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State Sen. Joni Ernst waves to supporters at a primary election night rally, June 3, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Iowa's Ernst dabbles in nullification extremism

07/29/14 08:39AM

In 2010 and 2012, Republican primary voters nominated some pretty outrageous candidates who were so extreme, they alienated the American mainstream and helped deliver key victories to Democrats. The names are as familiar as they are infamous: Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, Richard Mourdock, Christine O'Donnell, et al.
There's a sense that the GOP learned valuable lessons from these fiascos, and made a conscious, concerted effort to nominate fewer extremists for statewide contests in 2014.
Iowa's Joni Ernst is a notable exception.
As Rachel noted on the show last month, Ernst has said she would ban abortions and many forms of birth control; she would privatize Social Security and abolish the minimum wage; she would back an anti-gay amendment to the Constitution; she's open to impeaching President Obama for unknown reason; and she believes there's secret information that Saddam Hussein really did have weapons of mass destruction.
Yesterday, Ben Jacobs ran a report that's arguably the more alarming revelation to date: the right-wing U.S. Senate candidate "appears to believe states can nullify federal laws."
In a video obtained by The Daily Beast, Ernst said on September 13, 2013 at a form held by the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition that Congress should not pass any laws "that the states would consider nullifying."
"You know we have talked about this at the state legislature before, nullification. But, bottom line is, as U.S. Senator why should we be passing laws that the states are considering nullifying? Bottom line: our legislators at the federal level should not be passing those laws. We're right ... we've gone 200-plus years of federal legislators going against the Tenth Amendment's states' rights. We are way overstepping bounds as federal legislators. So, bottom line, no we should not be passing laws as federal legislators -- as senators or congressman -- that the states would even consider nullifying. Bottom line."
Jacobs' report added that Ernst, during her brief tenure as a state senator, hasn't sponsored pro-nullification legislation, but she did back a resolution that says "the State of Iowa hereby claims sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government by the Constitution of the United States." It was introduced in response to "many federal mandates [that] are directly in violation of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States."
I can appreciate why issues like nullification may seem esoteric to everyday concerns on the minds of Iowa voters, but it's important to appreciate how this fits into a simple truth: the more the picture of Ernst comes into sharper focus, the more radical she appears.
A woman reads a leaflet at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, California March 27, 2014.

Chutzpah Watch, Mississippi edition

07/29/14 08:00AM

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) has gone out of his way to make sure the Affordable Care Act doesn't work in his home state. It's ironic, then, to hear him complain about the results.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) blamed President Barack Obama for a reported increase in uninsured Mississipians. The problem is, Bryant didn't acknowledge that he's been a staunch opponent of expanding Medicaid under Obamacare and refused to encourage enrolling in private coverage through

Bryant directed his blame at Obama in response to a question about a WalletHub study that showed an increase in the percentage of uninsured Mississippians. The study found that the uninsured rate increased by 3.34 percentage points to 21.46 percent of Mississippi's population, according to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

The Republican governor characterized the results as "a broken promise" from President Obama.
It's an interesting trick, isn't it? Bryant has done as much as he can to sabotage the ACA in Mississippi, and by standing in the way of Medicaid expansion, among other things, the governor has largely succeeded in hurting his state on purpose. As "Obamacare" sharply reduces the uninsured rate elsewhere, Mississippi is being left behind, by its governor's design.
And so he's blaming the White House.
It's as if you gave me a car, I took off the wheels and refused to put gas in the tank, and then blamed you when the car doesn't go anywhere. In this case, Bryant is blocking the law's full implementation and whining that the law isn't working effectively. Under the circumstances, shouldn't the governor be bragging? He is, after all, getting the results he set out to achieve.
Away from Mississippi, meanwhile, the Affordable Care Act's successes are becoming increasingly undeniable.

