Bain's Not Just Fair Game, It's the Only Game

 This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Obama supporters are seething and the RNC is dancing with delight in the aftermath of Newark Mayor Cory Booker's nonsensical comparison of ads exposing Mitt Romney's real record on job creation with racially tinged attacks on Barack Obama's former pastor.

The RNC thinks that it caught the Dems with their pants down, inadvertently admitting that Romney's work at Bain Capital should be off limits. But the indisputable fact is that Romney's experience at Bain is completely fair game -- Romney himself made that choice when he decided to present it as his chief qualification for the presidency. In fact, it's beyond fair game: if this election is truly about jobs and the economy, then Bain is one of the only games in town.

Romney, attempting to shed his record as Massachusetts governor as fast as he can, has chosen to run almost exclusively on his record as a "job creator" at Bain. Pay no attention to the governor behind the curtain, whose state ranked 47th of 50 states in job creation during his term! In the process, he's mixed up some of his "job creation" numbers and cherry-picked the facts he's chosen to tell the American people. Romney keeps telling us his side of the Bain story. But are we to completely ignore the very real stories of factories shut down and American jobs lost? Let's hear all sides of the story. Isn't that what elections are all about?

And let's also have an honest conversation about whether or not Romney's success in making money for investors through his position at Bain qualifies him to be president. Venture capital and private equity have a role to play in our economy. But making money for investors doesn't mean that you know how to make the economy work for all Americans. As President Obama pointed out yesterday, the goal of a private equity firm is to create wealth, not jobs -- most often, to make as much money as possible for a few investors. The goal of a president needs to be an economy that works for everybody. That's a critical difference.

Both candidates agree that this election is about the fundamental direction that our country will take for the next four years. We should embrace this. How about this simple concept: Let's have that full debate about all aspects of the relevant experience of both candidates and let the voters decide.


ALEC Fails Scantron's Test

Two more educational organizations, the for-profit Scantron Corporation and the nonprofit Lumina Foundation, have ended their association with the American Legislative Exchange Council, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.

Scantron, the educational testing company that produces standardized test forms (those ubiquitous bubble sheets), is the 15th corporation to sever ties with ALEC. The company was a member of ALEC’s Education Task Force, having first joined ALEC in late 2010. Lumina Foundation, a nonprofit foundation claiming to have invested assets in excess of $1 billion, makes grants to think tanks and other organizations with the goal of enrolling more Americans in college.

Scantron and Lumina join the growing list of educational organizations distancing themselves from ALEC’s education policies – an agenda that consistently prioritizes corporate profits over the needs of kids and communities. Other educational organizations to cut ties with ALEC include the for-profit Kaplan and the non-profit National Association of Charter School Organizers and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

PFAW Foundation

NYT Profiles Private Schools' Public Money Grab

Transferring public resources to private hands is a major component of the conservative agenda. An extensive profile of the push to weaken public schools and transfer wealth to private academies through tax credit programs is the subject of an extensive profile in today’s New York Times, which highlights how conservative legislators, school privatization advocates and organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council are helping secure tax dollars to bolster private school systems. Disguised as programs to help needy children gain access quality education, in reality these programs simply channel money to individuals who don’t need the assistance and boost profits for private schools, often at great cost to students and communities.

Across the country, state legislatures are adopting tax credit programs, which allow individuals and corporations to receive a dollar-for-dollar tax refund for donations to private school “scholarship funds.” In Georgia, for example, a couple can donate up to $2,500 to a nonprofit scholarship fund to be used to send a needy child to a private school. In turn, the donors can subtract their donation from their Georgia tax bill. But according to school administrators, needy children hardly benefit from the practice, with the majority of the funding benefitting children that already attend private schools:

“A very small percentage of that money will be set aside for a needs-based scholarship fund,” Wyatt Bozeman, an administrator at the school near Atlanta, said during an informational session. “The rest of the money will be channeled to the family that raised it.”

