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U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks at the Union League Club of Chicago on Aug. 21, 2014 in Chicago, Ill.

Paul Ryan's poor memory fails him again

11/21/14 10:51AM

I've long marveled at Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) unusually poor memory, and his latest complaints about immigration policy suggest his recall troubles are getting worse (via Jon Chait).
"We've gone to the president and said, 'Give us time to do immigration reform, to work on the issue this year. We want to get this done.' And this is the reaction he has to that?" said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the 2012 vice presidential candidate. "He had two years with a super-majority of his own party, and he didn't lift a finger. And now he won't give us a few weeks?"
It takes a truly talented individual to pack in this many falsehoods into a single paragraph.
"Give us time to do immigration reform"? Well, Republicans have controlled the House for four years, during which time they haven't even held so much as a hearing on a piece of legislation. More to the point, the Senate passed a popular, bipartisan immigration bill 512 days ago, and soon after, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) promised the lower chamber would act on the issue. The Republican leader then broke his word and killed the reform effort.
In other words, Obama gave Republican lawmakers "time to do immigration reform," and the GOP did nothing. Does Ryan not remember this?
"He had two years with a super-majority of his own party"? Actually, no, Democrats had a super majority in the Senate for four months, not two years. It's a big difference.
"He didn't lift a finger"? Actually, Democrats tried to pass the DREAM Act, which used to be a bipartisan policy, when they controlled Congress. Republicans killed it with a filibuster.
"And now he won't give us a few weeks?" Well, President Obama not only gave Republicans all kinds of time, he also received no guarantee -- from Ryan or any other GOP leader -- that another delay would lead to real legislation. So what in the world is Ryan talking about?
It gets worse. Ryan also complained this week that Obama's decision to govern on immigration policy means Republicans won't govern on their own priorities.
New Jersey Gov. Christ Chrisie talks immigration reform during a press conference at the Republican governors' conference in Boca Raton, Fla., Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014

Christie still afraid of his own shadow on immigration

11/21/14 10:12AM

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was in South Florida this week for a party gathering, and like most of his Republican brethren, he was eager to condemn President Obama's immigration policy. But the Palm Beach Post asked the governor an interesting question.
A reporter asked Christie if it was fair to criticize the president without offering a proposal of his own.
"This is a ridiculous question," Christie responded. "Because I won't lay out my plan if I were president, that precludes me from criticizing the guy who asked for the job twice and was elected twice and who promised in 2008 that he would fix this problem when he had huge majorities in the Congress to be able to do it?
Well, for those who care about the details, when Democrats had "huge majorities," Republicans still killed bipartisan measures like the DREAM Act with a filibuster. But putting that aside for now, Christie's defense for his own evasions is arguably half-right.
The governor wants to be able to take verbal shots at the White House's policy without presenting a proposal of his own, and to a certain degree, that's kosher. At least for now, Christie is a struggling, scandal-plagued governor, not a presidential candidate, so it stands to reason that he won't have a detailed immigration policy proposal on hand.
The trouble, though, is that Christie wants to take pot shots at Obama while also refusing to even give his opinions about the basics of immigration policy -- and that cowardice is harder to dismiss.

Democrats had a Twitter trick of their own

11/21/14 09:35AM

During this year's midterm elections, some Republicans came up with a creative trick to get around election laws. As Chris Moody uncovered, GOP operatives posted polling data to dummy Twitter accounts as a way of using social media as a sort of dead drop -- allies could receive the lucrative data without literally coordinating with Republican campaigns.
Paul Blumenthal reported yesterday, however, that these kinds of tactics weren't limited to Republicans.
In 2012, the Democratic Party shared information about advertising buys through a seemingly unconnected Twitter account called AdBuyDetails. This account, which posted tweets from Aug. 31 until Oct. 23, 2012, sent out data on ad buys made by Democratic House candidates in tight races across the country.
The purpose of the account, according to a source with knowledge of its creation, was to make that information public and thereby get around restrictions on information access built into an internal app used by top Democratic Party officials to share crucial campaign data.
In fairness to Dems, the 2012 tactic isn't exactly the same thing as what Republicans did this year, but the intended purpose of the tweets was obviously quite similar.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (R) speaks with Speaker of the House John Beohner (R-OH) in Washington in 2012.

