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Will do-nothing Congress do nothing on VA?

07/25/14 11:02PM

Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, talks with Rachel Maddow about whether this Congress, arguably the worst Congress ever, has the ability to pass a badly-needed bill addressing the needs of veterans and the V.A. watch

House asserts role on troops to Iraq

House asserts role on troops to Iraq

07/25/14 10:57PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the passage of a bill in the House insisting that President Obama seek permission from Congress before sending more troops to Iraq beyond the 60-day limit, which will expire while Congress is away on recess. watch

Ahead on the 7/25/14 Maddow show

07/25/14 08:04PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has been working with House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman, Florida congressman Jeff Miller, to hammer out a compromise V.A. reform bill
  • Jen Moreno, staff attorney for the Berkeley Law Death Penalty Clinic

And here's senior producer Cory Gnazzo with tonight's preview:

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Friday's Mini-Report, 7.25.14

07/25/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* A pause? "Israel has offered to halt fighting for 12 hours in Gaza, a senior U.S. official said Friday. The pause in fighting would begin at 7 a.m. Saturday (12 a.m. ET), the official said. It was not immediately clear whether Hamas would also cease hostilities. Word of the offer came shortly after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said talks aimed at a seven-day humanitarian cease-fire in the Gaza Strip were bogged down in disagreement over 'some terminology.'"
* "Day of Rage": "Violence spread to the West Bank on Friday as enraged Palestinians protested Israel's continuing military offensive in Gaza. At least five Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces, according to Palestinian medical officials and local news reports, adding to the explosive atmosphere in the region and raising the specter of further unrest."
* Ukraine: "Russia has stepped up its direct involvement in fighting between the Ukranian military and separatist insurgents, unleashing artillery attacks from Russian territory and massing heavy weapons along the border, Ukrainian and American officials say."
* Border crisis: "President Obama said Friday that migrant children who cross the border and do not have 'proper claims' will be sent back to their home countries."
* More on this on tonight's show: "The House on Friday passed a resolution requiring authorization from Congress for a sustained presence of combat troops in Iraq."
* Heartbreaking: "The doctor leading Sierra Leone's fight against the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history has contracted the virus himself, government officials said. Sheik Umar Khan, 39, was on the front lines of battling the disease that has so far claimed 632 lives in three West African states, according to the World Health Organization. He is credited with treating more than 100 victims. And now he is one himself."
* Occasionally, Republicans can be shamed into talking: "Key lawmakers are back at work on a possible deal to reform the Veterans Affairs Department, just one day after the talks appeared to break down."
* Maybe the FAA's decision wasn't the result of a partisan conspiracy: "An Air Canada flight was forced to circle Tel Aviv, after rockets were fired at Ben Gurion International Airport on Friday, The Toronto Star reports."
* Someone should let Darrell Issa know: "The federal watchdog tasked with enforcing the Hatch Act has cleared the White House's political affairs office of any wrongdoing in violation of the 20th century law that bars political activity by executive branch employees."
* When the right screws up U.S. diplomacy for no reason: "Sen. Ted Cruz will still hold all State Department nominations despite the fact that it could further delay the U.S. posting an ambassador to Russia, his office said on Friday."
* Dear conservatives, if your entire argument for taking health care benefits away from millions is an example of Jonathan Gruber making a mistake, then you've already lost.
Florida Republican Rep. Curt Clawson in a frame captured from a video of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, July 24, 2014.

An 'intensely awkward congressional hearing'

07/25/14 04:59PM

Earlier this month, in a clumsy moment, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) lambasted U.S. customs official Thomas Winkowski. But there was a problem: McCain meant to shout at R. Gil Kerlikowske, a different U.S. customs official with a name that was kinda sorta similar.
It was an embarrassing exchage, but on the cringe-worthy spectrum, McCain's confusion was nothing compared to this story, reported yesterday by John Hudson.
In an intensely awkward congressional hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, freshman Rep. Curt Clawson misidentified two senior U.S. government officials as representatives of the Indian government.
The two officials, Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, are Americans who hold senior positions at the State Department and Commerce Department, respectively. Although both Biswal and Kumar were introduced as U.S. officials by the chairman of the Asia and Pacific subcommittee, Clawson repeatedly asked them questions about "your country" and "your government," in reference to the state of India.
The video is hard to watch, but it's also hard to look away.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaks with reporters in Memphis, Tenn., May 9, 2014.

