Rachel Maddow dubunks the idea that Rep. Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican running for Congress, has withdrawn a political ad shot in a veterans cemetery, violating state rules and good taste, when the ad is still posted online. watch
* Ebola: "Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, has died, a spokesperson for the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital said Wednesday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed Duncan's case eight days ago, saying he had begun exhibiting symptoms of the disease on Sept. 24."
* ISIS: "Gun battles and explosions echoed from the embattled Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani on Wednesday, as Islamic State militants detonated a car bomb and new American-led airstrikes hit the northern edge of the town, close to the Turkish border. A Kurdish official in Kobani, Assi Abdullah, said that despite the bombing, Islamic State fighters had managed to enter new areas of the town and move north, closer to the border."
* Safety precautions: "Federal officials said Wednesday that they would begin temperature screenings of passengers arriving from West Africa at five American airports, beginning with Kennedy International in New York as early as this weekend, as the United States races to respond to a deadly Ebola outbreak." Four additional airports will be added next week.
* Secretary of State John Kerry wrote an op-ed today urging more international cooperation: "[T]he fact is more countries can and must step up to make their contributions felt, and the charts tell the story. There are not enough countries to make the difference to be able to deal with this crisis. We need more nations -- every nation has an ability to do something on this challenge."
* Turkey on ISIS: "Erdogan said Tuesday that Turkey would not get more deeply involved in the conflict with the Islamic State unless the United States agreed to give greater support to rebels trying to unseat the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. That has deepened tensions with President Obama, who would like Turkey to take stronger action against the Islamic State and to leave the fight against Mr. Assad out of it."
* Marriage: "In another surprising move from the U.S. Supreme Court this week, Justice Anthony Kennedy granted an emergency request Wednesday from Idaho officials to delay a federal appeals court ruling that struck down that state's and Nevada's same-sex marriage bans. Later on Wednesday, Kennedy lifted that hold only as it applied to Nevada, allowing same-sex nuptials to go forward there."
* VA: "The Veterans Affairs Department is firing four senior executives after a nationwide scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking medical care and falsified records covering up delays."
* Now we're talking: "Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a potential Democratic White House contender, said in an interview published Wednesday that 'Wi-Fi is a human right.'"
Republican opposition to climate science is not monolithic; GOP officials can usually be divided up into some distinct categories.
The first and most dominant contingent espouses straight-up, James-Inhofe-style denialism -- the planet isn't warming, carbon pollution is having no effect, and scientists from around the world are trying to fool the public as part of a nefarious communist conspiracy. Other Republicans concede that global warming is real, but it's not worth the effort to address the crisis. Once in a great while, Jon Huntsman will acknowledge reality, but his faction within the party is quite small.
But Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the frontrunner for a U.S. Senate seat this year, appears to be in a brand-new category. The Charleston Gazettereports today (via Igor Bobic):
MetroNews' Hoppy Kercheval, who moderated the debate, asked the candidates if they thought climate scientists, who are nearly unanimous in saying humans are causing climate change, are wrong.
Capito said that they were. "I don't necessarily think the climate's changing, no," she said.
Questioned about her stance after the debate, she said she had misspoke, but couched her language with talk about the weather.
"Is the climate changing? Yes it's changing, it changes all the time, we heard it raining out there," she said. "I'm sure humans are contributing to it."
It's hard to know sometimes when a politician is being foolish by accident or on purpose. I have no idea whether Capito understands the basics of the climate crisis, and makes bizarre comments like these for political effect, or whether she's genuinely confused about the difference between local weather and global climate changes over time.
But if a seven-term congresswoman, poised for a promotion, seriously sees random rain showers as evidence of "the climate changing," it's more than a little alarming.
That said, if the local report is correct, Capito added that "humans are contributing to it," which might offer a hint of hope. I suppose the next question is, aside from carrying umbrellas, what does the West Virginia Republican suggest we do about the changing climate?
Of course, this wasn't the only debate held last night.
Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-Calif.) is perhaps best known for arguing last year that the United States should withdraw from nuclear talks with Iran because it is "part of the Middle Eastern culture" to lie. Instead, the far-right congressman said, U.S. officials should go after Iran "with tactical nuclear devices and you set them back a decade or two or three."
And as striking as this was last year, Hunter's remarks on Fox News last night were just as amazing.
