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Surrounded by bodyguards, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to the Likud faction meeting at the Knesset (Israel's Parliament) on Dec. 3, 2014 in Jerusalem. (Photo by Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty)

Israeli PM Netanyahu feels the heat on Election Day

03/17/15 12:48PM

As of a few months ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expected to win another term with relative ease. But as the polls pointed to a much closer race, and Netanyahu's position became far less secure, the prime minister started to succumb to degrees of political panic.
 
Indeed, today is Election Day in Israeli, and Netanyahu appears to be losing his cool a bit.
"The right-wing government is in danger," Netanyahu wrote in a Facebook post. "Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out." [...]
 
Some 20 percent of eligible voters in Israel are Palestinians, also referred to as Israeli Arabs.
As the Washington Post's report noted, many Palestinians have chosen not to participate in national elections in recent years in order to protest Israeli policies the West Bank and Gaza. This year, however, "a coalition of Arab parties opted to run on a joint ticket."
 
And though Netanyahu's social-media message was no doubt intended to motivate the Israeli right, there's some anecdotal evidence that the prime minister may also be creating a backlash. BuzzFeed talked to a Palestinian woman named Nour Aslan who was on the fence about whether to vote today -- right up until she saw Netanyahu's controversial rhetoric.
 
 "This is an outrage. It is embarrassing. Are we not citizens of Israel? Do we not deserve to vote?" Aslan said, adding that the prime minister's message left her "shaking with anger. "
 
All of this, of course, comes on the heels of Netanyahu's announcement yesterday that he will block a two-state solution if re-elected -- a desperate move that puts him at odds with both his previous position and with the bipartisan U.S. position that currently stands as American foreign policy.
 
Jeffrey Goldberg noted this morning that if Netanyahu somehow manages to hang on, it's "unlikely" the prime minister will be able to "walk back the things he's said and done over the past two days."

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.17.15

03/17/15 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:
 
* With Israeli elections underway today, two far-right American actors -- Chuck Norris and Jon Voight -- released new ads yesterday expressing their support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
 
* I don't want to alarm anyone, but a new CNN poll shows Democratic and Republican voters differ on whether or not the Hillary Clinton email story matters. As best as I can tell, the CNN poll did not ask respondents about Republican presidential candidates with similar email issues.
 
* There is apparently a downside to Jeb Bush's fundraising prowess: expectations are now so high that anything short of amazing will seem like a disappointment. (If I worked for Scott Walker, I'd be telling every reporter I could find that Bush is on track to raise $17 trillion this quarter.)
 
* Speaking of the former Florida governor, Bush will make his first campaign swing through South Carolina today. He's "lined up friendly audiences," scheduling events with local Chambers of Commerce members.
 
* Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist wrote on his Facebook page yesterday that he's decided not to run for the Senate next year. "I will not be seeking office in 2016," he said, "but I will be working alongside you. Too much is at stake for our beautiful Florida to be on the sidelines."
 
* Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) appears increasingly serious about a presidential bid, hiring some notable Republican operatives, including a former spokeswoman for House Speaker John Boehner, as campaign aides for his national bid.
President Obama Announces Resignation Of Eric Holder

Missouri leader blames Obama, Holder for Ferguson

03/17/15 11:37AM

Following up on our previous coverage, the Justice Department's reports on local government in Ferguson, Missouri, were, in many instances, heartbreaking. The documented evidence was hard to ignore -- we were confronted with a picture of systemic, institutional racism on the part of members of the local police and municipal court officials.
 
There are a variety of ways to respond to the revelations, though Andrew Kaczynski yesterday highlighted one of the more discouraging reactions I've seen.
The lieutenant governor of Missouri says "there is more racism in the Justice Department" than in the St. Louis area, pointing the finger at President Obama and the Justice Department who, he says, often incited "the mob" in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown back in August of 2014.
The comments came by way of Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who told NewsMaxTV's Steve Malzberg that the Justice Department is "staffed with radical, hard-left radical, leftists lawyers."
 
After condemning Attorney General Eric Holder as being "unlike any previous attorney general," Kinder added that "many" DOJ officials "have spent most of their careers defending Black Panthers and other violent radicals."
 
Kinder also argued that Obama and Holder were directly responsible for "inciting" a mob and "encouraging disorder in Ferguson and disrupting the peaceable going-about of our lives in the greater St. Louis region." The lieutenant governor went on to argue that there's "more racism in the Justice Department than there is any, uh, yes, anywhere that I see in the St. Louis area."
 
According to the BuzzFeed piece, Kinder argued, "It is the left. It is the Eric Holder and Obama-left and their minions who are obsessed with race. The rest of us are moving on beyond it."
 
