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:
* A new Monmouth poll in Iowa shows Scott Walker continuing to lead the Republicans' presidential field with 22% support in the state, followed by Donald Trump with 13%. At this point, no other GOP candidate reaches double digits in Iowa.
* It was quite a scene in Phoenix over the weekend when protesters effectively "shouted two presidential candidates off stage on Saturday at Netroots Nation, demanding policy proposals on racial tensions and police brutality."
* Later in the day, however, Bernie Sanders drew a big crowd of over 11,000 people at a rally in downtown Phoenix.
* Chris Christie's super PAC has made a $1.1 million ad buy in New Hampshire, focusing on the New Jersey governor's opposition to international nuclear diplomacy with Iran. In the spot, Christie claims to be "the only candidate who has actually been responsible for fighting terrorism."
* Jeb Bush, probably taking a subtle shot at Marco Rubio this morning, mocked members of Congress "who sometimes seem to regard attendance and voting as something optional." Rubio has the worst attendance record of any member of the U.S. Senate.
* Hillary Clinton's campaign has reserved "nearly $8 million in television time for a fall advertising blitz" in Iowa and New Hampshire, with commercials set to air "as early as the first week of November."
On the campaign trail last week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) turned his attention to the U.S. Supreme Court, which he sees, correctly, as one of the key issues in the 2016 presidential race.
"We apparently have five justices on the Supreme Court today that have forgotten the proper role of the Supreme Court. They view themselves as Super Legislators - basically the supervisors of the republic. They invent rights, they, they find and are basically writing law. The job of the Supreme Court is not to create law, it's to interpret the Constitution as originally constructed and applied.
"The next president of the United States must nominate Supreme Court justices that believe in the original intent of the Constitution and apply that. We need more Scalias and less Sotomayors."
Looking past some of the grammatical errors, Rubio's ideological case is dubious. For example, Justice Antonin Scalia has become an alarming laughingstock, and the idea of filling the high court with more justices cut from the same cloth is rather terrifying.
For that matter, it's kind of amusing to hear a Republican senator condemn the idea of justices playing the role of policymakers -- GOP officials on Capitol Hill have made clear more than once they see hope to see conservative justices play the role of governing partners, advancing Republican priorities when Congress can't.
That said, the focus on the court itself makes a lot of sense. Consider this chart:
For anti-healthcare activists, the strategic options are starting to dwindle. Gutting the Affordable Care Act through the courts obviously isn't going to happen, and the odds of Congress repealing the law anytime soon are zero.
If the goal is to prevent ACA benefits from reaching more American consumers, the right can continue to fight against Medicaid expansion at the state level, but conservatives are quietly failing on this front, too, even in "red" states.
In April, Montana, hardly a bastion of liberalism, ignored the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity and approved Medicaid expansion. Last week, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) did the same. And just one day later, a deal was struck in Utah. The Salt Lake Tribune reported:
The so-called Gang of Six -- Gov. Gary Herbert, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, House Speaker Greg Hughes, House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan and Sen. Brian Shiozawa -- huddled this week constructing the skeleton of a new Medicaid plan to replace the governor's Healthy Utah and the House's Utah Cares proposals.
On Friday, they announced their agreement, saying it was sustainable and would protect other key areas of the budget.
"There is still work to be done," Herbert said in a statement, "but I believe we now have a framework in place that will provide care for Utahns most in need while being responsible with limited taxpayer funds."
This puts Utah on track to become the 31st state to accept Medicaid expansion -- 32nd if we include the District of Columbia -- through "Obamacare." Estimates vary, but roughly 120,000 low-income Utahans are expected to gain coverage through the compromise agreement, assuming the Obama administration signs off on the deal.
About a month ago, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced a new stunt: the senator would, in his official capacity, sue the Internal Revenue Service. As p.r. gambits go, it seemed pretty silly, but this is exactly the sort of maneuver Paul has repeatedly exploited for attention and fundraising.
Show of hands: how many of you heard about this anti-IRS lawsuit last month? Chances are, most of you didn't -- Paul has made a splash with various press stunts in recent years, but this one was largely ignored. The Republican presidential candidate has a shtick and for some, it's getting a little stale.
