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President Barack Obama laughs with former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, April 25, 2013.

Unprecedented, except for all the other times

11/17/14 12:51PM

For Republicans, there is no bigger issue on the political landscape than President Obama taking executive actions on immigration. This one issue has driven GOP officials to raise the prospect of a government shutdown, presidential impeachment, and the defeat of every major legislative initiative of the next Congress.
 
But the problem Republicans can't quite get around is the fact that Obama's policy is likely to be awfully similar to what other modern presidents have done without incident.
 
We talked a bit about this on Friday, but a national report from the Associated Press has elevated this angle considerably.
President Barack Obama's anticipated order that would shield millions of immigrants now living illegally in the U.S. from deportation is not without precedent.
 
Two of the last three Republican presidents -- Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush -- did the same thing in extending amnesty to family members who were not covered by the last major overhaul of immigration law in 1986.
There was no political explosion then comparable to the one Republicans are threatening now.
 
Over the last several days, GOP officials have sought to draw a distinction between limited, targeted executive actions, intended to advance the nation's humanitarian and foreign policy goals, and the more sweeping policy Obama reportedly has in mind. And on this, the right has a compelling case to make -- or at least half of a compelling case.
 
The Clinton administration, for example, adopted a deferred-action policy towards a modest number of Salvadoran immigrants as a result of their country's civil war. The H.W. Bush administration took similar steps to protect Chinese students fearing persecution in 1990. The W. Bush administration issued an executive order expediting the naturalization process for green-card holders who enlisted in the United States military. 
 
It's not unreasonable to argue these measures are qualitatively -- and quantitatively, for that matter -- different from the kind of actions the Obama White House reportedly has in mind. Those recent examples set a precedent, but their scope and scale is dissimilar.
 
That's only part of a larger story, however.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.17.14

11/17/14 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:
 
* In Alaska's gubernatorial race, Bill Walker (I) defeated incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell (R), with the latter conceding the race over the weekend. Walker, who ran with a Democratic running mate, will be Alaska's first independent governor.
 
* In Alaska's U.S. Senate race, Sen. Mark Begich (D) still has not conceded -- the AP and NBC News both called the race late last week -- and apparent Sen.-elect Dan Sullivan (R) is on Capitol Hill seeking committee assignments for the next Congress.
 
* There were plenty of unresolved U.S. House races after Election Day, but of the 11 too-close-to-call contests that have been resolved over the last two weeks, Democrats have prevailed in all of them. That might take some of the sting off a rough year.
 
* Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has had some serious health issues during his first term in the Senate, but asked late last week about his future plans, the Republican replied, "No frickin' way am I retiring."
 
* On a related note, it's far too early to know who might take Kirk on in Illinois in 2016, but Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) has said she's "interested, open, and curious" about the race.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT., talks to reporters as he walks to the weekly Senate policy luncheons in the U.S. Capitol on June 4, 2013.

Senator complains about 'dumbass liberals'

11/17/14 11:20AM

I actually remember the way Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) used to be, back when he boasted about being a "square peg" -- a label he used as a shorthand to say he doesn't always fit in.
 
The Utah Republican used to actually see value in cooperating with people with whom he disagreed, working with Democrats, for example, on stem-cell research, the DREAM Act, and S-CHIP.
 
But then he threw it all away. As Amanda Terkel reported, Hatch's remarks at the Federalist Society's annual conference are a reminder of the kind of politician he's become.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) came out swinging against Democrats Friday, telling a room of conservative lawyers that Republicans were ready to give the other party "a taste of their own medicine."
 
"Frankly, I intend to win with our candidate for the presidency in 2016, and we will give them a taste of their own medicine," said Hatch. "And we're going to win. We're going to win. These next two years are extremely important. Maybe the most important two years in our history."
"I get a big kick out of them using the word 'progressive,'" the senator said of Democrats. "My gosh, they're just straight old dumbass liberals anyway."
 
Classy.
 
It wasn't too long ago that Hatch was positioned to become a rare statesman in Republican politics. But that was before his partisan Memorial Day tantrums, his occasional references to hitting people he doesn't like, and his juvenile whining about "dumbass liberals."
 
Those looking for GOP statesmanship will apparently have to look elsewhere.
 
