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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 8.13.14

08/13/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Iraq: "A senior White House official said on Wednesday that the United States would consider using American ground troops to assist Iraqis in rescuing Yazidi refugees if recommended by military advisers assessing the situation."
* An extension: "The head of the Palestinian delegation negotiating a truce with Israel says Hamas has agreed to extend a cease-fire for another five days."
* Ukraine: "Confusion enveloped an enormous Russian aid convoy as it apparently halted Wednesday at a military base in the southern Russian city of Voronezh, temporarily suspending its march toward southeastern Ukraine."
* Afghanistan: "A powerful Afghan governor and former militia leader, who had threatened mass protests in the wake of the disputed presidential runoff in June, warned Wednesday of a "civil uprising" if the ongoing ballot recount proves biased and his candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, is not named the winner."
* Questions abound: "President Obama won't make any major announcements on immigration reform during his secretive mid-vacation trip back to Washington next week, the White House said Wednesday."
* Does Obama need congressional authorization? Part I: "Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said Tuesday that open-ended military actions, like President Obama's airstrikes in Iraq, should require congressional approval and that a bill he's proposed would ensure that is the case."
* Does Obama need congressional authorization? Part II: "Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) on Wednesday said President Obama does not need approval from Congress for the limited U.S. airstrikes taking place in Iraq. 'Well, I don't think congressional approval is needed for the type of targeted airstrikes the president's conducting right now,' he said on MSNBC."
* A tragic loss: "According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 15 journalists have died in the course of their work covering Israel and the Palestinian territories since 1992. On Wednesday, that number was tragically augmented when Italian Associated Press video journalist Simone Camilli and his freelance translator, Ali Shehda Abu Afash, were killed in an explosion at an ordinance dump in the Gaza Strip."
* Virginia: "A federal appeals court refused Wednesday to delay its ruling striking down Virginia's gay marriage ban, which means that same-sex couples could begin marrying in the state as early as next week. The state would also need to start recognizing marriages from out of state by next Wednesday, assuming the U.S. Supreme Court does not intervene."
* Massachusetts: "In a move likely to raise his profile and popularity further within the Democratic Party, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick signed bipartisan gun-safety legislation Wednesday that grants police chiefs the authority to prevent certain individuals from obtaining firearms licenses."
* This really was unfortunate: "Maureen Dowd's long descent into anti-Clinton self-parody hit a new low last night when she managed to transition from discussing the death of Robin Williams to an attack on Hillary Clinton."
Police officers equipped in riot gear line up during a protest of the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown outside Ferguson Police Department Headquarters August 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.

Ferguson grapples with more violence

08/13/14 04:47PM

As if tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, weren't already running high, a police officer shot and critically injured a man overnight, not far from where local residents have gathered to protest this weekend's Michael Brown shooting.
According to local news accounts, officers responded to reports of gunfire around 1 a.m. When the police were confronted with a man who allegedly pointed a gun at them, an officer fired and wounded the suspect. All of this followed a third night of protests, which again included police launching tear gas into crowds.
Trymaine Lee today talked to the police chief near the center of the story.
Police Chief Thomas Jackson has landed in what could be described as a nightmare scenario for the head of a largely segregated police department: the racially fraught and inexplicable killing of an unarmed black teen, Michael Brown, by a white officer on the Ferguson force.
In an exclusive interview with msnbc, Jackson said his fear is not of the understandably angry residents, but "the anarchists that are coming in, the people that don't want healing, the people that just want to continue to fight."
"Those are the people I'm concerned about," he said.
The rest of Lee's interview with Jackson is well worth checking out.
As for questions surrounding Brown's shooting, Jackson told the media today that the still unnamed officer who shot the unarmed teenager "suffered injuries to his face but was not shot." The police chief added that he's unaware of any video of the incident.
Jackson went to urge protesters to remain peaceful and gather during the day. "They're looking for answers," he said. "I understand that. I understand the anger."
The U.S. Supreme Court, June 25, 2014 in Washington, DC.

