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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during an event on May 11, 2015.

Obama has a response for the 'not tough enough' crowd

07/24/15 04:31PM

The latest report from the Pew Research Center offered generally good news for President Obama -- Democrats' favorability is improving, while Republicans' favorability is sinking -- but there was one trouble area for the White House that stood out.
Just over half of Americans (53%) continue to say that Barack Obama's approach to foreign policy and national security is "not tough enough"; 37% say he handles these matters about right, while just 4% say he is too tough. These attitudes are virtually unchanged since November 2013.
 
Republicans are far more critical of Obama's approach to foreign policy than Democrats or independents.
Indeed, the partisan split matters. A 53% majority believes the president's approach to national security isn't "tough enough," but that's exaggerated a bit because a whopping 80% of Republicans have convinced themselves this is true. The numbers of Democrats and Independents who agree is significantly smaller.
 
Still, it's a deeply odd thing for a majority of Americans to believe.  Consider something Obama said this week during his address to the VFW National Convention:
"I've shown I will not hesitate to use force to protect our nation, including from the threat of terrorism. Thanks to the skill of our military and counterintelligence professionals, we've struck major blows against those who threaten us. Osama bin Laden is gone. Anwar Awlaki, a leader of the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen -- gone.  Many of al Qaeda's deputies and their replacements -- gone. Ahmed Abdi Godane -- the leader of the al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia -- gone. Abu Anas al-Libi, accused of bombing our embassies in Africa -- captured. Ahmed Abu Khattalah, accused in the attack in Benghazi -- captured. The list goes on. If you target Americans, you will have no safe haven.  We will defend our nation."
As of yesterday, Abu Khalil al-Sudani, the al Qaeda operative "in charge of suicide bombings and operations involving explosives" was killed by U.S. forces, which means he can be added to Obama's "gone" list.
 
I'm reminded of Jeffrey Goldberg's point from last year: "Obama has become the greatest terrorist hunter in the history of the presidency."
 
So, what's with the "not tough enough" concerns?
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 14, 2015. (Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

The radicalism of Rubio's foreign policy

07/24/15 03:19PM

Earlier this week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said of the international nuclear agreement with Iran, "This is not America's deal with Iran. It is Barack Obama's deal with Iran." It wasn't an offhand, impromptu comment made during an interview; the Republican senator actually included the line in a written statement.
 
Yesterday, during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Iran deal, Rubio made a nearly identical argument to Secretary of State John Kerry:
"Secretary Kerry, I do not fault you for trying to engage in diplomacy, and striking a deal for Iran, I don't. I do fault the president for striking a terrible deal with Iran. [...]
 
"[E]ven if this deal narrowly avoids congressional defeat because we can't get to that veto-proof majority, the Iranian regime and the world should know that this deal is your deal with Iran, meaning your's and this administration's, and the next president is under no legal or moral obligation to live up to it."
Obviously, when the Florida Republican refers to "the next president," Rubio believes he's referring to himself.
 
The surface-level issue is the concern that the GOP senator is using a serious foreign-policy debate for campaign grandstanding -- Rubio wants far-right activists to see him, not his rivals, as the party's fiercest critic of nuclear diplomacy. All of the top Republicans are talking about their plans to abandon the U.S. commitment in this area, and Rubio sees value in being a top member of the club.
 
But just below the surface, Rubio's posturing even far more serious.
A Tea Party member reaches for a pamphlet titled "The Impact of Obamacare", at a "Food for Free Minds Tea Party Rally" in Littleton, New Hampshire in this October 27, 2012. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

Republicans schedule new 'Obamacare' repeal vote

07/24/15 12:53PM

There's some disagreement about how many times House Republicans have voted to repeal all or parts of the Affordable Care Act. I've seen some estimates of 56 separate votes, though some put the total a little higher.
 
But let's not forget their friends on the other side of the Capitol. As National Journal reports, Senate Republicans are at least going through the motions to keep their repeal crusade alive, too.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has proposed repealing Obamacare as part of the long-term highway bill currently being considered in the upper chamber.
 
McConnell's office said Friday that the Senate would vote Sunday on an amendment to the highway legislation that would repeal the Affordable Care Act. The initial vote, which would cap debate on the repeal amendment, would need 60 votes.
Obviously, this is a ridiculous endeavor. The very idea of repealing an effective health care law is increasingly bizarre, and as Senate GOP leaders realize, there's zero chance of the repeal measure passing. The fact that Mitch McConnell sees this as a necessary part of the debate over highway spending is itself quite sad.
 
So why in the world is the Republican leader doing this, announcing an ACA repeal vote out of the blue? Apparently because McConnell is looking for an adequate pacifier for his far-right flank and this is the best he could come up with.

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.24.15

07/24/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* As the Republican campaign against the women's health group grows louder, Hillary Clinton told a South Carolina audience yesterday that she believes it's "unfortunate that Planned Parenthood has been the object of such a concerted attack for so many years." [Disclosure: my wife works for Planned Parenthood.]
 
* Jeb Bush yesterday called for a ban on all energy subsidies, including the elimination of tax credits for the renewable-energy industry. That probably won't be a popular position in Iowa.
 
