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Man holds a gun in the exhibit hall of the George R. Brown Convention Center, the site for the NRA's annual meeting in Houston, Texas

'It is almost a necessity to ask these questions'

07/30/14 10:57AM

In theory, Republican policymakers believe interference in the physician-patient relationship is not only big government, but also an outrageous abuse. Nothing, the GOP has said for years, should come between Americans and their doctors, especially not intrusive government.
But in practices, Republicans have struggled with their own talking points.
We've seen plenty of examples involving politicians mandating medically unnecessary ultrasounds and writing scripts medical professionals are supposed to read to patients, but Aaron Carroll flagged a related medical regulation, which has sparked an interesting legal fight.
When pediatricians ask you about using car seats, they're trying to prevent injuries. When they ask you about how your baby sleeps, they're trying to prevent injuries. When they ask you about using bike helmets, they're trying to prevent injuries. And when they ask you about guns, they're trying to prevent injuries, too.
But not, perhaps, everywhere. In Florida, in 2011, a law was signed that made it illegal for doctors to ask patients if they owned a gun. If doctors violate this law, they can be disciplined, leading to fines, citations and even a loss of their license.
A lower court struck down the law in 2012. But last week, a panel of judges on the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld it.
In a 2-1 ruling, the appeals court agreed with Florida's Republican-led legislature that medical professionals have no legitimate reason to ask about a patient's firearms.
It's not up to doctors to make this determination, apparently. Florida's politicians are comfortable placing restrictions as to what physicians can and cannot ask.
Protecting patient privacy is a worthwhile goal, to be sure, but it seems odd that medical professionals trying to identify potential health risks to patients can ask about drugs, alcohol, sexual practices, exercise, tattoos, domestic violence, and even work habits, but mere inquiries about guns are somehow off limits, as if loaded firearms in the home are completely unrelated to health concerns.
A wedding cake is seen at a reception for same-sex couples in West Hollywood, Calif., July 1, 2013.

Lobbyists advise GOP: give up anti-gay stance

07/30/14 10:13AM

The Hill reports today that a growing number of Republican lobbyists on K Street -- home to many of Washington's largest lobbying firms -- are "helping members of their party shift their stance on gay rights issues." The piece specifically highlighted Kathryn Lehman, a top GOP lobbyist and partner at Holland & Knight, who sounded optimistic.
"The issue is losing its toxicity, from a Republican perspective," she said.
Is there anything to this? Maybe. Jennifer Bendery raised an interesting point the other day.
When President Barack Obama signed an executive order Monday making it illegal for federal contractors to fire or harass employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, civil rights advocates hailed the move as one of the most important actions ever taken by a president to stem discrimination.
Democratic lawmakers raced to issue statements celebrating the advancement for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.... But in Republican quarters on Capitol Hill, it's as if nothing happened. GOP leaders have been silent. Socially conservative members have gone quiet.
Republicans have invested an enormous amount of time and energy in condemning President Obama's executive actions, pretending every executive order is further evidence of an out-of-control dictator, hell-bent on tyranny.
But last week, after the president circumvented Congress and issued a sweeping new policy, GOP lawmakers bit their tongue.
Asked if he had any reaction to Obama's latest move, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, "Nope. The president signs a lot of executive orders."
So what's going on here?

'We're tearing down walls. Get it?'

07/30/14 09:36AM

One of the great things about social media and the democratization of media in general is the lack of barriers. Anyone can go to sites like Facebook and Twitter, create a profile, make their case, and try to reach an audience.
And in some cases, folks can even try to create their own social-media platform. Right Wing Watch's Kyle Mantyla had this striking report yesterday.
Last weekend, the Ohio Liberty Coalition hosted a "Reload 4 Liberty" event at which Janet Porter spoke about her never-ending push to get her anti-choice "Heartbeat Bill" legislation passed in Ohio. But apparently that is not all that Porter is up to these days, as she also revealed to the audience that she'll soon be unveiling something called ReaganBook, which aims to become "the Facebook for patriots."
Because Facebook is run by the sorts of people who march in gay pride parades and supposedly censors messages from anti-gay activists like Peter LaBarbera, Porter explained that she decided to launch ReaganBook as a conservative alternative.
In the video in which Janet Porter makes the case for her project, she tells supporters, "We're tearing down walls. Get it?"
Not really.
The site's organizers added, "We stand by what Ronald Reagan said, 'Government has no power except those voluntarily granted to it by we the people.' The same holds true for your social media. We will not partner with government agencies or divulge any user information without a court order because Free Speech is not for sale."
I've long marveled at the "Reagan Legacy Project" and the goal of putting the former president's name everywhere -- schools, bridges, courthouses, highways, airports, children, etc. Last year, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) tried to rename nearly all of the water surrounding the United States after Reagan, and this year, Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) tried to name a Nevada mountain peak "Mount Reagan," despite the fact that there's already a "Mount Reagan."
I guess naming a social-media platform after the Republican icon is the next natural step?

