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Ahead on the 4/17/14 Maddow show

04/17/14 07:17PM

Tonight's guests include: Nicolle Wallace, former senior advisor for the McCain-Palin campaign; Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent, host of “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on MSNBC read more

U.S. President Barack Obama (C) speaks about the Affordable Care Act as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) watches in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 1, 2014 in Washington, DC.

8 million

04/17/14 04:36PM

Just five weeks ago, the Associated Press ran an article on the pace of Affordable Care Act enrollments. The White House, the piece said, "needs something close to a miracle to meet its goal of enrolling 6 million people by the end of this month." Congressional Republicans eagerly passed the AP's item around.
 
As of April 1, we already knew that miracle had arrived: the initial estimate pointed to 7.1 million Americans enrolling through exchange marketplaces. By last week, that total was revised to 7.5 million.
 
Today, there's a new number: 8 million consumers signed up for private coverage through exchanges.
President Barack Obama announced Thursday that eight million people have selected a private health insurance plan through the Affordable Care Act.
 
"This thing is working," he said of the law during an announcement during a statement in the White House briefing room. The president also said that 35 percent of people who enrolled through the federal marketplace are under the age of 35.
As the president want on to explain at a press conference this afternoon, that's 8 million enrolled through exchanges, another 3 million young adults who've gained coverage through family plans, and another 3 million who've taken advantage of Medicaid expansion.
 
That's 14 million American consumers -- a number that would be more than 19 million if several Republican officials weren't deliberately blocking Medicaid expansion out of political spite.
 
Before new conspiracy theories sprout, I should note that these upward revisions do not come as a surprise.
Arminda Murillo, 54, reads a leaflet at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, Calif., March 27, 2014.

'We're not going to do anything to address health care'

04/17/14 03:38PM

It's been nearly three months since House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) declared, "This year, we will rally around an alternative to ObamaCare and pass it on the floor of the House." Last week House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the plan is being delayed "at least a month." A month from when? He didn't say.
 
ThinkProgress reports that Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.) is telling his constituents that his party doesn't intend "to do anything" on this issue for the rest of the year.
CONSTITUENT: You've voted to repeal it approximately 50 times. Had zero votes on a replacement. So my question is, why do you think it is so good to deny seniors on Part D to make them pay more, about $4,000 more for medicine, and people with pre-existing conditions get denied insurance, have 26-year-olds have a harder time getting insurance because they can't get on their parents'? Why do you think those are good ideas?
 
ROSS: I don't. And let me tell you, I think one of the most unfortunate things my party did the last three years was not offer an alternative to health care. I've always felt that way. I think it's absurd when I tell people that this isn't what you should do, but I don't have an alternative for you.... I wish we had an alternative. For the next six months, we're going to go into an election knowing that we're not going to do anything to address health care. Because we've gone so far in the last few years saying "no" that we don't have an alternative to say "yes" to.
It's not too common to hear House Republicans referring to their own party's posture on health care as "absurd," which make Ross' comments fairly striking on their own.
 
There's also the news that Ross is apparently under the impression that his party won't bother with an ACA alternative at all in 2014, despite literally years of Republican promises to the contrary.
 
But perhaps most interesting of all was the two-word answer in response to the question from Ross' constituent: "I don't."
A woman holding a sign in support of the Affordable Care Act is seen as President Barack Obama's motorcade returns to his vacation compound from the gym at Marine Corps Base Hawaii on December 29, 2013 in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.

The ACA on a winning streak

04/17/14 12:56PM

As a substantive matter, the nature of the debate over the Affordable Care Act has changed dramatically in just the past few weeks. On every metric that matters -- enrollment data, rate of uninsured, systemic costs, premiums -- there's been quite a bit of news, and all of it's heartening for those hoping to see the American system succeed.
 
