Following up on our previous coverage, the Justice Department's reports on local government in Ferguson, Missouri, were, in many instances, heartbreaking. The documented evidence was hard to ignore -- we were confronted with a picture of systemic, institutional racism on the part of members of the local police and municipal court officials.
There are a variety of ways to respond to the revelations, though Andrew Kaczynski yesterday highlighted one of the more discouraging reactions I've seen.
The lieutenant governor of Missouri says "there is more racism in the Justice Department" than in the St. Louis area, pointing the finger at President Obama and the Justice Department who, he says, often incited "the mob" in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown back in August of 2014.
The comments came by way of Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who told NewsMaxTV's Steve Malzberg that the Justice Department is "staffed with radical, hard-left radical, leftists lawyers."
After condemning Attorney General Eric Holder as being "unlike any previous attorney general," Kinder added that "many" DOJ officials "have spent most of their careers defending Black Panthers and other violent radicals."
Kinder also argued that Obama and Holder were directly responsible for "inciting" a mob and "encouraging disorder in Ferguson and disrupting the peaceable going-about of our lives in the greater St. Louis region." The lieutenant governor went on to argue that there's "more racism in the Justice Department than there is any, uh, yes, anywhere that I see in the St. Louis area."
According to the BuzzFeed piece, Kinder argued, "It is the left. It is the Eric Holder and Obama-left and their minions who are obsessed with race. The rest of us are moving on beyond it."
There's nothing to suggest the Republican official was kidding.
From the White House podium, press secretary Josh Earnest is usually pretty circumspect in his criticisms of lawmakers. Yesterday, however, President Obama's spokesperson was far less guarded -- the Senate Republicans' handling of Loretta Lynch's Attorney General nomination, and their willingness to connect this to an unrelated human-trafficking bill, was just too much for Earnest.
"You've got to hand it to Republicans, that they've taken even a measure as common sense as [combating human trafficking] and turned it into a partisan controversy.
"That is not a reflection of a flaw in the bill. It's a reflection of inept leadership."
Specifically on Lynch, the White House press secretary added that the A.G. nominee is being subjected to "an unconscionable delay." Reflecting on whether or not President Obama can "trust" GOP leaders on Capitol Hill, Earnest noted that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowed to bring Lynch's nomination to the floor this week, before reversing course.
"There is no question that Republicans are playing politics with the nomination of the nation's top law enforcement official, and it should come to an end," Earnest added.
For his part, McConnell told reporters yesterday that the previous Senate Democratic majority could have voted on Lynch during last year's lame-duck session, but they didn't, delaying the vote until the new Congress. McConnell "failed to point out that that delay was at his request," the president's spokesperson reminded reporters yesterday.
Senate Republicans have struggled so far to defend their posture and demands -- McConnell has said Lynch will wait indefinitely until Democrats approve the Senate GOP version of the human-trafficking bill -- and in an unexpected twist, Senate Republicans actually ran into trouble yesterday at the hands of House Republicans.
It's hard to miss the evidence that the 2016 presidential race is already well underway. We have plenty of ambitious politicians raising lots of money, hiring staff, opening field offices, doing interviews, taking subtle jabs at rivals, and spending an inordinate amount of time in Iowa and New Hampshire. Pollsters are conducting surveys; news organizations are scheduling debates; and various groups are organizing straw polls. For all intents and purposes, the race is on.
What we don't have are actual candidates.
Listen to any of the would-be presidents talk about the race and you'll hear perfunctory qualifiers: "if I run"; "if we move forward"; "we're still planning the next steps"; etc. At this point, several candidates have created super PACs or exploratory committees, but a grand total of zero people have launched their presidential campaigns.
The result is a curious complaint: we've grown accustomed to the political world expressing dismay at how early the campaign process begins, but this year, we've reached mid-March, and we're still waiting for someone, anyone, to deliver a formal kick-off speech.
To put this in perspective, by mid-March of 2007, seven Democrats and four Republicans had already launched their campaigns. One candidate, then-Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D), had already announced his candidacy and dropped out of the race by this point in the process eight years ago.
And yet, here we are. We have a pretty good sense of who the candidates are going to be, and the race certainly seems to be underway, but as a technical matter, the field remains empty. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) over the weekend briefly referred to himself as a "candidate" on Twitter, only to quickly delete the tweet soon after, scurrying back to his "unannounced for now" status.
What's driving this? It's not that the candidates are being coy. Rather it has to do with fundraising laws. The Wall Street Journalreported the other day:
One of the most discouraging facets of Republican governance in recent years is the aggressive new restrictions on voting rights, unlike anything Americans have seen since the Jim Crow era.
Between the Supreme Court's ruling on the Voting Rights Act and the coordinated GOP campaign, half the nation's states "have adopted measures making it harder to vote" since 2011. Ari Berman recently added that from 2011 to 2015, "395 new voting restrictions have been introduced" in 49 states.
