As media outlets across the political spectrum continue to assess the implications of Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) contentious behavior toward reporters, much of the analysis does not explore what irritated the presidential candidate in two recent interviews -- the observation that support for unconditional abortion bans and fetal "personhood" laws cannot be reconciled with support for exceptions for victims of rape or incest.
Almost immediately after announcing his candidacy, Paul's condescending behavior toward female reporters was widely criticized as sexist, when he "simplistically and condescendingly" refused to acknowledge his reversal on foreign policy toward Iran to Today Show host Savannah Guthrie -- a position that even the conservative National Review's Rich Lowry labeled a "flip-flop." Subsequent coverage of Paul's Today interview focused on his rudeness toward Guthrie, and even when outlets also noted he "bristled" and "ducked questions" in other interviews about his inconsistent record on exceptions to abortion bans, the extent of that contradiction was unexplored.
The questions about his support for abortion ban exceptions originated in an interview with the Associated Press on the same day as his Today interview, when Paul "dodg[ed] a central question about abortion: What exceptions, if any, should be made if the procedure were to be banned?" Paul's refusal to answer whether or not his broad support for abortion bans includes an accommodation for rape, incest, or the health of the mother continued on CNN's The Situation Room. In one exchange, Wolf Blitzer directly asked whether Paul supported an exception for victims of rape and incest. In response, Paul claimed that "there will be extenuating circumstances, and I've supported legislation both with exceptions and without exceptions":
Right-wing media have falsely suggested that the civil rights protections in Indiana's "religious freedom" bill force business owners to endorse messages that they share serious ideological disagreements with. But a recently-decided discrimination case in Colorado debunked this argument, differentiating between discrimination on the basis of ideology and discrimination on the basis of membership in a protected class.
On April 2, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed an anti-discrimination amendment to his state's controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) after facing widespread criticism due to the law's potential to authorize anti-LGBT discrimination. To address that danger, the amended law explicitly prohibits individuals and business owners from invoking RFRA to deny services on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Right-wing media were quick to criticize Pence, arguing that the amendment "gutted" the state's RFRA and claiming that the revision would "force" the devout to violate their religious beliefs by holding them accountable to generally applicable civil rights protections. A number of conservative media outlets like The Wall Street Journal took this argument further, falsely claiming that forcing religious business owners to abide by anti-discrimination laws would also "compel" them to serve customers with "politically unacceptable thoughts":
For that matter, should a Native American printer be legally compelled to make posters with an Indian mascot that he finds offensive, or an environmentalist contractor to work a shift at a coal-fired power plant? Fining or otherwise coercing any small number of private citizens -- who aren't doing anyone real harm but entertain politically unacceptable thoughts -- is thuggish stuff.
But a recent "religious discrimination" case from Colorado illustrates how this hypothetical betrays a fundamental inability to understand that the RFRA debate was over discrimination against gay people, not gay "thoughts."
After spending over a week denying that Indiana's "religious freedom" law could be used for anti-gay discrimination, Fox News is now contradicting itself by arguing that the law has been "gutted" by new language that prohibits business owners from using it to discriminate.
On March 26, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) signed the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law. The measure initially provided a legal defense for those who refused to serve gay customers on religious grounds and sparked a widespread and bipartisan backlash across the country. Criticism of the measure eventually forced Pence and Indiana Republicans to agree to change the law. On April 2, Indiana's RFRA was amended to prohibit its use for individuals and business owners who discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Fox News did not respond happily to the change.
On the April 3 edition of Fox & Friends, hosts Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Brian Kilmeade, and Tucker Carlson dedicated two segments to criticizing the law's amendment, decrying the lack of "moral courage" on the part of Pence and claiming the bill had been "gutted" by adding anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people. Carlson stated that he couldn't "make any sense of [the amendment] at all, it seems like the law has been completely gutted. It says specifically you can't use this law in court as a defense against denying service on the basis of your religious faith. So like, what's the point of the law in the first place?"
Right-wing media are continuing to defend Indiana's newly-enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and dismissing concerns that the law could provide cover for religious individuals or business owners intent on discriminating against LGBT customers. In fact, RFRA has been used as a defense against discrimination claims in the past, New Mexico's version was used against a gay couple just recently, and supporters of these expanded forms of RFRA have explicitly pointed to anti-gay sentiment as their intent.
