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File Photo: U.S. Marines from the Marine 1st Division take down a Saddam Hussein statue April 9, 2003 in Baghdad, Iraq. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images, File)

The right finds new ways to flub WMD story

02/17/15 03:09PM

Last fall, the New York Times ran an impressive investigatory piece on Iraqi chemical weapons from the Saddam Hussein era, documenting previously undisclosed discoveries made by U.S. soldiers.
 
A wide variety of Republicans, regrettably, misunderstood the piece. The right celebrated the news as proof that the Bush/Cheney administration was right all along about Saddam's WMD stockpiles. Conservatives far and wide proudly proclaimed, "We knew it! Take that, liberals!"
 
The right was confused. The NYT piece, though important, referenced pre-1991 weapons. Everything Republicans said in the lead up to the 2003 invasion was still completely wrong.
 
With this in mind, over the weekend, the New York Times had another fascinating, well-researched piece on Iraq's abandoned chemical weapons, and Republicans, apparently having learned literally nothing in October, are once again very excited by the prospect that Bush was "right all along."
 
[N]ote that the Times story says that these weapons were manufactured before the 1991 invasion of Kuwait. Indeed, from 1991 to 1998, U.N. weapons inspectors uncovered Iraq's secret biological weapons program and a project to enrich uranium -- and then eliminated vast stockpiles of chemical and biological agents.
 
Such pre-1991 chemical-weapons shells (often empty) were found by U.N. weapons inspectors just before the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States. The Bush administration, by contrast, staked its WMD claims on an active, on-going program that was restarted after the Kuwait conflict.
The fact that the right hasn't given up isn't admirable; it's sad. Pouncing on details Republicans don't understand actually has the opposite of the intended effect -- these bizarre, misguided celebrations serve as a reminder of just how spectacularly wrong they were, are, and will continue to be.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, D-OH, answers questions from reporters during his weekly briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Dec. 5, 2013. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty)

The travails of a struggling Speaker

02/17/15 12:47PM

When it comes to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), there are basically three schools of thought. The first is that he's a terrible failure who's been unable to lead, govern, or complete basic tasks. The second is that he's a terrible failure, but it's not really his fault because the radicalization of GOP politics has made it impossible for anyone to be an effective Speaker.
 
And the third is that Boehner is actually decent at his job -- thanks to the Ohio congressman, Republicans have generally fallen short of doing real, lasting harm to the country. Were it not for Boehner's steady hand, the scale of GOP-imposed catastrophes would have been far worse.
 
This third argument has always struck me as the least persuasive, in part because Boehner wasn't able to prevent a government shutdown and a damaging debt-ceiling crisis, and in part because we should set the bar higher for success. Praising this Speaker for preventing fiascos is like giving folks the Parents of the Year award because their kids have not yet burned down the house.
 
And that leaves us with the other two options: (1) he's failed and it's mostly his fault, or (2) he's failed and it's mostly his members' fault.
 
That's admittedly a tougher call, though there are a couple of ongoing controversies that shed some light on the subject. Consider, for example, the fact that Boehner's threat to shut down the Department of Homeland Security is moving forward, while at the same time, Boehner's partnership with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is an international debacle.
 
Paul Waldman's take on this yesterday rings true:
[O]n the whole, Boehner is managing to combine legislative incompetence with PR incompetence. He's already sure to be known as one of the weakest speakers in American history, for at least some reasons that are out of his control. But he might also be known as one of the least effective.
That's not a good combination.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.17.15

02/17/15 12:00PM

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:
 
* I imagine this was an interesting conversation: "Hillary Rodham Clinton held a private, one-on-one meeting with Senator Elizabeth Warren in December at Mrs. Clinton's Washington home, a move by the Democrats' leading contender in 2016 to cultivate the increasingly influential senator and leader of the party's economic populist movement."
 
* Asked this week about his controversial father, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) "bristled" at the question. "I think that would be a good question if I were 18 maybe, or something. I mean, I've been an adult and on my own for 30-some odd years," the likely presidential candidate told the AP. What Paul neglected to mention is that he's spent much of those adult years urging people to support his father's wacky beliefs and bizarre agenda.
 
* Though the Mississippi Republican establishment would probably prefer he go away, failed U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel (R) is apparently moving closer to launching a primary campaign against incumbent Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R). Note, Mississippi is one of three states holding statewide elections this year.
 
* At this stage, Democratic insiders, hoping to retake the Senate majority next year, are focusing on candidate recruitment. Among those whose phones are ringing are former Gov. Ted Strickland in Ohio, Rep. Tammy Duckworth in Illinois, Gov. Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire, former Sen. Russell Feingold in Wisconsin, and former Sen. Kay Hagan in North Carolina.
 
