The Rachel Maddow Show takes a road trip to New York's Westchester County to see where road signs for Donald J. Trump State Park actually lead and find a neglected, weed-choked plot of land with dangerously dilapidated structures. watch
* Yesterday's victims have been identified: "The four Marines killed in the rampage in Chattanooga, Tennessee, served a total of five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one was awarded the Purple Heart. The Marine Corps said Friday that their remains were being sent to Dover, Delaware."
* The investigation continues: "School administrators at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, where the gunman in Thursday's shooting spree was a student, are working with law enforcement as investigators try to determine what motivated him to attack two military facilities in this city. The shooter, identified as Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, graduated from the university with a degree in electrical engineering in 2012."
* Preliminary details emerge: "The attacker who shot four Marines to death in Chattanooga, Tennessee, had at least three guns plus a vest to carry extra ammunition, and he apparently died in a firefight with police, authorities said Friday."
* Nigeria: "Nigeria's Islamic extremists chose open-air praying grounds for suicide bombings Friday, one of the holiest days of the Muslim calendar. At least 15 people died as they prepared to celebrate Eid al-Fitr in northeastern Damaturu, said police."
* It's a shame someone in his position isn't more credible: "Thursday's massacre of four Marines in Chattanooga, Tenn., appears to have been a terror attack motivated by Islamic extremism, the head of the House Homeland Security Committee said on Friday. Though federal investigators later said there was 'no indication' the shooting was directed by an outside group, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said it had all the hallmarks of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)."
* Busted: "Michael Grimm, a former New York congressman and FBI agent who once investigated white-collar crime, was sentenced Friday to 8 months in prison for tax evasion by a judge who said his "moral compass' needed adjustment."
* The key ally: "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is coming to President Obama's aid by vowing to support and aggressively sell the administration's nuclear deal with Iran ahead of a vote in September. Pelosi praised the deal at a news conference on Thursday, calling it the 'best possible option' for 'stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction' in the Middle East. She also suggested that Republican opponents of the deal had not read it."
During the White House press conference this week, ABC News' Jon Karl reminded President Obama that the international nuclear agreement with Iran has some unsavory, if not malicious, proponents.
"Does it give you any pause," Karl asked, "to see this deal praised by Syrian dictator Assad as a 'great victory for Iran,' or praised by those in Tehran who still shout 'death to America,' and yet our closest ally in the Middle East calls it 'a mistake of historic proportions'?"
This is, of course, a standard Republican argument: if our Middle Eastern foes are on board with the deal, and Israel isn't, almost by definition, the policy must lack merit. As this line of thought goes, there's a debate by proxy underway -- any agreement backed by our enemies and condemned by our friends must be killed.
But approaching the debate in such a narrow way cuts both ways -- and doesn't do the right any favors. For example, to say that our friends oppose the deal is absurd -- the U.S. position enjoys the enthusiastic support of our European allies, as well as some in Israel. What about closer to home? The agreement has also received bipartisan praise from American diplomats.
More than 100 former American ambassadors wrote to President Obama on Thursday praising the nuclear deal reached with Iran this week as a "landmark agreement" that could be effective in halting Tehran's development of a nuclear weapon, and urging Congress to support it.
"If properly implemented, this comprehensive and rigorously negotiated agreement can be an effective instrument in arresting Iran's nuclear program and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons in the volatile and vitally important region of the Middle East," said the letter, whose signers include diplomats named by presidents of both parties.
Experts in nuclear policy are even more enthusiastic in their endorsements of the diplomatic agreement. Vox collected reactions from arms-control analysts and "it was really hard to find arms control analysts who seem to be critical of the deal on the non-proliferation merits."
Republicans are obviously aligned with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in opposition to the deal, but ironically, they're joined by Iranian hard-liners who were also bitterly disappointed by this week's diplomatic breakthrough. The New York Timesreported today:
With timing running out before Congress' August recess, the House of Representatives is supposed to be working on must-pass appropriations bills. Thanks to a bizarre fight over Confederate flags, that's not happening, though Democrats are offering GOP leaders a way out -- if they want it.
