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Who's Sorry Now? The Republican Art of the Non-Apology

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Ralph Reed reached out to Rush Limbaugh via Twitter yesterday and accepted his apology. "Apology accepted. Let's move on," he said -- a magnanimous gesture had Rush Limbaugh actually apologized to Ralph Reed. Too bad that, despite the too quick headlines, Limbaugh not only hadn't apologized to Reed -- he hadn't really apologized to anyone at all.

Instead, Reed and Limbaugh, with the backing of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, started up the ole vast right-wing fake apology machine -- designed to temporarily quell a too hot controversy while at the same time not giving an inch.

Unfortunately for them, after too much use of the fake apology, people are catching on.

Although considered by some in the GOP to be a little too rough around the edges, Rush Limbaugh has always been considered a net asset to Republicans. Like fellow right-wing shock-jocks Glenn Beck and Bryan Fischer, he reaches a wide audience with toxic sludge that is ultimately helpful to the Republican Party, saying all the things that fire up the right-wing base, but that the politicians wouldn't want to be caught saying themselves. But Limbaugh has a peculiar kind of power -- no matter how outrageous his comments, members of the establishment Right tiptoe around him, afraid that his toxic words might one day be directed at them. George Will said it best: "They want to bomb Iran, but they're afraid of Rush Limbaugh."

The latest boot-up of the right-wing apology machine began when Limbaugh called Georgetown University law student and contraception coverage advocate Sandra Fluke a "slut," saying "She wants to be paid to have sex." And, as if contraception was sold by the gallon or the pound, he added, "She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception."

President Obama immediately stepped up, calling Fluke to check in and encourage her after she had been smeared on national radio.

Rick Santorum, in contrast, called Limbaugh's comments "absurd," but then reasoned that "an entertainer can be absurd... He's in a very different business than I am."

Mitt Romney's response was flimsier and even more timid. Asked about it while shaking hands at a rally, he said that it was "not the language I would have used." Apparently, he had no problem with Limbaugh saying that birth control advocates want the government to pay for them to have sex. He would just use different words.

Finally, Limbaugh himself fake-apologized. "I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke," he said -- before blaming the left and going on to repeat his accusation that she was "discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress."

"I wouldn't have use those words" is the new "I apologize if anyone was offended."

Ms. Fluke did not accept Limbaugh's fake-apology. Ralph Reed, however, accepted it on her behalf. Republican leaders can't be responsible for everything that comes out of the mouths of every right-wing blowhard. But if they want to be president they can be expected to provide clear responses when comments like Limbaugh's are this outrageous, instead of hiding their heads in the sand hoping that the public exposure of these outrages will go away. How hard is it to say that women who advocate for insurance coverage for contraceptives should be heard and shouldn't be called prostitutes for stating their position on the topic? Is it really worth compromising basic decency to stay in the good graces of Rush Limbaugh?

The Republican Party is increasingly buoyed by a small base whose values are antithetical to those of most other Americans. If they want to survive politically, they are going to have to stand up and no longer be fake apologists for the likes of Rush Limbaugh.

PFAW

Empty Courtrooms, Empty Gestures

With 20 judicial nominees waiting for a vote, Republicans allowing votes on a mere two of them today is inexcusable.
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Court Official - "I Just Don't See an End to Our Backlog"

Tennessee's case backlog is so bad it is now "borrowing" federal judges from Michigan.
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Super-PAC Tuesday

Ten states are holding primaries and caucuses today, earning March 6th the title of “Super Tuesday.” Participants will show up, cast their vote, and hopefully feel good for participating in the democratic process and fulfilling their civic duty.

But thanks to Citizens United, and the Super PACs that flawed decision gave rise to, the voters are not the stars of this show. An outpouring of cash from a few extremely wealthy donors has dramatically altered the campaign landscape, altering the balance of influence from individual donors and grassroots donors to rich special interests and corporations.

As illustrated above by Dave Granlund, tonight’s contests should really be called Super-PAC Tuesday. NPR reports that in the ten states up for grabs, Super PACs have spent a whopping $12 million for ads:

Leading the way is Restore Our Future, the superPAC that backs former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. According to Federal Election Commission numbers, Restore Our Future has spent $6.9 million on the Super Tuesday states.

