Rachel Maddow reports that Democratic Mark Begich of Alaska has conceded defeat in his race against Republican Dan Sullivan, leaving just one Senate race left unresolved in the midterm elections. watch
Rachel Maddow shares new reporting on a system set up by Republicans to use Twitter to share campaign information indirectly so as not to violate rules about candidates collaborating with outside groups. watch
John Stanton, Buzzfeed DC bureau chief, talks with Rachel Maddow about the extent to which Republican animosity toward President Obama biases them against policies, like immigration reform, that they might otherwise support. watch
* ISIS: "Intelligence officials were on Sunday investigating a video purportedly posted online by ISIS that claims to show that captured U.S. aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig has been killed. The propaganda video, whose authenticity has not been verified by NBC News, features a masked militant with a British accent standing over a severed head."
* Obama called the murder "an act of pure evil": "President Obama on Sunday confirmed the death of the aid worker, Peter Kassig, a former Army Ranger who disappeared more than a year ago at a checkpoint in northeastern Syria while delivering medical supplies."
* Another Ebola tragedy: "By the time Martin Salia, a surgeon who died after contracting the Ebola virus while working in Sierra Leone, arrived in the U.S. he had "no kidney function and was unresponsive" said doctors scrambling - ultimately unsuccessfully to save his life at a Nebraska isolation facility equipped for treating Ebola patients."
* Ferguson: "Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed an executive order on Monday activating the state's National Guard to provide support for the 'unified command,' which consists of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Louis County Police Department and St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. The statement released by the governor's office referenced an expected grand jury announcement as coming 'later this month.'"
* Nigeria: "The Nigerian government said it has driven Boko Haram out of Chibok, the town where the militants had kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in April. Boko Haram had returned to Chibok and seized it last Thursday along with several other towns. But just two days later Nigerian security forces flushed out the militants and restored control of the area, Presidential Spokesperson Reuben Abati told NBC News."
* Maybe he should have focused more on growth: "Japan's economy unexpectedly fell into recession in the third quarter, a painful slump that called into question efforts by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to pull the country out of nearly two decades of deflation."
* He'll need all the support he can get: "Senate Democratic leaders wrote a letter on Monday pledging strong support for President Barack Obama using his executive authority to temporarily shield some groups of undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation."
* NFL: "The Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions were among the National Football League teams subjected to surprise inspections by Drug Enforcement Administration agents Sunday as part of a months-long federal investigation into the way NFL teams store, prescribe, track and distribute controlled substances."
There's frequently a challenge associated with scrutinizing Ron Fournier's columns. On the one hand, his commentary is often emblematic of a misguided train of thought that warrants a serious rebuttal, lest others take his analysis seriously.
On the other hand, my fear is the political world's near-constant exasperation with the rigid ideologue becomes self-defeating -- people criticize Fournier's persistently disappointing work, which draws attention to Fournier's work, which leads to clicks and pageviews, which leads the editors and publishers at National Journal to think Fournier is doing a terrific job driving a spirited public conversation.
Indeed, though I can't be sure, I often wonder if the political columnist himself realizes at a certain level that that the more tedious his work is, the more attention he receives. It creates an unfortunate cycle: by highlighting Fournier's errors of fact and logic, we indirectly encourage Fournier to make more errors of fact and logic through a twisted system of incentives and rewards.
Having said all of that, let's grudgingly consider his latest column, "The Extraordinary Smallness of Washington," which includes what Matt Yglesias referred to as "the worst two paragraphs about American politics you'll read today."
On health care, we needed a market-driven plan that decreases the percentage of uninsured Americans without convoluting the U.S. health care system. Just such a plan sprang out of conservative think tanks and was tested by a GOP governor in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney.
Instead of a bipartisan agreement to bring that plan to scale, we got more partisan warfare. The GOP resisted, Obama surrendered his mantle of bipartisanship, and Democrats muscled through a one-sided law that has never been popular with a majority of the public.
This is a classic of the genre. For Fournier, bipartisanship is always right, even when it's wrong, and both sides are always to blame, even when blaming both sides is incoherent given reality.
