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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 3.30.16

03/30/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Commutations: "President Obama backed up his calls for reforming the way society punishes non-violent criminals on Wednesday by commuting the sentences of 61 prisoners -- a third of them lifers."
 
* Obama has now commuted the sentences of more people than the last six presidents combined.
 
* Alabama scandal, Part I: "Rebekah Caldwell Mason has resigned from her post as senior political advisor to Gov. Robert Bentley, she said in a Wednesday afternoon statement."
 
* Alabama scandal, Part II: "Gov. Robert Bentley on Wednesday reiterated that he has no plans to resign from office, a week after admitting to making inappropriate sexual comments to his top adviser."

* Minneapolis: "No charges will be filed against the two Minneapolis officers involved in the shooting death last fall of Jamar Clark, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Wednesday, citing DNA and other evidence showing Clark was not handcuffed during the altercation and he refused to let go of an officer’s holstered gun during the late-night struggle outside an apartment building."

* FDA: "The Food and Drug Administration stepped into the politics of abortion on Wednesday, relaxing the requirements for taking a medication that induces abortion, a move that is expected to expand access to the procedure."
 
* Climate crisis, Part I: "The North Pole's ice is disappearing as we watch: This year, the Arctic sea ice had the lowest winter maximum extent on record. Every year the ice melts in the summer and grows in the winter. Although the specific date varies, it generally reaches its maximum amount in March. In 2016, that maximum was likely reached on March 24, with an extent measured at 14.52 million square kilometers. The problem is that this number is the lowest on record."
 
* Climate crisis, Part II: "Sea levels could rise nearly twice as much as previously predicted by the end of this century if carbon dioxide emissions continue unabated, an outcome that could devastate coastal communities around the globe, according to new research published Wednesday."
 
* More fallout for North Carolina: "Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has joined other government officials in banning nearly all official travel to North Carolina because of the state's law halting anti-discrimination rules."
Donald Trump argues a point during an MSNBC interview with Chris Matthews, March 30, 2016. (Photo by Timothy Hiatt/MSNBC)

Trump backs abortion ban, calls for 'punishment' for women

03/30/16 04:09PM

In every presidential election since Roe v. Wade, the Republican nominee has opposed abortion rights. GOP candidates have differed on some of the details, but broadly speaking, national Republican candidates have said largely the same thing about one of the nation's most controversial social issues.
 
That said, when a presidential hopeful talks about "punishment" for women, it's something altogether different. NBC News' Ali Vitali reports:
Donald Trump believes that there should be punishment for women who undergo abortions if the procedure was outlawed, but indicated he has yet to determine what that punishment should be.
 
In an exclusive interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews, the GOP front-runner described himself multiple times as "pro-life" but struggled to define what the legal ramifications of that position would be if it became the law. When continually pressed for what the answer is regarding punishing women who would break any theoretical ban, Trump said the "answer is that there has to be some form of punishment, yeah."
The full interview will air this evening, but note in the interim that Trump didn't seem eager to answer the question. Chris Matthews asked the GOP frontrunner whether women should be punished for trying to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, and Trump spent a fair amount of time trying to avoid answering.
 
Eventually, however, the Republican candidate said abortion has to be banned and there "has to be some form of punishment" for women who seek abortions. And what might this punishment be?
 
"I don't know," Trump said. "That I don't know." He added this is "a very complicated position."
 
Don't bother the candidate with substantive details. He prefers to be more of a "big picture" guy.
Voters cast their vote in the Presidential elections on November, 6, 2012 in Janesville, Wisconsin.

Latest polling: Underdogs well positioned in Wisconsin

03/30/16 03:09PM

Just yesterday, Hillary Clinton aides made clear to reporters that Bernie Sanders has a pretty good chance of winning the Wisconsin primary. This should have been clear for quite a while.
 
Back in January, when most polling showed Clinton in good shape in many Midwestern states, a Marquette University Law School poll showed Sanders down by only two points. A month later, the same pollster found Sanders taking the lead in the Badger State, and as of today, that advantage remains.
On the Democratic side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders leads frontrunner Hillary Clinton, 49-45. [...]
 
