senate

More Than 50 Legal Academics Blast Obstruction of 7th Circuit Nomination

More and more Americans are fed up with freshman Senator Ron Johnson's single-handedly blocking the Senate from even considering the nomination of Victoria Nourse to Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Yesterday, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that:

Johnson's decision to block the judicial nomination of a University of Wisconsin law professor has drawn a pointed letter of protest from a group of legal academics around the country.

Johnson has singlehandedly held up consideration of Victoria Nourse for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which reviews federal cases from Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

"For a single senator from one state within the Circuit to assert a hold, months after the nomination was complete, undermines Wisconsin's merit-based selection system, blocking highly qualified nominees from a hearing and a vote," reads the letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont and the panel's top Republican, Charles Grassley of Iowa. "The effect is an unbreakable one-person filibuster."

The professors say a "a nominee of sterling credentials who has served under both Republicans and Democrats" should not be subject to "unending delay." You can click here to see the letter and its 53 signatories, some of whom served under Republican presidents.

Indeed, the letter shows Nourse's support across the ideological spectrum. In addition to progressive legal scholars, signers also include conservatives like Randy Barnett (a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who has challenged the constitutionality of the healthcare reform law) and David Bernstein (author of Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights Against Progressive Reform). The signers also include ten scholars from Wisconsin law schools. All agree that Nourse would make an excellent judge.

Nourse was originally nominated by President Obama more than a year ago after consultation with Wisconsin's two senators. Unfortunately, because of the unprecedented obstruction of qualified judicial nominees by Senate Republicans, Nourse was among the dozens of nominees who the Senate was prevented from considering before 2010 came to an end. President Obama renominated her in January, with the new Congress that now includes newly elected Senator Ron Johnson.

Johnson complains he should have been consulted before the renomination even though the appropriate consultation with Wisconsin's senators occurred when Nourse was originally nominated. Other states with new Republican senators have faced the same situation with the re-nominations of judicial nominees who were originally nominated last year. In every case but Wisconsin, the new Republican senator has allowed the nomination to go forward. Only Senator Johnson has refused.

PFAW

Wisconsin Recall Vote Today

It’s election day in Wisconsin; time to get out there and vote! Today is the first of a slew of recall elections in nine of Wisconsin’s state Senate districts, with six Democrats running to reclaim seats from incumbent Republicans, and three Republicans trying to oust Democrats. What does that mean? The Dems could really win back the Wisconsin State Senate.

In today’s race, David VanderLeest, a Republican who has been under investigation by the Oconto County Sheriff’s Department for reported domestic abuse and child abuse, challenges Democratic State Senator Dave Hansen. In good news, Monday’s Daily Kos poll found that 62% of likely voters in SD-30 said they would vote for Hansen; only 34% said they would vote for VanderLeest.

That doesn’t mean it’s a done deal, though. There’s still time to sign up with Call Out the Vote to make G.O.T.V phone calls, and there are still resources on ways to help at the We are Wisconsin website. Check out our Recall the Right campaign and, of course, if you live in Wisconsin, go vote!

PFAW

Republican Obstructionism Knows No Bounds

We’ve seen Republican Obstructionism at work against our federal judicial system, as Sen. Mitch McConnell and his cohorts have blocked many exceptionally-qualified, mainstream jurists from receiving an up-or-down vote in the Senate and many more have been needlessly delayed. But his recent comments regarding the fledgling Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which still is without a director, unequivocally shows that his priority is to prevent President Obama from building a functioning government that serves the American people. Unfortunately, this means handicapping the CFPB – which was created to help protect Americans from the types of financial abuse by Wall Street that caused the Great Recession and is toothless without a director – just to score political points and curry favor from the financial industry.

Raw Story reports:

President Barack Obama has decided to nominate Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) instead of Elizabeth Warren, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) doesn’t care. He says Republicans still plan to block the nomination.
“I would remind [President Obama] that Senate Republicans still aren’t interested approving anyone to the position until the president agrees to make this massive government bureaucracy more accountable and transparent to the American people,” McConnell announced on the Senate floor Monday.

By making the agency “more accountable and transparent,” Sen. McConnell and other Republicans mean replacing the director with a board of directors and making it easier for other agencies to overrule the CFPB’s actions – in other words, providing more opportunities for the financial industry to insulate itself from oversight and regulation.

