While one can argue this conclusion of mine around the margins; for instance, that maybe the President can win in Colorado, and some other smaller states, and, thereby, say, make up for a loss in Ohio or New Jersey, the fact remains that since its winner takes all in the Electoral College, the President’s first task is to win the big states, just those states where Jewish women predominate.
Not only are all politics local, all politics are personal. And no issue, with the possible exception of preservation of the State of Israel as a Jewish state, is more personal to most American Jewish women voters than reproductive rights, including access to legal abortion. So much so that thirty years ago a group of Chicago Jewish women founded JACPAC, now a leading political action committee, whose primary criteria for candidate support are that the candidate be pro-choice, as well pro-Israel. Thirty years out, JACPAC is still going strong.
And so much so that the National Council of Jewish Women earlier this year launched a special project, Voices for Reproductive Choices, “…an emergency action campaign designed to help powerful NCJW advocates speak out against current attacks to women’s reproductive health and rights.” No pussy-footing at NCJW either.
Yet, CNN has recently posed the question: Has Obama lost the Jewish vote?, suggesting that Jews, who have historically been mostly Democratic and pro-choice (see below), might vote for President Obama’s (likely anti-choice) Republican opponent because of their distaste for the President’s position on Palestinian statehood. As I mulled this horrifying prospect over, it hit me: If there’s a problem here for the President, the solution is clear: gathering to his side, soon, the hundreds of thousands of pro-choice Jewish women who really don’t want to vote for an anti-choice Presidential candidate, even if she/he is pro-Israel. How to convince the President to do this, when the issue of abortion rights is about his least favorite, not one he has ever wanted to use to rally people to his side, and probably doesn’t want to now, either.
Here’s how: In its 2005 survey, Jewish Distinctiveness in America: A Statistical Portrait, the American Jewish Committee reported that 77.3 percent of Jewish Americans are pro-choice, regarding “abortion for any reason.” This is over twice as many as the percentage of African Americans or “Hispanics.” And while these numbers aren’t broken-out by gender, I think it’s fair to assume that women predominate among Jews who are pro-choice.
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So what, you say: Jews are a miniscule percentage of the U.S. population (the percentage is 2.2) and the adult women voters among them an even smaller percentage. What difference could these women possibly make to the President’s re-election chances? Forget about it, as they say on the Jewish, as well as the Italian, streets of New York and New Jersey.
While one can argue this conclusion of mine around the margins; for instance, that maybe the President can win in Colorado, and some other smaller states, and, thereby, say, make up for a loss in Ohio or New Jersey, the fact remains that since it’s winner take all in the Electoral College, the President’s first task is to win the big states, just those states where Jewish women predominate. In a study conducted by Celinda Lake earlier this year, she reported that “……Americans support family planning with such intensity that it can be called a core American value, and they are willing to punish politicians who try to cut public funding for it.” Now, you might argue that views about family planning aren’t necessarily a proxy for views about access to abortion, but, for Jewish women voters, they likely are (see above). In any event, why risk it? Which brings me back to the President’s re-election strategy: If I were in his war room, I’d say: Mr. President: It’s time to be a leading advocate for access to abortion, lest those Jewish women dismayed by your policies on the economy and Israel decide they might as well vote for your Republican opponent. And, lest you, my readers, think I’m blowing smoke on this one, here are some numbers from that CNN piece:
Fifty-four percent of Jewish Americans approved of Obama’s performance as president in September, compared with 60 percent in June and 68 percent in May, according to Gallup polling. A statewide New York poll taken by Siena College in August found Obama’s approval at 52 percent among all Empire State voters and at 49 percent among the state’s Jewish voters. Although Obama received a 67 percent approval rating among Democrats in the state, he garnered 49 percent approval from Jewish Democrats.
Mr. President: It really is pro-choice or no choice these days. For your own sake, time to say so, and then gather Jewish women voters to your side. You could do way worse. You could even not win.
Over and over again we've seen that the GOP and the anti-choice movement writ large blatantly disregard the likely consequences of their own rhetoric, and then cry foul when asked to do some soul-searching.
