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

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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House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) congratuled President Obama and Vice President Biden in remarks at a Capitol luncheon shortly after the inauguration ceremony Monday.

His remarks in full:

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Old Hall of the House.  The people’s representatives met in this chamber over the five decades prior to the Civil War.

“It’s a wonder they made it here that long.  See, the acoustics were terrible.   You just couldn’t hear anything.  Or, in some spots, you could hear everything being said in the room.  It was a mess.  And that, of course, was a time when our leaders weren’t hearing each other all that well to begin with.

“A century and a half – and many architectural improvements later – we gather in the Old Hall to better hear one another and renew the old appeal to better angels.  We do so amid the rituals and symbols of unity, none more enduring than our flag.

“This year, Old Glory will mark a milestone of her own.  It was in the spring of 1813 that the new commander at Fort McHenry ordered a flag to be flown over the entrance to Baltimore Harbor.  ‘It should be so large,’ he said, ‘that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance.

“For such an enormous banner, a mother-and-daughter team had to stitch together overlapping strips of wool to make the product a complete whole.  From many, one.  So a grand old flag was born, and not long after, an anthem to go with it.  Today, wherever we put out the flag, whenever he hear it snapping in the wind, it gives proof of the blessing we call democracy – this symphony of service and faithfulness in which we all play a part.

“So in the spirit of harmony, I am proud to present the flags that flew over this battalion of democracy today to President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.  To you gentlemen, I say congratulations and Godspeed.”

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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