The Department of Homeland Security recently circulated an intelligence assessment focusing on "the domestic terror threat from right-wing sovereign citizen extremists." The materials were clearly rooted in fact -- federal officials have identified 24 violent "sovereign citizen-related attacks" in the United States over the last four years, and they fear more may occur.
Some intelligence officials fear the threat of violence from these home-grown radicals is at least as serious as the threats posed by foreign terrorists.
Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), a member of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees, is outraged ... by the Obama administration.
"The idea that Americans who are conservatives, that disagree with the president, are just as threatening as ISIS, whose whole existence is to kill us in the name of their religion, even though the president won't say 'Islamic terrorists,' he'll call people on the right terrorists, is nonsense, it is just utter nonsense. There is no evidence of anything like that and once again more fear tactics out of the administration."
What's alarming about a response like this is how detached from reality it is. When the Department of Homeland Security circulates an intelligence assessment -- which Ted Poe probably has not read -- it's not referring to "conservatives" who "disagree with the president." Rather, intelligence officials are concerned about the possibility of violence from radical extremists and fringe anti-government groups.
When members of Congress don't appreciate the difference between "people on the right" and violent radicals on the fringes of society, there's a real problem. When they convince themselves there's "no evidence" of a home-grown terrorist threat, despite the ample evidence that's already been documented, the problem is even more severe.
But then the Republican congressman made matters just a little worse during the same interview.
There's no shortage of high-profile Republicans gearing up for the 2016 presidential race, but there's one name that probably should be in the mix, but isn't.
Imagine a popular Republican governor, easily elected twice in a battleground state President Obama won twice. Imagine he's Hispanic, young, won re-election last year by a ridiculous 46 points, and has seen his state's unemployment rate drop quickly in recent years.
I'm referring to Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), who seems like an almost-perfect presidential candidate for his party, but who hasn't even considered testing the White House waters.
To understand why, consider Sandoval's perspective on the pending Supreme Court case that may gut the Affordable Care Act.
"I made a decision early on that we would be a state-based exchange because I felt it was in Nevadans' best interest to run their own," Sandoval said, even boasting that twice as many Nevadans enrolled this year over the first round. "I'm just pleased," he added, "that we don't have the anxiety of the outcome King v. Burwell."
At first blush, this may not seem striking at all -- a governor embraced a sensible policy that helped his constituents have access to basic medical care. It's the sort of thing most Americans might expect every well-intentioned governor to do as a matter of course.
But in political terms, we're talking about a Republican governor who embraced the dreaded "Obamacare" -- including Medicaid expansion -- and is "pleased" he implemented the Affordable Care Act in a way that may help protect his state from his party's Supreme Court justices.
About a month ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) impressed far-right activists by shining a spotlight on a problem that doesn't exist: "no-go zones" in Europe where, in his mind, Muslim populations are so large and intimidating, non-Muslims, even local law enforcement, are too afraid to visit. Soon after, the Republican governor said these imaginary "no-go zones" may soon appear in the United States.
A Republican Tennessee lawmaker introduced a bill this month that would ask the state attorney general to report any existing "no-go zones" and work to eliminate them, The Tennessean reported.
State Rep. Susan Lynn's bill does not specifically mention Muslims, but may allude to the non-existent Muslim "no-go zones" referenced on Fox News and by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) following the January terrorist attacks in Paris.
The legislation defines a "no-go zone" as a "a contiguous geographical area consisting of public space or privately owned public space where community organizing efforts systematically intimidate or exclude the general public or public workers from entering or being present within the area."
The Republican state lawmaker has no evidence of any "no-go zones," but she toldThe Tennessean that there "some people who claim that there are some areas of Tennessee where they feel this is happening."
And evidently, if "some people" believe in an imaginary problem, it's time for elected officials to start approving public policies to address these imaginary problems. By this reasoning, legislation related to Bigfoot will also be necessary.
In the larger context, the funny thing about efforts like these is just how common they are.
The relationship between Republicans and modern science has become strained lately. In recent months, we've seen GOP officials -- including senators, governors, and presidential candidates -- balk at climate science, contraception, vaccinations, post-bathroom hand-washing, and even evolutionary biology.
