Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

Nov. 20 2014 1:32 PM

Even a Government Shutdown Wouldn’t Stop Obama’s Immigration Overhaul

Congressional Republicans remain committed to blocking President Obama’s plans to unilaterally overhaul the nation’s broken immigration system. Their problem, however, is that they appear to be running out of options to do it.

House Speaker John Boehner and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have made it clear that they want to avoid another government shutdown. Instead, Republicans had hoped they’d be able to do the job with a more laser-like cut to the budget by zeroing out funds for the agencies that would implement Obama’s executive actions. The problem there, however, is that it now looks like that’s not possible after all.

Here’s the statement from the House Appropriations Committee, the powerful, GOP-controlled panel that writes the spending bills that keep the government’s lights on (emphasis mine):

The primary agency for implementing the president’s new immigration executive order is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This 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. The agency has the ability to continue to collect and use fees to continue current operations, and to expand operations as under a new executive order, without needing legislative approval by the Appropriations Committee or the Congress, even under a continuing resolution or a government shutdown.

In short, not only can’t Republicans kill Obama’s plan with the scalpel (a specific spending bill), there’s not a lot they can do with an ax (a government shutdown) either. The silver lining for GOP leadership, though, is the announcement may take the steam out of their more right-wing colleagues who want a full shutdown to remain on the table.

Meanwhile, things don’t look any more promising on the legal front. GOP assertions aside, there’s no evidence that Obama’s plan is illegal, and most experts agree that the expected moves have plenty of legal precedent behind them. That’s not to suggest Republicans won’t wage a legal challenge, just that they’ll be less likely to succeed in the court of law if and when they do.

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Nov. 20 2014 12:23 PM

Watch Bill Cosby’s Standoff With the AP Over a Question About Rape Allegations

With Bill Cosby facing an increasing number of accusations of sexual assault, the Associated Press has released a video of a standoff between Cosby and an AP reporter who asked him, during an interview about another topic, to comment on the allegations. "There's no response," Cosby says. "I don't talk about it." The interview, which you can watch above, was taped on Nov. 6—before Joan Tarshis and Janice Dickinson became the fifth and sixth women to allege publicly that Cosby sexually assaulted them.

Nov. 20 2014 11:59 AM

Police Killed a Gunman Who Wounded Three Students at a Florida State Library

A gunman shot three students at a Florida State campus library early Thursday morning before being killed by police.* One student is in critical condition at a Tallahassee hospital, another is in good condition, and the third was treated and released at the scene. From the Tallahassee Democrat:

The lone gunman was confronted by officers at the front of the library shortly after shots were reported. Officers with the Tallahassee Police Department and FSU Police Department ordered the man to drop his weapon, but he fired at them instead. Officers returned fire, killing the man, who has not been identified.

"More than 300 students" were in Strozier Library at 12:30 a.m. when the shooting occurred. The shooter's motive is as of yet unknown.

Correction, Nov. 20, 2014: This post originally indicated the shooting took place on Wednesday night. It occurred early Thursday morning.

Nov. 20 2014 10:27 AM

Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb Launches 2016 Presidential Campaign Website

Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb has become the first potential candidate to take an official step toward entering the 2016 presidential race, launching a website (Webb2016.com) and an "exploratory committee" that will allow him to raise (and spend) money while he decides whether to put together a full campaign.

A letter from Webb posted on his website mentions his service in the Marine Corps and bemoans the economic inequality that he says is undermining the United States' ideals: 

We haven’t been perfect and from time to time, as with today, we have drifted to the fringes of allowing the very inequalities that our Constitution was supposed to prevent. Walk into some of our inner cities if you dare, and see the stagnation, poverty, crime, and lack of opportunity that still affects so many African Americans. Or travel to the Appalachian Mountains, where my own ancestors settled and whose cultural values I still share, and view the poorest counties in America – who happen to be more than 90 percent White, and who live in the reality that “if you’re poor and White you’re out of sight.”

(If you dare!)

Webb served in the Senate from 2007 to 2013 and did not run for re-election. He's the author of a number of books, both fiction and nonfiction, has a law degree from Georgetown, and has gone in and out of politics, working in several government positions—including as the secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan. (He also has a screenwriting credit on the 2000 movie Rules of Engagement, which starred Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones.) As the excerpt above indicates, his rural roots are a major part of his public identity; his potential appeal to the white working class would presumably be an asset to a national campaign.

Another big part of Webb's identity throughout his career, the New Republic's Jason Zengerle wrote recently, has been anger—Webb was motivated during his 2006 Senate run by the Bush administration's poor handling of the Iraq war and has aggressively criticized Obama's continued "entanglements" in the Middle East while considering the 2016 presidential race. But: "Once the proximate cause of Webb’s anger is resolved and his frustration dissipates, so does Webb’s interest in politics," Zengerle writes about the Virginian, wondering if outrage alone will be enough to sustain his interest in a long presidential campaign. As of today, we're about to find out.