In the case of health care, Fournier believes the nation needed a plan patterned after Mitt Romney's Massachusetts model, springing from Heritage Foundation research. We know, of course, that Fournier is describing the Affordable Care Act almost exactly. In effect, Fournier is both endorsing "Obamacare," describing it as the kind of plan Americans needed, while simultaneously dismissing the same law and those who "muscled through" the legislation.
With Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) facing a re-election runoff in Louisiana in a few weeks, Senate Democrats have apparently come up with a curious plan: they'll try to pass, at Landrieu's behest, her opponent's legislation to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
The legislation, championed by Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), passed the House on Friday, and Landrieu hopes to prove her efficacy as a lawmaker by pushing the bill through the Senate tomorrow. It's a dubious plan: Landrieu is championing a Republican bill written by her Senate runoff rival. She's also infuriating environmentalists and dividing the party in the wake of embarrassing national defeats.
Embattled Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and other supporters of building the Keystone XL pipeline appear to be one vote short of the 60 they need to win a key vote on the project on Tuesday.
Landrieu has 59 votes backing legislation to approve the project, and Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Angus King (I-Maine) appear to be her top targets to get to 60.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said yesterday Keystone backers are "one vote short," and that remains true this afternoon. Levin said today he intends to vote "no," and King is "leaning no." There was some chatter about Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) being open to persuasion, but he announced over the weekend that he's a "no," too.
For the sake of argument, let's say Landrieu finds her 60th vote and passes her opponent's bill. Is there any chance President Obama would sign it into law?
For Republicans, there is no bigger issue on the political landscape than President Obama taking executive actions on immigration. This one issue has driven GOP officials to raise the prospect of a government shutdown, presidential impeachment, and the defeat of every major legislative initiative of the next Congress.
But the problem Republicans can't quite get around is the fact that Obama's policy is likely to be awfully similar to what other modern presidents have done without incident.
We talked a bit about this on Friday, but a national report from the Associated Press has elevated this angle considerably.
President Barack Obama's anticipated order that would shield millions of immigrants now living illegally in the U.S. from deportation is not without precedent.
Two of the last three Republican presidents -- Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush -- did the same thing in extending amnesty to family members who were not covered by the last major overhaul of immigration law in 1986.
There was no political explosion then comparable to the one Republicans are threatening now.
Over the last several days, GOP officials have sought to draw a distinction between limited, targeted executive actions, intended to advance the nation's humanitarian and foreign policy goals, and the more sweeping policy Obama reportedly has in mind. And on this, the right has a compelling case to make -- or at least half of a compelling case.
The Clinton administration, for example, adopted a deferred-action policy towards a modest number of Salvadoran immigrants as a result of their country's civil war. The H.W. Bush administration took similar steps to protect Chinese students fearing persecution in 1990. The W. Bush administration issued an executive order expediting the naturalization process for green-card holders who enlisted in the United States military.
It's not unreasonable to argue these measures are qualitatively -- and quantitatively, for that matter -- different from the kind of actions the Obama White House reportedly has in mind. Those recent examples set a precedent, but their scope and scale is dissimilar.
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 Alaska's gubernatorial race, Bill Walker (I) defeated incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell (R), with the latter conceding the race over the weekend. Walker, who ran with a Democratic running mate, will be Alaska's first independent governor.
* In Alaska's U.S. Senate race, Sen. Mark Begich (D) still has not conceded -- the AP and NBC News both called the race late last week -- and apparent Sen.-elect Dan Sullivan (R) is on Capitol Hill seeking committee assignments for the next Congress.
* There were plenty of unresolved U.S. House races after Election Day, but of the 11 too-close-to-call contests that have been resolved over the last two weeks, Democrats have prevailed in all of them. That might take some of the sting off a rough year.
* Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has had some serious health issues during his first term in the Senate, but asked late last week about his future plans, the Republican replied, "No frickin' way am I retiring."
* On a related note, it's far too early to know who might take Kirk on in Illinois in 2016, but Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) has said she's "interested, open, and curious" about the race.
I actually remember the way Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) used to be, back when he boasted about being a "square peg" -- a label he used as a shorthand to say he doesn't always fit in.
