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E.g., 7/30/2015

RNC distributes oddly deceptive fundraising mailer

06/25/15 09:24PM

Tonight Rachel highlighted an unusual fundraising mailer sent out by the Republican National Committee in the form of a fake presidential primary ballot. Among the candidates included on the ballot are a lot of people who are not only not running for the Republican nomination, but who have explicitly said as much out loud and on the record.

The corresponding web page at the GOP.com site doesn't give much explanation as to why so many extra people have been added to the faux ballot, but does make it clear that the point is ultimately to raise money.

Images of the front and back of the mailer below.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 6.25.15

06/25/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* South Carolina: "Police officers stood guard and checked bags as hundreds of people filed into a church Thursday for the first funeral for victims of the massacre at a historic black church."
 
* More from South Carolina: "A Post and Courier poll shows the S.C. House is inching toward the majority necessary to the remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds. The Senate has already surpassed that support level."
 
* Action is not limited to the state level: "The National Park Service moved Wednesday to stop sales of the Confederate flag in federal parks, the Loop has learned."
 
* ISIS: "The militants of the Islamic State carried out two new offensives in northern Syria on Thursday, entering a provincial capital and detonating large bombs in the border town of Kobani, where intensive airstrikes by a United States-led coalition helped Kurdish forces rout the jihadists last year."
 
* This case can get crazier: "Another employee at the upstate New York prison where two inmates escaped earlier this month has been arrested, officials said Wednesday."
 
* That was quick: "A Kansas judge on Thursday blocked the state's first-in-the-nation ban on an abortion procedure that opponents refer to as 'dismemberment abortion.'"
 
* TAA: "The House gave final approval on Thursday to a significant expansion of aid to workers displaced by global competition, sending to President Obama the second half of a trade package that House Democrats had dramatically rejected just two weeks ago."
 
* Stunning allegations out of Baltimore: "Former Baltimore police officer Michael Wood spoke out on Twitter about the horrifying acts of abuse he saw during his time on the force, reinforcing many of the concerns raised by the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody and the Baltimore Police Department's broader history of brutality."
President Barack Obama walks from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden to deliver remarks on April 2, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Obama's understated victory lap: It's 'a good day for America'

06/25/15 04:26PM

About an hour after the Supreme Court agreed with him on the Affordable Care Act, President Obama appeared in the Rose Garden to briefly address the ruling. As msnbc's David Taintor reported, the president made clear that the health care reform law is "here to stay."
"The point is, this is not an abstract thing anymore," Obama said in a statement from the White House's Rose Garden. "This is not a set of political talking points. This is reality. We can see how it is working. This law is working exactly as its supposed to. In many ways, this law is working better than we expected it to." [...]
 
"This was a good day for America," he concluded. "Let's get back to work."
If you watch the video, note the pause between those last two phrases. I got the sense "Let's get back to work" was a phrase that wasn't in the prepared text -- it was, in effect, Obama's way of saying policymakers should move past the cheap shots and pointless charades, and instead engage in some actual, constructive work.
 
Also note the degree to which the president's remarks seemed understated. Those who expected Obama to spike the football or come out and do mic-drop might have been disappointed -- it was almost as if he assumed consumers would win the case, so there wasn't any point to over-the-top celebration.
 
I was also struck by the president's emphasis on the real winners today: it's just not his administration that prevailed; it's "a victory for hardworking Americans all across this country whose lives will continue to become more secure in a changing economy because of this law."
Justice Antonin Scalia  (Photo by Katherine Elgin/The Daily Princetonian)

Antonin Scalia's 'interpretive jiggery-pokery'

06/25/15 03:00PM

Two years ago tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, much to Justice Antonin Scalia's chagrin. Adding to his greatest-hits list, the far-right jurist called the majority's rationale "legalistic argle-bargle."
 
