Mojo - February 2013

Karl Rove's New Super-PAC: Republicans Attacking Republicans!

| Mon Feb. 4, 2013 6:06 AM EST
Karl Rove walks the floor of the 2012 Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

No more Todd Akins. No more Richard Mourdocks. No more Republican primaries that produce divisive, gaffe-spewing GOP candidates.

That's the aim of a new super-PAC, the Conservative Victory Fund, spearheaded by Karl Rove and his big-money juggernaut, American Crossroads. Rove's new project plans to raise millions of dollars from the biggest GOP donors and then spend it on hard-hitting television ads and mailers during GOP primaries in marquee Senate races. The goal, as the New York Times reported this weekend, is blocking future Akins and Mourdocks from winning Senate primaries, while paving the way for less-divisive candidates with broader appeal and better odds of winning the general election. "We don't view ourselves as being in the incumbent protection business, but we want to pick the most conservative candidate who can win," Steven Law, the president of American Crossroads and a force behind the Conservative Victory Fund, told the Times.

Law singled out Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who could run to replace outgoing Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, as a controversial candidate the Conservative Victory Fund might target. King has a penchant for howlers: He's hinted at questions about President Obama's US citizenship, claimed minority students all "feel sorry for themselves," insisted that the idea of diversity making American stronger "has really never been backed up by logic," and compared illegal immigrants to dogs. "We're concerned about Steve King's Todd Akin problem," Law said. "All of the things he's said are going to be hung around his neck." (King, for his part, said choosing the candidate to replace Harkin "is a decision for Iowans to make and should not be guided by some political staffers in Washington.")

The Conservative Victory Fund's creation threatens to stoke an already fiery internal battle over the future of the Republican Party. There are the Roves and Laws of the GOP, the pragmatic Beltway operators who backed Mitt Romney and who believe the party must tone down the demagoguery on immigration and social issues if they ever want to control of Congress and the White House again. On the other side are the ideologues, the GOP's conservative wing, the Koch-backed groups and tea partiers and Grover Norquist acolytes who believe the party's future lies in veering hard to the right and doubling down on pure conservative ideals.

With Rove's new super-PAC in the mix, the GOP's slate of 2014 primaries will be even nastier than expected in states such as Iowa, Georgia, and Kentucky, among others. The GOP needs to win six seats in 2014 to take back control of the Senate, and if that requires some intraparty combat, the Conservative Victory Fund looks ready to go to war. By the end of 2014's primary season, don't be surprised, to borrow a phrase from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, to see quite a lot of blood and teeth left on the floor.

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Texas Police Chief Talking Gun Control When Officer Is Shot

| Mon Feb. 4, 2013 6:06 AM EST
Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead

When Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead visited Capitol Hill last week to push for tighter gun control measures, he had some unwanted help from a felon back in Texas, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports:

At 5 p.m. Tuesday, Halstead was meeting with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in Washington, D.C., to discuss gun control concerns of the Major Cities Chiefs Association…

At that time, his concerns were being played out at a Haltom City auto shop, where one of his officers and personal friend—21-year veteran John Bell—was shot [in the head] by a convicted felon being pursued by Haltom City police.

This should serve as a compelling illustration of why our country needs tighter gun control laws. But then, so should the murder of 20 elementary schoolers by a maniac with an assault rifle—and we all know how far that has gone to sway people like Cornyn.

If anybody can change the minds of Republican senators, however, it's probably somebody like Halstead, who represents a "cowboy town" in what's arguably the most pro-gun state in America. "We almost see every week where we have officers being ambushed by people who have no right to possess those weapons," Halstead told the Star-Telegram.

Halstead's Major City Chiefs Association is part of a coalition of nine national police organizations that supports a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles and high-capacity magazines and advocates expanded background checks.

For more on what police officers think about gun control, read my story on how the NRA recruits cops with freebies paid for by gun companies.

 

4 House Members Slam College's Anti-Israel Event

| Sat Feb. 2, 2013 1:29 PM EST

A scholar and a political commentator are about to let fly to some very, very dangerous speech at a New York college next week. It's so dangerous, in fact, that four Democratic members of Congress are getting involved.

Next Thursday, Brooklyn College's political science department and the student group Students for Justice in Palestine are scheduled to hold a panel discussion with philosopher Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian political analyst, on something called "BDS." BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, the controversial international movement that pushes to get Israel to withdraw its settlements from the Palestinian territories by boycotting Israeli products, divesting from Israeli industries, and imposing sanctions.

GOP to Filibuster Obama's Consumer Watchdog Pick

| Fri Feb. 1, 2013 5:50 PM EST

A little more than a week after Senate Democrats decided not to weaken the filibuster, Republicans are vowing to filibuster President Barack Obama's nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unless its powers are reduced, Reuters reports.

