Pandering for the Primaries, Pawlenty Tacks Right

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty officially launched his presidential campaign today in Iowa. Although he has been campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire for a couple of years now, you may not know much about him. He has low name recognition and low poll numbers, and his book Courage to Stand is not selling that well. But journalists from The New Republic and National Review think he could well be the GOP candidate. So it's worth taking a good look at his record and his far-right ideology.

Part of Pawlenty's appeal is supposed to be that he is from Minnesota, and was elected as a conservative in a bluish-purplish state. Some people wrongly assume that being from Minnesota automatically makes him some kind of moderate. In fact, Pawlenty is campaigning as a hard-core, across-the-board conservative.

He makes appeals to Religious Right voters by talking up his faith and appearing on even the most offensive radio shows, like that of the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer, who is surely one of the most extreme, hateful and bigoted personalities in Christian radio. Pawlenty helped raise money for Ralph Reed's "Faith and Freedom Coalition" in Iowa. And he appointed an education commissioner who equated teaching of evolution with teaching of creationism but thought teaching sharing in kindergarten was "socialist."

Pawlenty's attacks on reproductive rights please anti-abortion advocates. A National Review Online blogger says Pawlenty "may be the strongest pro-life candidate" in 2012. As governor, Pawlenty signed legislation erecting barriers to women seeking abortions, including a required waiting period and anti-choice lecture. He has spoken at anti-choice rallies, looking forward to a day when Roe v. Wade would be overturned, saying: "We have a dream today that someday soon this will not be an anniversary of sadness, but an anniversary of justice restored."

Pawlenty has also fine-tuned his campaign and his record to be more attractive to the far-right Republican Party of the Tea Party era. He once actively supported regional action to address climate change and even filmed an environmental commercial. But now he apologizes, calls his former position "stupid," and has joined the ranks of climate change deniers. Pawlenty once voted for a gay rights bill as a state legislator, but then disavowed it and embarked on a journey that Think Progress described as "evolving homophobia." And he is a vocal supporter of the current effort to amend Minnesota's constitution to ban gay couples from getting married.

Pawlenty doesn't even support legal protections short of marriage, like those that could be provided by civil unions. He went so far as to sign an Orwellian letter defending the Family Research Council, the American Family Association and other anti-gay groups against criticism that they were promoting hate.

Pawlenty appears at Tea Party events and appeals to Tea Partiers with his opposition to health care reform. He denounces "Obamacare" as unconstitutional and one of the worst pieces of legislation in the history of the country. He compares the health care reform law to drug dealing and has joined legal efforts to prevent it from being implemented. In 2006, Pawlenty, in what opponents called election-year politics, pushed a wide array of proposals to crack down on immigration. Last year, he advocated amending the Constitution to deny citizenship to the American-born children of undocumented immigrants. Speaking to a Hispanic Republican group in January, he fudged his position, but said, "We can't have wide swaths of the country nodding or winking or looking the other way to broad violations of the law," rhetoric that echoes the "anti-amnesty" language used by opponents of comprehensive immigration reform.

And Pawlenty works hard to appeal to the economic and corporate right. He wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal last December slamming government employees and decrying a "silent coup, an inside job engineered by self-interested politicians and fueled by campaign contributions." The nonpartisan PolitiFact rated the column and its claims about government workers "Pants on Fire" -- its most-lying "Truth-o-meter" rating.

Pawlenty's self-portrait doesn't always mesh with reality. He rails against the "immoral debt" and touts his record as a governor of holding the line on growth in government. But in fact, as governor, he used short-term budget tricks that "left the state with a $5-billion projected deficit, one of the highest in the nation as a percentage of the state's general fund." He railed against the Obama administration's stimulus bill but then asked for $236 million from it.

He portrays himself as an anti-tax champion, but that's not how many Minnesotans experienced him. A state revenue department study in 2009 found that Minnesotans earning less than $129,879 saw their tax rates increase under Pawlenty. "Don't let anyone tell you Governor Pawlenty didn't raise taxes," said Sen. Al Franken. "It's about whom he raised them on. He raised them on lower- and middle-income families all across the state in order to pay for our kids' education."

Pawlenty promises right-wing groups that as president he will appoint "strict constructionist" judges -- code for judges with an 18th-century view of Americans' rights and interests. Last year he bypassed his state's Commission on Judicial Selection to appoint to a judgeship an attorney with strong Religious Right connections who served as counsel for the Minnesota Family Council in an anti-gay marriage case.

Back in 2008, when Pawlenty was frequently mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate, he was criticized for being too boring on television, maybe a bit too "Minnesota nice." So the 2012 Pawlenty has learned how to make himself sufficiently aggressive for the GOP zeitgeist. In speeches at conservative conferences, Pawlenty denigrates President Obama, accusing him of appeasing the nation's enemies. In his campaign launch message, Pawlenty said President Obama lacks both understanding of the nation's problems and the courage to address them.

While these may all be traits that will help Pawlenty win the Republican nomination, it's hard for me to imagine that a majority of American voters would agree that what we really need in the White House is a trash-talking, flip-flopping, science-denying, abortion-criminalizing, gay-rights-bashing, Religious Right-embracing politician who is so eager to get elected that he'll promise the far right just about anything. He even faked a southern accent when speaking to conservatives in Iowa, provoking well-deserved mockery back in Minnesota.

Pawlenty's backers are convinced that his polling numbers are low only because Americans haven't gotten to know him yet. But as Nate Silver noted back in November, Pawlenty was not that popular among those who know him best of all:

... a survey of Republican primary voters in Minnesota -- where Mr. Pawlenty is the governor and where his name recognition is near-universal -- showed him getting only 19 percent of the Republican primary vote there (although this was good for a nominal first place with Ms. Palin placing at 18 percent). Mr. Pawlenty's approval rating in Minnesota is also a tepid 47 percent.

