Last night Rachel reported on the discovery that a draft of new legislation to update the regulation of toxic chemicals, had listed as its creating company the American Chemistry Council, the leading trade organization and lobbyist for the chemical industry. That makes it less like draft legislation and more like a ...
* Tunisia: "Gunmen killed at least 19 people -- including 17 foreign tourists -- in an attack on a museum in Tunisia and their accomplices might still be at large, the country's prime minister said Wednesday."
* Gun violence in Arizona: "One person was killed and five others were injured Wednesday after a series of shootings occurred in multiple locations in Mesa, Arizona, according to police."
* Israel: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel pledged on Wednesday to work quickly to form a new government after his clear-cut election victory, as Isaac Herzog, the center-left opposition leader, conceded defeat."
* White House: "In light of Netanyahu's vow that there would be no Palestinian state during his tenure, the United States will 're-evaluate our approach' to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict said Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday."
* Speaking of the president: "President Obama used this manufacturing hub [of Ohio] -- and important swing state -- as the backdrop to draw a sharp distinction Wednesday with his Republican rivals over the economy, as both sides aim to frame the debate for the coming presidential race."
* Don't do anything rash, Fed: "The Federal Reserve on Wednesday moved to the verge of raising interest rates for the first time since the Great Recession, even as officials suggested that the Fed might not take that action until later this year."
It was six months ago that Attorney General Eric Holder announced his retirement, though he said he would stay on until President Obama nominated, and the Senate confirmed, his successor at the Justice Department. Given the scope of Republican opposition to Holder -- the phrase "unbridled disgust" comes to mind -- it seemed likely GOP lawmakers would rush Holder out the door.
Little did we know at the time that Republican senators would prepare to keep the A.G. around indefinitely.
Holder spoke this morning at the Center for American Progress, where he heard a few intentional laughs about his unique professional circumstances.
"There is no place I'd rather be in my closing days as Attorney General than here with you all. Well, at least these should be my closing days.
"Given the Senate's scheduling and delays in considering Loretta Lynch's nomination for a vote, it's almost as if the Republicans in Congress have discovered a new fondness for me! I'm feeling love there that I haven't felt for some time. Where was all this affection over the last six years?"
To borrow a Homer Simpson line, it's funny because it's true.
Six weeks after Holder announced his departure, Obama introduced U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch as his nominee as the nation's next Attorney General. Republicans, eager to rid themselves of Holder and impressed with Lynch's sterling credentials and qualifications, seemed to embrace the president's choice.
It was easy to imagine at the time that the new year would begin with a new Republican-led Congress and a new Attorney General. Instead, for reasons that even they can't fully explain, GOP lawmakers have found a way to keep Holder in the same position they ostensibly want him to leave.
Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) hasn't exactly been shy when launching rhetorical attacks against President Obama. Last month, for example, the far-right Louisianan accused the president of defending ISIS in remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. (Obama did not defend ISIS.)
Fleming is also known for occasionally dabbling in strange, right-wing conspiracy theories, including his allegations a couple of years ago that the Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations would "literally change" and "essentially repeal" the Second Amendment. (In reality, the treaty would do neither.)
This week, however, Andrew Kaczynski reports that the Republican congressman has combined his anti-Obama animus with his affinity for conspiracies.
Rep. John Fleming, Republican from Louisiana, said President Obama's executive action on immigration is part of a "grand plan" to make America a "single party state" to fix elections using undocumented immigrants. [...]
Speaking with the John Fredericks Show, Fleming said this was part of a "grand plan" to make the U.S. a "single party state."
"So in many states, the only thing that are required to vote is simply an ID, well they'll have one," Fleming said. "So make no mistake about it, that this is a part of a grand plan for the Democrat [sic] Party to make this nation into a single-party state, as they have already accomplished in California, and you see the devastating impact it's having there."
He added that Democrats "know that if they can't win elections using American citizens, this is a good way to go around that."
That's quite a "grand plan." It's also ridiculous.
When congressional Republicans threatened to shut down the Department of Homeland Security last month, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) embraced some unfortunate rhetorical excesses. Indeed, in some instances, he was arguably hysterical, urging the GOP to "build a number of coffins outside each Democratic office."
That was last month's fight. This month's fight is over a human-trafficking bill, which used to enjoy bipartisan support until Republican senators added an anti-abortion provision. The debate has led Kirk to once again use some truly bizarre rhetoric.
"[Senate Democrats] are making the same mistake that Democrats made in the 1850s when they defended slavery," he said. "We should all be neo-abolitionists here, to make sure that there is no right in America to enslave others using the Internet."
Look, we can have a spirited conversation about the parties and ideologies of the mid-19th century, but to suggest modern-day Democrats are defending slavery is just bonkers.
The legislative history here isn't complicated: there was bipartisan support for the human-trafficking bill. Then Democrats learned that Republicans quietly inserted an anti-abortion provision into the legislation, prompting Dems to ask that the bill be put back the way it was. The GOP has refused, so the bill is stuck.