"The groups have clearly taken the lead in advertising for the whole Republican primary. They're very much taking the lead in advertising for Super Tuesday. It's mostly the 'Restore Our Future show,' followed by Winning Our Future, which is the Gingrich group, and Red, White and Blue, which is the Santorum group," says Ken Goldstein, who tracks political ad spending for Kantar Media CMAG.

Red, White and Blue has spent some $1.3 million on Super Tuesday, and has been running an ad in Ohio that goes after Romney for his alleged similarities to the man all Republicans want to defeat in November: President Obama.

These ads supposedly (and unconvincingly) act independently from a candidate’s official campaign, meaning that candidates are unaccountable for their content. But as Katrina vanden Huevel points out in today’s Washington Post, these superPACs reach “barely a legal fiction,” populated as they are with former staff and fundraisers for the candidates they “independently” support.  And this is in addition to the spending by 501 c-4 organizations the sources for which do not even have to be disclosed.

This is not what democracy looks like. We have to end unfettered political spending in our elections system – and solutions like the DISCLOSE Act and a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United are gaining steam. $12 million worth of ads on Super-PAC Tuesday alone should convince everyone that enough is enough.

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Senate Obstruction Continues: The Chart

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Politico that he plans to push forward on filling the federal courts, despite unprecedented Republican obstructionism. Here is what Americans who value the courts are up against:

Despite a vacancy crisis in the federal courts that has led to delayed justice for Americans across the country, Senate Republicans have been using every delay tactic in the books to prevent qualified nominees from getting through the system.

The dotted line represents the average time  President Bush’s confirmed judicial nominees at this point in his presidency had to wait for a floor vote after committee approval. The blue lines are President Obama’s nominees – almost all with overwhelming bipartisan support , yet mostly forced to wait for months on end for no reason.

If Senate Republicans keep filibustering these nominees, Sen. Reid will be forced to start a cumbersome and time-consuming cloture process for each and every one of them. Such filibuster abuse is a waste fo the Senate’s time, and it’s bad for America’s courts.
 

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Romney Adds Ashcroft to List of Extreme Advisers

More mainstays of the Republican establishment announced their endorsement of Mitt Romney over the weekend. However, it’s not just the current faces of the party like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senator Tom Coburn who have tipped their hats; Romney is also registering the support of ghosts of GOP past: Bush Administration attorney general John Ashcroft.

Romney is apparently trying to court as many extremists to his campaign as possible – the addition of Ashcroft dovetails closely with the fringe views of his legal adviser, the rejected Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.

As attorney general, Ashcroft oversaw a relentless assault on Americans’ civil liberties. He approved warrantless wiretapping, secret military tribunals, racial profiling, aggressively implemented the PATRIOT Act, and created the “enemy combatant” status in an attempt to justify ignoring the Constitution in order to indefinitely detain terrorism suspects without charges.

Many of Ashcroft’s longstanding views still sit squarely with current GOP priorities:

  • He singlehandedly sabotaged confirmation of judicial nominees he didn’t like and has helped pack the federal courts with extreme Right-Wing judges;
  • He perpetuates the War on Women and has sought to amend the Constitution and pass legislation that would eliminate a women’s right an abortion, even for rape and incest victims, and supported making common birth control methods illegal;
  • He opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, designed to protect vulnerable groups of Americans who have long experienced overt discrimination for reasons having nothing to do with their job qualifications; 
  • He opposed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would have amended federal law to recognize hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender and disability;
  • He opposed school desegregation in Missouri;
  • He disregards the separation of church and state by helping funnel government funds to religious organizations that discriminate based on religion and led daily prayer and Bible study sessions at the Justice Department;
  • He helped rig the vote by investigating Republican claims of voter fraud while ignoring charges of voter disenfranchisement.

Ashcroft’s own words perfectly sum up his policy positions:

“There are voices in the Republican Party today who preach pragmatism, who champion conciliation, who counsel compromise. I stand here today to reject those deceptions. If ever there was a time to unfurl the banner of unabashed conservatism, it is now.” --April 10, 1998

If Mitt Romney shares Ashcroft’s extremist sentiments, he will be unable to unite the country should he win the nomination. Ashcroft’s open hostility to the Bill of Rights has no place in this campaign.

However, singing lessons are always welcome.

 

 

The full video is here.