During a speech this past September to the Greater Houston Partnership, an influential Texas business association, U.S. senator and presidential aspirant Ted Cruz (R-TX) asked for a moment of silence in honor of Deputy Darren Goforth, a Houston-area police officer who had been shot and killed at close range in August after stopping at a gas station to refuel his police cruiser. The alleged assailant is a 31-year old Black male named Shannon Miles.
Cruz continued his remarks by claiming that police and other first responders “are finding themselves under assault right now at an unprecedented level.”
“Speaking to the press after his speech,” wrote reporter Christopher Hooks in the Texas Observer, “Cruz made it clear that he believed this “assault” [against Goforth] originated in the White House.”
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“The violence we’re seeing directed against law enforcement is a direct manifestation of the harsh rhetoric and the vilification of police officers and law enforcement that sadly has come all the way from the top,” Cruz said. “Senior administration officials,” he continued, including leaders at the Department of Justice, “have chosen to vilify law enforcement.”
Asked by another reporter how he could blame the president for a specific police killing, Cruz replied: “Rhetoric and language has consequences. It has consequences. And over and over again we’re seeing police officers targeted, and the president has a powerful bully pulpit.”
Rhetoric and language do indeed have consequences. It seems, however, that the fundamentalist right only admits this when they want to lay blame or antagonize for reasons of political and electoral expediency, no matter how tenuous the connection between cause and effect. But certainly this connection never comes up when it’s time to take responsibility for the obvious results of their own hate speech and inflammatory statements.
Cruz’s assertions about Obama’s “rhetoric” and police violence, for example, bear no connection to reality. As Radley Balko pointed out in the Washington Post, claims that police are facing unprecedented dangers are outright false. “Policing has been getting safer for 20 years,” Balko wrote. Both the actual numbers and rates of police fatalities are at the lowest they’ve been in over 50 years. “You’re more likely to be murdered simply by living in about half of the largest cities in America than you are while working as a police officer,” he concluded.
And it would be difficult for any objectively rational person to read “incitement to violence against police” in President Obama’s statement after Goforth’s murder, in which he talked about calling the officer’s widow and then said:
I also promised that I would continue to highlight the uncommon bravery that police officers show in our communities every single day. They put their lives on the line for our safety. Targeting police officers is completely unacceptable—an affront to civilized society. As I said in my State of the Union Address, we’ve got to be able to put ourselves in the shoes of the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the door at the end of his shift. That comfort has been taken from Mrs. Goforth. So we must offer her our comfort—and continue to stand up for the safety of police officers wherever they serve.
Given the right’s reliance on a diminishing base of older, white voters who increasingly appear to be driven by fear, ignorance, and prejudice, the conservative movement’s determination to take and maintain political power requires a kind of Through the Looking Glass-journey, into a world in which efforts to address problems (such as racism, climate change, health care, refugees) based on facts, data, and evidence actually are at fault for the existence of the problems themselves and those who can’t or won’t face reality or take responsibility for those problems shift blame no matter the plausibility of their claims.
While eager to lay blame where no evidence exists to support it, the right is and has long been loathe to take responsibility for its own rhetoric. And we can see this in real time in the aftermath of the most recent episode of violence against reproductive health providers.
Last Friday, two civilians and one police officer died and nine others were wounded in a vicious and wholly predictable attack ata Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The alleged gunman, Robert Lewis Dear Jr., who used what the New York Times described as an assault-style rifle to blast his way into the health-care facility, reportedly said “no more baby parts” during his arrest.
This would be a direct reference to false and defamatory rhetoric ceaselessly repeated by GOP candidates and the anti-choice movement over the past six months to claim Planned Parenthood profited from the sale of fetal body parts for research, when not a shred of evidence of illegal or unethical activity has been produced.
It’s no secret that the GOP, now fully co-opted by what was once a radical Christian fringe, long ago set its sights on destroying access to reproductive health care in the United States. With callous disregard to the effects on the nearly three million a year who receive primary reproductive health care at Planned Parenthood clinics, the right has made a religious crusade of efforts to shutter Planned Parenthood, persistently threatening to shut down the entire U.S. government in an effort to do so. State legislatures and governors throughout the country have voted to strip funding from family planning and other forms of reproductive health care, destroying an essential keystone of public health. And an entire industry now exists devoted to, among other things, manufacturing lies about abortion and contraception; passing laws to reduce access to abortion care and make criminals of doctors and patients; picketing clinics; harassing and threatening providers and patients; and denying women medically accurate information.
