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Analysis: Much Of GOP Presidential Field Has Moved To The Right On Abortion

By Emily Greenhouse, Bloomberg News (TNS)

The pope went to Paraguay last month, and called the corruption there the “gangrene of a people.” The small, religious country of swamp, scrubland, and savanna is not one that often makes its way into American discussions of policy. But on Sunday, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican candidate for president, expressed his support for Paraguay’s restrictive abortion laws — even when it means that a child impregnated by rape is forced to give birth.

The last presidential election illuminated a stark gender gap; Mitt Romney was victorious among male voters, but lost among women by 11 percentage points. Among single women, he lost by 36 points. The following year, the National Republican Congressional Committee, wanting to improve on these numbers — and avoid repeating damaging lines like former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin’s on “legitimate rape,” uttered three years ago this week — held sessions with Republican aides on how to talk to and about women. Speaker John Boehner noted that, “when you look around the Congress, there are a lot more females in the Democrat caucus than there are in the Republican caucus.” He encouraged members of Congress to “be a little more sensitive.”

In the 2014 midterm election, the Republican Party may have seen gains, but, according to exit poll data, the gap between voting preferences of men and women continued to increase, becoming bigger than it had been in 20 years.

Three out of four Americans say a woman should be able to obtain a legal abortion if she becomes pregnant as a result of rape. Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, in 1973, not a single Republican presidential nominee has opposed exceptions to abortion in cases of incest, rape, or threat to the life of the mother.

And yet, as we roll toward the 2016 presidential election, the Republican Party seems to have undergone a vigorous rightward turn on the subject of abortion. Whether because of deeply held beliefs or the tactical imperatives of the GOP’s primary season, many of the candidates are taking surprisingly unyielding positions — ones that are well out of the current American mainstream.

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” host Dana Bash asked Huckabee his thoughts on the law in Paraguay, where abortion is illegal unless the life of the pregnant woman is at risk. In the news was the plight of a girl who became pregnant at 10 years old after being repeatedly raped (her stepfather has been arrested and is awaiting trial), whom government authorities did not allow to have an abortion. Last Thursday, the girl, who is now 11, gave birth via cesarean section.

“If you’re president and you have your druthers,” Bash said, “that would be the policy here. Some of your Republican opponents say it’s too extreme. What do you say?”

Huckabee did not take a beat. “I think what we have to do, Dana, is remember that creating one problem that is horrible — I mean, let nobody be misled, a 10-year-old girl being raped is horrible — but does it solve the problem by taking the life of an innocent child?” He then mentioned his former employer James Robison, a televangelist and the founder of the Christian relief group Life Outreach International, who was conceived by rape. So glorious good can come from bad.

Opponents of abortion access often frame the issue of abortion around life and the potential of the unborn child. (Review several statements at the National Right to Life Convention last month: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: “We can’t declare victory until every life, the unborn, as well as the elderly, the disabled; every human life is welcomed and celebrated in our country, in our culture.” Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush: “We need to protect innocent life in every aspect.” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: “There is no more precious, more fundamental right than the right to life.”) That’s why Huckabee rolled out Robison, to show that rape can result in admirable human beings (He has adopted this tack before. “Ethel Waters, for example,” he said on his syndicated radio program some years ago, “was the result of a forcible rape.” Then Robison again. A stable in his mind of exemplary examples.)

It’s not that Republican politicians always overlook the plight of the person who bears a womb, however, in favor of the person a womb might bear. But in the way that certain candidates speak of women facing the prospect of abortion, there is a presumptiveness, a kind of “Candidate Knows Best.”

Huckabee acknowledged the tragedy of the young girl’s situation in Paraguay. “It isn’t easy,” he said. But, he told Bash, “We sometimes miss the fact that, when an abortion happens, there are two victims. One is the child, the other is that birth mother, who often will go through extraordinary guilt years later when she begins to think through what happened with the baby, with her.”

