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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence pauses while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Feb. 27, 2015 in National Harbor, Md.

Indiana's Pence tries to defend new anti-gay measure

03/26/15 04:52PM

In Arizona last year, then-Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed a controversial right-to-discriminate measure, ending a fight that generated national attention. The dispute was pretty straightforward -- would the state empower business owners to discriminate against LGBT customers? Facing boycott threats, Arizona backed off.
This year, Indiana did not.
Bucking intense criticism from citizens, celebrities, tech leaders, and convention customers, Indiana's Republican Gov. Mike Pence quietly signed a controversial religious freedom bill into law on Thursday. Opponents warn the measure will sanction discrimination against LGBT people, and cost the Hoosier State millions in tourism revenue. [...]
The new law will prohibit a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person's religious beliefs, unless that entity can prove it's relying on the least restrictive means possible to further a compelling governmental interest.
The governor did not allow the media to witness the bill signing -- Pence completed the process behind closed doors -- though he did publish a photo from the event on Twitter. It appears the governor was surrounded by a group of religious leaders.
Time will tell how the law is implemented, and the degree to which Indiana has cleared the way for state-sanctioned discrimination, though the prospect of economic consequences are already real -- tech giant Salesforce has suggested it will avoid Indiana in the future, while organizers of Gen Con are also considering new venues.
But I was also struck by what happened when Pence was asked whether there were any real-world developments in Indiana that justified this new state law.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 19, 2015.

For Boehner, leading and waging war are now linked

03/26/15 03:50PM

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has never shown a deep interest in foreign policy, but his comments this morning at his weekly news briefing were more unsettling than most.
Speaker John A. Boehner dismissed Barack Obama Thursday as an "anti-war president" unwilling to lead an international coalition against the Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIS or ISIL; al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations.
"The world is starving for American leadership, but America has an anti-war president.... If America leads, our allies would be tickled to death and be happy to join our coalition."
Look, this clearly isn't the Speaker's best subject, and some superficiality is to be expected when he tries to address the issue. But Boehner's message this morning wasn't just disjointed; it was emblematic of a policymaker who doesn't understand national-security policy nearly as well as he should.
Boehner Error #1: In the Speaker's mind, people are around the world are "starving for American leadership," but they're not getting it because, from Boehner's perspective, President Obama is "anti-war." In other words, according to the nation's top Republican lawmaker, to lead is to wage war, and to wage war is to show leadership. One is necessarily tied to the other -- except in reality, where this idea is ridiculous.
Boehner Error #2: Boehner is also under the impression that our allies would work in coalition with the United States if only Obama would lead. But as those who follow current events probably know, this is already happening -- Obama assembled a coalition to target ISIS targets in the Middle East; Obama assembled a coalition to negotiate an agreement to curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions; Obama is working with U.S. allies to combat the climate crisis; and on and on.
Boehner Error #3: The Speaker is convinced "America has an anti-war president." I'd love to know more about how Boehner defines "anti-war," because in our version of reality, Obama has launched military offensives in Iraq; waged war in Afghanistan; used force in Libya; launched another offensive in Syria; used drones to target suspected terrorists in Pakistan (in addition to ordering the strike on Osama bin Laden); and deployed forces in Somalia and Yemen.
Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., attends the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 14, 2013.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Stopping the next Tom Cotton stunt before it starts

03/26/15 02:57PM

The controversy surrounding the Senate Republicans' letter to Iran has started to die down, but some congressional Democrats still aren't happy about the fact that 47 GOP lawmakers tried to sabotage American foreign policy.
In fact, one Senate Democrat in particular came up with a creative response intended to stop stunts like these in the future. Zach Carter reports today:
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) delivered a pitch-perfect trolling lesson to the Senate on Wednesday, filing an amendment calling to defund "the purchase of stationary or electronic devices for the purpose of members of Congress or congressional staff communicating with foreign governments and undermining the role of the President as Head of State in international nuclear negotiations on behalf of the United States."
In other words, Stabenow wants to defund Tom Cotton letters.
The full text of the Michigan Democrat's amendment is online here (pdf).
Is there any chance Stabenow measure will actually pass? Well, no, and by all appearances, that's not really the point. Instead, this is the senator's not-so-subtle way of reminding Cotton and his cohorts that they made a very serious mistake and Democrats aren't prepared to just forget all about it.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush waits backstage before speaking at the Iowa Agriculture Summit, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Ia. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Religious Right looks for non-Bush standard bearer