Of course, it's not just the ineffective schemes; Paul's support has also faded recently in national Republican polling -- he'll have no trouble qualifying for GOP debates, but at least for now, few see him as a top-tier contender. As the bulk of the political world's attention turns to other candidates, I've heard jokes about Rand Paul maintaining such a low profile that he's presumably entered the witness protection program.
The Lexington Herald-Leader's Sam Youngman explained the other day that the "reality of presidential politics is seeping in, and the limitations of what was always a long-shot strategy are coming into focus."
The long and short of all of this is that Paul is stuck, afraid of alienating core GOP voters while trying to woo independents he might never get the chance to face.
Or put another way: When he tries to lure the independents who are disgusted by the comments of Bundy or Trump, he risks losing Republican primary voters who see truth in both.
The result is milquetoast responses to the issues of the day that leave "the most interesting man in politics" not really all that interesting.
Anthony Terrell and Mark Murray reported for msnbc last week that as far as Team Paul is concerned, there's a deliberate strategy unfolding: the campaign is playing "the long delegate game," avoiding "sharing the crowded space with other Republican presidential candidates."
Look, I like tortoise-hare analogies as much as the next guy, but some basic truths are unavoidable: at this stage in the race, Paul's support in the polls is underwhelming; his fundraising is unimpressive; his endorsement total is anemic; and his ability to generate attention isn't working. Against this backdrop, the senator's aides can say everything is going according to plan, but it's a little hard to believe.
Rachel Maddow reports on a 499-count criminal indictment against the former mayor of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania who is accused of using taxpayer funds to purchase wild west memorabilia for himself while the city suffered economically. watch
Politico is not known for cheap name-calling, so when it publishes a piece characterizing Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) as "America's Craziest Governor," asking whether the Republican is still "playing with a full deck," it stands out as noteworthy.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Republican-controlled state Senate and many Republicans in the House have turned on the governor,helping overturn hundreds of his vetoes and line-item vetoes in lightning-paced voting sessions, sometimes at a rate of one every 25 seconds. His veto of the bipartisan budget was overturned, narrowly avoidinga state government shutdown. An aggressive attempt to appropriate wider veto authority for his office has been rebuffed by lawmakers and legal experts, but still threatens to plunge the state into a constitutional crisis.
Well, sure, when you put it that way, it sounds like LePage is having a tough time.
But to assume that the worst is behind the Tea Party governor is a mistake -- his troubles are very likely poised to get worse.
Rachel Maddow reports on Sister Mary Peter Diaz and other supporters of the expansion of health insurance for low income Alaskans helping mobilize against a Koch brothers-funded opposition, ultimately winning and extending coverage to 40,000 more people. watch
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) caused a stir last week, arguing that the Boy Scouts shouldn't change its policy banning gay adult leaders. The status quo, Walker said, has "protected children."
The Republican presidential candidate walked that back a bit a day later, but on NBC's "Meet the Press," former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), another 2016 White House hopeful, embraced the anti-gay argument without hesitation. ThinkProgress reported:
Meet the Press' Chuck Todd asked Perry, who served as the governor of Texas from 2000 – 2015, whether his views on openly gay scout leaders had changed since 2008, when he wrote that "openly active gays, particularly advocates, present a problem. Because gay activism is central to their lives, it would unavoidably be a topic of conversation within a Scout troop. This would distract from the mission of Scouting; character building, not sex education."
Perry said he still stood by that statement. "I believe that scouting would be better off if they didn't have openly gay Scout masters," he said.
Also yesterday morning, CNN's Dana Bash asked Walker if he believes sexual orientation is a choice. "I don't know," the Wisconsin Republican replied. "I don't know the answer to that question. So, I'm saying I don't know what the answer to that is."
It's worth noting that the governor has spent his adult life in politics, tackling countless debates over social issues. It seems hard to believe Walker still hasn't come to a conclusion about whether he believes sexual orientation is a matter of personal preference -- a debate that was settled in reality many years ago.
The bizarre rhetoric from the GOP candidates looks even worse when considered in the larger context. At the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, over the weekend, one Republican leader after another condemned marriage equality, while on Capitol Hill, GOP lawmakers continue to move forward with legislation to push back against the recent Supreme Court ruling.
