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Friday's Mini-Report, 12.12.14

12/12/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Gun violence in Oregon: "A shooting investigation is underway at Rosemary Anderson High School in North Portland, Oregon, according to local police. Portland police told NBC News that there are a total of three victims, who are all conscious, awake and talking."
* Giving the Senate more tine: "Congress now has until Wednesday night, if needed, to complete work on a $1.1 trillion spending bill to keep most government agencies operating through next summer. The House quietly passed another funding extension by unanimous consent on Friday afternoon to give senators even more time to work through procedural rules, debate and then vote on the spending bill."
* Iran: "[I]t is almost an article of faith in business circles that the latest extension is only the postponement of an inevitable thaw between Iran and the rest of the world."
* Striking AP poll: "Six in 10 Americans, including half of all Republicans, said they support regulation of carbon dioxide pollution, although they weren't asked how. Nearly half of Republicans said the U.S. should lead the global fight to curb climate change, even if it means taking action when other countries do not. And majorities across party lines said environmental protections 'improve economic growth and provide new jobs' in the long run, a popular Obama administration talking point."
* Mischief in Virginia: "Federal prosecutors will not pursue criminal charges in the sudden resignation of a Virginia state senator amid job talks, according to a letter sent Friday to lawyers involved with the case."
* Congressional ethics: "The House Ethics Committee released its findings on four separate cases Thursday, a day when few were really paying attention. Everyone on Capitol Hill is focused on squeezing months' worth of work into several days, so the panel's decision to clear two members and reprove two others was like an end-of-the-year document dump. But happy holidays to them! They can stop paying those attorney bills."
* Classy: "Yesterday, a small group of right-wing demonstrators gathered in front of the White House at a rally scheduled to coincide with the visit of a number of sheriffs who were in Washington, D.C., to protest President Obama's executive action on immigration.... Among the remarks picked up by the cameraman: 'Hang the lying Kenyan traitor!' and 'We've got rope.'"
* True: "[V]iews of Obama are not any worse than were attitudes toward Ronald Reagan at about this time in his second term."
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks at a constitutional law symposium, Friday, March 14, 2014, in Atlanta.

Justice Scalia's unfortunate entry into the torture debate

12/12/14 03:15PM

When it comes to the issue of torture, it's been a discouraging week. Not only was the Senate Intelligence Committee report a heartbreaking indictment of an American scandal, but the argument surrounding the revelations started breaking far too much along partisan and ideological lines.
Antonin Scalia isn't helping. The Associated Press reported today that the far-right Supreme Court justice joined the debate, such as it is, "by saying it is difficult to rule out the use of extreme measures to extract information if millions of lives were threatened."
Scalia tells a Swiss radio network that American and European liberals who say such tactics may never be used are being self-righteous.
The 78-year-old justice says he doesn't "think it's so clear at all," especially if interrogators were trying to find a ticking nuclear bomb.
Scalia says nothing in the Constitution appears to prohibit harsh treatment of suspected terrorists.
The interview took place at the court on Wednesday, the day after the release of the Senate report detailing the CIA's harsh interrogation of suspected terrorists. Radio Television Suisse aired the interview on Friday.
I think some caution is probably in order. The AP ran a five-paragraph article, and it seems entirely plausible, but there's exactly one, six-word quote in that piece. Everything else is a paraphrase, and to offer a detailed response to Scalia's take, we'd need to know exactly what the justice argued.
That said, if the AP report is accurate, Scalia's perspective is deeply ridiculous.
Joe Mozloom and Allison Roethke shop for compact fluorescent bulbs at an Ikea store in Philadelphia, Tuesday, June 15, 2010.

Congress' not-so-bright idea on light bulbs

12/12/14 12:56PM

Way back in 2007, the newly elected Democratic Congress and the Republican White House thought they could work together on a credible energy bill, and they actually had a fair amount of success. One of the provisions, co-authored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), dealt with advanced light-bulb standards intended to spur innovation, lower costs, and improve energy efficiency.
The package passed with fairly broad support, and George W. Bush signed the bill into law without much fuss.
Slowly but surely, the light-bulb policy worked exactly as its authors intended, and as long-time readers may recall, the whole thing looked like a bipartisan success story. Regular consumers, such as those shown above, made the transition to better, more efficient bulbs.
But soon after President Obama took office, the Republican posture shifted. Suddenly, the Bush/Cheney energy bill was a classic example of Big Government using authoritarian tactics to "ban" popular sources of light. By 2012, Mitt Romney, Rush Limbaugh, and a variety of conservative leaders decided the bulb policy was a left-wing scourge worthy of attack.
And this year, far-right critics of light-bulb efficiency actually had some success thanks to the $1.1 spending bill known as the "CRomnibus."
The bill blocks new energy efficient standards that would have made incandescent light bulbs obsolete. Consumers had complained about the new requirements.
This is not good news.

Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.12.14

12/12/14 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:
* Gov. Chris Christie (R) trails Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical 2016 presidential match-up in New Jersey by 11 points. Making matters slightly worse for the governor, more than half of his constituents do not believe he'd make a good president.
* Speaking of home-town crowds, only 28% of Floridians want to see Sen. Marco Rubio (R) run for president in 2016. The same poll showed more support for former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) running, with 44% of Floridians saying they'd like to see him seek national office.
* After denying that the group was changing its leadership, the far-right Club for Growth changed its leadership this week, bringing on former Rep. David McIntosh (R-Ind.) as its new leader. McIntosh is also the former chair of the Republican Study Committee.
* Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) is reportedly working on the creation of an "SEC" presidential primary in which several Southern states would hold one, big contest on the same day. Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama are reportedly on board with the idea of a regional, March 1 primary, and Kemp has also reached out to officials in Louisiana and South Carolina.
* Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) office announced yesterday that he's headed to Iowa early next week to meet with progressive activists and deliver the keynote speech at a Progress Iowa dinner.

House scuttles bipartisan FOIA reforms

12/12/14 11:25AM

The deeply divided House of Representatives doesn't have too many unanimous votes, but earlier this year, the "FOIA Oversight and Implementation Ac" sailed through the chamber without a single opponent. The fact that its chief co-sponsors in the House were Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) -- two people, pictured above, who rarely see eye to eye -- made the bill's popularity that much more noteworthy.
And as of this morning, it's dead.
As Dylan Byers reported a while back, the point of the bill was to create a "presumption of disclosure" in federal agencies in response to information under the Freedom of Information Act. To the delight of news organizations, it also would have created a "centralized online portal for FOIA requests under the Office of Management and Budget."
A nearly identical proposal ran into some resistance in the Senate, but members worked out the kinks and unanimously approved their version on Monday.
All the House had to do was endorse the Senate version and it'd be off to President Obama for a signature. That didn't happen.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Thursday night officially declared reforms to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) dead this year, as the House gaveled out of session.
And he blamed Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for its death. "And Boehner kills #FOIA improvements," Leahy tweeted at a reporter a little before.... Leahy and other advocates unsuccessfully pushed House leadership this week to take up the reforms intended to increase government transparency.
In an ironic twist, the legislation related to government transparency died for reasons the Speaker's office has not yet shared.
Jeb Bush campains for Romney in Florida

The importance of self-awareness in presidential politics

12/12/14 10:42AM

As a rule, I don't have much use for the speculation as to who may or may not run in the 2016 presidential race. We'll find out soon enough, and until then, everything else is speculative and based on rumor.
This especially true of Mitt Romney -- remember him? -- who seems to be rewarded every few weeks with a series of new "he might try again!" reports in major outlets.
But once in a while, it's worth making an exception. This new Politico piece, for example, reports that Romney is unimpressed with those likely to run in the Republican primaries and is suddenly "open to the idea" to running a third time, following failed bids in 2008 and 2012.
The piece includes a lot of unsourced quotes from "people who've spoken to" Romney -- which is to say, take all of this with a grain of salt -- but this tidbit amazed me.
[Romney] has assessed various people's strengths and weaknesses dispassionately, wearing what one ally called his "consultant cap" to measure the field. He has said, among other things, that Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, would run into problems because of his business dealings, his work with the investment banks Lehman Brothers and Barclays, and his private equity investments.
"You saw what they did to me with Bain [Capital]," he has said, referring to the devastating attacks that his Republican rivals and President Barack Obama's team launched against him for his time in private equity, according to three sources familiar with the line. "What do you think they'll do to [Bush] over Barclays?"
Romney believes his campaign struggled in part because of his controversial private-sector background. He also believes Jeb Bush would be susceptible to similar criticisms in 2016, which is true.
But it's that next part that I can't quite wrap my head around: if Bush would struggle because of his financial-sector work, why on earth would Romney run again and invite the identical attacks on himself? Because this worked out so well the last time around?
The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Congress, deal-making, and how the sausage gets made

12/12/14 10:19AM

The closer one looks at the $1.1 trillion spending package that barely cleared the House last night, the easier it is to notice its flaws. The so-called "CRomnibus" is filled with giveaways, rollbacks, and handouts that almost certainly don't belong there.
Kevin Drum made a compelling case yesterday that many critics have overlooked an important, big-picture detail: if you want bipartisan cooperation, this is what it looks like.
This is one of those things that demonstrates the chasm between political activists and analysts on the one side, and working politicians on the other. If you take a look at the bill, it does indeed have a bunch of objectionable features. People like me, with nothing really at stake, can bitch and moan about them endlessly. But you know what? For all the interminable whining we do about the death of bipartisanship in Washington, this is what bipartisanship looks like. It always has. It's messy, it's ugly, and it's petty. Little favors get inserted into bills to win votes. Other favors get inserted as payback for the initial favors. Special interests get stroked. Party whips get a workout.
That's politics. The fact that it's happening right now is, in a weird sense, actually good news. It means that, for a few days at least, politics is working normally again.
I think that's largely correct. The old line about no one wanting to see how the sausage gets made applies to lawmaking for a reason -- neither process is pretty. For many Americans -- including plenty of Beltway pundits -- there's a sense that Democrats and Republicans can get stuff done if they just sit in a room and agree to work out a deal.
And here we have an excellent example of what happens when the parties do exactly that.
But I think there's one other relevant detail to this that I'd add to the mix.
House Speaker John Boehner walks away from the microphone during a news conference after a House GOP meeting on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, in Washington.

