Video: PFAW's Drew Courtney Discusses Right Wing Conspiracy Theories on Politics Nation with Al Sharpton

Monday afternoon, Right Wing Watch reported on conspiracy theories by conservative talking heads Bernard Goldberg and Rush Limbaugh who claim that the shoe-throwing incident in Las Vegas was staged by Hillary Clinton so she could seem more presidential. Similarly, Mark Blitz told WorldNetDaily yesterday that the “blood moon” from Monday night was a divine warning to President Obama about his plans to use executive action and his bully pulpit in the face of GOP obstruction.

Last night, PFAW Director of Communications Drew Courtney joined Rev. Al Sharpton on Politics Nation to discuss these outrageous conspiracy theories and what they say about the GOP and the political process today:

PFAW

“Rebranded” GOP Votes for 50th Time to Undermine Obamacare

Today House Republicans led by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) voted to delay the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. In case you haven’t been keeping track, this is the House GOP’s 50th vote to dismantle Obamacare.

In a speech last week at a DNC event, President Obama joked,

“You know what they say: 50th time is the charm. Maybe when you hit your 50th repeal vote, you will win a prize. Maybe if you buy 50 repeal votes, you get one free.” 

On Monday, in the wake of Governor Jan Brewer’s decision to veto her state’s anti-gay “freedom to discriminate” bill, People For the American Way president Michael Keegan wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed that we are continually asked to believe the “new, no-nonsense Republican Party” has finally taken to heart the “dangers of embracing extremism.” However, he writes:

“…there seems to be a Grand Canyon-like gap between what everyone knows the Republican Party should do and what they actually do. Time after time, we see that they just can't help themselves. We all know the embarrassing, crazy uncle who shows up at the family reunion. It seems like all of those crazy uncles have now banded together to control the Republican Party.”

And with their 50th vote to undermine Obamacare, it seems pretty clear that the Republican Party isn’t going to be able to rein in those crazy uncles anytime soon.

 

PFAW

Presidential Commission Issues Report on Election Administration

In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama announced the formation of a nonpartisan commission focused on improving our country’s system of voting. Yesterday, nearly a year later, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration (PCEA) issued its report.

As Ryan J. Reilly of The Huffington Post summarizes, the PCEA covered online voter registration and early voting, voter registration modernization, polling place resources and accessibility, poll workers, and more.

The PCEA recommendations are indeed a welcome addition to the voting rights debate, helping us move closer to the day when every eligible voter can register to vote and cast a ballot that counts.

Jon Greenbaum, Chief Counsel, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:

We are encouraged by the recommendations in this report. If fully implemented, practical commonsense measures like early voting and voter registration modernization will improve voter participation and satisfaction.

Michael Waldman, President, Brennan Center for Justice:

The Commission’s report marks a significant advance in the way we think about voting. Too often voting issues have been marked by partisan discord. The Commission makes clear that there are achievable, bipartisan reforms that can be implemented now to transform voting in America. Most importantly, it recognizes that we can’t fix long lines until we first fix our outdated voter registration system.

Robert Brandon, President, Fair Elections Legal Network:

The bipartisan recommendations released from the Presidential Commission on Election Administration are a compilation of the good reforms advocates have been fighting for across the country. As the Commission points out, some of the reforms like online voter registration, expanded early voting, and increased poll worker training are already in place in various jurisdictions. But for real change to be made and access to voting improved, these reforms need to be broadly implemented in many more states. The responsibility now lies with election officials, and state and local elected officials to improve how elections are run in their communities as soon as possible. We will continue our work to promote these reforms and use the Commission’s work as support for these much needed changes.

In fact, much of what the PCEA recommends, and much of what these and other allies have long recommended, is covered by PFAW in Money Out, Voters In: A Guide to Democratic Reform. Released last fall, the toolkit is founded on our belief in a democratic system where all Americans have equal access to the voting booth and where all Americans, regardless of wealth, can express their views to one another and their government on a level playing field.

PFAW looks forward to using the PCEA recommendations as we continue to realize a 'Voters In' vision.

We must keep in mind, though, that the PCEA isn't the last word on American electoral reform. There is much more work to be done to enact needed reforms and to step up and counter threats when the right to vote is under attack.

Nor does the PCEA replace what the Voting Rights Act lost after the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. PFAW and African American Ministers in Action welcomed last week's introduction of the Voting Rights Amendments Act, and we look forward to working with the House and Senate as they take up this vital legislation. It is imperative that this year, as soon as possible, the President sign into law a strengthened VRA. Please join the fight.