Away from the political sphere, the American mainstream is increasingly supportive of marriage equality, but the same isn't true of Republican voters -- a new Gallup poll shows GOP voters continue to oppose equal marriage rights by a greater than two-to-one margin.
Last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made clear how unimpressed he is with Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump. The candidate is firing up "the crazies," McCain said, adding that Trump has "galvanized" a "very extreme element" within the Republican Party.
As msnbc's Benjy Sarlin reported over the weekend, Trump fired back during an appearance at a major GOP event in Iowa, which in turn may have put his newfound position as a Republican leader in jeopardy,
"He's not a war hero," Trump said during an onstage Q&A at the conservative Family Leadership Summit, an event that features a number of Republican presidential contenders. "He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, okay?"
Perhaps realizing he had gone too far -- even for him -- Trump followed up by saying "perhaps he's a war hero" before repeating his criticism of McCain's academic record in the U.S. Naval Academy over five decades ago.
There are many in the GOP who've been eager to condemn Trump, but who've hesitated, unwilling to risk alienating the candidate's nativist supporters. But Trump's ugly rhetoric about McCain's military service offered Republicans an excuse to go after the candidate with a vengeance.
Party officials and candidates quickly -- and at times, ferociously -- denounced Trump and his line of attack. Even the Republican National Committee, which has treated Trump's racist incidents with kid gloves, said in an official statement, "There is no place in our party or our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably."
For his part, Trump, who received multiple deferments to avoid serving in Vietnam -- he cited a foot injury, though he doesn't remember which foot -- talked to ABC's Martha Raddatz yesterday and said he doesn't owe McCain an apology "at all." He struck a similar tone in a new USA Todayop-ed.
For a variety of pundits, this effectively marked the end of Trump's campaign -- it was the ultimate flame out, the argument goes, for a narcissistic candidate who simply can't control his impulses.
And those assumptions may very well prove to be true, but I wouldn't bet on it just yet.
First up from the God Machine this week is an important legal fight over contraception and the Affordable Care Act -- with the larger trend working in the White House's favor.
With the recent Supreme Court ruling on "Obamacare," the most significant challenges to the law's legality have been exhausted, but there are some smaller cases that are pending, including litigation involving access to contraception .MSNBC's Emma Margolin reported this week:
A federal appeals court has ruled against the Colorado-based Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, finding that employees of such religious nonprofits must be able to access contraceptive coverage in line with the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Unlike last year's controversial Supreme Court case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., which successfully challenged the health care law's birth control mandate in its entirety, this case targeted a federal accommodation for nonprofit organizations with religious objections to birth control. All those groups have to do, under the accommodation, is submit a formal objection to including contraceptive coverage in their employee health plans, so that their health insurance issuers or a third-party administrator can provide the coverage directly.
As longtime readers may recall, Colorado's Little Sisters of the Poor wants to provide health care coverage to its non-profit group's employees, but it doesn't want to cover contraception. No problem, the Obama administration said -- the group can fill out some simple paperwork noting a religious objection, at which point a private insurance company can create a separate policy for workers who want access to birth control. The non-profit group wouldn't be involved and wouldn't pay a penny.
The nuns filed a federal lawsuit anyway, claiming that the paperwork itself infringes on their religious beliefs.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, concluding that "the accommodation scheme relieves Plaintiffs of their obligations under the Mandate and does not substantially burden their religious exercise under RFRA or infringe upon their First Amendment rights."
Margolin' msnbc report added, "It is the sixth appeals court to find that the ACA accommodation poses no substantial burden to nonprofit groups' religious beliefs, according to the ACLU." How many appeals courts have ruled against the policy? So far, zero.
In other words, the religious right and other conservative opponents of the Affordable Care Act continue to go after this accommodation for religious non-profits -- and they keep losing.
Anthony Terrell, reporter for MSNBC, talks with Rachel Maddow about a gathering of the Iowa State Democratic Party at which all five Democratic candidates for the 2016 nomination are speaking, and the rivalry between their respective supporters. watch
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