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 the latest Pew Research Center poll, Democrats lead Republicans by five (47% to 42%) among registered voters, but Republicans lead Democrats by three (47% to 44%) among likely voters. Dems just don't seem ready to show up in the fall.
* In Georgia's U.S. Senate race, the latest Atlanta Journal Constitutionpoll shows David Perdue (R) leading Michelle Nunn (D) by four, 45% to 41%, among likely voters. The same poll showed incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal (R) leading Jason Carter (D) by just one point, 43% to 42%.
* In North Carolina, all the recent polling has shown incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan (D) with a small-but-steady lead over Thom Tillis (R). The latest is a new poll from Elon University, which shows Hagan up by four, 44% to 40%.
* I find it very hard to believe, but a new CNN poll in New Hampshire shows Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) tied with former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), 48% each, among likely voters. The same poll showed the incumbent up by seven among registered voters.
* Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared at the Iowa Steak Fry yesterday, sounding very much like a candidate. "I'm ba-ack!" she told the 7,000 attendees.
* Speaking of Iowa, Politico ran a piece over the weekend noting that "anxiety is rising within Republican ranks" about the U.S. Senate race in the Hawkeye State.
* In Kentucky, Alison Lundergran Grimes (D) has a new TV ad showing her skeet shooting. Taunting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), she says into the camera, "Mitch, that's not how you hold a gun."
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) seems to be pretty excited lately. Two weeks ago, he told Fox News that Islamic State may partner with Iran to receive nuclear weapons and cross the U.S./Mexico border -- which is why President Obama shouldn't play golf.
In reality, Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons; Iran and ISIS are enemies; and how the president chooses to unwind during occasional downtime does not undermine national security.
But as Andrew Kaczynski noted, the right-wing Arizonan isn't done just yet.
Rep. Trent Franks, appearing on E.W. Jackson's radio program over the weekend, appeared to cite a report from a conservative website that has been dismissed by federal law enforcement officials about ISIS operating in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on the border with El Paso.
"It is true, that we know that ISIS is present in Ciudad Juarez or they were within the last few weeks," Franks said. "So there's no question that they have designs on trying to come into Arizona. The comment that I've made is that if unaccompanied minors can cross the border then certainly trained terrorists probably can to. It is something that is real."
Have I mentioned that Franks is currently a member of the House Armed Services Committee? He is.
Let's unpack this a bit, because it really is remarkable for a sitting member of Congress to be this irresponsible in public, especially during a debate over national security.
During the recent crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, the U.S. Department of Justice was eager to intervene, but there was an administrative problem. The DOJ's Civil Rights Division, tasked with leading the investigation into Michael Brown's death, has no permanent chief -- and hasn't had one in over a year.
President Obama nominated a highly qualified civil-rights attorney, Debo Adegbile, but the Senate refused to confirm him. Many hoped the setback was temporary and that Adegbile would yet get another chance, but today, his confirmation journey ended in a formal withdrawal.
A prominent civil rights lawyer whose nomination to a Justice Department post this spring was blocked over his role in efforts to commute the death sentence of a high-profile convicted murderer is joining law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP. The selection drew strong opposition from police groups, Republicans and, ultimately, seven Senate Democrats who in March helped block his nomination.
For those who didn't follow the controversy in the spring, Adegbile's nomination ran into trouble because of opposition from the Fraternal Order of Police -- Adegbile worked as part of a legal team on Mumia Abu-Jamal's appeal. Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.
Despite the American principle that attorneys are not to be condemned for the crimes of their clients, the Senate balked. Literally every Republican in the chamber opposed Adegbile's nomination, as did seven Democrats. He needed a simple majority, but couldn't get it.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) characterized the vote as "about the lowest point that I think this Senate has descended into in my 30 years here," and six months later, it's hard to avoid the feeling that Adegbile deserved better than what he received.
When he's not changing his mind about his core beliefs, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is making odd policy pronouncements. Take his comments on Friday, for example.
During a talk with the New Hampshire chapter of Generation Opportunity (a millennial-focused group best known for using a creepy Uncle Sam mascot to convince people not to enroll in Obamacare) a young man asked Paul if he would repeal any executive orders. "I think the first executive order that I would issue would be to repeal all previous executive orders," Paul said, according to Breitbart. He continued:
"Democracy is messy, but you have to build consensus to pass things. But it's also in some ways good, because a lot of laws take away your freedom. So it should be hard to pass a law. And it, frankly, when you do it the proper way, is."
