2015. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

Paul Ryan captures what's wrong with the gun debate

01/07/16 12:52PM

One of the more unusual reactions to President Obama's new measures on gun policy came from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). For example, the congressional leader condemned an "executive order" from the White House that doesn't exist.
 
But more important was this quote in reference to the president: "His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty."
 
It's hard not to get the impression that Ryan seems intimidated by the wrong things. Is the Republican leader alarmed by the routinization of deadly mass-shootings? No, what Paul Ryan finds intimidating is presidential rhetoric about background checks. What an odd thing to say.
 
Part of the problem for the House Speaker is that he may not be fully on board with his own talking points. The Huffington Post had a good catch earlier this week.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) criticized President Barack Obama on Monday for planning to use his executive authority to implement gun control measures.
 
But take Obama out of the equation, and Ryan is just fine with tighter background checks on gun sales -- the very thing Obama is expected to focus on -- and with a president taking executive actions on major policy issues.
As recently as 2013, the Wisconsin lawmaker told the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel efforts to close the so-called gun-show loophole are "reasonable" and "obvious." Ryan added that the issue arose on Capitol Hill shortly after his first election. "At the time I remember thinking, 'You know, there is a loophole here. We should address that,'" he said.
 
This week, however, the GOP leader said, "There is no loophole.... This is a distraction."
 
Keep in mind, that interview isn't from some point in the distant past. It was the year before, in 2012, that Ryan was on his party's national ticket as the Republican vice presidential nominee.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.7.16

01/07/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* The latest PPP poll in New Hampshire shows Hillary Clinton narrowly leading Bernie Sanders, 47% to 44%, with Martin O'Malley trailing with 3%. Clinton fares very well among Democrats; Sanders fares just as well with independents planning to vote in the Democratic primary.
 
* Does Vice President Biden regret his decision not to run for president? "I regret it every day," he said yesterday, "but it was the right decision for my family and me."
 
* Clinton unveiled additional details on her autism initiative this week, and Roll Call reports that experts are "optimistic" that her agenda would make a significant difference.
 
* I don't much care about Marco Rubio relying heavily on private jets, but I think it's a shame his campaign told reporters for months that the Florida senator flies commercial -- and sits in coach.
 
* Speaking of Rubio, Rand Paul is also turning his attention to his Florida colleague, arguing yesterday, "I think Rubio is the weakest candidate on national defense because he's weak on border security."
 
* The DNC is launching its first Spanish-language video of the cycle, hitting Republicans on, of all things, guns. "The majority of gun owners support universal background checks," the ad says. "But all of the Republican candidates oppose the prevention of firearm violence."
 
* In Virginia, Rep. Dave Brat (R), who won one of the biggest primary upsets in modern history in 2014, will face a primary challenge of his own this year from Henrico County Sheriff Mike Wade (R).
Sen. Lindsey Graham, Sen. John McCain, and Sen. Ted Cruz listen to the State of the Union address, Jan. 28, 2014.

Why McCain's shot across Cruz's bow matters

01/07/16 11:07AM

There was a fleeting moment around this point eight years ago in which some questioned John McCain's eligibility for the presidency. The Republican senator, well on his way to becoming his party's nominee, was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936, prompting some pointless questions about whether he was literally a "natural-born citizen."
 
Few took those questions seriously; even McCain's harshest critics dismissed the concerns out of hand; and the Senate quickly approved a resolution -- written and sponsored by Democrat Claire McCaskill -- declaring, "John Sidney McCain, III, is a 'natural born citizen' under Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States." It passed without opposition.
 
The recent history adds a degree of irony to McCain's comments about Ted Cruz yesterday.
Arizona Sen. John McCain said he doesn't know if the Canadian-born Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is eligible to be president, saying the Supreme Court might have to decide if Cruz is eligible to be president.
 
"I don't know the answer to that," said McCain on the Chris Merrill Show on KFYI550 on Wednesday of Cruz's eligibility.
As the BuzzFeed report added, McCain went on to say, in reference to Cruz, "I think it's worth looking into." McCain added he thinks Cruz should try to get ahead of these eligibility issues, though without access to a time machine, how he'd go about doing this is a bit of a mystery.
 
