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Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas announces his campaign for president, March 23, 2015, at Liberty University, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, in Lynchburg, Va. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

The political salience of Liberty U

03/23/15 11:27AM

Sometimes, where a presidential candidate launches his or her campaign is every bit as significant as what's said in the campaign kick-off. In February 2007, for example, Barack Obama began his journey to the White House where Abraham Lincoln denounced slavery a century and a half earlier.
"[I]n the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still live, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States," Obama said.
The literal, physical place carried its own significance, and was intended to convey a thematic message to the country about what kind of candidate Obama wanted to be.
Similarly, eight years later, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) launched his presidential campaign this morning at Liberty University, an evangelical school in Lynchburg, Virginia, created by the late TV preacher Jerry Falwell. And this, too, carries its own significance, conveying a specific message about the Republican senator.
As longtime readers may recall, Liberty University is burdened with an ironic name. The restrictions placed on Liberty's students are the stuff of legend – its code of conduct dictates that students are prohibited from seeing R-rated movies, listening to music that is not “in harmony with God’s word,” drinking alcohol, dancing, or kissing. Women on campus are prohibited from wearing dresses or skirts “shorter than the top of the knee."
At one point, Liberty even banned students who wanted to form an on-campus Democratic Party group.
A couple of years ago, however, Liberty announced that students would be allowed to carry loaded firearms on campus.
Liberty University, the largest religion-affiliated U.S. school, is loosening restrictions for carrying firearms on its Lynchburg, Va., campus.
Liberty students who have an easy-to-obtain Virginia concealed carry permit and permission from campus police will now be able to carry a loaded gun into classrooms, according to a March 22 revision to school policy.
The shift created a unique academic environment.
Ryan speaks at the SALT conference in Las Vegas

Paul Ryan to states: help us sabotage health care

03/23/15 10:44AM

On the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act becoming law, there's value in reflecting on the systemic advances, which we did earlier. But it's also a good time to look ahead and consider where the policy fight is headed.
Congressional Republicans, for example, who've already voted literally several dozen times to repeal the law, released budget plans last week that would -- you guessed it -- uproot the American health care system, replacing it with an alternative that Republicans can neither explain nor identify.
As if that weren't quite enough, the GOP budget plans would likely double the uninsured rate, while eliminating $1 trillion in tax revenue that pays for the ACA. Because the Republican budget blueprint relies on bizarre gimmicks and fraudulent arithmetic, the plan offers no explanation for how it would cover the $1 trillion loss and no details about how Congress would help the millions of families that would lose access to affordable medical care after Republicans take their benefits away.
The GOP budget also makes no effort to address the possibility that Republican justices on the Supreme Court may soon scrap subsidies to consumers in two-thirds of the country in the ridiculous King v. Burwell case. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), however, is on the case -- he doesn't have a policy solution, but Ryan has a plan to persuade state policymakers to help congressional Republicans' broader game plan.
Rep. Paul Ryan urged state lawmakers to resist setting up state insurance exchanges if the Supreme Court rules that key parts of the Affordable Care Act can only continue if they do so.
"Oh God, no... The last thing anybody in my opinion would want to do, even if you are not a conservative, is consign your state to this law," the Wisconsin Republican told state legislators Thursday during a conference call organized by the Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative think-tank.
Ryan reportedly went on to say, "If people blink and if people say, 'This political pressure is too great, I'm just going to sign up for a state-based exchange and put my constituents in Obamacare,' then this opportunity will slip through your fingers."
The right-wing Wisconsinite is known for some pretty extreme postures, but this is a brazen move, even for Paul Ryan.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 4, 2014.

McCain offers Obama the wrong foreign policy advice

03/23/15 10:00AM

In his latest Sunday-show appearance, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) felt the need to give the White House some advice on diplomacy and foreign policy: embrace Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"The president should get over it," McCain said of Netanyahu's pre-election antics. "Get over your temper tantrum, Mr. President." The senator added that Obama may be "delusional" and suffers from "screwed up" priorities.
As a rule, this is a subject McCain should probably avoid -- foreign policy has never been his strong suit -- and to date, I've seen no evidence of Obama losing his cool when dealing with the controversial Israeli leader. But even putting that aside, I have to admit it's amusing to hear the longtime senator talk about how tiresome temper tantrums should be. When it comes to throwing fits in Washington, McCain tends to be in a league of his own.

