Jessica Corbett

'I think he should resign': Biden and top Democrats come together to call on Cuomo to step down

U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday joined the growing chorus of people calling for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to step down after a state probe concluded that the Democrat "engaged in conduct constituting sexual harassment under federal and New York state law."

"I think he should resign," Biden told reporters after being asked about the findings Tuesday afternoon, citing his earlier comments when multiple women accused Cuomo of sexual harassment earlier this year.

The president did not say whether state lawmakers should impeach the governor if he refuses to leave office.

The harassment allegations—which Cuomo continues to deny while acknowledging that his actions may have made people uncomfortable—led New York Attorney General Letitia James to appoint a team of independent investigators, who published their findings in a 168-page report (pdf).

Congressional leaders also responded to the report by calling for Cuomo to step down.

"Under Attorney General Letitia James, a comprehensive and independent investigation into the allegations against Gov. Cuomo has been completed," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "As always, I commend the women who came forward to speak their truth."

"Recognizing his love of New York and respect for the office he holds," she said, "I call upon the governor to resign."

The entire Democratic congressional delegation from New York also supports Cuomo's resignation.

"As we have said before, the reported actions of the governor were profoundly disturbing, inappropriate, and completely unacceptable," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement Tuesday.

Schumer and Gillibrand continued:

Today's report from the New York state attorney general substantiated and corroborated the allegations of the brave women who came forward to share their stories—and we commend the women for doing so.
The New York state attorney general has conducted an independent, thorough, and professional investigation that found the governor violated state and federal law, had a pattern of sexually harassing current and former employees, retaliated against at least one of the accusers, and created a hostile work environment.
No elected official is above the law. The people of New York deserve better leadership in the governor's office. We continue to believe that the governor should resign.

Cuomo, for his part, signaled Tuesday that he won't step down, saying that "I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances." About a specific allegation that could lead to legal action, the governor said he welcomed the opportunity for a jury's review.

After an emergency meeting Tuesday with fellow members of the New York State Assembly, Speaker Carl E. Heastie (D-86) said that "it is abundantly clear to me that the governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office."

"We will move expeditiously and look to conclude our impeachment investigation as quickly as possible," Heastie added.

Citing multiple sources familiar with the lengthy meeting, The New York Times reported:

The speaker and the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Assemblyman Charles D. Lavine [D-13], argued that the articles could not be drawn up immediately, the people said.
But no timetable was set during the meeting, according to the people. The Judiciary Committee is expected to meet and discuss the impeachment investigation on Monday.
According to a person familiar with the process, it could take a month to complete the inquiry and draw up the articles of impeachment. A trial in the State Senate could commence as soon as late September or early October, the person said.

Multiple New York legislators are already publicly calling for impeachment. In a joint statement Tuesday, five socialist state legislators said that "given the governor's egregious betrayals of his office and our state, it is the responsibility of the Legislature to begin this impeachment process without delay."

Iraq says bombings ordered by Biden are a 'blatant and unacceptable violation' of sovereignty

Echoing criticism from across the globe on Monday, the Iraqi government slammed the Biden administration for overnight U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria at facilities the Pentagon says were used by Iran-backed militias.

"We condemn the U.S. air attack that targeted a site last night on the Iraqi-Syrian border, which represents a blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty and Iraqi national security in accordance with all international conventions," said a spokesperson for the commander in chief of Iraq's armed forces, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

"Iraq renews its refusal to be an arena for settling accounts, and clings to its right to sovereignty over its lands, and to prevent it from being used as an arena for reactions and attacks," said the Iraqi statement.

"We call for calm and to avoid escalation in all its forms, stressing that Iraq will carry out the necessary investigations, procedures, and contacts at various levels to prevent such violations," the spokesperson added.

The strikes also led to an emergency meeting of national security officials in Iraq:

The Popular Mobilization Forces, a coalition of Iraqi militias, reportedly said that four fighters were killed in the U.S. attack. However, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at seven fighters and said several others wounded, according to Al Jazeera.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that at the direction of President Joe Biden, the U.S. military hit "operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq" used by Iran-backed militia groups to engage in drone attacks against U.S. personnel and facilities in the region.

Although no Americans have been hurt, the New York Times reports that U.S. officials say that "at least five times since April, the Iranian-backed militias have used small, explosive-laden drones that divebomb and crash into their targets in late-night attacks on Iraqi bases—including those used by the CIA and U.S. Special Operations units."

As Common Dreams reported earlier Monday, while Kirby claimed the strikes ordered by Biden were "designed to limit the risk of escalation," Stephen Miles, executive director of U.S.-based advocacy group Win Without War, responded: "Know what would actually be deescalatory? Leaving Iraq."

The U.S. has roughly 2,500 troops in Iraq and about 900 in Syria. Biden previously authorized strikes in Syria in late February, also targeting facilities the administration said belonged to Iran-backed militia groups.

The strikes come amid negotiations to revive the Iran nuclear deal. Biden ran on a promise to return the United States to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as it is officially called, that his predecessor ditched in 2018. The Trump administration instead pursued a "maximum pressure" campaign that ramped up devastating sanctions against Iran.

"Iran—weakened by years of harsh economic sanctions—is using its proxy militias in Iraq to step up pressure on the United States and other world powers to negotiate an easing of those sanctions as part of a possible revival of the 2015 nuclear deal," the Times reports. "Iraqi and American officials say Iran has devised the drone attacks to minimize casualties to avoid prompting U.S. retaliation."

