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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.26.15

02/26/15 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:
 
* The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) kicked off this morning. Widely considered the premier annual event in far-right politics, at least 11 likely Republican presidential candidates will address the conservative crowd.
 
* Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) will appear at the event, and his "advisers have taken steps to pack the room with supporters."
 
* To the surprise of no one, Quinnipiac's latest poll of Iowa Democrats shows Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a very popular figure and the overwhelming favorite in the race for the Democratic nomination.
 
* As former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) departed from his State Department job this week, he thanked his "once, current, and I hope, future chief of staff." It was a reminder that Feingold is likely to seek a rematch against Sen. Ron Johnson (R) in Wisconsin next year.
 
* Karl Rove's American Crossroads operation is trying to use comments from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to go after Hillary Clinton. The Republican super PAC created a 30-second attack ad, but it's unclear if the spot will appear anywhere other than the Internet.
 
* Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a Republican mega-donor, has reportedly told associates he's "open to underwriting an effort" to stop Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) presidential campaign, "should he gain traction in the primaries."
Gina McCarthy prepares to testify before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on her nomination as EPA administrator, on Capitol Hill in Washington April 11, 2013. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Scalise to EPA chief: 'snow blizzards' contradict climate science

02/26/15 11:23AM

House Republicans held a committee hearing yesterday to consider Environmental Protection Agency's budget request from agency chief Gina McCarthy. The discussion went about as expected, though the hearing was a reminder of why policy debates in Washington have become effectively impossible.
 
As Alec MacGillis reported, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was on hand for the discussion, and he told the EPA chief,  "I know the president loves talking about global warming -- and they're canceling flights all around the country due to snow blizzards."
 
Yes, according to Scalise, the #3 Republican leader in the U.S. House, snow storms in the winter undermine climate science. The far-right GOP congressman also seems concerned about "snow blizzards" -- as opposed to the other kinds of blizzards that cancel flights?
 
MacGillis also highlighted the concerns raised by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), who "told McCarthy that she was, effectively, responsible for an epidemic of mental illness."
"I keep seeing the EPA putting in another regulation on top of another regulation," he said. "What it's led, by these overregulation in rural America, it's led to people, their well-being, their mental health, is all being affected by it. I think we're having some depression in areas around the county because of the threats of regulation and what it's doing to jobs.... I really believe it's directly attributed to the regulatory body with it (sic)." No mention of the other factors that are putting pressure on the coal industry in his district, such as the natural gas boom happening very nearby.
 
In case you wondered, McKinley doesn't believe in man-made climate change. "You continue to issue more regulations even though the models say it doesn't work with it," he told McCarthy. "You have a model that says how [carbon dioxide] impacts the temperatures around the globe. We know from the standards that that doesn't work." Oh?
Much of the country often wonders why President Obama and congressional Republicans can't work cooperatively on national problems. Hearings like these offer a big hint. When members of the House Energy Committee argue to the EPA chief that "snow blizzards" raise doubts about global warming, governing is a longshot.
A Tea Party member reaches for a pamphlet titled "The Impact of Obamacare", at a "Food for Free Minds Tea Party Rally" in Littleton, New Hampshire in this October 27, 2012. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

West Virginia GOP moves to nullify 'Obamacare'

02/26/15 10:45AM

Before getting elected to the U.S. Senate, Iowa Republican Joni Ernst adopted some remarkably radical political beliefs, including the notion that Iowa could pass a law "nullifying" the Affordable Care Act in the state. The Republican even endorsed allowing local law enforcement to "arrest federal officials attempting to implement" the federal health care law.
 
Obviously, nothing became of these extremist positions, and Ernst was never able to act on her ridiculous beliefs. But the hyper-conservative ideas she embraced clearly haven't faded from Republicans' minds. The Charleston Gazette reported this week:
In another salvo against the federal Affordable Care Act, some Republicans in West Virginia's House of Delegates want to make it a crime for state and federal officials to enforce the health-care law.
 
