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In this April 7, 2010 photo, security changes at the Capitol, in Carson City, Nev., include several boulders placed around the entrances.

Meet Nevada's new Assembly Speaker

11/20/14 03:35PM

Republicans had a great year in elections nearly everywhere, but they had an especially impressive cycle in Nevada. The incumbent GOP governor won in a landslide; Republicans took down a Democratic congressman who was not thought to be vulnerable; and the party took control of Nevada's state legislature.
As a result of the Republican gains in Nevada, the state Assembly will have a new Speaker when lawmakers return to work next year. The new GOP majority was initially expected to elevate the current Assembly Republican leader, but instead the party chose Speaker-designate Ira Hansen (R).
And as it turns out, Hansen carries a lengthy paper trail behind him. The News Review reports today:
No Nevada official has ever given the public a more detailed blueprint to his thinking than Hansen. For many years, starting on May 11, 1994, he wrote a column for the Sparks Tribune. The Tribune did not go online until relatively recently, so access to and knowledge of most of the Hansen columns has not been easy. We reviewed every column on microfilm for this piece, covering a period of 13 years, plus a few that did make it onto the Trib website. In these columns, his viewpoint evolved very little. In fact, some columns ran unchanged time and again as the years passed.
Hansen, a Republican who opposed both Bob Dole's and Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns for being "too liberal," has a record that's so over the top, it wouldn't be too surprising if the findings cause Nevada lawmakers to reconsider their decision.
U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) (L) and U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) speak to reporters after attending a "Conversation On Immigration" during a town hall event in Mesa

The easiest immigration solution is also the best

11/20/14 12:46PM

Once President Obama formally unveils his executive actions on immigration policy, congressional Republicans will have a menu of options to choose from. The list includes everything from a government shutdown to impeachment to literally nothing, with plenty of narrower choices in between.
But the one option that never seems to come up in the public conversation also happens to be the easiest, most effective, and most straightforward solution. As Sahil Kapur reported, a Republican senator touched on this yesterday.
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said Wednesday that Congress should not risk a government shutdown to stop President Barack Obama's executive actions, and should instead respond by passing immigration reform.
"I hope we respond with legislation," he told a few reporters just off the Senate floor. "I hope we pass legislation."
Immigration reform legislation? "Yes. That's what we should have done before," said Flake, who co-wrote and voted for the Senate-passed immigration reform bill in 2013, which was nixed by House Republicans.
I think that's right, though I'd add one additional detail: it's actually not too late. It's been over 500 days since the Senate approved a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform plan, and if the GOP-led House brought it to the floor this afternoon, it'd probably pass. The White House would have to cancel the president's speech -- it'd no longer be necessary.
It's a reminder to those who see Obama governing on immigration as some kind of crisis: Republicans really have no one to blame but themselves.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.20.14

11/20/14 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:
* It appears the 2016 presidential campaign is, for better or for worse, officially underway. Former Sen. Jim Webb (D) of Virginia has launched a presidential exploratory committee and a campaign website.
* There are still some unresolved U.S. House races, though some of these races are finally being called. Last night, for example, the Associated Press declared Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) the winner in his re-election bid, prevailing by just 1,319 votes.
* On a related note, Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) also appears to have prevailed, narrowly defeating former Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.). Though several California Dems were targeted in 2014, none of them lost.
* Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) hasn't announced the details of his 2016 plans, which will get complicated because of Kentucky's election laws. He told Salon yesterday,  "Well, we're definitely running for reelection for the U.S. Senate and we'll actually have an announcement on that probably next week, but we will run for reelection. On the other, there are various possibilities that have been discussed in the media on how to do it."
* It's not yet clear who'll succeed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) as the chair of the Republican Governors Association, but Tennessee's Bill Haslam (R) has emerged as an unlikely frontrunner for the post.
* In Kansas, Sen. Jerry Moran (R) is up for re-election in 2016 and there's already chatter about a potential primary. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R), a constant thorn in House Speaker John Boehner's side, was asked yesterday about his Senate ambitions. "We haven't decided what we're doing yet, so that's a good question," he replied.
* Speaking of possible Republican Senate primaries, Sen. John McCain (R) appears likely to run for a sixth term, though Rep. David Schweikert (R) didn't deny yesterday that he may take on the longtime incumbent.
US President Barack Obama is greeted by Texas Governor Rick Perry as he arrives in Dallas, Texas, on July 9, 2014

GOP eyes the courts to push back against Obama

11/20/14 11:24AM

Republicans at least say they see President Obama's executive actions as unconstitutional, prompting chatter about shutdown, impeachment, dysfunction, and perhaps even politically motivated violence.
But as a rule, it's not up to lawmakers and governors to decide which actions are permissible under the Constitution. We have a whole separate branch of government established for just this purpose. Perhaps Republicans can avail themselves of the judiciary?
Well, maybe. Here's Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) yesterday:
Republican governors on Wednesday tore into President Barack Obama's plan to issue an executive order extending new legal protections to millions of undocumented immigrants, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry saying there's "probably a very real possibility" that the state of Texas will sue the federal government over it.
And Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), yesterday:
Several governors threatened legal action to block the measure. "I would go to the courts," said Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. "This is illegal."
And Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), yesterday:
"We should take him to court," Paul told reporters on Capitol Hill. "Truman was taken to court in Youngstown Steel, and I think we should take him to court."
And House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), last week:
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is considering expanding a proposed federal lawsuit over President Obama's executive orders to include action on immigration. Filing a separate lawsuit over the president's authority to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation is another option that gained traction Thursday during talks among party leaders.
And what's wrong with this? Actually, nothing.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz speaks about net neutrality at Capital Factory in Austin, Texas, on Nov. 14, 2014.