This is a substantive disagreement over a policy. It's not a defense of slavery.
Kirk must understand this because he also toldRoll Call yesterday that he wishes his own party "hadn't junked that bill up with abortion politics." He added that the GOP majority should act "as a governing party, always keep bills focused on their main purpose, not link them to the hot social issues of our time."
If Democrats agree with this Mark Kirk sentiment, they're "making the same mistake that Democrats made in the 1850s when they defended slavery"?
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:
* The latest national CNN poll shows Jeb Bush leading the Republicans' 2016 presidential field with 16% support, followed closely by Scott Walker with 13% and Rand Paul at 12%. Mike Huckabee is the only other candidate reaching double digits, running fourth with 10%.
* Arguably more striking, however, is that the same poll shows Hillary Clinton leading each of her likely Republican rivals by double digits in hypothetical general election match-ups. That includes 15-point leads for the former Secretary of State against both Bush and Walker.
* The story surrounding Scott Walker and Ronald Reagan's Bible took a couple of turns this week -- the AP first said the governor fibbed, then the AP said largely the opposite -- but the writer for The Progressive who first reported on this is standing by the reporting and yesterday highlighted the differences between the Reagan Library's political arm and research arm.
* As you've probably heard by now, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's desperate shift to the right in the campaign's closing days worked and he appears to have won another term.
* Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) is resigning his seat at the end of the month, and within a few hours of his announcement, the field of would-be successors took shape. State Sen. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.) appears to be the early favorite, thanks in part to the fact that his father, former Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), held the seat for many years.
* One of Ben Carson's campaign aides appears to have a provocative history on Twitter, including a message he directed at President Obama in which the aide, Jim Dornan, told him to "bend over bitch."
There are a handful of public personalities who, in the interest of maintaining celebrity status, like to flirt with the idea of a presidential campaign. They don't actually intend to seek or hold public office, but they enjoy talking about the possibility. A certain former half-term governor of Alaska comes to mind.
And many political observers, including me, assumed television personality Donald Trump belonged in this category. Sure, he'd keep up appearance and talk about his ambitions, but the idea that Trump would actually become a candidate -- for any elected office -- seems rather ridiculous.
Birther ringleader and Celebrity Apprentice host Donald Trump just threw his hat in the 2016 pool.
Trump launched an exploratory committee to weigh a 2016 run on Wednesday, indicating that his political aspirations are more serious than ever before. Exploratory committees are typically the first step for candidates who want to raise money without the constraints of being an official candidate.
The announcement was accompanied by a brief press statement -- complete with four exclamation points -- in which Trump said, apparently in all seriousness, "I am the only one who can make America truly great again!"
He is one of only three Republicans to actually create an exploratory committee this year, following right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
So, how seriously should the political world take the nascent Trump for President campaign?
Denying climate science is both wrong and dangerous. But when conservative policymakers take steps to prevent others from considering the evidence the right prefers to ignore, it's a far more serious problem.
For example, officials at both the CIA and the Pentagon are concerned about the national security implications of the climate crisis. Congressional Republicans have a message for both agencies: stop.
The budgets of both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense have landed themselves in the crosshairs of Republican budget slicers, but not for reasons you might expect: The GOP isn't happy with the money the two national security agencies are spending on climate-change research.
"The Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency, two of the most important agencies in our national security apparatus, currently spend part of their budget studying climate change," the Republican budget proposal reads, under its section on "Eliminating Waste."
Rebecca Leber added, "According to House Republicans, study of the climate's impact on national security fits under 'examples of areas where there should be room to cut waste, eliminate redundancies, and end the abuse or misuse of taxpayer dollars.' But this is hardly a misuse of funds, considering that the Pentagon warned as far back as the George W. Bush administration that climate change is a threat to national security. The GOP simply wants the Pentagon to ignore the problem."
It's not the first time. Last year, House Republicans -- including seven GOP House members who are now U.S. senators -- tried to force the Pentagon to stop working on the national security implications of the climate crisis.
And as problematic as willful ignorance is when it comes to global warming and national security, the more alarming issue is that GOP lawmakers seem to want everyone to ignore the problem.
For much of the Bush/Cheney era, with the nation fighting two wars in the Middle East, Republican policymakers found it necessary to play some budget tricks. GOP officials in the White House and in Congress had no intention of actually paying for the conflicts, or even including the costs in the budget, so they deemed most war spending an "emergency."
In the Obama era, policymakers made a conscious decision to be more responsible. Yesterday, House Republicans announced they want to re-embrace the Bush-era gimmicks. David Rogers reported:
The great Achilles' heel in the House Republican budget Tuesday can be found in a blue-and-white chart, tucked away on Page 40 and mapping out a 10-year path for the annual appropriations bills that keep the government operating.
On the surface, it appears to keep faith with the spirit of the discretionary spending caps under the 2011 Budget Control Act, a major priority for many fiscal conservatives. But to get the votes of party defense hawks, the budget makes a sweeping end run around the caps by declaring an additional $94 billion as emergency spending for the war against terrorism.
