* South Carolina: "The FBI said Friday that the man accused of killing nine African American parishioners at a historically black church in Charleston should not have been able to purchase a gun."
* Related news: "Decades of controversy came to a conclusion on Friday, as South Carolina removed the embattled Confederate flag from the grounds of the State House. The action came as the state's Senate and House, with support from Gov. Nikki Haley, voted to remove the flag earlier in the week."
* OPM: "Embattled Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta announced Friday she is resigning, one day after the government revealed that more than 22 million people had their data stolen in a pair of massive cyberattacks on the agency."
* Greece: "Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras began the apparently delicate task Friday of selling his anti-austerity party and the rest of the Greek Parliament on a three-year rescue package that was remarkably similar to the one Greek voters overwhelmingly rejected in a referendum less than a week ago."
* Iran talks continue: "Talks between Iran and six world powers are being extended until Monday, a U.S. official said Friday.... An interim agreement set to expire on Friday will be extended to give negotiators more time."
* Monuments: "President Barack Obama on Friday announced the creation of three national monuments encompassing more than one million acres of public land across a trio of western states. Citing historic preservation, cultural impact and natural beauty, Mr. Obama will designate Berryessa Snow Mountain in California, Waco Mammoth in Texas, and Basin and Range in Nevada as new national monuments."
* ISIS: "A key leader of the Islamic State and another top commander were killed in recent U.S drone strikes in eastern Afghanistan, according to intelligence officials here, the latest sign that the radical Islamist group is considered a growing threat in the country."
* Look for more on this next week: "The Obama administration on Friday issued its final rules for employers who morally object to covering birth control in their health insurance plans. The accommodation ensures that all employed women, unless they work for a place of worship, will still have their birth control covered at no cost to them, even if their employers refuse to cover it."
Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled last week that a state-sponsored Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds violates the state Constitution. It wasn't a close call -- the justices ruled 7-2 that the six-foot-high, stone Christian display is at odds with the law that requires state government to be neutral on matters of religion.
The more controversial twist came this week, when Gov. Mary Fallin (R) and the GOP-led legislature announced they're prepared to ignore the state Supreme Court, at least for now, while they consider new solutions.
The Republican governor talked to reporters, saying roughly what you'd expect her to say: she's "disappointed" with the court's decision; she thinks they made the wrong call; etc. But as KFOR, the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City, reported, Fallin added one related thought that wasn't expected at all:
Gov. Fallin said she believes the final decision on the monument's fate should rest with the people.
"You know, there are three branches of our government. You have the Supreme Court, the legislative branch and the people, the people and their ability to vote. So I'm hoping that we can address this issue in the legislative session and let the people of Oklahoma decide," she said.
The KFOR report added, "Despite what the governor said, the three branches of government include the legislative, executive and judicial branches."
It was obviously an unfortunate slip-up, but the point isn't to just laugh at a politician's gaffe. There's actually a substantive angle to all of this.
On Monday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will formally kick off his presidential campaign, but before he does, the Republican governor has one more culture-war accomplishment he'll add to his list. As msnbc's Irin Carmon reported last night, state lawmakers have now approved a 20-week abortion ban, which Walker is ready to sign into law.
In October, during a gubernatorial re-election campaign that featured a Walker campaign ad soft-pedaling his stance on abortion, Walker had evaded a direct answer on his position on such a bill. "Those are things that we'll have to talk about in the next legislative session if it comes up," Walker said in October.
But the Republican Wisconsin Senate majority leader told the New York Times last month that Walker did, in fact, have a lot to say about the bill: He asked for a 20-week abortion ban bill that contained no exceptions for rape and incest.
In other words, Walker can't very well say he was just going along with the wishes of the Republican-led legislature -- the governor specifically requested this legislation and dictated its provisions.
It appears to be his springboard into the presidential race.
Walker's office has already told reporters he'll sign the bill, which makes it a felony to terminate a pregnancy after 20 weeks, threatening doctors with a three-year prison sentence, though it's unclear exactly when the governor will put his signature on the legislation.
As regular readers may recall, roughly 99% of abortions occur before the 21st week of a pregnancy, which means these later terminations often involve "rare, severe fetal abnormalities and real threats to a woman's health." It's why the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is so strongly against proposals like these.
