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Second tier Republicans scramble to make cut

Second tier Republicans scramble to make cut

07/15/15 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow looks at how back-of-the-pack Republican primary candidates are strategizing to boost their national poll numbers in order to qualify for the Fox News debate, including a Rick Perry Super PAC buying ads on national outlets like Fox News. watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 7.15.15

07/15/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Eurozone: "Greece headed toward a critical vote Wednesday night on its bailout package as its creditors renewed a divisive debate over giving the country a break on its debt."
 
* More on this tomorrow: "The House voted Wednesday to approve an $8 billion bill to extend federal transportation funding until December. The funding extension was approved in a 312-119 vote."
 
* She's right: "Janet L. Yellen, the Federal Reserve chairwoman, told lawmakers on Wednesday that proposals to increase congressional oversight of the central bank could cause collateral damage to the broader economy."
 
* Major Garrett probably shouldn't expect a White House Christmas card: "President Barack Obama publicly scolded CBS News' Major Garrett during a gathering of the press corps at the White House on Wednesday, chastising the reporter for asking if the president is 'content' to celebrate the Iran nuclear deal while four American hostages remain in Iran. 'That's nonsense. And you should know better,' Obama replied."
 
* California: "Dramatic video released Tuesday showing Gardena police officers shooting two unarmed men -- one fatally -- is once again igniting debate about police use of force. And like other cases, some people view the same video in very different ways. A judge's decision to release the tape capped months of legal battles, with the city fighting to keep the tape private."
 
* It was a big news day yesterday; it's a shame this didn't get more attention: "In a broad, sometimes rousing speech, President Obama on Tuesday laid out an ambitious road map for re-imagining America's criminal justice system, saying the present system is 'particularly skewed by race and by wealth,' and not only costly to taxpayers, but to society as a whole."
 
* Bill Clinton at the NAACP's annual national convention: "Former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday said the tough on crime bill he signed as president put too many people in jail whose punishment did not fit their crimes.... 'I signed a bill that made the problem worse. And I want to admit it,' he said."
President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House. (Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Obama plays devil's advocate ... to himself

07/15/15 05:02PM

President Obama hosted a White House press conference this afternoon, the bulk of which dealt with the details of the international nuclear agreement with Iran. Reporters pressed Obama on several angles, and the president, to his credit, didn't dodge anything -- he offered detailed responses and defenses to every inquiry.
 
And then Obama did something I've never seen him -- or really, any president -- do. From the transcript:
"All right. Have we exhausted Iran questions here? I think there's a helicopter that's coming. But I really am enjoying this Iran debate.
 
"Topics that may not have been touched upon, criticisms that you've heard that I did not answer.... I just want to make sure that we're not leaving any stones un-turned here."
It's really worth watching the video of this portion, because I've never seen anything like it at a White House press conference. In effect, Obama wanted to hear every possible criticism -- from Republicans, from Israeli officials, from the media, anyone -- of the Iran deal so that he could explain, in detail, why those criticisms are wrong.
 
Ordinarily, in response to a breakthrough diplomatic achievement like this one, you might expect to see a president sidestep criticisms and focus on praise and international support, all in the hopes of building public and congressional support. It's typical, and arguably natural, for a president to downplay the role of naysayers.
 
Obama did the exact opposite. He welcomed criticisms. He literally sought them out. The president seemed eager, if not genuinely enthusiastic, about hearing the very worst critics could come up with. Obama effectively stood at the podium for an hour and said, "Give me your best shot."
 
Indeed, after calling on specific reporters by name, Obama moved to a freer, more open press conference towards the end, pointing to those who had something negative to ask about the deal, all because the president was looking for critical talking points that he could debunk in real time.
 
Take a close look in the above clip at what the president does towards the end: he reaches into his pocket, pulls out a note, and says, "I'm just going to look -- I made some notes about many of the arguments -- the other arguments that I've heard here...."
Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney listens as his wife Lynne Cheney speaks about her book "James Madison: A Life Reconsidered" May 12, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

The failure Cheney doesn't want to talk about

07/15/15 04:20PM

President Obama and his team, working with our allies and negotiating partners, reached a historic diplomatic agreement with Iran yesterday, effectively ensuring that a dangerous Middle East foe will not acquire nuclear weapons.
 
And wouldn't you know it, Dick Cheney is outraged. MSNBC's Eric Levitz reported this morning:
By reaching a historic deal that forces Iran to significantly scale back its nuclear program, President Obama has brought the world closer to nuclear war than it has been since World War II, according to former Vice President Dick Cheney.
 
