Nearly 50 Democratic U.S. senators, and not one Republican, called on the National Football League this week to change the team name of the Washington Redskins, in the largest congressional effort of the decades-long effort to replace the term the senators called a racial slur.
They urged NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to follow National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver, who recently fired Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling after a recording surfaced of the 80-year-old making racist comments.
“We urge you and the National Football League to send the same clear message as the NBA did: that racism and bigotry have no place in professional sports. It’s time for the NFL to endorse a name change for the Washington, D.C., football team,” the 49 legislators wrote Wednesday in their letter.
President Barack Obama and other elected officials, as well as civil rights organizations, sports leaders and members of the general American public, have expressed their concerns about the meaning of the term “redskin,” saying it possesses negative racial connotations. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office refused to register the team’s trademark and has determined the word is a “derogatory slang” term.
Earlier this week, the New York State Assembly passed a unanimous bipartisan resolution denouncing the use of racial slurs as professional sports team names. The state is home to NFL headquarters.
The Democrats questioned Goodell about what message his failure to act sends. The NBA punished Sterling for his comments against African-Americans, but the NFL allows a team to endorse negative language toward Native Americans, they wrote.
“The despicable comments made by Mr. Sterling have opened up a national conversation about race relations. We believe this conversation is an opportunity for the NFL to take action to remove the racial slur from the name of one of its marquee franchises,” they said in the letter.
Among the signees were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Barbara Boxer of California, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Reid separately urged Redskins owner Dan Snyder to learn from Sterling’s firing. Speaking on the Senate floor at the end of April, Reid noted the change 17 years ago of the Washington Bullets to what is now the Wizards, a motion made to disassociate the franchise from guns and violence in the District of Columbia.
A group of nine Democratic House lawmakers and one Republican last May renewed a decades-old debate about the controversial name when they sent a letter to Snyder and Goodell. Several other legislators have since crafted similar letters to the two leaders.
Oneida Nation, a federally recognized tribe, aired their “Change the Mascot” campaign nationwide through radio advertisements during the most recent NFL season. This week they praised the senators’ effort.
“The R-word is a dictionary defined racial slur, which likely explains why avowed segregationist George Preston Marshall decided to use the term as the team’s name. Continuing an infamous segregationist’s legacy by promoting such a slur is not an honor, as Mr. Snyder and Mr. Goodell claim. It is a malicious insult,” Ray Halbritter, representative of the Oneida Nation, said in a statement Thursday.
Snyder created a foundation to provide resources and opportunities for Native Americans and to preserve the heritage of his team’s name in what he called his attempt “to do more” for the group of individuals.
It’s about time to change the team name!
#KYSen: Mitch McConnell says he stood up for women in a Senate sexual-harassment scandal. The real story is damning.
Facing his toughest reelection battle in years against a well-known and well-financed female opponent, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently boasted that he led the Senate in ousting a GOP colleague accused of sexual harassment in 1995. But news reports from that time show that late in the investigation, McConnell tried to stall the probe against his fellow Republican, Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) He derided efforts by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to hold public hearings on Packwood as “frolic and detour”—after the Senate ethics committee had substantiated nearly two-dozen claims of sexual harassment leveled against Packwood by female lobbyists and former staffers.
Talking about the Packwood scandal this past week, McConnell noted that he was chair of the Senate ethics committee when Packwood resigned. In a Tuesday interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader, McConnell said he had taken “the toughest possible position.” The newspaper reported that McConnell had “offered himself as an example of how elected officials should handle situations when a member of their own party is accused of sexual harassment.”
But the bulk of the ethics probe against Packwood took place when the committee was chaired by a Democrat. When Republicans regained a majority in the Senate after the 1994 elections and McConnell became chair of the committee, he transformed the Packwood investigation into a partisan mess.
Here’s the backstory: In late November, 1992, the Washington Post reported that at least ten lobbyists and former Packwood staffers said they had been sexually harassed by Packwood. Several of the women claimed that Packwood had grabbed them or forcibly kissed them until they protested or pushed him away.
The story detonated a Washington scandal. Within a week, Packwood acknowledged the accusations, claiming his conduct was the result of a substance abuse problem. He called for a Senate ethics committee investigation of his own behavior. Bob Dole, then the Republican Senate minority leader, echoed Packwood’s call for an investigation. “The quicker the better,” he said. In subsequent weeks, several more women came forward. A former Packwood campaign volunteer told the Associated Press that Packwood had tasked her with gathering dirt on his accusers, and an official ethics inquiry was under way.
