This op-ed by Michael Keegan, President, People For the American Way was originally published at The Huffington Post.
On March 3, the House of Representatives finally voted for a clean DHS funding bill. Much of the media reported that Republicans saw the irresponsibility of their threats to shut down Homeland Security and passed a clean bill. But they didn't, and no one should lose sight of that.
After trying every trick in the book to scuttle the bill, their leadership allowed the vote to happen, but Republicans never caved. Republicans voted over two to one (167-75)against the bill. It only passed because of full Democratic support.
It's clear that Republicans will stop at nothing to attack immigrants. The fact that national security was on the line was immaterial: Republicans saw an opportunity to display their animus toward all immigrants, and Latinos in particular, and they took it.
This publicity stunt gave Republicans the chance to pander yet again to the most virulent anti-immigrant members of their party. Take, for instance, William Gheen of Americans for Legal Immigration and his comments during the heat of the DHS fight in mid-February:
[I] wouldn't put anything past [the administration, because] the people who are supporting the organized and well-funded illegal alien invasion of our homeland have the blood of many thousands of Americans on their hands that have been killed, injured raped and robbed by illegal immigrants.
Sure, Gheen is a fringe extremist. But what he's saying is strikingly similar to what we're hearing from the Republican Party.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect of Mitt Romney's "self-deportation" strategy, entertained the suggestion that Obama's executive actions could eventually result in Latinos conducting an "ethnic cleansing" of their fellow Americans. Sen. Tom Coburn, Rep. Mike Kelly, and Rep. Louie Gohmert have also warned that the president's immigration policies could lead to violence.
While some in the GOP tried to tell a different narrative -- that this was just about reining in presidential excess and not about their being anti-immigrant -- the fact is that the entire Republican Party is at fault. Not one House Republican signed the discharge petition to allow even a vote on the Senate's bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. And Senate Republicans who backed that bill, including Sen. Marco Rubio, now say they no longer support it. At this very minute, House Republicans are bringing up even more anti-immigrant legislation, including deportation-only legislation and a bill that would drastically change U.S. asylum and humanitarian protections to put domestic violence survivors and victims of human trafficking at serious risk.
Ultimately, it was Ann Coulter who summed up the Republican position on the DHS debate: Undocumented immigrants (she calls them "illegal aliens [who] have killed, raped and maimed thousands of Americans") pose a greater threat to our nation than does ISIS." While not all Republicans used language as biting as that, it was crystal-clear that Republicans believe that attacking immigrants, not funding DHS, should be the top priority.
Who would have imagined that a national party, never mind the Republican Party, would be so opposed to finding any solution for the almost 12 million undocumented people already here that they would risk our national security during the dangerous time we are in now? Yet that's the reality of the GOP today, and it's our responsibility to hold them accountable.
The movie tracks the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that lifted a century-long ban on corporate election spending by looking at the standoff in Wisconsin between state employees and GOP Governor Scott Walker. During his election and recall campaigns, Walker was bankrolled by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, demonstrating the torrent of unlimited, anonymous political spending by corporations and billionaires that was unleashed through this Supreme Court decision. As the film follows this story, it also shows the fracturing of the Republican Party and proves how Citizens United fundamentally changed how our democracy works.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funding, and even losing its public television distributor, the movie finally comes to theatres this summer. The process that led to it being pulled from public television airwaves illustrates exactly what “Citizen Koch” depicts—that money buys not only action, but also silence. As Buddy Roemer, whose presidential run is chronicled in the film, stated, “Sometimes it's a check. Sometimes it's the threat of a check. It's like having a weapon. You can shoot the gun or just show it. It works both ways.”
People For the American Way hosted the DC premiere of the documentary film “Citizen Koch” at the Washington’s West End Cinema Friday night to a sell out crowd. Friday’s premiere was followed by a panel discussion with one of the documentary’s Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Tia Lessin, along with PFAW’s director of outreach and partner engagement Diallo Brooks and PFAW president Michael Keegan. After the screening, the audience participated in a question and answer session on the effects of big money in politics and what different organizations and mobilized citizens are doing to reverse the effects of Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon.
