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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.30.15

06/30/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Keep expectations low: "Greece and its European creditors began talking again on Tuesday about how to keep Greece afloat financially, but appeared not to be moving fast enough to prevent the country from missing a debt payment due at the end of the day."
* Iran: "Pushing past a Tuesday deadline, world powers and Iran extended negotiations for a comprehensive nuclear agreement by a week as the U.N. nuclear agency prepared to announce Tehran had met a key condition -- significantly reducing its stocks of enriched uranium that could be used for atomic weapons."
* Climate policy: "In a jam-packed but complex day for international climate action, Brazil, the United States, and China -- three of the world's top 10 greenhouse gas emitters -- all announced new goals Tuesday. The commitments came in different forms and units, ranging from forest hectares to renewable energy gigawatts -- but collectively appeared to represent a new and major step forward towards addressing climate change and cleaning global energy systems."
* This is likely to be a huge case: "The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a challenge to the way public-sector unions finance their operations. Union officials said a ruling against them would deal a blow to organized labor."
* A great week, but not the greatest week: "President Barack Obama said Tuesday that last week -- when he won historic victories on trade, health care and gay rights -- was "gratifying," but he stopped short of calling it his "best week ever," as some pundits have."
* I suppose this is how the system is supposed to work: "A county clerk in Arkansas intends to resign from her position because she doesn't believe in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples." If you don't want to issue marriage licenses, it's probably best that you don't keep a job that requires you to issue marriage licenses.
President Barack Obama smiles during a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., June 30, 2015. (Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Obama's place in history becomes even more secure

06/30/15 04:49PM

It was about eight months ago when Paul Krugman, who hasn't always been President Obama's biggest fan, said what many in the political establishment would not. "Obama has emerged," Krugman wrote, "as one of the most consequential and, yes, successful presidents in American history."
To be sure, it is a little early to start reflecting on the Obama's place in history, since his presidency still has over a year to go, during which time much can happen. But after last week -- the Affordable Care Act's success at the Supreme Court, the breakthrough on marriage equality, the advances of the administration's trade agenda, the breathtaking eulogy in Charleston -- there's been renewed talk, not just about Obama's rejuvenated presidency, but also about his qualifications for the pantheon of American leaders of historic consequence.
My msnbc colleague Benjy Sarlin published a thoughtful piece on the Obama legacy over the weekend.
"At the end of the day, we're part of a long-running story," Obama told the New Yorker's David Remnick in one interview. "We just try to get our paragraph right."
Now consider what the paragraph version of Obama's presidency looks like as of now, with the key terms for next week's social studies midterm highlighted in bold.
"The first black president, President Obama took office amid the Great Recession, stabilized the economy with a stimulus and auto bailout, passed universal health care and Wall Street reform over fierce opposition, and implemented a suite of regulations aimed at combatting climate change. The first president to embrace marriage equality, he presided over the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing it nationwide."
I think Sarlin's right on both counts. First, that's a pretty impressive paragraph that suggets Obama will be remembered as a great and important president.
Second, it's also true that when it comes to history, presidencies tend to lose their rough edges -- we look past day-to-day, granular developments as they get further away -- and leaders are remembered based on their most notable achievements.
White House scandals can, of course, detract from those accomplishments -- see Iran/Contra and Watergate, for example -- but as we discussed a few weeks ago, even conservatives tend to concede, "President Obama has run an amazingly scandal-free administration, not only he himself, but the people around him. He's chosen people who have been pretty scandal-free."

The Cruz/Rove feud heats up

06/30/15 03:49PM

In Republican politics, Karl Rove tends to be one of the party's most respected and influential voices, whether he's earned that stature or not, but that doesn't mean the former Bush/Cheney "architect" is above the occasional intra-party feud.
In recent weeks, for example, Rove has been at odds with presidential hopeful Donald Trump, whom Rove recently referred to, according to various reports, as "a complete idiot." For his part, Trump has called Rove "a total loser."
Far more quietly, Rove also seems to be at odds with another Republican White House hopeful: Jeb Bush.
But arguably of greater interest still is Rove's new dispute with an entirely different GOP presidential candidate: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Oliver Willis explained yesterday that their feud has led to a fascinating series of exchanges.
In his new book A Time For Truth: Reigniting the Promise of America, Cruz wrote that Rove tried to bury a donation President George H.W. Bush made to Cruz for his 2009 Texas attorney general campaign.
Cruz explained that Rove was "in the process of helping raise money for the George W. Bush presidential library in Dallas" while "Texas donors were giving the Bushes tens of millions, including major donors who were supporting the Dallas state rep who wanted to run for attorney general." According to Cruz, those donors started "berating" Rove.
Rove denied the allegation, writing, "When Mr. Cruz and I talked in 2009, I was not raising money for the Bush Library," adding, "nor were any library donors 'berating' me."
Now, I can appreciate why much of this sounds like inside baseball, but there's a broader point to the dispute that makes it more significant than it may appear at first blush.
MaddowBlog World Cup Corner Episode 6