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:
* Donald Trump was asked yesterday whether he'd commit to supporting the eventual Republican presidential nominee. He declined. Trump added, "So many people want me to run as an independent -- so many people. I have been asked by -- you have no idea, everybody wants me to do it. I think the best chance of defeating the Democrats and to make America great again is to win as a Republican because I don't want to be splitting up votes."
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, Fox News has altered its criteria for participating in next month's debate for GOP presidential candidates, apparently in the hopes of trying to exclude Trump. The strategy seems unlikely to work.
* Campaigning in Michigan yesterday, Rand Paul was asked about Trump's anti-Mexican rhetoric. "I don't have any direct comment on other candidates' statements," Paul said. "(But) I believe most immigrants come to this country in search of the American dream."
* In Illinois, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) isn't running unopposed in the Democrats' U.S. Senate primary, but she nevertheless picked up an endorsement yesterday from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is considered one of the cycle's most vulnerable incumbents.
* Speaking of the DSCC, Democratic officials are still looking for a top-tier challenger to take on Sen. Pat Toomey (R) in Pennsylvania next year. The party is reportedly now eyeing Katie McGinty, Gov. Tom Wolf's (D) chief of staff.
* As we've discussed before, Scott Walker really seems to enjoy chatter in Republican circles about Marco Rubio eventually becoming his running mate.
In the three weeks since the mass shooting in Charleston, two notable statewide gun measures have been signed into law. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) scrapped his state's 48-hour waiting period, and this week in Maine, Gov. Paul LePage (R) got rid of his state's concealed gun permit requirement.
The developments are a striking reminder about the politics of the gun issue. No matter how high-profile the shootings, and no matter how severe the public revulsion, proposals to scale back restrictions keep advancing.
At the national level, meanwhile, the massive Republican presidential field is largely unified on all gun-related questions, and recent history suggests the Democratic candidates will generally avoid the issue. But the Washington Post had an interesting piece overnight highlighting the degree to which Hillary Clinton is pursuing her own course.
[I]n a sign that the political environment on guns has shifted in the wake of recent mass shootings -- and of Clinton's determination to stake out liberal ground in her primary race against insurgent Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) -- Clinton is not only initiating a debate about gun control but also vowing to fight the National Rifle Association.
"I'm going to speak out against the uncontrollable use of guns in our country because I believe we can do better," Clinton said Tuesday in Iowa City.
A few days earlier, she said in Hanover, N.H.: "We have to take on the gun lobby.... This is a controversial issue. I am well aware of that. But I think it is the height of irresponsibility not to talk about it."
The Post piece makes the case, persuasively, that this isn't the norm for recent Democratic candidates. None of the party's recent nominees in "several decades," including President Obama, emphasized the issue at all while on the campaign trail.
Clinton, however, is trying something different. It's worth appreciating why.
Even among right-wing groups, the Oath Keepers organization is a pretty alarming bunch. As recently as May, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes told a conservative gathering that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) should be tried for treason and "hung by the neck until dead" for going "along with the program of the destruction of this country."
A month later, Rhodes was in New York, insisting that President Obama is "trying to" create "a race war." He added, "[T]he leftists in this country hate this country, they hate it, and they will get in bed with radical Islamists because they have a common enemy, western civilization."
With this in mind, it was of interest to see the New York Daily Newsreport that Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) recently spoke to an Oath Keepers chapter.
A Zeldin spokeswoman acknowledges that last month he addressed the Long Island chapter of Oath Keepers, a group of retired military, police and fire department employees who say they are committed to fighting "the tyranny we experience in our local, state and federal governments."
The organization has dabbled in what critics call "fringe conspiracy theories," citing concern about concentration camps and martial law in the United States. The chapter's website includes postings by a member embracing a film that claims the December 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax and calling President Obama a "Muslim/Extremist."
The congressman's office doesn't deny Zeldin, an Iraq war veteran, attended the Oath Keepers event. Rather, the Republican lawmaker's spokesperson said he's met with a variety of groups "representing all sides of the ideological spectrum."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has struggled badly over the last year or so, with both his office and his league confronted with ugly scandals. There's been ample discussion about whether Goodell, lacking credibility and dealing with a tarnished legacy, would even be able to stay in his position.
