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"Obamacare"  supporter Margot Smith (L) of California pleads her case with legislation opponents Judy Burel (2nd R) and Janis Haddon, both of Georgia, at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 28, 2012.

A moment of GOP candor on 'Obamacare'

05/26/15 04:22PM

In the political debate surrounding the King v. Burwell case at the Supreme Court, there are effectively two competing factions: those who acknowledge that the litigation is hopelessly insane, and those who know the case is hopelessly insane but pretend otherwise for the sake of appearances.
 
Once in a while, even a congressional Republican is willing to stand in support of reality.
 
At issue in the case is whether half of a sentence, buried within the law and removed from context, should be used to tear down the American health care system and strip millions of families of their health security. The New York Times set out to determine how that half of a sentence wound up in the law, and reporter Robert Pear talked to "more than two dozen Democrats and Republicans involved in writing the law." Not one of them endorsed the argument put forward by the plaintiffs.
"I don't ever recall any distinction between federal and state exchanges in terms of the availability of subsidies," said Olympia J. Snowe, a former Republican senator from Maine who helped write the Finance Committee version of the bill.
 
"It was never part of our conversations at any point," said Ms. Snowe, who voted against the final version of the Senate bill. "Why would we have wanted to deny people subsidies? It was not their fault if their state did not set up an exchange."
Right. As Charles Gaba has noted, this is precisely how every member of the House, every member of the Senate, every congressional staffer, every White House staffer, everyone at HHS, everyone at the IRS, everyone at Treasury, everyone at the Justice Department, everyone at the Congressional Budget Office, every journalist covering the debate, every governor, every state legislator, every insurance company, and every hospital interpreted the law.
 
Though Snowe is too polite to say so explicitly, she's effectively acknowledged that the case her party is pushing to take coverage from millions of families is based entirely on a lie.
 
It's not just Snowe, either.
In this Oct. 24, 2012 file photo, former Chief Justice Roy Moore poses for a photo in his Montgomery, Ala., office. (Photo by Dave Martin/AP)

Roy Moore wants Ruth Bader Ginsburg impeached

05/26/15 03:18PM

The U.S. Supreme Court probably won't rule on marriage equality until the end of June, and when it does, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is likely to side in support of equal-marriage rights.
 
For the right, this will be deeply annoying -- not just because of conservative opposition to marriage equality in general, but also because much of the right believes Ginsburg shouldn't be able to participate in the case at all. Right Wing Watch had this report this afternoon:
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore spoke with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on Friday about his belief that states should "resist" a potential Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, saying that Congress and the states should simply defy a court decision they disagree with by stating "that there is no right to redefine marriage" in the U.S. Constitution.
 
"We have justices on the Supreme Court right now who have actually performed same-sex marriages, Ginsburg and Kagan," Moore continued. "Congress should do something about this."
Such as? Moore raised the prospect of impeachment proceedings.
 
Perkins concluded, in reference to Ginsburg, "This is undermining the rule of law in our country and ushers in an age of chaos."
 
Oh, please.
Voting booths are illuminated by sunlight as voters cast their ballots at a polling place on Nov. 6, 2012. (Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)

A missed opportunity on voting rights

05/26/15 12:41PM

Hillary Clinton told a group of Iowans that she "totally disagrees" with the idea of permanently stripping ex-felons of their voting rights. "I think if you've done your time, so to speak, and you've made your commitment to go forward you should be able to vote and you should be able to be judged on the same basis. You ought to get a second chance."
 
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) chided Clinton's position, insisting he'd endorsed the policy first, which turned out to be completely wrong. (Clinton sponsored legislation on this in 2005, when Paul was still creating a self-accreditation body for his ophthalmology practice.)
 
But the fact that there would even be a dispute over who endorsed the idea first is itself evidence of progress -- it suggested the proposal had reached a level of mainstream credibility. Alas, as msnbc's Zack Roth reported, the progress was less evident in Maryland.
Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland vetoed a bill Friday that would have restored voting rights to around 40,000 former felons. [...]
 
Currently, over 63,000 Marylanders are disenfranchised because of past felonies, according to numbers compiled by The Sentencing Project. Around 65% of them are African-American.
The details, of course, matter. Maryland already helps restore voting rights for ex-felons eventually, but they're required to complete parole and a probationary period. Newly passed state legislation intended to expedite the process and restore voting rights faster -- once an otherwise eligible Maryland resident has completed his or her sentence, he or she would once again immediately be eligible to participate in elections.
 
