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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee walks to a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, for a meeting with UN Ambassador Susan Rice. Rice continued...

Bipartisan gun reform measure advances, despite NRA opposition

06/23/16 02:54PM

Earlier this week, the Senate took up four gun measures, each of which came up short. Soon after, however, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) presented a compromise proposal, which generated a surprising amount of bipartisan support.
 
And in a surprising twist, this one advanced.
The Senate is voting on bipartisan legislation banning gun sales to people on the no-fly list.
 
Senate Republican leaders agreed to allow a vote on the measure crafted by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine., and a handful of colleagues from both parties, though she's unsure it will get the votes needed to move forward.
The procedural aspect of this gets a little complicated, but today's vote was a "motion to table," which means "yea" was a vote to kill Collins' amendment, while "nay" was a vote to keep it alive. The final tally was 46 to 52, which means the measure survived. [Update: Here's the roll call. Note, Democratic support was unanimous, and they were joined by seven Republicans.]
 
The National Rifle Association opposed the proposal, which makes today's outcome a bit of a surprise: in a Republican-led chamber, the NRA is not accustomed to losing floor votes on gun policy.
 
Today's outcome doesn't mean the Collins amendment passed, but that's the next step. The fact that it cleared today's test keeps the measure alive, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who endorsed the amendment, has said he'll push for further action on Collins' policy.
Credit: Susan Walsh/AP Photo

Supreme Court surprises with affirmative action ruling

06/23/16 12:43PM

The Fisher v. Texas case has been bouncing around the courts for quite a while, but when it reached the U.S. Supreme Court, many court observers thought they knew how this case would turn out. But once in a while, the justices manage to surprise.
 
As MSNBC's Irin Carmon explained a while back, the dispute stems from a complaint filed by Abigail Fisher, a white woman "who claims she was denied admission to the University of Texas because of her race, despite the fact that a lower court found she wouldn't have been admitted regardless of her race."
 
The court fight led to a challenge to the affirmative action program at the University of Texas at Austin, which the justices seemed likely to strike down. Instead, they did the opposite: a 4-3 court upheld the policy today.
 
NBC News' Pete Williams walked through the basics of the dispute.
A Texas law guarantees admission to the university for students in roughly the top ten percent of the graduating class of any Texas high school. To fill the remaining slots, about one fourth of each entering class, the school considers several other factors, including an applicant's race. That last step was the program under court challenge, upheld by the justices Thursday.
 
The school said students learn better when there's diversity on campus and within racial groups. But a woman who was denied admission, Abigail Fisher, filed a lawsuit claiming the diversity standard was too vague to justify making distinctions based on race.
 
The Supreme Court gave a limited victory to the university three years ago, agreeing that campus diversity is a worthy goal. But the justices instructed an appeals court to review whether considering an applicant's race was necessary to achieving it. When that court said it was, Fisher again appealed, leading to Thursday's decision.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in this case was the fact that Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has been an opponent of affirmative action in the past, wrote the ruling defending the university's policy. He was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor.
 
Justice Elena Kagan, who dealt with this case during her tenure as Solicitor General, recused herself from the case, which is why seven justices participated in the ruling.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.23.16

06/23/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* President Obama has been careful not to use Donald Trump's name recently, so it was of interest when he told Bloomberg Politics in a new interview, "There's no successful businessman in America who actually thinks the most successful businessman in America is Donald Trump."
 
* Trump's campaign claimed yesterday that it raised $2 million in less than 12 hours after sending out a fundraising appeal this week. The Trump Victory Fund, which is a joint fundraising committee that partners with the RNC, raised an additional $3 million.
 
* To the disappointment of his supporters who still believe he may be the Democratic presidential nominee, Bernie Sanders conceded on C-SPAN yesterday, "Well, you know it's hard to say, it doesn't appear that I'm gonna be the nominee." The senator has also scheduled a "Where We Go From Here" speech, to be delivered in New York later this afternoon.
 
* In an unexpected move, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) did not endorse Sen. Marco Rubio's (R) re-election yesterday, instead offering encouragement to Rubio's most notable primary rival. "Carlos Beruff is a good friend of mine, a businessman and an outsider to politics," the governor said in a statement. "The voters of Florida deserve the opportunity to consider his candidacy alongside Senator Rubio and make their own decision."
 
* Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R), however, who frequently clashed with Rubio during their presidential campaign, quickly threw his support behind the incumbent senator yesterday, as did former rival Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
 
* The Libertarian Party's presidential ticket participated in a prime-time town-hall event on CNN yesterday, but it was overshadowed by the sit-in drama on the floor of the House of Representatives.
People wait in line to enter the U.S. Supreme Court building January 11, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

Supreme Court blocks Obama admin's immigration policy

06/23/16 11:01AM

In November 2014, soon after the midterm elections, President Obama announced he'd found a way forward on overhauling immigration policy, relying exclusively on his executive authority. As regular readers may recall, the result was a policy known as DAPA -- Deferred Action for Parental Accountability -- in which the White House, among other things, extended temporary status to millions of undocumented immigrants, shielding them from deportation threats and allowing them to apply for work permits.

