As of a week ago, about half of the nation's states had embraced Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act, while the other half seemed to be motivated almost entirely out of partisan spite. But in recent days, there's been a burst of unexpected activity on this issue.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) struck a deal with the Obama administration that will allow Medicaid expansion to cover another half-million low-income Americans in the Keystone State. A day later, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) said he expects to follow suit in the coming weeks.
Ruby-red Wyoming generally resists any voluntary federal program, but it, too, is starting to come around on Medicaid expansion. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), a fierce "Obamacare" critic, recently did the same.
Utah's health care debate took an unexpected turn at the State Capitol, where a lawmaker who is also a doctor argued that access to health care can be a bad thing.
Representative Mike Kennedy, a Republican from Alpine, made the comments in a Health Reform Task Force meeting, in reaction to a story from another doctor.... "Sometimes access actually can mean harm," said Representative Mike Kennedy, a family physician.
I've followed this debate closely for quite a while, and I have to admit, this is the first time I've seen an elected official argue -- out loud and on purpose -- that medical care may be bad for people. But in this case, a Utah state Republican and physician tried to defeat Medicaid expansion by sincerely making the case that hospitals can make Americans sicker.
"Sometimes access to health care can be damaging and dangerous," the GOP lawmaker said. "And it's a perspective for the [Legislative] body to consider is that, I've heard from National Institutes of Health and otherwise that we're killing up to a million, a million and a half people every year in our hospitals. And it's access to hospitals that's killing those people."
Ridiculous arguments notwithstanding, there is a larger trend here that's hard to overlook.
The humanitarian crisis along the U.S./Mexico border has moved from the front page for a couple of reasons. The first, obviously, is that there have been some unrelated crises that have unfolded in recent weeks -- in Missouri, in Ukraine, in the Middle East -- that have dominated the news.
But the second is the fact that the number of unaccompanied children has dropped considerably. In his pre-Labor Day press conference, President Obama highlighted recent "progress," noting, "The number of apprehensions in August are down from July, and they're actually lower than they were August of last year. Apprehensions in July were half of what they were in June. So we're seeing a significant downward trend in terms of these unaccompanied children."
It's a complex challenge and as Josh Voorhees explained the other day, it's hard to say with confidence exactly what's caused the recent trend.
But as that discussion continues to unfold, Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) response to the situation is coming under new scrutiny. After he deployed National Guard troops for no particular reason, some of those troops reportedly reached out to a local food bank because the state hadn't fully planned for their deployment.
Last month, Perry announced he was sending 1,000 National Guard troops to defend the border in the wake of inaction from the federal government. The move was met with skepticism, especially from border town sheriffs who wanted the resources to go towards police officers, since National Guard troops aren't allowed to arrest or detain undocumented immigrants. Others balked at the price -- it will cost an estimated $12 million a month to sustain the troops, and as of last month the state wasn't sure how it would pay that price.
Now it seems that the troops arrived before the funds did. Democratic state Rep. Rene Olivera, who earlier condemned the "militarization" of the border, said "it's embarrassing that our troops have to stand in a food pantry line. This is the fault of the state."
Gubernatorial hopeful Wendy Davis (D) described the lack of resources "disgraceful" and the San Antonio Express-Newsreported that the state senator would personally deliver food to the Guard members over the weekend.
"Whether you agree that we need the National Guard or the additional deputy sheriffs that I have previously called for to secure the border, it is shameful that our troops would be sent to keep us safe without basic supplies like food," Davis said.
Last year, Republican operative Jesse Benton was asked his role as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) campaign manager. Benton, whose remarks were being recorded without his knowledge, said, "I'm sort of holdin' my nose for two years" in order to help Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) presidential campaign in 2016.
It was an embarrassing moment for McConnell, as the public learned that even his own campaign manager doesn't like him. Twenty months later, however, it's apparently no longer an issue: Benton waited until late Friday afternoon on a holiday weekend to announce his resignation. As we talked about on Saturday, the move is the result of a growing bribery scandal.
Jesse Benton resigned as Sen. Mitch McConnell's campaign manager Friday following reports that he had emerged as a figure in an endorsement scandal during the 2012 Iowa presidential caucus. [...]
He said that he resigned to avoid becoming a distraction to McConnell's re-election campaign, saying the "election is far too important and the stakes way too high."
