Igor Derysh

Corporate PACs are once again funding the GOP's 'Sedition Caucus' as hearings on Capitol riot begin

Republican members of Congress who supported Donald Trump's Big Lie and voted against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election have received more than $1.5 million in campaign contributions from corporate PACs since the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Many corporate PACs vowed to pause their contributions after 147 Republicans voted to block the certification just hours after a mob of Trump supporters attacked Capitol police and overran the halls of Congress to interrupt the vote. Several police officers involved in the response testified on Tuesday before the first hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.

But while corporate donations largely dried up in the months immediately following the attack, they have rapidly picked up over the summer as campaigns seek to accumulate funds for next year's midterm elections. Some companies have funneled money to Republican committees that help fund individual campaigns — thereby remaining at arm's length from specific members — the latest round of campaign finance disclosures show that some corporate giants have resumed direct contributions to members of the GOP's "sedition caucus."

The aerospace giant Boeing said after Jan. 6 that it would pause all political contributions and "evaluate future contributions to ensure that we support those who not only support our company, but also uphold our country's most fundamental principles." Duke Energy, one of the largest utilities in the country, also paused all federal contributions to evaluate candidates' "values and actions to ensure they align to our values and goals."

But both companies have resumed political donations in recent weeks and have steered tens of thousands to Republican members who voted against certifying the results. The Boeing Company PAC in June donated $39,500 to 19 Republicans who joined the effort, according to FEC records compiled by the progressive watchdog group Accountable.US. The Duke Energy Corporation PAC has contributed $41,500 to 11 such Republican members since May.

Defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics have also steered tens of thousands to Republican election objectors, as have prominent corporations like Koch Industries and Elon Musk's Space X.

"The violent assault on the Capitol and attempt to reject the results of a free and fair election will forever be etched in the public conscience, but many corporations were disturbingly quick to forgive and forget," Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US, said in a statement to Salon. "If these corporations truly value democracy, how can they possibly justify massive donations to the Sedition Caucus from their affiliated PACs?"

No PAC donated more money to members of the "sedition caucus" than the American Crystal Sugar Company PAC, a big campaign contributor that vowed not to punish candidates it supports over a "single vote." The PAC contributed $140,000 to Republican objectors in the second quarter, according to FEC records. The Western Sugar Cooperative PAC, another large beet sugar producer, kicked in $43,000.

Though defense contractor donations quickly evaporated in the aftermath of the Capitol riot, some of the biggest companies in the defense sector have since restarted investing in members who tried to block certification. The General Dynamics Corporation PAC has contributed $81,000 to dozens of Republican objectors and the Lockheed Martin Corporation Employees PAC gave another $78,500 since April. The L3Harris Technologies PAC, representing another major defense contractor, gave $72,000.

Koch Industries, the eponymous energy and manufacturing giant founded by the Koch family, also had a busy quarter, contributing $45,500 to Republican objectors even after the Koch network vowed that lawmakers' actions in the riot would "weigh heavy" on its financial decisions.

The Space Exploration Technologies Corp. PAC, the PAC for Musk's spacecraft startup Space X, resumed donations in May, giving $41,000 to Republican objectors.

"Supporting those who perpetuate the Big Lie and encourage insurrection," Herrig said, "sends a disturbing message to their customers, shareholders and employees that they value holding political influence above all else, democracy be damned."

While many companies have avoided giving directly to the 147 Republicans who tried to block election certification, business trade groups have continued to funnel money to the group. CULAC, the PAC of the Credit Union National Association, has given $68,000. The National Association of Realtors PAC gave $56,500. Others include the National Federation of Independent Business PAC ($49,500), the National Cattlemen's Beef Association PAC ($49,000), the Associated Builders and Contractors PAC ($48,500), the National Electrical Contractors Association PAC ($48,500), the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors PAC ($45,500), the National Sports Footing Foundation ($42,500), the National Automobile Dealers Association PAC ($37,500), and the National Association of Convenience Stores PAC ($36,500).

Many companies that have avoided donating directly to individual members of the "sedition caucus" have steered money toward leadership PACs, which have spread the wealth around. The Majority Committee PAC, which is affiliated with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has donated $120,000 to the individual campaigns of 12 Republican objectors. The New PAC, which is affiliated with Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., an enthusiastic Trump supporter, has contributed more than $91,000. The House Conservatives Fund, the political arm of the conservative Republican Study Committee, has donated $66,000. The CMR PAC, which is affiliated with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., gave $63,500. Take Back the House 22, a joint fundraising committee for several members of Congress, has donated more than $51,000, including over $13,000 to Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo. The Value in Electing Women PAC, which supports female Republicans, donated $45,000.

Accountable.US called on companies that have donated money to Republicans who tried to block the certification of legitimate election results, without any evidence of fraud or irregularities, to reconsider their decisions.

"The leaders, companies and trade groups associated with these PACs," the group's report said, "should have to answer for their support of lawmakers whose votes that fueled the violence and sedition we saw on January 6."

'Sick and cynical': Rising GOP leader bizarrely tries to blame Nancy Pelosi for Capitol riot

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., tried to blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for Trump supporters invading the Capitol in a hunt for lawmakers on January 6.

Ahead of the first hearing by the select committee investigating the attack on Tuesday, Stefanik, who objected to the certification of election results after the riot, blamed Pelosi for security failures at the Capitol. Although a mob of Trump supporters attacked police officers and broke into the complex to stop a vote on the certification of President Joe Biden's election win after former President Donald Trump's "Stop the Steal" rally to stoke false election fraud claims, Republicans — nearly all of whom voted against an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the Capitol riot — took turns at a press conference ahead of the January 6 committee's first hearing criticizing Pelosi.

Stefanik, who was elected by the party to replace Rep. Liz Cheney as the head of its conference after the Wyoming Republican voted to impeach Trump over the riot, claimed that Pelosi blocked the appointments of Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Jim Banks, R-Ind., to the panel because she "doesn't want the American people to know the truth or learn the facts."

"It is a fact that on that December of 2020, Nancy Pelosi was made aware of potential security threats to the Capitol, and she failed to act," Stefanik said.

"The American people deserve to know the truth — that Nancy Pelosi bears responsibility as Speaker of the House for the tragedy that occurred on January 6th," she continued. "And it was only after Republicans started asking these important questions that she refused to seat them."

Republicans have increasingly tried to claim that Pelosi oversees the Capitol Police and blame her for the security problems that allowed the mob to invade after Trump held a massive rally to push his election lies. But as an Associated Press fact-check explained, Pelosi has no day-to-day oversight of the department. Pelosi after the attack faulted a "failure of leadership at the top" and the top three security officials at the Capitol resigned over the security failure.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, called the Republican smear "sick and cynical."

"We know that the person primarily responsible for the insurrection that occurred on Jan. 6 is the former, twice-impeached President of the United States Donald Trump, who incited that riot; urged people to march on the Capitol; [and] whipped them up by perpetrating the big lie — which by the way, he still hasn't walked away from," he told reporters on Tuesday.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., also said at the news conference that "leadership at the top failed" to protect Capitol officers, though he did not respond to questions about why Pelosi bears responsibility but not then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

"Now that the bipartisan Select Committee is beginning its work, the only tools left in House Republicans' arsenal are deflection, distortion, and disinformation," Pelosi's office said in a statement.

"Those rioters, those protesters, were there in part to assassinate Nancy Pelosi," Jeffries told reporters. "What does Kevin McCarthy not get about that?"

Jeffries added that the "notion that Speaker Pelosi is concerned about what a few crackpots might have endeavored to contribute to the seriousness of the inquiry because she's concerned about what it may reveal about herself is ludicrous, it makes no sense."

The first hearing by the January 6 committee made clear why Republicans have been so eager to derail the investigation and deflect blame. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, who is Black, recounted being bombarded with a "torrent of racial epithets" by Trump supporters and describing Trump as the "hitman" who "sent them." Metropolitan police officer Daniel Hodges described rioters carrying "thin blue line" flags who attacked police as "terrorists" who attempted to "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion."

Metropolitan police officer Michael Fanone described being beaten, tased, and threatened with his own gun by the pro-Trump mob and lit into Republicans who have tried to downplay the attack.

"The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!" he said, slamming his desk. "Nothing — truly nothing — has prepared me to address those elected members of our government who continue to deny the events of that day, and in doing so, betray their oath of office. Those very members whose lives, offices, staff members I was fighting so desperately to defend."

Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell said the officers did everything they could to protect everyone at the Capitol but Trump "instead of sending the military, instead of sending support or telling his people, his supporters, to stop this nonsense — he egged them to continue fighting."

Trump recently described the bloodhungry mob as a "loving crowd."

"It's upsetting," Gonell said when asked about the comment. "It's a pathetic excuse for his behavior, for something that he himself helped to create — this monstrosity. I'm still recovering from those hugs and kisses that day."

Virginia GOP candidate tries to pivot after going all-in on Trump — but there's nowhere to go

Glenn Youngkin, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Virginia's crucial off-off-year election, was caught on video saying he has to keep his anti-abortion views quiet to avoid alienating independent voters. His super PAC, however, has showered cash on down-ballot Republicans with extreme anti-choice views.

Youngkin, a longtime executive at the private equity firm the Carlyle Group who has spent millions of his own money to fund his first foray into politics, has scrubbed his website of public statements declaring himself "unabashedly" pro-life and has even tried to distance himself from Donald Trump, in hopes of winning over a Virginia electorate that has steadily trended blue in recent years.

During the Republican primary campaign, Youngkind vowed to "protect the life of every Virginia child, born and unborn," but admitted more recently that he has gone quiet on the issue because it could cost him independent votes. That was revealed in an undercover video obtained by Lauren Windsor, host of the web show "The Undercurrent" and executive director of American Family Voices, a liberal advocacy group.

