Senator Nelson cosponsors ENDA, leaves 3 votes to go, contact your senators now

On the same day that Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act will come up for a vote before Thanksgiving, Senator Bill Nelson added his name to the bill.

Let's do a little math.

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) is ENDA's lead sponsor.

53 currently serving senators, including Senator Nelson (D-FL), have cosponsored ENDA.

Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) voted for ENDA in committee.

Senator-Elect Cory Booker (D-NJ) will be sworn in this week and is expected to support ENDA.

1+53+2+1=57.

That's 57 votes that we can reasonably count in favor of ENDA. We only need 60 to cross the filibuster threshold.

3 votes to go!

Every vote will be critical to passage. Thank those already in support for protecting LGBT workers. Tell those who aren't yet on board to say yes to common sense and no to anti-gay extremists.

The time is now – pass ENDA!

PFAW

ENDA passes HELP Committee, ready for Senate floor

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee this morning on a bipartisan 15-7 vote, with Republicans Orrin Hatch (UT), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and lead sponsor Mark Kirk (IL) voting in favor of the bill. Debate was brief and the bill swiftly passed through to floor consideration, expected this fall. This critical piece of anti-discrimination legislation would make it illegal to make employment decisions – hiring, firing, promotion, or compensation – based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Chairman Tom Harkin:

Today’s proceedings are the culmination of a long history of work by this Committee – the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or “ENDA” as it is known – was considered by this Committee in 2002, and was the subject of hearings in 2009 and 2012. Today marks the first time we report to the full Senate a bill that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity … It is time, at long last, also to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Such discrimination is wrong and cannot be tolerated.

PFAW President Michael Keegan:

The far Right is already clamoring that passing ENDA would lead to everything from sexual assault to the end of religious freedom in our country. But in reality, this legislation is the right thing to do and a no-brainer that all of Congress should be able to support. Workplace discrimination of any kind is not the American way.

The Right is indeed ready: Ranking Republican Lamar Alexander (TN) said today that he has amendments ready for floor consideration.

But so are we.

PFAW

Yes, There is a War on Women

In an interview with Bloomberg today, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus claimed that accusing the Republican Party of waging a “war on women” is as absurd as accusing them of a “war on caterpillars”:

“If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we’d have problems with caterpillars,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend. “It’s a fiction.”

Perhaps Preibus should listen to women in his own party before declaring the GOP’s war on women to be a “fiction.” Speaking in Alaska today, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski was very clear that the war on women exists and is alienating female voters. According to the Huffington Post:

"It makes no sense to make this attack on women," she said at a local Chamber of Commerce luncheon, according to the Homer News. "If you don't feel this is an attack, you need to go home and talk to your wife and your daughters."

She also said that she would continue to support funding for Planned Parenthood, adding that the courts have affirmed a legal right to an abortion and she stands by that.

Murkowski criticized GOP presidential candidates for not condemning Rush Limbaugh for calling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," which he later apologized for. Fluke was rejected as a witness before a panel on the Obama contraception mandate chaired by House Oversight And Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) last February. (She spoke Thursday to HuffPost in a Q&A.)

"To have those kind of slurs against a woman … you had candidates who want to be our president not say, 'That's wrong. That's offensive.' They did not condemn the rhetoric," she said.
 

PFAW

Murkowski Shows Her Colleagues How to Keep One's Word with Liu Vote

As a bit of follow up to Michael's post about the Goodwin Liu vote, it is worth noting that Sen. Lisa Murkowski was the ONLY Republican senator to break with her party and do the right thing, voting to move the nomination forward to a full floor vote.

In 2005, she said, “Let me make it clear that I support an up-or-down vote on all nominations brought to the Senate floor, regardless of the president nominating them or which party controls the Senate.”

Murkowski said in a statement after today's vote, "I stated during the Bush Administration that judicial nominations deserved an up or down vote, except in ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and my position has not changed simply because there is a different president making the nominations."

Sen. Murkowski deserves to be thanked for her consistency, and for sticking to a commitment that many in her party also made but abandoned.

PFAW

Shameful!