'We're going to have Supreme Court appointments'?

08/13/14 04:10PM

In President Obama's first two years, he was able to name two justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, including Elena Kagan, who took the oath four years ago last week.
But as is the case with so much of the Obama presidency, there have been far fewer important and productive developments since 2010. When it comes to the high court, might that soon change?
President Barack Obama suggested to supporters Monday that he's likely to have the chance to nominate new justices to the Supreme Court before he is set to leave office in 2017.
Taking a break from his Martha's Vineyard vacation to speak to a Democratic Senate Campaign Committee fundraiser on the island, Obama appeared to be predicting that there will be vacancies on the Supreme Court soon, though he did not indicate a specific time frame. He implored the guests to work to keep the Senate in Democratic control so that Democratic nominees won't be obstructed by Republicans.
According to the official transcript, the president told donors at a Massachusetts fundraiser, "What's preventing us from getting things done right now is you've got a faction within the Republican Party that thinks solely in terms of their own ideological purposes and solely in terms of how do they hang on to power. And that's a problem. And that's why I need a Democratic Senate. Not to mention the fact that we're going to have Supreme Court appointments, and there are going to be a whole host of issues that many people here care about that are going to be determined by whether or not Democrats retain the Senate."
It's certainly possible that Obama wasn't being literal. When he said "we're going to have Supreme Court appointments," perhaps he was just speculating about one possible reason Democratic donors should prioritize the Senate majority, just in case.
But the presidential mention of a possible high-court vacancy was enough to generate some chatter, in this case, with good reason.
Joni Ernst

Iowa's Ernst has raised fears of Agenda 21 conspiracy

08/13/14 12:53PM

The conventional wisdom maintains that Republicans are in a strong position this year, especially in U.S. Senate races, because the party has avoided nominating some of the radical candidates that hurt the party in 2010 and 2012.
But the conventional wisdom continues to underestimate what Iowa's Joni Ernst brings to the table. The Republican state senator, who easily won her party's U.S. Senate nomination in June, seems to hold beliefs that put her squarely on the furthest fringes of American political thought. Yahoo News reports today, for example, on her remarks about a ridiculous U.N. conspiracy theory.
The latest primary comments that could haunt her Senate bid are on the topic of Agenda 21, a community planning provision in a decades-old United Nations treaty that's become an object of fear and conspiracy theories on the right, and especially in the commentaries and writing of Glenn Beck.
Yahoo News has obtained video showing Ernst at a January GOP forum in Montgomery County, Iowa, warning that Agenda 21 could force Iowa farmers off their land, dictate what cities Iowans must live in, and control how Iowa citizens travel from place to place.
In response to a question about Agenda 21, Ernst responded as if she'd given the fringe topic quite a bit of thought.
"The United Nations has imposed this upon us, and as a U.S. senator, I would say, 'No more. No more Agenda 21,'" she said earlier this year. "Community planning -- to the effect that it is implementing eminent domain and taking away property rights away from individuals -- I don't agree with that.... We don't want to see a further push with Agenda 21, where the Agenda 21 and the government telling us that these are the urban centers that you will live in; these are the ways that you will travel to other urban centers. Agenda 21 encompasses so many different aspects of our lives that it's taking away our individual liberties, our freedoms as United States citizens."
A couple of months prior, during her U.S. Senate candidacy, Ernst argued that Agenda 21 could lead to "moving people off of their agricultural land and consolidating them into city centers, and then telling them that you don't have property rights anymore."
I can appreciate how easy it is to become inured to over-the-top rhetoric, especially from far-right candidates, but let's not brush past this too quickly: Joni Ernst publicly railed against a conspiracy theory that the United Nations might take Iowans' farms and move them involuntarily into cities.
And she's a U.S. Senate candidate.
And she might actually win.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.13.14

