Rachel Maddow reports breaking news that Belgium has raised its terror alert to its highest level for Brussels, the country’s capital, and the Belgian government warns specifically of an "imminent threat" to that city. watch
Rachel Maddow follows yesterday's reporting about Donald Trump's apparent position on tracking Muslims in the United States with new reporting on Trump's response to the controversy. His position, however remains clouded in half-answers and deflections, leaving him open to further questions and criticism. watch
Ali Soufan, former FBI supervisory special agent and counter-terrorism expert, talks with Rachel Maddow about the history and relationship between the al Mourabitoun brigade led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar as an affiliate of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb comm watch
* More on Mali on tonight's show: "Islamic extremists armed with guns and grenades stormed a hotel packed with foreigners Friday in the former French colony of Mali, killing more than two dozen people and briefly taking scores more hostage. Twenty-seven guests and workers were killed, the Associated Press reported, citing United Nations officials. The two jihadi attackers were also dead, according to the AP."
* Paris: "A third person was killed in the anti-terror raid that targeted the Paris attack ringleader, officials confirmed Friday as the hunt continued for a suspected accomplice."
* Pollard: "Jonathan J. Pollard, the American convicted of spying for Israel, walked out of prison early on Friday after 30 years, but the Obama administration had no plans to let him leave the country and move to Israel and his lawyers immediately went to court to challenge his parole conditions."
* VW scandal: "Volkswagen Group's emissions scandal grew Friday as the Environmental Protection Agency and California regulators said the automaker had admitted that its 3-liter diesel vehicles from the last seven years had violated clean-air standards."
* An odd defense: "Donald Trump’s willingness to consider a database that would record the names of Muslim Americans has been condemned by 2016 contenders on both the right and the left, and now the 2016 GOP front-runner is saying the idea didn’t originate with him."
* Team Paul: "Two former advisers to Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) were re-indicted by a federal grand jury in Iowa Friday, just weeks after a criminal trial that produced a muddled result."
* A fascinating look inside "the surreal world of the Islamic State’s propaganda machine."
* A story worth watching: "Second-term Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.) faces a formal investigation into allegations that he continued to run his real-estate business as a lawmaker in violation of House rules, the House Ethics Committee said Thursday. The announcement follows Pittenger’s request last week for such a probe."
For the last few years, the Consumer Financial Production Bureau has quietly done important work on behalf of everyday consumers, cracking down on unfair business practices from banks, credit-card companies, mortgage lenders, and other financial institutions.
And Republicans are still outraged by the agency's very existence. In the last debate for the Republican presidential candidates, not only did Carly Fiorina condemn the CFPB by name for its fraud-detection services -- I'm still not sure why that's a bad thing -- but during a commercial break, lobbyists for a student-loan company, which is currently under investigation, launched a "truly bizarre attack ad" targeting the consumer watchdog.
That was last week. This week, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal went after the CFPB in a wildly unpersuasive piece on predatory auto loans. A day later, Politico published a big, front-page story with a provocative headline: "Emails reveal consumer protection agency’s cozy ties." The article told readers:
While Elizabeth Warren and other progressives decry the influence of big banks and lobbyists in writing legislation, in this instance, the agency created by Warren to protect consumers from abusive lending leaned heavily on consumer activists as it drafted regulations for the $46 billion payday loan industry.
The Center for Responsible Lending spent hours consulting with senior Obama administration officials, giving input on how to implement the rule that would restrict the vast majority of short-term loans with interest rates often higher than 400 percent. The group regularly sent over policy papers, traded emails and met multiple times with top officials responsible for drafting the rule.
The far-right Washington Times, right on cue, picked up on the Politico report, publishing an article yesterday saying the CFPB was caught "conspiring" with outside groups.
From a distance, it looks as if some CFPB critics put a lot of effort into this public-relations offensive against the agency, but if they're waiting for the rest of us to be shocked and appalled, they're probably going to be disappointed.
The right has come up with more than its share of conspiracy theories related to President Obama. In fact, some of the more nonsensical ideas -- he wasn't born in the United States; he's secretly non-Christian -- began before he was even elected.
Obama sat down with Bill Simmons recently for an interview published by GQ, and Simmons asked a question I've wondered about myself.
SIMMONS: What’s the most entertaining conspiracy theory you ever read about yourself?
OBAMA: That military exercises we were doing in Texas were designed to begin martial law so that I could usurp the Constitution and stay in power longer. Anybody who thinks I could get away with telling Michelle I’m going to be president any longer than eight years does not know my wife.
The president didn't literally use the words "Jade Helm 15," but I think it's safe to say that's what he was referring to.
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump started the week by talking about closing down mosques, before taking the truly extraordinary step yesterday of saying he would “absolutely” implement a policy of registering Muslim Americans into a government database. The question now is what his GOP rivals intend to say and do in response.