"I'm going to be really honest with you. The short answer is in this campaign, I can't," Youngkin said in the video, which was first obtained by The American Independent and MSNBC, when asked if he would defund Planned Parenthood and "take it to the abortionists."

"When I'm governor and I have a majority in the House we can start going on offense," he said. "But as a campaign topic, sadly, that in fact won't win my independent votes that I have to get."

In another video, Youngkin acknowledged that the Republican position is increasingly at odds with moderate voters.

"We're going after those middle 1 million voters who are, sadly, gonna decide this — have decided elections for the last 10 to 12 years in Virginia, and they've moved a bit away from us," he said. "We're going to get them. We just got back a whole bunch of data today, and we're winning this group. This is the group that we have to go get."

Jamie Lockhart, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, told Salon she was "shocked" that Youngkin "admitted that he's deceiving Virginians to get their votes, flip the legislature, and strip us of essential health care."

Days later, Youngkin again avoided any discussion of abortion at a campaign event aimed at women voters with former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, refusing to answer questions on the topic even as Planned Parenthood supporters protested outside the event.

"Youngkin's candid-camera moment will be fodder for the Democrats throughout the campaign," Mark J. Rozell, the dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, told Salon. "It's not just that he admitted he supports an unpopular view in Virginia on abortion, but that he admitted that what he says to try to get elected is different from what he will do if elected. The issue becomes not only abortion rights, but trust. If he seeks to beguile voters on this issue, what about other ones? It was a classic rookie campaign mistake."

Youngkin's campaign denied that he is hiding his views.

"This deceptively recorded audio demonstrates that Glenn Youngkin tells everyone he meets the same thing: he is pro-life, supports exceptions for rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is in danger, supports funding for women's health care, and opposes Terry McAuliffe's extreme agenda of taxpayer funding for abortion, including late-term abortions even on the day a baby is due," campaign spokesman Matt Wolking said in a statement to Salon.

Anti-abortion advocates did not seem too worried after the Youngkin video was released, since he had assured evangelical voters that he would "oppose laws that allow women to seek abortions," according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

"He's not being squishy because we already have him on record saying this stuff," Don Blake, president of the Virginia Christian Alliance, told the Washington Post.

Democrats are likely to feature Youngkin's comment in countless campaign ads this fall.

"It reminded me of Romney's 47% comment," Ben Tribbett, a longtime Virginia Democratic consultant, said in an interview with Salon. "It's the kind of thing that's gonna haunt him all the way through the election, undercutting his ability to move to the middle and be a moderate, because he's basically announced that he's not going to be forthright with people. That is a really bad place for an undefined politician to be."

Virginia has not voted for a Republican in a statewide race in more than a decade and Democrats won full control of the state legislature in 2019. So it's easy to see why Youngkin would want to shy away from expressing increasingly unpopular positions. But his financial contributions would seem to speak for themselves.

Youngkin earlier this year launched the Virginia Wins PAC and made a seven-figure commitment to fund "Republican candidates for every level of government" to try to reverse the state's leftward shift. Many of those GOP candidates hold extreme anti-abortion views. The PAC's campaign finance disclosure shows that Youngkin was its only financial backer, making a $400,000 contribution in March.

"Glenn Youngkin and his extreme allies are threatening to drag Virginia backwards," Manuel Bonder, a spokesman for the Virginia Democratic Party, said in a statement to Salon. "With Republicans across the country fighting to overturn Roe v. Wade and a right-wing Supreme Court poised to do so, Virginia's next governor must be committed to protecting the right to choose."

Financial disclosures show that Youngkin's PAC has donated at least $33,500 to anti-choice down-ballot Republicans.

Virginia Wins has given $5,500 to support state House candidate Karen Greenhalgh, a former manager at a chain of so-called pregnancy crisis centers, which often trick women seeking abortions into going to "fake clinics" where they are dissuaded from the procedure, sometimes in misleading ways. Greenhalgh has called for a broad range of restrictions on health care facilities that provide abortions.

The PAC also donated $1,500 to Republican state House candidate Tim Anderson, a gun shop owner who has vowed to fight legislation that he says would allow for the "murder of a sustainable baby" and called for more Supreme Court justices like Amy Coney Barrett "to keep extreme ideas like abortions at any stage from becoming law." If elected, he has vowed to donate 100% of his government salary to pregnancy crisis centers.

Youngkin's PAC has steered $3,000 to back Tim Cox, who supports legislation "prohibiting abortion from [the] moment of conception," defunding Planned Parenthood and repealing a bill passed last year to allow coverage of abortion under the state's Obamacare exchange plans.

The PAC sent another $3,000 donation recipient to Carrie Coyner, who has criticized insurance coverage of abortion procedures and vowed to fight for a measure that "blocks the use of state money for abortion." Coyner, a first-term member of the House of Delegates, has consistently voted against rolling back abortion restrictions in the state.

The PAC has also doled out $5,500 to "pro-life" Republican Mike Cherry; $5,500 to Nick Clemente, who has pledged to defund Planned Parenthood; $3,000 to Maria Martin, who says she is running to "protect the unborn"; $3,000 to Sylvia Bryant, who pledged to defund Planned Parenthood; $3,000 to Roxann Robinson, who voted against lifting abortion restrictions; and $3,000 to Steve Pleickhardt, who supports defunding Planned Parenthood and banning abortions after 20 weeks.

"Youngkin says he wants to go 'on offense' and these Republican candidates his PAC is supporting, if elected, would be his teammates in passing extreme anti-abortion legislation," Lockhart said. "They not only would move to rebuild the recently repealed obstacle course of delays and restrictions to access abortion care, but they would seek to pass a radical abortion ban like the one in Texas, which banned abortion at six weeks, before many people even know they are pregnant."

Abortion could be front and center during the campaign's climax this fall, when the Supreme Court is also set to review Mississippi's bid to overturn Roe v. Wade.

"With the Supreme Court taking up a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade, reproductive rights are under threat like never before," Lockhart said, arguing that data suggests 79% of Virginians "support legal access to abortion and believe that the government should not prevent a woman from making her own health care decisions."

Youngkin's abortion slip-up highlights the larger difficulties the increasingly conservative Republican Party has in winning over voters in a state that has consistently moved to the left over the last decade. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who is now seeking a second term four years after his first one (Virginia prohibits incumbent governors from running for re-election), won his first election in 2013 by just 2.5 percentage points. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., defeated Republican Ed Gillespie in his 2014 race by less than a point.

But Virginia has seen a massive increase in Democratic voters in the affluent suburbs of Washington, D.C., and moved sharply away from Republicans after Trump's 2016 victory, electing Gov. Ralph Northam over Gillespie in 2017 by eight points, reelecting Warner by 12 points in 2020, and backing President Joe Biden by a 10-point margin. In 2019, Virginians also elected a Democratic majority in the General Assembly, giving the party full control of state government for the first time since 1994.

Trump "said he wanted to drain the swamp in Washington but what he did was drain Virginia Republicans," Bob Holsworth, a veteran Virginia political analyst, told Salon in an interview. "For the Democrats, Trump has been a godsend — and he's been a millstone around the necks of Virginia Republicans."

Given those political dynamics, it's not surprising that Trump has become a focal point in the race after anti-Trump sentiment cost Republicans the gubernatorial race in 2017 and especially "after Jan. 6," as Whit Ayres, a longtime Virginia Republican consultant, said in an interview with Salon.

Voter turnout "surged by over 500,000 votes" in the 2017 race and that increase was "largely minorities, millennials, college-educated suburban women in Northern Virginia," Ayres said. "So for Mr. Youngkin to have a shot, he has to do better than Gillespie did among the Northern Virginia suburbs."

Trump has thrown his full support behind Youngkin, giving him his "Complete and Total Endorsement" hours after Youngkin defeated six other Republicans, including one who had dubbed herself "Trump in heels." Youngkin said he was "honored" to have Trump's support but has seemingly tried to distance himself from the former president since then, even releasing an ad seeking to tie Terry McAuliffe to Trump by highlighting a $25,000 campaign donation he received from Trump in 2009.

But Youngkin's attempt to link his Democratic opponent to Trump, according to Rozell, "makes no sense at all."

"No one is going to believe that McAuliffe is aligned with Trump," Rozell said, "and Youngkin risks alienating the still-sizable Trump base in the GOP by distancing himself from the former president."

Trump appears to have gotten the message that Youngkin is trying to push him away, and earlier this month released another statement with a distinctly different tone, saying that Ed Gillespie — the defeated 2017 nominee — ran for governor without "'embracing' MAGA or the America First movement" and that as a result Trump's base "didn't come out for Gillespie."

That appears to be a warning to Youngkin, which as Holsworth observed, puts him in a political bind. "To win in the Northern Virginia suburbs, especially, he's going to have to find a way to distance himself from Trump," he said. "But if he does so too visibly, you can be certain Trump will respond."

It may be difficult for Youngkin to shed Trump's toxicity in the state. Youngkin refused to acknowledge Biden as the legitimate president during the Republican primary, and has since promoted an "Election Integrity Task Force" in an obvious nod to Trump's false claims of election fraud.

"Trump represents so much of why I'm running," Youngkin told voters during the primary as he pushed to enact voting restrictions.

"It's always a challenge to pivot from a primary campaign to a general election campaign," Ayres said, "particularly in a state that leans blue like Virginia."

As for McAuliffe, he has been more than happy to see Trump become involved in the race, even offering to pay for the former president to fly to Virginia to campaign for Youngkin. His campaign responded to Youngkin's ad by launching its first TV ad labeling the Republican a Trump "loyalist."

