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Image: U.S. flag flies at half-staff on the Capitol dome in memory of former Senator Howard Baker in Washington

Whip Count: Calling Congress back to vote on ISIS

09/29/14 06:53PM

In an effort to keep track of whether Congress is going to vote and debate the issue of military force in Iraq and Syria, we have started a new* public whip count. We are tracking the members of Congress who have issued statements, or said publicly that not only must Congress vote on an authorization for the use of U.S. military force in Iraq and Syria but that Congress must come back from vacation to vote on that authorization now.

Below is our running tally so far. If you click on the link on each senator or representative’s name it will take you to the source of their remarks that earned them a place on this list.

We hope that you can help us keep our running tally up-to-date. If your member of Congress wants to come back and vote on this, please let us know. Keep us posted!

(*Before the Congressional recess, this was our running tally.)

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Monday's Mini-Report, 9.29.14

09/29/14 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
* An extraordinary scene in Hong Kong: "A wave of protest in Hong Kong further engulfed the city on Monday as thousands of residents defied a government call to abandon street blockades, students boycotted classes and the city's influential bar association added its condemnation of a police crackdown on protesters."
* Looking ahead: "China's Communist Party has ample experience extinguishing unrest.... But as he faces massive street demonstrations in Hong Kong pressing for more democracy in the territory, the toolbox of President Xi Jinping of China appears remarkably empty."
* For more background on the clashes in Hong Kong, I found Max Fisher's explainer very helpful.
* Everything about this story keeps getting worse: "The man who jumped the White House fence this month and sprinted through the front door made it much farther into the building than previously known, overpowering one Secret Service officer and running through much of the main floor, according to three people familiar with the incident."
* Syria: "The Pentagon said on Saturday that it had conducted its first strikes against Islamic State targets in a besieged Kurdish area of Syria along the Turkish border, destroying two armored vehicles in an area that has been the subject of a weeklong onslaught by the Islamic State."
* Casualties: "Eleven air strikes targeted ISIS positions in Syria and Iraq, the U.S. military said Monday -- adding that it had no evidence so far of civilian casualties. 'In Syria, one air strike near Dayr ar Zawr destroyed one [ISIS] armed vehicle while another destroyed an [ISIS] anti-aircraft artillery transport vehicle,' US Central Command said in a statement."
* Ferguson: "Police in Ferguson, Mo., say they are searching for a suspect who allegedly shot a police officer in the arm late Saturday evening. The shooting occurred in the 1000 block of Smith Avenue not far from the Ferguson Community Center, according to a press release from police."
* Yes means yes: "Students at California universities will all be held to the same standard when it comes to sexual assault and consent, after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a groundbreaking piece of legislation Sunday. The new law will require all schools that receive state funding to adopt an 'affirmative consent' standard in their sexual assault policies. This standard, also sometimes called 'yes means yes,' requires clear and ongoing consent, rather than just an absence of resistance."
Voting stickers are seen at the Ohio Union during the U.S. presidential election at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio November 6, 2012.