There's nothing to suggest the Republican official was kidding.
President Barack Obama talks to U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) during a meeting with members of Congress in Washington, D.C. on July 31, 2014. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP)

White House takes aim at GOP's 'inept leadership'

03/17/15 11:01AM

From the White House podium, press secretary Josh Earnest is usually pretty circumspect in his criticisms of lawmakers. Yesterday, however, President Obama's spokesperson was far less guarded -- the Senate Republicans' handling of Loretta Lynch's Attorney General nomination, and their willingness to connect this to an unrelated human-trafficking bill, was just too much for Earnest.
"You've got to hand it to Republicans, that they've taken even a measure as common sense as [combating human trafficking] and turned it into a partisan controversy.
 
"That is not a reflection of a flaw in the bill. It's a reflection of inept leadership."
Specifically on Lynch, the White House press secretary added that the A.G. nominee is being subjected to "an unconscionable delay." Reflecting on whether or not President Obama can "trust" GOP leaders on Capitol Hill, Earnest noted that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed to bring Lynch's nomination to the floor this week, before reversing course.
 
"There is no question that Republicans are playing politics with the nomination of the nation's top law enforcement official, and it should come to an end," Earnest added.
 
For his part, McConnell told reporters yesterday that the previous Senate Democratic majority could have voted on Lynch during last year's lame-duck session, but they didn't, delaying the vote until the new Congress. McConnell "failed to point out that that delay was at his request," the president's spokesperson reminded reporters yesterday.
 
Senate Republicans have struggled so far to defend their posture and demands -- McConnell has said Lynch will wait indefinitely until Democrats approve the Senate GOP version of the human-trafficking bill -- and in an unexpected twist, Senate Republicans actually ran into trouble yesterday at the hands of House Republicans.
The stage is seen inside Air Force One Pavilion before the start of the Ronald Reagan Centennial GOP Presidential Primary Candidates Debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Sept. 7, 2011 in Simi Valley, Calif. (Photo by David McNew/Getty)

Where exactly are the 2016 candidates?

03/17/15 10:19AM

It's hard to miss the evidence that the 2016 presidential race is already well underway. We have plenty of ambitious politicians raising lots of money, hiring staff, opening field offices, doing interviews, taking subtle jabs at rivals, and spending an inordinate amount of time in Iowa and New Hampshire. Pollsters are conducting surveys; news organizations are scheduling debates; and various groups are organizing straw polls. For all intents and purposes, the race is on.
 
What we don't have are actual candidates.
 
Listen to any of the would-be presidents talk about the race and you'll hear perfunctory qualifiers: "if I run"; "if we move forward"; "we're still planning the next steps"; etc. At this point, several candidates have created super PACs or exploratory committees, but a grand total of zero people have launched their presidential campaigns.
 
The result is a curious complaint: we've grown accustomed to the political world expressing dismay at how early the campaign process begins, but this year, we've reached mid-March, and we're still waiting for someone, anyone, to deliver a formal kick-off speech.
 
To put this in perspective, by mid-March of 2007, seven Democrats and four Republicans had already launched their campaigns. One candidate, then-Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D), had already announced his candidacy and dropped out of the race by this point in the process eight years ago.
 
And yet, here we are. We have a pretty good sense of who the candidates are going to be, and the race certainly seems to be underway, but as a technical matter, the field remains empty. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) over the weekend briefly referred to himself as a "candidate" on Twitter, only to quickly delete the tweet soon after, scurrying back to his "unannounced for now" status.
 
What's driving this? It's not that the candidates are being coy. Rather it has to do with fundraising laws. The Wall Street Journal reported the other day:
Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown greets people during a celebration at the Oregon Historical Society to mark the 156th anniversary of Oregon's admission to the union as the 33rd state in Portland, Ore., Feb. 14, 2015. (Photo by Don Ryan/AP)

Oregon eases voter registration, reversing national tide

03/17/15 09:20AM

One of the most discouraging facets of Republican governance in recent years is the aggressive new restrictions on voting rights, unlike anything Americans have seen since the Jim Crow era. 
 
Between the Supreme Court's ruling on the Voting Rights Act and the coordinated GOP campaign, half the nation's states "have adopted measures making it harder to vote" since 2011. Ari Berman recently added that from 2011 to 2015, "395 new voting restrictions have been introduced" in 49 states.
 
But while the national tide is moving in a regressive direction when it comes to voting rights, some states are doing the opposite. David Ingram reported yesterday on a breakthrough policy taking root in Oregon.
New legislation signed into law [on Monday] in Oregon paves the way for the state to one day have close to 100% voter registration. The new law takes the federal "motor voter" law to new levels and registers a person to vote when they obtain or renew a state driver's license or ID – and it's partially retroactive.
 
