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Nonsense reigns when Congress skips debate

Nonsense reigns without real debate in Congress

10/09/14 10:36PM

Rachel Maddow points to the "categorically false" claim by Rep. Duncan Hunter that ISIS fighters have been captured crossing the U.S. border from Mexico as an object lesson in the nonsense that happens when Congress skips having a real debate. watch

Ahead on the 10/9/14 Maddow show

10/09/14 06:25PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Chuck Todd, moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press"
  • State Rep. Stacey Abrams, House Minority Leader for the Georgia General Assembly 

Take a look at a quick preview of tonight's show after the jump. read more

Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.9.14

10/09/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Yemen: "A suicide bomber attacked a crowded square here in the capital on Thursday, killing more than 40 people and adding to fears that Sunni extremists were mobilizing new attacks against a Shiite rebel group that took control of Sana last month."
* St. Louis: "A St. Louis police officer fatally shot a young black man on Wednesday night, sparking protests in the south of the city just a day before thousands of protesters are expected to arrive in Ferguson, Missouri for rallies and marches over the killing of Michael Brown."
* Related news: "A state senator and other black leaders on Thursday called for the Justice Department to investigate the fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old by a white St. Louis police officer, an incident that some protesters are likening to the death of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson."
* Not a moment too soon: "Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Wednesday called for a wide-ranging review of police tactics and training, speaking to dozens of mayors and police chiefs who had gathered here to discuss race relations and policing in the United States in the wake of protests in Ferguson, Mo."
* Ebola: "Federal health officials will require temperature checks for the first time at five major American airports for people arriving from the three West African countries hardest hit by the deadly Ebola virus. However, health experts said the measures were more likely to calm a worried public than to prevent many people with Ebola from entering the country."
* Related news: "The Spanish health authorities said Thursday that the condition of an auxiliary nurse infected by Ebola had worsened, three days after she became the first person to test positive for the disease in Europe. The deterioration in the nurse's condition came as the authorities announced that one more health care worker had been quarantined, in addition to three others who were isolated overnight at the same hospital where the nurse works."
* ISIS: "Islamic State militants are threatening to overrun a key province in western Iraq in what would be a major victory for the jihadists and an embarrassing setback for the U.S.-led coalition targeting the group."
* Coalition: "Canada's parliament has voted to authorise air strikes against Isis in Iraq, joining the US-led bombing campaign. The Conservative party of Stephen Harper, the prime minister, introduced the motion last week and it was debated this week. Harper has a majority of seats in parliament so the vote was all but assured. The motion passed on Tuesday by 157 votes to 134."
* West Virginia: "West Virginia will 'bring to a close' the pending litigation over its same-sex marriage ban after the Supreme Court effectively allowed gays to wed in the federal circuit that the state belongs to, its attorney general said Thursday."
* And speaking of marriage: "Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy mistakenly blocked the start of same-sex marriage in Nevada in an order that spawned confusion among state officials and disappointment in couples hoping to be wed."
Sen. Marco Rubio

Rubio & Co. eye new round of shutdown drama

10/09/14 05:03PM

Republican leaders in both chambers agreed months ago that a pre-election government shutdown simply wasn't an option. There were some on the far right who tried to fan some flames, but it never spread.
Republicans did not, however, rule out a post-election shutdown. Aliyah Frumin reported earlier:
A group of Republican senators -- led by Marco Rubio of Florida -- sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and are calling on him to oppose any spending legislation for a program that's part of President Obama's Affordable Care Act -- a move that could potentially result in a government shutdown. [...]
If the House refuses to allow the provision into the spending bill -- which would be vehemently opposed by the White House -- a stalemate and government shutdown could occur. To avoid a shutdown, lawmakers will have to pass new spending legislation in the lame duck session before Dec. 11, which is when the current continuing budget resolution expires.
The fact that this is happening yet again is obviously tiresome. It was just two months ago that far-right congressional Republicans were making threats about a new shutdown -- not to be confused with the previous GOP shutdown -- and for Rubio and his allies to start making a new round of threats is unfortunate.
Indeed, it's a little surprising these Republicans would even take the risk so soon before the midterm elections. Most of the country has long since forgotten last October, when GOP lawmakers shut down the government for no apparent reason. For Republicans to broach the subject again is a curious strategy.
Regardless, there are two relevant angles here: (1) whether they actually intend to go through with this; and (2) the policy the far-right lawmakers are complaining about.

