Commentary Religion

Rand Paul Teams With Ken Cuccinelli to Send Message to GOP Base

Adele M. Stan

Everything Rand Paul has said in recent weeks—from his comments about Monica Lewinsky and the "war on women" to his drafting of anti-choice Cuccinelli as lead counsel—is about proving his patriarchal bona fides.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) appears to have a rather low opinion of the American people: He thinks they don’t recognize politics when they see it.

After having grabbed the spotlight for the last two weeks by taking pot shots at the Clintons (for the Monica Lewinsky scandal of 1998) and declaring the “war on women” over and won (by women!), Paul, a prospective Republican 2016 presidential candidate, filed a lawsuit Wednesday morning against President Obama, the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)—ostensibly written by lead attorney Ken Cuccinelli.

You’ll remember Cuccinelli, the failed gubernatorial candidate, as the former attorney general of Virginia, who made a specialty of doing everything possible to deny women their constitutional right to an abortion. You probably didn’t know that Cuccinelli is an expert in national security and spying. Because he’s not.

Apparently, reports Dana Millbank of the Washington Post, another lawyer thought he was the lead attorney on the case. His name is Bruce Fein, a well-known Republican legal eminence, and not a man to be trifled with. Fein says he wrote the complaint for Paul’s suit against the NSA, which accuses the agency of violating the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment in its metadata collection of telephone records, and has yet to be paid in full for his work. But when the suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., his name was replaced with Cuccinelli’s.

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So why would Paul do this? Per Millbank:

Cuccinelli has never argued a case in that courthouse, and he isn’t even a member of the D.C. bar (he also filed a motion Wednesday seeking an exception to allow him to argue this case in D.C.). But he is, like Paul, a tea party darling.

Millbank also notes that, in Fein’s original draft, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) was listed as a plaintiff, but in the complaint that was filed with the court, Udall’s name was struck and replaced with that FreedomWorks, the Tea Party-allied astroturf group that backed Paul in 2008, and has been a player in the Republican primaries.

With his eye likely cast to the 2016 GOP presidential primaries, which draw their electorate largely from the right wing, Paul apparently seeks to ingratiate himself, by placing himself in direct opposition to the president (regarding an issue on which many progressives agree with Paul), but in alliance with a champion of the anti-choice, anti-birth control cause. Paul himself holds a no-exceptions anti-abortion position, but right-wing evangelical Christians don’t necessarily see him as one of their own.

Which brings us to Rand Paul’s attitudes and policies regarding women. On the January 26 edition of NBC’s Meet the Press, Paul was asked to respond to comments made by his wife to Vogue magazine about former President Bill Clinton, whom she suggested maybe doesn’t belong back in the White House, because of his scandalous behavior with Monica Lewinsky. Paul replied:

I think really the media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this. He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that, and that is predatory behavior, and it should be something we shouldn’t want to associate with people who would take advantage of a young girl in his office.

When host David Gregory pressed Paul over whether Hillary Clinton should be held accountable for her husband’s behavior, Paul said, “Yeah—no, I’m not saying that. This is with regard to the Clintons, and sometimes it’s hard to separate one from the other.”

Yeah, no. Not her fault, but hard to separate her from her husband.

Bill Clinton’s past, Paul suggested, revealed how Democrats had “concocted” the notion of a Republican war on women.

By invoking the memory of Clinton and Lewinsky, writes Michael Tomasky at the Daily Beast, Paul is again setting himself up as a hero to the Republican base, whose members love Clinton-trashing almost as much as they love Obama-bashing. Per Tomasky:

The more Paul talks about the Clintons, the more he sets up the mental picture in the brains of Republican primary voters of him being the logical guy to step into the ring with them. After all, they’ll think, he’s sure not afraid of them!

Another image conveyed by Paul’s talk of Lewinsky is that of the senator himself as the chivalrous defender of the honor of young maidens—perhaps a hedge against the countless retellings of his “Aqua Buddha” highjinks that would likely accompany any presidential bid he might make. (As a college student, Paul and a friend kinda-sorta abducted a young woman and demanded that she worship an idol he called Aqua Buddha.)

