Legislation

Energized and ready to pave the way

In President Obama's first few days in office, he has already undone some serious damage from the previous administration with the stroke of a pen. He signed orders to close Guantanamo and the CIA's network of secret foreign prisons. And he repealed the global gag rule prohibiting U.S. dollars and contraceptive supplies from going to any international family planning program that provides abortions or counsels women about their reproductive health options. He's nominated stellar candidates to run the government, many of whom have been confirmed and started their work.

Great start!

President Obama's inauguration this week was enthusiastically celebrated by Americans of all political stripes. Even many former Bush supporters have embraced President Obama and agree that the country needs to move beyond partisanship and division. President Obama's high approval ratings are a clear indication that Americans are willing and ready to do what's needed to heal our economy, restore our good standing in the world and meet the enormous challenges we face.

Unfortunately, it seems that not quite everyone is ready to move forward with us. On Wednesday, led by Sens. Arlen Specter and John Cornyn, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee delayed a committee vote on Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder. Blocking confirmation of this historic nominee is exactly what Americans don't need or want. Whatever political assurances they may be seeking from Holder before he takes the reins at the DOJ, as attorney general, Holder's only commitments should be to the Constitution, the law and the American people (commitments he has already demonstrated that he will honor).

Some of these same Senate Republicans even tried to play partisan games with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, using their ability to offer amendments to slow the legislation. But I am happy to report that last night the Senate passed it! Thank you to all of you who took action over the last few years in support of the bill -- this is a tremendous victory. Next up: the Paycheck Fairness Act! Stay tuned for more on that as we keep up the pressure to get that through the Senate.

Eric Holder's confirmation. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. These are things worth fighting for. We can't count on any party or branch of government to always to do the right thing, but when they do, we need to be there to block for them -- to make sure we're countering the opposition who would deter progress and the restoration of constitutional values to our government.

PFAW

Obama’s Civil Rights Agenda: LGBT Equality

With George Bush and Dick Cheney finally out of power, our country is returning to its ideals so quickly and in so many ways that it’s dizzying. 

Recognizing the rule of law? Check.  Following the Constitution? Check.  Keeping politics out of law enforcement? Check.  Recognizing our right to know what our own government is doing?  Check. 

What about LGBT equality?  George Bush worked to enshrine discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans into the United States Constitution, supported laws that put gay and lesbian couples in prison for the crime of having sex in their own home, and fought to continue to allow workplace discrimination against LGBT Americans. 

And President Obama?  The White House website spells out President Obama’s agenda for LGBT equality, and it’s pretty terrific.  He: 

  • Opposes a constitutional amendment to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying
  • Supports expanded hate-crime legislation
  • Supports a transgender-inclusive ENDA
  • Supports civil unions (He’s still not with us all the way on full marriage equality, but we’ll keep pushing him on this one)
  • Supports eliminating the heinous Defense of Marriage Act
  • Supports legislation to ensure that same-sex couples have the same federal rights and benefits that opposite-sex married couples have

 But it’s not just the substance of the agenda that’s important:  Where it’s placed on the website tells us a lot. 

Rather than cravenly avoiding LGBT rights altogether or putting them in a category like “social issues” or “cultural issues,” as a number of others do, the White House places them exactly where they belong: as part of our nation’s civil rights agenda.  The Obama Administration is framing LGBT issues in a way that helps progressives set the terms of the conversation. 

The Radical Right dishonestly paints their anti-equality positions as pro-family, pro-values, and pro-religion, a dangerously deceptive framing that the mainstream media tends to blindly accept.  Thus, the Right has long set the terms of the national conversation. 

No more.  Using the bully pulpit of the White House, President Obama can make it clear that LGBT equality is nothing less than a civil rights issue. 

And that framing allows us to more effectively pin the Radical Right down by asking the threshold question:  What specific legal rights that you have should be denied to people who are gay, lesbian, or transgender?

PFAW

It's Our Moment, Let's Make the Most of It!

This Tuesday marks what I hope will be the beginning of a dramatic new direction for our country. The relevance of President-elect Obama's inauguration falling one day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not lost on any of us. The swearing in of the first African American president will be one of the great moments in America's history and a massive leap toward the fulfillment of Dr. King's dream, not only because of Obama's race, but because the movement that swept him into office was born of the American people's desire to pursue a more just path as a nation. That in itself is something that Dr. King would have been proud to have witnessed.

I said that I "hope" this will be the beginning of a big change in direction because it's up to all of us to make sure that change actually happens, to make sure the new administration corrects the last president's worst mistakes in a timely fashion. And it's not just the Obama administration that needs to feel constant pressure from us, it's Congress as well. I've seen reports of senators and representatives showing some reluctance to make many of the bold changes we need. And as expected, we're seeing the resurgence of the Far Right as a backlash to new progressive power. The Radical Right is not only in a position to strengthen its grip on power in the Republican Party, it's ready to pounce on any anti-government sentiment that may bubble up in the coming months and years, especially -- and ironically -- as a result of the economic hard times their very policies have left us with. Long story short: People For the American Way is more needed than ever, and we need your support and your vigilance in the months and years to come.

When a group of activists confronted him shortly after his first inauguration seeking a list of specific reforms, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, "I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it." That is what grassroots democracy is all about -- making our leaders do what's right. January 20 is the end of our eight-year national nightmare, but it's just the beginning of a new chapter in which we must all do our part.

In the first two weeks of 2009, People For's been fighting the good fight -- our long-term efforts on two pay equity bills are paying off and the legislation has passed the House and is making its way through the Senate. And we've been answering the Right's attacks against Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder, whose Senate confirmation hearing I attended yesterday. Let me say that it was VERY gratifying to hear Holder clearly state that he believes waterboarding is torture, that renditions to countries where there reason to believe they will torture is wrong and that he is committed to restoring the DOJ's Civil Rights Division to a position of prominence and effectiveness). After this week's release of the Inspector General's report on politicization in the Justice Department, it's even more apparent that confirming Holder will be a great beginning to undoing that damage.

