Of the 745,000 refugees resettled in the United States since September 11th, zero Syrians have faced charges related to terrorism. But at a Capitol Hill press conference yesterday, that's not the angle Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wanted to emphasize.
"I would just mention a case a few years ago in my state," the Republican leader said. "There was a person from Iraq who came into the U.S. as a refugee, vetted, who ended up being arrested for plotting a terrorist attack... So the ability to vet people coming from that part of the world is really quite limited."
McConnell's argument isn't altogether fair. The Iraqi refugee in Kentucky actually tried to take advantage of lax American gun laws to send weapons to Iraq, not launch an attack in the U.S. -- a detail the senator neglected to mention. For that matter, pointing to one guy out of 745,000 is hardly proof of an unreliable vetting process.
But the more interesting part came in response to a reporter's question.
Q: There's been a certain amount of resurgence in interest over a bill that's been floating around here about whether people on terror watch lists should be able to legally buy guns in this country. Should they be able to?
MCCONNELL: [Shrugs shoulders.]
Q: On the FBI terror watch list?
MCCONNELL: Yeah, I'm not particularly familiar with that.
Told that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) have pushed legislation on this -- the measure was introduced nine months ago -- McConnell added, "I'm not familiar with the legislation, so I'll pass on it."
Perhaps now would be a good time for the Senate Majority Leader to get up to speed on this, because if we're going to have a debate about counter-terrorism and national security, we might also want to chat about potential terrorists having easy access in the United States to all kinds of deadly weapons.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In New Hampshire, a new WBUR poll shows Donald Trump leading in the first primary state with 22% in the race for the Republican nomination. Ben Carson and Marco Rubio are tied for second with 11%, followed by Ted Cruz at 8%. The poll was conducted after Friday night's terrorist violence in Paris.
* Hillary Clinton yesterday picked up an endorsement from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of the nation's largest and most politically influential unions. Note, SEIU backed Barack Obama in the 2008 primary, which helped him enormously.
* At a campaign stop in South Carolina yesterday, Jeb Bush said, “It’s like the crabs in the, you know, whatever -- the crabs in the boiling water." After being corrected by a local voter, he added, "The frogs. You think it’s warm, and it feels pretty good and then it feels like you’re in a whirlpool -- you know, a Jacuzzi or something.” Bush concluded, “And then you’re dead. That’s how this works.” Good to know.
* A Ted Cruz super PAC is launching a radio ad this week targeting Marco Rubio, and highlighting his co-authorship of an “amnesty scheme” backed by President Obama.
* A new poll from Florida Atlantic University shows Trump with a big lead over his GOP rivals in the Sunshine State, topping the first with 36%. Rubio is second in his own home state with 18%, followed by Carson at 15%. Ted Cruz is fourth with 10%, while Jeb Bush is right behind him at 9%.
Jeb Bush has tried to seize on the Paris attacks as a key campaign issue, which is proving to be easier said than done. Yesterday, for example, the former governor became the first competitive Republican presidential hopeful to say Syrian refugees should be welcome on American soil, only to reverse course a few hours later.
Making matters considerably worse, the GOP candidate also tried to shed additional light on his idea of evaluating refugees based on the popularity of their religious beliefs. Bush continues to draw a distinction between Christian refugees (whom he wants to help) and Muslim refugees (whom he prefers to ignore), and as the New York Timesreported, his defense for this posture didn't do him any favors.
Asked how he would identify Christian Syrian families to ensure that they receive a special focus, Mr. Bush did not offer a clear answer, but said the onus would be on the refuges to demonstrate their religion.
“You’re a Christian -- I mean, you can prove you’re a Christian,” he said. “You can’t prove it, then, you know, you err on the side of caution.”
I honestly have no idea what this means, though the idea of U.S. officials subjecting refugees to some kind of religious test in which they'd be asked to "prove" their Christianity isn't unique to Jeb Bush. Rupert Murdoch, for example, raised the prospect this week of supporting refugees who are "proven Christians." Laura Ingraham added on Monday that she'd be "happy" to welcome "some" refugees, if "we can verifiably say are Christians."
Gov. Chris Christie wrote a letter to President Obama yesterday, noting that a couple of months ago, a young man in New Jersey "pled guilty to charges of conspiring to provide material support and resources to ISIS." The Republican governor added that the man plotted with three other men. Therefore, Christie said, the White House should halt plans "to accept more Syrian refugees" into the United States.
Even for him, this was genuinely bizarre. The New Jersey man Christie referenced wasn't a Syrian refugee. Neither was anyone else involved in the plot. In the post-9/11 era, not a single Syrian refugee has ever been charged in the United States with having anything to do with terrorism, making Christie's argument a rather comical example of a non-sequitur.
In fact, the incident the governor mentioned didn't stop Christie from recently supporting a policy welcoming Syrian refugees.
There’s a word for someone who reacts to seemingly scary situations by getting even more frightened. I believe that word is “wimp.” Which means that, based on his rhetoric, Christie might be a presidential contender also-ran, but he is a major league wimp.
Drezner's point is more than fair, though part of me wonders if something even more alarming is happening here.
The Koch brothers' campaign investments were back in the news yesterday, with the Huffington Post pointing to an annual tax filing posted Tuesday on the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce website, reporting that the "main arm of the political network operated by billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch raised $126 million in 2014 and distributed millions to more than 20 other groups active in last year's midterm elections."
By any fair metric, when one political network, operating outside the major parties, can put $126 million to use in a midterm election cycle, the impact is bound to be significant. At the same time, of course, this raises legitimate concerns about a small number of powerful, wealthy donors having far too much influence over who wins elections -- and who doesn't.
