If you've watched the show this week, you've probably seen Rachel's coverage of some incredible oil-train derailments. There's a debate starting to take shape -- which is long overdue -- about the dangers of shipping crude oil by rail and the areas affected by so-called "bomb trains."
The story took on new salience this week when many residents in Heimdal, North Dakota, were forced to evacuate their homes after the latest in a series of oil-train derailments, but as it turns out, there's also a political angle. The Nebraska Radio Network reported yesterday that at least one Republican presidential candidate sees this week's tragedy as an opportunity.
After a train derailment, fire and evacuations in North Dakota this week, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was asked about President Obama's refusal to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline at a campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa, on Thursday.
"It's one of the most irrational decisions the president has made, and he's made a lot of irrational decisions, so add this one to the list," Huckabee says. "The Keystone pipeline should be an easy decision for any president, an easy decision for anybody with an IQ above broccoli. This is pretty simple folks. It is safer, it is more efficient and it is a job creator."
According to Dave Weigel at Bloomberg Politics, the former Arkansas governor specifically said the "derailment in North Dakota is one more reason" to approve Keystone.
For those who've followed the debate, the argument that the pipeline is a "job creator" is obviously hard to take seriously. Even someone "with an IQ above broccoli" can read the State Department's report that found the project, once completed, would create roughly 35 permanent, full-time jobs in the United States, largely in refinery employment.
But what about this notion that oil-train accidents bolster the case for the controversial pipeline?
On Capitol Hill, there's literally only one member of Congress who describes himself as a European socialist. I'm referring, of course, to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who launched his Democratic presidential campaign last week, to the delight of many progressive activists.
And why not? Sanders isn't favored to actually win the Democratic nomination, but the Vermont senator has a bold, progressive vision, and is prepared to take advantage of the national platform a White House campaign offers. For liberal voters who yearn for a standard bearer whom no one has ever considered a "moderate," Sanders is a welcome breath of unapologetic fresh air.
There is, however, an exception to Sanders' liberalism. Mark Joseph Stern highlighted it at Slate this week.
[B]efore liberal Democrats flock to Sanders, they should remember that the Vermont senator stands firmly to Clinton's right on one issue of overwhelming importance to the Democratic base: gun control. During his time in Congress, Sanders opposed several moderate gun control bills. He also supported the most odious NRA–backed law in recent memory -- one that may block Sandy Hook families from winning a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the gun used to massacre their children.
Sanders, an economic populist and middle-class pugilist, doesn't talk much about guns on the campaign trail. But his voting record paints the picture of a legislator who is both skeptical of gun control and invested in the interests of gun owners -- and manufacturers. In 1993, voted against the Brady Act, which mandated federal background checks for gun purchasers and restricted felons’ access to firearms. As a senator, Sanders supported bills to allow firearms in checked bags on Amtrak trains and block funding to any foreign aid organization that registered or taxed Americans guns.
In fairness to Sanders, the senator does not always see eye to eye with the far-right gun group, but over the course of his congressional career, the Vermont independent has generally sided with the NRA on most of the major legislative fights regarding gun policy.
Indeed, it's probably safe to say that Sanders will be to Clinton's left on most issues in their primary fight, except when it comes to guns.
When Jeb Bush started receiving foreign-policy advice from Condoleezza Rice, the Republican candidate's team reportedly felt some "sensitivity" about the discussions. Team Jeb worried about sending a signal to the public that the former Florida governor "would be a carbon copy of his brother's administration."
Yesterday, this dynamic grew even more serious with a new report from the Washington Post.
When asked this week at an exclusive Manhattan gathering about who advises him on U.S.-Israel policy, Jeb Bush surprised many of the 50-plus attendees by naming his brother, former president George W. Bush, as his most influential counselor.
"If you want to know who I listen to for advice, it's him," Bush said Tuesday, speaking to a crowd of high-powered financiers at the Metropolitan Club, according to four people present.
Americans learned in March that practically every member of Jeb Bush's foreign policy team worked for his father, brother, or both, but these new revelations take matters further -- the former governor now says he's getting advice on foreign policy from George W. Bush directly.
Perhaps the most obvious problem is the inherent contradiction of Jeb Bush's message. On the one hand, the 2016 candidate is eager to tell voters, "I am my own man." On the other hand, the Florida Republican has relied heavily on his family for fundraising; he's hired his family's advisers to staff his political operation; and now he's boasting about turning to his brother for guidance on U.S. policy towards Israel.
There is literally nothing about this arrangement that suggests Bush is his "own man."
There's also the problem with the adviser himself -- George W. Bush, whatever one might think of him, did not exactly excel when it came to foreign policy in the Middle East. Presidential hopefuls would generally be wise to do the opposite of everything he suggests.
But let's not overlook the one less obvious problem, which seems to be generating far less attention.
