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 Callreported, 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.
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 Todayhighlights 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 Timestalked 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 (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.
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 Postreported 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.
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 Todayreported 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.
Joe Cirincione, president of The Ploughshares Fund, talks with Rachel Maddow about the chances for success of the newly announced nuclear deal with Iran and how diplomacy could take the US and Iran out of a war posture for the first time in a generation. watch
Martin O'Malley, former governor of Maryland and Democratic candidate for president, talks with Rachel Maddow about the Iran nuclear deal, Hillary Clinton, and why Washington, D.C. is so far out of step from the attitudes of the American public. watch
Rachel Maddow reminds viewers that national polls, particularly this early in the election season, are a meaningless measurement of voter preference, making it a terrible criterion for Fox News to decide who is allowed to participate in a debate. watch
Vali Nasr, dean of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, talks with Rachel Maddow about politics within the U.S. and also within Iran, and the pressures of global circumstances that will determine whether the Iran nuclear deal succeeds. watch
* Joe Cirincione's persuasive praise: "The deal just struck by Iran, the United States, and five other world powers in Vienna is a major victory for U.S. national security. It shrinks Iran's nuclear complex down to a token capability and wraps it in a permanent inspection and monitoring regime."
* Daniel Larison on the same deal: "This will limit Iran's nuclear program more effectively than a decade of sanctions and coercive methods ever did, and it makes Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapon much less likely than any other available course of action."
* Another contraception win: "A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that an order of Roman Catholic nuns must comply with ObamaCare's birth control mandate, the likely end to a years-long battle over the rule. The Court of Appeals for the [10th Circuit] ruled that Little Sisters of the Poor, cannot receive a full exemption from the law's contraception rules because they 'do not substantially burden plaintiffs' religious exercise or violate the plaintiffs' First Amendment rights.'"
* Criminal justice: "President Barack Obama hopes to work with lawmakers across the aisle to reform the criminal justice system and its disproportionate impact on minorities. In a speech to the NAACP's annual convention in Philadelphia on Tuesday, the president is expected to call on members of congress to support a reduction in sentences the administration sees as overly harsh and disproportionately applied to minorities as well as work to help reduce the cost to tax payers to house prisoners."
* ISIS: "A Boston police captain's son -- reported to be mentally ill and obsessed with Islam -- has been charged in an ISIS-inspired plot to set off pressure-cooker bombs at college cafeterias, federal authorities announced Monday."
* A case to watch: "Days after South Carolina confronted its past and lowered the Confederate battle flag, North Carolina will grapple with its present-day rules that determine access to the voting booth. A federal trial opening in Winston-Salem on Monday is meant to determine whether recent, sweeping changes in the state's election laws discriminate against black voters."
On the right, it's not unusual for conservatives to take great offense to accusations that they don't like people in poverty. It's not personal, Republicans argue; their opposition to social-insurance programs is about conservative economic theory and the scope of government. There's no animosity or ill will.
But once in a while, evidence to the contrary rips off the mask. The NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City reported today:
The Oklahoma Republican Party is under fire after a controversial Facebook post.
In the post, the Oklahoma GOP compared providing food stamp benefits for Americans in need to feeding animals at national parks.... The post has received more than 1,400 comments and 1,600 shares.
The state Republican Party's message is every bit as offensive as one might think. It began by saying the federal "food stamp program ... is proud to be distributing this year the greatest amount of free Meals and Food Stamps ever."
It added, "Meanwhile, the National Park Service ... asks us "Please Do Not Feed the Animals." Their stated reason for the policy is because "The animals will grow dependent on handouts and will learn to take care of themselves."
The Oklahoma GOP concludes, "Thus ends today's lesson in irony."
Let's unwrap the argument, because it's offensive on more levels than one.
Donald Trump has picked up quite a bit of support from nativist, right-wing elements in the Republican Party's base, but there's another group that's even more pleased to see Trump's strong standing in GOP polls: Democratic officials.
If the DNC had scripted the last month or so, the party probably would have come up with a scenario that looks quite a bit like the one we've seen. A Republican carnival barker would use racially charged, xenophobic rhetoric, which would propel him into the GOP's top tier, pushing minority communities even further from the Republican Party. All the while, the GOP would find itself on the defensive, and more serious candidates would struggle to gain traction.
Some have joked that Trump might secretly be a liberal Democrat, engaging in ugly antics in order to make Republicans appear ridiculous.
But for some, it's actually not a joke. The Miami Heraldreported yesterday:
Miami is a hotbed for phantom candidates, complete with four federal criminal convictions in two separate cases to prove it. So perhaps it's no surprise that a local Republican congressman thinks Donald Trump's bid for the GOP presidential nomination could be a similar ploy.
Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo, whose district saw two phony candidates run in a pair of elections before he took office, has taken to Spanish-language media to suggest that Trump's campaign could be a Democratic scheme to hurt the Republican Party.
The freshman congressman published a tweet the other day -- which has not been deleted -- in which Curbelo noted his "theory" is that Trump is "a phantom candidate."
In a radio interview, the Republican lawmaker added, "I think there's a small possibility that this gentleman is a phantom candidate. Mr. Trump has a close friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton. They were at his last wedding. He has contributed to the Clintons' foundation. He has contributed to Mrs. Clinton's Senate campaigns. All of this is very suspicious."
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:
* Republican presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said this morning that the international nuclear agreement with Iran is "akin to declaring war on Israel and the Sunni Arabs." Remember, Graham may not qualify for the upcoming debates, so he has a strong incentive to say ridiculous things in order to get attention.
* Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) yesterday endorsed a constitutional amendment to prohibit all same-sex marriages. He also criticized Scott Walker's wife for supporting marriage equality. Remember, Santorum may not qualify for the upcoming debates, so he has a strong incentive to say ridiculous things in order to get attention.
* Speaking of Walker, as Rachel noted on the show last night, the Wisconsin governor's presidential campaign kickoff included an introduction from television personality Rachel Campos-Duffy, who's also married to Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.). She told attendees, "Scott has been married to Tonette for 24 years; 24 is Bill Clinton's favorite age."
* Asked on Fox News after his launch speech about Donald Trump's anti-Mexican rhetoric, Walker said, "He can speak for himself." No Profile in Courage award for you, gov.
* In New Jersey, the Star-Ledger's Tom Moran yesterday fact-checked Gov. Chris Christie's (R) recent claims about the "Bridgegate" scandal being behind him. The governor's rhetoric didn't fare well.
* RNC Chairman Reince Priebus complained yesterday that Hillary Clinton's "fingerprints are all over" the Affordable Care Act. It's not true, though it's probably worth reminding the Republican leader he campaigned for Mitt Romney, who helped create the blueprint for the ACA.
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