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President Barack Obama pauses while speaking in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., Jan. 5, 2016, about steps his administration is taking to reduce gun violence. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Obama makes an emotional push on guns

01/05/16 02:35PM

Americans have heard President Obama speak about gun violence many times, often in the wake of a mass shooting, occasionally to make appeals to Congress to be more responsible, and sometimes both.
 
But today's remarks at the White House were less of an appeal for action and more of a defense of action, since the president is taking a series of executive actions this week that require nothing from a Republican-led Congress that opposes any and all efforts to reform gun laws.
 
The result was a powerful, and at times emotional, presidential pitch. The Atlantic's James Fallows, himself a presidential speechwriter nearly 40 years ago, wrote this afternoon, "I think the presentation as a whole -- talking about law, balances of rights, the art of the possible, the long process of political change -- will be one of the moments that is remembered and studied from Obama's time in office."
 
It's worth appreciating what made this morning's remarks so striking.
Republican U.S. presidential candidate and Senator Ted Cruz (L) looks over at rival candidate Senator Marco Rubio on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 24, 2015. (Photo by James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

Cruz and Rubio fight for control of the GOP's foreign policy

01/05/16 12:44PM

In the wake of the Bush/Cheney era, the Republican Party, which has long treated credibility on international affairs as something of birthright, suddenly found itself without a clear foreign policy. GOP officials were due for a spirited, substantive intra-party conversation about how they saw the world and the United States' role in it in the 21st century.
 
That discussion never really happened. Party elders who used to set the party's direction on foreign policy -- Dick Lugar, John Warner, Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, et al -- were politely ignored when they weren't rejected outright. Republicans started defining their agenda by simply rejecting anything President Obama is for, which made much of the GOP base happy, but which does not a foreign policy make.
 
Nearly eight years after the Bush/Cheney era ended, however, we're starting to see hints of the debate that should have taken place years ago. The Guardian's Sabrina Siddiqui reported yesterday on the Republicans' presidential primary fight and the drive to control the party's direction on foreign policy in the near future.
Marco Rubio on Monday framed the presidential election as a choice that would define America's role on the global stage. In doing so, he took direct aim at both Hillary Clinton's record as secretary of state and Republican candidates he called "isolationists".
 
In response, a spokeswoman for one such opponent, Senator Ted Cruz, called Rubio's stance on foreign policy "incoherent" and "dangerous".
Just on the surface, it's a welcome change of pace when two prominent GOP presidential candidates have a genuine disagreement on something important. Most of the time, the Republican field, despite its enormous size, is annoyingly similar, offering little more than subtle differences over tactics and tone.
 
But when it comes to international affairs, the simple truth is that Rubio and Cruz offer two very different visions. Their disagreement matters, not just because one of them may be the GOP nominee later this year, but also because the resolution of their argument is likely to set the Republicans' default position in the years to come.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.5.16

01/05/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* Jeb Bush's campaign conceded yesterday that when the former governor said he received the NRA's "statesman of the year" award, that wasn't actually true.
 
* At a campaign event this morning, Marco Rubio defended his poor voting record by dismissing Congress' importance. "We're not going to fix America with senators and congressmen," the senator said, in a quote that will probably end up in one of his opponent's campaign commercials sometime soon.
 
* On a related note, Rubio has been referring to members of Congress as "they," instead of "we," as if the Florida senator hasn't been a member of Congress himself for the last five years.
 
* Donald Trump's campaign commercial that shows people running at a border features footage from Morocco, not Mexico. One campaign official said this was intentional, though another said it was a mistake.
 
* Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) will wrap up his long career as a progressive champion in Congress at the end of the year. The 79-year-old lawmaker announced yesterday that his 14th term will be his last.
 