MaddowBlog World Cup Corner Episode 6

06/30/15 03:20PM

Lucas Vazquez and Kasey O'Brien TRMS World Cup correspondents (and intrepid interns) break down the USWNT's Quarterfinal win against China, and look ahead to tonight's highly anticipated semi-final showdown against Germany. (Video image credits: Sean... watch

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie arrives to speak to supporters during an event announcing he will seek the Republican nomination for president, June 30, 2015, at Livingston High School in Livingston, N.J. (Photo by Julio Cortez/AP)

Hoping rhetoric trumps record, Christie launches 2016 bid

06/30/15 01:01PM

Four years ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was pretty well positioned for a presidential campaign. Republican insiders pleaded with him to run; much of the political media made little effort to hide its affection for him; and the Republican governor, still untainted by scandal and failure, remained quite popular in his home state.
Four years later, watching Christie finally launch his White House bid, it was hard not to wonder whether he's four years too late. MSNBC's Aliyah Frumin reported on the latest Republican to join the crowded field.
"We need a government in Washington, D.C., that remembers you went there to work for us, not the other way around," Christie told a crowd of about 700 people at a packed gymnasium at Livingston High School, Christie's alma mater – where he served as class president and catcher on the baseball team.
Employing some of his characteristically colorful language, Christie added, "I am not running for president as a surrogate for being prom king."
I'm not altogether sure what that means -- he used similarly odd rhetoric in his kickoff, including "force the horse" -- though the governor nevertheless boasted about his habit of "telling it like it is." Christie added, "I mean what I say, and I say what I mean."
And at first blush, that's not a bad message for a White House hopeful. Christie's problem, however, is that the bravado isn't true, and he has nothing else to fall back on.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.30.15

06/30/15 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:
* It took him a while, but Jeb Bush said during a campaign stop yesterday that he believes the Confederate battle flag has become a "racist" symbol.
* Speaking of the former Florida governor, Bush is reportedly planning to release 33 years of tax returns today. A campaign spokesperson boasted, "This is more than any presidential candidate in the history of the United States," and as far as I know, that's true.
* President Obama's approval rating is up to 50% in the new national CNN poll, its highest point in two years. I can guarantee this is a number Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns are keeping an eye on -- the more popular Obama becomes, the more it affects the public's appetite for sweeping national changes.
* Marco Rubio has made no secret of his hopes to win over megadonor Sheldon Adelson's support, and to that end, it matters that GOP fundraising bundler Phil Rosen is getting behind the Florida senator's campaign.
* And speaking of Rubio, the Republican's campaign has already begun "reserving television airtime in the first four nominating states, seven months before a vote is cast."
* Ted Cruz has a new book out and it apparently goes after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in rather direct ways. Cruz is basing much of his Republican presidential campaign on his hostility for the Beltway establishment.
Dr. Ben Carson speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa

Republican on Carson's success: 'I just don't get it'

06/30/15 11:33AM

Retired right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson took his Republican presidential campaign to Iowa last week, where he delivered a non-traditional message to potential supporters. "I really don't want to do this, to be honest with you," Carson said of his national campaign.
As a rule, those aren't the words a candidate is supposed to use about his quest for the White House -- or really any job in any context. "I really don't want to do this" is one of those messages that tends not to inspire confidence.
A few days later, Carson won the Western Conservative Summit straw poll.
To be sure, I'm generally skeptical about the predictive value of these straw polls, but Carson's overall strength is also reflected in polling. His national standing has steadily improved in recent months, despite Carson's complete inability to campaign effectively and/or run an effective organization, and by some measures, he's running third or fourth nationally in the crowded Republican field.
Byron York, a prominent conservative journalist, reported yesterday that many in the GOP are mystified.
The combination of Carson's rise and his unorthodox campaign style -- Carson's short-on-specifics stump speech is like no other -- has left some of his rivals baffled. "I just don't get it," one said in a private conversation recently. "I don't get it."
In all candor, I don't either. Carson, who has never sought or held elected office, continues to prove that he's simply not up for the job. And yet, the worse the retired doctor performs as a candidate, the more his poll numbers go up.
As we talked about in May, it's be so much easier to dismiss Ben Carson's candidacy as a joke if only GOP voters didn't seem to like the guy so much.
U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks on his way to the House Chamber for a procedural vote on the House floor September 28, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

