In the five months spanning September 2014 to January 2015, something unusual happened in American politics. Three state House Speakers -- ostensibly some of the most powerful officials in their respective state governments -- were each charged with serious crimes.
In Missouri, Republican state House Speaker John Diehl hasn't been formally accused of criminal behavior, but the Kansas City Star has a report that certainly puts his career in jeopardy.
Text messages obtained by The Star reveal a sexually charged relationship between House Speaker John Diehl and a college freshman in a Missouri Capitol internship program that shut down abruptly last month.
The conversations unveil a flirty rapport and suggest an intimacy between arguably the state's most influential lawmaker and a young woman taking some pleasure in a secret association. The texts show occasional efforts by Diehl and the intern to meet in person. They range from mundane chatter, about boring meetings and dreading speeches, to the more sexually suggestive.
The young woman in this relationship is not named, and according to the report, she has hired an attorney "specializing in employment matters." Though she told the local paper the text messages were not real, the Kansas City Star confirmed with sources close to her that she had an ongoing relationship with Diehl. Screenshots of the salacious texts "originated from the intern's smartphone" and were sent to Diehl's business cellphone number.
As for the messages themselves, they're below, though I should warn readers in advance they're a bit racy.
The deadly train crash in Philadelphia last night remains ongoing crisis. As of now, NBC News reports that seven people were killed in the accident, 10 are in critical condition at nearby hospitals, and many more have serious injuries.
Obviously, the focus now is on the immediate tasks at hand, including possible rescue efforts at the crash site. From there, we'll need to know how and why this happened. Officials have said they do not consider this a terrorist act, but we'll need more information before we understand what caused the accident.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter told reporters, "We do not know what happened here. We do not know why this happened. We're not going to try to speculate about that." He added, however, that "one known fact" is that the crash occurred where "there is a curve" in the track.
But once the immediacy of the tragedy is addressed, policymakers will very likely have to confront a conversation about domestic infrastructure. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) told msnbc this morning:
"It's a horrible crash, and it just points out again how terrible our nation's infrastructure is.... If you went to Asia, Europe, and saw the high-speed trains, they're all on a dedicated line. They're all straight as an arrow. It's just embarrassing what we do with our infrastructure."
Former Obama administration Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, an Illinois Republican, added this morning, "America is in a crisis when it comes to infrastructure."
Politico, meanwhile,reports that on Capitol Hill, House Republicans find themselves "in an awkward position," voting literally today to "slash $260 million from Amtrak's budget."
And it's against this backdrop that Donald Trump decided to launch an unusually tasteless rant, even by Donald Trump standards.
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:
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, Jeb Bush announced yesterday that he's skipping the quadrennial Iowa Straw Poll. With much of the party souring on the event, the former Florida governor probably won't be the last.
* Voters in Mississippi's 1st district voted in a congressional special election yesterday, with Democrat Walter Zinn and Republican Trent Kelly coming out on top. The two will face off in a runoff next month, with the winner succeeding the late Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R), who died in February.
* There was some confusion yesterday about whether or not Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D) plans to run for the Senate in California next year. A leaked draft announcement said she'd launch her statewide campaign tomorrow, but the congresswoman herself said late yesterday that she hasn't decided on the race.
* Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign will be backed next year by a super PAC called Correct the Record, which is "splitting off from its parent group, American Bridge, an organization focused on conducting opposition research on Republican candidates. American Bridge and Correct the Record both are connected to a close Clinton ally, David Brock."
* Speaking of Team Clinton, the Democratic campaign filed suit this week, challenging Ohio's voting restrictions, alleging the Republican-imposed hurdles are intended to "suppress the votes of minorities, students, and other Democratic-leaning groups."
* With just a week remaining before the Republican primary in Kentucky's gubernatorial race, a new Bluegrass Poll shows a very competitive three-way contest. Matt Bevin leads with 27% in the poll, followed by James Comer with 26%, and Hal Heiner with 25%.
* David Chesley, the political director for Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) presidential campaign in Kentucky, will not lose his job after he was filmed licking a tracker's camera at an event this week.
