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US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Oval Office of the White House, Sept. 30, 2013.

Netanyahu becomes political player, so Kerry treats him like one

02/26/15 09:13AM

Secretary of State John Kerry testified on Capitol Hill yesterday, and going into the hearing, it was widely expected that he'd tout the importance of international nuclear talks with Iran. He did exactly that, though he also went a little further in challenging a critic of those talks.
Secretary of State John Kerry reminded Americans on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who is expected to denounce a potential nuclear deal with Iran during an address to Congress next week, also visited Washington in late 2002 to lobby for the invasion of Iraq.
 
Apparently referring to testimony on the Middle East that Mr. Netanyahu delivered to Congress on Sept. 12, 2002, when he was a private citizen, Mr. Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, "The prime minister, as you will recall, was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush, and we all know what happened with that decision."
In 2002, Netanyahu assured lawmakers that invading Iraq was a great idea. "If you take out Saddam, Saddam's regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region," he said at the time.
 
We now know, of course, that Netanyahu's guarantee was spectacularly wrong, which matters insofar as credibility still counts -- the same Israeli leader is now telling lawmakers an international agreement with Iran would be a disaster for the United States and its allies. Kerry's point wasn't subtle: those who were this wrong before probably shouldn't be trusted to be right now.
 
There's something almost refreshing about this. Note, there's nothing personal or even electoral about the administration's message -- Kerry didn't offer some prolonged complaint about Netanyahu and the Israeli elections, or the unprecedented nature of the prime minister's partnership with congressional Republicans.
 
It's far more straightforward. Netanyahu has positioned himself as a participant in a policy debate and, at the same time, he's claiming great credibility on the subject matter. The White House is responding in kind, treating Netanyahu as a policy rival.
 
What's wrong with this? Actually, nothing.

Jobless claims remain stubbornly volatile

02/26/15 08:42AM

It's never good news when initial unemployment claims go up, but it's especially discouraging when they spike unexpectedly.
The number of Americans seeking first-time unemployment benefits rose last week, a sign the labor market may have lost some steam after last month’s solid job growth.
 
Initial jobless claims rose by 31,000 to a seasonally adjusted 313,000 in the week ended Feb. 21, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected 290,000 new claims.
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.
 
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it’s considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape. At this point, we’ve been below 300,000 in 19 of the last 24 weeks. On the other hand, we’ve been above 300,000 four of the last seven weeks.
A marijuana plant.

High times in the nation's capital

02/26/15 08:00AM

When voters in Alaska, Colorado, and the state of Washington voted to legalize marijuana, state laws honored the will of the public. But when voters in our nation's capital did the same thing, the Republican-led Congress intervened. Things got a little complicated.
 
Technically, as of early this morning, marijuana possession became legal in Washington, D.C. But GOP lawmakers, specifically in the U.S. House, have not-so-subtly urged local officials not to proceed with the city's plans.
"I think the attorney general should prosecute people in the District who participate in this under the Anti-Deficiency Act," said Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), who introduced the appropriations amendment intended to block the city from moving forward with the marijuana legalization measure passed by voters in November.
 
The federal Anti-Deficiency Act imposes criminal penalties on government employees who knowingly spend public funds in excess of their appropriated budgets.
The Washington Post report added that House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sent D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) a rather aggressive letter this week, warning of legal repercussions.
 
"If you decide to move forward tomorrow with the legalization of marijuana in the District, you will be doing so in knowing and willful violation of the law," Chaffetz's letter said. It was signed by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chair of the House panel that oversees D.C. affairs. In a follow-up interview, Chaffetz told the Post that local officials run the risk of going "to prison for this."
 
The irony is hard to miss. Conservative Republicans, committed to a small federal government and the importance of local control, realize that the people of the District of Columbia overwhelmingly voted to make pot legal. The decision enjoys the broad support of D.C. officials. And yet, these same conservative Republican lawmakers appear willing to put their principles aside, at least in this specific case.
 
So what happens now?