Supreme Court blocks Ohio early voting on eve of balloting

09/29/14 04:50PM

For voting-rights advocates in Ohio, everything looked like it was going well. A few weeks ago, a federal district court reversed Republican-imposed voting restrictions in the Buckeye State, restoring early-voting opportunities. Last week, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in a unanimous order, clearing the way for Ohio voters to cast early ballots if they choose.
Voting was all set to begin in Ohio -- literally tomorrow morning -- right up until the Supreme Court intervened this afternoon. Lyle Denniston reported:
With just sixteen hours before polling stations open in Ohio, the Supreme Court on Monday afternoon blocked voters from beginning tomorrow to cast their ballots in this year’s general election.  By a vote of five to four, the Justices put on hold a federal judge’s order providing new opportunities for voting before election day, beyond what state leaders wanted.
The order will remain in effect until the Court acts on an appeal by state officials. If that is denied, then the order lapses. It is unclear when that scenario will unfold.
Remember, Republican officials in Ohio have been trying to cut early voting, while also making it harder for voters to cast ballots on weekends and during evening hours. These changes prompted a lawsuit from civil-rights proponents, arguing that the GOP-imposed restrictions, approved for no good reason, disproportionately affected low-income and African-American voters -- who, you guessed it, might be more inclined to vote Democratic.
The Supreme Court's announcement wasn't on the merits of the case, and there haven't been oral arguments. Rather, this was in response to an emergency appeal from Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R), who's invested considerable energy in recent years in approving new restrictions on voting.
The Supreme Court was divided 5-to-4, with -- wait for it -- Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas siding with Ohio Republicans trying to limit access. These are the same five justices appointed by Republican presidents.
So what happens now?
President Barack Obama speaks at the White House in Washington,D.C. on Sept. 26, 2014.

The ISIS 'gaffe' isn't quite what it's cracked up to be

09/29/14 03:23PM

If the White House press briefing today was any indication, much of the media has decided that President Obama has put a new "gaffe" on a tee, inviting critics to swing at it. Are they right? Let's take a closer look.
On "60 Minutes," the president covered a fair amount of ground with Steve Kroft, but apparently the most important exchange was about Islamic State militants.
KROFT: How did this get, how did they end up where they are in control of so much territory? Was that a complete surprise to you?
OBAMA: Well I think, our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.
KROFT: I mean, he didn't say that -- just say that, "We underestimated ISIL." He said, "We overestimated the ability and the will of our allies, the Iraqi army, to fight."
OBAMA: That's true. That's absolutely true.
From there, the president added some additional context about political conditions in Iraq, and the interview moved on. To my ear, this hardly stood out as shocking stuff -- and Kroft didn't seem to find it especially noteworthy, either. I think much of the world expected Iraqi security forces to put up a more effective resistance to easily outnumber Islamic State militants, but their recent confrontations didn't go as planned.
But that's not quite what the political world heard. First, many news organizations seem stunned by the fact that the president acknowledged out loud that his administration "underestimated" a foreign foe. Second, Fox News and Ron Fournier have decided it's outrageous that the president is "shifting blame."
Let's consider these one at a time.

Why a compromise on contraception remains so elusive

09/29/14 01:02PM

Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) has put himself in a very awkward spot. After flip-flopping on Colorado's proposal on personhood, which would ban abortions and many common forms of birth control, the conservative Republican continues to support federal personhood legislation.
Asked to explain himself, Gardner has been reduced to arguing, over and over again, "There is no federal personhood bill." This plainly isn't true -- the congressman is a co-sponsor of the "Life Begins at Conception Act," which his fellow co-sponsors agree is a personhood bill.
It's a problem that Gardner supports a radical proposal that would ban popular forms of contraception. It's arguably a bigger problem that Gardner has been caught trying to deceive the public.
But making matters slightly worse, social conservatives have decided Gardner's new position -- make birth control available over the counter, without a prescription -- isn't good enough, either. Sophie Novack reported the other day:
Some [in] the Religious Right see the plan as backtracking on conservative ideals, and they worry the ambiguity of the proposal would make pills too easy to access.
Eliminating the doctor as a middleman and making birth control easy to obtain could result in its misuse, the critics say. Over-the-counter access to pills that could cause abortions -- intentionally or accidentally -- would be their worst nightmare.
"There are several serious health complications with birth control pills," said Jennifer Mason, communications director for Personhood USA. "Some pills could cause abortions; even aside from the moral implications, it's reckless to make abortion and contraception pills available over the counter."
Remember, for Gardner and others in the GOP, this was supposed to be the silver-bullet solution. The idea is, they can overcome all of their proposed restrictions on contraception access by simply pushing for over-the-counter sales. Voila, political crisis resolved.
What these Republicans may not have realized is that they're inviting scorn from the right by pretending to move to the left.