Later this month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in one of the most closely-watched cases in its history: the challenge to the 2010 Affordable Care Act. But in the weeks leading up to those arguments, another fight will be taking place in the U.S. Senate on an issue that in many ways parallels the health care debate, and offers an even clearer view of what have become the policy priorities of the Republican Party.
Since Obama became president, Republicans in Congress have made a clear and conscious choice to kill any attempts to cooperate with him to create solutions for the American people. They have chosen instead to devote themselves to be the party of opposing President Obama - on every issue, big and small. In doing so, they have thrown out not only the trust of the people who elected them, but many of their own formerly held principles.
Even ideas that originally came from Republicans, once adopted by the president become grounds for all-out partisan attacks. One such Republican idea was the individual mandate, which is now at the center of the legal and political challenges to the Affordable Care Act.
Ironically, the judicial branch - to which Republicans are turning with hopes that the policy they came up with is declared unconstitutional - is also at the heart of another stunning turnaround. Republicans used to talk about the importance of bipartisan cooperation in ensuring a fair and functioning judiciary. But that changed abruptly in January 2009, when the political party of the president changed.
When it comes to health care reform, Republicans have chosen to ignore their previous positions in an effort to stick it to the president.
When it comes to the functioning of the federal courts, they have so far chosen to do the same.
This week, Republicans in the Senate, after three years of obstructing nominees to the U.S. courts -- contributing to a historic vacancy crisis that affects over 160 million Americans -- will have to make the same choice. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced he will file petitions to end the filibusters of 17 nominees to district courts around the country, most long-stalled and unopposed. These, plus the two Obama nominees who have already been filibustered, represent nearly ten times the number of district court nominees who were filibustered under the last two presidents combined. The cumbersome process to end these filibusters will, if Republicans don't relent, tie up the Senate through early April.
During George W. Bush's presidency, Senate Republicans were near-universal in their condemnation of the filibusters of some of Bush's most extreme judicial nominees. Many went so far as to claim that filibustering judicial nominees was unconstitutional.
Once President Obama moved into the White House, it was remarkable how fast they changed their tune. They went overnight from decrying judicial filibusters, to using them wantonly -- not just to stall nominees to whom they found objections, but to stall all nominees , even those whom they favor. At this point in Bush's presidency, the average district court nominee waited 22 days between approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee and a vote from the full Senate. Under President Obama, the average wait has been more than four times longer - over three months.
This is gridlock for gridlock's sake: once Republicans allow them to come to a vote, the vast majority of the president's nominees have been confirmed with overwhelming bipartisan support, demonstrating that the opposition to these nominees was never about their qualifications.
This is more than an inside the beltway partisan game -- it has helped to create a historic vacancy crisis in the federal courts. Approximately one in ten federal courtrooms today sits empty because of Senate inaction. These vacancies create unmanageable workloads for sitting judges, which in turn cause unacceptable delays for Americans seeking their day in court. The Republican Party has been so intent on obstructing President Obama's agenda that they've been willing to sacrifice the smooth functioning of America's courts
. The health care debate highlights the importance of appointing judges who place their duty to the Constitution over a partisan agenda. But it also crystallizes the agenda of opposition that has caused the Republican Party to go off the deep end. When a party's only principle is to be opposed to the other party's agenda, it's the American people who end up paying the price.
As the 2012 presidential campaign gears up, PFAW Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin has collected an extensive glossary of the Right Wing’s favorite rhetoric about the Supreme Court and the Constitution. Sen. Raskin's Daily Kos piece explains the coded phrases and euphemisms, such as “federalism,” “legislating from the bench” and “original intent,” that the Right Wing uses to project their political agenda onto the Founding Fathers’ vision for America.
Here’s an excerpt :
“Follow the Law, Not Make the Law” – Right -Wing Usage: What Republican judges and justices do and what Republican judicial nominees will do, e.g., “It’s only a matter of time before our five justices who follow the law and don’t make the law strike down the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and step up the campaign to invalidate jury verdicts and punitive damages in the states.” Preferred Usage: Essentially meaningless campaign rhetoric used to describe judges who toe the right-wing corporate line, e.g., “I hope they follow the law, instead of making it, and cut our jury verdict down to a price that won’t cost us so much freedom of speech.”
You can read the whole glossary here.
Over the past few weeks, more progressive elected officials are not just voting against ALEC inspired legislation that would privatize public services and make a few people very rich, they are calling it out by name and raising awareness of how ALEC serves as a vehicle to enact a corporate wish list into law in states across the country.
“Exactly who did the Republicans in the legislature listen to? Well, three of the four bills come right from this manual, Tort Reform Boot Camp, published by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. This is the same group who reportedly provided legislators last week with all-expense paid trips to a posh Florida hotel for what they call an “education policy conference.” It is an extremely conservative group, funded largely by large corporations, big business associations, insurance companies and very wealthy individuals. I’ve found that Minnesotans do not want their laws written by the lobbyists of big corporations.