A party in search of a policy

11/21/14 08:38AM

If anger were a legitimate substitute for public policy, Republicans would be in excellent shape in the middle of a debate on immigration. The GOP has stockpiled enough rage, fury, insults, and red-hot disgust to last a lifetime. There isn't a shred of doubt in anyone's mind that the entirety of the Republican Party is experiencing genuine, 100%, Grade A outrage.
What Republicans don't have is a policy.
Or anything resembling a serious, substantive approach to the issue at hand.
A few days ago, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), a strident, right-wing voice in his party on immigration, sat down with Mark Halperin, who asked what the congressman would do about the nation's immigration challenges. Huelskamp dodged, so Halperin, to his credit, followed up, pressing the Kansas Republican to explain what he'd do about the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Huelskamp dodged again. So Halperin asked a third time, and the Republican would only say, "I want to know how many folks are here. I want to secure the border."
It was uncomfortable to watch -- the far-right congressman was clearly lost -- but it was a cringe-worthy reminder that Republicans still don't have a coherent immigration policy they're willing to share out loud. Ezra Klein had a good piece on this overnight.
Republicans aren't just the opposition party anymore. They are, arguably, the governing party -- they will soon control the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, most state legislatures, and more governorships. And the governing party needs to solve -- or at least propose solutions -- to the nation's problems. And that means the Republican policy on immigration needs to be something more than opposing Obama's immigration policies. It needs to be something more than vague noises about border security. [...]
There are 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country right now. Congress allocates enough money to deport roughly 400,000 of them annually. Our policy towards the 10.6 million unauthorized immigrants we're not deporting is that we don't have a policy. Democrats support a path to citizenship. Republicans don't support anything.
Quite right. There's a striking asymmetry, not just between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to presenting policy solutions, but between Republican responsibilities and Republican intentions -- they're a post-policy party with an aversion to governing, which is a problem for a party that has been given broad authority by voters to shape policy and govern.
President Barack Obama announces executive actions on U.S. immigration policy during a nationally televised address from the White House, Nov. 20, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Jim Bourg/Pool/Getty)

'We were strangers once, too'

11/21/14 08:00AM

It's not every day that a leader can make an important, material difference in the lives of roughly 5 million people. It's what made President Obama's announcement last night such a breakthrough moment -- with congressional Republicans unwilling or unable to act, the president found a way to improve the immigration system on his own, changing the national landscape for millions of families.
"We expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect that those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we're going to offer the following deal: If you've been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you're willing to pay your fair share of taxes -- you'll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law."
I saw some suggestions last night that Obama extended "legal status" to undocumented immigrants. That's incorrect -- the White House policy extends temporary status to a limited group of immigrants and shields them from deportation threats. They'll be eligible to work legally in the United States, but as Obama noted in his remarks, further action would require statutory changes that only Congress can approve.
Indeed, one of the striking things about the president's speech was the degree to which he anticipated critics' arguments, explaining in advance why they're incorrect.
Republicans will say Obama's been lax on border security, so he reminded the nation that he increased border security and pushed illegal border crossings to a four-decade low. Republicans will say Obama hasn't worked in a bipartisan way with Congress, so he reminded viewers that he worked with both parties on the popular and bipartisan Senate bill. Republicans will say Obama's actions are unprecedented, so he reminded everyone that his new actions are "the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me."
Republicans will say Obama's policy is "amnesty," so the president explained, "Amnesty is the immigration system we have today -- millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time. That's the real amnesty -- leaving this broken system the way it is."
All of which is wrapped up with an emotional appeal that dovetails with the substantive merits: "Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger -- we were strangers once, too. My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too."
Will the policy help? Clearly, yes. Is the policy fair? Indeed, that's the point. Is the policy pro-family? Obviously. But is the policy legal?

Immigration plan and other headlines

11/21/14 07:45AM

Pres. Obama goes to Las Vegas today to sign two presidential memoranda about his immigration plan. (Politico)

Key elements of Obama's actions on immigration. (AP)

Some in GOP fear their hardliners will alienate Latino voters. (NY Times)

Democrats used Twitter, too, to coordinate with outside groups. (Huffington Post)

Details emerge about the gunman who shot into a college library in Florida. (USA Today)

Massachusetts town backs off tobacco ban after public outcry. (Washington Post)

Another African nation enacts law jailing gays for life. (AP)

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Ahead on the 11/20/14 Maddow show

11/20/14 06:30PM

Tonight, we will have full coverage of President Obama’s address to the nation on immigration at 7:45 ET hosted by Rachel and Chris Hayes, followed by TRMS.

Tonight's guests:

  • Lawrence O'Donnell, host of MSNBC's "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell"
  • Steve Kornacki, host of MSNBC's "Up with Steve Kornacki"
  • Maria Hinojosa, co-anchor, PBS Need to Know and NPR's Latino USA
  • Maria Teresa Kumar, President & CEO, Voto Latino, MSNBC Contributor
  • Chris Jansing, NBC News senior White House correspondent
  • Rev. Al Sharpton, host of MSNBC's PoliticsNation
  • Rep. Luis Gutierrez, (D) Illinois
  • Janet Murguía, President and CEO, National Council of La Raza
  • Steve Schmidt, Republican strategist and MSNBC contributor 
  • Cristina Jimenez, co-founder and Managing Director of United We Dream
  • Doug Heye, former deputy chief of staff to former House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor
  • Sen. Mazie Hirono, (D) Hawaii
  • José Díaz-Balart, host of MSNBC's "The Rundown" and Telemundo anchor
  • Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary and MSNBC political analyst 
  • Nicolle Wallace, former Bush administration communications director