It's a genuine shame that Donald Trump has pushed this issue into the spotlight, because as best as I can tell, this entire line of attack is misguided. For all intents and purposes, natural-born citizens are those who were citizens at the time of their birth. This applies to Cruz. End of story.
 
I can think of about a thousand reasons to be concerned about a Cruz presidency, but his eligibility isn't one of them.
 
What I find more interesting, however, is Cruz's sudden need for friends in high places.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) listens to a question at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York May 13, 2015. (Photo by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Rubio takes a turn, follows Trump's lead on 2016 tone

01/07/16 10:15AM

Over the summer, Donald Trump soared to the top of Republican presidential polls, vowing to "make America great again." At the time, Marco Rubio made a conscious, deliberate effort to reject his rival's pitch.
 
Trump's wrong, Rubio said in August, because America is already great. "I know what [Trump] is trying to say," the senator added in September, "but my problem is that America is a great country."
 
That was four months ago. Last night, at a campaign event in Iowa, Rubio told his audience, "We are going to be a great country again ... if you give me the chance to be your president."
 
The difference isn't subtle. All of that stuff Rubio said over the summer, rejecting the idea that America is somehow falling short of greatness, no longer applies. The Florida senator has stopped rejecting Trump's line and started echoing it.
 
And this is hardly the only example. Bloomberg Politics reported this morning that Rubio's "tone has darkened as he chases rivals Donald Trump and Ted Cruz for his party's nomination."
Marco Rubio has adopted a darker tone in the first week of 2016, deploying increasingly apocalyptic rhetoric and fiercer attacks on Republican rivals that provide a stark contrast with the relatively non-confrontational brand of sunny optimism that had characterized his presidential campaign through 2015.
The Bloomberg article lists some striking examples of Rubio changing his posture dramatically, pushing fear-based messages that are as hysterical as they are dumb. "Barack Obama released terrorists from Guantanamo, and now they are plotting to attack us," Rubio foolishly claimed in a new TV ad. "His plan after the attack in San Bernardino: take away our guns," the senator added, repeating an obvious, demagogic lie.
 
"If we get this election wrong, there may be no turning around for America," Rubio told voters this week, the same day he blamed the United States for North Korea's provocative weapons tests.
 
A Washington Post piece noted this morning that Rubio has "de-emphasized the optimistic language about 'a new American century' that was the hallmark of 2015." It added Rubio's condemnations of Democrats have grown "more piercing, the elbows he is throwing at his GOP opponents are sharper and his warnings about the national security risks of siding with them over him are more dire and more frequent."
 
So much for sunny, Reagan-esque optimism.
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson awaits an interview in his home in Upperco, Md., Dec. 23, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

Carson pushes 'surreptitious' monitoring of US education

01/07/16 09:22AM

There are all kinds of oddities to Ben Carson's presidential platform, but his affinity for spying on Americans is arguably the strangest. Over the summer, for example, the candidate told a group of Republican voters he was "thinking very seriously" about adding "a covert division of people who look like the people in this room, who monitor what government people do."
 
A few months later, the retired physician said he intends to use the federal Department of Education to "monitor our institutions of higher education" to look for political bias in classrooms. If the Carson administration found on-campus speech it didn't like, the Republican would cut off universities' federal funding.
 
Yesterday, the Des Moines Register's editorial board asked what in the world Carson is talking about. His response didn't help.
Ben Carson suggested on Wednesday that the Department of Education and other government agencies should secretly enter classrooms, libraries and other government offices to track instances of political bias and inefficiency. [...]
 
When pressed by an editorial writer whether surreptitious federal investigations into college classroom discussions would amount to policing people's thoughts, Carson answered that such action is appropriate any time federal money is involved.
As the candidate sees it, federal officials should "surreptitiously" investigate professors who are accused of using political speech Carson considers "extreme."
 
And then he went just a little further, raising the prospect of secret monitoring of other public agencies.
In this June 26, 2008 file photo John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington.