The CFPB was created as part of the 2010 financial regulation bill specifically to prevent financial institutions from engaging in the kind of exploitative practices that helped lead the country to the brink of economic collapse in 2008. Since January 2012, when Obama appointed former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray to head the bureau, it has done exactly that—reigning in unscrupulous mortgage lenders, credit card companies, and debt servicers. But the CFPB has only been able to do those things because Obama, using what's called a recess appointment, installed Cordray in his post while most of Congress was on vacation—an attempt to bypass Senate Republicans' efforts to block the nomination. Before Cordray was picked and blocked, Republicans had vowed to filibuster Elizabeth Warren, who came up with the idea for the bureau and helped found it, too. That didn't go as well as they had hoped: Warren recently returned to the chamber as the new Democratic Senator from Massachusetts.

Last week, a DC Circuit Court panel made up of conservative Republican-appointed judges ruled that Obama's appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (made at the same time as Cordray's) were unconstitutional. Although the Constitution allows the president to make temporary appointments while Congress is in recess, the court ruled that a GOP procedural gimmick of holding brief sessions for the express purpose of blocking Obama from making recess appointments meant that Congress was technically not in recess. Not only that, but the court also so narrowed the criteria for making a recess appointment that most of the recess appointments made by Republican or Democratic presidents over the past hundred years could be considered illegal and unconstitutional.

Senate Republicans want three big changes before they'll stop blocking Cordray. First, they want the CPFB to be by Congress rather than the Federal Reserve. Subjecting the bureau to the congressional appropriations process would compromise its political independence. Second, Republicans want the range of financial institutions the bureau has authority to regulate narrowed. This would leave unsupervised some of the problematic institutions the bureau was created to regulate. The GOP also wants to replace the single director with a board of directors, which would hamper the ability of the bureau to make decisions. Finally, the GOP is demanding that other bank regulators—the same ones who failed to prevent the 2008 financial meltdown—be allowed to chaperone the CFPB by "verifying" that its rules "would not harm the safety and soundness of banks." This would let regulators who turned a blind eye to exploitative practices in the past because they were profitable tell the CFPB what to do—and the more different regulators have to approve of a rule, the more convoluted and less effective it is likely to be.

Blocking Cordray could leave the CPFB without most of its powers to regulate the very financial institutions whose practices helped lead the country into near-economic collapse in 2008. That's just how Republicans want it. Having failed to prevent the financial regulation law from being passed, they are now seeking to nullify it through procedural extortion. 

This post has been edited to reflect the fact that Senate Republicans are also demanding that the single director be replaced with a board.

Correction: A previous version of this post stated that Cordray's appointment was declared unconstitutional. Last week's NLRB ruling did not directly deal with Cordray's appointment, instead ruling that another set of recess appointments made at the same time were unconstitutional. Cordray's appointment has been directly challenged but a decision in that case has not been reached.

The 2012 Election's Price Tag: $7 Billion

| Fri Feb. 1, 2013 3:48 PM EST

The final campaign filings are in, and we can now put a price tag on the 2012 elections: $7 billion.

That's how much candidates, parties, PACs, super-PACs, and politically active nonprofits spent last year to influence races up and down the ballot. As Politico reported, Ellen Weintraub, the chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission, announced the $7 billion figure this week. Candidates spent the bulk of the 2012 total, at $3.2 billion, while parties spent $2 billion and outside groups $2.1 billion.

The FEC's $7 billion figure is about a billion dollars more than what transparency groups had projected for 2012. It's the most money ever spent during one election cycle in US history, a cycle in which Barack Obama became the first $1 billion candidate, both Obama and Romney rejected public financing, and outside spending soared to levels never before seen in the post-Watergate era.

Here's more from Politico on 2012's $7 billion price tag:

"It's obviously only an estimate," Weintraub told Politico. "It's really hard to come up with 'the number.'" And Weintraub said future elections could see even more spending.

"It's a lot of money. Every presidential election is the most expensive ever. Elections don't get cheaper," she added. Spending in the first post-Citizens United presidential election exploded as the FEC remained gridlocked on critical issues. Three years after the Supreme Court ruling that changed the campaign finance system, the FEC has yet to change its regulations to address the decision.

The agency also found that despite the proliferation of super PACs, traditional political action committees outspent the new breed. Of the total spending by outside committees, $1.2 billion was spent by traditional PACs and $950 million was spent by super PACs.

The 12 Most Threatening People on the NRA's Enemies List

| Fri Feb. 1, 2013 12:52 PM EST
The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is Barry Manilow with a microphone.

Back in September, in an effort to prove...we're not exactly sure what, the National Rifle Association published a list of some several-hundred non-profits, celebrities, companies, and news organizations that "have lent monetary, grassroots or some other type of direct support to anti-gun organizations." Daily Kos, which drew attention to the list Friday morning, calls it "nuts," which is certainly one way of looking at it.