Many Americans celebrate Earth Day by planting trees, organizing a citywide trash pickup, or talking about the consequences of climate change and the ongoing threat it creates for our planet. But on Earth Day yesterday, all four Republican candidates for Senate in North Carolina used the opportunity to deny that climate change is real. TPM reports:
Fittingly, all four Republican candidates in the North Carolina Senate race were asked on Earth Day if they believed climate change is a proven fact. And all four candidates said "no."
The question was asked during a GOP primary debate on Tuesday night. The candidates, House Speaker Thom Tillis, Rev. Mark Harris, Dr. Greg Brannon, and nursing practitioner Heather Grant, in response to the question, said "no."
This is not the first time Republicans have denied the existence of climate change and it will likely not be the last. But the fact that all four candidates agreed underscores the GOP extremism in the North Carolina Senate race and serves as yet another example of a political party increasingly divorced from reality.
The Washington Post reports today that Sheldon Adelson – the casino magnate who spent, with his wife, more than $92 million in the 2012 elections – is in the market for a 2016 GOP presidential candidate to support.
After throwing reams of money at losing candidate Newt Gingrich in the last election, Adelson is now looking for someone he believes will be seen as electable by a country with swiftly changing demographics. He is already being wooed by GOP presidential hopefuls:
The change in attitude comes amid early jockeying by a lengthy list of aspiring Republican presidential contenders to win the affections of the billionaire, who is in the beginning stages of assessing the field.
“The bar for support is going to be much higher,” said Andy Abboud, Adelson’s top political adviser and an executive at the Adelson-run Las Vegas Sands Corp. He added, “There’s going to be a lot more scrutiny.”
This strategy would favor more established 2016 hopefuls such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. All four will descend this week on Adelson’s luxury hotel in Las Vegas, the Venetian, for an important step in what some are calling the “Sheldon Primary.”
Funny, I don’t remember learning about the “Sheldon Primary” in my high school civics class. But in our Super PAC-filled, post-Citizens United world of unlimited election spending, this seems to be the reality of how candidates who have a real shot are chosen. As Harvard law professor and activist Lawrence Lessig puts it,
We have a general election, but only after the funders have had their way with the candidates who wish to run in that general election.
With Adelson essentially interviewing potential candidates, it begs the question: will our presidents be working for the people who elected them, or will they increasingly serve as the puppets of billionaire benefactors?
When a tiny fraction of the country’s wealthiest people are able to hand-pick candidates, it’s doubtful that we’ll have a government that focuses on the priorities of everyday Americans. A democracy simply doesn’t work if the voices of those of us who aren’t having swanky private dinners with presidential hopefuls are drowned out by the few who are.
Today House Republicans led by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) voted to delay the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. In case you haven’t been keeping track, this is the House GOP’s 50th vote to dismantle Obamacare.
In a speech last week at a DNC event, President Obama joked,
“You know what they say: 50th time is the charm. Maybe when you hit your 50th repeal vote, you will win a prize. Maybe if you buy 50 repeal votes, you get one free.”
On Monday, in the wake of Governor Jan Brewer’s decision to veto her state’s anti-gay “freedom to discriminate” bill, People For the American Way president Michael Keegan wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed that we are continually asked to believe the “new, no-nonsense Republican Party” has finally taken to heart the “dangers of embracing extremism.” However, he writes:
“…there seems to be a Grand Canyon-like gap between what everyone knows the Republican Party should do and what they actually do. Time after time, we see that they just can't help themselves. We all know the embarrassing, crazy uncle who shows up at the family reunion. It seems like all of those crazy uncles have now banded together to control the Republican Party.”
And with their 50th vote to undermine Obamacare, it seems pretty clear that the Republican Party isn’t going to be able to rein in those crazy uncles anytime soon.
The GOP seems to be stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Responding to last month’s Republican National Committee “autopsy,” the leaders of thirteen right wing organizations sent a letter this week to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus to “strongly recommend” a reaffirmation of the 2012 National GOP Platform—including strident opposition to marriage equality.