It’s pretty easy to see how the Obstructionist agenda might not be in the best interest of the American people.

PFAW

A Milestone for Diversity on the Federal Bench

Today, the Senate confirmed J. Paul Oetken to be a federal judge in the Southern District of New York. He is the first openly gay man to be confirmed as an Article III judge (one with lifetime tenure).

In order for the federal judiciary to effectively protect our constitutional rights, the bench must reflect the diversity of America. That is not to say that demography determines how a judge will rule. But it is true that a person's background can give them insight into the effect of a law that others might miss. Ignorance of a law's actual impact can lead to a serious misanalysis of its constitutionality.

Some of the most notorious Supreme Court cases in history rest on such misunderstandings and show the results of a non-diverse bench. For instance, Plessey v. Ferguson, the 1896 case that upheld racial segregation, reflected the thinking of an advantaged class who had no real idea of how Jim Crow laws affected real people. The majority rejected out of hand

the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.

Similarly, Justice Scalia made headlines in 2009 when he angrily challenged the assertion that non-Christians might not see a Christian cross as a symbol of respect. While they may not have changed his mind, it was good that he had non-Christian colleagues who could have given him a sense of how people different from him are affected by the law. And perhaps the notorious 5-4 Bowers v. Hardwick opinion might have been different had there been an openly gay Justice there to tell his colleagues that their assumptions about "practicing homosexuals" were simply incorrect. Surely discussions of laws impacting women are improved by actually having women on hand to offer the benefit of their experience. And judges who have been stopped for "driving while black" may recognize the real-world impact of certain police practices that might seem relatively benign to others.

A richly diverse judiciary makes it more likely that judges will understand how their decisions will affect ordinary people, and that laws protecting individuals will actually be enforced as intended. President Obama's nomination of J. Paul Oetken is part of his overall efforts to significantly increase the diversity of the bench, an effort that has, unfortunately, been met with stubborn resistance by Senate Republicans.

PFAW

Judiciary Committee Republicans: More and More Delay

As People For the American Way has noted before, Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans have exercised their prerogative to delay committee consideration of every single one of President Obama's judicial nominees by at least one week, with only four exceptions. More than seventy of these nominees were confirmed without opposition.

Republicans have no good explanation for this. They are doing this simply to obstruct. The routine use of this hold, without cause and almost without exception, is unprecedented. It is part of a larger set of procedural roadblocks the Senate GOP uses to obstruct confirmation of qualified nominees whose only "fault" is that they were nominated by a Democratic president.

This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on the nominations of eleven judicial nominees, five of whom were scheduled for the first time. To the surprise of no one, they, too, fell victim to this form of partisan obstruction.

There is no reason that Republicans should have delayed committee consideration of Second Circuit Court nominee Christopher Droney or district court nominees Robert D. Mariani, Cathy Bissoon, Mark R. Hornak, and Robert N. Scola, Jr. All five appeared before the committee last month to answer questions. However, of the eight Republican members of the committee, only Ranking Member Grassley showed up for the hearing, where he spent just a few minutes asking questions of each nominee. Although all committee senators had an opportunity to ask follow-up questions in writing, no Republican but Senator Grassley did so.

So there really is no good reason for Senate Republicans to have exercised their prerogative to hold the vote over by a week for any of these nominees. But Republican obstructionism has become the rule: Highly qualified judicial nominees are blocked solely because they were nominated by a Democratic president.

Committee Republicans should be asked what exactly they need to learn about these nominees that they don't know already ... and, if they have questions, why they chose not to avail themselves of the many opportunities they have had to ask them.

More importantly, they should be asked why they are actively sabotaging the confirmation process when there are judicial crises all around the country. Americans need access to the courts, not partisan mudfights.

PFAW

Press Conference to Support the Shareholder Protection Act

Tomorrow, PFAW will join the Corporate Reform Coalition to support the Shareholder Protection Act, a valuable tool which will help improve transparency in the wake of Citizen’s United by requiring corporations to disclose their political donations to their shareholders. Often, shareholders of a corporation may be indirectly contributing to a political candidate that they don’t personally support through the corporation's political contributions, and might not even be aware of it.


