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Friday's Mini-Report, 5.27.16

05/27/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* ISIS: "A U.S. airstrike has killed a local leader of the terror group ISIS in Fallujah, Iraq, a spokesman for an American-led coalition fighting the group said. U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren said the strike Wednesday on ISIS' headquarters in Fallujah killed local commander Maer a-Bilawi."
* Donald Trump announced this afternoon "that he won't debate Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders after all."
* Japan: "Barack Obama called for a world without nuclear weapons on Friday as he became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the site of the Hiroshima atomic bombing.... A helicopter and motorcade brought Obama to the Hiroshima Peace Park Memorial, where he spent a short time in the site's museum and then solemnly placed a wreath at the arched monument."
* This seems like a story worth following closely: "For the first time, researchers have found a person in the United States carrying bacteria resistant to antibiotics of last resort, an alarming development that the top U.S. public health official says could mean 'the end of the road' for antibiotics."
* This investigation led to one resignation: "More than 40 Secret Service employees have been disciplined for improperly accessing sensitive private information about a prominent congressional critic last year, an 'appalled' Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Thursday."
* The effects of the Zika virus: "More than 100 prominent physicians, bioethicists and scientists from around the world posted a letter Friday urging WHO Director-General Margaret Chan to exert pressure on Olympic authorities to move the Olympics from Rio de Janeiro or delay the games because of public health concerns over the Zika virus."
* Gun access is part of the difference: "There was a time when it looked as if Chicago would follow New York and Los Angeles into a kind of sustained peace. Then progress stalled in 2004, and the city has been through some harrowing years leading up to another alarming spike in homicides this year."
* The U.S. economy "is picking up speed after a slow start to the year, with resilient consumer spending and a buoyant housing market just about making up for a falloff in investment by cautious companies. But the overall gains are still likely to fall short of what many experts -- not to mention ordinary workers -- would hope to see as the recovery nears the end of its seventh year."
One World Trade Center stands the Lower Manhattan skyline at dusk in this aerial photograph taken above New York, June 19, 2015. (Photo by Craig Warga/Bloomberg/Getty)

New York Democrat seeks post-9/11 refund from Donald Trump

05/27/16 03:54PM

Donald Trump obviously has no record in elected office or the public sector, so to evaluate his preparedness for the White House, it's necessary to scrutinize the Republican's business record. And while Trump has had plenty of lucrative successes, some of the details of his private-sector background are far less flattering.
The New York Daily News reported last week, for example, on a post-9/11 program, designed to help small businesses around Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks. According to the article, the state "didn't enforce federal guidelines on what defines a small business" at the time, and Donald Trump took advantage, receiving $150,000 in taxpayer money for "swanky property" he owned on Wall Street.
The Daily News added that the money was supposed to help "mom and pop shops make it through an incredibly difficult stretch," and yet, Trump, a self-professed billionaire, sought and received a slice of the pie.
Today, the New York Times reports that Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), whose district includes Ground Zero and Lower Manhattan, wrote an open letter to Trump, asking for a refund.
"When do you plan on returning the taxpayer money that was designated to ease the suffering of our city's small-business owners?" Mr. Nadler wrote in the letter, a copy of which his office provided to The New York Times. [...]
"It's been reported that on your grant application, you claimed 40 Wall Street L.L.C. -- which employed 28 people and had $26.8 million in annual revenues at the time -- as a 'small business,'" Mr. Nadler wrote. "Despite the federal definition of a small business as having less than $6 million in revenue, you accepted a $150,000 payout."
He added, "In grabbing that money with both fists, you took it out of the pockets of small-business owners in New York who were truly hurting, and prevented them from taking full advantage of the relief so generously offered by their fellow citizens."
The Democratic lawmaker went on to urge Trump to "return the funds you received or donate them to a charitable organization dedicated to providing legitimate support for the victims of 9/11."
Nadler concluded, "Whatever the size of your business, we need no further proof that you are a small man."
The south steps of the state Capitol are seen in Oklahoma City, April 7, 2014.