Threading a needle between Trump's base and the independent voters he needs to win over, Youngkin has had difficulty forming a legitimate campaign platform. He has repeatedly criticized Biden's COVID relief bill as "unnecessary," opposed a minimum wage increase to $15, and opposed paid family and medical leave. He has slammed the state's Medicaid expansion while calling for expanded gun rights.

But some of his hardline rhetoric has disappeared from his website, as the Washington Post reported, and he has focused increasingly on culture-war issues like "critical race theory" in education, which Ayres described as a "smart move," saying that education issues "play very well for Republican candidates in the suburban areas where they need to do far better than they've done in the past couple of elections."

Democrats have repeatedly highlighted that Youngkin does not even have an issues page on his campaign site and accused him of "hiding" after he became the first gubernatorial nominee in more than three decades to skip the Virginia Bar Association debate. His campaign objected to "PBS NewsHour" host Judy Woodruff as the moderator, supposedly because she once donated $250 to the Clinton Foundation's Haiti earthquake relief fund.

Tribbett said the Woodruff excuse was "absurd" and an attempt to "distract people from the narrative that he doesn't want to debate."

"Youngkin isn't quite ready for prime time. That's why he's not debating now," he said. "It's very clear that he doesn't feel like he's ready right now. He's not taking questions from journalists. This is stuff that he should have sorted out months ago when he was seeking the Republican nomination, because coming into a general election like this is just inexcusable from a campaign perspective. He spent millions and millions of dollars on that nomination contest and then came into the general — and three months in, he still can't put up an issues page on his website. I mean, it's just sort of sad."

Virginia Republican insiders have recently expressed "consternation" about whether Youngkin has surrounded himself with too many "Cruz and Trump people," wondering if he really has a "Virginia-based platform," Holsworth said.

In theory, Youngkin's personal wealth and lack of a political track record should make him well suited to pivot in the general election, but as Republican primary voters and candidates continue to move further right, it will be more difficult to tread back to the middle. Some early 2022 Republican primary races have already devolved into contests over which candidate can out-Trump the competition, something that will be difficult to walk back in a general election race — especially facing the threat of criticism from Trump himself if a Republican drifts too far from his agenda.

"The Virginia GOP believed that they found exactly the right candidate to appeal to the conservative base while appearing moderate enough to win over swing voters," Rozell said. "Youngkin himself to this point is having trouble trying to appeal to both groups of voters."

Tribbett agreed that Youngkin "did a lot of things right" in the primary by positioning himself as the best general election candidate, but said that narrative is now "falling flat."

"Anytime you take a position that's not exactly what the Trump position is, you're trying to thread a needle," he said. "I think he's just been paralyzed in fear of alienating his base, so he's not really attempted to thread the needle but also hasn't energized the base. I can't think of a worse place for a candidate to be: someone who's not energizing their own base and is afraid to reach out to moderates and independents."

Joe Biden's 'magical thinking' on the filibuster is deeply mistaken

President Joe Biden drew backlash from fellow Democrats on Wednesday after defending the filibuster in the face of a Republican assault on voting access that he compared to "Jim Crow on steroids."

A recent college graduate pressed Biden on his defense of the filibuster rule during a CNN town hall in Cincinnati Wednesday, citing a nationwide Republican push to enact new voting restrictions that Biden himself has called "the most dangerous threat to voting in the integrity of free and fair elections in our history."

"While you have condemned these attacks, you and congressional members of your party have done little to actually stop these assaults," the graduate said. "If these efforts are really the 'most dangerous in our history,' isn't it logical to get rid of the filibuster so we can protect our democracy and secure the right to vote?"

Biden said he stands by his comments on the voting restrictions, pointing out that Georgia's recently-enacted law could have allowed the state legislature to block his election win in the state. And he acknowledged that "the abuse of the filibuster has been pretty overwhelming," noting that segregationist senators who used the filibuster had to hold the floor and speak for hours straight to sustain its use in the past.

"If it's a relic of Jim Crow, it's been used to fight against civil rights legislation historically, why protect it?" pressed CNN moderator Don Lemon.

"There's no reason to protect it other than you're going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done," Biden replied. "Nothing at all will get done."

The comment drew intra-party ire from Democrats who have argued for months that eliminating the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation was their only hope of preventing Republican state lawmakers from subverting elections.

Former Obama White House aide Jon Favreau, who now hosts the podcast "Pod Save America," said Biden's response "makes no sense to me."

Republicans have already used the filibuster to block debate on the For the People Act even after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., suggested a compromise offer to water down the legislation and add a national voter ID law to appease GOP critics. The filibuster likewise stands in the way of top Democratic priorities like the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the union-boosting PRO Act, the civil rights-expanding Equality Act, immigration reform, and statehood for Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.

Biden's defense of the filibuster undercuts his voting rights push and suggests "the entire speech was a lie," argued Cliff Albright, a cofounder of the Black Voters Matter Fund.

"He expects community activists—particularly Black activists—to simply recreate the Herculean effort that it took to mobilize voters in 2020," Albright tweeted. "And to do so in spite of historic new voter suppression. He lied when he said he'd have our backs."

Former Obama White House ethics chief Walter Shaub, a senior fellow at the Project on Government Oversight, fumed at Biden's remarks.

"These old white guys who've spent their lives in politics are never going to get it," he tweeted. " Racism and oppression just don't matter that much to them. They know they'll survive fascism. The camps won't be for them. And their goofy kids can sell art for half a mil a pop," an apparent reference to Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, and his recent foray into the art world.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., laughed when she was asked about Biden's suggestion that eliminating the filibuster would cause "chaos."

"Right now, Mitch McConnell uses the filibuster to veto any forward progress he doesn't like," she told reporters. "We have to be realistic how the filibuster is used."

Biden argued during Wednesday's town hall that he wants to "bring along Republicans who I know know better" and that he does not want to get voting rights "wrapped up" in a debate over the filibuster.

"But isn't that the only way you're going to get it done right now?" Lemon asked.

"No, I don't believe that. I think we can get it done," Biden replied.

It would be a surprise to anyone paying attention if Biden can find 10 Republican votes in the Senate to defeat a filibuster and advance voting rights legislation — a situation that looks increasingly unlikely.

Every Republican member of the Senate voted to block debate on the For the People Act just last month and only Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has backed the Voting Rights Advancement Act.

"What are their names? Name the Republicans who know better," Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, said in response to Biden's claim. "This is not a strategy. The time for magical thinking is over."

Bill O'Reilly's sexual harassment accuser breaks 17-year-old NDA

Andrea Mackis, the Fox News producer who accused former Fox pundit Bill O'Reilly of four years of sexual harassment, opened up about her experiences on Tuesday to The Daily Beast, revealing a much fuller picture of both the her abuse and tumultous settlement process.

Breaking her non-disclosure agreement, Mackris – who was just one of numerous women to come forward years ago with claims of sexual abuse against O'Reilly – told the Beast that O'Reilly had made a number of sexual demands from her, including phone sex and mutual masturbation. In one instance, O'Reilly expressed his "fantasy of soaping [Mackris] down in the shower with either a 'loofah' or a 'falafel thing.'"

"I'm going to make you play," O'Reilly once told Mackris.

"Here was my boss," Mackris said in the interview. "A man who held my career and future in his hands, acknowledging that he knew I'd never consented but he didn't care."

Back in 2017, O'Reilly was fired over numerous accounts of sexual harassment against various female producers and hosts. The allegations came just a year after Fox News' late founder Roger Ailes was accused by host Gretchen Carlson – in addition to over a dozen female employees – of a years-long pattern of sexual harassment. Mackris' allegations against O'Reilly date back to 2004, when the producer was 33.

Perhaps most revealing in her interview is Mackris' account of her acrimonious settlement process involving lawyers for Fox, O'Reilly, News Corp – as well as her own attorney, David Ratner.

In one instance, Ratner told Mackris, who initially refused to sign a settlement agreement: "No one believes you, and you'll never be hired again, and if you walk out of this room like this, no other lawyers will work with you. You didn't hire us to go to trial, you hired us to make him stop."

Ratner, she said, "was yelling because I was yelling back at him that Bill wasn't a victim."

She added: "I was saying, 'I'm not doing this, I'm not doing this. I'll walk out. No, I'm not signing.' I was sobbing and screaming. I couldn't comprehend what was happening—that Fox heard the tapes and was doing nothing. I was in full-blown PTSD. I wasn't in my body. I was shaking from head to toe and crying uncontrollably."

Ratner, for his part, disputed Mackris' account to the Beast, saying that "no one" was yelling in the negotiation process. "I am distressed that Andrea's memory is so faulty," the lawyer added.

At the time, O'Reilly had claimed that he was the victim of baseless accusations that Mackris had used to "extort him out of $60 million in hush money," the Beast noted.

As part of her NDA, which led to a $9 million settlement agreement, O'Reilly was allowed to make his case to Fox's audience. "This brutal ordeal is now officially over, and I will never speak of it again," he said in a broadcast. "This matter has caused enormous pain, but I had to protect my family, and I did. All I can say to you is please do not believe everything you hear and read."

O'Reilly's litigation counsel told Beast that Mackris eventually "issued a public statement in 2004 in which she stated that 'there was no wrongdoing whatsoever by Mr. O'Reilly.'"

"I didn't release a statement, he did," Mackris disputed. "It was part of the NDA on October 28, 2004. I had no choice, no way out. He uses it to abuse me. That same document says Bill won't breach, which he's done over and over, calling me a liar. It cuts both ways."

