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Are There Really Fewer Competitive House Districts Than Ever Before?

According to conventional wisdom, there are fewer competitive House races than ever before thanks to partisan gerrymandering. But a closer look at the past 10 elections shows that the 2014 batch of races isn’t far from other non-wave cycles.

There are currently 49 House seats rated as competitive by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call. That is down from the 68 seats rated as competitive prior to the 2012 elections and less than half of the 109 competitive seats in 2010.

But it is closer to the three elections that began the previous decade, when there wasn’t a national wave. In 2000 and 2002, 54 races were rated as competitive. In 2004, at the same point in the redistricting cycle as this year’s races, there were just 38 competitive seats.

But in 2006 and 2008, more than 60 races were listed as competitive even though the district lines hadn’t changed (except in a couple states that went through mid-decade redistricting). That means that while partisan redistricting factors into the relative small number of competitive districts, the national mood is a big factor in determining the size of the House playing field.

Democrats gained more than 50 seats total in the 2006 and 2008 elections in a repudiation of President George W. Bush. In 2010, the House playing field ballooned to 109 seats and Republicans gained 63 seats in response to President Barack Obama’s first years in office.

Read More on Roll Call: Are There Really Fewer Competitive House Districts Than Ever Before?

House Members Get Syria Debate Started

Though they are not due to officially convene until next week, House lawmakers sent clear signals on Labor Day that they were ready to return to work.

In the morning, 127 House Democrats tuned into a conference call with Secretary of State John Kerry and White House officials to be briefed on the evolving situation in Syria and the need for U.S. intervention there.

On Tuesday, House chairmen and ranking members on the committees of jurisdiction will meet at the White House to discuss next steps along with their Senate counterparts.

Sources confirm that House leaders are also expected to attend that meeting, including Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.

Read More on Roll Call: House Members Get Syria Debate Started

Voting Against Obama on Syria Would Be ‘Catastrophic,’ McCain Warns

Two senior Republican senators emerged from a meeting with President Barack Obama on Monday warning that a vote against striking Syria would be disastrous.

“A rejection, a vote against that resolution by Congress, I think would be catastrophic because it would undermine the credibility of the United States and the president,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters outside the White House. He added that it would be difficult for Obama to decide to use force without receiving the blessing of Congress.

“If we lost a vote in the Congress dealing with the chemical weapons being used in Syria, what effect would that have on Iran?” asked Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

McCain and Graham were invited to the White House on Labor Day to discuss what it would take for them to help convince other lawmakers to support a military action. So far, most members of Congress have expressed doubts about the need to intervene in Syria’s civil war — even if government forces used deadly sarin gas against their own people, as the U.S. and other countries have alleged.

While both McCain and Graham support intervention, the senators said they need to be convinced that Obama has a long-term strategic plan for addressing the crisis in Syria.

Both senators have said that Obama should have acted sooner and should have done a better job of communicating the threat that inaction in Syria poses to the international community. And they said they are concerned that the president has now put forth a draft resolution that is too limited to be effective in the long term.

Read More on Roll Call: Voting Against Obama on Syria Would Be ‘Catastrophic,’ McCain Warns

Will Congress Follow Its Leaders On Syria?

President Barack Obama and congressional leaders face a daunting task convincing skeptical lawmakers to back a war against Syria.

Obama’s surprising announcement Saturday that he would go to Congress for a use-of-force authorization put top leaders on the spot — none more so than Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, who is inclined to back the president but leads a fractured House deeply dubious of the president.

“The speaker hopes to be able to support the commander in chief,” a Boehner aide told CQ Roll Call. “That will just require the president to provide answers and make the case to the American people.”

That includes detailed answers to the many thorny questions Boehner posed to the president last week — like what, exactly, a strike will accomplish and what contingency plans the administration has if the conflict spreads.

Read More on Roll Call: Will Congress Follow Its Leaders On Syria?

Decision to Ask Congress to Authorize Syria Attack Rejuvenates Legislative Role in War

By Jonathan Broder, CQ Roll Call

President Barack Obama’s decision to seek congressional authorization in advance of a limited military strike against Syria could set a precedent that gives Congress greater war powers and makes it far more difficult for future presidents to act on their own, legal experts say. Such a precedent could even result in less muscular U.S. foreign policies and a lower American profile in the world.