Today, as my msnbc colleague Irin Carmon reported, Scalia was once again in rare form today in his King v. Burwell dissent.
Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. Writing on their behalf, Scalia accused the majority of acting in bad faith just to save the law. "So it rewrites the law to make tax credits available everywhere. We should start calling this law SCOTUScare," Scalia wrote in the dissent. He said Roberts' reasoning was an act of "interpretive jiggery-pokery."
No, seriously. Scalia actually used the phrase "interpretive jiggery-pokery." It's on page 8. Two pages later, he published the phrase "pure applesauce" as a complete sentence.
 
The justice has been embarrassing himself with increasing frequency, but Scalia's reputation continues to deteriorate further.
 
The broader point, however, is less about the justice's strange word choice and more about his increasingly twisted approach to the law.
A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington June 8, 2015. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

A surprising win for the Fair Housing Act

06/25/15 12:58PM

The high-profile cases at the Supreme Court generally get quite a bit of attention, and for good reason. This term, some incredibly important cases either have been decided or they're about to be.
 
But let's not overlook some of the disputes that have been just outside the spotlight. My msnbc colleague Zack Roth reported today, for example, on a case called Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project -- which in a surprise ruling, turned back an effort to weaken the Fair Housing Act.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Thursday to reject a case that could have significantly weakened the Fair Housing Act (FHA), a landmark civil rights law. The ruling means the law will continue to cover actions in the housing sphere with a discriminatory result -- known as disparate impact -- not just intentional discrimination.
 
"Recognition of disparate-impact claims is consistent with the FHA's central purpose," Justice Anthony Kennedy, wrote in the court's majority opinion.
The entirety of the ruling is online here (pdf). Note, it was a 5-4 ruling, with Kennedy joined by the court's four center-left justices: Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.
 
For those who haven't followed the case, phrases like "disparate impact" might seem a little confusing, but this case was ultimately about the scope of protections against discrimination --the court was asked to consider whether someone discriminated against in housing can sue under the Fair Housing Act, even if the policy in question wasn't intended to be discriminatory.
 
As SCOTUSblog's Amy Howe noted, in similar cases, federal officials have settled the case out of court rather than let the Supreme Court's conservative majority weaken the Fair Housing Act. But as it turns out, they had five votes anyway.
 
"[S]ince the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968 and against the backdrop of disparate-impact liability in nearly every jurisdiction, many cities have become more diverse," Kennedy wrote for the majority. "The FHA must play an important part in avoiding the Kerner Commission's grim prophecy that '[o]ur Nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white -- separate and unequal.' ... The Court acknowledges the Fair Housing Act's continuing role in moving the Nation toward a more integrated society."

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.25.15

06/25/15 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:
 
* In Iowa, a new Bloomberg Politics poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders among Democrats by a two-to-one margin, 50% to 24%. Martin O'Malley is a distant third at 2%, and Lincoln Chafee is at roughly 0%.
 
* In New Hampshire, the Bloomberg Politics poll shows Clinton with a slightly larger advantage over Sanders, 56% to 24%. O'Malley and Chafee fared about as well as they did in Iowa.
 
* Speaking of the Granite State, a "quirky" filing process may cause trouble for Sanders getting onto the Democratic ballot: "State law says that presidential candidates must be a registered member of the party whose primary ballot they are trying to get on." Sanders is not a Democrat, which may complicate matters.
 
* Though the latest NBC poll showed Clinton with comfortable leads over the leading Republican candidates, a new Fox News poll points to more competitive match-ups. Fox shows Clinton and Jeb Bush tied in a hypothetical general election, for example. The same poll showed Clinton leading Marco Rubio by just one point and Rand Paul by four, though her advantages over the rest of the GOP field are much larger.
 
* Though Florida Republicans initially struggled to recruit a Senate candidate in next year's open-seat contest, they now have a growing primary field. Rep. Jeff Miller (R) has reportedly decided to throw his hat in the ring, joining Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera (R).
"Obamacare"  supporter Margot Smith (L) of California pleads her case with legislation opponents Judy Burel (2nd R) and Janis Haddon, both of Georgia, at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 28, 2012.