Deficit hawks are surprisingly hard to please

10/09/14 04:17PM

About a month ago, a MaddowBlog reader tweeted my latest deficit chart and directed it to National Journal's Ron Fournier, who I think it's fair to say, routinely expresses concern about the federal budget shortfall. He said he was unimpressed -- my chart, Fournier claimed, "cherry picked" the data.
Given that the image showed the deficit in the years leading up to the Obama presidency, and the deficit every year of Obama's presidency -- all confirmed by independent data -- I assumed Fournier simply doesn't know what "cherry picked" means. But in a subsequent reply, the columnist was more specific, arguing that the narrowing budget deficit doesn't really count. The deficit may be shrinking now, the argument went, but the shortfall might get bigger in the future.
It's a curious approach to the debate over fiscal policy, given the latest developments.
Four years after an exploding budget deficit helped fuel a Tea Party electoral sweep, the federal government's tide of red ink has receded — not only as an election issue but also as an economic problem.
The government ran a deficit of $486 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the smallest since 2008, according to a report issued by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on Wednesday. Measured against the size of the economy, the deficit -- at 2.8 percent of the gross domestic product -- is now lower than the average deficit over the past 40 years. That figure is down from 9.8 percent of G.D.P. in 2009.
All told, the annual budget deficit is nearly $1 trillion smaller now than the one Obama inherited from Bush/Cheney. This remains the fastest deficit reduction seen in the United States since World War II.
The politics of this, however, are quite strange. The public has no idea this is happening, and many of the same political voices who claim to be most concerned about the annual budget shortfall -- for reasons that often make no real, substantive sense -- continue to complain in a way that seems disconnected to actual developments.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaks at an event on, Sept. 20, 2014, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Photo by Chris Carlson/AP)

Rand Paul vs. Rand Paul on personhood

10/09/14 12:52PM

There's one "culture war" issue that seems to cause anxiety for many Republican politicians. Opposing reproductive rights in general and wanting to overturn Roe v. Wade is usually pretty easy for GOP candidates, but support for "personhood" has become something of a third rail. Given recent developments, it's understandable -- personhood measures wouldn't just ban all abortions, they'd also block common forms of birth control.
And Republicans clearly realize that opposing birth control in the 21st century, when the party is already struggling with the gender gap, isn't a credible option.
As a result, we see far-right Senate hopefuls like Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and other ardent personhood supporters suddenly scramble to distance themselves from their previous position. Each of them assume the key to joining the Senate is backing away from an extremist policy like this one.
But let's not forget that there's already an enthusiastic personhood supporter in the Senate.  Ryan Lizza reports on one of Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) most controversial proposals:
In recent Profile of Senator Rand Paul, Dr. John Downing, the Senator’s friend and former medical partner, expressed his worries about Paul’s sponsorship of the Life at Conception Act, also known as the personhood law. The bill would ban abortion and grant the unborn all the legal protections of the Fourteenth Amendment, beginning at "the moment of fertilization."
To Downing, who is an ardent Paul supporter, this seemed like political madness. Downing said that he believed Paul's personhood law would make some common forms of birth control illegal, and thus doom Paul's Presidential hopes. "He's going to lose half or more of women immediately once they find out what that would do to birth control," Downing told me.
Part of the Kentucky Republican's pitch is that he can be a national GOP leader by appealing to young people with his message of limited government. On the other hand, Rand Paul introduced -- and has fought aggressively in support of -- federal legislation that treats a fertilized egg as a full-fledged human being with constitutional rights, which in turn would prohibit any form of birth control (IUDs, emergency contraception, etc.) that prevents that egg from implanting in a uterine wall.
One assumes many younger voters, most notably women, might have a problem with that, especially coming from a candidate whose raison d'etre is ostensibly opposition to "big government."
All of which brings us to last week, when Rand Paul seemed to hedge on his own legislative commitment.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.9.14