But as the substance changes, the politics and broader impressions are changing with it. Democrats who were expected to avoid "Obamacare" at all costs as a campaign issue are starting to do the opposite. And Beltway media that talked up ACA peril is now conceding the system is "making a pretty impressive run."
The headlines about the Affordable Care Act have turned positive lately, and they're starting to pile up. The most dire predictions from the law's critics simply haven't panned out, and now Democrats are headed into another big health care fight -- the confirmation of a new Health and Human Services secretary -- with stronger real-world evidence than they've had before.
 
There's important information we still don't have about enrollment, and big risks loom on the horizon. Things could change. But right now, the tide seems to be turning in the White House's favor.
 
Narratives feed on themselves, and there was a time when Obamacare just kept losing.... But over the past few weeks, the news has started to roll in the other direction.... Now it's good news snowballing, and it's critics who increasingly seem to have missed the mark with their warnings of inevitable collapse.
So much for the "death spiral."
 
It's against this backdrop that House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) issued a brief report this morning, as part of the "House Obamacare Accountability Project." (House Republicans have actually created a formal project with its own name for their initiative to root for ACA failure.) The 1,100-word piece intends to "debunk" the encouraging news of late, but McCarthy's indictment doesn't actually disprove anything. It asks some questions and repeats some old, bogus talking points, but for those who've followed the debate closely, it's surprisingly pretty easy to debunk the House GOP's attempted debunking.
 
With this in mind, it's probably time to start thinking more about "Obamacare Derangement Syndrome."
People register at the Arlington Free Clinic for the healthcare lottery on November 12, 2013 in Arlington, Virginia.

Watching the birth of a conspiracy theory in real time

04/17/14 11:23AM

We saw the likely conspiracy theory coming, but as Andrew Rosenthal noted, it's nevertheless interesting to "actually see one being born."
For years now some on the right have speculated that the Obama administration is trying to politicize the national census. Yesterday, Noah Rothman argued on Mediaite that the theory was proven correct by a New York Times article about changes in the way the Census Bureau plans to ask about health insurance coverage.
 
The idea is that the new questions will show a reduction in the number of uninsured people starting in 2014, which may make it seem as though the Affordable Care Act is working better than it really is. The change in questions will also produce a "break in trend" within the census surveys and thus make it impossible to statistically compare 2013 and 2014 with earlier years.
 
Therefore, the White House must have ordered this sinister change to promote President Obama's signature domestic initiative.
Or so the argument went. Conservative media types weren't alone, of course. As Igor Volsky noted, congressional Republican offices soon followed. In an especially odd missive, House Speaker John Boehner's communications director, Rory Cooper, tweeted, "It never stops. Obama Administration now changing the CENSUS survey in order to hide failure of Obamacare."
 
It's unclear whether or not Cooper and his like-minded cohorts realize what they're saying is silly. Maybe they know how foolish this conspiracy theory is, but hope to keep irrational hatred of the Affordable Care Act going, whether it makes sense or not. Or perhaps they just don't know enough about the substance of this to understand the policy they're publicly condemning.
 
Either way, to borrow a phrase, it never stops.
 
But so long as Republicans and conservative media intend to remain invested in this, it's probably worth taking a closer look at reality.
Sodomy laws still enforced in East Baton Rouge

Louisiana's bold stand against sodomy

04/17/14 10:48AM

The culture war's focus has narrowed quite a bit in recent years. Whereas the political combat over hot-button social issues used to include issues like school prayer, access to pornography, and Ten Commandments displays, the contemporary culture war tends to focus on sexual health (access to abortion and contraception) and gay rights (most notably marriage equality).
 
But once in a while, anti-sodomy laws return to the fore.
 
It was, after all, just last summer that Virginia's Ken Cuccinelli (R), at the time the state Attorney General, fought in support of an anti-sodomy measure that had already been struck down in the courts. This week in Louisiana, meanwhile, state lawmakers protected an anti-sodomy law that's already been deemed unconstitutional.
The Louisiana House of Representatives rejected legislation, on Tuesday, that would remove the state's symbolic ban on certain kinds of sodomy. The bill failed by a wide margin on a vote of 27-67, with 11 members not voting.
 
