Last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) complained bitterly and publicly about the Obama administration for not "addressing the threat" posed by ISIS. Graham's expectations were clear: he wanted more rhetoric, sooner rather than later.
In theory, the senator has less to complain about this week. In the wake of James Foley's murder, President Obama issued a sweeping condemnation of ISIS, as did Secretary of State John Kerry. Yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel characterized the terrorist group as "beyond anything we have seen."
In a joint briefing at the Pentagon a day after officials revealed the U.S. secretly launched a failed mission to rescue Foley and other kidnapped Americans held by the Islamic State and Syria and Iraq (ISIS), Hagel suggested the terror group poses a "9/11-level" threat to America.
"ISIL is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group we have seen. They are beyond just a terrorist group," Hagel said. "They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess, they are tremendously well funded. This is beyond anything we have seen."
During the same briefing, General Martin Dempsey, the Obama-appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added, "This is an organization that has an apocalyptic end-of-days strategic vision that will eventually have to be defeated.... Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria? The answer is no."
The assessments came against the backdrop of additional airstrikes against ISIS in northern Iraq. All told, there have been 90 U.S. airstrikes against the terrorist group over the last two weeks.
As for the politics surrounding the national-security strategy, the line from the president's critics has not yet come into focus. We know they're not satisfied; we don't know what they'd do differently.
Wayne Slater, senior political writer for the Dallas Morning News, talks with Rachel Maddow about why the indictment of Texas governor Rick Perry is a bigger deal than many realize and is not a partisan attack and is about coercion, not vetoes. watch
* Ferguson: "Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday ordered the Missouri National Guard to withdraw from Ferguson, where they had been in place since Monday. The move came just after a brief altercation occurred between a state senator and a county spokesperson near St. Louis."
* Middle East: "About 10,000 mourners on Thursday buried three senior commanders of the armed wing of Hamas who were killed in a predawn airstrike by Israel, the most significant blow to the group's leadership since Israel's operation in Gaza began more than six weeks ago."
* This seems like quite an admission: "A senior Hamas leader has said the group carried out the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in June -- the first time anyone from the Islamic militant group has said it was behind an attack that helped spark the current war in the Gaza Strip."
* Ebola: "American doctor Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol, both of whom contracted Ebola while treating infected Liberian patients, have been released from an Atlanta hospital. Writebol was discharged from Emory University Hospital on Tuesday, and Brantly was released on Thursday."
* ISIS: "Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday afternoon that it would not be possible to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria without attacking its fighters in Syria."
* It's a good thing the right was wrong about the auto-industry rescue: "[T]he number of cars coming off our assembly lines just reached its highest level in 12 years."
* No one knows why this is happening, though most agree it's good news: "For five years now, America's teen birth rate has plummeted at an unprecedented rate, falling faster and faster. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of babies born to teens annually fell by 38.4 percent, according to research firm Demographic Intelligence. This drop occurred in tandem with steep declines in the abortion rate."
* Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) hasn't just earned a reputation for his fierce anti-immigration position; he also seems to have a strong aversion to the Congressional Black Caucus.
* A city councilman in Missouri apologized this week for posting racist anti-Obama messages online. In an unfortunate choice of words, councilman Peter Tinsley's defense was he was "a very active Republican" when he published the offensive content.
For proponents of civil rights and marriage equality, the last year has been remarkably successful, though there have been some recent bumps in the road. A state court in Tennessee, for example, interrupted the winning streak last week, while the U.S. Supreme Court halted Virginia marriages that had been set to begin today.
But as we were reminded in the Sunshine State this afternoon, the larger trajectory of this fight clearly favors supporters of equal rights.
A federal judge on Thursday ruled Florida's gay-marriage ban unconstitutional and ordered the state to recognize marriages legally performed elsewhere. U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle, however, immediately stayed his order until after the appeals process is completed.
"When observers look back 50 years from now, the arguments supporting Florida's ban on same-sex marriage, though just as sincerely held, will again seem an obvious pretext for discrimination," Hinkle wrote. "Observers who are not now of age will wonder just how those views could have been held."
It was just six years ago that voters in Florida, with relative ease, approved a state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex couples from getting married. Amendment 2, as it was called, passed statewide, 62% to 38%.
But now, thanks to Hinkle, a Clinton appointee to the federal bench, the measure is unconstitutional. With the district court judge, however, agreeing to a stay, those hoping to take advantage of marriage equality in Florida will have to wait a little longer.