PFAW

Celebrating Religious Freedom

January 16 is Religious Freedom Day, which commemorates the Virginia General Assembly’s approval of Thomas Jefferson’s historic Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a precursor to the religious liberty protections in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In this year’s Religious Freedom Day proclamation, President Barack Obama writes,

Today, America embraces people of all faiths and of no faith. We are Christians and Jews, Muslims and Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, atheists and agnostics. Our religious diversity enriches our cultural fabric and reminds us that what binds us as one is not the tenets of our faiths, the colors of our skin, or the origins of our names. What makes us American is our adherence to shared ideals -- freedom, equality, justice, and our right as a people to set our own course.

America proudly stands with people of every nation who seek to think, believe, and practice their faiths as they choose. In the years to come, my Administration will remain committed to promoting religious freedom, both at home and across the globe. We urge every country to recognize religious freedom as both a universal right and a key to a stable, prosperous, and peaceful future.

As we observe this day, let us celebrate America's legacy of religious liberty, embrace diversity in our own communities, and resolve once more to advance religious freedom in our time.

Melissa Rogers, a widely respected advocate for religious liberty who currently serves as special assistant to the president and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, also published a reflection on Religious Freedom Day.

Rogers celebrates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which passed Congress by unanimous consent in 2000 with backing from a politically and religiously diverse coalition. RLUIPA (pronounced R-loopa) has helped Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, people who practice Native American traditional religions and others protect their ability to meet and worship, and has helped people in prisons, jails, mental institutions, and state-run nursing homes preserve their religious freedom.

The values embodied in RLUIPA are universal ideals.  Department of Justice attorneys have provided technical assistance on issues involving construction of places of worship to government officials in Spain, Indonesia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and other countries wrestling with these same issues.  In 2012, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee won the right to move into its new mosque with the help of a RLUIPA suit brought by the Department of Justice. On the day of the court decision, the mosque’s Imam, Sheikh Ossama Bahloul, remarked that America’s dedication to religious freedom can serve as a model for others around the world, and added:   “I think this is an opportunity for us all to celebrate the freedom and liberty that, in fact, exist in America and to teach our young people to believe even more in the U.S. Constitution.”

People For the American Way and PFAW Foundation celebrate religious freedom by working to uphold the First Amendment’s twin pillars of religious liberty: the Establishment Clause, which mandates the separation of church and state and prevents government from playing religious favorites, and the Free Exercise Clause, which protects individuals’ right to worship and exercise their faith free from government interference.

Religious liberty is central to the American Way, but it has also become a rallying cry for Religious Right leaders and their political allies, who all too often portray criticism as persecution, and policy disagreement as tyranny. That poisons our political climate.

Like other constitutional guarantees, religious liberty is fundamental but not absolute, particularly when it comes into tension with other principles like equality under the law or protecting public health. Advocates for religious freedom frequently disagree about how to apply religious liberty principles in specific cases, and where courts should draw the lines in cases balancing competing interests.  These are complex and often very contentious issues. People For the American Way Foundation’s “12 Rules for Mixing Religion and Politics” set out principles for bringing religion and religious values into the public arena in ways that are constructive rather than divisive. 

PFAW

As Washington Begins Debate on Gun Violence Bills, National Responses Vary

As the U.S. Senate prepares to consider a package of gun violence prevention proposals this week, Republicans face a choice: whether to side with the vast majority of Americans who want common sense gun regulation, or with the radical pro-gun fringe.

Today, a group of far-right, NRA-backed Senators are threatening to use the filibuster to shut down the debate on gun safety measures backed by over 90 percent of Americans. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this week, Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee pledged to “oppose any legislation” that seeks to expand background checks or crack down on interstate gun trafficking. Joining them in the letter are eleven other Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle have rebuked these blind filibuster threats as extreme and unnecessary. Top GOP Senators Lindsey Graham, Tom Coburn, and Johnny Isakson have all called on fellow conservatives to allow a vote on gun safety legislation. On Sunday’s Face the Nation, Senator John McCain joined in questioning the Republicans who have threatened to filibuster gun legislation they haven’t even seen yet:

"I don’t understand it. The purpose of the United States Senate is to debate and to vote and to let the people know where we stand,” McCain said.

