Coburn, Complicit Dems Threaten Women, Girls, PEPFAR

Scott Swenson

There appears to be movement in the Senate on PEPFAR. But because negotiators started from a position of weakness, the movement is mostly backwards. Scrap it until the new Congress, and learn from the mistakes.

It appears that, after months of behind the scenes wrangling, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in Africa (PEPFAR) is moving. Unfortunately, because some AIDS advocates have allowed social conservatives to disctate the terms of the debate despite a Democratic majority in Congress, the movement is mostly backwards.

With just four short months before a new President and Congress are elected, anyone truly interested in HIV treatment and prevention should support delaying any action to prevent social conservatives from doing more harm to this important international public health program.

Continuing PEPFAR at current levels to get a vastly improved bill in the new Congress, and forcing social conservatives to defend their positions against proven public health prevention methods, will do far less harm than amendments currently being promoted. Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK), Sam Brownback (R-KS) are leading a final charge for social conservative amendments that will undermine the bill’s effectiveness — and these amendments are being tacitly approved by some complicit Democrats to avoid confrontation. Depending upon the insider you talk to, either these are Coburn’s last minute efforts at grandstanding to save face with his more righteous-wing supporters, or deft political gamesmanship. If it is the latter, we won’t know until it is too late to do anything about it. Not the most comfortable negotiating position.

Abstinence-Only — Here we go again …

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:


Congress has been slow to realize what 18 states and American voters already do: abstinence-only is a failure and a waste of tax dollars. Sen. Coburn wants to stipulate that 50 percent (not a typo) of any money spent on prevention of sexual transmission be spent exclusively on abstinence and fidelity programs. Not comprehensive prevention that includes abstinence, fidelity and contraception information, but abstinence and fidelity exclusively. That would increase the share of abstinence dollars from 33 percent during the first five years of PEPFAR, and change language (albeit confusing) that the current version has dictating funding for more general "behavioral modification programs."

While there are rumors that this is Coburn’s last stand and that the language will not be supported in the final version, Congress has yet to show real spine when confronting abstinence-only legislation of any kind. The Democratic majority has played along with social conservatives because they didn’t want to have to deal with social issues in an election year. As comforting as the rumors might be to some, actions speak louder than rumors, and this Congress does not breed confidence on abstinence-only issues.

The corner AIDS advocates may find themselves painted into on this provision can be traced directly to the weak negotiating stance from which they started. Who could blame Sen. Coburn for taking advantage of that to score points? No surprise, the abstinence-only language was written for Sen. Coburn by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, who remain out of step from rank-and-file Catholics in the pews.

The Stigmatizing Conscience Clause

Like any so-called "conscience clause," PEPFAR, if Coburn and others get their way, will allow people who have dedicated their lives to helping others in need determine which kind of needy people they will help. In other words, unlike Jesus, Christians who don’t want to help sex workers, men having sex with men, or intra-veneous drug users (the populations most vulnerable to contracting and spreading HIV) won’t have to. And they will be able to sleep at night confident their judgment and stigmatization of sex workers and others is exactly as Sen. Coburn ordained it.

In addition to allowing people to justify their personal judgment of others, Sen. Coburn proposes removing provisions allowing for clean needle exchange for drug users. He evidently prefers that people share dirty needles to continue the spread of HIV instead of its prevention. Up is down, down is up; in Sen. Coburn’s world, dirty needles are prevention.

Again, it is worth noting, negotiators that start from positions of strength don’t usually find themselves dealing with ludicrous fringe issues at this late hour. But then again, political negotiations that start from a position of strength are usually handled by people who know what they are doing, not those known for simply marketing colors.

Abortion – A "Red" Letter Word

There never has been, in five years of PEPFAR nor in the draft reauthorization currently before Congress, one word in the legislation that can be construed as allowing for, let alone promoting, abortion. But leave it to Sen. Coburn to read the lemon juice between the lines and insist on removing that non-existent language. (Note that if the non-existent language did exist, it would be illegal because the US government already prohibits foreign assistance dollars from being spent on abortions.)

Sen. Coburn is using the red-hot issue of abortion to undermine family planning and contraception access for women and girls in Africa, ensuring that it will be more difficult to get contraception, prevention and treatment for HIV and family planning services in the same location. Public health experts around the world advocate integrating these services to better help women and girls in Africa who often have little power over their relationships or sexual lives. The word "abortion" is what had some AIDS advocates seeing "red" from the start of this process, running for cover under the banner of bipartisanship and compromise — working against the interests of women and girls — and that’s why Sen. Coburn can still grandstand these issues at this late date.

