Rachel Maddow reports on Hillary Clinton's expected call for an end to the embargo on Cuba, and Bernie Sanders rallying 100,000 grassroots supporters, and both candidates perform well in head-to-head polling against potential Republican opponents. watch
Every time I have a chance to read through the local Oklahoma news, the news gods make it worth my while: http://t.co/ewZSJMlLxU
* A murder charge in Ohio: "A University of Cincinnati officer was indicted for murder Wednesday for fatally shooting an unarmed black man in the head following a routine traffic stop earlier this month. A Cincinnati grand jury has decided to indict University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing in the July 19 death of 43-year-old Samuel DuBose, who was pulled over for not having a front license plate on his car."
* There's skepticism because we've seen reports like these before: "The Taliban's longtime leader Mullah Omar was dead, the Afghan government announced Wednesday after a day of feverish speculation. 'I can confirm that Mullah Omar is dead,' the spokesman for Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security Abdul Hassib Sediqi told NBC News."
* Economy: "The Federal Reserve offered a slightly more upbeat assessment of the economy Wednesday but provided little insight into when it will raise its benchmark interest rate for the first time in nearly a decade."
* EPA: "The Obama administration has decided to give states more time to comply with proposed regulations that will require dramatic cuts in greenhouse-gas pollution from power plants, people familiar with the plans said Tuesday."
* GOP in disarray: "House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) brushed off a challenge to his leadership from Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.) on Wednesday, but not without showing some irritation."
* He doesn't have much of a choice: "President Obama would sign a three-month highway funding bill, the White House said Wednesday, though it ripped Republicans in Congress for failing to agree on a long-term solution."
Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee tried to hold a hearing on the international nuclear agreement with Iran, but the discussion wasn't especially fruitful. It was clear the hearing, such as it was, was pretty far off track when Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, "Do you know what EMP is?"
CRUZ: Secretary Moniz, I want to turn to a different question. The single greatest threat to the United States if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon is an Electromagnetic Pulse. A nuclear weapon detonated in the atmosphere over the Eastern seaboard could kill tens of millions of Americans. On July 23rd in testimony before Congress, you told the United States Senate you hadn't read the Congressionally mandated Commission on EMPs and that you didn't know what an EMP was.
MONIZ: That is incorrect. I said I did not know this 2008 report recommendations. I said I was quite familiar with the issue. And we all know about EMPs from airburst nuclear weapons.
The right-wing Texan, apparently competing in some imaginary competition to become America's Most Obnoxious Politician, said it was "stunning" to him that Moniz doesn't know what an EMP is.
The Energy Secretary, who also happens to be a nuclear physicist and longtime MIT professor, tried to explain to Cruz, "Of course I know about the issue. I happen to know something about nuclear weapons; I know about EMPs; I know about various...."
Cruz, growing impatient, insisted that an EMP "could kill tens of millions of Americans" and demanded to know whether Moniz considered that possible. The cabinet secretary -- who earned a PhD in theoretical physics from Stanford and is considered one of the top nuclear physicists in the country -- responded by noting the importance of specifics.
The GOP senator quickly grew agitated and whined about Moniz "refusing to answer the question."
The Senate Armed Services Committee held its own hearing today on the international nuclear agreement with Iran, which regrettably went about as well as the other congressional hearings on the issue. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Republican presidential candidate and one of his party's most unyielding hawks, got especially animated during an exchange with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter:
GRAHAM: Could we win a war with Iran? Who wins the war between us and Iran? Who wins? Do you have any doubt who wins?
CARTER: No, the United States...
GRAHAM: We win!
The senator seemed pleased with himself, though this doesn't exactly help the Republican cause. For proponents of the agreement, the concern has long been that GOP lawmakers want to kill the diplomatic deal because they want a military confrontation with Iran. Republicans usually make a point to deny this, instead saying they prefer a "better" diplomatic solution.
Graham, however, is less subtle -- his line of questioning suggested the United States would win a war, which makes war an appealing alternative.
The administration's cabinet secretaries seemed visibly irritated with Graham's grandstanding, and they didn't make much of an effort to debate the South Carolina senator, but I would have enjoyed some additional debate on this. It's true, of course, that in a conventional conflict that pits the U.S. military against the Iranian military, the latter wouldn't stand much of a chance.
And while that may be the end of the conversation for Graham, responsible policymakers have to wonder: "win" at what cost? What are the security implications of the U.S. launching yet another Middle Eastern war? How long would the war last and with how many casualties? What happens after our "victory"?
"Do you have any doubt who wins?" No. Does Graham have any doubt that such a war would be incredibly costly?
For criminal-defense attorneys who specialize in Congress, 2015 has turned into quite a year.
First, Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) was indicted and convicted. Two months later, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), facing an investigation, was forced to resign. A month after that, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) was indicted. A month after that, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) was indicted.
Today, the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia reports on the latest addition to the growing list.
A longtime Philadelphia congressman was indicted Wednesday in a racketeering case stemming from the alleged misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal, charitable and campaign funds after his failed 2007 run for mayor.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, 58, and four associates were charged with bribery; conspiracy to commit wire, honest services, bank and mail fraud; money laundering and other charges.
