Igor Derysh

'Unconscionable': How progressive blowback moved Biden on refugees

President Joe Biden angered progressives so much when the White House announced week that it would keep former President Donald Trump's historically low cap on refugee admissions despite vowing to increase the number by more than 400% after taking office that he was forced to walk it all back within hours.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken had formally notified Congress that the cap would be lifted for this year on February 12. But Biden, at first ignoring growing pressure from Democrats to lift the cap, signed an emergency presidential declaration on Friday keeping the number of refugees for the Trump-era refugee cap at 15,000 just two months after promising to raise it to 62,500. The U.S. accepted nearly 85,000 refugees the year before Trump's election.

Friday's declaration was meant to speed up the processing of refugees approved for admission but an administration official told CNN that Biden will not lift the cap at all this year despite repeated assurances from the White House that the president remains committed to his promise. The move comes as the United States is on pace to admit the fewest number of refugees in modern history despite Biden's repeated vow to reverse his predecessor's policies, which Democrats decried for years as racist and xenophobic.

"It is simply unacceptable and unconscionable that the Biden administration is not immediately repealing Donald Trump's harmful, xenophobic, and racist refugee cap that cruelly restricts refugee admissions to a historic low," Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement on Friday. "By failing to sign an Emergency Presidential Declaration to lift Trump's historically low refugee cap, President Biden has broken his promise to restore our humanity," she added.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said Biden's failure to keep his promise was "completely and utterly unacceptable."

"Biden promised to welcome immigrants, and people voted for him based on that promise," she tweeted. "Upholding the xenophobic and racist policies of the Trump admin, [including] the historically low + plummeted refugee cap, is flat out wrong."

Biden's former presidential primary foe Julian Castro called out Biden over reports that the decision was made due to political "optics" surrounding the border influx.

"This is a bad decision," he said on Twitter. "Trump gutted our refugee program, a cornerstone of our global leadership and values. His polices can't be the default we carry on—especially for the sake of 'optics.'"

By Saturday, Biden was telling reporters: "We're gonna increase the numbers."

The White House had already backtracked late on Friday, announcing that Biden would set a "final, increased" refugee cap by mid-May. It's unclear why Biden reversed his campaign position on the refugee cap within a matter of weeks after taking office but a senior administration official told The New York Times that the administration was concerned that the influx of unaccompanied minors at the border has "already overwhelmed the refugee branch of the Department of Health and Human Services." Of course, asylum seekers at the border are processed through a wholly separate system than refugees fleeing persecution and violence overseas.

An administration official told The Times that Friday's executive action would reverse a Trump-era policy that disqualified most Muslim and African refugees and allow the administration to fill all 15,000 available refugee slots, though it will leave thousands of fully vetted refugees stranded at camps around the world. The U.S. was previously on pace to accept fewer than 5,000 refugees this fiscal year.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Friday the refugee program needed to be rebuilt. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Friday's action was "just the beginning."

"This step lifts the restrictions put in place by prior Administration on where refugees can come from," she tweeted. "We need to rebuild resettlement program and we are committed to continuing to increase refugee numbers."

But there are already "over 35,000 refugees have already been vetted and cleared for arrival, and over 100,000 are in the pipeline often waiting years to be reunited with their loved ones," argued David Miliband, the head of the International Rescue Committee, an humanitarian aid group.

Friday's reversal stunned refugee rights groups who expected the administration to follow through on its promise.

"We are reaching out to the White House to understand why this figure is a fraction of what the administration committed to in congressional consultations," Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, who heads the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which helps resettle refugees, told NPR. "We know we find ourselves in challenging times, but we pray President Biden will fulfill his pledge to return the U.S. to our position of global leadership on refugee resettlement."

Biden's directive came on the same day that a group of Democratic lawmakers led by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who came to the US as a refugee, called on Biden to immediately lift the cap.

"Having fought for four years against the Trump Administration's full-scale assault on refugee resettlement in the United States, we were relieved to see you commit to increasing our refugee resettlement numbers so early in your Administration," the letter said. "But until the Emergency Presidential Determination is finalized, our refugee policy remains unacceptably draconian and discriminatory."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also urged the administration to "recognize [its] moral responsibility" in admitting refugees.

"I think right now we have, well, it's a very few thousand, and we have to increase that number," she said Thursday.

Biden similarly argued that restoring the refugee program was imperative when he entered office, vowing to quickly lift the cap for this year and double the number to 125,000 for the fiscal year beginning in October.

"The United States' moral leadership on refugee issues was a point of bipartisan consensus for so many decades when I first got here," he said in February. "It's going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged, but that's precisely what we're going to do."

The International Rescue Committee released a report earlier this month detailing the decimation of the refugee program under Trump, who slashed the cap from 110,000 when he entered office to 45,000 in 2018, 30,000 in 2019, and 18,000 in 2020. Miliband, the group's president, told CNN on Friday it was "deeply disappointing" that Biden chose to maintain one of Trump's most controversial policies.

"The rightful erasure of discriminatory admissions categories does not dispense with the need for a higher number of refugees to be admitted," he said.

Immigration groups also sounded the alarm over the Biden administration's confiscation of land across the Southern border stemming from legal battles over Trump's border wall.

Biden launched a 60-day federal review of resources used for the wall on his first day in office but the review has not been completed and there is no timeline for its conclusion despite the March 20 deadline. Mayorkas reportedly told DHS employees that Biden's halt "leaves room to make decisions" on finishing some "gaps in the wall." And the Justice Department has continued to seize land from families with about 140 pending eminent domain cases still active, Politico reported.

Biden vowed on the campaign trail that his administration would not build "another foot of wall" and vowed that he would "withdraw the lawsuits" and was "not going to confiscate the land." But the DOJ said in a court filing last month that Biden's first-day proclamation "left open the possibility that some aspects of the project may resume" and the department is still trying to seize private property. Just this week, the government seized six acres of land in Hidalgo County, Texas from one family.

"DOJ sought continuances in pending cases, including in this case, in which the government had previously filed motions for possession of land on the southwest border in light of President Biden's proclamation terminating the national emergency at the southern border of the United States and directing 'a careful review of all resources appropriated or redirected to construct a southern border wall,'" a DOJ official told Politico.

Jose Alfredo Cavazos, whose family's land was seized in the case, told Politico he was "very disappointed" by the Biden administration's reversal.

"I thought when he said no more wall that we would get no more wall. But apparently not," he said.

"I'm ... very, very disappointed in Joe Biden. I thought he was a man of his word but apparently he's not keeping his word," added Reynaldo Anzaldua Cavazos, another member of the family. "He said not one more foot of wall and no land forfeitures. We took him at his word and we want him to keep his word."

Big corporate donors claim to support racial justice — but fund Republicans pushing voting limits

Corporate America is taking a stand against new voting restrictions around the country, boycotting states that imposed harsh new laws and speaking out against proposed limits in others. But many top corporate political donors who have touted their commitments to racial equity and diversity have also funded the Republican lawmakers who are pushing bills aimed at making it more difficult to vote.

Three of the top five corporate donors to state lawmakers in Texas promoted their commitments to racial justice — but have also donated $493,000 to state senators who sponsored Senate Bill 7. That legislation would limit early voting and absentee voting while empowering partisan poll watchers and clearly targets Houston, the state's densest population center, where a majority of voters are people of color, according to a new report from the left-leaning government watchdog Accountable.US.

Top corporate donors in Arizona, including defense contracting giant Raytheon, which made a $25 million commitment to help "racially and ethnically marginalized communities," have donated $76,647 to three sponsors of state Senate bills that would limit mail-in voting and purge residents from voter rolls, as the state tilts blue as a result of quickly changing demographics.

Four of the top five corporate donors in Florida, including Disney, have contributed more than $230,000 to state legislators behind bills that would restrict mail-in voting and make it a crime to give water or food to voters in long lines — despite vowing their support for inclusion, racial equity and Black Lives Matter.

The effect these laws may have on voter turnout is not entirely clear, but the bills — which are among more than 360 introduced across the country in response to former President Trump's and his allies' baseless claims of election fraud — will inherently make it more difficult to vote. Some, like many of Trump's election lawsuits, appear directly targeted at areas with large numbers of voters of color. One Black Texas pastor has condemned the Texas legislation as Jim Crow "in a tuxedo."

"These corporations tout commitments to diversity and racial equity, then they turn around and donate thousands to lawmakers responsible for stripping voting rights away from Black and brown Americans," Accountable.US President Kyle Herrig said in a statement to Salon. "As these states actively attempt to suppress voter participation, corporations need to live up to their values and disavow racist attacks on our democracy."

