Analysis Politics

The Perfect SBA List Candidate? One Ignorant of Minimum Wage, Violence Against Women, and Other Key Issues

Robin Marty

What does it take to find a female candidate the SBA List will be willing to endorse?  It turns out it helps if she knows little about policies affecting women.

Former Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman has been running much longer than any of her other counterparts to be the GOP challenger to Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill. In fact, it was almost exactly one year ago that she was already orchestrating a “do-over” to “reinvigorate her beleaguered campaign.”

Since then, the conservative candidate has seen numerous challengers enter the field, but despite the newcomers, Steelman has managed to snag many of the major party endorsements. The most recent?  She’s gotten the nod from the Susan B. Anthony List, a Republican political group that claims its mission is to support “pro-life women,” often by endorsing anti-choice men in order to try to unseat pro-choice Congresswomen.

“There could not be a more clear contrast between an authentic advocate for women like Sarah Steelman and EMILY’s List darling Senator Claire McCaskill,” said Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund President Marjorie Dannenfelser. “Having voted for everything from Obamacare to taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood, Senator McCaskill has failed miserably at representing the best interests of women.”

“Missouri women and families are hungry for a pro-life leader like Sarah Steelman,” continued Dannenfelser. “The SBA List Candidate Fund is proud to endorse her and we look forward to adding another pro-life woman to the U.S. Senate.”

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But it’s not a surprise that the SBA List endorsed Steelman. They were no doubt determined to get involved in what would likely be one of the hottest (and hence, most expensive) races in the country. Missouri was already picked as a target by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and then the Tea Party express and other social and fiscal conservative special interest groups. Steelman courted them all early and hard, winning them over to her side over GOP competitor Todd Akin.

Had they all chosen to go with Akin instead, you can be sure that SBA would have endorsed the same way. Luckily, that they chose a female candidate to back just made it that much easier for the group.

Steelman was leading McCaskill in polling back in March, and appears ready to use the standard slash and burn campaign tactics that earned her the reputation of being “a jerk,” even according to some of her own supporters. At a recent campaign rally with Tea Party activists, one supporter shouted out that it was time to “Kill the Claire Bear,” referring to Sen. McCaskill.  Steelman’s response? That it wasn’t a big deal, except to the “liberal media.”

Steelman has been called “Sarah Palin with an economics degree,” although whether that is a compliment or not remains to be seen. That “economics degree” didn’t help Steelman or her competition when it came to guessing what the state or federal minimum wage was at a recent debate, although it did allow her to say that she’s sure someone can live on it.

And the minimum wage isn’t the only thing she’s not so well-versed on. When asked her opinion on the Congressional debate over renewing the Violence Against Women Act, Steelman had to admit she was “not sure what that is.”

But it’s her stance on reproductive health that does put her in lockstep with the SBA List, regardless of her gender.  Steelman has come out in favor of a “fertilized egg-as-person” constitutional amendment, saying “I believe that live begins at conception,” although she did qualify her statement by saying she would have to see “how it is worded.” She also supports the Blunt Amendment, which would allow employers to refuse birth control coverage and other medical coverage he or she finds “morally objectionable” in the company insurance plan. 

Steelman has received previous endorsements from Missouri Right to Life when she was running for the Republican primary for Governor in 2008, and her current campaign site says she

believes that government’s main role is to protect those that cannot protect themselves.  This is no truer than in the case of the unborn.  Sarah is wholly and 100% pro-life and will vote 100% pro-life in the US Senate.  Roe v. Wade was a wrongly decided Supreme Court case that undermined the Constitution in the name of a liberal policy agenda.  In the US Senate, Sarah will support the complete defunding of Planned Parenthood and other abortion-providing organizations, and will fight to end, once and for all, the practice of partial-birth abortion.  Sarah will also oppose the confirmation of judges who attempt to legislate from the bench in order to prevent decisions like Roe v. Wade from happening again.

And if there was any doubt where Steelman stands on women’s autonomy and reproductive health, those were pretty much dashed when she enthusiastically supported her campaign manager’s quest to get Rush Limbaugh’s bust mounted at the state capitol.

A female candidate who seems determined to seek ways to undermine any political policy that advances or provides equality for women? That sounds just like the perfect Susan B. Anthony List candidate.

News Politics

Trump’s First Congressional Endorsement Goes to Candidate Opposed by Anti-Choice Groups (Updated)

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice groups targeted Rep. Renee Ellmers' seat after the North Carolina representative reportedly spoke out against language in the House of Representatives' 2015 20-week abortion ban.

UPDATE, June 8, 8:35 a.m.: Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) lost her campaign for re-election Tuesday night, leaving Rep. George Holding (R-NC) as the Republican candidate for the state’s 2nd congressional district. Ellmers’ loss makes her the first member of the GOP to lose their seat in Congress.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made his first congressional endorsement over the weekend, backing U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) despite anti-choice groups’ attempts to unseat the congresswoman in the state’s Tuesday primary.

“Hello, this is Donald Trump and I’m calling to personally ask you to vote for Renee Ellmers,” said Trump in a robocall released Saturday on behalf of Ellmers. “Renee was the first congresswoman to endorse me, and she really was terrific and boy, is she a fighter.”

“I need her help in Washington so we can work together to defeat ISIS, secure our border, and bring back jobsand frankly, so many other things. And Renee knows how to do it. She gets it,” continues Trump in the ad. “And together, we will make America great again.”

