In June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, clearing the way for a variety of conservative states to impose new restrictions, putting more hurdles between voters and their elections process. The justices, in a 5-4 ruling, effectively told Congress it'd be up to legislators to revise the landmark law.
To that end, President Obama and congressional Democrats are championing a fix called the "Voting Rights Advancement Act," introduced last June. In the House, the bill has picked up 157 co-sponsors, all 157 of whom are members of the Democratic minority. In the Senate, it has 41 co-sponsors, 40 of whom are in the Democratic minority. (Alaska's Lisa Murkowski is the exception.)
In other words, if there's going to be any progress on this issue, supporters of voting rights are going to need some Republican allies. The good news is, the top GOP lawmaker in Washington is sympathetic to the Democrats' push. The bad news, reported yesterday by The Hill, is that this lawmaker doesn't intend to do anything about it.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told black lawmakers Wednesday that he supports new voting rights protections they've championed, but said he won't bypass a committee chairman to move legislation, according to a Democrat who attended the gathering.
"He said it right in front of everybody -- he said he supports the [Jim] Sensenbrenner bill," Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), said after Ryan met with the group on Capitol Hill.
"So somebody was saying, 'Well, why don't you go tell your committee chair to do it?' " Cleaver added. "And he said, ... 'Look, I can't do that.' "
When the first open-enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act began in October 2013, it failed miserably thanks largely to a website that simply didn't work. After a month, an underwhelming total of 106,185 consumers signed up for insurance through an exchange.
And Republicans thought this was hilarious. The GOP's "Obamacare" critics, not at all shy about rooting for failure, openly mocked the system, pointing to sports venues with more than 106,185 seats. For the right, low enrollment totals stood as undeniable proof that the Affordable Care Act was "hurtling toward failure," and conservatives could hardly contain their glee.
A little more than two years later, the right's laughter has disappeared -- right along with the low enrollment totals.
About 12.7 million Americans signed up for 2016 health insurance coverage through the government insurance exchanges, surpassing its expectations, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said on Thursday.
That means Republicans running in this year's elections may find it harder to deliver on their promise of repeal, while Democrats may yet be able to tap the newly insured as a voting constituency.
"Open enrollment for 2016 is over and we are happy to report it was a success," Burwell told reporters. "It's clear that marketplace coverage is a product that people do want and need."
Going into the open-enrollment period, the Obama administration projected totals between 11 million and 14 million, and yesterday's announcement put the actual figure almost exactly between those two points.
So far, I haven't seen any congressional Republicans pointing to stadiums that can hold 12.7 million people. Maybe they're still looking.
The contours of the Republican presidential race are increasingly obvious. A three-man top tier -- Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio -- are positioned to compete for the party's nomination, and if that trio represents the top three in the New Hampshire primary early next week, their rivals will likely find their paths to success permanently blocked.
Every GOP candidate is well aware of this, and some of those who expected to come up short in New Hampshire decided to quit in recent days. But of particular interest are Chris Christie and Jeb Bush, who've invested heavily in the Granite State, and who are quietly beginning to cooperate a bit. The New York Timesreported this week on the "back-channel" cooperation between the two camps, both of which are facing possible elimination.
While emails, texts and phone calls between operatives in rival campaigns are not uncommon in the tight-knit world of political strategists, the contact among senior aides in the two campaigns has drifted toward musings about what can be done to stop or at least slow Mr. Rubio, the operatives said.
In a sign of a budding alliance, the aides have, for example, exchanged news articles that raise potential areas of vulnerability for Mr. Rubio. There is no formal coordination, the operatives stressed, but rather a recognition of a shared agenda.
It's tempting to think of this as a non-aggression pact, but that's an incomplete description. Bush and Christie haven't just decided to avoid attacking each other, they've also agreed to start attacking the candidate they see in their way.
So, what are they offering? Both Republican governors slammed Rubio yesterday for the fact that he's never actually accomplished anything in public office -- a nagging detail the senator and much of the party prefer to overlook --- and Christie told a New Hampshire audience yesterday, in reference to the Florida senator, "He's not ready to be president."