Utility firms Exelon Corp. and Oncor and the tax firm Ryan LLC, the three biggest corporate donors in Texas behind Blackridge and AT&T, all expressed commitment to equality and diversity in the wake of the 2020 racial justice protests. Exelon even features a Black Lives Matter page on its website to highlight its "fierce commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity." But the companies have given nearly a half-million to sponsors of SB 7, including some that have "troubling prior histories of racism, discrimination, or voter suppression," according to the Accountable report. The voting bill has sparked concerns that lawmakers are targeting "innovations that were especially effective last year in reaching voters of color," according to the Austin American-Statesman, and could contribute to a "surge in voter intimidation" by empowering partisan poll watchers.

"This bill is anti-democratic, anti-voter, and once again, demonstrates how far current leadership is willing to go to protect their own partisan interests," the nonpartisan government watchdog group Common Cause Texas said in a statement.

Exelon CEO Chris Crane vowed to "speak up if I see behavior that isn't consistent" with the company's commitment to diversity and inclusion. Ryan LLC has also touted its commitment to these values after it was named to Fortune Magazine's "Best Workplaces for Diversity" list for the fourth time in five years in 2019. Oncor promotes its dedication to diversity and disadvantaged communities and commemorated Black History Month by posting Martin Luther King Jr.'s quote, "It is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people."

All three firms have contributed to SB 7 sponsors, including some who have supported controversial bills and made offensive statements well before the voting restriction effort. State Sen. Charles Creighton, a sponsor of SB 7, previously sponsored a failed bill that would ban local governments from taking down Confederate monuments. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who is backing seven bills that would impose new voting restrictions, previously resigned as a Harris County official after he was accused of voter suppression for delaying thousands of voter applications that were disproportionately Democratic. State Sen. Bob Hall defended a self-declared "white nationalist" in 2018 after he called for a "rope and a tree" for a Black lawmaker.

The top five corporate donors in Arizona have also touted their racial justice credentials. Utility firm Pinnacle West says on its website that "equity and inclusion is a key force driving" the company's principles and promotes its inclusion in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's 2020 Corporate Equality Index. Salt River Project, another utility company, trumpets its contributions to racial justice groups and support for diversity and underserved populations. Defense contractor Raytheon committed $25 million to support racial justice programs and support for "racially and ethnically marginalized communities." Southwest Gas, the largest distributor of natural gas in the state, says it prides itself on "our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion." The mining company Freeport McMoRan has an entire page devoted to "inclusion and diversity."

All five firms have contributed to Republican state Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, who sponsored several bills that drew alarm from voting rights groups. Senate Bill 1485, which would purge inactive voters, "could lead to voters being tossed off the rolls for missing a single election," voting rights groups warn. Ugenti-Rita also co-sponsored Senate Bill 1713, which would increase voter ID burdens for mail voters. The senator previously sponsored a 2016 "ballot harvesting" law struck down by a federal court for violating the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act by disproportionately impacting Native American, Hispanic and Black voters. Ugenti-Rita made headlines last year when she called to expand the rights of business owners to shoot vandals during the 2020 racial justice protests.

The five firms have also contributed more than $45,000 to state Sen. Javan Mesnard, the lead sponsor of SB 1713. Mesnard, the former speaker of the Arizona House, in 2018 formally reprimanded the only two Black members of the Arizona legislature for calling out a Republican colleague who used a racial slur.

All five companies have also donated to state Sen. David Gowan, the sponsor of Senate Bill 1593, which would limit the mail voting window. The bill could disproportionately impact Native American voters, many of whom do not have home mail service. Gowan, another former Arizona House Speaker, previously came under criticism in 2016 for authorizing a "civil rights conference" on the House floor held by a group that claims the civil rights movement had been "hijacked" by Black people and denigrates "English-speaking white citizens."

A similar trend is playing out in Florida, where lawmakers have unveiled a laundry list of proposed voter restrictions that Democrats have decried as a "voter suppression tactic" and a "backlash" to record vote-by-mail turnout that favored Democrats. Four of the five top corporate donors to state lawmakers have funneled $230,500 to legislators pushing the restrictions despite espousing their commitment to racial justice.

HCA Healthcare last year said it was "united in the public outcry to put an end to systemic racism." Walt Disney released a video last year in support of Black Lives Matter and promoted messages of racial justice from the company's Black employees. FCCI Insurance says that diversity, equity and inclusion are "integral" to the company's mission. The GEO Group, a real estate firm that invests in private prisons, includes "embracing diversity and inclusion" among its core values.

HCA and Disney have both contributed to state Sen. Dennis Baxley, the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 90. Baxley was accused by advocacy groups in 2019 of "proudly parrot[ing] white supremacist" rhetoric by echoing the white "replacement" theory, claiming that Europeans are being "replaced by" immigrants. Baxley was the only member of the Senate Education Committee to vote against renaming a Florida State University building named for a segregationist in 2019.

These contributions underscore the cognitive dissonance between corporate statements and their political spending, which has drawn increasing public scrutiny in the wake of Republican lies about election fraud that led to the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol and a slew of restrictive legislation. Major companies like Coca-Cola, Delta and Home Depot are among dozens that spoke out against Georgia's new sweeping restrictive law, drawing complaints and retaliation from Republicans who previously sought to increase corporate influence in politics. But Coke, Delta, Home Depot and numerous other corporate critics all contributed tens of thousands to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Republican state lawmakers who sponsored the law.

It's possible that the growing internal pressure from inside corporate America could prompt more firms to back away from supporting lawmakers that back divisive and often racist policies. Hundreds of companies signed a statement led by Black corporate executives condemning the Republican effort to restrict ballot access.

"We all should feel a responsibility to defend the right to vote and to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot," the statement said. "Voting is the lifeblood of our democracy and we call upon all Americans to join us in taking a nonpartisan stand for this most basic fundamental rights of all Americans."

Voting rights groups push back against New York Times analysis downplaying the impact of Georgia's restrictions

Democrats have criticized Georgia's new voting restrictions as "Jim Crow in the 21st century," drawing complaints from Republicans that they are playing the "race card" and overhyping the effects of the law. A New York Times analysis last week lent credence to those Republican talking points, arguing that the restrictions are unlikely to have a large effect on voter turnout. But that analysis casts aside the intent of the law, voting rights groups say, and the law could have even worse effects than reducing turnout.

The Georgia law, clearly written in response to false claims of election fraud by former President Donald Trump and his allies, appears to be an attempt to reverse-engineer conditions that might have allowed Republicans to prevent or overturn his 2020 loss. The new regulations will likely make it harder to vote, argued Nate Cohn, the Times' election data guru. But setting intent aside, he says, research suggests that making it harder to vote is "unlikely to significantly affect turnout or Democratic chances."

The sweeping 98-page law makes it harder to request and return an absentee ballot, requires voter ID for absentee ballots, limits the time voters have to vote by mail, and severely limits ballot drop boxes. About 1.3 million Georgians voted by absentee ballot in the last election, with 65% of them voting for President Joe Biden. Some studies have found that voter ID laws can have a small but statistically significant effect on voter turnout that is more pronounced among voters of color. The dropbox restrictions will have a disproportionate impact on the Atlanta area, which has a large number of Democratic and Black voters, with the region's 94 round-the-clock drop boxes in 2020 limited to no more than 23 drop boxes that will only be available during business hours in future elections.

The law also reduces the period for runoff elections from nine weeks to four after Republicans lost both Senate runoff races this January, makes it harder for voters to correct ballot mistakes, and makes it a crime to provide water or food to voters in long lines. The final bill excluded previously proposed provisions that would have ended no-excuse absentee voting and automatic voter registration entirely and included cuts to Sunday early voting that would have disproportionately impacted Black voters. The law also expands in-person early voting, though this will primarily affect rural areas, and requires large precincts in urban areas with long lines to add machines and staff or split the precinct, though it's unclear how this will be implemented.

In all, a separate New York Times analysis identified 16 provisions in the law that would make it more difficult to vote or give more power over elections to Republican lawmakers, including the ban on Fulton County's mobile buses and the ban on sending absentee ballot applications to all voters, both of which appear aimed at recent efforts by Atlanta-area officials to expand voter access. It also points to bans on third-party funding for county election and voter assistance, after Republicans complained about turnout-boosting efforts by groups like the Stacey Abrams-founded Fair Fight Action.

"This is really the fallout from the 10 weeks of misinformation that flew in from former President Donald Trump," Georgia's Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan told CNN, blaming Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani's testimony to the state legislature for "spreading misinformation and sowing doubt" in the results.

