We’re one step closer to the general election in November, with a number of new congressional and senate races finally narrowed down to the final contenders after yesterday’s slew of primaries.
In Minnesota, the big focus was on who would take on 8th District Republican Chip Cravaack, the most vulnerable member of the state’s delegation. Also considered vulnerable was Democratic Congressman Tim Walz of the 1st district. However, now that Republicans have chosen former state lawmaker Alan Quist to run against him, Walz can probably rest a little easier. After all, the anti-gay crusader known for going “undercover” at a gay bookstore to expose alleged incidents of sex in public, still believes the Flintstones has a factual basis.
Walz isn’t the only Democrat to pick up an ideal Republican opponent. Former Congressman Alan Grayson is battling to get back into office. Last night he learned his opponent will be Todd Long, a Tea Party candidate backed by Arizona’s notorious “Sheriff Joe” who is “not seen as viable GOP candidate for the district,” according to Roll Call.
In other Florida results, GOP Rep. Cliff Stearns finally conceded his race. In a Republican incumbent faceoff due to redistricting, Rep. John Mica beat Rep. Sandy Adams (who was backed by SBA List), and will go on to the general election. Also, Connie Mack easily won the senate primary and will challenge Democratic Senator Ben Nelson in November.
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EMILY’s List candidates had some losses as well. Susan Bysiewicz, who was endorsed by the group, was beaten by Rep. Chris Murphy for the Democratic Senate nomination in Connecticut. But the group also backed Elizabeth Esty, who won the nomination for Murphy’s seat. The Connecticut Senate race will be between Murphy and businesswoman Linda McMahon, who beat Republican Chris Shays, a former congressman, in the GOP primary.
In its short existence, the House Freedom Caucus (HFC) has made a name for itself through endless efforts to push Congress further to the right, particularly when it comes to reproductive health. Now with the 2016 election cycle underway, the caucus’ political action committee, the House Freedom Fund, seems to be working just as tirelessly to ensure the caucus maintains a radical anti-choice legacy.
Since its founding by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) in January 2015, the group of ultra-conservative lawmakers that make up the caucus has ballooned from just nine members to at least 36 members, as of October 2015, who have confirmed their own inclusion—though the group keeps its official roster secret. These numbers may seem small, but they pack a punch in the House, where they have enough votes to block major legislation pushed by other parts of the Republican party.
And now, the group is seeking to add to its ranks in order to wield even more power in Congress.
“The goal is to grow it by, and I think it’s realistic, to grow it by 20 to 30 members,” Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), one of HFC’s founding members, told Politico in April. “All new members.”
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While the caucus itself reportedly does not endorse candidates, its unofficial PAC has already thrown money behind defending the seats of some of the group’s most notoriously anti-choice members, as well as a few new faces.
According to OpenSecrets.org, the Center for Responsive Politics’ campaign finance database, thus far in 2016, the House Freedom Fund has invested in seven congressional candidates currently vying to keep a seat in the House of Representatives: Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA), Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Rep. Scott Desjarlais (R-TN), Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ).The PAC’s website also highlights two candidates hoping to move from their state legislatures to the House: Republican Indiana state senator Jim Banks and Georgia state Senator Mike Crane. The PAC is also backing the Republican candidate for Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, Mary Thomas; and Republican candidate for North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District, Ted Budd.
Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH), who won a special election in early June to replace former House speaker John Boehner, also received funding from the PAC. He joined the House Freedom Caucus that same week.
The Republican Partyactively works to deny access to virtually all forms of reproductive health care, so it is not surprising that the candidates supported by the House Freedom Fund, whose confirmed members are all members of the GOP, share similarly radical views on reproductive rights and health.
Here are some of the House Freedom Fund’s most alarming candidates:
Rep. Rod Blum
Rep. Blum, a freshman congressman from Iowa, considers his opposition to reproductive choice one of the “cornerstones” of his campaign. “It is unconscionable that government would aid in the taking of innocent life. I strongly oppose any federal funding for abortion and I will vote against any of our tax dollars flowing to groups who perform or advocate abortions on demand,” asserts Blum’s campaign site. The Hyde Amendment already bans most federal funding for abortion care.
