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Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., joined by attorneys Paul D. Clement, far left, and Rick Esenberg, second from left, announces that he has filed a lawsuit to block the federal government from helping to pay for health care coverage for members of Congress and th

An 'unfortunate political stunt' gets thrown out of court

04/15/15 03:56PM

In January 2014, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was so eager to demonstrate his opposition to the Affordable Care Act that he filed a deeply strange lawsuit against "Obamacare": he wanted to make coverage more expensive for people who work on Capitol Hill. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Johnson's home state of Wisconsin, said at the time that the senator's lawsuit was "frivolous" and an "unfortunate political stunt."
In July 2014, a federal district judge threw Johnson's case out of court. This morning, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, an appeals court also blew off the Republican senator's misguided case.
A federal appeals panel sided with a lower court Tuesday to throw out a lawsuit over Obamacare brought by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and one of his aides.
Johnson's suit attempted to force members of Congress and their staffs to stop getting subsidies for their health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, which is widely known as Obamacare.
The 7th Circuit's decision, which was unanimous, is online here (pdf).
As we discussed last summer, the problem here has always been one of "standing": how would the Republican senator demonstrate that he's been harmed by the health care policy he doesn't like? When filing a lawsuit challenging the legality of a law, it's not enough for plaintiffs to say, "I don't like it." Johnson had to demonstrate that he'd been adversely affected by ACA benefits.
The far-right senator's lawyers rolled out a creative line -- coverage for congressional staff led to Johnson's "damaged political reputation," according to the suit -- which has now failed miserably.
And which, ironically, has damaged Johnson's political reputation.
President Barack Obama laughs with former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, April 25, 2013.

Forgetting the not-so-distant past

04/15/15 12:48PM

Perhaps no portion of Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) presidential kickoff speech was more memorable than this:
"While our people and economy are pushing the boundaries of the 21st century, too many of our leaders and their ideas are stuck in the 20th century.
"They are busy looking backward, so they do not see how jobs and prosperity today depend on our ability to compete in a global economy. So our leaders put us at a disadvantage by taxing, borrowing and regulating like it's 1999."
It may have been some kind of attempt at a Prince joke, but Rubio couldn't have picked a worse point of comparison. As Roll Call noted yesterday, "The problem with the senator's statement is that the government is neither taxing, nor borrowing, nor regulating like it did in 1999."
In 1999, the U.S. economy was still in the midst of a Clinton-era boom. We had higher taxes, faster growth, and lower unemployment. What's more, we weren't "borrowing" at all -- by 1999, the deficit had disappeared entirely and the nation was running a large surplus.
As we talked about yesterday, Rubio sees 1999 as some kind of dystopia to be avoided, but by any sane metric, those were economic conditions America should strive for, not avoid.
But the Florida Republican's remarks came just days after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) argued, "The last president we had was Ronald Reagan that said we're going to dramatically cut tax rates. And guess what? More revenue came in, but tens of millions of jobs were created." None of this is even remotely true.
The week before, George Will mis-remembered Reagan's jobs record. A few weeks prior, Gov. Scott Walker (R) argued that Reagan firing air-traffic controllers was "the most significant foreign policy decision" of his lifetime -- which is plainly ridiculous.
Taken together, a common thread starts to emerge: prominent Republican leaders have no real memory of the 1980s and 1990s. It's like some kind of mass amnesia has taken root in GOP circles.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.15.15

04/15/15 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:
* As if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) didn't have enough troubles, a poll out this week found that nearly 70% of his own constituents say he would not make a good president. A 58% majority of Garden State residents say "presidential" does not describe the governor "at all."
* How wide open is the race for the Republican presidential nomination? A USA Today/Suffolk University Poll released yesterday found every candidate in single digits. Scott Walker narrowly led the field with 9% support, followed by Jeb Bush at 8% and Ted Cruz at 7%. Rand Paul was fourth with 5%.
* Jake Tapper reminded Marco Rubio yesterday, "You are casting yourself as a candidate of a new generation. But there is an issue where you are very out of step with younger voters, even younger Republican voters. On that issue, same-sex marriage, senator, you're the candidate of yesterday."
* Around the same time, Fox News' Andrea Tantaros argued that Hillary Clinton may have had lunch at Chipotle this week as part of "Hispanic outreach."
* Where was Rand Paul when he skipped all of those Senate Homeland Security Committee hearings? BuzzFeed took a closer look. In most instances, it seems the senator blew off official business to appear on TV or to attend fundraisers.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greets supporters at George Washington University in Washington on June 13, 2014.