Ever since the end of the Vietnam War in 1973, successive American presidents have regarded congressional restraints on the executive’s war powers — such as the War Powers Resolution of that year (PL 93-148) — as unconstitutional or, at best, purely advisory, freeing them to launch numerous minor military operations across the globe without advance congressional approval.

In cases where lawmakers have sued the executive for overstepping its powers, the Supreme Court has always declined to rule, calling on the two branches to iron out their differences.

In the case of major military engagements, however, such as the 1991 Persian Gulf war and the 2003 Iraq war, presidents have sought and secured congressional authorizations to use force, but for political — not constitutional — reasons. But when Obama launched a no-fly zone over Libya in 2011, he did not ask for advance authorization from Congress, nor was Congress able to muster enough agreement to weigh in one way or the other.

Obama also maintains he does not need congressional authorization to strike Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack.

“The president knows he has the power to do this, but he is empowering the Congress to empower the nation through the decision that we make together,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday on CNN.

But the fact that Obama wants the legislature’s nod for the limited use of force against Syria may mark a watershed in the modern history of war powers, said Peter Spiro, a professor of constitutional and national security and Temple University law School.

“This sets a precedent that will be difficult to walk back from,” he wrote in an email. “This could shift the balance in Congress’ favor. Future presidents will have a tougher time going it alone.”

Isolated at Home and Abroad
Politically, Obama’s move appears to be an attempt to break out of the isolation he’s been facing both domestically and internationally ever since his administration began signalling that a U.S. attack on Syria was imminent.

From their home states and districts, a chorus of both Republicans and Democrats had been demanding the president recall Congress from its August recess to get authorization for a military strike, which many lawmakers regard as having little military value in the first place. Meanwhile, opinion polls show a war-weary American public opposed to another military operation in the Middle East.

Internationally, Russia, one of Syria’s principal backers and a veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council, opposes any U.N. resolution that would sanction an attack.

Obama suffered perhaps his greatest blow last week when Britain, normally a reliable partner in U.S. military operations, backed away following the surprise defeat of an attack-related government resolution in the British parliament.

While lawmakers applauded Obama’s move as an acknowledgement of the role Congress should play in matters of war, the administration can expect to encounter a flood of questions and criticism over how the president’s proposed strike fits into his overall policy toward Syria, now in the third year of a civil war that has killed at least 100,000 people.

Two Senate committees — Foreign Relations and Armed Services — are scheduled to return early from the congressional recess to begin their debate over an administration draft of an authorization measure on Tuesday.

“The Administration’s Syria policy has been incoherent, and there are many unanswered questions, so I welcome the President’s decision to seek congressional authorization for any use of military force and look forward to a vigorous debate on this critical issue.,” California Republican Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Saturday in a written statement.

Big Gamble
Some conservative legal experts say Obama would have been better off not seeking congressional authorization and attacking Syria using his executive powers.

“He’s got no political capital, he’s got no good will on the Hill, and he’s provided no rationale for this concept at all,” says David Rivkin, a former Justice Department and White House official in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. “This is the first time I can remember in American history when it’s a bad idea to go to Congress.”

It is impossible to know at this point if Obama will win a vote authorizing force against Syria.

“The President is taking a big risk here,” Jack L. Goldsmith, a former Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration, wrote on the popular legal blog, Lawfare.com. “But he will be incomparably strengthened, legally and especially politically, if he is able to win congressional support. And in any event his request for support from Congress will force every member to be accountable, one way or the other, for what he does.”

But legal experts agree that a loss would weaken both Obama and the presidency’s historic monopoly on war-making authority, shifting the balance of power to Congress.

“A loss could set a precedent in which future presidents always have to ask for a resolution for any kind of military action,” said Stephen Griffin, a constitutional law professor and expert on war powers at Tulane University. “I think there’s a danger there of making it more likely that Congress will feel its oats and demand such resolutions in the future.”

