Even among House Republicans, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.)' has never exactly been a meek wallflower. But just over the last few months, the New York Republican seems to have taken an alarming turn.
When Americans were concerned about Ebola, King suggested the public should no longer trust public-health officials. When Americans were concerned about ISIS, he made up a story about an attempted 2011 attack that didn't exist. After the Ferguson grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, King complained that President Obama hadn't shown enough support for Michael Brown's killer. Last week, King blamed Eric Garner's death, not on the chokehold, but on his weight.
And just when it seemed the Republican congressman couldn't possibly make matters any worse, Andrew Kaczynski uncovers KIng's most gut-wrenching comments to date.
Rep. Peter King says the 525-page Senate report on the CIA's interrogation and detention techniques does not detail torture, but instead just procedures which create what King described as "tremendous discomfort."
Speaking with both local radio and NewsMaxTV's America's Forum Wednesday, the New York Republican added it would be a crime if we didn't take these actions and that those who support the release of the Senate's scathing report have an attitude of "hate America first," "self-loathing," and "self-hatred."
In one of the interviews, King said of waterboarding and related abuses, "I don't believe these are torture at all... We're not talking about anyone being burned or stabbed or cut or anything like that. We're talking about people being made to stand in awkward positions, have water put into their nose and into their mouth. Nobody suffered any lasting injuries from this."
I've seen a lot of Republicans this week express support for torture. Pete King's absurdities are arguably the most depressing.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), the son of a Baptist preacher, frequently talks about his Christian faith. But his familiarity with other religions, especially in a state in which minority faiths represent a tiny percentage of the population, appears to be rather limited.
Occasionally, that can be a problem.
The Capital Times in Madison reports today, for example, on an unfortunate incident from Walker's tenure in Milwaukee, before he was elected governor.
In an undated letter unearthed by the liberal group One Wisconsin Now during the August release of documents from the first of two John Doe investigations related to the governor, Walker responded to a letter from Milwaukee attorney and chairman of the Wisconsin Center District Franklyn Gimbel.
Walker told Gimbel his office would be happy to display a menorah celebrating "The Eight Days of Chanukah" at the Milwaukee County Courthouse, and asked Gimbel to have a representative from Lubavitch of Wisconsin contact Walker's secretary, Dorothy Moore, to set it up.
The letter is signed, "Thank you again and Molotov."
In his first term, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) launched an economic "experiment," involving massive tax breaks his state obviously couldn't afford. The result was something of a disaster: state finances are in shambles, the state's debt rating has been downgraded (twice), and the promised economic boom never materialized.
Brownback was re-elected anyway.
But as the far-right governor gets ready for a second term, he's left in the awkward position of trying to clean up his mess, which includes a $279 million budget shortfall in 2015, and a projected $436 million gap in 2016. Brownback could scale back some of his lavish tax breaks, which aren't working anyway, and which would alleviate the problem.
That's not, however, the governor's plan. The Kansas City Star ran this report yesterday:
Gov. Sam Brownback plans to transfer $95 million from the state highway fund and cut the budgets of state agencies by 4 percent to help plug a budget deficit.
State agencies will see their budgets reduced by 4 percent from January through June, resulting in about $79 million in savings. The state will also transfer $201 million from dedicated funds, including the highway fund, into its general fund.
Hmm. Given a choice between highway spending, which creates jobs and helps commerce, and tax breaks that aren't working, Brownback has decided to prioritize the latter.
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:
* With no debate at all, Republicans included a provision in the so-called "Cromnibus" spending bill that "dramatically" expands the amount of money wealthy political donors can give the national parties: "Top donors would be allowed to give three times the annual cap on national party donations to three additional party committees set up for the purposes of the presidential conventions, building expenses and election recounts."
* Remember that weird Maine state Senate race I mentioned last week? It's been resolved: "A review of ballots from Long Island revealed Tuesday that a simple counting error caused a discrepancy in the state Senate District 25 election results, ending weeks of intrigue and swirling speculation about ballot stuffing and election fraud."
* This seems important: "The Koch brothers and their allies are pumping tens of millions of dollars into a data company that's developing detailed, state-of-the-art profiles of 250 million Americans, giving the brothers' political operation all the earmarks of a national party."
* An alleged bribery scandal forced Jesse Benton to resign this year as Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R) campaign manager, but Benton, a longtime ally of the Paul family, will apparently still be welcome in Sen. Rand Paul's (R) 2016 political operation.
* In Vermont's gubernatorial campaign, Scott Milne (R) may have come in second to Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), but because neither candidate got 50% of the vote, Milne is taking advantage of a quirky state law and pushing the race into the state legislature, where he's likely to lose.
* Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) may not have a major national profile, but he's about to become much better known outside his home state: Bullock will serve as the new chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
* With Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) curtailing her fundraising, it's widely believed she'll retire in 2016. California Democrats are already tripping over each other to prepare for a possible statewide campaign.
