Women in white: Democrats draw contrast at Trump’s address
By LISA MASCARO and LAURIE KELLMAN
Wednesday, February 6
WASHINGTON (AP) — The women of the House wore white. The men wore dark suits. And the contrast laid bare the growing gender gap between Democrats and Republicans.
Wearing the color of the suffragists, the Democratic women of the House put on a stunning display of solidarity during the State of the Union address Tuesday.
They paid tribute to the women who came before them and gave a nod to their own achievement, as more women than ever are now representatives in the House.
There were white pantsuits, of course. But also sheath power dresses. Even a puffy zip snow vest. Hats for some, removed once inside. Shawls and scarves.
In the chamber, there has long been a growing gender divide with Democratic women outnumbering Republicans. The House now has more than 100 women in office. But the vast majority of them, about 90, are Democrats. House Republican women count just over a dozen.
Even when the senators arrive for a joint session like this, the gap comes into view — with the sea of dark suits on one side of the aisle, and the diversity of colorful suits and dresses on the other.
On this night, the simplicity of white offered a reminder that fashion is often political. Theirs was a reflection of the voters who sent them to office last November giving Democrats the House majority.
During his speech, President Donald Trump noted the number of women in newly created jobs last year, touching off a remarkable moment.
The women in white leapt to their feet and high-fived, pointing at themselves and each other. They had won some of those very jobs.
Trump, surprised, said, “You weren’t supposed to do that.”
Then, because he knew the part of his speech that was coming next, told them not to sit quite yet, promising “You’re going to like this.”
Trump recounted that a century after the Congress passed the Constitutional amendment “giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in the Congress than ever before.”
More high-fives and the women in white, repurposing a favorite outburst of the men in suits on the other side of the aisle, chanted, “U-S-A!”
Among them was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who also wore white last month when the 29-year-old was sworn into office, now a prominent member of the freshmen class.
“That’s great,” Trump said. “Very great.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi watched over the night, the first woman to wield the gavel, when she rose to the position in 2007, and now the only speaker in half a century to reclaim it when she was elected again in January.
Trump and Pelosi shook hands before the speech, pleasant enough. But he began his speech without the formal introduction the speaker traditionally gives the president, and Pelosi sat down.
The two had sparred during the partial federal shutdown over whether he should even give the speech at all. Pelosi said no, not until the government reopened. He said yes, but eventually relented.
Pelosi often says her strength comes from the unity of her diverse Democratic caucus, and that power was on display Tuesday.
A few of the Democrats’ male colleagues joined them in white. Rep. Dean Phillips, a newly elected Democrat from Minnesota, wore a white jacket, as did Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill. Many other men wore white ribbons of support.
As soon as the speech was done, the women headed for the doors, their place in history, in white, complete.
In Democratic response, Abrams sharply rebukes Trump
By BILL BARROW
Wednesday, February 6
ATLANTA (AP) — Stacey Abrams harnessed the frustration of Democrats on Tuesday with a sharp rebuke of President Donald Trump for abandoning working Americans and fomenting partisan and cultural discord.
Just months after narrowly losing her bid to become America’s first black woman governor, the Georgia Democrat stepped onto the biggest stage of her political career to deliver her party’s rebuttal to Trump’s State of the Union address. She was the first black woman to deliver such an address and used the high-wattage event to blister Trump on everything from education and school safety to being out of touch with the middle class.
But she was especially stinging when it came to Trump’s role in the 35-day partial government shutdown over his demands for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The shutdown was a stunt engineered by the president of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people, but our values,” Abrams said.
Her speech was much shorter than the president’s hour-plus address. And she largely avoided the pitfalls of others who delivered similar responses, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who broke from his script in 2013 to swig sips of water, and Democratic Rep. Joe Kennedy III, who was ridiculed for his overuse of ChapStick in 2018.
Still, a union hall in Atlanta doesn’t compare to the grandeur — and bright lights — of the House chamber, where Trump delivered his speech.