The U.S. strikes also follow the House of Representatives earlier this month passing legislation to repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) Against Iraq Resolution of 2002. Now, all eyes are on the Senate for that effort.

Notably, Kirby did not cite the 2002 AUMF for the strikes. Instead, he highlighted the right of self-defense and the president's authority under Article II of the U.S. Constitution to protect American personnel in Iraq.

'Bonkers': How right-wing 'spies' with deep pockets infiltrated Democratic Party across west

In a "bonkers" report that drew comparisons to a movie script or Tom Clancy novel, the New York Times on Friday exposed a sophisticated right-wing plot to infiltrate Democratic politics in three Western states using undercover operatives.

"Using large campaign donations and cover stories, the operatives aimed to gather dirt that could sabotage the reputations of people and organizations considered threats to a hard-right agenda advanced by President Donald J. Trump," revealed journalists Adam Goldman and Mark Mazzetti.

Despite some "bumbling and amateurish" tactics, the now-married couple at the center of the report connected with political figures and groups in Arizona, Colorado, and Wyoming in an operation the reporters pieced together through a review of federal election records and over two dozen interviews.

The full scope of information that the spies may have gained access to is not clear, but they attended various events—including a fundraiser at which one of them was photographed with Tom Perez, then the chairman of the Democratic National Committee—and have now generated concerns about the possibility of other right-wing operatives and operations across the U.S. political system.

The exposé includes some characters from Goldman and Mazzetti's previous reporting on covert right-wing operations to "discredit" Trump's enemies and infiltrate groups "hostile" to the ex-president's agenda: war profiteer Erik Prince—founder of the mercenary firm Blackwater and brother of Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—and former British spy Richard Seddon.

As the Times explains:

Mr. Prince had set Mr. Seddon's work in motion, recruiting him around the beginning of the Trump administration to hire former spies to train conservative activists in the basics of espionage, and send them on political sabotage missions.

By the end of 2018, Mr. Seddon secured funding from the Wyoming heiress, Susan Gore, according to people familiar with her role. He recruited several former operatives from the conservative group Project Veritas, where he had worked previously, to set up the political infiltration operation in the West.

The "spies" exposed in the report are Sofia LaRocca, 28, and Beau Maier, the 36-year-old nephew of conservative commentator Glenn Beck. Maier's mother worked at the Prince family ranch in Wyoming, where Seddon trained Project Veritas operatives in 2017, before leaving the group the next year.

Seddon, Maier, LaRocca, Gore, and the heiress's attorney did not respond to the newspaper's requests for comment, including questions about campaign contributions. "Straw donations" in which donors are reimbursed for contributing to a political campaign are illegal under federal law.

LaRocca secured a job at the Wyoming Investor Network (WIN), a consortium of rich liberal donors that quietly supported some moderate Republicans. Chris Bell, who worked as a political consultant for the consortium, told the Times that "getting the WIN stuff is really damaging" because "it's the entire strategy. Where the money is going. What we're doing long term."

Maier, an Army veteran who fought in Iraq, met with Democrats and Republicans—including Eric Barlow, who is now the Wyoming speaker of the house—about medicinal use of marijuana, "which he said was particularly valuable for war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder."

Barlow, who said he was open to medical marijuana and decriminalization, called himself a "practical Republican," and told the Times that "for some people, that's a RINO." Trump and other right-wingers use the term, which means "Republican in Name Only," to attack more centrist members of the GOP.

Maier and LaRocca also went on double dates with Karlee Provenza, a Democrat elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives last year, and her now-husband Nate Martin, executive director of the group Better Wyoming, which released a statement on the report Friday.

The statement highlighted the financing from Gore—who had been involved in the state's GOP politics since the 1990s and founded the Wyoming Liberty Group in 2008—and shared that Maier and LaRocca donated thousands of dollars to Better Wyoming.

"The use of spies is an escalation of tactics by Wyoming's political far-right, which already employs anonymous websites, purity tests, smear campaigns, and has secretly recorded Better Wyoming staff members in the past," the nonprofit said.

Martin, in the statement, said that "the use of spies is pretty far out there, but so are many of the Wyoming Liberty Group's ideas… Wyoming's far-right promotes tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories like Medicaid expansion causes abortion and cannabis is ruining the daycare industry. It makes sense that they would use spies to try to attack their opposition or uncover some imagined liberal plot."

The Better Wyoming leader also addressed the social relationship he formed with the spies.

"The whole time, they were lying to my wife and me about who they were and what they were up to, and they were actively trying to get us to say or do things that could ruin our careers and hurt us," Martin said. "Politics aside, that's just a disgusting thing to do to other people. But, again, the people who hired them support policies that defund public schools and block folks from getting healthcare, so it's pretty clear they don't care much about people to begin with."

'Surreal' and 'distressing': Climate experts' dire predictions come true with US heatwave

As what the National Weather Service described as "dangerous and record-breaking heat" affects 50 million people across the Western United States even before the first day of summer, climate experts and activists are using the hot conditions to reiterate warnings and calls for policy change as scientists are seeing their dire predictions come true.

"The current heatwave and drought leave no doubt, we are living the dangerous effects of the climate crisis," activist and former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer tweeted Friday. "Action is urgently needed."

