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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.
US President Barack Obama signs an executive order during an event in the East Room of the White House April 8, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Obama advances anti-discrimination policy with executive order

07/21/14 12:53PM

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, after already having passed the Senate, has 206 co-sponsors in the House, including lawmakers from both parties. It's tough to argue against the bill -- under federal law, employers can legally fire employees if they're gay, or even if they think the employees are gay. ENDA would make such discrimination illegal, and with 206 co-sponsors, all that's needed is a floor vote.
But that's not going to happen. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he will not allow the House to express its will on the legislation, falsely claiming, "People are already protected in the workplace."
A month ago, President Obama got tired of waiting for GOP leaders to allow a vote and directed his staff to craft an executive order to advance ENDA's goals with federal contractors. Today, he made policy by signing it.
Six years after promising to do so, President Barack Obama added his signature on Monday to an executive order barring LGBT discrimination by federal contractors. He also went further and formally amended a separate executive order to include workplace protections for transgender employees of the U.S. government.
"I know I’m a little late,” said Obama, referring to the near-30 minute delay of Monday’s signing ceremony (though some might argue that it was a delay of six years and 30 minutes). “Many of you have worked for a long time to see this day come.”
The Washington Post's report added, "The universe of workers potentially affected by the order is at once wide-reaching and narrow. 'Obama's executive order will apply to the 24,000 companies designated as federal contractors whose 28 million workers make up a fifth of the country's workforce,' writes Jonathan Capeheart. On the other hand, 92 percent of the largest contractors already have some sort of protection for sexual identity, and 58 percent already have protection based on gender identity."
By any measure, this is no small change. It does, however, lead to the Hobby-Lobby-related question: if a private corporation's executives support discrimination for religious reasons, are they exempt from the new Obama administration policy?

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.21.14

07/21/14 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:
* CNN, citing "leading GOP sources," reported yesterday that Republican mega-donor Sheledon Adelson is "promising to help Republicans target a dozen [Senate] seats now held by Democrats, with the ultimate goal of picking up at least six." A net gain of six would give Republicans control of the chamber.
* In New York's gubernatorial race, a new Siena poll suggests Gov. Andrews Cuomo (D) is headed for a landslide victory, leading Republican challenger Rob Astorino, 60% to 23%.
* In Mississippi, state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R), who still hasn't given up on his U.S. Senate primary despite having lost, is now pushing for the Republican Party to "purge" anyone who accuses a fellow Republican of racism.
* In Florida, after Gov. Rick Scott (R) questioned climate change, a group of state university scientists offered to give the governor a briefing on the issue in the hopes of changing his mind. Scott initially balked, saying only that he would send aides to meet with the scientists. But after his rival, Charlie Crist, said he'd gladly meet with the group of experts, Scott changed his mind.
* In Wisconsin's 6th congressional district, four Republican candidates participated in a forum last week in advance of their primary, and all four expressed support for impeaching President Obama. They had varied rationales, though one cited the IRS "scandal," which doesn't actually exist.
* Speaking of primaries, don't forget that tomorrow is the Republican runoff primary in Georgia's U.S. Senate race. David Perdue won the first round, but recent polling suggests Rep. Jack Kingston is well positioned to win the nomination.
California Governor Jerry Brown

California, Kansas, and lessons about taxes

07/21/14 11:40AM

Kansas, one of the reddest of the nation's red states, elected Republicans policymakers to dominate state government, and in 2012, they got to work slashing taxes. The goal was simple: cutting taxes, GOP officials said, would send Kansas' economy soaring.
The experiment failed miserably. Kansas' job growth has lagged behind neighboring states; it's facing a profound budget shortfall; the promised growth hasn't materialized, and the state's bond rating was downgraded in part due to tax breaks Kansas can't afford.
About 1,200 miles to the West, California offers a very different kind of case study. David Cay Johnston published a fascinating item in the Sacramento Bee over the weekend:
Dire predictions about jobs being destroyed spread across California in 2012 as voters debated whether to enact the sales and, for those near the top of the income ladder, stiff income tax increases in Proposition 30. Million-dollar-plus earners face a 3 percentage-point increase on each additional dollar.
"It hurts small business and kills jobs," warned the Sacramento Taxpayers Association, the National Federation of Independent Business/California, and Joel Fox, president of the Small Business Action Committee.
So what happened after voters approved the tax increases, which took effect at the start of 2013?
Well, let's put it this way: Kansas is probably looking longingly at California's numbers.