Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* The latest PPP poll in New Hampshire shows Hillary Clinton narrowly leading Bernie Sanders, 47% to 44%, with Martin O'Malley trailing with 3%. Clinton fares very well among Democrats; Sanders fares just as well with independents planning to vote in the Democratic primary.
* Does Vice President Biden regret his decision not to run for president? "I regret it every day," he said yesterday, "but it was the right decision for my family and me."
* Clinton unveiled additional details on her autism initiative this week, and Roll Call reports that experts are "optimistic" that her agenda would make a significant difference.
* I don't much care about Marco Rubio relying heavily on private jets, but I think it's a shame his campaign told reporters for months that the Florida senator flies commercial -- and sits in coach.
* Speaking of Rubio, Rand Paul is also turning his attention to his Florida colleague, arguing yesterday, "I think Rubio is the weakest candidate on national defense because he's weak on border security."
* The DNC is launching its first Spanish-language video of the cycle, hitting Republicans on, of all things, guns. "The majority of gun owners support universal background checks," the ad says. "But all of the Republican candidates oppose the prevention of firearm violence."
* In Virginia, Rep. Dave Brat (R), who won one of the biggest primary upsets in modern history in 2014, will face a primary challenge of his own this year from Henrico County Sheriff Mike Wade (R).
There was a fleeting moment around this point eight years ago in which some questioned John McCain's eligibility for the presidency. The Republican senator, well on his way to becoming his party's nominee, was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936, prompting some pointless questions about whether he was literally a "natural-born citizen."
Few took those questions seriously; even McCain's harshest critics dismissed the concerns out of hand; and the Senate quickly approved a resolution -- written and sponsored by Democrat Claire McCaskill -- declaring, "John Sidney McCain, III, is a 'natural born citizen' under Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States." It passed without opposition.
The recent history adds a degree of irony to McCain's comments about Ted Cruz yesterday.
Arizona Sen. John McCain said he doesn't know if the Canadian-born Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is eligible to be president, saying the Supreme Court might have to decide if Cruz is eligible to be president.
"I don't know the answer to that," said McCain on the Chris Merrill Show on KFYI550 on Wednesday of Cruz's eligibility.
As the BuzzFeed report added, McCain went on to say, in reference to Cruz, "I think it's worth looking into." McCain added he thinks Cruz should try to get ahead of these eligibility issues, though without access to a time machine, how he'd go about doing this is a bit of a mystery.
It's a genuine shame that Donald Trump has pushed this issue into the spotlight, because as best as I can tell, this entire line of attack is misguided. For all intents and purposes, natural-born citizens are those who were citizens at the time of their birth. This applies to Cruz. End of story.
I can think of about a thousand reasons to be concerned about a Cruz presidency, but his eligibility isn't one of them.
What I find more interesting, however, is Cruz's sudden need for friends in high places.
Over the summer, Donald Trump soared to the top of Republican presidential polls, vowing to "make America great again." At the time, Marco Rubio made a conscious, deliberate effort to reject his rival's pitch.
Trump's wrong, Rubio said in August, because America is already great. "I know what [Trump] is trying to say," the senator added in September, "but my problem is that America is a great country."
That was four months ago. Last night, at a campaign event in Iowa, Rubio told his audience, "We are going to be a great country again ... if you give me the chance to be your president."
The difference isn't subtle. All of that stuff Rubio said over the summer, rejecting the idea that America is somehow falling short of greatness, no longer applies. The Florida senator has stopped rejecting Trump's line and started echoing it.
And this is hardly the only example. Bloomberg Politics reported this morning that Rubio's "tone has darkened as he chases rivals Donald Trump and Ted Cruz for his party's nomination."
Marco Rubio has adopted a darker tone in the first week of 2016, deploying increasingly apocalyptic rhetoric and fiercer attacks on Republican rivals that provide a stark contrast with the relatively non-confrontational brand of sunny optimism that had characterized his presidential campaign through 2015.
The Bloomberg article lists some striking examples of Rubio changing his posture dramatically, pushing fear-based messages that are as hysterical as they are dumb. "Barack Obama released terrorists from Guantanamo, and now they are plotting to attack us," Rubio foolishly claimed in a new TV ad. "His plan after the attack in San Bernardino: take away our guns," the senator added, repeating an obvious, demagogic lie.
"If we get this election wrong, there may be no turning around for America," Rubio told voters this week, the same day he blamed the United States for North Korea's provocative weapons tests.
A Washington Postpiece noted this morning that Rubio has "de-emphasized the optimistic language about 'a new American century' that was the hallmark of 2015." It added Rubio's condemnations of Democrats have grown "more piercing, the elbows he is throwing at his GOP opponents are sharper and his warnings about the national security risks of siding with them over him are more dire and more frequent."
There are all kinds of oddities to Ben Carson's presidential platform, but his affinity for spying on Americans is arguably the strangest. Over the summer, for example, the candidate told a group of Republican voters he was "thinking very seriously" about adding "a covert division of people who look like the people in this room, who monitor what government people do."
A few months later, the retired physician said he intends to use the federal Department of Education to "monitor our institutions of higher education" to look for political bias in classrooms. If the Carson administration found on-campus speech it didn't like, the Republican would cut off universities' federal funding.
Yesterday, the Des Moines Register's editorial board asked what in the world Carson is talking about. His response didn't help.
Ben Carson suggested on Wednesday that the Department of Education and other government agencies should secretly enter classrooms, libraries and other government offices to track instances of political bias and inefficiency. [...]
When pressed by an editorial writer whether surreptitious federal investigations into college classroom discussions would amount to policing people's thoughts, Carson answered that such action is appropriate any time federal money is involved.
