Under current law, in every state in the union, it is illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. That, however, is the floor -- some areas choose to go further.
Irin Carmon recently reported on a new policy in the nation's capital, where policymakers approved a bold new law -- the "D.C. Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act" -- which adds "reproductive decision-making to anti-discrimination provisions."
So, for example, an employee in D.C. cannot be fired for being on birth control, using in vitro fertilization, exercising her right to terminate a pregnancy, or getting pregnant outside of marriage. Those are private matters, the D.C. law says, which cannot serve as the basis for a dismissal.
As it turns out, this quickly became the latest twist in the right-to-discriminate debate, and Roll Callreported late last week on congressional Republicans intervening in city law.
In a largely symbolic move, the House voted mostly down party lines late Thursday night to block a District of Columbia bill that D.C. officials say would combat workplace discrimination.
A corps of mainly Republicans passed a joint resolution of disapproval 228-192.... Conservatives argued the act could force employers to violate their religious beliefs.
It was, the article noted, the "first time in nearly 25 years the entire House voted to block a D.C. law."
The ridiculous push from House GOP lawmakers didn't change city policy -- the Senate chose not to act on the matter -- and the local law took effect over the weekend.
But as it turns out, there's a presidential angle to this.
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:
* It wasn't long ago that New York Republican Dan Donovan was a controversial district attorney in the Eric Garner case. As of last night, he's now Rep.-elect Dan Donovan, poised to replace former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), who resigned in disgrace in January.
* In the world of Canadian politics, the election results in Alberta last night were effectively an earthquake. A Canadian friend of mine emailed me this morning to say it's the American equivalent of Bernie Sanders winning in "both Houston and Austin on a platform of raising corporate taxes."
* In Iowa, the new Quinnipiac poll shows Scott Walker leading the Republican presidential field with 21% support, followed by Rand Paul and Marco Rubio with 13% each. The poll shows Jeb Bush running a woeful seventh in Iowa, with just 5%.
* As Rachel mentioned on the show last night, the Democratic National Committee announced its plans yesterday to host six presidential debates beginning in the fall. Though a variety of details need to be worked out, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina will host one each in advance of their primaries and caucuses.
* Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, has already endorsed the DNC schedule.
* Speaking of the former Secretary of State, the latest New York Times/CBS poll found that Americans "now view Mrs. Clinton more favorably and as a stronger leader than they did earlier in the year, despite weeks of scrutiny about her ethics."
* As if Gov. Chris Christie (R) didn't have enough to worry about, the latest Monmouth University poll found that New Jersey Republicans believe Jeb Bush and Scott Walker would both make a better president than their ambitious governor.
Nearly two years ago, not long after his failed bid for national office, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) appeared on msnbc and told Joe Scarborough, "I'm focused on poverty these days."
It seemed like an odd thing to say. Ryan was, and is, perhaps best known for his far-right budget plan that cuts taxes for the wealthy by hundreds of billions of dollars, while slashing investments in programs that benefit working families. For the Republican congressman to say he's "focused on poverty" was belied by his actual policy agenda, which is brutal towards those actually in poverty.
But Ryan's comment on msnbc wasn't an offhand remark. The Wisconsin lawmaker quickly started convincing the Beltway media that he's now committed to "fighting poverty," en route to inner-city tours, multiple speeches, and a sloppy report on the efficacy of domestic anti-poverty programs.
At a certain level, all of this may seem at least a little encouraging. Too often, much of the GOP is simply inclined to ignore poverty as a chronic national issue, so the congressman's interest is welcome. But as Dylan Matthews explained yesterday, more discouraging is the fact that after years of work on the issue, Paul Ryan still "keeps getting the basic facts wrong."
It doesn't help that the first policy statement he makes is an out-and-out lie: "After a 50-year war on poverty and trillions of dollars spent, we still have the same poverty rates."
This sentence suggests that either Paul Ryan has absolutely no clue how poverty rates work, or he does know and is actively deceiving viewers. First of all, the specific claim in question isn't even technically accurate.... But even that dramatically understates the progress that has been made. The official poverty rate is a travesty of a statistic, and using it at all in this context is irresponsible. It's literally based on food prices in 1955. But more relevantly for these purposes, it excludes the very anti-poverty programs Ryan is talking about.
The full Vox takedown is worth reading in detail, but stepping back, what does it tell us about the seriousness of Ryan's approach to policymaking when he focuses on poverty for years and still doesn't seem to know what he's talking about?
Rick Perry may have been Texas governor for 14 years, but for me, there's always been one brief exchange that summarized so much of his lengthy tenure.
In 2011, the Republican governor sat with Texas Tribune editor Evan Smith who passed along a question from the public. The voter wanted to know, "Why does Texas continue with abstinence education programs, when they don't seem to be working?" The question was well grounded in fact: in the areas of teen pregnancies and teen births, Texas ranked among the worst in the United States.