By one account, Paul's vow to repeal all previous executive orders was met with "booming cheers" from his conservative audience.
It's worth noting that executive orders have been issued to advance some worthy causes over the years. The Emancipation Proclamation, for example, was one of Lincoln's executive orders. Truman ended racial discrimination in the military through an executive order. Ford banned political assassinations through an executive order. If Paul really hopes to "repeal all previous executive orders," he'll sweep up some pretty important measures in his large net.
Late Friday, the senator's office walked this back a bit, suggesting Paul was speaking with a rhetorical flourish at the event. "It was not meant to be taken literally," an aide said.
That's fine, though Paul was asked by a NPR affiliate in Kentucky last month whether he would, as president, ever issue an executive order. "Only to undo executive orders," the Republican senator replied.
In a story like this, the point is less about whether his comments Friday were meant to be taken literally and more about why, all of a sudden, presidential executive orders are necessarily a bad thing.
This election season, there are really only a handful of House Republican incumbents who are in real trouble. Freshman Rep. Steve Southerland (R), who narrowly won in his North Florida district in 2012, is one of them.
In a district in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, it seems Southerland would be smart to play it safe and try to avoid alienating key constituencies. And yet, the GOP congressman seems to have a knack for pushing women voters away.
For example, Southerland was recently caught misleading voters about his vote on the Violence Against Women Act. Making matters worse, voters recently learned the conservative lawmaker hosted a men-only fundraising event a few months ago. The invitation, obtained by BuzzFeed, encouraged attendees to "tell the misses not to wait up" because "the after dinner whiskey and cigars will be smooth & the issues to discuss are many."
Southerland's opponent, school administrator Gwen Graham (D), criticized the fundraiser, prompting the congressman to make matters just a little worse.
Asked to respond to the Democrats' criticism that he's anti-women, Southerland laughed and said: "I live with five women. That's all I'm saying. I live with five women. Listen: Has Gwen Graham ever been to a lingerie shower? Ask her. And how many men were there?"
He didn't appear to be kidding. In Southerland's mind, a sitting congressman hosting a policy discussion with donors is comparable to women hosting a "lingerie shower."
Just as an aside, I'll confess to having the exact same reaction to this as the Miami Herald's Marc Caputo: "What's a 'lingerie shower?' Most people know what baby showers are. And a few are probably familiar with lingerie shows. To combine the two is kinda creepy." When a reader noted that "lingerie showers" are usually held for brides to be, Caputo added, "And that makes Southerland's comment even less helpful to his cause."
In July, the Wisconsin Supreme Court narrowly endorsed an unnecessary voter-ID law, concluding that "voter fraud" is a legitimate "concern." The ruling specifically pointed to a Republican voter in Milwaukee accused of 13 counts of voter fraud -- none of which, ironically, would have been prevented by a voter-ID law.
It was not, however, the final word on the subject. A parallel case was pending in the federal courts, though as Zack Roth reported, it didn't go the way voting-rights proponents were hoping, either.
A U.S. appeals court has ordered that Wisconsin's voter ID law go into effect immediately, raising the prospect of chaos and confusion at the polls this fall.
A three-judge panel made the ruling after hearing an appeal Friday by the state of Wisconsin. The ID law had been struck down by Judge Lynn Adelman in April, who ruled that it violated the Voting Rights Act's ban on racial discrimination.
"The panel has concluded that the state's probability of success on the merits of this appeal is sufficiently great that the state should be allowed to implement its law, pending further order of this court," the judges wrote.
The three-judge panel on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals was comprised on Judges Frank Easterbrook, Diane Sykes, and John Daniel Tinder -- all three were appointed by Republican presidents. Their ruling overturns a district court from the spring that said "no rational person could be worried about" voter fraud at the polls.
The immediacy of the implementation matters, with Wisconsin hosting a very competitive gubernatorial race and a handful of close congressional races. Indeed, Gov. Scott Walker (R), who signed the voter-ID measure into law, is now likely to benefit from blocking voters who may have been likely to vote against him.
