Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, January 30, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’ll look to an historic vote yesterday in the United States Senate. We’ll look at what's at stake in the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. We’ll take a look at how science is used in today's contentious cultural debates, and then we’ll look at tonight's State of the Union address, what to expect and how to watch.
What’s at stake in historic vote in the United States Senate on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act
A very historic vote yesterday on the floor of the United States Senate, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a bill that would've banned abortion after the unborn child had reached 20 weeks of gestation failed by a vote of 51 for but 46 against. Though a majority of senators voted to support the bill, the bill did not receive the required 60 votes a super majority in the Senate in order to achieve what is known by Senate rules as cloture and move the bill to the floor for a full up or down vote. But what we saw yesterday was courageous, and it was convictional. It was necessary. Remember that it took 15 years in order for the United States Senate to pass what became known as the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. It took 15 years of bringing bills again and again and again until finally a sufficient number of senators voted for that bill protecting babies from partial-birth abortion as it is known. And senators are going to have to bring this bill back again and again and again. We should note that the House of Representatives has already passed the legislation by a vote of 237 to 189.
The vote in the Senate yesterday it was almost entirely along party lines, but that's almost. Even though the vast majority of Republicans voted for the bill and the vast majority of Democrats voted against the bill, it was still true that three Democrats voted for it: Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. It’s also true that two Republicans voted against it. That was Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Linda Murkowski of Alaska. And what you see here is that politics is often in a situation like this rather local that old adage of the late former speaker of the House Tip O'Neill. When you're looking at the three Democratic senators who voted for the bill, you are looking at three senators, Democratic Senators, from states that have majority pro-life sentiment: Pennsylvania, Indiana and West Virginia. And when you are looking at the Republican women senators who voted against the bill, you are looking at two senators, Senator Collins of Maine and Senator Murkowski of Alaska, who voted similarly before.
The political bottom line in that equation is that in the main senators of both parties follow what can only be described as the party line on abortion, rather insistently consistent in a pro-life position for Republicans and adamantly pro-abortion when it comes to the platform statement of the Democratic Party. As you might imagine, there were some rather amazing statements made in the Senate debate yesterday. The most appalling came from California Senator Dianne Feinstein, she said and I quote,
“the legislation is ‘yet another attempt to harm women by criminalizing their health care.’”
She actually had the audacity to seek to redefine abortion as healthcare for women and to accuse those who sponsor this legislation of seeking to criminalize healthcare for women. Senator Feinstein has served in the Senate for a long time. She is one of the Senate's longest-serving members, and she is also one of the oldest persons to serve in the United States Senate. And she is running for yet another six-year term from the state of California. I mentioned that precisely because she accused those who sponsor the legislation of wasting the Senate's time and I quote,
“trying to turn back the clock.”
That reflects the kind of exasperation found amongst many who were pro-abortion activists during the 60s and 70s who thought the issue had been settled with Roe v. Wade back in 1973 and are absolutely frustrated beyond words that they have to deal with this kind of legislation in the year 2018. It is important for us to recognize those feminists and others who were behind the abortion rights movement in the 60s and 70s really did think that the issue had been settled, but of course it has not and for that we can only be thankful. Even though this act failed before the Senate yesterday, we have to hope that senators will bring it back again and again and again. That they will bring it back until with greater intensity and argument we begin to win up to the 60 votes necessary in order to make this act the law of the land. But we also need to reflect again upon the name of the legislation. It is the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.
This is one of those bills that gets right to the heart of the reality of abortion. Making the argument that at least by 20 weeks of gestation it is scientifically verifiable that the baby the unborn child in the womb can experience pain, including of course the pain of an abortion. This underlines the reality that the unborn child is a person and a person deserving of rights and protection and a person deserving of the protection precisely that this bill would've offered in the womb. But here's where we need to note the pushback, and this pushback itself tells us a great deal about the modern age and the way so many modern secular people think. They think that they want to accept and accept only what they will decide to be the final ultimate authority that comes from science and scientists. But that's right up until the point when science determines something that they do not want to accept and would violate something like their cherished commitment to a pro-abortion position. But we also need to note something else. Right now on the entire planet, there are only seven nations including the United States which allow abortion after 20 weeks of gestation. That puts the United States of America on par with China and North Korea. That's the kind of company we’re keeping.
In anticipation of the vote in the Senate yesterday, the editorial board of the New York Times published in yesterday's edition of their paper not just one but two editorials on the topic. The first one had the subhead referring to the vote yesterday as,
“the latest alarming abortion battle”
But what's most interesting in this New York Times editorial is not the fact that they again try to relabel and redefine abortion not as the killing of an unborn child but as a woman's reproductive health care. But the really interesting thing is how they go at the scientific evidence for the experience of pain in the unborn child. Criticizing the act and the vote yesterday, the editors said that the scientific evidence behind the act is,
“based on claims not supported by most scientists about when a fetus feels pain.”
