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Federal Housing Finance Authority Director nominee Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., listening as President Barack Obama announces Watt's nomination for the, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, May 1, 2013.

Former lawmaker heard 'unseemly' Hastert rumor 15 years ago

06/02/15 06:31PM

When news of the scandal surrounding former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) first broke, so much of the political world was surprised because of his reputation. While ugly rumors often dog high-profile lawmakers -- some of them true, some of them not -- the Illinois Republican was never the subject of scandalous gossip.
 
But the Huffington Post's Sam Stein reported this afternoon that "at least one member of Congress was likely aware" of the allegations surrounding Hastert.
Relatively early on during Hastert's speakership, Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) was approached with news about the alleged abuse, according to a source with knowledge of the conversation that took place with Watt. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the matter.
 
According to the source, the person who approached Watt was an intermediary for the family of the abuse victim and knew the North Carolina congressman informally.
The Rachel Maddow Show received a comment from Watt, who now directs the Federal Housing Finance Agency, this afternoon:
"Over 15 years ago I heard an unseemly rumor from someone who, contrary to what has been reported, was not an intermediary or advocate for the alleged victim's family.  It would not be the first nor last time that I, as a Member of Congress, would hear rumors or innuendoes about colleagues.  I had no direct knowledge of any abuse by former Speaker Hastert and, therefore, took no action."

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.2.15

06/02/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* China: "At least 400 people were missing Tuesday more than 20 hours after their tourist ship capsized in stormy weather on China's Yangtze River, state-run media reported."
 
* Northeast Nigeria: "Less than a week after Muhammadu Buhari, a former army general, took over as Nigeria's new president and vowed to crush Boko Haram, the group has intensified its attacks in the country's northeast, killing scores in a series of assaults and suicide bombings."
 
* Hard truths: "U.S. President Barack Obama said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's terms for diplomacy that might lead to a Palestinian state meant Israel had lost international credibility as a potential peacemaker."
 
* FIFA: "Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA and the most powerful man in world soccer, abruptly announced his resignation on Tuesday, less than a week after the sport's governing body was engulfed by a corruption scandal."
 
* Baltimore: "Investigators are looking into how Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) rowhouse in West Baltimore caught fire on Tuesday morning. At 10:42 am firefighters got a call to come to the Maryland congressman's house, according to The Baltimore Sun. The fire fighters found smoke coming out of the roof. The one-alarm fire was under control by 11 a.m."
 
* The federal judge in former Speaker Dennis Hastert's (R-Ill.) criminal case also happens to be a former Hastert donor. To be sure, Judge Thomas Durkin made the contributions before taking the bench, but it's an awkward dynamic.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) answers questions following the weekly Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 13, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Senate ignores McConnell, approves 'U.S.A. Freedom Act'

06/02/15 04:46PM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) started the debate over surveillance reforms with a clear plan in mind: defeat the House-backed U.S.A. Freedom Act and extend the status quo.
 
When that plan failed spectacularly, McConnell moved to his hastily thrown-together backup plan: amend the U.S.A. Freedom Act to make it more conservative.
 
This afternoon, this strategy flopped, too. The New York Times reported:
In a remarkable reversal of national security policy formed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Senate voted on Tuesday to curtail the federal government's sweeping surveillance of American phone records, sending the legislation to President Obama's desk for his signature.
In an amusing twist, the Senate fight featured a tense showdown between two ostensible allies: Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell and Kentucky Republican Rand Paul. The former saw the bipartisan House bill as going too far, while the latter argued the House bill didn't go nearly far enough.
 
And as the dust settles on Capitol Hill, both GOP senators managed to walk away with defeats and neither got what they wanted.
 
The final vote on the House bill, which enjoyed President Obama's backing and was crafted in part with the NSA's input, was 67 to 32.
A flag for the Texas Longhorns waves at the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

Texas moves forward on 'campus carry'

06/02/15 04:00PM

Texas' system of public universities doesn't actually want more loaded firearms on campuses, but the Republican-run state government has its own ideas on the subject. The Dallas Morning News reports today:
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott – surprising no one – signaled in a radio interview on Tuesday that he will sign the contentious firearms measure to allow licensed Texans to carry concealed handguns in most state university buildings.
 
"I'm now proud to say that Texas is going to be ... one of the states that does have campus carry, ensuring that we further provide Second Amendment rights to our constituents," he said on The Mark Davis Show on KSKY-AM.
A Politico report noted this week that the chancellor of the University of Texas System warned state lawmakers that "campus carry could adversely affect faculty recruitment," which apparently led to a legislative compromise: university presidents will have the authority to declare some areas on campus -- but not all -- off-limits to loaded firearms.
 
The governor insisted this morning that having more guns around will create a safer academic environment.
 
"Shooters will understand next time that they cross a Texas campus, somebody is going to be watching them and have the ability to do something about it to stop them," Abbott said.
 
