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United States Attorney General Eric Holder appears on Capitol Hill in Washington April 4, 2014.

'You don't want to go there, buddy'

04/08/14 05:07PM

Even the most patient of people can become exasperated by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). One of Congress' more colorful and bewildering personalities, the far-right Texan has an unsettling habit of making truly ridiculous comments, out loud and on purpose, for reasons few even try to understand.
Attorney General Eric Holder, for example, appears to have no patience left for Gohmert, as was evident in a House Judiciary Committee hearing today.
While being questioned about the Justice Department's reluctance to hand over documents related to the prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation, a Texas-based Islamic charity that was shut down by the government for funding Hamas, Gohmert brought up how the House held Holder in contempt of Congress two years ago over the Fast and Furious gun running scandal.
Gohmert said "contempt is not a big deal to our attorney general," to which the Attorney General responded, "You don't want to go there buddy, all right? You don't want to go there, OK?"
After some additional back and forth, Holder tried to explain to Gohmert, "You should not assume that this is not a big deal to me. I think that it was inappropriate. I think it was unjust. But never think that that was not a big deal to me. Don't ever think that."
Two boys look at an orangutan, July 4, 2006.

Aaron Miller's Minnesota platform

04/08/14 04:48PM

Different people pursue elected office for different reasons. For some, it's a passion for the issues. For others, it's the family business. Many politicians talk about hearing "a calling" for public service.
In Minnesota last week, Republican Aaron Miller was a surprise victor in the race to take on Rep. Tim Walz (D) this year, and after securing the nomination, Miller talked a bit about why he's running. He mentioned, for example, that he wants to reduce the deficit and repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would be tricky, since repealing the ACA would make the deficit go up quite a bit.
But as the Mankato Free Press noted, that's not the only thing driving Miller's candidacy.
He also called for more religious freedoms. He repeated his story about his daughter returning home from school because evolution was being taught in her class. He said the teacher admitted to not believing in the scientific theory to his daughter but told her that the government forced him to teach the lesson.
"We should decide what is taught in our schools, not Washington D.C.," Miller said.
Miller has declined to provide any more information to verify his story.
As Tim Murphy noted, this wasn't the first time Miller, a hospital account manager and Iraq War veteran, "recounted this tale -- it's a staple of his stump speech."
And for a variety of reasons, that's a real shame.
House Republican Conference Vice Chairman Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) and House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) during a briefing March 5, 2014 at the headquarters of the RNC in Washington, D.C.

What not to say on Equal Pay Day

04/08/14 03:27PM

Republican opponents of equal-pay measures have known for weeks that today was coming. It's a punch that Democrats were only too pleased to telegraph -- they planned to use Equal Pay Day to highlight the fact that women in the U.S. workforce don't receive equal pay for equal work, and Dems are prepared to do something about it.
But despite the foreknowledge, leading GOP officials apparently couldn't come up with compelling talking points. Take Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.), the House Republican conference's vice chair, for example.
Democrats' push for pay equity between men and women is "condescending," one of the top women in the House Republican leadership argued Tuesday, suggesting that the campaign for equal pay for equal work reflects a lack of understanding of women's contributions to the workforce. [...]
"Some folks don't understand that women have become an extremely valuable part of the workforce today on their own merit, not because the government mandated it," Jenkins said.
And some folks don't understand that equal-pay measures are government mandates to require that women become valuable parts of the workforce. It's not that complicated: women often receive unequal pay for equal work, so policymakers are weighing possible solutions. In what universe is it "condescending" to take steps to prevent discrimination against women?
Making matters slightly worse, American Bridge 21st Century PAC released a video today of Michigan's Terri Lynn Land, the Republicans' U.S. Senate hopeful, arguing, "Well, we all like to be paid more and that's great. But the reality is that women have a different lifestyle. They have kids, they have to take them to get dentists' appointments, doctors' appointments all those kinds of things, and they're more interested in flexibility in a job than pay." [Update: An extended version of the clip with more context is availale here.]
So, Land not only sees women in traditional gender roles, but is also convinced that women aren't especially concerned with receiving unequal pay for equal work -- because "women have a different lifestyle."
Adding insult to injury, when msnbc's Chris Jansing asked Republican National Committee Press Secretary Kirsten Kukowski what policies her party would support to improve pay equity, Kukowski couldn't think of anything.
And to think the gender gap is keeping Republicans from winning more elections.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) was confronted during a listening session in Racine, Wisconsin Wednesday