Imagine senators of one party filibustering a judicial nominee who has been hailed as one of his generation’s great legal minds by legal experts of both parties and across the ideological spectrum on the grounds that he is *too* qualified.

Well that's exactly what happened today.

In what could be the most egregious example of the GOP’s partisan obstruction of judicial nominations to date, Senate Republicans today blocked Goodwin Liu from receiving an up or down vote. Liu, a law professor and dean at U.C. Berkeley who as a nominee has the American Bar Association’s highest rating, was nominated for a seat on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by President Obama over a year ago, and has since been approved by the Judiciary Committee three times.

His credentials and grasp of the law and Constitution are impeccable. Liu’s only mistake: being too qualified.

At age 40, his confirmation to the 9th Circuit could put him in position to be the first Asian American Supreme Court nominee. Because of his intellectual heft, his commitment to Americans’ constitutional rights and his commonsense understanding of how the law impacts people’s lives, the prospect of Liu’s future elevation, and even his influence on a Circuit Court of Appeals, terrifies corporate special interests and right-wing ideologues ... the same people calling the shots with Republican senators.

Shame on them. The concocted justifications Republican senators used in their opposition to Liu were based on unbelievable distortions of his record by Radical Right activist groups, as well as Liu’s testimony in opposition to Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s confirmation. They rested their opposition on lies because they know that a Liu filibuster makes a mockery of the supposed agreement between parties to employ a filibuster only in “extraordinary circumstances.” Everything about Goodwin Liu’s record and the breadth of his support indicates a legal expert squarely in the mainstream -- the only thing “extraordinary” about him is how good he is, and how deserving he was of confirmation.

Every GOP senator except Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski participated in the filibuster. If one or both of your U.S. senators are Republicans, CALL them right now and let them hear it. Tell them, “shame on you for filibustering Goodwin Liu,” and let them know that you will be working hard to hold them accountable in their state.

Make sure you SIGN our “Stop the Obstruction” petition to the Senate and let senators of both parties know that the continued obstruction of the president’s nominees is hurting our country and will not be tolerated.

We need Republicans to feel the pressure about their judicial obstructions just like they are feeling it about their attacks on Medicare. And Democratic leaders in the Senate need to know that they must be using every tool in their arsenal to combat this obstruction.

PFAW

GOP Women Rally Behind Planned Parenthood

Christine Todd Whitman, former Republican governor of New Jersey and member of the George W. Bush administration, wrote an impassioned op-ed for a New Jersey newspaper today, calling attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and other family planning services “unacceptable”:

I know firsthand the value of Planned Parenthood health centers in providing preventive care to women. In rural areas, Planned Parenthood is often the only place to turn for vital health care needs as well as sex education, and in dense urban areas, Planned Parenthood provides these same services to women in disproportionately low income and underserved communities.

Every year, Planned Parenthood’s doctors and nurses provide more than 3 million women with preventive health care, including nearly one million lifesaving screenings for cervical cancer, 830,000 breast exams, contraception to nearly 2.5 million patients and nearly four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Literally, they are a trusted health care provider to millions of women.

For those who oppose abortion, they should know that Planned Parenthood’s services prevent 973,000 unintended pregnancies and 406,000 abortions each year. Those are statistics that Republicans and Democrats should wholeheartedly embrace.

But the extreme proposals undermining both the National Family Planning Program and Planned Parenthood will have an adverse effect on those numbers. While defunding Planned Parenthood will do nothing to reduce the deficit or improve the economy, it will lead to an increase in unplanned pregnancies and abortions and result in escalating Medicaid costs.

Republican senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins have also been adamant about preserving federal funding for Planned Parenthood and similar organizations. Murkowski wrote to the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee, ““I believe Planned Parenthood provides vital services to those in need and disagree with their funding cuts in the bill.” Collins’ spokesman told Politico that federal family planning funds have “successfully reduced the number of unplanned pregnancies, therefore helping to reduce health care costs.”

Meanwhile, social conservatives are continuing to lob at Planned Parenthood every attack they can muster. Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, wrote an op-ed today arguing that the organization is somehow responsible for a hike in abortions and in STDs.

