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Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg poses for a photo in her chambers at the Supreme Court in Washington, on July 24, 2013,

Justice Ginsburg calls retirement talk 'misguided'

09/24/14 12:59PM

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is well aware of the progressive voices, urging her to step down from the high court. She's heard the arguments, but at least for now, she's not persuaded by them.
The 81-year-old still has no plans to retire, and in the interview [with Elle magazine], she dismissed calls for her to step down to make room for President Obama to pick her replacement as "misguided."
 
"Who do you think President Obama could appoint at this very day, given the boundaries that we have? If I resign any time this year, he could not successfully appoint anyone I would like to see in the court," Ginsburg told writer Jessica Weisberg. "[The Senate Democrats] took off the filibuster for lower federal court appointments, but it remains for this court."
In the same interview, Ginsburg added, "So anybody who thinks that if I step down, Obama could appoint someone like me, they're misguided. As long as I can do the job full steam.... I think I'll recognize when the time comes that I can't any longer. But now I can.
 
There's apparently no real point in encouraging the justice to step down; Ginsburg will do what she believes is best. That said, the progressive jurist is clearly aware enough of the political circumstances to recognize the nuances of the so-called "nuclear option," and she's also cognizant of the broader electoral landscape, speculating last year about the 2016 elections.
 
"I think it's going to be another Democratic president," Ginsburg said last summer, adding, "The Democrats do fine in presidential elections; their problem is they can't get out the vote in the midterm elections."
 
But so long as she's going to present a defense for her ongoing tenure on the court, it's worth acknowledging the argument's very serious, almost alarming, flaws.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.24.14

09/24/14 12:00PM

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:
 
* In Arkansas' closely watched U.S. Senate race, PPP now shows Rep. Tom Cotton (R) leading Sen. Mark Pryor (D) by five, 43% to 38%. One of the biggest problems for the incumbent in this poll is the right-wing congressman's 33-point advantage among Arkansas independents.
 
* On a related note, the same poll shows Republicans also likely to flip Arkansas' governor's office, with former Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R) leading former Rep. Mike Ross (D), 44% to 38%,
 
* A group of former Republican state lawmakers in Kansas endorsed Jean Schodorf (D) yesterday in her race against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R). Recent polls suggest many Kansans are tired of Kobach's ridiculous antics (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the heads-up).
 
* Florida's gubernatorial race continues to look very close, with a new Quinnipiac poll showing incumbent Gov. Rick Scott (R) with a two-point lead over former Gov. Charlie Crist (D), 44% to 42%.
 
* The statewide races in Georgia continue to look extremely competitive in a new Survey USA poll. In the U.S. Senate race, David Perdue (R) has a one-point advantage over Michelle Nunn (D), 46% to 45%, while in the gubernatorial race, state Sen. Jason Carter (D) has a one-point lead over incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal (R), 45% to 44%.
 
* For the second time this month, the NRA has thrown its support to a conservative, red-state Democrat: the group said yesterday that it's backing Rep. John Barrow's (D) re-election in Georgia.
Voters cast their ballots at a polling site for Georgia's primary election, May 20, 2014, in Atlanta, Ga.

Why was the New Georgia Project subpoenaed?

09/24/14 11:26AM

Republican officials in Georgia, a state that will host some very competitive statewide elections this year, haven't exactly been champions of voting rights recently.
 
One GOP state senator, for example, recently complained about Sunday voting in an Atlanta shopping mall "dominated by African American shoppers." Around the same time, we learned about remarks Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) made in July, when he expressed concern about Democrats "registering all these minority voters that are out there."
 
It's against this backdrop that the Republican Secretary of State -- Georgia's top elections official -- also subpoenaed the New Georgia Project, which happens to be the driving force behind the state's largest voter-registration campaign. As Joan Walsh noted, the recently launched probe is so broad, it could tie up the voter-registration organization "indefinitely."
 
That may well very be the point. Pema Levy reported yesterday on the dubious subpoena, issued on the eve of key, competitive races.
So far, [the New Georgia Project] has collected 85,000 voter registration applications. Together with around 20,000 registration forms collected by smaller partner groups, Democrats are close to registering 120,000 new voters -- mostly black, Hispanic, Asian and young people -- before the November elections.
 
But on September 9, the group received a broad subpoena from the office of the Georgia secretary of state, Republican Brian Kemp, as part of an investigation into the group stemming from evidence of fraudulent registration applications. Kemp's office also sent a letter to county election officials in Georgia's 159 counties warning that a "preliminary investigation has revealed significant illegal activities."
"Significant" is a relative term. In reality, there were 25 invalid voter-registration applications out of 85,000. Or, put another way, more than 99.9% of the New Georgia Project's paperwork was fine.
 
So why the pre-election crackdown?
A picture of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is seen during the demonstration in Madrid.