Mackris, who had to leave her post as part of the agreement, detailed to the Beast that she has since the ordeal lived a life of "quiet desperation," struggling to shake off the trauma of both the abuse and reconciliation.

"I may not get the past 17 years back," she said, "but there is one way I can retrieve my power from this storm of lies, loss, greed and grief. It's the same thing I did back in 2004 before Fox, Bill O'Reilly and their teams of willing executioners bound me to a contract that promises to ruin whatever is left of me if I dare do it again. Tell the truth. Walk free."

Ohio's GOP Senate contenders desperately try to out-Trump each other — it could hurt them

Days after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, announced he would retire rather than seek a third term, despite winning his previous race by 20 points and being credited with helping former President Donald Trump secure a victory in the state. Portman, who backed Trump's policies but was not an entirely avid supporter, blamed "partisan gridlock" for his decision. But amid a slew of retirements by other moderate Republicans, it certainly appears Portman saw the writing on the wall as his party went all-in on Trump.

"He would have had a problem," Gary Abernathy, a longtime Ohio journalist who previously worked for Portman, said in an interview with Salon, describing the "tightrope" Portman walked for years to keep Trump's people happy while "being true to himself." Although Portman won his last Republican primary with more than 80% of the vote, many of the state's Republican voters "don't feel like he had Trump's back as much as he could have," Abernathy said, "even though when it came down to it … he pretty much always voted with Trump."

Ohio strongly backed Trump in both 2016 and 2020, although Barack Obama had won the state twice before that. As the Buckeye State seemingly skews to the right, the increasingly old and white Ohio GOP appears to have adopted a litmus test for candidates — one that Portman might not have passed.

"They want someone who's out there giving a full-throated defense of Donald Trump all the time," Abernathy said.

That's exactly what the Ohio Republican Senate primary campaign has to offer so far, for better or worse. The race quickly devolved into intra-party attacks as candidates snipe at each other over who stans Trump the hardest and which opponent committed the unforgivable sin of once not supporting the former president enough. Former state party chair Jane Timken, a major Trump donor, recently circulated a "scorecard" touting her record of backing Trump as the best in the field. Former state treasurer and perennial also-ran Josh Mandel has tried to adopt Trump's abrasive style and racist tweets, to an almost comical degree. Both Mandel and Timken, along with Mike Gibbons and Bernie Moreno, the other big Trump donors in the race, flew down to Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in March to try to earn the ex-president's backing in what the Associated Press described as a "bizarre scene reminiscent of Trump's reality TV show, 'The Apprentice.'"

The 2022 GOP Senate campaign is already unlike any recent Ohio primary, said Doug Preisse, chair emeritus of the Franklin County Republican Party, who previously worked for Mandel as a strategist.

"The fact that everybody's falling over themselves and rushing to kiss the ring of a former president when it appears to most of the public that they're kissing another part of his anatomy, that's a more intense kind of approach," Preisse told Salon. All the candidates have been "afraid of their own shadow that they might do or say something" that will anger Trump and "drive him to endorse one of the others," he added.

Perhaps no one has a steeper hill to climb in winning over Trump's base than J.D. Vance, the venture capitalist and best-selling author of "Hillbilly Elegy," who recently made a separate trip to Mar-a-Lago with billionaire Trump donor Peter Thiel to meet with the former president and, presumably, seek to make amends for his extensive past criticism.

According to Preisse, Vance originally indicated he planned to stay out of the Ohio Senate race. "The last time I talked to J.D. was at a cocktail party in Aspen a couple years ago," Preisse recalled. "He said he couldn't run in this kind of atmosphere because of Trump. It was a toxic atmosphere and he could never do that and wouldn't do it."

Vance wrote a New York Times op-ed in 2016 calling Trump "unfit" to be president. Elsewhere he described the appeal of Trump as "cultural heroin" and warned that his policy proposals "range from immoral to absurd."

"I can't stomach Trump," he told NPR in 2016 before announcing his support for independent never-Trump conservative Evan McMullin in the general election. "I think that he's noxious and is leading the white working class to a very dark place."

But Vance, who has built his image on his rural Appalachian roots while making a fortune investing in the same tech companies he now decries, changed his tune after getting more than $10 million in financial backing from Thiel and Trump mega-donors Robert and Rebekah Mercer to fund his Senate bid.

The Yale Law School grad, who has now joined the Republican chorus in criticizing "elites," scrubbed his old tweets calling Trump "reprehensible" and touting his McMullin support before appearing on Fox News to apologize.

"Like a lot of people, I criticized Trump back in 2016," Vance said. "And I ask folks not to judge me based on what I said in 2016, because I've been very open that I did say those critical things and I regret them, and I regret being wrong about the guy. I think he was a good president, I think he made a lot of good decisions for people, and I think he took a lot of flak."

Vance appears to hope his open contrition can convince Ohio voters that he genuinely supports Trump. "I'm not just a flip-flopper, I'm a flip-flop-flipper on Trump," he insisted to Time's Molly Ball, describing Trump as "the leader of this movement."

"If I actually care about these people and the things I say I care about, I need to just suck it up and support him," he said.

That admission did little to support the image that Vance's allies have tried to portray in countless articles presenting him the "authentic" Ohio candidate in the race.

"If they see you as a flip-flopper or a political opportunist" who says "whatever you got to say to get to where you want to go, they can smell that," Preisse said.

"That really kind of rips a hole in the 'I'm the authentic candidate' narrative," Abernathy said. "You're saying that out loud, right? People are reading that."

Abernathy, who supported Trump until after the election, said it was "disappointing" to see Vance "blatantly change that position and pander to the Trump people and to Trump himself." He predicted that Vance's GOP opponents would seize on those comments in attack ads.

Indeed, it didn't take long. "Not only do we welcome to the race, we welcome him to the Republican Party," the Gibbons campaign said in a statement after Vance announced his bid.

"He claims to be a Trump Republican, but in the short time Mr. Vance has been active in politics he's spent the bulk of it tearing down President Trump and mocking Trump voters," said David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, which has endorsed Mandel.

Vance has tried to overcome his past Trump criticism by adopting Trump's style and talking points. In recent months, he has railed on Twitter about Big Tech, the media and the supposed cancellation of Dr. Seuss, and has promoted a QAnon-inspired conspiracy theory suggesting that unrelated sexual misconduct cases were evidence of a powerful cabal of "predators targeting children." He has frequently appeared on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show and has echoed, in slightly milder form, Carlson's racist "great replacement" theory by raising concerns about white and nonwhite birthrates. In a recent interview, Vance appeared to nod to Trump's bogus election fraud narrative, saying that Vice President Kamala Harris had been "elected or whatever."

Vance's allies also believe that he is a "household name and a well-known brand," Preisse said. "I don't think that is the case. Books and movies made Stephen King a household name," he said, suggesting that Vance is nowhere near that category.

On the other hand, it's likely that the Thiel and Mercer millions can go a long way in helping Vance make up ground on Timken and Mandel. "That's why you raise money — so you can run a real campaign and do messaging," Preisse said. "Sometimes you gotta try to put the shit back in the horse, which is what he's probably going to have to spend some money doing."

Vance's allies have pointed out that Timken and Mandel may be big Trump fans now, but both of them supported other Republicans in the 2016 presidential primary first. Trump appears to have forgiven Timken and had to be talked out of giving her an early endorsment, according to Axios, while Mandel was kicked out of a recent Republican National Committee retreat in Florida that featured Trump.

No one has tried harder to embrace Trumpism than Mandel, who is running for Senate for the third time in the last decade. Mandel's Twitter bio claims that he was the "1st Statewide Official in Ohio to support President Trump" and he announced his campaign earlier this year by declaring that he was "going to Washington to fight for President Trump's America First Agenda."

Mandel's Twitter feed resembles a Trump fan page, replete with tweets decrying "science" and "experts" while trying (arguably a little too hard) to own the "libs." He's pinned a tweet to the top of his feed that features a video of himself burning a mask with the caption "FREEDOM." In true Trump fashion, he was temporarily suspended by Twitter after posting a poll asking which types of "illegals" would commit more crimes, "Muslim Terrorists" or "Mexican Gangbangers."

After his account access was restored, Mandel proudly declared, "Just like President Trump, I was canceled by @twitter @jack yesterday," adding that he wears "this as a badge of honor as Big Tech thugs & elites target those who they are most afraid of."

Mandel "has left a lot of his old friends and supporters scratching their heads," Preisse said, "and just wondering what the next thing he's gonna do or say that seems to be out of character of the fella we thought we knew for many years."

"I've known Josh since he was in college and I don't even know who the hell that guy is anymore," said another veteran Republican strategist, who spoke to Salon on the condition of anonymity.

It isn't just Mandel's embrace of Trump. The Cleveland-area native also appears to have bizarrely adopted a Southern drawl as he attempts to win over rural voters in southern Ohio, although to be fair, he came under fire for the same fake accent in his first Senate bid in 2012.

Mandel's previous failed campaigns have left him with strong name recognition in the state and millions in leftover campaign cash, but his "incessant campaigning over the past decade has worn some donors out," according to The Atlantic's Clare Malone, and his top fundraisers quit last month, reportedly over a "toxic work environment" created by Rachel Wilson, his campaign finance director and girlfriend.

At times, both Mandel and Timken's camps have tried to make it seem as if they've already landed the coveted Trump endorsement. The USA Freedom Fund, a dark money group backing Mandel, used footage of Trump "even though Mandel was nowhere in sight" while attacking Vance for his past criticism, according to the AP.