Nov. 19 2014 10:13 PM

Years Before Snowden, NSA Officials Questioned Collecting Americans’ Phone Records

Edward Snowden wasn’t the only one concerned with the National Security Agency’s secret collection of Americans' telephone records. Years before Snowden’s disclosure of the agency’s data mining ways, some NSA executives argued the surveillance program's methods "exceeded the agency's mandate to focus on foreign spying and would do little to stop terror plots,” the Associated Press reports.

“The 2009 dissent, led by a senior NSA official and embraced by others at the agency, prompted the Obama administration to consider, but ultimately abandon, a plan to stop gathering the records,” according to the AP. The previously unreported internal discord surfaced on Wednesday, a day after the Senate voted down an overhaul of the NSA’s surveillance program that would have limited the agency’s access to Americans’ phone records. The proposed reform, backed by the Obama administration, would have placed restrictions on the NSA similar to those rejected by the administration in 2009.

Here’s more on the pre-Snowden internal debate at the NSA from the AP:

[A now-retired NSA official] says he argued to then-NSA Director Keith Alexander that storing the calling records of nearly every American fundamentally changed the character of the agency, which is supposed to eavesdrop on foreigners, not Americans… The former official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because he didn't have permission to discuss a classified matter, said he knows of no evidence the program was used for anything other than its stated purpose - to hunt for terrorism plots in the U.S. But he said he and others made the case that the collection of American records in bulk crossed a line that he and his colleagues had been taught was sacrosanct… Alexander, who led the NSA from 2005 until he retired last year, did not dispute the former official's account, though he said he disagreed that the program was improper.
The dissent prompted NSA leaders to examine whether the agency could stop gathering and storing domestic landline calling records and instead access the records as needed from the telephone companies, Alexander said. The NSA consulted with the Justice Department, Congress and the White House, newly occupied by President Barack Obama. But the government ultimately decided against changing what most officials still view as a necessary bulwark against domestic terror plots, Alexander and other former officials said.

Nov. 19 2014 9:31 PM

Congressman: Obama’s Immigration Move Could Prompt Impeachment, Prison Time

Conservatives hate everything about the president’s imminent immigration move, starting with its timing, and one House member is hinting that the executive action could result in impeachment, and maybe even prison time.

President Obama is expected to announce his executive action on immigration—a move which could defer deportations for as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants—on Thursday.

Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, one of the lower chamber’s most energetic critics of comprehensive immigration reform, suggested that the president’s move could potentially be grounds for impeachment, or even prison time.

Brooks said there is a federal statute (“I don’t have the citation for it at the tip of my tongue”) making it a felony to aid, abet, or entice a foreigner to illegally enter the U.S.

“At some point, you have to evaluate whether the president’s conduct aids or abets, encourages, or entices foreigners to unlawfully cross into the United States of America,” he continued. “That has a five-year in-jail penalty associated with it.”

Brooks isn’t sure on what grounds impeachment proceedings might be justified because he hasn’t seen the outlines of the president’s actions yet.

“If the president is simply not obeying a statute that is noncriminal in nature, that does not necessarily rise to a high crime or a misdemeanor,” Brooks said.

“I don’t know what he’s going to do yet,” he continued. “Until we see what he’s going to do, it is difficult to say whether he is violating a civil statute or violating a criminal statute.”

The president isn’t going to be impeached, or be sent to jail for five years. But he is definitely going to upset a lot of Republicans.

After Thursday’s announcement, Obama will travel to Las Vegas on Friday to try to build support for the move.

“It’s political and it is cynical, but it’s how he governs,” said Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert. “And how appropriate! Go out where he can be at Caesar’s Palace if he’s gonna play Caesar.”

Congress’s Thanksgiving recess is set to begin a few hours before the president’s statement. His decision to hold off on announcing the action until most members leave town has left some Republicans feeling rankled.

Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar said his timing is part of a pattern.

“It’s a cheap way to go,” Gosar said. “He’s trying to throw a Hail Mary right now.”

Gosar added that the White House also dumped documents on the Benghazi and “Fast and Furious” controversies on Fridays.

And outgoing Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann said the timing is “completely cynical.”

“It shows the cowardice of the president,” she said.

“We’re here to protect the best interests of natural-born Americans,” she continued, “and the president wants to bring a new voting bloc as an insurance policy for the 2016 elections.”

Rep. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming also said the move’s timing was “bad form.”