Chivalry also plays into the right-wing worldview this way, writes Ed Kilgore at Political Animal:

Many conservatives sincerely believe that abandonment of a stoutly patriarchal society has been a disaster for women: they’ve lost the stability of “traditional marriage,” the presumption men will be held accountable for their material welfare, the chivalric accommodation of their weaknesses, the ability to concentrate on child-rearing and home-making, and most of all, the exemption from the terrible burdens of bread-winning, decision-making, and sexual autonomy. In exchange they have obtained all sorts of empty tokens of independence—some actively unnatural, like the “right to kill their babies”—while men have been liberated to act out on their true nature as perpetual children and sexual predators.

Sarah Posner, writing at Religion Dispatches, sees a religious pitch in Paul’s digs at Hillary Clinton—a way of drawing a contrast between the former secretary of state (painted as the defender of a predatory husband) and the “godly” women political figures of the right, such as Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA). That pitch is ultimately one to right-wing women voters.

But even as Paul cast himself as the defender of vulnerable young women, in the same Meet the Press interview, he offered a counter-message: You are strong! You are invincible!

Via the Meet the Press transcript:

This whole sort of war on women thing, I’m scratching my head because if there was a war on women, I think they won.  You know, the women in my family are incredibly successful.

I have a niece at Cornell vet school, and 85% of the young people there are women.  In law school, 60% are women; in med school, 55%.  My younger sister’s an ob-gyn with six kids and doing great. You know, I don’t see so much that women are downtrodden; I see women rising up and doing great things. And, in fact, I worry about our young men sometimes because I think the women really are out-competing the men in our world.

Fun fact: Among the Republican presidential primary electorate in 2012, men made up the majority, 53 to 47 percent. Just sayin’.

News Politics

GOP Candidates Use Deceptive Anti-Planned Parenthood Videos to Propose Outlawing Abortion

Emily Crockett

It's no surprise that Planned Parenthood came up at the GOP debate, but the substance of that debate was less about Planned Parenthood and more about whether abortion should be legal in the United States at all.

Given the nonstop outcry from Republicans against Planned Parenthood over the deceptively edited videos from the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), it’s no surprise that abortion rights would be a prominent issue at the first major GOP presidential candidate debate—both the main event with the top ten polling candidates, and the earlier undercard debate with the remaining seven.

It’s also no surprise, given the anti-choice rhetoric of late, that the substance of the debate would actually be less about Planned Parenthood and more about whether abortion should be legal in the United States.

Fox News host and moderator Megyn Kelly directed the first question about abortion at Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has signed 12 anti-choice bills, including an unconstitutional 20-week abortion ban that has no exceptions for rape or incest.

Kelly pushed Walker on his opposition to any exceptions for abortion bans, including life endangerment: “Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion, and with 83 percent of the American public in favor of a life exception, are you too out of the mainstream on this issue to win the general election?”

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Walker’s response suggested that no, he doesn’t support a life endangerment exception, and that this position is somehow “in line with everyday America.”

“I believe that that is an unborn child that’s in need of protection out there, and I’ve said many a time that that unborn child can be protected, and there are many other alternatives that can also protect the life of that mother. That’s been consistently proven,” Walker said.

He didn’t specify which “alternatives” to abortion could protect the life of a woman with a potentially fatal pregnancy.

Kelly pushed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) from the opposite ideological side, asking why he has supported rape and incest exceptions: “If you believe that life begins at conception, as you say you do, how do you justify ending a life just because it begins violently, through no fault of the baby?”

Rubio replied that he has “never advocated” for rape and incest exceptions. That’s true in the sense that he hasn’t been vocal in pushing for them. But he has supported legislation that contains such exceptions, such as the national 20-week abortion ban that imploded when some legislators worried the rape exception was too onerous for victims.

The vast majority of Americans support exceptions for rape, incest, or life endangerment, but the anti-choice base typically doesn’t. Some anti-choice advocates celebrate as heroes women who die in pregnancy or who carry a rape-induced pregnancy to term.

Kelly also asked Donald Trump about his past “very pro-choice” views, to which Trump replied that he hates “the concept of abortion” in part because his friends who considered abortion had a child who turned out to be a “total superstar.”