Griffin says Republican defense hawks, who traditionally have favored broad presidential war powers, are not going be pleased with such a development. “But that’s hard to articulate now because so many House Republicans are either determined to humiliate Obama or they’re genuinely war-weary,” he said.

He noted that hawkish lawmakers such as Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — both of whom have suggested they will oppose Obama’s proposed Syria resolution because it doesn’t go far enough — may find their preference for a strong executive swept away if Obama loses the authorization vote.

Short-Term Gain, Long-Term Problems
On the other hand, some legal experts regard Obama’s abrupt decision to seek congressional authorization for a limited attack on Syria as a short-term political masterstroke, even if he loses the vote.

Kal Raustiala, a law professor at UCLA and director of the school’s Burkle Center for International Relations, said the president could get political cover and possibly a face-saving out of the Syria crisis if Congress votes against authorizing force. Just as British Prime Minister David Cameron bowed to the will of parliament, Obama could do the same, he said.

Moreover, added Griffin, “a no vote protects him from any further charges that we should intervene if Assad keeps doing even worse things.”

That may provide Obama with some respite from the Syria crisis as he leaves on Tuesday for a G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, and as his administration and Congress gear up for battles this fall over the debt ceiling, federal spending, and immigration.

But in places like the Middle East and beyond, Obama and his successors can expect Congress to demand more say in war-related decisions.

“If Presidents have to worry about getting congressional approval for the use of force, it presents another possible brake point,” Spiro wrote in an email. “There are many balls in the air in a situations like this one; a requirement of congressional approval adds a big one. To the extent that congressional approval is a question mark in any particular situation, it adds to the “no” column in deciding whether to use force.”

He added, “In the past, presidents have had to worry about a lot of things when it comes to limited uses of force, but this hasn’t been one of them. This will lower the odds of US intervention in many situations.”

Source: CQ News
Round-the-clock coverage of news from Capitol Hill.
© 2013 CQ Roll Call All Rights Reserved.

Tell Your Organization’s Story Through Facebook’s New Shared Photo Albums

Earlier this week Facebook unveiled “Shared Photo Albums,” new functionality that allows multiple users to contribute to the same album. While the immediate applications show real promise – imagine creating a wedding album and inviting friends and family to upload photos that they’ve taken – the advocacy play looks just as promising.

Specifically, what if we could harness the power of social photo sharing to tell your organization’s story, bringing together the visual power of your groups’ stakeholders to show the real effect of specific rules and/or regulations?

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New Issues Find Home at March on Washington Commemoration

As the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Wednesday, activists see the 2013 “Let Freedom Ring” event as an opportunity to make sure contemporary equality issues take their place alongside the great civil rights fights of the past and become a part of the dream Martin Luther King Jr. articulated.

“To be clear, the dream hasn’t been realized,” said Rev. MacArthur H. Flournoy, director of Faith Partnerships and Mobilization for the Human Rights Campaign. “From the need for a federal non-discrimination law that protects every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender worker against bias to the hate crimes that disproportionately affect my LGBT brothers and sisters of color, there’s a long road ahead.”

“Civil rights, broadly defined, are the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality,” said Gregory Cendana, executive director for the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. “That’s why we come together not as individuals, to speak on issues that specifically affect our community, because the struggles we deal with transcend race, class, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation and all identities.

Flournoy and Cendana both said the anniversary march is a big stage for issues to be presented, and the opportunity must be seized to bring about change.

“We don’t want to see a moment happen; we want to enact a movement. A movement of underrepresented communities continuing to push back on politicians that are not working in the interest of the communities they serve,” Cendana said.

Read More on Roll Call: New Issues Find Home at March on Washington Commemoration

Boehner: President Is in for ‘Whale of a Fight’ on Debt Limit

Speaker John A. Boehner said Monday that President Barack Obama is in for a “whale of a fight” over the debt limit, with the GOP leader insisting on spending cuts greater than, not just equal to, the amount the debt ceiling is raised.

The Ohio Republican, speaking at a fundraising event for Idaho Republican Mike Simpson, said he has “made it clear that we’re not going to increase the debt limit without cuts and reforms that are greater than the increase in the debt limit,” according to the Idaho Statesman.