 

PFAW

Arlen Specter Denounces Roberts Court, Republican Obstructionism

In his farewell speech, US Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania called on Congress to move quickly to counter the burgeoning right-wing extremism of the Roberts Court and the Republican caucus. Specter, who was first elected to the US Senate in 1980 as a Republican, spoke about how the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has shown little respect for their own precedents or congressional fact-finding while pursuing a hard line pro-corporate bent. The increasingly conservative Court has consistently ruled in favor of corporations over the rights of workers and consumers, and the concerns of environmental protection and fair elections. Specter specifically pointed to the Roberts Court’s decision in Citizens United, which gave corporations the right to spend unlimited and undisclosed funds from their general treasuries in elections and overturned decades of Court precedents and congressional measures limiting corporate influence in politics. Specter said:

This Congress should try to stop the Supreme Court from further eroding the constitutional mandate of Separation of Powers. The Supreme Court has been eating Congress’s lunch by invalidating legislation with judicial activism after nominees commit under oath in confirmation proceedings to respect congressional fact finding and precedents, that is stare decisis.

The recent decision in Citizens United is illustrative: ignoring a massive congressional record and reversing recent decisions, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito repudiated their confirmation testimony, given under oath, and provided the key votes to permit corporations and unions to secretly pay for political advertising, thus effectively undermining the basic democratic principle of the power of one person, one vote.

Chief Roberts promised to just “call balls and strikes,” and then he moved the bases.

Specter also blasted Republican obstructionism in the Senate. He said that even though 59 Senators backed ending debate on the DISCLOSE Act, which would have required groups to publicly disclose their donors, the important bill never received an up-or-down vote due to Republican procedural moves:

Repeatedly, senior Republican Senators have recently abandoned long held positions out of fear of losing their seats over a single vote or because of party discipline. With 59 votes for cloture on this side of the aisle, not a single Republican would provide the sixtieth vote for many important legislative initiatives, such as identifying campaign contributors to stop secret contributions.

The Pennsylvanian later criticized the GOP for preventing judicial nominees from also having up-or-down votes:

Important positions are left open for months, but the Senate agenda today is filled with un-acted upon judicial and executive nominees. And many of those judicial nominees are in areas where there is an emergency backlog.

When discussing how Senate Republican leaders, such as Jim DeMint (R-SC), supported ultraconservative candidates against Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Bob Bennett (R-UT), and Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), Specter condemned the GOP’s embrace of “right-wing extremists,” adding: “Eating or defeating your own is a form of sophisticated cannibalism.”

PFAW

The Mugging of Democracy in Alaska

The latest example of Tea Party violence making the news - Rand Paul’s county campaign coordinator stomping on the head of a pinned-down MoveOn activist - highlights just how completely outside the American norm these Tea Party candidates and their followers are. The actions of Paul’s goon squad also refocuses attention on a similar event in Alaska last week.

In Alaska’s Joe Miller, we have a candidate for Senate who not only refuses to open himself to press inquiry, he surrounds himself with an aggressive group of bullies who rough up a reporter who dares ask questions of the candidate.

As PFAW President Michael B. Keegan wrote in the Huffington Post, this is not acceptable behavior in a democratic society. It’s not even a close call.

History has proven time and again that democracies are fragile. The civil compact underlying a democratic society must be monitored and renewed constantly. Part of that contract is that candidates for public office don’t have private goons squads who use physical force against reporters or anyone else they perceive as a threat to their ambitions.

Another requirement is that when a candidate goes so far over the line against the norms of a democratic society, his supporters recognize the danger, put their country’s welfare first, and withdraw their support. Again, this is not even a close call.

So this is a moment of truth for the Republican Party, as it has to choose between the values of the Tea Party and those of the United States Constitution.

The GOP should not only loudly condemn this assault on democracy, it should stop funding Miller’s campaign and urge Alaskans to vote for someone else. Since Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent Republican senator who Miller defeated in the primary, is already engaged in a write-in campaign to keep her seat, it’s not like the party doesn’t have an alternative, corporate-friendly candidate to easily turn to. Polls have shown her nearly even with Miller.

