Political MoJo

Ted Cruz's Princeton Years Included Jokes About a Woman's Hymen

| Wed Apr. 22, 2015 11:39 AM EDT

During his days as a member of Princeton University's debate team, Ted Cruz earned a reputation as a spirited orator. But when an opponent would try to poke fun at him, Cruz's rhetorical skills couldn't compensate for his complete lack of a sense of humor. According to a story in the Times today, the situation would get even worse when he actually tried to be funny himself:

Mr. Cruz’s own attempts at humor sometimes missed the mark. In one debate, he proposed a method to detect infidelity, in which God should "give women a hymen that grows back every time she has intercourse with a different guy, because that will be a 'visible sign' of the breach of trust," according to a recollection by David Kennedy published in a Harvard debate team reunion booklet in 2001.

Mr. Kennedy’s debate partner mocked Mr. Cruz’s knowledge of the subject matter by contorting herself to see how the anatomy in question could be "visible," according to the booklet.

Other than demonstrating Cruz had an odd understanding of how a woman's body operates, the "joke" clearly did not resonate with anyone. But that didn't mean Cruz lacked a lighter side. His fellow debate team members remember his love for musicals, which he'd frequently blast in car rides to competitions. "He was an extreme fan of the 'Les Misérables' soundtrack," one member recalled to the Times.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Former Walker Aide Blasts Walker for Immigration Flip-Flop

| Tue Apr. 21, 2015 10:54 AM EDT

Liz Mair, the GOP operative who resigned from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's campaign-in-waiting after a day on the job, is in campaign mode again—and this time, she's targeting her former boss. On Tuesday morning, Mair sent an email detailing Walker's "Olympic-quality flip-flop" on the issue of immigration.

On Monday, Breitbart reported that Walker is the only declared or likely GOP candidate so far to support rolling back legal immigration to the United States, including for highly skilled workers. In her email, Mair pointed out that, historically, Walker has hardly been an immigration hardliner: In 2013, he vocally supported expanding legal immigration, and as recently as March, he said he was in favor of giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. She suggested that Walker's back-tracking could make him an easy target for strong GOP rivals.

Mair, who served on Walker's recall campaign in 2012, resigned from the governor's PAC in March in the wake of a kerfuffle over several tweets in which she criticized Iowa and its outsized political importance. Mair told Mother Jones she did not call out Walker in service of a client. She said she is "in the camp of people who see immigration as a benefit, who believe we should be welcoming to immigrants and make legal immigration easier, and who favor comprehensive immigration reform in some form…I've also long been highly critical of flip-floppery."

Here's an excerpt from her email:

In fulfilling my professional duties as constructed today, as opposed to on March 16, I wanted to flag the below Olympic-quality flip-flop on immigration policy to you. Apologies if this seems crass to some of you, but I would not be meeting certain responsibilities if I did not shoot this email out.

Yesterday, it was reported that Scott Walker has now adopted the immigration position of Sen. Jeff Sessions and has been taking instruction from Sessions on the issue of immigration. Notably, Sessions wants to further restrict legal immigration including high-skilled immigration, a position that is at odds with the traditional GOP anti-amnesty stance taken by virtually all presidential candidates, and which also puts him at odds with conservative policy experts and economists…this new positioning seems to represent a full 180 degree turn from where Walker has been on immigration historically, which is to say in the very pro-immigration and even pro-comprehensive reform camp…

Setting aside the substance of the policy, as the 2008 election demonstrated, it is really difficult in the age of Google to execute full policy reversals without earning a reputation as an untrustworthy, "say anything to win," substance-and-guts-free politician. Even in 2012, when Republicans nominated Mitt Romney, his reputation for policy, er, flexibility was a significant negative for him and one that diminished enthusiasm for the candidate, probably adversely impacting his performance in that race.

Here's What You Need to Know About the Trade Deal Dividing the Left

| Tue Apr. 21, 2015 6:30 AM EDT

Senior lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation last week that would let the Obama Administration keep negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a pact that could be the most far-reaching free trade agreement in American history.