But there was something else Christie said during an MSNBC interview that struck me as interesting.
After a sizzling jobs report surprised nearly everyone a month ago, a less impressive report seemed almost inevitable. Projections pointed to growth under 200,000 for the month.
And as those projections were a little overly optimistic. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the U.S. economy added just 151,000 jobs in January. And while that's a disappointing figure -- which will be revised in the coming months -- the overall unemployment rate inched lower to 4.9%, reaching a low last seen in February 2008, exactly eight years ago.
While the overall total on job creation fell short, it's also worth noting that this report pointed to an increase in average hourly earnings, which was quite encouraging.
In terms of the revisions, today's report is the once-a-year report that revises every month from the previous calendar year. On this front, the news is also good: we previously believed the U.S. economy created 2.65 million jobs in 2015, but the new, final tally is 2.74 million.
January was the 64th consecutive month of positive job growth -- the best stretch since 1939 -- and the 71st consecutive month in which we've seen private-sector job growth, which is the longest on record.
Those hoping for some fireworks in last night's Democratic debate in New Hampshire weren't disappointed. In their first one-on-one debate of the cycle, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were fierce advocates of two competing approaches to politics and policy.
But to perceive their aggressive confrontations as some kind of election-year food fight would be a mistake. As MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald reported overnight:
Thursday's Democratic presidential debate on MSNBC offered the clearest, rawest, and most specific examination of two fundamentally different philosophies about the character and future of the Democratic Party voters have seen yet. [...]
Clinton represents one view, calling for continuity and pragmatism, while Sanders represents the polar opposite, with his outspoken calls for "revolution."
Sanders specifically called for a "political revolution" three times last night, while Clinton made clear from the outset, "I'm not making promises that I cannot keep." Pressed by Rachel Maddow why, in light of some of the more moderate parts of Clinton's record, liberal Democrats should support her, Clinton responded, "Because I am a progressive who gets things done. And the root of that word, 'progressive,' is 'progress.'"
It's "theory of change" debate at its core: one candidate intends to fight for progress through incremental gains; the other candidate believes a president can uproot the existing political system and replace it, institutional limits be damned.
As good debates often do, last night's discussion helped expose the weaknesses and the strengths of both candidates. Clinton, for example, continues to face criticism over Wall Street, which she hoped to rebut by emphasizing her ambitious policy agenda that would further restrict the financial industry.
Sanders, meanwhile, continues to face pressure over foreign policy in general. Chuck Todd noted at one point, "You know, Senator Sanders, nobody knows who your foreign policy advisers are. You haven't given a major foreign policy speech. And it doesn't sound like ... foreign policy is a priority." The senator stresses some key positions -- Sanders continues to emphasize his 2002 opposition to the war in Iraq -- but it's an area of his platform clearly lacking in depth.
So, who won? As is nearly always the case, it's a subjective question and I don't think there's any real consensus about one candidate dominating the other. That said, Political Wire's Taegan Goddard, who described the debate as "truly great" and "easily the best of the campaign so far," made a comment that stood out for me.
"The real winners were Democratic voters," Goddard wrote overnight. "Anyone who watched learned a lot. It made the Republican debates look like over-produced game shows."
* Flint: "Members of a congressional committee looking into the Flint Water crisis issued a subpoena to the city's former Emergency Manager Darnell Earley on Thursday requesting that he come to Washington, D.C. for a deposition on February 25th."
* Related news: "Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked action on a comprehensive energy bill that had drawn broad bipartisan support after lawmakers failed to agree on including a $600 million amendment to address the crisis over lead-tainted water in Flint, Mich."
* Shkreli: "Former drug executive Martin Shkreli, who called members of Congress "imbeciles" on social media, faced members of that legislative body on Thursday morning during a hearing on pharmaceutical pricing. The normally talkative Shkreli invoked the Fifth Amendment when he appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to discuss his actions in raising the price of Daraprim by more than 5,500 percent."
