For much of President Obama's first two years in office, Democrats accomplished an enormous amount, but not quite as much as they would have liked. On a variety of key issues, Republican filibusters in the Senate blocked important progressive priorities, and at times, stopped the Democratic majority from even trying.
There were instances in which legislation would enjoy the support of a House majority, the White House, and 57 senators, but the bills would die anyway -- the GOP minority set a 60-vote minimum on literally every measure of any significance. If Dems didn't like it, Republicans said at the time, they'd just have to work harder at building bipartisan consensus.
In the years since, the congressional parties' fortunes have shifted and it's now the GOP in the majority. And wouldn't you know it, now that Democrats are playing by the same rules and employing the same tactics, Republicans now find their own tactics intolerable.
On NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday, Chuck Todd talked to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) about whether his Republican brethren in the Senate should use a new "nuclear option" to end filibusters altogether. Here's the exchange:
TODD: You brought up the Senate and said senate Democrats. One way that this could change is since Republicans do have the majority [in the Senate] is that Mitch McConnell invokes the so-called nuclear option. Right now there are no filibusters for any executive appointments -- judicial or in the executive branch. But on legislation, the filibuster is still there. Do you want senate Republicans to go nuclear?
MCCARTHY: I don't think going nuclear when you have 57 percent of the Senate voted for to cause the amendment that would take away the president's action, that is not nuclear when 57 percent of the American representation says it's wrong. That's not in the Constitution. I think they should change the rules.
For context, McCarthy was referring to a Senate vote on Friday to destroy President Obama's executive actions from November 2014. The measure failed on a procedural vote with 57 supporters, three short of what Republicans needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster.
This, evidently, was the proof the House Majority Leader needed -- it's time, he told Chuck Todd, to "change the rules" and stop the tactics Republicans perfected.
Take a bit of out-of-control Reagan worship, add some anti-union preoccupation, and throw in a dash of unpreparedness. The result is a presidential hopeful who seems less prepared for the White House with each passing day.
Walker contended that "the most significant foreign policy decision of my lifetime" was then-President Ronald Reagan's move to bust a 1981 strike of air traffic controllers, firing some 11,000 of them.
"It sent a message not only across America, it sent a message around the world," Walker said. America's allies and foes alike became convinced that Reagan was serious enough to take action and that "we weren't to be messed with," he said.
Walker made similar comments at an event two weeks ago, but these new remarks, delivered at a Club for Growth gathering, mark the first time Walker has described the firing of air-traffic controllers as "the most significant foreign policy decision" of his lifetime.
It's also an incredibly foolish thing for anyone, least of all a White House aspirant, to say out loud. This is an important stage for Walker's national campaign, and these comments might be the most striking evidence to date that the governor hasn't yet prepared for the task at hand.
As last week got underway, the political world was faced with unsettling circumstances. With five days remaining before the Department of Homeland Security ran out of funds, Republicans were at odds with one another, struggling to craft a coherent strategy.
As this week gets underway, the circumstances seem ... surprisingly familiar.
Late Friday, soon after House Republicans once again betrayed House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and ignored his resolution to the DHS fiasco his party created, Congress grudgingly approved a one-week extension to current Homeland Security funding, avoiding a shutdown and setting the stage for another week of drama on Capitol Hill.
But while last week's chaos was humiliating for Boehner and his leadership team, it was also a surprisingly informative series of developments. We may have ended up at a similar point, but we've learned a few key lessons in the interim.
1. Speaker Boehner is as weak in the 114th Congress as he was in the 113th and 112th Congresses.
When the new year got underway, the House Speaker felt pretty good about his political standing. Boehner was poised to lead the largest Republican conference America has seen in generations, giving him new leeway to advance must-pass legislation. Sure, in the four previous years, Boehner proved to be the weakest Speaker in modern times, but it was a new day -- gains in the 2014 midterms offered new promise for the accomplishment-free GOP leader.
