Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TN) has represented the 5th District of Tennessee since 2003 and previously the 4th District of Tennessee from 1983 to 1995. In Congress, he’s known for his work on the federal budget, health care, and government reform. He’s a co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition and is one of the few remaining moderates in Congress.

You have introduced legislation aimed at increasing transparency in the allocation of taxpayer money and withholding pay from members of Congress in the event they cannot pass a budget. Can you talk about how these proposed bills relate to your overall philosophy as a member of Congress?

I believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and when you have transparency, you are going to achieve more success. I also believe that you have to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. Those two principles — transparency and pay for performance — can radically improve government. Washington is often a bunch of ostriches with their heads in the sand, and when people realize there is a problem, they panic and go off in twenty different directions. If you have aligned incentives, you are going to get a more successful response.

Do you feel like you have experienced retribution from party leadership for being a moderate in Congress? How do you weigh concerns about this?

A real Congressman should vote with their party about 80 percent of the time. I have never seen a political party that was correct more than that. Today’s Congress has turned into a parliament where people are expected to vote with their party 99 percent of the time. My wife and I have been married for 31 years, and we agree about 80 percent of the time. We’re still married. But under today’s parliamentary scenario, there has to be 99 percent agreement. That effectively destroys Congress, because if you know how you are going to vote in advance, and it is whatever your party leader says, then you don’t need to think about the bill. You don’t need to study the issue. You don’t really need to have handle on the substance. It breeds ignorance. It also breeds conflict, and those two things are often found in many European parliaments and are distressingly present in today’s Congress.

How do you think Congress became so dysfunctional? What role did Newt Gingrich’s role as Speaker of the House have in all of this?

It’s a confluence of factors. Newt Gingrich certainly used guerrilla tactics to gain power in Congress, and both parties have copied his techniques: centralized control at the top, turning Congress into a parliament, punishing anyone who disagrees with you, and forcing all the lobbyists who come in your door to be members of your party. It’s also supporting Supreme Court doctrines like Citizens United that use the First Amendment to hide a lot of scurrilous activity, pretending that corporations are people and that money is speech. That allows an essentially unregulated takeover of American politics by the wealthiest interests in the world.

Do you think the situation in Congress has worsened in recent years?

Most of the Republicans I know are terrified of what has happened to their party. Congress may have gotten a little better. I am actually a fan of the new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-WI). Of the Republicans, he’s the best they could have picked. He is trying to exert a sensible influence on his party. For example, [in early March] he and Mitch McConnell held a press conference to denounce the Klu Klux Klan. I wish the leading Republican presidential candidate would do that. That is a clear-cut good versus evil issue that you should expect your public officials to speak out on, and yet we are seeing a lot of dissembling at the presidential level. 

What do you think of the Donald Trump phenomenon and what it means for the future of the GOP?  

It is a hostile takeover of the Republican Party by someone who is not even really a conservative. [Donald Trump] is an opportunist. Several candidates have pointed that out, but many of his supporters don’t seem to care. The strength of his personality, the visibility of his brand, and the glamour that’s associated with his comb-over have apparently seduced countless Americans to think that he is a worthy presidential candidate, when by all historical standards he is an embarrassment.

It is common knowledge that you and Hillary Clinton have clashed in the past, particularly regarding health care reform in the 1990s. Why have you decided to endorse her for the 2016 election?

I’m an enthusiastic supporter of Hillary. She is an awesome candidate. There is really no comparison between her and any of the other folks running in either party this year. I did prefer Barack Obama back eight years ago, but that doesn’t mean I don’t admire Hillary Clinton. It is true that we have had, on occasion, some policy differences, but as I have pointed out, you shouldn’t expect unanimity from a legislator. I agree with her on at least 80 or 90 percent of her policy issues. The Bill Clinton presidency where she was First Lady was one of the most successful presidencies in modern American history. If we could just get a piece of that now, the country would be in much better shape. It would be a historic achievement to have the first female president.

You have shared your personal cellphone number with all of your constituents and agreed to have it published in a major Tennessee newspaper. Do you know of any other congressmen who have done the same?