Cross posted on The Huffington Post


The Unwelcome Return of the Newt

After more than a dozen years out of office, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich jumped into the GOP presidential campaign this week, rolling out his candidacy via social media and a friendly interview with Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity. Gingrich thinks he's just what is needed to save America from itself and its flirtation with Barack Obama and the rest of the evil of what he calls the "secular-socialist machine."

Much of the media attention of Gingrich's candidacy has centered around his role in the 1995 government shutdown, which Gingrich alone seems to think was a great success for the GOP, and his more recent urging of congressional Republicans not to fear a repeat. The implication seems to be that if you're the kind of voter who wants a more combative conservative willing to take down the federal government in order to bring down deficits, Newt may be your guy. But that kind of discussion -- and the crazily early poll-watching "which tier is he in?" stories -- miss something more important. Let's remind ourselves what kind of person Newt Gingrich is, and what kind of impact he has had on our public life.

Gingrich hasn't exactly been in hiding. In fact, he is at the center of his own machine, a 24/7 festival of self-promotion that includes an emailed "Newt and Callista Weekly Recap" courtesy of Gingrich Productions. If self-promotion were the top trait Americans were looking for in a president, Gingrich would be a shoo-in. But the job requires a bit more than that. People For the American Way's Right Wing Watch, Mother Jones and Media Matters have already posted compilations of Newtonian 'wisdom' from a long and dishonorable career. Once you start to consider characteristics like honesty and integrity, it becomes clear that Gingrich is unfit to lead our country.

The Newt McCarthyism

Gingrich is an enthusiastic participant in the right wing's divisive and destructive McCarthyism, portraying his political opponents as enemies of America's very existence. In To Save America, Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine, he warns, "America as we know it is now facing a mortal threat... The secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did... It's up to those of us who love our country to save America from the destructive, irreversible transformation that the Left have in store for us." In Real Change: The Fight for America's Future, he claims that the Obama administration (that would be the Faith-Based Initiative-continuing, National Prayer Day-celebrating, Easter Breakfast-sponsoring Obama administration) "has shown an unprecedented hostility to Christianity." He promotes ridiculous Religious Right claims about religious persecution in America, saying that Christians are threatened by "gay and secular fascism."

Gingrich spoke this spring at the Texas church led by John Hagee, whose support proved too controversial for John McCain in 2008. Newt combined two of his favorite threats, secularists and Islamists, into one memorable, if intellectually incoherent, sentence, declaring that he feared that his grandchildren could grow up "in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American." He told the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody, "In a sense, our Judeo-Christian civilization is under attack from two fronts. On one front, you have a secular, atheist, elitism. And on the other front, you have radical Islamists. And both groups would like to eliminate our civilization if they could. For different reasons, but with equal passion."

Newt is also placing himself at the forefront of the concerted conservative campaign to turn "American exceptionalism" into an attack on the patriotism of their political opponents. Candidates like Sen. Marco Rubio made American exceptionalism into a campaign theme in 2010, and hope to continue to smear Democrats as unbelievers in America's divinely-blessed founding and mission in the world. Gingrich has teamed up with Citizens United's David Bossie for a new "documentary" on American exceptionalism, A City Upon a Hill, The Spirit of American Exceptionalism, which features, among others, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Allen West, Andrew Breitbart and Phyllis Schlafly.

Gingrich, an old hand at politics-by-smear, is responsible for much of the venomous state of our politics. In the mid-1990s, his GOPAC distributed to Republican lawmakers a memo titled "Language: a Key Mechanism of Control." The memo urged Republicans to use a set of denigrating words to describe their opponents and the Democratic Party: "decay, failure (fail) collapse(ing) deeper, crisis, urgent(cy), destructive, destroy, sick, pathetic, lie, liberal, they/them, unionized bureaucracy, 'compassion' is not enough, betray, consequences, limit(s), shallow, traitors, sensationalists, endanger, coercion, hypocricy, radical, threaten, devour, waste, corruption, incompetent, permissive attitude, destructive, impose, self-serving, greed, ideological, insecure, anti-(issue): flag, family, child, jobs; pessimistic, excuses, intolerant, stagnation, welfare, corrupt, selfish, insensitive, status quo, mandate(s) taxes, spend (ing) shame, disgrace, punish (poor...) bizarre, cynicism, cheat, steal, abuse of power, machine, bosses, obsolete, criminal rights, red tape, patronage."

Religious Liberty: Hypocrisy and Bad History

Gingrich, like other Religious Right political figures, postures as a defender of Americans' religious liberty against a deeply hostile elite, the "secular-socialist machine." Yet he joined with gusto the opponents of the proposed Park51 Islamic community center in Manhattan, which right-wing activists vilified as the "Ground Zero Mosque," saying, "There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia." In his book, Rediscovering God in America, Gingrich declared, "A steadfast commitment to religious freedom is the very cornerstone of American liberty." Regarding the Islamic center in New York, he said, "No mosque. No self-deception. No surrender."

Gingrich, like other Religious Right leaders, justifies his attacks on Islam by suggesting that it is not really a religion, saying radical Islam "is a comprehensive political, economic, and religious movement that seeks to impose sharia -- Islamic law -- upon all aspects of global society... Radical Islamists see politics and religion as inseparable in a way it is difficult for Americans to understand. Radical Islamists assert sharia's supremacy over the freely legislated laws and values of the countries they live in and see it as their sacred duty to achieve this totalitarian supremacy in practice." Yet while Gingrich decries radical Islamists' goal of achieving "totalitarian supremacy," one of his own organizations, Renewing American Leadership, is run by an advocate of the 7 Mountains Mandate, a dominionist theology that argues that Christians are meant to control the levers of power in every aspect of government and society.

