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Questions linger over deadly chemical leak

Questions linger over deadly Texas chemical leak

11/18/14 09:19PM

Mark Collette, investigative reporter at the Houston Chronicle, talks with Rachel Maddow about a deadly leak at a DuPont chemical plant in Texas and the alarming lack of information about the nature of the leak at the time and still today. watch

Diversity not a priority in House GOP picks

Diversity not a priority in House GOP picks

11/18/14 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow notes that the newly announced House Republican committee chairs have a remarkable consistency about them, suggesting that maybe Republicans no longer feel that diversity is important to their electoral success. watch

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 11.18.14

11/18/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Israel: "Two Palestinians stormed a Jerusalem synagogue, opening fire and using knives and axes to attack Jews praying inside, officials said Tuesday. Four rabbis were killed -- including three dual U.S.-Israeli nationals -- and six other people wounded."
* Afghanistan: "A suicide attack targeted a base for foreign contract workers in Kabul on Tuesday morning, killing at least two security guards, the authorities said. The attack involved a truck laden with gravel and explosives, which detonated near the gate of the base in the northeastern part of the capital around 6:30 a.m.... The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack."
* Not good: "Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) has declared a state of emergency and activated the state national guard in anticipation of a grand jury decision in the shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson. But when asked Monday night if he was ultimately responsible for the coming response to any protests that might follow the decision, Nixon emphatically and loquaciously demurred."
* Look for a Keystone vote in the Senate in the early evening, perhaps even within the next half-hour. With Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) opposed, proponents are struggling to get to 60.
* Third time's the charm?: "A lawyer has agreed to take on House Speaker John Boehner's lawsuit against President Barack Obama, though such a case has yet to be filed at all. George Washington University legal scholar Jonathan Turley agreed to represent Boehner and House Republicans in their possible future legal action against the president, NBC News' Mark Murray reported Tuesday afternoon. Turley is a frequent commentator on MSNBC and other news networks."
* Ebola: "The international effort to stamp out Ebola in West Africa is gaining ground, but the war is far from over. 'We are nowhere near out of the woods yet,' President Obama told reporters Tuesday at the White House as he met with national security and public health advisers, including Ebola response coordinator Ron Klain."
* Another vote to watch: "The Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday night on whether to consider legislation to end a once-secret National Security Agency program that systematically collects records of Americans' phone calls in bulk. But opposition to the bill has been mounting, and there remains no guarantee that it will receive the 60 votes it needs to move forward."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and US Senator Chuck Schumer look on as US President Barack Obama speaks during a bipartisan, bicameral congressional leadership luncheon at the White House ion Nov. 7, 2014. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty)

The Beltway lays the groundwork for a partisan blame game

11/18/14 05:10PM

A strange sort of assumption has taken root inside the Beltway, which is likely to be quite consequential in the coming weeks. The assumption is odd, but simple: President Obama using executive-branch powers on immigration would make Republicans really angry, ergo, President Obama should not use his executive-branch powers on immigration.
The result of this line of thought is a shift in responsibilities: if GOP lawmakers flip out, shut down the government, refuse to govern, and ponder impeachment, this will be entirely the president's fault. After all, the argument goes, Obama knew governing would make Republicans angry, but he chose to govern anyway.
David Brooks endorsed the thesis in a column today, insisting the president "has been superaggressive on the one topic sure to blow everything up."
I sympathize with what Obama is trying to do substantively, but the process of how it's being done is ruinous.
Republicans would rightly take it as a calculated insult and yet more political ineptitude. Everybody would go into warfare mode. We'll get two more years of dysfunction that will further arouse public disgust and antigovernment fervor (making a Republican presidency more likely).
Let me get this straight. There's a policy problem. Congressional Republicans have chosen to ignore the problem. Obama has the legal authority to address the problem without Congress, just as many of his predecessors have done. But the president should let the problem fester anyway, Brooks tells us, because Republicans would see governing solutions as an "insult."
Is this how a superpower governs in the 21st century? Federal policymaking crawls to a halt because a radicalized party had its feelings hurt by the big bad president? The one who's a meanie for having the audacity to see a problem and try to fix it while a do-nothing Congress gives itself another vacation, sees its productivity drop to unprecedented levels, and prioritizes stunts over problem-solving?
"Republicans would rightly take it as a calculated insult"? Here's a crazy thought: grown-ups in positions of power and authority shouldn't fall to pieces so easily. Republicans have spent six years trying to destroy the Obama presidency. They remain committed to sabotaging every major White House initiative. They've voted to repeal Obama's signature domestic policy initiative several dozen times for no particular reason other than partisan posturing. They shut down the government and quite literally threatened to crash the global economy, on purpose, unless their demands were met in the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis.
And yet, President Obama didn't see any of this as a "calculated insult" and he remains eager to work with the wild-eyed partisans who've rebuffed every attempt at governing.
So why is David Brooks complaining so bitterly about the president's behavior?
A barrier sits near the Washington Monument October 5, 2013, as the government shutdown continues into the weekend.

