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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.23.15

02/23/15 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) has launched a new fundraising campaign, hoping to raise money off his reluctance to answer questions about President Obama's patriotism and religion.
 
* As former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton moves closer to a presidential bid, she has hired a firm called New Partners, "an outfit with a history of doing deep research projects," to help do a thorough review of her own background.
 
* In California, the latest Field Poll shows Walker as his party's leading presidential candidate with 18% support, followed closely by former Gov. Jeb Bush at 16%, and Sen. Rand Paul at 10%. No other candidate reached double digits, and Gov. Chris Christie runs ninth in the survey.
 
* Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) is going to have to choose between running for re-election and running for the White House -- and a state law won't allow him to do both. The far-right governor said he won't decide until the end of April.
 
* Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) has no real background in foreign affairs, though he's trying to get up to speed on the issue as he looks at a possible presidential campaign. The Republican governor said over the weekend that dealing with ISIS will "at some point ... require boots on the ground."
 
* Billionaire Tom Steyer decided not to run for the Senate next year, but his super PAC, NextGen Climate Action PAC, is "quietly drawing up plans to spend big money attacking Republican Senate and presidential candidates for their climate denialism." Greg Sargent has the details.
Ron Paul shaking hands with the crowd in Manchester.

Ron Paul: U.S. secession is already 'happening'

02/23/15 11:23AM

As Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) continues to move closer to a presidential campaign, the Republican senator spends quite a bit of time on the road, talking to as many possible supporters as he can. Unfortunately for Paul, his father, who ran several failed presidential races, continues to maintain a high public profile, too.
 
Andrew Kaczynski got a hold of the video of former Rep. Ron Paul's (R-Texas) recent appearance at a pro-secession conference.
Former Republican presidential candidate and congressman Ron Paul says secession is happening and it's "good news." Paul later predicted the states would stop listening to federal laws.
 
"I would like to start off by talking about the subject and the subject is secession and, uh, nullification, the breaking up of government, and the good news is it's gonna happen. It's happening," Paul, the father of potential Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul, told a gathering at the libertarian Mises Institute in late January.
The video is about what you'd expect -- Ron Paul's bizarre views on the gold standard, for example, remain intact -- though that doesn't make his remarks any less kooky.
 
Of course, there are plenty of former congressmen running around saying strange things at strange conferences; the question is when (and whether) this will start to cause problems for his presidential candidate son.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz

DNC 'autopsy' looks ahead following last year's defeats

02/23/15 10:43AM

In the wake of the 2012 elections, the Republican National Committee created a task force intended to conduct an "autopsy" on the party's failed cycle. The result was a lengthy document, called the "Growth and Opportunity Project," intended to tell the party what went wrong and what party officials should do to get back on track.
 
Almost immediately, Republican officials threw the "Growth and Opportunity Project" in the trash, ignored the findings, and did largely the opposite of what the task force recommended.
 
Two years later, it's Democrats coming off a rough election cycle, and it's the center-left party taking the opportunity to be introspective for a while.
At its annual winter meeting, the Democratic National Committee released the preliminary findings of its Democratic Victory Task Force, which DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced following the midterms. Some areas the task force targeted for immediate improvement are strengthening partnerships with state parties and expanding the right to vote. [...]
 
"...There is no single narrative that unites all of our work and the issues that we care about as a community of Democrats," the DNC's report states. "It is strongly believed that the Democratic Party is loosely understood as a long list of policy statements and not as people with a common set of core values (fairness, equality, opportunity). This lack of cohesive narrative impedes the party's ability to develop and maintain a lifelong dialogue and partnership with voters."
While the RNC's autopsy was 102 pages, the DNC's document is a breezy nine pages, including the content-free front and back covers. (This is evidently a "preliminary" report. It's not clear if a more comprehensive document is on the way later in the year.)
 
While some of the ideas in the document seem to have real merit, including an aggressive emphasis on voter registration, others seem considerably less valuable, such as the "creation of a National Narrative Project to work with party leaders, activists, and messaging and narrative experts to create a strong values-based national narrative."
 
What stood out as especially noteworthy, however, was the DNC's willingness to look ahead -- not to 2016, but to 2020:
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testifies during a hearing, Feb. 26, 2014, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Homeland Security facing GOP shutdown threat

02/23/15 10:01AM

Current funding for the Department of Homeland Security expires this Friday, thanks entirely to a ridiculous budget scheme congressional Republicans cooked up for themselves. John Harwood noted last week that avoiding a shutdown is a "rock-bottom, de minimis test of GOP governance," and yet, it's a test the party may very well fail.
 