Under the GOP-backed bill (HB2509), federal employees would face felony charges, while state workers would be arrested for a misdemeanor offense, if they try to administer any federal regulations under the Affordable Care Act. The legislation also declares the federal health-care law "invalid" in West Virginia.
Perry Bryant, who heads West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, told the paper, "It's one thing to oppose the Affordable Care Act, but it's another thing to make it a criminal act for people to do their job. This is really an extreme piece of legislation, as extreme as anything I've seen this session."
 
Or any session, really. The notion that a state can simply nullify a federal law it doesn't like is absurd -- the last time states considered this approach, the question was resolved by the Civil War. The "nullification" crowd lost.
 
The notion that West Virginia Republicans could make it a literal crime to enforce American law in America is simply bonkers.
 
And yet, the proposal has the support of a half-dozen GOP lawmakers in West Virginia and was taken up by the state House Health and Human Resources Committee on Tuesday.
Texas State Capital

The wrong Battle of the Alamo

02/26/15 10:03AM

State lawmakers in Texas this week held a hearing on a curious new proposal. According to state Sen. Donna Campbell (R), Texas needs a new law to prohibit foreign control of the Alamo -- and if you're thinking this is a foolish effort, trust your instincts. The Texas Tribune reported:
Campell proposed the Protect the Alamo Act in response to a nomination that could make the San Antonio Missions -- including the emblematic Alamo -- a World Heritage site through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). A decision is expected to be announced in July. Campbell said that without the law to protect the Alamo, there would be a risk that the Texas General Land Office, which manages the Alamo and surrounding properties, could sell it.
 
"In the charge to the battle, the battle cry was 'Remember the Alamo,' and since then, the Alamo has been recognized as hallowed ground in Texas, and a shrine of Texas liberty," Campbell said at a hearing before the Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee. "The Alamo is a story of Texas, and it should be owned, operated, and maintained, controlled by Texans."
We've seen some interesting examples of far-right paranoia surrounding the United Nations over the years, but this one's just odd.
 
As we discussed a while back, UNESCO decided to grant World Heritage status to the Alamo, giving the Texas historical site the same status as other American treasures such as Independence Hall, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and the Statue of Liberty. It would seem like the sort of thing that Texans could be proud of, and which might even help boost tourism in the area.
 
But it hasn't quite turned out that way. Almost immediately, conservatives, pushed by the San Antonio Tea Party, began circulating warnings that the United Nations might seize control of the Alamo. The Texas Land Commissioner's office tried to explain how silly the fears were, but they persisted.
 
And now legislation based on the paranoia is under consideration in Austin.
US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Oval Office of the White House, Sept. 30, 2013.

Netanyahu becomes political player, so Kerry treats him like one

02/26/15 09:13AM

Secretary of State John Kerry testified on Capitol Hill yesterday, and going into the hearing, it was widely expected that he'd tout the importance of international nuclear talks with Iran. He did exactly that, though he also went a little further in challenging a critic of those talks.
Secretary of State John Kerry reminded Americans on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who is expected to denounce a potential nuclear deal with Iran during an address to Congress next week, also visited Washington in late 2002 to lobby for the invasion of Iraq.
 
Apparently referring to testimony on the Middle East that Mr. Netanyahu delivered to Congress on Sept. 12, 2002, when he was a private citizen, Mr. Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, "The prime minister, as you will recall, was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush, and we all know what happened with that decision."
In 2002, Netanyahu assured lawmakers that invading Iraq was a great idea. "If you take out Saddam, Saddam's regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region," he said at the time.
 
We now know, of course, that Netanyahu's guarantee was spectacularly wrong, which matters insofar as credibility still counts -- the same Israeli leader is now telling lawmakers an international agreement with Iran would be a disaster for the United States and its allies. Kerry's point wasn't subtle: those who were this wrong before probably shouldn't be trusted to be right now.
 
There's something almost refreshing about this. Note, there's nothing personal or even electoral about the administration's message -- Kerry didn't offer some prolonged complaint about Netanyahu and the Israeli elections, or the unprecedented nature of the prime minister's partnership with congressional Republicans.
 