Cheney told Fox News' Sean Hannity on Tuesday that the deal will not only enable Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, but motivate its enemies in the Middle East to develop their own nukes, setting off a potentially catastrophic arms race.
"What Obama has done is, in effect, sanctioned the acquisition by Iran of nuclear capability," the failed former vice president said, apparently content to turn reality on its ear.
 
Cheney added that he believes the agreement to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program will "put us closer to use -- actual use of nuclear weapons than we've been at any time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II."
 
Got that? There was a Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, but the international agreement that stops Iran's nuclear weapons is, from the unique perspective of Dick Cheney, even more dangerous.
 
Rather than going point by point, fact-checking every error of fact and judgment the former V.P. made, it's probably more informative to shine a light on the detail Cheney chose not to mention.
The Confederate flag is seen outside the South Carolina State House Building in Columbia, S.C., on June 23, 2015. (Photo by John Taggart/EPA)

Can Confederate flags cause a government shutdown?

07/15/15 12:45PM

House Republican leaders tried to vote last week on a spending bill to fund the Interior Department, but it didn't turn out well. The measure included amendments on displaying Confederate flags on graves in federal cemeteries and the sale of Confederate flag and national park gift stores, which caused an ugly fight, and which led GOP leaders to pull the bill altogether.
 
Soon after, Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) appeared on a conservative radio show and got pretty worked up about the issue. "That was [the Democrats'] battle flag, not our battle flag, our battle flag was the stars and stripes with President Lincoln," Olson said. "[Democrats] have no credibility. Just shut up. Apologize now."
 
It's not altogether clear what the congressman wants Democrats to apologize for, but his over-the-top reaction is emblematic of an amazing breakdown in the legislative process that's currently underway. Roll Call reported yesterday afternoon:
Don't expect any more appropriations bills to make it through the House chamber any time soon. Not until Republicans and Democrats work out issues on the Confederate flag.
 
That was the message to members on Tuesday from Speaker John A. Boehner, according to Rep. John Fleming. Boehner reportedly told Republicans during their weekly closed-door meeting there was a hold on all spending bills until they could figure something out on the Confederate flag.
Think about that for a minute. In 2015 -- a mere century and a half after the end of the Civil War -- the U.S. House of Representatives can't pass spending bills because of Confederate flags.
 
It's even raising the specter of a possible government shutdown. No, seriously.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.15.15

07/15/15 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:
 
* In the new USA Today/Suffolk poll, Hillary Clinton leads each of her Republican rivals in hypothetical general-election match-ups. Jeb Bush comes closest, trialing by only four points, followed by Marco Rubio who trails by six. Mike Huckabee is down by eight, Scott Walker by nine, and Rand Paul by 10. Clinton's advantage over Donald Trump is 17 points.
 
* On a related note, Trump said of Clinton this week, "The last person she wants to face is Donald Trump." He must have missed the poll.
 
* A new national Monmouth poll shows Clinton leading Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) among Democrats nationwide by 34 points, 51% to 17%. A month ago, the same pollster showed Clinton's Democratic advantage at 45 points.
 
* The new Washington Post/ABC News poll found Hillary Clinton's favorability ratings trending up in recent months. In May, she was underwater at 45-49 favorable-unfavorable, while the new results show those figures largely reversed at 52-45.
 
* Donald Trump appeared via phone on msnbc this morning, once again vowing, "I'll get the Hispanic vote. I have so many thousands that work for me"
 
* Rick Perry's super PAC, eager to see the former Texas governor qualify for the debates, is skipping television ad buys in Iowa and New Hampshire, and instead buying "hundreds of thousands of dollars" worth of ad time on Fox News and other national cable channels.
Same-sex couple exchange rings during their wedding ceremony (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty).

So much for the GOP's 'pivot' on marriage rights

07/15/15 11:20AM

It was just two weeks ago that the New York Times reported that many Republican insiders saw a bright, silver lining to the Supreme Court case bringing marriage equality to the nation. The ruling offers the GOP a chance to "pivot" away from an issue on which the party is "sharply out of step with the American public."
 
The piece noted some Republican strategists privately characterized the high court decisions as "nothing short of a gift from above."
 
It is, however, a gift that the party apparently doesn't want. The Hill reported this week:
Pressure is mounting on House GOP leaders to call a vote this month on a religious-freedom bill banning the federal government from punishing churches, charities or private schools for actions in opposition to same-sex marriage.
 