* Ben Carson told a New York audience yesterday, "[I]n a lot of cities, you know, you can buy a pack of heroin for less than you can buy a pack of cigarettes and it's destroying us." I'm not entirely sure what that means.
President Barack Obama waves to visitors as he walks towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., Nov. 2, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

Obama reverses long-term trend on wealthy, taxes

01/05/16 11:20AM

The New York Times published a fascinating piece last week on America's wealthiest people using their influence "to steadily whittle away at the government's ability to tax them. The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans."
 
The effects have been dramatic: "Two decades ago, when Bill Clinton was elected president, the 400 highest-earning taxpayers in America paid nearly 27 percent of their income in federal taxes, according to I.R.S. data. By 2012, when President Obama was re-elected, that figure had fallen to less than 17 percent, which is just slightly more than the typical family making $100,000 annually, when payroll taxes are included for both groups."
 
When polls show the American mainstream support higher tax burdens on the very wealthy, the public's instincts on this are understandable.
 
But the Times' Josh Barro published a related item on New Year's Eve, noting that the trend changed direction, quite dramatically, in 2013 -- and whether you think that's a positive or negative development, you can attribute the shift largely to President Obama.
Data released by the I.R.S. on Wednesday shows that tax rates on the income of America's 400 wealthiest taxpayers rose sharply to 22.9 percent in 2013, erasing a majority of the last two decades' decline in their effective tax rate. [...]
 
The spike in the wealthiest people's tax rates was mostly achieved ... through initiatives from President Obama. Two laws that he championed became effective in 2013, raising tax rates on high earners and limiting the value of tax deductions they are entitled to take.
The two laws, of course, were the Affordable Care Act and the tax deal from late 2012 -- remember the so-called "fiscal cliff"? -- that raised taxes to Clinton-era levels on the very wealthy.
 
Why are billionaires so openly hostile towards the president that rescued the economy from the Great Recession? Because they were making out like bandits for the better part of a generation, and now they're not.
Paul LePage

State lawmakers prep impeachment order against GOP governor

01/05/16 10:40AM

Almost immediately after Maine Gov. Paul LePage's (R) abuse-of-power scandal came to light, talk of gubernatorial impeachment became common. The Portland Press Herald reported yesterday that for some in the state legislature, the move remains very much on the table.
A group of House lawmakers will introduce an impeachment order against Gov. Paul LePage this week calling for a special committee to investigate eight separate charges against Maine's controversial governor.
 
The "order for impeachment" is the first step in a long-shot campaign to remove LePage from office and is likely to fan political tensions in the Maine House, where Republicans are expected to largely oppose it and some Democrats are leery of opening a legislative session on a highly partisan note. The House could take up the issue as early as Wednesday when lawmakers return for the first day of the 2016 legislative session.
The local paper published a copy of the order itself online here (pdf). For now, it has four co-sponsors: three Democrats and one independent.
 
To briefly recap for those who may need a refresher, a Maine charter school hired state House Speaker Mark Eves (D) for a top position, but LePage, a fierce opponent of Democratic legislators, threatened the school -- either fire Eves or the governor would cut off the school's state funding. In effect, LePage played the role of a mobster saying, "It's a nice school you have there; it'd be a shame if something happened to it."
 
The school, left with no options, reluctantly acquiesced. The problem, of course, is that governors are not supposed to use state resources to punish people they don't like. For many, this looked like an abuse of power that constitutes an impeachable offense.
 
As recently as October, the school's chairman spoke to state investigators and said the governor did precisely what he's accused of doing. To date, LePage has made no real effort to deny the allegations.
 
The governor's critics, however, nevertheless face long odds. Even if the impeachment order passed the Maine House, which is by no means an easy task, the Maine Senate has a Republican majority. By all accounts, getting a two-thirds majority in the chamber would be a very tall order.
Republican presidential candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, speaks at the RedState Gathering, Aug. 7, 2015, in Atlanta, Ga. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

Chris Christie suddenly worthy of rivals' attacks

01/05/16 10:00AM

Last summer, a super PAC that had been created for the sole purpose of stopping Chris Christie's presidential campaign made an announcement: it was closing up shop. The New Jersey governor's bid for national office was going so poorly, the super PAC no longer saw the point of existing.
 
