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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.10.15

03/10/15 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:
 
* Hillary Clinton will reportedly talk to reporters today about her private email account: "Following her 1:40 p.m. remarks at the UN, Clinton expected to address the controversy over her exclusive use of a private email account while she served as secretary of state, which has sparked controversy over the past week."
 
* In the latest McClatchy-Marist poll, Jeb Bush leads the Republican presidential field nationally  with 19% support, followed closely by Scott Walker with 18%. Mike Huckabee is the only other candidate with double digits, reaching 10%, followed by Ben Carson at 9%, Rand Paul with 7%, and Chris Christie with 6%.
 
* Rep. Donna Edwards (D) kicked off her U.S. Senate campaign in Maryland this morning, setting up a major primary fight with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D).
 
* Though the Democratic establishment is generally remaining neutral in statewide primaries, at least at this point, the party is making an exception in Ohio. The DSCC is already throwing its support to former Gov. Ted Strickland's (D) Senate campaign, to this disappointment of his primary rival, Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.
 
* Despite his repeated calls for the end of U.S. aid to Israel, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) says he believes he can win support from Jewish voters. Pointing to tensions between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Kentucky Republican said late last week, "I think that should send a message to a lot of American Jewry that really the time to think about who supports Israel is now."
 
* Jeb Bush made some curious comments about net neutrality over the weekend, calling the regulatory structure behind the policy "one of the craziest ideas I've ever heard."
Smoke rises after an U.S.-led air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani on Oct. 8, 2014.

What 'doing something about ISIS' looks like

03/10/15 11:21AM

There's no shortage of far-right politicians saying strange things online, but this story out of Maine struck me as interesting for reasons just below the surface.
A Republican lawmaker in Maine apologized on Monday for a Facebook post suggesting that President Obama has family ties to the Islamic State.
 
Earlier in March, State Sen. Michael Willette shared a post from Conservative News Daily, which included a photo of Obama and the caption, "Why haven't I done anything about ISIS? Because I'll deal with them at the family reunion," according to a screenshot captured by the Portland Press Herald.
The GOP state lawmaker eventually deleted the post and told local media it was "an error in judgment."
 
Of course,  the racially charged element is obviously offensive. To argue that the president and ISIS terrorists are relatives is idiotic on a variety of levels.
 
But there were two lines in the piece Willette promoted, and we shouldn't brush past that other part too quickly.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky gestures at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., March 14, 2013. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Rand Paul's bold stand for armor-piercing bullets

03/10/15 10:40AM

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has earned a reputation for spinning some pretty wild conspiracy theories, but few issues seem to animate the Republican lawmaker like access to deadly weapons.
 
In 2013, for example, the GOP senator wrote a letter on behalf of a radical gun group in which Paul argued that the United Nations intends to "force" the United States to "CONFISCATE and DESTROY ALL 'unauthorized' civilian firearms," while creating "an INTERNATIONAL gun registry, setting the stage for full-scale gun CONFISCATION." (The capitalized words originally appeared in Paul's 2013 fact-free letter; I didn't capitalize them for emphasis.)
 
In 2012, Paul mistakenly accused gun-toting meteorologists of stockpiling ammunition. In 2014, he, pushed for more firearms in post offices.
 
And in 2015, the Obama administration is considering a proposal to ban armor-piercing "green tip" bullets, originally exempted from a 1986 policy because they were "primarily intended to be used for sporting purposes." Now that newer handguns can make use of the ammunition, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is weighing an end to the exemption.
 
Once again, Rand Paul is on the case.
...Paul is urging his supporters to help thwart the move, calling it a "backdoor route to imposing President Obama's gun control."
 
"Recently, Obama's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATF) announced they will ban .223 M855 ammunition," Paul wrote in a letter posted to the website of his political action committee, RANDPAC. "The BATF has a March 17th deadline to hear public comments on this outrageous assault on the Second Amendment. And I'm counting on your immediate action to help RANDPAC flood the agency with a message from America's pro-gun majority."
The senator added that support from his activist base "played a vital role in defeating President Obama's national gun registration scheme in 2013." It's worth noting that in reality there was no national gun registration scheme and President Obama's proposal actually did the opposite, prohibiting the creation of a registration.
 
When it comes to policy debates, Rand Paul isn't detail oriented.
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 10, 2014. (Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters)

Watching a GOP conspiracy theory blossom

03/10/15 10:01AM

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) looked a little silly when he argued Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) may face criminal charges because he disagrees with the White House on Iranian policy. Yesterday, however, he quickly discovered he had some company among Republicans who were equally eager to appear foolish.
 
Yesterday morning, for example, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested he's sympathetic to the conspiracy theory, too.
After a Monday morning speech in New Hampshire, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told Bloomberg Politics that the Menendez allegations did not sit right with him.
 
