Since mid-morning on Wednesday, Democratic representatives have occupied the House Floor for a historic sit-in, instigated by Rep. John Larson (D-CT), Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), and, most crucially, Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia)—the civil rights icon famous for marching from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 to demand voting rights.
The sit-in, which has spanned more than 15 hours so far, began as an attempt to force a vote on "No Fly, No Buy" legislation, a bill that would ban the sale of guns to terror suspects. It has expanded into pushing for votes on two other measures: one that would expand background checks for gun purchasers and another that would require the Surgeon General to compile and submit an annual report to Congress on the effects of gun violence on public health.
In hours of speeches conducted sans microphone—the House's GOP majority shut down the microphones and CSPAN cameras on the floor, leading several members to begin streaming the event on Periscope—House Dems have repeated the phrase "enough is enough." They're repeated how tired they are of perfunctory moments of silence after every mass shooting. Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) called the "club of people in Washington," who have called one of these brief, silent memorials on the House floor the club that no one wants to join. Many have told personal stories on the floor: Rep. Torres (D-CA) spoke of working as a 911 dispatcher, getting a call from an 11-year-old girl and hearing the gunshots that killed her. Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA), a physician, spoke of the bloody and emotional experience of treating gunshot victims in his emergency room, and then consoling their families.
There have been too many memorable moments to count, but here are a few of the stand-outs:
1) Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) spoke candidly and personally on the House floor about her own experience with guns. Her father, who Dingell has previous said had mental health issues, once tried to shoot her mother and Dingell got between him and the gun. "I know what it's like to have a gun pointed at me," she said on the House floor in the early hours of Thursday morning. Her emotional speech brought House members and visitors in the gallery to their feet. You can watch a grainy video here:
2) After about 10 hours of speeches and calls on Congress to hold a vote on gun control legislation, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) entered the House chamber to hold a vote…on a bill about wonky financial regulations that would help big banks. When Dems in the House realized what was going on, their chants of "No Bill, No Break" became deafening, drowning out Ryan on the microphone. At the same time, House Dems were holding up white pieces of paper printed with the names of victims of gun violence. As Ryan tried to gain control to the floor during the vote, the Dems again drowned him out, with chants of "shame" and a rendition of "We Shall Overcome," sung with signs featuring gun violence victim held aloft. Here's a glimpse of what it looked like, from the official CSPAN feed that briefly came on during the vote. (For the rest of this sit-in, CSPAN showed the grainy Periscope feeds of Congressmen as they streamed in real time on their cell phones.)
3) After Speaker Ryan called the House to a vote, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) came to the House floor. As Dems sang, clapped, and chanted their continued calls for gun control legislation, again drowning out the Speaker, Rep. Gohmert approached the group of Democratic members congregated at the front of the House floor, red-faced, waved his finger, and yelled "radical Islam killed these people." He then approached Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL), whose district includes the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and the two got into a heated exchange that ended when other lawmakers physically separated them.
4) Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) gave a passionate speech where he recounted going to see a documentary about the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and 6 teachers were gunned down in December 2012. The film screening happened to be the night after the mass shooting in Orlando, and Himes recalled running into the parent of one of the young Sandy Hook victims, Mark Barden. "I knew I was going to have to answer that question that we in Connecticut have to answer every single day: What are you going to do?" Himes said. He wanted to be able to tell Barden that he would do more than call yet another moment of silence. Himes explained his frustration: "You know what we're gonna do for you, Mark? Mark, who lost his 7-year-old at Sandy Hook? We're gonna be quiet for 8 or 9 seconds. These 435 people which govern the greatest country in the world, we're gonna shut up for 8 seconds. How do you feel about that?" "Horrible," a voice on the House floor called out. "I know how I feel about that," Himes continued: "I'm not doing that anymore."
5) Earlier on Wednesday, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida) came to the podium to read a letter from her friend, former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head by a gunman at a 2011 constituent meeting in Tucson. The gunman also killed six others.
"If these Republican cowards that runs this chamber would actually turn the microphones on, then we could all be heard a little bit louder," Wasserman-Schultz said before reading the letter.
She recalled reading Giffords' letter of resignation in 2012 on the House floor. While reading Giffords' latest words aloud, Schultz began to cry. "Speaking now is difficult for me, but I haven't been silenced, and neither should the American people," she read, her voice shaking. Watch the full speech here:
"All of your leaders are selling Christianity down the tubes," Trump said.
Hannah LevintovaJun. 21, 2016 6:40 PM
A pastor prays with Donald Trump at First Christian Church in Iowa last January.
Ever since evangelical favorite Sen. Ted Cruz dropped out of the presidential race in early May, presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump has been working hard to win over the religious right. Today, the thrice-married and formerly pro-choice business mogul furthered his efforts to shore up their support, and met with more than 1000 evangelical leaders in a closed-door session in Manhattan.
