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The dome of the Capitol is reflected in a puddle in Washington, Feb. 17, 2012.

Vulnerable Republicans discover the value of liberal ideas

03/27/15 08:00AM

A little after 3 a.m. eastern this morning, the Republican-led Senate approved a far-right budget plan, slashing public investments and dismantling social-insurance programs like Medicare. The final vote, 52 to 46, did not come as a surprise -- the question was when, not if, GOP senators would approve their budget blueprint.
 
What did come as a surprise, however, was a vote late yesterday on a top progressive priority.
 
The reason it takes so long for the upper chamber to vote on a budget is that members introduce hundreds of proposed amendments -- 739, to be exact -- several dozen of which reach the floor as part of a process affectionately called the "vote-a-rama." The measures, like the budget itself, is non-binding, but members see value in getting senators on the record, voting up or down, on a wide range of priorities.
 
One of those measures was championed by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who pushed a proposal for paid sick leave. Oddly enough, it passed -- and the way in which it passed tells an interesting story.
Just a few weeks ago, the Healthy Families Act -- which would allow employees to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave -- seemed like just another White House proposal doomed to die in the newly Republican Senate. But this afternoon, it gained a surprise vote of confidence: 61 senators voted for an amendment to the budget that would do essentially the same thing.
 
That doesn't mean it will become law. Budget resolutions are not binding, so it's a largely symbolic move. But it's important: If family-friendly policies gain enough bipartisan support, they could end up substantially improving conditions for millions of workers who've long gone without any paid time off at all.
As the Washington Post piece makes clear, the finally tally wasn't particularly close: it passed with 61 votes, including 12 Republicans. In fact, every GOP incumbent who's worried about re-election next year -- Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) -- threw their support behind paid sick leave.
 
Yes, it was non-binding, but the broader salience of the vote was hard to miss: vulnerable Republicans sometimes see value in embracing progressive ideas. Paid sick leave may be a top priority for President Obama and congressional Democrats, but much of the GOP also realizes it's a very popular idea with the American mainstream.
Weak link in airline safety: Humans

Weak link in airline safety: Humans

03/26/15 11:40PM

Rachel Maddow reviews the circumstances of past cases pilots or co-pilots trying to crash a plane, with the lessons of some instances contradicting the lessons of others, and the only common thread being the human fallibility of the pilots. watch

Sports, stenography, a syzygy made in heaven

Sports, stenography, a syzygy made in heaven

03/26/15 09:57PM

Rachel Maddow explains the backstory on a running joke at the press conferences of members of the University of Wisconsin basketball team who flirt with the press stenographer and try to keep her on her toes by saying big, complicated words. watch

Thursday's Mini-Report, 3.26.15

03/26/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Germany: "The co-pilot of the crashed Germanwings plane appears to have 'intentionally' brought the plane down while his captain was locked out of the cockpit and banging to be let back in, prosecutors said Thursday."
 
* Yemen: "Egypt said Thursday that it was prepared to send troops into Yemen as part of a Saudi-led campaign to drive back the Iranian-backed Houthi advance, signaling the growing likelihood of a protracted ground war on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula."
 
* That's a lot of troops: "Saudi Arabia has mobilized 150,000 troops and some 100 fighter jets to rout Iran-linked fighters that have taken over swathes of neighboring Yemen, a security adviser to the kingdom told NBC News on Thursday."
 
* On to the Senate: "The House gave sweeping approval Thursday to a bipartisan plan to alter payment systems for Medicare providers and extend a popular children's health program, fueling momentum for legislation that could soon reach President Obama's desk. The vote, 392 to 37, came as Senate Democrats' resistance to the more than $200 billion health package faded and Obama signaled he would sign the plan."
 
* Oklahoma: "Gov. Mary Fallin has declared a state of emergency for Tulsa County and 24 other counties after severe storms that included tornadoes swept through the state Wednesday. "
 
* Detroit: "Officials in suburban Detroit appealed for patience and calm Thursday while investigators review why police repeatedly punched, kicked and Tasered an unarmed black driver who ran a stop sign."
 