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Anti-choice groups targeted Ellmers’ seat after the North Carolina representative reportedly spoke out against language in the House of Representatives’ 2015 20-week abortion ban, which would have required rape victims to formally report their assault to police in order to be exempted from the law. Ellmers expressed concerns about that aspect of the measure during a closed-door meeting on the legislation, according to Politico.

Ellmers later told Bloomberg Politics that she supported a later version of the abortion ban with revised language. Overall, the congresswoman has been consistently anti-choice during her time in office.

In February, a federal district panel ordered North Carolina to redraw the state’s congressional map after it found evidence of unconstitutional racial gerrymandering. The new lines shifted much of Rep. George Holding’s (R-NC) current district to Ellmers’ district, leading Holding to challenge his GOP colleague.

“We helped bring Renee Ellmers to Washington and now we want to send her home,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of anti-choice group Susan B. Anthony List, told the Washington Examiner for a report published Monday. “She was exactly the type of candidate our organization exists to support, both on the campaign trail and in Congress, but she failed us.”

Ellmers’ campaign contends that the candidate has been consistently anti-choice during her time in Congress. “She never once voted against a pro-life bill,” Patrick Sebastian, senior adviser for her campaign, told Roll Call in May. “It’s absurd, honestly.”

Susan B. Anthony List’s decision to support Ellmers’ challenger, Holding, marks the first time the group has ever endorsed a man over a “pro-life woman,” reports NPR. The group is reportedly spending about $50,000 on the race, and “is sending more than 200 canvassers to knock on 12,500 doors by Tuesday and tell voters,” about Ellmers’ record on abortion, according to the Examiner

The anti-choice group has already pledged to back Trump in the presidential election, despite having spent months publicly questioning whether the candidate’s opposition to abortion was extreme enough.

National Right to Life Victory Fund, an anti-choice super PAC, also took aim at Ellmers in an email to supporters last week. “Nothing has the potential to do more damage to pro-life efforts than people who run as pro-life candidates back home in their pro-life districts and then stab the babies in the back when they come to DC and work against pro-life efforts,” asserted the super PAC, going on to note that the organization would be “working hard in the mail, on the phone, and on the internet to see that pro-life traitor Renee Ellmers is defeated and pro-life champion George Holding wins the June 7th Republican primary.”

Trump’s endorsement of Ellmers seemingly signals yet another disconnect between the Republican candidate and those who oppose abortion. As Rewire has previously reported, Trump has faced “months of criticism by Republicans and those who oppose abortion rights. Despite the GOP presidential candidate’s promises to defund Planned Parenthood and nominate Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade and criminalize abortion, Trump has come under fire for suggesting that abortion patients should be punished for undergoing the procedure, should it become illegal.”

News Violence

Gillibrand Starts Final Push to Reform Military Sexual Assault Prosecutions

Emily Crockett

The senator is optimistic that her amendment, the Military Justice Improvement Act, could reach even the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) kicked off a final two-week push Wednesday to remove prosecution of sexual assault and other serious civilian crimes from the military chain of command.

Sen. Gillibrand spoke with a bipartisan group of senators, advocates, and former military members in favor of passing her Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) as an amendment to the 2014 defense spending bill.

The MJIA, which is heavily opposed by the Pentagon, is being offered as an amendment after failing to pass the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“Critics say moving the decisions out of the chain of command would diminish good order and discipline,” Gillibrand said at Wednesday’s press conference. “I have news for you: With 26,000 cases of sexual assault, rape, and unwanted sexual contact last year alone, we don’t have the good order and discipline that our military needs.”

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Gillibrand says 46 senators have already expressed public support for the bill, and told Rewire that she is confident about reaching the 60 votes needed to break a possible filibuster. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has said he would do “whatever it takes” to stop the bill.

“We have a lot of undecided members who are leaning with us,” Gillibrand said. She noted that some of her fellow Armed Services Committee members who voted against the bill initially “may well change their views” in light of recent endorsements from three retired generals and the prominent Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services.

Ariana and Ben Klay, a married couple who are former Marines, both offered emotional testimony about Ariana’s ordeal with trying to report a sexual assault.

Ariana said she experienced repeated harassment, and was told by officials that she deserved it because of what she wore or the fact that she complained about it. Requests for transfers were ignored before she was sexually assaulted, and she experienced a degrading hearing process.

Ben Klay said that rape was compared to prostitution or marrying a rich man during the military hearings, and that he was not asked a single question relevant to Ariana’s assault during the hearing on grounds that it would be “distracting to the court.”

“That’s what the entire process felt like, a distraction, and it is organized to be that way,” Klay said. “Military justice is a secondary duty for a commander. Something he didn’t sign up for, and a distraction from his mission to fight wars.”

Other speakers emphasized that the MJIA would only strengthen military readiness because it frees commanders from legal duties they are not trained for, and that such reforms are necessary because sexual assault victims don’t trust their chain of command to defend them or take meaningful action. About one quarter of all military sexual assault victims reported being assaulted by someone in their chain of command.

An unusual bipartisan combination of senators, including Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) along with Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) also showed their support at the conference.

Veterans organizations Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) released an open letter to Congress on Tuesday urging the passage of the MJIA.

“The proposed changes in the MJIA are not radical. They are carefully crafted and have earned the support of many former military officials and organizations with expertise on military issues,” said Nancy Duff Campbell of the National Women’s Legal Council.

A proposal by Claire McCaskill (D-MO), which did pass the Armed Services Committee and is part of the defense bill, does not remove prosecutions from the chain of command, but would disallow commanders from overturning jury verdicts. McCaskill is one of three female Senators to oppose the MJIA, and the only female Democrat.

The defense bill is expected to receive a vote before Thanksgiving recess.