Well at this point we simply have to note we could have a war of math in terms of the number of scientists on one side of the equation or the other. I’m going to leave that for a moment. But what I want to point out is the absolute apparent, no you could even say explicit, lack of concern about whether or not the child actually does feel pain or we should say when the child feels pain. We should turn to the editors of the New York Times and ask them well what if the scientists by a majority you would count would say that this unborn child does experience pain maybe done at 20 weeks – let’s just say a 20 weeks and a day – would the editors of the New York Times then say well at that point we would certainly need to protect that child from destruction and from pain in the womb? Given the adamantly and consistently pro-abortion position taken by the New York Times given that editorial board's resistance to every single sensical and morally significant restriction on abortion, we can only assume that confronted with any evidence the editors of the New York Times would not change their position.
How science is used in today’s contentious cultural debates
In the second editorial the editorial board criticized the announcement made in recent days by the Trump Administration of newly specified and codified conscience protections for healthcare providers not only on the question of abortion but on other questions of medical conscience. In one of the most significant sections of the editorial, the board says this and I quote,
“Freedom of religion is essential — and so is access to health care. Current law,” they wrote, “tries to accommodate both, but the far right has stirred unfounded fears that religion (and Christianity in particular) is under assault, and that people of faith are in danger of being forced to do things they find morally objectionable.”
But that's not a false fear. That's a verified and very real threat and furthermore is the kind of threat that the editors of the New York Times believe could and should proceed. This is the kind of dishonesty we often face in public controversy. Here you have a line that says freedom of religion is essential, and the next words are and so is access to healthcare. And by that the editors clearly mean healthcare that would include abortion. So what we see here is that freedom of religion is affirmed until it would come into conflict with the worldview and with the moral commandments of the editors of the New York Times. In another important section of the editorial, they write,
“The regulations,” speaking of the new regulations from the Trump Administration, “don’t recommend that doctors balance a patient’s needs with religious objections; religious objections are given top priority.”
Well here we simply have to step back and ask what would that balancing look like and who would decide the balance? I think we know the answer to that question. It would mean that religious objections, religious conscience concerns would simply always take the back seat to a patient's demand for one medical treatment as it may be styled or another.
But one final important point on this editorial, the headline in yesterday's second editorial in the Times is this,
“White House Puts a Bible in Doctors’ Offices.”
Well we know what's going on here. It's a bit snide. It includes no little amount of innuendo. The editors of the New York Times believe that by putting the word Bible along with doctors’ offices their readers are supposed to be alarmed and appalled. That tells us a great deal about the worldview. But let’s turn the tables on the editors of the New York Times. If they accuse the Trump Administration of to use their own metaphor putting a Bible in doctors’ offices, does this mean that the editors of the New York Times see it as their mission to remove the Bible from those very same doctors’ offices? If you complain about someone else putting the Bible in, does that mean that you see it as your mission to get the Bible out?
State of the Union preview: What to watch for as President Trump addresses joint session of Congress
But next we turn from historic events yesterday to an historic event later today, and 9:00 PM Eastern time, the President of the United States will enter into the chamber of the United States House of Representatives for a joint session of Congress in order to deliver his very first State of the Union Address. The Constitution of the United States stipulates that the president must from time to time give a report to Congress about the State of the Union. It says nothing about an address, and it says nothing about the president delivering such an address in person. The first president to do that was President Woodrow Wilson in 1913 who left the White House and went to Congress in order to deliver the state of the union face-to-face. That proved to be politically expedient and politically popular. And since then the State of the Union Address has turned out to be a golden opportunity for the nation's chief executives to speak directly to the American people. That was less so in 1913, far more so with the advent of radio, and you can multiply that effect with the arrival of television.
And so, modern presidents would not think of failing to deliver the state of the union in person. And the political theater is unprecedented and it's priceless. You have the President of the United States announced. He walks into the House of Representatives chamber as both houses of Congress stand. You have the Vice President of the United States and the Speaker of the House of Representatives standing. They will be sitting behind the president as he delivers his address. You have invited guests including members of the United States Supreme Court. It is the kind of democratic pageantry that is found in the United States and which presidents find absolutely irresistible. But it’s not just about presidents and the presidency. This kind of formality is necessary for the health of a very vital Republic, a constitutional Republic such as the United States of America. It is important that the American people have the opportunity to hear the nation's president and also to understand the political context which includes the separation of powers. The fact that the president of the United States is officially delivering the State of the Union to a joint session of Congress by the invitation of Congress. That's not just a matter of constitutional formality. That's a reminder of the fact that we have a president not a potentate and that we have a Congress that has a very important and vital constitutional role to play.
Louise Radnofsky and Peter Nicholas of the Wall Street Journal get it exactly right when they refer to the president's speech tonight and say that it is,
“an extraordinary megaphone, reaching a national TV audience and foreign capitals.”
