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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 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."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters Tuesday that he will not honor any holds placed on the nomination of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense.

He said he intends to hold a vote this week if Hagel is cleared by the Armed Serices Committee.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would not commit to filibuster Hagel's confirmation but signaled that Republicans might do so.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we do have a cloture vote on the Hagel nomination," McConnell told reporters.

Speaking on the floor the morning of the State of the Union, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called on President Obama not to offer any "left-wing" proposals.

From McConnell's remarks Tuesday:

“Tonight, we’ll welcome the President to the Capitol to deliver his State of the Union address.

“As I mentioned yesterday, Republicans will be listening with great interest to see where the President plans to take the country over the coming year. Some media outlets are already reporting that we’ll be subjected to another litany of left-wing proposals, with plenty of red meat for the President’s base. I hope not. The campaign is over, and the fact is, if the President plans to accomplish anything good for the country in the coming months, he’s going to have to go through a Republican-controlled House.

“So this morning I’d like to humbly suggest once again that it’s time for the President to reach out to Congress, including Republicans, and make divided government work. That’s how he’ll actually address the issues Americans are most concerned about right now. It’s the only way.

The Senate will hold a final vote on the Violence Against Women Act on Tuesday afternoon after wrapping up debate and amendments, according to a Senate Democratic aide.

The Senate has rejected two Republican-led amendments -- one to replace the legislation with a scaled back version and another to eliminate a provision designed to beef up protections for Native American women who suffer abuse.

The Senate late Monday defeated a Republican-backed amendment to eliminate a provision of the Violence Against Women Act aimed at beefing up protections for Native American women, setting the stage for final passage of the reauthorization Tuesday.

The amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) would have stripped out language in the bill that allows tribal regions to prosecute non-Native Americans accused of committing crimes against Native Americans.

"What we've done with this solution is to trample on the Bill of Rights of every American who's not a Native American," Coburn said. "And I have no doubt -- I am a hundred percent certain that this portion of the bill is going to be thrown out by the first federal judge that hears it."

It was voted down by a 31-59 margin.

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