It's not uncommon to hear the political media face criticism for a "pack mentality." The point often has merit -- when the political establishment starts to embrace a consensus, and a conventional wisdom takes hold, many are loath to ignore the direction of the prevailing winds.
But after a while, the conventional wisdom gets dull and an entirely different instinct kicks in: rejecting what the pack says and embracing the opposite. (See every piece with some variation on the headline, "Everything you know about _______ is wrong.")
So, the pack says President Obama is flailing and unpopular, smacked down by the electorate in the midterms, lacking capital and prospects, and no longer relevant with the 2016 race already on the horizon? That was last week's narrative; this week Obama is the comeback kid.
President Obama emerged from last week's midterm election rejected by voters, hobbled politically and doomed to a final two years in office suffering from early lame-duck syndrome. That, at least, was the consensus in both parties. No one seems to have told Mr. Obama.
In the 10 days since "we got beat," as he put it, by Republicans who captured the Senate and bolstered control over the House, Mr. Obama has flexed his muscles on immigration, climate change and the Internet, demonstrating that he still aspires to enact sweeping policies that could help define his legacy.
Last week, President Barack Obama's party took a beating in the midterm elections, but this week there's already some swagger returning to his step.
Obama's landmark deal with China to cut greenhouse gas emissions, announced Wednesday, is a move that, the White House feels, shows just how much the president can do without Congress.... As Obama trumpeted the climate deal during a news conference here, he didn't sound much like a president who just got his hat handed to him back home.
There's been no shortage of provocative political rhetoric on immigration policy, but one quote yesterday stood out for me. In context, the comment came from a congressman opposed to President Obama's likely executive actions.
"He will make the issue absolutely toxic for a decade," Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., said Thursday.
Norm Ornstein joked in response, "From the lovefest it's been for the past decade."
It's an important point. I've seen some suggestions in recent years that congressional Republicans refuse to consider immigration reform -- in any form -- because they're reflexively opposed to giving Obama a "win." If GOP lawmakers simply say no to everything, including ideas they support, the president will have fewer accomplishments, the public will grow angrier by Washington dysfunction, and maybe Republicans will benefit.
And while there may be something to this, I don't think the argument fully captures a more basic truth: Republicans really don't like immigration reform.
In recent years, Republican critics of the Affordable Care Act have insisted that "Obamacare" would send premiums soaring. Even after all of the GOP's other talking points were discredited or abandoned, the right hoped higher premiums would be the key failure that helped undermine the U.S. system.
Reality just doesn't seem to be in a cooperative mood. There was some preliminary evidence that the ACA was helping keep premiums in check, and as Margot Sanger-Katz reports, the new data is even more encouraging.
Early evidence suggests that competition in the new Affordable Care Act marketplaces is working. Health insurance premiums in major cities around the country are barely rising.
That's the conclusion of two studies of data about newly public insurance rates. One, from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health research group, looked at 49 cities and found that prices for a popular type of plan are actually going down, on average. A second, from the actuarial firm Wakely Consulting Group, looked at the largest county in each of the 34 states with marketplaces run by the federal government and found an average rate increase of zero.
Decreases in the price of health insurance are basically unheard-of.
Indeed, before "Obamacare," consumers routinely faced annual premium increases. The question wasn't whether the cost would go up, but rather, how much. But the ACA model is succeeding even more than expected.
In fairness, it's worth noting that we're looking at averages across a vast marketplace, and some consumers will benefit more than others. The Affordable Care Act is having a positive impact, but if you look hard enough, it's possible to find some pockets where premium increases are higher.
But as Sanger-Katz added, "[I]f you take out the outliers on either side ... most of the rates are either single-digit increases or single-digit decreases, moderate changes for health insurance."
That's not only amazing, it's the polar opposite of what Republicans predicted. What's more, it's not the only good news.
To hear Republicans tell it, the outrage about President Obama's likely executive actions on immigration is less about the policy and more about the legal principles. Presidents, the argument goes, simply aren't supposed to shape immigration policy unilaterally -- such actions are unprecedented, unconstitutional, and at odds with the American tradition.
The trouble, of course, is that if Obama does take policy steps on his own, he won't be blazing a new trail; he'll be following a trail that already exists. Mark Noferi had an interesting piece last week on some of this president's recent predecessors.
The story begins on November 6, 1986, when Reagan signed the last comprehensive legalization bill to pass Congress. The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) gave up to 3 million unauthorized immigrants a path to legalization if they had been "continuously" present in the U.S. since January 1, 1982. But the new law excluded their spouses and children who didn't qualify. As the Senate Judiciary Committee stated at the time, "the families of legalized aliens ... will be required to 'wait in line'."
Immediately, these split-eligibility families became the most polarizing national immigration issue. U.S. Catholic bishops criticized the government's "separation of families," especially given Reagan's other pro-family stances. In early 1987, members of Congress introduced legislation to legalize family members, but without success.