Now in its fifth year of negotiations, the TPP is intended to bolster free trade among 12 participating countries and set the tone for future trade deals. Getting it done before campaign politics interfere hinges on the passage of the new legislation, a Trade Promotion Authority bill (a.k.a. "fast track") that limits congressional participation to a up/down vote on the final deal, rather than opening it up for amendments. The TPA is needed to ensure negotiating partners that their hard-fought agreements won't be altered at the whims of one politician or another. But some members of Congress, along with various interest groups, insist that the pact needs additional congressional oversight and public approval.

Like most trade deals, the TPP is being negotiated by the administration behind closed doors, and details are scant. But here's what we do know so far:

Politician Tasked With Oil Industry Oversight Gets a Paycheck From Big Oil

| Mon Apr. 20, 2015 2:57 PM EDT

The BP oil spill turned five years old on Monday, and as my colleague Tim McDonnell reported, we're still paying the price: There's as much as 26 million gallons of crude oil still on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. But the story of the Deepwater Horizon wasn't just about environmental devastation—it was also a story about regulation.

In Louisiana, where many politicians rely on oil and gas companies to fill their campaign coffers (and keep their constituents employed), environmental consequences often take a back seat to business concerns. But sometimes, things go even further. Take the case of Republican state Sen. Robert Adley—the vice-chair of the committee on environmental quality and the chair of the transportation committee (which oversees levees)—who played a leading role in trying to stop a local levee board from suing oil companies for damages related to coastal erosion. As Tyler Bridges reported for the Louisiana investigative news site The Lens, Adley doesn't just go to bat for oil companies—he works for them as a paid consultant. He even launched his own oil company while serving as a state representative, and he didn't cut ties to the company until nine years into his stint in the senate:

"He has carried a lot of legislation for the oil and gas industry over the years," said Don Briggs, the industry association's president. "I've never seen him carry one that he didn't truly believe was the right thing to do."

Adley's numerous ties to the oil and gas industry have led critics to say he is the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse.

...

Adley said calls that he should recuse himself from the issue because of his industry ties are "un-American" and "outrageous."

"It's what I know," Adley said. "Is it wrong to have someone dealing with legislation they know?"

For the time being, at least, voters in northwest Louisiana have decided that the answer is no.

Nebraska Conservatives Take On GOP Governor Over Death Penalty

| Thu Apr. 16, 2015 12:06 PM EDT

A group of conservative legislators in Nebraska are gearing up for what could be a multi-day battle to end the state's death penalty. The fight pits the right-wing anti-death penalty crusaders against their fellow conservatives and the state's Republican governor. Here's the Omaha World-Herald:

Nine conservative lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors of a repeal measure the Nebraska Legislature will begin debating Thursday. One of their key platforms: Repealing the death penalty makes good fiscal sense.

"If capital punishment were any other program that was so inefficient and so costly to the taxpayer, we would have gotten rid of it a long time ago," said Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln.

The bill is unlikely to become law. There are currently enough votes for passage, but advocates warn that anything could happen when the bill comes up for a final vote. Death penalty advocates could mount a filibuster to block the legislature from even voting on the measure. If they don't, Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, has vowed to block the legislation, and it's unclear that there are enough votes to override his veto.

Still, the upcoming debate and vote on the bill marks a victory for a small conservative group working on a state-by-state basis to end the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. This group, Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, argues that capital punishment violates core conservative beliefs about the sanctity of life, small government, and fiscal responsibility.

The Nebraska chapter of the group held a press conference Wednesday in advance of today's floor debate on the bill. "I may be old-fashioned, but I believe God should be the only one who decides when it is time to call a person home," said state Sen. Tommy Garrett, a conservative who supports repeal. "The state has no business playing God."

Nebraska has not carried out an execution since 1997, when the state was still using the electric chair, but that might change, according to the World-Herald:

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said this week that his staff is working to restore the viability of a lethal injection protocol. He did not, however, predict when executions could resume.