A press conference announcing the bill will be held on Wednesday, July 13 at noon in the Capitol. Sen. Robert Menendez and Rep. Michael Capuano, who are the sponsors of the House and Senate bills, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal are slated to speak.

PFAW

Wisconsin News Round-Up, 07/11


Today's news from Wisconsin:

  • Democrats in the Wisconsin state legislature got their first look at the new district map, which shamelessly ignored the law and [] redistricted Democrats out of their districts. John Nichols at the Nation has a great piece explaining how the Republicans put their political interests above the law: for example, in flouting a law which requires the state legislature to wait until local governments have drawn their own maps, designed to ensure “communities are not cut up for partisan purposes.” Democrats are now suing, calling it a ‘naked power grab’, and with Democratic candidate Nancy Nusbaum being drawn out of her district by half a block[] it’s hard to disagree with that characterization. Currently, state legislature plans to vote on the maps next Tuesday.
  • Continuing on the theme of Republicans being unable to win on the issues, GOTV efforts are being made in several districts encouraging Republicans to vote for the fake Democrats in tomorrow’s sham primary.
  • From the Desperation Files, we have Luther Olsen and his campaign’s underwhelming attempt at spinning his dire fundraising numbers. His campaign has attacked Fred Clark for not having enough contributors in the district – despite that small, irrelevant fact that Clark has more contributors in the district than Olsen. I suppose that’s what happens when your opponent has over twenty times as many contributors as you do, Luther.
  • Concerns about the impact of the new voter fraud law (or, the Let’s Solve a Problem That Doesn’t Exist Law) on voter turnout continue to mount: Andrea Kaminski of League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Fund is worried that rumors about what to expect at the ballot will discourage voters. The city of Glendale will only be opening one of its polling places for tomorrow’s primary, although it will open all polling places for the August 9th general.
  • A nice look at the GOP candidates’ tax hypocrisy from the WisconsinGazette.com.
  • Finally, take a moment to think of poor Sen. Robert Cowles, who may be being bullied into supporting Walker’s radical agenda. Because while families are being forced to make sacrifices and struggling to make ends meet, the worst thing Robert Cowles has to fear is a primary challenge and fewer campaign contributions from big corporations. Don’t you feel sorry for him?

 

PFAW

Today's Supreme Court: Not Since the Gilded Age

There was once a Monty Python sketch about Dennis Moore, a confused Robin Hood wannabe who steals from the poor and gives to the rich. Minus the laugh track, that more and more seems to be the mission of the Corporate Court. The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne has a terrific column on this: "The Supreme Court's Continuing Defense of the Powerful."

The United States Supreme Court now sees its central task as comforting the already comfortable and afflicting those already afflicted.

If you are a large corporation or a political candidate backed by lots of private money, be assured that the court's conservative majority will be there for you, solicitous of your needs and ready to swat away those pesky little people who dare to contest your power.

After discussing some of the outrages of the arch-conservative majority, Dionne writes:

[P]ay heed to how this conservative court majority bristles at nearly every effort to give the less wealthy and less powerful an opportunity to prevail, whether at the ballot box or in the courtroom. Not since the Gilded Age has a Supreme Court been so determined to strengthen the hand of corporations and the wealthy.

People For the American Way Foundation recently submitted testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee analyzing the ominous pro-corporate tilt of the Roberts Court in the term that just ended.

PFAW

Senate to Try New Thing Called 'Work'

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has cancelled the scheduled 4th of July recess, in the hopes that the Republican obstructionists in the upper chamber might finally allow some real work to take place on behalf of the American people. The debt talks certainly deserve attention, but this is also a great opportunity to whittle down the critical mass of still-unconfirmed presidential nominees. The number of vacant positions, particularly in the judiciary, is an embarrassing testament to the unprecedented obstruction that is taking place. According to PFAW’s Marge Baker as reported in the Huffington Post, we can’t even begin to tackle this problem unless the Senate actually shows up for work:

Baker sees a simple means of drilling through the obstruction by embarrassing an opposition that has chosen to enjoy fictional days at the office at a time when most Americans are working extra hard to keep their jobs in a tough economy.