In this environment, heated rhetoric about abortion providers is only one lit match away from a raging forest fire of hatred and violence culminating in unstable people taking matters into their own hands.
Let’s assume for the purpose of argument that Ted Cruz or some other GOP leader had said the following, playing off Cruz’s own words above:
Clinic personnel, reproductive health care providers, and patients at clinics are finding themselves under assault right now at an unprecedented level. The violence we’re seeing directed against clinics, providers, and patients is a direct manifestation of the harsh rhetoric and the vilification of doctors and patients that sadly has come all the way from the top of the GOP ticket and permeates throughout the base of the Republican Party, in which women’s bodies are treated as public property. Presidential candidates, congresspeople and state legislatures have chosen to vilify women’s health providers at every level. Rhetoric and language has consequences. It has consequences. And over and over again we’re seeing health providers targeted. We have a powerful bully pulpit and we must stop using discredited inflammatory rhetoric.
In this case, Cruz would be right: Reproductive health-care providers are indeed facing unprecedented levels of attack. Just this September, the FBI released a heightened threat assessment, noting that “it is likely criminal or suspicious incidents will continue to be directed against reproductive health care providers, their staff and facilities,” and warning clinics of increased threats based on “an uptick in attacks on reproductive health care facilities.” In fact, the FBI tracks what it now calls the “pro-life extremist movement.”
Yet despite ample evidence of this, the anti-choice movement took steps to spray gasoline on what was already a highly flammable situation, and then lit the match.
This past summer, a previously unknown organization called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) run by a previously unknown 20-something anti-choice operative named David Daleiden released heavily doctored videos of conversations with abortion providers that had been recorded surreptitiously by Daleiden and others operating under completely false pretenses. The edited versions of these videos, purporting to provide evidence that Planned Parenthood clinics were selling and profiting off the sale of fetal tissue and “baby parts,” bore no resemblance to the original footage taken by Daleiden, which in fact showed exactly the opposite, that clinics were providing a service, at cost, according to strict legal and ethical guidelines, to women who of their own volition wanted to donate fetal tissue to research. In short, and to repeat, there was not a shred of evidence of charges levied by CMP, and in fact, it is CMP now under investigation by the attorney general of California.
Not allowing facts to stand in the way of its crusade, the right began and has pursued a relentless campaign of attacks on Planned Parenthood specifically and reproductive health providers generally, most recently accusing them of trafficking in body parts.
It would require a book-length list to repeat the false statements and unproven allegations against PP made by anti-choice politicians and actors in the past six months alone, but here are a few samples:
In a modern recreation of the blood libel used to defame and isolate Jews and which fostered mob violence and pogroms, Daleiden claimed to theNational Review that providers were “haggling over the price of living children.”
In July, shortly after release of the first CMP videos and without any effort to verify incendiary claims made in the videos, Cruz released a statement saying:
Today’s news regarding allegations that Planned Parenthood is possibly selling the body parts of the babies it has aborted is sickening. There is no place for taxpayer funding of organizations that profit from taking away innocent life, much less profiting off the bodies of the lives they have stolen. Congress should immediately begin an investigation of Planned Parenthood’s activities regarding the sale and transfer of aborted body parts, including who is obtaining them and what they are being used for. And it should renew efforts to fully defund Planned Parenthood to ensure that its morally bankrupt business receives not one penny of taxpayer money. [Emphasis added.]
Cruz has continued to hammer this theme on the campaign trail. In a September op-ed, Cruz wrote about the “horrifying and barbaric nature” of Planned Parenthood, asserting, among other things, that “American taxpayers are currently forced to fund this likely criminal organization, which barters and sells the body parts of unborn children.”
Well after the videos were found to be falsified, GOP candidate Carly Fiorina, who as noted by University of California researcher Carole Joffe, “has the habit of forcefully doubling down on her [false] claims [even] when she is confronted with the truth,” continued to claim Planned Parenthood was guilty of “harvesting baby parts,” despite evidence that the video to which she pointed was falsified.