There may be one or two others who have done it, but most of my colleagues think I am crazy for doing it. They cannot believe that Tennessee voters are nice enough to not call me in the middle of the night, call me drunk, or just call and yell at me. That is really a tribute to Tennesseans…I am proud of the folks I represent.

Congressman Elijah Cummings has represented the 7th District of Maryland since 1996. A former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, he is currently the ranking Democratic member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

You titled your talk at Brown, “The Fierce Urgency of Now.” What is it about the present moment that makes it so fiercely urgent?

Our nation is at a point where we either come together or become further divided. Right now, with the 2016 election, we are beginning to see [division] in both parties. On the Democratic side, many are saying Citizens United was a horrible decision. They are feeling completely left out of the political process, and have come to a point where they have lost hope in government, especially given recent crises like Flint. And on the Republican side, you’ve got Donald Trump…Here is a man who has given license for people to say their thoughts out loud with little repercussion. Now that they know a leading candidate is saying what they think but previously would never say aloud, it affirms their viewpoint. I am really afraid of them acting on those thoughts…[like when] that black young lady was being pushed [at a Trump rally]. Rachel Maddow recently did a segment where she showed a George Wallace rally with the same kind of [behavior]. We have got to make changes now. If not, we are going to suffer, and people will further be politically polarized and turned against one another.

As a member of the House Oversight Committee, how do you handle witnessing political polarization manifest itself in a committee tasked with nonpartisan investigations?

It’s about focusing on integrity. There’s a saying I love: “I don’t want to move to common ground; I want to move to higher ground.” I want to do what is right for the people…With decisions like Citizens United leading to all of this money in politics, people are spending half their day trying to raise money. When you reach that point, who are you beholden to?  Are you really representing the little lady on Main Street?

What are your hopes for the “Middle Class Initiative” you are co-sponsoring with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)?

The first thing we want to do is show people that there is a problem. We want to make [business owners] realize that it is wrong when, despite the fact that the productivity of their workers is at an all time high, their workers make less money than in previous years. Many organizations, like Uber, do not provide benefits to their employees. While more people have jobs, they have no benefits. Not to mention, the necessary reform of the tax system. We want to show people that they have the power to address the issues facing them. I am trying to focus on those issues to help people keep more money in their pocket books.

PaulRyanReifWhen Paul Ryan announced that he was considering running for speaker of the house, he did so with a list of demands. Among them, he wanted more family time and fewer fundraising obligations than previous speakers, the unity of the House Republicans Conference behind him, and a rule change essentially removing the threat of being deposed midway through his term, like his predecessor John Boehner was. While many hailed this as a move of political genius to both gain the speakership and disarm the far-right of his party, Ryan’s actions were actually far more indicative of continual Congressional shifts. He was speeding along the House’s transformation into a representative body run with parliamentary politics—a potentially lethal combination.

The sheer mechanics of the Speaker’s election process help explain why the role has functionally developed into its current iteration. In fact, the election for speaker of the house functions in many ways like the election for prime minister in a parliamentary democracy. Members elected directly by the people elect a speaker of the majority party, just as directly elected members of parliament elect a prime minister. As such, both are indirectly elected by the people. But while a prime minister goes on to form and lead a government, the Speaker of the House has typically been responsible for fundraising, designing basic political strategy to turn his party’s proposals into law, and deciding when to bring legislation up for a vote—duties that amount to far less than leading a government.

Yet in recent years, the growing political polarization of the country and the rigidity of political parties’ ideologies has shifted American politics toward a model traditionally found in parliamentary systems: Parties vote as blocks without meaningful interparty cooperation under a powerful speaker, who guides the majority block to vote monolithically and quickly on party priorities, rather than truly weighing and debating the merits of the choices at hand with the opposition.

But the United States was notably set up not to be a parliamentary democracy run by rigid political parties. Since its founding, the US has based its governance around a system of democratic compromise, rather than the partisan mud fight that its modern politics has lurched into. Yet despite the founders’ desire to engender ideological diversity over partisanship, polarized political parties have developed and only continued to grow, becoming perhaps the single strongest players in contemporary politics. This has remained true in an era where big donors and outside interest groups are otherwise seen as dominating the political landscape. Yet only parties themselves retain the infrastructure, donor base, and long-term strategy to ensure not just their survival, but authority in the American political system.

