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July 4, 2015

Posts in "Civil Rights"

June 30, 2015

Two Weeks on, Hill’s Post-Charleston Agenda Has All but Disappeared

Debate over Confederate imagery abounds, but not so much on guns and voting rights. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Debate over Confederate imagery abounds, but not so much on guns and voting rights. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The last of the funerals for the Emanuel Nine is Tuesday, and momentum for removing Confederate symbols from the public square has reached a plateau. But what about tangible federal policy changes in reaction to the Charleston shootings?

Only a week ago, it seemed the deaths of nine African-Americans in a South Carolina church, at the hand of a white supremacist wielding a .45 semiautomatic, would at a minimum jumpstart stalled discussions about gun control and civil rights legislation.

Full story

June 23, 2015

Confederate Flag Debate Showcases Scott as Symbol

Sen. Tim Scott

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The revived debate about the Confederate battle flag has climaxed with exceptional speed in South Carolina, where the state’s three most prominent Republicans led a bipartisan call Monday for removing the banner completely from the state capitol.

Sen. Lindsey Graham was seizing an opening to underscore his maverick political brand and distinguish himself in a field of presidential candidates who have remained largely equivocal on the polarizing question. Gov. Nikki R. Haley was taking advantage of an opportunity allowing her to reverse a position that’s complicated her own public profile.

Full story

May 5, 2015

New Congress, New Round in Senate Fight Over Obama’s Judges (Video)

Where's the blue slip, Toomey? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Toomey says he supports Restrepo, but has held off officially signing off on the judge’s nomination. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In the long-running judicial wars between the Senate and the White House, the first skirmish of the year is flaring into the open this week.

How it plays out will offer insight about whether the new Republican majority plans to continue making the federal bench a venue for venting displeasure with President Barack Obama, or whether he’ll be allowed to refashion the courts a bit more during his final two years in office. Full story

April 29, 2015

What Gay Marriage Briefs Tell Us About Congress

Supreme Court Gay Marriage Hearing

Which members of Congress have gotten involved with the SCOTUS gay marriage case? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Though only a few lawmakers participated in the rallies during Tuesday’s oral arguments, more than half the members of Congress had already formalized their views on the same-sex marriage cases before the Supreme Court.

A review of the congressional signatures on three friend-of-the-court briefs revealed an important political narrative underneath the historic story about the future of American society. And that’s the fact almost all the Democrats facing heated re-election races next year have told the court they believe gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to get married. Almost all the Republicans looking at competitive campaigns decided to steer clear of the question. Full story

February 24, 2015

Oscar-Winning Portrayals About Legislative Impasse

Common and John Legend (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Common and John Legend. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

There’s always at least of whiff of politics at the Oscars, but the speeches this year touched on as many different hot-button issues in Congress as ever.

Almost all the appeals for action were jabs from the left, readily predictable given the homogeneity of the movie industry’s ideology. So, almost all the passionate provocateurs are bound to be disappointed with what they hear out of the Capitol — at least between now and the 89th annual Academy Awards in 2017. Full story

February 23, 2015

Why a Fired Fire Chief Got on Capitol Hill’s Radar

Loudermilk, seen here with his family during his January mock-swearing in, is defending a fired fire chief. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Loudermilk, seen here with his family during his January mock-swearing in, is defending a fired fire chief. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The firing of Atlanta’s fire chief has already become a flashpoint in the debate over how to balance the religious beliefs of public officials against the civil rights of their constituents. Now the argument has spread to the Capitol — prompting questions about proper congressional roles in local controversies, especially when statewide electoral and legislative consequences lie just below the surface.

Chief Kelvin Cochran was dismissed six weeks ago, after a city investigation into a self-published book laying out his evangelical Christian religious beliefs. Its most incendiary passage described being gay or lesbian as a “sexual perversion” comparable to pedophilia or bestiality and labeled homosexual acts as “vile, vulgar and inappropriate.” Full story

February 18, 2015

Prayer in Congress: Not Just for House and Senate

Protesters gather outside the Supreme Court during arguments over prayer at public meetings and the separation of church and state in November 2013. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Protesters at the Supreme Court during arguments over prayer at public meetings and the separation of church and state in November 2013. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Taxpayer dollars have been used to pay chaplains of the House and Senate since the spring of 1789, when the first of 106 different ordained Christian ministers were elected to those jobs.

