June 20

Ever since the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in the Windsor case, gay rights advocates have argued that laws against gay marriage are probably headed for extinction. The ruling has led to a string of state-level gay marriage bans toppling like dominoes, and it’s probably only a matter of time until another SCOTUS decision declaring a Constitutionally protected right to gay marriage.

But in the interim, Congressional Republicans are still blocking legislative action in the area of gay rights — not allowing a vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — and today they will be posed with another test. Juliet Eilperin reports:

The Labor Department will issue a proposed rule Friday stating that any employee is eligible for leave to care for a same-sex spouse under the Family and Medical Leave Act, according to White House officials, regardless of whether they live in a state that recognizes their marital status.

Due to FMLA’s scope, the Labor Department rule would apply only to private-sector employees, but administration officials said the Office of Personal Management would issue its own proposal Friday extending the same benefits to federal employees. [...]

Also Friday, the Justice Department will issue the findings of its year-long review of how the Windsor decision affects other federal benefits. In almost all instances, same-sex married couples will receive the same federal benefits and obligations as their heterosexual counterparts, regardless of where they live. [...].

The two exceptions are Social Security and veterans benefits, which are determined based on the law where individuals live, as opposed to where they celebrated their marriage. Several gay and civil rights groups…have been pressing lawmakers to extend those federal benefits to same-sex couples.

And so, today the White House will call on Congress to pass bills “aimed at extending those benefits to same-sex couples in states that don’t recognize gay marriage.”

One Democrat makes a smart point to me this morning: In many ways, executive actions and the courts are saving Republicans from themselves on gay rights. A lot of the work is getting done without them having to lift a finger. They are increasingly going mute on the issue in the face of announcements such as the one promising executive action to end gay workplace discrimination.

But even if Republicans are quietly acquiescing to such changes, they’re effectively standing on the sidelines, squandering the few chances they do have to play at least some kind of role in moving the country forward when it comes to gay rights, before this cultural moment has passed them by. Very few GOP lawmakers have endorsed gay marriage. The House GOP is still blocking a vote on ENDA. And now House Republicans will likely not allow any vote on measures that would extend Social Security and veterans benefits to gay couples in states that don’t recognize gay marriage.

* WHAT’S NEXT FOR HOUSE GOP? Now that the new, post-Cantor House GOP leadership team is in place, the Post reports that there are already challenges looming for the leadership from the right, with the stakes being pretty high for the country:

The House has a small list of must-pass bills…Funding for highway programs is drying up, the Export-Import Bank will lose the authority to provide key loans for U.S. companies competing overseas, and a stopgap federal budget must be approved to avoid another government shutdown. Hard-line conservatives have vowed to make Boehner’s job difficult, opening up the possibility that he will need a deal with Democrats to win approval for each of those measures.

Ugh, this again? As noted here yesterday, if Congress fumbles on funding for highway programs, it will be a disaster. The question is whether the ascension of southern conservative Steve Scalise to the leadership team will make it easier to navigate these coming showdowns. As the Post reports, some on the right see even Scalise as insufficiently conservative.

 * REPUBLICANS BLAST OBAMA OVER BORDER MESS: The Los Angeles Times reports that Republicans are cranking up criticism of Obama over the crisis at the border, where tens of thousands of minors are crossing into South Texas. GOP Rep. Tom Cole:

“We are essentially incentivizing the flow of this population by not returning the unaccompanied juveniles to their countries of origins quickly. Indeed, once they arrive in the United States, we try to find sponsors for them in this country, and they effectively stay here permanently.”

The emerging GOP position seems to be that we should deport the arriving minors as quickly as possible. As I’ve reported, if we want these minors to get channeled into legal proceedings, so they can present their case (in some cases they’re fleeing violence), deporting them quickly is easier said than done. If Republicans think they shouldn’t be channeled into legal proceedings, they should say so and/or propose a change in the law.

* OBAMA SINKS ON IMMIGRATION: Gallup finds:

Americans’ approval of President Barack Obama’s handling of immigration has dropped to 31%, one of the lowest readings since 2010, when Gallup began polling on his handling of the issue. Meanwhile, two in three Americans (65%) disapprove of his handling of immigration.

And this comes as he is under increasing pressure to act unilaterally to ease deportations — a decision which itself will be complicated by the new crisis at the border. Yes, Obama is really in a serious jam on immigration.

* LIBERALS TURN UP HEAT ON IRAQ: The Hill reports liberal Dems in Congress are increasingly calling on Obama to seek Congressional authorization for any military actions in Iraq:

A number of rank-and-file liberals in the caucus argue that the law Obama is invoking – a 2002 statute authorizing President George W. Bush to invade Iraq – is outdated. If the president intends to launch new military operations, they argue, he should come back to Congress for a new authorization.

It’s unclear Obama has declared otherwise; according to Harry Reid, he has privately vowed to seek authorization. Still, the liberals are probably right here. Which raises a question: If Obama did seek authorization, would Republicans who are demanding a “strong” response support it?

* THE SCOTT WALKER FUNDRAISING CASE: The New York Times has a useful, detailed summary of claims of a vast illegal coordination in fundraising and spending during the failed recall election against him. GOP consultant R.J. Johnson allegedly led the coordination, which supposedly turned on “issue ads” to help Walker:

Prosecutors contend that Mr. Walker’s email and other evidence collected in the investigation show that the governor, his campaign and the outside groups intended the issue ads to influence the state elections. They also argue that Mr. Johnson’s consulting work on behalf of other organizations supporting Mr. Walker, along with joint fund-raising efforts and close coordination of spending between the Walker campaign and outside groups, effectively made those organizations extensions of Mr. Walker’s campaign.

However, one judge has found no probable cause of campaign finance violations, and a second granted a preliminary injunction to halt the inquiry, though the latter is being appealed.

* WALKER CASE HIGHLIGHTS MESSED UP CAMPAIGN FINANCE SYSTEM: Matea Gold and Tom Hamburger make the key point, noting that the Walker case is part of a much larger set of problems bedeviling the whole campaign finance system nationwide:

The episode has highlighted how deep-pocketed independent groups often function as de facto extensions of official campaigns, despite such laws…The newly released documents “draw back the curtain on what’s happening all across the country,” said campaign finance lawyer Trevor Potter, an advocate for limiting big money in politics. Nonprofit groups “are raising large amounts of money, intervening in the political process without disclosing where the money is coming from — and all of this is being done on a broad, deliberate basis.”

Whatever happens with the Walker case, it will shine some light into the darker corners of our nationwide campaign finance regime, illuminating the murky boundaries between campaigns and outside groups in the post-Citizens United world.

* NO, VA SCANDAL DOESN’T UNDERMINE HEALTH REFORM: Paul Krugman debunks the right’s narrative that the VA scandal shows Big Gummint destroys everything health-care-related it touches:

It’s still true that Veterans Affairs provides excellent care, at low cost. Those waiting lists arise partly because so many veterans want care…Yet, on average, veterans don’t appear to wait longer for care than other Americans….Health reform is working. Too many Americans still lack good insurance, and hence lack access to health care and protection from high medical costs — but not as many as last year, and next year should be better still. Health costs are still far too high, but their growth has slowed dramatically. We’re moving in the right direction.

What else?