As for the larger context, let's return to looking at the scope of recent court rulings, because it really is extraordinary.
Several weeks ago, President Obama's Republican critics came up with a bizarre new accusation: the White House might be letting Ebola into the United States by failing to properly secure the Mexican border. The argument really didn't make any sense, but some members of Congress repeated the allegations publicly.
The talking point seems to have faded, but it's replaced by an equally foolish argument. Andrew Kaczynski reports on Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) appearance in Washington, D.C., this morning, where the likely presidential candidate said ISIS terrorists may be -- you guessed it -- entering the United States through Mexico.
"Individuals from ISIS or other terrorist states could be, and I think it's a very real possibility that they have already used that," Perry said during a speech at the Heritage Foundation Thursday.
Perry said he didn't have any "clear evidence" of that but said "common sense" tells you it could occur, citing crimes from undocumented immigrants.
The governor went on to say that he's aware of "historic" levels of border crossings from "from countries with terrorist ties." Which countries? Perry specifically referenced Ukraine -- which isn't at all known for its terrorist ties.
There are two broad problems with the Texas Republican's argument, both of which are important.
There are some congressional Republicans who believe the party's commitment to supply-side, trickle-down tax policy is in need of an overhaul. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), for example, still wants expansive tax breaks, but believes the cuts should be directed primarily at the middle class, most notably through expansion of the child tax credit.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), soon to be the new House Ways and Means Committee chairman, wants to make one thing clear: those within his party who question the value of tax breaks for the rich are wrong. The far-right congressman sat down this week with John McCormack.
Some conservatives have argued that reducing the top rate is less urgent now than it was during the Reagan administration, when the top rate was cut from 70 percent to 50 percent and then cut again from 50 percent to 28 percent. But Ryan says that cutting the top rate is "even more pressing now" than it was back then "because the American economy was so dominant in the global economy and capital was not nearly as mobile as it is today."
Ryan added in the Weekly Standard interview that he's a "classic growth conservative," who believes, "Growth occurs on the margin, which is a wonky way of saying, if you want faster economic growth, more upward mobility, and faster job creation, lower tax rates across the board is the key -- it's the secret sauce."
Even putting aside the fact that Ryan seems to have an odd definition of "wonky," this is a bizarre perspective. Note, for example, that the failed vice presidential candidate is apparently convinced there's never been a better time to cut the top marginal tax rate, which only the very wealthy currently pay. The United States is in the midst of another Gilded Age, with massive amounts of wealth concentrated at the very top, but Ryan still demands tax cuts because capital is "mobile."
As Matt Yglesias noted, "The idea that globalization, which tends to increase the overall size of the economy while also increasing inequality, makes tax cuts for the rich even more urgent strikes me as a little bit hard to defend intellectually."
At the same time, we're also learning more about just how much -- or in this case, how little -- Ryan's ideology has changed.
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 North Carolina's closely watched U.S. Senate race, a new Suffolk/USA Today poll shows incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan (D) with a two-point advantage over state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R), 45% to 43%. Libertarian Sean Haugh has 5% support in the poll.
* A peek at how Washington works: "Only one week after Sen. Mitch McConnell took the CEO of Delta Air Lines to breakfast in the exclusive Senate Dining Room last month, the airline executive and his wife wrote $10,000 worth of checks to help fund McConnell's political operation. The donations, which were reported to the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday, made Rick and Susan Anderson the largest contributors to McConnell's Bluegrass Committee in July. Delta Air Lines' PAC contributed another $2,500 within days of the breakfast."
* The National Republican Senatorial Committee's latest attack ad in Arkansas tells voters that Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) "voted to give Social Security benefits to illegal immigrants." In reality, this never happened.
* Rhode Island's Democratic gubernatorial primary is about three weeks away, and it remains a very close contest. The latest WPRI 12/Providence Journal poll shows Gina Raimondo leading the Democratic pack with 32%, five points ahead of Angel Taveras, who has 27%. And Clay Pell, who's at 26%.
* Fresh off Dan Sullivan's win in Alaska's Republican U.S. Senate primary, a Democratic super PAC called Alaska First has welcomed him to the general election with a tough new ad. "There's two things you need to know about Dan Sullivan," an Alaska resident says in the spot. "He's not from Alaska, and he supports the Pebble Mine."
* On a related note, Planned Parenthood Action Fund also launched an ad against Sullivan, less than 24 hours after his primary win. (Disclosure: my wife works for Planned Parenthood, but has no role with the Action Fund, this ad, or my report.)