Timken recently said in a radio ad that she was "very proud to be endorsed by President Trump to lead our party," which was a reference to her campaign for state party chair four years ago. She recently deleted a photo of hersel and Trump from her website's endorsement page after angering his allies with the insinuation that he is supporting her. Timken rented a plane to fly a pro-Trump banner bearing her website before his Ohio rally last month and deployed volunteers to hand out fliers touting her as "the only true pro-Trump America First candidate" in the race. "Certainly the Timken campaign was working very hard to make it seem like she was also endorsed at this rally," a source told NBC News.

While other candidates are still vying for Trump's endorsement, Timken was widely expected to have it by now. She has bragged that she turned the Ohio Republican Party into a "well-oiled, pro-Trump machine," and she and her husband, steel company CEO Tim Timken, have donated millions to Republican causes. She has already garnered endorsements from dozens of county GOP chairmen and elected officials.

So the fact that no endorsement has happened is unquestionably a blow to Timken's chances, Preisse said. "We all expected her to get an early Trump endorsement and when she didn't, it was almost one step forward, two steps back," he said. "She is suffering more from a lack of endorsement than the others, because it was assumed she'd get it."

Timken has also come under attack from her opponents, not for failing to be supportive enough of the former president but for failing to be tough enough on his perceived enemies. Trump used much of his rally to attack Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, an Ohio Republican who voted to impeach him after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The state's Republicans piled on, with Mandel calling Gonzalez a "traitor" who should be "eradicated from the Republican Party." The state GOP officially censured Gonzalez in May, calling for him to resign.

Timken also called for Gonzalez to resign from Congress over his disloyalty, but only after she first defended him as a "very effective legislator" and a "very good person" in February after his impeachment vote.

"Question: Why did Jane Timken refuse to censure Gonzalez when she was Chairman? She clearly had time to do so," Mandel questioned in May. "So what's the real reason?"

At Trump's Ohio rally, the ex-president endorsed Max Miller, a 32-year-old former White House aide with multiple criminal charges on his record, in next year's primary against Gonzalez. But he didn't pick a horse in the Senate race, instead staging an impromptu poll of the audience on who they thought he should back.

Though all the candidates have tripped over themselves to ingratiate themselves with the former president, Vance told NBC News he believes that Trump "gets a certain kick out of people kissing his ass" and views them as "weak."

"He actually wants to see the race play out a little bit and see who among us is the strongest of the candidates," he said, while trying to spin his past criticism of Trump as an asset rather than a weakness.

Abernathy suggested that it was more likely that Trump doesn't want to endorse "somebody who ends up losing" because that would make him "look not particularly powerful."

Furthermore, Abernathy said that even though Trump is still the "800-pound gorilla in the room," his support in the state is "slowly eroding." All these candidates' full-throated embrace of Trumpism could come back to bite them in the general election, he said, where "they're going to want to walk that back quite a bit and it's gonna be hard."

Rep. Tim Ryan, who briefly ran for president in 2020 — and before that opposed Nancy Pelosi for the speakership — is the only Democrat to jump into the race so far. But the party claims to believe the Trumpist scrum on the other side will only serve to alienate voters.

"While the GOP's pack of elitist millionaires stumble all over themselves in a desperate attempt to get the attention of a failed Florida blogger, Democrats in Ohio are laser focused on getting the endorsement of Ohio voters — the endorsement that matters most," Matt Keyes, a spokesperson for the Ohio Democratic Party, said in a statement to Salon. "While Republicans want to look backward to the divisions of the past, Ohio Democrats are looking ahead to building a better future for working Ohioans."

There's also no guarantee that whoever does the most to win over Trump's base will win the Republican primary as all the candidates vying for the "Trump lane" cannibalize each other's support.

The anonymous Republican strategist, who has worked for numerous prominent state and federal lawmakers, said he was in contact with some of the campaigns but chose to sit out the race "because I have to look at myself in the mirror in the morning."

Abernathy and Preisse, unprompted, separately brought up Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, a potential Senate candidate who represents the Dayton area, as a less Trumpy Republican who could turn the race on its head if he joins the fray, especially since most of the other candidates have little experience with legislation.

"He's been kind of an independent-minded person when it comes to Trump, but when the chips are down he's usually been there for Trump," Abernathy said. "He's a very smart person, very well-spoken, I think a good debater, a former mayor of Dayton who has managed to appeal to the Democrats, which is helpful in the general."

Preisse also mentioned state Sen. Matt Dolan, the state budget committee chairman, whose family owns the Cleveland Indians, describing him as a "center-right conservative ... who knows how to get things done."

"If Turner or Dolan gets in, there will be a lot of people who breathe a sigh of relief that there's an adult in the race who isn't rushing to kiss Donald Trump's ring," Preisse said, before repeating, "or some other part of his anatomy."

Here's the staggering number of Republicans running in 2022 who've pushed Trump’s election lies

Hundreds of Republican federal and state candidates have embraced former President Trump's election lies as they run for office or seek re-election in 2022. Some of them may soon hold an alarming amount of power over future elections.

At least one-third of the nearly 700 Republicans who have filed to run for Congress have echoed Trump's false election claims, according to an analysis by The Washington Post, including the 136 members of Congress who voted not to certify the election results in several states in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Another 500 of the 600 state lawmakers who have echoed Trump's lies are up for re-election next year, including at least 16 who attended the "Stop the Steal" rally that preceded the Capitol riot.

Five of the 18 Republican attorneys general who joined a lawsuit to overturn the election results in Pennsylvania are also running for re-election next year. And several Trump allies are eyeing bids for secretary of state positions, which would give them power over their states' elections.

"What's really frightening right now is the extent of the effort to steal power over future elections," Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, told the Post. "That's what we're seeing across the nation. Literally in almost every swing state, we have someone running for secretary of state who has been fearmongering about the 2020 election or was at the insurrection. Democracy will be on the ballot in 2022."

Many of these Republicans have made Trump's election lies — which have been roundly rejected by every court that has encountered them — focal points of their campaigns.

Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem, who attended the "Stop the Steal" rally and is now running for secretary of state, recently told a QAnon-related talk show that he hopes the dubious "forensic audit" in Maricopa County will overturn Trump's loss in the state.

Fellow Arizona state Rep. Shawnna Bolick, also a candidate running for secretary of state, sponsored a bill that would allow the Republican-dominated state legislature to ignore the popular vote and appoint its own presidential electors.

Some Trump supporters have already been successful in taking down Republicans who have disputed baseless allegations of fraud or election-rigging. Just last month in a Virginia House of Delegates primary, Trump election lawyer Wren Williams defeated 14-year Republican incumbent Charles Poindexter, who rejected the frivolous fraud claims in the GOP primary.

Poindexter "said that he had not seen any evidence of voter fraud," Williams told the Post. "And I said that I had seen evidence, because obviously I had played the role of lawyer for Trump in Wisconsin."

Williams did not mention that the lawsuit he attempted to file in Wisconsin was dismissed like all the others, and a recount demanded by Trump in Milwaukee County only found additional votes for Joe Biden.

At least six pro-Trump Republicans have already lined up to challenge Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who voted to impeach Trump and has continued to denounce his election falsehoods, losing her GOP leadership position in the process.

Trump has already endorsed Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., in his bid to unseat Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who repeatedly debunked Trump's false claims and rejected the then-president's request to "find" enough votes to overturn his loss in the state.

Most Republican voters believe the 2020 election was "stolen" from Trump, according to a recent poll, and some candidates have eagerly tried to win over the former president by appealing to his election obsession.

Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who is considering a bid for governor, recently traveled to Arizona to observe that state's so-called audit, telling Trump in May that he could "engineer an audit in his state" as well, according to the Post.

Energy executive Jim Lamon, a Trump donor who has contributed to the Arizona "audit" and to various groups pushing conspiracy theories, has tried to gain Trump's attention for his potential campaign against Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., by buying ads on Fox News in New Jersey, where Trump is staying at his Bedminster golf club thousands of miles away.

The avalanche of election falsehoods in the 2022 campaign comes as Republican-led states across the country enact new voting restrictions inspired by Trump's lies, restrictions that many Democrats have compared to Jim Crow-era laws. Some states have also enacted laws that could make it easier to overturn future elections.

If Republicans win back control of either the Senate or the House next year, voting rights advocates worry that the next ceremonial certification of electoral results could play out very differently than it did on the night of Jan. 6 this year.

"I have real pause about the role the 'big lie' will play not only in campaigns next year but in challenges to a fair and accessible election," Allison Riggs, an election lawyer at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, told the Post. "We expect it."

'Utter betrayal': Angry activists who helped elect Kyrsten Sinema say 'she has no values'

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona Democrat who has perplexed the nation, once criticized the filibuster's 60-vote threshold and urged Democrats to pass critical legislation with a simple majority. But the onetime Green Party activist and self-described "Prada socialist" has transformed, somehow or other, into one of the most conservative Democrats in the Senate, and the activists who helped elect her can't help but feel a sense of "betrayal."

Sinema, a former state representative, in 2010 lamented the "false pressure" to reach a 60-vote supermajority to pass significant legislation in a video unearthed by the progressive advocacy group More Perfect Union. Sinema urged Democrats to use the budget reconciliation process to pass major bills like health care reform instead of "kowtowing to Joe Lieberman," the centrist senator who served as a roadblock to the party's major proposals despite caucusing with Democrats throughout his career.

When Lieberman briefly ran president in 2003, Sinema described him as "pathetic."

"He's a shame to Democrats," she told a reporter at the time. "I don't even know why he's running. He seems to want to get Republicans voting for him — what kind of strategy is that?"

Past comments like those have puzzled Arizonans who have watched Sinema ascend to the Senate only to become a Lieberman-like figure herself. The shift has particularly stung for activists who helped register and turn out a record number of voters in the 2018 election, when Sinema narrowly defeated Republican Martha McSally. Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), a grassroots group that led a coalition that knocked on 2.5 million doors that year, say they've been shut out by Sinema since she was elected.

