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Thursday's Mini-Report, 5.26.16

05/26/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Syria: "American Special Operations forces and the Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters they are advising this week pushed closer to Raqqa, the Islamic State's de facto capital in northern Syria."
 
* Migrant crisis: "More than 4,000 would-be refugees were rescued at sea Thursday in one of the busiest days of the Mediterranean migrant crisis, and at least 20 died trying to reach Europe as Libyan-based smugglers took advantage of calmer seas to send desperate migrants north."
 
* Republican radicalism sure is odd: "The House rejected a sweeping $37.4 billion spending bill Thursday with conservative Republicans saying they opposed the inclusion of an amendment related to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity."
 
* Baylor University "football coach Art Briles was fired Thursday in the wake of a scandal surrounding the school's poor handling of sexual assault and domestic violence allegations against members of the powerhouse football team, NBC News confirms. Kenneth Starr, the former special prosecutor best known for his role in the Bill Clinton impeachment saga, has been removed from his role as university president"
 
* Someone might want to let Congress know: "Pregnant women infected with the Zika virus during their first trimester face as high as a 13 percent chance that their fetus will develop a severe and rare brain defect, according to research published Wednesday."
 
* Louisiana: "Hate crime statutes originated as a response to bigotry, a special penalty for singling people out for abuse based on factors like race, ethnicity, sex, religion, sexual orientation or, most recently, gender identity. On Thursday, Louisiana became the first state to add law enforcement officers to that list."
 
* Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) "said federal authorities have told his attorney there's no indication the governor did anything wrong related to an ongoing campaign finance investigation."
 
* Alabama: "The investigation into Gov. Robert Bentley, and the fallout of his relationship with former adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason, is apparently moving to the grand jury."
This file photo taken on April 28, 2016 shows US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan at the Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty)

House GOP almost ready to release something resembling an agenda

05/26/16 05:06PM

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) published a tweet yesterday, eagerly touting some good news: House Republicans will soon have a policy agenda. The message directed readers to this article from Roll Call.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan announced Wednesday that House Republicans will roll out the six policy papers that make up their "Confident America" agenda one at a time throughout June, starting with ideas to combat poverty.
 
"What you will see with these [releases] are detailed policy papers," the Wisconsin Republican said. "We're not talking about principles here. This is substance. It's going to be a clear explanation of the policy changes that are needed in these areas."
The clarification was unintentionally amusing -- you can almost hear Ryan trying to persuade people, effectively saying, "No, really, I mean it" -- though it underscores the fact that House Republicans aren't accustomed to presenting any "substance" of any kind.
 
The Speaker added, "This agenda is not an exhaustive list of the things that we believe in as Republicans, and it doesn't cover every issue of public concern. But these are the big ideas that unite all Republicans and address the countries' priorities."
 
We don't yet have a sense of what the proposals might include, though it's likely to be a rehash of the usual GOP priorities, but they'll reportedly cover six areas -- poverty, taxes, healthcare, national security, regulations, and constitutional authority -- and will be rolled out individually in June.
 
It's a safe bet the Republican package won't include measures borrowed from Donald Trump's platform -- no one should expect a detailed policy paper on banning all foreign Muslims from entering the United States -- though Ryan said his staff and the GOP candidate's staff "talk virtually every day."
 
All of this seems at least vaguely encouraging, I suppose, given that House Republicans have shown no real interest in even trying to govern for most of the last decade, but therein lies the key point Ryan left unaddressed. GOP lawmakers have been the majority party in the House of Representatives for more than five years. They're only now coming up with a handful of policy proposals?
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT., talks to reporters as he walks to the weekly Senate policy luncheons in the U.S. Capitol on June 4, 2013.

Orrin Hatch's partisan games keep catching up with him

05/26/16 01:10PM

There was a fair amount of chatter this morning about Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) writing a controversial op-ed on the Supreme Court for the Deseret News, so I was eager to read it. The newspaper promoted it via social media, but the link didn't work. Google News pointed to it, but that link didn't work, either.
 
The Deseret News' online opinion page highlighted it as today's big feature, but it, too, led to a message that told readers, "Oops, the page you are looking for cannot be found."
 
I knew it existed -- I saw tweets featuring actual text from the piece -- but I just couldn't figure out where it was. Was there some kind of technical glitch? Not exactly. The Washington Post explained what happened:
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) hasn't yet met with Supreme Court nominee Merrick B. Garland for what has been a long anticipated encounter between the former Judiciary Committee chairman and the federal appeals court judge he has long praised.
 