The House GOP's 'dynamic' ambitions

04/08/14 12:53PM

There aren't many differences between this year's House Republican budget plan from Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and his blueprints from recent years. Medicare would still be privatized; the Affordable Care Act would still be repealed and replaced with nothing; aid to the poor would still be gutted; the rich would still get a massive tax break; etc.
But this year, Ryan embraced "dynamic scoring" as a way to help finance his far-right agenda. In other words, Ryan believes he can pay for his wish list by implementing it, which he's certain would make the economy soar, which means he's comfortable counting predicted revenue from the super-charged economy he thinks he'll create as actual revenue.
In fact, GOP lawmakers like this approach so much, they want it to be required.
The House approved a bill Friday that would require "dynamic" scoring of major legislation before it comes up for a vote.
Members passed the Pro-Growth Budgeting Act in a 224-182 vote, a few days before the House is slated to pass the latest Republican budget, which would cut $5.1 trillion from current spending plans over the next decade. Four Democrats voted with Republicans on the scoring bill. [...]
Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the Congressional Budget Office should be required to use dynamic scoring to determine legislation's likely effects on jobs and the economy.
As the chasm between the parties grows wider, it's not uncommon to hear speculation about whether Democrats and Republicans have entirely distinct realities, each with their own rules. This reinforces the thesis -- Democrats would rely on budget math, while Republicans prefer their own friendlier version of budget math that's more in line with what they want to hear.
The same bill would also require the Congressional Budget Office to "consider the effects of legislation over a 40-year time horizon, not the 10 years the nonpartisan agency uses today."
Think about that for a second: the CBO's number-counters would be mandated to give Congress credible estimates about U.S. finances four decades in advance. (Try to imagine CBO officials making educated guesses in 1974 about the nation's fiscal landscape today. Then imagine policymakers making decisions in 1974 based on those projections.)
We know what's driving this nonsense, and it's absurd.
James Ray of Baltimore holds up his banner during a rally supporting to rise the state's minimum wage outside of the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Md, on Jan. 14, 2014.

Maryland 'leading by example' on minimum wage

04/08/14 11:37AM

In Washington, efforts to raise the minimum wage appear stuck, unable to overcome Republican opposition. Outside the Beltway, however, there's quite a bit of action.
Just last week, Connecticut heeded President Obama's call for a $10.10 minimum wage, and yesterday, lawmakers in Maryland agreed to do the same.
Legislation to increase Maryland's minimum wage to $10.10 by 2018 is now ready for Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) to sign into law following a final vote by the Maryland House of Delegates on Monday.
Increasing the minimum wage has been O'Malley's top priority in his final legislative session, although he has seen his original proposal dragged out and loaded with exemptions. The House voted 87 to 47 on Monday to accept additional changes to the legislation made by the Senate over the weekend.
Some caveats are in order. Maryland will phase in the increase over the course of four years -- a year longer than Connecticut -- and the new legislation does not apply to tipped workers or businesses relying on a "training wage" for workers under 20 during their first six months of employment. There are also some exemptions for seasonal amusement parks and restaurants generating less than $400,000 in annual revenue.
Still, it's a big step forward -- President Obama applauded the state for "leading by example" -- and the latest evidence that for all the GOP gridlock on Capitol Hill, there are states, cities, and even businesses willing to do what Congress cannot.
What's more, Connecticut and Maryland probably won't be the last two states to act on this.
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 26:  Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) listens to questions during a press conference February 26, 2013 in Washington, DC. Boenher urged the U.S. Senate to pass a sequestration replacement bill before the House does the...

