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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, accompanied with wife, Melania, pauses for a selfie while visiting Saint Francis of Assisi Church, a caucus site, Feb. 1, 2016, in West Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)

Religious right leader sees Trump as 'a baby Christian'

06/28/16 09:20AM

When it comes to the religious right movement, there have long been two broad camps: those who put politics above theology, and those who do the opposite. When TV preacher Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani's 2008 presidential campaign, for example, he was clearly representing the former, to the consternation of many social conservatives who value principle over party.
 
James Dobson, best known for his Focus on the Family empire, has generally been part of that latter camp, occasionally even butting heads with the Republican Party when it's fallen short of his expectations. Dobson, for good or ill, has never been a "team player" in GOP politics.
 
It made this New York Times report all the more surprising.
Has Donald J. Trump become a born-again Christian? That is the suggestion of James C. Dobson, one of America's leading evangelicals, who said Mr. Trump had recently come "to accept a relationship with Christ" and was now "a baby Christian."
 
Dr. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family and one of the country's most prominent social conservatives, gave his account at a meeting Mr. Trump had in New York on Tuesday with hundreds of Christian conservatives.
Dobson, speaking with the Rev. Michael Anthony, reportedly said he knew the individual who led Trump to this spiritual conversion. "I don't know when it was, but it has not been long," Dobson said. "I believe he really made a commitment, but he's a baby Christian."
 
It's important to note that, in Christianity, phrases like "born again" and "accepting a relationship with Christ" are terms of art. This isn't a situation in which Trump was a Christian before and a slightly different kind of Christian now; it's far more specific.
 
If Dobson is correct, Trump, at some point quite recently, underwent a rather dramatic religious conversion. As the Times' report noted, "For evangelicals, 'accepting Christ' is at the heart of becoming a genuine Christian, and refers to acknowledging sin and declaring the need for Jesus Christ as savior."
 
The question then becomes, is Dobson right?
An Aedes Aegypti mosquito is seen in a lab of the International Training and Medical Research Training Center (CIDEIM) in Cali, Colombia, Feb. 2, 2016. (Photo by Jaime Saldarriaga/Reuters)

Republican gambit undermines response to Zika virus threat

06/28/16 08:40AM

It should have been the year's easiest vote. Back in February, the White House sent Congress an emergency budget request, asking for $1.9 billion to address the Zika virus threat. The Republican majority balked, ignoring the issue for months, before eventually working on a watered down alternative.
 
With the Senate on track to defeat a bill today, the New York Times helps set the stage.
The military construction and veterans' spending bill forced through by House Republicans with no debate early Thursday morning contains $1.1 billion for Zika preparation and prevention -- but it also contains some poison-pill provisions that are likely to drive off any Democratic support, notably one restricting the use of the money by Planned Parenthood.
 
Democrats consider that add-on totally unacceptable, noting that the virus can be transmitted sexually. Other provisions also appeared to be added by House and Senate Republicans, who negotiated the measure on their own, to essentially dare Democrats to oppose the overdue Zika money.
Common sense suggests lawmakers would have listened to the CDC, approved the emergency funds, and moved on -- but this is a Republican Congress. After the House and Senate passed competing, inadequate Zika bills, GOP lawmakers reached an agreement among themselves that would block Planned Parenthood funding, take funds from efforts to combat the Ebola virus, and cut the Affordable Care Act.
 
Not surprisingly, Democrats aren't prepared to go along with these poison-pill provisions and the White House has said President Obama would veto the Republican bill if it reaches his desk.
 
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said last night that Democratic opposition to the far-right House bill is the "most cynical gesture" he's seen during his Senate career. It's possible that the Texas Republican is confused about the meaning of "cynical."
Former Republican presidential candidate Governor Chris Christie expresses his support for current candidate Donald Trump at an airport rally in Millington, Tenn., Feb. 27, 2016. (Photo by Karen Pulfer Focht/Reuters)

Christie tries to put a nice spin on Trump's Muslim ban

06/28/16 08:00AM

Some proposals are so outrageously ridiculous, there's simply no credible way to put a positive spin on them. As TPM noted yesterday, it's a lesson New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) hasn't quite learned.
Despite condemning Donald Trump's Muslim ban on the campaign trail, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has changed course and said last week that Trump's proposal isn't really a ban on Muslims.
 
