Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* As Rachel noted on the show last night, the DNC has reached an agreement with Bernie Sanders campaign over the party's platform committee. Instead of the DNC choosing each of the panel's 15 members, Hillary Clinton's campaign will have six selections, Team Sanders will have five, and the party will have four. This has been a top priority for the senator for weeks.
* Despite getting much of what he wants, Sanders said yesterday the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia could be "messy" but that "democracy is not always nice and quiet and gentle." What's unclear is how or why Sanders would benefit from convention strife.
* After nine televised debates and 13 forums, the Clinton campaign has no interest in adding to the list: it formally turned down Fox News' request yesterday for yet another Democratic debate.
* In California, which will host its primary two weeks from today, a SurveyUSA poll shows Clinton leading Sanders by 18 points. This is actually an improvement for Clinton over her 14-point lead in the same poll a month ago.
* Speaking to the SEIU yesterday about Trump, Clinton warned, "He could bankrupt America like he's bankrupted his companies. I mean, ask yourself, how can anybody lose money running a casino?"
* On a related note, the Clinton campaign released an interesting new video overnight mocking Trump for celebrating the housing-market crash that helped create the Great Recession.
It's hardly a secret that today's Republican Party faces serious demographic challenges: in a country that's increasingly diverse and multi-cultural, the contemporary GOP is increasingly white and homogeneous.
But Republicans are not literally devoid of diversity. There are, for example, some prominent Hispanic conservatives who are nearly always aligned with GOP candidates up and down the ballot. Given that Donald Trump is the party's presumptive presidential nominee, what are they thinking right about now? The Hill had an interesting report on this the other day.
Prominent Hispanic conservatives say they could back Donald Trump if the presumptive GOP nominee changes his tone and walks back some of his policy positions.
Republican Latino leaders have chaffed at Trump's call for a wall on the southern border and statements from his campaign launch about rapists and criminals coming across the border from Mexico.... But prominent voices in the conservative Hispanic world say they're ready to move toward Trump if he can move toward them.
Alfonso Aguilar, a former White House official under President George W. Bush who now leads the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said, "If in the process of unification, he were to seek my support and show he's willing to change his tone and be open to some form of legalization, I would be willing to reconsider my position."
Former Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), who's also a former RNC chair, was asked a few months ago about Trump. "If there is any, any, any other choice, a living, breathing person with a pulse, I would be there," he said at the time. Last week, however, Martinez said he's undecided on whether to endorse Trump and he'll be "continuing to see how things develop."
The Rev. Sam Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, added, "Is it too late to redeem the narrative with the Latino and Hispanic community, even the Latino and Hispanic pro-faith community? I don't know.... No one is beyond redemption."
The Hill also reported that the Trump campaign has dispatched an adviser to "quietly" open backchannels "within Muslim and Middle Eastern communities in the U.S. in an attempt to win over a small but increasingly important voting bloc." The report added, "Some Muslim Republicans and conservative Middle Eastern activists have also engaged with other top campaign officials about furthering Trump's outreach to those communities."
CBS's Norah O'Donnell talked with Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama, in a much-discussed interview that aired over the weekend, and much of the Q&A focused on one familiar thesis. Here, for example, was the first question, on the subject of Judge Merrick Garland's Supreme Court nomination.
"Valerie, this is probably one of the last big fights of the president's term in office. And he can't even get Senate Republicans to give him a hearing. Most Republicans won't even meet with Judge Garland. Does that say something about President Obama's inability to reach across the aisle? To have friends on the other side?"
When Jarrett explained that Senate Republicans' handling of the Garland nomination has more to do with politics than personal relationships, O'Donnell was unmoved. "But in two terms, seven years, why hasn't the president been able to find a Republican that he can call up and say, 'Help me out on this'?" the reporter asked. "Does he have any Republican friends?"
As Mother Jones' Kevin Drum noted, the interview just kept going along these lines, with O'Donnell asking nine questions in a row -- literally, nine -- about whether the president is sufficiently friendly with congressional Republicans. "Isn't politics about schmoozing?" she asked. "And isn't politics about friendship?"
If all of this sounds at all familiar, it's because pundits and other political observers, eager to blame the president for Beltway dysfunction, have been pushing the "schmoozing" thesis for years. If only Obama were willing to become pals with GOP lawmakers, the argument goes, Americans would finally see bipartisan policymaking and Washington function as it should.