Steyer shared a Thursday New York Times report on the extreme heat that also caught the attention of Campaign for Nature director Brian O'Donnell, who warned that in the absence of bold action to address the climate emergency, "this will all get much worse."

O'Donnell's ominous warning was echoed by Daniel Swain, a Colorado-based climate scientist at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"We'e still a long way out from the peak of the wildfire season and the peak of the dry season," Swain told the Times. "Things are likely to get worse before they get better."

The newspaper detailed some of the current conditions in the U.S. West:

A heat dome is baking Arizona and Nevada, where temperatures have soared past 115 degrees this week and doctors are warning that people can get third-degree burns from the sizzling asphalt.

At Lake Mead, which supplies water for 25 million people in three southwestern states and Mexico, water levels have plunged to their lowest point since the reservoir was filled in the 1930s. In California, farmers are abandoning their thirstiest crops to save others, and communities are debating whether to ration tap water.

In Texas, electricity grids are under strain as residents crank their air-conditioners, with utilities begging customers to turn off appliances to help avert blackouts. In Arizona, Montana, and Utah, wildfires are blazing.

As National Weather Service meteorologist John Salmen put it to the Associated Press while discussing temperatures in and around Las Vegas that are expected to continue this weekend: "This is pretty impressive. We're seeing all-time records fall."

Swain told The Guardian that "the most distressing part is that this is very much in line with predictions. Climate scientists have been repeating essentially the same messages and warnings since before I was born."

Katharine Hayhoe, a Texas-based climate expert and chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy, responded similarly in comments to the newspaper.

"The extreme heat and the wildfires aren't surprising. But it is just surreal to see what you only ever saw before in your research studies and models, actually happening in real life. And you're almost dumbfounded by the speed at which your projections have become reality," she said.

A recent study co-authored by Hayhoe shows "Americans associate hot, dry days and extreme drought with global warming," but many people don't reach the same conclusion about extreme rainfall or flooding, despite experts' findings.

Citing survey results that suggest even though about three-quarters of Americans recognize that the planet is warming, less than half think it will directly harm them, she told The Guardian that "right now is a really important time for scientists to communicate with the public that climate change is here, and climate action matters."

Writing Wednesday for Intelligencer, David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth, outlined what this summer could look like in California—which has seen some devastating and historic wildfires in recent years—and beyond:

Fire isn't neatly predictable, since it depends both on underlying conditions (moisture on the ground and the amount of dead flora, often called "fuel") and a considerable amount of randomness (wind events and "ignitions" both human and natural). But while there is always the possibility that ignitions could be anomalously quiet, and that the state could endure a year of off-the-charts conditions without having to fight and flee and breathe the smoke of a commensurate fire season, the outlook for 2021 isn't just bad, it is quite a bit worse than that, even if you are modeling expectations off the record-setting recent past. Across the American West, "extreme" drought conditions are more widespread than they've been in at least 20 years. The next category worse, called "exceptional" drought, typically rare, is already this year blanketing most of the West and Southwest; it's so widespread it would probably be better called "unprecedented drought," at least in the age of modern record-keeping. This week arrives, throughout the region, what is expected to be a record-breaking heat wave, with temperature warnings issued for more than 50 million people: In Phoenix, it could reach 118, and in Death Valley 127.

Already this spring, more than twice as many acres in California have burned as had by this point last year, when the state was on its way to more than doubling its previous fire record. Rerun last year's random ignitions on top of this year's underlying conditions, and you won't just have the worst season ever but, potentially, something considerably scarier still. Get relatively lucky, with fewer ignitions than is typical, and you're still probably in for the sort of season that used to set state records and scar the memory of populations as recently as a decade or two ago.

Meanwhile, in Texas, "the temperature at George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Wednesday passed 94 degrees for the sixth day in a row. It was the ninth consecutive day that the peak heat there was worse than normal," the Houston Chronicle reported Thursday.

Noting that warmer weather is an expected result of human-caused climate change, the newspaper spoke with Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, who compared that area's higher temperatures, arriving earlier and lasting longer, to "a rising tide."

"Our climate in Texas is changing," said Suzanne Scott, state director of the Nature Conservancy in Texas. "It really affects everything from our natural resources to our economy and our quality of life."

As Common Dreams reported Wednesday, the high heat comes as negotiations between the White House and Congress over an infrastructure package drag on, and the conditions in the U.S. West are bolstering progressive lawmakers and activists' position of "no climate, no deal."

According to Climate Power executive director Lori Lodes, the "extreme heat, intensifying droughts, electric grids on the brink, and fires already burning hundreds of thousands of acres out West" make clear that "the need to include climate action in any infrastructure package should not be in question."

DeSantis kicks off Pride Month by signing 'appalling' and 'shameful' attack on trans kids

As part of an ongoing series of GOP attacks on the rights of transgender youth, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida marked the first day of LGBTQ+ Pride Month on Tuesday by signing a bill to bar trans girls and women from participating in public secondary school and college sports in line with their gender identity.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) told CNN that Florida is the eighth GOP-led state to enact such a ban this year—which has also featured attacks on gender-affirming healthcare. The group vowed to challenge Florida's Senate Bill 1028 in court.

