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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.23.15

06/23/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* ISIS: "Kurdish forces say they seized a military base from ISIS fighters just 30 miles from the self-declared caliphate's capital city in Syria, another gain in an offensive that is pushing deeper into militant strongholds."
* Fast-track hangs on: "With no votes to spare, the Senate salvaged President Barack Obama's trade agenda on Tuesday, putting a measure to give him enhanced powers to strike free trade deals on track to be signed into law by the end of the week."
* This will affect the schedule on trade votes: "House GOP leaders announced Tuesday afternoon they would end the week's legislative business Thursday in an effort to allow members more time to travel to Charleston, S.C., to participate in funeral proceedings for the nine victims of last week's church massacre."
* New York: "Police vehicles on Tuesday afternoon were converging on a campground in upstate New York near the Adirondack Mountains cabin where searchers found DNA of two escaped murderers. State police officials conveyed a sense of urgency and described the situation as 'active and developing.'"
* Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asked on the Senate floor this morning about guns, "Is that asking too much? Couldn't we at least do this little thing to stop people who are mentally ill, people who are criminals from purchasing guns?" Apparently, the answer to the first question is "yes"; the answer to the second question is "no."
* Keep an eye on this one: "President Obama on Wednesday will announce that the government will no longer threaten criminal prosecution of the families of American hostages who are held abroad by groups like the Islamic State if they attempt to pay ransom for the release of their loved ones."
* 113 degrees Fahrenheit: "A scorching heat wave across southern Pakistan's city of Karachi has killed at least 436 people, authorities said Tuesday, as morgues overflowed with the dead and overwhelmed hospitals struggled to aid those clinging to life."
Iraqi soldiers train with members of the U.S. Army 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, at Camp Taji, Iraq, in this U.S. Army photo released June 2, 2015. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Cody Quinn/Reuters)

Congress gets a 'reality check' on Iraq, ISIS

06/23/15 05:03PM

The Washington Post's Walter Pincus reported yesterday on the latest House Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. policy in the Middle East, and from his description, it was a lively "reality check." The discussion featured several hours of questions for Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
But the exchange that stood out for me came towards the end of Pincus' column.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) a former Army and Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq as a civil affairs officer from 2005 to 2006, said he felt "there ought to be some U.S. military personnel forward with Iraqi forces" because when he was in Iraq, Americans who joined in patrols "really emboldened the confidence of those Iraqi soldiers."
Dempsey shot back, "I would not recommend that we put U.S. forces in harm's way simply to stiffen the spine of local forces. If their spine is not stiffened by the threat of ISIL [the Islamic State] on their way of life, nothing we do is going to stiffen their spine."
Well said. There's a great demand in Republican circles for American troops on the ground in Iraq, combatting ISIS militants, but Coffman's argument -- it would "embolden" Iraqi troops -- probably isn't the talking point that's going to win the day.
That said, a significant percentage of the public at large remains quite open to the idea. From the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll
An package is prepared for shipment in Palo Alto, Calif.

Retail options start to dwindle for Confederate customers

06/23/15 04:11PM

Major American retailers are always in fierce competition, usually in the hopes of being first. But as we're seeing this week, when it comes to selling controversial, racially charged merchandise, no one wants to be the last store selling offensive materials.
As msnbc's Joy Y. Wang reports, merchandise bearing Confederate flag imagery "will soon get harder to find."
Walmart, the country's largest retailer, will no longer sell Confederate flag merchandise, the company announced in a statement on Monday. Retail company Sears Holding Corp, which operates Kmart and Sears department stores, also said it would remove Confederate flag items sold on its website via third parties, a spokesman told Reuters.
And Amazon confirmed on Tuesday that they too are pulling Confederate flag items.
There was a point this afternoon at which the list grew at a surprising pace. Walmart and Sears got the ball rolling late yesterday, but this afternoon Amazon joined the club, pulling its Confederate merchandise. Then eBay made the same announcement. Then etsy joined in. 
Then Valley Forge Flag, described by Reuters as one of the nation's most prominent flag makers, announced it will stop making and selling Confederate flags.
Remember, no one wants to be last. No corporate p.r. office wants to field this question from a journalist: "Most major American retailers have pulled their Confederate merchandise; can you explain why these controversial materials are still on your shelves?"
All of these retailers, by the way, made the decision despite the fact that some consumers, for reasons I won't try to understand, have been buying Confederate merchandise in droves over the last couple of days. The companies, to their credit, are effectively leaving money on the table rather than being associated with racially charged materials.
And if all of this weren't quite enough to ruin the day of Confederate admirers, the news from some state governments won't make them feel any better.
US House Speaker John Boehner returns to his office after a visit to the House floor for procedural votes for legislation to fund the Department of Homeland Security at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 27, 2015. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