When it comes to the Garland nomination, the idea that schmoozing could possibly make a difference is genuinely bizarre. "Help me out on this?" Seriously? Republicans would be amenable to replacing Scalia with a center-left judge if Obama and Mitch McConnell were buddies? It's laughable on its face.
But the broader problem is the degree to which the Beltway media takes the entire thesis seriously -- and applies it broadly. The argument reflects a dramatic misunderstanding of how contemporary politics works, and it's long past time for its proponents to recognize its spectacular flaws.
Maybe it'd be helpful to do this in explainer style.
If you've been waiting for cooler heads to prevail, and for House Republicans to give up on its ridiculous impeachment crusade, you're going to be disappointed by today's developments.
When the House Judiciary Committee convenes on Tuesday to consider the alleged misdeeds of the Internal Revenue Service commissioner, John Koskinen, it will contemplate action that has not been taken in more than 140 years, and that in some respects has never been pursued: the impeachment of an agency head of Mr. Koskinen's rank.
Tuesday's hearing on accusations by House Republicans that Mr. Koskinen lied under oath to Congress and defied a congressional subpoena is a remarkable moment, even for a Washington long fractured by partisanship.
Koskinen has decided not to appear at the "misconduct" hearing, at which GOP lawmakers will lay out its case for impeachment, insisting he hasn't had enough time to prepare a defense against allegations that obviously have no merit.
Of course, even if Koskinen had agreed to participate in the charade, the end result would be the same. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the far-right chairman of the House Oversight Committee, hasn't exactly been subtle about his intentions: "My foremost goal is impeachment and I'm not letting go of it."
Do the allegations against the IRS commissioner have merit? No. The IRS "scandal" was discredited years ago -- Koskinen wasn't even at the tax agency when the imaginary controversy unfolded -- and as Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) documented this morning, charges that Koskinen was part of some kind of after-the-fact cover-up don't make any sense.
Will the impeachment push succeed anyway? Not in its ultimate goal. House Republicans will likely get a simple majority to impeach Koskinen, but to remove Koskinen from office, they'll need a two-thirds majority in the Senate. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has said that's not going to happen. "[F]or the most part he's been very cooperative with us," the Utah Republican conceded last week.*
All of which raises the question of why in the world the far-right House majority is so desperate to pursue such an absurd course, targeting a dedicated public servant who'll leave his post at the end of the year anyway.
The real scandal here is not Koskinen's actions, but rather, the way in which House Republicans are conducting themselves.
The number of prominent, die-hard, "Never Trump" voices in Republican politics is pretty small, but one of those voices had been quite loud. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), arguably more than anyone else in his party, had spent the better part of a year telling anyone who'll listen that Donald Trump must never be the president of the United States.
Which is probably why this CNN report, published on Sunday, came as something of a shock.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Donald Trump's fiercest critics, is now calling on Republicans to support their presumptive nominee.
Graham urged GOP donors at a private fundraiser Saturday in Florida to unite behind Trump's campaign and stressed the importance of keeping likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton from the White House.... "He did say that we need to get behind him," Teresa Dailey, a prominent Florida Republican fundraiser who attended the private event, told CNN on Sunday.
[Update: CNN has since amended its original reporting. See the note below.]
I held off on writing about this yesterday largely because I wanted to give Graham a day to forcefully deny the accuracy of the report. There doesn't appear to be a recording of the senator's remarks at the event, and the CNN coverage was based on second-hand accounts, so there was at least some grounds for skepticism. If Graham and his aides insisted that the senator never said what his audience claimed he said, maybe Graham should get the benefit of the doubt.
But that's not what happened. Instead, Graham's spokesperson confirmed that he attended the fundraiser, and remained coy about what, exactly, the senator said about supporting the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Pressed for an explanation yesterday, Graham had an opportunity to deny the accuracy of the CNN report, but he didn't. "You vote the way you want to vote for president," the senator told reporters. "I've decided to take a pass on that race."
Except, that's not entirely true. Graham has had plenty to say about the presidential race.
Things seemed to be going pretty well for Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). Just last week, a poll showed the Democrat with a 58% approval rating, and there was occasional chatter about the governor being considered as a VP contender -- scuttlebutt that he was only too pleased to encourage.