Mike Huckabee has made attacks on abortion providers and on Planned Parenthood a centerpiece of his campaign, claiming that clinics are “selling babies’ body parts like the parts of a Buick.” Huckabee has variously called Planned Parenthood a “kill for hire organization,” compared abortion providers to Hitler, and stated that “only since the Nazis have we seen such coldblooded indifference to human life.”
Variations on this theme have been endlessly repeated for months by presidential candidates Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush on TV, radio, and in print, and continued well after threats to clinics were directly linked by the FBI to the release of the CMP videos.
“Since the release of the initial video by pro-life organization Center for Medical Progress in July, investigators say there have been nine criminal or suspicious incidents across the country,” according to a report on the FBI findings by Jeff Pegues of CBS News.
The incidents include reported cyber-attacks, threats, and arsons. The FBI believes the incidents are, “consistent with the actions of lone offenders using tactics of arsons and threats all of which are typical of the pro-life extremist movement.”
Such threats were well-known before the FBI report and well before the release of the inflammatory videos. The National Abortion Federation (NAF) has tracked incidents of violence against providers since 1977 and has found that since 1977, an “organized campaign by anti-abortion extremists … has resulted in escalating levels of violence against women’s health care providers … [as] anti-abortion extremists have chosen to take the law into their own hands.”
NAF research shows that what began as “peaceful protests with picketing moved to harassing clinic staff and patients as they entered clinics and eventually escalated to blockading clinic entrances,” and later evolved to include arsons and bombings, the use of butyric acid to vandalize clinics, anthrax threat letters to frighten clinic staff, and, eventually, the series of murders of doctors that began in the 1990s and continues with other shootings and violence to this day.
In its 2014 National Clinic Violence Survey the Feminist Majority Foundation found that while “only” 19.7 percent of clinics nationwide experienced “the most severe types of anti-abortion violence,” down from 23.5 percent of clinics nationwide in 2010, clinics surveyed in 2014 nonetheless reported “significantly higher levels of threats and targeted intimidation of doctors and staff than in prior years.” For example, the survey found that in 2014, doctors and clinic staff at 28 percent of clinics surveyed were targeted by pamphlets containing personal information—photos, home addresses, and other information—up from 18.8 percent of clinics surveyed in 2010, and that stalking of physicians has increased, from 6.4 percent of clinics in 2010 to nearly 9 percent in 2014.
You cannot be a responsible public leader and not know of, understand, and be vigilant about the environment in which such violence thrives.
Yet in the wake of Dear’s alleged murderous spree on Friday, the GOP and its anti-choice supporters furiously sought to exculpate themselves from responsibility while still perpetuating the same falsehoods and rhetoric that led to violence in the first place. According to the New York Times, “Cruz, chafing at the suggestion that conservative criticisms of Planned Parenthood might have played a role in the attack at a Colorado clinic on Friday, lashed out on Sunday at the ‘vicious rhetoric on the left, blaming those who are pro-life.'” The vicious rhetoric of the left?
Reuters reported that while he called the shooting “an incredible tragedy,” Huckabee “dismissed talk that harsh anti-abortion rhetoric may have contributed to the attack,” and Fiorina “said on Fox News it was ‘typical left-wing tactics’ to demonize opponents of abortion or the ‘sale of body parts’ because of what she said was ‘obviously a tragedy.'”
The crocodile tears of sorrow over the shooting poured forth throughout the anti-choice community. As Jason Salzman reported here, Personhood USA spokeswoman Jennifer Mason, who is based in Colorado, said in a statement that her organization “opposes all abortion-related violence, against born and unborn people,” but went on to criticize coverage of the tragedy, writing that “the media is failing to report that innocent babies are killed in that very building every day that they are in business.”
What may be the most outrageous (and creepy) performance of denial and wide-eyed lack of accountability came from Daleiden himself, who claimed that of course he does not condone violence, and gee, he’s nervous he might be blamed and is concerned about his “friends at Planned Parenthood.”
Yes, Ted Cruz, rhetoric and language have consequences. And over and over again we’ve seen that the GOP and the anti-choice movement writ large blatantly disregard the likely consequences of their own rhetoric, and then cry foul when asked to do some soul-searching.