Mike Huckabee, who recently said he wouldn’t rule out using federal troops to stop abortion, made a comment about how “the DNA schedule that we now have clear scientific evidence on” proves personhood begins at conception.

Huckabee also advocated for doing something “even more bold” than defunding Planned Parenthood by having the next president outlaw abortion under the Fifth and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.

“The Supreme Court is not the supreme being,” Huckabee said in an apparent legal justification for why the executive branch could overrule Roe v. Wadewhich legalized abortion prior to when a fetus is considered viable, usually around 24 weeks.

There was some specific talk about defunding Planned Parenthood, which conservatives falsely claim uses public funds for abortion services, but less than might have been expected.

Walker boasted about defunding Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin four years ago, before the dishonest CMP attack videos gave Republicans cover to do so.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), one of the Senate’s most vocal anti-Planned Parenthood gadflies along with Ted Cruz (R-TX), was silent on the issue, while Cruz reiterated his calls to defund Planned Parenthood and have the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigate it.

Jeb Bush said he created a “culture of life” in Florida by defunding Planned Parenthood, funding anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers, and pioneering the “Choose Life” license plate. He even referenced his controversial interference in Terry Schiavo’s end-of-life care.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who made some of the evening’s most moderate comments including one about same-sex marriage, didn’t address abortion or Planned Parenthood on the stage. But he has signed 16 anti-choice measures in Ohio and played an active role in closing half of the state’s abortion clinics.

Oddly, there was more anti-Planned Parenthood red meat to be found in the earlier debate with the lower-polling candidates.

“These Planned Parenthood tapes, what they’re showing are partial-birth abortions,” former Sen. Rick Santorum said of videos that showed no abortion procedures and no proof of any illegal activity.

Santorum echoed Huckabee’s distaste for the Supreme Court, comparing the recent ruling in favor of gay marriage to the pro-slavery Dred Scott ruling because both were “rogue” decisions. Anti-choice advocates often compare Dred Scott to Roe v. Wade.

George Pataki, the only self-identified pro-choice GOP candidate, still came out in favor of unconstitutional 20-week abortion bans that contradict Roe v. Wade and wrongly called 20-week fetuses “viable.”

Pataki called for making permanent the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds being used for abortion care except in rare circumstances, and for defunding Planned Parenthood. He called the misleading CMP videos “horrific” and said they showed “a hideous disrespect for life.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) suggested that Americans should “take the money that we would give to Planned Parenthood and put it in women’s health care without having to harvest the organs of the unborn.” That public funding provided to the national health-care organization is used to provide low-income women with reproductive health-care services, including contraception, Pap smears, and breast exams.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal bragged about kicking Planned Parenthood out of Medicaid in his state, even though he admitted that they “don’t provide any abortions in Louisiana.” He called for having the IRS investigate Planned Parenthood as well as the DOJ.

Carly Fiorina, widely considered the breakout star of the second-tier GOP debate, only mentioned abortion issues in passing despite her staunch anti-choice views—once to question the sincerity of Trump’s principles, and once to take a jab at Hillary Clinton for defending Planned Parenthood.

News Politics

Progressives Urge Democrats to Push Back Harder Against GOP Planned Parenthood Attacks

Emily Crockett

Some progressives are urging pro-choice legislative leaders to more aggressively support Planned Parenthood before anti-choice narratives get too much traction.

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

Ever since anti-choice activists released deceptive videos attacking Planned Parenthood, Republican members of Congress, especially presidential hopefuls like Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), have jumped at the excuse to loudly and publicly attack the health-care provider.

Paul and Cruz both introduced amendments defunding Planned Parenthood to a must-pass highway funding bill, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, also a 2016 hopeful, ordered an investigation of the health-care provider in his state.

Other Republicans have rushed to call for investigations into Planned Parenthood; at least three such inquiries are pending in the U.S. House and Senate.

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Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) introduced a bill to put a moratorium on Planned Parenthood funding for a year, unless they stop performing abortions. Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) introduced a similar bill, the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015, in the House.

The response from Democrats has been somewhat muted, however, and progressives are urging pro-choice legislative leaders to more aggressively support Planned Parenthood before anti-choice narratives gain too much traction.

petition from the progressive activist group CREDO Action released Tuesday morning urges Democrats to “stand strong” against Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood, for fear that the issue could spiral out of control and become the next ACORN.

