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President Barack Obama delivers a statement in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 18, 2014.

Another aspect of a presidential legacy: the courts

09/16/14 11:18AM

Legislatively, President Obama's ability to shape his legacy has probably run its course. Oddly enough, the scope and significance of his legislative achievements in his first two years -- economy, health care, Wall Street, education, civil rights -- were greater than most modern presidents have been able to achieve in their entire tenures, but Obama, the list will no new additions.
 
But there are ways for presidents to shape their legacies in ways that have nothing to do with signing ceremonies. The New York Times reported yesterday:
Democrats have reversed the partisan imbalance on the federal appeals courts that long favored conservatives, a little-noticed shift with far-reaching consequences for the law and President Obama's legacy.
 
For the first time in more than a decade, judges appointed by Democratic presidents considerably outnumber judges appointed by Republican presidents. The Democrats' advantage has only grown since late last year when they stripped Republicans of their ability to filibuster the president's nominees.
In case it's not obvious, the direction of the federal judiciary can and does have a considerable impact of the direction of the nation. And while the federal appeals courts are trumped by the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest court in the land only hears about 10% of the cases appealed to the justices.
 
In other words, the federal Courts of Appeals are often the final word on all kinds of major legal disputes -- and right now, Democratic-appointed jurists are in the majority in all but four of the 13 appellate benches. The day President Obama was sworn in, only the West Coast's 9th Circuit could say this.
 
There's no denying the effect of the so-called "nuclear option" in making this result possible. As Roll Call's report added, Obama "has already succeeded in his bid to refashion the bench — and the nuclear option has played a significant role. He has filled 30 percent of all the seats on the circuit courts of appeal, with a crucial 13 of those 53 judges confirmed since the filibuster was neutered."
 
And since Republicans effectively forced Senate Democrats to go "nuclear," the irony is GOP senators have helped ensure an important aspect of Obama's presidential legacy.
John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, Jeb Hensarling

House GOP remains committed to a few good men

09/16/14 10:40AM

When it comes to understanding how House Republicans address the issue of gender diversity, there are a few different ways to evaluate the GOP's performance. We could look at the number of women in the House Republican conference, the number in the House GOP leadership, the diversity among committee chairs, etc. Each tells us something significant -- and in the case of the House majority party, each has been a bit of problem.
 
But Rebecca Leber flagged an angle that I hadn't considered before: committee witnesses.
Women make up about one-fifth of Congress. They are just as poorly represented as witnesses in congressional hearings. According to a study from the Sunlight Foundation, women account for 23 percent of the witnesses of the more than 5,500 witnesses that have testified before House committees in the 113th Congress. Agriculture, Transportation, Armed Services, Financial Services all fared the worst, with fewer than 17 percent women. Education and the Workforce had the best ratio, of 40 percent female.
Naturally, the classic example that comes to mind is the February 2012 incident in which House Republicans held a hearing on contraception access, and the opening panel was made up entirely of men.
 
But this wasn't an isolated incident; it's practically the norm. When Republican-led House committees can choose anyone they wish to offer congressional testimony, men are now outnumbering women by more than a three-to-one margin.
 
Perhaps if there were more women lawmakers in charge of committees, we'd see greater balance, but this has been a problem, too. Let's not forget that after the 2012 elections, House Republican leaders appointed 19 committee chairs for the new Congress, only to discover they'd chosen 19 white men. The party scrambled and found a woman to chair the Rules Committee -- despite the fact that she wasn't actually on the Rules Committee at the time.
 
And maybe there'd be more women serving as committee chairs if Republicans elected more women to the U.S. House, but that too has been an issue.
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts talks to the media after making his victory speech at an election watch party, Aug. 5, 2014, in Overland Park, Kan.

Roberts falls further behind in Kansas

09/16/14 09:57AM

After Chad Taylor (D) ended his U.S. Senate campaign in Kansas, no one could say with certainty exactly what would happen to the overall dynamic. It looked like bad news for incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts (R), who benefited from his opponents split between Taylor and Independent Greg Orman, but we'd need to see more data.
 