"All I can say is, they were leaked," Graham said. "He wasn't actually charged officially. They leaked the fact that he may be charged, is gonna be charged. I hate it when that happens for anybody. I like Bob. Like everybody else, he's innocent until proven guilty. He's been a champion on the Iranian nuclear issue. It just doesn't smell right."
By yesterday afternoon, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) went even further.
Sen. Mark S. Kirk became the latest Republican to suggest reports of corruption charges against Sen. Robert Menendez are the result of "politically motivated" leaks by the Justice Department. [...]
 
"Bob Menendez has been an excellent partner for me on the Iran stuff, and I'm worried now by leaking stuff [from] Justice it's politically motivated to silence Bob for his work on Iran, which he should be praised for," said Kirk.
Conservative media figures from Fox News and the Wall Street Journal are on board, too.
 
At the risk of spoiling Republicans' fun, this is impossible to take seriously. Indeed, take a step back and consider how ridiculous this looks in the broader context: the Obama administration's Justice Department appears poised to prosecute a sitting Democratic senator, and Republicans are outraged.
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the National League of Cities annual Congressional City Conference in Washington on March 9, 2015. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Turning the tables in the patriotism debate

03/10/15 09:23AM

Though Rudy Giuliani's recent attack on President Obama's patriotism has faded from view, the Republican offensive against the president's love of country remains surprisingly common. Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said last week that Obama has an "innate desire" to see America become "a weaker country."
 
A day later, Jeb Bush told Iowans the president "does not believe that American power is a force for good," despite reality, which points in the exact opposite direction.
 
But this week offers an unexpected twist in this ridiculous debate. For example, Americans saw the president travel to Selma, where he presented an impassioned vision of American patriotism, dismissing the "feeble attempts to define some of us as more American than others."
 
At the same time, Senate Republicans offered Obama an opportunity to turn the tables on the entire debate when they tried to sabotage American foreign policy.
President Barack Obama criticized Republican outreach to the government of Iran, saying the lawmakers were effectively aligning themselves with Iranian hardliners who oppose an international nuclear deal.
 
"I think it's somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran," the president told reporters in the Oval Office on Monday. "It's an unusual coalition."
It is, indeed. When it comes to the future of U.S./Iranian relations, we're accustomed to thinking about the divisions among Americans, with GOP lawmakers going to unprecedented lengths to undermine intentional diplomatic talks with Tehran. But let's not forget that Iran, like every country on the planet, has its own political divisions.
 
In this case, while some Iranian officials are obviously willing to engage in multi-party talks, Iran has its own hardliners who've been eager to condemn the negotiations, insisting Americans, our allies, and our negotiating partners are not to be trusted.
Barack Obama, Edna Pemberton

ACA price tag continues to drop

03/10/15 08:40AM

Just last week, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told the New York Times, "Obamacare is going to bankrupt the country." It's a familiar complaint -- those who struggle to make a substantive case against the increasingly effective law are starting to emphasize that its efficacy is ultimately irrelevant if the nation simply can't afford the Affordable Care Act itself.
 
The problem with the argument is the degree to which it contradicts reality. Non-partisan budget analysts, including those at the Congressional Budget Office, have consistently found that the ACA will reduce the deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next couple of decades. In case it's not obvious, laws that save money do not push the nation closer to bankruptcy.
 
Just as important, though, is the fact that the "Obamacare" price tag keeps dropping
Nearly five years since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, a nonpartisan report announced Monday that the projected costs are continuing to fall.
 
In the latest forecast by the Congressional Budget Office, provisions of the health care law will cost 11% less, or $142 billion in savings over the next 10 years, than what the agency originally projected in January. Additionally, the law will cost 29% less for the 2015-2019 time frame than the CBO’s initial forecast when the law was signed in March 2010.
The entirety of the CBO report is online here.
 
Digging through the report, there are a couple of caveats worth noting. The lower cost of the ACA overall is good news, but some of this is the result of fewer Americans receiving Medicaid benefits because red states refuse to extend coverage to many low-income families. In other words, the system is spending less in some cases because some are being left behind.
 
That's the bad news. The good news is that most of the lower price tag can be attributed to the Obamacare successfully curtailing costs system-wide.
Republican Tom Cotton speaks after the results of the midterm elections in North Little Rock, Ark. on Nov. 4, 2014.

GOP sabotage effort sparks furious backlash

03/10/15 08:00AM

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a right-wing freshman just two months into his first term, decided he'd try to sabotage international diplomatic talks with Iran. He recruited 46 of his Senate Republican colleagues to write a condescending letter to officials in Tehran, effectively telling Iranians not to trust the United States, our allies, or our negotiating partners.
 
It's not unusual for GOP lawmakers to pull some pretty offensive stunts, but this was qualitatively different than the usual Capitol Hill nonsense. The ferocity of the Democratic response was equally unusual.
[Vice President Biden], who prior to getting elected vice president served over three decades in the Senate, said he was deeply offended by the stance some of his former colleagues took. "The letter sent on March 9th by forty-seven Republican Senators to the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressly designed to undercut a sitting president in the midst of sensitive international negotiations, is beneath the dignity of an institution I revere," he said in a statement late on Monday. [...]
 