Four years ago, as part of the Republicans' debt-ceiling crisis, Congress approved budget caps limiting defense spending. Plenty of GOP lawmakers now regret the policy, known as "the sequester," and want to spend far more on the Pentagon, even while cutting discretionary spending on literally everything else.
And so Republicans are playing a little game, called the "Overseas Contingency Operations" fund. That's a clumsy way of describing billions of dollars in military spending that, as far as GOP lawmakers are concerned, doesn't really count.
As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained, the House Republican budget plan "adds about $39 billion in 2016 beyond what the Pentagon says it needs for overseas military operations, with the implication that the Pentagon will channel those excess dollars into the regular defense budget.... The plan also adds money for defense above the sequestration levels for the years after 2016. Over the decade, it provides nearly $400 billion in additional defense funding even as it slashes funding for non-defense discretionary programs to record lows."
The funny part is, congressional Republicans, quite recently, denounced the very trick they're now using.
Yesterday morning, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) made a fairly important staffing move, announcing that Liz Mair, the RNC's former Online Communications Director, would hold a similar position in his likely presidential campaign.
Only a day after being announced as an aide to Gov. Scott Walker's political operation, Liz Mair told The Associated Press on Tuesday that she was resigning. Mair took considerable heat for her frank Twitter criticism of Iowa's early role in the presidential nomination process.
"The tone of some of my tweets concerning Iowa was at odds with that which Gov. Walker has always encouraged in political discourse," Mair said in a statement to the AP in which she announced her immediate resignation. "I wish Gov. Walker and his team all the best."
While staffing shake-ups at unannounced presidential campaigns generally aren't big news, what makes this story interesting is the way in which it unfolded.
Walker, who frequently talks about the importance of bold leadership, was confronted with a challenge: the Republican could stand by the member of his team or could back down in the face of an ultimatum from Iowa activists.
For decades, the political debate surrounding the federal minimum wage has had fairly narrow parameters: the discussion was limited to those who wanted to increase the wage and those who wanted to keep it at current levels.
But as Republican politics moved to the right, a new contingent emerged: GOP lawmakers who believe federal minimum wage should be lowered from $7.25 to $0.
The far-right position is more common among congressional Republicans, but lately we've seen a growing number of GOP presidential hopefuls make the same argument -- former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), for example, have both said they're comfortable with eliminating the federal minimum wage altogether.
Yesterday in South Carolina, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) appeared to endorse the same approach.
"We need to leave it to the private sector. I think state minimum wages are fine. The federal government shouldn't be doing this. This is one of those poll-driven deals. It polls well, I'm sure -- I haven't looked at the polling, but I'm sure on the surface without any conversation, without any digging into it people say, 'Yea, everybody's wages should be up.' And in the case of Wal-Mart they have raised wages because of supply and demand and that's good.
"But the federal government doing this will make it harder and harder for the first rung of the ladder to be reached, particularly for young people, particularly for people that have less education."
The likely Republican candidate insisted a higher minimum wage would hurt workers at the bottom of the income scale. "Politically, I'm sure it's a great soundbite," Bush concluded. "But from an economic point of view this is not how we need to be successful."
Taken at face value, Jeb's comments weren't just expressing opposition to a minimum-wage increase, such as the one supported by President Obama, congressional Democrats, and most Americans. Rather, Bush seemed to be making an explicit case for eliminating the federal minimum wage altogether.
In 1981, the newly inaugurated Reagan administration presented Congress with a budget plan filled with an odd little trick that came to be known as the "magic asterisk." The technique, as Michael Kinsley explained a few decades ago, "consisted of hiding phony cuts in the small print of various budget documents in order to exaggerate the Administration's success in spending reduction and to minimize the projected deficit."
In effect, the "magic asterisk" represented illusory spending cuts that the Reagan White House promised to figure out later. The new Republican administration didn't want to come right out and say, "We can't figure out how to make our numbers add up," so they used the asterisks as placeholders.
At the time, some Republicans in Congress weren't quite sold on the idea, so Reagan's aides asked allies in the media to attack them. It worked -- GOP lawmakers "beat a tactical retreat" and gave in to Reagan's bogus budget games. The result was some of the largest deficits in American history, even after Reagan had promised the country the opposite.
A generation later, congressional Republicans aren't questioning the trick; they're embracing it. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) took a look at the new House GOP budget blueprint and told the Washington Post, "They have a magic asterisk."
Hoyer was apparently not referring to an actual asterisk, but to a row of figures with the innocuous label "Other Mandatory" in one of several tables at the back of the document. The numbers show that Republicans are planning to save $1.1 trillion over 10 years by reducing outlays for mandatory spending other than on health care and Social Security, a drastic reduction for that category as compared to current policy.
It was not immediately clear where the savings would come from, but they're necessary in order for the budget to balance within a decade, as Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said it would.
House Republicans started with a vision: increase defense spending while balancing the budget within 10 years, without raising any taxes on anyone. The problem, as Reagan and his aides discovered in the 1980s, is that this really can't be done without "magic."
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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