While some legislators continue to impede progress on this issue, others, such as Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and his GOP colleague Senator Pat Toomey have renewed efforts to spearhead a bipartisan agreement on background checks. Yesterday, the two senators announced an agreement on a deal that expands background checks to gun shows and internet purchases.

Meanwhile, President Obama traveled to Connecticut on Monday to remind Americans how important their voice is as the gun debate unfolds. While there, he blasted the efforts by some Senate Republicans to shut down the discussion:

"They’re not just saying they’ll vote no on ideas that almost all Americans support,” Obama said. “They’re saying they’ll do everything they can to even prevent any votes on these provisions. They’re saying your opinion doesn’t matter, and that’s not right.”

The obstructionist tactics used by the far-right senators are sadly part of a larger national backlash to discussions about common-sense gun regulations. Last month, Montana's legislature passed a bill that would have forbidden state law enforcement from cooperating with federal officials in enforcing a ban on semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines, should such bans ever become law.

Bills in other states seek to outright nullify federal gun laws, including those passed in the Wyoming House and Kentucky Senate. These bills aren’t just terrible for safety, they’re also unconstitutional.

Luckily, there are still those who are willing to stand up to these mindless obstructionist tactics from the right. Late last week, Montana Governor Steve Bullock vetoed the state’s proposed bill, calling it “unnecessary political theater that would not meaningfully protect our Second Amendment rights.”

Other governors have gone a step further in standing up against right-wing intimidation by calling for their state’s gun violence prevention laws to be reinforced. Last week, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed the nation’s most far-reaching gun violence prevention bill. The bill, approved by bipartisan votes in both chambers, adds more than 100 weapons to the state’s ban on assault weapons, limits the capacity of ammunition magazines and requires background checks for all weapon sales, including at gun shows:

“This is a profoundly emotional day for everyone…when 92% of Americans agree that every gun sale should be subject to a background check, there is no excuse not to make it federal law” Malloy said.

In recent months, legislatures in Colorado , Maryland, and New York have all advanced their own measures to combat gun violence. Collectively these states have demonstrated the courage to stand up to the bullying tactics of the big gun lobby and their allies on the far right. These states have shown the effectiveness of speaking out against the radical agenda coming from right-wing politicians on the state and national level and have sent a message to Washington that action needs to happen.

The last thing our nation needs now is obstructionist tactics leading to watered down, ineffective legislation. We need a meaningful, national response to gun violence in America. But for that to happen, Republicans are going to need to stand up against the radical pro-gun Right, and for common sense.

PFAW

New Hampshire Moves Forward With First Steps to Overturn Citizens United in Bipartisan Vote

Yesterday, Republican and Democratic state representatives in New Hampshire came together to pass a bill calling for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of our elections and overturn Citizens United. Since the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that corporations have a First Amendment right to unlimited political spending, states all across the country have begun the process to put democracy back in the hands of the people.

During the first post-Citizens United presidential election, the American people were able to see just how distorted and outsized corporate and plutocratic influence has become in our democracy. Citizens United and related cases led to the rise of super PACs, limitless election spending, and “dark money” groups that are not required to disclose their donors. In the 2012 federal election cycle, super PACs received over $100 million from corporations. The top 32 super PAC donors, contributing an average of nearly $10 million each, matched the amount of the money that President Obama and Mitt Romney raised from small donors combined.

The bipartisan passage of HCR 2 in New Hampshire shows that ensuring our elections remain free from outside and outsized influence is not a Democratic value or a Republican value; it’s an American value. This is an issue that cuts across party lines and speaks to the core of our democratic principles. Fully 83% of Americans (85% of Democrats, 81% of Republicans and 78% of independents) support limits on how much money corporations can spend in elections.

Unprecedented public support for meaningful reform has already led to substantial progress in states all across the country, and a mounting public movement demanding a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and restore our democracy has emerged. Over 400 cities and towns, as well as 11 states, have called on Congress to send the states an amendment proposal that would overturn the disastrous decision. Last month, PFAW and ally organizations re-launched the “Declaration For Democracy” campaign, which helps identify and amplify the voices of public officials who support amending the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and related cases. Already, over 100 members of Congress have joined the cause in support of a constitutional amendment.

The New Hampshire bill now moves to the Senate side of General Court, where legislators will decide whether democracy is still for the people. Let’s make sure they again put democratic principles above party politics.