"DeSantis and Florida lawmakers are legislating based on a false, discriminatory premise that puts the safety and well-being of transgender children on the line," said HRC president Alphonso David. "Transgender kids are kids; transgender girls are girls. Like all children, they deserve the opportunity to play sports with their friends and be a part of a team. Transgender youth must not be deprived of the opportunity to learn important skills of sportsmanship, healthy competition, and teamwork."

"The harmful provisions added to S.B. 1028 will not just impact transgender people in Florida," David added. "All Floridians will have to face the consequences of this anti-transgender legislation—including economic harm, expensive taxpayer-funded legal battles, and a tarnished reputation. In Florida, we are ensuring that there are legal consequences to pay for being on the wrong side of history."

Under Florida's so-called "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," student athletes who were identified as male on their birth certificates at the time of birth will not be allowed to participate in any club, intercollegiate, interscholastic, or intramural athletic teams or sports for females that are sponsored by a public secondary school, high school, college, or university.

"As a father of two daughters, I want my girls, and every girl in Florida, to compete on an even playing field for the opportunities available to young women in sports," DeSantis said in a statement.

"In Florida... girls are gonna play girls sports and boys are gonna play boys sports," he added, speaking at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville flanked by student athletes. "That's what we're doing, and we're gonna make sure that that's a reality."

While Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez (R), Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-10), and Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives Chris Sprowls (R-65) all framed S.B. 1028 as a measure that will "protect" the opportunities" for Florida athletes assigned female at birth, critics of the law accused state GOP policymakers of endangering trans girls and young women.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that Gina Duncan, Equality Florida's director of transgender equality, called the law "hateful and overtly discriminatory."

"They made it clear that they're not concerned about athletics," she said. "They simply don't believe that transgender people exist... It's not an accident that when transphobia is spewed from the highest levels of leadership, trans kids take the brunt of that bigotry. This bill is shameful. This bill is violent, and it just made the world less safe for our most vulnerable young people."

In a series of tweets on Tuesday, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-49) called DeSantis' move "appalling," highlighted Trinity's treatment of LBGTQ+ students, and charged that "if GOP lawmakers would have spent half as much time helping Floridians struggling with economic issues as they spent pushing trans kids out of school sports, our state would be much better off."

"Unfortunately, S.B. 1028 contributes to the dangerous stigma that drives the epidemic of violence against and bullying of transgender youth," said Smith, Florida's first openly LGBTQ+ Latino lawmaker. "We adults have a responsibility to protect trans youth, not use them as political pawns in a cynical attempt to score partisan points."

"Right now, the only message that matters is our message for transgender youth," he added. "We see you. You exist and are beautiful and loved. We stand alongside you in the fight for fairness and equality!"

Texas GOP finalizes 'ruthless' voter suppression bill — sparks calls for congressional action

After reaching a deal less than a day earlier, overnight Sunday Texas state senators debated then passed along party lines a GOP voter suppression bill that was condemned by rights advocates and political figures across the United States—including President Joe Biden—and has sparked calls for Congress to urgently combat Republican attacks on democracy.

"Today, Texas legislators put forth a bill that joins Georgia and Florida in advancing a state law that attacks the sacred right to vote," Biden said Saturday. "It's part of an assault on democracy that we've seen far too often this year—and often disproportionately targeting Black and Brown Americans. It's wrong and un-American. In the 21st century, we should be making it easier, not harder, for every eligible voter to vote."

Sarah Labowitz, policy and advocacy director of the ACLU of Texas, also slammed the state GOP's Senate Bill 7 (pdf) in a statement Saturday, declaring that "S.B. 7 is a ruthless piece of legislation."

"It targets voters of color and voters with disabilities, in a state that's already the most difficult place to vote in the country. The defining message of the 2021 Texas Legislature is clear: Political leaders chose to punish their constituents instead of fixing the electrical grid or providing pandemic or blackout relief," said Labowitz, referencing power issues that impacted the state earlier this year.

"The bill, which was hashed out in a closed-door panel of lawmakers over the past week, was rushed to the State Senate floor late Saturday. In a legislative power play orchestrated by Republican lawmakers and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate moved to suspend rules that required a bill to be public for 24 hours before a final vote," the New York Times reported. "The Texas House did not move to suspend the rules, and is likely to vote on the bill on Sunday."

The Republican-controlled Texas Legislature is set to adjourn on Monday. The Washington Post noted that GOP Gov. Greg Abbott "threatened lawmakers with a special session if they did not pass a voting" and is expected to sign S.B. 7. Abbott is a potential 2024 presidential candidate and a major supporter of former President Trump—who, despite his definitive loss, claimed repeatedly that the 2020 election was "stolen" from him, which a majority of recently polled Republicans still believe.

Critics have called S.B. 7 a clear effort to limit electoral participation in the largely Democratic Harris County because it would outlaw drive-thru and 24-hour voting, which nearly 140,000 county voters used in the 2020 election. Other provisions include barring election officials from sending absentee ballots to all voters, implementing new identification requirements for Texans who request mail ballots, allowing partisan poll watchers additional access, and imposing harsher punishments on election officials who violate state rules.

According to the Post, "In a last-minute addition, language was inserted in the bill making it easier to overturn an election, no longer requiring evidence that fraud actually altered an outcome of a race—but rather only that enough ballots were illegally cast that could have made a difference."

Journalist and voting rights expert Ari Berman said in response to the addition, "This is insane."

