It's been nearly four months since President Obama announced that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the last remaining P.O.W. in Afghanistan, was returning home, touching off a fierce political controversy. It seemed implausible that the freeing of an American prisoner of war being treated as bad news, but White House critics characterized it as a "scandal," possibly worthy of impeachment.
For the most part, congressional Republicans undermined their own political cause from the outset. There were legitimate questions about whether the administration sidestepped the letter of the law when it failed to notify Congress 30 days in advance of the prisoner-transfer plan, but for much of the right, these questions were less interesting than wild-eyed conspiracy theories. As Paul Waldman put it at the time, conservatives were "so quick to jump on the train to Crazytown" that they undermined "their own legitimate arguments."
In time, GOP officials lost interest in the story -- apparently, there's going to be some new Benghazi committee? -- but those underlying concerns haven't completely faded just yet.
The Defense Department violated the law when it didn't tell Congress before transferring five Taliban detainees from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar in return for the Taliban's release of captured Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the Government Accountability Office said in a legal decision made public Thursday.
Pentagon officials "did not notify the relevant congressional committees at least 30 days in advance of the transfer," as required by law, GAO General Counsel Susan A. Poling said in a letter to nine Republican senators who had sought the analysis.
The GAO's findings came in response to a formal request from nine Republican senators. (The report largely mirrors an argument Adam Serwer published for msnbc in June.)
Seizing on the opportunity, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, now wants the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel.
So, do Republicans have a point? It's a little complicated.
Some new data was released this week on U.S. manufacturing, and the news was encouraging: the U.S. auto industry has "hit the gas pedal." The White House, as it's done before, is taking a victory lap.
Now, our auto industry is once again a source of economic strength, with more and more of the world's top-of-the-line, fuel-efficient vehicles being made by American workers in American factories. In fact, the number of cars coming off our assembly lines just reached its highest level in 12 years. [...]
[T]he number of vehicles built on American assembly lines since 2000 rose to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 13.2 million vehicles in July. The increase in auto production mirrors the growing strength of America's manufacturing sector, which has added more than 700,000 jobs since early 2010.
The White House, which produced the above chart, has plenty of reasons to be happy. The first and most obvious, of course, is that a stronger U.S. auto industry is necessarily good news for the domestic economy.
But there's also the matter of who was right in 2009 and who wasn't. President Obama took a big risk launching his rescue policy during the economic crisis. It wasn't a popular idea, and though it looks like a no-brainer with the benefit of hindsight, there was no guarantee the plan would work.
In July 2010, NBC News' First Read said, "As the GM bailout goes, so goes the Obama presidency." More than four years later, the White House probably thinks that sounds pretty good.
And then there are the policy's critics, whose condemnations don't hold up nearly as well.
About a year ago, Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens bragged to a crowd of fellow Republicans: "Let me tell you what we're doing [about ObamaCare]: Everything in our power to be an obstructionist."
It was a striking quote that quickly took on national significance. As a rule, policymakers at least pretend to care about working constructively, but here was a state official boasting about his deliberate embrace of obstructionism.
"I spoke to a Republican group in Rome, Ga., and I said I was going to be an obstructionist, but I can't be. I mean, I was talking to a Republican group and I was throwing them some red meat."
Hudgens added yesterday that the number of private insurers competing for Georgia consumers' business has nearly doubled -- these companies "took a wait and see attitude and now they've come in" -- which may expand the public's choices and possibly lower prices.
The Georgia Insurance Commissioner went to say he's still "not a fan" of the Affordable Care Act, "but there's nothing I can do about it."
Also yesterday, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a far-right Republican and fierce ACA critic "applied to participate in an Affordable Care Act program designed to help states develop innovative models for delivering care and reducing costs for participants in Medicaid, Medicare and the Children's Health Insurance Program" (thanks to reader F.O.R. for the tip).
What do these stories have in common? They're emblematic of a sea change in the politics of health care.
Not everyone wants to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge. President Obama and Vice President Biden, for example, have both demurred. Due to rules related to public officials and fundraising campaigns, diplomats and active-duty U.S. troops aren't supposed to partake in the campaign, either.
A Catholic diocese in Ohio is discouraging its schools from participating in the ice bucket challenge to benefit the ALS Association, citing its funding of research involving embryonic stem cells.
