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House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) sits in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill March 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

House Republicans pick the wrong witness for the wrong hearing

05/18/16 09:20AM

If you're unfamiliar with the recent controversy surrounding Ben Rhodes, consider yourself fortunate. The New York Times Magazine published a profile on the influential figure of President Obama's national security team a few weeks ago, and the ensuing chatter has caused quite a stir in Beltway circles.
 
The article has not exactly withstood scrutiny. As Matt Yglesias explained last week, "Conservative media has enthusiastically embraced a handful of sensational lines [from the Times' piece] as proof of Obama's duplicity, while stories in the Atlantic, Mother Jones, Politico, New York magazine, and Slate have sliced and diced it as riddled with errors."
 
Nevertheless, the general premise proved too delicious for conservatives to pass up: the White House, the argument goes, took advantage of public ignorance and lazy reporters to sell the international nuclear agreement with Iran to the country with bogus claims. That's not even close to true, but that was the right's takeaway from the Times Magazine piece.
 
In fact, conservatives got themselves so worked up about this that the House Oversight Committee actually held a hearing yesterday to explore the lessons of the Times' article. As Politico noted, the hearing didn't go as well as Republicans hoped.
Republicans wanted to make a Tuesday hearing in the House all about how White House messaging guru Ben Rhodes, who refused to testify, supposedly sold a false narrative about the Iran nuclear deal.
 
Instead, Democrats used the presence of another witness, former Bush administration official John Hannah, to hammer the Bush administration for allegedly peddling a false narrative about the Iraq War.
Democrats could hardly believe their eyes. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee's ranking member, declared, "If our goal is to hear from an expert who actually promoted false, false White House narratives, then I think you picked the right person. This committee has basically created its own Republican echo chamber.... That is not just ironic, it's hypocritical."
 
It's worth pausing to appreciate just how extraordinary the circumstances were yesterday: House Republicans are convinced the White House used bogus information to spin reporters, push bogus narratives, and sell the country on a misguided policy in the Middle East. And to that end, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and his committee colleagues invited John Hannah to offer expert testimony.
 
And who's John Hannah?
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on stage before the start of the Democratic presidential debate sponsored by MSNBC at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H., Feb. 4, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Primaries in Kentucky, Oregon bring added clarity to Dem race

05/18/16 08:40AM

There's a difference between what's mathematically possible and what's realistically probable. After Hillary Clinton won five of the six primaries in late April, it was still technically possible for Bernie Sanders to catch his rival among pledged delegates, but he'd need lopsided landslides in the May contests.
 
That hasn't happened. Narrow wins in Indiana and West Virginia helped Team Sanders with morale and fundraising, but they actually left him further from his goal. The same was true in yesterday's primaries, as MSNBC's Alex Seitz-Wald reported.
Bernie Sanders mini-winning streak ended Tuesday night in Kentucky, a state analysts expected he could win. The loss could take some wind out of supporters' sails at a critical time as they face increasing pressure to unify the Democratic Party behind likely nominee Hillary Clinton.
 
But it was a mixed night for the candidates. Sanders pulled out a comfortable single-digit win in Oregon, where he is likely to walk away with a solid block of delegates.
In practical terms, the Kentucky results, while incredibly close, are about bragging rights: the difference between a narrow win and a narrow loss is negligible. Sanders needed a landslide victory to keep pace, and his apparent defeat pushed his goal that much further away. Similarly, while the senator's success in Oregon was no doubt satisfying, Sanders' margin of victory was actually quite a bit smaller than Barack Obama's 2008 win in the same state, and to keep up with Clinton, it needed to be more than four times larger.
 
Yesterday, in other words, represented another major setback for the Sanders campaign: his win was too narrow, his loss was a step backwards, and the number of remaining opportunities he’ll have to close the gap continues to shrink.
 
The Vermonter continues to tell supporters that he might win the Democratic nomination. In remarks last night, Sanders said he faced a "steep climb," but he nevertheless believes he can wrap up the primary process with a majority of pledged delegates.
 
Which brings us back to the "mathematically possible" vs. "realistically probable" problem.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, DC, May 6, 2016. (Photo by Shawn Thew/EPA)

Obama gives millions of Americans a boost in overtime pay

05/18/16 08:00AM

President Obama has spent years exploring policies intended to put more money in American workers' pockets. A minimum-wage increase is, at least for now, out of the question -- a Republican Congress won't consider it -- and so the White House has turned its attention to overtime policies.
 