On a related note, did you happen to catch Hatch's remarks about immigration reform?
Twitter Files For IPO - Nisha Chittal - 09/12/2013

GOP hatched Twitter-based scheme to skirt election laws

11/17/14 10:46AM

It's the kind of tweet the typical person would be inclined to ignore: "CA-40/43-44/49-44/44-50/36-44/49-10/16/14-52-->49/476-10s." Without some kind of cypher or context, these numbers are indecipherable.
 
But as Chris Moody uncovered, tweets like these during the campaign season were actually part of a creative scheme to skirt election laws.
Republicans and outside groups used anonymous Twitter accounts to share internal polling data ahead of the midterm elections, CNN has learned, a practice that raises questions about whether they violated campaign finance laws that prohibit coordination.
 
The Twitter accounts were hidden in plain sight. The profiles were publicly available but meaningless without knowledge of how to find them and decode the information, according to a source with knowledge of the activities.
The tactic may seem complicated, but it's actually pretty straightforward. Republicans were effectively using fake Twitter accounts as a dead drop.
 
Let's say you're a Republican operative working for a campaign and I'm a Republican working for a like-minded super PAC. You have some important, costly polling data that would have a major impact on how I can help your candidate, but you can't share it with me directly -- under existing election laws, that would be considered illegal coordination.
 
What to do? In this case, you created a dummy Twitter account, where you published the data in a way no one would understand or even be able to look for. In the U.S. House race in California's 40th congressional district, for example, you'd publish a tweet that read, "CA-40/43-44/49-44/44-50/36-44/49-10/16/14-52-->49/476-10s."
 
I could then read the tweets, use my decoder ring to understand the data, and invest my super PAC money accordingly. If anybody asks, you could always say you just published those tweets -- publicly available to anyone -- and you have no control over who sees them or what they do with the information.
 
Is this clever? As schemes intended to circumvent federal laws go, sure. Is it legal? Well, that's tricky.
The Uber car service application in New York, on May 2, 2011. (Photo by Julie Glassberg/The New York Times/Redux)

Republicans get ready to break up with Uber

11/17/14 10:11AM

Republicans have generally been slower than Democrats to embrace new technology, but if there's one thing the GOP loves, it's Uber.
 
Republicans love Uber. Young urban voters love Uber. And Republicans hope that means young voters can learn to love the GOP.
 
Car-hailing and ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and others are wildly popular among wealthy, young, tech-savvy urbanites -- precisely the kind of voters that the Republican Party needs to win over to remain competitive in the long run. Those same services also just happen to be warring with government regulators in cities across the country over whether the upstarts are operating illegally as unlicensed taxi services.
The Republican Party is in love with Uber, and it wants to publicly display its affection all over the Internet.
Uber, Lyft and Airbnb have become mascots for a Republican Party looking to promote a new brand of free market conservatism while making inroads with young voters.
 
Though the companies were engineered in the Democratic bastion of Silicon Valley, Republicans seeking to promote their party as freedom-loving and tech savvy are latching on to them.
I'm afraid, however, that the love affair is poised to come to an abrupt halt. Republicans may love Uber, but Uber loves "Obamacare," suggesting the star-crossed lovers may have to agree to see other people.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker talks to the media after he casts his ballot on election day at Jefferson Elementary School on Nov. 4, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wis. (Darren Hauck/Getty)

Walker tries to rationalize Medicaid opposition

11/17/14 09:15AM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), fresh off his six-point victory in this year's re-election campaign, appeared on msnbc the other day and offered a curious defense of his decision to reject Medicaid expansion.
 
Tara Culp-Ressler had a good report on the interview.
During an appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Friday, Walker was asked whether his position stemmed from an "ideological criticism," and if he believes the handful of Republican governors implementing this provision of the health law are not "genuine conservatives."
 
The governor didn't explicitly answer that question, pointing out that every state has different needs. But he did offer a broader criticism of the public health program.
 
"Beyond that, I just ask the basic question: Why is more people on Medicaid a good thing?" he said. "I'd rather find a way, particularly for able-bodied adults without children, I'd like to find a way to get them into the workforce. I think ideologically, that's a better approach, not just as a conservative, but as an American. Have more people live the American dream if they're not dependent on the American government."
I can appreciate why governors like Walker find themselves in a tough position on this. On the one hand, Medicaid expansion is a no-brainer, which helps low-income families access medical care, improves state finances, and bolsters public hospitals. It's exactly why so many GOP governors, even in red states, have embraced the policy.
 
