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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.
U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) (L) and U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) speak to reporters after attending a "Conversation On Immigration" during a town hall event in Mesa

The easiest immigration solution is also the best

11/20/14 12:46PM

Once President Obama formally unveils his executive actions on immigration policy, congressional Republicans will have a menu of options to choose from. The list includes everything from a government shutdown to impeachment to literally nothing, with plenty of narrower choices in between.
 
But the one option that never seems to come up in the public conversation also happens to be the easiest, most effective, and most straightforward solution. As Sahil Kapur reported, a Republican senator touched on this yesterday.
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said Wednesday that Congress should not risk a government shutdown to stop President Barack Obama's executive actions, and should instead respond by passing immigration reform.
 
"I hope we respond with legislation," he told a few reporters just off the Senate floor. "I hope we pass legislation."
 
Immigration reform legislation? "Yes. That's what we should have done before," said Flake, who co-wrote and voted for the Senate-passed immigration reform bill in 2013, which was nixed by House Republicans.
I think that's right, though I'd add one additional detail: it's actually not too late. It's been over 500 days since the Senate approved a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform plan, and if the GOP-led House brought it to the floor this afternoon, it'd probably pass. The White House would have to cancel the president's speech -- it'd no longer be necessary.
 
It's a reminder to those who see Obama governing on immigration as some kind of crisis: Republicans really have no one to blame but themselves.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.20.14

11/20/14 12:00PM

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:
 
* It appears the 2016 presidential campaign is, for better or for worse, officially underway. Former Sen. Jim Webb (D) of Virginia has launched a presidential exploratory committee and a campaign website.
 
* There are still some unresolved U.S. House races, though some of these races are finally being called. Last night, for example, the Associated Press declared Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) the winner in his re-election bid, prevailing by just 1,319 votes.
 
* On a related note, Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) also appears to have prevailed, narrowly defeating former Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.). Though several California Dems were targeted in 2014, none of them lost.
 
* Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) hasn't announced the details of his 2016 plans, which will get complicated because of Kentucky's election laws. He told Salon yesterday,  "Well, we're definitely running for reelection for the U.S. Senate and we'll actually have an announcement on that probably next week, but we will run for reelection. On the other, there are various possibilities that have been discussed in the media on how to do it."
 
* It's not yet clear who'll succeed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) as the chair of the Republican Governors Association, but Tennessee's Bill Haslam (R) has emerged as an unlikely frontrunner for the post.
 
* In Kansas, Sen. Jerry Moran (R) is up for re-election in 2016 and there's already chatter about a potential primary. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R), a constant thorn in House Speaker John Boehner's side, was asked yesterday about his Senate ambitions. "We haven't decided what we're doing yet, so that's a good question," he replied.
 
* Speaking of possible Republican Senate primaries, Sen. John McCain (R) appears likely to run for a sixth term, though Rep. David Schweikert (R) didn't deny yesterday that he may take on the longtime incumbent.
US President Barack Obama is greeted by Texas Governor Rick Perry as he arrives in Dallas, Texas, on July 9, 2014

GOP eyes the courts to push back against Obama

11/20/14 11:24AM

Republicans at least say they see President Obama's executive actions as unconstitutional, prompting chatter about shutdown, impeachment, dysfunction, and perhaps even politically motivated violence.
 
But as a rule, it's not up to lawmakers and governors to decide which actions are permissible under the Constitution. We have a whole separate branch of government established for just this purpose. Perhaps Republicans can avail themselves of the judiciary?
 
Well, maybe. Here's Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) yesterday:
Republican governors on Wednesday tore into President Barack Obama's plan to issue an executive order extending new legal protections to millions of undocumented immigrants, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry saying there's "probably a very real possibility" that the state of Texas will sue the federal government over it.
And Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), yesterday:
Several governors threatened legal action to block the measure. "I would go to the courts," said Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. "This is illegal."
And Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), yesterday:
"We should take him to court," Paul told reporters on Capitol Hill. "Truman was taken to court in Youngstown Steel, and I think we should take him to court."
And House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), last week:
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is considering expanding a proposed federal lawsuit over President Obama's executive orders to include action on immigration. Filing a separate lawsuit over the president's authority to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation is another option that gained traction Thursday during talks among party leaders.
And what's wrong with this? Actually, nothing.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz speaks about net neutrality at Capital Factory in Austin, Texas, on Nov. 14, 2014.

Irony weeps: Cruz urges Obama to compromise

11/20/14 10:33AM

There are certain high-profile figures in American public life who, by virtue of their reputations, should avoid giving paradoxical advice. Kim Kardashian, for example, should not offer tips on maintaining a low public profile. Dick Cheney should not provide guidance on how to shape an effective foreign policy. Lance Armstrong should not discuss the importance of avoiding performance-enhancing drugs.
 
And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) should not highlight the virtues of political compromise.
 
But here he is, in a new Politico op-ed, doing just that.
Undeterred, President Obama appears to be going forward. It is lawless. It is unconstitutional. He is defiant and angry at the American people. If he acts by executive diktat, President Obama will not be acting as a president, he will be acting as a monarch.
 
Thankfully, the framers of our Constitution, wary of the dangers of monarchy, gave the Congress tools to rein in abuses of power. They believed if the president wants to change the law, he cannot act alone; he must work with Congress.
 
He may not get everything he wants, but the Constitution requires compromise between the branches. A monarch, however, does not compromise....
You can almost hear irony itself, feeling overwhelmed, weeping quietly in a corner.
 
