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Thursday's Mini-Report, 7.30.15

07/30/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Ohio: "The University of Cincinnati officer indicted for murder in the fatal shooting of an unarmed motorist pleaded not guilty Thursday morning and is being held on $1 million bond. Ray Tensing, 25, appeared briefly in Cincinnati court shackled and wearing a prison jumpsuit."
* Discouraging news out of Syria: "The commander of a group of Syrian fighters trained by the United States has been kidnapped by Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, his group said in a statement Thursday."
* Georgia: "Atlanta police said surveillance footage shows two men placing Confederate flags at two of Atlanta's most notable landmarks early Thursday: Ebenezer Baptist Church and Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site Visitor Center. As investigators worked to identify the men and their motive, church and civic leaders decried the act as terrorism, vowing not to be threatened."
* At this point, the Senate bill defunding Planned Parenthood is likely to get a vote next week, but it doesn't appear to have the support needed to pass.
* The Iran bill picked up another notable supporter today, with Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) endorsing the international nuclear agreement.
* On a related note "[House Minority Leader Pelosi] on Thursday hailed Obama for keeping the global negotiators at the table, characterizing the deal as 'a diplomatic masterpiece.' She said House Democrats are lining up behind the deal in numbers sufficient to uphold a veto of the expected Republican effort to sink the deal."
* Highway bill: "The Senate passed its long-term highway bill Thursday, though their work on federal infrastructure funding isn't over. Senators voted 65-34 to approve the six-year bill, which funds federal highway and infrastructure projects for three years."
Paul LePage

Just when things couldn't get worse for Paul LePage...

07/30/15 04:52PM

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is caught up in a doozy of a controversy. As regular readers know, a Maine charter school recently hired state House Speaker Mark Eves (D), but LePage, a fierce opponent of Democratic legislators, threatened the school -- either fire Eves or the governor would cut off the school's state funding. In effect, LePage played the role of a mobster saying, "It's a nice school you have there; it'd be a shame if something happened to it."
The school, left with no options, reluctantly acquiesced. The problem, of course, is that governors are not supposed to use state resources to punish people they don't like. By most measures, it's an impeachable offense.
As of today, as the Portland Press Herald reported, it's also the basis for a civil suit.
Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves will file a civil lawsuit Thursday against Gov. Paul LePage, alleging that the governor used taxpayer money and the power of his office to prevent his hiring at a private school in Fairfield.
The lawsuit, to be filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, has been anticipated ever since the board of directors at Good Will-Hinckley voted to rescind its offer to pay Eves $150,000 a year to become the organization's next president. Eves said that the board told him before his contract was terminated that LePage threatened to eliminate $530,000 in annual state funding for the school unless it removed him from the job.
"Acting out of personal rage, vindictiveness and partisan malice, Gov. Paul LePage blackmailed a private school that serves at-risk children into firing its president, the Speaker of Maine's House of Representatives," the complaint reads.
The discovery phase of this case ought to be a doozy.
Remember, the Tea Party governor hasn't actually denied the allegations, and neither have LePage's allies. The Maine Republican did argue this morning, however, that when he threatened the school it was comparable to LePage intervening in a domestic-violence dispute.
"It's just like one time when I stepped in ... when a man was beating his wife," the governor said. "Should have I stepped in? Legally, No. But I did. And I'm not embarrassed about doing it."
I honestly haven't the foggiest idea what that's supposed to mean in this context. Unless the state House Speaker intended to physically assault the charter school, the comparison appears to be gibberish.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Medicare Bill, July 30, 1965. (Photo by White House Press Office/Archivio GBB/Agenzia Contrasto/Redux)

50 years later, Medicare stands strong amidst attacks

07/30/15 04:03PM

Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush is eager to "phase out" Medicare and replace the system altogether. The Paul Ryan budget plan, widely embraced by GOP officials, would have scrapped Medicare and replaced it with a voucher system. Marco Rubio, another national 2016 candidate, is also fighting to eliminate Medicare -- social-insurance programs like these, he's said, have "actually weakened us as a people."
Exactly 50 years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law, and the Republican attacks against the system have been pretty consistent ever since -- as the 2016 race shows. But looking at the bigger picture, the Huffington Post's Jonathan Cohn had a great piece today on the half-century of progress, despite the partisan conflicts.
[I]f some seniors still struggle with medical bills, the situation is far better than it was five decades ago, when half of the elderly population had no insurance at all. Studies have shown that Medicare has meant substantially smaller out-of-pocket spending for seniors and maybe (though not certainly) longer lives.
The financial protection that the program provides to beneficiaries helps explain why just one in 10 seniors now lives in poverty. That's roughly a third of what it was in the mid-1960s.
I'm often fascinated with how profoundly wrong Republicans have been in their predictions about the Affordable Care Act -- pretty much every possible forecast the GOP made turned out to the opposite of what happened -- but conservative predictions about Medicare, before and after its passage, are arguably even more striking.
Take Ronald Reagan, for example.
Women hold up signs during a women's pro-choice rally on Capitol Hill, July 11, 2013 in Washington, DC.