“Democrats have to push back now,” the petition says. “They need to go on the record in support of Planned Parenthood’s work and speak out to discredit these orchestrated attacks. And they must block any attempts to undermine or defund Planned Parenthood in Congress.”

“Everyone needs to be aware of the important role Planned Parenthood plays in providing reproductive health care to poor women and women of color, and attacks that threaten access to that care are unacceptable,” Pamela Merritt, co-founder of Reproaction, told Rewire via email. “The New York Times editorial board has figured out how to step up, and I think we shouldn’t accept anything less from the Democrats.”

Many Democrats are indeed going on the record in support of Planned Parenthood. But most are addressing the issue only in response to reporter questions, and some have been more equivocal than others in their defense of Planned Parenthood against CMP’s attacks.

The strongest Democratic pushback so far is coming from the House.

Four House Democrats, Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jerry Nadler (D-NY), and Yvette Clarke (D-NY), wrote a letter Wednesday asking U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and California Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate CMP, stating in no uncertain terms that they believe the group may have broken several laws. Nadler called the videos a “witch hunt.”

At a Thursday press conference, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that the “controversy doesn’t exist” and that Republicans are just seeking another excuse to target Planned Parenthood.

“It’s got a Benghazi feel to it, for me,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA).

“Republicans’ attempts to defund Planned Parenthood are cold, political attacks that would put the health of millions of Americans at risk,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) said in a statement to Rewire. “We must fight back against misinformation in order to ensure every woman has access to safe, affordable and accessible healthcare.”

“That anti-choice activists are relying on deceptively edited surreptitious recordings is nothing surprising or new,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney told Rewire in a statement.

“Planned Parenthood has spoken clearly on the specific circumstances surrounding this video, and I will let their experts explain for themselves,” Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), co-chair of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, said in a statement to The Hill last week. “Circumstances of this video aside, people need to understand the important research that specific tissue types contribute to.”

DeGette has been more reserved in other interviews, and did not respond to a request for comment by Rewire. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the other co-chair, also did not respond.

Senate Democrats have also seemed cautious.

“These politically motivated videos raise questions, but nothing I’ve seen indicates that Planned Parenthood violated federal law,” Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) said at a Tuesday press conference.

“I support Planned Parenthood, but I don’t know the details,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) Tuesday.

Aides to Sens. Patty Murray (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Al Franken (D-MN) told Rewire that they would oppose attempts to defund Planned Parenthood in the Senate.

Murray said she didn’t want her wounded veterans bill to “become a vehicle for partisan political attacks” and pulled it after Republicans loaded it down with anti-Planned Parenthood amendments.

With regard to Paul’s amendment to the highway bill, said spokesperson Lauren Passalacqua, “Senator Gillibrand would vehemently oppose it should the amendment reach the floor.”

Franken’s statement to Rewire, similar to the stances of many other Democrats, praised Planned Parenthood but didn’t go as far as denouncing or debunking attacks against the group from either Republicans or CMP.

“The services [Planned Parenthood] provides are essential to helping people decide whether and when to start a family, and while I understand that people have very strong feelings about this issue, I urge everyone to resist the impulse to let politics stand between a woman and her health care,” Franken said.

Progressive advocates said that while some of the Democratic response is encouraging, more is needed.

“We feel the pushback needs to be broader, stronger and more public, without hedging or caution or insistence on sticking to a safe script,” Heidi Hess, campaign manager at CREDO Action, told Rewire. “Our view is that if Republican extremists will stop at nothing to defund Planned Parenthood and ban abortion entirely, then [Democrats] need to be just as determined to protect women’s access to safe abortions and to defend the institutions that are not only providing vital reproductive health care to millions of women a year but are fighting back every day against Republican attacks on women’s rights.”

“Leadership is not burying your head in the sand and hoping it will all go away,” said Erin Matson, co-founder of Reproaction, in an email to Rewire. “The Democratic Party platform strongly and unequivocally affirms the right to abortion and reproductive health care more generally. Many Democrats use this issue as candidates to collect their votes, and that means they have a duty to step up and be leaders.”