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Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.27.16

10/27/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Mosul: "ISIS militants are reportedly forcing civilians in their self-declared caliphate to relocate to Mosul, in what is likely preparation to use them as human shields ahead of a planned allied assault on the city."

* I believe she's the 12th accuser: "A former Miss Finland has come forward to allege that Donald Trump groped her while she was competing in the 2006 Miss Universe beauty pageant in New York." Trump continues to deny any wrongdoing.

* Another accusation of sexual misconduct: "An Alaska lawyer said Justice Clarence Thomas groped her at a dinner party in 1999, a claim that Thomas said is 'preposterous,' the National Law Journal reported Thursday."

* Quite an indictment: "Federal prosecutors brought charges on Thursday against dozens of people accused of taking part in a massive international crime ring that relied on Indian call centers to bilk thousands of Americans out of more than $300 million."

* Breaking the modern record on clemency: "President Obama granted 98 more commutations to federal inmates Thursday, bringing the total for this year to 688 -- the most commutations ever granted by a president in a single year. In all, he's now shortened the sentences of 872 inmates during his presidency, more than any president since Woodrow Wilson."

* Afghanistan: "The United States military carried out airstrikes on Sunday in eastern Afghanistan aimed at two of Al Qaeda's most senior leaders operating in the country, an attack described as one of the most significant in Afghanistan in several years, the Pentagon announced on Wednesday."

* Dakota Access Pipeline: "Authorities in North Dakota began arresting Dakota Access Pipeline opponents on Thursday afternoon at a protest camp built on private land. Many of the protesters had refused earlier orders to leave. Some prayed in circles while others yelled at advancing members of law enforcement, according to The Associated Press."
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally, Oct. 13, 2016, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump's poll-watching scheme creates legal fight for RNC

10/27/16 02:41PM

One of the key elements of Donald Trump's closing messages to voters is that the entire election process is "rigged." He has no proof of an elaborate conspiracy, but the GOP nominee is nevertheless convinced nefarious forces are working against him.

To that end, Trump is urging his followers to not only vote for him, but also to volunteer for his campaign's "poll-monitoring" program. As the Republican candidate sees it, Trump's devotees should travel to areas where the right suspects voter fraud -- invariably, their concerns focus on urban areas where voters tend to be people of color -- and effectively serve as vigilantes on behalf of the GOP presidential ticket, inspecting voting precincts and looking for suspicious voters.

As one Trump voter, responding to the candidate's call, recently explained, "I'll look for ... well, it's called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can't speak American. I'm going to go right up behind them. I'll do everything legally. I want to see if they are accountable. I'm not going to do anything illegal. I'm going to make them a little bit nervous."

As Rachel explained at the top of last night's show, this initiative generated an important court filing yesterday from the Democratic National Committee. Bloomberg Politics reported:
In a preemptive strike against what it called a coordinated effort to intimidate voters, the Democratic Party's governing body alleged Wednesday that the Republican National Committee is violating a court order in a case that started 35 years ago.

The RNC is supporting Trump's recruitment of so-called watchers at polling places, which is in breach of consent decrees going back to 1982 that forbid the group from engaging in ballot-security measures, according to a filing in federal court in Newark, New Jersey. The DNC said the watchers are really intended to deter registered voters from casting ballots.
I can appreciate why phrases like "breach of consent decrees" might make this story seem a little dry and complex, but stick with me because this one's going somewhere interesting. As Rachel said on the air last night, "This is a big deal."
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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

If the GOP loses, the fallout will be worse than the defeats

10/27/16 12:45PM

By most measures, it's too early for Democrats to feel great about the election and for Republicans to feel dread. The presidential race is starting to tighten; control of the Senate is still up for grabs; and while Dems are likely to narrow the GOP advantage in the House, few believe Nancy Pelosi will reclaim the Speaker's gavel in January.

That said, as conditions stand, Democrats generally wouldn't want to change places with their Republican counterparts. As Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said this week, in reference to Dems, "The math kind of just works for them."

