When Republican policymakers in North Dakota passed a "fetal heartbeat" bill in 2013, they almost certainly knew they were inviting a lawsuit the state would inevitably lose. The state law was written to ban abortions after just six weeks of pregnancy, effectively requiring some women to terminate unwanted pregnancies before they even knew they were pregnant.
The law, however, was never actually implemented. Courts imposed an injunction, confident that the policy wouldn't withstand scrutiny. Soon after, federal district and appellate courts were unanimous in rejecting the law, just as everyone expected.
The rulings ended the legal controversy, except for one final detail: legal fees. Slatenoted the other day:
[H]aving lost a constitutional case in court, North Dakota is now required to pay the attorneys' fees of the law's triumphant challenger. On Thursday, the state and Red River agreed on a settlement of $245,000, which will go to [Red River Women's Clinic's] counsel, the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights.
An international reproductive rights advocacy group, the CRR routinely wins lawsuits against restrictive abortion laws worldwide. It led the legal campaign against Texas' onerous new clinic regulations, a fight that recently reached the Supreme Court. North Dakota's sizable payout will help the organization continue to combat measures much like ... North Dakota's.
Remember, North Dakota's Republican policymakers realized in advance that banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy wouldn't pass court muster, but they did it anyway, as something of a legal/political experiment.
It was an expensive test, paid for by North Dakota taxpayers who probably could have come up with better uses for that money.
What's striking, however, is how often stories like these pop up.
Few states need Medicaid expansion more than Louisiana, which made it all the more difficult to justify former Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) refusal to consider the policy. By all appearances, the Republican made a plainly political decision without regard for the state's needs: Jindal wanted to be president (yes, of the United States), so he took a firm stand against "Obamacare."
Louisiana's current governor, Democrat John Bel Edwards, ran on a platform of Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act, won his election fairly easily, and immediately adopted the policy. The Times-Picayune in New Orleans reported yesterday that the governor went directly to the legislature to explain why this was the smart move for Louisiana.
Medicaid expansion is estimated to save Louisiana $677 million over the next five years and more than $1 billion over the next decade, Department of Health and Hospitals officials told Senate Health and Welfare Committee members Monday (April 18).
The cost estimates came after Gov. John Bel Edwards testified before the committee about his decision to expand Medicaid eligibility to about 375,000 people between July 1 and June 30, 2017. DHH officials will make an effort in the coming weeks to educate legislators about the benefits of Medicaid expansion and what they said was misinformation given to the Legislature to justify not expanding Medicaid under former Gov. Bobby Jindal.
"I believe the folks in the prior administration who said we couldn't afford Medicaid expansion, they took the worst case scenario on every variable," Edwards told lawmakers in the GOP-led legislature. "If you look at what we're doing in light of experience in other states ... we know we're going to save money."
Since early February, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have faced off in 37 nominating contests, and in that time, some patterns have emerged. Sanders has done extremely well in caucuses; Clinton has done better in primaries. Sanders has excelled with younger voters; Clinton has picked up greater support from older voters. Sanders has thrived in states with less racial and ethnic diversity; Clinton has been buoyed by African-American and Latino support.
But there's another key consideration that often gets overlooked: the kind of primary or caucus has a big effect on the outcome. More specifically, the question to keep in mind is whether the nominating contest is "closed" (only Democrats can participate) or "open" (anyone can help choose the Democratic nominee).
It's surprising just how much this matters. In closed contests, Clinton tends to have more success, while in open contests, Sanders, Congress' longest-serving independent, has consistent enjoyed an advantage.
All of this is of particular interest today, of course, because New York's presidential primaries are closed -- Democratic voters will choose the Democratic candidate and Republican voters will choose the Republican candidate.
For Team Sanders, this creates a challenge. The Washington Postreported this week that were it not for independent voters casting ballots in open contests, the Vermont senator "probably would've been sunk long ago."
In Michigan, where Sanders won his greatest upset, Clinton beat him by 18 points among self-identified Democrats, according to exit polls. In Oklahoma, one of the few states that Clinton won in 2008's primary but lost this year, she beat Sanders by nine points with Democrats. In Wisconsin, Sanders won overall by 13 points; he split the Democratic vote with Clinton 50-50.
In each case, independents who felt like pulling a Democratic ballot were able to vote for Sanders. In New York, many of the people who crowded Sanders's rallies -- some lining up for hours, Bernie buttons on their winter coats -- admitted that they had not understood that New York's rules were different.
