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

The Human Rights Campaign effusively praised President Obama after he offered a strong embrace of gay rights in his inaugural address Monday.

The statement in full from HRC's president, Chad Griffin:

“President Barack Obama made history today by connecting the lives of committed and loving lesbian and gay couples fighting for marriage equality to this nation's proud tradition of equal rights for all. Moments after swearing to uphold the Constitution for all Americans on Bibles owned by Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Obama declared passionately that our national journey towards a more perfect union cannot be finished until equal protection under the law extends to each and every American regardless of who they are or whom they love.

“By lifting up the lives of LGBT families for the very first time in an inaugural address, President Obama sent a clear message to LGBT young people from the Gulf Coast to the Rocky Mountains that this country's leaders will fight for them until equality is the law of the land. As the merits of marriage equality come up for debate from state houses to the halls of the U.S. Supreme Court, and a broad majority of Americans are standing up for liberty and fairness, the President's unequivocal support for equality is a clarion call that all Americans should receive with celebration.

“We were honored that the President included Stonewall among the historic events in American history that have made our union stronger. Its inclusion is testament to the valiant contributions of LGBT Americans past and present who seek nothing more than to be treated equally by the country they love.”

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the top Democrat on the Energy & Commerce Committee, said he was very pleased with President Obama's emphasis on climate change during his inaugural address Monday.

"I though he gave a great speech, and I was so pleased that the first thing he mentioned was climate change," Waxman told TPM. "I think he's got a commitment on this issue and is going to make sure in the second term that is a very high priority. I'm very pleased."

Obama said in his address: "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms."

Jesse Jackson was a fan of President Obama's inaugural address Monday.

"I think it was impressive," the civil rights activist told TPM in the Capitol. "He spoke of the American promise, and that promise is an inclusive promise. Many people from other places, but all protected by the promise. None on the margins. To me that was the thrust of it."

Jackson said he hopes Obama's second term will include a greater focus on "poverty and racial disparities," which he said would be "critical to the healing."

After initially declaring his own party's debt ceiling proposal unconstitutional, according to one report Friday afternoon, House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) quickly clarified his position in a statement issued by his office to TPM.

"I strongly support the House Republican leadership's proposal to link the debt ceiling increase to passage of a budget by the Senate which has gone 1360 days without passing a blueprint for federal spending," Issa said. "While the 27th Amendment prohibits Congress from varying its own pay within a given Congress, as I noted in my interview it can certainly withhold pay."

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The GOP's latest debt ceiling proposal to withhold pay for lawmakers if their chamber does not pass a budget may face a tricky hurdle: the Constitution.

The plan, as House Republican leaders described it Friday afternoon, would authorize a three-month debt limit increase in exchange for an ultimatum: Congress either passes a budget or congressman and senators have their pay withheld until they do.

But there is some doubt among constitutional scholars reached by TPM shortly after the GOP proposal was made public about whether it passes muster under the 27th Amendment.

The 27th Amendment to the Constitution provides: "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened."

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House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), after initially declaring the GOP's debt limit plan "unconstitutional," clarified to TPM late Friday that he "strongly support[s]" the proposal, which would withhold lawmakers' pay if their chamber does not pass a budget.

He said he believes the constitutional questions over the 27th Amendment, which Republican leadership aides say won't be a problem, will be resolved in the legislation.

"I strongly support the House Republican leadership’s proposal to link the debt ceiling increase to passage of a budget by the Senate which has gone 1360 days without passing a blueprint for federal spending," Issa said in a statement to TPM sent via his office. "While the 27th Amendment prohibits Congress from varying its own pay within a given Congress, as I noted in my interview it can certainly withhold pay. I have not read the legislative text of the ‘No Budget, No Pay’ proposal and how it approaches historically difficult questions about Congressional compensation. I would note that there has even been legal action taken challenging the current system that gives Members of Congress an automatic pay-raise. I have been an advocate for the strategy of linking a debt ceiling increase to passage of a budget as an effective way of forcing President Obama to focus on our nation’s long term fiscal situation. I expect the final proposal brought before the House will have resolved any constitutional questions and that it will have my support."

Earlier Friday, Issa told Roll Call of the proposal, "That's unconstitutional."

President Obama's second-term ambitions include beefing up guns laws, reforming the country's immigration system and curbing greenhouse gas emissions, but he's stuck at least for now with House of Representatives controlled by Republicans who remain hostile to his agenda -- which is why the upcoming fight over increasing the country's borrowing authority is so crucial.

If Obama successfully defuses a debt ceiling standoff, which is looking increasingly likely, he will at least provide himself and Congress some running room to debate other major issues. But if he fails -- if he accedes to GOP demands -- it will reinvigorate the conservative wing of the GOP and encourage them to pursue the same do-or-die strategy every time must-pass legislation is on the docket. Obama's second term will become bogged down in battles over basic government functions, squeezing out gun, immigration, and energy legislation.

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) criticized the House GOP's new debt ceiling proposal via a statement from her spokesman, Drew Hammill.

“We need a clean debt ceiling increase and a bipartisan and balanced budget that protects Medicare and Social Security, invests in the future, and responsibly reduces the deficit. 

“This proposal does not relieve the uncertainty faced by small businesses, the markets and the middle class.  This is a gimmick unworthy of the challenges we face and the national debate we should be having.  The message from the American people is clear: no games, no default.”

The Senate's No. 2 Republican is walking back his threat to use the debt ceiling and other fiscal deadlines to force President Obama to accede to deep spending cuts.

"We will raise the debt ceiling. We're not going to default on our debt," Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said in an interview with the Houston Chronicle editorial board published Thursday. "I will tell you unequivocally, we're not going to default."

That's a dramatic change in tone from just two weeks ago, when Cornyn wrote an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle pointedly threatening not to raise the debt limit or fund the government unless Obama agrees to scale back Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

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