U.S. economy bounces back in a big way

07/30/14 08:51AM

By any measure, the U.S. economy was unusually weak in the first quarter of the year (January through March), though most in the economic, financial, and political sectors were untroubled by the data. Indeed, for most, the winter drop was something of a fluke, caused by unusually harsh weather conditions and an unexpected drop in health spending.
Still, the first-quarter report made the second-quarter data all the more important. Would the economy bounce back? This morning, we received an answer -- and for those rooting for economic success, the results were even better than expected.
The U.S. economy grew by a 4% annual pace in the second quarter, bouncing back from a revised 2.1% decline in the first three months of the year, according to a preliminary government estimate. Economists polled by MarketWatch predicted GDP would grow by a seasonally adjusted 3.2%. Consumer spending, the main source of economic activity, accelerated to show a solid 2.5% gain after a meager 1.2% rise in the first quarter. [...]
Also adding to U.S. growth was a pickup in construction spending, increased business investment, a bigger buildup in inventories and slightly higher government spending, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.
Also note, the most recent data showed the first quarter GDP at -2.9%. Today's report revises that total in a less-awful direction, to -2.1%.
Nevertheless, today's report showing 4% growth is terrific and reinforces the perception of an economy picking up speed. Though this is a preliminary figure that will be revised in the coming months, if it holds up, this will be only the third time in the last seven years that GDP growth has reached 4% or greater.
What's more, the swing from -2.1% to +4% is easily the largest positive quarter-to-quarter swing since the start of the Great Recession is late 2007.
John Boehner

The GOP loses control of its Frankenstein monster

07/30/14 08:00AM

The headline on the L.A. Times story reads, "Boehner rules out impeachment." But when it comes to what the House Speaker actually said yesterday, the headline isn't quite right.
"No, no, no, no," Congressman Greg Walden, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, told Politico when asked whether the House would initiate impeachment proceedings. Boehner told reporters on Tuesday that there were "no plans" to remove Obama, calling the idea "a scam started by Democrats at the White House."
We already know with certainty that the Ohio Republican is wrong when he blames this on the White House -- the impeachment talk has come from GOP lawmakers and it's been going on for years. Indeed, if this is a "scam," John Boehner's own leadership team is in on it -- the new House Majority Whip, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) refused to take presidential impeachment off the table during an interview just three days ago.
But then there's the part about Boehner's "plans."
There are a few angles to this story that are running on parallel tracks, all of which carry equal weight. The first is the GOP's Frankenstein problem: Republican leaders created a monster, doing nothing to tamp down the right's crusade to tear down the Obama presidency, and they suddenly find themselves scrambling now that the monster is running lose. As Arit John put itRepublicans have "lost control of the impeachment plot they hatched."
It's led to, among other things, an awkward dance in which pro-impeachment Republicans try to walk back their own rhetoric now that they realize how happy Democrats are to hear it.
The second is the intra-party tensions that won't go away. In 2006, Nancy Pelosi disappointed some on the left by definitively ruling out presidential impeachment, taking it "off the table." Today's Republican leaders will do no such thing for a very specific reason: too many GOP lawmakers really do support the idea. Indeed, there was palpable disappointment among many on the far-right yesterday when Boehner suggested impeachment isn't part of his future plans.
As Jonathan Capehart put it, "A 'No, don't be ridiculous. We're not going to impeach the president. Period!' from Scalise on Sunday or from Boehner today would have put an end to the chatter. But no."

Obama lawsuit vote and other headlines

07/30/14 07:57AM

The House votes on the lawsuit against Pres. Obama today. (AP)

Senate's CIA 'torture' report summary to be released soon. (Reuters)

Meet the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs. (NY Times)

The Bob and Maureen McDonnell defense strategy gets personal very quickly. (Richmond Times Dispatch)

Colorado Supreme Court puts a halt to same-sex marriage licenses in Boulder. (Denver Post)

House committee votes to condemn Pres. Obama on Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap. (Huffington Post)

Defense Department to oversee the plagiarism investigation of Sen. John Walsh. (AP)

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Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 9, 2014.

