The race to replace retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) is starting to take shape, and it's looking pretty one-sided. Rep. John Barrow, the Democrats' most-promising statewide candidate, has already announced he isn't running. The Republican field is growing. Former Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel, who gained notoriety last summer for attempting to sever the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation's ties to Planned Parenthood, is reportedly considering a run. David Perdue, the cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, launched an exploratory committee on Wednesday. If they both formally enter the race, they'll join three candidates who made their intentions clear weeks ago: Reps. Phil Gingrey, Paul Broun, and Jack Kingston.
In their time in the House, the three congressmen have earned reputations as some of the lower chamber's most conservative members—and also some of the most prone to going completely off the rails. Together, they pushed to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases on the grounds that climate change is a hoax (more on that in a second). They've called on the Smithsonian to be investigated (Kingston), proposed personhood for zygotes (Broun) and sought to block the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act (Kingston again).
Here are some of their choicest quotes, each paired with a photo of an adorably confused animal so as to offset the general absurdity of suggesting (for example) that basic biology is a lie "straight from the pit of Hell":
Who said it? Gingrey, coming to the defense of failed Missouri Republican senate candidate Todd Akin, whose suggestion that a woman who had been the victim of "legitimate rape" had "ways to shut that whole thing down." Gingrey told a breakfast audience in January that as an ob-gyn, he often tells women who have trouble bearing children to "relax."
Who said it? Broun, in 2012, speaking in front a wall full of mounted deer heads. In response, he was repudiated by none other than Bill Nye, the Science Guy, who said Broun is "unqualified to make decisions about science, space and technology."
Who said it? Gingrey, making his own ill-fated appearance on the Colbert Report, responding to the host's suggestion that gay adoption is unnecessary because gay men can simply decide to become heterosexual.
Attorney General Eric Holder's appearance before the House Judiciary Committee went exactly like you'd expect. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) grilled him on the excessive redaction of emails he'd requested relating to Secretary of Labor-nominee Tom Perez. Rep. Tom Marino (R-Penn.) grilled him on the investigation into leaked intelligence on the Benghazi attack. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) grilled him on his failure to recuse himself in writing from said leak investigation. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said some crazy things about asparagus.
But not everyone was as focused on the scandals du jour (or asparagus). In a rare moment of actual congressional outrage over federal sentencing guidelines and drug policy, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) used his allotted five minutes to question the administration's near-total refusal to make use of its pardon power—and its continued prosecution of marijuana offenses. The money quote:
One of the greatest threats to liberty has been the government taking people's liberty for things that people are in favor of. The Pew Research Group shows that 52 percent of Americans think that marijuana should not be illegal. And yet there are people in jail, and your Justice Department continues to put people in jail for sale and use, on occasion, of marijuana. That's something the American public has finally caught up with. It was a cultural lag, and it's been an injustice for 40 years in this country, to take people's liberty for something that was similar to alcohol. You have continued what is allowing the Mexican cartels power, and the power to make money, ruin Mexico, hurt our country, by having a prohibition in the late 20th- and 21st-century. We saw it didn't work in this country in the '20s, we remedied it. This is the time to remedy this prohibition, and I would hope you would do so.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, the top Democrat on the powerful House rules committee, has a response to Republican efforts to water-down financial reform legislation: Tie it to political intelligence. On Tuesday, with the rules committee set to consider the SEC Regulatory Accountability Act, a GOP bill designed to stunt the Security and Exchange Commission's implementation of the Dodd–Frank financial reform law, Slaughter introduced an amendment that would prevent the law from going into effect unless Congress also passes a law requiring so-called political intelligence operatives to register under the Lobbying Disclosure Act and disclose their clients. Slaughter would also extend revolving-door statutes to government employees who join the private sector, mandating a cooling-off period of varying length before they can begin working as a political intelligence operative.
Political intelligence is a roughly $400-million-a-year industry which collects information on Congressional and regulatory wheeling and dealing, and passes it on to clients on Wall Street. Political intel operatives insist they come in peace, and that their work at its most basic level is a lot like that done by journalists—albeit for much smaller audiences. The counterpoint from disclosure advocates is this story from the Wall Street Journal, which describes how a hedge fund gained early access to a decision by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and triggered a spike in the stock prices of health insurers. The SEC launched an investigation into the case in April.