Concurrently, political polarization in the US has skyrocketed, reaching levels previously not seen since the outbreak of the Civil War. But unlike in the 1860s, when such polarization was primarily driven by the single issue of slavery, today’s polarization carries a much more ominous caveat: It’s not just one issue that both sides disagree on, but the whole platform. The disappearance of moderate members in both parties and the political bifurcation of the country in turn have led to a set of opposing parties with limited ideological overlap—both dead set on the other’s absolute defeat. In short, these factors have led to conditions highly reminiscent of parliamentary politics, but far from ideal for a legislature designed to foster compromise and carefully debate government policy.

This growing partisan divide has only further cemented the trend towards party unity over compromise, elevating the extremist factions that have begun to operate less like equal voices inside of one party and more like small coalition partners that might use the few seats they control to try and become a power broker. It was, after all, an ideological fringe group, the House Freedom Caucus, which scared away Kevin McCarthy from pursuing the House speakership and, in turn, threatened to withhold their crucial 40-vote bloc from any potential speaker unless their conditions were met.

Yet these extremist groups do not represent a lack of ideological consensus, but instead merely a difference in strategy. They are extreme not for their views but for how their views should be implemented, demonstrating that party unity overall—at least on an ideological basis—is still strong. And the election of Ryan without their full backing further demonstrated that, despite their membership numbers, party unity will still ultimately prevail over a faction. But in turn, such unity has shifted the leadership of the House ideologically further and further away from the political center—anchored in the middle of their own party, rather than the middle of the country. Now, Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats’ effective speaker-in-waiting should they ever regain their majority, both come from the ideological poles of their parties, with Pelosi being a liberal from San Francisco and Ryan making headlines as the most conservative House speaker in history.

The centralized power of leadership is also a troubling nod in the direction of parliamentarianism. When looking at the election of Speaker Ryan himself, it is notable that conservative opposition to his election ceased to be about his ideological credentials and focused on a much more procedural complaint: that perhaps the Speakership was gaining too much power and influence. The job, for many die-hard conservatives, should be about gathering input from all members and creating an open forum for debate. It’s true that Ryan did acknowledge these yearnings, but his insistence on a series of conditions and broad support across the party’s ideological spectrum shifted the advantage away from the hard right. By agreeing to Ryan’s demands, the party has only made the speaker more powerful and further reshaped the House to look more like the British House of Commons than the body it was intended to be. Ryan may have pledged to be a more inclusive speaker who will listen to member concerns, but his demands for party unity and retention of the speakership’s power indicate that he may merely be willing to entertain intraparty debate without actually committing to overall House unity and compromise.

Setting the precedent for Ryan’s campaign, former Speaker Newt Gingrich began to consolidate power, rather than dispersing it through various important members of the leadership and committee chairs. Using tools like term limits on committees and leveraging his position as the public face of the party, Gingrich turned the job into a more powerful role. He even upped party discipline through the highly parliamentarian tactic of “backbenching” to ensure that those committee members who do have power stayed in line. Gingrich’s actions effectively moved power away from congressional committees to the speaker, making that person, in many ways, the exclusive owner of legislative power in one chamber of Congress.

Decades later, Ryan’s call to keep power centralized in his hands will ensure that communication politics and fundraising will most likely remain the speaker’s duties but not his primary role. In his previous capacities as congressman, House Budget Committee chair and vice presidential candidate, Ryan proved himself to be more of a “doer” and a “policy wonk,” rather than a powerless figurehead. Ryan will not merely be a cheerleader, but will instead have the power of a major political party united behind him in lockstep, lest they face discipline and loss of leadership positions. Ryan will not just be a talking head; he will be the leader of the president’s opposition and, should the Republicans win the White House, the president’s new prime minister.

Yet regardless of the strength of Ryan’s policies or his convictions about how the House should be led, his ascension as a parliamentarian leader spells real danger for the system he now presides over. While the House of Representatives, perhaps more than any other part of the American government, resembles a parliament of sorts, it is not the only body that a bill must pass through. Its counterpart, the Senate, is far from the majoritarian and populist body that the House has traditionally been perceived to be, and even with the growing rigidity of parties, it comes nowhere near to the thickening parliamentary dynamic that currently characterizes the House.