While right pushes for shutdown, GOP leaders scramble

11/18/14 04:13PM

Rush Limbaugh is now telling his audience the federal government "damn well needs to be shut down" because President Obama intends to take executive actions on immigration policy. Erick Erickson is thinking along the same lines, pushing for a shutdown in a blog post, and reminding his Republican allies that their party has never actually faced adverse consequences from their previous shutdowns, so they have no incentive to back off now.
All of this appears to be causing some anxiety for GOP leaders on Capitol Hill.
As we discussed yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is counting heads and coming to the realization that he may not have the votes needed to keep the government's lights on. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is "worried" about the direction of the debate and circulating materials to his members arguing against a shutdown standoff.
And Politico reports that Republican leaders in both chambers are scrambling to find a way out of the mess.
Republican leaders have intensified their planning to prevent a government funding showdown, weighing legislative options that would redirect GOP anger at Barack Obama's expected action on immigration and stave off a political disaster, according to sources involved with the sessions. [...]
Speaker John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and their top aides and deputies are mulling several options that would give Capitol Hill Republicans the opportunity to vent their frustration with what they view as an unconstitutional power grab by the White House -- without jeopardizing the government financing bill.
Let's note for the record that neither Boehner nor McConnell are especially strong leaders who demand the loyalty and fealty of their members -- this isn't a situation in which Republican leaders simply tell the rank-and-file members how it's going to be, with an expectation that the conference will fall in line. Today's GOP leaders simply don't have that kind of influence over their ostensible followers.
Instead, they're floating a series of alternatives intended to placate the far-right while preventing another self-imposed crisis.
Senate Minority Leader U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell answers questions during a press conference at the University of Louisville on Nov. 5, 2014 in Louisville, Ky.

Mitch McConnell's 'serious look at the science'

11/18/14 01:12PM

It was just last month when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sat down with the editorial board of the Cincinnati Enquirer, which raised the question of global warming. McConnell said he doesn't know whether or not climate change is real because -- let's all say it together -- "I'm not a scientist."
But that was last month. Today, McConnell has discovered that he's a science enthusiast after all. Rebecca Leber reported this morning:
In remarks on the Senate floor, hours before a vote on a bill that fast-tracks construction of the [Keystone XL pipeline], McConnell pointed to the "science" supporting the legislation.
"Those who took a serious look at the science and the potential benefits reached the conclusion long ago," he said Tuesday. "They understand that the whole drama over Keystone has been as protracted as it is unnecessary. We hope to turn the page on all of that today."
Oh, I see. When Republicans want an oil pipeline, it's incumbent on policymakers to take "a serious look at the science."
But when policymakers are asked to address a global climate crisis, a political party is comfortable playing dumb?

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.18.14

11/18/14 12:23PM

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:
* Outgoing Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) called Sen.-elect Dan Sullivan (R) to concede the race. The net gain for Republicans in the 2014 Senate now stands at eight seats.
* In the year's final Senate race, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) is facing Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) in a Dec. 6 runoff, and in the latest twist, the NRA's Legislative Action lobbying arm is running attack ads against the incumbent. There's ample evidence that the centrist Democrat is being swamped on Louisiana airwaves.
* In a big surprise, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced yesterday that Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) will be the new chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He was not considered one of the finalists for the position.
* And speaking of Pelosi, the House Democratic conference unanimously chose to keep the Minority Leader in her current post.
* To the surprise of no one, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is wrapping up his tenure as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, though it's unclear who'll next take the reins.

