Rachel Maddow calls on the Republican National Committee to stop using a fake bill marked "past due" as a means of raising money from unsuspecting people who might think they actually owe something. watch
Mayor Jennifer Roberts, of Charlotte, North Carolina, talks with Rachel Maddow about North Carolina's new anti-gay law blocking measures to protect the LGBT community from discrimination, and the backlash from citizens and businesses whose sense of decency or inclusiveness policies are offended by the law. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the already ongoing battle within the Republican Party to shore up delegates with candidate loyalties that will come into play if there is no clear winner by the national convention. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the upcoming Democratic caucuses in Washington, Hawaii and Alaska, pointing out the myriad factors that give Senator Bernie Sanders and advantage in these particular contests. watch
* Iraq: "A suicide bomber blew himself up in a soccer stadium south of the Iraqi capital on Friday, killing 29 people and wounding 60, security officials said, as the military announced new gains on the ground against the Islamic State group."
* Related news: "The Pentagon said Friday it was moving to increase the number of American forces in Iraq and announced that U.S. forces have killed the Islamic State's finance minister. 'We are systematically eliminating ISIL's cabinet,' Defense Secretary Ash Carter said."
* Brussels: "Belgian commandos and bomb disposal units swept through a district at the heart of the Brussels attack probe Friday, underscoring the widening security fears as prosecutors acknowledged that they missed a chance to press a key terrorist suspect for intelligence in the days ahead of the twin-site suicide bombings."
* Among this week's victims: "A New York-based brother and sister were among those killed during this week's Brussels attacks, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed Friday. Sascha and Alexander Pinczowski had just arrived at the Brussels Airport when two explosions went off Tuesday. They had not been seen since, but on Friday they were confirmed as having died in the twin blasts."
* Alabama: "State Auditor Jim Zeigler on Friday filed a report with the Alabama Ethics Commission on allegations that Gov. Robert Bentley conducted an affair with a staff member."
* Indiana: "Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed a controversial abortion bill Thursday that, among other things, would ban the procedure if it is sought because the fetus was diagnosed with a disability or defect such as Down syndrome."
* Capt. Daniel Dusek: "The highest-ranking U.S. Navy officer convicted so far in a massive bribery scandal was sentenced to almost four years in prison Friday for selling military secrets to an Asian defense contractor in exchange for prostitutes, luxury hotel stays and other favors."
Wisconsin's April 5 primary is likely to be important for all kinds of electoral reasons, but the day will also be significant in terms of the voting process itself: it will be the first big test of the state's ridiculous voter-ID law. Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed legislation to create the system in 2011, responding to a "voter fraud" scourge that did not exist, but following a series of legal disputes, this will be the first presidential election year in which the system is fully implemented.
For supporters of voting rights, this isn't good news. A report from Pro Publica noted this week, for example, that the law requires Wisconsin's Republican-run state government to run "a public-service campaign 'in conjunction with the first regularly scheduled primary and election' to educate voters on what forms of ID are acceptable."
To date, it appears that public-service campaign has not happened and no money has been a set aside to educate the public. With literally hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters facing disenfranchisement, it's a major problem officials are not even trying to fix.
It's also not the only step backwards Wisconsin has taken on voting rights. MSNBC's Zack Roth reported today:
A bill signed into law last week by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker could make it much harder for the poor and minorities to register to vote in the pivotal swing state just as the 2016 election approaches.
The Republican-backed measure allows Wisconsinites to register to vote online. But voting rights advocates say that step forward is massively outweighed by a provision in the bill whose effect will be to make it nearly impossible to conduct the kind of community voter registration drives that disproportionately help low-income and non-white Wisconsinites to register.
No other state, including states led entirely by Republican officials, has created a registration system that dismantled community-registration drives.
Project Vote noted this week, "Local and national group ... joined together to show [Wisconsin] lawmakers that the proposed online registration system would not be available to all eligible electors, disproportionately impacting students, veterans, older individuals, low-income people and people of color. We explained that it is community registration drives that often register the very people unable to use online registration."