And as a result, those independent supporters will have no choice but to remain on the sidelines today. That doesn't necessarily mean Sanders is doomed in the Empire State, but it creates an additional wrinkle in his attempt at an upset.
Complicating matters further, there are 16 contests remaining in the Democratic race, including today's New York primary, and half of them limit participation to registered Democratic voters.
One of the best running jokes in American politics is the one about Republicans releasing their own alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Any day now, GOP leaders have been saying for many years, they're going to have a plan that rivals "Obamacare," and it's going to be awesome.
Yesterday, The Hillreported on the latest installment in this ongoing fiasco.
A group of senior House Republicans is promising to deliver proof that the party is making headway in its six-year struggle to replace ObamaCare.
"Give us a little time, another month or so," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told reporters this week. "I think we'll be pretty close to a Republican alternative."
Upton is not just some random figure in the broader effort: The Michigan Republican is a key committee chairman and a member of House Speaker Paul Ryan's "task force," responsible for coming up with the GOP's reform alternative.
Upton said the Republican group is currently in "listening mode" -- which it's apparently been in since its creation 14 months ago.
And yet, we're apparently supposed to believe that in "another month or so," House Republican lawmakers will be "pretty close" to having their own reform plan.
Who knows, maybe the GOP is making enormous strides towards its goal. Maybe "listening mode" is going so well that the Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act is nearly complete. Maybe, with "a little time," they're ready to deliver.
It's certainly possible, but the odds are heavily against it.
When news reports popped up yesterday about the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton facing accusations about an illegal fundraising scheme, I largely assumed the charges were being levied from the right. As Rachel noted on the show last night, those assumptions were incorrect.
In an unexpected twist, the accusations were actually coming from Bernie Sanders, who now believes a joint Democratic fundraising committee violates campaign finance laws. The Washington Postreported:
In a letter to the Democratic National Committee, a lawyer for Sanders said the joint committee, which can accept far larger donations than Clinton's campaign, appeared to be improperly subsidizing her campaign by paying Clinton staffers with funds from the committee and cited other alleged violations as well. [...]
The Sanders letter cited a February report by The Washington Post that detailed the Clinton campaign's expansive use of a joint fundraising committee it set up last year with the DNC and 32 state party committees.
To put it mildly, it's not at all common for a Democratic presidential candidate to accuse his own ostensible party, late in the primary process, of being involved in an illegal scheme, but 2016 really isn't a normal year.
Regardless, do the accusations have merit? Have the DNC and the Clinton campaign hatched an improper operation that violates campaign-finance laws? It's a real stretch.
Suzanne Carlson, political reporter with the Virgin Island Daily News, talks with Rachel Maddow about the particularly vituperative fight within the Virgin Islands Republican Party and the two separate slates of unbound delegates that are claiming to represent the party for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. watch
Andrea Mitchell, NBC News correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow about accusations by the Bernie Sanders campaign that Hillary Clinton is breaking fundraising rules with big money DNC events, raising already high tensions between the two camps ahead of Tuesday's New York primary. watch
Rachel Maddow reviews the recent campaign of New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino as an example of the peculiarity of New York Republican Party politics that helps explain the massive lead polls show Donald Trump holds in the current presidential primary race. watch
* Iraq: "The United States will send 217 more troops, including additional special operations forces, to Iraq as part of a growing train-and-advise effort to help the struggling government fight ISIS, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Monday morning in Baghdad."
* Ecuador: "The death toll from Ecuador's earthquake rose to 350 on Monday as the State Department confirmed at least one U.S. citizen was killed."
* Brazil: "Brazilian legislators voted on Sunday night to approve impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, the nation's first female president, whose tenure has been buffeted by a dizzying corruption scandal, a shrinking economy and spreading disillusionment."
* Flint, Michigan: "Bottoms up for Gov. Rick Snyder. The governor announced Monday for the next 30 days, he'll drink filtered tap water drawn from a home in the city."
* The Supreme Court has posted the transcript from oral arguments in this morning's big immigration case.
* A story worth watching: "The Pentagon misled Congress by using inaccurate or vague information about sexual assault cases in an effort to blunt support for a Senate bill that would make a major change in how the military handles allegations of sexual misconduct, an Associated Press investigation found."
* Indefensible: "A college student who came to the United States as an Iraqi refugee was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight in California earlier this month after another passenger became alarmed when she heard him speaking Arabic."
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld apparently takes a degree of pleasure in sending an annual letter to the Internal Revenue Service. Today, he offered his latest installment in the series.