Barring 11th-hour surprises, the New York Times made a compelling case that the fallout of GOP defeats may very well hurt more than the losses themselves, as the party confronts "crucial and onerous decisions they are now beginning to confront."
Do they try to find a way to cooperate with Democrats and get something done after years of stasis in Washington, perhaps as a way to move beyond the Trump phenomenon? Or do they dig in against Democrats and the new president as a bet on a Republican comeback in the 2018 midterm elections, adopting a noncooperative strategy to recapture the Senate majority and pad their numbers in the House?

Can [Paul] Ryan survive as speaker? Does Mr. Ryan even want to survive as speaker of a House where any negotiating room is likely to be severely constricted by pressure from his right? What about Merrick B. Garland or an alternative choice for the Supreme Court? Will Republicans finally make way for the court-shifting nominee of a Democratic president, or will Democrats resort to ending the filibuster to fill a court opening?
These are all good questions, for which there are no obvious answers, but these challenges will unfold against a broader challenge playing out in the background: Donald Trump, if he comes up short, will not be eager to accept responsibility for defeat.

On the contrary, he would expect party officials and GOP leaders to pay a price for his failure. Trump is laying the foundation for these arguments already.
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.27.16

10/27/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* A senior official in Donald Trump's campaign told Bloomberg Politics, "We have three major voter-suppression operations under way," including one targeting African Americans. (I think the aide was probably misusing the term, referring instead to discouraging, not suppressing, the vote, but the fact that he or she doesn't know the difference is interesting.)

* Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, joined Twitter this morning to release a new video in which he explains why the election is "going to be close," and warns against "complacency."

* In Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, a new New York Times/Siena poll shows Katie McGinty (D) leading incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey (R), 47% to 44%.

* In Nevada's U.S. Senate race, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll shows Joe Heck (R) with a seven-point advantage over Catherine Cortez Masto (D), 49% to 42%. On the other hand, the latest Las Vegas Review Journal poll shows Cortez Masto leading Heck, 45% to 44%.

* And speaking of Toomey and Heck, the Nevada Republican borrowed a page from the Pennsylvanian's playbook yesterday, insisting voters shouldn't know whom he's supporting for president.

* In New Hampshire's U.S. Senate race, the same NBC poll found incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) with the narrowest of leads over Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), 48% to 47%. The latest Monmouth University poll shows the two rivals tied.

* As for New Hampshire's gubernatorial race, the Monmouth poll also found Colin Van Ostern (D) leading Chris Sununu (R), 48% to 43%, erasing the Republican's previous advantage.
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President Barack Obama arrives for a rally for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Eakins Oval in Philadelphia, Penn. on Sept. 13, 2016. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Poll: Most Americans see the country on the right track

10/27/16 11:20AM

Those who see the 2016 cycle as a "change election" point specifically to right-right/wrong-track polls. As we discussed last week, it's a deeply flawed metric, but many pundits continue to say there's a broad public appetite for radical change -- for proof, they point to the fact that most Americans consistently say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

But sometimes, the wording of a question can produce unexpected results. Take this new CNN poll, for example.
More Americans than at any time in Barack Obama's presidency now say that things in the United States are going well, a sharp uptick in positive views and the best reviews of the country's trajectory since January 2007, according to the latest CNN/ORC poll.

Overall, 54% say things in the country today are going well, 46% badly. That's a reversal from late July when 54% said things were going poorly and 46% said they were positive.
While right-track/wrong-track polling has been common for many years, this poll asked respondents, "How well are things going in the country today -- very well, fairly well, pretty badly or very badly?" A combined 54% majority said things are going very well or fairly well.

To be sure, 54% isn't an overwhelming number, but it is the highest we've seen in this poll since before the Great Recession started nine years ago. The number of Americans who believe things are going very well has now reached a decade-long high.