10/09/14 12:00PM

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:
* In Georgia, the latest SurveyUSA poll, released yesterday, shows David Perdue (R) with the narrowest of leads over Michelle Nunn (D), 46% to 45%, while Gov. Nathan Deal (R) leads Jason Carter (D) by two, 46% to 44%.
* Is Alaska slipping away from Democrats? The new CNN poll shows Dan Sullivan (R) leading incumbent Sen. Mark Begich (D) by six, 50% to 44%. It's been a while since an independent poll shows Begich ahead in this race.
* With less than four weeks until Election Day, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) has replaced her campaign manager. Though her race is likely headed for a December runoff, this is probably not a good sign for the incumbent.
* In Kansas' U.S. Senate race, nearly all recent polling shows Greg Orman (I) leading Sen. Pat Roberts (R), but the latest CNN poll shows the opposite, with the incumbent leading 49% to 48%.
* Speaking of Roberts, the Kansas Republican is reportedly "leaning heavily" on corporate lobbyists in the hopes they'll help rescue his career.
* In North Carolina's Senate race, the latest Suffolk poll shows Sen. Kay Hagan (D) with a narrow advantage over Thom Tillis (R), 46.8% to 45.4%.
* In New Hampshire's Senate race, the new WMUR Granite State Poll shows Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) with a six-point lead over former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), 47% to 41%. Of particular interest, this same poll showed Shaheen with a two-point lead in August.
In this Nov. 6, 2012 file photo, a voter holds their voting permit and ID card at the Washington Mill Elementary School near Mount Vernon, Va. Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S....

Independent GAO report: Voter ID lowers turnout

10/09/14 11:28AM

It's sometimes  helpful when an independent analysis, released by an objective source, confirms what should already be obvious.
States that toughened their voter identification laws saw steeper drops in election turnout than those that did not, with disproportionate falloffs among black and younger voters, a nonpartisan congressional study released Wednesday concluded. [...]
The report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative agency, was released less than a month from elections that will determine which party controls Congress.
As part of the research, GAO scholars "compared election turnout in Kansas and Tennessee -- which tightened voter ID requirements between the 2008 and 2012 elections -- to voting in four states that didn't change their identification requirements."
Not surprisingly, the research found that voter turnout dropped in the states that imposed tighter restrictions. What's more, as Jay Bookman noted, the "decline was among 'eligible and registered voters' -- these weren't people trying to cheat."
The turnout drop was more likely to affect voters 23 and younger, new voters, and African Americans.
And given that these voting restrictions were imposed by Republican state policymakers, it's not unreasonable to wonder whether the results are a feature, not a bug.
Making matters slightly worse, the GAO report uncovered no evidence of a voter-fraud problem, which at least ostensibly is the point of imposing these voting hurdles in the first place.
What we're left with is an indefensible set of circumstances. Voter-ID laws are wreaking havoc on elections, especially in states like Wisconsin, pushed by far-right policymakers who end up discriminating against voters in order to solve a problem that doesn't exist.
This Aug. 21, 2014, file photo shows Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., as he speaks during a news conference in North Little Rock, Ark.

Cotton's credulity creates campaign complications

10/09/14 10:57AM

Rep. Tom Cotton (R), his party's nominee in Arkansas' U.S. Senate race, rolled out a new argument last week. The far-right congressman told voters that Islamic State militants may come to North America, partner with Mexican drug cartels, plot terrorist strikes, and target their land-locked state in the middle of the country with no major population centers. Worse, Cotton apparently expects voters to believe his fanciful claim.
Glenn Kessler dug a little deeper, looking at the materials Team Cotton referenced as proof, including a piece from an unhinged conspiracy-theory website called WorldNetDaily.
The whole thing seems to have started with a highly speculative account on July 4 in WND, labeled an "exclusive" and titled: "New Border Risk: ISIS Ties to Mexican Drug Lords."  (ISIS and ISIL are other names for Islamic State.) The article quoted Michael Maloof, who it described as a former "top Defense Department analyst" and "expert on the Middle East:"
...Maloof is not pointing to any hard evidence, just that he thinks that they "may be" doing this.
Who is Michael Maloof? He gained notoriety in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq as one of the key people involved in a DOD intelligence effort to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein had ties to al-Qaeda and was likely to provide weapons of mass destruction to terror groups.... Maloof was later stripped of his security clearance after unauthorized contacts with a Lebanese American businessman who was under federal investigation for gun-running.
As sourcing for a terrorism claim goes, it's probably best not to put this in the "rock solid" category.
But therein lies the point: Tom Cotton, who's been caught brazenly lying before, decided to take dubious conspiracy theories from strange websites at face value, then share the nonsense with the public.
Kessler added, "As a lawmaker, Cotton needs to be careful about making inflammatory statements based on such flimsy evidence." That's true, though I'm struck by how often that same sentiment comes up when looking at a wide variety of GOP lawmakers.
Sam Brownback

