Mojo - February 2012

Romney Didn't Know What the Blunt Amendment Was

| Wed Feb. 29, 2012 6:30 PM EST

Say you're Mitt Romney. You believe Obama has declared war on religion. As someone who is trying to be the John Connor of the resistance to the forces of free birth control, you could reasonably be expected to know what exactly, your party is doing to rescue Americans from the fresh Hell of preventive care and minimum essential health benefits. Yet when asked by a reporter, Romney seemed unaware of the two main legislative measures Republicans have deployed to prevent exempt employers and insurers from having to cover birth control. 

When asked about the amendment proposed by Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) this afternoon, as the Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted Romney told Ohio reporter Jim Heath that he was opposed to it. That was a mistake—one the Romney campaign is walking back by saying that Heath phrased the question improperly when he said that the Blunt Amendment "deals with allowing employers to ban providing female contraception."

Heath referred to the Blunt-Rubio amendment, but there are actually two seperate amendments—Senator Marc Rubio (R-Fla.) proposed one that deals narrowly with birth control, while Blunt's amendment, as I reported weeks ago, would allow employers to opt out of providing any benefits mandated by Health and Human Services as long as they have a "moral objection" to doing so. Rubio is also a co-sponsor on Blunt's bill. Still, Heath's summary was clear enough, and yet Romney said that he didn't want to get "into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman." The GOP line is that coverage for birth control is a matter of conscience, not what individuals do with their own bodies. Unfamiliar with the basic countours of the debate he was wading into, Romney gave what sounded like a suspiciously liberal answer.   

Democrats are accusing Romney of another characteristic flip-flop, but that's not really what happened here—Romney has since made clear he supports the Blunt amendment. It's not so much that Romney changed his mind—it's that he had no idea what Republicans were doing to stem Obama's free-love apocalypse. Now either this whole "war on religion" rhetoric is entirely overblown, or Romney just doesn't care enough to be minimally conscious of what's happening on the front lines. 

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Iran War Watch: Netanyahu to Pressure Obama on Military Action

| Wed Feb. 29, 2012 4:11 PM EST

Are the United States and Iran on a collision course over the Middle Eastern country's controversial nuclear program? We'll be posting the latest news on Iran-war fever—the intel, the media frenzy, the rhetoric.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly planning on urging President Obama to declare explicitly—and publicly—that the US is ready for military operations in the event that Iran breaches certain "red lines," a senior Israeli official tells Haaretz. The two leaders will meet in Washington this Monday, during which the prime minister will push the White House to ratchet up its rhetoric. (This may include asking the president to clarify his statements that he will take "no options off the table" to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 29, 2012

Wed Feb. 29, 2012 10:36 AM EST

Spc. Richard Madrid (left) and Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel Murphy of 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, take in the view of the horizon at a check point near Daab Pass in Shinkay district, Afghanistan on February 25, 2012. Photo by the US Army.

Obama (Mostly) Disregards Defense Authorization Bill's Military Custody Requirements

| Wed Feb. 29, 2012 9:43 AM EST
Obama meets with his national security team.

The White House issued a presidential policy directive Tuesday evening that allows the president to largely disregard a provision in the most recent National Defense Authorization Act, which mandates military custody for non-American terrorism suspects captured on American soil.

Writing on the White House blog, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor emphasized that the directive would do little to alter the current approach to handling terrorism suspects. "[T]hese procedures seek to preserve the framework for the detention, interrogation, and trial of suspected terrorists that this Administration developed, and has executed with great success for more than three years," Vietor wrote.

Essentially, the directive issues waivers that include broad categories of suspects, meaning that instead of taking each case individually, the military custody requirement is avoided in just about every possible circumstance. If the terrorism suspect is a legal resident, if he is arrested by local authorities, if the government has any reason to believe the suspect or their home country might not cooperate with an investigation if the suspect is placed in military custody, then the "mandatory" military custody provision is ignored. Moreover, if the suspect doesn't fit into any of the waived categories, the president or the attorney general can determine whether or not the suspect is actually required to be in military custody. So, as I reported in December before the bill was passed, the "mandatory" military custody rule is mostly symbolic.