Over the summer, Peter Hamby, a political reporter for CNN, joked, "You can't imagine Chris Christie hanging out with Steve King." It seemed like a fair point -- Christie has cultivated an image as a national, mainstream figure within the Republican Party, while King, best known for his aggressively anti-immigrant posture, is on the right-wing fringe.
And yet, it's actually not hard to imagine Chris Christie palling around with Steve King after all. Aliyah Frumin reported yesterday:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is heading back to Iowa next month for a conservative summit co-hosted by GOP Rep. Steve King and Citizens United -- stoking further speculation that the Republican is all but certainly running for president in 2016.
The appearance at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24 will be Christie's first visit to the state -- which kicks off the presidential nominating process -- since the midterm elections.... Christie also headlined King's annual pheasant hunt fundraiser back in October.
And as long as we're on the subject, Christie also campaigned for King in 2012, headlining a luncheon on behalf of the extremist congressman.
The obvious takeaway from this is that Christie, to the surprise of absolutely no one, is gearing up to launch a presidential campaign, which necessarily means pandering to radical figures within his party. In New Jersey, the governor has occasionally been comfortable condemning the "crazies," in his words, within the GOP, but when looking ahead to the national landscape, Christie apparently has far fewer qualms about cozying up to radical figures.
But Christie may very well come to regret his alliance with Steve King.
Remember the community group called ACORN? Rest assured, congressional Republicans do.
As regular readers know, I've occasionally marveled at the right's preoccupation with the organization, which permanently closed its doors several years ago. As recently as two years ago, Public Policy Polling found that nearly half of Republican voters believed President Obama only won re-election because of ACORN's interference -- even though ACORN didn't exist at the time.
Such paranoia has been especially common in Congress, where Republicans continued to insist on provisions in spending bills that blocked ACORN from receiving public funding, despite its non-existence.
All of that changed, however, over the summer, when GOP lawmakers seemed to realize it was time to move on. House Republicans finally appeared to be "throwing in the towel" in its campaign against the organization, dropping the anti-ACORN language from their spending bills. It was a bright, new, reality-based day.
Fear not, America. House Republicans have resumed their war on the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, an anti-poverty nonprofit staffed by low-income people, a scant 4 1/2 years after the organization officially folded. [...]
On Tuesday, House negotiators unveiled a bill to fend off a looming government shutdown that included the following ominous provision: "None of the funds made available under this or any other Act, or any prior Appropriations Act, may be provided to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, allied organizations, or successors."
Remember, at present, there is no ACORN. Denying it funding is about as sensible as cutting off unicorn research.
All of which leads to the larger issue of Republicans tackling imaginary problems.
It's tempting to think that in a fight over a congressional spending bill, Democrats and Republicans would be arguing over finances. But when it came to shape the $1.1 trillion spending package that funds most of the government in 2015, many of the fights had nothing to do with money at all.
Cultural conservatives in the House and Senate were also pressing to include a "conscience clause" for employers who say funding contraception violates their religious beliefs.
The Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling already tackled this issue, but the scope of the ruling didn't apply to all employers, so apparently some Republicans decided to tackle the issue in the so-called "Cromnibus" spending package. Caitlin MacNeal called it a "sneak attack" from the right, with conservatives trying to get this policy through without any real debate.
Given the circumstances, leaders in both parties were carefully scrutinizing the language written by their rivals, and in this case, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) balked at the GOP's attempt to curtail birth control access. Lauren French reported:
...Pelosi was opposed, a senior Democratic source said. Republicans will likely depend on Democratic votes to pass the spending bill, so both parties have been negotiating over the language of the legislation.
Pelosi tapped Democratic negotiators to draw "a firm line" against any changes that focused on the so-called 'conscience clause', a senior Democratic source said.
"This kind of political maneuvering -- using must-pass legislation to accomplish a 'wish list' of one faction of Congress and risking a government shutdown -- is precisely the kind of behavior the American people detest. We urge you in the strongest possible terms to keep any appropriations legislation considered before the close of the 113th Congress free from ideological policy riders," Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) wrote in a letter to Boehner earlier this week.
What I find interesting about this isn't just the behind-the-scenes wrangling, but also the peek at Republican priorities.
When the voters of Colorado decided to legalize use of marijuana, pot became legal statewide. When voters in the state of Washington decided to legalize use of marijuana, pot became legal there, too. And this year, voters in Washington, D.C., went to the polls and overwhelmingly agreed to legalize up to 2 ounces of marijuana for adult, recreational use.
The difference is, unlike every state, the people of the District of Columbia have to worry whether Congress will allow these Americans -- who pay federal taxes but have no voice in federal lawmaking -- to approve their own policies.