Blum spent much of his first year in the House attempting to push through a series of anti-choice bills. The representative co-sponsored the medically unsupported Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would have enacted a federal ban on abortion at or beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy, in January 2015. He signed on as a co-sponsor for the failed Life at Conception Act, a so-called personhood measure that would have granted legal rights to fetuses and zygotes, thus potentially outlawing abortion and many forms of contraception, in March of that year. That July, Blum co-sponsored the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, which would have stripped the reproductive health organization of all federal funding for one year so that Congress could investigate it in the wake of the Center for Medical Progress’ (CMP) discredited videos smearing the provider.
Blum’s co-sponsorship of anti-choice legislation was accompanied by a long series of like-minded votes throughout 2015, such as a January vote in favor of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2015, which, among other things, would have made the Hyde Amendment’s annually renewed ban on most federal funding for abortion care permanent. He also voted to block Washington, D.C.’s Reproductive Health non-discrimination law, and in favor of a measure allowing states to exclude from Medicaid funding any health provider that provided abortions, as well as other anti-choice measures.
Blum’s brief time in Congress has been marked by such extremism that Emily’s List, an organization that works to elect pro-choice women, put Blum on their “On Notice” list in July 2015, signaling their intention to prioritize unseating the Iowa Representative. “In less than five months into the 114th Congress, we have seen Representative Blum lead the crusade to restrict women’s access to healthcare, most notably when he cosponsored a national abortion ban,” explained the organization in a press release on its decision to target Blum. “It’s clear that Congressman Blum is more focused on prioritizing an extreme ideological agenda over enacting policies that benefit more women and families in Iowa’s First Congressional District.”
Rep. Dave Brat
Rep. Dave Brat gained notoriety for his win against incumbent representativeand then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014, a victory considered one of “the biggest political upset[s] in recent memory.” Like many of his HFC colleagues, Brat has co-sponsored several pieces of anti-choice legislation, including the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in 2015 and the Conscience Protection Act of 2016, which claimed to “protect” against “governmental discrimination against providers of health services” who refuse to provide abortion care. Brat’s voting record in Congress earned him a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee.
In April of this year, the Virginia representative signed on to a letter with Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and other anti-choice legislators, such as House Freedom Fund candidate Rep. Meadows expressing “serious concerns” about the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to update the label of abortion drug mifepristone to bring it in line with scientific research and evidence-based medicine. Though medication abortions are safe and result in complications in fewer than 0.4 percent of patients, the lawmakers nonetheless claimed that the regulation change could be dangerous, noting that the drug was originally approved during the Clinton administration and demanding a list of information about it.
In the wake of the deadly shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility in November, when the alleged shooter parroted the same violent rhetoric about the reproductive health organization popularized by the CMP’s discredited videos, many in Congress called for the panel investigating Planned Parenthood to be disbanded and for lawmakers to distance themselves from the videos. Brat, however, saw no reason the anti-choice violence should affect the conservative crusade to shut down access to reproductive health care. “Principles are principles,” Brat said at the time according to the Huffington Post. “They don’t change on a news cycle.”
Rep. Tim Huelskamp
Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp has been an anti-choice advocate since graduate school, when, according to the biography provided on his website, he was “active in assisting women in crisis pregnancies” while working toward a doctoral degree at American University. His advocacy continued as he made his way to Congress, eventually leading him to become the congressional “Pro-Life Caucus” whip.
Though he has cast plenty of anti-choice votes, the congressman’s most notable moment when it comes to reproductive rights may be a 2012 speech on the House floor, in when he compared abortion to slavery and accused Planned Parenthood and the Obama administration of being racist. “Perhaps the biggest war against our liberties is the war that is being waged against those that are not here today, the unborn,” claimed Huelskamp. “Besides slavery, abortion is the other darkest stain on our nation’s character and this president is looking for every way possible to make abortion more available and more frequent. And he wants you to pay for it. Even if you disagree with it.”
Huelskamp went on to falsely accuse Planned Parenthood of targeting people of color. “I am the adoptive father of four children, each of them either Black, Hispanic, Native American, and I am incensed that this president pays money to an entity that was created for the sole purpose of killing children that look like mine; a racist organization and it continues to target minorities for abortion destruction,” said the congressman. “Shame on this president and shame on that party.”
It wouldn’t be the last time Huelskamp exploited race in order to promote his anti-choice agenda. In 2015, the Kansas Representative lashed out at those who accepted awards from Planned Parenthood, tweeting that they were supporting a “racist” agenda.