"It's absurd that we're even having this conversation about Congress' inability to fund Homeland Security in these challenging times," DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said during one of his five Sunday show appearances yesterday. He added that he hopes someone in Congress "will exercise some leadership."
 
In theory, we might have expected to see some of this elusive leadership last week -- with a looming deadline, lawmakers could have invested real effort in resolving the problem before the last minute. Instead, congressional Republicans took last week off, doing no apparent work on the mess they created.
 
They'll return to Capitol Hill today, where they'll pick up where they left off.
In these final days before the Homeland Security Department is due to shut down, two things are certain: One, the Senate will hold its fourth vote Monday to start debate on a DHS funding bill that also would scrap President Obama's executive action to defer deportations for some 4 million undocumented immigrants. Two, the outcome will be the same as it has been the last three times: Democrats will vote "no," and the impasse will remain.
 
Monday's roll call will reiterate what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been saying for two weeks -- the legislation is stuck in the Senate, and the chamber needs another bill from the House in order to move forward.
That may sound like some kind of joke, but it's real -- the Senate will go through the motions, again, defeating a doomed bill just for the sake of doing so. The timeline of events really is both amazing and alarming for those concerned with DHS operations.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus waits for the start of the U.S. vice presidential debate in Danville, Kentucky, October 11, 2012.

The 'traveling circus' the RNC can't stop

02/23/15 09:20AM

Nearly two years ago, with his party still licking its wounds after a rough 2012 cycle, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus looked ahead to the 2016 presidential race and focused on a specific goal: far fewer debates.
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said Friday he was trying to stop the party's primary process from transforming into a "traveling circus."
 
"Quite frankly, I'm someone -- I don't think having our candidates running around in a traveling circus and doing 23 debates, slicing and dicing each other is in the best interests of our party," Priebus said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
There's little doubt that Priebus' concerns were rooted in fact. The 2012 debates for the Republican presidential candidates were often entertaining, but they didn't do any favors for the aspirants themselves. When the Republican National Committee sharply curtailed the total number of debates for the 2016 race -- and prioritized events on Fox -- it didn't come as a surprise.
 
But as the Republicans' presidential field takes shape, it's becoming increasingly clear that the "traveling circus" is not wholly dependent on debates -- a circus needs clowns, stunts, and acrobatics, and the likely 2016 candidates are already providing plenty of antics for our viewing pleasure.
Emissions from a coal-fired power plant drift skyward in Ghent, Ky., June 2, 2014.

Climate denier's funding sources draw scrutiny

02/23/15 08:40AM

For many years, when the right wanted to prove that there was a legitimate "debate" among scientists about climate change, they would point to Richard Muller, a Berkeley physics professor and longtime skeptic about the climate crisis.
 
A few years ago, following the so-called "Climategate" story, Muller launched a project intended pull together all of the evidence, scrutinize it, and settle the argument once and for all. The Koch Foundation gave Muller's project $150,000 and delighted conservatives said they would accept whatever results the Berkeley scholar came up with.
 
That didn't last. After completing his research, Muller announced that the climate crisis is real. He labeled himself "a converted skeptic," prompting Republicans to go looking for an entirely different scientist who would tell them what they wanted to hear.
 
More often than not, that meant celebrating Wei-Hock Soon, who's often called Willie Soon, an aerospace engineer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center who frequently argues -- at congressional hearings, in state legislatures, at conservative conferences -- that it's the sun, not human activities, that's causing global warming. He is, naturally, a favorite of deniers like Senate Environment Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.).
 
The New York Times reported over the weekend, however, that far-right politicians are not Soon's only fans. He also enjoys support "from corporate interests" with an interest in the fight.
He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.
 
The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as "deliverables" that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.
Inhofe recently pointed to Soon as one of his allied scientists whose work "cannot be challenged." Now might be a good time to update that talking point.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at the American Action Forum Jan. 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Scott Walker faces leadership test, fails

02/23/15 08:00AM

Just a couple of weeks before his re-election bid last fall, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was asked by local journalists about contraception access. He dodged, refusing to give a straight answer. The Republican governor's far-right record on social issues was well established, but Walker still wasn't comfortable speaking his mind so close to Election Day.
 
During the same campaign, Walker dodged questions about his opposition to a Wisconsin pay-equity law. He was equally non-committal on marriage rights. More recently, the likely Republican presidential candidate wouldn't even say whether he believes in evolution.
 