In choosing Abrams to deliver the Democratic response to Trump, party leaders acknowledged the power and influence of women — especially black women — in anchoring the Democratic base. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is trying to persuade Abrams, 45, to run for Senate in 2020, sensing the opportunity to flip a Republican-held seat and bolster turnout in Georgia, which could become a presidential battleground.
Some potential 2020 Democratic presidential contenders were quick to praise her performance.
“Stacey Abrams achieved in a matter of minutes something Donald Trump failed to do in over an hour — to embrace and give voice to the spirit and core values that make America great,” former Vice President Joe Biden tweeted.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “I think all know why she would have been a wonderful governor of Georgia.”
In her speech, the Yale-educated attorney traced her personal story to her parents, who were raised in segregated Jim Crow Mississippi. She recalled how her family and neighbors overcame adversity by relying on each other and valuing education.
“These were our family values: faith, service, education and responsibility,” she said, crediting her parents, both of them United Methodist ministers, for teaching her about “this uncommon grace of community.”
“We do not succeed alone,” she added. “In these United States, when times are tough, we can persevere because our friends and neighbors will come for us.”
Abrams’ audience at the union hall included workers, activists, labor leaders, health care professionals, educators, entrepreneurs and voters who her aides say had trouble casting their ballots in 2018. Abrams abandoned her governor’s race without a formal concession, asserting that her opponent, Brian Kemp used his last post as secretary of state to make it harder for people, particularly minorities and the poor, to cast ballots. Kemp defended his job performance, but Abrams has still emerged as a leading voting-rights advocate nationally.
“Let’s be clear: voter suppression is real,” she said Tuesday, arguing that the issue must be solved before government will be capable of addressing matters from climate change to expanding health care access.
“This is the next battle for our democracy, one where all eligible citizens can have their say about the vision we want for our country,” Abrams said. “The foundation of our moral leadership around the globe is free and fair elections, where voters pick their leaders – not where politicians pick their voters.”
As she did running for governor, Abrams spoke candidly about her personal debts, which Republicans have used as an attack. Abrams often said her student loans and other debts amassed caring for family members left her more empathetic than most politicians to what the majority of U.S. households experience in day-to-day life. “My family understood firsthand that while success is not guaranteed, we live in a nation where opportunity is possible,” she said.
Republicans are not sparing Abrams, with the Republican National Committee lambasting what it calls “extreme policies” that were “rejected by her home state of Georgia last November.” Trump resisted any shots at Abrams leading up to their prime-time juxtaposition. But last fall, as he advocated for Kemp, the president called Abrams “unqualified” for statewide office.
Even as she critiqued Trump, she said she wasn’t rooting for his failure.
“I’m disappointed by the president’s approach to our problems,” she said. “I still don’t want him to fail. But we need him to tell the truth, and to respect his duties and the extraordinary diversity that defines America.”
Follow Barrow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP
Trump judicial nominee backs away from remarks on date rape
By MATTHEW DALY
Tuesday, February 5
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace Brett Kavanaugh on a high-profile appeals court backed away from language she used as a college student in writing about sexual assault, race and equal rights for women.
“To be honest, looking back at some of those writings … I cringe at some of the language I used,” Neomi Rao told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, adding that writings in which she criticized affirmative action and suggested that intoxicated women were partly responsible for date rape do not reflect her current thinking.
“I like to think I’ve matured as a thinker, writer and indeed as a person,” she said at a confirmation hearing for a seat on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Trump nominated Rao for the seat left vacant when Brett Kavanaugh joined the Supreme Court.
Rao, who currently serves as administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said there were “certainly some sentences and phrases” from her college writing in the 1990s that “I would never use today.”
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who recently revealed she was raped by her boyfriend in college, said Rao’s writings “give me pause,” in part because of the message they send to young women who may be reluctant to report a rape.
Rao called rape a “horrible crime” and said anyone who commits rape should be prosecuted. Her comment that women should stay sober to avoid placing themselves at risk was merely “common sense” advice that her own mother gave her, Rao said.
Rao, 45, worked in the George W. Bush White House but has never tried a case in state or federal court.
Rao, who would be the first South Asian woman to serve on a federal appeals court, said her experience in the White House, and as a former Judiciary Committee staffer, law professor and Supreme Court clerk, qualified her to join the D.C.-based appeals court, widely viewed as the nation’s second-most important court.
