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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

As Congress prepares for a debate over the Obama administration's contraception rule, Senate Republican Conference Vice Chair Roy Blunt (MO) took to the op-ed pages of his homestate newspaper to frame the issue on favorable terms.

"This is not about one group, one health care requirement, or one set of beliefs. It's about protecting Americans' fundamental religious freedom," Blunt wrote in a St. Louis Today guest commentary. "What President Obama doesn't seem to understand is that this debate is not about cost. It's not about contraception. It's about the Constitution. It's about faith and who controls the religious views of faith-based institutions."

Blunt is the author of the GOP measure that would roll back the mandate and permit any employer to deny contraception -- or any other service -- in their health care plans. His op-ed is the latest reminder that the GOP strategy is predicated on turning the debate away from contraception itself, given that Americans are widely supportive of using birth control.

At a Michigan rally Sunday, Rick Santorum aggressively tore into the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where a judge recently declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

He accused liberals of "populating the 9th Circuit with a bunch of radical judges," saying they should be removed in order to "send a very clear message that if you are going to be a radical judge and out of control."

"Sometimes you need to stand up to a bully," he added. "And the courts are acting like bullies."

Rick Santorum sought to portray Mitt Romney as a liberal at a Marquette, Michigan rally on Sunday and again cast himself as the true conservative in the GOP race.

"You can talk about what he did to the liberal cause," Santorum said, invoking Romney's Massachusetts health care plan as the foundation for "Obamacare."

"Why would we give away the most salient issue in this election?" he said comparing Obamacare with Romneycare. "It just makes no sense, folks."

He also said the ex-governor embraced a similar birth control mandate as President Obama.

"Governor Romney did the same thing in Massachusetts, forcing Catholic hospitals to provide the morning after pill," Santorum said.

He added: "We need someone who can create a stark contrast" with Obama. 

In remarks captured by the Portland Press Herald, Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage unloaded on the GOP 2012 field Saturday, decrying all the candidates as damaged goods after having battered each other. He said the country "deserves better" than the current crop and called for a brokered convention to pick a dark horse candidate to challenge President Obama.

"The candidates in this primary have beat themselves up so badly it would be nice to have a fresh face that we all could say, 'Okay.' The country deserves better than having people stand up and keep criticizing each other," said LePage, according to the Press Herald.

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Mitt Romney surrogate Chris Christie was asked Sunday if he'd consider being the GOP's vice presidential candidate. His response to Bob Schieffer on CBS' Face The Nation:

"You know, not really. What I'll say though to you is that if Governor Romney were to come and talk to me about it, I'd listen. Because I love my party enough and I love my country enough to listen. But I love being Governor of New Jersey, and if you're a bettin' man Bob, and I know you are -- If you're bettin', bet on me being the Governor of New Jersey into next year."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Mitt Romney surrogate, disagreed with Rick Santorum's characterization of President Obama as a "snob" for saying he wants all Americans to be able to go to college.

"I think we should aspire to let every child reach his maximum -- or her maximum -- potential," Christie said Sunday on CBS' Face The Nation. "And if Senator Santorum is against that, then I don't think that makes any sense. And I certainly don't think the President's a snob for saying that. I think that's probably over the line."

He later added: "Rick Santorum's not going to be the nominee."

Rick Santorum doubled down Sunday on his remarkable claim that President Obama is a "snob" for wanting all Americans to be able to go to college.

He offered a few different explanations. One was that some people aspire to careers that don't require a college education. Another was that conservatives are "singled out" and "ridiculed" for their beliefs on college campuses.

Santorum's lengthy exchange with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week":

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Now getting to college has been part of the American dream for generations, Senator.  Why does articulating an aspiration make the president a snob?

SANTORUM:  I think because there are lot of people in this country that have no desire or no aspiration to go to college, because they have a different set of skills and desires and dreams that don’t include college. 

And to sort of lay out there that somehow this is -- this is -- should be everybody’s goal, I think, devalues the tremendous work that people who, frankly, don’t go to college and don’t want to go to college because they have a lot of other talents and skills that, frankly, college, you know, four-year colleges may not be able to assist them. 

And there are other -- there’s technical schools, there’s additional training, vocational training.  There’s skills and apprenticeships.  There’s all sorts of things that people can do to upgrade their skills to be very productive and --

(CROSSTALK) 

SANTORUM:  -- and build their community.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  All he said was he wants, quote, "every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training."  In your interview with Glenn Beck this week, you seemed to go further.  You said I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because they are indoctrination mills.  What did that mean?

SANTORUM:  Well, of course.  I mean, you look at the colleges and universities, George.  This is not – this is not something that’s new for most Americans, is how liberal our colleges and universities are and how many children in fact are – look, I’ve gone through it.  I went through it at Penn State.  You talk to most kids who go to college who are conservatives, and you are singled out, you are ridiculed, you are – I can tell you personally, I know that, you know, we – I went through a process where I was docked for my conservative views.  This is sort of a regular routine (ph).  You know the statistic that at least I was familiar with from a few years ago -- I don’t know if it still holds true but I suspect it may even be worse – that 62 percent of kids who enter college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  But Senator, when you put all this together—

SANTORUM:  This is not a neutral setting.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  -- it makes it sound like you think there is something wrong with encouraging college education.

SANTORUM:  No, not at all, but understand that we have some real problems at our college campuses with political correctness, with an ideology that is forced upon people who, you know, who may not agree with the politically correct left doctrine.  And one of the things that I’ve spoken out on and will continue to speak out is to make sure that conservative and more mainstream, common-sense conservative and principles that have made this country great are reflected in our college courses and with college professors.  And at many, many, and I would argue most institutions in this country, that simply isn’t the case.

"I don't believe in an America where the separation of Church and state is absolute," Rick Santorum said Sunday on ABC's This Week, explaining why JFK's famous speech on the matter made him want to "throw up."

The GOP presidential candidate continued: "The idea that the Church can have no influence and no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country. This is the First Amendment. The First Amendment says the free exercise of religion -- that means bringing in everybody, people of faith and no faith into the public square."

John McCain said Sunday that the Republican presidential debates have turned into "mud wrestling," and lamented that the negativity is hurting the candidates.

"I think these continuing debates, and the tenor of the debates, which have turned into mud wrestling, have certainly raised the unfavorables of the candidates," McCain said on CNN's State of the Union. "I don't have any doubt about that."

He added that the Super PAC-driven attack ads are fueling the negativity, and ferociously attacked the Supreme Court for making them possible. Citizens United, McCain said, was a "disgraceful decision" in which the court "displayed a level of ignorance and arrogance that I don't think is with precedent."

President Obama's senior adviser Robert Gibbs was asked Sunday to size up Rick Santorum's odds of winning the nomination -- and had a very interesting response that took some obvious shots at Mitt Romney.

"I don't think Tuesday is going to be a clarifying event in the Republican primary," Gibbs said on CNN's State of the Union. "I think, because of the way delegates are apportioned, this is going to go on for weeks and weeks. And I think he's got a legitimate change to be the Republican nominee. He's clearly somebody who has a very different economic background than Mitt Romney. He's somebody that is -- he's blue collar. He's from Pennsylvania. He's not worth 250 million dollars. And I assume his wife doesn't have several cadillacs."

"So I think he clearly brings a little bit difference challenge."

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