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Monday's Mini-Report, 3.16.15

03/16/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* A desperation move, an important shift in posture, or both? "With less than a day until Israel's election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Monday that there will be no Palestinian state if he is re-elected tomorrow."
 
* Iran takes advantage of the Republicans' gift: "Iranian diplomats twice confronted their American counterparts about an open letter from Republican senators who warned that any nuclear deal could expire the day President Barack Obama leaves office, a senior U.S. official said Monday."
 
* Pakistan: "Suicide bombers attacked two Christian churches during Sunday services in the Pakistani city of Lahore, killing at least 12 people and wounding dozens in the latest attack on religious minorities in the country. The attacks occurred in quick succession outside Catholic and Protestant churches in Youhanabad, one of Pakistan's biggest Christian neighborhoods."
 
* Ferguson: "An arrest has been made in connection with the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, officials said Sunday afternoon.... St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said during a news conference Sunday that [Jeffrey Williamsa] admitted to firing the shots that hit the two police officers, but the suspect claimed to have been in an argument with someone else, and said he wasn't specifically targeting the officers. "
 
* Gun violence in Chicago: "Five people were killed and at least 15 other people were wounded since early Sunday afternoon during separate shootings across the city, authorities said."
 
* White House to Congress: "In an effort to reassert control over the domestic political debate surrounding sensitive negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, the White House penned a letter Saturday night warning senators to hold back on legislation that would detract from the president's ability to effect and approve a final agreement with Iran."
 
* California: "Given the historic low temperatures and snowfalls that pummeled the eastern U.S. this winter, it might be easy to overlook how devastating California's winter was as well.... As difficult as it may be to face, the simple fact is that California is running out of water — and the problem started before our current drought."
As snow flurries begin to fall again, pedestrians walk through Boston City Hall Plaza in Boston, on Feb. 17, 2015. (Photo by Charles Krupa/AP)

Right raises the specter of a snow-day conspiracy

03/16/15 05:12PM

The last time Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) made a national splash was in early February, when the conservative congressman was making a strange case against vaccinating children from communicable diseases. "I know what morals and values are right for my children," the Republican said, before saying some vaccinations "may not work" for his family's "values."
 
It probably wasn't the Wisconsin Republican's finest hour. Today, Duffy took his concern for family values in an equally odd direction.
[A Boston-area school district] had to extend its school year to June 29 because of how much snow the Boston area received this year. In preparation for next year, the district chose to get rid of two Jewish holidays and a Christian holiday so the school year wouldn't have to be extended.
 
Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), who appeared as the show's "One Lucky Guy," helped [Fox News host Andrea Tantaros] reach her conclusion by being the first to criticize liberals who, he said, were using the record snowfall to their advantage.
The Republican lawmaker told the Fox News panel, "Don't let any good crisis go to waste, and if you want to take religion out of the public square, look at Boston, look at all the snow and say, 'What a great reason. Now we can take these religious holidays out of our school system.'  It's using the crisis to the liberal benefit."
 
Apparently, in Duffy's mind, part of the liberal agenda is scrapping religious holidays for children. Progressives in Massachusetts have been waiting for such an opportunity, the Wisconsin congressman apparently believes, and those rascals are now exploiting record snow fall to achieve their ends.
 
As a lifelong liberal, I didn't realize that this was important to me, and I'm a little disappointed no one told me. Sean Duffy obviously has his finger on the pulse of the American left in ways I didn't appreciate until now.
 
Fox hosts proceeded to tell viewers that school officials could have scrapped New Year's Eve as an official holiday or possibly added Saturday school days, but they didn't, the panelists argued, because officials "would rather take away the religious holidays."
 
It's evidently all part of the conspiracy first outlined by the three-term congressman from Wisconsin.
Image: Supreme Court Upholds Obama's Affordable Care Act

'Obamacare' cuts uninsured rate by more than a third

03/16/15 03:37PM

It's become quite predictable: whenever there's a sudden burst of complaints from the right about "Obamacare" being a "failure," we're confronted with fresh evidence that critics of the Affordable Care Act have the story backwards.
More than 16 million people who did not have health insurance before have gained it through the 2010 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, the federal government said Monday.
 
More than 14 million adults have health insurance either from the new exchanges or through expanded access to Medicaid, the Health and Human Services Department said.
 
