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Feb. 14 2016 9:27 AM

SNL Mocks Hillary Clinton’s Failure to Woo Young Democrats

A week after Bernie Sanders made his debut on Saturday Night Live, the show is apparently still feeling the Bern and made fun of just how difficult it is for young Democrats to get behind Hillary Clinton. The opening sketch begins with a group of young, white voters eating brunch and discussing the primary race. “I mean Hillary is the most qualified candidate in history,” Vanessa Bayer says. “But at the same time — eh?” Taran Killam agrees: “Hillary has every, single thing I want in a president. But…”And they all jump in: “She’s no Bernie!”

At that point, Kate McKinnon as Clinton appears on a swing and belts out: “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” She later comes in singing on a piano that is being played by Darrell Hammond’s Bill Clinton.

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When Cecily Strong’s character joins the diners, she excitedly says her vote will definitely be for Clinton “because Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright basically said it’s my feminist duty.” But when others counter that her “feminist duty” is to look at candidates equally, she changes her mind. “Oh,” she says. “Well, if I really do that, I pick Bernie.”

Feb. 13 2016 11:44 PM

No, Obama Is Not a “Lame Duck” President. He Can and Should Appoint a Supreme Court Justice.

The Republican presidential candidates have all been offering up various reationalizations for why President Obama should refrain from nominating a new Supreme Court justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia or why the Senate should at least reject his pick. But during tonight's debate, Marco Rubio in particular offered up a line that seems destined to be repeated, if only because it sounds vaguely like a statistic. “I do not believe the president should appoint someone,” he said. “It's been over 80 years since a lame duck president has appointed a Supreme Court justice.”

Here, Rubio seems to be suggesting that allowing Obama to appoint a justice would be a break with history. This is nonsense. President Obama is not a “lame duck” in the original sense of the phrase, which refers to a president filling out his last, not-so-influential days in office after his successor has already been elected. Journalists sometimes ask if the Republican hold over Congress has turned Obama into a de facto lame duck. But in the end, he's a second-term president, facing an opposition-controlled Senate in an election year.

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You know which other second-term president got a Supreme Court justice confirmed during an election year while an opposition party controlled the Senate? Ronald Reagan, who nominated Justice Anthony Kennedy in 1987 after his previous pick, Robert Bork, was rejected. Kennedy was confirmed by a vote of 97 to 0 in February of 1988.

In contrast to Rubio, Donald Trump deserves some points for honesty. “I think [Obama] is going to do it whether I'm okay with it or not,” he said during tonight's debate. “It's up to Mitch McConnell and everybody else to stop it. It's called delay, delay, delay."

Feb. 13 2016 11:37 PM

Republican Candidates Embrace Reagan, Ignore Reagan’s Actual Immigration Policy

No one gets name-checked in Republican debates quite as often as the 40th president. At Saturday night’s debate in South Carolina, Reagan got 15 mentions; God and the Lord got a total of five. Asked what advice he would seek from a former president, Marco Rubio said, “I wish Ronald Reagan was still around. This country needs someone just like that. And if our next president is even half the president Ronald Reagan was, America is going to be greater than it's ever been.” GOP candidates are especially likely to associate themselves with the Gipper when their conservative bona fides are called into question. We saw this tonight when John Kasich defended his support for Medicaid reform by noting that Reagan had also expanded Medicaid. Donald Trump cited Reagan’s early liberalism to defend his own past dalliances with Democrats. 

Things get a little awkward, however, when it comes to the subject of illegal immigration and “amnesty.” The 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli Act, signed into law by Reagan, granted amnesty to 3 million people who had entered the country illegally before 1982. (The word amnesty was specifically used at the time.) The law, which Reagan promised would “humanely regain control of our borders,” is widely regarded by Republicans as a model of what not to do to address the problem of undocumented immigration, as it failed to deter millions more people from entering the country.

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Rubio, who cites Reagan’s presidency as the reason he became a Republican, brought up the law at tonight’s debate. Yet all of a sudden the Florida senator wasn’t so eager to invoke Reagan’s name: “You go back to 1986 when they legalized 3 million people and promised to secure the border. It didn't happen. And as a result, people have lost trust in the federal government.” They?