Sanders has the largest lead in the Madison region, but he also has a slight advantage in the Milwaukee region.
This shouldn't surprise anyone. At this point in the race, analysts are able to start drawing up demographic models, predicting where candidates will do well based on the electorate's makeup. The New York Times' modeling, for example, considers Wisconsin "one of Bernie's best remaining primaries," projecting a five-point advantage for the Vermont senator.
 
That's due in part to the fact that the state's African-American population is below 7%, and Clinton has fared far less well in states with fewer black voters.
 
And while a win in Wisconsin will no doubt give Sanders another fundraising boost and a round of positive headlines, the challenge for the senator's campaign remains the same: he doesn't just need a win in this state, he needs to win by a lot. At this stage in the race, the difference between a narrow victory and a narrow loss is inconsequential -- it matters when it comes to bragging rights and creating a sense of "momentum," but not when it comes to delegate allocation, where Sanders has so much ground to make up.
 
As for Tuesday's other Wisconsin primary, it seems Sanders isn't the only underdog well positioned in the state. The Wisconsin State Journal reported:
US-POLITICS-CPAC

The disappearance of actual Republican 'moderates' is a problem

03/30/16 12:58PM

The New York Times reported yesterday on the electoral challenges facing Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) in New Hampshire this year, given the factors in the 2016 race, some of which the incumbent senator can't control. The headline read, "Tough Re-election for G.O.P. Moderate Is Getting Tougher."
She may not always telegraph it, but Ms. Ayotte, a freshman senator, is locked in a herculean battle with the state's popular Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan. As one of five Senate Republicans running for re-election in states that supported President Obama in both 2008 and 2012, Ms. Ayotte is seen as particularly vulnerable this November. [...]
 
Six years ago, Ms. Ayotte was part of a Republican wave.... For Ms. Ayotte and other Republicans from that class, 2016 was always going to be a difficult year to run for re-election because more Democrats vote in presidential years. But with the possibility that Donald J. Trump, the most divisive Republican presidential candidate in a generation, will be at the top of the ticket, the party's task may be all the more arduous.
The broader assessment seems entirely right: the GOP incumbent faces a strong Democratic challenger in a year in which Republicans in competitive states are likely to struggle. Walking the electoral tightrope will pose challenges.
 
But it's the wording of the headline that jumped out at me: since when is Kelly Ayotte a "moderate"?

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.30.16

03/30/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* Recognizing an opportunity, a pair of anti-Trump groups -- Our Principles PAC and the Club for Growth -- are spending $1.7 million in Wisconsin television advertising in the hopes of slowing Donald Trump's march to the Republican nomination.
 
* Speaking of Wisconsin advertising, a group supporting Ted Cruz's campaign has made a $500,000 ad buy in advance of the next primary, attacking John Kasich.
 
* And speaking of Kasich, the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin's largest newspaper, published an endorsement yesterday supporting the Ohio governor.
 
* In Public Policy Polling's new national survey, Trump leads Cruz by 10 points, 42% to 32%, with Kasich third at 22%. In a two-man race, however, Trump's lead over Cruz nearly disappears to just two points, 46% to 44%.
 
* Among Democrats, the same PPP poll shows Hillary Clinton with a big lead over Bernie Sanders, 54% to 36%.
 
* Speaking of Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner released her first anti-Trump television ad overnight, launching a commercial in New York that slams the Republican's divisiveness and violence.
Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich works the crowd after a town hall meeting at the River Steel plant, March 28, 2016, in West Salem, Wis. (Photo by Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

John Kasich turns to history to reassure supporters

03/30/16 11:00AM

John Kasich seems to understand that by the time the presidential primaries and caucuses are over, he's going to trail his Republican rivals by every relevant metric: delegates, victories, and votes. Common sense suggests it's a recipe for failure.
 
But the Ohio governor still doesn't see it that way. Time magazine reported yesterday that Kasich and his top aides spent some time this week trying to "reassure supporters and potential delegates" that the campaign is still on the right track, primary and caucus results notwithstanding.
During an hour-long conference call after Kasich's final town hall event in Wisconsin ahead of the state's April 5 primary, the candidate addressed delegates and potential delegates to the GOP convention in Cleveland, as well as top donors and volunteers, to reassure them he has no intention of dropping out of the race. [...]
 