He wrote, "This letter, in the guise of a constitutional lesson, ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American president, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States."
 
"Honorable people can disagree over policy. But this is no way to make America safer or stronger," he added.
The scale of the Republican fiasco grew more obvious as the day progressed. The GOP hoped to divide Democrats, but Cotton & Co. brought Dems closer together. Republicans hoped to push Iran away from the negotiating table, but they very likely helped the negotiations move closer to an agreement.
 
Making matters just a little worse, analyses were soon published suggesting the Republicans' attempt at freelance foreign policy, which included factual errors, may have violated federal law and is arguably unconstitutional.

The man behind the Iran letter and other headlines

03/10/15 07:57AM

Tom Cotton, the Senate freshman behind the explosive Iran letter. (Wall Street Journal)

Iran letter could backfire, GOP dissenters say. (Politico)

With foreign leaders, Obama keeps it mostly business. (New York Times)

Ferguson judge named in DOJ report resigns. (USA Today)

Top football recruit won't attend Oklahoma after racist frat video. (NBC Sports)

Houston Ship Channel remains closed after two ships collide. (AP)

French Olympians killed while filming a reality show. (Los Angeles Times)

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Citations for the March 9, 2015 TRMS

03/10/15 12:39AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Congressman Charlie Dent, (R) Pennsylvania, co-sponsoring the Voting Rights Act bill in the House
  • Xeni Jardin, tech culture journalist and co-editor of BoingBoing.net

Tonight's links:

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Monday's Mini-Report, 3.9.15

03/09/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Quite a pairing: "The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has pledged official allegiance to ISIS, according to an audio statement released online Saturday. In the audio, a man claiming to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau appears to address ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, and also calls on Muslims throughout the world to declare a similar loyalty."
 
* Speaking of ISIS: "The Islamic State ­appears to be starting to fray from within, as dissent, defections and setbacks on the battlefield sap the group's strength and erode its aura of invincibility among those living under its despotic rule."
 
* Russia: "Two Chechens, one a police officer who fought Islamic insurgents and the second a security guard, were charged in a Moscow court on Sunday in connection with the killing of Boris Y. Nemtsov, a leading Kremlin critic, while three other suspects were jailed pending further investigation."
 
* Oklahoma: "Following the publication of a video allegedly showing members of a University of Oklahoma fraternity chanting racist slogans, the school's president said there is zero tolerance for students who use racially charged language."
 
* South Korea: "The knife attack last week on the American ambassador to South Korea, Mark W. Lippert, set off an outpouring of good wishes here for both the envoy and Seoul's alliance with Washington. But the response, led largely by conservative South Koreans, has now provoked a backlash."
 
* Venezuela: "President Barack Obama signed an executive order declaring a national emergency with respect to Venezuela and imposing sanctions on seven officials there in response to the country's deteriorating human rights climate, the White House said Monday."
 
* A veto override in West Virginia: "West Virginia legislators prohibited women from having abortions after 20 weeks on Friday, as the state Senate enacted the law over Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's veto."
House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, May 7, 2014.

Leading House Republican blames Obama for murders

03/09/15 04:35PM

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Rules Committee and a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, has a track record for saying some pretty amazing things. About a year ago, for example, the far-right Texan said if there's a witch hunt underway, that just means "there is a witch somewhere."
 
The year before, Session said he believe it's "immoral" to extend jobless aid to "long-term unemployments [sic]." Around the same time, the congressman said the House should stop worrying about governing and focus exclusively on "messaging."
 
And while many of these comments seem bizarre, once in a while Sessions' rhetoric reaches a more alarming level.
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) accused President Barack Obama and Democrats Thursday evening of continually releasing undocumented immigrants who are murdering Americans.
 
"Every day, all along border states, maybe other places, there are murders by people who have been arrested coming into this country, who have been released by the Obama administration, I believe in violation of the law, who are murdering Americans all over our cities," the Rules Committee chairman said at a meeting while discussing Obama's deportation relief policies. "We hold the Democrat [sic] Party and the president personally accountable for this action."
It's not exactly a secret that Republicans don't like President Obama's immigration policy, so it stands to reason that Sessions and his colleagues will complain on a near-constant basis.
 
But these recent comments are far more inflammatory. Sessions, using his own committee platform, effectively said the president is indirectly responsible for murders committed by immigrants -- and the GOP lawmaker holds Obama and his entire party "personally accountable."

That's not just some throwaway line. This is a congressional committee chairman arguing publicly that the president has blood on his hands. It's the sort of thing a federal lawmaker should be able to back up with substantial evidence before casually throwing around a reckless accusation.
 
And in this case, Sessions apparently has no idea what he's talking about.

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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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