Tag Archives: patrick leahy

Poll: Bernie Sanders most popular U.S. senator

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is the most popular U.S. senator, according to data from Morning Consult.

The polling shows 69 of 100 U.S. senators with approval ratings better than 50 percent, and Sanders, an independent from Vermont, is at the top of the ratings chart with 83 percent.

His disapproval rating is only 13 percent.

Republican Susan Collins of Maine has the second highest approval rating at 78 percent, followed by Republican John Barrasso of Wyoming and then Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy.

Polling in the 60s are John Hoeven of North Dakota, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Angus King of Maine, John Thune of South Dakota, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Al Franken of Minnesota, Tom Carper of Delaware, Chuck Schumer of New York, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin’s approval rating was 45 and disapproval rating was 35.

Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson’s approval rating was 38 percent and his disapproval was at 35 percent.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s disapproval rating was highest at 52 percent. Arizona Republican John McCain was in second with a 41 percent disapproval rating.

Morning Consult surveyed more than 75,000 voters in 50 states over several months.

Vermont voters have the highest opinion of their senators — Sanders, the presidential candidate, and Leahy, the longest-serving member of the Senate.

Gays ‘thrown under the bus’ in immigration bill

The Senate Judiciary Committee is marking up the massive bill that leaders in both parties agree presents the best opportunity to reform immigration policy in decades. The bill contains many provisions sought by progressive groups, but lacks protections for LGBT families, specifically binational same-sex couples whose relationships are not recognized by the government.

While endorsing key provisions in the bill drafted by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight,” LGBT civil rights groups continue to urge the adoption of amendments that protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their families.

There are an estimated one million LGBT adult immigrants, about two-thirds of whom are documented and one-third undocumented. An estimated 32,300 LGBT binational couples live in the United States.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who chairs the Judiciary Committee, filed one amendment on May 7 that would allow U.S. citizens to seek permanent resident visas, known as green cards, for same-sex foreign partners and another amendment that would apply to U.S. citizens with same-sex foreign spouses.

“For immigration reform to be truly comprehensive, it must include protections for all families,” Leahy said in a news release. “We must end the discrimination that gay and lesbian families face in our immigration law.”

But the amendments were not among the many considered and either rejected or approved during the first markup session on May 9.

And, as of press time, Leahy had not said whether he would bring up the amendments in committee or offer them when the bill reaches the floor, possibly next month.

That may be because of threats from GOP conservatives, including a coalition of Christian right leaders who spoke out against an inclusive bill the day before the markup began.

“We’re extremely hopeful that this bill will remain an immigration bill and not get tangled up with the issue of gay rights,” said Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention during a news conference call on May 8. “But if it did, if it did, the Southern Baptist Convention would not be able to support the bill.”

Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, called LGBT protections “a divisive distraction that must not derail immigration reform.”

Several prominent Republicans, among them Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, have endorsed an LGBT-inclusive bill, but many others in the party – most significantly the Republicans in the Gang of Eight – have said including LGBT protections would kill the bill.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., recently told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, “This immigration bill is difficult enough as it is. If you inject something like this in the bill, it will die. The coalition behind it will fall apart.”

He added, “This is not the issue to engage this in. You will threaten the entire product.”

This has Democrats concerned for the fate of a mammoth reform bill that would strengthen border security, create new programs to allow tens of thousands of workers into the United States legally, require all employers to verify workers’ legal status, and create a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants now here without legal documents.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said worries over the issue are costing him sleep. “This one is something I worry about all the time. I’m a good sleeper but I wake up in the morning thinking of these things, sometimes early in the morning,” said Schumer, one of the Democrats in the Gang of Eight and another member of the Judiciary Committee.

Schumer supports LGBT protections in immigration reform but fears there may be no passage if the bill is amended to include the LGBT protections.

Such concerns led some in the blogosphere and pundits on cable news channels to suggest that LGBT civil rights advocates back off on the issue.

But advocates maintain that, with a majority of Americans supporting the rights of same-sex couples and their families, there’s no reason an inclusive bill should fail – except that some lawmakers are homophobic.

In a statement released on May 7, Human Rights Campaign said, “The four Republican members of the Gang of Eight have threatened to derail the immigration bill if gay couples are included in it, suggesting that protecting this group, currently left out of our broken immigration system, is somehow different than the other important fixes contemplated. It’s not.