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry has also evinced this kind of insight, finding mechanisms to helping women to make the decision that’s best for them. He said, in July, at the National Right to Life Convention in New Orleans, that no one’s got a better record on abortion. “We passed a parental notification law,” he said. “I signed a parental consent law. I signed a sonogram law so mothers facing that agonizing choice can actually see.”

At the same gathering, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio articulated “the idea that a woman has a right to do anything she wants with her body,” saying, “Let’s recognize right now that there is a fundamental right to control your body.” But he added, “There is also another right: the right to life. Put another way, the child also has a right to his or her body.” He wove a story of what he called “two rights in conflict with one another,” in the end finding beauty in how a mother’s life can be improved by having a child.

Bush, the other-than-Trump presumed front-runner, is considerably to the right on abortion than his brother, George W. Bush. In 2003, he intervened to ask a court to appoint a guardian for the fetus of a mentally disabled rape victim. Whereas his rhetoric on this issue has been more muted, it often seems he’s trying to choreograph the same message while trying to conceal it.

During the first Republican presidential debate on Fox, the co-moderator Megyn Kelly asked Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker about his position. “Would you really let a mother die,” she said, with stress on the word, “rather than let her have an abortion? And with 83 percent of the American public in favor of a ‘life exception,’ are you too out of the mainstream on this issue to win the general election?” Walker replied, “I’ve said many a time that that unborn child can be protected, and there are many other alternatives that can also protect the life of that mother.” No budging there.

After the debate, Kelly herself became a point of controversy among the Republican camp, when Donald Trump remarked, about Kelly’s tough questioning during the debate, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her … wherever.”

All of a sudden, menstruation became the top political news story of the weekend. That Trump may have insinuated Kelly’s vagina was an outrage. The entire Republican pack took turns denouncing his comments, defending Kelly’s honor. Surely a woman’s private parts were not fit for discussion — only as a site for policy.

Tellingly, of all the GOP candidates, only one seems to have moderated his rhetoric on abortion.

Earlier this year, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said that his focus in the 2012 presidential election, on social conservative issues like his anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage stances, was “crazy stuff that doesn’t have to do with anything.” He faulted himself for opening his mouth and, in his words, unleashing “dumb things” as a part of why his campaign did not eventually succeed. These statements included the comment, on “Piers Morgan Tonight,” that “You can make the argument that if she doesn’t have this baby, if she kills her child, that that, too, could ruin her life.”

It isn’t that he’s softened his stance, per se, but it would appear that Santorum, in terms of strategy, rhetoric, and discussion of women, learned a lesson in 2012. The question now is whether his Republican adversaries will have to learn it in 2016.

Photo: Republican 2016 presidential candidates (L-R) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, businessman Donald Trump, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, U.S. Senator Rand Paul and Ohio Governor John Kasich pose at the start of the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2015. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk 

The Left Is Building A Movement Of Movements To Pressure Hillary

By Emily Greenhouse, Bloomberg News (TNS)

For Democrats, there is not even a nominee, yet. She’s coming, but there’s still no guarantee of a primary fight. In the absence of a genuine challenger to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — in the absence, most particularly, of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy, for which hungry liberals pine — a sort of movement of leftist movements has emerged to bring pressure on the presumptive nominee.

This week, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee announced that a petition it launched calling for the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee to campaign on a populist platform has been signed by 5,000 current and former elected leaders, as well as Democratic Party officials, union leaders, and progressive activists. These include 25 members of Congress, such as Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, Alan Grayson, Donna Edwards, and Barbara Lee, plus former Sen. Tom Harkin. The petition — which was posted below a page header that reads, and rides above a shooting star — begins, “We want the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee to campaign on big, bold, economic-populist ideas that tangibly improve the lives of millions of Americans.”