Since the passage of Indiana's RFRA, right-wing media have erroneously claimed that criticism of the law is overblown, because it does nothing more than mirror the federal version of RFRA and RFRAs in other states. But Indiana's law is more expansive than other versions because it provides a legal defense to both private individuals and for-profit businesses in lawsuits even where the government is not a party, and unlike several other states who have passed RFRAs, Indiana lacks a statewide law that protects LGBT residents from discrimination.
Conservative media figures like National Review's Rich Lowry have also argued that Indiana's RFRA will not be used as a license to discriminate against LGBT customers because if RFRA laws "were the enablers of discrimination they are portrayed as, much of the country would already have sunk into a dystopian pit of hatred." Right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt also downplayed the potential legal ramifications of Indiana's law, claiming on his show that the federal version of RFRA has "been the law in the District of Columbia for 22 years [and] I do not know of a single incident" of the law being used to discriminate against gay people. He did not address the fact that it is the newer state versions that have sparked the current outrage.
On the March 31 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy made a similar argument in an attempt to pretend fears of the law's discriminatory effects were baseless, claiming that Indiana's RFRA is not "anti-gay" because it has "never not once" been used as a legal defense by religious business owners accused of anti-LGBT discrimination:
Editorial boards in states with Republican senators are condemning their representatives for refusing to allow an up-or-down vote on Loretta Lynch, President Obama's highly-qualified pick to become the next U.S. Attorney General, despite bipartisan support for her nomination.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board is flip-flopping on its acquiescence to President Obama's highly-qualified and noncontroversial nominee for attorney general, and is also calling for Republican senators to go even farther and extend their obstruction of Loretta Lynch to "all of his appellate nominees until he stops abusing his power."
Right-wing media have struggled to find a substantive reason to object to Lynch, an experienced United States attorney who has received bipartisan acclaim for prosecuting terror suspects, human traffickers, and police brutality cases. Lacking any legitimate complaints about Lynch's widely praised record, conservative media figures like National Review's Rich Lowry have instead complained that Lynch, unsurprisingly, agrees with the president on key legal issues. On the March 22 edition of NBC's Meet The Press, Lowry doubled down on this absurd new standard, and insisted that until the president nominates an AG that thinks he broke the law, "so be it -- it's nothing against her personally, I don't care if she's Eliot Ness, the Senate can't do this."
In contrast, the editorial board of the Journal originally recognized the noncontroversial nature of Lynch's nomination, and concluded last November that "Republicans have enough high priorities in the next Congress that the bar should be high for challenging non-judicial nominees who seem to be qualified and honest." But in a March 22 editorial, the Journal switched gears and joined the campaign to prevent a vote not only for Lynch, but for all future circuit court nominees as well:
These columns believe that Presidents deserve their cabinet nominees in nearly all cases, but Mr. Obama's governance presents Congress with a larger Madisonian dilemma.James Madison designed a constitutional system of checks and balances to prevent executive or legislative tyranny. This works best when Presidents and Congresses assert their legal powers but step back from constitutional excesses that lead to judicial intervention or political crises.
The Lynch hold signals that the GOP Senate should consider using its advice and consent power more aggressively -- as a constitutional response to Mr. Obama's unconstitutional abuse of his executive authority. In her confirmation hearings Ms. Lynch defended Mr. Obama's executive order on immigration, which is a fair reason to vote against her, though Mr. McConnell and other Republicans should explicitly repudiate the false racial charge on the Senate floor.
The more fruitful area for resistance may be on Mr. Obama's appellate-court nominees, as Curt Levey recently argued on these pages. Simply refuse to confirm all of his appellate nominees until he stops abusing his power. This would be proportionate political justice after Messrs. Obama and Reid broke Senate rules to pack the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last year.