In the next year, Senate ethics committee staff interviewed 150 people across the country. This yielded 4,000 pages of sworn testimony and 1,000 pages of supporting documents. The investigators also collected new accusations from several women who had not spoken to the press.
Throughout this phase of the investigation, McConnell, the senior Republican on the committee, won praise from Democrats who had previously regarded him as the GOP’s junkyard dog. McConnell joined Democrats on the ethics committee in turning down a deal with Packwood to weaken the investigation, and he encouraged dozens of Republicans to vote on the Senate floor to subpoena Packwood’s diaries—audio tapes in which Packwood described his sexual misconduct in lewd detail.
Despite that Senate vote, Packwood held up the probe for about a year by challenging the subpoena for his diaries in federal court. As a result, it took the Senate ethics committee until December 1994 to wrap up its review of Packwood’s diaries. (The committee, by that time, was also investigating whether Packwood had altered the diaries and whether Packwood had instructed lobbyists to offer his ex-wife a job in order to lower his alimony payments.) The panel was on track to decide, in early 1995, whether Packwood had broken any laws or ethics rules. By tradition, if the committee decided Packwood had broken any laws, public hearings and testimony would take place on the Senate floor before the committee decided what consequences Packwood would face.
That’s when McConnell engaged in partisan obstructionism.
With Republicans now in the majority, McConnell, as chair of the Senate ethics committee, took control of the Packwood inquiry. And the investigation suddenly slowed down. As the committee missed its projected deadline for voting on public hearings by several months, McConnell dodged questions about where the investigation stood.
In mid-May, the committee announced it had acquired sufficient evidence to hold public hearings on the allegations. Its investigation had substantiated “18 instances of kissing, grabbing, groping or propositioning women,” often by force, the New York Times reported.
It was unprecedented for such serious ethics charges not to result in public hearings. But McConnell battled to keep the ensuing proceedings against Packwood closed. With Democrats demanding public hearings, McConnell canceled an ethics committee vote on hodling such hearings without explanation. In the following weeks, he allowed committee debates over whether to hold public proceedings to drag on without a vote.
In July, fed-up Senate Democrats pushed for a vote before the full Senate on holding hearings. McConnell responded with a threat, according to the Washington Post:
Senate sources said McConnell told [Sen. Barbara] Boxer on Tuesday that he would hold [ethics] hearings on two prominent Democrats if Boxer persisted in plans to force the issue of public hearings on Packwood.
According to the sources, McConnell approached committee member Barbarba Mikulski, D-Md., and told her, “You go find Barbara Boxer and tell her if she brings this amendment to the Senate floor, I’ll be having hearings on Daschle and Chappaquiddick.”
This was a reference to the 1969 incident involving the drowning of a woman companion of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and to allegations earlier this year that Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle, D-S.D., may have intervened improperly on behalf of South Dakota air charter company.
The sources said Boxer confronted McConnell later and asked him if he was threatening her.
He responded, “I’m not threatening you; I’m promising you,” a source said.
The Associated Press recounted it this way:
"I want you to tell her (Boxer) if she does that, we will offer amendments for hearings on Daschle and Chappaquidick. It will work both ways," McConnell reportedly said. "I want you to tell her that right away."
At the time, political observers speculated that McConnell was trying to save Republicans from embarrassment. His refusal to hold public hearings generated huge controversy, with editorial pages in Kentucky and beyond calling for McConnell to reverse course. The Kentucky House and Senate both passed resolutions urging McConnell to allow public hearings, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Sen. Richard Bryan (D-Nev.), the ranking Democrat on the ethics committee, publicly criticized McConnell. “There is simply no reason for the committee to delay further,” he told reporters. “I know of no reason the ethics committee has not met, nor any reason why the committee has not voted on holding public hearings.” McConnell promptlycanceled another meeting of the ethics committee. He said he would not call a new one until Democrats quit demanding public hearings.
The next day, July 21, McConnell hinted on the Senate floor that he would kick off retaliatory investigations. “If Senator Boxer takes us on another such frolic and detour, it will only further distract us and prevent us from concluding this important case,” he said. “So if we find ourselves on the floor in the coming days debating legislation regarding hearings in the Packwood case or any other subject related to ethics committee procedures, I will be prepared, and I am sure others will be prepared, to discuss and debate congressional action on misconduct cases in the past and other relevant issues.”