How students and faculty will know to "watch" potential gunmen is unclear.
A protester listens at the rally outside the Social Security Administration offices in Baltimore, Maryland, July 25, 2011.

Playing with fire on the retirement age

06/02/15 12:43PM

At a campaign forum in Florida this morning, Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee didn't sound like he's a big fan of Social Security, but he nevertheless characterized raising the retirement age as "political suicide."
 
It's a reasonable point -- as "reforms" to social-insurance programs go, raising the retirement age isn't popular, and candidates pushing the idea have to realize they're going to face public resistance.
 
But former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) is plowing ahead anyway, committed to his plan to increase the retirement age for Social Security eligibility.
"I think it needs to be phased in over an extended period of time," he said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
 
"We need to look over the horizon and begin to phase in, over an extended period of time, going from 65 to 68 or 70," he added. "And that, by itself, will help sustain the retirement system for anybody under the age of 40."
Part of the problem here is that Jeb Bush, who really ought to know better given his work in Florida, is flubbing some of the details. Under the current Social Security system, to retire with full benefits a worker has to wait until he or she is 66, not 65. For Americans born after 1959, under current law, retirement at full benefits must be delayed to 67.
 
All of this may sound picky, but the details matter. Bush has had quite a bit of time to get up to speed on the policy, and the fact that he seems unsure about the current retirement age isn't a good sign. As Richard (RJ) Eskow noted this morning at the Huffington Post, "If you're going to cut a program which affects the lives of most Americans, the least you can do is get the facts right. Jeb didn't. That's worse than a candidate getting the price of bread or milk wrong, or a president's wonderment at the fact that grocery stores have scanners."

Introducing the MaddowBlog 2015 World Cup Corner!

06/02/15 12:07PM

With the 2015 Women's World Cup less than a week away, MaddowBlog is launching a new video series to keep you up to date.

For the next six weeks, Lucas Vazquez and Kasey O'Brien, TRMS Interns and World Cup correspondents, will keep you apprised of Team USA's progress and who they're up against.

This week we begin with a review of the U.S. team and a look at the match-ups going into the group round.

read more

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.2.15

06/02/15 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:
 
* In Florida today, Gov. Rick Scott (R) is hosting the latest cattle call for Republican presidential candidates, with Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, and Jeb Bush scheduled to appear. Republican senators were invited, but were kept away by Senate business today.
 
* In a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, Scott Walker and Rand Paul lead the Republicans' 2016 field with 11% each, followed by Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio with 10% each. Or put another way, that's effectively a four-way tie.
 
* In the same poll, Clinton leads Bush by eight among all adults, 49% to 41%.
 
* In a new national CNN poll, Marco Rubio leads the Republicans' 2016 field with 14%, followed by Jeb Bush at 13%. Mike Huckabee and Scott Walker are tied for third with 10% each, followed by Ted Cruz and Rand Paul at 8% each.
 
* In the same poll, Clinton leads Bush by eight points, Rubio by three points, Paul by one point, Walker by three points, and Ted Cruz by nine points.
 
* In a bit of a surprise, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) announced yesterday that he won't take on incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) next year. Coffman was considered the NRSC's top recruit.
 
* The "Draft Elizabeth Warren" effort, launched six months ago by MoveOn.org and Democracy for America, is no more -- the campaign called it quits overnight.
Real estate mogul and billionaire Donald Trump (C) attends Golf legend Jack Nicklaus' Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on March 24, 2015 in Washington, DC.

The gift that keeps on giving

06/02/15 11:20AM

By all appearances, Donald Trump is moving closer to an actual presidential campaign. He already has an exploratory committee; he's delivered remarks at a series of candidate forums; and as Rachel noted on the show last night, he's scheduled a "major" announcement for June 16 at Trump Tower in New York City, followed by an event in New Hampshire the next day.
 
It's easy to have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it cheapens the political process to have ridiculous characters seek important national offices. The country is confronted with real challenges and real candidates whose solutions deserve to be scrutinized carefully. When carnival barkers launch vanity exercises, it's an unwelcome distraction.
 
On the other hand, Trump is likely to be very amusing, albeit in an unintentional sort of way.
 
Consider, for example, his latest interview with the Des Moines Register, which is an amazing encapsulation of everything Trump brings to the table.
DMR: You're doing well enough in polls now to nab a spot in the televised presidential debates. In our latest Iowa Poll, however, 85 percent of likely GOP caucusgoers said they would "never" support you for president.
 
TRUMP: That's because they don't think I'm running. When they think I'm running, they go through the roof. I see it even on Twitter. I have millions of people on Twitter and Facebook, like 6 million people on Twitter and Facebook. They say: "Please run, but if you don't run, well, just leave me alone." You know, it's sort of interesting. But they want me to run.
Oh, I see. An overwhelming majority of Iowa Republicans would never vote for Trump, but they'll change his mind after he launches, as if they don't already know who he is. Trump knows this, of course, because many people follow him on social media -- which couldn't possibly have anything to do with morbid curiosity about a media personality known for saying ridiculous things through social media.
 