John Yoo wants to talk about federal 'overreactions'

01/07/16 08:40AM

UC Berkeley's John Yoo, a rather important figure from the Bush/Cheney Justice Department, wrote an item for the Federalist Society yesterday on President Obama's new measures on gun policy. Not surprisingly, the controversial lawyer wasn't impressed.
 
But it's the way in which Yoo criticized the administration's policy that was almost amusing, in a lacking-self-awareness kind of way (via Sam Stein).
Supporters of Second Amendment rights should have little difficulty challenging President Obama's new executive orders to restrict gun sales. There should be no problems for plaintiffs to enter federal court. [...]
 
Such a case would prompt not just a good challenge to the scope of the President's authority to interpret the law, on which the Supreme Court has been signaling that it may shift away from deference to the executive branch, but also the scope of the Second Amendment and the federal government's regulatory powers.... In his regulatory overreaction to recent shootings, Obama may begin the erosion of the powers of his treasured welfare state.
Right off the bat, it's curious that Yoo would take aim at the president's "executive orders," since the new White House reforms don't include any executive orders. Given Yoo's role as a legal scholar, it's a little surprising he'd get such a basic detail wrong.
 
It's also odd that Yoo would be so eager to see a legal challenge to a policy that, according to the NRA, doesn't really do much of anything. On Monday, the group's lawyers were ready to pounce on the administration, but notice there's been little chatter about a court case since.
 
But even if we put these details aside, it's the broader context that's worth appreciating: does John Yoo, of all people, really want to have a conversation about federal "overreaction" to violence?
Roy Moore

Alabama's Roy Moore tries to block marriage equality

01/07/16 08:00AM

Following a historic Supreme Court ruling in June, marriage equality has been the law of the land in the United States for over six months. A few politicians still whine about it -- Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio still believes he can turn back the clock and end equal marriage rights -- but most of the country realizes that this aspect of the culture war is over.
 
But then there's Alabama, where the chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court ordered probate judges yesterday to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. MSNBC's Emma Margolin reported:
In his order, Roy Moore -- the Republican chief justice who made headlines last year for similarly standing in the way of same-sex nuptials in Alabama -- said that the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision only struck down the four same-sex marriage bans that were specifically challenged in the landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges. That lawsuit was a consolidated challenge to bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee -- not Alabama.
 
Therefore, Moore wrote, Alabama probate judges still have a "ministerial duty" to comply with an order issued by the state Supreme Court last March to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses.
For those unfamiliar with Moore, it's worth noting that his legal views tend to be ... how do I put this gently ... unique. Alabama's chief justice, who's already been thrown off the court once for defying court rulings he found objectionable, has argued repeatedly, for example, that states can ignore federal court rulings whenever they choose.
 
He's also sometimes known as the "Ten Commandments Judge," willing to use his position as a judge to advance his religious agenda. Now the jurist wants Alabama to ignore a U.S. Supreme Court ruling he finds objectionable.
 
In other words, Moore, widely seen as a crackpot by America's legal mainstream, is not to be taken seriously. The problem, of course, is that he's still the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, who just issued an order to probate judges statewide.
 
As of this morning, they're not entirely sure whether to follow the law or follow Roy Moore's bonkers interpretation of the law.
Burlington braces for looming Trump-storm

Burlington braces for looming Trump-storm

01/06/16 11:21PM

Paul Heintz, political editor for Seven Days newspaper in Vermont, talks with Rachel Maddow about how the city of Burlington is preparing for a schedule Donald Trump rally for which there have already been 20,000 tickets issued for a 1,400 seat venue. watch

State dismissed Flint bad water test concerns

Flint water concerns 'blown off' by state: Snyder staffer e-mail

01/06/16 09:37PM

Rachel Maddow reports on a newly obtained e-mail from June of 2015, confirmed by NBC News, that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's chief-of-staff was troubled that Flint's bad water tests were not being taken seriously, part of a string of mails showing the administration's awareness of alarming lead test results even as it insisted... watch

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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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