Action and dysfunction in the Beltway swamp. E-mail tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Representative Paul Ryan’s response to the shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri, police was fairly straightforward: say nothing, do nothing. “We should take a deep breath, let’s have some sympathy for the family and the community, and let’s not prejudge anything, and let’s let the investigation take its course and hope that justice is served appropriately,” he told Fox News on Tuesday. “But what I don’t want to do as a political leader is try to graft my policy initiatives or my preferences onto this tragedy.”
It was not a great moment in the Republican Party’s alleged outreach to minority communities, which Ryan has been championing, but this silence is a bipartisan affair. Many politicians on both sides of the aisle, with a few valuable exceptions, have by and large avoided what’s happening in Missouri entirely.
Most of the candidates likely to contend for the presidency in 2016 have been silent. Hillary Clinton, who has been eager in recent weeks to opine extensively on national issues as she embarked on a book tour, has acted as if the situation isn’t happening.
On Friday, as the nation was gripped by a series of rapid-fire events in Ferguson—the disclosure of Officer Darren Wilson’s name and the inflammatory convenience store footage, along with increased civil unrest—Clinton’s team released a hammy House of Cards spoof.
As Politico notes, the rest of the possible Democratic field avoided the events as well, save for Senator Elizabeth Warren (who, of course, insists she will not run). She told Politico the shooting of Brown was “a terrible thing…and then the Ferguson police badly overreacted.” She then sent this message from her Twitter account on Wednesday:
Glad AG Holder is in #Ferguson for independent federal investigation of Michael Brown’s death. We need straight answers about what happened.
— Elizabeth Warren (@elizabethforma) August 20, 2014
On the Republican side, Senator Rand Paul wrote a strongly worded op-ed in Time calling for the demilitarization of police and a reexamination of racial disparities in law enforcement. That represents the strongest, most detailed response of any 2016 contender to date.
One of Paul’s potential rivals, Senator Ted Cruz, called the situation “tragic” but didn’t weigh in on any fundamental issues raised in Ferguson, except to criticize the arrest of journalists. Senator Marco Rubio issued a statement saying “Michael Brown’s family is in my prayers during this terrible time in their lives. I’m very concerned by recent events in Ferguson, including the violence that has gripped that community and the inexplicable jailing of two reporters. As the FBI looks into allegations regarding the police department there, I hope Americans all over the country will voice their opinions through peaceful means and not resort to violence.”*
As for the rest? Nothing. Jeb Bush, Rick Perry and Scott Walker haven’t said a word. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declined to comment, though did signal some faint support for the police. “I’m not going to get into this business of generalizing against law enforcement officers. It’s not right,” he told New Jersey Public Radio.
Congressional leaders have at least issued short statements mourning the passing of Brown and calling for varying degrees of investigation. Most of them, anyway—Senator Mitch McConnell was alone among House and Senate leaders in not sending out a statement on Ferguson last week, and he has not commented publicly on the matter.
The Missouri delegation cannot avoid it—Senator Claire McCaskill and Representative Emanuel Cleaver have been active on the ground there, meeting with residents and talking with the media. Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican, has spoken with Obama about what’s happening and met with Attorney General Eric Holder when he visited Wednesday.
Beyond that, the rank-and-file have largely followed their leaders’ model of saying as little as possible about what’s unfolding in Ferguson—though there are some promising stirrings.
Members of Congress could be useful in pushing the Department of Justice to fully investigate not only Brown’s killing, but larger policing issues in St. Louis County. That has certainly been a focus of the Congressional Black Caucus, which has urged the Justice Department not only to investigate Brown’s killing, but patterns of misconduct by the Ferguson police. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, in her statement on the issue, also called for the Justice Department to “examine the long standing issues between the citizens of Ferguson and their elected officials and local law enforcement.” (Blunt, for his part, is warning the Justice Department not to get too involved.)
The CBC is also urging the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on what’s happening in Ferguson and the broader issues it raises.
On the Senate side, Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy issued a statement on Friday about Brown’s shooting and the corresponding police actions, but did not signal any hearings would be forthcoming.
Congress could also act to reduce the militarization of local police forces by reigning in the Pentagon program that provides most of the weaponry. Representative Hank Johnson is plotting a bill that would do just that; Senator Carl Levin, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he is willing to re-examine the program. Reid, however, said he doesn’t support ending the flow of weapons but would rather simply increase local police training.
