senate

PFAW Delivers to Senate 25,000 Petitions Pressing for DISCLOSE Act

Yesterday, People For the American Way delivered to Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer the signatures of over 25,000 activists urging the Senate to take up and pass the DISCLOSE Act before the end of this Congress. The House passed the bill earlier this year, but Republican Senators have twice blocked it from proceeding in the Senate.

The best chance the Senate has to pass the bill is to pass it now. Despite the overwhelming popularity of campaign finance disclosure measures, the GOP has hardly been friendly to DISCLOSE so far (all but two House Republicans voted against the measure, and it didn’t win the support of a single Republican senator). The bill was also a target of corporate lobbyists—many of whom, the Washington Post reports, will now be moving to Capitol Hill to work as highly placed advisors to new Republican members of Congress.

But even if the Senate doesn’t vote on DISCLOSE this month, we’ll keep on pushing to make it law. There’s absolutely no good reason for any member of Congress to oppose a bill that makes government cleaner and elections more transparent. Most Americans agree…and hopefully the GOP will catch on.

For more on the DISCLOSE Act and the Right’s opposition to it, read Michael Keegan on the “Corporate Money Denial Game”.
 

PFAW

Congress Moves Closer to Passage of DREAM Act

Yesterday, in a 216-198 vote, the House passed the DREAM Act, a measure that lays out a path to citizenship for young adults who were brought to the United States illegally as children, and who graduate from high school with the commitment to attend college or join the military. Today, the Senate took a procedural vote that temporarily delayed action on the measure in order to build more support for its consideration in the coming week.

Michael B. Keegan, President of People For the American Way, issued the following statement:

Until the DREAM Act becomes law, tens of thousands of young Americans will continue to be treated as criminals in the only homes they know. The Senate must follow the House’s example and work quickly to eliminate what is a fundamental injustice in American law. We support Senator Reid’s efforts to gather enough votes to pass DREAM, and urge fair-minded senators to throw aside divisive anti-immigrant politics and act with common sense and compassion.

Calls are still needed to the Senate: 866-996-5161. Here are some talking points from the National Immigration Forum.

Why should your Senators support the DREAM Act?

•    Because the public supports it—70%, according to a recent poll by First Focus.

•    Because the military wants it.  Secretary of Defense Bill Gates recently wrote a letter to the DREAM Act’s sponsor in the Senate in support of the DREAM Act.  Retired Gen. Colin Powell has also spoken publicly in favor of the DREAM Act.  The DREAM Act will help the military meet recruitment goals, because one of the ways students will qualify is to serve in the military.

•    Because taxpayers deserve a return on their investment.  Allowing immigrant students to continue their education and achieve their potential will translate into better jobs and higher tax revenue when these promising young people enter the workforce.  A single-minded focus on enforcement, as proposed by anti-immigrant Members of Congress would deny taxpayers this return on investment, and result in higher deficits, cuts in other programs, or higher taxes to pay to deport these immigrant youth.

Also from the National Immigration Forum, the story behind today’s Senate action.

The Senate vote on a motion to table the DREAM cloture vote, which took place moments ago, reflected a strategic decision to buy time to build more support for the DREAM Act.

If you were watching the vote or saw a headline about it, you may have been puzzled as to why Senate Leader Reid made a motion to table his own cloture motion, and why so many Democrats voted for it.  Why did this happen?

It’s complicated.  Republicans have vowed to block every bill in the Senate until the issues of tax cuts and funding of the government for the current fiscal year are resolved.  Democratic leadership decided they would push back the DREAM vote until these other issues are resolved.  Once the tax cuts and government funding are dealt with, Republicans will not be able to use them as excuses to oppose the DREAM Act.

However: Senator Reid needed “Unanimous Consent” to withdraw his cloture motion and push back the vote.  He did not get it, forcing him to offer a motion to table the cloture vote. 

Procedural trick: By tabling the cloture vote, Democrats will be able to bring the DREAM Act up again in the coming days when the other issues have been resolved.

Bottom line: Our allies in the Senate know that DREAM supporters have momentum coming out of the House victory yesterday.  They want to take the additional time, remove excuses now being made by Republicans, and cultivate more support for DREAM in the Senate.

A real vote on DREAM in the Senate will be scheduled later.  Please continue to contact your Senators and tell them to support the Dream Act.

Here again is the phone number you can call to be patched through to your Senators offices: 866-996-5161.

We will keep you posted as more information becomes available on the schedule for a Senate vote on the DREAM Act.
PFAW

DREAM Act up today in the House and Senate, DOD/DADT looming

We are now certain that today is the day for the DREAM Act in both the House and Senate. Please keep calling! 866-967-6018 for the House. 866-996-5161 for the Senate.

To assist you in your calls, here are some talking points from the National Immigration Forum.

Why should your Representative support the DREAM Act?

•    Because the public supports it—70%, according to a recent poll by First Focus.

•    Because the military wants it.  Secretary of Defense Bill Gates recently wrote a letter to the DREAM Act’s sponsor in the Senate in support of the DREAM Act.  Retired Gen. Colin Powell has also spoken publicly in favor of the DREAM Act.  The DREAM Act will help the military meet recruitment goals, because one of the ways students will qualify is to serve in the military.

•    Because taxpayers deserve a return on their investment.  Allowing immigrant students to continue their education and achieve their potential will translate into better jobs and higher tax revenue when these promising young people enter the workforce.  A single-minded focus on enforcement, as proposed by anti-immigrant Members of Congress would deny taxpayers this return on investment, and result in higher deficits, cuts in other programs, or higher taxes to pay to deport these immigrant youth.

