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“A Subject They’ve Avoided So Far”: Dear Anderson Cooper: Make The Candidates Talk About Voting Rights

Dear Anderson Cooper,

As you prepare to moderate the coming Republican town hall, there is one subject that has not been discussed in a single Republican debate—voting rights. You have an opportunity to be the FIRST debate moderator to seek their views on the future of the Voting Rights Act and the problem of voter suppression—critical issues in this election year.

First a bit of history. For decades, Republicans were proud to be known as “the party of Lincoln” and many played a key role in creating and then later defending the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act. The original act was written in the office of Republican Minority Leader Senator Everett Dirksen, who joined with President Lyndon Johnson’s lawyers to craft a bill that would win bipartisan support. They were successful: 92 percent of Senate Republicans supported the passage of the act, a number greater than Senate Democrats (73 percent, the disparity explained by Southern segregationists who were still Democrats).

When the act’s temporary provisions came up for renewal in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 2006, Republican Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and George W. Bush signed the bill into law, despite the fact that each now courted former Southern Democrats who had joined the Republican Party because of the 1960s Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. The Voting Rights Act had liberated African Americans, especially in the South, from the legal constraints that had prevented them from voting, and members of the House and Senate, including Republicans, sought their votes. Congress overwhelmingly supported passage of the act each time it came up for a vote. In 2006, every member of the U.S. Senate voted for it.

The Voting Rights Act helped elect our first African-American president in 2008 and the minority coalition President Obama built persuaded Republicans that the only way they could win the presidency was through voter suppression. Following the Republican congressional victory in 2010 (Republicans now controlled both legislative bodies in 26 states, and 26 governorships), Republican legislatures passed and governors enacted a series of laws designed to make voting more difficult for Obama’s constituency—minorities, especially the growing Hispanic community; the poor; students; and the elderly or handicapped. These included the creation of voter photo ID laws, measures affecting registration and early voting, and, in Iowa and Florida, laws to prevent ex-felons from exercising their franchise. Democrats were stunned. “There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens in voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today,” said former President Bill Clinton in July 2011. Then, in 2013, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority struck down a crucial provision of the Voting Rights Act, weakening it severely. Once again the voting rights of American minorities were in peril and they remain so today.

A bipartisan group in the House has drafted a new Voting Rights Act, but Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, believes the bill is unnecessary. House Speaker Paul Ryan, although a supporter of the legislation, refuses to force Goodlatte to hold hearings.

So much for history. How do today’s current Republican presidential contenders stand on the issue of voter suppression?

Donald Trump apparently has no position on the issue. He’s said nothing about it during the nine previous debates, although in fairness, not a single moderator has sought his views. His website—donaldjtrump.com—describes his positions on U.S.-China Trade reform; Veterans Administration reforms; tax reform; Second Amendment rights; and immigration reform. But it is silent on voting rights. You might ask him what he thinks.

Despite Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s pleasant demeanor, he is no friend of voting rights. As governor, he enacted the law that significantly limited opportunities for early voting and abolished same-day voter registration. Each had made it easier for all Ohioans to vote.

Jeb Bush has a questionable record on voting rights. In 2000 the then-governor of Florida helped to elect his brother president by purging 12,000 Floridians from the voting rolls when they were mistakenly designated felons and denied the right to vote. Later, authentic ex-felons had to seek the governor’s permission to again cast their votes and while almost 400,000 submitted applications during Bush’s governorship, only one-fifth won the right to vote again. When CNN’s Eugene Scott asked Bush in October 2015 if he supported a reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, Bush replied that since “access to voting” had improved “dramatica[lly],” he would not support restoring the act.

The other Floridian in the race, Sen. Marco Rubio, believes that his constituents should not be allowed to vote in federal elections without first showing a government-issued voter ID, although evidence of voter fraud has been shown to be almost nonexistent. The senator has also opposed early voting and allowing nonviolent ex-felons to again have the right to vote.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s website (tedcruz.org) offers a litany of his achievements—protecting the Ten Commandments, the Cross, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Second Amendment—and provides a chance to “Get Cruz Gear:” cups, glasses, cell phone covers, caps, and sweatshirts bearing the campaign logo. But the website is silent on voting rights. Nevertheless, Cruz’s various public statements make it clear that he is rabidly opposed to making it easier for Texans to vote. He is a fierce supporter of Texas’s voting rights programs, which The Nation’s Ari Berman calls “the strictest in the country.” They include an official photo ID (a concealed handgun license is acceptable but not a student ID). The ACLU’s Voting Right’s Project found that approximately 600,000 Texans, predominately minorities and the poor, lack the documents needed to vote, documents which are too expensive or time consuming to acquire. For many Texans, going to the polls is no longer a practical option and they have chosen not to vote. It is tragic that such programs are supported by a Canadian-born son of a Cuban immigrant.