When Congress failed to act, the Reagan administration decided to change the policy on its own, announcing that federal law enforcement would use its "discretion" and extend protections against deportations. And at that point, congressional Republicans condemned Reagan's outrageous and dangerous abuses, calling for his immediate impeachment.
Wait, actually that never happened. My mistake.
A few years later, the Bush/Quayle administration pursued its own executive actions on immigration -- again, without Congress -- concluding that the law should be enforced "humanely" and without splitting up families.
In all likelihood, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) does not want to shut down the government. He'd probably also prefer to avoid a pointless presidential impeachment crusade.
But the Republican leader also realizes many in his party want both a shutdown and impeachment, putting the Speaker in a position where he'll need to find some alternative approach that rebukes the White House, satiates his rabid allies, but doesn't actually do anything meaningful or potentially scandalous.
Robert Costa and Ed O'Keefe report that Boehner has just such a solution in mind.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is considering expanding a proposed federal lawsuit over President Obama's executive orders to include action on immigration. Filing a separate lawsuit over the president's authority to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation is another option that gained traction Thursday during talks among party leaders.
The idea to use the courts as an initial means of dissent, should the president move forward in the coming weeks to protect millions from deportation, moved to the front of the House GOP's playbook after the leadership reviewed it. Boehner reportedly wants to respond forcefully and quickly should the president act and believes a lawsuit would do that, as well as signal to conservatives in his conference that he shares their frustrations about the president's use of executive power.
And if the goal is to give the appearance of action without doing anything too meaningful, this might do the trick. Republicans are convinced executive actions on immigration policy are a flagrant violation of the Constitution -- but only when Obama does it? Fine, go to the courts.
The lawsuit would almost certainly fail, but that's not really the point. By pursuing a legal recourse, Boehner gets to "stand up" to President Obama, he gives Republicans something specific to rally behind, and he throws cold water on the more ridiculous alternative tactics. All he has to do is add some complaints to his current anti-Obama lawsuit.
Of course, that'd be easier if the anti-Obama lawsuit actually existed.
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Charles Krauthammer, one of the most prominent Republicans in U.S. media, argued over the summer that it's foolish to talk about impeaching President Obama. "There is no danger of impeachment succeeding," he wrote in an August column. "There will never be 67 votes in the Senate to convict. But talking it up is a political bonanza for Democrats, adding donations from a listless and dispirited base."
He added that the impeachment rhetoric not only "energizes Democrats," it also "deflects attention from the real-life issues."
Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer said potential action by President Barack Obama on immigration may be "an impeachable offense."
"I believe it is an impeachable offense," Krauthammer told Fox News host Megyn Kelly Thursday evening.... Krauthammer also said an executive order on immigration would be a "flagrant assault on the Constitution."
How does the conservative pundit explain the change of heart? He doesn't. In August, faced with the likelihood of Obama pursuing changes to immigration policy through executive actions, Krauthammer saw impeachment as pointless. In November, facing the identical circumstances, Krauthammer suddenly wants to talk up the idea.
It's worth noting that Krauthammer is condemning a policy he has not seen -- usually, reading a policy is a prerequisite to competent analysis -- and to assume that executive actions on immigration policy are necessarily unconstitutional ignores the fact that several other modern presidents took executive actions on immigration policy without incident.
But stepping back, what's especially striking is to just how common such talk has become on Fox over the last week or so.
It was just 10 days ago that Republican candidates won big in elections nationwide. It was just nine days ago that incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) publicly declared, "There will be no government shutdown or default on the national debt."
But that was last week. This week, as Benjy Sarlin reports, many congressional Republicans are gearing up for yet another shutdown showdown.
President Obama is considering an executive order that would provide relief for as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. And Republicans are gearing up to fight the White House "tooth and nail" over the action, with conservatives in Congress drafting a plan to tie up a must-pass spending bill that could lead to a government shutdown.
Predicting the likely outcome of the fight is tricky, in part because no one has actually seen the White House's executive actions that Republicans are already condemning, and in part because Republicans themselves are divided on how best to proceed.
For his part, McConnell said again yesterday that "there is no possibility of a government shutdown," at least not in this session. Soon after, however, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declared that "all options are on the table" when it comes to GOP opposition to the president's policies.
Boehner's posturing is very likely the result of pressure from his House Republican members, who tend to lead their leaders, rather than the other way around. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) has assembled 59 GOP lawmakers -- and counting -- who've endorsed a letter calling on Congress to "prohibit the use of funds by the administration for the implementation of current or future executive actions that would create additional work permits and green cards outside of the scope prescribed by Congress."
To be sure, 59 is hardly a majority, but the number is growing and Republican fury isn't subsiding.
If GOP lawmakers decide to pursue a shutdown strategy, here's how it would work:
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