Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews about the complex political and diplomatic environment in which U.S. sailors have been taken into custody in Iran. watch
* Turkey: "A Syrian suicide bomber set off an explosion in the historic central district of Istanbul on Tuesday, killing 10 people and wounding at least 15 others, in an attack that the Turkish government attributed to the Islamic State. All of the dead were foreign citizens; eight were German and one was Peruvian."
* Hoping for a quick resolution: "Iranian military forces seized two U.S. Navy boats Tuesday and are holding them in custody on Iran's Farsi Island in the middle of the Persian Gulf, senior U.S. officials told NBC News.... One senior official told NBC News the Iranians understand it was a mistake and have agreed to release the Americans in international waters within hours."
* Done deal: Louisiana became the 31st state to expand Medicaid after Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order Tuesday (Jan. 12) that will make more than 300,000 people eligible for the federal health care program.
* The lowest price since the crash: "Oil fell briefly below $30 a barrel on Tuesday, extending a relentless selloff that has wiped almost 20 percent off prices this year amid deepening concerns about fragile Chinese demand and the absence of output restraint."
* Cologne: "Tensions in Germany, already high over the more than 1 million migrants and refugees who entered the country last year, have gotten exponentially worse since the disturbing wave of possibly coordinated violent assaults on women in Cologne on New Year's Eve. Eighteen of the 31 people identified as suspects in the attacks, which included hundreds of sexual assaults and robberies, were asylum-seekers."
* Iraq: "More than 16 months after Iraqi and Kurdish forces reclaimed Mosul Dam from Islamic State fighters, the structure faces a new threat: the danger that it may collapse because of insufficient maintenance, overwhelming major communities downstream with floodwaters."
* A not-so-subtle message over Korean skies: "A powerful U.S. B-52 bomber flew low over South Korea on Sunday, a clear show of force from the United States as a Cold War-style standoff deepened between its ally Seoul and North Korea following Pyongyang's fourth nuclear test."
With everything that's on the line in 2016, many voters are understandably interested in general-election "electability." In a competitive primary, why vote for a candidate who's all but certain to lose?
Among Democrats, the conventional wisdom says Hillary Clinton is her party's strongest general-election candidate -- a point she emphasizes regularly on the stump -- though as the Washington Postreported the other day, Bernie Sanders is, oddly enough, making the exact same pitch.
The new ad from Hillary Clinton warns Iowa's Democrats that only she can win a general election. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) begs to differ -- and so does his math.
"My opponent says this is an important issue; she is the person who can win the general election," Sanders said at an American Legion hall [in Iowa], at an event that largely focused on the city's fast-growing Latino population. "I respectfully disagree. Look at which candidate is doing better against Donald Trump. Look at the last national poll and you find that Bernie Sanders is beating Donald Trump by 13 points, Hillary Clinton by seven points."
Sanders isn't just making these numbers up; there's real data to back up the thesis. Indeed, for months, the senator and his supporters have been able to point, accurately, to state and national polling that shows Sanders faring as well against Republican candidates -- and in many instances, better -- than Clinton.
In the latest NBC poll, Sanders did significantly better against the top GOP contenders in Iowa and New Hampshire.
For the Vermont Independent, who has traditionally downplayed the importance of polls, the data is important and compelling. The argument couldn't be any more straightforward: if you're concerned about winning in November, support the candidate in the primaries with the biggest general-election advantage.
There's just one problem: the pitch doesn't tell the whole story.
The future of the death penalty in the United States is murky, and we know there are some justices who believe the Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment necessitates the policy's end.
The resolution of that debate, however, remains on the horizon. Today's decision on Florida's death penalty isn't entirely what it appears to be at first blush.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declared Florida's death penalty law unconstitutional because it requires the trial judge and not the jury to make the critical findings necessary to impose capital punishment.
That's at odds with a string of Supreme Court cases which held that facts that add to a defendant's punishment -- known as aggravating circumstances -- must be found by a jury.
It was an 8-1 ruling, the entirety of which is online, written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. "The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death," she wrote for the majority. "A jury's mere recommendation is not enough."
The sole dissent in Hurst v. Florida was written by Justice Samuel Alito.
So now what happens? The defendant, Timothy Lee Hurst, will see his case go back to the lower courts, while lawyers scramble to review the convictions of other inmates on Florida's death row.
For opponents of capital punishment, it's certainly a victory, but it's worth emphasizing that it may be short-lived.
On ABC's "This Week" the other day, Marco Rubio continued his offensive against Ted Cruz, focusing primarily on immigration. Cruz, Rubio said, "has changed his position on immigration all over the place." The Floridian added, "This is not consistency; this is calculation as he's changed his position on these issues as we get closer to Election Day."
It's difficult to understand why the senator's strategists have told him to push this line so aggressively. Just as a basic test of self-awareness, Rubio must be aware of his own vulnerabilities on the very issue he's pushing to the fore.