Gingrich is ideologically joined at the hip to "Christian nation" pseudo-historian David Barton. In Barton's worldview, the First Amendment is not about protecting religious pluralism, but was only meant to keep the federal government from siding with one group of Christians over another. Barton believes the First Amendment should not apply at all to the states, but that states should be free to pose religious tests for office, and local religious majorities should be free to use public schools for proselytizing prayer. On Barton's radio show, Gingrich promised that if he ran, he would be calling on Barton for help, presumably the way Barton helped turn out evangelical voters for the Republican Party during George W. Bush's reelection campaign. It seems to be a mutual admiration society. When Barton and other right-wing activists were pushing for changes in Texas textbooks, they urged that Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall be dropped, but that Newt be added.

Gingrich shares Barton's view of the federal courts as evil usurpers of the founding fathers' religious intentions. "There is no attack on American culture more destructive and more historically dishonest than the secular Left's relentless effort to drive God out of America's public square," Gingrich wrote in Rediscovering God in America. In a recent speech to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Gingrich said the courts have been "especially powerful engines of coerced secularization," and that "From the 1962 school prayer decision on, there has been a decisive break with the essentially religious nature of historic American civilization." While in Congress, Gingrich promoted the Religious Right's false claims that courts had somehow banned students from praying, and repeatedly supported efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to return organized prayer to public schools.

Politics over Principle

In addition to intellectual arrogance, a shameless lack of principle may be Gingrich's most identifying characteristic. When the popular uprisings in the Middle East spread to Libya, Gingrich denounced President Obama for not immediately imposing a no-fly zone: "We don't need to have the United Nations. All we have to say is that we think that slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and that we're intervening." Less than two weeks later, when the U.S. joined other nations in imposing a no-fly zone, Gingrich attacked Obama, saying "I would not have intervened" and declaring that "it is impossible to make sense of the standard for intervention in Libya except opportunism and news media publicity." Newt clearly knows a thing or two about opportunism and publicity-seeking; getting some coverage for an attack on Obama was clearly more important to him than questions of U.S. policy in Libya.


For all the far-right's charges that President Obama harbors anti-democratic tendencies -- Gingrich vowed to Hannity that he would abolish all the White House "czar" positions by executive order -- Gingrich's own behavior has made it clear that he sees himself as so superior to others, such an essential treasure for the nation, that the rules he would apply to others should not apply to him. When his second wife asked Newt how he could give a speech about the importance of family values just days after he admitted that he was having an affair, he reportedly told her, "It doesn't matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There's no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn't matter what I live." That is a breathtaking level of hubris, even by presidential candidate standards. And when the CBN's Brody lobbed him the fluffiest of softballs by asking him to talk about his affairs in the context of his experience of God's forgiveness, Newt blew it by blaming his cheating on his love of country: "There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate."

So Right and So Wrong

Gingrich's policy positions are pretty much standard fare in today's far-right Republican Party, including anti-worker, pro-corporate economic policies and support for criminalizing abortion. He has demonstrated his new-found commitment to the sacred nature of marriage by trying to buy the support of Religious Right activists in presidentially important Iowa, where he funneled about $200,000 into an unfortunately successful campaign to punish and purge three state Supreme Court justices who had voted to end marriage discrimination against same-sex couples in the state.

America is grappling with a set of deeply serious challenges at home and abroad. Americans would benefit from a substantive discussion of those problems and the policy choices that face them. What they're most likely to get from Newt Gingrich is toxic McCarthyism, petty and unprincipled partisanship, and preening self-promotion. Thanks but no thanks.

Cross posted on The Huffington Post


Maddow Takes on South Dakota Anti-Choice Bill

Remember that draconian anti-choice bill that South Dakota’s governor signed into law in March? The one that mercifully didn’t include a proposed provision to legalize the killing of abortion providers, but did include some of the most restrictive waiting period requirements in the country?

Rachel Maddow has done some digging into how the enforcement of such an over-the-top law is going to play out. Basically, nobody seems to really know:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


For more on South Dakota’s law and other extreme anti-choice bills advancing in the states, take a look at our report: The GOP Takes Its War on Women to the States.


Religious Right Groups And Chamber of Commerce Fail To Block District Court Nominee

Cross-posted on Right Wing Watch

Religious Right and pro-corporate groups failed today to block President Obama’s nominee for U.S. District Court in Rhode Island, John McConnell, from receiving an up-or-down vote in the Senate. The Senate invoked cloture on McConnell’s nomination in a 63-33 vote, defeating the filibuster against McConnell. Filibusters against district court judges are extremely rare—only a handful of District Court nominees have ever faced cloture votes, and none have ever been blocked—and many Republicans previously vowed they would never filibuster a judicial nominee.

Today’s vote came after a long wait for McConnell: according to The Providence Journal, the delay caused by the concerted right-wing effort to block McConnell forced Rhode Island’s chief federal judge to “take the unusual step of reassigning more than two dozen civil cases to judges in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.”

Why the tough fight? McConnell faced virulent opposition from the Chamber of Commerce over his role fighting big tobacco companies and lead paint manufacturers. The Chamber and other groups that oppose corporate accountability found allies in the Religious Right groups that decided to fight McConnell as well.

The Conservative Action Project made McConnell a top target of their efforts. The group includes pro-corporate organizations like the 60 Plus Association, National Taxpayers Union, Americans for Limited Government, Citizens United, and American Tax Reform, along with social conservatives such as the Family Research Council, Traditional Values Coalition, Heritage Action, American Values, Liberty Counsel Action, and Eagle Forum. The Conservative Action Project’s Memo to the Movement [PDF] claimed McConnell was unqualified to serve in the judiciary because he was a trial lawyer with a history of challenging big business.

