Obama Makes Healing Gesture, Can Pastor Rick Warren Do the Same?

Scott Swenson

President-elect Barack Obama makes a genuine gesture toward healing divisive social issues by inviting Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. Will Pastor Warren grasp the potential for genuine healing and lead conservatives to a new middle ground?

I continue to be impressed by President-elect Obama’s efforts to bring people together in the spirit of healing many deep wounds in this country. His selection of Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration is certainly in that spirit, but does raise a question or two.

Since Obama is being true to his word and reaching out to people who can respectfully disagree on issues like abortion and homosexuality, as well as the proper strategic public health response to HIV/AIDS — isn’t it time Pastor Rick Warren demonstrate the same good spirit of healing and use his invocation to embrace all God’s children and the journey they are on? To demonstrate as much movement in his own words and calls to action that day as Obama demonstrated with his invitation to this particular messenger.

My soul is no more or less a part of God’s plan because I am gay than Rick Warren’s is. A woman who has an abortion has no less or more free will than Rick Warren in God’s eyes.  Rick Warren should pray, on January 20, that our government will use the brains God gave us to put together smart, proven public health strategies to combat HIV/AIDS and put an end to ideological waste, fraud and abuse as we’ve seen in abstinence-only programs. He should pray that fewer women die in childbirth because with compassion we’ve used modern medical science to reduce maternal mortality and made good reproductive health options available to the women of the world. He should pray for compassion for the sick and needy and a government that will see health care as a right, not a privilege. He should pray for more common ground to be sought to help people of all ages better understand sexuality and reproductive health, so that people are making wise choices for their families and their lives. Lastly he should pray for peace — in the form of respect for the rich diversity of life and the many expressions of love and family — and he should lead conservatives to re-evaluate how they "love thy neighbor" without judgment.

The President-elect could have done so much to elevate voices of faith that are less well known and already embrace all God’s children without reservation or stigma. Too often the media and politicians only highlight voices of faith on the right.  I’m not suggesting that Obama should choose someone from the left, furthering the division, but he could have picked someone less political altogether.

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But as a healing gesture I understand the reach across the ideological spectrum and the symbolism is strong. I just wish Pastor Warren didn’t have blinders on when it comes to gays, women’s health, and being strategic about responding to HIV.

We’ll find out just how interested Pastor Warren is in genuine healing and in leading more conservative people of faith into a new place of acceptance, genuine dialogue and smart public policy that respects each individual. President-elect Obama couldn’t possibly do more than give Pastor Warren this tremendous opportunity to follow Obama’s leadership and move toward genuine healing.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Trump Insists It Was He Who ‘Broke the Glass Ceiling’ for Women in Construction

Ally Boguhn

Though Trump’s statement came the same day the Associated Press first reported Clinton—whose 2008 concession speech referenced the glass ceiling—would be the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee, the news had not broken at the time of Trump’s comments.

This week on the campaign trail, Donald Trump insisted he was the one who had broken the “glass ceiling” for women—in the construction industry. 

Clinton Takes Democratic Nomination—and Endorsements From Key Democrats 

Clinton received endorsements and support from President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on Thursday after Clinton’s Tuesday primary victories solidified her place as the party’s presumptive nominee.

“For more than a year now, across thousands of miles and all 50 states, tens of millions of Americans have made their voices heard,” Obama said in a video posted to Clinton’s Facebook page. “Today I just want to add mine.”

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“I’m with her,” continued Obama, who had previously remained neutral in the 2016 Democratic primary race. “I am fired up, and I cannot wait to get out there to campaign for Hillary.”

Biden threw his support behind Clinton that same day while speaking at the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy’s 2016 national convention in Washington. According to CNN, Biden said that “God willing, in my view, [the next U.S. president] will be Secretary Clinton.”

During an interview Thursday night with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Warren, an influential voice among the party, also embraced Clinton. “I am ready to get in this fight and work my heart out for Hillary Clinton to become the next president of the United States,” said Warren, adding that she was determined “to make sure that Donald Trump never gets anyplace close to the White House.”

Clinton’s string of endorsements come just days after news broke that the former secretary of state had secured enough delegates to become the party’s presumptive nominee.

Though Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) remains in the race for the Democratic nomination, he signaled he will be willing to work with Clinton in order to unite the party.