It's far more straightforward. Netanyahu has positioned himself as a participant in a policy debate and, at the same time, he's claiming great credibility on the subject matter. The White House is responding in kind, treating Netanyahu as a policy rival.
 
What's wrong with this? Actually, nothing.

Jobless claims remain stubbornly volatile

02/26/15 08:42AM

It's never good news when initial unemployment claims go up, but it's especially discouraging when they spike unexpectedly.
The number of Americans seeking first-time unemployment benefits rose last week, a sign the labor market may have lost some steam after last month’s solid job growth.
 
Initial jobless claims rose by 31,000 to a seasonally adjusted 313,000 in the week ended Feb. 21, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected 290,000 new claims.
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 19 of the last 24 weeks. On the other hand, we’ve been above 300,000 four of the last seven weeks.
A marijuana plant.

High times in the nation's capital

02/26/15 08:00AM

When voters in Alaska, Colorado, and the state of Washington voted to legalize marijuana, state laws honored the will of the public. But when voters in our nation's capital did the same thing, the Republican-led Congress intervened. Things got a little complicated.
 
Technically, as of early this morning, marijuana possession became legal in Washington, D.C. But GOP lawmakers, specifically in the U.S. House, have not-so-subtly urged local officials not to proceed with the city's plans.
"I think the attorney general should prosecute people in the District who participate in this under the Anti-Deficiency Act," said Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who introduced the appropriations amendment intended to block the city from moving forward with the marijuana legalization measure passed by voters in November.
 
The federal Anti-Deficiency Act imposes criminal penalties on government employees who knowingly spend public funds in excess of their appropriated budgets.
The Washington Post report added that House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sent D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) a rather aggressive letter this week, warning of legal repercussions.
 
"If you decide to move forward tomorrow with the legalization of marijuana in the District, you will be doing so in knowing and willful violation of the law," Chaffetz's letter said. It was signed by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chair of the House panel that oversees D.C. affairs. In a follow-up interview, Chaffetz told the Post that local officials run the risk of going "to prison for this."
 
The irony is hard to miss. Conservative Republicans, committed to a small federal government and the importance of local control, realize that the people of the District of Columbia overwhelmingly voted to make pot legal. The decision enjoys the broad support of D.C. officials. And yet, these same conservative Republican lawmakers appear willing to put their principles aside, at least in this specific case.
 
So what happens now?

'Jihadi John' identified and other headlines

02/26/15 07:26AM

'Jihadi John' of ISIS identified. (Washington Post)

Activists: number of Christians abducted by ISIS in Syria rises to 220. (AP)

CPAC starts today, and American Bridge trackers will be there. (The Hill)

DC legalizes pot--and it's going to be complicated. (Daily Intelligencer)

FCC Chairman tweaks net neutrality plan ahead of today's vote. (Politico)

3 more Mississippi men sentenced for racially-motivated beatings that led to the death of a black man. (AP)

Beware, Boston parking-space savers. The city is coming for your chairs. (Boston.com)

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Bill O'Reilly reporter threats indefensible

Bill O'Reilly threats against reporters indefensible

02/25/15 10:36PM

Rachel Maddow excoriates Bill O'Reilly and Fox News for taking his bombast to the point of directly threatening reporters for reporting, and highlights the recent series of revelations about uncorrected false claims O'Reilly has made on Fox News. watch

Obama pushes ahead on immigration reform

Obama pushes ahead on immigration reform

02/25/15 09:00PM

José Díaz-Balart talks with Rachel Maddow about highlights from President Obama's town hall in which the president emphasized his intention to press forward with his plans for immigration reform, and took shots at Republicans for blocking progress. watch

Decryptomaddowlogical #108

02/25/15 05:45PM

The little problem we were having with the comment thread has been fixed! So we're back in the Decryptomaddowlogical saddle!