Slaughter first floated regulation of political intelligence in 2006, and nearly pushed it through last year before a fierce push-back from hedge fund lobbyists slammed the door. Her amendment isn't expected to pass, but it's a preview of what Slaughter and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are hoping to unveil in a few months, after the SEC finishes its probe.
Here's the amendment:
Update: Slaughter's amendment was blocked. Here's the relevant exchange:
Marriage equality supporters celebrate in the Minnesota capitol on Monday after the state senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage.
At 5 p.m. CST on Tuesday, Minnesota will become the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage when Gov. Mark Dayton (D) signs into law legislation that just passed the state Senate on Monday. It's a remarkable turn of events for a state where conservatives spent much of the last decade trying to pass a Constitutional amendment to put marriage equality out of reach. (A referendum narrowly failed last November.)
This is bad news for the politician who, perhaps more than anyone else in the state, has built her career on denying full rights to same-sex couples—Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). Bachmann's influence in her home state has been fading since her GOP presidential bid failed spectacularly in 2011. In a solidly conservative district, she squeaked past her Democratic challenger last fall by just 4,300 votes, and is now in the crosshairs of the Office of Congressional Ethics over charges that she improperly used campaign funds to promote her memoir. What political currency she has left may as well be in Bitcoin. Here's how she responded to the vote on Monday:
I’m proud to have introduced the original traditional marriage amendment, and I thank all Minnesotans who have worked so hard on this issue.
No kidding. As I explained in a profile for the magazine two years ago, Bachmann opposed marriage equality with a religious fervor, viewing it as a struggle for the future of society. At one point she even enlisted divine intervention on a gay colleague, Sen. Scott Dibble:
In two consecutive legislative sessions, Bachmann introduced bills to place a gay marriage ban on the ballot. Openly gay Democratic state Sen. Scott Dibble says that when he wasn't there she brought a group of conservative activists—"prayer warriors," as she called them—into the chamber to pray over his desk. She held a candlelight vigil outside the Capitol to pray for the legislation's passage and, with the Legislature scrambling to finish up its session in the spring of 2004, brought the body to a standstill through her efforts to bring the bill to the floor.
Dayton's signature will mark the end of an era in Minnesota politics. On Monday, as the Senate at last voted for marriage equality, Dibble blew a kiss to his husband in the gallery. He may as well have been bidding Bachmann farewell.
Brian Mark Peterson/Minneapolis Star Tribune/ZumaPress.com
On Monday, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) published an op-ed on Fox News detailing his recent travels in the Rio Grande Valley, where he met an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador and visited a cemetery that houses the remains of unidentified migrants who died traversing the county's scorching canyons. "As a policymaker, I have a responsibility to find real solutions to these issues that are all-too-familiar to Texans," he writes. "Anything less only perpetuates this grotesque human tragedy playing out every day on American soil." So far so good. He also released this video, which documents his trip to the cemetery with a close-up on the details (or lack thereof) on the unmarked graves:
At this point you might think that Cornyn is taking a lead role in combating the surge in migrant deaths in South Texas. But that's where things get weird.
Cornyn's video points to the increasing number of migrant deaths in Brooks County as evidence that the border isn't really secure. That's really the opposite of what's happening. Rising migrant death totals aren't a symptom of a porous border; they're a symptom of a border that's increasingly locked-down, and a testament to more effective enforcement policies in traditional migrant corridors—a point that's made in the Washington Poststory Cornyn cited in the video. The idea that tougher border security makes border crossings more dangerous is well-established (this 2009 report from the American Civil Liberties Union is instructive, as is this from the American Public Health Association). Contra Cornyn's assertion in the video, Brooks County is what a secure border looks like. That's why Coalición Derechos Humanos Arizona, which works with migrants in the Sonora desert, doesn't support the enforcement-heavy bill currently being considered in the Senate.
Cornyn did vote for a successful amendment to the Senate legislation to mandate better data collection of human trafficking, inspired by this specific case in Houston. But he's pushing for a harsher security policy that would exacerbate the problems Brooks County already faces—citing, among other things, the presence of men "wearing some form of turban" crossing into South Texas. (Cornyn has introduced his own legislation focusing exclusively on border security, which he'd like to see as a prerequisite for any kind of immigration reform.) During the committee markup, Cornyn broached the subject of Brooks County's rising toll, but only to push for reimbursement for the county. On Thursday, he voted for a proposal from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) that would modify the Senate immigration reform bill to "strike the section that requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to issue policies governing the use of force by Department of Homeland Security personnel."