“One way to do that is stay in session and work -- force them to work -- and get something done,” Baker said, referring particularly to the Senate where there is an enormous backlog of unfinished business on the appointment front alone.

Of nearly 300 civilian appointments Obama has made this year, fewer than 100 of them have been confirmed by the Senate -- even when there is no opposition.

It’s particularly stark with judicial appointees. Baker noted that there are 15 judge nominees who have been unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee -- nine of them women or minority appointees -- yet none have made it to the floor of the Senate.

To her, that just looks like obstruction. And even worse, in her mind, is the idea that Republicans simply want to flout the law by refusing to confirm anyone to the CFPB -- unless the law is changed.

PFAW

U.S. Senators to LGBT Youth: “We’re making it better”

Thirteen members of the Senate are the latest voices in the It Gets Better Project. In this five-minute long video, senators from across the country speak out to send a message of hope and support for LGBT youth and a call to action for all Americans. Check it out: 

Through its efforts and mission the It Gets Better Project sends a positive message to LGBT youth, but I applaud the senators for taking the message one step further by saying: “we’re making it better”. Going beyond the simple, yet powerful, message of “it gets better,” these senators show us that taking action—and not passively waiting—will result in significant advances and great victories for LGBT rights.

Pointing out their support for repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, and some even speaking out in support of marriage equality, these senators show their commitment to fighting for the LGBT community.

“It’s going to get better. Believe in it, let’s fight for it.”  - Senator Udall (CO)

It is disappointing, however, that we only hear from the voices of Democrats. Speaking out against harassment and discrimination of any form, against any group should transcend partisan politics and be countered with action from both sides of the aisle.

In talking about the importance and necessity of working together, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut put it best:

“Our nation has always done better when all of us, no matter where we’re from, what we look like, or whom we love, work together.”

Making it better to ensure that it gets better requires courage, commitment, and hard work on the part of both our leaders and individuals. I am so pleased to see a handful of senators coming out in support of LGBT rights and fighting to fulfill the promise of equality for all.

Special thanks to the following senators for speaking out in support of LGBT rights and continuing the fight for equality: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH), Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA.), Sen. Dick Durbin (IL.), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (CA), Sen. Al Franken (MN), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Sen. Mark Udall (CO), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and Sen. Ron Wyden (OR).

And I would like to extend a very special thank you to Senator Chris Coons (DE), who believes “equality is a question of morality,” for leading this important and inspiring effort.

It is my hope that we will soon hear from more members of Congress—Democrats and Republicans alike—with a similar message of making it better for LGBT youth.

PFAW

Senate Judiciary Committee Exposes the Corporate Court

The Senate Judiciary Committee held an important hearing this morning looking into the disturbing trend of the Roberts Court to shut down people’s access to justice when they go to court to vindicate their rights against large corporations.

The hearing was on Barriers to Justice and Accountability: How the Supreme Court's Recent Rulings Will Affect Corporate Behavior. Chairman Leahy opened the hearing discussing how recent Supreme Court cases are making it harder for working Americans to get their day in court. He expressed particular concern about three cases:

  • Wal-Mart v. Dukes, which will make it harder to hold big companies accountable when they violate civil rights laws;
  • Janus Capital Group v. First Derivative Traders, which shielded from accountability those who knowingly committed securities fraud; and
  • AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, which prevents victims of consumer fraud from the protections of jury trials and class actions.

The committee invited four distinguished people to address the issue: Betty Dukes (plaintiff in the sex discrimination case against Wal-Mart) was the one panelist who was also a party to one of the cases being discussed. She spoke poignantly about her experience at Wal-Mart and the fear that so many women have of going against their employer, especially one as powerful as Wal-Mart. She promised to continue her fight, but knows that without a national class action, many women will be intimidated into not litigating.

Andrew J. Pincus (a Washington lawyer who has argued many cases before the Court) and Robert Alt (from the Heritage Foundation) denied that the Court was tilting unfairly to favor corporations, argued that the cases were decided rightly, and stated that the Court was simply upholding existing law. In contrast, Melissa Hart (law professor at the University of Colorado) and James Cox (law professor at Duke) took the position that the Court is wrongly shielding wrongdoers from accountability.

