Opponents of international nuclear talks with Iran had a plan, and on the surface, it stood a decent chance at success. Congress would, under the strategy, approve new sanctions on Tehran, forcing Iranian officials from the negotiating table, and sabotaging the diplomacy.
The Republican-run House would approve the sanctions easily, as would the Republican-led Senate, and to help seal the deal, House Speaker John Boehner (R) ignored American protocol and invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deliver remarks to Congress -- two weeks before his own re-election bid -- in order to bolster support for the entire scheme.
For a while, it looked like there was only one question to answer: would Congress be able to override President Obama's inevitable veto? All of this was poised to come to a head within the next week or two.
Ten Senate Democrats who have advocated putting more sanctions on Iran gave the White House a two-month reprieve on Tuesday, saying they would wait until after the late-March deadline for completing the outlines of a deal to restrain Tehran's nuclear program before voting for a bill that President Obama has said would undermine any chance of reaching an agreement.
The concession came in a letter to Mr. Obama from Senator Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, who has been increasingly at odds with the White House for his strong advocacy of a bill intended to squeeze Iran's oil revenues even harder if the nuclear negotiations do not result in an agreement. But Mr. Menendez's letter made clear that he and the other Democrats would join Senate Republicans if a meaningful accord was not reached by March 24.
The problem all along with the pro-sabotage contingent is that there's a simple question it could not answer: what's the rush? Those pushing for increased sanctions have argued for months that if the international diplomacy fails, Congress should be ready to punish Iran.
But why not actually wait for the talks to collapse? Why force them to collapse artificially while negotiations are ongoing?
What the White House wanted was more time. It also hopes to create conditions in which Iran, not the U.S., will be blamed if diplomacy ends up failing. For now, President Obama and his team have what they're looking for.
The U.S. military offensive against Islamic State militants has been ongoing for five months, and the routinization of the conflict has largely pushed developments from the front page. We have some general sense that strikes against ISIS continue, but tangible results are elusive, and Congress hasn't bothered to even authorize the mission.
Kurdish militias regained full control of the northern Syrian town of Kobani on Monday, driving Islamic State militants out with the help of American-led airstrikes, Kurdish activists on the scene said.
The bitter three-month battle for the border town took on outsize symbolic significance as it unfolded within sight of the Turkish border. It became the most visible arena in the American-led coalition's fight against the Islamic State, which has seized large areas of Syria and Iraq, and the militant group's retreat dented the aura of invincibility it has sought to cultivate.
There's a credible debate to be had about just how strategically significant this victory is in the broader context. The editorial board of the Washington Postemphasized today, for example, that there have been roughly 1,000 airstrikes on ISIS targets, and three-quarters of them focused on Kobani.
In other words, it's a tough tactic to duplicate. That said, a specific recipe was tested in Kobani -- U.S. airstrikes coupled with "determined" local allies on the ground -- and it matters that it was successful in forcing an ISIS retreat.
Last summer, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) took the unusual step of announcing a lawsuit against President Obama. Boehner wasn't sure what he would sue over, exactly, but the Republican leader was sure he wanted to take the president to court -- for something.
Eventually, Boehner picked a topic -- the delayed implementation of an obscure ACA provision --- and after a few fits and starts, House Republicans agreed to pay a D.C. law firm $500 an hour, in taxpayer money, to handle the case. The whole thing became quite farcical when the GOP's lawyers quit the case, followed by the replacement lawyers also quitting the case.
And as that case stumbles through the judiciary, Boehner yesterday began talking up his brand new idea: filing another lawsuit against the president. Suzy Khimm reported that the House Speaker apparently hopes to challenge Obama's new protections for millions of undocumented immigrants.
Boehner discussed the next potential steps at a closed-door meeting with House Republicans on Tuesday. "We are finalizing a plan to authorize litigation on this issue - one we believe gives us the best chance of success," he said, according to a source in the room.
