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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 a series of moves Wednesday that effectively isolate House Republicans, a bipartisan group of senators and House Democrats unveiled companion bills to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

The two bills, a House version and a Senate version, are identical in re-authorizing the domestic violence legislation and in expanding coverage to protect gays, illegal immigrants and Native Americans. They were simultaneously unveiled Wednesday in the House and Senate during back-to-back press conferences by House Democrats and the Senate group.

The Senate Republicans flanking Democrats were Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) -- all VAWA co-sponsors.

"This is not a partisan issue," said Collins. "It cannot be a partisan issue."

"As you can see from the representation here," said Crapo, "it's on a bipartisan basis that we have support for this in the Senate."

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Senate Democrats have the 51 votes necessary to weaken the filibuster, the top two Democrats declared unequivocally on Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he's continuing discussions with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) over a bipartisan resolution. But when asked if he has the 51 votes for filibuster reform via the constitutional option if that fails, he didn't mince words.

"Yes," Reid said.

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Senate Democrats unveiled legislation Tuesday to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, dropping one component of their previous proposal in an effort to eliminate a procedural objection that House Republicans had used to oppose an earlier version of the bill.

The legislation to reauthorize the two-decade-old law died a slow, painful death last year because of House Republicans' objections to extending coverage to gays, illegal immigrants and Native American women.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) offered his Republican counterpart an ultimatum on Tuesday afternoon: come to a deal on filibuster reform soon or Democrats will do it on our own.

"I hope that within the next 24 to 36 hours, we can get something that we agree on," Reid told reporters in the Capitol. "If not we're going to move forward on what I think needs to be done. The caucus will support me on that."

The Democratic majority leader has vowed to weaken the filibuster but is deferring action while he continues weeks-long negotiations with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) over a resolution. He's keeping his options open to change the rules with a 51-vote majority if a deal is not reached.

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The Obamacare repeal dream lives on.

Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch (UT) and Lamar Alexander (TN) re-introduced legislation Tuesday that would eliminate the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate.

"This legislation we are introducing today is simple: it strikes the individual mandate, so we can instead find ways of providing people with health care, but in a manner that doesn't run counter to our constitutional framework of limited government," Hatch said in a statement.

Although the mandate faces implementation obstacles, proponents and opponents broadly agree that President Obama's re-election secured its survival. It has also withstood challenges in the Supreme Court and at the ballot box.

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After a weekly meeting with the Democratic conference Tuesday, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) issued a statement calling on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to reform the filibuster with 51 votes.

“Leader Reid has left open two paths to rules changes. While I’ve always thought that improving how the Senate works should be an area ripe for bipartisan agreement, it is clear at this point that the constitutional option would produce the strongest package and make the Senate more functional. We face big challenges, and we can’t tackle those challenges if we miss this rare opportunity to end the paralysis of the Senate."

Reid has been negotiating with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) over the prospect of reaching an agreement to avoid the constitutional option for changing the rules.

Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) plan to introduce legislation Wednesday that would require senators to pass a budget each year in order to receive pay, Heller's office said.

The idea, proposed by Heller back in July 2011, is similar to what House Republican leaders are pushing as part of their strategy to address the need to raise the country's borrowing limit.

The legislation will be co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), John Boozman (AR), John Cornyn (TX) and Mike Enzi (WY), according to Heller.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) signaled Tuesday that the Senate will move on to filibuster reform once it finalizes the relief package for victims of superstorm Sandy.

He said on the Senate floor:

Once we complete that vital legislation, the Senate will take action to make this institution that we all love work more effectively. We will consider changes to the United States Senate rules.

Because this matter warrants additional debate, today we will follow the precedents set in 2005 and again in 2011. We will reserve the right of all Senators to propose changes to the Senate rules.  And we will explicitly not acquiesce in the carrying over of all the rules from the last Congress. It is my intention that the Senate will recess today, rather than adjourn, to continue the same legislative day, and allow this important rules discussion to continue. I am hopeful the Republican leader and I will reach an agreement that allows the Senate to operate more effectively.

By opting to "recess" rather than "adjourn," Reid would continue the first legislative day of the new session and therefore leave room to reform the filibuster with 51 votes.

Freshman Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) signed on to the Merkley-Udall "talking filibuster" proposal Tuesday, characterizing her move as an effort to end partisan gridlock and change the status quo.

Baldwin said in a statement:

"I was elected to put progress ahead of politics and to make sure that Washington works for Wisconsin. Unfortunately, Washington has come to be defined by partisan gridlock. Recently, the threat of filibuster has been used far too often and as a result political obstructionism in the United States Senate is now worse than it has ever been. The people of Wisconsin and our state's progressive tradition deserve better. I will proudly join Senator Tom Udall and Senator Jeff Merkley by co- sponsoring legislation to reform the use of the filibuster in the United States Senate. We face big challenges that demand effective government action and solutions not more of the same standstill that has become the status quo in Washington. The time for reform is now so we can work together to move Wisconsin and America forward."

President Obama on Monday became the first American president to refer to gay rights in an inaugural address, drawing effusive praise from gay rights advocates for his strong embrace of the cause and reflecting how much his views have changed.

"Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law," the president said, "for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."

He invoked the Stonewall riots of 1969, a landmark event in the history of the gay rights movement, tying them to seminal events in the battles for women's suffrage and civil rights.

"We, the people," Obama said, "declare today that the most evident of truths -- that all of us are created equal -- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall."

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