Oklahoma doesn't 'do all this craziness by accident'

05/27/16 12:47PM

The pattern is a familiar one: voters in red states put conservative Republicans in complete control of state government; GOP lawmakers implement their agenda; and the results are discouraging for everyone. We saw it in Louisiana, where former Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) failed, and we're seeing in Kansas, where Gov. Sam Brownback's (R) radical experiment is a fiasco.
The Washington Post reported yesterday, meanwhile, that a similar dynamic is unfolding in Oklahoma -- a state where President Obama lost literally every county, twice.
Some public schools are starting summer vacation several days early. Others are contemplating a four-day week to cut costs. And more than 200 teachers in Oklahoma City were handed pink slips in March.
But instead of addressing a burgeoning budget crisis that threatens public education and other critical state services, Oklahoma lawmakers have been busy debating proposals to criminalize abortion, police students' access to public bathrooms and impeach President Obama.
In theory, Oklahoma's GOP-led state government should be focused on the state's $1.3 billion budget shortfall, the result of tax breaks and reduced oil revenue. But much of the focus has been on the culture war, not the state's financial mess.
During a recent debate in the state House over an obviously unconstitutional anti-abortion proposal -- which was later vetoed -- state Rep. David Brumbaugh (R) told his colleagues, "Everybody talks about [Oklahoma's] $1.3 billion deficit. If we take care of the morality, God will take care of the economy."
Wishful thinking about divine intervention hasn't worked out in Oklahoma's favor.
State Sen. David Holt (R) told the Post he's "ashamed" of how much time his colleagues invested in a bill related to transgender restroom use. "[W]hile students in my district were quite literally marching in the streets to the Capitol to plead with the legislature to do something about how the budget shortfall will affect their schools," he said, "we were addressing something that virtually no one had contacted me about and that was arguably not a pressing issue."
Former Gov. David Walters (D), who served in the early 1990s, added, "You don't do all this craziness by accident. I think they're literally trying to create a smokescreen to cover what has to be one of the most irresponsible government periods in state history."

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.27.16

05/27/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Bernie Sanders hoped to get an additional delegate by requesting a recanvassing of the Kentucky primary results, but the results released yesterday were nevertheless unchanged. In a press statement, the Sanders campaign said it "accepts the results in Kentucky," though it nevertheless complained that the Democratic primary was limited to Democratic voters.
* Donald Trump said yesterday he'd expect a charitable donation of $10 million to $15 million in order to debate Sanders ahead of the June 7 primary in California. The Republican National Committee won't put up that kind of money, but it's nevertheless excited about the possibility of such an event advancing the GOP's interests.
* And speaking of the RNC, Jeff Weaver, Sanders' campaign manager, singled out Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus for praise yesterday during an MSNBC interview.
* In Arizona, the Eagle Forum's Phyllis Schlafy has thrown her support behind Sen. John McCain's Republican primary challenger, Kelli Ward.
* The Koch brothers Freedom Partners Action Fund has purchased $3 million in airtime in Pennsylvania, hoping to boost incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey's (R) bid for a second term.
* In a move that seemed oddly predictable, Martin Shkreli, the 33-year-old former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, has endorsed the Trump campaign.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg pauses while talking in her chambers following an interview in Washington, D.C.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Eight is not enough

05/27/16 11:20AM

Last month, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), feeling pressure over his role in an unprecedented Supreme Court blockade, wrote an op-ed in which he insisted the whole mess is unimportant. The "sky won't fall" if the Supreme Court remains deadlocked for a year and a half -- eight justices is plenty -- so the Republicans' unprecedented scheme isn't worth all the fuss.
Actual justices on the high court appear to feel differently. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged publicly yesterday that the institution she serves is, in fact, being hurt by having eight justices instead of nine. The Washington Post reported:
The Supreme Court has deadlocked 4 to 4 in several cases since Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February. Ginsburg told judges at a conference in New York that the situation is unfortunate because it essentially means important issues are being denied Supreme Court review, according to a copy of her prepared remarks.
"That means no opinions and no precedential value; an equal division is essentially the same as a denial of review," Ginsburg said.
She added, "Eight, as you know, is not a good number for a multi-member court."
Ginsburg is hardly the only one who's noticed. Slate's Dahlia Lithwick noted last week that the Supreme Court can pretend that "it can manage just fine with eight justices," but the fact remains that the institution is struggling to do its job.
Real estate mogul Donald Trump arrives to announce his bid for the presidency in the 2016 presidential race on June 16, 2015. (Photo by Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty)

The problem with Donald Trump's fact-free 'instincts'