Coburn withholds approval of new VA bill

07/29/14 10:56PM

Most of the Republicans on the bipartisan conference committee were sufficiently satisfied with a bill overhauling the Veterans Affairs health care system to sign off on its final wording. But three Republican senators withheld their approval: John McCain, Marco Rubio, and Tom Coburn.

Senator McCain's office did not provide an explanation as to why he did not sign this bill. He is an original sponsor of the Senate version, so there is no reason to think that he is against it.

Senator Rubio's office replied to a TRMS query that the senator had to be out of town on a family matter. But he has every intention of signing it and he will vote for the bill.

Senator Coburn, a co-author of this week's Veterans Choice Act, had previously voiced his objections to what he characterized as the extravagance of a new V.A. facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma as "building a Taj Mahal when they should be building a medical clinic."

TRMS reached out to Coburn on his objections to the current bill and received the following statement:

Instead of using the last six weeks to identify and compromise on ways to pay for giving our veterans freedom to choose and receive health care in the private sector, the conference committee has instead left the bill to future generations and decided to avoid paying for Congress’ decisions -- business as usual in Congress.

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Anti-abortion extremists violate church

Anti-abortion extremists violate church sanctity

07/29/14 10:49PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the shocking disruption of church services by out-of-town anti-abortion extremists in New Orleans, and shares pieces of an interview with Rev. Deanna Vandiver of the First Unitarian Universalist Church discussing the violation. watch

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 7.29.14

07/29/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Sanctions: "While rejecting comparisons to the Cold War, President Obama on Tuesday announced new sanctions against Russia for supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine. The sanctions, building off measures announced two weeks ago, will target Russia's energy, arms, and finance sectors of the economy."
* Related news: "The United States has concluded that Russia violated a landmark arms control treaty by testing a prohibited ground-launched cruise missile, according to senior American officials, a finding that was conveyed by President Obama to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in a letter on Monday."
* Gaza: "Israel's aerial assaults on targets in Gaza broadened on Tuesday, with barrages that destroyed Hamas's media offices, the home of a top leader and what Palestinians said was a devastating hit on the only electricity plant, plunging the enclave of 1.7 million into deeper deprivation with no power, running water or sewage treatment."
* Mississippi's last abortion clinic "won a major victory at the conservative 5th Circuit of Appeals, which said a law intended to make the state 'abortion-free' and close the clinic was unconstitutional. 'Pre-viability, a woman has the constitutional right to end her pregnancy by abortion,' wrote E. Grady Jolly, a Reagan appointee, for the panel."
* Senate Dems have an idea: "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that if the House passes a $659 million border bill with policy changes, he could use it as a vehicle for comprehensive immigration reform."
* House GOP leaders aren't fond of the idea: "Speaker John A. Boehner vowed the House would not allow the Senate to add any 'comprehensive immigration reform bill or anything like it, including the DREAM Act' to the House's $659 million border bill Tuesday."
* Cabinet: "The Senate voted unanimously on Tuesday to confirm Robert A. McDonald, the 61-year-old former chief executive of Procter & Gamble, to take the helm of the sprawling and embattled Department of Veterans Affairs after a scandal over the manipulation of patient wait-time data led to the ouster two months ago of Eric Shinseki."
* NSA: "After plenty of setbacks in Congress, advocates of surveillance reform are giving it another shot."
* Oh my: "Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly (R) had choice worlds for the Environmental Protection Agency's new rule on power plant emissions Monday, moving beyond the usual 'war on coal' language and likening the proposed regulations to an act of terrorism."
Rep. Curt Clawson, R-Fla., carries a Bible for as ceremonial swearing-in with Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 25, 2014.