GOP uses Planned Parenthood as a pretense for a possible shutdown

07/30/15 12:55PM

In April 2011, the newly elected House Republican majority was ready, if not eager, to shut down the government. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), just three months into his tenure, told the White House that without some spending cuts, GOP lawmakers simply would not keep the government's lights on.
There was a flurry of meetings, and both sides worked out a deal for some modest cuts. But then Boehner went back to Democrats with a fresh demand: Republicans wanted to cut Planned Parenthood, too.
President Obama refused, Boehner backed down, and the matter was resolved, but more than four years later, the demand has made a comeback. Politico published this report overnight.
Calling next week's Senate roll call to defund Planned Parenthood a "legislative show vote," GOP firebrand Ted Cruz said Republicans should do everything they can to eliminate federal money for the group — even if it means a government shutdown fight this fall.
He's not alone. On Wednesday afternoon, 18 House Republicans told leadership that they "cannot and will not support any funding resolution ... that contains any funding for Planned Parenthood." Meanwhile, GOP social conservatives like Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Jeff Sessions of Alabama said they'd consider supporting an effort to attach a spending rider that would eliminate Planned Parenthood's $528 million in annual government funding to must-pass spending legislation this fall.
It's probably worth noting that Politico's headline, "How Planned Parenthood could shut down the government," paints a picture that's slightly askew -- the health care organization itself wouldn't cause a shutdown; Republicans' opposition would.
Conservative media is likely to be on board with the plan. Last night, Erick Erickson, a prominent far-right voice in Republican media, published an angry missive under the headline, "Shut Down The Government. Now." He wrote, "If Barack Obama is willing to risk a government shutdown because he demands our tax dollars continue funding an organization that kills our children and sells their organs, we should have that fight."
How subtle.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.30.15

07/30/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* A new Quinnipiac poll is the latest to show Donald Trump with a significant national lead in the Republican presidential race. He tops Scott Walker in the poll, 20% to 13%, followed by Jeb Bush at 10%. The rest of the massive field is at 6% or lower.
* The same Quinnipiac poll, however, asked voters about a hypothetical general-election match-up with Trump. The apparent GOP frontrunner trailed Hillary Clinton by 12 points, 48% to 36%, and Trump is down eight points to Bernie Sanders, 45% to 37%.
* On a related note, against Jeb Bush, Quinnipiac found Clinton trails by one point while Sanders is down by five, and against Walker, Clinton leads by one while Sanders again trails by five.
* Though I can't speak to the reliability of this pollster, a new St. Pete Polls survey shows Trump leading Jeb Bush in Florida, 26% to 20%. Scott Walker is third in the poll with 12%, followed by Marco Rubio with 10% in his own home state.
* Speaking of Rubio, when the far-right Floridian launched his campaign, he asked those who contributed to his Senate re-election campaign to transfer their support to his White House campaign. Bloomberg Politics found that "more than 260" of these donors chose not to, and at least 64 of these donors have written checks to Rubio's national rivals.
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, Bernie Sanders supporters held several thousand house parties nationwide last night, with a reported 100,000 people signed up to attend an event in their area.
Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

GOP presidential field reaches 17 people

07/30/15 11:22AM

When Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) recently kicked off his presidential campaign, the understandable reaction from many Americans was simple: "Another one?" The GOP field was already packed with 15 candidates, but Kasich nevertheless created a Sweet 16 for his party.
But those who responded to the news by assuming the Republican field couldn't possibly get any bigger jumped to the wrong conclusion. Yesterday, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) filed his paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, becoming the 17th candidate.
The Republican said back at the beginning of July that he planned a White House run.
"I bring to the table experience that others don't have," Gilmore said in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch in July. He told the paper that he'll make his announcement during the first week of August. He served as Virginia's governor from 1998 to 2002.
The Virginian will reportedly launch his national bid in a formal event early next month.
I hesitate to say this -- these days, you just never know -- but Gilmore's entry really does seem to complete the Republicans' 2016 field. Back in May, I put together what I saw a fairly comprehensive list of possible GOP candidates, and I came up with 22 names. Of those 22, 17 have launched White House bids, while four others have bowed out.
That leaves former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R), who spent some time in New Hampshire earlier this year and expressed an interest in the race, but who has effectively disappeared from the public stage in recent months.
In other words, the current GOP field of 17 is done. Probably. I think.
United States Representative Scott Garrett speaks during a Reuters Finance Summit in Washington February 28, 2011.