Only one of them, however, served as a member of Congress before returning as a man of the cloth: Oliver Cromwell Comstock, who spent three terms as a congressman from upstate New York before becoming a Baptist pastor and returning to the House as chaplain for eight months in 1837.

Now that 19th century politician-preacher has found something akin to a 21st century successor in the form of K. Michael Conaway, a six-term Baptist Republican from Midland, Texas, and the new chairman this year of the House Agriculture Committee. Full story

February 11, 2015

Court, Not Congress Could Mark Civil Rights Landmark

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., was at the Supreme Court when it announced its landmark gay marriage decision in 2013. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., rallied with activists at the Supreme Court when it announced its landmark gay marriage decision in 2013. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If you believe the two most conservative justices, then the Supreme Court can nearly be counted on to declare that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to get married. And if their expectation proves true, that decision may well go down as the most significant nationwide expansion of civil rights where Congress was on the sidelines.

One of the most rapid evolutions in the history of American moral values is potentially just 20 weeks from its breakthrough moment. The court is on course to decide before adjourning in June whether states may ban same-sex unions — astonishingly, fewer than five years after the very first national poll to find a majority supporting a universal right to marry. Full story

January 7, 2015

Voting Rights: One Way the GOP Might Reverse What Scalise Scandal Made Worse

Could Scalise shepherd a rewrite of the Voting Rights Act? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Could Scalise shepherd a rewrite of the Voting Rights Act? (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With the House once again preoccupied by Speaker John A. Boehner’s future, the snowy hoopla of opening day looks to have been the final event that sealed Steve Scalise’s fate: He is going to survive as majority whip for the indefinite future.

Now the question becomes what alternate moves, if any, the Louisianan and his GOP colleagues make in hopes of improving their lousy standing with African-Americans.

Full story

October 1, 2014

A Senator to Replace Holder?

Klobuchar is one of a trio of senators being mentioned as possible attorney general candidates. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Klobuchar has been mentioned as a possible attorney general pick. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The latest round of Cabinet handicapping is well underway, a welter of uninformed speculation (mixed with some White House trial balloons) about who might be nominated as attorney general. And the names of three Democratic senators keep getting bandied about — although they’ve all, with varying degrees of intensity, denied interest in the appointment.

From President Barack Obama’s perspective, it would arguably make sense for him, in the short term, to return to the congressional well for one of the final topflight, polarizing positions he’ll ever get the opportunity to fill. But the long-term downsides appear far greater — not only for his own legacy, but for the already wobbly balance of power at the Capitol.

Besides, taking the job at this time doesn’t look like a smart career move for any of the Senate trio meriting recent mention: Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Full story

April 21, 2014

President Pressured to Use Pen for LGBT Workers

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It could be dubbed the federal contractor trifecta.

Employees at businesses that do a lot of work for the government began this election year hoping to benefit in three distinct ways from President Barack Obama’s vow to act on his own whenever Congress deadlocked on his legislative priorities.

Two of those expectations have now been met. In January he ordered contractors to start paying their blue-collar laborers at least $10.10 an hour, realizing his proposal to raise the $7.25 federal minimum wage to that amount was doomed. And this month he declared that workers on federal contracts must be free to discuss their salaries, so women may more easily expose pay inequities at those companies while legislation that could close the wage gender gap nationwide languishes.

Now, the pressure will only intensify for Obama to make good in the third area. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees being paid under federal contracts want to benefit from the same sort of executive order that is aiding female and low-wage workers. And their advocacy groups, along with allies on the Hill, are signaling they’re tired of waiting for the president to apply his “we can’t wait” mantra to their cause.

The issue is job bias against LGBT people. While steady advances continue in the states for same-sex marriage — still the paramount political cause of the gay community — outlawing employment discrimination has become the principal gay rights cause in Washington, in part because it’s unambiguously subject to federal regulation or legislation in a way that marriage equality is not.

Only 21 states have made it illegal to fire or harass someone based on sexual orientation, or to deny a raise or refuse to hire on that same basis. More than 11 million people work in the remaining 29 states for companies without policies protecting workplace civil rights for gay people, according to a recent study by UCLA Law School.

Last November, 10 Republicans joined 54 Democrats in the Senate to pass legislation that would prohibit gay job bias nationwide at businesses with more than 15 workers, with some exceptions for religious organizations. But House Republicans have no interest in putting the bill on the floor. (Known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, it’s currently 16 votes shy of guaranteed passage, in any event.)

