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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Guy in Charge of Electing GOP Senators Hasn't Been Following Pennsylvania Senate Race

| Tue Aug. 28, 2012 3:46 PM EDT

It seems that Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) doesn't read much news.

On Tuesday afternoon at the Republican National Convention, I asked Cornyn what he thought of the controversy surrounding Pennsylvania Senate candidate Tom Smith, who compared being an unwed mother to being raped. I was wondering whether Cornyn thought Smith's comments (which drew national headlines before his spokeswoman walked them back) might reduce the GOP's chances of winning the seat. Cornyn is the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), which is charged with electing GOP senators, but he told me he "honestly hadn't followed" the Smith controversy.

There are only a few possible explanations for this. Assuming Cornyn was telling the truth, and the NRSC is remotely competent, it suggests that the NRSC doesn't think Smith has much of a chance of unseating Democratic incumbent Robert Casey Jr., who leads in the polls. If NRSC staff thought the race was competitive, they would have been monitoring it and would have alerted their boss when the GOP candidate made a deeply damaging, headline-grabbing gaffe. The fact that Cornyn seemed not to have heard of the controversy suggests his staff may think it doesn't matter.

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Gingrich: I'd Recommend Pro-Gold Activists for Romney Gold Commission

| Tue Aug. 28, 2012 4:00 AM EDT

Ron Paul must be thrilled: After over three decades in the wilderness, the gold standard has returned to the Republican party platform. As Bloomberg reported on Friday, the draft GOP platform—the party's road map for where it wants to lead the country—includes a call for a presidential commission to study pegging the value of the dollar to the price of gold. And even though the primary is long over, Paul is not the only top Republican still pushing for gold to have a big role in Mitt Romney's presidency. 

During the primary, Paul, a long proponent of what he calls "sound money," and later Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, embraced the idea of a gold commission. During the South Carolina primary, Gingrich said that he'd appoint Lewis Lehrman, a banker, and Jim Grant, a prominent investment adviser, to co-chair the gold commission. Both Lehrman and Grant (Paul's pick to replace Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve) are prominent advocates of the gold standard. 

Now that the commission he and Paul supported is part of the draft party platform, I asked Gingrich whether he still supported Lehrman and Grant's appointments—and whether he'd push Mitt Romney to appoint them if elected president. "Yes," he said. "I'd recommend them." Romney himself has expressed skepticism about the gold standard, which he told CNBC's Larry Kudlow in January is not a "magic bullet substitute for economic restraint." He'd be free to ignore the GOP platform and Gingrich's recommendations if elected president. But the inclusion of the commission proposal in the platform, and Gingrich's willingness to press the issue, suggest that Romney will remain under some pressure from his right to at least acknowledge the concerns of gold proponents.

The idea of a gold commission isn't new—Ronald Reagan established one in 1981, but the members voted 15 to 2 against advising a return to gold. (Lehrman was one of the dissenters.) America's monetary policy was based on the gold standard for much of its history, until President Richard Nixon abandoned it for good in 1971. Since then, a small but significant movement, often led by Paul has advocated a return to gold.

Today, Lehrman is the chairman of the Lehrman Institute, which pushes for "prosperity through gold." Its website is thegoldstandardnow.org. Grant is a senior adviser to the group.

Most modern economists are skeptical of the idea, and liberal ones absolutely loathe it. A recent University of Chicago poll of top economists found that zero agreed that "defining a 'dollar' as a specific number of ounces of gold" would lead to better "price-stability and employment outcomes" for "the average American." Paul Krugman, the liberal icon (and target of many Paul fans' ire) wrote Sunday that "under the gold standard America had no major financial panics other than in 1873, 1884, 1890, 1893, 1907, 1930, 1931, 1932, and 1933." Famed economist Milton Friedman, who could not be mistaken for a Krugmanite, famously said "those people who say they believe in a gold standard are fundamentally being very anti-libertarian because what they mean by a gold standard is a governmentally fixed price for gold."

The Weekly Standard Defends Ryan on Redefining Rape

| Fri Aug. 24, 2012 5:05 PM EDT

The Weekly Standard's John McCormack says the New York Times is being unfair to Paul Ryan—and he says it's all my fault.

What McCormack is objecting to is a line in a recent Times article noting that Ryan had co-sponsored a bill that tried to "restrict the definition of rape." He says this phrase is imprecise and gives readers the wrong impression of what Ryan and the House GOP were actually trying to do. The bill in question, H.R. 3, the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," passed the House in May 2011 and was supported by Ryan and most House Republicans. It was a grab-bag of abortion foes' favorite proposals. The most controversial measure would have limited the types of rapes that would be eligible for federal abortion funding, changing the guideline from "rape" to "forcible rape." The bill would have also eliminated federal abortion funding for victims of incest who were over 18. Both changes were removed from the bill after a national outcry.

McCormack blames me for giving the Times—and other oulets—a false impression of what the "forcible rape" language would do. In January 2011, I broke the news about the forcible rape language and reported, based on interviews with experts (including a former federal prosecutor), that many kinds of rapes—including drug- and alcohol-aided rapes—could be excluded from the "forcible rape" definition. McCormack says that's "blatantly untrue." He says the "forcible rape" language in H.R. 3 would merely have excluded funding for abortions in cases of statutory rape—which, he goes on to claim, is probably what existing law says anyway. As evidence, he notes that the 2004 edition of the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook requires that attempts to use date-rape drugs to rape someone be classified as forcible rape attempts. He says this makes it clear that drug- and alcohol-aided rapes (in which the victim is incapable of consenting) would still have been eligible for abortion funding if H.R. 3 became law.

Todd Akin, Paul Ryan, and Redefining Rape

| Sun Aug. 19, 2012 6:21 PM EDT
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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