Sinema "will not take meetings with us personally," César Fierros, the group's communications manager, told Salon, adding that meetings with her team have been "incredibly dismissive" and even "combative." By comparison, he said the group has had an "open line of communication" with newly-elected Sen. Mark Kelly (who also defeated McSally, in 2020, leaving the latter in the improbable position of losing two Senate races two years apart).

"From the beginning, our members and our community went out to knock on doors for Sen. Kelly and showed up at the polls," Fierros said. "We have high expectations because that is what our community deserves. Our members expect our senators to address the needs of their community."

Sinema's stance on the filibuster has further soured relations with the group.

"Sinema's choice to obstruct the Biden agenda during her time in the Senate can only be described as a complete and utter betrayal to the good people of Arizona that cast a vote for her in 2018," Fierros said. "Her delusional defense of the filibuster is a major roadblock to not only the real reforms we campaigned for when electing Sinema but also the defense of our democracy. With so much on the line, the senator continues to turn her back on promises made for true progress on voting rights, minimum wage and immigration reform."

Many young LGBTQ activists who were inspired by Sinema, the first bisexual woman in the Senate, also say she has broken her campaign promises by defending the filibuster rule, undercutting her support for legislation like the pro-LGBTQ Equality Act.

Joan Arrow, a trans LGBTQ activist, was never politically inclined before the Trump presidency but quickly rallied behind Sinema's historic candidacy and volunteered for her campaign.

"I wasn't out of the closet yet," Arrow said in an interview with Salon. But "I knew that if I was going to be safe coming out of the closet, I'm going to need members of the LGBTQ community and allies in positions of power who would vote for something like the Equality Act, who would put my interests first. I trusted the promises she made in her campaign. I knocked on doors for her, I argued up and down that she was better than Martha McSally. And now that she's in a position of power, I really feel left behind."

Sinema is a co-sponsor of the Equality Act, which would grant civil rights protections to the LGBTQ community. But her defense of the filibuster means the bill has virtually no hope of advancing in the Senate after 50 Republicans used the rule to block debate on the legislation. Meanwhile, Republicans have introduced more than 250 pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation in state legislatures, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which warned that 2021 is set to become the "worst year for LGBTQ state legislative attacks."

Arrow, who now works with the Arizona Coalition to End the Filibuster, organized a coalition of over 140 LGBTQ groups and activists to sign an open letter calling on Sinema to "take the necessary next step of ending the filibuster," warning that if she refuses "we will have no choice but to seriously consider whether our support for you, including financial donations, may better serve our community if directed to another Democrat who will use their power as a U.S. senator to stand up for our rights."

The letter was cathartic for many LGBTQ activists who felt frustrated with Sinema's direction, Arrow said.

"I felt incredibly betrayed," she said. "Almost everyone I've spoken to has really echoed that feeling of betrayal. LGBTQ Arizonans need people to do what they say they're going to do, and when you have this historic candidate in our community getting elected to the Senate, who then turns tail and abandons everyone who lifted her up into that position — the LGBTQ Arizonans I've spoken to, we feel betrayed."

The Equality Act is just one of the major pieces of Democratic legislation that has languished in Congress as a result of the filibuster. Republicans have also filibustered the For the People Act, a sweeping voting rights bill, and the threat of a filibuster has impeded progress on policing reform and the PRO Act, which would strengthen unions.

LGBTQ issues are the same as anybody else's," Brianna Westbrook, a vice chair of the Arizona Democratic Party who helped organize the letter, said in an interview with Salon. "LGBTQ people and people with disabilities, in particular, are two communities that really intersect with multiple social and economic classes and the filibuster is a barrier that's really restricting not only the Equality Act but other legislation that's important to the LGBTQ community like raising the wage, immigration reform, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and allowing LGBTQ people to organize their workplaces."

Progressive groups have poured millions into campaigns to ramp up pressure on Sinema to reverse her position on the filibuster. Operatives who helped elect Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York have launched the No Excuses PAC, which threatens to back primary challengers to Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., if they continue to "join with Republicans" against their own party's agenda. Another group has launched the Pressure PAC to raise money for an eventual progressive primary challenger to Sinema. Just Democracy, a coalition of more than 40 civil rights groups, last month launched a $1.5 million ad campaign to urge Sinema to "deliver on her campaign promise to protect voting rights and stand up for Arizonans."

Sinema "campaigned for her seat by telling Black and brown Arizonans that she'd have our backs in office," Stephanie Spaulding, a Just Democracy coalition member and founder of Truth & Conciliation, told Salon. Sinema promised to "support fair wages, more and better jobs, climate justice ... promises that compelled Black and Brown people to turn out in record numbers. But instead of having our backs, Sinema turned her back on us. Her insistence on letting Republicans use the Jim Crow filibuster keeps her from delivering on the promises she made — the filibuster is a ubiquitous barrier to progress on all issues."

Sinema's opposition to eliminating the filibuster to advance voting rights legislation comes as Republicans this year have introduced more than 350 bills to restrict voting access. In Arizona, Republicans voted to strip power from the Democratic secretary of state and to implement new voting restrictions amid a dubious "forensic audit" of an election where no evidence of widespread fraud has been detected. The Supreme Court on Thursday dealt another blow to the Voting Rights Act, upholding previously enacted absentee voting restrictions and making it more difficult to challenge new state restrictions in the future.

"Senators like Sinema who insist on prioritizing 'bipartisanship' over crucial legislation aimed at strengthening our democracy are resurrecting the legacy of segregationists," Spaulding said. "Instead of protecting our democracy, they're placing a Jim Crow relic over the most fundamental right we have as Americans: the right to vote."

Sinema has so far appeared entirely unmoved by the pressure campaigns, doubling down on her position in a Washington Post op-ed last month, arguing that the "best way to achieve durable, lasting results" was through "bipartisan cooperation."

"I think she truly sees that if you can forge bipartisan compromise, it's going to be much more sustainable in terms of legislation. It's going to be able to withstand a turnover in party control," David Lujan, a former Arizona state legislator who served alongside Sinema, said in an interview with Salon.

But Lujan said he also questions that strategy, "especially when you have Republicans who despise Democrats and think that they're pedophiles and are harming kids in tunnels. How do you negotiate with people that believe that?" In an era of "ultra-polarized" politics, Lujan added, "I don't know if her approach is necessarily going to work."

Sinema argued in the op-ed that eliminating the filibuster would produce only "temporary victories" that were "destined to be reversed" if Republicans retake control of Congress, and noted that Democrats had filibustered police reform and COVID relief proposals under Trump "to force continued negotiations toward better solutions."

Eliminating the filibuster to expand health care could open the door to Republicans passing legislation "dividing Medicaid into block grants, slashing earned Social Security and Medicare benefits, or defunding women's reproductive health services," Sinema wrote. Eliminating it to protect the environment or strengthen education could open the door to Republicans defunding or abolishing entire agencies and programs.

But most of the programs she mentioned can already be cut or eliminated with a simple majority, using the budget reconciliation process, if Republicans regain a majority in Congress. In fact, that's what they unsuccessfully tried to do with their attempts to repeal Obamacare.

"It's a lot harder to repeal legislation after it's been enacted," Westbrook said. "We saw the amount of blowback Republicans received anytime they tried to dismantle the ACA. When you get legislation that materially changes the lives of human beings, you're going to have people fighting tooth and nail to make sure that legislation stays in. I think it's a bad move to not take the opportunity that you have as an elected official in this moment to pass as much legislation as humanly possible. I see that premise that she's basically put in that article as, 'I won't do anything.' That's not the job we elected her to do."

Sinema has tried to forge a bipartisan track herself, working on a bipartisan bill with Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, to raise the federal minimum wage to $11 after she joined Republicans and some Democrats in scuttling President Biden's $15 proposal. She was also involved in negotiations on a bipartisan infrastructure bill. But the wage bill has gone nowhere and Republicans are already threatening to blow up the bipartisan deal, which provides a fraction of the funding originally proposed by Biden, because Democrats plan to pass a larger bill including their top priorities using the budget reconciliation process.

Sinema argued that voters expect her to be "independent — like Arizona — and to work with anyone to achieve lasting results." But her minimum wage bill would do little to help working people in Arizona, where the minimum wage already exceeds $11 despite years of Republican control, and the bipartisan deal rejected many top Democratic priorities that they now plan to advance themselves.

Arizonans are linking the issues to the filibuster because they understand what Sen. Sinema does not — that broken rules and systems impact people's everyday lives," Spaulding said. "They know the dangerous consequences of keeping the filibuster intact and allowing it to stop progress on policies that affect their loved ones directly."

Sinema says that her critics have it all wrong and there was no big transformation ahead of the current filibuster fight.

"I held the same view during three terms in the U.S. House, and said the same after I was elected to the Senate in 2018," she wrote in the Post op-ed. "If anyone expected me to reverse my position because my party now controls the Senate, they should know that my approach to legislating in Congress is the same whether in the minority or majority."

On this, she has a point. Critics who questioning how the former Ralph Nader acolyte, who organized anti-war protests during the Bush era, became a conservative Democrat are ignoring much of her career in government. Sinema has also developed a persona of sorts, touting her working-class credentials by frequently recounting her childhood living in poverty. Republicans have helped shape Sinema's leftist image as well, frequently referencing her activist days and painting her as a radical leftist in unsuccessful efforts to defeat her.