The result is a system in which gives selected students a taxpayer-funded education at a private school. Around the country, the Times notes, similar programs have redirected nearly $350 million from public budgets. This “tuition” money may go to the payrolls of the nonprofit scholarship groups or even to recruit star athletes – only a small portion goes to needy kids. Politics pervades the entire process, and it is glaringly evident that tax credit programs are more about making money than educating children:

Some of the programs have also become enmeshed in politics, including in Pennsylvania, where more than 200 organizations distribute more than $40 million a year donated by corporations. Two of the state’s largest scholarship organizations are controlled by lobbyists, and they frequently ask lawmakers to help decide which schools get the money, according to interviews. The arrangement provides a potential opportunity for corporate donors seeking to influence legislators and also gives the lobbying firms access to both lawmakers and potential new clients.

Organizations such as ALEC have been instrumental in spreading such programs around the country:

“ALEC is a huge player in pushing forward a conservative agenda based on the premise that the free market and private sectors address social problems better than the government,” said Julie Underwood, dean of the school of education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who has been critical of ALEC’s education agenda.

ALEC promotes a “Family Education Tax Credit Program” similar to the program adopted in Georgia. The organization promotes a number of other methods of transferring public education dollars to private hands. In addition to numerous voucher and scholarship programs, ALEC promotes its “Education Accountability Act,” which allows a state to override the elected school board and declare schools to be “educationally bankrupt” and divert funds to private schools. Perhaps the boldest plan is the “Virtual Public Schools Act,” which permits online education companies to receive the same per-pupil funding as a brick-and mortar school providing classrooms, athletic facilities, lunch and transportation services.

Politics also makes its way into the classroom. Because the tax credit system allows the money to stay in private accounts – from donors to scholarship funds to schools – the effect is a loophole that creates a legal fiction that they are not being supported with government funds. So state governments are funneling taxpayer money to religious education and political indoctrination of children, insulated from court review. Republican Arizona Representative Trent Franks, who is credited with the idea to insulate private schools from court challenges for constitutional violations this way, bragged that the teachers’ union called the scheme “fiendishly clever.” As a result, the public is forced to foot the bill for a curriculum that would be unacceptable for a public school:

Frances Paterson, a professor at Valdosta State University in Georgia who has studied the books, said they “frequently resemble partisan, political literature more than they do the traditional textbooks used in public schools.”

Mr. Arnold, the headmaster of the Covenant Christian Academy in Cumming, Ga., confirmed that his school used those texts but said they were part of a larger curriculum.

“You have to keep in mind that the curriculum goes beyond the textbook,” Mr. Arnold said. “Not only do we teach the students that creation is the way the world was created and that God is in control and he made all things, we also teach them what the false theories of the world are, such as the Big Bang theory and Darwinism. We teach those as fallacies.”

ALEC, corporate lobbyists and conservative activists are pulling the rug out from beneath American kids and communities. Tax credit programs, vouchers and other “scholarships” are being used to promote profits and politics above education. All children deserve access to a quality education – instead of taking money out of public schools, we should make sure they work for everyone.

PFAW Foundation

Bipartisan Call to Re-examine Citizens United

As the Supreme Court decides whether or not to hear a challenge to Montana’s prohibition on corporate independent expenditures to affect state elections, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) urged the court to let the Montana law stand, according to a report in Roll Call. Since that decision was handed down, super PACs have spent close to $100 million in this election. It’s time to take another look at the system and restore the balance of power to the people.

In the wake of Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates to unprecedented, unlimited corporate spending on politics, municipalities across the country have enacted resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. Passed before the Supreme Court’s decision, Montana has refused to stop enforcing its clean elections laws. Three corporations have filed a challenge, claiming the law is invalid under the Court’s ruling.

The Court can and should use this case as a means to full re-examine the Citizens United decision. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged that the case presents the Court with an opportunity to re-examine the Citizens United case. “A petition for certiorari will give the court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway,” Justices Ginsburg, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer, wrote in a statement.