Setting aside the obvious intent of Republicans who pushed this law after their party suffered defeats amid record turnout, Cohn argues that "expanding voting options to make it more convenient hasn't seemed to have a huge effect on turnout or electoral outcomes" in studies of early and absentee voting. Even studies looking at universal mail-in voting found that it boosts turnout about 2%, with no clear partisan advantage. President Biden saw virtually the same improvement over Hillary Clinton's 2016 performance in states that expanded mail voting as in those that did not, and turnout increased just as much in states that introduced no-excuse absentee voting as it did in those that did not. A Stanford study found that no-excuse mail voting might have only increased turnout by a minuscule 0.02% in the 2020 election. Cohn also points to Georgia's runoff elections, which saw Sens. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., and Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., defeat Republican incumbents, despite voters having fewer opportunities to vote than in the general election, as a result of high Election Day turnout.

Cohn acknowledges that long lines — such as those frequently seen in Georgia since the state shuttered more 200 polling places after the Supreme Court gutted an important section of the Voting Rights Act — can reduce turnout, his core argument is that "convenience isn't as important as often assumed."

"Almost everyone who cares enough to vote will brave the inconveniences of in-person voting to do so," he wrote, adding that "nearly every person will manage to vote if sufficiently convenient options are available, even if the most preferred option doesn't exist." The law's provision to reduce long lines might not only "mitigate the already limited effect of restricting mail voting," he writes, "but it might even outweigh it."

Some election experts disagree. Charlotte Hill, an election researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, argued that Cohn's analysis is largely limited to early and no-excuse absentee voting, which primarily affect active registered voters, while ignoring "convenience reforms" that boost turnout by making voting easier for low-propensity voters.

"The effect of election reforms on turnout is complicated," she wrote. "You have to take into account the details of the reform, the distribution of specific costs across types of people, and the context in which they're adopted. This NYT piece doesn't do that."

Voting rights groups also pushed back against Cohn's analysis.

"Any suggestion that obstacles to voting aren't that bad as long as a lot of voters overcome those obstacles plays into the hands of those working to make it harder to vote," Seth Bringman, a spokesman for Fair Fight Action, said in a statement to Salon. "Voters are not numbers on a spreadsheet; they are people with constitutional rights. Voting should not be made difficult, full stop. Turnout would be even higher if those obstacles did not exist."

Studies of the effects of individual policies may not suggest a huge effect on turnout, but the sweeping nature of the Georgia law, which touches virtually every part of the state's election process, combines provisions to make it difficult to vote in numerous ways with other provisions blatantly targeting overwhelmingly Black and Democratic areas. And while a relatively tiny shift in turnout may not be enough to affect most races or register as statistically significant in a study, the 2020 presidential race in Georgia was decided by just 0.24%. Both Senate runoffs were decided by about one percentage point, and the controversial 2018 gubernatorial race between Gov. Brian Kemp and Abrams was decided by 0.4%. As Cohn himself notes, making absentee voting harder may be worse for Democrats than eliminating it entirely, because it's likely to result in rejected ballots cast by voters who could have cast them successfully in person.

"Georgia Republicans' intent in changing our voting laws was to appease conspiracy theorists and to target communities of color and young people who turned out in record numbers in 2020 and 2021," Bringman said. "This intent cannot be set aside even for a moment. The reason why the law was written is precisely how Republicans intend to use the law, and the party that has criminalized civic participation should not be given any benefit of the doubt."

Cohn suggested that the law could also spark Democratic backlash, pointing to a study finding that the Supreme Court's Voting Rights Act decision did not reduce Black turnout because "subsequent efforts to restrict voting were swiftly countered by efforts to mobilize Black voters."

But Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver, said that wasn't evidence that restrictive policies are overblown.

"If there's a state policy to kill all firstborn males, let's say, but the population responds by hiding all its firstborn males such that the policy is unsuccessful, it is not correct to conclude that the policy was no big deal," he wrote.

"Civic groups should not have to drain their resources in order to mobilize voters under systems of voter suppression," Bringman said. "The right question is not 'Do a lot of Black folks still vote?' The right question is 'Is voting more difficult under the wave of post-Shelby voter suppression laws?' and 'Are people shut out of the democratic process who would otherwise be included?'"

Numerous voting rights groups and academics took issue with Cohn's framing, arguing that any impact of a law based on a lie was egregious.

"We're so obsessed [with] estimating causal effects of suppression efforts we have ceded [important] normative ground," argued Hakeem Jefferson, a political science professor at Stanford. "The right to vote is sacred. Access to the ballot should be expanded, not burdened. Be wary of those who look at attempts to disenfranchise folks & remark, 'Oh, no big deal.'"

While statistical experts can disagree on the impact of voter restrictions in a state where the presidential race was decided by 11,779 votes — out of about 5 million votes — the new Georgia law also includes even more alarming provisions that could make it easier for Republican state lawmakers who backed Trump's lies to subvert the results of an election.

The law replaces Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who repeatedly shot down Trump's falsehoods, as the head of the state election board with a "nonpartisan" appointee from the Republican-led state legislature, though it bars anyone who has been a political candidate, party official or campaign contributor in the previous two years. It also strips Raffensperger of his vote on the election board and allows the legislature to appoint a majority of its five members.

Cohn himself noted in another analysis that these provisions open the door to election subversion, noting that a majority of congressional Republicans and state attorneys general backed efforts that would have "invalidated millions of votes and brought about a constitutional crisis."

"With that backdrop, it seems naïve to assume that no one would try to abuse such power, whether in Georgia or elsewhere," he wrote.

Another provision in the law allows the state election board — again, a majority of its members appointed by the legislature — to suspend and replace local election officials, though it requires the board to show either three clear violations of its rules or "demonstrated nonfeasance, malfeasance, or gross negligence in the administration of the elections" in two consecutive elections.

Though the law includes some safeguards, the risk that this provision could be used to subvert election results is particularly high in Georgia, considering the context of Trump's infamous call to Raffensperger demanding that he "find" 11,780 votes to reverse his defeat and alleging widespread fraud in heavily Democratic Fulton County.

Under the new law, the state election board "could have usurped the power of Fulton County, based on the president's allegations in the general election and other allegations from the primary," Cohn wrote, and could have used Trump's "allegations as a basis to refuse to certify the result or to disqualify otherwise eligible voters." The new law also makes it easier to try to disqualify voters, allowing a single person to legally challenge the eligibility of an unlimited number of voters.

This would have been difficult to do immediately following the election because the process takes time, Cohn added, but a "nefarious board could lay the groundwork earlier, potentially putting a newly appointed superintendent in control before the elections, when he or she would have the ability to pre-emptively disqualify voters and ballots."

Marilyn Marks, executive director of the nonpartisan Coalition for Good Governance, argued it would be easy for the state election board to claim to find three rule violations from two election cycles in "any county."

"This takeover provision is egregiously undemocratic and dangerous," she wrote.

The Georgia law is one of more than 360 bills introduced across the country so far that would restrict voting access. And more than a dozen states are following Georgia's lead in trying to snatch power away from local election officials. While Democrats have responded to the restriction push by rallying behind the For The People Act, a sweeping set of voter protections and election reforms that stands little chance of passing in its current form, the bill has no provisions that would protect nonpartisan election entities from partisan power grabs. Democrats say they are still working on the specifics of the proposal, but little attention has been focused on responding to measures that Cohn — no longer separating the Georgia law from its obvious intent — describes as "grave and fundamental risks to democracy, risking political violence and secessionism."

Republicans rally behind biggest election liars just three months after Capitol riot

Just three months after political pundits predicted a seismic shift in the Republican Party in the wake of the deadly Capitol riot, the GOP is all but embracing the members blamed for inciting it.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, awarded former President Donald Trump with the group's newly-invented "Champion for Freedom Award" over the weekend as top Republican donors descended on Trump's adopted hometown of Palm Beach to hear him bitterly relitigate baseless complaints about his election loss.

"President Trump is a proven champion for all Americans," Scott said in a statement alongside a photo of him presenting Trump with a small ceremonial bowl, reminiscent of a third-place trophy in a local golf tournament. "Throughout his administration, he made clear his commitment to getting government out of the way of people's success, paving the way for American families and job creators to reach new heights. … We are grateful for his service to our country and are honored to present him with the NRSC's first Champion for Freedom award."

The award came ahead of Trump's speech to donors at a Republican National Committee retreat near Mar-a-Lago, where the former president ripped into Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as a "dumb son of a bitch" for not backing his efforts to overturn his electoral defeat. Much of Trump's speech was devoted to bashing fellow Republicans who did not support his attempt to block the certification of votes in certain states, including former Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump has vowed to campaign against Republicans who voted to convict him of inciting the riot, like Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. That could soon put him against groups like the NRSC after Scott vowed to back her re-election campaign.

Trump's speech was widely panned by attendees, some of whom left early, according to The Washington Post. "It was horrible, it was long and negative," one attendee told Politico, which noted that donors are worried about their "money going toward his retribution efforts."