Check back soon for a preview of everything we have planned tonight.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 11.20.14

11/20/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Gun violence: The man identified as the shooter who opened fire in the Florida State University library was a former prosecutor who descended into paranoia and recently posted on Facebook about being 'encouraged by your handler to kill.' ... Police say the 31-year-old was 'in a state of crisis' and believed he was being targeted by the government."
* Incredible: "A student at Florida State University said he is lucky to be alive after his backpack full of books stopped a bullet from hitting him during Thursday's shooting. Jason Derfuss said he only realized hours later the gunman had tried to shoot him when he found a bullet among the now-shredded books he had checked out of the library."
* Iran: "Far from the flashing cameras and microphones in Vienna, where Secretary of State John Kerry is going to join Iranian and United States diplomats in a final push to reach a compromise on Tehran's nuclear program, another political drama unfolded this week in a prominent auditorium in the Iranian capital."
* It was a dumb, careless, and unnecessary mistake. But given the larger context, it's hard to get too worked up about this: "The Obama administration included as many as 400,000 dental plans in a number it reported for enrollments under the Affordable Care Act, an unpublicized detail that helped surpass a goal for 7 million sign-ups."
* Nigeria: "The leader of a vigilante fighter group in Nigeria says Boko Haram militants have killed about 45 people in an attack on a village."
* South Carolina: "The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday denied a request to block gay marriage from proceeding in South Carolina, clearing the way for it to become the 35th U.S. state where same-sex marriage is legal."
* Meet the new Senate GOP? "A week into the lame-duck session, Senate Republicans are finding all kinds of ways to block President Barack Obama's judicial nominees -- even if that means obstructing their own nominees in the process."
The sun begins to set behind the US Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Obama's GOP critics run into an 'impossible' hurdle

11/20/14 04:55PM

For weeks, congressional Republicans opposed to President Obama's immigration policy have weighed their options, with many looking at the upcoming federal spending bill as the vehicle of choice. It's created the possibility of another GOP government shutdown.
But the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee today offered some bad news for the GOP lawmakers clamoring for a showdown: their plan may be "impossible" as a practical matter.
In a statement released by Committee Chairman Hal Rogers's (R-Ky.) office hours before Obama's scheduled national address, the committee said the primary agency responsible for implementing Obama's actions is funded entirely by user fees.
As a result, the committee said the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) agency would be able to continue to collect fees and carry out its operations even if the government shut down.
As The Hill reported, the House Appropriations Committee issued a written statement, saying, "This [CIS] agency is entirely self-funded through the fees it collects on various immigration applications. Congress does not appropriate funds for any of its operations, including the issuance of immigration status or work permits, with the exception of the 'E-Verify' program. Therefore, the appropriations process cannot be used to 'defund' the agency."
Rogers' spokesperson went on to tell reporters, "We cannot, literally cannot, defund that agency in an appropriations bill because we don't appropriate that agency. That agency is entirely fee-funded."
It's obviously an important detail: Congress can't deny funds to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services if Congress already provides no funding to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Right-wing lawmakers weren't satisfied with the answer -- Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told reporters, "I don't believe that" -- but let's not forget that this is an instance in which Republicans are telling other Republicans what the party doesn't want to hear. Rogers, who strongly opposes the White House policy, has no incentive to lie to his party's anti-immigration wing.
So, if "defunding" won't work, "recession" won't work, impeachment won't work, and a shutdown isn't realistic, are Republicans out of options? Not just yet.
Rep. Steve King and Rep. Michele Bachmann leave a House Republican conference meeting on Capitol Hill on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013 in Washington.

Bachmann sees Obama helping 'illiterate' immigrants

11/20/14 04:06PM

Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) deeply strange, eight-year congressional career will come to an end in January, but before she departs Capitol Hill, the right-wing Minnesotan has some more people to offend. Robert Costa reported yesterday:
In a sign of the difficulties GOP leaders face in keeping their unruly caucus on-message, retiring tea party firebrand Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said Wednesday that the immigrants given new protections by the president could become "illiterate" Democratic voters.
"The social cost will be profound on the U.S. taxpayer -- millions of unskilled, illiterate, foreign nationals coming into the United States who can't speak the English language," Bachmann told reporters at the Capitol. "Even though the president says they won't be able to vote, we all know that many, in all likelihood, will vote."
Bachmann went on to suggest non-citizens vote all the time -- she has no proof, but she added it's something "we all know" about -- which presumably is part of some dastardly plan from President Obama.
When Costa asked why she thinks undocumented immigrants are "illiterate," Bachmann said she was told as much during a trip to the U.S./Mexico border. "That's what they told me," the congresswoman said. "Those are not Michele Bachmann's words, those words came from Hispanics who live on the border."
Bachmann added that she may have referred to undocumented immigrants as "illiterate," but that's not "a pejorative term against people who are non-American citizens."
How reassuring.
As it turns out, she'll be able to learn even more fascinating insights "from Hispanics who live on the border" tomorrow.
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.