The NRA doesn't offer any explanation of its selection process, or why they think it's a compelling argument to call attention to the fact that the Civil Rights organization founded by Martin Luther King Jr. opposes what the NRA does. But maybe they're on to something.

Here are 12 of the most terrifying people and groups on the NRA's list:

Carrie Fisher. Daughter of a Jedi.

Henry Winkler. Literally jumped a shark one time.

Mennonite Central Committee. You know who else had a central committee?

Barry Manilow. Is Barry Manilow.

The Temptations. Deliver us from them.

Motorcycle Cruiser Magazine. Basically what it sounds like.

Central Conference of American Rabbis. Ditto.

Mary Lou Retton. Her medal may be gold, but her bullets are lead.

Tara Lipinski. Actually wears knives on the bottom of her shoes.

Boys II Men. [sic]

Bob Barker. QED:

Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We don't actually have a joke here. How can you put the SCLC on your enemies list?

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Obama Admin Widens Exemption for Contraception Coverage

| Fri Feb. 1, 2013 12:46 PM EST

The Obama administration announced a shift in its policy regarding insurance coverage for contraception on Friday. The new policy provides an accommodation for faith-based non-profit organizations to the requirement that their group health insurance plans cover birth control.

The contraception policy previously exempted religious organizations that had "inculcation of religious values" as their main purpose and primarily employed and served people who shared their religious tenets. But other religious organizations that offer services (like meals, education, or health care) to and employ people not of their faith worried that they might not qualify for the exemption. With the new accommodation, those non-profits would have to certify that they oppose providing the contraceptive services required under the law; after they do that, they'd be given a pass from providing contraceptive coverage in their group health insurance plans. Instead, those women will get a separate plan directly from the insurance company that covers contraception. 

This issue had been the subject of several lawsuits filed by religious-affiliated institutions like hospitals, schools, and social service organizations that believed they should not have to provide coverage for things that don't align with their religious beliefs. 

The new policy also changes the category of organizations that can qualify for a full exemption from the policy to the IRS' definition, which includes all  "churches, other houses of worship, and their affiliated organizations." These organizations don't have to provide contraception coverage at all if they oppose it.

One group that has been hoping for an opt-out for contraception coverage that didn't get it: Private-sector CEOs who personally oppose birth control will not be able to remove it from employees' plans.

Reproductive rights groups praised the change as a smart compromise. NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a statement that it is "optimistic that these new draft regulations will make near-universal contraceptive coverage a reality."

"This policy delivers on the promise of women having access to birth control without co-pays no matter where they work," said Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards. "Of course, we are reviewing the technical aspects of this proposal, but the principle is clear and consistent. This policy makes it clear that your boss does not get to decide whether you can have birth control."

This story has been corrected to clarify the new policy.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 1, 2013

Fri Feb. 1, 2013 10:48 AM EST

Afghan Border Police and U.S. Army Soldiers from ABP Zone 1, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, hike from their landing zone to an observation point along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Jan. 21, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jon Heinrich.

 

North Dakota Lawmakers Have Plenty of Anti-Abortion Bills to Choose From

| Fri Feb. 1, 2013 10:12 AM EST

In North Dakota, state legislators may soon have to decide when they believe life begins. Two measures—one implying it begins at conception and another suggesting it starts when a fetal heartbeat is detectable—were up for debate this week in legislative committees.

On Tuesday, state senators discussed three different "personhood" bills in the Judiciary Committee. The Bismark Tribune has the rundown:

  • Senate Concurrent Resolution 4009: This would declare an inalienable right to life at all stages of development. SCR4009 also calls for a 2014 vote to insert language affirming that right into the state Constitution.

  • Senate Bill 2302: Creates a Right To Life Act. SB2302 also bans abortions except in the case of saving a woman’s life in the event of a medical emergency. It also bars the use of chemicals for abortions.

  • Senate Bill 2303: Defines a human being as a person at all stages of development. Would allow an abortion in the event of a medical emergency that could endanger a woman’s life.

    Those are in addition to another bill, SB2305, which would require all doctors performing abortions in the state to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Much like in Mississippi, where a similar bill became law last year, this bill threatens to shut down the state's lone abortion provider.

    Over in the North Dakota House, lawmakers debated a "heartbeat" bill on Wednesday that would make it illegal to perform an abortion if the doctor can detect a heartbeat—which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

    Call me a stickler for consistency, but I don’t see how one could vote for both these bills. Does life begin at conception, or when you can hear a heartbeat, or at some other arbitrary, Roe-violating benchmark? I mean, I do get that it's political; a "heartbeat" bill is probably easier to pass, and it doesn't threaten birth control and in vitro fertilization in the same way these "personhood" measures do. 

    Meanwhile, as I reported earlier this week, North Dakota lawmakers are also trying to block funding for an educational program designed to prevent pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases in at-risk teenagers because they're upset that Planned Parenthood would be running the program.