But early the following month, Boxer forced a Senate vote on her proposal to hold public hearings on Packwood. Republicans, at McConnell’s urging, filibustered, and a vote to break the filibuster failed.
The Senate ethics committee finally concluded the Packwood case the next month, on September 6, when senators returned from their summer recess. In a unanimous vote, the six members of the ethics committee, including McConnell, recommended that the Senate expel Packwood. By then, two more women had approached the committee claiming Packwood had harassed them. One of them said this had occurred when she was 17 years old. Packwood resigned a day after the committee vote. The full investigation had taken nearly three years. No public hearings were ever held.
"I am more than happy to stake my reputation on the way I handle a case," McConnell said in the aftermath. And now, he’s using the episode to appeal to women voters: A 2013 "Women for Team Mitch" rally featured a female Kentucky lawyer who told the rallygoers, “The way Sen. McConnell responded to that situation was perfect.” With a sexual-harassment scandal now dogging a state Democratic lawmaker in Kentucky, McConnell has been pointing to his actions in the Packwood scandal as exemplary.
In response, the campaign for McConnell’s Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, circulated a New York Times editorial from 1995 that decried McConnell’s “bullying tactics” during the Packwood scandal. “It is improper for Mr. McConnell to hold the Packwood matter hostage to unrelated issues,” the editorial said, referencing McConnell’s Chappaquiddick threats. “That is an abuse of his power as chairman.”
"McConnell now must resort to rewriting history to save the only job he cares about: his own," a Grimes spokeswoman wrote in an email.
"One fundamental problem Alison Lundergan Grimes has with reality here in Kentucky is that she actually believes the New York Times editorial page is the arbiter of truth and fact,” Allison Moore, a spokeswoman for the McConnell campaign, wrote in an email. “The internet would be a good resource for her to find out how Senator McConnell led the fight to expose and expel a senior member of his own party for egregious sexual harassment of women in the Senate.” Moore added that Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) praised McConnell’s actions shortly after Packwood resigned.
This is not the first time McConnell has highlighted the Packwood scandal during a campaign. In his 1996 reelection effort, he ran an ad during the summer Olympics boasting that he “took the lead” in ousting Packwood. McConnell, the ad said, had displayed “courage and independence—rare qualities in Washington these days.”
A group of senators is asking for more broadcast coverage on climate change, following a Media Matters analysis which found that Sunday shows aired only scant coverage on the issue last year.
On Thursday, January 16, a letter spearheaded by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was sent to the top executives of four major television networks, expressing “deep concern” about the lack of coverage on global warming, deeming it a “serious environmental crisis” which “poses a huge threat to our nation and the global community.” The letter cited findings from a recent Media Matters study, which revealed that Sunday news shows dedicated merely 27 minutes of coverage to the issue of climate change throughout all of 2013. They wrote that “this is an absurdly short amount of time for a subject of such importance.”
The senators concluded with a call to action: “We urge you to take action in the near term to correct this oversight and provide your viewers, the American public, with greater discussion of this important issue that impacts everyone on the planet.”
The other senators that signed the letter were Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pulled the trigger Thursday, deploying a parliamentary procedure dubbed the “nuclear option” to change Senate rules to pass most executive and judicial nominees by a simple majority vote.
The Senate voted 52 to 48 for the move, with just three Democrats declining to go along with the rarely used maneuver.
From now until the Senate passes a new rule, executive branch nominees and judges nominated for all courts except the Supreme Court will be able to pass off the floor and take their seats on the bench with the approval of a simple majority of senators. They will no longer have to jump the traditional hurdle of 60 votes, which has increasingly proven a barrier to confirmation during the Obama administration.
Reid opened debate in the morning by saying that it has become “so, so very obvious” that the Senate is broken and in need of rules reform. He rolled through a series of statistics intended to demonstrate that the level of obstruction under President Barack Obama outpaced any historical precedent.
Half the nominees filibustered in the history of the United States were blocked by Republicans during the Obama administration; of 23 district court nominees filibustered in U.S. history, 20 were Obama’s nominees; and even judges that have broad bipartisan support have had to wait nearly 100 days longer, on average, than President George W. Bush’s nominees.