Why the GOP can't turn Clinton into Romney

04/15/15 11:23AM

The fact that Hillary Clinton has no competitive rival for the Democratic nomination offers the candidate plenty of benefits. She won't have to worry about spending tens of millions of dollars, for example, to overcome intra-party competitors. Clinton can also keep an eye on Election Day, effectively running a 19-month general-election campaign.
But the downsides are equally obvious -- most notably the fact that there will be a massive field of Republican candidates, each of whom will spend every day of their campaigns taking shots in Clinton's direction. Every Republican committee, PAC, super PAC, oppo firm, and allied entities won't have to divide their attention or resources. They'll have one enemy.
They'll of course have to settle on a line of attack, and if this Politico report yesterday is correct, Republicans seem to be on the wrong track.
A consensus is forming within the Republican Party that the plan of attack against Hillary Clinton should be of a more recent vintage, rooted in her accumulation of wealth and designed to frame her as removed from the concerns of average Americans. [...]
The out-of-touch plutocrat template is a familiar one: Democrats used it to devastating effect against Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. While Hillary Clinton's residences in New York and Washington may not have car elevators, there's still a lengthy trail of paid speeches, tone-deaf statements about the family finances and questions about Clinton family foundation fundraising practices that will serve as cornerstones of the anti-Clinton messaging effort.
The headline said the Republicans' plan is to "turn Hillary into Mitt Romney."
Right off the bat, it's hard not to appreciate the dramatic shift in GOP thinking. In 2012, when Democrats rolled out the "out-of-touch plutocrat" line of criticism, Republicans spent months in fainting-couch apoplexy. Democrats are engaging in "class warfare," they said. Democrats are "trying to divide the nation," voters were told. Democrats are "condemning success," GOP operatives insisted.
Three years later, however, these same Republicans suddenly want to adopt Democratic talking points as their own? It's almost as if the pushback in defense of Romney was insincere.
But that's really just the start of the problem.
Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) addresses the American Conservative Union's 42nd Annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., Feb. 27, 2015. (Photo by Pete Marovich/EPA)

Rubio tries to thread a needle on immigration

04/15/15 10:49AM

When Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sat down this week with NPR's Steve Inskeep, the Republican senator said immigration reform is effectively dead, at least until 2017, because President Obama acted on his own. It led to this interesting exchange:
INSKEEP: How do you keep from getting hammered on that in a general election where the Hispanic vote may be very important?
RUBIO: Well, I don't know about the others, but I've done more immigration than Hillary Clinton ever did. I mean, I helped pass an immigration bill in a Senate dominated by Democrats. And that's more than she's ever done. She's given speeches on it, but she's never done anything on it. So I have a record of trying to do something on it. It didn't work because at the end of the day, we did not sufficiently address the issue of, of illegal immigration and I warned about that throughout that process, as well, that I didn't think we were doing enough to give that bill a chance of moving forward in the House.
This, in a nutshell, illustrates why immigration is effectively a Mobius strip for Rubio's presidential campaign. We've seen candidates try to have it both ways on a controversial issue, but on immigration, the Florida Republican is basically trying to maintain several positions at once, most of which contradict each other.
Rubio helped write a bipartisan reform bill. Then he criticized it. Then he voted for it. Then he abandoned it. Now he's running against it, while bragging about having worked on it.
Even the most charitable supporter of the senator would find it tough to describe this approach as coherent. (And his claim that the bill didn't "sufficiently address" the issue of illegal immigration is plainly at odds with the facts.)
As for the comparison with Hillary Clinton, it's true that she was Secretary of State during the legislative fight, and not in a position to participate in the debate. But at this point, only one announced presidential candidate actually supports the reform package Marco Rubio helped write -- and it's not Marco Rubio.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie delivers a speech at an event in Rolling Meadows, Ill., on Feb. 12, 2015. (Photo by Jim Young/Reuters)