* Former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) has been laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign, but he conceded the other day that he isn't sure whether he can "put together the type of money" he needs to launch a competitive bid. Whether this was a hint he doesn't intend to run, or a subtle plea for cash, is unclear.
US Capitol Police stand guard in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, Feb. 12, 2013. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty)

GOP will shoulder the blame for Homeland Security shutdown

02/17/15 11:22AM

On "Fox News Sunday" over the weekend, former Bush/Cheney White House Press Secretary Dana Perino made a prediction. If congressional Republicans follow through on their threats and shut down much of the Department of Homeland Security next week, "they will get blamed by the White House, by the media, by Democrats."
 
George Will added, in reference to Republican lawmakers, "(A) Yes, they're always blamed; but (B) in this case, they deserve to be blamed."
 
The public seems to agree.
Republicans in Congress would shoulder the blame for a shutdown at the Department of Homeland Security if they are unable to enact a new spending bill to keep the agency running, according to a new CNN/ORC poll. The survey finds 53% of Americans would blame the Republicans in Congress if the department must shut down, while 30% would blame President Barack Obama. Another 13% say both deserve the blame. [...]
 
A majority says a shutdown at DHS, even if it's just for a few days, would be a crisis or a major problem.
We're left with a familiar scenario: Republican lawmakers are careening towards a bad idea; they know they'll be blamed for executing the bad idea; but they can't seem to stop themselves from doing the wrong thing. Indeed, by all appearances, they're not even trying at this point to fix the problem they created for themselves.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (L) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) wait to speak at the "Exempt America from Obamacare" rally,  on Capitol Hill on Sept. 10, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Senators adopt legislative strategy with 2016 in mind

02/17/15 10:44AM

Republicans haven't elected a sitting senator to the White House since Warren Harding. That was 95 years ago, and as history buffs probably know, it didn't turn out too well.
 
But GOP senators keep trying, and nearly a century later, three notable lawmakers have made no secret of their national ambitions. The conservative Washington Times reported this week on the way in which all three have adopted a similar legislative strategy in the hopes of boosting their presidential prospects.
Sen. Rand Paul's first bill out of the chute this year was pro-Israel legislation cutting U.S. assistance to Palestinians, followed up a couple of weeks later by his father's signature Audit-the-Fed measure.
 
One of the other chief potential Republican presidential contenders in the Senate, Ted Cruz of Texas, rolled out as his initial bill a plan to strip U.S. citizenship from those who try to join terrorists waging war in the Middle East. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida championed legislation to shield taxpayers from helping insurance companies in a potential Obamacare bailout.
 
While still in their first terms, all three men have led sponsorships of a couple of dozen bills this year and hundreds over the course of their tenure, looking to beef up their resumes and stake out signature issues ahead of the presidential race next year, when they could compete with governors who have executive experience and significant records of accomplishment.
At first blush, this probably doesn't seem like a bad idea. Plenty of former policymakers -- Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum -- are getting ready to run in 2016, but they don't have the ability to tell Republican primary voters how hard they're working on conservative causes right now. Cruz, Rubio, and Paul can, whenever they feel like it, sponsor legislation they can then brag about on the campaign trail.
 
And clearly, they're making every effort to do exactly that. Just one month into the new Congress, Rand Paul has already become a sponsor of 33 bills. For Cruz, the total is 47. For Rubio, it's 55.
 
But there's a small flaw in the strategy. As the Washington Times article added, "The three senators, meanwhile, have carried a total of three bills through the Senate, according to records from the Library of Congress."
John Boehner, R-OH, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu make their way to the lectern to deliver statements, May 24, 2011 at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)

Did Netanyahu leak sensitive information?

02/17/15 10:02AM

It's no secret that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a fierce opponent of ongoing diplomatic talks with Iran. Indeed, he's eager to partner with congressional Republicans to derail the international negotiations -- for the first time ever, lawmakers invited a foreign leader to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress for the express purpose of condemning, and working to undermine, American foreign policy.
 
Just how far would Netanyahu go to achieve his goals? David Ignatius raised an alarming possibility yesterday in his Washington Post column.
Mistrust between the Obama administration and Benjamin Netanyahu has widened even further in recent days because of U.S. suspicion that the Israeli prime minister has authorized leaks of details about the U.S. nuclear talks with Iran.
 
The decision to reduce the exchange of sensitive information about the Iran talks was prompted by concerns that Netanyahu's office had given Israeli journalists sensitive details of the U.S. position, including a U.S. offer to allow Iran to enrich uranium with 6,500 or more centrifuges as part of a final deal.
The point of the alleged leak was to make it seem as if the West were giving Tehran a sweetheart deal, though Ignatius' piece went on to note that Obama administration officials believe the leaked details were misleading and removed from relevant context.
 
In fairness to the Israeli Prime Minister, we don't yet know whether the suspicions are true. Ignatius offered no hints about his sources and no one has even gone on the record in making the accusation.
 