House Republicans balk at leaders' 'culture of punishment'

06/23/15 01:01PM

It started in earnest at the start of the Congress. After two dozen of his own members voted against his re-election as Speaker, John Boehner and the House GOP leadership team starting punishing recalcitrant members.
The second wave reached Capitol Hill last week, when House Republicans shook up their whip team, dumping three members who opposed the leadership's position on a procedural vote the week before.
More retribution came yesterday when House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) took a subcommittee gavel away from Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), again because of the June 11 procedural vote.
Politico reports that the tensions among House Republicans are on the rise.
A key bloc of conservatives is laying plans to throttle legislation on the House floor and will meet privately this week to discuss a shake-up of GOP leadership.
The group is irate at what one called a "culture of punishment" that Speaker John Boehner's leadership team has instituted against dissenting members.
Meadows, who helped create the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, has quickly become a ringleader of sorts, challenging GOP leaders' tactics, and his faction will reportedly meet today "to discuss their next move." The North Carolina Republican decried the very idea of members facing "retribution" based on their voting record.
There's also reported chatter about targeting Boehner's gavel, but we've heard similar scuttlebutt repeatedly in recent years and it's tough to take the talk seriously.
The broader point, however, is important. Why is the Speaker playing hardball and why are rank-and-file Republicans throwing such a fit?

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.23.15

06/23/15 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 the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Hillary Clinton enjoys a 60-point advantage over Bernie Sanders among Democratic primary voters, 75% to 15%.
* In the same poll, the Democratic frontrunner appears to be well positioned nationally against her leading Republican rivals. The results showed Clinton leading Jeb Bush by eight points (48% to 40%), Marco Rubio by 10 points (50% to 40%), and Scott Walker by 14 points (51% to 37%).
* I'm highly skeptical of the results, but a new Suffolk poll out of New Hampshire shows Jeb Bush leading the GOP presidential field with 14% support. In second place: Donald Trump with 11%. No other candidate in the poll reached double digits.
* Speaking of Trump, the bombastic Republican officially filed his statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission yesterday. He has not yet filed his financial disclosure form.
* Credit where credit is due: former New York Gov. George Pataki (R) was the only GOP presidential candidate to call for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina capitol grounds well in advance of Gov. Nikki Haley's press conference.
* Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) put an end to retirement rumors yesterday, announcing he will seek re-election next year. Yarmuth is the only Democrat in Kentucky's congressional delegation.
This Aug. 9, 2014, file photo shows Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as he speaks during an event in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

GOP candidates magically find their voice on flag

06/23/15 11:25AM

Over the weekend, Chuck Todd asked Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee about the Confederate battle flag on the South Carolina Statehouse grounds. The Arkansan didn't want to talk about it.
"I still think it's not an issue for a person running for president," Huckabee said, adding, "[E]veryone's being baited with this question as if somehow that has anything to do whatsoever with running for president. And my position is, it most certainly does not."
He won't win any Profile in Courage awards with answers like these -- especially given Huckabee's willingness to talk about the issue during his 2008 race -- but Bloomberg Politics noted this morning that the former governor's position has apparently come into sharper focus.
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee on Tuesday said he supports South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley's call to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds.
His comments come after he said Sunday the flag debate, which erupted after the shooting of nine African-American worshippers in a Charleston church last week, was "not an issue for a person running for president."
Appearing on Fox News this morning, Ed Henry asked Huckabee, "Now that Republican governor has spoken out and has said that it is an awful symbol and she wants it to come down. Do you agree with her? Yes or no."
Huckabee replied, "Absolutely, because that's where it needed to be settled." He went to say he "salutes" the South Carolina governor's decision.
There's a lot of that going around. National GOP candidates who couldn't muster the courage to give a straight answer over the weekend are suddenly delighted to say how much they agree with Nikki Haley's decision.
Seniors Rally In Support Medicare, Social Programs In Chicago