When a reporter for the Register asked a follow-up question about his public support, Trump interrupted. "I'm the most successful person ever to run for the presidency, by far," he said, apparently equating "success" with financial wealth. "Nobody's ever been more successful than me. I'm the most successful person ever to run. Ross Perot isn't successful like me. Romney -- I have a Gucci store that's worth more than Romney."
 
Just so we're clear, I'm not making any of this up.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage speaks to the media on July 28, 2014, in Lewiston, Maine.

Maine's LePage sees a success story in Kansas

06/02/15 10:41AM

How desperate is Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) to scrap his state's income tax? He's vowed to veto every Democratic-sponsored bill that reaches his desk -- regardless of merit -- until his tax plan is allowed to advance.
 
As we discussed, it's a deeply foolish approach. But Maine's far-right governor thinks he has evidence to bolster his argument: Maine needs to eliminate its state income tax, he's said, so it can duplicate the success seen in Kansas. Writing for the Bangor Daily News, Amy Fried noted yesterday:
An angered Gov. LePage, in a press conference last Friday, claimed that critics had it wrong on income taxes and Kansas. He said it simply wasn't true that Kansas was having trouble and, in fact, Kansas was experiencing the fastest economic growth.
It's really, really not.
 
Since Kansas cut taxes far more than the state could afford, job growth in the state has been far slower than the national average, and the state ranks near the bottom when it comes to adding new jobs.
 
Kansas' economic growth has been poor. Its budget crisis is among the worst in the country. The state has seen its debt downgraded repeatedly. In some cases, Kansas can't even afford to keep its schools open. State policymakers are now moving towards tax increases, realizing that Gov. Sam Brownback's (R) radical experiment hasn't worked.
 
It's against this backdrop that Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) believes his state should be more like Kansas. Confronted with evidence of failure, Maine's governor doesn't see a cautionary tale, so much as he sees success worthy of emulation.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) makes a speech where he announced his candidacy for a presidential bid at Liberty University on March 23, 2015 in Lynchburg, Va.(Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty)

Ted Cruz believes JFK 'would be a Republican today'

06/02/15 10:08AM

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) made a campaign stop in, of all places, Massachusetts over the weekend, where he spoke to several hundred supporters in one of the nation's bluest states. As BuzzFeed noted, the far-right Texan even connected his message to one of the Bay State's favorite sons.
"I would point out that in the 1960s, one of the most powerful, eloquent defenders of tax cuts was John F. Kennedy. As JFK said, 'Some men see things as they are and ask why; I see things that never were and ask why not.'
 
"JFK would be a Republican today. There is no room for John F. Kennedy in the modern Democratic Party."
Ooh, boy.
 
We can quickly dispense with some of the minor details. The "some men see things as they are" quote, for example, originated with George Bernard Shaw, not the Kennedys. What's more, it had absolutely nothing to do with tax cuts.
 
For that matter, the notion that contemporary Democrats are reflexively hostile to tax breaks isn't true -- President Obama's Recovery Act included hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts, and it enjoyed overwhelming Democratic support. Indeed, by some measures, it was among the largest middle-class tax breaks in modern American history.
 
But that's not the important part. Rather, what matters here is the ongoing Republican confusion about Kennedy's tax cuts from the early 1960s.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), after speaking on the Senate floor about surveillance legislation, speaks to reporters after exiting the Senate floor on Capitol Hill, May 31, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

How Rand Paul assigns blame for terrorist attacks

06/02/15 09:20AM

During Sunday's Senate debate on provisions of the Patriot Act, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made some provocative comments, some of which he's walked back. But while the first part of this quote made headlines -- for good reason -- there was something about the second part that also struck me as noteworthy.
"People here in town think I'm making a huge mistake. Some of them I think secretly want there to be an attack on the United States so they can blame it on me. One of the people in the media the other day came up to me and said, 'Oh, well, when there's a great attack aren't you going to feel guilty that you caused this great attack?'
 
"It's like, the people who attack us are responsible for attacks on us. Do we blame the police chief for the attack of the Boston bombers?"
In fairness to Paul, the Republican senator has already moved away from the claim that his critics "secretly want" a terrorist attack just to spite him. It was an ugly thing to say, and the Kentucky lawmaker conceded yesterday that his emotions got the better of him "in the heat of battle."
 
But the other part of the quote is fairly compelling: when there's a terrorist attack, the first instinct should be to blame the terrorists themselves, not U.S. policymakers.
 
It's a perfectly defensible position, but does Paul actually believe it? I'm reminded of this piece from The Hill just two weeks ago:

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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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