Eagle Forum derided him as a “pro-choice, anti-business, pro-judicial activism nominee” who “has made numerous anti-business statements.” The Family Research Council slammed McConnell for his ties to the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the country’s most prominent civil rights organizations, and Phillip Jauregui’s Judicial Action Group said that his link to the SPLC and the American Constitution Society shows he “supports organizations who support homosexual marriage and oppose conservative politicians.”

While the Corporate Right and the Religious Right filibuster of the McConnell nomination failed, many of these organizations will continue to work together to block other qualified judicial nominees and aggravate the country’s burgeoning judicial vacancy crisis.


Independents Align More Closely With Democrats on Social Issues

Conventional wisdom tells us that Independents swing elections. Logic tells us that the two major parties should be trying to court as many Independents as possible. So why are Republicans emphasizing a legislative agenda that falls out of synch with the priorities of most independent voters?

According to recent polling data compiled by CQ Weekly, the views of Independents align more closely with Democrats than with Republicans on social issues such as funding Planned Parenthood. Interestingly, Republicans are pretty evenly split on the issue, and independent voters are in favor of continuing funding. The majority of Independents also believe that gays and lesbians should be allowed to legally marry and that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Why, then, are Republicans actively alienating Independents by threatening to shut down the government over issues that they oppose? As noted in the CQ article, One House, Two Agendas [paywall], even Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who manages communications strategy for Senate Republicans, fears the consequences of this shift in priorities:

“Our focus needs to be on reducing spending,” Alexander said. “We can’t preach the whole Bible in one sermon, so sometimes we have to take it one step at a time.”

Alexander’s views are reflected in the opinions of more libertarian-minded tea party groups. Last November, several tea party leaders and gay conservatives sent a letter to lawmakers asking them not to become distracted by the concerns of social conservatives.

“The tea party movement is a non-partisan movement, focused on issues of economic freedom and limited government,” they wrote. “We urge you to stay focused on the issues that got you and your colleagues elected and to resist the urge to run down any social issue rabbit holes in order to appease the special interests.”

In a recent essay describing a growing coalition between fiscal and social conservatives, PFAW Foundation’s Peter Montgomery explains how the Tea Party, supposedly concerned only about the size and scope of the federal government, is being co-opted by the Religious Right:

Now effectively in the employ of the libertarian David Koch, who founded Americans for Prosperity and chairs the board of its foundation, [Koch political operative Tom Phillips] has deep ties to the evangelical Right, most notably with Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Rev. Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, who now heads a new entity, the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Reed and Phillips go way back; the two were partners in Century Strategies, the political consulting group through which Reed played a role in the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal. Now, it seems Phillips is partnered with Reed and other Religious Right leaders in a much greater conquest: a merger of the Religious Right and the ostensibly secular Tea Party movement to create an electoral juggernaut that will determine the outcome of the 2012 Republican presidential primary.

Republicans continue to force extreme social issues on the American people, and independent voters are finding it less and less palatable. Hopefully, they’ll get the message.



States’ Rights! Smaller Federal Government! But Not for DC

We should have known what was coming in January when the House GOP, in one of its first acts in the majority, took away the limited floor voting rights of the District of Columbia’s one delegate in Congress. The move was depressingly ironic coming from a party that had swept to power on a movement that claimed to echo the spirit of the American Revolution and its call for “no taxation without representation.” But the irony was lost on most of the GOP, and, it seems, hasn’t been found yet.

Today, the House will vote on whether to spend $100 million of federal tax dollars over five years to impose a school voucher program in the District that doesn’t work and that the local government doesn’t even want. The voucher program, which funnels federal money to religious schools, is a pet project of House Speaker John Boehner, who has shown no qualms about cutting other education programs—including Head Start and Title I grants for low-income school districts.

A similar program was eliminated in 2009 after it was found to be ineffective in increasing student achievement, and DC’s mayor and non-voting congressional delegate both oppose reinstating it.

The voucher bill, expected to pass in the House, is the latest in a string of House GOP efforts to use DC as a pawn in the culture wars. The GOP’s radical anti-choice bill, HR 3, includes a provision that would prevent DC from using its own, locally raised tax dollars to provide abortion services. And now, Rep. Jim Jordan, leader of the 176-member Republican Study Group, is pushing for a bill that would overturn the District’s law allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

And this is on top of efforts to overturn DC’s local decisions on gun control and its needle exchange program.

Just to be clear, an elected body in which DC residents have no voting representation has decided to spend its time imposing programs the city doesn’t want, overturning its laws, and deciding how it can spend its own local tax dollars. Somebody call the Tea Party – I bet they’ll be furious.


South Dakota Governor Signs Harsh Law Restricting Reproductive Freedom

In another blow to women’s rights, the Republican governor of South Dakota Dennis Daugaard today signed legislation intended to curtail women’s access to reproductive healthcare and bolster anti-choice propaganda. The law creates a 72 hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion in the state, which has only one clinic which offers abortion services just once a week. Moreover, women seeking to terminate their pregnancy would be required to meet with staff of a “pregnancy help center,” more commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers, which do not provide abortion services.

People For the American Way’s report, “The GOP Takes Its War on Women to the States,” describes how such centers are fronts for anti-choice organizations to spread false information about abortion and deceive women:

In 2006, a congressional committee looked into federally funded CPC’s, and found that “the vast majority of the federally funded pregnancy resource centers contacted during the investigation provided information about the risks of abortion that was false or misleading,” and “in many cases, this information was grossly inaccurate or distorted.” The National Abortion Federation notes that such centers are mostly staffed by volunteers whose “main qualifications are a commitment to Christianity and anti-choice beliefs,” rather than by medical professionals, and “many CPCs are connected with religious organizations, but few disclose that fact in their advertising.”

