The political fight over the nuclear agreement with Iran got underway yesterday in earnest, with a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deal. It was an opportunity for a real, substantive debate, featuring three knowledgeable cabinet members who understand the agreement inside and out, and senators whose job it is to know what they're talking about.
Predictably, the debate, such as it was, offered more heat than light. But that's not to say it wasn't important.
Early on, for example, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, complained, "We had a far more comprehensive and rapid inspection program in Iraq. Far more. That certainly didn't serve us particularly well."
In Iraq, the inspection program served us extremely well -- weapons inspectors said Iraq had no nuclear weapons and no WMD stockpiles. To hear Corker tell it, intrusive inspection programs are unreliable, as proven by our experience in Iraq, but the GOP lawmaker's own example points in the opposite direction.
Later, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) complained bitterly about the United Nations moving forward on the international agreement before Republicans have had a chance to try to kill the deal. "We're showing the world we don't stand together right now," Perdue said.
In March, Perdue signed on to a letter to Iranian officials, urging them not to trust the United States. The Georgia Republican, one of 47 GOP senators who endorsed the letter, were openly and brazenly trying to sabotage American foreign policy.
Maybe he ought to skip the complaining about "showing the world we don't stand together right now."
With all of this in mind, Paul Waldman argued yesterday that it's probably time to "stop pretending Republicans have a serious critique of the Iran deal."
This whole debate is a charade. There's a reason no Republican has managed to answer President Obama's challenge to articulate an alternative that would be preferable to what the six-party negotiations produced, and it isn't because this deal is perfect or couldn't have been better. It's that from where Republicans sit, any deal negotiated with Iran is a bad one by definition. [...]
[T]here was literally no deal this administration could have negotiated with Iran that Republicans would have agreed to. None. From their perspective, the substance of the deal never mattered.
Naturally, this was reflected in the quality of the debate, or in this case, the lack thereof. By the time Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked Energy Secretary Earnest Moniz, "Do you know what EMP is?" it was clear that the hearing served no practical purpose at all.
By most measures, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's ongoing "Bridgegate" scandal has done severe and lasting damage to his Republican presidential campaign. But his aides' decision to deliberately paralyze Fort Lee for political reasons isn't the governor's only problem related to transportation.
The New York Timesreported yesterday, for example, on an even more immediate challenge.
For the third day in a row, electrical problems in century-old rail tunnels under the Hudson River on Wednesday stymied the commutes of tens of thousands of New Jersey Transit riders, illustrating again the shortcomings of the region's languishing infrastructure system.
The delays, coming a week after the board of New Jersey Transit approved a major fare increase, created chaos during the morning rush and gave rise to another round of questions about Gov. Chris Christie's decision five years ago to halt construction of a new rail tunnel.
In the scandal surrounding the George Washington Bridge lane-closures, the controversy is focused on Christie's team abusing its powers to a criminal degree. The problems in the tunnels under the Hudson River -- part of the "busiest railroad corridor in the United States" -- have nothing to do with Christie's team conspiring in secret to exact partisan revenge and everything to do with the governor showing poor judgment.
There's no denying the electoral successes Republican candidates had in the 2014 midterms. Arguably the most significant change came in the Senate, where the GOP took control of the chamber for the first time since 2006, but up and down the ballot, Republicans won big.
With this in mind, as 2015 got underway, the conservative party had the wind at its back and was eager to show the American public that voters chose wisely in the elections. How's that working out so far? New polling from the Pew Research Center has to be discouraging.
The Republican Party's image has grown more negative over the first half of this year. Currently, 32% have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, while 60% have an unfavorable view. Favorable views of the GOP have fallen nine percentage points since January. The Democratic Party continues to have mixed ratings (48% favorable, 47% unfavorable).
The Democratic Party has often held an edge over the GOP in favorability in recent years, but its advantage had narrowed following the Republicans' midterm victory last fall. Today, the gap is as wide as it has been in more than two years.