Billionaire Casino Magnate Sheldon Aldelson's Israeli Paper Is Obsessed With Marco Rubio

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 6:02 PM EDT

For years, Republicans who aspire to the presidency have sought the support of Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate and GOP mega-donor. Adelson spent $150 million backing Republicans during the 2012 election cycle, and the candidate who secures his support this time around will get a big boost in a crowded GOP field. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who announced his campaign on Monday, already has one billionaire backer—Norman Braman, a Miami car dealer. But Rubio also seems to have impressed Adelson himself.

Israel-watchers on Twitter have pointed out that Israel Hayom, the daily newspaper owned by Adelson, has been particularly interested in the junior senator from Florida.

It's too early to call the Adelson primary for Rubio. As in the past, Adelson will want each of the major candidates to court him; the casino magnate is known to be fond of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), both of whom are seriously considering runs. But Rubio—who dined one-on-one with Adelson last month—is off to a good start.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Hillary Clinton to Supreme Court: Legalize Same-Sex Marriage Nationally

| Wed Apr. 15, 2015 2:13 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton's now-official presidential campaign has so far opted for gauzy announcement videos and vague feel good promises over much in the way of policy specifics. But on Wednesday, Clinton's team clarified one stance she she will take: same-sex marriage is a constitutional right that should be legal in every state.

"Hillary Clinton supports marriage equality and hopes the Supreme Court will come down on the side of same-sex couples being guaranteed that constitutional right," campaign spokesperson Adrienne Elrod told The Washington Blade, referring to four cases on gay marriage the court is scheduled to hear later this month.

Clinton hasn't always supported same-sex marriage. In the 2008 Democratic primary, Clinton, like then-Sen. Barack Obama, supported civil unions for LGBT couples but opposed marriage rights. She avoided weighing in on domestic politics while at the State Department and didn't announce that she supported marriage equality until March, 2013—but maintained that same-sex marriage was up to the states and not a nationwide, constitutional right. Last year, she ducked probing questions from NPR's Terry Gross about how she had evolved on the issue. Earlier this week, Buzzfeed called out the Clinton campaign for not saying where the presidential candidate stood on the upcoming court case.

Now Clinton seems ready to strike a different tone. Her top campaign operative, Robby Mook, will be the first openly gay presidential campaign manger, as my colleague Andy Kroll and I reported last week. Among the gauzy images in the video she released on Sunday announcing her presidential campaign were scenes of a gay couple discussing their upcoming wedding. And, thanks to her statement today, she's fully on board with the idea that LGBT couples should enjoy the same constitutionally protected rights as heterosexual couples.

Ted Cruz's Big Money Man Is A Hedge Funder With a $2 Million Train Set

| Mon Apr. 13, 2015 3:49 PM EDT

Robert Mercer, a Long Island hedge fund magnate, has made some lavish investments over the years: There's his 203-foot super yacht, called the Sea Owl. There's the $2 million model train set he had custom-built in his mansion—and the lawsuit he filed against the builders, saying they'd overcharged him.

And now there's the money he's putting behind Ted Cruz's presidential ambitions.

Mercer is the main bankroller of a ring of four super-PACs supporting Cruz for president, the New York Times reported Friday. The PACs have collected $31 million in the four weeks since Cruz launched his campaign, giving the freshman Senator's bid for the Republican nomination a powerful start.

This is not Mercer's first foray into campaign finance. As Mother Jones previously reported, Mercer is a longtime Republican donor who shares Cruz's disdain for financial regulation. He has plowed millions into campaigns against lawmakers who have pushed to rein in Wall Street. Rep. Pete DeFazio (D–Ore.), who started an effort to tax high-frequency financial transactions, was the target of a Mercer campaign of more than half-a-million dollars. So was former Rep. Timothy Bishop (D–N.Y.), an ex-SEC prosecutor. In 2012, Mercer shoveled more than $900,000 into an effort to unseat Bishop. While Bishop held onto his seat, Mercer targeted him again in 2014—this time, with success. Also in 2012, Mercer pumped millions into two super PACs, headed by Karl Rove, that flooded the airwaves with ads for Mitt Romney and Republican candidates for Congress. Club For Growth, a free-market focused super PAC, has notched more than a half million from Mercer, too.