In short, the gay rights community sees their “ask” as a clear parallel to the minimum wage and pay parity issues. They argue Congress isn’t ready to change the situation nationally, so Obama should at least start paving the way by helping out people working for or seeking employment from government contractors. Full story

November 19, 2013

Sleeper Alert: Disabilities Treaty May Rise Anew in the Senate

Senators and disabled activists held a press conference in December 2012 to urge passage of a U.N. treaty on people with disabilities. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senators and disabled activists held a news conference in December 2012 to urge passage of a U.N. treaty on people with disabilities. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

His approval rating may have sunk to a new low, right there with the portion of cooperative spirit left in the Republican ranks, but President Barack Obama is gambling that he can somehow reverse a searing, if low-profile, loss from a year ago on a proposal with global implications and domestic political import.

The campaign will formally be joined Thursday morning, when Secretary of State John Kerry will come to Capitol Hill to press anew for Senate ratification of a treaty known as the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The pact, to which 138 other countries have committed, is written with the principal goal of extending around the word a system of accommodations very similar to what’s spelled out for this country in the Americans with Disabilities Act. That law, passed 23 years ago with overwhelming majorities of Republicans and Democrats alike, stands as the most recent important new civil rights law enacted with genuinely expansive bipartisan backing, and public support for it remains strong.

Obama is betting he can resurrect just enough of that that cross-party spirit to score an upset victory for the treaty on his second attempt. His team has not yet revealed what tactics he has up his sleeve to get there, but for two reasons it’s understandable why he’s trying. Full story

November 7, 2013

Democrats Unveil Post-ENDA Game Plan

Senate Democrats, confident of passing legislation banning job discrimination against gay people, are readying their next assertive moves on three other issues important to their base:

  • Abortion rights
  • Minimum wage
  • Federal judiciary

The goal is to divert as much attention as possible away from the problem-plagued Obamacare rollout at this formative stage of the 2104 campaign. Full story

November 4, 2013

Gay Civil Rights Debate Moves to Still-Recalcitrant House

Monday evening’s preliminary test vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act essentially guarantees that the most consequential civil rights bill of the year will pass the Senate with genuinely bipartisan support, very likely by the end of the week.

And so, even before the crucial 60th public supporter was locked down (from Republican Dean Heller of Nevada), proponents and opponents were decamping to the other side of the Capitol, believing a climactic debate in the House during the coming months may be moving toward inevitability.

Advocates of the bill — which would outlaw workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people — are working to create something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: The metaphoric arc of history is bending so quickly toward this measure of justice that, by the time midterm Election Day arrives in one year, Republicans in close races will appear dangerously out of touch unless they have become part of turning ENDA into law.

Critics say they’re confident in their view of a very different political dynamic: Voters will remain much more worried about boosting the economy than about creating more costly, religious-freedom-impinging, and maybe even unnecessary, business regulations for the benefit of narrow and out-of-the-mainstream interests.

The House’s top two leaders have encapsulated those sentiments in recent days.

Speaker John A. Boehner “believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs,” his spokesman Michael Steele said Monday, reiterating the top Republican’s longstanding plans to keep the bill bottled up.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she believed she could pressure the GOP hierarchy into applying a lesson from the expansion of the Violence Against Women Act, which Boehner ushered through the House this winter without a majority of his majority, concluding that doing otherwise would worsen the GOP’s potentially debilitating gender gap.

“We made it too hot to handle in the public. It had to come to the floor,” the California Democrat said of her party’s tactics. “We would hope that once burned, twice learned.”

Women are a majority of the electorate, and Democrats won their 2012 vote by 9 points. The 5 percent who told the exit pollsters they were gay, lesbian or bisexual preferred the Democrats by 54 points. Those are just two of the numbers that have prompted so much strategic soul-searching about softening the party’s image on social issues.

Proponents of ENDA will be concentrating their efforts on rounding up House co-sponsors, hoping momentum from the growing roster of supporters in the Senate (on top of significantly expanded congressional support for gay marriage in the past year) can create an absolute majority of committed “yes” votes in the House.

All but a dozen Democrats have signed on, and perhaps half of the holdouts may yet do so. At least four look destined to vote “no” because they cited the GOP arguments in opposing the somewhat narrower version of ENDA the House passed in 2007. They are John Barrow of Georgia, Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia — all looking at tight races in swing districts in 2014 — plus Daniel Lipinski of Illinois.