PFAW

Blinded by the Hate: The Real Problem With Judge Cebull's Email

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Earlier this week a Great Falls Tribune reporter found something startling in his inbox: a shockingly racist and misogynistic email forwarded from the most powerful federal judge in Montana, which "joked" that the president of the United States was the product of his mother having sex with a dog. The story soon became national news, with groups like ours calling on Judge Richard Cebull to resign. Cebull quickly apologized to the president and submitted himself to a formal ethics review, somewhat quelling the story. But the story is about more than one judge doing something wildly inappropriate and deeply disturbing. It's about a conservative movement in which the bile and animosity directed at the president -- and even his family -- are so poisonous that even someone who should know better easily confuses political criticism and sick personal attack. Come on: going after the president's late mother? Attempting to explain his email forward, Judge Cebull told the reporter, John S. Adams,

The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan. I didn't send it as racist, although that's what it is. Is sent it out because it's anti-Obama.

Judge Cebull is hardly alone in using the old "I'm not racist, but..." line. In fact, his email was the result of an entire movement built on "I'm not racist, but..." logic that equates disagreement with and dislike of the president with broad-based, racially charged smears. These smears, tacitly embraced by the GOP establishment, are more than personal shots at the president -- they're attacks on the millions of Americans who make up our growing and changing country. Mainstream conservatives have genuine objections to President Obama's priorities and policies. But since he started running for president, a parallel movement has sprung up trying to paint Obama as an outsider and an imposter -- in unmistakably racially charged terms. Too often, the two movements have intersected. The effort to paint Obama as a threatening foreigner sprung up around the right-wing fringe in the run-up to the 2008 election with the typically muddled conspiracy theory that painted him as both a secret Muslim and a member of an America-hating church. They soon coalesced in the birther movement, which even today is championed by a strong coalition of state legislators and a certain bombastic Arizona sheriff. But the birther movement, the "secret Muslim" meme and the idea that the president of the United States somehow hates his own country are no longer confined to the less visible right-wing fringe. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, until recently a frontrunner in the GOP presidential race, continually hammers on the president's otherness, most notably criticizing his "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior." Rick Santorum flatly claims that Obama does not have the Christian faith that he professes, and eagerly courted the endorsement of birther leader Sheriff Joe Arpaio. And before they dropped out, Rick Perry and Herman Cain couldn't resist flirting with birtherism. But perhaps more than either of these fringe-candidates-turned-frontrunners, Mitt Romney has been catering to the strain of conservatism that deliberately confuses policy disagreements with racially-charged personal animosity. Romney went in front of TV cameras to smilingly accept the endorsement of Donald Trump, whose own failed presidential campaign was based on demanding the president's readily available birth certificate. And Gov. Romney continually attacks Obama -- falsely -- for going around the world "apologizing for America." Judge Cebull needs to take responsibility for his own actions. And if the GOP has any aspirations of providing real leadership to this country, it needs to jettison the deeply personal vitriol being direct against Barack Obama and start talking about real issues. When a federal judge has seen so much racially-charged propaganda against the president of the United States that he can claim not to know the difference between genuine disagreement and offensive personal smears, something in our discourse has gone terribly awry.

PFAW

PFAW's Peter Montgomery: Republicans Using 'Religious Liberty' to Attack Obama, Women's Health

Attacking President Obama for his supposed “hostility” to religious liberty is the tactic du jour for congressional Republicans, according to a new piece in the Huffington Post by PFAW Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery.

After a widely-mocked hearing before the House Oversight Committee on contraceptive coverage, conservatives testifying before the Judiciary Committee continued to claim that the Obama Administration’s compromise on contraceptive coverage is not sufficient – and even if were, the Administration couldn’t be trusted to actually carry it out.

But many of their arguments relied on narrow definitions of the beginning of life that are at odds with medical standards and even with the rest of the religious community:

The arguments from Republican members and their witnesses boiled down to three main claims: the regulations requiring contraception coverage are unconstitutional burdens on religious organizations; the compromise to prevent religious organizations from having to pay for contraceptive coverage is only "an accounting gimmick" that does not resolve any of the moral or religious liberty issues; and the Obama administration has proven itself hostile to religious liberty and cannot be trusted to follow through on its promised accommodation.

...

