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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.11.16

01/11/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* In New Hampshire, the latest Fox News poll shows Bernie Sanders leading Hillary Clinton, 50% to 37%, while the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll shows a tighter race, with Sanders ahead, 50% to 46%.
 
* The NBC poll also found a very close Democratic race in Iowa, where the latest survey shows Clinton up by just three points, 48% to 45%.
 
* Clinton has taken a keen interest in the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, issuing a statement this morning describing the scandal as "extremely concerning," adding, "No parent should have to worry that their kids' water isn't safe."
 
* Speaking of Clinton, the former Secretary of State picked up endorsements over the weekend from former Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.
 
* Will the Senate make clear that Ted Cruz is eligible for the presidency? According to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), who has clashed repeatedly with the Texas Republican, the chamber intends to stay out of this.
 
* In the meantime, Donald Trump continues to invest considerable energy into the misguided line of attack on Cruz's birthplace.
 
* To the surprise of no one, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a.k.a. "Senator Snowball," announced his support for Marco Rubio's campaign over the weekend. Among all Senate Republicans, Rubio is now tied with Jeb Bush with four endorsements each.
 
* Speaking of Senate endorsements, Ohio's Rob Portman (R) has thrown his backing to his home-state ally, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R).
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during the Presidential Family Forum as Ben Carson listens, Nov. 20, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Carson's loss is Cruz's gain

01/11/16 11:20AM

As of last week, Ben Carson's super PAC had five paid staffers in New Hampshire. As of this week, according to WMUR, the ABC affiliate in Manchester, each of those staffers has quit and, collectively, they've switched their allegiance to one of Carson's rivals.
All five paid New Hampshire staffers at the pro-Ben Carson 2016 Committee super PAC quit their posts on Sunday to become volunteers for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, WMUR.com has learned.
 
Jerry Sickles of Keene, the spokesman for the staff, said he and the other four staffers recently came to the conclusion that Cruz is the conservative most able to win the GOP presidential nomination and the presidency. He also noted that Carson has spent very little time campaigning in New Hampshire, which became frustrating to him and the other staffers as they tried to build support in the state.
The five apparently still hold Carson "in the highest regard," but according to Sickles, they also believe "it is important that our party nominate a conservative and get behind a single conservative who can win, and we strongly believe that candidate is Ted Cruz."
 
For the retired far-right neurosurgeon, it's the latest evidence of a campaign operation in complete disarray. Remember, it was just two weeks ago that Carson's campaign manager, communications director, and deputy campaign manager resigned on the same day.
 
But it's also worth considering whether developments like these will affect the outcome of the primary itself.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan shares a laugh with Republican members of Congress after signing legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and to cut off federal funding of Planned Parenthood.

The GOP's Obamacare alternative? Don't hold your breath

01/11/16 10:40AM

At an event over the weekend, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), who'll deliver her party's State of the Union response this week, made a curious boast about her congressional allies. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the governor argued, "said that when he took his leadership role, things were going to change. How about the fact that they repealed Obamacare? Was that not fantastic?"
 
The comments left many confused. House Republicans voted last week for the 62nd time to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but that doesn't mean they succeeded. On the contrary, President Obama vetoed the repeal bill on Friday afternoon, issuing a statement to Congress that read in part, "Because of the harm this bill would cause to the health and financial security of millions of Americans, it has earned my veto."
 
Haley may have been impressed, and Republican lawmakers themselves may have had a grand time pretending to take Americans' health benefits away -- see the above photo -- but nothing has changed.
 
So, now what? If we're to believe the congressional GOP's rhetoric, the next step is the release of the long-awaited Republican alternative to the current health care reform law. On CBS's "Face the Nation" yesterday, host John Dickerson asked Speaker Ryan about this:
DICKERSON: You said you wanted the Republicans to offer an alternative to the president. One of the first things you did this year, though, was offer [an ACA repeal bill]. How is that an alternative?
 
