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Two bride figurines on top of a cake.

Courts back marriage equality on Mississippi, Arkansas

11/26/14 10:00AM

Marriage equality has already reached most of the country, though state bans on same-sex marriage are still common in the Deep South. It makes it all the more notable, then, when federal courts strike down these bans in Mississippi and Arkansas.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves in Mississippi said the state's gay marriage ban violated same-sex couples the rights guaranteed under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He stayed his ruling for 14 days but also noted clerks could not issue gay marriage licenses until further guidance was given from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court (the 5th circuit is currently considering challenges to same-sex marriage bans from other states in its area). [...]
 
Attorney General Jim Hood said the state would appeal the decision to the 5th Circuit and ask for a stay until that court decides the cases before it.
In Arkansas, Judge Kristine Baker issued a similar ruling yesterday afternoon. As in Mississippi, the Arkansas ruling is on hold pending appeal.
 
As Miranda Leitsinger's report noted, if these rulings stand, they'll become the 36th and 37th states to extend equal marriage rights to all couples.
 
But before we move on -- and wait for the U.S. Supreme Court -- a portion of the Mississippi ruling stood out as especially noteworthy.
President Obama Delivers State Of The Union Address

Will the GOP scrap Obama's State of the Union address?

11/26/14 09:06AM

In early 1999, the political environment in Washington, D.C., bordered on surreal. President Clinton had just been impeached. House Speaker Newt Gingrich had just been ousted from his leadership post, forced out by his own members. Gingrich's apparent successor, Louisiana's Bob Livingston, was soon after forced to resign in the wake of a sex scandal.
 
And at the same time, the U.S. Senate was weighing the charges against Clinton, hearing arguments as to whether or not to remove the sitting president from office.
 
It was against this backdrop that the White House announced in mid-January that it was time for the annual State of the Union address. TV preacher Pat Robertson, an influential figure in Republican politics at the time, gave his GOP allies some stern advice: don't let Clinton speak. To give the president an august national platform, Robertson said, would allow Clinton to solidify his support and end the impeachment crusade. Congress isn't required to host the speech, so there was nothing stopping Republicans from denying Clinton's request.
 
GOP leaders on Capitol Hill weren't prepared to go nearly that far. So, Clinton spoke, he pretended like impeachment hadn't just happened, and Gallup showed the president's approval rating reaching 69% soon after.
 
Nearly 16 years later, another Democratic president, also hated by his Republican attackers, is poised to deliver his penultimate State of the Union address. And like Pat Robertson, the idea of denying the president a SOTU invitation is once again on the right's mind.
"Yes, there's a risk to overreacting, but there's a risk to underreacting as well," said Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review. "And I fear that's the way the congressional leadership is leaning."
 
Mr. Lowry suggested one way Congress could react. "If I were John Boehner," he said, referring to the House speaker, "I'd say to the president: 'Send us your State of the Union in writing. You're not welcome in our chamber.'"
Lowry may not dictate GOP decision making the way Limbaugh and Fox News do, but it's important to note that he isn't the only one publicly pushing the idea.
Then U.S. Under Secretary of Defence Michelle Flournoy looks on during a meeting at the Bayi Building in Beijing on Dec. 7, 2011. (Photo by Andy Wong/AFP/Getty)

Why the vacancy at the Pentagon matters

11/26/14 08:33AM

By all appearances, Michèle Flournoy, a former under secretary of defense, was the frontrunner to succeed Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon. She was a finalist for the post last year; some Republican senators had already suggested she'd be an acceptable nominee; and far-right websites were already complaining about her. It seemed as if the job was hers if she wanted it.
 
But as it turns out, she didn't want it.
 
Foreign Policy reported yesterday afternoon that Flournoy has withdrawn from consideration.
Flournoy, the co-founder and CEO of the Center for a New American Security, a think tank that has served as a farm league for future Obama administration officials, would have been the first female secretary of defense had she risen to the position.
 