Even more strikingly, Ted Cruz attempted to don the mantle of Reagan … while accusing Rubio of supporting amnesty, which, again, Reagan  supported. “I stood with Jeff Sessions and Steve King and the American people and led the fight to defeat that amnesty plan,” he said. “That moment is what Reagan would call a time for choosing.” Perhaps, but it wasn’t a choice Reagan himself is likely to have made.

The candidates for the Republican nomination often speculate about what Reagan would think if he were alive today. If he’d been watching this debate, he’d have been duly flattered by all the attention—and more than a bit confused.

Feb. 13 2016 10:26 PM

Donald Trump Says George W. Bush Lied About Weapons of Mass Destruction, Is to Blame for 9/11

Donald Trump keeps finding new ways to test every rule that exists in United States presidential politics. Such as: When you go to South Carolina for the South Carolina Republican primary, don’t criticize robust military action, don’t criticize that state’s senior senator, and don’t criticize the former president who won South Carolina in 2000 and remains extremely popular there and whose brother is running against you. Don’t blame George W. Bush for 9/11 in a South Carolina primary!

Bless Donald Trump, for he did each of these things in Saturday night’s South Carolina debate and was booed heavily—almost without interruption—for minutes.

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Trump and Bush tangled early when Bush said it would be “ludicrous” to treat Russia as a partner in the fight against ISIS. “Jeb is so wrong,” Trump said, earning the first boos, after which he said that all of Bush’s fans in the audience were lobbyists. Trump criticized the saber-rattling of South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who Trump correctly noted “had zero in his polls” and is now a Bush backer.*

Soon thereafter Slate columnist John Dickerson, the debate moderator, asked Trump about his 2008 comments that George W. Bush should have been impeached. Trump dodged the impeachment question and instead reiterated how disastrous the Iraq War was and how poorly Jeb Bush addressed it near the beginning of his campaign last year.

Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake, All right. Now, you can take it any way you want, and it took—it took Jeb Bush—if you remember at the beginning of his announcement, when he announced for president, it took him five days. He went back, "it was a mistake, it wasn't a mistake." It took him five days before his people told him what to say, and he ultimately said, "It was a mistake." The war in Iraq, we spent $2 trillion, thousands of lives… Iran has taken over Iraq with the second largest oil reserves in the world. Obviously, it was a mistake. George Bush made a mistake. We can make mistakes. But that one was a beauty.

Most amazingly of all, Trump said that the Bush administration lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq—"They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction, and there were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction"—and was powerfully booed. Then he went on to blame George W. Bush for 9/11.

As with about two dozen other times this cycle, this would seem to be one of those moments that ends Trump’s campaign. These are not things—even if some of them are true!—that you say among South Carolina Republicans.

So he’ll probably break 50 percent in South Carolina now.

*Correction, Feb. 13, 2016: This post originally misspelled Lindsey Graham's first name.

Feb. 13 2016 10:08 PM

How Scalia’s Death Affects This Term’s Biggest Supreme Court Cases

Because of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court will likely be left with just eight justices for the rest of its term—four reliable liberals, three reliable conservatives, and one Anthony Kennedy, who leans to the right but has traditionally acted as the court's swing vote. Since Senate Republicans have already said they are not in any hurry to confirm a new justice so long as President Obama remains in office, we're probably about to witness a number of deeply important cases end in a 4-to-4 split this year.

And what happens then? When a Supreme Court case winds up in a tie, the justices typically issue a short per curiam opinion upholding the decision of the lower appeals court. That means this term's heavily anticipated rulings on public sector unions and voting representation are likely to end in liberal victories by default. But there’s a catch: Those lower court rulings won’t apply outside of their own jurisdictions, meaning the issues could be litigated all over again in future cases brought elsewhere in the country. Meanwhile, cases on immigration and abortion rights are still sitting in Kennedy's hands and thus could still result in at least temporary conservative victories. Finally, affirmative action as we know it could meet its end with a 4-3 decision.

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Here's a brief rundown of how Scalia's passing will (or won't) affect the biggest cases of this term.

CaseFriedrichs v. California Teachers Association
Issue: Public sector union rights
Outcome in a split: The liberals win.  

