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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) answers questions following the weekly Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 13, 2014 in Washington, DC.

McConnell increases pressure on states to ignore EPA

03/20/15 10:18AM

Last summer, President Obama unveiled an aggressive plan to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants, setting a goal of cutting emissions 30% by 2030. As part of the administration's agenda, states would have some flexibility in how they reach the target.
 
It was just two weeks ago, however, that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wrote an op-ed with some specific advice for states: ignore the White House altogether. In effect, the Republican leader doesn't just want state officials to pretend that climate change doesn't exist, he also wants states to ignore the EPA and federal regulations. McConnell said the courts might derail the administration's policy, so in the meantime, state officials can and should do nothing.
 
None other than Christine Todd Whitman, the head of the EPA under the Bush/Cheney administration, responded to McConnell with an op-ed of her own. "I was brought up to believe that following the law isn't optional," she wrote. McConnell, Whitman added, "can rail against EPA, cut its budget, do all that he has the power to do within the law if he must, but he cannot and should not call on others to ignore a law."
 
As it turns out, the New York Times reports today that McConnell was just getting started.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has begun an aggressive campaign to block President Obama's climate change agenda in statehouses and courtrooms across the country, arenas far beyond Mr. McConnell's official reach and authority. [...]
 
Since Mr. McConnell is limited in how he can use his role in the Senate to block regulations, he has taken the unusual step of reaching out to governors with a legal blueprint for them to follow to stop the rules in their states. Mr. McConnell's Senate staff, led by his longtime senior energy adviser, Neil Chatterjee, is coordinating with lawyers and lobbying firms to try to ensure that the state plans are tangled up in legal delays.
We're well past the strange op-ed stage; McConnell yesterday "sent a detailed letter to every governor in the United States laying out a carefully researched legal argument as to why states should not comply with Mr. Obama's regulations."
In this file photo taken July 26, 2014, U.S. Rep. and Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Tom Cotton speaks at a campaign event in Little Rock, Ark. (Photo by Danny Johnston/AP)

Cotton worries about US interference in foreign negotiations

03/20/15 09:34AM

On the Senate floor yesterday afternoon, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) shared some striking concerns about U.S. foreign policy. He also offered a rather profound example of a politician failing a test of self-awareness.
 
Earlier in the day, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters that when it comes to the U.S. policy towards Israel, "We're currently evaluating our approach." The comments were important, but not surprising -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent antics were bound to carry some consequences.
 
But Cotton, the right-wing freshman in his second month in the Senate, called Psaki's comments "worrisome" -- for a very specific reason.
"While Prime Minister Netanyahu won a decisive victory, he still has just started assembling a governing majority coalition. These kinds of quotes from Israel's most important ally could very well startle some of the smaller parties and their leaders with whom Prime Minister Netanyahu is currently in negotiations.
 
"This raises the question, of course, if the administration intends to undermine Prime Minister Netanyahu's efforts to assemble a coalition by suggesting a change to our longstanding policy of supporting Israel's position with the United Nations."
Hold on a second. Cotton is now concerned about U.S. officials "undermining" foreign officials "currently in negotiations"?
 
Seriously?
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in Washington on Oct. 1, 2014.

Obama has a few words for Netanyahu

03/20/15 08:46AM

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat down with msnbc's Andrea Mitchell, the Israeli leader said he'd already spoken with Secretary of State John Kerry, and he expected to connect with President Obama soon. Their chat apparently happened soon after.
President Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday to congratulate him on winning his country's election Tuesday.
 
The president phoned Netanyahu to congratulate "his party's success in winning a plurality of Knesset seats," according to a White House statement.
When is a congratulatory call less than a congratulatory call? When the U.S. leader feels the need to point out that the Israeli leader's party won "a plurality," as opposed to a majority.
 
Or put another way, Netanyahu's Likud party, which received roughly 24% of the vote, did about as well in Israel this week as President Obama did in 2012 -- in Utah. (Of course, Israeli has a multi-party system, so 24% represents a significant win. When combined with the votes for other far-right parties and Likud offshoots, Netanyahu's agenda and provocative pandering actually enjoyed broad support this week.)
 
According to the White House's official readout on the president's call with Netanyahu, Obama also mentioned "the difficult path forward to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," the White House's "long-standing commitment to a two-state solution," and the president's ongoing focus "on reaching a comprehensive deal with Iran."
 
Or to put this another way, Obama effectively told the prime minister, "Nice job getting 24% of the vote. If you think your re-election changes anything, think again."
Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, President Barack Obama's choice to run the Justice Department, wraps up a full day of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee at her confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Jan. 28, 2015.

Senate Republicans break promise on Lynch vote

03/20/15 08:01AM

At first blush, it seemed like progress yesterday when senators argued about Loretta Lynch's pending nomination as the next Attorney General, but the headway was illusory -- they were debating the wrong thing.
 