"S.B. 7 remains a racist voter suppression bill that belongs in the Jim Crow era," Common Cause Texas executive director Anthony Gutierrez said Saturday after a conference committee of state House and Senate members released the final version.

"The choice to push this legislation forward in the dark, despite overwhelming opposition from the people of Texas, is about the politicians in power doing everything they can to manipulate the outcome of future elections to keep themselves in power," he continued.

MOVE Texas communications director Charlie Bonner echoed that critique Saturday in comments to The Texas Tribune.

"It is fitting that the final push to get anti-voter Senate Bill 7 to the governor's desk would take place behind closed doors, hidden from public scrutiny," said Bonner. "This bill does nothing to improve the security of our elections—it only makes our democracy weaker by limiting access for young, disabled, Black, and Brown Texans."

Gutierrez asserted that "the intent of this bill is now and has always been to make it harder for certain Texans to vote or simply discourage others from even trying to take part in our democracy. Nowhere is that made more clear than in this version that cruelly removes an amendment that would have simply made it easier for high schools to register students. There is literally no reason to do that other than the politicians in power being afraid of too many young people voting."

"New voting procedures implemented by innovative county officials like drive-thru voting and after-hours voting were a resounding success and deserve to be celebrated," he added. "Instead, supporters of S.B. 7 decided to end those practices simply because they enabled more people to make their voices heard in our elections."

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund on Saturday sent a letter (pdf) to Texas legislators urging them to vote down the final version of S.B. 7, writing that the bill "includes out-of-bound amendments and was surrounded by procedural irregularities," and "may evince the Legislature's intent to discriminate against Black voters, in violation of the U.S. Constitution and federal law."

The developments in Texas fueled fresh calls for the U.S. Senate to pass the For the People Act, a sweeping House-approved election reform package that voting rights advocates say would thwart many of the hundreds of state bills that Republicans across the country have introduced—and, in some cases, enacted—this year.

"I call again on Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act," said Biden. "And I continue to call on all Americans, of every party and persuasion, to stand up for our democracy and protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections."

Former Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke—who battled Biden in the 2020 presidential primary and is reportedly considering a run to serve as the Lone Star State's governor—tweeted Saturday that "Texas lawmakers would dismantle our democracy in order to keep themselves in power. We're doing all we can to stop this bill from becoming law. But we can't do it alone. We need help. The U.S. Senate must pass the For the People Act."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Friday committed to forcing a vote on the For the People Act next month. In a letter to the Democratic caucus, he said the bill is "essential to defending our democracy, reducing the influence of dark money and powerful special interests, and stopping the wave of Republican voter suppression happening in the states across the country in service of President Trump's Big Lie."

Fears mount that the GOP's Big Lie was just a 'test run' for what comes next

With Senate Republicans expected to use the filibuster on Thursday to block a commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol instigated by former President Donald Trump, fears are mounting that his "Big Lie" about the 2020 election was just a "test run" for future GOP assaults on American democracy.

As Ryan Cooper lamented Wednesday in a column at The Week, "The truth is that the insurrection never actually stopped."

"What happened on January 6 was just one part of a huge effort to overturn the 2020 election—through the courts, bullying local officials, and finally an outright putsch—that is ongoing to this day," he wrote. "In Arizona a collection of right-wing conspiracy theorists are conducting a fraudulent 'audit' of the 2020 ballots."

"Key figures in the attempted election theft are now running for election oversight offices in Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, and Michigan," he continued. "The national-level Republican Party has swung hard against the proposed congressional investigation to investigate the putsch, and Senate Republicans are likely to filibuster it."

Though Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has continued to promise that the upper chamber will vote on a House-approved bill that would create a 9/11-style commission to probe the Capitol attack, which resulted in five deaths and Trump's historic second impeachment, Democrats lack the requisite 10 GOP votes.

If Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) maintain their opposition to killing the filibuster, efforts to pass not only the commission bill but also other key priorities for Democratic lawmakers and President Joe Biden—including legislation on gun control, infrastructure, labor protections, and voting rights—could be fruitless.

Meanwhile, since a right-wing mob stormed the Capitol in January, Republican state legislators have proposed, and in some cases passed, voter suppression bills that critics warn could impact ballot access in key states for next year's midterms and the elections that follow. And as vaccine rates rise across the country, Trump—who is banned from major social media platforms and facing multiple criminal investigations—is gearing up for the return of his infamous rallies and another possible run for president.

"Trump is confiding in allies that he intends to run again in 2024 with one contingency: that he still has a good bill of health," Politico reports of the 74-year-old, citing unnamed sources close to him. As for 2022, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) aim to retake both chambers; McCarthy has made clear that members who criticize Trump will be ostracized, while McConnell is making the commission fight about the midterms.

In 2018, Roosevelt University political scientist David Faris told Vox's Sean Illing that since the 1990s, "we've seen a one-sided escalation in which Republicans exploit the vagueness or lack of clarity in the Constitution in order to press their advantage in a variety of arenas—from voter ID laws to gerrymandering to behavioral norms in the Congress and Senate." He warned that "Democrats have to recognize the urgency of the moment and act accordingly."

Illing, in a follow-up interview with Faris published Thursday, said that "it feels like we're sleepwalking into a real crisis here, but it's hard to convey the urgency because it's not dramatic and it's happening in slow motion and so much of life feels so normal."