Another 2 million young adults aged under 26 got health insurance because of a provision that allows their parents to keep them on their health insurance plans, HHS said.
If there were any consequences whatsoever for political leaders who make false claims, or if there was any expectation that rhetoric about health care should reflect reality in some way, Republicans might be in real trouble right now.
 
The full HHS report is available online here (pdf).
 
All told, as Sarah Kliff noted, this rapid improvement in expanding access has pushed the nation's uninsured rate from 20.3% to 13.2%, which represents "a 35-percent decline in the number of Americans who lack insurance coverage."
 
"Nothing since the implementation of Medicare and Medicaid has come close to this kind of change," Richard Frank, assistant secretary for evaluation and planning at Health and Human Services, said.
 
That history matters. By any sane measure, the Affordable Care Act is clearly working, but let's also not forget the scope of the law's success -- we're now talking about the Democratic health-care reform initiative having a greater impact than any American law in a generation.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) delivers remarks at the Faith & Freedom Coalition "Road to Majority" policy conference in Washington, June 19, 2014.

Cruz tells small child: 'Your world is on fire'

03/16/15 02:59PM

For politicians like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), fear is an important motivating tool. Listen to the far-right Texan deliver a typical stump speech and you'll hear quite a few dire assessments from Cruz about nearly everything.
 
But as a rule, when politicians address small children, they dial it down a notch. It made a Cruz event in New Hampshire the other day that much more noteworthy.
[Cruz said,] "The Obama economy is a disaster. Obamacare is a train wreck. And the Obama-Clinton foreign policy of leading from behind -- the whole world's on fire!" 
 
Julie Trant, a child in the audience, took this literally. "The world's on fire?" she asked.
 
"The world is on fire, yes," said Cruz, not missing a beat as the crowd chuckled. "Your world is on fire."
Let's note that the child in this story is just three years old. During the event, she was sitting on her mother's lap.
 
Cruz quickly added, however, "But you know what? Your mommy's here, and everyone's here to make sure that the world you grow up in is even better."
 
Let's unpack this one:
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush waits backstage before speaking at the Iowa Agriculture Summit, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Ia. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Time to reconsider Jeb's reputation as a 'wonk'

03/16/15 12:51PM

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush delivered a big foreign policy speech a few weeks ago, and unfortunately for the Republican presidential hopeful, it featured a few noticeable stumbles. Bush misidentified countries; he mispronounced names; he flubbed the size of ISIS' fighting force; and he got the U.S. military budget wrong, among other things.
 
But the same day, Ari Fleischer nevertheless told the New York Times, "Jeb is very much a policy wonk and comes across that way."
 
No, actually he doesn't. In fact, at times, Bush gives largely the opposite impression.
 
But it seems the former governor is managing to develop a wonk-ish reputation among reporters anyway. After a campaign event on Friday night, Politico ran this headline: "Jeb Bush wonks out in New Hampshire."
It was Jeb Bush the conservative, optimistic wonk who showed up in New Hampshire on Friday after a 15-year absence from the first-in-the-nation primary state.
 
In remarks shot through with policy details and optimism about the potential for growth and innovation to solve the country's problems, Bush emphasized the conservative sides of his positions on education and immigration and called for severe limits on the federal government's role in fighting climate change at a half-house party, half-media circus at the home of former state Republican Party chairman Fergus Cullen late Friday.
I think part of the problem is grading on a curve. Is Jeb Bush a wonk compared to his brother? Sure. Does Jeb Bush seem more familiar with policy details than Rick Perry and Ben Carson? Most of the time, yes.
 
But let's not be too eager to define "wonk" down.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.16.15

03/16/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
 
* A new Gallup poll shows the favorability ratings for both major political parties dropping below 40%, including a sharp drop for Republicans since the midterm elections last fall. It's the first time since Gallup began asking the question 23 years ago that both parties' support has dropped this low.
 
* Despite strong public support for a minimum-wage increase, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) told a New Hampshire audience over the weekend that he does not support the popular idea.
 
* With just one day remaining until Israeli elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, fearing defeat, has begun lashing out at "a huge international effort," which he claims is "partnering up with leftist organizations here and also with media figures" to defeat him.
 
* New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) presidential ambitions have faltered of late, but he's nevertheless telling party insiders that he's ready to make "overhauling" Medicare and Social Security the centerpiece of his national campaign. Nothing helps a struggling candidate more than promising to cut popular social-insurance programs, right?
 
* Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is still quite cautious when taking jabs at Jeb Bush, but he's getting less subtle. He said late last week, "I just think voters are going to look at this and say, 'If we're running against Hillary Clinton, we'll need a name from the future -- not a name from the past -- to win.'"
 
