* Yemen: "United States commandos stormed a village in southern Yemen early Saturday in an effort to free an American photojournalist held hostage by Al Qaeda, but the raid ended in tragedy, with the kidnappers killing the American and a South African held with him, United States officials said."
* Potential trouble: "The release of the 'cromnibus' has been delayed as lawmakers across the Capitol continue to work out a number of issues on the spending bill."
* Iraq: "Allied warplanes and Iraqi ground troops are increasingly isolating Islamic State militants in the captured city of Mosul, prompting Iraqi officials to push for a winter offensive to wrest control of the area months ahead of the previous schedule -- and over American warnings."
* Tomorrow: "A highly anticipated Senate Intelligence Committee report expected to condemn the CIA for using torture following the 9/11 terrorist attacks is set to be released Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed."
* Profiling: "The Justice Department on Monday announced revisions to rules for racial profiling by federal law enforcement amid lingering protests across the nation in response to grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers for the killings of unarmed black men."
* A job well done: "With the Ebola crisis seemingly in hand, Ron Klain, the veteran political operative the White House plucked from a venture capital gig to coordinate the government's response, is planning a late-winter return to the private sector."
* In related news, the emergency room physician in Dallas who missed the first domestic Ebola case is discussing the incident for the first time. "I was unaware of a 103-degree fever," Dr. Joseph Howard Meier explained. "It appears in the chart, but I did not see it."
Last week, before the new job numbers came out, Catherine Rampell made a very good point: "Unhappy with the economic recovery in the United States? Could be worse. Specifically, we could be literally any other country in the world that also just went through a major financial crisis."
Right. In the public discourse, there's often a temptation to compare the current economic recovery to other recoveries that followed modern downturns. There's one glaring problem with this: the global crash in 2008 was the worst crisis the world has seen since the Great Depression. Comparing it to more routine, cyclical downturns is like comparing a twisted ankle to getting hit by a bus -- they both hurt, but the scope and scale of the damage is qualitatively different.
It's smarter, then, to compare our economic recovery against other countries who dealt with similar circumstances. And on this front, as President Obama was eager to remind Americans in his weekly address, we're the envy of the world:
"America, we still have a lot of work to do together. But we do have real, tangible evidence of our progress. 10.9 million new jobs. 10 million more Americans with health insurance. Manufacturing has grown. Our deficits have shrunk. Our dependence on foreign oil is down. Clean energy is up. More young Americans are graduating from high school and earning college degrees than ever before. Over the last four years, this country has put more people back to work than Europe, Japan, and every advanced economy combined."
That last point is no small detail. In the aftermath of the crash, advanced economies around the globe rushed to respond, with many adopting competing solutions. Many chose the kind of austerity measures Republicans hoped to impose on Americans.
Fortunately for those who want to see the U.S. succeed, Republicans weren't in a position of power in 2009.
As a result, as Rachel noted on the show on Friday, American growth is "outperforming other economies." Indeed, one of the more striking aspects of the recent upswing in the domestic economy is that "the U.S. remains a standout as the rest of the world struggles."
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is not yet the Senate Majority Leader, but he's begun making plans for the new Congress. He told Roll Callsomething interesting:
"Number one: We certainly will have a vote on proceeding to a bill to repeal Obamacare.... It was a very large issue in the campaign," McConnell said, reaffirming a commitment to see what can be done against it, also discussing plans to roll back parts of the health care law that have proved to be particularly unpopular.
This may seem like throwaway rhetoric, but it struck me as fairly important, if for no other reason than it tells us quite a bit about McConnell's thinking.
For example, the Republican leaders repealing the Affordable Care Act "was a very large issue in the campaign." For those of us who actually followed the 2014 elections, this is demonstrably, quantifiably ridiculous -- Republicans moved away from repeal talk in the spring, and then again in the fall.
We know why, too: repeal isn't popular. In fact, there's far less support for repeal than the Affordable Care Act itself, and the ACA isn't winning any popularity contests. Once the GOP realized this was an electoral loser, the party moved on -- making McConnell's remarks rather bizarre.
