First up from the God Machine this week is an over-the-top reaction from the religious right movement to the Obama administration's latest efforts to protect transgender students.
Officials at the Department of Justice and the Department of Education wrote a letter yesterday to every public-school district in the country, urging local officials to allow transgender students to use bathrooms consistent with their chosen gender identity, School districts that ignore the directive may put their federal funding in jeopardy.
“A school’s failure to treat students consistent with their gender identity may create or contribute to a hostile environment in violation of Title IX," the Obama administration wrote, pointing to the 1972 law prohibiting gender-based discrimination in public education.
As Right Wing Watch reported, social conservatives and the religious right movement were apoplectic, with one leading organization recommending impeachment for President Obama in response to the policy.
After claiming that the president is "sacrificing children to advance an evil agenda" and is intentionally causing "social chaos," [Family Research Council President Tony Perkins] told Fox News' Todd Starnes today that Congress should launch impeachment proceedings against the president in retaliation: [...]
"If the president chooses to go forward with this outrageous order -- then congress should begin impeachment proceedings," [the FRC president] said. Perkins said the decree should be "resisted with ever legal and moral instrument we have available to us in this country."
Chances are, congressional Republicans are not going to use this as the basis for presidential impeachment -- in fact, GOP leaders on Capitol Hill were surprisingly quiet yesterday in the wake of the news -- but the response from the religious right was nevertheless a striking reminder: social conservatives may have lost the fight over marriage equality, but they've made transgender bathroom use the new hot-button issue in the culture war.
Rachel Maddow takes a look at Donald Trump's weird history of pretending to be someone else while speaking to the media about himself or on his own behalf, and the return of an embarrassing scandal with the publication of previously unheard audio tapes. watch
Rachel Maddow shares a local Denver reporter's revelation that some of the signatures gathered to put Republican candidate for Senate, Jon Keyser, on the Colorado ballot were forged, putting the Republican Senate majority at risk. watch
Steven Ginsberg, senior politics editor for The Washington Post, talks with Rachel Maddow about recorded audio of a 1991 phone call in which Donald Trump pretends to be a publicist for himself, a ruse Trump has admitted, but now denies. watch
* This is a major development in the debate over capital punishment: "The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced on Friday that it has imposed sweeping controls on the distribution of its products to ensure that none are used in lethal injections, a step that closes off the last remaining open-market source of drugs used in executions."
* If there's a good explanation for this, I'm eager to hear it: "The House will soon consider the National Defense Authorization Act, an annual piece of legislation that sets policy for the military. If the bill becomes law in its current form, the United States will break faith with the Afghans who served with U.S. troops and diplomats."
* The Obama administration sent a letter today "to every public school district in America warning them they should allow transgender students to use bathrooms consistent with their chosen gender identity, or risk losing federal funding."
* Change no one should believe in: "The new Brazilian president's first pick for science minister was a creationist. He chose a soybean tycoon who has deforested large tracts of the Amazon rain forest to be his agriculture minister. And he is the first leader in decades to have no women in his cabinet at all."
* A case we've been watching: "A federal judge Friday put the brakes on releasing the names of the suspected Bridgegate conspirators. Judge Susan Wigenton delayed the release until Tuesday after lawyers for a "John Doe" filed a last-minute motion to stop it from being revealed."
* The U.S. Navy has "fired the commander of the 10 American sailors who entered Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf and were captured and held by Iran for about 15 hours. In a statement Thursday, the Navy said it had lost confidence in Cmdr. Eric Rasch, who was the executive officer of the squadron that included the 10 sailors at the time of the January incident."
* Another ugly oil spill: "Almost 90,000 gallons of crude oil gushed from a Shell oil facility into the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast on Thursday, leaving a 13- by 2-mile sheen of oil on the waves, federal authorities said."
* Arizona: "It's official: A federal judge has found Sheriff Joe Arpaio in civil contempt of federal court. A federal judge ruled that the Maricopa County lawman and three of his top aides violated a federal court order meant to curtail racial profiling in his agency, according to a ruling issued Friday."
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who's up for re-election this year, has an incentive to appear as moderate and level-headed as possible. He is, after all, a Republican running in a pretty blue state, sharing a ballot with Donald Trump in a presidential election year. The circumstances have made Kirk arguably the Senate's most endangered incumbent.
And yet, the GOP senator just keeps making bizarre comments. Politicoreports today:
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk hasn't let up on his insistence that President Obama is using his power as president to lash out at a political enemy.