"The most destructive thing that Trump did on his way out the door was he took the Republicans' waning commitment to democracy and he weaponized it, and he made it much worse to the point where I think that a good deal of rank-and-file Republican voters simply don't believe that Democrats can win a legitimate election" Faris said. "And if Democrats do win an election, it has to be fraudulent."

Recent legal proceedings for alleged members of the mob that attacked the Capitol have highlighted the effectiveness of the Big Lie—that the 2020 presidential election was "stolen" from Trump—among voters.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for D.C. wrote in an opinion Wednesday that releasing defendant Cleveland Meredith Jr. from jail could endanger the public. Meredith, who allegedly was not at the Capitol but brought weapons to the city and texted that he wanted to shoot House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on live television, has pleaded not guilty.

As the judge put it: "The steady drumbeat that inspired [the] defendant to take up arms has not faded away; six months later, the canard that the election was stolen is being repeated daily on major news outlets and from the corridors of power in state and federal government, not to mention in the near-daily fulminations of the former president."

CNN on Thursday compiled other examples of judges reaching similar conclusions.

To Faris, the GOP's embrace of Trump's Big Lie in 2020 "felt like a test run."

"The plot to overturn the 2020 election never had a real chance of working without some external intervention like a military coup or something like that, which I never thought was particularly likely," he told Illing. "But the institutional path that they pursued to steal the election failed because they didn't control Congress and they didn't control the right governorships in the right places."

"It was a test run for a way to overturn an election with the veneer of legality," he explained. "You have to give Trump and Republicans some kind of dark credit for figuring out that this is really conceivable. I think they now know that, even though it would cause a court battle and possibly a civil war, that if they can't win by suppressing the vote and the election is close enough, they can do this if they control enough state legislatures and the Congress."

As the lack of Senate Republican support impedes federal legislation like the For the People Act, a sweeping bill of pro-democracy reforms that would thwart some of the GOP's state-level voter suppression measures, Faris warned that "if Democrats don't make some changes to our election laws and if they lose some races that they really need to win in 2022 and 2024, then we're in real trouble."

Faris is far from the only political expert worried about future U.S. elections.

Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger won widespread praise earlier this year for refusing to bow to Trump's demands that he "find" more than 11,000 votes to reverse Biden's November victory in the Peach State—and the ex-president's action provoked a criminal investigation into the matter.

However, Raffensperger has also defended the new voter suppression measure signed into law by GOP Gov. Brian Kemp in March and the secretary of state's lengthy interview with the New York Times, published Wednesday, has increased alarm about the long-term consequences of allowing yet another inspection of 2020 ballots in Georgia's populous Fulton County spearheaded by a known conspiracy theorist.

While Raffensperger claimed that the effort will help restore "voter confidence" in the 2020 results, Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent pointed out Wednesday that the Georgia Republican faces a primary challenge from U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, "who has been endorsed by Trump on the specific grounds that he'll use his official power to subvert future election results that Republicans hate, in a way Raffensperger would not. This is Hice's whole rationale for running!"

Sargent also consulted a scholar of democracy:

Harvard historian Daniel Ziblatt notes that Raffensperger's travails echo a historical dilemma for conservatives. Those who want their party to accept despised election outcomes often contend with radical elements to their right who reject the core legitimacy of those outcomes.
That leaves those conservatives in a position of trying to "appease" those radicals by flirting with their hostility to democracy, but it often proves a fool's errand, Ziblatt said.
"The purpose of this is not to give the election a clean bill of health," Ziblatt told me, referring to the Georgia effort. "It's to further undermine its credibility." Ziblatt said such recounts are a "dress rehearsal for 2024."

According to Ronald Brownstein, a senior editor at The Atlantic, "Anxiety is growing among a broad range of civil rights, democracy reform, and liberal groups over whether Democrats are responding with enough urgency to the accelerating Republican efforts to both suppress voting and potentially overturn future Democratic election victories."

"Virtually all Democrats and activists I've spoken with agree that Manchin is unlikely to move forward on voting rights unless Biden personally persuades him to do so," he wrote Thursday. "Which is why, even as they express unease about the flagging Democratic response to the Republican red-state offensive, so many activists are willing to give Biden more time to see whether he can steer new voting protections into law."

Although Biden "does have an obligation as president to do everything he can in his power to unite the country," Fernand Amandi, a longtime Democratic pollster, told Brownstein, at some point he will need "to look into the mirror, acknowledge the stark existential threat that the Republican Party represents [to democracy], and make the decision about whether or not it's time to talk turkey with the American people."

Critics celebrate news of a grand jury in Trump case: 'The prosecutors are convinced they have a case'

In a major step toward holding former President Donald Trump—who often spewed "law and order" rhetoric while in office—accountable for his various alleged crimes, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. has convened a grand jury that is set to decide whether to indict Trump, others at his company, or the business itself.

That's according to the Washington Post, which broke the news Tuesday evening, citing two unnamed sources, and reported that it suggests the Democratic D.A. "believes he has found evidence of a crime—if not by Trump then by someone potentially close to him or by his company." A spokesperson for Vance declined to comment.

Noting that "Vance has been a cautious prosecutor," Georgetown University public policy professor Donald Moynihan tweeted Tuesday that there is "no real reason to do this unless there is some solid evidence of wrongdoing in the Trump Organization."

While Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, neither a spokesperson for the Republican ex-president nor an attorney for the Trump Organization—which has been described as a "rat's nest of hundreds of ambiguous limited liability companies"—responded to the Post's requests for comment.

Critics of Trump, meanwhile, welcomed the newspaper's reporting.

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) pointed to his declaration from shortly after the November 2020 election that "Trump along with his worst enablers must be tried for their crimes against our nation and Constitution."

Last week, a spokesperson for Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that her office has "informed the Trump Organization that our investigation into the company is no longer purely civil in nature," and that it is "now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan D.A."

Vance's decision to convene the special panel comes after more than two years of investigators in New York reviewing hush-money payments, executive compensation, property valuations, tax decisions, and other matters.

The D.A.'s probe has reportedly intensified since Trump left office—and in February, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his attempt to block the enforcement of a subpoena for his tax returns and other financial documents.

The special grand jury "will sit three days a week for six months," and "is likely to hear several matters—not just the Trump case," according to the Post.

New York Law School professor Rebecca Roiphe, a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan, explained the potential significance of Vance's move to the paper:

Roiphe said the recent step of seating a long-term panel shows that Vance's investigation has progressed to the point that prosecutors will visit the grand jury, bring them evidence and witnesses, and potentially ask them to contemplate charges. They were unlikely to take that step without believing they had evidence to show there was probable cause to believe someone committed a crime, she said.
"The prosecutors are convinced they have a case. That's at least how I read it," Roiphe added.

Vance is planning to leave office at the end of the year; the Democratic primary for his replacement will be held next month.

In addition to the investigations in New York, Trump faces a criminal probe into alleged election interference in Georgia.

Legal scholars detail why DC statehood is absolutely constitutional

Dozens of legal scholars have come together for a new letter to congressional leaders detailing why "there is no constitutional barrier" to D.C. statehood legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last month and federal lawmakers should not avoid establishing a 51st state "because of meritless threats of litigation."

"As scholars of the United States Constitution, we write to correct claims that the D.C. Admission Act is vulnerable to a constitutional challenge in the courts," says the letter (pdf), first reported on Monday by NBC News and addressed to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

It is legal to allow the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth—the name proposed by House-approved H.R. 51, in honor of abolitionist Frederick Douglass—to enter the union through a congressional joint resolution, "just like the 37 other states that have been admitted since the Constitution was adopted," the letter continues.

"Furthermore, Congress's exercise of its express constitutional authority to decide to admit a new state is a classic political question, which courts are highly unlikely to interfere with, let alone attempt to bar," the letter notes.

H.R. 51 and its companion measure S. 51 would allow for a joint resolution declaring the admittance of a state made up of much of the territory now considered the District of Columbia—limiting the capital to two miles that include the National Mall, monuments, and federal buildings such as the U.S. Capitol, Supreme Court, and White House. The legislation would also repeal the provision of federal law that enables D.C. residents to participate in presidential elections and provide for expedited consideration of repealing the Twenty-Third Amendent.

The scholars' main arguments are that:

  • The admissions clause grants Congress constitutional authority to admit the commonwealth into the union;
  • The Constitution's district clause poses no barrier to admitting the commonwealth into the union;
  • The Twenty-Third Amendment does not prevent Congress from granting the commonwealth statehood; and
  • Courts are unlikely to second-guess Congress's exercise of its constitutional authority to admit the commonwealth into the union.

"In sum, none of the critics' constitutional objections to the D.C. Admission Act are meritorious; and the contention that a constitutional amendment is required to admit the commonwealth into the union is incorrect," they write. "The D.C. Admission Act calls for a proper exercise of Congress' express authority under the Constitution to admit new states."

They further assert that "any court challenge will be without merit, and indeed likely will be dismissed as presenting a political question."

The letter, dated May 22, is signed by 39 scholars including Jessica Bullman-Pozen of Columbia University; Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California, Berkeley; Caroline Fredrickson of Georgetown University; Trevor Potter of the Campaign Legal Center; and Laurence Tribe of Harvard University.

Other signatories include law professors from American University, Cornell University, Duke University, George Washington University, Georgia State University, Northwestern University, Stanford University, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California, and University of Virginia.

Writing about the letter Monday, Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent called the scholar support a "big boost" for the statehood campaign and took on what he called "among the silliest" arguments that opponents make—that passing the legislation will benefit Democrats by adding two new senators.

As Sargent wrote:

That may be, but as Heather Cox Richardson notes, states have often been added for many reasons, including partisan benefit to the party adding them. And this in no way diminishes the idea that this is the right thing to do because D.C. residents are entitled to representation.
"The normative reason for it is democracy," the University of Michigan Law School's Leah Litman, one of the signatories, told me. Litman added that Congress is empowered to add states "to afford representation to United States citizens," extending to them the blessings of "self-government."

Stasha Rhodes, campaign director of 51 for 51, said in a statement Monday that "this letter confirms what we have always known: D.C. statehood is entirely constitutional."

"Opponents of statehood hide behind the Constitution to keep the 700,000, mostly Black and Brown, residents of D.C. from equal voting representation in our government—their shield is gone," added Rhodes. "When the nation's leading constitutional scholars come together to affirm that statehood is constitutional, we need to listen. The arguments against statehood are purely political and rooted in a deep desire to suppress Black voices and political power. Now, the only thing standing in the way of D.C. statehood is the filibuster and a lack of courage to act."