According to Maryland's new Republican governor, that's too quick.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.26.15

05/26/15 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:
 
* Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will host a presidential campaign kickoff event in his home town of Burlington, Vermont, this afternoon. On the other side of the partisan aisle, Rick Santorum joins the race tomorrow, followed by George Pataki on Wednesday. On Saturday, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley will join Sanders and Hillary Clinton in the Democratic field.
 
* The Koch brothers are prepared to invest roughly $900 million in the presidential race, but not necessarily in support of one candidate. "We are thinking of supporting several Republicans," David Koch told Larry Kudlow on Saturday. "If we're happy with the policies that these individuals are supporting, we'll finance their campaigns."
 
* Despite recruiting efforts from national party leaders, Rep. Josh Shapiro (D) has decided not to run for the Senate in Pennsylvania next year.
 
* National Democratic leaders believe Sen. Richard Burr (R) will be vulnerable in North Carolina next year, and they believe former Sen. Kay Hagan (D), who lost her re-election bid last year, is the best candidate for the job.
 
* At the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City, retired right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson won the presidential straw poll with 25.4% of the vote.
 
* At the same event, Carly Fiorina told the Republican crowd, "Nowhere is leadership more important now than in the world." I'm not entirely sure what that means.
Ann Kirkpatrick waves as she enters a room full of supporters during an election night in Flagstaff, Ariz., Nov. 6, 2012.

Kirkpatrick to take on McCain in Arizona

05/26/15 11:20AM

Sen. John McCain (R) has been running in congressional elections in Arizona for a third of a century, and in that time, he's had exactly zero tough races against Democratic challengers. McCain won the closest general election of his career in his home state by 21 points.
 
With a record like this, even ambitious Arizona Democrats might steer clear of the longtime incumbent, but as Roll Call reports, the candidate the DSCC recruited has reportedly said yes.
Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick will challenge Republican Sen. John McCain for Senate, according to a source with knowledge of Kirkpatrick's plans, giving Democrats a top recruit and a potential pickup opportunity.
 
Kirkpatrick made calls Monday to inform people of her plans, the source told CQ Roll Call. Her bid also opens up Arizona's 1st District, a GOP-leaning seat that 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney captured by a 3-point margin in 2012.
Kirkpatrick, you'll recall, was a top target last year, though she persevered anyway, bolstered by her "Boots" ad -- one of the cycle's more memorable Democratic spots.
 
Realistically, the congresswoman would start the race against McCain as an underdog, but there may be more to this race than appears at the surface.
Senatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, (R-Colo.), left, gestures during a debate with incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, (D-Colo.), in Denver on Oct. 6, 2014. (Brennan Linsley/AP)

Senate Republicans return to controversial contraception posture

05/26/15 10:42AM

Last fall, Cory Gardner's Republican Senate campaign in Colorado found itself in a tough spot. The far-right candidate had spent much of his career trying to ban common forms of birth control -- which made him look like an extremist -- and Gardner continued to support a federal "personhood" policy, which he'd been caught lying about repeatedly.
 
In early September 2014, the Republican tried to fix his problem with a sort of Hail Mary pass: Gardner, despite years of service as a right-wing culture warrior, told Coloradans that he's actually a progressive champion of contraception access. To prove it, the conservative congressman vowed to introduce legislation to make birth control available over the counter without a prescription.
 
It was a brazen move, which was largely successful: Gardner won the race. As the Denver Post reported late last week, the GOP lawmaker followed through on the promise he made last fall.
The legislation encourages drug manufacturers of "routine-use contraceptives" to file an application with the Food and Drug Administration to sell their products over the counter.
 
Gardner is sponsoring the Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. Their bill also would repeal the Affordable Care Act's restriction on the use of health, medical and flexible savings accounts to purchase over-the-counter drugs without a prescription.
As longtime readers may recall from last fall, this may seem like a reasonable resolution to an ugly mess. If anti-contraception employers don't want to cover birth control as part of employees' health plan, and religiously affiliated employers have moral objections to insurers' paperwork, this over-the-counter approach makes the purchases more direct: if the FDA approves contraceptive medications for over-the-counter sales, it wouldn't matter what employers, insurers, or even physicians like or dislike.
 