* Speaking of Bush, the former governor complained yesterday about Democrat Martin O'Malley's response to the Black Lives Matter controversy last weekend. "I know in the political context it's a slogan, I guess," Bush said. "Should he have apologized? No. If he believes that white lives matter, which I hope he does, then he shouldn't have apologized to a group that seemed to disagree with it. Gosh."
 
* In Florida, a new Mason Dixon poll shows Bush with a big lead in his home state, leading the Republican field with 28%. Fellow Floridian Marco Rubio is far behind with 16%, followed by Scott Walker at 13%.
 
* The Republican National Committee is asking all of the party's presidential candidates to sign a "data agreement" with the party, turning over voter-contact information after the election, helping the RNC build better lists. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is the only Republican who has refused the party's request.
 
* Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), facing a tough re-election bid, apologized yesterday for referring to "those idiot inner city kids." He said the comment was intended as sarcasm.
Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the 2015 United States Conference of Mayors on June 20, 2015 in San Francisco, Calif. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

New allegations on Clinton emails start to unravel

07/24/15 11:20AM

Last night, the New York Times ran an exclusive report that seemed quite important, especially as it relates to the leading Democratic presidential candidate.
Two inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether Hillary Rodham Clinton mishandled sensitive government information on a private email account she used as secretary of state, senior government officials said Thursday.
Soon after, however, the story, the headline, and even the url changed without explanation. Now, the article begins this way:
Two inspectors general have asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into whether sensitive government information was mishandled in connection with the personal email account Hillary Rodham Clinton used as secretary of state, senior government officials said Thursday.
Politico noticed the "significant changes" to the Times' original reporting -- the first report suggested Clinton could be the target of the potential criminal probe, while the second, revised report did not.
 
A U.S. official, meanwhile, told the Associated Press that the referral from the inspectors general "doesn't necessarily suggest wrongdoing by Clinton herself."
 
Oh. Well, that's pretty far afield from what the Times first reported last night. In fact, what we appear to have are questions about whether the State Department mis-classified some sensitive materials. That may be fascinating to observers who study the executive bureaucracy at a granular level, but for everyone else, there doesn't appear to be much here. Indeed, the original effort to suggest Clinton was personally facing a possible criminal probe, at least given what we now know, seems quite irresponsible.
Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, Dec. 10, 2013.

'Showing the world we don't stand together'

07/24/15 10:41AM

The political fight over the nuclear agreement with Iran got underway yesterday in earnest, with a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deal. It was an opportunity for a real, substantive debate, featuring three knowledgeable cabinet members who understand the agreement inside and out, and senators whose job it is to know what they're talking about.
 
Predictably, the debate, such as it was, offered more heat than light. But that's not to say it wasn't important.
 
Early on, for example, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, complained, "We had a far more comprehensive and rapid inspection program in Iraq. Far more. That certainly didn't serve us particularly well."
 
In Iraq, the inspection program served us extremely well -- weapons inspectors said Iraq had no nuclear weapons and no WMD stockpiles. To hear Corker tell it, intrusive inspection programs are unreliable, as proven by our experience in Iraq, but the GOP lawmaker's own example points in the opposite direction.
 
Later, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) complained bitterly about the United Nations moving forward on the international agreement before Republicans have had a chance to try to kill the deal. "We're showing the world we don't stand together right now," Perdue said.
 
In March, Perdue signed on to a letter to Iranian officials, urging them not to trust the United States. The Georgia Republican, one of 47 GOP senators who endorsed the letter, were openly and brazenly trying to sabotage American foreign policy.
 
Maybe he ought to skip the complaining about "showing the world we don't stand together right now."
 
With all of this in mind, Paul Waldman argued yesterday that it's probably time to "stop pretending Republicans have a serious critique of the Iran deal."
This whole debate is a charade. There's a reason no Republican has managed to answer President Obama's challenge to articulate an alternative that would be preferable to what the six-party negotiations produced, and it isn't because this deal is perfect or couldn't have been better. It's that from where Republicans sit, any deal negotiated with Iran is a bad one by definition. [...]
 
[T]here was literally no deal this administration could have negotiated with Iran that Republicans would have agreed to. None. From their perspective, the substance of the deal never mattered.
Naturally, this was reflected in the quality of the debate, or in this case, the lack thereof. By the time Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked Energy Secretary Earnest Moniz, "Do you know what EMP is?" it was clear that the hearing served no practical purpose at all.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announces his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination at Livingston High School on June 30, 2015 in Livingston Twp., New Jersey. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty

Time for some traffic problems under the Hudson River

07/24/15 10:00AM

By most measures, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's ongoing "Bridgegate" scandal has done severe and lasting damage to his Republican presidential campaign. But his aides' decision to deliberately paralyze Fort Lee for political reasons isn't the governor's only problem related to transportation.
 
The New York Times reported yesterday, for example, on an even more immediate challenge.
For the third day in a row, electrical problems in century-old rail tunnels under the Hudson River on Wednesday stymied the commutes of tens of thousands of New Jersey Transit riders, illustrating again the shortcomings of the region's languishing infrastructure system.
 