They won't admit it, but Republicans dodged a healthcare bullet

06/25/15 11:27AM

They would never admit it. Ask any Republican in Washington -- or in any gubernatorial office, for that matter -- and they'll express on-the-record disappointment that President Obama won big today at the U.S. Supreme Court.
 
But let's be clear about the broader dynamic: Democrats aren't the only ones breathing a sigh of relief this morning.
 
Heading into this morning, some basic policy truths were clear. We knew, for example, that congressional Republicans have made no progress in creating an alternative to the Affordable Care Act -- despite more than five years of broken promises -- and in all likelihood, they never would.
 
We also knew that most of those who would suffer from a plaintiff victory in King v. Burwell would be middle-income families in red states who would naturally look to their GOP representatives for help. Those same representatives would face enormous pressure from right-wing institutions to let the American health care system burn and treat affected families like collateral damage in a political war.
 
And then there were the Republican governors -- some of whom also happen to be presidential candidates -- who would have been under pressure to create exchange marketplaces in their states to prevent constituents from suffering. Of course, those same governors would have simultaneously faced equal pressure from partisans and ideologues to do exactly nothing.
 
After Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts upheld the constitutionality of "Obamacare" three years ago, many conservatives deemed him a "traitor" to his ostensible Republican allies, and I suspect there will be plenty of similar rhetoric today. But the truth remains that Roberts just did the GOP an enormous favor -- had the court created systemic chaos, and scrapped benefits for millions of red-state families, Republicans would have confronted an incredible mess they were woefully unprepared to clean up. Worse, there's a big election coming up, and the GOP was poised to be on the hook for hurting a lot of people out of nothing but spite.
 
Effectively immediately, Republicans can go back to doing what they're good at: whining incessantly about an effective law, while avoiding any actual work on health care policy.
Police officers stand in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., June 22, 2015. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Bloomberg/Getty)

'Obamacare' wins big at the Supreme Court

06/25/15 10:19AM

If you're one of the millions of Americans whose health security was at risk in King v. Burwell, you can now exhale.
 
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Obama administration's favor this morning in a 6-3 ruling. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the ruling for the majority, and was joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.
 
This post will be updated shortly (and repeatedly).
 
First Update: The full ruling is available online here.
 
Second Update: Justices Scalia, Alito, and Thomas were in the minority. Scalia, apparently annoyed that both Republican challenges to the Affordable Care Act have now failed, wrote in the dissent that he's inclined to start calling the law "SCOTUScare."
 
Third Update: Note, Roberts wrote the ruling in June 2012 -- exactly three years ago tomorrow, in fact -- that upheld the constitutionality of the health care reform law. In today's decision, the Chief Justice noted, accurately, "Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them."

Fourth Update: In the majority ruling, Roberts acknowledges the ambiguity of the offending phrase, but wrote, "In this instance, the context and structure of the Act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase." This is, of course, how American jurisprudence is supposed to work -- the idea of gutting a massive law by examining half a sentence out of context is absurd.
President Barack Obama is applauded after signing the Affordable Health Care for America Act during a ceremony with fellow Democrats in the East Room of the White House March 23, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

ACA succeeds with Supreme Court decision looming

06/25/15 09:50AM

The Supreme Court will hand down a ruling in King v. Burwell sometime over the next several days -- possibly as early as this morning -- leaving much of the political world to wonder how much damage, if any, Republican justices intend to do the American health care system.
 
While we wait, however, the legal controversy comes against an amazing backdrop. Despite the partisan peril the Affordable Care Act faces, the system itself has never been stronger or more effective. The latest CBS News poll even shows rising popularity for "Obamacare."
As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to issue a ruling that could impact the Affordable Care Act, 47 percent of Americans now approve of the health care law, the highest in CBS News and New York Times polling (although support is still short of a majority). For the first time, more Americans now approve than disapprove of the ACA, but by a narrow margin.
Less than a third of the country supports the Republicans' repeal agenda. What's more, a whopping 70% of Americans believe the Supreme Court should leave the current subsidies in place -- only half of GOP voters agree with their own party's litigation -- while 64% want Congress to protect the subsidies if the court strikes them down in states without their own exchange marketplaces.
 
