“Feeding some 9 billion people by mid-century in the face of a rapidly worsening climate may well be the greatest challenge the human race has ever faced.”
Last year, the journal Nature asked me to write a Comment piece after they read one of my posts on prolonged drought and “Dust-Bowlification.” The article was published October 27, 2011 (here, subs. req’d).
Since six months have passed, I can reprint the entire piece on ClimateProgress (see below).
This was my first piece ever in the journal itself. I did have an online piece, “Nature publishes my climate analysis and solution.” This is not a peer-reviewed article but rather a “Comment” piece.
I sent it to five of the world’s leading authorities on climate change and drought and the hydrological cycle: Kevin Trenberth, Aiguo Dai, Michael Mann, Peter Gleick and Jonathan Overpeck. I endeavored to incorporate their comments, but unfortunately Nature has a 10-reference limit for their Comment pieces so I wasn’t able to include as many references as they suggested or as I would have liked. If you want links to most of the articles I refer to, go here.
I was particularly delighted that Overpeck liked the term “Dust-Bowlification.” He really was an inspiration for me to begin studying this topic many years ago when I saw a 2005 presentation of his, ?Warm climate abrupt change?paleo-perspectives,? that concluded ?climate change seldom occurs gradually? (see The ?global-change-type drought? and the future of extreme weather).
I was equally delighted Nature has basically endorsed this term through its multiple appearances in this article and felt that the overall issue warranted more attention.
I do not believe that most Americans — and that includes most policymakers and the media — understand the convergence of the recent scientific literature on the extreme threat posed directly to this country of Dust-Bowlification (see “Climate Story of the Year: Warming-Driven Drought and Extreme Weather Emerge as Key Threat to Global Food Security“).
I am glad that leading climatologists like James Hansen are starting to talk more about the threat posed by drought — since it is painfully clear that even some people considered climate experts are unaware of the literature (see “James Hansen Is Correct About Catastrophic Projections For U.S. Drought If We Don?t Act Now“).
As I wrote in the article:
Human adaptation to prolonged, extreme drought is difficult or impossible. Historically, the primary adaptation to dust-bowlification has been abandonment; the very word ?desert? comes from the Latin desertum for ?an abandoned place?. During the relatively short-lived US Dust-Bowl era, hundreds of thousands of families fled the region. We need to plan how the world will deal with drought-spurred migrations and steadily growing areas of non-arable land in the heart of densely populated countries and global bread-baskets. Feeding some 9 billion people by mid-century in the face of a rapidly worsening climate may well be the greatest challenge the human race has ever faced.
Now, Dust-Bowl conditions could stretch all the way from Kansas to California by mid-century. America?s financial future and the health and safety of our people are at serious risk if greenhouse gas pollution is not brought under control quickly. The food security of all of humanity is at risk. Denial is simply not an option, the time for action is now.
Here is the whole article:
Which impact of anthropogenic global warming will harm the most people in the coming decades? I believe that the answer is extended or permanent drought over large parts of currently habitable or arable land ? a drastic change in climate that will threaten food security and may be irreversible over centuries.
A basic prediction of climate science is that many parts of the world will experience longer and deeper droughts, thanks to the synergistic effects of drying, warming and the melting of snow and ice.
Precipitation patterns are expected to shift, expanding the dry subtropics. What precipitation there is will probably come in extreme deluges, resulting in runoff rather than drought alleviation. Warming causes greater evaporation and, once the ground is dry, the Sun?s energy goes into baking the soil, leading to a further increase in air temp- erature. That is why, for instance, so many temperature records were set for the United States in the 1930s Dust Bowl; and why, in 2011, drought-stricken Texas saw the hottest summer ever recorded for a US state. Finally, many regions are expected to see earlier snowmelt, so less water will be stored on mountain tops for the summer dry season. Added to natural climatic variation, such as the El Niño?La Niña cycle, these factors will intensify seasonal or decade-long droughts. Although the models don?t all agree on the specifics, the overall drying trends are clear.
I used to call the confluence of these processes ?desertification? on my blog, ClimateProgress.org, until some readers pointed out that many deserts are high in biodiversity, which isn?t where we?re heading. ?Dust-bowlification? is perhaps a more accurate and vivid term, particularly for Americans ? many of whom still believe that climate change will only affect far-away places in far-distant times.