Sinema is a former social worker and criminal defense lawyer who tried to run for Phoenix City Council and later the state House as an independent, failing both times. Sinema's "first political compromise," as the socialist magazine Jacobin described it, came when she registered as a Democrat to run for a state House seat in 2004, beginning a long journey that led to a "complete 180 on almost every position she ever took on almost any issue."

Lujan denied that Sinema has "changed what she believes in," but agreed that he saw a shift after she was elected to the legislature and was met with a Republican supermajority that "shut out" the Democratic minority.

"When she first entered the legislature, if you look at the bills that she filed back then, you'd find that was a pretty progressive list of bills that never got a hearing or went anywhere," he said, adding that she soon started to introduce "more moderate legislation."

Despite serving as a Democrat in a deeply red state, Sinema pulled off some big unlikely wins.

The first was when she led the opposition effort to a 2006 ballot initiative that would have prohibited same-sex marriage.

"Everyone I think at the time predicted that it was going to pass easily, but Kyrsten and our group were successful in defeating the measure," Lujan recalled, noting that it was the first such measure defeated in the country.

"She did that by messaging people that maybe traditionally would not have opposed that measure," he said. "She really tried to cross party lines and ideological lines to have people join in opposing the measure. That was probably the first time I saw the value in that approach."

Another "turning point" for Sinema was when she introduced a measure to prohibit state investments in Darfur and got strong bipartisan support to pass the bill.

"That was probably the first bill she got through the legislature," Lujan said. "She then really started to look at, 'What's legislation that I can work across the aisle and find compromise on to get something done?'"

That shift was accompanied by embracing the state's top Republicans. Sinema even defended then-state Senate President Russell Pearce, an anti-immigration extremist, saying that she "love[d] him" and "would love to see him run for Congress," declining to join a successful recall campaign against him because he was her "boss."

Though she moved further right in the legislature while pushing progressive legislation, the shift was more dramatic after she quit the legislature to run for Congress in a more politically diverse district. After winning that election she joined numerous bipartisan groups that called for "reforming" Social Security and Medicare, cutting corporate taxes and regulations, and reducing spending. She joined numerous centrist or business-friendly groups like the Blue Dog Coalition, the Problem Solvers Caucus, No Labels and Third Way.

After joining the House Financial Services Committee, Sinema quickly came under fire from progressives in her state for backing a bill written by Citigroup and supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to roll back some Dodd-Frank financial reforms. She later supported an even larger rollback of the law that deregulated most of the country's largest banks. In 2015, was one of just four Democrats to support giving the financial industry an advisory role on Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regulations. The financial industry responded by boosting its campaign contributions to Sinema from just $28,346 in 2012 to more than $890,000 by 2016. She has also won the Chamber of Commerce "Spirit of Enterprise" award, for members who vote with the group more than 70% of the time, seven years in a row and was the lone Democrat to receive the award last year It was a startling departure from an activist who decried the ills of capitalism two decades earlier.

She has also voted to repeal the estate tax, which only applies to individuals with assets over $11.7 million, repeatedly supported increased military spending, and voted to repeal Obama's Clean Water Plan and block his Clean Power Plan. Sinema joined Republicans to delay the Obamacare individual mandate and allow insurers to offer plans that don't meet the Obamacare standards while introducing a bill to repeal the law's tax on insurers.

After being recruited by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to run for Senate, Sinema immediately expressed opposition to Schumer serving as the party leader. After winning a close race over McSally in 2018, Sinema voted with Trump half the time and broke with her party more often than any other Democrat besides Manchin, particularly in approving Trump's nominees. She was singled out for praise by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and an ExxonMobil lobbyist was caught on video naming Sinema as one of 11 senators "crucial" to the oil giant's opposition to climate change legislation.

Even Biden, who has touted bipartisanship as much as anyone, recently called out Sinema and Manchin as "two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends."

Lujan said that Sinema's conservative bent could help her among the more moderate electorate in Arizona, but said he didn't see it as a political calculation.

"I think her approach to getting elected was the right approach, and I think she's taking the approach that she feels is the one that's going to help her get re-elected," he said. "But I also think she actually, truly believes that it's the right approach to take, that you're going to have better legislation if you work in a bipartisan fashion."

It remains to be seen whether that approach will pay off. In a poll earlier this year, a large majority of Arizonans said it was more important to pass major legislation than to preserve rules like the filibuster. And while Sinema's popularity lags behind Kelly's, a recent poll showed that her approval rating is significantly higher among Republicans than it is among Democrats and independents.

Sinema seems to have traded her progressive support "for a boost from Republicans in opinion polls," Arrow said. But she's skeptical that will work. "She's not going to get supported by those Republicans: They're going to vote for someone who represents their values. Sinema is going to find herself alone, because she's shown everyone on both sides of the aisle that she has no values."

Westbrook argued that while Sinema's decisions are politically "calculated," her calculus is "outdated."

"She is not changing with the electorate," she said. "Arizona is changing, the dynamics are changing. The people that Sinema should be appealing to are the people are disengaged in the political system. Those are the people that are going to get her back to Washington."

Lujan expressed doubt that pressure from progressives would change Sinema's mind, predicting that the senator would continue pursuing a bipartisan path "until she figures out that it's not working" herself.

Then I actually think, if she does not have success in getting things done, she will look to see if maybe that's not the right approach. That's my hope," he said. "She is going to work very hard to forge bipartisan solutions, but I think she's also very pragmatic. My hope is that if it's not working, she will begin to see that it makes sense to do away with the filibuster rule."

GOP using new laws to drive out local Democratic election officials — and not just in Georgia

Congressional Democrats have introduced a bill aimed at preventing "election subversion" after Republican state lawmakers wasted no time in using newly passed voting laws to seize control of local elections, replacing existing officials with their own appointees.

Democrats have rallied around the For The People Act, also known as HR 1 and S 1, a sweeping voting rights bill that would codify voter protections, create new election administration standards and crack down on dark money in politics. But while the bill could prevent state crackdowns on mail-in voting, driven by false claims about their security by former President Donald Trump and his allies, it would do nothing about the wide range of new state laws that strip power from election officials and will make it easier to overturn future elections.

A group of Senate and House Democrats this week introduced the Preventing Election Subversion Act, aimed at protecting election officials from political pressure by barring unjust removal of local election officials, making it a federal crime to intimidate election workers and restricting poll watchers.

"The dangers of the voter suppression efforts we're seeing in Georgia and across the nation are not theoretical, and we can't allow power-hungry state actors to squeeze the people out of their own democracy by overruling the decisions of local election officials," Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., the bill's lead sponsor, said in a statement. "This legislation is critical to ensuring the federal government has the tools to make sure every eligible voter's voice is heard and their ballot is counted to help decide the direction of our country."

Warnock's office noted in a statement that at least 210 bills giving legislatures more power over election officials have been introduced in 41 states, according to the States United Democracy Center, a nonpartisan group promoting fair elections. At least 24 have already been enacted into law.

"The bill is a good start, but much more needs to be done," Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, told Salon.

In Georgia, at least 10 county election officials, most of them Democrats and half of them Black, have been removed or had their positions eliminated, or are expected to be replaced by Republicans under local ordinances and a bill signed by Gov. Brian Kemp earlier this year, The New York Times reported last week.

Helen Butler, a Black Democratic election board member in Morgan County who will be removed at the end of the month, told MSNBC this week that her ouster was the result of record election turnout and an outcome Republicans "didn't like."

"The next election you'll have a board that is appointed strictly by a majority Republican Party," she warned. "That will oversee the counting process, absentee voting, application requests, having to have an ID. With the county process required, who will get to count the ballots, how it is counted, and what are the results."

But it won't be just any Republican who gets a seat on the board. In DeKalb County, local Republicans are moving to replace Baoky Vu, the Republican vice-chair of the county's election board who refuted GOP false election claims, with a far-right conservative Democrats have described as a "white nationalist, misogynist and homophobe" who is "infamous for his hateful antics and supporting overturning the election."

"It's certainly a possibility that real elections integrity would be thrown out the window when you start putting some of these dangerous demagogues in the place of individuals who have carried out their duties and under, at times, great risk to their health and to their livelihoods," Vu, who was censured by the county GOP earlier this year for opposing the new voting law, told CNN.

Georgia Republicans have also given themselves more power over the state election board, while Arizona Republicans are similarly trying to strip powers from the Democratic secretary of state. Arkansas Republicans passed a bill that allows a state board to "take over and conduct elections" if the legislature decides there are doubts about the "appearance of an equal, free and impartial election." Elsewhere, Republicans are snatching power away from local election boards, imposing criminal penalties on election officials and pushing dubious election "audits" like the one currently underway in Arizona.

"For decades, our elections have been run by trusted professionals who are dedicated to protecting the freedom to vote," said Joanna Lydgate, CEO of the States United Democracy Center, in a statement to Salon. "Now, a handful of politicians are trying to hijack our elections and intimidate election officials by criminalizing routine and minor aspects of their work. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for American democracy. We need to use every tool we have to make sure our elections reflect the will of the American people — not politicians. The bill introduced in Congress this week is an important step in that direction."

Democrats worry that the removal of Black election officials could further disenfranchise voters of color and that if the new laws had been in place last year Republicans could have found legal avenues to overturn legitimate election results, according to the Times article.

"What's driving these efforts is anti-democratic sentiment," Sylvia Albert, executive director of the nonprofit good government group Common Cause, said in an interview with Salon. "These individuals attempted to overturn an election and they were unable to do so. So they are now attempting to change the rules so that next time they can overturn the will of the people."

While the obvious primary concern is that Republican partisans will now have methods they could use to overturn an election simply because they don't like the outcome, replacing local election officials could have more insidious effects in election administration.

