It's not uncommon for people to think of a president as a sort of omnipotent king. When we see some state doing something offensive or outrageous, some Americans very likely wonder, "Why doesn't President Obama do something about this?"
The unsatisfying answer, of course, is that it's not really up to the White House to serve as a check on state actions, and the president often doesn't have the legal authority to prevent state officials from adopting misguided policies.
But once in a while, the federal executive branch can intervene to defend a president's priorities. The Washington Postreported this week, for example:
The Obama administration on Tuesday warned officials in all 50 states that actions to end Medicaid funding of Planned Parenthood may be out of compliance with federal law.
Ten states have taken action or recently passed legislation to cut off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood after antiabortion activists released covertly filmed video in the summer purporting to show that the women's health organization and abortion provider illegally sold fetal tissue for a profit. Planned Parenthood supporters have criticized the videos as deceptively edited, and multiple state investigations have turned up no wrongdoing on the part of the organization.
Courts have already rejected some state efforts related to Planned Parenthood, but the administration's letter was part reminder, part shot across state officials' bow. As the Post's piece added, under federal policy, "[T]erminating certain providers from Medicaid is only justifiable if those providers are unable to perform covered medical services or can't bill for those services. The guidance emphasizes that states cannot target providers for impermissible reasons and are required to treat similar types of providers equitably."
The Washington Monthly's Nancy LeTourneau added yesterday that states that choose to ignore the administration's reminder will likely jeopardize federal funding.
And while we're on the topic, let's not forget that we're not just talking about Planned Parenthood.
Raise your hand if you predicted last year that by mid-April 2016, one of the key points of contention between the top two Republican presidential candidates would be, of all things, bathrooms.
Ted Cruz went after Donald Trump on Thursday for saying transgender people should be able to use whichever bathroom they want.
"Have we gone stark-raving nuts?" Cruz said at a rally in Frederick, Maryland. [...]"Grown adult men -- strangers -- should not be alone in a bathroom with little girls," Cruz said.
The controversy, such as it is, apparently started with Trump's appearance on NBC's "Today" yesterday morning, when the Republican presidential frontrunner was asked about North Carolina's HB2 discrimination measure. Trump said the state went too far.
"North Carolina, what they're going through with all of the business that's leaving and all of the strife.... You leave it the way it is," the GOP candidate argued. "There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate." Referring to transgender people using the bathroom that matches their gender identity, Trump added, "There has been so little trouble," before marveling at the "economic punishment" North Carolina is experiencing.
Asked if he has transgender employees, the candidate said, "I really don't know. I probably do. I really don't know." Matt Lauer asked, "So if Caitlyn Jenner were to walk into Trump Tower and want to use the bathroom, you would be fine with her using any bathroom she chooses?"
Trump responded, "That is correct."
I'm not generally in the habit of agreeing with the Republican frontrunner, especially on matters related to respect for diversity, but his responses yesterday happened to be correct. It might have been the most sensible comments he's made since launching his campaign.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage's (R) ridiculous antics have made him something of a national laughingstock in recent years, with many observers inclined to laugh at his clownish behavior. But occasionally, the far-right governor's actions are more repulsive than funny.
The Portland Press Heraldreported yesterday, for example, on a LePage position that's likely to literally cost lives.
Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill Wednesday that would allow pharmacists to dispense an anti-overdose drug without a prescription, saying that allowing addicts to keep naloxone on hand "serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction."
The Legislature passed the bill "under the hammer" -- or unanimously without a roll call -- this month as part of lawmakers' attempts to address Maine's growing opioid addiction epidemic.
In a statement explaining his rationale, the Republican governor argued, "Naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose."
Note, this was a written statement, not an off-the-cuff comment made during a press conference or an interview. LePage actually thought about his specific position, and argued that a life-saving drug treatment that prevents overdoes "merely extends" the lives of addicts -- and he's against that.
