Frank Thorp, NBC News Capitol Hill producer, talks with Rachel Maddow about Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's threat to force a confirmation vote on Loretta Lynch if Mitch McConnell doesn't act soon, and how the Senate calendar is likely to play out. watch
Rachel pointed out on Wednesday that liberals were pleasantly surprised to hear among the planks of Hillary Clinton's campaign an emphasis on getting unaccountable money out of the American political system. But with literally billions of dollars expected to be spent by 2016 candidates, many wonder if it's even possible that...
* A deal on trade policy: "Top lawmakers struck a bipartisan agreement Thursday to allow President Barack Obama to negotiate trade deals subject to a yes-or-no vote from Congress without the possibility of changes. The 'fast track' legislation comes as Obama seeks a sweeping trade deal with 11 Pacific nations."
* Ohio: "An Ohio man who trained with a terrorist group in Syria was charged Thursday with returning to the United States with the goal of mounting an attack at home, a pattern that counterterrorism officials have long feared."
* Maybe Congress should show some interest in the conflict: "The cost of U.S. military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has surpassed the $2 billion mark."
* Important case: "A panel of federal judges on Thursday appeared inclined to dismiss the first legal challenge to President Obama's most far-reaching regulation to slow climate change."
* Comments like these on the debt ceiling from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) really are important: "[O]bviously we're not going to default on the nation's obligations." If that's "obvious," then there's no point in another GOP hostage crisis.
* Richard Engel digs deeper into the details surrounding his 2012 kidnapping in Syria.
* Will the new Iran bill in Congress derail the international diplomacy on Iran's nuclear program? Probably not. In fact, if a deal comes together, there's reason to believe it will withstand congressional pushback.
In recent months, high-profile Republicans, sounding quite a bit like class warriors, have complained bitterly about the wealthy benefiting most from the recent economic recovery. Even House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), without a hint of irony, complained that recent trends point to "exacerbated inequality." The far-right congressman added that only "the wealthy are doing really well."
It's genuinely impossible to reconcile Republican rhetoric and Republican priorities in light of votes like these.
The House voted Thursday to repeal the estate tax, a longtime priority of Republicans that also spurred Democratic charges that the GOP is in the pockets of the rich. [...]
The White House has threatened to veto the measure, and the bill does not appear to have the 60 votes necessary to break a Democratic filibuster and get through the Senate.
The final tally was 240 to 179, with nearly every GOP lawmaker voting for it and nearly every Democrat voting against it.
When describing Republican tax proposals, it's not uncommon to talk about policies that disproportionately benefit the very wealthy. GOP proponents will say a bill benefits all taxpayers, but they'll brush past the fact that the rich benefit most. This, however, is altogether different -- today's bill, called the "Death Tax Repeal Act," quite literally benefits multi-millionaires and billionaires exclusively.
It's not an exaggeration to say House Republicans, en masse, voted for a $269 billion giveaway to the top 0.2%. Under the plan, GOP lawmakers, who occasionally pretend to care about "fiscal responsibility," would simply add the entire $269 billion cost to the deficit, leaving future generations to pay for a massive tax break for the hyper-wealthy.
Loretta Lynch's Attorney General nomination has been pending for nearly 23 weeks, creating unprecedented circumstances for a nominee who already enjoys majority support.
In an interview that will air tonight on The Rachel Maddow Show, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told Rachel that his patience is not only wearing thin, he's weighing an unusual procedural move.
MADDOW: One thing that has not been done and is now approaching historic delay is the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be the next Attorney General of the United States. What is going on there and is she ever going to get a vote?
REID: Now I want to say this to all your viewers, um, we've put up with this far too long and we're going to need to have a vote on her very soon that's created by Mitch McConnell or I'll create one. I can still do that. I know parliamentary procedure around here and we're going to put up with this for a little while longer but not much.
MADDOW: You have a way that you think you can force a vote even if McConnell will...
REID: Absolutely we can force votes. If we don't get something done soon I will force a vote.
Asked if there will be a trigger for such a move, the Minority Leader added, "I had a conversation today with a number of Republicans and told them really to get her done or I will make sure they will have an opportunity to vote against her."
