Weekend open thread: ADA anniversary and Iowa caucus polls edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The Americans With Disabilities Act took effect 25 years ago this week. How many laws have changed the country for the better as much as Senator Tom Harkin’s greatest achievement? The ADA helped millions of people who might have been housebound—like my friend who was able to run errands or take her son to the park, even though she was confined to a wheelchair. Judy Schmidt, who chairs the Iowa Democratic Party’s Disability Caucus, shared how the ADA has affected her in a guest column for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. I’ve enclosed excerpts after the jump. Bleeding Heartland posted more background and links about the law to mark its 20th anniversary. For the record, Iowa’s senior Senator Chuck Grassley also voted for the final version of the ADA, as did most of his fellow Republicans. UPDATE: Added below excerpts from Harkin’s guest editorial in the Sunday Des Moines Register.

Donald Trump has led the last five national polls of Republican voters and is rising in stature in Iowa, if you believe the latest surveys of likely GOP caucus-goers. Follow me after the jump for details.

I brought my kids to Bernie Sanders’ town-hall in West Des Moines on Friday night. My reflections on that event are at the end of this post.

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Weekend open thread: Hall of Fame and Family Leadership Summit edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

All five Democratic presidential candidates appeared at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame dinner in Cedar Rapids on Friday night. I’ve posted below my impressions from the speeches; you can watch the videos on C-SPAN. It’s a shame the venue couldn’t accommodate more people, because lots of interested Iowa Democrats were unable to get tickets for the event.

Before the Hall of Fame dinner, I spent some time with an old friend who’s a huge Hillary Clinton supporter. Huge, as in, she didn’t take down her Hillary yard sign until the grass was long enough to need mowing in the spring of 2008. She mentioned to me that she’s relieved to see Clinton working hard this year instead of “ignoring” Iowa like last time. When I told my friend that Hillary visited Iowa more than 30 times in 2007, spending all or part of 70 days in the state, she was surprised. I’m amazed by how many Iowans have bought into the media-constructed narrative that Clinton “bombed” in the caucuses because she took the state for granted.

Ten Republican presidential candidates came to Ames on Saturday for the Family Leadership Summit organized by Bob Vander Plaats’ FAMiLY Leader organization. C-SPAN posted all of those speeches here. As usual, Donald Trump sucked up most of the oxygen in the room by questioning whether Senator John McCain had been a hero during the Vietnam War. O.Kay Henderson posted the audio at Radio Iowa. Rival presidential candidates with the exception of Ted Cruz rushed to condemn Trump’s remarks. Some of the Family Leadership Summit attendees may have been more upset by Trump’s comments about his three marriages and his admission that when he’s done something wrong, “I don’t bring God into that picture.”

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Grassley and Ernst remarkably casual about remarkable Iran letter

You wouldn’t know it from reading their press releases, but Iowa’s U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst did something unprecedented this week. Along with 45 Republican colleagues, they signed an "Open Letter to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran," warning that any negotiated agreement with President Barack Obama’s administration will not be binding unless "approved by Congress," and therefore could be revoked by the next president.

I have been trying to imagine the uproar if Congressional Democrats had sent a letter like that to Soviet leaders when President Ronald Reagan was negotiating the START arms control treaties. The Iranian foreign minister wasn’t the only one to express “astonishment that some members of US Congress find it appropriate to write to leaders of another country against their own President and administration.” Vice President Joe Biden’s response was scathing.

Grassley and Ernst have sent out several official comments on policy issues since Monday, none of them alluding to their extraordinary step to undermine the president’s negotiations with a foreign power. When asked about the letter during their weekly press calls, they feigned surprise that the matter has spawned so much controversy.

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A closer look at the Iowa counties Obama and Romney won

Preliminary results from the Iowa Secretary of State’s website show that President Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney in Iowa by 807,146 votes to 720,323 (51.89 percent to 46.31 percent) amid record participation of 1,555,570 voters statewide.

As expected, the president won a plurality of the vote in fewer Iowa counties this year than in 2008, but he did pick up one county that was a big surprise for me. Some thoughts about the presidential vote in Iowa are after the jump, along with maps showing which counties Obama, Romney, and John McCain carried. You can find vote totals for every county on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website.

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Panel will study how to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell

During his State of the Union speech last week, President Barack Obama promised, "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are." Today the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing today on the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made headlines by saying he believes "the right thing to do" is to let gays serve openly:

Adm. Mike Mullen’s statement was the strongest yet from the uniformed military on this volatile issue, although he stressed that he was “speaking for myself and myself only.”

He told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday he is deeply troubled by a policy that forces people to “lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate committee he also supports ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. However, he is appointing a panel to study how to lift the ban for a full year, meaning that hundreds more men and women are likely to be discharged under the policy before it goes away. The Obama administration is expected to implement new rules on purging troops under this policy, but it’s not yet clear how much that will reduce the number of discharges while Gates’ panel studies the issue. According to MSNBC, “more than 10,900 troops have been fired under the policy” since 1993, but “The 2009 figure – 428 – was dramatically lower than the 2008 total of 619.”

Meanwhile, at today’s hearing Senator John McCain argued against reviewing the policy at this time, saying it boosts “cohesion” and “unit morale.” He also presented a letter signed by 1000 officers who support Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Come on, McCain. Even a jerk like Joe Lieberman understands why this policy is stupid.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin made the case for ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in this piece for the Politico, but it doesn’t sound like he’s in a big hurry:

So there is little reason to continue this policy. But as we proceed, it is vital that we are sensitive to any complications of this policy shift. Change is always hard, especially when it involves social issues or personal beliefs. Lack of care as we proceed might spark opposition from those who could be open to change, and inflame the opposition of those already against it. And I would encourage those who favor change not to mistake deliberation for undue delay.

Point taken, but I am concerned by the timetable Gates is setting with a yearlong study. I hope Congress will act this year, because if Republicans retake the House or the Senate this November, there will be no chance of ditching Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for the forseeable future.

Daily Kos user TennesseeGurl notes that even if Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed, LGBT Veterans will still get a raw deal. Unfortunately, I see no realistic path to fixing that problem.

UPDATE: Levin “said an amendment could be added to the must-pass Defense Authorization bill which outlines military policy for the year.” Taking that path would allow the Senate to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell with a simple majority (as opposed to the 60 votes required to break a Republican filibuster).

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