RYAN: It's not. That's why we have to come up with an alternative.
Evidently, that's easier said than done. The GOP's alternative has been in the works since June 2009 -- a mere six-and-a-half years ago -- and asked last week why he's moving forward with a repeal bill before the Republican alternative ready, Ryan told reporters with a smile, "Just wait."
 
Around the same time, the House GOP leadership quietly signaled just how long that wait is likely to be.
A "Help Wanted" sign is posted in the window of an automotive service shop on March 8, 2013 in El Cerrito, California.

From 'Where are the jobs?' to 'Where are Republicans on jobs?'

01/11/16 10:00AM

The economic news on Friday was even better than optimists expected: the United States added nearly 300,000 jobs in December, wrapping up the second best year for the American job market in over a decade. In fact, looking at the last two years combined, 2014 and 2015 were the best back-to-back years for job creation since 1998 and 1999, at the height of the dot-com boom.
 
While no mainstream American politicians publicly root against the U.S. economy, the fact remains that this strong job growth must be baffling to Republicans. GOP orthodoxy, repeated ad nauseam, is that President Obama's domestic agenda -- the Affordable Care Act, higher taxes on the wealthy, Wall Street regulations, environmental safeguards, et al -- is crushing the economy and stifling the American job market.
 
The only way to put Americans back to work, Republicans insist, is to do the exact opposite of the policies that cut the unemployment rate from 10% to 5%.
 
Obviously, that's a tough sell for anyone with even a passing familiarity with the facts, but it got me wondering: how exactly did Republican officials and candidates respond to Friday's good news?
 
When I say they reacted to jobs report with silence, it's important to stress that I'm being quite literal. For years, the Republicans' economic line was, "Where are the jobs?" With over 14 million new private-sector jobs created in the last 70 months, the new, more salient question has become, "Where are the Republicans on jobs?"
Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers during a presentation at the hangar belonging to the office of the Attorney General in Mexico City, Mexico, Jan. 8, 2016. (Photo by Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

Having an Ambassador to Mexico sure would be helpful right now

01/11/16 09:20AM

Not long after Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was apprehended in Mexico, attention turned to an important question: would the notorious drug lord be extradited to the United States? As of now, that seems likely.
A day after fugitive Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was captured, the Mexican government has said it aims to fulfill an extradition request from the United States for the notorious cartel kingpin, a source within the Mexican attorney general's office told NBC News on Saturday.
 
Guzman, who was captured Friday after a six-month manhunt, faces charges in numerous jurisdictions across the United States.
The political pressure is already intensifying. Republicans who cower in fear at the idea of bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to American soil are, oddly enough, now demanding that the Obama administration do everything possible to bring the infamous drug kingpin to face justice in American courts.
 
One of the more prominent voices is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who on Friday called on the White House to act "immediately."
 
Perhaps the process would move forward more smoothly if the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico worked with Mexican officials to expedite extradition? Probably, but there's a hitch: there is no U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, because Marco Rubio refuses to let us have one.
Republican presidential candidates John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina and Rand Paul take the stage before the Republican presidential debate, Nov. 10, 2015, in Milwaukee. (Photo by Jeffrey Phelps/AP)

Latest polls send shudders through Republican establishment

01/11/16 08:40AM

The Iowa caucuses are just three weeks from today, and the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll, released over the weekend, offers little hope to the Republican establishment, waiting for its presidential nominating race to change. Here are the latest preferences from Hawkeye State Republicans:
 
1. Ted Cruz: 28%
2. Donald Trump: 24%
3. Marco Rubio: 13%
4. Ben Carson: 11%
 
The remaining candidates are each at 5% or lower. The results are very similar to the findings from the latest Fox News poll, released late Friday, which found Cruz leading Trump in Iowa, 27% to 23%, followed by Rubio at 15%.
 
To be sure, conditions can change over the course of three weeks -- the GOP candidates will participate in two more debates between now and Feb. 1 -- but the polling in Iowa has been fairly steady since early December, and Republican insiders eager to see Cruz and/or Trump falter have reason to feel anxious. Indeed, both major polls show the top two with at least 50% of the vote.
 