The procedural question is an important one. Lynch has been on the Senate's executive calendar since February, and under current rules, that means the Minority Leader has the authority to move to proceed on her nomination.
There's no guarantee of success. In fact, because it's a procedural fight, there's an expectation that Republicans, including those who support Lynch, would vote together, which would derail Reid's gambit.
The fight, however, would increase the pressure on GOP lawmakers considerably.
As a moderate presidential candidate in 2000, Republican Sen. John McCain still thought it was possible to win his party's presidential nomination by aiming at the center. In February 2000, he traveled to Virginia to dismiss radical TV preachers Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as "agents of intolerance."
The gambit failed miserably -- the religious right rallied behind George W. Bush and McCain lost any chance he had of prevailing. Eight years later, the Arizona senator ran again, and this time, McCain cozied up to Falwell, speaking at the televangelist's Liberty University.
In 2012, it was Mitt Romney who was eager to speak to Liberty students. In 2013, Rand Paul spoke at Liberty, presenting others' words as his own.
Last month, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) kicked off his presidential campaign at the evangelical school, and next month, former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) will make a visit of his own.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush will pay a visit to the heart of the conservative movement next month when the likely presidential candidate gives a commencement address at Liberty University. [...]
University officials said on Wednesday that Mr. Bush would speak at Liberty's 42nd commencement on May 9.
As remarkable as this may seem, Republican politics has reached the point at which Jerry Falwell's college has become an important GOP destination.
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:
* In New Hampshire, home to the first 2016 primary, PPP shows Scott Walker with a big, early advantage in the Republican presidential race, leading Ted Cruz by 10 points, 24% to 14%. Rand Paul is third with 12%, followed by Jeb Bush with 10%.
* Though Chris Christie hedged on vaccinations in February, his position has improved since. He told an anti-vaccination activist in New Hampshire yesterday she "can't count on" him to take her side. "Vaccinations have done enormous good in this country," the governor said, adding, "[Y]ou're always going to have concerns about your child, but we also have to be concerned about public health."
* On the other hand, the New Jersey Republican also told voters yesterday that Donald Trump is "a great American" and a "quintessential American."
* Time magazine named Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) one of the world's 100 most influential people, which wouldn't be especially noteworthy were it not for the fact that Hillary Clinton wrote the profile, singing Warren's praises.
* On a related note, Time also singled out Charles and David Koch in their Top 100 list. Their flattering profile was written by Rand Paul.
* Hillary Clinton's campaign made clear this week she wants the Supreme Court to bring marriage equality to the nation. This drew a rebuke from former Gov. Martin O'Malley, her likely Democratic rival, who noted that Clinton said last year she backed a state-by-state approach.
There have been some historic breakthroughs in recent years on U.S. drug policy, but there's an under-appreciated fragility to the progress. When voters in Alaska, Colorado, and the state of Washington voted to legalize marijuana, for example, their experiments were allowed to proceed because the Obama administration extended its approval.
But it didn't have to -- under federal law, officials could have ignored voters' will and blocked those policies from advancing. In this case, neither President Obama nor Attorney General Eric Holder wanted to intervene, so state experimentation has been allowed to flourish.
There is, however, a presidential election coming up -- the outcome of which may have an enormous impact on those experiments.
If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) becomes president of the United States, he said on "The Hugh Hewitt Show" Tuesday, he will "crack down" on those states that have ended prohibitions on marijuana.
When asked by Hewitt if he would enforce federal drug laws in those states that have legalized and regulated cannabis, Christie responded unequivocally.
Leaving himself no visible wiggle room, the Republican governor said, "I will crack down and not permit it." Christie added that a clear message must be sent "from the White House on down through federal law enforcement" that states "should not be permitted to sell it and profit" from legalizing marijuana.
As a matter of policy, a Christie administration would clearly have the authority to impose such a blanket policy. Obama has permitted states to pursue their own course, but federal law has not changed as it relates to illegal drugs. That would require congressional action, which is not realistic given Republican control.
In other words, come January 2017, if Obama's successor decides to scrap state marijuana laws in Alaska, Colorado, and the state of Washington, then those laws will effectively be rendered moot -- regardless of voters' will -- because the White House will have said so.