When the meeting was announced in May, only about 400 social conservative religious leaders were expected to attend. Since then, the attendance ballooned in size and significance, as major faith leaders from Christian denominations nationwide, as well as representatives of social conservative issue groups that focus on abortion, religious liberty, and more, signed on to participate. Ben Carson opened the meeting with a discussion of unity, televangelist Franklin Graham offered an opening prayer, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee moderated a 90 minute question-and answer-session in front of the crowd. Trump responded to pre-selected questions about his positions on marriage, abortion, and religious liberty, as well as Republican policy mainstays like Israel policy and national security.
At the meeting, Trump once more spoke about the so-called "war on Christmas," lamenting that department stores such as Macy's don't display any Christmas ads and promising that, in a Trump presidency "boy do I mean it, we're going to be saying 'Merry Christmas' again." Trump also warned that Hillary Clinton would be even worse for evangelicals than Obama. "All of your leaders are selling Christianity down the tubes," Trump said. "It's a very, very bad thing that is happening."
Also attending were a number of onetime Trump objectors: In the wake of the Iowa caucuses last February, Marjorie Dannenfelser, the head of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony list, wrote that she was "disgusted" by Trump's treatment of women. After he became the presumptive nominee in early May, she flipped her position, writing an op-ed for conservative news site Townhall.com titled "The Pro-Life Case for Trump." On Tuesday, she and other anti-abortion leaders had a private meeting with him before the main Q&A session. In an email to supporters on Tuesday afternoon, Dannenfelser recounted that "Mr. Trump was very generous with his time," and that she was encouraged by his statement at the meeting reaffirming his commitment to appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court.
Focus on the Family's founder James Dobson was one of the few slated to ask Trump a pre-screened question: his was about religious liberty. Dobson previously endorsed Ted Cruz for president and made robocalls to voters. In a television ad released in February, ahead of critical early primary elections, Dobson said that after Trump's statement that he would accept the Supreme Court's ruling legalizing same sex marriage, "We knew we could not support him."
The meeting was also brimming with other religious leaders who had been Ted Cruz supporters, such as Penny Nance, the head of conservative Christian group Concerned Women for America, brother entrepreneurs and anti-LGBT activists from North Carolina David and Jason Benham, and Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council. Perkins chaired, and the Benham brothers were members of the Cruz campaign's religious liberty advisory council. Another former member, Kelly Shackleford, president of the First Liberty Law Institute, a law firm that represents conservative causes, was also at the meeting. He told Time that he planned to ask a question about religious freedom and judicial nominations.
But there is a sizeable contingent of religious leaders who still oppose Trump's candidacy: Russell Moore, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, tweeted criticisms of Trump throughout the day. In May, he wrote an op-ed in the New York Times decrying Trump's bigotry, earning a direct rebuke from the presumptive nominee on Twitter and the ire of many Trump supporters. Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the evangelical group Faith and Action, also took to Twitter today to warn evangelicals in the New York meeting about Trump: "Trump=Danger," he wrote. Outside the meeting at the Marriott Marquis, a group of faith leaders from different religions gathered to protest, calling out their support for Muslims, people of color, and the LGBT community, and holding signs that read, "Jesus Doesn't Build Walls," "Refugees Welcome," and "Jews Reject Trump" with the hashtag #We'veSeenThisBefore.
During the meeting, Trump's campaign also announced the formation of an Evangelical Executive Advisory Board. Its members will include former Rep. Michele Bachmann, Dobson, Jerry Falwell, the president of Liberty University, and televangelist Kenneth Copeland—who said in February that God had anointed Ted Cruz to be the next president.
Democrats keep asking to disband the select investigative panel on fetal tissue research.
Hannah LevintovaJun. 7, 2016 4:12 PM
Days after a gunman entered a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three people, a sign stands south of the clinic as police gather evidence.
In recent months, Democratic members of the House have sent five letters to House Speaker Paul Ryan calling for him to disband the so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, the committee formed by Ryan's predecessor, John Boehner, in the wake of the since-discredited sting videos released last summer purporting to show Planned Parenthood staff negotiating the sale of fetal tissue, a practice that is illegal.
Despite revelations that the videos were deceptively and selectively edited, the felony indictment of the videos' creator, and 4 congressional and 12 state-level investigations that have found no wrongdoing and no evidence of illegal fetal tissue sales by Planned Parenthood, this committee has pressed on, conducting hearings and issuing subpoenas for witnesses, often without first asking them to comply voluntarily.