Not to be too blunt, but presenting this case before a post-Scalia court is an enormous break for American labor unions. In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the court is considering whether public servants can be forced under "fair share" laws to pay fees to unions in order to cover the cost of collective bargaining on their behalf, even if they're not members. A ruling against the teachers' unions would effectively extend right-to-work laws to government employees across the nation and significantly cut into public-sector union revenue. And as of oral arguments, it looked as if that was about to happen. But with Scalia no longer on the court, the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which upheld fair share rules, may still stand.

CaseEvenwel v. Abbott
Issue: One-person, one-vote
Outcome in a split: Liberals win.

This case had the potential to drastically change the way that states draw legislative maps. Now, not so much.

Under the principle of one-person, one-vote, states have traditionally tried to create legislative districts that have rougly equal total populations. In Evenwel, the plaintiffs argued that districts should be based on the total number of potential voters. That would exclude minors, unnaturalized immigrants, and felons who had been stripped of their voting rights from the calculation, likely tilting the process in favor of conservatives. The lower court, however, said it was fine for states to continue using total population. In the event of a 4-4 split, that decision will stand.

CaseU.S. v. Texas
Issue: Whether states can challenge federal immigration policy
Outcome in a split: Conservatives win.

In November 2014, President Obama issued a controversial executive action allowing certain undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary legal status if they had children who were citizens or green-card holders. However, 26 states including Texas sued to block the action, and a federal appeals court put the policy on hold while the litigation unfolded. The Supremes have been asked to decide whether states even have the right to sue over the issue, and so a 4-4 nondecision would mean that the lower court decision stands.

CaseWhole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt
Issue: Abortion
Outcome in a split: Conservatives win.

The plaintiffs in this blockbuster reproductive rights case are challenging a Texas law that, as Sarah Kliff of Vox notes, has forced half the state's abortion clinics to close since 2013 by requiring them to get admitting privileges at local hospitals. Were it to stand, additional providers would likely shutter and a legal blueprint would be left in place for more anti-abortion state legistures to limit access. Scalia was a staunch abortion foe. But in the event of a tie, the case would still turn into a conservative win, at least in the states covered by the 5th Circuit, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had previously upheld the Texas law. Thus, this case still comes down to Kennedy's vote.

CaseFisher v. Texas
Issue: Affirmative action
Outcome in a split: There won't be a split.  

Abigail Fisher sued University of Texas at Austin over its affirmative action policy after the school rejected her, claiming that the insitution violated the constitution's equal protection clause by considering race in admissions. Again, Scalia was an almost sure vote to end racial preferences, but his passing doesn't matter all that much in this instance, since Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from the suit. (She was solicitor general when the Obama administration filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.)

Where does Kennedy stand? He's not known as an affirmative action fan, and two years ago, he wrote the decision sending Fisher back to the lower court for a more stringent review. But during the last oral argument, he largely complained that the most recent version of the case hadn't brought any new facts to light and didn't exactly tip his hand.

Case: Zubik v. Burwell
Issue: Obamacare's contraception mandate
Outcome in a split: The law will be different depending where you live in the country.

If this case ends in a split, things are going to get a bit weird for Obamacare's contraception mandate. You probably remember the Hobby Lobby case from 2014, in which the court ruled that private businesses could exempt themselves from the Affordable Care Act's rules requiring employer-based health plans to cover birth control, so long as their owners had deep religious convictions. After that decision, the Obama administration came up with an “accommodation,” which essentially let those companies off the hook while making sure their workers got their free contraception. However, a number of religiously affiliated nonprofits have sued once again, basically saying the accommodation isn't good enough. Most courts have ruled against them, except for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. So, if this one ends in a tie, nothing will be settled, and the law will still differ judicial district to judicial district. Just one good reason among many we might want to get a new justice on the Supreme Court soon.

Feb. 13 2016 9:56 PM

Donald Trump Just Proposed Diane Sykes and Bill Pryor for the Supreme Court. Who Are They?

At the Republican debate Saturday night, in response to a question about filling the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Donald Trump said, “If I were president now, I would certainly want to try and nominate a justice. And I'm absolutely sure that president Obama will try and do it. I hope that our Senate, Mitch and the entire group, is going to be able to do something about it in terms of delay. We could have a Diane Sykes or a Bill Pryor, we have some fantastic people. But this is a blow to conservatism. It's a tremendous blow, frankly, to our country.” So who are Diane Sykes and Bill Pryor?

