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Republican presidential candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, speaks at the RedState Gathering, Aug. 7, 2015, in Atlanta, Ga. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

Chris Christie suddenly worthy of rivals' attacks

01/05/16 10:00AM

Last summer, a super PAC that had been created for the sole purpose of stopping Chris Christie's presidential campaign made an announcement: it was closing up shop. The New Jersey governor's bid for national office was going so poorly, the super PAC no longer saw the point of existing.
 
About five months later, Christie's standing has improved -- to the point at which he's now relevant enough to attack. National Review reported yesterday on Marco Rubio's super PAC actually investing in attacks targeting the Republican governor.
Marco Rubio has his eyes on Chris Christie, who is increasingly viewed as the dark horse who could, with an impressive showing -- even a victory -- in New Hampshire, become the GOP's surprise establishment favorite.
 
Starting [Tuesday], the super PAC supporting Rubio's presidential bid is set to go up on the air and online with two attack ads against the New Jersey governor in New Hampshire, where Christie has focused all of his efforts. A source with the Rubio PAC says the ads are "a major part of an ongoing multi-million dollar buy in New Hampshire over the next couple of weeks."
As attack ads go, these spots are at least honest. The first hammers Christie for his support for Medicaid expansion, as well as the governor's work with President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The second reminds voters about Christie's "Bridgegate" scandal and New Jersey's weak economy on the governor's watch.
 
Asked for his response yesterday, Christie told Bloomberg TV, "I just wonder what happened to the Marco who so indignantly looked at Jeb Bush and said, 'I guess someone must have convinced you that going negative against me helps you.' I guess that same person must now have convinced Marco that going negative against Chris Christie is what he needs to do."
 
Stepping back to look at this in the bigger picture, how happy must Christie be at this point to be worthy of attacks?
Kentucky Republican senatorial candidate Matt Bevin greets voters at the Fountain Run BBQ Festival on May 17, 2014 in Fountain Run, Ky. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

GOP governor blinks in Medicaid fight

01/05/16 09:20AM

As the Affordable Care Act has taken root, its implementation has moved in only one direction: forward. The health care law has seen more consumers, more Medicaid expansion, and more coverage. Aside from occasional, pointless repeal votes in Congress, there's been no meaningful effort to go backwards on "Obamacare."
 
Which is why Kentucky created such an interesting test. The Bluegrass State has been a national leader in ACA implementation, slashing its uninsured rate, and excelling in overhauling its health system. The results have been amazing for state residents. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, however, vowed to make Kentucky the first state to reverse course, starting with the elimination of Medicaid expansion.
 
The assumption has long been that it's far more difficult to take Americans' health care benefits away than to block those benefits from existing in the first place. Would Bevin prove these assumptions wrong? Would he keep his campaign promise and scrap coverage for thousands of Kentucky families?
 
It now appears the answer to both of these questions is no. The Lexington Herald Leader reported late last week:
Gov. Matt Bevin says he intends to draft a plan to overhaul the state's expanded Medicaid program by the middle of next year, one that could be implemented by the start of 2017. [...]
 
He said Wednesday that his plan will be fashioned after the one in Indiana, which uses waivers from the federal government that allow states to create their own system for providing coverage to the poor.
"Indiana's is the model that frankly is most likely that we will look to replicate," the governor added last week.
 
The trouble for Bevin's right-wing allies, of course, is that Indiana is already a Medicaid-expansion state. The new Kentucky governor, in other words, is planning to make the transition from Medicaid expansion to a slightly less generous version of Medicaid expansion.
 
This isn't at all what the Tea Party Republican promised as a candidate early last year, but there's apparently an important difference between vowing to take away health care benefits and actually following through on the threat.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., talks to supporters, Dec. 5, 2015, in Miami. (Photo by Luis M. Alvarez/AP)

Rubio inadvertently slams his own allies on national security

01/05/16 08:41AM

Marco Rubio gave a speech on national security in New Hampshire yesterday, and made a point to single out concerns about the so-called USA Freedom Act.
 