Elections law expert Rick Hasen described the 7th Circuit's ruling as "a big, big mistake," adding that he expects "an emergency motion to the Supreme Court."
More so than most, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) seems absolutely convinced that Islamic State terrorists pose some kind of existential threat to the United States. It was Graham who, just a few weeks ago, insisted that if Obama "does not go on the offensive against ISIS," presumably in Syria, "they are coming here." The senator added, "[I]f we do get attacked, then he will have committed a blunder for the ages."
Somehow, he's managed to become even less subtle. On "Fox News Sunday" yesterday, guest host John Roberts asked Graham if he has any faith that President Obama's plan against ISIS is going to work. "Not much," the senator replied, adding, "We're fighting a terrorist army, not an organization. It's going to take an army to beat an army. And this idea we'll never have any boots on the ground to defeat them in Syria is fantasy.... It's delusional in the way they approach this."
And then Graham really let loose.
"[T]hey're intending to come here. So, I will not let this president suggest to the American people we can outsource our security and this is not about our safety. There is no way in hell you can form an army on the ground to go into Syria, to destroy ISIL without a substantial American component. And to destroy ISIL, you have to kill or capture their leaders, take the territory they hold back, cut off their financing and destroy their capability to regenerate.
"This is a war we're fighting, it is not a counterterrorism operation! This is not Somalia; this is not Yemen; this is a turning point in the war on terror. Our strategy will fail yet again. This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home."
In case it's not obvious, "rise to the occasion" can be roughly translated to mean "do what Lindsey Graham wants."
The senator concluded, "[I]f they survive our best shot, this is the last best chance, to knock him out, then they will open the gates of hell to spill out on the world. This is not a Sunni versus Sunni problem, this is ISIL versus mankind."
Fox's guest host, slightly taken aback, joked, "Senator Graham unfortunately is not fired up this morning." It was sarcasm, of course -- the South Carolinian's appearance was pretty over the top, even for him.
Graham, whose spectacular errors of fact and judgment during the war in Iraq are well documented, is clearly sincere in his hawkish views, but there is still no reason to believe ISIS poses an imminent threat to the United States -- just as there's no reason to believe ISIS is capable of killing all of us.
First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected story involving the U.S. Air Force and the way it's treating one of their own airmen -- who happens to be an atheist (thanks to reader D.R. for the heads-up).
An atheist member of the U.S. Air Force has been told he must swear "so help me God" as part of his military oath or else he will be forced to leave the service, the Air Force Times reports. The airman, who has not been identified by name, is currently serving in the Air Force at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada until the end of his current term of service in November, but was denied reenlistment last month when he refused to sign a sworn oath that included the religious phrase.
Under Department Guidelines, there's a re-enlistment form with a specific written oath. It requires American servicemen and women to, among other things, "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic"; "bear true faith and allegiance to the same"; and "obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me." It concludes, "So help me God."
In the Army and Navy, Americans have the discretion to omit those final four words. The Air Force, however, has a different "interpretation" of Pentagon regulations, and has told the unnamed airman that he will be excluded from military service, regardless of his qualifications, unless he swears an oath to God.
It's worth noting that the U.S. Constitution -- the one the military supports and defends, and which trumps Defense Department regulations and forms -- says quite explicitly that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." To date, the Air Force has found this unpersuasive.
Some notable conservative voices have rushed into the debate to endorse the Air Force's policy. The American Family Association's Bryan Fischer said, "There is no place in the United States military for those who do not believe in the Creator." He added, "A man who doesn't believe in the Creator ... most certainly should not wear the uniform."
One wonders what Fischer might have said to Pat Tillman.
Rachel Maddow reports that the White House, Pentagon, and State Department are all using the word "war" to describe military operations against ISIS, despite insisting just a day ago that they are merely counterterrorism operations. watch
Chuck Todd, NBC News political director and moderator of Meet The Press, talks with Rachel Maddow about what political thinking may be guiding the Obama Administration to call the fight against ISIS a war without waiting for Congress to declare it. watch
Rachel Maddow report on the contentious case of a Kansas Democratic candidate who was told by state officials that he could drop off the ballot only to have Secretary of State Kris Kobach reverse that decision and force him to stay. watch