Finally, there is retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. He often urges us to visit his website, bencarson.com, where he promises to lay out his detailed proposals. A visit there finds his views on cyber security, education, energy, foreign policy/national defense, government reform, health care, immigration, and more. But nothing on voting rights. That’s a bit strange because he has publicly mentioned the Voting Rights Act. To CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, he said: “Of course I want the Voting Rights Act to be protected. Whether we still need it or not, or whether we’ve outgrown the need for it is questionable. Maybe we have, maybe we haven’t. But I wouldn’t jeopardize it.” He might be asked for a more definitive view.

Four of the candidates—Kasich, Bush, Rubio, and Cruz—clearly favor policies that make it harder, not easier, for African Americans, Hispanics, students, and the poor to vote. Trump is uncharacteristically silent while Carson is equivocal. Are Republicans still the party of Lincoln, or even Everett McKinley Dirksen? Forcing them to discuss their views on voting rights will be a first. Go for it!

Good luck.

 

By: Gary May, The Daily Beast, February 17, 2016

February 18, 2016 Posted by | GOP Primary Debates, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Malign Contempt Since Day 1”: GOP’s Unrelenting Campaign Of Obstructionism And Insult

This was three days before Antonin Scalia died.

President Obama had just spoken before the Illinois General Assembly. Now, he and some old friends, all retired from that body, were being interviewed by the Los Angeles Times. Obama was talking about the legislative gridlock that has marked his terms and how he might have avoided it.

“Maybe I could have done that a little better,” he said.

One of his friends wasn’t having it. “They were afraid of you for a couple of reasons,” said Denny Jacobs. “Number one, you were black.”

Obama parried the suggestion, saying what he always says when asked about race and his presidency. “I have no doubt there are people who voted against me because of race … or didn’t approve of my agenda because of race. I also suspect there are a bunch of people who are excited or voted for me because of the notion of the first African-American president. … Those things cut both ways,” he said.

Jacobs, who is white, was unpersuaded. “That’s what they were afraid of, Mr. President,” he insisted.

Some might say his point was proven after the sudden death of the Supreme Court justice. The body was not yet cold when Republicans threw down the gauntlet. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the president should not even nominate a replacement and should leave it instead to his successor. Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley seconded this, saying his panel would not open confirmation hearings, although Politico reported Tuesday that Grassley told Radio Iowa he would not rule them out.

Understand: It’s not uncommon for the opposition party to warn that a nominee better be to its liking. However, to declare before the fact that no person put forth by the president will receive even a hearing is not politics as usual, but rather, a stinging and personal insult without apparent precedent. It is simply impossible to imagine another president being treated with such malign contempt.

But then, GOP contempt for Obama and his authority have been manifest since before Day One. McConnell’s refusal to do his job is just the latest example. On Twitter, a person who tweets as @bravee1 put it like this: “Mitch McConnell just needs to admit that he thinks President Obama was elected to three-fifths of a term.”

It’s a great line, but what is happening here is more subtle than just racism. To be, as McConnell is, a straight, 73-year-old white male in America is to have come of age in a world where people like you and only people like you set the national agenda. One suspects, then, that people like him see in Obama their looming loss of demographic and ideological primacy in a nation that grows more multi-hued and, on many vital social issues, less conservative every day.

Some people can handle that. Others would rather cripple the country, leaving it without a functioning Supreme Court for almost a year, and never mind the will of the people as twice expressed in elections: Barack Obama is our president. He has the right and duty to nominate a new justice.

It’s grating to hear Obama act as if the GOP’s unrelenting campaign of obstructionism and insult were the moral equivalent of some African-American grandmother or young white progressive who were proud to cast their ballots for the first black president. Moreover, his attempt to shoulder blame for the hyper-partisanship of the last seven years suggests a fundamental misreading of the change he represents and the fear it kindles in some of those whose prerogatives that change will upend.