About a month ago, the jobs report for March 2015 was a bitter disappointment, raising questions about the overall strength of the job market and the sustainability of the recent jobs boom. This morning, many hoped to find out whether it was a one-month fluke or the start of something more alarming.
It's starting to look like the former is true. The new report from Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the U.S. economy added 223,000 jobs in April, which is almost exactly what experts predicted. The overall unemployment rate inched lower to 5.4%, the lowest it's been since May 2008.
The revisions were a mixed bag. February's job totals were revised up, from 264,000 to 266,000, while March's totals turned out to be even worse, dropping from 126,000 to 85,000.
All told, the U.S. has added 2.98 million jobs over the last 12 months. April was the 55th consecutive month of positive job growth -- the best stretch since 1939 -- and the 62nd consecutive month in which we've seen private-sector job growth, which is the longest on record.
After months of drama, heated debate, and unprecedented attempts at sabotage, yesterday's Senate vote dealing with nuclear diplomacy with Iran lacked any real drama. There's a delicate dance underway, and at least for now, the relevant players haven't lost their footing.
NBC News' Frank Thorp reported yesterday on the lopsided vote in the Senate.
The Senate voted to give lawmakers a chance to weigh in on any nuclear deal the White House seeks to hammer out with Iran -- a measure that requires President Barack Obama submit any agreement struck between that nation and world powers to Congress.
The vote was 98-1 on a bill that would give Congress at least a month to review the details of an agreement. During the review, the president would be prevented from lifting congressionally imposed sanctions on Iran.
The final roll call on the 98-1 vote is online here. Note, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who tried to derail the bipartisan bill with poison-pill amendments, was the lone vote in opposition. A couple of months ago, the right-wing Arkansan led a group of 47 Senate Republicans, urging Iranian officials not to trust the United States. Yesterday, Cotton was reduced to a caucus of one.
Also note, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a Republican presidential hopeful, also tried to undermine the Corker/Cordin bill with a poison-pill provision of his own, but his colleagues ignored his push and he ended up voting for the bill anyway.
The bill now heads to the House, where many far-right GOP lawmakers -- including members of the so-called "Freedom Caucus" -- intend to pick up where Cotton left off, hoping to defeat the legislation by moving it much further to the right.
If it passes the House anyway, President Obama is prepared to sign the bill into law. Whereas it was the left that originally rang the alarm about Congress potentially derailing international diplomacy, it's now the right that's strongly opposed to the pending proposal. How did we get to this point?
Rachel Maddow demonstrates with a handy prop a new proposal to augment the White House fence with an additional row of angled spikes to better deter fence jumpers that have recently plagued the Secret Service. watch
Jonathan Hafetz, ACLU National Security Project lawyer, talks with Rachel Maddow about the options available to President Obama for shutting down the prison at Guantanamo Bay by executive order, without the cooperation of Congress. watch
Ellen Weintraub, commissioner with the Federal Election Commission, talks with Rachel Maddow about the partisan gridlock within the F.E.C. that prevents it from adequately policing political fundraising and spending, and why the situation isn't hopeless. watch
* More on this in the morning: "The Senate voted to give lawmakers a chance to weigh in on any nuclear deal the White House seeks to hammer out with Iran -- a measure that requires President Barack Obama submit any agreement struck between that nation and world powers to Congress."
* A risky proposition: "The United States has begun training Syrian forces to fight ISIS, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Thursday. Carter said that about 90 Syrian fighters had begun their training, and he said a second group would begin training in the next few weeks. He called it "critical and a complex part" of U.S. efforts to fight ISIS."
* Baltimore: "Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said Thursday that she will decide "in the coming days" whether to launch a federal investigation into the possible use of excessive force and other civil rights violations by the Baltimore Police Department."
* Middle East: "The Pentagon says that U.S. Navy warships are no longer accompanying American and British-flagged commercial vessels through the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf."
* A bit of a surprise on fast track: "Washington Sen. Patty Murray is breaking with the rest of the Senate Democratic leadership over trade legislation. The bill puts Murray in a tough spot because most congressional Democrats oppose it, but trade is vital to her home state's economic interests."
* Be afraid: "Average global levels of carbon dioxide stayed above 400 parts per million, or ppm, through all of March 2015 -- the first time that has happened for an entire month since record keeping first began, according to data released this week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)."
A couple of months ago, retired far-right neurosurgeon Ben Carson acknowledged that the "learning curve of a candidate" can be daunting. The Republican presidential hopeful conceded he still has a lot to learn "in terms of becoming both a better candidate and a better potential president."
But if he's trying to brush up on the basics of how the U.S. government works, Carson clearly has quite a bit of ground to make up.
