* 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.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In New Hampshire, the latest Fox News poll shows Bernie Sanders leading Hillary Clinton, 50% to 37%, while the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll shows a tighter race, with Sanders ahead, 50% to 46%.
* The NBC poll also found a very close Democratic race in Iowa, where the latest survey shows Clinton up by just three points, 48% to 45%.
* Clinton has taken a keen interest in the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, issuing a statement this morning describing the scandal as "extremely concerning," adding, "No parent should have to worry that their kids' water isn't safe."
* Speaking of Clinton, the former Secretary of State picked up endorsements over the weekend from former Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.
* Will the Senate make clear that Ted Cruz is eligible for the presidency? According to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), who has clashed repeatedly with the Texas Republican, the chamber intends to stay out of this.
* In the meantime, Donald Trump continues to invest considerable energy into the misguided line of attack on Cruz's birthplace.
* To the surprise of no one, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a.k.a. "Senator Snowball," announced his support for Marco Rubio's campaign over the weekend. Among all Senate Republicans, Rubio is now tied with Jeb Bush with four endorsements each.
* Speaking of Senate endorsements, Ohio's Rob Portman (R) has thrown his backing to his home-state ally, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R).
As of last week, Ben Carson's super PAC had five paid staffers in New Hampshire. As of this week, according to WMUR, the ABC affiliate in Manchester, each of those staffers has quit and, collectively, they've switched their allegiance to one of Carson's rivals.
All five paid New Hampshire staffers at the pro-Ben Carson 2016 Committee super PAC quit their posts on Sunday to become volunteers for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, WMUR.com has learned.
Jerry Sickles of Keene, the spokesman for the staff, said he and the other four staffers recently came to the conclusion that Cruz is the conservative most able to win the GOP presidential nomination and the presidency. He also noted that Carson has spent very little time campaigning in New Hampshire, which became frustrating to him and the other staffers as they tried to build support in the state.
The five apparently still hold Carson "in the highest regard," but according to Sickles, they also believe "it is important that our party nominate a conservative and get behind a single conservative who can win, and we strongly believe that candidate is Ted Cruz."
For the retired far-right neurosurgeon, it's the latest evidence of a campaign operation in complete disarray. Remember, it was just two weeks ago that Carson's campaign manager, communications director, and deputy campaign manager resigned on the same day.
But it's also worth considering whether developments like these will affect the outcome of the primary itself.
At an event over the weekend, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), who'll deliver her party's State of the Union response this week, made a curious boast about her congressional allies. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the governor argued, "said that when he took his leadership role, things were going to change. How about the fact that they repealed Obamacare? Was that not fantastic?"
The comments left many confused. House Republicans voted last week for the 62nd time to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but that doesn't mean they succeeded. On the contrary, President Obama vetoed the repeal bill on Friday afternoon, issuing a statement to Congress that read in part, "Because of the harm this bill would cause to the health and financial security of millions of Americans, it has earned my veto."
Haley may have been impressed, and Republican lawmakers themselves may have had a grand time pretending to take Americans' health benefits away -- see the above photo -- but nothing has changed.
So, now what? If we're to believe the congressional GOP's rhetoric, the next step is the release of the long-awaited Republican alternative to the current health care reform law. On CBS's "Face the Nation" yesterday, host John Dickerson asked Speaker Ryan about this:
DICKERSON: You said you wanted the Republicans to offer an alternative to the president. One of the first things you did this year, though, was offer [an ACA repeal bill]. How is that an alternative?
RYAN: It's not. That's why we have to come up with an alternative.
Evidently, that's easier said than done. The GOP's alternative has been in the works since June 2009 -- a mere six-and-a-half years ago -- and asked last week why he's moving forward with a repeal bill before the Republican alternative ready, Ryan told reporters with a smile, "Just wait."
Around the same time, the House GOP leadership quietly signaled just how long that wait is likely to be.
The economic news on Friday was even better than optimists expected: the United States added nearly 300,000 jobs in December, wrapping up the second best year for the American job market in over a decade. In fact, looking at the last two years combined, 2014 and 2015 were the best back-to-back years for job creation since 1998 and 1999, at the height of the dot-com boom.
