Members of Congress routinely look for ways to draw attention to themselves, which occasionally leads to some theatrics and stunts on the House and Senate floors. Yesterday, however, offered one of the more disappointing spectacles we've seen in a long while.
Sen Jim Inhofe (R-OK), a staunch opponent of claims that humans have contributed to climate change, took to the Senate floor Thursday to make his case with an unconventional prop.
"You know what this is?" Inhofe asked on the Senate floor, holding a recently-made snowball. "It's a snowball just from outside here. So it's very, very cold out. Very unseasonable."
"So, Mr. President, catch this," Inhofe added before tossing the snowball to an aide.
Congratulations, America. Yesterday, a kind of snowball fight reached the floor of the institution once known as the world's most deliberative body.
In this case, Inhofe, one of the nation's highest profile climate deniers, believes a snowball found outside during the winter is proof of ... something. As Rachel joked on the show last night, "Obviously, the existence of a snowball in the winter time disproves climate change. Case closed, America. Argument over."
And while much of the public may find Inhofe's antics cringe-worthy, it's probably worse than they realize. Indeed, the context matters: Senate Republicans recently decided that the guy who thinks snow is proof against climate change should be the chairman of the Senate Environment Committee.
In other words, the GOP majority, recently elected by the public, is convinced Mr. Snowball should help oversee Senate policymaking when it comes to the environment.
[Update: This afternoon, Boehner's preferred solution for Homeland Security funding was rejected -- his own members killed his plan. It's part of a familiar of pattern of House Republicans ignoring their ostensible leader.]
As his weekly press conference was getting underway yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), before he starting making odd kissing noises, tried to argue that Democrats are responsible for the Homeland Security mess his party created.
"I just think it's outrageous that Senate Democrats are using Homeland Security funding for blackmail to protect the actions of the president," the Speaker argued.
Boehner shouldn't use words if he doesn't know what they mean; it ends up being embarrassing for him and annoying for everyone else. In this case, Republicans are holding DHS funding hostage and Democrats aren't prepared to pay the ransom. In English, that's not what "blackmail" means.
House Republicans are floating a plan to delay a possible shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security by voting on a short-term measure to keep the agency funded and continue their immigration fight into next month.
GOP House members met behind closed doors late Thursday to plot a plan forward, even as the Senate prepared to approve a "clean" DHS bill not tied to measures that would halt the president's executive actions on immigration.
As recently as Wednesday, the Republican Speaker said the House wasn't prepared to do anything until the Senate acted. So, the GOP Senate leadership prepared its own spending bill, which it would pass today and send to the House to avoid a shutdown.
Last night, Boehner decided to ignore what he'd said the day before, and instead prepared a new plan: kicking the can down the road three weeks, guaranteeing we can all experience this same mess in mid-March.
Xeni Jardin, tech culture journalist and co-editor of BoingBoing.net talks with Rachel Maddow about the excitement among net neutrality supporters at the approval of new net neutrality rules today by the FCC. watch
Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, reports on the destruction of antiquities of human civilization by radical Islamic fundamentalists, and an alarming pattern of abductions of Assyrian Christians in Iraq. watch
Rachel Maddow highlights a day of bizarre behavior in the nation's capital as Republican infighting over the funding of the Department of Homeland Security becomes increasingly nasty with the deadline for a shutdown looming. watch
Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C., talks with Rachel Maddow about the overwhelming approval of legalized marijuana by voters in her city, the complicated particulars of the new law, the obstruction of the voters' will by conservatives in Congress. watch
Last night Rachel described the chaos in Washington, D.C. surrounding both the funding of the Department of Homeland Security and the vote on the confirmation of Loretta Lynch for attorney general. Counterproductive partisan lock-up is obviously not uncommon in Congress lately, but in this case, Republicans are working against their own interests in keeping Eric Holder in office longer by delaying votes on Loretta Lynch. And whatever message conservatives want to send to President Obama, no one thinks not funding Homeland Security is a good idea. So this is weird beyond partisanship. It's...