"If ISIS had lobbyists in Washington, they would have spent millions to support the anti-intelligence law that was just passed with the help of some Republicans now running for president," the Florida senator said, making a not-so-subtle reference to Ted Cruz's support for legislation that limited federal surveillance programs.
 
The trouble, of course, is that Cruz wasn't alone. As we discussed a couple of months ago, the bill passed the Senate with a bipartisan 67-vote majority, and passed the GOP-led House, 338 to 88. It was backed by members of the Republican leadership in both chambers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan.
 
More to the point, many of Rubio's most important congressional allies supported the same legislation. The Daily Beast published a great catch late last week:
[M]ost of Rubio's supporters in Congress supported changes to the NSA's program. In fact, 21 of Rubio's 24 congressional supporters backed the USA Freedom Act -- a bill Rubio has said "weaken[s] ... U.S. intelligence programs" -- this year (a 25th supporter, Rep. Darin LaHood, wasn't in Congress at the time of the vote).
 
And of these 21 members of Congress, more than a dozen co-sponsored a version of the USA Freedom Act in the previous Congress.
The list includes Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who hit the campaign trail at Rubio's side last week.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch listens as President Barack Obama speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Jan. 4, 2016. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Obama goes around GOP, takes new steps to prevent gun deaths

01/05/16 08:00AM

It was three years ago next week when President Obama, frustrated by Congress' refusal to act on gun violence, announced 23 executive actions intended to help save American lives. All 23 had one key advantage: they didn't require congressional approval, so all Republicans could do is complain and stomp their feet.
 
All 23 also had one key disadvantage: they were quite modest in scope. White House officials realized that sweeping changes to the law obviously must originate with Congress, so the administration's initiative included underwhelming measures. These were positive steps -- but they were small.
 
Three years later, GOP lawmakers are even less willing to consider any reforms whatsoever to the nation's gun laws -- no matter how broad the public support, no matter how many lives may be saved -- but Obama's eagerness for action remains unabated. Republicans won't like his latest actions, but by all appearances, the president couldn't care less whether they're pleased or not.
President Barack Obama directed federal agencies Monday to carry out a series of steps to reduce gun violence, including measures to restrict sales by unlicensed dealers -- sometimes called the gun show loophole.
 
Regulators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will clarify that anyone engaged in the business of selling firearms must get a federal firearms dealers license and check the backgrounds of all buyers.
The details of the plan will be unveiled by the president later this morning -- a White House event is scheduled for 11:40 a.m. Eastern -- but officials have already sketched out the basic plan. Among the provisions are improved reporting requirements for firearms dealers when guns are lost or stolen, and increased funding for mental health.
 
The measure likely to generate the most attention, of course, relates to background checks, and the president's effort to expand the requirements imposed on those who sell guns. Vox had a good look at how Obama's plan would narrow some of the existing loopholes.
 
But while we wait for additional information on the president's latest moves, the politics surrounding the issue continue to amaze. For example, consider what the NRA told the New York Times in reaction to the available information.

Sheriff to occupiers: 'go home' and other headlines

01/05/16 07:03AM

As militant occupation continues in Oregon, sheriff says 'go home.' (The Oregonian)

The federal land occupied by an armed group in Oregon is one of the first wildlife sanctuaries in the U.S. (Washington Post)

South Carolina cop charged with killing unarmed motorist Walter Scott released on bond. (NBC News)

In the homestretch, Bernie Sanders relying on X-factors to pull of an upset. (BuzzFeed News)

Leaking gas well in Porter Ranch area lacked a working safety valve. (Los Angeles Times)

Manager of Las Vegas newspaper now owned by Sheldon Adelson is removed. (New York Times)

Want to live like a Palin? (Washington Post)

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GOP no longer embarrassed to mainstream Trump

Trump takes mainstream tone, no longer too fringey for GOP

01/04/16 10:53PM

Rachel Maddow looks back at the 2012 Republican primary in which Donald Trump had a strong start but was ultimately too embarrassingly fringey for mainstream Republicans, compared to 2016 when Trump, still of-the-fringe, is the Republican front-runner and redefining the party's mainstream. watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 1.4.16

01/04/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Middle East: "Rising tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia were given fresh fuel on Monday with both sides issuing tit-for-tat verbal volleys. Regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran have been trading blows in an escalating war of words since Saturday following the former's move to execute prominent Shiite opposition cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr."
 