PFAW

Common Sense Gun Solutions Struggle Against Mindless NRA and GOP Opposition

It will be hard. But the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.

At a Senate Judiciary hearing on January 30th, Gabrielle Giffords offered those powerful opening words to the committee and in doing so, set the foundation for a national dialogue on the issue of gun violence in America. President Obama echoed these sentiments at his State of the Union address last week, evoking the memories of those lost to gun violence by saying four simple words: “they deserve a vote.”

But it wasn’t long after Giffords’ opening words had faded from the hearing room that the gun lobby and its supporters in Congress had begun putting up a stiff wall of resistance to common sense solutions to gun violence. First was NRA Vice-President Wayne LaPierre who spoke against universal background checks for firearms, despite his past statements supporting such proposals in the wake of previous gun violence incidents. When interviewed by Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, LaPierre doubled-down on his opposition, warning that universal checks could lead to the federal government creating a national registry:

I think what they’ll do is they’ll turn this universal check on the law-abiding into a universal registry of law-abiding people, and law-abiding people don’t want that…I just don’t think you can trust [them].

In fact, LaPierre’s statements were so outlandish during the hearing and his media interviews, that Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a gun violence prevention group chaired by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, aired an advertisement during the Super Bowl to call out the NRA on its hypocrisy.

Unfortunately for the country, the NRA’s reckless messaging was only beginning. Last weekend at a state convention in Wisconsin, NRA lobbyist Bob Welch bemoaned the “Connecticut effect” that was interfering with their legislative focus:

We have a strong agenda coming up for next year, but of course a lot of that’s going to be delayed as the “Connecticut effect” has to go through the process. I will tell you, the best sign on how well we are doing…is the people who don’t like guns realize that they can’t do a thing unless they talk to us. After Connecticut I had one of the leading Democrats in the legislature [say] “How about we close this gun show loophole? Wouldn’t that be good?” And I said, “no we’re not going to do that.” And so far, nothing’s happened on that.

The furor over the comment, which was blasted by Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing last Tuesday, has since caused the NRA to halfheartedly distance themselves from the speaker, but to little avail. The NRA is out of touch with the mainstream, plain and simple.

For the radical pro-gun activists in Congress, meanwhile, legislators looked far and wide in an effort to place the blame of gun violence on anything other than the guns themselves. Representative James Lankford (R-OK), the fifth-ranking House Republican, blamed gun violence on the children of “welfare moms.” Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) even took himself to MSNBC to offer this incredulous claim:

I think video games is a bigger problem than guns because video games affect people.

The big gun lobby and its yes men in Congress, it seems, are much more interested in protecting the loose regulations of the gun industry than they are with taking practical steps towards public safety. Other organizations dedicated to ending gun violence have begun noticing, with Americans United for Change even sending Congressional Republicans stickers to wear at the State of the Union that say “I Put Gun Maker $ Before Kids’ Safety”

The fact that the NRA and groups like it have such an outsized influence on this national debate is alarming, especially when poll after poll shows the overwhelming majority of Americans favor common sense proposals such as universal background checks. These voices of reason must not be drowned out by the radical pro-gun activists in this national discussion. Countless legislators behind closed doors have said that constituent feedback on this issue is the number one motivator for their position and level of passion on the proposed solutions. This week, legislators are back in their districts, so now is the time to act. Making a simple phone call or scheduling an in-person meeting is vital to keeping this issue on the forefront of legislators’ minds.

To find out the contact information for your Representative, click here. For your Senators, click here.

PFAW

Ensuring that Desiline Victor, and all Americans, Get to Have Their Say at the Polls

In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama used his bully pulpit to ensure that the critically important issue of voting rights is securely on the agenda in 2013. Calling it “our most fundamental right as citizens,” the President announced the formation of a non-partisan commission focused on improving our country’s system of voting.

One woman who was undoubtedly pleased to hear this news was 102-year-old Desiline Victor of Miami, seated in the House visitors’ gallery, who had waited in line for hours to cast a ballot in November’s election.  President Obama noted that the country should follow her determined example: “As time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say,” he said.

After all, that is the issue at the core of a working democracy: whether folks get to have their say. 

Leading up to the election, our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s leadership programs witnessed and stood up to efforts across the country – ranging from unnecessary registration obstacles to early voting restrictions – to suppress the votes of those who have traditionally been disenfranchised: communities of color, low-income communities, and youth.  In the past two years alone, more than 65 suppressive voter ID bills were introduced in 34 states.