* In a “heated dispute over immigration-law overhaul” [in 2007], McCain screamed at Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), “F*** you!” He added, “This is chickens*** stuff…. You’ve always been against this bill, and you’re just trying to derail it.” [5/19/07]

* In a discussion over the “fate of Vietnam MIAs,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) asked McCain, “Are you calling me stupid?” “No,” replied McCain, “I’m calling you a f***ing jerk!” [Newsweek, 2/21/00]

* At a GOP meeting in fall 1999, McCain “erupted” at Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) and shouted, “Only an a**hole would put together a budget like this.” When Domenici expressed his outrage, McCain responded, “I wouldn’t call you an a**hole unless you really were an a**hole.” [Newsweek, 2/21/00]

If anyone knows about the fine art of temper tantrums, it's the senior senator from Arizona.
But there's a larger significance to McCain's advice, which was echoed soon after by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy: congressional Republicans believe disagreements between the Obama administration and Netanyahu's government should simple evaporate, the sooner the better, and it's up to the White House to let bygones be bygones.
This is horrible advice.
Rep. Steve King

Steve King reflects on Jewish identity as only he can

03/23/15 09:30AM

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of Congress' fiercest anti-immigrant voices, has cultivated a reputation for offending a whole lot of people with racially charged rhetoric. Even House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) no longer makes any effort to defend him, last year dismissing King as an "a**hole."
Friday, however, the far-right congressman broke new ground, adding a new group of people to his list.
Rep. Steve King of Iowa said he doesn't understand how American Jews can be "Democrats first and Jewish second" and support President Obama's approach to Israel.
"Well, there were some 50 or so Democrats that decided they would boycott the president's speech. One thing that's happened is -- just look at the polling, that means -- here is what thing that I don't understand, I don't understand how Jews in America can be Democrats first and Jewish second and support Israel along the line of just following their president," said the Iowa Republican on Boston Herald radio Friday, asked about members of Congress who did not attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress earlier in the month. [...] Asked if anti-Semitism was a factor, he said it was a component along with "just plain liberalism."
Even for King, this is pretty nutty stuff. The decision not to attend the prime minister's speech to Congress was a complex one, based in large part on Benjamin Netanyahu's unprecedented partnership with congressional Republicans who ignored U.S. protocols in the hopes of sabotaging American foreign policy. For Steve King to suggest the Democrats are anti-Semitic because they disagree with Netanyahu and a GOP stunt is ridiculous.
But more striking still is the notion that American Jews need lessons from a right-wing Catholic about the nature of Jewish identity.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks to the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition convention on Jan. 18, 2015 in Myrtle Beach. (Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty)

Ted Cruz first out of the 2016 gate

03/23/15 08:47AM

The 2016 presidential race has arguably been underway for months, but it lacked an important element: officially announced candidates*. That changed overnight, when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) kicked off his campaign with an announcement on Twitter, unveiling a 30-second video filled with stock imagines and a voice-over from the far-right senator.
"It's going to take a new generation of courageous conservatives to help make America great again, and I'm willing to stand with you to lead the fight," Cruz said in the video, which featured footage of churches, baseball games, cornfields and other campaign-friendly imagery.
Cruz will follow the Twitter announcement with a formal kick-off event this morning in Lynchburg, Virginia, where the senator will deliver a speech at Liberty University, a right-wing evangelical school founded by the late Jerry Falwell, a radical TV preacher perhaps best known for blaming 9/11 on Americans. The Texan's speech is expected to begin around 10 a.m.
To get a sense of Cruz's platform, the candidate's campaign website is up and running, and he stakes out the positions most would expect him to embrace. The site also glosses over the fact that Cruz hasn't actually accomplished much since joining the Senate two years ago -- note the text that uses phrases like "fought for" and "sponsored." (The campaign's online presence also overlooks Cruz's most notable exploit since reaching Capitol Hill: the senator took a leading role in shutting down the federal government in October 2013.)
Of course, as any presidential campaign gets underway, the first question is always the same: does the candidate stand a good chance at success? In the case of Ted Cruz, answering the question isn't as straightforward as it is with his likely rivals.
President Barack Obama is applauded after signing the Affordable Health Care for America Act during a ceremony with fellow Democrats in the East Room of the White House March 23, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