But in practice, it's not quite so simple.
Workers prepare the stage for the Fox News/Wall Street Journal/South Carolina GOP debate at the Sheraton Myrtle Beach Convention Center on Jan. 16, 2012 in Myrtle Beach, S.C. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Creating the wrong kind of political incentives

05/26/15 10:03AM

The ground rules for the first round of Republican presidential debates have taken shape, and at least for now, they don't seem to have many fans. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has helped lead the charge, likely because he'll be excluded given the current criteria, but Ben Carson has also been critical, despite the fact that he's all but certain to make the cut.
 
Roll Call's Stu Rothenberg called the current rules "unfair" and recommended an alternative approach:
The obvious answer is to divide the field in half, randomly assigning individual hopefuls to one of the two debates. Of course, not everyone will like the group he or she is in, and the makeup of each group would determine the particular dynamic of that debate.
 
After a couple of debates, the hosts of additional debates will have just cause to limit the number of debaters. But doing so in the first couple of debates is inherently unfair and could end up damaging the party's image. You'd think that that would be something the RNC would want to avoid.
Despite the recent criticism, there's been no indication from party officials or the relevant networks that the recently announced criteria for participation may be revisited.
 
One of the under-appreciating angles to the problem is the system of incentives debate organizers have inadvertently created.
US Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC, talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on July 8, 2014.

Lindsey Graham's 'pool room' education

05/26/15 09:20AM

It was a few weeks ago when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) shared a pretty dumb observation with a Boston audience: "Everything that starts with 'Al' in the Middle East is bad news." To bolster his point, the Republican even started rattling off some examples: al Qaeda, al-Nusra, al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, etc.
 
What Graham apparently didn't realize is that "al," is the Arabic word for "the." One of the Republican Party's most prominent voices on foreign affairs shared an insight that made him appear quite foolish.
 
At the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City, Graham didn't make things any better. The BBC reported:
Senator Lindsey Graham, the first speaker Friday morning, appearing from Washington via video, spoke of losing his parents as a teenager, working in a pool hall and having to help raise his younger sister -- and how it relates to his leadership style.
 
"Everything I learned about Iranians I learned working in the pool room," he said. "I met a lot of liars, and I know Iranians are liars."
A report from Slate noted that the BBC report isn't entirely correct. A video of Graham's remarks shows him saying, "I met a lot of liars, and I know the Iranians are lying." That's obviously not the same thing as the senator accusing everyone in Iran of being liars.

The video nevertheless makes clear that Graham believes he has finely tuned lie-detection skills, and those skills now tell him that Iranian officials involved in the international nuclear talks are just like those pool sharks he used to know.
Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul

It's May 26; do you know where your Patriot Act is?

05/26/15 08:40AM

Love him or hate him, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) knows a thing or two about operating his chamber. With this in mind, when McConnell unveiled his pre-Memorial Day plan last week, it was tempting to give him the benefit of the doubt.
 
At this point, however, no one's thinking that anymore. The Republican leader's plan failed and the policy consequences are likely to be significant.
 
It's worth appreciating what McConnell attempted to do. First, he'd invest a big chunk of Senate time on "fast-track" authority, even though there were was no pending deadline. Second, McConnell would, towards the end of the week, bring the "USA Freedom Act," the House-approved compromise on NSA surveillance, to the floor. The Senate Majority Leader opposed the bill and expected to fail.
 
And third, with time running out and the policy poised to expire, members would have no choice but to approve a temporary extension of the status quo.
 
The first two-thirds of the plan went fairly well: the Senate passed trade-promotion authority and filibustered the USA Freedom Act, just as McConnell hoped. But his plans for a temporary extension failed, too -- McConnell asked for a two-month reprieve, then a week, then a few days, then one day. His ostensible ally, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) responded to every request with the same two words: "I object."
 
With existing policy set to expire on June 1, and with lawmakers nowhere near Capitol Hill, is it possible Congress will simply let elements of the Patriot Act expire altogether. The short answer is, yes. The less-short answer is, members haven't given up just yet. The New York Times reported this morning:
Senior lawmakers are scrambling this week in rare recess negotiations to agree on a face-saving change to legislation that would rein in the National Security Agency's dragnet of phone records, with time running out on some of the government's domestic surveillance authority.
 
Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said a series of phone calls and staff meetings over the weeklong Memorial Day break should be enough to reach agreement on changes to the USA Freedom Act. Three senators need to be won over for the Senate to pass the USA Freedom Act, which has already been approved by the House and would change the post-Sept. 11 Patriot Act's provision that the N.S.A. has used to sweep up phone records in bulk.
That's not an outrageous goal. The House bill had 57 votes in the Senate, which is obviously a majority, but three short of breaking a filibuster.
 
And what about the White House?
A Yes supporter shows her campaign badge in central Dublin, Ireland on May 21, 2015. (Photo by Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

A breakthrough on the Emerald Isle

05/26/15 08:00AM

At first blush, one might not expect to find an international breakthrough on gay rights in Ireland. The country is overwhelmingly Catholic, for example, and has a sizable population.
 
But on the issue of marriage equality, the Emerald Isle has set an example for the rest of the world to follow. NBC News' Lisa McNally reported over the holiday weekend:
Ireland became the first country in the world to vote in favor of legalizing gay marriage Saturday after a resounding victory for "Yes" campaigners.
 
At final count, 62% voted in favor of legalizing gay marriage in the country, while 38% voted against it.
The point isn't that Ireland is the first country to embrace equal marriage rights; it's not. Rather, the significance is how and by what margin Irish voters endorsed the new policy.
 
Around the world, marriage equality arrives through one of three options: judicial rulings, legislation, or popular referendum. As of a few days ago, no nation had ever successfully pursued that third option -- until the Irish made their voices heard.
 
What's more, it wasn't close. The results would still count had it been a 51%-49% squeaker, but the fact that the progressive approach won by a landslide ends the debate with an emphatic exclamation point.

Kochs' picks and other headlines

05/26/15 07:51AM

Koch brothers plan to fund 'several' GOP 2016 presidential hopefuls. (Bloomberg Politics)

Talks during break seek Senate deal on N.S.A. and phone data. (New York Times)

Nebraska inmate on death row for 30 years dies in prison. (Omaha World Herald)

Drama in the Texas House over abortion legislation. (Texas Tribune)

Cleveland, Justice Department reach policing deal. (AP)

Turkey, U.S. to provide air protection to Syrian rebels. (AP)

Michelle Obama urges activism in Oberlin College commencement speech. (Bloomberg Politics)

read more

A Memorial Day Ceremony in Washington.

Memorial Day 2015

05/25/15 10:00AM

In honor of Memorial Day, MaddowBlog will likely be pretty quiet today, but we'll be back to normal tomorrow.
 
In the meantime, there was something President Obama said in his weekly address over the weekend that stood out for me:
Milton Persinger, left, and Robert Povilat wait for a marriage license at the Mobile County Probate office, Feb. 10, 2015, in Mobile, Ala. (Photo by Sharon Steinmann/AP)

This Week in God, 5.23.15

05/23/15 09:43AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a rare example of a religious leader actually getting arrested for exercising her religious liberty -- but in a way that social conservatives are inclined to care about. AL.com reported this week:
A Prattville minister arrested after offering to perform a same-sex wedding inside the Autauga County Courthouse in February pleaded guilty Monday to misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
 
Anne Susan DiPrizio, 44, was sentenced to 30 days in the Autauga Metro Jail, which was suspended in lieu of six months unsupervised probation, the Montgomery Advertiser reported. She was ordered to pay a $250 fine and other court costs.
By all accounts, the Unitarian minister, following the dictates of her conscience and the tenets of her faith tradition, hoped to perform matrimonial services for two women who had already received a marriage license, thanks to a February court ruling. But because the Autauga County Probate Office had blocked all marriage ceremonies in the office, DiPrizio and the couples were turned away.
 
The minister refused to leave before she could exercise her beliefs, and local officials had her taken into custody.
 
This might seem like the sort of thing that would cause apoplexy among "religious liberty" proponents -- government officials had a clergy arrested? -- but to date, DiPrizio received no support from any of the usual suspects.
 
The Box Turtle Bulletin added, "[I]t's worth noting that amidst all the hue and cry turning cake bakers into martyrs in the name of religious freedom, here is an actual ordained minister who was jailed and fined for seeking to practice her faith and support same-sex marriage."
 
A federal judge ruled Thursday that same-sex couples have the right to marry in every Alabama county, but the ruling is on hold pending the Supreme Court's verdict in a related case. The decision is expected next month.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:

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