That breadth of Democratic support would still require advocates to find about two dozen Republican votes, or about 10 percent of members. That’s a tall order in a GOP conference where many more members are more concerned about primary challenges from their right than about winning general elections in the center. And Boehner maintains he won’t call up the bill, even if it secures enough commitments to pass.

That situation is why one of the tactics under increased discussion would be replicating what happened in 2010 with the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” restrictions on gays in the military: Working to attach ENDA to a must-pass bill with considerable Republican support, such as the annual defense authorization measure, and gambling that enough conservatives would rather swallow the gay rights language than imperil the Pentagon budget.

Only five Republicans are co-sponsoring the stand-alone bill so far. And only one of those is in a competitive race where social policy liberalism looks to work to his benefit: Chris Gibson, who’s running for a third term in a Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains district of New York. President Barack Obama carried that district by 6 points. Gibson is running against Democrat Sean Eldridge, who is married to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and has spent much of his career as an advocate for marriage equality.

The other four GOP backers are centrist Jon Runyan of central New Jersey, libertarian-tinged Richard Hanna of upstate New York and two of the veteran moderates who voted for the narrower bill six years ago: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania.

Ten other Republicans remain from that group, including Budget chairman and 2008 vice presidential nominee Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon, House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller of Michigan, incoming Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, and Boehner confidant Pat Tiberi of Ohio.

All of them have signaled opposition to this year’s iteration because it would extend federal job bias protections to transgender people, whom the 2007 bill did not mention in a calculated effort by its sponsors to boost the GOP vote total. While 35 Republicans voted “yes,” only a handful of the 25 Democrats who voted “no” said they did so to protest the bill’s lack of inclusiveness.

Among those Democrats was Maine’s Michael H. Michaud, who revealed he is gay Monday in an op-ed published by two of the state’s biggest newspapers — a response, he said, to the “whisper campaigns, insinuations and push-polls” of his opponents in next year’s race for governor.

Dropping the transgender provision now doesn’t look to be on the table, for several reasons: A bill including that clause is going to get decent GOP support in the Senate. Taking the language out won’t unlock a surge of GOP support in the House, because most of those members still view the bill as an affront to family values and free enterprise.

What’s more, the gay rights community now looks united behind a strategy of waiting for the comprehensive victory it is confident will come before too long.

October 27, 2013

Gay Civil Rights Bill, a Test for the GOP, Moves to Hill Forefront

(Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

Booker’s entry into the Senate could provide an essential vote to advance the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. (Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

The Senate’s partisan balance will move a tick to the left Thursday, when Cory Booker takes his seat as the 55th member of the Democratic caucus. And the New Jersey newcomer looks increasingly likely to make a bit of history befitting his national profile only a few days later, by providing an essential vote to advance the most important civil rights bill of the decade.

Legislation that would prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is on the cusp of securing a filibuster-crushing supermajority of 60 senators — close enough that proponents are ready to call the question.

Four Republicans have announced their support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, along with 51 of the current Democrats. Another sure “yes” vote would come from Booker, who as mayor of Newark presided over the first same-sex marriage legally sanctioned by New Jersey, now the 14th state (plus the District of Columbia) where gay marriage is legal. “It’s about time,” he declared after the vows were exchanged a minute after midnight on Oct. 21.

That puts the vote count at 56. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who has made the bill his top priority before retiring next year, is working with the leadership to arrange debate in early November — and he’s said he wouldn’t ask for floor time until he was confident of victory.

The targets for the final votes are relatively easy to identify. Eleven gay rights, civil rights and labor organizations have formed Americans for Workplace Opportunity, a coalition that’s spending $2.5 million this month to deploy 30 field organizers to stage 150 grass-roots events and lobby uncommitted senators in nine states.

One of the advocacy groups — the American Unity Fund, a creation of big-time Republican donor and hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer — has also hired former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota and former Rep. Tom. Reynolds of New York (who ran the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2005 and 2006) to lobby for ENDA.

The Republican targets are Rob Portman in Ohio, Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, Dean Heller in Nevada, Patrick J. Toomey in Pennsylvania, Dan Coats in Indiana and Jeff Flake of Arizona, who voted in the House to pass a somewhat narrower version of ENDA six years ago. Full story

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