The electoral implications of these attitudes are real.
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A woman fills out her ballot in a voting booth in the New York, in the U.S. presidential primary election, as her young son looks on, Grafflin School in Chappaqua, N.Y., April 19, 2016. (Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)

'Ballot selfies' prompt unexpected constitutional debate

10/27/16 10:40AM

Yesterday, entertainer Justin Timberlake did something that seemed rather routine: he took advantage of early voting and cast a ballot in his native Tennessee. In fact, the celebrity took the additional step of encouraging others to follow his example: Timberlake took a "ballot selfie," posted it to Instagram, and urged the public to "choose to have a voice."

This, ordinarily, wouldn't be particularly noteworthy, except for the fact that the picture was technically illegal. Though the local district attorney's office said it wouldn't bother wasting resources on the case, it's actually a crime for voters in Tennessee to take a photo like Timberlake's.

Indeed, the entertainer took down the photo after it caused a minor legal stir.

And while I generally avoid celebrity news, the hubbub got me thinking about the underlying constitutional question and the reason half of the nation's states passed laws prohibiting ballot selfies. Why in the world would anyone care whether or not someone takes a picture of themselves and the ballot?

As it turns out, there is a reason. Mother Jones' Kevin Drum explained the rationale:
Just for the record, then, there is a reason for selfie bans in voting booths: it prevents vote buying. After all, the only way it makes sense to pay people for their votes is if you have proof that they voted the way you told them to. Back in the day that was no problem, but ever since secret ballots became the norm vote buying has died out.

Selfies change all that. If I give you ten bucks to vote for my favorite candidate for mayor, I can withhold payment until you show me a selfie proving that you voted for my guy.
That's not a bad argument. I haven't seen any evidence that vote buying is a real concern, but these laws at least have a meaningful, well-intentioned rationale.

But facing legal scrutiny, they're dropping like flies anyway.
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Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill, on Sept. 29, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

Utah Republican joins the flip-flop-flip brigade on Trump

10/27/16 10:08AM

It was just a few weeks ago that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) declared he'd seen enough of Donald Trump. Shortly after audio surfaced of the GOP presidential nominee boasting about sexual assault, the Utah congressman told a local outlet, "I'm out."

"I can no longer in good conscience endorse this person for president," Chaffetz said. "It is some of the most abhorrent and offensive comments that you can possibly imagine.... My wife and I, we have a 15-year-old daughter, and if I can't look her in the eye and tell her these things, I can't endorse this person."

The House Oversight Committee chairman's "conscience" apparently changed over the course of 19 days. As Politico noted last night, Chaffetz has gone from supporting Trump, to not supporting Trump, to supporting him again.
Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz again reversed his position on Donald Trump's presidential candidacy on Wednesday night, saying he'd vote for the Republican nominee but wouldn't endorse him.

"I will not defend or endorse @realDonaldTrump, but I am voting for him," Chaffetz tweeted Wednesday. "[Hillary Rodham Clinton] is that bad. HRC is bad for the USA."
The far-right Utahan isn't the only congressional Republican to play semantics games this election cycle, but it's worth emphasizing that if an elected official publicly announces he's voting for a presidential candidate, and takes steps to help that candidate win the election, pretending that doesn't count as an "endorsement" is tough to take seriously.

What's striking, however, isn't just Chaffetz's weak and malleable principles, and his willingness to put partisanship over his own conscience, but also how increasingly common this shift has become.
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Khizr Khan, who's son Humayun (L) was killed serving in the U.S. Army, speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Penn., July 28, 2016. (Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Trump returns to a topic he should avoid: the Khan family

10/27/16 09:24AM

Over the last year and a half, Donald Trump's presidential campaign has featured a series of deeply unfortunate moments. But by some measures, one of the lowest points came in early August, when the Republican candidate inexplicably clashed with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son, U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq.