05/27/16 10:40AM

Donald Trump has a handful of core issues that help define his political identity. Indeed, one need not be a political news junkie to be able to rattle off the list: the New York Republican wants to "make America great again" by banning foreign Muslims from entering the country and addressing immigration by building a wall along the U.S./Mexico border.
It was literally in his surreal campaign kick-off speech that Trump made international headlines by declaring, "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists."
For anti-immigration voters, Trump quickly became the presidential candidate they've been waiting for. But what does the presumptive Republican nominee actually know about his signature issue? Joshua Green has a fascinating new piece in Bloomberg Politics, which is largely about Trump undoing RNC Chairman Reince Priebus' years of work, but the article included one anecdote in particular that amazed me.
He explained the genesis of his heterodox views. "I'm not sure I got there through deep analysis," he said. "My views are what everybody else's views are. When I give speeches, sometimes I'll sign autographs and I'll get to talk to people and learn a lot about the party." [...]
I asked, given how immigration drove his initial surge of popularity, whether he, like [Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions], had considered the RNC's call for immigration reform to be a kick in the teeth. To my surprise, he candidly admitted that he hadn't known about it or even followed the issue until recently. "When I made my [announcement] speech at Trump Tower, the June 16 speech," he said, "I didn't know about the Gang of Eight.... I just knew instinctively that our borders are a mess."
For quite a while, it's obviously been a problem that Donald Trump lacks a basic understanding of government and public policy. But anecdotes like these are a reminder about an alarming, related detail: he's not particularly interested in current events, either.
I'm not even sure he's clear on the meaning of "instinctively."
Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) speaks during a hearing on implementation of the Affordable Care Act before the House Energy and Commerce Committee October 24, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Why the right is targeting a conservative red-state congresswoman

05/27/16 10:00AM

When the Koch brothers' political operation targets a Democratic candidate, no one bats an eye. When it goes after a conservative Republican in a red state, something odd is going on.
The Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity is pulling out all the stops to end Rep. Renee Ellmers' career in Washington.
The group founded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch has dozens of field workers descending on the lawmaker's district in the Raleigh suburbs, all of whom are working to brand the three-time incumbent as a fake conservative who has too often voted for legislation reaffirming Washington's crony capitalism.
According to The Hill's report, this is "the first time the Koch network has ever opposed a sitting Republican lawmaker facing a primary fight." The article added, "If successful, the AFP campaign against Ellmers will become a cautionary tale for other congressional Republicans who don't vote in line with the Koch network's agenda."
But it's not just the Koch brothers' operation. Right Wing Watch reported earlier this month, "The Susan B. Anthony List, which serves as the electoral arm of the anti-abortion movement and is particularly focused on electing anti-choice women, is for the first time endorsing a male candidate over an anti-choice woman in a Republican primary, backing Rep. George Holding against Rep. Renee Ellmers in a recently redrawn congressional district in North Carolina."
The right-wing Club for Growth is also actively working to end Ellmers' career.
Last year, RedState's Erick Erickson, a prominent voice in Republican media, went so far as to label Ellmers, an opponent of abortion rights, "the GOP's Abortion Barbie."
What in the world did Ellmers, who has a 78% career rating from the American Conservative Union, do to put a far-right target on her back?
CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden leaves his seat after testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 16, 2014.

CDC chief: 'Three months in an epidemic is an eternity'

05/27/16 09:20AM

CDC Director Tom Frieden has a background in science and medicine, not politics and messaging. So when he uses the kind of language he repeated yesterday, it's worth appreciating just how franticly Frieden is trying to ring a national alarm. The Huffington Post reported:
Dr. Tom Frieden has dealt with a number of epidemics during his seven-year tenure as director of the Centers for Disease Control. But the rapidly spreading Zika virus, the terrifying birth defects it causes and Congress' inexplicable foot-dragging on funding anti-Zika efforts has him feeling downright desperate.
"Imagine that you're standing by and you see someone drowning, and you have the ability to stop them from drowning, but you can't," Frieden told a packed room of reporters and potential donors at the National Press Club on Thursday. "Now multiply that by 1,000 or 100,000. That's what it feels like to know how to change the course of an epidemic and not be able to do it." [...]
"I'm often asked how I feel as CDC director," he said. "In the heat of the moment, you're mostly concerned about getting the job done.... but for me, when faced with emergencies like this, the greatest emotion has been frustration."
When politicians speak this way, it's routine, but when the director of the CDC uses language like this, it's effectively the equivalent of a medical professional running around with his hair on fire.
Frieden was cautious about pointing fingers, but his desperation and frustration is the direct result of Congress' indifference to the Zika threat, which he characterized yesterday as an "extraordinary and unusually urgent" crisis.
It was his CDC that authored the Obama administration's emergency budget request of $1.9 billion -- a request Republicans have decided not to meet. Instead, the GOP-led Senate approved a $1.1 billion package, while the GOP-led House passed a bill about half as large. Under the current Republican approach, it may be "well into the summer, or even longer" before Congress approves an inadequate final bill to address the Zika virus.
The Huffington Post piece added, "Frieden said his 'jaw dropped' when he realized how long it would take Congress to move on the issue. 'Three months in an epidemic is an eternity,' he said."
Part of the problem, of course, is the congressional calendar. In fact, after taking the first week in May off, they've also decided to take the last week in May off -- members left town yesterday and won't return to work until June 6.
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a rally with supporters in Albuquerque, New Mexico, U.S. May 24, 2016.

