Nick Baumann

Nick Baumann

Senior Editor

Nick is based in our DC bureau, where he covers national politics and civil liberties issues. Nick has also written for The Economist, The Atlantic, The Washington Monthly, and Commonweal. Email tips and insights to nbaumann [at] motherjones [dot] com. You can also follow him on Facebook.

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Todd Akin, Paul Ryan, and Redefining Rape

| Sun Aug. 19, 2012 3:21 PM PDT
Rep. Paul Ryan (left), now the GOP nominee for vice president, introduces his 2012 budget as Rep. Todd Akin (right) and other congressional Republicans look on.

On Sunday, Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), who is challenging Sen. Claire McCaskill in the Missouri Senate race, used an interview with a local television station to defend his belief that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape: He claimed that women who are the victims of "legitimate rape" are unlikely to become pregnant. Akin said that the female body has "biological defenses" that prevent rape victims from getting pregnant. (That's not true.) The implication of his position is that if you were raped and became pregnant, you must have actually wanted it—it wasn't really rape.

This isn't the first time Akin has expressed fringe views about rape in the context of the abortion debate. Last year, Akin, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and most of the House GOP cosponsored a bill that would have narrowed the already-narrow exceptions to the laws banning federal funding for abortion—from all cases of rape to cases of "forcible rape."

After I reported on the "forcible rape" language in January 2011, a wave of outcry from abortion rights, progressive, and women's groups led the Republicans to remove it. But a few months later, in a congressional committee report, Republicans wrote that they believed the bill would continue to have the same effect despite the absence of the "forcible" language.

So why was the "forcible" language so important? Pro-life advocates believed they needed to include the word "forcible" in the law to preempt what National Right to Life Committee lobbyist Doug Johnson called a "brazen" effort by Planned Parenthood and other groups to obtain federal funding for abortions for any teenager by (falsely) claiming statutory rape. Abortion rights groups, Johnson warned, wanted to "federally fund the abortion of tens of thousands of healthy babies of healthy moms, based solely on the age of their mothers." Richard Doerflinger, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops'* top anti-abortion lobbyist, echoed Johnson in congressional testimony, arguing that the "forcible" language was "an effort on the part of the sponsors to prevent the opening of a very broad loophole for federally funded abortions for any teenager." Planned Parenthood flatly denied having a plan to open up such a loophole. 

The idea that women who are "legitimate" rape victims can't get pregnant has currency in some corners of the fringe right. Akin embraces it. Does he embrace the conspiracy theory about the need for the "forcible rape" language, too?

*The name of the organization has been corrected.

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National Archives Sued Over Financial Crisis Documents

| Wed Aug. 15, 2012 9:45 AM PDT

It's been 18 months since the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC), the bipartisan group charged by Congress with discovering the causes of the 2008 financial meltdown, released its final report (PDF). At the time, the commissioners promised that many of the documents the FCIC gathered during its investigation—including testimony from bank officials and internal bank emails and memos—would "eventually be made public." But the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which holds the documents, has so far refused to release many of them, saying that it has put a five-year restriction on their release. "Eventually," it turns out, means half a decade.

Cause of Action, a Washington transparency watchdog that filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking the FCIC documents last year, thinks the American public should not have to wait that long. Late Tuesday, the group sued NARA in federal court in Washington, DC, aiming to force the disclosure of thousands of pages of as-yet-unreleased documents.

"The FCIC had a big impact on the national discussion about what caused the financial crisis and all Americans have an interest in what really happened," Mary Beth Hutchins, Cause of Action's communications director, told Mother Jones. "We have an administration that from day one promised greater transparency in government, and what we've seen is that instead of having the public interest in mind, they're bowing to the whims of this commission. It's important that people be able to draw their own conclusions and judgments in addition to those the commission may have drawn from these documents."

