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McCarthy Drops Out Of Speaker Race; GOP Election Postponed

In a stunning turn of events, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced Thursday that he would not seek election for the position of Speaker of the House.

“I think I shocked some of ya, huh?” McCarthy told reporters only five hours after he had announced his intention to run. McCarthy intends to remain House Majority Leader.

McCarthy had been the presumed successor to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who is set to resign his seat on Oct. 30.

“We need a new face,” McCarthy said at his press conference. “I feel good about the decision. I think we’re only going to be stronger.”

The Republican conference, he said, needed “to be 100-percent united” behind its eventual nominee.

The startling development has exposed deep fissures within the Republican conference and seriously calls into question the party’s ability to unite behind a nominee.

McCarthy has been dogged by pundits and colleagues on both sides of the aisle for his gaffe last week, when he boasted on national television that the Benghazi select committee had been formed specifically to bring down Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers. Those remarks, McCarthy conceded in his press conference, “weren’t helpful.”

In his remarks to Republican congressmen, McCarthy said he didn’t want to divide the American people or divide the Congress, Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) told MSNBC.

“I’m not the one,” McCarthy told the GOP conference, to stunned silence, according to reports.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, which had consistently challenged Boehner during his tenure, described McCarthy’s move as “selfless” and said he was moved by his “statesmanship,” in an interview with CNN.

The Freedom Caucus endorsed Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) for Speaker yesterday.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) told MSNBC that McCarthy clearly could have won a majority of the Republican conference, but was not able to get the 218 votes needed in the House. That may be due to the Freedom Caucus, who in the past have launched renegade coup attempts to deny Boehner the majority vote on the House floor.

Dent speculated that it may be necessary to form a bipartisan coalition — sidestepping the highly conservative element in his party — in order to elect the next Speaker. “At this point anything is possible,” he said.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KA) described McCarthy’s abdication as a “victory for the American people.”

“I think the establishment lost again today,” he told MSNBC. “They essentially lost two Speakers in two weeks.”

The House GOP’s internal election to select their nominee for Speaker had been scheduled for today. Boehner announced that it has been postponed, but has not yet given a new date.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who is seeking the nomination for Speaker, said that the Republican conference is “going to have to do a lot of soul searching” and have a “family discussion” in order to unite the party.

This story has been updated.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks at the John Hay Initiative in Washington September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

House Republicans Attack Planned Parenthood, Utterly Fail At Basic Math

At a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing to discontinue federal tax funding for Planned Parenthood, committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) betrayed not only a nakedly partisan agenda to punish the women’s health organization by withdrawing financial support, but also a complete dishonesty regarding basic math.

During his grilling of its president, Cecile Richards, Chaffetz displayed a graph that purports to show “abortions up, life-saving procedures down,” in an attempt to visually demonstrate that Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion services have been dramatically overtaken by abortion.

In fact, as Richards noted, the graph was created by the anti-abortion group Americans United For Life, which has been petitioning Congress to defund Planned Parenthood since at least 2011. She advised him to check his source.

Americans United For Life (https://oversight.house.gov/hearing/18201/)

Americans United For Life (via)

Chaffetz repeatedly demanded that Richards explain the graph to the committee — a tall order since it makes absolutely no sense. Even if we were to take the numerical data here at face value, the graph, as designed, is disingenuous at best and criminally idiotic at worse.

There is no proportion; each line behaves according to its own scale. A rise in the number of abortions from 289,750 to 327,000 (an increase of 13 percent) is illustrated as a sharp red line surging upwards, while a 53 percent decline in the number of preventative services is represented by an almost identical inverted slope.

Even worse, the lines intersect one another: The line representing the number of “cancer screenings and prevention services” (colored pink — a cute touch), is seen being overtaken by the red line representing a supposed surge in abortions in the same seven-year period. The effect is that somehow 327,000 becomes a bigger number than 935,000.

Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA) pointed out later in the hearing that much of the decrease in preventive services is due to an overall change in medical guidelines — Planned Parenthood’s breast screenings and mammogram referrals have gone down, for example, because women are no longer recommended to get screenings as frequently as before.

Below is our own quick and dirty (yet mathematically correct) graph of the same data. The chairman is welcome to use it.

2015-09-29-chaffetz-graph-done-right-border

National Memo / Eric Kleefeld

Photo: Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), via Facebook.