In the same written statement, Benton included a Scriptural reference: "James 16:33. 'I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.'"
It was another unfortunate error: the Book of James has no 16th chapter. The Republican operative meant to quote the Book of John.
Regardless, there a few key angles to this story, which are likely to reverberate for the rest of this election cycle and into the next.
Let's start with the bribery scandal that has forced Benton's departure.
It's likely to be pretty slow today, so readers should expect a very light posting schedule. That said, I'll be around in case there's breaking news of interest.
As for Labor Day, President Obama is emphasizing the need for a minimum-wage hike; Republicans are talking up the "jobs bills" passed by the GOP-led House (they're not actual jobs bills); E.J. Dionne Jr. presents Market Basket as an example of a Labor Day tale with a happy ending; and msnbc's Tim Noah argues that liberals must "recommit themselves to labor unions."
The New York Times' editorial board, meanwhile, notes some recent progress on the labor front, though there's so much more work needs to be done.
There has been progress since last Labor Day. Mr. Obama has signed executive orders to improve the pay and working conditions of employees of federal contractors. The Labor Department is revising rules on overtime pay; simply updating them for inflation would make millions of additional workers eligible for time-and-a-half for overtime.
What is still lacking, however, is a full-employment agenda that regards labor, not corporations, as the center of the economy -- a change that would be a reversal of the priorities of the last 35 years.
Also take a look at Jared Bernstein's latest: "If you hear a Labor Day speech today, you'll probably and appropriately hear a call for replacing some of what American workers have lost over the years: bargaining power, wages, robust job opportunities, a fair social compact. And those are all highly relevant things to call for. But I think what's missing from our national debate over labor and the condition of working families -- those who depend on paychecks, not stock portfolios -- is something more fundamental: courage."
The controversy started, oddly enough, six days before the 2012 Republican presidential caucuses in Iowa.
In a development that was simply unheard of, state Sen. Kent Sorenson (R), the chair of Michele Bachmann's presidential campaign in Iowa, announced just six days before the caucuses that he was quitting Team Bachmann to support Ron Paul's presidential campaign.
At the time, the move seemed inexplicable, but this week we learned that the Ron Paul campaign paid Sorenson a $73,000 bribe to switch teams. Following a federal investigation into the incident, Sorenson pleaded guilty to two criminal counts associated with the bribe and the lies told to cover it up.
But the broader effects of the scandal didn't end with Sorenson's guilty plea. We know who received the bribe, but there's the unresolved matter of who paid the bribe.
The investigation remains ongoing and its effects have now reached Kentucky, where Jesse Benton resigned late yesterday as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) campaign manager, after Benton "emerged as a figure" in the controversy.
In an emailed statement Friday evening, Benton denied any involvement in the scandal.... Benton was Paul's political director at the time. [...]
Benton as well as former McConnell campaign consultant Dimitri Kesari -- who also worked for Paul -- were mentioned in documents gathered during an Iowa state ethics probe of Sorenson, a complaint to the Federal Election Commission and emails purported to be from the Paul campaign obtained by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which monitors federal campaign finance issues.
For his part, Benton blasted "unsubstantiated media rumors" and insisted that the allegations surrounding his role in the Sorenson bribery scandal are "false."
If Benton is guilty of no wrongdoing, why resign late on a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend? The Republican operative's statement added he feared "becoming a distraction" to Mitch McConnell's re-election campaign.
Benton's sudden resignation from the Senate Minority Leader's campaign, however, does not mark the end of the controversy.
First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the real-world consequences of a Supreme Court ruling on the separation of church and state.
Remember Greece v. Galloway? The case dealt with local council meetings in Greece, N.Y., a Rochester suburb, which hosted an informal "chaplain of the month" to deliver an invocation before the board dealt with official business. Nearly all of the invited chaplains were Christian, and "more often than not," the Christian clergy "called on Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit to guide the council's deliberations."
Some local citizens sued, arguing that the First Amendment should prevent local government from incorporating Christian prayers into official community meetings. In a 5-4 decision handed down in May, the high court's conservatives disagreed, reversing a unanimous appellate court and concluding that "ceremonial prayer" is permissible.