08/13/14 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:
* Montana Democrats need to choose a U.S. Senate candidate quickly, but actor Jeff Bridges probably won't seek the nomination. "Don't even think about it," Bridges said his wife told him.
* Chris McDaniel, who lost in a Republican Senate runoff primary, still hasn't given up in Mississippi, though this won't bolster his case: "As Chris McDaniel's team continues to scour voting records to add to an expected legal challenge of his loss to Thad Cochran, it has listed McDaniel's lead lawyer in the challenge, and his wife, as irregular votes that should be tossed out."
* In Ohio, a Public Policy Polling survey released yesterday shows Gov. John Kasich (R) with a six-point lead over challenger Ed FitzGerald (D), 50% to 44%. A month ago, the same poll showed Kasich ahead by just one point.
* In Florida's gubernatorial race, Charlie Crist's (D) critics have launched robocalls featuring comments Crist made eight years ago when he was a Republican candidate for governor.
* The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee still believes in Sen. Kay Hagan's (D) chances, and has announced a whopping $9.1 million ad buy in support of a tough new spot slamming Thad Tillis' (R) deep education cuts.
* New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was back in Maine this week, campaigning alongside Gov. Paul LePage (R). The appearance coincided with the Republican Governors Association, which Christie chairs, launching a new ad applauding LePage as "blunt" and "one of a kind."
The U.S. Capitol is reflected in water on the morning of June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Watching a bad idea backfire

08/13/14 11:22AM

For the last several weeks, the more congressional Republicans talked about suing, and possibly impeaching, President Obama, the more Democrats smiled. Aaron Blake explained why: the Republican antics are "killing the GOP among swing voters."
The McClatchy-Marist College poll shows political moderates oppose the impeachment of Obama 79 percent to 15 percent. That's a stunning margin. And not only that, if the House GOP did initiate impeachment proceedings, moderates say it would turn them off so much that they would be pulled toward the Democrats. By 49-27, moderates say impeachment would make them more likely to vote Democratic than Republican in 2014.
But it's not just impeachment. As we've noted before, the House GOP's lawsuit against Obama's use of executive orders is turning out to be a political loser too. In fact, it's not much more popular than impeachment.
Americans say 58 percent to 34 percent that the GOP should not sue Obama, and moderates agree 67-22. Moderates also say by a 50-25 margin that the lawsuit makes them more likely to back Democrats in 2014.
Congressional Republicans, by targeting the president so aggressively, probably assumed this would motivate the GOP base, if nothing else, but even that isn't entirely going according to plan. Greg Sargent, looking at the same data, explained this morning, "The poll also finds that 88 percent of Democrats say the lawsuit would make them more likely to vote for their side, while 78 percent of Republicans say the [T]his effort may scratch the hard-right GOP base's impeachment itch, but it could end up motivating Democrats more."
And yet, GOP officeholders and candidates still can't help themselves.
President Barack Obama walks on the second hole green at the Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course at Marine Corps Base Hawaii on January 2, 2014 in Kaneohe, Hawaii.

Beltway media still preoccupied with Obama's downtime

08/13/14 10:55AM

Maybe it's something about August. Congress isn't in session; the Supreme Court isn't releasing opinions; and the president usually takes some vacation time, creating fairly uneventful conditions for the Beltway media. The inactivity seems to convince some in the media that President Obama's golf game is fascinating.
The pitch is no doubt familiar: given international developments and challenges here at home, there are bad "optics" when the president takes some downtime and hits the links. (The last time this came up in earnest, not coincidentally, was mid-August 2013.)
What's odd about the pitch, however, is the degree to which Obama generates complaints, even though he takes far less time off than his predecessor. Yahoo's Olivier Knox, citing data from CBS's Mark Knoller, published a helpful comparison.
As of August 12, 2014, Obama has taken 20 "vacations" lasting 2 to 15 days. He has spent all or part of 129 days on "vacation." [...]
At this point in George W. Bush's presidency, he had taken 58 trips to his Prairie Chapel ranch near Crawford, Texas, for all or part of 381 days. (Bush also frequently used the property to host world leaders). Bush had also spent all or part of 26 days at his family's oceanside compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, over the course of seven trips there.
These figures don't include time at Camp David, the official presidential retreat, which Knoller doesn't count as "vacation."
Perhaps it's time for another chart.
Former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land talks during a Political Action Committee reception Wednesday, May 28, 2014, at the 2014 Mackinac Policy Conference at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Mich.

