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Ted Cruz walks to participate in a cloture vote, Feb. 12, 2014.

The de facto House leader who isn't in the House

07/25/14 10:00AM

As a rule, members of Congress stick to their own chamber. As we discussed several weeks ago, Republican leaders from the House and Senate will occasionally meet to work out bicameral strategies, but in general, rank-and-file members tend to stick with colleagues from their side of Capitol Hill.
 
But there's one big exception: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who doesn't seem to get along with other senators, but who spends an inordinate amount of time huddling with House Republicans.
 
Last September, for example, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) presented a plan to avoid a government shutdown. Cruz met directly with House Republicans, urged them to ignore their own leader's plan, and GOP House members followed his advice. A month later, Cruz held another meeting with House Republicans, this time in a private room at a Capitol Hill restaurant.
 
This year, in April, the Texas senator again gathered House Republicans, this time for a private meeting in his office. In June, less than an hour after House Republicans elected a new leadership team, Cruz invited House Republicans to join him for "an evening of discussion and fellowship."
 
This week, it happened once again.
Sen. Ted Cruz once again met with a group of the House's most conservative lawmakers Wednesday morning to discuss potential legislative responses to the flood of children crossing the border.
 
Cruz met with "more than 20″ House Republicans Wednesday morning, according to Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to discuss a supplemental package meant to address the influx of unaccompanied minors at the border. "I didn't have a hard count, but I know that it was more than 20," King said.
 
According to the Iowa Republican, lawmakers had breakfast and listened to Cruz's take on the crisis.
We're approaching the point at which Cruz is quietly becoming a de facto member of the House Republican leadership, despite not actually being in the House.

Adventures in Fox News polling, Part VII

07/25/14 09:23AM

As regular readers know, I hold a special place in my heart for Fox News polling, because unlike independent polls commissioned by major journalistic institutions, Fox News' surveys tend to be ... special.
 
The network's latest is a true gem, even by Fox News standards (via Steve M.). The poll asked respondents:
"Do you approve or disapprove of President Obama bypassing Congress and acting on his own to make policies by issuing executive orders, choosing not to enforce laws he disagrees with, and delaying some controversial provisions of other laws?"
Fox got the result it wanted by presenting Republican talking points as fact -- a 58% majority of respondents said they disapprove of the president's actions -- but in reality, Obama is not ignoring laws he disagrees with. It led to this question:
"Do you think President Obama exceeded his authority under the Constitution when he changed the health care law on his own by executive order?"
Again, that's the GOP argument, to the point that it seems Republican operatives literally wrote the poll for Fox, but all Obama did was delay the implementation of an ACA provision that wasn't ready -- a provision Republicans didn't want to see implemented anyway. George W. Bush did the same thing with Medicare Part D and no one gave a darn.
 
All of this, naturally, concluded with this question: "Do you favor or oppose impeaching President Obama for exceeding his authority under the Constitution by failing to enforce some laws and changing other laws on his own -- or for any other reason?" (Only about a third said they favor the idea.)
 
The only reason -- the only reason -- for a purported news organization to word polling questions this way is to generate a result that reinforces a preconceived narrative, which is pretty much the opposite of what legitimate polling is supposed to do.
 
But it's the larger pattern that really drives the point home.
Women hold up signs during a women's pro-choice rally on Capitol Hill, July 11, 2013 in Washington, DC.

'Rape is a four-letter word'

07/25/14 08:41AM

Shortly after the 2012 elections, after a significant gender gap contributed to a series of Republican defeats, Republican strategists, consultants, and pollsters started hosting tutorials for GOP officials. The topic: how to speak to and about women.
 
As best as I can tell, the first formal lessons were offered in January 2013, but we've seen reports of similar rhetorical training sessions on several occasions since.
 
