On his Fox News program this week, Sean Hannity asked former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), "Did the teleprompter go down?"
It was, to my mind, the most confrontational question the host has ever asked one of his Republican allies. Indeed, the question itself was loaded with an unstated assumption: Palin's speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit over the weekend was so truly wretched that there had to be some other explanation beyond her own personal incompetence.
As for Palin's response to Hannity's pointed question, according to the transcript, she replied, "No, you know, I don't know. I received a standing ovation throughout, and at the end of the speech, so I don't know."
Well, that ought to clear things up.
Much of the political world has seen Palin struggle badly through public appearances and media interviews since her national debut as a national Republican candidate in 2008, but in the wake of her incoherent rambling in Iowa on Saturday night, something has clearly changed. Even Palin's fellow conservatives seem to realize, at long last, that the right-wing personality is less of a hero and more of a fraud.
Matt Lewis, for example, conceded yesterday that his years of support for Palin were misplaced. He's not alone.
Sarah Palin's odd, rambling speech last weekend before an audience of committed conservative activists in Des Moines has many influential voices on the right saying that the time has come to acknowledge that the romance has gone cold and the marriage is dead.
The Weekly Standard, which has long championed Palin, published a "defense" yesterday, which wasn't entirely supportive -- the article said she "has proven she's not a major intellectual," though it proceeded to blame the media for Palin's many shortcomings.
Those tuning into the first day of Loretta Lynch's confirmation hearings, looking for high drama, were probably disappointed. President Obama's nominee to succeed Eric Holder as the nation's Attorney General not only seemed unflappable, but Republicans didn't seem all that interested in pressing her with tough questions.
On the contrary, GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, seemingly unaware of the point of an A.G. confirmation hearing, spent much of the day "venting" about their disagreements with Holder. As the day progressed, it seemed increasingly obvious that Lynch will receive majority support in the chamber.
That's not to say her confirmation will be unanimous.
Sen. Ted Cruz called attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch's immigration views "dangerous" Wednesday and questioned whether Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., should even have the chamber consider her nomination.
"That is the decision the majority leader is going to have to make. I believe we should use every constitutional tool available to stop the president's unconstitutional executive action. That's what Republicans, Republican candidates all over the country said over and over again last year," the Texas Republican said in a brief interview with CQ Roll Call as the daylong Judiciary Committee hearing on Lynch's nomination neared conclusion.
For the right-wing Texan, the strategy appears to be built around two main points: (1) Cruz opposes Lynch because of her own views, including her belief that President Obama's immigration policy is permissible under the law; and (2) Cruz's belief that if the Senate refused to confirm any nominee for the post, maybe the White House would give in and destroy its own immigration measures.
"For several months now, I've called for us to use every constitutional check and balance we have to rein in the president's illegal action. That includes using the confirmation power given by the Constitution as a direct check on the executive," Cruz added yesterday.
I think it's safe to say this isn't going to work. Indeed, it's probably going to fail spectacularly.
Labor Department reports on initial unemployment claims have been a little discouraging lately, but the data has come with an important caveat: volatility shortly after the holiday season is common. The question was whether the figures would improve once there the holidays were in our rear-view mirror.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment-insurance benefits plunged 43,000 to 265,000 in the week that ended Jan. 24, hitting the lowest tally in 14 years, according to Labor Department data released Thursday. The decline, the biggest since November 2012, was much larger than expected. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims for regular state unemployment-insurance benefits to tick down to 296,000 in the most recent weekly data from 307,000 in the prior week. [...]
The department said there were no special factors in the report but noted that the reference week was shortened by the federal Martin Luther King holiday.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it’s worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it’s best not to read too much significance into any one report.
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it’s considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 17 of the last 20 weeks.
For those unfamiliar with Bryan Fischer, the religious right leader is practically a real-life caricature of an evangelical radical. Fischer, a prominent voice for the American Family Association for many years, makes ugly and ridiculous comments -- about minority faiths, about gays, about Democrats, et al -- on a nearly daily basis.
But going forward, Fischer will no longer make ugly and ridiculous comments in his capacity as a spokesperson for the AFA. Rachel reported on the show last night that the AFA has fired Bryan Fischer from his post:
"Fischer has been their director of issue analysis, the director of issue analysis for the American Family Association forever. He's basically quoted everywhere for years now as the organization's spokesman. [...]
"The president of the American Family Association telling us tonight, that as of today, Bryan Fischer should no longer be described as the director of issue analysis for that group, he should not be quoted as a spokesman for the group. As of today, the American Family Association tells us that Bryan Fischer is, and I quote, 'just a talk show host.'"
When "The Rachel Maddow Show" asked AFA President Don Wildmon what prompted Fischer's ouster, Wildmon specifically referenced Fischer's bizarre assertions connecting Nazis and homosexuality. Fischer, of course, originally made these remarks years ago, and has repeated related comments in the years since, but talking to us last night, Wildmon now says, "We reject that."
The timing of this unexpected shakeup is probably not a coincidence: the American Family Association, despite years of right-wing extremism, is partnering with Reince Priebus and members of the Republican National Committee on a trip to Israel, which created an awkward dynamic. Why would the RNC team up with a group whose spokesperson says things like, "Counterfeit religions, alternative religions of Christianity have no right to the free exercise of religion"?