On the other hand, Republicans hold President Obama in contempt, and they're supposed to reject every aspect of "Obamacare."
 
But even under these circumstances, Walker's argument is just ridiculous.
A Capitol police officer walks through the Capitol Rotunda, empty of visitors after being closed to tours, during the government shutdown on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., October 1, 2013.

GOP leaders fear new round of shutdown politics

11/17/14 08:35AM

Politico reported over the weekend that Republican leaders, feeling exalted after a successful midterm cycle, are "facing a daunting reality: They are right where they left off."
Republican leaders wanted a quick and clean, drama-free lame duck session to kick off their new majority, but they find themselves heading toward a showdown over how to fund the government.
For much of 2014, GOP officials hoped voters would not see the Republican Party as the home of shutdown politics and impeachment threats, and yet, it's apparently mulling both, all because President Obama is poised to govern on immigration policy.
 
Let's tackle these one at a time. First, of course, is funding the government and preventing a shutdown after Dec. 11. A growing number of far-right lawmakers want to add language to a spending bill that would prevent the White House from taking executive actions on immigration, forcing a confrontation: either the president signs the bill that ties his hands or Republicans turn off the government's lights again.
 
In the House, GOP leaders want a clean, long-term spending bill that would prevent any shutdowns for at least a year, but top Republicans "begun to conclude that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to rally their caucus" behind the idea. Once again, rank-and-file conservatives just don't seem to care what House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his team want.
 
In the Senate, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) office is reportedly so "worried" about a possible standoff that "by Friday evening they were circulating a memo showing how damaging last year's shutdown was to the Republican Party -- an effort designed to counter conservatives who point to this month's triumphant election as proof that the shutdown did little damage."
 
If McConnell's office didn't see a shutdown as a real possibility, it wouldn't have bothered circulating a memo warning against it.
 
Indeed, Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) was asked yesterday on Fox News about the possibility of a shutdown, and the Republican conceded "we're having those discussions." What's more, just like the last GOP shutdown, Heritage Action is egging the pro-shutdown brigade on.
Barack Obama, Edna Pemberton

What a difference a year makes for the ACA

11/17/14 08:00AM

About a year ago at this time, the biggest political story in the nation was about, of all things, a website. The Affordable Care Act's healthcare.gov was supposed to be accessible to consumers, but to the delight of the law's conservative opponents, the site struggled badly for its first two months.
 
Republicans were gleeful. The media was transfixed. Pundits speculated that the website's troubles represented "Obama's Katrina" and threatened the future of progressive governance in America.
 
Of course, we now know that the problems were temporary; the website was fixed; and "Obamacare" enrollments exceeded all projections, succeeding in ways GOP lawmakers and their allies found horribly disappointing.
 
And as the new open-enrollment period gets underway, Republicans are being confronted with even more discouraging news: the system is working pretty well so far.
On the first day of enrollment for 2015 Obamacare plans, the federal insurance website was working well enough that 100,000 people submitted applications, U.S. health secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell reported.
 
It was a dramatic turnabout from 2013, when healthcare.gov collapsed on its first day of business, costing Burwell's predecessor her job. More than 500,000 visitors logged on to the site yesterday, Burwell said today on NBC's "Meet the Press."
 
The federal enrollment system opened at about 1:30 a.m. New York time [Saturday], and U.S. health officials reported no technical problems in the first 24 hours.
In fairness, there were sporadic reports of delays for some consumers, and one state found that consumers were receiving false information on premiums, but overall, they were more the exception than the rule. Those hoping for a new round of failure were left wanting -- the open-enrollment period progressing according to plan and is off to a fairly smooth start.
 
It's unrealistic to think this year's good news will generate the kind of attention last year's missteps received -- "Government program works exactly as intended, consumers happy and satisfied" isn't a front-page headline newspapers are eager to run -- but the White House can take some solace in the fact that this isn't a fire that will need extinguishing.
 
With this in mind, why does Fox News continue to insist the Affordable Care Act is "failing the public"?