Brownback convinced his failed experiment 'is working'

10/09/14 10:07AM

When Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) cut taxes far beyond what his state could afford, he sounded a surprisingly cautious note on msnbc. "We'll see how it works," the Republican governor said. "We'll have a real-live experiment."
Two years later, the experiment isn't going well. Brownback's economic plan has failed miserably on practically every possible front. Kansas' finances have been left in such a mess that the state's bond rating was downgraded, and soon after, was downgraded again. Several recent polls show the far-right governor trailing in his re-election bid -- a prospect that seemed impossible just a few months ago.
But Brownback thinks he knows what's going on here, even if it's not obvious to everyone else.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) said the left and liberal media is far too focused on crafting a narrative that shows his policies failing before those policies actually start working.
"I think they so desperately want what's happening in this state to fail that they're shopping for a factual setting to back that up because it's working," Brownback said of his critics in an interview with CBN News' The Brody File.
In his comments to TV preacher Pat Robertson's news network, Brownback added that "the left" wants his far-right economic agenda to "fail so bad that they can't wait for it to and they just want to get me electorally before we get on through this and prove that this is working."
It's a bizarre argument. Brownback said his experiment would produce amazing economic results. Those predictions were discredited, not by "the left" but by reality, leaving the governor to argue "this is working," despite all of the evidence to the contrary.
I half expect the Kansas Republican to make "Don't Believe Your Lying Eyes" his new campaign slogan.
Of course, this is about more than Kansas.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., participates in a news conference.

GOP congressman doubles down on 'categorically false' border claim

10/09/14 09:27AM

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) made a pretty extraordinary claim on Fox News this week, telling a national television audience on Tuesday night that 10 Islamic State militants were caught entering the United States through the Mexican border. The far-right congressman was categorical: Hunter said in no uncertain terms that this has already happened, but "there's nobody talking about it."
The California Republican added that he knows this is true "because I've asked the Border Patrol."
Right-wing media outlets were predictably excited by the baseless claims -- National Review, citing Hunter's comments, asked, "Could the administration really successfully cover up something as big as this?" -- but there's a small problem. Neither Hunter nor his allies have any verifiable evidence to bolster the allegations. I mean that quite literally -- there's nothing from Border Patrol, nothing from other members of Congress or relevant committees, nothing from the Mexican government, and nothing from the Department of Homeland Security.
On the contrary, DHS described the claim as "categorically false" and Secretary Jeh Johnson suggested Hunter has no idea what he's talking about.
And that leaves the far-right congressman with a choice: Hunter can scale back his explosive claims or he can stick to his guns. Take a wild guess which course the Republican prefers.
Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper said the congressman stands by his comments. "A high level source informed the congressman -- it was also said that DHS is actively discouraging any talk of IS on the border," Kasper said.
"The congressman was conveying what he knows -- and what he was told," he said.
Hmm. Hunter has no proof, but he has a source he won't identify, who gave him information that literally no one else can verify, about an important claim unsupported by facts.
Wait, it gets even better.

Jobless claims hold steady, average drops to eight-year low

10/09/14 08:37AM

For the first time since before the start of the Great Recession, initial unemployment filings have dropped below 300,000, and stayed below that threshold, for four consecutive weeks.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits in the first week of October was basically unchanged at 287,000, reflecting a labor market that's experiencing an exceedingly low rate of layoffs and probably will continue to do so for months. Initial claims have fallen below the key 300,000 level for four straight weeks, the first time that's happened since early 2006. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had expected claims to rise to a seasonally adjusted 294,000.
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, dropped by 7,250 to 287,750 and hit the lowest level since February 2006, the Labor Department said Thursday. 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 below 330,000 in 27 of the last 30 weeks. (We've also been below 300,000 in 8 of the last 12 weeks.)