Tag Archives: social issues

Supreme Court faced with tough major decisions

One of the nation’s more liberal nonprofits and one of the most conservative U.S. think tanks may not agree on the best outcomes of the new Supreme Court term, but there’s concurrence on the most significant cases before the justices.

There also seems to be all-around agreement that progressives may not win the type of landmark victories achieved in the 2014–15 term, most notably the high court’s ruling in late June that paved the way for marriage equality across the country. Conservative wins are far more common from the Roberts court.

The court began its new term on Oct. 5, with 34 cases already on the docket and many more expected. The justices will hear arguments in 10 cases this month and arguments in another 10 in November.

Days before the term opened, the liberal People for the American Way issued its “term preview” and the conservative Heritage Foundation issued its “overview.” Both groups said the most significant cases to be heard this fall will deal with affirmative action, organized labor and redistricting. The court also is likely to take up cases dealing with religious liberty, abortion rights and affordable health care.

PFAW, in its preview, cautioned that the justices “have chosen to hear a number of cases that risk continuing the aggressive rightward march that has characterized the past decade. The 2015–16 term may be yet another one where the American people enjoy less liberty, less equality, less power and less control over our own democracy on the last day of the term than we had on the first.”

The Heritage Foundation did not issue such a warning.

A look at new term …

To be argued:

• Redistricting. Perhaps the most prominent case currently before the court is Evenwel v. Abbott from Texas. The justices will decide whether states can or must exclude those not eligible to vote or not registered to vote from population counts in redistricting.

The case deals with equal representation in elected bodies, the constitutional guarantee of “one person, one vote.” The plaintiffs, who live in rural Texas, maintain that the Constitution requires each vote to be equal, so districts should have equal numbers of eligible voters not equal populations. Current practice is to count everyone in the district.

Another case, Harris v. Arizona Independent Commission, involves a state redistricting plan adopted by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, which was created as a result of a ballot initiative aimed at removing partisanship from the mapping process.

The plaintiffs argue that the commission, for partisan reasons, created a map that carved out districts for both parties but to the disadvantage of Republicans.

• Affirmative action. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. The court will hear this case for a second time. The plaintiff’s first equal protection challenge to the use of race in undergrad admissions at UT was heard in 2013. Then, the court said schools must prove their use of race in admissions decisions is narrowly tailored to further compelling government interests and remanded the case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Heritage says the justices will decide whether UT’s diversity rationale for enrolling more minority students from majority-white high schools justifies using race in admissions.

• Union representation. Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. In this case, the plaintiffs argue that because they are not union members, they should not pay fair share fees toward the public employee union’s costs in representing members and non-members alike. The plaintiffs’ claim is that public sector collective bargaining is like lobbying and their fair share fees support political activity, violating their First Amendment rights.

PFAW says, “The decision in this case will have an enormous impact on working people’s ability to join together and effectively negotiate for fair wages and benefits.”

Possible arguments:

• Abortion rights. Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole out of Texas. The case is a challenge to Texas’ requirements that licensed abortion facilities meet the same building requirements as an ambulatory surgical center and that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.

Doctors and choice advocates maintain that these types of regulations — adopted in Wisconsin under Gov. Scott Walker — are medically unnecessary and infringe on women’s ability to exercise their constitutional rights.

Another case, Currier v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, challenges a court ruling against a Mississippi admitting-privileges law.

Conservatives would like the court to hear Currier and progressives would like the court to hear the Texas case.

• Religious liberty. Multiple petitioners want the court to address the accommodation for religious nonprofits to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception coverage requirement. The faith-based groups argue that even the accommodation violates religious liberty under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Walker Watch: Where does Scott Walker stand on the issues

Where two-term Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker stands on various issues that will be debated in the Republican presidential campaign, a race he’s joining on July 13.

IMMIGRATION

As early as 2002, Walker supported creating a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally. Now he doesn’t. He attributed the shift to his conversations with border-state governors and voters nationwide. “My view has changed. I’m flat out saying it,” Walker told Fox News in March. “Candidates can say that. Sometimes they don’t.” He’s open to granting legal status short of citizenship to many people in the country illegally. But he’s also questioned whether the current policy on legal immigration makes economic sense, suggesting he might side with those who believe high numbers of immigrants – legal or not – suppress wages.

FOREIGN POLICY

It’s a very weak link in his presidential resume. To address that, he has traveled overseas four times this year. His visit to Israel in May was tightly controlled, with no public appearances. He stumbled rhetorically at times during a more public London tour earlier. Oddly, in an otherwise well-received speech to conservatives in February, he said his experience taking on thousands of protesters in his state helped prepare him to confront terrorists abroad. Walker speaks hawkishly of pre-emptive strikes to prevent what he says are certain future attacks on U.S., although specifics are scarce.

