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Thursday's Mini-Report, 8.6.15

08/06/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* 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."
 
* Forever more, September 22 will be recognized in the United States as National Voter Registration Day. Good to know.
 
* 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."
Republican Gov. Paul LePage speaks a campaign rally on Nov. 3, 2014, in Portland, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Maine court smacks down GOP governor

08/06/15 03:52PM

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.
US President Barack Obama walks across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches in Selma, Ala. on March 7, 2015. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

50 years later, who'll carry the Voting Rights Act's torch?

08/06/15 01:01PM

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 Today reported:
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.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.6.15

08/06/15 12:00PM

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.
Pennsylvania Attorney Gen. Kathleen Kane speaks during a news conference at the National Constitution Center, Thursday, July 11, 2013, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The curse of the state Attorneys General

08/06/15 11:20AM

Earlier this year, it started to look as if state House Speakers were cursed. Over the course of just five months, three state House Speakers weren't just caught up in scandals; they were actually charged with serious crimes.
 
This, of course, came on the heels of the Lieutenant Governors' curse. Just last year, LGs in Florida, Nebraska, Massachusetts, Arkansas, and Texas were each caught up in controversies, some of them ethical, some of them criminal.
 
And now it appears the curse has reached state Attorneys General. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Philadelphia Inquirer reported this morning:
Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman has called an 11 a.m. news conference today in Norristown, at which she is expected to announce criminal charges against Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane.
 
The Inquirer has learned that after nearly six months of review and fresh investigation, Ms. Ferman has endorsed a grand jury's recommendation that Ms. Kane be arrested for releasing secret grand jury material in a bid to embarrass a critic and then lying about it under oath, according to people familiar with Ms. Ferman's decision.
For her part, Kane denies any wrongdoing. Though the Pennsylvania Democrat now expects the indictment, her spokesperson insists she will not resign.
 
And while the process unfolds, let's not miss the coincidental pattern. If a controversy surrounding a state A.G. sounds familiar, that's because Kane is hardly the only one in trouble.
Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin prepares to speak at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition 2015 Spring Kickoff on April 25, 2015 in Waukee, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

New evidence contradicts key Walker claims

08/06/15 10:47AM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) team was part of an ugly controversy a few years ago, which the Republican presidential candidate probably thought was behind him. New evidence suggests otherwise.
 
At issue is a 2010 scandal -- not to be confused with his 2012 campaign-finance scandal -- stemming from Walker's tenure as Milwaukee County executive. The story gets a little convoluted, but the gist of the story is that some Walker aides actually went to jail after, among other things, using public resources for partisan political purposes.
 
The far-right governor insisted, publicly and repeatedly, that the criminal investigation had nothing to do with him. Asked in 2012 whether he personally was a target of the probe, Walker said at the time, "Absolutely not. One hundred percent wrong. Could not be more wrong. It's just more of the liberal scare tactics out there."
 
It now appears those claims weren't true. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Walker "was under criminal investigation in 2011 for misconduct in office -- even as he insisted he wasn't."
Wednesday's filing shows the governor was at the center of the probe, contradicting Walker's repeated claims at the time that he was not a target of the investigation.
 
"I submit that there is probable cause to believe that Scott Walker, John Hiller and Andrew Jensen, in concert together, committed a felony, i.e., Misconduct in Public Office..." investigator Robert Stetler wrote in his 2011 request for a search warrant. 
Well, that's not at all what Walker himself told the public.
John Cornyn, R-Texas, leaves Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office in the Capitol on Oct. 8, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

A background-check bill even the GOP, NRA can support

08/06/15 10:07AM

There are some political truths that are so obvious, they are accepted without question. We know for certainty, for example, that Republicans and the National Rifle Association oppose efforts to strengthen background checks on gun purchases, right?
 
Well, maybe not. The AP reported yesterday that Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) has a bill intended to "make the federal background check system for gun buyers more effective and bolster programs for treating people with mental illness."
Currently, background checks are required only for sales by federally licensed gun dealers.
 
People who have been legally ruled "mentally defective" or been committed to mental institutions are already barred from buying firearms. But states are not required to send those records to the FBI-run federal database, leaving it uneven.
 
Under Cornyn's bill, states sending at least 90 percent of their records on people with serious mental problems to the federal background check database would get law enforcement grant increases of up to 5 percent. States providing less than that could see grants cut by similar amounts.
Is this the sort of bill the NRA will crush? Actually, no -- Cornyn, who has an A+ rating from the far-right organization, has the NRA's blessing for the proposal. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is on board, too.
 
In the last Congress, gun-safety advocates tried to expand the background-check system so that it would apply to online and gun-show sales. This proposal was unveiled soon after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, and it enjoyed overwhelming public backing, but the NRA and its allies nevertheless defeated the measure before it could even receive an up-or-down vote.
 
That policy remains a priority for reform proponents, but Cornyn's bill is something else. Indeed, reading the description of the bill's purpose, it's a little alarming that we need new legislation to address this at all. Shouldn't states already be sending their records on people with serious mental problems to the federal background-check database?
 
That said, the bill is not without controversy. The AP's report noted what else is in the same bill:
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum at the 2015 NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibits on April 10, 2015 in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

What Rubio doesn't know can hurt him

08/06/15 09:37AM

Senators attended a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill yesterday on the international nuclear agreement with Iran, led by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and chief Iran deal negotiator Wendy Sherman. Lawmakers were able to receive detailed, classified information and ask questions of the Obama administration officials who helped reach the diplomatic deal.
 
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) didn't show up. He was at a campaign rally in Cleveland.
 
Also yesterday, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee received a closed-door, 90-minute discussion with the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which would play a key role in carrying out Iranian inspections.
 