If Coburn and other social conservatives that claim to support HIV prevention really did, they would not continue to throw these false obstacles in the way of proven public health policies.

Fighting AIDS Is About More Than Money

Because AIDS advocates focused almost exclusively on getting more money, $50 billion up from $33 billion, and didn’t press for sound public health policies to prevent the spread of HIV, who can blame social conservatives from also focusing on the money? Some conservatives want to reduce PEPFAR spending to $30 billion. The White House views this as a "legacy" bill so will fight for the full amount, but that gives Sen. Coburn negotiating leverage on the draconian policies outlined above — and given the track record of these negotiations so far, no one expects Democrats or AIDS advocates to stand firm for women and youth now. Tragic.

Missed Opportunity

Rather than negotiating from weakness and refusing to allow myths around abstinence-only, abortion, and stigmatization to masquerade as good conscience, AIDS advocates could have helped Congress and American voters understand sound public health policies and practices that could truly help women, youth and many others in Africa.

Instead they played politics, and now, might just get played by Sen. Coburn. Rather than risk that, PEPFAR reauthorization should be scrapped and revived when a new Congress and new President can do the right thing, in the name of common sense prevention, treatment and public health policy. If Congress doesn’t have the spine to stand up for public health and HIV prevention during an election year, they have the perfect out. Wait until 2009. Not exactly a profile in courage, but neither is caving to people who claim to support HIV prevention but continue working to undermine it.

News Politics

NARAL Leader Campaigns to Oust Anti-Choice Colorado Congressman

Jason Salzman

NARAL Pro-Choice America officials have stepped up support for pro-choice Democrat Morgan Carroll in her competitive race against U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), who’s voted repeatedly to defund Planned Parenthood.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called voters this week on behalf of pro-choice Colorado state Sen. Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora), who’s running against anti-choice U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora).

Hogue stopped by Carroll’s campaign office in a Denver suburb and called voters, in part, she told Rewire, because NARAL wants to “send a signal to the anti-choice legislators who are hiding from their anti-choice records when they come home at election time.”

Hogue pointed to Coffman’s repeated votes to defund Planned Parenthood—efforts based on discredited videos released by an anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress. Coffman used a Planned Parenthood Action Fund logo in a political advertisement, despite having voted repeatedly to defund the organization, as first reported by Rewire. He voted again to defund Planned Parenthood after the ad aired.

“Mike Coffman has worked to defund women’s health centers and even fought to redefine rape,” Carroll said in a statement during Hogue’s visit. “Millions of women across this country simply can’t afford to have representatives like Mike Coffman in Congress.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:


Coffman once co-sponsored a measure that redefined “a ban on federal funding for abortions to exempt only ‘forcible rape.'” Coffman’s campaign did not return a call seeking comment.

Coffman’s district, concentrated in the suburbs east of Denver, is perennially ranked as home to some of the nation’s most competitive political races. Coffman was first elected in 2008, two years before district boundaries were re-drawn, making for a much closer elections.

The Republican, a former U.S. Marine who has become known as a tough campaigner, surprised analysts by his ten-point margin of victory in 2014, after a narrow 2 percent margin in 2012.

Asked for a reaction to her phone calls on Carroll’s behalf, Hogue said she was encouraged by the candidate’s name recognition but dismayed by the apathy she encountered, though she noted that the election season is young.

“Particularly if we continue to hear that Trump is down by 15 points in polls, apathy is going to be a real issue in this election,” Hogue said. “People need to be made to feel that their vote matters. It matters at the top of the ticket. It certainly matters when you get down to the folks who are going to stay in the state house here [in Colorado] or go to D.C. and do the day-to-day work of moving this agenda forward. People need to hear that their participation has value.”

“We hope our investment in the field effort here puts Morgan Carroll a little bit closer to victory, but also builds power for NARAL members and the issue long term,” Hogue said. “Our job doesn’t end on Election Day. It begins on Election Day.”

Commentary Politics

It’s Not Just Trump: The Right Wing’s Increasing Reliance on Violence and Intimidation as a Path to Power

Jodi Jacobson

Republicans have tried to pass Trump's most recent comments off as a joke because to accept the reality of that rhetoric would mean going to the core of their entire party platform and their strategies. The GOP would have to come to terms with the toll its power plays are taking on the country writ large.

