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Sahil Kapur

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.

Articles by Sahil

In the culmination of a dramatic turnaround on the question of gay marriage that reflects the larger sea change among the American public -- as well as President Obama's much-cited personal "evolution" -- the Obama administration is now taking the maximal legal position that gay and straight couples have an equal constitutional right to marry.

In an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court, Obama's Justice Department argued that California's Proposition 8 -- which outlaws same sex marriage in the state -- should be struck down because it violates the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law. The brief comes one month before the court is set to hear arguments on two major gay marriage cases. One involves the Defense of Marriage Act, which the federal government will take the lead in pushing to overturn, and the second involves Prop 8, where the federal government is not a party to the case but where it has now made its position clear.

"Proposition 8's withholding of the designation of marriage is not based on an interest in promoting responsible procreation and child-rearing -- petitioners' central claimed justification for the initiative -- but instead on impermissible prejudice," the administration's brief reads. "Prejudice may not, however, be the basis for differential treatment under the law."

Evan Wolfson, who leads the pro-marriage-equality group Freedom To Marry, told TPM that the brief makes as expansive a legal case as plausible for putting gay and straight couples on equal footing. "The arguments laid out powerfully and clearly refute all the purported justifications for withholding the freedom to marry for gay couples," Wolfson said.

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When House Republican leaders unveiled their more modest version of the Violence Against Women Act last Friday, the plan was to pass their bill and go to conference with the Senate, which had passed a more expansive reauthorization. But they soon found themselves cornered, and decided to back down entirely.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), along with Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Tom Cole (R-OK), worked with advocates to forge a compromise between the warring factions. When that failed, Cantor sought to persuade conservatives of the need to let the Democrats' version pass.

"Leadership was quite purposeful," Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) told TPM. "They did not want this issue to hang longer than this week."

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Appearing on "The Daily Show" Thursday night, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow called Justice Antonin Scalia a "troll" for describing part of the Voting Rights Act as a "perpetuation of racial entitlement" during Supreme Court oral arguments this week.

"It's weird to see Antonin Scalia in person," Maddow told Jon Stewart. "He's a troll. He's saying this for effect. He knows it's offensive, and he knows he's going to get a gasp from the courtroom which he got. And he loves it. He's like the guy in your blog comment thread who's using the n-word. ... He's that kind of guy."

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During a White House meeting Friday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pushed President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to devise a sequester replacement plan with spending cuts, according to a readout from the speaker's office.

At the White House this morning, Speaker Boehner continued to press the president and Leader Reid to produce a plan to replace the sequester that can actually pass the Democratic-controlled Senate. He suggested the most productive way to resolve the sequester issue will be through regular order. The speaker reminded the president that Congress just last month provided him the tax hike he was seeking without any spending cuts. It’s time to focus on spending, the speaker told the group. The Republican leaders reiterated their willingness to close tax loopholes, but not as a replacement for the sequester’s spending cuts, saying any revenue generated by closing tax loopholes should be used to lower tax rates and create jobs. Finally, the speaker reaffirmed his intention to move legislation through the House next week to fund and keep the government running regardless of how and when the sequester is resolved. The president and leaders agreed legislation should be enacted this month to prevent a government shutdown while we continue to work on a solution to replace the president’s sequester. 

 

House Republicans must be willing to enlist Democrats to pass important legislation, a moderate GOP lawmaker told TPM on Thursday after his leadership passed the Violence Against Women Act with mostly Democratic votes.

"I suspect you may see more issues appear like this," moderate Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) told TPM in an interview Thursday afternoon. "It's quite possible on matters of governance, where there are not the Republican votes, that there will be bipartisan coalitions formed to pass important legislation. ... If John Boehner doesn't have enough Republican votes, we'll need Democratic votes. It's very basic. There's no way around it."

VAWA was the third time this year that the Republican leadership violated the so-called Hastert Rule by bringing legislation up for a floor vote without the support of a majority of Republicans. The other two instances were to avoid the fiscal cliff and to provide disaster relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy.

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Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday praised Eric Cantor for helping bring the Senate-passed Violence Against Women Act to the House floor for a vote, where it passed with mostly Democratic support.

Speaking at a Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month event in the White House, Biden, who wrote the original 1994 VAWA, described the House majority leader as "a man who has kept his word, a man who is viewed as sort of the anti-administration person but is a friend of mine, Eric Cantor."

"He kept his word. He said he'd let the Congress speak. He could have prevented this from coming to a vote under the ordinary rules that had been employed in the past," Biden said. "But he didn't. So ... I want to publicly thank him -- because he kept his word. Where I come from, your word matters."

Cantor voted against the Democratic version of VAWA. But during a closed-door Republican conference meeting earlier this week, he worked to persuade skeptical conservatives of the need to bring it to the floor, arguing that the GOP alternative didn't have the votes, a source in the room said. Advocates have said he worked to bridge the divide between their wishes and those of the GOP's right flank, but in the end, it apparently could not be done.

The Republican-led House on Thursday passed the Democrats' version of the Violence Against Women on Thursday, relenting after a painful battle over expanded protections for gay, Native American and illegal immigrant women.

The final vote was 286-138, winning over 199 Democrats and 87 Republicans. It lost 138 GOP members. It's the third time Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has brought legislation to a floor vote without the support of at least half his conference. The GOP's substitute failed 166-257.

Because the same bill has already passed the Senate, it will go straight to President Obama, who said he looks forward to signing it into law.

"I was pleased to see the House of Representatives come together and vote to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act. Over more than two decades, this law has saved countless lives and transformed the way we treat victims of abuse," Obama said in a statement. "Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk."

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Vice President Joe Biden, the original author of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, on Thursday praised congressional leaders for putting aside politics and giving final passage to an expanded, inclusive reauthorization.

Biden said in a statement:

Today Congress put politics aside and voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Eighteen years ago, I envisioned a world where women could live free from violence and abuse.  Since VAWA first passed in 1994, we have seen a 64% reduction in domestic violence.  I am pleased that this progress will continue, with new tools for cops and prosecutors to hold abusers and rapists accountable, and more support for all victims of these crimes. 

The urgent need for this bill cannot be more obvious.  Consider just one fact—that 40% of all mass shootings started with the murderer targeting their girlfriend, or their wife, or their ex-wife. Among many other important provisions, the new VAWA will increase the use of proven models of reducing domestic violence homicides. 

This morning I met with several parents whose beautiful young daughters were killed by abusive boyfriends. Nothing puts this legislation in to perspective more than their stories. This issue should be beyond politics—and I want to thank the leaders from both parties—Patrick Leahy, Mike Crapo, Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer and Gwen Moore—and the bipartisan majorities in both the House and the Senate who have made that clear once again.

President Obama issued a statement Thursday praising final passage of the Violence Against Women Act, which cleared the House 286-138.

I was pleased to see the House of Representatives come together and vote to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act.  Over more than two decades, this law has saved countless lives and transformed the way we treat victims of abuse. Today’s vote will go even further by continuing to reduce domestic violence, improving how we treat victims of rape, and extending protections to Native American women and members of the LGBT community.  The bill also reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, providing critical support for both international and domestic victims of trafficking and helping ensure traffickers are brought to justice.  I want to thank leaders from both parties – especially Leader Pelosi, Congresswoman Gwen Moore and Senator Leahy – for everything they’ve done to make this happen.  Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk.

The House approved the Senate-passed version and the bill now heads to Obama's desk.

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