Rachel Maddow reviews the results of polls taken after President Obama's State of the Union address, finding that the themes President Obama presented were well received and the speech overall brought more Americans into alignment with the president. watch
Rachel Maddow reports that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is back in Washington after a dramatic injury had him housebound at the start of the year, but will undergo eye surgery on Monday to help recover the vision in his right eye. watch
Michael Schmidt, reporter for the New York Times, talks with Rachel Maddow about early word that the Justice Department will not recommend civil rights charges be brought against Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown. watch
Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, talks with Rachel Maddow about the Supreme Court's decision to take up the Fair Housing Act, a landmark piece of civil rights legislation, and fears and expectations for the outcome of the case. watch
Mayor Jerry Jimison, of Glendive, Montana, talks with Rachel Maddow about how his town is dealing with the fallout from a nearby ruptured oil pipeline on the Yellowstone River that is leaking tens of thousands of gallons of oil under the frozen river. watch
Rachel Maddow voices her objection to the lack of specificity in discussions about the condition of the footballs used by the New England Patriots, with some discourse suffering from innuendo overload. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on President Obama's speech in the very red state of Idaho today, emphasizing the theme of national unity that was also part of his State of the Union address. Obama travels to Kansas tomorrow. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the latest step in the U.S. rapprochement with Cuba, and details the story behind President Obama's trip to Boise, Idaho, to visit with the family of Christian pastor Saeed Abedini who is being held prisoner in Iran. watch
* Ferguson: "The Justice Department has begun work on a legal memo recommending no civil rights charges against a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., who killed an unarmed black teenager in August, law enforcement officials said."
* When 50,000 gallons of oil leaks into a river, it's a very big deal: "More than 5,000 people in the rural Montana city of Glendive have been told not to use municipal water because elevated levels of cancer-causing benzene were found downstream from a weekend crude oil spill into the Yellowstone River."
* Historic talks: "The highest-ranking U.S. diplomat to travel to Cuba in nearly 40 years boarded a commercial flight Wednesday morning from Miami -- ahead of negotiations to re-establish diplomatic ties between the two countries."
* FHA at the high court: "At a Supreme Court hearing Wednesday, Scalia joined all four liberal justices in sounding deeply skeptical of a bid by the state of Texas to dramatically narrow the scope of the 1968 Fair Housing Act (FHA), which prohibits racial and other forms of discrimination in housing."
* And speaking of the court: "President Barack Obama issued a strong statement Wednesday in opposition to the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizen's United decision, a ruling he believes 'has caused real harm to our democracy.'" The ruling was issued five years ago today.
* This guy: "A Virginia lawmaker who was elected to the House of Delegates while serving a jail term now faces felony charges for allegedly entering a forged document into court and lying under oath, according to an indictment unsealed Wednesday in Henrico County."
States regularly make official designations that demonstrate their unique qualities. Just about every state in the union has an official state bird, state motto, state song, state flower, etc. Once in a while, these innocuous designations cause political trouble -- the South Carolina effort to create an official state fossil, for example, drew opposition from a creationist lawmaker.
A similar problem arose this week in Idaho where a local teenager asked lawmakers to name an official state amphibian. As the Spokesman-Reviewreported this week, it didn't go well (via Taegan Goddard).
Idaho lawmakers worried that special recognition of the Idaho giant salamander could lead to federal protections have rejected a grade school student's request that it be named the state amphibian.
The House State Affairs Committee voted 10-6 on Monday against 14-year-old Ilah Hickman's plan. It was her fifth attempt in as many years to persuade lawmakers that students made a good choice for state amphibian.
This might sound a little nutty -- because it is -- but according to the lawmakers who rejected the idea, if Idaho makes the Idaho giant salamander the state's official amphibian, then federal officials might make the salamander an endangered species. And at that point, the state might have to endure all kinds of new regulations from Washington.
About a month ago, just two days after Christmas, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) traveled to Jerusalem for a joint appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, where the American lawmaker struck an interesting note.
"I'm here to tell you, Mr. Prime Minister, that the Congress will follow your lead," Graham said.
Ordinarily, America's elected lawmakers follow the American president's lead on matters of international affairs, making the senator's comment just a little jarring.
House Speaker John Boehner is inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on February 11. The invitation comes as the Hill braces for a clash with the White House over sanctions on Iran.
Boehner told reporters that he did not consult the White House before extending the invitation, adding "I do not believe I am poking anyone in the eye."