* Apparently convinced there isn't enough money in political campaigns, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) intends to push eliminating caps on contributions altogether.
 
* Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) briefly slipped over the weekend, referring to himself as a presidential "candidate" on Twitter. The tweet was soon after deleted -- Paul's campaign is still officially unannounced.
Governor Scott Walker (R-WS) speaks to Republican organizing meeting in Concord, N.H., March 14, 2015. (Photo by Dominick Reuter/Reuters)

Walker's tall tales about Reagan (updated)

03/16/15 11:36AM

[Updated below] The AP started backing off the story the day after publishing its original report. Note the update at the bottom of this piece.
 
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) recently insisted that Ronald Reagan firing air-traffic controllers in 1981 was "the most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime." It was at that point that an important truth became clear: Walker's Reagan worship is just a little creepy.
 
But taking a step further, listening to the governor, it also became clear that Walker didn't quite have his facts straight, either. But when it comes to the Republican icon, it appears the details aren't especially important to the Wisconsin governor.
At a 2013 Reagan Day dinner in Milwaukee, Walker told a Reagan story that he said "gives me a little bit of a shiver."
 
He described being invited by Nancy Reagan to give a speech at the Reagan Library near Los Angeles in November 2012, five months after he won a recall election that stemmed from his successful effort to curtail the union rights of public employees in his state. [...]
 
Walker went on to describe how, during a tour of the library before the speech, the library curator "unbeknownst to me" had taken the Reagan family Bible out of its display and readied it for him to look at.
The Progressive magazine highlighted this YouTube clip of Walker's remarks, in which the GOP governor said that officials at the Reagan Library "brought over a pair of white gloves to me and they said, 'No one has touched this since President Reagan. It is his mother's Bible that he took the oath of office on. Mrs. Reagan would like you to hold it and take a picture with it.'"
 
The AP report added that audience members "can be heard gasping" in response to Walker's comments.
 
The problem is, the facts of the story aren't quite in line with the governor's anecdote.
Senator Rand Paul, R-KY, speaks during a discussion on reforming the criminal justice system at Bowie State University on March 13, 2013 in Bowie, Md. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)

Iran policy trips up Rand Paul

03/16/15 10:46AM

Last month, in honor of Valentine's Day, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) thought it'd be funny to create a fake Pinterest page to mock Hillary Clinton -- because there's nothing more amusing than jokes that combine Valentine's Day and Benghazi conspiracy theories. The page, dismissed as "sexist, unfunny and painfully lame," was taken down soon after.
 
The Republican senator is not, however, done playing little online games. His political action committee's Facebook page launched a quiz late last week, asking visitors "to guess whether remarks over U.S.-Iranian negotiations are from Hillary Clinton or a spokesman for Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei."
 
Of course, given the larger context, Paul's latest Internet enterprise might be more compelling if he hadn't just signed on to the Senate GOP letter intended to sabotage American foreign policy, side with Iranian hardliners, and end international nuclear diplomacy with Iran.
The reason Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) signed onto a controversial letter to the leaders of Iran was to give President Barack Obama more leverage in his negotiations over the country's nuclear program, the would-be presidential candidate said Sunday.
 
"There's no one in Washington more against war and more for a negotiated deal than I am," Paul said in an interview at SXSW in Austin, Texas. "But I want the negotiated deal to be a good deal. So my reason for signing onto the letter, I think it reiterates what is the actual law, that Congress will have to undo sanctions. But I also signed onto the letter because I want the president to negotiate from a position of strength which means that he needs to be telling them in Iran that 'I've got Congress to deal with.'"
In some respects, this might be the worst of both worlds. For far-right politicians like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), last week's unprecedented stunt was at least coherent -- he and other Republicans wanted to derail the diplomatic efforts, betray President Obama, undermine American foreign policy, and push the world closer to a military confrontation with Iran. Putting aside whether or not the letter was disgusting, there was at least an obvious parallel between the letter and its objectives.
 
Rand Paul's argument, on the other hand, is more of a mess.
Former Governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

He's Mike Huckabee and he approves a suspect message

03/16/15 10:09AM

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's latest video has the look and feel of an infomercial, because to a very real degree, that's exactly what it is.
 