Prolonged drought will strike around the globe, but it is surprising to many that it would hit the US heartland so strongly and so soon.
The coming droughts ought to be a major driver ? if not the major driver ? of climate policies. Yet few policy-makers and journalists seem to be aware of dust-bowlification and its potentially devastating impact on food security. That?s partly understandable, because much of the key research cited in this article post-dates the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Raising public awareness of, and scientific focus on, the likelihood of severe effects of drought is the first step in prompting action.
I first heard of the risks in a 2005 talk by climatologist Jonathan Overpeck of the Uni- versity of Arizona in Tucson. He pointed to emerging evidence that temperature and annual precipitation were heading in oppo- site directions over many regions and raised the question of whether we are at the ?dawn of the super-interglacial drought?.
The idea wasn?t new. As far back as 1990, scientists at NASA?s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York projected that severe to extreme drought in the United States, then occurring every 20 years or so, could become an every-other-year phenom- enon by mid-century.
Events are starting to bear out these worrying predictions. Snowpack reduction, early snowmelt and a decrease in dry-season river flow in the American West, forecast more than two decades ago, have now been measured. In much of the northern Rockies, the peak of the annual stream runoff is up to three or four weeks earlier than it was half a century ago. Heat and drought ? coupled with the greater impact of destruc- tive species, such as bark beetles, aided by warming ? have increased forest die-off and the risk of wildfire.
The palaeoclimate record dating back to the medieval period reveals droughts lasting many decades. But the extreme droughts that the United States faces this century will be far hotter than the worst of those: recent decades have been warmer than the driest decade of the worst drought in the past 1,200 years.
And much warmer conditions are projected. According to a 2009 report of the US Global Change Research Program, warming over mid-latitude land masses, such as the continental United States, is predicted to be higher than the forecast average global warming: much of the inland United States faces a rise of between 5 °C and 6 °C on the current emissions path (that is, ?business as usual?) by the century?s end, with a substantial fraction of that warming occurring by mid-century.
A 2007 analysis of 19 climate projections estimated that levels of aridity comparable to those in the Dust Bowl could stretch from Kansas to California by mid-century. To make matters worse, the regions at risk of reduced water supply, such as Nevada, have seen a massive population boom in the past decade. Overuse of water in these areas has long been rife, depleting groundwater stores.
Of course, the United States is not alone in facing such problems. Since 1950, the global percentage of dry areas has increased by about 1.74% of global land area per decade. Recent studies have projected ?extreme drought? conditions by mid-century over some of the most populated areas on Earth?southern Europe, south-east Asia, Brazil, the US Southwest, and large parts of Australia and Africa. These dust-bowl conditions are projected to worsen for many decades and be ?largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stopped.?
The concept of drought has not been ignored by the IPCC and other scientific groups; there is even a United Nations Con- vention to Combat Desertification. But the cumulative risks don?t seem to have been fully recognized by the public and by policy- makers. And key questions remain to be answered, ideally in a dedicated report by an organization such as the US National Academy of Sciences or the IPCC.
Most pressingly, what will happen to global food security if dust-bowl conditions become the norm for both food-importing and food-exporting countries? Extreme, widespread droughts will be happening at the same time as sea level rise and salt-water intrusion threaten some of the richest agricultural deltas in the world, such as those of the Nile and the Ganges. Meanwhile, ocean acidification, warming and overfishing may severely deplete the food available from the sea.
What are the implications of dust-bowlification for energy generation? After agriculture, energy generation is responsible for the majority of freshwater withdrawals, and two key strategies for generating additional potable water ? wastewater purification and desalinization ? are both energy intensive. Future energy systems will need to be low on greenhouse-gas emissions and on water use. In particular, thermal power plants ? including nuclear ? may need to switch from evaporative or ?wet cooling? systems to dry cooling techniques, which, unfortunately, tend to be less efficient.
