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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie steps from the voting booth after voting on Nov. 4, 2014, in Mendham Township, N.J.

Remember Christie's controversial Ebola policy?

11/19/14 04:09PM

About three weeks ago, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) unveiled a new policy, one whole day in the making, imposing a mandatory, 21-day quarantine on those who may have been in contact with Ebola patients in West Africa. It was this policy of course, that put nurse Kaci Hickox in a tent for a few days.
 
At the time, Christie seemed quite impressed with himself. Two days after the imposition of the policy, the governor boasted that he had "absolutely ... no second thoughts" about it. Christie was not only certain that his policy would quickly become the national model, when asked about criticisms from CDC specialists, the governor proclaimed, "[T]hey don't want to admit that we're right and they're wrong."
 
After Christie finally let Hickox leave, the governor added, "Our policy hasn't changed and our policy will not change."
 
With all of this in mind, Josh Marshall asks a good question: "Did Chris Christie quietly dump his crackpot Ebola quarantine policy when no one was looking?"
We hadn't seen any public reports about new health care workers being forced into quarantines. So we checked in with the state of New Jersey. A spokesperson for the state Health Department told [TPM] that 71 people are currently under active monitoring in the state -- which means they're asked to check their temperature twice a day and report it to the local health department. During the 21 day self-monitoring period they are free to work and go about their business like anyone else.
 
In other words, aside from taking your temperature that's the same situation the doctor in New York had before he started showing symptoms. And it was his case that led to the new policy.
It's important to note that there are some missing pieces to this puzzle, and it's tough to say for certain whether the Christie policy -- the one he was so eager to brag about, the one he used to present himself as a national leader -- was quietly cast aside.
 
But there seems to be a story here.
A man runs through a closed National Mall in Washington, DC, Oct 3, 2013.

GOP sees a shutdown as a consequence-free gambit

11/19/14 12:07PM

Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) was asked yesterday about the prospect of Republicans shutting down the government again. "If he's not willing to work with us, then we don't have any other choice," Duncan told Nashville Public Radio.
 
Yes, for some in Congress, a shutdown isn't just a good idea, it's practically mandatory.
 
As GOP lawmakers and activists continue to bat the idea around, the fault lines are becoming clearer. Republican leaders want to avoid a shutdown, fearing a public backlash, while many rank-and-file members remind one another that the backlash never seems to come. Dave Weigel reported today:
[I]n the received, popular GOP history of the last Congress, the shutdown really did not end badly for the Republicans. They won, didn't they?
 
"Let's think about all the hyperbole, the hyperbolic statements coming from everybody, particularly the talking heads on television," said Arizona Representative David Schweikert, a member of the Tea Party class of 2010. "This was supposed to be the end of the Republican Party. The public would never understand what the fight was all about. Turns out the public was a lot smarter than a lot in the political class and media class gave them credit for. They were able to discern that it was an honorable fight over many of the things that were rolling out in the new health care law."
Well, that's certainly one way to look at it. The other way is that a year passed and voters largely forgot about the GOP's shutdown by the time Election Day 2014 rolled around.
 
But the notion of a consequence-free shutdown is nevertheless taking hold within the party.
 
"This is the second shut down where the GOP got blamed and saw no catastrophe at the ballot box," Erick Erickson argued this week. "Every horror story every talking head within the GOP Establishment trotted out to scare congressmen and senators into caving turned out to be crap."
 
Maybe so. But Republicans appear to be asking themselves one specific question -- "Will this hurt the party?" -- when there are other questions equally deserving of answers.
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'I just don't see the argument for unconstitutionality'

11/19/14 11:02AM

The Federalist Society is arguably the nation's premier legal group for conservative attorneys and jurists. If you're looking for a room full of powerful Republican lawyers eager to take on President Obama in the courts, you'd be wise to start at a Federalist Society gathering.
 
And with that in mind, it was all the more interesting to see Sam Stein's latest report from the annual Federalist Society national convention -- "one of the highest-profile conservative legal events of the year" -- featuring appearances from two sitting U.S. Supreme Court justices. Stein attended a panel discussion where there was broad agreement about the legality of the administration's plans.
[B]y and large, the panelists agreed the president has wide legal latitude to prioritize and shape deportation laws, as regrettable for Republicans or the long-term balance of powers that may be.
 