Senator McCain is a longstanding proponent of campaign finance reform, and Senator Whitehouse is a supporter of a constitutional remedies to overturn Citizens United. Together they filed an amicus brief, echoing the justices’ concerns: “Evidence from the 2010 and 2012 electoral cycles has demonstrated that so-called independent expenditures create a strong potential for corruption and the appearance thereof. The news confirms, daily, that existing campaign finance rules purporting to provide for ‘independence’ and ‘disclosure’ in fact provide neither.” Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock and others also filed briefs urging the Court to either let the Montana ban stand or re-examine the Citizens United Ruling. A decision as to whether to hear the case is expected by June.

The Supreme Court was wrong when it decided that corporations should be able spend their vast treasuries on elections. The State of Montana is providing a welcome chance to fix that mistake.


Tell the Senate: We need the Paycheck Fairness Act!

Equal pay in America needed to be put back on track after the Supreme Court’s devastating Ledbetter v. Goodyear ruling, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act answered that call – as the first major milestone of the Obama Administration. Still, that law cannot on its own do the job of eliminating the wage gap. Additional tools are necessary to bring equality to the workplace and prevent further disturbing incidents like the one that befell Lilly Ledbetter. Especially in this unsteady economy, people who are struggling to pay their bills shouldn’t have to worry about whether they are being discriminated against in the workplace. We need the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 1519/S. 797).

The Paycheck Fairness Act strengthens the remedy, enforcement, and exception provisions of the existing Equal Pay Act. It engages the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Labor in a number areas including technical assistance, data collection and review of existing data, and the provision of wage discrimination training to government employees and individuals seeking their assistance. It supports negotiation skills training for women and girls and general public awareness regarding the means available to eliminate pay discrimination.

With a vote expected in the coming weeks, your Senators need to hear from you now. Today and tomorrow, May 22 and 23, we want to jam the phones to send a clear message of support for the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Every call counts! The more calls, the more pressure. The better the results. Please take action today by calling 888-876-9527.

After you reach your first Senator, be sure to call back so that your other Senator hears from you, too.

Tell them both that it’s time to Get Even:

And that Women Are Not WorthLess:

Thank the Senate cosponsors.

PFAW and its programs African American Ministers in Action and YP4 Action are strong supporters, among a strong coalition of local, state, and national organizations. Click here for our most recent letter.


ALEC Tries to Hamstring Attorneys General

A major component of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s agenda is shielding corporations from liability by removing consumer protections and limiting the people’s ability to seek justice in a court of law. At their meeting last week in Charlotte, N.C., ALEC’s Civil Justice Task Force considered legislation that would hamstring some of the mosteffective consumer advocates: state attorneys general.

Common Cause recently released some 4,000 of ALEC’s internal documents, including task force agendas, participants and model legislation. The documents revealed ALEC’s “Attorney General Authority Act” under consideration at the task force meeting, which seeks to limit state AGs from bringing suits against corporations. ALEC’s explanation of the bill reads in part:

Just as a private attorney cannot bring a suit on behalf of a client without the client agreeing and authorizing such action, and then only within the guidelines allowed by the client, so it should be with the attorney general. Rather than an attorney general deciding on his or her own what authority the office may have to bring a lawsuit, the authority should be defined by the state as reflected by the specific decisions of the legislature via statute. The legislature, not the attorney general, is best positioned to balance the competing concerns that go into the decision of whether to allow a cause of action and under what circumstances.

Put simply: this act would prohibit the attorney general from bringing a suit in the public’s interest unless the state legislature specifically authorizes it.

As the Minnesota Post astutely points out, a legislature that enacts such a provision to protect corporations is unlikely to subsequently grant the attorney general the authority to prosecute them. The consequences are significant: "This legislation would have prevented [an attorney general] from suing tobacco manufacturers in the ‘90s for tobacco-related health costs associated with the Medicaid program,” said Mike Dean, head of Common Cause of Minnesota. “It is easy to see why corporations would want to stop these types of lawsuits because tobacco manufacturer were forced to pay $6.1 billion in a settlement to the state of Minnesota."

