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“What Is The GOP Thinking?”: The Nation Will Have To Stand By Until Realists And Ideologues Reach Some Sort Of Understanding

There they go again. Given control of Congress and the chance to frame an economic agenda for the middle class, the first thing Republicans do is tie themselves in knots over . . . abortion and rape.

I’m not kidding. In a week when President Obama used his State of the Union address to issue a progressive manifesto of bread-and-butter policy proposals, GOP leaders responded by taking up the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” — a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. But a vote on the legislation had to be canceled after female GOP House members reportedly balked over the way an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape was limited.

The whole thing was, in sum, your basic 360-degree fiasco.

At least there are some in the party who recognize how much trouble Republicans make for themselves by breaking the armistice in the culture wars and launching battles that cannot be won. It looks as if the nation will have to stand by until GOP realists and ideologues reach some sort of understanding, which may take some time.

It’s important to understand that the “Pain-Capable” bill was never anything more than an act of political fantasy. The only purpose of the planned vote was to create an “event” that the annual antiabortion March for Life, held Thursday in Washington, could celebrate.

You might think the demonstrators already had reason to cheer. The abortion rate is at “historic lows,” having dropped by 13 percent in the decade between 2002 and 2011, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The main reason is that there are fewer unwanted pregnancies, which suggests logically that if Republicans really want to reduce abortion, what they should do is work to increase access to birth control.

More to the point, according to the CDC, only 1.4 percent of abortions take place after 20 weeks. This means the bill, if it somehow became law, would have minimal impact.

But it won’t become law, as everyone in Congress well knows. The White House has announced that Obama would veto the measure, if it ever reached his desk. To get that far, the bill would have to pass the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would have to win over enough Democrats to cross the 60-vote threshold, which is highly unlikely.

Theoretically, though, any ­reasonable-sounding antiabortion measure should at least be able to make it through the House, with its expanded GOP majority. But even in the context of today’s far-right Republican Party, the “Pain-Capable” bill struck many House members, particularly women, as unreasonable.

At issue, apparently, is that, in making exceptions for abortions of pregnancies resulting from rape, the bill specifies that the rape must have been reported to law enforcement. This restriction cannot help but bring to mind the grief Republicans suffered in 2012 over Senate candidate Todd Akin’s appalling attempt to distinguish between “legitimate rape” and some other kind of rape.

Although the House leadership maintained that all was sweetness and light, reporters heard rumblings Wednesday that the bill was in trouble with moderate Republicans, especially women. Then an unusual number of female GOP House members was seen leaving the offices of the majority whip. Then the bill was pulled and a different antiabortion measure — prohibiting federal funding for abortions — was substituted.

I should note that there is no generally accepted scientific basis for the premise of the “Pain-Capable” bill. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said there is no legitimate research supporting the idea that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks.

I understand that, for those who believe in their hearts that abortion is murder, there is an imperative to do something, anything, to stop it. Some people have similar moral passion about capital punishment or the thousands of lives lost each year to gun violence.

Given that the Supreme Court has decided abortion is a legally protected right, the antiabortion movement has done what it could — made abortions very difficult to obtain in some states where the pro-life position has sufficient support. Hooting and hollering on Capitol Hill do nothing for abortion opponents except fleece them of campaign contributions.

People, we are in an economic recovery whose fruits are not reaching the middle class. We have a crucial need to address U.S. infrastructure and competitiveness. We face myriad challenges abroad, including Islamic terrorism and global warming.

If a renewal of the culture wars is your answer, Republicans, you totally misheard the question.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 22, 2015

 

January 27, 2015 Posted by | Abortion, Culture Wars, GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP Wants To Define Rape… Again”: How Lindsey Graham Reawakened The Ghost Of Todd Akin

Ah, Lindsey Graham. The South Carolina senator who says he’s thinking about running for president no doubt thought he was helping the GOP get beyond its meltdown over its 20-week abortion ban bill, which leadership dropped unexpectedly when some GOP congresswomen balked, by asking antiabortion zealots attending the “March for Life” to help him “find a way out of this definitional problem with rape.”