* What? "According to a shocking report released Thursday by the Department of Justice, agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration engaged in 'sex parties' with prostitutes hired by drug cartels in Colombia"?
 
* CFPF: "The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Thursday unveiled a new plan that it said would help rein in the $50 billion payday lending industry and prevent low-income borrowers from facing spiraling levels of debt."
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence pauses while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Feb. 27, 2015 in National Harbor, Md.

Indiana's Pence tries to defend new anti-gay measure

03/26/15 04:52PM

In Arizona last year, then-Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoed a controversial right-to-discriminate measure, ending a fight that generated national attention. The dispute was pretty straightforward -- would the state empower business owners to discriminate against LGBT customers? Facing boycott threats, Arizona backed off.
 
This year, Indiana did not.
Bucking intense criticism from citizens, celebrities, tech leaders, and convention customers, Indiana's Republican Gov. Mike Pence quietly signed a controversial religious freedom bill into law on Thursday. Opponents warn the measure will sanction discrimination against LGBT people, and cost the Hoosier State millions in tourism revenue. [...]
 
The new law will prohibit a governmental entity from substantially burdening a person's religious beliefs, unless that entity can prove it's relying on the least restrictive means possible to further a compelling governmental interest.
The governor did not allow the media to witness the bill signing -- Pence completed the process behind closed doors -- though he did publish a photo from the event on Twitter. It appears the governor was surrounded by a group of religious leaders.
 
Time will tell how the law is implemented, and the degree to which Indiana has cleared the way for state-sanctioned discrimination, though the prospect of economic consequences are already real -- tech giant Salesforce has suggested it will avoid Indiana in the future, while organizers of Gen Con are also considering new venues.
 
But I was also struck by what happened when Pence was asked whether there were any real-world developments in Indiana that justified this new state law.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 19, 2015.

For Boehner, leading and waging war are now linked

03/26/15 03:50PM

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has never shown a deep interest in foreign policy, but his comments this morning at his weekly news briefing were more unsettling than most.
Speaker John A. Boehner dismissed Barack Obama Thursday as an "anti-war president" unwilling to lead an international coalition against the Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIS or ISIL; al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations.
 
"The world is starving for American leadership, but America has an anti-war president.... If America leads, our allies would be tickled to death and be happy to join our coalition."
Look, this clearly isn't the Speaker's best subject, and some superficiality is to be expected when he tries to address the issue. But Boehner's message this morning wasn't just disjointed; it was emblematic of a policymaker who doesn't understand national-security policy nearly as well as he should.
 
Boehner Error #1: In the Speaker's mind, people are around the world are "starving for American leadership," but they're not getting it because, from Boehner's perspective, President Obama is "anti-war." In other words, according to the nation's top Republican lawmaker, to lead is to wage war, and to wage war is to show leadership. One is necessarily tied to the other -- except in reality, where this idea is ridiculous.
 
Boehner Error #2: Boehner is also under the impression that our allies would work in coalition with the United States if only Obama would lead. But as those who follow current events probably know, this is already happening -- Obama assembled a coalition to target ISIS targets in the Middle East; Obama assembled a coalition to negotiate an agreement to curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions; Obama is working with U.S. allies to combat the climate crisis; and on and on.
 
Boehner Error #3: The Speaker is convinced "America has an anti-war president." I'd love to know more about how Boehner defines "anti-war," because in our version of reality, Obama has launched military offensives in Iraq; waged war in Afghanistan; used force in Libya; launched another offensive in Syria; used drones to target suspected terrorists in Pakistan (in addition to ordering the strike on Osama bin Laden); and deployed forces in Somalia and Yemen.
Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., attends the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 14, 2013.  (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Stopping the next Tom Cotton stunt before it starts

03/26/15 02:57PM

The controversy surrounding the Senate Republicans' letter to Iran has started to die down, but some congressional Democrats still aren't happy about the fact that 47 GOP lawmakers tried to sabotage American foreign policy.
 