“If they end up doing that, they should just own it and call it what it is: homophobia.” 

Polls show that about 53-58 percent of voters, including 52 percent of Republicans under the age of 50, support marriage equality. Seventy-three percent of Americans, including 66 percent of Republicans, support banning workplace discrimination against LGBT people.

“There is a jarring disconnect between the American public and these senators when it comes to issues of LGBT equality,” HRC said, referring to the GOP members of the Gang of Eight. “It’s pretty dated to consider LGBT equality as a controversial, hot-button issue like these senators are portraying it to be. In fact, a strong and diverse majority of Americans support equality. These senators are towing a tired line that no longer represents mainstream opinion, and they’re throwing same-sex couples under the bus in the process.”

The immigration legislation, introduced on April 17, is S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act.

Leahy offers LGBT amendments to immigration bill

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, has filed an LGBT-inclusive amendments to the immigration reform bill, the proposed Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. 

Leahy is a Democrat from Vermont and has long supported legislation to protect LGBT binational families. He filed a series of amendments on May 7.

The bill and proposed amendments will be considered by the Judiciary Committee on May 9.

One of Leahy’s proposals would provides equality in immigration law by allowing American citizens who are in long-term committed relationships to sponsor their foreign partners for green cards.

Leahy filed a separate amendment that provides equal protection to lawfully married bi-national same sex couples that other spouses receive under existing immigration law.

“For immigration reform to be truly comprehensive, it must include protections for all families,” Leahy said in a news release. “We must end the discrimination that gay and lesbian families face in our immigration law.”

Democrats try again to extend anti-violence bill

Congressional Democrats have renewed their push to revive the key federal program that protects women against domestic violence. They sought to diminish Republican objections that blocked passage of the legislation last year by removing a provision that would increase visas for immigrant victims of domestic abuse.

The Violence Against Women Act became law in 1994 and was extended in 2000 and 2005. But it expired in 2011 and, although both the House and Senate passed VAWA bills last year, the two chambers were unable to settle their differences.

“No woman should ever be forced to suffer in silence in the face of abuse, and Democrats are committed to expanding protections for America’s women and giving law enforcement the tools they need to enforce the Violence Against Women Act,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said as dozens of House Democratic women, and several men, gathered on Jan. 23 to reintroduce the legislation. She said they had 158 Democratic sponsors.

The main points of contention last year were provisions in the Senate-passed bill that increased protections for American Indians, gays and immigrants.

Legislation that was introduced in the Senate on Jan. 22, and the identical bill House Democrats unveiled on Jan. 23, retain those protections but remove one provision that would increase what are called U visas available to immigrant victims.

House Republicans last year said that was unconstitutional because the Senate imposed a fee to pay for the visa expansion and all revenue-raising measures must be initiated by the House.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he still supported the visa increase but “we introduce the bill today without that provision in order to remove any excuse for House inaction.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that the Leahy bill, cosponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, will be a legislative priority this year.

The 1994 act provides funding for legal assistance for victims, enforcement of protection orders, transitional housing aid and youth prevention programs. Supporters say the annual incidence of domestic violence has dropped more than 50 percent since VAWA became law.

Obstacles still remain to an agreement. In particular, Republicans have objected to a measure in the Senate-passed bill that would allow Native American courts to prosecute non-Indians accused of committing abuses on Indian land. The House bill that passed last May also omitted Senate references to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders.

Senator appeals for DOMA’s repeal

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is urging colleagues to support his measure to pass legislation repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and also enact a measure intended to help bi-national couples stay together.

U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents may sponsor their spouses and other immediate family members for immigration purposes. But same-sex partners of U.S. citizens and permanent residents cannot be considered “spouses” because of DOMA, and their partners cannot sponsor them for family-based immigration.

Leahy has been both a champion for DOMA’s repeal and the lead sponsor of the United American Families Act. In a statement released this week, the senator said:

I am moved today to talk about Frances Herbert and Takako Ueda of Dummerston, Vt. This loving couple is legally married under the laws of Vermont. Yet, like many Americans, they are being hurt by the Defense of Marriage Act despite the protections provided them under the laws of the state in which they live.