National Review editor Rich Lowry is painting Loretta Lynch, President Obama's nominee to be the next attorney general, as a controversial pick who should "never be confirmed," because she has suggested that the president's executive actions on immigration are lawful. Not only is Lowry's analysis of the legality of the actions contradicted by experts, his erroneous description of such prosecutorial discretion as "executive action" has been debunked, and presidents generally do not nominate chief enforcement officers who promise to go after their sponsor.
Right-wing media have been hard-pressed to find a legitimate reason to oppose Lynch's nomination, instead relying on specious attacks and, in one instance, going after the wrong Loretta Lynch. Lowry's March 18 op-ed for Politico was likewise devoid of any substantive critiques of Lynch's legal positions or her qualifications. Still, Lowry argued that Senate Republicans should "never" confirm Lynch because she believes -- as is the wide consensus among legal and immigration experts -- that the president's executive actions on immigration, a modified Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and a new Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA), are lawful.
As all the Republicans opposing her nomination make plain, the issue is her belief that President Barack Obama's executive amnesty is lawful.
This isn't a mere matter of policy or personal preference. It implicates her view of the constitutional order that she will be sworn to uphold. Whether she thinks the executive branch can in effect write laws on its own is a threshold question. Her answer in the affirmative should be disqualifying, no matter how impressive her career has otherwise been, or how historic her confirmation would be.
On the merits, when should Republicans bring her up for a vote -- now delayed because Democrats are filibustering a sex-trafficking bill? Never. When should they confirm her? Never.
The Senate shouldn't confirm any attorney general nominee, from whatever party, of whatever race, ethnicity or gender identification, who believes the president can rewrite the nation's laws at will.
Right-wing media are baselessly accusing the Department of Justice of lying to the judge in Texas overseeing the legal challenge against President Obama's immigration actions. They are claiming that a DOJ attorney made false statements in court when she indicated that applications for two new deferred-action programs were not being processed. But these right-wing media figures are wrong. These two programs are not proceeding. The federal government has renewed 100,000 applications for deferred action for immigrants eligible under a 2012 program -- a third category of applicants who are not covered in the case.
Republican officials from 26 states sued the Obama administration after the president signed a series of executive actions on immigration in November. In part, these executive actions temporarily defer deportations for two new categories of eligible undocumented immigrants, such as parents of citizens. These acts of prosecutorial discretion also immediately changed the president's original 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program by extending the deferral period from two years to three, in order to bring it in line with the expiration dates for the new programs. Before the federal government could start accepting applications from immigrants eligible for the two new programs -- a modified version of DACA and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) -- a district court judge in Texas issued an injunction temporarily blocking from going into effect. The third category, under the 2012 guidelines, was not enjoined.
In accompanying court proceedings, under questioning from the judge, the DOJ confirmed that applicants for the two new categories were not yet being processed, as the judge instructed.
Right-wing media have attacked Obama's immigration action since it was announced, and have commended the Texas judge for putting it on hold, even though the legal basis for the injunction is quite shaky. Now conservative media outlets are also claiming that the administration's lawyers lied because the Department of Homeland Security approved or renewed 100,000 applications from the original 2012 DACA program between November 2014 and February 2015 and applied the deferral for three years instead of two -- even though that change was required to be immediately applied.
Loretta Lynch, President Obama's pick to replace Eric Holder as the U.S. attorney general, is a highly regarded and well-qualified federal prosecutor who has support from law-enforcement authorities and politicians on both sides of the aisle. But that hasn't stopped right-wing media from mounting a smear campaign to thwart Lynch's nomination. With reports indicating that GOP leadership may yet again block an up-or-down vote on Lynch's nomination, here are some of the most nonsensical arguments against her confirmation and facts that media outlets have missed -- or misrepresented -- about Lynch.
In a rush to find fault in Obama's well-qualified nominee, the right-wing website Breitbart.com managed to attack the wrong Loretta Lynch, not once, but twice. In a November 8 post, Breitbart.com writer Warner Todd Huston claimed that "few are talking about" the fact that Lynch defended the Clintons during the Whitewater probe in 1992 -- probably because it wasn't the same Loretta Lynch who was nominated. After learning of the mistake, Breitbart.com noted at the bottom of the one article that was not taken down, "The Loretta Lynch identified earlier as the Whitewater attorney was, in fact, a different attorney."