Fattah, who has been the subject of a federal investigation for quite a while, told reporters this morning, "We have not received the indictment. I just talked to my attorney in Philadelphia and we have not had the chance to review it, but I did hear a little bit about it and all I want to say is that I’ve spent my time helping people." The Pennsylvania Democrat added that he's "going to let my attorney -- a small one-man shop in Philadelphia -- handle this matter."
A Roll Callreport added some additional context to the allegations:
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Fox News has tweaked its debate rules a bit, and now the bottom six Republican presidential candidates will be guaranteed a spot at the "kids' table" event next week. Under the previous rules, candidates below 1% risked exclusion.
* What's Hillary Clinton's position on the Keystone XL oil pipeline? For now, the Democratic frontrunner really doesn't want to talk about it.
* In the new CNN poll, President Obama's approval rating is up to 49%, which is of great interest to campaign insiders in both parties -- the more popular the president is, the less appetite there may be next year for sweeping national changes.
* In Illinois, new results from Public Policy Polling shows Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) leading incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk (R) by six, 42% to 36%.
* On a related note, one of the Illinois GOP's premier fundraisers is calling on Kirk to drop out of the race so the party can nominate a more competitive statewide candidate.
* And speaking of Illinois, PPP also found Scott Walker leading Donald Trump among GOP voters in the state, 23% to 18%. At 11%, Jeb Bush is the only other candidate to reach double digits.
* After a Monmouth poll found Chris Christie running eighth in New Hampshire with just 4% support, the New Jersey governor said the poll is biased against him. (Other recent polling in the Granite State also shows Christie struggling.)
* Marco Rubio's absenteeism in the Senate is becoming a more notable problem. He's not just missing more votes than any other senator, including the other senators running for president, but he's also skipping private hearings and briefings on major issues.
When an important international agreement is being negotiated, it stands to reason that diplomats will do most of the heavy lifting, But as the P5+1 nuclear deal was coming together, it wasn't just Secretary of State John Kerry helping lead the talks -- Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz played a critical role, offering scientific and technical expertise that made a real difference.
By most measures, the Secretary of Energy is not one of a cabinet's high-profile roles. I quizzed myself last night, trying to think of how many of Moniz's predecessors I could name from memory, only two -- Steven Chu and Bill Richardson -- came to mind.
And yet, all of a sudden, Ernest Moniz is drawing raves, even from White House critics who generally have no use for members of President Obama's cabinet. The Washington Postreported yesterday:
He's blinding them with science. Or intellectually charming them anyway. That's how Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz seems to be winning fans in the difficult fight to sell the Iran deal on Capitol Hill, even as skeptical lawmakers reserve plenty of vitriol for his partner on the journey, Secretary of State John Kerry.
Moniz, a nuclear physicist with mad-scientist hair, has already been credited as the administration's secret weapon in the lengthy negotiations to secure an Iran deal that will prevent the rogue country from securing a nuclear weapon.
It was surprising to see just how many congressional Republicans were willing to go on the record praising Moniz. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), for example, had positive things to say about the Energy Secretary following a closed-door briefing. So did Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.).
Even Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) "can't help but speak well of Moniz."
Remember, we're talking about a political environment in which GOP lawmakers don't usually speak well of anyone in the Obama administration.
But the nuclear physicist and longtime MIT professor is suddenly the most popular cabinet secretary in Washington.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) op-ed in the Des Moines Register yesterday:
You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep. Hillary Clinton is no exception. [...]
Much of Clinton's time [during her most recent trip to Iowa] was spent in meetings with union bosses. The fact that Clinton is shunning everyday Iowans in favor of big-labor special interests sends a clear message about where her true loyalties lie.
Four leading GOP presidential candidates – Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Scott Walker – are traveling to a Southern California luxury hotel in coming days to make their cases directly to the Koch brothers and hundreds of other wealthy conservatives planning to spend close to $1 billion in the run-up to the 2016 election. [...]
Freedom Partners' annual summer conference is set for August 1 through August 3, and is expected to draw 450 of the biggest financiers of the right... Most have the capability to write seven- or even eight-figure checks to the super PACs fueling the GOP presidential primary.
The Republican governor's timing certainly could have been better. It's odd enough for Walker to condemn Clinton for meeting with Iowa labor leaders, but for him to argue that it's wrong to "shun everyday" people as he hops on a jet to SoCal for a luxury gathering with far-right billionaires is a bit jarring.
Does this "send a clear message" about where his "true loyalties lie"?
The disconnect reminded me of Dana Milbank's recent Washington Postpiece on Walker and why the columnist sees the governor as "so dangerous."
Just a couple of weeks ago, President Obama put criminal-injustice issues up front and center in ways that were hard to miss.
On July 13, he commuted the sentences of dozens of non-violent drug offenders, some of whom were serving life sentences. On July 14, the president delivered a striking address at the NAACP's annual convention on the need for criminal-injustice reform. And on July 16, Obama became the first sitting president to personally visit a federal prison, even meeting with a group of non-violent convicts.