Depending on the state, "these individuals might now have the power to close polling stations or limit voting machine access," Albert warned. "This is part and parcel of a very anti-democratic push to make sure that people who vote against you don't get to vote and if they accidentally do, 'Don't worry, we'll throw out their votes.'"

Georgia Republicans have also stripped Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, of his role as head of the state election board after he debunked Trump's false claims about the election. Republican lawmakers in Arizona are likewise trying to strip Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of her powers after she trashed their "forensic audit" of ballots in Maricopa County.

"Secretaries of state just oversaw the highest turnout and most secure election in American history, in the midst of a pandemic," Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, chairwoman of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, said in a statement to Salon. "Voters elected secretaries of state to administer elections, and it shows that the partisan insiders pushing these measures do not trust voters and are trying to tilt future elections in their favor.

"It's undemocratic, and part of the coordinated national effort to undermine the right to vote."

The ouster of local and state election officials is only one aspect of Republican lawmakers' multi-pronged approach to seize more power over elections.

Some states are moving to impose criminal penalties on election officials. A Texas voting package would make it a crime to send an unsolicited ballot application to a voter or to attempt to stop disruptive poll watchers, among other routine election administration functions, and Wisconsin lawmakers are weighing similar legislation. Republicans in 20 states have introduced at least 40 bills to empower partisan poll watchers, raising fears of voter intimidation, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

North Carolina Republicans passed a bill that would give them the ability to block the Democratic-led elections board from settling lawsuits over ballot access. Kansas passed a similar bill, and lawmakers there also voted to strip the governor of power to modify election laws. Arizona lawmakers voted to ban the state attorney general from representing Hobbs in lawsuits, and banned Hobbs from using public funds to hire outside counsel. At least 14 states have introduced bills that would seize power from election officials or otherwise limit their authority.

Some Republicans are also looking to follow Arizona's lead in fueling fraud allegations by "auditing" results that have already been counted, recounted and certified — even, bewilderingly, in states where Trump won. Lawmakers in crucial swing states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Michigan have called for such audits, based on nothing beyond the sentiments and conspiracy theories of disgruntled Trump supporters. The Republican-led Michigan Senate Oversight Committee on Wednesday released a report that found "no evidence" to back up Trump and his allies' claims of fraud and described the push for an audit as "not justifiable."

"The 2021 state legislative season may ultimately prove to be a turning point in the history of America's democracy," the States United Democracy Center said in a report last week. "The number of anti-voter laws that have been introduced and passed is unprecedented. These are the ingredients of a democracy crisis."

The Preventing Election Subversion Act aims to rein in some of this state legislation, partly because the For the People Act has been criticized for failing to address the most alarming measures in this year's slate of voting restriction bills. The new bill was introduced on Tuesday as Republicans used the filibuster to block debate on the For the People Act, leaving the fate of the legislation in doubt. Democrats hope to add this new legislation to the larger Senate voting rights package, including provisions to protect election workers who have faced death threats in response to false claims of election fraud.

The bill would make it a federal felony to "intimidate, threaten, coerce, [or] harass" an election worker, to interfere with their duties or to retaliate against them for performing their official duties. It would allow election officials to sue in federal court if they are removed without just cause and empowers the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division to intervene on behalf of election officials in such cases. The legislation would also bar people who are not state or local officials from challenging a voter's eligibility and would impose a buffer that poll watchers must respect inside polling places.

The bill was introduced in the Senate by Warnock, along fellow Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who is leading legislative efforts on the Senate version of the For the People Act.

"Around the world we see sham elections controlled by a ruling party to give a veneer of democracy while preventing the people from actually deciding who holds power," Merkley said in a statement. "And in 2021, this threat has arrived on our shores. For the first time in my memory, one party is trying to dismantle the safeguards that give us independent, free elections so they can rig — or throw out — the results they don't like."

The bill was also introduced in the House by Reps. John Sarbanes, D-Md., Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Collin Allred, D-Texas, Nikema Williams, D-Ga., and Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y.

"This year, the right to vote has been under the worst assault since Jim Crow," Jones said in a statement. "Republicans in state houses across the country have gone to outrageous lengths to silence Black and brown voters, introducing over 400 racist voter suppression bills and removing nonpartisan election officials who oversee and certify elections. Our bill would protect the independence of local election officials and ensure that future elections are free and fair."

Hasen told Salon that while the new bill would indeed rein in some of the most insidious new state laws, Democrats should also rework the Electoral Count Act, which allowed Republicans to object to the electoral results on Jan. 6 after the Capitol riot, "so that Congress cannot subvert the voters' will either."

Democrats have clearly been dealt a setback after the Republican filibuster of the voting rights legislation, given the resistance by centrist Democrats to reforming or ditching the arcane Senate procedure. Given the near-total Republican legislative control in the states that have enacted new voting laws, state-level Democrats currently have little recourse except to challenge the laws' provisions in court.

"We need the federal government to rise to the urgency of the times," Griswold told Salon, "and pass laws to protect democracy and the right to vote."

Georgia officials collect fees from Trump's lawyers — but who really paid for bogus suits?

Election officials in two Georgia counties have recovered legal fees stemming from former President Trump's failed election lawsuit — but his attorney is playing coy about who really paid the bills.

Election officials in DeKalb and Cobb counties in February sought to recoup legal fees over what they described as a "meritless and legally deficient" lawsuit, which claimed, entirely without evidence, that tens of thousands of illegal voters participated in the presidential election. Trump withdrew the lawsuit a day before the hearing, the same week as the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

A court was set to hear arguments over the legal fees last Friday but both counties said in filings that they had recovered the costs, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Cobb County Board of Elections received $15,554 to pay for its legal costs, according to a Friday court filing. DeKalb recovered $6,105 in fees, telling a judge on Monday that "plaintiffs, through counsel, have provided payment for the full amount of attorneys' fees."

But Trump's lawyer in the case, Randy Evans, denied that the notoriously stingy ex-president had paid the fees, but declined to say who did.

"The two motions have been withdrawn. There was no settlement agreement," Evans, who also represents the Trump campaign and the Georgia Republican Party, told the Journal-Constitution. "The taxpayers in DeKalb and Cobb have been fully reimbursed. There are no other details because there are no other details."

Daniel White, an attorney for Cobb County, said the fees were paid through Evans' firm.

"I would certainly defer to them if they want to clarify where they got the funds from," White told the outlet.

Trump raised more than $250 million after his election loss, ostensibly to fund his legal battles. But he spent just a small fraction of those donations on actual legal costs and far more on additional fundraising and advertising. Five of his impeachment lawyers quit just a week ahead of his second Senate trial over a pay dispute, and Trump is still refusing to pay Rudy Giuliani for his tireless labors in pursuing work baseless allegations of election fraud.

Trump's legal problems are only growing worse after Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance convened a grand jury to hear evidence in his years-long criminal investigation into the former president himself and the Trump Organization, an investigation that has now been joined by the New York state attorney general's office. Trump also faces a criminal probe in Georgia over his efforts to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" enough votes to overturn his election loss. He also faces multiple lawsuits, including from women who have accused him of rape or sexual assault and a lawsuit by lawmakers and the NAACP accusing him of inciting the Capitol riot.

Trump has complained that the big legal bills are "such a pain in the ass," The Daily Beast reported last month. His legal team filed a motion in May demanding that Democratic lawmakers who sued him over the Capitol riot "should be ordered to pay President Trump's fees and costs."

The riot took place amid a flurry of lawsuits from Trump and his allies, all of which failed as Republicans could not produce any evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities. Some of the former president's allies face sanctions or disciplinary action for bringing frivolous suits while others, like Giuliani and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, face billion-dollar lawsuits from voting technology firms they falsely accused of switching votes from Trump to President Biden.

The fact that there is no evidence to back up any of these "stolen election" claims has not stopped Trump's supporters from continuing to use his election lies to torment election officials.

Raffensperger and his family and other election officials have faced a barrage of death threats and have even been forced to flee their homes, according to Reuters. Raffensperger's wife Tricia told the outlet that their family was forced to go into hiding for nearly a week after intruders broke into their widowed daughter-in-law's home, which they believe was intended to intimidate them. Tricia Raffensperger said people who identified themselves to police as members of the Oath Keepers militia had been seen outside their home that same night.

Amid the threats, Republican lawmakers in Georgia passed a bill stripping Raffensperger of many of his election powers after he stood up to Trump's lies, potentially making it easier to overturn future elections.

Numerous other officials in Georgia, Arizona and Michigan have been deluged with death threats or have "faced protests at their homes or been followed in their cars," according to the Reuters report, including Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson as well as election administrators and volunteers. Arizona Republicans have moved to strip Hobbs of her powers as well.

Richard Barron, the Fulton County elections director, said the threats received by his office have been shared with investigators looking into Trump's pressure on Raffensperger. Barron told Reuters that most of the workers in his office are Black, adding that "the racial slurs were disturbing and sickening."

Other messages threatened violence and bombings, with one email sent to at least 11 counties in Georgia warning that "we'll make the Boston bombings look like child's play" and "bring death and destruction" until "Trump is guaranteed to be POTUS until 2024 like he should be."

Deidre Holden, the longtime Paulding County elections director, told Reuters that her office had referred the messages to police and the FBI. "I've never had to deal with anything like this," she said. "It was frightening."

Nearly eight months after the election, a startling proportion of Americans still believe the 2020 election was tainted with fraud. About 32% of voters believe that Biden's election was fraudulent, according to a new Monmouth poll, a rate that has remained steady since November.

"The continuing efforts to question the validity of last year's election is deepening the partisan divide in ways that could have long-term consequences for our democracy," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, "even if most Americans don't quite see it that way yet."


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