News Politics

Gillibrand: If We Had Equal Representation In Congress, We Wouldn’t Be Debating Contraception

Robin Marty

With a comfortable lead in her bid for re-election, Gillibrand is adding her support to getting other women into office.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has learned a lot from her challenger, Wendy Long. No, not much about the race, where she already has a comfortable 30 point lead. Instead, she’s realizing how much work needs to be done to get more women running for office, especially women who don’t stump for the religious right.

“[I]f we had 50 percent of women in Congress, we would not be debating contraception,” she said at a fundraiser, according to The Washington Post. “We would be debating the economy, small business, jobs, national security — everything but.”

Gillibrand is using her massive fundraising prowess to focus on other women now–in this case Tammy Duckworth in Illinois, Christie Vilsack in Iowa, and Val Demmings in Florida. If all three women won, it could make a massive change in the ratio not just of Republicans to Democrats in the House, but from male to female as well.

It would also change the tone of the House, too. Vilsack is challenging Republican Steve King, author of the anti-“robo-skype abortions” bill that he hoped would cut off any expansion of telemed abortions, a procedure that would provide much greater and more affordable access to very early terminations for women in rural areas. Demmings is trying to unseat Congressman Daniel Webster, who is so far to the right that he believes divorce is only allowable if one spouse commits adultery, regardless of what other abuses may be going on in the marriage.

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With men like these in the House, is it any wonder that so many people are focused on bringing in more women to run?

Commentary Politics

Trial Balloons and Hot Air: Don’t Let Biden and Schumer Fool You on ‘Mainstream’ SCOTUS Nominees

Jodi Jacobson

Both Schumer and Biden seem to agree that what we need to replace deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a "mainstream" nominee for the Court. I call foul.

Read more of our articles on Justice Antonin Scalia’s potential successor here.

Over the last two days, both Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Vice President Joe Biden have weighed in on the kind of nominee they think President Obama should recommend to replace deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

And as things go, it is no accident that these two men, leaders in the Democratic Party with direct access to the president, said basically the same thing within a couple of days of each other. They are either floating trial balloons—testing public reaction—for the White House or trying to influence the president’s decision. Either way, they are using their positions and their access to the media as a way of sending a message.

And either way, I call foul.

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Both Schumer and Biden seem to agree that what we need now is a “mainstream” nominee for the Court.

In an interview on ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos last Sunday, Schumer, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he expects President Obama to nominate a “mainstream” justice, citing the potential to win support of “mainstream Republicans.”

“I think the president, past is prologue, will nominate someone who is mainstream,” Schumer stated. As the New York Times reported:

“When you go right off the bat and say, I don’t care who he nominates, I am going to oppose him — that’s not going to fly,” he said, criticizing the majority leader Mitch McConnell for pledging to block any nominee. “A lot of the mainstream Republicans are going to say, I may not follow this.”

According to the Washington Post, Biden echoed Schumer’s statement in an interview aboard Air Force Two:

“This is a potential gigantic game changer” for the philosophical makeup of the court, Biden said in an interview with The Washington Post and Politico. “And my advice is, the only way we get someone on the court, now or even later, is to do what we’ve done in the past…we have to pick somebody, as the president will, who is intellectually competent, is a person of high moral character, is a person who is demonstrated to have an open mind, and is a person who doesn’t come with a specific agenda.

These comments are so full of potentially meaningless and yet potentially profound code and buzzwords, I don’t know where to start.

First of all, what exactly these days is a “mainstream Republican” and where do they live? Is Biden referring to the senators who joined a party-line vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act? Is he talking about the “moderate” GOP party-line vote to impose a 20-week abortion ban? Which of the Republicans that voted against Obama’s nominees to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are the moderate ones? Which of the ones that have held up judicial nominees for over two years are “mainstream”? How is opposing all attempts by the White House and Democrats to pass paid family leave a “mainstream” position, especially in light of the fact that this policy is supported by a wide majority of Americans? Are the mainstream the ones that continue to block the Paycheck Fairness Act?

Second, does Vice President Biden mean to suggest that a justice who perhaps believes that women have rights to their own bodies cannot be “intellectually competent … a person of high moral character … a person who is demonstrated to have an open mind … a person who doesn’t come with a specific agenda”? Is promoting public health an agenda? Are basic human rights a specific political agenda?

Is Biden suggesting, no matter how subtly and in meaningless Beltway-speak, that a jurist who pays heed to overwhelming medical and public health evidence on the role that both contraception and abortion play in improving public health, women’s health, and infant and child health is not “mainstream” and otherwise has an agenda?

Does a jurist with roots in a specific community and with an understanding of the law’s differential impact on people of different races, classes, and privileges come with an agenda?

Given that the white population will soon be the minority, who is “mainstream,” the white guy or the person of color?

Let’s face facts: What is considered “mainstream” for both of these men is not necessarily based on the needs and priorities of the average American. Schumer is only “mainstream” in that he is a white male senator in a legislative body that is dominated by white male senators (the Senate is 80 percent male and 94 percent white) and in that he takes huge amounts of funding from Wall Street. “Mainstream” for Schumer might well be translated to mean someone who won’t seek to curb the influence of big money in politics.

