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

Senate Republicans voted overwhelmingly Thursday in favor of a measure that would permit any employer to deny services in their health plan, such as birth control, that they deem morally objectionable. The amendment offered by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) was struck down 51-48 in a motion to table, thanks to virulent opposition by Democrats and one GOP holdout. Democrats are eager to hang the vote around the GOP's neck in the upcoming elections.

The only Republican who crossed over to help kill the measure, which was aimed at repealing the Obama administration's birth control mandate, was retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME). Dems are defending 23 Senate seats in the November elections, and running against a GOP they can portray as anti-birth control could help them in some tough races. Democrats are salivating at the prospect of using the votes of vulnerable members, including GOP Sens. Scott Brown (MA) and Dean Heller (NV), against them this year.

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The Obama administration's health secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday that she's confident the final birth control rule will include an acceptable religious accommodation for self-insured plans, an important wrinkle in the adjusted rule.

Sebelius made her remarks at a House Energy & Commerce health subcommittee hearing, as reported by The Hill's Julian Pecquet.

"There are a variety of arrangements already in place in the 28 states that have this law already in place and we intend to be informed by that when we propose the rules," she said. "Whether it's through a third-party administrator or … a side-by-side plan or many other arrangements, we will offer a variety of strategies to make sure that religious liberties are respected."

The Democratic-led Senate voted on Thursday to table the Blunt amendment aimed at rolling back the Obama administration's birth control mandate. The tally was 51-48 to strike it down.

Soon before the vote, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) announced on the floor that she will vote for the Blunt amendment aimed at rolling back the Obama administration's birth control mandate.

"I do this with a lot of conflict, because I think the amendment does have its flaws, but when the administration cannot even assure me that self-insured faith-based organizations' religious freedoms are protected I feel I have no choice," Collins said. "I hope that the amendment will be refined."

The Senate is poised to vote on the Blunt amendment Thursday at 11:30 a.m. ET, according to a leadership aide.

The controversial measure, aimed at rolling back the Obama administration's birth control mandate, will be voted on as an amendment to the otherwise bipartisan highway bill.

The deck seems stacked for a landmark Supreme Court decision against the use of racial preference in college admissions, experts tell TPM. The scope of the upcoming Fisher v. University of Texas ruling is uncertain, but barring a shocking change of heart from one of the five Republican-appointed justices, the high court seems set to deal a blow to Affirmative Action.

This fall, for the first time since 2003, the Supreme Court will hear a case that cuts to the heart of Affirmative Action in higher education, brought by a white woman who said she was unfairly denied admission to the University of Texas-Austin. More importantly, it will be the first time the high court has taken a case on this issue while a majority of the sitting justices have expressed misgivings with racial preferences in education. To add to that, Elena Kagan, one of the justices seen as sympathetic to the cause, has recused herself.

"I think the chances for Affirmative Action are really not good," Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA, told TPM. "Without Kagan there are only three solid votes for continuing Affirmative Action in higher education. Those aren't good odds."

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Updated 6:38pm

One day before a critical Senate vote that could loom large as a 2012 election issue, Mitt Romney came out for a congressional Republican measure designed to roll back the Obama administration's requirement that employer health plans cover birth control.

"Governor Romney supports the Blunt Bill because he believes in a conscience exemption in health care for religious institutions and people of faith," Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul told TPM.

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced Wednesday he will split with his party and vote for the GOP Blunt amendment that would let any employer deny contraceptive or other health services in their insurance plans.

Manchin said in a statement:

"While I would have preferred that both sides would have come together around a solution like we had in West Virginia, I am voting in favor of this measure to protect the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. Well-intentioned people on both sides of this issue can respectfully disagree, but for me this comes down to our religious liberties. I truly believe that we must safeguard Americans’ right to exercise their sincerely held religious views, and I support this measure to protect that freedom of conscience."

The vote is scheduled for Thursday.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) emphatically called on Republicans Wednesday to stop invoking the late Ted Kennedy to justify their support for the Blunt contraception amendment. She said he was a great champion of women's health.

"So I ask my colleagues here in this debate. Come here and state your views," Boxer said on the Senate floor. "But don't misstake the views of a dear departed colleague, who for 12 years supported a women's right to have access to contraception."