Fixing the V.A. and other headlines

07/29/14 07:56AM

Senate votes to confirm the new Sec. of Veterans Affairs today. (The Hill)

Rep. Jeff Miller thinks he can sell the new V.A. reform bill to his fellow Republicans. (AP)

NC to stop defending amendment outlawing same-sex marriage. (WRAL)

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) blocked a resolution acknowledging the reality of climate change. (The Hill)

Doctor held for pointing AR-15 rifle toward women at Phoenix airport. (

The U.S. says Russia has violated the 1987 arms-control treaty. (NY Times)

Israel strikes fuel tanks at Gaza's only power plant. (NBC News)

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Boehner resurrects Romney's debunked smear

Boehner resurrects debunked smear circa Romney 2012

07/28/14 10:55PM

Rachel Maddow reviews some of the lies and distortions produced by the Mitt Romney campaign as it became more desperate to attract white voters, and shows how one lie in particular has been re-introduced to the public discourse in a John Boehner op-ed. watch

Ahead on the 7/28/14 Maddow show

07/28/14 08:16PM

Tonight's guests: 

  • David Nakamura, White House reporter for the Washington Post
  • Rosalind Helderman, broke the McDonnell scandal story in the Washington Post more than a year ago, and has been covering it comprehensively ever since

And here's executive producer Bill Wolff with a preview of tonight's show (cue accompanying soundtrack):

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Monday's Mini-Report, 7.28.14

07/28/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Netanyahu "Israel's prime minister on Monday signaled no quick end to the three-week-old Gaza war, telling Israelis that they must prepare themselves for more fighting in order to crush what he described as the double threat of rockets and 'death tunnels' into Israel dug by Hamas and its associates."
* Nightmare in Guinea: "Health workers here say they are now battling two enemies: the unprecedented Ebola epidemic, which has killed more than 660 people in four countries since it was first detected in March, and fear, which has produced growing hostility toward outside help. On Friday alone, health authorities in Guinea confirmed 14 new cases of the disease. Workers and officials, blamed by panicked populations for spreading the virus, have been threatened with knives, stones and machetes, their vehicles sometimes surrounded by hostile mobs."
* Someone wants attention: North Korea, apparently jealous that global attention has shifted elsewhere for the last few weeks, has issued yet another threat against the United States.... 'If the US imperialists threaten our sovereignty and survival,' military chief Hwang Pyong So said at a nationally televised speech, 'our troops will fire our nuclear-armed rockets at the White House and the Pentagon -- the sources of all evil.'"
* This is just sad: "House Republican appropriators are scaling down an emergency funding bill to address the surge of child immigrants crossing the border."
* Related news: "The number of unaccompanied minors illegally crossing Texas' southern border with Mexico has dipped dramatically over the past month, though reasons for the decrease remain elusive."
* Afghanistan: "Taliban fighters are scoring early gains in several strategic areas near the capital this summer, inflicting heavy casualties and casting new doubt on the ability of Afghan forces to contain the insurgency as the United States moves to complete its withdrawal of combat troops, according to Afghan officials and local elders."
* VA agreement announced: "The bipartisan deal, which Sanders and Miller unveiled at a press conference Monday, will include both long- and short-term fixes aimed at making [the] VA 'more accountable and to help the department recruit more doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals,' according to a release from Sanders and Miller. The bill will also make it easier and faster to fire or demote VA employees, although there will be a 21 day window to review appeals."
* But Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) doesn't want VA facilities in Tulsa to be too nice for veterans. "They're building a Taj Mahal when they should be building a medical clinic," Coburn said. Classy.

An old lie makes a shameful comeback

07/28/14 03:40PM

USA Today ran an editorial today on House Republicans' anti-Obama lawsuit, and the paper was clearly unimpressed, calling it a "political sideshow." As the paper always does, it then ran a companion opinion piece making the opposite case. Defending the litigation was, of course, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
The basic pitch was copy-and-paste boilerplate, but it included something specific that's worth additional attention.
I believe the president's actions in a number of areas -- including job-destroying energy regulations, releasing the "Taliban 5" from Guantanamo without notice and waiving the work requirements in welfare -- exceed his constitutional authority.
Remember, Boehner -- or whoever writes these unpersuasive missives for the Speaker -- could have picked any examples he wanted to bolster the case. If Obama "exceeds his constitutional authority" all of the time, as congressional Republicans claim, Boehner and his office presumably have a lengthy list to choose from.
And what did the Speaker come up with? Climate regulations, in a rather literal sense, can't be an example of the president "exceeding his constitutional authority" -- using the Clean Air Act to address the climate crisis has already been authorized by the U.S. Supreme Court. A prisoner swap to free an American POW is also a bizarre example, since prisoner swaps do not require congressional or judicial approval. In other words, Boehner's 0 for 2.
And then there's the claim that President Obama "waived the work requirement in welfare." This is a lie, and if Boehner doesn't know that, the Speaker owes the public an explanation for how he can be so uninformed.