“The president doesn’t think this is fair, thinks I’m being difficult to deal with,” Boehner said. “But I’ll say this: It may be unfair, but what I’m trying to do here is to leverage the political process to produce more change than what it would produce if left to its own devices. We’re going to have a whale of a fight.”

On Tuesday, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told CQ Roll Call that the speaker’s comments are “consistent with his long-stated position: Any increase in the debt limit must be accompanied by cuts and reforms greater than the increase.”

Read More on Roll Call: Boehner: President Is in for ‘Whale of a Fight’ on Debt Limit

Enzi, Vitter Would Force Congress, Obama to Pay for Health Care

Republicans David Vitter of Louisiana and Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming introduced legislation Tuesday that would make members, political appointees, the president and the vice president pay out of pocket for the full cost of their health care through exchanges set up by Obamacare.

“If Obamacare is good enough for the American people, it should be good enough for Congress, the President and Vice President, and other policy makers in Washington,” Enzi said in a statement. “I’ve said from the beginning that this law wouldn’t work and we see that proof daily with the endless exemptions, delays, and subsidies being authorized by the President. There’s no excuse for trying to let certain individuals and businesses off the hook when the American people are already paying the price of bad policy.”

The bill responds to an administrative fix to the health law implemented by the Office of Personnel Management and would require all Congressional staff members — not just some — to enter an exchange. Vitter’s and Enzi’s offices said in a press release that their bill would prohibit staffers “from receiving any contribution greater than what they would receive if they were not employed by a congressional office,” which is essentially the fix OPM made for staff.

Read More on Roll Call: Enzi, Vitter Would Force Congress, Obama to Pay for Health Care

Top Five Reasons why Immigration Reform Is Likely to Pass This Year

As lawmakers prepare to return to Washington after Labor Day, a few inside-the-Beltway pundits have blithely predicted that, “immigration reform is dead.”

This, in the face of headlines that uniformly declare that the forces of reform – and Progressives of all sorts – have dominated the August town meeting circuit. And the vaunted anti-immigration reform backlash is nowhere to be found — except perhaps in the imagination of Congressman Steve King.

In fact, there are many good reasons to predict that the odds are very good the GOP House Leadership will ultimately allow a vote on an immigration reform bill containing a pathway to citizenship this year. If such a bill is called, the odds are close to one hundred percent that it will pass.

That is because, right now, there are more than enough votes on the floor of the House to pass immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship if it is given an up or down vote. The only question now is whether the House Leadership decides that it is in their political interest to call the bill.

The GOP leadership understands that if an immigration reform bill passes, the Democrats will get the credit with key immigrant constituencies and many suburban swing voters. But they are also coming to realize that if they do not call the bill, they will get the blame with those same constituencies – and that could lead to both short-term and-long term disaster for the Republican Party.

Here are the top five reasons why immigration reform is likely to pass this year:

Reason #1: In order maintain control of the House, Republicans can afford to lose a maximum of seventeen seats in the mid-term elections. There are 44 districts currently held by Republicans where significant numbers of the voters (12% or more) are either Hispanics or Asian Americans. Of that number, as many as 20 may be seriously in play in 2014.

The mid-term elections are all about turnout. If Hispanic and Asian American voters are sufficiently enraged by Republican refusal to pass immigration reform, the GOP high command fears that they will register to vote and turn out in substantial numbers. That could easily tip the balance in terms of control of the House of Representatives.

And don’t think that immigration reform is “just another issue” for Hispanics and Asian Americans. It doesn’t matter whether you yourself would be personally impacted, a politician’s position on whether they are for or against immigration reform has become symbolic for “are you on my side?” – “do you stand for or against my community?”

To get a sense of the intensity of feeling, all you need do is attend any of the literally hundreds of pro-immigration reform events and town meetings that have been held over the August break. People are fired up and ready to go.

The polling is equally clear. A poll taken of voters in key swing districts currently controlled by Republicans conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) in early July showed:

Republican and Independent voters want Congress to pass a solution to our country’s broken immigration system.