This week is becoming especially egregious on this front. We were introduced to a Republican state lawmaker in Idaho who seemed quite confused about women's anatomy, and Jon Ralston added a new addition to the collection yesterday, highlighting the latest from Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R), who has a proposal to change existing rules on end-of-life care.
Fiore, who operates a home health care business that sometimes passes payroll taxes onto the IRS, said she knew of friends who left the country to find end-of-life treatments that are not FDA-approved. And then the payoff:
"If you have cancer, which I believe is a fungus," she began, citing a widely debunked theory that the American Cancer Society warns about, "and we can put a pic line into your body and we're flushing with, say, salt water, sodium cardonate [I think she means bicarbonate], through that line and flushing out the fungus. These are some procedures that are not FDA-approved in America that are very inexpensive, cost-effective."
Putting aside the fact that cancer is not a "fungus," it's incidents like these that remind me why it's wise to separate politicians from scientific and medical decision making as often as humanly possible. In recent years, When it comes to the process of deciding which medical treatments are covered by Medicare, for example, or which medicines receive FDA approval, there are safeguards in place that empower actual experts to draw evidence-based conclusions.
Assemblywoman Michele Fiore is offering a timely reminder that these safeguards must never change.
At the invitation of House Republicans, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still scheduled to deliver an address to a joint session of Congress next week, despite the international controversy. It will be the first time a foreign leader is invited to deliver a joint-session speech in order to criticize and undermine American foreign policy.
Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), hoping to ease tensions, invited the prime minister to visit privately with Democratic senators next week. Yesterday, Netanyahu responded in writing: No..
"Though I greatly appreciate your kind invitation to meet with Democratic senators, I believe that doing so could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit. I would, of course, be glad to address a bipartisan forum of senators behind closed doors on a future visit, as I have been privileged to do many times in the past," Netanyahu wrote to the two senators in a letter dated Jan. 24, an apparent error.
Durbin, the Senate Minority Whip, said the Democratic invitation was intended to "balance the politically divisive invitation" from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). The Democratic leader added that Netanyahu's "refusal to meet is disappointing to those of us who have stood by Israel for decades."
It's important to emphasize that the Israeli leader's argument isn't factually wrong -- he has scheduled no private meetings with congressional Republicans next week, so Netanyahu can plausibly claim it might appear "partisan" to huddle with Democrats exclusively.
Rachel Maddow sorts fact from fiction in several of the day's top stories, including whether Fox News' Bill O'Reilly really threatened a reporter doing a story about his lies, and the surprising legal status of sledding on Capitol Hill. watch
Senator Amy Klobuchar talks with Rachel Maddow about the political games congressional Republicans are playing with funding to the Department of Homeland Security and the obligation Congress has to support and protect Americans working under threat. watch
* Will the House GOP be responsible? "Senate Republicans offered a new proposal Tuesday to avert a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security this weekend, but it faced an uncertain future after Democrats demanded assurances that the House would support it."
* Syria: "Three missing London schoolgirls believed to have traveled to Turkey as part of an attempt to join ISIS forces have likely reached Syria, British police said Tuesday."
* He's right: "Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Russia has repeatedly lied to him about its activities in Ukraine where pro-Russian rebels are fighting national forces."
* And speaking of Kerry: "Secretary of State John Kerry defended Tuesday the Obama administration's nuclear negotiations with Iran, saying the U.S. policy is to prevent the Iranians from getting atomic weapons."
* Greece: "Eurozone finance ministers on Tuesday approved Greece's plan meant to ease the hardships created by its international bailout, extending that loan program by four more months."
* The choice for the court is between success and chaos: "The Obamacare chief told Congress on Tuesday that the Obama administration has 'no plans' that would mitigate the damage of a potential Supreme Court decision invalidating health insurance subsidies on the federal health insurance exchange."
* Florida: "The federal civil rights investigation into the 2012 shooting death of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin will wrap up with no charges filed, the Justice Department announced Tuesday."
Right about now, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) probably wishes his father kept a much lower profile.
Former Republican Rep. Ron Paul, the father of potential presidential candidate Rand Paul and a former presidential candidate himself, said the Congressional Black Caucus does not support war because they want that money for food stamps.
"I was always annoyed with it in Congress because we had an anti-war unofficial group, a few libertarian Republicans and generally the Black Caucus and others did not -- they are really against war because they want all of that money to go to food stamps for people here," Ron Paul told Lew Rockwell in early February during a discussion on sanctions.