Likewise, Joe Biden is only “mainstream” on many issues insofar as they can be comfortably navigated within the Old Boys Clubs of which he is a longstanding member, one of which is the Senate and the other of which is the group of Catholic Democrats that remain beholden at some level to the most-conservative U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It was Biden, who as a Catholic is highly ambivalent about reproductive health care, played leading roles in the Obama administration’s decisions on the Stupak Amendment in the ACA, and in the “contraceptive accommodations” made to religious groups, among many other things.

The carve-outs never satisfied the rabidly right-wing bishops and led to continuing lawsuits and ever greater demands of exemptions. This is not a “mainstream” position, especially if you consider that 98 percent of Catholic women (and 99 percent of all women) who have ever had sex have used modern forms of birth control. The only mainstream position on birth control and abortion is the one that recognizes both the public health and social science evidence, the rights of women as people, and the fact that an overwhelming majority of women use birth control and one third of women in the United States have abortions. There is nothing mainstream about white, religious men ignoring that fact or pretending that they know better.

The only reason they suggest that someone who does not have any record of supporting evidence or rights might (and it’s a highly questionable assumption) get approved by the GOP-led Senate is because the Republicans themselves are not mainstream by any stretch of the imagination, and are only interested in someone with an agenda to protect their interests.

In my definition, someone who, as Biden suggests, “is intellectually competent, is a person of high moral character, is a person who is demonstrated to have an open mind, and is a person who doesn’t come with a specific agenda,” is a person who recognizes that human rights, evidence, and justice should be of central concern to the Supreme Court. When I hear Biden use these words, I hear echoes of his 2007 statement that Barack Obama was the first “mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” It sounds to me that “mainstream” is someone comfortable to the white men in power.

The word “mainstream” is now meaningless. The media won’t challenge it because most of the reporters are stuck in a white male corporate bubble and spend their time at parties at the vice president’s residence. You can’t depend on them to challenge the very notion of what it means.

When you hear a white male senator or a white male vice president—both of whom have vested interests in agendas that do not represent either the interests of the greater number of people in this country, and/or also ignore solid scientific evidence—use terms like “mainstream,” know one thing: They are not swimming in the same stream as the rest of us.

Editorial Politics

Five Reasons the GOP Can’t Be Taken Seriously on ‘Poverty’

Jodi Jacobson

No summit can fix what ails the GOP when it comes to concern for people struggling to make ends meet, or who no longer have any means whatsoever.

GOP leaders will attend a “summit on poverty” in South Carolina on Saturday. But no summit can fix what ails the GOP when it comes to concern for people struggling to make ends meet, or who no longer have any means whatsoever.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan originally planned the summit in September 2015, when he was chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, along with Senator Tim Scott (R-SC). “Poverty” is a recurring theme for Ryan: He talked about it during the 2012 presidential campaign, called for a “new battle plan” on poverty last summer and as speaker mentioned it four times in one of his first major speeches. Interestingly, however, poverty is not listed anywhere on his congressional website as a priority issue or legislative focus. Nor is it prominent anywhere on the speaker’s page. So for now, the rhetoric and the summit feel reminiscent of Ryan’s 2012 staged photo op, when as a vice presidential candidate he “ramrodded” his way into an empty soup kitchen to wash clean dishes for the cameras but stayed far away from the actual people being served.

Poverty also appears to be a popular new topic for GOP presidential candidates floundering about for an agenda that “sells.” As Rebecca Vallas wrote in the Huffington Post:

2015 seems to have been the year of Republicans finding religion on poverty and inequality, with GOP presidential candidates like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and former Governor Jeb Bush making major speeches on the subject, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and then-Speaker Boehner (R-OH) lamenting the ever-widening gap between rich and poor in a widely-noted joint interview on 60 Minutes.

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Normally, we’d write a critique of policies after they’d been presented at the summit, and that may be yet to come. But for a party that is persistently disdainful of the working class and those without jobs, it’s hard to take any of the rhetoric seriously, especially given that GOP legislators overwhelmingly voted for a bill to overturn the Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood before many of them boarded planes for South Carolina. If the bill had not been vetoed by President Obama, those two actions alone would unquestionably have added to the economic struggles of millions of Americans. Moreover, the GOP has a knack for wrapping the same old policies—already found to worsen poverty and inequality—in new rhetorical packages. Jeb Bush, for example, is apparently now campaigning on a “fix welfare” platform straight out of 1992. So I think a “prebuttal” of whatever policy announcements are planned for Saturday is fair.

Here are a few of the actions Republicans have taken in recent years that suggest their platform won’t fix poverty:

Reinforcing Poverty Wages: From 2013 to 2014, the inflation-adjusted wages of American workers have stagnated across the spectrum, including for those with advanced degrees, despite increased corporate profits and productivity. According to the Economic Policy Institute, this has largely been the pattern, with some temporary shifts, since 1979. EPI notes:

The poor performance of American workers’ wages in recent decades—particularly their failure to grow at anywhere near the pace of overall productivity—is the country’s central economic challenge. Raising wages is the key to addressing middle-class income stagnation, rising income inequality, and lagging economic mobility, and is essential to moving families out of poverty.

