Blogging the Beltway: But as women flee the GOP, he's working to keep their growing support.
As the general election gets under way, analysts have repeatedly underscored female voters as the group that will determine its outcome. According to a series of recent polls, they're flocking to President Obama.
The latest example is a new USA Today-Gallup Poll that shows the president's lead with women over Mitt Romney. Among female voters in 12 swing states, Obama is ahead by 18 points. The gap is even wider among younger women, with more than 60 percent under the age of 50 supporting Obama.
The president's approval rating with women had actually dropped last December. But the longer Republicans talked about contraception and "getting rid of" Planned Parenthood, the more women started to prefer the president's message.
Likely hoping to capture this groundswell of support in a bottle, on Friday the White House hosted a forum on women and the economy. For four hours administration officials -- including Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius -- discussed their efforts to bolster economic security for women, with panels on women in the workplace, entrepreneurship, education, health care and violence against women and girls.
Midway through the summit, President Obama stopped by to address the audience. He first tried to distance himself from the polls and analysis of female voters, calling them oversimplified. "Women are not some monolithic bloc. Women are not an interest group," he said. "Women are over half this country and its workforce -- not to mention 80 percent of my household, if you count my mother-in-law."
With that, he ticked off his administration's work, starting with the gender pay gap.
"Right now, women are a growing number of breadwinners in the household. But they're still earning just 77 cents for every dollar a man does -- even less if you're an African-American or Latina woman," he said. He continued that in 2009 he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which made it easier for women and other workers to sue for pay discrimination, in order to work against that.
Obama also spoke on health care reform, listing its provisions that benefit women in particular. "Last year more than 20 million women received expanded access to preventive services like mammograms and cervical-cancer screenings at no additional cost," he said. "Nearly 2 million women enrolled in Medicare received a 50 percent discount on the medicine that they need. Over 1 million more young women are insured because they can now stay on their parent's plan. And later this year, women will receive new access to recommended preventive care like domestic violence screening and contraception at no additional cost."
Then he pushed back on the GOP. "When something like the Violence Against Women Act -- a bill Joe Biden authored, a bill that once passed by wide bipartisan margins -- is suddenly called to question, that makes no sense," he said to applause. "That's not something we should still be arguing about."
Meanwhile, Romney acknowledges that he has a "women problem" -- but he attributes it to Democratic distortion of his positions, and says that the tide will turn. "There's no question that over the past several weeks, that a discussion about religious liberty was distorted into a discussion about contraceptives ... that somehow Republicans are opposed to contraceptives," Romney said in a Newsmax interview this week. "I think it was a most unfortunate twist by our Democrat friends. I think this will pass as an issue as people understand our real position."
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.
Blogging the Beltway: A new coalition wants every black church to register at least 20 this Sunday.
On the last week of February, the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, called together the heads of 30 black church denominations. He wanted to talk about how they could get more involved in social and civic issues.
"I felt that the black church had lost its prophetic voice in the community, relative to what's taking place in our community," Bryant, 40, told The Root of the meeting, which included presentations from members of Congress, journalists and leaders from various black professional organizations. "After that, we moved to formalize this covenant as the Empowerment Movement."
The Empowerment Movement, a nonpartisan organization headed by Bryant, harnesses the collective support of more than two dozen church denominations, including African Methodist Episcopal, Church of God in Christ, Progressive and Baptist.
Their first order of business is pushing for increased voter participation -- starting with registering 1 million voters on Easter. With an estimated 500,000 black churches in the United States, the Empowerment Movement is calling on all of them to register at least 20 members this Sunday. "Easter is the most church-populated Sunday on the Christian calendar," Bryant said, laughing. "So that day gives us the most bang for our buck."
The mass effort is partially in response to battles over recent state voting laws that require government-issued voter ID and curtail early voting periods, as well as local redistricting, all of which disproportionately affect people of color. "We felt we had to take an active role in this presidential election because there's a lot at stake," said Bryant.
The organization opted to keep their voter-registration push electronic. Pastors are encouraged to walk their congregations through the process of registering en masse during church services and on their smartphones, laptops and iPads. This approach will help them track registration numbers in a more streamlined way and lets them reach people who aren't "churched," as Bryant put it. "We want the church to drive the initiative, but because it's through technology, you don't have to be in church in order to participate."
Keeping it online also helps them deal with laws that hamper voter-registration drives. Although in March the U.S. Justice Department rejected a Florida law that placed severe hurdles to community-based voter-registration operations, Texas has a similarly restrictive law. "In places that are restricted from doing voter registration, the churches are encouraging people to visit [voter registration] websites as soon as Easter services are over," said Bryant.
Ambitious as the Empowerment Movement's goal sounds, Bryant is confident that they'll reach it. "If you take a church like Bishop T.D. Jakes' [the Potter's House mega-church in Dallas], that has 24,000 members," said Bryant. "If you go to a storefront church in Southeast D.C., that may only have 50 -- but Bishop Jakes will be able to register way more than 20. I think the math is in our favor."
Registration, however, is only the first step for the coalition. "The voter process is three-pronged," said Bryant. "There's voter registration, voter education and get-out-the-vote."
In the upcoming voter-education phase, churches are strictly prohibited from endorsing candidates but will focus on the issues at stake, such as health care, Social Security, Pell Grants, the social safety net and education funding. "We're going to deal with issues that are germane to our community," said Bryant. "We have not had a collective platform to discuss these things. It's an incredible opportunity to now be able to do so."
