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Central American immigrants await transportation to a U.S. Border Patrol processing center after crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico into the Texas on July 24, 2014 near Mission, Texas.

The Speaker vs. the Shadow Speaker on the border crisis

07/31/14 10:09AM

After President Obama unveiled a proposal to address the humanitarian crisis at the border nearly four weeks ago, House Republican leaders started from the position that they would pass his proposal. That didn't last -- rank-and-file GOP lawmakers soon made clear they would kill the White House plan.
This week, with Congress already eyeing the exits before a five-week break, House Republicans got around to unveiling a weak alternative that largely ignores the substantive issues.
But at least the House will pass something, right? Not necessarily -- as of last night, GOP leaders didn't have enough support from their own party to pass their own bill, so they're working on new, far-right goodies to help encourage Republicans to support the bill.
In a bid to shore up votes for their border supplemental, Republican leaders plan to give conservatives a vote Thursday prohibiting President Barack Obama from granting deportation relief to more illegal immigrants.
One vote will be on the $659 million appropriations bill aimed at curbing the flow of child migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, which includes policy riders that have alienated nearly all Democrats.
On the condition of that bill passing, members would then be allowed to a vote on standalone language prohibiting the expansion of President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program granting deportation relief and work permits to children brought here illegally by their parents.
Just so we're clear, this is the latest in a series of legislative fiascos for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has repeatedly brought bills to the floor assuming his members would follow his lead, only to discover that GOP House members have no qualms about rejecting their own party's bills if they consider the measures insufficiently right-wing.
In this case, to make rank-and-file Republican lawmakers happy, the GOP leadership will hold a vote today in support of deportations of Dream Act kids, a top conservative priority. Indeed, Roll Call's Steven Dennis noted that the only votes the House has held on immigration in this Congress have been measures to deport Dream Act kids -- there have already been two, today will be the third.
And who's behind this latest intra-party crisis? That would be the House Republicans' Shadow Speaker: Ted Cruz.
Protesters with the "Million Vet March on the Memorials" call for impeachment of U.S. President Barack Obama in front of the White House in Washington on Oct. 13, 2013.

Blaming the messenger, not the message

07/31/14 09:16AM

The political world's reaction to chatter about presidential impeachment took a curious turn this week, when Republicans and a variety of pundits directed their ire at Democrats -- for reasons that don't make a lot of sense.
Karl Rove, a stalwart in the area of political propriety and forthright campaign-season rhetoric, said on Fox News this week, "[President Obama] is playing with the American people by suggesting a constitutional crisis where none exists.... Shame on him and shame on those people in the administration who participate with him." Ron Fournier, naturally, is thinking along similar lines.
There's no denying that Democrats are delighted that so many congressional Republicans have raised the specter of impeachment. The GOP made this a campaign issue, and in an election year, Dems appear eager to ensure the issue backfires on the Republicans who brought it up.
What's less clear is the justification for the double standard. This week, it seems the public has been confronted with an odd condemnation: when Republicans talk about impeachment, it's fine, but when Democrats talk about what Republicans are talking about, it's an outrage.
E.J. Dionne explained today that issue goes beyond "the open demands for throwing Obama out from Sarah Palin, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.) and many others on the right wing. The deeper problem lies in the proliferation of loose impeachment talk linked with one overheated anti-Obama charge after another."
As far back as May 2010, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the allegation that the White House had offered then-Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) a job so he wouldn't oppose Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican-turned-Democrat, "is in fact a crime and could be impeachable." ... During a hearing on "Operation Fast and Furious" in December 2011, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) accused the Justice Department of withholding information and said that "if we don't get to the bottom of this," Congress might have to resort to the "only one alternative" it had, "and it is called impeachment." [...]
In May 2013, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said that, because of allegations of a White House Benghazi coverup, "people may be starting to use the I-word before too long" about Obama. Also in 2013, Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) said it would be his "dream come true" to author Articles of Impeachment against the president, while Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said the nation was "perilously close" to circumstances that might require impeachment.
E.J. could have gone further, but he ran out of space. There are fairly comprehensive lists of all the Republicans -- including many sitting, elected members of Congress in both chambers -- who've pushed the impeachment idea in recent years.

