Before 2011, Congress tended to transition from one legislative priority to the next. Some bills would pass, some would fail. Some would get a president's signature, some would be vetoed. Gridlock would occasionally muck things up, but there was a general sense that Capitol Hill was at least trying to address national challenges.
We've since entered a different phase of political history. Under the status quo, Congress doesn't transition from one priority to the next; it transitions from one self-imposed crisis to the next.
This week, for example, lawmakers narrowly averted a government shutdown, while at the same time, setting the stage for another shutdown fight in December. In between, it turns out, members will have to pass a debt-ceiling increase. Roll Callreported late yesterday:
The Treasury Department said Thursday it would reach the debt limit a bit earlier than was expected by many on Capitol Hill.
Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew told Congress in a new letter that thanks in part to lower-than-expected quarterly tax receipts, the extraordinary measures to forestall breaching the debt limit, combined with the new revenues, will run their course just a week after the resignation of Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, takes effect. That makes it all the more likely the debt limit will need to be addressed before his departure.
Boehner's last day is reportedly set for Oct. 30.
Almost immediately, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a press statement, calling on lawmakers to be responsible. “Failure to protect the full faith and credit of the United States would have a devastating impact on hard-working families across the country -- including tumbling retirement savings and rising interest rates for student loans, mortgages, credit cards and car payments.
"The Republican Congress must take the prospect of a catastrophic default off of the table. The credit rating of the United States is not a hostage to serve Republicans’ toxic special interest ideology. Yet time and again, the crisis-addicted Republican majority has threatened to shatter the foundation of our economy to advance their destructive partisan agenda.”
Well sure, when you put it that way, it sounds bad.
Two prominent Republican presidential candidates offered their thoughts on the climate crisis on Wednesday, and came to two very different conclusions. The challenge comes in determining which one was worse.
Let's start with Ben Carson, who was asked by a voter in New Hampshire to explain his disbelief in climate change. The New Republic's Rebecca Leber reported on the GOP candidate's response:
"Is there climate change? Of course there's climate change," Carson replied. "Any point in time, temperatures are going up or temperatures are going down. Of course that's happening. When that stops happening, that's when we're in big trouble.” [...]
Though he had been asked about climate change, he continued, "As far as evolution is concerned, you know, I do believe in micro-evolution, or natural selection, but I believe that God gave the creatures he made the ability to adapt to their environment. Because he's very smart and he didn't want to start over every 50 years."
Carson, whose views on science are genuinely bizarre, especially for a retired physician, added, “Just the way the Earth rotates on its axis, how far away it is from the sun. These are all very complex things. Gravity, where did it come from?”
At around the same time, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), the alleged "moderate" of the bunch, fielded a very similar question. He responded:
One of the many advantages to being in the congressional majority leadership is near-total control over the agenda. In practical terms, House leaders can veto every bill, simply by refusing to bring it to the floor for a vote.
Immigration reform had enough votes to pass? Too bad -- the House GOP leadership didn't want a vote on the bill, so it died. Firearm background checks enjoyed the support of 92% of the American public? Oh well -- Republican leaders decided it wasn't worth lawmakers' time.
In theory, one might assume that bill backed by a majority of the House will pass the chamber. But in the real world, will of the House majority is secondary to the will of the House majority leadership.
There is one notable exception, though. Consider this report from Politico yesterday.
Supporters of the Export-Import Bank have secured enough Republican support to bring an extension of the agency's charter to the House floor later this month, according to sources involved in the whipping.
More than 30 Republicans have signed on to a discharge petition, which would force a vote on reauthorizing the government-backed credit agency. Republicans expect at least a dozen more supporters. The vast majority of Democrats are expected to sign the discharge petition, a rarely invoked procedural maneuver that sidesteps the committee process.
I didn't include the phrase "discharge petition" at the top of this piece, because I was afraid you'd stop reading, but hear me out because this is interesting.
President Obama delivered angry remarks at the White House late yesterday on the nation's latest mass shooting, and included a challenge to journalists:
"I would ask news organizations -- because I won't put these facts forward -- have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports. This won't be information coming from me; it will be coming from you.
"We spend over a trillion dollars, and pass countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so. And yet, we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths. How can that be?"
Americans have come to expect a robust governmental response to terrorism, with officials, agencies, and cabinet departments going to great lengths to protect the public from violent attacks. At the same time, however, mass shootings routinely kill thousands of Americans each year.
Just how significant is the imbalance? Let's take the president up on his challenge.
When U.S. job creation fell short of expectations in August, many hoped it was a temporary setback. Today, however, we learned that job totals came up short in September, too.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the U.S. economy added 142,000 jobs in September, well below the 200,000 expected by economists. The overall unemployment rate remained 5.1%, which is still the lowest point since April 2008, more than seven years ago.
Making matters slightly worse, though summer revisions often paint a more encouraging picture, today's data points in the opposite direction. July's job totals were revised down, from 245,000 to 223,000, while August's totals were also revised down, from 173,000 to 136,000. That's a combined 59,000 jobs we thought we'd created, but didn't.