But while the national tide is moving in a regressive direction when it comes to voting rights, some states are doing the opposite. David Ingram reported yesterday on a breakthrough policy taking root in Oregon.
New legislation signed into law [on Monday] in Oregon paves the way for the state to one day have close to 100% voter registration. The new law takes the federal "motor voter" law to new levels and registers a person to vote when they obtain or renew a state driver's license or ID – and it's partially retroactive.
The law dictates that once residents interact with the state DMV -- whether to get a license or ID for the first time, or renew an existing one -- they'll become registered to vote if they aren't already. The registration will be provisional for 21 days, during which time applicants will be notified of their new status and be given a chance to become affiliated with a political party or to opt-out of the voting process altogether.
That opt-out provision is key. In recent years, whenever ideas like these have come up, conservatives have argued that it's unconstitutional to force eligible Americans to register to vote if they don't want to. In effect, Americans have a right to forgo the benefits of citizenship if they want to.
Oregon is acknowledging this by giving the public a choice: eligible residents will be included in the system, but those who want to withdraw voluntarily are free to do so.
It's flipping the traditional model on its head. Currently, in all states, the burden is on the individual -- if you're eligible to vote, it's up to you to take the affirmative steps needed to register. There are groups committed to helping people do that, though in recent years GOP policymakers in states like Florida have made these voter-registration efforts more difficult, too.
But Oregon is poised to do the exact opposite, shifting the burden from the individual to the state.
As last week progressed, and the scope of the fiasco surrounding the Senate Republicans' letter to Iran became more obvious, many GOP officials on Capitol Hill furiously tried to think of excuses. The scramble was understandable: Republicans had tried to sabotage American foreign policy, and the stunt hadn't gone well.
Over the course of three days, congressional Republicans came up with at least four different excuses, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) blaming a D.C.-area snowstorm the week before. None of the arguments was particularly persuasive.
But National Review's Deroy Murdock yesterday presented the most amazing excuse yet: the 47 Senate Republicans shouldn't be criticized for sending a letter to Iran since they didn't literally, physically "send" anything.
Before U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and 46 of his GOP colleagues are frog-marched to the gallows and hanged for treason, one vital point of confusion must be cleared up. Say what you will about the Republicans' open letter "to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran." The Cotton/GOP letter regarding Tehran's atom-bomb talks with Obama was not sent to the ayatollahs.
Had Cotton & Co. actually delivered their communique to Iran's mullahs -- perhaps via a Swiss diplomatic pouch or something even more cloak and dagger -- their critics would be on less swampy ground in calling them "traitors," as the New York Daily News screamed.
The National Review piece added that "the Cotton Club" -- Tom Cotton and his 46 GOP cohorts -- "did not send its letter anywhere." Murdock added, "Cotton & Co. never even dropped an envelope in the mail."
How do we know for sure this is an unpersuasive argument? Because Tom Cotton himself says so.
Americans learned yesterday that the Affordable Care Act has extended health care coverage to 16.4 million people, slashing the nation's uninsured rate by over a third, against the backdrop of related system-wide good news. This puts "Obamacare" critics in an unenviable position: trying to characterize a law that's working as a horrible failure, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who's struggled in this area before despite being the Senate GOP's point person on health care, gave it his best shot. "Millions of people have lost coverage they liked," the far-right senator told the New York Times, repeating a dubious claim unsupported by the evidence. He added that extending coverage to millions through Medicaid expansion is "hardly worth celebrating."
He didn't say why, exactly, he finds it discouraging when low-income families receive coverage through Medicaid.
But the funnier reaction came by way of a Wall Street Journalpiece.
Edmund Haislmaier, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group, said the report also doesn't include essential information on how many people who signed up on exchanges were previously uninsured.
"It's premature to say it's ACA-related," Mr. Haislmaier said.
The number of uninsured historically also has been closely aligned with the economy, with numbers rising during recessions and falling as conditions improve.
Joe Berlinger, award-winning documentarian, talks with Rachel Maddow about the role HBO's "The Jinx" documentary about Robert Durst played in leading prosecutors to re-open a murder case in which Durst is accused, and the timing of evidence presented. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the case of Cecil Clayton, who suffered a head injury requiring the removal of 20 percent of the frontal lobe of his brain. Clayton faces execution in Missouri for murder despite never having had his competency tested. watch
Rachel Maddow points out the results of a recent survey finding many Americans unhappy with how the government is performing, and talks with Senator Chuck Schumer about why the nomination of Loretta Lynch is being held hostage for an unrelated bill. watch
* A desperation move, an important shift in posture, or both? "With less than a day until Israel's election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Monday that there will be no Palestinian state if he is re-elected tomorrow."
* Iran takes advantage of the Republicans' gift: "Iranian diplomats twice confronted their American counterparts about an open letter from Republican senators who warned that any nuclear deal could expire the day President Barack Obama leaves office, a senior U.S. official said Monday."