They're conservative federal justices. Both were nominated to federal appeals courts by George W. Bush, Sykes to the 7th Circuit and Pryor to the 11th Circuit. Pryor’s appointment was blocked by Senate Democrats, who cited his description of Roe v. Wade as “the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.” Bush subsequently installed him in a recess appointment, bypassing the confirmation process.

Both frequently appear on conservative Supreme Court shortlists—meaning that Trump’s shoutout was not one of his frequent heresies against right-wing orthodoxy.

Feb. 13 2016 9:39 PM

The Best Lines of the CBS Republican Debate

With actual presidential primary voting finally underway, Saturday night’s Republican debate was bound to be intense. But with the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the stakes have ratcheted up even higher. Whether or not it causes a constitutional crisis, the open Supreme Court seat will surely change the shape of the election. We’re likely to see the first inklings of those changes play out as the six remaining GOP candidates meet in Greenville, South Carolina, tonight. As always, we’ll be tracking their best—and most bonkers—lines as they struggle to to respond.

Rubio, advocating the murder of the Constitution:

Someone on this stage will get to choose the balance of the Supreme Court, and it will begin by filling this vacancy that’s there now, and we need to put people on the bench that understand the constitution is not a living and breathing document. It is to be interpreted as originally meant. 
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Bush, explaining what it means to be “an Article 2 guy”:

We want a strong executive for sure. But in return for that, there should be a consensus orientation on that nomination, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Barack Obama will not have a consensus pick when he submits that person to the senate. 

Cruz, apparently forgetting that Justice Kennedy was confirmed in 1988, an election year:

Well, we have 80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year.

Trump, reminding the audience that he used to be, like, a peacenik, man:

I’m the only one on this stage that said, Do not go into Iraq. Do not attack Iraq. Nobody else on this stage said that. I said it loud and strong. 

Kasich just sort of giving up on the debate:

I gotta tell you. This is just crazy, huh? This is just nuts. Okay. Oh, man. 

Rubio, reminding you that he is both religious and a Republican:

I just want to say, at least on behalf of me and my family, I thank god all the time it was George W. Bush in the White House on 9/11 and not Al Gore. 

Trump, incredulous about W.’s record:

The World Trade Center came down during the reign of George Bush. He kept us safe? That is not safe. That is not safe, Marco. That is not safe. 

Cruz, defending his flat tax proposal:

We’ve got to get people moving from part-time work to full-time work. We all agree on that. But it’s not going to be solved with magic pixie dust. It’s not going to be solved by declaring into the air, “Let there be jobs.”

Kasich on true conservative policies:

But here’s what’s interesting about Medicaid. You know who expanded Medicaid five times to try to help the folks and give them opportunities so that they could rise and get a job? President Ronald Reagan. 

Moderator John Dickerson, apologetically explaining the impending commercial break:

The free market wants what it wants.

Rubio, taking a position on Cruz’s prevarications:

Look, this is a disturbing pattern now. For a number of weeks Ted Cruz has just been telling lies. He lied about Ben Carson in Iowa. He lies about Planned Parenthood and marriage. And he makes things up.

Bush on Cruz and Rubio squabbling:

I feel like I have to get into my inner Chris Christie and point out the reason why I should be president is listening to two senators talk about arcane amendments to bills that didn’t pass. 

Bush on being a real tough guy:

But if you want to talk about weakness, you want to talk about weakness, it’s weak to disparaging women. It's weak to disparage Hispanics. It’s weak to denigrate the disabled. And it’s really weak to call John McCain a loser, because he was a P.O.W. 

Kasich, putting on his disapproving-dad hat:

These attacks, some of them are personal. I think we’re fixing to lose the election to Hillary Clinton if we don’t stop this. 

Trump, going hard on Ted Cruz:

You are probably worse than Jeb Bush. You are the single biggest liar … This guy will say anything. Nasty guy. Now I know why he doesn’t have one endorsement from any of his colleagues. 

Dickerson, proving that he’s the only adult in the conversation:

Hold on, gentlemen. I’m going to turn this car around. 

Trump, doubling down on Planned Parenthood:

It does do wonderful things … wonderful things having to do with women’s health. 