But donors and lawmakers are afraid to speak out publicly against the former president because of the grasp he maintains on the party's voter base. Even potential presidential contenders are nervous to tip their hands because Trump has continued to tease a possible third run himself.

"No one knows what the Trump effect will be in 2022 or 2024. He has promised to primary [Republicans who don't support him], so a great number of them don't want to risk that," GOP donor Fred Zeidman told CNN. "He has not made a statement about not running in 2024, so it limits what anyone can do now, for fear of alienating the Trump supporters."

Republican voters have widely rejected the clearly visible images of Trump supporters hunting lawmakers through the halls of Congress, with a majority instead buying into false (and contradictory) claims that the riot was actually a peaceful protest or the work of left-wing activists "trying to make Trump look bad." Polls suggest that a majority of Republicans would back Trump in the 2024 primary campaign if he decides to run again. A straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year found that 68% of attendees want him to seek another term while a whopping 95% want the party to advance his policies and agenda. Trump has continued to raise staggering amounts of money off his election falsehoods, with his Save America PAC reporting 10 times more money in the bank than his campaign had in the first three months after he took office in 2017.

But it's not just Trump. The biggest supporters of Trump's election lies have cashed in on the controversy as well.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who led the Senate objections to the certification of election results in several states, raised more than $3 million in the three months since he pumped his fist to the mob that would soon attack Capitol Police officers and overrun the halls of Congress. That number is more than 10 times what some of his colleagues raised at a similar point in their terms, according to Politico, and a massive increase from the $43,000 he raised in the first quarter of the last election cycle. He even brought in nearly $600,000 in the two and a half weeks immediately following the riot despite temporarily pausing his fundraising efforts.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., also one of the most ardent backers of Trump's election lies, raised an even more eye-popping $3.2 million in the first three months of the year despite largely having to self-fund her campaign in 2020 — and despite representing a deep-red district where Democrats are unlikely to mount meaningful opposition.

But while Republicans have long relied on big-money donors, support for the likes of Hawley and Greene is coming from the party's grassroots, primarily through the donation platform WinRed, despite the scam-adjacent tactics employed by Trump's campaign and Republican fundraising groups. Hawley received more than 57,000 donations with an average contribution of $52. Greene received 100,000 donations, averaging $32 each.

Corporations that swore off making political donations in the wake of the riot have also started to reverse course. Just months after the attack, companies like AT&T, Intel and Cigna already appear to have broken their pledges to stop donating to Republicans who voted to overturn the election, making big contributions to the NRSC and the National Republican Campaign Committee.

JetBlue Airways' PAC became the first to end its pause on direct contributions to Republicans who voted to block the election results with a donation to Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., who continued to echo Trump's lies even after the deadly insurrection of Jan. 6.

Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley plotted to block Biden's Cabinet nominees — but the scheme backfired

Former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies sought to derail President Joe Biden's first 75 days in office by obstructing his transition and Cabinet selections. But their efforts appear to have backfired after the Senate confirmed all of Biden's picks for the 15 traditional Cabinet positions — and with more bipartisan support than Trump's nominees received.

Senate Republicans, particularly Trump allies like Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas, as well as major recipients of corporate donations like Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Steve Daines of Montana, delayed the confirmations of Biden's Cabinet selections for weeks, dragging out the final confirmation until March 22, two months after Biden's inauguration. But despite the delay tactics, Biden became the first president since Ronald Reagan in 1981 to have all of his first choices confirmed to their positions. And despite GOP obstruction, Biden's choices received more bipartisan support than Trump's. Biden's first 12 picks were confirmed by an average of nearly 61 votes, three more than the average Trump nominee even though Republicans had a four-vote advantage in the Senate in 2017, according to a new report from the Accountable.US Senate War Room, a left-leaning government watchdog group that tracks Republican obstruction.

"Senate Republicans spent months lobbing one bad faith attack after another against Biden's slate of qualified nominees," Mairead Lynn, a spokesperson for the group, said in a statement. "They gave it their best shot, but ultimately failed to do anything more than delay the inevitable bipartisan confirmation of Biden's Cabinet secretaries, and were left with nothing to show for their months of delays."

Hawley voted against every nominee for the 15 Cabinet secretary positions while Cruz only voted to confirm Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, leading the Senate in votes against Biden's nominees. But many of Biden's Cabinet and Cabinet-level choices ultimately received significant support from Republicans. Sixteen of his 21 confirmed picks received support from at least two-thirds of the Senate. Only the nomination of Neera Tanden, Biden's first choice as director of the Office of Management and Budget, failed in the Senate over complaints by Republicans (and centrist Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia) about her combative tweets, while the nomination of MIT professor Eric Lander to head the Office of Science and Technology Policy remains pending.

Republicans geared up to fight Biden's nominees early on, with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., urging his party shortly after the election to obstruct the new president's choices because Democrats had been "so unfair" to Trump's nominees, even though many of Trump's choices — including former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt — drew concerns from ethics watchdogs over extensive conflicts of interest and questionable qualifications. The Democratic-led Senate was far more supportive of former President George W. Bush's Cabinet selections, approving 85% of his choices before he was inaugurated and confirming his full Cabinet just 12 days after he took office.

While Biden's predecessors had numerous Cabinet picks approved by the time they got into office, the Senate did not confirm Biden's first nominee until Inauguration Day. Instead, Republicans used much of the transition period to back Trump's baseless attempts to sow doubt about Biden's victory with fictitious claims of fraud. Cruz and Hawley led the Senate objections to the certification of electoral votes in several states even after a mob of Trump supporters attacked and overran Capitol Police and hunted lawmakers through the halls of Congress.

After Biden's inauguration, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., continued the obstruction by delaying an organizing resolution that would allow the new Democratic majority to take over Senate committees. Republican senators vowed that it would be an uphill battle for the new president's Cabinet selections, drawing allegations of "hypocrisy" from groups like Accountable.US after senators like Ron Johnson, R-Wis., warned during Trump's administration that delaying confirmations would leave the government "unfairly and unnecessarily crippled."

Despite the Republican complaints, Trump had hearings for 12 of his Cabinet selections before his inauguration, according to the Accountable.US report, while Biden had just four. "The delay of President Biden's Cabinet was particularly egregious given the national security concerns stemming from the deadly insurrection that President Trump and some Republicans in the Senate helped incite on January 6," the report argued, echoing past statements by Republicans. Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, warned in 2017 that it was imperative to confirm Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the "safety of our communities." The Senate did not confirm Attorney General Merrick Garland until March 10, nearly two months after Biden's inauguration and more than a month later than Sessions' confirmation in 2017.

McConnell's delay in handing over control of the Senate allowed Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to remain at the helm of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the start of Biden's term. Graham used that power to delay Garland's confirmation hearing, arguing that Trump's second impeachment trial required the "Senate's complete focus." Graham drew criticism for blocking the hearing after refusing even to meet with Garland when Republicans likewise refused to hold a hearing on his Supreme Court nomination in 2016. Garland was ultimately confirmed with 70 votes.

Hawley similarly blocked quick consideration of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, criticizing Biden's proposed immigration policies and complaining that the administration would not back Trump's border wall. Biden's transition team slammed Hawley for the move, calling it "dangerous," particularly in the wake of the Capitol riot that the senator helped incite. Mayorkas, who had already been confirmed three times by the Senate to other positions, was ultimately approved by the Senate with 56 votes.

Other Republican senators drew scrutiny for their ties to industries regulated by departments they hamstrung with delays. Accountable.US called out 10 Republican members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for taking $8.8 million in donations from the oil and gas industry, including more than $1.4 million in the 2020 cycle, before stalling the nomination of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, an ally of environmental groups who opposed the Dakota Access pipeline. Sen. Steve Daines of Montana was one of Haaland's biggest critics after receiving more than $1.1 million from the oil and gas industry, drawing allegations from the group that the "delay is just a big show for Daines' oil and gas donors to prove he's still on their side." Republicans stalled Haaland's confirmation until mid-March, with Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., describing Haaland's nomination as a "proxy fight over the future of fossil fuels." Haaland was ultimately confirmed by a razor-thin 51-49 margin.

Republicans also waged a campaign to block the confirmation of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. The 14 Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversaw his nomination, received $9.6 million from the pharmaceutical industry. Cornyn, who has taken more than $1 million from Big Pharma, even suggested that Becerra was not qualified for the job because he did not "work for pharma" like his predecessor Alex Azar, drawing allegations from groups like Accountable.US that he was "laying the groundwork for obstruction on behalf of special interest allies." Heritage Action for America, a right-wing group with a long record of working on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry, launched an ad campaign to defeat Becerra's nomination. Republicans ultimately stalled his confirmation until March 18, when he was approved on a party-line 50-49 vote.

