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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

Indiana Republicans are advancing legislation that would require women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound prior to an abortion, the latest in a string of efforts by state GOP lawmakers to actively discourage women from terminating their pregnancies.

The provision is tucked inside Senate Bill 371, introduced by State Sen. Travis Holdman (R), which has passed a committee. Although the legislation doesn't specifically say transvaginal ultrasound, its criteria would effectively require it, according to the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America.

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Top Senate Democrats excoriated the competing House Republican version of the Violence Against Women Act hours after it was unveiled Friday.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the author of VAWA, derided the legislation as "partisan" and said it omits critical measures designed to protect vulnerable populations like Native Americans, immigrants and the gay and lesbian community.

"Next week, the House of Representatives plans to revert back to its partisan version of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act," Leahy said in a statement. "The Republican House leadership has decided to replace the Senate-passed version with a substitute that will not provide critical protections for rape victims, domestic violence victims, human trafficking victims, students on campuses, or stalking victims. This is simply unacceptable and it further demonstrates that Republicans in the House have not heard the message sent by the American people and reflected in the Senate's overwhelming vote earlier this month to pass the bipartisan Leahy-Crapo bill. A majority of Republican Senators -- and every woman serving in the United States Senate -- supported it."

Compared to last year's version, the new GOP bill reflects some movement in the Senate's direction but initial reactions from Democrats suggest that whatever nod House Republicans were trying to make toward compromise are not being well-received.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), a leadership member and prominent VAWA advocate, declared that "House Republican leadership just doesn't get it" and that the added protections for women "are not bargaining chips ... to appease the far right in their party."

"This partisan bill is a non-starter in the Senate," Murray said. "It's time for moderate Republicans in the House to step up and finally force their leadership to stop ignoring the calls of women across the country. ... Until then, the leadership in the House will continue to be the only thing standing between 30 million women and the VAWA protections they deserve."

Democrats are in a strong negotiating position because their version passed the Senate on an overwhelming 78-22 vote. On top of that, women voters trust them more, and are likelier to punish House Republicans if VAWA fails to get reauthorized.

"I am confident that those of us who fought for an inclusive reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act earlier this month that responds to the true needs of victims will continue the fight to protect victims of rape, domestic violence, human trafficking, and stalking," Leahy said. "The decision by the Republican leadership of the House to take up a partisan substitute to the bipartisan, Senate-passed bill is an unfortunate step in the wrong direction and undermines our long-fought efforts to help these victims."

House Republicans released their version of the Violence Against Women Act on Friday and are poised to fast-track it to a floor vote next Tuesday during a Rules Committee hearing.

The House GOP's legislation doesn't go as far as the reauthorization that passed the Senate on an overwhelming bipartisan vote earlier this month. It reflects some movement in that direction but falls short of a breakthrough on the central disputes that scuttled reauthorization of VAWA last year, namely, coverage for gay, Native American and illegal immigrant women. Democrats quickly rejected the bill and advocates against domestic violence expressed concerns with it.

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After House Republicans introduced their legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, one GOP congressman said he wants leadership to do what it takes to pass the domestic violence bill.

"I am prepared to vote for the Senate bill that's passed," Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) told TPM in an interview Friday. "At the very least I'd like to move on the House bill. The whole hangup is over the LGBT, U Visas and the tribal matters. I don't want to let these provisions impede the underlying bill."

Dent, who recently participated in a letter with 16 other House Republicans calling on GOP leadership to take up a bipartisan VAWA, said the conference has not yet had an in-depth discussion on VAWA but he expects there to be one next week. House Republican leaders have no intention of bringing up the Senate bill for a vote, but intend to fast-track their version to the floor next week.

"Republicans are for passing the Violence Against Women Act, too," Dent said. "The issues are the peripheral matters, not the substance of the bill."

President Obama told "The Black Eagle" radio show on Thursday that even if the Voting Rights Act loses in the Supreme Court, people won't lose their right to vote.

"I know in the past some folks have worried that if the Supreme Court strikes down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, they're going to lose their right to vote," he said, according to The Hill. "That's not the case. ... People will still have the same rights not to be discriminated against when it comes to voting, you just won't have this mechanism, this tool, that allows you to kind of stay ahead of certain practices."

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On March 15, 1965, a week after Alabama state troopers brutally attacked civil rights protesters in Selma, President Lyndon Johnson delivered a stirring speech to a joint session of Congress introducing a bill to end voter discrimination against blacks.

The law that it gave birth to, the Voting Rights Act, now hangs in the balance, with oral arguments next week before the Supreme Court. Five conservative justices are skeptical that a centerpiece of the nearly-half-century-old law is constitutional.

"I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy," Johnson said that night, nearly half a century ago. "A century has passed, more than a hundred years, since equality was promised. And yet the Negro is not equal. A century has passed since the day of promise. And the promise is unkept. The time of justice has now come."

Days later, he submitted legislation to Congress aimed at taking stringent, unprecedented steps to end voter discrimination and disenfranchisement. As Congress took it up, opponents rebelled.

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President Obama said Thursday on Al Sharpton's radio show that the Republicans' overarching priority is to protect affluent Americans from tax increases.

"Their basic view is that nothing is important enough to raise taxes on wealthy individuals or corporations," Obama said in a portion of the interview that was played on MSNBC. "And they would prefer to see these kinds of cuts that could slow down our recovery over closing tax loopholes."

Supporters of the Voting Rights Act are painting a bleak picture of what it would mean for the rights of minority voters if the Supreme Court were to strike down the landmark 1965 law's Section 5, which requires state and local governments with a history of disenfranchising minority voters (i.e. mostly in the south) to receive preclearance from the Justice Department or federal court before changing laws that affect voting.

"Broadly speaking, if we didn't have Section 5 we would find that minority voters are in many places around the covered jurisdictions will have their ability to equally participate in the political process severely compromised," Julie Fernandes, a civil rights activist and former deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said this week. "We'll see a lot more of the diluting tactics that we used to have."

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Although he now blames President Obama for the draconian spending cuts set to take effect March 1, just days before it passed House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) characterized the so-called sequester to Republicans as a way to hold the president accountable.

A PowerPoint presentation that Boehner sent to his conference on July 31, 2011, reported by TPM at the time and resurfaced by The Daily Beast's John Avlon, cast the sequester and the rest of the deal in favorable terms. The seven-slide PowerPoint was titled "Two-Step Approach To Hold President Obama Accountable" and the final slide made the case for sequestration.

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