President Obama nominated Dr. Vivek Murthy to serve as the nation's Surgeon General several months ago, and the confirmation process has gone fairly smoothly. Perhaps the most interesting thing to happen to Murthy's nomination thus far was Sen. Pat Roberts' (R) racially tone-deaf comments about Indian-American doctors he knows in Kansas.
But Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) hopes to create a controversy where none currently exists.
It's worth noting that Murthy is an impressive medical professional with sterling credentials. He's an attending physician, an instructor, and a public-health advocate. When Obama nominated him for the post, no one questioned his qualifications.
Four months after the nomination, however, the junior senator from Kentucky has decided to do what he can to block Murthy from being confirmed.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul placed a procedural hurdle in front of Dr. Vivek Murthy's confirmation as surgeon general Wednesday morning, citing his political activity for the Obama administration. But a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said it would not cause a meaningful delay in Murthy's confirmation vote, which has not yet been scheduled.
"I have serious concerns about Dr. Murthy's ability to impartially serve as 'the Nation's Doctor,'" Paul, a Republican, wrote in a letter to Reid. "The majority of Dr. Murthy's non-clinical experience is in political advocacy."
The entirety of Paul's letter is online here. It argues, among other things, "Dr. Murthy has disqualified himself from being Surgeon General because of his intent to use that position to launch an attack on Americans' right to own a firearm under the guise of a public health and safety campaign."
In a nutshell, the Kentucky Republican seems to think Murthy should be rejected because he (a) supports President Obama; (b) is a physician concerned about gun violence; and (c) backs the Affordable Care Act.
Opponents of marriage equality have been on a losing streak that's nothing short of brutal. A federal court struck down Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage two weeks ago, which came on the heels of similar rulings in Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Utah.
But today, the trend reached the largest of the nation's ruby-red states.
A federal judge in San Antonio ruled Wednesday that Texas' ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutionally deprives some citizens of due process and equal protection under the law by stigmatizing their relationships and treating them differently from opposite-sex couples.
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia cited recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings as having trumped Texas' moves to ban gay marriage.
The entirety of the ruling is online here. Garcia, a 20-year veteran of the federal bench, was first nominated by President Clinton.
"Today's court decision is not made in defiance of the great people of Texas or the Texas Legislature, but in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court precedent," the judge wrote. "Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our U.S. Constitution."
Does this mean marriage equality has come to Texas? Not quite yet.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) has a problem: rural hospitals keep closing, overwhelmed by financial troubles they can't solve on their own. The obvious solution -- accepting Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act -- is the one thing Deal refuses to even consider.
There is no great mystery here as to why the rural hospitals can't keep their doors open. These facilities have routinely covered low-income Georgians who don't have insurance, leading to facilities that can't pay their bills. Medicaid expansion would "help rural hospitals by turning many of their uninsured patients into paying patients," but the governor and GOP state policymakers won't budge.
Gov. Nathan Deal has often called on Congress to reconsider the Affordable Care Act. But on Monday evening, he pushed his former Washington colleagues to revisit a separate health care law that fewer politicians openly critique.
The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act is a 1986 law that requires hospitals to provide emergency health care treatment to anyone who needs it, regardless of citizenship or their ability to pay. It's provided life-saving care to countless people, but it's also strained hospital resources and turned emergency rooms into the first stop, instead of a last resort, for some.
"If they really want to get serious about lowering the cost of health care in this country, [federal policymakers] would revisit another federal statute that has been there for a long time," Deal told a crowd of dozens at a University of Georgia political science alumni gathering.
Let this one roll around in your mind for a moment.
Uninsured Georgians in rural parts of the state have shown up for medical care at emergency rooms that can't turn them away. The hospitals provide care, as required by law, but the financial strain ultimately proves to be too great a burden for some facilities.
Deal's solution isn't to extend coverage to struggling families, thereby creating paying health care consumers for the hospitals; Deal's solution is to make it easier for the hospitals to deny care to the struggling families.
House Republican leaders have made no secret of the fact that, for all intents and purposes, Congress is done legislating for the year. If it seems awfully early in the calendar for lawmakers to simply give up on governing, that's because it is.
But as Congress' lower chamber stops thinking about legislating and starts focusing solely on elections, real priorities are replaced with political stunts.
A House committee is planning a showdown next week with a former Internal Revenue Service official who declined to answer questions last year about agency targeting of tea-party groups.
The former official, Lois Lerner, appeared at a contentious hearing House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last May, soon after news broke that the IRS had targeted grassroots conservative groups for special scrutiny as they sought tax-exempt status.
As we've discussed on more than a few occasions, there's just no point to any of this -- unless your goal is to produce a few fundraising letters and keep confused activists motivated for the fall.
Congress has looked into the allegations and found nothing. The FBI has looked into the allegations and found nothing. Investigative journalists have looked into the allegations and found nothing. The story was discredited months ago.
But all of this raises a related question: exactly how much money are congressional Republicans spending investigating a "scandal" that doesn't exist?
Joan McCarter joked yesterday, "The Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity should be renamed Americans for Full Employment of Fact Checkers."
That would certainly make sense given recent developments. Just a week after the latest AFP attack ad featured an "Obamacare victim" who's paying less for better insurance that covers her preferred doctor, the group is back with yet another ad on the Affordable Care Act, this one in support of Rep. Justin Amash's (R) re-election campaign in Michigan.
