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Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, Dec. 10, 2013.

New Budget Committee chief: time for a new debt-ceiling standoff

12/15/14 09:15AM

Almost immediately after the 2014 elections, the conventional wisdom among much of the Beltway media was that power would change Republicans for the better. By taking control of both chambers of Congress, the argument went, GOP lawmakers would have no choice but to become a responsible governing party. They would prove, at long last, that they're capable of acting like grown-ups.
 
Just one month later, there's already ample evidence that those assumptions about Republican maturity were completely wrong.
Republican Tom Price, the incoming House Budget Committee chairman, said his party could demand steep spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling next year, the most provocative comments by a senior GOP member to date on how negotiations could play out.
 
The Georgia congressman, during an hour-long briefing with reporters Friday, said the expected mid-2015 debate over whether to raise or suspend the debt ceiling offered Republicans an opportunity to make a sizable imprint on government policy.
The far-right Georgian added that he wants to see Republicans bring back the so-called "Boehner rule" -- an arbitrary policy that demands a dollar in cuts for every dollar increase in the debt limit -- that even Republicans recognized as ridiculous a couple of years ago.
 
"I prefer to think about it as opportunities and pinch points," Price said, apparently using "pinch points" as a euphemism for "causing deliberate national harm."
 
It's worth emphasizing that Price isn't some random, fringe figure, shouting from the sidelines -- the Georgia Republican next month will fill Paul Ryan's shoes as chairman of the House Budget Committee.
 
In other words, it matters that Price envisions a strategy in which Republicans threaten to hurt Americans on purpose unless Democrats meet the GOP's demands.
 
That said, Price would be wise to start lowering expectations -- his intention to create a deliberate crisis will almost certainly fail.
Dick Cheney attends an event, Nov. 22, 2013, in New York, NY.

Cheney: 'I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective'

12/15/14 08:35AM

When NBC announced late last week that former Vice President Dick Cheney would be the lead guest on yesterday's "Meet the Press," it was easy to start imagining exactly how the interview would go. Cheney would do what he always does: celebrate torture and apologize for nothing.
 
But it's one thing to expect the worst; it's something else to actually see the worst play out on national television. Irin Carmon noted yesterday:
Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday budged not an inch in his defense of the CIA torture program – even when it came to people who were falsely detained. And he reiterated that, given the chance, that he would do it all again. [...]
 
Each time Cheney was asked to weigh in on the grisly tactics, he pivoted instead to American citizens dying on the September 11 terrorist attacks.
That's not an exaggeration, by the way. Host Chuck Todd didn't ask any questions about 9/11, but looking at the transcript, I count at least 12 direct references to the 2001 attack in response to inquiries about torture.
 
Indeed, when Todd asked Cheney how he defines the word torture -- an excellent question under the circumstances -- Cheney referred only to the terrorism of 9/11.
 
At least for me, the most striking exchange came when the former V.P. was asked about a detainee who died after CIA abuse, who was only taken into custody as the result of mistaken identity.
Ted Cruz walks to participate in a cloture vote, Feb. 12, 2014.

Senate Dems find an unwitting ally in Ted Cruz

12/15/14 08:00AM

As the dust settled on Saturday's drama in the U.S. Senate, there was one bottom-line result: Congress approved a $1.1 trillion spending package -- the so-called "CRomnibus" -- that funds most federal operations through the end of the fiscal year. The final vote in the upper chamber was 56 to 40, and President Obama will sign the bill into law.
 
But it's what happened before the vote that people will be talking about for a while.
 
As of Friday night, it appeared the Senate leadership in both parties had reached an agreement on the schedule: members would vote on the spending package on Monday, and if Democrats were lucky, they might get a few confirmation votes in before the Senate recessed for the year. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters, "See you Monday" on his way out the door late Friday.
 
As msnbc's Benjy Sarlin reported, however, that was before a couple of far-right senators hatched a plan of their own.
Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are facing a backlash of their own from Republican colleagues after scuttling a deal between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow lawmakers to leave town over the weekend and vote on the bill Monday.
 