“I believe my practical and scholarly experience fits well” with the panel, Rao said. The American Bar Association said Monday it has deemed her “well-qualified” for the appeals court.
On her previous writing, Rao told senators that “perhaps I was idealistic” in writing opinion columns that were intended to be provocative.
Liberal activists and some Democrats have seized on Rao’s writings, in which she also derided LGBT rights as part of a “trendy” political movement and questioned the science behind global warming.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he hoped the Senate would not “crush” such youthful idealism “or punish people for that,” while Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said there was “nothing disqualifying” in Rao’s writings.
But Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he was appalled at Rao’s statement dismissing racial and gender oppression as “myths.”
Rao told Durbin she had no doubt that such oppression was real. She also said she believes in equal rights for women and LGBT people and in the “overwhelming” scientific consensus that climate change is real.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said he was less interested in Rao’s college writings than in her current work at the White House, where she plays a key role in Trump’s efforts to roll back federal rules and regulations. Whitehouse said he believes Rao has worked to protect corporate interests, polluters and the National Rifle Association.
Rao said she and Trump have successfully pushed deregulation that “gets government out of the way” and helps small businesses and other companies create jobs.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, said Rao has “led the Trump administration’s efforts to abolish regulations protecting consumers, the environment and students.” One rule in particular, to increase fuel economy standards for cars, is based on a law Feinstein co-authored.
“Not only did Rao advance a flawed justification for freezing those standards, she indicated she would rule against an agency’s ability to write the standards,” Feinstein said,
Shiwali Patel, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, called Rao a “rape apologist” and said her promotion to the D.C-based appeals court would endanger women.
“Barely a few months after the country heard from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford about sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh, a rape apologist could potentially fill his seat on the D.C. Circuit,” Patel said.
In a 1994 opinion column, Rao wrote: “Unless someone made her drinks undetectably strong or forced them down her throat, a woman, like a man, decides when and how much to drink. And if she drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was a part of her choice.”
A good way to avoid a potential rape “is to stay reasonably sober,” Rao added.
She also said Yale has “dedicated itself to a relatively firm meritocracy, which drops its standards only for a few minorities, some legacies and a football player here or there.”
Senate Republicans pushed back against Rao’s critics, saying her writings were not outside the mainstream. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said her advice not to drink to the point of losing self-control was good advice for men and women.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said he was alarmed by Rao’s broad view of presidential power. Rao said in a recent interview that the president should be able to fire the heads of independent agencies such as the Federal Reserve.
Coons asked whether the president could fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Rao declined to answer, calling it an ongoing political matter that may come before the court.
3 philosophers set up a booth on a street corner – here’s what people asked
February 6, 2019
Author: Lee McIntyre, Research Fellow Center for Philosophy and History of Science, Boston University
Disclosure statement: Lee McIntyre is a member of the American Philosophical Association. Boston University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
The life choices that had led me to be sitting in a booth underneath a banner that read “Ask a Philosopher” – at the entrance to the New York City subway at 57th and 8th – were perhaps random but inevitable.
I’d been a “public philosopher” for 15 years, so I readily agreed to join my colleague Ian Olasov when he asked for volunteers to join him at the “Ask a Philosopher” booth. This was part of the latest public outreach effort by the American Philosophical Association, which was having its annual January meeting up the street.
I’d taught before – even given speeches – but this seemed weird. Would anyone stop? Would they give us a hard time?
I sat between Ian and a splendid woman who taught philosophy in the city, thinking that even if we spent the whole time talking to one another, it would be an hour well spent.
Then someone stopped.
At first glance, it was hard to tell if she was a penniless nomad or an emeritus professor, but then she took off her hat and psychedelic scarf and came over to the desk and announced, “I’ve got a question. I’m in my late 60s. I’ve just had life threatening surgery, but I got through it.”
She showed us the jagged scar on her neck. “I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life,” she said. “I’ve got a master’s degree. I’m happily retired and divorced. But I don’t want to waste any more time. Can you help?”
