Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer

Reporter

Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent several years hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

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Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

What Not To Do In Iowa

| Mon Jun. 6, 2011 5:11 AM EDT

Is speaking Chinese on the campaign trail a plus? Former Utah governor, ex-ambassador to China, and current GOP presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman is about to find out. On Friday, Huntsman appeared before a national audience of evangelical activists convened by former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed. Introducing Huntsman, Reed ran through the candidate's resume, which included long stints of living abroad, both in Taiwan and later in China as President Obama's ambassador. He noted that Huntsman speaks fluent Mandarin, but promised his speech would definitely be in English.

Huntsman had other plans apparently, launching into his speech with a demonstration of his Chinese fluency. As his first introduction to the foot soldiers of the Republican Party, it didn't go over very well. As languages go, Chinese is not the most elegant to the English-speaking ear, and it seemed to be especially jarring to the nearly all-white crowd of evangelicals, who listened with shock. You could almost see the elderly Christians from Wisconsin thinking "Manchurian Candidate."

Huntsman's Chinese-speaking on the stump might be even worse for his prospects than John Kerry speaking French in 2004. Americans think even less of the Chinese than they do of the French, and more importantly, they view China as a serious threat to American prosperity, unlike those lazy French people who have a protest every time someone suggests they work past 50. Polls going back decades show that many Americans, especially Republicans, take a dim view of the Chinese, a phenomenon that some researchers attribute to 19th Century anti-Chinese immigration laws. In 1999, a survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League found that 34 percent of those who responded admitted they wouldn't want to see a Chinese-American person elected president, a figure the group had never encountered in similar surveys of attitudes towards blacks or Jews.

Americans really don't like the country of China, either, which they view as a currency-manipulating thief of good American jobs. A January Pew survey found that 36 percent of Americans had an unfavorable view of China, and the percentage of Americans who see China as the country posing the greatest threat to the US nearly doubled over the past two years, eclipsing North Korea, Iran, and Afghanistan. Views of China are even bleaker among Republicans, especially those who are tea party sympathizers. More than 70 percent of Republicans Pew surveyed believed that China is an adversary or a serious problem for the US.

Huntsman's Chinese connection clearly triggered many of these feelings among the members of the religious right listening to his speech Friday in DC. The candidate earned some polite applause when he spoke about adopting children from China. But the more Huntsman talked about his life in China, the more it sounded like he'd been fraternizing with the enemy—and doing so on behalf of the Obama administration, a role that many GOP voters believe makes him an honorary Democrat. Huntsman's global perspective and linguistic abilities might have endeared him to some Wall Street Democrats, but after Friday's performance, it was hard to imagine that the governor-turned-ambassador was going to win over a lot of Iowa GOP caucus goers by showing up at their barbecues and exclaiming, "Ni hao ma?"

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Live Tweets from Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Conference

| Fri Jun. 3, 2011 8:00 AM EDT

The great thing about politics is that it seems there are few scandals large enough to permanently knock someone out of the business permanently. Exhibit A is this week's Faith and Freedom Conference, organized by none other than disgraced GOP foot soldier Ralph Reed, where virtually ever GOP presidential contender will be trying to court evangelical voters. It wasn't so long ago that Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, was getting shellacked in a 2006 race for lieutenant governor of Georgia in no small part because of his close ties to the felonious lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Reed, you will recall, raked in more than $4 million from Abramoff in 2004 to rally Christian voters to fight Native Americans who wanted to open some casinos. Abramoff was representing different tribes who already had casinos and wanted to cut out the competition, and he paid Reed to help in the fight by making gambling a religious issue. Abramoff was eventually convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy and sentenced to six years in prison (he served three, getting out early last year).

Emails released during the criminal investigation did not reflect well on someone who Time dubbed "The Right Hand of God" in 1995. In many of them he's pressing Abramoff to send him clients—and cash. "I need to start humping in corporate accounts!... I'm counting on you to help me with some contacts," he wrote in one. The emails also suggested he had lied about how much he knew about what Abramoff was up to. Reed was never prosecuted or accused of being more than a greedy political consultant, but his downfall among evangelicals and other politicians was pretty fast and furious.

All of that seems like ancient history today, though, as Reed has somehow managed to persuade virtually every Republican hoping to occupy the White House to star in his new show. His Abramoff ties notwithstanding, Reed was a formidable organizer in his heyday. He once described his special approach to mobilizing white, evangelical voters like this: "I want to be invisible. I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag. You don't know until election night." The GOP candidates are apparently hoping that Reed, nearly 50, can still run the ground war.

Mother Jones will be live-tweeting the conference here, so follow along.

Republicans Court the Fat Vote

| Thu Jun. 2, 2011 11:54 AM EDT

There isn't much dispute in the public health world that Americans are too fat. A quarter of all Americans living in 39 states are clinically obese, numbers that have expanded dramatically over the past 20 years. So you'd think that when the Obama administration tries to actually do something to address the obesity epidemic, most everyone would be on board. With the current crop of Republicans in Congress, though, you'd be mistaken.

