WASHINGTON — Forty-seven senators and 148 members of the House have signed a letter putting pressure on President Barack Obama to sign an executive order providing workplace protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.
"We are writing to urge you to fulfill the promise in your State of the Union address to make this a ‘year of action’ and build upon the momentum of 2013 by signing an executive order banning federal contractors from engaging in employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans. As you have said before, ‘now is the time to end this kind of discrimination, not enable it,’" the letter says.
The effort was organized by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in the Senate and by the LGBT Equality Caucus in the House.
Obama has the ability to ban only that employment discrimination by government contractors. Congressional legislation would apply to all employers. The proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), sponsored by Merkley, has passed the Senate, but it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere in the House.
"All Americans deserve fairness in the workplace," said Merkley in a statement on Tuesday. "There is no reason to wait any longer to extend non-discrimination policies to federal contractors and protect millions of Americans from being fired for who they are or who they love."
Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), who has been pushing the president to act on a nondiscrimination executive order for years, said, “Many LGBT Americans are less concerned with how these protections are put in place — whether they come from a bill the President signs into law or an executive order — they simply want and need protection from workplace discrimination. This is a simple act that can make a tremendous difference in the lives of 16.5 million Americans.”
No Republicans signed on to the letter asking Obama to issue an executive order, even though 10 of them voted for ENDA in the Senate and six are co-sponsors of the House legislation. Republicans have been wary of allowing the president to use his authority without going through Congress.
The current letter shows that support for executive action on LGBT discrimination is growing. Last year, lawmakers circulated a similar letter, which had 10 fewer backers in the Senate and 38 fewer in the House.
Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Harry Reid (Nev.) were the only Democrats who didn’t sign the latest letter on the Senate side. Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also did not sign. Fifty-six House Democrats didn’t join the effort.
The letter picked up the support of Democratic leaders like House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), Assistant House Democratic Leader James Clyburn (S.C.), Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Steve Israel (N.Y.) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.).
In addition to Bennet, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, other top Democrats not signing the letter included Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), chair of the Democratic National Committee, and Rep. Marcia Fudge (Ohio), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Although Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) were also not signatories, they traditionally don’t sign on to these types of letters. Pelosi has said, however, that she supports Obama using his executive authority to extend workplace protections. Reid has said he would support it if the president decided to do it.
The White House has consistently argued that it would like to see Congress pass ENDA, since an executive action wouldn’t protect all LGBT workers. Still, an executive order could help as many as 16 million workers, according to a report from UCLA’s Williams Institute.
Senate signatories (46 Democrats and one independent):
Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Ben Cardin (Md.), Tom Carper (Del.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Chris Coons (Del.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Al Franken (Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Martin Heinrich (N.M.), Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Chris Murphy (Conn.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Mark Udall (Colo.), Tom Udall (N.M.), Mark Warner (Va.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Ron Wyden (Ore.)
House signatories (148 Democrats):
Ron Barber (Ariz.), Karen Bass (Calif.), Joyce Beatty (Ohio), Ami Bera (Calif.), Timothy Bishop (N.Y.), Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), Suzanne Bonamici (Ore.), Robert Brady (Pa.), Bruce Braley (Iowa), Julie Brownley (Calif.), Lois Capps (Calif.), Michael Capuano (Mass.), Tony Cardenas (Calif.), Andre Carson (Ind.), Matt Cartwright (Pa.), Kathy Castor (Fla.), Joaquin Castro (Texas), Judy Chu (Calif.), David Cicilline (R.I.), Katherine Clark (Mass.), Yvette Clarke (N.Y.), James Clyburn (S.C.), Steve Cohen (Tenn.), Gerald Connolly (Va.), John Conyers (Mich.), Joe Courtney (Conn.), Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), Susan Davis (Calif.), Diana DeGette (Colo.), John Delaney (Md.), Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), Suzan DelBene (Wash.), Theodore Deutch (Fla.), Lloyd Doggett (Texas), Michael Doyle (Pa.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Keith Ellison (Minn.), Eliot Engel (N.Y.), Anna Eshoo (Calif.), Elizabeth Esty (Conn.), Sam Farr (Calif.), Bill Foster (Ill.), Lois Frankel (Fla.), Joe Garcia (Fla.), Alan Grayson (Fla.), Al Green (Texas), Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), Luis Gutierrez (Ill.), Janice Hahn (Calif.), Colleen Hanabusa (Hawaii), Alcee Hastings (Fla.), Denny Heck (Wash.), Brian Higgins (N.Y.), James Himes (Conn.), Ruben Hinojosa (Texas), Rush Holt (N.J.), Mike Honda (Calif.), Steven Horsford (Nev.), Steny Hoyer (Md.), Jared Huffman (Calif.), Steve Israel (N.Y.), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas), Hank Johnson Jr. (Ga.), William Keating (Mass.), Joseph Kennedy III (Mass.), Dan Kildee (Mich.), Derek Kilmer (Wash.), Ron Kind (Wis.), Ann Kuster (N.H.), James Langevin (R.I.), Rick Larsen (Wash.), John Larson (Conn.), Barbara Lee (Calif.), Sander Levin (Mich.), John Lewis (Ga.), David Loebsack (Iowa), Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), Alan Lowenthal (Calif.), Nita Lowey (N.Y.), Michelle Lujan Grisham (N.M.), Stephen Lynch (Mass.), Dan Maffei (N.Y.), Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.), Sean Patrick Maloney (N.Y.