But by its own yardstick, the anti-choice community has this blood all over its hands.
Though the race for the Ohio governor’s seat was initially expected to be close, Democratic candidate Ed FitzGerald’s chances of beating incumbent John Kasich are becoming more and more remote.
After news slipped that Westlake, Ohio, police had, one morning in 2012, found FitzGerald in a car with a woman who wasn’t his wife, and follow-up reports showing that he had been driving for nearly six years without a valid license, his poll numbers have continued to trail Kasich’s by double digits.
FitzGerald’s campaign manager and communications director quit. Since then, Chip Shannon, who worked on Obama’s 2012 campaign, has stepped in to pick up the slack.
And these struggles, which the Washington Post called a “remarkable implosion,” are only the most recent. Early on in the campaign, FitzGerald’s pick for lieutenant governor, Ohio Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney, pulled his name from the ticket after reports surfaced that Kearney faces serious financial trouble, including about $1 million owed to the IRS and a lawsuit filed by American Express over unpaid debt.
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Still, as FitzGerald plays defense, the run-up to November has turned on abortion access and the economy, two issues which will prove important for all of Ohio’s elections this year.
Abortion and Reproductive Justice
Reproductive justice, and specifically access to abortion, has become central to the campaign being run by FitzGerald, who is the executive of Cuyahoga County and a former FBI special agent in Chicago. Focusing on the anti-abortion position of Republican opponents is a strategy that has paid off in the recent electoral past: Current Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s win over Republican Ken Cuccinelli last year is often credited to the McAuliffe ad criticizing his opponent’s anti-abortion stance.
In January this year, FitzGerald announced that Sharen Neurhardt, an Ohio attorney widely known as an abortion rights activist, would be his running mate. Neuhardt, who ran two failed bids for the U.S. House of Representatives, was on the board of the Greater Miami Valley’s Planned Parenthood in southwest Ohio. Last year, she gave the opening remarks as part of a protest at the state capitol against Kasich’s anti-abortion budget legislation.
“Gov. Kasich and the state legislators are trying to turn back the clock, but we are here today to tell them ‘We won’t go back,” Neuhardt said at the time.
After announcing her appointment, FitzGerald’s and Neurhardt’s first public appearance as running mates was for an endorsement by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio.
“I will stop talking about women’s rights when [Kasich] stops trying to restrict women’s rights,” FitzGerald said at the time. “I think Gov. Kasich has been avoiding an open discussion on that, and we have to force that discussion in the election.”
Anti-choice advocates have tried to frame FitzGerald’s position on abortion as largely out of touch with Ohio residents. After an Ohio Democratic organization called the candidate “100 percent pro-choice,” Ohio Right to Life president and one of Kasich’s appointee to the State Medical Board, Mike Gonidakis, decried the statement as proving how wrong FitzGerald is for Ohio.
“FizGerald identified as ‘100 percent pro-choice,’ which would include abortions through the ninth month of pregnancy. But three in four Ohioans reject that extreme position,” he said.
In an interview with the local paper, the Times Gazette, FitzGerald clarified that claim, telling a reporter that not only does he not support abortion up to the ninth month of pregnancy, but he doesn’t know any another Democrats “in favor of extreme late-term abortion.”
Like FitzGerald, Kasich has made his position on abortion abundantly clear: He is staunchly anti-abortion and will fight to shut down every abortion provider in Ohio.
Gov. Kasich has headed a targeted effort to pass anti-abortion legislation and close down clinics in the state; during his term, Ohio has become one of the worst states for abortion access in the country.
In 2011, Kasich, who was a U.S. representative from 1983 to 2001 and a Fox News commentator until 2007, signed into law a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. In a statement released at the time of the signing, Kasich said that “life is a gift from God and one way that we express our ongoing gratitude for it is by respecting it. This bill does that in a very fundamental way and I’m proud to have signed it into law.”
Later that year, Kasich signed into law a bill imposing restrictions on minor women seeking to get an abortion without the consent of their parents, which is required by law in most cases.
He also signed a bill banning health insurance plans available through the Affordable Care Act from covering abortion.