Rep. Mark Meadows
Rep. Mark Meadows, who has a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee, co-sponsored anti-choice measures such as the House’s 2015 fetal pain bill, the 2015 Life at Conception Act, and the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2016 (PRENDA). He also once badgered a pregnant doctor testifying during a House committee hearing about the importance of offering maternity coverage through the Affordable Care Act. However, the congressman’s recent vendetta against Planned Parenthood stands out the most.
In July 2015, in the wake of CMP’s deceptively edited videos, Meadows latched onto the discredited films in order to justify defunding Planned Parenthood. “In addition to cutting funding for abortion providers, I strongly urge Congress to investigate the legality of the practices engaged in by Planned Parenthood,” said Meadows at the time.
In September, as Congress faced the looming threat of a possible government shutdown if they didn’t pass a budget bill, Meadows exploited the opportunity to push for Planned Parenthood to be defunded, no matter the cost. With the South Carolina congressman leading the charge,pressure from conservatives to pull funding for the reproductive health-care provider played a role in prompting then-House Speaker John Boehner to resign his position. Meadows was a co-sponsor of the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, which passed in the House as part of a compromise to narrowly escape the shutdown.
But Meadows’ quest to attack Planned Parenthood didn’t end there. In September, the congressman also participated in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s hearing to “examine the use of taxpayer funding” by Planned Parenthood and its affiliates, a sham hearing used by the GOP to repeatedly push misinformation about the organization.
Rep. Scott Desjarlais
Rep. Scott Desjarlais, a medical doctor, is perhaps best known for his attempt to pressure his patient, with whom he was having an affair, into having an abortion when she became pregnant. While the congressman has repeatedly run on his anti-abortion credentials, his divorce papers also revealed he had supported his wife in having two abortions. Politico‘s Chas Sisk labeled DeJarlais “the biggest hypocrite in Congress.”
Desjarlais made headlines again in 2015 for voting for a later abortion ban. A spokesperson for the Tennessee Republican told theTimes Free Press that the vote was in accordance with the congressman’s record:
“Congressman DesJarlais was proud to vote in favor of this legislation,” said his spokesman Robert Jameson, who added that DesJarlais has maintained a “100 percent pro-life voting record” during his five years in Congress and “has always advocated for pro-life values.”
Indiana State Sen. Jim Banks
Indiana state Sen. Jim Banks (R-Columbia City) is one of the few candidates backed by the House Freedom Fund that has yetto win federal office,but his time in the state legislature has given him more than ample opportunity to demonstrate his opposition to reproductive health and rights.
Banks’ campaign website highlights the candidate’s “pro-life” position as a key issue for his race for the House, providing an extensive record of his anti-choice credentials and claiming that he is “running for Congress so that northeast Indiana continues to have a strong voice for innocent lives in Washington, D.C.” That page includes a laundry list of campaign promises, including amending the U.S. Constitution to give a fetus legal human rights, which could outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception; banning federal funding for abortion, though such a ban already exists; eliminating federal funding for any organization that performs abortions domestically or abroad; and opposing any change to the Republican platform on abortion.
The state senator’s site goes on to suggest that “it has been far too long since the Supreme Court discovered that women have a ‘right’ to have an abortion,” lamenting that much of the anti-choice movement’s work to shutter access to abortion in state legislatures hasn’t been replicated on a federal level and promising to address the issue if elected.
Included in his anti-choice resumé is a note that both Banks and his wife have been working in the movement to oppose choice since graduating college, when the two joined Focus on the Family, an organization that has spent millions of dollars promoting its extreme agenda, even devoting $2.5 million to run an anti-abortion ad during the 2010 Super Bowl. The two also worked together on the Allen County Right to Life Board of Directors, and Banks’ wife, Amanda, remains the board’s vice president.
But most extreme of all was the legislation Banks spearheaded while in the state legislature, which included several targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) measures. Most recently the state senator sponsored Indiana’s SB 144, a bill that would modify the state’s 20-week abortion ban to outlaw the procedure once a fetal heartbeat could be detected, typically around six weeks’gestation. In a statement on the bill, Banks claimed the law was needed because it “would protect unborn Hoosiers’ right to life and also includes important women’s health protections.”
Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ), for example, was not "chilled" enough by the video to do anything about it when he first saw it at least a month earlier than it was released to the public, as he admitted to Roll Call.
See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.
The release last week by the previously little-known Center for Medical Progress of a video purporting to expose Planned Parenthood violating federal law in its handling of fetal tissue donations brought a flood of apparent shock and dismay from GOP lawmakers and anti-choice leaders across the country.