The GOP-led legislature wasn't willing to change the bill. Walker, naturally, signed it.
A few weeks ago, when the race for the Republican presidential nomination was even murkier than it is now, the party's governors got together for a meeting of the Republican Governors Association. Some super PAC operatives joined them to do a presentation on how to stop Donald Trump.
At the time, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R), who supported Marco Rubio, raised an interesting point that stood out for me. "It's one thing if [Trump] goes to the convention and he's got 48 percent, 49 percent of the delegates," Haslam told the Washington Post. "Then it's a hard thing to see if there's a convention floor battle. But if he goes to the convention and he's got 35 or 40 percent, that's a whole different thing."
That, of course, was in early March, and the race has changed a fair amount since then. In fact, it seems extremely unlikely Trump will end up anywhere near 35 of the available delegates -- the question is whether or not he'll cross the 1,237 delegate threshold, or perhaps come very close.
If Trump falls short of the magic number, many believe it will create the opening anti-Trump forces need to nominate someone else. NBC News reports today on Team Trump's effort to make sure that doesn't happen.
While Trump publicly dismisses talk of a battle in Cleveland, he is quietly assembling a team of seasoned operatives to manage a contested convention. Their strategy, NBC has learned, is to convert delegates in the crucial 40 days between the end of the primaries and the convention - while girding for a floor fight in Cleveland if necessary.
The outreach is already underway. "We are talking to tons of delegates," says Barry Bennett, a former Ben Carson campaign manager now leading the delegate strategy for Trump.
The report is worth reading to get a full sense of the strategy, but it's worth emphasizing that the plan will be shaped by just how close Trump gets by the time the primaries and caucuses wrap up. If he's only a handful of delegates shy of 1,237, it's easy to imagine Trump working the phones and picking up backers among the hundreds of uncommitted delegates who'll reach the convention as free agents.
Indeed, there are currently about 300 up-for-grabs delegates in play. If Trump is 100 delegates shy of what he needs, he and his team would need to pick up support from a third of the unbound delegates.
But make no mistake: plenty in the party are still dreaming of a scenario in which there's a contested convention and the nomination goes to a white-knight candidate who isn't even in the race right now.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* As part of an increasingly personal back and forth between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, the Texas senator yesterday called the Republican frontrunner a "sniveling coward." Asked, however, if he intends to support his rival if Trump wins the nomination, Cruz would only say he doesn't believe Trump will be the GOP nominee.
* President Obama's approval rating has reached three-year highs in the new CNN and Bloomberg Politics polls. This won't help improve Republicans' chances of electoral success.
* After Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) announced his support for holding a hearing on Judge Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination, the Tea Party Patriots Citizen Fund said it's prepared to support a possible primary challenger against the Kansas Republican. Moran is up for re-election this year.
* Bernie Sanders picked up a union endorsement yesterday, with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union announcing its support for the senator yesterday.
* Ben Carson, who endorsed Trump, was asked yesterday to defend Trump's record of deceptions. "Tell me a politician who doesn't tell lies?" Carson replied, as if that were a defense.
* Lindsey Graham, fresh off announcing his backing for Cruz, said yesterday the Republican Party "can lose in 2016 and probably will."
* Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has been under pressure to make a statement about his party's presidential primary. "I'm not a Trump fan," he told the Associated Press yesterday. "I don't think he should be the nominee. At this point in time, I have no idea who the candidates are going to be or who I'm going to vote for."
* Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, was asked this week about his preferred candidate's record of offensive rhetoric. The Republican congressman said yesterday Trump has "been misquoted, and they've taken things out of context."
In the wake of this week's terrorist attack in Brussels, President Obama's critics raised familiar and predictable complaints. Why isn't the Obama administration going after ISIS? When is the White House going to get tough on terror?
We were reminded again this morning, however, that the gap between perceptions and reality is often significant.
ISIS' second in command, Haji Imam, was killed during a raid this month, U.S. defense officials announced Friday.