Irony weeps: Cruz urges Obama to compromise

11/20/14 10:33AM

There are certain high-profile figures in American public life who, by virtue of their reputations, should avoid giving paradoxical advice. Kim Kardashian, for example, should not offer tips on maintaining a low public profile. Dick Cheney should not provide guidance on how to shape an effective foreign policy. Lance Armstrong should not discuss the importance of avoiding performance-enhancing drugs.
And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) should not highlight the virtues of political compromise.
But here he is, in a new Politico op-ed, doing just that.
Undeterred, President Obama appears to be going forward. It is lawless. It is unconstitutional. He is defiant and angry at the American people. If he acts by executive diktat, President Obama will not be acting as a president, he will be acting as a monarch.
Thankfully, the framers of our Constitution, wary of the dangers of monarchy, gave the Congress tools to rein in abuses of power. They believed if the president wants to change the law, he cannot act alone; he must work with Congress.
He may not get everything he wants, but the Constitution requires compromise between the branches. A monarch, however, does not compromise....
You can almost hear irony itself, feeling overwhelmed, weeping quietly in a corner.
To be sure, there's ample room for spirited debate about the Republican Texan's substantive claims. Cruz is certain -- or at least he pretends to be for political purposes -- that executive actions on immigration policy are lawless, unconstitutional, and monarchical. There's ample evidence to the contrary, and even conservative lawyers seem to think arguments like Cruz's are mistaken.
Indeed, how does the senator reconcile his condemnations with the fact that other modern presidents have taken steps extremely similar to Obama's? Oddly enough, Cruz sidesteps the issue of precedent by pretending it doesn't exist.
But in a case like this, we can put these details aside and instead marvel at Cruz -- Ted Cruz! -- stressing the importance of "compromise."
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Bachus Discuss Fannie And Freddie Reform Plans

Republicans take aim at imaginary target: 'secret science'

11/20/14 09:58AM

Most of the attention on Capitol Hill this week has been focused on Keystone, the NSA, and the coordinated freak-out over immigration policy, but House Republicans devoted time yesterday to an entirely different concern. They call it "secret science."
The House on Wednesday passed legislation to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing new regulations unless it provides the scientific data to justify them.
Passage of the measure, H.R. 4012, fell largely along party lines with a vote of 237-190.
The bill is part of the House GOP's package of legislation on the floor this week to limit the EPA's regulatory powers. 
House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), a fierce EPA opponent, argued, "Costly environmental regulations should only be based on data that is available to independent scientists and the public." Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), the chief sponsor of the legislation, added, "If you're going to make public policy, do it by public data."
At first blush, it sounds pretty reasonable, doesn't it? Indeed, the name of the bill itself, the "Secret Science Reform Act," hardly comes across as some radical, anti-EPA proposal. The text itself simply requires the EPA to issue rules based on evidence available "in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results."
If you didn't know better, the proposal may even sound dull. That is, until one takes a closer look and understands what Republicans are up to.
While the Senate debates the bipartisan budget plan, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a longtime deficit hawk, outlines his annual Wastebook which points a critical finger at billions of dollars in questionable government spending,  Dec. 17, 2013.

GOP senator warns of 'anarchy' and 'violence'

11/20/14 09:05AM

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele appeared on msnbc yesterday, and when host Alex Wagner asked what kind of advice he'd give his party's leaders in Congress, Steele offered some sound advice. "The first would be, 'Get a grip,'" he said.
Steele's comments came to mind after reading this report published last night by USA Today.
Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn warns there could be not only a political firestorm but acts of civil disobedience and even violence in reaction to President Obama's executive order on immigration Thursday.
"The country's going to go nuts, because they're going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it's going to be a very serious situation," Coburn said on Capital Download. "You're going to see -- hopefully not -- but you could see instances of anarchy. ... You could see violence."
The far-right senator went on to say, "Here's how people think: Well, if the law doesn't apply to the president ... then why should it apply to me?"
It's hard to know what to make of such an odd perspective. If Coburn is correct, why weren't there similar outbursts of anarchy and violence when Presidents Reagan and Bush took very similar executive actions? If the masses are so deeply concerned about separation of powers and the often-ambiguous lines surrounding executive authority, wouldn't we have seen instances of pandemonium before?
As a practical matter, I'm not even sure how this would work. The Obama administration has limited resources, so it appears likely to prioritize deportations for criminals who entered the country illegally. So, in Coburn's vision, anti-immigrant activists will become violent, perhaps literally rioting in the street, until more unobtrusive families are broken up?

