In late March, the New York Timesreported that a variety of leaders from the religious right movement believed their party "will ultimately nominate an establishment presidential candidate like Jeb Bush" -- which they don't want to see happen. Rather, leading Christian right activists said they intended to find a standard bearer of their own.
Among other things, the news was a reminder that when it comes to pandering to social conservatives, the former Florida governor has some work to do. Bush will take a big step in that direction tomorrow.
[Bush] will be the commencement speaker on Saturday at Liberty University, the institution in Lynchburg, Va., founded by the evangelical leader Jerry Falwell.
Mr. Bush has struggled with grass-roots evangelicals. In his speech, he is unlikely to wander deep into politics, but instead will focus on religion, according to people planning his speech. The structure will still allow him to discuss his opposition to same-sex marriage, for instance, and his belief in respecting religious rights.
As we talked about a few weeks ago, this stop in Virginia has become increasingly common for national GOP candidates. In 2006. for example, it was John McCain delivering the commencement address at Liberty, in advance of his second presidential campaign, standing alongside the radical TV preacher he'd condemned eight years earlier as an "agent of intolerance."
In 2012, it was Mitt Romney who was eager to speak to Liberty students. In 2013, Rand Paul spoke at Liberty, presenting others’ words as his own. This year, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) kicked off his presidential campaign at the evangelical school.
When members of Congress are ranked by wealth, one lawmaker usually stands out, even among the rich. Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican, has a net worth of at least $350 million -- which gives him a comfortable lead over his next closest rivals in the race for the top spot.
This isn't criticism, of course, and there's nothing wrong with someone having great financial success. But given Issa's riches, he should probably avoid the kind of rhetoric he used with CNN yesterday.
Asked by CNNMoney whether he feels personally responsible to address income inequality in the United States, the Republican Congressman from California said "absolutely." But he noted that America is the richest country on earth and implied that those in poverty here are better off than the poor in other nations.
"If you go to India or you go to any number of other Third World countries, you have two problems: You have greater inequality of income and wealth. You also have less opportunity for people to rise from the have not to the have," said Issa.
The California Republican added that the United States has made "our poor somewhat the envy of the world."
Now, even if Issa weren't hyper-wealthy, it's generally not a good idea for politicians to vote to slash public investments, cut taxes on the wealthy, and then lecture the poor on how their station in life could be worse. Issa is supposed to be a congressman, not a Dickensian villain.
But the fact that the California Republican enjoys Romney-esque wealth -- and he's making the comments as economic inequality in the United States reaches unprecedented levels -- just adds insult to injury.
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 UK elections, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and his party had a very good night. The pre-election polls didn't hold up well.
* Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's (R) on-again, off-again interest in the 2016 presidential race is apparently over: as Rachel noted on the show last night, he effectively withdrew from consideration late yesterday afternoon.
* Mitt Romney has reportedly organized a donor forum in Utah next month for several leading Republican presidential candidates. Jeb Bush, however, will apparently skip the event.
* On a related note, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens is the latest GOP megadonor to throw his support behind Jeb Bush. Pickens said yesterday he's contributed $100,000 to the former Florida governor's super PAC.
* The latest revenue projections in Wisconsin are short of what Gov. Scott Walker (R) hoped to see -- and short of what he needs to balance his state budget -- which won't do his presidential campaign any favors.
* If you've been waiting eagerly for Lindsey Graham's campaign kickoff, your wait is nearly over -- the Republican senator will reportedly launch on June 1 in his home state of South Carolina.
Eight years ago at this time, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) offered a bleak assessment of the U.S. war in Iraq, which was almost immediately condemned by his Republican critics. Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speculated about how American troops "are going to react" to such discouraging rhetoric about America's enemies winning a war.
Rhetorical standards have changed in the years since. When Reid said our enemies had effectively prevailed, it was a scandal. But this year, Sen. Tom Cotton (D-Ark.) seems almost preoccupied with the assertion that Islamic State militants are "winning," despite the U.S. military offensive against the radical group.
In February, the far-right senator said that to "many radical Muslims all around the world," ISIS appeared to be "winning this war right now, and people like a winner." In March, Cotton added that the United States is "not winning" the conflict.