There's also the substantive question, of course, of why any lawmaker would want to repeal a law that's succeeding so well.
But just below the surface, there's another angle that's bugging me: isn't this "poisoning the well"?
When President Obama nominated Dr. Vivek Murthy to serve as the nation's next Surgeon General, he seemed like a pretty safe bet for confirmation. In fact, his confirmation hearings were so uncontroversial, they were practically dull -- except for Sen. Pat Roberts' (R) unfortunate comments about an Indian-American doctor he knows in Kansas.
As we've discussed before, Murthy is an impressive medical professional with sterling credentials. He's an attending physician, an instructor, and a public-health advocate, so when Obama nominated him for the post, no one questioned his qualifications. But Murthy, like so many in his field, also sees a connection between gun violence and public health, which meant Republicans and the NRA decided to destroy his nomination.
Senate Democrats could have confirmed him anyway, but red-state Dems got election-year jitters, which left the Surgeon General's office empty, even during the Ebola public-health scare.
But the fight isn't over just yet. Sabrina Siddiqui reported the other day that several key Senate Democrats have shifted their posture, giving Murthy and his allies new hope for confirmation.
Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told The Huffington Post on Tuesday that they would be willing to vote in Murthy's favor if Reid brings the nomination to the floor. Pryor, who lost his seat last month to GOP Rep. Tom Cotton, was thought to be one of several Democratic holdouts on Murthy's nomination.
Tester's support is also key, given his influence among red state Democrats who are more likely to remain on the fence about Murthy. The Montana Democrat, who was recently chosen to run his party's campaign arm in the 2016 election cycle, said he was impressed after meeting with Murthy in his Capitol Hill office.... Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats, have also been publicly supportive of Murthy and are regarded as influential among party moderates.
Back in March, "as many as 10" Senate Democrats were reluctant to vote on Murthy's nomination. We can't say with certainty which 10 -- they were never formally identified -- but if most of them have changed their minds now that the election season has ended, we may yet have a Surgeon General after all.
His allies are clearly trying to ratchet up the pressure.
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:
* As if Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D) loss wasn't bad enough for Louisiana Democrats, Republicans also won two congressional runoff races in the Pelican State over the weekend.
* It was generally assumed that Democrats were putting some money behind Greg Orman's independent Senate campaign in Kansas this year, but now it's confirmed -- the Senate Majority PAC directed at least $1.5 million to groups backing Orman. It didn't end up mattering; Orman still lost by double digits.
* Right-wing activist David Bozell, who leads a group called ForAmerica, claims to have a "digital army" on Facebook that will punish any Republican presidential candidate who strays from party orthodoxy.
* American Bridge this morning released a 2016 "Scouting Report" on all of the Republicans eyeing the presidential race. The lengthy document covers 20 possible candidates and spans nearly 200 pages.
* 2014 obviously didn't go the way Dems hoped, by new DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan doesn't see the need for a wholesale overhaul. Noting that the DCCC kept House Democratic losses to only 13 seats, the New Mexico Democrat said, "As we're moving into all of this, that's something to build off of."
For family advocates hoping to see Medicaid expansion reach more struggling Americans, the 2014 midterms were heartbreaking. In states like Maine, Georgia, Florida, Wisconsin, and Kansas, voters elected Republicans who will guarantee a longer Medicaid gap for at least another four years.
But against this discouraging backdrop, there are signs of gradual progress. In September, Pennsylvania became the 27th state to accept Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act, and as Reid Wilson reported the other day, the list is still growing.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) was once among the handful of state executives to sue the federal government over the Affordable Care Act. Now, he says he wants his state to expand Medicaid under the ACA to cover thousands of low-income residents.
In a Monday press conference, Mead said he would press the state legislature to act on a Medicaid expansion plan put forward last week by the state Department of Health.
"I agree it is not a good piece of legislation, but, as I see where we are, I think we have to be realistic and say this is the current law of the land and we need to either go forward with this or if the legislature wants to come up with a different plan, I certainly would be open to that," Mead said last week. "But I don't think we can say to those people in Wyoming who are working who cannot get insurance that we're not going to do anything."
