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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 3.31.15

03/31/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* It's not just Indiana: "Lawmakers in Indiana are scrambling to clarify a religious freedom law amid a national firestorm. But their counterparts in Arkansas are pushing ahead with a similar measure -- and the governor says he'll sign it."
 
* A flexible deadline: "With several sticking points still to be worked out, negotiations on a nuclear deal with Iran will continue past Tuesday night's deadline into Wednesday, the State Department said."
 
* Criminal justice: "President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 22 individuals on Tuesday, more than doubling the number of commutations he has issued in the six-plus years he's been in office. The men and women granted the reprieves had been imprisoned under an 'outdated sentencing regime,' the administration concluded. Eight of the 22 inmates had been sentenced to life imprisonment and would have died behind bars."
 
* Climate: "The United States officially submitted its emissions-cutting target to the United Nations on Tuesday morning, formalizing its commitment to reducing emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The Obama administration had previously announced the goal in its work with China on a bilateral climate agreement. The Tuesday submission makes the pledge official."
 
* Egypt: "The United States will resume its paused military aid to Egypt, the White House said Tuesday, signaling the Obama administration's desire to help a key Middle Eastern ally confront militant threats despite concerns about its repressive stance on human rights."
 
* Yemen: "An unlikely alliance with a deposed dictator appears to have helped Yemen's advancing Shiite insurgents weather intensifying airstrikes directed at them by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition."
 
* Follow-up on a story out of Alabama we discussed this morning: "Senator Larry Stutts announced Tuesday he is withdrawing his maternity stay Bill. The bill would repeal a code that says insurance must cover a minimum stay of 48 hours in the hospital after a woman gives birth."
Navy Chaplain Lt. Gordon J. Klingenschmitt is pictured as he conducts a worship service in front of the White House, background, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2006, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Colorado's Klingenschmitt already making a name for himself

03/31/15 04:53PM

With over 7,000 state legislators nationwide, it's inevitable some that oddballs are going to get elected, but by any fair measure, Colorado's Gordon Klingenschmitt is a very special case.
 
As we discussed back in November -- shortly after he got elected to Colorado's General Assembly for the first time -- Klingenschmitt is not just another social conservative activist. Rather, the former Navy chaplain is a rather extraordinary figure in the religious right, best known for, among other things, claiming to have rid a woman of the "foul spirit of lesbianism" through an exorcism. He also wrote a book arguing, in all seriousness, that President Obama is possessed by demons. He didn't mean that metaphorically.
 
Given this background, the question was not whether Klingenschmitt would embarrass himself, his party, and his office, but when. With this in mind, the Denver Post reported yesterday:
The leader of the House Republicans on Monday stripped Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt from one of his two committee posts, saying the lawmaker's "curse of God" comments about a woman whose fetus was ripped from her womb were in "poor taste" and "insensitive."
 
Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso said he removed Klingenschmitt from the Health, Insurance and Environment Committee because he believed "there needed to be some kind of disciplinary action."
Klingenschmitt considers the punishment unfair. I'm not sure why anyone would agree with him.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) in Washington on Feb. 3, 2015.

Rubio, Clinton, and the fine art of email politics

03/31/15 03:19PM

As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) gets ready to launch his presidential campaign, he's making the rounds and fine-tuning his message, all of which brought the Florida Republican to the set of Fox News' "The Five" yesterday. There was a noteworthy exchange that stood out for me.
 
The conservative co-hosts seemed preoccupied with the Hillary Clinton email story -- one called it "so devastating" -- though Rubio was largely dismissive of the story, saying the former Secretary of State has "bigger problems than emails."
 
But the co-hosts stuck with the story they care about, which led Fox's Julie Roginsky to raise a good point. From the Nexis transcript:
ROGINSKY: I guess this is -- this is the question for everybody and any position of influence. Do you have a private server or private email that you ever use or --
 
RUBIO: Sure. But I don't put sensitive information on there and I'm not then, I'm not involved in, in you know, communicating with my staff about things that put the diplomacy of the United States at risk. In fact, I don't write anything that is national security related on an email, because I know that they are potentially targets for foreign adversary.
 
ROGINSKY: And this is not directed to you, but I think directed to anybody who would give that quite answer, would you be able to then, disclose all your private emails so that you can assure people with that?
At this point, Dana Perino, the former press secretary in the Bush/Cheney White House, jumped in to criticize Clinton in more detail, and Rubio never responded to the question.
 
Which is further evidence that the politics of emails is trickier than Republican would like.
Governor Mike Pence (R-IN) holds a press conference March 31, 2015 at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis, Ind. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty)

Indiana's Pence looks for 'fix,' blames Obamacare

03/31/15 12:40PM

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) seems acutely aware of the fact that he created a firestorm when he ignored warnings and signed a right-to-discriminate bill into law last week. He's less sure what to do about it now.
 
The Republican governor, and possible presidential candidate, published a Wall Street Journal op-ed overnight in which Pence outlined his plan to address businesses that exploit his new law to discriminate against gay consumers: "If I saw a restaurant owner refuse to serve a gay couple, I wouldn't eat there anymore."
 
As Rachel joked on the show last night, "So, if you were worried that gay people might be refused service by a business in Indiana now, don't worry. That could never happen because the state has decided to wield the grave threat of depriving businesses of Mike Pence's personal patronage."
 
In the same piece, the Hoosier State governor suggested this whole mess can be traced back to Obamacare.
Many states have enacted [Religious Freedom Restoration Acts] of their own ...  but Indiana never passed such a law. Then in 2010 came the Affordable Care Act, which renewed concerns about government infringement on deeply held religious beliefs. Hobby Lobby and the University of Notre Dame both filed lawsuits challenging provisions that required the institutions to offer certain types of insurance coverage in violation of their religious views.
 
Last year the Supreme Court upheld religious liberty in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, based on the federal RFRA. With the Supreme Court’s ruling, the need for a RFRA at the state level became more important, as the federal law does not apply to states. To ensure that religious liberty is fully protected under Indiana law, this year the General Assembly enshrined these principles in Indiana law. I fully supported that action.
Hmm. Indiana businesses can now discriminate against gay people because of the ACA's contraception policy?
 
This apparently wasn't persuasive, either, leading Pence to announce this morning his support for a legislative "fix."

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.31.15

03/31/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
 
* A new 2016 Quinnipiac poll offers some strange results. The survey focused specifically on Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, where Hillary Clinton fares pretty well, though she trails Jeb Bush in Florida by three, 45% to 42%, and trails Rand Paul in Pennsylvania by one, 45% to 44%.
 
* Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who'll be on "The Rachel Maddow Show" tonight, talked to NBC's Savannah Guthrie earlier, and when asked about 2016, the senator said, "No. I am not running and I am not going to run." That settles that.
 
* One of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) lawsuits against Common Core educations standards -- a policy he supported until he learned the GOP base's position -- was thrown out of court yesterday. The unannounced Republican presidential candidate has vowed to appeal.
 
* Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has made no secret of his White House ambitions, and his team announced late yesterday that the senator will launch his presidential campaign in Miami on April 13.
 
* Rubio's official kickoff will likely come six days after Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) launch, which is scheduled for April 7.
\Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., arrives for the bipartisan Senate luncheon in the Kennedy Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building on Feb. 4, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

Rand Paul rejects 'rights based on your behavior'

03/31/15 11:25AM

When Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) makes public appearances, he routinely likes to tell audiences, "You'll find nobody in Congress doing more for minority rights than me right now -- Republican or Democrat."
 
And though the boast is itself dubious, the latest BuzzFeed report raises questions about just how much the Republican senator actually understands minority rights on a conceptual level.
Sen. Rand Paul said he doesn't buy into the concept of gay rights because they are defined by a gay person's lifestyle.
 
"I don't think I've ever used the word gay rights, because I don't really believe in rights based on your behavior," the Kentucky Republican told reporters in a videotaped interview that has received little attention since it was recorded in 2013.
Admittedly, the senator's quote is a bit old, though it's apparently surfacing in earnest now for the first time. That said, a Rand Paul spokesperson yesterday "did not reply to BuzzFeed News' question seeking clarification on gay people's rights not associated with their behavior."
 
Regardless, the senator's comments suggest Rand Paul doesn't recognize gay rights as a real issue at all because, in his words, rights based on "behavior" lack legitimacy.
 
The Kentucky Republican may not have thought this one through.
A view of the state capitol on March 6, 2015 in Montgomery, Ala. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

Alabama Republican targets 'Rose's law' he helped inspire

03/31/15 10:46AM

In 1998, an Alabama nurse named Rose Church gave birth to a healthy baby girl and was discharged from the hospital 36 hours later. The Church family returned to the emergency room soon after, however, when Rose started experiencing complications. She was treated and released again.
 
Just 36 hours later, Rose Church died.
 
The family took their OB/GYN, Dr. Larry Stutts, to court in a wrongful death suit, arguing that Rose was discharged too quickly and without the necessary tests. The case was settled out of court, but the controversy surrounding the case prompted political action: less than a year after the nurse's death, Alabama's legislature unanimously approved a statewide law requiring a minimum of a 48-hour hospital stay for new mothers following normal, vaginal births, and 96-hour hospital stay for more complicated births, including C-sections.
 
The measure, pushed vigorously by the Church family, quickly became known as "Rose's law."
 
Nearly two decades later, Dr. Larry Stutts is now Republican state Sen. Larry Stutts. And just a few months into his tenure as a lawmaker, the former OB/GYN is getting right to work, targeting the law he helped inspire. The Washington Post reports:
Alabama state Sen. Larry Stutts (R) wants to repeal a woman's legal right to remain in a hospital for at least two days after giving birth -- a law legislators passed almost two decades ago after one of Stutts's patients died of complications of a pregnancy. [...]
 
Stutts said in a post on his Facebook page that he's trying to get the legislature out of the doctor-patient relationship.
"I am proud to say that I am hard at work removing one-size-fits-all Obamacare-style laws from the books in Alabama," Stutts said. [Update: Stutts has pulled his bill. See below.]
 
Just so we're absolutely clear, "Rose's law" was passed in 1999 and has literally nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act.
 
On the contrary, it has everything to do with the death of one of Stutts' patients.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his budget address for fiscal year 2016 to the Legislature, Feb. 24, 2015 at the Statehouse in Trenton, NJ. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

Christie announces support for 20-week abortion ban

03/31/15 10:02AM

For much of the 1990s, when Chris Christie (R) launched his political career in New Jersey, he was unapologetically pro-choice. The Republican, eager to be seen as a blue-state moderate, even used to brag about the personal donations he'd made to Planned Parenthood.
 
That version of Christie is long gone.
The anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, in tandem with the conservative American Principles Project, has been asking Republican presidential hopefuls to take a pledge. One by one -- either with preexisting legislation, or new statements -- they have come aboard, and supported bans on abortions after 20 weeks.
 
On Monday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave the SBA List a statement of his support for a "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act which would protect unborn children beginning at 20 weeks."
As Dave Weigel's report noted, Christie's statement endorsing a 20-week ban includes the governor's boasting, "When I was preparing to run for Governor of New Jersey there were those who told me there was no way I would be elected as a pro-life candidate.  I told them that they were wrong, that the voters would accept the sincerity of my beliefs even if they felt differently. Today, I am a living example that being pro-life is not a political liability anywhere in America."
 
The part about Christie's pro-choice background seems to have been left out.
 
As a matter of policy, whether the governor appreciates these details or not, a 20-week ban is deeply problematic. As regular readers may recall, because roughly 99% of abortions occur before the 21st week of a pregnancy, these later terminations often involve "rare, severe fetal abnormalities and real threats to a woman's health."
 
It's why the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is so strongly against proposals like the one Christie endorsed yesterday.
 
Also note, of course, that the Republican-run U.S. House tried to pass its own 20-week ban earlier this year, but the bill was derailed when GOP lawmakers couldn't agree among themselves about exemptions for rape victims.
Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, front, gives his state-of-the-state address on Jan. 12, 2015, in Phoenix. (Photo by Ross D. Franklin/AP)

New law forces Arizona doctors to mislead abortion patients

03/31/15 09:21AM

Remember when the right said it opposed politicians getting between patients and physicians? Well, forget it -- at least in Arizona, it appears conservatives have changed their minds.
Arizona's Republican governor, Doug Ducey, said on Monday he has signed into law a controversial measure blocking women from buying insurance that includes abortion coverage through the federal healthcare exchange.
 
The fiercely debated bill also requires doctors to tell women they could possibly reverse the effects of a drug-induced abortion, a claim that critics have called "junk science."
The first part of the legislative package is itself problematic. Under the new law, consumers who want to receive health care coverage through an exchange will be prohibited from buying private insurance through a private business covering a legal medical procedure that Republicans don't like.
 
But it's the junk science provision that rankles because of its brazen disregard for a simple principle: politicians shouldn't force medical professionals to deliver bogus talking points to patients against their will.
Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (L) holds a bilateral meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) on the second straight day of talks over Tehran's nuclear program in Vienna, on July 14, 2014.

American mainstream strongly supports Iran talks

03/31/15 08:35AM

As international nuclear talks continue with Iran, and a pressing deadline looms, the domestic political debate is heating up, with a variety of contingents delivering a similar message to the American public: "Don't believe those other guys; believe me."

Oddly enough, each side seems to believe it's winning the political argument. Josh Kraushaar, a National Journal conservative, continues to believe President Obama is dangerously "ignoring public opinion," willing to "bypass public resistance" to P5+1 diplomacy. As we discussed last week, prominent Republicans are pushing the same line -- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) expressed dismay that the White House is "circumventing the will of the American people," while former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) said "public opinion" is not on Obama's side.
 
As a matter of principle, there's room for debate about whether or not polls matter in a case like this. Sometimes worthwhile ideas are unpopular; sometimes dreadful ideas enjoy broad support. But in the case of the Iran talks, the more pressing concern is the degree to which Republican assumptions have the entire story backwards.
By a nearly 2 to 1 margin, Americans support the notion of striking a deal with Iran that restricts the nation's nuclear program in exchange for loosening sanctions, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds. [...]
 
Overall, the poll finds 59 percent support an agreement in which the United States and its negotiating partners lift major economic sanctions in exchange for restrictions on Iran's nuclear program. Thirty-one percent oppose a deal. Support outpaces opposition across nearly all demographic and political groups....
The results are very similar to those from a recent CNN poll, which found a broad majority of Americans in support of the negotiations with Iran about its nuclear program.

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