The picture in New Hampshire is noticably different:
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder speaks speaks to reporters after a luncheon May 21, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty)

Michigan's Snyder facing nation's most serious scandal

01/11/16 08:00AM

As regular viewers know, The Rachel Maddow Show has devoted a great deal of time to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, but if you haven't been focused on this scandal yet, it's important to get up to speed.
 
Over the weekend, for example, the editorial board of the Detroit Free Press turned its attention directly to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R), who's facing calls for his arrest from protestors, comparing his handling of the Flint crisis to George W. Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina.
Right now, the State of Michigan should be able to say that it has ensured the delivery of bottled water and water filters to every Flint resident whose drinking water has been contaminated by lead.... Instead, the governor is offering placid responses and slow-walking important remedies, while the investigation into how one of Michigan's greatest man-made public health crises unfolded comes up with explanations in dribs and drabs.
 
It's not just derelict -- it invokes inglorious comparison to other callous and insensitive official responses to tragedy. Think of the shameful federal response to Hurricane Katrina, where the same lack of urgency delayed life-saving aid. The poverty rate in Flint is 40%; 52% of Flint residents are African-American. And so we are prompted to ask: How would the state have responded to a crisis of such proportions in a community with more wealth and power?
Of course, there's a key, heartbreaking difference between recent developments in Flint and the crisis in New Orleans in 2005: Katrina was a natural disaster; Flint's disaster was the result of public officials showing breathtakingly bad judgment.
 
Let's recap how we reached this point.

New 2016 polls and other headlines

01/11/16 07:19AM

Bernie Sanders makes strong showing in new polls. (New York Times)

New poll: Trump, Cruz top GOP race nationally. (Fox News)

Trump takes credit after New Hampshire paper cut from debate. (The Hill)

Muslim woman gets kicked out of Trump rally--for protesting silently. (Washington Post)

Future of public sector unions at stake in Supreme Court case. (NBC News)

2nd Baltimore officer in Freddie Gray case goes on trial. (USA Today)

First Lady's State of the Union guests are nod to Obama's campaigns, nation's progress. (Politico)

'Road tour' by Cabinet members to promote Obama proposals. (AP)

Oregon militia wants hay, menthol 100s, and french vanilla creamer. (BuzzFeed)

British astronaut Tim Peake pays tribute to David Bowie from space. (AP)

read more

Image: Antonin Scalia

This Week in God, 1.9.16

01/09/16 08:37AM

First up from the God Machine this week are some unsettling remarks from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who sounded an awful lot like the head of a religious right activist group last weekend.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Saturday the idea of religious neutrality is not grounded in the country's constitutional traditions and that God has been good to the U.S. exactly because Americans honor him.
 
Scalia was speaking at a Catholic high school in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, Louisiana.
At its root, Scalia's remarks emphasized two broad points. The first is the justice's belief that the United States has received divine favor in exchange for symbolic, rhetorical references from public officials.
 
"God has been very good to us," Scalia said. "That we won the revolution was extraordinary. The Battle of Midway was extraordinary. I think one of the reasons God has been good to us is that we have done Him honor. Unlike the other countries of the world that do not even invoke His name we do Him honor, in presidential addresses, in Thanksgiving proclamations, and in many other ways."
 
The second, and arguably more important, point was that Scalia believes government neutrality on matters of religion is fundamentally wrong: the Supreme Court jurist explicitly argued that there's nothing wrong with the government favoring "religion over non-religion," effectively making atheists and related secularists second-class citizens in their own country.
 
Or put another way, Scalia considers the principle of church-state separation obsolete, sees the Constitution's secularism as an annoyance, and prefers an American system in which government is so big, it falls to politicians and government officials to promote, support, and encourage religiosity.
 
My friend Rob Boston's reaction rings true: "Scalia has been on the court since 1986. In March, he will be 80 years old. Although he appears vigorous, there's a good chance he'll have to retire in the next few years. With any luck, his views on church-state relations, which seem to be anchored in the late-19th century (as does much of Scalia's worldview), will go out the courthouse door with him and never return."
 
Also from the God Machine this week:

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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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