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) argued that the Republican majority was asking the first African-American woman ever nominated for A.G. for "sit in the back of the bus," which led to a bitter dispute. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who expressed support for Lynch before changing his mind without explanation, took offense to the Rosa Parks analogy.
 
Away from the drama, however, a different realization was setting in: the Senate wrapped up its work for the week late yesterday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had given his word that the Lynch nomination would receive a vote this week, and with the announcement that there would be no more roll-call votes until next week, we now know McConnell broke his vow, making a promise he chose not to keep.
 
In theory, that might seem problematic, and Senate Democrats are understandably furious. But as Politico reported overnight, the Republican majority has made clear that it just doesn't care.
"Zero," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said when asked how much pressure his party is feeling to confirm [Lynch] to the Justice Department position.
 
Why not? "Because there's zero," he reiterated.
Lynch was nominated 132 days ago. The first African-American woman ever considered for this post has waited longer for a vote than any A.G. nominee in history, and longer than the last five A.G. nominees combined. Even her fiercest critics have struggled to raise substantive objections to her qualifications, background, temperament, or judgment.
 
But the GOP line is, Lynch will simply be ignored, indefinitely, unless Democrats vote for an unrelated bill with anti-abortion language in it.

Total eclipse and other headlines

03/20/15 07:57AM

Donor's affidavit says Missouri GOP chair made negative remarks about Tom Schweich's religion. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

Alabama is apparently suspending some executions until the Supreme Court rules on Oklahoma's lethal-injection drugs. (AL.com)

Pres. Obama to Iran: 'Seize this moment.' (The Hill)

Mitch McConnell urges states to help thwart Obama's 'War on Coal.' (New York Times)

Clinton charity tapped foreign friends. (Wall Street Journal)

FBI investigating hanging death of black man in Mississippi. (AP)

Parts of Europe see total solar eclipse. (USA Today)

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Decryptomaddowlogical #118

03/19/15 07:24PM

Last night we learned about 18 million pounds of dicarded, very explosive artillery propellant that local residents are hoping they can convince the government not to burn into the open air. Unlike the military chemical weapons stockpile being destroyed in Colorado, the propellant is not stored neatly. Instead it is strewn around an open field in a way that could best be described as...

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 3.19.15

03/19/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Unimpressed: "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Thursday tried to walk back his pre-election declaration that no Palestinian state would be established on his watch, but his new assertions appeared to do nothing to assuage an infuriated Obama administration."
 
* Climate crisis: "In his ongoing effort to combat climate change both at home and abroad, President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Thursday to reduce the federal government's greenhouse gas emissions by 40%."
 
* Iran: "Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday said that negotiators were still grappling with difficult issues in the talks on limiting Iran's nuclear program, but that they had made some headway."
 
* Tunisia: "Tunisian authorities arrested nine people Thursday in connection with a terrorist attack that killed or wounded dozens of foreign tourists at a renowned museum, an assault for which the Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility."
 
* Yemen: "Intense clashes erupted Thursday in southern Yemen between forces loyal to the beleaguered president and the Shiite rebels whose assaults have pushed the Arabian Peninsula country into chaos."
 
* House GOP budget: "House fiscal conservatives took the upper hand -- for the moment -- Thursday in their struggle with Republican defense hawks for control of the GOP's 2016 federal budget proposal. After 24 hours of uncertainty and stops and starts, the House Budget Committee voted along party lines, 22-13, to send a leaner spending plan to the House floor for a vote."
 
* Another veto on deck: "The House voted Thursday to scrap a rule from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that would speed up union elections."
 
* Martese Johnson: "Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe on Wednesday called for an investigation into the arrest of a black college student that left him bleeding from the head and sparked campus protests."
 
* Texas: "Businesses and officials in Austin, Texas, want to identify the culprit behind offensive stickers plastered on at least six shops this week. The labels, slapped on various storefronts, say: 'Exclusively for white people. Maximum of 5 colored customers, colored BOH (Back of House) staff accepted.'"
 
* Mississippi: "A black man was reportedly discovered hanging from a tree in Claiborne, Miss. on Thursday, sparking a local and federal investigation into the death. Port Gibson Sheriff Marvin Lucas told local station WJTV that authorities discovered the man hanging on Old Rodney Road. Both Mississippi law enforcement and the FBI have opened investigations."
In this photo taken Tuesday, March 3, 2015 the New Hampshire Statehouse is seen in Concord, N.H.

NH Republicans deliver a rough message to 4th graders

03/19/15 04:50PM

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) got into a little trouble recently, not for making a series of false claims, but for telling a three-year-old New Hampshire girl her "world is on fire." Even in 21st-century politics, there's an expectation that when elected officials are delivering messages to children, they'll show some restraint.
 
As it turns out, she wasn't the only kid in the Granite State last week hearing tough talk from Republican politicians.
Fourth graders from Lincoln Akerman School in Hampton Falls received a warm welcome at the State House last Thursday. They and their teacher, James Cutting, were guests in the Gallery.
 