Continuing party support for a thug whose behavior undermines the foundations of our free society is a canary in a coal mine, another dangerous indication of the contempt for democracy held by a Republican Party under the sway of the Tea Party.

Should the voters of Alaska reward Miller and the Tea Party with a victory on November 2, America will have crossed a line: The tactics of Miller and his bully boys will no longer be considered quite so far beyond the norm, and we can expect to see more of the same.

And that should concern all patriotic Americans.

PFAW

Alaska’s New Super PAC: Brought to you by Federal Government Contractors

After extremist Republican Joe Miller upset incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary, many Alaskans panicked over the prospect of having a Senator that wants to greatly diminish the federal government’s role in Alaska. After Senator Murkowski announced a write-in bid to take on Miller and the Democratic nominee, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, a new organization emerged to back the incumbent: Alaskans Standing Together.

Alaskans Standing Together is a “Super PAC” which can raise unlimited amounts of funds from individuals and corporations, and must disclose its donors to the FEC. The group is solely dedicated towards supporting Senator Murkowski’s reelection campaign and criticizing both of her opponents. So far, Alaskans Standing Together has reported having nine donors: Native American Corporations that have contributed over $800,000 to the group. But these Native American Corporations are also federal contractors, and many of them openly claim that they receive much of their federal money as a result of the legislative efforts of Lisa Murkowski. The corporations say that such money is needed since outside organizations like the California-based Tea Party Express are running hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads promoting Joe Miller.

But as the Miller and Murkowski squabble over the non-party groups backing their campaigns, only Scott McAdams directly pointed to an important reason for the massive downpour in campaign cash:

The Democrat in the race, Scott McAdams, took a different approach, blaming the U.S. Supreme Court for opening up politics to unlimited corporate donations. If he's elected, McAdams said, he'd move to pass a campaign finance law backed by Democratic leaders in the Senate and President Barack Obama. He also seized on a claim the White House has been hammering in recent weeks: that unlimited corporate money has the potential to give foreign-owned corporations a say in U.S. elections.

"As a small state, Alaska can't afford to allow its elections to be overtaken by corporate spending," McAdams said. "Unfortunately, Sen. Murkowski has voted to allow corporations, including foreign corporate money, to continue to influence elections."

Outside independent expenditure groups are playing a major role in the Alaska Senate race -- and those across the country. In previous elections, such contributions wouldn't have been legal, but the recent Citizens United Supreme Court decision allows corporate and union donors to inject unlimited amounts of money into politics.

PFAW

The DISCLOSE Act's Second Chance

As Congress returns to work this month, the Senate will likely have another chance to vote on the DISCLOSE Act, legislation meant to mitigate the damage of Citizens United by requiring full disclosure of corporate spending in elections.

The House passed the DISCLOSE Act in June. In July, it sank in the Senate, when not a single Republican was willing to break a filibuster on the bill. Moderate Republicans Scott Brown, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe, despite previous support for clean election legislation, all sided with their party to kill the bill.

In the Washington Post today, E. J. Dionne writes that the support of those three senators is key to the passage of the DISCLOSE Act—though the pressure they face to oppose it is greater than ever:

As moderate Republicans, Snowe and Collins are undoubtedly looking over their right shoulders, fearful that they may go the way of Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Bob Bennett. This helps explain why they went south during negotiations over the health-care bill.

But repairing Citizens United is not an ideological question, although some cast it that way. Fiscal conservatives should be as worried as anyone about corporations using their newfound power to extract expensive special benefits from the government. Even conservatives who opposed campaign reform in the past have always insisted that they favor disclosure of campaign contributions. Disclosure is now more important than ever.

Snowe, Collins and Brown have made their careers by touting their independence. But that claim doesn't come cheap. This is the issue on which their promissory note is due.

This election cycle has already produced plenty of examples of corporations funneling money through front groups to support or smear candidates. In an ideal world, every member of Congress would stand up to corporate lobbyists and support a bill that would throw light on that murky political strategy. But at the very least, a disclosure bill should have the active support of those who profess to be independent campaign reformers.
 

PFAW