SOCIAL ISSUES

Walker, the son of a Baptist minister, opposes abortion rights, including in cases of rape and incest. As governor, he signed into law a bill requiring women to have an ultrasound before having an abortion. He’s also set to sign a bill into law that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Walker also opposes same-sex marriage, voting for a state constitutional amendment in 2006 that banned it. Walker called the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states a “grave mistake.” Walker opposed the death penalty until 2006, when he switched positions, saying he believed that if DNA evidence proved the guilt of a person, the death penalty was justified. Wisconsin does not have the death penalty. The National Rifle Association gives his gun-rights record a 100 percent rating. In June, Walker signed a bill removing a 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases. Walker also legalized the carrying of concealed weapons in 2011.

EDUCATION

Walker supports Wisconsin’s first-in-the-nation school voucher program, under which taxpayers pay for students to attend private rather than public schools. Walker extended the program statewide after its start in Milwaukee and Racine, and this year proposed eliminating enrollment caps. Walker cut money to K-12 public schools by $1.2 billion in his first budget, the largest reduction in state history. He called for cutting about $127 million from schools in the first year of his most recent budget, but the Republican Legislature rejected that. Walker’s position has varied on Common Core academic standards. He never explicitly advocated for them, but in his first state budget in 2011 he called for statewide tests that were tied to the standards. By the middle of 2013, Walker was calling for a halt to further implementation of the standards, and in July 2014 he called for a repeal, even though it’s up to local school districts whether to adopt them. His budget this year prohibits the state superintendent from forcing local school districts to adopt the standards and calls for new standardized tests.

LABOR UNIONS

Walker proposed, just six weeks after taking office in 2011, that public employees except for police and firefighters pay more for pension and health care benefits, and only be allowed to bargain collectively over base wage increases no greater than inflation. Outrage over passage of that law led to Walker’s 2012 recall election, which he won. This year, Walker signed a right-to-work bill into law, after saying during his re-election campaign that the issue would not come up because it was a distraction. Right-to-work laws prohibit unions from requiring workers to join or pay dues. Walker this year also proposed eliminating tenure protections for University of Wisconsin faculty and staff from law as part of a broader proposal to make the university independent from state oversight and regulation. Walker has referred to that as the higher education version of the law he signed affecting state workers four years ago.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Walker has not made climate change a focus of his campaign, but he has spoken at the Heartland Institute, a group that denies man-made climate change. Walker also joined more than a dozen other coal-reliant states suing the Environmental Protection Agency to block the so-called Clean Power Plan, which would require states to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Walker has also signed the “no climate tax” pledge to oppose any legislation that would raise taxes to combat climate change.

Where Scott Walker stands on key issues as of today

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has shifted his stances on everything from the federal ethanol mandate to Common Core education standards to immigration reform as he positions himself for a presidential run. Here’s where he stands on some key issues as of today, July 3.

IMMIGRATION

As early as 2002, Walker supported creating a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally. Now he doesn’t. He attributed the shift to his conversations with border-state governors and voters nationwide. “My view has changed. I’m flat out saying it,” Walker told Fox News in March. “Candidates can say that. Sometimes they don’t.” He’s open to granting legal status short of citizenship to many people in the country illegally. But he’s also questioned whether the current policy on legal immigration makes economic sense, suggesting he might side with those who believe high numbers of immigrants — legal or not — suppress wages.

FOREIGN POLICY

A weak link in his presidential resume. To address that, he has traveled overseas four times this year. His visit to Israel in May was tightly controlled, with no public appearances. He stumbled rhetorically at times during a more public London tour earlier. Oddly, in an otherwise well-received speech to conservatives in February, he said his experience taking on thousands of protesters in his state helped prepare him to confront terrorists abroad. Walker has also said that his Eagle Scout training had prepared him for the role of commander-in-chief. He speaks hawkishly about the U.S. conducting pre-emptive strikes to prevent what he insists are certain future attacks on the U.S., although he’s offered no specifics, such as which countries he’d strike and why — only that he would strike somewhere on the globe.