But when the meeting does happen, don't expect Garland to succeed in convincing Hatch to support his nomination, because Hatch has already declared that it won't.
Reflecting on a meeting that hasn't occurred, the far-right Utahan wrote, "Like many of my Senate colleagues, I recently met with Chief Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court.... Our meeting, however, does not change my conviction that the Senate should consider a Supreme Court nominee after this presidential election cycle."
 
Unless Hatch has uncovered a time machine we're not aware of, his op-ed talking about the yet-to-happen meeting in the past tense suggests the senator has no intention of keeping an open mind about the judge, his qualifications, or the merits of his Supreme Court nomination.
 
Hatch, incidentally, is the one Republican senator who urged President Obama to select Garland, identifying him specifically as the kind of compromise judge who deserved a nomination. Evidently, the longtime GOP lawmaker doesn't care about that anymore, either.
 
The senator's op-ed went on to argue that it would be "unfair" to treat Garland the way other Supreme Court nominees have been treated, suggesting Hatch is confused about the meaning of "fairness."
Donald Trump's campaign adviser Rick Wiley walks into the reception at the RNC Spring Meeting at the Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, Fla., April 21, 2016. (Photo by Joe Skipper/Reuters/ZUMA)

Team Trump's 'seething mosh pit' forces key staffer out

05/26/16 12:30PM

Just six weeks ago, Donald Trump's campaign announced an important new hire: it was bringing on Rick Wiley, Scott Walker's former campaign manager, to serve as Trump's national political director. That was April; this is May.
Trump National Political Director Rick Wiley is no longer with the team, the campaign confirmed in a statement late Wednesday night. When asked if Wiley resigned or was fired, spokeswoman Hope Hicks said that the "statement stands alone."
 
A Trump campaign source with knowledge of the decision tells NBC News that Wiley was largely uncommunicative with field staff that were in place long before he was hired. "He never really got the read for this campaign," the source said, referencing the campaign's culture.
By all accounts, Team Trump is divided into two warring factions: a contingent that sides with Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski and another backing Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort.
 
A source close to the campaign told NBC News that the Riley announcement is "a win for Corey."
 
As a rule, it's tough to care about which faction is up or down on any given day, but there is something important about the larger dynamic. The Huffington Post's Howard Fineman, a veteran political reporter who's seen a lot of campaigns come and go, yesterday described "TrumpWorld" as "a seething mosh pit of ambitious egos."
 
I don't think it was a compliment. Indeed, consider this Politico report, published yesterday morning, hours before the news about Riley's departure:

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.26.16

05/26/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* According to the official delegate tallies from NBC News and the Associated Press, Donald Trump has now officially secured the necessary number of delegates to be the Republican Party's presidential nominee.
 
* Bernie Sanders' campaign may not be supporting any state Democratic parties, but it is supporting a growing number of specific like-minded candidates. After endorsing and raising money for four congressional candidates, Team Sanders announced earlier this week that it's also supporting eight down-ballot candidates, and this morning, it threw its backing behind former Sen. Russ Feingold (D), who's trying to make a comeback in Wisconsin.
 
* In California, a new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California found Hillary Clinton narrowly leading Bernie Sanders ahead of the state's June 7 primary, 46% to 44%.
 
* United Autoworkers, one of the nation's larger labor unions, officially endorsed Clinton late yesterday.
 
* The public learned through an accidentally sent email that the Trump campaign is eager to attack Clinton over the discredited Whitewater controversy from 23 years ago.
 
* In North Carolina, PPP shows Trump with a very narrow lead over Clinton, 43% to 41%.
 
* On a related note, the same poll shows incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R) with a three-point lead over Deborah Ross (D), 39% to 36%, while Libertarian Sean Haugh (L) is third with 8%.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, DC, May 6, 2016. (Photo by Shawn Thew/EPA)

Obama eager to share his thoughts on Trump nomination

05/26/16 11:21AM

President Obama will be the first two-term incumbent of the television era to aggressively hit the campaign trail during his last year in office, and when it comes to taking on the presumptive Republican nominee, it's easy to get the impression that the president has quite a bit to say.
President Barack Obama said Thursday that world leaders are "rattled" by Donald Trump -- and "for good reason."
 
During a press conference in Japan, Obama said the American presidential election is being "very" closely watched oversees.
"I think it's fair to say they are surprised by the Republican nominee, they are not sure how seriously to take some of his pronouncements, but they're rattled by him, and for good reason," Obama said. "A lot of the proposals that he's made display either ignorance of world affairs or a cavalier attitude or an interest in getting tweets and headlines instead of actually thinking through what it is that's required to keep America safe, secure and prosperous, and what's required to keep the world on an even keel."
 
