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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump looks at a signed pledge during a news conference in Trump Tower, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015 in New York. (Photo Richard Drew/AP)

Trump and his rivals back away from RNC's loyalty pledge

03/30/16 08:00AM

There was a point last summer when Donald Trump flirted with the possibility of running an independent presidential campaign, prompting widespread consternation in Republican circles. But by early September, Trump announced that he'd signed the RNC's "loyalty pledge," committing him to the party's nominating process -- and its nominee.
 
As we've discussed before, however, the New York Republican left himself some wiggle room. Trump said, repeatedly, that he would honor the agreement so long as Republicans treated him "fairly." He never specified exactly what "fairly" meant -- apparently, he knows it when he sees it -- but the candidate's rhetoric suggested he always saw a way out of his promise.
 
All of which led up to last night, when things changed.
When pushed again by moderator Anderson Cooper about whether he'd respect the so-called "Loyalty Pledge" ... Trump was more direct:
 
"No, I don't anymore. No. We'll see who it is. And he was essentially saying the same thing."
In this case, "he" referred to Trump's principal rival, Sen. Ted Cruz, who also suggested he no longer feels bound by the party's pledge.
 
"I'm not in the habit of supporting someone who attacks my wife and attacks my family," Cruz said last night. Pressed to explain the implications of his position, the Texas Republican would only say, "I gave you my answer."
 
For good measure, even John Kasich hedged on whether he'll honor the RNC pledge, saying he would have to wait to "see what happens" in the Republican race before deciding whether to keep his commitment.
 
Keep in mind, at a Republican debate held earlier this month, these candidates were asked whether they'd support their party's presidential nominee, no matter who prevailed. Cruz said, "Yes, because I gave my word that I would." Kasich responded, "[If Trump] ends up as the nominee -- sometimes, he makes it a little bit hard -- but, you know, I will support whoever is the Republican nominee for president."
 
A lot has happened in the four weeks since, and as of last night, the RNC's "pledge" appears to be no more.
Prrrrrogramming note! Big night Wednesday

Prrrrrogramming note! Big night Wednesday

03/29/16 09:46PM

Rachel Maddow alerts viewers to MSNBC's Wednesday night special schedule, beginning with a John Kasich town hall hosted by Chuck Todd at 7pm ET, then a Donald Trump town hall hosted by Chris Matthews at 8pm ET, and then Rachel Maddow interviews Hillary Clinton at 9pm ET followed by Bernie Sanders at 10pm ET. watch

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 3.29.16

03/29/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* This could have been much worse: "A hijacker who took dozens of hostages aboard a commercial jet over what appeared to be a 'personal' matter involving a woman was arrested after an hours-long standoff Tuesday, authorities said."
 
* President Obama touted new proposals at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit: "The Obama administration on Tuesday announced a series of initiatives aimed at curbing America's opioid addiction epidemic, steps that would make it easier to obtain medication-assisted treatment, expand Medicaid coverage for mental health and substance-abuse care and increase use of a drug that saves people from overdoses."
 
* An unexpected move in the contraception fight: "Many observers left last week's contraceptive coverage oral argument at the Supreme Court convinced that the court was headed to a 4-4 tie, with Justice Anthony Kennedy siding with the religious objectors opposing the Obama administration's plan to cover their female employees' contraception. On Tuesday, less than a week after oral argument, the court surprised everyone with a two-page order asking the parties for more information on their positions."
 
* The end of a very high-profile dispute: "The Justice Department has asked to drop the court order that it wanted to use to compel Apple to help unlock an iPhone used by San Bernardino, California, attacker Syed Farook, saying it has gotten data off the device without the company's help."
 
* Good for him: "North Carolina's new law limiting LGBT protections is a 'national embarrassment,' and the state's lawyers won't defend it against a federal challenge from gay rights advocates, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced Tuesday."
 