SOCIAL ISSUES

Walker, the son of a Baptist minister, opposes abortion rights, including in cases of rape and incest. As governor, he signed into law a bill requiring women to have an ultrasound before having an abortion. He also supports a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Walker also opposes same-sex marriage, even though he’s had a large number of key advisers who are gay and even attended the wedding of a gay relative. Still, Walker called the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states a “grave mistake” and said he’d support a Constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. Walker opposed the death penalty until 2006, when he switched positions, saying he believed that if DNA evidence proved the guilt of a person, the death penalty was justified. Wisconsin does not have the death penalty. The National Rifle Association gives his gun-rights record a 100 percent rating. In June, Walker signed a bill removing a 48-hour waiting period for handgun purchases. Walker also legalized the carrying of concealed weapons in 2011. He supports the drug-testing of welfare recipients and allowing people who get food stamps to only use them to purchase approved items.

EDUCATION

Walker supports Wisconsin’s first-in-the-nation school voucher program, under which taxpayers will pay for students to attend private rather than public schools. That would transfer money from public schools to for-profit schools, including religious schools and schools that have no education standards and no access for the disabled. Walker has extended the program statewide after its start in Milwaukee and Racine, and this year proposed eliminating enrollment caps. Walker cut money to K-12 public schools by $1.2 billion in his first budget, the largest reduction in state history. He called for cutting about $127 million from schools in the first year of his most recent budget, but the Republican Legislature rejected that. Walker’s position has varied on Common Core academic standards. He never explicitly advocated for them, but in his first state budget in 2011 he called for statewide tests that were tied to the standards. By the middle of 2013, Walker was calling for a halt to further implementation of the standards, and in July 2014 he called for a repeal even though it’s up to local school districts whether to adopt them. His budget this year prohibits the state superintendent from forcing local school districts to adopt the standards and calls for new standardized tests.

LABOR UNIONS

Walker proposed, just six weeks after taking office in 2011, that public employees except for police and firefighters pay more for pension and health care benefits, and only be allowed to bargain collectively over base wage increases no greater than inflation. Outrage over passage of that law led to Walker’s 2012 recall election, which he won. This year, Walker signed a right-to-work bill into law, after saying during his re-election campaign that the issue would not come up because it was a distraction. Right-to-work laws prohibit unions from requiring workers to join or pay dues. Walker this year also proposed eliminating tenure protections for University of Wisconsin faculty and staff from law as part of a broader proposal to make the university independent from state oversight and regulation. Walker has referred to that as the higher education version of the law he signed affecting state workers four years ago.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Walker has not made climate change a focus of his campaign, but he has spoken at the Heartland Institute, a group that denies man-made climate change. Walker also joined more than a dozen other coal-reliant states suing the Environmental Protection Agency to block the so-called Clean Power Plan, which would require states to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030. Walker has also signed the “no climate tax” pledge to oppose any legislation that would raise taxes to combat climate change. Walker’s administration called for the firing of scientists who work at the Department of Natural Resources on issues related to climate change.

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Working for peace year-round

Maybe you’ve seen the hardy band at busy intersections, rain or shine, with signs urging you to “Honk for Peace!” Maybe a team of canvassers came to your door this fall asking you to vote for peace and human needs. 

Or maybe you’ve heard about the “Lanterns for Peace” observance each August that marks the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan in 1945. The ceremony includes the launching of Japanese paper lanterns on the Milwaukee River from Pere Marquette Park.

These and other activities year-round are brought to you by your friends and neighbors who volunteer for Peace Action Wisconsin. In this season of peace and goodwill, how about making a commitment to peace throughout the year?

Peace Action’s annual dinner and membership meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m., Dec. 11 at Our Savior Lutheran Church, 3022 W. Wisconsin Ave. A minimum donation of $10 is requested. Along with a good meal (veggie choice included), there will be discussion of the past year’s activities and planning for 2015. This is a great opportunity to meet like-minded activists, learn more about Peace Action and become a member.

The organization began in 1978 as Mobilization for Survival. It focused on the escalating nuclear arms race and the nuclear power industry (the scary reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island occurred in 1979). In 1999, the group was rechristened Peace Action Wisconsin due to its statewide scope and affiliation with National Peace Action. 

Mitch Sandquist, 27, got involved in peace activism at UWM while earning a political science degree. Now a co-director at Peace Action, he told me about some of the group’s ongoing campaigns.

The Wisconsin Job Security Campaign is a coalition of peace, labor, faith and economic justice groups building support for the economic conversion of Wisconsin’s economy from defense contracts to production that enhances the civilian sector and community infrastructure.
The Peace Voter campaign kicks in during midterm and presidential election years. It involves surveying candidates, publishing their views and canvassing neighborhoods for voter education and get-out-the vote drives. The Digital Freedom initiative focuses on ending illegal government surveillance and preserving Internet neutrality. 