This law doesn't just help ALEC-member corporations, it helps ALEC. After recently filing a whistleblower complaint with the IRS alleging that ALEC abused its tax-exempt status by failing to report lobbying activities, Common Cause is calling on state attorney generals to investigate ALEC for tax fraud in all 50 states. What better way to derail investigations into ALEC than by advocating for legislation that removes the attorney general’s ability to investigate ALEC?

PFAW Foundation

Broun introduces anti-VRA amendment. Lewis says not so fast, seeks to empower voters.

On May 9, Representative Paul Broun tried to prohibit the use of Department of Justice (DOJ) funds for enforcing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

You heard me right.

Representative Broun, a Republican whose home state of Georgia is covered by Section 5 of the VRA, tried to stop DOJ from enforcing the requirement that jurisdictions with a history of discrimination have their voting laws and regulations precleared by the federal government or a federal court before they may be changed. It is widely known that the deterrent effect of Section 5 continues to prove significant in protecting minorities against potentially discriminatory electoral changes.

It started at 9:58 pm with the offering of Amendment 1095 during debate on the FY13 Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill.

At 10:04 pm, he was sticking to his story.

At 10:12 pm, Representative John Lewis (D), whose experiences during the Civil Rights Movement have made him one of the most respected voices on voting rights, took to the floor to talk some sense into his colleague from Georgia.

At 10:26 pm, the amendment was withdrawn.

But we might not yet be out of the woods. New York Times reporting:

On [May 10], Meredith Griffanti, a spokeswoman for Mr. Broun, who is a medical doctor, said that he “fully believes in the intent of his amendment to prevent the Justice Department from enforcing Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,” but added that “given the magnitude of this change and out of respect for his colleagues, Dr. Broun withdrew the amendment.”

“He felt as though it deserved ample debate time where all members could participate rather than during a closed-off discussion in the late hours of the evening,” she said. “Dr. Broun looks forward to having this debate in the future.”

(Click for the NYT editorial, and for more information regarding similar attacks on marriage equality and immigration.)

As has been well-documented by PFAW Foundation, Representative Broun isn’t alone in his attacks on voting rights, and Representative Lewis’s work isn’t over.

In fact, Representative Lewis returned a week later to introduce the Voter Empowerment Act (H.R. 5799).

The ability to vote should be easy, accessible and simple. Yet there are practices and laws in place that make it harder to vote today than it was even one year ago. The sponsors of this act believe we need to take action or risk losing the liberties we have enjoyed. We should be moving toward a more inclusive democracy, not one that locks people out.

Representative Lewis in The Hill:

We must not be silent while leaders we elect take away our voting rights.

The Lewis bill, supported by 130 House Democrats, has been billed as “comprehensive voting rights legislation,” which seeks to address:

  • Voter registration modernization
  • Disability access
  • Voter caging
  • Deceptive practices
  • Restoration of federal voting rights for certain ex-offenders
  • Accuracy, integrity, and security of elections
  • Provisional ballots
  • Early voting and voting by mail
  • Absentee voting for uniformed and overseas voters
  • Poll worker recruitment and training
  • Federal election integrity
  • Other election administration improvements

Click here for more information from our friends at Demos.


Wisconsin’s Walker Tells a Big Lie About Voter Fraud

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who’s currently in a tough recall election battle, has a new line about what could tip the election against him. From the Weekly Standard via Dave Weigel:

"I’ve always thought in this state, close elections, presidential elections, it means you probably have to win with at least 53 percent of the vote to account for fraud. One or two points, potentially."

That’s enough to change the outcome of the election. “Absolutely. I mean there’s no question why they went to court and fought [to undo] voter ID.”

This is a blatant lie.

Every single time the federal government or a state has gone looking for evidence of widespread voter fraud, it’s come up short – including in Wisconsin, where an investigation of the 2008 election turned up 14 instances of voter fraud out of 3 million votes. As has been proved time and again, the myth of widespread voter fraud is in itself a fraud.