Politico's report added, "The president appeared to have more specifics to share in private. A reporter overheard snippets of a conversation between Obama and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with whom he has one of his closer relationships among world leaders, in which he heard the words 'Trump,' and then 'what his mistake was...,' but the reporter was unable to catch the rest."
 
Throughout the primary process, the Democratic president had very little to say about his would-be successors. Obama took a few verbal shots at Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) early on, but for the most part, he kept his powder dry.
 
But as the primaries end and the general-election phase begins, it's hard not to notice the eagerness with which the president is talking about the 2016 race.
Donald Trump pauses to look at a demonstrator behind him during a campaign rally in Fayetteville, N.C., March 9, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

There are presidential duties Trump 'doesn't want to do'

05/26/16 10:45AM

Paul Manafort, a controversial Republican lobbyist, joined Donald Trump's team in late March, and at least initially, his task was to help oversee delegate recruiting. It wasn't long, however, before Manafort worked his way up to effectively running the entire operation: less than two months after joining the campaign, he's now Trump's campaign chairman and chief strategist.
 
Yesterday, Manafort sat down with the Huffington Post's Howard Fineman for a fairly long interview, and while the two covered quite a bit of ground, there was one exchange in particular that stood out for me.
The vice presidential pick will also be part of the process of proving he's ready for the White House, Manafort said.
 
"He needs an experienced person to do the part of the job he doesn't want to do. He seems himself more as the chairman of the board, than even the CEO, let alone the COO."
This is no small acknowledgement. For months, it's been clear that Trump has no meaningful understanding of public policy or even how government works at a basic level. By any fair measure, his ignorance and incompetence about affairs of state is unlike anything Americans have ever seen in a major-party presidential candidate. The question has long been when we can expect Trump to get up to speed.
 
And the answer is, he has no intention of doing any such thing. Day-to-governing and overseeing the executive branch apparently represent "the part of the job he doesn't want to do."
 
President Trump, in other words, would prefer to be more of a big-picture kind of guy who isn't overly concerned about details and roll-up-your-sleeves kind of work.
 
As for who, exactly, might be the best person to "do the part of the job he doesn't want to do," Manafort added that there's a "long list" filled with contenders who have "major problems."
 
We should not, however, expect to see diversity on the Republican ticket. Choosing a woman or a member of a minority group to run as vice president, Manafort said, "would be viewed as pandering, I think."
FILE – In this March 7, 2013, file photo the sun breaks through clouds over the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Daylight-saving time begins at 2 a.m. Sunday, March 10, 2013, when clocks officially move ahead an hour. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Second time's the charm for anti-discrimination measure

05/26/16 10:10AM

There was "chaos" on the House floor last week when the Republican majority held open a vote, twisted arms, and found a way to defeat an anti-discrimination measure after the vote had initially gone the other way. Last night, however, the chamber had the same fight again, this time with a different outcome. The Washington Post reported overnight:
The House voted late Wednesday night to approve a measure to bar the government from paying federal contractors that discriminate based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
 
Members erupted into cheers Wednesday night after the measure, sponsored by Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.), was approved 223-195. The Wednesday vote was the second in less than a week on an issue that divides Republicans as a party and is proving equally contentious among GOP lawmakers in the House.
The final roll call on the amendment is online here. Note that while the vast majority of House Republicans voted against the policy, 43 did not -- and that was enough for united Democrats to prevail. (Here, by the way, is the roll call on last week's vote. Note that the number of GOP members went up quite a bit in the wake of media attention.)
 
While last week's vote was an amendment to a defense spending bill, the measure was considered last night as an amendment to the energy and water spending bill, which is expected to clear the House later today.
 
And while the result was encouraging for civil rights' advocates, did you happen to catch House Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) explanation for the strange congressional developments?
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders participates in the PBS NewsHour debate on Feb. 1, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wis. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Bernie Sanders accepts Donald Trump's debate 'challenge'

05/26/16 09:23AM

Over the course of the Democratic presidential race, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders faced off in 9 debates and 13 forums, each of which were televised nationally. When Sanders recently pushed for yet another showdown -- this time, for some reason, on Fox News -- Clinton surprised no one by declining. The Democratic frontrunner, after all, is gearing up for the general election.
 
But what about a debate featuring Sanders and that other presidential candidate?
In the latest twist to this unpredictable 2016 presidential race, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders independently agreed Wednesday night to debate each other.
 
On ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Trump was asked if he would consider holding a debate with Sanders.
"Yes, I am," the presumptive Republican nominee replied. "How much is he going to pay me? If I debated him, we would have such high ratings, I think I should take that money and give it to charity."
 