Jobless claims climb, but remain at low level

07/31/14 08:37AM

After last week's extraordinary report on initial unemployment claims, the data had nowhere to go but up, which is exactly what the Labor Department reported this morning.
The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits rose by 23,000 last week to 302,000, one week after falling to a 14-year low. Still, the level of initial claims remains near a post-recession bottom and continue to signal further improvement in the labor market. Economists polled by MarketWatch expected claims to total a seasonally adjusted 308,000 in the week ended July 26. The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, fell by 3,500 to 297,250, the Labor Department said. It's the first time the monthly average has fallen below the 300,000 mark since April 2006 and reflects an eight-year low.
Note, the initial assessment last week was that there were 284,000 initial unemployment claims, which was the best total in eight years, but the revised, more accurate figure is 279,000, which made last week's report the best in 14 years. No, that's not a typo.
That said, to reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it's worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it's best not to read too much significance into any one report.
Image: Rand Paul

'The honest discussion'

07/31/14 08:01AM

MSNBC's Ari Melber hosted a great discussion yesterday with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who recently teamed up to introduce a good bill on sentencing reforms. Their appearance on "The Cycle" was the first joint interview, and if you missed it, the whole segment is online.
But there was one portion of the interview that struck me as especially interesting. Ari noted that the issue of restoring civil rights here naturally leads to questions about Rand Paul's stated concerns about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Republican senator rejected the notion that he's "evolved" on anti-discrimination rules for private businesses.
"What I would say is that -- to be fair to myself because I like to be fair to myself -- is that I've always been in favor of the Civil Rights Act. So people need to get over themselves writing all this stuff that I've changed my mind on the Civil Rights Act. Have I ever had a philosophical discussion about all aspects of it?  Yeah and I learned my lesson. To come on msnbc and have a philosophical discussion, the liberals will come out of the woodwork and they will go crazy and say you're against the Civil Rights Act and you're some terrible racist. 
"And I take great objection to that because in Congress I think there is nobody else trying harder to get people back their voting rights, to get people back and make the criminal justice system fair. So I take great offence to people who want to portray me as something that I'm not."
Ari, who knows the truth, followed up, noting that Paul raised objections to key provisions of the law. The senator wouldn't budge, adding, "I never was opposed to Civil Rights Act and I've been attacked by half a dozen people on your network, trying to say that I'm opposed to the Civil Rights Act and somehow now I've changed. So I'm not really willing to engage with people who are misrepresenting, you know, my viewpoint on this."
After the senator stressed the importance of having "an honest discussion," Ari responded, "I think the honest discussion is, you said that some titles of [the Civil Rights Act], Title II and Title VII that relate to private businesses..."
Paul interrupted, "The honest discussion of it would be that I never was opposed to the Civil Rights Act. And when your network does 24 hours news telling the truth, then maybe we can get somewhere with the discussion."
In the interest of an "honest discussion," let's set the record straight.

House GOP border fight and other headlines

07/31/14 07:57AM

Tea party opposition puts fate of House Republican border bill up in the air. (Washington Post)

Immigration courts speed up children's cases. (AP)

Don't screw this up, GOP senators tell their House counterparts. (The Hill)

U.S. Attorney warns NY Governor Cuomo about ethics case. (NY Times)

It's a big day in Wisconsin as the state Supreme Court is expected to rule on union bargaining, voter ID, and same-sex partnerships. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

A.G. Eric Holder takes voting rights battle to Ohio, Wisconsin. (Wall Street Journal)

Bush 43 has written a biography of Bush 41. (Washington Post)

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 7.30.14

07/30/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Done deal: "The House voted overwhelmingly to pass the compromise health care overhaul aimed at slashing wait times at Veterans Affairs facilities. The bill is expected to easily pass the Senate and head to President Barack Obama's desk before Congress leaves for the August recess." The final vote was 420 to 5, with all 5 opponents coming from the House GOP.
* Gaza: "Palestinian health officials said at least 20 people were killed by what witnesses and United Nations officials said was the latest in a series of strikes on United Nations facilities that are supposed to be safe zones in the 23-day-old battle between Israel and Hamas and other militants."
* The complexities of the Middle East: "After the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states -- including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan -- that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip."
* West Africa: "The spread of the deadly Ebola virus has prompted the Peace Corps to evacuate volunteers from three West African countries, the organization announced today."
* Voting rights: "The Justice Department is lending its support to lawsuits filed by activists in Ohio and Wisconsin against Republican-backed voting laws that they say have a negative impact on minority voters."
* Not helpful, Europe: "Kidnapping Europeans for ransom has become a global business for Al Qaeda, bankrolling its operations across the globe. While European governments deny paying ransoms, an investigation by The New York Times found that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have taken in at least $125 million in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, of which $66 million was paid just last year."
* Does this make passage more or less likely? "The White House threatened to veto the House's $659 million border supplemental Wednesday, saying it could actually make the child migrant crisis worse. The veto threat could buck up Democrats looking to kill the bill in an effort to push Republicans to pass a more generous version."
U.S. President Barack Obama

