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U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) arrives at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington May 14, 2015. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Boehner rejects Amtrak question as 'stupid'

05/14/15 02:15PM

It became clear yesterday that congressional Republicans came up with one talking point in response to the deadly Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia: "human error."
 
The point, of course, is obvious. If the Amtrak 188 tragedy was the result of a person making a mistake, then there's no need for federal policymakers to act, there's no need for Congress to make additional investments in infrastructure, and there's no need for Republicans to be embarrassed by slashing Amtrak's budget just hours after the accident.
 
This morning, as National Journal noted, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) didn't hold back on this point.
Boehner downright dismissed claims that underfunding for the rail system was responsible for the derailment in Philadelphia that killed at least seven people and injured 200 on Tuesday night.
 
"Are you really gonna ask such a stupid question?" Boehner said during his Thursday morning press conference when a reporter began to ask about Democratic concerns that Amtrak was underfunded because of Republicans. "They started this yesterday: 'It's all about funding. It's all about funding.' Well, obviously it is not about funding. The train was going twice the speed limit."
House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sounded a similar note on Fox News this morning, dismissing those who want to increase "the size of government programs," all in response to an accident he said was "human error."
 
The congressman added that he hopes "people won't seize on political opportunities out of tragedies like this" to spend more money.
 
Let's set the record straight.
Sen. Marco Rubio

Rubio steps in Jeb Bush's Iraq quicksand

05/14/15 12:46PM

When it comes to the war in Iraq, Jeb Bush fielded a question this week he must have known was coming, and which he's had literally years to prepare for: if you knew in 2003 what we know now, would you have launched the war in Iraq? Responding to the question, the former Florida governor has come up with three bad answers over the course of three days.
 
Just as striking is the degree to which Bush finds himself isolated, without anyone rallying to his defense. Indeed, many leading GOP candidates have been eager in recent days to make clear that they wouldn't have launched the disastrous war, given what they now know. Even Marco Rubio has no use for Bush's line, as evidenced by this exchange yesterday with Charlie Rose:
ROSE: Let me talk about Iraq and an issue that came up yesterday with Jeb Bush talking about the invasion, looking back. He was asked the question by Megyn Kelly and he said he misunderstood the question. So I`ll ask you the question that I think she intended to ask which was if you look at the Iraq war, after finding out there were no weapons of mass destruction, would you, if you knew that, have been in favor of the Iraqi invasion?
 
RUBIO: Well, not only would I not have been in favor of it. President Bush would not have been in favor of it.
What's wrong with this position? Actually, nothing. It's a perfectly sensible answer that puts the Florida senator in line with the American mainstream.
 
The trouble is, Rubio said pretty much the opposite just six weeks ago.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.14.15

05/14/15 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:
 
* Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) announced this morning that he's on the comeback trail and he's ready for a rematch against Sen. Ron Johnson (R) in Wisconsin next year. About an hour later, the DSCC endorsed Feingold, clearly hoping to ensure he has no primary challenger.
 
* In the latest national PPP survey, Scott Walker leads the Republican presidential field with 18% support, followed by Marco Rubio at 13%. Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee are tied for third with 12%, followed by Jeb Bush in fifth place with 11%.
 
* In presidential announcement news, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton (R) is expected to announce his 2016 plans any minute now. We also learned this morning that former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) will kick off his presidential bid on May 30 and former New York Gov. George Pataki (R) will announce his intentions on May 28.
 
* Jeb Bush accidentally said yesterday he's "running for president," but since he hasn't officially launched his campaign, the former governor quickly had to walk that back.
 
* Marco Rubio has apparently added another billionaire to his list of supporters, with Oracle founder Larry Ellison agreeing to host a fundraiser for the far-right Florida senator.
 
* A new Bluegrass Poll shows Rand Paul leading the Republican presidential field in his adopted home state of Kentucky, but in a hypothetical general-election matchup, the same survey showed Paul tied with Hillary Clinton, with each getting 45% of the vote. That's hard to believe, of course, though it's worth noting Bill Clinton carried Kentucky in both of his national races.
Bob Welch, standing at left, and Jim Dillon, hold a sign at a public hearing about the Jade Helm 15 military training exercise in Bastrop, Texas, Monday April 27, 2015.

Many GOP voters buy into 'Jade Helm' conspiracy theory

05/14/15 11:20AM

As the right-wing fringe raises concerns about the "Jade Helm 15" conspiracy theory, it's only natural to wonder just how many Americans put stock in the nonsense. We know the numbers are significant enough to get policymakers' attention -- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), I'm looking in your direction -- but is the paranoia widespread?
 
Right Wing Watch yesterday noted the latest PPP survey, released yesterday, which included some noteworthy results.
A new survey from Public Policy Polling finds that one-third of Republicans believe the Jade Helm 15 conspiracy theory that "the government is trying to take over Texas," and another 28 percent of GOP voters haven't made up their minds yet about the matter.
 