Beyond that, Senator Bernie Sanders is hoping to add to the conversation with a jobs bill for black youth, which he is framing in terms of what’s happened in Ferguson. “If we are going to address the issue of crime in low-income areas and in African-American communities, it might be a good idea that instead of putting military style equipment into police departments in those areas, we start investing in jobs for the young people there who desperately need them,” he said in a statement. Sanders has been one of the few in the Senate, so far, to speak out about events on the ground there.
For much of Congress, it has been relatively easy to avoid talking about Ferguson—the body is in the middle of a five-week recess, meaning members aren’t being buttonholed by reporters every day in the halls of the Capitol. But soon enough, that will end. It’s also inevitable that Clinton and others are eventually forced to comment. The question then will shift to what they say, and what they want to do.
*A prior version of this story incorrectly said Rubio did not issue a statement on the events in Ferguson.
Read Next: An ex-marine explains the weapons of war being used by police in Ferguson.
As much of America turns its attention to the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, activists are bringing attention to a different kind of predator—payday lenders. In Illinois, Iowa and Missouri this week, targeted actions outside payday loan outlets aim to highlight the debt traps that so often plague their clients.
At one event Tuesday morning in Columbia, Missouri, activists rallied outside an Advance America “cash advance center,” which offers residents short-term, high-interest loans for relatively small amounts of money. Advance America is the largest payday lender in the United States.
Activists held signs reading “the poor can not afford to pay more” and some dressed as sharks, according to photos reviewed by The Nation, while a Navy airman described being trapped by a payday loan. Further actions are planned this week in Des Moines, Iowa and Springfield, Illinois.
Payday lenders tend to target people of color in high-poverty areas. According to a study by National People’s Action, which is organizing these “Shark Week” protests, such neighborhoods can have as many as three times the payday lenders as in relatively white, affluent areas.
The basic scheme is to offer these high-interest, short term loans—loans generally cost borrowers about one-third of their income, according to Pew Charitable Trusts—and then entrap customers to coming back and taking out another loan in order to cover the first one. The industry likes to boast that 94 percent of its loans are paid on time, but what it doesn’t mention is that 94 percent of borrowers also become repeat borrowers within thirty days. A study by the Consumer Financial Protection bureau last year found that two-thirds of payday loan borrowers take out seven or more loans in a year.
This is the explicit intent of the industry—at a conference in 2007, Cash America CEO Dan Feehan explained that “the theory in the business is you’ve got to get that customer in, work to turn him into a repetitive customer, long-term customer, because that’s really where the profitability is.”
But the idea of deliberately creating poverty traps for the already desperate has increasingly drawn the interest of local and federal regulators, including the Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection bureau. On Tuesday, prosecutors in New York charged local payday lenders with running an actual “usury scheme.”
You can follow further actions from National People’s Action’s blog here.
Low-wage federal workers walked off the job Tuesday morning across Washington, DC, to demand an executive order for higher wages—building on a successful push earlier this year to raise the wage of federal contract workers to $10.10.
President Obama announced during this year’s State of the Union address that he would indeed raise the wage of federal contract workers, after a lengthy pressure campaign—but Good Jobs Nation, a group leading the earlier strikes, now believes $10.10 isn’t high enough. Over 200 workers planned to walk off the job on Tuesday at a variety of workplaces that contract with the federal government, and they want Obama to go even higher.
At Union Station, Washington’s central train hub and a federally owned building with many restaurants and retail outlets, striking workers were joined by several members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, as well as some faith leaders.
“I don’t believe that any federal contractor who doesn’t want to pay people a livable wage should have a federal contract,” Representative Keith Ellison, a co-chair of the CPC, told the crowd. “There’s enough federal contractors who want to be fair and do good by their workers. We don’t have to keep with the crooked ones.”
“If we’re paying companies with taxpayer dollars, they should take care of their workers,” said Representative Barbara Lee. Lee and Ellison were joined by Representatives Sheila Jackson-Lee and Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting member who represents DC.
Erica Gayles, who works at a Dunkin’ Donuts inside the Pentagon, has helped lead the strike and spoke with The Nation on Monday afternoon. She described how she attended the University of the District of Columbia for three years, before her mother fell ill. Gayles was forced to drop out and find work immediately.