Wow. One by one, we all asked her to elaborate on her situation and offered tidbits of advice, centering on the idea that only she could decide what gave her life meaning. I suggested that she might reach out to others who were also searching, then she settled in for a longer discussion with Ian.
And then it happened: A crowd gathered.
At first I thought they were there to eavesdrop, but as it turned out they had their own existential concerns. A group of teenagers engaged the philosopher on my right. One young woman, who turned out to be a sophomore in college, stepped away from the group with a serious concern. “Why can’t I be happier in my life? I’m only 20. I should be as happy as I’m ever going to be right now, but I’m not. Is this it?”
It was my turn. “Research has shown that what makes us happy is achieving small goals one after the other,” I said. “If you win the lottery, within six months you’ll probably be back to your baseline of happiness. Same if you got into an accident. You can’t just achieve happiness and stay there, you have to pursue it.”
“So I’m stuck?” she said.
“No…” I explained. “Your role in this is huge. You’ve got to choose the things that make you happy one by one. That’s been shown from Aristotle all the way down to cutting-edge psychological research. Happiness is a journey, not a destination.”
She brightened a bit, while her friends were still puzzling over whether color was a primary or secondary property. They thanked us and moved on.
Suddenly, the older woman who had stopped by initially seemed satisfied with what Ian had told her, and said that she had to be on her way as well.
Again it was quiet. Some who passed by were pointing and smiling. A few took pictures. It must have looked odd to see three philosophers sitting in a row with “Ask a Philosopher” over our heads, amidst the bagel carts and jewelry stalls.
During the quiet I reflected for a moment on what had just happened. A group of strangers had descended upon us not to make fun, but because they were carrying around some real philosophical baggage that had long gone unanswered. If you’re in a spiritual crisis, you go to your minister or rabbi. If you have psychological concerns, you might seek out a therapist. But what to do if you don’t quite know where you fit into this world and you’re tired of carrying that burden alone?
And then I spotted her … an interlocutor who would be my toughest questioner of the day. She was about 6 years old and clutched her mother’s hand as she craned her neck to stare at us. Her mother stopped, but the girl hesitated. “It’s OK,” I offered. “Do you have a philosophical question?” The girl smiled at her mother, then let go of her hand to walk over to the booth. She looked me dead in the eye and said: “How do I know I’m real?”
Suddenly I was back in graduate school. Should I talk about the French philosopher Rene Descartes, who famously used the assertion of skepticism itself as proof of our existence, with the phrase “I think, therefore I am?” Or, mention English philosopher G.E. Moore and his famous “here is one hand, here is the other,” as proof of the existence of the external world?
Or, make a reference to the movie “The Matrix,” which I assumed, given her age, she wouldn’t have seen? But then the answer came to me. I remembered that the most important part of philosophy was feeding our sense of wonder. “Close your eyes,” I said. She did. “Well, did you disappear?” She smiled and shook her head, then opened her eyes. “Congratulations, you’re real.”
She grinned broadly and walked over to her mother, who looked back at us and smiled. My colleagues patted me on the shoulder and I realized that my time was up. Back to the conference to face some easier questions on topics like “Academic Philosophy and its Responsibilities in a Post-Truth World.”
Chris Ford, Lecturer in Accounting & Management, Lancaster University: Thank you for this great article, it provided me with a lovely moment of reflection in the middle of a hectic working day. I do hope you do this more often, and share more stories with us. I only wish I could engage in something similar but sadly my discipline doesn’t quite lend itself to the same approach: if I sit under a banner saying “Ask an accountant” I’m afraid the conversations will not be anything like as interesting as the ones you had that day. Thanks again, Chris.
Paul Braterman, Hon. Research Fellow; Professor Emeritus, University of Glasgow: Lovely article. Smart kid. Good answer. One quibble: “If you’re in a spiritual crisis, you go to your minister or rabbi.” My only spiritual crisis, a long time ago, arose from the realisation that my rabbi was talking nonsense. Seriously, you seem here to acquiesce in the very dubious assumption that ministers or rabbis are, at least ideally, equipped to answer spiritual questions.