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"Obamacare"  supporter Margot Smith (L) of California pleads her case with legislation opponents Judy Burel (2nd R) and Janis Haddon, both of Georgia, at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 28, 2012.

Appeals court swings a sledgehammer at the ACA

07/22/14 11:13AM

Most of the nation has been working under the assumption that the fight over the Affordable Care Act's existence is over. The Supreme Court has already endorsed the law's legality; Congress has effectively given up on its repeal crusade; and the law's implementation is proving to be a great success. End of story, right?
Well, no. There's one last court case that we've been following that, in theory, could still destroy much of the federal health care system. At a distance, it's a genuinely ridiculous case, but as Adam Serwer reports this morning, its absurdity didn't stop Republican-appointed judges from making the wrong call this morning.
A federal court has struck down a rule from the Internal Revenue Service making Americans in federally-run health insurance marketplaces eligible for subsidies, a decision that could seriously imperil implementation of the Affordable Care Act. [...]
The ruling was a 2-1 decision by a three judge panel. Judge Harry Edwards, the lone Democratic-appointed judge on the panel, dissented.
If you've been ignoring this lawsuit, it's understandable. In January, a federal district court heard the case and not only sided with the Obama administration, the ruling practically mocked conservatives for filing such a ludicrous case. A separate federal judge recently reached the same conclusion.
But arguably the two most far-right jurists on the D.C. Circuit nevertheless overruled the lower courts, effectively swinging a sledgehammer at the core of the Affordable Care Act. If the ruling stands, there would be a very real possibility that this one outrageous decision could unravel much of the ACA itself.
Which is why it matters a great deal for millions of American families what happens next.
File Photo: Rick Scott, the Republican candidate for governor of Florida, as he campaigns at the Sweetwater Youth Center on August 31, 2010 in Sweetwater, Florida.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images/File)

Florida's Scott finds himself in hot water

07/22/14 10:19AM

Exactly how many Republican governors have found themselves embroiled in various scandals this year? It's getting tough to count, but there's New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. That doesn't even include  former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who's facing corruption charges.
And then there's Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), in the middle of one of the nation's most competitive gubernatorial races, who's suddenly found himself in the middle of three unrelated controversies.
Issue #1 came up last week, when the Republican governor was accused of coercing on-duty police officers to play the role of political props at a campaign event. (I hope everyone caught his unintentionally amusing response.)
Issue #2 came up yesterday, when Scott was accused of personally profiting from a gas pipeline he supported.
Upon his election in 2010, Gov. Rick Scott's transition team included a Florida Power & Light executive who pitched his company's plan to build a major natural gas pipeline in North Florida to fuel a new generation of gas-fired power plants in places like Port Everglades. [...]
In May and June 2013, he signed into law two bills designed to speed up permitting for what came to be known as the Sabal Trail Transmission -- a controversial, 474-mile natural gas pipeline that's to run from Alabama and Georgia to a hub in Central Florida, south of Orlando.
Five months later, the Florida Public Service Commission, whose five members were appointed by Scott, unanimously approved construction of Sabal Trail as the state's third major natural gas pipeline.
What wasn't known at the time is that Scott owned a stake in in Spectra Energy, which was chosen to build and operate the $3 billion pipeline. The governor's team insists the investment was made through a blind trust, though there are unanswered questions about when the shares were acquired and just how blind that trust really is.
President Barack Obama speaks during a town hall meeting focusing on the importance of the My Brothers Keeper Initiative at the Walker Jones Education Campus in Washington, D.C, on July 21, 2014.

A day in the life

07/22/14 09:37AM

At 10:39 a.m. (ET) yesterday, President Obama hosted an event at the East Room of the White House, where he signed a sweeping anti-discrimination executive order. Just 29 minutes after the gathering was over, Obama spoke from the South Lawn, addressing the crises in Ukraine and Gaza.
Literally just 35 minutes after those remarks, the president kicked off a town-hall event on his "My Brother's Keeper" program, where he announced an additional $100 million in funding for his racial justice initiative, "a public-private program that focuses on the unique challenges faced by young men of color." And two hours after that, Obama was back in the East Room, this time to present the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Ryan Pitts.
I think it's fair to say that was a fairly busy day for the president.
Indeed, for all the talk about gridlock and Washington paralysis, Obama demonstrated yesterday that he's more than capable, not only of governing effectively, but of tackling a variety of subjects at once. Watching the president pivot from issue to issue yesterday, we were reminded of Obama's willingness and eagerness to lead, govern effectively, and pursue a clear vision. And it's not just yesterday -- the president will unveil a series of executive actions today on job training.
Congressional inaction is a time-honored tradition in the months before an election. But the stagnation in this Congress -- even in the face of mounting national and international challenges -- only bolsters the perception that this is really the least productive in history. And a thaw doesn't appear to be in the offing as each party commits to seeking an elusive, post-election upper hand.
The contrast between an active president, appearing almost desperate to get things done, and a passive Congress, spinning its wheels without direction, is stark.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., joined by attorneys Paul D. Clement, far left, and Rick Esenberg, second from left, announces that he has filed a lawsuit to block the federal government from helping to pay for health care coverage for members of Congress and th

