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 Republican-led House defeated an amendment by Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) to offset some $17 billion in aid for victims of superstorm Sandy.

The vote on the amendment was 162-258. Republicans supported it by a 157-71 margin but Democratic opposition helped strike it down. It would have imposed a 1.63 percent across-the-board cut to discretionary spending.

Republican opponents fret that it would cut into defense and veterans' programs.

The vote split GOP leaders: Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA) and Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA) voted for the amendment, while Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (CA) voted against it.

UPDATE: Via spokeswoman Stephanie Faile, Mulvaney issued a statement following the vote:

“While I certainly hoped my amendment to offset the cost of the Hurricane Sandy Supplemental Relief Bill would have passed, I was very encouraged that 162 Members, including several Democrats, agreed that we should find a way to pay for the relief the folks in the Northeast so desperately need. I believe this bodes well for future discussions about how to deal with emergency spending. I am especially pleased with the atmosphere of the debate, as it was respectful and reasonable on all sides. Even opponents of my amendment recognized that this amendment was not about denying assistance to anyone in need. I hope that we will use this experience to be even better stewards of taxpayer dollars going forward.”

Shortly after Chuck Hagel was nominated to be next secretary of defense, TPM asked a Senate Republican leadership aide what their opposition strategy was going to be.

The aide's response in full: "Schumer."

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a leadership Democrat, was seen as the GOP's best hope of chipping away at support for Hagel's confirmation, in part because of the former Nebraska senator's occasional critiques of U.S. foreign policy toward Israel. Schumer initially hedged on whether he'd support Hagel but there was no reason to believe he would mount a fight against President Obama over the confirmation.

On Tuesday, Schumer dashed Republican hopes by announcing his intention to support Hagel for the Pentagon's top job. In a statement, the New York Democrat said he was reassured after a 90-minute White House meeting on Monday with Hagel where the two discussed his views regarding Israel and the Middle East, Iran and a past anti-gay slur. Schumer declined an offer last week to speak with Hagel by phone, according to a Senate aide. Instead the two men met in the West Wing, according to the aide. It was Hagel's first in-person meeting with any senator about his nomination, the aide said, noting that Schumer is not even on the Armed Services Committee that has jurisdiction over the confirmation of the secretary of defense.

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Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee for secretary of defense, wrote Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) a letter addressing her questions regarding foreign policy toward the Middle East, "don't ask, don't tell" and reproductive rights for female service members.

Boxer received the letter Monday night, her aide told TPM, and subsequently announced her support for Hagel's confirmation.

Chuck Hagel's Letter To Barbara Boxer by

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) still wants filibuster reform. But he's voicing support for a set of changes to the current filibuster rules that would fall short of the more sweeping proposal from leading reformers, and the leading Senate champion of filibuster reform believes Reid's proposed changes are not strong enough.

In a locally aired interview over the weekend on a PBS affiliate in Las Vegas, Reid said he wants to require an obstructing minority of senators to occupy the floor and speak only after cloture has been invoked to begin debate. In other words, 41 senators could silently block debate from beginning, but once 60 senators vote to move to debate, filibustering senators must speak on the floor.

He also said he wants to reduce the current 30-hour delay between cloture and a final vote and shrink the number of votes required to go to conference with the House from a total of three down to one.

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One week before filibuster reform's do-or-die moment, its two chief proponents are escalating their campaign, enlisting Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and the liberal Daily Kos community to help lead the charge.

The Senate returns early next week with a narrow window to either approve or scrap the resolution by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Udall (D-NM) to require an obstructing minority to occupy the floor and speak for the duration of their filibuster.

Three senators and Daily Kos are issuing a new petition Monday that reads: "Just a few days left! Over the next few days, the fate of filibuster reform hangs in the balance. Let's tell the leaders of the U.S. Senate that real reform includes a full talking filibuster."