This week, the Arkansas Republican repeated the argument once again, this time to CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
"'[W]e just haven't rolled back the Islamic state at all over the last six or seven months, which would begin our air campaign. They've continued to hold the ground they've always had. They haven't advanced. But we're not holding back either. And that's not going to be enough to defeat them. [...]
[T]he Islamic state seems to be winning right now. They're appealing to disaffected, alienated youth around the country who want to be with what they see as the winning horse."
Apparently, by 2015 standards, there's nothing shocking about Cotton's dour assessment. But this raises a related question: is the senator right on the merits?
If you've watched the show this week, you've probably seen Rachel's coverage of some incredible oil-train derailments. There's a debate starting to take shape -- which is long overdue -- about the dangers of shipping crude oil by rail and the areas affected by so-called "bomb trains."
The story took on new salience this week when many residents in Heimdal, North Dakota, were forced to evacuate their homes after the latest in a series of oil-train derailments, but as it turns out, there's also a political angle. The Nebraska Radio Network reported yesterday that at least one Republican presidential candidate sees this week's tragedy as an opportunity.
After a train derailment, fire and evacuations in North Dakota this week, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was asked about President Obama's refusal to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline at a campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa, on Thursday.
"It's one of the most irrational decisions the president has made, and he's made a lot of irrational decisions, so add this one to the list," Huckabee says. "The Keystone pipeline should be an easy decision for any president, an easy decision for anybody with an IQ above broccoli. This is pretty simple folks. It is safer, it is more efficient and it is a job creator."
According to Dave Weigel at Bloomberg Politics, the former Arkansas governor specifically said the "derailment in North Dakota is one more reason" to approve Keystone.
For those who've followed the debate, the argument that the pipeline is a "job creator" is obviously hard to take seriously. Even someone "with an IQ above broccoli" can read the State Department's report that found the project, once completed, would create roughly 35 permanent, full-time jobs in the United States, largely in refinery employment.
But what about this notion that oil-train accidents bolster the case for the controversial pipeline?
On Capitol Hill, there's literally only one member of Congress who describes himself as a European socialist. I'm referring, of course, to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who launched his Democratic presidential campaign last week, to the delight of many progressive activists.
And why not? Sanders isn't favored to actually win the Democratic nomination, but the Vermont senator has a bold, progressive vision, and is prepared to take advantage of the national platform a White House campaign offers. For liberal voters who yearn for a standard bearer whom no one has ever considered a "moderate," Sanders is a welcome breath of unapologetic fresh air.
There is, however, an exception to Sanders' liberalism. Mark Joseph Stern highlighted it at Slate this week.
[B]efore liberal Democrats flock to Sanders, they should remember that the Vermont senator stands firmly to Clinton's right on one issue of overwhelming importance to the Democratic base: gun control. During his time in Congress, Sanders opposed several moderate gun control bills. He also supported the most odious NRA–backed law in recent memory -- one that may block Sandy Hook families from winning a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the gun used to massacre their children.
Sanders, an economic populist and middle-class pugilist, doesn't talk much about guns on the campaign trail. But his voting record paints the picture of a legislator who is both skeptical of gun control and invested in the interests of gun owners -- and manufacturers. In 1993, voted against the Brady Act, which mandated federal background checks for gun purchasers and restricted felons’ access to firearms. As a senator, Sanders supported bills to allow firearms in checked bags on Amtrak trains and block funding to any foreign aid organization that registered or taxed Americans guns.
In fairness to Sanders, the senator does not always see eye to eye with the far-right gun group, but over the course of his congressional career, the Vermont independent has generally sided with the NRA on most of the major legislative fights regarding gun policy.
Indeed, it's probably safe to say that Sanders will be to Clinton's left on most issues in their primary fight, except when it comes to guns.
When Jeb Bush started receiving foreign-policy advice from Condoleezza Rice, the Republican candidate's team reportedly felt some "sensitivity" about the discussions. Team Jeb worried about sending a signal to the public that the former Florida governor "would be a carbon copy of his brother's administration."
Yesterday, this dynamic grew even more serious with a new report from the Washington Post.
When asked this week at an exclusive Manhattan gathering about who advises him on U.S.-Israel policy, Jeb Bush surprised many of the 50-plus attendees by naming his brother, former president George W. Bush, as his most influential counselor.