Hitting far-right lawmakers where it hurts

07/30/15 10:50AM

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) hasn't exactly endeared himself to House Republican leaders. The conservative New Jersey congressman voted against House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) re-election and recently said he's refused to pay his National Republican Congressional Committee dues because the NRCC has supported a couple of gay Republican candidates.
Or put another way, Scott Garrett believes his far-right party is simply too friendly towards gay people.
Something interesting happened, however, after this news came to public light. Bloomberg Politics reported yesterday Garrett is suddenly "facing a revolt by corporate and Wall Street donors."
Earlier this month, in what financial lobbyists said was a sign of things to come, the Big 4 accounting firms and their trade association abruptly canceled a fundraising event for the New Jersey Republican. In addition, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has decided to stop making political action committee donations to Garrett, people familiar with the matter said.
Other firms are likely to follow suit, and some in the industry have debated whether to take a more drastic step and ask for their contributions back from Garrett, said the people, who asked for anonymity so as to not antagonize a lawmaker who oversees their industry. Financial lobbyists have also raised concerns with Republican House leaders, the people said.
Keep in mind, Garrett is on the House Financial Services Committee and chairs the panel on Capital Markets and Government-Sponsored Enterprises. Not to put too fine a point on this, but this is generally a post in which donors from the financial industry trip over themselves, rushing to give guys like Garrett as much money as they possibly can.
But if Bloomberg Politics is correct, Garrett's far-right politics is troubling "some banks and accounting firms, which often tout their diversity as a means of attracting workers and clients."
It leads to an important question: is this the key to combating Republican radicalism?
A view of the death chamber from the witness room. (Photo by Mike Simons/Getty)

N.C. wants easier, more secretive executions

07/30/15 10:06AM

The national debate over capital punishment has proceeded in a variety of disparate directions, with some states deciding to end the practice altogether. But in North Carolina, the Republican-led legislature has apparently concluded that the status quo on executions needs to be tweaked in a more alarming way -- making it easier for the state to kill people with greater secrecy.
WRAL in Raleigh reported earlier this week (thanks to reader G.S. for the tip):
With little debate, the North Carolina Senate voted along party lines 33-16 Monday night to approve a bill aimed at restarting executions in the state.
The legislation, House Bill 774, would repeal the current law requiring that a physician be present to monitor all executions.... The bill would also remove from public record the names of companies that make, supply or deliver the drugs used in lethal injection, and it would exempt the execution protocol itself from the oversight of the state's Rules Review Commission.
There would be no public oversight of the protocol, nor would that information -- from the types of drugs to the doses to the sequence -- be required to be made public.
According to local reports, North Carolina hasn't been able to kill any of its prisoners since 2006, in large part because doctors in the state balked, creating a de facto moratorium.
So, GOP state lawmakers determined that if state law requires doctors to oversee executions, and doctors won't go along, it's time to change the law so that doctors need only sign the death certificate after the execution takes place. Instead, the new state law would allow physician assistants, nurse practitioners, or EMTs to monitor the executions.
As for the secrecy, North Carolina has a Public Records Act, but this new push would create an exception to the state law -- when North Carolina kills prisoners with a chemical cocktail, the contents can be kept secret. The names of the pharmaceutical companies that supply the drugs will also be hidden from public scrutiny.
The name of the legislation is the "Restoring Proper Justice Act," apparently because its sponsors' sense of humor leans towards the macabre.
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz leaves the stage after speaking during the Republican Jewish Coalition spring leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas on April 25, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty)