The New ‘Daily Show’ — Trevor Noah To Continue The ‘War On Bullsh*t’

Trevor Noah’s first target was perhaps the easiest — himself. He kicked off his new gig as host of The Daily Show on the defensive. And how could he not?

When Jon Stewart retired from the Comedy Central institution after 16 years, the position he left open was unique and possibly unprecedented in the annals of late-night comedy. Stewart sat at the intersection of punditry and satire — a master at throwing spitballs loaded with outrage and insight, who simultaneously lampooned and illuminated what he called the “country’s 24-hour politico-pundit-perpetual-panic-conflictinator.”

Enter Trevor Noah, the 31-year-old comedian from Johannesburg, South Africa, who joined the show as a junior correspondent a mere four months before he was officially heralded as its new host.

Noah made his Daily Show debut in December 2014 with a caustic bit dismantling Americans’ preconceived notions of Africa as some backwards, hopelessly forsaken continent, while simultaneously holding up the mirror to our own rotting infrastructure and institutional racism.

He came armed with an easy smile that camouflages a dangerous wit, as if to say, “Your credulity is your kryptonite, America.” But could he replace Stewart?

In his first show he took aim squarely at viewers’ skepticism at his ability to replicate his predecessor’s success, as well as the din of media chatter surrounding his appointment: Would his youth draw a new audience? Would he offer a “new global perspective”? Whither comes the “viral”?

“The truth is, now I’m in the chair, and I can only assume that this is as strange for you as it is for me,” Noah said. “Jon Stewart was more than just a late-night host — he was often our voice, our refuge, and in many ways our political dad. And it’s weird, because dad has left. And now it feels like the family has a new stepdad. And he’s black — which is not ideal.”

Trevor also addressed potential objections that a woman should be hosting — or that an American should be heading up the United States’ top political satire show. The truth is, he said, Comedy Central did offer the show to a woman, and to Americans, but they all turned it down. (Among the potential hosts who said no to the gig were Amy Schumer, Amy Poehler, and Chris Rock.)

“So once more, a job Americans rejected is now being done by an immigrant,” he said, to a round of applause.

He took the stage with no small amount of fodder available to him: the first movement of our interminable election cycle; the threat of government shutdown thanks to some clever video editing; Donald Trump.

On the visit to the United States of another distinguished foreigner, Pope Francis, Trevor got in one of his best jokes of the night: “Hates inequality and climate change, loves immigrants — he’s like a young Bernie Sanders.” (Note: Pope Francis is in fact older than Bernie Sanders — though not by much!)

But the domestic political content didn’t truly connect, feeling more forced and less natural. When mocking the extreme-right Values Voter Summit, there must be something meatier than Marco Rubio’s nonplussed reaction to applause. Not every joke landed (a pun on “aides/AIDS” felt desperate). The Daily Show‘s uncanny knack for infusing civics lessons with comedy was not yet in evidence. And Noah himself — and any insecurity he might be facing — remained the main target of the show’s skeptical jibes.

A duet with Jordan Klepper, nominally about the resignation of Speaker John Boehner, turned into a bit drawing comparisons between Noah and the Speaker’s eventual successor: “Taking over for Jo(h)n — Boehner, is hard. But it doesn’t have to be a disaster.”

And Jordan Klepper just bought a condo — so all these big changes better work out for him.

A discussion about water on Mars drew some comparisons between the Red Planet and the state of California. It ended with new contributor Roy Wood Jr. admonishing Noah about the prospects of colonizing Mars, and whether they could even get on board: “Black people ain’t going to Mars — and that includes you, Trevor! Oh oh, you think because you on TV, they gonna take you to Mars. You’ve only had The Daily Show for one commercial break — these white folks ain’t decided if they like you yet!”

He pledged to continue Stewart’s “war on bullsh*t” in his own way — which we’re sure he will find in his own time.

Raw And Refined, Smart And Stupid, Colbert Makes A Glorious Entrance

In some ways, Stephen Colbert just made his mainstream comedy debut.

For nine years, as the host of the eponymous The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, he played the role of a well-meaning, imperious idiot whose name he just happened to share. Where Colbert the performer went, Colbert the character followed.

He brought his delightful riff on conservative media personalities to the Emmys, the White House Correspondents Dinner, Bill O’Reilly’s guest chair, and — in perhaps his oddest gig — testimony before a congressional subcommittee (that didn’t really seem to get the joke).