Republicans also drew allegations of hypocrisy in their opposition to Tanden over combative tweets aimed at senators after defending Trump's hostile tweets for years before he was finally banned by the social network and ignoring antagonistic tweets from his Cabinet nominees. Accountable.US argued that the Republican opposition to Tanden, Becerra, Haaland and Mayorkas underscored a "troubling pattern around the treatment of Biden's nominees of color." Janet Murguia, president of the Latino advocacy group UnidosUS, also called out Republican senators for their treatment of nominees of color, suggesting it was a " double standard because we're seeing that historically other administrations have been able to move much more quickly."

The Accountable.US report noted that Republican statements regarding Biden's nominees of color tended to use "harsher" language than ones about his white nominees, using terms like "radical" and "dangerous."

"They know by using buzzwords that they're able to try to conjure up these tropes about women of color leaders," Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women's Law Center, told The Washington Post earlier this year. "These are code words that are used not only to distract but to conjure up an image in your mind."

Republicans ultimately failed to stop any of Biden's 15 Cabinet secretaries from being confirmed. Despite the stalled process, Biden was able to catch up to the pace at which the Senate approved his predecessors' nominees, filling a historically diverse Cabinet that has wasted little time in rolling back many Trump-era policies and rolling out plans to modernize and invest in infrastructure, health care, the economy and the environment.

"The American people saw through these flimsy lines of attack," Lynn told Salon, "and were reminded that Senate Republicans' loyalty lies not with workers and families, but with the special interests and wealthy donors that foot the bill for their political campaigns."

Republicans falsely claim Colorado's voting laws stricter than Georgia's

Republicans angry at Major League Baseball's decision to relocate its All-Star Game from the Atlanta area to Denver have misleadingly likened Georgia's new voting restrictions to laws in Colorado, whose voting system has been praised by even Republicans as the "gold standard."

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced on Tuesday that Denver's Coors Field will host the All-Star festivities in July after the league pulled the game from Atlanta's Truist Park "to demonstrate our values as a sport."

Republicans pounced on the news, inaccurately suggesting that Colorado has stricter voting laws than Georgia. Though SB 202, the voting omnibus bill, expanded early in-person voting, the law severely restricts absentee voting, requires voter ID for mail-in ballots and restricts the use of ballot drop boxes. The law, passed in response to false election fraud claims by former President Donald Trump and his GOP allies, also replaces the elected secretary of state as head of the State Election Board with a legislative appointee, allows state officials to take over local elections offices, and makes it a crime to serve food or water to voters in long lines.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., complained on Twitter that the "Wokes are at it again," arguing that both Georgia and Colorado require voter ID and Georgia has two more days of early voting. He also noted that Atlanta is 51% Black and Denver is 9.2% Black, questioning why the game was being moved from a city that has "more day-of voting rights" than Colorado.


It's worth noting that Truist Park, the home of the Atlanta Braves, is not actually in the city of Atlanta. The Braves moved in 2017 from majority-Black Atlanta to suburban Cobb County, which is more than 62% white. More important, the Georgia law explicitly took aim at Atlanta voters, banning the use of mobile voting buses, which were only used in Fulton County, which includes much of Atlanta.

Matt Whitlock, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, echoed Scott's argument on Twitter, as did numerous other conservatives and right-wing media outlets like Fox News.

"Colorado requires voter ID to vote in person — either a driver's license, an IRS issued ID card, a valid passport, or a valid employee card with a photo," Whitlock wrote. "@MLB better be ready to explain why this is more acceptable than Georgia after that absurd political statement."


CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale criticized Whitlock for a wholly incomplete list of valid forms of identification accepted in Colorado, which includes non-photo forms of ID like utility bills, and described Scott's comparison between the two states as "absurd."

It's true that Colorado requires voter ID to vote in person, but as the National Conference of State Legislatures points out, the state has a "non-strict" voter ID law for in-person early voting, meaning voters can use a wide variety of identification documents, including some that do not have a photo. Furthermore, voters with no ID can still cast a provisional ballot.

Georgia, on the other hand, has a "strict" in-person voter ID law, which requires a photo ID, and only allows voters to cast provisional ballots if they present an ID within three days to a country registrar. But the major issue at hand isn't but Georgia's onerous new absentee voter ID requirement, which requires voters to submit a driver's license number, Social Security number or other ID. Colorado, on the other hand, only requires ID when a voter casts a ballot by mail for the first time and allows a wider variety of ID types.

Scott's point about the length of each state's early voting period is also true but misleading: In-person voting is virtually nonexistent in Colorado since the state adopted an all-mail voting system. Last year, more than 99% of all primary voters cast their ballots by mail and more than 90% of voters used mail ballots even before the pandemic, a far cry from the hours-long lines Georgia voters had to endure. The state sends every eligible voter a mail ballot, which has been a boon for turnout: Nearly 87% of registered Colorado voters cast ballots last year, the second-highest turnout in the nation. Georgia's new law, on the other hand, bans election officials from sending absentee ballot applications to registered voters.

"Here's an easy way to tell the difference: Find a photo of Colorado voters waiting in a long line on Election Day," quipped Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel. "Any photo from the last seven years, since all-mail voting was phased in. Good luck."

Colorado also allows voters to submit ballots in drop boxes, which are available 24 hours a day until Election Day, while Georgia's new law limits the number of drop boxes available, allows drop boxes only during the state's early voting period, and restricts the hours the drop boxes are available.

Trump himself criticized Colorado's lenient voting laws while pushing entirely fictitious claims of fraud last year.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, refuted the conservative attacks on Twitter.

"The truth is Colorado's election model works. We mail ballots to all voters, have early voting, and same-day voter registration. Voters can participate easily in our elections, which are also the most secure in the nation. Election accessibility and security can go hand-in-hand," she said. "We give voters ample time and options to participate in our elections. County clerks send ballots out more than three weeks ahead of Election Day. Drop boxes and voting centers open around the state soon thereafter. These various options give voters time to send their ballot back in the mail, drop it into a drop-box, or vote in-person.

"And the proof is in our voter turnout, consistently amongst the top in the nation," she added. "We've got the most accessible and secure elections in the country."

Despite the misleading Republican argument, Fox News reporter Peter Doocy questioned White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday about whether the Biden administration is "concerned" that the All-Star game will be held in Colorado, "where voting regulations are very similar to Georgia?"

"Let me just refute the first point that you made," Psaki shot back. "Colorado allows you to register on Election Day. Colorado has voting by mail, where they send to 100% of people in the state who are eligible applications to vote by mail. Ninety-four percent of people in Colorado voted by mail in the 2020 election."

Psaki reminded reporters that Georgia's law was entirely the product of false claims about election fraud pushed by Trump and Republican allies, even though those claims were refuted by Trump administration officials and several Republican Georgia state officials.

I think it's important to remember: The context here of the Georgia legislation is built on a lie," Psaki said. "There was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election. Georgia's top Republican election officials have acknowledged that repeatedly in interviews."

While there was no fraud, Psaki added, there was record-setting turnout by voters of color.

"What we're seeing here, for politicians who didn't like the outcome, they're not changing their policies to win more votes, they're changing the rules to exclude more voters," she said. "And we certainly see the circumstances as different."


Georgia Republicans supported voting buses and drop boxes — until Trump and the GOP started losing

Some Georgia Republicans who promoted Fulton County's mobile voting buses last year voted to restrict them after the party lost the state's presidential and Senate races.

The Election Integrity Act of 2021, Georgia's sweeping election reform law, has widely been described as a "voter suppression" effort, largely prompted by baseless allegations of election fraud spread by former President Trump and his allies. President Joe Biden and other Democrats have compared the law to those of the Jim Crow era, and numerous voting rights groups have already sued to strike down key measures they argue will disproportionately impact voters of color. The law bans the use of Fulton County's mobile voting buses and restricts the use of absentee ballot drop boxes, among many other measures that affect virtually every aspect of the state's election laws.

Some Republican legislators who voted in favor of the bill promoted the use of voting buses and drop boxes in 2020 — before abruptly deciding to oppose them after Donald Trump became the first Republican to lose Georgia since 1992 and the party lost both Senate seats for the first time in more than two decades amid record voter turnout. Many of them cited voter concerns about election integrity — a common GOP talking point as the party pushes hundreds of new voting restrictions across the country — even though those concerns are the result of the party's own fear-mongering about unfounded voter fraud claims.

"Last year Georgia Republicans promoted the very same early voting practices that they are now decrying as voter fraud," Jessica Floyd, president of the Democratic American Bridge PAC, said in a statement to Salon. "Republicans had no concerns about mobile voting and ballot drop boxes when they were encouraging their own supporters to use them. But when Black voters use the exact same early voting practices, Republicans consider it fraud. Let's be clear, Republicans are doing this because they know they can't win if they don't rig the game. Georgia voters will hold these hypocritical politicians accountable for their blatantly racist attempt to rig future elections."