Marco Rubio skipped that one, too.
 
It's an unavoidable truth that when sitting U.S. senators run for president, they spend a lot of time away from their official day-to-duties. It's just a practical, bipartisan reality -- John Kerry spent a lot of time on the campaign trail, instead of Capitol Hill, in 2003 and 2004, and Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain did the same in 2007 and 2008.
 
But Rubio isn't just missing occasional, inconsequential votes. The far-right Floridian has made national security his signature issue, and he's missing opportunities to learn what he's talking about. Indeed, it was ironic to learn that Rubio was reportedly bashing the nuclear agreement during an event in Ohio yesterday, even while missing a classified briefing on the nuclear agreement itself.
 
Ohio may be home to tonight's debate, but it doesn't hold its Republican presidential primary until March 15, 2016. Rubio had time to go to work yesterday -- Rand Paul is running for president, but he was in D.C. yesterday -- and probably should have. There's nothing wrong with Rubio having firm opinions on key issues related to national security, but those opinions might be better grounded if the senator received more information.
Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and 2016 Republican presidential candidate (Photo by Drew Angerer/Bloomberg/Getty).

Jeb Bush continues to stumble on women's health

08/06/15 08:40AM

At an event this week, Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush not only went after Planned Parenthood for reasons he couldn't explain, he also said publicly, "I'm not sure we need half a billion dollars for women's health issues." The GOP candidate realized soon after this might be a problem.
 
As part of the walkback, Bush said on Twitter that he "absolutely" wants to defund Planned Parenthood -- again, he still hasn't explained why -- and he'd then "redirect those funds to other women's health" organizations. This approach, the former governor added, would be "in line with my Florida record."
 
Except, that's not quite true. The Huffington Post reported yesterday that as governor, Bush "redirected Planned Parenthood money to abstinence-only education programs rather than to other women's health organizations." The piece noted this report from the St. Petersburg Times (which is now the Tampa Bay Times), published in January 2003:
Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida lost $124,000 last year from its family planning division. Bush diverted the funds to abstinence-only educational programs. Now teens who use Planned Parenthood have a $15 co-pay and must pay $7 for birth control. "We do charge the teens now," said LaWanda Walker, public affairs coordinator for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. "That we really, really hate. You need to be able to have services and make it convenient."
Abstinence-only education, of course, is notoriously ineffective, and is a ridiculous substitute for actual investment in women's health care.
 
Could this entire line of argument be any worse for Jeb Bush? First, he went after Planned Parenthood -- a health organization championed by his father and grandfather -- for reasons he can't explain. Second, he questioned the value in investing in women's health generally, which Bush acknowledged was a mistake.
 
And third, trying to climb out of the ditch, the Republican made a claim that was demonstrably untrue -- he said Planned Parenthood was caught "selling fetal organs," which isn't even close to being accurate -- which he then followed with another claim that was demonstrably untrue.
 
Is it any wonder even some Republicans are getting annoyed his with Bush's stumbles as a candidate? Politico reported late yesterday:
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to a question at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Ia., July 18, 2015. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Clinton, Trump chat fuels conspiracy theories

08/06/15 08:00AM

Just a few weeks ago, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), raised a bizarre conspiracy theory. As the Miami congressman told a local radio show, maybe Donald Trump's entire presidential campaign is an elaborate scheme -- cooked up by Democrats -- to make Republicans look ridiculous and undermine the GOP.
 
Curbelo's theory seemed a little over the top, but he's not the only one who's floated the idea. After this Washington Post report was published late yesterday, the conspiracy theorists felt a degree of vindication.
Former president Bill Clinton had a private telephone conversation in late spring with Donald Trump at the same time that the billionaire investor and reality-television star was nearing a decision to run for the White House, according to associates of both men.
 
Four Trump allies and one Clinton associate familiar with the exchange said that Clinton encouraged Trump's efforts to play a larger role in the Republican Party and offered his own views of the political landscape.
The article added that the former president, according to the sources close to Trump, "listened intently" to the Republican's ideas, and then "analyzed Trump's prospects and his desire to rouse the GOP base."
 
NBC News confirmed soon after that the conversation took place in late May, before Trump formally announced his candidacy. There are apparently some disagreements over the specific details -- Clinton's office, for example, said the former president and Trump had a casual conversation that did not relate to the 2016 race -- but for those who see Trump as a Democratic plant, the particulars are less important than the call itself.
 
Clearly, it's an odd year and we've come to expect inexplicable developments, but even by 2015 standards, this is a little bizarre. The day before the first debate for the Republican presidential candidates, "four Trump allies" told the Washington Post about a private phone call from three months ago? Did the GOP candidate's campaign want the story to come out right now? If so, why?

Probe targeted Scott Walker and other headlines

08/06/15 07:59AM

Despite denials, Scott Walker was target of probe in 2011. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Republican Senator could be the only one to support the Iran deal. (AP)

Youth camp reopens on Norwegian island 4 years after shooting rampage. (AP)

Jon Stewart's 'Daily Show' set to go to the Newseum in DC. (Newseum.org)

Bill Cosby to be deposed in October. (USA Today)

Malaysia says more plane debris recovered on Reunion Island. (Washington Post)

NPR's Nina Totenberg and the tale of a stolen Stradivarius. (NPR)

read more

Patrick Murphy tapped for US Army position

Patrick Murphy tapped for US Army position

08/05/15 09:58PM

Rachel Maddow celebrates the news that former congressman and MSNBC colleague Patrick Murphy has been nominated by the White House to serve as the new Undersecretary of the U.S. Army, the second highest ranking civilian position in the Army. watch

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