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Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at a campaign rally on the New Haven green in New Haven, Conn., April 25, 2016. (Photo by Bill Shettle/ZUMA)

Bernie Sanders commits to controversial convention strategy

05/02/16 10:00AM

The road ahead for the Bernie Sanders campaign has been difficult to discern of late. Yesterday brought unexpected clarity.
 
Two weeks ago, Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, told MSNBC that the senator would "absolutely" take the Democratic race to the convention, even if Sanders loses the fight for pledged delegates and popular votes. The plan, Weaver said, is to ensure that the race is "determined by the superdelegates."
 
Soon after, however, Sanders' chief strategist, Tad Devine, told Rachel that the campaign plan is actually quite different. As Devine described it, Team Sanders believes superdelegates should "follow the will of the voters." In practical terms, given Hillary Clinton's advantage, Devine was describing a scenario in which the Sanders campaign would accept the outcome of the primaries and caucuses.
 
So, which of these aides was correct? The Vermont senator himself shed light on his plans at a press conference in D.C. yesterday.
Bernie Sanders said on Sunday that he and Hillary Clinton were heading to a "contested" convention this summer because she will need superdelegates to secure the nomination, a claim that clashes with the accepted definition of a contested convention. He also said that superdelegates who have supported her should switch to him instead.
 
At a news conference in Washington, Mr. Sanders said that the Democratic convention in July would be contested because "it is virtually impossible for Secretary Clinton to reach the majority of convention delegates by June 14 with pledged delegates alone," and that she "will need superdelegates to take her over the top." He added: "In other words, the convention will be a contested convention."
Of particular interest, Sanders pointed to states where he was successful at earning voters' support, though party officials from those states are nevertheless backing Clinton. He pointed specifically to the state of Washington, where Sanders won a huge landslide victory, but where the state's 10 superdelegates continue, at least for now, to support his opponent.
 
"If I win a state with 70 percent of the vote, you know what? I think I am entitled to those superdelegates," Sanders said yesterday. "I think the superdelegates should reflect what the people of the state want, and that's true for Hillary Clinton as well."
 
That's hardly an outrageous argument. Under the rules, superdelegates are allowed -- and by some measures, encouraged -- to exercise their own judgment, but Sanders' point seems reasonable enough. Perhaps there should be some correlation between the judgment of a state's voters and the attitudes of the state's superdelegates?
Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) walks through Statuary Hall on his way to the House floor to make his farewell address to Congress on Nov., 15, 2007 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Worst. Speaker. Ever?

05/02/16 09:20AM

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), a founding member of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, made no secret of his contempt for former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) when they served together in Congress. Indeed, the Idaho congressman plotted against Boehner for quite a while, contributing to the former Speaker's decision to quit last year.
 
Given this history, Labrador's comments to CNN on Friday probably didn't come as too big of a surprise.
Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador said Friday that John Boehner was "the worst speaker of the House in history." [...]
 
"I've been pretty good at trying not to attack John Boehner on a personal basis, even though I thought he was the worst speaker of the House in history. He was a terrible leader. And now I think the gloves are off," Labrador added.
Labrador was apparently outraged by Boehner's criticism of Ted Cruz during a public appearance last week, prompting the congressman's furious response.
 
But the thing that jumped out at me as Labrador's unfortunate timing: on Wednesday, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) was sentenced to prison after a judge concluded he was a serial child molester. Two days later, Raul Labrador concluded someone else was the worst House Speaker ever?
 
It seems as if much of the political world doesn't want to think too much about the implications of the Hastert scandal. It's uncomfortable realization -- the longest serving Republican Speaker in American history, a man who was two heartbeats from the presidency for eight years, sexually assaulted several minors -- and as a result, some in D.C. prefer to simply look away.
 