Gov. Walker claims that the reason progressives worked to overturn the Voter ID law he imposed was so that they could win elections with fraud. That is also a blatant lie. Progressives oppose Voter ID and other voter suppression laws because they keep eligible voters from voting – the Brennan Center for Justice estimated that these laws could keep 5 million eligible voters from the ballot box in 2012.

The voter-fraud fraud isn’t a misunderstanding. It’s a lie perpetuated by politicians like Gov. Walker to cast doubt on the election of progressives and build support for suppressive measures like Voter ID laws. The fact that Gov. Walker can parade totally made-up “facts” about voter fraud to a conservative publication and not get called out for it shows just how much traction the myth has gained.


Poll Finds Voters Don’t Want a Romney Court

 Think Progress alerts us to a recent Fox News poll which finds that a strong plurality of voters would prefer that President Obama, rather than Mitt Romney, pick the next Supreme Court justice. (46 percent said they’d prefer Obama make the pick; 38 said Romney).

This shouldn’t be surprising. President Obama’s two Supreme Court nominees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, have been a strong voice for the rights of ordinary Americans in the court that brought us Citizens United. Meanwhile, Romney has said that he’d appoint more Justices like Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and John Roberts, the core of the Corporate Court.

And, of course, there’s the matter of who Romney is going to for advice about picking judges:


How the Weakened House Version of VAWA Hurts Immigrant Women

Yesterday, we wrote about the House GOP’s effort to gut the Violence Against Women Act in response to a Senate reauthorization of the act that expands protections for gay and lesbian victims, Native Americans and immigrants. In the Daily Beast today, Michele Goldberg looks at some of the way the House-passed version of VAWA not only doesn’t expand protections for vulnerable groups, but removes existing domestic violence protections for immigrant women:

Mony Ruiz-Velasco, director of legal services at the National Immigrant Justice Center, has been representing immigrant victims of domestic violence for 15 years. In all of the hundreds of cases she has worked on, she says, “I’ve never had a case where the abuser did not use his immigration status as a tool.” Often an abusive American citizen or permanent resident with an immigrant wife will threaten her with deportation, which could separate her from her American children. Or he’ll begin the paperwork to sponsor his spouse for a green card but threaten to withdraw it. “You have no rights in this country,” an abuser will tell his victim, says Ruiz-Velasco.

The Violence Against Women Act offers these women some protection. But on Wednesday, House Republicans passed a reauthorization bill that significantly weakens it, claiming that VAWA facilitates immigration fraud. “For those of us who’ve been in the antiviolence movement for the last 30 years, some of the biggest victories are being completely turned on their head by what’s going on,” says Mallika Dutt, president and CEO of Breakthrough, a human-rights organization that has worked closely with immigrant victims of violence.

GOP opposition to the VAWA reauthorization is mind-boggling The sponsor of the House Republican’s bill, Florida’s Sandy Adams, claims that defending victims of domestic violence is a sort of zero-sum game. “Once you start listing out groups or listing in groups, then you’re excluding groups,” she told MSNBC today.

Needless to say, there is no evidence that making it easier for immigrant women to escape abusive relationships or making sure gay and lesbian victims are served by VAWA grantees or letting Native American women seek legal recourse through the tribal court system will hurt women who seek protection through the existing parts of the bill.

Each time Congress has reauthorized VAWA it has worked to improve it, to make it work better for more victims. This time is no different. Except, it seems, for the identity of the victims.


A Look at Citizens United in Practice

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, election watchers have predicted that the influx of unaccountable and often anonymous election spending would lead to a dramatic increase in dirty, dishonest attack ads. A report by the New York Times confirms those fears. High-profile Republican strategists for a super PAC funded by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts created a proposal titled “The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good,” which lays out an aggressive character attack against the President. Focusing on his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., the ads will seek to portray the President as unfit to lead because of his formative experiences – a strategy that his 2008 opponent, Senator John McCain, refused to authorize. Even Mitt Romney has avoided such attacks, believing that they would backfire – but unaccountable super PACs are not necessarily taking it off the table:

“Our plan is to do exactly what John McCain would not let us do: Show the world how Barack Obama’s opinions of America and the world were formed,” the proposal says. “And why the influence of that misguided mentor and our president’s formative years among left-wing intellectuals has brought our country to its knees.”