Boehner's lazy mendacity on immigration

04/08/14 10:50AM

What's worse, the fact that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) won't allow the House to vote on a popular, bipartisan immigration reform bill, or that he's so brazen in trying to avoid responsibility for his actions?
House Speaker John Boehner blames President Barack Obama for Congress's inability to pass an immigration reform bill, saying that it's a lack of trust in the president that keeps members of the GOP from getting it done.
"The American people want us to deal with immigration reform," Boehner said on Fox News's "Kelly File" on Monday. "I've tried to get the House to move on this now for the last 15 or 16 months. But every time the president ignores the law, like the 38 times he has on Obamacare, our members look up and go, 'Wait a minute: You can't have immigration reform without strong border security and internal enforcement, how can we trust the president to actually obey the law and enforce the law that we would write?'
This is a great example of what Jonathan Bernstein calls "lazy mendacity." Boehner's comments are demonstrably wrong, but just as important is the fact that the Speaker apparently can't be bothered to come up with half-way credible falsehoods.
As Boehner must realize, President Obama hasn't "ignored the law" while implementing the Affordable Care Act. He's occasionally had to move deadlines, but (a) that's legal; and (b) Boehner didn't whine when Bush/Cheney did the exact same thing.
For that matter, to say House Republicans won't approve immigration reform because they don't trust the White House to faithfully executive federal law is a tired canard that was discredited months ago. Indeed, Democrats offered to delay implementation of reform until 2017 -- after Obama left office -- and Republicans still refused.
I can appreciate good spin as much as the next guy, but Boehner's rhetoric is just sad. Lying to cover one's butt is common, but it's not too much to ask that high-profile figures put a little effort into it.
He's "tried to get the House to move on this"? The weak House Speaker doesn't even have to try that hard -- he can bring the bipartisan Senate compromise to the floor, or he can work on an alternative solution. But blaming the rascally president for making Republicans feel bad is a joke.
Wait it gets worse.
Democratic Legislators Hold News Conference To Urge Congress To Pass The Paycheck Fairness Act

The RNC's poor memory on Paycheck Fairness

04/08/14 10:06AM

It's Pay Equity Day in the United States, a day intended to raise awareness of wage discrimination American women routinely face in the workforce, and an increasingly divisive issue for Democrats and Republicans.
President Obama will issue two consequential executive orders today intended to help address unequal pay for equal work, which will coincide with Senate Democrats pushing a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act. For Republicans, who often deny the pay gap exists, this isn't an issue in need of policymakers' attention.
With this in mind, Kirsten Kukowski, a Republican National Committee press secretary, talked to msnbc's Mika Brzezinski about the issue this morning, arguing that Republicans recognize that the issue exists, but oppose measures that impose an "unnecessary burden" on employers. This, of course, is a common GOP position -- even if women receive unequal pay for equal work, policymakers should let the free market sort it out eventually.
But arguments like these are something else entirely.
...Kukowski suggested Democrats' recent championing of the equal pay issue was more about political timing than a genuine effort to close the gender wage gap, which she said would be better served by confronting the job market and the economy.
"What we have seen since the President has been in the White House -- they controlled the House, they controlled the Senate, they controlled the White House and they did not do this," Kukowski said. "Instead, what we see is this creeps up every time the Democrats are struggling with their messaging," she added.
Obviously, the RNC press secretary is entitled to make her case against paycheck fairness, but in her msnbc appearance, Kukowski's claim is factually wrong.
The Republican spokesperson told the public that Democrats "did not" pursue the Paycheck Fairness Act when they were in the majority. Kukowski probably should have done a little homework before addressing a national audience about pay equity on Pay Equity Day.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal addresses the Nebraska Republican Convention in Grand Island, Neb., Saturday, July 14, 2012.