* India: "A strong earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7 was recorded before dawn Monday near the India-Myanmar border, the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed. One person was reported dead, a dozen people were injured and several buildings were damaged, Reuters reported."
 
* VW: "The Justice Department sued Volkswagen on Monday over emissions-cheating software found in nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles sold in the United States."
 
* An unpleasant day on Wall Street: "New data on Chinese factory activity sent a wave of financial concern across the Pacific Monday on the first day of stock trading in the new year, sending major U.S. indices sharply lower. The Dow Jones industrial average closed down about 275 points, or nearly 1.6 percent of its total value."
 
* On New Year's Day, a number of state and local minimum wages went up, delivering progress on the issue while federal action remains impossible under a Republican Congress..
 
* DHS raids: "Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced Monday that federal immigration authorities apprehended 121 adults and children in raids over the New Year's weekend as part of a nationwide operation to deport a new wave of illegal immigrants."
 
* Hawaii is raising its legal smoking age to 21:  "The law, which is the first of its kind in America, is intended to curb the public health impact of Big Tobacco's well-known appeals to young people. By bumping the smoking age up, legislators have a good shot at reducing the number of people who take up smoking."
 
* Another rail delay: "When Congress in October gave railroads extra time to install a badly needed speed-control system, officials at the Federal Railroad Administration vowed to move aggressively to make sure the safety technology would be in place by the end of 2018, the new deadline. This month, Congress struck again."
 
* A key part of a larger indictment: "Big Oil braced for global warming while it fought regulations."
Media and satellite trucks are seen at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Ore., Jan. 4, 2016. (Photo by Jim Urquhart/Reuters)

GOP candidates weigh in on Oregon standoff

01/04/16 04:11PM

A group of well-armed militants, including two of Cliven Bundy's sons, took over a federal building at an Oregon wildlife refuge late Saturday, and vowed to stay there indefinitely as an act of civil disobedience. Yesterday, given a chance to reflect on the developments, Republican presidential candidates said ... very little.
 
To his credit, one of John Kasich's (R) top aides turned to social media to argue, "I know a good federal compound for Bundy and his gang: a U.S. penitentiary." The Ohio governor's GOP rivals, however, said literally nothing.
 
Today, that started to change. Rand Paul, who cozied up to Bundy in the recent past, told the Washington Post, "I'm sympathetic to the idea that the large collection of federal lands ought to be turned back to the states and the people, but I think the best way to bring about change is through politics.... I don't support any violence or suggestion of violence toward changing policy."
 
Marco Rubio struck a similar note in an interview with an Iowa radio station, endorsing the idea that there's too much federal land ownership out West, but that the militia members are going too far. "[Y]ou've got to follow the law," Rubio said. "You can't be lawless."
 
But it was Ted Cruz who had the most interesting reaction of all.
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz on Monday called for armed protesters who occupied a federal building in Oregon to "stand down peaceably."
 
"Every one of us has a constitutional right to protest, to speak our minds," Cruz told reporters in Iowa. "But we don't have a constitutional right to use force and violence and to threaten force and violence against others. So it is our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably, that there will not be a violent confrontation."
This one's worth unpacking a bit.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino on Dec. 14, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Trump takes his racially charged message to the airwaves

01/04/16 12:40PM

Ordinarily, a presidential candidate releasing a new television commercial wouldn't be especially newsworthy, but the new ad from Donald Trump is a little different than most -- both in circumstances and in content.
 
Consider the message itself, first reported by the Washington Post. Viewers hear a voice-over say: 
"The politicians can pretend it's something else, but Donald Trump calls it 'radical Islamic terrorism.' That's why he's calling for a temporary shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until we can figure out what's going on. He'll quickly cut the head off ISIS and take their oil. And he'll stop illegal immigration by building a wall on our Southern border that Mexico will pay for."
The ad then cuts to Trump himself speaking at a campaign rally, vowing, "We will make America great again."
 