“Yes it wasn’t the best job, but little pay is better than no pay at all. And I’m kind of stuck because I’m tired of working this tiring job for a little bit of money,” she said. “I’d also like to go back to school and obtain my degree in criminal justice.”
In the meantime, she wants Obama to step up again for low-wage workers. “I’m involved with this movement because a lot of workers are afraid to speak up for what’s right, but I’m here because I want to be the voice of those who are afraid because there shouldn’t be fear,” she said. “You should have no fear in speaking up for what’s right. It’s not like you’re doing anything illegal. We need this to survive, everybody else is surviving and getting benefits, getting paid good, and we work hard.”
According to the National Employment Law Project, when they interviewed 500 federal workers last year in service industry jobs, they found that 70 percent made less than $10 per hour. Most federal contracts have yet to be affected by the earlier executive order, which for legal reasons can only apply to newly signed contracts.
For years, the American labor movement has been on the defensive as it has become harder and harder for workers to join or maintain a union. But some House Democrats are planning a dramatic counter-offensive: a bill that would make union organizing a civil right.
Representatives Keith Ellison and John Lewis plan to introduce a bill Wednesday that would make labor organizing a basic freedom no different than freedom from racial discrimination. That sounds like a nice talking point—but this isn’t just another messaging bill.
The Ellison-Lewis legislation would amend the National Labor Relations Act to include protections found under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to include labor organizing as a fundamental right. That would give workers a broader range of legal options if they feel discriminated against for trying to form a union.
Currently, their only redress is through a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board—an important process, but one that workers and labor analysts frequently criticize as both too slow and often too lenient on offending employers.
If the NLRA were amended, however, after 180 days a worker could take his or her labor complaint from the NLRB to a federal court. This is how the law works now for civil rights complaints, which gives workers the option, after 180 days, to step outside the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission process.
Then, workers would have sole discretion on whether to push a complaint, as opposed to relying on a decision by the NLRB on whether to forge ahead. Workers could also move the process along much faster than the NLRB handles complaints, which can often take years.
Ellison told The Nation that the legislation would also help workers recover more money—the NLRB will award back pay to a grieved worker minus whatever they earned while awaiting a decision, which can often amount to basically nothing. “[The NLRB] remedy, though useful and very important, and nothing in our legislation changes that, that remedy is considered slow and somewhat inadequate. For some of these union-busting law firms, [they] will say ‘so do it and we’ll just pay.’”
Ellison said he believes the labor movement needs to get back on the offensive. “With the Supreme Court in here, and what they just did in Harris v. Quinn and all the things they wrote about Abood, it’s insane to hope for the best,” he said, referring to the recent decision involving non-union public workers and their fee arrangements with unions. “I mean this Supreme Court is openly hostile to racial justice and worker justice simultaneously. So we better be moving out on both fronts.”
Ellison told MSNBC, which first reported the bill, that he got the idea from a book by Century Foundation fellows Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit, titled Why Union Organizing Should Be a Civil Right. They argue that the First Amendment’s right to free association should clearly include one of the most crucial forms of association—banding together to push back against unfair treatment from employers.
Marvit told The Nation he thinks treating labor organizing as a civil right is not only constitutionally appropriate but also much more appealing to the general public. “Civil rights is something that Americans really understand, and has a legitimacy that is sort of beyond reproach,” he said. “So when you put it in civil rights terms, it’s something that really speaks to people.” (In the interest of full disclosure, Marvit has written for The Nation in the past.)
“Frankly, I think Republicans have been saying it on the other side. That’s been the message of the National Right to Work Committee for sixty years, that workers have a civil right not to join a union,” Marvit continued. “And I think that’s been a successful argument for them. It taps into this notion of your freedom to choose.”
The Nation has learned that when Ellison and Lewis introduce the bill on Wednesday morning, they will boast eleven other original co-sponsors: Representatives Jerrold Nadler, John Conyers, Marcia Fudge, Barbara Lee, Mark Takano, Rush Holt, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Karen Bass, Danny Davis, Albio Sires and Janice Hahn. All of the co-sponsors are Democrats.
Major unions will also be on board. Both the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win coalition will back the bill, along with The United Food and Commercial Workers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Joseph Geevarghese, deputy director of Change to Win, told The Nation that his union was joining the push “because union organizing has been maligned. Unions have been maligned in our society. There is a value in re-defining what all of these tens of thousands of brave workers are doing as, “We have a fundamental right to stand up and speak out about injustice in this country.’”