An 'unfortunate political stunt' goes awry

07/22/14 08:35AM

Earlier this year, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) thought he'd come up with a great idea: he'd file a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act in the hopes of making coverage more expensive for Capitol Hill staff. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Johnson's home state of Wisconsin, conceded the senator's lawsuit was "frivolous" and an "unfortunate political stunt."
Yesterday, in a development that was arguably even more important than it appears at first blush, a federal judge threw out the case.
A federal judge based in Green Bay has tossed a Sen. Ron Johnson's Obamacare lawsuit targeting the health benefits for members of Congress and their staff.
The court dismissed the lawsuit, which contended the Obama administration decision to grant employer contributions for health plans purchased through the District of Columbia's Obamacare health exchange ran afoul of the law.
Chief Judge William C. Griesbach of the Eastern District of Wisconsin ruled that Johnson and fellow plaintiff Brooke Ericson lacked standing, siding with the argument made by the government's lawyers.
The hurdle for Johnson's lawyers was always going to be difficult to clear: how would the Republican senator demonstrate he'd been harmed by the health care policy he doesn't like? Remember, when filing a lawsuit challenging the legality of a law, plaintiffs can't just say, "I don't like it." They need to show how they've been adversely affected by it.
Johnson couldn't, so his case was dismissed. But this is more than just a setback for one Republican senator with a partisan axe to grind; this is also likely the start of things to come for the GOP's anti-Obama litigation.
Rick Perry

Rick Perry's 'Operation Strong Safety'

07/22/14 08:00AM

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) recently appeared on Fox News, stressing his support for deploying National Guard troops to address the humanitarian crisis at the Southern border. Brit Hume asked the governor to explain what the Guard would actually do. Perry struggled to explain.
Hume reminded Perry, "[I]f these children who've undergone these harrowing journeys, to escape the most desperate conditions in their home countries, have gotten this far, are they really going to be deterred by the presence of troops along the border who won't shoot them and can't arrest them?"
At this point, Perry changed the subject.
But that was last week. This week, the Republican governor and likely presidential candidate is moving forward with his idea, whether he can explain its merits or not.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry on Monday requested the immediate deployment of as many as 1,000 service members to assist with security at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The soldiers, from both the Texas National Guard and State Guard, will mobilize throughout the next 30 days to carry out "Operation Strong Safety" along the border region.
"I will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault," Perry said Monday during a press conference.
First, there's very little to suggest Texans are "under assault." Second, "Operation Strong Safety" is an unintentionally amusing phrase. As Paul Waldman joked, "'Operation Strong Safety'? Why not just go ahead and call it Operation America Macho TestosteReagan?"
But even putting that aside, at its core, the most meaningful concern here is that Perry's solution doesn't match the problem.

Supersonic impact and other headlines

07/22/14 07:56AM

Jet wreckage bears signs of impact by supersonic missile, analysis shows. (NY Times)

Israeli soldier missing in Gaza. (AP)

Where is the Obama administration housing the immigrant kids? (Washington Post)

Georgia holds primary runoffs today, which could mean the return of Bob Barr to congress. (AP)

Working-class whites lose voting dominance in Ohio. (AP)

Many Americans still think Obama not a citizen. (Political Wire)

New information deepens the mystery of the missing IRS emails. (Wall Street Journal)

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Ahead on the July 21, 2014 Maddow show

07/21/14 08:09PM

Tonight's guests:0

  • Kimberly Marten, professor of political science specializing in Russian affairs at Barnard College and Columbia University
  • Michael Kiefer, senior reporter for the Arizona Republic

And here's executive producer Bill Wolff with a preview of tonight and a soundtrack tribute to one of this weekend's passings:

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Monday's Mini-Report, 7.21.14