But in football's off-season, he's nevertheless found some fans. Politicoreported yesterday that the NFL commission will be on Capitol Hill next week for "several large-scale private meetings with House Republicans." From the report:
On Monday, Rep. Steve Scalise is hosting Goodell at a closed meeting of his whip team, according to an invitation sent to lawmakers this week.
House Republican Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State is holding what she calls a "Power House Lunch" with more than 40 lawmakers Tuesday, so they can hear leadership lessons from Goodell.
Perhaps I shouldn't be too surprised. After all, House Republicans have turned to Dick Cheney for leadership lessons, too.
But GOP lawmakers are aware of Goodell's recent troubles, aren't they?
For much of President Obama's first term, Republicans had an unfortunate habit of telling Americans that the United States was poised to become Greece. The European country with a small economy was racked with a debt crisis -- yes, this problem has been ongoing for quite a while -- and for GOP officials, it became a convenient excuse to call for U.S. austerity measures.
The Republican rhetoric was repeatedly discredited and ultimately ignored. After President Obama was re-elected and the White House shaved $1 trillion off the deficit, the same GOP voices who were wrong about the U.S. becoming Greece moved on to being wrong about other things.
Unfortunately, however, with the Greek crisis intensifying, the debunked argument is back. Here was Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) on Fox News this week:
"Look, Greece is going to be -- the United States could be the next Greece, if we're not careful. We are spending too much -- $18 trillion in debt -- more taxes, more regulations, no plan to pay it back. The Greeks gave us democracy, and now they're showing us how to kill democracy. [...]
"If we don't reform our entitlement programs, if we don't shrink the size of government, if we don't cut back the EPA, if we don't cut back taxes, that's going to be us."
Practically all of this is gibberish, though as Media Matters noted, the longshot presidential candidate isn't the only one pushing the bogus line. Fox's Bill O'Reilly said a Greek-like crisis "could happen to the United States" in about 10 years, to which John Stossel replied, "Absolutely, we're on track for that."
Just last month, former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), talked with msnbc's Chris Hayes about the Affordable Care Act, and the Republican did his best to dismiss the law's striking successes. Most notably, on the uninsured rate, Gregg insisted, "It has not plummeted."
When the host did his best to highlight reality, the former GOP senator replied, "Your ability to understand your numbers is worse than Obama."
One can only wonder whether Gregg has seen the latest Gallup report, published this morning, and whether or not the Republican is able to understand the numbers.
The uninsured rate among U.S. adults aged 18 and older was 11.4% in the second quarter of 2015, down from 11.9% in the first quarter. The uninsured rate has dropped nearly six percentage points since the fourth quarter of 2013, just before the requirement for Americans to carry health insurance took effect. The latest quarterly uninsured rate is the lowest Gallup and Healthways have recorded since daily tracking of this metric began in 2008.
Of course, it's not just 2008. There's ample reason to believe that uninsured rate has reached its lowest point in American history, starting its precipitous decline once "Obamacare" was put into effect.
Jeb Bush's presidential campaign operation has a variety of key goals, but as the cycle gets underway in earnest, the Florida Republican's first priority was simple: raise a ridiculous amount of money.
As of yesterday, it's mission accomplished. MSNBC's Aliyah Frumin reported that the former governor's super PAC has raised a staggering $114.4 million, on top of the $11.4 million Bush's campaign itself raised in the 16 days following his formal launch.
To put this in perspective, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, raised $45 million in the second quarter, on top of the $15.6 million haul for the pro-Clinton super PAC. Those totals were widely seen as pretty impressive -- initially the best of any candidate in either party -- though they pale in comparison to the Bush fundraising juggernaut.
The former governor's fundraising prowess is all the more impressive in light of the enormous field of Republican candidates -- with 17 candidates vying for contributions from GOP donors, it's that much more difficult for one contender to dominate. Bush nevertheless has more than doubled the money raised by his next closest Republican rival.
But what struck me as funny about all of this was a quote in the Associated Press report about Bush's fundraising success.
...Bill Kunkler, a Chicago private equity executive and Bush donor, said that while the Bush name may have opened some doors, it's Jeb Bush who closed the deal.
"People have been willing to take a look, and he's overcome the people who have said, 'Not another Bush,'" Kunkler said Thursday. "People are looking at him as a guy who did it on his own, and who stands on his own."
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