Read Next: Why are postal workers boycotting Staples?
A divided three-judge panel in the nation’s capital ruled Tuesday morning that the federal government cannot provide Affordable Care Act subsidies through exchanges run by the federal government—a decision that, if it stands, would functionally end Obamacare as it exists today.
Halbig v. Sebelius is based on an idea first advanced by a conservative scholar deeply opposed to the healthcare law. It involves a drafting error in the Affordable Care Act—a “glorified typo,” in the words of the Center for American Progress’s Ian Millhiser.
The law creates exchanges for buying individual health insurance plans in each state, and says states can either create their own or have the federal government step in and do it for them. Twenty-seven states, usually controlled by conservative governors or legislatures, declined to create exchanges and have federal ones.
But in the section governing subsidies, a literal reading of the law appears to limit federal subsidies to people who are buying in “an Exchange established by the State.” The conservative activists behind this lawsuit—and the two judges who agreed with them Tuesday—say this means that people who aren’t in exchanges “established by the state,” that is the people in twenty-seven states with federal subsidies, are ineligible for subsidies.
The language is indeed a little unclear, and that line should have made it explicit that subsidies would be available in all exchanges, state or federal. But the Supreme Court has long held that ambiguous language in isolation does not vitiate the otherwise discernible intent of a law—and here it’s extremely easy to figure out what the Democrats who passed the ACA intended, not least because they filed a brief with the court explaining that, of course, the subsidies were supposed to go to any person in an exchange.
To believe otherwise, as the two judges in this case claim to do, would be to assume that Democrats intended to pass a law that would fail within a few years of enactment.
That’s just what would happen if this decision holds. A recent Urban Institute study found that 7.3 million people—close to two-thirds of all Americans enrolled in exchanges—would lose $36.1 billion in subsidies. People would start dropping out of the exchanges and declining to buy insurance because they couldn’t afford it; in turn, health insurance companies would have to jack up premiums for existing customers to make up for the lost revenue. The individual insurance market would essentially collapse in twenty-seven states.
As a political matter, that could be a bit tricky for the conservative politicians celebrating the decision, like South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. The 183,000 South Carolinians projected to receive subsidies on the federal exchange there would lose their subsidies, which cover about 80 percent of the premium costs should Tuesday’s decision in Halbig be affirmed by the Supreme Court. Most of those people are probably middle or lower-middle class, since they are eligible for subsidies.
That’s a tough thing to champion, even for conservative politicians. They should also be wary of an ultimate victory for the plaintiffs in Halbig because, conservative governors would feel immense pressure to enact a state exchange to avoid the massive loss of subsidies and skyrocketing premiums.
But we’re a long way from that. The Obama administration—which has already said subsidies will continue to flow as Halbig is litigated—quickly asked for an “en banc” ruling from the entire DC Circuit Court of Appeals, which has a majority of Democratic nominees. It would likely not rule in favor of the plaintiffs, and were the Supreme Court to consider that decision, most legal experts just don’t see enough existing case law for the conservative majority to affirm the plaintiff’s view. If it does, however, Obamacare will spin badly off its axis.
Read Next: John Nichols on the struggle for water rights in Detroit
For years the pro-choice movement has had to battle a wide array of restrictions passed on the state level, from onerous regulations on abortion clinics to “fetal pain” bills that deliberately give women bad information about abortion procedures. In fact, from 2011 through 2013, more than 200 state laws were passed that make it harder for women to access abortion services.
But the Senate Judiciary Committee held an important hearing Tuesday on a bill that could, in one swoop, clear out most of those laws. The Women’s Health Protection Act, introduced last year by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Tammy Baldwin, enumerates many of these laws that would be expressly prohibited and keeps abortion providers from being singled out by legislation that doesn’t apply broadly to most other medical services in the state.
Republican Senators and witnesses at the hearing, as one would expect, objected strenuously to the legislation. They relentlessly brought up the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia-area abortion doctor who repeatedly broke the law and carried out gruesome, illegal abortions. Their message was that these state laws just aim to make abortion safer and avoid more cases like Gosnell’s.