Last week, those promises were thrown in the trash. Boehner's conference may be larger, but so too is the embarrassment that comes with failure -- the Speaker urged his own members to follow his lead on DHS funding, and in a familiar response, House Republicans ignored him.
2. The House GOP leadership team lacks basic competence.
After Eric Cantor's constituents rejected him, House GOP lawmakers assembled a new leadership team intended to give Republicans their best chance at success. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) was awarded with the key, Majority Whip post -- and protected after a racially charged controversy in December -- because he had a unique connection to the party's far-right flank.
But this team is as inept as the last. It's not just that the party's rank-and-file members ignored their ostensible leaders; the problem is compounded by the fact that GOP leaders had no idea their members were poised to defeat their own party's plans. A leadership team that can't persuade its members has a problem; a leadership team that can't count to 218 has a more serious problem.
First up from the God Machine this week is an alarming poll, which found a significant number of Americans who like the idea of establishing an official national religion.
A majority of Republicans nationally support establishing Christianity as the national religion, according to a new Public Policy Polling survey released Tuesday.
The poll by the Democratic-leaning firm found that 57 percent of Republicans "support establishing Christianity as the national religion" while 30 percent are opposed. Another 13 percent said they were not sure.
The irony is rich. Many Republican activists like to describe themselves as "Constitutional Conservatives," but under the Constitution -- at least in this country -- the very idea of a national religion is antithetical to the American tradition. Indeed, the opening words of the Bill of Rights explicitly say, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."
There's nothing "conservative" about a theocratic agenda in which one faith tradition is endorsed by the government above all other belief systems.
But this week, it wasn't just the poll results that highlighted the problem. A county Republican Party in Idaho pushed a resolution that intended to identify Idaho as a "formally and specifically declared a Christian state." One local activist told reporters, "We're a Christian community in a Christian state and the Republican Party is a Christian party."
The resolution was ultimately defeated by the state party, but the fact that it was considered, and enjoyed a fair amount of support, was unsettling for supporters of church-state separation.
Tony Messenger, St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial page editor, talks with Rachel Maddow about the strange circumstances surrounding the suicide of Missouri state auditor Tom Schweich, and the bitter Republican primary for Missouri governor in 2016. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on a settlement reached between Exxon Mobil and New Jersey in a case of Exxon Mobil polluting hundreds of acres of wetlands. Though the state sought $8.9 billion, Christie settled for $250 million ahead of a judge's ruling. watch
Frank Thorp, NBC News Capitol Hill producer, and Chuck Todd, political director for NBC News, talk with Rachel Maddow as Congress scrambles to fund the DHS in the wake of John Boehner's failure to rally the Republican votes to get the job done. watch
Last night we heard from Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who feels that the votes of 70% of her constituents to legalize marijuana should be honored despite the objections of some Republican members of Congress who technically have authority over the District. To Mayor Bowser, the votes of her constituents are not just a ...
* The Senate easily approved a clean bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security. The House responded with Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) plan for a three-week extension, but House Republicans ignored their ostensible leader and killed Boehner's bill.
* With fewer than seven hours remaining before the DHS shutdown, it looks like the House is confronted with two options: the Senate bill or nothing.
* Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) with some words of wisdom for his fellow Republicans in Congress: "Hopefully we're gonna end the attaching of bulls**t to essential items of the government." Hopefully, indeed.
* The suspected gunman appears to have killed himself: "A gunman killed seven people in a door-to-door shooting spree across the rural Missouri community of Tyrone before turning his weapon on himself, police said Friday. A ninth person at a home searched during the investigation was also found dead, but apparently of natural causes."
* Ukraine: "International monitors said Friday the conflict in Ukraine was at a "crossroads" as further losses among government forces rattled a two-week-old truce just as it seemed to be gaining traction."
* Financial regulatory reform works: "Global regulators have issued dozens of rules aimed at making the biggest banks safer. That's leading to another result some wanted: making them shrink."
* Someone apparently wants attention again: "North Korea vowed to wage a 'merciless, sacred war' against the United States on Thursday, days before the launch of annual joint South Korea-US military exercises that have incensed Pyongyang."