Pence Admits to Using Women’s Health as a Bargaining Chip

NPR reports today on Republican efforts to gut funding to Title X family planning clinics, which “serve 15 percent of women in the United States who obtain contraceptive prescriptions or supplies, or who receive an annual checkup for birth control.” In February, all but three Republican representatives voted for a budget proposal that completely nixed Title X funding, after approving an amendment that also strips Planned Parenthood of all federal funds. As NPR reports, Rep. Mike Pence, the sponsor of the Planned Parenthood amendment, actually thinks that Title X funding is a good thing….but is willing to use it as a bargaining chip to achieve his ultimate goal of decimating Planned Parenthood:

Supporters of defunding have characterized it as an effort to strip funds from Planned Parenthood and other organizations that use other funds to provide legal abortions, without singling out any particular group. The House in February voted 240-185 to defund Title X in the current budget year.

But even staunch anti-abortion legislators like Rep. Mike Pence, the Indiana Republican who has crusaded against federal funding for Planned Parenthood clinics, say that jettisoning the Title X program may be going too far.

"I've never advocated reducing funding for Title X," Pence said during a recent radio interview with the chairman of a county Right to Life organization in his home state.

"Title X clinics do important work in our inner cities," Pence said. "They provide health services for women and children that might not otherwise have access to them."

So, why have Republican House members set their sights on the $327 million that would fund the program this year?

The answer, largely, is Planned Parenthood and politics.

Social conservatives have pressed House Republicans to make cutting off federal funds to Planned Parenthood a priority; but they see room for negotiation over Title X funds.

The Right’s obsession with bringing down Planned Parenthood is destructive enough…that people like Pence are willing to put millions of women at risk to achieve it shows just how blind an obsession it is.



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.



Stepping Between Women and Their Doctors

From the Des Moines Register comes a heartbreaking story about a Nebraska couple who were prevented from making the deeply personal decision to end a late-term pregnancy after they found out their child “had virtually no chance of survival.” Nebraska bans abortions after the 20th week of gestation, leaving Danielle Deaver no choice but to carry her pregnancy through to its end:

At 3:15 p.m. Dec. 8, 1-pound, 10-ounce Elizabeth Deaver - named in memory of Robb's grandmother - made one final attempt to breathe.

Her life struggle, 15 minutes outside the womb after 23 weeks and five days of gestation, was over.

"Our hands were tied," Danielle Deaver said. "The outcome of my pregnancy, that choice was made by God. I feel like how to handle the end of my pregnancy, that choice should have been mine, and it wasn't because of a law."

Nebraska is one of 38 states [pdf] that ban abortions after a certain point in a pregnancy, except to save the life of the woman.

States across the country are working to further roll back reproductive choice rights and to come between women and their doctors. A new report from People For the American Way examines some of those state-level efforts to legislate away access to reproductive choice.



Supreme Court Decision Exposes Religious Right Deceit on Hate Crimes Laws

When Congress debated and ultimately passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, detractors unfairly criticized the law as a threat to free speech and religious freedom. Opponents, especially from the Religious Right, tried to cover up their animus by maintaining that efforts to protect people against violent crime were really attempts to ban “hate speech,” and consequently “criminalize religion."

Rob Boston, a senior policy analyst of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, writes about how the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Snyder v. Phelps yet again exposes the dishonesty of the Religious Right’s arguments:

There has been no end of discussion about this church and its antics. Today I want to focus on an overlooked aspect of the controversy: For years, we’ve been hearing Religious Right leaders claim that their freedom to speak out on issues like homosexuality and abortion is at risk. To hear them tell it, “hate speech” laws are just around the corner, and Pastor Bob is only one step away from being tossed in the hoosegow if he dares to read from the Book of Leviticus in the pulpit.

It’s hard to imagine speech more hateful than that put forth by Westboro Baptist’s members. They think God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality, so they hoist signs reading, “God Hates Fags,” “Thank God for IEDs” and “Pray for More Dead Soldiers.”

This is some seriously hateful stuff – and by an 8-1 vote the Supreme Court said in Snyder v. Phelps that it is protected speech. If Westboro Baptist can claim the mantle of the First Amendment to unleash this stuff, I don’t think Pastor Bob has to worry about his pulpit criticisms of same-sex marriage. W

henever cases like this come up, the term “hate speech” is thrown around a lot in the media. Although this term appears in common parlance, it’s not something the courts have adopted. Sure, a lot of speech can be termed “hateful” – and it’s also protected speech. The First Amendment does not require that speech be polite, rational or popular. After all, the First Amendment wouldn’t be very useful if all it did was protect your right to say something everyone agrees with.

The claim that “hate speech” laws are going to shut down fundamentalist churches and gag conservative pastors is, to put it politely, bunk. It was never a persuasive argument, and in light of Wednesday’s ruling stands in shreds. I’m hoping Religious Right leaders will have the decency to stop saying it – but I won’t hold my breath.

Sweeping Anti-Choice Bill Passes House Committee

The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill today that would severely restrict reproductive rights, including undercutting women’s ability to buy their own insurance coverage for abortion.

Lawmakers stripped the bill, H.R. 3, of some of its most controversial provisions, including language that would redefine rape, and changed it to clarify that insurance must cover “life-saving” abortions.

But, as Amanda Terkel writes in the Huffington Post, the sweeping anti-choice bill is still troubling:

Arons points out that H.R. 3 would still impose "a permanent, blanket prohibition on any and all federal spending for abortion care," whereas under current law, only specific programs have such restrictions and they must be renewed every year.

The bill would also deny tax credits to businesses that offer employees health insurance plans that happen to cover abortion care, as well as disallow any medical deductions for expenses related to abortion. Women would not be able to set aside their own money in pre-tax health accounts for abortion coverage.

The revised H.R. 3 would also still hit the District of Columbia particularly hard. In 2009, Congress voted to lift the District's abortion funding restrictions and allow it to make its own choices. Smith's bill denies the Capitol "home rule."

"Each of these provisions represents an expansion, not simply a codification of abortion funding restrictions that now exist in federal law," Maloney said.