As we discussed several weeks ago, it was Rubio who co-authored the immigration-reform package -- which much of the Republican base now condemns as "amnesty" -- championed by President Obama and congressional Democrats. The senator then betrayed his allies and announced he'd abandoned the comprehensive legislation he helped write, shifting with the winds in the hopes of placating the Republican base and helping his 2016 campaign.
Or put another way, "This is not consistency; this is calculation as he's changed his position on these issues as we get closer to Election Day."
It's probably Rubio's greatest vulnerability -- are Republicans prepared to nominate the co-author of Obama's immigration bill? -- and at least one of his rivals doesn't want voters to forget it. Bloomberg Politics reported:
The super-PAC supporting Jeb Bush plans to spend nearly $3 million on a TV ad campaign painting Marco Rubio as "just another Washington politician" who has repeatedly changed his mind on immigration.
The ad campaign by Right to Rise PAC ... will run starting Monday night in Iowa and South Carolina, and on Fox News nationally, according to a spokesman for the group. It will spend $1,834,000 running it in Iowa over the next two weeks, and $1,039,000 in South Carolina over the next week.
For Rubio, the biggest problem with the ad is that it happens to be accurate.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In New Hampshire, a new Monmouth poll shows Bernie Sanders continuing to lead Hillary Clinton, 53% to 39%.
* Given Hillary Clinton's recent focus on guns, the Democratic candidate was no doubt pleased to pick up an endorsement from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
* Given Bernie Sanders' focus on progressive activism, the Democratic candidate was no doubt pleased to pick up an endorsement this morning from MoveOn.org.
* Marco Rubio originally planned to skip a classified briefing on North Korea yesterday to attend a Florida fundraiser, but he changed his plans after less-than-flattering news reports about his schedule. The senator reportedly attended the briefing for about 20 minutes before leaving early -- and avoiding reporters waiting outside.
* Just when it seemed things couldn't get worse for Ben Carson's campaign, the Republican candidate's general counsel and operations director have also quit Team Carson.
* And speaking of candidates losing top staffers, Rand Paul's foreign policy aide, Elise Jordan, has left the senator's campaign team. She'll now be a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.
* It's not just Marco Rubio's team going after Chris Christie in New Hampshire; Jeb Bush's super PAC has begun slamming the New Jersey governor in direct-mail pieces sent to Republicans in the Granite State.
For independent-minded pundits, eager to blame "both sides" even when it doesn't make sense, yesterday was a day of celebration and gloating. The New York Daily Newsreported, for example, on the historic low of Americans "who identify with either of the two major political parties."
Only 29% of those surveyed in a new Gallup poll said they identified as Democrats — the lowest level in 27 years. On the other hand, only 26% of those surveyed identified as Republicans, just one percentage point above the prior low taken by Gallup in 2013.
Another 42% of those polled said they identify as political independents, indicating that a growing number of Americans feel they have less and less in common with either major party.
If it hasn't already, results like these will likely spark a new round of chatter about how "the American people" are rejecting the major parties, looking for a new kind of politics that moves away from partisan and ideological extremes.
When it comes to foreign policy, Rand Paul isn't eager to launch any new wars. When it comes to 2016 debates, it's a different story.
The next gathering for the Republican presidential field will be Thursday night, when candidates participate in their sixth debate. The Fox Business Network announced last night that seven of the remaining candidates have been invited to the prime-time event: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich. That leaves Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum, who have been relegated to the kids-table undercard debate.
The Kentucky senator, who has been on the main stage for each of the first five debates, had already vowed to skip this week's event if he were blocked from the prime-time gathering, and as of late yesterday, Paul and his campaign team intend to follow through on that threat.
But Paul also talked to the Washington Post in more detail about his frustrations.
...Paul reiterated that the "arbitrary, capricious polling standard" had been a source of disgust for the grassroots, dubbing it a story of media political bias.
"It won't take much for our supporters to understand why we're doing this," Paul said. "You want war? We'll give it to you."
Jeb Bush was asked the other day about his faltering favorability rating among Republican voters. "Hell if I know," the presidential candidate replied. "I don't really care."
And at a certain level, that's probably about as a good reply as any. After all, the underlying question -- why don't voters in your own party like you? -- is inherently brutal and insulting. Dismissing it as an unimportant distraction makes sense, if only to maintain one's self-esteem.
But turning a blind eye to a problem does not make the problem go away. Gallup isn't doing horse-race polling, at least not yet, but it is publishing data on the candidate's favorability, and the longtime pollster published this report last week:
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's image among Republicans has steadily worsened over the past five-and-a-half months. His current net favorable rating of -1 (44% favorable, 45% unfavorable) among Republicans is significantly lower than his +27 (54% favorable, 27% unfavorable) rating in mid-July. [...]
Bush's campaign efforts since July have clearly moved his image in a negative direction. The percentage of Republicans with a favorable opinion of Bush has dropped 10 percentage points, while the percentage with an unfavorable opinion has increased 18 points.