03/26/15 12:48PM

The religious right, as a political movement, may not have quite as much influence over the Republican Party as it once did, but there's no denying that social conservative activists still make up a big chunk of the GOP base. Collectively, these so-called "values voters" can play a key role in choosing the party's next presidential nominee.
And at this early stage in the process, the religious right is repeating a familiar message: if social conservatives stick together, rally behind a trusted standard bearer, and prevent the movement from dividing its support in a crowded field, they can play the role of kingmaker.
Fearing that Republicans will ultimately nominate an establishment presidential candidate like Jeb Bush, leaders of the nation's Christian right have mounted an ambitious effort to coalesce their support behind a single social-conservative contender months before the first primary votes are cast. [...]
The efforts to coalesce behind an alternative candidate -- in frequent calls, teleconferences and meetings involving a range of organizations, many of them with overlapping memberships -- are premised on two articles of conservative faith: Republicans did not win the White House in the past two elections because their nominees were too moderate and failed to excite the party's base. And a conservative alternative failed to win the nomination each time because voters did not unite behind a single champion in the primary fight.
Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, told the New York Times, "There's a shared desire to come behind a candidate." Social conservatives aren't ready to make a choice, but Perkins added that it's "not too early for the conversations to begin."
We don't yet know who the religious right will embrace, but we can say with some confidence who the movement has ruled out. Jeb Bush has maintained an aggressive outreach campaign to leading social conservatives, and the former governor has even hired a prominent religious right attorney as a campaign adviser, but it's clear the Christian Right doesn't see Bush as a trusted and reliable ally.
Which leaves a half-dozen other conservatives for the religious right to choose from. The leading contenders appear to be Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Mike Huckabee.
But there's a larger question hanging over head: doesn't this seem a little familiar?

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.26.15

03/26/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
* Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said this morning that if he were elected president, he'd "disown" any international nuclear agreement with Iran on his first day in office. Walker, it's worth noting, does not yet know whether there will be a deal and he has no idea what policies may be included in an agreement.
* New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who used to support immigration reform, has "quietly signed onto an amicus brief opposing President Obama's executive action on immigration." The legal brief was filed earlier this week.
* Vice President Biden has not yet announced his future plans, but msnbc's Alex Seitz-Wald has an interesting take on where Biden stands and the possibility of a presidential campaign.
* Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) may have succeeded former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), winning her seat in 2010, but Hutchison has no plans to support her fellow Texan. The former senator told msnbc yesterday she intends to support former Gov. Jeb Bush's (R) campaign.
* Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) claimed this week that President Obama's "entire political machine" went to Israel in the hopes of derailing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's re-election campaign. As is too often the case, Rubio's claims appear to be at odds with reality.
* Hillary Clinton continues to hire members of her unannounced campaign operation, this week hiring Teddy Goff, the digital director of President Obama's 2012 campaign, as part of her new team of online strategists.
Dr. Ben Carson speaks to address the crowd at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 26, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

Ben Carson and the 'learning curve of a candidate'

03/26/15 11:34AM

There's little doubt that Ben Carson is moving closer to a Republican presidential campaign. In his latest syndicated column, the retired doctor acknowledged the "learning curve of a candidate" and conceded he still has a lot to learn "in terms of becoming both a better candidate and a better potential president of the United States."
Soon after, the company that syndicates Carson's pieces announced the end of his column.
This will presumably give the Republican more time to address the "learning curve," which doesn't seem to be going well. The new feature in GQ on Carson includes the headline, "What If Sarah Palin Were a Brain Surgeon?" It includes this gem:
When I asked him which secretary of state he most admired, he replied Condoleezza Rice—who, of course, happened to be the most recent person to hold that post in a Republican administration. Similarly, Robert Gates was Carson's favorite secretary of defense.
And when I asked Carson to name his favorite secretary of the treasury, he was stumped. "Andrea Mitchell's husband," he eventually offered.
MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, of course, is married to Alan Greenspan -- the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, who has never been the Treasury secretary.
The same piece noted Carson's trip to Israel, where he seemed surprised to discover that Israel has a legislative branch.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L), Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif (C) and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton (R) during a meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, Septemb