For those rooting for the U.S. economy, this isn't the report we were hoping for.
That said, overall, the U.S. has added 2.75 million jobs over the last 12 months, which is actually pretty good. September was the 60th consecutive month of positive job growth -- the best stretch since 1939 -- and the 67th consecutive month in which we’ve seen private-sector job growth, which is the longest on record.
On Tuesday night, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) acknowledged a fact that everyone knows, but which Republicans aren't supposed to admit out loud: the GOP's taxpayer-financed Benghazi committee is all about the Republicans' “strategy to fight and win” against Hillary Clinton. It’s not, in other words, about investigating an attack that left four Americans dead.
As the uproar continued yesterday, McCarthy and GOP leaders spent the day "scrambling to undo the damage." That included the California Republican sitting down with Fox News' Bret Baier in the hopes of putting out the fire. McCarthy, the likely next Speaker of the House, stuck to an awkwardly worded script.
"I did not intend to imply in any way that [the committee's] work was political. Of course it is not; look at the way they have carried themselves out. [...]
"I do not want to make that harm Benghazi committee in any way because it’s not political.”
On a substantive level, McCarthy's explanation was a mess. Just two days after acknowledging reality, the GOP leader now wants to pretend the obvious partisan exercise isn't "political" at all. As proof, he urges us to "look at the way they have carried themselves out." That's clumsy phrasing, but if we do examine how the committee has conducted itself, a picture of a brazenly political tool emerges.
On a rhetorical level, McCarthy didn't exactly inspire confidence. At one point in the interview, he said, "It wasn't what I, in my mind, was saying out there." Good to know.
Behind the scenes, some Republican insiders are quietly starting to refer to McCarthy as "the new Dan Quayle." I don't think they mean it as a compliment.
Rachel Maddow reports on the development of Hurricane Joaquin, now a category 4 storm sitting over the Bahamas and expected to cause flooding up the East Coast even if it doesn't make direct landfall. watch
Lori Haas, whose daughter was killed in the Virginia Tech shooting, talks with Rachel Maddow about the vast network of gun violence survivors and smart gun policy advocates who are working toward better gun policy at the local level because Congress and Washington, D.C. is too broken to address the problem. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on details of a still-developing story of a C-130 plane that crashed near an airport in Afghanistan, killing 13 people including six U.S. service members on the plane and two Afghan civilians on the ground. watch
Oregon State Senator Jeff Kruse, whose district includes Roseburg, talks with Rachel Maddow about the measured pace of the release of details about the gun massacre at Umpqua Community College, and how the local community is responding to the tragedy. watch
Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, whose district include Newtown, Connecticut, talks with Rachel Maddow about the struggle to get Congress to pass meaningful legislation and enact any helpful policy at all to address the problem of regular mass shootings in the United States. watch
Rachel Maddow shares video of a visibly upset President Obama addressing the latest mass gun killing, and talks with Pete Williams, NBC News justice correspondent, about what few concrete facts are known about today's deadly shooting incident at Umpqua Community College. watch
President Obama has made clear, more than once, that one of his greatest frustrations has been Congress' refusal to consider legislation to reduce gun violence. Indeed, the image of a disappointed leader, addressing the nation in the wake of yet another deadly mass shooting, has become all too familiar.
As the accompanying video makes clear, this doesn't just bother the president; it angers him. Watching him deliver remarks this afternoon, in the wake of the deadly shooting in Oregon, Obama seemed disgusted -- not just with the tragedy and heartbreak, but also with the political circumstances that allows these deadly events to keep happening, over and over again.
The transcript of the president's remarks follows. We will have much more on this story on tonight's show.
* The latest from Oregon: "State police said they believed there was only one shooter, who they said 'is no longer a threat.'"
* Syria: "The United States and Russia will begin talks Thursday morning aimed at calming tensions between their opposing military operations in Syria, two senior defense officials told NBC News. The 'very high-level' discussions will begin at 11 a.m. ET, one official said."
* Related news: "In a second day of raids in Syria, Russian warplanes carried out a new round of airstrikes on Thursday that once again -- contrary to Moscow’s assertions -- appeared for the most part to be targeting not the Islamic State but a rival insurgent coalition."
* Afghanistan: "Afghan government forces rallied on Thursday for the first time in four days against Taliban fighters who had taken the city of Kunduz, engaging in heavy fighting near the city center, residents and government officials said. By nightfall, however, witnesses said the battle for the city was still undecided."
* Rough crowd: "People booed and hissed at House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.) on Thursday as she defended her party's ongoing Benghazi probe and its connection to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton."
* A dramatic mistake: "The Secret Service apologized Wednesday to Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a prominent critic of the agency, for violating federal privacy law by improperly accessing sensitive personal information about him dozens of times in little more than a single week."
* The Atlantic Coast is on alert: "East Coast states are alerting residents to prepare as potentially historic rainfall and flooding is set to wreak havoc into the weekend -- whether or not Hurricane Joaquin, which was upgraded to an 'extremely dangerous' Category 4 storm on Thursday afternoon, makes U.S. landfall."
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.