Peace Action members attended the Climate March in New York in September and protested at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in Georgia in November. At the Institute, the U.S. military trains foreign police forces and militias, many of which have been implicated in human rights abuses. The group also sponsored a series of lectures on international human rights and peace issues at UWM this fall.

Peace Action owns a building — the Peace Action Center — in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood. It’s a hub of activity that houses the group’s offices, meeting space for community groups and a Peace Shop where visitors can buy political buttons, bumper stickers and books. The phone number is 414-964-5158.

I’ve admired the work of Peace Action for years. We all benefit from its persistence in working hard to redirect the militaristic policies of the U.S. toward human needs and environmental sustainability.  

If you, too, respect the work, consider sending a tax-deductible donation to the Peace Education Project of Peace Action Wisconsin at 1001 E. Keefe Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53212. To get involved, attend the Dec. 11 dinner meeting or check out the website at www.peaceactionwi.org.

Celebrate the season by joining a committed band of activists who promote peace and justice the whole year round.

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Game developers take up social issues at S.F. conference

The video game industry is taking itself more seriously.

Besides the usual talk of polygons, virtual worlds and artificial intelligence at this week’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, there are discussions led by game makers about such socially conscious topics as designing for gamers with disabilities, battling depression at game studios and tackling hate speech in online game communities.

The organizers of GDC, which kicked off Monday at the Moscone Center and continues through Friday, have expanded the conference’s advocacy-themed sessions with panels featuring such titles as “Beyond Graphics: Reaching the Visually Impaired Gamer,” “How to Subversively Queer Your Work” and “Women Don’t Want to Work in Games (and Other Myths).”

“It’s something that in some way or another has always been part of the conference, but it’s something that we’ve found interest in genuinely continue to grow as the industry has become more diverse and inclusive,” said Simon Carless, executive vice president of UBM Tech Game Network, which organizes GDC and several other technology conventions.

This year’s conference has attracted about 23,000 game developers and executives from across the globe. Carless and other GDC organizers, which includes an advocacy advisory committee made up of game designers, hope that examinations of racism, misogyny and homophobia in games aid the industry’s continued fight for wider cultural legitimacy.

Rosalind Wiseman, author of the book “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” which inspired the Lindsay Lohan film “Mean Girls,” was part of a Tuesday discussion about gaming and social hierarchies among boys. The panel examined how the games that young men choose to play effect their popularity, as well as their social competence in moments of conflict.

Other speakers include Adam Orth, who left Microsoft Corp. last year after fiery Twitter exchanges about “always-on” technology; Manveer Heir, a game maker who works on the “Mass Effect” sci-fi series, which features gay and lesbian characters; and Toshifumi Nakabayashi, who organizes an annual game workshop to support Fukushima disaster victims.

Despite the refreshed focus on real-world issues at the convention, how to view and interact with ever-changing virtual worlds will ultimately take center stage at GDC. PlayStation 4 creator Sony Corp. teased its rendition of virtual reality technology during a Tuesday presentation called “Driving the Future of Innovation at Sony Computer Entertainment.”

Meanwhile, a handful of developers are showing off software using the VR goggles Oculus Rift, which captured attendees’ attention at last year’s conference. The exhibit “ALT.CTRL.GDC” highlights 14 games that utilize such alternative control schemes, like a piano-powered version of the sidescroller “Canabalt” and a holographic display called Voxiebox.

This year’s conference, the largest annual gathering of game creators outside the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles in June, is the first since Sony and Microsoft respectively released its PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles last year. Several sessions scheduled this year are dedicated to creating games for those systems, as well as more popular mobile platforms.

On the Web…

HTTP://WWW.GDCONF.COM

Right-wing groups wrestle to control GOP agenda

Virtually unknown outside Washington, a coalition of hard-line conservative groups is fighting to seize control of the Republican agenda. Tea party allies like the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and Heritage Action for America showed their might by insisting that the GOP embrace the government shutdown that hurt the nation’s economy and the party’s reputation.

Now emboldened, these groups are warning that their aggressive agenda-pushing tactics aren’t over — and they’re threatening retribution against Republicans who stand in their way.

“They refuse to learn,” Chris Chocola, a former Indiana congressman who leads the Club for Growth, says of lawmakers who buck the will of right-leaning groups. His group is already seeking or supporting primary challengers for 10 congressional Republican incumbents seeking re-election next fall.

Mainstream GOP groups — such as Karl Rove’s American Crossroads or the party’s formal campaign committees — question their more conservative counterparts’ role, fed up by their outsized influence in shaping the party’s current agenda.