Center-left economic ideas dominate

06/23/15 10:46AM

There's plenty to chew on in the new, national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, and we'll get to some of the horse-race results a little later. What struck me as equally important, if not more so, were public attitudes on economic policy.
The Wall Street Journal's report flagged this gem, for example.
One of the rare, unifying themes was the broad support for a proposal introduced by [Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders] to increase Social Security benefits, funded by extending Social Security taxes to income above the current cap of $118,500 a year. Americans were similarly resistant to phasing out Social Security benefits for people who make more than $80,000 a year, a proposal made by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a likely GOP presidential candidate.
Last year, the idea of expanding Social Security, instead of cutting it, started to catch on among congressional Democrats as an idea whose time has come. Though widely dismissed as a pipe dream by much of the establishment, a variety of high-profile senators, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) threw their support behind the idea.
In all likelihood, most of the public hasn't heard about the proposals directly, but the poll results suggest a high level of intuitive support. Indeed, it was one of the single most popular policy measures in the survey.
It's against this backdrop that many Republican presidential candidates are running on a platform that includes reducing Social Security benefits and raising the retirement age.
In the same poll, respondents were offered a series of possible problems and asked to identify which were the most pressing concerns. The top choice: "Wealthy individuals and corporations will have too much influence" in the upcoming elections.
This, too, makes it that much more difficult for GOP presidential hopefuls to run on a platform that's indifferent, if not hostile, towards campaign-finance reforms.
Marijuana plants are displayed. (Photo by Anthony Bolante/Reuters)

Yet another Obama admin breakthrough on marijuana

06/23/15 10:01AM

After decades of a costly "war on drugs," candidate Barack Obama made clear in 2008 that voters would see a very different approach in his administration. To his credit, President Obama has largely followed through on those campaign promises.
The administration has already taken a progressive approach to marijuana, for example, clearing the way for unprecedented state experimentation. This week, the Huffington Post's Ryan Grim reported on another breakthrough.
The White House took a major step forward on Monday to support research into the medical properties of marijuana, lifting a much-maligned bureaucratic requirement that had long stifled scientific research.
By eliminating the Public Health Service review requirement, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), also known as the drug czar's office, will help facilitate research into the drug.
Under the old policy, created in the late '90s, anyone hoping to conduct privately-funded medical marijuana research had to jump through all kinds of laborious, bureaucratic hoops -- which proved to be incredibly, needlessly difficult, even for the most determined scholars.
Yesterday, as the Washington Post added, the obstacles were removed, "effective immediately."
An ONDCP spokesperson said, "The Obama Administration has actively supported scientific research on whether marijuana or its components can be safe and effective medicine. Eliminating the Public Health Service review should help facilitate additional research to advance our understanding of both the adverse effects and potential therapeutic uses for marijuana or its components."
Those waiting for Republican condemnations of the White House's new policy may be surprised. The old system had few defenders, and even some GOP lawmakers were pleased by the administration's new approach. Roll Call reported yesterday:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during an event on June 19, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