Many are less likely to support Republicans if the House fails to pass immigration reform this summer.

According to a press release issued the by the polling firm:

Voters in CA-10 (Jeff Denham), CA-21 (David Valadao), CA-31 (Gary Miller), CO-6 (Mike Coffman), MN-2 (John Kline), NV-3 (Joe Heck), and NY-11 (Mike Grimm) all

say they would be less likely to vote for their Congressman next year if he opposes

immigration reform. Voters in those districts also say they will be inclined to punish the Republican Party more broadly if the House GOP does not allow immigration reform to move forward.

Reason #2: The Republican Leadership will be under enormous pressure from the Republican establishment – GOP donors, 2016 Presidential aspirants and other stakeholders – not to permanently damage the GOP brand with the exploding number of Hispanic and Asian American voters.

The November 2012 election results were a shocking wake-up call for the GOP establishment. Many actually expected to win. Up until election night they lived in denial of America’s changing demographics. Now they are scrambling to “rebrand” the party with Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, single women, and young people.

If the GOP refuses to call a vote on a pathway to citizenship in the House and is blamed for blocking immigration reform, that could alienate many of those constituencies – and especially Hispanics – for decades to come.

Texas is a case in point. Already Texas is a majority minority state. Even now, if Hispanics and African Americans registered and voted at the same rate as other voters, the GOP would find it difficult to count on the state’s electoral votes in Presidential elections. But Texas’ Hispanic population is growing. Even at current levels of voter participation, the GOP risks losing Texas if it becomes a permanent pariah Party among Hispanics.

Without Texas, it is almost impossible to put together a path to Republican Presidential victory at any time in the near future.

Reason #3: The more GOP leaders like Representative Steve King (R-IA-4) continue to make outrageous comments like the one about the “cantaloupe-sized calves” that immigrants get from “transporting hundreds of pounds of drugs” through the desert, the harder it is for the Republican Leadership in the House to resist pressure from the GOP establishment to call a vote on immigration reform.

The more that Congressman King – and his colleagues like Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX-1), or Congressman Don Young of Alaska (R-AK-AL) – who referred to Hispanics as “wetbacks” — continue to spew anti-immigrant bigotry, the worse off they are not only with Hispanics and other immigrants – but with independent suburban women and young voters.

If independent suburban women and young voters are left with the view that the GOP is being led by – and defined by — the Steve Kings of the world, many of them will desert the party in droves. They will react the same way independent voters reacted in Missouri and Indiana to the outrageous comments about women and rape by losing GOP Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.

That would not only be a disaster for the GOP’s Presidential hopes in 2016 – it would make it even more likely that the GOP will lose control of the House in 2014 since it makes it even harder for them to hang onto to Republican-held suburban seats in the Northeast and Midwest.

Reason #4: Increasing portions of the GOP base actively support comprehensive immigration reform.

It’s not just the immigrant community and Progressives pressing the GOP leadership to call a vote on a pathway to citizenship. Many conservative voices have begun to actively campaign to pass immigration reform.

A large table of Evangelicals lead by national Evangelical leaders is working hard to persuade Republicans to vote yes – and call a vote in the House. They have spoken at Republican town meetings, taken out ads, and met privately with many GOP members.

Especially in the south, primary challenges are generally fueled by the Evangelical wing of the party. Evangelical support neutralizes the fears of many GOP representatives that a vote for immigration reform could subject them to a primary. That has weakened opposition to reform among Republicans who are more concerned about Primaries than General Elections.

Pro-immigration reform Evangelical activists have teamed up with leaders from the business community to support a pathway to citizenship. In GOP circles that is a powerful combination.

Business, Evangelical and law enforcement figures have done an increasingly effective job not only at making their case to the Leadership, but providing political cover to Republican House Members with few immigrants in their districts.

Reason #5: The polling shows that the biggest vulnerability for the GOP next year is the fact that persuadable voters increasingly believe that the Republicans in Congress are simply incapable of governing. Voters hate the gridlock and increasingly blame Republicans for obstruction. Increasingly, swing voters believe that the GOP is willing to sacrifice the good of the country for narrow partisan ideological reasons. In fact, voters have begun to think the GOP is just plain old incompetent.