Given Mercer's views, it's no wonder that he would back the GOP presidential candidate who has mused about abolishing the IRS. But Mercer has felt the sting of financial oversight professionally, too. As Mariah Blake reported for Mother Jones in 2014, for several years, federal agents had been scrutinizing Renaissance, the hedge fund Mercer runs along with a business partner, Peter Brown.

Last year, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations got in on the action. In a hearing with Renaissance executives, its members accused the fund of using complicated financial maneuvers to avoid an estimated $6 billion in taxes. As Blake reported:

Renaissance is notoriously secretive about its investment formula. But documents released by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in July offer some clues about the engine behind its growth. In 1999, Deutsche Bank—which did not respond to requests for comment—approached Renaissance and offered to package all of the Medallion fund's investments into a portfolio, or "basket," that was held in the bank's name. Under this arrangement, Renaissance would still control the trades and reap all the profits (minus the bank's generous fees). But it didn't have to pay short-term capital gains taxes on the underlying assets, even if they were only held for a few hours or days. (Short-term gains are taxed at 39 percent for the highest earners; long-term gains are taxed at roughly half that rate.)

"Renaissance profited from this tax treatment by insisting on the fiction that it didn't really own the stocks it traded—that the banks that Renaissance dealt with, did," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, said during the recent hearing. "But, the fact is that Renaissance did all the trading, maintained full control over the account…and reaped all of the profits."

The company has denied any wrongdoing and the IRS investigation is ongoing.

Despite his outsized giving, Mercer is described by those who know him as quiet and intensely private. But as Bradley Smith, a campaign finance expert, pointed out to the Times, his money will do plenty of talking for him: The cash "sends the message to other donors that Cruz is a serious guy…And that brings in other donors."

Even Ray Kelly Is Now Convinced Cops Need to Wear Body-Cams

| Mon Apr. 13, 2015 3:31 PM EDT

Former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly—who once warned against police officers being equipped with body-cameras—is now coming out in support of the recording technology. Kelly's reversal, he noted on ABC's This Week on Sunday, was prompted by the video in South Carolina that caught police officer Michael Slager fatally shooting Walter Scott.

"It has changed my mind," Kelly told host George Stephanopoulos. "Because we have to assume that this officer would not act the way he did if in fact he had a body camera that was recording."

Prior to the video's emergence last week, local reports of the shooting appeared to largely rely on the officer's account alone: Slager told authorities he had "felt threatened" by Scott and defended his actions as nothing more than a traffic stop gone wrong. The video's eventual publication, which clearly showed Slager shooting Scott in the back eight times as he attempted to flee, quickly lead to his arrest and murder charge.

"I think it is a game changer," Kelly said of the video. "What you will see is a movement now by many more police departments to go to cameras. There are issues with it, there are problems with it, but this trumps all of those problems."

As head of the NYPD, Kelly was a fierce defender of the department's controversial use of stop-and-frisk tactics and credited the program as a major factor in the city's declining crime rate. He also argued outfitting all officers with body-cameras would only thwart their abilities to perform their jobs properly. "I think we have to tread carefully in this area," he said in September. "I think cameras will make police officers hesitate and that can be a good thing or a bad thing."


ABC Breaking US News | US News Videos

Here's Hillary Clinton's Video Launching Her Campaign

| Sun Apr. 12, 2015 3:03 PM EDT

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially kicked off her run for president with an email her campaign reportedly sent to her supporters on Sunday. The launch marks her second run for the White House after she was defeated by then Senator Barack Obama in 2008.

Sunday's long-awaited announcement follows years of speculation over when and how Clinton would formally launch her presidential campaign. In recent weeks, much of her team's energy has been focused on building a formidable army of advisers and key players. Earlier this month, Clinton signed a lease for her campaign headquarters in Brooklyn. Watch her video announcement below: