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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

“A Moral And Political Coward”: Speaker Ryan Can’t Reauthorize Voting Rights Act

Midway through his second term, President George W. Bush proudly signed the The Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, And Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization And Amendments Act Of 2006 which was sponsored by Republican congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin. It had been passed in the Senate with an unanimous 98-0 vote and in the House with a strong bipartisan 390-33 majority.

The Act needs to be updated because it was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. But they won’t. And they won’t because the Republican Party has become so racially hostile to blacks that they can’t overcome the resistance of their worst bigots. Speaker Paul Ryan met with the Congressional Black Caucus today and flat out said that he can’t get the Act fixed up and reauthorized.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told black lawmakers Wednesday that he supports new voting rights protections they’ve championed, but said he won’t bypass a committee chairman to move legislation, according to a Democrat who attended the gathering.

“He said it right in front of everybody — he said he supports the [Jim] Sensenbrenner bill,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), said after Ryan met with the group on Capitol Hill.

“So somebody was saying, ‘Well, why don’t you go tell your committee chair to do it?’ ” Cleaver added. “And he said, … ‘Look, I can’t do that.’ “

Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), a former chairman of the Judiciary panel, has sponsored bipartisan legislation to update the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in response to a 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted a central provision of the 1965 law.

But Sensenbrenner’s proposal does not have the backing of the current Judiciary chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who maintains the Supreme Court left ample protections in the VRA, thereby making congressional action unnecessary.

I feel like Speaker Ryan could get this done if he wanted to, but I’m not sure what would happen if he rammed it through. I suspect that it would cause a major revolt, and perhaps even another coup like the one John Boehner just experienced.

I consider this important enough that Ryan should insist on principle and resign if his own caucus can’t live with it. It’s really a moral issue for me more than a political question. Ten years ago, it wasn’t even a partisan subject, but ten years ago we didn’t have a black president and a raging Tea Party revolt against the Republican Establishment.

Basically, I think Paul Ryan is a coward. He’s a political coward, but more importantly, he’s a moral coward.

P.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte has also used his position as Judiciary Chairman to prevent any legislative reaction to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, kill comprehensive immigration reform and call for the deportation of DREAMers.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 3, 2016

February 4, 2016 Posted by | House Republicans, Paul Ryan, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Reality Of Refugee Admissions”: Yes, The Government Vets Them

The political panic over the admission of Syrian refugees into the United States, following the terrorist attacks in Paris, has unleashed a wave of fear-mongering, bolstered by a notion being propagated by the right wing, that Americans couldn’t possibly know who is being let into our country. Thirty-one U.S. governors have said they won’t accept any Syrian refugees into their state, many of them claiming there’s a large inherent risk in doing so.

Of course, there’s a serious fallacy at work here: By the time any Syrian refugee actually arrives in the United States, we do know who that person is. Very well.

There is a clear difference between refugees in the United States and refugees in Europe, namely that refugees can’t simply walk or use small boats in order to get to the U.S. By contrast, Europe has a flood of humanity getting displaced into their borders, who may enter one of the countries without getting screened — thus creating the danger that even one ISIS terrorist can disguise himself among the people fleeing his cohorts, as French officials believe did occur with at least one attacker.

But the U.S. actually has the advantages of distance and time to pick and choose before anyone from such a faraway land can set foot over here.

That process involves a multitude of complex steps, starting with an initial screening by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which possibly leads to a referral to the United States and a gauntlet of security checks, personal interviews, medical screening, and matching with a sponsor agency in the U.S. itself. It is far from the mysterious influx of unknown people that the many governors and Republican presidential candidates are making it sound like.

As noted by defense policy researcher Josh Hampson in The Hill: “In fact, there have been no recorded terrorist attacks committed by refugees. The U.S. has admitted 1.5 million refugees from the Middle East since September 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks that have occurred since 9/11 have been committed either by American natives or non-refugee immigrants.”

A State Department spokesperson told The National Memo in an emailed statement:

The United States remains deeply committed to safeguarding the American public from terrorists, just as we are committed to providing refuge to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. We do not believe these goals are mutually exclusive, or that either has to be pursued at the expense of the other. To that end the refugee security screening and vetting process has been significantly enhanced over the past few years. Today, all refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States, including the involvement of the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense. All refugees, including Syrians, are admitted only after successful completion of this stringent security screening regime.

On a conference call Tuesday, an unnamed senior administration official confirmed to the press that the average time for processing a person through that entire gamut of interviews and background checks takes an average of 18 to 24 months. “As you know, we are trying to look at the process and see if we can make it more efficient without cutting corners on security.”

And yet at a congressional hearing Tuesday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch still had to explain to House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) — who had seized upon recent comments by FBI Director James Comey about the difficulties of the vetting process — that the Justice Department and others in the government do have a “significant and robust screening process in place,” which Europe has not been able to set up.

On Tuesday, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump posted a message to Instagram, with The Donald shouting to the camera with his typical bombast: “Refugees are pouring into our great country from Syria! We don’t even know who they are! They could be ISIS, they could be anybody! What’s our president doing — is he insane?”

And in the Louisiana gubernatorial race, Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter is running this ad — complete with clips of panic in the streets of Paris — ahead of the election this weekend: “One of the Paris ISIS terrorists entered France posing as a Syrian refugee. Now, Obama’s sending Syrian refugees to Louisiana.”

Newly-crowned House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is trying to be a bit more low-key, although catering to the same doubts, as he told reporters Tuesday: “This is a moment where it is better to be safe than sorry. So we think the prudent, the responsible thing is to take a pause in this particular aspect of this refugee program in order to verify that terrorists are not trying to infiltrate the refugee population.”

One can perhaps “forgive” Trump for being utterly clueless, and simply expect that Vitter, in the homestretch phase of his campaign, would act like a demagogue. But shouldn’t the Speaker of the House act like he already knows the government has vigorous vetting procedures in place? And for that matter, what does a “pause” even mean when it comes to admitting in refugees who have taken up to two years to be screened?

 

By: Eric Kleefeld, The National Memo, November 17, 2015

November 19, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Refugees, Terrorists | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“GOP Lawmakers Take Aim At Constitutional Principle”: Ending Birthright Citizenship Has Been Added To The Far-Right’s To-Do List

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution doesn’t leave much in the way of wiggle room: the rights of American citizenship are given to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” It’s a principle generally known as “birthright citizenship,” and after its enactment following the Civil War, the Supreme Court has protected the tenet many times.

But as Republican politics moved sharply to the right, and anti-immigration sentiments within the GOP became more extreme, the party’s “constitutional conservatives” decided the principle, championed by Republicans nearly 150 years ago, needs to go. Shortly after the “Tea Party” gains in 2010, ending birthright citizenship was added to the far-right’s to-do list.

And yesterday, as Dana Milbank explained, a congressional panel actually considered a plan to scrap the existing constitutional provision.

A House Judiciary subcommittee took up the question Wednesday afternoon, prompted by legislation sponsored by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and 22 other lawmakers that, after nearly 150 years, would end automatic citizenship.

The 14th Amendment, King told the panel, “did not contemplate that anyone who would sneak into the United States and have a baby would have automatic citizenship conferred on them.” Added King, “I’d suggest it’s our job here in this Congress to decide who will be citizens, not someone in a foreign country that can sneak into the United States and have a baby and then go home with the birth certificate.”

It’s no small task to undo a principle, enshrined in the Constitution and upheld by the Supreme Court, that defines the United States as a nation of immigrants. It’s particularly audacious that House Republicans would undo a century and a half of precedent without amending the Constitution but merely by passing a law to reinterpret the 14th Amendment’s wording in a way that will stop the scourge of “anchor babies” and “birth tourism.”

That’s no small detail. In the American system of government, if federal lawmakers want to alter constitutional law, they have to actually amend the Constitution. But King and his cohorts have a different idea: they intend to simply pass a regular ol’ law voiding the unambiguous language of the 14th Amendment.

Remember, these are the same folks who are convinced President Obama is a radical who ignores constitutional principles he doesn’t like.

To bolster his case, House Republicans invited a few “experts” to tell lawmakers why the plan to end birthright citizenship is a great idea – one of whom has a deeply troubled history on issues related to race.

But to dismiss the entire debate as a pet project of a clownish congressman would be a mistake. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), for example, is also sponsoring a bill to end birthright citizenship, calling it a constitutional “loophole” he hopes to fill.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) hasn’t signed on to King’s bill, but he considers the constitutional principle an open question. “The question of whether our forefathers meant for birthright citizenship in all circumstances to be the law of the land is far from settled,” Goodlatte said at the hearing. “In any event, we must still determine if it is the right policy for America today.”

Even at the national level, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a GOP presidential candidate, recently sat down with a right-wing conspiracy-theory website, WorldNetDaily, where he voiced opposition to birthright citizenship.

WND: Do you still want to end birthright citizenship?

PAUL: Yeah, I think if you have a broken system like we have now, you can’t let just people –  you know, I’ve always agreed with Milton Freedman who said you can’t have open borders and a welfare state. You can’t become a magnet for the world and let everybody come in here, have children, and then they all become citizens. So I still do agree with that.

In 2011, Vitter introduced a measure to undo birthright citizenship, and the proposal picked up four Senate Republican co-sponsors. Rand Paul was one of the four.

It’s a bad sign when the debate shifts from whether or not to pass comprehensive immigration reform to whether or not Congress wants to nullify part of the 14th Amendment.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 30, 2015

May 1, 2015 Posted by | 14th Amendment, Citizenship, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Politics, Not Policy, Trumps Police”: Nothing Gets Done On The Policy End Unless There Are Serious Changes In The Political Climate

As a 10-member delegation of Congressional Black Caucus members head to Ferguson on Sunday for a moment of Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday observance with its citizens, there’s been an emerging argument that now is the time for this second coming of the Civil Rights Movement to transition from its current protest phase to a much more mature public policy phase. As we speak, black elected officials on the state, federal and local level are engaged in a mad dash to draft bills addressing a number of issues related to police violence and misconduct.

There’s a big snag, though: nothing gets done on the policy end unless there are serious changes in the political climate. Without any dramatic alterations on the political landscape, don’t expect any radical implementation of public policy, much less full passage of it. Many observers, and even caucus members themselves, describe the flurry of police brutality, law enforcement data and criminal justice reform bills as “dead on arrival” in the very conservative House Judiciary Committee chaired by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA).

Republicans have shown no real public interest in addressing these issues, although CBC members claim that they will be getting hearings – at least – on the various bills introduced. But an emboldened Republican majority is running things in Congress and a very red political map of Republican governors and supermajorities in state capitols will keep that going.

The problem is that protesters are failing to make a very important distinction between Politics and Policy. These are two separate functions. They’re like cousins: they are definitely related, and yes, they support or, sometimes, fight each other. But the long-held perception that they’re identical twins is flat out wrong.

Ultimately, cousin policy can’t be implemented unless cousin politics is in the mix as bodyguard and hit man. Even when legislation becomes law, there’s no incentive for folks to follow it without political leverage in place to enforce it. President Obama may have signed the Death in Custody Reporting Act as an important nod to protesters, but it’s not like they’re whipping out the Grey Goose – many movement organizers don’t even know that happened.

And once it’s in place, there’s the question of funding and making sure there’s adequate political influence in cities and states to ensure police departments will be compliant.

Jim Crow didn’t suddenly crumble the day the Civil Rights Act was signed. Acceptance, albeit still slow, didn’t happen until black voters were mobilized into a solid political force to be reckoned with. Soon, we were electing black mayors, black city council members, and black state and federal legislators at a frantic pace. Eventually we got a black president. Since 1970, the number of black elected officials combined on the state, federal and local level has risen by about 650 percent (sadly, the folks who faithfully tallied that number over the past 44 years just went out of business last year – and no one seems to care).

We can quibble later over whether that’s translated into full equality for African Americans. But, you can’t argue with one clear fact: we have way greater flexibility to engage fully in society than we’ve ever had before.

Don’t get me wrong: this new discussion about transitioning from protest to policy is a very, very encouraging development. All movements, at some point, have to mature and grasp the legislative process. Recent criticism showed patience wearing thin from both prominent figures watching the movement and those within it as #BlackLivesMatter activists suddenly found themselves losing public sentiment. A recent YouGov poll shows 44 percent of Americans believe protesters should shoulder some responsibility for the murder of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenijian Liu – along with 40 percent saying police should have more say over law enforcement than the elected officials who pass their budgets and oversee their activities.
Such polling data reveal the uncomfortable reality that protesters are losing the public narrative, which is usually the direct result of a failed political game.

It’s been nearly six months since Michael Brown was killed, police unleashed blue fury on Ferguson, Missouri and Officer Darren Wilson got a pass. To date, the same mayor and city council are in place, with no plans for a recall election in the foreseeable future. That is downright unacceptable.

No heads have rolled and no public firings of ranking officials or police chiefs have taken place in any of those cities where there are large black populations that can be groomed, prepped and mobilized into ferocious take-no-prisoners political machines. Police officers are turning their back on the Mayor of New York City and actively engaging in “work stoppages” – yet, where’s the black political counter-act to that? Progressives and others are always clowning or bashing the Tea Party and other conservative political groups. But current civil rights protesters could actually learn something from them: Tea Party influence may have declined a bit in the past year, but Republican politicians are still forced to shape policy to their liking or face the prospect of job loss in a primary. Stand Your Ground and voter suppression laws would not have passed if powerful interests like the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council hadn’t applied pressure on Republican state lawmakers.

Right now, that’s a missing piece in the movement. People want immediate change they can see, hear and touch. Passing bills through a complex legislative process few average citizens understand won’t make a bit of difference if political blood isn’t spilled first. Bills don’t give you control. Winning elections and running things do.

 

By: Charles Ellison, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 16, 2015

January 17, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Ferguson Missouri, Police Abuse | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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