Rachel Maddow tells the story of how the babies of Cuban crocodiles gifted to a Russia cosmonaut by Fidel Castro are returning to their native environment by way of Sweden in the hope of revitalizing their species. watch
Senator Elizabeth Warren explains to Rachel Maddow why she is reluctant to give fast track power to President Obama on a new trade deal, citing concerns that the crafting of the deal is 'rigged,' and insisting that the deal be made public first. watch
As Rachel pointed out last night, Oklahoma authorities haven't quite figured out how they'll administer nitrogent to a prisoner they intend to execute if it comes to that, but whether it's by mask or gas chamber or some other means, and whether this untested idea even works, it will certainly be a
Rachel Maddow shows the alarmingly unscientific way that Oklahoma came up with the idea of using nitrogen to execute prisoners, and shows how competition among Republican candidates on social issues is likely to add further chaos to the issue. watch
* Yemen: "Warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition conducted airstrikes Wednesday in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz, hours after Saudi officials had announced they were ending a nearly monthlong military operation against the Houthi rebel group in order to focus on a 'political process.'"
* Earth Day: "Speaking at an Earth Day event in Florida's scenic Everglades National Park Wednesday, President Obama sought to imbue his environmental message with urgency. 'We do not have time to deny the effects of climate change,' Obama said."
* The final vote was 99 to 0: "The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a stalled bill to fight human trafficking, freeing it to consider the nomination of Loretta E. Lynch to be the next attorney general."
* Gun violence isn't usually funny, but there are exceptions: "France said Wednesday it had foiled a jihadist plot to attack a church after an Algerian who accidentally shot himself was found with a stash of weapons and documents mentioning Islamist militant groups."
* Oklahoma: "Abandoning years of official skepticism, Oklahoma's government on Tuesday embraced a scientific consensus that earthquakes rocking the state are largely caused by the underground disposal of billions of barrels of wastewater from oil and gas wells."
* West Virginia: "Federal prosecutors plan to review evidence from a state investigation of the fatal shooting of a Virginia man by police in Martinsburg, West Virginia."
* California: "A bill that would require more California children to be vaccinated before they enter school was approved Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee, a week after it stalled when members of the panel voiced concerns that it would deprive many young people of an education."
* NSA reforms: "House negotiators are close to a deal that would effectively end the National Security Agency's controversial bulk data collection program, and congressional aides believe the bill is likely to win the endorsement of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), who opposed the legislation last year."
Late last year, a reporter asked President Obama whether the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay will be closed by the end of 2015. He didn't answer directly, but he committed to doing "everything I can to close it."
To that end, there was quite a bit of activity around that time to transfer approved detainees from the prison, reducing Guantanamo's overall population to 122. The Washington Postreports today that the race is on to lower it further before Congress ignores the military's advice and makes further transfers impossible.
Facing a potential showdown with Congress, the Pentagon is racing to move dozens of detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in coming months before lawmakers can block future transfers and derail President Obama's plan to shutter the U.S. military prison.
As a first step, officials plan to send up to 10 prisoners overseas, possibly in June. In all, the Pentagon hopes that 57 inmates who are approved for transfer will be resettled by the end of 2015.
An unnamed defense official told the Post, "I am aware of the clock ticking." [See the update below.]
The deadline, such as it is, does not refer to a specific expiration point, so much as it relates to Congress' plans. It's already clear Republican lawmakers intend to prohibit all future transfers, and though such a bill would draw an inevitable veto, things get trickier if Congress adds the policy to the next Pentagon spending bill.
If the administration can move 57 prisoners before this happens, the detainee population will shrink to just 65 individuals. The White House hopes that the arithmetic would then become undeniable, even to GOP lawmakers -- spending millions of dollars on a detention facility that the military wants to close, and which undermines the United States' global credibility, all to lock up 65 people who could easily be moved to secure domestic facilities is ridiculous.
The same article, however, included a tidbit I haven't seen reported anywhere else.
Two of the most prominent far-right voices in Washington, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have a Wall Street Journalop-ed today on an issue that's quickly becoming a major political dispute. The headline on their joint piece is important, in an interesting sort of way: "Putting Congress in Charge on Trade."
The United States is making headway on two historic trade agreements, one with 11 countries on the Pacific Rim and another with America's friends in Europe. These two agreements alone would mean greater access to a billion customers for American manufacturers, farmers and ranchers.
But before the U.S. can complete the agreements, Congress needs to strengthen the country's bargaining position by establishing trade-promotion authority, also known as TPA, which is an arrangement between Congress and the president for negotiating and considering trade agreements. In short, TPA is what U.S. negotiators need to win a fair deal for the American worker.
TPA is perhaps best known by its more common name: "fast-track."
Trade policy can get a little tricky, but the point of trade-promotion authority is to streamline the process. Under the plan, Congress would empower President Obama to move forward on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiating its specific provisions. If successful, the White House would then present a finished TPP to Congress for an up-or-down vote -- with no amendments.
Lawmakers would effectively have a take-it-or-leave-it opportunity.