And now that data is coming in.
 
The first poll, taken shortly after Taylor's announcement, was a SurveyUSA poll commissioned by local station KSN-TV, and it showed Orman up by one over Roberts, 37% to 36%. This was obviously cause for alarm in Republican circles, but a one-point margin is hardly grounds for panic.
 
These new figures, however, are cause for panic.
Independent Greg Orman leads Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Ks.), 41 percent to 34 percent, according to a poll released to HuffPost by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling. Six percent said they'd still vote for Democrat Chad Taylor, who has announced he's leaving the race, but whose name may remain on the ballot pending a lawsuit being heard Tuesday. Another 4 percent opted for libertarian Randall Batson, with the remaining 15 percent undecided.
 
The PPP results find Roberts deeply unpopular, with a -17 net job approval rating among all voters, and only modestly positive numbers even among his Republican base. Orman, in contrast, has a +18 net favorable rating, with Democrats and independents giving him even stronger ratings, and Republicans about evenly split.
A seven-point lead is not insurmountable -- and this is obviously just one poll -- but there is no good news here for Republicans. Roberts is unpopular; Orman is popular. Roberts trails by seven, and that's with the Democrat still getting 6 percent despite no longer running. Those voters are likely to keep shifting to Orman, especially as Taylor fights to get his name off the ballot.
 
Of course, Roberts isn't done yet. The senator has returned to the state he represents -- a novel idea, to be sure -- and Beltway Republicans have dispatched experienced operatives to try and save his career.
 
Their plan is off to a rough start.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker addresses members of the media in Madison, Wis., July 22, 2014.

Wisconsin's Walker, struggling, rolls out new platform

09/16/14 09:08AM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) had a plan: win a second term, take advantage of a good year for Republicans, and soon after prepare for a national campaign. The plan is looking a little shaky right now, with polls show him in the midst of a very competitive re-election campaign against Democratic businesswoman Mary Burke.
 
A month ago, the Republican incumbent and his allies tried moving to the left, blasting Burke as an "outsourcing one-percenter."
 
That didn't do much to improve Walker's standing, so the governor is now moving back to the right, promising big tax cuts and drug testing for those receiving public aid in a second term.
With less than two months to go in a tight re-election race, the Republican governor put forward a 62-page plan that sums up the actions of his first term, defends them against the critique of his Democratic rival, former Trek Bicycle executive Mary Burke, and offers several new proposals.
 
"It's our next wave of the Wisconsin comeback. It's our plan to make sure that everyone who wants a job can find a job," Walker said in a telephone interview.
As a rule, when an incumbent is still scrambling seven weeks before Election Day, looking for a platform while struggling to defend his record, it's not a good sign.
 
Walker, referencing a one-page summary of his agenda, told the AP, "That's our plan of action for the next four years. Tear it off. Hang it up. Put it next to your computer. Put it on your fridge."
 
Part of the trouble is, Walker used similar rhetoric four years ago, when he promised Wisconsin he'd create 250,000 private sector jobs by the end of his first term -- and said he should be judged according to that standard. Nearly four years later, the governor is less than halfway to his goal, and has yet to explain why he couldn't keep his highest-profile promise.
 
But even putting that aside, the two key tenets of the Republican's new agenda -- tax cuts and drug testing -- probably polled well, but they each come with one big flaw.
A fighter of the ISIL holds a flag and a weapon on a street in Mosul

ISIS targets evolution in Iraqi schools

09/16/14 08:30AM

Islamic State is not just a roving band of lunatics; it strives to be a relatively well organized band of lunatics. When it controls an area, the terrorist group's leaders try to collect taxes and create some semblance of local civic administration, including directing traffic.
 
In other words, ISIS, when it's not indiscriminately killing people, has governing ambitions.
 