Yahoo News sat down with Charles Koch this week and asked him a good question. Pay particular attention to the billionaire's answer.
Q: Campaigns have become so expensive now, Charles. Is there too much money in politics and is it because rich people are putting too much money into politics?
KOCH: No, it's because of corporate welfare. It's -- why are 6 out of the 10 most prosperous counties around Washington, DC? The estimates are there over $5 trillion out of a $15 trillion economy that goes to corporate welfare including a trillion and a half in the tax code. So that's the problem with the money. And so, the more money, the better to change that and get the politics out of people's lives. That's what we're trying to do: put some money in so there's less money in politics.
I listened to this a few times, trying to fully appreciate Koch's argument. Asked about the outsized influence of mega-donors, one of the Koch brothers argued that when he and his network "put some money" into campaign politics, the end result should be "less money in politics."
It seems as if Koch agrees that less money in politics is a worthwhile goal, except when he's the one influencing American elections with his checkbook.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) had a plan. As recently as a month ago, the struggling Republican presidential hopeful told the Washington Post he would "win Iowa," at which point the race would "change" and many of his GOP rivals would "drop out."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced late Tuesday he would suspend his presidential campaign after failing to get traction in the crowded Republican primary field.
In a statement announcing his exit from the race, Jindal said running has “been an honor, but this is not my time.”
Jindal is the third Republican to drop out of the race before voting began, joining Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Jindal's departure shrinks the GOP field to a mere 14 candidates.
Ordinarily when a candidate withdraws, there's some chatter about where his or her support may go, but in the case of the Louisiana governor, there's no real point. National polling showed the governor with support below 1% and Jindal struggled for months to raise money.
Why did the Louisianan struggle to connect? It's rarely just one thing that dooms a candidate, though in Jindal's case, it probably didn't help that he's been an awful and woefully unpopular governor.
But I suspect that wasn't the principal problem for the governor. Consider the bigger picture as it relates to experienced candidates trying to appeal to the rabid GOP base.
President Obama has heard the Republican reactions to Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris, and it seems safe to say he's unimpressed.
“When candidates say we shouldn’t admit 3-year old-orphans, that’s political posturing,” Obama said at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Manila -- making a veiled reference to GOP candidate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. “When people say we should have a religious test, and only Christians, proven Christians, should be admitted, that’s offensive, and contrary to American values.”
He added, taking another jab: “These are the same folks often times that say they’re so tough that just talking to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin or staring down ISIL (ISIS) or using some additional rhetoric will solve the problem -- but apparently they’re scared of widows and 3-year-old orphans.”
Obama added, "At first they were worried about the press being too tough on them in the debates. Now they're worried about three-year-old orphans. That doesn't sound very tough to me."
And while these comments were no doubt emotionally satisfying for those who've grown tired of watching Republicans try to exploit fear and ignorance to advance their own demagogic agenda, the president's comments were also constructive on a specific front.
"We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic. We don't make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks," Obama said. "I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric coming out of here in the course of this debate. They’ve been playing on fear to score political points or to advance their campaigns and it’s irresponsible. It needs to stop because the world is watching."
This wasn't just empty rhetoric. The point about ISIS "recruitment tools" is of particular importance because it offers American political leaders a timely reminder: if you're making things easier for ISIS, you're doing it wrong.
A presidential candidate's personal advisers can occasionally offer insights no one else has. They see White House hopefuls in unguarded and unscripted moments, giving the advisers a unique perspective.
It was of interest in 2012, for example, when Mitt Romney's advisers conceded the campaign had invested so little energy in focusing on national security that even they were "uncertain what camp he would fall into, and are uncertain themselves about how he would govern.”
But the New York Timesreported late yesterday on an even more striking example. Ben Carson's advisers conceded that "intense tutoring" for the retired right-wing neurosurgeon has so far had "little effect" on the candidate's preparedness on matters of foreign affairs.
“Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East,” Duane R. Clarridge, a top adviser to Mr. Carson on terrorism and national security, said in an interview. He also said Mr. Carson needed weekly conference calls briefing him on foreign policy so “we can make him smart.”
The article highlighted Carson's recent appearance on "Fox News Sunday," where he was asked to identify a country he would reach out to join an anti-ISIS coalition. The Republican candidate, despite multiple opportunities, couldn't name one.
“He’s been briefed on it so many times,” Carson aide Armstrong Williams told the Times. “I guess he just froze.”
Nothing says "presidential preparedness" like "I guess he just froze."
President Barack Obama, speaking at a regional trade summit in the Philippines, criticizes Republican politicians for being afraid of "widows and orphans" and being irresponsibly out of step with America's tradition of compassion for refugees. watch
Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, profiles the group "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently," which consists of citizen-journalists documenting atrocities by ISIS and exposes ISIS propaganda lies, sometimes at the expense of their own lives as ISIS has crossed into Turkey to hunt down members and silence them. watch
Bruno Stagno Ugarte, deputy executive director for advocacy at Human Rights Watch, talks with Richard Engel about the desperate refugee crisis in Europe, the need for American assistance, and the unfounded concerns of the American right. watch
Congressman Seth Moulton, a Marine veteran and member of the Armed Services Committee, talks with Richard Engel about the need for long term political planning for Syria to work in conjunction with military efforts to eradicate ISIS. watch
Colonel Jack Jacobs, retired U.S. Army Colonel and medal of honor recipient, talks with Richard Engel about the effectiveness of airstrikes on ISIS in Syria and the realistic scope of a military effort to effectively eliminate ISIS. watch
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.