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

President Obama is circumventing Republican leaders and reaching out directly to rank-and-file Senate GOP lawmakers in an early effort to build momentum for a grand bargain to avert sequestration and reduce the long-term deficit.

"He wants to do the big deal," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Graham told reporters Tuesday afternoon that Obama had just called him and the two spoke for 10 minutes about fiscal issues. He said the conversation was "incredibly encouraging."

"I'm very encouraged by what I see from the president in terms of what I see in terms of substance and tone," Graham said. "He's calling people -- this is how you solve our problems. He's working the phones, talking about ... how can we get more people in the mix."

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Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) is signaling that Democrats may revisit filibuster reform in the wake of high-profile Republican filibusters including the Chuck Hagel nomination, the plan to avert sequestration and the judicial nomination of Caitlin Halligan.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Durbin said the existing rules change agreement doesn't seem to be working.

"I hate to suggest this, but if this is an indication of where we're headed, we need to revisit the rules again," he said. "We need to go back to them again. I'm sorry to say it because I was hopeful that a bipartisan approach to dealing with these issues would work. It is the best thing for this chamber, for the people serving here and for the history of this institution. But if this Caitlin Halligan [filibuster] is an indication of things to come, we've got to revisit the rules. If we are now going to filibuster based on such weak arguments, then I think we need to revisit the rules."

A number of Republican senators Tuesday either didn't know or wouldn't say if they consider the Voting Rights Act to be constitutional, even though many of them voted to reauthorize it in 2006 and the Supreme Court is currently considering whether to invalidate a key section of it.

As they entered and exited weekly party luncheons Tuesday afternoon, I and other reporters asked many GOP senators if they consider a centerpiece of the law, which was battered by conservative justices during Supreme Court oral arguments last week, should be upheld. Every one of them dodged the questions, some more artfully than others.

"Uh," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), before a long, awkward pause, "I haven't even thought about it." He laughed and said, "I'll leave that to the courts. I'm having a hard enough time being a senator, much less a Supreme Court justice."

I asked the same question to Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who, like Graham, voted to renew the law in 2006. "The Voting Rights Act?" he asked. Yes, I said. Should it be upheld? "Oh, I don't know," Inhofe replied. "I'll let someone else answer that."

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President Obama will hold a signing ceremony Thursday for the Violence Against Women Act, which recently passed Congress. He and Vice President Joe Biden, the original author of VAWA in 1994, will make remarks.

They'll be joined, according to the White House, "by women’s organizations, law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, survivors, advocates and members of Congress."

The White House issued a formal statement Tuesday afternoon saying it's "deeply concerned" about the impact of the House GOP's continuing resolution to fund the government through the end of September.

Voicing its displeasure, but offering no signal that President Obama might veto the bill, the Office of Management and Budget did say it's "pleased" that the legislation includes previously agreed upon budget elements.

While the Administration is pleased to see that H.R. 933 is consistent with the mutually agreed upon budget framework in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), the bill raises concerns about the Government's ability to protect consumers, avoid deep cuts in critical services that families depend on, and implement critical domestic priorities such as access to quality and affordable health care.  Furthermore, while the legislation includes the Department of Defense and the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies fiscal year 2013 bills, the remainder of Federal agencies are left to operate at last year's level, which will impede their ability to provide services to Americans and efficiently allocate funding to key programs including those in infrastructure, clean energy, education, and research and development. [...]

The President continues to work to replace sequestration with a larger, balanced deficit reduction agreement that strengthens the middle class by accelerating job creation and growth while coupling serious entitlement reform that strengthens these critical programs with tax reform that raises revenue by closing tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Tuesday took a swipe at Jeb Bush after he came out against a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants in his new book.

"Let's wait for a few months to see how Jeb Bush changes his mind again," Reid told reporters. He said Bush is "not evolving, he's devolving" on immigration. "He keeps going backwards."

The Democratic leader said the former Florida governor has made "a fool of himself."

"Frankly, on this issue, I don't think Jeb Bush is the Florida leader," Reid said. "I think Marco Rubio is."

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) responded Tuesday to Jeb Bush's newfound doubts in his recent book about creating a pathway to citizenship for people in the country illegally.

"I respect his views and we will continue to move forward with the proposal that we have," McCain said in response to a question from TPM.

"I noticed today that Jeb Bush said we didn't want it to be a magnet for people who come here illegally, and that's why we are talking so seriously about employer sanctions," he told reporters. "So if people who want to come to this country illegally know that they can't get a job then that takes care of the magnet side."

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is facing speculation that he may update his Medicare privatization plan to include changes for Americans older than 55 -- people his prior budgets exempted from his reforms -- in order to fulfill GOP leadership's promise to align revenues and spending within 10 years.

TPM put the question to Ryan's office. His spokesman declined to address the speculation, but appeared to leave open the possibility that the cutoff may change from 55, vowing that those "in or near retirement" won't see any changes under the updated plan.

"With respect to Medicare, Chairman Ryan will again put forward a real solution to protect and strengthen Medicare for current seniors and future generation," a Ryan spokesman told TPM. "His reforms ensure no changes for those in or near retirement, a sharp contrast to the real harm inflicted on seniors by the President's health-care law."

The question is what age constitutes "near" retirement -- and whether it might this time be higher than 55.

Ryan, who is mum on the details of his upcoming budget, is facing cross-pressures -- from conservatives who want him to apply his Medicare changes to Americans older than 55 on the one hand, and seniors, whom he's vowed to insulate from Medicare privatization on the other. The proposal, versions of which the House has passed twice, would replace seniors' Medicare guarantee with a limited subsidy to buy private insurance.

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House Republican centrists expressed concern during a conference meeting Tuesday when Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) informed them that the party's new Medicare privatization plan may apply to Americans older than 55, according to The Hill.

"Paul Ryan was pretty clear that that could happen. You could have to take it up to a higher number like 56, 57, 59 ... it could be higher than 55, but he also said, ‘We don’t have any numbers yet,'" an unnamed Republican lawmaker in the meeting told the paper.

"A lot of people had made commitments at 55. In other words, in the campaign [Republican vulnerable members] said it wouldn’t affect your Medicare for retirees or near retirees for those 55 and up ... and [if] this budget forces them to renege on that, that would be problematic for many."

Ryan's office told TPM that the plan won't affect those "in or near retirement" -- but left the door open to raising the age from 55. No decisions are final yet, aides say.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) told MSNBC on Monday that she voted against final passage of the Violence Against Women Act late last week in part because of its expanded protections -- for gays, Native Americans and undocumented immigrants.

She voted for a more modest House GOP VAWA, but after that failed, she voted against the final Senate version. Along with gripes about the allocation of money and the specifics of trafficking provisions, she had other concerns.

"I didn't like the way it was expanded to include other different groups," Blackburn said of the Senate VAWA. "What you need is something that is focused specifically to help the shelters and to help out law enforcement who is trying to work with the crimes that have been committed against women and helping them to stand up."