Last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called for similarly big, bold, economic-populist ideas, from a podium at Gracie Mansion. On Thursday, de Blasio announced that he, with a coalition of progressives he had convened, would in May put forward a template for how best to conquer inequality, and then ask presidential candidates to respond. (He said it would parallel the GOP’s 1994 Contract for America.) De Blasio and his allies in the project, progressive activists and lawmakers including Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, offered no specific policy suggestions, but spoke of their “vision.” The mayor talked of changing the national conversation, of “making sure income inequality is at the forefront of the national discussion.” A reporter asked if Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, had been involved in the gathering. De Blasio replied that her team had not been a part, but that he expected every candidate, including Clinton — were she to decide to run, he was careful to say — to speak to the matter.

No one present asked about Warren, and she wasn’t in the room with the mayor and the activists. De Blasio told the Washington Post that a scheduling conflict kept her from attending. But Warren’s spirit, and her robust commitment to middle-class families and working people, was felt. The focus on income inequality — even Republicans including Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and even Mitt Romney have taken up the cause, or at least phrase — is thanks, most of all, to her.

On Wednesday, Warren gave her stamp of approval to the Progressive Change Campaign Committee effort. In a statement to the Associated Press, she said, “Anyone who runs for president should talk about big economic ideas that will help rebuild the middle class in this country and improve the lives of working-class families. I applaud those who are working hard to make big ideas central to the conversation in 2016.”

The PCCC petition’s already mirrored her beliefs: the policy suggestions given were “establishing a national goal of debt-free college at all public colleges and universities, expanding Social Security benefits instead of cutting them, creating millions of clean-energy jobs, reducing big-money influence in politics, breaking up the ‘too big to fail’ Wall Street banks that crashed our economy, and ensuring that working families share in the economic growth they help create.”

We’ve entered announcement season for Republicans, which gives the GOP at least a news-cycle advantage: their speeches at universities, their press availabilities and political confessions, are dominating the airwaves. There’s little going on on the Democratic side, as liberals wait for Hillary Clinton to take the stage. Although Warren has repeatedly said, and continues to say, that she won’t run in the 2016 presidential race, she manages to fill the vacuum that is the present Democratic camp.

The same day she gave her imprint to the Bold Progressives petition, she criticized the government on Conan O’Brien’s talk show for spending money to keep tax loopholes around for billionaires, rather than helping reduce the interest rate on student loans. With vigor, she said, “The United States government should not be making profit off the backs of kids who are trying to get an education.” In late March, Warren introduced an amendment to the Senate budget resolution that would expand Social Security benefits. Every Democrat in attendance but two voted for it — quite a change in approach from January 2013, when Warren entered the Senate. Then, Democrats and Republicans alike were considering cutting Social Security. Pema Levy wrote in Mother Jones this Monday that Warren has “turned Social Security expansion — once a progressive pipe dream — into a tough-to-ignore 2016 issue.”

Earlier in the month, Warren, who, through a representative, declined to comment for this article, led an effort against President Barack Obama’s attempt to negotiate free trade deals with the European Union and Pacific Rim countries, an “investor-state dispute settlement mechanism.” Warren said. “The name sound a little wonky,” — she tends to speak to the people — “but this is a powerful provision that would fundamentally tilt the playing field further in favor of multinational corporations. Worse yet, it would undermine U.S. sovereignty.” Warren’s challenge was not just to Obama’s administration, but to Clinton: as secretary of state, Clinton had supported the negotiations.

(c)2015 Bloomberg News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Democrat Elizabeth Warren, center, waves to the crowd with her husband Bruce Mann, left, during an election night rally at the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel in Boston after Warren defeated incumbent GOP Sen. Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The Numbers Don’t Lie: Women Make More Effective Legislators Than Men

By Emily Greenhouse, Bloomberg News (TNS)

Everyone knows that Congress does very, very little. The Washington Post crunched the numbers last year and found that, mathematically,”no Congress in 40 years has been paid more to pass less legislation.” It’s also a fact that Congress is heavily male. The current, 114th Congress has a record 104 women — but that’s 104 of 535 lawmakers in all. (And somehow we’re supposed to cheer.)

But what if these things are connected — that men are less likely to introduce legislation and cut deals than women? It turns out that women have been considerably more likely than their male counterparts to get bills through, and to achieve that near-unicorn of modern Washington: bipartisan agreement.

