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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 6.17.15

06/17/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* A flaw in the Iraq plan: "Defense Secretary Ash Carter told members of Congress on Wednesday that the U.S. is having a tough time finding credible and capable allies to fight in both Iraq and Syria."
 
* Poland: "Warships. Tanks. Helicopters. Rapid reaction forces. Thousands of NATO troops are on the move this month in Poland and the Baltic states, practicing sea landings, air lifts and assaults. The massive maneuvers on NATO's eastern flank that began in early June include the first-ever training by the new, rapid reaction 'spearhead' force, and are NATO's biggest defense boost since the Cold War."
 
* A valiant effort: "The House voted resoundingly Wednesday to keep troops stationed abroad fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) despite the absence of a formal congressional authorization for military action against the group. In the first vote of its kind since the Obama administration began airstrikes ten months ago, the House defeated a resolution requiring the president to remove troops within the next six months. The vote was 139-288."
 
* FCC: "The Federal Communications Commission slapped AT&T with a $100 million fine Wednesday, accusing the country's second-largest cellular carrier of improperly slowing down Internet speeds for customers who had signed up for 'unlimited' data plans."
 
* A trail gone cold: "Hundreds of law enforcement officers have combed thousands of acres. Investigators have looked at more than 1,300 tips. Police and helicopters have swarmed toward what looked like promising leads. And yet, more than a week and a half after killers Richard Matt and David Sweat sawed and shimmied their way out of Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York, there has still been no confirmed sighting of the fugitives."
 
* South Carolina:  "Hillary Clinton called the police shooting death of Walter Scott a 'terrible tragedy' Wednesday at a meeting with rural leaders in Orangeburg, just ahead of forum here in the city where Scott was killed in April."
 
* Russia: "In a sprawling park 30 miles outside Moscow, President Vladimir V. Putin welcomed the country's first high-tech military exposition on Tuesday, announcing in his opening remarks that Russia would add 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear stockpile this year." The problem, of course, is that Russia can't actually afford that.
 
* Seems fair: "At least two clever Texans sent Gov. Greg Abbott (R) pieces of foil "for your hat" after he ordered the Texas State Guard to "monitor" the U.S. military's training exercise known as Jade Helm 15, Gawker reported on Tuesday."
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker laughs as he is introduced prior to his speech at Chatham House in central London, Feb. 11, 2015. (Photo by Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

Walker learns an obvious lesson after UK dustup

06/17/15 04:52PM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) last week claimed he had proof that foreign leaders aren't satisfied with President Obama's leadership. One our closest allies, the Republican candidate said, told him so.
 
"I heard that from David Cameron back in February earlier when we were over at 10 Downing," Walker told a group of GOP donors.
 
Soon after, the British leader made clear that Walker was wrong. "The Prime Minister did not say that and does not think that," a Cameron spokesperson told Time magazine.
 
For a governor with national aspirations, it was the latest in a series of foreign-policy missteps. Not only was Walker blabbing about a private conversation he had with a close U.S. ally, but he was also apparently misquoting the British prime minister in the hopes of attacking the American president.
 
Today, Walker was asked to explain himself. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported:
Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday he won't be talking anymore about private meetings with world leaders after British Prime Minister David Cameron disputed how Walker had characterized his comments.
 
"I'm just not going to comment on individual meetings I had with leaders like that, be it there or anywhere else," the White House hopeful told reporters when asked about Cameron's comments.... Walker said he had learned from that incident and wouldn't do it anymore.
Speaking from Canada -- one of Walker's many recent foreign trips -- the Wisconsin Republican added, "What I learned best from that is I should leave discussions like that that aren't done in front of the media to be treated privately, whether it was there or anyone else. You're right; I haven't. That's something I'm not going to do going forward for precisely that reason."
 
And I suppose that's a start. The unannounced presidential candidate apparently didn't realize until very recently that when you have a private conversation with a foreign head of state, it's unwise to share the details of that conversation at a fundraiser.
 
But that doesn't quite resolve the underlying problem.
Business mogul Donald Trump gives a speech as he announces his candidacy for the U.S. presidency at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty)

RNC: Trump's immigration rhetoric 'not helpful'

06/17/15 04:09PM

When it comes to immigration policy, Republican politicians tend to be unyieldingly conservative, but they're far more circumspect when talking about the issue. GOP officials realize that there's little upside to party rhetoric that condemns immigrants -- Republicans are comfortable voting like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa); they just don't want to sound like him.
 
With this in mind, it was quite striking to hear GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump argue, during his surreal kickoff speech in New York yesterday, "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists."
 
