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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at Empire Bucket on Sept. 29, 2014 in Hudson, Wisc.

Wisconsin's Walker eyes welfare drug tests

11/12/14 11:40AM

Just a couple of months ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was eager to move past his troubled first term by unveiling a new policy agenda. Near the top of the list: drug testing for welfare beneficiaries.
 
As local reports noted at the time, the Republican's plan  would require "drug testing at an undisclosed cost for able-bodied adults receiving unemployment insurance payments or benefits under FoodShare, the successor to the food stamps program."
 
Hunter Schwarz reported yesterday that this wasn't just campaign-season rhetoric: Walker is actually moving forward on this.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has said he wants recipients of food stamps and unemployment benefits to undergo drug tests, a move that could face possible legal trouble. [...]
 
Walker, who won reelection last week against Democratic challenger Mary Burke, has not offered details for such a plan, but spokeswoman Laurel Patrick told the Pioneer Press that Walker would work with his cabinet to "craft a specific proposal" in the next several weeks.
If it seems like stories like these keep popping up, it's not your imagination: conservative policymakers keep targeting welfare recipients with drug tests, and the policies keep failing rather spectacularly.
 
Indeed, the policy seems to be following an odd trajectory: it's tried in one state, where it flops, which in turn leads another state to try it, where it fails again, and so on.
 
And while it's clearly too soon to evaluate Walker's plan on the merits -- the details have not yet come together -- it's not too early to note why the underlying idea is so misguided.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) speaks with the media after voting on Nov. 4, 2014 in New Orleans, La. (Stacy Revere/Getty)

Senate Dems wonder if Keystone can save Landrieu

11/12/14 11:09AM

As of yesterday, there were two unresolved U.S. Senate races: Alaska and Louisiana. As of this morning, there appears to be only one.
 
NBC News is projecting that Dan Sullivan (R) is "the apparent winner" in Alaska, narrowly defeating incumbent Sen. Mark Begich (D). If this is correct, it will mean a net gain of eight Senate seats for Republicans this year, boosting the GOP majority to 53 seats.
 
And that leaves Louisiana, where Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) will take on Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) in a Dec. 6 runoff. Landrieu is clearly an underdog in the race, but the Washington Post reports that her Democratic colleagues have an idea to give her a boost: holding a vote to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline during the lame-duck session.
It was not immediately clear Tuesday night whether Republicans would consent to proceeding with such a vote during the lame-duck session that begins on Wednesday -- especially given the high stakes surrounding Landrieu's reelection race. Such a move would also draw howls from the environmental movement who had hoped that President Obama would resolve a years-long dispute over a long-awaited energy project in their favor.
 
Several Senate Democratic aides confirmed on Tuesday evening that talks are underway to allow for a vote authorizing construction of the pipeline in the coming days.
Bloomberg News is reporting the same thing.
 
I can appreciate why Senate Dems would be eager to give their friend and colleague a hand, but as seat-saving strategies go, this one is highly dubious.
US President Obama holds press conference at White House after mid term elections

President Obama is no 'bystander'

11/12/14 10:20AM

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) delivered a widely noticed speech in September 2011, condemning President Obama, not just on policy grounds, but specifically on the issue of leadership. "We continue to wait and hope that our president will finally stop being a bystander in the Oval Office," the governor said. "We hope that he will shake off the paralysis that has made it impossible for him to take on the really big things."
 
Much of the political media agreed and echoed the assessment. Pundits crying, "Why won't Obama lead?" became so common, a tired cliche was born. The president may have run as a young, ambitious leader, eager to change the world, but the Beltway was increasingly convinced: Obama is an overly cautious, overly cerebral president who would rather talk than act.
 
Two weeks ago, Dana Milbank went so far as to endorse Charles Krauthammer's thesis of Obama as a "passive bystander."
The real problem with Obama is not overreach but his tendency to be hands-off.
 
Since the second year of Obama's presidency, I have been lamenting the lack of strong leadership coming from the White House, describing Obama in June, 2010, as a "hapless bystander ... as the crises cancel his agenda and weaken his presidency." I've since described him over the years as "oddly like a spectator" and as "President Passerby."
Let's put aside, for now, the fact that the bystander thesis completely contradicts the other common anti-Obama condemnation: he's a tyrannical dictator whose radical agenda is destroying the very fabric of America.
 
Instead, let's focus on why the bystander thesis appears to be outrageously wrong -- especially today.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (R) speaks with Speaker of the House John Beohner (R-OH) in Washington in 2012.

Republicans put the EPA in their crosshairs

11/12/14 09:22AM

It's almost as if we were looking at elected leaders from different countries. On the one hand, there's President Obama, taking ambitious steps to address the climate crisis, and on the other hand, there are congressional Republicans, taking steps to gut the Environmental Protection Agency.
 
Asked the other day about his goals for the next Congress, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said his top priority is "to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in."
 
As Coral Davenport reported this week, GOP leaders are united behind a vision intended to undermine the public's environmental safeguards.
At this point, Republicans do not have the votes to repeal the E.P.A. regulations, which will have far more impact on curbing carbon emissions than stopping the [Keystone] pipeline, but they say they will use their new powers to delay, defund and otherwise undermine them. Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, a prominent skeptic of climate change and the presumed new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is expected to open investigations into the E.P.A., call for cuts in its funding and delay the regulations as long as possible. [...]
 
Mr. McConnell signaled last week that he, too, wanted to cut the E.P.A.'s budget to keep it from enforcing environmental regulations. Republicans might also include provisions that would repeal the E.P.A. regulations in crucial spending bills -- a tactic that could force a standoff between Mr. Obama and Mr. McConnell over funding the government.
When a third of the country showed up in the 2014 midterms, they may not have realized they were voting on whether to gut the environmental protections.
 