* Identifying the man known as Jihadi John: "The identity of the masked executioner clutching a knife in ISIS beheading propaganda videos was revealed on Thursday. A U.S. intelligence official confirmed to NBC News that a Londoner named Mohammed Emwazi is the person known as 'Jihadi John' in the ISIS videos depicting the murders of American and British citizens."
* Speaking of ISIS: "The Islamic State group released a video on Thursday purportedly showing militants using sledgehammers to smash ancient artifacts in northern Iraq, describing the relics as idols that must be removed. The destructions are apparently part of a campaign by the ISIS extremists who have destroyed a number of shrines -- including Muslim holy sites -- in order to eliminate what they view as heresy."
* Kicking the can down the road? "House Republican leaders are eying a stopgap funding bill to avert a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security and punt the immigration fight for potentially three weeks, GOP sources said Thursday."
* In related news, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) told reporters this afternoon, "We really, as a governing party, we got to fund DHS, and say to the House, 'Here's a straw so you can suck it up.'"
* House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), perhaps struggling with the pressure, was reduced to blowing a kiss at a reporter during a press conference late this morning.
* Ebola: "Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf paid emotional tribute to the American people on Thursday as the United States formally wound up its successful five-month mission to combat the west African nation's Ebola outbreak."
In the summer of 2013, when the right had high hopes that congressional Republicans would shut down the federal government, Heritage Foundation was reluctant to use the actual word "shutdown." Instead, it preferred the phrase "a temporary slowdown in non-essential federal government operations."
That proved to be a little clunky. When GOP lawmakers actually shut down the government, Fox News went with the more streamlined "slimdown" label.
With just one day remaining before the Department of Homeland Security runs out of funds, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has an entirely different argument in mind: a shutdown isn't really a shutdown. A Democratic source flagged this exchange between the Republican senator and radio host Vicki McKenna yesterday:
MCKENNA: Here's another proposal. Because the thing is, it seems like we always walk up to the eleventh hour. And then we say, 'Okay, well now we're stuck. I agree.' If on Friday, even though it won't -- there will be no such thing as a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.
JOHNSON: And I've pointed that out.
MCKENNA: Yes, you have. In fact, you were the first one to point that out.
JOHNSON: I paid a price for pointing it out.
The Wisconsin lawmaker was probably referring to comments he made in mid-January, when Johnson said he wasn't concerned about the DHS deadline. "Even in the last government shut down only 13.6% of DHS employees were furloughed," the senator said last month. "So the national security aspects, the aspects of the department that keeps America safe, are continuing to function no matter what happens in this very dysfunctional place."
Johnson, incidentally, was recently made the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. One assumes his indifference to whether DHS employees start missing paychecks will not go over well among the agency's massive workforce.
The basic idea here is that a shutdown isn't really a shutdown, so the public shouldn't be too concerned. That's likely to be a convenient excuse for failure if GOP lawmakers don't approve a funding bill by tomorrow at midnight, but it's not an especially compelling argument.
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been eager to express his frustration with how Loretta Lynch has been treated by the Republican majority. "I've been here 40 years and no attorney general -- no attorney general -- has ever had to wait this long for a vote," he said this week.
After a lengthy confirmation hearing process, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-8 Thursday to advance the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be U.S. attorney general. The full Senate will likely vote on her nomination next month.
Three Republicans joined all the Democrats on the committee in endorsing Lynch as America's next top law enforcement officer. Those included Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake.
There was some doubt about whether Lynch would get committee support, though she needed three Republican votes today and that's exactly what she received. On the Senate floor, the A.G. nominee will need at least five GOP votes to get confirmed, which means finding two more Republicans, assuming Hatch, Graham, and Flake don't change their minds.
At this point, I'd say her odds are quite good. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has suggested she's likely to back Lynch, as might Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).
That said, none of this has been -- or will be -- easy. As Politiconoted this morning, several Republican senators who met privately with Lynch and said they were inclined to support her -- a group that includes John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), among others -- have since reversed course without explanation.