In fact, one Senate Democrat in particular came up with a creative response intended to stop stunts like these in the future. Zach Carter reports today:
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) delivered a pitch-perfect trolling lesson to the Senate on Wednesday, filing an amendment calling to defund "the purchase of stationary or electronic devices for the purpose of members of Congress or congressional staff communicating with foreign governments and undermining the role of the President as Head of State in international nuclear negotiations on behalf of the United States."
 
In other words, Stabenow wants to defund Tom Cotton letters.
The full text of the Michigan Democrat's amendment is online here (pdf).
 
Is there any chance Stabenow measure will actually pass? Well, no, and by all appearances, that's not really the point. Instead, this is the senator's not-so-subtle way of reminding Cotton and his cohorts that they made a very serious mistake and Democrats aren't prepared to just forget all about it.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush waits backstage before speaking at the Iowa Agriculture Summit, March 7, 2015, in Des Moines, Ia. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Religious Right looks for non-Bush standard bearer

03/26/15 12:48PM

The religious right, as a political movement, may not have quite as much influence over the Republican Party as it once did, but there's no denying that social conservative activists still make up a big chunk of the GOP base. Collectively, these so-called "values voters" can play a key role in choosing the party's next presidential nominee.
 
And at this early stage in the process, the religious right is repeating a familiar message: if social conservatives stick together, rally behind a trusted standard bearer, and prevent the movement from dividing its support in a crowded field, they can play the role of kingmaker.
Fearing that Republicans will ultimately nominate an establishment presidential candidate like Jeb Bush, leaders of the nation's Christian right have mounted an ambitious effort to coalesce their support behind a single social-conservative contender months before the first primary votes are cast. [...]
 
The efforts to coalesce behind an alternative candidate -- in frequent calls, teleconferences and meetings involving a range of organizations, many of them with overlapping memberships -- are premised on two articles of conservative faith: Republicans did not win the White House in the past two elections because their nominees were too moderate and failed to excite the party's base. And a conservative alternative failed to win the nomination each time because voters did not unite behind a single champion in the primary fight.
Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, told the New York Times, "There's a shared desire to come behind a candidate." Social conservatives aren't ready to make a choice, but Perkins added that it's "not too early for the conversations to begin."
 
We don't yet know who the religious right will embrace, but we can say with some confidence who the movement has ruled out. Jeb Bush has maintained an aggressive outreach campaign to leading social conservatives, and the former governor has even hired a prominent religious right attorney as a campaign adviser, but it's clear the Christian Right doesn't see Bush as a trusted and reliable ally.
 
Which leaves a half-dozen other conservatives for the religious right to choose from. The leading contenders appear to be Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Mike Huckabee.
 
But there's a larger question hanging over head: doesn't this seem a little familiar?

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.26.15

03/26/15 12:00PM

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:
 
* Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said this morning that if he were elected president, he'd "disown" any international nuclear agreement with Iran on his first day in office. Walker, it's worth noting, does not yet know whether there will be a deal and he has no idea what policies may be included in an agreement.
 
* New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who used to support immigration reform, has "quietly signed onto an amicus brief opposing President Obama's executive action on immigration." The legal brief was filed earlier this week.
 
* Vice President Biden has not yet announced his future plans, but msnbc's Alex Seitz-Wald has an interesting take on where Biden stands and the possibility of a presidential campaign.
 
* Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) may have succeeded former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), winning her seat in 2010, but Hutchison has no plans to support her fellow Texan. The former senator told msnbc yesterday she intends to support former Gov. Jeb Bush's (R) campaign.
 
* Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) claimed this week that President Obama's "entire political machine" went to Israel in the hopes of derailing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's re-election campaign. As is too often the case, Rubio's claims appear to be at odds with reality.
 
* Hillary Clinton continues to hire members of her unannounced campaign operation, this week hiring Teddy Goff, the digital director of President Obama's 2012 campaign, as part of her new team of online strategists.
Dr. Ben Carson speaks to address the crowd at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 26, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

Ben Carson and the 'learning curve of a candidate'

03/26/15 11:34AM

There's little doubt that Ben Carson is moving closer to a Republican presidential campaign. In his latest syndicated column, the retired doctor acknowledged the "learning curve of a candidate" and conceded he still has a lot to learn "in terms of becoming both a better candidate and a better potential president of the United States."
 