In perhaps the biggest anti-abortion push during his term, Kasich in 2013 signed a budget bill that included at least five anti-abortion provisions. The bill stripped funding from Planned Parenthood, reallocated that money to “crisis pregnancy centers,” and created a new requirement for surgical abortion facilities, mandating that they have written transfer agreements with local public hospitals. That is a requirement not backed up by medical evidence showing that abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures.
Aside from legislation, Kasich has also appointed political allies and anti-choice advocates to state medical positions that hold regulatory power and set the standards of health in Ohio.
Kasich has made several anti-choice appointments to state-level positions designed for medical professionals. In 2012 he appointed Michael Gonidakis as a member of the State Medical Board, a body tasked with protecting and enhancing the “health and welfare of Ohio’s citizens” by issuing and monitoring more than 55,000 licenses to Ohioans interested in practicing medicine.
Gonidakis is currently the president of the Ohio Right to Life organization, and previously served as the campaign manager for two pro-life judges.
In 2013, Kasich appointed Dr. Sushil Sethi to the State Medical Board. According to the local news outlets Plunderbund and Cleveland.com, Sethi has pushed his anti-choice position while on the board. For example, according to the minutes of a board meeting in 2013, during a discussion about the importance of genetic counselors to communicate sensitive information about disease and medical predispositions, Dr. Sethi “asked if there are any ethical behavior controls for genetic counselors to prevent them from swaying their patients’ decisions regarding abortion.”
Gonidakis followed up by asking, “With the rapid increase in autism and the main theories as to its cause, at what point are those in the field of genetics scaring couples into making decisions that probably are not the right decisions?”
Taken together, these laws and appointments resulted in the closure of some four clinics in the state since 2013. Three other clinics are currently in legal limbo and face closure.
Though abortion access has become a central issue in Ohio elections, including in the gubernatorial race, like every rust belt state, the economy is crucial, and both candidates have taken aim at the other’s economic policies.
Faced with the receding U.S. manufacturing industry, rust belt states like Ohio were dealt a particularly hard blow by the Great Recession. According to the Chronicle-Telegram, Ohio also lost thousands of jobs due to “an auto industry free fall” that left the state economy reeling. When Kasich was elected in 2010, the state had a $8 billion budget deficit.
Rebooting the economy has been central to Kasich’s plan as governor; however, the first half of Kasich’s term was marred by unpopularity and policy missteps.
Toward the end of his first year in office, Kasich was among the least popular governors in the country. A poll that fall by Public Policy Polling put Kasich as the least-liked governor, beating Florida’s Rick Scott for the title. That poll found that only 36 percent of voters in Ohio approved of their governor, and 53 percent disapproved.
Kasich’s favorability among voters wasn’t helped by the fact that what was then his and the Republican Party’s signature piece of legislation was also wildly unpopular. The bill, SB 5, was a one of several “right to work” bills introduced in the Midwest during that time.
SB 5 would have curbed collective bargaining rights for public works and made their unions effectively powerless. Though Kasich signed it into law early in 2011, Ohioans repealed SB 5 later that year at the polls.
In a statement at the time, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said that “Ohio’s working people successfully fought back against lies pushed by shadowy multinational corporations and their anonymous front groups that attempted to scapegoat public service employees and everyone they serve by assaulting collective bargaining rights.”
But since then, Kasich’s popularity has been gradually on the rise, a change that can in large part be credited to the Ohio economy. Since 2011, the state economy has improved in several important ways: The unemployment rate has gone down and is now lower than the national average, and the state is now operating with a budget surplus.
But FitzGerald has said that the numbers are misleading because only a small group of Ohioans have benefited, a fact that is backed up by numbers.
According to the Chronicle-Telegram, though overall state income has gone up, median household income has actually decreased, and at a rate higher than the rest of the country. The number of people living in poverty increased from 2007 to 2012, and home ownership rates in the state decreased during that time period.
FitzGerald has said that strengthening the economy is his “number one priority,” and that he will cut taxes for the middle class and focus on middle-class job creation.
Still, Kasich’s approval by Ohio voters has continued to rise, and FitzGerald has had no such luck. Kasich is now considered by many to be a shoe-in for the spot. But whether or not he is re-elected to the governor’s mansion in Ohio, we should expect to see more of Kasich: He is widely expected to make a bid for the presidency in 2016.