For decades, interest groups like the National Rifle Association have shaped debates on single issues. But Republicans suggest that not since the Christian Coalition of the 1990s have outside forces played such a sweeping, integral role in guiding Republican priorities as the tea party-led fiscal conservatives have in the ongoing budget debate.

“You have a small group in Congress that has become the surrender caucus,” argues Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger. “They’ve surrendered their voting card to the wishes of these outside groups.”

Such divisions on display between the Republican Party’s pragmatic and ideological wings — and their affiliated outside groups — carry huge risk for the GOP heading into the 2014 midterm congressional elections. Republicans will seek to win power in the Senate and preserve their narrow House majority next fall.

But primaries that leave eventual nominees battered and broke for the general election could hamper that goal.

Nevertheless, tea party-aligned groups already are spending millions of dollars calling on compromise-minded Republican lawmakers from New Hampshire to Idaho to embrace more aggressive tactics against President Barack Obama’s agenda.

This is their message as Congress wrestles with health care implementation, considers immigration reform and gets ready for new rounds of debt talks: Republicans who work with the Democratic president do so at their peril.

It appears that no Republican is too large for these groups.

The Senate Conservatives Fund — founded by tea party hero and former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint — has launched television ads against Republican leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who helped craft the recent budget compromise that ended the shutdown. It also has criticized Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Sen. Jonny Isakson of Georgia.

The Club for Growth also is targeting Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, despite his role as leader of the campaign committee charged with preserving the Republican House majority. The group already has launched a website entitled, “Primary My Congressman,” and so far identified 10 potential campaigns to unseat Republican incumbents.

That group and others also are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to support a challenge against longtime Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, of Mississippi, in hopes of persuading him to retire. And the Tea Party Patriots is going after Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

Behind the scenes, GOP campaign officials are urging donors to fund mainstream groups to counter the conservative outfits. These officials are doing so even as they question the right-flank’s ultimate effectiveness, given that its groups, although vocal, typically have far less money compared with other organizations standing with Republicans from the establishment wing.

The most powerful Republican allies from the last election — mainstream Republican groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Crossroads and its sister organization Crossroads GPS – poured more than $212 million combined into the 2012 election. Combined, the Club for Growth, Heritage Action and the Senate Conservatives Fund spent $21 million.

National GOP officials are watching for signs of rifts among the right-leaning groups, which could dilute their power. The shutdown debate itself exposed at least one disagreement.

The Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and Heritage Action for America defiantly insisted that any deal to end the shutdown and raise the nation’s debt ceiling must dismantle or delay Obama’s health care law. Lawmakers who didn’t stand them with them risked inviting primary challenges.

But some tea party allies like Americans for Prosperity, the group funded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, opposed the tactics that led to the shutdown. Now that group is trying to move on, investing $2 million in a four-state ad campaign that hammers Democrats over the troubled health care law implementation.

“We’re convinced that repealing Obamacare is long-term effort,” AFP president Tim Phillips says, explaining why it didn’t sign onto the right-flank’s demands to defund the law as part of a budget compromise.

In a sign of another possible crack in the conservative coalition, a spokesman for Heritage Action for America says that in the near future, it likely will focus its health care criticism on Democrats, who stood together during the shutdown debate.

“There needs to be some breaks in that unity,” says Heritage spokesman Dan Holler. “That may happen naturally, or it may need to be forced.”

But Chocola said the Club for Growth wouldn’t stop pressuring Republicans, particularly as congressional leaders begin to debate a new budget package.

Chocola wouldn’t rule out another push to link such legislation to the president’s health care law, but said his group might shift its strategy if major shifts to entitlement programs are included.

As the possibility of a shutdown loomed large in September, the network of GOP outside groups disagreed over strategy.

Crossroads officials briefed members of Congress on internal polling that showed the shutdown strategy deeply unpopular. Given that, the group and its fellow mainstream Republican allies largely stayed silent, fearing influential talk show radio hosts and aggressive conservative activists would brand them as heretics.

Meanwhile, conservative groups grew even more vocal in pressuring House and Senate Republicans to refuse to budge from tea party demands to defund “Obamacare” as part of any budget deal.

Eventually, House Speaker John Boehner broke with the right flank and endorsed the bipartisan plan to end the 16-day shutdown and raise the debt limit. And 87 Republicans in the House and 18 in the Senate supported it.

The damage to the GOP was severe: a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 63 percent of Americans now have a negative view of the Republican Party, the worst rating for the GOP in almost three decades.

Right-wing social issues still consume GOP

Republican lawmakers have a message for those who want the party to soften its emphasis on social conservatism in hopes of reaching a wider national audience: Not so fast.