A zombie healthcare lie makes an unfortunate comeback

06/30/15 11:00AM

As recently as April, it seemed the entire, ridiculous fight over "death panels" had come full circle. What had started as a sensible Republican idea about advance directives and living wills transformed into right-wing hysteria, but was now back again -- Jeb Bush told a New Hampshire audience he likes the idea of a government mandate on advance directives.
The position actually put Bush slightly to the left of President Obama, and it seemed to bury the "death panels" garbage once and for all.
Or maybe that was wishful thinking.
Just last week, after the Supreme Court upheld tax subsidies for consumers' insurance, Fox's Sean Hannity told his audience, "You're screwed ... death panels will exist."
A day later, as BuzzFeed reported, a member of Congress pushed a very similar line.
Rep. Mo Brooks, a Republican from Alabama, says people who contract expensive-to-treat illnesses are going to die under Obamacare. [...]
Brooks said "ultimately, you're looking at a lesser quality of care -- health care." He added that the 15-person board of health-care experts created under the law to control costs -- the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) -- is making decisions about "whether a group of people live or die."
In case anyone's forgotten, in reality, the Independent Payment Advisory Board is most certainly not making decisions about whether a group of people live or die. That's just bonkers.
But Brooks just kept going (and going), insisting that ailing patients are "going to be denied coverage" under the American system.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks during the Road to Majority 2015 convention at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, June 18, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

Rubio's controversial finances draw new scrutiny

06/30/15 10:21AM

The last time a major news outlet took a closer look at Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) personal finances, it didn't go especially well. The New York Times published this lengthy piece three weeks ago today, noting that Rubio has occasionally been "imprudent" when it comes to his personal spending.
The article had some interesting details, but it was widely panned. Rubio soon after used the article as the basis for a fundraiser, and even "The Daily Show" mocked the piece.
But to dismiss the area of inquiry altogether would be a mistake. In fact, the Washington Post has a new report on Rubio's personal finances that moves the ball forward in some noteworthy ways.
Marco Rubio was 28 when he was elected to the Florida legislature. He was about to become a father and was struggling to balance the financial demands of a growing family with his political aspirations.
About a year and a half after taking his seat in Florida's part-time legislature, Rubio got a financial boost, accepting a job at the Miami law firm Becker & Poliakoff for $93,000 a year. Although Rubio was a lawyer by training, his colleagues quickly recognized the advantage of having a charismatic, high-energy politician in the office.
What emerges is an unflattering portrait. Rubio was a part-time lawmaker and part-time lawyer, but those lines became less clear when the Florida Republican was able to help his firm's clients, many of whom were lobbying the state government in which the GOP lawmaker served.
The more Rubio "walked a narrow line between his work as a lawmaker and an employee of outside firms with interests before the state government," the more money he was paid. His annual income went from $72,000 when he was elected to $414,000 eight years later, as his two-year term as state House Speaker ended.
The Post's report added, "About 80 percent of his total income during his tenure in the state House came from Florida law firms that lobby state and local governments, according to a Washington Post analysis of state financial disclosure forms."
President Barack Obama walks across the South Lawn of the White House from Marine One, May 28, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Obama to help millions with overtime policy

06/30/15 09:32AM

In his State of the Union address, President Obama talked quite a bit about economic policies he would prioritize in 2015. Obama talked, for example, about pay equity for women and an overdue increase to the minimum wage.
But the president also said, to Democratic applause, "We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they've earned."
Six months later, as msnbc's Adam Howard reported overnight, Obama is acting on this commitment.
President Barack Obama plans to propose a huge raise for the American people on Tuesday, a senior administration official confirmed to NBC News on Monday.
Politico first reported that the White House will unveil a new overtime rule, which could increase wages for as many as 5 million Americans as soon as next year if implemented.... NBC's Kristin Donnelly reports that, if instituted, the Obama plan would be the most sweeping policy yet undertaken by the president to assist the middle class, and it would constitute the most ambitious intervention in the wage economy in at least a decade.
That's not an exaggeration. In general, though the White House has taken incremental steps where it can, the most meaningful economic measures must be approved by Congress -- and since 2011, congressional progress on the economy simply hasn't been an option.
This in turn, has left Obama to tackle modest measures, which amount to tinkering around the edges. On the minimum wage, for example, Republican lawmakers have ruled out the possibility of an increase, so Obama acted unilaterally to raise the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors. It was a step in the right direction, of course, but the number of affected workers was fairly small.
This new overtime policy, however, is more significant specifically because it helps far more American workers.
So, how would this work? Under the status quo, there's an income threshold for mandatory overtime: $23,660. That's $455 per week. Those making more than that can be classified by employers as "managers" who are exempt from overtime rules.
Republican Presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul sits in the audience prior to testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. on April 15, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