In his State of the Union address last year, the president made a comment that may have seemed like an obscure goal: "We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they've earned." To that end, Obama unveiled a proposal last summer to change income thresholds for overtime eligibility -- that may sound a little dry, but stick with me -- and late yesterday, the Labor Department finalized new rules in the area. The Huffington Post described it as "one of the most ambitious economic reforms of the Obama era."
The administration will accomplish that by raising what's known as the overtime salary threshold. Nearly all workers earning salaries beneath that threshold are entitled to time-and-a-half pay whenever they work more than 40 hours in a week.
 
The current threshold is just $23,660. The White House will be doubling that number, to $47,476, guaranteeing overtime rights for salaried workers earning less than that. The Labor Department will now update the threshold every three years to make sure it keeps pace with inflation.
 
The White House estimates that the change will bring overtime rights to 4.2 million workers who are currently excluded. It will also clarify eligibility for another 8.9 million workers who may or may not have overtime protections under the current rules, officials said.
"The overtime rule is about making sure middle-class jobs pay middle-class wages," Labor Secretary Tom Perez told reporters. "Some will see more money in their pockets.... Some will get more time with their family ... and everybody will receive clarity on where they stand, so that they can stand up for their rights."
 
All of this may seem like an obscure area of employment law, but it's important. As longtime readers may recall, under the old policy, that $23,660 represents a low income threshold for mandatory overtime -- those who make more than that can be classified by employers as "managers" who are exempt from overtime rules. The Obama administration is doubling that threshold.
 
And before you ask, "How in the world will this idea pass a GOP-led Congress?" remember that this shift is entirely regulatory. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the White House can make changes like this without congressional approval.
Sanders backers seek a voice in the process

Merkley: Sanders backers seek a voice in the process

05/17/16 09:32PM

Senator Jeff Merkley, a supporter of Bernie Sanders, talks with Rachel Maddow about Sanders' insistence on staying in the Democratic race, the importance of making Sanders supporters feel like they're part of the process, and why he's confident Sanders Sanders supporters will ultimately be Democratic voters. watch

Sanders risks 'spoiler' label with loss in KY

Sanders risks 'spoiler' label with loss in KY

05/17/16 09:23PM

Chuck Todd, NBC News political director, discusses the pressure that is likely to grow for Bernie Sanders to drop out of the primary race as he fails to keep the pace he needs to win, and talks about whether anyone in the Democratic Party, including Barack Obama, could convince Sanders to give up. watch

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 5.17.16

05/17/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Iraq: "A suicide bomber attacked a crowded outdoor market in Baghdad on Tuesday, killing dozens in the latest in a wave of sectarian attacks claimed by the Islamic State in the Iraqi capital."
 
* Keep a close eye on this one: "The Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow the families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia over its alleged support for terrorism, despite stiff opposition from the White House."
 
* This will be an interesting investigation: "The United States Department of Justice has opened an investigation into state-sponsored doping by dozens of Russia's top athletes, two people familiar with the case said. The inquiry escalates what has been a roiling sports controversy into a federal criminal case involving foreign officials."
 
* The result of a 50-year fight in Mississippi: "The Cleveland School District has been ordered by a federal court to consolidate its majority black secondary schools with historical white schools, ending a five-decade legal battle to desegregate schools in the 12,000-population city in north Mississippi."
 
* Mexico: "Mexico's President, Enrique Pena Nieto, has proposed constitutional reform to legalize same-sex marriage across the country. The decision follows a Supreme Court ruling that opened the way to such unions. Gay marriage is only legal in the capital, Mexico City, and a few states."
 
* Indictment: "A grand jury has indicted an oil pipeline company and one of its employees on criminal charges related to a massive oil spill last year in Santa Barbara County, prosecutors announced Tuesday."
 
* GMOs: "Genetically engineered crops appear to be safe to eat and do not harm the environment, according to a comprehensive new analysis by the advisory group the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine."
CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia

Perhaps the dog ate the CIA's homework

05/17/16 04:56PM

In December 2014, the world finally had a chance to see a document known as the "torture report." An official investigation of "enhanced interrogation techniques" used by the Bush/Cheney administration concluded that torture policies were not effective; the abuses were far more brutal than Americans had been led to believe; and the CIA had provided inaccurate information about the operation of the program.
 
This was, however, what we learned from an executive summary released by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The full, 6,700-page report, which included undisclosed information about "black site" prisons, has never been released to the public --  it's still considered classified -- and courts have ruled the multi-volume report is not covered by the Freedom of Information Act.
 