On the question of young voters and marriage equality, the letter states that “Republicans would do well to persuade young voters why marriage between a man and a woman is so important rather than abandon thousands of years of wisdom to please them.” The letter also explicitly warns the GOP leadership that “an abandonment of its principles will necessarily result in the abandonment of our constituents to their support.”
It seems like those right-wing groups will get their wish: the Washington Post reports that the RNC’s Resolution Committee passed a resolution reaffirming the 2012 platform yesterday which will be voted on by the full RNC tomorrow.
This incident highlights the degree to which the Republican Party is caught in a trap of its own making. Despite a dawning awareness that moderate voters reject the extreme agenda of the Right, the GOP can’t escape the reactionary anti-gay ideology that it’s exploited for so long.
Republicans in Congress have been attracting plenty of unwanted attention for their muddled refusal to extend a payroll tax cut that will, if not passed, hit 160 million American workers with a substantial tax increase on Jan. 1. Most of that attention has focused, rightly, on their refusal to provide a tax break to working people even as they do everything in their power to ensure historically low tax rates for the wealthiest.
But in a column today, David Frum points out that it’s more than the GOP’s image as tax-cutters that’s hurting in this debate. As long as the payroll tax stays an issue, more light is shed on the bogus claim, swallowed whole by the Right and even some in the media, that “47 percent of Americans pay no taxes.” The claim has caught on despite being flatly untrue – while only 53 percent of Americans make enough money to pay federal income tax, all workers pay federal payroll taxes. The myth that half of Americans don’t contribute to the federal budget is convenient for GOP talking points, but it just isn’t true.
[U]nlike House Republicans, I am not in thrall to another Journal teaching: the claim that the poorer 47% of Americans “pay no tax.” This claim rests on denying the existence of payroll taxes altogether. If you deny that payroll taxes exist, it becomes very difficult to discuss the consequences of reducing or remitting them, including some arguably serious long-term consequences.
Republicans, with their “47 percent” claim, are essentially payroll tax deniers. By having a debate about cutting the payroll tax, they are being forced to admit not only that it exists, but that it can be an actual burden on working Americans.
The White House, meanwhile, has started collecting compelling stories via Twitter from individual Americans of what an extra $40 per paycheck (the savings from the payroll tax for a family earning $50,000 a year) will mean to American families. You can follow and contribute your own story with the hashtag #40dollars.
In an interview with the Daily Beast, transportation secretary and former GOP congressman Ray LaHood comes right out and says it: the current Republican Congress cares more about defeating President Obama than about creating jobs.
LaHood is understandably most incensed about the GOP’s unwillingness to pass a simple infrastructure bill that would help repair the nation’s crumbling roads and bridge while creating thousands of jobs:
Even in the wake of a national report declaring 200 bridges structurally deficient, including one that brings tens of thousands of commuters from Virginia into Washington each day, and one that spans the home states of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, Republicans are expected to maintain their wall of opposition to a new round of stimulus spending on infrastructure. The infrastructure bill would put thousands of people to work, says LaHood, “but because of their own personal political feelings against the president, they don’t want to hand him a victory.”
LaHood has been dropping hints for some time about his frustration, and last week he unloaded in the interview.
“The crowd that was elected the last time not only came here to do nothing, they also came to put down the president,” he says. “And the way to put him down is not to give him any kind of opportunity to be successful.”
He faults the Tea Party freshmen, but doesn’t let the GOP leadership off the hook, recalling McConnell’s remark that his No. 1 goal was to defeat Obama.
“Republicans made a decision right after the election—don’t give Obama any victories. The heck with putting people to work, because we can score points,” LaHood says.
He goes on to compare the current GOP Congress to his own freshman Republican class, the Newt Gingrich-led “Contract With America” class:
There were sharp edges in that GOP freshman class, but the difference is, “They didn’t come here to do nothing. They came here to vote on things, to make change for the positive…That’s not the fact with this crowd [Tea Party].”
LaHood is still a Republican. He’s clearly still proud of his role in Gingrich’s 1994 army – which certainly had plenty of faults. But he’s noticed an important and troubling shift in how his party is approaching its role in governing. It’s a shift that all of us, regardless of party, should take note of.