It’s well and good to be even-handed and reflective, but there is a point where that becomes willful obtuseness. Obama is there. “They were afraid of you for a couple of reasons,” said his friend. “Number one, you were black.”

It’s interesting that a white man in his 70s can see this, yet a 54-year-old black man cannot.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The New Republic, February 17, 2016

February 18, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Congress, GOP Obstructionism, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Meekly Accepting GOP’s Extreme Premise”: As Obama Moves To Replace Scalia, The Press Enables Radical GOP Obstruction

In the wake of Antonin Scalia’s sudden death, the Beltway press almost immediately began to seamlessly frame the unfolding debate about the Supreme Court justice’s replacement along the contours of Republican talking points. To do so, the press continued its habit of looking away from the GOP’s stunning record of institutional obstructionism since 2009.

Immediately after the news broke of Scalia’s passing, Republican Senate leaders, GOP presidential candidates, and conservative commentators declared that the job of picking Scalia’s replacement should be performed not by President Obama, but by his successor.

Quickly suggesting that Obama was picking a “fight” with Republicans by signaling he plans to fulfill his constitutional duty by nominating Scalia’s successor, the press aided Republicans by presenting this radical plan to obstruct the president as being an unsurprising move that Democrats would likely copy if put in the same position during an election year. (Given the rarity of the situation precedents aren’t perfect, but it’s worth mentioning that during the election year of 1988, Democrats actually did the opposite, confirming Justice Anthony Kennedy unanimously.)

The framework for much of the coverage regarding the GOP’s radical demand that Scalia’s seat sit empty for a year is this: It’s Obama’s behavior that’s setting off a showdown, and of course Republicans would categorically oppose anyone Obama nominates. But journalists often don’t explain why: Why is it obvious Obama would have zero chance of getting a Supreme Court nominee confirmed when every president in the past has been able to fill vacancies?

Is it unusual for a president to face a Supreme Court vacancy his final year in office? It is. But there’s nothing in the Constitution to suggest the rules change under the current circumstances. (Obama still has 50 weeks left in office.) It’s Republicans who have declared that all new rules must apply. And it’s the press that has rather meekly accepted the extreme premise.

Note that Republicans and their conservative fans in the media aren’t telling Obama that a particular nominee he selects to become the next justice is flawed and will likely be rejected after hearings are held. Republicans are telling Obama that there’s no point in even bothering to make a selection because the Senate will reject anyone the president names. Period. The seat will remain vacant for an entire year. That is the definition of radical. But the press still looks away.

For instance, Politico reported the president “was facing the choice between setting off a nasty brawl with Congress by seizing the best chance in a generation to flip the ideological balance of the Supreme Court, or simply punting.” The Politico headline claimed Obama had chosen to “fight” Republicans.

But Obama faces no real “choice,” and he isn’t the one who decided to pick a “fight.” As president of the United States he’s obligated to fill Supreme Court vacancies.

The New York Times stressed Scalia’s death had sparked “an immediate partisan battle,” suggesting the warfare ran both ways. But how, by doing what he’s supposed to do as president, is Obama sparking a “partisan battle”?

If Obama eventually decided to nominate an extremely liberal justice to replace the extremely conservative Scalia, then yes, that could accurately be described as sparking a “partisan battle.” But what could be “partisan” about the president simply doing what the Constitution instructs him to do?

Meanwhile, the Associated Press framed the unfolding story as Obama’s announcement being “a direct rebuttal to Senate Republicans,” without noting the Republican demand that a Supreme Court justice’s seat sit empty for at least a year is without recent precedent.

And BuzzFeed suggested Scalia’s vacancy is different because the justice was, “as one Republican put it, ‘a rock solid conservative seat,’ and given the divisions on the court conservatives will be adamant that one of their own replace him.”

But that’s not how Supreme Court nominations work. Obviously, while the Senate has the responsibility to advise and consent on nominees, the party out of power doesn’t get to make the selection. So why the media suggestion that Republicans deserve a say in this case, or else?