At the time, the Justice Department took the unusual step of publishing a dense, 33-page legal memo, explaining in great detail exactly why the president’s executive actions are legally permissible under existing laws, rulings, and precedents. Federalist Society members couldn’t come up with a constitutional objection; Obama’s actions are in line with what some of his Republican predecessors did without incident; and the whole legal argument against Obama’s actions seemed a little silly.

And yet, the White House's Republican critics felt a little differently, and 26 states filed a suit challenging DAPA. In an unexpected result, the far-right opponents of the administration's policy have won -- at least for now. NBC News' Pete Williams reported this morning:
The U.S. Supreme Court split 4-4 Thursday over a challenge to President Obama's immigration policy, a result that prevents the administration from putting the program into effect during the rest of his term. [...]
 
The death of Antonin Scalia left the Supreme Court evenly divided on the issue. Thursday's tie vote means the justices were unable to announce a ruling, an outcome that leaves in place the lower court rulings against enforcing the plan.
Ordinarily, we'd get more guidance from the ruling itself, but in this case, the decision is literally one sentence: "The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court." It doesn't even say which justices voted which way, though it doesn't take a legal expert to guess how the justices were divided.
 
As a substantive matter, Americans won't see a shift in policy -- DAPA was already on hold by court order -- but millions of immigrants were poised to benefit from President Obama's policy, and as a result of the Supreme Court's tie, that will not happen, at least not this year.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks to media outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 22, 2016. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Marco Rubio's first day as a new candidate wasn't easy

06/23/16 10:07AM

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), after swearing up and down for months that he would not seek re-election to the Senate, announced yesterday that he's breaking his promise. But an unexpected Politico report noted that the far-right senator did so in the most Rubio-eque way possible.
Marco Rubio missed a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Wednesday morning -- at the same time he was announcing plans to run for reelection.
 
The first-term Republican senator, who was pilloried during his presidential run for his record of missed votes and hearings, skipped a closed hearing on security for sales of military equipment to other nations, according to attendees from both parties.
Meet the new Marco Rubio; he's the same as the old Marco Rubio. For several years, the Floridian has routinely blown off votes, committee hearings, and policy briefings -- he's generally treated his Senate responsibilities as not particularly important -- so it seemed beautifully fitting that Rubio, who could have made his announcement anytime this week, scheduled his remarks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
 
Meanwhile, some of the editorial boards from Florida's largest newspapers didn't exactly welcome Rubio back with open arms. The Miami Herald described the senator's change of heart "hard to believe," adding, "[H]is flip-flop will seem too pat, too orchestrated, too opportunistic to anyone not firmly planted in the Rubio camp."
 
The Tampa Bay Times added, "Rubio's decision gives Florida voters an opportunity to judge his thin record in the Senate, his tortured policy on immigration and his out-of-step positions on Cuba, guns, climate change and other major issues. And where has Rubio been for the past six years? Many communities would need to form a search party to discover that Florida has two members in the Senate. This race should be a reminder that this office cannot be taken for granted."
 
For now, Rubio won't even commit to serving a full term if re-elected. "I'm not going to get into any of these unequivocal pronunciations," the senator said, despite months of unequivocal pronunciations about doing the exact opposite of what he's doing now.
 
It's striking to realize Rubio is effectively saying, "Please give me the job I said I didn't want, and which I might decide to stop doing partway through my term."
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the Cleveland Industrial Innovation Center, June 13, 2016, in Cleveland. (Photo by Tony Dejak/AP)

GOP's foreign policy old guard prefers Clinton to Trump

06/23/16 09:27AM

It may seem like ancient history, but in the not-too-distant past, the Republican Party took foreign policy seriously. When it came to international affairs, the GOP had several influential "grown-ups" who served in positions of authority.
 
In recent years, however, as the Republican Party has become increasingly radicalized, the GOP's elder statesmen have fallen out of favor. Members of the party's old guard discovered that they agreed with many key Democratic priorities -- the international nuclear agreement with Iran, the New START treaty, etc. -- only to discover that contemporary GOP officials no longer cared what the Republican foreign policy establishment had to say.
 
It's even reached the point at which the party's "grown-ups" are comfortable endorsing a Democratic presidential candidate.
 
Last week, Richard Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State in the Bush/Cheney administration and a longtime member of the Republican Party's foreign policy establishment, conceded, "If Donald Trump is the nominee, I would vote for Hillary Clinton." Yesterday, as USA Today noted, brought a related surprise.
Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser to two Republican presidents, said Wednesday he's backing Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.
 
