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Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL, wipes his brow as he speaks during a discussion on the American family and cultural values." at Catholic University on July 23, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Rubio tries and fails to thread culture-war needle

07/24/14 10:54AM

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has been quite candid on most of the hot-button social issues of the day, and despite national ambitions, the Florida Republican has positioned himself well to the right of the American mainstream on issues like contraception, reproductive rights, and marriage equality.
 
But the senator nevertheless believes he has a strong case to make when it comes to the culture war, and yesterday he delivered a big speech his staff billed as an address on "the breakdown of the American family and the erosion of fundamental values that has followed." The remarks, which can be read in their entirety here or watched online here, covered a fair amount of ground, though as Benjy Sarlin explained, there was a special emphasis on gay rights.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio acknowledged Wednesday that American history was "marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians." But in a speech at Catholic University in Washington, Rubio drew the line sharply at marriage equality and accused supporters of same sex unions of "intolerance." 
 
"I promise you even before this speech is over I'll be attacked as a hater or a bigot or someone who is anti-gay," Rubio said. "This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy. Support for the definition of marriage as one man and one woman is not anti-gay, it is pro-traditional marriage."
Rhetoric like this is familiar -- the right has long believed it's unfair for the left to be intolerant of intolerance. Despite its repetition, though, the argument always seems to come up short.
 
Consider the underlying point Rubio is trying to make. On the one hand, he and his allies intend to keep fighting, hoping to use the power of the state to deny equal rights and basic human dignity to Americans based on sexual orientation. On the other hand, Rubio and his allies would appreciate it if no one said mean things about them while they push these policies.
 
I'm afraid the public discourse doesn't quite work this way. No one is suggesting Rubio must abandon his opposition to civil rights for LGBT Americans, but if he wants to avoid criticism while pushing public policies that create second-class citizens, he appears to have chosen the wrong line of work.
 
That said, let's not overlook the part of the speech in which Rubio also tried to position himself as a critic of anti-gay discrimination.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, watches President Barack Obama speak during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, June 24, 2014.

Boehner wants Obama to act 'on his own' on border crisis

07/24/14 10:08AM

The new House Republican leadership team held a brief press conference yesterday following a closed-door caucus meeting, fielding a few questions, all of which related to the humanitarian crisis at the U.S./Mexico border. One exchange between a reporter and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) stood out for me.
QUESTION: Just a follow up on that: are you still committed to having a vote before you leave? And, given the concerns within your own conference about the costs of this border bill, can you pass something?
 
BOEHNER: Listen, I, I'd like to act. We've got a humanitarian crisis on the border, and that has to be dealt with. But the president clearly isn't going to deal with it on his own, even though he has the authority to deal with it on his own.
Wait a second. Hold on. Boehner has spent months shouting, sometimes literally, about President Obama's out-of-control power grabs. As the Speaker and his caucus see it, Obama no longer gives a darn about separation of powers, and he's embraced a tyrannical model in which the president is king. Boehner is so outraged by Obama's willingness to act unilaterally that the Speaker is literally going to take the White House to court.
 
But when push comes to shove, Boehner's apoplexy is a sham. When the Speaker wants a shift in U.S. policy in Iraq, he demands that Obama deploy troops on his own, whether Congress approves of the administration's policy or not. When Boehner wants a shift in border policy and finds he's incapable of passing a bill, he again suggests the president can do as he pleases, without regard for lawmakers' approval.
 
If the Speaker of the House believes Obama should take fewer unilateral actions, fine. If Boehner believes the president should take more unilateral actions, that's OK, too. But right now, Congress' top Republican official is making both arguments at the same time, which suggest the Speaker isn't even taking his own rhetoric seriously.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks to the local media, July 19, 2014, in McAllen, Texas.

Ted Cruz sees an imaginary 'economic boycott of Israel'

07/24/14 09:22AM

Just last week, a civilian airliner was shot down over a war zone, killing all 298 people on board. On Tuesday, just five days after the tragedy in Ukraine, a rocket landed Tuesday within a mile of Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel.
 
In the interest of public safety and fearing a "potentially hazardous security situation," the Federal Aviation Administration announced a temporary halt to U.S. flights into the Israeli capital. "Safety is the very first priority for DOT, for FAA," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said yesterday. The announcement coincided with suspended flights from Air France and Lufthansa, along with a warning from the European Aviation Safety Agency, which "strongly" recommended against flights into Tel Aviv.
 
Here in the U.S., many on the right responded to the news with the kind of maturity and restraint we've come to expect: "FAA Trutherism" was born. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), in a move that was brazen even for him, accused the Obama administration of launching an "economic boycott on Israel."
"When Secretary Kerry arrived in Cairo this week his first act was to announce $47 million in additional aid to Gaza, which is in effect $47 million for Hamas. In short order, this travel ban was announced by the FAA. Aiding Hamas while simultaneously isolating Israel does two things. One, it helps our enemy. Two, it hurts our ally. 
 
"Until these serious questions are answered, the facts suggest that President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands. If so, Congress should demand answers."
By any fair measure, Cruz's response was more unhinged than his usual condemnations. The FAA's security concerns, the far-right Texan said, are "punitive" and a possible attempt at "economic blackmail." The senator raised the prospect of a presidential conspiracy, demanding information on "specific communications ... between the FAA and the White House."
 