* Pakistan: "Suicide bombers attacked two Christian churches during Sunday services in the Pakistani city of Lahore, killing at least 12 people and wounding dozens in the latest attack on religious minorities in the country. The attacks occurred in quick succession outside Catholic and Protestant churches in Youhanabad, one of Pakistan's biggest Christian neighborhoods."
* Ferguson: "An arrest has been made in connection with the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, officials said Sunday afternoon.... St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said during a news conference Sunday that [Jeffrey Williamsa] admitted to firing the shots that hit the two police officers, but the suspect claimed to have been in an argument with someone else, and said he wasn't specifically targeting the officers. "
* Gun violence in Chicago: "Five people were killed and at least 15 other people were wounded since early Sunday afternoon during separate shootings across the city, authorities said."
* White House to Congress: "In an effort to reassert control over the domestic political debate surrounding sensitive negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, the White House penned a letter Saturday night warning senators to hold back on legislation that would detract from the president's ability to effect and approve a final agreement with Iran."
* California: "Given the historic low temperatures and snowfalls that pummeled the eastern U.S. this winter, it might be easy to overlook how devastating California's winter was as well.... As difficult as it may be to face, the simple fact is that California is running out of water — and the problem started before our current drought."
The last time Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) made a national splash was in early February, when the conservative congressman was making a strange case against vaccinating children from communicable diseases. "I know what morals and values are right for my children," the Republican said, before saying some vaccinations "may not work" for his family's "values."
It probably wasn't the Wisconsin Republican's finest hour. Today, Duffy took his concern for family values in an equally odd direction.
[A Boston-area school district] had to extend its school year to June 29 because of how much snow the Boston area received this year. In preparation for next year, the district chose to get rid of two Jewish holidays and a Christian holiday so the school year wouldn't have to be extended.
Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), who appeared as the show's "One Lucky Guy," helped [Fox News host Andrea Tantaros] reach her conclusion by being the first to criticize liberals who, he said, were using the record snowfall to their advantage.
The Republican lawmaker told the Fox News panel, "Don't let any good crisis go to waste, and if you want to take religion out of the public square, look at Boston, look at all the snow and say, 'What a great reason. Now we can take these religious holidays out of our school system.' It's using the crisis to the liberal benefit."
Apparently, in Duffy's mind, part of the liberal agenda is scrapping religious holidays for children. Progressives in Massachusetts have been waiting for such an opportunity, the Wisconsin congressman apparently believes, and those rascals are now exploiting record snow fall to achieve their ends.
As a lifelong liberal, I didn't realize that this was important to me, and I'm a little disappointed no one told me. Sean Duffy obviously has his finger on the pulse of the American left in ways I didn't appreciate until now.
Fox hosts proceeded to tell viewers that school officials could have scrapped New Year's Eve as an official holiday or possibly added Saturday school days, but they didn't, the panelists argued, because officials "would rather take away the religious holidays."
It's evidently all part of the conspiracy first outlined by the three-term congressman from Wisconsin.
More than 16 million people who did not have health insurance before have gained it through the 2010 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, the federal government said Monday.
More than 14 million adults have health insurance either from the new exchanges or through expanded access to Medicaid, the Health and Human Services Department said.
Another 2 million young adults aged under 26 got health insurance because of a provision that allows their parents to keep them on their health insurance plans, HHS said.
If there were any consequences whatsoever for political leaders who make false claims, or if there was any expectation that rhetoric about health care should reflect reality in some way, Republicans might be in real trouble right now.
The full HHS report is available online here (pdf).
All told, as Sarah Kliff noted, this rapid improvement in expanding access has pushed the nation's uninsured rate from 20.3% to 13.2%, which represents "a 35-percent decline in the number of Americans who lack insurance coverage."
"Nothing since the implementation of Medicare and Medicaid has come close to this kind of change," Richard Frank, assistant secretary for evaluation and planning at Health and Human Services, said.
That history matters. By any sane measure, the Affordable Care Act is clearly working, but let's also not forget the scope of the law's success -- we're now talking about the Democratic health-care reform initiative having a greater impact than any American law in a generation.
For politicians like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), fear is an important motivating tool. Listen to the far-right Texan deliver a typical stump speech and you'll hear quite a few dire assessments from Cruz about nearly everything.
But as a rule, when politicians address small children, they dial it down a notch. It made a Cruz event in New Hampshire the other day that much more noteworthy.
[Cruz said,] "The Obama economy is a disaster. Obamacare is a train wreck. And the Obama-Clinton foreign policy of leading from behind -- the whole world's on fire!"
Julie Trant, a child in the audience, took this literally. "The world's on fire?" she asked.
"The world is on fire, yes," said Cruz, not missing a beat as the crowd chuckled. "Your world is on fire."
Let's note that the child in this story is just three years old. During the event, she was sitting on her mother's lap.
Cruz quickly added, however, "But you know what? Your mommy's here, and everyone's here to make sure that the world you grow up in is even better."
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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