After the Senate completes its afternoon votes, depending on the outcome, it’s possible that Majority Leader Reid could go back to the FY11 Defense authorization bill. As he has pledged:

We are also going to repeal the discriminatory don't ask, don't tell rule. We are going to match our policy with our principles and finally say that in America everyone who steps up to serve our country should be welcomed.

Republicans know they do not have the votes to take this repeal out of the Defense authorization bill, so they are holding up the whole bill. But when they refuse to debate it, they also hold up a well-deserved raise for our troops, better health care for our troops and their families, equipment such as MRAP vehicles that keep our troops safe, and other critical wartime efforts in Afghanistan and counterterrorism efforts around the world.

We’ve been waiting 17 years for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But our troops are also waiting. Click here to contact your Senators, and here for information about this Friday’s rally at the Capitol.

PFAW

Majority Leader Reid says Senator McCain is the Lucy to America’s Charlie Brown

On November 16, 1952, Lucy yanked the football out from under Charlie Brown.

Peanuts

Today, Senator McCain is doing the same to America. Majority Leader Reid:

Mr. President, there is a recurring gag in the comic strip ``Peanuts'' with which we are all familiar. Charlie Brown is getting ready to kick a field goal. Lucy is holding the ball while Charlie runs up to the ball. At the last second, Lucy pulls the ball away. Charlie Brown flies into the air, comes crashing back down, and falls flat on his back. We have all seen this time and time again. But what makes this gag funny is the same thing that made it famous. It wasn't so much that Lucy was tricking Charlie Brown; it was that it kept happening over and over. Charlie Brown kept being tricked.

It is obvious by now that our Republican friends have drawn their political strategy from this cartoon.

[. . .]

Finally, the Senator from Arizona, his party's nominee for President last election, has given a dizzying defense of don't ask, don't tell--an obsolete, embarrassing, and discriminatory policy that weakens our military and offends our values. First, Senator McCain said he seriously would consider repealing it if the military leadership thought we should. When the military leadership said it should be repealed, he pulled away the football. Then Senator McCain said he would need to see a study from the Pentagon. When the Pentagon produced a study saying repeal would have no negative impact, he pulled away the football again. And for his latest trick, he said yesterday that he opposed repealing don't ask, don't tell, a proposal that would be a great stride forward for both equality and military readiness, because of the economy. I repeat: The senior Senator from Arizona said he couldn't support repealing don't ask, don't tell because of the economy. I have no idea what he is talking about, and no one else does either.

Senator McCain is essentially telling us to lie here for the rest of the day. But we know that we cannot and will not spend another 58 years trying to kick that football and make the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell a reality. The Senate must act posthaste on the FY11 Defense authorization bill. Take care of repeal. Take care of our troops. Take care of our nation’s defense.

Don’t let anyone tell you that neither the will nor the time are available. Show the Senate that they are. Click here to contact your Senators, and here for information about this Friday’s rally at the Capitol.

PFAW

GOP obstruction on the Defense bill is stopping more than DADT repeal

Yesterday, Majority Leader Reid gave a floor speech about the Senate’s lame duck agenda.

 

Mr. President, as far as lameduck sessions of the Senate go, our agenda is rather ambitious, and the session itself is relatively long. It did not have to be this way. We have tried many times this Congress to tackle each of the priorities on our agenda. Each time we have tried, the minority has tried to shut down the Senate. Republicans ground the Senate to a halt and forced endless hours of inactivity. That is why we were here voting on Sunday--on Saturday; I am sorry. Thank goodness it was not on Sunday. That is why we will still be here another few weeks.

We have a long to-do list. But these priorities are not mere leftovers. They are critical to our economy and our national security, to our families and our country's future, and we will resolve them before we adjourn.

[. . .]

Obstruction has consequences. None of the issues on this long list is new. Neither is the minority's effort to keep the Senate from working and keeping Senators from doing our jobs.

It is time to roll up our sleeves--not dig in our heels. My hope for the final weeks of this year is that Republicans finally will realize we all have much more to gain by working together than working against each other.

That got me thinking about Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Its repeal constitutes just 4 pages (203-207) of the 854-page FY11 Defense authorization bill. That means GOP obstruction is holding up a bill over just 0.47% of its text.

So what’s in the other 99.53%?

As Majority Leader Reid points out:

We are also going to repeal the discriminatory don't ask, don't tell rule. We are going to match our policy with our principles and finally say that in America everyone who steps up to serve our country should be welcomed.

Republicans know they do not have the votes to take this repeal out of the Defense authorization bill, so they are holding up the whole bill. But when they refuse to debate it, they also hold up a well-deserved raise for our troops, better health care for our troops and their families, equipment such as MRAP vehicles that keep our troops safe, and other critical wartime efforts in Afghanistan and counterterrorism efforts around the world.

We’ve been waiting 17 years for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But our troops are also waiting. The Senate must act posthaste on the FY11 Defense authorization bill. Take care of repeal. Take care of our troops. Take care of our nation’s defense.

Don’t let anyone tell you that neither the will nor the time are available. Show the Senate that they are. Click here to contact your Senators, and here for information about this Friday’s rally at the Capitol.

PFAW

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Files Cloture on DREAM Act

Because, thanks to the ongoing GOP obstruction in the Senate, virtually nothing can get done without a time consuming cloture vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed cloture late yesterday on the motion to begin debate on the DREAM Act. If passed, the legislation would allow undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to gain legal status and a path to citizenship if they attend college or join the armed forces.