Having said that, Ignatius is hardly a purveyor of baseless speculation. On the contrary, he has a reputation for being responsible in these areas, which makes the underlying allegation that much more serious.
Dr. Ben Carson, professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Carson makes a rare endorsement of war crimes

02/17/15 09:20AM

Once a likely presidential candidate equates modern American life with Nazi Germany, it's safe to say all bets are off when it comes to rhetorical excesses. Still, before yesterday, I honestly can't remember the last time I heard a candidate in either party explicitly endorse war crimes.
Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon and conservative activist who is considering a run for president in 2016, said on Monday that there should be few or no restrictions on how America fights its wars.
 
While being interviewed on Fox News's "America's Newsroom" by Bill Hemmer, Carson was asked about the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
"Our military needs to know that they're not gonna be prosecuted when they come back, because somebody has, said, 'You did something that was politically incorrect,'" the likely Republican candidate told his national television audience. "There is no such thing as a politically correct war. We need to grow up, we need to mature. If you're gonna have rules for war, you should just have a rule that says no war. Other than that, we have to win. Our life depends on it."
 
Ben Carson didn't actually clarify what actions taken during a war might count as "politically incorrect," which is a shame because it sounded quite a bit like Carson was arguing that he believes war crimes should be acceptable -- and possibly necessary.
Loretta Lynch is sworn in during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 28, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Will Republicans scuttle Lynch's A.G. nomination?

02/17/15 08:40AM

President Obama nominated U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch as his choice to be Attorney General on Nov. 8. Nearly a full month later, he nominated Ash Carter to be the Secretary of Defense. Both sailed through their confirmation hearings with ease, both are eminently qualified, and both have impressed observers on both sides of the aisle.
 
And yet, it was Carter who was easily confirmed last week, while Lynch, despite being nominated a month earlier, continues to wait for reasons that are not entirely clear.
 
In late January, BuzzFeed reported that Lynch had ample, bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee, which was set to advance her nomination by Feb. 13. A confirmation vote would follow soon after, and Lynch was poised to replace Eric Holder "before the end of February." Everything I was hearing from the Hill pointed at the identical conclusion.
 
As of now, however, circumstances have inexplicably changed.
President Obama's pick to serve as the next attorney general is having a hard time finding Republican supporters. To be confirmed by the Senate, attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch only needs four Republicans to support her nomination. But it is unclear where those votes will come from.
 
Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) is the only Republican so far who has signaled his intention to vote for Lynch, though several others have spoken favorably about her.
Senate Democrats are, by all appearances, genuinely surprised. During the Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearings, Lynch was as impressive an A.G. nominee as anyone can remember. Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) organized an unfortunate clown show, filled with witnesses called to testify against Lynch, but none of them actually had anything negative to say about the nominee.
 
So what in the world is going on here?
Demonstrators protest during an immigration reform rally in front of the U.S. Capitol on Capitol Hill in Washington in this October 13, 2009 file photo.

Far-right judge blocks Obama's immigration policy

02/17/15 08:00AM

When several Republican-run state governments decided to go after President Obama's immigration policy, they were selective in where to file the case. The goal was simple: find the most reflexively anti-immigration ideologue they could find.
 
The judge-shopping scheme worked like a charm when U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen, the Republicans' "dream judge," got the case and made it painfully obvious that he was eager to undermine the White House. The outcome was a foregone conclusion; it was a matter of "when," not "if."
 
And so, late last night, Hanen blocked the Obama administration's policy, preventing federal officials from implementing "any and all aspects" of the president's executive actions protecting millions of immigrants from deportation.
The preliminary injunction applies to the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent residents, better known as DAPA, and expansions to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, both of which Obama announced in November. The policy, part of which was set to go into effect on Wednesday, would grant work permits and defer deportation of undocumented immigrant parents of U.S. citizens who've been living in the U.S. since 2010.
The timing is important. As Ian Millhiser explained the decision "came less than two days before the federal government is scheduled to start accepting applications from immigrants seeking to benefit from the new policy," which in turn "raises a cloud of uncertainty over the millions of immigrants expecting to seek relief under the policy."
 
So what happens now?

Immigration order blocked and other headlines

02/17/15 07:58AM

Federal judge stalls Obama's executive action on immigration. (AP)

GOP cools on Loretta Lynch. (The Hill)

The oil train that derailed in West Virginia yesterday afternoon is still burning this morning. (WSAZ)

Ice storm pummels the South. (NBC News)

Steve Scalise is still mending fences. (Politico)

Suspect in Houston Islamic Center fire says it was an accident. (Houston Chronicle)

Battle rages despite Ukraine truce. (BBC)

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Citations for the February 16, 2015 TRMS

02/16/15 10:52PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an exclusive interview with MSNBC's Irin Carmon
  • Randy Fitzwater, eyewitness to West Virginia train derailment
  • Antonio Marcus Constantino, Charleston Daily Mail

Tonight's links:

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About The Rachel Maddow Show

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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