Mead almost certainly didn't mean it as a sharp rebuke to those Republican governors who continue to support doing nothing, but the comments nevertheless make many of his far-right brethren look a little worse.
It's worth emphasizing that this is not a done deal in Wyoming. State officials have been negotiating with the Obama administration on the details of a Wyoming-specific alternative that Republicans can live with, and the GOP-dominated legislature may yet balk at the plan that would extend coverage to 17,600 low-income Wyoming residents, while boosting state finances and state hospitals.
But there's clearly movement in that direction -- and not just in Wyoming.
Americans have probably grown accustomed to thinking about corporate-political alliances in Washington, D.C., with images of well-paid lobbyists working with allied lawmakers to try to, for example, curtail environmental safeguards.
And while those efforts are real and important, to appreciate the more shocking dynamic, one must look outside the D.C. Beltway and focus instead on state officials.
In late October, just a few days before the midterm elections, the New York Timespublished a lengthy report by Eric Lipton on corporate lobbyists solidifying ties with state attorneys general. It painted an ugly picture -- Republican AGs, elected with financial support from lobbyists, appear to have allowed corporate pressure to influence state investigations.
Over the weekend, Lipton published an even more brutal follow-up, documenting the "unprecedented, secretive alliance " between energy firms, their lobbyists, and Republican state attorneys general that's been cultivated in recent years. The lede highlights a dejecting anecdote:
The letter to the Environmental Protection Agency from Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma carried a blunt accusation: Federal regulators were grossly overestimating the amount of air pollution caused by energy companies drilling new natural gas wells in his state.
But Mr. Pruitt left out one critical point. The three-page letter was written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma's biggest oil and gas companies, and was delivered to him by Devon's chief of lobbying.
"Outstanding!" William F. Whitsitt, who at the time directed government relations at the company, said in a note to Mr. Pruitt's office. The attorney general's staff had taken Devon's draft, copied it onto state government stationery with only a few word changes, and sent it to Washington with the attorney general's signature. "The timing of the letter is great, given our meeting this Friday with both E.P.A. and the White House."
Mr. Whitsitt then added, "Please pass along Devon's thanks to Attorney General Pruitt."
The piece paints Oklahoma's Pruitt as perhaps the most brazen example, effectively creating a partnership between his office and energy firms, but the larger problem is more widespread.
In 2014, fundraising for Republican state attorneys general candidates reached levels unseen in American history, with donors investing at least $16 million in GOP candidate this year, roughly quadruple the amount donated to Democratic state attorneys general candidates.
The result was predictable: voters have now elected 27 Republican state AGs -- the most in American history.
And now, largely without the public's knowledge, "corporate representatives and attorneys general are coordinating legal strategy and other efforts to fight federal regulations," getting a terrific return on their election investments.
In 2010, Republican candidates didn't invest too much energy in talking about culture-war issues. The public was broadly unsatisfied with the pace of the economic recovery; Democratic voters felt listless despite breakthrough progressive accomplishments; and Republicans spent much of the election year asking, "Where are the jobs?"
Fast forward a couple of years, and Republican candidates didn't talk too much about hot-button social issues in 2014, either. Indeed, the party seemed well aware of the fact that the right's culture war was out of step with the American mainstream, so the GOP did its best to avoid the subject, at times even pretending to be pro-choice and pretending to love birth control, just to improve their electoral chances.
[F]or the first time since the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was passed in 2003, outlawing a late-term procedure, the antiabortion movement sees opportunity on Capitol Hill as the GOP prepares to take charge of the U.S. Senate.
At the top of the agenda: legislation that would ban abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy or later, pushing the legal boundaries set by the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. Activists on both sides of the debate are gearing up for a fight that will demonstrate the consequences of Republican gains in the 2014 election.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told the Wall Street Journal last week, "There's no reason our constituents should be kept from having their voices heard on the issue in the Senate, as well. I look forward to having the Senate consider similar legislation in the next Congress."
In state capitols, meanwhile, Politicoreports that a "wave of anti-abortion laws" is on the way. "Activists say they'll push on several fronts," the piece noted, "seeking more restrictions in states that have already enacted laws, as well as initiating legislation in states where the GOP has now gained ground."
