Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins signed on today as a cosponsor of a blatantly political bill meant to deny President Obama, unlike any of his predecessors, the ability to fill vacancies on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The D.C. Circuit is the second most influential court in the country, behind the Supreme Court. It has the final word on scores of federal laws and regulations, from consumer protections to workers’ rights to environmental protections.
For more than 30 years, presidents of both parties have placed numerous judges on the D.C. Circuit:
Senate Republicans prevented President Obama from placing a single nominee on the court during his first term and the first four months of his second, despite the fact that one-third of its active judgeships were vacant. They were so eager to keep the court dominated by Republican-nominated judges that they twice filibustered President Obama’s first nominee to the court, the eminently qualified Caitlin Halligan. Yesterday, after a ten-month delay, the Senate finally confirmed an Obama nominee, Sri Srinivasan, to fill one of the court’s four vacancies. But Republicans are indicating that their cooperation will stop there.
Senate Republicans are not only vowing to block any Obama nominees to the remaining three seats on the D.C. Circuit, they are actually proposing a bill that would eliminate those three seats entirely in order to prevent President Obama from filling them.
The bill, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley and cosponsored by every other Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, just gained its first non-committee cosponsor: Sen. Collins.
The bill’s backers claim that the D.C. Circuit doesn’t have a great enough workload to justify filling the remaining three judgeships. However, Sen. Collins’ own voting record provides a perfect refutation of that argument.
Sen. Collins and her allies object to Obama’s filling the 9th, 10th and 11th seats on the D.C. Circuit. However, when George W. Bush was president, Sen. Collins had no such reservations about the need to fill the court's vacancies. In 2006, Collins voted to confirm Bush nominee Brett Kavanaugh to the 10th seat on the D.C. Circuit. In 2005, she voted to confirm Bush nominees Janice Rogers Brown to the 10th seat on the court and Thomas Griffith to the 11th.
Following the Griffith confirmation, which Collins supported, the D.C. Circuit’s caseload was 119 cases per active judge. If every one of the D.C. Circuit’s 11 seats were filled today -- including the three seats that Sen. Collins wants to eliminate – the court’s caseload would be slightly higher than it was then, at 120 cases per active judge. Sen. Collins evidently thinks that what was a reasonable caseload for the court under President Bush is somehow wastefully low under President Obama.
Meanwhile, here is Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse refuting Sen. Grassley’s absurd claim that President Obama is trying to “pack” the D.C. Circuit by filling its vacancies:
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.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been a failed experiment in discrimination—it has kept countless patriotic Americans from serving their country in the military, and sent thousands of brave men and women packing after honorable careers in the armed forces. For too long, an unjust, ineffective, and unpopular policy has been kept in place by the divisive politics of the far-right fringe. As Sec. Gates has acknowledged, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell won’t hold up for long in the court of law. The Senate’s refusal to end the policy at Sec. Gates’ request—and to sink an important Defense bill along with it—is short-sighted and irresponsible, and puts right-wing politics ahead of national security.
But we have called on you to keep fighting, in particular on behalf of S. 4023 – the stand-alone repeal bill introduced by Senator Lieberman, with Senators Collins, Gillibrand, Mark Udall, and 38 other cosponsors (at press time).
Last night, a Department of Defense Authorization bill that contained the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell was successfully blocked, falling three votes short of the 60 needed for the bill to get an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. But there's good news… Several senators who voted to block the bill did so not because they oppose repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell but because they had procedural objections to how the bill was being pushed forward.
Shortly after the vote, Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) announced they were introducing Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal as a stand-alone bill and expressed confidence that they had more than the 60 votes required to move the bill forward. It's been rare in recent years that we could count Sens. Lieberman and Collins as allies in the fight for progress on many of the issues we care about. But in this instance, they deserve to be commended. They are matching their words with action and moving a bill which could, once and for all, be the final nail in the coffin for the discriminatory policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Help shore up your senators' support for repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell by calling them now and urging them to vote YES on repeal.