Ms. Ueda is a Japanese citizen. Recently, her petition to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States, as the lawful spouse of a U.S. citizen, was denied for the sole reason that she and her lawful spouse happen to be of the same gender. This case underscores not only the harm that current federal law causes to same sex couples, but the additional hardship placed upon same sex bi-national couples whose marriages are not recognized as the foundation of a spousal-based green card petition. 

Last summer, I chaired a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee to examine the impact of the Defense of Marriage Act. We heard from many different witnesses about how this federal law has singled them and their families out and made them less secure than other families protected under state law. That historic hearing reflected steady progress toward a better understanding of the way in which that law hurts Americans and their loved ones.

I have experienced profound change in my own views. I voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. And today I will not hesitate to acknowledge that my views have changed for the better. My own transformation came in part from the state of Vermont’s drive toward greater equality for Vermonters. The Vermont Supreme Court’s opinion in the landmark case of Baker v. State first gave rise to legislatively-enacted civil unions in Vermont.

In Baker v. State, then-Chief Justice Jeffery Amestoy wrote that the court’s decision was grounded in Vermont’s constitution and was “a recognition of our common humanity.” A few years later, the Vermont legislature voted to provide full marriage equality. And other states have now followed this march toward equality for all committed couples.

Our common humanity is what my friend Congressman John Lewis was describing when he spoke in opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act on the floor of the House of Representatives in 1996, and what he has continued to fight for and protect for so many years. Congressman Lewis saw this law for what it was with a clarity and conviction that I greatly admire. Congressman Lewis wrote in 2003 that we must have “not just civil rights for some but civil rights for all.” He was speaking of the rights of gay and lesbian Americans. I could not agree more. 

Our common humanity is what binds us together. It is what moves neighbors to help neighbors without regard to politics or ideology, and without judgment. It is what inspired the extraordinary generosity and giving spirit of Vermonters who helped each other following the devastation of Hurricane Irene, and which I and my family witnessed all over Vermont. I can think of few things more worthy of protection and respect than the universal bond that human beings form with each other.

Despite Vermont’s exercise of its sovereignty and the legislature’s expression of the will of the people of Vermont, the Defense of Marriage Act stands as an obstacle to the full realization of the promise Vermont made to its citizens – just as it does to the citizens of every other state that has taken these steps toward justice and fairness. 

Frances Herbert and Takako Ueda are two Vermonters who know first-hand the harm caused by this discriminatory federal policy. For them, the issue is not ideological or political, it is deeply personal. They are legally married in the state of Vermont and have been formally committed to one another for more than a decade. Despite the fact that Vermont considers them to be a married couple, the federal government does not. After many years of lawful presence in the United States, Ms. Ueda was faced with the impossible decision of choosing between her spouse and leaving the United States. Our federal laws may split their family apart. This is unfair and it is wrong. 

Not only does the Defense of Marriage Act infringe upon the states’ traditional and historic right to define marriage, it denies many Americans equal treatment under the law. What good is a federal law that dictates such a result? Ideological purity alone is not sufficient to overcome the harm that is caused. As I just acknowledged, my own thinking has evolved over the years as I have learned from my constituents and fellow Americans. Yet, repealing the Defense of Marriage Act would not force any State or individual to recognize a marriage they didn’t agree with. Instead, it would restore the role that States have historically played in determining who can be married under its laws.

I am confident that justice and fairness will prevail in the end. Our nation is too noble and our sense of liberty too strong to tolerate injustice without end. I am heartened by the progress that we are seeing across the country. Public consciousness is evolving, and will reach the point at which discrimination based on sexual orientation becomes another sad relic of our past. I believe we will look back at these prejudices with disappointment and regret, just as we have at other points in our history. But the capacity of our nation to evolve and progress is a defining characteristic of the American spirit. And the American people ultimately come to reject that which is fundamentally unfair and unjust. 

Just as Frances Herbert and Takako Ueda are living examples of just how devastating the Defense of Marriage Act is for so many Americans, there are others in Vermont who are facing and have faced the same struggles. Gordon Stewart, who testified before the Judiciary Committee in 2009, was compelled to sell his family’s farm in Vermont and move abroad in order to live lawfully with his partner. Nancy Wasserman was compelled to leave Vermont and move to Canada to be able to live with her spouse. She can now legally enjoy the benefits of marriage that would otherwise be denied to her wife in the United States. Michael Upton, a doctor and native of Vermont is forced to live apart from his loved one. No Vermonter, and no American, should be forced to make this choice. 

