On Capitol Hill yesterday, a bizarre spectacle unfolded, as right-wing activists and speakers gathered to condemn the international nuclear agreement with Iran. Attendees were treated to a parade of strange, angry voices -- Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz, and Glenn Beck, among many others -- each of whom expressed their ill-informed foreign-policy disgust.
But while the drama just outside the Capitol building was amazing, the more meaningful drama unfolded inside the building.
As recently as 24 hours ago, the road ahead was simple and straightforward. After receiving the Iran deal in July, Congress had 60 days to vote on a resolution opposing the policy. Under the plan devised by Republican leaders, the GOP-led House would express its disapproval, followed by another vote in the GOP-led Senate. According to the head counts, the effort would fail; U.S. foreign policy would advance; and Republicans could move on to creating some other crisis.
As the Washington Postreported overnight, that plan has now been scrapped.
[I]nside the Capitol, a member revolt forced [House Speaker John Boehner] to revise his plans to hold a vote against the Iran deal this week -- an unexpected showing of the internal GOP acrimony that has some fearing a government shutdown in three weeks.
Republicans have been united against the Iran deal, and a disapproval resolution was expected to pass the House easily. But dissension emerged over tactics, turning the Iran agreement into the latest high-stakes issue to expose sharp divides inside the GOP.
If there's one thing that every Republican in Congress agreed on, it's their opposition to the diplomatic Iran deal. And yet, somehow, GOP lawmakers ended up disagreeing with one another anyway, creating a situation in which Congress may never register its disapproval of the Obama administration's policy.
Let's break down what's likely to happen now, because the scheme House Republicans came up with is a doozy.
Rachel Maddow takes a look at the tribulations of the candidates stuck at the bottom of the latest 2016 primary polls, like Lindsey Graham's poor numbers in his own state, Rick Perry's steady decline, and the absence of any measurable support at all for Lincoln Chafee. watch
Nicolle Wallace, Republican strategist, talks with Rachel Maddow about the challenge the Republican Party faces appealing to moderate Americans when certain candidates' anti-gay or anti-immigrant views get so much attention. watch
Rachel Maddow updates the story of Ted Cruz being blocked from taking the stage at a Kim Davis rally with reactions from the Huckabee camp and confirmation that the person who turned Cruz away is a Huckabee staffer. watch
Rachel Maddow points out that Dr. Ben Carson is drawing larger crowds than any other candidate not named Sanders or Trump, and is the only Republican coming anywhere near Donald Trump in polling figures. watch
Rachel Maddow shares clips from assorted right-wing luminaries at an anti-Iran deal rally in Washington, D.C., and talks with Frank Thorp, NBC News Capitol Hill reporter, about how Republican disorder makes it unlikely there will be any actual vote of disapproval of the deal in Congress. watch
* Keep expectations low: "The Kremlin says leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine have had a conference call to discuss the implementation of a peace deal for eastern Ukraine."
* Anti-ISIS coalition: "Australia will launch airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria within days and resettle an additional 12,000 refugees from the deepening humanitarian and security crisis in the Middle East, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Wednesday."
* EU: "Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Union’s executive arm, called on the bloc on Wednesday to accept 160,000 migrants, imploring leaders not to remain indifferent in the face of one of Europe’s toughest humanitarian challenges in decades."
* Shutdown: "Here are four congressional budget analysts' predictions on how likely it is that the government will shut down. We'll start with the most conservative estimate -- which is still 'well over 50 percent.'"
* New Mexico: "Once an integral part of the Republican Party’s rise to power under Gov. Susana Martinez’s stewardship in this Democratic stronghold, the secretary of state, Dianna Duran, has now been abandoned by her party, threatened with impeachment by her political opponents and called on to resign by one of the state’s leading newspapers."
* Brett O'Donnell fesses up: "A communications strategist who has worked with some of the best-known names in Republican politics -- including several presidential candidates -- has pleaded guilty to lying to congressional ethics investigators about campaign-related coaching he provided to a lawmaker that cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars."
The debate over U.S. policy towards Iran has been strikingly consistent for months. As we talked about in July, the Obama administration has made lawmakers' choices abundantly clear: members can allow the international, diplomatic agreement to move forward, or they can push us closer to yet another military conflict in the Middle East.
Republicans and their allies like to call this the “false choice.” U.S. conservatives don’t want a war, they insist, they just want a different diplomatic solution. What might that alternative policy look like? Republicans, at least for now, haven’t the foggiest idea, but they're reluctant to endorse yet another military confrontation in the Middle East.
That is, at least most of them are reluctant to say so publicly. Some, as TPM reported yesterday, are a little more candid.
In a speech slamming President Obama's Iran deal -- which Congress is debating this week -- former Vice President Dick Cheney suggested that only the threat of military action could prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons program.
"As soon as President Obama went on Israeli TV and effectively ruled out the option of force, the Iranians knew that they had won," Cheney said, speaking Tuesday at the American Enterprise Institute.
Let's pause to note that, in our non-Cheney reality, President Obama never ruled out the use of force. In fact, in reality, President Obama did the opposite. Either Cheney is once again confused by the basics of current events or he's once again deliberately trying to mislead the public.
But the failed former vice president "went on to outline previous circumstances when the U.S. and its allies used force to attack a country's nuclear weapons program."