Capitol Switchboard - (202) 224-3121
Last Friday, repeal advocates gathered on Capitol Hill to make sure that the Senate keeps fighting. From Metro Weekly:
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates implored Congress to lift the widely unpopular Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy before it could be lifted by federal courts. A federal judge has already ordered the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military to be lifted, but her order is on hold while the decision is appealed. Now, the Service Members Legal Defense Network has helped three more former service members discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to sue the government over their firings.
A repeal of the policy failed in a procedural debacle on the Senate floor last week, but Sens. Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman have introduced a stand-alone repeal bill in hopes that the Senate will pass it before it leaves for the holidays. Michael Almy, one of the plaintiffs in the new lawsuit, told the Guardian he hoped senators would take a good look at their priorities:
Almy, a decorated officer who was in the Senate chambers last week when Republicans refused to let the repeal measure advance, said he still hopes lawmakers can be persuaded to take up the standalone bill, even if it means postponing their holidays.
Almy is the son of an air force officer who did not know he was gay. He was discharged in 2005 after another member of the air force searched his computer files and found a private email Almy had written to another man when he was in Iraq. His 13-year career ended with him being given a police escort off the base.
"I spent four Christmases deployed in the Middle East," he said. "If we can make that kind of sacrifice for our nation, certainly our senators can give up a Christmas to get this done."
Because, thanks to the ongoing GOP obstruction in the Senate, virtually nothing can get done without a time consuming cloture vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed cloture late yesterday on the motion to begin debate on the DREAM Act. If passed, the legislation would allow undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to gain legal status and a path to citizenship if they attend college or join the armed forces.
The Brookings Institution gives a rundown of what the legislation includes:
The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would offer conditional citizenship to a specific group of young individuals. To gain conditional status under the DREAM Act one must have entered the United States before the age of 16, been in the country continuously for five years, earned a high school diploma (or GED) and not committed any crimes that would otherwise restrict someone from entering the country. During a six-year period of conditional status, this group will have been required to complete two years in uniformed service or two years enrolled at an institution of higher learning, and must pass a second criminal background check before being considered for full citizenship. It should also be noted that the DREAM Act only applies to young people currently in the country so that it will not encourage additional families to bring children to the U.S. looking for benefits.
The bill seems to have plenty of support. Orrin Hatch, Sam Brownback, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have all supported it in the past. But when it comes to Republican obstruction, good policy takes a backseat to good politics.
By filing the cloture petition, Reid will be able to hold the vote on cutting off debate and then proceeding to consideration of the bill on Wednesday. We’ll keep you posted as the issue moves forward.
When the Supreme Court decided earlier this year to allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, the justices in the majority (save Justice Clarence Thomas) took care to note that “prompt disclosure” of political spending would allow citizens to hold candidates, and their funders, accountable. It’s a nice idea…but things haven’t exactly worked out that way.
Instead, Public Citizen reported last week, in the first election after Citizens United, groups funneling money to political activities have increasingly been hiding where their money comes from.
Only 32 percent of the organizations broadcasting electioneering communications in the 2010 primary season revealed in their filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) the identities of donors funding their advertisements, according to Public Citizen’s analysis of FEC filings. In contrast, nearly 50 percent revealed their donors in the 2008 election cycle, and close to 100 percent did so in the 2004 and 2006 cycles. Electioneering communications are campaign ads run shortly before elections that focus on candidates but don’t expressly urge a vote for or against them.
Only 10 percent of Republican groups disclosed their funders, in contrast to 50 percent of Democratic groups.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. As Target learned the hard way this summer, shareholders, consumers, and voters aren’t particularly keen on large corporations bankrolling political campaigns. Funneling money through secretive groups allows corporate political spenders to have the best of both worlds: they can fund the campaigns of candidates favorable to them, and never have to be held accountable.
An attempt this summer to patch up the loophole that allows corporations to keep their election spending secret ran up against stiff opposition from corporate lobbyists and a unified filibuster from the GOP. President Obama summed up the result in his weekly radio address Saturday:
What is clear is that Congress has a responsibility to act. But the truth is, any law will come too late to prevent the damage that has already been done this election season. That is why, any time you see an attack ad by one of these shadowy groups, you should ask yourself, who is paying for this ad? Is it the health insurance lobby? The oil industry? The credit card companies?
