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GamerGate; Susan Collins And Joe Kennedy, Together At Last; And Birth Control

Senators Susan Collins (above) and Angus King, both from Maine, may prove to have increased influence in the coming months.
AP Photo

The so-called “GamerGate” online harassment saga, which exploded in the media last fall, centered in part around game designer Bryanna Wu of Arlington, Massachusetts. On Wednesday, the Congresswoman representing that town scored an unexpected victory in the quest to protect women from similar experiences.

Katherine Clark, Democrat from Melrose, got the House Appropriations Committee to agree to add language instructing the Department of Justice to “intensify its efforts... [and] increase investigations and prosecutions” of severe online threats against women.

“It was a pleasant surprise, and really a significant step in the right direction,” Clark told me Wednesday. “What we had heard, from the FBI directly, is that these cases have not been a priority. We are telling the Department of Justice and the FBI to make it a priority.”

The language has no binding power, but Clark believes the bipartisan language will be hard to ignore. “We hope that this will send a message,” Clark says.

Clark says the idea stemmed from a call she made to Wu, who told her that the FBI was not taking the issue seriously enough.

Believing that the Justice Department already has laws it needs on the books, Clark, a former prosecutor, has been pushing for more action, rather than new legislation.

In the past couple of months, that has included circulating a letter among congressional colleagues, penning op-eds, and organizing a public hearing.

In March, she sent a letter to the Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies asking for the language to be included in its committee report.

There are no Massachusetts members on the Appropriations Committee, and Republicans outnumber Democrats, but Clark credits Nita Lowey of New York, and Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland in particular for helping gain support for her request.

Collins tops crossover list

Ranking as the least partisan US Senator might be like being the least tall NBA center, but it's still a welcome confirmation, and marketing opportunity, for Maine Republican Susan Collins.

Her office was quick to issue a press release upon snaring the top spot in the new Lugar Center's Bipartisan Index.  The measure looks at bill sponsorships and co-sponsorships, which might indicate more than floor votes.

Don't be surprised if New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte touts her strong seventh-place ranking a few times during her 2016 re-election campaign. She already deploys that golden word, “bipartisan,” regularly on social media.

Angus King of Maine and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire were the only other New England Senators who scored in positive territory on the Lugar scale. Elizabeth Warren scored in the middle of the pack; Vermont's Bernie Sanders – an independent self-described democratic socialist now running for President as the liberal alternative to Hillary Clinton – was near the bottom; and the other Democrats in the region fell in between those two.

Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts is the most bipartisan House member from New England, by this scale, with David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts rating among the most partisan.

Contraception controversy

Bipartisan co-sponsorship has not, however, come Ayotte's way for the bill she introduced this past week – despite the centrist-sounding title, “Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act.”

Ayotte says the bill will make contraceptives, including birth-control pills, cheaper and easier to obtain, by encouraging manufacturers to seek over-the-counter permission from the Food and Drug Administration, and by allowing the use of medical savings accounts to purchase over-the-counter contraceptives.

But critics have quickly labeled the bill an end-run around the Affordable Care Act's  requirement that employers cover prescription contraception at no cost. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has joined major pro-choice organizations in opposing the bill.

In response, Ayotte penned an op-ed that ran in Wednesday's Concord Monitor. “Nothing in the bill changes current insurance coverage of contraceptives or prevents insurance companies from continuing to cover contraceptive costs,” she wrote.

Keep an eye on ...

Monday, June 1, Clark's chief of staff is scheduled to speak at a House briefing session on heroin and opiate addiction. Brooke Scannell, a well-known behind-the-scenes political figure in Massachusetts, will make a rare public appearance speaking about her own experience with a family member's addiction struggles.

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