The options included filing a lawsuit against Obama over the issue or to join the handful of states that are already suing the president. If Boehner moves forward, he would put a resolution authorizing such action up for a vote.
Won't that be fun.
On the merits, it's very difficult to take any of this seriously. The president already has well established prosecutorial discretion, and his actions last fall on behalf of immigrants were rooted in precedents set by Obama's predecessors. There's no reason to believe the courts would reject the White House's policy -- the judiciary generally doesn't like intervening in food fights between the branches -- and it's unlikely the case would even be resolved before Obama's term in office expires.
Chances are, Boehner knows all of this, but will proceed with litigation plans anyway, It's important to understand why.
The first sign that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) may not have been the best choice to lead the Senate Judiciary Committee came two weeks ago. The conservative Iowan boasted that, since his promotion, the Senate had already confirmed 11 judicial nominees. The actual number was zero: Grassley was counting confirmation votes from the last Congress, pointing to nominees he opposed.
The second sign that Grassley is probably the wrong man for the job came around the same time, by way of a deeply odd response to the terrorist violence in Paris.
If you don't count the Republican members of Congress, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder has no more determined critic than Sheryl Attkisson. The investigative reporter, who left CBS News last year and now contributes to the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal, spent years investigating the Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal. Her stories were part of a corpus that convinced the House to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for dodging questions. Just last month, Holder was among the people sued by Attkisson in a case that accuses the federal government of spying on her; she's asking for compensatory damages, punitive damages, and an injunction preventing the feds from conducting "any surveillance" of her.
And [Wednesday morning], Attkisson will lead the expert testimony on Holder's likely replacement. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley took control of after the Republicans' 2014 wins, has called Attkisson to speak on a panel of witnesses after nominee Loretta Lynch is introduced.
Attkisson has become a rather tragic figure in recent months, undermining her own reputation with genuinely bizarre allegations, strange conspiracy theories, and commentary on journalism that really didn't go well. Grassley, or at least the Grassley staffers who help him make decisions, has decided this far-right media figure is the best person to make the case against an Attorney General nominee? What, were the folks at RedState.com busy?
Is this really what passes for grown-up Senate oversight in a Republican-led chamber?
A few months ago, not long after he was indicted on two felony counts, then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) forgot what crimes he'd been charged with. "I'm not a lawyer, so I don't really understand the details here," he said in August.
The likely Republican presidential hopeful was nevertheless certain that he didn't do whatever it was he was accused of doing, and Perry's legal team still hoped to have the charges thrown out.
As the Austin American Statesmanreported late yesterday, things clearly aren't going the way the former governor had hoped.
A judge denied a second and more substantial request Tuesday by former Gov. Rick Perry to dismiss the indictment against him prior to trial, likely extending his criminal case for the next several months as Perry continues mounting a possible presidential campaign.
The ruling by Judge Bert Richardson, a San Antonio Republican, comes five months after Perry's attorneys filed the writ of habeas corpus, a sign of the slow speed at which the case is churning through the criminal justice system. Immediately after the ruling, Perry's attorneys filed formal documents appealing the ruling to the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals, a process that could take several months and stall possible resolution of the case.
In case it's not obvious, most presidential candidates try to avoid launching national campaigns while under felony indictment, and Perry's legal team was counting on a victory it did not receive yesterday.
By all appearances, however, the Texas Republican apparently won't let a little thing like criminal allegations get in the way of his ambitions, largely because Perry just doesn't believe the charges have any merit.
The question then becomes, is he right? I don't believe so, no.
John Brabender, Republican strategist, talks with Rachel Maddow about how the Republican presidential field for 2016 is taking shape and the extent to which having the favor of big donors is important as the field narrows. watch
Carol Leonnig, national reporter for The Washington Post, talks with Rachel Maddow about how a drunken government employee accidentally crashed his drone on the White House grounds, setting off a new round of alarm about White House vulnerability. watch
11 TRMS staffers crammed into one bathroom stall as part of show prep tonight. Some workdays are harder to explain than others.
