The crux of the recent Planned Parenthood controversy is about fetal-tissue research: the health care organization provides tissues, at no profit, to medical researchers. It's an important area of science that has enjoyed bipartisan support for decades, but which Republicans have now rebranded as "harvesting organs from unborn children."
Among the group's critics is Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon. That wouldn't be especially interesting, were it not for the fact that Carson "previously did research using human fetal tissue." BuzzFeed had the scoop this morning:
Late on Wednesday, an OB/GYN and science writer Jen Gunter revealed on her blog a 1992 study in which Carson and three other colleagues used tissue from the fetal brain and nasal cavity to better understand the development of the chambers (or "ventricles") of the brain. These tissues "were obtained from two fetuses aborted at the ninth and 17th week of gestation," the paper says.
Just so we're clear, no one has accused Carson of doing anything illegal or medically unethical. On the contrary, the fetal-tissue research Carson conducted is rather common, and up until very recently, uncontroversial.
But as a Republican presidential candidate, Carson appears to have criticized the same scientific research he personally participated in. What's more, as BuzzFeed's report added, Carson told Fox News last month that a fetus at 17 weeks "is a human being." The fact that the GOP candidate used tissues from an aborted 17-week fetus makes his position that much more complex.
The good news is, Carson has a response. The bad news is, it's not particularly persuasive.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* In Iowa, the new CNN poll shows Donald Trump leading the Republican presidential field with 22% support, followed by Ben Carson at 14%. No other candidate reaches double digits, though Scott Walker is third with 9% and Ted Cruz is fourth with 8%.
* CNN also polled Iowa Democrats and found Hillary Clinton ahead with 50%, followed by Bernie Sanders with 31%, and Vice President Biden with 12%.
* Rand Paul's offensive against Trump continued yesterday, with the senator's campaign unveiling a new attack video that basically characterizes Trump as a Democrat.
* Trump responded with a lengthy statement mocking the Kentucky Republican, ridiculing his golf game, and encouraging him to drop out of the presidential race.
* Jeb Bush had an awkward town-hall event in Nevada yesterday, telling a Filipino immigrant he opposes an immigration policy based on family reunification. The event ended with Black Lives Matter protesters clashing with Bush supporters.
* More than half of New Jersey voters want Chris Christie to resign as governor while he runs for president.
* In Missouri, PPP found Sen. Roy Blunt (R) with an ugly 30% approval rating. In a hypothetical general election, he leads his largely unknown Democratic challenger, Jason Kander, by just five points, 40% to 35%.
The renewed Republican campaign against Planned Parenthood has moved past the realm of rhetoric and debate, making the transition to legislative bodies. At the federal level, for example, quite a few GOP lawmakers say they're prepared to shut down the federal government next month over federal funding for the health care organization.
At the state level, meanwhile, officials in Alabama, Louisiana, and New Hampshire recently decided to block public resources for Planned Parenthood -- it apparently doesn't matter that some of these states don't have clinics that perform abortions -- and related efforts are underway in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
The Wall Street Journalreported yesterday, however, that the Obama administration isn't just committed to protecting Planned Parenthood in a political dispute; it's also concerned about the legality of state action against the health organization.
Federal law requires that Medicaid beneficiaries may obtain services, including family-planning care, from any qualified provider. Terminating Planned Parenthood's Medicaid provider agreements restricts access by not permitting them to get services from providers of their choice, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. [...]
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a unit of HHS, has notified Louisiana and Alabama, which have taken action to terminate their Medicaid provider agreements with Planned Parenthood, that they may be in conflict with federal law, according to HHS. CMS said that, by restricting which provider a woman could choose to receive care from, women could lose access to critical preventive care, such as cancer screenings.
The key here are guidelines from 2011, in which HHS said states "cannot block Medicaid funding to providers on the basis of the other services offered." In other words, Alabama can't block funding for cancer screenings because it opposes abortion, since public money can pay for the former but not the latter.
As a matter of political strategy, Americans for Tax Reform's Grover Norquist came up with a pretty effective tactic when he crafted "the pledge." As we discussed a few months ago, the idea is entirely straightforward: Republican candidates, up and down the ballot, are asked to sign a promise never to raise any tax on anyone by any amount for any reason.
If a proposal increases government revenue, under the Norquist framework, Republicans must approve comparable cuts elsewhere.
In time, the pressure on GOP candidates took root: Republicans who wanted to win, especially in a primary, came to recognize the intra-party expectation. Sign the pledge or lose.
The more popular the tactic became, the more bipartisan policymaking became practically impossible, especially at the federal level. It wasn't long before Norquist's pledge developed a reputation as a mindless, knee-jerk obstacle to good governance.
But Republican presidential candidates keep signing it anyway. The conservative Washington Times reported:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has signed Americans for Tax Reform's Taxpayer Protection Pledge vowing to "oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes," the group said Wednesday.
"Governor Chris Christie has vetoed more tax hikes than any other governor in modern American history," said Grover Norquist, president of ATR. "And he made those vetoes stick. Without the Christie governorship, New Jersey would be somewhere between Detroit and Greece."
The New Jersey governor joins Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, and Ben Carson among GOP presidential contenders who've added their names to the Norquist pledge list.
They'll probably soon have company: Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, and Mike Huckabee "have all previously signed the pledge in some capacity," and are expected to do so again this year.