Kasich and his senior advisers maintain that the Republican race is heading for a contested convention -- with no candidate having the 1,237 delegates required to win the nomination on the first ballot.
And that may very well be true. Donald Trump is obviously leading the GOP pack, but whether or not he can cross the 1,237-delegate threshold remains an unresolved question -- though this may not be entirely relevant to Kasich's ambitions, given how much further back he'll finish.
 
But the governor added an interesting historical detail: "Of the 10 Republican contested conventions, only three times did the frontrunner become the Republican nominee."
 
This got me thinking: is Kasich correct? In contested Republican conventions, has the frontrunner usually lost?
Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump takes part in a town hall event moderated by Anderson Cooper March 29, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wis. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty)

Maybe Trump doesn't know what 'proliferation' means

03/30/16 10:13AM

In his big New York Times interview the other day, Donald Trump said countries with "nuclear capability" represent the "biggest problem the world has." That's a perfectly reasonable thing to say.
 
Except, moment later, the candidate said the United States has to "talk about" allowing Japan and South Korea to have a nuclear arsenal of their own. He also referred to his fear of "nuclear global warming," whatever that is.
 
Last night, CNN's Anderson Cooper tried to explore this issue in more detail with the Republican presidential frontrunner.
COOPER: Let's talk about nuclear issues because you talked about this in a really interesting article in The New York Times.
 
TRUMP: One of the very, very big issues. I think maybe the biggest issue of our time.
 
COOPER: That's what you said to The New York Times. You said you worried about the proliferation of nuclear weapons the most. You also said, though, that you might support Japan and South Korea developing nuclear weapons of their own. Isn't that completely contradictory?
 
TRUMP: No, not at all. Look, you have North Korea has nuclear weapons. And he doesn't have a carrier yet but he has got nuclear weapons. He soon will have. We don't want to pull the trigger. We're just -- you know, we have a president, frankly, that doesn't -- nobody is afraid of our president. Nobody respects our president. You take a look at what's going on throughout the world. It's not the country that it was.
Cooper, to his credit, tried to get the candidate to focus on the issue. "But if you're concerned about proliferation," the anchor said, "letting other countries get nuclear weapons, isn't that proliferation?" Trump responded by talking about the national debt and "the very, very bad omnibus budget that was just signed."
 
Cooper went on to note that U.S. policy has long opposed nuclear proliferation in Japan and South Korea. Trump said it may be "time to change" this posture.
 
"So some proliferation is OK?' the host asked. "No, no, not proliferation," Trump said. "I hate nuclear more than any."
 
Cooper, understandably confused by Trump's incoherence, tried to understand why Trump supports and opposes nuclear proliferation at the same time. The candidate responded by expanding the conversation to nuclear weapons in Saudi Arabia.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) waves during a campaign rally at Faith Assembly of God Church on March 11, 2016 in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Gerardo Mora/Getty)

Ted Cruz resorts to rhetoric about 'no-go zones'

03/30/16 09:35AM

In January, not long after the terrorist attack in Paris, Fox News' Steven Emerson had a deeply unfortunate, and internationally ridiculed, exchange about England's Muslim population, for which he later apologized. But of particular interest was Emerson's argument that Britain has "no-go zones ... where non-Muslims just simply don't go in."
 
The problem, of course, is that this was plainly wrong. Fox News went so far as to issue an on-air correction, telling viewers there is "no credible information to support the assertion" that "no-go zones" exist in Europe.
 
But Republican presidential candidates don't need credible information to make false assertions. Bobby Jindal, for example, spent some time last year warning audiences about "no-go zones" in Western Europe, despite the fact that they don't exist.
 
This week, in an op-ed for the New York Daily News, Ted Cruz embraced the same talking point (via Hunter).
One of the causes of this horror has been European bureaucrats restraining law enforcement from fully engaging with the Muslim community in "no go" zones. As a result, for years, a radical, theocratic, violent ideology has spread in some mosques and Muslim neighborhoods throughout Europe. Terrorists have exploited these isolated enclaves to recruit followers, formulate plots and orchestrate attacks. [...]
 
