Rachel Maddow reports that the Clay Hunt Act, designed to help reduce the number of military veteran suicides, is likely to pass through Congress now that former Senator Tom Coburn is not longer able to stand as the single obstacle to its passage. watch
Kasie Hunt, MSNBC political correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow about this weekend's Republican events that seem to be kicking off the 2016 GOP presidential campaign season, including the sold out Iowa Freedom Summit hosted by Congressman Steve King. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on some of the questionable characters associated with a Louisiana prayer rally headlined by Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, including televangelist Cindy Jacobs and the anti-gay American Family Association. watch
* A new Saudi Arabian king: "The ISIS and al Qaeda-fighting credentials of Saudi Arabia's new king and his two successors signal how seriously the kingdom takes the threat from Muslim extremist groups wreaking havoc in the region."
* The Supreme Court "announced Friday that it will review the lethal injection protocol used in many executions around the country, after allowing an Oklahoma inmate last week to be put to death using the drugs. The court's four liberals would have granted Charles Frederick Warner a stay but were overruled."
* Montana: "Montana state officials on Friday said tap water in the town of Glendive is now safe to drink, six days after more than 40,000 gallons of oil spilled into the nearby Yellowstone River."
* These are odd times for geopolitics in the Middle East: "Iraq's prime minister said on Friday the West had increased support to his country to help it fight Islamic State, and Iran was also providing crucial backing."
* Diplomacy is complex, too: "The first round of high-level talks between United States and Cuba wrapped up this week, with diplomats acknowledging both common ground and 'deep disagreements' in mending relations between the two countries."
* Ebola: "The number of people falling victim to the Ebola virus in West Africa has fallen to the lowest level in months, the World Health Organization said on Friday, but dwindling funds and a looming rainy season threaten to hamper efforts to control the disease."
* New Jersey: "Protesters around the country are once again speaking out against racial disparities in police use of force in response to a video that shows two Bridgeton, New Jersey, officers shooting and killing a black man as he held his hands up. A dashboard camera recorded the encounter, including the moments police pulled over a car and shot and killed the passenger, 36-year-old Jerame Reid."
The last remaining legal hurdle for the Affordable Care Act, the King v. Burwell case, isn't as complicated as it may seem. The entire controversy boils down to this: was the Affordable Care Act designed specifically to subsidize insurance for consumers nationwide, or only consumers who enroll through state exchanges?
Absolutely everyone involved in the process knows the truth: of course the system was designed to help all American consumers, including those who bought insurance through healthcare.gov. The alternative is a little insane -- the architects of the law wouldn't have any reason to undermine the efficacy of their own system.
But the King v. Burwell lawsuit, which Republicans pretend to believe, is predicated on a genuinely ridiculous assumption: Democrats, on purpose, designed "Obamacare" in such a way as to deny help to every consumer who relied on healthcare.gov. They did this deliberately, the argument goes, in order to entice states to create their own exchange marketplaces.
It's painfully obvious that this is absurd and that the lawsuit is a joke, and very recently, evidence has emerged that even Republicans who claim to support the case, in reality, don't genuinely believe their own side's argument. Consider this latest catch from Ian Millhiser:
The Affordable Care Act gives states a choice. They can either set up their own health exchanges where individuals may buy subsidized health plans, or they can elect to have the federal government set up such an exchange for them. Individuals who purchase insurance on an exchange may receive tax credits to help them pay for that insurance if they qualify on the basis of income.
In his brief, which was filed in a lawsuit called King v. Burwell, [Republican Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch] claims that the law "provides that premium subsidies are available only through an exchange established by a State" -- i.e. not in an exchange that is operated by the federal government.
But five years ago, before Hatch knew the King v. Burwell case was coming, he accidentally told the truth: he wrote in an op-ed that said state exchanges "are not a condition" for subsidies. The Republican senator understood reality in 2010, but is pretending to support a contradictory reality now in the hopes of tearing down the system.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has reason to be pleased with his recent promotion. In the wake of the 2014 midterm elections, his party is not only in control of the Senate, but the Arizona Republican is now chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, a post he's reportedly wanted for quite a while.
But when the senator looks around the world, he isn't pleased at all.
"We are probably in the most serious period of turmoil in our lifetime," said the 78-year-old Republican from Arizona, whose control of the committee is the culmination of decades of tenacious advocacy for a muscular foreign policy. "Everything I've predicted, unfortunately, has come true, whether it be in Iraq or whether it be Syria."
The notion that all of John McCain's predictions have "come true" isn't just a bizarre boast, it's also laughably and demonstrably untrue. As Rachel put it on the show awhile back, "Let the record show, John McCain was wrong about Iraq and the war in Iraq in almost every way that a person can be wrong about something like that."
