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The dome of the US Capitol is seen in Washington, D.C., September 20, 2008.

Is Congress 'finally back on track'? Not really

04/24/15 11:26AM

In late-January, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), one of Congress' less-conservative Republican members, could hardly contain his frustrations with the prevailing political winds on Capitol Hill.
 
"Week one, we had a Speaker election that did not go as well as a lot of us would have liked," Dent told reporters. "Week two, we got into a big fight over deporting children, something that a lot of us didn't want to have a discussion about. Week three, we are now talking about rape and incest and reportable rapes and incest for minors... I just can't wait for week four."
 
A few months later, however, Congress has managed to put one foot after another, and everyone involved is suddenly patting themselves on the back. The Washington Post noted this week:
There's a lot of self-congratulating going around Capitol Hill these days -- members of Congress are, in not-so-insignificant ways, doing their jobs.
 
And while we realize that for most working Americans that wouldn't be particularly noteworthy, for the Congress we've come to know in the last several years, actual legislating is cause for great celebration.
Colby Itkowitz flagged a series of headlines from news outlets, impressed with congressional activity. "Glimmers of Hope on the Hill," one read. "Bipartisanship breaks out on Capitol Hill -- at least for now," said another.
 
Assorted partisans are getting in on the new Beltway fun. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), boasted this week, "I've actually been somewhat surprised and more optimistic than I have been in a long time about how the Senate is beginning to work again."
 
Karl Rove added yesterday, "Congress is finally back on track."
 
There are a couple of reasons to explain this suddenly popular thesis -- and several more reasons to be deeply skeptical of it.
Pedro Rojas holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, before the Feb. 15th deadline on Feb. 5, 2015 in Miami, Fl. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

ACA scores big on customer satisfaction

04/24/15 10:40AM

When the Affordable Care Act's Republican critics were making all kinds of dire predictions about the inevitable "failures" of "Obamacare," one of the charges was that American consumers will end up hating the coverage they receive through the reform law.
 
And for those ACA detractors looking for something, anything, to bolster their contempt for the law, I'm afraid I have more bad news: Americans who received coverage through Obamacare tend to be quite pleased with the results.
Obamacare customers nationally also tended to be more satisfied with their plans bought in 2014 than people who primarily have traditional job-based health coverage -- the majority of those with insurance -- the study by the J.D. Power market research company found.
 
And those customers from last year were as happy with their coverage as other people who had multiple choices when it came to buying plans outside Obamacare markets from insurers or brokers, according to the J.D. Power report, which was released Thursday.
The full market-research report is available online here.
 
This is obviously just one study, and other analyses may draw other conclusions, but let's not forget that this isn't the first evidence we've seen pointing to high customer-satisfaction rates for those who buy coverage through the Affordable Care Act.
Milton Persinger, left, and Robert Povilat wait for a marriage license at the Mobile County Probate office, Feb. 10, 2015, in Mobile, Ala. (Photo by Sharon Steinmann/AP)

Alabama rep looks to end marriage licenses ... for everyone

04/24/15 10:00AM

Several weeks ago, some Republicans in the Oklahoma state legislature embraced a new resolution to the debate over marriage equality. Instead of denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a proposed bill would deny marriage licenses to all couples.
 
"The point of my legislation is to take the state out of the process and leave marriage in the hands of the clergy," state Rep. Todd Russ (R) said last month.
 
That bill actually passed the Oklahoma state House, 67 to 24, and the underlying idea now appears to be spreading. Consider this local report out of Alabama.
An Alabama state senator believes he has the solution to the state's debate about who probate judges can and cannot issue marriage licenses to: Do away with the state-sanctioned license.
 
Senate Bill 377 from Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, would end the requirement that couples obtain marriage licenses from probate judges. Instead, marriages would be a legal contract, witnessed by a clergy member, attorney or notary public, and filed with the state through the probate office.
"My goal is to remove the state out of the lives of people," Albritton told the Decatur Daily. "No. 2 is to prevent the state from getting involved in long-term lawsuits that do no good."
 
Recent events have made clear that Alabama has struggled to comply with court orders involving marriage equality, so it's not surprising that conservative policymakers would begin looking for a creative way to deny same-sex couples equal-marriage rights.

Cruz leads the race to the bottom on marriage equality

04/24/15 09:23AM

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) attended an event in Manhattan this week, though the venue was a little surprising: the reception for the Texas Republican was held at the apartment of "two prominent gay hoteliers."
 
At the gathering, Cruz reportedly said he would love his children regardless of their sexual orientation, and according to the event's moderator, the far-right senator "told the group that marriage should be left up to the states." As best as I can tell, there was no recording of the event, at least not one that's available to the public, so it's hard to know exactly what he said.
 
But before there's speculation about whether Cruz's conservative backers will revolt over the senator's tone, consider the Texas lawmaker's latest legislative push. Bloomberg Politics reported late yesterday:
Days before the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on same-sex marriage, Senator Ted Cruz has filed two bills to protect states that bar gay couples from marrying.
 