Increasing the minimum wage is one critical portion of a larger effort to dramatically reduce poverty, especially among women: The U.S. Department of Labor explains that “89 percent of those who would benefit from a federal minimum wage increase to $12 per hour are age 20 or older, and 56 percent are women.” Nonetheless, in 2014 and 2015, the GOP-controlled Congress twice voted against a federal minimum wage hike. And in recent debates, GOP presidential hopefuls have expressed resounding opposition to increasing the minimum wage.

Ignoring the Role of Medical Debt in Poverty and the Financial Crisis: Good health is critical to personal well-being and to economic productivity. It’s hard, and actually economically counterproductive, for both individuals and for businesses when sick employees come to work. Many people facing chronic or acute diseases also need time off to see a doctor or receive treatment. But health care is expensive, especially in the United States.

And despite enactment of the Affordable Care Act, a longer-term trend of higher and higher deductibles and co-pays has made paying for insurance and for medical care increasingly expensive, a reality that weighs disproportionately on low-income workers. Moreover, health-related expenses contribute to more than half of all personal bankruptcies in the United States. A poll by the New York Times and Kaiser Family Foundation found that health care costs from both chronic and catastrophic illness can leave people with “crushing debt.”

While an increasing number of people, including those with preexisting conditions, are now able to get health insurance under the ACA, the costs of insurance and rate of growth in co-pays has left many others struggling. As has always been the case with other large and sweeping laws, updates and changes need to be made to the ACA to fix gaps and unintended consequences so we can reach the ultimate goal of affordable health care for all. Despite the fact that health care is a critical aspect of poverty reduction and economic prosperity, the GOP both refuses to fix the ACA and has worked ceaselessly to overturn it, voting more than 54 times to repeal it without any backup plan.

Choice in Childbirth: Personal decisions about whether, when, and with whom to have a child have lifelong consequences and are among the most fundamental economic decisions. Having a child when you are in school, for example, may mean you have to postpone or entirely forego your education. Low-wage jobs are precarious as it is; having a child may mean losing work due to lack of options for affordable child care. A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that the price of child care exceeded the cost of rent in 500 out of 618 municipalities in the United States underscoring just how difficult it would be for a low-income worker to sustain a family and have the supported needed to actually go to work.

Feeding, housing, educating, and providing health care and other necessities for a child is not only very expensive, it also entails a lifelong emotional and physical commitment. It’s a profound personal choice. Worldwide, studies show that access to both contraception and abortion are positively correlated with higher incomes and better personal outcomes. Ironically, while Jeb Bush and other GOP candidates recommendwaiting until you are ready” to have children as one of their recommendations for addressing poverty, they have at the same time been gutting funds for family planning and placing an increasing number of restrictions on access to abortion. If they really believed in addressing poverty, Republicans would pledge to ensure all people have access to both contraception and abortion.

Raising a Family: As noted above, kids are expensive. The average cost of raising a child to age 18 in urban areas of the United States is now roughly $245,000. For this and other reasons, two-income households are the norm, not the exception—a result, as columnist E.J. Dionne has noted, of “an economic struggle highlighting yet again the social costs arising from decades of stagnating or declining wages and growing income inequality.”

All families need and deserve basic choices, including the choice to be home with a new or sick child, or when caring for an ailing family member. And all children, including those who live in low-income households, deserve to have enough food, heat, and a safe place to sleep. Ensuring paid family leave is a critical aspect of broader efforts to combat poverty because so many people at the lower end of the economic spectrum, and especially women, lose jobs for lack of family leave. The GOP, however, lauds family values but consistently votes against actual families. For example, though a majority of U.S. voters support legislation guaranteeing paid family leave, the GOP has consistently voted against it. And today’s crop of GOP presidential contenders all oppose legislation to ensure paid family leave.

Education and Student Debt: As a social good, education is critical. While individual opportunities vary from one field to another and one city or state to another, on the whole, education is vital for economic success. High rates of student debt and high rates of interest paid on those debts have, however, kept many from paying off their student loans or getting an education in a different field of expertise, therefore limiting their ability to advance economically. Still, the GOP has several times voted against bills, including those introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), that would have allowed students to refinance their debts from rates of 6 to over 10 percent interest to under 4 percent interest. While they’ve rejected these plans, congressional Republicans have not presented an effective plan to lower the burden of student debt.

So as Republican leaders convene in South Carolina, remember that the GOP has consistently made clear, through its legislative and policy choices (and I’ve only noted a few) and through its rhetoric, that it has little actual concern for people living in poverty and those who are most economically vulnerable. If you follow the axiom, “It’s not what they say, it’s what they do,” the GOP has done a whole helluva lot to undermine the economic prospects of those who are not male, not white, and not wealthy. Republican congressional leaders and presidential candidates as a whole not only don’t seem to care much about poverty, they don’t seem to understand what factors push people into poverty and keep them there. And they certainly don’t appear to understand what it would really mean to address poverty, yet are eager to exacerbate many of the problems that contribute to it in the first place.