Christie sees bluster, bravado as a credible foreign policy

04/15/15 10:01AM

Last year, just a few days after Russian forces entered Crimea, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was asked for his perspective on the developments. It didn't go well -- the New York Times reported that the governor, "usually known for his oratorical sure-footedness, offered a wobbly reply, displaying little grasp of the facts."
One of the Republican activists in the room described Christie's response as "disturbingly heavy on swagger and light on substance." Another called it "uncomfortable to watch."
The New Jersey governor's pitch, in effect, was that Vladimir Putin wouldn't take such provocative steps if Christie were president because the Russian leader would be so intimidated by his bluster. "I don't believe, given who I am, that he would make the same judgment," Christie said.
This underwhelming posture was, in fairness, several months ago, and Christie has been taking lessons on how to talk and think about foreign policy since. With this in mind, Hugh Hewitt posed a related question to the governor yesterday.
HEWITT: How do you think you could stand up against the Russian autocrat and his PRC counterparts?
CHRISTIE: How do you think, Hugh?
HEWITT: (laughing)
CHRISTIE: I mean, you know...
HEWITT: I just ask the questions, Governor.
CHRISTIE: Listen, most of the time, you know, you'll see a lot of people in the media who criticize me for being too tough, and being too direct and too blunt. Let me put it this way. My view is this. There would be no misunderstandings between me and any foreign leaders if I decided to run for president and was elected. Our allies would know that I would stand firmly with them without reservation, and our adversaries would know that this United States under that leadership would stand firmly opposed to those things which we believe are contrary to American interests.... There would be no misunderstandings between Mr. Putin and I if I were president.
In other words, very little has changed. Christie still genuinely seems to believe foreign-policy challenges can be resolved with bravado and tough-guy posturing.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,speaks with reporters in the Capitol on June 10, 2014, in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

McCain's dilemma: trust Ayatollah or trust U.S. officials?

04/15/15 09:19AM

When Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei disagreed with the U.S. interpretation of the recently negotiated nuclear framework last week, the White House was quick to dismiss the posturing. Congressional Republicans weren't so sure.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), in particular, seemed to endorse the Ayatollah's credibility over the U.S. Secretary of State's. "I think you're going to find out that they had never agreed to the things that John Kerry claimed that they had," McCain said Friday.
Yesterday, as Sahil Kapur reported, McCain went a little further.
One of the ironic things about the Iran nuclear deal is that it has left skeptics torn over whether to trust Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei against the word of the United States government. [...]
"The fact is there are stark differences between John Kerry's version of what this agreement is, and what the ayatollah -- who doesn't stand for election -- says about what the agreement is," McCain told a scrum of reporters Tuesday in the Capitol.
Asked if he considered the Iran supreme leader's version of the truth more believable than the American version, McCain added, "I don't know... I don't know who's more believable."
Just so we're clear, the Republican senator could trust American officials -- including John Kerry, his friend and former colleague -- or the ayatollah. McCain freely admits he feels torn on the matter.
This really is bizarre. For years, McCain and others have argued that Iran is led by radical and dangerous madmen who were not to be trusted under any circumstances. But when Iranian leaders disagree with the Obama administration, GOP leaders effectively respond, "Well, let's not dismiss rhetoric out of Tehran too quickly."
Republican contempt for President Obama is intense, but it was hard to predict John McCain would go quite this far in his skepticism of U.S. officials.

Congress actually does something

04/15/15 08:41AM

After the Republican gains in the 2010 midterms, Congress has fallen on hard times. The legislative branch has had no meaningful legislative accomplishments in over four years, and congressional productivity has dropped to lows unseen in modern American history. As the public respect for the institution deteriorates, it's been hard to watch.
It's also why it was such a pleasant surprise to see Congress actually do something.
The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved sweeping changes in the way Medicare pays doctors, clearing the bill for President Obama and resolving an issue that has bedeviled Congress and the Medicare program for more than a decade.
The 92-to-8 vote in the Senate, following passage in the House last month by a vote of 392 to 37, was a major success for Republicans, who devised a solution to a complex policy problem that had frustrated lawmakers of both parties. Mr. Obama has endorsed the bill, saying it "could help slow health care cost growth."
At the risk of sounding ungenerous, I'm not sure I'd call it a "major success for Republicans," so much as this was a rare example of bipartisan policymaking. Far-right GOP lawmakers still opposed the compromise, but their objections were not enough to derail the deal.
The details of the package get a little wonky -- readers can revisit our coverage from March to get an overview -- but the underlying point is to resolve the "doc fix" problem that has annoyed lawmakers for years, ask high-income seniors to pay a little more for their Medicare coverage, and extend funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program, which was facing a dangerous cliff this year, for two additional years.
In the bigger picture, this compromise is easily the most significant health care legislation approved by Congress since the Affordable Care Act passed more than five years ago, and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say it's the biggest legislative accomplishment for Congress in over four years.
What's more, let's not overlook how this happened: House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) approached House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and effectively said, "Let's try to work something out here." And they did.
The question then becomes: maybe this can happen again?
Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) speaks during a roundtable discussion with students and educators on April 14, 2015 in Monticello, Iowa. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Clinton's platform comes into focus, including some surprises