Rand Paul and the privatization of marriage

06/30/15 08:52AM

There are a variety of issues in which Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) chooses not to toe the party line, and in theory, marriage equality seems like an issue in which the Kentucky Republican would go his own way. But for the GOP presidential candidate, it gets a little tricky.
On the one hand, Paul sees himself as representing the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, which is generally supposed to be forward-thinking on issues like gay rights. But on the other hand, Paul also believes in pandering to social conservatives -- in March he told religious right activists that he not only opposes marriage equality, he also sees the debate itself as evidence of a "moral crisis."
So, now that equal marriage rights are the law of the land, what's the GOP senator to do? In a piece for Time magazine yesterday, Paul fleshed out a vision that effectively calls for the privatization of marriage.
Perhaps the time has come to examine whether or not governmental recognition of marriage is a good idea, for either party.
Since government has been involved in marriage, they have done what they always do -- taxed it, regulated it, and now redefined it. It is hard to argue that government's involvement in marriage has made it better, a fact also not surprising to those who believe government does little right.
So now, states such as Alabama are beginning to understand this as they begin to get out of the marriage licensing business altogether. Will others follow?
It's an oddly written piece, endorsing the idea of people entering into private contracts -- presumably, loving couples would hear, "I now pronounce you contractually obligated partners" at their ceremonies -- without marriage licenses. Indeed, as Rand Paul sees it, the generations-old practice of receiving official marriage licenses from state and local governments is itself bad for the institution of marriage.
We apparently just didn't notice.
Senator Ted Cruz pauses while speaking during the South Carolina Freedom Summit in Greenville, S.C. on May 9, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Cruz urges officials to ignore Supreme Court ruling

06/30/15 08:00AM

For the last several years, Republicans have complained bitterly about President Obama's respect for the rule of law. Every time the president relies on executive actions to implement his policy agenda, GOP officials -- even at the highest levels -- lash out wildly, accusing Obama of overseeing a lawless, tyrannical presidency.
He ignores laws and court rulings he doesn't like, Republicans say. He's shredded the Constitution, the argument goes, en route to creating a dictatorship.
Indeed, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has helped lead the charge, telling Fox News last year that Obama has shown a flagrant disregard for the law and democratic norms. "The pattern we've seen under President Obama, disregarding the law, is really one of the most troubling aspects of this presidency," the far-right senator said. "When he disagrees with the law ... he simply refuses to comply with it."
The GOP apoplexy has never really made any sense, but as of yesterday, the complaints have taken an ironic twist. Politico reported:
Ted Cruz has some unsolicited advice for the states not specifically named in last week's Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage: Ignore it.
"Those who are not parties to the suit are not bound by it," the Texas Republican told NPR News' Steve Inskeep in an interview published on Monday. Since only suits against the states of Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky were specifically considered in the Supreme Court's Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which was handed down last Friday, Cruz -- a former Supreme Court clerk -- believes that other states with gay marriage bans need not comply, absent a judicial order.
"[O]n a great many issues, others have largely acquiesced, even if they were not parties to the case," the Republican presidential candidate added during the NPR appearance, "but there's no legal obligation to acquiesce to anything other than a court judgement."
It's quite a perspective coming from a politician who whined about President Obama, "When he disagrees with the law ... he simply refuses to comply with it."

Flag fight and other headlines

06/30/15 07:06AM

Majority of South Carolina legislature support taking down Confederate flag. (Charleston Post and Courier)

1 arrested in fight at SC Statehouse over Confederate flag. (AP)

Oklahoma, Florida move quickly to resume lethal injections. (AP)

Christie announces change to NJ gun policy on eve of 2016 kickoff. (

Obama plans to extend overtime to more salaried workers. (Washington Post)

U.S. Chamber of Commerce works globally to fight anti-smoking measures. (New York Times)

Shot escapee spills the beans on who helped in jailbreak. (NBC News)

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Citations for the June 29, 2015 TRMS

06/30/15 01:38AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor and legal correspondent for Slate
  • Roberta Kaplan, who successfully argued the Windsor case two years ago that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act

Tonight's links:

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About The Rachel Maddow Show

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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