Fulton County, a heavily Black Democratic stronghold targeted by Trump and his allies with spurious allegations of irregularities, bought the mobile voting buses last year in response to long lines at polling places, which are partly the result of the state closing hundreds of polling places since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. But the new law bars the county from using them unless the governor declares an emergency.

State Rep. Jan Jones, the speaker pro tem of the state House, joined fellow Republicans in stoking groundless concerns about absentee voting when she signed onto House Majority Leader Jon Burns' letter raising doubts about the state's signature verification process, even though Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's has said there was "no evidence presented of any issues" with the process. Jones urged voters to use the Fulton County mobile buses in October, before voting to ban them after her party lost the three major statewide elections.


State Rep. Chuck Martin, another signatory, promoted the buses on two separate occasions in October, touting that they work just like "other early voting sites."


Aklima Khondoker, Georgia state director of the voting rights group All Voting Is Local, said the mobile voting ban "reeks of discrimination" against the "most ethnically diverse county in the state."

The law "bans buses for early voting," she tweeted. "Only Fulton County used buses in 2020. This helped thousands of voters cast their ballots, when lines were too long, and county staff were strained for resources. Disallowing them would disenfranchise thousands of black and brown voters."

Other Republican lawmakers promoted absentee ballot drop boxes, which were installed for the first time amid the coronavirus pandemic, before voting to allow them in future elections while restricting their use. The law limits ballot drop boxes to one per every 100,000 active voters or one for every early voting site, whichever is smaller, and requires the boxes to be set up inside early voting sites accessible only during early voting days and hours instead of round-the-clock outside government property.

State Rep. Bonnie Rich, who questioned the integrity of absentee ballots despite no evidence of fraud, promoted the drop boxes on Facebook before voting to restrict them.

State Rep. Don Parsons, who signed onto Burns' letter, promoted ballot drop boxes on Facebook and said he used one himself before voting to restrict them.

"It works great, and we even received notification that the ballots were received and processed," he wrote.


Parsons disputed that the law restricts the use of drop boxes but rather "provides for them to be used."

"I do believe the drop boxes worked great," he said in an email to Salon. "However, the use of drop boxes were not provided for and were not allowed in Georgia law" until last week's bill was signed, he added.

"The use of drop boxes in 2020 was made possible by the Governor's Emergency Declaration which provided leeway for the county elections offices to take measures, due to COVID, to encourage voters to use absentee voting in order to limit the number of voters in close proximity in the physical polling places," Parsons wrote. "The Governor's Emergency Declaration is no longer in effect. I am happy to report that with enactment of the [Election Integrity Act], the use of drop boxes are allowed by law, with rules and standardization for their use and deployment. The statute also provides for flexibility in the event of any future emergency events."

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who signed the bill into law last week, used a ballot drop box that would be restricted under current rules in November.


A lawsuit filed by Democratic attorney Marc Elias on behalf of the New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter and Rice Inc. on Thursday argued that the restrictions on drop boxes as well as the voter ID requirement, ban on mobile voting buses and other provisions violate the First and 14th amendments.

"These provisions lack any justification for their burdensome and discriminatory effects on voting," the lawsuit argues. "Instead, they represent a hodgepodge of unnecessary restrictions that target almost every aspect of the voting process but serve no legitimate purpose or compelling state interest other than to make absentee, early, and election-day voting more difficult — especially for minority voters."

Numerous other lawmakers who signed Burns' letter stoking unfounded fears about the signature verification process voted in favor of the sweeping bill that Republicans justified by citing voter concerns, including state Reps. Sharon Cooper, Matt Dollar, Karen Mathiak, Chuck Efstration, Houston Gaines, Marcus Wiedower, Mike Cheokas, Gerald Greene, Ron Stephens and Darlene Taylor. Mathiak has even falsely claimed that the state found "illegal votes."

All those lawmakers voted to pass the bill despite repeated reviews of the signature verification process that prompted Trump and his allies to pressure Raffensperger to throw out legal votes. The Republican-led legislature introduced dozens of proposed restrictions in response to the specious concerns and ultimately adopted a revised version of its omnibus reform bill, while excluding even more controversial provisions that sought to ban no-excuse absentee voting entirely and restrict Sunday voting, which is disproportionately used by Black churchgoers.

The law strips Raffensperger of some of his authority after he pushed back against the fictitious fraud claims, which were repeatedly discredited by multiple audits, recounts and law enforcement investigations. Many Republicans specifically raised concerns about Cobb County, another Atlanta-area Democratic stronghold. An audit of 10% of the ballots cast in the county found just two ballots with mistakes. The law removes Raffensperger as the chair of the State Election Board and replaces him with an appointee selected by the Republican-led legislature and gives the board the power to take over local election offices, in a move understood as targeting predominantly Black and Democratic Atlanta-area counties.

The new law will require voters to include their state ID number or a copy of their ID to cast absentee ballots. The law restricts the amount of time voters have to request absentee ballots from 180 days to 11 weeks and bans state and local governments from sending absentee ballot applications to voters that did not request them. The law also requires voters to return their absentee ballots two weeks before Election Day instead of by the Friday before Election Day. Counties will also begin mailing absentee ballots three weeks later, beginning four weeks before the election.

The law expands early in-person voting access in most rural counties while leaving metropolitan counties largely unaffected. But the law also shortens the interval for mandated runoff elections from nine weeks to four weeks after Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff both defeated Republican incumbents in January runoff elections for Georgia's two U.S. Senate seats.

The New Georgia Project lawsuit argues that Raffensperger praised the state's existing laws allowing no-excuse absentee voting, at least three weeks of in-person voting, and automatic voter registration as the "gold standard" last year. "But now that that system facilitated record turnout in the 2020 general election and the 2021 U.S. Senate runoff elections, the General Assembly has acted to radically and unjustifiably punish the electorate, by dramatically curtailing it," the lawsuit says.

The complaint goes on to cite racial disparities in socioeconomic status, housing and employment, arguing that "the Voter Suppression Bill disproportionately impacts Black voters, and interacts with these vestiges of discrimination in Georgia to deny Black voters (an) equal opportunity to participate in the political process and/or elect a candidate of their choice."

A separate lawsuit filed by the Georgia NAACP, Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda, League of Women Voters of Georgia, GALEO Latino Community Development Fund, Common Cause and the Lower Muskogee Creek Tribe similarly argues that the law is the "culmination of a concerted effort to suppress the participation of Black voters and other voters of color by the Republican State Senate, State House, and Governor."

"Unable to stem the tide of these demographic changes or change the voting patterns of voters of color, these officials have resorted to attempting to suppress the vote of Black voters and other voters of color in order to maintain the tenuous hold that the Republican Party has in Georgia," the lawsuit says. "In other words, these officials are using racial discrimination as a means of achieving a partisan end. These efforts constitute intentional discrimination in violation of the Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act."

Why Joe Manchin’s filibuster demands might end up making Republican obstruction even worse

Senate Democrats are pushing to reform the filibuster in response to years of partisan gridlock — but Republicans don't seem overly concerned about the prospect after centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., ruled out key changes that could help advance President Joe Biden's agenda.

Biden for the first time this week supported bringing back a "talking filibuster," which would require senators to continuously speak on the Senate floor to block a vote on a bill. Under current rules, Democrats face a seemingly insurmountable 60-vote threshold in their efforts to pass voting protections and other measures they've long campaigned on.

"I don't think that you have to eliminate the filibuster, you have to do it what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days. You had to stand up and command the floor, you had to keep talking," Biden told ABC News, adding that Senate obstruction is getting to the point where "democracy is having a hard time functioning."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, scoffed at the idea. Graham, who succeeded segregationist Strom Thurmond — best known for his record 24-hour filibuster of the Civil Rights Act — vowed that a return to the "talking filibuster" would not prevent Republicans from blocking bills like the Senate counterpart to H.R. 1, a sweeping election reform package that includes provisions to expand voting rights and codify voter protections, and the Equality Act, which would extend civil rights protections to the LGBTQ+ community.

"I would talk till I fell over to make sure we don't go to ballot harvesting and voting by mail without ID," Graham declared during an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity on Wednesday. "I would talk till I fell over to make sure that the Equality Act doesn't become law, destroying the difference between a man and woman in our law."

A growing number of Democrats have called for the outright elimination of the filibuster, with former President Barack Obama calling it a "Jim Crow relic." Progressives have long argued that the 60-vote threshold to invoke cloture and end debate will prevent Congress from passing key legislative priorities, including a federal minimum wage increase. But the issue has taken on additional importance as Democrats attempt to pass two major voting rights bills.