* Libya: "Terrorists launched a bomb and gun attack on a Libyan hotel popular with government ministers and Western diplomats Tuesday, killing up to five people. One American citizen was among the dead, NBC News' Paul Nassar reported. A handful of other Americans were evacuated after the attack."
* The global chess match: "The reaction in China to the breadth of strategic and economic issues discussed by the United States and India during Mr. Obama's visit and to their obvious, though not publicly expressed, mutual anxiety about China has been cool but controlled."
* It's quite a delegation: "President Obama met with King Salman of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, leading a bipartisan delegation of prominent current and former officials to shore up an important relationship and offer condolences for the death of King Abdullah."
* Capital punishment: "A two-time killer is waiting to hear if the U.S. Supreme Court will stop his Tuesday night execution, which is being used to challenge the state's uniquely strict standard for intellectual disability. Warren Lee Hill's lawyers claim the 54-year-old has the mental capacity of a child -- but the state says that hasn't been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, as it requires."
* Criminal justice system: "A record number of convicts were exonerated last year, fueled by a backlog of lab tests that cleared drug suspects in Houston and a string of murder cases linked to a single New York City detective."
* Economy: "The latest reading on consumer confidence rose to another milestone. The Conference Board's consumer-confidence index rose to 102.9 from 93.1 in December, the best reading since August 2007 and above the MarketWatch-compiled economist forecast of 96.9. Consumer assessment of both current conditions and the outlook for the future brightened. "
The Congressional Budget Office released a whole lot of information yesterday, all of which caused a fair amount of chatter, but some of it matters more than others.
Most of the coverage I've seen highlighted the CBO projections on the budget deficit, most notably an expected shortfall of about $468 billion -- 2.6% of GDP -- for this fiscal year. This puts the U.S. on track for the smallest deficit in eight years, and over $1 trillion in deficit reduction in the Obama era.
The same report noted that the era of extremely fast deficit reduction will probably end soon after, which will invariably lead deficit scolds to start demanding cuts to social-insurance programs. But that won't make any substantive sense it won't be social-insurance programs that cause the larger deficits.
Obamacare, as it is commonly known, will cost 20 percent less than previously projected over the next decade, the CBO said Monday. The reason for the revised estimate is a result of a decline of healthcare inflation, the Los Angeles Times reported. In addition, the number of uninsured Americans has fallen by 12 million, the CBO estimates, and an additional 12 million are expected to gain insurance by the end of 2016.
Through 2019, the law's insurance provisions will cost an estimated $571 billion, down $139 billion from the CBO's initial estimates.
One of the more common complaints from the right is that the nation "can't afford" the ACA. Even if it's working, even if it's saving lives, the argument goes, the massive reform law simply carries too large a price tag.
That argument cannot be taken seriously. For one thing, "Obamacare" reduces the deficit -- repeal it and the shortfall conservatives sometimes pretend to care about gets worse, not better. For another, the price tag keeps shrinking, not growing, making the "we can't afford it" argument nonsensical.
Every time a Republican-run "red" state embraces Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act, the pressure increases a little more on the dead-enders to come to their senses. The latest news is out of Indiana, where the Indianapolis Starreported on the agreement between Gov. Mike Pence's (R) administration and Obama administration officials.
Indiana has been given the green light to expand its Healthy Indiana Plan, which would offer insurance to an additional 350,000 Indiana residents, who currently lack insurance.
The state will begin taking applications today for its so-called HIP 2.0 plan, for which coverage begins Feb. 1, Gov. Mike Pence announced Tuesday morning at a packed speech at St. Vincent Health.
His announcement culminates more than two years of back and forth between state government and federal health officials over whether to grant the state a waiver for the plan debuted in 2006.
With this announcement, 28 states have accepted Medicaid expansion -- an optional part of "Obamacare" thanks to a Supreme Court ruling -- a list that includes 10 "red" states.