A poor messenger with a dubious message

07/25/14 04:31PM

If persistence mattered more than accuracy, then Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) would be extremely well positioned to expand his base of support to traditional Democratic constituencies. After all, the Kentucky Republican rarely misses an opportunity to make his pitch to organizations committed to civil rights and the interests of minority communities.
Benjy Sarlin reports today, for example, that Paul talked up his agenda at a civil rights conference in Ohio this morning.
"I say we take a stand and fight for justice now," said the Republican senator from Kentucky. The speech to the National Urban League's conference in Cincinnati was part of a broader campaign by Paul to engage with minority voters ahead of a likely presidential run. [...]
"Not only do I support the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, I'm a Republican who wants to restore a federal role for the government in the Voting Rights Act," Paul said.
On a surface level, that sounds like exactly the kind of message progressives and proponents of civil rights find appealing.
It's what happens when we look just below the surface that Rand Paul runs into trouble.
Sen. Strom Thurmond, D-SC, gives a wave as he leaves the Senate chamber, August 29, 1957 at end of his 24 hour, 19 minute one-man filibuster against the compromise civil rights bills.

The real party of civil rights

07/25/14 03:38PM

About once a year, the right will roll out a stale argument: Republicans are the real party of civil rights, because Southern Democrats supported segregation during the civil-rights fights in the middle of the 20th century. National Review's John Fund walked the well-traveled ground this week.
Fund's piece was essentially an advertisement for a booklet published by the conservative American Civil Rights Union titled "The Truth About Jim Crow."
"Available for free at, it sets the record straight on a hidden racial past that many Democrats would rather see swept under the carpet," Fund raved.
Fund went on to invoke arguments familiar to anyone who's heard a conservative try to explain why Democrats are the real racists, reminding readers that Woodrow Wilson had a horrible record on race relations, that a larger percentage of congressional Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and that the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Jay Bookman took a closer look at the pamphlet Fund's piece was promoting, highlighting some of its more glaring errors of fact and judgment.
What's more Jamelle Bouie notes that it's curious that National Review would push this line, given its own history: "It would be nice if Fund had reckoned with National Review's early defense of segregation, including William F. Buckley's assertion that 'the cultural superiority of White over Negro' is a 'fact that obtrudes' and that 'National Review believes that the South's premises are correct.... It is more important for the community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority.'"
But let's dig deeper still, highlighting the historical details and context that's invariably ignored by the right every time they broach this subject.
Calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers are seen floating on the water on July 30, 2013 in Qaqortoq, Greenland.

GOP lawmakers balk at Pentagon's climate concerns

07/25/14 12:50PM

In general, when Defense Department leaders alert Congress to a national-security threat, we expect Republican lawmakers to take it seriously. Rebecca Leber reported this week, however, Pentagon concerns about climate change affecting military operations are being ignored by GOP officials.
At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing [on Tuesday], a Department of Defense representative laid out how climate change is exposing its infrastructure in coastal and Arctic regions to rising sea levels and extreme weather, and that it's even impacting decisions like which types of weapons the Pentagon buys. This is only the latest in a series of recent warnings from the military, which raised the issue as far back as George W. Bush's second term.
In March, the Pentagon warned, in its Quadrennial Defense Review, that the effects of climate change "are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions -- conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence." In other words, increased drought and water shortages are likely to trigger fighting over limited resources.
What's striking is the Republicans' indifference. In fact, it's worse than indifference -- GOP lawmakers aren't just ignoring the Pentagon's concerns about climate and national security; they're actually pushing hard in the other direction.
Kate Sheppard noted a few months ago that House Republicans "passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization bill ... that would bar the Department of Defense from using funds to assess climate change and its implications for national security."
Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), the sponsor of the measure, argued at the time, "The climate is obviously changing; it has always been changing. With all the unrest around the [world], why should Congress divert funds from the mission of our military and national security to support a political ideology?"
The answer, of course, is that climate change and national security, whether the right chooses to acknowledge this or not, are inextricably linked. Telling U.S. military leaders they must bury their heads in the sand because congressional Republicans say so won't help.
A sign greets voters before they step up to cast their ballot at a polling site, Tuesday, July 22, 2014, in Atlanta.