Soon after, the company that syndicates Carson's pieces announced the end of his column.
 
This will presumably give the Republican more time to address the "learning curve," which doesn't seem to be going well. The new feature in GQ on Carson includes the headline, "What If Sarah Palin Were a Brain Surgeon?" It includes this gem:
When I asked him which secretary of state he most admired, he replied Condoleezza Rice—who, of course, happened to be the most recent person to hold that post in a Republican administration. Similarly, Robert Gates was Carson's favorite secretary of defense.
 
And when I asked Carson to name his favorite secretary of the treasury, he was stumped. "Andrea Mitchell's husband," he eventually offered.
MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, of course, is married to Alan Greenspan -- the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, who has never been the Treasury secretary.
 
The same piece noted Carson's trip to Israel, where he seemed surprised to discover that Israel has a legislative branch.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L), Foreign Minister of Iran Mohammad Javad Zarif (C) and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton (R) during a meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, Septemb

Republicans, U.S. mainstream at odds over Iran talks

03/26/15 10:55AM

About a week ago, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced his plan to increase sanctions against Iran, confident that the move would force the end of international diplomacy with Iranian officials.
 
"The Obama administration is circumventing the will of the American people, who do not support this deal," the senator said, referring to an agreement that (a) does not yet exist; (b) Cruz has not seen; and (c) the American people have not yet considered.
 
This came to mind yesterday when former Gov. Jeb Bush (R), who's struggled of late with foreign policy, published a piece for National Review condemning President Obama's participation in the P5+1 talks.
It is clear that nothing -- not public opinion, not opposition from his own party in Congress, and not even the facts -- will deter President Obama from a potentially risky agreement that may well allow Iran to intimidate the entire Middle East, menace Israel, and, most of all, threaten America.
It was the "public opinion" part that stood out for me. As the Florida Republican sees it, the American mainstream simply disagrees with the White House's diplomatic efforts. Cruz obviously feels the same way -- Obama may be working alongside our allies and negotiating partners, but he's "circumventing the will of the American people."
 
Some politicians develop a bad habit when it comes to debates like these. They draw a conclusion; they surround themselves with others who've drawn the same conclusion; they get their news from media outlets that have drawn the same conclusion; and they start to assume that most Americans think exactly as they do.
 
But in reality, public opinion appears to be on Obama's side, not this critics'.
U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), a 2016 Republican White House hopeful, speaks to a group of state legislators at Murphy's Diner in Manchester, New Hampshire on Jan. 14, 2015. (Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Rand Paul abandons his Pentagon plan

03/26/15 10:02AM

In his first year in public office, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) unveiled the outline of his own budget plan, which reflected his rather unique worldview. In his 2011 blueprint, the Kentucky Republican didn't just slash domestic spending -- a staple of every GOP plan -- Paul also went after military spending, slashing investments in the Pentagon and U.S. military missions abroad.
 
The plan wasn't surprising. No matter what one thinks of Rand Paul, he's made no real effort to hide his libertarian-ish worldview and his opposition to Republican orthodoxy on the use of military force. The senator's plan to cut defense spending was unusual among his GOP brethren, but it was consistent with everything we know about Rand Paul.
 
It's what makes this new report from Time magazine that much more striking.
Just weeks before announcing his 2016 presidential bid, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is completing an about-face on a longstanding pledge to curb the growth in defense spending.
 
In an olive branch to defense hawks hell-bent on curtailing his White House ambitions, the libertarian Senator introduced a budget amendment late Wednesday calling for a nearly $190 billion infusion to the defense budget over the next two years -- a roughly 16 percent increase.
The article describes Paul's new posture as a "stunning reversal," which is more than fair, and notes that his proposal matches a similar plan from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) -- a likely White House rival and an aggressive Republican hawk on defense issues.
 
This radical departure from the principles Paul used to hold dear was not at all expected. On the contrary, the Kentucky senator used to say his break with GOP orthodoxy on matters of national security was a selling point.
 
But that was before Rand Paul concluded that his principles might get in the way of his ambitions -- which meant many of his principles had to be cast aside.

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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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