This week, as Sahil Kapur reported, officials in Greece adopted a formal policy to put its prayer practices in place.
Less than four months [after the high court ruling], the town of Greece has adopted an invocation policy that excludes non-religious citizens and potentially shuts out faiths that aren't well-established in the town, according to a top secular group.
Seeking to "avail itself of the Supreme Court's recognition" that government prayer is constitutional, the new policy restricts opening remarks to "assemblies with an established presence in the Town of Greece that regularly meet for the primary purpose of sharing a religious perspective."
In practice, this suggests non-believers -- who lack "established" meetings to discuss religious perspectives -- may be deliberately excluded. The same is true for minority faiths who lack enough local members for an established congregation.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (and a long-time friend), told Kapur, "They said they're open to anybody. Now they're not open to anybody. It's really a scam.... They only want religious people -- frankly they only want Christians -- to participate. This is a step backward."
If atheists and other religious minorities submit requests to lead invocations and are rejected, it may very well lead to a new round of litigation.
* Ukraine: "Backed by Russian troops and weaponry, hundreds of Ukrainian rebel militiamen mobilized on Friday in [Novoazovsk], vacated by the Ukrainian military two days ago, and began to push toward the strategic seaport of Mariupol 27 miles away. The leader of the rebels called the advance a broad new effort to wrest control of a wide swath of coastal territory from the central government."
* Tough sell: "Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday hailed pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine as 'insurgents' battling an army that he likened to Nazi invaders during World War II, and the Ukrainian government raised the prospect of joining NATO as it seeks help in repelling what it calls an outright Russian military invasion of its territory."
* This seems likely to get Moscow's attention: "The U.K. will press European Union leaders to consider blocking Russian access to the SWIFT banking transaction system under an expansion of sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine, a British government official said. The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, known as SWIFT, is one of Russia's main connections to the international financial system."
* Sensible: "Rep. Tom Cole on Friday praised President Barack Obama for being 'commendably cautious' about potential military action in Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Appearing on MSNBC, the Oklahoma Republican downplayed criticism that White House lacks a plan to combat ISIL militants, a concern stemming from a White House press briefing Obama gave the day before."
* I guess that's the end of the Mississippi dispute? "Special Judge Hollis McGehee has decided to dismiss an election challenge filed by Chris McDaniel. Friday in Gulfport, the judge announced his decision putting an end to the months of legal battles between the two candidates."
* Palestinian divisions: "Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas blamed Hamas on Friday for extending fighting with Israel in the Gaza Strip, casting doubt on the future of the Palestinian unity government that the Islamic militant group backs, while Israel's premier said the end of the war could mark resumption of peace talks with Abbas."
* Iran: "Amid signs that Iran's military is resisting efforts to open up its nuclear program to deeper inspection, the Obama administration on Friday imposed sanctions on several Iranian organizations, including one run by the reclusive scientist who is widely believed to direct research on building nuclear weapons."
* If only the decision was theirs to make: "Another government shutdown isn't going to happen next month -- at least if you ask Republican leaders."
* Another policy dud for Sen. David Vitter (R-La.): "A government probe into the metric used by federal agencies to measure the 'social cost of carbon' found no evidence that it was improperly developed, investigators said Monday.... The review concluded that a federal working group convened to revise the economic measurement of carbon pollution based its decisions on a consensus of its members' thinking and relied heavily on peer-reviewed science."
Political commentary on President Obama's clothing choices started almost immediately after his inauguration. Just two weeks after the president took the oath of office, Republican critics started complaining about photographs showing Obama in the Oval Office without a jacket on. Democrats responded by showing pictures of Reagan dressed in similar Oval Office attire, and the right quietly moved on.
But over the years, the complaints lingered -- about the president's jeans, the president's neckwear, etc.
Yesterday, interest in presidential attire reached a level that was hard to believe, with the political world going a little bonkers over Obama's tan suit. Andrew Kaczynski flagged the latest from Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) whose apoplexy about the color of the president's suit was so over the top, it's tempting to think this is satire.
"There's no way any of us can excuse what the president did yesterday," King said of President Obama on NewsMaxTV. "When you have the world watching ... a week, two weeks of anticipation of what the United States is gonna do. For him to walk out -- I'm not trying to be trivial here -- in a light suit, light tan suit, saying that first he wants to talk about what most Americans care about the revision of second quarter numbers on the economy. This is a week after Jim Foley was beheaded and he's trying to act like real Americans care about the economy, not about ISIS and not about terrorism. And then he goes on to say he has no strategy."