“Since these Republican bills so closely follow ALEC’s instructions on tort reform, and since ALEC’s opinion on these subjects are evidently more important to Republican legislators than mine, their fellow legislator’s or the Supreme Court’s, perhaps they would share with us all of the other ALEC boot camp manuals, so we can know in advance what to expect from them for the rest of this session. If Republicans want to continue to prove to Minnesotans that they are too extreme to lead, they should continue to throw ALEC’s ideology at us. If they want to begin to govern responsibly, and work collaboratively, pass real jobs legislation – and my three measures have not even been taken up – real jobs legislations that will put Minnesotans back to work, then I’m ready to work with them. And I’m waiting.”
Just last week, Wisconsin State Representative Mark Pocan (D) decided to take action as well. He joined ALEC to gain access to the bill templates, and then took to the floor to expose the origins of AB110, a bill that would damage the public education system by giving special taxpayer subsidies to private schools for special needs children.
“This is part of dismantling public education in Wisconsin, and Florida, and Ohio, and every single state it’s introduced in,” Pocan explained. “This bill doesn’t come from this body, this bill is an identical bill that’s been introduced brought by special interests by ALEC and introduced state by state by state.”
ALEC’s secret jig is up. The American people don’t want their laws to be written by corporations, and they’ve made their voices heard. Now, our elected representatives – that is, the ones who are actually representing us, not wealthy special interests – are taking a stand too. ALEC’s pro- corporate agenda can only advance if kept secret. Kudos to those elected officials with the courage to shine the spotlight on this undemocratic organization.
I am a single parent.
According to the right, I am also a leech on society and pose a danger to my own son.
A new bill proposed by a Republican state legislator in Wisconsin would officially label single parents like me a "contributing factor to child abuse and neglect." When radio host Alan Colmes asked the bill's author, Glenn Grothman, to explain himself, Grossman said that women become single parents in order to live off the government, and then lie about it and say they got pregnant by accident.
As far as I know, Sen. Grothman's the first one to try to write the Single Moms Conspiracy theory into law, but he's far from the first one to think it. Bashing single moms has been a mainstay of right-wing politics for decades. Perhaps this is because it combines two of the right's favorite activities: publicly judging the family lives of others and scapegoating.
One of the most enthusiastic purveyors of the Single Moms Conspiracy theory has been Rick Santorum. Mother Jones today put together a collection of some of his early comments on single parenthood. During his 1994 Senate race, Santorum said, "We are seeing the fabric of this country fall apart, and it's falling apart because of single moms." A month later, he accused single mothers of "simply breeding more criminals."
Santorum hasn't exactly stepped back from his claim that single moms are ruining America. In October, he said that the Democratic Party's support base is single mothers with a "desire for government." At a GOP debate in December, he said that single moms aren't marrying their boyfriends because they want to keep on collecting welfare.
What's remarkable is that the same people pushing the theory that single parents are ruining America are also doing everything in their power to keep women from having access to birth control and to keep gay and lesbian parents from getting married. For them, this isn't about improving women's and children's lives: it's about creating a scapegoat.
Research shows that the key to raising healthy children is stability, not the number or gender of their parents. Kids who have parents that come and go face greater risk than kids who have only one parent throughout their lives that they can rely on to be there. If politicians like Rick Santorum want to promote stable families, they should start by respecting all families.
I can think of a lot of things that are making "the fabric of this country fall apart." Loving single parents are not one of them.
Lara Bergthold chairs People For the American Way's Board of Directors.
Ralph Reed reached out to Rush Limbaugh via Twitter yesterday and accepted his apology. "Apology accepted. Let's move on," he said -- a magnanimous gesture had Rush Limbaugh actually apologized to Ralph Reed. Too bad that, despite the too quick headlines, Limbaugh not only hadn't apologized to Reed -- he hadn't really apologized to anyone at all.
Instead, Reed and Limbaugh, with the backing of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, started up the ole vast right-wing fake apology machine -- designed to temporarily quell a too hot controversy while at the same time not giving an inch.
Unfortunately for them, after too much use of the fake apology, people are catching on.
Although considered by some in the GOP to be a little too rough around the edges, Rush Limbaugh has always been considered a net asset to Republicans. Like fellow right-wing shock-jocks Glenn Beck and Bryan Fischer, he reaches a wide audience with toxic sludge that is ultimately helpful to the Republican Party, saying all the things that fire up the right-wing base, but that the politicians wouldn't want to be caught saying themselves. But Limbaugh has a peculiar kind of power -- no matter how outrageous his comments, members of the establishment Right tiptoe around him, afraid that his toxic words might one day be directed at them. George Will said it best: "They want to bomb Iran, but they're afraid of Rush Limbaugh."