Professor Hart correctly characterized as a policy decision the Roberts Court's tendency to interpret procedural law so restrictively, despite congressional intent otherwise, so that Americans become unable to present their case to an impartial court.

Senator Whitehouse discussed the critical role juries play in American government. He noted that juries are mentioned three times in the Constitution, and that they remain a government institution that Big Business cannot corrupt. For years, the far right has been denigrating "trial lawyers" and "runaway juries" in an effort to keep Americans from being able to hold the powerful accountable. Whitehouse argued that the Roberts Court is acting consistently with that pattern.

People For the American Way Foundation submitted testimony to the committee on how the Roberts Court has removed substantive and procedural protections that are the only way that individuals can avoid becoming victimized by giant corporations that dwarf them in size, wealth, and power. These decisions often provide road maps to corporate interests in how to avoid accountability for harm that they do. The constitutional design empowering individuals to consolidate their power against corporations is slowly being eroded by a fiercely ideological Court. Today's hearing is part of an effort to expose the harm that is being done.

PFAW

Issa Helps Himself by Helping Goldman Sachs

You may recall that last year the Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC) filed a civil suit against Goldman Sachs, and that Rep. Darrell Issa tried to thwart the government[] investigation by sending a letter to Mary Schapiro, chairwoman of SEC. Issa said he was concerned that the lawsuit was timed “to coincide with the Senate’s consideration of financial regulatory legislation.” You may also recall that Issa’s motivations have been called into question in the past, and he’s often been accused of using his political power for his own monetary gain. Well, it appears that there might be more to that than we knew before. Recently, some of Issa’s personal finance disclosures have come to light. ThinkProgress reported:

According to documents filed recently with the House Clerk, Issa went on a buying spree of high yield Goldman Sachs bonds at the same time he was running defense for the investment bank in Congress. From February to December of 2010, Issa bought 12 Goldman Sachs High Yield Fund Class A bonds, each worth up to $50,000 (view page 10 the disclosure here). Many of the bonds were purchased in the months after he filed his letter to the SEC. The $600,000 in new Goldman Sachs investments added to Issa’s already multimillion dollar stake in the company, valued from $5.1 to $15.5 million.

Issa had claimed that his stance was representative of ordinary Americans, but clearly his actions indicate that he may put his own interests first.

PFAW

NH and OH Reject Voter-Disenfranchisement Bills

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch vetoed a proposed voter-ID law that would have required voters to show a photo ID before casting a ballot. In rejecting the proposal, Gov. Lynch called out the law for what it was – an expensive, anti-democratic solution for a problem that doesn’t exist:

The right to vote is a fundamental right that is guaranteed to all citizens of this State under the United States and New Hampshire Constitutions. An eligible voter who goes to the polls to vote on Election Day should be able to have his or her vote count on Election Day. SB 129 creates a real risk that New Hampshire voters will be denied their right to vote.

Voter turnout in New Hampshire is among the highest in the nation, election after election. There is no voter fraud problem in New Hampshire. We already have strong elections laws that are effective in regulating our elections.

Just yesterday, the Ohio Senate adjourned without voting on a similar bill, lacking the necessary votes to move it forward. Voter ID laws are being pushed in at least 36 states, according to a report by the Voting Rights Institute, at a potential cost of $828 million – quite a staggering sum for the allegedly budget-conscious Republicans who have proposed all of these bills. These bills highlight a cynical desire to disenfranchise certain groups of people – primarily minorities, students and the elderly – who don’t necessarily tend to vote the “right” way.

PFAW

After Long Delays, Senate Confirms 3 DOJ Nominees

The Senate today confirmed three of President Obama’s nominees to fill long-vacant posts in the Justice Department, including, at long last, a leader for the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel.

The Senate confirmed attorney Virginia Seitz to head the Office of Legal Counsel, which hasn’t had a permanent, Senate-confirmed head since 2004. President Obama’s first nominee to fill the position, the well-respected and highly qualified law professor Dawn Johnsen, came under fire from Republicans for her support of abortion rights and opposition to torture, and withdrew her nomination last year after over a year of obstruction and gridlock

The OLC essentially acts as the White House’s private law firm, advising the president and executive branch agencies on the constitutionality of their actions

Besides Seitz, James Cole was confirmed to serve as Deputy Attorney General, a position that has been vacant since February 2010, and Lisa Monaco was confirmed to lead the DOJ’s National Security Division, which has been vacant since March.