The problem for Republicans isn't just the gap between the GOP and Democrats. The more pressing issue is the direction of public attitudes -- in early 2015, Republicans had a respectable-but-underwhelming 41% favorable rating. With GOP officials in control of Congress, most state legislatures, and most governors' offices, that same figure has dropped sharply to 32%.
And before Republican leaders say, "The public is souring on both parties," note that Democratic favorability has actually increased over the same period.
Looking at the breakdown over specific issues, party advantages are largely predictable -- Democrats have the edge on the environment, reproductive rights, education, and health care, while Republicans lead on guns and terrorism.
But one number above all should jump out at GOP leaders:
Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush caused a stir Wednesday night, telling a Koch-backed political group that he wants to "phase out" Medicare entirely. At a town-hall event in New Hampshire yesterday, an unhappy voter asked for an explanation. Here's what the former Florida governor said in response:
"To my point last night, here's what I said. I said, first and foremost, whenever you get into a conversation about reforming entitlements, the first thing that you can be guaranteed of is that the left will attack you and demonize you. It took about six hours for that to happen [on Wednesday night]. I woke up in the morning and words taken out of context -- exactly what I predicted would happen.
"I told the story of Paul Ryan who had a plan to deal with this over the long haul. The first thing I saw, that happened to him was, a guy looking like Paul Ryan was in a TV ad attacking him, wearing a red tie and a suit, throwing granny off the cliff.
"This is, we've got to get beyond this, because this is not a sustainable system. We need to protect it for people that have it, and we need to make sure that we reform it for people that are expecting it."
He then transitioned to talking about the latest report from the Medicare trustees, which was released this week, and which Bush seems to believe bolsters his argument.
I didn't really intend to return to the subject -- here's yesterday's piece if you missed it -- but so long as the GOP candidate is doubling down on a poor argument, it's probably worth clarifying further why Bush is mistaken.
Just one week after the mass shooting in Chattanooga, and a month after the mass shooting in Charleston, there was a mass shooting last night in Lafayette. M. Alex Johnson and Rachel Kleinman reported overnight for msnbc:
Three people, including the gunman, were killed, and nine others were injured in a shooting Thursday night at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, police said. The shooter – identified by police as a 58 year-old white man – died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The shooting occurred at the Grand Theatre on Johnston Street about 7:30 p.m. local time (8:30 p.m. ET), police in Lafayette, about 50 miles southwest of Baton Rouge, said. Witnesses described hearing about six shots in a screening of the movie "Trainwreck."
The investigation into the details of the slaying is still underway, but local law enforcement does not believe anyone else was involved in the violent incident. The names of the victims and the gunman have not yet been released.
Note, the death toll may yet climb. Of the nine people injured in the shooting, at least one is reportedly in critical condition in a nearby hospital. Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft told reporters last night that victim was in surgery and "was not doing well."
Rachel Maddow reports on a new effort to ban discrimination against gay people by amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and notes that most people don't realize that right doesn't already exist. watch
Dee Stanley, Lafayette Chief Administrative Officer, offers an update on the status of the injured at a movie theater shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana, and describes the course and progress of the investigation. watch
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Col. Mike Edmonson of the Louisiana State Police, and other officials update the media on details of their investigation of the deadly mass shooting at a Lafayette movie theater. watch
Rachel Maddow revisits the absurdity of the birther movement, championed in part by Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, and notes that President Obama's trip to Kenya is taking place without a fuss from birthers. watch
Rachel Maddow debunks the myth that Ross Perot drew votes away from George H.W. Bush in 1992, and points out that Donald Trump is still running (and front-running) as a Republican, so the GOP should focus on that instead of vague third party threats. watch
* Sandra Bland: "Medical examiners ruled the death of Sandra Bland a suicide by hanging, and the autopsy uncovered no evidence of a violent struggle, a Texas prosecutor said Thursday."