What’s more, the US presidential system means that even if a party was to control both the House and a supermajority to prevent filibustering in the Senate, a leader of the opposing party could still veto enough legislation to completely stop up the works and end any chance of progress. For instance, Nancy Pelosi as speaker passed over 300 bills that all stalled once they reached the far more deliberative Senate, an outcome to be expected given its nature as the “tea saucer” of democracy, where ideas may cool. But this is not the way a parliament is supposed to function, and the outcome can be far more disastrous if Congress is divided between the parties, which looks possible ahead of the 2016 elections.

Many may hail the election of Speaker Ryan as a sign of a new era for the Republican Party and the House and a chance for cooperation to finally prevail in government, as it was supposed to. But so far, his election has merely served to crystalize the values of clear party unity and strong leadership that expects members to fall in line rather than try and make deals, as well as the further polarization of House leadership away from the country’s center toward its ideological extremes. It’s a recipe for even worse dysfunction than that which already exists in the US government, with no solution in sight. And neither of those options seem likely in an environment in which even national security funding can be taken for granted.

All this is to say that even if the politics and the leadership of the country are moving in a more parliamentarian direction, the system itself is anchored firmly in the congressional-presidential representative democracy that is designed to encourage cooperation, rather than fighting between the parties. Yet this is no longer the country that the House and Senate exist in. Horse trading has been swapped for strict party discipline, and compromise has ended in favor of gridlock.

The US is not like England, Japan, or Canada in many ways, but especially not in its government. Many Americans are proud of this, and it is not without reason, given that for many decades their governmental system functioned well enough to result in tremendous wealth, power, and influence for the country. But even if the United States isn’t Canada, its politics are beginning to resemble those of its parliamentarian northern neighbor. It’s a possibly toxic cocktail for government, which could prove to be the tipping point for a Congress on the brink every time a stopgap spending measure runs out. We may not have a parliament, but with Ryan as speaker, we may soon have a prime minister.

Art by Emily Reif

In an astonishing display of contrition, last Thursday President Obama apologized to Americans who are losing their health insurance plans as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In recent weeks the president has been the subject of harsh criticism regarding the tumultuous debut of healthcare.gov and claims that he mislead the American people. The president also extended an apology to Congressional Democrats who supported him on the bill, some of who are up for reelection in 2014 and politically vulnerable after the botched health care roll out.

“I completely get how upsetting this can be for a lot of Americans, particularly after assurances they heard from me that if they had a plan that they liked, they could keep it,” the president said.

During the hour-long news conference the president admitted, “we should have done a better job … right on day one.” When asked about his pledge that Americans happy with their health plans would not be forced to change them he stated “there is no doubt that the way I put that forward unequivocally ended up not being accurate.”

Throughout debate of the ACA and after its passage, the president repeatedly assured Americas that if they liked their health care plans they would be able to keep them. Contrary to his claims, 3.5 million Americans have received cancellation notices from their insurance companies. The cancelled plans are individual policies; and approximately five percent – or 15.8 million – of Americans purchased such plans alternatively to more common routes to coverage like employer based health plans, Medicare, Medicaid, or veteran’s benefits. The cancelled policies do not meet requirements of the new health care law including stipulations that plans cover emergency treatment, prescription drugs, and hospital stays.

The President’s approval rating is 39 percent, an all time low. And for the first time a majority of Americans consider him untrustworthy.

The political toxicity permeating Obamacare is cause for alarm among Congressional Democrats, some of who are running for reelection in 2014. The nine-point lead democrats enjoyed with voters over Republicans at the beginning of last month –during the partial government shutdown – has evaporated. During his press conference, the President went to great lengths to ease criticism of his party’s members. Regarding misinformation and cancelled health plans, the President shielded Democratic congressmen stating, “they were making representations based on what I told them and what this White House and our administrative staff told them, and so it’s not on them, it’s on us.” Over the course of the conference, Obama said the health law’s mistakes are “on me,” three times.