Last week, committee chair Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) sent two letters to the Obama administration, asking it to investigate new charges of federal health privacy law violations by two Planned Parenthood affiliates and the biomedical company StemExpress (fetal tissue research represents less than 1 percent of the company's business), based on evidence provided by "confidential informants." The identities of several researchers and clinic staffers were unredacted in the documents that were made public in attachments forwarded to the Obama administration along with Blackburn's letters, and that were also posted on the select panel's website.
The unredacted names included university and hospital researchers and employees of both StemExpress and Planned Parenthood, raising major concern among Democratic members of the House. "The latest leak from Chair Blackburn's runaway investigation is further evidence that this panel should be brought to an end," a spokesperson for the panel's Democratic lawmakers told the reproductive health news site Rewire.
Democrats have repeatedly raised the issue of researcher and clinic staff safety, particularly after the November 2015 shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood, where a gunman killed three people and injured nine others. The select panel has issued dozens of subpoenas that could compel various labs to release the names of graduate students, lab technicians, and more, leading to widespread security concerns in the medical community. In May, the committee subpoenaed and published the name of an abortion provider who has long been a target of threats and attacks.
After Rep. Blackburn's two letters last week, Mike Reynard, a spokesman for Blackburn's office, told Rewire that the release of names had simply been an accident. "The chairman has been very clear about redacting the names and staff just made a mistake," Reynard told Rewire. The links on the select panel's website have since been updated with the redacted versions of documents.
"The Select Panel is becoming more reckless and irresponsible by the day," said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) a senior Democratic member of the select panel, in an emailed statement to Mother Jones. "It should have been disbanded long ago. Now this disclosure, deliberate or not, is further endangering the lives of women, researchers and health workers. Too often we've seen clinics and other facilities struck by violence; why place the people there at risk like this? It's irresponsible in the extreme."
The high court left intact a Washington state regulation requiring pharmacies to stock and dispense emergency contraception.
Hannah LevintovaJun. 2, 2016 6:00 AM
Update (6/28/2016): The Supreme Court announced on Tuesday that it will not review the pharmacists' appeal. As a result, the high court leaves intact Washington state regulations requiring pharmacies to stock and dispense emergency contraception.
Today the Supreme Court will consider whether to take on another case at the intersection of religion and reproductive rights. In Stormans, Inc. v. Wiesman, a group of religious pharmacists are suing the state of Washington over a law that requires them to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception.
The Stormans family, which owns Ralph's Thriftway, a grocery store with a small pharmacy, and two individual pharmacists who work elsewhere have religious objections to the use of emergency contraceptives, which they believe act as abortifacients. Until July 2007, pharmacists in the state of Washington could make conscience-based referrals if they objected to a drug for religious reasons. This meant they could refuse to stock or dispense the product and refer patients to another pharmacy that would sell the medication—an informal practice that was legal but not required for pharmacists.
In 2007, after receiving consumer complaints for years that some pharmacies were refusing to dispense certain drugs, particularly emergency contraceptives, the state's pharmacy board passed regulations that set out a specific and limited list of reasons that would allow a pharmacist to refuse to dispense a drug—for example if a drug is temporarily out of stock or if a prescription seems fraudulent. The new rules presented a compromise: They required pharmacies to stock contraception, doing away with the practice of referring patients elsewhere, but also allowed pharmacists with religious objections to give the prescription to a colleague at their store to be filled.
After the first round of appeals on this case, the pharmacy board agreed to take a stab at amending the new rules. But it decided against any amendments "after receiving additional public testimony highlighting the risks refusals pose to patients' timely access to medications," according to court filings. That testimony included a man who was refused HIV medication due to his perceived homosexuality, and a rape survivor who was forced to go to multiple pharmacies over several days before she could obtain the morning-after pill. (The pill's efficacy in preventing pregnancy diminishes as time passes.)
The Stormans family, who are devout Catholics, brought the lawsuit challenging the new regulations in 2007, the year they passed, on the grounds that they violate the Free Exercise Clause, which guarantees the right to freely practice religion. The other two pharmacist plaintiffs joined the lawsuit after one lost her job and the other was threatened with the loss of hers, according to the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, the law firm representing the plaintiffs in this case. The suit has been through two rounds of appeals, and in February 2012 a district court sided with the plaintiffs, saying these new regulations unfairly targeted conscientious objections while allowing exceptions for other reasons. In 2015, a 9th Circuit panel of judges unanimously reversed that decision and upheld the regulations, noting that they are neutrally applied to all pharmacists, and don't specifically target those with religious motivations.
The high court is weighing whether to take this case on the heels of Zubik v. Burwell, another case where religious freedom and contraceptive access were central. In that case, a group of religious employers, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, challenged the opt-out process for contraceptive coverage that is set out in Obamacare. Last month, the high court punted on reviewing the merits of the religious freedom arguments in the case, instead sending it back to the lower courts for further review. It seems to be putting off a decision on taking this case as well—they've rescheduled their review of it three times.