The delays, coming a week after the board of New Jersey Transit approved a major fare increase, created chaos during the morning rush and gave rise to another round of questions about Gov. Chris Christie's decision five years ago to halt construction of a new rail tunnel.
In the scandal surrounding the George Washington Bridge lane-closures, the controversy is focused on Christie's team abusing its powers to a criminal degree. The problems in the tunnels under the Hudson River -- part of the "busiest railroad corridor in the United States" -- have nothing to do with Christie's team conspiring in secret to exact partisan revenge and everything to do with the governor showing poor judgment.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (R) speaks with Speaker of the House John Beohner (R-OH) in Washington in 2012.

Poll shows public souring on GOP after 2014 gains

07/24/15 09:20AM

There's no denying the electoral successes Republican candidates had in the 2014 midterms. Arguably the most significant change came in the Senate, where the GOP took control of the chamber for the first time since 2006, but up and down the ballot, Republicans won big.
 
With this in mind, as 2015 got underway, the conservative party had the wind at its back and was eager to show the American public that voters chose wisely in the elections. How's that working out so far? New polling from the Pew Research Center has to be discouraging.
The Republican Party's image has grown more negative over the first half of this year. Currently, 32% have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, while 60% have an unfavorable view. Favorable views of the GOP have fallen nine percentage points since January. The Democratic Party continues to have mixed ratings (48% favorable, 47% unfavorable).
 
The Democratic Party has often held an edge over the GOP in favorability in recent years, but its advantage had narrowed following the Republicans' midterm victory last fall. Today, the gap is as wide as it has been in more than two years.
The problem for Republicans isn't just the gap between the GOP and Democrats. The more pressing issue is the direction of public attitudes -- in early 2015, Republicans had a respectable-but-underwhelming 41% favorable rating. With GOP officials in control of Congress, most state legislatures, and most governors' offices, that same figure has dropped sharply to 32%.
 
And before Republican leaders say, "The public is souring on both parties," note that Democratic favorability has actually increased over the same period.
 
Looking at the breakdown over specific issues, party advantages are largely predictable -- Democrats have the edge on the environment, reproductive rights, education, and health care, while Republicans lead on guns and terrorism.
 
But one number above all should jump out at GOP leaders:
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush listens to a question during an appearance in San Francisco, Calif. on Jul. 16, 2015 (Photo by Robert Galbraith/Reuters).

Jeb Bush doubles down on far-right Medicare 'reform'

07/24/15 08:40AM

Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush caused a stir Wednesday night, telling a Koch-backed political group that he wants to "phase out" Medicare entirely. At a town-hall event in New Hampshire yesterday, an unhappy voter asked for an explanation. Here's what the former Florida governor said in response:
"To my point last night, here's what I said. I said, first and foremost, whenever you get into a conversation about reforming entitlements, the first thing that you can be guaranteed of is that the left will attack you and demonize you. It took about six hours for that to happen [on Wednesday night]. I woke up in the morning and words taken out of context -- exactly what I predicted would happen.
 
"I told the story of Paul Ryan who had a plan to deal with this over the long haul. The first thing I saw, that happened to him was, a guy looking like Paul Ryan was in a TV ad attacking him, wearing a red tie and a suit, throwing granny off the cliff.
 
"This is, we've got to get beyond this, because this is not a sustainable system. We need to protect it for people that have it, and we need to make sure that we reform it for people that are expecting it."
He then transitioned to talking about the latest report from the Medicare trustees, which was released this week, and which Bush seems to believe bolsters his argument.
 
I didn't really intend to return to the subject -- here's yesterday's piece if you missed it -- but so long as the GOP candidate is doubling down on a poor argument, it's probably worth clarifying further why Bush is mistaken.
Police stand by at the scene outside the movie theatre where a man opened fire on film goers in Lafayette, La., July 23, 2015. (Photo by Lee Celano/Reuters)

Three dead, nine injured in Louisiana movie theater shooting

07/24/15 08:02AM

Just one week after the mass shooting in Chattanooga, and a month after the mass shooting in Charleston, there was a mass shooting last night in Lafayette. M. Alex Johnson and Rachel Kleinman reported overnight for msnbc:
Three people, including the gunman, were killed, and nine others were injured in a shooting Thursday night at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, police said. The shooter – identified by police as a 58 year-old white man – died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
 
The shooting occurred at the Grand Theatre on Johnston Street about 7:30 p.m. local time (8:30 p.m. ET), police in Lafayette, about 50 miles southwest of Baton Rouge, said. Witnesses described hearing about six shots in a screening of the movie "Trainwreck."
The investigation into the details of the slaying is still underway, but local law enforcement  does not believe anyone else was involved in the violent incident. The names of the victims and the gunman have not yet been released.
 
Note, the death toll may yet climb. Of the nine people injured in the shooting, at least one is reportedly in critical condition in a nearby hospital. Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft told reporters last night that victim was in surgery and "was not doing well."
In most states you can be fired for being gay

In most states you can be fired for being gay

07/24/15 02:45AM

Rachel Maddow reports on a new effort to ban discrimination against gay people by amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and notes that most people don't realize that right doesn't already exist. watch

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