Of course, the underlying policy goal of "fast-tracking" the process is to strengthen the president's hand, making it harder for Congress to intervene or alter an agreement. For Cruz and Ryan to suggest trade-promotion authority puts "Congress in charge" is pretty much the opposite of the truth -- their approach would guarantee that Obama and his team work on a trade deal with very little congressional contribution.
That's not criticism, per se. If you want the White House to negotiate without lawmakers' input, this might sound great. But let's not kid ourselves about "putting Congress in charge on trade," with a policy that would explicitly put the president in charge on trade. Lawmakers would still have the final say on whether to approve the agreement, but that's true whether "fast-track" passes or not.
And while all of this certainly matters, and will be the subject of spirited debate in the coming weeks and months, I can't help but notice that Republicans sure are selective when it comes to oversight.
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:
* Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), gearing up for a possible presidential campaign, was asked yesterday whether he considers the war in Iraq a mistake. "I'm just going to reserve my comment on that," the Ohio Republican replied. It's been 12 years, gov, you've had time to formulate an opinion.
* As Rachel explained on the show last night, Jeb Bush's campaign is prepared to "turn some of a campaign's central functions over" to a super PAC, which legally is not supposed to coordinate with candidates or their staffs. Jeb would "endow" the separate entity "not just with advertising on Bush's behalf, but with many of the duties typically conducted by a campaign."
* Speaking of the former Florida governor, Bush has long been out of step with his party's base on Common Core education standards, and over the weekend in New Hampshire, he seemed to take steps that distance himself, at least a bit, from his previous position.
* The latest CNN poll shows President Obama's national standing back above water, with a 48% approval rating and a 47% disapproval rating. The president's handling of the economy has also reached heights unseen in recent years.
* Though Chris Christie has indicated a willingness to compete in Iowa, the New Jersey Republican has declined an invitation to attend the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition's annual conference this weekend. At least nine other candidates are expected to participate.
In March, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took his climate denialism to a new level: the Republican lawmaker urged states to ignore the EPA. The Obama administration expects states to submit their plans to reduce carbon pollution, but McConnell said states should simply ignore the federal process.
A couple of weeks later, McConnell went just a little further, warning U.S. negotiating partners around the world to "proceed with caution" before reaching an agreement with U.S. officials about reducing carbon emissions. As the GOP leader sees it, President Obama and his team may assure foreign countries that we'll reach our goals, but McConnell wants the world to be skeptical of the White House's pledges.
To be sure, all of this is quite unusual. In the American tradition, our elected leaders do not usually encourage foreign countries to be distrustful of the United States. Though between McConnell, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and much of today's congressional GOP, one of our major parities seems to be making a habit out of it.
As President Obama rushes to cement his climate legacy, other nations are questioning whether his administration can make good on its promise to slash greenhouse-gas emissions ahead of a major climate summit in Paris at the end of this year.
"Certainly ... countries want to get reassurance that the U.S. can deliver on what we've said that we're doing," U.S. special envoy for climate change Todd Stern told reporters Monday when asked about challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to regulate carbon pollution from power plants. "I wouldn't say it's a big drumbeat, but I have definitely been asked that."
The White House's problem isn't skeptics of climate science; the problem is skeptics of the American political system.
The state Legislature has passed a bill expanding Medicaid eligibility to about 70,000 low-income Montana residents.
The bill approved Saturday heads to Gov. Steve Bullock, who is expected to sign it into law.
Bullock is likely to approve the policy -- as the AP report added, the governor "issued a statement applauding passage of the measure, saying he's glad politics could be put aside on behalf of the health of state residents and the economies of rural towns." The legislature, however, has not yet formally transmitted the bill to the governor's office.
Remember, as we talked about last week, at this point a year ago, Medicaid expansion in Montana looked like a lost cause, but in early May 2014, Bullock started arranging some "non-publicized" meetings on the issue. The governor saw a possible opportunity to advance the policy, so he started quiet negotiations with state Republicans and private-sector stakeholders.
It worked. Assuming the Obama administration signs off on the package, which is likely, Montana will expand health security to tens of thousands of low-income residents, while improving state finances and bolstering state hospitals.
Montana's AFP actually became something of a punchline during the debate, at one point arguing that expanded coverage would defy "the voices of millions of Montanans who have made it clear that they do not want more Obamacare." Montana's population is roughly a million people. There's no such thing as "millions of Montanans" -- a detail health care supporters were eager to point out.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's (R) economic "experiment" obviously hasn't gone well. The combination of debt downgrades, weak growth, and disastrous state finances have created an ongoing disaster in one of the nation's reddest states.
Complicating matters, conditions aren't improving. The state AP reported yesterday that Kansas is projecting the state will generate $187 million less in tax revenue than expected over the next year. The report is slightly worse than the projections Kansas officials faced a month ago, which were slightly worse than the projections the month before that.
Looking further ahead offers little relief. The unexpected shortfall is poised to get worse: the same projections show tax collections nearly $300 million below expectations through mid-2017.
The AP report added that the latest fiscal forecast is "likely" to force the Republican-dominated state government to "consider larger tax increases than they had expected to balance the state budget." That's true, though as Max Ehrenfreund explained yesterday, who'll shoulder the burden makes a big difference.
