When it comes to talking about national security, congressional Republicans are ready and willing. When it comes to doing actual work, however, the GOP lawmakers who have all kinds of things to say seem to struggle with follow-through.
Yesterday, for example, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) asked for unanimous consent to approve an important counter-terrorism nominee, who's been awaiting a confirmation vote for months without explanation. As The Hillreported, it didn't go well.
Shaheen ... tried to get consent to confirm Adam Szubin to be an under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes for the Treasury Department. Democrats have repeatedly pointed to Szubin's nomination to criticize Republicans for holding up national security nominations.
[Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah], however, objected to Shaheen's request on behalf of Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who chairs the Banking Committee.
Shaheen said that while Shelby was in Washington on Wednesday, "it's disappointing that he's not on the floor to talk about what his objections to Adam Szubin are."
Of course, as Shaheen knows, it wouldn't much matter if Shelby were on the floor to explain his objections, because he can't. The Alabama Republican can't admit what's plainly true: Shelby opposes President Obama's nominee because he's President Obama's nominee.
President Obama yesterday made his first visit to a mosque since getting elected, delivering remarks at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, and in the process showing some real leadership on an important issue.
"[I]f we're serious about freedom of religion -- and I'm speaking now to my fellow Christians who remain the majority in this country -- we have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths," the president explained. "And when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up. And we have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias, and targets people because of religion."
It was a message of inclusion and respect, a defense of religious liberty, and an explicit reminder to Muslim Americans that they are part of the fabric of the nation. "If you're ever wondering whether you fit in here, let me say it as clearly as I can, as President of the United States: You fit in here," Obama said. "You're right where you belong. You're part of America, too. You're not Muslim or American. You're Muslim and American."
Watching this, I was struck by a few things. The first was how genuinely heartening it was to see a sitting president reach out to a minority community with warmth and gratitude. The second was that Obama was doing exactly the opposite of what terrorist groups like ISIS want -- since their entire message is built on the lie that the West will never accept Muslims as friends and neighbors.
And third, I found myself thinking, "Even the most unhinged, right-wing Republican is going to have a hard time disagreeing with the president's efforts to bring people together." Apparently, I underestimated what Marco Rubio is capable of. The Washington Postreported on the senator's response to the Obama's remarks.
"I'm tired of being divided against each other for political reasons like this president's done," Rubio said. "Always pitting people against each other. Always."
"Look at today -- he gave a speech at a mosque," Rubio continued. "Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims. Of course there's going to be discrimination in America of every kind. But the bigger issue is radical Islam... [I]t's this constant pitting people against each other -- that I can't stand that. It's hurting our country badly."
Remember, we've been told repeatedly that he's the smart one in the GOP field.
Rachel Maddow reviews some of the campaign fallout in the wake of the Iowa caucuses, including new polling, a new feud between Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, lots of new candidate poofing, and a surprising endorsement. watch
Congressman Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, talks with Rachel Maddow about what he learned at the first congressional hearing into the Flint water crisis, and how he hopes to keep up the pressure to hear testimony from witnesses who actually had a role in the decisions that led to the toxic water, like Governor... watch
Robert Costa, national reporter for The Washington Post, talks with Rachel Maddow about how Ted Cruz differs from past hard right, religious conservative Iowa winners, in large part because of the size of his war chest. watch
* It's going to be a good one: "The Democratic National Committee has agreed to sponsor four more Democratic debates, beginning with the MSNBC debate on Thursday moderated by Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow in New Hampshire."
* More on this on tonight's show: "The water crisis in Flint, Mich., threatened Wednesday to derail the first major federal energy bill in nearly a decade while stirring partisan passions in both the Senate and the House, where members of an oversight committee grilled officials from Michigan and the federal Environmental Protection Agency over their flawed response."
* Porter Ranch gas leak: "Southern California Gas Co. on Tuesday was charged with failing to immediately notify state authorities about the natural gas leak in Aliso Canyon."
* Syria: "Just two days after declaring an official start to the first international peace talks on Syria since 2014, the United Nations mediator said Wednesday that he was suspending the process for three weeks because of a lack of progress."
* Israel: "Three Palestinians armed with automatic rifles, knives and bombs killed an Israeli police officer in the heart of Jerusalem on Wednesday before they were shot dead by police, Israeli officials said."
* ISIS: "Advances in the campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq are forcing the extremists to abandon territory there, generating concerns that they are carving out a new stronghold in oil-rich Libya, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Tuesday."
Rick Santorum's 2012 presidential campaign was a lot more successful than many remember. Despite his humiliating re-election loss in Pennsylvania in 2006, Santorum managed to win 11 primaries and caucuses in 2012, and he did so on a shoe-string budget and without much of a campaign operation.
