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Ahead on the 1/8/15 Maddow show

01/08/15 06:56PM

Tonight's guests:

  • Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, live from Paris
  • Doug Hampton, former senior aide to Sen. John Ensign

And here's executive producer Cory Gnazzo with what's in store...

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 1.8.15

01/08/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Paris: "Dozens of police officers armed with automatic weapons descended on a quiet French town Thursday in a frantic search for the two brothers suspected of brutally killing 12 people at the Paris offices of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo."
* Disheartening: "Several French mosques were attacked following the killing of 12 people at the office of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, according to reports."
* If the reports out of Nigeria are true, it's arguably the biggest story in the world: "More than 2,000 people are unaccounted for after radical Islamist sect Boko Haram torched more than 10 towns and villages in Nigeria, a local lawmaker told NBC News."
* TRIA: "The Senate approved legislation Thursday to reauthorize the Terrorism Risk
Insurance Act for six years, over the objections of some Democrats who criticized a provision they said would weaken Wall Street regulations. The bill, which cleared the House a day earlier, passed the upper chamber on a 93-4 vote."
* Tamir Rice case: "Previously unreleased surveillance footage surrounding the police shooting of a boy in Cleveland shows authorities forcing the young victim's 14-year-old sister to the ground, handcuffing her and putting her in a patrol car."
* Maybe Ebola wasn't the virus Americans should have panicked about: "The flu has already killed at least 21 children this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just a little more than a month ago, the CDC warned that this season could be an especially bad one. January or February are usually the worst months for flu reports, so it's possible that flu season will only get worse."
* North Korea: "The F.B.I.'s director, James B. Comey, said on Wednesday that the United States had concluded that North Korea was behind the destructive attacks on Sony Pictures partly because the hackers failed to mask their location when they broke into the company's servers, Michael S. Schmidt, Nicole Perlroth and Matthew Goldstein report."
* This can help a lot of people: "The White House announced Wednesday that the Federal Housing Administration will significantly lower the fees it charges borrowers, a move designed to save individual home buyers hundreds of dollars annually and help jump-start the housing market."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stands in the gymnasium of Camden high school on Dec. 2, 2014, in Camden, N.J. (Mel Evans/AP)

Christie's no good, very bad week

01/08/15 04:30PM

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) looked very happy celebrating the Dallas Cowboy's playoff victory on Sunday, cheering his adopted team on from the Cowboys' owner's luxury box. Unfortunately, things have gone downhill since then.
The Wall Street Journal ran this report last night:
Federal prosecutors in New Jersey have subpoenaed Gov. Chris Christie's re-election campaign for documents relating to government meetings that were allegedly canceled with Jersey City's mayor after he declined to endorse the governor, according to people familiar with the matter.
The subpoenas, sent by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, are another sign that the yearlong probe into former allies of Mr. Christie has broadened beyond matters directly related to the George Washington Bridge lane closures.
It was followed this afternoon by this Bloomberg News report (thanks to my colleague Julia Nutter for the heads-up).
A federal grand jury subpoenaed the New Jersey legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closings, seeking records connected to former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, two people with knowledge of the request said.
Committee members were notified today of the subpoena, which also seeks recordings of testimony Baroni gave in November 2013 to the Assembly transportation committee about the bridge traffic jam in September of that year, the people said.... The subpoena indicates the investigation by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman is ongoing.
As the New Jersey Republican prepares to launch his presidential campaign, Christie and his team routinely tell GOP insiders that all of that scandal unpleasantness is behind them. Evidently, that's not the case at all.
Meanwhile, Christie's trip to the Dallas area over the weekend has itself become a problem.
Traffic is at a standstill on Interstate 65 northbound as officials work to clear abandoned vehicles in Hoover, Ala. Jan.  29, 2014.