It appears the coaching needs constant reinforcing. Jeremy Peters reported yesterday:
It was not on the public schedule for the Republican National Committee's spring meeting at the stately Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis. But inside a conference room, a group of conservative women held a boot camp to strengthen an unlikely set of skills: how to talk about abortion.
 
They have conducted a half-dozen of these sessions around the country this year, from Richmond, Va., to Madison, Wis. Coaches point video cameras at the participants and ask them to talk about why they believe abortion is wrong.
 
They review the video, and critiques are rendered. "Rape is a four-letter word," one of the consultants often advises. "Purge it from your lexicon."
This is, by the way, almost word for word the same advice GOP consultants started offering immediately after the party's 2012 failures.
 
Whether Republican strategists realize this or not, the advice is fundamentally flawed.
A U.S. Army unit marches during the annual Veterans Day Parade in NYC, Nov. 11, 2013.

House GOP poised to kill veterans-aid bill

07/25/14 08:00AM

These days, it's awfully difficult for major legislation on high-profile issues to generate broad, bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. The parties are usually too far apart to build consensus and strike deals.
 
But in mid-June, the Senate nevertheless came together to support a bipartisan veterans-aid package, written by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). There was some token opposition from the far-right, but they were easily outnumbered -- the bill passed with a whopping 93 votes.
 
At the time, success seemed like a foregone conclusion. The VA scandal was literally front-page news and the demands for action were ubiquitous. When the Senate bill advanced on a 93-3 vote, many assumed the legislation would be on President Obama's desk within a week.
 
That was six weeks ago. House Republicans now appear ready to kill the bill altogether.
Democrats and Republicans are struggling to agree on how to pay for legislation that could cost between $25 billion and $30 billion. That logjam is transforming the VA debate from one that united both parties to yet another fiscal fight, prompting the same type of partisan finger pointing that has become familiar after years of budget showdowns.
 
"They have walked away from it," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said of House Republicans. "It's unfortunate, because we had a strong bipartisan vote, and that doesn't mean much to the House."
The bill is currently in a conference committee -- the process intended to reconcile competing bills from the House and Senate on the same subject. But in this case, the GOP-led House won't compromise.
 
Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, said yesterday House Republicans presented him with a "take-it-or-leave-it gambit," effectively telling the upper chamber to accept the GOP plan or the entire effort would die.
 
Sanders has offered a series of concessions, all of which have been deemed inadequate by House Republicans.
 
Any chance House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) might step in and show some leadership on this?

Refugee status? and other headlines

07/25/14 08:00AM

Pres. Obama meets the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras today as his administration weighs giving Honduran children refugee status. (AP)

Israel braces for 'Day of Rage' after deadly protests overnight (NBC News) while Sec. of State Kerry proposes a week-long truce starting Sunday. (NY Times)

Army War College to investigate plagiarism claims against Sen. John Walsh. (NBC Montana)

Sen. John McCain calls Arizona's nearly 2-hour execution 'torture.' (Politico)

FL judge doubts state's flawed Congressional map can be fixed quickly. (AP)

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Lethal injection questioned after errors

Lethal injection errors call practice into question

07/24/14 10:54PM

Robin Konrad, attorney for Joseph Wood, talks with Rachel Maddow about her client's botched execution and what it means for other death penalty cases that states do not seem capable of administering lethal injection drugs without unexpected effects. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 7.24.14

07/24/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Air Algerie Flight AH5017: "A commercial jetliner carrying 116 people disappeared over west Africa after losing contact with air traffic controllers early Thursday, a Spanish charter company said. Air Algerie Flight AH5017 vanished about 50 minutes after it left Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, according to the Algerian Press Service. The jet took off at 1:17 a.m. local time (9:17 p.m. ET on Wednesday) bound for Algiers, Algeria."
 
* Gaza: "A series of explosions at a school run by the United Nations sheltering hundreds of Palestinians who had fled their homes for safety from Israeli military assaults killed at least 16 people on Thursday afternoon and wounded many more. The cause was not immediately clear."
 