In reality, Gosnell was already operating well outside the bounds of the law and is actually a better example of what would happen were abortion to be outlawed entirely. As Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, testified at the hearing, that is the real and often stated goal of these laws:
[O]pponents of women’s reproductive rights, seeking to make an end run around public opinion and the Constitution itself, have shifted their strategy. They have resorted to obfuscating their true agenda by pushing laws that pretend to be about one thing but are actually about another. They claim these laws are about defending women’s health and well-being, and improving the safety of abortion care—but they most assuredly are not. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are advanced by politicians, not by doctors, often based on model legislation written by explicitly anti-abortion groups.
When Mississippi enacted such a law in 2012, a state senator put it quite plainly: “There’s only one abortion clinic in Mississippi. I hope this measure shuts that down.” Others showed their hands as well. Lt. Governor Tate Reeves stated that the measure “should effectively close the only abortion clinic in Mississippi” and “end abortion in Mississippi” when the bill passed the state Senate. Governor Phil Bryant, in vowing to sign the bill, said that he would “continue to work to make Mississippi abortion-free.” When he actually signed it, he said, “If it closes that clinic, then so be it.” Right now, Mississippi’s sole clinic is holding on by virtue of a temporary court order.
The legislation has essentially no chance of passing this Congress, but for pro-choice advocates, presents a chance to at least go on the offensive. It also may be needed in coming months as a backstop to a potential Supreme Court decision that could severely restrict abortion access.
Many federal courts have blocked this sort of state legislation as de facto abortion bans, as Northrup noted. But legal experts are increasingly convinced the Court may take up one of these cases in the next term—and that five conservative justices could move to affirm these abortion-restricting laws and effectively hollow out Roe v. Wade. The Women’s Health Protection Act would be a simple way to neutralize that decision, should it come.
Read Next: Hobby Lobby’s discrimination against a transgender employee
The standoff at the Bundy Ranch in Clark County, Nevada, has faded from the headlines, but a startling report released today by Southern Poverty Law Center warns that the incident may have some long-lasting, and potentially bloody, consequences.
Many of the militia members that flocked to the ranch were part of the anti-government Patriot Movement, an extremist movement with a long history but that gained serious steam during the Obama presidency. In 2008 there were about 150 Patriot groups nationwide—and there are over 1,000 today.
The SPLC report finds that this reawakened movement has drawn a very dangerous lesson from the standoff, which ended with the Bureau of Land Management backing off and leaving the ranch: a lesson that the federal government can be scared off by heavily armed militias.
That’s not to say the Bureau of Land Management should have engaged in a firefight, but the report makes clear the Patriot Movement has been energized by the “victory.” Already, a couple that was at the ranch undertook a headline-grabbing shooting spree in Las Vegas after getting amped for conflict weeks earlier in Clark County. The report highlights several other low-level incidents that haven’t gotten much media attention.
It also details, through interviews with militia members who were at the ranch—goaded on, also, by support from conservative politicians and media outlets—just how eager many participants were for battle. Here are the twelve scariest findings from the report:
1. “Almost overnight, thanks largely to the Bundy’s video going viral on antigovernment websites, the family’s fight with the federal government became a touchstone for various Tea Party Republicans, libertarians, antigovernment Oath Keepers and militia members, many of whom saw in the footage the beginnings of a war.”
2. “After watching the video from his home in Anaconda, Montana, 650 miles away, Ryan Payne, 30, an electrician and former soldier who had deployed twice to the Iraq war, became enraged […]
“Payne left that day with another member of his militia, Jim Lardy, and drove through the night, a few sleeping bags in tow, burning up cell phones hoping to bring every militia member they could. On April 9 he sent out an urgent call for the militias to mobilize. ‘At this time we have approximately 150 responding, but that number is growing by the hour,’ he wrote, offering directions to the Bundy ranch. ‘May God grant each and every one of you safety, wisdom and foresight, and courage to accomplish the mission we have strived for so long to bring to fruition. All men are mortal, most pass simply because it is their time, a few however are blessed with the opportunity to choose their time in performance of duty.’”
3. “In a low-lying wash where gates held the Bundy herd, an angry, heavily armed crowd grew, defying orders and engaging in a tense game of chicken with BLM rangers in riot gear demanding through loudspeakers that they disperse. They shouted profanities and gripped their weapons.