Well, whether the Speaker believes it or not, this was quite a provocative move, which is arguably without precedent.
By delivering remarks to the U.S. Congress, Netanyahu will get a political boost at an opportune time -- the prime minister will speak on Feb. 11, with Israeli elections to follow just five weeks later. The move may give the appearance of interfering in a foreign democratic election.
More importantly, Netanyahu will not be stopping by Capitol Hill for a friendly chat. Congressional Republicans, and a few Democrats, hope to sabotage international nuclear talks with Iran by imposing new sanctions on Tehran, destroying the once-in-a-generation diplomatic opportunity. These American critics of the talks see the conservative Israeli leader as an ally towards their goal, so his Washington visit is likely to be part of the broader lobbying effort.
It hasn't exactly been subtle. Congressional Republicans, thrilled to be in the majority in both chamber, have tried to get this Congress off to the most far-right start possible. It's included aggressive pushes on gutting health care, weakening Wall Street safeguards, and making Social Security susceptible to important cuts.
But just two weeks into the session, Republicans also haven't forgotten about the culture war.
House Republican leadership is planning to move forward with a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks, despite opposition from female lawmakers who fear the legislation is too harsh and could turn off young voters.
The bill, sponsored by Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), would exempt rape victims from the abortion restrictions, but only if they report the attack to police -- a clause multiple GOP staffers said could further discourage victims of sexual assault from seeking medical help.
As the Politico report noted, Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), a former nurse and an opponent of abortion rights, urged GOP leaders to alter the legislation -- a point she emphasized to her GOP colleagues at the party's retreat last week. Party leaders nevertheless refused, prompting Ellmers and Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) to withdraw their support from the bill.
The result is a rare sight: a controversial culture war bill that's not only dividing Republicans against Democrats, but also Republicans against Republicans.
The vote on the bill is expected tomorrow, timed by GOP leaders specifically to coincide with the annual March for Life, held on the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.
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:
* In advance of his presidential campaign, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) home-state support continues to drop. A new Quinnipiac poll shows the Republican governor with a 46% approval rating, while 50% disapprove. The pollster's report noted this is Christie's "worst overall score in almost four years."
* Vice President Biden's name is often left out of conversations about the 2016 presidential race, but he told NBC's Matt Lauer this morning he believes he "could do a good job" as a candidate and there's "a chance" he'll throw his hat into the ring.
* This week, Mitt Romney said climate change is a "real and a major problem." For those keeping track, that means the former governor has flip-flop-flip-flopped on the issue, repeatedly changing his mind about the crisis.
* Mike Huckabee's new presidential campaign hasn't begun just yet, but he's already confronting a controversy: his political action committee, ostensibly created to contribute campaign money to like-minded candidates, directed "a significant portion" of its funds to Huckabee's "family members or the coffers of direct-mail fundraising firms."
* In Pennsylvania, Public Policy Polling shows Sen. Pat Toomey (R) with a modest lead over former Rep. Joe Sestak (D), 40% to 36%, in a hypothetical rematch of their 2010 race.
In his first two years in office, President Obama didn't have to worry too much about vetoing legislation -- his party had sizable majorities in Congress, and Democrats were eager to send him bills he was likely to sign. In the four years that followed, in the wake of Republican gains, Congress' productivity fell off a cliff, passing fewer bills than at any point in modern American history -- and as a consequence, Obama still didn't have reason to dust off the veto pen.
Indeed, after six years in office, Obama's total number of vetoes is just two. That's the lowest of any two-term president since Abraham Lincoln.
But the paltry total probably won't last much longer. In his State of the Union address last night, Obama mentioned six times his willingness to veto various measures under congressional consideration. Just hours before the speech, the White House put some of these threats in writing.
Though he's spending the day preparing to deliver his 2015 State of the Union address, Mr. Obama hasn't gone entirely off the grid. He issued two veto threats Tuesday, warning Republicans he would block two bills pertaining to abortion and natural gas pipeline permitting.
The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would ban abortions after 20 weeks unless they were necessary to save the life of the mother or if the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest.... The second bill, the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act, would require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to approve or deny applications for natural gas pipeline projects within 12 months.
Some of these bills are almost certain to reach the president's desk, so Obama's veto pen will come out of the box for the first time in over four years. But before it does, let's pause to note that there's nothing especially wrong with veto threats on a conceptual level.