That reception quickly turned chilly as students got a glimpse of the cold, harsh realities of politics in the Granite State.
The idea seemed pretty straightforward. The fourth-grade class, made up of nine- and 10-year-olds from the southeast corner of the state, worked on a proposal to make the Red Tail Hawk the official state raptor of New Hampshire. The kids and their teacher brought their proposal to the state capitol, and it was approved by the Environment and Agriculture Committee.
 
But as the report from NH1.com's Shari Small makes clear, on the floor of the state House, the children ran into unexpectedly fierce Republican opposition. The kids heard one GOP lawmaker argue, for example, in reference to the Red Tail Hawk, "It grasps them with its talons then uses its razor sharp beak to basically tear it apart limb by limb, and I guess the shame about making this a state bird is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood."
 
Those comments, from state Rep. Warren Groen (R), were apparently the harshest of the debate, but he wasn't alone. In fact, the Republican-led New Hampshire state House killed the proposal from the 4th graders on a 133-to-160 vote.
 
What better way to inspire young people about the vitality of American civic affairs than to have far-right politicians mock and defeat an innocuous bill written by children?
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) campaigns in the southern city of Ashkelon March 17, 2015.

Netanyahu tries to re-open door to two-state solution

03/19/15 03:16PM

When this week got underway, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apparently thought he was going to lose his re-election bid. This fear led the Israeli leader to adopt some desperate measures.
 
"I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state today, and evacuate areas, is giving radical Islam an area from which to attack the State of Israel," Netanyahu said Monday. "This is the true reality that has been created in past years," he added, vowing to increase settlement construction in East Jerusalem.
 
Asked if that meant Netanyahu intended to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state if he remained prime minister, he replied, "Indeed."
 
This was no small exchange. Netanyahu had previously committed to a two-state solution, and this seemed like a wholesale reversal. Just as important, the prime minister appeared to also be abandoning a bipartisan U.S. position. In fact, Obama administration officials have invested considerable energy in recent years telling officials throughout the Middle East that Israel is serious about a two-state solution, which led the White House to see Monday's comments as a betrayal.
 
Today, in his first American interview since his victory, Netanyahu adopted a very different posture with msnbc's Andrea Mitchell.
"The premises in your question are wrong. I haven't changed my policy. I never retracted my speech in Bar Ilan University six years ago calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. [...]
 
"I don't want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that circumstances have to change."
This is quite a nuanced walk-back. As Zack Beauchamp explained, Netanyahu is effectively arguing "that he wasn't abandoning in-principle support for a Palestinian state -- he just doesn't think the Palestinians are interested and capable of setting up a peaceful one anytime soon."
 
Whether anyone, anywhere finds this persuasive remains to be seen.
Carts are seen outside of a Target store in Miami, Florida.

Target hikes minimum wages, joins a growing club

03/19/15 12:53PM

Though polls show broad public support for an increase in the federal minimum wage, political progress on the issue is non-existent. Congress' Republican majority has ruled out the possibility of a wage hike, while a growing number of GOP presidential hopefuls suggest the federal minimum wage shouldn't exist at all.
 
Outside the political realm, however, many Americans are getting a raise anyway. As we talked about last month, some of the nation's largest retailers -- Gap, Ikea, and Wal-Mart, among others -- have already raised their company's minimum wages, as did TJX, the parent company of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and HomeGoods.
 
Today, Target joined the club.
Target Corp next month will raise the minimum wage for all of its workers to $9 an hour, matching moves made by rivals including Wal-Mart Stores Inc and TJX Cos, a source familiar with the matter said.
 
The move comes in the face of pressure from labor groups and allies calling for a "living wage" at retailers and fast-food companies across the country, as well as the lowest unemployment rate in more than six years.
It's worth emphasizing that Target executives have not formally announced the change, so these reports remain unofficial, though the company has reportedly told employees about the wage hike, indicating it will take effect across all of its U.S. stories in the spring.
 
As we talked about after the TJX announcement, anytime there's news of more Americans getting a bigger paycheck, it's an encouraging sign of broader economic trends. But it's even more heartening to appreciate the recent shift in the larger context.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.19.15

03/19/15 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:
 
* If Hillary Clinton's Twitter feed is any indication, she sees great value in running against a Republican Congress. Don't be surprised if this becomes a key Democratic message next year: Americans will be asked whether they really want Republicans running the entire federal government.
 
* Though former First Lady Barbara Bush said last year that there had been "enough Bushes" in the White House and she hoped her son Jeb wouldn't run, yesterday she launched a fundraising appeal for Jeb Bush's political operation.
 
* Florida lawmakers have approved a measure moving the state's presidential primary to March 15. Under Republican Party rules, it's the earliest possible day for Florida to host its election. Two GOP Floridians, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, are likely to be the leading contenders in the contest.
 
* And speaking of the Sunshine State, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has reportedly begun telling supporters that he's thinking about running for the U.S. Senate in 2018. He would ostensibly take on incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D), who, ironically, is rumored to be interested in running for governor.

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About The Rachel Maddow Show

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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