Tag Archives: mid-term elections

Republicans block Senate bill designed to override Hobby Lobby ruling

Senate Democrats suffered what looked like a difficult setback on birth control on July 16, but they hope it pays big political dividends in November.

Republicans blocked a bill that was designed to override a Supreme Court ruling and ensure access to contraception for women who get their health insurance from companies with religious objections. The vote was 56-43 to move ahead on the legislation – dubbed the “Not My Boss’ Business Act” by proponents — four short of the 60 necessary to proceed.

But Democrats hope the issue has enough life to energize female voters in the fall, when Republicans are threatening to take control of the Senate.

GOP senators said this week’s vote was simply a stunt, political messaging designed to boost vulnerable Democratic incumbents. The GOP needs to gain six seats to seize control.

“Democrats are just trying to win an election,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said bluntly.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Republicans were the ones “out of touch with reality.” He promised that Democrats would continue to press the issue.

Women have proven crucial in electing President Barack Obama and members of his party. And Democrats desperately need a strong turnout as they defend 21 Senate seats to the GOP’s 15, many in Republican-leaning states where Obama’s abysmal approval ratings are a likely drag.

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that requiring closely held companies to pay for various forms of women’s contraception to which they object violates the corporations’ religious freedom. The decision marked the first time the high court had declared that businesses can hold religious views under federal law.

“Five men on the Supreme Court rolled back the clock on women in America,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

A Senate veteran — the four-term Murray — and an incumbent locked in a tight race — Colorado’s Mark Udall — joined forces in pushing the legislation that would have reversed the court’s decision by providing access to contraception through insurance plans at businesses that object on religious grounds.

Republicans asserted that the government must accommodate the deeply held religious beliefs of Americans, including the owners of Hobby Lobby, the Oklahoma-based chain of arts and craft stores that challenged the contraceptives provision in the law.

“The issue in Hobby Lobby is not whether women can purchase birth control, it’s who pays for what,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., in remarks on the Senate floor. “Those of us who believe that life begins at conception have moral objections to devices or procedures that destroy fertilized embryos.”

Fischer said the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, has similar objections and “they don’t want to use their money to violate their religious beliefs.” She said the company’s health coverage does pay for 16 of 20 forms of contraception, including birth control pills.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Democrats “think they can score political points and create divisions where there aren’t any by distorting the facts.”

McConnell joined with two Republican women, Fischer and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, in backing separate legislation that would reaffirm current law on access to contraception and in calling for a Food and Drug Administration study on whether contraceptives could be sold over the counter without a prescription.

In one of the most closely watched races in the country, McConnell faces Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in his bid for a sixth term.

On the July 16 vote, three Republicans broke ranks with their party — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mark Kirk of Illinois — and backed the Democratic-led legislation. In a procedural move, Reid switched his vote to no, allowing him to bring the measure up for another vote closer to the election. All other Democrats backed the bill.

Democrats facing re-election insisted that the court ruling would force some women to pay out of pocket for contraceptives, or simply skip the purchase if the cost was too much.

“When you charge women more for contraceptive coverage, then you are denying them access to that care,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who is in a competitive race.

The government has said nearly 30 million women receive birth control as a result of the four-year-old health care law.

In the 2012 presidential and House elections, Democrats captured the female vote by double-digit margins — 55 percent to 44 percent — as Obama won re-election, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research for The Associated Press and other news organizations.

Democrats enjoyed a slightly better edge in the 2008 elections when Obama captured his first term and Democrats maintained their congressional majority.

But it was far different in the 2010 midterm elections, some eight months after Obama signed the health care law and as the tea party energized the GOP. Female voters backed Republicans 49 percent to the Democrats’ 48 percent in a low-turnout election that enabled the GOP takeover of the House.

In Colorado in 2008, female voters were critical to Udall’s election to the Senate, favoring his candidacy 56 percent to 41 percent while men backed him 50 percent to 46 percent.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the court’s decision has “awakened the pro-choice majority in this country.” In Kentucky, NARAL began a 30-second ad criticizing McConnell for his opposition to the legislation.

Democratic candidates in other states have been pressing their GOP rivals on whether they supported the court’s ruling.

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Advocates for immigration reform see window closing before elections

Advocates for immigration reform are mounting a final push to persuade the House to pass legislation this summer, seeing one last window to act that will soon slam shut for good.

If they don’t succeed by August, most say any chance of legislation will be over for the year, and all eyes will be on President Barack Obama to see if he acts on his own to curb deportations and accommodate some of the 11.5 million people here illegally.

The renewed focus on the GOP-led House comes amid chatter that immigration legislation – all but left for dead at the beginning of this year – is showing faint glimmers of life. Advocates point to recent comments by a handful of House Republicans, among them Speaker John Boehner, indicating an interest in getting it done.

Meanwhile Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., the leading proponent on the Republican side, has been trying to sell fellow Republicans on legislation he’s drafted that deals with enforcement of the laws and a legal status for those without one. He contends that after years of trying he’s struck a balance that can bring both sides on board.

“I think we finally have it right which is why I feel more optimistic than ever,” Diaz-Balart said.

Advocates note that midterm election primaries will largely be over by the end of June, freeing some House Republicans from the threat of a challenge from the right and perhaps liberating them to deal with a contentious issue like immigration.

