There's little evidence that the group No Labels, which exists to promote non-partisan policymaking, has ever had any impact on the American political process at any level. Yahoo News reported not long ago that the outfit "spends a disproportionate part of its budget maintaining and promoting its own organization, trying to keep its profile high while ensuring a steady flow of fundraising dollars" from undisclosed donors.
Nevertheless, the group continues to exist, and it recently asked both parties' presidential candidates to endorse vague goals No Labels considers important: 25 million new jobs over the next 10 years; Social Security and Medicare fiscal stability for the next 75 years; a balanced budget by 2030; and energy security by 2024. Six candidates -- Donald Trump, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, and Martin O'Malley -- each endorsed the blueprint, called the "National Strategic Agenda."
As the Washington Postreported, No Labels' controversial co-chairman was delighted.
"We had no idea when we started out down this road how many candidates would make the Problem Solver Promise," said No Labels's co-chairman and former U.S. senator Joe Lieberman, a longtime Democrat from Connecticut who retired as an independent after losing his party's primary. "Today, six have! I'm glad we got six. We could have gotten zero."
One of the six, however, didn't seem entirely comfortable with the idea of sharing the "Problem Solver" seal with one of his fellow competitors.
There's still time for the race for the Republican nomination to change, but as early January gives way to mid-January, some observations are starting to look more reliable.
For example, Donald Trump is well positioned to win the New Hampshire primary. The latest Monmouth poll was released yesterday:
1. Donald Trump: 32% (up from 26% in a Monmouth poll in November)
2. Ted Cruz: 14% (up from 9%)
2. John Kasich: 14% (up from 11%)
4. Marco Rubio: 12% (down from 13%)
5. Chris Christie: 8% (up from 5%)
The remaining candidates are each at 5% or lower, including Jeb Bush, who, at least in this poll, is in seventh place with just 4%. Trump's 32%, meanwhile, is the strongest support any candidate has seen in any Monmouth New Hampshire poll so far this entire campaign cycle.
Of course, the usual caveats apply: it's just one of many polls. In fact, most recent surveys in the Granite State show Cruz, Kasich, Rubio, Christie, and Bush nearly tied for second place, which puts Monmouth slightly out of step with most of the recent data. That doesn't mean it's wrong; it's just something to consider.
Also note, Cruz fared very well as the top "second choice" in this poll, while Rubio is fading slightly. A fourth place finish for the Floridian would be a real problem for his campaign going forward.
Regardless, Trump's dominance in the first primary -- to be held four weeks from today -- is hard to miss. Will he fare as well in the first caucus?
When the Affordable Care Act was taking shape several years ago, one of its more popular provisions was the creation of state-based exchange marketplaces. By now, most Americans are probably familiar with the concept: states would create marketplaces for insurers to compete for the public's business, and consumers could choose the best plan for their needs.
Kentucky, previously a national leader in ACA implementation, embraced the idea with great enthusiasm, creating the Kynect system, which proved to be a great success. Newly elected Gov. Matt Bevin (R), however, is dismantling it anyway. The Louisville Courier-Journalreported yesterday (via Charles Gaba):
Following through on a campaign pledge, Gov. Matt Bevin has notified federal authorities he plans to dismantle kynect, Kentucky's health insurance exchange created under the Affordable Care Act. [...]
Advocates had urged Bevin to keep kynect, a website praised for its accessibility and ease of use. They said helped hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians sign up for health coverage. It also included a public information campaign and workers to help people get health coverage.
"That's really disappointing," Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, a coalition of advocacy groups, told the newspaper. "It's a lot more than just a website."
Beauregard wasn't alone -- public-health advocates, hospital administrators, and medical professionals statewide condemned the decision, and for good reason. It's one thing to abandon a state-based model for the federal healthcare.gov because the state system wasn't working; it's something else to scrap an effective and valuable resource, just out of knee-jerk, partisan spite over "Obamacare."
But there's also an under-appreciated irony to this: Bevin, the far-right Republican governor, is also abandoning the tenets of his own ideology. By scrapping Kynect, the Tea Party Kentuckian is shifting power from his state to Washington, D.C., on purpose, without explanation.
A few states away, in Louisiana, we see a state government pointed in a more constructive direction.
Rachel Maddow reports on how some Republican candidates' campaigns are struggling in the days leading up to the first primary voting, with Jeb Bush turning in an abysmal likeability number, Rand Paul polling too poorly for the main debate, and Ben Carson losing staffers to the Cruz campaign. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on local clean water and filter distribution centers in Flint, Michigan running out of supplies already as Governor Rick Snyder is slow to implement an effective relief plan. watch
Congressman Brad Sherman talks with Rachel Maddow about how he and his Porter Ranch, California neighbors are coping with the massive, months-long, toxic gas leak in their town, and how the pace of dealing with the gas is slowed by the insistence that the gas be sold at regular market rate instead of being disposed of as the environmental crisis... watch
Mark Kelly of Americans for Responsible Solutions talks with Rachel Maddow about the new prominence of gun policy in Democratic politics and his and his wife, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords', recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton. watch
* Crisis in Flint, Michigan: "Gov. Rick Snyder said Monday the state is starting to draft a request for federal assistance with Flint's lead contaminated water crisis.... The Republican governor also warned city residents against using tap water from the Flint River."
* Iraq: "Islamic State militants attacked a shopping mall in eastern Baghdad on Monday evening, killing at least 17 people and turning the neighborhood into an urban war zone at rush hour, with helicopters hovering overhead and snipers taking positions on nearby rooftops."
