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In this Jan. 29, 2015 file photo, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/File/AP)

Key GOP senator breaks his promise on judicial nominees

11/22/17 12:47PM

As things stand, there isn't a whole lot Senate Democrats can do to block Donald Trump's most extreme judicial nominees. Filibusters on would-be jurists are no more, and urging Senate Republicans to be keep the president's worst nominees off the federal bench doesn't seem to work.

Blue slips, however, still exist. It's a rather obscure, century-old rule, but it works in a fairly straightforward way: in order for a judicial nominee to get a confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, he or she needs approval from both of the senators from the nominee's home state. (They need to, in a rather literal sense, return a blue slip to the committee, allowing the process to continue.) In practical terms, that creates trouble for this White House if a nominee comes from a state with two Democratic senators.

For example, Trump has nominated Minnesota's David Stras for the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, but he doesn't have the support of Minnesota's Senate delegation. According to the standards and traditions of the chamber, that means Stras can't get a hearing and can't be confirmed.

And so, it was jarring to see this Politico report the other day, explaining that Republicans no longer feel like honoring blue slips.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is burning the blue slip for some judicial nominees.

The Iowa Republican announced Thursday that he is going ahead with a confirmation hearing for a nominee to the powerful appellate courts despite the objections of a Democrat who had been blocking the nomination for months.

The move will likely escalate the judicial wars in the Senate.

Ya think?

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.22.17

11/22/17 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* In Alabama's Senate special election, a new Raycom News Network Senate Election poll conducted by Strategy Research found Roy Moore (R) with a narrow lead over Doug Jones (D), 47% to 45%.

* Alabama pastor Flip Benham, a prominent Moore ally, argued yesterday that the Republican candidate dated "younger ladies" when he was in his 30s because Moore admired their "purity."

* Moore's campaign, meanwhile, wasted little time yesterday promoting Donald Trump's apparent support for the GOP candidate, voiced from the White House's South Lawn yesterday.

* The candidate who spends the most doesn't always win the race, but I was amazed to see Politico report yesterday that Jones' campaign has "outspent Moore on television advertising by a 14-to-1 margin."

* In Kansas, Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), who leads Trump's voting commission, will host a fundraiser next week in support of his gubernatorial campaign. The headliner: Donald Trump Jr., who ostensibly helps lead the president's business interests, and who's supposed to be steering clear of politics.

* In a bit of a surprise, former Rep. Gwen Graham (D) is not only making Medicaid expansion one of the centerpieces of her gubernatorial campaign in Florida, she also vowed this week to "veto Republican legislative priorities if lawmakers refused to work with her to expand the health care program."

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Poll points to partisan gap in attitudes on sexual harassment

11/22/17 11:20AM

There's no reason to see sexual misconduct as a partisan issue. Politicians from both parties have faced credible allegations, and that's likely to continue as the societal scandal continues to unfold.

But a Quinnipiac poll released yesterday suggests there's a gap in how partisans perceive the seriousness of the issue. The question read:

"If a political candidate has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, would you still consider voting for them if you agreed with them on the issues, or would you definitely not vote for them?"

In areas such as age and ethnicity, the differences were modest, but the partisan split was enormous. Among Republicans, a narrow plurality -- 43% to 41% -- would consider supporting a candidate accused of sexual harassment by multiple women.

Among independents, a 61% majority said they wouldn't consider voting for such a candidate, and among Democrats, that number was 81%.

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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)

The politics behind the case of the suspected Iranian hacker

11/22/17 10:43AM

When HBO was hacked earlier this year, it generated quite a few headlines. Those responsible for the cyberattack not only managed to steal new episodes of popular shows, they also got their hands on scripts for "Game of Thrones," which is one of the biggest shows on television.

With that in mind, there was quite a bit of coverage yesterday when federal authorities announced charges against Behzad Mesri, a suspected Iranian hacker, who was allegedly responsible for targeting HBO's system.

And while that's interesting in its own right, what I found especially important about this is the fact that we knew it was coming. The Washington Post reported over the weekend that the Justice Department plans to announce "several cases involving Iranian suspects in the coming month," including yesterday's break in the HBO case.

Last month, national security prosecutors at the Justice Department were told to look at any ongoing investigations involving Iran or Iranian nationals with an eye toward making them public.

The push to announce Iran-related cases has caused internal alarm, these people said, with some law enforcement officials fearing that senior Justice Department officials want to reveal the cases because the Trump administration would like Congress to impose new sanctions on Iran. A series of criminal cases could increase pressure on lawmakers to act, these people said.

Some federal law enforcement officials have also voiced concerns that announcing the cases, rather than keeping them under seal, could imperil ongoing investigative work or make it harder to catch suspects who might travel out of Iran, according to the people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing investigations.

This may seem like a dry look at behind-the-scenes decisions at the DOJ, but if you saw Rachel's A block on Monday night, you may realize why this is important.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-DEPARTS

Trump picks the wrong issue to target Alabama's Doug Jones

11/22/17 10:06AM

The day before Virginia's gubernatorial election, Donald Trump lashed out at then-candidate Ralph Northam (D) as being "weak" on veterans -- despite the fact that Northam, unlike Trump, actually is a veteran, serving honorably in the Army for eight years.

So why is it, exactly, Trump pursued this line of attack? Probably because he thought it sounded good. There are a lot of veterans in the commonwealth, so Trump likely made the attack, without concern for whether it made sense or not, in the hopes that it'd encourage veterans to vote Republican.