Trump talked to msnbc's Kasie Hunt after the event, and the Republican stuck to the same line.
KASIE: In your speech today, you said that "some rapists are coming across the border from Mexico."
 
TRUMP: Absolutely.
 
KASIE: What did you mean by that?
 
TRUMP: Well you have rapists, they're sending us not their finest people. And it's people other than Mexico also. We have drug dealers coming across, we have rapists, we have killers, we have murderers. What, do you think they're gonna send us -- I mean it's common sense -- do you think they're gonna send us their finest people? Their answer is no.
Trump is apparently under the impression that Mexico, among other countries, are dispatching immigrants, picking and choosing who gets "sent" to the United States.
 
In case it's not obvious, this really isn't what Republican officials want Americans to hear from Republican candidates. In fact, during Trump's speech yesterday, I saw quite a few people joking on Twitter about how deeply sorry they felt for RNC Chairman Reince Priebus -- Trump's apparent xenophobia undermining all of Priebus' efforts to improve his party's image.
 
But more specifically, what does the RNC have to say about Trump's antics?
Pope Francis blesses the faithful on April 15, 2014 during his weekly general audience at the Vatican. (Photo by Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty)

From Limbaugh to Bush, GOP rejects Pope on climate

06/17/15 12:45PM

When Pope Francis indicated late last year that he intended to focus much of his attention in 2015 on combating the climate crisis, there were skeptics who wondered just how far he was willing to go.
 
The answer is getting much clearer. The pope has already hosted a major summit on global warming with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and this week, the public received  a leaked copy of Francis' encyclical on climate change, which holds human activity responsible for the crisis. Just as important, the pope characterized the crisis as a moral issue.
 
When Republicans and the right first started pushing back against Francis' work, they did so carefully, so as to not offend. But in the weeks that followed, that caution has faded. Rush Limbaugh condemned the pope yesterday, complaining Francis "doesn't even disguise" his Marxist beliefs about global warming.
 
The more mainstream GOP line is that the pope has no business even participating in the discussion. Here was Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush yesterday in New Hampshire:
"I hope I'm not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don't get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope," Bush said. "And I'd like to see what he says as it relates to climate change and how that connects to these broader, deeper issue before I pass judgment. But I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm."
Climate deniers in Congress were less subtle. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told National Journal this week, "When you talk about unpredictable science, I have to ask where's the nexus between that and the theology of the Vatican?" Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) added, "I'm not a Catholic, but I've got a lot of friends who are, who are wondering: Why all of a sudden is he involved in this? I don't have the answer for that."
 
Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum and Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) have pushed similar lines.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.17.15

06/17/15 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:
 
* A new national PPP survey shows Scott Walker leading the Republican presidential field with 17% support, followed by Bush at 15% and Marco Rubio at 13%. Ben Carson is a close fourth with 12%. Mike Huckabee, at 11%, is the only other candidate to reach double digits.
 
* Among Democrats, PPP also found Hillary Clinton continuing to dominate with 65% support, well ahead of Bernie Sanders' 9%. Martin O'Malley is third with 5%.
 
* In Florida, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Clinton leading each of her Republican challengers in hypothetical match-ups, including modest leads over Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush in their home state. Rubio is the most competitive in the state, trialing Clinton by just three points.
 
* In Ohio, Quinnipiac also shows Clinton leading everyone in the GOP field except Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who leads the Democratic frontrunner by seven. Kasich, however, fares so poorly nationally that he's unlikely to even participate in the early Republican debates.
 
* In Pennsylvania, Quinnipiac finds Republicans in a more competitive position. Though Clinton leads Bush, Huckabee, Walker, and Cruz, she trails Rubio, Paul, and Christie.
 
* Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) believe it's "possible" Republicans will head into the 2016 convention without a clear nominee. "It hasn't happened in a long, long time, but you've obviously got a wide field, and if it stays splintered, that could happen," the Texas senator told Hugh Hewitt.
Women hold up signs during a women's pro-choice rally on Capitol Hill, July 11, 2013.

House Republicans take aim at key family planning program

06/17/15 11:20AM

In the wake of the Republican gains in the 2010 midterms, House GOP lawmakers quickly prioritized the elimination of all Title X funding. Not surprisingly, the efforts faced massive Democratic resistance.
 
But now that Republicans control both the House and Senate, far-right members are pursuing their goal with renewed vigor. Laura Bassett reported yesterday for the Huffington Post:
The House Appropriations Labor-HHS Subcommittee released a budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2016 on Tuesday that zeroes out funding for the Title X family planning program, the only federal grant program that provides contraceptive and other preventive health services to poor and uninsured individuals who would otherwise lack access to that kind of care.
 