"Once again, I have mailed in our federal income tax and gift tax filings for 2015, and have requested an extension due to the delays in materials required to complete our tax return.
"Despite having performed this civic duty for over half a century, at the concluding of filing this year's taxes, I remain mystified as to whether or not our tax returns and tax payment estimates are accurate. The possession of a college degree, retention of an experienced tax accounting firm, and earnest application have failed to provide confidence that my returns and payments are properly completed."
Rumsfeld goes on to insist the millions of Americans find the annual tax-filing process complicated, and in his mind, "A fundamental and annual civic duty should not be so laborious and costly for the average American."
He concludes by dreaming of the day in which the government "radically simplifies the tax code," possibly with a "flat tax."
Let's skip over the fact that a flat tax is a horrible idea. Let's also overlook the fact that Rumsfeld is under the mistaken impression that it's charming for people to write angry missives to the IRS about what the government ought to be doing.
Let's instead focus on the core problem here: Rumsfeld, who spent much of his lengthy career in government, seems confused about what the IRS does.
When it comes to evaluating the Affordable Care Act's successes, one of the key metrics is pretty straightforward: "Obamacare" is lowering the uninsured rate to the lowest levels on record, bringing coverage to people who didn't have it. But it turns out there's an even more detailed way to consider this measurement.
The New York Times, relying largely on Census data, published a fascinating report on which American constituencies have seen the sharpest improvements thanks to the reform law, and the results point to an important angle for the larger political debate.
The first full year of the Affordable Care Act brought historic increases in coverage for low-wage workers and others who have long been left out of the health care system, a New York Times analysis has found. Immigrants of all backgrounds -- including more than a million legal residents who are not citizens -- had the sharpest rise in coverage rates.
Hispanics, a coveted group of voters this election year, accounted for nearly a third of the increase in adults with insurance. That was the single largest share of any racial or ethnic group, far greater than their 17 percent share of the population. Low-wage workers, who did not have enough clout in the labor market to demand insurance, saw sharp increases. Coverage rates jumped for cooks, dishwashers, waiters, as well as for hairdressers and cashiers. Minorities, who disproportionately worked in low-wage jobs, had large gains.
In other words, struggling, low-wage workers, who tend to have the least amount of political capital, have seen the biggest gains. While there's been progress among every demographic since the ACA was implemented, the Times analysis found that the reform law has narrowed "the gap between the haves and the have-nots," even while income inequality has gotten worse overall.
One of the interesting things to keep in mind is that the left and right don't necessarily have to disagree on these basic factual details, and can instead argue about whether or not the developments are worth bragging about.
Bernie Sanders has faced some criticism in recent weeks over his campaign's willingness to downplay the results from Southern primaries. The region, Sanders said last week, "kind of distorts reality."
The Vermont senator was asked about this in last week's debate, and Sanders focused on the region's ideology. "Look, let me acknowledge what is absolutely true: Secretary Clinton cleaned our clock in the Deep South," he said. "No question about it. We got murdered there. That is the most conservative part of this great country."
There are two central questions here. First, did Sanders lose in the South because voters in the region are more conservative? And second, if Southern states aren't representative of Democratic politics in general, which are?
On the first question, Sanders' case has run into some trouble. While conservatives obviously tend to fare well in Southern elections, there's little evidence that Democrats in the South are significantly more conservative than in other red states like Utah, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Idaho -- states where Bernie Sanders won with relative ease.
But what about the second question? Sanders' broader point almost certainly had very little to do with race -- African-American voters tend to represent a larger percentage of the Democratic primary vote in the South than other regions -- and more to do with the idea that the region doesn't effectively represent Democratic politics at large. But which states do a better job? FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver took a closer look:
The most representative state ... is New Jersey. We expect its primary electorate to be about 57 percent white, 26 percent black, 11 percent Hispanic and 6 percent Asian or other, quite close to the national Democratic electorate. New Jersey won't vote until June 7, although Clinton was well ahead when the last poll was released there in February.
After New Jersey comes Illinois, which Clinton won narrowly -- and then Florida, where Clinton won going away. Then there's New York, which votes Tuesday, and where Clinton is 15 percentage points ahead in our polling average. Virginia, another Southern state, ranks as the next most representative; Clinton won it easily. Then there's Nevada, another Clinton state, before we go back to the South to North Carolina, also won by Clinton. The next group of four states (Maryland, Tennessee, Arkansas and Michigan) are roughly tied and include some further representation for the South, along with, finally, one state (Michigan) that Sanders won.
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.