Louisiana's anti-sodomy law was overturned and declared unconstitutional in 2003, with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling such state statutes could not be enforced. Still, the Legislature has been unwilling to officially strike the measure from state law, even though it can't be used as a cause for arrest.
 
A House Committee passed the legislation onto the body's floor by a vote of 9-6 last week. But one of the state's most powerful lobbying groups, the conservative Christian Louisiana Family Forum, opposes striking the sodomy ban.
And in this case, the Louisiana Family Forum won.
 
Keep in mind, everyone involved realizes that Louisiana's anti-sodomy statute cannot legally be enforced. It's effectively legal window dressing -- it's just sitting there, serving no practical purpose. But rather than removing unenforceable clutter from their books, Louisiana's state House, with the overwhelming support of its Republican majority, agreed with the Louisiana Family Forum's assessment that the unconstitutional anti-sodomy statute is "consistent with the values of Louisiana residents who consider this behavior to be dangerous, unhealthy and immoral."
Solar power coming on strong

Oklahoma moves to discourage solar power

04/17/14 10:14AM

In the final installment of a multi-part report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change explained that the climate crisis is intensifying quickly, creating a critical situation. We're approach a point of no return, requiring significant action over the next 15 years.
 
What kind of action? There's no easy fix, but the IPCC was encouraged by new measures that can reduce emissions without drastic lifestyle changes, including sharp reductions in the costs of solar and wind power.
 
Just two days after the IPCC's findings were made public, Oklahoma moved to make renewable energy more expensive, on purpose.
Utility customers who want to install rooftop solar panels or small wind turbines could face extra charges on their bills after legislation passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Monday.
 
Senate Bill 1456 passed 83-5 after no debate in the House. It passed the Senate last month and now heads to Gov. Mary Fallin for her approval.
 
The bill was supported by the state's major electric utilities, but drew opposition from solar advocates, environmentalists and others. It sets up a process at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to establish a separate customer class and monthly surcharge for distributed generation such as rooftop solar or small wind turbines.
Just so we're clear, the climate crisis is getting worse; we'll have to act quickly to prevent a catastrophe; the use of renewable energy is an important part of the solution; and Oklahoma is poised to discourage consumers from using energy technologies that reduce emissions.
 
Sigh.
 
Away from Oklahoma, however, the White House is moving today in a more progressive direction.
Activists From Across The Country Hold March For Immigration Reform

Cantor struggles with immigration blame game

04/17/14 09:32AM

Exactly one year ago yesterday, the Senate easily approved a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform package that would fix the nation's broken status quo, boost the economy, and lower the deficit. The legislation was quickly endorsed by private-sector leaders, labor unions, faith-based leaders, law enforcement, and immigrant advocates.
 
President Obama marked the one-year anniversary of the Senate's action by issuing a statement urging the Republican-led House to stop doing nothing. "Republicans in the House of Representatives have repeatedly failed to take action, seemingly preferring the status quo of a broken immigration system over meaningful reform," the president said, adding, "We have a chance to strengthen our country while upholding our traditions as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants, and I urge House Republicans to listen to the will of the American people and bring immigration reform to the House floor for a vote."
 
Obama then followed up with a phone call to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who apparently wasn't pleased.
Cantor issued a blistering statement afterward, criticizing Obama for calling him just after delivering what he called "a partisan statement" that indicated "no desire to work together" on immigration, a top priority for Obama that House Republicans have largely ignored.
 
"After five years, President Obama still has not learned how to effectively work with Congress to get things done," Cantor said in the statement. "You do not attack the very people you hope to engage in a serious dialogue. I told the president the same thing I told him the last time we spoke. House Republicans do not support Senate Democrats' immigration bill and amnesty efforts, and it will not be considered in the House."
For their part, White House officials seemed puzzled by Cantor's outrage, saying the president and the Republican leader had a "pleasant call" in which Obama, among other things, extended Passover wishes to Cantor.
 