King said Obama's comments and actions showed "foreign policy was not a major issue" for President Obama.
Note, this isn't a joke. Kaczynski posted the clip of King's remarks, which seem to be entirely sincere.
An actual member of Congress -- the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee's panel on counter-terrorism, no less -- believes there's "no way" to "excuse what the president did." And in this case, what the president did was put on a tan suit.
He's inside this meeting hall, before a sellout crowd of nearly 400 people at the Polk County Republicans' end-of-summer fundraiser, to discuss bullies of a different order. He wants to talk about the "secular progressives" in the news media, politics and academia who will stop at nothing to change the nation as we know it. He also wants to do this in Iowa, while raising money for local Republicans, coinciding with the start of his new PAC, which will "lay the groundwork" should he decide to run for president. [...]
He speaks softly, almost as though he's reading a child to sleep. But this is a scary story. If Republicans don't win back the Senate in November, he says, he can't be sure "there will even be an election in 2016." Later, his wife, Candy, tells a supporter that they are holding on to their son's Australian passport just in case the election doesn't go their way.
Just so we're clear, the implication here is that Carson believes President Obama, tyrant that he is, may not allow elections in 2016. It's why Carson's family is preparing to flee the United States, just in case.
As for Carson arguing earlier this year that contemporary American life as "very much like Nazi Germany," the right-wing doctor told Terris, "You can't dance around it.... If people look at what I said and were not political about it, they'd have to agree. Most people in Germany didn't agree with what Hitler was doing.... Exactly the same thing can happen in this country if we are not willing to stand up for what we believe in."
I guess that means he's not sorry?
Fox News' Chris Wallace said yesterday that Carson, himself a Fox contributor, probably doesn't have a "serious chance" to actually be elected president, but Wallace added he'd "love" to see Carson run anyway.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) is in the middle of a tough re-election fight, which is coinciding with some unresolved ethics allegations. Stories like these probably won't help.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) is being strongly criticized after he told a Hispanic student that he "presumed" she was an undocumented immigrant who came into the U.S. as a child.
Addressing the topic of immigration at a University of Georgia forum Tuesday night, Deal reportedly looked at Lizbeth Miranda when he made his remarks.
"There's a fundamental problem that can only be solved at the Congressional level and that is to deal with the issue of children, and I presume you probably fit the category, children who were brought here," Deal said, according to CBS 46.
Well, "presumptions" can be dangerous in this line of work.
In this case, the student at the University of Georgia forum quickly explained, "I'm not an illegal immigrant. I'm not," she said. "I don't know why you would have thought that I was undocumented. Was it because I look Hispanic?"
The governor, backpedaling, replied, "I apologize if I insulted you. I did not intend to."
Deal's spokesperson later said the governor was directing his comments to a different student at the time.
A video of the exchange is below, and while the camera angle isn't ideal, the audio is pretty clear. Even if we give the governor the benefit of the doubt on which student he was speaking to -- a contentious point, to be sure -- there's a substantive problem to keep in mind: Deal's eagerness to pass responsibility onto Congress is flawed.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
* How competitive is Kansas' gubernatorial race? Gov. Sam Brownback (R) released an internal poll yesterday that showed him leading Paul Davis (D) by only one point, 43% to 42%.
* Moving quickly, MoveOn.org has a new ad targeting Joni Ernst (R) in Iowa's U.S. Senate race, making use of her recent remarks crediting the Koch brothers' network for her political standing. That news only came to public light a few days ago.
* On a related note, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has launched a new ad of its own in Iowa, highlighting Ernst's support for Medicare cuts.
* In Michigan's U.S. Senate race, the EPIC-MRA poll shows Rep. Gary Peters (D) maintaining his lead over Terri Lynn Land (R), 45% to 39%.
* The increasingly erratic Boston Globe poll in Massachusetts' gubernatorial race shows Charlie Baker (R) edging past Martha Coakley (D) for the first time, 38% to 37%.