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.
Blogging the Beltway: The leader of an activist group tells how the companies caved under pressure.
Updated 4/6/2012: On Thursday Kraft announced that it, too, will end its membership with ALEC. The company issued this statement:
We belong to many external groups, including ALEC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes growth and fiscal responsibility.
ALEC covers numerous issues but our involvement has been strictly limited to discussions about economic growth and development, transportation and tax policy. We did not participate in meetings or conversations related to other issues. Our membership in ALEC expires this spring and for a number of reasons, including limited resources, we have made the decision not to renew.
Following Pepsi and Coca-Cola, Kraft is now the third major corporation to stop supporting ALEC.
Blogging the Beltway: On the 44th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s death, speakers evoked current struggles.
Hundreds of visitors of all ages and ethnicities flooded the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial on Wednesday evening for a candlelight vigil on the 44th anniversary of the civil rights activist's assassination. The memorial's foundation organized the one-hour event, which was emceed by National Urban League President Marc Morial and featured speakers including author Michael Eric Dyson and Christine Chávez, granddaughter of labor activist César Chávez. It concluded with a wreath-laying at the foot of the memorial's sculpture of King.
"Before there was any memorial to Dr. King, to his great and extraordinary life, April 4 had always been a day to remember him," Washington, D.C., Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton told the crowd. "We are especially grateful that this year, for the first time, there is a special and unique place to come in his remembrance."
Although speakers reflected on the legacy of King, each also stressed the need to reaffirm and commit to justice and peace.
Lee Saunders, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, remarked on King's relationship with labor, noting that he died in Memphis, Tenn., when he was helping sanitation workers there organize for better wages, working conditions and benefits and basic dignity. "We've come a long way from that day 44 years ago, yet in 2012 two things are clear," he said. "Much remains to be done, and much of what Dr. King stood for is being undone in 2012."
Arun Manilal Gandhi, a grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, was soft-spoken but firm in his assessment that much of this nation has done a disservice to the memories of both King and his grandfather. "We have looked at the philosophy of nonviolence as a weapon, as a strategy to be employed when convenient. But it is not a weapon; it is a way of life," he said. "We have failed the revolution, and so we still continue to languish in this mire of hate and prejudice. I think it's time for us to wake up and do something so that the dream that both these people shared will not go wasted."
Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman pointed out that when King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech at the 1963 March on Washington, it was actually his second time giving the speech, having delivered an earlier version at a much smaller march in Detroit. "What was different is that the world was watching and listening," she said. "My friends, whether it is Trayvon Martin or any of our nation's children, whether it is the elderly who go to bed hungry at night, whether it is the fight for workers' rights, for which Dr. King gave his life on the battlefield for justice, we should not have to wait for the world to be watching and listening in order to do what is right, what is just, what is fair."
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.
Blogging the Beltway: Some question his faith, but clergy at the White House gave him an "amen."
As the Republican primary race drags on, candidates have repeatedly made an issue out of President Obama's faith -- or lack thereof, according to some campaign-trail rhetoric.
"I think there is in this country a war on religion," Mitt Romney told Milwaukee supporters on Monday in response to a question about the president's mandating that health insurance provided by employers cover contraceptives. "I think there is a desire to establish a religion in America known as secularism."
In a Fox News interview last month, Newt Gingrich went the old-fashioned route, stopping short of saying that the president is Muslim -- but arguing that he gives people legitimate reasons to believe that he's Muslim. "Why is it that he's more sensitive to radical Islamists who are killing young Americans than he is to the Catholic Church, to Baptists, to fundamentalists?" he asked. "I mean, the fact is, this is a very strange presidency."
Meanwhile, on Wednesday morning, President Obama spoke at length about his Christian faith at an annual Easter prayer breakfast at the White House. The event, which the president first held in 2010, gathered about 150 Christian leaders from across the country.
"Every time I travel around the country, somebody is saying, 'We're praying for you,' " the president said, to knowing laughter from the guests. "Michelle gets the same stuff. And that means a lot to us. It especially means a lot to us when we hear from folks who we know probably didn't vote for me -- and yet are expressing extraordinary sincerity about their prayers."
After thanking the crowd for the work of their ministries, he claimed that he wasn't going to "stand up here and give a sermon," but went on to talk about the role of faith in overcoming doubts. He described how Jesus confronted fear before the Crucifixion by praying in the garden of Gethsemane.
"It is only because Jesus conquered his own anguish, conquered his fear, that we're able to celebrate the Resurrection," the president said. "The struggle to fathom that unfathomable sacrifice makes Easter all the more meaningful to all of us. It helps us to provide an eternal perspective to whatever temporal challenges we face. It puts in perspective our small problems relative to the big problems he was dealing with. And it gives us courage and it gives us hope."
The president elicited a few "amens" and "all rights" from the crowd as he began quoting from Scripture ("Jesus told us as much in the book of John, when he said, 'In this world you will have trouble ... But take heart! I have overcome the world.' ").
Among the breakfast's attendees were the Rev. Al Sharpton; the Rev. Julius Scruggs, president of the National Baptist Convention; Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; the Rev. Cynthia Hale, senior pastor at Decatur, Ga.'s Ray of Hope Christian Church (who also delivered an opening prayer); and the Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.