Spanish conservatives reverse course on abortion restrictions

09/24/14 10:53AM

In 2011, with Spain's economy struggling badly, conservatives offered a dramatically different course for the country, including some of the toughest abortion restrictions on the continent. When they won, the conservatives saw it as a mandate for their agenda.
 
That didn't quite work out as planned.
Spain's government withdrew a bill that would have imposed some of Europe's strictest curbs on abortion, bowing to popular sentiment and dissent within the ruling conservative Popular Party.
 
The decision Tuesday by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on one of the most divisive social issues in this largely Roman Catholic country prompted sharp protests from some of his party's core supporters. His justice minister, the bill's chief advocate, resigned.
Polls in Spain showed opposition to the anti-abortion plan at about four to one. Faced with overwhelming popular sentiment, Rajoy will now pursue modest expansion of the country's parental-consent laws for minors seeking abortions.
 
Except, some political dynamics being universal, the conservatives' base isn't at all satisfied with the prime minister's scaled-back agenda.
Image: Peter King

The Fort Knox plot that only Peter King could see

09/24/14 10:21AM

As the counter-terrorism debate has grown more intense in recent weeks, Americans have heard quite a few policymakers who seem eager to create a sense of dread, if not panic. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), for example, has said we may "all get killed" unless President Obama deploys ground troops in Syria.
 
A wide variety of Republicans have said Islamic State terrorists may try to infiltrate the United States through Mexico. One GOP member of the House Armed Services Committee claims ISIS is already in Mexico and has "designs on trying to come into Arizona." Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), now running in a new state, released an ad yesterday saying terrorists "are threatening to cause the collapse of our country."
 
In related news, Republicans strongly urge you to look under your bed tonight before going to sleep.
 
But it appears that only one GOP member of Congress has gone so far as to say that ISIS terrorists not only infiltrated the United States, but actually tried to attack a prominent U.S. military base. Reader B.A. emailed yesterday to note a quote from Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who had this exchange on "Fox News Sunday" over the weekend with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.):
SCHIFF: We can't take our eye off the ball, because al Qaeda, the al Nusra franchise in Syria, poses a more immediate threat to our homeland than ISIS does at the present. They're trying to work with AQAP bomb makers to smuggle on bombs on our planes. We cannot lose sight of that threat. That's really the more immediate threat to Americans --
 
KING: Adam, I would disagree. I would say they're all a threat. They're equal threats. They're coming at us and we have to be on our guard at all times. If ISIS went into Australia, they could certainly come into the U.S. In 2011, they attempted to attack Fort Knox. So, all of them, I say, are threats we cannot let our guard down at all.
Putting aside the fact that the "let our guard down" contingent doesn't actually have any members, it seems to me that if ISIS terrorists "attempted to attack Fort Knox" in 2011, that'd be the sort of thing I'd remember.
An Affordable Healthcare Act supporter (R) talks with a student (L) about the law on the campus of Santa Monica City College in Santa Monica, California, October 10, 2013.

The 'Obamacare' victory lap takes another spin

09/24/14 09:34AM

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act have had quite a few reasons to celebrate lately, and as of yesterday, the news keeps getting better.
Consumers in much of the country will have a broader selection of health insurance plans next year, the Obama administration said Tuesday, as it predicted an increase of about 25 percent in the number of insurers that are expected to compete in federal and state marketplaces. [...]
 
So far, [administration officials] said, the number of insurers, also known as issuers, is up to 315 next year, from 252 this year. For the 36 states served by the federal marketplace, it said, the number is up almost 30 percent, to 248 next year, from 191 this year.
When congressional Republicans predicted that private insurers would want nothing to do with "Obamacare," and the lack of participation would be a disaster for consumers, the GOP lawmakers had it backwards. Competition has already helped hold down premiums, and with more insurance companies now eager to get into the system and compete for Americans' business, consumers are poised to benefit even more.
 
This follows more good ACA news from the day before, when we learned consumers who shop around next year can expect to find some great deals, including premium increases of about 1%. And even if Americans don't shop around and stick with what they've got, premium increases will be a fraction of what they were before the Affordable Care Act became law.
 
This followed good news about the number of Americans paying their premiums after enrolling through an ACA exchange. Which followed good news about Medicaid expansion. Ezra Klein noted two weeks ago that President Obama's "signature accomplishment" is "succeeding beyond all reasonable expectation."
 
And what, pray tell, do congressional Republicans have to say now? I'm glad you asked.
Marco Rubio

Rubio eyes 'permanent U.S. troop presence' in Middle East

09/24/14 08:51AM

President Obama recently summarized his vision for a military offensive against Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria. The administration's entire approach was packaged in four sentences:
 
"To confront the Islamic State terrorists, we need a sustained air campaign targeting their leadership, sources of income and supply routes, wherever they exist. We must increase our efforts to equip and capacitate non-jihadists in Syria to fight the terrorist group. And we must arm and support forces in Iraq confronting it, including responsible Iraqi partners and the Kurds. In addition, we must persuade nations in the region threatened by the Islamic State to participate in real efforts to defeat it."
 