But more than that, you can make sure that the tens of millions of dollars spent on misleading ads do not drown out your voice. Because no matter how many ads they run – no matter how many elections they try to buy – the power to determine the fate of this country doesn’t lie in their hands. It lies in yours. It’s up to all of us to defend that most basic American principle of a government of, by, and for the people. What’s at stake is not just an election. It’s our democracy itself.
This fall, the Senate will have another chance to bring the DISCLOSE Act to a vote. As the New York Times pointed out yesterday, the vote should be a no-brainer for moderate senators like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine:
The Citizens United decision, paradoxically, supported greater disclosure of donors, but Senate Republicans have filibustered a bill that would eliminate the secrecy shield. Just one vote is preventing passage. That act is coming back for another Senate vote. The two Republican senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, might want to read a recent poll by the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, which showed that 80 percent of the state’s voters support public disclosure.
In a poll we commissioned in June, 85% of Americans said that corporations already have too much influence over the political process. Voters want information. Will Congress provide it?
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.
In his opening comments, Lindsey Graham raises the agreement reached by the Gang of 14 and the standard they set: that filibusters of judicial nominees could be allowed only in extraordinary circumstances.
Senator Susan Collins has already said that she doesn’t think that the “extraordinary circumstances” threshold has been met by Senator Kagan’s nomination, which should be obvious to any impartial observer.
But we shouldn’t forget that most Republicans didn’t embrace the standard set by the Gang of 14. They argued that a filibuster of a judicial nominee was unconstitutional in all cases. It wasn’t about politics, they claimed. It was a principled commitment to the Constitution. Senator Sessions, for his part, was unambiguous about his stance.
“One of the many reasons why we shouldn't have a filibuster, an important one, is Article I of the Constitution. It says the Senate shall advise and consent on treaties by a two-thirds vote and simply 'advise and consent' on nominations,” he said in a 2003 floor statement. "Historically, we have understood that provision to mean -- and I think there is no doubt the Founders understood that to mean -- that a treaty confirmation requires a two-thirds vote, but confirmation of a judicial nomination requires only a simple majority vote."
So none of the Republicans would ever try to filibuster a judicial nominee. Right?
Last night, Patricia Smith, President Obama’s choice to be Solicitor of the Department of Labor, passed an important procedural hurdle: the Senate decided to vote on her nomination.
What’s remarkable is that, unlike past attempts to block votes on executive branch nominees, the vote was entirely along party lines. Even the so-called moderates in the Republican party, like Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, voted against allowing an up or down vote on a second-tier executive branch nomination.
For a party that railed against the use of the filibuster even in the case of judicial nominees, the hypocrisy is remarkable.
Perhaps, you think, Patricia Smith is far outside the mainstream, and the GOP was using it’s last tactic to stop an extreme nominee.
But filibustering a nominee like Smith for a position most people have never heard of in a department that is rarely in the news still requires some justification. After all, most of the GOP senators have been around long enough that they served during a time when such a filibuster would be unimaginable.
So they called Smith a liar.
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wy.), the ranking Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, led the pack, decrying her "lack of candor" and cited "discrepancies in her testimony." The issue -- which was really not, of course, the issue -- centered on a small pilot program in New York called Wage Watch, which aims to educate workers about the minimum wage is and when they are entitled to overtime. Republicans, during committee hearings, insisted that it was a Big Labor plot, but Smith said the idea had been generated within her office. It was later shown that apparently a labor representative had suggested it to an employee, who then suggested it to Smith.
The GOP also lambasted Smith for categorizing the pilot program as "educational" rather than "enforcement." Democrats pointed out that the distinction was an irrelevant one: The purpose of the education was to improve enforcement efforts.
The pilot program cost $6,000. Smith manages some 4,000 employees and oversees an $11 billion annual budget.
The conclusion is obvious. The GOP, including so-called moderates, are obstructing nominations for the sake of obstruction, throwing sand into the gears of government and attempting to hobble the Obama administration by any means necessary. That tactic is irresponsible and unacceptable. Americans deserve better.