If the Republican Leadership allows its extremist wing to block immigration reform even thought it passed the Senate on a strong bi-partisan vote, has majority support in the House, and the support of most Americans — that will become Exhibit “A” in the case for throwing them out of power.

And if they manage to shut down the government – either in a futile attempt to “defund ObamaCare” or to prevent the government from paying its creditors (the debt ceiling) – and stop immigration reform – the case will be set in stone.

For their own good, the Republican Leadership simply can’t allow that to happen.

I for one do not believe that the Republican Leadership will be so stupid – will so badly misplay its hand – that it will allow a tiny minority of extremists to fundamentally jeopardize the Party’s near-term and long-term future.

Of course, stupider things have happened. But rest assured that if they do, the growing movement for immigration reform – not to mention the Democratic Party – will make the GOP pay the price.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.

North Carolina Legislature Called Back for Veto Session

StateTrack‘s Chery Robins reports:

Flag of North CarolinaNorth Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) issued a proclamation calling the General Assembly back into session on Sept. 3 to consider his vetoes of House bills 392 and 786.

Bill 392 would require drug testing for welfare applicants who are reasonably suspected of using illegal drugs. Bill 786 would exempt some seasonal workers from having an E-Verify background check if they are hired for nine months or fewer. The current exemption is for seasonal workers hired for 90 days or fewer.

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Obama Will Consult Congress on Syria

President Barack Obama will consult Congress on Syria, according to a White House official — something Speaker John A. Boehner has sought before any military action is taken.

“We will be consulting appropriately with the Congress,” the official said in response to a question from CQ Roll Call about the president’s meeting this morning with his advisers to discuss options in response to reports of a possible massacre via chemical weapons in Syria.

“Once we ascertain the facts, the President will make an informed decision about how to respond,” a White House official said. “We have a range of options available, and we are going to act very deliberately so that we’re making decisions consistent with our national interest as well as our assessment of what can advance our objectives in Syria.”

Read More on Roll Call: Obama Will Consult Congress on Syria

Members of Congress call for Syria strike

WASHINGTON — A Republican senator and a House Democrat joined Sunday in calling for President Obama to launch air strikes against the Syrian regime in response to reports it used chemical weapons against its citizens.

“I do think we have to respond, and I do think we will take action,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said on “Fox News Sunday.” He called for the administration to attack Syria in a “surgical way,” such as by launching cruise missiles directed at military targets.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), appearing on the same program, agreed the administration should launch an attack on Syria.

“I think we have to respond, and we have to act rather quickly,” he said. “We can’t afford to sit back and wait for the United Nations.”

Engel said the United States could hit a series of military targets, including attacking the bases and runways used by Syria’s air force. “We can destroy the Syrian air force,” he said.

While both urged swift military action by the Obama administration, Corker said the president should seek approval from Congress before acting. He predicted there would be bipartisan support for a measure that authorizes military action against the Syrian regime.

As lawmakers, “It’s time for us to step up and take responsibility,” he said.


John Lewis Speech: 1963 March On Washington Speaker Urges Crowd To Fight For Voting Rights

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) urged the crowd at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington Saturday to fight for the Voting Rights Act in the wake of a June Supreme Court decision gutting its core provision.

“I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote,” he said, referring to Bloody Sunday in 1965 when police beat him and hundreds of other peaceful protesters. “I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us.”

Lewis continued, “You cannot stand by. You cannot sit down. You got to stand up. Speak up. Speak out, and get in the way. Make some noise!”

The crowd cheered.

“The vote is precious, it is almost sacred,” he said. “It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a Democratic society. And we got to use it!”

He called on Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act after the Court invalidated the provision requiring Southern states with a history of racism to have their voting laws cleared by a federal court or the federal government, and also called for comprehensive immigration reform.

Lewis was the 23-year-old chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee when he spoke at the 1963 March.

“One man, one vote is the African cry. It is ours too. It must be ours,” he said during the 1963 event.