How can one person’s extreme opinion make its way to aerial banners flying over the Democratic Convention, outdoor advertisements and television screens across the country?

“Joe Ricketts is prepared to spend significant resources in the 2012 election in both the presidential race and Congressional races,” said Brian Baker, the president and general counsel to Mr. Ricketts’ super PAC, called the Ending Spending Action Fund. “He is very concerned about the future direction of the country and plans to take a stand.”

Thanks to his wealth and Citizens United, he can do just that. Unfortunately, average Americans don’t have this luxury, and our democracy suffers greatly as a result.

Following the outcry in response to today’s article, Mr. Ricketts issued a statement claiming he had never approved the plan and disavows the type of politics it represents, saying that the proposal “was never a plan to be accepted but only a suggestion for a direction to take.” Nonetheless, the critical harm posed by Citizens United is clear. Just because Mr. Ricketts chose not to run this attack ad doesn’t mean that someone else won’t. The need to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United to protect our democracy from the lopsided influence of wealthy special interests is even more clear today.


New CMD Report Reveals ALEC's Influence in Wisconsin

The Center for Media and Democracy released a new report today detailing the American Legislative Exchange Council’s influence in Wisconsin’s laws. At a time when ALEC members are jumping ship thanks to increased exposure of the ALEC agenda – 14 corporate members and 45 legislative members so far – this report serves as yet another window into ALEC’s shadowy, undemocratic method of ushering an extreme, pro-corporate agenda into law.

With the loyal help of Governor Scott Walker and a slew of complicit state legislators, ALEC has successfully implemented much of its corporate wish list in the state, including union-busting and corporate tax giveaways. According to the report, in Wisconsin:

• 32 bills or budget provisions reflecting ALEC model legislation were introduced in Wisconsin's 2011-2012 legislative session;

• 21 of these bills or budget provisions have passed, and two were vetoed;

• More than $276,000 in campaign contributions were made to ALEC legislators in Wisconsin from ALEC corporations since 2008;

• More than $406,000 in campaign contributions were made to ALEC alumnus Governor Walker from ALEC corporations over the same time period for his state campaign account;

• At least 49 current Wisconsin legislators are known ALEC members, including the leaders of both the House and Senate as well as other legislators holding key posts in the state. Additionally, the Governor, the Secretary of the Department of Administration, and the Chairman of the Public Service Commission are ALEC alumni; and

• At least 17 current legislators have received thousands of dollars of gifts cumulatively from ALEC corporations in the past few years, in the form of flights and hotel rooms filtered through the ALEC “scholarship fund” (complete “scholarship” information is not available).

People For the American Way Foundation has contributed to similar reports covering ALEC’s influence in Ohio and Arizona, and work continues to shine light on how ALEC paves the way for a state-by-state corporate takeover of our democracy.

PFAW Foundation

Educators Dismiss ALEC

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) will not renew their membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council, the organization said in a statement released on Tuesday. NACSA is the third major educational organization to drop their association with ALEC, joining Kaplan and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Both ALEC and NACSA support charter schools, but NACSA appears to have decided that ALEC’s extreme vision for charter school systems – which place corporate profitmaking above the needs of students, parents and communities – is out of touch with its mission to “advance excellence in public charters schools as a way to improve public education for all children.”

Rather than proposals designed to improve our public education system, ALEC’s model bills instead transfer public education funds into the hands of private corporations. Such proposals include voucher programs and publicly funded subsidies for religious and other private schools. ALEC’s Education Accountability Act would allow a state to override the elected school board and declare schools “educationally bankrupt,” then divert its funds to private schools. Of course, ALEC’s assault on public education wouldn’t be complete without attacks on teachers, school personnel and basic educational standards.

Just as important, there was never a legitimate reason for NACSA to support an organization that promotes legislation that attacks working families, rolls back consumer rights, blocks access to courts of law and disenfranchises thousands of eligible voters.