"You all continue to call it a Muslim ban. That's not what it is and never has been," Christie told reporters, according to the Bergen Record. "So I've urged him to continue to speak in detail about this, so that it prevents the media from short-handing something and making him look like something that he's not."
Look, this isn't complicated. It's not "the media" that refers to Donald Trump's proposed Muslim ban as "a Muslim ban." Trump himself has done it.
 
In December, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee announced that he wants a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." He put it in writing, and then he read his statement, out loud and in public.
 
Trump has reiterated his support for this absurd idea several times since, including just two weeks ago after the mass-shooting in Orlando, when he explicitly talked up the benefits of a "ban." Perhaps Christie missed it?
 
There have been some recent attempts to "clarify" Trump's proposal, but they haven't gone well, either.
Supreme Court redefines government corruption

Supreme Court redefines government corruption

06/27/16 09:45PM

Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent at Slate, talks with Rachel Maddow about the Supreme Court overturning former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell's corruption conviction by loosening the definition of an official act. watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 6.27.16

06/27/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* West Virginia: "As the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management revised its death totals from last week’s widespread flooding, West Virginia residents braced for heavy rain produced by thunderstorms that could lead to more flash flooding in hard-hit counties today."

* The Brexit fallout continues: "Adding to investor concerns Monday, S&P Global Ratings lowered its credit rating on the United Kingdom to 'AA' from 'AAA' and said 'the outlook on the long-term rating is negative.'"
 
* Stay tuned: "The leaders of Germany, France and Italy have insisted that no Brexit talks of any kind can begin until Britain has formally applied to leave the European Union, which EU officials expect to happen before the end of the year."
 
* Somalia: "Gunmen stormed a hotel in Somalia's seaside capital Saturday, taking guests hostage and 'shooting at everyone they could see,' before security forces pursued the grenade-throwing assailants to the top floor and ended the hours-long assault, police and witnesses said. At least 14 people were killed."
 
* Iraq: "Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the country's military wrested full control of Fallujah from Islamic State, paving the way for an offensive to reclaim Mosul, the last major city controlled by the terror group in Iraq."
 
* Diplomacy: "The Israeli and Turkish prime ministers announced the restoration of full diplomatic relations, frozen for six years following the killing of Turkish activists who sought to break Israel's economic blockade of Gaza."
 
* Michigan: "The state's top doctor was among high-level Michigan health officials briefed about a deadly Legionnaires' disease outbreak in Genesee County nearly one year before it was publicly disclosed, state records show."
 
* Quite a scene: "Ten people were injured during a white nationalist protest and counter-protest Sunday near the steps of the California state Capitol in Sacramento, authorities said. Five to seven people were stabbed during the melee, California Highway Patrol Officer George Granada told NBC News."
Elizabeth Warren, who was then still a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 5, 2012. (Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters)

Donald Trump calls Elizabeth Warren a 'racist'

06/27/16 04:16PM

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) hasn't just been active in calling out Donald Trump; she's also positioned herself as one of the nation's most prominent Democrats that Republicans just love to hate.
 
This NBC News report, for example, is a reminder that the presumptive GOP nominee is doing more than just trading rhetorical jabs with a Senate critic. One gets the impression that Trump vehemently dislikes Warren on a rather personal level.
Donald Trump told NBC News that Sen. Elizabeth Warren is "racist" and "a total fraud" after attacking him during a Hillary Clinton rally in Ohio on Monday.
 
"She made up her heritage, which I think is racist. I think she's a racist, actually because what she did was very racist," Trump said in a phone interview.
Let's pause to note two things. First, if Donald J. Trump, of all people, wants to have a debate about who is and isn't "a racist," he's making a terrible mistake. Second, the background on Trump's latest whining has to do with Warren family lore about a Cherokee ancestor.
 
Republicans don't believe Warren's family history, and have used this in recent years to make ugly, racially charged attacks.
 
Trump added in his NBC interview, "[W]e call her Pocahontas for a reason." I'm still not entirely sure what that means. Does Trump think Pocahontas falsely claimed Native American heritage? Is he somehow suggesting Pocahontas was a racist? Trying to translate his rhetoric from Trump to English can get a little tricky.
 
In case this weren't quite absurd enough, former Sen. Scott Brown (R), who lost his Senate seat to Warren before losing another Senate race in a different state two years later, headlined an RNC conference call this afternoon to -- you guessed it -- complain at length about the senator's ethnicity. Brown, for reasons that probably make sense to him, went so far as to suggest today that Warren "can take a DNA test" in order to ... well, I'm not altogether sure what the point would be.
Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell (C) speaks to members of the media after his sentencing was announced by a federal judge on Jan. 6, 2015, in Richmond, Va. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

With Supreme Court's help, Virginia's Bob McDonnell avoids prison

06/27/16 12:46PM

It's been nearly two years since a jury found former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) guilty on 11 criminal counts, including charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to obtain property to which he was not entitled. It was a stunning fall from grace for a man who was once a rising star in Republican politics, and the verdict raised the prospect of McDonnell spending many years behind bars.
 