“I look forward to meeting with her in the near future to see how we can work together to defeat Donald Trump and to create a government which represents all of us, and not just the 1 percent,” Sanders told reporters Thursday during a press conference outside of the White House.

Trump Says He “Broke the Glass Ceiling on Behalf of Women” in Construction

Trump took credit for breaking “the glass ceiling” in construction for women during an interview on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor Monday evening.

“Number one, I have great respect for women. I was the one that really broke the glass ceiling on behalf of women, more than anybody in the construction industry,” Trump told host Bill O’Reilly when questioned about how he would appeal to women voters during the general election. “My relationship, I think, is going to end up being very good with women.”

Though Trump’s statement came the same day the Associated Press first reported Clintonwhose 2008 concession speech referenced the glass ceilingwould be the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee, the news had not broken at the time of Trump’s comments, according to the Washington Post.

O’Reilly went on to ask the presumptive Republican nominee about a recent Boston Globe report analyzing presidential-campaign payroll data, which revealed that just 28 percent of Trump’s staff were women and that the men on staff made “about 35 percent more” than women.

Trump denied the allegations, instead claiming it was Clinton who truly failed to offer pay equality, though he later suggested “there are reasons” men on his campaign would be paid more than women such as “different jobs.”

“If you look at my company and what I pay women versus men, in many cases I pay women more money than I pay for men, and frankly, now I’ll probably get a lawsuit from my men that work for me,” Trump added.

The Globe’s analysis, however, also looked at data for the Clinton campaign and found that men and women were paid roughly the same:

The women working for Clinton — who account for 53 percent of her total staff—took home an average of $3,710. The men made slightly more, at $3,760. Clinton’s staffers, men and women, made less than the women who work for Trump.

On Clinton’s campaign, the highest-paid employee was a woman, Jennifer Palmieri, the campaign’s director of communications. And of the 15 highest-paid employees, eight were men and seven were women.

Trump has voiced some support for gender pay equality in the past, telling the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe in August 2015 that “if they do the same job, they should get the same pay,” but adding that “it’s very hard to say what is the same job.” When questioned about the topic by an attendee of a rally in November, Trump reportedly said that a woman would “make the same [as a man] if you do as good a job.”

Conservatives have previously alleged that a gender pay disparity existed in Clinton’s senate office, evidencing their claim with a report from conservative news site the Free Beacon. According to FactCheck.org, Clinton’s campaign doesn’t deny that the data used for that study was accurate but argues the analysis used “incomplete, and therefore inaccurate set of numbers.”

When the fact-checking site analyzed the annual salary data provided by the Democrat’s campaign, which included some staff members not included in the Free Beacon’s study because they did not work the full year, it found that “median salaries for men and women in Clinton’s office were virtually identical” and that “Clinton hired roughly twice as many women as men.” The site took “no position” on whether the methodology used by the campaign was superior to that used by the conservative news site.

What Else We’re Reading

ThinkProgress’ Evan Popp explained that “while Clinton’s declared victory was historic and diversity within government positions has improved, experts say much more is needed before the U.S. government is truly representative of the people.”

Some Republicans are jumping ship after Trump commented on the “Mexican heritage” of the judge presiding over his Trump University case.

When asked about the possibility of another woman joining her ticket as potential vice president, Clinton told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “I’m looking at the most qualified people, and that includes women, of course, because I want to be sure that whoever I pick could be president immediately if something were to happen—that’s the most important qualification.” 

Though 70 percent of women view Trump unfavorably, Politico’s Daniel Lippman and Ben Schreckinger profiled some of the women who do support the presumptive Republican nominee.

“Libertarians are stepping up to the big time when it comes to fundraising from political action committees,” according to the Sunlight Foundation. Though big money typically doesn’t flow to the party during presidential elections, Gary Johnson’s presence in the race this year could change that.

Delete your account”: Clinton and Trump squared off on Twitter on Thursday.

California’s open primary system allows the top two Senate candidatesno matter the party they belong toto run in the state’s general election, and this time, two Democrats will face off.

Analysis Law and Policy

Normalizing Anti-Abortion Violence at the Heart of Angel Dillard Defense

Jessica Mason Pieklo

On trial for threatening Dr. Mila Means, Angel Dillard insisted she was another victim in the Obama administration's war on religious liberties and political debate.