The latest boot-up of the right-wing apology machine began when Limbaugh called Georgetown University law student and contraception coverage advocate Sandra Fluke a "slut," saying "She wants to be paid to have sex." And, as if contraception was sold by the gallon or the pound, he added, "She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception."
President Obama immediately stepped up, calling Fluke to check in and encourage her after she had been smeared on national radio.
Rick Santorum, in contrast, called Limbaugh's comments "absurd," but then reasoned that "an entertainer can be absurd... He's in a very different business than I am."
Mitt Romney's response was flimsier and even more timid. Asked about it while shaking hands at a rally, he said that it was "not the language I would have used." Apparently, he had no problem with Limbaugh saying that birth control advocates want the government to pay for them to have sex. He would just use different words.
Finally, Limbaugh himself fake-apologized. "I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke," he said -- before blaming the left and going on to repeat his accusation that she was "discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress."
"I wouldn't have use those words" is the new "I apologize if anyone was offended."
Ms. Fluke did not accept Limbaugh's fake-apology. Ralph Reed, however, accepted it on her behalf. Republican leaders can't be responsible for everything that comes out of the mouths of every right-wing blowhard. But if they want to be president they can be expected to provide clear responses when comments like Limbaugh's are this outrageous, instead of hiding their heads in the sand hoping that the public exposure of these outrages will go away. How hard is it to say that women who advocate for insurance coverage for contraceptives should be heard and shouldn't be called prostitutes for stating their position on the topic? Is it really worth compromising basic decency to stay in the good graces of Rush Limbaugh?
The Republican Party is increasingly buoyed by a small base whose values are antithetical to those of most other Americans. If they want to survive politically, they are going to have to stand up and no longer be fake apologists for the likes of Rush Limbaugh.
More mainstays of the Republican establishment announced their endorsement of Mitt Romney over the weekend. However, it’s not just the current faces of the party like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senator Tom Coburn who have tipped their hats; Romney is also registering the support of ghosts of GOP past: Bush Administration attorney general John Ashcroft.
Romney is apparently trying to court as many extremists to his campaign as possible – the addition of Ashcroft dovetails closely with the fringe views of his legal adviser, the rejected Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.
As attorney general, Ashcroft oversaw a relentless assault on Americans’ civil liberties. He approved warrantless wiretapping, secret military tribunals, racial profiling, aggressively implemented the PATRIOT Act, and created the “enemy combatant” status in an attempt to justify ignoring the Constitution in order to indefinitely detain terrorism suspects without charges.
Many of Ashcroft’s longstanding views still sit squarely with current GOP priorities:
Ashcroft’s own words perfectly sum up his policy positions:
“There are voices in the Republican Party today who preach pragmatism, who champion conciliation, who counsel compromise. I stand here today to reject those deceptions. If ever there was a time to unfurl the banner of unabashed conservatism, it is now.” --April 10, 1998
If Mitt Romney shares Ashcroft’s extremist sentiments, he will be unable to unite the country should he win the nomination. Ashcroft’s open hostility to the Bill of Rights has no place in this campaign.
However, singing lessons are always welcome.
The full video is here.
Earlier this week a Great Falls Tribune reporter found something startling in his inbox: a shockingly racist and misogynistic email forwarded from the most powerful federal judge in Montana, which "joked" that the president of the United States was the product of his mother having sex with a dog. The story soon became national news, with groups like ours calling on Judge Richard Cebull to resign. Cebull quickly apologized to the president and submitted himself to a formal ethics review, somewhat quelling the story. But the story is about more than one judge doing something wildly inappropriate and deeply disturbing. It's about a conservative movement in which the bile and animosity directed at the president -- and even his family -- are so poisonous that even someone who should know better easily confuses political criticism and sick personal attack. Come on: going after the president's late mother? Attempting to explain his email forward, Judge Cebull told the reporter, John S. Adams,
The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan. I didn't send it as racist, although that's what it is. Is sent it out because it's anti-Obama.