Trump's criticism of a Gold Star family prompted a fierce backlash, with even many Republicans denouncing their party's presidential nominee. Under the circumstances, this seems like a topic Trump would want everyone to forget -- and yet, he just can't seem to help himself.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump today doubled down on his assertion that slain U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, a Muslim soldier who died in Iraq in 2004, "would be alive today" if Trump had been in the White House.

"Had I been president, Captain Khan would be alive today. We wouldn't have been in this horrible, horrible mistake, the war in Iraq," Trump said in an exclusive interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos.
The claim is based on Trump's belief that he opposed the war in Iraq from the outset, which continues to be one of his favorite lies. Adding insult to injury is the underlying ugliness of the argument itself.

"This is the most cruel thing you can say to grieving parents, that if I was there this would not have happened," Khan told ABC News, responding to Trump's comments. "There's no sincerity in those remarks.... This is one character that a leader must have to be the leader of a great country, to be the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the United States: empathy. And this person totally lacks that."

Apparently unable to help himself, Trump kept going in the same ABC interview, boasting about military expertise that exists only in his mind.
A group of Hofstra University students stand in front of a CNN trailer with images of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at Hofstra University, Sept.25, 2016, in Hempstead, N.Y. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Latest polls offer mixed results for Clinton, Trump

10/27/16 08:44AM

With only 12 days remaining ahead of Election Day, there's plenty of new presidential polling available, all of which paints a picture that's looking a little murky.

Let's start with the latest national polls, where Hillary Clinton is leading Donald Trump by a little or a lot, depending on the survey. The latest USA Today/Suffolk poll offers the Democratic ticket good news:

Hillary Clinton: 47%
Donald Trump: 38%
Gary Johnson: 4%
Jill Stein: 2%

The latest Fox News poll offers the Republican ticket better news, at least insofar as Clinton's advantage is considerably smaller:

Hillary Clinton: 44%
Donald Trump: 41%
Gary Johnson: 7%
Jill Stein: 3%

In case the differences between these two surveys weren't notable enough, the picture gets even murkier still. The latest Associated Press poll, for example, shows Clinton with a dominant, double-digit lead, while the latest tracking poll from ABC News shows Trump cutting his 12-point deficit in half, to just 6 points, over the last week.

The takeaway from all of these competing figures is simple: keep looking at the averages. Right now, all things considered, Clinton's advantage is about six percentage points, which is down just a little over the last week or so.

Of course, there's also plenty of state-based polls to consider as well:
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Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during a primary night campaign event, May 3, 2016, in Indianapolis. (Photo by Darron Cummings/AP)

Ted Cruz ready for an indefinite Supreme Court blockade

10/27/16 08:00AM

Early last week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) accidentally said what he was thinking about Senate Republicans' tactics regarding the Supreme Court. "I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up," the GOP declared during a radio interview. "I promise you...."

What McCain was describing, of course, was a continuation of a Republican blockade, unprecedented in American history, blocking any high-court nominee from a Democratic president, regardless of merit. A controversy ensued and McCain walked back his emphatic "promise."

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), however, is less concerned with appearances. The Washington Post reported yesterday:
Speaking to reporters after a campaign rally for a Republican U.S. Senate candidate here, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said that there was "precedent" for a Supreme Court with fewer than nine justices — appearing to suggest that the blockade on nominee Merrick Garland could last past the election.

"You know, I think there will be plenty of time for debate on that issue," said Cruz, when he was asked whether a Republican-controlled Senate should hold votes on a President Hillary Clinton's nominees. "There is certainly long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices. I would note, just recently, that Justice Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That's a debate that we are going to have."
Keep in mind, after McCain's comments, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) conceded that Republicans "can't just simply stonewall" any Democratic nominee, just because he or she is a Democratic nominee. Yesterday, Cruz effectively responded, "Well, maybe we can."

It's an amazing posture. Since February, GOP senators have repeatedly argued that the next president, not President Obama, must have the opportunity to fill Supreme Court vacancies. Now, however, there are some Republicans who seem to be suggesting, "Maybe the president after the next one can handle this."
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About The Rachel Maddow Show

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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