"It’s time to change before this institution becomes obsolete," Reid said, before citing scripture — "One must not break his word" — in accusing Minority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) of breaking his promise to work in a more bipartisan fashion.
McConnell responded to Reid by changing the subject to the Affordable Care Act and accusing Democrats of trying to distract Americans from the law’s troubled rollout. Getting around to fidelity, McConnell noted that Reid had said in July that “we’re not touching judges,” yet he was now choosing to do so. Reid casually brushed off his suit coat and sat down.
McConnell compared the alleged duplicity to another Democratic piece of rhetoric. “If you like the rules of the Senate, you can keep them,” he quipped, as the GOP side laughed heartily, which encouraged a pleased McConnell to turn directly to his colleagues and repeat the joke.
He then turned to the Democratic side and said he understood why inexperienced young members who’d never been in the minority might want to change the rules. “The rest of you guys in the conference should know better,” he said.
Obstruction, McConnell said, began with the Democrats when they decided to filibuster Circuit Court nominees under Bush. “They made it up. They started it,” he said, arguing that Republicans were only following their lead. His argument, though, raises the question of why eliminating the filibuster on such judges, if it was never used before 2000, should be seen as an historic development in the first place.
"Stop trying to jam us," McConnell said, warning that it would come back to haunt them. "You may regret it a lot sooner than you think."
Normally rules changes in the Senate need 67 votes, but the majority can challenge an existing rule, and if the presiding senator rules against the challenge, the majority can then ask for a vote on the chair’s ruling. If a simple majority votes to overrule the chair, it sets a new precedent.
Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) broke with their party and joined Republicans in opposing the move. Pryor is in an uphill reelection contest, which may explain his vote, but Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who are also top GOP targets in 2014, backed the rules change.
Levin, a Senate traditionalist, has long been the most outspoken opponent of rules reform, and led a successful effort to stymie the movement earlier this year. Manchin, meanwhile, has great reverence for the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), a fierce champion of Senate tradition, likely explaining his vote. (Byrd did make several attempts to change the rules himself when he served as majority leader.)
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who has long been skeptical of changing the rules, cast a critical vote very late in the process supporting the move. That left Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a recent convert to reform, to cast the 51st vote, with Reid casting the 52nd.
The move marks a significant win for the newer crop of Democrats — like Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, the lead proponent of going nuclear — who have grown increasingly frustrated as McConnell expertly employed parliamentary procedures to stall Democratic nominees and initiatives. Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) have also been longtime champions of filibuster reform, with Harkin’s effort dating back more than two decades.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who chaired the Judiciary Committee back when it was Democrats trying to stall Bush’s nominees, echoed McConnell, suggesting newer Democrats such as Merkley, who have never been in the minority, were not taking the long view.
Hagel for Equality: Defense Secretary Nominee Chuck Hagel Endorses Support For Same-Sex Couple Military Benefits
Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s pick for Defense secretary, supports equal benefits for same-sex military couples.
He made the pledge in a Monday letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., where he also promised to support government-paid abortions for military women in cases of rape and incest and to improve sexual assault prevention programs ordered by Congress.
Boxer endorsed the nomination of the former Republican senator after receiving the letter, which also outlines Hagel’s views on Iran, Israel and Hezbollah.
RELATED: Sen. Schumer endorses Hagel
On gays in the military, Hagel said he fully supports the 2010 repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
“I know firsthand the profound sacrifice our service members and their families make,” Hagel said, referring to his own combat service in Vietnam. “If confirmed as secretary of defense, I will do everything possible to the extent permissible under law to provide equal benefits to families of all our service members.”
His options are limited as long as the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 remains in effect. That law prevents most same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits, including military health care, housing allowances and travel payments.
Boxer also asked about Hagel’s support for programs to combat sexual assault in the military and for the change in abortion policy that was ordered as part of the 2013 defense authorization bill.
Hagel said he is “committed to the full implementation of all recent policies and procedures” on sexual assault and will “ensure” the programs have full resources.
On abortion and reproductive rights, Hagel said he “will fully implement all laws protecting women service member’s reproductive rights” and additionally pledged to work with Congress and the White House “to ensure female service members continue to be afforded world class health care, including reproductive health care.”
“My goal is to ensure that the health care provided to our service members remains contemporary with the care provided to the private citizens of our nation,” Hagel said.