This week, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump stated that, if Hillary Clinton were elected and able to nominate justices to the Supreme Court, “Second Amendment people” might be able to do something about it. After blaming the media for “being dishonest” in reporting his statement, the Trump campaign has since tried to pass the comment off as a joke. However characterized, Trump’s statement is not only part of his own election strategy, but also a strategy that has become synonymous with those of candidates, legislators, and groups affiliated with the positions of the GOP.

To me, the phrase “Second Amendment people” translates to those reflexively opposed to any regulation of gun sales and ownership and who feel they need guns to arm themselves against the government. I’m not alone: The comment was widely perceived as an implicit threat of violence against the Democratic presidential nominee. Yet, GOP party leaders have failed to condemn his comment, with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) agreeing with the Trump campaign that it was “a joke gone bad.”

Republicans have tried to pass it off as a joke because to accept the reality of their rhetoric would mean going to the core of their entire party platform and their strategies. The GOP would have to come to terms with the toll its power plays are taking on the country writ large. The rhetoric is part of a longer and increasingly dangerous effort by the GOP, aided by corporate-funded right-wing organizations and talk show hosts, to de-legitimize the federal government, undermine confidence in our voting system, play on the fears held by a segment of the population about tyranny and the loss of liberty, and intimidate people Republican leaders see as political enemies.

Ironically, while GOP candidates and leaders decry the random violence of terrorist groups like Daeshitself an outgrowth of desperate circumstances, failed states, and a perceived or real loss of powerthey are perpetuating the idea of loss and desperation in the United States and inciting others to random violence against political opponents.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:


Trump’s “Second Amendment” comment came after a week of efforts by the Trump campaign to de-legitimize the 2016 presidential election well before a single vote has been cast. On Monday, August 1, after polls showed Trump losing ground, he asserted in an Ohio campaign speech that “I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, I have to be honest.”

Manufactured claims of widespread voter fraud—a problem that does not exist, as several analyses have shown—have nonetheless been repeatedly pushed by the GOP since the 2008 election. Using these disproven claims as support, GOP legislatures in 20 states have passed new voter restrictions since 2010, and still the GOP claims elections are suspect, stoking the fears of average voters seeking easy answers to complex problems and feeding the paranoia of separatist and white nationalist groups. Taking up arms against an illegitimate government is, after all, exactly what “Second Amendment remedies” are for.

Several days before Trump’s Ohio speech, Trump adviser Roger Stone suggested that the result of the election might be “illegitimate,” leading to “widespread civil disobedience” and a “bloodbath,” a term I personally find chilling.

Well before these comments were made, there was the hate-fest otherwise known as the Republican National Convention (RNC), during which both speakers and supporters variously called for Clinton to be imprisoned or shot, and during which New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a man not widely known for his high ethical standards or sense of accountability, led a mock trial of Hillary Clinton to chants from the crowd of “lock her up.” And that was the tame part.

The number of times Trump has called for or supported violence at his rallies is too long to catalogue here. His speeches are rife with threats to punch opponents; after the Democratic National Convention, he threatened to hit speakers who critiqued his policies “so hard their heads would spin.” He also famously promised to pay the legal fees of anyone who hurt protesters at his rallies and defended former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski after allegations surfaced that Lewandowski had assaulted a female Breitbart reporter.

A recent New York Times video compiled over a year of reporting at Trump rallies revealed the degree to which many of Trump’s supporters unapologetically express violence and hatred—for women, immigrants, and people of color. And Trump eschews any responsibility for what has transpired, repeatedly claiming he does not condone violence—his own rhetoric, that of his associates, and other evidence notwithstanding.

Still, to focus only on Trump is to ignore a broader and deeper acceptance, even encouragement of, incitement to violence by the GOP that began long before the 2016 campaign.

In 2008, in what may appear to be a now forgotten but eerily prescient peek at the 2016 RNC, then-GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and his running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, used race-baiting and hints at violence to gin up their crowds. First, Palin accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists,” a claim that became part of her stump speech. As a result, Frank Rich then wrote in the New York Times:

At McCain-Palin rallies, the raucous and insistent cries of “Treason!” and “Terrorist!” and “Kill him!” and “Off with his head!” as well as the uninhibited slinging of racial epithets, are actually something new in a campaign that has seen almost every conceivable twist. They are alarms. Doing nothing is not an option.

Nothing was in fact done. No price was paid by GOP candidates encouraging this kind of behavior.