Christie's home-state support sinks to new depths

06/23/15 09:21AM

Every presidential candidate wants to be able to brag about the home-state support he or she enjoys. It makes sense -- a policymaker's constituents had an opportunity to see his or her work up close. The more those voters were impressed, the more a White House hopeful can ride a wave of popularity onto the national stage.
But as the 2016 race unfolds, a "home-state haters" problem is kicking in. Louisianans, for example, have soured on Gov. Bobby Jindal (R). Marylanders aren't at all excited about former Gov. Martin O'Malley's (D) presidential campaign.
And in New Jersey, the bottom has fallen out on Gov. Chris Christie's (R) support. Last month, a Monmouth University poll put the Republican governor's approval rating at just 35%. This morning, Politico reports an even lower number.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is still not winning any favor with Garden State voters, according to a Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind poll released Tuesday.
Christie, who is in the midst of planning a presidential run, has an approval rating of 30 percent, below what is usually expected for a White House hopeful in his own state, where 55 percent disapprove of his performance. His numbers are down from the last FDU poll in April, in which 36 percent of voters approved of the job he was doing, compared to 50 percent who did not.
In case it's not obvious, 30% is a dreadful number. It's the kind of approval rating a politician will find difficult to explain away when he's seeking a promotion.
In fact, it's arguably the kind of number that should keep Christie out of the race. The beleaguered governor has prepared all kinds of answers to dismiss his many problems -- the scandals, the downgrades, the pension mess, the policy missteps -- but there is no talking point that can adequately explain a 30% approval rating.
President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, pauses while speaking in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., June 18, 2015, on the church shooting in Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Susan Walsh/AP)

Comparing U.S. mass shootings to the rest of the world

06/23/15 08:46AM

The day after the massacre in Charleston, President Obama delivered a public address from the White House. "At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries," he said. "It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency."
The observation seemed unambiguously true. In fact, the Washington Post ran a piece in 2012, relying on data from the United Nations, comparing gun homicide rates in wealthy countries. The United States dominated in ways that should be considered a national scandal. There are some countries with higher rates in the developing world -- Honduras, for example, fares especially poorly -- but Obama's comment referenced advanced, wealthy countries.
And then PolitiFact decided to weigh in.
The website specifically pointed to research spanning 2000 to 2014, analyzing data from 11 advanced nations. In the 10 other countries combined, there were 23 mass shootings, which left 200 dead and 231 wounded. In the United States over the same period, the research pointed to 133 incidents, which left 487 dead and 505 wounded.

That seemed pretty conclusive. We had far more incidents than the other advanced countries combined, more deaths than the other advanced countries combined, and more injuries than the other advanced countries combined, True to form, PolitiFact nevertheless concluded that the president's comments were "mostly false."
The data shows that [this type of mass violence] clearly happens in other countries, and in at least three of them, there's evidence that the rate of killings in mass-shooting events occurred at a higher per-capita rate than in the United States between 2000 and 2014. The only partial support for Obama's claim is that the per-capita gun-incident fatality rate in the United States does rank in the top one-third of the list of 11 countries studied. On balance, we rate the claim Mostly False.
This is an important debate -- it's quite literally a matter of life and death -- so the details matter. If we're under the wrong impression about gun violence, that confusion may affect policymaking and elections.
In other words, when we consider whether PolitiFact is correct, the answer is more than just idle curiosity. We should know and understand whether mass shootings in the United States are unique among wealthy, advanced nations.
A man holds a sign up during a protest rally against the Confederate flag in Columbia, S.C., June 20, 2015. (Photo by Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty)

An amazing shift in the political winds

06/23/15 08:00AM

We have a fairly complete picture of what motivated the confessed gunman in last week's massacre in Charleston. A racist specifically chose the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME), murdered nine African Americans at a prayer meeting, and hoped to start a race war.
Chances are, the killer had no idea that he would not only fail, but he would help serve as an impetus for progressive change.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) endorsed a plan yesterday afternoon to remove the Confederate battle flag from the capitol grounds. So far, the proposal, which enjoys bipartisan backing, is fairly well positioned to succeed.
But South Carolina isn't the only state relevant to the discussion. Mississippi literally includes a Confederate symbol in its official state flag -- a symbol that Mississippi's Republican state House Speaker is ready to change. As Rachel noted on the show last night, this Clarion-Ledger piece came as quite a surprise.
Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn said Monday night that the Confederate emblem in the state's official flag has to go.
"We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us," Gunn, a Clinton Republican, said in a statement. "As a Christian, I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi's flag."
The article noted just what a rarity this is: Gunn's statement marks "the first time a Mississippi Republican elected official has publicly called for the removal of the emblem that served as the battle flag flown by the Confederate army during the Civil War."
Around the same time, Walmart announced it will stop selling all Confederate flag merchandise in its stores.


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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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