"I think the roots of prosecutorial discretion are extremely deep," said Christopher Schroeder, the Charles S. Murphy Professor of Law and Public Policy Studies at Duke Law School. "The practice is long and robust. The case law is robust. Let me put it this way: Suppose some president came to me and asked me in the office of legal counsel, 'Is it okay for me to go ahead an defer the deportation proceedings of childhood arrival?' Under the present state of the law, I think that would be an easy opinion to write. Yes."
Schroeder added, "I don't know where in the Constitution there is a rule that if the president's enactment affects too many people, he's violating the Constitution.... If the Congress has enacted a statute that grants discretionary authority for the administrative agency or the president to fill in the gaps, to write the regulations that actually make the statute operative, those regulations to all intents and purposes make the law."
 
He went on to say, "I agree this can make us very uncomfortable. I just don't see the argument for unconstitutionality at this juncture."
 
Other conservative legal scholars offered very similar assessments at the event -- and there was no pushback from other attendees.
 
And for Republicans in Congress, this raises a concern for which there is no obvious solution.

Indiana's Pence hopes to 'ennoble' hungry workers

11/19/14 10:15AM

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) announced last month that the state would sharply curtail food-stamp availability to struggling families. His latest defense isn't quite persuasive.
 
First, a little background. As Alan Pyke recently explained, federal rules require able-bodied, childless adults, after three months, to either work or attend a job-training program in order to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (also known as food stamps). But during economic downturns and times of high unemployment, Washington will give states waivers, allowing struggling workers to receive food aid for more than three months.
 
As far as the Department of Agriculture is concerned, the economy is not yet strong, so states can continue to extend SNAP benefits beyond the three-month cap. But Pence doesn't want to -- the Republican governor thinks the economy is plenty strong to reapply the pre-crisis limits. It means tens of thousands of Hoosiers will lose their benefits.
 
Pence appeared on Fox News yesterday and explained his thinking on the issue.
"I'm someone that believes there's nothing more ennobling to a person than a job," Pence insisted. "And to make sure that able-bodied adults without dependents at home know that here in the state of Indiana, we want to partner with them in their success."
 
"You know, it's the old story," he continued. "Give someone a fish, and they'll eat for a day. Teach them to fish, they'll eat for a lifetime."
So, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is blocking health care benefits for low-income families in order to help them "live the American dream" and Gov. Pence is curtailing food aid in order "ennoble" people.
 
How very gracious of them.
People show their support during a rally for comprehensive immigration reform on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C., April 10, 2013.

Republicans, 'amnesty,' and the point at which words lose meaning

11/19/14 09:31AM

Just a few months into the Obama presidency, the New York Times ran a report on Republicans reaching for new rungs on the rhetorical ladder. The old insults had gotten stale and lost their efficacy, so conservatives searched for more searing language.
 
Saul Anuzis, a former head of the Michigan Republican Party who ran for the RNC chairmanship, decided it was time for his party to throw around the word "fascism" to add weight to their condemnations. "We've so overused the word 'socialism' that it no longer has the negative connotation it had 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago," Anuzis said. "Fascism -- everybody still thinks that's a bad thing."
 
In context, it was clear that Republicans who accused Obama of "fascism" didn't know what "fascism" means, and they didn't much care. The definition of the word was meaningless -- all that mattered, Republicans said in 2009, was "finding something that raises the consciousness of the average voter." If that meant changing the meaning of words, so be it.
 
More than five years later, in the immigration debate, Republicans are committed to the "amnesty" talking point, since they assume it sounds bad. But when Betsy Woodruff asked GOP lawmakers what the word means, many of them had no idea.
Some of the top legislators who frequently use the term can't actually explain what amnesty is. I spent the past few days asking Republican senators what they meant when they referred to amnesty in terms of immigration policy. The answers I got were intriguing. That's because while Republican congressional leaders are always eager to discuss their opposition to this vague, amorphous concept, many of them are downright befuddled when asked to explain what that concept looks like in real life. Their responses ranged from straightforward to nonsensical.
 