From an ecological perspective, what will be the effects of dust- bowlification on the global carbon cycle? In the past six years, the Amazon has seen two droughts of the sort expected once in 100 years, each of which may have released as much carbon dioxide from vegetation die-off as the United States emits from fossil-fuel combustion in a year. More frequent wildfires also threaten to increase carbon emissions. And as habitats are made untenable, what will be the effect on biodiversity?
At the same time, drought models need to be improved. They successfully chart the hydrological changes seen in the US South- west and the drying seen at the global level7, but regional predictions can be disturbingly variable. Some models forecast an increase in precipitation for East Africa, whereas oth- ers correctly predicted in 2010 that warming of the Indian Ocean would lead to drought in the region, such as this year?s devastating drought in Somalia. The models need higher resolution and a better understanding of precipitation, sea surface temperature and the effects of vegetation.
Human adaptation to prolonged, extreme drought is difficult or impossible. Historically, the primary adaptation to dust-bowlification has been abandonment; the very word ?desert? comes from the Latin desertum for ?an abandoned place?. During the relatively short-lived US Dust-Bowl era, hundreds of thousands of families fled the region. We need to plan how the world will deal with drought-spurred migrations (see page 447) and steadily growing areas of non- arable land in the heart of densely populated countries and global bread-baskets. Feeding some 9 billion people by mid-century in the face of a rapidly worsening climate may well be the greatest challenge the human race has ever faced.
These predictions are not worst-case scenarios: they assume business-as-usual greenhouse-gas emissions. We can hope that the models are too pessimistic, but some changes, such as the expansion of the subtrop- ics, already seem to be occurring faster than models have projected10. We clearly need to pursue the most aggressive greenhouse-gas mitigation policies promptly, and put dust-bowlification atop the world agenda.
What does the future look like? Dai laid it out in a 2010 study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, ?Drought under global warming: a review,? the best review and analysis on the subject I?ve seen.
He is in the process of revising his analysis, but the figure below (which had been his 2030s projection in his original version) is a rough representation of where his analysis projects things will be around mid-century for the U.S.
The PDSI [Palmer Drought Severity Index] in the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl apparently spiked very briefly to -6, but otherwise rarely exceeded -3 for the decade (see here).
And this isn?t just Dai?s finding. Michael Wehner et al. find the drying has the same signature in ?Projections of Future Drought in the Continental United States and Mexico? (2011).
Wehner and Dai are quoted in an excellent new IPS News piece by Stephen Leahy, “Action Needed Now to Prepare for Severe Drought.” That article notes future conditions “for almost all of Mexico, the midwestern United States and most of Central America … are projected to be worse than Mexico’s current drought or the U.S. Dust Bowl era of the 1930s that forced hundreds of thousands of people to migrate”:
“Drought conditions will prevail no matter what precipitation rates are in the future,” said co-author Michael Wehner, a climate scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a U.S. government research centre in California.
“Even in regions where rainfall increases, the soils will get drier. This is a very robust finding,” Wehner told Tierramérica.
Wehner’s conclusions are based on findings from 19 different state-of-the-art climate models. His results match Dai’s. The story notes:
“If the projections in this study come even close to being realised, the consequences for society worldwide will be enormous,” Dai said in 2010.
According to Wehner, the very latest projections from the newest computer models that have not yet been published also show very similar results. “At the very least we are looking at severe drought conditions in future.”
Wehner said he was surprised the study received very little media attention, given the serious implications for the future.
What this means for future generations is “a very difficult issue for me to talk about” at a personal level, Wehner admitted.
Climate Progress readers aren’t surprised the media mostly ignores what is probably the most dangerous of all the climate impacts humans face in the coming decades (see “Network News Coverage of Climate Change Collapsed in 2011“).
The time to act is now.
According to an email ThinkProgress received from the Center for Media and Democracy, one of the leaders of a progressive campaign to push corporations and other funders to break with the American Legislative Exchange Council, online retail giant Amazon.com just announced that it will part ways with ALEC. In the wake of this campaign, ALEC eliminated a task force that pushed voter suppression laws and the so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws that played a significant role in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting, but the conservative group remains committed to other priorities such as repealing minimum wage laws, eliminating capital gains and estate taxes, and blocking safeguards that protect children from eating rat poison.