* Important: "Turkey has agreed to allow the United States to use Turkish soil to launch attacks against the Islamic State, signaling a major shift in policy on the part of the once-reluctant American ally, U.S. officials said Thursday."
* Iraq: "The defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter, made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Thursday morning as American and Iraqi military officials finished plans for an assault meant to retake Ramadi from the Sunni militant group known as the Islamic State."
* Saudi Arabia: "Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter gave a surprisingly upbeat assessment on Wednesday of American relations with Saudi Arabia, asserting that the kingdom welcomed the international nuclear deal reached with its regional rival, Iran."
* Great economic news: "The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits slid to the lowest level since 1973 in the seven days ended July 18, another sign of strong labor-market conditions."
* Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the US and now an Israeli legislator, really isn't doing his side of the debate any favors: "Iran hawks finally presented a 'better' Iran deal. It's complete gibberish."
Perhaps no congressional Republican is quite as vulnerable as Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson. Given the tough rematch he'll face with former Sen. Russ Feingold (D), one might assume the far-right incumbent would be going out of his way to be as impressive as possible.
If that's the plan, it's not going well. Just in recent months, Johnson has been caught up in an odd fight over the "Lego Movie"; his ridiculous anti-Obamacare lawsuit was laughed out of court; and his defense for signing onto a letter intended to sabotage American foreign policy wasn't especially coherent.
Today, however, seemed to reach a new low. Max Fisher reported, for example, on today's Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Top administration officials are at Congress today for a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Iran nuclear deal, a subject that has always brought out the crazy in American politicians.
No one expected this hearing to be anything other than a circus: The deal is politically contentious, and Republicans are trying to out-hawk one another for the coming presidential primaries. Congress did not disappoint.
Johnson, who Republicans also made chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, took the opportunity to lecture Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, an M.I.T. physicist, on "electro-magnetic pulse weapons." Moniz, naturally, said he had no idea what Johnson was talking about, prompting the Wisconsin senator to say he'd forward the secretary some information.
That's really not necessary. Right-wing chatter about EMP weapons is quite foolish and this nonsense has no place in a Senate debate over international nuclear policy. Fisher added, "Johnson's line of questioning, to a top-of-his-field nuclear physicist, is a little like asking Neil Armstrong if he thinks the moon landing might have been faked."
Jeb Bush, eager to position himself as a reform-minded presidential candidate, delivered an interesting speech in his home state of Florida this week on his intention to clean up Washington, D.C. The Wall Street Journalreported:
Vowing to rattle the political establishment in Washington, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Monday said members of Congress should disclose their meetings with lobbyists and refrain from lobbying former colleagues for six years after leaving office. [...]
"We need a president willing to challenge the whole culture in our nation's capital," Mr. Bush, the former governor of Florida, said in Tallahassee, the state capital.
At face value, there's nothing especially wrong with any of this. It's a little odd to hear the message coming from someone whose family played such a dominant role in the nation's capital for so long, and who's spent his life benefiting from his Beltway connections, but a six-year ban would be pretty ambitious and there's certainly nothing wrong with Bush making the issue an important part of his platform.
But some of the relevant details make the former governor an imperfect messenger. Politico's Marc Caputo, for example, reported that the forum at which Bush spoke was apparently organized by the Chamber of Commerce. "So Jeb gave a speech about lobbyist reforms to a room of lobbyists at a college run by a former lobbyist at a forum organized by lobbyists who then denied they organized it," Caputo wrote. [Update: my friends at the International Business Times first reported on this on Tuesday.]
There's also the inconvenient fact that Bush, despite his concerns about lobbyists' influence, has received generous financial support from lobbyists: "The campaign disclosed last week that eight lobbyists bundled a total of $228,400 of the $11.4 million raised in the first 15 days of Mr. Bush's campaign -- more money from the industry than any other Republican candidate."
But perhaps most problematic of all is the fact that Jeb Bush was actually himself a registered lobbyist. The Associated Press reported this morning:
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