It’s not surprising that NACSA and other educators have concluded that ALEC is far more trouble than it’s worth.


White House Condemns Obstruction of Judicial Nominations

During yesterday's White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney discussed the vacancy crisis that is plaguing America's federal courts – and the unprecedented obstruction in the Senate that is causing it. When he observed that the pace of confirmations has never been slower, a reporter from Fox News interrupted with the inaccurate statement that the pace is about the same as under the previous two presidents. However, Carney stuck to the facts:

Well, I disagree with that. And we continue to work with the Senate to get qualified nominees confirmed by the Senate as appropriate. We had some progress recently where a number of nominees both to the bench and to the administration were moved forward. And what I think is absolutely the case and indisputable, Wendell, is that we've never had a situation where nominees to whom no serious objection is put forward, nominees who clear committee overwhelmingly, nominees who are absolutely qualified for the post that they've been nominated for, are then held up interminably for political reasons. That's not how it should be. And we've obviously made the case against that kind of highly politicized behavior.

He is correct. It is unprecedented for one party in the Senate to prevent confirmation votes for month after month, delaying consensus nominees who were long ago approved by the Judiciary Committee (usually with overwhelming bipartisan support). The obstruction has become so bad that President Obama's nominees now take more than four times as long on average to get a confirmation vote than was the case with President Bush's confirmed nominees at this point in his presidency. Senate Republicans are making a major effort to obscure this inconvenient truth.

That's why there are now 17 pending nominees who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee who are waiting for a simple up-or-down vote from the Senate. A third of these were nominated to fill vacancies classified as judicial emergencies. More than half – nine of the 17 – are women or people of color whose only crime seems to be that they were nominated by a Democratic president.

Most have been waiting since March or earlier for a simple yes-or-no vote. But they aren't the only ones waiting: So are the people in the communities these nominees would serve. They are waiting year after year for justice to be done, because there are not enough judges available to hear the cases in a reasonable amount of time. Meanwhile, their lives are on hold, while Senate Republicans use them as pawns to score political points.



All of a Sudden, House GOP Doesn’t Like “Issues that Divide Us”

 The National Journal today reports on the rocky progress of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which for the first time this year has become an object of partisan dispute. Why? The Democratic-backed reauthorization includes new protections for LGBT people, Native Americans and undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence. That bill passed in the Senate despite 31 no votes – all from Republican men.

In response, the House GOP put together an alternate bill that not only axes the new protections recommended by Democrats but eliminates some protections that are already in the bill. Yesterday, the White House threatened to veto the House bill.

Now, the House GOP is playing the victim, accusing Democrats of trying to make them look bad by including things like help for gays and lesbians and undocumented immigrants in the bill:

The Senate version would expand current protections to gay, bisexual, or transgender victims of domestic abuse, subject non-Native American suspects of domestic abuse occurring on reservations to the jurisdiction of tribal courts, and increase temporary visas for victims who are undocumented immigrants. The House bill was amended on Tuesday to allow illegal immigrant “U visa” recipients to receive permanent residence if the perpetrators of the crimes against them are aliens, are convicted of the crimes, and are deported to the visa holders’ home countries.

But Republican leaders have accused Democrats of adding those hot-button issues to intentionally create a fight for political advantage—and lash out at House Republicans for waging a “war against women.” House GOP leaders—including Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia—say they want to stay away from “issues that divide us.”

That’s right. House Republican leaders – who threatened to shut down the government to stop Planned Parenthood funding, who won’t even consider cutting tax loopholes for giant corporations, who continually go out of their way to express their opposition to equal rights for gays and lesbians – are now worried about “issues that divide us.” Like, apparently, protecting gay people, Native Americans and immigrants from domestic abuse.

One “issue that divides us” apparently didn’t turn off some House Republicans. Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia offered an amendment to the bill that, according to the National Journal, would provide “help for convicted domestic abusers who want their gun-ownership rights back.” That one, at least, didn’t make it past the Rules Committee.