The legislation, dubbed the First Amendment Defense Act, is gaining steam.
That's a fair characterization. In the House, the bill is up to 124 co-sponsors -- including 17 who've signed on just this week -- and in the Senate, a companion measure has 34 co-sponsors, which is nearly two-thirds of the Senate Republican caucus.
 
Heritage Action isn't just pushing party leaders to support the legislation, the far-right group is including co-sponsorship of the bill as a "key vote" that will go towards members' ratings on Heritage scorecards. (Usually, "key votes" are actual votes on legislation. Heritage is going one step further on this, treating sponsorship as a vote.)
 
Even Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a relatively constructive member who's close to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said he hopes to see the proposal on the House floor. "Members going home for August town halls would like to have had an opportunity to stake out their position on this," Cole said, adding, "There's clearly quite a head of steam."
 
So much for the "pivot."
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Culture war derails vote on commemorative coins

07/15/15 10:48AM

Political observers can usually see contentious fights on Capitol Hill coming, but once in a while, they spring up unexpectedly. Take yesterday, for example.
 
The House was poised to take up a "seemingly harmless" measure supporting breast cancer research. The bill, called the "Breast Cancer Awareness Commemorative Coin Act," would have authorized the sale of commemorative coins, with proceeds benefiting the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
 
As Roll Call reported, the measure that was supposed to sail through the chamber without incident suddenly faced a Republican revolt.
Komen is a nonprofit organization focused on breast cancer research and health services. But it has also supported Planned Parenthood in the past, and some Republicans and conservative groups suddenly began expressing concern over the bill in the past few days.
 
Heritage Action, a conservative advocacy group, said it would "key vote" against the legislation out of concern that the bill seemed like an earmark for a group that "notoriously funds abortion giant Planned Parenthood."
House Republican leaders, who often seem surprised by their own members' attitudes, had no choice but to pull the bill from the floor, rather than face defeat. A Capitol Hill source told me it was the seventh time this year GOP leaders had to pull legislation in the face of a revolt from their own party.
 
The blowback from the right was so intense that more than 15 House Republicans who co-sponsored the Breast Cancer Awareness Commemorative Coin Act took the extra step of going to the floor and having their names removed from the legislation.
 
For all the talk about Republicans moving past the culture war, and ignoring orders from social conservatives, incidents like these do pop up from time to time.
Bob Welch, standing at left, and Jim Dillon, hold a sign at a public hearing about the Jade Helm 15 military training exercise in Bastrop, Texas, Monday April 27, 2015.

'Jade Helm 15' gets underway

07/15/15 10:15AM

It's July 15, the significance of which will vary widely based on perspective. For the American mainstream, it's a forgettable date marking the start of a routine military training exercise.
 
For some in unhinged circles, it's the start of an unprecedented crisis. USA Today highlights the occasion:
Starting Wednesday, U.S. Army Special Operations Command will take point on a large-scale training exercise in Texas -- or if you believe some fringe outlets, they'll take point on the Pentagon's preparation for civil war.
 
Jade Helm 15, as the exercise is called, will run through Sept. 15 and will involve unconventional warfare involving Army special operators, as well as representatives from the other services. It will focus on enhancing team-level elements' abilities to operate in asymmetric warfare well-removed from company- and battalion-level organization, said USASOC spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria.
The New York Times talked to a woman who runs a hair salon in Christoval, Texas, where locals are apparently genuinely concerned about a possible military takeover. "They're worried that they're going to come in and take their firearms away," she said. "Martial law, basically. I try not to listen to all these conspiracy-theory-type people. All they're worried about is their beer and their guns."
 
Her instincts serve her well. The same cannot be said for many of her elected leaders.
Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks with reporters as he leaves the Senate Republicans' policy lunch on June 16, 2015. (Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

The Republican Reflex: Every deal is a bad deal

07/15/15 09:34AM

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Republican presidential hopeful, appeared on msnbc yesterday morning and was asked about the international nuclear agreement with Iran that had just been announced. Graham, who has an incentive to use the most irresponsible rhetoric possible, described the agreement to deny Iran nuclear weapons as "a possible death sentence for Israel."
 
Asked if he'd read the deal he was condemning, Graham conceded, "No," but he said it didn't matter -- the senator insisted he's "been to the Mideast enough to know" he didn't like the details of the agreement he hasn't seen.
 