In a statement, Scowcroft said Clinton "brings truly unique experience and perspective to the White House," citing her time as secretary of State, as a U.S. senator and as first lady.
 
"She brings deep expertise in international affairs, and a sophisticated understanding of the world," Scowcroft said. No where in the statement did he allude to Clinton's opponent, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. "I believe Hillary Clinton has the wisdom and experience to lead our country at this critical time," the statement concluded.
Scowcroft served as national security adviser to Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. He also held key positions in Richard Nixon's administration and served as chairman of George W. Bush's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
 
As MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell put it yesterday, when Scowcroft endorses Clinton, "you know something is wrong in the GOP world."
Presidential contender Donald Trump gestures to the media on the 17th fairway on the first day of the Women's British Open golf championship on the Turnberry golf course in Turnberry, Scotland, July 30, 2015. (Photo by Scott Heppell/AP)

Trump's Scottish trip is a bigger mistake than he realizes

06/23/16 08:45AM

There's a fair amount of precedent for presidential candidates traveling abroad ahead of the election. In July 2008, for example, then-Sen. Barack Obama wowed international audiences with a historic visit to Berlin. Almost exactly four years later, in July 2012, Mitt Romney took an overseas trip of his own. (It really didn't go well for the Republican.)
 
So when Donald Trump's campaign said the presumptive GOP nominee would travel to Scotland ahead of the Republican convention, it was only natural to assume Trump was headed abroad to bolster his foreign policy credentials.
 
But as the New York Times reported, the truth is a little more complicated.
His campaign is desperately short of cash. He has struggled to hire staff. Influential Republicans are demanding that he demonstrate he can run a serious general election campaign.
 
But, for reasons that emphasize just how unusual a candidate he is, Donald J. Trump is leaving the campaign trail on Thursday to travel to Scotland to promote a golf course his company purchased on the country's southwestern coast.
This may sound like some sort of joke, but it's quite real. This isn't a situation in which an American presidential hopeful has scheduled meetings with foreign officials, and he's checking in on his business interests while he's there; it's largely the opposite. Trump's Scottish sojourn appears to have practically nothing to do with the office he's seeking.
 
The Times report added that Trump's business interests "still drive his behavior, and his schedule. He has planned two days in Scotland, with no meetings with government or political leaders scheduled." The Republican's itinerary "reads like a public relations junket crossed with a golf vacation," complete with "a ceremonial ribbon cutting."
 
Scott W. Reed, senior political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, added, "Everyone knows this is the wrong thing for the nominee to be doing now, and it is amazing this can't be stopped."
 
Wait, it's even more amazing than that.
In this image from video provided by House Television, House Speaker Paul Ryan stands at the podium as he brings the House into session in the night of June 22, 2016, in Washington. (Photo by House Television/AP)

Facing Democratic sit-in, Paul Ryan takes his House and goes home

06/23/16 08:00AM

For those who believe watching Congress is always boring and monotonous, yesterday's developments -- followed by additional drama in the early hours of this morning -- offered powerful proof to the contrary.
Revolt in the House of Representatives turned raucous overnight, with protesting Democrats shouting down Speaker Paul Ryan's attempts to restore order during a gun-control protest that stretched into its 18th hour.
 
Earlier, Republicans branded the move as a publicity stunt before summarily adjourning the chamber until after the Fourth of July.
Note, the GOP-led House was supposed to be in session, doing actual work, today and four days next week ahead of the holiday break. But Republican leaders, unsure what to do about the Democratic sit-in and unwilling to schedule a vote on possible gun reforms, decided they no longer saw any point to sticking around.
 
Exasperated, House Speaker Paul Ryan took his House and went home. What will happen when the chamber reconvenes on July 6 is unclear, but Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who helped lead yesterday's protest, told the Washington Post, "We will continue to fight.... When we come back in July, we'll start all over again."
 
But to fully appreciate the scope of yesterday's drama, it's important to note how Republican leaders tried to end the Democratic protest.
Democrats protest Paul Ryan with song

Democrats protest Paul Ryan with song

06/22/16 10:56PM

House Democrats interrupt Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan by singing We Shall Overcome as the speaker attempts to hold a vote on a matter unrelated to the issue of gun safety, which is what Democrats are calling for. watch

Democratic sit-in draws protesters outside

Democratic sit-in draws protesters outside

06/22/16 09:25PM

Rachel Maddow reports that while House Democrats stage a sit-in on the floor of the House, calling for new gun safety regulations, protesters are gathering outside as well to show their support for the action taking place inside. watch

Democrats hold House floor to demand gun vote

Democrats hold House floor to demand gun vote

06/22/16 09:15PM

Congressman John Lewis and Congresswoman Katherine Clark talk with Rachel Maddow about the genesis of the idea to stage a sit-in protest on the House floor to demand a vote on gun legislation, and where they see the action taking them. watch

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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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