To briefly recap, Democrats introduced a measure curtailing the display of Confederate flags on graves in federal cemeteries and the sale of Confederate flag in national park gift stores. Southern Republicans balked and the mess has brought the entire process to a halt.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters last week that members are going to have to figure something out, but when asked what the remedy might be, the Republican leader replied, "I have some ideas. When I firm them up in my head, I'll let you know."
In reality, of course, Boehner hasn't the foggiest idea how to get out of this mess, which is why the appropriations process is facing an indefinite hold. The Hillreports today, however, that House Democrats are offering the GOP leadership a way out.
House Democrats are floating a legislative deal linking the thorny Confederate flag debate with expanded voting rights. [...]
Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, said Thursday that Democratic leaders will drop their push to attach flag-related amendments to appropriations bills, freeing Republicans to pursue their spending agenda, if GOP leaders will agree to consider an update to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a central part of which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.
In theory, that's a pretty generous offer, though I have a hunch Republicans won't see it that way.
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 Fox News poll we talked about earlier, Hillary Clinton enjoys a 40-point lead over Bernie Sanders among Democrats nationwide, 59% to 19%. Last month, the margin was slightly larger, 61% to 15%.
* Though this week's Washington Post/ABC News poll found Hillary Clinton's favorability rating improving since the early summer, a new poll from the Associated Press found the opposite.
* Republican presidential hopefuls Rick Perry and Donald Trump traded barbs yesterday, with the former governor arguing, "What Mr. Trump is offering is not conservatism, it is Trump-ism -- a toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense." The former reality-show host responded that Perry "should be forced to take an IQ test before being allowed to enter the GOP debate."
* Trump is also apparently feuding with John McCain, following the senator's critical comments this week. Trump called for McCain to be defeated in a primary, adding that the senator is a "dummy" because he graduated "last in his class" at the Naval Academy. (I get the feeling Trump cares a little more about college transcripts than he probably should.)
* For a while, Florida Republicans couldn't find anyone to run in the open U.S. Senate race, but now, the party has too many candidates. The latest entrant in Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera (R), who kicked off his campaign on Wednesday, just a year and a half after getting elected to statewide office.
* Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) told CNBC's John Harwood this week, "When I look at the Old and the New Testament, there's one thing that is clear in there. And that is, it does depend on how we help people who are downtrodden, down on their luck, the widowed, the poor." This is the sort of rhetoric that tends to annoy his Republican critics, since it serves as a rationale for Medicaid expansion.
With Congress unwilling to pass meaningful economic measures, President Obama's recently unveiled overtime policy is one of the year's biggest stories on the domestic economy. Jeb Bush, not surprisingly, doesn't like it, but he may not fully understand it, either.
To briefly recap, under the status quo, there's an annual income threshold for mandatory overtime: $23,660. Those making more than that can be classified by employers as "managers" who are exempt from overtime rules. The Obama administration's Labor Department has spent the last several months working on the new plan, which raises the threshold to $50,440 -- more than double the current level.
The policy doesn't just nibble around the edges; its scope includes roughly 5 million American workers. NBC's Kristin Donnelly reported the administration's move constitutes "the most ambitious intervention in the wage economy in at least a decade."
Campaigning in Iowa this week, Jeb Bush said the policy would result in "less overtime pay" and "less wages earned." The Guardian did some fact-checking.
Numerous economists attacked Bush's statement, calling him woefully misinformed. And several studies on the rule contradict Bush's assertion that the overtime rules would "lessen the number of people working".
Daniel Hamermesh, a University of Texas labor economist, said: "He's just 100% wrong," adding that "there will be more overtime pay and more total earnings" and "there's a huge amount of evidence employers will use more workers".
