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.
“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.
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.
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when Republicans started complaining that President Obama's second inaugural address was too "partisan" and lacked "outreach" across the aisle. But who was left out? What did they find "partisan"? The acknowledgement of climate science? The idea that women should receive equal pay for equal work? The nod to civil rights struggles of our past and present? The hope that no American will have to wait in hours-long lines to vote? The defense of the existence of a social safety net? The determination to offer support to the victims of a historic storm and to find real answers to the epidemic of mass shootings? In the not-too-distant past, none of these would have raised eyebrows except on the very, very far right. But I guess that's the point: what was once the radical fringe is now in control of the Grand Old Party.
In many ways, Monday's inauguration ceremony was a Tea Party Republican's nightmare-come-true. The openly gay poet. The Spanish sprinkled into the benediction. The one-two-three punch of "Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall." It was the embodiment of all that the far right has tried to wall itself off from as the country begins to include more and more of the real America in its democracy.
What would have pleased this faction, short of winning the presidential election? I imagine they would have preferred a paean to the America of their imaginations -- where the founders were flawless and prescient about the right to bear assault weapons and the Constitution was delivered, amendments included, directly from God; where there are no gay people or only silent ones, where the world is not getting warmer; where there have been no struggles in the process of forging a more perfect union. This, of course, would have been its very own kind of political statement -- and one that was just rejected by the majority of American voters.
If embracing America as it is rather than as a shimmery vision of what it never was constitutes partisanship, and if it turns off people who cling to that dishonest vision, let's have more of it.
President Barack Obama posed an important question to families across the country yesterday: what does $2,000 mean to you?
In a speech on extending tax cuts for the middle class as the fiscal deadlines approach, President Obama emphasized the importance of this tax measure for everyday Americans:
“If Congress does nothing, every family in America will see their taxes automatically go up at the beginning of next year…A typical middle class family of four would see its income taxes go up by $2,200. $2,200 out of people’s pockets. That means less money for buying groceries, less money for filling prescriptions, less money for buying diapers. It means a tougher choice between paying the rent and paying tuition. And middle class families just can’t afford that right now.”
He made the case that extending tax cuts for the middle class would give families peace of mind and give those in Washington more time to work out a comprehensive fiscal plan “in a balanced way – including asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more so we can still invest in things like education and training in science and research.”
Earlier this month, People For the American Way – as well as PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action and People for the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials and Young People For programs – joined more than 100 other organizations in calling for a budget agreement that prioritizes job creation, saving the safety net, stopping sequestration, and adding new revenue from corporations and the wealthiest earners.
Americans agree with this approach. A Washington Post-ABC poll released yesterday found that the majority (60%) of Americans support increasing taxes on the wealthy and that 67% oppose raising the age for Medicare coverage. As families across the country know, the solution to our fiscal problems cannot come from putting efficient systems like Medicare and Medicaid on the chopping block so that we can extend tax breaks for the richest Americans.
Beyond being bad for families, it’s bad for our national economy. As the Congressional Research Service found this fall, lower tax rates for the wealthy do not spur economic growth. Instead, as President Obama said today, “let’s approach this problem with the middle class in mind” – and make sure Congress isn’t taking money out of our national investments in health and education to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.
This week, the White House made public President Obama’s endorsement interview with the Des Moines Register’s editorial board. In the interview, the president is frank about what he thinks could be the deciding factor in this election – the votes of Latinos:
The second thing I’m confident we’ll get done next year is immigration reform. And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community. And this is a relatively new phenomenon. George Bush and Karl Rove were smart enough to understand the changing nature of America. And so I am fairly confident that they’re going to have a deep interest in getting that done. And I want to get it done because it’s the right thing to do and I've cared about this ever since I ran back in 2008.
The president is right that as the United States’ Latino population has grown in recent years, the GOP has increasingly pushed Latinos aside. While John McCain and George W. Bush both to some extent supported bipartisan efforts at comprehensive immigration reform, Mitt Romney has embraced some of his party’s most extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. He touted the endorsement of Kris Kobach, the man behind draconian anti-immigrant measures in Arizona and Alabama, then took Kobach on as an adviser. He said he would veto the DREAM Act if it were to be passed by Congress. He says his immigration strategy is to make the lives of immigrants so miserable that they are forced to “self-deport.” He endorsed Steve King, the Iowa congressman who has compared immigrants to “cattle” and “dogs.”
Unsurprisingly, Latino voters haven’t been responding well to Romney’s record. Bush won 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004, and McCain won 31 percent in 2008. Romney is currently polling at 20 -25 percent among Latinos.
Earlier this month People For the American Way launched a 5-week, $1.2 million campaign to remind Latino voters about Mitt Romney’s policies. We’re running TV ads in four states (Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia and Nevada), radio ads in five (with the addition of North Carolina), and operating a direct mail program. Here are the three of the TV ads that we’ve run so far. English translations are available in the description of each video on YouTube.
UPDATE: On October 29, we expanded the campaign to Colorado.