Boehner's underwhelming triumph

12/12/14 09:00AM

Looking through the coverage this morning of last night's Capitol Hill drama, I came across a headline that read, "Speaker John Boehner Wins Big In Spending Bill Fight." It's apparently a fairly common take on the developments -- John Boehner fought the good fight and came out a winner.
The vote was also a big win for Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). Scalise's whip operation was under heavy pressure on this vote, and he was able to keep members in line despite a long delay in the final vote.
At a certain level, that makes sense, right? Purely on a surface level, Boehner was determined to avoid a shutdown, he came up with a legislative game plan, and the package he endorsed ended up passing. The Speaker hasn't had many successes since getting the gavel four years ago, so maybe this counts a triumph for the Ohio Republican.
Or maybe not.
If we consider recent developments solely on the basis of wins and losses -- it's a binary model in which a bill either passes or it doesn't -- then the Speaker and his backers have reason to be pleased. But let's not pretend that Boehner actually led effectively.
He endorsed the so-called "CRomnibus" spending package and urged his own members to help him pass it. Several dozen of Boehner's ostensible followers -- literally, more than a fourth of the House Republican caucus -- ignored his leadership and did the opposite.
Just 24 hours ago, the Speaker expressed optimism about the bill, only to discover soon after that he didn't have the votes. Boehner struggled to introduce the legislation; he struggled to persuade his allies about the legislation's merits; he struggled with the procedural vote; and with just hours remaining until the shutdown deadline, the Speaker seemed to have absolutely no idea how to get out of the mess he and his party had created.
Were it not for President Obama and White House officials urging House Democrats to grudgingly support the bicameral agreement, it seems pretty obvious that this bill would have failed.
A triumph for John Boehner? Hardly.
The morning sun begins to rise in front of the U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

Shutdown averted following late-night drama

12/12/14 08:00AM

As of 8:30 p.m. (ET) last night, with three-and-a-half hours remaining until a government shutdown, no one seemed to have any idea what the Republican-led House would do -- or if it would even do anything.
But after a furious round of behind-the-scenes lobbying, the so-called "CRomnibus" spending package reached the floor, and as Suzy Khimm and Benjy Sarlin reported, it narrowly passed.
With just hours before government funding was scheduled to expire, the House voted 219-206 to pass a $1.1 trillion spending bill, fending off a last-minute revolt from liberal Democrats over provisions to roll back regulations on Wall Street and campaign finance. [...]
The bill now moves to the Senate, which, according to Sen. Harry Reid, will begin consideration of the measure Friday.
The full roll call on last night's vote is online here. Note that 67 House Republican broke ranks and opposed the package negotiated and endorsed by their own chamber's leaders -- that's a little more than a fourth of the caucus -- which would have been enough to kill the legislation were it not for the 57 House Democrats who rebuffed their leaders and backed the bill.
Procedurally, the House also approved a two-day extension of current funding, which was also quickly endorsed by the Senate, which prevented a shutdown and gave the upper chamber a couple of extra days to complete work on the $1.1 trillion spending package.
In terms of what to expect, the Senate is likely to take up the bill today, though opponents -- on the left or right -- could force a delay until the weekend. The package enjoys the support of the leadership in both parties and will probably pass. Note, House members have already left town, so if senators try to change the bill in any way, they'll effectively kill the package.
Though the schedule is still coming together, senators are also going to tackle the Defense spending bill (NDAA), the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), several "tax entenders," and some pending nominations before wrapping up for the year.
As for the larger context, I can appreciate why much of the political world was breathing a sigh of relief last night -- government shutdowns should always be avoided -- but these are not circumstances to celebrate.

Spending fight and other headlines

12/12/14 07:58AM

Spending fight moves to Senate. (Bloomberg)

Supreme Court may take up abortion case. (

ISIS bigwig says group exists thanks to U.S. prison camp. (New York Magazine)

Backers: Romney more open to 2016 run. (Politico)

After California's big rains: mudslides. (

Malala sympathetic to Mexican protester at Nobels. (AP)

Open-carry activist accused of killing husband and stepdaughter. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Dogs in Heaven? Pope leaves pearly gate open. (NY Times)

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Citations for the December 11, 2014 TRMS

12/12/14 01:07AM

Tonight's guests:

  • Noah Bierman, congressional reporter for the Boston Globe
  • Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, (D), CT
  • Ali Soufan, former FBI special agent who took part in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah
  • Congressman Steve Israel, (D), NY
  • Congressman John Sarbanes, (D), MD

Tonight's links after the jump...

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Spending bill battered from both sides

Spending bill battered from both sides

12/12/14 12:10AM

Rachel Maddow reports on how, contrary to the confidence expressed by Speaker Boehner, conservatives attacked the spending bill from the right, and liberals were outraged by last minute additions, including a taxpayer bailout provision for big banks. watch