Other groups that have dropped ALEC include: Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft, Wendy?s, Mars, Inc., Arizona Public Service, the National Board for Professional Teaching StandardsScantron, The National Association of Charter School Authorizers, Kaplan, Procter & Gamble, Yum! Brands, five Pennsylvania legislators, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Reed Elsevier, American Traffic Solutions, Intuit, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Supreme Court is currently reviewing the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as ?Obamacare.? This landmark piece of legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama drastically reforms the way health insurance works in our country. Below, we outline 10 reasons why women in America have so much riding on the Supreme Court?s decision:
1. Obamacare guarantees coverage of preventive services with no cost sharing. Preventive care promotes health and saves money. Yet many preventive care services are out of women?s reach due to high co-pays, deductibles, and co-insurance. More than 50 percent of women have delayed seeking medical care due to cost, and one-third of women report forgoing basic necessities to pay for health care. But under the health reform law, insurers are now required to cover recommended preventive services such as mammograms, Pap smears, and well-baby care without cost sharing. More than 45 million women have already taken advantage of these services. And starting this August more services, including contraception, gestational diabetes screening, and breastfeeding supports, will be added to the list of preventive care that must be covered at no additional cost.
2. Maternity care will be required in new insurance plans. Coverage for maternity care?health care that only women need?is routinely excluded in the individual insurance market. Only 12 percent of plans sold in the individual market even offer maternity coverage, which is frequently inadequate because of waiting periods or deductibles that can be as high as the cost of the birth itself. But once Obamacare is fully implemented in 2014, about 8.7 million women will have guaranteed access to maternity care in all new individual and small group plans.
3. Women will no longer be denied insurance coverage for gender-related reasons. In today?s insurance market, it is common for insurers to refuse to cover women because of gender-based ?pre-existing conditions,? such as having had a Cesarean section or being the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault. Thankfully, this practice will be outlawed under Obamacare in 2014. In the meantime, adults with pre-existing conditions who have been uninsured for at least six months can purchase affordable coverage through temporary Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plans.
4. Women will no longer be charged more for their insurance coverage just for being women. Under a practice known as ?gender rating,? insurers currently charge women higher premiums than men for identical health benefits. As a result, women now pay $1 billion more than men each year for the same health plans in the individual market. As of 2014, however, under the Affordable Care Act, gender rating will become illegal in all new individual and small group plans.
5. Women have more control over their health care. Already, women no longer need a referral to see their obstetrician-gynecologist thanks to Obamacare. And they get to choose their primary care physician and their child?s pediatrician from their plan?s list of participating providers.
6. Women will gain better access to affordable health insurance. Starting in 2014 women and their families, as well as small businesses, will receive tax credits on an income-based sliding scale to help purchase insurance coverage. This will help individuals who earn up to $43,000 per year and up to $92,200 for families of four. Also in 2014 up to 10.3 million women will gain insurance coverage when Medicaid expands its income eligibility to include people with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level?less than $15,000 for individuals and about $31,809 for a family of four in 2011. The health law also eliminates Medicaid?s categorical requirements, so that low-income women who meet the income requirements can be enrolled even if they have no children and are not pregnant.
7. Insurance companies can no longer place limits on the amount of money they?ll spend on covered medical expenses. Women are more likely than men to suffer from a chronic condition, and an unforeseen medical emergency or a chronic illness can cause an insured person to rapidly reach a coverage cap in their insurance plan, leaving enrollees to fend for themselves, sometimes with thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills. But under Obamacare lifetime coverage caps have been eliminated and annual limits are being phased out. Approximately 39.5 million women have already benefited from the ban on lifetime caps.
8. Women and their families benefit from critical consumer protections in Obamacare. Because women use health care services at higher rates on behalf of themselves and their families, ensuring just insurance practices is of critical importance. The Affordable Care Act has already eliminated the practice of ?rescission,? when an insurance policy ends the moment a beneficiary gets sick. The health law also requires insurers to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on actually providing health care, as opposed to administrative costs, or pay enrollees a rebate. Policyholders and employers will receive approximately $1.3 billion in premium rebates this year alone.