* Democrats on the national level haven't shown any interest in Maine's U.S. Senate race, where incumbent Sen. Susan Collis (R) is a heavy favorite, but Democracy for America is nevertheless launching some new ads in support of Shenna Bellows (D), Collins' progressive challenger.
NBC News reported this morning that American journalist James Foley was tortured by his ISIS captors, and the abuses included the use of waterboarding. The initial reporting came yesterday from the Washington Post.
At least four hostages held in Syria by the Islamic State, including an American journalist who was recently executed by the group, were waterboarded in the early part of their captivity, according to people familiar with the treatment of the kidnapped Westerners.
James Foley was among the four who were waterboarded several times by Islamic State militants who appeared to model the technique on the CIA's use of waterboarding to interrogate suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
NBC News added that the terrorists "appeared to be deliberately imitating" the torture technique embraced by the Bush/Cheney administration, which came up with the "enhanced interrogation technique" euphemism to justify waterboarding detainees.
President Obama outlawed the use of waterboarding and related torture techniques in his administration soon after taking office in 2009.
The Post's report, quoting a person with direct knowledge of what happened to the hostages said of the Islamic State militants, "They knew exactly how it was done."
In the 2012 elections, you didn't need to be a polling expert to realize Republicans struggled with women voters. After the "war on women" became a commonly recognized phrase, driven entirely by the GOP's actual policy agenda, Democratic candidates thrived thanks in large part to a growing gender gap.
Republican Party leaders were determined to do better. So far, they've failed.
A detailed report commissioned by two major Republican groups -- including one backed by Karl Rove -- paints a dismal picture for Republicans, concluding female voters view the party as "intolerant," "lacking in compassion" and "stuck in the past."
Women are "barely receptive" to Republicans' policies, and the party does "especially poorly" with women in the Northeast and Midwest, according to an internal Crossroads GPS and American Action Network report obtained by POLITICO. It was presented to a small number of senior aides this month on Capitol Hill, according to multiple sources.
The sponsors of the poll matter -- the right isn't in a position to complain about "skewed" results when it's Republicans conducting a poll about perceptions of Republicans.
Reading the report, it's clear that neither party in Washington is especially popular right now, but the Politico report added, "Female voters who care about the top four issues -- the economy, health care, education and jobs -- vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Most striking, Democrats hold a 35-point advantage with female voters who care about jobs and a 26 percent advantage when asked which party is willing to compromise."
Asked about the findings, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus told msnbc yesterday that his party should approach women's issues with a better "tone."
It suggests he's still missing the more salient, substantive point.
There's no shortage of competitive U.S. Senate races to watch this year, and with control of the chamber on the line, the stakes are obviously very high. But arguably the most interesting race is one that few even considered when the 2014 cycle got underway.
The political landscape in Kansas is already unexpectedly volatile, with incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback (R) struggling badly in his bid for a second term, despite Kansas' ruby-red reputation. But more striking still is longtime incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts (R), who was assumed to be a shoo in, but who finds himself in a messy contest.
After narrowly avoiding a primary upset against a political novice, the 78-year-old incumbent, who's been in Congress for over three decades and who no longer owns a home in the state he represents, is in a close, four-way contest. The latest PPP poll found Roberts ahead with 32%, followed by Democrat Chad Taylor at 25%, independent Greg Orman at 23%, and Libertarian Randall Batson at 3%.
In case it's not obvious, when a multi-term Republican incumbent is polling at 32% -- in a red state, in a strong year for the GOP -- he has a problem.
The question is what Democrats can and should do about it. Sean Sullivan explained today that the unexpected circumstances have presented Dems "with an intriguing, if delicate, opportunity to shift the race in their favor, and help themselves in the battle for the Senate majority."
Roberts's Democratic challenger is Chad Taylor, a little-known Shawnee County district attorney who has waved off help from national Democrats, despite raising little money on his own. Independent candidate Greg Orman, a former Democrat who says he is open to aligning himself with either party in the Senate, has raised more money and has the potential to tap his personal wealth for further reinforcements. [...]
Therein lies the Democratic dilemma: Do they passively help Orman, as they did with now-Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) in 2012 -- or perhaps more aggressively encourage Taylor to end his campaign? Or is neither option worth the risk, since Orman -- who also happens to be a former Republican -- could still caucus with GOP, if elected?