Maine's governor, in a rather literal sense, made the case in writing that those struggling with opioid addiction don't have lives worth saving. If LePage is convinced these people's lives shouldn't be extended, practically by definition, he's making the case that their lives should be curtailed.
John Stanton, DC bureau chief for BuzzFeed, talks with Rachel Maddow about Ted Cruz making a pro-discrimination, anti-LGBT appeal to conservative Republicans, in contrast to Donald Trump, and the likelihood of that position isolating him from most of the American electorate and a fair number of Republicans. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the deepening ostracism of Mississippi and North Carolina for their new anti-LGBT, pro-discrimination laws, and notes Republican front-runner Donald Trump's rejection of what is a nearly uniform anti-LGBT Republican position. watch
* I generally avoid celebrity-related news, but this is a story I actually care quite a bit about: "Prince, one of America's most influential and enigmatic rock musicians, has died, his publicist told NBC News.... The 57-year-old Grammy-winning artist's death also came a week after his tour plane made an emergency landing in Illinois, where he was hospitalized with what was described as the flu."
* Hiring hackers costs money: "FBI Director James Comey suggested Thursday that the bureau paid more than $1 million to access an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino attackers, the first time the agency has offered a possible price tag in the high-profile case."
* VW: "Volkswagen agreed on Thursday to fix or buy back nearly 500,000 diesel cars in the United States that are equipped with illegal emissions software."
* Speaking of the auto industry: "Anyone suffering deja vu while watching Mitsubishi Motors' top executives admit the company cheated on fuel economy tests should not be surprised. Not because of the similarity to Volkswagen's emissions test-rigging admission of last September, but because this was not a first for Mitsubishi Motors."
* Senate Democrats today blocked "a Republican effort to prevent further spending on an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule designed to establish federal regulatory control over small waterways. The measure, from Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), failed to meet the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster; the vote was 56-42."
* I'll look forward to hearing more about the industry's responses: "The Senate's No. 2 Democrat is asking for details on what major U.S. airlines are doing to prevent anti-Muslim discrimination. Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) sent a letter this week to Nicholas Calio, the president and CEO of Airlines for America, a trade organization that represents major U.S. airlines."
* It's easy to feel good about the job market: "New applications for unemployment benefits sank to the lowest level in 42 years, pointing to continued improvement in the labor market. Initial claims fell by 6,000 to 247,000 in the seven days ended April 16, the Labor Department said. This is the lowest level since the week of Nov. 24, 1973."
It's not unusual for governments around the world to occasionally issue travel advisories to their citizens, letting them know important information before they take a trip abroad. So, for example, if a country is dealing with an outbreak of an infectious disease, the U.S. government would urge American travelers to be aware of these concerns before visiting. The same goes for countries where personal security might be a concern.
With this in mind, it's discouraging when one of our closest allies feels the need to warn some of its citizens about possibly facing discrimination while visiting the United States. The Washington Postreported yesterday:
The British Foreign Office has released an advisory warning travelers to be aware of controversial new laws in North Carolina and Mississippi before visiting the United States.
The travel advisory update -- directed to members of the country's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community -- was posted on the Foreign Office's website Tuesday.
The travel advisory, which is available online here, reminds British travelers, "The US is an extremely diverse society and attitudes towards LGBT people differ hugely across the country. LGBT travelers may be affected by legislation passed recently in the states of North Carolina and Mississippi. Before travelling please read our general travel advice for the LGBT community."
And if you check the general travel advice for the LGBT community, it reminds British travelers that some hotels, "especially in rural areas, won't accept bookings from same sex couples -- check before you go."
I imagine North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) never saw any of this coming.
It's now been a full year since President Obama nominated Adam Szubin to be an under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes for the Treasury Department. The title is obviously a mouthful, but a job that involves "tracking terrorists to prevent them from raising money on the black market and elsewhere."
Szubin is extremely well qualified; he's worked on blocking terrorist financing in previous administrations; and he enjoys broad, bipartisan support in the Senate.