Meanwhile, the Fix The Senate Now coalition of outside anti-filibuster groups is sounding the alarm with its own drive for reform. The coalition, which is urging supporters to write to their senators in favor of reform, argues that Republican threats to hinder the nominations of Chuck Hagel for the Pentagon and Jack Lew for Treasury enhance the need to curtail the filibuster.

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The White House's weekend ultimatum that Congress either lift the debt ceiling cleanly or take responsibility for default puts Republicans in a bind over their goal of reforming entitlement programs.

In ruling out all executive options, such as minting a high-value platinum coin, the White House put the onus on congressional Republicans to agree to raise the nation's borrowing limit -- without spending cuts or strings attached -- or permit the first ever credit default. President Obama has steadfastly rebuffed their calls to cut social spending in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, and Democratic leaders support his position.

"There are only two options to deal with the debt limit: Congress can pay its bills or it can fail to act and put the nation into default," said Obama's spokesman Jay Carney. "The President and the American people won't tolerate Congressional Republicans holding the American economy hostage again simply so they can force disastrous cuts to Medicare and other programs the middle class depend on while protecting the wealthy."

That leaves Republicans in a difficult position vis-à-vis their promise not to raise the debt ceiling without improving the long-run solvency of programs like Social Security and Medicare.

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In a web exclusive with ABC News Sunday, Paul Krugman went after Jon Stewart over the comedian's derisive coverage of the idea of minting a platinum coin to avoid a credit default.

“It is a funny thing. But you want to be funny from a point of view of understanding what the issues are. There’s a reason we’ve gotten to this place," said the economist and New York Times columnist. "Obviously neither [Stewart] nor his staff did even five minutes of looking at the financial blogs. Lots of people think it’s a bad idea. Lots of people think it’s a good idea. But it’s not just, ‘Oh, those idiots.’"

In a recent blog post, Krugman, an advocate for the platinum coin idea that the White House ruled out Saturday, called the Comedy Central host "lazy" for what he characterized as an overly simplistic mockery of the idea.

“Part of the point about Stewart ... is that he’s funny, but that the show is actually better informed than most of our public discussion," he told ABC. "The idea is that the show is like an especially good episode of the roundtable on ‘This Week’, but in the form of jokes. But when he just turns it into dumb, 'I don’t know nothing, but those people look dumb to me,' he’s ruining his brand."

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday on NBC's "Meet The Press" that the GOP cannot merely represent the "far right wing of the political spectrum" if it wants to remain a viable party into the future.

"I think the Republican Party right now is having an identity problem," he said. "And I'm still a Republican."

"In recent years there's been a significant shift to the right, and we have seen what that shift has produced: two losing presidential campaigns," Powell said. "I think what the Republican Party needs to do now is take a very hard look at itself and understand that the country has changed. The country is changing demographically. And if the Republican Party does not change along with that demographic, they're going to be in trouble."

"There's also a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party," he said. "They still sort of look down on minorities." He pointed to Republican figures issuing racially-tinged slurs at President Obama and the GOP's tolerance of the birther movement.

The former secretary of state said the GOP needs to come up with constructive solutions to problems like health care and climate change.

"I'm a moderate, but I'm still a Republican," Powell said. "And until I voted for Obama twice I voted for seven straight Republican presidents."

Colin Powell said Sunday that Chuck Hagel would be confirmed secretary of defense, offering a ringing endorsement of the decorated war hero and former Republican senator from Nebraska.

The former secretary of state said on NBC's "Meet The Press" that Hagel is "superbly qualified" and "will make a very spirited defense of his positions" when he appears before the Senate.

Powell praised Hagel's "very, very distinguished public service record." He said Hagel "speaks his mind" and "says what he believes and sticks with it" even if it gets him in trouble.

He said the issues raised about Hagel are "important" but that the ex-senator will have an opportunity to address them at his confirmation hearings, and will "do a great job as secretary of defense."

Powell said Hagel is "a good supporter of Israel" but he's "not reluctant to disagree when he thinks disagreement is appropriate." He said being pro-Israel "doesn't mean you have to agree with every single position that the Israeli government takes."