Of the nine GOP presidential candidates included in Gallup's survey, Bush is the easily the least liked and the only candidate whose unfavorable scores are higher than his favorable scores. (Ted Cruz fares the best on net favorability, followed by Ben Carson.)
What's more, it's not just Gallup. As Rachel noted on the show last night, Bush has the lowest favorability scores in New Hampshire of any Republican candidate, and the lowest favorability scores in Iowa of any GOP presidential hopeful.
Ordinarily, when a national operation faces these kinds of numbers, Campaign Management 101 says a candidate can improve his or her favorability by running ads and hitting the campaign trail.
There's little evidence that the group No Labels, which exists to promote non-partisan policymaking, has ever had any impact on the American political process at any level. Yahoo News reported not long ago that the outfit "spends a disproportionate part of its budget maintaining and promoting its own organization, trying to keep its profile high while ensuring a steady flow of fundraising dollars" from undisclosed donors.
Nevertheless, the group continues to exist, and it recently asked both parties' presidential candidates to endorse vague goals No Labels considers important: 25 million new jobs over the next 10 years; Social Security and Medicare fiscal stability for the next 75 years; a balanced budget by 2030; and energy security by 2024. Six candidates -- Donald Trump, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, and Martin O'Malley -- each endorsed the blueprint, called the "National Strategic Agenda."
As the Washington Postreported, No Labels' controversial co-chairman was delighted.
"We had no idea when we started out down this road how many candidates would make the Problem Solver Promise," said No Labels's co-chairman and former U.S. senator Joe Lieberman, a longtime Democrat from Connecticut who retired as an independent after losing his party's primary. "Today, six have! I'm glad we got six. We could have gotten zero."
One of the six, however, didn't seem entirely comfortable with the idea of sharing the "Problem Solver" seal with one of his fellow competitors.
There's still time for the race for the Republican nomination to change, but as early January gives way to mid-January, some observations are starting to look more reliable.
For example, Donald Trump is well positioned to win the New Hampshire primary. The latest Monmouth poll was released yesterday:
1. Donald Trump: 32% (up from 26% in a Monmouth poll in November)
2. Ted Cruz: 14% (up from 9%)
2. John Kasich: 14% (up from 11%)
4. Marco Rubio: 12% (down from 13%)
5. Chris Christie: 8% (up from 5%)
The remaining candidates are each at 5% or lower, including Jeb Bush, who, at least in this poll, is in seventh place with just 4%. Trump's 32%, meanwhile, is the strongest support any candidate has seen in any Monmouth New Hampshire poll so far this entire campaign cycle.
Of course, the usual caveats apply: it's just one of many polls. In fact, most recent surveys in the Granite State show Cruz, Kasich, Rubio, Christie, and Bush nearly tied for second place, which puts Monmouth slightly out of step with most of the recent data. That doesn't mean it's wrong; it's just something to consider.
Also note, Cruz fared very well as the top "second choice" in this poll, while Rubio is fading slightly. A fourth place finish for the Floridian would be a real problem for his campaign going forward.
Regardless, Trump's dominance in the first primary -- to be held four weeks from today -- is hard to miss. Will he fare as well in the first caucus?
When the Affordable Care Act was taking shape several years ago, one of its more popular provisions was the creation of state-based exchange marketplaces. By now, most Americans are probably familiar with the concept: states would create marketplaces for insurers to compete for the public's business, and consumers could choose the best plan for their needs.
Kentucky, previously a national leader in ACA implementation, embraced the idea with great enthusiasm, creating the Kynect system, which proved to be a great success. Newly elected Gov. Matt Bevin (R), however, is dismantling it anyway. The Louisville Courier-Journalreported yesterday (via Charles Gaba):
Following through on a campaign pledge, Gov. Matt Bevin has notified federal authorities he plans to dismantle kynect, Kentucky's health insurance exchange created under the Affordable Care Act. [...]
Advocates had urged Bevin to keep kynect, a website praised for its accessibility and ease of use. They said helped hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians sign up for health coverage. It also included a public information campaign and workers to help people get health coverage.
"That's really disappointing," Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, a coalition of advocacy groups, told the newspaper. "It's a lot more than just a website."
Beauregard wasn't alone -- public-health advocates, hospital administrators, and medical professionals statewide condemned the decision, and for good reason. It's one thing to abandon a state-based model for the federal healthcare.gov because the state system wasn't working; it's something else to scrap an effective and valuable resource, just out of knee-jerk, partisan spite over "Obamacare."
But there's also an under-appreciated irony to this: Bevin, the far-right Republican governor, is also abandoning the tenets of his own ideology. By scrapping Kynect, the Tea Party Kentuckian is shifting power from his state to Washington, D.C., on purpose, without explanation.
A few states away, in Louisiana, we see a state government pointed in a more constructive direction.
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.