Among Republicans, PPP found that supporters of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz were most likely to believe the conspiracy theory.... PPP also found that half of all Tea Party supporters fear an imminent Texas invasion.
That's not an exaggeration -- 50% of self-identified Tea Party members, at least in this poll, said they're concerned "the government is trying to take over Texas."
 
Overall, 32% of self-identified Republican primary voters said they believe the conspiracy theory. And while that's obviously not a majority, it's still a third of the party's base, which will choose the GOP's presidential nominee.
A road sign for the headquarters of the National Security Administration (NSA) is seen in Fort Meade, Maryland, December 22, 2013.

Is Congress finally ready to scale back NSA surveillance?

05/14/15 10:49AM

In recent years, when it comes to the scope of the national-security state, lawmakers generally limited their choices to expanding federal powers a little or a lot. It made yesterday's vote in the House quite striking -- and a pleasant surprise for many civil libertarians. David Taintor reported for msnbc:
The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to end the National Security Agency's bulk collection of cell phone data from the American public.
 
The USA Freedom Act passed overwhelmingly in a 338-88 vote.... The Senate could take up the bill as early as next week. Congress must act before the section of the Patriot Act that authorizes the collection of telephone records expires on June 1.
Given the prevailing political winds, we don't see many lopsided votes on controversial issues, but here's the roll call on the "U.S.A. Freedom Act" -- its actual name -- on which most Democrats and Republicans were on the same page. (The bill's full title is "Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ensuring Effective Discipline Over Monitoring Act.)
 
Glenn Greenwald noted that this is the first time since 9/11 that "powers justified in the name of terrorism" would be "reduced rather than increased." It's an important point -- though the House had a similar vote last year, we've come to expect the arrow in this debate to point almost entirely in one direction. But in the face of court rulings and public skepticism, the House felt comfortable taking a bipartisan step in the opposite direction.
 
Of course, it's not a particularly big step. A New York Times article explained how the House bill is fairly modest: "Under the bipartisan bill ... the Patriot Act would be changed to prohibit bulk collection by the National Security Agency of metadata charting telephone calls made by Americans. However, while the House version of the bill would take the government out of the collection business, it would not deny it access to the information."
 
Instead, the data would be held by private telecommunications companies, which already keep the records anyway for billing purposes, and which federal agencies could still get access to.
 
Still, for those hoping to see the government's surveillance powers reduced, yesterday was encouraging. The question then becomes what happens now.
An exam room at the Whole Women's Health Clinic in McAllen, Texas, March 4, 2014.

House GOP makes time for abortion ban

05/14/15 10:00AM

It's an unusually busy week on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers are tackling several pressing issues, many of which can't wait, on everything from NSA surveillance to trade, infrastructure to Guantanamo Bay.
 
But despite all of this, House Republicans yesterday made time for one of their top legislative priorities: a culture-war bill they know won't become law. The Associated Press reported:
Republicans finally won House approval Wednesday for a late-term abortion ban after dropping rape provisions that provoked a rebellion by female GOP lawmakers, forcing party leaders into an embarrassing retreat.
 
The near party-line 242-184 vote marked a victory for anti-abortion lawmakers and organizations....House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the bill "the most pro-life legislation to ever come before this body," adding, "We should all be proud to take this stand today."
Well, that's one way to look at it.
 
The final roll call on the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" is online here. Note that aside from four Democrats who voted for it, and four Republicans who voted against it, the chamber was divided along party lines.
 
As we talked about the other day, this is largely the same bill House GOP leaders wanted to pass in January, but failed when Republicans couldn't agree among themselves about how rape victims should be treated.
 
For fierce opponents of reproductive rights, yesterday may have been a little symbolic victory, but it's worth appreciating exactly what the GOP-led House approved yesterday.
Rescuers gather around a derailed carriage of an Amtrak train in Philadelphia, Pa. on May 13, 2015.

'This is on Congress' head'

05/14/15 09:24AM

Sometimes, congressional Republicans have an odd sense of timing. Just hours after the deadly derailment of Amtrak 188, GOP lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee took up transportation spending measures, voting to slash Amtrak's budget, while also rejecting Democratic proposals to bolster infrastructure and train safety.
 
As the debate unfolded yesterday, things got a little ugly. Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) argued that Congress bore some responsibility for the tragic accident by failing to make the proper investments. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), incensed, responded, "You tied it directly to an accident and a tragedy and suggested because we hadn't funded it that caused that accident and you have no idea what caused it -- and that's a shame."
 
Soon after, Republicans on the Appropriations Committee went ahead and did exactly what they intended to do -- cutting rail investment -- as if the accident in Philadelphia hadn't just happened the night before. For many conservatives, there's no reason to connect the two -- if the derailment was the result of human error, Congress and budgetary choices are irrelevant.
 
The truth is more complicated. The New York Times reports today on rail technology you probably heard Rachel talking about last night.
For the second time in two years, a passenger train traveling well above its speed limit has derailed, leaving a trail of death and injuries. And for the second time, existing technology that might have prevented the accident was missing.
 