The spot features an older man at a town-hall meeting telling Amash, "This Affordable Care Act, I am going to have bureaucrats telling me what kind of services I am going to qualify for. To be honest with you, I'm scared to death."
Glenn Kessler, to his credit, found several problems with this. First, AFP edited the quote in a misleading way. Second, the man in the video is on Medicare, so his concerns about the Affordable Care Act aren't well grounded. And third, in context, the man was expressing concern about Medicare cost-savings, but they won't hurt beneficiaries and Republicans support the "cuts."
In other words, the latest AFP ad is struggling under scrutiny, as has happened with plenty of previous AFP ads on health care.
But for much of the right, this scrutiny is itself offensive -- the latest conservative argument is that we're simply not supposed to fact-check these ads at all.
Kentucky's U.S. Senate race is proving to be one of the more fascinating of the 2014 cycle, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a powerful-but-unpopular incumbent, facing a contentious primary and an even stronger general-election foe: Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a young Democrat looking quite strong in a "red" state.
Because Democrats consider the race a top national priority, the party is prepared to provide as much support as possible to Lundergan Grimes. But because it's Kentucky -- a state Mitt Romney won by 23 points -- don't expect President Obama to make any appearances in the Blue Grass State. As we saw yesterday, however, Lundergan Grimes will gladly stand alongside former President Bill Clinton.
The former president's presence on the stage also underscored a larger truth of the 2014 midterm campaign: Mr. Clinton is embraced in states, mainly in the South and the West, where Mr. Obama is all but unwelcome.
So the party is again turning to Mr. Clinton to help Democrats in seven of the most competitive Senate races, all of which are in states Mr. Obama lost in 2012. "He's probably the most popular national Democrat alive," Gov. Steve Beshear of Kentucky, a fellow Democrat, said of the former president.
Democratic strategists, and some candidates, are nearly giddy in discussing Mr. Clinton's approval ratings in private polling but are far more sober when asked about Mr. Obama. "I'm a Clinton Democrat through and through," said Ms. Grimes, Kentucky's secretary of state, in an interview, suggesting that it was highly unlikely she would invite Mr. Obama to Kentucky.
Clinton knows how it feels to be on the side of this political dynamic. It may seem hard to believe now, given the former president's broad popularity, but there were quite a few Democrats during his White House tenure who didn't want to campaign alongside Clinton. In one especially ugly instance, then-Sen. Jesse Helms (R) suggested in 1994, "Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here [to North Carolina]. He better have a bodyguard."
That was 20 years ago. Today, Clinton's standing is arguably without rival. And for Democrats, this creates a pretty powerful bench when it comes to campaigning -- where Obama is popular, the president will be welcome to rally the Democratic troops and raise lots of money, and where Obama is unpopular, Clinton can fill the gap quite nicely.
It's the kind of bench Republicans can only dream of.
In advance of the 2012 elections, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) launched an aggressive campaign against early voting, most notably targeting Sunday voting, for reasons he struggled to explain. The efforts ultimately failed, however, when federal appeals courts intervened to protect Ohioans voting rights against Husted's policy.
Zachary Roth has been keeping a close eye on developments in the Buckeye State, where Husted is apparently picking up where he left off two years ago.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Tuesday he is cutting early voting on Sundays and weekday evenings, dealing another blow to the voting rights effort in the nation's most pivotal swing state.
Husted's change would spell doom for a voting method that's popular among African-Americans in Ohio and elsewhere. Many churches and community groups lead "Souls to the Polls" drives after church on the Sunday before the election.
There's little doubt that cuts to early voting target blacks disproportionately. In 2008, black voters were 56% of all weekend voters in Cuyahoga County, Ohio's largest, even though they made up just 28% of the county's population.
Mike Brickner, a spokesperson for the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union, told msnbc, "By completely eliminating Sundays from the early voting schedule, Secretary Husted has effectively quashed successful Souls to the Polls programs that brought voters directly from church to early voting sites."
In the larger context, it's worth keeping two angles in mind. First, there's simply no reason to impose these new voting restrictions on Ohio. Second, this is only part of an even broader campaign against voting rights launched by Republican officials in the state.
When congressional Republicans talk about health care policy in any depth, it's quite common for them to struggle. GOP policymakers tend to find it easy to blast "Obamacare" with poll-tested soundbites, but when it comes to real substance, the party's record in recent years can charitably be described as woeful.
And at a certain level, it's tempting to be forgiving. After all, this is an exceedingly complicated issue. There's a reason we've come to celebrate the media health care wonks who help bring clarity to our health care questions -- they understand what many find mystifying.
The trouble, though, is that congressional Republicans don't understand what they don't understand. They seem convinced that they're fully aware of the nuances of health care policy, but their confidence is sorely misplaced, based more on confidence than knowledge.
Take Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.), for example, who came up with the "Save American Workers Act," which has 208 co-sponsors and is set for a House vote next week. The bill seeks to "fix" the Affordable Care Act by changing the definition of a full-time work week from 30 hours to 40 hours.
But when it comes to a complex health care system, a policy change in one area often has unexpected consequences in another area.
An analysis of the bill, released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation, found that it would cause 1 million people to lose their employer-based insurance coverage. The report projected that more than 500,000 of them would end up getting coverage through Medicaid, the Children's Health Care Program or the Obamacare exchanges. The rest, CBO and JCT said, would become uninsured.
The legislation would also lower the amount the federal government collects in penalties from businesses who don't abide by the employer mandate. As a result, the report found, the deficit would go up by $74 billion over 10 years.