Appeals court strikes down Virginia same-sex marriage ban

07/28/14 02:58PM

Proponents of marriage equality have been on an extraordinary winning streak in the courts over the last year, but in nearly every instance, the judicial rulings have come by way of state and federal district courts. When federal appellate courts start weighing in, the decisions carry even broader consequences.
Take today, for example. NBC News' Pete Williams reports:
Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Monday -- the second appellate court to rule on the marriage issue.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Virginia, said the state's laws "impermissibly infringe on its citizens' fundamental right to marry."
The 2-1 ruling is available online here (pdf). Note, it was written by Judge Henry Floyd, who was appointed to the federal bench by W. Bush, but elevated to the 4th Circuit by Obama. He was joined by Judge Roger Gregory, who originally received a recess appointment from Clinton, before being re-nominated by W. Bush.
The majority ruling was unequivocal. "We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws. Civil marriage is one of the cornerstones of our way of life. It allows individuals to celebrate and publicly declare their intentions to form lifelong partnerships, which provide unparalleled intimacy, companionship, emotional support, and security.
"The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual's life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance," the court said.
US Customs And Border Security Agents Patrol Texas-Mexico Border

How not to debate the border crisis

07/28/14 12:43PM

Congress' newly-chosen House Majority Whip, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), appeared on "Fox News Sunday" yesterday, and Chris Wallace asked the far-right lawmaker about a possible solution to the humanitarian crisis at the U.S./Mexico border. The Louisiana Republican said, "Well, Chris, we're going to keep working until we get this problem solved."
Asked if that meant possibly delaying the month-long August recess, which begins this Friday, Scalise refused to answer, instead pushing a loosely strung-together list of talking points, many of which didn't make a lot of sense.
"We want to actually fix the law, and wouldn't it be good to allow the governors of those border states to be able to call the National Guard and to help security the border? This all has to start with securing the border, not writing the president a blank check, to keep doing what he's doing that's not working.... And ultimately, this is the president's responsibility. He could fix the problem today. He's chosen not to, but the House is going to lead. [...]
"It's ironic, we're here in Congress right now, and the president doesn't want to work with us while we're in town. He wants to wait until we're gone. The president has a lot of time on his schedule to secure fundraisers. He has no time to secure the border.... He's flying around doing fundraisers. He doesn't have time to come and sit down and work with Congress. We're going to get this problem solved. [...]
"The House is going to take leadership.... And if the president wants to sit back and just continue to point fingers at other people, he's the president of the United States. He could solve this problem today. He's been AWOL on it. He doesn't want to solve this problem. But we do.... We're going to actually do our job."
If Chronic Word Salad is a disease, it would appear the new House Majority Whip is in desperate need of treatment.
I'm going to hope Scalise didn't actually mean most of what he said on the air, because if he was sincere, it suggests the new House GOP leader isn't even keeping up on current events. The National Guard talking point is foolish, as is the "blank check" rhetoric. The congressman can argue that lawmakers need to change the 2008 human-trafficking law to fix the crisis, and he can argue that Obama can fix the crisis without a change to 2008 human-trafficking law, but he shouldn't make both arguments at the same time.
The White House isn't waiting for the recess to work with Congress; the White House presented a proposed solution to the crisis weeks ago and Scalise's House Republicans have done nothing but complain since. Obama "has no time to secure the border"? Actually, in modern times, the border has never been more secure -- and the current crisis has nothing to do with border security.
"He's been AWOL"? Obama's the only one in Washington who's actually done any work addressing the problem, suggesting Scalise may not understand what "AWOL" means.
After the interview, even Fox's panel found it tough to defend Republican antics on the issue.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.28.14