If you're desperately waiting for the Affordable Care Act to fail, and for the entire Obamacare-based American system to collapse, this week must be crushing.
The number of people without health insurance has declined by 15.8 million since ObamaCare's coverage expansion took effect, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The National Health Interview Survey finds that the number of uninsured people has declined from 44.8 million in 2013, before ObamaCare's coverage expansion took effect, to 29 million in the first quarter of 2015. The uninsured rate fell from 14.4 percent in 2013 to 9.2 percent in 2015, according to the CDC.
To be sure, it's an arbitrary threshold, but the fact that the uninsured rate has dropped to single digits is both encouraging and historic -- since public officials began keeping track, it's never been this low in the United States.
Looking closer at the data, note that the CDC data is based on surveys conducted between January and March. In the five months since then, it's likely the uninsured rate has improved a little more -- Charles Gaba pegs the figure at about 8.8%.
And this wasn't the only bit of good news. NBC News reported that the latest figures from the National Center for Health Statistics pointed to fantastic news on expansion of the availability of coverage, and a new report from the Rand Corporation research group found similar results.
Also this week, new evidence makes clear that the ACA has not undermined job growth, further disproving one of the key Republican talking points on health care.
At a certain point, at least some opponents of the law should probably say to themselves, "We fought the good fight, but the darn thing is working."
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) is in an unenviable spot. Few congressional Republicans are as vulnerable in 2016 as the far-right Wisconsinite; he hasn't developed much of a legislative record; and polls show him trailing former Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in next year's rematch.
Making matters worse, Johnson hasn't done much to help his case lately. As we talked about a couple of weeks ago, the GOP senator got caught up in an odd fight over the "Lego Movie"; his ridiculous anti-Obamacare lawsuit was laughed out of court; and his defense for signing onto a letter intended to sabotage American foreign policy wasn't especially coherent.
Johnson also referred during a recent radio interview to "idiot inner-city kids," though he later said he was being sarcastic.
Yesterday, however, American Bridge released a new video with a recent Ron Johnson quote that stood out as especially interesting.
"I think what's resonating about Donald Trump, I'd like to think, some things is appealing about my candidacy here in Wisconsin."
Obviously, the grammar and syntax are a mess, but the point seems clear enough: Johnson apparently sees himself in the Trump-esque mold.
This isn't a positive development -- for the senator or his party.
A few months ago, after some particularly odd comments from Republican presidential hopeful Scott Walker, President Obama called the Wisconsin governor out by name. "Mr. Walker," the president said, apparently needs to take "some time to bone up on foreign policy."
The GOP candidate doesn't seem to agree. As BuzzFeed reported yesterday, Walker's latest criticism of the international nuclear agreement is based on an odd analogy involving teenagers.
"Throughout the process, I've spoke out repeatedly about it," the Wisconsin governor told Iowa radio host Simon Conway. "I've got two boys in college now, but when they were in high school, we'd have a rule that they could have friends over, including girls, as long as the door to their room was open."
He added that "the provisions in this deal" would be like allowing teen boys keep their doors closed and warning them before entering the room.
"To me, the provisions in this deal are like telling teenage boys, not only can you have the doors closed, but we got to shout up the stairs before we walk up the steps, 'Hey, we're coming up to check and see what you're doing. Just want to give you advance notice.' It makes no sense," Walker said.
The phrase, "It makes no sense" is probably the only accurate part of Walker's quote, though it regrettably refers to the Republican governor's rhetoric, rather than the diplomatic deal itself.
On Tuesday night, Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush complained bitterly about conditions in Iraq, which he blamed on President Obama and his team, rather than the disastrous war launched and mismanaged by his brother. It was a topic Jeb should have gone out of his way to avoid, but the Florida Republican jumped in, head-first, anyway.
A day later, the former governor decided to go after Hillary Clinton's emails. Once again, it's a topic Jeb should have gone out of his way to avoid, but the Florida Republican jumped in, head-first, anyway. NBC News reported:
The former Florida governor also knocked Clinton for her use of a private email server while secretary of state. Clinton's campaign on Tuesday announced it would hand over the server to the Justice Department. "It looks like she's hiding, the way she's going about this I mean disclose it," Bush said. "The FBI took it, it's a little bit different than disclosing it." [...]
Bush cited his own release of 33 years of tax returns and his own emails from his time in government as proof that his approach is superior to Clinton's.
Right off the bat, when someone turns over a server to the Justice Department for review, as part of a probe in which that person is not a target, that's not "hiding." It's the exact opposite.
But the more striking problem is Bush's willingness to cite his own record. It's one of the more obvious failures of self-awareness seen on the campaign trail this year.
Ari Melber shares some of the most creative, cringe-worthy, or just plain weird political advertisements that have been inflicted on voters, but then tops them all with an ad for a candidate for Canadian Parliament. watch
Roberta Kaplan, renowned civil rights attorney who successfully argued against DOMA before the Supreme Court, talks with Ari Melber about her case challenging the state of Mississippi's ban on same-sex adoption. watch
Anne Gearan, political correspondent for The Washington Post, talks with Ari Melber about Donald Trump's qualified support for Planned Parenthood and the contrast between his views and those of the rest of the Republican presidential primary field. watch
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