PFAW

Wisconsin News Round-up: 6/28/11

News from Wisconsin:

Rep. John Nygren says he’ll challenge the GAB’s ruling that he fell short of the required adequate signatures. However, the possibility of rehabilitating signatures is over. Don’t worry, John, I believe in you, you got this.

Nygren’s disqualification (assuming no intervention from the Signature Fairy) means Hansen will now face David VanderLeest in a July 19 general election. As for VanderLeest, I can’t describe him any better than We Are Wisconsin, who said VanderLeest’s “rap sheet reads like a directory of the Wisconsin state criminal code.”

The Prosser-Bradley controversy continues, with conservatives screaming "conspiracy!" and "smear campaign!"; just another day reporting on the grand leftist plot to destroy America... Interestingly, though, Gov. Walker isn’t quite as confident, saying “I can't overemphasize how serious I think the situation is there.” Both the Wisconsin Judicial Commission and the Dane County Sheriff are investigating the incident.

Despite supporting Walker’s extreme budget which hits schools, working families and seniors hard, State Sen. Robert Cowles was not present at the budget signing event -- even though it was held in his district. This is especially surprising considering he’s known for showing up to everything in the district. It’s ok, Rob, we don’t expect you to actually stand up and be accountable for your horrible decisions.

It seems running from reality is fashionable among Wisconsin Republicans, as Luther Olsen has been unavailable to meet with constituents several times. To be fair to Olsen, if I was him, I’d be pretty ashamed too. Check out the video, it’s fun.

As always, follow our campaign at RecallTheRight.org.

PFAW

Wisconsin News Round-up: 6/27/11

News from Wisconsin:

Candidates:

Other news:

Finally: I’ve found this resource to be extremely useful.

As always, follow our campaign at RecallTheRight.org.

PFAW

Ohio Gov. John Kasich's Secret Video

In this by-invitation-only video, Ohio’s governor, John Kasich, sings praises to “the fighters of freedom, the grassroots leaders of American for Prosperity (AFP)”. While he was at it, he might have well just given a big thanks to Charles and David Koch, the financial sponsors of AFP, as well as large donors to the governor’s campaign.

So why exactly is Kasich thankful for Americans for Prosperity?

Well, Kasich applauds their support in helping with the privatization of the state’s economy. The new program known as JobsOhio is supposed “to be able to move at the speed of business”. But while it’s promoting corporate profits, JobsOhio will require privatizing five prisons, doing away with the state’s estate tax, and cutting funding for schools and local governments. Townships are expected to lose 50% of their funding from the state, while schools lose about 11.5%. That equates to roughly 10,000 teachers.

Another accomplishment Kasich celebrates could not have happened without AFP’s support is "government union reform". Translation: union-busting that prevents public workers (including teachers, firefighters, and police officers) from collective bargaining for benefits and from going on strike.

So it is no wonder that Governor Kasich did not want to make this video public. Thanking a group for helping him to cut thousands of jobs, limit workers’ rights, privatize state services, and put a significant tax burden on local governments certainly won’t be a great boost to his 33% approval rating.

PFAW

From Fringe Figure to Movement Leader: Michele Bachmann's Far-Right Roots

Cross posted on The Huffington Post

Rep. Michele Bachmann, who today officially announce her candidacy for the presidency, isn't just a Tea Party candidate - in many ways she embodies the evolution of the movement. The Minnesota congresswoman, who built a reputation as an outspoken and often outrageous defender of extreme social conservatism, is increasingly trying to portray herself as a champion of fiscal conservatism - and using the language of social conservatism to do it. As she attempts to frame herself as a low-tax champion, and tone down her speech to reach a broader audience, it's important to remember where Bachmann's fiscal conservatism comes from. Bachmann represents a newly powerful force in American politics: a hard-right, pro-corporate fiscal conservative wrapped up in the rhetoric of the Religious Right. To know her, you have to know the far-right social movement in which she remains rooted.