About four years ago, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) faced booing during debates for the Republican presidential candidates when he said American foreign policy led to the 9/11 attacks. The response -- from the audience and the other candidates -- made clear that the party has no use for such an argument.
Four years later, it's Ron Paul's son who's now running for president -- and he's said largely the same thing.
Rand Paul said in 2007 interview that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East was at the core of the reasons for terrorism and that the 9/11 Commission showed that the September 11th attacks were made in response to U.S. presence in foreign lands. [...]
In the interview, Paul went on to take aim at then-President George W. Bush, calling him "ridiculous" for saying "they hate us for our freedom." Paul said Americans should try to understand "why they hate us" and what policies create terrorism.
As the BuzzFeed report noted, Rand Paul said in the 2007 interview, "I mean, you have to recognize what policy creates terrorism. Because you can't kill every Muslim in the world. There's a billion Muslims. We have to learn to live together to a certain point."
Is it any wonder the Kentucky Republican is eager to declare his pre-Senate remarks as irrelevant?
The median household income in the United States is about $52,000 a year. Politicians would be wise to remember that.
One Republican congressman last year said lawmakers "don't make a lot of money," despite his $174,000 annual salary. In 2011, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) complained about driving "a used minivan" and how much he "struggles" to pay his bills, despite his large congressional salary. Around the same time, another GOP lawmaker, with a net worth about $56 million, said he and his family were "struggling like everyone else."
Nov. Chris Christie insists he's not rich, but is nonetheless confounded by the complexity of his tax returns and again hinted that he might back a simplification of the U.S. income tax code should he run for president.
"The fact that my wife and I, who are not wealthy by current standards, that we have to file a tax return that's that thick ... is insane," Christie told the editorial board of the Manchester Union-Leader on Monday, holding his thumb and forefinger several inches apart. "We don't have nearly that much money," he said.
Actually, the Christies are very well-off. According to the governor's 2013 tax returns -- the most recent information available -- the Christie family's annual income is about $700,000. That's not just 1 percent status, that's 0.8 percent status.
The nj.com report added that Christie makes more than eight times the median household income in New Jersey.
The level itself is not alarming, but we hoped to see initial unemployment claims moving away from the 300,000 threshold, not moving towards it.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment-insurance benefits rose by 12,000 to 294,000 in the week that ended April 11, hitting the highest tally in six weeks and signaling some pickup in the pace of layoffs, according to Labor Department data released Thursday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits to hold steady at 281,000 in the most recent weekly data. The four-week average of new claims rose 250 to 282,750.
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. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 25 of the last 31 weeks.
Take the last seven U.S. Attorney General nominees and add together how long they had to collectively wait for a confirmation vote. Then double that total. Loretta Lynch has waited longer than that.
President Obama's nominee to replace Eric Holder has now been waiting 159 days -- nearly 23 weeks -- and everyone involved in the process agrees that Lynch has the votes necessary to prevail.
But the Senate Republican leadership, which is allowing other confirmation votes, still won't allow members to vote on Lynch. As Politicoreported, some civil-rights advocates are taking their frustrations to the next level.
Loretta Lynch's allies are launching a hunger strike until she's confirmed as attorney general, but they could be waiting weeks if Republicans follow through on their threat to delay Lynch even longer. [...]
The advocacy group founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton, along with female civil-rights leaders, are planning the hunger strike, in which groups of fasters will alternate days abstaining from food until Lynch is confirmed to replace Eric Holder at the Justice Department.
Sharpton, of course, is the host of msnbc's "Politics Nation."
GOP leaders continue to insist that Lynch, who's being subjected to treatment without precedent in Senate history, will not receive a vote until Democrats meet the Republicans' demands: advancing an unrelated bill with anti-abortion language in it. The Democratic minority said again yesterday that holding Lynch's nomination hostage like this is ridiculous -- a position that has the benefit of being true.
Making matters slightly worse, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said yesterday the chamber will soon move on to a measure related to Iran policy, which means delaying work on the human-trafficking bill, which in turn means delaying Lynch even further.