9. Women in marginalized communities are seeing reforms that respond to their needs. Women of color, lesbian and bisexual women, and transgender people are disproportionately uninsured and subject to higher rates of health disparities. Obamacare is making critical strides in providing vulnerable women with quality health care through increased access to insurance coverage, increased funding for community health centers, promoting health literacy and cultural competency, prohibiting discrimination in the health insurance market, and improving data collection. For instance, already an estimated 5.5 million African Americans, 6.1 million Latinos, 2.7 million Asians, and 0.3 million Native Americans, many of them women, have received preventive service coverage with no cost sharing under the health reform law.
10. Mothers have peace of mind, knowing that their children have health insurance. Obamacare prohibits insurers from denying coverage to children under age 19 because of pre-existing conditions. And adult children can now stay on a parent?s plan up to age 26, an especially helpful provision in this tough economy, where finding a job with benefits is challenging. Young women in particular report delaying needed health care because of high costs. To date, 2.5 million young adults have gained coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Obamacare is a lifeline for women and their families. Women cannot afford to go back to a world where they pay more for less health care coverage, are denied preventive and essential health care services, and are treated like pre-existing conditions. A ruling that strikes down this important law would not only undo decades of precedent, it would have a devastating effect on the health and well-being of millions of women. Women have gained too much from Obamacare to lose it now.
At the Huffington Post, legendary civil rights and labor activist Dolores Huerta has quashed speculation that President Obama’s support for marriage equality will somehow alienate Latino voters. Instead, she says, the fight for immigrants’ rights and workers’ rights has helped many understand “the core American value of equality under the law”:
As a community that has fought and continues to fight against bigotry and discrimination , we understand how dangerous it is to pick and choose who deserve equality and respect. Those of us who have dedicated our lives to working for immigrants’ rights and workers’ rights understand the core American value of equality under the law. A better country for immigrants is a better country for all. A better country for gays and lesbians is a better country for all. We’re all in this together. [...]
The gay rights movement is working for many of the same basic rights and dignities that those of us in the immigrants’ rights and labor movements have been fighting for decades: workplace rights, economic security, access to opportunity. The gay community has been a strong ally for us in the quest for public policy that treats all people with respect and dignity. We will continue to do the same for them.
Huerta also took time to recognize the important intersections between race, sexuality, and gender that are often ignored, noting, “There are just as many LGBT people in our communities as there are throughout the country. We too have gay and lesbian hermanos y hermanas, friends and children.”
The 82-year-old activist is best known for working with César Chávez to found what would become the United Farm Workers. She also originated the slogan “Sí se puede,” which Obama adapted as his campaign motto, “Yes We Can.”
Sen. Harry Reid (Reuters)Speaker John Boehner's debt-ceiling posturing could be stemming from any number of problems he faces: a caucus he's trying to rally back to his side to stave off a leadership challenge; reminding the White House that he has a hostage to take when it comes time to negotiate the Bush tax cut extensions; trying to pull the debate to the far right where he's succeeded before in gaining massive spending cuts. Or, it could be, as this Politico article argues, he recognizes his own weakness in having nothing left to do by saying "no" to a debt ceiling hike, because the power on all of the so-called "fiscal cliff" issues that will converge at the end of the year is actually in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's hands.
Those events: the sequester, the automatic budget cuts required by the Budget Control Act agreed to last year; the expiration of the Bush tax cuts; the expiration of unemployment benefits, and the payroll tax cuts. In each of these, Democrats have the option of just not acting. Reid seems to be ready to do just that?nothing?unless the Republicans relent on taxes.
So it is really Senate Democrats who are next in line to wield the power of ?no.? In November and December, they?ll be in position to block Republican-backed legislation to stop an automatic 10 percent sequester of Pentagon funds and to extend high-end tax breaks for the wealthy. [...]The bottom line, Reid reiterates, is that Republicans have to move on revenue increases. Reid seems to recognize that Boehner has painted himself into a corner, one that Grover Norquist has helped shove him into: ?'We did it knowing the pain, and maybe the pain would cause Grover Norquist to wither away,' Reid said. 'But he hasn?t. He?s become more emboldened and threatening and they are running from him just as they always have.'?