The agreement between the leaders required the unanimous consent of members, but an unsuccessful attempt by Lee and Cruz on Friday to force a vote on a measure to defund President Obama's recent executive action on immigration upended their plan.
The result was an extraordinary gift to Democrats, handed to them by unwitting allies: two conservative Republicans who plainly didn't know what they were doing.

Hostage situation and other headlines

12/15/14 07:24AM

Gunman holding hostages inside a chocolate shop in Sydney, Australia. (NBC News)

Britain to seek access to CIA torture report. (AP)

NYPD to reevaluate its approach to protests at a meeting today. (NY Times)

After passing the spending bill this weekend, Sen. Harry Reid sets plans in motion to confirm surgeon-general nominee. (Washington Post)

See which Senate committee seats Democrats will lose in January. (Politico)

Botched execution described as 'a bloody mess,' court filing shows. (Tulsa World)

David Koch speaks. (ABC News)

American man illegally in North Korea says he's not detained. (AP)

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Week in Geek: Physics by the swimming pool

12/14/14 12:26PM

Next time you're hanging by the pool, start throwing around words like: angular momentum, friction, and vortex lines, because science is everywhere. "Physics Girl" Dianna Cowern shows you how it all works, with a trick involving a simple dinner plate. read more

Some of the biology textbooks, Sept. 10, 2003.

This Week in God, 12.13.14

12/13/14 09:45AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a curious lawsuit out of Kansas, where a conservative group went to federal court with an odd argument about science and religion.
 
An organization that calls itself Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE) argued that evolutionary biology should be prohibited in public-school science classes because, as the group's members see it, evolution is part of a "non-theistic" religious agenda. As the Associated Press reported this week, the lawsuit didn't fare well: a federal judge threw the case out.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree ruled that a nonprofit group, parents and taxpayers challenging the standards did not claim specific enough injuries from adoption of the guidelines to allow the case to go forward.
 
The State Board of Education last year adopted standards developed by Kansas, 25 other states and the National Research Council. The guidelines treat both evolution and climate change as key scientific concepts to be taught from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Raw Story's report noted that COPE characterized the science standards as unacceptable because they lead "impressionable" students "into the religious sphere by leading them to ask ultimate questions like what is the cause and nature of life in the universe -- 'where do we come from?'"
 
I'm not sure why that necessarily has to be a theological question, but COPE didn't ask me.
 
Crabtree, an Obama-appointed judge, said the conservative plaintiffs asserted only an "abstract stigmatic injury" that isn't enough to sustain a lawsuit.
 
I suppose Citizens for Objective Public Education deserves some credit for creativity -- it's true that public schools are required to remain neutral in matters of faith -- but going to court to block science lessons in science classes was, to put it charitably, a longshot. The group doesn't have to like modern biology, but trying to label it a religion isn't going to work.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
Senate leaves spending bill for next week

Senate leaves spending bill and more for next week

12/12/14 09:44PM

Frank Thorpe, NBC News Senate producer, talks with Rachel Maddow about the chances for passage of the "CRomnibus" spending bill now in the Senate and what the schedule looks like as Senators abandon the idea of finishing business before the weekend. watch

Coburn blocks veteran suicide prevention bill

Tom Coburn blocking veteran suicide prevention bill

12/12/14 09:30PM

Richard and Susan Selke, the mother and stepfather of Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Clay Hunt, talk with Rachel Maddow about the features of a bill named for their son, designed to help prevent veteran suicides, and why Senator Coburn is blocking it. watch

Police misconduct protests unrelenting

No let-up in protests over police misconduct

12/12/14 09:20PM

Rachel Maddow reports that contrary to the expectations of certain Fox News hosts, protests over police misconduct have not subsided since a grand jury returned a no-indictment ruling in the Eric Garner case. Many protests are planned for the weekend. watch

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