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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.8.16

06/08/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
*  Just a few days after receiving Donald Trump's endorsement, Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) became the first congressional Republican to lose in a primary this cycle, getting trounced by fellow Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) after redistricting forced them to run against each other.
 
* California's Republican Party is such a mess, this year's open U.S. Senate race in the state will feature two Democrats and no GOP candidate: Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez were the top two vote-getters in yesterday's primary.
 
* Delivering remarks last night after his latest primary wins, Donald Trump relied on a script shown on a teleprompter, despite months of rhetoric in which he mocked politicians for using teleprompters.
 
* Republican Warren Davidson won a congressional special election in Ohio yesterday, and will fill the vacancy left by former House Speaker John Boehner.
 
* Bernie Sanders reportedly does not want Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to be Clinton's running mate, despite his progressive bona fides, because Sanders is "bitter" about the Ohio Democrat supporting Clinton's candidacy.
 
* Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the Senate's only African-American Republican, said yesterday that Trump's recent rhetoric has been "racially toxic." The South Carolina added he's supporting Trump's presidential candidacy anyway.
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at a GOTV concert and campaign rally at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on June 4, 2016 in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/AFP/Getty)

Sanders' top congressional backers ready to support Clinton

06/08/16 11:20AM

It's a truth that Bernie Sanders has bragged about for months: most of the senator's congressional colleagues aren't supporting his presidential campaign. This is proof, he's said, of his outsider, anti-establishment status.
 
But the Vermonter has picked up some endorsements from Capitol Hill allies. In October, Sanders picked up his very first congressional endorsement when Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, announced his support for the senator. Six months later, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) became the first and only member of the upper chamber to back Sanders.
 
In light of yesterday's primary and caucus results, quite a few Democrats are acting as if the nominating fight is over and Hillary Clinton has prevailed, but in most instances, these are Dems who supported Clinton anyway, making it easier for Sanders to disregard their pressure. It's harder to ignore the fact that both Grijalva and Merkley told the Washington Post's Greg Sargent this morning that they're ready to start bringing the party together behind Clinton, too.
"Once a candidate has won a majority of the pledged delegates and a majority of the popular vote, which Secretary Clinton has now done, we have our nominee," Merkley, who is Sanders' sole supporter in the Senate, told me. "This is the moment when we need to start bringing parts of the party together so they can go into the convention with locked arms and go out of the convention unified into the general election." [...]
 
Grijalva, meanwhile, told me that he expected Sanders to continue trying to win over super-delegates, but only for a limited period of time. "The reality is unattainable at some point. You deal with that. Bernie is going to deal with this much more rapidly than you think," said Grijalva, who is also a super-delegate. "At some point, when we're trying to flip 400 super-delegates, and it's not gaining traction, I think you have to come to the conclusion that it's not going to happen. You just move into a different direction. And that different direction is that we begin to try to integrate the party."
Grijalva added that Sanders will "do the right thing," though he didn't indicate when.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., joined by attorneys Paul D. Clement, far left, and Rick Esenberg, second from left, announces that he has filed a lawsuit to block the federal government from helping to pay for health care coverage for members of Congress and th

The key detail Ron Johnson hopes Wisconsin won't remember

06/08/16 10:40AM

Sen. Ron Johnson (R), running for re-election in Wisconsin, is one of Congress' more vulnerable Republican incumbents, and polls show him trailing the Democrat he defeated in 2010, former Sen. Russ Feingold (D). Johnson, however, is flush with cash, which he's eager to put to use.
 
And while not every campaign commercial deserves special attention and scrutiny, the Wisconsin senator's newest spot is amazing for an important reason. Roll Call reported:
Republican Ron Johnson is a first-term U.S. senator from Wisconsin. The voters back home wouldn't know it watching his re-election campaign's first TV ad.
 
Even for a time when incumbent lawmakers try to distance themselves from their job titles, Johnson's new ad takes that approach to an extreme. It doesn't once mention his work as a lawmaker or even identify him as a senator.
That may sound like an exaggeration, but it's not. The Republican's re-election ad is carefully designed to give viewers the impression that he's not already a senator.
 
In the spot, Johnson makes literally no references to any work he's done while in office; he doesn't identify himself as a senator; he doesn't note any Senate achievements; and he doesn't mention that he's running for re-election.
 
Instead, the far-right Wisconsin lawmaker and committee chairman boasts in the ad, in the present tense, "I manufacture plastic," which is sort of true, except for the fact that he also currently helps shape federal laws from Capitol Hill.
 