House Republicans flexed their cultural and conservative muscles Tuesday, passing the most restrictive abortion measure in years. They also advanced legislation to crack down on immigrants living illegally in the country, even as senators pursue a plan that would offer those same millions a shot at citizenship.

The actions reflect a roiling debate among Republicans over why they lost two elections to President Barack Obama, and how best to rebuild a winning formula.

Many Republicans in Congress and elsewhere think the party’s establishment erred in concluding the GOP must embrace “comprehensive immigration reform” to attract Hispanic voters. And they dismiss the notion that Republicans should soft-pedal their opposition to abortion, a subject on which they say public opinion is moving their way.

“There’s been a misleading thought as to what happened after the last election cycle,” said Rep. John Fleming, R-La.

“Most Americans do not support amnesty, especially without securing the borders,” he said, regarding the idea of citizenship for those here illegally. As for abortion, Fleming said, there’s growing public concern about second-trimester abortions, “so we’re actually gaining ground.”

Like Democrats, Republicans often discuss ways to keep their base loyal while attracting independent voters near the political center. The urgency rose last fall, when Mitt Romney became the fifth Republican in six presidential elections to lose the popular vote.

On abortion and reproductive rights, some strategists say the greatest need is for Republicans – especially men – to steer clear of incendiary language such as “legitimate rape.” They know there’s no way the Democratic-led Senate will embrace the House bill, which would bar abortions 20 weeks after conception.

Tuesday’s debate was largely symbolic but important, Republican leaders said.

Immigration’s fate in Congress is less certain. It’s increasingly clear, however, that many Republicans think party elders were hasty in saying the GOP won’t win future presidential elections unless it agrees to far-reaching immigration changes that include new pathways to citizenship.

“What an idiot,” Washington state Republican Chairman Kirby Wilbur said Tuesday of Sen. Lindsey Graham’s recent comments on the matter. Graham, R-S.C., said that without “immigration reform” along the lines the Senate is weighing, “we’re in a demographic death spiral as a party.”

“The pathology report of the death of the Republican Party is grossly overstated,” Wilbur said. Republicans must do better jobs of messaging and finding voters, but they should not overreact to Romney’s relatively narrow loss to Obama, he said. Obama won 51 percent of the popular vote to Romney’s 47 percent but defeated the Republican by a wide margin in the Electoral College, 332-206.

Democrats want to portray Republicans as out of step with the nation’s values on gay rights, women’s rights and common-sense solutions to illegal immigration.

During Tuesday’s House debate on abortion, Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., asked to bring up a student loan bill instead. “This is a direct attack on women’s rights,” he said after being overruled.

Republicans responded by sending a parade of women to the House microphones.

“We are changing hearts and minds,” said Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo. “We hear more and more evidence that life begins at conception.” She said she covets the day when abortion is “absolutely unthinkable.”

Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., said he supports the anti-abortion bill, but “our focus really ought to be on jobs, the economy and those kinds of issues.”

But Fleming, a former Navy and family physician, said there’s no political or policy harm in trying to restrict abortion.

And the best way to win over Hispanics, blacks and Asians, he said, is to encourage the conservatives among them to enter local politics and run for office as Republicans.

“I see a bright, bright future for the Republican Party and conservatism in general,” Fleming said. But it will happen only if “we have people of all sectors who join us in our beliefs and principles,” he said.

Recent polls provide fodder for both sides in the immigration debate. They show Americans support allowing those in the country illegally to stay and become citizens if they meet certain requirements. Polls that ask about giving immigrants a chance to become citizens without specifying conditions find less support.

Republicans appear to be following the immigration debate more closely than Democrats. That might help conservative Republicans generate enthusiasm in next year’s midterm elections, which typically draw fewer voters than do presidential races.

It’s too early to guess how immigration might play inthe 2016 presidential contest.

On abortion, polls find little change in Americans’ sentiment. The General Social Survey, which has tracked opinion since the 1970s, finds support for legal abortion has been roughly stable. About 4 in 10 last year said abortion should be legal if a woman wants one for any reason, on par with the average results over time.

Poll: Public evenly split on gay marriage

President Barack Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage did little to shift the nation’s views on the subject, with a new poll finding that the public remains evenly split on the issue.

Even so, an Associated Press-GfK survey released on June 22 found that the president fired up his core supporters — at least for now — with his support of gay marriage. More young people, liberals and Democrats say they strongly approve of Obama’s handling of same-sex marriage than said they did before he disclosed his new position last month.