With those successes in mind, last spring, Santorum reminded RNC officials that over the last half-century, Republicans have nominated just three types of people for president. "No. 1, they were a vice president," Santorum said. "No. 2, they were the son of a former president. No. 3, they came in second place the election before, and ran again."
His point was hardly subtle: Santorum fell comfortably into that third category -- which meant the former senator had a perfectly credible claim to being the "next in line." Unfortunately for Santorum, voters didn't seem to care.
Rick Santorum is expected to end his presidential run and throw his support behind a rival candidate during an appearance on Fox News Wednesday night, according to aides.
The news was first reported by CNN and has not been independently confirmed by NBC News.
If the reporting is accurate, Santorum's decision comes on the heels of his 11th place finish in the Iowa caucuses this week, 10 places below his Iowa victory in 2012.
The Iowa caucuses didn't go quite as well for Jeb Bush as he would have liked: he finished sixth with about 3% of the vote. Though some spun this as Bush taking the lead in the "governors' lane" -- he finished ahead of other governors in the race -- the problem is that lane is a made-up metric that doesn't actually mean anything.
The Florida Republican is likely to fare better in New Hampshire, where he's invested far more resources, and where polls show him in a more competitive position. But some anecdotal evidence suggests Bush still has some work to do. MSNBC reported this morning on a town-hall event the former governor held in Hanover last night.
"I will not trash talk. I will not be a divider in chief or an agitator in chief. I won't be out there blowharding, talking a big game without backing it up. I think the next president needs to be a lot quieter but send a signal that we're prepared to act in the national security interests of this country -- to get back in the business of creating a more peaceful world," Bush declared to the crowd Tuesday evening.
He was met with a long beat of silence.
"Please clap," he pleaded, drawing applause and awkward laughter.
Watching the video, I have no doubt the comment was intended to be funny. Bush had just delivered fiery comments about a serious subject, and he was likely looking for a quip to lighten the mood a bit.
But it was equally clear that Bush thought his rhetoric would spark some kind of reaction from his audience, which sat in stony silence. "Please clap" is just a heartbreaking phrase because it comes from a candidate who thinks he's delivering powerful, inspirational rhetoric, but who's also reminded from time to time that in order to get any kind of real validation, he literally has to ask for it.
In 1992, then-Gov. Bill Clinton faced brutal headwinds ahead of the New Hampshire primary. Rocked by controversy and personal allegations, the Arkansas Democrat was written off, dismissed as a candidate who would have to drop out sooner rather than later.
And yet, on Primary Night, there was Clinton, making a memorable declaration: "New Hampshire has made Bill Clinton the Comeback Kid." What's less memorable is the fact that Clinton actually lost that primary. In fact, Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.) beat Clinton in New Hampshire by more than eight points. But because so many assumed Clinton would get crushed, his second-place showing seemed like a triumph.
It serves as a reminder that, as odd as this sounds, candidates don't necessarily have to win to seem like they won.
What we haven't seen, however, is a third-place finisher pretend to have scored an amazing victory. That is, until this week.
After losing to Ted Cruz and Donald Trump in the Iowa caucuses Monday night, Marco Rubio told supporters, "This is the moment they said would never happen!" It was, of course, the moment literally everyone said would inevitably happen -- Rubio was supposed to finish third in Iowa and he did.
But pesky details like election results notwithstanding, the Florida senator launched a strategy in which he'd simply act as if he'd won, and expect the political media, which often seems overly fond of Rubio, to simply play along with the charade.
Which is exactly what's happening. Paul Waldman highlighted some gems yesterday
No wonder Rubio took a "victory lap" yesterday without an actual victory -- which ordinarily would seem like a prerequisite to a victory lap.
Perhaps my favorite headline of all was published by the Wall Street Journal: "Rubio's Rise Amid Trump's Slump." Remember, Rubio and Trump faced off in the same contest, in the same state, at the same time. Trump won more votes. Pundits don't care.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Not quite content with his second-place showing in Iowa, Donald Trump this morning accused Ted Cruz of "stealing" the caucuses and committing "fraud." Trump was apparently referring to this controversy surrounding the Cruz campaign telling voters Ben Carson was quitting, a move Cruz has since apologized for.
* In the first New Hampshire poll conducted after the Iowa caucuses, a UMass Lowell poll released this morning found Trump leading the GOP primary with 38% support, followed by Cruz's 14%. Marco Rubio is third in the poll with 12%; Jeb Bush is fourth with 9%; followed by John Kasich at 7% and Chris Christie at 6%.