Keystone Senate vote and other headlines

11/17/14 07:54AM

This week in Congress: Keystone and immigration. (The Hill)

Obscure Nebraska panel may hold sway over Keystone XL pipeline. (AP)

Sen.-elect Cotton hints at specific GOP spending-bill tactic to counter Obama executive action. (Fox News)

Hagel says U.S. speeding up training of Iraqi forces. (AP)

ISIS victim Abdul-Rahman Kassig died serving Mideast's vulnerable. (NBC News)

Nuclear deal with Iran runs into obstacles. (New York Times)

U.S. to screen travelers from Mali for Ebola. (AP)

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Week in Geek: You've got a starry show to catch

11/16/14 10:14AM

Just in case you haven't gotten your fill of comets yet, I've got another one for you: Comet 55P Tempel-Tuttle, the source of the Leonids meteor shower which peaks in this Monday, November 17 (but with the best viewing in the wee hours of Tuesday morning).

Meteor showers are often associated with a comet or asteroid that has a left a trail of dust and ice particle strewn out along its orbit. When Earth passes through this trail, the particles enter our atmosphere, heat up and vaporize in a brilliant light show. The denser the trail of particles -- and the faster they're moving -- the more meteors you're likely to see. Comets shed more particles when passing through the inner solar system, where they heat up more, so the more recently the parent comet of a given meteor shower has passed by, the better the show.

Comet 55P Tempel-Tuttle completes its orbit of the Sun once every 33 years. Consequently, the

 Leonids peak on the same interval. The next peak of the Leonids is not expected until 2030, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't still get out there this week to catch a glimpse. The predicted peak rate for the Leonids this year is roughly 15 meteors per hour, still well above the average number of meteors you could expect to see on any random night. On a historical note, the Leonids are known to produce meteor storms (over 1000 meteors per hour) from time to time with hourly rates upward of 100,000 in 1883 and 1966. NASA has a great collection of some eyewitness accounts from the latter.

The Leonids name actually refers to the "radiant point" of the meteor shower -- where they appear to be coming from in the sky. In this case, it's the constellation Leo. You don't need to have a clear view of Leo to see the shower. It's almost better to look in the opposite direction since you'll be more likely to see the full trails of the meteors as they streak across the sky. Looking directly at Leo means you'll see the start of a lot of meteors, but not get the full effect. (At over 150,000 miles per hour, the Leonids are some of the fastest meteors ever recorded.)

So come Monday night, bundle up, make some hot chocolate, and get yourself to a dark spot!

Here's some geek you don't have to stay up all night to enjoy:

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This Week in God, 11.15.14

11/15/14 09:10AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a story out of Maryland, where the state's largest school district has approved a pretty significant, religiously inspired change to its school calendar. The Washington Post reported this week:
Christmas and Easter have been stricken from next year's school calendar in Montgomery County. So have Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.
 
Montgomery's Board of Education voted 7 to 1 Tuesday to eliminate references to all religious holidays on the published calendar for 2015-2016, a decision that followed a request from Muslim community leaders to give equal billing to the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha.
Note, the county hasn't eliminated religious holidays, and students will still be off for major holidays like Christmas. The schools will still be closed when all other state agencies are closed.
 
But to avoid references to Muslim holidays, the calendar won't specifically reference any religious holidays associated with those days off.
 
Libby Nelson noted, "The school board's decision seems to have made everyone mad: Muslim leaders are furious that the board would get rid of religious holidays before acknowledging Muslim ones, while conservative media outlets are accusing the board of 'banning' Jewish and Christian religious holidays in order to appease Muslims."
 
In fact, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly told his audience this week that this story is -- you guessed it -- the "first salvo this season in the ongoing war on Christmas." He added, "They just wiped out all our traditions because [of] these people."
 
Aren't the holidays fun?
 
For more on this story, our friends at msnbc's "Politics Nation" did a great segment earlier this week.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
Propaganda, anti-US backlash boost ISIS ranks

Propaganda, anti-US backlash aid ISIS recruitment

11/14/14 09:37PM

NBC's Keir Simmons talks with Richard Engel about how the powerful ISIS propaganda machine, combined with negative feelings about U.S. policy in Syria, draw Westerners to the ISIS cause and increase the risk of attacks in the West by ISIS sympathizers. watch

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