GOP presidential candidates, including Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker fell all over themselves demanding that Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) be defunded. Ted Cruz called on President Obama to launch “an immediate investigation.” At a press conference, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), stated that he could not discuss the video or he would “vomit.” Virtually every GOP presidential candidate and anti-choice organization took advantage of the controversy by sending out a flood of fundraising emails within hours of the release of the video, seeking to capitalize on the supposed sale of body parts.
Several GOP members of the House Energy and Commerce and House Judiciary committees—all of whom are also members of the House “Pro-life” Caucus and all of whom expressed outrage at the video—immediately announced hearings and investigations. Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ), for example, said: “The chilling video released today is yet another tragic and heart-breaking reminder of Planned Parenthood’s legendary disregard for the sanctity of innocent human life. The trafficking of the little hearts, livers and heads of these precious unborn children resulted in significant financial benefit for Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the country.”
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Apparently, Franks was not “chilled” enough by the video to do anything about it when he first saw it at least a month earlier than it was released to the public, as he later admitted to Roll Call. At least one other lawmaker is on record as having seen the video well before its release. Congressman Tim Murphy (R-PA) also admitted to Roll Call having seen the video at least a month earlier. When pressed by Roll Call as to why he did nothing about these explosive charges in the intervening time, Murphy cut off the reporter, saying: “This interview never happened.”
Ah, but it had.
Both congressmen suggested that they’d delayed any action in order to get further information and so they could “alert the authorities.” Franks told Roll Call his “hope was to have as much information as possible so that the authorities could be notified effectively before the media.” And reached later by Roll Call, Murphy spokeswoman Gretchen Andersen said that the congressman had a responsibility to do “due diligence” before starting an investigation.
Rewire called Murphy’s office twice and followed up with two emails to Andersen seeking further information on what due diligence had been performed. We asked what form of research or background information their due diligence included; whether they had conducted a research and background check on the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which it turns out is a sham organization that may have violated several laws; whether the congressman had seen both the long and the short versions of the video, and whether that had raised questions about the clear manipulation of the shorter version; and whether they had found any evidence of whether Planned Parenthood violated any laws.
None of our calls were returned and none of our emails were answered. It seems strange that having done a month’s worth of due diligence of some kind, the congressman’s office refused to share it. We were especially curious if they had decided to alert the authorities to the shady nature of CMP’s nonprofit registration in California, or to the fact that videotaping without consent is illegal in California, or that there had been a doctored video prepared to slander a health-care provider.
But they did not answer, and it seems that it is unlikely they would answer these questions to protect themselves from having to explain why, having seen the video so much earlier, they didn’t act on what they claim is a crisis. Instead, it appears that these and other members of the GOP coordinated with CMP and its colleague organizations to create a firestorm out of lies and misrepresentations prior to the kick-off of the GOP primary debate season, and to provide distracting and virtually pornographic investigations of the non-existent commerce in “fetal body parts” by congressional committees.
Advocacy groups and congressional representatives work together all the time, so that in itself is not remarkable. Reputable, honest, and legitimate advocacy groups gather and present facts, consider data and budgetary concerns, and do their best to make the case for translating facts into policies that actually help people.
What is happening here is profoundly different. GOP legislators and presidential wannabes appear to be coordinating attacks on Planned Parenthood with a group that may have violated numerous federal and state laws, including using secret videotaping (which is illegal in the State of California, where the taping took place) to surreptitiously record Dr. Deborah Nucatola, and now Dr. Mary Gatter, later dramatically altering both videos to make it seem as though they were saying things they never had.
The anti-choice groups with which the GOP has joined forces have a very long history of using lies and deceit to make claims about services and of creating “gotcha” videos that always turn out to be false, though the media continues to lap these up. They’ve made up their own “science” and disregarded medicine and public health to force doctors to provide and women to undergo unnecessary procedures, waiting times, and lectures, all in the service of a radical ideology. Their work to undermine basic public health advances endangers the lives of literally millions of people, including children. But “babies” and children are not really their concern, all protestations aside. They seek total control over sex and sexuality.
