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Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, listens at the National Press Club in Washington on Feb. 8, 2011. (Photo by Cliff Owen/AP)

Steve King unveils radical court scheme

04/23/15 08:00AM

Under the American system of government, elected legislators are responsible for writing laws. If those statutes are legally controversial, they're challenged in the courts and evaluated by judges. It's Civics 101.
 
But once in a while, some far-right lawmakers decide they're not entirely comfortable with separation of powers and the idea of judicial review. Yesterday, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), usually known for his fierce opposition to immigration, issued a press release announcing a new proposal related to marriage equality.
Congressman Steve King released the following statement after introducing his bill "Restrain the Judges on Marriage Act of 2015." This bill strips federal courts of jurisdiction to hear cases related to marriage.  The effect of the bill would prevent federal courts from hearing marriage cases, leaving the issue to the States where it properly belongs. [...]
 
"My bill strips Article III courts of jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court of appellate jurisdiction, 'to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, any type of marriage.'"
The "Restrain the Judges on Marriage Act" has already picked up seven House co-sponsors -- all of them Republican -- including some familiar names like Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), and Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.).
 
And that's a shame because, even by 2015 standards, this idea is just bonkers.

Lynch drama near the end and other headlines

04/23/15 07:36AM

Loretta Lynch drama nears its final act. (New York Times)

House Benghazi investigators to announce plans for Clinton grilling. (Bloomberg Politics)

It took the Secret Service more than a year to replace a broken alarm at the Texas home of fmr. Pres. George H.W. Bush. (Washington Post)

France seeks possible accomplice to planned church attack. (AP)

A fight at the Supreme Court over raisins and the New Deal. (Washington Post)

Michael Brown's family plans a wrongful death lawsuit. (USA Today)

Chilean volcano erupts for the first time in more than 4 decades. (Weather.com)

read more

What makes a baby crocodile smile?

What makes a baby crocodile smile?

04/22/15 10:34PM

Rachel Maddow tells the story of how the babies of Cuban crocodiles gifted to a Russia cosmonaut by Fidel Castro are returning to their native environment by way of Sweden in the hope of revitalizing their species. watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 4.22.15

04/22/15 05:40PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Yemen: "Warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition conducted airstrikes Wednesday in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz, hours after Saudi officials had announced they were ending a nearly monthlong military operation against the Houthi rebel group in order to focus on a 'political process.'"
 
* Earth Day: "Speaking at an Earth Day event in Florida's scenic Everglades National Park Wednesday, President Obama sought to imbue his environmental message with urgency. 'We do not have time to deny the effects of climate change,' Obama said."
 
* The final vote was 99 to 0: "The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a stalled bill to fight human trafficking, freeing it to consider the nomination of Loretta E. Lynch to be the next attorney general."
 
* Gun violence isn't usually funny, but there are exceptions: "France said Wednesday it had foiled a jihadist plot to attack a church after an Algerian who accidentally shot himself was found with a stash of weapons and documents mentioning Islamist militant groups."
 
* Oklahoma: "Abandoning years of official skepticism, Oklahoma's government on Tuesday embraced a scientific consensus that earthquakes rocking the state are largely caused by the underground disposal of billions of barrels of wastewater from oil and gas wells."
 
* West Virginia: "Federal prosecutors plan to review evidence from a state investigation of the fatal shooting of a Virginia man by police in Martinsburg, West Virginia."
 
* California: "A bill that would require more California children to be vaccinated before they enter school was approved Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee, a week after it stalled when members of the panel voiced concerns that it would deprive many young people of an education."
 
* NSA reforms: "House negotiators are close to a deal that would effectively end the National Security Agency's controversial bulk data collection program, and congressional aides believe the bill is likely to win the endorsement of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), who opposed the legislation last year."
Razor wire-topped fence at the abandoned "Camp X-Ray" detention facility at the US Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on April 9, 2014. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty)

Obama admin eyes big changes at Guantanamo Bay

04/22/15 04:19PM

Late last year, a reporter asked President Obama whether the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay will be closed by the end of 2015. He didn't answer directly, but he committed to doing "everything I can to close it."
 