About five months later, Christie's standing has improved -- to the point at which he's now relevant enough to attack. National Review reported yesterday on Marco Rubio's super PAC actually investing in attacks targeting the Republican governor.
Marco Rubio has his eyes on Chris Christie, who is increasingly viewed as the dark horse who could, with an impressive showing -- even a victory -- in New Hampshire, become the GOP's surprise establishment favorite.
 
Starting [Tuesday], the super PAC supporting Rubio's presidential bid is set to go up on the air and online with two attack ads against the New Jersey governor in New Hampshire, where Christie has focused all of his efforts. A source with the Rubio PAC says the ads are "a major part of an ongoing multi-million dollar buy in New Hampshire over the next couple of weeks."
As attack ads go, these spots are at least honest. The first hammers Christie for his support for Medicaid expansion, as well as the governor's work with President Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The second reminds voters about Christie's "Bridgegate" scandal and New Jersey's weak economy on the governor's watch.
 
Asked for his response yesterday, Christie told Bloomberg TV, "I just wonder what happened to the Marco who so indignantly looked at Jeb Bush and said, 'I guess someone must have convinced you that going negative against me helps you.' I guess that same person must now have convinced Marco that going negative against Chris Christie is what he needs to do."
 
Stepping back to look at this in the bigger picture, how happy must Christie be at this point to be worthy of attacks?
Kentucky Republican senatorial candidate Matt Bevin greets voters at the Fountain Run BBQ Festival on May 17, 2014 in Fountain Run, Ky. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

GOP governor blinks in Medicaid fight

01/05/16 09:20AM

As the Affordable Care Act has taken root, its implementation has moved in only one direction: forward. The health care law has seen more consumers, more Medicaid expansion, and more coverage. Aside from occasional, pointless repeal votes in Congress, there's been no meaningful effort to go backwards on "Obamacare."
 
Which is why Kentucky created such an interesting test. The Bluegrass State has been a national leader in ACA implementation, slashing its uninsured rate, and excelling in overhauling its health system. The results have been amazing for state residents. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, however, vowed to make Kentucky the first state to reverse course, starting with the elimination of Medicaid expansion.
 
The assumption has long been that it's far more difficult to take Americans' health care benefits away than to block those benefits from existing in the first place. Would Bevin prove these assumptions wrong? Would he keep his campaign promise and scrap coverage for thousands of Kentucky families?
 
It now appears the answer to both of these questions is no. The Lexington Herald Leader reported late last week:
Gov. Matt Bevin says he intends to draft a plan to overhaul the state's expanded Medicaid program by the middle of next year, one that could be implemented by the start of 2017. [...]
 
He said Wednesday that his plan will be fashioned after the one in Indiana, which uses waivers from the federal government that allow states to create their own system for providing coverage to the poor.
"Indiana's is the model that frankly is most likely that we will look to replicate," the governor added last week.
 
The trouble for Bevin's right-wing allies, of course, is that Indiana is already a Medicaid-expansion state. The new Kentucky governor, in other words, is planning to make the transition from Medicaid expansion to a slightly less generous version of Medicaid expansion.
 
This isn't at all what the Tea Party Republican promised as a candidate early last year, but there's apparently an important difference between vowing to take away health care benefits and actually following through on the threat.
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., talks to supporters, Dec. 5, 2015, in Miami. (Photo by Luis M. Alvarez/AP)

Rubio inadvertently slams his own allies on national security

01/05/16 08:41AM

Marco Rubio gave a speech on national security in New Hampshire yesterday, and made a point to single out concerns about the so-called USA Freedom Act.
 
"If ISIS had lobbyists in Washington, they would have spent millions to support the anti-intelligence law that was just passed with the help of some Republicans now running for president," the Florida senator said, making a not-so-subtle reference to Ted Cruz's support for legislation that limited federal surveillance programs.
 