Manchin and fellow centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., vowed earlier this year that they would oppose any efforts to eliminate the filibuster. But Manchin softened his stance earlier this month, telling NBC News that he would be open to making the filibuster "a little bit more painful" by making senators "stand there and talk."

Manchin's comments sparked optimism among reformers, but political reporters questioned whether a "talking filibuster" would actually help Democrats push through their agenda.

"How does a 'talking filibuster' help anything?" tweeted longtime Capitol Hill reporter John Bresnahan, the co-founder of Punchbowl News. "Depending on how it's structured — the critical question, as with anything Senate-related — a small group of senators could talk for days or even weeks. How does that get reformers any closer? It doesn't."

Politico White House reporter Alex Thompson noted that this is exactly why some Senate Republicans "aren't sweating a potential 'talking filibuster' reform."

There are a number of ways a "talking filibuster" could work in practice and it's unclear which path Senate Democrats will choose. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who has led the fight to reform the filibuster for over a decade, introduced legislation in 2011 that would require senators to actually hold the floor by talking, as in Frank Capra's famous film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," rather than simply threatening to do so. More recently, he has proposed requiring 41 opposing senators to remain on the floor to sustain a filibuster rather than putting the onus on the majority party to break the filibuster. Others have proposed lowering the threshold to break a filibuster, the same way the Senate lowered it from 67 to the current 60.

But Manchin shot down any lower thresholds or 41-senator requirements on Wednesday, telling CNN that he still supports requiring 60 votes to end debate.

Without additional measures in place, filibuster reform could actually result in even more delays and obstruction, at least in the short term, said Molly Reynolds, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

"When you are the majority party, you have lots of things that you want to try to do in the Senate," Reynolds, the author of "Exceptions to the Rule: The Politics of Filibuster Limitations in the U.S. Senate," said in an interview with Salon. If Democrats allow a committed minority to hold the floor, "that means that there's other things that you're not doing. You're sucking up Senate floor time at the expense of things that you have to set aside."

This gives Republicans even more reason to stage filibusters, since that could derail not just the bill they are opposing but subsequent legislation as well.

"If you're the Republicans, and the Democrats try to do this, you have a really big incentive as the minority party to try and push that first use of the talking filibuster as far as you can," Reynolds said. "Whatever that first issue is, Republicans have a huge incentive to really dig in and demonstrate that it's not feasible."

Even if Democrats agree to Merkley's proposal to require 41 senators on the floor to sustain a filibuster, it's not clear that would "actually prevent [Republicans] from successful obstruction," Reynolds added. "If the majority party has enough things that it wants to do, or enough competing priorities, it's not willing to give over the Senate forever to the minority to hold the floor and talk and talk and talk."

Adam Jentleson, executive director of the progressive strategy firm Battle Born Collective and former chief of staff to longtime Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, agreed that restoring the talking filibuster "could definitely lead to more grandstanding" but said he was not sure whether grandstanding is "better or worse than no debate at all."

The system in place today allowing senators to derail legislation with just the threat of a filibuster was created in the 1970s in order to stop filibuster delays and allow the Senate to get on with its workload.

"You might have a return to a system where a single filibuster backs up every other piece of business," Jentleson said in an interview with Salon. "That could have a flip effect — to increase the amount of pressure on the people filibustering to stop. If they're going to filibuster until the government shuts down, if they're going to filibuster until funding for critical programs runs out … that's going to increase the amount of pressure on the filibuster to yield."

Graham may be happy to filibuster voting rights until he falls over, Jentleson continued, "but is he going to be happy to filibuster voting rights if that also prevents military appropriations from being renewed?"

Jentleson, the author of "Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy," said there are an "infinite number" of ways to restore the talking filibuster, but that the "important thing to keep in mind is the question of: Is there any mechanism to bring the talking to an end after it's reached a certain point? And how often will it be used?"

When the talking filibuster was used by Southern senators during the Jim Crow era, "it was very effective because Southerners used it as a bloc," he explained. While there are famous examples of individual senators staging marathon talking sessions, these at best delayed legislation by about a day. "What makes it really effective is when a group of senators coordinate with each other to keep it going in perpetuity," he said.

But Southern senators primarily deployed the filibuster against civil rights bills, meaning it wasn't used often, Jentleson added. Things could be quite different in the hyper-partisan atmosphere of Washington in the 2020s.

"Presumably Republicans would be using this against everything, or at least all of Democrats' major priorities. You could see them using it against infrastructure or the Equality Act, voting rights, the Dream Act, any number of things," he said. "So it is a big unknown whether you can sustain a talking filibuster indefinitely, all the time. It's one thing to do it against one single bill, one time per session or once every few years. It will be quite another to have to sustain this basically all the time."

Jentleson argued that Manchin's opposition to certain measures should be taken with a "grain of salt," given that he's already shifted on the issue.

"My boss, Sen. Reid, swore up and down that he was never going to go nuclear and then he did," he said.

Reid has since called for the outright elimination of the filibuster, which was created by accident in 1806 and wasn't widely used until the Civil War era. Jentleson was referring to Reid's 2013 decision to use the "nuclear option" to eliminate the 60-vote threshold on executive branch and non-Supreme Court judicial nominees. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did the same thing in 2017 to speed up Donald Trump's Supreme Court appointments, and in 2019 limited debate time from 30 hours to two hours to further speed up Trump's lower court nominees. An analysis by Reynolds found that Senate rules have been changed to limit the use of the filibuster more than 150 times.

"What we've generally seen is a slow chipping away at the filibuster," Reynolds said. That suggests that whatever Democrats do next is not likely to be the final step.

"If Democrats implement this reform and it doesn't work well enough, they can always do more," Jentleson said. "There's no expiration date on your ability to pass further reforms." In fact, once "you've made that initial reform, you're heavily invested in actually getting to a place where it works."

There are several other reforms that can help Democrats advance important legislation. Newly-elected Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., has proposed exempting voting rights bills from the filibuster, though Manchin quickly shot down that idea. Another potential reform, not directly related to the filibuster is the elimination of the Byrd Rule, which bans certain non-budgetary measures from being included in the reconciliation process and effectively killed the federal minimum wage increase in Biden's initial pandemic relief proposal.

Manchin and Sinema have rejected the idea of scrapping the Byrd rule, and they are not the only centrist Democrats standing in the way of more effective reform. Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Angus King, I-Maine, have also opposed or expressed reluctance toward scrapping the 60-vote threshold.

McConnell further tried to stoke concerns about the filibuster last Tuesday, threatening a "scorched earth Senate" if Democrats move forward with filibuster reform and warning that "even the most basic aspects of our colleagues' agenda, the most mundane task of the Biden presidency, would actually be harder not easier." He has previously threatened to ram through numerous Republican priorities with a simple majority if his party regains control of the Senate.

"That's something that we have to take very seriously, but you can't let the threat of possible future bad stuff prevent you from doing good stuff when you have the power to do it," Jentleson said. "By any measure, Democrats will come out well ahead, because we are the party that wants to enact progressive change and Republicans are the party that wants to stop stuff. We simply have more things that we can get passed in the next two years that will move the ball down the field and provide us a lot of insurance against the bad things Republicans might possibly do in the future."

Reynolds agreed that there is "increasing asymmetry between the share of the Democratic agenda that can get done with the filibuster, versus the share of the Republican agenda that can get done with the filibuster in place.

"One of the things we saw during the Trump administration is that Republicans in the Senate had two top priorities: confirming federal judges and passing tax cuts," she said. "They could do both of those things without the threat of a filibuster."

Democrats were able to include many of their priorities in the budget reconciliation used to pass the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, but ran into limitations on the process when it came to the minimum wage and other matters.

"You can do a lot of things through reconciliation but you can't do everything," Reynolds said. "There are things that are really important to Democrats that they can't get done with the filibuster in place."

That imbalance could build support among Democrats to eliminate the filibuster entirely, if Republican obstruction on a particular issue gets to a "where the votes are there" but the majority party faces "a more sustained period of frustration," she added. "If there's something that Democrats are really committed to trying to get done, and are unified around getting that thing done and have felt sufficiently frustrated by Republicans, those are the stars that need to align in order to get a majority to change the way the Senate works."

That issue could well turn out to be voting rights, as Democrats push to pass H.R. 1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which among other things would reinstate the provision of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of racial discrimination to pre-clear any electoral changes with the Justice Department.

It was the urgency of that issue that apparently prompted Obama's change of heart on the filibuster. "If all this takes eliminating the filibuster, another Jim Crow relic, in order to secure the God-given rights of every American, then that's what we should do," he said while paying tribute to late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga.