Michigan's Terri Lynn Land moves backwards

08/13/14 10:04AM

In March, Nate Silver published a forecast for the 2014 U.S. Senate race and suggested Republicans have reason to be optimistic about the open-seat race in Michigan. "Republicans," he said at the time, "will have an excellent candidate in Terri Lynn Land.
As much as I value Nate's work, even he doesn't bat a thousand. Tim Alberta reports that Land looked to be in very good shape as the race first got underway, but her standing has deteriorated since.
There's one simple reason Michigan Republicans worked feverishly to recruit someone other than Land to run: She is not a top-tier candidate. The last few months of her campaign is proof, revealing the warts and weaknesses that her allies have always known could ruin the GOP's best opportunity in two decades to take a grab at this Senate seat. [...]
[O]n the nuts and bolts of campaigning -- operational tactics, articulating policy specifics, messaging through advertisements and media -- there were serious doubts about whether Land could compete.... Those fears are now being realized.
It wasn't a specific gaffe or scandal that put Land's candidacy in jeopardy, so much as it was a combination of factors: an odd campaign-finance controversy, a lack of depth on the stump, a reluctance to answer questions about her policy positions, and what Alberta described as "intentional under-exposure."
Yesterday, things got much worse for the GOP candidate. An entity called Freedom Partners, financed in part by the Koch brothers, had purchased $1.1 million in television time in the Wolverine State, but the group "abruptly canceled the ads this week."
That report came a day after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's (R) re-election campaign "wouldn't discuss" its relationship with Land's campaign, and when Team Land said the two Republicans would appear together at an event this weekend, the Senate candidate's spokesperson soon after reversed course.
Women hold up signs during a women's pro-choice rally on Capitol Hill, July 11, 2013 in Washington, DC.

McConnell & Co. still stumbling on women's issues

08/13/14 09:31AM

For all the reported training/coaching sessions Republicans have reportedly received on talking about women's issues, it's tempting to think GOP officeholders and candidates would be better at it by now. But so far, this has been an especially discouraging week.
Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, for example, the favorite for an open U.S. Senate seat in West Virginia, appeared on msnbc on Monday and declared, "Women absolutely deserve equal pay for equal work." Left unsaid was the fact that Capito voted against the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act twice and voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act three times. In other words, Capito believes women "absolutely" deserve equal pay, but she's uninterested in helping guarantee it.
In Oregon, Republican Senate hopeful Monica Wehby explained why she opposes the Paycheck Fairness Act: she believes it would lead fewer businesses to hire women "because of the fear of lawsuits."
And there's Kentucky, where Joe Sonka reported on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R) latest effort.
Sen. Mitch McConnell spoke today in Louisville at the Kentucky State Police Lab with Debbie Smith, urging the reauthorization of legislation bearing her name that devotes federal funds to tackle the nation's massive rape kit backlog.
The Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Reduction Act, first passed in 2004, has little to no opposition in Congress. But as is the case with the current dysfunction of Washington, this bill and other uncontroversial legislation aimed at reducing the nation's backlog of 100,000 rape kits is currently being held up in partisan gridlock.
Asked to explain why Senate Republicans have blocked an appropriations bill committing an additional $41 million to tackle the rape kit backlog, McConnell didn't want to talk about it.