?I am not going to back off the sequestration,? Reid said. ?That?s the law we passed. We did it because it wouldn?t make things easy for us. It made it so we would have to do something. And if we didn?t, these cuts would kick in.?
?To now see the Republicans scrambling to do away with the cuts to defense, I will not accept that,? Reid said. ?My people ? in the state of Nevada and I think the country ? have had enough of whacking all the programs. We?ve cut them to a bare bone, and defense is going to have to bear their share of the burden.?
The power of doing nothing is in Reid's hands. So is knowledge that he has very powerful political tool in this election year: keeping Republicans in the position of standing in the way of any movement on these issues because they have to protect the tax cuts for the wealthy.
Dear Pastor Worley, I'm a Christian and I'm against the hate speech that you dished out. Love in Christ.
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This should come as no surprise:
OpenSecrets.org data shows that historically women give far less money to political candidates than men do -- so far this election cycle, about 70 percent of the donors are men -- but Obama bucks that trend. Overall, about 44.5 percent of his donors are female, and about 30.7 percent of Romney's donors are women.But anyone who thinks the War on Women stuff isn't having an effect, check this out:
An analysis of each campaign's donations on a month-by-month basis shows that, as Obama accused the GOP of waging a "war on women," his fundraising dollars from women have stayed steady and Romney's have declined.Of course, Obama hasn't accused the GOP of waging a war on women, it's pretty much everyone else except for Obama. But aside from that small error, the point still stands?as women become more aware of the GOP's anti-women agenda, the less likely they are to open up their wallets to Romney.
Or vote for him.
Two new polls out today confirm Scott Walker leads Democrat Tom Barrett in their rematch.[...]
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The ghost of Alabama's segregationist former Gov. George Wallace brought trouble to the conservative stronghold of Orange County, Calif., this month and an anti-Muslim Republican is paying a political price for it.
It started last week when people complained about letters a local businessman sent out in support of Deborah Pauly, a local councilwoman and a leader in the Orange County GOP who drew nationwide attention last year when she helped lead an angry protest against Muslims with chants like "terrorists go home." Pauly is now running for a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
The letters, it turns out, weren't like most other pitches for support that flood mailboxes each election year. They appeared on old letterhead from one of Wallace's failed campaigns for president. The Los Angeles Times reported they carried an embossed portrait of the former Alabama governor and the slogan, "Wallace for President, Stand up for America."
According to the Orange County Register, the letters were sent to 7,900 voters by businessman Robert Walters, 70, who identified himself as Wallace's presidential campaign chairman in 1967. Wallace ran as an American Independent Party candidate in the 1968 race for president.
Both newspapers said Walters praised Pauly's protests against Muslims in the letter and wrote: "We need Deborah Pauly and her brand of hard core limited government, fiscally-conservative positions on the County Board of Supervisors."
The businessman told the Register he, his wife and his daughter paid for the printing and mailing. He sent Pauly a copy of the letter as a courtesy but did not clear it with her.
Wallace served as the governor of Alabama during the civil rights era and advocated for racial segregation when he ran for president in 1968. He famously stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama in 1963 in an attempt to block black students from enrolling. Wallace died in 1998.
Pauly is perhaps best known for the protest last year of the southern California fundraiser that featured Muslim speakers. Protesters shouted chants describing Muslims as perverts and terrorists, saying followers of the religion had blood on their hands. The protest, which drew about 100 people, was condemned by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
But Pauly has been at the center of other recent uproars, too. Last year, the Register reported, she defended a fellow Orange County Republican who sent out an email depicting President Obama as a chimpanzee.
In 2010, according to the L.A. Times, she also drew criticism after posting a message on her Facebook page that compared applauding the president's health care reform plan to "applauding a mugging or a rape."
On Monday, the Wallace letter became the final straw for the Orange County GOP. The party voted to remove her as vice-chair, according to the Times.
Pauly didn't leave quietly, though. She told those who voted for her removal, "You are being used as political pawns in a game."
But Scott Baugh, the chairman of the county party, said it was too late. "She makes statements out there that I'm constantly having to defend," he said.
Democrats escalate battle for women voters with equal pay bill that Republicans oppose.[...]
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