One of the more memorable debate moments yesterday didn't happen in prime-time. It occurred four hours earlier, at the debate for the seven Republican presidential hopefuls whose poll numbers were too weak to qualify for the main event.
Fox News' Martha MacCallum posed a question to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), which he seemed eager to answer. From the transcript:
MACCALLUM: On the same topic, let's go to Governor Jindal. Carly Fiorina, also on the stage, said that she would go so far as to shut down the government over the issue of defunding Planned Parenthood. Would you do that? Would you be willing to shut down the government when it comes to defunding this group?
JINDAL: Well, a couple of things. Planned Parenthood had better hope that Hillary Clinton wins this election, because I guarantee under President Jindal, January 2017, the Department of Justice and the IRS and everybody else that we can send from the federal government will be going in to Planned Parenthood.
This generated no real follow-up, which is a shame because it was an amazing answer. According to Jindal, his administration would dispatch the Internal Revenue Service to target Planned Parenthood because, well, Bobby Jindal doesn't like Planned Parenthood.
But there's a small problem with idea: it's brazenly illegal.
Remember, Richard Nixon, among other things, tried to use the IRS as a political weapon to target his political foes -- and had he not resigned in disgrace, Nixon would have been impeached for having done so. More recently, Republicans and much of the Beltway media accused President Obama of using the IRS to punish far-right Tea Party groups. The allegations proved baseless, but for a short while, Republicans saw this as a devastating scandal involving an abusive, out-of-control White House using the IRS as a political weapon.
And yet, there was Jindal -- according to some, one of the smarter GOP officials on the national scene -- offering a striking example of a presidential candidate vowing to commit impeachable offenses before the election even happens.
The new report from Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the U.S. economy added 215,000 jobs in July, roughly in line with expectation. The overall unemployment rate remained at 5.3%, which is still its lowest point since April 2008, more than seven years ago.
The revisions also point in a fairly encouraging direction. May’s job totals were revised up, from 254,000 to 260,000, while June's numbers were also revised up, from 223,000 to 231,000. Those are modest increases, to be sure, but it's better than the alternative. The same report also showed a slight increase in wages.
I can appreciate why job totals like these seem a little dull. Lately, it seems most monthly reports on jobs show roughly the same thing: growth around +200k and low unemployment. But let's not take good news for granted, because it wasn't that long ago that the country was desperate for news like this. What's ho-hum in August 2015 would have produced dancing in the streets in August 2009.
Overall, the U.S. has added 2.91 million jobs over the last 12 months, which is excellent. July was the 58th consecutive month of positive job growth -- the best stretch since 1939 -- and the 65th consecutive month in which we’ve seen private-sector job growth, which is the longest on record.
This was not a normal presidential candidate debate. The Republican National Committee may have wanted one, and as of a few months ago, the political world may have expected one, but even before the top 10 GOP candidates reached the stage in Ohio last night, it was painfully obvious there was nothing "normal" about any of this.
After all, national polling shows a former reality-show celebrity with a double-digit lead over his Republican rivals, guaranteeing an even greater spectacle, while simultaneously creating an almost ridiculous dynamic: a debate literally and figuratively centered around Donald Trump.
Indeed, in practical terms, arguably the most newsworthy exchange came in the debate's first minutes, when Fox's Bret Baier posed a question designed specifically to put Trump on the spot.
BAIER: Gentlemen, we know how much you love hand-raising questions. So we promise, this is the only one tonight: the only one. Is there anyone on stage, and can I see hands, who is unwilling tonight to pledge your support to the eventual nominee of the Republican party and pledge to not run an independent campaign against that person. Again, we're looking for you to raise your hand now -- raise your hand now if you won't make that pledge tonight.
Trump, who's repeatedly raised the prospect of a third-party campaign, raised his hand, drawing audience boos. He added, "If I'm the nominee, I will pledge I will not run as an independent," which was unintentionally funny, but didn't seem to impress anyone.
But notice what happened the next time Trump was in the spotlight. Fox's Megyn Kelly asked the candidate, "Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don't use a politician's filter. However, that is not without its downsides, in particular, when it comes to women. You've called women you don't like 'fat pigs,' 'dogs,' 'slobs,' and 'disgusting animals.'"
For many viewers, it was an ugly and offensive moment, but the audience that had booed Trump minutes earlier seemed to love it. Trump was back on track -- the Caricature Candidate was putting on the show that has propelled him to the front of the pack, condemning "political correctness" and basking in the warm applause of entertained voters.
Going into the debate, one of the key questions was which Republican would try to take Trump down. The answer, oddly enough, was Fox News.
Rachel Maddow reports on organizers of a Bernie Sanders campaign event in Portland, Oregon having to move the event to a 20,000 seat auditorium to accommodate the demand, raising the bar on 2016 campaign event attendance. watch
An odd thing happened today some time between the Fox News Republican "kids table" event and around 8:30 p.m. this evening as we were putting the finishing touches on the show.
As we watched the second-string candidates event, we were amazed at the stark photos of the empty seats being tweeted by those few present in the giant space. Included among those photos was a one shot by Sean Spicer, chief strategist and communications director for the Republican National Committee, showing RNC Chairman Reince Priebus looking out over the vast, empty expanse.