Perry heard the question, thought for a second, and replied, "Abstinence works."
The reporter pressed on, reminding the governor, "But we have the third-highest teen teen-pregnancy rate among all states in the country. The questioner's point is, it doesn't seem to be working." The governor responded, "It -- it works."
Four years later, the San Antonio Express-News is reporting on a striking number of cases of Chlamydia in a local high school, prompting school officials to organize a meeting "to discuss their sex education program."
Amanda Marcotte, a Texas native, explained the scope of the problem.
The school district's superintendent, Jim T. Rumage, stands by his chlamydia-friendly strategy of telling kids to wait until marriage. "If kids are not having any sexual activity, they can't get this disease," he told the Express-News in a phone interview. That is true! Also true: If you never eat any food, you probably won't get cavities, and so there's no point in manufacturing toothbrushes.
At the state level, meanwhile, the Texas Tribunereported yesterday on the latest the Republican-run state government.
As controversial as immigration policy has become as Republican politics shifts further and further to the right, the one area where compromise has appeared possible relates to military service.
Almost exactly a year ago, there was rare, bipartisan support for a proposal to allow undocumented immigrants to serve in the American military. As we discussed at the time, the plan was pretty straightforward: young, undocumented immigrants who entered the United States before they turned 15 would be welcome to enlist. After their service, so long as they're honorably discharged, these immigrants would become legal permanent residents and be eligible to apply for citizenship.
The idea is entirely in line with American traditions -- for generations, many immigrants to the U.S. became citizens by serving in the military -- but House Republicans nevertheless killed the proposal.
A year later, proponents of the idea have considered adding a related policy to this year's defense spending bill (the "National Defense Authorization Act," or "NDAA"). At least that was the idea.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain on Tuesday shot down a proposal that would move toward allowing some illegal immigrants to serve in the military. [...]
"It would not be accepted by the House. I've got to have a House agreement; they would never agree to putting that on the NDAA," McCain said. "If I put it on the defense bill, what happens in the House? The whole bill crashes.... The defense bill is for defense, not for Dreamers."
Keep in mind, we're talking about an idea that the White House supports, many lawmakers from both parties have endorsed, and would be broadly popular with the American mainstream. But McCain knows House Republicans don't like it, so the senator isn't willing to press the issue.
In one of my favorite "Simpsons" episodes, Lisa becomes a vegetarian and decides to sabotage a barbecue hosted by Homer and Bart. She hijacks their grill and sends lunch on a wild ride, as Homer and Bart chase after it, hoping their food can be salvaged.
When lunch rolls into the street, Homer says, "It's just a little dirty! It's still good, it's still good!" When lunch lands in a river, Homer says, "It's just a little slimy! It's still good, it's still good!" When lunch gets stuck in a dam before water pressure launches it into the sky, Homer says, "It's just a little airborne! It's still good, it's still good!"
Bart, resigned to defeat, tells his father, "It's gone." Homer, crestfallen, replies, "I know."
I think about the scene whenever New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) presidential ambitions come up. As the Republican's odds of national success roll downhill, just like the Simpsons' family barbecue, Christie's admirers say of his campaign's prospects, "It's just a few criminal indictments! It's still good, it's still good!"
As the Garden State's fiscal conditions deteriorate, thy say, "It's just a few debt downgrades! It's still good, it's still good!" As the governor's electoral support collapses, they proclaim, "It's just a few polls! It's still good, it's still good!"
As Simon Maloy noted yesterday, the next "Christie comeback" always seems to be right around the corner -- though it never arrives.
The Christie Comeback! If it feels like we’ve been predicting and discussing Chris Christie’s imminent political rebirth for a long time, that’s because we have. All that’s been missing has been the actual comeback. Christie’s 2016 primary numbers have steadily eroded from their November 2013 high of 15 percent to his current five percent share. His approval rating in New Jersey has also collapsed to a record low 35 percent. The New Jersey economy is stumbling along, Christie’s paths to victory in early primary states remain highly questionable, and even his own state party is starting to turn on him. But when each new “Christie Comeback” flames out, there seems to be a new one ready to step up and take its place.
What's missing is someone to play the role of Bart, conceding, "It's gone."
Towards the end of former Gov. Mike Huckabee's campaign kickoff speech yesterday, the Republican boasted, "I will be funded and fueled not by the billionaires, but by working people who will find out that $15 and $25 a month contributions can take us from Hope to higher ground."
He then quickly interjected, "Now, rest assured, if you want to give a million dollars, please do it."
Some of the audience laughed and it was no doubt intended to be a lighthearted moment. But Philip Bump noticed that Huckabee's speech appeared to step over "one of the few clear legal boundaries that now exist in the world of money in politics."