At a fundraising event last month in Chicago, the Illinois Republican can be heard on audio defending indicted New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat, while accusing Obama of targeting Menendez because of his stance on Iran.
According to a recording Politico obtained, Kirk told his audience, "And let me say something about Bob Menendez. I believe that Bob Menendez was indicted solely on the crime of opposing the president on Iran."
It wasn't an off-hand comment: the Illinois Republican has pushed the same conspiracy theory over and over again.
To the extent that reality matters, we know that Kirk is completely wrong. The corruption investigation into Menendez's work initiated long before the Iran deal negotiations even began, and the indictment was issued before the Iran deal was finalized. Besides, Menendez's opposition to the international agreement was inconsequential, so the White House has no incentive to punish him.
But even if we put that aside, what Kirk is arguing is that the White House orchestrated an elaborate conspiracy, involving multiple federal prosecutors and investigators over the course of several years, to seek retribution against a senator from the president's own party, who generally agrees with the administration's position on most issues.
As proof, Kirk points to ... nothing. The Illinois Republican believes the White House is guilty of an impeachable offense: manipulating federal law enforcement to execute a partisan retribution scheme. This is a conspiracy theory that doesn't make any sense. The senator is comfortable throwing around this accusation, repeatedly and in public, despite having presented literally no evidence whatsoever.
Senators generally aren't supposed to behave this way. Senators worried about their re-election bids never behave this way.
The controversy surrounding Donald Trump and his hidden tax returns was, at a certain level, stuck. The presumptive Republican nominee could release the materials -- as every major-party nominee has done for the last 40 years -- but he's using an audit as an excuse to justify secrecy. In time, he'll either succumb to pressure or he won't.
But this morning the story took an unexpected turn. For quite a while, Trump has suggested he'd be comfortable with disclosure -- he specifically said this week he'd "like to" disclose the tax documents -- but the IRS process is standing in the way. It's a bogus posture, which he seemed to abandon this morning during an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes or no: Do you believe voters have a right to see your tax returns before they make a final decision?
TRUMP: I don't think they do.
He quickly added that he's willing to "present" the documents anyway, after "the audit ends."
When the host asked what tax rate he currently pays, the Republican candidate snapped, "It's none of your business. You'll see it when I release. But I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible."
There's no shortage of angles to this -- Trump's hypocrisy, his dishonesty, his reversals from previous commitments -- all of which raise questions about what in the world the presumptive GOP nominee is so desperate to hide. For that matter, given how eager Trump is to slash rates for the wealthiest of the wealthy -- people like Trump himself -- it arguably is our "business" to learn just how big a tax break the Republican candidate intends to give himself.
But just below the surface, Trump's rhetoric reminded me of something we heard four years ago.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Donald Trump's butler this week called for President Obama's assassination. The Secret Service is following up.
* According to Politico, a group of staffers and volunteers for Bernie Sanders' campaign has begun "circulating a draft proposal calling on the senator to get out of the presidential race after the final burst of Democratic primaries on June 7, and concentrate on building a national progressive organization to stop Donald Trump."
* On a related note, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the only senator to endorse Sanders' candidacy, said this week that he's not on board with Sanders' plan to rely on superdelegates to override voters' will to win the Democratic nomination.
* Seventeen Republicans ran for president this cycle, and Ben Carson is leading an effort to convince each of them to support Trump. Two of them -- Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham -- have already categorically ruled out the possibility.
* Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has reportedly begun working with the Trump campaign, hoping to help the candidate "evolve" on matters of international affairs.
* Sen. Marco Rubio (R) raised some eyebrows yesterday when he hinted he might reverse course and run for re-election after all. His office soon after said the Florida senator was kidding.
* Trump is reportedly considering Newt Gingrich as a possible running mate, though it's hard not to wonder how much of these rumors are being fueled by the former House Speaker himself.
In recent years, Senate Republicans have somehow convinced themselves that "court packing" means making judicial nominations and then having the Senate confirm those jurists to the bench. In fact, as genuinely bizarre as this is, GOP senators have repeatedly suggested in recent years that if a Democratic president follows the constitutional process, the public should perceive it as scandalous and illegitimate.
It's not. "Court packing" was an FDR-era idea in which the executive branch would expand the number of seats on the bench in order to tilt the judiciary in the president's favor. In other words, if the White House's agenda struggled at the Supreme Court in a series of 5-4 rulings, the president could expand the court to 11 members, appoint two new allies, and voila, there'd be 6-5 rulings in the administration's favor.
