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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is seen as the sun sets on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

GOP demands a pound of flesh in tax deal

11/26/14 11:05AM

House Republicans haven't had much success this Congress passing actual legislation into law, but they've nevertheless invested quite a bit of time focusing on one of their favorite pastimes: cutting taxes without paying for it.
 
The Democratic-run Senate has largely ignored the bills from the lower chamber, but in recent weeks, House Republicans and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) have been negotiating a deal on tax breaks set to expire at the end of 2014, and yesterday, a deal took shape. Before we get to the substantive details, it's important to note how GOP lawmakers approached the talks:
Left off were the two tax breaks valued most by liberal Democrats: a permanently expanded earned-income credit and a child tax credit for the working poor. Friday night, Republican negotiators announced they would exclude those measures as payback for the president's executive order on immigration, saying a surge of newly legalized workers would claim the credit, tax aides from both parties said.
We really have reached a farcical level of policymaking. Republicans aren't just obsessed with tax cuts, they're deliberately scrapping breaks that go to working families. Why? Largely because GOP officials aren't done with their tantrum over immigration policy -- right-wing hissy fits rarely produce sound public policy -- and Republicans feel as if they're entitled to a pound of flesh because the Big Bad President hurt their feelings.
 
The result is a tax deal that treats the working poor as collateral damage in a political war. Sorry, struggling families, Americans elected a far-right Congress, and your loss is their "payback."
 
And as important as this is, it's not even the most offensive part of the agreement on taxes that came together yesterday.
Two bride figurines on top of a cake.

Courts back marriage equality on Mississippi, Arkansas

11/26/14 10:00AM

Marriage equality has already reached most of the country, though state bans on same-sex marriage are still common in the Deep South. It makes it all the more notable, then, when federal courts strike down these bans in Mississippi and Arkansas.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves in Mississippi said the state's gay marriage ban violated same-sex couples the rights guaranteed under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He stayed his ruling for 14 days but also noted clerks could not issue gay marriage licenses until further guidance was given from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court (the 5th circuit is currently considering challenges to same-sex marriage bans from other states in its area). [...]
 
Attorney General Jim Hood said the state would appeal the decision to the 5th Circuit and ask for a stay until that court decides the cases before it.
In Arkansas, Judge Kristine Baker issued a similar ruling yesterday afternoon. As in Mississippi, the Arkansas ruling is on hold pending appeal.
 
As Miranda Leitsinger's report noted, if these rulings stand, they'll become the 36th and 37th states to extend equal marriage rights to all couples.
 
But before we move on -- and wait for the U.S. Supreme Court -- a portion of the Mississippi ruling stood out as especially noteworthy.
President Obama Delivers State Of The Union Address

Will the GOP scrap Obama's State of the Union address?

11/26/14 09:06AM

In early 1999, the political environment in Washington, D.C., bordered on surreal. President Clinton had just been impeached. House Speaker Newt Gingrich had just been ousted from his leadership post, forced out by his own members. Gingrich's apparent successor, Louisiana's Bob Livingston, was soon after forced to resign in the wake of a sex scandal.
 
And at the same time, the U.S. Senate was weighing the charges against Clinton, hearing arguments as to whether or not to remove the sitting president from office.
 
It was against this backdrop that the White House announced in mid-January that it was time for the annual State of the Union address. TV preacher Pat Robertson, an influential figure in Republican politics at the time, gave his GOP allies some stern advice: don't let Clinton speak. To give the president an august national platform, Robertson said, would allow Clinton to solidify his support and end the impeachment crusade. Congress isn't required to host the speech, so there was nothing stopping Republicans from denying Clinton's request.
 
GOP leaders on Capitol Hill weren't prepared to go nearly that far. So, Clinton spoke, he pretended like impeachment hadn't just happened, and Gallup showed the president's approval rating reaching 69% soon after.
 
Nearly 16 years later, another Democratic president, also hated by his Republican attackers, is poised to deliver his penultimate State of the Union address. And like Pat Robertson, the idea of denying the president a SOTU invitation is once again on the right's mind.
"Yes, there's a risk to overreacting, but there's a risk to underreacting as well," said Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review. "And I fear that's the way the congressional leadership is leaning."
 