Again and again, the press has depicted Obama’s expected action in the wake of Scalia’s death as being highly controversial or partisan, when in fact it’s Republicans who are acting in erratic ways by categorically announcing they’ll refuse to even consider Obama’s next Supreme Court pick.

The sad part is this type of media acquiescence has become a hallmark of the Obama era. Republicans have routinely obliterated Beltway precedents when it comes to granting Obama the leeway that previous presidents were given by their partisan foes in Congress.

Yet each step along the way, journalists have pulled back, refusing to detail the seismic shift taking place. Instead, journalists have portrayed the obstruction as routine, and often blamed Obama for not being able to avoid the showdowns.

Today’s Republican Party is acting in a way that defies all historic norms. We saw it with the GOP’s gun law obstructionism, the sequester obstructionism, the government shutdown obstructionism, the Chuck Hagel confirmation obstructionism, the Susan Rice secretary of state obstructionism, the Hurricane Sandy emergency relief obstructionism, and the consistent obstruction of judicial nominees.

For years under Obama, Republicans have systematically destroyed Beltway norms and protocols, denying the president his traditional latitude to govern and make appointments. It’s sad that in Obama’s final year in office, the press is still turning a blind eye to the GOP’s radical nature.

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, February 15, 2016

February 18, 2016 Posted by | GOP Obstructionism, Media, Press, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Creative Video Editing”: In 2016, Journalistic Fraud Still Looms Large

Alas, this is pretty much where I came in. Starting in 1994, when your humble, obedient servant was approached to contribute weekly political columns, I found the behavior of the national political press shocking and alarming.

Today, it’s even worse.

Even so, it’s not every day a TV talker apologizes for broadcasting a doctored video misrepresenting something Bill Clinton said about President Obama. So it’s definitely worth taking note.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes did that the other night, at least temporarily persuading me that the network hasn’t yet gone full Fox News.

But first, some ancient history on a theme directly relevant to today’s Democratic primary campaign: Hillary the Big Liar.

See, by 1994 I’d been writing professionally for years, mainly as a literary journalist and monthly magazine reporter. The publications I’d written for employed assiduous fact-checkers. Opinions were expected, so long as they were grounded in fact. After all, what’s the point winning an argument if you’ve got to cheat to do it?

However, that’s not how Washington journalism works. One incident in particular astonished me.

In April 1994, Hillary Clinton had given a press conference about the make-believe Whitewater scandal. She answered every question the press threw at her for a couple of hours. The immediate effect was rather like last fall’s Benghazi hearings: her detailed answers calmed the storm. Having previously given sworn testimony to Treasury Department investigators probing Jim McDougal’s failed S & L, she was on solid ground.

Two years further on, ABC’s Nightline dug up a video clip of an answer she’d given about a specific issue and seamlessly deleted two sentences by substituting stock footage of journalists taking notes. Then they pretended she’d been asked a much broader question, and accused her of lying about the information they’d subtracted.

Specifically, Hillary acknowledged signing a letter “because I was what we called the billing attorney” for the Madison Guaranty account. Nightline charged her with concealing exactly that fact. Jeff Greenfield said no wonder “the White House was so worried about what was in Vince Foster’s office when he killed himself”—a contemptible insinuation.

Within days, the doctored quote was all over ABC News, CNN, the New York Times and everywhere else. Almost needless to say, Maureen Dowd ran with it. William Safire predicted her imminent criminal indictment.

In short, the theme of Hillary Clinton as epic liar began with an instance of barefaced journalistic fraud.

Everybody involved should have been run out of the profession. It wasn’t exactly an obscure mystery. Video of the press conference existed. The New York Times had printed the full transcript.

But there was no Internet. Beltway pundits covered for each other like crooked cops.

So anyway, last week Bill Clinton made a campaign appearance for his wife in Memphis. If you’d only seen it on MSNBC or read about it in the Washington Post, you’d think he made a political blunder, trashing President Obama as a weak leader.

On Chris Hayes’ program All In, the host chided the former President for going “a bit off message.”

MSNBC aired this video clip:

“BILL CLINTON: She’s always making something good happen. She’s the best change maker I’ve ever known. A lot of people say, ‘Oh well, you don’t understand. It’s different now. It’s rigged.’ Yeah, it’s rigged—because you don’t have a president who is a change maker.”

Full stop.