And Labrador's comments help drive the point home. It apparently didn't occur to him, 48 hours after Hastert's sentencing, to think the serial child molester might be the worst Speaker ever.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a rally at the Hoosier Gym in Knightstown, Ind., April 26, 2016. (Photo by Michael Conroy/AP)

Running out of options, Ted Cruz moves the goalposts

05/02/16 08:40AM

About a month ago, shortly before the Wisconsin primary that he would soon after win, Ted Cruz made a very specific case: if a Republican presidential candidate can't win the party's nomination before the convention, dropping out is the obvious thing to do.
 
During an interview with WTMJ in Milwaukee, Cruz said of John Kasich, "I think any candidate that doesn't have a path to winning, that's the time you should suspend your campaign. Kasich has been mathematically eliminated. He needs more than 100% of the remaining delegates.... Kasich is a good an honorable man, but he doesn't have a path to win."
 
At the time, that might have seemed like a reasonable position, since Cruz believed there was still a chance he'd catch up to Trump and possibly even reach the 1,237-delegate threshold by June. But in the six primaries since Wisconsin, the Texas senator has earned a whopping two pledged delegates. A month after dismissing Kasich as a candidate who should obviously quit because he's been "mathematically eliminated," needing "more than 100% of the remaining delegates," Cruz awkwardly finds himself facing identical circumstances.
 
If the Republican senator followed the same principles he outlined just last month, Cruz would have no choice but to end his own campaign. And since he obviously doesn't want to do that, Cruz is instead moving the goalposts. Consider what the Texan told ABC's Martha Raddatz yesterday:
"You know, if you can't earn a majority, you can't unite the party. And that makes you a terribly weak general election candidate."
This is the wrong argument from the wrong candidate.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a speech about his vision for foreign policy at the Mayflower Hotel April 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Trump's most impressive boast is a brazen lie

05/02/16 08:00AM

Every presidential candidate is going to boast about all of the many reasons he or she deserves voters' support. It's how the process works: White House hopefuls, without exception, are going to present themselves as the best possible person for one of the world's most important jobs.
 
And with that in mind, Donald Trump, perhaps more than most, seems to take great pride in singing his own praises, celebrating his wealth, judgment, and professed wisdom in ways that have evidently won over much of the Republican Party's base. Some of these boasts have even impressed a handful of political pundits.
 
Last week, for example, Patrick Smith, Salon's foreign affairs columnist, argued that Trump's views on foreign policy deserve to be taken seriously because the Republican frontrunner opposed the war in Iraq -- unlike a certain Democratic candidate.
 
The New York Times' Maureen Dowd devoted much of latest column, published yesterday, to a related point.
The prime example of commander-in-chief judgment Trump offers is the fact that, like [President Obama], he thought the invasion of Iraq was a stupid idea. [...]
 
You can actually envision a foreign policy debate between Trump and [Hillary Clinton] that sounds oddly like the one Obama and Clinton had in 2008, with Trump playing Obama, preening about his good judgment on Iraq....
It's easy to imagine Trump and his campaign team celebrating pieces like these. It's equally easy to expect a series of related arguments in the coming months from Clinton detractors looking for an excuse to support the GOP's nativist demagogue.
 
There is, however, a rather important problem with the entire argument: it's based on a fairly obvious lie.
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz attends a Penn. campaign kickoff event held on N.Y. presidential primary night at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Penn. on April 19, 2016. (Photo by Charles Mostoller/Reuters)

This Week in God, 4.30.16

04/30/16 07:46AM

First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected reaction to one of the week's more memorable political quotes.
 
Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) raised a few eyebrows this week when he told an audience that he considers Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz "Lucifer in the flesh." The Texas senator didn't care for the comment, and neither did Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
 
But perhaps no one was less pleased with the comment than, of all people, Satanists. The Huffington Post reported:
Is there, indeed, something satanic to the senator? Do Republicans in Congress see the dark threads of Luciferianism in their colleague from Texas?
 
To get to the bottom of this, HuffPost called up Lucien Greaves, a spokesperson for the Satanic Temple. His response was that Boehner was basically full of it, trying to absolve the worst of Christianity by calling him a product of Satanism. 
"It is past time we stop blaming the activities of the upholders of the Christian faith on a Satanic philosophy," Greaves told the Huffington Post. "Boehner is trying to convey that if it is bad and he disagrees with it, it is of Satan and Lucifer, and if it is of good, it is of Christ. That is what is problematic with the Christian ideology."
 