Judge Cebull is hardly alone in using the old "I'm not racist, but..." line. In fact, his email was the result of an entire movement built on "I'm not racist, but..." logic that equates disagreement with and dislike of the president with broad-based, racially charged smears. These smears, tacitly embraced by the GOP establishment, are more than personal shots at the president -- they're attacks on the millions of Americans who make up our growing and changing country. Mainstream conservatives have genuine objections to President Obama's priorities and policies. But since he started running for president, a parallel movement has sprung up trying to paint Obama as an outsider and an imposter -- in unmistakably racially charged terms. Too often, the two movements have intersected. The effort to paint Obama as a threatening foreigner sprung up around the right-wing fringe in the run-up to the 2008 election with the typically muddled conspiracy theory that painted him as both a secret Muslim and a member of an America-hating church. They soon coalesced in the birther movement, which even today is championed by a strong coalition of state legislators and a certain bombastic Arizona sheriff. But the birther movement, the "secret Muslim" meme and the idea that the president of the United States somehow hates his own country are no longer confined to the less visible right-wing fringe. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, until recently a frontrunner in the GOP presidential race, continually hammers on the president's otherness, most notably criticizing his "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior." Rick Santorum flatly claims that Obama does not have the Christian faith that he professes, and eagerly courted the endorsement of birther leader Sheriff Joe Arpaio. And before they dropped out, Rick Perry and Herman Cain couldn't resist flirting with birtherism. But perhaps more than either of these fringe-candidates-turned-frontrunners, Mitt Romney has been catering to the strain of conservatism that deliberately confuses policy disagreements with racially-charged personal animosity. Romney went in front of TV cameras to smilingly accept the endorsement of Donald Trump, whose own failed presidential campaign was based on demanding the president's readily available birth certificate. And Gov. Romney continually attacks Obama -- falsely -- for going around the world "apologizing for America." Judge Cebull needs to take responsibility for his own actions. And if the GOP has any aspirations of providing real leadership to this country, it needs to jettison the deeply personal vitriol being direct against Barack Obama and start talking about real issues. When a federal judge has seen so much racially-charged propaganda against the president of the United States that he can claim not to know the difference between genuine disagreement and offensive personal smears, something in our discourse has gone terribly awry.
Attacking President Obama for his supposed “hostility” to religious liberty is the tactic du jour for congressional Republicans, according to a new piece in the Huffington Post by PFAW Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery.
After a widely-mocked hearing before the House Oversight Committee on contraceptive coverage, conservatives testifying before the Judiciary Committee continued to claim that the Obama Administration’s compromise on contraceptive coverage is not sufficient – and even if were, the Administration couldn’t be trusted to actually carry it out.
But many of their arguments relied on narrow definitions of the beginning of life that are at odds with medical standards and even with the rest of the religious community:
The arguments from Republican members and their witnesses boiled down to three main claims: the regulations requiring contraception coverage are unconstitutional burdens on religious organizations; the compromise to prevent religious organizations from having to pay for contraceptive coverage is only "an accounting gimmick" that does not resolve any of the moral or religious liberty issues; and the Obama administration has proven itself hostile to religious liberty and cannot be trusted to follow through on its promised accommodation.
...Several Democratic members pointedly noted that Lori was not speaking for all Catholic leaders, placing into the record positive statements about the proposed compromise from the Catholic Health Association, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, and other Catholic groups. Meanwhile, outside the hearing, other Catholic voices challenged the credibility of the bishops' religious liberty alarmism.
Others cited fallacious examples to attempt to bolster their claim of lacking religious accomodation.
Also on hand: more nonsensical analogies to join Bishop Lori's previous testimony that the regulations were akin to forcing a Jewish deli to serve pork. Committee Chair Lamar Smith asked whether the government could force people to drink red wine for its health benefits. (As Rep. Zoe Lofgren noted, no one is being forced to use birth control.) Religious Right favorite Rep. Steve King lamented that in the past Christians had "submitted" to Supreme Court decision on prayer in schools and the Griswold decision and the right to privacy "manufactured" by the Supreme Court.
The piece goes on to discuss how religious liberty does require some accommodation of religious beliefs, and striking an appropriate balance is a delicate task. But whatever the outcome, Montgomery notes, the courts will evaluate the regulation of competing interests, and “religious liberty in America will survive.” You can read the entire article here.
In a 51-48 vote today, the Senate rejected an amendment to the transportation bill by Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt that would have allowed employers to deny their employees health insurance coverage for any treatment for any reason.
“The Blunt amendment was not only astoundingly bad public policy, it represented a fundamental misreading of the First Amendment. If it became law, it would have put working Americans – regardless of their religious beliefs – at the mercy of the religious beliefs of their employers. That’s not religious liberty – in fact, it’s exactly the opposite,” said PFAW president Michael Keegan in a statement released earlier today.
The extremity of this amendment wasn’t lost on every member of the GOP. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) voted against the amendment, and even major presidential contender Mitt Romney opposed the bill:
“I’m not for the bill, but look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife, I’m not going there.”
But of course, after remembering that perpetuating the War on Women is one of the GOP’s primary tactics this year, he reversed course in record time:
“Of course I support the Blunt amendment. I thought he was talking about some state law that prevented people from getting contraception so I was simply — misunderstood the question and of course I support the Blunt amendment.”
The American people, and in particular the 20 million American Women whose reproductive health coverage would have been jeopardized by the Blunt Amendment, are quickly losing patience for the type of brazen politicking that puts pandering to the extreme right-wing over the legitimate needs of the country.