I thought of this yesterday watching the president go after Doug Jones' (D) Senate candidacy in Alabama.

"I can tell you one thing for sure: We don't need a liberal person in there, a Democrat -- Jones. I've looked at his record. It's terrible on crime.... I can tell you for a fact, we do not need somebody that's going to be bad on crime."

Asked soon after if he intends to campaign in support of Roy Moore, the president added, "I'll be letting you know next week, but I can tell you, you don't need somebody who's soft on crime, like Jones."

Let's pause for a moment to take stock. Doug Jones is a former federal prosecutor -- a role in which he went after criminals. He's perhaps best known for convicting a pair of KKK members responsible for the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, which left four children dead.

Roy Moore, who's been accused of sexual assault, is an alleged child molester. Up until two weeks ago, he was best known for having been removed from the bench -- twice -- for ignoring federal court rulings he disagreed with.

In Trump's mind, one of these two men are "soft on crime" -- and it's not the one common sense is pointing at.

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

'Putin's favorite congressman' received a Kremlin code name

11/22/17 09:20AM

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who's been described as "Putin's favorite congressman," has earned quite a reputation. In a closed-door event last year, for example, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told GOP lawmakers, "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump."

The House GOP leadership later said McCarthy was kidding. Of course, if it didn't reflect Republicans' thinking, officials in the room wouldn't have laughed.

Keep this anecdote in mind when reading the New York Times' latest reporting on the California congressman.

For two decades, Representative Dana Rohrabacher has been of value to the Kremlin, so valuable in recent years that the F.B.I. warned him in 2012 that Russia regarded him as an intelligence source worthy of a Kremlin code name.

The following year, the California Republican became even more valuable, assuming the chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs subcommittee that oversees Russia policy. [...]

Mr. Rohrabacher has laughed off suggestions that he is a Russian asset, and said in an interview that he did not remember being briefed that the Russians viewed him as a source. The F.B.I. and the senior members of the House Intelligence Committee sat Mr. Rohrabacher down in the Capitol in 2012 to warn him that Russian spies were trying to recruit him, according to two former intelligence officials.

"I remember them telling me, 'You have been targeted to be recruited as an agent,'" Rohrabacher told the Times. "How stupid is that?"

I don't know, big guy. You're the one with a Kremlin code name, so maybe you should tell us.

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Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Despite the risks, Murkowski backs ACA mandate repeal

11/22/17 08:40AM

When Senate Republican leaders added the repeal of the ACA's individual mandate to their tax plan, it looked like an enormous gamble. After all, the GOP's efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act were derailed by bipartisan opposition, and by tying tax cuts for the wealthy to health care policy, it raised the prospect of greater opposition to the latest Republican gambit.

But that only works if the GOP senators who helped rescue the health care system over the summer are willing to do so again now. Evidently, that may not be the case.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she would support repealing the Affordable Care Act's individual insurance mandate, giving a potential boost to the Republican effort to pass a massive tax cut package next week.

"I believe that the federal government should not force anyone to buy something they do not wish to buy, in order to avoid being taxed," Murkowski wrote in an opinion piece published Tuesday by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Let's back up for a minute in order to better understand the landscape here. The original Republican plan was to overhaul the federal tax code in order to benefit the wealthy and corporations, but the effort ran into trouble when GOP officials couldn't get their numbers to add up. They needed more money to cover the cost of a permanent corporate tax break.

At Donald Trump's urging, Republicans determined they could repeal the "Obamacare" individual mandate and have an additional $338 billion over the next decade to pay for more tax breaks. As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, for the right, this represented the best of both worlds: the GOP could gut the health care law they love to hate, and at the same time, they could redirect that money to finance tax cuts.

There was, however, a catch: the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office explained to lawmakers that repealing the ACA's individual mandate would destabilize the insurance market, force many consumers to pay higher premiums, and end coverage for 13 million Americans over the next decade. Hospitals, doctors, and insurers all said this was a very bad idea.

The result was effectively a caricature of Montgomery Burns-style policymaking: Republicans are pursuing a plan that would leave millions of families without health security, disproportionately hurt the poor, all in the hopes of redistributing wealth from the bottom up.

As of yesterday, Lisa Murkowski isn't yet prepared to say no to this.

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A person man uses a laptop. (Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/dpa/AP)

Trump World has big changes in mind for your internet access

11/22/17 08:00AM

When Donald Trump chose a fierce opponent of net neutrality to lead the Federal Communications Commission, it was obvious that it was only a matter of time before the very idea of an open internet came under fire.

As Americans get ready for Thanksgiving, Trump's FCC chief decided yesterday would be a good time to announce a major change to how the country will access online content.

The FCC's mission -- essentially gutting the internet as we know it -- would allow service providers to create so-called fast and slow lanes for subscribers.

Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, announced on Tuesday a plan to put an end to what he called the federal government's "micromanaging" of the internet. Details of the proposal will be released on Wednesday, three weeks before it will be put to a vote by the FCC on Dec. 14.

It's important to understand that what Pai describes as "micromanagement" are existing safeguards, established by the Obama administration, mandating that all online content be treated equally by service providers. Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, has long opposed those safeguards, and Donald Trump has empowered him to rewrite the rules.

You may not have realized last year that your internet access was on the presidential ballot, but it was, and we're now facing a rather severe elections-have-consequences moment.

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About The Rachel Maddow Show

Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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