Imam was a finance minister who oversaw all the funding for ISIS' operations, said Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
Imam's death comes on the heels of a U.S. airstrike in Syria that reportedly killed another top ISIS commander, Omar al-Shishani. The combination of the two, NBC News reported, "are major scores for U.S.-led coalition forces in taking out the biggest names on the U.S.'s terror hit list."
These announcements coincide with the Washington Post's report that, on the battlefield, ISIS is "a rapidly diminishing force." The article added, "Nowhere are they on the attack. They have not embarked on a successful offensive in nearly nine months. Their leaders are dying in U.S. strikes at the rate of one every three days, inhibiting their ability to launch attacks, according to U.S. military officials."
As for the territory controlled by ISIS, according to Pentagon officials, the terrorists' area has shrunk by 40 percent since its 2014 peak, "a figure that excludes the most recent advances."
In fairness, we've seen reports like these before, only to learn soon after that ISIS has regrouped and made fresh gains.
That said, much of the evidence is not in dispute: ISIS is obviously still capable of pulling off deadly strikes against civilian targets, but on the ground in Syria and Iraq, the terrorist network is losing leaders and land. The U.S. military offensives have made a difference.
The political question is when Republicans are going to notice.
About a week ago, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump was asked what might happen if his party denies him the nomination at July's convention in Cleveland. "I think you'd have riots," Trump replied. "I think you'd have riots. I'm representing a tremendous many, many millions of people."
The comments, not surprisingly, generated quite a bit of attention, even after notable Trump allies said the candidate wasn't being literal about the prospect of convention violence. New Jersey Chris Christie said a week ago, "I don't think he meant literal riots. I think he meant political riots, and I think that is what would happen." (For the record, I'm not altogether sure what a "political riot" is.)
What's more, Trump's comments came against a backdrop of multiple, physical confrontations at several of the candidate's events between his supporters and those protesting his candidacy.
Sen. Dean Heller (R) of Nevada has watched all of this play out, and according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the senator may skip his own party's convention "over concerns of his own safety."
"Things could get pretty testy," the Nevada Republican told KSNV-TV, Channel 3, which reported Heller had seen recent protests at Donald Trump rallies.
"Frankly my biggest concern is security, whether or not I feel it is safe enough to attend a convention."
The Republican National Convention's communications director told the paper that officials confident about hosting "a safe and productive convention," and that organizers are "working with local, state and federal partners" on security plans.
In October, less than a year into his congressional career, Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) raised a curious complaint: the economy in and around the nation's capital, he said, was simply too good. After taking a picture of several DC-area construction cranes, the Iowa Republican said via Twitter, "We need to cause a recession ... in Washington DC."
This week, the same congressman repeated the same call, complaining about the excessive health of inside-the-Beltway economic development. "DC needs a recession," Blum said on Monday, alongside another picture of construction cranes. (The congressman sent this from both his personal Twitter account and his congressional account.)
To put it mildly, it's extremely unusual for an American official to want a recession inside a major American city, and as Roll Callreported, the GOP freshman's comments have drawn some attention.
The Iowa City Building Trades Council said Blum's wish was "out of touch."
Jerry Hobart, business manager of Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 125 said, "Rod Blum further clarified how little he understands about working people. Cranes are operated by workers. Walls of buildings are constructed by workers. New construction creates service jobs for workers. I would be happy to give Rod Blum an Economics 101 lesson, but it seems more appropriate that he take a class in Common Sense 101."
The backlash on Twitter included blaming him for the reasons Americans don't approve of Congress and questioning why anyone would call for a recession.
An ABC affiliate in Blum's Iowa district talked to Mike Sadler II, a business agent for the Cedar Rapids Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 125, who said it's "hard to believe anyone, let alone an elected official, would call for a recession anywhere in the country."
The Cedar Rapids Gazette, a newspaper in Blum's congressional district, talked to the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building Trades Council, which called for an apology from the Republican lawmaker.
"We better hear an apology for this outrageous statement, and it better come fast," Rich Good, vice president of the trades council, said in a statement. Patrick Loeffler, president of the trades council, added. "I have seen a lot of out-of-touch statements from Rod Blum throughout his short career in Washington, but I honestly never thought I would see him -- or any reasonable human for that matter -- actually call for a recession."