Soon after, Sanders published a tweet that said, "Game On. I look forward to debating Donald Trump in California before the June 7th primary."
 
It's probably worth pausing to note this gathering seems unlikely. Trump makes all kinds of odd comments, especially during talk-show appearances, and it's very difficult to know when he's being serious given how little he thinks things through. I don't doubt that Sanders is sincere about his interest in such a debate, but Trump may not be.
 
Or maybe he is. It's a bizarre year, and unlike most recent election cycles, it's generally a good idea to expect the unexpected.
History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

What if candidates were forced to release their tax returns?

05/26/16 08:40AM

Since Watergate, every major-party presidential nominee has voluntarily released at least some of his or her tax returns to the public. Some have been more transparent than others -- Hillary Clinton has set the bar pretty high by posting nearly four decades' worth of returns online -- but every Democrat and every Republican have acceded to some level of disclosure.
 
This year, Donald Trump is putting these norms to the test. Though the Republican had previously vowed to release the materials, the presumptive GOP nominee has since made up excuses to keep his returns hidden, and has even suggested he's prepared to ignore the longstanding tradition, even if that gives the impression that he has something to hide.
 
Maybe voters will be alarmed by his secrecy, maybe they won't, but what if Trump didn't have a choice in the matter? The Washington Post reported late yesterday on an interesting new proposal pending on Capitol Hill.
The Senate's sharpest-tongued privacy advocate has proposed a law to force presidential candidates to release their tax returns within days of securing their party's nomination.
 
Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden's bill would require presidential candidates to release at least three years worth of their tax returns within 15 days of being officially nominated at their party convention, applying a legal requirement to something Wyden argues has been standard practice for over 40 years.
"If you are a major party's nominee to be the leader of the free world, Americans have said ever since Watergate that you don't get to hide your tax returns," Wyden said. "It ought to be the law."
 
The Oregon senator added, "I don't believe the public should have to believe the boasting or take somebody's word for it. Nominees have traditionally released a lot more -- [three years] ought to be used as a starting point."
 
The bill is called the "Presidential Tax Transparency Act" (S. 2979), and it's already picked up two co-sponsors: Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
 
To be sure, some of this is academic given the circumstances. The bill is unlikely to pick up Republican support this year, and it would probably even face some resistance from liberals like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who's been reluctant to meet the disclosure requirements Wyden's bill would mandate.
 
But putting aside legislative projections, does the idea have merit?
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez isn't being seriously vetted as a potential Mitt Romney running mate.

Why a prominent GOP governor is feuding with Donald Trump

05/26/16 08:00AM

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) has heard the criticisms Donald Trump has thrown at her, but her office insisted yesterday the Republican governor "will not be bullied" by her party's presumptive presidential nominee.
"Governor Martinez doesn't care about what Donald Trump says about her," Martinez press secretary Mike Lonergan said in a statement to media outlets. "She cares about what he says he will do to help New Mexicans.
 
"She's disappointed that she didn't hear anything about that last night," he added.
The comments were the latest volley in an unexpected feud between Martinez and Trump, which has escalated to levels some in the party find uncomfortable. As Rachel explained on the show last night, Trump appeared in New Mexico on Tuesday night, though the governor steered clear of the event, saying she was too "busy" to appear with the GOP presidential hopeful.
 
Soon after, speaking to a receptive audience, Trump suggested Martinez, the nation's first and only Latina governor, was lazy and ineffectual. "We have got to get your governor to get going," he said. "She's got to do a better job, okay? Your governor has got to do a better job. She's not doing the job.... She's not doing the job. We've got to get her moving. Come on, let's go, governor."
 
Keep in mind, Martinez is a conservative Republican and the current chair of the Republican Governors Association. For months, pundits have talked about the New Mexico governor as a leading contender for the party's vice presidential nomination and a rising GOP star.
 
Which makes Trump's criticisms -- read from pre-written notes, not made off the cuff -- all the more striking. It's one thing for Trump to take some verbal shots at leading Republicans during the primaries after they've endorsed a rival candidate, but in GOP politics, the primaries are over. Trump's the last man standing, and this is the point in the process in which he's (a) supposed to be uniting the party, (b) stepping up outreach to Hispanic voters; and (c) toning down his attacks on women.
 
And yet, this week in New Mexico, Trump did the exact opposite. The question is, why?
US bounty shapes Taliban choice of leader

US bounty shapes Taliban choice of leader

05/25/16 09:58PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the announcement by the Taliban of a new leader following the assassination of their previous leader by U.S. drone attack, and notes that one factor that influenced their choice was a $10 million U.S. bounty on the head of one candidate. 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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