The poll found that 42 percent of Americans oppose gay marriage, 40 percent support it and 15 percent are neutral. Last August, the country was similarly divided over whether same-sex couples should be allowed to be legally married in their state, with 45 percent opposing, 42 percent favoring and 10 percent neutral.

The country’s divisions — and conflictions — are clear in the voices of Americans.

“Marriage is a marriage, and it’s between a man and a woman,” said John Von Sneidern, a 76-year-old Republican from Fairfield, Conn., before pausing. “But on the other side of that, there are a lot of gay couples who are responsible and dedicated to each other and deserve a lot of the benefits of marriage.”

The issue, however, won’t shape his vote; he plans to vote on the economy and support Mitt Romney because of his private-sector experience.

Katherine Galdarisi, a 67-year-old Democrat from Sacramento, Calif., backed Republican John McCain four years ago but plans to back Obama this time. That’s partly because she faults Republicans for not working with the president on issues voters care about, saying: “They fight him every step of the way and talk about things that don’t matter like gay marriage.”

“It’s none of anybody’s business,” Galdarisi said. “I don’t care if someone marries a monkey. It doesn’t affect me in the least.”

For years, Obama faced pressure from the left to announce his support for gay marriage, and he spent a chunk of his presidency signaling that he would do just that by saying that he was “evolving” on the issue.

While the economy continues to dominate the presidential race, Obama’s team was mindful that anything — including social issues like gay marriage — could shift the balance if the contest, which surveys show is close less than five months before the election. Even so, Obama announced his reversal and risked turning off some conservative, moderate and independent voters across the nation and in states like Virginia and North Carolina that hadn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in decades until Obama won them four years ago.

The gamble may have paid off.

The AP-GfK poll showed that voters, at least nationally, didn’t flee the president.

When asked which candidate Americans trust to do a better job of handling social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, there was little change from a poll taken about a week before Obama’s May 9 announcement; 52 percent now side with Obama, compared with 36 percent for Romney.

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They’re back: Social issues overtake US politics

All of a sudden, abortion, contraception and gay marriage are at the center of American political discourse, with the struggling – though improving – economy pushed to the background.

Social issues don’t typically dominate the discussion in shaky economies. But they do raise emotions important to factors like voter turnout. And they can be key tools for political candidates clamoring for attention, campaign cash or just a change of subject in a presidential election year.

“The public is reacting to what it’s hearing about, “ said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center.

The economy still tops the list of voters’ concerns and probably will still shape this presidential election. And it’s not yet known to what extent, if at all, social issues will influence voters on Election Day.

Jobs, jobs, jobs – it’s been the governing mantra of both parties since the economic bust of 2008, through President Barack Obama’s sweeping overhaul of health insurance and the 2010 elections that returned control of the House of Representatives to Republicans. Since then, voters have turned angry while remaining anxious over the economy’s crawl toward stability. Republicans have been keen to blame the slow-motion progress on Obama in their drive to deny him a second term.

Then, as the Republican nomination fight churned with no resolution in sight, the economy began to grow. Unemployment rates dipped. And a cascade of cultural political developments inspired a new set of talking points for the year’s crop of political hopefuls:

• Supporters of Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion services as well as screenings for breast cancer, helped force the resignation of Susan G. Komen For the Cure executive Karen Handel after the breast cancer research group cut grants to the organization, then reversed course.

• Catholic bishops began sparring with the White House over a new requirement that Catholic-affiliated institutions such as hospitals and schools must provide insurance coverage for birth control for their employees even though the church opposes artificial contraception.

• A federal appeals court in California struck down the state’s gay marriage ban, prompting criticism from the Republican presidential candidates and others who charged that unelected judges were overruling the will of voters.

For both parties, social policy puts key constituencies at stake. Republicans are courting the religious conservatives that populate their base, including Catholics in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Obama, meanwhile, is trying to preserve support among women, moderates and independents.

Wednesday was a key pivot point.

Hours after Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum won all three states holding votes Tuesday night and stalled frontrunner Mitt Romney’s modest winning streak, congressional leaders issued tightly coordinated statements on another subject: The White House’s policy on birth control coverage was a government mandate that threatens religious freedom and violates the Constitution.

In a floor speech rare for a speaker of the House, John Boehner, a Catholic, accused the administration of undermining some of the country’s most vital institutions, such as Catholic charities, schools and hospitals. He demanded that Obama rescind the policy and pledged that Congress would if Obama didn’t.

“This attack by the federal government on religious freedom in our country cannot stand, and will not stand,” Boehner said.

But where Republicans cast the White House’s contraception policy as an assault on the freedom of religion itself, Democrats argued for the preservation of affordable birth control for women. The White House circulated letters from women’s groups defending the policy and signaled on Tuesday that a compromise was possible.