State Common Core Standards Under Attack

The Common Core State Standards Initiative, a voluntary program originally proposed by the National Governor’s Association (NGA) that would establish a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics, is under attack in the states. The push back is surprising because the program was not particularly controversial when it was first debated and has been adopted by 45 states and D.C. Opponents now argue that the program, funded in part with $350 million from the U.S. Department of Education, has become a Washington-led effort to impose a one size fits all set of standards on the states. The department also encouraged states adopting the Common Core Standards to be awarded “Race to the Top” grants and waivers for certain requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Opponents do not like the program and do not want to pay for it.
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Town Hall Roundup, Week 3.5: Impeachment, NSA and Obamacare

Time for the next installment in CQ Roll Call’s coverage of the town halls of August — impeachment edition.

Since we last checked in, at least two members have raised the specter of impeaching President Barack Obama.

In speaking with constituents on Aug. 10 about Obama and lingering fears that he wasn’t born in the United States, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, said that while, in the House, “you could probably get the votes” for impeachment, it probably wasn’t a good idea to go through with it, given it would be a non-starter in the Senate.

Then, on Tuesday, GOP freshman Rep. Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan told constituents it would be a “dream come true” to impeach Obama — but at the moment he doesn’t have the evidence.

Read More on Roll Call: Town Hall Roundup, Week 3.5: Impeachment, NSA and Obamacare

President Plans College Bus Tour, Kicking Off Higher Education Debate

As Congress prepares to debate a renewal of the Higher Education Act this fall, President Barack Obama will be taking a two-day bus tour of New York and Pennsylvania colleges Thursday and Friday to talk about the importance of reducing college costs and improving the value of higher education.

"I can tell you that the president does plan to have some new proposals that he’s going to be talking about," said Josh Earnest, White House deputy press secretary, during a briefing Monday afternoon.

On Thursday, the president is slated to deliver remarks at the University at Buffalo (the State University of New York) and Henninger High School in Syracuse, N.Y. On Friday, he is set to participate in a town hall event at Binghamton University (SUNY) and will deliver remarks at an event at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pa.

"The president is going to be talking about his view that we need to rein in the skyrocketing costs of a college education, that never has a college education been more critical to the economic success of middle-class families in this country and if we’re going to make sure that middle-class families continue to have access to economic opportunity, that means that more students are going to need to have access to a high-quality college education," Earnest said.

The bus tour precedes a broader debate this fall aimed at overhauling the expanse of federal higher education programs that expire Jan. 1. As the education committees in both chambers turn their attention to rewriting the 1965 Higher Education Act, last reauthorized in 2008 (PL 110-315), lawmakers say they will examine the student loan program and Pell grants, consider ways to encourage colleges to cut costs, and seek to ensure that states stop gutting their higher education system budgets.

Lawmakers from both parties say Congress should act to help reverse the trajectory of higher tuition costs that has resulted in borrowers racking up more than $1 trillion in student loan debt. The mechanisms for doing so are extraordinarily intricate, and proponents acknowledge the challenge ahead.

It is unclear exactly what new proposals Obama might present during the bus tour, but the administration has tried to pressure states and colleges to be more responsible about costs. The president, in his two most recent State of the Union addresses, put them on notice, saying he would use his executive power to steer federal dollars for such programs as work-study to colleges and universities that cut costs and away from those that have not made an effort.

Those sentiments were reiterated Tuesday by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, after the National Center for Education Statistics released its annual study on student financial aid, which showed that 71 percent of all undergraduates received some type of financial aid and that 57 percent of all undergraduates received federal student aid.

"The data also shows that increasing federal student aid alone will not control the cost of college," Duncan said. "All of us share responsibility for ensuring that college is affordable. The report is a reminder that we need state policymakers and individual colleges and universities to do their part in taking action against rising college tuition."

Democrats generally like that carrot-stick approach, but Republicans are less inclined to tell schools what they can and cannot do by regulating the flow of federal dollars, highlighting just one of several policy differences lawmakers will need to tackle as part of the reauthorization.

"We need to make sure that more middle-class families can get access to that college education, and that, frankly, families that are trying to get into the middle class also have the chance to afford a college education," Earnest said.