“Militia snipers lined the hilltops and overpasses with scopes trained on federal agents. What happened was not unplanned. As Payne later told the SPLC, he had ordered certain gunment ‘to put in counter sniper positions’ and others to hang behind at the rance. ‘[M]e and Mel Bundy put together the plan for the cohesion between the the Bundys and the militia…. Sending half of the guys up to support the protestors…and keep overwatch and make sure that if the BLM wanted to get froggy, that it wouldn’t be good for them.’”
4. “Writing on his blog hours after the standoff, Mike Vanderboegh, an aging government-hating propagandist from Alabama who heads the III Percent Patriots, characterized the standoff in grandiose terms. ‘It is impossible to overstate the importance of the victory won in the desert today,’ he gushed. “The feds were routed—routed. There is no word that applies. Courage is contagious, defiance is contagious, victory is contagious. Yet the war is not over.’”
5. “Ignoring the fact that Bundy and his followers were the ones who drew their weapons, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told The Los Angeles Times, ‘You can’t just show up with guns blazing and expect to win the hearts and minds of the public.’ Chaffetz, a firm advocate of those protesting the BLM, concluded, ‘The federals need a little more Andy Griffith and a lot less Rambo.’”
6. “A month after the standoff, San Juan County, Utah, Commissioner Phil Lyman led a protest against a ban on the use of motorized vehicles in Recapture Canyon that was meant to protect archaeological sites from damage.”
“Waving Gadsden flags just like those draped over the slain officer in Las Vegas and decrying the actions of the BLM, Lyman and several dozen ATV riders—including members of Bundy’s family—rode into the canyon to defy BLM authority. Lyman told the SPLC that the ride was meant to be a peaceful protest, but he did little to conceal his rage over what he characterized as federal tyranny.”
“‘If things don’t change, it’s not long before shots will be fired,’ Lyman said, joining other conservative lawmakers such as Chaffetz in warning of violence if the federal government didn’t rein in the BLM. ‘We can avoid it. But it’s not going to be by the people changing their attitudes and accepting more intrusion into their lives. It’s going to be by the federal government acknowledging people’s freedom.’”
7. “This May in Texas, militias and their allies came to protest a BLM survey of more than 90,000 acres along the Red River, fearing the federal government was planning a land grab.”
8. “A month earlier in Utah, two men pointed a handgun at a BLM worker in a marked federal vehicle while holding up a sign that said, ‘You need to die.’”
9. “In New Mexico’s Otero County, a brewing confrontation between state and federal officials ended after BLM officials opened gates cutting off water for grazing cattle to protect the jumping mouse. Again, there were conspiracy theories demonizing BLM efforts to protect the environment.”
10. “[I]n mid-June, more violence erupted, as a BLM ranger and a California Highway Patrol officer were shot and wounded, allegedly by a self-declared sovereign citizen, Brent Douglas Cole, who was camping outside of Nevada City, Calif.”
11. “None of this has tamped down the rhetoric. The Bundy standoff has actually brought the spotlight to the antigovernment movement, and its leaders are soaking up the attention. Polarizing figures such as former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack and Stewart Rhodes of the Oath Keepers have been eager to take advantage of the moment. Mack, a longtime militia darling who has led a push for county sheriffs to stand against federal law enforcement agencies, told one crowd, ‘We don’t believe that bureaucratic policies and regulations supersede the Constitution. I came here because I don’t believe the BLM has any authority whatsoever. Grazing fees do not supersede life, liberty and the pursuit of property.’”
12. “Among [Bundy’s current supporters] are politicians belonging to the Independent American Party (IAP)— the same party whose banner rabidly anti-immigrant former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo ran under during his bid for to become governor of Colorado. In late May, at an IAP event to honor Bundy for ‘his courage in standing up for state sovereignty,’ Bundy and his wife, Carol, signed paperwork to join the Nevada chapter. ‘Cliven Bundy is my hero,’ Janine Hansen, an IAP candidate running for Nevada’s 2nd congressional district, told a gathering of supporters. ‘We cannot allow this incredible opportunity that Cliven has given us to die.… It’s time that we are no longer serfs on the land in the State of Nevada. It is time that we become sovereign in our own state, our own sovereign state. It is long past time. We are not the servants of the BLM.’”
Read Next: An interview with Jesse Jackson about stopping the rebirth of the Old Confederacy in the New South
The Department of Justice will not investigate whether the Central Intelligence Agency illegally spied on staffers of the Senate Intelligence Committee and removed documents from committee servers, McClatchy confirmed Thursday. The CIA also claimed committee staffers took documents from the intelligence agency without authorization, and that claim will also not be investigated.