H.R. 3 is part of the expansive Republican war on women, which on the federal level has included efforts this year to slash federal funds to family planning clinics. Republican efforts on the state level have sought to regulate abortion clinics into the ground, impose potentially dangerous ultrasound requirements, force women to go to anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers” before obtaining abortions, and even legalize the killing of abortion providers.


Obama Rescinds Dangerous Bush-Era "Conscience Regulation"

Earlier today, the Obama Administration rescinded most of a Bush-era "conscience clause" regulation that gave special legal rights to health workers who refuse to provide care they find objectionable on personal or religious grounds. Under the Bush rule, hospitals, health plans, and clinics would lose federal funding unless they allowed doctors and other employees to refuse to provide medical care that violated their personal, moral, or religious beliefs. As reported in the Washington Post:

The Health and Human Services Department eliminated nearly the entire rule put into effect by the administration of President George W. Bush during his final days in office that was widely interpreted as allowing such workers to opt out of a broad range of medical services, such as providing the emergency contraceptive Plan B, treating gay men and lesbians and prescribing birth control to single women. ...

The rule was sought by conservative groups, which argued that workers were increasingly being fired, disciplined or penalized in other ways for trying to exercise their "right of conscience."

Women's health advocates, family-planning proponents, abortion rights activists and others had condemned the regulation, saying it created a major obstacle to providing many health services, including abortion, access to the emergency contraception Plan B, birth control pills and other forms of family planning, as well as infertility treatment and possibly a wide range of scientific research. Advocates for end-of-life care also said it could enable doctors, nurses and others to refuse to honor patients' wishes.

Hospitals and other healthcare providers should not be denied the freedom to put the needs of their patients first. If a woman who has been raped needs emergency contraception, a hospital should have the right to actually require its employees to provide that essential care, regardless of their personal beliefs. When a patient needs medical help in an emergency, she shouldn't have to keep her fingers crossed that she happens to get a doctor whose religious beliefs don't clash with hers. When a family has to make an agonizing end of life decision, they should be able to do what's best for their loved one, not what's best for a complete stranger. Medical organizations should be able to hold themselves out as reliable providers of the services they offer.

Under the Bush rule, such entities were forced to run their operations in a way that put people's health - especially women's health - at severe risk, just to please the religious right.

It is important to note that the Obama Administration's move comes on the same day that the House of Representatives voted to deny all federal funding to Planned Parenthood clinics.

The religious right's war against women's rights goes on.


Women in Congress Speak Out on Attacks on Women's Health

Last night, as the House debated an amendment from Rep. Mike Pence that would strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding, some women in Congress responded with personal stories.

Rep. Jackie Speier of California revealed that she had had an abortion for a troubled preganancy, telling her anti-choice colleagues: "I lost the baby. And for you to stand on this floor and suggest that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought, is preposterous":

And Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin spoke of her own experience with unplanned preganancy and raising children in poverty. "The public policy has treated poor children and women who have not had the benefit of planned parenthood with utter contempt," she said:

Earlier this week, People For President Michael Keegan called efforts to strip funding from Planned Parenthood and similar organizations "a blatant attempt to play politics with women's health"

“This is a shameless attempt to stir up a Right Wing “culture war,” whatever the collateral damage-- in this case, critical healthcare for millions of low-income women. If the House GOP is really interested in preventing unintended pregnancies, it should embrace organizations that provide affordable contraception. If it’s interested in public health, it should be interested in helping women defend themselves against disease. If these bills become law, millions of American women will lose access to critical family planning and reproductive health services. This move is not fiscally responsible or socially responsible—it’s a blatant attempt to play politics with women’s health.”

 (h/t Huffington Post and RH Reality Check)


The House GOP's Aboogaboogaboogabooga Constitution

For the past few decades, Republicans have aggressively and notoriously acted as if only they love the flag, only they appreciate families, only they are religious, and only they care about national defense. In the past couple of years, inspired by the Tea Party, they've added a new object to which they falsely lay sole claim: the United States Constitution.

Of course, for many of them, it's little more than a fetish. After all, the Republican Party's Constitution has long denied the right to abortion (and, in many cases, the right to privacy altogether), denied church-state separation, denied the right to vote, and denied equality under the law for LGBT people. The Tea Party's version of the Constitution is even more removed from the real thing, as analyzed in a recent PFAW report, Corporate Infusion: What the Tea Party's Really Serving America.

So it's no surprise that House Republicans' latest effort to lay claim to the Constitution – requiring bill sponsors to submit statements specifying the constitutional authority for their legislation – has turned out to be meaningless. As reported by Congressional Quarterly (subscription required):

During a Feb. 11 subcommittee markup on a bill (HR 358) offered by Joe Pitts, R-Pa., to prohibit federal funds from being used to pay for health insurance that covers abortion, New York Democrat Anthony Weiner offered a point of order against the legislation on grounds that its "statement of constitutional authority" does not point to any specific authority for Congress to take such action.

The bill's statement says: "The Protect Life Act would overturn an unconstitutional mandate regarding abortion in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," last year's health care overhaul.

The markup soon became chaotic as lawmakers clashed for nearly an hour over whether the statement passed muster, and whether the Republicans were flouting their own rule. "The rules are the rules, and the Constitution is the Constitution," Weiner exclaimed.

Eventually, Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., consulted the Rules Committee, which in January issued a handy guide to complying with the new rule. The Rules Committee provided guidance on how statements of constitutional authority might be phrased, but said the only requirement is that a statement be submitted.

"The question of whether the statement is sufficient is a matter for debate and a factor that a member may consider when deciding whether to support the measure," Upton said.

The committee's top Democrat, Henry A. Waxman of California, called that “a mockery” of the rules. "The ruling is that it doesn't make any difference what you say,” he said. “You could say, 'Aboogaboogaboogabooga!' and that's enough to justify the constitutionality of the proposal."