The Brookings Institution gives a rundown of what the legislation includes:

The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would offer conditional citizenship to a specific group of young individuals. To gain conditional status under the DREAM Act one must have entered the United States before the age of 16, been in the country continuously for five years, earned a high school diploma (or GED) and not committed any crimes that would otherwise restrict someone from entering the country. During a six-year period of conditional status, this group will have been required to complete two years in uniformed service or two years enrolled at an institution of higher learning, and must pass a second criminal background check before being considered for full citizenship. It should also be noted that the DREAM Act only applies to young people currently in the country so that it will not encourage additional families to bring children to the U.S. looking for benefits.

The bill seems to have plenty of support. Orrin Hatch, Sam Brownback, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have all supported it in the past. But when it comes to Republican obstruction, good policy takes a backseat to good politics.

By filing the cloture petition, Reid will be able to hold the vote on cutting off debate and then proceeding to consideration of the bill on Wednesday. We’ll keep you posted as the issue moves forward.

PFAW

Service chiefs testify, Levin closes, McCain persists, Brown declares

The Senate Armed Services Committee closed its two days of hearings on the Pentagon’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell report with the testimony of the chiefs of the various armed services. While there is some disagreement as to when and how, the general consensus was that repeal can and should be implemented. Even General James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, who has expressed his opposition publicly on numerous occasions, “think[s] it will be repealed eventually. I just ask for the -- the opportunity to be able to do it with my forces when they're not singularly focused on combat.”

If the effective date really is the sticking point, that has already been addressed in the proposed legislation, which requires President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen to certify that repeal is consistent with military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting. Secretary Gates has made “absolutely” clear that he “will not certify until [he] feel[s] that the process can move forward without any damage to the safety and security of our men and women that are serving, number one, and that our battle effectiveness will not be jeopardized, number two.” Moreover, “before the certification is signed, everything has to be done to get ready. It's not something that I would start, that I would certify while it was still in process as it were.”

Senator Levin, Chairman of the Committee, was quick to point out that “you have to repeal before the implementation stage comes.” Implementation will take considerable thought and time, but there will be nothing to implement if Congress doesn’t first act on repeal.

Senator McCain is still insisting that he needs more time. He needs to talk to more people. And don’t forget his warning that “the problem with the defense authorization bill isn't confined to the "don't ask/don't tell" issue.” This is another case of putting the cart before the horse. You can’t implement repeal if there is no repeal. And you can’t fix the “problems” with the Defense bill, you can’t even discuss them, if the bill is not allowed to come to the floor. Senator Levin: “The place to address the kind of issues which Senator McCain raises is on the floor of the Senate. There are issues, of course, in any defense authorization bill that come[s] out of committee. And the only way those issues can be addressed is to debate them, resolve them in the Senate.”

Now the final push begins to bring up that Defense bill and ensure that repeal becomes law in 2010. Senator Scott Brown, a target of repeal supporters and opponents alike, removed one stumbling block today with the announcement of his position. Or did he?

I have been in the military for 31 years and counting, and have served as a subordinate and as an officer. As a legislator, I have spent a significant amount of time on military issues. During my time of service, I have visited our injured troops at Walter Reed and have attended funerals of our fallen heroes. When a soldier answers the call to serve, and risks life or limb, it has never mattered to me whether they are gay or straight. My only concern has been whether their service and sacrifice is with pride and honor.

I pledged to keep an open mind about the present policy on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Having reviewed the Pentagon report, having spoken to active and retired military service members, and having discussed the matter privately with Defense Secretary Gates and others, I accept the findings of the report and support repeal based on the Secretary’s recommendations that repeal will be implemented only when the battle effectiveness of the forces is assured and proper preparations have been completed.

Senator Brown’s support is welcome news. But important questions remain, as reported by Greg Sargent for the Washington Post (The Plum Line).

One important question: How does this square with Mitch McConnell's letter vowing that the entire GOP caucus would stand in unison against DADT repeal and everything else Dems want until the standoff over the Bush tax cuts and funding the government are resolved? If Brown confirms he will vote for cloture on the Defense Authorization Bill containing DADT repeal, irrespective of whether a deal is reached on the tax cuts, it makes McConnell's threat look pretty empty.

Keep an eye on the remaining moderates. More when I learn it.

UPDATE, 1:32 p.m.: One other quick point. It's one thing for Senator Brown to say he supports repeal in general. What needs to be established is whether Brown's vote for repealing DADT is contingent on Harry Reid jumping through a whole bunch of procedural hoops that some GOPers have demanded. More on that when I get it, but for now, this is clearly a positive step.

Whatever the answers may be, the fight is certainly not over. Click here to contact your Senators.

An archive of today’s webcast is available here.

PFAW

Johnson Picks Corporate Lobbyist as Chief of Staff

The first major decision any newly-elected member of Congress makes is who will serve as his or her chief of staff. The personnel choice says a lot about the member’s personality and priorities. Off-the-charts extremist Congressman-Elect Allen West, for instance, chose off-the-charts extremist radio host Joyce Kauffman (before the “liberal left” raised some concerns about her role inciting a school shooting plot). It should come as no surprise, then, that Wisconsin Senator-Elect Ron Johnson, whose pro-corporate policies earned him plenty of corporate cash on the campaign trail, has picked a corporate lobbyist to lead his team in Washington.

Johnson’s pick, reports Express Milwaukee, is Don Kent, who after a gig at the Department of Homeland Security in the Bush Administration, “became a lobbyist at Navigators Global, where he ‘heads up the Homeland Security practice.’”:

Johnson’s choice of Kent shows that he’s trying to ingratiate himself with big defense contractors, Big Pharma and anti-worker groups.