In 2009, during congressional debates on the Affordable Care Act, opponents of the health-care law, who’d been fed a steady diet of misleading and sensationalist information, were encouraged by conservative groups like FreedomWorks and Right Principles, as well as talk show hosts such as Sean Hannity, to disrupt town hall meetings on the legislation held throughout the country. Protesters turned up at some town hall meetings armed with rifles with the apparent intention of intimidating those who, in supporting health reform, disagreed with them. In some cases, what began as nasty verbal attacks turned violent. As the New York Times then reported: “[M]embers of Congress have been shouted down, hanged in effigy and taunted by crowds. In several cities, noisy demonstrations have led to fistfights, arrests and hospitalizations.”

In 2010, as first reported by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle, in an unsuccessful bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), suggested that armed insurrection would be the answer if “this Congress keeps going the way it is.” In response to a request for clarification by the host of the radio show on which she made her comments, Angle said:

You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for a good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years.

I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.

Also in 2010, Palin, by then a failed vice-presidential candidate, created a map “targeting” congressional Democrats up for re-election, complete with crosshairs. Palin announced the map to her supporters with this exhortation: “Don’t retreat. Instead, reload!”

One of the congresspeople on that map was Arizona Democrat Gabby Giffords, who in the 2010 Congressional race was challenged by Jesse Kelly, a Palin-backed Tea Party candidate. Kelly’s campaign described an event this way:

Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.

Someone took this literally. In January 2011, Jared Lee Loughner went on a shooting rampage in a Tuscon grocery store at which Giffords was meeting with constituents. Loughner killed six people and injured 13 others, including Giffords who, as a result of permanent disability resulting from the shooting, resigned from Congress. Investigators later found that Loughner had for months become obsessed with government conspiracy theories such as those spread by GOP and Tea Party candidates.

These events didn’t stop GOP candidates from fear-mongering and suggesting “remedies.”  To the contrary, the goading continued. As the Huffington Post‘s Sam Stein wrote in 2011:

Florida Senate candidate Mike McCalister, who is running against incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), offered a variation of the much-lampooned line during a speech before the Palms West Republican Club earlier this week.

“I get asked sometimes where do I stand on the Second and 10th Amendment, and I have a little saying,” he declared. “We need a sign at every harbor, every airport and every road entering our state: ‘You’re entering a 10th Amendment-owned and -operated state, and justice will be served with the Second Amendment.’” [Emphasis added.]

These kinds of threats by the GOP against other legislators and even the president have gone unpunished by the leadership of the party. Not a word has come from either House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decrying these statements, and the hyperbole and threats have only continued. Recently, for example, former Illinois GOP Congressman Joe Walsh tweeted and then deleted this threat to the president after the killing of five police officers in Dallas, Texas:

“3 Dallas cops killed, 7 wounded,” former congressman Joe Walsh, an Illinois Republican, wrote just before midnight in a tweet that is no longer on his profile. “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.”
Even after the outcry over his recent remarks, Trump has escalated the rhetoric against both President Obama and against Clinton, calling them the “founders of ISIS.” And again no word from the GOP leadership.
This rhetoric is part of a pattern used by the right wing within and outside elections. Anti-choice groups, for example, consistently misrepresent reproductive health care writ large, and abortion specifically. They “target” providers with public lists of names, addresses, and other personal information. They lie, intimidate, and make efforts to both vilify and stigmatize doctors. When this leads to violence, as David Cohen wrote in Rolling Stone this week, the anti-choice groups—and their GOP supporters—shrug off any responsibility.
Some gun rights groups also use this tactic of intimidation and targeting to silence critique. In 2011, for example, 40 men armed with semi-automatic weapons and other guns surrounded a restaurant in Arlington, Texas, in which a mothers’ group had gathered to discuss gun regulations. “Second Amendment people” have spit upon women arguing for gun regulation and threatened them with rape. In one case, a member of these groups waited in the dark at the home of an advocate and then sought to intimidate her as she approached in her wheelchair.
The growing resort to violence and intimidation in our country is a product of an environment in which leading politicians not only look the other way as their constituents and affiliated groups use such tactics to press a political point, but in which the leaders themselves are complicit.
These are dangerous games being played by a major political party in its own quest for power. Whether or not Donald Trump is the most recent and most bombastic evidence of what has become of the GOP, it is the leadership and the elected officials of the party who are condoning and perpetuating an environment in which insinuations of violence will increasingly lead to acts of violence. The more that the right uses and suggests violence as a method of capturing, consolidating, and holding power, the more they become like the very terrorists they claim to be against.


Vote for Rewire and Help Us Earn Money

Rewire is in the running for a CREDO Mobile grant. More votes for Rewire means more CREDO grant money to support our work. Please take a few seconds to help us out!


Thank you for supporting our work!