To be sure, there's ample room for spirited debate about the Republican Texan's substantive claims. Cruz is certain -- or at least he pretends to be for political purposes -- that executive actions on immigration policy are lawless, unconstitutional, and monarchical. There's ample evidence to the contrary, and even conservative lawyers seem to think arguments like Cruz's are mistaken.
 
Indeed, how does the senator reconcile his condemnations with the fact that other modern presidents have taken steps extremely similar to Obama's? Oddly enough, Cruz sidesteps the issue of precedent by pretending it doesn't exist.
 
But in a case like this, we can put these details aside and instead marvel at Cruz -- Ted Cruz! -- stressing the importance of "compromise."
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Bachus Discuss Fannie And Freddie Reform Plans

Republicans take aim at imaginary target: 'secret science'

11/20/14 09:58AM

Most of the attention on Capitol Hill this week has been focused on Keystone, the NSA, and the coordinated freak-out over immigration policy, but House Republicans devoted time yesterday to an entirely different concern. They call it "secret science."
The House on Wednesday passed legislation to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing new regulations unless it provides the scientific data to justify them.
 
Passage of the measure, H.R. 4012, fell largely along party lines with a vote of 237-190.
 
The bill is part of the House GOP's package of legislation on the floor this week to limit the EPA's regulatory powers. 
House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), a fierce EPA opponent, argued, "Costly environmental regulations should only be based on data that is available to independent scientists and the public." Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), the chief sponsor of the legislation, added, "If you're going to make public policy, do it by public data."
 
At first blush, it sounds pretty reasonable, doesn't it? Indeed, the name of the bill itself, the "Secret Science Reform Act," hardly comes across as some radical, anti-EPA proposal. The text itself simply requires the EPA to issue rules based on evidence available "in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results."
 
If you didn't know better, the proposal may even sound dull. That is, until one takes a closer look and understands what Republicans are up to.
While the Senate debates the bipartisan budget plan, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a longtime deficit hawk, outlines his annual Wastebook which points a critical finger at billions of dollars in questionable government spending,  Dec. 17, 2013.

GOP senator warns of 'anarchy' and 'violence'

11/20/14 09:05AM

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele appeared on msnbc yesterday, and when host Alex Wagner asked what kind of advice he'd give his party's leaders in Congress, Steele offered some sound advice. "The first would be, 'Get a grip,'" he said.
 
Steele's comments came to mind after reading this report published last night by USA Today.
Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn warns there could be not only a political firestorm but acts of civil disobedience and even violence in reaction to President Obama's executive order on immigration Thursday.
 
"The country's going to go nuts, because they're going to see it as a move outside the authority of the president, and it's going to be a very serious situation," Coburn said on Capital Download. "You're going to see -- hopefully not -- but you could see instances of anarchy. ... You could see violence."
The far-right senator went on to say, "Here's how people think: Well, if the law doesn't apply to the president ... then why should it apply to me?"
 
It's hard to know what to make of such an odd perspective. If Coburn is correct, why weren't there similar outbursts of anarchy and violence when Presidents Reagan and Bush took very similar executive actions? If the masses are so deeply concerned about separation of powers and the often-ambiguous lines surrounding executive authority, wouldn't we have seen instances of pandemonium before?
 
As a practical matter, I'm not even sure how this would work. The Obama administration has limited resources, so it appears likely to prioritize deportations for criminals who entered the country illegally. So, in Coburn's vision, anti-immigrant activists will become violent, perhaps literally rioting in the street, until more unobtrusive families are broken up?

Jobless claims level off, remain below threshold

11/20/14 08:36AM

The good news is, initial unemployment claims improved a little in the newly released figures. The bad news is, they were supposed to improve more than this.
The number of people who applied for new unemployment benefits totaled fewer than 300,000 for the 10th straight week, reflecting the low level of layoffs in the U.S. economy as growth gradually picks up. Initial jobless claims fell by 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 291,000 in the week ended Nov. 15, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected claims to total around 280,000. [...]
 
Over the past month, meanwhile, the average of new claims rose by 1,750 to 287,500. The four-week average reduces seasonal volatility in the weekly data and is seen as a more accurate barometer of labor-market trends.
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, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. At this point, we've been 300,000 in each of the last 10 weeks -- the first time we've seen that in the United States since the Clinton era.
Residents of the Park Slope section of the borough Brooklyn vote in the 2014 U.S. midterm elections in on Nov. 4, 2014 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Andrew Gombert/EPA)

NBC poll: Public attitudes clear as mud

11/20/14 08:00AM

The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll offers the first national snapshot of Americans' attitudes in the wake of the 2014 midterms, and those hoping to gain clarity from the data are likely to be disappointed.
 
There's no shortage of interesting results, but for me, the most striking figures were on the public's top policy priorities. From Mark Murray's report:
The NBC/WSJ poll also lists several actions the next Congress might take beginning in 2015. From most popular to least popular:
 
* 82 percent support Congress providing access to lower the costs of student loans;
* 75 percent support increasing spending on infrastructure, roads and highways;
* 65 percent support Congress raising the minimum wage;
* 60 percent support approving emergency funding to deal with Ebola in West Africa;
* 59 percent support addressing climate change by limiting carbon emissions
So, the top five most popular policy ideas in the nation are Democratic proposals. To find a popular Republican priority, we have to go the sixth item on the list -- 54% support the Keystone XL pipeline -- which is far behind center-left priorities.
 
And that's where the confusion kicks in. The American mainstream strongly backs the same policy agenda Democrats want, but that same mainstream just elected a Congress that will make it impossible for Americans to get what they say they support.
 
Indeed, the closer one looks at the results, the less rational they appear. As Rachel noted on the show last night, public attitudes on immigration are even more puzzling.

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