Those who go to the "Diabetes Reversed" website are greeted with an auto-play video from the Republican presidential hopeful, in which Huckabee tells viewers about an "amazing" treatment option of people with Type 2 diabetes (thanks to reader P.A. for the tip).
"Hello, I'm Mike Huckabee. Let me tell you that diabetes can be reversed. I should know because I did it and today you can too. It's all about making simple lifestyle changes and healthier food choices. And there is no other way to reverse diabetes.
 
"Prescription drugs aren't going to cure you. They're only going to keep you a loyal, pill-popping, finger-pricking, insulin-shooting customer so Big Pharma and the mainstream medical community can rake in over $100 billion a year annually.
 
"But that's not your only option. You can avoid the side effects that could lead to needing more drugs. You don't have to be a part of this failed system any longer, because today you have an amazing opportunity to stop diabetes in its tracks -- and actually reverse it, just as I did, simply and naturally."
In the video, the former governor proceeds to make a pitch for a "profound" diabetes treatment option, which he claims leads "most" people to be rid of medication "within four weeks." To "make the plan work," Huckabee says, customers will need the kind of "structure" provided by the infomercial's sponsor. "I should know; it works," he assures viewers about the "natural secrets that are backed by real science."
 
Blurring the lines between infomercial and campaign ad, the Republican ends the video by saying, "I'm Mike Huckabee and I approve Barton Publishing's Diabetes Solution Kit."
 
A New York Times report added, "The American Diabetes Association and the Canadian Diabetes Association caution against treatments like the one peddled by the company Mr. Huckabee represents."
 
So what in the world is the former Fox News host and likely presidential candidate doing?
U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton speaks during a televised debate at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark. on Oct. 14, 2014.

Being Tom Cotton means never having to say you're sorry

03/16/15 09:20AM

A week after  attempting to sabotage American foreign policy and doing real damage to U.S. credibility on the international stage, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) sat down with Bob Schieffer yesterday to explain himself. True to form, the right-wing freshman boasted he has "no regrets at all."
 
Of course not. Being Tom Cotton means never having to say you're sorry for undermining your own country's attempts at international diplomacy.
 
At one point, towards the end of the interview, the "Face the Nation" host asked the Arkansas senator about his alternative solution if the talks collapse. Cotton didn't offer any specifics, but he did express concern about Iranian influence in the region.
"[W]e have to stand up to Iran's attempts to drive for regional dominance. They already control Tehran. Increasingly, they control Damascus and Beirut and Baghdad, and now Sanaa as well."
The fact that Iran maintains influence in other countries with Shia majorities in the region is hardly a new development, but the fact that Cotton is concerned about Iranians "already controlling Tehran" seemed like an odd thing to say. Tehran, of course, is the capital of Iran. In effect, the Republican senator was lamenting Iranian dominance of Iran, concerned that Iranians "control" the capital of their own country.
 
Making matters slightly worse, if Cotton is troubled by Tehran's influence in Baghdad, he should probably know that Iran's dominance is the direct result of the U.S. invasion he supported and participated in. In other words, it was the senator's own preferred foreign policy that created the conditions he now finds so alarming.
 
Which should probably raise some questions about his judgment now.
Loretta Lynch is sworn in during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 28, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

McConnell subjects Lynch to ransom-based governing

03/16/15 08:40AM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed last week that the delay over Loretta Lynch's Attorney General nomination would soon end, but his promise lacked specificity. The Republican leader announced Lynch would finally get a vote "next week" -- which is to say, this week -- but for reasons that no one could explain, McConnell wouldn't say which day, exactly.
 
Yesterday, the GOP strategy became clearer. McConnell seems to have kept things vague because he intended to break his word.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says there'll be no vote to confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general until Republicans and Democrats resolve a dispute over a human trafficking bill.
 
"If they want to have time to turn to the attorney general," then "we have to finish the human trafficking bill," McConnell said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
The Majority Leader added that he "had hoped" to allow the Senate to vote on Lynch, whose nomination has, by most measures, already waited longer than any other A.G. nomination in American history, but Lynch "will be put off again" unless Democrats agree to pass the human-trafficking bill that stalled last week.
 
McConnell went on to say, "We have to finish the human trafficking bill. The Loretta Lynch nomination comes next."
 
Just so we're clear, there's no procedural concern or rule that must be followed. McConnell could bring Lynch's 128-day wait to an end this morning, and by all appearances, she'd have the votes necessary to be confirmed.
 
But McConnell doesn't want to. Rather, he prefers to stick to the ransom-based model of governing that he and his party have grown overly fond of.

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