And yet, he can't get confirmed.
For months, Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) blocked Szubin because Shelby faced a primary fight in Alabama and he was too afraid to do much of anything in the way of actual work.
Finally, last month, the committee agreed to advance Szubin's nomination with bipartisan backing, raising hopes that this nonsense would finally end. Alas, it continues. The Houston Chroniclereported yesterday:
A Republican senator on Wednesday blocked an effort to confirm President Barack Obama's nominee for a key Treasury post responsible for leading the battle against terrorism and financial crimes.
The president nominated Adam Szubin a year ago, but his nomination has languished, caught up in Senate politics. Szubin, who has served under both Obama and predecessor George W. Bush, has worked in the anti-terror job in an acting capacity.
Democrats tried to secure a vote on Wednesday, but Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., objected, citing the possibility that the Obama administration would ease financial restrictions that prohibit U.S. dollars from being used in transactions with Iran.
Evidently, the right-wing Arkansan believes the White House may, at some point in the future, ease those restrictions, so Cotton decided to block a nominee who works on preventing terrorist financing, as if this somehow made sense.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Among the changes the revamped Donald Trump campaign is prepared to make? The Republican frontrunner will reportedly start "using teleprompters and a speechwriter."
* In Connecticut, which hosts its presidential primaries next week, the latest Quinnipiac poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders, 51% to 42%.
* The same poll shows Trump ahead among Connecticut Republicans with 48%, followed by John Kasich at 28% and Ted Cruz at 19%.
* In Pennsylvania, which also hosts presidential primaries on Tuesday, the latest Monmouth University poll shows Clinton leading Sanders, 52% to 39%, while a new Franklin & Marshall College poll shows Clinton ahead by an even larger margin, 58% to 31%.
* The Franklin & Marshall poll found Trump ahead among Pennsylvania Republicans with 40%, followed by Ted Cruz at 26% and John Kasich at 24%.
* In two new fundraising letters -- one sent yesterday, one sent today -- the Sanders campaign told donors that the senator still has "a path" to the Democratic nomination, so supporters should continue to send money.
There's a dedicated team of officials and activists who are always on the lookout for bad news about the Affordable Care Act. This week, they seemed to find some.
UnitedHealth Group, the nation's largest private insurer, announced Tuesday that next year, it would scale back its participation in ACA exchange marketplaces. Starting in 2017, UnitedHealth will be "down to a handful of states."
"A ha!" anti-healthcare forces declared. "We knew it! The market is failing! Obamacare is a disaster! We were right all along!"
They should probably take a deep breath, because while the UnitedHealth announcement certainly isn't good news, it's not evidence of a crisis, either.
The Washington Postarticle on this highlighted a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation that found the impact on consumers is likely to be relatively modest: "Even if United exited all states, most marketplace enrollees would still have the ability to choose between three or more insurers. An average health plan used as a benchmark would be about 1 percent more expensive if United had not participated in 2016."
But what about what this says about the larger system? TPM's Tierney Sneed reported yesterday that this week's announcement is "not the sky-is-falling, death-spiral fever dream that conservatives are making it out to be."
For one, while UnitedHealth is indeed the nation's largest insurer, it is a relatively small player on the individual exchanges.... Furthermore, UnitedHealth decided to sit out the first year the marketplaces were in operation, meaning it has had one fewer year than its competitors to game out pricing according to its risk pools. [...]
In general, UnitedHealth was offering plans in many states more expensive than other companies, the Kaiser report noted, and what has become clear in the first few years of ACA implementation is that consumers are willing to shop around for the cheapest deal.
UnitedHealth pricing issues could be partly attributed to the fact that the insurer is more geared to broad-network plans, and the cheaper, narrow-network offerings have been more successful on the individual marketplaces.
These relevant details suggest the latest "Obamacare crisis" really isn't much of a crisis.
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.