But in a letter Tuesday to members of the CNAS board of directors, Flournoy said she would remain in her post at the think tank and asked Obama to take her out of consideration to be the next secretary of defense. Flournoy told the board members that family considerations helped drive her decision.
The reporting was later confirmed by other major news organizations, including msnbc.
 
Attention now shifts to other possible contenders, but before we get to that, it's worth pausing to appreciate why the Pentagon post may not be an in-demand job right now.
 
Don't get me wrong, serving as the Secretary of Defense is incredibly important, especially during a war, but it's the broader circumstances that make this a difficult time for almost anyone to take the job.
 
Look at this from Flournoy's perspective:
A protester gestures with his hands up in front of police officers during a second night of protests in Ferguson, Mo. on Nov. 25, 2014. (Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

As protests spread, a 'much better night' in Ferguson

11/26/14 08:00AM

It would be an overstatement to say developments in Ferguson last night were quiet, though compared to Monday night, the violence subsided. The overnight report from the msnbc team on the ground:
Protesters returned to the streets of Ferguson Tuesday for a predominantly peaceful night of demonstrations that eventually gave way to small and isolated outbursts of damage to local businesses and property on a night marked by a heightened National Guard presence.
 
Scores of demonstrators braved the bitter cold and gathered before the Ferguson Police Department Tuesday night as isolated flare-ups of destruction to public property and tense stand-offs between the crowd and police at times resulted in protesters being taken away into custody.
In an early morning press conference, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told reporters, "Generally it was a much better night." That said, there were at least 44 arrests -- mostly for misdemeanors -- and as NBC News' report noted, windows were broken at City Hall.
 
The improved conditions coincided with a vastly larger National Guard presence, with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) more than tripling the number of guardsmen and women to 2,200 last night.
 
What made last night especially noteworthy, though, were the related protests in cities far from St. Louis.

Brown's family reacts and other headlines

11/26/14 07:50AM

Michael Brown's mom reacts to Darren Wilson's first public comments. (Today.com)

Brown family condemns broken system. (The Hill)

St. Louis cancels its Thanksgiving Day parade. (KSDK)

Black Friday gun buys test background check system. (AP)

Court denies Arizona request to block driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. (Washington Post)

Pres. Obama threatens to veto $440 billion tax deal. (NY Times)

Supreme Court to review EPA mercury emission rules. (USA Today)

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Prosecutor impugns witnesses in Ferguson case

Prosecutor impugns witnesses in Ferguson case

11/26/14 12:38AM

Rachel Maddow outlines other potential legal cases that may yet be brought in the death of Michael Brown, and points out how St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch discredited the witnesses in the case while announcing the grand jury ruling. watch

Ahead on the 11/25/14 Maddow

11/25/14 08:14PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Daryl Parks, Michael Brown's family attorney
  • Rev. Al Sharpton, host of MSNBC's "PoliticsNation" and President of the National Action Network

Check back soon for a preview of tonight's show

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 11.25.14

11/25/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* From 700 troops to 2,200: "Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri ordered more National Guard troops into the embattled city of Ferguson on Tuesday to keep order on the second night after a grand jury decided not to indict a white police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager."
 
* More out of Ferguson: "Lawyers for [Michael Brown's] family harshly criticized the grand jury process and the handling of the case by county prosecutor Robert McCulloch, saying McCulloch had a 'symbiotic relationship' with local police that had tainted his impartiality. "
 
* White House: "President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder met Tuesday to talk over how to respond to the riots in Ferguson, and  Eric Schultz, a spokesman for the White House, said Holder will  be visiting more cities and communities to discuss 'best practices' as well as 'identifying challenges we still have to work with.'"
 
* ISIS: "Islamic State activists on Twitter are using the Ferguson protests to encourage its supporters to carry out attacks in the United States."
 
* Ohio: "Surveillance video is 'very clear on what took place' at a Cleveland playground when a rookie police officer fatally shot a 12-year-old boy brandishing a fake gun, police said Monday. Tamir Rice was shot twice in the torso Saturday afternoon and died at a hospital Sunday morning."
 