One major issue with the bill was the way it defined rape: a women would have to have made a police report in order to get an abortion under the bill’s rape exception. (Katie McDonough has the details here.) Most rape victims don’t report the crime.

So Graham went to the “March for Life” today and came clean with the group, which is seething over its betrayal by GOP leadership. There’s going to be some kind of rape exception in the bill, and he needs their input to shape it.

“I’m going to need your help to find a way out of this definitional problem with rape,” Graham told the marchers, according to Dave Weigel.  ”We need to find a consensus position on the rape exception. The rape exception will be part of the bill. We just need to find a way definitionally to not get us into a spot where we’re debating what legitimate is. That’s not the cause. We’re not here debating legitimate rape. We’re talking about saving babies at 20 weeks.”

So there it is again, the GOP’s lust for getting into the gritty details of defining rape, to make sure slutty women aren’t using rape exceptions to get around various types of abortion bans. That’s what former Rep. Todd Akin was getting at in 2012, when he talked about women rarely becoming pregnant as a result of “legitimate rape,” because  “a woman’s body has a way of shutting that whole thing down.” As you’ll recall, instead, women shut the GOP down that November. Republicans don’t want that to happen again in 2016.

The funny thing is, clearly Graham thinks he’s smarter than Akin: he insists he doesn’t “want to get us into a spot where we’re debating what legitimate is.” But he doesn’t seem to understand that the whole effort to “define” rape, which he’s apparently now spearheading, is precisely about deciding whether a woman’s claim of rape is “legitimate” or not.

At its heart, this Republican project is predicated on the belief that women lie about rape, but Republicans can outsmart them. If some Republican women believe that requiring women to make a police report is draconian, then Graham is searching for another way to define a woman’s rape as legitimately deserving of an exception to their 20-week abortion ban.

Rep. Renee Ellmers, who supported the very same bill in 2013, had second thoughts this time around. “We got into trouble last year, and I think we need to be careful again; we need to be smart about how we’re moving forward,” Ellmers told National Journal. ”The first vote we take, or the second vote, or the fifth vote, shouldn’t be on an issue where we know that millennials — social issues just aren’t as important [to them].”

So Ellmers is not exactly the picture of integrity here. She’s not worried about passing a terrible bill that could hurt women; she’s worried about how it looks to millennial voters.

Still, there looks to be a real split between GOP congressional men and women over the issue. Only women came forward to take their names off the bill; then male leadership acquiesced to withdraw it from consideration. Reportedly the party had the votes to pass the bill in the House at least, but Speaker John Boehner and others were concerned about the “optics” of ignoring women in the caucus.

I guess that’s a kind of progress for women’s rights, albeit tiny. But in walks Lindsey Graham to try to mansplain the right way to handle this whole rape “definition,” and even as he thinks he’s helping, he’s making his party’s problems much worse.

I never thought Graham had a prayer of winning the presidency, or even the GOP nomination, but his chances just got a lot worse. Republicans did well in 2014 by avoiding Akin-like controversies over defining rape and holding forth on the intimate workings of women’s bodies generally. It seems they just can’t help themselves, and that’s good for Democrats generally in 2016.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, January 22, 2015

January 26, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Lindsey Graham, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There Are Things You Simply Don’t Do”: Boehner Willing To Partner With A Foreign Government To Undermine American Foreign Policy

On the record, President Obama and his team have said very little about congressional Republicans partnering with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to derail international nuclear talks with Iran. Administration officials said the president will not meet with Netanyahu during his March trip, but that’s only to prevent the appearance of interference with the Israeli election to be held two weeks later.

Behind the scenes, however, it seems the White House isn’t pleased.

“Senior American official” as quoted by Haaretz: “We thought we’ve seen everything. But Bibi managed to surprise even us. There are things you simply don’t do. He spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.”