Amtrak has installed the technology, known as positive train control, on parts of its rail network in the Northeast Corridor. But the technology, designed to automatically slow or stop a train to prevent accidents, was not available on a critical stretch of track in Philadelphia where Train No. 188 derailed on Tuesday night, killing at least seven and injuring more than 200.
Robert Sumwalt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, made things plain while talking to reporters yesterday afternoon: positive train control "is not installed for this area where the accident occurred, where the derailment occurred.... Based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred."
 
Among the votes House Republicans cast yesterday? Voting down a Democratic measure to invest immediately in expanded use of positive train control.

Jobless claims dip, remain near 15-year low

05/14/15 08:40AM

When initial unemployment claims started spiking in late February, there were some fears that the job market was cooling. Those concerns have since disappeared, thanks to new reports like these.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits in early May edged down by 1,000 to 264,000, showing the pace of layoffs remains at a 15-year low even though hiring as slow a bit since the end of 2014. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to rise to a seasonally adjusted 275,000 in the week stretching from May 3 to May 9 from an unrevised 265,000 in the prior week.
 
New claims have registered less than 270,000 for three straight weeks, only the second time that's happened since 1975. The last time claims were as low was in the spring of 2000 at the tail end of the Internet boom.
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 29 of the last 35 weeks.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush talks with the media after speaking at a town hall meeting in Reno, Nevada on May 13, 2015.

Jeb Bush sheds his 'aura of competence'

05/14/15 08:00AM

The presidential campaign has already cycled through some unexpected litmus-test questions for the large Republican field, on issues ranging from Iran to vaccinations to the right to discriminate in Indiana. This week, however, brought the easiest question in the world: if you knew in 2003 what we know now, would you have launched the war in Iraq?
 
So far this week, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul all answered the question in roughly the same way: of course, not.
 
And then there's Jeb Bush.
 
On Monday, the former Florida governor said he would've invaded Iraq in 2003, even if he knew then what he knows now. On Tuesday, the unannounced Republican candidate changed direction, saying he doesn't know what he would have done and he "interpreted the question wrong" the day before. Yesterday, as msnbc's Carrie Dann reported, Jeb Bush tried to clarify his clarification.
Jeb Bush says that he does not want to engage in "hypotheticals" about the Iraq war because it is a "disservice" to individuals who lost their lives during the conflict. [...]
 
"If we're going to get back into hypotheticals, I think it does a disservice to a lot of people who sacrificed a lot," Bush said.
Whether he realizes it not, Bush is doing real damage to his presidential prospects with rhetoric like this.
 
To suggest that dodging easy, obvious questions is some kind of patriotic exercise, intended to honor American troops, is so patently ridiculous that Bush ought to be embarrassed. Answers like these were knee-jerk reactions throughout much of the Bush/Cheney era, and the fact that the former governor is reading from the same script reinforces the worst fears about his candidacy.

Amtrak engineer's attorney speaks and more headlines

05/14/15 07:45AM

Amtrak engineer doesn't remember the crash: attorney. (ABC News)

Drone hunts for missing U.S. helicopter in Nepal. (Reuters)

14 confirmed killed in Taliban attack in Afghanistan, including one American. (AP)

Jeb Bush, in apparent slip, says 'I'm running for president.' (Reuters)

Martin O'Malley to announce presidential plans on May 30. (AP)

Secret Service agent retiring amid probe into conduct at White House. (Washington Post)

Voice of Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, and others is leaving 'The Simpsons'. (Variety)

read more

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 5.13.15

05/13/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* The latest from Philadelphia: "The Amtrak train that jumped the tracks late Tuesday evening was likely traveling faster than 100 miles per hour when it approached a bend in the rail where the limit is half that speed, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) confirmed on Wednesday."
 
* Yesterday, fast-track was in deep trouble. Today, it's progressing: "Less than 24 hours after Senate Democrats blocked President Obama's free trade push, leaders in both parties agreed Wednesday on a path toward granting the president accelerated authority to complete a major accord ringing the Pacific Ocean."
 
* Syria: "International inspectors have found traces of banned toxic chemicals in at least three military locations in Syria, four diplomats and officials said, less than two years after President Bashar al-Assad agreed to dismantle the country's chemical arsenal."
 
* ISIS: "The deputy leader of ISIS has been killed in an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition, Iraq's government announced Wednesday. A video posted on the Ministry of Defense's official website showed what was purported to be the attack that killed Abu Alaa al-Afri while he was holding a meeting at a mosque in Iraq's northern Tal Afar province."
 
* It's hard to know what to believe when it comes to news out of North Korea: "North Korea's equivalent of a defense minister has been executed by antiaircraft gun for insubordination and treason -- including for sleeping during a meeting in which Kim Jong Un was speaking, South Korea's intelligence agency said Wednesday."
 
* Port of Seattle: "Shell Oil says its offshore oil rigs will arrive shortly on Seattle's waterfront to prepare for drilling in Alaska, despite a Port of Seattle resolution Tuesday asking it to delay while the Port challenges a city ruling aimed at keeping the rigs out."
 
* Uh oh: "More than two out of five American honeybee colonies died in the past year, and surprisingly the worst die-off was in the summer, according to a federal survey."

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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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