The California Republican told Greta Van Susteren, almost in passing, that Islamic State militants are "coming across the southern border." The Fox host, not surprisingly, seemed surprised, and it led to this exchange:
VAN SUSTEREN: You say that they are coming in the southern border, which is -- changes all the dynamics. Do you have any information or any evidence that they are coming in through the southern border now?
HUNTER: Yes. Yes. I have information that --
VAN SUSTEREN: Tell me what you know.
HUNTER: I know that at least 10 ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas. There's nobody talking about it.
When Van Susteren asked how he knows that, the Republican congressman replied, "Because I've asked the Border Patrol." He added that Border Patrol agents "caught" Islamic State militants "at the border, therefore, we know that ISIS is coming across the border."
That's quite a claim. Republicans have spent years desperately pushing for an even more aggressive crackdown on the U.S./Mexico border, and recent events -- ISIS, Ebola, migrant children, etc. -- have given them new rhetorical ammunition.
There's just one problem: Duncan Hunter appears to have made up his claim out of whole cloth.
Last night, former Bush/Cheney press secretary Ari Fleischer was in high dudgeon, condemning the White House for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and ending one of the longest wars in American history.
"[President Obama] has created vacuums all around the world because of what you just said. He's not wanted to exercise American leadership. And time and again it's turned out worse for America's national security. [...]
"The president was so willing just to wipe his hands and say, 'I end wars, I don't start wars, I'm withdrawing everybody.' He wanted to get to a position where Iraq said we won't take what you're offering."
As a substantive matter, all of this is just bizarre. To argue that "exercising American leadership" is synonymous with "indefinite wars" is absurd. To believe Iraqi officials were "offering" to keep U.S. troops in the country is simply at odds with reality.
But there's also a big-picture problem. When Obama actually ended the war and brought troops home, Fleischer was delighted, calling the president's move the "right" call. The "Iraq war is over," the Republican said. In reference to withdrawal, Fleischer added, "It's time."
Of course, the point is not to pick on Ari Fleischer's frequent contradictions, which are too common to be interesting. Rather, the significance of this is how common the Beltway reversals have become. Many of the exact same people who argued before, "It's great that the troops are coming home!" are now complaining, "I can't believe Obama brought the troops home."
In 2010, for example, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) argued, "Last American combat troops leave Iraq. I think President George W. Bush deserves some credit for victory." Four years later, McCain is outraged that American combat troops left Iraq and wants to blame President Obama for Iraqi violence.
And let's not forget former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who decided to drop a new book during the election season and spend a few weeks condemning the Obama administration's national security strategy.
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:
* Georgia's U.S. Senate race continues to get more interesting, with PPP now showing David Perdue (R) with just a two-point lead over Michelle Nunn (D), 45% to 43%. Note, with Libertarian Amanda Swafford polling at 5%, the possibility of a December runoff remains quite real.
* On a related note, Nunn's campaign wasted no time putting together an ad highlighting Perdue's boasts about outsourcing American jobs for much of his career in the private sector.
* In Georgia's gubernatorial race, meanwhile, the PPP poll shows incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal (R) up by five over Jason Carter (D), 46% to 41%. Libertarian Andrew Hunt is at 4%, suggesting a runoff is possible in this race, too.
* In Kansas, a SurveyUSA poll conducted for KSN-TV show Greg Orman (I) leading Sen. Pat Roberts (R) in their race, 47% to 42%.
* The same poll offers more bad news for Kansas Republicans, with Paul Davis (D) leading Gov. Sam Brownback (R) by the same margin as the Senate race, 47% to 42%.
* For those keeping an eye on Kansas' Secretary of State race, the same poll found Kris Kobach (R) leading Jean Schodorf (D), 48% to 43%.
* In Florida's gubernatorial race, three statewide polls this week each show former Gov. Charlie Crist (D) with narrow leads over incumbent Gov. Rick Scott (R).
* The DSCC launched a new attack ad in Kentucky yesterday, going after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), though the ad is less interesting than the circumstances: the DSCC obviously believes this race remains competitive.
The fact that Karl Rove's Crossroads operation is launching a new attack ad in a key U.S. Senate race is about as common as the sunrise, but Daniel Strauss notes why the group's new commercial in Iowa is a little different than most.