Republicans, U.S. mainstream at odds over Iran talks

03/26/15 10:55AM

About a week ago, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced his plan to increase sanctions against Iran, confident that the move would force the end of international diplomacy with Iranian officials.
"The Obama administration is circumventing the will of the American people, who do not support this deal," the senator said, referring to an agreement that (a) does not yet exist; (b) Cruz has not seen; and (c) the American people have not yet considered.
This came to mind yesterday when former Gov. Jeb Bush (R), who's struggled of late with foreign policy, published a piece for National Review condemning President Obama's participation in the P5+1 talks.
It is clear that nothing -- not public opinion, not opposition from his own party in Congress, and not even the facts -- will deter President Obama from a potentially risky agreement that may well allow Iran to intimidate the entire Middle East, menace Israel, and, most of all, threaten America.
It was the "public opinion" part that stood out for me. As the Florida Republican sees it, the American mainstream simply disagrees with the White House's diplomatic efforts. Cruz obviously feels the same way -- Obama may be working alongside our allies and negotiating partners, but he's "circumventing the will of the American people."
Some politicians develop a bad habit when it comes to debates like these. They draw a conclusion; they surround themselves with others who've drawn the same conclusion; they get their news from media outlets that have drawn the same conclusion; and they start to assume that most Americans think exactly as they do.
But in reality, public opinion appears to be on Obama's side, not this critics'.
U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a 2016 Republican White House hopeful, speaks to a group of state legislators at Murphy's Diner in Manchester, New Hampshire on Jan. 14, 2015. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Rand Paul abandons his Pentagon plan

03/26/15 10:02AM

In his first year in public office, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) unveiled the outline of his own budget plan, which reflected his rather unique worldview. In his 2011 blueprint, the Kentucky Republican didn't just slash domestic spending -- a staple of every GOP plan -- Paul also went after military spending, slashing investments in the Pentagon and U.S. military missions abroad.
The plan wasn't surprising. No matter what one thinks of Rand Paul, he's made no real effort to hide his libertarian-ish worldview and his opposition to Republican orthodoxy on the use of military force. The senator's plan to cut defense spending was unusual among his GOP brethren, but it was consistent with everything we know about Rand Paul.
It's what makes this new report from Time magazine that much more striking.
Just weeks before announcing his 2016 presidential bid, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is completing an about-face on a longstanding pledge to curb the growth in defense spending.
In an olive branch to defense hawks hell-bent on curtailing his White House ambitions, the libertarian Senator introduced a budget amendment late Wednesday calling for a nearly $190 billion infusion to the defense budget over the next two years -- a roughly 16 percent increase.
The article describes Paul's new posture as a "stunning reversal," which is more than fair, and notes that his proposal matches a similar plan from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) -- a likely White House rival and an aggressive Republican hawk on defense issues.
This radical departure from the principles Paul used to hold dear was not at all expected. On the contrary, the Kentucky senator used to say his break with GOP orthodoxy on matters of national security was a selling point.
But that was before Rand Paul concluded that his principles might get in the way of his ambitions -- which meant many of his principles had to be cast aside.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during an event, Aug. 9, 2014, in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Ted Cruz cast himself in the role of Galileo