* Iran: "The day after a deadline for concluding a nuclear agreement was extended for seven months, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, delivered his first remarks on the negotiations, saying that the West had failed to bring Iran 'to its knees.'"
 
* Nigeria: "Two suicide bombers, at least one of them a woman, blew themselves up on Tuesday at a crowded market in this northeast Nigerian city, killing dozens of shoppers and merchants including some who witnesses said were decapitated by the explosions."
 
* Important: "France suspended the delivery of a warship to Russia on Tuesday, after months of speculation about what would be the biggest arms sale ever by a NATO country to the Kremlin."
 
* And speaking of countries tired of Putin's antics: "Wedged hard against Russia's northwestern border, peaceable Finland has long gone out of its way to avoid prodding the nuclear-armed bear next door. But now the bear is provoking Finland, repeatedly guiding military planes into Finnish airspace and deploying submarines and helicopters to chase after Finnish research vessels in international waters."
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., joined by other New York area-lawmakers affected by Superstorm Sandy, at the Capitol in Washington, early Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013.

Peter King's most over-the-top suggestion ever

11/25/14 03:22PM

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) has developed a reputation for making unusual recommendations, but Politico reports today on the Republican congressman's most over-the-top suggestion ever.
Rep. Peter King has a suggestion for the White House in dealing with the latest developments in Ferguson -- invite Officer Darren Wilson over.
 
"I think it would be very helpful if President Obama went and met with the police officer, or invited him to the White House and said, 'You've gone through four months of smear and slander, and the least we can do is tell you that it's unfortunate that it happened and thank you for doing your job,'" the New York Republican told Fox Business on Tuesday.
I found this extremely hard to believe, but there really is a video of King making these exact comments.
 
In the same interview, the New York Republican complained about President Obama's comments last night. King said he'd hoped the president would have said "one good word about Officer Wilson, who has gone through all this."
 
Just so we're clear, King didn't seem to be kidding.
 
Indeed, the Long Island lawmaker has done a remarkable job in recent months, offering his unique perspective on a whole range of issues:
Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

The right selectively sees political norms as important

11/25/14 12:48PM

The Republican argument against President Obama's executive actions on immigration has generally focused on process: they shy away from the policy argument, instead insisting that the White House went about creating this policy in an offensive, and potentially unconstitutional, way.
 
To put it mildly, the GOP's pitch hasn't gone well, with the constitutional argument unraveling altogether. But what about the notion of political norms? Perhaps Obama's actions were technically legal, but they exceeded what's generally acceptable under American traditions?
 
We talked briefly last week about the Republican abandonment of political norms, including during the debt-ceiling crisis in 2011, but Brian Beutler fleshed this out in persuasive detail yesterday.
[T]he big glaring exception in all this, and the one that really underscores the argument that an abiding concern for traditions doesn't really drive conservative opposition to Obama's deportation relief, is the weaponization of the debt limit.
 
There, the precedent, and the danger to the constitutional order, was actually quite clear. Republicans in 2011 (and again, to less effect, in 2013) attempted to leverage their control over half of the legislature, to impose their substantive preferences on a Democratic president and the majority party in the Senate by using the threat economic calamity as a bargaining chip. To borrow from the right today, we had a situation in which the speaker of the House tried to usurp the Senate's agenda-setting power and the president's plenary power to determine which laws to sign and which to veto, by laying out an unprecedented choice between a right-wing vision without popular support, and default on the national debt.
The gambit had no place in the American tradition. At least since the Civil War, the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis was the first time a major U.S. political party abandoned the policymaking process, declaring that it would crash the American economy on purpose unless its demands were met. It was effectively an example of political violence, and though Republicans broke no laws, their tactic was a striking betrayal of American norms.
 
At the time, few on the right raised any concerns at all about process or lawmakers' willingness to act outside political traditions -- conservatives weighed policy and electoral considerations, but little else.
 
And there's no reason to stop there.

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