Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, believe it or not, has not actually officially really truly announced yet that she’s running for president. She’s announcing today sometime. (I’m writing this Sunday night to post on Monday, so apologies if she’s beaten me to the post.) She made what’s called a “soft” announcement at the New Hampshire debate, telling CNN’s John King that she had filed her paperwork that day. She said she wanted him to be the first to know.
Well, him, the other six candidates on the stage, the entire audience at the venue, the people at the satellite venue who were submitting questions, and everybody who was watching CNN right then.
Anyway, despite still not having made her official, serious announcement, as of Sunday, she was already within one percentage point of Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucus polls. (More on what that means later, but here’s a hint: possibly not much.)
Yesterday, she made the rounds on the Sunday morning talk shows. I didn’t see her on all of them — which made me a little sad, because I wanted to see if she had a tea bag in her hand like she used to carry to her public events — but I did hear a replay of her appearance on Fox News Sunday as I was listening to C-SPAN radio in my car. And once again, the position that made no sense to me at the debate returned… and still made no sense to me.
Chris Wallace, who sounds like he’s been practicing to be a news anchor since he learned to speak (he’s CBS “60 Minutes'” Mike Wallace’s son, so I guess it’s possible), was asking Rep. Bachmann about her position on gay marriage. In the wake of NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo signing a bill legalizing gay marriage there, Wallace wanted to clarify what Bachmann said at the debate. Here’s a transcript from the show:
BACHMANN: Well, I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. And I also believe — in Minnesota, for instance, this year, the legislature put on the ballot for people to vote in 2012, whether the people want to vote on the definition of marriage as one man, one woman. In New York state, they have a passed the law at the state legislative level. And under the 10th Amendment, the states have the right to set the laws that they want to set.
WALLACE: So, even though you oppose it, then it’s OK from your point for New York to say that same-sex marriage is legal?
BACHMANN: That is up the people of New York. I think that it’s best to allow the people to decide on this issue. I think it’s best if there’s an amendment that goes on the ballot where the people can weigh in. Every time this issue has gone on the ballot, the people have voted to retain the traditional definition of marriage as recently as California in 2008.
WALLACE: But you would agree if it’s passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor, then that’s a state’s position.
BACHMANN: It’s a state law. And the 10th Amendment reserves for the states that right.
So, that sounds like Rep. Bachmann believes the states have the right to decide the definition and validity of a marriage. This is the part where Chris Wallace asks Rep. Bachmann to watch a clip of herself answering this question at the New Hampshire debates. At that time, she said she supported a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, but she would not go into individual states that allow gay marriage to overturn their laws. Apparently, I’m not the only one still trying to figure out what the hell she meant.
WALLACE: That’s why I’m confused. If you support state rights, why do you also support a constitutional amendment which would prevent any state from recognizing same-sex marriage?
BACHMANN: Well, because that’s entirely consistent–
In my car, out loud, I said to my radio, “No, it’s not! I think what you meant to say was it is, in fact, not at all consistent.”
BACHMANN: –that states have, under the 10th Amendment, the right to pass any law they like. Also, federal officials at the federal level have the right to also put forth a constitutional amendment. One thing that we do know on marriage, this issue will ultimately end up in the courts, in the Supreme Court. I do not believe the judges should be legislating from the bench.
My head snapped focus from the road to the radio. “Lady, what are you talking about?”
BACHMANN: As president of the United States, I would not appoint judges who are activists –
WALLACE: But this has nothing to do with the judges.
“Thank you, Chris!” In my car, I’m on a first-name basis with Chris Wallace.
BACHMANN: — who want — who want to legislate from the bench. Under the federal government, again, federal representative can put forward a federal constitutional amendment because ultimately, with states having various laws, the federal government –
(CROSSTALK) Chris is confused, Bachmann is trying to get back on the rails…
WALLACE: My point is this, do you want to say it’s a state issue and that states should be able to decide? Or would like to see a constitutional amendment so that it’s banned everywhere?
BACHMANN: It is — it is both.
“WHAT?! It’s both?” The people behind me could now see me throwing a hand up in the air in the universal “WTF?” gesture.
BACHMANN: It is a state issue and it’s a federal issue. It’s important for your viewers to know that federal law will trump state law on this issue. And it’s also — this is why it’s important — Chris, this is why it’s so important because President Obama has come out and said he will not uphold the law of the land, which is the Defense of Marriage Act. The Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act and Bill Clinton signed it into law, to make sure that a state like New York passed a definition of marriage other one man, one woman, that other states wouldn’t be forced to recognize New York’s law.
WALLACE: But just real quickly –
BACHMANN: And President Obama has said –
WALLACE: Congresswoman, if I may –
BACHMANN: Let me just finish this. In opposition to what is supposed to do, he is charged with executing our laws, whether he likes them or no. That’s why this is so crucial. That’s why I think you may see again a rise at the federal government level for a — a call for the federal constitutional amendment, because people want to make sure that this definition of marriage remains secure, because after all, the family is the fundamental unit of government.