Navigator Global’s clients include AgustaWestland North America, the world’s largest helicopter manufacturer; the Coalition of California Growers, which was fighting a bill that would make it easier for workers to organize; the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which was fighting an effort that would allow some taxpayers to file their state tax returns for free; the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, when then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was investigating the industry; Pfizer; and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which wanted to block the reimportation of Canadian drugs to bring down costs for consumers.

Plenty of people—including members of Congress—go in and out of the revolving door between Capitol Hill and K Street. But Johnson’s choice makes a clear statement about the difference between him and his predecessor, Russ Feingold. Feingold has been one of the Senate’s strongest champions of clean elections and transparent government, and wrote the campaign finance law that was largely gutted by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. In the first election after Citizens United, Johnson benefitted from a flood of outside money, some from pro-corporate groups, to unseat Feingold.

It’s one of the first signs that the corporate interests that funded Tea Party candidates across the country are going to get what they paid for.

Via The Awl
 

PFAW

The Long Term Cost of GOP Obstruction

Usually when we talk about Republican obstruction, it’s to explain the immediate problems that need to be fixed, but can’t because Republican Senators won’t let the solutions come up for a vote—an understaffed Department of Justice, empty seats languishing on the federal judiciary, an impending budget deadline, etc.

Currently, for example, there are 34 judicial nominees pending on the Senate floor, the vast majority of which are to fill vacancies deemed “judicial emergencies.” 26 of those nominees have faced no Republican opposition; one received only one negative vote - but all of them are held up anyway, waiting endlessly to start their new jobs.

But perhaps the most damaging effect of this delay won’t become apparent for years. Delaying simple confirmation votes forces nominees to put their lives on hold for months or even years, for a job with longer hours and less pay than they could find elsewhere. The excruciatingly long confirmation process is making it harder and harder to recruit qualified candidates to fill critical government positions.

Already, some nominees have decided that they couldn’t, or didn’t want to, deal with the ugly process any longer.

Dawn Johnsen, President Obama’s pick to head the Office of Legal Counsel, eventually withdrew her name because Republican senators so politicized her nomination that they undermined her primary goal of depoliticizing the OLC itself. Mary Smith, nominated to head the Tax Division of the Justice Department, asked for her name to be withdrawn when she concluded GOP obstruction would drag on for months longer. And any number of judicial nominees have displayed borderline heroism by sitting by silently as their reputations are smeared by critics playing fast and loose with the truth.

After seeing the treatment that even exceedingly well qualified nominees receive from the Senate, should it be any surprise if well qualified individuals in the future just decide that they don’t want the trouble?

Of course, if you’re in the business of attacking the Obama Administration at all costs, maybe scaring off qualified government officials isn’t a problem, it’s the goal.

 

PFAW

Action Alert: Keep making calls on the DREAM Act

The House vote on the DREAM Act is now expected next week. Please keep calling! 866-967-6018

To assist you in your call, here is the action alert from the National Immigration Forum.

The DREAM Act is moving closer to a vote in the House, and anti-immigrant Members of Congress are getting ready.  They are circulating their familiar talking points referring to the DREAM Act as a “mass amnesty,” and claiming that it would result in the “crowding out” of U.S. citizens from U.S. public universities.

We need you to call your representatives to push back on anti-immigrant falsehoods.

Please call your Representative TODAY.
  Use this number: 866-967-6018, and your call will be directed to the office of your Representative.  Ask your Representative to support a vote on the DREAM Act and to vote for passage of the Act.

Briefly, the DREAM Act would give legal status to immigrant youth who were brought here by their parents and who subsequently grew up here, went to school here and now want to go to college or serve in our military.  They are American in every way except their paperwork.

Why should your Representative support the DREAM Act?

•    Because the public supports it—70%, according to a recent poll by First Focus.

•    Because the military wants it.  Secretary of Defense Bill Gates recently wrote a letter to the DREAM Act’s sponsor in the Senate in support of the DREAM Act.  Retired Gen. Colin Powell has also spoken publicly in favor of the DREAM Act.  The DREAM Act will help the military meet recruitment goals, because one of the ways students will qualify is to serve in the military.

•    Because taxpayers deserve a return on their investment.  Allowing immigrant students to continue their education and achieve their potential will translate into better jobs and higher tax revenue when these promising young people enter the workforce.  A single-minded focus on enforcement, as proposed by anti-immigrant Members of Congress would deny taxpayers this return on investment, and result in higher deficits, cuts in other programs, or higher taxes to pay to deport these immigrant youth.

Call your Representative TODAY and ask him or her to support the DREAM Act.  Call 866-967-6018.

For more information, go here.

A vote is also looming in the Senate. Contact info for your Senators is available here.

PFAW

Democrats Eschew Republican Example and Follow the Constitution

This week, Americans get to see the difference between a party that respects the rule of law and one that holds it in contempt.

Earlier this week, Senate Democrats got a food safety bill passed - then discovered a procedural problem with constitutional implications: One section of the Senate bill would raise revenue, but the Constitution requires revenue bills to originate in the House. Now, in the face of Republican obstruction, Democratic leaders are working to figure out how to get the bill passed correctly before time runs out.

While the headlines are on the mistake, the main focus really should be on how Democratic leaders are responding appropriately to it - in stark contrast to how Republican leaders dealt with a similar foul-up in February 2006, when they controlled Congress. GOP leaders sent a bill for the president's signature that they knew had not passed the House.

The Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2005 squeaked through the Senate after Vice President Cheney cast the tie-breaking vote. But when the bill was transmitted to the House, in a mistake that no one noticed at the time, one of the numbers in the bill text was changed, changing the rights of Medicare recipients and creating a $2 billion difference between the two bills. The House passed its version with a bare two-vote margin. Then Republican leaders discovered that the two chambers had voted on different bills, meaning that a basic constitutional requirement had not been met.

Having a revote would have been politically difficult. So, faced with a choice between their partisan political agenda and the United States Constitution, GOP leaders chose ... politics. They sent the Senate version to the White House for President Bush's signature, with the Republican Speaker's false certification that it had passed both chambers.

As the Washington Post reported at the time:

Once the mistake was revealed, Republican leaders were loath to fight the battle again by having another vote, so White House officials simply deemed the Senate version to be the law. ...

The issue would be solved if the House voted again, this time on the version that passed the Senate. But that would mark the third time House members would have to cast their votes on a politically difficult bill, containing cuts in many popular programs, and it would be that much closer to the November election.

The way the two parties handled similar situations speaks volumes about their commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law.

PFAW

DADT hearing concludes, service chiefs testify tomorrow

On November 30, the Pentagon released its Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell report, including:

 

•    Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell"

•    Support Plan for Implementation.

•    WESTAT Survey Report: Support to the DOD Comprehensive Review Working Group Analyzing the Impact of Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

o    Volume 1: Findings From the Surveys
o    Volume 1: Appendices A - AL
o    Volume 2: Findings from the Qualitative Research Tasks

•    RAND Report 2010: Sexual Orientation and the U.S. Military Personnel Policy. An Update of RAND's 1993 Study

Today, the Senate Armed Services Committee concluded the first of two days of hearings on the report. Perhaps most notable was Senator McCain’s performance. It appears his new “concern” is that Congress hasn’t been given enough time to review the issue. He objected to having been given only a few minutes with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

As you can see from the CQ Congressional Transcript, Senator McCain fails to recognize the Secretary’s scheduling conflict; obviously they can’t ask him questions if he’s not in the room. He fails to recognize that he hasn’t just had the 36 hours since the report’s release to review the issue; he’s had almost two years of the Obama Administration, debate during the presidential campaign before that, and a full 17 years since Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’s original enactment. What exactly is Senator McCain waiting for?

One word: WikiLeaks.

Not one bit of connection to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell there. Yet, instead of using every second of his precious first round time with Secretary Gates, Senator McCain took time at the end to question the Secretary on the WikiLeaks controversy. And that wasn’t the last time you heard WikiLeaks mentioned today.

Serious? Yes.

Ripe for oversight? Yes.

Topic of today’s hearing? No.

But let’s not end on a sour note.

Secretary Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen (who were joined by the Honorable Jeh C. Johnson and General Carter F. Ham, USA, the co-chairs of the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Review Working Group) were strong in their resolve for repeal.

Mullen -- who said he believes personally and professionally that repealing the law is the right thing to do -- said the repeal would be the only change the military services would experience as a result.

“Nothing will change about our standards of conduct,” the chairman said. “Nothing will change about the dignity and the fairness and the equality with which we treat our people. And nothing will change about the manner in which we deal with those who cannot abide by these standards.”

For some, Mullen told the senators, the debate on the issue is all about gray areas.

“There is no gray area here,” he said. “We treat each other with respect, or we find another place to work. Period.”

Well said, Admiral Mullen.

Tomorrow brings the testimony of the chiefs of the various armed services. If you’d like to watch, check out C-SPAN 3 or the Committee’s own webcast. An archive of today’s webcast is available here.

PFAW

Action Alert: A House vote on the DREAM Act is expected tomorrow morning

A House vote on the DREAM Act is expected tomorrow morning. Call 866-967-6018 now to be connected to your Representative.

To assist you in your call, here is the action alert from the National Immigration Forum.

The DREAM Act is moving closer to a vote in the House, and anti-immigrant Members of Congress are getting ready.  They are circulating their familiar talking points referring to the DREAM Act as a “mass amnesty,” and claiming that it would result in the “crowding out” of U.S. citizens from U.S. public universities.

We need you to call your representatives to push back on anti-immigrant falsehoods.

Please call your Representative TODAY.
  Use this number: 866-967-6018, and your call will be directed to the office of your Representative.  Ask your Representative to support a vote on the DREAM Act and to vote for passage of the Act.

Briefly, the DREAM Act would give legal status to immigrant youth who were brought here by their parents and who subsequently grew up here, went to school here and now want to go to college or serve in our military.  They are American in every way except their paperwork.

Why should your Representative support the DREAM Act?

•    Because the public supports it—70%, according to a recent poll by First Focus.

•    Because the military wants it.  Secretary of Defense Bill Gates recently wrote a letter to the DREAM Act’s sponsor in the Senate in support of the DREAM Act.  Retired Gen. Colin Powell has also spoken publicly in favor of the DREAM Act.  The DREAM Act will help the military meet recruitment goals, because one of the ways students will qualify is to serve in the military.

•    Because taxpayers deserve a return on their investment.  Allowing immigrant students to continue their education and achieve their potential will translate into better jobs and higher tax revenue when these promising young people enter the workforce.  A single-minded focus on enforcement, as proposed by anti-immigrant Members of Congress would deny taxpayers this return on investment, and result in higher deficits, cuts in other programs, or higher taxes to pay to deport these immigrant youth.

Call your Representative TODAY and ask him or her to support the DREAM Act.  Call 866-967-6018.

For more information, go here.

A vote is also looming in the Senate. Contact info for your Senators is available here.