Nearly 100 RNC members are scheduled to participate in the AFA-sponsored Israel trip, which begins this weekend. It's against this backdrop that, all of a sudden, Fischer is no longer the religious right group's spokesperson.
Rachel Maddow reports on the nuns of Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery in West Phoenix renting out their monastery to visiting football fans in town for the Super Bowl, with the proceeds of the rental to go toward the nuns' charity. watch
Debra Nussbaum Cohen, Ha'aretz Daily reporter, talks with Rachel Maddow about the American Family Association firing Bryan Fisher over remarks about Hitler and homosexuality, ahead of paying to fly 60 members of the Republican National Committee to... watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the shocking lack of pipeline inspectors in North Dakota after a new, uninspected pipe has spilled a record-setting 3 million gallons of toxic saltwater byproduct, just one of several recent pipeline ruptures. watch
Jeffrey Rosen, law professor at George Washington University, talks with Rachel Maddow about the track record and qualifications of Loretta Lynch to be attorney general, and Republican use of her confirmation hearing to vent frustrations with Eric Holder. watch
We've got some news to break tonight about a well-known political figure on the right losing his job. 9pm ET, MSNBC.
* Israel: "Two Israeli soldiers were killed and seven were wounded in a missile attack Wednesday as they drove in a disputed zone along the Lebanese border, Israel said, in the most serious flare-up in the area in years. Hezbollah claimed responsibility."
* This afternoon, the U.S. Supreme Court "granted a stay of execution for three Oklahoma death row inmates until the justices rule on a separate challenge involving the controversial sedative midazolam, NBC News' Pete Williams reported."
* Those hoping to see President Obama's A.G. nominee fail should probably start lowering expectations: "U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch sought to distance herself from outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder in the first day of her Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, emphasizing that the Constitution would be her guide if she becomes the first African-American woman to serve as U.S. Attorney General."
* ISIS: "The Jordanian government agreed on Wednesday to release a convicted terrorist in exchange for the freeing of an air force pilot captured by Islamic State militants in Syria a month ago, according to a statement released on Jordanian state television just before a deadline set by the extremists."
* Tax-reform retreat: "President Obama, facing angry reprisals from parents and from lawmakers of both parties, will drop his proposal to effectively end the popular college savings accounts known as 529s, but will keep an expanded tuition tax credit at the center of his college access plan, White House officials said Tuesday."
* An excellent take from Paul Waldman on the lesson from the White House's reversal: "Don't mess with government giveaways to the well-off."
* The Fed sounds optimistic: "In its most upbeat economic assessment since the recession, the Federal Reserve cited 'solid' economic growth and 'strong' job growth in a statement issued Wednesday that suggested the Fed remains on course to raise its benchmark interest rate as soon as June."
In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama didn't name names, but he reminded some of his critics in the Republican Party that their praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin was sadly mistaken.
"Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, as we were reinforcing our presence with frontline states, Mr. Putin's aggression it was suggested was 'a masterful display' of 'strategy and strength.' That's what I heard from some folks," Obama said. "Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters. That's how America leads -- not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve."
Obama had reason to feel good -- and take a not-so-subtle dig at Putin's GOP fans. Not only is the American recovery gaining strength, but as Matt O'Brien explained yesterday, Russia's credit rating was downgraded this week to "junk" status.
[I]f Russia is rated junk, then its companies will be too -- which will increase the borrowing costs on their existing debt. It could also trigger earlier bond repayments, which, together with the higher interest rates, could, according to one official, cost them as much as $20 to $30 billion.
And that's $20 to $30 billion it really can't afford. Russia, as I've said before, doesn't have an economy so much as an oil-exporting business that subsidizes everything else. But it can't subsidize much when prices are only $50-a-barrel.
The confluence of economic events unfolding in Russia is amazing: cheap gas, banks in need of a bailout, crashing currency, high interest rates, and an inability to repay debts, all against the backdrop of additional sanctions.
There's no reason conditions are going to improve in Russia anytime soon and Putin doesn't know what to do next.
The rationale behind the King v. Burwell case at the Supreme Court -- the final Republican effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act -- has slowly unraveled in recent weeks, but just over the last couple of days, the entire anti-ACA argument has effectively become gibberish.
Consider some of the news from the last 24 hours:
* From Greg Sargent: "Several state officials who were directly involved at the highest levels in early deliberations over setting up state exchanges -- all of them Republicans or appointees of GOP governors -- have told me that at no point in the decision-making process during the key time-frame was the possible loss of subsidies even considered as a factor. None of these officials -- who were deeply involved in figuring out what the law meant for their states -- read the statute as the challengers do."
* From Sahil Kapur: "With Obamacare under the legal gun yet again, the government is using the words of the dissenting justices [from 2012] to suggest they themselves interpreted the statute then as the White House does now when it comes to the core question in the new case."
* From Simon Maloy: "[F]or the first half of 2011, [Republican Sen.] John Barrasso (like the rest of Congress) clearly operated with the understanding that health insurance subsidies would be paid out through all the state exchanges, regardless of who set them up....But now that he and the rest of the GOP spy another chance to have the Supreme Court dismantle the law, he's arguing that it's 'very clear' that those same subsidies were never meant to exist in the first place."
* From former Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.): "'I always believed that tax credits should be available in all 50 states regardless of who built the exchange, and the final law also reflects that belief as well,' Nelson wrote in a letter to Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) who sought Nelson's view."