Last night Rachel pointed out that, in what appears to have been an act of misplaced faith in their Republican colleagues, Senate Democrats did not act to confirm Loretta Lynch as the new attorney general in the last Congress, and now her nomination has been languishing for no apparent substantive reason. Of course, by now we've learned that substantive reasons are not a necessity when it comes to conservatives working themselves into an outraged state of upset over a proposal from President Obama; there always exists the threat from...

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 2.25.15

02/25/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* New York: "Three men from Brooklyn, New York, were arrested and accused of plotting to wage jihad for ISIS, authorities said Wednesday. One of them had offered to kill President Barack Obama if the militants asked him to, they said."
 
* Tick tock: "The Senate voted Wednesday to move ahead with a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security after Democratic leaders dropped an earlier pledge to block it unless they get assurances from House Republican leaders that it would pass their chamber. The bill advanced on a procedural vote by a 98-2 margin."
 
* This could get ugly: "Rank-and-file House Republicans on Wednesday bashed the Senate GOP's plan to vote on a 'clean' Homeland Security funding bill, arguing they wanted to stand firm in attacking President Obama's immigration actions."
 
* The Fed: "House Republicans on Wednesday peppered Janet L. Yellen, the Federal Reserve chairwoman, with pointed questions about the central bank's stimulus campaign and its responsibilities as a financial regulator."
 
* Not the news Japan wanted to hear: "The operator of Japan's tsunami-stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant admitted it failed to report a radioactive rainwater leak from the facility for about 10 months."
 
* This could go on for a while: "President Barack Obama might have vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline, but the fight over the pipeline is far from over. House Speaker John Boehner said as much in a video message after Monday's veto: 'All I want to say is the fight's not over.'"
 
* Smart move: "The Treasury Department has an easy fix for taxpayers who filed their returns using inaccurate data sent by HealthCare.gov: They don't have to do anything at all."
In this handout provided by The White House, U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a working dinner in Laurel Cabin, seated clockwise from the president are: Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of Russia,...

The 'trust and confidence of our friends'

02/25/15 05:10PM

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's (R) big foreign policy speech didn't go quite as well as he'd hoped last week, but his campaign team has nevertheless packaged excerpts from the event into a new 30-second ad. There's nothing especially remarkable about the commercial, though it included a claim that stood out for me.
"Everywhere you look, you see the world slipping out of control," Bush begins. "We have lost the trust and confidence of our friends. We definitely know no longer inspire fear in our enemies."
This comes on the heels of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) having a chat last week with Donald Trump about and "how poorly" the United States is "perceived throughout the world."
 
And just last year, it was Mitt Romney who argued, “It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office.”
 
It seems to be one of those myths that's simply accepted as fact: the United States enjoyed global respect and admiration, right up until that rascally Obama took office and ruined everything. Now, as Jeb Bush put it, we've "lost the trust and confidence of our friends."
 
If this were in any way true, the president's critics might have a point, but the evidence points in the exact opposite direction.
A T.J. Maxx in the Chicago area. (Photo by Jeff Schear/Getty for T.J. Maxx)

More retailers boosting U.S. wages

02/25/15 03:50PM

Congressional Republicans are in a position to block every effort to raise the federal minimum wage, but the economy is moving on without them.
 
Some of the nation's largest retailers -- Gap, Ikea, and Wal-Mart, among others -- have already raised their company's minimum wages. Today, another major retailer joined the club, reinforcing the larger trend [edited, see update below].
Less than a week after Wal-Mart announced that it would raise wages for 500,000 employees to $9 an hour in April, off-price retailer TJX said in its fourth-quarter earnings report that it, too, will boost pay.
 
The parent company of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods said Wednesday its full- and part-time hourly U.S. employees will earn at least $9 an hour starting in June. In 2016, all hourly U.S. workers who have been with the company for six months or more will earn at least $10 an hour.
Remember, as was the case with Wal-Mart, this is a done deal -- it's a private-sector move, which will occur regardless of Congress' wishes.
 
In terms of the broader economy, anytime one announcement means a half-million Americans are going to have a bigger paycheck, that's encouraging news, but there's a larger takeaway from these developments that's even more heartening.

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