Indeed, a Goldman Sachs study estimated that employers would hire 120,000 more workers in response to Obama's overtime changes. And a similar study commissioned by the National Retail Federation – a fierce opponent of the proposed overtime rules – estimated that as a result of the new salary threshold, employers in the restaurant and retail industries would hire 117,500 new part-time workers.
The Economic Policy Institute's Ross Eisenbrey added that Bush "should be embarrassed about how misinformed he was." Noting that the Republican presidential candidate also said Obama's policy would also prohibit many bonuses, Eisenbrey added, "All of that is exactly wrong -- and pretty much nonsense."
On a surface level, it's problematic that Bush would flub the issue so poorly, but it's even more significant in the context of related confusion about economic policy.
A couple of months ago, Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump began boasting that he has a secret plan, which he will not share, to "defeat ISIS very quickly." He added soon after that the Trump plan -- again, the one he refuses to describe -- would be "decisive and quick."
The rhetoric came to mind this week reading this BuzzFeed report on Mike Huckabee's related boast.
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says the United States should have the most "formidable, fierce, military in the history of mankind" with the ability to defeat ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran within 10 days.
Huckabee was initially asked whether the disastrous war in Iraq was a mistake, and the former Arkansas governor dodged the question. Instead, the GOP candidate said, "[W]hen we have a threat, whether it is -- ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranians, whatever it is -- we make it very clear that we plan to push back and destroy that threat to us. And we won't take 10 years doing it, we hopefully won't even take 10 months, it will be like a 10-day exercise."
It's obviously difficult to take any of this seriously. But Huckabee's dream of a 10-day exercise in which the United States can destroy any threat does offer a timely reminder: a variety of Republicans seem to believe counter-terrorism is easy.
By now, the basic outline of this week's Planned Parenthood controversy is probably familiar to most news consumers. A right-wing group released a sting video -- as right-wing groups are wont to do -- featuring a Planned Parenthood official talking candidly about fetal tissue, which prompted a conservative uproar.
Soon after, we came to realize that the right-wing group edited the video in a misleading way-- as right-wing groups are wont to do -- and the "controversy" didn't amount to much of anything. It's not clear why the Washington Post put the story literally on the front page, since there are no credible allegations of wrongdoing. Mother Jones' Kevin Drum called it a "nothingburger," adding, "In the end, this is just another sad attempt at a sting video that goes nowhere once you get beyond the deceptive editing."
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards officially responded to the story yesterday, explaining that the organization did nothing wrong, though she acknowledged that the Planned Parenthood official featured in the sting video spoke with a "tone" that was "unacceptable."
In theory, that should effectively end the controversy, such as it was, and since my wife works for Planned Parenthood -- her work is completely unrelated to fetal tissue and she played no role in this report -- I was prepared to look past it altogether. But a Roll Callarticle yesterday pushed the story in an unexpected direction: some congressional Republicans have known about the video for weeks.
Rep. Tim Murphy, a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus and chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee looking into the video, said at a Wednesday news conference he'd seen the clip weeks before.
Asked afterward why he and others waited until this week to take action, Murphy struggled for an answer before abruptly ending the interview with CQ Roll Call, saying he should not be quoted and remarking, "This interview didn't happen."
Well, actually, it did happen, and members of Congress can't talk to reporters, then retroactively pretend they didn't.
It seems inevitable that Donald Trump's standing in national polls will fade, but for now, that shift remains on the horizon. Politicoreported overnight on the new Fox News poll:
Donald Trump leads all Republican presidential candidates for the GOP primary, according to a new Fox national poll of registered voters released Thursday.
Eighteen percent of GOP voters said they supported Trump, up 7 percent from last month and 15 percent from March.
Trailing Trump's 18% support is Scott Walker, who's in second with 15%, and Jeb Bush with 14%. No other candidate reached double digits in the Fox poll.
The results are roughly consistent with this week's USA Today/Suffolk poll, which also found Trump leading, and which also showed Trump generating about the same amount of support as Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul combined.
Making matters slightly worse for the Republican establishment, the Fox poll also found President Obama's approval rating climbing three points over the last month, reaching 47%, the strongest support the president has seen in a Fox poll in three years.