The most frightening aspect of all of this, however, is the degree to which deeply radical anti-choicers have infiltrated a major political party. These are literally domestic terrorists. As our infographic shows, the Center for Medical Progress has some notable friends and supporters, including Troy Newman, head of Operation Rescue and defender of “justifiable homicide” for those seeking to kill abortion providers. Then there is Cheryl Sullenger, whose name and phone number were found on the dashboard of Scott Roeder, the man who assassinated Dr. George Tiller in the vestibule of his church on a Sunday five years ago. Or Jill Stanek, who prominently posted the names and addresses of abortion providers so that lunatics hell-bent on stalking or harming them could more easily find them. These groups work closely and hand-in-hand with members of Congress who support their cause and look the other way as domestic terrorists stalk and kill providers, as women go without health care, and as the rights of all people to bodily autonomy are eroded. They stalk, harass, and threaten doctors, nurses, clinical staff, and patients in their daily work.
Moreover, both anti-choice groups and anti-choice politicians have shared a long-standing vendetta against Planned Parenthood. Why? Because it is a large provider that serves three million people per year with things like medically accurate information, and with services that range from abortion care to prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, to Pap smears and other forms of cancer screening. Because Planned Parenthood is large and well-funded, it has been relatively immune to TRAP laws, and because Planned Parenthood is popular and well-loved, the anti-choice movement is desperate to do anything it can to erode that support, even if that is accomplished through gross lies and distortion.
The vendetta against Planned Parenthood is no secret, and any media outlet that reports on these attacks without considering their source is failing miserably in the world of journalism.
Well before anyone had heard of CMP, for example, virtually every single current GOP presidential candidate had already declared his or her desire to eliminate funding for PPFA. Several governors running for president are notorious for eliminating and attacking reproductive health-care services of all kinds, including Planned Parenthood clinics in their own states, all to win political points with a small and narrow slice of the American public, otherwise known as the “conservative base.” In 2001, for example, then-governor of Florida Jeb Bush vetoed funding for family planning services provided through Planned Parenthood. According to theSt. Petersburg Times, the “cuts included $302,843 for family planning services provided to poor women through local Planned Parenthood affiliates, money that had been provided each year for more than a decade.” Bush continued cutting throughout his terms. In 2015, a Bush senior adviser and prominent Christian evangelical attorney told the crowd at the Faith and Freedom Summit in Iowa, “We have got to defund Planned Parenthood, by the way, and Gov. Bush supports those efforts.”
Scott Walker has spent most of his tenure as governor of Wisconsin decimating access to basic health-care services, including abortion care. In 2011, while campaigning for governor, Walker told a conservative group that he was proud of “trying to defund Planned Parenthood and make sure they didn’t have any money, not just for abortion, but any money for anything.” As a presidential candidate, he proudly proclaims his intentions to eliminate funding for reproductive and sexual health care, including all funds for Planned Parenthood.
As a senator, Marco Rubio (R-FL) has voted twice to defund Planned Parenthood and made it clear that as a presidential candidate he supports doing so. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (who oversaw the destruction of primary preventive care in his state), and others repeatedly voiced and acted upon where possible their intentions to destroy Planned Parenthood and more broadly to deny people access to life-saving reproductive health care.
Likewise, many of the congressional representatives involved with CMP’s videos have made virtual careers out of calling for investigating Planned Parenthood on every conceivable trumped-up charge they can find. In 2009, for example, Franks called on Arizona state officials to investigate Planned Parenthood. Defunding Planned Parenthood is his goal, period, no matter how many lies or cut-and-spliced videos it takes. Franks has also helped lead House efforts to cut family planning funds, pass 20-week abortion bans, and otherwise attack primary health care for anyone who needs it. Congressman Murphy, along with many of his colleagues, supported shutting down the government over funding for Planned Parenthood.
So it is no surprise to know that Franks, Murphy, and almost certainly many others on the Hill and in the GOP presidential pool also saw or knew about the video before it was released, and unless they are all incredibly unsophisticated, they had to know, or would at least have asked, to see the full transcript or tape of the video before signing on, or at least might have asked who was driving this bus. Having seen the full videos and the transcripts as compared to the doctored version, it is hard to conceive anyone without an agenda would waste the country’s time and taxpayer funding on baseless charges and investigations. Anyone with integrity would be embarrassed to do so.
Not a single prior investigation of Planned Parenthood—and there have been many—has ever resulted in findings of wrongdoing. Ever. But it is clear that the GOP does not care about facts or evidence, nor about the lives that would be affected by the loss of affordable reproductive health care were Planned Parenthood to in fact be defunded. They certainly do not care about the taxpayer funding wasted on committee-led witch hunts. The only thing on the GOP’s mind is hitting an ideological target, and that one is on Planned Parenthood’s back.