Cruz's legislation would establish a constitutional amendment shielding states that define marriage as between one woman and one man from legal action, according to bill language obtained by Bloomberg News. A second bill would bar federal courts from further weighing in on the marriage issue until such an amendment is adopted.
To be sure, this doesn't come as too big a surprise. Cruz has been threatening to pursue an anti-gay constitutional amendment for quite a while, and he started telegraphing his "court-stripping" effort soon after launching his presidential campaign.
 
For that matter, it's also not too surprising that Cruz would use his Senate office to push doomed proposals intended to boost his national candidacy.
 
But beware of the race to the bottom.
Republican Presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., April 15, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

The drone questions Rand Paul isn't ready to ask

04/24/15 08:40AM

Yesterday's revelations about drone strikes that killed several Americans in January raised anew all kinds of questions about the underlying national security policy. Does the U.S. drone policy work? Why is there so little transparency? What safeguards are in place to prevent deadly mistakes? Should responsibility for implementing the policy be under military or CIA control? To what degree is due process even considered?
 
Do officials even know who's being targeted by the drone strikes themselves?
 
These are questions that deserve answers, and given his background and purported areas of concern, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) seems like the kind of policymaker to ask them. As of yesterday, however, the Republican presidential candidate had very little to say. Dave Weigel reported:
Paul avoided the more public entrances to the Senate floor, the places where reporters are typically able to grab senators for quotes. Initially, his Senate office said via e-mail that he would not have an immediate response to the killings. At 1:54 p.m., his campaign sent over a statement. "It is a tragedy that these Americans lost their lives," said Paul. "My prayers and thoughts are with their families."
 
Minutes later, Paul's Senate office sent over a slightly different statement, clarifying that he was talking about the American hostage, Warren Weinstein. He did not address the killings of Ahmed Farouq and Adam Gadahn, two American citizens who had joined al-Qaeda and were killed in drone strikes.
It was hard not to notice how far the Kentucky senator has traveled since 2013. He used to go out on a limb on this issue, and now, he's clearly climbed back.
Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (C) leaves a meeting with members of the Iowa State legislature at the Iowa State Capital on April 15, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Benghazi panel agrees to let Clinton answer questions

04/24/15 08:00AM

The headline on the New York Times piece yesterday afternoon painted a picture that was a little misleading: "Benghazi Committee Pushes for Hillary Clinton to Testify Again." Reading this, one might get the impression that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was reluctant to answer questions and needed "pushing" from the Republican-led panel.
 
Except, pretty much the opposite is true. Clinton offered months ago to testify -- in a public hearing for all of the world to see -- only to face resistance from the committee's GOP leaders. Indeed, just this week, Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) was asked by Fox News' Greta Van Susteren whether Clinton has been "cooperative." The Republican leader conceded, "Cooperative from the standpoint she has never once evidenced a lack of willingness to come in to talk to us."
 
All of which led to yesterday's announcement that the committee is willing to let Clinton answer questions -- again -- but the panel now wants her to testify twice. Alex Seitz-Wald reported:
In a letter sent Thursday to Clinton's lawyer, committee Chair Trey Gowdy asked Clinton to appear before the committee to discuss her controversial use of a private email account during the week of May 18, and then to appear again during the week of June 18 to discuss the Benghazi terror attacks themselves.
 
Clinton was secretary of state during the September 2012 Benghazi terror attack, which left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens,  and became a major political issue in the 2012 presidential campaign and in the years since.
Gowdy backed down from demands that Clinton's testimony must be private -- the next round of Q&A will be televised, just as the Democrat requested.
 
The South Carolina Republican, who has a habit of asking Benghazi questions that have already been answered, again insisted yesterday that there are still unanswered questions, even after seven other congressional committees have investigated the 2012 attack in Libya in recent years. He tried to prove his point with a lengthy list.
 
Though as Philip Bump noted, even this contention was problematic:

'Rough rides' and other headlines

04/24/15 07:37AM

Freddie Gray was not the first to be injured in a Baltimore police van. (Baltimore Sun)

Charles Koch: We're not in politics to boost our bottom line. (USA Today)

Boehner threatens House subpoena of Clinton's email server. (Bloomberg Politics)

First evidence of a blunder in drone strike: 2 extra bodies. (New York Times)

Italian terror raid busts cell with alleged ties to bin Laden. (NBC News)

8 women make it through Army Ranger School's grueling 'RAP Week' (Washington Post)

It's Eric Holder's last day as Attorney General. (MSNBC)

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Decryptomaddowlogical #130

04/23/15 08:59PM

Ok, one more death penalty puzzle:

Part of the reason why Oklahoma is preparing to use nitrogen gas as a means of executing death row prisoners is that the Supreme Court could potentially decide that their drug injection method is cruel and unusual. To the extent that the United States recognizes the obligation of a humane death, one owed to even the worst criminals in our society, Oklahoma's invention of a new means of execution without due scientific rigor might be seen as a ... 