How to fix an enthusiasm gap

07/25/14 12:11PM

The Pew Research Center published an interesting poll on the 2014 midterms, which offered a little good news for both parties. But there was one major takeaway that will be of particular significance between now and Election Day.
On the generic congressional ballot, Democrats enjoy a slight edge, 47% to 45%. But as we know, that's not as important as turnout -- the parties were fairly close on the generic ballot in 2010, too, right before Republicans gained 63 House seats and took the majority.
And that's where the results get interesting. Pew found greater Republican enthusiasm about the elections, but the advantage over Democrats is much smaller than four years ago.
What's more, there's still time for Democratic leaders to get their voters in the game -- a point that does not appear to be lost on the party's major players.
"I think Speaker Boehner, by going down the path of this lawsuit, has opened the door to impeachment sometime in the future," White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said at a Washington breakfast [this morning] hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Pfeiffer said the lawsuit won't deter Obama's efforts to act via executive authority where Congress won't. He predicted that the president's upcoming executive actions on immigration (which are expected to involve slowing deportations) will "certainly up the likelihood that they'll contemplate impeachment."
Much of this, to be sure, likely reflects Pfeiffer's genuine assessment of the political landscape.
But at least some of this is also intended for a Democratic base -- the more the Republican impeachment crusade is part of the national conversation, the more likely Democratic voters will be inclined to get engaged in the 2014 midterms.
Indeed, that's not speculative; there's some quantifiable evidence to back this up.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., leaves the Jefferson Hotel after a dinner meeting hosted by President Barack Obama for a few Republican Senators in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2013.

McCain's descent into 'self-pity'

07/25/14 11:28AM

At a fundraiser this week, President Obama told supporters, "I'd love nothing more than a loyal and rational opposition, but that's not what we have right now." Apparently, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wasn't amused.
"The self-pity that Obama continues to exhibit is really kind of sad, really," McCain said on Wednesday during Fox News' "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren." [...]
"You know, I can't work with him at all," McCain said. "When is the last time he really called leaders of both parties together over at the White House, say, for a dinner, a social event."
The failed presidential candidate added that Obama "does not have this desire to have social interface with people."
I don't mean to be picky, but when a politician accuses a rival of "self-pity," and then in the next breath, he whines that the rival hasn't invited him over for dinner, the politician probably hasn't thought his argument through.
As Jed Lewison joked, "If President Obama would just call me up for dinner or a social event, and ask me to have social interface with him, then everything would be better and the world would be a fantastic place, but he won't do that, so please excuse me while I go drown myself in a pool of tears shed over his self-pitying ways."
But let's go a step further with this, because McCain isn't just confused about the nature of self-pity; he's also wrong on the merits.
The dome of the US Capitol is seen in Washington, D.C., September 20, 2008.