Cruz, demonstrating that he doesn’t understand what literally means:

Our country literally hangs in the balance. 

This post will be updated throughout the debate.

Feb. 13 2016 9:15 PM

Obama: I Plan to Fulfill My Constitutional Responsibilities to Nominate Scalia’s Successor

President Obama remembered late Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday in a brief speech that was both personal and extremely political.

The president began by honoring Scalia himself and his legacy, calling him a “larger-than-life presence on the bench” and a “brilliant legal mind.” Obama said Scalia had “influenced a generation … and profoundly shaped the legal landscape.” He avoided, like other Democrats before him, saying that the two often disagreed, preferring to highlight how Scalia “dedicated his life to the cornerstone of our democracy, the rule of law.”

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Obama sprinkled his praise of Scalia with a bit of personal history, noting the special friendship he shared with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and adding that the late justice was both “an avid hunter and an opera lover.”

But then, Obama left no doubt that he has no plans to sit with his arms folded until he steps down and has every intention of trying to nominate someone to take Scalia’s seat. The president spoke after several key Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said it should be up to the next president to fill the empty seat in the highest court of the land.

“I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time,” Obama said. “There will be plenty of time for me to do so and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote. These are responsibilities that I take seriously as should everyone.”

The president seemed to chastise those who suggested he shouldn’t even try to appoint anyone, noting that would not honor Scalia’s legacy. These “responsibilities” are “bigger than any one party—they’re about our democracy; they’re about the institution to which Justice Scalia dedicated his professional life.”

Feb. 13 2016 8:15 PM

Watch Saturday’s CBS Republican Debate Live

Republicans will meet tonight for their first debate since the New Hampshire primary and the final one before voters in South Carolina have their say. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, and Ben Carson will step on stage in Greenville, S.C., at around 9 p.m. ET, and you can watch all of the action on the CBS live-stream above.

Feb. 13 2016 7:05 PM

How the San Antonio Express-News Got the Scoop on Antonin Scalia’s Death

The tip came in to Gary Martin, the politics and government editor for the San Antonio Express-News, at around 1 p.m. Central time. About 2½ hours later, the story was online, and the world knew that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was dead.

“We just started working off the tip,” Martin said by phone, not long after the Express-News’ piece went live. “I think we found out about it as it was kind of unfolding. Everywhere we were going, there was no comment. … We were just chasing people we knew in the area and people we knew who had contacts and just kept working those.”

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The death of a Supreme Court justice might be the definition of a national news story. The fact that it was first reported by a local newspaper is a dramatic reminder of just how valuable it can be to have seasoned journalists in place when big news happens.

Of course, the definition of “local” is relative when it comes to Texas. If you’re driving, the headquarters of the Express-News—which is owned by the Hearst Corporation and has a circulation of about 130,000—are about seven hours from Cibolo Creek Ranch, where Scalia was staying overnight when he died. As it happened, though, Express-News reporter John MacCormack was out doing a story in nearby Marfa when Martin heard the news.

“I told him what I knew, and he got there,” Martin said. “He went to the sheriff’s office in Marfa first, and they told him they didn’t know anything. Then he went down to the ranch and he was politely asked to step off the property but he stayed across the street. … He was outside the ranch when the hearse pulled up.” 

According to Martin, Scalia was discovered in his room this morning. “I guess he got to the ranch last night,” he said. “He was at a party with about 40 people. He went to bed last night and he didn’t show up to breakfast in the morning and that’s when a person with the ranch went to his room and found him.” 

Confirming the story took a team of seven, Martin said—not a trivial number of people to wrangle on a Saturday, when the paper usually operates with a skeleton crew. Reporters worked their contacts in Texas’ Western judicial district, a massive area that includes Austin, El Paso, and San Antonio. The Express-News’ team called judges, federal marshals, congressmen, and other local sources to shake loose whatever information they could, Martin said. “We knew it was true but we kept getting denials for the first hour—the ranch said nothing happened, the Sheriff’s Department [in Presidio County] said nothing happened.” Slowly but surely, though, they pieced it together.

Martin wouldn’t say exactly how many sources he and his team had when they published their blockbuster around 3:40 p.m. Central time—only that they were local, and that there were several of them. “A story like this—you can’t walk it back if it’s not right.” 

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