Back in March, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the chair of the House Republican Conference and the #4 leader in the chamber, received some good news and some bad news from the House Ethics Committee. The panel, as Zack Roth reported at the time, declined to appoint a special investigative panel "to probe whether a top Republican improperly used official funds to boost her political career," but it didn't drop the case, either.
McMorris Rodgers was accused of improperly co-mingling campaign and official funds and the Ethics Committee was interested enough in the case to recommend subpoenas for two former members of McMorris Rodgers' team.
It's unusual for a member of the House leadership to face ethics allegations like these, but in the months that followed, the McMorris Rodgers controversy largely faded away. That is, until yesterday, when a former staffer for the Washington Republican made an unusually aggressive move. Roll Callreported:
A former communications director for House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers sent reporters a 1,959-word email Monday accusing the Washington Republican of "retribution" in connection with an ethics complaint against her office -- a serious charge that is the latest alleged impropriety in an ongoing Ethics Committee investigation. [...]
In his email, [Todd Winer] alleges the Ethics Committee is now investigating McMorris Rodgers' efforts to "intimidate and punish" him. In fact, Winer says the Washington Republican's staff spread lies about him to the media -- an act that he says rises to "the level of defamation."
It's hard to know exactly what to make of the story. Initial reports suggested Winer was the original source of the ethics complaint against McMorris Rodgers, though the former aide denies this. But as Winer tells it, the congresswoman's office is nevertheless targeting him for "retribution," which in turn has led him to "break [his] silence" and release a memo to the media about McMorris Rodgers alleged misdeeds.
Rep. Cory Gardner (R), still in the midst of a very competitive U.S. Senate race in Colorado, seems to believe the key to success is pretending he's a liberal.
For example, the far-right congressman, known for his social conservatism on culture-war issues, recently urged voters to overlook his support for "personhood" measures that would ban common forms of birth control, and instead see him as a progressive champion when it comes to contraception access.
Now, Gardner's suddenly an environmentalist, too.
In one of the GOP lawmaker's new television ads, Gardner stands in front of wind turbines and tells voters, "What is a Republican like me doing at a wind farm? Supporting the next generation, that's what." The congressman boasts that he helped "launch our state's green-energy industry," before the ad tells viewers that Gardner is a "new kind of Republican."
There are two main problems with the claim. First, Gardner didn't actually help launch Colorado's green-energy industry.
GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner, framed by sunflowers and wind turbines, tells voters in a campaign ad this week that he co-wrote a law to launch Colorado's green-energy economy. He leaves out that the law was repealed five years later, deemed useless for not enabling a single project. [...]
The Clean Energy Development Authority, which was set up by the law, was intended to assist in the financing of clean-energy projects such as improvements to electricity transmission lines.
Second, the notion that Gardner is presenting himself as some kind of champion of progressive environmental policy is pretty silly -- the League of Conservative Voters publishes a scorecard documenting every member's votes on environmental legislation. Gardner's most recent rating: 4%. No one in the Colorado delegation did worse.
Obviously, this is not the record of a "new kind of Republican." But let's not brush past the fact that Gardner feels the need to pretend to be more progressive.
Looking back at Sen. Pat Roberts' (R-Kan.) lengthy career on Capitol Hill, there's something striking about his electoral background: he's never really faced a tough race. As a U.S. House member, the Republican Kansan cruised to easy victories. As a three-term senator, each of his statewide wins has been by landslide margins.
And in a way, that's unfortunate for Roberts -- politicians who never experience a challenging election fail to develop valuable political skills. It's like a muscle that can either grow stronger or atrophy from lack of use.
It's become clear that Roberts, whatever his merits as a legislator may or may not be, never learned how to hit the trail like a pro.
Back in July, facing a primary challenge that shouldn't have been close, Roberts told a radio audience, "Every time I get an opponent -- I mean, every time I get a chance, I'm home." The senator was struggling with questions regarding his in-state residency at the time.
After the primary, the longtime incumbent effectively stopped campaigning, with one of his top campaign officials announcing that Roberts had returned "home." In this case, that meant going back to Roberts' residence in Washington, D.C., since the senator doesn't actually own a home in the state he represents.
Andrew Kaczynski uncovered the latest trouble for the incumbent.
Incumbent Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts says he's "damn proud" to live in Dodge City -- noting he's only been home "about seven times" this year -- at a state fair debate with lurking independent challenger Greg Orman.
"My home is Dodge City and I'm damn proud," Roberts said in the debate.
When Orman noted in the debate that he'd probably been to Dodge City more often than Roberts this year, the senator interrupted to ask how many times he'd been to the city. Four times, Orman said.
Roberts responded he'd been to Dodge City "about seven times," which may have been the accurate number, but was nevertheless the wrong thing to say.
In the early summer, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) dropped not-so-subtle hints about his intentions: he was fully prepared to embrace Medicaid expansion by somehow circumventing Republican state lawmakers.
The governor said in June his Department of Health and Human Resources "will have a plan on my desk by no later than September, first detailing how we can move Virginia health care forward even in the face of the demagoguery, lies, fear and cowardice that have gripped this debate for too long."