“The department carefully reviewed the matters referred to us and did not find sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation,” Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr told McClatchy.
It’s a fizzling denouement to one of the more fascinating political dramas of the Obama era. Earlier this year, without any warning, Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein took the Senate floor and delivered a lengthy, forceful speech directly accusing the CIA of spying on private committee computers and removing sensitive documents. It was an unprecedented public eruption of tensions between the security state and the legislative branch.
The backstory is that the Intelligence Committee conducted an extensive investigation into Bush-era torture, and produced a 6,300-page report that is not yet public. It’s reportedly a “searing” indictment of the agency—and the CIA responded by denying many of the damning charges.
The problem is that investigators came across what’s known as the “Panetta review,” an internal review ordered by the former CIA director that reportedly confirms most of the worst findings about torture by CIA agents. It’s this review that Feinstein publicly charged the CIA with removing from private committee computers after gaining illegal access.
This is a serious charge—it’s not substantially any different from CIA agents breaking into a physical Senate office and removing files.
What’s odd about Justice’s refusal to pursue a formal investigation is that Feinstein claims Brennan essentially admitted the cyber break-in. This is what she said during her speech back in March:
[O]n January 15, 2014, CIA Director Brennan requested an emergency meeting to inform me and Vice Chairman Chambliss that without prior notification or approval, CIA personnel had conducted a “search”—that was John Brennan’s word—of the committee computers at the offsite facility. This search involved not only a search of documents provided to the committee by the CIA, but also a search of the ”stand alone” and “walled-off” committee network drive containing the committee’s own internal work product and communications.
According to Brennan, the computer search was conducted in response to indications that some members of the committee staff might already have had access to the Internal Panetta Review. The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the Internal Review, or how we obtained it.
Instead, the CIA just went and searched the committee’s computers.
A second-party retelling of a confession may not be enough to obtain a conviction, but it’s hard to imagine there is not enough smoke here to at least pursue an investigation. Aside from the immediate implications regarding Bush-era torture—and, with the revelations this week about CIA spying in Germany, an agency that may essentially be going rogue—the incident raises grave concerns about constitutional separation of powers, as Feinstein herself noted in her speech.
Feinstein said she is at least happy that Justice won’t investigate the CIA’s claim that committee staffers essentially stole the Panetta report from CIA computers, a charge she firmly rebutted, at length, in her March speech.
Others took a more aggressive stand. Senator Mark Udall, a member of the committee, doesn’t think this is over:
As DOJ says they won’t wade into CIA/Senate spat, Sen. Mark Udall says: “We shouldn’t let this drop.” He says Senate needs to take a stand.
— Jeff Zeleny (@jeffzeleny) July 10, 2014
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid didn’t directly criticize the Justice Department on Thursday, but did restate that he believed the CIA was engaged in wrongdoing.
Read Next: Rebecca Gordon asks, Does America Still Torture?
Democrats in the House and Senate will unveil legislation that would reverse the immediate effects of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and force closely held corporations to provide contraceptive coverage to employees regardless of whether the owners object.
A common misconception about the case is that the Court ruled the Affordable Care Act violated the religious freedom precepts laid out in the Constitution by requiring contraceptive coverage. It clearly didn’t—rather, the Court’s five conservatives ruled it violated the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which forbid the federal government from “substantially burden[ing] religious exercise without compelling justification.”
All it would take, then, to undo the immediate effects of the ruling would be for Congress to go back and pass legislation overriding the RFRA.
That’s what Democratic Senators Patty Murray, Mark Udall and Dick Durbin are proposing to do with their bill unveiled Wednesday morning, the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act. In the House, Representatives Louise Slaughter, Diana DeGette and Jerrold Nadler have a companion bill with the same name.
The legislation would explicitly forbid employers from refusing to offer health coverage, including contraceptives, that is otherwise guaranteed by federal law, and would make explicit that the RFRA cannot override the Affordable Care Act. It would still allow exemptions for houses of worship and religious non-profits.
