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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

Shortly after Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) admitted to her home-state paper that she regrets voting for the GOP's Blunt amendment, which was aimed at rolling back President Obama's contraception rule, she explained to TPM why the issue has weighed heavily on her -- and why she thinks it's damaging her party.

"I heard a lot [from my constituents] because it was in the news this weekend," Murkowski told TPM Tuesday afternoon after attending a weekly GOP policy lunch. "I will tell you, it's not so much just the discussion about contraception that the Blunt amendment precipitated. There's just an awful lot that's been going on. There have been some comments made by some of our presidential candidates. There was the incendiary comments made by Rush Limbaugh."

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A rare apology from Rush Limbaugh has done little to quell the uproar over the radio host's "slut" comment from last week -- and Democrats are working hard to keep it that way.

At his weekly pen and pad, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) launched into an unprompted rebuke of Limbaugh for calling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and "prostitute" for her recent testimony contraception and health insurance.

"I want to speak about an issue which was as outrageous an attack as I've seen recently," Hoyer told reporters Tuesday. "Rush Limbaugh's attack on Sandra Fluke was beyond the pale. Indefensible. Vicious. Intimidating to others. ... And it demeans the public faith."

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Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) told TPM on Tuesday that she was "stunned" by Rush Limbaugh's smear of Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke.

"There was the incendiary comments made by Rush Limbaugh that I think are just adding to this sense that women's health rights are being attacked," Murkowski said.

"The comments made by Limbaugh, I was just stunned," she added. "In the end, I'm a little bit disappointed that there hasn't been greater condemnation of his words by people in leadership positions."

Including Republicans? "Everybody," she responded. "What he said was just wrong. Just wrong."

The House Ways & Means Committee will mark up the GOP bill to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) on Thursday morning, Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) announced.

W&M approval is the last hurdle before the bill can hit the floor, as the Energy & Commerce Committee passed it today. The bill already has enough cosponsors to pass the GOP-led House.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said Tuesday that the highway bill is being held up in the House due to Republican divisions, and he wouldn't put odds on whether it'll pass anytime soon.

"Republicans are a deeply divided party on a number of issues, not the least of which, of course, is the highway and infrastructure bill. Which would in fact, is passed, be a jobs bill. Would create significant jobs."

The second-ranked House Democrat said the Senate is working in a bipartisan manner with the liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and the conservative Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) putting aside their differences to achieve something. House Republicans, he argued, are refusing to work with Dems.

Hoyer's remarks come as CQ reports that Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has "sidelined" Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica from work on the highway bill after his proposal drew criticism from conservative members.

House Republicans are set to advance legislation to repeal a key plank of President Obama's health care law -- the cost-cutting Independent Payment Advisory Board -- and have enlisted several Democrats for a cause that's central to the conservative goal of phasing out traditional Medicare.

On Tuesday, the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee is set to pass repeal of IPAB. The Ways & Means health subcommittee will also hold a hearing on it, bringing the measure closer to a floor vote, and advancing an ongoing fight about whether the government or private insurers should parcel finite health care resources.

While progressive health care reformers have effectively attacked the GOP's vision of a subsidized private health insurance system for seniors, they've been slow to close ranks around the health care law's competing vision of a leaner, more efficient Medicare. But there are signs this is changing.

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Republicans have seized on rising gas prices as a political weapon against President Obama. The White House, sensing peril in the attacks as the election gets closer, has mounted a plan to fight back. And rather than simply playing defense, officials believe they can win the messaging war, tough as that may seem, by defending Obama's record and exploiting weaknesses in the GOP energy platform.

"If drilling were the answer, we wouldn't be having this conversation, because under the president production is up," a White House official told TPM. "Our oil imports are down, and even Republicans have conceded we're in a domestic energy boom."

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Republican operatives want the party to attack President Obama on his foreign policy toward Israel, and in a Monday afternoon speech to the powerful AIPAC, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) portrayed US policy in the region as lacking in clarity. An excerpt from Cantor's speech:

[W]e have to transition from confusion to clarity in the Middle East. A major source of confusion is: Where is the leadership? Who is leading from the front with a finger pointing in the right direction rather than a finger pointing in the wind? America needs to be a compass, not a weathervane, in the Middle East.

Even many of Israel's adversaries are clamoring for clarity. They fear Iran’s efforts to foment instability and extremism in the region more than they fear Israel, as I found out on my recent visit to countries in the Gulf. They want a balance of power in the Middle East, not an unbalanced power like Iran.

America's role is not to put its hand on the scale and balance it against Israel. America's role is to put its fist on the scale to weigh down the terrorism, fanaticism and anti-Semitism of Iran and its proxies.

Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, never specifically mentioned the President in the speech, and mostly offered up a broad foreign policy vision for Israel and the Middle East.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is poised to deliver what his office bills as a "major policy address on Iran" at at AIPAC on Monday night. The speeches dovetail with the perennial GOP goal of chipping off Jewish voters from the Democratic Party.

For most observers, the biggest question about the House Republicans' forthcoming budget is how they'll handle the issue of Medicare. Will they readopt the same phase-out and privatize policy that got them into political trouble last year? Or will they, at least to some extent, scale back their vision?

But the bigger question has nothing to do with Medicare. The bigger question is whether House Republicans can pass a budget at all.

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