When I asked Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, what specific immigration policies he was referring to when he used the term amnesty, he said, "I don't understand the question."
Woodruff's report is hilarious, in a depressing sort of way, and it's well worth your time. My personal favorite was Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) who said amnesty "would be a pathway to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants. Told that meant, by definition, Obama's plan wouldn't constitute "amnesty," the Arkansas Republican replied, "That might require whatever."
 
Well said, senator.
 
I don't mean to sound picky, but the basic argument here is simple.
The National Security Agency (NSA) logo is shown on a computer screen inside the Threat Operations Center at the NSA in Fort Meade, Maryland, January 25, 2006. U.S. President George W. Bush visited the ultra-secret National Security Agency on Wednesday...

Senate rejects bipartisan NSA reform bill

11/19/14 08:36AM

The Republican-led House took at least modest steps towards reforming the NSA's surveillance powers in June, approving a measure fairly easily that would prohibit the search of government databases for information on U.S. citizens without a warrant. It wasn't a sweeping overhaul, but it was the first time in recent years that either chamber tried to limit the government's controversial spying powers.
 
The vote raised hopes that more meaningful NSA reforms might still be possible before the end of the Congress. Those hopes were dashed last night when a filibuster derailed legislation that would have made broad reforms to the National Security Agency. Nick Ramsey reported overnight:
The bill would have ended the mass collection of phone records by the secretive government organization, instead keeping much of that information in the hands of telephone companies. It also included reforms to the regulatory body that oversees NSA activity, known as the FISA court.
 
The legislation, which was introduced in July, was sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy. The Vermont Democrat was joined by a bipartisan group of cosponsors which included some of the Senate's most conservative Republicans like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, as well as some of the chamber's most liberal Democrats, including Ed Markey and Cory Booker.
The bipartisan group of proponents apparently did little to shape the final outcome. The Senate tally was 58 to 42, two short of the votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Of the 42 opponents, 41 were Republicans -- including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a frequent NSA critic, who claimed the bill didn't go far enough.
 
The Leahy bill will fare no better in the new year -- incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voiced strong opposition to NSA reforms during yesterday's debate -- but provisions of the Patriot Act will need reauthorization in 2015, so NSA critics will have another opportunity to at least try to advance the debate in the new Congress.

House GOP struggles with diversity

11/19/14 08:00AM

If you missed Rachel's segment last night, it appears House Republicans have again embraced homogeneity with great enthusiasm
House Republicans have selected white men to chair all but one of their standing committees next year.
 
The secretive Republican Steering Committee announced its recommendations late Tuesday after an all-day meeting to pick the heads of 17 committees, with all of those slots going to white men. Rep. Candice Miller, who was previously reappointed by Speaker John Boehner to lead the House Administration Committee, will remain the only woman to wield a gavel.
As Rachel explained last night, "This is your Republican Party in Washington in all its glory. It should be noted, this is the cross-section of America they're offering to the American people now that they've taken power."
 
Of course, these are just the committee chairs. The House Republican leadership has also taken shape and it will feature three white men and one white woman. In the Senate, the incoming Republican majority has not yet announced its committee chairs, but the GOP leadership team in the upper chamber will be compromised entirely of five white men.
 
Diversity in the ranks has been a problem for a while, though Republican officials evidently do not yet have a solution.

Race and arrests and other headlines

11/19/14 07:41AM

Racial gap in U.S. arrest rates: 'Staggering disparity.' (USA Today)

Senate Republicans use lame duck to block their own judicial nominees. (Huffington Post)

Texas ID law keeps hundreds of ballots from being counted. (NY Times)

Missouri executes 9th inmate this year. (AP)

2nd French militant in ISIS beheading video identified. (AP)

College basketball team rescued after being stranded in snowstorm for more than a day. (NBC News)

Philae lander detects organic molecules on surface of comet. (The Guardian)

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A tale of two emergencies, real and imagined

A tale of two emergencies, real and imagined

11/18/14 09:39PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the deadly snow storm that had dumped feet of snow on upstate New York in a matter of hours and contrasts that emergency with the Missouri governor's pre-emptive panic over the potential for violence in St. Louis. watch

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