The Rachel Maddow Show has decided to start a running whip-count for members of Congress who have signed letters, or said publicly, that Congress must vote on authorization for the use of military force in Iraq or more recently for potential U.S. military action in Syria. Below is our running tally so far.
We hope that you can help us keep our running tally up-to-date. If your member of Congress joins or drops off this list, please let us know. We hope this can be an authoritative source of members of Congress who are not wussing-out of their constitutional responsibilities to take a vote on these matters. Keep us posted!
In light of the apparent beheading of American writer Steven Sotloff, Rachel Maddow discusses how terrorist acts make countries more likely to act, but not necessarily likely to succeed, while fighting terror groups like ISIS. watch
* ISIS: "The militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has released a video reportedly showing the beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff, according to the SITE Intelligence Group."
* Somalia: "The U.S. military launched an airstrike in Somalia on Monday targeting the leader of the al Qaeda-affiliated group behind the Kenya mall massacre. U.S. officials told NBC News that a military drone launched Hellfire missiles at at least two vehicles in a remote area of southern Somalia. Sources said Ahmed Abdi Godane, the top leader of al Shabab, was the attack's target."
* NATO: "In a move that comes amid Cold War fears and references to World War II, NATO allies this week are expected to back the use of a rapid-reaction force that can swoop into hot spots in Eastern Europe. At a moment's notice, 4,000 troops would be deployed within 48 hours into these troubled territories -- a military maneuver supported by the former Soviet states feeling threatened by Russia."
* The Kremlin isn't denying it: "President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia reportedly told a European official that he could 'take Kiev in two weeks' if he wanted to, adding a new dimension to the tensions building in Ukraine as Russian forces become more involved in the fighting there."
* Ebola: "Another American missionary doctor working in Liberia has tested positive for Ebola, an aid group said Tuesday. SIM USA said the doctor, who was not named, was treating obstetric patients at ELWA hospital in Monrovia and had not treated Ebola patients in the hospital's isolation unit, which is separate from the main hospital."
* North Korea "granted two United States news organizations interviews with three incarcerated Americans on Monday, with each prisoner apologizing for violating its laws and beseeching Washington to send a high-level emissary to negotiate their release."
* Ferguson, Missouri: "Police officers here began wearing body cameras on Saturday as marchers took to the streets in the most recent protest of a shooting three weeks earlier."
* Halliburton: "Oilfield services provider Halliburton Co. said Tuesday that it had settled the majority of lawsuits filed against it for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Halliburton settled the claims for its role in the largest oil spill in United States waters for about $1.1 billion. The money will mostly go to fishermen and property owners affected by the spill."
* Charlie Savage on Guantanamo: "More than 12 years after the Bush administration sent the first prisoners here, tensions are mounting over whether Mr. Obama can close the prison before leaving office, according to interviews with two dozen administration, congressional and military officials. A split is emerging between State Department officials, who appear eager to move toward Mr. Obama's goal, and some Pentagon officials, who say they share that ambition but seem warier than their counterparts about releasing low-level detainees."
* A lot of the things Republican lawmakers said about the VA scandal weren't true. It's a shame the falsehoods generated quite a bit of attention, while the truth is largely overlooked.
When msnbc's Chris Jansing asked Republican National Committee Press Secretary Kirsten Kukowski in April what policies her party would support to improve pay equity, Kukowski couldn't think of anything. It was right around this time that the Texas Republican Party blamed women for the pay gap, saying women in the workforce would be better compensated if they became "better negotiators."
It's incidents like these that lead to discouraging results for the GOP: "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."
But that was last week. This week, as Laura Clawson noted, the RNC has a new message.
Remember the one about the man who killed his parents, then asked for mercy because he's an orphan? Well, chutzpah has a new definition. On Labor Day, the Republican National Committee tweeted the following claim: "This #LaborDay, the White House & Democrats believe paying women less than men is an acceptable practice." [...]
Staggering. Stunstonishing. Mind-blowing. I mean, if tweeting that graphic means that the RNC is ready to line up every Republican in or running for Congress and seriously press them to talk about equal pay, great. Because so far what we've got does not seem to support this statement even a little bit.
Do you highlight the prominent Republican officials who worry about what pay-equity measures might mean for men? Or focus on the prominent Republican officials who see the debate over wage discrimination as "nonsense"? Or maybe remind folks about the prominent Republican officials who are convinced that "most of the barriers" women face in the workplace have already "been lowered"?
But perhaps the toughest question to answer today is, why in the world would the RNC pick this fight today?