But public attitudes are really just part of a broader success story. We learned on Tuesday, for example, that one of the ACA's principal goals -- expanding the availability to health insurance -- is being met with impressive efficiency. The New York Times reported:
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump makes a point as he formally announces his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during an event at Trump Tower in New York, June 16, 2015. (Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

The Republicans' new top-tier contender?

06/25/15 09:11AM

A couple of days ago, the latest Suffolk poll in New Hampshire showed Jeb Bush leading the GOP presidential field with 14% support, which surprised no one. The poll ended up causing quite a stir, however, because of who was in second place: Donald Trump enjoyed 11% support and was the only other candidate to reach double digits in New Hampshire.
 
There was ample reason to be skeptical. The poll's sample size, for example, was quite modest, and most recent polling in the Granite State doesn't show Trump with nearly that much support.
 
A day later, however, another poll -- this time, national survey results from Fox News -- raised eyebrows again.
There's been a lineup change in the race for the GOP nomination, as businessman Donald Trump moves up after declaring his candidacy. He's now second in the order after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who also got an uptick in support after his formal announcement. [...]
 
Bush tops the list of GOP contenders with 15 percent support among Republican primary voters.  That's up from 12 percent last month and his best showing yet. Support for Trump more than doubled since his announcement and that catapults him into the top tier at 11 percent. He's followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson at 10 percent.
How many other candidates reached double digits in the Fox poll? None. Just the brother of a failed president, the host of a reality show, and a retired right-wing neurosurgeon who sees parallels between modern American life and Nazi Germany.
 
Regardless, if Trump is now running second nationally, at least in this poll, is it time to start looking at him as a serious contender for the GOP presidential nomination?
 
Not really.

Jobless claims remain steady at 271k

06/25/15 08:40AM

Sometimes, when it comes to the economy, boring news is good news. Take the latest Labor Department report on initial unemployment claims, for example.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits edged up by 3,000 to 271,000 in the seven days from June 14 to June 20, but layoffs remain quite low amid a steady increase in hiring and a tightening labor market. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to total a seasonally adjusted 274,000.
 
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, fell by 3,250 to 273,750, the Labor Department said Thursday.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it’s worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it’s best not to read too much significance into any one report.
 
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it’s considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 35 of the last 41 weeks.
A fence is seen surrounding the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters)

Obama's trade agenda, back from the brink

06/25/15 08:00AM

For those engaged in the debate over trade, the last six weeks have been a roller coaster unlike anything the political world has seen in a while. Opponents of President Obama's trade agenda were winning, the supporters were winning. Then opponents reclaimed the advantage, only to see supporters take it right back.
 
As of late yesterday, however, it appears the White House and its unusual set of allies are going to get exactly what they want. NBC News reported last night:
A critical aspect of President Barack Obama's economic legacy got a boost on Wednesday when the Senate voted to approve giving him "fast-track" authority to negotiate a sweeping 12-nation trade pact without the threat of Congress adding amendments or filibustering the final deal.
 
The vote was 60-38. The measure now heads to the president's desk for signature.
The final roll call on the Senate vote is online here.
 
Note, Congress passed Trade Promotion Authority -- better known as "fast-track" -- without the labor-friendly Trade Adjustment Assistance, but that will soon change. Under the plan hatched by the president and Republican leaders, TAA will be on its way to the Oval Office by tomorrow. Indeed, it passed the Senate late yesterday on a voice vote and is expected to clear the House with relative ease.
 
House Democrats originally blocked TAA, which they support, in the hopes of derailing the larger trade agenda, but now that fast-track has already passed, the Democratic minority no longer has an incentive to oppose the policy they like. Several House Dems who oppose the trade agenda acknowledged yesterday that the fight is "over."
 
That's largely true, though there's likely to be one more round.

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