There is no better example of these "no go" zones than one neighborhood in the city of this latest horrific attack -- the municipality of Molenbeek in the city of Brussels.
To be sure, Molenbeek's security significance matters a great deal, but to suggest that non-Muslims simply don't go to the city is ridiculous -- Muslim residents make up "around 25 to 30 percent" of the area's population.
 
Why in the world do American conservatives keep pointing to "zones" that don't exist? Because this is part of a domestic agenda.
People walk past the U.S. Capitol dome in the hours before President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in Washington, Jan. 12, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Years later, the 'D.C. Madam' scandal is relevant once more

03/30/16 08:50AM

The scandal surrounding the "D.C. Madam" may seem like old news, but if you missed last night's show, you may not realize that this story is suddenly quite relevant again. WTOP, a Washington-area news radio station, had this report yesterday:
The former attorney for the "D.C. Madam" has asked the United States Supreme Court to allow him to release records of Deborah Jeane Palfrey's escort service, including customer names, addresses and Social Security numbers, because they allegedly could affect the 2016 presidential election.
 
In an application to the high court, filed Monday, Montgomery Blair Sibley is asking to be released from a judge's 2007 restraining order which prohibited him from sharing Palfrey's telephone records, during the much-publicized run-up to her federal trial for racketeering, money laundering and mail fraud.
 
And, if the Supreme Court won't hear his argument, Sibley says he will release the identifying information of Palfrey's customers.
It's been a long while since this story was in the news, so before we get into why this may matter to the 2016 presidential race, it's probably worth recapping some of the forgotten details.
 
Deborah Jeane Palfrey ran a DC-area escort service for several years, before getting caught by the police. As part of her legal defense, Palfrey's lawyers said they would expose the service's client list -- not by releasing a list of names, but by releasing phone records.
 
One of those numbers, we now know, was traced back to Louisiana's right-wing Republican senator, David Vitter, who ran on a "family values" platform.
 
But what's easy to forget nearly a decade later is that the matter wasn't fully resolved: the full phone records were never released.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump looks at a signed pledge during a news conference in Trump Tower, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015 in New York. (Photo Richard Drew/AP)

Trump and his rivals back away from RNC's loyalty pledge

03/30/16 08:00AM

There was a point last summer when Donald Trump flirted with the possibility of running an independent presidential campaign, prompting widespread consternation in Republican circles. But by early September, Trump announced that he'd signed the RNC's "loyalty pledge," committing him to the party's nominating process -- and its nominee.
 
As we've discussed before, however, the New York Republican left himself some wiggle room. Trump said, repeatedly, that he would honor the agreement so long as Republicans treated him "fairly." He never specified exactly what "fairly" meant -- apparently, he knows it when he sees it -- but the candidate's rhetoric suggested he always saw a way out of his promise.
 
All of which led up to last night, when things changed.
When pushed again by moderator Anderson Cooper about whether he'd respect the so-called "Loyalty Pledge" ... Trump was more direct:
 
"No, I don't anymore. No. We'll see who it is. And he was essentially saying the same thing."
In this case, "he" referred to Trump's principal rival, Sen. Ted Cruz, who also suggested he no longer feels bound by the party's pledge.
 
"I'm not in the habit of supporting someone who attacks my wife and attacks my family," Cruz said last night. Pressed to explain the implications of his position, the Texas Republican would only say, "I gave you my answer."
 
For good measure, even John Kasich hedged on whether he'll honor the RNC pledge, saying he would have to wait to "see what happens" in the Republican race before deciding whether to keep his commitment.
 
Keep in mind, at a Republican debate held earlier this month, these candidates were asked whether they'd support their party's presidential nominee, no matter who prevailed. Cruz said, "Yes, because I gave my word that I would." Kasich responded, "[If Trump] ends up as the nominee -- sometimes, he makes it a little bit hard -- but, you know, I will support whoever is the Republican nominee for president."
 
A lot has happened in the four weeks since, and as of last night, the RNC's "pledge" appears to be no 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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