In the lawsuit, Cause of Action writes that NARA's five-year restriction on the release of the documents (except for certain documents FCIC had pre-designated for release) is the same restriction that Phil Angelides, the commission's Democratic chairman, advocated in a letter he sent to NARA in February 2011. But Cause of Action goes on to note that Peter Wallison, a Republican member of the commission, has said that he believes "the public should have access to all FCIC documents except those records provided to the FCIC on condition of confidentiality" and that he was "not even aware" of Angelides' letter, "which expresses a position materially inconsistent with his own views." (Hutchins said Wallison made those statements in phone conversations with Cause of Action's legal team.)

I've reached out to NARA and Angelides for comment on this story; I'll update if they respond. 

You can read Cause of Action's full legal filing here:

 

Why Hasn't Romney Moved More to the Center?

| Mon Jul. 30, 2012 8:16 AM PDT

It's an old story. Republican presidential candidates move rightward to win the GOP primary (and Democrats move left). After securing the nomination, both Republicans and Democrats move back towards the center to appeal to the broader electorate. "Everything changes" in the general election, Eric Fehrnstrom, a top Romney adviser, said in March. "It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again." Yet so far, Romney's actual policy ideas haven't changed much at all. Sure, he's softened his tone on immigration. But he hasn't edged away from his previous proposals.

Perhaps the reason it seems that Romney hasn't moved more to the center is that he hasn't been particularly specific about what he would do as president. It's hard to be seen as changing your position if no one knows what your position is. But on some issues, at least, there seems to be some potential for Romney to pick up votes by moving towards the center. A recent survey by Public Policy Polling found that picking Condoleeza Rice, who has a reputation as a moderate on domestic policy and has described herself as "mildly pro-choice," as his running mate would be a "huge game changer," creating a tie in Pennsylvania and dramatically narrowing President Barack Obama's lead in Michigan. But Romney has run away from his moderate, pro-abortion rights, pro-health care reform record as governor of Massachusetts, and there is not yet a single significant domestic policy position that Romney has staked out in the general election that is significantly more centrist than the proposals he advocated in the Republican primary. How can that be?

There's no doubt that Romney has a reputation as someone who radically shifts his positions based on the political climate. His campaign may be wagering that tacking center will only reinforce that image. They also probably want to illustrate as large of a contrast with Obama as they can. But money might have something to do with it, too. Never before has a presidential candidate been so indebted to just a few major donors. Just seven families gave the pro-Romney super-PAC Restore Our Future $15 million of the $21 million it raised in June. Gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson has already given eight figures to pro-Romney groups. Conservative millionaires and billionaires certainly want Romney to win, but they also want to keep him on the straight and narrow. Presidential nominees have always had to answer to party machers and big money donors. But campaign donations on this huge, post-Citizens United scale carries even larger obligations.

After Bachmann Allegations, Clinton Deputy Reportedly Under Police Protection

| Mon Jul. 23, 2012 9:02 AM PDT
Huma Abedin.

In June, five Republican members of Congress, including Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), sent letters to the nation's top law enforcement, defense, and intelligence agencies warning that the Muslim Brotherhood, an international Islamist organization, had infiltrated the United States government. Bachmann and her associates—Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.), and Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.)—demanded an investigation, and Bachmann told radio host Sandy Rios that "it appears that there are individuals who are associated with the Muslim Brotherhood who have positions, very sensitive positions, in our Department of Justice, our Department of Homeland Security, potentially even in the National Intelligence Agency."

There is not even a smidgen of credible evidence to back up the charges Bachmann and her colleagues have made. But one of the individuals Bachmann has singled for her supposed ties to the Muslim Brotherhood—Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—has suffered very real consequences. Abedin, who's married ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner, with whom she has a new baby, has received threats in the wake of Bachmann's charges and is now under police protection, the New York Post reported Sunday. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took to the Senate floor last week to defend Abedin, but that hasn't been enough to stop the witchhunt.

People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, has called on Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), who called Bachmann's charges "pretty dangerous," to remove her from the House Intelligence committee as a way of sending a message that this kind of conduct is unacceptable.

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