The imagery, of course, matters. When the commercial references terrorism, the ad shows the San Bernardino shooters. When it touts Trump's proposed Muslim ban, viewers are shown masked terrorists. And when the spot references immigration, there's grainy video of people running at a border.
 
So, why is this important? For one thing, it's Trump's first television ad of the entire election cycle. While some of his rivals have already invested millions -- Jeb Bush and his allies spent about $38 million on campaign commercials in 2015 -- Trump has spent just $217,000 on some radio advertising. Now, however, campaign is spending $1.1  million to air this spot in Iowa and nearly $1 million for airtime in New Hampshire.
 
The New York developer is the first modern presidential candidate to excel by relying exclusively on free media and campaign rallies, and it's hard to say with confidence whether his first foray into television advertising will help, hurt, or make no difference.
 
But let's not brush past the nature of Trump's pitch too quickly.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.4.16

01/04/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* Some presidential hopefuls have already released their fourth-quarter tallies: Ted Cruz raised nearly $20 million; Ben Carson raised roughly $23 million; Hillary Clinton raised $55 million ($37 million specifically for the primaries); and Bernie Sanders raised $33 million.
 
* After spending much of 2015 on the sidelines, one of Ted Cruz's super PACs is launching a $4 million ad buy, which will target early nominating states, with an emphasis on Iowa and South Carolina.
 
* On a related note, Cruz held a conference call with supporters on Thursday, telling them that he not only believes he's winning, but also adding, "[T]here's a very good possibility that the Republican primary will be decided by the end of March."
 
* WorldNetDaily, a right-wing conspiracy website, last week named Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump its "Man of the Year." Trump responded soon after, calling it an "amazing honor."
 
* The Make America Awesome super PAC, an anti-Trump initiative started by Republican operative Liz Mair, has launched a radio attack ad against the GOP frontrunner in New Hampshire. The spot takes aim at Trump's business record.
 
* In an interview last week with the Washington Post, Mitt Romney said he receives encouragement to run for president "every day," including from one of the current candidates (whom he did not name). Romney added, however, "I'm not giving it a second thought."
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum gather after speaking at the Homeschool Iowa's Capitol Day, April 9, 2015, in Des Moines, Ia. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Could Huckabee and Santorum backers derail Cruz in Iowa?

01/04/16 11:30AM

Throughout 2015, the Iowa caucuses were on the distant horizon, prompting endless talk about how the various candidates had "plenty of time" before the first round of voting actually began. That talk has now passed: the Iowa caucuses are four weeks from today.
 
And though there was a holiday-season lull in polling, 2015 wrapped up with Ted Cruz and Donald Trump looking quite strong in the Hawkeye State, followed by Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and a series of rivals who are struggling to keep up. Most of the political world seems to believe, at least for now, that the Texas senator is best positioned to prevail in the first nominating contest.
 
National Review published an interesting report the other day suggesting this doesn't sit well with some of the less competitive candidates.
To a concerned and angry bunch of Iowa Republicans, their mission heading into next month's caucuses is as simple as ABC: Anybody But Cruz.
 
As the Texas senator solidifies his front-runner status with just over a month to go before the February 1 caucuses, a loose network of social-conservative activists has undertaken a quiet effort to defeat him by any means necessary -- even if that means rallying together behind a more electable rival to their own preferred candidates.
It's a curious twist. According to the piece in the conservative magazine, "many" of Mike Huckabee's and Rick Santorum's Iowa supporters are not only discouraged by how their candidates are doing; they're also skeptical of Cruz. And if the senator wins the caucuses in four weeks, his odds of winning the Republican nomination will naturally improve.
 
With this in mind, these Huckabee/Santorum backers are considering a plan to offer support to Marco Rubio, not necessarily because they love him, but because they see this as a way to slow Cruz's ascent. Jamie Johnson, a former member of the Iowa GOP state central committee, said the burgeoning scheme "is real."
 
National Review added that Nick Ryan, "a prominent Iowa strategist who leads the pro-Huckabee super PAC," is apparently a key player in the anti-Cruz efforts, and has "longstanding ties with operatives in Rubio's orbit."
 
So, is this the sort of behind-the-scenes planning that's likely to make a difference?

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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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