But on Tuesday night, Colbert the performer made his debut on primetime late-night comedy in his own voice — as the new host of CBS’ The Late Show, inheriting the mantle from David Letterman, for whom the show had been founded in 1993. 

Colbert’s premiere opened with the singing of the national anthem all across the country — a parody of presidential campaign announcement videos — plus a special cameo by a certain friend of Stephen’s, revealing himself from under an umpire’s mask.

Sitting behind a new desk at the resplendent, recently renovated Ed Sullivan Theater — though with a few artifacts of the old “Stephen Colbert,” like the Captain America shield — Colbert signaled an intention to remain at the intersection of entertainment and politics, by welcoming as his first guests noted Hollywood lefty George Clooney and Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush.

But before he could do any of that, while giving a tour of his new digs, he also revealed that he had sold his soul to the dark lords — his sponsors.

As an act of meta-commentary, Stephen caught up with the major political news that he’d missed during his time preparing for this new show — the media junk food that is the Donald Trump campaign.

In his opening monologue, he made reference to the pressure to differentiate his new gig from his old role. And it’s not necessarily that there’s a lot of the familiar Colbert character in his new persona, it’s that the old gasbag had a lot of Colbert in him.

Or, as he said himself later on in an exchange with Jeb Bush: “I used to play a narcissistic conservative pundit; now I’m just a narcissist.”

But in the best way possible.

Colbert is a performer who can magnificently toe the line between pompous and goofy, raw and refined, smart and stupid, performing silly acts with obvious delight and unassailable confidence. His long history as a master ironist invites his audience to view, perhaps charitably, even the hammiest skits as arch meta-takes on the very nature of hammy late-night comedy.

In other words, the friction between being in on the joke and stuck in a bad one doesn’t exist with Colbert, which is perhaps why the debut episode of his new show was such a weird and wonderful hour, rough and rowdy and full of contradictions and promise.

Watch: Scott Walker Launches Campaign For President

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker (R) kicked off his campaign for president Monday, at a rally held in the Republican suburban stronghold of Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Walker already announced his campaign with a video message Morning morning, touting his record of facing down labor unions — a fight that has earned him a strong conservative following. However, his main challenge from here on will be to demonstrate a proficiency with foreign policy, as well as other national issues.

“I love America,” Walker began.

He vowed to “turn things around” in Washington, which he described as “68 square miles surrounded by reality.”

Washington needs “new fresh leadership that knows how to get things done,” Walker said, touting his productive record as governor: “We took on the unions — and we won!”

He cited his success pushing conservative legislation in a predominantly Democratic state on a variety of issues, including pro-life and open carry.

He accused Washington of measuring its success based on how many people were “dependent on the government.”

He decried the “top-down government-knows-best approach.” Walker said that “empowering people to control their own lives” and granting them the “dignity of work” are the only ways to let people share in the American Dream — by leading a life free of government interference.

“Strong families” are crucial to this, he asserted.

“We need to repeal Obamacare once and for all!” he said to boisterous applause. “We need to put patients and families back in charge of their medical decisions, not the federal government.” He said he would make repealing the Affordable Care Act a priority for his very first day in the Oval Office. He mentioned his intention to repeal “all the other bad Obama regulations,” as well.

He claimed he would approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline — also on his first day.

Education standards should be set at the local level, he said in a rebuke to Common Core.

He intended to “take money and power out of Washington” and return it to the states, where it would be more effective, efficient, and responsive to the people.

He announced his plan to reduce taxes for individuals as well as “job creators.” (He did not use the words “companies” or “corporations.”)

The best president in his lifetime, he said, was Ronald Reagan — who Walker said he admired for being strong on foreign policy and on “family values.”

Thanks to the “Obama-Clinton doctrine,” Walker said, America was “leading from behind,” and recounted a list of what he characterized as President Obama’s blunders, among which was referring to ISIS as the JV team. Under Obama and Clinton, Walker said, Russian president Vladimir Putin has been given too much immunity to pursue his aggressive agendas in sovereign states like Ukraine.

When Walker mentioned climate change and global warming, the audience booed. He did not go so far as to claim it didn’t exist. Instead, Walker averred that climate change is not the greatest threat to future generations, as Obama has stated — rather, radical Islam is.

There are times when America must fight, Walker said, and America “fights to win.”