As the candidate sees it, federal officials should "surreptitiously" investigate professors who are accused of using political speech Carson considers "extreme."
And then he went just a little further, raising the prospect of secret monitoring of other public agencies.
UC Berkeley's John Yoo, a rather important figure from the Bush/Cheney Justice Department, wrote an item for the Federalist Society yesterday on President Obama's new measures on gun policy. Not surprisingly, the controversial lawyer wasn't impressed.
But it's the way in which Yoo criticized the administration's policy that was almost amusing, in a lacking-self-awareness kind of way (via Sam Stein).
Supporters of Second Amendment rights should have little difficulty challenging President Obama's new executive orders to restrict gun sales. There should be no problems for plaintiffs to enter federal court. [...]
Such a case would prompt not just a good challenge to the scope of the President's authority to interpret the law, on which the Supreme Court has been signaling that it may shift away from deference to the executive branch, but also the scope of the Second Amendment and the federal government's regulatory powers.... In his regulatory overreaction to recent shootings, Obama may begin the erosion of the powers of his treasured welfare state.
Right off the bat, it's curious that Yoo would take aim at the president's "executive orders," since the new White House reforms don't include any executive orders. Given Yoo's role as a legal scholar, it's a little surprising he'd get such a basic detail wrong.
It's also odd that Yoo would be so eager to see a legal challenge to a policy that, according to the NRA, doesn't really do much of anything. On Monday, the group's lawyers were ready to pounce on the administration, but notice there's been little chatter about a court case since.
But even if we put these details aside, it's the broader context that's worth appreciating: does John Yoo, of all people, really want to have a conversation about federal "overreaction" to violence?
Following a historic Supreme Court ruling in June, marriage equality has been the law of the land in the United States for over six months. A few politicians still whine about it -- Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio still believes he can turn back the clock and end equal marriage rights -- but most of the country realizes that this aspect of the culture war is over.
But then there's Alabama, where the chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court ordered probate judges yesterday to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. MSNBC's Emma Margolin reported:
In his order, Roy Moore -- the Republican chief justice who made headlines last year for similarly standing in the way of same-sex nuptials in Alabama -- said that the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision only struck down the four same-sex marriage bans that were specifically challenged in the landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges. That lawsuit was a consolidated challenge to bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee -- not Alabama.
Therefore, Moore wrote, Alabama probate judges still have a "ministerial duty" to comply with an order issued by the state Supreme Court last March to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses.
For those unfamiliar with Moore, it's worth noting that his legal views tend to be ... how do I put this gently ... unique. Alabama's chief justice, who's already been thrown off the court once for defying court rulings he found objectionable, has argued repeatedly, for example, that states can ignore federal court rulings whenever they choose.
He's also sometimes known as the "Ten Commandments Judge," willing to use his position as a judge to advance his religious agenda. Now the jurist wants Alabama to ignore a U.S. Supreme Court ruling he finds objectionable.
In other words, Moore, widely seen as a crackpot by America's legal mainstream, is not to be taken seriously. The problem, of course, is that he's still the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, who just issued an order to probate judges statewide.
As of this morning, they're not entirely sure whether to follow the law or follow Roy Moore's bonkers interpretation of the law.
Paul Heintz, political editor for Seven Days newspaper in Vermont, talks with Rachel Maddow about how the city of Burlington is preparing for a schedule Donald Trump rally for which there have already been 20,000 tickets issued for a 1,400 seat venue. watch
Curt Guyette, an investigative reporter for the Michigan ACLU, talks with Rachel Maddow about the effort to unearth documents to find out when and what the Rick Snyder administration knew about Flint, Michigan's water toxicity problems. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on a newly obtained e-mail from June of 2015, confirmed by NBC News, that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's chief-of-staff was troubled that Flint's bad water tests were not being taken seriously, part of a string of mails showing the administration's awareness of alarming lead test results even as it insisted... watch
Joe Cirincione, president of The Ploughshares Fund, talks with Rachel Maddow about the differences between difference types of nuclear weapons and why experts don't believe North Korea's claim that it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb on Tuesday. watch
* No one seems to believe North Korea: "It will take a couple of days for the U.S. to determine if North Korea's claim it detonated a hydrogen bomb is a big lie or a big problem -- but experts already think it's more likely the event was just a blast from the past."
* California: "Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Wednesday in Porter Ranch, where thousands of residents have been evacuated due to a massive gas leak."
* Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge: "The anti-government activists who took over a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon are going to face federal charges when the siege is over, the local sheriff told NBC News on Wednesday."
* Deportations: "The nation's highest immigration court has temporarily halted the deportations of 12 Central American women and children [whom] the federal government detained last weekend as part of its first significant nationwide enforcement effort focused on these recently arrived immigrants."
* Middle East fallout continues: "Qatar has recalled its ambassador from Iran to protest attacks on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and Consulate in Mashhad, violence stemming from the Saudi execution of an opposition Shiite cleric."
* Georgia: "Gov. Nathan Deal on Monday rescinded an order that sought to stop the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Georgia, clearing the way for new arrivals from the war-torn nation to receive food stamp benefits."
* Turkey: "President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey marched across another line last week. Asked about his push for greatly enhanced executive powers, he told reporters that there was a precedent in 'Hitler's Germany.'"
* Alaska: "Credit ratings agency Standard and Poor's on Tuesday dropped Alaska's gold-plated credit rating and warned of more turmoil ahead unless lawmakers act to close the state's massive budget gap." For more on this, check out my piece from a month ago.
Rachel Maddow discusses the scandal of the mismanagement of the Flint, Michigan water supply by appointees of the Rick Snyder administration that has left many residents with toxic, lead-tainted water. watch
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