He goes on to say, "I've stayed put, right here in Oshkosh, for 37 years." Left unmentioned: the last six years in which he's been a powerful Beltway insider.
 
It's tempting to assume that Johnson would take some pride in the work that's he's done as a senator, but the GOP lawmaker is instead going in a very different direction, apparently hoping that Wisconsin voters forget that they've already voted for him -- thereby allowing the Republican to pretend he's a businessman outsider.
 
And if this sounds vaguely familiar, it's because Johnson isn't the first to try to pull this trick.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT., talks to reporters as he walks to the weekly Senate policy luncheons in the U.S. Capitol on June 4, 2013.

Hatch wants us to 'be nice' to flailing, amateurish Trump

06/08/16 10:02AM

Just about every Republican in Congress has been asked for some kind of reaction to Donald Trump's latest racial controversy, and there's been no shortage of colorful responses. But my personal favorite came by way of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), described yesterday as an "increasingly enthusiastic Trump supporter," who assured the public that there's no cause for alarm.
 
"My experience with Donald Trump is he doesn't have a prejudiced bone in his body," Hatch said.
 
Perhaps the senator was thinking of a different person named Donald Trump.
 
Hatch went on to make an appeal on behalf of his party's presumptive presidential nominee. The L.A. Times reported:
Another top Republican, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, sounded a similar plea for leniency, saying a person as new to politics as Trump will say "stupid" and "outrageous" things.
 
"Be nice to him," said Hatch. "He's a poor first-time candidate."
The GOP senator may have been trying to be funny, but it prompted the Huffington Post's Igor Bobic to note, "Donald Trump is the presumptive GOP nominee, but members of his own party keep excusing his outrageous behavior as if he's a pre-adolescent whose cognitive functions and sense of right and wrong haven't fully developed."
 
This is an important point to keep in mind in the coming months. It's no doubt true that Trump is a first-time candidate with no experience in government or public service of any kind, and as a consequence, he's prone to saying and doing things that don't make sense. But Republicans have known this for quite a while -- and they've nevertheless concluded that he's not only prepared to be the party's general-election nominee, he's also ready to lead a global superpower.
 
In other words, when he stumbles badly, his allies don't have the luxury of saying, "Don't worry, his ignorance is the result of him not knowing what he's doing."
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., speaks with Roll Call at his desk in the Hart Senate Office Building on Nov. 13, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

What took Trump's Republican critics so long?

06/08/16 09:20AM

Congressional Republicans' "Never Trump" contingent is modest, but it exists. There are a handful of GOP senators, governors, and representatives who've decided to buck their party and withhold their backing from Donald Trump -- and there's scant evidence, at least for now, that any of them will change their minds.
 
Yesterday, however, brought something new: a prominent Republican official who had extended his support to Trump announcing he's now withdrawing that backing.
Sen. Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois, released a statement Tuesday saying that Trump lacks "the temperament" necessary for the Oval Office.
 
"After much consideration, I have concluded that Donald Trump has not demonstrated the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world," Kirk said in a statement.
It's not a coincidence that Kirk, almost certainly Congress' most vulnerable Republican incumbent, is making a high-profile effort to distance himself from Trump while facing a tough re-election fight in a blue state.
 
Nevertheless, Kirk's written statement added, "As the Presidential campaign progressed, I was hoping the rhetoric would tone down and reflect a campaign that was inclusive, thoughtful and principled. While I oppose the Democratic nominee, Donald Trump's latest statements, in context with past attacks on Hispanics, women and the disabled like me, make it certain that I cannot and will not support my party's nominee for President regardless of the political impact on my candidacy or the Republican Party."
 
This is likely to help Kirk in a state like Illinois, though his reversal does raise some related questions, such as, "Why now?" How is it, exactly, that Kirk, up until yesterday, expected Donald Trump to run a campaign "that was inclusive, thoughtful and principled"?
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump reads a teleprompter as he addresses his supporters at the Trump National Golf Club Westchester in Briarcliff Manor, June 7, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Kelly/EPA)

Under fire, Trump tries to explain away racism controversy

06/08/16 08:40AM

When a major political party spends the day debating the degree to which its presidential candidate is a racist, it's not in a good place. By this measure, yesterday was probably the lowest point of Donald Trump's presidential campaign thus far, with a firestorm of controversy surrounding his racist criticisms of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who's presiding over the civil suit against "Trump University."
 
