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

Sen. Linsdey Graham (R-SC) said Tuesday night that he was very disappointed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) threat not to honor his "hold" on the confirmation of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense.

"I'm very disappointed," Graham told a small group of reporters after the president's State of the Union speech. "I'm very upset about it and I'm going to fight back."

Graham said he will demand a cloture vote and hopes all Republicans will filibuster Hagel's nomination until the Obama administration provides the answers he wants.

"It gives double-standard a bad name. They really did go hard after [President] Bush when he -- his interrogation policies," Graham said. "They held up [John] Bolton for information. They're trying to jam Hagel through. We need more information about where he got his money and what speeches he gave."

"Chuck Hagel's a good man but they're stonewalling us on Benghazi."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters Tuesday night after the State of the Union that President Obama's impassioned plea to strengthen gun safety laws amount to "political theater."

"I think it's more political theater than anything else," Graham said. "And I'm sad for the families but he didn't mention all the families that were saved from rape and murder by owning a gun."

"So I just think there's going to be bipartisan opposition to an assault weapons ban."

As for background checks, Graham said, "When you're prosecuting 44 people out of 80,000 who fail a background check, you don't need to expand background checks, you need to enforce the law that we have. Nobody is going to be deterred when you only prosecute 44 people out of 80,000 who fail a background check. That to me is absolutely ridiculous and an embarrassment. You've got a better chance of getting hit by a meteor than you do getting caught relying on background checks."

No. 3 Republican Sen. John Thune (SD) said Tuesday night after the State of the Union that President Obama's proposals to save Medicare don't go far enough.

"All he said was he would agree to a number [of health savings] that was in Bowles-Simpson," Thune told a small group of reporters, "and that was a fairly modest number. And most of it was achieved not be structural reforms but by cuts to providers and some other things."

Asked Tuesday night after the State of the Union if the Senate should vote on President Obama's proposals to reform gun laws, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) had a response: Ask Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

"Well, it's going to be up to the majority leader if he wants to bring a bill up on the floor," Thune told a small group of reporters. "I assume there's going to be some action up here at some point on that legislation. I don't know what it's going to look like yet. I assume there'll be lots of votes on lots of different issues."

Obama made an impassioned plea for improved gun safety during his speech, naming victims of gun violence and repeatedly saying, "They deserve a vote," to thunderous applause in the chamber.

Reid has long been skeptical of gun control laws but says he supports items like stiffer background checks.

In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Obama announced the creation of a "non-partisan commission" that aims to protect voting rights.

But defending our freedom is not the job of our military alone.  We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home.  That includes our most fundamental right as citizens:  the right to vote.  When any Americans – no matter where they live or what their party – are denied that right simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals.  That’s why, tonight, I’m announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America.  And I’m asking two long-time experts in the field, who’ve recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney’s campaign, to lead it.  We can fix this, and we will.  The American people demand it.  And so does our democracy.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama called for making "high-quality preschool" available to every child in the United States, although he didn't offer specifics.

He said:

Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.  But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program.  Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool.  And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives. 

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.  Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime.  In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own.  So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.  Let’s give our kids that chance.

President Obama made a passionate plea for addressing the threat of climate change in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, citing an overwhelming scientific consensus and climate trends to call for action "before it's too late."

From his speech:

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.  Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend.  But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15.  Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense.  We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence.  Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.

The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth.  I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.  But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.  I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday afternoon to pass legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act with expanded protections for gays, undocumented immigrants and Native American women who suffer from domestic abuse.

The final vote was 78-22. All Democrats and 23 Republicans voted for final passage. The bill now heads to the House, where GOP leaders are resisting some of its provisions.

"Today the Senate passed a strong bipartisan bill to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act," President Obama said in a statement. "The bill passed by the Senate will help reduce homicides that occur from domestic violence, improve the criminal justice response to rape and sexual assault, address the high rates of dating violence experienced by young women, and provide justice to the most vulnerable among us. I want to thank Senator Leahy and his colleagues from both sides of the aisle for the leadership they have shown on behalf of victims of abuse. It's now time for the House to follow suit and send this bill to my desk so that I can sign it into law."

The 22 Republicans who voted against it were Sens. John Barrasso (WY), Roy Blunt (MO), John Boozman (AR), Tom Coburn (OK), John Cornyn (TX), Ted Cruz (TX), Mike Enzi (WY), Lindsey Graham (SC), Chuck Grassley (IA), Orrin Hatch (UT), James Inhofe (OK), Mike Johanns (NE), Ron Johnson (WI), Mike Lee (UT), Mitch McConnell (KY), Rand Paul (KY), Jim Risch (ID), Pat Roberts (KS), Marco Rubio (FL), Tim Scott (SC), Jeff Sessions (AL) and John Thune (SD).

The Senate rejected Republican-sponsored amendments to replace the bill with a scaled-back reauthorization and to eliminate a provision permitting Native American courts to try non-Native Americans accused of domestic abuse on tribal lands, which many Republicans say is unconstitutional because it would limit recourse for the accused in U.S. courts.

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Republican stalwart Haley Barbour irked the right-wing Club For Growth after telling National Review that conservative donors should stop giving to them and other groups that spend money attacking Republicans.

"We kicked away four or five Senate seats in the last two cycles by nominating candidates who did not have the best chance to win," Barbour told NRO. “We ought to talk to Republican donors now, in the off-season before the primaries, and discourage them from donating to organizations that will attack good Republicans. ... Republican groups like the Club for Growth should stop spending money to defeat Republicans. Politics can’t be about purity. Unity wins in politics, purity loses."

That provoked a response from Chris Chocola, the president of Club For Growth, which is known for backing staunchly conservative candidates against establishment favorites in Republican primaries.

“Haley Barbour is a good guy. When he was thinking of running for President, he was more than pleased to attend the Club for Growth's winter economic conference, and he had nothing but nice things to say about us. Now that he's back to his more familiar roles as a lobbyist and Republican Party insider, he is singing a different tune. That’s politics," Chocola said in a statement. "The truth is, while the Club for Growth PAC has helped elect more Republicans to Congress than just about any other group, our mission and Haley Barbour's mission are just plain different. Haley wants every Republican to win, regardless of how they vote in office. The Club for Growth PAC helps elect candidates who support limited government and free markets. Unfortunately, the two goals coincide less often than the Republican Establishment cares to admit."

Chocola added: "The more Haley Barbour and Karl Rove attack the work of the Club for Growth PAC, the more it energizes and grows our membership. In 2014, we are looking forward to adding to the U.S. Senate ranks the likes of Tom Coburn, Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Jeff Flake, Ted Cruz, and Tim Scott -- all elected with the support of Club members and despite the initial disdain of the GOP Establishment."

Senate Democrats will introduce a plan this week to avert the deep, automatic spending cuts -- known as sequestration -- that are set to take effect next month, the Democratic leader told reporters Tuesday.

"Later this week, we'll introduce a plan to temporarily replace sequester with a balanced approach the American people want and deserve," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). "The bills being drafted will include equal amounts of revenue and cuts, because Democrats believe the right way to reduce the deficit is to target waste and abuse by pairing smart spending cuts with closing tax loopholes, asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute more."

Reid said he has a meeting this week with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on the sequester.

After Reid spoke, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he expects the sequester to take effect.

"It's pretty clear to me that the sequester is going to go into effect," McConnell told reporters. Referring to the resolution of the so-called fiscal cliff, he said, "Read my lips: I'm not interested in an 11th hour negotiation."