The trouble, of course, is that Cruz wasn't alone. As we discussed a couple of months ago, the bill passed the Senate with a bipartisan 67-vote majority, and passed the GOP-led House, 338 to 88. It was backed by members of the Republican leadership in both chambers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan.
 
More to the point, many of Rubio's most important congressional allies supported the same legislation. The Daily Beast published a great catch late last week:
[M]ost of Rubio's supporters in Congress supported changes to the NSA's program. In fact, 21 of Rubio's 24 congressional supporters backed the USA Freedom Act -- a bill Rubio has said "weaken[s] ... U.S. intelligence programs" -- this year (a 25th supporter, Rep. Darin LaHood, wasn't in Congress at the time of the vote).
 
And of these 21 members of Congress, more than a dozen co-sponsored a version of the USA Freedom Act in the previous Congress.
The list includes Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who hit the campaign trail at Rubio's side last week.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch listens as President Barack Obama speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Jan. 4, 2016. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Obama goes around GOP, takes new steps to prevent gun deaths

01/05/16 08:00AM

It was three years ago next week when President Obama, frustrated by Congress' refusal to act on gun violence, announced 23 executive actions intended to help save American lives. All 23 had one key advantage: they didn't require congressional approval, so all Republicans could do is complain and stomp their feet.
 
All 23 also had one key disadvantage: they were quite modest in scope. White House officials realized that sweeping changes to the law obviously must originate with Congress, so the administration's initiative included underwhelming measures. These were positive steps -- but they were small.
 
Three years later, GOP lawmakers are even less willing to consider any reforms whatsoever to the nation's gun laws -- no matter how broad the public support, no matter how many lives may be saved -- but Obama's eagerness for action remains unabated. Republicans won't like his latest actions, but by all appearances, the president couldn't care less whether they're pleased or not.
President Barack Obama directed federal agencies Monday to carry out a series of steps to reduce gun violence, including measures to restrict sales by unlicensed dealers -- sometimes called the gun show loophole.
 
Regulators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will clarify that anyone engaged in the business of selling firearms must get a federal firearms dealers license and check the backgrounds of all buyers.
The details of the plan will be unveiled by the president later this morning -- a White House event is scheduled for 11:40 a.m. Eastern -- but officials have already sketched out the basic plan. Among the provisions are improved reporting requirements for firearms dealers when guns are lost or stolen, and increased funding for mental health.
 
The measure likely to generate the most attention, of course, relates to background checks, and the president's effort to expand the requirements imposed on those who sell guns. Vox had a good look at how Obama's plan would narrow some of the existing loopholes.
 
But while we wait for additional information on the president's latest moves, the politics surrounding the issue continue to amaze. For example, consider what the NRA told the New York Times in reaction to the available information.

Sheriff to occupiers: 'go home' and other headlines

01/05/16 07:03AM

As militant occupation continues in Oregon, sheriff says 'go home.' (The Oregonian)

The federal land occupied by an armed group in Oregon is one of the first wildlife sanctuaries in the U.S. (Washington Post)

South Carolina cop charged with killing unarmed motorist Walter Scott released on bond. (NBC News)

In the homestretch, Bernie Sanders relying on X-factors to pull of an upset. (BuzzFeed News)

Leaking gas well in Porter Ranch area lacked a working safety valve. (Los Angeles Times)

Manager of Las Vegas newspaper now owned by Sheldon Adelson is removed. (New York Times)

Want to live like a Palin? (Washington Post)

read more

GOP no longer embarrassed to mainstream Trump

Trump takes mainstream tone, no longer too fringey for GOP

01/04/16 10:53PM

Rachel Maddow looks back at the 2012 Republican primary in which Donald Trump had a strong start but was ultimately too embarrassingly fringey for mainstream Republicans, compared to 2016 when Trump, still of-the-fringe, is the Republican front-runner and redefining the party's mainstream. watch

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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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