Obama urges GOP to 'stop hating all the time'; GOP responds with lawsuit

07/30/14 05:06PM

President Obama was in Kansas City, Missouri, this morning, speaking at the Uptown Theater where he was, to put it mildly, fired up and ready to go. The full video is not yet available online, but the transcript is, and it shows an energetic president feeling a sense of urgency.
"Some of the things we're doing without Congress are making a difference, but we could do so much more if Congress would just come on and help out a little bit," the president said. "Just come on. Come on and help out a little bit. Stop being mad all the time. Stop just hating all the time. Come on. Let's get some work done together."
He seemed quite sincere. GOP lawmakers readied their response just a few hours later.
Republicans pushed a divided House Wednesday toward a campaign-season lawsuit against President Barack Obama, accusing him of deliberately exceeding the bounds of his constitutional authority. Obama and other Democrats derided the effort as a stunt aimed at tossing political red meat to conservative voters.
Just a day before lawmakers were to begin a five-week summer recess, debate over the lawsuit underscored the harshly partisan tone that has dominated the current Congress almost from its start in January 2013.
The debate is still underway on the House floor right now, though it's expected to pass the Republican-led chamber.
In case anyone's forgotten, after months of rhetoric about a lawless, out-of-control White House, GOP leaders decided to sue -- over a deadline for an obscure Affordable Care Act provision.
Making matters slightly worse, the Republicans are suing to require the Obama administration to immediately implement a policy the GOP lawmakers themselves do not actually want to see implemented.
No wonder the president seems so eager to talk about this.

A photo-op gone wrong in Connecticut

07/30/14 04:14PM

It hasn't generated much national attention, but Connecticut is home to one of the year's most competitive gubernatorial races, with incumbent Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) facing a very tough challenge from businessman Tom Foley (R), and former ambassador during the Bush/Cheney administration. The same two candidates faced off four years ago, with Malloy eking out a victory by less than 7,000 votes.
Polls show Foley fairly well positioned in their rematch, though incidents like these really aren't going to help (thanks to my colleague Ron Dodd for the heads-up).
Near the gate of a doomed paper mill, Republican Tom Foley alighted from the back seat of a blue BMW sedan Tuesday to assail the economic policies of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, only to find himself in a raucous street debate with the local first selectwoman and soon-to-be jobless workers.
Foley, a candidate for governor, came to fault Malloy for the recently announced plans by a global investment firm to close Fusion Paperboard, costing 140 jobs in this struggling mill town. By the time he left, Foley had defended the decision of the absentee owners and told the selectwoman and workers they shared blame for the mill's demise.
I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. A paper mill is closing in a Connecticut town, so the governor's challenger wants to play the role of opportunist, blaming the decision on the current gubernatorial administration.
But in this case, Foley doesn't seem to have thought the issue through all the way, at least not before showing up with the cameras in the hopes of exploiting a struggling community's job losses for partisan gain.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks during a gala prior to the start of the Virginia GOP Convention in Roanoke, Va., Friday, June 6, 2014.

Paul Ryan's poor excuse for inaction

07/30/14 01:03PM

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sat down with the Washington Examiner this week, and was asked about whether his party needs to present an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. "I do believe it's our obligation to articulate what we would replace Obamacare with and what the health care system would look like under our reforms," the congressman replied.
So where is the GOP plan? House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said late last week the proposal is "not there yet."
No rush, guys. Republicans have only been working on it for five years.
Of course, the public has also been waiting for House GOP lawmakers to present their immigration-reform plan, which has been equally elusive. In the same interview, Ryan rolled out his excuse for inaction.
Influential Rep. Paul Ryan, in the latest demonstration of distrust between the GOP and President Obama, said that broad immigration reform is dead because Republicans have "no confidence or faith" that the president will do as Congress orders on the U.S.-Mexico border.
"There is just no confidence or faith that the president will faithfully discharge his duties in executing and implementing the laws as written by Congress at this time," said Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee and current budget committee chairman.
The Washington Examiner's report added that Ryan believes there's "no chance that broad [immigration] reform, like the type he supports or that already passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate, will ever see the light of day."
Obviously, we already knew that House Republicans killed comprehensive immigration reform, so Ryan's comments on legislative prospects hardly come as a shock, though it certainly sends signals to the White House that unilateral action from President Obama is now the only way forward.
It also raises questions anew about why Republicans won't consider the Senate Democratic offer to pass immigration reform now, to be implemented in 2017.
But I'm struck by the scope of Ryan's bizarre excuse for doing nothing.