While no mainstream American politicians publicly root against the U.S. economy, the fact remains that this strong job growth must be baffling to Republicans. GOP orthodoxy, repeated ad nauseam, is that President Obama's domestic agenda -- the Affordable Care Act, higher taxes on the wealthy, Wall Street regulations, environmental safeguards, et al -- is crushing the economy and stifling the American job market.
The only way to put Americans back to work, Republicans insist, is to do the exact opposite of the policies that cut the unemployment rate from 10% to 5%.
Obviously, that's a tough sell for anyone with even a passing familiarity with the facts, but it got me wondering: how exactly did Republican officials and candidates respond to Friday's good news?
When I say they reacted to jobs report with silence, it's important to stress that I'm being quite literal. For years, the Republicans' economic line was, "Where are the jobs?" With over 14 million new private-sector jobs created in the last 70 months, the new, more salient question has become, "Where are the Republicans on jobs?"
Not long after Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was apprehended in Mexico, attention turned to an important question: would the notorious drug lord be extradited to the United States? As of now, that seems likely.
A day after fugitive Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was captured, the Mexican government has said it aims to fulfill an extradition request from the United States for the notorious cartel kingpin, a source within the Mexican attorney general's office told NBC News on Saturday.
Guzman, who was captured Friday after a six-month manhunt, faces charges in numerous jurisdictions across the United States.
The political pressure is already intensifying. Republicans who cower in fear at the idea of bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to American soil are, oddly enough, now demanding that the Obama administration do everything possible to bring the infamous drug kingpin to face justice in American courts.
One of the more prominent voices is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who on Friday called on the White House to act "immediately."
Perhaps the process would move forward more smoothly if the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico worked with Mexican officials to expedite extradition? Probably, but there's a hitch: there is no U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, because Marco Rubio refuses to let us have one.
The Iowa caucuses are just three weeks from today, and the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll, released over the weekend, offers little hope to the Republican establishment, waiting for its presidential nominating race to change. Here are the latest preferences from Hawkeye State Republicans:
1. Ted Cruz: 28%
2. Donald Trump: 24%
3. Marco Rubio: 13%
4. Ben Carson: 11%
The remaining candidates are each at 5% or lower. The results are very similar to the findings from the latest Fox News poll, released late Friday, which found Cruz leading Trump in Iowa, 27% to 23%, followed by Rubio at 15%.
To be sure, conditions can change over the course of three weeks -- the GOP candidates will participate in two more debates between now and Feb. 1 -- but the polling in Iowa has been fairly steady since early December, and Republican insiders eager to see Cruz and/or Trump falter have reason to feel anxious. Indeed, both major polls show the top two with at least 50% of the vote.
The picture in New Hampshire is noticably different:
As regular viewers know, The Rachel Maddow Show has devoted a great deal of time to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, but if you haven't been focused on this scandal yet, it's important to get up to speed.
Over the weekend, for example, the editorial board of the Detroit Free Pressturned its attention directly to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R), who's facing calls for his arrest from protestors, comparing his handling of the Flint crisis to George W. Bush's handling of Hurricane Katrina.
Right now, the State of Michigan should be able to say that it has ensured the delivery of bottled water and water filters to every Flint resident whose drinking water has been contaminated by lead.... Instead, the governor is offering placid responses and slow-walking important remedies, while the investigation into how one of Michigan's greatest man-made public health crises unfolded comes up with explanations in dribs and drabs.
It's not just derelict -- it invokes inglorious comparison to other callous and insensitive official responses to tragedy. Think of the shameful federal response to Hurricane Katrina, where the same lack of urgency delayed life-saving aid. The poverty rate in Flint is 40%; 52% of Flint residents are African-American. And so we are prompted to ask: How would the state have responded to a crisis of such proportions in a community with more wealth and power?
Of course, there's a key, heartbreaking difference between recent developments in Flint and the crisis in New Orleans in 2005: Katrina was a natural disaster; Flint's disaster was the result of public officials showing breathtakingly bad judgment.
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.