There are still a few caveats, however, chief among them that the president's directive leaves open the possiblity that non-citizen terrorism suspects apprehended on American soil could still face indefinite detention without trial, and that the bill itself establishes the expectation that the military has a role in domestic counterterrorism. While Congress itself watered down the detention provisions to allow the president this kind of leeway, should another underwear-bomber-type situation occur, it would be a simple matter for legislators to claim that Obama was flouting the law should he decide aganst placing the suspect in military custody.

The military custody provision is the final legacy of Umar Abdulmutallab. He received multiple sentences of life in prison by a federal judge earlier this month, while the lawmakers who crafted military detention provisions on the assumption that the civilian system was incapable of handling terrorists remained conspicously quiet.

The mandatory military custody requirement does not apply to American citizens. A separate provision the defense bill contains a compromise that allows the courts to decide in the future if American terrorism suspects captured in the US can be subject to indefinite military detention without trial. However, the Senate Judiciary Committee is taking up a bill Wednesday that would resolve the issue by making it absolutely clear that Americans captured in the US cannot be denied the right to a fair trial by their own government. How many votes in the Senate has the Constitution?

Occupy Rallies Against Powerful Right-Wing Group You've Never Heard Of

| Wed Feb. 29, 2012 6:00 AM EST

Portland Action LabPortland Action LabToday, occupiers in 80 American cities will hold the movement's largest coordinated demonstration since fall: a huge protest against the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Never heard of it? That's the point.

"It's an extremely secretive organization," says David Osborn, an organizer with Occupy Portland's Portland Action Lab, which is spearheading the national protest (known on Twitter as #F29 and #ShutDownTheCorporations). "Our goal is to expose the destructive role that it plays in our society."

Founded in 1973 as a "nonpartisan membership organization for conservative state lawmakers," ALEC brings together elected officials and corporations like Walmart, Bank of America, and McDonald's to draft model legislation that often promotes a right-wing agenda. It claims to be behind 10 percent of bills introduced in state legislatures.

Romney Quiets Critics With Michigan Primary Win

| Wed Feb. 29, 2012 12:25 AM EST
Mitt Romney

When he needed it most, Mitt Romney's home state of Michigan came through for him.

Romney, the front-runner in the GOP's nomination battle, clinched a key victory on Tuesday in Michigan's presidential primary. With 88 percent of votes tallied, he led former US Sen. Rick Santorum 41 percent to 38 percent. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) placed third, with 12 percent of the vote, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich rounded out the pack in fourth, with 7 percent.

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Mitt Romney Notches Early, Expected Victory in Arizona Primary

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 9:37 PM EST
Mitt Romney.

Minutes after polls closed in Arizona, Mitt Romney was declared the winner of the state's Republican presidential primary by multiple media outlets. The win adds 29 delegates to Romney's tally, bringing him to 159 overall. That's a lead of 118 delegates over former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 119 over Romney's closest competitor, Rick Santorum. Exit polls in Arizona put Romney far ahead of Santorum, 43 percent to 28 percent.

Romney's win in Arizona comes as no surprise. He entered the primary with a 15 percentage point lead over Santorum, a gap that Santorum never came close to narrowing in recent days. Fighting on Romney's behalf was the super-PAC Restore Our Future, which spent $206,337 on ads attacking Gingrich and $452,712 bashing Santorum. The pro-Santorum super-PAC Red, White, and Blue Fund did not spend any money in the state.

Romney's Arizona win could help to quiet the growing chorus of critics questioning his conservative bona fides and broader appeal to the Republican base. But the more crucial test on Tuesday is Romney's performance in Michigan, his home state, where he faces a much tougher challenge from Rick Santorum.

Your Daily Newt: Romney Would Have Fired Columbus!

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 9:16 PM EST
Are callous disregard for human life and general ineptitude fireable offenses?

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Newt Gingrich was speaking to supporters in Georgia on Tuesday when he decided to relay to the audience an exchange he'd had just a few hours earlier: "I was describing the other week some ideas and Romney said, you know, boy if someone came in to see him with ideas like that, he'd have fired him!" he said. "And somebody in Chattanooga said to me this morning, they said, you know, 'Romney was the kind of guy who would have fired Christopher Columbus.'"

It's a provocative charge. But is it true?