In theory, this shouldn't be too big a problem. After all, congressional Democrats don't care if D.C. voters voted to legalize small amounts of pot, and congressional Republicans claim to believe in a small federal government that emphasizes local control.
But the funny thing about Republican principles is just how malleable they can be. The Washington Postreported overnight:
The District will be prohibited from legalizing marijuana for the much of the coming year under a spending deal reached Tuesday.... The development -- upending voter-approved Initiative 71 -- shocked elected D.C. leaders, advocates for marijuana legalization and civil liberties groups who earlier in the day had grown confident that the measure would be at least partially protected while Democrats still controlled the Senate.
However, with Republicans set to take control of the chamber in January, the defeat suggested that the will of D.C. voters -- who approved marijuana legalization last month by a margin of more than 2 to 1 -- may be suspended indefinitely.
To be sure, Senate Democrats tried to push back against the change, but House Republicans were insistent -- and with a deadline looming, Dems didn't see this as an issue worthy of a shutdown.
So, at the demand of far-right Republicans, the big federal government will crush the popular will of local voters, simply because conservative lawmakers feel like it.
Indeed, D.C. is now left in a very awkward policy position, forced on the city by a Congress in which voters have no voice.
It'll take a while for members of Congress -- and the rest of us, for that matter -- to dig through the $1.1 trillion spending package unveiled last night, which will fund nearly all of the government for the next year. The closer one looks, the more the details matter.
The agreement, for example, includes over $5 billion to finance the federal response to the Ebola outbreak, and a similar amount to combat Islamic State militants. There's money for a few dozen F-35 fighter jets and a boost to Israel's Iron Dome missile-defense system.
But it was one of the budget cuts that jumped out at me. Ed O'Keefe reported overnight:
At domestic agencies ... the IRS would lose $345.6 million. The nation's tax agency also would be banned from targeting organizations seeking tax-exempt status based on their ideological beliefs.
Since the IRS wasn't planning on targeting organizations seeking tax-exempt status based on their ideological beliefs, that latter half of the paragraph isn't too big a deal, but cutting the IRS budget by another $345.6 million is a very bad idea.
Shrinking resources are hurting a key IRS system that collects outstanding taxes, potentially leading to lost revenue for the federal government, according to a new report. [...]
IRS officials have made reversing recent budget cuts a top priority, and advocates for more resources say it would allow the agency to bring in revenues that are currently owed but uncollected.
Confronted with this knowledge, congressional Republicans insisted on slashing the Internal Revenue Service's budget anyway. Why? Because of the discredited, year-old "IRS scandal" that never really existed outside the far-right fever swamp.
I realize that defending IRS funding isn't exactly a sexy topic, and we'll never see an organized "Leave the IRS Alone!" campaign, but this is actually symptomatic of a larger problem.
With a deadline looming over a possible government shutdown -- current federal spending expires tomorrow at midnight -- House and Senate negotiators have been working on a compromise package for a while now. The plan was to wrap up a deal over the weekend. There were rumors the agreement would be released on Monday morning.
Which soon became Monday night. Then Tuesday morning. Finally, last night, as Suzy Khimm and Benjy Sarlin reported, the bicameral compromise was unveiled.
House and Senate leaders have reached a bipartisan deal to avert a government shutdown, agreeing to fund most operations through September of next year. [...]
Republicans won some significant victories in the deal: While most domestic spending remains flat, the spending bill cuts funding for the IRS and Environmental Protection Agency, and it guts a significant provision in the Dodd-Frank Act.
We'll explore some of these policy details later this morning -- the Wall Street Journal had a handy round-up of some of the package's highlights (or lowlights, depending on one's perspective) -- but for now let's focus on some of the procedural questions, because with one day remaining before the deadline, the overarching question is whether or not the government is going to shut down tomorrow at midnight.
The answer is, probably not, though success is hardly assured.
The way forward is largely consistent with what House Republican leaders had in mind all along: nearly all federal operations will be funded through the end of the fiscal year in September 2015. The exception is the Department of Homeland Security, which will be funded through February 2015, allowing GOP lawmakers another chance for a standoff over President Obama's immigration policy.
But -- and this is where things get a little tricky -- lawmakers took so long to pull this deal together that they may have to vote today or tomorrow to extend existing funding for just a few days, giving Congress time to jump through the procedural hoops and approve the compromise unveiled last night.
All of which leads to my favorite quote of the week.
Rachel Maddow shows details from the Senate torture report indicating that the CIA, lacking a torture program, employed people who were unqualified, inexperienced, or of dubious character to manage an interrogation program that resulted in chaos. watch
Rachel Maddow tells the history of Yuri Yosenko, former KGB spy, to whom the United States apologized for torturing him when he tried to defect, and other examples of how the CIA learned that torture interrogations, while tempting, are counterproductive. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the House passage of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act and the pressure on the Senate to also pass the bill quickly before time runs out on the current Congress. watch