On the legal front, the Supreme Court handed People For the American Way Foundation (and the First Amendment) a victory by upholding the policy of the Fredericksburg, Virginia, City Council requiring that the official prayers recited at the beginning of its meetings be non-sectarian. Accepting one of the most important cases of the term, it also chose to hear an appeal of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Mukasey, in which People For the American Way is defending the constitutionality of an important provision of the Voting Rights Act.

We couldn't do any of our important work without your steadfast support. And with your continued support, People For the American Way will continue to carry the progressive flag and advocate your values on Capitol Hill.

Right now is a time to celebrate. Have an amazing Inaugural weekend, MLK Day and Inauguration Day. Congratulations to Barack Obama and congratulations, America!

PFAW

New Senate Can Deliver Some Quick Victories

A Washington Post article today points out that even not counting the two yet-undecided Senate contests in MN and GA, the Democrats could have the filibuster-proof 60 votes to move several key pieces of legislation by picking up a few Republicans. The article highlights several possible bills - two of which are civil rights bills of particular interest to People For the American Way.

First up: DC Voting Rights. The right of voters to be fully represented in Congress is paramount to the health of our democracy. Shamefully, the institutional disenfranchisement of Americans is probably most egregious in our nation’s capital, where 600,000 taxpayers have a congressional representative with no voting power.

Voting rights in Congress for the District of Columbia is another example. Legislation to expand the House of Representatives from 435 to 437 seats by giving the District and Utah an additional vote each were three votes shy of the 60 needed to end a filibuster in September 2007. Eight Republicans voted with the Democratic majority, which is 51 to 49 and includes two independents.

In addition, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act - for which People For the American Way was far out front in leading the fight - could have the support it needs to correct a terrible Supreme Court decision (a decision supported by both of President Bush's right-wing Supreme Court nominees, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito).

In April, 50 Democrats and six Republicans supported legislation that would have amended the 1964 Civil Rights Act by allowing more time for workers to file discrimination complaints. Five new Democrats will be replacing Republicans who opposed the legislation named after Lilly Ledbetter, the female employee who lost her suit against Goodyear Tire and Rubber over discrimination claims. The Supreme Court ruled that Ledbetter should have filed her claim within six months of the alleged incidents.

PFAW

“Angry” Al Franken

In his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Al Franken recalls an episode in Paul Wellstone’s 2002 run for re-election when, prior to his untimely death, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) ran an ad called “Pork” that savaged Wellstone for voting “to spend thousands of dollars to control seaweed in Maui.”

The implication, as Franken pointed out, was that Wellstone had “prioritized seaweed control over national defense.” The only problem was that while Wellstone had in fact voted for the legislation, so did “Strom Thurmond, Trent Lott and 84 other senators. That bill did appropriate the seaweed control spending—but it also provided $21 billion for veterans' health care, $27 billion for veterans' compensation and pensions, and block grants to assist New York City's recovery from 9/11.”

When Wellstone’s son David confronted then NRSC-chair Bill Frist about the ad at his father’s memorial service, Frist declared that “it wasn't personal,” to which David responded "'My dad took it personal.” 

And so it is only fitting that this time around, with Franken running against Norm Coleman, the man on whose behalf the NRSC ran that original ad, they would again stoop to such tricks.  

Take a look at this ad the NRSC is running against Franken – especially the clip playing in the background of a screaming Franken while the narrator declares him prone to “violent outbursts” around the fifteen second mark:

Now take a look at this video from the Franken campaign explaining the history of that clip:

That’s right, the NRSC took clip of Franken telling this anecdote about Paul Wellstone and his son, stripped it of its context and then used it to try and portray Franken as dangerously unhinged.  

I was reminded of this today when I stumbled upon this “breaking news” piece from Minnesota Democrats Exposed that recounts how, after a recent debate, Franken supposedly attacked Norm Coleman and to be all but dragged away from him:

According to dedicated readers of Minnesota Democrats Exposed who were at tonight’s U.S. Senate debate in Duluth, Al Franken got in U.S. Senator Norm Coleman face as soon as the microphones were off at the end of the debate.

My sources said that Franken was very upset and was speaking with a raised voice.  Mrs. Franken reportedly ran on stage to get Franken away from Coleman … Franken, visibly upset, continues to get in Senator Coleman’s face.  Franken is seen on film staring Coleman down as he finally recognizes that Mrs. Franken is trying to get his attention.

Wow.  That sounds pretty heated.  I can only imagine what that scene must have been like. Oh wait:

Apparently, talking to your opponent after a debate is the equivalent of being on the verge of a complete meltdown. Maybe next time, Franken should just snub his opponent all together.

PFAW

Another Shot At Fair Pay

Via TAPPED, it looks like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will be up for another vote in the Senate this month. John McCain has opposed it in the past, and last time it was defeated in a procedural vote. But if Sen. McCain wants to admit his mistake and support the bill now, we’d all welcome his change of heart.

PFAW

Rededicating Ourselves to Human Dignity

I'm writing to you today from San Francisco, where it's been an energizing, thought-provoking week. Last night, Ambassador James Hormel, a member of People For's board, hosted an event at his home to help me get acquainted with some friends and People For supporters. Jim's commitment to public service has benefited San Francisco and the country in many ways, and he is an incredible asset to People For. Joining me was Rev. Kenneth Samuel, who is helping lead People For the American Way Foundation's efforts in California this year to create constructive conversation in black churches around discrimination and marriage equality.
PFAW