Attorneys from the Department of Justice finished presenting their evidence to a jury Wednesday that a 2011 letter sent by anti-abortion activist Angel Dillard to Dr. Mila Means—which suggested that should Means begin performing abortions in Wichita, she’d be checking for bombs every day under her car—constituted a “true threat” to Means’ safety. After that, Dillard’s defense team had one job: Suddenly, immediately humanize their client.

But how do attorneys humanize a woman accused of threatening abortion providers, who testified that Dr. George Tiller’s murderer, Scott Roeder, is a friend of hers, and who stated specifically that she believes abortion, no matter the context, is always wrong?

You play her up as simple housewife and hope a jury of eight Wichitans believes Dillard’s story: that an over-aggressive federal government  is stifling speech and political debate with which it disagrees.

Will it work? It’s hard to tell at this moment. As a witness, Dillard comes across as a typical small-Midwestern-town farmer—one who would rather tend to her flock of chickens and peacocks than debate abortion politics. And that was undoubtedly on purpose. Theresa Sidebotham, a Colorado Springs-based religious liberties attorney and part of Dillard’s defense team, questioned Dillard about her son with cerebral palsy, whom Dillard cared for until his death in 2001. She asked Dillard to speak about the restoration of her farm property, her Christian songwriting, her prison ministry. Dillard teared up when describing singing songs of forgiveness to women who had been in domestic violence situations prior to prison and spoke softly, specifically, and directly to Sidebotham.

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When the topic of abortion politics finally came up—which was a given, since Dillard faces civil charges for violating the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act because of that 2011 letter to Means—both Sidebotham and Dillard did everything they could to distance Dillard’s letter from the history and pattern of anti-choice violence rooted in her hometown of Wichita.

Dillard testified that she believes abortion is wrong in every context because it is a violation of “God’s law.” She also testified that while she would never condone an act of violence like the one her “friend” Roeder committed in murdering Wichita’s only abortion provider, she admired Roeder because he “was willing to give up his life” by going to prison for the larger cause of ending legal abortion. Dillard also admitted that her community supported Roeder. “Everyone I knew was thrilled we no longer had killing going on in Wichita,” Dillard said, without a hint of irony.

And as to whether or not Dillard ever intended to threaten Means by sending the letter promising thousands of people would be looking into Means’ background and potentially placing explosives under Means’ car, Dillard brushed the suggestion off.

“I know it sounded harsh, but we we’re talking about life and death,” testified Dillard. “I stood on the Bible and the First Amendment, but I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Translation: Dillard believes that the government is infringing on her religious freedom, and her right to free speech and religion, by punishing her for sending the letter to Means.

The Department of Justice, however, was having none of this image of Dillard as a Kansas homemaker being bullied by the Obama administration. Julie Abbate, a DOJ deputy chief, led the government’s cross-examination of Dillard. After moving the podium so that she was looking Dillard directly in the eyes for the entirety of her cross-examination, Abbate simply opened with, “Good afternoon, Mrs. Dillard. It’s been a while.”

From there, the niceties ended. Abbate meticulously went through Dillard’s testimony, erasing much of the image Sidebotham spent her time creating. Abbate questioned Dillard on her presence at Roeder’s trial, where she testified she first met and befriended Michael Bray, another anti-choice terrorist. She pressed Dillard on her purported prison ministry—which, Dillard admitted, was non-existent until Roeder’s conviction; for the first year of its existence, it “ministered” exclusively to Roeder. Dillard had earlier testified she was not really all that involved in the local anti-choice movement, but Abbate got Dillard to concede she would go to local abortion clinics and stand outside and pray, sometimes holding signs, and even participated in what she described as a “parade” with other activists where they sang and prayed outside a Wichita clinic.

All these activities, according to court testimony, took place prior to Dillard sending the letter to Means.

The trial proceedings finished for the day before Abbate got to conclude her cross-examination of Dillard. She will pick up with that first thing Thursday morning, and it will likely be as charged as Wednesday morning’s testimony. It is also likely the case will go to the jury then, which will begin deliberating on a verdict. Because this is a civil prosecution under FACE and not a criminal one, Dillard faces no jail time should the jury find her letter was a threat to Means and not protected free speech. Instead, she faces approximately $20,000 in damages as consequence.

“I didn’t have any plans for violence,” Dillard testified. “God lets us have the consequences of our actions as a judgment, but it doesn’t have anything to do with me.”

If the jury starts to deliberate the case on Thursday, it could return a verdict as soon as the end of the week.