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President Barack Obama announces executive actions on U.S. immigration policy during a nationally televised address from the White House, Nov. 20, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Jim Bourg/Pool/Getty)

'We were strangers once, too'

11/21/14 08:00AM

It's not every day that a leader can make an important, material difference in the lives of roughly 5 million people. It's what made President Obama's announcement last night such a breakthrough moment -- with congressional Republicans unwilling or unable to act, the president found a way to improve the immigration system on his own, changing the national landscape for millions of families.
"We expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect that those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we're going to offer the following deal: If you've been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you're willing to pay your fair share of taxes -- you'll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law."
I saw some suggestions last night that Obama extended "legal status" to undocumented immigrants. That's incorrect -- the White House policy extends temporary status to a limited group of immigrants and shields them from deportation threats. They'll be eligible to work legally in the United States, but as Obama noted in his remarks, further action would require statutory changes that only Congress can approve.
Indeed, one of the striking things about the president's speech was the degree to which he anticipated critics' arguments, explaining in advance why they're incorrect.
Republicans will say Obama's been lax on border security, so he reminded the nation that he increased border security and pushed illegal border crossings to a four-decade low. Republicans will say Obama hasn't worked in a bipartisan way with Congress, so he reminded viewers that he worked with both parties on the popular and bipartisan Senate bill. Republicans will say Obama's actions are unprecedented, so he reminded everyone that his new actions are "the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me."
Republicans will say Obama's policy is "amnesty," so the president explained, "Amnesty is the immigration system we have today -- millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time. That's the real amnesty -- leaving this broken system the way it is."
All of which is wrapped up with an emotional appeal that dovetails with the substantive merits: "Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger -- we were strangers once, too. My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too."
Will the policy help? Clearly, yes. Is the policy fair? Indeed, that's the point. Is the policy pro-family? Obviously. But is the policy legal?

Immigration plan and other headlines

11/21/14 07:45AM

Pres. Obama goes to Las Vegas today to sign two presidential memoranda about his immigration plan. (Politico)

Key elements of Obama's actions on immigration. (AP)

Some in GOP fear their hardliners will alienate Latino voters. (NY Times)

Democrats used Twitter, too, to coordinate with outside groups. (Huffington Post)

Details emerge about the gunman who shot into a college library in Florida. (USA Today)

Massachusetts town backs off tobacco ban after public outcry. (Washington Post)

Another African nation enacts law jailing gays for life. (AP)

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Not that we support drinking games but...

Not that we support drinking games but...

11/20/14 09:33PM

Rachel Maddow points out that while the show and the network do not support drinking games, if one were to play such a game, bitter Republican rhetoric about legislative retaliation against President Obama over immigration policy is a good place to start. watch

GOP seething over unilateral Obama action

GOP seething over unilateral Obama action

11/20/14 09:23PM

Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary, talks with Rachel Maddow about how the Obama administration will address Republican accusations of overreach and overcome deepening partisan acrimony over immigration. watch

Ahead on the 11/20/14 Maddow show

11/20/14 06:30PM

Tonight, we will have full coverage of President Obama’s address to the nation on immigration at 7:45 ET hosted by Rachel and Chris Hayes, followed by TRMS.

Tonight's guests:

  • Lawrence O'Donnell, host of MSNBC's "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell"
  • Steve Kornacki, host of MSNBC's "Up with Steve Kornacki"
  • Maria Hinojosa, co-anchor, PBS Need to Know and NPR's Latino USA
  • Maria Teresa Kumar, President & CEO, Voto Latino, MSNBC Contributor
  • Chris Jansing, NBC News senior White House correspondent
  • Rev. Al Sharpton, host of MSNBC's PoliticsNation
  • Rep. Luis Gutierrez, (D) Illinois
  • Janet Murguía, President and CEO, National Council of La Raza
  • Steve Schmidt, Republican strategist and MSNBC contributor 
  • Cristina Jimenez, co-founder and Managing Director of United We Dream
  • Doug Heye, former deputy chief of staff to former House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor
  • Sen. Mazie Hirono, (D) Hawaii
  • José Díaz-Balart, host of MSNBC's "The Rundown" and Telemundo anchor
  • Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary and MSNBC political analyst 
  • Nicolle Wallace, former Bush administration communications director

Check back soon for a preview of everything we have planned tonight.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 11.20.14