Surprise.
Barack Obama, Xi Jinping

U.S., China reach breakthrough climate agreement

11/12/14 08:35AM

When President Obama left Washington on Sunday for meetings in China, there were expectations that we'd see some progress on trade talks and perhaps some discussions about North Korea.
 
What we didn't know was that secret negotiations on climate policy have been ongoing, leading to a breakthrough agreement announced overnight.
The U.S. and China announced late Tuesday that the two nations -- which together account for over one third of all greenhouse gas pollution -- have reached a groundbreaking deal to reduce carbon emissions and tackle the growing crisis of global climate change.
 
The sweeping agreement, achieved after months of secret negotiations, includes a first-ever commitment by China to stop its emissions from growing entirely after 2030. The U.S. would double its pace of carbon reduction from 1.2% a year through 2020 to 2.3-2.8% a year afterward, ultimately cutting its total greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% from 2005 levels by 2025.
President Obama, standing alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping, called the deal "a major milestone," which seems entirely fair under the circumstances.
 
The emission goals established by the bilateral agreement are modest, and no one is suggesting that these reductions will resolve the crisis on its own. The breakthrough, however, is the fact that Obama and his team were able to bring China to the table and reach a deal at all.
 
Remember, Republicans, when they're not denying the existence of climate science, have argued repeatedly that the United States cannot act alone on carbon pollution -- if China is unwilling to work towards the same goals, the problem will get worse and the U.S. will be at a competitive disadvantage.
 
The argument has always been something of a cop-out: Republicans assumed Obama would never be able to persuade China to reach an agreement, so by establishing Chinese cooperation as a precondition for action, the GOP felt confident nothing would ever happen.
 
And yet, here we are.
A man jogs past the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 30, 2013.

The challenge of governing in a party of 'knuckleheads'

11/12/14 08:00AM

Just a couple of months ago, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was surprisingly candid about the challenges he faces from his own party's members in his own chamber. "You might notice I have a few knuckleheads in my conference," he said. In a separate interview soon after, Boehner added, "Dealing with Democrats is one thing. Dealing with the knuckleheads is another."
 
Two months later, the good news for the Speaker is that his majority has reached new heights. The bad news, the influx of knuckleheads will make Boehner's job more difficult in ways that are widely under-appreciated.
 
The conventional wisdom, especially within the Beltway media, is that congressional Republicans really will -- no fooling, this time they mean it -- govern responsibly now that they control the House and Senate. The GOP realizes it's been given an opportunity, the theory goes, and it intends to prove how capable the party is.
 
I'm at a bit of a loss to explain why anyone would actually believe this -- observable, unambiguous evidence from the last several years points in a very different direction -- and every Beltway pundit who predicted responsible Republican governing after the 2010 midterms looks quite foolish four years later.
 
But when shaping expectations for the next two years, it's important to appreciate the circumstances that make success so unlikely. Yes, there's obviously the chasm that exists between the center-left Democratic Party and the far-right Republican Party. But as Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein explained well the other day, there's also the division Boehner alluded to -- the one within the GOP itself.
Welcome to the 114th Congress, in which the warfare within the GOP will only be amplified by the party's new power. The pragmatic desire of mainstream Republicans to transcend their "party of no" label and show that they can actually govern will clash with the forces that continue to pull the GOP to the right and oppose anything the president does. This fight within the party will define the new Congress nearly as much as the battles with a Democratic president. [...]
 
If anything, the breadth and depth of the Republican victory will convince the party base -- and the conservative activists, talk-radio hosts and bloggers animating it -- that the obstruction of the past several years worked beautifully, that they have the power and the mandate to push radical anti-government policies, and that any compromise would be abandonment and betrayal.
Over the last week, much of the political world has closely watched Republicans like Boehner and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), monitoring signals of what's to come. But as the Speaker's repeated and humiliating failures remind us, the GOP's direction will not necessarily be decided by its ostensible leaders.
 
It's "the knuckleheads" who'll be grabbing the steering wheel from the back seat.

"Seven hours of terror" and other headlines

11/12/14 07:35AM

"Seven hours of terror" as space probe attempts first-ever landing on a comet. (NBC News)

U.S. and China reach deal on greenhouse gases after months of talks. (NY Times)

The A.P. calls Alaska's Senate race for Republican Dan Sullivan. (AP)

Congress is back today. (The Hill)

The Supreme Court hears arguments about political segregation in Alabama today. (USA Today)

U.N. anti-torture panel grills U.S. officials. (AP)

African nation of Mali confirms 2nd Ebola death. (BBC)

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50,000 votes yet to be counted in Alaska

50,000 votes yet to be counted in Alaska

11/11/14 09:51PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the surprising number of ballots not yet counted in Alaska, where several races remain close, including the Senate race between Republican Dan Sullivan and Democratic incumbent Senator Mark Begich. watch

Fear of facts threatens biology textbooks

Fear of facts threatens biology textbooks

11/11/14 09:24PM

Rachel Maddow reports on an update to ArizonaHonorsBiology.com, hosting pages of high school biology text books that anti-abortion activists are trying to have removed, literally, to prevent biology students from learning facts about human reproduction. watch

Open-ended ISIS war met with Senate wariness

Open-ended ISIS war met with wariness in Senate

11/11/14 09:14PM

Senator Chris Murphy talks with Rachel Maddow about why Congress needs to debate President Obama's request for more money and troops to fight ISIS, and points out that he and other Democrats are not ready to approve another open-ended war. watch

A lame duck Congress doesn't have to be lame

A lame duck Congress doesn't have to be so lame

11/11/14 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow points out to Senate Democrats that just because they'll be losing the majority, that doesn't mean they can't do anything with the time they have left, particularly with President Obama's nomination for Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, await watch

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