* Utah: "Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has approved a bill that makes Utah the first state to require doctors to give anesthesia to women having an abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later. The proposal is based on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that point."
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley speaks during the annual State of the State address at the Capitol, Feb. 2, 2016, in Montgomery, Ala. (Photo by Brynn Anderson/AP)

Sex scandal gets even worse for Alabama governor

03/29/16 04:41PM

When we last checked in on Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, the "family values" Republican was facing accusations from the former head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency about an alleged extra-marital affair. The officer held a press conference to say he'd been fired for failing to go along with a scheme to hide the governor's personal misdeeds.
 
Bentley held a strange press conference soon after to apologize – though it was unclear to whom he was apologizing and for what. The governor acknowledged his role in inappropriate communications with his top political aide, but he denied having a "physical relationship" with her.
 
An audio recording surfaced soon after in which Bentley is overheard describing what sounded like a "physical relationship" with his staffer.
 
A week later, the questions are only growing louder; the list of Republicans calling for Bob Bentley's resignation is growing longer; and the governor's future is looking bleaker.
Gov. Robert Bentley sidestepped questions about an alleged affair with senior political adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason during a visit Monday to a rural health center in Centreville -- his first public appearance since sexually explicit recordings of the governor talking to Mason were made public last week.
If he's come up with a defense or any new talking points, the governor kept them to himself. "We have made our statement last week and that's all we're going to say about that," he said.
 
But there is no scenario in which Bentley's odd, literally unbelievable statement from last week makes his scandal go away. On the contrary, today's headlines make clear this controversy goes well beyond an inappropriate workplace romance.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks to members of the press, June 27, 2013.

Supreme Court fiasco weighs on key Republican senator

03/29/16 03:46PM

Earlier this month, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was so embarrassed by his role in the Republican Supreme Court blockade, he "raised a binder to cover his face before hurriedly retreating" from reporters on Capitol Hill with questions about his behavior. It wasn't a good sign.
 
Nearly four weeks later, Grassley is still under fire for his partisan antics, and in a way, he's still covering his face -- to the point that he doesn't want to tell his own constituents where he's holding public events. The Huffington Post reported yesterday:
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says he will be going around speaking with constituents at more than a dozen events in his home state during the Senate's two-week spring recess.
 
But most of the public will have no idea how to find him, because his office is keeping the details of those events secret to avoid protesters.
It's amazing to think that just seven weeks ago, Grassley was sitting pretty, holding a powerful Senate gavel and looking like a lock to win re-election in November. Now, however, the long-time, far-right lawmaker is at the center of a Supreme Court fiasco; he's receiving the worst press of his lengthy congressional career; and he's facing the most serious Democratic challenge since joining the Senate 36 years ago.
 
Grassley is not just facing pressure from protesters demanding he act more responsibly in the Senate. The Des Moines Register reported today -- on the front page, no less -- that Grassley went to Northwestern Iowa yesterday, home to some of the most conservative areas in the state, where he still faced "tough and repeated questions over his refusal to hold hearings on a nominee to the Supreme Court."
Corey Lewandowski, campaign manager for 2016 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks to members of the media before a news conference in Palm Beach, Fla., on March 11, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Donald Trump's campaign manager faces criminal charge

03/29/16 12:45PM

If there's never been a competitive presidential candidate quite like Donald Trump, it stands to reason that there's never been a presidential campaign manager quite like Corey Lewandowski.
 
For example, when was the last time Americans saw a campaign manager for a likely major-party nominee face a criminal charge in the middle of the race? NBC News reported this afternoon:
Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski turned himself in to Florida police Tuesday after being charged with assaulting a reporter at a campaign event earlier this month, according to the Jupiter Police Department.
 
Michelle Fields, a reporter for Breitbart, filed charges alleging that Lewandowski pulled her arm while she attempted to ask Trump a question at an event at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida. Lewandowski has been charged with misdemeanor battery and turned himself in to police shortly after 8 a.m., according to the report.
The local police department released a video clip showing Lewandowski's interaction with Fields, which led to the criminal charge.
 
I can't speak with any authority to the seriousness of the controversy -- I'll leave it to attorneys to comment on the significance of "misdemeanor battery" -- but as a rule, when a campaign manager for a leading presidential campaign has to turn himself in to police, it's not a positive development.
 