Obama put forward a proposal that would allow health plans that are in violation of the law to continue for another year for enrollees that already have such plans. But given the hostile political climate and Republicans eagerly seizing on the blunders of the health care law, Democrats up for reelection have voiced support for further reform. Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, who is running for a second term, stated that the president’s reform “doesn’t go as far as I’d like.”

Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu proposed a mandate that insurance companies reinstate canceled plans. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin supports a one-year delay for penalties for not having insurance. And New Hampshire Democrat, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, is in favor of extending the open enrollment period for insurance exchanges, which is planned to close March 31.

The “most significant legislative rebuke” of the president’s health care reform, and indication of the level of Democrat agitation over the mishandled rollout, 39 members of the president’s party voted for a Republican health bill in the House on November 15. The bill passed 261-157 but was unlikely to pass in the Democrat controlled senate. The White House has stated that if passed, the President would veto the legislation.

The bill proposed by Michigan representative Fred Upton addresses the recently cancelled health care plans. It would permit Americans whose plans were cancelled to keep those plans and additionally would allow insurers to continue selling policies “that do not cover basic services and offer little financial help for catastrophic health events.” The Republican legislation would effectively undermine the President’s healthcare legislation. But Democrats running for reelection in 2014 are responding to the widespread unpopularity thus far of Obamacare.

One of the 39 Dems to vote for the Republican legislation, Arizona Representative Ron Barber said, “Today I voted to give people the option to keep their current plan until these and other issues are resolved. That’s only fair.”

Get ready for an eventful 2013 hurricane season. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center estimates that three to six major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 and 5; winds of 111 mph or higher) will make appearances this fall. Where and when, exactly, no one knows. But in the event of a storm like Hurricane Sandy, coastal homeowners and communities will need to prepare accordingly and consider evacuating. Sandy, bear in mind, made landfall on New Jersey and New York as a Category 1 hurricane, with 90 mph winds. That October 2012 storm cost the U.S. $70 billion in direct losses and economic output — and put the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) $25 billion in debt.

So if a Category 1 hurricane can render such a devastating dent in the NFIP, and if we can expect worse hurricanes this year (and arguably every year in the foreseeable future), why would politicians delay a crucial reform to the NFIP that would save our government money by requiring homeowners to pay for the risk of living on the coast?

The reform in question, the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012, also known as the Flood Insurance Reform Act, was signed into law by President Obama one year ago this month. The law is intended to ease the burden carried by the federal government after storms like Sandy. The act targets properties previously covered by the NFIP’s “grandfather” rule, which allows homeowners to keep lower flood insurance rates that were in place when they built or bought their homes. Grandfathered rates have allowed homeowners to live on the coast without internalizing the monetary risks of doing so. Simply put, the NFIP cannot afford to recoup the repetitive losses of homeowners with such low insurance rates.

Along with increasing flood insurance premiums, Biggert-Waters will mandate new Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs). FIRMs determine the zones of risk that stratify policyholders into different premiums. Unlike current FIRMs, however, the updated maps are to include climate change related threats, such as rising sea levels and more intense storms. Equipped with a new metric for flood insurance rates that reflect the actuarial risk of living in vulnerable coastal areas, the NFIP can apply pressure to coastal homeowners who will become effectively uninsurable in the future.

Yet a problem with Biggert-Waters is that it hits low-income homeowners the hardest. Louisiana Representative Maxine Waters, an original sponsor of the legislation, has criticized the act for rashly imposing “punitive or unaffordable rate hikes that could make it difficult for some to remain in their homes.” Waters has a point. Some coastal homeowners might see their rates climb 100 times higher than they had paid with federal subsidies.

“President Obama visits FEMA headquarters.” FEMA Photo Library, Bill Koplitz. Wikicommons.

But delaying the act, as Waters’s fellow Louisiana Representative Bill Cassidy has proposed, won’t put homeowners out of harms way this fall — because delaying the act won’t reduce the damage coastal cities and towns will face after the arrival of all but inevitable storms. Nor will delaying the act stop sea levels from rising. Still, delaying the act will grant much needed economic relief to those hit hard by the recession, and by recent storms. For that reason, delaying the act, as the House has chosen to do and the Senate and President Obama similarly might, is widely viewed as a politically lucrative move.