Former Obama aide Jen Psaki suggested the uproar was due in part to the Republican nomination fight, noting that the administration’s directive requiring church-affiliated employers to cover birth control for their employees was based on a policy most used by states.

“Where has the outrage been up to now?” Psaki said.

On the presidential campaign trail, the Republican candidates competing for conservative votes presented themselves as foes of any efforts to remove religion and morals from public discourse. Some described those efforts in the language of war.

Romney, a Mormon, is embracing social issues in a way he hasn’t to this point in the campaign as he fends off threats from two challengers. The Obama administration, he says, is waging “an assault on religion.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Catholic, says Democrats have “declared war on the Catholic Church.”

Source: AP

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Far-right social issues overshadow the economy in GOP politics

All of a sudden, abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage are at the center of American political discourse, with the struggling –though improving – economy pushed to the background.

Social issues don’t typically dominate the discussion in shaky economies. But they do raise emotions important to factors like voter turnout. And they can be key tools for political candidates clamoring for attention, campaign cash or just a change of subject in a presidential election year.

“The public is reacting to what it’s hearing about,” said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center.

The economy still tops the list of voters’ concerns and probably will still shape this presidential election. And it’s not yet known to what extent, if at all, social issues will influence voters on Election Day.

But for the moment, far-right GOP candidate Rick Santorum is surging in the polls. Santorum, whose campaign is centered on his personal crusade against gays and choice, is tied with frontrunner Mitt Romney in the latest Fox News poll. His surge follows victories in caucuses earlier this week in Missouri, Colorado and Minnesota.

Until now, the dominant political talking point has been jobs, jobs, jobs. That’s been the governing mantra of both parties since the economic bust of 2008, through President Barack Obama’s sweeping overhaul of health insurance and the 2010 elections that returned control of the House of Representatives to Republicans. Since then, voters have turned angry while remaining anxious over the economy’s crawl toward stability. Republicans have been keen to blame the slow-motion progress on Obama in their drive to deny him a second term.

Then, as the Republican nomination fight churned with no resolution in sight, the economy began to grow. Unemployment rates dipped. And a cascade of cultural political developments inspired a new set of talking points for the year’s crop of political hopefuls:

– Supporters of Planned Parenthood, which provides abortion services as well as screenings for breast cancer, helped force the resignation of Susan G. Komen For the Cure executive Karen Handel after the breast cancer research group cut grants to the organization, then reversed course.

– Catholic bishops began sparring with the White House over a new requirement that Catholic-affiliated institutions, such as hospitals and schools, must provide insurance coverage for birth control for their employees even though the church opposes artificial contraception.

– A federal appeals court in California struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban, prompting criticism from the Republican presidential candidates and others who charged that unelected judges were overruling the will of voters.

For both parties, social policy puts key constituencies at stake. Republicans are courting the religious conservatives that populate their base, including Catholics in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Obama, meanwhile, is trying to preserve support among women, moderates and independents.

Wednesday was a key pivot point.

Hours after Republican presidential hopeful Santorum won all three states holding votes Tuesday night and stalled frontrunner Mitt Romney’s modest winning streak, congressional leaders issued tightly coordinated statements on another subject: The White House’s policy on birth control coverage was a government mandate that threatens religious freedom and violates the Constitution.

In a floor speech rare for a speaker of the House, John Boehner, a Catholic, accused the administration of undermining some of the country’s most vital institutions, such as Catholic charities, schools and hospitals. He demanded that Obama rescind the policy and pledged that Congress would if Obama didn’t.

“This attack by the federal government on religious freedom in our country cannot stand, and will not stand,” Boehner said.

But where Republicans cast the White House’s contraception policy as an assault on the freedom of religion itself, Democrats argued for the preservation of affordable birth control for women. The White House circulated letters from women’s groups defending the policy and signaled on Tuesday that a compromise was possible.

Former Obama aide Jen Psaki suggested the uproar was due in part to the Republican nomination fight, noting that the administration’s directive requiring church-affiliated employers to cover birth control for their employees was based on a policy most used by states.

“Where has the outrage been up to now?” Psaki said.

On the presidential campaign trail, the Republican candidates competing for conservative votes presented themselves as foes of any efforts to remove religion and morals from public discourse. Some described those efforts in the language of war.

Romney, a Mormon, is embracing social issues in a way he hasn’t to this point in the campaign as he fends off threats from two challengers. The Obama administration, he says, is waging “an assault on religion.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Catholic, says Democrats have ‘declared war on the Catholic Church.”