Senate Represents The Wealthy First: Study

As economists dig into the question of how bad U.S. income inequality is, a new study analyzes how Congress is fitting in to that equation.

According to research set to be published in Political Research Quarterly next month, the 107th through 111th Congresses saw a Senate that was more responsive to the upper income bracket. Using data from the 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey and various roll call votes, the study included some findings on party lines as well, headed by Republicans being more responsive to middle-income Americans during the 109th Congress.

“The fact that lower income groups seem to be ignored by elected officials, although not a new finding, remains a troubling observation in American politics,” wrote Trinity University’s Thomas J. Hayes, the author of the study, according to Raw Story.

Earlier this week, HuffPost Business highlighted a paper showing that the U.S. has the worst income inequality in the developed world. Over the last four decades, the upper one percent has doubled its slice of the nation’s total income from 10 to 20 percent, outdoing every other developed country over that span.

Looking for the quick version of how the U.S. reached its income inequality quandary? Watch former Labor Secretary and current HuffPost blogger Robert Reich explain the problem in 150 seconds.

‘Defund Obamacare’ Letter to Be Unveiled After Heritage Push

Heritage Action for America has a message for 100 House Republicans: You want to sign freshman Rep. Mark Meadows’ letter.

The advocacy group launched a $550,000 online ad campaign Monday that targets GOP lawmakers who haven’t yet signed on to the petition being circulated by the North Carolina Republican.

The full text of the letter and final list of co-signers won’t be made public until Thursday, Meadows’ office told CQ Roll Call. But when it is sent to House Republican leaders, it will demand that they “take the steps necessary to defund Obamacare in its entirety, including on a year-end funding bill like a continuing resolution.”

Spokesman Dan Holler wouldn’t confirm whether the 133 members not included on Heritage Action’s target list are ones who have already signed Meadows’ letter, saying only that “a bunch of these folks come from conservative districts, and they have conservative constituents who aren’t having their views represented in Washington.”

Meadows’ congressional office also demurred but did tell CQ Roll Call on Tuesday morning that, since Monday, “between four and eight” lawmakers had committed to attaching their names to the effort.

Read More on Roll Call: ‘Defund Obamacare’ Letter to Be Unveiled After Heritage Push

Van Hollen Slams ‘Boehner Rule,’ ‘Hastert Rule’ and Eyes Sequester Deal

Two rules that have guided Speaker John A. Boehner’s leadership of the House could go by the wayside this fall when Congress takes up a debt ceiling increase, Rep. Chris Van Hollenpredicted Monday.

In a sit-down interview with CQ Roll Call on Monday, the Maryland Democrat and ranking member on the House Budget Committee slammed the “Boehner rule” — which mandates dollar-for-dollar spending cuts for every dollar raised in the debt ceiling — as “unworkable, policy-wise and politically.”

“It gave birth to the sequester,” he added.

And the “Hastert rule,” calling for majority of the majority support for legislation, could be broken as well.

Van Hollen signaled that it had to be “selectively applied,” and he suggested that he didn’t see a scenario wherein Republicans would be able to pass a legitimate debt ceiling increase bill without significant Democratic support.

“What I see happening is that Republicans in the House will unilaterally put together a debt ceiling proposal and attach to it lots of outrageous conditions that will be absolutely unacceptable, and they know it, but that’s the only thing they’ll get the votes for in their caucus,” such as defunding the 2010 health law, Van Hollen said. “And ultimately what that means is, in order to get through this period, you’re going to need support from House Democrats to get something done.”

Neither “rule” is actually a rule, of course. Each is more of a general guideline that Boehner himself has violated from time to time, including a deal earlier this year to punt on the debt ceiling and several bills that required mostly Democratic votes to pass.

Van Hollen did signal that Democrats might accept, as a compromise with the GOP, a “McConnell-like mechanism” that would require the president to propose debt ceiling increases that Congress would then have an opportunity to vote against. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., came up with the concept that was included in the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Read More on Roll Call: Van Hollen Slams ‘Boehner Rule,’ ‘Hastert Rule’ and Eyes Sequester Deal