* On a related note, Kasich reiterated this morning that without a strong showing in New Hampshire, he'll quit. "If we don't do well, we're not going to be dragging around like some band of minstrels who beg people to come to our show," the Ohio governor said. Kasich, who finished eighth in Iowa, did not specify exactly what "doing well" in New Hampshire means.
* NBC News has learned that Bernie Sanders will begin traveling with U.S. Secret Service protection within the next 24 hours.
* Campaigning in New Hampshire yesterday, Jeb Bush delivered a "fiery riff about protecting the country as commander in chief." When it was met with total silence by the audience, the Florida Republican said, "Please clap."
* There's a fair amount of speculation about who'll be the next Republican presidential candidate to quit, and NBC is keeping an eye on a certain former senator: "Late last night, Rick Santorum's campaign released a press advisory announcing that Santorum was delaying his South Carolina kickoff events and is participating in 'media activities' in DC." Santorum, who won the Iowa caucuses four years ago, finished in 11th place on Monday night with just 1% of the vote.
* Hillary Clinton's first television ad in South Carolina, released yesterday, features support from former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. In the spot, Holder says, "If you want to make sure Republicans don't take us backward, help Hillary move us forward."
It's hard to pick the lowest single point in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) failed presidential campaign, but the time the Republican considered a wall along the Canadian border has to be among the most amazing.
On "Meet the Press," Chuck Todd asked Walker, "Do you want to build a wall north of the border, too?" The GOP governor replied it's "a legitimate issue for us to look at."
Six months later, Walker is no longer a candidate, but the Wall Street Journalreports that his former rivals are still thinking about our neighbors to the north. This article ran over the weekend:
In the waning days of Iowa's first-in-the-nation Republican presidential nominating contest, suddenly Canada is a central role.
This week both Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson have made the case that the U.S. faces national security risks along its northern border—reminiscent of former candidate Scott Walker's brief period of entertaining the idea of walling parts of the Canadian border to restrict immigration.
At one campaign event, Rubio heard from a voter who said, "Once the wall is placed down in Mexico, you and I know terrorists will try to come through Canada. What's going to be done about that?"
The Journal reported that Rubio not only took the question seriously, he also committed to thousands of additional federal agents along the Canadian border. "The threat to the Canadian border is real as well," the senator told the voter. "We need an additional 20,000 border agents. Not just on the southern border, but to partner with the Canadians on the northern border."
Around the same time, Ben Carson said Canada's decision to welcome refugees fleeing Syria's civil war represents a threat to U.S. national security.
The good news is, neither Rubio nor Carson endorsed the idea of a Canadian border wall. The bad news is, their rhetoric about Canada is nevertheless a bit much.
There were reports out of Dallas overnight that health officials believe they've confirmed the first known case of sexual transmission of Zika virus. It's against this backdrop that The Hillreports Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is "pressing President Obama to move aggressively to combat the spread of the Zika virus."
McConnell on Tuesday warned that Obama needs to act now before panic grips the country, as it did when the Ebola virus dominated headlines in 2014.
"We need to get out in front of the Zika virus to make sure that we don't end up having the kind of feeling across the country that we're sort of reacting too late, like we did on Ebola," he said.
If McConnell is concerned about a potential public-health risk, great. If the Senate leader wants to ensure agencies and officials are prepared and taking necessary precautions, that makes perfect sense.
After his fifth-place showing in the Iowa caucuses this week, Rand Paul told supporters, "We fight on! Thank you for all of your support."
The message seemed to suggest the Kentucky Republican would continue his longshot presidential campaign, though Paul apparently changed his mind soon after. This morning, the senator's campaign issued a press statement announcing the end of his candidacy. It read in part:
"Across the country thousands upon thousands of young people flocked to our message of limited government, privacy, criminal justice reform and a reasonable foreign policy. Brushfires of Liberty were ignited, and those will carry on, as will I.
"Although, today I will suspend my campaign for President, the fight is far from over. I will continue to carry the torch for Liberty in the United States Senate and I look forward to earning the privilege to represent the people of Kentucky for another term."
The announcement comes as a bit of a surprise, in part because of what the senator said on Monday night, but also because Paul's support exists largely in the GOP's libertarian wing -- which exists in New Hampshire in ways it does not in Iowa.
But the combination of weak fundraising, low poll numbers, and a crowded top tier created hard-to-deny circumstances: Rand Paul simply did not have a path to the Republican presidential nomination. What's more, the Kentucky senator is the only 2016 candidate in either party who has a re-election campaign to think about this year, which created an added incentive to leave the race early and focus on the contest he's more likely to win -- just as party officials have been reminding him to do for months.
The question worth considering is why Paul failed so badly.
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.