Mr. Lowry suggested one way Congress could react. "If I were John Boehner," he said, referring to the House speaker, "I'd say to the president: 'Send us your State of the Union in writing. You're not welcome in our chamber.'"
Lowry may not dictate GOP decision making the way Limbaugh and Fox News do, but it's important to note that he isn't the only one publicly pushing the idea.
Then U.S. Under Secretary of Defence Michelle Flournoy looks on during a meeting at the Bayi Building in Beijing on Dec. 7, 2011. (Photo by Andy Wong/AFP/Getty)

Why the vacancy at the Pentagon matters

11/26/14 08:33AM

By all appearances, Michèle Flournoy, a former under secretary of defense, was the frontrunner to succeed Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon. She was a finalist for the post last year; some Republican senators had already suggested she'd be an acceptable nominee; and far-right websites were already complaining about her. It seemed as if the job was hers if she wanted it.
 
But as it turns out, she didn't want it.
 
Foreign Policy reported yesterday afternoon that Flournoy has withdrawn from consideration.
Flournoy, the co-founder and CEO of the Center for a New American Security, a think tank that has served as a farm league for future Obama administration officials, would have been the first female secretary of defense had she risen to the position.
 
But in a letter Tuesday to members of the CNAS board of directors, Flournoy said she would remain in her post at the think tank and asked Obama to take her out of consideration to be the next secretary of defense. Flournoy told the board members that family considerations helped drive her decision.
The reporting was later confirmed by other major news organizations, including msnbc.
 
Attention now shifts to other possible contenders, but before we get to that, it's worth pausing to appreciate why the Pentagon post may not be an in-demand job right now.
 
Don't get me wrong, serving as the Secretary of Defense is incredibly important, especially during a war, but it's the broader circumstances that make this a difficult time for almost anyone to take the job.
 
Look at this from Flournoy's perspective:
A protester gestures with his hands up in front of police officers during a second night of protests in Ferguson, Mo. on Nov. 25, 2014. (Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

As protests spread, a 'much better night' in Ferguson

11/26/14 08:00AM

It would be an overstatement to say developments in Ferguson last night were quiet, though compared to Monday night, the violence subsided. The overnight report from the msnbc team on the ground:
Protesters returned to the streets of Ferguson Tuesday for a predominantly peaceful night of demonstrations that eventually gave way to small and isolated outbursts of damage to local businesses and property on a night marked by a heightened National Guard presence.
 
Scores of demonstrators braved the bitter cold and gathered before the Ferguson Police Department Tuesday night as isolated flare-ups of destruction to public property and tense stand-offs between the crowd and police at times resulted in protesters being taken away into custody.
In an early morning press conference, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told reporters, "Generally it was a much better night." That said, there were at least 44 arrests -- mostly for misdemeanors -- and as NBC News' report noted, windows were broken at City Hall.
 
The improved conditions coincided with a vastly larger National Guard presence, with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) more than tripling the number of guardsmen and women to 2,200 last night.
 
What made last night especially noteworthy, though, were the related protests in cities far from St. Louis.

Brown's family reacts and other headlines

11/26/14 07:50AM

Michael Brown's mom reacts to Darren Wilson's first public comments. (Today.com)

Brown family condemns broken system. (The Hill)

St. Louis cancels its Thanksgiving Day parade. (KSDK)

Black Friday gun buys test background check system. (AP)

Court denies Arizona request to block driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. (Washington Post)

Pres. Obama threatens to veto $440 billion tax deal. (NY Times)

Supreme Court to review EPA mercury emission rules. (USA Today)

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Prosecutor impugns witnesses in Ferguson case

Prosecutor impugns witnesses in Ferguson case

11/26/14 12:38AM

Rachel Maddow outlines other potential legal cases that may yet be brought in the death of Michael Brown, and points out how St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch discredited the witnesses in the case while announcing the grand jury ruling. watch

Arrests in Ferguson as police disperse crowds

Arrests in Ferguson as police disperse crowds

11/26/14 12:28AM

Wesley Lowery, reporter for The Washington Post, talks with Ari Melber about arrests in Ferguson, Missouri as police try to disperse crowds of protesters, and describes the types of people who have shown up to participate in protests. watch

Conflict with White House eyed in Hagel exit

Conflict with White House eyed in Hagel exit

11/25/14 09:49PM

Rachel Maddow reports on the announcement that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will resign, and highlights recent headlines that may have been the source of friction between the White House and the Pentagon, including extending troops in Afghanistan. watch

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