Cheney added, "Iran will not be convinced to abandon its programs peacefully unless it knows it faces a military action if it refuses to do so." (Let's note for context that officials in the Bush/Cheney administration concluded that a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities “would be a bad idea -- and would only make it harder to prevent Iran from going nuclear in the future.” Cheney, in other words, couldn't even convince members of his own team to follow his lead.)
Meanwhile, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton offered House Republicans advice on national security last night, and just two weeks ago, Bolton declared, "If the real objective is stopping Iran... preemptive military action is now inescapable."
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) have also both offered enthusiastic support when discussing the prospect of a war with Iran.
And in a way, that's probably a good thing -- not as a matter of foreign policy, but as a way of defining the terms of the debate.
For several years, the phrase itself was itself a sad political punch-line: "Bush Tax Cuts." The Bush/Cheney White House, in 2001 and 2003, cut taxes well beyond what the country could afford, making bold promises about job growth, vast prosperity, and balanced budgets.
Unfortunately for everyone, the jobs boom never happened; economic growth was weak; and the Bush/Cheney administration quickly added several trillion dollars to the national debt with very little to show for it. "Bush Tax Cuts" became synonymous with failure and conservative governance gone wrong.
Seven years later, Jeb Bush believes he's ready to be president and the Florida Republican is eager to share "Bush Tax Cuts: The Sequel." The former governor, whose campaign has struggled of late, makes his pitch for the "Reform and Growth Act of 2017" in a new Wall Street Journalop-ed.
...I want to lower taxes and make the tax code simple, fair and clear. It should be easy to understand and make it easy for people to fill out their own tax forms.
We will cut individual rates from seven brackets to three: 28%, 25% and 10%. At 28%, the highest tax bracket would return to where it was when President Ronald Reagan signed into law his monumental and successful 1986 tax reform.
There are basically two broad ways to scrutinize Jeb's "plan," such as it is: as a matter of policy and a matter of politics.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Hillary Clinton posted a message to supporters on Facebook overnight, telling them she's sorry for the controversy surrounding her email-server management.
* In South Carolina, one of the key early nominating states, a new Public Policy Polling survey shows Donald Trump leading the Republican presidential field with 37%. Ted Cruz is second with 21%, while Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz are tied for third with 6% each. Note, Bush's and Cruz's combined support, times three, doesn't quite match Trump's backing in the poll.
* The same South Carolina survey found Hillary Clinton with a big lead in the Democratic race. She enjoys a 30-point advantage over Vice President Biden, 54% to 24%. Bernie Sanders appears to be struggling in South Carolina -- he's third with 9%.
* Speaking at Brookings Institution this morning, Clinton praised the international nuclear agreement, and looked ahead to enforcement. “By now, the outcome of the deal in Congress is no longer in much doubt. So we’ve got to start looking ahead to what comes next: enforcing it, deterring Iran and its proxies, and strengthening our allies,” Clinton said. She added, “I will not hesitate to use military force if Iran attempts to obtain a nuclear weapon.”
* Rick Perry's presidential campaign moved one step closer to permanently turning the lights off yesterday, shutting down its headquarters in South Carolina.
* CNN moved the starting time for its prime-time debate next week from 9 p.m. to 8 p.m. eastern. The so-called kids-table debate will wrap up 15 minutes prior. The event(s) will be held a week from tonight.
* Former Sen. Mary Landrieu, a conservative Louisiana Democrat, still has $150,000 left in her campaign fund, and she plans to spend some of it to help some of her former colleagues in their re-election bids. Despite Republicans ending her career, Landrieu is even prepared to help Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
The Republican establishment couldn't have been pleased by the latest national Monmouth poll. It found that one inexperienced, unqualified candidate, who's never served a day in public office and who has a habit of making outrageous comments, had more support than Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and Marco Rubio combined.
The candidate, of course, was Ben Carson.
In fact, in Iowa, the latest NBC/Marist poll also showed the retired neurosurgeon with as much support as Bush, Walker, Rubio, Cruz, and Huckabee put together.
It's hardly a secret that Donald Trump has dominated the race for the Republican nomination in recent months, but Carson's steady rise into the GOP's top tier is every bit as bizarre. In fact, most recent polling shows Carson as the most well liked candidate in the Republican field, and in one instance, the only GOP candidate who'd defeat Trump in a one-on-one match-up.
MSNBC's Jane C. Timm reported the other day on Carson's role as the "stealth candidate."
In a primary where Trump’s bombast and braggadocio have given him indefatigable popularity, Carson’s contrasting humility and soft-spoken demeanor -- paired with his outsider credibility and far-right views -- has wowed voters across the country.
“Ben Carson may be the perfect answer to people who are sick and tired of traditional politics and the politicians that practice it, but without the pomp and arrogance of Donald Trump,” Republican strategist Rich Gallen told msnbc. “He’s got Jeb’s thoughtfulness and Trump’s outsiderness.”
In the abstract, this was hard to predict. Carson, running in his first-ever campaign for public office, doesn't seem to know what he's doing. His policy pronouncements are often bizarre. He's personally participated in fetal-tissue research, and struggled to explain his research. He's struggled repeatedly with the basics of current events. His campaign operation has been a chaotic mess.
And yet, at least for now, Republican voters don't seem to mind. Carson has the perfect combination of inexperience, radicalism, and temperament.
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.