The ground rules for the first round of Republican presidential debates have taken shape, and at least for now, they don't seem to have many fans. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has helped lead the charge, likely because he'll be excluded given the current criteria, but Ben Carson has also been critical, despite the fact that he's all but certain to make the cut.
Roll Call's Stu Rothenberg called the current rules "unfair" and recommended an alternative approach:
The obvious answer is to divide the field in half, randomly assigning individual hopefuls to one of the two debates. Of course, not everyone will like the group he or she is in, and the makeup of each group would determine the particular dynamic of that debate.
After a couple of debates, the hosts of additional debates will have just cause to limit the number of debaters. But doing so in the first couple of debates is inherently unfair and could end up damaging the party's image. You'd think that that would be something the RNC would want to avoid.
Despite the recent criticism, there's been no indication from party officials or the relevant networks that the recently announced criteria for participation may be revisited.
One of the under-appreciating angles to the problem is the system of incentives debate organizers have inadvertently created.
It was a few weeks ago when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) shared a pretty dumb observation with a Boston audience: "Everything that starts with 'Al' in the Middle East is bad news." To bolster his point, the Republican even started rattling off some examples: al Qaeda, al-Nusra, al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, etc.
What Graham apparently didn't realize is that "al," is the Arabic word for "the." One of the Republican Party's most prominent voices on foreign affairs shared an insight that made him appear quite foolish.
At the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City, Graham didn't make things any better. The BBC reported:
Senator Lindsey Graham, the first speaker Friday morning, appearing from Washington via video, spoke of losing his parents as a teenager, working in a pool hall and having to help raise his younger sister -- and how it relates to his leadership style.
"Everything I learned about Iranians I learned working in the pool room," he said. "I met a lot of liars, and I know Iranians are liars."
A report from Slatenoted that the BBC report isn't entirely correct. A video of Graham's remarks shows him saying, "I met a lot of liars, and I know the Iranians are lying." That's obviously not the same thing as the senator accusing everyone in Iran of being liars.
The video nevertheless makes clear that Graham believes he has finely tuned lie-detection skills, and those skills now tell him that Iranian officials involved in the international nuclear talks are just like those pool sharks he used to know.
Love him or hate him, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) knows a thing or two about operating his chamber. With this in mind, when McConnell unveiled his pre-Memorial Day plan last week, it was tempting to give him the benefit of the doubt.
At this point, however, no one's thinking that anymore. The Republican leader's plan failed and the policy consequences are likely to be significant.
It's worth appreciating what McConnell attempted to do. First, he'd invest a big chunk of Senate time on "fast-track" authority, even though there were was no pending deadline. Second, McConnell would, towards the end of the week, bring the "USA Freedom Act," the House-approved compromise on NSA surveillance, to the floor. The Senate Majority Leader opposed the bill and expected to fail.
And third, with time running out and the policy poised to expire, members would have no choice but to approve a temporary extension of the status quo.
The first two-thirds of the plan went fairly well: the Senate passed trade-promotion authority and filibustered the USA Freedom Act, just as McConnell hoped. But his plans for a temporary extension failed, too -- McConnell asked for a two-month reprieve, then a week, then a few days, then one day. His ostensible ally, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) responded to every request with the same two words: "I object."
With existing policy set to expire on June 1, and with lawmakers nowhere near Capitol Hill, is it possible Congress will simply let elements of the Patriot Act expire altogether. The short answer is, yes. The less-short answer is, members haven't given up just yet. The New York Timesreported this morning:
Senior lawmakers are scrambling this week in rare recess negotiations to agree on a face-saving change to legislation that would rein in the National Security Agency's dragnet of phone records, with time running out on some of the government's domestic surveillance authority.
Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said a series of phone calls and staff meetings over the weeklong Memorial Day break should be enough to reach agreement on changes to the USA Freedom Act. Three senators need to be won over for the Senate to pass the USA Freedom Act, which has already been approved by the House and would change the post-Sept. 11 Patriot Act's provision that the N.S.A. has used to sweep up phone records in bulk.
That's not an outrageous goal. The House bill had 57 votes in the Senate, which is obviously a majority, but three short of breaking a filibuster.
At first blush, one might not expect to find an international breakthrough on gay rights in Ireland. The country is overwhelmingly Catholic, for example, and has a sizable population.
But on the issue of marriage equality, the Emerald Isle has set an example for the rest of the world to follow. NBC News' Lisa McNally reported over the holiday weekend:
Ireland became the first country in the world to vote in favor of legalizing gay marriage Saturday after a resounding victory for "Yes" campaigners.
At final count, 62% voted in favor of legalizing gay marriage in the country, while 38% voted against it.
The point isn't that Ireland is the first country to embrace equal marriage rights; it's not. Rather, the significance is how and by what margin Irish voters endorsed the new policy.
Around the world, marriage equality arrives through one of three options: judicial rulings, legislation, or popular referendum. As of a few days ago, no nation had ever successfully pursued that third option -- until the Irish made their voices heard.
What's more, it wasn't close. The results would still count had it been a 51%-49% squeaker, but the fact that the progressive approach won by a landslide ends the debate with an emphatic exclamation point.
First up from the God Machine this week is a rare example of a religious leader actually getting arrested for exercising her religious liberty -- but in a way that social conservatives are inclined to care about. AL.com reported this week:
A Prattville minister arrested after offering to perform a same-sex wedding inside the Autauga County Courthouse in February pleaded guilty Monday to misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
Anne Susan DiPrizio, 44, was sentenced to 30 days in the Autauga Metro Jail, which was suspended in lieu of six months unsupervised probation, the Montgomery Advertiser reported. She was ordered to pay a $250 fine and other court costs.