Glimmer of hope for those Arizona honors biology textbooks

11/18/14 11:26AM

This was supposed to be the day when the superintendent of public schools in Gilbert, Arizona, would present a plan (pdf) for redacting the kids' honors biology textbooks. The Tea Party majority on the school board voted last month to remove references to abortion from the books, which have been in use for several years now in the district.  The board ordered the superintendent to figure out how to do it. 

One board member suggested that the fastest means was to tear out those pages:

"The cheapest, least disruptive way to solve the problem is to remove the page," said board member Daryl Colvin.

Board president Staci Burk told the Arizona Republic that parents had already volunteered to help with the redacting, whether by tearing out the pages or cutting out the paragraphs with scissors or blacking them out with a Sharpie. Even after voters undid the Tea Party majority in the elections this month, Burk told us that she expected the superintendent to report back today with a plan for carrying out the board's order. "I don't believe there will be any more discussion on the textbooks," she said. 

The board may have failed to account for the opinion of the superintendent herself. read more

Demonstrators carry a replica of a pipeline during a march against the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington, in this February 17, 2013 file photo.

Obama eyes possible trade on Keystone pipeline

11/18/14 11:11AM

The Senate is expected to vote today on a House GOP bill authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and by all appearances, the vote will be close. Proponents appear to be one-vote shy of the 60 votes they need to advance the bill, but there are still a few hours of arm-twisting remaining.
Ultimately, however, it probably won't matter -- President Obama is likely to veto the measure if it reaches his desk, and there's simply no possibility of Keystone supporters finding enough votes to override.
The policy will remain a top Republican priority in the new GOP-led Congress, and in an interesting twist, the New York Times reports that the White House might consider a deal.
[T]he events of this week suggest that after the expected veto, Mr. Obama may eventually approve the pipeline, which would run from the oil sands of Alberta to the Gulf Coast. The project is anathema to the environmentalists who are part of the president's political base.
White House advisers have repeatedly said that they do not intend to issue a final decision until a Nebraska court issues a verdict on the route of the pipeline through that state. But that decision is expected to come as soon as January, the same month that an incoming Republican-majority Congress can be expected to send another Keystone bill to the president's desk -- one that could be within a few votes of a veto-proof majority.
If that is the case, people familiar with the president's thinking say that in 2015 he might use Keystone as a bargaining chip: He would offer Republicans approval of it in exchange for approval of one of his policies.
In theory, this raises the interesting prospect of some kind of bipartisan compromise. There's just one problem: for the last six years, Republicans haven't been willing to accept any concessions at all.

Is a 'Texas way' still possible for state's uninsured?

11/18/14 10:05AM

A few years ago, Republican state policymakers in Texas created something called the Institute of Health Care Quality and Efficiency. Officials were already committed to rejecting every possible aspect of the Affordable Care Act, and undermining its implementation wherever possible, but Institute members were nevertheless tasked with looking for ways Texas could improve the state's struggling health care infrastructure.
When Gov. Rick Perry (R) endorsed the creation of the panel in 2011, and chose its members, this probably isn't what he had in mind.
A board of medical professionals appointed by Gov. Rick Perry said Wednesday that the state should provide health coverage to low-income Texans under the Affordable Care Act -- a move the Republican-led Legislature has opposed. 
The 15-member Texas Institute of Health Care Quality and Efficiency recommended that the state's health commissioner be authorized to negotiate a Texas-specific agreement with the federal government to expand health coverage to the poor, "using available federal funds."
Steve Berkowitz, the board's chairman, told the Texas Tribune, "We're trying to take the politics out of it."
And while that's certainly a noble goal, if state policymakers were willing to take politics out of the decision-making process, they wouldn't have rejected Medicaid expansion in the first place.
Joel Allison, a board member who is chief executive of the Baylor Scott & White Health System, added, "We should be maximizing available federal funds through the Medicaid program to improve health care for all Texans."
Given that Texas has one of the worst uninsured rates in the country -- the Perry-appointed board called the current totals "unacceptable" -- maximizing available federal funds would make a lot of sense.
But Texas Republicans also don't like President Obama. The result isn't pretty.