In a letter sent Tuesday to its 113 schools, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's superintendent of Catholic schools says the research being funded is "in direct conflict with Catholic teaching."
Apparently, the schools can participate in the challenge in a general sense, but they're not supposed to support the ALS Association, which started the campaign to raise money and awareness about the fight against Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.
The AP report added this quote from diocese spokesman Dan Andriacco: "We certainly appreciate the compassion that has caused people all over the country, certainly including many Catholics, to be interacting and engaging in a fun way to support ALS research. But it's a well-established moral principle that not only the ends be good, but the means must be good, too."
And in this case, because the "means" might include research on embryonic stem cells, the Cincinnati Archdiocese doesn't want schools contributing to the ALS Association.
I knew there were some political/policy angles to the Ice Bucket Challenge, but I'll confess, I didn't see this one coming.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) will occasionally talk a good game about expanding the Republican Party, creating a more inclusive approach to conservative politics, and reaching out beyond the GOP's far-right, homogeneous base. But when it comes to immigration, when push comes to shove, the differences between Paul, Steve King, and Ted Cruz no longer exist. Sam Stein reported this morning:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said in an interview published Thursday that he supports legislation ending the president's program to defer deportation for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
Speaking to Breitbart News during a medical mission in Guatemala, Paul lent his backing to House Republican efforts to address the crisis of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern U.S. border.
The Kentucky Republican specifically said, "I'm supportive of the House bill and I think it will go a long way to fixing the problem." After complaining about the Senate Democratic leadership ignoring the House plan, Paul added, "I think there's a very good chance the House bill could pass in the Senate, but it won't ever pass if it doesn't ever see the light of day."
It's worth clarifying that there are actually two House bills, not one, which were packaged together, but the senator's office later clarified that Paul supports both.
And this, in turn, puts Paul squarely in the middle of what Greg Sargent calls the party of "maximum deportations."
It's been a few weeks, but let's not forget that House Republicans ignored their own leaders and rejected their own party's border bill. Left with no choice, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told far-right extremists they could craft their own legislation.
The result was ridiculous. Right-wing lawmakers largely ignored the humanitarian crisis the bill was originally intended to address, and instead targeted President Obama's DACA policy. The top Republican goal became the deportation of Dream Act kids. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said the Republican Party's policy could effectively be described in three words: "Deport 'em all."
The proposals were, by any fair measure, a joke that included far-right provisions that GOP leaders had themselves rejected a few days prior. No one, including proponents, expected the House package to actually go anywhere legislatively -- it wasn't even the point. And yet, here's Rand Paul throwing his enthusiastic support to this right-wing nonsense.
Last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) complained bitterly and publicly about the Obama administration for not "addressing the threat" posed by ISIS. Graham's expectations were clear: he wanted more rhetoric, sooner rather than later.
In theory, the senator has less to complain about this week. In the wake of James Foley's murder, President Obama issued a sweeping condemnation of ISIS, as did Secretary of State John Kerry. Yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel characterized the terrorist group as "beyond anything we have seen."
In a joint briefing at the Pentagon a day after officials revealed the U.S. secretly launched a failed mission to rescue Foley and other kidnapped Americans held by the Islamic State and Syria and Iraq (ISIS), Hagel suggested the terror group poses a "9/11-level" threat to America.
"ISIL is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group we have seen. They are beyond just a terrorist group," Hagel said. "They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess, they are tremendously well funded. This is beyond anything we have seen."
During the same briefing, General Martin Dempsey, the Obama-appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added, "This is an organization that has an apocalyptic end-of-days strategic vision that will eventually have to be defeated.... Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria? The answer is no."
The assessments came against the backdrop of additional airstrikes against ISIS in northern Iraq. All told, there have been 90 U.S. airstrikes against the terrorist group over the last two weeks.
As for the politics surrounding the national-security strategy, the line from the president's critics has not yet come into focus. We know they're not satisfied; we don't know what they'd do differently.
Wayne Slater, senior political writer for the Dallas Morning News, talks with Rachel Maddow about why the indictment of Texas governor Rick Perry is a bigger deal than many realize and is not a partisan attack and is about coercion, not vetoes. watch