The program subsidizes 4,100 health clinics nationwide and provides no- or low-cost family planning services to individuals who earn less than about $25,000 a year. The largest demographic the program serves is reproductive-aged women between 20 and 29 years old.
Those who said the so-called "Republican war on women" is over may want to re-think their thesis.
 
ThinkProgress' Tara Culp-Ressler added, "According to research from the Guttmacher Institute, about 20 million women in the United States need access to publicly funded contraception, and Title X clinics have historically only been able to meet about a third of that need. The situation has been getting even worse in recent years. After the most recent economic recession, more Americans slipped into poverty and Title X's patient load increased -- but its budget didn't."
 
By most responsible measures, Title X deserves additional resources, not a 100% budget cut.
U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) walks to the House Chamber for a vote on Oct. 16, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Boehner not above playing a little hardball

06/17/15 10:49AM

When John Boehner ran for re-election as House Speaker earlier this year, two dozen of his own members voted against him. It was the poorest showing for any Speaker in nearly a century.
 
The question was what Boehner intended to do about it. Soon after, some of the mutineers started receiving their punishments -- some were denied subcommittee chairmanships, some were removed as lead sponsors of important bills, and a couple were kicked off their committees altogether.
 
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), who ran for Speaker and received two votes – including one from himself -- complained that retribution was "something I would assume Vladimir Putin would do." The whining, however, was misplaced. As we talked about at the time, in every democratic legislature in the world, there's an expectation that a party's members will, at a minimum, elect the party's leaders. Failure to do so puts a member's career in jeopardy.
 
The same is largely true on procedural votes, where leaders also expect rank-and-file members to follow the party's lead. That didn't happen on Friday, and as National Journal reported, some key members are now paying the price.
Reps. Cynthia Lummis, Steve Pearce, and Trent Franks have been removed from the [House Republicans'] whip team after they sided with GOP rebels to vote against a rule governing debate on a trade bill, according to sources close to the team.
 
Lummis, a deputy whip and a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, was perhaps the whip team's highest-ranking bridge to the conference's most intransigent members. Pearce and Franks also are very close to House conservatives.
I can appreciate why this may seem like inside baseball, but for all the recent Beltway chatter about "Democratic divisions" and a "Democratic civil war" on trade, it's worth appreciating that we've seen some bipartisan disarray lately.
Potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is reflected in a mirror as he departs after speaking to the Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce in Salem, N.H. May 21, 2015. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Jeb Bush's line on Social Security draws scrutiny

06/17/15 10:09AM

Jeb Bush's position on Social Security was already controversial. The Republican presidential hopeful, just two weeks ago, emphasized his support for raising the retirement age for Social Security eligibility -- a broadly unpopular position. Making matters slightly worse, the former Florida governor was mistaken when talking about what he thinks is the current retirement age.
 
Yesterday, Bush's position drew even more scrutiny, when the International Business Times published this video from American Bridge, recorded at an event in New Hampshire. In response to a question about Social Security, the GOP candidate told an audience:
"I appreciate the question because it relates to, not that Social Security is an entitlement -- I've learned that from town hall meetings -- it's a supplemental retirement system that's not actuarially sound, how about that.
 
"And certainly Medicaid and Medicare are entitlements and they're growing at a far faster rate than anything else in government, so it will overwhelm us. The contingent liabilities are clear. We can ignore it as we've done now -- my brother tried, got totally wiped out, both Republicans and Democrats wanted nothing to do with it. The next president's going to have to try again."
The line is arguably open to some interpretation. Some Bush critics pounced, arguing that he effectively endorsed his brother's failed privatization scheme.
 
A more charitable interpretation is that Bush supports some kind of "reforms" to the Social Security system. When he said the next president is "going to have to try" to change Social Security, he may not have been referring specifically to the other Bush plan.
 
Presumably, either candidate or his campaign team will clarify matters fairly soon. But if Team Jeb responds to questions by saying he wasn't referring specifically to his brother's gambit, that shouldn't necessarily end the controversy.
The US Capitol dome is seen on Capitol Hill on Jan. 5, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

Trade proponents turn to Plan B

06/17/15 09:30AM

After President Obama's trade agenda faced an important setback in the House on Friday, the stage was set for an important Round Two. On Tuesday, House Republican leaders announced, they would bring Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) to the floor for another key showdown.
 
That was supposed to be yesterday. Nothing happened. In fact, late Monday it was clear the policy wasn't close to having the necessary support, so it hardly came as a surprise when the vote was scrapped. Instead, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) gave the chamber another six weeks to figure something out.
 