Josh Marshall added that even American Jewish groups “who seldom allow any daylight between themselves and the Israeli government appear shocked by Netanyahu’s move and are having difficulty defending it.”

There are things you simply don’t do.

I’ve been thinking about why this story strikes me as so important, and I realize that on the surface, it may not seem shocking to everyone. Republicans oppose the diplomacy with Iran; Netanyahu opposes the diplomacy with Iran. Perhaps their partnership was predictable?

Sure, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) ignored U.S. protocol by circumventing the administration and reaching out to a foreign leader on his own, but given the degree to which Republicans have abandoned traditional norms in the Obama era, maybe this isn’t that startling, either.

The problem, however, which I fear has been largely overlooked, is that it’s genuinely dangerous for the federal government to try to operate this way.

I’m reminded of an incident from August, near the height of the crisis involving Central American children reaching the U.S. border, when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) traveled to Guatemala. While there, the senator met with leading Guatemalan officials, including their president, and told them that the problem was Obama’s problem, not theirs.

In other words, an American senator visited with foreign leaders on foreign soil, denounced the American president, and undermined American foreign policy. During the Bush/Cheney era, Republicans used to characterize such moves as borderline treasonous.

Five months later, the GOP en masse is working to cut off American-led international talks at the knees.

The point, of course, is that in the Obama era, Republicans have no use for the maxim about politics stopping “at the water’s edge.” For many GOP lawmakers, there is no American foreign policy – there’s the president’s foreign policy and there’s a Republican foreign policy. If the latter is at odds with the former, GOP officials are comfortable taking deliberate steps to undermine the White House.

There is no real precedent for this in the American tradition. The U.S. system just isn’t supposed to work this way – because it can’t. Max Fisher’s take on this rings true:

To be very clear, this is not just a breach of protocol: it’s a very real problem for American foreign policy. The Supreme Court has codified into law the idea that only the president is allowed to make foreign policy, and not Congress, because if there are two branches of government setting foreign policy then America effectively has two foreign policies.

The idea is that the US government needs to be a single unified entity on the world stage in order to conduct effective foreign policy. Letting the president and Congress independently set their own foreign policies would lead to chaos. It would be extremely confusing for foreign leaders, and foreign publics, who don’t always understand how domestic American politics work, and could very easily misread which of the two branches is actually setting the agenda.

All of which leads us back to this week. The United States and our allies have reached a delicate stage of diplomacy on a key issue, but as far as congressional Republicans are concerned, the United States isn’t really at the negotiating table at all – the Obama administration is. GOP lawmakers not only disapprove of the process, and they not only have no qualms about trying to sabotage the international talks, they’re even willing to partner with a foreign government to undermine American foreign policy.

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I honestly don’t think this has ever happened before, at least not in our country. In effect, Boehner has invited Netanyahu to play the legislative branch of the U.S. government against the executive branch of the U.S. government, and the Israeli prime minister is happy to accept that invitation.

Cynicism about our politics is easy, but this isn’t just the latest outrage of the week. We’re talking about the ability of the United States to conduct foreign policy.

There are things you simply don’t do – and right now, Republicans are doing them.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 23, 2015

January 25, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Israel, John Boehner | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Latest Hostage”: Fact-Checking Republicans On Social Security Disability

We’re going to be hearing a lot about the Social Security Disability program over the next few months. That’s because it is the latest “hostage” the Republicans have decided to use as leverage to get President Obama and Democrats to give them what they want. You can read more about all that here, but it comes down to this:

The largely overlooked change puts a new restriction on the routine transfer of tax revenues between the traditional Social Security retirement trust fund and the Social Security disability program. The transfers, known as reallocation, had historically been routine…

The House GOP’s rule change would still allow for a reallocation from the retirement fund to shore up the disability fund — but only if an accompanying proposal “improves the overall financial health of the combined Social Security Trust Funds,” per the rule…While that language is vague, experts say it would likely mean any reallocation would have to be balanced by new revenues or benefit cuts.