When then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) suffered a stunning primary defeat in June, it marked the unexpected end of a promising political career. It was tough, however, to feel too bad for the conservative Virginian -- the question wasn't whether Cantor would cash in, but where.
After initially promising to serve out the remainder of his term, the Republican congressman reversed course and officially resigned in mid-August. Today, Cantor appears to have landed on his feet.
Eric Cantor, the former Virginia Republican congressman and House majority leader, is starting a new job on Wall Street.
Cantor will join Moelis & Company as vice chairman and managing director. He is also expected to be elected to the Moelis board of directors, the firm said in a press release Tuesday.
The boutique investment bank apparently didn't have a D.C. office, a problem Cantor will help solve.
That the former GOP leader would team up with a bank surprises no one. As the Wall Street Journal reported, Cantor has long been a "liaison of sorts" between his party and the financial world. The same piece noted that the Center for Responsive Politics found that Cantor, just since 2012, raised nearly $1.4 million from financial firms and their employees.
As for his new gig, what will Moelis & Co. get for their money? Founder Ken Moelis said, "I have no need for a political figurehead. What I want is a partner."
Over the weekend, the Century Foundation's Michael Cohen had a terrific piece in the New York Daily News, making the case against pundits and politicians demanding more U.S. military intervention in the Middle East. The same edition of the same paper on the same day had a five-word, all-caps headline on the front page: "ISIS will be here soon."
There's quite a bit of this going around. President Obama's Republican critics haven't just condemned his foreign policy, they've also suggested the White House's approach will lead to a terrorist attack on American soil. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) went further than most a few weeks ago, insisting that if Obama "does not go on the offensive against ISIS," presumably in Syria, "they are coming here." Graham added, "[I]f we do get attacked, then he will have committed a blunder for the ages."
Rhetoric like this isn't subtle: ISIS wants to kill us all and that rascally Obama is doing nothing except launching several dozen airstrikes on ISIS target in Iraq. A 9/11 kind of event may be in the planning stages, the argument goes, so the president must strike in Syria immediately.
But how imminent a threat are we talking about, exactly? The New York Timesreported the other day on ISIS's "prodigious" print and online materials, which reveal some relevant details.
ISIS propaganda, for instance, has strikingly few calls for attacks on the West, even though its most notorious video, among Americans, released 12 days ago, showed the beheading of the American journalist James Foley, threatened another American hostage, and said that American attacks on ISIS "would result in the bloodshed" of Americans. This diverged from nearly all of ISIS's varied output, which promotes its paramount goal: to secure and expand the Islamic state.
The same article quoted a scholar who said ISIS has consistently focused on what militants call "the near enemy" -- leaders of Muslim countries like Bashar al-Assad of Syria -- and not "the far enemy" of the United States and Europe. "The struggle against the Americans and the Israelis is distant, not a priority," Fawaz A. Gerges said. "It has to await liberation at home."
The piece added, "Al Qaeda has often stressed the advantage to the terrorist network of supporters who hold Western passports and can attack in their countries. But a common public rite of passage for new recruits to ISIS is tearing up or burning their passports, signifying a no-going-back commitment to the Islamic state."
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:
* The latest Bluegrass Poll in Kentucky shows Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R) lead over Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) growing to four points, 46% to 42%. A month ago, the same poll showed McConnell up by two. This latest poll, however, was commissioned before last week's controversy about McConnell's private remarks at a Koch brothers' retreat and the resignation of the senator's campaign manager.
* South Dakota's U.S. Senate race is expected to be an easy pickup for Republicans, though Public Policy Polling's latest data suggests the contest is becoming more complex. Mike Rounds (R) still leads Rick Weiland (D), but the margin, at least in this one poll, is six points: 39% to 33%. Former Sen. Larry Pressler, running as an independent, is a competitive third with 17%.
* According to the Associated Press, pre-Labor Day campaign spending in the 2014 cycle reached $1 billion. Far more will be spent over the next nine weeks.
* In Minnesota, the latest KSTP-TV poll offers good news for both of the Democrats running statewide races this year. Sen. Al Franken (D) leads his Republican challenger in the poll by nine points, while Gov. Mark Dayton (D) is also up by nine.
* In Louisiana's U.S. Senate race, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee continues to go after Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) over his conservative approach to Medicare, including raising the eligibility age.
* The senator Cassidy hopes to defeat, incumbent Mary Landrieu, is facing residency questions because she's registered to vote at her parents' home address.
* In an unusual move, the Alaska Democratic Party's gubernatorial ticket is voluntarily ending its campaign and the party will instead throw its support to Bill Walker's independent gubernatorial bid. (Vermont Democrats rely on a similar tactic to back Bernie Sanders' independent Senate campaigns.)