* The population of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility is down to 103: "The Department of Defense announced today the repatriation of Muhammed Abd Al Rahman Awn Al-Shamrani from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."
* Porter Ranch: "Lawmakers on Monday plan to announce a legislative package in response to a methane gas leak that has forced thousands of people from their homes in the Porter Ranch neighborhood of Los Angeles."
* A big week in Maine: "House Democrats and independents pushing for impeachment proceedings against Gov. Paul LePage say they will introduce a measure this week calling for an investigation into eight possible charges against the Republican chief executive."
* Progress: "Only 22 cases of Guinea worm disease were reported in 2015, the Carter Center announced last week, a significant drop from the 126 cases reported in 2014."
* Alabama: "The steering committee of the Alabama Republican Party passed a resolution Sunday asking House Speaker Mike Hubbard to step down as speaker until his ethics case is resolved."
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments this morning over a seemingly obscure issue: public-sector unions' "agency fees." But while this may seem like a tangential dispute, the outcome of the case will matter a great deal to many labor unions nationwide.
The basic idea is pretty straightforward, and The New Republic's Elizabeth Bruenig summarized the issue this way:
Agency fees work like this: Public sector unions are required to cover all employees in a given bargaining unit, whether the employees opt into union membership or not. Public sector employees (which include EMTs, firefighters, public school teachers, social workers, and more) thus pay agency fees to their respective unions even if they are not union members, because public sector unions work on behalf of everyone in their bargaining unit, not just union members.
Agency fees do not fund unions' political activities, but rather strictly the costs of union grievance-handling, organizing, and collective bargaining. In the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court upheld the right of public sector unions to extract agency fees from public sector workers, and found that agency fees do not violate employees' freedom of speech, so long as they do not fund unions' political activities.
So far, so good.
The trouble, according to many on the right, is that literally everything unions do -- even collective bargaining itself -- is inherently political, even if it's unrelated to campaign activities. As a result, we're left with a case -- Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association -- in which the justices have an opportunity to overturn the Abood precedent, and as of this morning, it appears a majority of the justices are prepared to do exactly that.
In the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, much of the intra-party fight has focused on strategic and tactical considerations -- most notably which candidate is the "electable." The campaign has unfolded this way in part because the top candidates tend to agree on most of the key issues.
But there's one major area of substantive disagreement between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and as the New York Timesreported over the weekend, the former Secretary of State seems to believe she has an important advantage on this issue.
Hillary Clinton pressed Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on his gun control record during her appearance on "Face the Nation" on CBS on Sunday, and brushed off "dead end" attacks from Donald J. Trump and other Republicans about Bill Clinton's past scandals.
On CBS, Mrs. Clinton continued to knock Mr. Sanders for a past Senate vote to give gun manufacturers immunity from prosecution when a gun is used in a crime. She is seeking to highlight one of the few areas where she is to Mr. Sanders's left on an issue.
That's true. Sanders' reputation as a progressive champion is well deserved, but on guns, the Vermont senator's record isn't nearly as liberal. By his own admission, when it comes to guns, Sanders is eyeing an ideological "middle," rather than the left.
And his vote shielding gun manufacturers from prosecution is a good example of an issue on which Sanders took a decidedly conservative posture. Clinton argued yesterday, "It's the only industry in our country where we have given that kind of carte blanche to do whatever you want to do with no fear of legal consequences."
She struck a similar chord with MSNBC's Chris Matthews last week, arguing, "When it really mattered, Sen. Sanders voted with the gun lobby, and I voted against the gun lobby.... [M]aybe it's time for Sen. Sanders to stand up and say, 'I got this one wrong.' But he hasn't."
Sanders responded yesterday that the bill "was a complicated piece of legislation," which may be true, but it's not a line that will necessarily help win over skeptics.
The irony of Marco Rubio as a darling of the Republican establishment and Beltway media is that, in a normal election cycle, the Florida senator's radicalism on a wide range of issues would likely position him as one of the more radical candidates in recent memory.
A few weeks ago, however, Rubio's far-right worldview came into sharper focus when he endorsed his most outrageous idea to date. The GOP senator has, with great enthusiasm, thrown his support behind a constitutional convention, touting his position in speeches, interviews, and thisUSA Today op-ed published last week.
The framers of our Constitution allowed for a constitutional convention because they knew our citizens were the ultimate defense against an overbearing federal government. They gave the American people, through their state representatives, the power to call a convention made up of at least 34 states, where delegates could then propose amendments that would require the support of 38 states to become law.
This method of amending our Constitution has become necessary today because of Washington's refusal to place restrictions on itself. The amendment process must be approached with caution, which is why I believe the agenda should be limited to ideas that reduce the size and scope of the federal government, such as imposing term limits on Congress and the Supreme Court and forcing fiscal responsibility through a balanced budget requirement.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) made headlines on Friday for endorsing a similar plan, though the right-wing governor has an even more expansive agenda in mind: a convention that would re-write the Constitution to allow states to nullify federal laws.
For the American mainstream, the idea of a constitutional convention to achieve far-right goals probably seems pretty obscure, to the point that I suspect much of the country doesn't even realize it's a possibility, but the truth is this an increasingly important threat. Let's take a minute to unwrap the details -- because if a candidate like Rubio is making this a central element of his national platform, the public should understand the danger to their system of government.
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.