It's been a few days since Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) told a national television audience that Islamic State militants entered the United States through the Southern border. Everyone from the Department of Homeland Security to the Mexican government to the Texas Department of Public Safety says the far-right congressman has no idea what he's talking about, but the Republican continues to claim he has a secret source that has provided him with information no one else has.
Of course, if Hunter is correct, it's an extraordinarily big deal. And if the congressman is brazenly lying about a major national security threat, that's arguably pretty important, too.
With that in mind, other Republicans are starting to get questions about Hunter's bizarre allegation. Note, for example, this amazing exchange yesterday between Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a possible 2016 presidential candidate, and CNN's Alisyn Camerota.
CAMEROTA: Have 10 ISIS fighters already been detained?
PORTMAN: I don't know. I saw this morning that Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security, said that was not necessarily accurate. But, look, it could happen.
Hmm. I suppose it's possible that all sorts of things "could happen," but that's not really the issue at hand. A U.S. congressman believes ISIS terrorists have already infiltrated the nation, and there's a cover-up underway to hide this explosive information from the American public. Either it's true or Hunter made this up, and "it could happen" isn't an especially satisfying answer from a prominent senator.
Camerota, to her credit, followed up, asking Portman if he thinks "it's possible" that ISIS fights have already entered the United States.
"I just don't know, Alisyn," Portman said. "I do think this is a question that we ought to get answers from the administration on."
First, we've already received answers from the administration on this -- DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson called Hunter's allegations "categorically false." Second, Portman is a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, and if Republicans take the Senate, he might even become its chairman. If he has no idea what Hunter is talking about, doesn't that suggest the congressman is telling tall tales?
Or more to the point, isn't it at least somewhat likely that Rob Portman knows Hunter's claims are absurd, but he's afraid to trash one of his fellow Republicans?
Voting-rights proponents have run into some judicial roadblocks lately, making last night's victories that much more satisfying for democracy advocates.
There were two big rulings, but let's start at the top, where the U.S. Supreme Court blocked implementation of Wisconsin Republicans' chaos-enducing voter-ID scheme in a 6-3 decision.
A divided U.S. Supreme Court blocked Wisconsin's voter ID law late Thursday, issuing a terse yet dramatic one-page ruling less than four weeks before the Nov. 4 election.
The 6-3 vote means in all likelihood the requirement to show ID at the polls will not be in effect for the election. But Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he would seek ways to reinstate the law within the month.
While GOP officials in the state look for new ways to suppress voter participation, the high court's ruling (pdf), at least for now, puts an end to the most chaotic voting dynamic in the nation.
As we discussed the other day, most estimates suggest over 300,000 otherwise-eligible Wisconsin residents lack the documentation necessary -- documentation they never had to provide in previous elections -- to cast a ballot in their own election. The state also set aside exactly $0 for state agencies to help voters navigate and comply with the new, unnecessary law.
Remember, Republican policymakers in Wisconsin imposed these restrictions to address a "voter fraud" scourge that doesn't actually exist.
Making matters much worse, thousands of Wisconsin voters already cast absentee ballots in this election, having been led to believe their votes would be counted, only to recently learn that because they never showed a required form of identification, their vote may not count after all.
As of last night, the chaos is over, by order of the Supreme Court. Three Republican-appointed justices -- Alito, Thomas, and Scalia -- sided with Wisconsin GOP officials, while Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan delivered a victory to voting-rights advocates.
Making matters even more satisfying for those who support voter access to their own democracy, advocates won a related victory at nearly the same time last night.
Chuck Todd, moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press," talks with Rachel Maddow about how South Dakota Republican Senate candidate Mike Rounds is burdened by recent scandal, and how Democrats are trying to take advantage to win a seat previously thought lost. watch
Rachel Maddow reports the breaking news that the Supreme Court has blocked Wisconsin's voter ID law and shares the findings of a new report on the impact of the Republican effort to discourage voting with new voting laws. watch
Georgia State Rep. Stacey Abrams, House Minority Leader, talks with Rachel Maddow about Republican challenges to a voting registration drive by the New Georgia Project, and over 40,000 new voter registration applications that have not been processed. watch
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
* 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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.