In addition to my strong support for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, I introduced the Uniting American Families Act to help right a part of this wrong. My legislation would grant same-sex bi-national couples the same immigration benefits provided to heterosexual couples. Passage of this important legislation would help put our country on par with over 25 other developed countries that value and respect human rights. 

In the United States, 10 states and the District of Columbia have marriage equality laws. The tide continues to swell in favor of same-sex equality with the New Jersey legislature passing a marriage equality bill this year, which was vetoed by Gov. Christie. It is clear that Americans are increasingly accepting of same-sex loving relationships and marriages, and that more and more Americans are putting aside tired stereotypes and their personal preferences to support individual freedom and the basic rights of all Americans. Now, the federal government must respect the sovereignty of these states and the protections those states have provided its citizens.

Having worked over many months to support Takako Ueda and Frances Herbert, it is clear to me that the love and devotion that they have for one another is no different or less sacred than that which I share with my wife, Marcelle. It is no less real, or important, or worthy of protection and recognition. I have been blessed to be married for nearly 50 years. Marcelle and I have been able to enjoy the family unity and the benefits that legal recognition provides, and which I hope all Americans would agree is fundamental. 

As the Senate moves through the second session of the 112th Congress, I will keep fighting for Takako Ueda and Frances Herbert, for Gordon Stewart and Michael Upton, and for all Americans who face discrimination as the result of the Defense of Marriage Act. I know that justice is on our side.”

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Democrats seek to repeal DOMA

When the senate clerk called the roll on H.R. 3396, he tallied a lopsided vote: 85 yeas, 14 nays, one non-vote.

The Defense of Marriage Act, which had already sailed through the U.S. House, passed the Senate at 2:42 p.m. on Sept. 10, 1996.  About two weeks later, Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law, banning the federal government’s recognition of same-sex marriages and authorizing states to do the same.

Earlier this month, six of the 14 senators who had voted in the minority in 1996 urged their colleagues to revisit the issue and vote to repeal DOMA.

“DOMA was wrong and unconstitutional when I voted against it 15 years ago, in 1996, and it’s equally wrong and unconstitutional today,” said U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a co-sponsor of the repeal bill called the Respect for Marriage Act.

U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer from California, Daniel Akaka and Dan Inouye from Hawaii, and Ron Wyden of Oregon also voted against DOMA and are sponsoring the repeal bill – as is Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who voted for DOMA.

Feinstein, who wrote the Respect for Marriage Act, said, “My own belief is that when two people love each other and enter the contract of marriage, the federal government should honor that.”

Boxer said, “The Defense of Marriage Act has nothing to do with defending marriage – all it does is discriminate against millions of Americans by denying them equal treatment under the law. It is long past time that we repealed this unjust law and started treating all our families with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

In the House, lead sponsors include Jerry Nadler, Nancy Pelosi and John Conyers, as well as openly gay Reps. Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, Jared Polis and David Cicilline.

“DOMA harms real Americans,” said Baldwin, D-Madison. “It harms children and their loving parents. It harms elderly life-long partners. And it harms widows and widowers.”

Earlier this year, the Obama administration announced it would not defend in court the section of DOMA that withholds federal recognition of same-sex marriages. However, the administration said it would continue to enforce DOMA until it was repealed by Congress or voided by the courts.

The GOP majority in the House has stepped forward to defend DOMA in federal court. The House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group voted, along party lines, to direct the House general counsel to initiate defense of the statute using outside lawyers.

The announcement from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, brought questions from House Democrats about the associated costs, because Republicans have said this congressional ses sion will be about trimming the budget.

“It is important that the House receive an estimate of the cost to taxpayers for engaging private lawyers to intervene in the pending DOMA cases,” Pelosi said. She added, “The American people want Congress to be working on the creation of jobs and ensuring the continued progress of our economic recovery rather than involving itself unnecessarily in such costly and divisive litigation” (see full statement on p. 12).

In 1996, when Boxer, Feinstein and Kerry voted against DOMA, they went against the majority in the Senate but also the majority in public opinion polls.

New polling on DOMA shows the public has flipped – 51 percent oppose DOMA and 54 percent oppose a House defense of DOMA in court.