So what's happens now? According to the Huffington Post, Vox, and others, congressional Republicans who agree with the White House on trade have a Plan B in mind.
Days after the House dealt a setback to President Barack Obama's trade agenda, GOP leadership is considering plowing ahead with stand-alone legislation that would give the president so-called fast-track authority to shepherd trade deals through Congress.
 
The House could take up the fast-track bill as early as this week, two House GOP aides told The Huffington Post, after which it would be sent to the Senate.
This gets a little complicated, but stick with me, because it's important.
Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and other members of the House Select Committee on Benghazi speak to reporters at a press conference on the findings of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's personal emails at the U.S. Capitol on March 3, 2015.

Some GOP drama at latest Benghazi hearing

06/17/15 08:44AM

In case anyone's forgotten, the House Select Committee on Benghazi, already having overseen one of the longest congressional investigations in American history, still exists. In fact, the panel, in its 405th  day, has evidently spent over $3.5 million to examine a deadly terrorist attack that's already been investigated by seven other congressional committees.
 
The panel's Capitol Hill hearing yesterday, however, featured a little drama -- not during the actual hearing, but as The Hill reported, before the proceedings even began.
Former House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) tried to crash former Hillary Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal's deposition before the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Tuesday.
 
Issa marched into the closed-door deposition and remained inside for about a minute before he was escorted out by the panel's chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). The pair briefly exchanged hushed words in a nearby hallway before Issa stormed off, throwing an empty soda can into a nearby trash bin.
There's a brief video of the exchange, captured by NBC News' Frank Thorp. For those who can't watch clips online, the video shows Issa leaving the hearing room, exchanging a few words with Gowdy, and then storming off while Gowdy gives the "C'mon, don't be like that" gesture.
 
It's worth noting that yesterday's hearing was a closed-door gathering, unavailable to the public and the press. Issa, whose own Benghazi hearings turned up nothing, apparently wanted to attend anyway, which led Gowdy to remind him that this wasn't allowed. The far-right Californian clearly wasn't pleased.
 
After that drama was over, what did we learn from the hearing itself? Well, it's an interesting story, actually.
President Barack Obama arrives in the East Room of the White House in Washington, June 2, 2015. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The scope of Obama's counter-terrorism successes

06/17/15 08:03AM

Whenever the political world's attention turns to matters of national security and terrorism, Republican criticisms of President Obama feature familiar talking points. The president isn't "aggressive" enough, they say. His approach must be "tougher," like the policies adopted by the Bush/Cheney administration.
 
Obama's counter-terrorism policies are so ineffective, the right insists, that the White House won't even use the specific words -- "radical Islamic terrorism" -- that Republicans demand to hear.
 
But the gap between GOP rhetoric and national-security reality continues to grow. We learned yesterday, for example, that a U.S. airstrike killed Nasir al-Wuhaysh, al Qaeda's No. 2 official -- and the top guy in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. As Rachel noted on the show last night, his death is a "huge deal," especially given the terrorist plots al-Wuhaysh has helped oversee.
 
NBC News had a helpful report yesterday on the frequency with which U.S. strikes have successfully targeted al Qaeda's top leaders.
Since Navy SEALs killed [Osama bin Laden] in 2011, American drone strikes have taken out seven potential candidates to succeed him as the leader of what was once the most-feared terror gang.
 
The targeted attacks started within weeks of bin Laden's death. Three al Qaeda higher-ups were killed in June, August and September of 2011, followed by another three in late 2012 and early 2013.... Now, the death of 38-year-old Wuhayshi -- killed in a strike on Friday -- is seen by American intelligence officials as a major blow to al Qaeda, which is struggling with decimated ranks and ideological competition from the Islamic State.
I'm reminded of this piece in The Atlantic last fall, when Jeffrey Goldberg, hardly a liberal, wrote, "Obama has become the greatest terrorist hunter in the history of the presidency."
 
It's a detail Republicans simply don't know what to do with, so they ignore it and pretend the president is indifferent to matters of national security, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. While GOP officials and candidates continue to insist that what really matters is word-choice, Obama's counter-terrorism strategy includes so many successes, they no longer generate much attention. Notice, for example, just how little chatter al-Wuhaysh's death garnered yesterday.

GOP's Obamacare plan and other headlines

06/17/15 08:03AM

GOP leaders to brief lawmakers on what to do if the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare subsidies. (AP)

Latino conference brings immigration reform back to the campaign trail. (NY Times)

Prosecutors outline case against Phoenix man in Texas attack. (AP)

U.S. cities running out of water. (USA Today)

NC teacher resigns after reading students a book about gay couple. (AP)

Astronomers report finding the earliest stars that enriched the cosmos. (New York Times)

A tiger that escaped a zoo after it was flooded has killed a man. (AP)

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