"If you want to know who I listen to for advice, it's him," Bush said Tuesday, speaking to a crowd of high-powered financiers at the Metropolitan Club, according to four people present.
Americans learned in March that practically every member of Jeb Bush's foreign policy team worked for his father, brother, or both, but these new revelations take matters further -- the former governor now says he's getting advice on foreign policy from George W. Bush directly.
Perhaps the most obvious problem is the inherent contradiction of Jeb Bush's message. On the one hand, the 2016 candidate is eager to tell voters, "I am my own man." On the other hand, the Florida Republican has relied heavily on his family for fundraising; he's hired his family's advisers to staff his political operation; and now he's boasting about turning to his brother for guidance on U.S. policy towards Israel.
There is literally nothing about this arrangement that suggests Bush is his "own man."
There's also the problem with the adviser himself -- George W. Bush, whatever one might think of him, did not exactly excel when it came to foreign policy in the Middle East. Presidential hopefuls would generally be wise to do the opposite of everything he suggests.
But let's not overlook the one less obvious problem, which seems to be generating far less attention.
About a month ago, the jobs report for March 2015 was a bitter disappointment, raising questions about the overall strength of the job market and the sustainability of the recent jobs boom. This morning, many hoped to find out whether it was a one-month fluke or the start of something more alarming.
It's starting to look like the former is true. The new report from Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the U.S. economy added 223,000 jobs in April, which is almost exactly what experts predicted. The overall unemployment rate inched lower to 5.4%, the lowest it's been since May 2008.
The revisions were a mixed bag. February's job totals were revised up, from 264,000 to 266,000, while March's totals turned out to be even worse, dropping from 126,000 to 85,000.
All told, the U.S. has added 2.98 million jobs over the last 12 months. April was the 55th consecutive month of positive job growth -- the best stretch since 1939 -- and the 62nd consecutive month in which we've seen private-sector job growth, which is the longest on record.
After months of drama, heated debate, and unprecedented attempts at sabotage, yesterday's Senate vote dealing with nuclear diplomacy with Iran lacked any real drama. There's a delicate dance underway, and at least for now, the relevant players haven't lost their footing.
NBC News' Frank Thorp reported yesterday on the lopsided vote in the Senate.
The Senate voted to give lawmakers a chance to weigh in on any nuclear deal the White House seeks to hammer out with Iran -- a measure that requires President Barack Obama submit any agreement struck between that nation and world powers to Congress.
The vote was 98-1 on a bill that would give Congress at least a month to review the details of an agreement. During the review, the president would be prevented from lifting congressionally imposed sanctions on Iran.
The final roll call on the 98-1 vote is online here. Note, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who tried to derail the bipartisan bill with poison-pill amendments, was the lone vote in opposition. A couple of months ago, the right-wing Arkansan led a group of 47 Senate Republicans, urging Iranian officials not to trust the United States. Yesterday, Cotton was reduced to a caucus of one.
Also note, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a Republican presidential hopeful, also tried to undermine the Corker/Cordin bill with a poison-pill provision of his own, but his colleagues ignored his push and he ended up voting for the bill anyway.
The bill now heads to the House, where many far-right GOP lawmakers -- including members of the so-called "Freedom Caucus" -- intend to pick up where Cotton left off, hoping to defeat the legislation by moving it much further to the right.
If it passes the House anyway, President Obama is prepared to sign the bill into law. Whereas it was the left that originally rang the alarm about Congress potentially derailing international diplomacy, it's now the right that's strongly opposed to the pending proposal. How did we get to this point?
Rachel Maddow demonstrates with a handy prop a new proposal to augment the White House fence with an additional row of angled spikes to better deter fence jumpers that have recently plagued the Secret Service. watch
Jonathan Hafetz, ACLU National Security Project lawyer, talks with Rachel Maddow about the options available to President Obama for shutting down the prison at Guantanamo Bay by executive order, without the cooperation of Congress. watch
Ellen Weintraub, commissioner with the Federal Election Commission, talks with Rachel Maddow about the partisan gridlock within the F.E.C. that prevents it from adequately policing political fundraising and spending, and why the situation isn't hopeless. watch
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