* Ukraine: "Arseniy Yatsenyuk resigned as Ukraine's prime minister Thursday after the ruling coalition in parliament collapsed, accusing lawmakers of imperiling the nation by putting politics above urgent needs during wartime."
 
* Iran: "Three American citizens, including The Washington Post's correspondent in Iran, appear to have been detained this week in Tehran, U.S. officials and the newspaper said Thursday."
 
* Gun violence in Pennsylvania: "A gunman opened fire inside a hospital psychiatric unit on Thursday, leaving one hospital employee dead and a second injured before being critically wounded himself, a prosecutor said."
 
* Border crisis: "As House Republicans struggle to figure out whether their proposed response to the border crisis can pass the House, given opposition to action among conservatives, it's increasingly likely they'll need House Dems to get anything through the lower chamber." Democrats are leaving Republicans with two choices, neither of which the GOP will like.
 
* This seemed unimaginable six weeks ago: "Negotiations between the House and Senate over legislation reforming the Veterans Affairs Department melted down on Thursday, raising the probability that Congress will leave for the August recess without approving a bill."
 
* He's right: "Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), the chairman of the health committee and a chief author of Obamacare, tore into an appeals court ruling this week that forbid the federal exchange to provide subsidies to millions of Americans in 36 states. 'It's nuts,' he told TPM in an interview in the Capitol on Thursday."
 
* The jokes write themselves: "New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took the 'upper level' -- helicoptering over the George Washington Bridge -- to beat rush hour traffic from his home state to a recent GOP fundraiser with Connecticut gubernatorial contender Tom Foley."
 
* Keep an eye on this one: "Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) has accused House oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) of inappropriately intervening in an ongoing Federal Trade Commission case against a company being represented by a legal group run by a former Issa staffer."
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks during a gala prior to the start of the Virginia GOP Convention in Roanoke, Va., Friday, June 6, 2014.

Paul Ryan, you, and your new life coach

07/24/14 05:02PM

When evaluating proposals from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), it's tempting to grade on a curve. After all, Ryan has unveiled some pretty offensive blueprints over the years -- most of them needlessly extreme, some of them based on data that just didn't add up -- and if we compare today's anti-poverty plan to those recent offerings, this new package isn't the worst thing the Wisconsin Republican has presented to the public.
 
But that doesn't make it a good plan.
 
In the interest of magnanimity, let's acknowledge some of the good stuff. Ryan bucks his party, for example, by endorsing expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), an issue on which Democrats can and should welcome the opportunity to work with him. He's also prepared to embrace sentencing reforms, which is heartening, and his recommendations on occupational licensing aren't bad, either.
 
Perhaps most importantly, Ryan doesn't include any of the deep spending cuts to the safety net that have helped define the congressman's far-right budget proposals.
 
With this in mind, there's plenty not to like in this conservative approach to combating poverty, including the block-grant boilerplate and the anti-environmental regularly "reforms," but it's only fair to acknowledge that this isn't just the same old Paul Ryan plan. It's qualitatively different, and in some respects, better. It's not good by any stretch, but it's a small step in a sensible direction.
 
But there's one part of Ryan's proposal that I can't quite wrap my head around. From his speech:
"[W]hat we need to do is coordinate assistance to families in need. Get the public and private sector working together. That's how we can smooth the transition from assistance to success. The fact is, each person's needs fit into a coherent whole: a career. And each person fits into a coherent whole: a community. So if the public and private sector work together, we can offer a more personalized, customized form of aid -- one that recognizes both a person's needs and their strengths -- both the problem and the potential."
As part of this "customized form of aid," Washington would give money to states, which states would then be expected to help low-income Americans through "certified service providers." The "providers," in Ryan's vision, would include non-profits, for-profits, or community groups, each of which would "provide personalized aid through case management."
 
If you're thinking that's a little weird, wait, it's probably worse than you think.

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