Right-wing media have also tried to paint Lynch as a dangerous partisan. National Review's Hans von Spakovsky characterized Lynch as "on the side of radical" because she supported the Department of Justice's legal challenges against strict voter ID laws, which are based on half a century of modern civil rights precedent. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs complained that Lynch's membership in the historically black sorority Delta Sigma Theta was "controversial" because Holder's wife pledged at the same time. It is true: At times, she has defended civil rights, and she once belonged to a well-known sorority.
Senate Republicans turned to some of right-wing media's go-to contributors to turn Lynch's confirmation hearing into what Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) called a "sound bite factory for Fox News." The Republicans' witness list included:
When Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) asked if any of them had a problem with Lynch's nomination for attorney general, none of them raised their hands -- they were there to complain about their favored right-wing media topics, and they did.
The right-wing media's calls to end birthright citizenship -- a constitutional guarantee -- have been repeated incessantly over the years and have once again found a sympathetic ear in Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), who recently re-introduced legislation that would supposedly "prevent children born in the U.S. of foreign national parents from gaining automatic U.S. citizenship."
Conservative media figures going back to Glenn Beck in his Fox News days have railed against so-called "anchor babies" and "birth tourism," the former a derogatory slur and debunked myth used against U.S. born children of non-citizens, the latter of which represents a sliver of births that experts have repeatedly pointed out are "extraordinarily rare" and an insignificant immigration problem. As Salon's Simon Maloy recently wrote, this "grossly nativist and legally dubious" rhetoric has nevertheless found a receptive audience in Republican legislators on both the state and federal levels.
At the same time, right-wing media continue their drumbeat on this issue, most prominently ABC contributor and talk radio host Laura Ingraham, who has called ending the constitutional guarantee of citizenship at birth a "common sense step." This is nothing new for Ingraham, a self-proclaimed influence on Republican politics who has repeatedly condemned "birthright citizenship nonsense."
On the March 10 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly joined the chorus when he heard that children born in the U.S. automatically receive citizenship -- "the baby gets the passport" -- and declared, "That law's got to change." In the segment, which focused on "birth tourism" by Chinese parents, O'Reilly concluded, "This law is being abused like crazy. It's got to be changed. That should not be a hard thing to do."
In fact, that would be an extremely hard thing to do -- it would require amending the U.S. Constitution or overturning centuries of post-Civil War Supreme Court precedent.
O'Reilly and his guests -- Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former prosecutor, and contributor Lis Wiehl, also a lawyer -- ignored the fact that it's not merely a "law" that confers citizenship to children born in the United States -- it's the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That amendment, intended to ensure equal protection for all in the wake of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, unequivocally states, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States ... are citizens of the United States." This amendment has long been understood to grant birthright citizenship, and that interpretation has been re-affirmed by the Supreme Court since as far back as 1898. James C. Ho, the former solicitor general of Texas, explained in 2011 that birthright citizenship was intended "to reverse the Supreme Court's notorious 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford ruling denying citizenship to slaves" and their children, and challenging its legality is "wasting taxpayer funds on a losing court battle, reopening the scars of the Civil War, and offending our Constitution and the rule of law."
But conservative media's radical calls for the end of birthright citizenship continue to make headway with Republicans in Congress.
On March 10, Vitter re-introduced his Birthright Citizenship Act, which would "close a loophole by clarifying that birthright citizenship is only given to the children of U.S. citizens and legal resident aliens." In announcing this legislation, Vitter claimed that allowing birthright citizenship is based on "a fundamental misunderstanding of the 14th Amendment," suggesting that the framers of the amendment, the Supreme Court, and legal experts have been wrong about its plain language for the last 150 years.
An alternate explanation for Vitter's legislation -- other than pure confusion -- is that this is intended to be unconstitutional and represents a "test case" expected to be repeatedly struck down in the federal courts on the way to the Supreme Court. Although GOP senators have shied away from acknowledging this, right-wing anti-immigration activists like Kansas' Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach have plainly admitted as much.
Right-wing media is not quite so honest in its calls to rewrite the U.S. Constitution, choosing instead to baselessly scaremonger about "anchor babies" and "birth tourism."