CNBC's John Harwood sat down yesterday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the two covered quite a bit of ground. Indeed, the Republican leader arguably made some news by noting that his work in support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is largely about helping President Obama's successor -- whom McConnell obviously hopes is a Republican.
HARWOOD: President Obama's gotten some grief for not being more sociable with members of Congress. Had he had a bourbon with you once or 10 times, would that make any difference to how you guys actually relate?
MCCONNELL: No. I think it's all good stuff for you all to write. But it has no effect on policy. The reason we haven't done more things together is 'cause we don't agree on much. It's nice to have social occasions, but we don't all hate each other anyway. It wouldn't make any difference. Look, it's a business.
This is clearly not what many political observers want to hear. A few years ago, David Brooks argued that President Obama and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would better understand each other's agenda if only the president invited the far-right congressman over for lunch. Schmoozing, Brooks argued, would work wonders.
Soon after, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) advised, "The president's got to start inviting people over for dinner. He's got to play golf with them. He has to pick up the phone and call and say, 'I know we disagree on this, but I just want to say -- I heard it was your wife's birthday or your kid just got into college.' He has to go build friendships."
A wide variety of Beltway media types have also argued repeatedly that Obama's reluctance to schmooze is an impediment to policymaking progress.
But McConnell's comments to John Harwood, satisfying or not, are 100% accurate. Outsiders might like the idea of bipartisan deals being struck by rival policymakers once they get to know each other, but "the reason we haven't done more things together is 'cause we don't agree on much. It's nice to have social occasions, but ... it wouldn't make any difference."
I don't think I've ever agreed with Mitch McConnell more.
A large group of Republican presidential candidates gathered in South Carolina over the weekend for the "Freedom Summit" event, and a CNN correspondent asked much of the field an interesting question: Who do you think is the greatest living president?
"Obviously the greatest president of my lifetime is Ronald Reagan," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
"I'll leave that to the people to decide," said Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, which is his guaranteed go-to line for questions he doesn't want to answer. "Certainly the greatest president of recent generations was Ronald Reagan."
"I was a big fan, a very big fan of Ronald Reagan," real estate mogul Donald Trump said.
The problem, of course, is the degree to which the answer doesn't match the question. Reagan can't be the greatest living president because, as a factual matter, Reagan died in June 2004.
No, Republicans, "alive in our hearts" is not an acceptable answer.
There's arguably a small flaw in the question itself: we're dealing with a very small universe of options. There are, after all, only five living presidents.
A few years ago, a Republican senator adopted a foreign policy posture completely at odds with the vision pushed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). The senator expressed support for negotiations with Iran, was reluctant to launch military offensives, and endorsed the Obama administration's position on a variety of international issues. As recently as February 2013, this lawmaker's foreign policy included "moderate policies that don't differ too much from those of President Obama."
The problem, of course, is that this was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), before he made the rather radical transition to the hawkish Republican presidential hopeful, who'll give a big speech on foreign policy today at the Council on Foreign Relations. Sahil Kapur had a great report on this for Bloomberg Politics.
In May 2012, Senator Marco Rubio gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York outlining a humble foreign policy. "I don't want to come across as some sort of saber-rattling person," he said, "because I'm not."
Three years later, the Florida Republican will return Wednesday to the venue for the first major foreign policy speech of his presidential campaign, where he is expected to complete a dramatic shift from moderate to ultra-hawk.
The evolution began early in 2014 as Rubio was working to repair his standing with the Republican base for supporting immigration reform. Within a year and a half, he was publicly taunting America's enemies.
The key takeaway from the story isn't the obvious inconsistencies in Rubio's fairly brief record. Highlighting flip-flops is fine, as far as it goes, but far more interesting is the shift in Republican politics that led the young senator to change direction in the first place.
Much of the nation is awaiting word from the Supreme Court on marriage equality, though as msnbc's Emma Margolin reported this week, some are biding their time in unconstructive ways.
In a little over a month, the nation's highest court is expected to answer two burning questions – whether the U.S. Constitution requires states to license same-sex marriages, and whether it requires states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other places. But in Texas, lawmakers are working on their own answers to each: No and no, thank you very much.