She’s gone ’round the bend!
WALLACE: So, just briefly, you would support a constitutional amendment that would overturn the New York state law?
BACHMANN: Yes, I would. I would. That is not inconsistent–
“YES IT IS!” I’m so emphatic that I nearly swerve into another lane.
BACHMANN: –because the states have the right under the 10th Amendment to do what they’d like to do. But the federal government also has the right to pass the federal constitutional amendment. It’s a high hurdle, as you know. We only have 27 amendments to the federal constitution. It’s very difficult. But certainly, it will either go to the courts, or the people’s representatives at the federal level.
That’s the end of that topic; they moved on to abortion, which I tune out because I don’t believe it’s a political issue. Phew. Now I can calm down a little. Good thing: people on the highway were beginning to look at me funny. Like they do when I sing my vocal warm-ups as I drive. It would have been really embarrassing to have to explain to an officer that I ran my car off the road because Michele Bachmann was trying to explain her position on gay marriage. It only would have been a shade less embarrassing than explaining that my vocal slides confused other drivers and made them think there was an ambulance behind them.
Clearly, Ms. Bachmann knows she can’t answer the gay marriage question very well. She’s a Republican and therefore against “big government,” which means she wants states’ rights preserved, so she’s trying to play to that with her insistence that marriage is a state issue. But she’s also a Christian conservative pandering to the Tea Partiers in the GOP, which means she has to come out strongly against gay marriage, which leads to her saying she wants a constitutional amendment. Her off-topic rant about “activist judges” (and I love that they’re only “activist” when they rule against conservative Republicans) was apparently her attempt to back up her assertion that the decision over gay marriage will eventually go to the Supreme Court.
Republicans don’t want gay marriage cases to go to the Supreme Court without a constitutional amendment, because there’s nothing in the Constitution that defines marriage. Marriage has always been left to the states. Which means if a state case goes to the Supreme Court, the Court is very likely to rule that the marriage is allowed, or at least is not disallowed, because the Court is sworn to uphold the Constitution… and the Constitution renders no legal opinion on the matter. So… certain (not all) Republicans want a Constitutional amendment so that judges on the Court will be more likely to rule against gay marriage.
Rep. Bachmann’s sudden injection of President Obama’s position on the Defense Of Marriage Act (signed into law by President Clinton in 1996) is another end-around for the state vs. federal jurisdiction argument. DOMA defined marriage, for federal purposes, as being between a man and a woman, and told states that they would not be required to recognize a gay marriage if it had been performed in a state where it was legal. So why did DOMA happen? Because the Constitution contains in its original body (not an amendment) something called the Full Faith and Credit Clause. That clause requires any state in the union to legally recognize “public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.”
Which means the Full Faith and Credit Clause would force a state where gay marriage is not legal to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in a state where it was.
If it weren’t for DOMA.
And the president, along with at least one federal judge, a California bankruptcy court and US Attorney General Eric Holder, all say DOMA is unconstitutional, so the president has directed his administration not to defend the 1996 law.
After that it gets a little tricky, because President Obama does not actually support gay marriage. But that doesn’t stop some Republicans from blasting him for it anyway.
Bachmann got in her factoid about President Obama refusing to support DOMA because she wanted to get another talking point in: namely, she was accusing Mr. Obama of not upholding his sworn duty as a member of the Executive Branch of US government.
The president swears to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. And as we’ve already established… there is no constitutional law about marriage. Except that which is implicit in the Full Faith and Credit Clause.
So what about that other thing I mentioned? The thing about Rep. Bachmann pulling to within one point of Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucus polls? What does that mean?
It could mean that she’ll win the first primary in the country, which sometimes sets the tone for a party’s nomination process.
Or it could mean nothing, since Mitt Romney isn’t even taking part in the Iowa caucus; he’s focusing his attention on New Hampshire, where he knows he’s stronger. So technically, Rep. Bachmann is not quite tied with a guy who’s not actually spending any time in the state.
In 2008, Arizona Governor Mike Huckabee came from a 4% general poll rating to win the Iowa caucus outright.
Caucus polls are just fun for poli-sci wonks and campaign staffers. They don’t actually mean anything. In fact, sometimes things swing pretty wildly from one caucus to another; in 2008, Pres. Obama broke out in Iowa, but Hillary Clinton beat him in New Hampshire.
Rep. Bachmann is not a dumb woman. She’s actually very well educated. She has a post-doctorate in tax law, she has run a business and she has raised five children and fostered 23 with her husband, to whom she’s been married for 33 years. She deserves credit for all of those things. She’s certainly a hell of a lot smarter than Sarah Palin, and Rep. Bachmann doesn’t quit her job, or her bus tour, come to think of it. So we would do well to resist the urge to lump her in with the former VP candidate.
But I, for one, will be waiting for her to start making some kind of sense on gay marriage.