* Oregon: "A federal grand jury has indicted 16 people in connection with their roles in the Oregon wildlife refuge standoff, charging them all with a count of conspiracy to impede officers of the United States."
* I wish I could agree with this, but I don't: "Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said late Wednesday that partisan extremism is damaging the public's perception of the role of the Supreme Court, recasting the justices as players in the political process rather than its referees."
As recently as a couple of days ago, it wasn't altogether clear whether tonight's Democratic debate would take place. Fortunately, the negotiations worked out, and as Rachel noted on the show last night, "It's on."
With Marin O'Malley no longer in the race, this will be the first one-on-one debate of the 2016 cycle, and the first ever face-off between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. It also comes at a key moment in the race: this is the only time these two will face off in the days leading up to the New Hampshire primary.
The moderators will be "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd and our own Rachel Maddow, who'll kick things off tonight at 9 p.m. ET.
The fine folks at NBC's First Read helped set the stage in a piece this morning:
Tonight's Democratic debate — the first one-on-one showdown between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders— comes 1) after the close race in Iowa, 2) five days before Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, and 3) as the party appears more divided than at any point during the Obama Era.
Who is a progressive? (Sanders yesterday charged that anyone who takes money from Wall Street and has a Super PAC doesn't meet the standard, while Clinton replied that Sanders' purity test would disqualify many in her party.) Who is the *real* Democrat in this race? (Clinton has listed her long time working for the party, while Sanders has never associated with it until now.) What is the best way to create political change? (Is it through Clinton's experience and perseverance? Or Sanders' revolution?) And what is the top job for the next Democratic president? (Is it protecting the gains made over the last seven years and improving them at the margins? Or is it by going in a completely different direction?)
When the political world's interest in Hillary Clinton's State Department emails was near its peak, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza defended the media's fascination with the story. "Democrats, ask yourself this," Cillizza wrote in August. "If this was a former [Republican Secretary of State] and his/her private e-mail server, would it be a 'non-story'?"
As a rule, I continue to believe that's a smart way for political observers to look at every story. If the situations were reversed, how would you react to a controversy? If the accusations targeted someone you detest, as opposed to someone you like, would you see the story as legitimate?
The problem in this case, however, is that Cillizza's question wasn't really a hypothetical. We learned nearly a year ago from a Politicoarticle that former Secretary of State Colin Powell "also used a personal email account" during his State Department tenure. Several months later, MSNBC found that Powell conducted official business from his personal email account managed through his personal laptop.
"But wait," Clinton's critics in the media and Republican circles protest, "what about emails that were later deemed to include sensitive information?" NBC News reports today that both of the Bush/Cheney-era Secretaries of State fall into the same category.
State Department officials have determined that classified information was sent to the personal email accounts of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and the senior staff of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, NBC News has learned. [...]
In a letter to Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy dated Feb. 3, State Department Inspector General Steve Linick said that the State Department has determined that 12 emails examined from State's archives contained national security information now classified "Secret" or "Confidential." The letter was read to NBC News.
According to the report, of those 12 emails, two were sent to Powell's personal account, while the other 10 were sent to personal accounts of senior aides to Condoleezza Rice.
None of this is to suggest Powell or Rice's office is guilty of wrongdoing. In fact, Powell told NBC News the messages in question include information that's "fairly minor."
There's no reason whatsoever to believe otherwise.
It's only natural for voters to be swayed by media hype. Especially when it comes to casual news observers, who don't usually follow the day-to-day details too closely, the general thrust of news coverage has a direct effect in shaping public perceptions.
And so, when the public is led to believe Donald Trump failed in Iowa while Marco Rubio succeeded -- when though the first-time candidate received more votes than the Florida senator -- a shift in attitudes soon follows. Rachel reported an exclusive first look last night at the new national Republican poll from Public Policy Polling, which found the race shaping up like this:
1. Donald Trump: 28% (down from 34% in December)
2. Ted Cruz: 21% (up from 18%)
2. Marco Rubio: 21% (up from 13%)
4. Ben Carson: 11% (up from 6%)
No other candidate topped 5%. Note, the survey included Rand Paul, who didn't announce his withdrawal until after the poll was in the field, and whose support was at 5%.
