Part of the problem with the Jonathan Gruber "stupid" story is that it's a shiny object for the political world to stare at for a while. It offers more heat than light. It's a bouncing ball for political insiders to chase after, despite its relative insignificance.
But since it's likely to soon be the subject of congressional hearings, and since your crazy uncle who watches Fox News all day will be talking about nothing else at Thanksgiving, let's grudgingly tackle this week's Most Important Story Of All Time As Agreed Upon By Republicans And The Beltway Media.
Congressional Republicans seized Wednesday on controversial comments made by a former health-care consultant to the Obama administration, with one leading House conservative suggesting that hearings could be called in response as part of the GOP effort to dismantle the law in the next Congress and turn public opinion ahead of the 2016 election.
"We may want to have hearings on this," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), an influential voice among GOP hardliners and a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in an interview at the Capitol. "We shouldn't be surprised they were misleading us."
In the unlikely event you haven't heard about this, at issue are comments made last year by Jonathan Gruber at a panel discussion.
"This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes," Gruber said. "Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the 'stupidity of the American voter' or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass."
And it's these words, captured on video, that have sent Republican politics into a frenzy. It's proof, the right insists, that the Affordable Care Act was passed in a fraudulent way, intended to take advantage of the public's "stupidity."
Conservatives are planning congressional hearings to scrutinize Gruber's comments in granular detail. Fox News is obsessed. The right is pushing the Supreme Court to recognize and consider Gruber's comments in the upcoming King v. Burwell case.
And while it's nearly impossible to slow down a snowball of spin while it's still picking up speed, now would be an excellent time for everyone to pause, take a deep breath, and appreciate the degree to which this story isn't quite what it appears to be.
Last night on the show, Rachel had a fascinating conversation with Doug Heye, a Republican strategist, a former communications director for the RNC, and a top aide in former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's office. The two, not surprisingly, discussed what Americans can expect from the Republican-led Congress.
And while the whole interview is certainly worth your time, there was something Heye said that got me thinking. He was stressing the point that there are worthwhile measures that passed the GOP-led House over the last two years, but they got stuck in the Democratic-led Senate, and those bills may now stand a better chance of success. In fact, Heye offered a specific example.
"[Democrat] Carolyn Maloney had a bill that passed with 383 votes in the House to move forward a National Women's Museum. The House passed that, the Senate won't move it," Heye said. "You would think with everything that we've talked about in the past two years with the war on women, it would be the House Republicans blocking Women's Museum, not Harry Reid stalling that bill."
And that got me wondering about whatever happened to the legislation authorizing the women's museum to be built on or near the National Mall. Did the Democratic Senate Majority Leader really ignore the idea?
Actually, no. The Hill ran this report just last month.
House champions of legislation to jump-start the creation a women's history museum in the nation's capital are upping the pressure on Senate conservatives who are blocking the proposal in the upper chamber.
Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), lead sponsors of the House-passed bill, are urging Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) to drop their hold on the proposal in hopes of salvaging the legislation in the waning days of the 113th Congress. [...]
The pair derailed the effort of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to fast-track the legislation via unanimous consent.
So, Harry Reid didn't "stall" the bill, so much as he tried to pass it, only to run into opposition from conservative Republicans.
The New York Daily Newseditorialized in September, "Two Republicans who happen to be men are inexcusably blocking a drive to establish in Washington a National Women's History Museum that would chronicle the achievements of half the nation."
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:
* A striking statistic in Louisiana's U.S. Senate runoff: "Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu's re-election race is truly running out of air: She's responsible for a mere 4 percent of all TV spots in the week-old Louisiana runoff. Republican challenger Bill Cassidy and his friends paid for 96 percent of the spots that have run so far."
* In Alaska, Dan Sullivan (R), the presumed winner of the state's U.S. Senate race, flew to D.C. yesterday to participate in the election of the new Senate Republican leadership team. Sen. Mark Begich (D), meanwhile, has not yet conceded.
* And speaking of the new Senate Republican leadership team, though there was some chatter during the campaign season about a shake-up, Mitch McConnell was unanimously chosen by his GOP colleagues as the new Senate Majority Leader. The rest of the leadership team -- John Cornyn, John Thune, and John Barrasso -- will also remain intact.
* In Arizona's unresolved U.S. House race, Martha McSally (R) declared victory last night over Rep. Ron Barber (D), but the race is headed for a recount and Barber has not conceded the contest.
* Though he's previously suggested he would retire at the end of his term, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said this week that he's "absolutely" leaning towards running for a sixth term in 2016.
One of the interesting things about congressional leadership posts is that they're basically the result of tradition. There's only one leadership position mandated by the Constitution -- the Speaker of the House -- and every other post in both chambers was effectively invented by the parties themselves.