While legislative relief might seem invaluable to coastal homeowners today, worsening damage from this year’s hurricane season might render the discussion moot, and in tragic fashion. The same coastal infrastructure network that was devastated by a Category 1 hurricane last fall is hardly prepared to face new storms of greater ferocity. But it remains to be seen whether leaders are prepared to face political consequence for decisive action, action that, soon enough, will probably save lives.

Despite all post-electoral promises to the contrary, Congressional and state Republicans last week reverted to their roots. Once again, they conjured voodoo biology and bloviated about their concern for the safety of women to justify blatantly unconstitutional infringements upon reproductive rights. Out of sheer desperation, they turned a blind eye to legislative procedure and even attempted to turn back the clock at the close of a special session intended to restrict abortion in Texas. Republicans must soon understand, as Wendy Davis (the LeBron James of the filibuster) and her peanut gallery of vocal supporters do, that so long as they stay this course, their prospects dwindle daily. The shame, embarrassment and wide electoral margins will continue to mount until they shed their stubborn resolve, abandon their “legitimate rape” philosophy and embrace a more compassionate alternative.

Used under the Creative Commons License
Davis’ symbolic victory won’t stop a renewed effort among national conservatives to undermine Roe v. Wade.

Last week, reproductive rights advocates unleashed their frustrations upon the Texas State Senate. But what happened in Washington merits equal attention. Last Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the most restrictive ban on abortion debated on Capitol Hill since 2003. Though the measure stands no chance of passing the Senate, it would prohibit all abortions past the 22nd week of pregnancy based on the medically dubious claim that fetuses begin to feel pain during that stage of development. Never mind that Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood afford all women the constitutional right to an abortion before the fetus reaches viability, generally agreed upon to be the 24th week of pregnancy—or that only 1.3% of all abortions occur after the 21st week.

Not only does the legislation, entitled the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (PUCPA), clearly fail constitutional muster, it’s also ineffectual relative to the complications underlying late-term abortion (few as they are): Most post-viability abortions are attributable to safety concerns for the health of the mother and financial concerns for low-income women saving up to afford the procedure. The PUCPA does nothing to address either.

Proponents of the bill cite the infamous Gosnell abortion clinic as one of their primary motives. Pro-lifers have rallied around the recent prosecution of Kermit Gosnell, a doctor running an abusive and illegal clinic in Philadelphia, to spur anti-abortion activism.

Republicans and Democrats alike dispute neither the illegality nor the disgusting brutality of delivering stillbirth babies and then murdering them for a profit. There’s “bipartisan consensus” that Gosnell is an exploitative, spineless monster devoid of a moral compass. But to assert that maintaining legal abortion until the 24th week of pregnancy caused the outcome of the Gosnell clinic is laughable. If anything, the opposite is true.

Let’s evaluate the options available to a poor woman past the 24th week of pregnancy, living in West Philadelphia and desperately seeking an abortion. She can either administer the procedure herself and risk death, or pay a visit to the Gosnell clinic with the money she’s been saving paycheck-to-paycheck for the past six months. The neighborhood Planned Parenthood rejects her plea for help, though they are sympathetic to her cause. All safe options evaporate.

So what of the Republican solution to expedite the time frame for women to acquire lawful procedures? Well the PUCPA, by restricting legal abortion to the first 22 weeks of pregnancy, would actually increase the probability of a Gosnell repeat. Who is more likely to offer illegal procedures after 22 weeks: Planned Parenthood or Gosnell?  Legal abortions confer a degree of safety and medical expertise vital to the health and well being of patients. Limiting the scope of legal abortions does nothing more than put women at even greater risk for injury.

The Texas State Senate convened a special legislative session last week to vote on a bill that would similarly restrict legal abortion to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. At the state level, such obvious violations of the standard set by Roe and Casey are not unprecedented. In March, North Dakota passed legislation banning abortion just six weeks into pregnancy, when a fetal heartbeat can first be detected. A federal appellate court will likely block the law before it takes effect.

Governor Perry’s bill, however, comes with a nasty caveat. Though it permits abortion further into pregnancy, it also mandates that abortion clinics meet the standards of surgical centers. Under the façade of bolstering reproductive safety, it would force most medical facilities that cover abortion in Texas to close their doors. Accommodating the demands of this provision would require costly equipment and infrastructure upgrades, a luxury only five of the existing forty-two clinics in the state can afford. On Tuesday, Texas Senate Republicans moved to vote on the bill.