Reynolds said the issue makes the elimination of the filibuster "more likely now than I thought it was two years ago." The issue has only grown in importance against the backdrop of hundreds of proposed voting restrictions introduced by Republicans in more than 40 states in response unfounded fears of voter fraud stoked by Trump's lies about the 2020 election.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., vowed that opposition from centrist Democrats would not prevent Congress from passing critical voting rights protections amid a wave of Republican restrictions that disproportionately target Black voters.

"There's no way under the sun that in 2021 that we are going to allow the filibuster to be used to deny voting rights. That just ain't gonna happen. That would be catastrophic," he told The Guardian. "If Manchin and Sinema enjoy being in the majority, they had better figure out a way to get around the filibuster when it comes to voting and civil rights."

Billionaires who bankrolled Trump donate $10 million to super PAC supporting 'Hillbilly Elegy' author's Ohio campaign

The Mercer family and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel are backing a possible Senate run by "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance after bankrolling former President Donald Trump.

Bob Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, who were instrumental in Trump's 2016 rise, made a "significant contribution" to Protect Ohio Values, a super PAC formed last month to back Vance's likely bid, Bryan Lanza, a spokesman for the PAC and a former Trump aide, told the Cincinnati Enquirer. The Mercers have also funded the far-right news outlet Breitbart, the far-right social network Parler, the Brexit campaign and such right-wing lawmakers as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, who pushed false claims about the election ahead of the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Thiel, a Facebook board member who also co-founded the controversial data firm Palantir, which has been used as a surveillance tool by law enforcement, gave another $10 million to the PAC, Lanza told the Enquirer. Thiel, a major Republican donor, donated $1.25 million to back Trump in 2016 though he reportedly turned against him by 2020. Thiel's contribution to Vance is his biggest disclosed donation ever.

Vance, a Yale Law School-educated venture capitalist from Middletown, Ohio, is best known for his 2016 bestseller that was later turned into an Oscar-nominated Ron Howard film. "Hillbilly Elegy" drew national acclaim for its depiction of Appalachian life and his mother's Kentucky family and some Democrats pored over the book for insights into working-class voters in rural America after Trump's 2016 election win. But it has also drawn criticism on the left as "poverty porn" that "does not sufficiently account for the ways institutions and broader social structures impact life outcomes," as Salon's Chauncey DeVega wrote. "'Elegy' is little more than a list of myths about welfare queens repackaged as a primer on the white working class," Sarah Jones wrote in The New Republic.

Vance, a fellow at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute who has described himself as a "nationalist," has considered running for a Senate seat in Ohio since 2018 and drew support from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., according to BuzzFeed News. He ultimately chose not to challenge incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, in 2020, but quickly catapulted into the conversation after Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, announced that he would not seek re-election in 2022.

Protect Ohio Values was launched in February to back his likely bid.

"We're a network of grassroots conservatives committed to electing a Senator who will stand for and defend Ohio's values in Washington, DC," the group's website says. "We believe J. D. Vance is the right man for the job and we are signing up supporters and raising funds to demonstrate a groundswell of support in the Buckeye State."

Vance has longstanding ties to Thiel, who was a top backer of Vance's venture capital firm Narya Capital. Vance got his start at Thiel's venture capital firm Mithril Capital Management in San Francisco.

Thiel's donation is the "latest display of how Thiel is cultivating a network of young, populist, Ivy League-educated proteges and encouraging them to run for Senate all around the country," wrote Recode's Theodore Schleifer. That network has included Hawley, who led the Senate objections to the electoral count after the Capitol riot, Trump ally Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and far-right extremist and failed gubernatorial and Senate candidate Kris Kobach.

Vance also has ties to the Mercers. BuzzFeed News reported last month that Vance has advised Rebekah Mercer on Parler, a social network she co-founded that was used by some involved in the Capitol riot to coordinate their attack and share videos of their crimes. Parler also attempted to raise funds from Vance's VC firm.

Rebekah Mercer and her hedge-fund billionaire dad Bob funded Breitbart and its former chief Steve Bannon before dropping tens of millions to back Cruz and then Trump in the 2016 presidential race. The family has also donated millions to hate groups and numerous Republicans who pushed Trump's "big lie" about the election that culminated in the deadly January riot, including Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., who was accused of having "schemed up" the "Stop the Steal" rally that preceded the riot by its organizer.

The financial support comes as Vance has increasingly begun to echo right-wing talking points about "identity politics," which he recently told Fox News' resident white nationalist Tucker Carlson are "destroying our society."

Vance's Twitter timeline has also become "basic Tucker Carlson Threats to America content," wrote Georgetown professor Don Moynihan, noting that Vance frequently focuses on criticism of cancel culture, immigrants, and woke elitists while "studiously" avoiding any criticism of Trump, the Big Lie, white nationalism or the Capitol riot.

Journalist and author Jared Yates Sexton, who has frequently written about rural America and is a leading critic of "Hillbilly Elegy," told Salon last year that Vance "has spent the past few years sanitizing right-wing appeals and camouflaging white supremacist-pandering."

"Hillbilly Elegy is Right Wing propaganda that actively promotes Reaganomics, the poor as deserving of their suffering, and intentionally obscures racism and white supremacy as major factors in America's decline," Sexton wrote on Twitter. "Most of us who grew up in rural poverty recognize Hillbilly Elegy as a destructive and bad-faith propaganda piece that was championed by people who had no idea what they were talking about and were hopelessly lost in their own privilege."

Jared Kushner leaves taxpayers with $24K hotel bill after earning millions in the White House

Former President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner left taxpayers with a hotel bill for more than $24,000 on his way out of the White House, according to a new federal filing.

The expense filing, first reported by The Daily Beast, shows a State Department expenditure labeled "KUSHNER VISIT DEC 2020" for $24,335 stemming from Kushner's trip to Israel to tout the administration's accomplishments four weeks before Trump left office.

Kushner met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who last month pleaded not guilty to three corruption charges, and visited the U.S. embassy that Trump had relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Shortly after the trip, Kushner Companies sought to raise more than $100 million in Israel.

During the visit, Kushner touted Trump's controversial embassy relocation for leading to an "explosion of peace" in the Middle East, even though the decision has been widely condemned by Arab countries, as was Kushner's failed attempt at a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Kushner praised Trump's role in striking new diplomatic agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, which Trump and Netanyahu touted as "historic," though some Middle East observers worry that the administration's sweeteners to coax the majority-Muslim nations into the accords could risk escalating conflict in the region. The administration agreed to sell fighter jets to the UAE, recognized Morocco's sovereignty over a long-disputed Western Sahara region, and granted Sudan immunity in American courts from terrorism lawsuits as part of Trump's pre-election diplomatic effort.

The trip came after Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, racked up big taxpayer bills with vacations to Charlottesville, Aspen, the Dominican Republic and Canada while forcing Secret Service to pay thousands per month to rent an apartment near their Washington home for the use of a bathroom after agents were instructed not to use theirs.

Trump adviser Jason Miller defended the hotel expenditure, comparing Kushner's Israel trip to those of former Secretary of State John Kerry in the Obama administration.

"Jared Kushner was there to cement his 5th peace deal for Israel in 4 months," he told the Daily Beast. "How much did John Kerry's trips cost where he accomplished nothing?"

Ric Grenell, Trump's former director of national intelligence, argued on Twitter that it was an "incredibly small price to pay for multiple Historic peace deals."

Kushner's trip came under scrutiny weeks later when the Wall Street Journal reported that Kushner Companies, his family's business, sought to raise at least $100 million by selling bonds in Israel, its first such effort. The move, which came shortly after Trump pardoned Kushner's father Charles for his 2005 conviction on tax evasion and witness tampering charges, quickly sparked concerns about a conflict of interest even though Jared Kushner sold off his stake in the company when he joined the White House.

Kushner sought to separate himself from his family's business, but he and Ivanka Trump continued to earn millions while at the White House. An analysis by the government watchdog group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) found that the couple reported earning between $172 million and $640 million in outside income while working in the administration.

The couple did not take a salary while working in White House positions that immediately raised questions about conflicts of interest and security clearances. But Kushner held onto his stake in a company called Cadre, which sold investment vehicles under the Opportunity Zones program created by the 2017 Trump tax cuts. Kushner's stake in the company — which he initially failed to disclose — was valued at $5 million to $25 million before growing to $25 million to $50 million, according to his financial disclosures. The top White House ethics official determined that it was "reasonably necessary" for Kushner to sell his stake, which he never did. Ivanka Trump also drew millions in income, including from her stake in Trump's Washington hotel, which was frequented by Republican allies and officials seeking to do business with the government.

"Apparently accountable to no one, Kushner and Trump acted as if the normal rules did not apply to them — because, in fact, they didn't," Jordan Libowitz, the executive director of CREW, wrote in an NBC News op-ed. "If there was ever a reason for Congress to pass stronger anti-nepotism laws, Kushner and Trump are it."

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