Clawson regrets 'air ball'

07/29/14 05:01PM

It was one of the most cringe-worthy moments of any congressional hearing in recent memory. Freshman Rep. Curt Clawson (R-Fla.), during a House Foreign Affairs Committee last week, spoke to two senior officials from the U.S. State Department and Commerce Department, respectively, but the Republican congressman told them, "I'm familiar with your country; I love your country," assuming they were from India.
They're not. The officials, Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, may have Indian surnames, but they're Americans who were giving congressional testimony on behalf of the Obama administration.
Making matters slightly worse, after Biswal clarified matters, Clawson didn't apologize, instead telling the officials, "OK, let's see some progress."
The dust has obviously settled and Clawson eventually did the only thing he could do.
Clawson won a special election last month to replace Trey Radel, who resigned following a cocaine bust. The political novice, who was a businessman and college basketball player before running for office, apologized in a statement sent to our Gannett colleague, Ledyard King.
"I made a mistake in speaking before being fully briefed and I apologize. I'm a quick study, but in this case I shot an air ball," Clawson said.
This might have been a more straightforward apology without the "being fully briefed" comment -- the congressman really shouldn't blame his staff for this one -- but the apology otherwise gets the job done.
As for Biswal, she took the high road.
President Barack Obama laughs with former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, April 25, 2013.

Parties, presidents, and economic power

07/29/14 04:20PM

Derek Thompson highlighted an interesting economic trend that Republicans very likely find discouraging: "[I]n the 70 years, the U.S. economy has been better, across many metrics, when a Democrat has been the president." In particular, Thompson noted a "fantastically interesting" paper (pdf) from Princeton professors Alan Blinder and Mark Watson, who reported that from 1947 to 2013, in literally every category, Democratic presidents outperformed Republican presidents.
Which leads to the obvious question: Why? For Dems, a bit of good fortune may be involved.
Why is the US economy so unapologetically partisan? Do the laws of supply and demand have a liberal bias? Are Democrats better at governing for growth? Do these graphs prove something fundamental about the superiority of Keynesianism?
Maybe none of the above. Blinder and Watson propose that the answer has less to do with policies -- taxing, spending, redistributing -- and more to do with dumb luck. "The Democratic edge stems mainly from more benign oil shocks, superior [productivity growth], a more favorable international environment, and perhaps more optimistic consumer expectations about the near-term future," they wrote.
I should mention that the observation itself isn't entirely new. Michael Kinsley covered this fairly closely six years ago, and he pushed back, albeit gently, against the "dumb luck" explanation.
"Some people believe that the president has little or no effect on the economy. If so, that would be a serious flaw in this exercise," Kinsley wrote in 2008. "But it would also be a serious flaw in the exercise called democracy, since people tell pollsters that the economy is the most important issue for them in deciding whom to vote for. No doubt any particular bad year in any of these statistics can be explained by some extrinsic special event -- a war, for example. But surely patterns that emerge over half a century account for these."
A U.S. Border Patrol agent prepares to take an unaccompanied Salvadorian minor, 13, to a processing center after he crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico into the United States on July 24, 2014 in Mission, Texas.

The House GOP's underwhelming response to a crisis

07/29/14 01:00PM

Three weeks ago, President Obama presented a pretty credible solution to the humanitarian crisis at the U.S./Mexico border. The White House requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding that would build detention centers, add immigration judges, and beef up border security, all while expediting deportations to discourage an additional influx.
A week later, asked if his chamber would approve Obama's plan, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters, "I would certainly hope so," though he cautioned against optimism.
My Grand Unified Theory of Boehner has long held that the Speaker's political instincts are fairly sound, but he invariably has to take a less reasonable course because his radicalized caucus will tolerate nothing else. In the case of the border crisis, Boehner wanted to approve Obama's proposed solution, but House Republicans ruled out the possibility, and with two days remaining before Congress takes a five-week break, they finally came up with a counter-offer.
Republicans hope to pass $659 million in supplemental spending for the border crisis before leaving for the August recess, Speaker John A. Boehner said after a GOP conference meeting Tuesday.
The Ohio Republican said the House will "attempt to move this bill" on Thursday and that he anticipated the measure would have "sufficient support," but that there was still "a little more work to do to" to shore up the votes.
This is not a bill anyone should take pride in. After complaining literally for months about this crisis, the fact that this proposal is the best the House GOP could come up with is pretty powerful evidence to bolster the post-policy thesis.
To address the crisis, the White House wants to spend nearly $4 billion, while Senate Democrats are writing a related package that would spend nearly $3 billion. House Republicans, meanwhile, want to spend $659 million -- about a fifth of the original total eyed by the Obama administration -- two-thirds of which would go to border security.
Apparently, no one told the GOP lawmakers that the current crisis doesn't really have anything to do with border security. That, or lawmakers were told, but they didn't care.