Though when it comes to Lewandowski, this is not the first controversy of note.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.29.16

03/29/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* Though Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are already scheduled to participate in a CNN forum this evening, Cruz has challenged the Republican frontrunner to turn the event into a debate. As things stand, there are no additional GOP debates scheduled.
 
* The latest Gallup polling shows Donald Trump's Republican supporters far more enthusiastic than his Republican rivals' supporters. And though this cuts against the conventional wisdom, Gallup also shows Hillary Clinton with an enthusiasm advantage over Bernie Sanders among Democratic voters.
 
* Speaking of Sanders, as Rachel noted on the show last night, the Vermont senator's campaign raised an extraordinary $4 million in the two days following Saturday night's caucus victories.
 
* Though Clinton appears to have an enormous advantage among superdelegates, Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, said yesterday there's a "significant number" of superdelegates ready and willing to back the independent senator. Weaver would not say how many, or who these superdelegates are.
 
* Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has thrown his support to Ted Cruz, but if Trump is the Republican nominee, the Republican governor says he'll support him, too.
 
* Faced with the very real prospect of a contested convention, presidential campaigns are getting more serious about counting delegates. Team Trump, for example, has hired "veteran Republican strategist Paul J. Manafort to lead his delegate-corralling efforts." Manafort helped manage the 1976 convention floor for Gerald Ford.
A voter steps into a voting booth to mark his ballot at a polling site for the New Hampshire primary, Feb. 9, 2016, in Nashua, N.H. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

The Republicans' challenge: localizing a national election cycle

03/29/16 11:20AM

Republican officials, insiders, and donors are well aware of the difficult circumstances they face in this year's elections, especially if Donald Trump is the party's presidential nominee. But the GOP has a plan: while Republicans generally excel at nationalizing congressional races, in 2016, they hope to do the exact opposite.
 
The Wall Street Journal reports today on a group called One Nation, formed by to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's former chief of staff, which raised $10.3 million last year to help Republicans keep control of the Senate.
The Senate Republican strategy of focusing on local issues to insulate vulnerable GOP senators from turmoil at the top of the party's presidential ticket and from partisan politics in Washington has received an injection of support from a nonprofit group that is spending heavily to defend incumbents in several states, particularly New Hampshire. [...]
 
One Nation is calculating that focusing on local issues can lift GOP candidates above the fray of national politics. The group has spent $2.4 million on TV ads in the New Hampshire race, more than in any other contest. In Pennsylvania and Ohio, it has spent about $1 million apiece.
Steven Law, who created One Nation, told the Journal that the group found in 2014, most notably in Kentucky, "that a lot of voters were much more focused on issues closer to home than the national battle over larger and more abstract issues."
 
And while that may work in 2016, the odds are against it. MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin joked this morning that various partisans, right before every wave election ever, invariably argue, "It's okay, we'll just make these races about local issues."
Protesters rally outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Jan. 11, 2016, as the court heard arguments in the 'Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association' case. (Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Supreme Court split saves public-sector unions

03/29/16 10:40AM

Republicans have made no secret of the fact that they fear the Supreme Court moving to the left, even a little, in the wake of Antonin Scalia's death. But we were reminded this morning that in the late justice's absence, the high court's capacity for conservative change has already been curtailed.
 
CNBC reported on the release of a decision that wasn't expected until June.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday split 4-4 on a conservative legal challenge to a vital source of funds for organized labor, affirming a lower-court ruling that allowed California to force non-union workers to pay fees to public-employee unions.
 
The court, shorthanded after the Feb. 13 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and evenly divided with four liberal and four conservative members, left intact a 1977 legal precedent that allowed such fees, which add up to millions of dollars a year for unions.
The case is called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, and the Supreme Court's "decision," such as it is, has been posted online here. It's extraordinarily brief, however: it reads in its entirety, "Per Curium. The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court."
 
This is no small development. At issue in this case was a seemingly obscure issue -- public-sector unions' "agency fees" -- but while this may seem like a tangential dispute, the outcome had the potential to disrupt many labor unions nationwide.

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