"A federal candidate cannot solicit a million dollars, let's start there," said Larry Noble of the Campaign Legal Center when The Post reached him by telephone. "If he's there announcing his candidacy, he cannot ask anybody for a million dollars. The most he can ask is the contribution limit; from a PAC that's $5,000."
Huckabee's campaign, of course, can't take a million-dollar contribution, suggesting that his comment was pointing people to give to a super PAC. Huckabee can ask people to give to the PAC, but only up to the limits stated above. What's more, that PAC has to be independent of Huckabee's campaign. "To the extent that he's implying that the money is given to him or will help him, that undermines the concept of independence," Noble said.
Ordinarily, presidential candidates have to be in the race for a while before they're accused of violating campaign-finance laws. Huckabee managed to raise legal concerns literally in his announcement speech.
Before Hillary Clinton's remarks late yesterday in Nevada on immigration policy, reform proponents weren't entirely sure what to expect. As Rachel noted on the show last night, Clinton adopted a decidedly moderate posture on immigration during her first campaign eight years ago, and there was uncertainty about how far she'd be willing to go this year.
But as Alex Seitz-Wald reported, the Democratic frontrunner answered those questions emphatically in the Silver State.
In perhaps the strongest remarks on immigration of her entire career, Hillary Clinton vowed Tuesday evening to "do everything I possibly can" to help immigrants – including going beyond President Obama's executive actions to extend deportation relief to undocumented immigrants. [...]
The Democratic presidential candidate hit almost every issue on the immigration reform activist's wish-list. She called for more humane detention practices, making it easier for families to plead their case for leniency, and took on the private prison industry. And crucially, she said she supported President Obama's actions to shield millions of immigrants from deportation – and promised to go do even more. "If Congress continues to refuse to act, as president, I would do everything possible under the law to go even further," she said.
According to the transcript made available from the Democrat's campaign, Clinton said during the roundtable meeting, "The American people support comprehensive immigration reform not just because it's the right thing to do -- and it is -- but because it will strengthen families, strengthen our economy, and strengthen our country. That's why we can't wait any longer, we can't wait any longer for a path to full and equal citizenship. Now, this is where I differ with everybody on the Republican side.
"Make no mistake: Today not a single Republican candidate, announced or potential, is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship. Not one. When they talk about "legal status," that's code for 'second-class status.'"
Dara Lind noted that Clinton's speech told progressive activists "exactly what they hoped they'd hear," and turned out to be "much better than they expected to hear." BuzzFeed's report added that the former Secretary of State "just won over much of the skeptical immigrant activist movement."
If this seems like a familiar political dynamic, it's not your imagination.
Rachel Maddow reviews the list of arguably-credible Republican contenders for the 2016 presidential nomination (at least 22 of them) and reports on the genuinely daunting challenge for the party to organize a fair system for them to debate each other. watch
U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, talks with Rachel Maddow about new safety rules for oil trains and the challenge of balancing public transparency about the volatile shipments with the need for security. watch
Rachel Maddow reviews new rules from the Department of Transportation meant to make the transportation of crude oil by rail safer, but critics want changes to take effect faster and decry new provisions reducing transparency of shipment schedules. watch
* An important first: "Secretary of State John Kerry made a brief but symbolically significant stopover in Somalia on Tuesday, becoming the highest-ranking American official to visit the war-ravaged country since a disastrous foray by American forces more than 20 years ago."
* Baltimore: "In her first visit to Baltimore since riots roiled the city, Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Tuesday met with community members and law enforcement officials in an effort to help ease tensions."
* The last of the National Guard troops who were deployed to Baltimore are expected to be gone today.
* Joint Chiefs: "President Barack Obama will name the commandant of the Marines, Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., as the 19th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, senior defense officials told NBC News on Monday.... If he's confirmed by the Senate, Dunford, the Marines' 36th commandant, or commanding general, would replace Army Gen. Martin Dempsey as the nation's top military officer in October when his tour is completed."
* Mac Thornberry on Jade Helm 15: "The chairman of the House Armed Services committee called concerns about a special forces training exercise in Texas 'silly' on Monday, dismissing conspiracy theories of impending martial law."
* Louie Gohmert on Jade Helm 15: "Tea party darling Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) on Tuesday demanded that the U.S. military alter a planned training exercise that some conspiracy theorists believe is cover for a possible takeover of the Lone Star state."
* Saving lives sounds like a good idea: "The Obama Administration's hotly debated plan to reduce heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the nation's power plants will save about 3,500 lives a year by cutting back on other types of pollution as well, a new independent study concludes."
* Evidence-based conclusions rarely affect political debates: "The State Department said Monday it has no evidence that any actions taken by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton when she was secretary of state were influenced by donations to the Clinton Foundation or former President Bill Clinton's speaking fees."
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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