Jobless claims level off, remain below threshold

11/20/14 08:36AM

The good news is, initial unemployment claims improved a little in the newly released figures. The bad news is, they were supposed to improve more than this.
The number of people who applied for new unemployment benefits totaled fewer than 300,000 for the 10th straight week, reflecting the low level of layoffs in the U.S. economy as growth gradually picks up. Initial jobless claims fell by 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 291,000 in the week ended Nov. 15, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected claims to total around 280,000. [...]
Over the past month, meanwhile, the average of new claims rose by 1,750 to 287,500. The four-week average reduces seasonal volatility in the weekly data and is seen as a more accurate barometer of labor-market trends.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it's worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it's best not to read too much significance into any one report.
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it's considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. At this point, we've been 300,000 in each of the last 10 weeks -- the first time we've seen that in the United States since the Clinton era.
Residents of the Park Slope section of the borough Brooklyn vote in the 2014 U.S. midterm elections in on Nov. 4, 2014 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Andrew Gombert/EPA)

NBC poll: Public attitudes clear as mud

11/20/14 08:00AM

The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll offers the first national snapshot of Americans' attitudes in the wake of the 2014 midterms, and those hoping to gain clarity from the data are likely to be disappointed.
There's no shortage of interesting results, but for me, the most striking figures were on the public's top policy priorities. From Mark Murray's report:
The NBC/WSJ poll also lists several actions the next Congress might take beginning in 2015. From most popular to least popular:
* 82 percent support Congress providing access to lower the costs of student loans;
* 75 percent support increasing spending on infrastructure, roads and highways;
* 65 percent support Congress raising the minimum wage;
* 60 percent support approving emergency funding to deal with Ebola in West Africa;
* 59 percent support addressing climate change by limiting carbon emissions
So, the top five most popular policy ideas in the nation are Democratic proposals. To find a popular Republican priority, we have to go the sixth item on the list -- 54% support the Keystone XL pipeline -- which is far behind center-left priorities.
And that's where the confusion kicks in. The American mainstream strongly backs the same policy agenda Democrats want, but that same mainstream just elected a Congress that will make it impossible for Americans to get what they say they support.
Indeed, the closer one looks at the results, the less rational they appear. As Rachel noted on the show last night, public attitudes on immigration are even more puzzling.

"Instances of anarchy" and other headlines

11/20/14 07:49AM

Gunman killed after opening fire in a college library overnight in Florida. (Tallahassee Democrat) 

Sen. Tom Coburn warns of "instances of anarchy" after immigration order. (USA Today)

Fmr. Democratic Sen. Jim Webb forms an exploratory committee to run for President. (Politico)

More Montana counties to start issuing same-sex marriage licenses today after judge tosses out ban. (AP)

Nurses urge leniency over refusal to force-feed at Guantanamo. (NY Times)

Buffalo, NY faces another wintry wallop. (AP)

Director Mike Nichols has died. (Washington Post)

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Ahead on the 11/19/14 Maddow show

11/19/14 06:53PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Rep. Ben Luján, (D) New Mexico, DCCC Chair
  • Cristina Jiménez, co-founder and Managing Director of United We Dream

And here's executive producer Cory Gnazzo with an outline of what's coming: 

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 11.19.14

11/19/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* The stage is set: "The president will lay out the details of his unilateral actions during a prime-time address Thursday evening in a pitch to an American public weary from years of failed attempts to overhaul the immigration system amid a deeply-divided Congress. After that, the president will hit the road Friday, traveling to the Las Vegas high school where he first made his push form immigration reform nearly two years ago."
* Israel: "As Israelis and Palestinians grappled Wednesday with the new-old reality of spiraling violence, Israeli security forces revived a controversial antiterrorism policy, demolishing the East Jerusalem home of a Palestinian man who plowed his car into pedestrians last month, killing a baby and a young woman."
* Montana: "District Court Judge Brian Morris on Wednesday ruled that Montana's ban limiting marriage to between a man and a woman is unconstitutional. According to a press release from Montana ACLU, Morris ruled that the amendment violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."
* Secret Service: "A man was arrested near the White House Wednesday afternoon after police searched his car and found a .30-30 rifle, ammunition and a six-inch blade in the vehicle. The man -- identified as 41-year-old R.J. Kapheim of Davenport, Iowa -- approached a uniformed Secret Service officer near 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. saying 'someone in Iowa told him to drive to the White House,' NBC News confirms."
* Torture report: "Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein expects her panel's long-delayed report on the CIA's use of torture to be released before Republicans take over the chamber, signaling to reporters there's one sticking point left." Feinstein added that policymakers are "down to essentially one item in the redaction."
* Texas: "A Texas judge refused Tuesday to quash on technicalities two criminal felony indictments for abuse of power against Gov. Rick Perry, ruling that the potentially embarrassing case against the possible 2016 presidential hopeful should proceed. The governor's defense team had sought to have the matter thrown out, arguing that the special prosecutor, Michael McCrum, wasn't properly sworn in and that some paperwork wasn't correctly filed. But a written ruling from District Judge Bert Richardson, who, like Perry, is a Republican, sided with McCrum."