PFAW

Illinois sends civil union bill to Governor Quinn

In a 61-52 vote on November 30, the Illinois House approved the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. The Senate followed suit on December 1 with a 32-24 vote. The bill would make civil unions available to Illinoisans as of July 1 of next year.

Equality Illinois celebrated the victory.

On that date, thousands of same-sex couples in Illinois will have access to protections that were previously denied to them, such as emergency medical decision-making, hospital visitation, inheritance rights, and others.  This is a historic moment for our State, and we would not have been able to get here without the extraordinary leadership of the bill's chief sponsors, State Representative Greg Harris and State Senator David Koehler.  Many of our partner organizations and community leaders devoted endless energy to helping pass this bill.  Clergy all around Illinois educated their congregations and even prayed for elected officials to understand the urgency of the protection that civil unions offers.  And our supporters from every corner of the State participated by contacting lawmakers, canvassing, phone banking, writing letters, and making contributions.  This is your victory too.

Governor Quinn has pledged to sign it into law.

Quinn has been an outspoken supporter of the bill, which was co-sponsored by state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, one of two openly gay state legislators. During the recent election, Quinn gambled his political career on the legislation by vowing to pass it and sign it into law. He defeated state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, a staunch conservative, by less than 20,000 votes.

"It's always the right time to do the right thing,"; Quinn said paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr. during a press conference, when asked to address criticism that the state's large debt and high jobless rate should take precedence over social issues.

"My conscience is not kicking me in the shins today," he said. "I believe I did the right thing for the people of Illinois and all those who live in Illinois."

The action in Illinois is an important step forward in the fight for equitable relationship recognition. PFAW welcomes this step but notes that civil unions are no substitute for marriage. Marriage is a state institution recognized in every state, across state lines, and at the federal level. Civil unions are exclusively state-based. Like domestic partnerships, they provide some state benefits, but they are not portable from state-to-state, and they receive no federal recognition. In addition, the separate status of “civil unions” stigmatizes lesbian and gay families as unworthy of perhaps the most basic foundation of our society.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has produced maps that show the successes thus far and the challenges moving forward.

We have won the battle, but we have not yet won the war.

PFAW

Desperate GOP Now Attacks DADT Report

With top leaders of the military and the majority of Americans all calling for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Right is desperately trying to find ways to maintain the ban on gays from serving openly.

After months of emphasizing the need to wait for the Pentagon’s comprehensive report on the impact of allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly in the armed forces, now conservative opponents of repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) have dismissed the report altogether. The Right’s rejection of the Pentagon study is not surprising since the report found that repealing DADT won’t have negative consequences on military effectiveness or cohesion, and that the vast majority of soldiers do not oppose its repeal. According to the report, “69 percent of respondents believe they have already served alongside a gay person” and among “those who believed that, 92 percent said their units were able to work together and 8 percent said the units functioned poorly as a result.”

But the support for repealing DADT by military leaders, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and most Americans can’t overcome the doggedly anti-gay and anti-equality views of many conservative politicians and groups. Instead of considering and evaluating the clear and unequivocal conclusions of the Pentagon study, defenders of DADT decided to target the report itself: rather than studying and assessing the impact on military cohesion and effectiveness, many Republicans say, the report should have been a referendum on the policy.

John McCain, the Senate GOP’s point person on opposition to repealing DADT, essentially asked for an unprecedented referendum to see if the policy should be repealed or not:

“How best are you going to assess the effect on morale and battle effectiveness and retention unless you consult and find out what the view of the troops is?” McCain said in a brief interview on Monday.



"It is not part of the working group's mandate to ask service members the broad question of whether they think DADT should be repealed, which, in effect, would amount to a referendum," Gates said in an October letter to McCain. "I do not believe that military policy decisions ... should be made through a referendum of service members."

McCain went on to attack Gates as a “political appointee who’s never been in the military,” even though Gates is a veteran of the US Air Force and also served in the CIA.

McCain’s support for what would effectively be a referendum also contradicts his previous claim that military leaders should be the ones deciding the future of DADT, telling Chris Matthews: “the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says ‘Senator we ought to change the policy,’ then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to.”

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham sent a similar message, saying that the troops should participate in a referendum on the policy decision:

Graham, who opposes repeal of the ban on gays in uniform, agreed with McCain that the survey “asked the wrong question” of the troops. “The question that needs to be asked of our military is: Do you support repeal? Not how do you repeal, how do you implement repeal,” Graham said.

The Family Research Council also rejected the report outright because it wasn’t a referendum on DADT in a statement:

“Media reports to the effect that a majority of servicemembers ‘would not have a problem’ with homosexuals in the military overlook the fact that the surveys did not ask whether respondents support repeal of the current law. If most servicemembers say that under a different policy, they would continue to attempt to do their job in a professional manner, that is only what we would expect. This does not mean that a new policy would not undermine the overall effectiveness of the force. And if even a small percentage of our armed forces would choose not to re-enlist, or part of the public would choose not to serve in the first place, the impact on the military would be catastrophic.”

Frank Gaffney of the right-wing Center for Security Policy also commented that asking service members’ opinions of serving with openly gay and lesbian members was not enough, and that they should have been polled on DADT itself:

The question occurs: How many of our servicemen and -women will decide they don't want to submit to a "zero-tolerance" enforcement of the new homosexual-friendly regulations that will be promulgated if the present statute proscribing LGBT service is repealed?

Don't expect an answer from the Pentagon "study" that will be released with much fanfare next week - after more than a fortnight of misleading leaks and pre-publication spin. After all, questions Congress expected to have answered about whether folks in uniform would support the law's repeal and, if it occurs, whether they would leave the military were not even asked. We can only infer the answers from questions that were asked, notably about how problematic implementation would be.