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 4.23.15

04/23/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Probation: "Former CIA director and retired four-star Gen. David Petraeus was sentenced Thursday to two-years of probation and must pay a $100,000 fine for leaking classified military information to a woman with whom he had a relationship while serving as head of the intelligence agency, according to NBC News."
 
* Deal's off? "Comcast could drop its mega-merger bid for Time Warner Cable as early as Friday, a source told CNBC on Thursday. Time Warner Cable declined to comment to CNBC on an earlier report of an intent to drop the bid."
 
* Something to keep an eye on: "NATO's chief on Thursday reported a sizeable Russian military buildup on the border with Ukraine that he said would enable pro-Moscow separatists to launch a new offensive with little warning."
 
* Earthquakes: "Man-made earthquakes associated with wastewater disposal wells from oil and gas extraction are on the rise in parts of the United States, according to a report the U.S. Geological Survey released Thursday."
 
* He was the only senator to skip the vote: "Sen. Ted Cruz skipped the vote to confirm Loretta Lynch as attorney general on Thursday -- just three hours after he took to the Senate floor to rail against her nomination." He had a fundraiser to go to.
 
* Ferguson: "The family of Michael Brown -- the unarmed black teen who was killed last August by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri -- is filing a civil suit against the city for wrongful death."
 
* $15? "Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate's labor committee, has been reaching out to her Democratic colleagues to rally support for a more ambitious minimum wage proposal, according to a Senate source familiar with the conversations."
 
* When law enforcement effectively invents a dubious field of forensic science, and uses in prosecutions for decades, that really is a problem that deserves more attention.
Governor Bobby Jindal arrives to speak at the 42nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., Feb. 26, 2015. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Jindal thumbs his nose at 'job creators' over discrimination

04/23/15 04:35PM

The legal fight over marriage equality is ongoing, but as the Supreme Court gets ready to hear arguments in the case that may resolve the issue, the court of public opinion has effectively already issued its decision.
 
A new Washington Post/ABC News poll found a 61% majority support equal-marriage rights, while only about a third of the country still disagrees. It's the most lopsided results ever in this poll, and it's a complete reversal from public attitudes from a decade ago.
 
It's against this backdrop that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), gearing up for a presidential campaign, has a New York Times op-ed today proudly declaring he's "holding firm" against the push for equal treatment under the law.
 
Much of the argument is familiar, boilerplate rhetoric, including an unpersuasive defense of a pending state discrimination measure, but of particular interest was the governor's disdain for the private sector's guidance on the issue.
In Indiana and Arkansas, large corporations recently joined left-wing activists to bully elected officials into backing away from strong protections for religious liberty.... That political leaders in both states quickly cowered amid the shrieks of big business and the radical left should alarm us all.
 
As the fight for religious liberty moves to Louisiana, I have a clear message for any corporation that contemplates bullying our state: Save your breath.
The Republican governor added that business leaders have "already contacted" him about moving away from a discriminatory agenda, "but they will not deter me."
 
It's a curious form of far-right cultural populism -- when the left stands up to Corporate America on workers' rights and the minimum wage, Republicans are shocked by liberals' hostility towards "job creators." When the right stands up to Corporate America on marriage equality, they brag about it in New York Times op-eds.
Loretta Lynch is sworn in to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to be U.S. attorney general on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 28, 2015. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Loretta Lynch confirmed with bipartisan support

04/23/15 02:49PM

President Obama nominated U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch to serve as the nation's Attorney General way back on Nov. 8. The ensuing delay was, at various times, exasperating, ridiculous, and unprecedented.
 
But as of this afternoon, Lynch's long delay came to an end.
After an unprecedented delay of more than 160 days, the Senate on Thursday finally voted to confirm Loretta Lynch as U.S. attorney general. She makes history as the first African-American female to serve as the nation's top law enforcement officer.
 
The Senate confirmed Lynch in a 56-43 vote on Thursday, after a historic delay caused in part by partisan wrangling over an anti-human trafficking bill.
The margin of today's vote was larger than expected. As recently as last month, it was an open question as to whether Lynch, despite her qualifications and unimpeachable record, would find enough Republican support to be confirmed. Indeed, as recently as mid-March, only four GOP senators publicly endorsed her nomination -- enough to get Lynch to 50.
 
Reflecting on Lynch's nomination in February, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) reportedly boasted, "Oh, she's going down."
 
Evidently not. Lynch actually picked up 10 Republican supporters -- twice as many as expected -- with Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
 
It's no coincidence that Ayotte, Johnson, Kirk, and Portman are seen as vulnerable GOP incumbents, and they're eager to demonstrate their mainstream bona fides. McConnell's vote, meanwhile, caught nearly everyone off guard, especially given the fact that he was chiefly responsible for months of needless delays.
 
As for Cochran, another unexpected pro-Lynch vote, it's worth noting for context that the Mississippi Republican wouldn't even be in the Senate right now were it not for African Americans saving his career in a GOP primary last year.

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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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