The Constitution that established a careful separation of powers, an independent court system, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the eradication of slavery, and equality for all is far too precious a document to become just a symbol in meaningless political posturing. Shame on the House Republicans.


New Legislation Threatens Critical Women’s Health Services

In wake of Live Action’s smear campaign against Planned Parenthood, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) introduced the “Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act.” Pence’s bill would cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, which Katha Pollitt of The Nation notes is the “largest network of clinics for family planning and women’s health, and in many regions the only provider within reach,” especially for women without health insurance. Republicans in Congress and their far-right allies have consistently attempted to de-fund Planned Parenthood, and Pence’s legislation wouldn’t de-fund abortion but instead seriously jeopardize other women’s health services.

“The funding that Planned Parenthood receives from the government goes to family planning, contraception, sex education, and prevention and treatment of STIs,” writes Robin Marty of RH Reality Check, “and is carefully monitored so that none of it is used to provide abortions, as per federal law.”

The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Information has more information on the importance of Title X and the important role clinics like Planned Parenthood play in providing access to vital health services for women:

In addition to contraception, Title X funds a range of preventive health care services free of charge to individuals at or below the poverty level. A sliding fee scale ensures that low to moderate income women are also able to access these services, including:

• Comprehensive, culturally competent counseling and services

• Breast and pelvic examinations

• Breast and cervical cancer screening

• Healthy body weight screening and counseling

• HIV testing

• Screening for and treatment of sexually transmitted infections

• Screening for high blood pressure and high cholesterol

• Pregnancy testing and counseling

Horrible, Terrible Anti-Choice Bill Now Only Terrible

The House GOP met with widespread outrage last week when the news broke that a radical anti-abortion bill it is backing would, among other things, exclude many instances of rape from already very limited federal abortion coverage. The bill, written by Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, would have only allowed for abortion coverage for pregnancies resulting from “forcible rape”—a radical redefinition of rape that would exclude instances where a woman is drugged, statutory rape of a minor, and many instances of date rape.

The swift response from pro-choice groups and strong outcry from Americans (including a popular Twitter campaign) has now led the House GOP to back down on the rape provision, removing “forcible” from the language in the bill. But Smith’s bill, if passed, would still be disastrous for reproductive choice rights. The “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act,” which has 173 Republican co-sponsors, would make the Hyde Amendment—the provision that prohibits Medicaid funding for abortion—permanent and apply it to all areas of the federal budget. It would, among other restrictions, prohibit people who use federal subsidies for private insurance coverage from purchasing insurance plans that cover abortion—thereby jeopardizing abortion coverage on the private market.

The fight over the bill coincided with another right-wing attempt to limit reproductive choice, particularly that of low-income women—an anti-choice group’s ACORN-style video hoax attempting to bring down Planned Parenthood. The hoax, a nationwide “sting” intended to prove that Planned Parenthood cooperates with child prostitution rings, in fact proved the opposite—Planned Parenthood promptly reported visits from activists claiming to be child sex traffickers to the FBI. But the Religious Right has been quick to jump on the videos and publicize them in their latest attempt to discredit and stop federal funding for reproductive health organizations.

As Jamelle Bouie points out in the American Prospect today, attempts to limit women’s access to reproductive health care are not only dangerous for women—especially low-income women who rely on government assistance and organizations like Planned Parenthood—but hurt programs that actually lower the instances of unwanted pregnancy:

Here are the facts. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the medical costs of unintended pregnancy range from increased likelihood of infant and maternal illness, to a greater likelihood of abortion. Women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to expose the fetus to tobacco or alcohol, and as mothers, are less likely to breast feed. Children of such pregnancies are at greater risk of low birth rate, abuse, poor development, and death in the first year. Fertility isn't a "pathological condition," but the problems of unintended pregnancy are so significant that, as Guttmacher notes, the Centers for Disease Control cites its own work to prevent unintended pregnancy as "one of the top 10 public-health achievements of the 20th century.

While many women will carry an unintended pregnancy to term, many others won't, and the data bears this out. When asked their reasons for having an abortion, three-quarters of women cited concern or responsibility for other individuals, three-quarters said that they couldn't afford a child, and three-quarters said that another child would interfere with work, school, or the ability to care for dependents. Indeed, among women who have obtained abortions, about 61 percent had one or more children. The implications are clear: You can't help families and you can't lower the abortion rate without ensuring access to affordable reproductive health care.

This chart  (from Planned Parenthood via Daily Kos) shows the services that Planned Parenthood provided in 2008--services essential to helping millions of women prevent and treat sexually transmitted diseases and prevent unwanted pregancies:

The Right’s multi-front war against reproductive choice and access to reproductive health care is not going to be stopped by reason or compassion. But, as the victory over the GOP’s redefinition of rape shows, it can be stopped by the voices of those committed to fighting back.

Click here to sign a letter to President Obama and Members of Congress in support of Planned Parenthood.



Wear a Trust Women Silver Ribbon, Spread the Word, Take Action

Saturday marks the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This landmark ruling, along with the earlier Griswold v. Connecticut, recognized a constitutional right to privacy and protected a woman's right to make reproductive decisions based on her own life, health, and conscience. Ensuring that women are trusted to make those decisions is a cause that stills needs our support all these years later.

As you may know, People For the American Way has joined the Silver Ribbon Campaign to Trust Women. Along with our Silver Ribbon partners, we’re asking you to wear a silver ribbon during Trust Women Month – January 22 through February 22. And when you do, don’t forget to spread the word and take action.

From our friends at Silver Ribbon:

Since the recent election, the opponents of reproductive health care and women’s rights have claimed they speak for America. They do not.

It’s time to express the true voices of America.

It’s time to come together and show our strength.

We need to stand by each other and claim our rights to the legal health care to which we’re entitled.