Several Democratic members pointedly noted that Lori was not speaking for all Catholic leaders, placing into the record positive statements about the proposed compromise from the Catholic Health Association, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, and other Catholic groups. Meanwhile, outside the hearing, other Catholic voices challenged the credibility of the bishops' religious liberty alarmism.

Others cited fallacious examples to attempt to bolster their claim of lacking religious accomodation.

Also on hand: more nonsensical analogies to join Bishop Lori's previous testimony that the regulations were akin to forcing a Jewish deli to serve pork. Committee Chair Lamar Smith asked whether the government could force people to drink red wine for its health benefits. (As Rep. Zoe Lofgren noted, no one is being forced to use birth control.) Religious Right favorite Rep. Steve King lamented that in the past Christians had "submitted" to Supreme Court decision on prayer in schools and the Griswold decision and the right to privacy "manufactured" by the Supreme Court.

The piece goes on to discuss how religious liberty does require some accommodation of religious beliefs, and striking an appropriate balance is a delicate task. But whatever the outcome, Montgomery notes, the courts will evaluate the regulation of competing interests, and “religious liberty in America will survive.” You can read the entire article here.

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Fighting For Fair and Just Courts

We may see increased pressure this month to end the obstruction that is keeping so many Americans from having their day in court.
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Senate Rejects Blunt Amendment, Romney Disappointed?

In a 51-48 vote today, the Senate rejected an amendment to the transportation bill by Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt that would have allowed employers to deny their employees health insurance coverage for any treatment for any reason.

“The Blunt amendment was not only astoundingly bad public policy, it represented a fundamental misreading of the First Amendment. If it became law, it would have put working Americans – regardless of their religious beliefs – at the mercy of the religious beliefs of their employers. That’s not religious liberty – in fact, it’s exactly the opposite,” said PFAW president Michael Keegan in a statement released earlier today.

The extremity of this amendment wasn’t lost on every member of the GOP. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) voted against the amendment, and even major presidential contender Mitt Romney opposed the bill:

“I’m not for the bill, but look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife, I’m not going there.”

But of course, after remembering that perpetuating the War on Women is one of the GOP’s primary tactics this year, he reversed course in record time:

“Of course I support the Blunt amendment. I thought he was talking about some state law that prevented people from getting contraception so I was simply — misunderstood the question and of course I support the Blunt amendment.”

The American people, and in particular the 20 million American Women whose reproductive health coverage would have been jeopardized by the Blunt Amendment, are quickly losing patience for the type of brazen politicking that puts pandering to the extreme right-wing over the legitimate needs of the country.

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Senate GOP - "Ignore What We Said Before"

Senate Republicans used to demand quick confirmation votes for any judicial nominee clearing the Judiciary Committee. Not anymore.
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Senate Hearing Examines Indefinite Detention of Americans

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled, “The Due Process Guarantee Act: Banning Indefinite Detention of Americans,” which shed light on controversial provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA).

That act, signed into law on December 31, 2011, codified some of the most extreme abuses of civil liberties that have been pursued following the initiation of the ‘War on Terror,’ the actions of which, under the current administration, are now engaged under the title, ‘Overseas Contingency Operations.’ The most striking provision of the NDAA affirmed a broad interpretation of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (2001) and stated that the executive has the power to detain anyone “who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities … without trial, until the end of the hostilities authorized by the [AUMF 2001],” which many interpret would permit even the indefinite detention of American citizens.

Although the current executive branch has pledged to not act upon these powers with respect to American citizens – President Obama signed the law with an adjoining statement, declaring, “my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens” – the potential for future administrations to engage in such clearly unconstitutional behavior, or for the Obama Administration to simply change its mind, is a danger that all Americans should be wary of.

Troubled by these possibilities, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced the ‘Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011’ just hours after the final version of the NDAA was approved by the Senate. The bill seeks to amend the United States Code affected by the NDAA, effectively barring the executive from utilizing indefinite detention on American citizens without express approval from Congress to do so.

The hearing today regarded this remedial act; and there were fireworks to say the least.

Senator Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and is the author of the bill, repeatedly called into question the effectiveness of the provisions in question. Alluding to her past experiences on the Intelligence Committee, Feinstein echoed the concerns of leaders of intelligence and domestic crime fighting agencies who have expressed their disagreement with the infringement of the Armed Forces into domestic security concerns.