A new attack ad by the Karl Rove-founded group American Crossroads included a curious citation: a widely panned Heritage Foundation study on immigration reform which was co-written by a scholar who once argued against letting immigrants with low IQs into the country.
The ad attacks Rep. Bruce Braley, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Iowa, on Obamacare before pivoting to immigration reform. At 0:21 into the ad text reads "Bruce Braley: Giving Lawbreakers Food Stamps and Medicare"; at the bottom is a citation to "The Heritage Foundation, 5/6/13."
At first blush, it looks like just another lazy, generic attack ad, aired by a group that clearly doesn't think highly of voters' intelligence. It even includes, for the third consecutive cycle, ridiculous claims that the Affordable Care Act "cuts" Medicare -- a claim that's been discredited countless times, and given the Republican agenda, a claim that doesn't even make sense.
But just below the surface, Crossroads is playing an even more bizarre game. For one thing, it's citing research from Jason Richwine, who gained national notoriety after arguing that white people are inherently smarter than people of color.
For another, the anti-immigration message is itself hard to take seriously. Under comprehensive immigration reform, undocumented immigrants can eventually become citizens, making them eligible to receive the same benefits of citizenship as everyone else. By this reasoning, Iowa's Bruce Braley supports "giving lawbreakers food stamps," but so too does John McCain, Marco Robio, and plenty of other Republicans.
Indeed, let's not overlook the inconvenient detail that Karl Rove's group is attacking the Iowa Democrat for agreeing with Karl Rove.
In late August, the New Mexico Republican Party ran a campaign ad in support of Senate hopeful Allen Weh (R), which stood out for its demagoguery. The commercial became the first spot of the 2014 cycle to include footage released by Islamic State terrorists who murdered journalist James Foley.
It was not, however, the last. Amanda Terkel reported yesterday:
A Republican House candidate in Arizona has a new ad up attacking her opponent for being soft on terrorism. The ad features footage from the apparent execution of American journalist James Foley, despite the fact that his family has pleaded with the public not to watch the gruesome beheading.
The new 30-second spot was put out by the campaign of Wendy Rogers, who is challenging Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) in the state's 9th District.
In the ugly attack ad, the far-right candidate condemns Sinema for supporting a policy that would close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay -- a position that enjoyed broad, bipartisan support as recently as 2008.
There's apparently some question about the current state of the commercial. I've seen some reports that the ad has since been "pulled," but the Arizona Republicreported last night that the Republican campaign "left the original version online under a new web address."
Davis' spokesperson told the Arizona Republic the ad "would continue airing on television, despite mounting criticism," but the Associated Press reported this morning that the Republican campaign has agreed to "edit" the attack ad.
Regardless, I wish I understood why an American, presumably with a sound moral compass, would consider a commercial like this appropriate. Obviously, under the First Amendment, Davis can try to destroy the reputations of members of Congress, but it's hard not to wonder why someone would choose to abandon a sense of decency with such mindless recklessness.
One of the reasons Republicans are so optimistic about taking control of the U.S. Senate is the geography of the 2014 battlegrounds. The GOP needs a net gain of six seats, but with Democratic incumbents retiring in three red states -- Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia -- Republicans believe they're halfway to their goal before ballots are even cast.
To be sure, that optimism is well-grounded. But what if one of the easy pick-up opportunities turned out to be a little less easy than everyone thought?
In South Dakota, former Gov. Mike Rounds (R) is in the midst of a three-way contest -- there are a few of these this year -- against Rick Weiland (D) and Larry Pressler, a former Republican senator who's running as an independent. Nate Silver explained last night that the race is getting tricky.
Rounds remains the favorite. It's not clear that Pressler has enough money to run a substantial number of advertisements in the closing days of the campaign -- or to finance a voter turnout operation. [...]
But the race increases the chance that we'll have a "messy" outcome on Election Day.
For months, Rounds' victory seemed all but certain. In an unfortunate August gaffe, Weiland, the Democratic candidate and former Tom Daschle aide, accidentally referred to Rounds "senator, or, soon-to-be," before catching himself.
But the contest has grown far more interesting since. In September, two statewide polls showed the race tightening, and yesterday, a Survey USA poll found all three candidates separated by just seven points: Rounds with 35% support, Pressler at 32%, and Weiland a competitive third with 28%.
Like Kansas, South Dakota was supposed to be a race that national observers could safely ignore. Like Kansas, the ground has shifted in unexpected ways.