President Obama has been awfully busy of late, tackling a variety of measures since the midterm elections seemingly delivered a major setback to his governing agenda. But as the latest releases from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay make clear, Obama's not done yet.
As of two weeks ago, the administration had cleared 13 prisoners for transfer this calendar year, including seven since early November. Over the weekend, the pace quickened once more.
The United States transferred six detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison to Uruguay this weekend, the Defense Department announced early Sunday. It was the largest single group of inmates to depart the wartime prison in Cuba since 2009, and the first to be resettled in South America.
The transfer included a Syrian man who has been on a prolonged hunger strike to protest his indefinite detention without trial, and who has brought a high-profile lawsuit to challenge the military's procedures for force-feeding him.
Guantanamo has been a point of contention between the White House and outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, with the Pentagon chief being slow to approve transfers.
With Hagel stepping down upon confirmation of his successor, the dynamic has obviously changed.
There are now 136 detainees remaining, 67 of whom have been cleared for transfer. If those releases move forward, and security conditions are met, that would leave just 69 men at the prison. As the New York Times report added, those 69 "are either facing charges before a military commission or deemed unable to be tried but too dangerous to release."
Of course, for the White House, which has spent several years trying to close the facility, only to be blocked by Congress, the gradual reduction in the number of detainees inches towards the broader goal: the smaller the prison population, the less inclined lawmakers may be to invest in its continued existence.
Just one day after we learned that a New York grand jury would not indict the police officer responsible for Eric Garner's death, Sen. Rand Paul talked to msnbc's Chris Matthews about the developments. As far as the Kentucky Republican was concerned, Americans should "blame the politicians" who raised cigarette taxes.
Soon after, Jon Stewart, highlighting Paul's comments, replied, "What the f*** are you talking about?" It was a normal, human reaction to the senator's explanation, but apparently, the GOP lawmaker was talking about the increasingly common explanation on the right for Garner's killing. Here was Rush Limbaugh on Fox News' Sunday show yesterday:
"This all misses the point. What was Eric Garner doing? He was selling cigarettes, loose cigarettes. And the police in New York, because they're so eager for tax collection -- what is being done here with regard to taxes and the state's desire to collect them no matter what, how many cops were descended on that situation for cigarettes? [...]
"You've got $13 a carton, $13 a pack in New York City, over $6 of that is taxes. And the authorities are telling the cops, 'You go out and you stop that,' because they're so intent on collecting tax revenue. I think the real outrage here is that an American died while the state is enforcing tax collection on cigarettes. This is just absurd. And it, you know, people talk about the left, they want a big state. They want a powerful state. Well, here it is. You've got to take all of it. If you want a powerful state, there's your police force acting on demands of the authorities to go out and make sure that every dime of tax is collected particularly from tobacco. Look how we stigmatize tobacco."
There's some debate about the exact wording Lyndon Baines Johnson used after he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the most common version of the story, LBJ referenced the future of the Democratic Parry and said, "There goes the South for a generation."
Fifty years later, that prediction is holding up quite well. Zach Roth reported over the weekend:
Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy defeated incumbent Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu in the Louisiana Senate runoff election Saturday night, giving the GOP its 54th seat in the upper chamber when Congress reconvenes next year.
The Republican Party now holds every statewide office in the swath of seven states that used to make up the Solid South for Democrats: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas.
That phrase, "Solid South," used to describe Democratic control of the South, which was completely dominant in the generations that followed the Civil War. It now has the exact opposite meaning -- it took a half-century, but the region has completely flipped.
Indeed, as Nate Cohn reported, "In a region stretching from the high plains of Texas to the Atlantic coast of the Carolinas, Republicans control not only every Senate seat, but every governor's mansion and every state legislative body."
Think about that for a moment. In the early 1960s, Democrats controlled every Senate seat in the South, every governor's office, and every state legislative chamber. Now, from the Lone Star State to the Carolinas -- or more specifically, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas -- Democratic control has dropped to literally nothing.
Landrieu's Senate seat has been held by a Democrat every year since 1883, but no longer.