This week, Yahoo News highlighted a striking, previously unknown detail: the Central Intelligence Agency's  inspector general’s office "mistakenly" destroyed its copy of the full report.
While another copy of the report exists elsewhere at the CIA, the erasure of the controversial document by the office charged with policing agency conduct has alarmed the U.S. senator who oversaw the torture investigation and reignited a behind-the-scenes battle over whether the full unabridged report should ever be released, according to multiple intelligence community sources familiar with the incident.
 
The deletion of the document has been portrayed by agency officials to Senate investigators as an "inadvertent" foul-up by the inspector general. In what one intelligence community source described as a series of errors straight "out of the Keystone Cops," CIA inspector general officials deleted an uploaded computer file with the report and then accidentally destroyed a disk that also contained the document, filled with thousands of secret files about the CIA's use of "enhanced" interrogation methods.
That doesn't sound reassuring. Indeed, Roll Call reported yesterday that the revelations from the Yahoo News piece are "raising concerns" on Capitol Hill "about the fate of the document."
Voting booths are illuminated by sunlight as voters cast their ballots at a polling place on Nov. 6, 2012. (Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)

GOP Senate candidate in Colorado acknowledges wrongdoing

05/17/16 03:45PM

There are all kinds of interesting races in 2016, but there's nothing quite like the Republican Senate primary in Colorado.
 
National and state GOP leaders tried to recruit a top-tier contender to take on incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet (D), but those efforts came up short. Left with few credible options, Republicans rallied behind former state Rep. Jon Keyser (R), who was temporarily removed from the ballot because he failed to submit the necessary number of petition signatures.
 
Keyser went to court and a judge ruled in his favor, concluding that state law in this area is only intended to prevent fraud. The GOP candidate tried to collect the required petition signatures, the judge said, and he came close, and that was good enough.
 
Last week, however, the ABC affiliate in Denver found proof that many of the signatures were, in fact, fraudulent. Coloradans who'd never signed the Republican candidate's petition were listed on the materials because the campaign -- or at least people paid by the campaign -- had forged their signatures and personal information.
 
Asked for an explanation, Keyser initially refused to answer questions about the controversy, going to cringe-worthy lengths to argue the questions themselves were illegitimate. Yesterday, as the Denver Post reported, the GOP candidate changed direction.
U.S. Senate candidate Jon Keyser acknowledged for the first time Monday that his campaign submitted forged signatures to qualify for the Republican primary, breaking his silence to distance his candidacy from the building controversy.
 
The former state lawmaker blamed an employee hired by a canvassing firm connected to his campaign and suggested the issue will not hurt his once-promising bid because he collected more than enough voter signatures to qualify for the race.
Keyser, who last week said the questions were irrelevant, now concedes that the fraudulent signatures are a "very serious thing," but he doesn't want voters to blame his campaign operation.
Affordable Care Act supporters wave signs outside the Supreme Court after the court upheld court's Obamacare, June 25, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

'Obamacare' pushes uninsured rate to historic lows

05/17/16 12:55PM

About a year ago, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) talked to MSNBC's Chris Hayes about the Affordable Care Act, and the Republican was dismissive of the law's effect on the uninsured rate. "It has not plummeted," Gregg scoffed.
 
The more Chris stuck up for reality, the more indignant the retired senator became. "Your ability to understand your numbers is worse than Obama," Gregg said, ignoring numbers that happened to be true.
 
I think about that exchange every time new data is released showing the effects "Obamacare" has had on the nation's uninsured rate. The Huffington Post reported this morning on the latest figures, by way of the CDC, which Judd Gregg might find fascinating.
More than 7 million previously uninsured Americans gained health coverage in 2015, the second full year of the Obamacare coverage expansion, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
 
During the fourth quarter of last year, just 9.1 percent of U.S. residents, or 28.6 million people, had no health coverage, the National Health Interview Survey found. That's a decline of 2.4 percentage points and 7.4 million people from a year before.
 
The additional 7.4 million insured builds on the 8.8 million previously uninsured people who got covered in 2014, the first year of the Affordable Care Act's full benefits.
The full report from the CDC is online here (pdf).
 
Now that the uninsured rate has dropped to 9.1%, it's worth asking the question about historical context: when was the last time more than 90% of Americans had health insurance? Never. As long as officials have kept track of coverage totals, we've never seen figures as encouraging as these.
 
A year ago, Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) argued, in all seriousness, "There's just about as many people uninsured now as there were before the Affordable Care Act."
 
In light of the latest evidence, that's not just wrong, it's demonstrably ridiculous.

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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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