GOP discovers the virtue of unilateral presidential action

07/25/14 10:49AM

With less than a week before Congress leaves town for a month-long break, legislative prospects appear bleak. President Obama called weeks ago for action on the border crisis, but there's now very little hope that lawmakers will get anything done.
Yesterday, as msnbc's Jane Timm reported, House Speaker John Boehner gave the White House an ultimatum: accept changes to the Bush/Cheney-era human-trafficking law that allows immigrants from non-contiguous countries to seek asylum in the U.S., or House Republicans will refuse to pass a bill.
It's reached the point at which the same GOP lawmakers who've condemned the president for trying to work around Congress are now urging the president to circumvent Congress.
Even as Congress jousts over a legislative response to the influx of child migrants from Central America, [a group of Texas Republican lawmakers] contend the president can take unilateral steps to end the crisis immediately. "You have the authority to stop the surge of illegal entries by immigrant minors today," the Republicans wrote Thursday in a letter to Obama. [...]
The recommendations include empowering local law enforcement agencies to prosecute federal immigration laws; cracking down on immigration fraud; speeding up deportations of the new arrivals; and ending the administration's deferred action program, which allows some illegal immigrants brought to the country as children to remain and work without fear of deportation.
Apparently, some GOP lawmakers believe unilateral White House actions are evidence of a tyrannical dictatorship, unless Obama is acting unilaterally on an issue they care about, in which case they're all for executive authority.
It's funny how that happens.
There is, however, a related question that's gone largely overlooked lately: if House Republicans support a far-right proposal that deploys the National Guard and changes the 2008 human-trafficking law, why don't they just pass one? After all, the GOP is in the majority in the House and if they want to approve a conservative plan, they can, right?
Ted Cruz walks to participate in a cloture vote, Feb. 12, 2014.

The de facto House leader who isn't in the House

07/25/14 10:00AM

As a rule, members of Congress stick to their own chamber. As we discussed several weeks ago, Republican leaders from the House and Senate will occasionally meet to work out bicameral strategies, but in general, rank-and-file members tend to stick with colleagues from their side of Capitol Hill.
But there's one big exception: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who doesn't seem to get along with other senators, but who spends an inordinate amount of time huddling with House Republicans.
Last September, for example, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) presented a plan to avoid a government shutdown. Cruz met directly with House Republicans, urged them to ignore their own leader's plan, and GOP House members followed his advice. A month later, Cruz held another meeting with House Republicans, this time in a private room at a Capitol Hill restaurant.
This year, in April, the Texas senator again gathered House Republicans, this time for a private meeting in his office. In June, less than an hour after House Republicans elected a new leadership team, Cruz invited House Republicans to join him for "an evening of discussion and fellowship."
This week, it happened once again.
Sen. Ted Cruz once again met with a group of the House's most conservative lawmakers Wednesday morning to discuss potential legislative responses to the flood of children crossing the border.
Cruz met with "more than 20″ House Republicans Wednesday morning, according to Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to discuss a supplemental package meant to address the influx of unaccompanied minors at the border. "I didn't have a hard count, but I know that it was more than 20," King said.
According to the Iowa Republican, lawmakers had breakfast and listened to Cruz's take on the crisis.
We're approaching the point at which Cruz is quietly becoming a de facto member of the House Republican leadership, despite not actually being in the House.

Adventures in Fox News polling, Part VII

07/25/14 09:23AM

As regular readers know, I hold a special place in my heart for Fox News polling, because unlike independent polls commissioned by major journalistic institutions, Fox News' surveys tend to be ... special.
The network's latest is a true gem, even by Fox News standards (via Steve M.). The poll asked respondents:
"Do you approve or disapprove of President Obama bypassing Congress and acting on his own to make policies by issuing executive orders, choosing not to enforce laws he disagrees with, and delaying some controversial provisions of other laws?"
Fox got the result it wanted by presenting Republican talking points as fact -- a 58% majority of respondents said they disapprove of the president's actions -- but in reality, Obama is not ignoring laws he disagrees with. It led to this question:
"Do you think President Obama exceeded his authority under the Constitution when he changed the health care law on his own by executive order?"
Again, that's the GOP argument, to the point that it seems Republican operatives literally wrote the poll for Fox, but all Obama did was delay the implementation of an ACA provision that wasn't ready -- a provision Republicans didn't want to see implemented anyway. George W. Bush did the same thing with Medicare Part D and no one gave a darn.
All of this, naturally, concluded with this question: "Do you favor or oppose impeaching President Obama for exceeding his authority under the Constitution by failing to enforce some laws and changing other laws on his own -- or for any other reason?" (Only about a third said they favor the idea.)
The only reason -- the only reason -- for a purported news organization to word polling questions this way is to generate a result that reinforces a preconceived narrative, which is pretty much the opposite of what legitimate polling is supposed to do.
But it's the larger pattern that really drives the point home.