Nebraska State Senator Jeremy Nordquist talks with Rachel Maddow about how conservative Nebraska legislators, citing the excessive cost of prosecuting executions, helped overturn a veto by the state's Republican governor to repeal the death penalty. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the latest developments in the campaigns for president in 2016, including Rick Santorum making his Republican candidacy official, and value of economic populism as part of a campaign platform. watch
* More on this on tonight's show: "Nebraska has repealed the death penalty following a dramatic vote Wednesday by state lawmakers to override the governor's veto. The high-stakes vote to override the veto of Legislative Bill 268 was 30-19. It requires at least 30 of 49 senators to overturn a gubernatorial veto."
* The new rules would apply to more than half of the nation's bodies of water: "President Obama on Wednesday announced a sweeping new clean water regulation meant to restore the federal government's authority to limit pollution in the nation's rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands."
* FIFA: "Seven of the most powerful executives in soccer were arrested in Switzerland on Wednesday in what American prosecutors called a generations-long scheme to corrupt the most popular sport in the world."
* Deadly storms: "Rescue workers waded through receding floodwaters in southeastern Texas on Wednesday in search of other missing victims who may still be alive. But their efforts came as authorities revised the death toll higher -- identifying at least two more victims while another round of storms rolled through earlier in the morning."
* Probably the right move: "President Obama will put off a confrontation at the Supreme Court over his immigration executive actions, choosing not to ask for permission to carry out the programs while a fight over presidential authority plays out in the lower courts, officials said Wednesday."
* Arkansas: "A 2013 Arkansas law banning abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy has been permanently blocked by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in a decision issued Wednesday. The three-judge panel affirmed a district court's earlier decision finding the ban unconstitutional and placed a permanent injunction on the law, which was one of the strictest abortion prohibitions in the country."
Arguably no single development in American politics has mattered more in recent generations than the radicalization of the Republican Party. As anyone who's read Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein knows, the GOP's shift to the far-right has fundamentally remade the policy landscape and changed the nature of the political rules in ways nothing -- no scandal, no crisis, no war -- has in many decades.
At least, that's what all available evidence tells us. Peter Wehner, the White House director of "strategic initiatives" in the Bush/Cheney era, not only disagrees with the thesis, but actually suggests the evidence has it backwards -- it's Democrats, he claims, who've become more extreme. From his New York Times piece today:
Among liberals, it's almost universally assumed that of the two major parties, it's the Republicans who have become more extreme over the years. That's a self-flattering but false narrative.
This is not to say the Republican Party hasn't become a more conservative party. It has. But in the last two decades the Democratic Party has moved substantially further to the left than the Republican Party has shifted to the right. On most major issues the Republican Party hasn't moved very much from where it was during the Gingrich era in the mid-1990s.
Intrigued, I dug into the piece, eager to see Wehner's proof. He noted, for example, that while many Democrats embraced a conservative approach to criminal-justice reform 20 years ago, most Dems are now widely concerned about the societal costs and effects of mass incarceration and police abuses.
I'm afraid Wehner hasn't fully thought this through. Democrats adopted a position, implemented it, and are now weighing changes after scrutinizing the results of their own policy. Plenty of Republicans agree with the Democratic conclusions, and support the same reforms. That's proof of a party that's become more extreme? Not by any definition I'm familiar with.
Well, maybe Wehner's piece just got off to a rough start. How about his second piece of evidence? The piece soon after complains that while Bill Clinton reformed welfare, President Obama created the Affordable Care Act.
Perhaps Wehner hasn't fully thought this through, either.
At the Republican National Committee's spring meeting two weeks ago, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) was eager to remind party activists that over the last half-century, Republicans have nominated just three types of people for president. "No. 1, they were a vice president. No. 2, they were the son of a former president," Santorum said. "No. 3, they came in second place the election before, and ran again."
For Santorum, it was a self-serving observation -- he arguably came in second in 2012, winning 11 primaries and caucuses -- which happened to be true. If Republicans regularly turn to the "next in line" candidate, the former Pennsylvania senator has reason for optimism.
But realistically, that optimism is almost certainly misplaced. This report from NBC News' Perry Bacon Jr. rings true.
In the early stages of the race, key party officials and donors have bypassed Santorum to back other candidates, particularly ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. In Iowa, where Santorum won in 2012 after visiting all 99 counties, some of his key backers in 2012 are already defecting to other candidates, particularly Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Santorum, despite finishing second in 2012, is so low in national polls right now that he may be excluded from a debate Fox News is hosting in August.... That low standing suggests he built little of a national following during this 2012 campaign.
I re-read this morning the piece I wrote when Santorum quit in 2012, and I was reminded of his improbable success. The former senator, who suffered a humiliating re-election defeat in 2006, parlayed failure into an unfocused, underfunded national campaign that managed to win quite a few states in spite of itself.
But in hindsight, we can now say with confidence that Santorum's success was something of a mirage -- lingering far-right skepticism about Mitt Romney led conservatives to look for an alternative who occasionally spoke in complete sentences. Santorum fared pretty well, not because of his competence as a national candidate, but because he was a warm body not named Mitt Romney.