Jeb Bush, to his credit, told CNBC this morning that Trump's approach is "just wrong." Ted Cruz, who's been highly reluctant for months to say a discouraging word about the New York developer, was willing to argue this morning, "I'm a big fan of Donald Trump's but I'm not a fan of government registries of American citizens."
Marco Rubio, as best as I can tell, hasn't commented yet on Trump's registry idea, but he did speak last night with Fox News' Megyn Kelly, who was reminded by the host, "One of your fellow candidates, Donald Trump is suggesting we may need to close mosques that have problems with radicals at the top. What do you say?" Here's the senator's response in its entirety, by way of the Nexis transcript:
"Well, I think it's not about closing down mosques. It's about closing down any place, whether it's a cafe, a diner, an internet spot, any place where radicals are being inspired.
"And that we have -- the biggest problem we have is our inability to find out what these places are because we've crippled our intelligence programs, both through an authorized disclosure by a traitor, in other words, Snowden, or by some of the things that this president has put in place for the support even of some from my own party to diminish our intelligence capabilities.
"So, whatever facilities being used, it's not just a mosques. Any facility that's being used to radicalize and inspire attacks against the United States should be a place that we look at."
Let's unwrap this a bit because I think it says something important about a top presidential candidate's perspective on a key issue.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* The new national Bloomberg Politics poll shows Hillary Clinton with a big lead over Bernie Sanders, 55% to 30%. That's up significantly from September, though two months ago, the poll included Vice President Biden.
* Marco Rubio continues to add to his list of congressional endorsements, picking up support yesterday from Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah).
* Ted Cruz is adding to his endorsement list, too, with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) throwing his backing to the Texas senator yesterday.
* In Wisconsin, the latest Marquette University Law School poll shows Ben Carson leading the Republicans' 2016 field with 22%, followed by Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, who are tied at 19% each.
* The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are moving forward with a data-centric “Majority Project,” intended to help the party retake the House majority. Much of the effort is built around the DCCC's “Revere” database, described as "a sweeping database to cull past and present polling, voter files, media advertising history and population trends for every competitive House district in the country."
* Remember John Kasich's plan for an agency that would push "Judeo-Christian" Western values abroad? The Ohio governor is starting to walk back the idea.
NBC News' First Read published an interesting comparison the other day that got me thinking.
Americans are frightened and suspicious of foreigners entering the country from abroad. The political press is blaming President Obama for not doing enough. Rival politicians with presidential ambitions are seizing on the issue.
Sounds like the political aftermath after Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris, right? But those same descriptions -- fear, suspicion, blame, and political opportunism -- apply to what happened just a year ago during the Ebola scare.
Indeed, some of the exact same people who panicked under pressure a year ago are doing the same thing now. In late October 2014, Marco Rubio, for example, said policymakers should ignore the scientists and instead approve his legislation to ban travel from Ebola-stricken African countries to the United States. In November 2015, Rubio is now saying policymakers should ignore the diplomats and punish refugees fleeing terrorist violence.
Last year, Rand Paul's reaction to the Ebola scare was ridiculous. This year, his reaction to refugees is about as offensive. Last year, Chris Christie boasted about his absurd quarantine policy, which looks even more foolish in hindsight. This year, his flip-flop on refugees -- up to and including his fear of toddler orphans -- is plainly incoherent.
Part of the concern here is the Republicans' capacity to be an effective governing party. When was the last time GOP officials, en masse, responded to a crisis in a measured, responsible way? It's tempting to point to 2008, when Congress tackled a rescue package for the financial industry, but even then Republicans initially killed the legislation because, they said at the time, Nancy Pelosi hurt their feelings.
But I'm also struck by the fact that some of these same officials who've responded so poorly to both crises also happen to be running for president of the United States -- an office that subjects its occupant to almost unimaginable pressures practically every day.
Every presidential campaign looks for creative ways to engage voters, activists, and potential supporters, but most White House candidates don't create a "national prayer team." Ted Cruz, however, announced exactly that yesterday.
Mr. Cruz, who has aggressively courted the support of evangelicals, said the creation of the team would “establish a direct line of communication between our campaign and the thousands of Americans who are lifting us up before the Lord.”
Group members will receive emails containing prayer requests and a short devotional every week, the campaign said. They will also be invited to take part in a 20-minute “prayer conference call” each Tuesday.
Members of the team will receive "weekly emails containing prayer requests," and participate in a weekly "20-minute prayer conference call."
The announcement came just two days after the Texas senator attended an American Renewal Project event in Virginia with 200 pastors, where he said Scripture calls Christians to be “salt” and “light,” but "you cannot be salt if you don’t come into contact with what you are to preserve; you cannot be light if you are hidden under a bushel. We have an obligation to be watchmen on the wall, not hiding in the back room, afraid of the voices of darkness.”
In recent decades, we can think of all kinds of Republicans who effectively ran for president as the religious right movement's go-to candidate -- Mike Huckabee, Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, et al -- but these candidates have always found themselves stuck in that "lane." They connected with social conservatives, who make up a meaningful chunk of the GOP base, but who couldn't propel their candidate to the convention on their own.