With little left to stand on, the Right’s new demand that the repeal of DADT be determined by a poll of the troops, rather than a decision by military and legislative leaders, only demonstrates the desperation of their attacks. Judging by their reaction to the comprehensive report, it is doubtful that they would even accept the results of a hypothetical and unprecedented poll of the troops if it doesn’t conform to their staunchly anti-gay beliefs.

PFAW

The Majority of Americans Want to End Discrimination in the Military. The Tea Party Doesn’t. Who’s the GOP Listening to?

A new Pew Research survey confirms, again, that a large majority of Americans support repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and allowing gay and lesbian Americans to serve openly in the military:

As the Pentagon prepares to release its highly anticipated survey of military personnel about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, most Americans (58%) say they favor allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the armed forces. Fewer than half that number (27%) oppose allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.

These opinions have changed little in recent years. Since 2005 – including three surveys this year – roughly 60% have consistently favored permitting homosexuals to serve openly in the military. There is greater support for permitting gays to serve openly today than there was in 1994, after President Clinton put in place the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. In July of that year, 52% said they favored allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military while 45% said they opposed allowing this.

Pew found that majorities in each age group and education level favor DADT repeal. Large majorities of Democrats and Independents favor repeal, and Republicans are about evenly split. Interestingly, one group that Pew found is resoundingly against allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is people who say they identify with the Tea Party: “Only about four-in-ten (38%) Republicans and Republican leaners who agree with the Tea Party favor allowing gays to serve openly while 48% are opposed.” About half of the Republicans surveyed chose to align themselves with the Tea Party.

The Senate will mostly likely take a final vote on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal after this week’s release of the Pentagon’s report on repeal. A handful of GOP senators have indicated that they’ll vote to get rid of the discriminatory policy in the likely event that the Pentagon’s report supports the move. Pew’s survey is yet another piece of evidence that the senators who continue to back Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell are not supporting the majority of Americans, the needs of the armed forces, or even the preference of the majority of their own party. Instead, in trying to hold on to a discriminatory and failed policy, they pander almost exclusively to the extreme social conservatism of a vocal right-wing movement.
 

PFAW

Republican Judges Against Republican Obstruction

Add another set of voices to the growing chorus of Americans fed up with Republican leaders' unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominations: Federal judges nominated by Republican presidents. According to ThinkProgress:

[Last] week, seven Republican-appointed federal judges co-signed a letter warning of the consequences of the GOP's systematic obstruction of President Obama's judges. The letter [is] from the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit, which includes Republican appointees Alex Kozinski, Ralph Beistline, Vaughn Walker, Irma Gonzales, Frances Marie Tydingco-Gatewood, Richard Frank Cebull, [and] Lonny Ray Suko[.]

The letter states:

In order to do our work, and serve the public as Congress expects us to serve it, we need the resources to carry out our mission. While there are many areas of serious need, we write today to emphasize our desperate need for judges. Our need in that regard has been amply documented ... Courts cannot do their work if authorized judicial positions remain vacant.

While we could certainly use more judges, and hope that Congress will soon approve the additional judgeships requested by the Judicial Conference, we would be greatly assisted if our judicial vacancies - some of which have been open for several years and declared "judicial emergencies" - were to be filled promptly. We respectfully request that the Senate act on judicial nominees without delay.

Americans want a government that works. Why don't Senate Republican leaders agree?

PFAW

Groundswell of Support for Overturning 'Citizens United' Continues

The latest polling on the Citizens United decision reflects the growing public support for overturning the Roberts Court’s ruling. According to a new Public Policy Polling analysis, 46% of Americans agreed that “Congress should consider drastic measures such as a constitutional amendment overturning the recent Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited corporate spending in elections,” while 36% disagreed and one-in-five had not formed an opinion.

A large majority of Americans across party lines disagree with the Citizens United decision, according to poll after poll after poll after poll. Members of both the House and Senate have already introduced constitutional amendments to overturn the ruling and reaffirm Congress’s right to limit corporate spending in elections. As Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), the chief sponsor of one amendment in the House, told the Huffington Post:

A lot of progressives are not accustomed to using the mechanisms of the Constitution. The right has used-- has tried to do that an awful lot of times on a whole range of different things in state legislatures and across the board. And as progressives, we're not accustomed to doing that, and this is one instance, though, where the populist demand is there, and our energy and our policy has to match that demand and a Constitutional amendment does that.

People For the American Way and Public Citizen joined together this election year to support candidates who pledged to back a Constitutional Amendment overturning Citizens United, and are continuing the fight for both constitutional and legislative remedies by advancing bills such as the DISCLOSE Act. Americans are increasingly speaking out against the Court’s far-reaching pro-corporate bent, and calling on Congress to make sure that corporations don’t dominate the political system and drown out the voices of individuals.

PFAW

Empowered GOP Seeks to Sink Immigrant Rights

The Republican Party’s virulently anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies are far from mere political tactics, as GOP members of Congress usher in a radical agenda to rollback the rights of immigrants and their families. Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has appeared with violent vigilante groups and has referred to undocumented immigration as both a “slow-motion Holocaust” and a “slow-motion terrorist attack,” is set to chair the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration. Members of the House Republican Freshman Class, including Pennsylvania’s Tom Marino and Florida’s Allen West, frequently used immigrant-bashing in their campaigns, and Louisiana Senator David Vitter made demonizing immigrants the cornerstone of his reelection campaign.