The idea was floated in the 1930s, but it was considered deeply controversial and didn't go anywhere.
This year, however, Republican policymakers in Arizona have an idea: expand the state Supreme Court from five seats to seven, and let the state's current Republican governor fill the newly created vacancies. The proposal has already passed the GOP-led legislature, though the NBC affiliate in Tucson reported yesterday that the state's top judge is urging Gov. Doug Ducey (R) to veto the bill.
Chief Justice Scott Bales says in a letter to Ducey that the court's caseload doesn't merit expansion, especially when the Legislature has underfunded other court priorities.
The Republican-controlled Legislature approved the $1 million-per-year expansion in the just-ended session. It awaits Ducey's signature or veto.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) recently expanded his state's Supreme Court from seven justices to nine, which came on the heels of related efforts in Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Iowa in recent years.
The Arizona initiative, in other words, does not appear to be an isolated incident.
Following up on a story we've been following, it was just four years ago when Mitt Romney chose to float a provocative idea on Veterans' Day. "Sometimes you wonder," the Republican asked, "would there be some way to introduce some private sector competition" into veterans' care?
A spokesperson for Veterans of Foreign Wars very quickly made clear the VFW "doesn't support privatization of veterans' health care," and Romney backpedaled soon after, saying he was just kicking around a hypothetical scenario he didn't intend to pursue.
A lot has changed since 2012. As Rachel noted on the show last night, privatization of veterans' care is back as a Republican priority, as this Wall Street Journalreport yesterday helped prove.
Donald Trump says the Department of Veterans Affairs' health-care system is badly broken, and this week his campaign released some guidelines that would steer changes he would implement if he wins the presidency.
While short on details, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee would likely push VA health care toward privatization and might move for it to become more of an insurance provider like Medicare rather than an integrated hospital system, said Sam Clovis, Mr. Trump's chief policy adviser, in an interview.
Clovis told the newspaper, "We want quality care top to bottom. If that means we have some form of privatization or some form of Medicare, we don't see anything wrong with that."
Veterans, however, tend to have a very different opinion on the matter.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has found himself with quite a few critics, and as it turns out, his campaign is keeping track of those who've slighted him.
Politicoreported overnight that as Trump's team begins to take over the RNC apparatus, "some campaign aides and allies are pushing him to block lucrative party contracts from consultants who worked to keep him from winning the nomination." The article added that the "blacklist" would mostly target "operatives who worked for Never Trump groups, but also some who worked for Trump's GOP presidential rivals or their supportive super PACs."
If this were the end of Team Trump's vindictiveness, it would still be pretty striking, but this is really just the start. USA Todayreported overnight:
One again Donald Trump has kindled the fires of conspiracy. The soon-to-be Republican nominee for president says Jeff Bezos, the Amazon CEO who owns The Washington Post, is using the paper to attack him and the other political enemies who would force the massive online retailer to pay more in taxes.
Donald Trump told Sean Hannity in an interview Thursday that Bezos is using the Post "like a toy" and "for power so that the politicians in Washington don't tax Amazon like they should be taxed."
As part of a long, rambling, barely coherent tirade, Trump added in reference to Bezos, "[H]e's got a huge antitrust problem because he's controlling so much, Amazon is controlling so much of what they're doing. And what they've done is, he bought this paper for practically nothing and he's using that as a tool for political power against me and against other people. And I'll tell you what: we can't let him get away with it."
Trump didn't explicitly say he'd use the power of the federal government to target Bezos if elected, but in light of "we can't let him get away with it," it certainly sounded as if the candidate were effectively saying, "It's a nice business operation you have going; it'd be a shame if something happened to it."
I'll confess that I don't quite understand why yesterday's meeting between Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan generated quite so much attention. The Republican leader has spent months vowing to support his party's presidential nominee, no matter what, and we learned yesterday that Ryan is likely to eventually do exactly what he's said he would do.
Apparently we're supposed to be impressed that Ryan is dragging this out, adding an element of drama to a process with an inevitable end?
Regardless, while there probably wasn't much to be learned from yesterday's high-profile, behind-closed-doors chat, Politico's report on the meeting noted, "[Paul Ryan] even brought charts and slides illustrating the nation's budget woes to help Trump understand the problem he has spent 20 years trying to solve."