07/21/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Rising death toll: "Four Israeli soldiers and 10 Palestinian militants were killed inside Israeli territory Monday morning, Israeli military officials said.... As diplomatic pressure for a cease-fire mounted on the conflict's 14th day, the Palestinian death toll topped 500 and the number of Israeli soldiers killed hit 25, more than twice as many as in Israel's last Gaza ground operation in 2009. Two Israeli civilians have also died from rocket and mortar fire."
* Ukraine: "After days of obstruction, Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine reached an agreement with Malaysia on Monday to surrender the flight recorder boxes of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner downed by a surface-to-air missile last week, and allowed the bodies of the victims to be evacuated by train."
* UN: "The United Nations Security Council, increasing pressure on Russia over the downing of a jetliner of Ukraine, adopted a resolution Monday calling for investigators to have unfettered access to the crash site and demanding a cease-fire in the area."
* Related news: "Iran has turned all of its enriched uranium closest to the level needed to make nuclear arms into more harmless forms, the UN nuclear agency says."
* Good question: "In Ukraine, American and other foreign investigators have thus far been unable to secure the access they need. 'Separatists are removing evidence from the crash site,' Obama said. 'All of which begs the question, what exactly are they trying to hide?'"
* Giving diplomacy more time: "Iran, the United States and the five other countries negotiating the future of the Iranian nuclear program have agreed to a four-month extension of the talks, giving them more time to try to bridge major differences over whether Tehran will be forced to dismantle parts of its nuclear infrastructure, according to a statement released early Saturday in Vienna by all seven nations."
* Border crisis: "The number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border in recent weeks appears to be dropping substantially, the White House said Monday. While an average of 355 unaccompanied children crossed the Rio Grande every day in June, an average of 150 migrant children per day were apprehended crossing the border over the first two weeks of July, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said."
* Gun violence: "An 11-year-old girl in Chicago was shot and killed late last week when a stray bullet flew through a window and struck her in the head during a sleepover at a nearby friend's house.... In addition to [sixth grader Shamiya Adams], 21 other people were shot in a 12-hour span from Friday afternoon to early Saturday morning."
* More on this on tonight's show: "The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Saturday that Arizona must divulge information about the drugs and executioners it will use to put a man to death Wednesday or the execution will not go forward."

Russia's U.S. standing plummets, still more popular than Congress

07/21/14 04:51PM

It wasn't too long ago that Russia was fairly popular in the minds in the American mainstream. The latest poll from CNN suggests that's changed rather dramatically.
Most Americans say Russia is directly or indirectly responsible for the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner over eastern Ukraine, and unfavorable opinions of Russia have surged, according to a new national poll. [...]
According to the poll, just 19% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Russia, down from 41% in February. Fifty-seven percent of the public saw Russia in a positive way in a 2011 CNN/ORC survey. Seventy-eight percent of those questioned say they have an unfavorable opinion of Russia, a surge of 23 percentage points since February.
That's almost impressive, in a way. It takes real effort to go from 41% to 19% favorability in the course of five months.
But what stands out for me is a CNN poll from a few weeks ago that said Congress has a 14% approval rating.
Let's pause to appreciate what this is telling us.
US Senator Lindsey Graham (R) speaks as Senator John McCain (L) looks on during a press conference at the US Embassy in Kabul on January 2, 2014.

Public attitudes on foreign policy clear as mud

07/21/14 03:52PM

Politico's latest poll focused exclusively on voters in states and districts with the most competitive Senate and House races, and on foreign policy, voters' attitudes lean heavily in one direction.
Amid deepening violence across Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Americans are recoiling from direct engagement overseas and oppose U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine by large margins, according to a POLITICO poll of 2014 battleground voters.
Asked whether the U.S should do more to counter Russian aggression in Ukraine, just 17 percent answered in the affirmative.... More than three-quarters of likely voters say they support plans to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016. Only 23 percent oppose the plan.
Forty-four percent of likely voters favor less involvement in Iraq's civil war, versus 19 percent who favor more involvement and 23 percent who say the current level of involvement is appropriate.... Likely voters prefer less involvement in Syria's civil war over more involvement, 42 percent to 15 percent.
The results aren't even close. The public heard quite a bit from Dick Cheney, and John McCain, and Lindsey Graham, and a cavalcade of Republican lawmakers who seem to dominate the airwaves -- but voters are running in the other direction.
Less than a fifth of these "battleground" voters are buying what McCain & Co. are selling. We're looking at an electorate that wants less of a confrontation in Iraq, less of a presence in Afghanistan, less engagement in Iraq, and less involvement in Syria.
And yet, the exact same poll also included this result: "On the issue of foreign policy specifically, voters say they trust Republicans over Democrats by 7 points, 39 percent to 32 percent."
Got that? Americans clearly reject the Republican foreign policy on Russia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. Americans also say they're inclined to trust Republicans on foreign policy.
You can almost hear the staffers at the DNC banging their heads against their desks. Americans agree with Democrats on foreign policy, but trust Republicans on foreign policy. If that doesn't seem rational, that's because it isn't.