A former state legislator who built her career fighting reproductive choice and gay rights, Bachmann continues to ally herself with far-right groups in her home state and to push her extreme ideology in Congress. As a Minnesota state senator, she was known for her radical anti-choice, anti-gay and anti-evolution campaigns. She cosponsored a measure to give "14th Amendment protections to an embryo or fetus," similar to the extreme and likely unconstitutional fetal "personhood" amendments that have been rejected by even very conservative state legislatures in recent months. She has since endorsed one such measure in Ohio, which would ban abortions after the "heartbeat" of a fetus is detected. She cosponsored legislation to undermine the teaching of evolution, stating that people who believe in the science of evolution are part of a "cult following."

But she was perhaps best known for her all-out campaign against gay rights. A People For the American Way report summarized:

In the State Senate, she spearheaded the effort to pass a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. "The immediate consequence, if gay marriage goes through," Bachmann said , "is that K-12 little children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal, natural and perhaps they should try it." She has also referred to homosexuality as "personal enslavement" and a "sexual identity disorder." Bachmann also promoted the claim that gays and lesbians recruit children, maintaining that her mission to block LGBT rights "is a very serious matter, because it is our children who are the prize for this community, they are specifically targeting our children."

Bachmann's willingness to go to the extreme right of any social debate earned her like-minded friends in Minnesota. She has forged close ties with a pastor named Bradlee Dean and his extreme anti-gay ministry, "You Can Run But You Cannot Hide." Dean believes that homosexuality should be criminalized , and once praised Muslims who call for the execution of homosexuals as "more moral" than toleration-minded American Christians:

Muslims are calling for the executions of homosexuals in America. This just shows you they themselves are upholding the laws that are even in the Bible of the Judeo-Christian God, but they seem to be more moral than even the American Christians do, because these people are livid about enforcing their laws. They know homosexuality is an abomination...Hollywood is promoting immorality and God of the heavens in Jesus' name is warning you to turn from the wrath to come. Yet you have Muslims calling for your execution. If America won't enforce the laws, God will raise up a foreign enemy to do just that. That's what you are seeing today in America.

Dean claims that most gay people are child molesters, estimating that "on average, they molest 117 people before they're found out" and insists that anti-bullying programs in schools amount to "homosexual indoctrination." In one particularly bizarre train of thought , he asserted that Muslim congressman Keith Ellison was working with gay and lesbians to impose Sharia law: "He wants to bring in Sharee [sic] law through the homosexual agenda.... They are using the homosexuals as a political battering ram to bring forth what? Sharee [sic] law." Dean has also accused President Obama of turning the U.S. into a "Muslim nation," and recently roundly appalled the Minnesota state House when he delivered a prayer questioning the president's Christian faith.

Dean's unhinged extremism hasn't turned off Bachmann. She was the host of a 2009 fundraiser for his group, participated in a documentary he made, and delivered a public prayer calling for God to "expand this ministry beyond anything that the originators of this ministry could begin to think or imagine." This summer, Bachmann is scheduled to share the stage with Dean at a Tea Party event in Kansas.

Bachmann also continues to lend her support - including headlining a fundraiser in May -- to the Minnesota Family Council, an anti-gay group that she worked closely with when leading the marriage amendment effort in the state legislature. The MFC has been on the front-lines of the effort to stop numerous gay rights bills in Minnesota, and is active in a renewed push for a marriage amendment. The group backs up its efforts with vicious anti-gay rhetoric. Its president, Tim Prichard, has compared homosexuality to cigarette smoking and has said that comprehensive sex ed in schools would promote "homosexual behavior, anal or oral sex, things like that." Prichard blamed the suicides of four LGBT students on Gay-Straight Alliances and "homosexual indoctrination." The group has been a leading player in the Religious Right's campaign against anti-bullying policies in schools.

And then there was Bachmann's $9,000 donation to a Minnesota group credited with performing "exorcisms" on gay teens. She also remains closely allied with Generation Joshua, a far-right anti-gay group that funnels conservative homeschoolers into right-wing politics, which has dispatched kids to help with her congressional campaigns.

Bachmann has carried the flag of her extremist Minnesota allies to Congress, where in positioning herself as a leader of the Tea Party she loudly embraced the fiscal-issues Right while continuing to feed the social-issues Right.