All of the usual caveats apply, of course, most notably the fact that this is only one poll. There's some additional post-Iowa data that doesn't show nearly as much of a shakeup.
But if PPP is correct, Trump's second-place showing in Iowa is costing him dearly, while the cheerleading surrounding Rubio has given him an enormous boost, despite his third-place finish behind Trump.
Also note Carson's unexpected increase -- his first signs of electoral life in months -- which raises an interesting question about where those voters will go once the retired neurosurgeon quits the race. It's long been assumed Carson backers would move (and by many measures, have already moved) to Cruz, but the recent animosity between the two camps might complicate matters.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Asked about his party affiliation, Bernie Sanders said last night, "Of course I am a Democrat and running for the Democratic nomination." The comments came as a surprise to Vermont Democrats -- Sanders has been running in Vermont elections regularly since 1972, and he's never run as a Democrat.
* Looking ahead to a general-election debate with Hillary Clinton, Chris Christie vowed yesterday, "I'll beat her rear end on that stage."
* As Ben Carson's fundraising dries up, he's begun downsizing his campaign and eliminating about half of his paid staff.
* As things stand, Carly Fiorina will not qualify for participation in Saturday night's Republican debate, and there will be no kids-table debate. Fiorina has been lobbying the RNC, however, to include her given the size of the shrinking Republican field.
* The day after the Iowa caucuses, Bernie Sanders' campaign reportedly had its best day of fundraising ever, raising an extraordinary $3 million on Tuesday alone.
* According to Gallup's latest analysis, there are now 20 "red" states, as compared to 14 "blue" states. This is "the first time in Gallup's eight years of tracking partisanship by state that there have been more Republican than Democratic states."
Following up on a point we've been kicking around for months, I put together this chart in October showing the years of experience in government for the original field of 17 Republican presidential candidates (before anyone had dropped out). I've updated it this morning with arrows pointing to each of the candidates who've quit.
To make this analysis a little more straightforward, lets frame it in a slightly different way. When the GOP's presidential field reached its height, most of the field -- 9 of the 17 candidates -- had more than 15 years' worth experience in the public sector.
Of those nine candidates with the most experience, six have since quit, including four of the five candidates with the most years in public service.
On the other hand, when the GOP's presidential field reached its height, 8 of the 17 candidates had less than 15 years' worth experience in the public sector. Of those eight, only two have exited the race.
About a week ago, Chris Christie made the case that Marco Rubio is "a 44-year-old first-term senator who's never accomplished anything." It's an assessment the Florida Republican's supporters no doubt disagree with.
Their challenge, however, is explaining why. This morning, Rick Santorum, just 12 hours after the demise of his own presidential campaign, appeared on MSNBC and was asked to name a single Rubio accomplishment from his five years in the U.S. Senate. Santorum made a valiant effort at spin, but he couldn't think of anything.
Santorum floundered right off the bat when asked to list Rubio's "top accomplishment" while in office. "Well, I mean, I would just say that this is a guy who's been able to, No. 1, win a tough election in Florida and pull people together from a variety of different spots. This is a guy that I think can work together with people," he said. "That's the thing I like about him the most."
And while that's nice, the question was about his accomplishments. So, Santorum was confronted with the question again, and again, and again. Eventually, he responded, "I guess it's hard to say there are accomplishments." Santorum blamed congressional "gridlock" on the fact that Congress gets so little done, making it difficult for any senator to develop a record of success.
When the question was expanded to include literally any Rubio bill, whether it passed or not, Santorum pointed to an obscure risk-corridor measure on health care policy -- which (a) is an awful policy; and (b) happens to be an example of Rubio taking credit for others' work.
In other words, pressed to identify anything Rubio has done of value after five years of work on Capitol Hill, his newest high-profile backer came up with one example that turns out to be bogus.