Taken together, there's an explanation for evasiveness like this: Walker realizes his right-wing views would alienate the American mainstream, and he lacks the courage of his convictions necessary to defend his often-extreme perspective.
 
But when it comes to Walker's rhetoric about President Obama, an uglier picture emerges.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a prospective Republican presidential contender, said Saturday he does not know whether President Obama is a Christian.
 
"I don't know," Walker said in an interview at the JW Marriott hotel in Washington, where he was attending the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.
When the Washington Post's reporters reminded the far-right governor that Obama has spoken repeatedly about his Christian faith, Walker pleaded ignorance. "I've actually never talked about it or I haven't read about that," he said, apparently having paid no attention to American politics over the last seven years.
 
Also over the weekend, Walker refused to say whether he believes the president loves his country. "You should ask the president what he thinks about America," Walker told the Associated Press. Pressed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as to whether he believes Obama loves America, he said, again, "I don't know."
 
Early yesterday, the governor and his allies had a new defense: Walker's evasiveness is irrelevant because the questions themselves shouldn't be asked.

Derailment prediction and other headlines

02/23/15 07:21AM

Federal government predicts fuel-hauling trains could derail at average rate of 10 per year. (AP)

Deadline nears on Homeland-Security funding impasse. (Wall Street Journal)

In a pre-primary pivot to the right, Scott Walker shifts tone on abortion. (New York Times)

New Pentagon chief convenes unusual counter-terrorism meeting. (AP)

Terrorist group calls for attacks on shopping malls. (NBC News)

Pres. Obama to announce retirement-accounts change. (McClatchy)

Pres. Obama speaks to the nation's governors today. (AP)

Man who once defended Georgia's sodomy ban to oppose religious-liberty bills. (BuzzFeed)

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This Week in God, 2.21.15

02/21/15 08:46AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a controversial push in Oklahoma to not only ban Advanced Placement classes in American history, but also to impose a more religiously focused curriculum on schools.
 
This week, as was widely reported, an Oklahoma state House committee approved a bill along partisan lines to outlaw AP history classes. What received less attention was what state Republican lawmakers intend to replace those classes with.
Republican Oklahoma Rep. Dan Fisher has proposed a bill that would yank state funding from the AP history course and develop a new advanced U.S. history curriculum based, in part, on three Reagan speeches.
 
Fisher -- a pastor who was elected in 2013 -- lists texts he believes should be the focus of students' educations. The "foundational and historical" texts the 10-page bill details include some obvious choices -- the Constitution and Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter From a Birmingham Jail" for example -- but it also emphasizes the Ten Commandments, two sermons, three speeches by Reagan, and President George W. Bush's address to the nation after the 9/11 attacks.
Which sermons would make the cut? The proposed legislation is actually quite specific: students wouldn't be able to take AP history, but they would be presented with "A Model of Christian Charity" by John Winthrop and "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" by Jonathan Edwards.
 
The bill doesn't specify which version of the Ten Commandments would be included -- the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish faiths number and word the Commandments differently -- but given the context, I have a hunch the Protestant version would likely get the nod.
 
Though the Republican-run state committee already voted to advance the proposal, the pastor who wrote conceded later in the week that his bill "was very poorly worded and was incredibly ambiguous, and we didn't realize that."
 
Fisher intends to re-write the bill. The role of religious materials in the revamped plan remains unclear.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:

Citations for the February 20, 2015

02/21/15 12:23AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Rashad, Hussain, U.S. special envoy and coordinator for strategic counterterrorism communications
  • Rocky Martin, master-level Rachel Maddow show viewer

Tonight's links:

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US readies to confront ISIS in online battle

US readies to confront ISIS in online battle

02/20/15 11:03PM

Rashad Hussain, U.S. special envoy and coordinator for strategic counterterrorism communications, talks with Rachel Maddow about the U.S. attacking ISIS online recruitment tools and understanding why the terror group's outreach is so effective. watch

Friday Night News Dump: Secret Owl edition

Friday Night News Dump: Secret Owl edition

02/20/15 09:53PM

Rocky Martin, master-level Rachel Maddow show viewer, tests his memory of the week's news coverage for a chance to win a cocktail shaker that is too small to pour a second drink, and a random, half-broken thing that's been laying around the office. watch

Maureen McDonnell sentenced to year and a day

Maureen McDonnell sentenced to year and a day

02/20/15 09:46PM

Rachel Maddow reports that Maureen McDonnell, wife of disgraced former Virginia governor, Bob McDonnell, was sentenced to a year and a day in jail for her part in her husband's corruption scandal after being scapegoated by her husband's defense. watch

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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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