5 years later, 'Obamacare' critics can't believe their lying eyes

03/23/15 08:00AM

Exactly five years ago today, the White House hosted a signing ceremony in the East Room for one of the most important policy breakthroughs in a generation. Policymakers from both parties have talked about providing health security for all of the nation's families for roughly a century, but on March 23, 2010, officials gathered not just to talk but to celebrate action.
Vice President Biden introduced President Obama to the audience and, in comments that weren't intended for the public's ears, said to the president off-mic, "This is a big f***ing deal." Five years later, there's little doubt that Biden was entirely correct.
If you'd told me five years ago that on March 23, 2015, the Affordable Care Act would exceed expectations on every possible metric, including reducing the nation's uninsured rate by a third, I'd say "Obamacare" would look like a great success. And fortunately for the country, that's exactly what's happened.
Anniversaries are a good time to pause, reflect, and take stock, and when it comes to health care reform, objective observers are going to find it easy on the ACA's fifth anniversary to appreciate the law's triumphs. But it's also a good time to take a moment to acknowledge those who told Americans exactly what to expect from the Affordable Care Act -- and who got the story backwards.
Failed Prediction #1: Americans won't enroll in the ACA
In 2009 and 2010, it was widely assumed among Republicans that Democrats had fundamentally miscalculated public demand and consumers would show no real interest in signing up for coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Indeed, among some on the right, this was a foregone conclusion -- Americans wouldn't trust "Obamacare." We now know, of course, that the opposite is true and that millions of families have eagerly signed up for benefits through the ACA.
Failed Prediction #2: The ACA won't meet its enrollment goals
OK, so maybe some consumers would enroll, Republicans eventually said, but the ACA would inevitably lose the numbers game when the enrollment projections proved overly ambitious. In reality, both this year and last year, enrollment totals exceeded the Obama administration's preliminary projections.
Failed Prediction #3: Insurers will want no part of the ACA system

Candidate Cruz and other headlines

03/23/15 07:20AM

Ted Cruz is running for president. (Houston Chronicle)

Editorial urges Elizabeth Warren to reconsider her decision not to run for president. (Boston Globe)

In Clinton emails on Benghazi, a rare glimpse at her concerns. (New York Times)

Police to release report about investigation into an alleged rape at the University of Virginia. (USA Today)

CIA director: Iran general 'destabilizing' efforts in Iraq. (AP)

Federal judge orders U.S. release of military-detainee-abuse photos. (AP)

New Ebola case in Liberia concerns officials. (NPR)

read more

People shoot their guns at a shooting range in Tucson, Arizona.

This Week in God, 3.21.15

03/21/15 09:17AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a legislative debate on gun policy in Arizona that, at least first, had absolutely nothing to do with religion, though the deliberation took an unexpected theological turn.
At issue in the Arizona state House this week were two bills related to firearm ownership: a proposal to make it easier for Arizonans to carry concealed weapons in public establishments and a bill related to transferring guns between states. One lawmaker, Republican Eddie Farnsworth said the ability to buy a gun is among Americans' "God-given rights," which set an interesting debate in motion.
Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales (D) rose to oppose one of the bills, and threw in a note of correction to her colleague's statement about the divine.
"Twice on this floor I've heard members say that I have the God-given right to bear arms, and since I know that God didn't write the Constitution, I just wanted to state that," she said. "And I vote no."
Soon, other state representatives joined the discussion, with one insisting the Constitution was written by "humans, great humans."
Farnsworth, unimpressed, argued in response that "those who penned this" believed that Americans are "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights."
"This," however, was in reference to the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution. The former says we are "endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights" -- firearms are not mentioned in the document -- while the latter makes no mention of God and establishes a government created by "we the people."
Ultimately, it seems these details did not change the outcome of the debate. As the Phoenix New Times reported, the Republican-led chamber approved both gun measures.
Also from the God Machine this week:
New technology changing the face of politics

New technology changing the face of politics

03/20/15 09:20PM

Kasie Hunt, MSNBC political correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow about the ready availability of live streaming video from a cell phone and the likely effect new technology will have on how politics is covered in the United States. 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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