Boehner nixes fix on 'crumbling infrastructure'

01/08/15 03:21PM

The Highway Trust Fund, which plays a central role in financing U.S. infrastructure projects, is financed through a federal gas tax. It's been a pretty effective system, at least up until recently -- the current tax hasn't changed in more than two decades, and as a result, American investment in infrastructure has fallen to its lowest point since 1947Making matters slightly worse, the Highway Trust Fund is on track to run out of money in May.
The simple, efficient, and painfully obvious solution is to approve an overdue increase to the gas tax -- with prices at the pump already having plummeted, this is an ideal time -- which would bolster the fund, boost investments, and help both the economy and our infrastructure, which even Republicans concede is currently "on life support."
Indeed, while Democratic support for an overdue gas-tax increase comes as no surprise, some conservative GOP lawmakers also agree that we don't have much of a choice.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) nevertheless killed the idea at a Capitol Hill press conference this morning:
Q: Gas taxes are historically low...  Is this the right time to consider increasing the gas tax?
BOEHNER: I've never voted to raise the gas tax. Funding a highway bill is critically important. It's a priority for this year. How we'll fund it, we're going to have to work our way through this. [...]
Q: You just said you never voted for an increase in the gas tax, but it doesn't sound like you're ruling out the possibility of including it in a tax reform deal.
BOEHNER: I'll just say this. When the Democrats had total control of the Congress, they couldn't find the votes to raise the gas tax. It's doubtful that the votes are here to raise the gas tax again.
Asked for further clarification, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told Greg Sargent, "The Speaker doesn't support a gas tax hike. Period."
The United States used to be the world leader on infrastructure, and as Reagan's support for higher gas taxes makes clear, this used to be a bipartisan issue.
Those days are over.

Mississippi town repeals anti-discrimination resolution in secret

01/08/15 01:30PM

Just a few weeks ago, the town of Starkville, Mississippi, was being praised nationally as a surprising example of progress in the South. Starkville is home to Mississippi State University, where the football team's amazing run this season capped off a period of cultural and civic transformation for the town itself. As the New York Times noted in November, Starkville had even passed an anti-discrimination resolution that included sexual orientation and identity.

Starkville was the first place in Mississippi to take that step, in January 2014. Their aldermen led the way for other cities in the state to debate and pass resolutions of their own. In September, Starkville added a policy that extended health benefits to domestic partners of city employees. After that second move, the pressure from local religious leaders to overturn those decisions -- "to move the policies and positions for this city back to a Judeo-Christian position," as one pastor told the board -- began immediately.

On Tuesday, in a closed-door executive session, the Starkville alderman voted to repeal both the new anti-discrimination statement and the policy providing health benefits for same-sex couples. Mayor Parker Wiseman says the aldermen behind the repeal provided no notice that they intended to hold those votes or any explanation for doing so. A local paper, the Columbus Dispatch, can't even be sure which alderman voted which way: read more

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks to members of the press, June 27, 2013.

How not to respond to a terrorist attack

01/08/15 12:31PM

It's understandable that different people are going to respond to a horrible tragedy in different ways, but watching Republican senators react to the terrorist attack in Paris yesterday did not help inspire confidence in the new GOP majority.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) took a swing at President Barack Obama in the aftermath of the terrorist attack Wednesday in Paris that left 12 dead.
The dig came in Grassley's trademark bizarro Twitter-speak: "President Obama sez no more war on terror Is attack on Paris newspaper just a domEstic Crime?"
Remember, Chuck Grassley isn't just some random guy popping off on social media about an issue he doesn't fully understand -- the Iowa Republican is the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Just hours after learning of a deadly attack in Paris, the six-term senator's initial thoughts turned to whether or not President Obama prefers to use the phrase "war on terror."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also saw the murders in Paris as reason to consider Obama's rhetoric. "The president of the United States tiptoes around the threats we face and he is trying to diminish the religious aspect of this war," the senator said on a conservative radio show. "Why? I don't know."
Around the same time, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), himself a committee chair, also complained in a statement, "The terrorists see the U.S. retreating from the world and they see a president unwilling to be a world leader."
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, added he's confident in U.S. intelligence agencies, but went on to say, "My only concern is that the language that [Obama} has used does not adequately convey to the American people how severe the threat is."
Yep, his "only concern" has to do with presidential word choice.

Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.8.15

01/08/15 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:
* Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) announced this morning that she will retire at the end of her term next year. Anticipating the news, California Democrats are already tripping over each other to position themselves for a statewide campaign.
* Due to a quirk in state election law, Vermont's gubernatorial election was decided this morning by the state House, which easily re-elected incumbent Gov. Peter Shunlin (D), who narrowly won a plurality of Vermonters' votes in November.
* Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is staffing up in advance of his presidential campaign, recently hiring Rick Wiley, "a former Republican National Committee political director and veteran of multiple presidential campaigns." Wiley will reportedly be Walker's campaign manager.
* Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), apparently eager to avoid Mitt Romney's mistakes, is "prepared to make an early disclosure of a decade or more of personal tax returns."
* Who's ready to pander shamelessly to his party's far-right base? This guy: "Looking to connect with the conservative base of his Republican Party, Sen. Marco Rubio says he is sympathetic to Americans who 'feel as if we are being taken advantage of' by immigrants in the United States illegally."
* In Indiana, will Gov. Mike Pence (R) be legally able to run for re-election and run for president at the same time? Apparently not.
A Tea Party member reaches for a pamphlet titled "The Impact of Obamacare", at a "Food for Free Minds Tea Party Rally" in Littleton, New Hampshire in this October 27, 2012. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

Republicans plow forward with misguided ACA 'fix'

01/08/15 10:54AM

It's actually difficult to put together a health care bill that adds to the deficit and reduces coverage at the same time. Usually policies do one or the other.
Congressional Republicans, however, are unusually bad at crafting sensible proposals in this area. It's comparable to someone going on a diet and going out of their way to find foods that have too many calories and taste terrible.
In this case, the issue is an Affordable Care Act provision that requires many employers to provide health care coverage to full-time employees -- and the law defines "full time" as those working 30 hours a week or more. Republicans desperately want to move that threshold to 40 hours a week, and yesterday, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office sketched out what would happen if GOP lawmakers got their way.
A bipartisan measure changing ObamaCare's definition of full-time work would raise the deficit by $53.2 billion over 10 years and move up to 1 million people into government sponsored health insurance, congressional budget analysts said Wednesday.
The projection from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) poses a messaging challenge to Republican supporters of the measure who are using it as their first attack on the healthcare law this Congress.... The number of uninsured would also increase by less than 500,000, the CBO said.
Well, it might cause a messaging challenge if Republican lawmakers cared even the slightest bit about substantive policy analyses. [Update 4:33 p.m.: The bill passed the House this afternoon, 252-172. Literally zero Republicans voted against it.]
Remember, GOP lawmakers were told yesterday that their proposal would cut off insurance for hundreds of thousands of Americans, while costing taxpayers more money. They were also told the day before that President Obama will, without question, veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.
Confronted with that reality, House Republicans are proceeding anyway, not because it's a good bill -- even conservative media doesn't see the point -- but because GOP lawmakers consider their bad bill ideologically satisfying.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (R) speaks with Speaker of the House John Beohner (R-OH) in Washington in 2012.

GOP lawmakers hit the ground running to the far-right

01/08/15 10:09AM

In the weeks immediately following the 2014 midterm elections, there was an enormous amount of talk about the need to avoid "poisoning the well." The point seemed to be, policymakers should be cautious about picking political fights in order to avoid partisan rancor in the new Congress.
Clearly, those concerns have been thrown out a Capitol Hill window.
House Democrats on Wednesday knocked down a GOP bill that would have delayed a key Wall Street reform known as the Volcker Rule, stunning Republican leaders who had expected it to pass with ease. [...]
The bill would have allowed banks to hang onto billions of dollars in risky collateralized loan obligations for two additional years by amending the Volcker Rule, which is part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. The rule bans banks from speculating in securities markets with taxpayer funds, requiring them to dump their CLO holdings. A Volcker Rule delay would be a major boon to the nation's largest banks.
Note, a majority of the House voted for the measure, but because Republican leaders brought the bill up under the suspension calendar, it needed a two-thirds majority to pass. It fell far short.
There are a few ways to look at yesterday's failure. The first, of course, is that House Republican leaders still haven't mastered the art of vote-counting. The second is that GOP lawmakers clearly remain committed to using their power to do Wall Street's bidding.
But even putting that aside, let's not miss the forest for the trees: on only the second day of the new Congress, House Republicans immediately turned their attention to a controversial proposal, backed by financial-industry lobbyists. These guys really aren't wasting any time.
Indeed, it's amazing to see just how aggressive the new Republican majority has been since taking its oath of office on Tuesday.
Colorado Springs police officers investigate the scene of an explosion Jan. 6, 2015, at Mr. G's Hair Salon at 603 S. El Paso Street in Colorado Springs, Colo.