A Democratic congressman has launched an investigation into True The Vote, a conservative Tea Party group that has attempted to purge thousands of registered voters from voting rolls across the country ahead of the November presidential election.
The organization is pursuing an aggressive ground campaign to challenge people’s right to vote based on their residency and citizenship, such as the hundreds of college students who failed to identify their dorm room numbers on voter registration applications.
In a letter to Catherine Engelbrecht, the founder of True The Vote, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) accused the Texas-based organization of challenging the registration of thousands of legitimate voters “based on insufficient, inaccurate, and faulty evidence.”
"True the Vote, its volunteers, and its affiliated groups have a horrendous record of filing inaccurate voter registration challenges, causing legitimate voters — through no fault of their own — to receive letters from local election officials notifying them that their registrations have been challenged and requiring them to take steps to remedy false accusations against them," wrote Cummings, the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
The letter continues: “Multiple reviews by state and local government officials have documented voter registration challenges submitted by your volunteers based on insufficient evidence, outdated or inaccurate data, and faulty software and database capabilities. Across multiple states, government officials of both political parties have criticized your methods and work product for their lack of accuracy and reliability.”
"Your tactics have been so problematic that even Ohio Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted has condemned them as potentially illegal," Cummings states in his letter.
Cummings told The Huffington Post that it appears that True The Vote has been extremely selective in whom it targets for a challenge.
"We have asked True The Vote to provide us with documentation that shows exactly how they select folks to go after and challenge," Cummings said. Cummings said some of what he’s heard about the group’s strategy has been disturbing and, if true, threatens fundamental American rights.
"It does appear that they are quite selective in who they challenge, and it appears they primarily go after people who might be inclined to vote Democratic," Cummings said. The congressman said that in Ohio, for example, True The Vote has targeted nine of 13 districts won by President Barack Obama in 2008.
"It also appears they challenge, at disproportionate rates, African Americans," Cummings said, characterizing these tactics as "blatant." He questioned True The Vote’s intent and said that Engelbrecht has made it public knowledge that she’d like to see Obama defeated.
Cummings said, “You would think someone trying to address voter fraud wouldn’t be talking about who they want in the White House; it would be ‘I want to talk about fair elections.’”
True The Vote’s website describes the organization’s mission as to “restore truth, faith, and integrity to our elections.”
The group and its offshoots in various states have gained a reputation for aggressively challenging the legitimacy of properly registered voters. Critics say their tactics are often flawed and especially target poor and minority communities.
The group has also filed lawsuits against election officials in Ohio and Indiana, and instructs volunteers on how to use software to cross-check voter rolls against driver’s license records and property records, among other databases. A Government Accountability Board in Wisconsin, where True The Vote raised questions about thousands of voter signatures, called the results of the group’s process "at best flawed."
Last week, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) asked the Justice Department to “protect Americans from voter intimidation” in the face of “widespread efforts by Tea Party-linked groups to intimidate voters and suppress the vote, particularly in low-income and minority neighborhoods.”
In a letter to Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, Boxer asked that they uphold the tenets of the Voting Rights Act.
"No group can be allowed to intimidate or interfere with this fundamental right that is essential for American democracy," Boxer wrote.
"This type of intimidation must stop," Boxer continued. "I don’t believe this is ‘True the Vote.’ I believe it’s ‘Stop the Vote.’"
h/t: Huffington Post
The Senate hearing on climate science this Wednesday, unsurprisingly enough, appears to have changed little with respect to the politics of climate change on Capitol Hill. Indeed, a significant portion of the discussion was dominated by debate over Dr. John Christy’s particular brand of denialism, a well-trod debate.
Nonetheless, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) was more than surprised when informed by Senator Barbara Boxer that roughly 98 percent of climate scientists, contra Christy, accepted that anthropogenic warming was real and serious — he was outraged:
Sessions: Madam Chairman, I am offended by that, I’m offended by that — I didn’t say anything about the scientists. I said the data shows [sic] it is not warming to the degree that a lot of people predicted, not close to that much…
Boxer: The conclusion that you’re coming to is shared by 1-2 percent of the scientists. You shouldn’t be offended by that. That’s the fact.
Sessions: I don’t believe that’s correct.
While these denialists debated the Committee’s Democrats on the role of climate change in fueling the current devastating drought, the best available science suggested that the current troubles are some of the earliest signs of a “dust-bowlification” of the United States as a consequence of global warming.