And there's reason to think it may yet shift further.
In the 2012 elections, nearly 4 million Virginians showed up to cast a ballot, and in U.S. House races, Republicans narrowly prevailed, receiving support from about 51% of the state's electorate. Virginia has 11 congressional districts, so it's easy to assume that the commonwealth's delegation would roughly match voters' will, perhaps with six Republican House members to Democrats' five.
Those assumptions, however, would be wrong. GOP House candidates may have earned 51% of the votes statewide, but they ended up with 8 of the 11 House seats (roughly 73%).
This happened, of course, because Virginia Republicans drew the district lines carefully to ensure these results. Yesterday, however, the GOP's map was rejected in a federal court. The Washington Postreported overnight:
A panel of federal judges on Tuesday declared Virginia's congressional maps unconstitutional because they concentrate African American voters into a single district at the expense of their influence elsewhere.
The decision, handed down in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, orders the Virginia General Assembly to draw up new congressional maps by April -- potentially launching a frenzied and highly political battle for survival within Virginia's congressional delegation.
The case can be appealed directly to the Supreme Court, an unusual legal quirk of the matter because it was decided by a three-judge panel, but whether that will happen remains unclear. Michael Kelly, a spokesman for Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), said state lawyers were "reviewing the decision and assessing its impact and how best to move forward."
Note, this will not have any effect on this year's congressional races. State lawmakers are facing an April 2015 deadline, and with the possibility of an appeal, the process remains uncertain.
But the ruling in Virginia is a reminder that gerrymandering has become the subject of new scrutiny. Indeed, we learned earlier this week that the Supreme Court may shake up the process even more.
During the last presidential campaign, Mitt Romney argued that he, and he alone, could give the economy a terrific boost. Sure, President Obama's policies had successfully ended the Great Recession, but a Romney/Ryan administration would send the economy into overdrive.
In May 2012, the Republican candidate sat down with Mark Halperin, who pressed Romney to get specific about what Americans could expect to see under his presidency.
HALPERIN: Would you like to be more specific about what the unemployment rate would be like at the end of your first year?
ROMNEY: I cannot predict precisely what the rate would be at the end of one year. I can tell you that over a period of four years, by a virtue of the polices that we put in place, we get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent, perhaps a little lower.
Yep, Romney said that if he were elected, and given a chance to implement his bold economic vision, freeing the nation of the scourge that is Obama's crushing agenda, the unemployment rate would drop to "6 percent" -- maybe even "a little lower" -- by the end of 2016.
Of course, President Obama defeated Romney with relative ease, leaving Americans with economic policies that helped push the unemployment rate to 5.9% -- in the middle of 2014, more than two full years ahead of Romney's goal.
As my pal Xenos joked, "By Romney's own standards, he should be glad that he lost the presidency. After all, would he really want to subject the American people to another two years of less than impressive job growth?"
Many Republicans in competitive statewide races have found themselves with a substantive problem: they're running out of issues to talk about.
GOP incumbents and challengers hoped to run against the Affordable Care Act, but with the law working extremely well, that's no longer a credible option. They'd like to run on jobs, but the unemployment rate is dropping and Republicans don't have a jobs plan. They probably wouldn't mind running on social issues, but the American mainstream generally disagrees with the GOP on these hot-button issues.
What Republicans are left with, then, is fear -- fear of immigrants, fear of diseases, fear of terrorism, and occasionally, some combination of the three. Consider what Rep. Tom Cotton, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Arkansas, recently told voters during a tele-town-hall meeting.
"The problem is with Mark Pryor and Barack Obama refusing to enforce our immigration laws, and refusing to secure our border. I'll change that when I'm in the United States Senate. And I would add, it's not just an immigration problem. We now know that it's a security problem. Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they're willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism.
"They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas. This is an urgent problem and it's time we got serious about it, and I'll be serious about it in the United States Senate."
If we're scoring based on creativity, the right-wing congressman's concoction is quite impressive. Cotton wants voters to believe ISIS militants may come to North America, partner with Mexican drug cartels, plot terrorist strikes, and target a land-locked state in the middle of the country with no major population centers.
I'm honestly not sure which is more alarming: the prospect of Cotton actually believing his own nonsense or Cotton's expectation that Americans are foolish enough to believe his ridiculous arguments.