Why Donald Trump's energy policy sounds so familiar

05/27/16 08:42AM

Donald Trump has never had much of a policy agenda, and his campaign has no real policy platform, so when the presumptive Republican presidential nominee announces plans to deliver a substantive speech, it's generally a good idea to take notice. Yesterday, for example, Trump traveled to North Dakota to outline his approach to energy.
But if anyone was looking for something new or interesting in the candidate's thinking, they came away empty handed. MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin reported:
Trump is known for bucking conservative orthodoxy but, on Thursday, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee largely hewed to the typical Republican line. Reading from a teleprompter, Trump called for reducing restrictions on energy exploration, opening up more federal lands to drilling, and reducing dependence on foreign oil. He said he would try to reopen negotiations to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which President Obama rejected.
Trump railed against the "totalitarian tactics" of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Seventeen Republicans ran for president this cycle, and literally all of them could have delivered the exact same speech. The GOP candidate likes oil drilling, hates the EPA, hates the Paris climate agreement just as much, loves coal and fracking, couldn't care less about renewable energy, and prefers to pretend climate change doesn't exist. He vowed to prioritize clean air and clean water, while at the same time, scrapping pretty much every environmental safeguard that helps guarantee clean air and clean water.
If it sounded like the kind of speech an energy lobbyist might write, that's probably because it was.
All of which served as a reminder: for all the talk about how different Donald Trump is, he's evolving into yet another conventional Republican candidate. Last year, he was a presidential hopeful with no mega-donors, no pollsters, and no need to stick to GOP orthodoxy. Now, Trump is relying on mega-donors and pollsters, while saying the same things every Republican says.
As we discussed last week, Trump is now just an inexperienced, unqualified version of his GOP predecessors.
And that, alas, includes his sudden embrace of teleprompters.
Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), flanked by his family, speaks at a primary night rally on March 15, 2016 in Miami, Fla. (Photo by Angel Valentin/Getty)

Will party trump principle for Marco Rubio?

05/27/16 08:00AM

Two weeks ago, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) fielded a question from a Capitol Hill reporter who asked whether he might change his mind about retiring at the end of the year. The far-right senator demurred, but noted that the filing deadline in Florida isn't until June 24 -- a date he'd apparently memorized.
His staff insisted soon after that Rubio was only kidding. As of yesterday, that seems far less certain.
Facing the very real possibility that Republicans may lose Florida's open U.S. Senate seat, an organized effort is underway to convince Rubio to break his word, go back on his promise, and seek a second term after assuring voters he wouldn't. GOP senators are reportedly leaning heavily on Rubio, and even Donald Trump has joined the lobbying campaign.
Ten days ago, facing media speculation about his future, Rubio sounded annoyed. "I have only said like 10,000 times I will be a private citizen in January," the senator said on Twitter. Yesterday, however, instead of sticking to his position, the Floridian seemed to open the door a crack. Bloomberg Politics reported:
Now, Rubio -- who said he would not stand for Senate re-election when he announced his failed presidential bid -- said it is "unlikely" he will change his mind before the Florida filing deadline on June 24. The state's primary will be held Aug. 30.
"This is just something that happened today or what have you. For me, I need time to even talk to anybody about it, but my sense of it is nothing has changed in my thinking," he told reporters at the Capitol.
That may not sound like much of a shift, but let's not overlook recent history. Rubio, in a rare display of integrity, publicly promised when launching his presidential campaign that it was White House or bust. After his candidacy failed, the Republican repeatedly said, in no uncertain terms, that he's looking forward to being a private citizen in the new year. Rubio became irritated by any suggestions to the contrary.
And yet, yesterday, his answer to the same question was far from categorical, which as he must have realized, renewed speculation about whether the Florida senator is willing to break his promise.
Complicating matters, this was arguably the second most controversial thing Rubio said yesterday. This Washington Post report was almost hard to believe.


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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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