Join the Silver Ribbon campaign to Trust Women, for Reproductive Rights and Justice.

Wear a Trust Women Silver Ribbon. Order your Silver Ribbon pin engraved with the credo: "Trust Women," >> for a $5 donation, and wear it through Feb. 22. (or make your own!)

Spread the word. Get your Twibbon on. Follow us on Twitter.

Take action! Donate today to one or more of our partner organizations. January 22 is the 38th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Our Silver Ribbon partners will be organizing a series of calls to action leading up to this anniversary. Check our Take Action section for the latest updates from our partner organizations.

Join us!

The Silver Ribbon represents science over ideology.

We who proudly wear it:
  • Support reproductive rights
  • Support free access to birth control
  • Support keeping abortion legal and accessible
Trust Women!

For more information, please click here.


Wear a Trust Women Silver Ribbon, Spread the Word, Take Action

January 22, 2011 will mark the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This landmark ruling, along with the earlier Griswold v. Connecticut, recognized a constitutional right to privacy and protected a woman's right to make reproductive decisions based on her own life, health, and conscience. Ensuring that women are trusted to make those decisions is a cause that stills needs our support all these years later.

People For the American Way has joined the Silver Ribbon Campaign to Trust Women. Along with our Silver Ribbon partners, we’re asking you to wear a silver ribbon during Trust Women Month – January 22 through February 22. And when you do, don’t forget to spread the word and take action.

From our friends at Silver Ribbon:

Since the recent election, the opponents of reproductive health care and women’s rights have claimed they speak for America. They do not.

It’s time to express the true voices of America.

It’s time to come together and show our strength.

We need to stand by each other and claim our rights to the legal health care to which we’re entitled.

Join the Silver Ribbon campaign to Trust Women, for Reproductive Rights and Justice.

Wear a Trust Women Silver Ribbon. Make your own Silver Ribbon, or for a $5 donation you can order a Silver Ribbon pin. Wear your Silver Ribbon from January 22nd to February 22nd to show your solidarity.

Spread the word. Get your Twibbon on. Follow us on Twitter.

Take action! Donate today to one or more of our partner organizations. January 22 is the 38th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Our Silver Ribbon partners will be organizing a series of calls to action leading up to this anniversary. Check our Take Action section for the latest updates from our partner organizations.

Join us!

The Silver Ribbon represents science over ideology.

We who proudly wear it:
  • Support reproductive rights
  • Support free access to birth control
  • Support keeping abortion legal and accessible
Trust Women!

For more information, please click here.


Republican Freshmen Seek Out Corporate Donors

Members of the far-right GOP freshmen class have not been sworn in yet, but are already becoming entangled in the Washington web of lobbyists and corporate donors. The incoming congressmen, many of them Tea Party candidates, have quickly put together fundraisers to pay off their campaign debts and also to fund their 2012 reelection bids. Unsurprisingly, corporate interests have readily stepped up to the plate to support their fundraising efforts, and freshmen Republicans are more than happy to have the help.

Dan Eggen of the Washington Post reports that with the help of the Republican House leadership, many GOP freshmen are embarking on an all-out blitz for corporate cash to recharge their campaign war chests:

After Francisco "Quico" Canseco beat Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Tex.) as part of the Republican wave on Nov. 2, the tea party favorite declared: "It's going to be a new day in Washington."

Two weeks later, Canseco was in the heart of Washington for a $1,000-a-head fundraiser at the Capitol Hill Club. The event--hosted by Reps. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) and Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.)--was aimed at paying off more than $1.1 million in campaign debts racked up by Canseco, much of it from his own pocket.

After winning election with an anti-Washington battle cry, Canseco and other incoming Republican freshmen have rapidly embraced the capital's culture of big-money fundraisers, according to new campaign-finance reports and other records.

Dozens of freshmen lawmakers have held receptions at Capitol Hill bistros and corporate townhouses in recent weeks, taking money from K Street lobbyists and other powerbrokers within days of their victories. Newly elected House members have raised at least $2 million since the election, according to preliminary Federal Election Commission records filed last week, and many more contributions have yet to be tallied.

The aggressive fundraising efforts underscore the financial pressures facing new members of Congress even before they take their seats. The contributions also represent a symbolic challenge for the Republican class of 2010, many of whom gained office by running against the ways of official Washington and monied interests.

"The lobbyists are all saying, 'Welcome to Washington; let me help pay off your debt,'" said Nancy Watzman, who tracks political fundraisers for the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group. "It's particularly interesting when so many of this year's freshmen were running against Washington. But as soon as they get elected, they come to Washington and put out their hand."

Rep.-elect Bill Flores (R-Tex.), a retired energy executive who held a debt-retirement reception Nov. 17, received post-election contributions from political-action committees for, among others, Deloitte, ExxonMobil and the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors. Flores, who ousted Democratic veteran Chet Edwards, also forgave himself more than $600,000 in personal loans, FEC records show.

The financial advisors group also gave $2,500 each to more than a dozen other incoming legislators including Rep.-elect Dan Benishek (R-Mich.), who held a Nov. 18 fundraiser, records show. Benishek took in last-minute donations from Johnson Controls, Delta Airlines and the K&L Gates lobbying firm, records show.

Benishek is a surgeon and abortion opponent who won the seat being vacated by centrist Democrat Bart Stupak (D-Mich.). He campaigned against "ungodly spending" in Washington and pledged not to seek earmarks, which designate federal funds for local projects.

Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, said debt-retirement events and other post-election fundraisers "are God's gift to special interests," allowing corporate PACs and lobbyists to curry favor with grateful lawmakers. It also allows some donors to pitch in with a candidate that they had previously ignored or opposed, she said.

"If you were on the wrong side or just AWOL during the election, this is your chance to make it up," McGehee said. "It' s a great way to get in good with members of Congress."