11/20/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* Gun violence: The man identified as the shooter who opened fire in the Florida State University library was a former prosecutor who descended into paranoia and recently posted on Facebook about being 'encouraged by your handler to kill.' ... Police say the 31-year-old was 'in a state of crisis' and believed he was being targeted by the government."
* Incredible: "A student at Florida State University said he is lucky to be alive after his backpack full of books stopped a bullet from hitting him during Thursday's shooting. Jason Derfuss said he only realized hours later the gunman had tried to shoot him when he found a bullet among the now-shredded books he had checked out of the library."
* Iran: "Far from the flashing cameras and microphones in Vienna, where Secretary of State John Kerry is going to join Iranian and United States diplomats in a final push to reach a compromise on Tehran's nuclear program, another political drama unfolded this week in a prominent auditorium in the Iranian capital."
* It was a dumb, careless, and unnecessary mistake. But given the larger context, it's hard to get too worked up about this: "The Obama administration included as many as 400,000 dental plans in a number it reported for enrollments under the Affordable Care Act, an unpublicized detail that helped surpass a goal for 7 million sign-ups."
* Nigeria: "The leader of a vigilante fighter group in Nigeria says Boko Haram militants have killed about 45 people in an attack on a village."
* South Carolina: "The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday denied a request to block gay marriage from proceeding in South Carolina, clearing the way for it to become the 35th U.S. state where same-sex marriage is legal."
* Meet the new Senate GOP? "A week into the lame-duck session, Senate Republicans are finding all kinds of ways to block President Barack Obama's judicial nominees -- even if that means obstructing their own nominees in the process."
The sun begins to set behind the US Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Obama's GOP critics run into an 'impossible' hurdle

11/20/14 04:55PM

For weeks, congressional Republicans opposed to President Obama's immigration policy have weighed their options, with many looking at the upcoming federal spending bill as the vehicle of choice. It's created the possibility of another GOP government shutdown.
But the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee today offered some bad news for the GOP lawmakers clamoring for a showdown: their plan may be "impossible" as a practical matter.
In a statement released by Committee Chairman Hal Rogers's (R-Ky.) office hours before Obama's scheduled national address, the committee said the primary agency responsible for implementing Obama's actions is funded entirely by user fees.
As a result, the committee said the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) agency would be able to continue to collect fees and carry out its operations even if the government shut down.
As The Hill reported, the House Appropriations Committee issued a written statement, saying, "This [CIS] agency is entirely self-funded through the fees it collects on various immigration applications. Congress does not appropriate funds for any of its operations, including the issuance of immigration status or work permits, with the exception of the 'E-Verify' program. Therefore, the appropriations process cannot be used to 'defund' the agency."
Rogers' spokesperson went on to tell reporters, "We cannot, literally cannot, defund that agency in an appropriations bill because we don't appropriate that agency. That agency is entirely fee-funded."
It's obviously an important detail: Congress can't deny funds to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services if Congress already provides no funding to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Right-wing lawmakers weren't satisfied with the answer -- Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told reporters, "I don't believe that" -- but let's not forget that this is an instance in which Republicans are telling other Republicans what the party doesn't want to hear. Rogers, who strongly opposes the White House policy, has no incentive to lie to his party's anti-immigration wing.
So, if "defunding" won't work, "recession" won't work, impeachment won't work, and a shutdown isn't realistic, are Republicans out of options? Not just yet.
Rep. Steve King and Rep. Michele Bachmann leave a House Republican conference meeting on Capitol Hill on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013 in Washington.

Bachmann sees Obama helping 'illiterate' immigrants

11/20/14 04:06PM

Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) deeply strange, eight-year congressional career will come to an end in January, but before she departs Capitol Hill, the right-wing Minnesotan has some more people to offend. Robert Costa reported yesterday:
In a sign of the difficulties GOP leaders face in keeping their unruly caucus on-message, retiring tea party firebrand Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said Wednesday that the immigrants given new protections by the president could become "illiterate" Democratic voters.
"The social cost will be profound on the U.S. taxpayer -- millions of unskilled, illiterate, foreign nationals coming into the United States who can't speak the English language," Bachmann told reporters at the Capitol. "Even though the president says they won't be able to vote, we all know that many, in all likelihood, will vote."
Bachmann went on to suggest non-citizens vote all the time -- she has no proof, but she added it's something "we all know" about -- which presumably is part of some dastardly plan from President Obama.
When Costa asked why she thinks undocumented immigrants are "illiterate," Bachmann said she was told as much during a trip to the U.S./Mexico border. "That's what they told me," the congresswoman said. "Those are not Michele Bachmann's words, those words came from Hispanics who live on the border."
Bachmann added that she may have referred to undocumented immigrants as "illiterate," but that's not "a pejorative term against people who are non-American citizens."
How reassuring.
As it turns out, she'll be able to learn even more fascinating insights "from Hispanics who live on the border" tomorrow.