Cruz sees Obama admin as likely sponsor of terrorism

07/30/15 09:21AM

Earlier this week, President Obama held a press conference in Ethiopia and took a moment to marvel at the recklessness of Republican rhetoric surrounding the international nuclear agreement with Iran. He specifically noted Mike Huckabee's Holocaust rhetoric -- it "would be considered ridiculous if it weren't so sad" -- but Obama also highlight the larger pattern.
"We've had a sitting senator call John Kerry Pontius Pilate," the president noted. "We've had a sitting senator who also happens to be running for president suggest that I'm the leading state sponsor of terrorism. These are leaders in the Republican Party." Obama added that, historically, officials used to recognize "that these issues are too serious, that issues of war and peace are of such grave concern and consequence that we don't play fast and loose that way."
The "Pontius Pilate" reference came from right-wing freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), but it was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who threw around the "sponsor of terrorism" nonsense. In fact, the GOP presidential candidate specifically told far-right activists, "If this deal goes through, without exaggeration, the Obama administration will become the world's leading state sponsor and financier of radical Islamic terrorism."
As Politico noted, Cruz liked his rhetoric so much, he repeated it soon after.
According to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran is essentially financing terrorism. And he's not backing down after the president called his comments "outrageous."
"If this deal is consummated, it will make the Obama administration the world's leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism," Cruz said during a round table Tuesday. "Billions of dollars under control of this administration will flow into the hands of jihadists who will use that money to murder Americans, to murder Israelis, to murder Europeans."
This morning, even Mitt Romney said Cruz was going too far. "I am opposed to the Iran deal," the former GOP presidential nominee said, "but [Cruz] is way over the line on the Obama terrorism charge." Romney added that such rhetoric "hurts the cause."
That last point is of particular interest.

Economic growth recovers in the spring, early summer

07/30/15 08:46AM

Going into this morning, the most recent data showed the economy actually shrunk a little in the first quarter, covering January through March, which only helped make this morning's GDP report that much more important.
Most economists expected the gross domestic product to grow in the second quarter, covering April through June, at around a 2.5% rate, and that's roughly in line with what happened.
The U.S. economy picked up modestly in the spring after a lackluster start to the year, expanding at an annual 2.3% rate in the second quarter. Growth was led by consumer spending on big-ticket items such as new cars as well as home construction, the government said Thursday. [...]
Consumer spending, the main engine of U.S. growth, rose 2.9%.
This is, of course, a preliminary estimate that will be revised twice more in the coming months. Also note, though previous reporting showed the economy contracting slightly in the first quarter, this morning's report said the economy actually grew a little -- the final tally showed 0.6% growth, instead of 0.2% contraction.
So, what's the broader takeaway? I'm reminded of something Neil Irwin wrote in April about why economic observers care more about the second quarter's GDP than the first.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to a question at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Ia., July 18, 2015. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

'Repeal and replace with something terrific'

07/30/15 08:00AM

Despite fresh evidence that the Affordable Care Act is working very well, the Republican repeal crusade hasn't quit. GOP lawmakers continue to explore new ways to gut the American health care system, and Republican presidential candidates, just as a matter of course, talk openly about their plans to kill the successful and effective law.
The GOP's principal problem, however, hasn't changed: Republicans know they hate "Obamacare" for reasons they can't fully explain, but as has been the case for over five years, the party simply has no idea what to offer as an alternative.
Never fear, Donald Trump has it figured out. The leading Republican presidential hopeful sat down yesterday with CNN's Dana Bash, and according to the Nexis transcript, this was their exchange about health care:
BASH: So, you're in the Oval Office, you're saying Obamacare...
TRUMP: It's got to go.
BASH: It's got to go.
TRUMP: Repeal and replace with something terrific.
Oh, something terrific. Why didn't Republicans just say so? I was concerned they might try to replace the ACA with something wholly inadequate, but if the plan will be "something terrific" -- no doubt, it'll be classy, too -- then American families obviously have no reason to worry about Republicans taking their health care benefits away.
All joking aside, when Bash asked Trump to elaborate a bit on what "terrific" plan he has in mind, the GOP candidate added that the system will depend on "private companies" that will do great with "competition."
It's easy to laugh at this, but let's not lose sight of the larger context: Trump's six-word health care plan -- "repeal and replace with something terrific" -- is every bit as specific as the health care plan outlined by GOP leaders on Capitol Hill.
Indeed, what makes Trump's comment especially amusing is its broad applicability in describing Republicans' approach to policymaking.

Accused cop's lawyer speaks and other headlines

07/30/15 07:55AM

Indicted cop's attorney: murder charge 'absolutely unwarranted.' (Cincinnati Enquirer)

New Hampshire voters explain the appeal of Donald Trump. (Bloomberg Politics)

And then there were 17: Jim Gilmore files his presidential-run paperwork. (AP)

'Dark money': ALEC wants image makeover. (Politico)

Jailed Alabama woman drops abortion lawsuit, says she wants to be a mother. (

Meet the 3 GOP women leading the charge to defund Planned Parenthood. (Washington Post)

Charles Koch calls on fellow conservative donors 'to raise our efforts to a new level.' (Washington Post)

read more


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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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