03/26/15 09:10AM

Climate deniers tend to get a little defensive when asked to justify their willful rejection of the evidence. They generally do not, however, compare themselves to Galileo.
Ted Cruz is a modern day Galileo, according to the Texas Republican senator and newly minted presidential candidate.
In an interview with Texas Tribune political reporter Jay Root, Cruz likened criticism over climate change denial to the persecution that 17th century scientist Galileo faced for defying mainstream beliefs of his day.
The right-wing senator, who did not appear to be kidding, argued, "What do they do? They scream, 'You're a denier.' They brand you a heretic. Today, the global warming alarmists are the equivalent of the flat-Earthers. It used to be [that] it is accepted scientific wisdom the Earth is flat, and this heretic named Galileo was branded a denier."
The general assessment of Cruz is that he's smart, but abrasive. Read any profile of the senator and it tends to paint a picture of a man who brings a sharp intellectual rigor to his work, but who struggles in politics because he's extreme, unlikable, and at times even obnoxious.
But these latest comments on science suggest it's probably time for the political world to reconsider assumptions about Ted Cruz's intellectual acumen.

Jobless claims improve amid volatile markets

03/26/15 08:40AM

When initial unemployment claims climbed in February, many hoped it was the result of seasonal and weather-related problems in an otherwise strong job market. As spring gets underway, those assessments appear accurate.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits fell by 9,000 to 282,000 in the seven days from March 15 to March 21, indicating that companies are holding onto their workers despite what appears to be a marked slowdown in first-quarter growth. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected initial claims -- a proxy for layoffs -- to total a seasonally adjusted 290,000. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, dipped below the key 300,000 threshold for the first time since late February. The four-week average dropped by 7,750 to 297,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it’s worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it’s best not to read too much significance into any one report.
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it’s considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 22 of the last 28 weeks.
House Speaker John Boehner (C) (R-OH) walks to the House chamber for an expected vote on a $1.1 trillion government funding bill on December 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Why the House Republican budget plan matters

03/26/15 08:00AM

"A budget is a moral document," Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) said two weeks ago. "It talks about where your values are."
Those comments from a conservative member of the House Budget Committee happen to be entirely accurate. Indeed, Woodall's description serves as a reminder of why it matters that House Republicans passed their budget blueprint late yesterday.
Normally quarrelsome House Republicans came together Wednesday night and passed a boldly conservative budget that relies on nearly $5 trillion in cuts to eliminate deficits over the next decade, calls for repealing the health care law and envisions transformations of the tax code and Medicare.
There were a variety of competing plans, but the approach endorsed by the House GOP leadership narrowly prevailed -- overcoming 26 defections from within their own ranks.
Republican leaders, who've had some trouble corralling GOP votes for GOP bills in recent months, breathed a sigh of relief, and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was seen hugging members of his whip team in celebration last night. It was a reminder of just how far expectations have fallen -- House Republicans have their largest majority in generations; they struggled mightily to narrowly pass their own budget plan; and this is somehow seen as a great victory for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the rest of the GOP leadership team.
The Senate Republican majority will now try to wrap up work on its budget blueprint -- which will include key differences -- before members eventually head to a conference committee to hammer out a bicameral agreement.
Note, budgets cannot be filibustered and are not subject to a presidential veto. In fact, much of this process is symbolic -- a congressional budget does not lock in spending levels for policymakers; the appropriations process does. The entire budget fight is a less case of understanding what will happen and more a case of appreciating what congressional Republican would like to see happen if all the power were in their hands.
But if the practical effects are limited, why should people care? Because "a budget is a moral document; it talks about where your values are."

U.S. strikes ISIS in Tikrit and other headlines

03/26/15 07:42AM

Opening new Iraq front, U.S. strikes ISIS in Tikrit. (New York Times)

Saudi Arabia masses 150,000 troops to support Yemen airstrikes. (NBC News)

Revelations about pilot add to mystery of Germanwings crash. (New York Times)

One dead after tornadoes rake Tulsa, OK area. (Tulsa World)

Kansas lawmakers pass ban on abortion procedure. (Wichita Eagle)

Indiana is battling the worst HIV outbreak in its history. (Washington Post)

California AG asks judge to halt ballot initiative to kill gays. (USA Today)

read more

Citations for the March 25, 2015

03/26/15 12:17AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Jim Tilmon, former pilot and aviation industry expert
  • Jim Hall, former chairman for the National Transportation Safety Board
  • Claudio Lavanga, NBC News reporter
  • Craig Whitlock, Pentagon reporter for The Washington Post

Tonight's links:

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