It's become something of a fad among conservative policymakers: what the country really needs is drug testing for low-income Americans who rely on the social safety net. This week, as the NBC affiliate in Huntington reported, the policy reached West Virginia.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has approved a drug-testing proposal for some West Virginia welfare applicants.
The Democratic governor signed off Wednesday on the three-year statewide drug-testing pilot program for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program applicants. The Republican-led Legislature passed it.
The way the policy is structured, caseworkers will be responsible for determining which welfare applicants trigger a "reasonable suspicion" of drug use. Failing a test once will require substance-abuse treatment; failing a test more than once will cost applicants' benefits.
One proponent of the measure, Republican Delegate Scott Cadle, argued during the legislative debate, “I expect people who live off my tax money to be drug tested."
Except, strictly speaking, that's not quite true. West Virginia has plenty of government contractors who receive public funding, and they won't be drug testing. More to the point, state employees -- including elected members of the state legislature -- also "live off" their taxpayer-financed salaries, but they won't be subjected to drug testing, either.
After this week's deadly terrorist attack in Brussels, Republicans are certain President Obama should go somewhere. They just aren't sure where.
Ted Cruz, for example, declared at a press conference, "President Obama should be back in America keeping this country safe, or President Obama should be planning to travel to Brussels." The Texas senator didn't have any specific rationale for such a challenge, probably because his rhetoric didn't make a lot of sense. Whether or not the president cut short his overseas trip would have no bearing on Americans' security, and the last thing Brussels needs right now is the added burden of preparing security precautions for an Obama visit.
But as TPM noted yesterday, Gov. Rick Scott (R) has an entirely different itinerary in mind for the president: what Obama really ought to do in the wake of terrorism in Brussels is go to ... Florida.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) thinks the best way for President Barack Obama to address the concerns of Americans troubled by Tuesday's deadly terrorist attacks in Brussels is to head to the Sunshine State.
"Not only do I believe that President Obama should immediately return to America, I am inviting him today to come to Florida and address the concerns of American tourists considering travel to Europe," Scott said in a statement released Thursday.
I've read the governor's press release a few times, trying to make sense of it, but I have no idea what Scott's talking about. Apparently, the Florida Republican is worried about European tourism suffering in the aftermath of an attack, so Scott wants the president to visit Florida to reassure Americans who are considering trips across the Atlantic.
Perhaps the governor was searching for a new way to complain about Obama, and this was the best he could come up with?
The arithmetic on the Senate Republicans' Supreme Court blockade certainly leans in the party's favor. The GOP conference has a 54-member majority. If there's a filibuster against Judge Merrick Garland, as seems likely, he would need 60 votes to have a chance at confirmation.
Are there 14 Republican senators who might break ranks and join with 46 Democrats to advance Garland's nomination? Objectively, it's difficult to imagine such circumstances -- so long as the far-right GOP conference sticks together, linking arms on a gambit never before tried in American history, odds are Republicans will succeed in blocking the same Supreme Court nominee some GOP senators urged President Obama to choose.
But as the process continues to unfold, there's at least some evidence that Republicans are not yet united. The Washington Postreported yesterday:
A third Republican senator broke with party leadership this week to say that Supreme Court nominee Merrick B. Garland ought to be granted hearings, according to a news report.
The Garden City Telegram reported that Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) told a small group gathered in a Cimarron, Kan., courthouse on Monday that GOP senators "should interview Garland and have a hearing on his nomination," in the paper's words.
According to the local report, Moran said he expects to oppose Garland's nomination, but the senator nevertheless believes "the process ought to go forward." In a separate local report, the Kansas Republican was also quoted saying, "I think we have the responsibility to have a hearing, to have the conversation and to make a determination on the merit."
Before yesterday, only Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) had endorsed confirmation hearings for Garland. Moran, a former chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee who also happens to be up for re-election this year, has joined a very small club.
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.