The Facts: In his remarks in Georgia, Gingrich explained that Columbus' value rested in the power of his ideas. As he put it: "Lincoln had a vision of a transcontinental railroad. The Wright Brothers had a vision that they could fly. Edison had a vision that we could have electric lights…Henry Ford had this idea you could build a low-cost car with mass production."

Christopher Columbus had a vision that if he sailed southwest from Spain for 3,000 nautical miles, he would reach Asia. Instead, he got lost, landed on a small island approximately one-sixth of the way to Asia, enslaved all of the inhabitants, set about searching for gold, did not find gold, falsely informed his supervisors—then in the act of purging their kingdom of Jews and Muslims—that he had reached Asia, and promptly ruled over his newfound land so poorly he was sent back to Spain in chains.

As a candidate, Romney has expressed zero tolerance for insubordination, firing debate coach Brett O'Donnell after arguably his best debate because Romney felt O'Donnell had taken too much credit. At Bain Capital, Romney likewise demonstrated a knack for stripping new companies of their nonessential parts—a euphemism, really, for firing people.

Our Ruling: Romney's actions at Bain Capital have drawn from immense scrutiny from the press and his fellow candidates. But there's no hard evidence that he's ever illegally seized someone else's company and enslaved its employees. Given Romney's quick hook, it's hard to think he would have tolerated such behavior for very long.

Besides, Mitt Romney likes being able to fire people who provide services to him.

We rate this claim "True."

Vote on Blunt Amendment Expected Soon

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 5:38 PM EST

The proposed amendment from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) that would allow employers to have broad "moral" control over health benefits may come up for a vote as early as Thursday, according to sources on the Hill.

The "Respect for Rights of Conscience Act" was spurred by the fight over contraception coverage, but it would grant employers significant discretion in deciding what kind of health care they want to provide workers. That could include things like maternity care, screening for diabetes, or HIV testing, as my colleague Adam Serwer reported earlier this month. The measure is expected to come up as an amendment to the transportation bill.

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats circulated data from the Department of Health and Human Services indicating that 20.4 million women around the country are already benefiting from the preventative health care benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—the measure that spurred the Blunt amendment.

Meanwhile, over at RH Reality Check, Annamarya Scaccia has an interesting analysis of whether the measure is constitutional.

Scott Walker Loses to Top Democrats in New Recall Poll

| Tue Feb. 28, 2012 2:25 PM EST
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

New poll numbers are out for Wisconsin's gubernatorial recall rumble. They're not pretty for Gov. Scott Walker.

Overall, Wisconsinites are split on whether to Walker, 49 percent to 49 percent. In a hypothetical general election, Walker trails Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 49 percent to 46 percent, and lags behind former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk 48 percent to 47 percent, according to a new survey by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling. The last time PPP surveyed Wisconsinites, Walker led Falk by 8 percentage points and Barrett by two.

PPP's margin of error is 3.3 percent, which means these match-ups are essentially dead even right now. But PPP president Dean Debham said the numbers are encouraging news for Wisconsin Democrats in their push to oust Walker. "These are the most encouraging numbers we've found for Democrats in Wisconsin related to the Walker recall since last August," Debnam said in a statement. "Walker's numbers had been seeing some recovery, but now it appears they've turned back in the wrong direction. The big question now is whether Democrats can find a candidate to take advantage of Walker’s vulnerability."

Even among lesser-known Wisconsin Democrats, including some who've given no indication that they would challenge Walker, the match-ups are close. US Congressman Ron Kind leads Walker 46-45 is the other Democrat who leads Walker, 46-45. Secretary of State Doug LaFollette, former US Congressman David Obey, and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout all trail by just one or two percentage points.

Among the Democrats, the winner in these latest poll numbers is arguably Tom Barrett. Not only did he open up a lead on Walker, but he would cruise to victory in a hypothetical Democratic primary, beating Kathleen Falk 45-18. A January PPP poll showed Barrett ahead of Falk 46-27.

PPP also found that more Wisconsinites dislike Walker than like him, 52 percent to 47 percent. That means Walker's fate could very well rest in the hands of independent voters. Problem is, independents don't think that highly of Walker—55 percent dislike him compared to 43 percent who support him. What remains to be seen is whether tens of millions of dollars in TV ads, direct mail, and other messaging funded by mega-donors such as David Koch and Bob Perry can win over those independents in time for the spring election.