Putting aside for the moment the fact that Graham's judgment on matters of national security is an abysmal mess, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank highlighted what is plainly true.
Of course Graham hadn't read the deal -- he couldn't have.... But Graham and his congressional colleagues are not reserving judgment until they know the facts. This is, perhaps, to be expected after 47 GOP senators sent a letter to Iran's ayatollahs trying to block an agreement even before there was one. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), author of that letter, called the new deal "a terrible, dangerous mistake."
 
This is legislating by reflex -- a mass knee-jerk by the Republican majority in Congress. Those who howled "read the bill" during the health-care debate couldn't be bothered to read the nuclear agreement before sounding off.
The reason, of course, is that the substance of the international agreement is irrelevant. Republicans already know what they need to know: President Obama, our negotiating partners, and nuclear experts believe this is an excellent deal. President Obama, our negotiating partners, and nuclear experts are not to be trusted. Ergo, it's time for blind, reflexive opposition.
 
Which is exactly what we saw yesterday. There's no real point in documenting every enraged soundbite -- GOP reactions generally fell somewhere between hysteria and apoplexy -- but they extended from the Republican presidential campaign trail to Capitol Hill to conservative media.
 
For those watching this unfold, let's keep a simple truth in mind: for the right, every deal is a bad deal.
Republican presidential candidate and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at a Harley Davidson motorcycle dealership in Las Vegas, Nev. on July 14, 2015. (Photo by David Becker/Reuters)

Walker wants Boy Scouts 'protected' from gay people

07/15/15 08:40AM

The Senate last night took up a measure intended to prevent anti-LGBT bullying in public education, a policy long sought by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). The final vote was 52 to 45, but it was not majority-rule -- the policy needed 60 votes to advance. All 45 opponents, who ended up killing the measure, were Republicans.
 
Progress on civil rights for the LGBT community has been extraordinary of late, but as last night's developments in the Senate reminded us, the Republican Party's resistance to the national trend remains entrenched.
 
Indeed, yesterday offered even more striking evidence on the presidential campaign trail.
 
The executive committee of the Boy Scouts of America unanimously approved a resolution this week "that would end the organization's blanket ban on gay adult leaders and let scout units set their own policy on the issue." It sounds like an overdue shift, though as the Washington Post reported late yesterday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) disapproves of the change.
[Walker] said Tuesday that the Boy Scouts of America should keep its blanket ban on openly gay leaders because the policy "protected children and advanced Scout values."
 
"I have had a lifelong commitment to the Scouts and support the previous membership policy because it protected children and advanced Scout values," Walker told the Independent Journal Review, a popular news site with a young conservative following that published his comments on Tuesday afternoon.
The full report from the Independent Journal Review is online here.

The governor's campaign spokesperson later added that the previous, anti-gay policy "protected Scouts from the rancorous political debate over policy issues and culture wars," which isn't exactly persuasive -- is that supposed to be a defense for discrimination? -- but it's also not what Walker himself said.
 
Rather, the leading GOP presidential candidate said banning gay Scout leaders is worthwhile because the policy has "protected children." He didn't talk about shielding the institution; he talked about the kids themselves.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump walks on stage to speak before a crowd of 3,500 on July 11, 2015, in Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo by Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Why Trump's surge among GOP voters matters

07/15/15 08:04AM

When Donald Trump started faring well in Republican presidential polling in June, some observers suggested it was a post-announcement bounce that would quickly fade. After all, it's a pattern we've seen more than once this year -- national candidates kick off their campaign, get a burst of attention, and see their standing temporarily rise.
 
But in Trump's case, it's been a full month since he announced his White House run, and USA Today reported yesterday afternoon, his bounce remains on the upswing.
Donald Trump has surged to the top of a crowded Republican presidential field, a USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds, but the brash billionaire is also the weakest competitor among the top seven GOP candidates against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
 
In the nationwide survey, Trump leads at 17% and former Florida governor Jeb Bush is second at 14%, the only competitors who reach double digits.
To be sure, 17% may not sound like a dominant position in a primary, but Trump is not only leading the GOP pack, his 17% is stronger than the support for Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul combined.
 
What's more, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, released this morning, shows Trump's popularity among Republicans surging to new heights -- his favorability rating among GOP voters has jumped from 23% to 57% in just two months. A brief, post-announcement bump this isn't.
 
Among voters overall, of course, Trump remains deeply unpopular -- the gap between the American mainstream and the GOP base is growing -- but the mainstream will have no real say in the Republican nominating process.
 
I've cautioned against taking these early national polls too seriously, but there's a reason data like this matters. In fact, there are two.

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