Ouch! To the Washington Post’s Abby Phillips, “it sounded like he was agreeing with one of [Bernie] Sanders’s central arguments about income inequality—but blaming the sitting president for it.”

Older and thinner, Mr. Yesterday was clearly losing it.

Except he wasn’t. The real villain was, once again, creative video editing. Tommy Christopher at Mediaite.com restored the full context.

So here’s what Bill Clinton actually said about President Obama:

“Yeah, it’s rigged—because you don’t have a president who is a change maker with a Congress who will work with him. But the president has done a better job than he has gotten credit for. And don’t you forget it!

(APPLAUSE)

Don’t you forget it! Don’t you forget it!

(LOUDER APPLAUSE)

Don’t you forget it. Let me just tell you. I’ve been there, and we shared the same gift. We only had a Democratic Congress for two years. And then we lost it. There’s some of the loudest voices in our party say—it’s unbelievable—say, ‘Well the only reason we had it for two years is that President Obama wasn’t liberal enough!’ Is there one soul in this crowd that believes that?”

Judging by the crowd response, there was not.

Mediaite.com’s Christopher put it succinctly: “This is an edit so egregious, it rivals the worst in dishonest political ads, and surpasses them.”

Greatly to his credit (and my surprise), Chris Hayes subsequently rebroadcast Clinton’s remarks in full. “We shouldn’t have done that,” he admitted.

No, they certainly should not.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, February 17, 2016

February 18, 2016 Posted by | Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Journalism, Network and Cable News | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Constitution Has Established A Process”: Obama Delivers Unmistakable Message To Republicans

President Obama hosted a press conference at the U.S.-Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in California yesterday, which comes against a backdrop in which the future of the Supreme Court is dominating much of the domestic political conversation. The president is obviously aware of Senate Republicans’ plans for a total blockade against nominee, regardless of merit, so Obama took some time to remind GOP lawmakers about the constitutional process.

“The Constitution is pretty clear about what is supposed to happen now. When there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, the President of the United States is to nominate someone. The Senate is to consider that nomination, and either they disapprove of that nominee or that nominee is elevated to the Supreme Court.

“Historically, this has not been viewed as a question. There’s no unwritten law that says that it can only be done on off years – that’s not in the constitutional text. I’m amused when I hear people who claim to be strict interpreters of the Constitution suddenly reading into it a whole series of provisions that are not there. There is more than enough time for the Senate to consider in a thoughtful way the record of a nominee that I present and to make a decision.”

Unfortunately for the right, all of this has the benefit of being true. The Constitution has established a process; Obama intends to follow the process; and there’s plenty of time for senators to do their jobs. It’s all surprisingly simple, and to date, Republicans haven’t come up with any coherent defense for rejecting any White House nominee, sight unseen.

Reflecting on the broader political circumstances surrounding judicial nominees, the president added, “The fact that it’s that hard, that we’re even discussing this, is I think a measure of how, unfortunately, the venom and rancor in Washington has prevented us from getting basic work done. This would be a good moment for us to rise above that.”

You can almost hear GOP senators laughing at a distance.

Looking ahead, the president reminding Republican lawmakers, “This is the Supreme Court. The highest court in the land. It’s the one court where we would expect elected officials to rise above day-to-day politics. And this will be the opportunity for senators to do their job. Your job doesn’t stop until you’re voted out or until your term expires. I intend to do my job between now and January 20th of 2017. I expect them to do their job as well.”

Of course, the high court vacancy isn’t the only subject on the political world’s mind. There’s also the matter of the election to choose President Obama’s successor.

As NBC News reported, Obama has taken note of the Republican frontrunner.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday reiterated that he doesn’t believe New York businessman Donald Trump will ever be president, saying the American people realize the highest office in the nation “is not a reality show.”

“I continue to believe Mr. Trump will not be president,” Obama said…. “And the reason is because I have a lot of faith in the American people. And I think they recognize that being president is a serious job.”

“It’s not hosting a talk show or a reality show. It’s not promotion, it’s not marketing. It’s hard. And a lot of people count on us getting it right.”

My suspicion is the leading Republican candidate and his team were delighted to hear this – with just a few days remaining before the South Carolina primary, Obama criticizing Trump is probably the best thing Trump can hope for.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 17, 2016

February 18, 2016 Posted by | President Obama, Senate Republicans, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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