Four years later, as Republicans grow the largest major-party presidential field in American history, rank-and-file GOP voters have all kinds of choices -- and they've shown absolutely no interest in the former Pennsylvania senator whom they got to know pretty well the last time around.
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:
* Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) appeared on msnbc this morning and held many in his party partially responsible for the rise of ISIS militants. "ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately, and most these arms were snatched up by ISIS," he said.
* Scott Walker suggested he's prepared to skip Florida's presidential primary, given the notable Floridians already running. "If we chose to get in, I don't think there's a state out there we wouldn't play in, other than maybe Florida, where Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are," Walker said yesterday,
* Bernie Sanders, who held a big campaign kickoff in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont, yesterday, has reportedly raised more than $4 million since announcing his candidacy in late April. Given that the independent senator doesn't take PAC money, that's a whole lot of small-dollar donors.
* Carly Fiorina apparently doesn't think highly of the Chinese. "I have been doing business in China for decades, and I will tell you that yeah, the Chinese can take a test, but what they can't do is innovate," she said. "They are not terribly imaginative. They're not entrepreneurial, they don't innovate, that is why they are stealing our intellectual property."
* The far-right Club for Growth has apparently taken an interest in Florida's Democratic Senate race. The group launched a new TV ad yesterday, criticizing Rep. Patrick Murphy's (D) support for the Export-Import Bank, while praising Rep. Alan Grayson's (D) opposition.
* Though there's been some scuttlebutt that Chris Christie might forgo the presidential race, those rumors appear to be wrong: he's scheduled a series of campaign stops in June in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
Like most Republican presidential candidates, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) tends to emphasize his support for cutting spending on most domestic priorities. But as NBC News reported yesterday, there are apparently exceptions to Bush's preferred approach.
Presidential candidate Jeb Bush says that the nation should increase funding to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease and should speed up the approval process for medications to treat it.
The GOP presidential hopeful, who spoke last week about his mother-in-law's struggle with the disease, proposed the ideas to NBC News Special Anchor Maria Shriver during an email exchange.
Bush specifically said, "We need to increase funding to find a cure. We need to reform FDA [regulations] to accelerate the approval process for drug and device approval at a much lower cost. We need to find more community based solutions for care."
The former governor also tied his policy position to his own personal, family experiences. "My sister-in-law and husband are the caregivers for my now 95-year old mother-in-law," Bush added. "Columba helps all the time. She is a blessing from God."
To be sure, there's nothing wrong with this. Endorsing increased funding and related steps in the campaign against Alzheimer's is a perfectly reasonable position to take.
But in Bush's case, there are some notable angles to keep in mind. The Tampa Bay Times' Adam C. Smith, for example, noted that the Florida Republican's current position is likely to annoy the state lawmakers in both parties who "recall Bush vetoing their budget items targeting Alzheimer's research and care while at the same time approving tax cuts often mainly for the benefit of specific businesses or wealthier Floridians."
Smith noted several key measures, including Bush vetoing funding in 2003 for daycare centers in Boynton Beach serving 100 adults with Alzheimer's Disease, and then in 2004 also vetoing funding for construction of outpatient treatment centers connected with the University of South Florida's Alzheimer's Research Institute.
At the time, the Republican governor called it a "want," not a "need."
Republican senators running for president don't exactly have history on their side. The party has only elected one sitting senator to the White House -- Warren Harding, whose two-year term did not go well -- and only a handful have even won their party's nomination.
What's interesting now, with four sitting GOP senators (and one former senator) in the national mix, is how eager Republican governors are to keep the historical pattern alive.
On Friday, for example, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) told the Southern Republican Leadership Conference that the candidates "in Washington" are all "fighting the good fight," but "they haven't won a whole lot of victories." The message wasn't subtle: Cruz, Rubio, Rand Paul, et al, are fine, but they don't have any real accomplishments (unlike, say, Scott Walker).
Former Texas governor Rick Perry has a message for three of the current Republican White House hopefuls: Run for governor before you run for president. Speaking about Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul, all three U.S. senators, Perry said in an interview last week with THE WEEKLY STANDARD that he's hearing from GOP voters that they want executive experience.
"I've had more than one individual say, 'You know what, if you want to be the president of the United States, you ought to go back to your home state and be the governor and get that executive experience before you go lead this country,'" said Perry.
At the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, Perry added, "Leadership's not just a speech on the Senate floor; it's a record of action."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has invested considerable energy in creating a specific political "brand": he's the young one in the Republican presidential field, offering a fresh, modern perspective, untethered to old assumptions and stale, 20th-century ideas.
It would be a far more compelling pitch if there weren't such a chasm between the message and the messenger. Consider, for example, the Republican senator's latest interview with radical TV preacher Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network.
In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody, Rubio warned that gay marriage represents "a real and present danger" to America because gay rights advocates are bent on labeling any anti-gay messages, including those from churches, as "hate speech."
It stands to reason that when a GOP presidential candidate sits down for an interview with a televangelist's outlet, he or she is going to take some pretty hard lines in the hopes of impressing the religious right movement. But I'll admit to being a little surprised by just how far Rubio was willing to go with CBN.