After sailing through her confirmation hearings, Lynch appeared to be on track for an easy confirmation vote. For reasons even Republicans struggle to explain, she's now just hoping for a narrow majority.
Proponents of net neutrality have been on a bit of a political roller coaster over the last couple of years, but as of today, the ride ended right where they wanted it to.
After more than a year of heated public debate, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday passed "net neutrality" rules: They allow the agency to prohibit Internet service providers from granting faster access to companies that pay for the privilege.
The new rules treat broadband providers as "common carriers" under Title II of the Telecommunications Act -- the same category as utility companies that provide gas, electricity, etc. -- in which all customers have equal access to service.
The policy shift was set in motion by President Obama, who, just a week after the 2014 midterms, announced a bold move on net neutrality. The president, a longtime champion of the policy, endorsed the "strongest possible rules" to protect net neutrality and urged the FCC to reclassify consumer broadband service to be regulated more like a public utility.
Earlier this month, the FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler signaled a willingness to do exactly that, leading to today's vote from commission members. Predictably, the FCC was split along party lines -- the three Democratic members voted for it, the two Republican members opposed it.
Timothy B. Lee added, "Consistent with longstanding practice, the FCC did not release its proposal in advance of today's vote.... However, the agency has released a four-page fact sheet describing its major provisions. And it reads like a wishlist for network neutrality activists."
And then, of course, there are net neutrality's many opponents among GOP lawmakers.
Fox News Bill O'Reilly has long been a controversial media figure, though the last week has been an especially awkward time for the conservative host. Specific claims he made about his work covering the Falklands war, for example, have struggled under scrutiny. Soon after, the public learned that O'Reilly's claims about the suicide of a JFK assassination figure also appear to be, at best, suspect.
But perhaps the most striking angle to this story deals with claims O'Reilly made about seeing nuns murdered in El Salvador. If you missed last night's show, Rachel's segment on this stood out for me in part because of O'Reilly's explanation.
First, a little backstory. Soon after the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, O'Reilly spoke on the air about the nature of evil. "I don't think a lot of people understand," he said. "My mother, for example, doesn't understand evil. When I would tell her, 'Hey, mom, I was in El Salvador and I saw nuns get shot in the back of the head,' she almost couldn't process it. She couldn't process it."
In reality, while Catholic nuns were executed during El Salvador's civil war in December 1980, O'Reilly could not have seen them get shot -- he was not in El Salvador in December 1980. He arrived in the country the following year.
Since there's no way O'Reilly could have seen what he claims to have seen, Fox News gave "The Rachel Maddow Show" a statement from O'Reilly, which read as follows:
"While in El Salvador, reporters were shown horrendous images of violence that were never broadcast, including depictions of nuns who were murdered. The mention of the nuns on my program came the day of the Newtown massacre. The segment was about evil and how hard it is for folks to comprehend it. I used the murder nuns as an example of that evil. That's what I was referring to when I say, 'I saw nuns get shot in the back of head.' No one could possibly take that segment as reporting on El Salvador."
That's a pretty remarkable response for a couple of reasons.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
* The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) kicked off this morning. Widely considered the premier annual event in far-right politics, at least 11 likely Republican presidential candidates will address the conservative crowd.
* Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) will appear at the event, and his "advisers have taken steps to pack the room with supporters."
* To the surprise of no one, Quinnipiac's latest poll of Iowa Democrats shows Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a very popular figure and the overwhelming favorite in the race for the Democratic nomination.
* As former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) departed from his State Department job this week, he thanked his "once, current, and I hope, future chief of staff." It was a reminder that Feingold is likely to seek a rematch against Sen. Ron Johnson (R) in Wisconsin next year.
* Karl Rove's American Crossroads operation is trying to use comments from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to go after Hillary Clinton. The Republican super PAC created a 30-second attack ad, but it's unclear if the spot will appear anywhere other than the Internet.
* Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a Republican mega-donor, has reportedly told associates he's "open to underwriting an effort" to stop Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) presidential campaign, "should he gain traction in the primaries."
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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