Two new reports today demonstrate how extreme the Republican Party is moving to not only oppose immigration reform but also to undermine one of the most important protections guaranteed by the US Constitution:

GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the incoming chairman of the subcommittee that oversees immigration, is expected to push a bill that would deny "birthright citizenship" to such children.

The measure, assailed by critics as unconstitutional, is an indication of how the new majority intends to flex its muscles on the volatile issue of illegal immigration.

The idea has a growing list of supporters, including Republican Reps. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove and Dan Lungren of Gold River, but it has aroused intense opposition, as well.

"I don't like it," said Chad Silva, statewide policy analyst for the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. "It's been something that's been a part of America for a very long time. … For us, it sort of flies in the face of what America is about."

Republicans are also gearing up to defeat the DREAM Act, which would allow students and military servicemembers who came into the country illegally as children and have a clean criminal record to gain a pathway to citizenship. Even though the DREAM Act has historically garnered bipartisan support, Politico reports that Republicans on the Hill are trying to deceptively tar the bill as amnesty for criminals:

Already, GOP staffers have begun circulating to senators and conservative groups a white paper outlining what they see as the social and financial costs of passing the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.

“In addition to immediately putting an estimated 2.1 million illegal immigrants (including certain criminal aliens) on a path to citizenship, the DREAM Act would give them access to in-state tuition rates at public universities, federal student loans and federal work-study programs,” said the research paper, being distributed by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.



The bill’s backers, though, say it outlines a “rigorous and lengthy process” for legalization, hardly the amnesty plan that opponents have depicted.

Eligible immigrants must have entered the U.S. before age 16, have been in the country for at least five consecutive years before the bill’s enactment and been at least under age 35 at the time of enactment; been admitted to a college or earned a high-school diploma or GED certificate; and have no serious criminal record.

A recent Rasmussen poll found that a majority of Americans believe that “children brought to the U.S. illegally should get a chance at citizenship if they complete two years of college or participate in the military,” and military leaders have called on Congress to pass the DREAM Act as a way to strengthen the country’s armed forces. A study by UCLA’s North American Integration and Development Center states that the DREAM Act both “offers a moral solution to the trap of being a young, motivated, undocumented immigrant in the U.S.” and is “an economically sensible piece of legislation that advances the interests of U.S. society as a whole.”

However, the extreme anti-immigrant sentiment that is pervasive within the GOP stands in the way of reasonable efforts at reform, and even leads to radical legislation that challenges the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.

PFAW

Editorial Boards From Across the Country Call on Senate to Pass DISCLOSE Act

Even though Republican obstructionism has upheld passage of the DISCLOSE Act in the US Senate twice before, the need to pass the bill has grown more urgent following the midterm election which experienced an onslaught of campaign ads funded by secret money from shadowy groups. The DISCLOSE Act will ensure that organizations who run ads to influence elections reveal to the public their donors, as under current law organizations can hide the identities of all of their donors, damaging transparency and the public’s right to know. In the last vote, 59 US Senators supported bringing the DISCLOSE Act to the Floor for an up-or-down vote, but the Republican minority blocked the vote from taking place.

Newspaper editorial boards from around the US are speaking out, calling for the Senate to act on the DISCLOSE Act:

Miami Herald:

Regardless of which candidates win, voters lose when they are left in the dark about who is signing the checks to pay for the commercials -- mostly, attack ads -- that dominate political campaigns. Disclosure enables voters to make informed decisions about the message and the candidate. Secrecy leaves them clueless.

The remedy lies in the Disclose Act, which the House has passed and is pending in the Senate. It would expand disclosure requirements to help the public know more about the rivers of money pouring into campaigns. Thus far, it has failed to attract any Republican support, but sponsors say they are willing to drop some nonessential provisions -- prohibiting government contractors from making donations, for example -- to attract at least one or two Republicans.

This bill should be at the top of Congress' agenda in the lame-duck session that begins later this month. It's too late to do anything about this year's elections, but it can remove the shield of secrecy before the next round of races in 2012. A failure to act benefits only those who thrive in political darkness.

Charleston Gazette:

The Supreme Court breakthrough even lets businesses hide their identity as they funnel cash to front committees that buy smear ads. To halt this concealment, Democrats in Congress drafted the Disclose Act, which would force big donors out into the daylight. They still could spend freely to buy elections, but they could no longer hide from the public.

The House passed the Disclose Act, but Democrats in the Senate twice could not overcome Republican opposition. "Not a single Senate Republican and only two in the House have been willing to vote for the Disclose Act," the San Jose Mercury News noted.

The Senate is expected to try again after the election -- before more winning Republican senators take their seats. We hope the bill finally passes. It's disgusting that firms now can spend millions of company money to sway elections, under the silly pretext that such spending is free speech. At least, they shouldn't be allowed to hide while they do it.

Kansas City Star:

One solution being offered is the DISCLOSE Act (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections), which passed the U.S. House this summer, but not surprisingly stalled in the Senate.

The act, simply summarized, seeks to force those pumping money into campaigns to take personal responsibility for their actions and not hide behind front organizations.

It must be passed. Specifically, corporations, labor unions and nonprofits would have to disclose their donors, and their leaders would have to appear on their television ads noting "I approve of this message."

Philadelphia Daily News:

The DISCLOSE Act, passed by the House of Representatives last year, would require, among other things, that political donors be publicly identified. The bill has majority support in the U.S. Senate, but twice has been blocked when not one Republican senator would vote to break a filibuster - even senators who have supported campaign-finance reform in the past.

There's one last chance to impose a minimum check on the Wild West environment that campaigns have become: let the disclosure provision of the DISCLOSE Act come to a vote in the "lame duck" session of the Senate that begins next week.
PFAW