The Washington Post reports that House Republicans have decided to slash away at public health measures designed to combat obesity, especially those aimed at children. On Tuesday, a House appropriations committee decided to do away with the first new upgrade of federal nutritional standards for public school meals in 15 years. Making the meals lower in fat and sugar and adding in more fruits and veggies, they concluded, simply cost too much. And those regulations passed last year that would require fast-food outlets to post the calorie information of their fattening offerings? Well, House Republicans want to exempt 7-Elevens, grocery stores, and other businesses from those rules. Americans apparently don't need to know that the Double Gulp they're about the buy contains a whopping 600 calories. Children, who are assaulted daily with advertising for horrible, fatty, sugar-laden food will get no relief from Republicans, who have told the Department of Agriculture to back away from crafting even voluntary guidelines for companies that pitch food to kids.

Clearly, Republicans are pandering to their big-ag and corporate food processing donors here. But by doing so, it sure looks like they are giving new meaning to the party's "big tent." They aren't setting a particularly good example, at least, when it comes to taking obesity seriously. But perhaps they don't care that much. One of the party's leading lights, the heavyset New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, once told Don Imus, "I am setting an example Don. We have to spur our economy. Dunkin Donuts, International House of Pancakes, those people need to work too.”  Christie this week took a state helicopter to his kid's baseball game, got in a black sedan that drove him 100 yards to the baseball diamond and then back to the helicopter. Apparently walking was just out of the question. Republicans are trying desperately to get Christie to run for president.

Feds Block Indiana Funding Cut to Planned Parenthood

| Thu Jun. 2, 2011 10:01 AM EDT

Last month, after the GOP's push to defund Planned Parenthood fizzled in Congress, Indiana became the first state to go after the organization on its own. The Republican-run legislature in the Hoosier State passed a bill barring Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funds, and social conservatives cheered when GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels, who once spoke of the need for a social issues "truce," signed the bill into law.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration fired back, and said no dice. Donald Berwick, the controversial head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, sent a letter to Indiana officials informing them that their new law illegally discriminates among health care providers. That's bad news for Indiana. States that don't follow the federal government's rules for distributing Medicaid money—including those that apply to family planning dollars—can in theory be stripped of all federal Medicaid funding. If that happened, slashing a few million dollars of family planning money for Planned Parenthood would end up costing Indiana billions.

Planned Parenthood is already challenging the defunding law in court, but the Obama administration move ups the ante by getting the executive branch directly involved. The letter also serves as a warning to any states that are considering following Indiana's lead: killing off Planned Parenthood won't be quite as easy as Daniels and state GOP leaders may have hoped. Berwick, who was given his job via a recess appointment, won't become any more popular with conservatives, who have dubbed him "Dr. Death" thanks to fears that he will impose health care rationing and death panels. But at least Democrats and pro-choice activists should be happy to see the Obama administration making a strong move to protect abortion services.

Meanwhile, since Indiana passed the new Medicaid law, private donors have filled Planned Parenthood's coffers with more than $100,000 in a strong show of support for the group. The donations aren't nearly enough to make up for the $2 million in Medicaid funds that Planned Parenthood's Indiana operation will lose if the defunding law survives, but they will keep services in the state up and running at least for another two weeks.

Is Herman Cain Really Like Most Tea Partiers?

| Thu Jun. 2, 2011 5:07 AM EDT

This week, Mark Meckler, one of the national coordinators of the Tea Party Patriots, told the Washington Post that recently declared presidential candidate Herman Cain “is a lot more like us than anyone who has run for president in our lifetimes.”

His comment got me thinking: Is Herman Cain really more like the average tea partier than anyone who’s run for president in the past 60 years? More than Ron Paul? More than Ronald Reagan?? On the surface, Cain and the tea partiers have some pretty striking differences. The most obvious one is that Cain is black and 94 percent of tea partiers are white. Cain grew up in the segregated South drinking from the “colored” water fountains. Many tea partiers would have been on the white side. But putting those big glaring differences aside, are there other things that Cain and the tea partiers genuinely have in common? I came up with a few.

Goofy hats: Tea partiers are famous for wearing tricorne hats. Cain doesn’t wear one of those, but he does have a thing for black cowboy hats.

Fanatic (but often wrong) about the Constitution: Both Cain and the tea partiers share this particular trait. They revere the Constitution but don’t seem to know exactly what’s in it. (Remember when Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said she wouldn’t fill out her US Census forms fully because the Constitution said she didn’t have to?) When Cain announced last month that he would be officially running for president, he included in his speech a big lecture about how Americans need to reread the Constitution. He said:

We don’t need to rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America, we need to reread the Constitution and enforce the Constitution. … And I know that there are some people that are not going to do that, so for the benefit of those who are not going to read it because they don’t want us to go by the Constitution, there’s a little section in there that talks about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

You know, those ideals that we live by, we believe in, your parents believed in, they instilled in you. When you get to the part about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” don’t stop there, keep reading. Cause that’s when it says “when any form of government becomes destructive of those ideals, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.” We’ve got some altering and some abolishing to do!

The Constitution does not actually say this. That was the Declaration of Independence.

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Tue Sep. 9, 2014 6:30 AM EDT | Updated Tue Dec. 16, 2014 10:10 AM EDT