But shortly thereafter, perhaps after having second thoughts about the impression the photo makes, this is where the same link resolves:
* An important warning: "The White House has warned the Turkish government that the war against the Islamic State in Syria must be 'carefully bound' so as not to go on the offensive against Kurdish fighters, President Barack Obama said Wednesday."
* Congressional Democrats continue to announce their support for the international nuclear agreement with Iran, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who was considered "on the fence" as of a few days ago. Those hoping to kill the diplomatic deal face increasingly long odds.
* Kane's days in office are probably numbered: "Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is calling on the state attorney general to step down amid the criminal charges filed against her. Wolf said Thursday that fellow Democrat Kathleen Kane should resign from her elected office because she cannot do the job of the state's top law enforcement officer while facing such serious charges."
* Fingers crossed: "The federal government is getting more confident that this year's Atlantic Ocean hurricane season will be mild. The National Hurricane Center, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said Thursday there is a 90 percent chance that the Atlantic hurricane season will be 'below normal.'"
* IRS: "A Senate committee on Wednesday closed a two-year investigation with unanimous agreement that mismanagement at the Internal Revenue Service led it to improperly target conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. But a report by the panel did not suggest that any laws were broken, and Republicans and Democrats were divided over whether White House politics was behind the problems."
* Good advice: "In a seven-hour meeting Wednesday with 150 business school deans and other institutional leaders at an office west of the White House, the government's Council on Women and Girls urged schools to do a better job at recruiting female students and training MBAs to support a workforce that would be more flexible for women."
Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is in a world of trouble, which may even lead to his impeachment, after the far-right governor was caught abusing his power to punish the Democratic state House Speaker. An official investigation and civil suit are already underway.
And then there's his other problem, which in policy terms, is just as serious. The Portland Press Herald reported this afternoon:
Maine's top court has ruled unanimously against Gov. Paul LePage in his dispute with the Legislature over whether he has more time to veto 65 bills already processed into law, delivering a significant blow to a governor already engulfed in withering criticism and scrutiny seven months into his second term.
The court's advisory opinion ruled that the governor misread the Maine Constitution when he failed to veto 65 bills within the 10-day period prescribed by law. LePage's legal team argued that the Legislature prevented the governor from returning the vetoes because lawmakers had temporarily adjourned. However, the ruling by six of the seven justices on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court rejected that reasoning. The seventh justice recused himself and did not participate in the proceedings.
The entirety of the unanimous, 55-page ruling is online here (pdf).
It's hard to overstate what a disaster this is for Maine's Tea Party governor.
The timing of tonight's debate for Republican presidential candidates could certainly be better. It was exactly 50 years ago today that the Voting Rights Act, a landmark civil-rights bill and one of the 20th century's most important pieces of federal legislation, was signed into law. There are better ways to honor the occasion than having a GOP debate.
After all, exactly zero of the 17 Republican candidates have endorsed restoration of the Voting Rights Act, while several of the candidates -- most notably Govs. Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and John Kasich -- personally approved new and unnecessary restrictions on voting. Chris Christie recently said Democratic efforts to expand voting access are little more than "an opportunity to commit greater acts of voter fraud around the country."
As Rachel noted on the show earlier this week, the fact that tonight's debate and the VRA anniversary coincide is hardly ideal.
And while we'll have to wait to see what, if anything, the Republican candidates have to say about voting rights and the GOP's voter-suppression efforts, others are honoring the law's 50th anniversary in more progressive ways. USA Todayreported:
President Obama will mark the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act Thursday by calling on Congress to restore the law and urging people to register to vote.
Obama will discuss the landmark voting law at a national teleconference in the afternoon with Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and voting rights advocates.
Obama also published an essay on the VRA to Medium.com today.
This is an area of ongoing interest for the president. Remember, it was in March when Obama delivered a powerful speech in Selma, Alabama, where he, among other things, called for Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act with a bipartisan bill. Former President George W. Bush, who signed a VRA reauthorization during his own tenure, stood and applauded Obama's call.
Congressional Republican leaders said soon after that they intend to ignore the issue entirely, but the White House clearly hopes to use the anniversary to at least try to apply some renewed pressure.
And as the Huffington Post added yesterday, the president isn't the only one.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* The Democratic National Committee this morning announced its six presidential primary debates, which will start in October with an event in Nevada. It will be followed by debates in November in Iowa, in New Hampshire in December, and in South Carolina in January. Two additional events are slated for Miami and Wisconsin in either February or March.
* With 10 of the 17 Republican presidential candidates scheduled to debate this evening, Hillary Clinton released a new video mocking the GOP field for its backward-looking agenda. Borrowing a popular Twitter theme, the Clinton campaign called tonight's event the "Throwback Thursday" debate.
* Scott Walker's super PAC is making its first major ad buy in Iowa, spending nearly $7 million for a series of television and radio ads.
* Speaking of the Wisconsin governor, Walker won "a surprising nod in an informal straw poll of major conservative donors gathered by the Koch brothers' operation last weekend in Orange County, California, according to sources familiar with the gathering."
* Walker isn't the only one hitting the airwaves; Ted Cruz's super PAC this week launched "a seven-figure, nationwide ad blitz" in support of the right-wing Texas senator.
* Following a successful court challenge, Florida state policymakers are working on a new congressional district map, and according to a plan unveiled by the state Senate yesterday, Democrats would likely be positioned to gain one additional seat in 2015.
* Despite Jeb Bush's recent troubles with the issue of women's health, his campaign is launching a series of online ads targeting Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood.
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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