'Jihadi John' identified and other headlines

02/26/15 07:26AM

'Jihadi John' of ISIS identified. (Washington Post)

Activists: number of Christians abducted by ISIS in Syria rises to 220. (AP)

CPAC starts today, and American Bridge trackers will be there. (The Hill)

DC legalizes pot--and it's going to be complicated. (Daily Intelligencer)

FCC Chairman tweaks net neutrality plan ahead of today's vote. (Politico)

3 more Mississippi men sentenced for racially-motivated beatings that led to the death of a black man. (AP)

Beware, Boston parking-space savers. The city is coming for your chairs. (Boston.com)

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Bill O'Reilly reporter threats indefensible

Bill O'Reilly threats against reporters indefensible

02/25/15 10:36PM

Rachel Maddow excoriates Bill O'Reilly and Fox News for taking his bombast to the point of directly threatening reporters for reporting, and highlights the recent series of revelations about uncorrected false claims O'Reilly has made on Fox News. watch

David Corn on threats from Bill O'Reilly

David Corn on being threatened by Bill O'Reilly

02/25/15 09:47PM

David Corn, D.C. bureau chief for Mother Jones, talks with Rachel Maddow about being threatened by Fox News' Bill O'Reilly by being placed in his "kill zone" and the Fox News host's strategy of arguing with bombast instead of facts. watch

Obama pushes ahead on immigration reform

Obama pushes ahead on immigration reform

02/25/15 09:00PM

José Díaz-Balart talks with Rachel Maddow about highlights from President Obama's town hall in which the president emphasized his intention to press forward with his plans for immigration reform, and took shots at Republicans for blocking progress. watch

Decryptomaddowlogical #108

02/25/15 05:45PM

The little problem we were having with the comment thread has been fixed! So we're back in the Decryptomaddowlogical saddle!

Last night Rachel pointed out that, in what appears to have been an act of misplaced faith in their Republican colleagues, Senate Democrats did not act to confirm Loretta Lynch as the new attorney general in the last Congress, and now her nomination has been languishing for no apparent substantive reason. Of course, by now we've learned that substantive reasons are not a necessity when it comes to conservatives working themselves into an outraged state of upset over a proposal from President Obama; there always exists the threat from...

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 2.25.15

02/25/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* New York: "Three men from Brooklyn, New York, were arrested and accused of plotting to wage jihad for ISIS, authorities said Wednesday. One of them had offered to kill President Barack Obama if the militants asked him to, they said."
 
* Tick tock: "The Senate voted Wednesday to move ahead with a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security after Democratic leaders dropped an earlier pledge to block it unless they get assurances from House Republican leaders that it would pass their chamber. The bill advanced on a procedural vote by a 98-2 margin."
 
* This could get ugly: "Rank-and-file House Republicans on Wednesday bashed the Senate GOP's plan to vote on a 'clean' Homeland Security funding bill, arguing they wanted to stand firm in attacking President Obama's immigration actions."
 
* The Fed: "House Republicans on Wednesday peppered Janet L. Yellen, the Federal Reserve chairwoman, with pointed questions about the central bank's stimulus campaign and its responsibilities as a financial regulator."
 
* Not the news Japan wanted to hear: "The operator of Japan's tsunami-stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant admitted it failed to report a radioactive rainwater leak from the facility for about 10 months."
 
* This could go on for a while: "President Barack Obama might have vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline, but the fight over the pipeline is far from over. House Speaker John Boehner said as much in a video message after Monday's veto: 'All I want to say is the fight's not over.'"
 
* Smart move: "The Treasury Department has an easy fix for taxpayers who filed their returns using inaccurate data sent by HealthCare.gov: They don't have to do anything at all."
In this handout provided by The White House, U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a working dinner in Laurel Cabin, seated clockwise from the president are: Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of Russia,...

The 'trust and confidence of our friends'

02/25/15 05:10PM

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's (R) big foreign policy speech didn't go quite as well as he'd hoped last week, but his campaign team has nevertheless packaged excerpts from the event into a new 30-second ad. There's nothing especially remarkable about the commercial, though it included a claim that stood out for me.
"Everywhere you look, you see the world slipping out of control," Bush begins. "We have lost the trust and confidence of our friends. We definitely know no longer inspire fear in our enemies."
This comes on the heels of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) having a chat last week with Donald Trump about and "how poorly" the United States is "perceived throughout the world."
 
And just last year, it was Mitt Romney who argued, “It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office.”
 
It seems to be one of those myths that's simply accepted as fact: the United States enjoyed global respect and admiration, right up until that rascally Obama took office and ruined everything. Now, as Jeb Bush put it, we've "lost the trust and confidence of our friends."
 