McAuliffe, who ran on a platform of Medicaid expansion during his successful campaign last year, followed through, but it turns out there's a pretty severe limit on what a governor can do in the face of unyielding legislative opposition.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who vowed in June to defy the Republican-controlled legislature and expand healthcare to 400,000 uninsured Virginians, unveiled a much more modest plan Monday after being thwarted by federal rules and a last-minute change to state budget language.
McAuliffe outlined measures to provide health insurance to as many as 25,000 Virginians, just a fraction of those he had hoped to cover by expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
No one can doubt the governor's efforts -- he tried everything he could think of. But in order for Virginia to do the smart and responsible thing, the GOP-led legislature would have to do what policymakers in most states have done: embrace the basic arithmetic of Medicaid expansion.
And Virginia Republicans simply would not budge. To this extent, far-right GOP lawmakers "won" the fight -- roughly 375,000 low-income Virginians will not have access to affordable medical care, for reasons that defy moral comprehension.
It was just a few months ago when the Republican Study Committee, a group of far-right House GOP lawmaker, invited former Vice President Dick Cheney to Capitol Hill to complain about President Obama for a while. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), now a member of the House GOP leadership, said at the time, in reference to Cheney, "He's got a lot of credibility when it comes to talking about foreign policy."
I don't think he was kidding.
Apparently, this thinking remains quite pervasive among GOP lawmakers, who keep extending invitations to Cheney, his spectacular failures and incompetence notwithstanding. The Washington Postreported late yesterday:
The leading architect of the Iraq war will be on Capitol Hill for a private chat with House Republicans on Tuesday, just as Congress is grappling again with how involved the United States should be in the region's snowballing unrest.
Yes, as in Dick Cheney, one of the war's most ardent defenders. The former vice president was invited by the GOP's campaign arm to speak at its first weekly conference meeting since Congress's five-week break, a House GOP official confirmed.
It says something important about Republican lawmakers that to better understand international affairs, they not only keep turning to failed former officials, they keep seeking guidance from the same failed former official.
Indeed, this isn't a situation in which was Cheney was just wandering around, looking for someone who'd listen to his mindless condemnations of the president who's cleaning up Cheney's messes, and GOP lawmakers agreed to listen as a courtesy. Rather, Congressional Republicans have gone out of their way to make the former V.P. one of their most sought after instructors.
Just in this Congress, Cheney has been on Capitol Hill advising GOP lawmakers over and over and over again.
It's tempting to start the usual diatribe, highlighting all of Cheney's horrific failures, his spectacular misjudgments, and his propensity for dishonesty on a breathtaking scale. But let's skip that, stipulating that Cheney's tenure in national office was a genuine disaster, the effects of which Americans will be dealing with for many years to come.
Let's instead note how truly remarkable the timing of Cheney's latest invitation to Capitol Hill is.
Back in July, political scientist Norm Ornstein noted that "blocking ambassadors when the world is in turmoil and America's national interest is at stake is simply shameful." At the time, Senate Republicans just didn't care.
The question now, as Rachel explained on last night's show, is whether GOP senators are prepared to be more responsible now that their five-week break is over.
For example, when it comes to addressing ISIS, there are few countries on the planet more important than Turkey. Consider the White House's full-court press.
The Obama administration on Monday began the work of trying to determine exactly what roles the members of its fledgling coalition of countries to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria will play, with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel huddled with the leaders of the one country the administration has called "absolutely indispensable" to the fight: Turkey.
But after hours of meetings here, there were no announcements of what the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might do. In fact, Turkish officials meeting with Mr. Hagel eschewed the news conferences that usually accompany high-level visits from American officials.
Diplomatic progress with Turkey is critical when it comes to an international response to ISIS, but Senate Republicans have refused to allow the United States to have an ambassador to the country to help with the talks. Obama was forced to dispatch the Bush/Cheney ambassador to Turkey in a temporary capacity because of the immediacy and urgency of the situation.
Note, the problem is not with Obama, who months ago nominated a highly qualified, career foreign-service officer, John Bass, to fill the post. Rather, there's no U.S. ambassador to Turkey right now because of a Republican tantrum.
And it's not just Turkey. The United States wants to help respond to the Ebola crisis in Western Africa, but Republicans won't confirm an ambassador to Sierra Leone. U.S. officials want to address the humanitarian crisis in Central America, but Republicans won't confirm an ambassador to Guatemala. The Department of Homeland Security doesn't even have Senate-confirmed policy chiefs in place to handle terrorism and cybersecurity threats because Republicans haven't allowed votes on pending nominees.
Juliet Macur, sports reporter for the New York Times, talks with Rachel Maddow about the newly public video of football player Ray Rice punching his then-fiancé unconscious, and the pressure on the NFL not to look the other way on domestic violence. watch
José Díaz-Balart, host of the José Díaz-Balart show on MSNBC, talks with Rachel Maddow about the frustrated confusion among immigration reform advocates at President Obama's emphatic promise to take action before summer's end and sudden delay... watch
Rachel Maddow explains why Turkey is surely crucial to President Obama's strategy to combat ISIS, and how the urgency of the ISIS situation highlights the failure of Congress to confirm 65 ambassadors - including one to Turkey. watch