Keep in mind, the Obama administration also asked Congress this week to "fast-track Israel's request for an additional $225 million for the Iron Dome anti-missile system." As Steve M. noted, the Obama administration and other Democrats "are seeking additional funding for Israel's defense shield while Ted Cruz is alleging an economic boycott of Israel on Obama's part."
 
Cruz either hasn't kept up on current events or he's choosing not to see details that contradict his wild-eyed nonsense.

Jobless claims improve to eight-year low

07/24/14 08:39AM

The last time the Labor Department published a report on initial unemployment claims this good, the Great Recession hadn't even started yet.
The number of people who applied for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits in the week that ended July 19 tumbled by 19,000 to 284,000 -- the lowest level since February 2006 -- signaling that companies have further slowed down the pace of layoffs and are letting go of few workers, according to government data released Thursday.
 
Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected initial claims of 310,000 in the most recent weekly data. The average of new claims over the past month declined by 7,250 to 302,000 -- the lowest level since May 2007, the U.S. Labor Department reported.
Regular readers know I run the above chart every Thursday morning, highlighting initial unemployment claims since January 2007, the year the Great Recession started. Look closely, however, and you'll notice that today's report is the best since before the chart began.
After finishing with a series of votes, Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., leaves the Capitol to monitor the primary race back home in Montana, Tuesday, June 3, 2014, in Washington.

Montana's Walsh caught up in damaging plagiarism controversy

07/24/14 08:00AM

Appointed Democratic Sen. John Walsh of Montana is running for a full term this year, and by all estimates, faces long odds. One recent analysis found the decorated Iraq war veteran stands about a 6% chance of success. Recent polling suggests Walsh has narrowed the gap against Rep. Steve Daines (R), but everyone agrees the senator has a tough road ahead.
 
A road that now looks even tougher, following this New York Times report.
On the campaign trail this year, Mr. Walsh, 53, has made his military service a main selling point. Still wearing his hair close-cropped, he notes he was targeted for killing by Iraqi militants and says his time in uniform informs his views on a range of issues.
 
But one of the highest-profile credentials of Mr. Walsh's 33-year military career appears to have been improperly attained. An examination of the final paper required for Mr. Walsh's master's degree from the United States Army War College indicates the senator appropriated at least a quarter of his thesis on American Middle East policy from other authors' works, with no attribution.
The incident occurred seven years ago, before Walsh was serving in elected office, but it can't be dismissed as a youthful indiscretion -- he was 46 at the time. What's more, the extent of the plagiarism wasn't just the result of sloppy editing; large chunks of others' work was presented as his own.
 
Walsh acknowledged late yesterday that he made a "mistake," adding, "I don't want to blame my mistake on PTSD, but I do want to say it may have been a factor. My head was not in a place very conducive to a classroom and an academic environment."
 
Time will tell the degree to which Montana voters hold this against him, but it raises a larger question about why some politicians can overcome plagiarism controversies and some can't.

Witness to botched execution and other headlines

07/24/14 07:56AM

Arizona execution witness describes gruesome scene. (Arizona Republic)

Gaza death toll tops 700. (L.A. Times)

European court says CIA ran a secret jail in a Polish forest. (Reuters)

Democrats stand by Senator Walsh amid plagiarism claim. (AP)

ID Gov. declares he won't take migrant kids into his state (though nobody has asked him to). (Spokesman-Review)

Marine biologist v. teenager. (Washington Post)

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An undated Arizona Department of Corrections handout showing Joseph Rudolph Wood.

Update: Arizona execution takes nearly two hours

07/23/14 11:50PM

Tonight on the show, we covered the breaking news of an execution in Arizona that took nearly two hours to complete. The Arizona Department of Corrections used a new cocktail of drugs, including one -- midazolam -- that has been linked to other executions that did not go as planned.

Witnesses to the execution today describe the prisoner as gasping for air more than 600 times. One compared it to watching a fish that had been thrown on shore, opening and closing its mouth. The execution lasted so long that lawyers for the prisoner asked the courts to stay the execution in progress. "He is still alive," they told the court.

They did not get that order. But they did get a court order requiring the county medical examiner to preserve tissue from the body and to take blood samples by 11 P.M. Eastern tonight. On the show, attorney Dale Baich told us the local medical examiner had said he would not comply with a court order to draw blood from the executed prisoner by that deadline. From the interview:

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Execution a 'failed experiment': attorney

Execution a 'failed experiment': attorney

07/23/14 10:41PM

Dale Baich, attorney for Joseph Wood, who witnessed Wood's botched execution, talks with Rachel Maddow about the ensuing legal steps as it becomes increasingly clear that the practice of killing prisoners with secretly sourced drugs is flawed. watch

Investigators begin work on MH17 black boxes

Investigators begin work on MH17 black boxes

07/23/14 10:39PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the first stages of examination of the flight data recorders of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 which so far appear not to have been tampered with despite concerns raised by the delay in their being turned over. watch

Hero closes day's trading... emphatically

Hero closes day's trading... emphatically

07/23/14 10:29PM

Rachel Maddow shares video of Medal of Honor recipient former Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts, closing the trading day at the New York Stock Exchange and accidentally breaking off the head of the gavel in the process. watch

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