And in response, Republicans said ... very little. In an era in which Obama can barely wake up in the morning without GOP condemnations, Republicans -- on Capitol Hill, on the presidential campaign trail, in conservative media -- offered nothing in the way of presidential criticisms.
It wasn't long ago that any Democratic talk about criminal-injustice reforms would be met with immediate, knee-jerk talking points about "soft-on-crime" liberals who want to "coddle" criminals. Last month, however, as Rachel noted on the show, even House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he "absolutely" supports bipartisan reforms.
"We've got a lot of people in prison, frankly, that don't really in my view need to be there," the Republican leader told reporters, pleasantly surprising reform proponents. "It's expensive to house. Some of these people are in there for what I'll call flimsy reasons."
The New York Timesreported yesterday that the winds of change have shifted in a way that makes real progress possible for the first time in at least a generation.
...Congress seems poised to revise four decades of federal policy that greatly expanded the number of Americans -- to roughly 750 per 100,000 -- now incarcerated, by far the highest of any Western nation.
Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who has long resisted changes to federal sentencing laws, said he expected to have a bipartisan bill ready before the August recess.
The details of Grassley's bill are not yet available, but the fact that the effort is moving forward at all is an amazing development.
Last month's Supreme Court ruling seemed to serve as a coda in the mind-numbing political fight over the Affordable Care Act. The legal questions have been resolved; the ACA is working effectively for consumers; polls show increasing support for the law and the U.S. system; and it was painfully obvious that the "Obamacare repeal" crusaders need a new hobby.
And yet, Republicans just can't help themselves. Bloomberg Politics reported late yesterday:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell championed a renewed push to bypass a filibuster and repeal Obamacare with 51 votes on Tuesday, he announced in a joint statement with Utah Senator Mike Lee, one of the most conservative Republicans in the chamber.
"Republicans are united in working to repeal the broken promises of Obamacare," McConnell said in the statement, adding that the Senate will "continue our effort to use reconciliation ... to fulfill the promise we made to our constituents."
The legislative maneuvering gets a little tricky, but here's the gist: GOP lawmakers realize that if they bring up a bill in the Senate to repeal the ACA and strip millions of Americans of their health care benefits, Senate Democrats will filibuster. There are 54 Republicans in the chamber, not 60, so this won't work.
But under Congress' often bizarre budget rules, lawmakers can sometimes pursue their goals through the "reconciliation" process, which bypasses filibusters.
If Senate Dems can't block the GOP scheme, does this mean the plan has a legitimate shot?
In recent months, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has taken some fairly aggressive steps to enforce party unity, which has included meting out punishments for members who ignore the GOP leadership.
Near the top of the list is Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who helped create the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, and who was temporarily stripped of a subcommittee chairmanship after irritating the Speaker's office once too many times. (Meadows regained the gavel soon after.)
In June, amidst the behind-the-scenes turmoil, the North Carolina Republican hinted that he might try to take Boehner down. Apparently, as NBC News reported last night, Meadows wasn't kidding.
A House Republican often at odds with John Boehner launched a bid Tuesday to kick the speaker of the house out of his job -- an almost unheard-of rebellion but one that has been simmering for months.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, filed a motion to "vacate the chair" -- a parliamentary maneuver that could be used to depose Boehner, R-Ohio.
The motion accuses Boehner of having "endeavored to consolidate power and centralize decision-making, bypassing the majority of the 435 Members of Congress and the people they represent," and of using "the power of the office to punish Members who vote according to their conscience instead of the will of the Speaker."
Is there any chance this could actually work? Is Boehner's job actually in jeopardy?
Presidential campaigns have been known to struggle from time to time with problematic surrogates. The Romney campaign in 2012, for example, had its share of official representatives who struggled to stay on message, and four years earlier, the McCain campaign ran into some trouble with surrogate Carly Fiorina.
But leave it to Donald Trump's presidential campaign to break new ground in this area. MSNBC's Anna Brand reported:
Donald Trump is in the headlines again for comments about rape -- only it wasn't the presidential candidate who made the remarks this time around, but rather his attorney.
Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, in response to decades-old allegations resurfaced in a recent article regarding Trump's ex-wife, said "you can't rape your spouse."
The trouble started with a Daily Beast investigation into a rape allegation Ivana Trump made in 1989, a claim she has since walked back. The Daily Beast talked to Michael Cohen about the allegation, and the Trump attorney said, "You're talking about the front-runner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as private individual who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand that by very definition, you can't rape your spouse."
That, of course, is the opposite of the truth.
According to the published report, Cohen went on to tell the Daily Beast reporter working on the story, "I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we're in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don't have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know. So I'm warning you, tread very f----ing lightly, because what I'm going to do to you is going to be f----ing disgusting. You understand me?"
Trump's lawyer added, "You write a story that has Mr. Trump's name in it, with the word 'rape,' and I'm going to mess your life up ... for as long as you're on this frickin' planet ... you're going to have judgments against you, so much money, you'll never know how to get out from underneath it."
One of the striking things about Trump's national campaign is that it never apologizes and never seems to show any regrets. In this case, however, a spokesperson for the Republican presidential hopeful said that Trump "didn't know" of Cohen's comments, but the candidate "disagrees with him."
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