But in an unexpected twist, that's not going to happen. NBC News' Pete Williams reported this morning from the Supreme Court:
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday tossed out the bribery conviction of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, who was found guilty of accepting thousands of dollars in cash and gifts.
 
The decision rejected the federal government's view of how broadly federal bribery laws can reach. And it spares McDonnell from having to report to prison to serve a two-year sentence.
The entirety of the ruling is online here.
 
For those who might need a refresher, it's been well documented that McDonnell and his wife accepted lavish gifts from a dietary supplement executive named Jonnie Williams Sr. during the Republican governor's four-year tenure. After benefiting from Williams' generosity, McDonnell used his office to intervene on behalf of his wealthy benefactor.
 
But for the Supreme Court, the nature of this intervention wasn't as clear cut as prosecutors and jurors believed.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.27.16

06/27/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* On "Meet the Press" yesterday, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort boasted, "[T]he good thing is, we have a candidate who doesn't need to figure out what's going on in order to say what he wants to do." I'm honestly not sure what that means, and reading the transcript, the context doesn't help.
 
* The Clinton campaign has released a new ad mocking Donald Trump for his reaction to the Brexit results. The size of the ad buy is unclear, but the spot will reportedly air on national cable.
 
* On a related note, Trump was asked in Scotland about his foreign policy team. "I speak to foreign policy advisers all the time. But the advice has to come from me," Trump said, perhaps unclear about what "adviser" means. The Republican added, in reference to foreign policy advisers in general, "Honestly, most of them are no good."
 
* Hillary Clinton made a surprise appearance yesterday at New York City's pride parade.
 
* Clinton headlined an event in Cincinnati today, joined on the campaign trail for the first time by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). [Update: By all accounts, the joint appearance went quite well.]

* Though the Clinton campaign's initial ad buy did not include Pennsylvania, Priorities USA, a super PAC allied with Clinton, is poised to begin "a $10.5 million advertising blitz" in the Keystone State, starting next week.
 
* Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), occasionally rumored to be in the mix for vice presidential consideration, announced on Friday that she will not attend the Republican National Convention.
 
* Speaking of the convention, Trump has said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) will not be invited to speak unless they endorse Trump's candidacy.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the media following a Senate cloture vote on budget bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 17, 2013.

The 2016 question Mitch McConnell doesn't want to answer

06/27/16 11:20AM

In the new Washington Post/ABC News poll, an almost ridiculous 64% of Americans  -- nearly two-thirds of the country -- said Donald Trump is not qualified to be president of the United States. That number is unheard of in modern history, and it creates a hurdle the Republican amateur will struggle to clear.
 
But before Trump can somehow try to convince the American mainstream he's capable and fully prepared to lead the free world, he'll first have to persuade the Republicans who are already supporting him.
 
On ABC's "This Week" yesterday, host George Stephanopoulos asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in reference to Trump and the poll results, "Do you believe he's qualified?" The GOP leader responded, "Well, look, I -- I think there's no question that he's made a number of mistakes over the last few weeks. I think they're beginning to right the ship. It's a long time until November."
 
It led to a rather striking exchange.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I didn't hear you say whether you thought he was qualified.
 
MCCONNELL: Look, I'll leave that to the American people to decide.... The American people will be able to make that decision in the fall.
In theory, this should be the easiest question in the world for a politician -- is your party's presumptive presidential nominee qualified for the Oval Office -- and yet, Mitch McConnell just couldn't bring himself to lie about this on national television. If the senator said, "No, he isn't," then McConnell would have no choice but to withdraw his endorsement. If the Majority Leader said, "Sure, I think he is," it would have been painfully obvious that McConnell didn't believe his own rhetoric. So instead, we were treated to an awkward evasion about the most basic of election tests.
 
Watching McConnell squirm was a reminder that, for all of their various troubles, this is a problem Democrats simply don't have. Hillary Clinton is running on a lifetime of public service, including experience as a former two-term senator and a former Secretary of State. No one feels the need to ask Dems whether they believe she's prepared for the job because the answer is so obvious.

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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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