By all accounts, the Unitarian minister, following the dictates of her conscience and the tenets of her faith tradition, hoped to perform matrimonial services for two women who had already received a marriage license, thanks to a February court ruling. But because the Autauga County Probate Office had blocked all marriage ceremonies in the office, DiPrizio and the couples were turned away.
The minister refused to leave before she could exercise her beliefs, and local officials had her taken into custody.
This might seem like the sort of thing that would cause apoplexy among "religious liberty" proponents -- government officials had a clergy arrested? -- but to date, DiPrizio received no support from any of the usual suspects.
The Box Turtle Bulletin added, "[I]t's worth noting that amidst all the hue and cry turning cake bakers into martyrs in the name of religious freedom, here is an actual ordained minister who was jailed and fined for seeking to practice her faith and support same-sex marriage."
A federal judge ruled Thursday that same-sex couples have the right to marry in every Alabama county, but the ruling is on hold pending the Supreme Court's verdict in a related case. The decision is expected next month.
Steve Kornacki reports on a new report finding millions of dollars wasted on unused or non-working military facilities Afghanistan, including an entire Marine headquarters, and the demands for accountability from Senator Claire McCaskill and others. watch
Steve Kornacki reports the latest developments in the ruptured oil pipeline near Santa Barbara, California that has left local sea wildlife suffering and has federal investigators demanding the pipeline company submit the pipe for analysis. watch
Kasie Hunt, MSNBC political correspondent, talks with Steve Kornacki about whether Republicans will be able to turn their questions about Hillary Clinton and the Benghazi attacks into a political advantage. watch
Michael Schmidt, reporter for the New York Times, talks with Steve Kornacki about the contents of the newly released Hillary Clinton e-mails from personal server during her time as secretary of state, and the confusing redactions by the State Department. watch
* More on this on the show tonight: "The State Department has released over 800 pages of emails sent and received on Hillary Clinton's private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State."
* Clinton responds: "After the event, Clinton, took questions from the press for the second time this week. She defended her use of private emails after being asked by NBC's Andrea Mitchell. 'All of the information in the emails has handled appropriately,' she replied, adding that she was glad the emails are coming out. 'I want people to be able to see all of them.'"
* A dash of reality: "Conspiracy-minded conservatives, be warned: The trove of Clinton emails don't prove much about her culpability for the infamous 9/11 anniversary attacks."
* No rush: "Janet L. Yellen, the Federal Reserve chairwoman, said on Friday that she still expected the Fed to start raising its benchmark interest rate later this year."
* Refugio oil spill: "Officials at the company that owns the pipe that ruptured and spilled up to 105,000 gallons of heavy crude in Santa Barbara County said Friday they will not appeal a federal order to take corrective steps."
* California's water crisis: "California water regulators have accepted an unprecedented proposal from Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta farmers to voluntarily cut water use by 25% -- or fallow a quarter of their cropland -- in an effort to avoid harsher, government-imposed cuts."
* A historic opportunity: "Irish citizens in places as far-flung as Australia and California were flying back to their home country on Friday to cast ballots in a referendum that could make Ireland the first country to adopt same-sex marriage by a popular vote."
* What was he thinking? "To the right stands former Virginia delegate Joe Morrissey, 57, a Democrat running for a Virginia state Senate seat as an Independent after Democratic Party officials rejected his attempt to seek office. Joining Morrissey are his 19-year-old receptionist, Myrna Pride, and their 9-week-old son Chase, a child Morrissey publicly acknowledged as his son for the first time Wednesday."
Perhaps more than any member of Congress, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is preoccupied with fear. And the South Carolina Republican regularly paints a terrifying picture for Americans -- "The world is literally about to blow up" -- apparently because Graham wants you to be preoccupied with fear, too.
"We have never seen more threats against our nation and its citizens than we do today."
Ahistorical nonsense like this is a little too common, particular from his wing of the party. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) loves to tell anyone who'll listen that there's "greater turmoil" in the world now than at any time "in my lifetime."
McCain's lifetime includes the entirety of World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War.
And perhaps that's the root of the problem. I don't think Graham and McCain are being disingenuous -- their state of near-panic about national security seems sincere -- but I do think their understanding of history is alarmingly poor.
It may be a while before the overall number of self-identified American liberals catch up to American conservatives, but a new Gallup report points to unseen ideological parity on social issues.
Thirty-one percent of Americans describe their views on social issues as generally liberal, matching the percentage who identify as social conservatives for the first time in Gallup records dating back to 1999. [...]
The broad trend has been toward a shrinking conservative advantage, although that was temporarily interrupted during the first two years of Barack Obama's presidency. Since then, the conservative advantage continued to diminish until it was wiped out this year.
Among Republican voters, there hasn't been much of a change over the last decade, and the views espoused by the party's voters in 2015 are practically identical to the Gallup results from 2001.
But among Democrats, there's been a revolution of sorts. In 2011, a plurality of Dems described their views on social issues as "moderate," while only a third considered themselves "liberal." This year, however, those totals have reversed -- and then some. Now, a 53% majority of Democrats are social liberals, while about a third are moderates.
So, for the left, that's the good news. What's the bad news? Americans' views on economic issues. From the Gallup report:
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