And to that end, the Associated Press reported yesterday on ISIS terrorists taking a keen interest in the curricula of schools in Mosul.
The extremist-held Iraqi city of Mosul is set to usher in a new school year. But unlike years past, there will be no art or music. Classes about history, literature and Christianity have been "permanently annulled."
 
The Islamic State group has declared patriotic songs blasphemous and ordered that certain pictures be torn out of textbooks.
This is not the first time. In parts of Syria under ISIS control, the group has banned philosophy and chemistry.
 
In Mosul, ISIS issued a statement nearly two weeks ago, declaring "good news of the establishment of the Islamic State Education Diwan by the caliph who seeks to eliminate ignorance, to spread religious sciences and to fight the decayed curriculum."
 
The AP report added that Islamic State explicitly prohibits lessons on "Charles Darwin's theory of evolution."
 
As it turns out, Iraqi schools weren't teaching evolution anyway, but in the name of "eliminating ignorance," ISIS wants to be absolutely certain that modern biology is banned from science classes. The violent extremists prefer "religious sciences."
Democratic Legislators Hold News Conference To Urge Congress To Pass The Paycheck Fairness Act

Senate GOP again kills measure on pay equity for women

09/16/14 08:00AM

Senate Democrats have brought up the Paycheck Fairness Act three times over three Congresses. In each instance, the Senate Republican minority killed the proposal, though last week offered a little something different.
 
Last Wednesday, on a procedural vote to advance a debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act, 19 Senate Republicans broke ranks and voted to end their party's filibuster, which is 19 more GOP votes than the Paycheck Fairness Act has ever received. A sign of possible progress?
 
Apparently not. As msnbc's Irin Carmon reported last night:
Senate Republicans did it again: They blocked a measure backed by President Barack Obama that would have strengthened equal pay protections for women. Counting procedural votes, it's the fourth time Republicans have voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act since 2012.
 
The only surprise was that they gave Democrats the political fodder of allowing another vote to proceed on the bill -- and that the GOP did so in a midterm election year when women voters are one major key to obtaining and retaining control of the Senate and House.
The final roll call is online here. Note that while 19 Senate Republicans voted with Democrats on a procedural step last week, literally zero GOP senators supported the Paycheck Fairness Act yesterday afternoon.
 
The apparent contradiction is easy to explain: Republicans voted to extend debate on the bill last week, not because they supported it, but because they were trying to waste time, eating up the clock on the Senate's limited pre-election schedule. If the GOP had killed the measure quickly, it would have meant moving on to something else Republicans don't like, so they dragged out the fight on the Paycheck Fairness Act, simply because they could.

Movement on ISIS and other headlines

09/16/14 07:56AM

Top GOP leaders moving quickly to approve Obama's Syria plans. (Washington Post)

Obama to announce up to 3,000 U.S. troops to fight ebola in Africa. (NBC News)

In a preemptive push, House Democrats unveil new Benghazi site. (Washington Post)

Kansas Supreme Court to decide whether to let the Democrat take his name off of the Senate ballot. (KSN-TV)

Wisconsin election officials scramble on voter ID. (AP)

The Boston Globe digs deep on where the White House gets its coffee--and whether the President drinks it. (Boston Globe)

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Deal-making trend emerges in three-way races

Deal-making an apparent trend in three-party races

09/15/14 10:47PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the possibility of a new trend in U.S. elections this year (including Alaska, Kansas, and maybe soon Maine) in which Democrats and Independents in three-way races unite against the Republican candidate to ensure Republican defeat. watch

For Senate, one handbook to rule them all

For Senate, one handbook to rule them all

09/15/14 10:36PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the publication by USA Today of the U.S. Senate handbook, full of the bureaucratic rules that keep the Senate running, from where to acquire office plants to how to select telephone on-hold music. watch

NFL abuse policy devoid of rhyme or reason

NFL abuse policy devoid of rhyme or reason

09/15/14 10:30PM

Shira Springer, sports enterprise reporter for the Boston Globe, talks with Rachel Maddow about the difficulty NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is having producing an acceptable response to the abuse scandals that plague his league. watch

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