So what's with the Majority Leader's indignation? It appears Cantor hopes to kill immigration reform without actually getting blamed for killing immigration reform. Indeed, realizing the political risks associated with GOP lawmakers killing yet another popular, bipartisan bill, the Virginia Republican apparently hopes he can turn this around -- Cantor wants to blame the death of reform on the president trying to pass reform over Cantor's objections.
 
In other words, the Majority Leader has decided to play the blame game. Unfortunately for him and his party, he's not playing it especially well.

Jobless claims inch up, but remain near 7-year low

04/17/14 08:39AM

Initial unemployment claims improved unexpectedly last week to a level unseen in seven years, and though the new figures from the Labor Department aren't quite as good, they're close.
The number of people who applied for unemployment-insurance benefits ticked up by 2,000 to 304,000 in the week that ended April 12, a slight increase from the lowest level since 2007, signaling that employers are maintaining a slow pace of layoffs, according to government data released Thursday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to total a seasonally adjusted 315,000 in the latest weekly data. The average of new claims over the past month dropped by 4,750 to 312,000, hitting the lowest level since October 2007, just two months before the recession began.
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.
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez isn't being seriously vetted as a potential Mitt Romney running mate.

An unflattering portrait of Susana Martinez

04/17/14 08:00AM

Look up any list of "Republican rising stars" and you're likely to find first-term New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. And on paper, it's easy to see why: she's the nation's first Latina governor and an effective former prosecutor with a high approval rating in a relatively blue state.
 
But Mother Jones' Andy Kroll this week published a detailed, closer look at the New Mexico Republican and the portrait that emerges is deeply unflattering.
[P]reviously unreleased audio recordings, text messages, and emails obtained by Mother Jones reveal a side of Martinez the public has rarely, if ever, seen. In private, Martinez can be nasty, juvenile, and vindictive. She appears ignorant about basic policy issues and has surrounded herself with a clique of advisers who are prone to a foxhole mentality. [...]
 
[I]nterviews with former Martinez aides, state lawmakers, Democratic and Republican officials, fundraisers, and donors show a governor whose prosecutorial style and vindictiveness have estranged her from leaders in her own party and from the Democratic lawmakers she must work with to get anything done. Martinez and her staff, they say, have isolated themselves in her fourth-floor office inside the modest state capitol known as the Roundhouse. As one major Republican donor in New Mexico puts it, "They've got this Sherman's march to the sea mentality, burning everything in sight until they get to the finish."
It's a lengthy, tough-to-excerpt piece, but Kroll's piece raises some highly relevant concerns that will matter quite a bit if Martinez pursues national office. Her political operation, for example, appears petty and paranoid, alienating friend and foe alike. On public policy, Martinez comes across as disinterested in governing details -- soon after getting elected, she asked an interviewer to "remind me" what the DREAM Act was.
 
There are even questions about possible corruption: in 2011, the state "awarded a 25-year lease worth an estimated $1 billion to a company largely owned by a pair of major Martinez backers ... to operate a racetrack and casino at the state fairgrounds." Critics have accused the Martinez administration of rigging the bidding process and the FBI has interviewed witnesses about the deal.
 
Stepping back, there are a couple of broader issues to also keep in mind.

Putin on the blitz and other headlines

04/17/14 07:48AM

Ukraine forces kill 3 pro-Russian protesters. (NY Times)

Putin admits Russian forces helped Crimean separatists. (NBC News)

Colorado Senate Dems spike bill that would have protected reproductive rights. (Denver Post)

New Hampshire may repeal the death penalty today. (AP)

Obama and Cantor fight over immigration reform and a "Happy Passover" call. (NY Mag)

CIA's former top lawyer fires back at Senate report, criticizes Feinstein. (McClatchy)

South Korean ferry captain apologizes for fleeing the sinking ship. (LA Times)

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