President Trump is expected to lay claim to a healthy economy. He's also expected to champion and to celebrate the recent tax cuts that were affected by Congress with his leadership. It is also expected that the president is going to make proposals. Among those proposals expected is the president's layout of an immigration policy that he would accept and the bill that he would sign including a resolution that would lead to stability for the so-called dreamers, those covered by the DACA program. But it is also expected that the president is going to move forward to propose trillion dollar spending programs, specifically including the nation's infrastructure, its highways and bridges and other infrastructure elements, and a significant increase in defense spending for the United States military.
Meanwhile Michael Shear and Mark Landler of the New York Times warned that when it comes to a television camera there is no guarantee of what President Donald Trump will do. The president is expected to use a teleprompter rather than to speak in an impromptu style. The article cites Michael Waldman, who was director of speechwriting for President Bill Clinton between 1995 and 1999. Speaking of President Trump in a Teleprompter, he said this,
“Teleprompter Trump sounds like a regular president”
Cody Keenan, who served as the chief speechwriter for President Barack Obama during the second term, said this,
“Spoiler alert, he’s going to look presidential,” speaking of the State of the Union Address, That’s the most presidential thing that a president does, with all the pomp and circumstance.”
It is expected that the theme of the State of the Union address will be in the words of the White House, I quote,
“building a safe, strong and proud America.”
Now as Christians and particularly I think of Christian parents watching the State of the Union Address, here are several things to keep in mind. First of all Christians really should watch the address as citizens, but also we should watch the address as we’re thinking as worldview analysts. We also should understand that families would do well to watch the State of the Union Address together. Parents will be really helpful to children in thinking through the worldview implications of what is taking place, what they are watching, what they are hearing and the response to the president. That's important, too.
In recent years opportunity has been given for a chosen representative of the party opposing the president to give an official response. It’s shorter than the president's speech, but it's also covered by major media. But here's where we need to note something – this year the Democratic responder to the president is going to be Massachusetts Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III. He is the grandson of the late U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Remember that Robert Kennedy was the brother of John F. Kennedy. The Democrats are clearly hoping that a little bit of their historic Kennedy magic will rub off on the opportunity tonight. But in a bipartisan manner responders to the president in this kind of address have more generally failed than succeeded. It's an interesting rhetorical question. It turns out that Americans tune in to hear the State of the Union Address, but they then begin to tune out whomever might speak next regardless of the party identification.
Something else to watch beginning with President Ronald Reagan, presidents have used invited guests in order to make particular points to serve as living illustrations of some of the arguments and some of the policies they will address in the state of the union. But of course these guests do not sit with the president. There is nowhere for them to sit. Instead they sit with the first lady in the gallery, and television cameras will turn to them. But in even more recent years, it’s not just the president who has invited guests. It's also members of Congress, and they’re sometimes even known as opposition guests. This year those guests include Bill Nye the Science Guy. And that tells us again something very interesting about the points that the Democrats will try to make. Also invited by Democratic members of Congress is the Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
So you really did hear what was going on in the political theater of this year’s State of the Union Address. President Trump will give the address, members of Congress will hear the address, their invited guests will be in the chamber including the first lady and the president's guests and members also of the United States Supreme Court, but there will be guests of Congress. So amongst those listening to the president in the chamber will be the Speaker of the House, the Vice President of the United States, members of the United States Supreme Court, members of both houses of Congress and Bill Nye the Science Guy.
Political scientists are also going to be watching. In the current issue of Political Science Quarterly, a major academic journal of political scientists, two of those scientists, Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Doron Taussig, both of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Virginia look at what they call the rhetorical signature of Donald J. Trump. They refer to this rhetorical signature using the words disruption, demonization, deliverance and norm destruction Referring to President Trump's own rhetorical signature to use their terms, they say that his rhetoric is norm shattering. Well that's absolutely true. But it's not so likely to be true tonight in the State of the Union Address. Intelligent thinking Christians need to pay attention to major developments such as the speech tonight, and there may be millions of Americans who turn in just to see what really will happen in the historic event of the State of the Union Address of 2018. But of course a final thought, Christians have to be concerned not only properly with the State of the Union Address but even more fundamentally with the state of the union.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing for more information go to my website at albertmohler.com. It’s an exciting time at Boyce College, and soon we’re going to be holding Preview Day on March 23. That's a Friday. I want to invite you to come and join us for Preview Day. I'm really thrilled with what’s going on at Boyce College, a college that offers a first rate Christian worldview education, an education without compromise. This is a preview event for prospective students and their families. You’ll have the chance to tour the campus, to meet our faculty and to learn about our academic programs. For more information go to www.boycecollege.com/visit . And if you use the code thebriefing, you can register for free. That's all one word – thebriefing. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to BoyceCollege.com.
I’m speaking to you from Orlando, Florida, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.