Business lobbyists and others say they are now aiming to elevate pressure on individual House Republicans who might support overhaul efforts, or at least not publicly oppose them, with the aim of creating a swell of support that would allow Boehner the space he needs to act. Some outside lobbyists say they can count scores of House Republicans who would be with them.

The activity comes 10 months after the Senate passed bipartisan legislation with billions for border security, new visa programs to bring workers to the U.S., and a path to citizenship for the millions now here illegally. There is widespread agreement within the Republican establishment that the immigration issue has become a political drag on the GOP because of how it alienates Latinos, a fast-growing voter bloc. A wide-ranging coalition consisting of business groups, farmers, religious leaders, labor unions and others is pushing for reform.

But the same factors that have made immigration legislation a challenge from the beginning haven’t changed. For many individual House Republicans who represent largely white districts, there remains scant political imperative to act. And there is a small but vocal contingent among Republicans who oppose any effort at reform, and, egged on by some outside conservatives such as radio host Laura Ingraham, has vowed to take any step possible to oppose it.

The outsize sway of this small group was demonstrated recently when it mobilized against efforts by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., to advance legislation allowing eventual citizenship for people brought illegally to the country as youths who serve in the military.

Boehner has shown little appetite for standing down this faction, instead swiftly retreating after he made comments last week mocking House Republicans for being reluctant to act on immigration because it was too hard.

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, a leading conservative voice on immigration, said “there would be a civil war” if Boehner tried to move immigration. A House leadership aide said there were no plans for floor action this summer.

Meanwhile, Obama has come under intense pressure to address the issue through executive action, and his Homeland Security Department is conducting a review that could result in steps to soften the administration’s deportations policy. Advocates have hoped for some initial steps within coming weeks, although nothing major is expected until it becomes clear Boehner can’t or won’t act. If he doesn’t act by August at latest, attention will turn squarely to the administration for relief.

In a meeting Friday with Asian advocates and others, Obama made clear that the focus must be on Congress for now, said Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., who attended.

Still, some advocates are more hopeful now than they were earlier this year after Boehner released a set of principles meant to guide action in the House, only to quickly abandon them after an unenthusiastic response from fellow Republicans.

“The people who want to do this just need to take a deep breath and do it,” said Galen Carey, vice president of government relations at the National Association of Evangelicals, which brought more than 250 pastors to Capitol Hill this week to lobby for reform.

Giving thanks for Ricky Martin

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’ve been having a hell of a time finding something to be thankful for. Then Ricky Martin stepped back into the limelight.

Little does the dreamy pop star know what a godsend he has been to this jaded old lesbian.

It’s been a bad month. The depression I’ve felt for some time about the disastrous shape of the country sunk into outright despair after the mid-term elections. The results seemed like final confirmation of President Obama’s complete failure to lead over the past two years. It heralded the triumph of the Big Lie(s) and the liars who promote them. It showed how easily led a frustrated public can be and how utterly impotent the left seems to be in gaining traction for any progressive ideas.

The biggest losers? The growing army of unemployed for whom no relief is in sight and our men and women in military service, doomed to lose their minds and lives in unending foreign occupations. The latest insane idea is to attack Iran, which apparently makes perfect sense to the inmates now running the asylum.

An end to “don’t ask, don’t tell”? Don’t hold your breath. Gay marriage? Probably not for long.

At times like these, lefties like me are supposed to heed the cry of our doomed martyr Joe Hill: “Don’t mourn – organize!” But I don’t want to mourn or organize right now. I’ve put on my headphones (good Milwaukee-made Koss headphones) and lost myself in music. I am further distracting myself with the modern opiate of the people – 24/7 celebrity culture.

That’s where I kept running into Ricky Martin. November has been a big month for Ricky. He’s on a publicity campaign promoting his autobiography and his upcoming world tour. The focus of the book and media interviews has been on his new status as an “out” gay man and father of two boys.

Some complain, “Geez Ricky, it’s about time … what took you so long?” But none of us can understand all the personal issues someone may be dealing with or, in Ricky’s case, the career concerns he probably had as such a worldwide mega-star. The important thing isn’t how long it took him but that he’s arrived at a point of acceptance.

In interviews, the energetic showman appeared modest and thoughtful, peaceful and content, especially when talking about his children. He responded patiently and wisely to the questions about his sexuality, saying that coming out is a process that was difficult for him, is different for everyone and should not be coerced. He showed class by being respectful of, and circumspect about, his past lovers, male and female. And he repeated the phrasing he used in his first disclosure earlier this year that being gay is “a blessing.”

A blessing. I love that expression. I have always felt blessed by my own lesbianism. Understanding your sexuality liberates you and makes you whole. It is spiritual, transformational, beneficial. What a great message to send out right now!

Ricky appeared at the Latin Grammys on Nov. 11. He had the honor of presenting a special award to Placido Domingo and sang a delightful duet with Natalia Jimenez. He looked fabulous, sounded awesome, danced deliciously and seemed bursting with pride and happiness to be back in his element. He must have been nervous about how he would be received, and it was with open arms and a tumultuous ovation.

I may be grasping at straws here, but in the midst of a bleak political landscape, Ricky Martin has provided an example of pride and progress. That’s something to be grateful for.