To that end, there was quite a bit of activity around that time to transfer approved detainees from the prison, reducing Guantanamo's overall population to 122. The Washington Post reports today that the race is on to lower it further before Congress ignores the military's advice and makes further transfers impossible.
Facing a potential showdown with Congress, the Pentagon is racing to move dozens of detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in coming months before lawmakers can block future transfers and derail President Obama's plan to shutter the U.S. military prison.
 
As a first step, officials plan to send up to 10 prisoners overseas, possibly in June. In all, the Pentagon hopes that 57 inmates who are approved for transfer will be resettled by the end of 2015.
An unnamed defense official told the Post, "I am aware of the clock ticking." [See the update below.]

The deadline, such as it is, does not refer to a specific expiration point, so much as it relates to Congress' plans. It's already clear Republican lawmakers intend to prohibit all future transfers, and though such a bill would draw an inevitable veto, things get trickier if Congress adds the policy to the next Pentagon spending bill.
 
If the administration can move 57 prisoners before this happens, the detainee population will shrink to just 65 individuals. The White House hopes that the arithmetic would then become undeniable, even to GOP lawmakers -- spending millions of dollars on a detention facility that the military wants to close, and which undermines the United States' global credibility, all to lock up 65 people who could easily be moved to secure domestic facilities is ridiculous.
 
The same article, however, included a tidbit I haven't seen reported anywhere else.
A view of the White House on Dec. 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

GOP gets highly selective on White House oversight

04/22/15 12:58PM

Two of the most prominent far-right voices in Washington, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have a Wall Street Journal op-ed today on an issue that's quickly becoming a major political dispute. The headline on their joint piece is important, in an interesting sort of way: "Putting Congress in Charge on Trade."
The United States is making headway on two historic trade agreements, one with 11 countries on the Pacific Rim and another with America's friends in Europe. These two agreements alone would mean greater access to a billion customers for American manufacturers, farmers and ranchers.
 
But before the U.S. can complete the agreements, Congress needs to strengthen the country's bargaining position by establishing trade-promotion authority, also known as TPA, which is an arrangement between Congress and the president for negotiating and considering trade agreements. In short, TPA is what U.S. negotiators need to win a fair deal for the American worker.
TPA is perhaps best known by its more common name: "fast-track."
 
Trade policy can get a little tricky, but the point of trade-promotion authority is to streamline the process. Under the plan, Congress would empower President Obama to move forward on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiating its specific provisions. If successful, the White House would then present a finished TPP to Congress for an up-or-down vote -- with no amendments. 
 
Lawmakers would effectively have a take-it-or-leave-it opportunity.
 
Of course, the underlying policy goal of "fast-tracking" the process is to strengthen the president's hand, making it harder for Congress to intervene or alter an agreement. For Cruz and Ryan to suggest trade-promotion authority puts "Congress in charge" is pretty much the opposite of the truth -- their approach would guarantee that Obama and his team work on a trade deal with very little congressional contribution.
 
That's not criticism, per se. If you want the White House to negotiate without lawmakers' input, this might sound great. But let's not kid ourselves about "putting Congress in charge on trade," with a policy that would explicitly put the president in charge on trade. Lawmakers would still have the final say on whether to approve the agreement, but that's true whether "fast-track" passes or not.
 
And while all of this certainly matters, and will be the subject of spirited debate in the coming weeks and months, I can't help but notice that Republicans sure are selective when it comes to oversight.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.22.15

04/22/15 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:
 
* Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), gearing up for a possible presidential campaign, was asked yesterday whether he considers the war in Iraq a mistake. "I'm just going to reserve my comment on that," the Ohio Republican replied. It's been 12 years, gov, you've had time to formulate an opinion.
 