The candidate has ignored calls to apologize for, or at least walk back, his comments, but Republican leaders have nevertheless made clear to Trump that the feeding frenzy has cost his campaign dearly.
 
So, Team Trump issued a written clarification yesterday, in an apparent attempt to lower the temperature. His comments, the GOP candidate said, "have been misconstrued." It went on to say:
"I am friends with and employ thousands of people of Mexican and Hispanic descent."
Tip for those accused of racism: avoid anything that resembles "some of my best friends are" rhetoric.
"...I feel justified in questioning whether I am receiving a fair trial. "
According to independent legal analysts, he's not justified at all.
"Throughout the litigation my attorneys have continually demonstrated that students who participated in Trump University were provided a substantive, valuable education...."
"Over a five-year period, more than 10,000 paying students filled out surveys giving the courses high marks and expressing their overwhelming satisfaction with Trump University's programs."
Actually, many of those students later said they were coerced into providing positive reviews, and according to the Associated Press, the plaintiff's lawyers in the civil suit claimed that the surveys "took places before students had experienced the full program and were not anonymous."
"[Q]uestions were raised regarding the Obama appointed Judge's impartiality. It is a fair question."
That's a great passive-voice phrase, but who was it, exactly, who raised the questions? I believe that was Donald Trump -- the one who's now describing his own accusations as "fair."
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves to supporters during a presidential primary election night rally, June 7, 2016, in New York. (Photo by Julie Jacobson/AP)

A breakthrough 240 years in the making

06/08/16 08:00AM

Exactly 100 years ago, in 1916, a Montana Republican named Jeannette Rankin was elected to Congress. She was the first woman ever to earn the honor -- four years before the U.S. Constitution gave women the right to vote.
 
It would have been difficult to imagine at the time the historic breakthrough Americans saw last night. For the first time in the nation's 240-year history, a major party has nominated a woman for president.
Hillary Clinton shattered an elusive glass ceiling Tuesday night, making history by clinching the Democratic nomination and becoming the first woman to lead a national ticket of a major political party.
 
Noting that she was standing under a literal "glass ceiling" inside of a greenhouse, Clinton called tonight's achievement "a milestone." [...] "Tonight's victory is not about one person. It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible," Clinton said.
While there's still one primary remaining -- Democrats in D.C. will vote on Tuesday, June 14 -- Clinton excelled in the last in a series of Super Tuesdays. Bernie Sanders hoped to win a majority of yesterday's six contests, which he believed would give him some fresh "momentum" while making a pitch to party super-delegates, but he ended up winning just two states: Montana and North Dakota.
 
Clinton, meanwhile, scored narrow victories in New Mexico and South Dakota, while also winning by double digits in yesterday's two biggest contests: California and New Jersey. The results ensure that Clinton, no matter what happens in D.C., has earned the most pledged delegates, the most popular votes, and the most state victories. That was true going into this week, but her victories yesterday have pushed her advantages to new, insurmountable heights.
 
A month ago, the Sanders campaign said a victory in California, where the senator invested an enormous amount of time, effort, and resources, would have a "psychological impact" on Democrats, causing party insiders to appreciate the potency of his candidacy in a new light. Given his double-digit defeat in the Golden State, California will apparently have the opposite effect, stripping Sanders of the one talking point he was most eager to make.
 
The Vermonter, at least for now, says he intends to keep fighting, though his own campaign aides have conceded for a while that winning the nomination after a second-place finish is "practically impossible."
White House: Obama calls Clinton, Sanders

White House: Obama calls Clinton, Sanders

06/08/16 12:00AM

Chuck Todd, political director for NBC News, reports on a statement from the White House press secretary that President Obama has called Hillary Clinton to offer congratulations and spoke with Bernie Sanders as well, and will meet with him at the White House on Thursday. watch

Clinton clears pledged delegate majority

Clinton clears pledged delegate majority

06/07/16 11:06PM

Steve Kornacki explains that by virtue of how the California delegate allocation system works, Hillary Clinton has so far cleared the threshold to be awarded at least enough delegates to secure the majority of pledged delegates in the Democratic primary race. watch

Trump shows restraint in teleprompted speech

Trump shows restraint in teleprompted speech

06/07/16 09:22PM

A panel of MSNBC analysts react to Republican presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump's Tuesday night speech and discuss the likelihood that he eased tensions within the Republican Party and whether he can be restrained and still be himself. watch

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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.

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