The Utah Republican used to actually see value in cooperating with people with whom he disagreed, working with Democrats, for example, on stem-cell research, the DREAM Act, and S-CHIP.
But then he threw it all away. As Amanda Terkel reported, Hatch's remarks at the Federalist Society's annual conference are a reminder of the kind of politician he's become.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) came out swinging against Democrats Friday, telling a room of conservative lawyers that Republicans were ready to give the other party "a taste of their own medicine."
"Frankly, I intend to win with our candidate for the presidency in 2016, and we will give them a taste of their own medicine," said Hatch. "And we're going to win. We're going to win. These next two years are extremely important. Maybe the most important two years in our history."
"I get a big kick out of them using the word 'progressive,'" the senator said of Democrats. "My gosh, they're just straight old dumbass liberals anyway."
It wasn't too long ago that Hatch was positioned to become a rare statesman in Republican politics. But that was before his partisan Memorial Day tantrums, his occasional references to hitting people he doesn't like, and his juvenile whining about "dumbass liberals."
Those looking for GOP statesmanship will apparently have to look elsewhere.
On a related note, did you happen to catch Hatch's remarks about immigration reform?
It's the kind of tweet the typical person would be inclined to ignore: "CA-40/43-44/49-44/44-50/36-44/49-10/16/14-52-->49/476-10s." Without some kind of cypher or context, these numbers are indecipherable.
But as Chris Moody uncovered, tweets like these during the campaign season were actually part of a creative scheme to skirt election laws.
Republicans and outside groups used anonymous Twitter accounts to share internal polling data ahead of the midterm elections, CNN has learned, a practice that raises questions about whether they violated campaign finance laws that prohibit coordination.
The Twitter accounts were hidden in plain sight. The profiles were publicly available but meaningless without knowledge of how to find them and decode the information, according to a source with knowledge of the activities.
The tactic may seem complicated, but it's actually pretty straightforward. Republicans were effectively using fake Twitter accounts as a dead drop.
Let's say you're a Republican operative working for a campaign and I'm a Republican working for a like-minded super PAC. You have some important, costly polling data that would have a major impact on how I can help your candidate, but you can't share it with me directly -- under existing election laws, that would be considered illegal coordination.
What to do? In this case, you created a dummy Twitter account, where you published the data in a way no one would understand or even be able to look for. In the U.S. House race in California's 40th congressional district, for example, you'd publish a tweet that read, "CA-40/43-44/49-44/44-50/36-44/49-10/16/14-52-->49/476-10s."
I could then read the tweets, use my decoder ring to understand the data, and invest my super PAC money accordingly. If anybody asks, you could always say you just published those tweets -- publicly available to anyone -- and you have no control over who sees them or what they do with the information.
Is this clever? As schemes intended to circumvent federal laws go, sure. Is it legal? Well, that's tricky.
Republicans love Uber. Young urban voters love Uber. And Republicans hope that means young voters can learn to love the GOP.
Car-hailing and ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and others are wildly popular among wealthy, young, tech-savvy urbanites -- precisely the kind of voters that the Republican Party needs to win over to remain competitive in the long run. Those same services also just happen to be warring with government regulators in cities across the country over whether the upstarts are operating illegally as unlicensed taxi services.
Uber, Lyft and Airbnb have become mascots for a Republican Party looking to promote a new brand of free market conservatism while making inroads with young voters.
Though the companies were engineered in the Democratic bastion of Silicon Valley, Republicans seeking to promote their party as freedom-loving and tech savvy are latching on to them.
I'm afraid, however, that the love affair is poised to come to an abrupt halt. Republicans may love Uber, but Uber loves "Obamacare," suggesting the star-crossed lovers may have to agree to see other people.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), fresh off his six-point victory in this year's re-election campaign, appeared on msnbc the other day and offered a curious defense of his decision to reject Medicaid expansion.
During an appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Friday, Walker was asked whether his position stemmed from an "ideological criticism," and if he believes the handful of Republican governors implementing this provision of the health law are not "genuine conservatives."
The governor didn't explicitly answer that question, pointing out that every state has different needs. But he did offer a broader criticism of the public health program.