I saw some paraphrases of this online, and I assumed the former congressman's comment couldn't have been quite as ridiculous as the tweets suggested. My assumption was wrong -- Paul really did argue Congressional Black Caucus members oppose war because they want money for food stamps.
As BuzzFeed report noted, Paul went on to complain that CBC members who were part of the unofficial "anti-war group" also disappointed him by supporting sanctions against countries like Iran. "They wanted to look tough," he said.
Obviously, the notion that Congressional Black Caucus members were only skeptical of wars because of food stamps is racially charged and ridiculous. It'd be an offensive comment from anyone, but the fact that it's coming from a longtime congressman and former presidential candidate only adds insult to injury.
And, of course, Ron Paul isn't just some random former lawmaker running around the country saying dumb things and appearing at fringe events. He's also Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) father.
President Obama repeatedly told Congress not to waste its time passing legislation on the Keystone XL oil pipeline -- if they did, he'd veto it. Lawmakers would be better off investing their energies in bills that could become law.
The Republican-led House and Senate, evidently eager to help the economy in Alberta, Canada, ignored the warnings and passed their proposal. This afternoon, the president kept his word, issuing the following message to lawmakers:
"I am returning herewith without my approval S. 1, the 'Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act.' Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest.
"The Presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously. But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people. And because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest -- including our security, safety, and environment -- it has earned my veto."
Republicans are, predictably, outraged by the outcome they knew all along would happen, calling the veto "political." It's not -- this has always been more of a policy fight than a political food fight.
But more important is the degree to which this veto very likely marks the beginning of a new era for Obama's presidency.
Just a few months into the Obama presidency, congressional Republicans and conservative media claimed to be outraged by a Department of Homeland Security document. DHS has released plenty of reports, but in this 2009 instance, the agency issued a general alert to law enforcement about ideological extremists and their interest in politically motivated violence.
The report had been commissioned by the Bush/Cheney administration, but Republicans freaked out anyway -- conservatives decided that concerns about violent radicals may implicate more mainstream activists on the right. Some GOP members of Congress even called for DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano's resignation.
The Republican tantrum was bizarre, but it nevertheless convinced federal officials to scale back their scrutiny, at least for a while, of home-grown extremists and potentially violent fringe radicals.
A new intelligence assessment, circulated by the Department of Homeland Security this month and reviewed by CNN, focuses on the domestic terror threat from right-wing sovereign citizen extremists and comes as the Obama administration holds a White House conference to focus efforts to fight violent extremism.
Some federal and local law enforcement groups view the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen groups as equal to -- and in some cases greater than -- the threat from foreign Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS, that garner more public attention.
According to the CNN report, Homeland Security and the FBI have identified 24 violent "sovereign citizen-related attacks" in the United States over the last four years.
The reaction from conservative media figures wasn't quite what I expected.
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:
* At an event last night, Gov. Scott Walker (R) told supporters that, "unlike some," he didn't "inherit fame and fortune" from his family. It's a message Republicans will likely be hearing more of in the coming months.
* Hugh Hewitt, a prominent far-right radio host, has been invited to ask questions at a September debate for Republican presidential candidates. This is in keeping with RNC plans to have party allies in the media play this role during the race for the 2016 nomination. The debate will be hosted by CNN.
* In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie (R) is apparently so excited about his budget address that his team put together an unintentionally funny teaser trailer to promote the upcoming speech (thanks to my colleague Tricia McKinney for the heads-up).
* Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) won't officially announce his 2016 plans until April, but has begun "quietly telling donors" that he'll give up his Senate seat and seek the presidency.
* A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll was released yesterday and found Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) narrowly leading Scott Walker in the Republican presidential field among GOP voters in the Lone Star State, 20% to 19%. Jeb Bush and Ben Carson tied for third in the poll with 9% each. Multi-term Texas Gov. Rick Perry was fifth in his home state with 8%.
* In North Carolina, an Elon Poll released this morning found Hillary Clinton leading Jeb Bush in a hypothetical 2016 match-up, 46% to 40%. President Obama narrowly won North Carolina in 2008, but Mitt Romney narrowly won it in 2012.