* Ferguson: "SWAT teams swarmed a house on Dade Avenue here around midday and detained people for questioning as law enforcement continued their search for a gunman who shot and injured two police officers at a demonstration late Wednesday night.... St. Louis County police confirmed that people had been taken in for questioning as 'part of the investigation into the events from last night,' but said no arrests had been made yet."
* Related news: "The two officers, one of whom sustained a bullet wound to the face, were released from the hospital Thursday morning, NBC News reported."
* Holder speaks out: "Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday condemned the violence that exploded late Wednesday night in Ferguson, Missouri, where two police officers were shot after a rally in the streets took a nasty turn. 'What happened last night was a pure ambush. This was not someone trying to bring healing to Ferguson; this was a damn punk,' the attorney general said on Thursday."
* More on this on tonight's show: "Two Secret Service agents suspected of driving under the influence and striking a White House security barricade disrupted an active bomb investigation and may have driven over the suspicious package itself, according to current and former government officials familiar with the incident."
* ISIS: "Iraqi government forces and allied militias took control of the western neighborhoods of Tikrit on Thursday, military officials said, leaving only one area, including a palace complex once used by Saddam Hussein, in the hands of Islamic State militants."
* Boko Haram: "Hundreds of South African mercenaries and hired fighters of other nationalities are playing a decisive role in Nigeria's military campaign against Boko Haram, operating attack helicopters, armored personnel carriers and fighting to retake towns and villages captured by the Islamist militant group, according to senior officials in the region."
* Ahmed Al-Jumaili: "An Iraqi man who fled violence in his homeland to reunite with his wife in the United States had been in Texas just three weeks when he was fatally shot while taking photos of his first snowfall, his father-in-law said."
A few weeks ago, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) made the unfortunate decision to attack President Obama's patriotism, insisting that the president doesn't love America or Americans. The Republican activist, somehow convinced himself he could make the ensuing controversy better by saying more dumb things, and proceeded to make matters much worse.
Giuliani has kept a slightly lower profile since, though the New York Daily Newsreports today that the former mayor is back, launching a new salvo against the president he holds in contempt.
Obama is ignoring "enormous amounts of crime" committed by African-Americans, Giuliani said Thursday. And he said President Obama is to blame for the brawl inside a McDonald's in Brooklyn as well as the shooting of two cops in Ferguson because of the anti-police "tone" coming from the White House. [...]
Host John Gambling asked for Giuliani's take on the vicious McDonald's fight, the recent police shootings in Ferguson and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton getting booed Thursday at a City Council hearing by protesters. "It all starts at the top. It's the tone that's set by the president," Giuliani said.
I'll confess that this might be the first time I've heard anyone, anywhere, blame any president for a brawl at a fast food restaurant.
Giuliani did add, however, in all seriousness, "I hate to mention it because of what happened afterwards, but (he should be saying) the kinds of stuff Bill Cosby used to say."
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has only been in the Senate for a couple of years, but he's been a popular fixture on the Republican speaking circuit. In fact, the far-right Texan has become quite an accomplished orator, delivering polished, red-meat speeches, without notes or a teleprompter, complete with predetermined pauses for applause.
But what happens when Cruz strays from the Republican bubble and delivers the same remarks to less partisan audiences that don't applaud the applause lines? Dave Weigel reported this week on the senator's appearance at International Association of Firefighters' bipartisan summit.
Firefighters' unions are not as solidly Democratic as most labor unions. In 2010, for example, Scott Walker won his first term as Wisconsin's governor with the backing of the Milwaukee Professional Firefighters Association. (Walker was invited to the IAFF summit but skipped it.)
Still, the firefighters assembled to hear from possible presidents gave Cruz one of the coldest receptions he's ever given before a camera.
Watching the Texas Republican deliver applause lines without applause is surprisingly unnerving. Take a look at this clip:
His stunt is moving his party further from its own goals. His allies are scrambling to make excuses for the fiasco he spearheaded. Observers from the left, right, center are using words like "disgrace," "dangerous," and "stupid" while condemning his gambit to sabotage his own country's foreign policy.
Taken together, it's tempting to think Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), whose letter to Iran is effectively its own scandal, is having a career-ending, credibility-killing week. But by all appearances, the right-wing Arkansan is actually riding high.
With his missive to Iran's political leadership, ultimately co-signed with 46 of his GOP colleagues, and the fallout over his unusual attempt to circumvent the president's foreign policy deal-making, Cotton has rocketed to the top of TV bookers' lists, and fellow Republican senators are suddenly flocking to him for counsel on foreign policy.
All before he's even given his maiden speech on the Senate floor.
The headline on the Politicopiece heralded Cotton as a "GOP phenom" whose radical stunt has "endeared him to Republicans."