"We are at the water's edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech, because today we've reached the point in our society where if you do not support same-sex marriage, you are labeled a homophobe and a hater," Rubio argued with a straight face.
"So what's the next step after that? After they're done going after individuals, the next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the catechism of the Catholic Church, is hate speech. And that's a real and present danger."
No, actually, it's not. In fact, it's rather alarming to hear a leading candidate for national office share such paranoia out loud and on camera.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) isn't the only far-right policymaker to push state-mandated, medically unnecessary ultrasounds. He is, however, arguably the most deliberately obtuse when it comes to understanding why the policy might be controversial.
Right Wing Watch reported yesterday on Walker's latest interview with conservative talk radio host Dana Loesch, and the governor's curious defense for his policy.
Walker told Loesch that criticism he received about the ultrasound bill was merely an attack from the "gotcha" media, and that he was in fact just trying to provide women with "a cool thing."
"The thing about that, the media tried to make that sound like that was a crazy idea," he said. "Most people I talked to, whether they're pro-life or not, I find people all the time who'll pull out their iPhone and show me a picture of their grandkids' ultrasound and how excited they are, so that's a lovely thing. I think about my sons are 19 and 20, we still have their first ultrasounds. It's just a cool thing out there."
"We just knew if we signed that law, if we provided the information that more people if they saw that unborn child would make a decision to protect and keep the life of that unborn child," he said.
Willful ignorance is an amazing thing.
This has been going on for quite a while -- long enough for the far-right governor to get a clue about the subject. In 2013, for example, Walker defended his policy by defending ultrasounds themselves. "I don't have any problem with ultrasound," he told reporters. "I think most people think ultrasounds are just fine."
A year later, Walker said the ultrasound policy simply provided "information." Now he thinks it's a "gotcha" story from the media, which suggests he doesn't know what those words mean, either.
It's hard to say with confidence whether the Wisconsin Republican is pretending to be dumb for political expedience or whether he's genuinely confused, but either way, it's probably worth setting the record straight.
There's nothing unusual about a sitting senator writing a book. About a third of the current Senate includes published authors, who've written books on policy, fiction, history, and even children's literature.
But has there ever been a senator quite as prolific as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)? In 2011, his first year in elected office, Paul authored, The Tea Party Goes to Washington. A year later, the Republican wrote an updated version of the book called, Not Politics As Usual, and then also released, Government Bullies: How Everyday Americans Are Being Harassed, Abused, and Imprisoned by the Feds.
This week, Paul released his latest book, Taking a Stand: Moving Beyond Partisan Politics to Unite America, and in the fall, the senator's publisher said yet another Paul book, Our Presidents & Their Prayers: Proclamations of Faith by America's Leaders, will hit bookshelves.
It's astounding, isn't it? Rand Paul has time to be a U.S. senator, tend to constituent needs, attend committee hearings, participate in debates, maintain a high public profile, appear in media, travel, prepare a presidential campaign, and still churn out one book after another. A cynic might question whether the Kentucky lawmaker is actually writing any of them.
Of course, as BuzzFeed noticed, just because the Republican is releasing books doesn't mean the books tell the truth.
The publisher behind Rand Paul's new book will update future editions to correct a mistake: The book misstates the number of people killed in the Benghazi attack. [...]
"I believe judgment day for Benghazi is also at hand," writes Paul. "When the secretary of state answers a question concerning the murders of six Americans, including an American ambassador, by saying, 'What difference, at this point, does it make?' I think that's a pretty clear indication that it's time for that person to go."
This is actually two glaring errors at once. As Paul -- or his possible ghost writer -- should know, four Americans were murdered in Libya. What's more, Hillary Clinton did not say, "What difference, at this point, does it make?" in reference to the slayings.
Conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court have already undermined some important pillars of modern American life. Is the "one-person, one-vote" principle next? The answer, as of yesterday, is maybe.
The high court announced yesterday that the justices will hear arguments in a case called Evenwel v. Abbott. As Adam Liptak summarized:
The case, a challenge to voting districts for the Texas Senate, was brought by two voters, Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger. They are represented by the Project on Fair Representation, the small conservative advocacy group that successfully mounted the earlier challenge to the Voting Rights Act. It is also behind a pending challenge to affirmative action in admissions at the University of Texas at Austin.
In the new case, the challengers said their voting power had been diluted. "There are voters or potential voters in Texas whose Senate votes are worth approximately one and one-half times that of appellants," their brief said.
Under the status quo, legislative districts are based on total populations: the Census counts the number of people and lines are drawn accordingly.
But some conservatives want a more restrictive model. Counting everyone, they argue, ends up including people who can't vote -- noncitizens, ex-felons, and those under the age of 18 -- which skews district lines. It's better, the right insists, to look exclusively at the number of eligible and/or registered voters.
And why are they pushing this change? Because, as elections-law expert Rick Hasen explained yesterday, "A ruling that states may not draw legislative district lines taking total population into account will benefit rural voters over urban voters, and that will benefit Republicans over Democrats."
Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.
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