Yesterday on Newsmax TV, Ben Carson said that the federal government does not need to recognize a Supreme Court decision on gay marriage because the president is only obligated to recognize laws passed by Congress, not judicial rulings.
"First of all, we have to understand how the Constitution works, the president is required to carry out the laws of the land, the laws of the land come from the legislative branch," Carson said. "So if the legislative branch creates a law or changes a law, the executive branch has a responsibly to carry it out. It doesn't say they have the responsibility to carry out a judicial law."
As should be obvious to anyone who passed Civics 101 at a high-school level, the U.S. Supreme Court has the final word on the constitutionality of American laws. Sometimes, the legislative branch passes a law, but it's challenged in the courts, and if a high court majority strikes it down, then it can't legally be enforced by the executive branch.
There is no such thing as "a judicial law."
The fact that Carson doesn't understand this is alarming. The fact that he prefaced his comments by saying we "have to understand how the Constitution works" is rather sad.
The National Security Agency's program on collecting bulk information on telephone calls has struggled at times in the courts, but as NBC News' Pete Williams reported, the program's setback at a federal appeals court today is its biggest defeat yet.
A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York unanimously found that Congress has not given the NSA approval for storing massive amounts of data so that it can be searched later.
The court said federal law permits gathering information only when there's something specific to investigate. By contrast, today's ruling says, the government is storing huge amounts of data so that it can be searched later when the need arises.
The court ruling is available in its entirety here (pdf). The opinion was written by Judge Gerard E. Lynch, a President Obama appointee.
The unanimous appeals court panel conceded that a program like the NSA's may be a valuable national-security tool, but "such a monumental shift in our approach to combating terrorism requires a clear signal from Congress."
The ruling added that the Second Circuit finds the metadata program illegal "in the full understanding that if Congress chooses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously."
That's no small detail given the current debate on Capitol Hill. As the New York Timesreport noted, "The House appears ready to pass a bill next week that would end the government's bulk collection of phone records and replace it with a new program that would preserve the ability to analyze links between callers to hunt for terrorists but keep the bulk records in the hands of phone companies."
The bill faces long odds in the Senate, where the Republican majority largely supports the status quo, including the "Section 215" provision of the Patriot Act that was used to justify the NSA program in the first place.
As a practical matter, this congressional disagreement is likely to make an important difference -- today's appeals court ruling didn't strike down the NSA program, but rather, sent it back to a lower court while the debate in Congress continues.
The first Thursday in May, by congressional mandate, is set aside as the official “National Day of Prayer," which means today is the big day. For a while, some in conservative media argued President Obama rejected the "holiday," but as he's done every year since taking office, Obama issued his National Day of Prayer proclamation yesterday.
And, in keeping with recent tradition, the religious right continues to see the prayer day as an extension of its movement, to be used to advance its concerns. Right Wing Watch noted today:
Today is the annual National Day of Prayer, which is overseen by Shirley Dobson, wife of Religious Right icon James Dobson. So naturally, James was given 10 minutes this morning to warn attendees at the official event in Washington, D.C. of the dire implications for this nation should the Supreme Court legalize gay marriage.
Echoing his belief that such a ruling could lead to civil war, Dobson warned that legalizing gay marriage would undermine and weaken the family and tear this nation apart because "it will divide us further and the implications of it are breathtaking."
As longtime readers may recall, during the eight years of the Bush/Cheney era, the far-right National Day of Prayer Task Force held annual events in the East Room of the White House. In 2009, President Obama politely told the NDP Task Force it would need to find a new, private venue to host prayer day events.
The rhetoric from the Dobsons this morning helps serves as a reminder why Obama showed these folks the door.
Of course, all of this leads to the obvious question of why the nation needs a National Day of Prayer in the first place.
Mike Huckabee has quite a few challenges he'll have to overcome if his presidential campaign is going to succeed, but among the more dramatic is how he's spent his time since leaving the Arkansas governor's office.
The Republican is known for his media gigs, including hosting a Fox News program and a conservative radio show, but it's his role as a snake-oil salesman that's awfully tough to defend. CNN's Jake Tapper asked Huckabee yesterday about his controversial business practices.
TAPPER: In January, sir, you rented out your email list to a group selling hidden cures for cancer embedded in Bible verses for the low price of $72. Don't you lose credibility by attaching your name to things like that?
HUCKABEE: Well, I never signed that letter. I mean, I have a huge email list that I developed over many years and we did, in fact, rent it out to entities. But my gosh, that's like saying that you run some ads on CNN, do you personally agree with all the ads that run on CNN? I doubt you do.
To his credit, Tapper explained that Huckabee's argument sounds like "a false equivalent" -- which, of course, it is -- since the GOP candidate has peddled fairly ridiculous products, which "a lot of people would consider to be hucksterism."
Huckabee simply repeated his original talking points, which is more than just unsatisfying.
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