Court sides with MoveOn over Jindal

04/08/14 09:23AM

Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) administration in Louisiana picked an unusual fight recently, taking to federal court, accusing the progressive activist group of violating trademark rules when it put up billboards criticizing Jindal's opposition to Medicaid expansion.
So far, that hasn't turned out well for the Republican governor: a federal judge ruled yesterday afternoon that the Baton Rouge-area billboard is legally permissible.
In his original court filings, [Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne] said the national liberal organization improperly mimicked his office's trade and tourism branding in its satirical billboard posted just outside of the state capital. But U.S. District Court Judge Shelly Dick disagreed Monday, siding with in stating the group's free speech rights trumped the state's case.
"The State has failed to demonstrate a compelling reason to curtail's political speech in favor of protecting of the State's service mark," Dick said in her ruling. She added "irreparable injury" would not be caused to Louisiana's tourism campaign if the ad remained in place.
For those who haven't been following this dispute, Louisiana is one of several red states that refuse to adopt Medicaid expansion, despite the fact that he policy would bring coverage to nearly a quarter of a million low-income residents. It led to put up a billboard that reads, "LOU!SIANA Pick your passion! But hope you don't love your health. Gov. Jindal's denying Medicaid to 242,000 people."
The Jindal administration wasn't pleased -- "Louisiana: Pick Your Passion" is the slogan tied to the state's tourism campaign, and it doesn't want the phrasing appropriated by a progressive group targeting the governor. responded that its political speech is intended as satire and is therefore covered by the First Amendment.
Yesterday, a federal court agreed, offering the governor a reminder about what free speech is.
And by all appearances, he needed the refresher.
Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La. waits before a ceremonial swearing-in, Nov. 21, 2013.

Louisiana's McAllister says he's 'fallen short'

04/08/14 08:40AM

When politicians get caught in extra-marital dalliances, there's usually a controversy that follows a predictable trajectory. There are the allegations, followed by denials, then apologies, all wrapped up in humiliation. These messes usually last several days, if not weeks.
Rep. Vance McAllister, a Louisiana Republican who's only been in office for about five months, truncated the lifecycle considerably yesterday, going from revelation to contrition over the course of an afternoon.
A married House Republican, who ran on a devout Christian conservative platform, apologized Monday after a video surfaced that reportedly shows him kissing an aide.
"There's no doubt I've fallen short and I'm asking for forgiveness. I'm asking for forgiveness from God, my wife, my kids, my staff, and my constituents who elected me to serve," said Rep. Vance McAllister in a statement. "Trust is something I know has to be earned." He added, "I promise to do everything I can to earn back the trust of everyone I've disappointed."
The extra-marital romance was first uncovered by a local outlet, the Ouachita Citizen, which obtained a video of McAllister kissing an aide in his district office in late December -- about a month after the congressman won a special election in his Louisiana district.
The exact nature of the relationship is unclear, but it's worth noting that the aide was reportedly removed from the congressman's payroll "during the past 24 hours."
Complicating matters a little more, it appears the aide and her husband were generous McAllister campaign contributors.
As a general rule, I tend to believe these incidents are private matters, but the standards for scrutiny change when hypocrisy is involved.
Potential job seekers speak with employers at a job fair in New York, New York, November 20, 2013..

Jobless aid bill shifts from Senate to House

04/08/14 08:00AM

It wasn't easy, it took nearly four months of negotiations, and the bill failed several attempts at passage, but the Senate finally approved an extension of federal unemployment benefits late yesterday afternoon.
The Senate voted 59-38 to pass a five-month extension that would retroactively restore federal benefits to an estimated 2.3 million Americans who are long-term unemployed. The vote was a victory for Sens. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, and Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican, who've spent more than three months trying to persuade a small group of GOP senators to break with their party to support an extension.
Democrats retooled the bill to satisfy Senate Republicans, who demanded that the benefits be paid for. The $10 billion cost is offset by tweaks to federal pension payments and higher customs fees. The bill also prohibits millionaires from receiving benefits
The final roll call is online here. Note that while the vast majority of Senate Republicans opposed the bipartisan compromise, the bill picked up six GOP votes en route to passage. The measure enjoyed unanimous Democratic support.
President Obama is eager to sign the bill and has lobbied repeatedly for its passage, but the legislation will first go to the Republican-led House, where it's odds are, well, not good.
But before we simply assume the bill has no chance at all, it's worth appreciating the nuances, because it's still possible we'll see some action on this.