But it's this argument, which McCain has made before, that we're seeing "the most serious period of turmoil in our lifetime" that seems especially odd.
As we discussed the last time the senator made this assessment, McCain's lifetime includes the entirety of World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War. To suggest turmoil is greater or more "serious" now may be politically convenient -- one assumes McCain is both eager to blame President Obama for unrest and anxious to make the case for more wars -- but it's also completely at odds with reality when considered in a historical context.
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:
* In a bit of a surprise, progressive billionaire Tom Steyer announced yesterday he will not run for the U.S. Senate in California next year. As recently as last week, he seemed to be leaning heavily in the opposite direction.
* An adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told ABC yesterday, "He has told us to proceed as if he is running for president." Note, the conservative senator has said if he runs for national office, he won't run for re-election at the same time in Florida, which would create an interesting, wide-open Senate race in the Sunshine State.
* Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad (R) is reportedly telling Republican presidential candidates that he expects them to "support ethanol production in a big way."
* In Pennsylvania, a PPP survey released yesterday showing likely presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton (D) leading each of her top Republican rivals in next year's presidential race by double digits in the Keystone State. Mitt Romney comes closest, and he trails by 10 points.
* On a related note, PPP also asked Pennsylvania Republicans who their top choice is in their party's presidential primaries. Right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson was the top choice -- I'm not kidding -- with 18%, followed by Romney and Jeb Bush at 14% each. Rick Santorun, a former two-term Pennsylvania senator, is far behind in his own state with only 6%.
* Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) conceded yesterday that he's considering the 2016 presidential race. "It's a privilege to be governor of Ohio ... and that's my focus," he told the AP. "But if I think something else makes sense, if I think the field is lacking or there's an opportunity, I'll look at it. All my options are open." Note this would be Kasich's second presidential run, following a largely ignored campaign in 2000, when the conservative Ohioan was still in Congress.
The Wall Street Journal recently noted that when it comes to welfare recipients, "few" applicants have been caught up in the "drug-screening net." How few? The piece noted that in Arizona, for example, between 2011 and 2014, over 108,000 people seeking benefits were subjected to drug screen. A grand total of 2 applicants were disqualified due to testing positive.
Note, I don't mean 2 percent; I mean literally 2 individual people out of 108,408.
In recent years, the idea of imposing drug tests on welfare beneficiaries -- which is to say, poor people receiving aid; those who receive corporate welfare benefits are exempt -- has become exceedingly popular among many Republicans. The problem for proponents is that the programs keep failing -- in practice, in the courts, or both.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is pushing forward with a plan to make food stamp recipients pass drug tests -- a requirement that the Obama administration says violates federal law. [...]
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as FoodShare in Wisconsin), says it's against the rules for states to require drug testing as a condition of receiving benefits. The federal government could yank administrative funding from states that are out of compliance -- a threat the USDA leveled at Georgia over a similar drug testing scheme last year. Georgia backed down.
Walker has been aware of the rule from the start. "We believe that there will potentially be a fight with the federal government and in court," he told the Journal Sentinel in September.
Indeed, for the ambitious Republican governor, it's a two-fer -- he gets to look "tough" on poor people in advance of his presidential campaign, and at the same time, Walker gets to boast about a big fight with the Obama administration, which will make a nice addition to his presidential stump speech.
On the record, President Obama and his team have said very little about congressional Republicans partnering with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to derail international nuclear talks with Iran. Administration officials said the president will not meet with Netanyahu during his March trip, but that's only to prevent the appearance of interference with the Israeli election to be held two weeks later.
Behind the scenes, however, it seems the White House isn't pleased.
"Senior American official" as quoted by Haaretz: "We thought we've seen everything. But Bibi managed to surprise even us. There are things you simply don't do. He spat in our face publicly and that's no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price."
Josh Marshall added that even American Jewish groups "who seldom allow any daylight between themselves and the Israeli government appear shocked by Netanyahu's move and are having difficulty defending it."
There are things you simply don't do.
I've been thinking about why this story strikes me as so important, and I realize that on the surface, it may not seem shocking to everyone. Republicans oppose the diplomacy with Iran; Netanyahu opposes the diplomacy with Iran. Perhaps their partnership was predictable?
Sure, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) ignored U.S. protocol by circumventing the administration and reaching out to a foreign leader on his own, but given the degree to which Republicans have abandoned traditional norms in the Obama era, maybe this isn't that startling, either.
The problem, however, which I fear has been largely overlooked, is that it's genuinely dangerous for the federal government to try to operate this way.