If this were in any way true, the president's critics might have a point, but the evidence points in the exact opposite direction.
A T.J. Maxx in the Chicago area. (Photo by Jeff Schear/Getty for T.J. Maxx)

More retailers boosting U.S. wages

02/25/15 03:50PM

Congressional Republicans are in a position to block every effort to raise the federal minimum wage, but the economy is moving on without them.
 
Some of the nation's largest retailers -- Gap, Ikea, and Wal-Mart, among others -- have already raised their company's minimum wages. Today, another major retailer joined the club, reinforcing the larger trend [edited, see update below].
Less than a week after Wal-Mart announced that it would raise wages for 500,000 employees to $9 an hour in April, off-price retailer TJX said in its fourth-quarter earnings report that it, too, will boost pay.
 
The parent company of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods said Wednesday its full- and part-time hourly U.S. employees will earn at least $9 an hour starting in June. In 2016, all hourly U.S. workers who have been with the company for six months or more will earn at least $10 an hour.
Remember, as was the case with Wal-Mart, this is a done deal -- it's a private-sector move, which will occur regardless of Congress' wishes.
 
In terms of the broader economy, anytime one announcement means a half-million Americans are going to have a bigger paycheck, that's encouraging news, but there's a larger takeaway from these developments that's even more heartening.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (R) speaks with Speaker of the House John Beohner (R-OH) in Washington in 2012.

GOP lost as Homeland Security deadline looms

02/25/15 12:58PM

It's tempting to think that Republican lawmakers, eager to avoid a Homeland Security shutdown later this week, are quietly scrambling behind the scenes. Sure, it looks like they're doing no work whatsoever -- they even took last week off -- but perhaps that's just the public view. Out of sight, GOP leaders may be working towards a resolution before the deadline.
 
Speaker John Boehner told a closed meeting of House Republicans Wednesday morning he has not spoken to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in two weeks, and added that it's up to the upper chamber to figure out how to avoid a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.
 
His comments came in a Wednesday morning meeting of House Republicans, just three days before DHS is slated to run out of money.
A veteran Republican senator told Politico yesterday, "It seems like McConnell and Boehner aren't even talking to each other. It is mind-boggling."
 
As it turns out, it doesn't just "seem" that way; it is that way..
 
It's quite an operation the Republican majority is running, isn't it? McConnell and Boehner are careening towards an easily avoided ditch, but they're not even speaking to each other about their direction.
 
As if this weren't enough to rattle confidence in the GOP's competence, the process is unfolding in an increasingly haphazard way. McConnell effectively waved the white flag yesterday, offering Democrats a clean spending bill that would avoid a Homeland Security shutdown in exchange for a separate bill in which Republicans would try (and fail) to undo President Obama's immigration policy. Senate Democratic leaders said McConnell's solution would work, but Dems want some assurances that the Republican-led House is on board with the plan.
 
Boehner and House GOP leaders have no intention of offering any such assurances. In fact, this morning the Speaker said his chamber doesn't actually intend to do anything until the Senate acts on its own solution.
 
Complicating matters further, Boehner is very likely aware of the whispers about his job being in jeopardy.

Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.25.15

02/25/15 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:
 
* A new Quinnipiac poll in Iowa shows Scott Walker with a surprisingly big lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, enjoying 25% support among the state's GOP voters. The next closest competitor is Rand Paul with 13%, followed by Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee tied at 11%. Jeb Bush is fifth with 10%. Chris Christie is seventh in the poll and has the lowest favorability numbers of any major candidate.
 
* At the national level, PPP also shows Scott Walker out in front with 25% support, followed by Ben Carson at 18% and Jeb Bush at 17%. Mike Huckabee, with 10% support, is the only other candidate above 5% in the poll.
 
* Hillary Clinton appeared at the Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women yesterday, sounding very much like a presidential candidate. In a preview of her likely 2016 message, Clinton emphasized wage growth in the economy.
 
* In Kentucky, Sen. Rand Paul (R) is eager to change his party's presidential nominating system, and this week, his efforts received a high-profile endorsement: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) is now on board with Paul's plan.
 
* As expected, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D) announced this morning that he's running for the U.S. Senate this cycle. If he gets his party's nod, Strickland will face incumbent Sen. Rob Portman (R) next year.
 
* In a bit of a surprise, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) announced yesterday that he will not be a U.S. Senate candidate in 2016. The news boosts state Attorney General Kamala Harris' (D) odds as she works to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer (D).

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About The Rachel Maddow Show

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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