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 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."

President Obama met with congressional leaders today, and if a readout from House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) office is any indication, some modest bipartisan agreements may be in the cards.

A Boehner aide emails:

Speaker Boehner met this afternoon with the President, the Vice President, Leader Reid, Leader McConnell, and Leader Pelosi, and left the meeting hopeful that the Democratic leaders may finally consider some of the bipartisan energy and jobs bills passed by the House.  During the meeting, the group discussed a host of issues, including opportunities to advance bipartisan solutions to help struggling American families.  The Speaker identified a number of areas in which he believes there is the basis for common ground to help create jobs and address rising gas prices.  He encouraged the President and Democratic leaders to embrace the JOBS Act, the House’s package of bipartisan bills to make it easier for small businesses to grow and hire more workers.  The Speaker was encouraged by what the President had to say about the JOBS Act.

Don't expect retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) to vote for the GOP's Blunt amendment on Thursday, which permits employers to deny contraception or any other service in their health plan.

"With respect to the Blunt amendment, I think it's much broader than I could support," Snowe told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC Wednesday.

Snowe, who rocked the political world by announcing her retirement yesterday, added: "I support the Marco Rubio approach in that regard. I do think that there should be a valid conscience clause and I didn't agree with what President Obama had done with respect to that mandatory requirement."

The Rubio bill would permit any employer to deny birth control coverage -- but not other services.

A Senate vote Thursday on the Blunt Amendment could solidify the culture war over contraception in this election year. And Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY), the Democrats' top message man, just offered a glimpse of how his party intends to frame the issue.

Some excerpts from Schumer's floor speech today:

There’s no good answer about where the other side is going with this issue—except, perhaps, back to the 19th century.

This whole debate is an anachronism. Our country progressed beyond the issue of whether or not to allow birth control a long time ago. Yet here we are in 2012, and the Republican Party suddenly wants to turn back the clock and take away contraception from women. ...

This measure would force women to surrender control of their own health decisions to their bosses. ...

So let’s admit what this debate is really and what Republicans really want to take away from millions of American women. It is contraception.

We should instead call this amendment for what it really is: for millions of women whose boss may have a personal objection, it is a contraception ban.

Republicans are working hard to make the issue about religious freedom, not contraception. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), whose amendment permits any employer to deny a service in their health care plan if they deem it morally objectionable, wrote an op-ed ths weekend offering a preview of how Republicans plan to debate this issue.

As expected, the House Energy & Commerce health subcommittee on Wednesday approved a GOP bill by a 17-5 margin to repeal the health care reform law's Independent Payment Advisory Board.

Rep. Frank Pallone (NJ), the top Democrat on the subcommittee, voted with Republicans after expressing his opposition to IPAB, but also said he was disenchanted with the GOP's broad motive to derail the Affordable Care Act. Democratic Rep. Ed Towns (NY) joined Pallone in voting for repeal.

They aren't the only House Dems to back repeal of the panel, which is designed to rein in Medicare spending over time by holding down reimbursements to providers. It does not have the authority to cut payments to beneficiaries.

All the Republicans on the panel voted to repeal IPAB. The White House defended the provisions in a blog post hours before the vote.

Rep. David Dreier (R-CA), the Rules Committee chairman who has served in the House since 1981, will not seek reelection this year, he announced Wednesday in a floor speech.