The law dictates that once residents interact with the state DMV -- whether to get a license or ID for the first time, or renew an existing one -- they'll become registered to vote if they aren't already. The registration will be provisional for 21 days, during which time applicants will be notified of their new status and be given a chance to become affiliated with a political party or to opt-out of the voting process altogether.
That opt-out provision is key. In recent years, whenever ideas like these have come up, conservatives have argued that it's unconstitutional to force eligible Americans to register to vote if they don't want to. In effect, Americans have a right to forgo the benefits of citizenship if they want to.
 
Oregon is acknowledging this by giving the public a choice: eligible residents will be included in the system, but those who want to withdraw voluntarily are free to do so.
 
It's flipping the traditional model on its head. Currently, in all states, the burden is on the individual -- if you're eligible to vote, it's up to you to take the affirmative steps needed to register. There are groups committed to helping people do that, though in recent years GOP policymakers in states like Florida have made these voter-registration efforts more difficult, too.
 
But Oregon is poised to do the exact opposite, shifting the burden from the individual to the state.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., heads to the Senate subway following a vote in the Capitol on Jan. 8, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

The worst excuse yet for the Senate Republicans' Iran letter

03/17/15 08:40AM

As last week progressed, and the scope of the fiasco surrounding the Senate Republicans' letter to Iran became more obvious, many GOP officials on Capitol Hill furiously tried to think of excuses. The scramble was understandable: Republicans had tried to sabotage American foreign policy, and the stunt hadn't gone well.
 
Over the course of three days, congressional Republicans came up with at least four different excuses, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) blaming a D.C.-area snowstorm the week before. None of the arguments was particularly persuasive.
 
But National Review's Deroy Murdock yesterday presented the most amazing excuse yet: the 47 Senate Republicans shouldn't be criticized for sending a letter to Iran since they didn't literally, physically "send" anything.
Before U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and 46 of his GOP colleagues are frog-marched to the gallows and hanged for treason, one vital point of confusion must be cleared up. Say what you will about the Republicans' open letter "to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran." The Cotton/GOP letter regarding Tehran's atom-bomb talks with Obama was not sent to the ayatollahs.
 
Had Cotton & Co. actually delivered their communique to Iran's mullahs -- perhaps via a Swiss diplomatic pouch or something even more cloak and dagger -- their critics would be on less swampy ground in calling them "traitors," as the New York Daily News screamed.
The National Review piece added that "the Cotton Club" -- Tom Cotton and his 46 GOP cohorts -- "did not send its letter anywhere." Murdock added, "Cotton & Co. never even dropped an envelope in the mail."
 
How do we know for sure this is an unpersuasive argument? Because Tom Cotton himself says so.
Pedro Rojas holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, before the February 15th deadline on Feb. 5, 2015 in Miami, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Conservatives scramble to downplay ACA news

03/17/15 08:00AM

Americans learned yesterday that the Affordable Care Act has extended health care coverage to 16.4 million people, slashing the nation's uninsured rate by over a third, against the backdrop of related system-wide good news. This puts "Obamacare" critics in an unenviable position: trying to characterize a law that's working as a horrible failure, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
 
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who's struggled in this area before despite being the Senate GOP's point person on health care, gave it his best shot. "Millions of people have lost coverage they liked," the far-right senator told the New York Times, repeating a dubious claim unsupported by the evidence. He added that extending coverage to millions through Medicaid expansion is "hardly worth celebrating."
 
He didn't say why, exactly, he finds it discouraging when low-income families receive coverage through Medicaid.
 
But the funnier reaction came by way of a Wall Street Journal piece.
Edmund Haislmaier, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, said the report also doesn't include essential information on how many people who signed up on exchanges were previously uninsured.
 
"It's premature to say it's ACA-related," Mr. Haislmaier said.
 
The number of uninsured historically also has been closely aligned with the economy, with numbers rising during recessions and falling as conditions improve.
Oh my.

Rookie retires early and other headlines

03/17/15 07:34AM

Top NFL rookie quits because of fears of brain injury. (ESPN)

Oregon is the first state to adopt automatic voter registration. (AP)

Obama butters up labor--because they're about to lose on trade. (Politico)

Iran sent arms to Iraq to fight ISIS, U.S. says. (New York Times)

Israel votes today. (AP)

The match you've been waiting for: Evander Holyfield vs. Mitt Romney. (Washington Post)

How many licks can Tootsie Roll take before melting away? (Washington Post)

read more

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.

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