Senator Patrick Leahy, before passing the gavel to Senator Feinstein to chair the session, spoke more broadly about the practice of indefinite detention in his opening statement, stating, “A regime of indefinite detention degrades the credibility of this great Nation around the globe, particularly when we criticize other governments for engaging in such conduct.”

The most heated portion of the hearing arose when Senator Al Franken objected to the testimony of Steven G. Bradbury, a former Bush Administration appointee invited by Senate Republicans to testify in favor of the indefinite detention provisions. Franken alluded to the ‘enhanced interrogation’ memos (more accurately called torture memos) that Bradbury authored – which were the subject of a Justice Department probe that concluded by seriously questioning the legal work of Bradbury and others - and stated, “it’s very difficult for me, frankly, to rely on your legal opinion today.”

To ensure that future generations of Americans are not subject to indefinite detention without charge or trial, which was deemed unconstitutional by the Hamdi Supreme Court decision in 2004, please contact your local Representative and Senators to express your opposition to the NDAA, and encourage them to co-sponsor legislation to make sure the law reflects our Constitution’s most essential values. ( H.R. 36702 in the House; S. 2003 in the Senate).

PFAW

Senate to Vote This Week on Extremist Health Care Amendment

The Senate will reportedly vote this week on the Blunt amendment, an addition to the transportation bill from Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt that would, if it became law, throw the American health care system into chaos.

Blunt’s amendment, part of the right-wing overreaction to President Obama’s mandate that health insurance policies cover contraception, would allow any employer to refuse any employee insurance for any treatment on religious grounds. So not only could any boss refuse his female employees access to birth control, but any employer could refuse coverage for any procedure or medication he or she found morally offensive – including things like blood transfusions, vaccinations, or even treatment from a doctor of the opposite sex.

Not only would the Blunt amendment mean that comprehensive health insurance wouldn’t necessarily provide comprehensive health insurance – it would throw the country’s health care system into chaos, as each employer and each insurer carved out their own sets of rules.

The plan is bad public policy and antithetical to religious freedom, but it will probably get the votes of most Republican senators. In fact, the basic idea behind the plan is something that’s already been embraced by Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

A large majority of Americans think that insurance policies should be required to cover basic reproductive care – including contraception – for women. The Blunt amendment would not only deny that care to women, it would go even further in denying health care to all American workers for any number of reasons totally beyond their control.

This is straight-up extremism: and American voters know that.
 

UPDATE: The Democratic Policy and Communications Center estimates that the Blunt amendment could put preventative care for 20 million women at risk.

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Sen. Coons to Senate GOP: Rethink Your Strategy of Obstruction

The Delaware Senator notes that it should not take so long to confirm consensus lower court nominees.
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Virginia Senate passes less terrible, but still terrible, mandatory ultrasound bill

Last week, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell buckled under nationwide pressure and forced his allies in the state’s legislature to revise a bill they had passed mandating forced, medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. That the bill was tweaked to no longer require women to be vaginally penetrated without their consent – a requirement that McDonnell, until he was met with a national outcry, was all set to sign into law -- was an important victory for pro-choice and common-decency activists.

But we need to remember just how far anti-choice politicians are willing to go. Just a few years ago, before the War on Women kicked into full swing, we wouldn’t have known that we’d have to be fighting state-mandated vaginal probes. In fact, just a few years ago, the amended bill passed by the Virginia Senate today would have been seen as extreme in itself.

The bill that the Virginia Senate passed in a 21-19 vote today requires all women seeking an abortion to first undergo a medically unnecessary external ultrasound – unless they can prove they are pregnant as a result of rape or incest.

It’s important to remember just how extreme the bill still is. Virginia Republicans are mandating that doctors perform a medically unnecessary procedure whether or not their patient requests it, unless that patient can produce a police report to prevent it. It creates a situation that’s ethically difficult for doctors and absolutely demeaning for women.

If Gov. McDonnell signs the bill, which he is expected to do, Virginia will join seven other states that currently require pre-abortion ultrasounds.
 

PFAW

Ben Cardin Urges a Vote on a Maryland Judicial Nominee

Among the 19 judicial nominees who Republicans are blocking from a floor vote is an experienced Maryland state judge with bipartisan support.
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The Judicial Vacancy Crisis in Illinois

Sen. Durbin discusses how the chief judge of the Northern District of Illinois has asked the Senate to fill two vacancies as quickly as possible.
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