The Hill added a day later, "A leading Satanist group is trying to distance itself from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) after the presidential candidate was compared to Lucifer."
 
"Cruz's failures of reason, compassion, decency and humanity are products of his Christian pandering, if not an actual Christian faith," Lucien Greaves said on Thursday, according to The Friendly Atheist.
 
Boehner probably had no idea this kind of reaction was coming, but all things considered, Satanists were probably more bothered by the "Lucifer" line than Cruz was.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
Voting for, but not endorsing

Voting for, but not endorsing

04/29/16 09:33PM

Rachel Maddow and MSNBC Political Analyst Elise Jordan discuss the embarrassing trend of Republican officials saying they will vote for a particular Republican presidential candidate, but stopping short of endorsing him. watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 4.29.16

04/29/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* This escalation is cause for alarm: "A Russian Su-27 jet flew dangerously close to a U.S. Air Force RC-135 aircraft over the Baltic Sea on Friday, military officials said. The Russian plane flew within 25 feet of the RC-135's fuselage, conducting a barrel roll over the U.S. plane."
 
* The U.S. Supreme Court "is declining to block enforcement of the recently enacted Texas voter identification law. Passed in 2011 and subject to court challenges ever since, the law requires a photo ID to vote but limits the permissible forms of identification. College ID's, for example, are not accepted, but gun licenses are."
 
* More on this story on tonight's show: "Protesters are clashing with police outside a state GOP convention in Burlingame, California, where Donald Trump was expected to speak Friday. Several hundred protesters gathered outside a hotel near San Francisco while awaiting the Republican presidential front-runner."
 
* Gun debate: "President Obama will use the power of his office to push for adoption of so-called smart gun technology that could eventually limit the use of a firearm to its owner, the White House announced Friday morning."
 
* North Korea: "An American who has been held in North Korea since October was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor on Friday for spying and other offenses, Chinese and Japanese news agencies reported from Pyongyang, the North Korean capital."
 
* A campaign worth watching: "With time ticking on what White House aides see as their last, slim chance to get Merrick Garland confirmed before the November election -- the unlikely scenario he'll get a hearing and a vote before the Senate breaks for the summer -- allies will launch new operations and ads starting Saturday to pressure GOP senators during next week's recess.... They're calling it the 9-9-9 campaign: nine states, over nine days, to push for a court with nine justices."
 
* Ban the box: "The White House on Friday will move to bar federal agencies from asking applicants for tens of thousands of government jobs about their criminal histories until the very end of the process."
William Kristol

Kristol's 2016 dream ends, Mattis rules out bid

04/29/16 04:14PM

It's one thing for a Republican to say he or she is part of the #NeverTrump effort. It's something altogether different when a Republican takes proactive steps to find a third-party candidate to run against the GOP nominee.
 
Take the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, a prominent figure in Republican politics for many years, for example. The GOP pundit has spent months suggesting he'd like to participate in some kind of independent operation, "probably for 2016 only," in which Donald Trump's Republican opponents rally behind their own alternative. A month ago, meetings were held, memos were circulated, and names were floated (Tom Coburn and Rick Perry were reportedly eyed as possibilities).
 
Recently, attention shifted to retired Gen. James Mattis, who this afternoon gently broke Kristol's heart.
James N. Mattis, the retired Marine Corps general who was wooed by conservative leaders for a possible independent presidential candidacy, has ruled out a bid for the White House in 2016.
 
Two allies of Mr. Mattis sent emails to associates on Friday notifying them that the retired general had closed the door on a campaign. William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine, said Mr. Mattis had decided "after much consideration" not to proceed.
The New York Times' report noted that Mattis, a widely respected figure in military circles, didn't encourage presidential speculation, but he was "receptive to political overtures." The retired Marine reportedly even visited DC last week and "met with a small group of strategists supportive of his entry into the race and discussed the election."
 