And as such, the parties can make up new leadership offices whenever it suits their fancy.
After the 2010 midterms, for example, House Democrats lost their majority and discovered they had more leaders than leadership positions. It was a game of musical chairs and someone was going to be left standing.
So, Dems simply added a chair, creating a brand new position just for Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who transitioned from "House Majority Whip" to "Assistant Democratic Leader."
Four years later, Senate Democrats have lost their majority and are putting together their leadership team. None of the top four Dems -- Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) -- lost this year, and all four want to keep their positions, only now in the minority.
But they also want to add Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to the leadership team. What to do? Amanda Terkel and Ryan Grim report that they, like House Dems four years ago, are creating a new position.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) gained a leadership position in the Senate Democratic caucus Thursday, giving the prominent progressive senator a key role in shaping the party's policy priorities.
Warren's new role, which was created specifically for her, will be a strategic policy adviser, helping to craft the party's policy positions and priorities. She will also serve as a liaison to progressive groups to ensure they have a voice in leadership meetings and discussions, according to a source familiar with the role.
It's not yet clear what the post will be called, exactly, but at Senate Democratic leadership meetings, the Massachusetts senator will literally have a seat at the table.
As if this Congress, the least productive on record, didn't have enough problems, it hasn't been a sterling session for misbehaving House Republicans. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) threatened to kill a journalist and faces a 20-count criminal indictment. Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) was forced to resign after getting arrested in a cocaine bust. Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.) earned the unfortunate "kissing congressman" moniker.
Politico, which neglected to note that they all have a party affiliation in common, recently called them "the bad boys of Congress."
There's still room in this club, though, for another member. Roll Callreported overnight:
Outgoing Rep. Steve Stockman and three staffers in his Capitol Hill office have been served with grand jury subpoenas for testimony and documents in a criminal investigation in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The Texas Republican -- who has been under scrutiny for campaign contributions from his staff -- hasn't decided whether to cooperate. [...]
In a scathing report made public in June, the Office of Congressional Ethics said Stockman may have violated federal law and House rules when he accepted campaign donations from two of his congressional staffers, lied to investigators and attempted to impede their work. Stockman's campaign falsely identified the donors as family members of the employees in subsequent campaign finance reports, the OCE found. The congressman later told OCE that the staffers resigned before making the contributions and were then re-hired, according to the report.
Note, the Ethics Committee's interest in Stockman is poised to run its course. The right-wing congressman gave up his House seat to run a strange and unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign, and will leave Congress at the end of the term.
At that point, Stockman will no longer be the Ethics Committee's problem. He will, however, still be subject to criminal prosecution.
A couple of years ago, Republicans got very excited about an obscure federal project. The Department of Energy had a loan program intended to give a boost to companies focused on renewables, and one company in particular ended up getting all kinds of attention: Solyndra.
The right's efforts to turn this into a "scandal" never really made any sense. The Department of Energy invested in America's burgeoning clean-energy sector, and while some of the companies that received loans thrived, some didn't. Solyndra was in the latter category.
In context, its failure wasn't evidence of much. As Michael Grunwald reported a while back, "That's capitalism. That's lending. That's life. As one Obama aide told me: Some students who get Pell grants are going to end up drunks on the street." It's not as if those failures discredit the entire Pell grant program.
But for Republicans and much of the media, the fact that one of the loan recipients failed helped prove an ideological point: the Obama administration made poor choices, and when the government picks "winners and losers," the results are invariably poor for American investors.
We now know that the Republican arguments had it backwards. Bloomberg News reported yesterday:
The U.S. government expects to earn $5 billion to $6 billion from the renewable-energy loan program that funded flops including Solyndra LLC, supporting President Barack Obama's decision to back low-carbon technologies.
The Department of Energy has disbursed about half of $32.4 billion allocated to spur innovation, and the expected return will be detailed in a report due to be released as soon as tomorrow, according to an official who helped put together the data.
The results contradict the widely held view that the U.S. has wasted taxpayer money funding failures including Solyndra, which closed its doors in 2011 after receiving $528 million in government backing.
This is no small revelation. Much of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign was based on the assumption that the Department of Energy's loan program was a spectacular failure. Even now, Republicans continue to point to this program as obvious proof of why it's a mistake for Washington to invest in the clean-energy sector at all.
But Obama's program didn't fail at all -- the loans not only bolstered the renewable-energy industry, it secured a handsome profit for you, me, and every other American taxpayer.
In recent years, in nearly every debate about the climate crisis, Republicans would argue that there simply wasn't any point to the United States addressing a global problem. President Obama would never persuade China to reach an agreement, the GOP said, and it'd be irresponsible for Americans to lead by example.