Importantly, if the high court were to take this case, they could end up weighing in on state-level protections for religious objections and contraception—the ruling in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case, which exempted certain corporate employers from laws they object to on religious grounds, applied only to federal statutes. But SCOTUSblog predicts, it's unlikely the court will take this case while they are still down a justice.
They're concerned that Republicans are putting abortion providers at risk.
Hannah LevintovaMay 25, 2016 3:59 PM
In one of his final acts as speaker of the House last October, John Boehner helped form the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives to explore allegations that abortion clinics are illegally selling fetal tissue for a profit.On Tuesday, 181 House Democrats sent a letter to Boehner's successor, Paul Ryan, asking him to break from his fellow Republicans and demand an end to an investigation that the panel's Democratic members have called, at various points, a "farce," "witch hunt," "kangaroo court," and something that "belongs in a bad episode of House of Cards."
"To this day, the panel still lacks credible evidence to support its case that any federal laws were broken," the Democrats wrote to Ryan. "Yet the Chair and majority staff continue to harass individuals, researchers, clinics, and health care facilities…The onus is on you to put an end to this witch hunt. You cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the serious risks presented by the Panel and still claim to fulfill your responsibilities as Speaker."
Since its creation, the investigative panel has held two public hearings, and at each one the Democrats repeatedly accused the Republican members of violating House rules.At the first, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) asked the panel's chair, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), to explain why she had issued wide-ranging subpoenas for the names of researchers, grad students, lab technicians, and others who were involved in fetal tissue research—a move that abortion advocates worried could endanger the lives of these scientists and their employees. Blackburn declined to elaborate. At the second hearing, in April, Blackburn repeatedlyrefused to provide clear sources for a set of provocative exhibitsthat included a draft contract between a procurement company and an abortion clinic and several charts implying the growing profitability of fetal tissue procurement. She said only that these items came from the "investigatory work" of the panel.
The panel has also cited as evidence widely discredited material from the Center for Medical Progress, the anti-abortion group established by activist David Daleiden, who was recently indicted by a Texas grand jury for his work on secretly recorded and deceptively edited anti-Planned Parenthood videos released last summer.
This is the fifth letter from Democrats to Ryan in recent months about the panel, airing concerns about the panel's investigative practices or asking that it be disbanded entirely. Each of those letters, they wrote, "has been met with silence." Three of the previous letters were signed only by the six Democratic members who sit on the select investigative panel; the fourth was signed by 98 House Democrats. This time, the Democrats have upped the ante, getting 181 of 188 House Democrats to sign on to Tuesday's letter, and requesting a response from Ryan in writing.
Earlier this month, the Democratic members of the panel held a press conference with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to draw attention to their concerns. Pelosi referred to the panel as "the Committee to Attack Women's Health" and accused it of "abuses that have not been seen on Capitol Hill since the days of Joseph McCarthy."
Pelosi and other Democrats highlighted issues that were laid out in aMay 12 letter to Ryan, written by the Democratic members of the select panel. They wrote that the committee's process for issuing subpoenas to fetal tissue researchers and abortion rights advocates—one of the most aggressive investigative tactics available to Congress—has been deceptive. In early May, for example, the panel issued 19 subpoenas; 17 of those were sent to individuals or groups who had never been asked to comply voluntarily. The other two recipients had already responded to a previous information request and hadn't been informed of any noncompliance. The preemptive subpoenas have allowed Blackburn to make "false public claims" of mass disobedience by researchers and imply that abortion rights advocates have something to hide, the Democratic representatives wrote.
The Democratic members have also repeatedly said the panel's aggressive investigative tactics put fetal tissue researchers and abortion providers at grave risk. "The danger posed by the Panel is real and serious," they wrote yesterday. "There is a long and undeniable history of violence against women's health care clinics, physicians, and patients." They cited the November 2015 shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, where a gunman killed three people and injured nine. They also said the panel disregarded the safety of an abortion provider when it published a press release on May 11 naming him as a "late-term abortionist" who is under investigation by the committee.The doctor haslong been a target of threats and attacks, including a 1991 fire that destroyed his family farm and much of its livestock. "These recent steps are completely outside the bounds of acceptable Congressional behavior," wrote the House Democrats.
The Democratic members of the committee believe the panel's disregard for safety is one-sided, given that it has a whistleblower portal on its website promising confidentiality to anyone looking to provide information. "Apparently, Republicans are willing to protect individuals who provide information that might support their preferred partisan narratives, but are denying this same protection to individuals who perform life-saving research and health care," wrote the members in their May 12 letter.
Ryan doesn't seem to be budging in his support for this investigation. "Speaker Ryan supports the Select Committee’s continued efforts to protect infant lives," Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong told the Washington Post on Tuesday.