As much as I appreciate someone who brings charts and slides to meetings, the assumption -- stated as fact -- that Ryan has "spent 20 years trying to solve" the nation's budget woes is demonstrably incorrect. As regular readers may recall, the Wisconsin congressman voted for George W. Bush's tax cuts and didn't feel the need to pay for them. Then he voted for Bush's extremely expensive Medicare expansion, and didn't feel the need to pay for that, either. He also voted for Bush's wars, and had no qualms whatsoever about adding the costs the national credit card. To top things off, Ryan also voted to bail out Wall Street, and once more, he decided the costs should just be added to the debt.
During the Bush administration, Ryan distinguished himself from the president by demanding even larger tax cuts -- and, during the fight over privatizing Social Security, advocated a plan that the administration rejected because it would have exploded deficits by too much.
Likewise, Ryan has opposed all of the major deficit-reducing legislation during this period -- ending portions of the Bush tax cuts, ending overpayments to private tuition lenders, and enacting the deficit-reducing Affordable Care Act, especially its cost-containment measures. Ryan also voted against the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction framework, and torpedoed bipartisan efforts to negotiate a deficit-reduction compromise between the Obama administration and Congress.
So why are we told -- in a news piece, not an op-ed -- that Paul Ryan has "spent 20 years trying to solve" the nation's budget woes? Because the Speaker of the House benefits from an extraordinary reputation that he never actually earned.
There was quite a bit of breathless coverage this week about Donald Trump "flip-flopping" on tax policy, but the closer one looks, the more it appears that there was no reversal. The presumptive Republican nominee committed to massive tax breaks for the wealthy, and some clumsy phrasing notwithstanding, his platform hasn't changed.
There was a legitimate question, however, about whether Trump's tax plan might get "tweaked" for the general election. Politicoreported on Wednesday that the Republican candidate's campaign "enlisted influential conservative economists to revise his tax package and make it more politically palatable by slashing the $10 trillion sticker price." The article added that Trump's team, just last month, reached out to CNBC's Larry Kudlow and the Heritage Foundation's Stephen Moore "to spearhead an effort to update the package," and the duo has already done a fair amount of work on a new blueprint.
Late yesterday, however, the story took an unexpected turn. The New York Timesreported:
After days of confusion over Donald J. Trump's hints that he would change his tax plan to reduce its budget-busting cost and make it less generous to the rich, his spokeswoman on Thursday sought to clear things up: He plans no changes, Hope Hicks said, and advisers who say otherwise do not speak for him.
One of those advisers, Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation, had his own response: "I'm a little bummed out if his spokeswoman says they're not going to make any changes to the plan."
Moore's emotional state notwithstanding, this is not a positive development. Even if we put aside the confusion surrounding the competing news accounts, the more pressing matter is the fact that Trump's tax plan actually needs revising because it's a ridiculous plan.
Over the course of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton hasn't had a whole lot to say about the Federal Reserve or monetary policy in general, which is why it was all the more interesting to see the Democratic frontrunner's campaign yesterday endorse a change long sought by progressive activists. The Washington Postreported:
The Fed is led by a seven-member board of governors based in Washington and a dozen regional bank presidents based across the country, from New York to Kansas City to San Francisco. The governors are nominated by the White House and approved by the Senate, but regional bank presidents are selected by their boards of directors, whose occupants are chosen by the banking industry and by the Fed governors in Washington.
In a statement to The Washington Post, Clinton's campaign said she supports removing bankers from the boards of directors and increasing diversity within the Fed.
In a written statement, a campaign spokesperson told the Post, "The Federal Reserve is a vital institution for our economy and the well-being of our middle class, and the American people should have no doubt that the Fed is serving the public interest. That's why Secretary Clinton believes that the Fed needs to be more representative of America as a whole and that commonsense reforms -- like getting bankers off the boards of regional Federal Reserve banks -- are long overdue."
This brings Clinton in line with Bernie Sanders, who endorsed this policy late last year, saying he wants a system in which "the foxes would no longer guard the henhouse."
The statement also came the same day Clinton wrote an op-ed for the Washington Informer, an African-American newspaper, vowing to be a "vocal champion" for D.C. statehood.
"In the case of our nation's capital, we have an entire populace that is routinely denied a voice in its own democracy," Clinton wrote, adding, "Washingtonians serve in the military, serve on juries, and pay taxes just like everyone else. And yet, they don't even have a vote in Congress."
Earlier this week, Clinton also emphasized her support for a "public option" in health care coverage, including a possible Medicare buy-in policy.
The broader pattern matters, and it's not altogether expected.
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.