The international community must know that “there is no greater friend and there is no worse enemy than the United States of America,” Walker said to the resounding chants of “USA! USA! USA!”

“Americans deserve a president who will fight and win for them: someone who will stand up for the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; someone who will stand up for our religious freedoms and all our other constitutional rights; someone who will stand up for America.”

As he wrapped up, he returned to a central theme of the speech: independence from — not dependence on — government.

As he left the stage, a song that George W. Bush used extensively in his successful 2004 re-election campaign began to play: Brooks & Dunn’s 2001 single, “Only In America.”

One kid dreams of fame and fortune
One kid helps pay the rent
One could end up going to prison
One just might be president

You can watch Walker’s rally below (Walker’s speech begins at about 01:03:00)

This post has been updated.

Supreme Court Hands Down Landmark Ruling For Marriage Equality

In a historic decision, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in favor of plaintiffs, LGBT activists, and marriage equality throughout the nation Friday morning, determining that same-sex couples have a constitutionally enshrined right to marry each other, and to have that marriage recognized everywhere in the U.S.

The 5-4 majority ruling was authored by moderate-conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by the Court’s four liberal Justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

The opinion of the Court, delivered by Justice Anthony Kennedy, held that the “right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty. The Court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry.”

There were two questions at issue in Obergefell v. Hodges, which combined four cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in four different states: first, whether the states are required to grant equal marriage rights to same-sex couples; and second, whether states are required to recognize legal same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Kennedy’s opinion located the ruling in the long history of the evolving nature of marriage. Marriage, Kennedy wrote, “has not stood in isolation from developments in law and society. The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change. That institution—even as confined to opposite-sex relations—has evolved over time.”

Kennedy wrote further:

The right of same-sex couples to marry that is part of the liberty promised by the Fourteenth Amendment is derived.

[…] The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation. […] There is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices.

In an apparent rebuke to arguments that same-sex marriage was harmful to children, the opinion went on:

The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality. This is true for all persons, whatever their sexual orientation. […] There is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices.

Chief Justice John Roberts authored the main dissent, in which he maintained that petitioners made “strong arguments rooted in social policy and considerations of fairness,” but that the Court did not have the right to dictate what the laws governing marriage should be:

The fundamental right to marry does not include a right to make a State change its definition of marriage. And a State’s decision to maintain the meaning of marriage that has persisted in every culture throughout human history can hardly be called irrational. In short, our Constitution does not enact any one theory of marriage. The people of a State are free to expand marriage to include same-sex couples, or to retain the historic definition

[…] Supporters of same-sex marriage have achieved considerable success persuading their fellow citizens—through the democratic process—to adopt their view. That ends today. Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law. Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept.

Justice Scalia wrote a separate dissent “to call attention to this Court’s threat to American democracy,” which concluded:

Hubris is sometimes defined as o’erweening pride; and pride, we know, goeth before a fall. […] With each decision of ours that takes from the People a question properly left to them—with each decision that is unabashedly based not on law, but on the “reasoned judgment” of a bare majority of this Court—we move one step closer to being reminded of our impotence.

When the case was argued before the Supreme Court in April, Justice Anthony Kennedy asked plaintiffs why the Court should try to upend what he characterized as the solidity of marriage, defined for “millennia” as existing between a man and woman.

“It’s very difficult,” Kennedy said at the time, “for the Court to say, ‘Oh well, we know better.’”

Chief Justice John Roberts posited that plaintiffs had been intending to redefine “marriage” rather than join it. He stressed that every definition of the word he had found explicitly indicated that marriage was between a man and a woman.

Justice Samuel Alito raised the issue of polygamy, and Justice Antonin Scalia expressed concern that, if gay marriage became a constitutional right, ministers would lose the right to refuse to officiate ceremonies on religious grounds.

This is the latest in a long line of landmark decisions extending rights to gay Americans, which includes, most recently, Lawrence vs. Texas in 2003, in which the Court found that sodomy laws violated constitutional rights of liberty and privacy, and U.S. vs. Windsor in 2013, when the Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.

The opinion of the Court issued Friday morning concluded:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

[…] It is so ordered.

Photo: Pro and anti-gay marriage demonstrators rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears arguments on the question of same-sex marriage on Tuesday, April 28, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Brian Cahn/Zuma Press/TNS)

This post is breaking and is being updated.