Late yesterday, however, the news surrounding McAuliffe took a sudden turn for the worse. NBC News confirmed that the FBI is investigating whether the Virginia governor accepted illegal contributions during his 2013 statewide campaign.
CNN first reported Monday that the Democratic governor is the subject of a federal investigation into whether he violated campaign finance laws. McAuliffe's office told CNN they were not aware of the investigation, but would cooperate if contacted.
As part of the probe, investigators are looking into a $120,000 donation from Chinese businessman Wang Wenliang through his U.S. businesses, according to the report. It is against U.S. election law for foreign nationals to donate to political races here. A spokesman for Wang told CNN the businessman holds permanent resident status in the U.S.
The governor's office said last night that neither McAuliffe nor his former campaign operation has any knowledge of the investigation.
It's hard to say with confidence whether the allegations have merit, and if McAuliffe hasn't even been contacted as part of the probe, it's possible the investigation may not amount to anything. Time will tell.
But as Rachel noted on the show last night, it's hard not to feel a little bad for the commonwealth.
By some measures, current events of late have offered developments unlike anything Americans have ever seen. A major political party, for example, will nominate a nativist reality-show personality as its presidential candidate, while its rival nominates the first woman to ever lead a major-party ticket. In the not-too-distant past, stories like these would have been difficult to predict.
And yet, there's also something familiar about much of what we're seeing.
And in case the parallels to the 1990s weren't quite obvious enough, some unhinged conspiracy theorists on the right are still thinking about Vince Foster's suicide. The Washington Postreported overnight:
When asked in an interview last week about the Foster case, [Donald Trump] dealt with it as he has with many edgy topics -- raising doubts about the official version of events even as he says he does not plan to talk about it on the campaign trail.
He called theories of possible foul play "very serious" and the circumstances of Foster's death "very fishy."
"He had intimate knowledge of what was going on," Trump said, speaking of Foster's relationship with the Clintons at the time. "He knew everything that was going on, and then all of a sudden he committed suicide."
The presumptive Republican nominee, true to form, went on to tell the Post, "I don't bring [Foster's death] up because I don't know enough to really discuss it. I will say there are people who continue to bring it up because they think it was absolutely a murder. I don't do that because I don't think it's fair."
This is, of course, classic Trump. He concedes he doesn't know what he's talking about, but he's nevertheless comfortable speculating about nonsense he doesn't fully understand.
There's no point in rehashing old, ridiculous claims; Foster's death was carefully investigated at the time and the right-wing conspiracy theories were thoroughly discredited. Instead, what matters now is understanding how the presumptive GOP nominee thinks -- and as his Foster comments show, the would-be Republican president just can't get enough of conspiracy theories, no matter how silly.
Marc Caputo, senior political writer at Politico, talks with Rachel Maddow about Donald Trump's apparently lack of organization in Florida and whether Debbie Wasserman Schultz is vulnerable to a primary challenge. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the tensions within the Democratic Party, not just between the Clinton and Sanders campaigns but also between Sanders and DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and how some concessions may be helping to focus the party. watch
* Syria: "More than 120 people were killed in a spate of ISIS suicide attacks on the Syrian coast Monday, according to activists."
* Yemen: "A pair of bombings carried out by Islamic State militants killed at least 45 people in Yemen's southern city of Aden on Monday, targeting young men seeking to join the army who gathered at two recruitment centers, security officials said."
* A closely watched election: "Alexander Van der Bellen, a 72-year-old economics professor and former Green Party leader, won Austria's cliffhanger presidential election on Monday, defeating his far-right rival by the slimmest of margins and pledging to unite the divided country."
* Baltimore: "One of the six officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray was found not guilty on all counts in Baltimore on Monday. Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams cleared Officer Edward Nero of charges of assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment."
* The U.S. Supreme Court today "cleared the way for a new trial for a Georgia man convicted of murder and sentenced to death by an all-white jury, finding that prosecutors intentionally kept blacks off the jury."
* Iraqi forces "have begun an assault on Falluja, a city that has been held by the Islamic State longer than any other in Iraq or Syria, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a televised speech on Monday."
* Banking: "A U.S. appeals court on Monday threw out a jury's finding that Bank of America Corp was liable for mortgage fraud leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, voiding a $1.27 billion penalty and dealing the U.S. Department of Justice a major setback."
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