John Lewis shines spotlight on attempted Colorado violence

01/08/15 09:12AM

The investigation continues this week into the failed detonation of an improvised explosive device in Colorado Springs, and yesterday, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) made a point to shine a spotlight on the incident.
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a leader during the civil rights movement, said he was "deeply troubled" by the Tuesday detonation of an explosive device outside of a building in Colorado that houses a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
"It reminds me of another period. These stories cannot be swept under the rug," he said in a tweet.
The FBI has taken the lead in the investigation and is reportedly looking for "a balding white man in his 40s who may be driving a dirty pickup truck which could have an open tailgate or a missing or covered license plate."
As KUSA, Denver's NBC affiliate, reported last night, investigators consider this a possible act of domestic terrorism, but they have not yet determined whether the NAACP offices were specifically targeted.
The same report noted that the explosive device "was placed next to a gasoline can and detonated, but the gas didn't ignite and the explosion caused only 'minimal' damage."
This is obviously a story worth watching closely, and if there's reason to believe the NAACP was targeted for by a domestic terrorist, a serious public conversation should ensue.

Jobless claims inch lower, remain below 300k

01/08/15 08:38AM

As the new year gets underway, initial unemployment claims have not yet returned to the great numbers we saw in October, but all things considered, the latest data isn't bad at all.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits at the end of the year fell slightly and remained below the key 300,000 mark ... offering more proof that the labor market is still on the upswing. Initial jobless claims dropped to 294,000 in the seven days ended Jan. 2 from an unrevised 298,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists polled by MarketWatch had expected claims to total a seasonally adjusted 290,000.
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, inched down by 250 to 290,500. The four-week average smoothens out seasonal volatility in the weekly report and is seen as a more accurate predictor 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 16 of the last 17 weeks.
The US Capitol dome is seen on Capitol Hill on Jan. 5, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

Will Paris attack alter congressional GOP plans?

01/08/15 08:00AM

Yesterday's terrorism in Paris, and the ensuing manhunt for the attackers, obviously represents an important crisis in France, but the violence has garnered attention around the world. For those of us who follow domestic politics, there's an unanswered question about the effects yesterday's attack may have on Capitol Hill.
It was, after all, just last month when Congress approved a spending package for the federal government with an important caveat: at the demand of far-right lawmakers, the budget for the Department of Homeland Security was put in limbo.
Republicans, outraged by President Obama's immigration policy, weren't able to force a government shutdown, but they did lay the groundwork for a February showdown: if the White House doesn't back away from its immigration plan, GOP lawmakers are prepared to effectively shut down much of the Homeland Security operations.
Given yesterday's terrorism, and fears of related violence, are Republicans still prepared to follow through on their partisan threats? A reporter posed that question to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) at a press conference yesterday.
"Listen, I said what happened over there [in Paris] reminds us that we should be vigilant. There are terrorists around the world who are intent on killing Americans and other freedom-loving individuals around the country. I believe that the president's executive actions with regard to immigration are outside of the Constitution and outside of his powers.
"And I believe that we can deal with that issue in the Department of Homeland Security bill without jeopardizing the security of our country."
On that last point, officials at the Department of Homeland Security disagree, warning lawmakers that a partial shutdown would undermine the department's operations.
Of course, there's often a difference between what Boehner is willing to say and what Boehner is willing to do, so it's an open question whether Republicans intend to follow through, putting DHS funding in jeopardy a month after a Parisian attack, even during a military campaign targeting ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told Fox News yesterday, "The juxtaposition would be terrible -- a terrorist slaughter in Paris and U.S. cuts back on Homeland Security funding."

Manhunt in France and other headlines

01/08/15 07:37AM

Two suspects still at large after Paris massacre. (New York Times)

Paris massacre suspects are said to have robbed a gas station in northern France. (BBC)

In new role in Senate, Democrats grind gears. (New York Times)

Sens. Cruz, McConnell vie for influence over GOP Senate freshmen. (The Hill)

House GOP plots immigration strategy. (Politico)

NJ Gov. Chris Christie's reelection campaign gets subpoenaed. (Wall Street Journal)

First day of Colorado legislative session targets gun, abortion laws. (Colorado Springs Gazette)

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