It's amazing to see how this works. Steve M. argued this week, "This is how it always goes with the GOP -- a Republican does one showboating, immature, possibly reckless thing, and he or she (usually he) is an immediate star. Look at Ted Cruz. Look at Rand Paul. Look at Ben Carson."
Paul Waldman added that the Iran letter from the 47 Senate Republicans "looks like quite the fiasco," except Cotton "is probably saying, 'That worked out great!'"
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:
* The Ames Straw Poll will happen this year, but for the first time, it won't be in Ames. The Iowa Republican Party announced this morning that the straw poll will instead be held in Boone on Aug. 8. Less clear are which GOP candidates will choose to compete in the contest.
* Speaking of Iowa, a senior adviser on Jeb Bush's team is already managing expectations. "If we lose Iowa, we're fine," the unnamed staffers said yesterday. "If [Scott Walker] loses Iowa, he's done."
* And speaking of Jeb Bush, as the former governor continues to move closer to his presidential campaign, he's ending his private-sector dealings. This week, the shift includes "selling ownership stakes in Jeb Bush & Associates ... and in Britton Hill Partnership, a business advisory group that in 2013 set up private-equity funds investing in energy and aviation."
* Kentucky is one of three states holding gubernatorial elections this year, and according to SurveyUSA, state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) is the early favorite. In hypothetical general election match-ups, Conway leads each of his likely Republican challengers by margins ranging from 2 to 19 points.
* In Wisconsin, the latest PPP survey shows former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) well positioned in his likely rematch against incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R), with the Democrat leading, 50% to 41%.
* As if the race for the Democratic nomination in the Maryland Senate race weren't competitive enough already, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is reportedly "on the verge" of kicking off his own campaign.
After this weekend's gathering in Selma, Alabama, where former President George W. Bush stood and applauded a call for Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act with a bipartisan bill, it was hard not to wonder when the Republican majority would finally agree to tackle the issue.
According to Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), the answer appears to be never.
Cornyn said that the push to fix the so-called "pre-clearance" provision, which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013, is an effort to "drive divisions and create phony narratives." Cornyn, who is responsible for scheduling floor votes, said he does not believe Congress should take up legislation to amend the act. He is the first top GOP Congressional leader to publicly say so.
When Yahoo News reminded the Republican leader about "places where people are having difficulty voting," Cornyn replied, "I think Eric Holder and this administration have trumped up and created an issue where there really isn't one."
The Supreme Court's conservative majority ruled two years ago that it's up to Congress to fix the VRA formula. But when Yahoo News asked Cornyn, "So you don't think that Congress needs to fix the formula?" the Texas Republican replied, simply, "No."
Yesterday, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who did not attend this weekend's event in his own home state, said he hasn't followed the issue of voting rights at all. "I'm not on the Judiciary Committee. I don't follow that every day," he said this week.
Asked about the Supreme Court's ruling, Shelby added, "I don't know what the court did. I know what they did -- they struck down something."
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) was in Selma over the weekend and literally walked the streets "with a copy of draft Voting Rights Act legislation in his pocket, trying to win support from his GOP colleagues to restore the landmark law." His search isn't going well.
For those hoping to see the Affordable Care Act succeed, recent developments have been amazing. "Obamacare" is working better than expected on practically every front, from increased enrollments to lower costs, from expanded coverage to increased competition. Even the most knee-jerk, far-right ideologue has very little to complain about.
But that won't stop them from trying.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), for example, called the ACA a "monstrosity" the other day, insisting, "[T]he greatest job suppressor in the so-called recovery that we've gone through is Obamacare."
In reality, there is literally no evidence to suggest the reform law is suppressing job growth. On the contrary, 2014 was the first full year for ACA implementation and it was the best year for U.S. job creation since the 1990s. Or put another way, after "Obamacare" took effect, America created more jobs than any year in which Bush's brother or father was president.
Barrasso, the 4th ranking Senate Republican, mocked the Obama administration for holding an event at the White House this week to cheer new healthcare enrollment figures at a time when the law remains mostly unpopular nationally.
"It's time for the White House to stop celebrating and start thinking about the people," Barrasso said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
I generally find Barrasso's health care arguments odd, but if The Hill quoted him properly, this latest offensive is genuinely bizarre. When the White House "celebrates" millions of Americans gaining access to affordable medical care, they are, in reality, "thinking about the people." That's the point. They're cheering good news for actual people.
The far-right senator reportedly added, "The Obama administration and every Democrat who voted for it should be embarrassed for it."
When House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress, the plan was intended to boost their collective ambitions. Boehner would use Netanyahu to undermine President Obama and his foreign policy, while Netanyahu would use Boehner to improve his own re-election prospects and condemn international nuclear talks he opposes.