"Beyond that, I just ask the basic question: Why is more people on Medicaid a good thing?" he said. "I'd rather find a way, particularly for able-bodied adults without children, I'd like to find a way to get them into the workforce. I think ideologically, that's a better approach, not just as a conservative, but as an American. Have more people live the American dream if they're not dependent on the American government."
I can appreciate why governors like Walker find themselves in a tough position on this. On the one hand, Medicaid expansion is a no-brainer, which helps low-income families access medical care, improves state finances, and bolsters public hospitals. It's exactly why so many GOP governors, even in red states, have embraced the policy.
On the other hand, Republicans hold President Obama in contempt, and they're supposed to reject every aspect of "Obamacare."
But even under these circumstances, Walker's argument is just ridiculous.
Politicoreported over the weekend that Republican leaders, feeling exalted after a successful midterm cycle, are "facing a daunting reality: They are right where they left off."
Republican leaders wanted a quick and clean, drama-free lame duck session to kick off their new majority, but they find themselves heading toward a showdown over how to fund the government.
For much of 2014, GOP officials hoped voters would not see the Republican Party as the home of shutdown politics and impeachment threats, and yet, it's apparently mulling both, all because President Obama is poised to govern on immigration policy.
Let's tackle these one at a time. First, of course, is funding the government and preventing a shutdown after Dec. 11. A growing number of far-right lawmakers want to add language to a spending bill that would prevent the White House from taking executive actions on immigration, forcing a confrontation: either the president signs the bill that ties his hands or Republicans turn off the government's lights again.
In the House, GOP leaders want a clean, long-term spending bill that would prevent any shutdowns for at least a year, but top Republicans "begun to conclude that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to rally their caucus" behind the idea. Once again, rank-and-file conservatives just don't seem to care what House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his team want.
In the Senate, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) office is reportedly so "worried" about a possible standoff that "by Friday evening they were circulating a memo showing how damaging last year's shutdown was to the Republican Party -- an effort designed to counter conservatives who point to this month's triumphant election as proof that the shutdown did little damage."
If McConnell's office didn't see a shutdown as a real possibility, it wouldn't have bothered circulating a memo warning against it.
Indeed, Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) was asked yesterday on Fox News about the possibility of a shutdown, and the Republican conceded "we're having those discussions." What's more, just like the last GOP shutdown, Heritage Action is egging the pro-shutdown brigade on.
About a year ago at this time, the biggest political story in the nation was about, of all things, a website. The Affordable Care Act's healthcare.gov was supposed to be accessible to consumers, but to the delight of the law's conservative opponents, the site struggled badly for its first two months.
Republicans were gleeful. The media was transfixed. Pundits speculated that the website's troubles represented "Obama's Katrina" and threatened the future of progressive governance in America.
Of course, we now know that the problems were temporary; the website was fixed; and "Obamacare" enrollments exceeded all projections, succeeding in ways GOP lawmakers and their allies found horribly disappointing.
And as the new open-enrollment period gets underway, Republicans are being confronted with even more discouraging news: the system is working pretty well so far.
On the first day of enrollment for 2015 Obamacare plans, the federal insurance website was working well enough that 100,000 people submitted applications, U.S. health secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell reported.
It was a dramatic turnabout from 2013, when healthcare.gov collapsed on its first day of business, costing Burwell's predecessor her job. More than 500,000 visitors logged on to the site yesterday, Burwell said today on NBC's "Meet the Press."
The federal enrollment system opened at about 1:30 a.m. New York time [Saturday], and U.S. health officials reported no technical problems in the first 24 hours.
In fairness, there were sporadic reports of delays for some consumers, and one state found that consumers were receiving false information on premiums, but overall, they were more the exception than the rule. Those hoping for a new round of failure were left wanting -- the open-enrollment period progressing according to plan and is off to a fairly smooth start.
It's unrealistic to think this year's good news will generate the kind of attention last year's missteps received -- "Government program works exactly as intended, consumers happy and satisfied" isn't a front-page headline newspapers are eager to run -- but the White House can take some solace in the fact that this isn't a fire that will need extinguishing.
With this in mind, why does Fox News continue to insist the Affordable Care Act is "failing the public"?