“After five justices decided last week that an employer’s personal views can interfere with women’s access to essential health services, we in Congress need to act quickly to right this wrong,” said Murray. “This bicameral legislation will ensure that no CEO or corporation can come between people and their guaranteed access to health care, period. I hope Republicans will join us to revoke this court-issued license to discriminate and return the right of Americans to make their own decisions, about their own health care and their own bodies.”
The immediate prospects of the legislation are fairly dim: or rather, it is certainly dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled House, and faces a tough path in the Senate, where it will come for a vote next week.
But the idea is to begin legislative momentum now for an eventual reversal of the RFRA—and in the meantime, put Republican Senators on the record now about whether they think corporate executives should be making healthcare decisions for their female employees.
Read Next: Zoë Carpenter on Hobby Lobby and the religious rights of Muslim prisoners
With all due respect to Michael Hoza, his nomination to be US ambassador to Cameroon isn’t exactly a thrilling political development. Few people outside his professional circle likely even know who he is, and no US senators have raised substantive objections to his nomination.
Nor should they—he’s a career foreign service officer with a stellar résumé, and has worked extensively in Africa.
Yet Hoza has been awaiting a Senate confirmation vote since mid-January, one of 145 nominees languishing on the Senate calendar. He is waiting alongside nominees to a wide variety of offices and positions, from the associate director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to assistant secretaries at the departments of Energy and Defense.
Perhaps if these nominees were wildly controversial or had long records demanding extensive examination, the Senate would be properly exercising its constitutional duty to advise and consent on appointments. But many of these nominees are almost laughably benign, and if recent history is a guide, will eventually receive a bipartisan confirmation vote.
So why are these nominees waiting so long? Routine obstruction by Republican senators who are deliberately stretching out the confirmation process for virtually every nominee to come through the Senate. And now Senate majority leader Harry Reid is threatening to once again enact rules reform that would neutralize the GOP’s slow-down tactics.
“If they’re going to continue this, maybe we’ll have to take another look at that. It’s outrageous what they’ve done,” Reid said on the Senate floor Monday when he returned from the July 4 holiday. “There’s no other way to look at what they’re doing. This is obstruction for obstruction’s sake.”
Though Democrats did enact the so-called “nuclear option” eliminating filibusters on executive and judicial nominations (Supreme Court excepted), the cloture process is still in place—and it allows for as much as thirty hours of debate per nominee. Republicans have been regularly using all of the time they can, which dramatically slows the Senate down.
Reid has options for changing the Senate rules to combat the slow-down, which he has said wouldn’t happen until next year (and, of course, if Democrats retain the majority). One possibility is “use it or lose it” reform, which has been advocated by several good government groups, like Fix the Senate Now. Basically, senators would have to use that debate time to actually debate the nominee in question, or they would forfeit it.
So if Senator John Cornyn wants to spend ten hours on the Senate floor talking about the nominee for US smbassador to the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (waiting nearly six months for a vote), he’s welcome to do so, but he almost surely wouldn’t.
This is a particularly effective way of speeding up the Senate because Republicans can’t argue they are losing any means to exercise minority rights—they can still actually use the thirty hours on any nominee they choose. They would just have to explain why they object, which is a tall order since Republicans apparently approve of many of the nominees they are nonetheless slowing down.
A report by Common Cause in May found nineteen examples of Republican senators chewing up cloture time on judicial nominees who were later confirmed unanimously by the Senate. Many executive branch nominees go through the same process. Republicans draw out the process and then end up voting for the nominee, as this chart from the report notes:
The level of obstruction is unprecedented. The average wait time for an executive branch or independent agency nominee is now nine months, according to Common Cause. There are around 110 executive branch or independent agency nominees awaiting action—and at this time in the George W. Bush presidency, there were only thirty-two. The number of cloture votes being forced for executive branch nominees are at record highs:
This obstruction is taking place largely out of the public eye—nobody particularly cares who is the assistant undersecretary to some alphabet-soup agency. But these are crucial posts in the everyday machinations of the federal government.
Take Hoza, for example, awaiting confirmation to be US ambassador to Cameroon. That country has been plagued by violence from the extremist Boko Haram group for months, and has been widely criticized, including by neighboring Nigeria, for being slow to respond to the threat.
Would having a US ambassador in the capital city of Yaounde have helped speed the response? We won’t ever know. Hoza has been on the Senate calendar since January 15, waiting for a vote.
Read Next: Katrina vanden Heuvel, “Economic Inequality Is Not an Act of God”