Evidently, the meeting did not persuade Mattis to take the leap.
Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, Dec. 10, 2013.

A Do-Nothing Senate gives itself another week off

04/29/16 12:53PM

Last night, the Senate finally confirmed Roberta Jacobson to be the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, prompting Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) to pat the chamber on the back. "The United States' relationship with Mexico is essential to our country's economy and security, and our Ambassador serves as a critical nexus for this partnership," Cornyn said after the vote. "Today is a key step towards filling what is a crucial diplomatic post not just to Texas, but for the nation as a whole."
 
What Cornyn neglected to mention is that Jacobson, a State Department veteran, was nominated nearly 11 months ago. Despite impeccable credentials and no real critics, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) blocked her nomination because he doesn't like President Obama's policy towards Cuba.
 
If this is a "crucial diplomatic post" for the entire United States, why did it take 11 months for the Republican Senate to unanimously confirm an uncontroversial nominee?
 
The answer is this Senate just doesn't seem to function well. Remember the agreement on funding the federal Zika response that was supposed to be wrapped up today? Senators decided to punt on the issue for a while. Even far-right members are getting frustrated.
"I hope that there is real urgency about dealing with this," Rubio said. "I understand this is not a political issue. There is no such thing as a Republican position on Zika or Democrat position on Zika because these mosquitoes bite everyone. And they're not going to ask you what your party registration is or who you plan to vote for in November." [...]
 
"My advice to my colleagues is we're going to deal with this, and I hope we deal with it at the front end, because not only is it better for our people, it's better for you," he added. "You're going to have to explain to people why it is that we sat around for weeks and did nothing on something of this magnitude."
Democrats said senators should stay in session until an agreement comes together. Republicans refused -- and then left town for a 10-day break. This comes on the heels of a two-week break in March, and it comes in advance of a seven-week break that starts in mid-July.

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.29.16

04/29/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* Any minute now, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) will reportedly endorse Ted Cruz's presidential campaign.
 
* At an event in Oregon yesterday, Bernie Sanders started talking up some of the changes he'd like to see in the electoral process, including open primaries in every state and automatic voter registration. Though some of these fall outside the Democratic National Committee's purview, expect a related push in the debate over the party's platform.
 
* This keeps happening: "Ted Cruz got crushed in Virginia on primary day, but even Donald Trump's forces believe he's about to stuff the state's national convention delegation full of supporters anyway."
 
* Though Sanders still hopes to prevail in Indiana next week, his campaign is scaling back its ad budget. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has stopped advertising in upcoming primaries altogether.
 
* The latest primary poll in Oregon shows Donald Trump leading the GOP pack with 43%, followed by Ted Cruz at 26% and John Kasich at 17%. Note, the "deal" announced this week between the Cruz and Kasich camps was based in part on the assumption that Kasich was positioned to do well in Oregon.
 
* On a related note, Cruz yesterday downplayed the existence of a deal with Kasich.
 
* By the end of March, the Sanders campaign had spent "nearly $166 million," which the Washington Post reported created "a financial windfall for his team of Washington consultants."
 
* It took a surprisingly long time, but Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) yesterday finally agreed to forgo a donation from disgraced former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. The Missouri Republican gave the contribution he received from Hastert to a local charity.
Republican members of the House and House Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy react after the election for the Speaker of the House was thrown into chaos on Capitol Hill, Oct. 8, 2015. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Pentagon pushes back against Benghazi panel's demands

04/29/16 11:23AM

The House Republicans' Benghazi Committee not only still exists -- today is its 722nd day -- it also continues to make demands of the Pentagon. As of yesterday, I'm starting to get the sense that the Defense Department is getting a little tired of the GOP's panel's requests.
 