07/28/14 12:00PM

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:
* On the generic congressional ballot, a new CNN poll shows Democrats leading Republicans by four among registered voters, 48% to 44%. Among all respondents, the Dems' lead is a little bigger, 48% to 42%.
* In a bit of a surprise, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce intends to support Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D) re-election campaign in Louisiana. The business lobby is nearly always closely aligned with Republicans.
* In Iowa's closely watched U.S. Senate race, where Rep. Bruce Braley (D) has lost his lead against right-wing state Sen. Joni Ernst (R), the Democrat shook up his campaign team late last week, replacing his pollster and admaker.
* With two weeks remaining before Hawaii's Democratic U.S. Senate primary, the League of Conservation Voters hopes to boost appointed Sen. Brian Schatz (D), launching a $380,000 TV ad buy. Schatz faces a tough fight against Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D).
* In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott (R) recently refused to take a stand on climate science, telling reporters, "I'm not a scientist." His rival, former Gov. Charlie Crist (D), said over the weekend, "I'm not a scientist either but I can use my brain and I can talk to one." Crist made the comment before attending a presentation on global warming by Professor Jeff Chanton of Florida State University's Earth and Atmospheric Science Department.
Darrell Issa

Dem offers Issa a 'Senator Joseph R. McCarthy Memorial Truth Pond'

07/28/14 11:41AM

It's fairly common for Democrats to accuse House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) of orchestrating "witch hunts" -- the accusations are based in fact -- so to help formalize the congressman's habits, one House Dem suggested a more expedited method. Colby Itkowitz reported:
Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) is prepared to toss the likes of former IRS official Lois Lerner, U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder and White House political adviser David Simas into water to see if they'll sink or swim. An above-ground pool (naturally, it would be unrealistic to have an in-ground one) would be placed inside the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing room.
"We are picking winners and losers, when it is clearly obvious that witches can only be found by dunking them in water. If they float they're a witch. If they don't, installing a pool will allow us to retrieve the non-witch before he or she drowns," Cardenas said in an actual press release. "Like the Chairman, I am interested in effective government oversight and reform. This pool will allow that to take place, wasting far fewer taxpayer dollars in the process."
Under Cardenas' proposal, the pool would have its own official name: the "Senator Joseph R. McCarthy Memorial Truth Pond." A plaque near the pool would read, "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"
When not being used on suspected witches, the pool, the California Democrat added, could be used by members and their staff recreationally.
Cardenas' office told Itkowitz that it is, of course, a ridiculous idea, intended to "underscore the ridiculous" situation the House Oversight Committee finds itself under Issa's tutelage.
Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., attends the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 14, 2013.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Cotton tripped up by his voting record

07/28/14 11:22AM

Much of Arkansas was ravaged by heavy flooding last month, so farmers and ranchers were relieved last week when U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack designated 23 eastern Arkansas counties as disaster areas. The designation makes agriculture producers in the affected areas eligible for emergency financial assistance from the federal government.
Not surprisingly, Arkansas' political leaders, including Senate hopeful Rep. Tom Cotton (R), applauded the Obama administration's announcement. "I appreciate Secretary Vilsack's quick approval of Governor Beebe's disaster declaration request for the 23 impacted counties," Cotton said in a press release. "I have heard from many farmers about the impact of the recent flooding, and I look forward to working with our friends in Arkansas to make sure farmers are able to access the emergency funds they need."
The problem, as Alex Lazar reported, is that Cotton opposed the disaster aid, which was included in the farm bill the congressman voted to kill.
"It takes a special kind of arrogance for Congressman Cotton to take credit for disaster relief funds that he consistently and recklessly opposed," Pryor campaign spokesman Erik Dorey said.
"If Congressman Cotton wants credit for disaster recovery programs he voted against, he first needs to admit he was wrong when he opposed the Farm Bill and apologize to Arkansas's farmers and ranchers for siding with his out-of-state billionaire buddies against our state's rural economy," Dorey added.
Cotton recently defended his opposition to the farm bill, arguing that it should have, among other things, done more to treat food-stamp recipients as possible drug addicts.
Of the four House Republicans from Arkansas' delegation, Cotton was the only one to oppose the farm bill -- a vote that continues to dog his Senate campaign.
What's more this isn't the first time Cotton's approach to disaster aid has caused him trouble.