That talking point is now gone -- Obama and his team struck a deal with China on carbon pollution, unveiling the details yesterday. Republicans aren't pausing to acknowledge their error -- and they're certainly not praising the president for a historic breakthrough -- so much as they've moved straight to apoplexy about the agreement itself.
House Speaker John Boehner argued the stateside emissions cuts are "job-crushing" and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently argued that other countries would never agree to curb emissions, so the U.S. shouldn't either, so in his response he said it's an "ideological War on Coal."
Senator James Inhofe, the Republican likely to lead the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee next, called it a "non-binding charade."
There are two main angles to the GOP's hysterical reaction to yesterday's historic news. The first is that Republican critics of the plan appear to have lashed out before getting their facts straight.
Inhofe, for example, said in a statement, "In the President's climate change deal, the United States will be required to more steeply reduce our carbon emissions while China won't have to reduce anything." That's demonstrably incorrect.
McConnell added, "As I read the agreement, it requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years." The incoming Majority Leader must not have read the agreement too closely -- his assessment just isn't true.
To be sure, no one expected congressional Republicans to be pleased by the deal. As far as the GOP is concerned, climate science itself deserves to be rejected, ignored, and routinely mocked, no matter of awful the consequences. When a Democratic president strikes a breakthrough deal on a global crisis, it stands to reason that Republicans are going to complain.
But if they could at least make an effort to understand the policy they're condemning, it'd be easier to take their complaints more seriously.
Which leads us to the second angle: the GOP's fury is compounded by the fact that there's not much Republicans can do about this on a substantive level.
The news on initial unemployment claims has been very encouraging in recent months, but there are going to be occasional hiccups. Take today's new report, for example.
The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week posted the biggest increase in two months, but initial claims are still exceedingly low amid an uptick in hiring and relatively few layoffs. Initial jobless claims rose by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 290,000 in the seven days ended Nov. 8, the Labor Department said Thursday. [...]
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, climbed by 6,000 to 285,000. The four-week average reduces seasonal volatility in the weekly data and is seen as a more accurate barometer of labor-market trends.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it's worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it's best not to read too much significance into any one report.
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it's considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. At this point, we've been 300,000 in each of the last nine weeks -- the first time we've seen that in the United States in 14 years.
The Republican takeover of Congress is probably the most notable development of the 2014 elections, but it's GOP gains in state capitols that will have just as significant an impact on the country. In Nevada, for example, Republicans will now control the entirety of state government.
I joked the other day that voters in GOP-dominated states can expect to see new voting restrictions soon. Zach Roth reported yesterday that this wasn't really a joke after all.
GOP state lawmakers in Nevada are readying ID bills for early next year, Secretary of State-Elect Barbara Cegavske told msnbc in an interview. Cegavske said she knew of two separate bills that might end up being merged together. [...]
Last week, Republicans took full control of state government for the first time since 1929, meaning a voter ID bill would likely have a strong chance of passing. Governor Brian Sandoval has said in the past he supports voter ID.
State Republicans will have to hurry -- Nevada will be a key 2016 battleground, both at the presidential level and with Sen. Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) re-election bid looming. If GOP policymakers are going to impose new restrictions, they'll no doubt want to have those voting barriers in place before the next Election Day.
It's obviously too early in the process to scrutinize the voter-ID plans in detail -- the proposals are still taking shape -- but msnbc's Roth asked Secretary of State-Elect Barbara Cegavske whether she could point to any real-life instances of voter fraud that a voter-ID law might have prevented.
"I think the biggest concern that most people have is the absentee ballots," Cegavske replied.
Those who vote by absentee ballot do not have to show identification, suggesting the Republican plan is intended not only to address a problem that doesn't exist, but also the proposed solution has very little to do with the perceived problem.
As for the larger phenomenon, this is also a good time to consider the impact of GOP voter-suppression efforts on the 2014 election results.
Sabrina Siddiqui, political reporter for The Huffington Post, talks with Rachel Maddow about the renewed push to confirm Vivek Murthy as surgeon general in the wake of the Ebola scare and now that the NRA has performed poorly in the midterm elections. watch
Rachel Maddow shares the fun, running coverage of the Philae lander by xkcd, and marvels at the amount of technology applied to landing a spacecraft on a comet with the only major malfunction being connected to one of humankind's oldest technologies. watch
Rachel Maddow teases ahead to an upcoming segment about a malfunction in the harpoons of the Philae space lander, and enjoys the anthropomorphizing of Philae online by the European Space Agency to keep the project accessible. watch
Doug Heye, former deputy chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, talks with Rachel Maddow about the Republican Party's plan for governing and the party's apparent real strategy of focusing strictly on opposing President Obama. watch