Almost immediately, the gambit backfired. In the United States, Republicans created a real controversy by partnering with a foreign official to undercut an American president. In Israel, Netanyahu divided the public by jeopardizing the country's relationship with its most reliable ally.
The consequences of the misstep are still unfolding. Take the latest poll of Israeli voters, less than a week from their national elections, for example.
Isaac Herzog's Zionist Union has maintained its 24-to-21-seat lead against Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud in the Knesset Channel's latest poll, suggesting that the prime minister's speech to Congress last week hasn't buoyed his party before the March 17 election. [...]
Zionist Union is the joint slate of Herzog's Labor Party and Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah. The station's previous poll came out just before Netanyahu's speech to the U.S. Congress a week ago.
In case it's not obvious, any set of national elections are going to be multi-faceted, and it's difficult to draw a straight line between the prime minister's congressional address and his reduced support in Israel. That said, the polling suggests Netanyahu was in better shape, politically, before last week's controversial U.S. trip.
It was not uncommon to hear prominent American voices suggest in recent weeks that the Israeli prime minister speaks for all of Israel -- and indeed, all Jewish people everywhere -- and it's somehow offensive for anyone to criticize his policy vision. It was a silly argument at the time, which looks increasingly foolish now.
At least Netanyahu can take some comfort in knowing he's wildly popular in the United States, right? Actually, no.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), gearing up for his first presidential campaign, conceded this week, "I'm always told how much I suck." He added, "I bring some of that on myself."
For example, at a campaign event in New Hampshire the other day, the South Carolina Republican said that if he were president, he'd force Congress to undo the sequestration cuts undermining the military. "I wouldn't let Congress leave town until we fix this," Graham said. "I would literally use the military to keep them in if I had to."
Taken at face value, Graham made it sound as if he would launch some kind of military coup, forcing the legislative branch to approve the Graham administration's demands.
The senator, of course, was kidding -- though I can't help but wonder what the political world's reaction might be if President Obama told a similar joke -- and Graham's use of the word "literally" apparently shouldn't be taken, well, literally. The senator exaggerates for effect all the time.
But as Graham's bid for national office gets underway, the uproar over his awkward attempt at humor serves as a reminder that his presidential campaign is off to a rough start.
Almost two months after the South Carolina Republican announced that he was "definitely" looking at a presidential run, an online straw poll from his home state's party still did not include him.
To make the oversight hurt just a little more, the straw poll had 25 names on it, including such unlikely candidates as former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. It even listed the state's junior senator, Tim Scott.
Making matters slightly worse, a new poll in South Carolina found most of Graham's constituents like him, but nearly two-thirds of them don't want him to run for the White House.
When initial unemployment claims reached 10-month highs in late February, the hope was this was a temporary blip caused by unexpected winter storms in much of the country. As of today, that theory is looking pretty good.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits sank by 36,000 to 289,000 in the seven days from March 1 to March 7, reversing a sharp uptick in late February that was likely triggered by a bout of bad weather. [...]
Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected new claims to fall to a seasonally adjusted 310,000 from a revised 325,000 in the prior week. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, fell by 3,750 to 302,250, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average smooths out sharp fluctuations in the more volatile weekly report and is seen as a more accurate predictor of labor-market trends.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it’s worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it’s best not to read too much significance into any one report.
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it’s considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 20 of the last 26 weeks. On the other hand, we’ve been above 300,000 five of the last nine weeks.
After putting his signature on the Senate Republicans' infamous sabotage letter, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) started hedging Tuesday night, saying the GOP's missive to Iranian leaders may not have been "the best way" for his party to achieve its goals.
Some Republican senators admitted Wednesday they were caught off guard by the backlash to a letter warning Iranian leaders against a nuclear agreement with President Barack Obama. And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Republicans -- many of whom blessed the missive during a brisk signing session at a Senate lunch a week ago, as senators prepared to flee a Washington snowstorm -- should have given it closer consideration.
"It was kind of a very rapid process. Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm," McCain said.
McCain went on to tell Politico that he and his colleagues "probably should have had more discussion" about the document, "given the blowback that there is."
Note, this appears to be the third excuse Republicans have come up with for the letter intended to derail American foreign policy. The first rationale was that the 47 GOP senators were kidding, and this was all an attempt at being "cheeky." The second was that Republicans tried to undermine international nuclear talks, but this is all President Obama's fault.
And here's John McCain rolling out the option behind Door #3: Republicans were concerned about snow, so they rushed.
Oddly enough, that's probably slightly better than the rationale Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) came up with.
Rachel Maddow talks about the unusual alignment of the U.S. and Iran in fighting ISIS, and the lack of understanding of that common purpose that underpins Republican attacks on President Obama and threatens overall national security. watch
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