Wait, did I say that was President Obama's summary of his policy? I meant this was an op-ed from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), in which the far-right senator condemned "the president's failed isolationist policies."
 
Rubio has been going out of his way to position himself as a leading, hawkish voice on foreign policy, though his efforts have occasionally been awkward, as evidenced by the senator urging Obama to follow the exact same course Obama himself had already presented to the nation two days earlier.
 
This continued yesterday when the Florida Republican talked to Fox News' Neil Cavuto about developments in the Middle East.
CAVUTO: If you ever became president -- if you ever had the interest, Senator -- would you advocate a permanent U.S. troop presence in the region? Permanent?
 
RUBIO: Absolutely. Absolutely.... [I]f the U.S. had a presence [in Iraq], we would have more leverage over how Maliki conducted his affairs. You would have had a more stable region, but also a place where you could conduct operations against other threats in the region.
All available evidence pointed in the exact opposite direction. Kevin Drum called Rubio's comments "crazy," explaining, "We had troops in Iraq for a decade. During that time, which spanned two different US presidents, we had virtually no success at getting Nouri al-Maliki to form an inclusive government that didn't gratuitously piss off Sunnis as a routine element of policy. Hell, Maliki didn't even take advantage of the Sunni Awakening.... If that didn't do the trick, along with a hundred thousand American troops and near-daily calls with President Bush, what possible hope is there that a small residual force would have had any leverage at all?"
 
I think that's exactly right, though I'd add that Obama's approach actually used the possibility of military intervention as leverage to help show Maliki the door. It's not just that Rubio's approach is mistaken, it's also that his approach is based on assumptions that have the basic details backwards.
A man jogs past the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 30, 2013.

Congress content to sit on the sidelines

09/24/14 08:00AM

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), arguably more than any other senator, has invested considerable time and energy urging Congress to do its duty. As a U.S. military offensive gets underway in Syria, President Obama has received no real authorization from lawmakers, and the Virginia Democrat knows the system isn't supposed to work this way.
 
"The president shouldn't be doing this without Congress," Kaine said yesterday, adding, "Congress shouldn't be allowing it to happen without Congress."
 
It's that latter part that stands out. In recent years, congressional Republicans have been almost hysterical about presidential overreach, condemning the White House for alleged abuses that leave Congress out of the policymaking process. In nearly every instance, their evidence has fallen somewhere between baseless and ridiculous.
 
And yet, here's a legitimate example of Obama ignoring Congress when he shouldn't, and those same Republicans who pretended to care about this institutional dynamic are sitting on their hands, perfectly content to ignore their constitutional responsibilities in the name of political convenience.
The United States has begun a bombing campaign in Syria, but don't bet on Congress returning to Washington to vote on a new war authorization anytime soon.
 
Shortly after airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria started, some lawmakers started pushing again for an authorization vote. But so far, leaders aren't gearing up to bring their members back to town.
Asked to explain why Congress is satisfied doing nothing, House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office told Roll Call, "As the Speaker has said, he thinks it would be good for the country to have a new authorization for the use of military force covering our actions against ISIL, but traditionally such an authorization is requested and written by the commander-in-chief -- and President Obama has not done that."
 
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) added that Obama "should seek a new congressional authorization."
 
Republicans may not fully appreciate just how extraordinary this approach to governing really is.

Obama at the U.N. and other headlines

09/24/14 07:24AM

Pres. Obama addresses the U.N. today and chairs a Security Council meeting. (NBC News)

Terror fears spurred the expansion of the Syria airstrikes. (Wall Street Journal)

Tensions flare in Ferguson, MO overnight. (KSDK)

Conservative lawmakers plot to oust John Boehner. (The Hill)

Why Justice Ginsburg isn't planning to retire any time soon. (Elle Magazine)

Scott Brown loses Cosmo's support. (NY Times)

India's first Mars probe makes historic arrival. (Space.com)

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Congress unmoved to work as war deepens

Congress unmoved to work as war deepens

09/23/14 11:05PM

Rachel Maddow reports that the breach of the White House may cause some House members to take a break from their second vacation to hold a hearing on the Secret Service, but so far Congress is not making and moves to debate the war now spreading to Syria. watch

Military technology extends human capability

Military technology stretches human capability

09/23/14 10:46PM

Rachel Maddow shares video of the mid-air refueling of a U.S. military fighting jet and points out the immense difficulty of the task and its distance from average human, civilian experience, even if it is commonplace in the theater of war. watch

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