Since early 2011, state Republican officials have placed an enormousemphasis on restricting women's reproductive rights, and have generally been quite successful. But proponents of abortion rights have had one refuge: the courts.
A federal judge in Austin, Tex., blocked a stringent new rule on Friday that would have forced more than half of the state's remaining abortion clinics to close, the latest in a string of court decisions that have at least temporarily kept abortion clinics across the South from being shuttered.
The Texas rule, requiring all abortion clinics to meet the building, equipment and staffing standards of hospital-style surgery centers, had been set to take effect on Monday. But in his opinion, Judge Lee Yeakel of the United States District Court in Austin said the mandate placed unjustified obstacles on women's access to abortion without providing significant medical benefits.
In the ruling, available online here, the George W. Bush appointee said Texas' rule "is unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on the right of women throughout Texas to seek a pre-viability abortion."
The news out of the Lone Star State coincided with a similar ruling in Louisiana, where a federal judge blocked the state from enforcing a new anti-abortion measure on admitting privileges.
The law requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of their clinics. A lawsuit by the Center for Reproductive Rights claims that doctors have not had enough time to obtain privileges, and that the law likely would force Louisiana's five clinics to close.
[Judge John W. deGravelles] said the doctors' risk of fines and losing licenses outweighed any injury to the state from keeping the status quo. He noted that the state health secretary said she would not enforce the law against doctors awaiting decisions from hospitals to which they have applied.
The judge, an Obama appointee, allowed the measure to take effect, but ruled that while the legal process continues, Louisiana cannot penalize those who break this law.
It's generally pretty tough to defend the health care system in Florida, though this report from the Tampa Bay Times actually makes it look a little worse.
Last year, legislators allocated $900,000 to help Floridians find affordable health care through a new state-backed website.
At the same time, they refused to expand Medicaid or work with the federal government to offer subsidized insurance plans.
Six months after the launch of the state's effort, called Florida Health Choices, just 30 people have signed up.
That's not a typo. We're not talking about 30% of the population; we're talking about literally just 30 individuals.
Charles Gaba crunched the numbers to find the costs per enrollee and found that Florida Health Choices is vastly more expensive than, say, the Affordable Care Act's healthcare.gov, while offering much less.
Indeed, Florida Health Choices is not an exchange marketplace, where private insurers compete for consumers' business. It's not. In fact, it doesn't sell actual health insurance at all. Rather, Florida spent $900,000 on an online project that lists "limited benefit options and discount plans for items like dental visits, prescription drugs and eyeglasses."
And a whopping 30 people took advantage of these amazing opportunities.
Florida Health Choices administrators "acknowledge they are off to a slow start," but still hope to appeal to more customers, possibly by adding insurance options for pets.
Whose bright idea was Florida Health Choices in the first place? That would be Marco Rubio.
For the most part, President Obama's strategy in Iraq, complaints from the right notwithstanding, is proceeding as the White House had hoped. The administration delayed airstrikes on ISIS targets until there was a change in Iraqi political leadership and there were Iraqi forces on the ground prepared to engage.
The policy may not have congressional approval, but it is going the way the president and his national security team had hoped. Maliki is headed out; Iraqi forces are functioning; and as events in Amerli help demonstrate, ISIS's grip on key locations can be broken.
But that's not what most of the political world is focused on. Rather, it's a "gaffe" that has tongues wagging.
Obama said late last week that when it comes to confronting ISIS targets in Syria, the White House is still working with possible coalition partners and consulting with military leaders on possible strategies. "We don't have a strategy yet" for the next phase of the mission, the president said, but the process is still unfolding.
Reporters and Republicans still seem to find this outrageous. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said the president's comments were "scary." (When asked what he'd do differently, Christie said he didn't want to talk about it.) Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) also pretended to be outraged over the weekend, saying of ISIS, "We ought to bomb them back to the stone age." Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) joined the pile on, though for different reasons.
But it was Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), both of whom still inexplicably claim to have credibility on matters of national security, who wrote a New York Timesop-ed urging the White House to adopt the hawks' foreign policy.
After more than three years, almost 200,000 dead in Syria, the near collapse of Iraq, and the rise of the world's most sinister terrorist army -- the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has conquered vast swaths of both countries -- President Obama's admission this week that "we don't have a strategy yet" to deal with this threat is startling. It is also dangerous.
Actually, as recent history makes clear, what's far more dangerous is taking foreign policy advice from John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
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.