One thing they're not considering: asking the wealthy to chip in. Instead, in a legislature that last week barred welfare recipients from using their benefits to go swimming or watch movies, the proposals that look most likely to succeed are sales and excise taxes that would be paid disproportionately by Kansas's poor and working class. [...]
People who make less are more vulnerable to increases in sales and excise taxes, since they spend more of their money buying basic goods and services they need to get by. This is especially the case in Kansas, where food is subject to sales tax. Kansans can receive a tax rebate for their food purchases, but those who make nothing or too little to owe income tax aren't eligible. They pay the sales tax on food in full.
It's best to call this what it is: a redistribution of wealth, from the bottom up.
Former New York Gov. George Pataki (R) probably wouldn't be a competitive national candidate, but he nevertheless seems to be moving forward with his plans for a presidential campaign. Late last week, he even released an ad teasing a likely announcement.
In the spot, which is airing in New Hampshire, the Republican says he's had enough of "Obama-style socialism." He didn't appear to be kidding.
The comment came to mind yesterday reading Dave Weigel's latest report on Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who seems annoyed by scuttlebutt about Republicans nominating a governor, not a senator, for their 2016 ticket.
After Texas Senator Ted Cruz addressed the First in the Nation summit in Nashua, New Hampshire, on Saturday, he headed to a basement conference room for a conversation with young Republicans.... When one audience member asked Cruz what executive experience he could bring to the job, Cruz lambasted the "greybeards" in Washington for coming up with the "senator versus governor" framework in the first place.
"Obama is not a disaster because he was a senator," said Cruz. "Obama is a disaster because he's an unmitigated socialist, what he believes is profoundly dangerous, and he's undermined the Constitution and the role of America in the world."
Let's put aside the question of whether or not President Obama's successful tenure constitutes a "disaster," and instead focus on that other part.
They keep using that word, "socialism," but I don't think it means what they think it means.
When a fight over foreign policy breaks out between Republican Sens. Rand Paul, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham, knowing who to root for is a real challenge. Between them, the GOP lawmakers have been so wrong about so much, so often, that when there's a dispute, it's tempting to hope they all lose.
But their ongoing argument is interesting for one unexpected reason.
Let's first set the stage. The hawkish, McCain/Graham wing of the Republican Party has made no secret of its concerns about Rand Paul's presidential candidacy. The Kentucky senator, eager to push back, told a New Hampshire audience over the weekend, "There's a group of folks in our party who would have troops in six countries right now, maybe more." It was an uncharacteristic understatement for Paul -- McCain wants military confrontations in way more than six countries.
Nevertheless, McCain was irritated by Paul's criticism, telling Fox News this week, "He just doesn't understand. He has displayed this kind of naivete since he came to the Senate." Graham echoed the sentiment on msnbc yesterday.
"This comes from a group of people wrong about every policy issue over the last two decades," the Kentucky Republican said in an interview with Fox News, touting his credentials as the "one standing up to President Obama."
"And these people are essentially the lapdogs for President Obama and I think they're sensitive about that," he said.
Paul added, in reference to his GOP foreign-policy critics, "They supported Hillary Clinton's war in Libya; they supported President Obama's bombing of Assad; they also support President Obama's foreign aid to countries that hate us. So if there is anyone who is most opposed to President Obama's foreign policy, it's me. People who call loudest to criticize me are great proponents of President Obama's foreign policy -- they just want to do it 10 times over."
Action on the Senate floor has been stymied of late by a bizarre partisan dispute, but members finally reached a compromise yesterday that will clear things up. But before senators strain themselves patting themselves on the back, they might want to consider raising their standards for success.
Republicans and Democrats in the Senate reached an agreement Tuesday on an anti-human-trafficking bill, clearing the way for a vote on President Barack Obama's nomination of Loretta Lynch for attorney general.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he expected a vote on Lynch "in the next day or so."
The anti-human-trafficking bill has been pending since February, caught up in an obscure fight over abortion language. The delay over the Lynch nomination has lasted even longer, after Republican leaders tied it to the trafficking legislation for reasons even they can't explain.
But yesterday, members worked something out. As Sahil Kapur explained, the agreement now says "victims can use compensation funds for legal aid and a separate pool of taxpayer money for medical services.... Hyde Amendment restrictions on abortion (with narrow exceptions for rape, incest and to protect the mother's life) apply."
So what happens now? The trafficking bill will advance, likely with near-unanimous support, which will then lead to a confirmation vote for Lynch, probably tomorrow. She appears to have the votes needed to prevail.
Stepping back, Capitol Hill seemed quite pleased with itself after yesterday's breakthrough. The Hillreported this morning that Senate Republicans "are on a bit of a roll," adding that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has "passed an important leadership test this week by reaching a compromise."
His top lieutenant, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), boasted yesterday, "I've actually been somewhat surprised and more optimistic than I have been in a long time about how the Senate is beginning to work again."
That's one way to look at recent events. The other way suggests Cornyn has it backwards.
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.
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