Nov. 19 2014 8:06 PM

Federal Judge Overturns Montana Gay Marriage Ban Effective Immediately

A federal judge on Wednesday struck down Montana’s ban on gay marriage, ruling the state’s prohibition of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. District Judge Brian Morris, mirroring recent federal rulings elsewhere, found the state’s marriage restrictions violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Unlike previous rulings, Morris did not stay his injunction, meaning gay couples are free to marry effective immediately.

“Montana Gov. [Democrat] Steve Bullock said in a statement he has instructed his administration to quickly take the appropriate steps to ensure legally married same-sex couples are recognized and afforded the same rights and responsibilities that married Montanans enjoy,” the Associated Press reports. Montana state Attorney General Tim Fox, however, said his office will appeal the decision.

The court's ruling comes as part of a wave of federal court decisions overruling same-sex marriage bans. The 9th Circuit had already overturned similar statutes in Nevada and Idaho. The exception to the legal trend is a recent decision by the 6th Circuit. “That decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backing four states' bans created a split within the courts, increasing the chances the Supreme Court will rule once and for all on whether states can ban gay marriage,” Reuters reports.

“Before Wednesday, same-sex couples could marry in 32 states, parts of Kansas and Missouri, and the District of Columbia,” according to the AP.

Nov. 19 2014 7:52 PM

Texas Congressman Says Ted Cruz Not Speaking for State on Immigration

Sen. Ted Cruz’s piece in Politico Magazine on Wednesday has drawn a lot of attention, not all of it kind.

In the piece, the Texas Senator charges that President Obama’s impending executive action on immigration “is lawless” and that if he makes the move, “he will be acting as a monarch.” Since his election in 2012, Cruz has vocally opposed comprehensive immigration reform.

A fellow member of the Texas congressional delegation said today that Cruz’s energetic opposition to comprehensive immigration reform doesn’t adequately represent his constituents.*

“I don’t think it’s reflective of Texas as a whole,” said Democratic Rep. Gene Green, chuckling.* “I think it’s reflective of the Republican primary.”

Green has represented his district, in the Houston area, since 1993. He favored the comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis, but didn’t get a vote in the House.

Regarding the president’s coming immigration move, Green added that, “a lot of folks think this is probably much later than it should be.”

Correction, 9:45 p.m.: This post originally misstated Congressman Gene Green’s party affiliation. He is a Democrat, not a Republican.

Nov. 19 2014 5:23 PM

Please Don’t Describe Obama’s Vegas Immigration Speech as “Doubling Down”

Facts:

Prediction:

  • Many writers will be tempted to say that Obama is "doubling down" on his immigration plan when he speaks about it in Las Vegas.

Another fact, though:

  • You don't "double down" in blackjack when you have questionable cards. You double down—which is to say, the dealer lets you double your bet in exchange for your agreement to only take one more card—when you're the most certain you have a winning hand. "Doubling down" in blackjack doesn't mean "taking a big risk even when other people are telling you not to."

An opinion:

  • In punditry, sounding savvy, cutting-edge, and with it is often rewarded more than being right. Hence "double down." Hence the terms "triangulation" and "triangulator" to describe concepts that are also conveyed by the old-fashioned words "compromise" and "moderate." And after a term is used enough times, even people who realize it's being used incorrectly or unnecessarily tend to just give up and go with the flow and use it that way too.

Conclusion:

  • The objections of picky language-whiners will be irrelevant, and uses of "double down" will fill America's headlines and news stories this weekend like so many chips filling the hands of a Las Vegas blackjack winner who has smartly doubled down on promising cards.

Thus is our language—nay, our very being, because what sets humankind apart from the beasts of forest and field if not language?—debased.

Nov. 19 2014 2:18 PM

NBC Cancels Bill Cosby Project

In the past week, two womenincluding well-known model Janice Dickinson—have come forward to say that they were sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby, becoming the fifth and sixth women to do so publicly. Hanna Rosin argued in Slate on Tuesday that, while Cosby is unlikely to face prosecution for these alleged crimes, he should face consequences in other venues. Rosin urged Netflix and NBC to drop the Cosby projects they had in the works:

So Netflix, don't air that Cosby post-Thanksgiving special, even though you have already paid for and shot it; NBC, cancel that Cosby sitcom.

In fact, soon after Rosin's piece was published, Netflix said it was postponing Cosby's special—and today, reports say, NBC has decided it will no longer pursue a potential Cosby sitcom. (The NBC news was first reported by BuzzFeed.)

One representative for Cosby called Dickinson's allegations "an outrageous and defamatory lie," while another said that other charges are "old and discredited." Neither representative has provided support for their assertions that the charges lack merit.  

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