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Betty McCollum (Minn.), Jim McDermott (Wash.), James McGovern (Mass.), Jerry McNerney (Calif.), Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), Grace Meng (N.Y.), Michael Michaud (Maine), George Miller (Calif.), Gwen Moore (Wis.), James Moran (Va.), Patrick Murphy (Fla.), Jerry Nadler (N.Y.), Rick Nolan (Minn.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), Beto O’Rourke (Texas), Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), Bill Pascrell Jr. (N.J.), Donald Payne Jr. (N.J.), Ed Perlmutter (Colo.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Scott Peters (Calif.), Chellie Pingree (Maine), Mark Pocan (Wis.), Jared Polis (Colo.), David Price (N.C.), Mike Quigley (Ill.), Charlie Rangel (N.Y.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.), Bobby Rush (Ill.), Linda Sanchez (Calif.), Loretta Sanchez (Calif.), John Sarbanes (Md.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), Adam Schiff (Calif.), Brad Schneider (Ill.), Kurt Schrader (Ore.), Allyson Schwartz (Pa.), David Scott (Ga.), Jose Serrano (N.Y.), Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.), Brad Sherman (Calif.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Albio Sires (N.J.), Louse Slaughter (N.Y.), Adam Smith (Wash.), Jackie Speier (Calif.), Eric Swalwell (Calif.), Mark Takano (Calif.), Mike Thompson (Calif.), John Tierney (Mass.), Dina Titus (Nev.), Paul Tonko (N.Y.), Niki Tsongas (Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Juan Vargas (Calif.), Marc Veasey (Texas), Filemon Vela (Texas), Nydia Velazquez (N.Y.), Timothy Walz (Minn.), Henry Waxman (Calif.), Pete Welch (Vt.), Frederica Wilson (Fla.), John Yarmuth (Ky.)
Source: The Huffington Post
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.
Filibuster reform is in trouble, proponents warn, at the hands of a scaled-back proposal they say would enhance rather than diminish the Senate minority’s power to obstruct.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) says his proposal to force filibustering senators to occupy the floor and speak ceaselessly could be in jeopardy, thanks to a newbipartisan filibuster package that he and his ally Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) argue would do more harm than good to the cause.
“Normally the majority party has a right to determine the agenda of the Senate. They don’t have the right to pass bills. That’s up to the majority of the Senate,” Udall said on the floor Wednesday. “But then the majority leader should have the right to bring a bill to the floor of the Senate. And that has been denied over and over again by the minority party. That’s wrong.”
The dueling proposal, spearheaded by longtime Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI), would make it somewhat tougher for the minority to block debate on legislation but also guarantee them two amendments on bills — regardless of relevancy — which proponents of a weaker filibuster say defeats the purpose.
“It’s a step backward rather than a step forward,” a Merkley aide said. “It doesn’t attack the core of the matter. It doesn’t include a talking filibuster. And it allows the minority to kill legislation with poison pill amendments. It keeps all the tools minority has to obstruct and then gives them another tool.”
Early in December, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said filibuster reform will happen with or without Republican support, and Merkley-Udall was the plan on the table. But the unveiling of the McCain-Levin late December — and the optics of a partisan versus bipartisan solution — scrambled the game for reformers.
If Reid decides to pursue McCain-Levin instead of the talking filibuster plan, “Senator Merkley will encourage others to vote against the bill,” his aide said. It’s not yet clear that proposal has the super-majority of votes required to pass, but multiple Democratic senators have said there are at least 51 votes for reform.
h/t: Sahil Kapur at TPM
One of the overarching themes of the 99 Percent Movement is that our democracy is too corrupted by corporate special interests. This corruption was worsened last year by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allowed for huge new unregulated flows of corporate political spending.
Yesterday, six Democratic senators — Tom Udall (NM), Michael Bennett (CO), Tom Harkin (IA), Dick Durbin (IL), Chuck Schumer (NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and Jeff Merkely (OR) — introduced a constitutional amendment that would effectively overturn the Citizens United case and restore the ability of Congress to properly regulate the campaign finance system.
The amendment as filed resolves that both Congress and individual states shall have the power to regulate both the amount of contributions made directly to candidates for elected office and “the amount of expenditures that may be made by, in support of, or in opposition to such candidates.”
“By limiting the influence of big money in politics, elections can be more about the voters and their voices, not big money donors and their deep pockets,” said Harkin of the amendment. “We need to have a campaign finance structure that limits the influence of the special interests and restores confidence in our democracy. This amendment goes to the heart of that effort.”
Passing this amendment or any other amendment to the Constitution is an arduous process. There are two ways to propose a constitutional amendment. Either two-thirds of Congress can agree to an amendment or there can be a constitutional amendment called by two-thirds of state legislatures (this path has never been taken). In order to ratify an amendment, three-quarters of state legislatures must agree or three-quarters of states must have individual constitutional conventions that agree.