That’s why it is important that President Obama made it clear last night that he is serious about addressing the problems in our election system.  With increased access to early voting and an end to discriminatory voter ID laws, we can ensure that all Americans “get to have their say” at the polls.

PFAW

PFAW Calls for ‘Strong, Lasting, Comprehensive’ Reform in Senate Hearing on Immigration

“I believe we are finally at a moment where comprehensive immigration reform is within our grasp.” 

Last month President Obama shared these words in a speech laying out his vision for fixing our broken immigration system. PFAW applauded the President’s approach to immigration reform, which includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and a focus on keeping families – including LGBT families – together. 

As the national discussion around immigration reform continues, this morning PFAW submitted testimony for the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.”  The testimony noted:

In 2012, Americans voted in great numbers for candidates who promised workable, common-sense solutions to our immigration crisis. Piecemeal legislation will not fix our system in the long term. Now is the time to pursue strong, lasting, comprehensive reform.

People For the American Way, our members and supporters across the country, and members of our advocacy networks urge you to create a viable comprehensive immigration reform plan that will strengthen our economic security and conform to our national values. Such a plan must provide undocumented workers already in the country with a path to citizenship so they can fully contribute to our economy and society. It must reduce the backlog of individuals seeking residency and citizenship by creating a more robust and flexible visa program. It must recognize that immigrants are an integral part of our labor force by addressing employment-based immigration needs. It must ensure strong worker protections and address our enforcement needs in a manner that is just and consistent with our existing due process and civil rights laws. And it must reunite American families by allowing US citizens or permanent residents to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration to the US, a right that is currently denied based solely on their sexual orientation.


The testimony was jointly submitted by People For the American Way and its advocacy networks YP4 Action, YEO Action, and African American Ministers in Action, each of which represents communities that have experienced the strain of our broken immigration system firsthand.  The testimony explains:

YP4 Action represents youth organizers on campuses across the country, a number of whom have undocumented family members or are themselves undocumented. All of these organizers are leading efforts to create positive social change in their communities and their country, regardless of immigration status. YEO Action represents young, progressive elected officials, who feel the impact of federal immigration policy with their constituents at the state and local level. Finally, African American Ministers in Action represents a multidenominational network of African American clergy, many of whom serve as faith leaders for immigrant communities, in particular those from Africa, Haiti and the Caribbean.


In President Obama’s speech last month, he asked that we “remember that this is not just a debate about policy.  It’s about people.” By the same token, PFAW noted in its testimony that:

Our broken immigration system harms families, communities and our nation as a whole. It creates instability for families, deprives millions of working Americans of civil rights and workplace protections, and prevents many who are providing for their families, paying taxes and contributing to their communities from fully integrating into our country….Together, People For the American Way and its advocacy networks urge you to adopt a comprehensive immigration reform package that creates a healthy, practical, commonsense immigration system worthy of the country it serves.

 

PFAW

Obama Nominates Iowa’s First Ever Female Circuit Court Judge

The White House announced two new federal appeals court nominees today, Jane Kelly of Iowa to serve on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and Gregory Alan Phillips of Wyoming to serve on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Kelly’s nomination is notable for a number of reasons. If confirmed, she will become only the second woman ever to serve on the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees seven Midwestern states, and the first from Iowa. She would also help to bring a greater diversity of professional backgrounds to the federal bench, coming to the position after a career as a highly-regarded federal public defender.

Kelly’s nomination underscores the Obama administration’s remarkable success in bringing a diversity of voices to the federal bench. A record 41 percent of President Obama’s confirmed nominees have been women and 36 percent have been people of color. In addition, Obama has nominated more openly gay federal judges than all previous presidents combined. Despite the Senate GOP’s routine stalling of the president’s nominees, he has succeeded in bringing unprecedented gender and racial diversity to the federal bench.

Both Kelly and Phillips have been nominated to vacancies that have not yet opened up (Kelly’s vacancy opens tomorrow and Phillips’ in April). If the Senate confirms them quickly it will avoid adding two more vacancies to an already over-burdened federal court system. Promptly filling the 10th Circuit vacancy  is especially critical since the 12-judge Tenth Circuit  is on track to have vacancies in one third of its seats. A nominee for one of the three current vacancies on the circuit, Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma, has been waiting over seven months for a Senate vote, despite strong support from his two home-state Republican senators.

 

PFAW