* As Rachel explained on the show last night, Jeb Bush's campaign is prepared to "turn some of a campaign's central functions over" to a super PAC, which legally is not supposed to coordinate with candidates or their staffs. Jeb would "endow" the separate entity "not just with advertising on Bush's behalf, but with many of the duties typically conducted by a campaign."
 
* Speaking of the former Florida governor, Bush has long been out of step with his party's base on Common Core education standards, and over the weekend in New Hampshire, he seemed to take steps that distance himself, at least a bit, from his previous position.
 
* The latest CNN poll shows President Obama's national standing back above water, with a 48% approval rating and a 47% disapproval rating. The president's handling of the economy has also reached heights unseen in recent years.
 
* Though Chris Christie has indicated a willingness to compete in Iowa, the New Jersey Republican has declined an invitation to attend the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition's annual conference this weekend. At least nine other candidates are expected to participate.
A man throws an earth balloon into the air as people fill 58th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue before a global warming march in New York Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. (Photo by Mel Evans/AP)

World wonders whether Obama can deliver on climate goals

04/22/15 11:24AM

In March, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took his climate denialism to a new level: the Republican lawmaker urged states to ignore the EPA. The Obama administration expects states to submit their plans to reduce carbon pollution, but McConnell said states should simply ignore the federal process.
 
A couple of weeks later, McConnell went just a little further, warning U.S. negotiating partners around the world to "proceed with caution" before reaching an agreement with U.S. officials about reducing carbon emissions. As the GOP leader sees it, President Obama and his team may assure foreign countries that we'll reach our goals, but McConnell wants the world to be skeptical of the White House's pledges.
 
To be sure, all of this is quite unusual. In the American tradition, our elected leaders do not usually encourage foreign countries to be distrustful of the United States. Though between McConnell, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and much of today's congressional GOP, one of our major parities seems to be making a habit out of it.
 
But on Earth Day, it's worth appreciating the fact that Republican efforts have drawn international notice.
As President Obama rushes to cement his climate legacy, other nations are questioning whether his administration can make good on its promise to slash greenhouse-gas emissions ahead of a major climate summit in Paris at the end of this year.
 
"Certainly ... countries want to get reassurance that the U.S. can deliver on what we've said that we're doing," U.S. special envoy for climate change Todd Stern told reporters Monday when asked about challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to regulate carbon pollution from power plants. "I wouldn't say it's a big drumbeat, but I have definitely been asked that."
The White House's problem isn't skeptics of climate science; the problem is skeptics of the American political system.
A sign at an Affordable Care Act outreach event in Los Angeles, California, September 28, 2013.

In fight over Medicaid expansion, AFP can't win them all

04/22/15 10:53AM

The Montana affiliate of the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity thought it was in a strong position to derail Medicaid expansion in the state, just as AFP activists did in Tennessee in February.
 
As it turns out, in Big Sky Country, the opposite happened.
The state Legislature has passed a bill expanding Medicaid eligibility to about 70,000 low-income Montana residents.
 
The bill approved Saturday heads to Gov. Steve Bullock, who is expected to sign it into law.
Bullock is likely to approve the policy -- as the AP report added, the governor "issued a statement applauding passage of the measure, saying he's glad politics could be put aside on behalf of the health of state residents and the economies of rural towns." The legislature, however, has not yet formally transmitted the bill to the governor's office.

Remember, as we talked about last week, at this point a year ago, Medicaid expansion in Montana looked like a lost cause, but in early May 2014, Bullock started arranging some "non-publicized" meetings on the issue. The governor saw a possible opportunity to advance the policy, so he started quiet negotiations with state Republicans and private-sector stakeholders.
 
It worked. Assuming the Obama administration signs off on the package, which is likely, Montana will expand health security to tens of thousands of low-income residents, while improving state finances and bolstering state hospitals.
 
Montana's AFP actually became something of a punchline during the debate, at one point arguing that expanded coverage would defy "the voices of millions of Montanans who have made it clear that they do not want more Obamacare." Montana's population is roughly a million people. There's no such thing as "millions of Montanans" -- a detail health care supporters were eager to point out.

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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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