The numbers, as published Thursday by a new startup called Quorum, founded not a month ago by two Harvard seniors, seem to bear this out. Over the last seven years, in the Senate, the “average” female senator has introduced 96.31 bills, while the “average” male introduced 70.72. In the House, compare 29.65 for women, and 27.2 for men. And women were more likely to gain co-sponsorship: In the Senate, women had an average of 9.10 co-sponsors, men 5.94. In the House, the difference was smaller — but women still proved better, or more interested, in sponsoring together: Female Representatives averaged 16.84 co-sponsors, and men 14.64.

There are effective female dealmakers from both sides, though more are Democrats, probably because there are more Democratic female members of Congress. In the Senate, Quorum’s co-founders, Alex Wirth and Jonathan Marks, told me that Dianne Feinstein has sponsored the most bills of any female senator: 300. Amy Klobuchar is next, at 215, then Kirsten Gillibrand 204, Barbara Boxer 176, and Patty Murray 126. In the House, Sheila Jackson Lee leads, with 177, then Carolyn Maloney at 163, Eleanor Norton a 136, Barbara Lee at 96, and Rosa DeLaura at 91. Senator Boxer has had the most sponsored bills enacted — ten, followed by Feinstein and Klobuchar (both seven), then Patty Murray and Lisa Murkowski. In the House, Reps. Norton and Maloney lead, and then Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Nydia Velazquez, and Ann Kirkpatrick.

Women are also more likely to co-sponsor with other women than men are with other men. From the 111th Congress to the present one, the typical female senator cosponsored 6.29 bills with another female senator, as opposed to 4.07 bills cosponsored by male senators with a male peer. Ironically, one contributing factor may be that the limited number of women helps create strong bonds that facilitate collaboration. Trend pieces have been written before about the supper club of bipartisan female senators who meet monthly at each other’s places, or — give this a minute to sink in — in the Capitol’s Strom Thurmond room. Senator Barbara Mikulksi started it; she told Margaret Carlson some years ago that the members call her Coach Barb. She said, “When a new woman is elected to the Senate — Republican or Democrat — I bring her in for my Senate Power Workshop and guide her on how to get started, how to get on the good committees for her state, and how to be an effective senator.” It could be a coincidence that Mikulski has a high average number of co-sponsors for bills in the Senate — Senators Shelley Capito, Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren and Mikulski all average more than ten co-sponsors per bill — or it could have something to do with this sense of camaraderie. (For the House, Terri Sewell led, at 64, and then Anna Eshoo, Katherine Clark, Louise Slaughter and Kay Granger.)

There’s also an unusual streak of bipartisanship. Susan Collins co-sponsored a whopping 740 bills with opposite party sponsors. Lisa Murkowski co-sponsored 445, Kelly Ayotte 217, Klobuchar 200, and Mazie Hirono 172. (The dinner group may have helped, at least in the cases of Klobuchar, a Democrat, and Murkowski, a Republican. They may have political disagreements, but, Klobuchar told Carlson, “But when we went on family vacation to Alaska. Lisa had us over to her house.”) In the House, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen cosponsored 458 bills that had an opposite party sponsor. Norton, Maloney, Madelein Bardallo and Zoe Lofgren were also active on that front.

Yes, it could be the need for banding-togetherness, against an overwhelming male majority, that makes women masters of deals. It could also be something about women, or how women are conditioned. Last December, in something of a holiday wish-list, Michael Lewis wrote for Bloomberg View that women should “henceforth make all Wall Street trading decisions.” They are less prone to egregious risk-taking, and overconfidence. Lewis compared trading to pornography: “Women may like it, but they don’t like it nearly as much as men, and they certainly don’t like it in ways that create difficulties for society. Put them in charge of all financial decision-making and the decisions will be more boring, but more sociable.”

Boring, sociable — how about just plain effective?

Photo: Senate Democrats via Flick