04/15/15 08:00AM

The conventional wisdom suggests Hillary Clinton, lacking a credible primary rival, will effectively run a general-election campaign for the next year and a half. The Democratic frontrunner, who's never been the most liberal member of the party, will have the luxury of aiming for the center, much to the chagrin of the party's progressive base.
But as Clinton's campaign gets underway this week, it may be time to reassess those assumptions. Joy-Ann Reid reported from Iowa yesterday:
Clinton ... articulated four pillars of her still-to-come campaign platform; four "big fights" she foresees on the horizon: building "the economy of tomorrow, not yesterday," strengthening families and communities, fixing "our dysfunctional political system and get[ting] unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment," and protect[ing] our country from the threats that we see, and the ones that are on the horizon."
According to a transcript made available to reporters by a campaign aide, Clinton struck a pretty populist tone during her remarks at Kirkwood Community College, emphasizing her concern that the "deck is still stacked in favor of those already at the top."
She added, "There's something wrong when CEOs make 300 times more than the typical worker. There's something wrong when American workers keep getting more productive, as they have, and as I just saw a few minutes ago is very possible because of education and skills training, but that productivity is not matched in their paychecks. And there's something wrong when hedge fund managers pay lower tax rates than nurses or the truckers that I saw on I-80 as I was driving here over the last two days."
For all the chatter about the left's suspicions of Clinton and the challenges she'll have in earning liberals' trust, it's worth appreciating the fact that her message yesterday was decidedly progressive -- and that's without the pressure of a primary challenger pushing her closer to party orthodoxy.
The one comment that arguably raised the most eyebrows was Clinton's reference to political reforms: "We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment."
It wasn't an explicit call for changing constitutional language, but for many reform activists, it was a high-profile near-endorsement -- and a pleasant surprise.
Rubio, Paul talk circles on gay rights

Rubio, Paul stumble taking two sides on gay rights

04/14/15 09:24PM

Rachel Maddow shows Marco Rubio and Rand Paul struggling to be appropriately anti-gay for their base without offending the more tolerant mainstream. Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary, talks about "trap door" questions on the campaign trail. watch

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 4.14.15

04/14/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* An unexpected breakthrough: "The Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved legislation granting Congress a voice in negotiations on the Iran nuclear accord, sending the once-controversial legislation to the full Senate after President Obama withdrew his opposition rather than face of a bipartisan rebuke."
* Greg Sargent walks through the political considerations of the compromise, which the White House has said the president is prepared to sign. (Sen. Bob Corker's gloating seems inappropriate and surprisingly immature given the circumstances and his position.)
* AQAP: "Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said Tuesday that one of its top leaders, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who had a $5 million bounty on his head, had been killed in an American drone strike. AQAP, al Qaeda's branch in Yemen, issued a statement mourning the cleric, Ibrahim al-Rubeish."
* Yemen: "After weeks of closed-door negotiations between diplomats from Persian Gulf states and Russia, the Security Council on Tuesday imposed an arms embargo on the Houthi fighters battling for control of Yemen and left it to the secretary general to negotiate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemenis who have endured nearly three weeks of Saudi-led airstrikes."
* Tick tock: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he is "optimistic and hopeful" the chamber will approve the $200 billion "doc fix" bill just in time to prevent double-digit cuts to Medicare doctors."
* What passes for progress: "More than three months into the new Congress, Senate Republicans held their first vote on one of President Barack Obama's judicial nominees on Monday evening."
* Boehner-brand hardball: "Remember when two Florida Republican representatives voted against John A. Boehner for speaker and got themselves removed from the House Rules Committee? They haven't been reinstated -- but they have been replaced."


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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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