In theory, the legal dynamic seems fairly simple: if the Supreme Court's majority rules that states must extend equal-marriage rights to all adults, the dispute is effectively over. Some Republicans will no doubt suggest changing the U.S. Constitution, but marriage equality, depending on the ruling's scope, may be national policy with next month's ruling.
In practice, however, Texas is planning ahead, working on a proposal to circumvent a possible Supreme Court ruling conservatives won't like.
A bill pending in the Republican-run Texas House would prohibit local officials from providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In other words, the Supreme Court might very well tell the nation that marriage equality is the law of the land, but at the same time, Texas would tell its clerks, "Not here it isn't."
If your response to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) bridge scandal is, "Christie's been far too apologetic," I have good news: the governor couldn't agree more.
The governor declared late last that he simplydoesn't want to talk about his scandals anymore. "I'm not proud or happy of what happened," he said, "but I'm going to stop apologizing for it."
Instead, the Garden State Republican is eager to give the political world something new to talk about, unveiling a new economic plan yesterday. The New York Timesreported:
[Christie proposed simplifying] the tax code from six brackets to three, reducing income tax rates, and eliminating the payroll tax for anyone over age 62 or those entering the workforce under age 21. The current top income tax rate would drop to 28 percent from 39 percent under his plan, while the corporate rate would decline to 25 percent from 35 percent.
Those at the lowest end of the wage spectrum would see their rates drop to the single digits from 10 percent, though because of tax credits and deductions they often don't face tax levies anyway.
The governor sketched out his economic vision in a Wall Street Journalop-ed and in a speech yesterday in New Hampshire, where he called President Obama the "worst economic president since Jimmy Carter."
Perhaps the real Christie scandal is the poor guy's inability to remember the George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush presidencies.
Regardless, if the governor believes he can get his national campaign back on track with this economic plan, he may need to brush up on the basics.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was asked yesterday about how he would have approached the invasion of Iraq, given the benefit of hindsight. "Knowing what we know now, of course we wouldn't go into Iraq," the Republican senator said. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) offered a similar assessment, telling CNN, "If we knew then what we know now and I was the President of the United States, I wouldn't go to war."
And yet, somehow, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) is managing to screw this up so badly, it's shaking confidence in his candidacy. Benjy Sarlin reported for msnbc:
Should the U.S. have invaded Iraq in 2003? It's a natural question for Jeb Bush, whose brother launched the unpopular war and who is now considering running for president while consulting with many of the same advisers. But after 24 hours, two interviews, and one misheard question, Bush's answer is still unclear.
Before we get into the particulars, let's pause to appreciate the broader context. Jeb Bush has had literally years to come up with a coherent position on this issue. His brother launched one of the most disastrous wars in American history; we're still struggling with the consequences; and Republicans are eager to turn the 2016 race into a debate on foreign policy.
The former governor and his massive campaign operation, filled with experienced professionals, must have known some pretty straightforward questions about Iraq were on the way. They've had all kinds of time to craft some talking points and even subject the answers to focus groups to see how Americans might respond.
But despite all of this, Jeb Bush, who hasn't been a candidate for any public office since 2002, still seems woefully unprepared for obvious questions about the biggest foreign policy crisis in a generation. It's as if he saw a sign that said, "Quicksand Ahead," ignored it, and is surprised to find himself sinking.
Rachel Maddow reports on the close proximity of U.S. nuclear missile facilities in North Dakota to rail lines for transporting highly volatile crude oil, and shows U.S. military documents expressing concern about the risk to specific sites. watch
Former Congressman Patrick Murphy, a passenger on Amtrak 188 that experienced a deadly derailment in Philadelphia, describes to Rachel Maddow what the crash felt like and how he and other passengers evacuated from the train after the crash. watch
Rachel Maddow reports breaking news of a northbound Amtrak passenger train en route from Washington, D,.C. to New York, that derailed near Philadelphia. Passenger Janelle Richards, producer for NBC Nightly News, calls in to describe the scene. watch
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