In an illustration of both sides of the conservative movement merging in the Tea Party, Bachmann invited right-wing pseudo historian David Barton, who believes that Jesus opposed the minimum wage and the progressive income tax - and who Bachmann calls a "national treasure" -- to speak to Congress about the Constitution. Like Barton, Bachmann deftly frames the anti-tax, pro-corporate ideology of fiscal conservatives in the moral language of social conservatives. At a Religious Right conference last month, she called the national debt an "immoral burden on future generations" and lamented that "many are discouraged from marriage by an underperforming economy." She is also fond of invoking the Founding Fathers to make her point about any number of issues, once even advocating reducing the federal government to its "original size." And in a classic Barton technique, she hasn't been above using a totally made-up George Washington quote to bash President Obama.

Bachmann's efforts to merge the small government crowd with the big-government-in-personal-life crowd were again on full display this weekend, as she praised New York's marriage equality vote as an example of states' rights, while continuing to advocate a constitutional amendment that would take away the right of states to expand marriage equality.

Bachmann illustrates the odd brew that has created the Tea Party - the energy of social conservatives papered over with the money of pro-corporate conservatives, mixed up with a new rhetoric that combines the two issues. Her ability to be at home in both worlds makes her an unexpected powerhouse of a candidate...but one whose prominence should continue to be troubling to the American people.

PFAW

PFAW asks DC’s residents and supporters to head to the White House this Saturday

The House Appropriations Committee convened this morning at 9:30 am to consider the DC appropriations bill that the DC subcommittee passed last week. We are currently waiting for word on whether any DC riders were added, in addition to those already included in the bill concerning reproductive freedom and public education.

As PFAW continues to wait for news, I’ve asked DC residents and DC rights supporters from the greater metro area to join us at Saturday’s White House Rally for DC Democracy.

Dear PFAW Activist,

Washington, DC residents, who already lack voting representation in Congress, have been treated even more like second-class citizens by this Republican Congress, adding insult to injury.

Republicans used the budget deal earlier this year to attack DC home rule and District women's access to healthcare. They banned the use of local funds (NOT federal tax dollars) from being used for reproductive healthcare for low-income women.

Now, Republicans are threatening a series of "policy riders" on the DC appropriations bill for 2012 that would micro-manage the lives of DC residents from our classrooms to our safety to our health, having already passed more attacks on women's health and public education.

So much for the "party of small government."

Please join us, along with DC residents and DC rights supporters from the greater metro area, THIS SATURDAY, at 11:00am at the White House to tell President Obama to stand up for DC.

Let the president know that this attack on DC residents' fundamental rights is a deal breaker. Both he and the Democratic leadership in the Senate need to stand up for the nearly 600,000 residents of our nation's capital -- come out this Saturday and let them know it.

When: Saturday June 25, 2011, 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM
Where: Lafayette Square (outside White House), 16th & H St NW
Metro: Farragut West (Orange & Blue lines)

Click here to RSVP with our friends at DC Vote. We hope to see you there!

-- Jen Herrick, Senior Policy Analyst

PFAW and AAMIA continue to believe that enough is enough – the people of DC deserve a voice. For more information, please click here.

PFAW

UPDATE: DADT repeal survives Senate committee

Last week, I reported the need for vigilance over Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) repeal given pending action on the FY12 Defense Authorization bill in the Senate Armed Services Committee. Thankfully, the challenges we faced in the House did not materialize in the Senate.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network:

After a decade of discussions with the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and specific recommendations to the Hill, we welcome the Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC) decision to repeal Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) relating to sodomy. This action has been recommended by SLDN and several groups, including the Cox Commission, which includes distinguished legal scholars from the military and academia, as well as the Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG). The committee’s decision to amend Article 120 of the UCMJ is also timely and welcomed.

We were also pleased that provisions to delay ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal certification, as well as inject DOMA language into the bill, were not offered.

As we look toward the Senate floor and eventually the conference committee, keep in mind that we are two days away from the six-month anniversary of DADT repeal on June 22. The clock is ticking.

Servicemembers are still waiting. We’re all still waiting. We need swift certification and effectuation of DADT repeal.

PFAW