Republicans and the fine art of fake news

08/13/14 08:37AM

Let's say you're a voter in central California and you go online to look for information about a competitive congressional race. You stumble upon a website with a generic sounding name, "Central Valley Update," and find some news coverage that casts the Democrat in a very negative light. It looks like a news story; it's presented as a news story; and you might well be tempted to perceive it as a news story.
Except, it isn't. Down at the very bottom of the page, in a small font, readers can learn that the "Central Valley Update," is actually "paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee."
Yes, as Shane Goldmacher reported yesterday, the Republicans' House campaign arm "is now in the faux-news game."
The National Republican Congressional Committee, which came under fire earlier this year for a deceptive series of fake Democratic candidate websites that it later changed after public outcry, has launched a new set of deceptive websites, this time designed to look like local news sources.
The NRCC has created about two dozen of these new faux news sites targeting Democrats, both challengers and incumbents, and is promoting them across the country with localized Google search ads.
The NRCC's single-page sites are designed to appear to be a local news portal, with logos like "North County Update" or "Central Valley Update." The articles begin in the impartial voice of a political fact-checking site, hoping to lure in readers. "We'll take a look at her record and let you decide," starts one. Then they gradually morph into more biting language.
It seems pretty obvious the National Republican Congressional Committee is trying to deceive the public, though an NRCC official characterized the fake-news initiative as simply "a new and effective way to disseminate information."
This is the second time this year the NRCC's efforts to push the limits of online propriety have caused a stir. In February, the Republican campaign committee created another series of misleading websites -- the sites led visitors to believe they were financially supporting Dem candidates, when in fact the money was ending up in the NRCC's coffers.
But these fake-news websites are arguably more bizarre.
A man hands out U.S. flags at a naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens in Los Angeles

As GOP goes right, Obama eyes big move on immigration

08/13/14 08:00AM

Last week, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the chair of the House Republican Conference, chatted with Reason, a libertarian outlet, about developments on Capitol Hill. Of particular interest, the House GOP leader flatly denied that Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has taken the lead on shaping Republican policy on immigration.
"He does not -- his position does not reflect the broad view of Republicans," McMorris Rodgers said in reference to King.
It was hard to take the argument seriously. Just a week prior, House Republicans ignored their own Speaker and rejected their own party's border bill, prompting GOP leaders to turn the entire issue over to the right-wing Iowan and his allies. King, arguably Congress' most vituperative opponent of immigration, boasted, "The changes brought into this are ones I've developed and advocated for over the past two years. It's like I ordered it off the menu."
If that was the turning point, Republicans are now stepping on the gas. Jonathan Weisman reports today that party officials "pressing for conciliation to attract Hispanic and immigrant votes" are obviously losing to their intra-party rivals.
"When you put Raúl Labrador, Steve King and Michele Bachmann together writing an immigration bill, there's damage done, no question," said Carlos Gutierrez, a commerce secretary under President George W. Bush who led the failed war room in 2007 trying to get a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's immigration laws passed. [...]
[O]n Capitol Hill, the Tea Party wing continues to drive the party's agenda.
It's against this backdrop that the National Republican Senatorial Committee hopes to use immigration reform to attack vulnerable Democratic incumbents, including Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Kay Hagan (N.C.).
"It's just another sign that even vulnerable Democrats like Landrieu, Begich, Hagan and Pryor are more loyal to Chuck Schumer and Barack Obama than they are to middle-class men and women struggling in their home states," said NRSC spokesperson Brad Dayspring, effectively arguing that supporting a popular, bipartisan immigration bill is some kind of betrayal -- despite its Republican backers and co-authors.
Is it any wonder the White House is prepared to go big without Congress?

Gun sales spike and other headlines

08/13/14 07:59AM

Michael Brown shooting unearths Ferguson's deeper troubles. (MSNBC)

Gun stores in St. Louis area see a spike in sales. (St. Louis Post Dispatch)

130 more U.S. military advisers arrive in Northern Iraq. (USA Today)

Iraqi lawmaker who made emotional plea to help Yazidis is injured in crash of relief flight. (NY Times)

Report: White House didn't OK immigrant releases. (AP)

House GOP campaign arm launches fake news sites to attack Democratic candidates. (National Journal)

Chris McDaniel campaign flags his own lawyer's as an irregular vote. (Jackson Clarion-Ledger)

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