Cruz, however, is doing a pretty effective job of bringing evangelicals into his "lane," rather than the other way around. For much of the media, the far-right Texan is widely recognized as the senator who hates "Obamacare," rejects immigration reform, and loves being a thorn in the side of congressional GOP leaders, but to miss his ties to social conservatives is to miss the full picture.
There is literally nothing unhinged members of Congress can't connect to Benghazi in some wild-eyed way. As hard as this may be to believe, this even includes Syrian refugees.
TPM reported yesterday on an amazing exchange at a congressional hearing.
Colorado Republican Rep. Ken Buck on Thursday blamed the President's handling of the 2011 terrorist attack in Benghazi for Americans' distrust of Syrian refugees today.
In a back-and-forth with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Leon Rodriguez, Buck argued that no one should be surprised Americans are deeply concerned about refugees considering the way Obama handled the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks.
Initially, I took this to mean that Buck was conflating terrorists in Libya and refugees from Syria, but that's not it.
Rather, the Colorado Republican was endorsing far-right Benghazi conspiracy theories, which leads him to believe the White House covered up some imaginary scandal, which then leads him to believe Americans don't trust the administration, which then leads Buck to believe Benghazi is indirectly responsible for creating public hostility towards refugees from an entirely different country.
"It is a result of this administration’s lack of credibility that has caused the fear and panic among many of the Americans in this country," Buck said, as if Republican demagoguery is unrelated to irrational public anxiety.
In any democratic political system, the parties are supposed to disagree. They're supposed to fight and argue, denounce their rivals' ideas, and make the case to voters that they know what they're talking about while their opponents are fools.
But what's often exasperating about American politics is the degree to which partisans live in alternate realities. It's one thing to disagree on the merits of ideas; it's something else to disagree on whether objective, quantifiable truths are real.
The Washington Post's Greg Sargent yesterday flagged a fascinating result from the latest Bloomberg Politics poll.
Republicans say by 53-38 that the unemployment rate today is worse than when Obama took office. Americans overall say the opposite by 56-34.
In January of 2009, the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate rose to around 10 percent by October of 2009, then declined steadily to 5.0 percent last month.
Whether or not the unemployment rate has improved is not a matter of opinion. No matter how one sees the world, a 7.8% rate is higher than a 5% rate. That's equally true for Democrats and Republicans.
But most Republican voters don't believe it. The "reality gap" persists, and it's a problem.
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said last night that he would "absolutely" implement a policy of registering Muslim Americans into a government database. Jeb Bush sat down with CNBC this morning and, to his credit, said such a policy would be "just wrong." Politicoreported:
"It’s not a question of toughness. It’s manipulating people's angst and their fears. That’s not strength. That’s weakness," Bush said in an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box."
"And look, campaigns are important for sure. We’re electing a president, but there are things that are important as it relates to the values that we have as a country that make us special and unique, and we should not and we will never abandon them in the pursuit of this fight. We don't have to. We can protect our freedoms here."
I've seen some praise for Bush saying the right thing this morning, and it's not unfounded. Trump's approach is simply indefensible, and though right-wing activists may find Trump's ideas appealing, the former Florida governor nevertheless denounced dangerous extremism. I'm glad.
But there are two related angles that are worth keeping in mind here. First, let's at least try to set the bar for basic human decency a little higher. Yes, it's a good thing that Jeb Bush opposes the idea of the government forcing an American religious minority into some kind of federal registry, but if this is what passes for Republican "moderation" in 2015, the toxicity of American politics has already reached dangerous levels.
Second, isn't it a little late for Jeb to clumsily claim the moral high ground on this issue?
The Republican presidential candidates' reactions to last week's terrorist violence in Paris has, at various times, been bewildering and depressing. Far-right politicians, eager to exploit fear and bigotry, have spent the week playing on conservatives' worst instincts. It's been about as ugly as American politics can get.
But even in the crowd, Donald Trump has stood out as ... unique.
There's been a gradual evolution to the frontrunner's posture over the course of several days. On Monday, for example, Trump told MSNBC that he would grudgingly have to "strongly consider" using government power to shut down American houses of worship as part of an anti-Muslim agenda. On Tuesday, he went a little further, saying that when it comes to the government closing religious institutions, "We’re going to have no choice."
When Trump sat down with Yahoo News, and a reporter raised the possibility of registering Muslims in a government database or creating special forms of identification for Muslim Americans, Trump responded, “We’re going to have to -- we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely."
There is, of course, a significant difference between failing to answer a specific question directly and making an explicit policy pronouncement -- which is why, as Rachel reported at the top of last night's show, Trump's latest comments are so important.
Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner for president, told NBC News on Thursday night that he “would certainly implement” a database system tracking Muslims in the United States.
“I would certainly implement that. Absolutely,” Trump said in Newton, Iowa, in between campaign town hall events.
I think most reasonable people should be able to agree we've entered some pretty dangerous territory.
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.