As we talked about the other day, the significance of polls like these is not in their predictive value -- the results shed little light on who's likely to win the Republicans' presidential nomination -- but this year, national surveys will dictate who participates in televised debates, making the polls more important than they've ever been.
And in this specific poll, that's not all. Consider this question Fox asked respondents:
Given our previous coverage of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) "John Doe" controversy, it's only fair to note that as of yesterday, by order of the state Supreme Court, the investigation is no more. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported:
Dealing Gov. Scott Walker a victory just as his presidential campaign gets underway, the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a sweeping decision Thursday ruled the governor's campaign and conservative groups had not violated campaign finance laws in recall elections in 2011 and 2012.
The ruling means the end of the investigation, which has been stalled for 18 months after a lower court judge determined no laws were violated even if Walker's campaign and the groups had worked together as prosecutors believe.
That last phase -- "even if Walker's campaign and the groups had worked together as prosecutors believe" -- is of particular interest. Conservative judges have concluded that even if the Republican governor and his team did exactly what they are accused of doing, it doesn't matter.
To briefly recap the controversy, Wisconsin election laws prohibit officials from coordinating campaign activities with outside political groups. There is, however, ample reason to believe Walker and his team were directly involved in overseeing how outside groups -- including some allegedly non-partisan non-profits -- spent their campaign resources.
Several conservative judges, including a majority of the state Supreme Court, have a problem with the law itself -- so long as outside groups aren't explicitly trying to bribe a public official, the rationale argues, the coordination, no matter how explicit, is permissible.
Or put another way, as yesterday's dissent emphasized, it's an "anything goes" policy when it comes to politicians partnering with outside groups to win elections.
For Walker, the ruling is obviously a relief -- no presidential candidate wants to campaign for national office with an unresolved scandal pending, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court's ruling frees the governor from worrying about this controversy going forward.
But looking ahead, the story isn't quite finished. The next question is focused less on Walker and more on the judges who just did Walker a favor. Political scientist Norman Ornstein yesterday described the Wisconsin Supreme Court as the "worst court in America," and it's worth appreciating why.
For much of the year, policymakers were in a holding pattern when it came to the Affordable Care Act. The health care system continued to improve, and consumers continued to benefit, but officials were hesitant about adopting major changes, unsure what the Supreme Court might do to the law.
That period, of course, is now behind us. The court case is over; the system is intact; and "Obamacare" expansion is back on track. Take yesterday's developments in Alaska, for example. The NBC affiliate in Anchorage reported:
Gov. Bill Walker has announced unilateral plans to expand Medicaid in Alaska, after the state Legislature stymied his attempt to pass it during this year's regular session and a special session he subsequently called.
Ordinarily, when a state legislature balks at a legislative proposal, governors can't simply adopt a statewide policy unilaterally. But Alaska's Gov. Walker -- a former Republican who ran as an Independent with a Democratic running mate -- told reporters that state law empowers him to move forward with Medicaid expansion, with or without lawmakers' support.
"This is the final option for me -- I've tried everything else," the governor said He added, "Thousands of Alaskans and more than 150 organizations, including chambers of commerce, local hospitals, and local governments, have been waiting long enough for Medicaid expansion. It's time to expand Medicaid so thousands of our friends, coworkers, neighbors, and family members don't have to make the choice between health care or bankruptcy."
The Alaska Dispatch Newsadded, "Walker's decision to expand Medicaid without legislative approval is not common but it's also not without precedent."
Barring a reversal in the courts, Alaska will be the 30th state to accept Medicaid expansion through the ACA, and while estimates vary on the number of beneficiaries, the move will reportedly expand health security to roughly 42,000 working-class Alaskans.
Rachel Maddow reports on President Barack Obama's visit to a federal prison in Oklahoma today, the first such visit by a sitting president ever, and notes that as remarkable as the president's comments are, so is the lack of political pushback. watch
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