As you can see, its simply the GOP’s latest version of, “give us what we want, or else…”

In order to prime the pump, Republicans are already attempting to take on the “slackers” who rely on the disability program. Exhibit A: Sen. Rand Paul.

The first thing I’d like to point out is that – from these remarks – it appears as though Sen. Paul assumes that only those disabilities that are visible physically are real disabilities. We all know that is not true.

But PolitiFact did a thorough job of fact-checking Sen. Paul’s statements. And in so doing, provided us with a lot of information that is going to come in very handy as this whole hostage situation unfolds. On the overall accusations of wide-spread fraud, waste and abuse, here are the facts:

After an audit of disability insurance in 2013, the Government Accountability Office estimated that in fiscal year 2011, the Social Security Administration made $1.29 billion in potential cash benefit overpayments to about 36,000 individuals who were working and making more than $1,100 a month (the limit to receive disability benefits).

The 36,000 people receiving improper payments, while a lot on paper, represent about 0.4 percent of all beneficiaries, the report said.

There are other ways Social Security gives out benefits to those not deserving, but paying people already working is about 72 percent of the problem, according to the Social Security Administration. Factoring that in, the GAO estimates overpayments equaled $1.62 billion, or 1.27 percent of all disability benefits, in 2011. It’s a lot of money, but the disability program is a $128 billion program.

Got that? The level of fraud we’re talking about is 1.27% of benefits paid. As a friend of mine would say, “Now run and tell that!”

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 17, 2015

January 19, 2015 Posted by | Republicans, Social Security, Social Security Disability Fund | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Glaring Symbol Of What You Stand For”: Hey GOP, Please Keep Steve Scalise At The Top Of Your Junk Pile

The Republican Party’s strategy for reaching across the cultural and racial divide, in an effort to expand its tent for the next major national election, is to throw its full support behind embattled Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise who, by his own admission, spoke in 2002 to The European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO), a white supremacist group founded by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Scalise claims he did not at the time know the origin of the group or Duke’s involvement.

Scalise, who as Majority Whip is the GOP’s 3rd highest ranking representative, told a reporter almost 20 years ago while running for office that he was like “David Duke without the baggage.” Was this simple pandering to a key voting block or a much clearer window into the man’s political and moral psyche? Either way, he knew exactly who he was targeting.

As House Republicans vote Tuesday to elect its leaders, many on the right have been all too quick to defend Scalise’s utterly implausible story, even blaming Democrats for the controversy. Speaking on MSNBC’s Hardball Monday evening, Republican strategist and former Dick Cheney advisor Ron Christie said: “I think the Democrats are being disgraceful in the way that they’re playing the race card. The Democrats are dividing this country…” he said, while specifically naming DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

In a statement released Monday, Wasserman Schultz said: “As the new Congress begins, nothing discredits Republican claims of ‘outreach’ and bringing people together more than their decision to keep Steve Scalise at the top tier of the elected leadership of their caucus…Anyone living in this century should have known better than to attend and speak at a white supremacist event, particularly one founded and led by David Duke, and Scalise’s explanation that he wasn’t aware isn’t credible by a long shot.”

And Earnest, during Monday’s White House press briefing, said: “There’s no arguing that who Republicans decide to elevate into a leadership position says a lot about what the conference’s priorities and values are.”

So let’s get this straight: what riles Republican officials is not that their party has racists, who do and say despicable things, but rather the Democrats who make public their words and actions. Welcome to 2015, where condemning racism is playing the race card.

To the GOP I say, please keep Steve Scalise in his leadership post. Leave him up there as a glaring symbol of what your party stands for. Let Americans know who you support. Who you defend. Who you reward with power. Who you call a “man of character.”

 

By: Andy Ostroy, The Blog, The Huffington Post, January 6, 2015

January 7, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Racism, Steve Scalise | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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