Committee Democrats issued a document this morning that's worth paying attention to.
Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, Rep. Adam Smith, the Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Adam Schiff, the Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, released a letter from the Assistant Secretary of Defense to Select Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy exposing the latest abuses by Select Committee Republicans.
The three-page letter, which is available in its entirety online (pdf), is from Assistant Secretary of Defense Stephen C. Hedger, and was sent to Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) yesterday. In it, Hedger goes into quite a bit of detail noting the extent to which the Pentagon has already cooperated with the panel's request for materials and information, but the letter also suggests Gowdy and his Republican colleagues are ... what's the phrase I'm looking for ... pushing their luck.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during a meeting with journalists after a live broadcast nationwide call-in in Moscow, Russia, April 14, 2016. (Photo by Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Donald Trump gives voice to the GOP's Vladimir Putin wing

04/29/16 10:43AM

The first sign of trouble came late last year. Donald Trump, during an MSNBC interview, was asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin's habit of launching invasions and targeting critics. "He's running his country, and at least he's a leader," Trump replied, "unlike what we have in this country."
 
Reminded that Putin is accused of ordering the murder of journalists, Trump effectively said he doesn't actually believe the accusations and ultimately doesn't much care. "Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also," the Republican frontrunner said in December.
 
John Kasich's campaign soon after launched a Trump-Putin 2016 website, complete with the tagline, "Make Tyranny Great Again."
 
This week, New York's Jon Chait noticed that Trump's widely derided foreign-policy speech included an under-appreciated message about a possible friendly shift in Putin's direction.
The universal headline summary of Donald Trump's prepared foreign-policy speech yesterday was that it lacked details. Trump's campaign encouraged this conclusion by leaking in advance that it would contain few specifics, and media correctly primed to think of Trump as an ignorant blowhard covered it as such. But the speech, in fact, contained an important and somewhat-curious idea: The United States should form a closer relationship, even an alliance, with Russia.
If you missed the speech, the transcript bolsters the point. Trump believes, if elected, he will be able to ease "tensions" between Russia and the United States, "improve relations," and end "this horrible cycle of hostility." While the GOP candidate talked about all of the things he expects countries like China and Mexico to do to make a Trump administration happy, he made no comparable demands of Russia or its leaders.
 
Indeed, even while talking about "tensions" and "hostility" between Russia and the United States, Trump made no effort to even hint at who's ultimately responsible for the diplomatic strains.
An election worker checks a voter's drivers license at a polling place in Charlotte, N.C. March 15, 2016. (Photo by Chris Keane/Reuters)

Accidental Republican candor about voter-ID laws

04/29/16 10:00AM

The number of Republicans who are accidentally telling the truth about voter-ID laws continues to grow. Right Wing Watch reported yesterday:
Jim DeMint, the former South Carolina senator and Tea Party firebrand who is now the president of the Heritage Foundation, became the latest in a string of conservatives to admit that restrictive voting laws such as voter ID requirements are an attempt to help Republicans win elections, telling a St. Louis radio host yesterday that voter ID laws help elect "more conservative candidates."
At first, I thought DeMint might have been making a more general statement about the unintended effects of the policy, but a closer read points to intent.
 
The Republican senator-turned-activist initially complained during the radio interview about Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) restoring the voting rights of former felons, before insisting that Democrats are trying to have "illegals" vote for them.
 
But DeMint then turned to voter-ID laws. "[I]t's something we're working on all over the country because in the states where they do have voter ID laws you've seen, actually, elections begin to change towards more conservative candidates," he said.
 
In case anyone, including DeMint, needs a refresher, the line Republicans and proponents of voter-suppression tactics are supposed to take is that voter-ID policies have nothing to do with partisanship or affecting the outcome of elections, and everything to do with the integrity of the voting process. "We're not trying to disenfranchise Democrats," GOP officials say, "that's just the accidental byproduct of our policies."
 
The argument is obviously untrue, but at least in public, Republicans generally try to pretend that the talking points have merit.
 
Except that's not at all what DeMint said. Rather, the Heritage Foundation chief argued that the right is working on voter-ID policies across the country "because" these laws help elect conservatives.
 
It's one of those classic cases of someone making a mistake by accidentally telling the truth.

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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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