Enter Wendy Davis.

Outfitted in pink tennis shoes, the state senator planted her feet firmly to the Senate floor and refused to budge for the eleven hours that ensued. This was not her first filibuster, nor do I imagine it will be her last. Her righteous obstinacy was no small feat—Texas filibuster protocol requires the standing senator to speak continuously without pausing, asking for help or deviating from the topic of debate. Unlike certain obstructionists on the Hill, Wendy Davis wasn’t allowed to just read Alice in Wonderland for ten minutes, phone a friend and take a break for afternoon tea.

Tragically, Texas state Republicans flouted parliamentary procedure, ending #standwithWendy before the clock struck midnight. Senate filibuster rules lay down a three-strikes-you’re-out policy. Supposedly, the presiding officer in the chamber can issue a strike if the filibustering senator either accepts help or strays off topic. David Dewhurst, the Texas lieutenant governor, ruled that Planned Parenthood’s budget wasn’t a “germane” topic to the bill at hand. Strike one. Neither was a 2011 mandatory sonogram law. Strike two. Then Davis had the nerve to ask a colleague to adjust her back brace. Strike three, you’re out.

If a medical facility’s finances aren’t relevant to a bill that imposes an unaffordable expense on abortion clinics, one shudders to think how Dewhurst defines “germane.” Davis was rightly baffled when the Chair issued an order to table her filibuster.

Luckily, the voices of her protesting constituents descended from the gallery above and bred a state of chaos that made the ‘yeas’ of Dewhurst’s party-line vote inaudible. Reproductive rights in Texas lived to see another day, despite the best efforts of Republican legislators to alter the time stamp on the vote from 12:02am to 11:59pm.

Though Wendy Davis and her supporting cast won the battle early Wednesday morning, they face almost certain defeat in the war that looms ahead. Governor Perry wasted no time in calling another special session last Thursday (and again put his foot in his mouth, levying ad hominem attacks against Davis in the process). Senate Republicans displayed a resolute lack of shame in resorting to procedural abuse Tuesday night, in front of a crowd larger than most major television news audiences.

Senator Leticia Van de Putte, frustrated after being repeatedly ignored by Dewhurst, inquired, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand and voice to be recognized by her male colleagues in the room?” Her message is clear: the lieutenant governor has sculpted a culture of misogyny in the Senate chamber that silences advocates of women’s rights and, failing that, simply bends the rules.

So when, not if, Governor Perry signs Senate Bill 5 into law, what recourse does Texas have to preserve access to reproductive care? If last week has taught political observers anything, it’s that politics doesn’t have to be a pessimistic enterprise, especially given that courts have the potential to get it right when legislators err.

Senate Bill 5 is unconstitutional on two grounds. Collectively, Roe and Casey extend the conception of liberty established in Griswold v. Connecticut to a right to privacy inclusive of a woman’s right to choose. Federal appellate courts have issued stays to most restrictive abortion laws that violate the standard of viability (24 weeks) recognized by Roe. SB5 should clearly be lumped into this category. It warrants blockage simply because it bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

But Casey v. Planned Parenthood altered the guidelines outlined in Roe. The plurality opinion, authored by Justices O’Connor and Kennedy, established the undue burden test, which ruled restrictions unconstitutional if they mounted a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking an abortion of a non-viable fetus. It ought to be obvious that a bill forcing all but five of the state’s abortion clinics to close poses an undue burden to a woman’s right to choose. Especially in South Texas, where the only two existing facilities, located in McAllen and Harlingen respectively, will shut down if the bill goes into effect. When SB5 becomes law in Texas, both clinics will have persuasive cases for blocking its enforcement.

As the week—and year—progresses, we can merely hope that the proverbial gallery of protestors standing with Wendy Davis continues to drown out SB5 through the voice of public opinion. The only certain remedy to the GOP’s assault on women’s rights is to demand change at the ballot box. In the long-term, old habits will die hard if and only if the electoral incentives align. Otherwise, expect more of the same.