President Joe Biden's administration endorsed the legislation just before the House's party-line vote in April, and voting rights advocates nationwide have rallied behind the measure.

Proponents of statehood like Stand Up America founder and president Sean Eldridge argue that "all of our citizens should be afforded the same rights, regardless of where they live or the color of their skin."

Despite the substantial grassroots and political support, the D.C. statehood effort faces an uncertain future in a Senate hamstrung by the 60-vote legislative filibuster and narrow Democratic control. One key barrier is Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who opposes both killing the filibuster and passing the D.C. statehood measure.

Meanwhile, voters across the country have made clear that they support making D.C. the 51st state. In March, Data for Progress and Democracy for All 2021 Action released survey results showing that 54% of voters—including 74% of Democrats, 51% of Independents, and 34% of Republicans—support the ongoing statehood effort.

"Whether it's D.C. statehood, or reforming the filibuster crippling legislative action to address big public problems, or safeguarding voting rights against escalating restrictions on them, Democrats have a tight window for undertaking major rebalancing reforms," wrote the Post's Sargent. "And act they must."

'It must end': House Dems slam Israel's assault of Gaza and the decades of occupation enabled by US

Shortly after Israeli Defense Forces announced that its air and ground troops "are currently attacking" the Gaza Strip, progressive U.S. lawmakers took to the House floor Thursday evening to discuss the ongoing violence and decades of Israel's government, military, and settler-colonists violating the human rights of Palestinians.

The special order hour was organized by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Marie Newman (D-Ill.)—who, along with 23 other House members, sent a letter Wednesday calling on the Biden administration to pressure the Israeli government to "desist from its plans to demolish Palestinian homes in Al-Bustan and evict Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah," two neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem.

"We must acknowledge and condemn the disproportionate discrimination and treatment that Palestinians face versus others in this region," Pocan declared, challenging those who frame the violence, of this week and the past several decades of Israeli occupation, as "a 'both sides' issue."

Pocan continued:

When serious human rights abuses compound, such as the recent attacks on places of worship like the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the forced removal of people from their homes, most recently in East Jerusalem but ongoing in the West Bank for way too long, the jailing and military court trials for Palestinian children, the dehumanization of the lives of the Palestinians by having roads and entrances that are separate for some people, which all too often looks like a former South Africa, the blockade and open-air prison conditions for the people in Gaza, where food and clean water is often scarce, when those types of human rights abuses occur, we're not just putting the lives of the Palestinians and Israelis at risk, but we're also putting the United States at greater jeopardy.

After laying out some of what the hour would entail, Pocan introduced Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress, whose elderly grandmother lives in the village of Beit Ur al-Fauqa outside of Jerusalem.

"Palestinians aren't going anywhere, no matter how much money you send to Israel's apartheid government," Tlaib told her colleagues. "If we are to make good on our promises to support equal human rights for all, it is our duty to end the apartheid system that for decades has subjected Palestinians to inhumane treatment and racism, reducing Palestinians to live in utter fear and terror of losing a child, being indefinitely detained or killed because of who they are, and the unequal rights and protections they have under Israeli law. It must end."

The speakers discussed U.S. military aid to Israel, reports that the Biden administration blocked a United Nations Security Council statement calling for a cease-fire earlier this week, and regional history going back to what Palestinians call the Nakba—which means catastrophe in Arabic and refers to the forced mass displacement of Palestinians and creation of Israel in 1948.

Tlaib also criticized recent remarks from U.S. President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Llyod Austin, and fellow lawmakers.

"To read the statements from President Biden and Secretary Blinken, General Austin and leaders of both parties, you'd hardly know Palestinians exist at all," she said. "There has been absolutely no recognition of Palestinian humanity. If our own State Department can't even bring itself to acknowledge the killing of Palestinian children as wrong, well, I will say it for the millions of Americans who stand with me against the killing of innocent children no matter their ethnicity or faith."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) similarly took issue with Biden's comments this week. His administration has repeatedly emphasized that "Israel has a right to defend itself" while declining to condemn Israeli attacks that have now killed scores of Palestinians in Gaza since Monday, including over two dozen children.

"The president and many other figures this week stated that Israel has a right to self-defense, and this is a sentiment that is echoed across this body. But do Palestinians have a right to survive?" Ocasio-Cortez asked. "Do we believe that?"

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) recounted hearing bombs go off outside her window as a child, when she lived through a violent civil war in Somalia, before shifting to the current bloodshed in Gaza and Israel—and said that "we must speak out truthfully and forcefully about the seed of this conflict, and about what is happening today."

"The truth is that this is not a conflict between two states. This is not a civil war. It is a conflict where one country—funded and supported by the United States government—continues an illegal military occupation over another group of people," she said, noting that the Nakba led to one of the worst refugee crises in human history.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) asserted that the U.S. providing Israel with $3.8 billion in unconditional U.S. military aid each year "gives a green light to Israel's occupation of Palestine" while Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) suggested that those funds could be better spent on improving lives in U.S. communities in need, like those she represents.

The hour also featured remarks from Reps. André Carson (D-Ind.), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Jesús "Chuy" García (D-Ill.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)

As Muslims in the region and around the world marked the holiday Eid al-Fitr on Thursday, Israel continued its aerial assault of Gaza and prepared for a ground invasion. At least 109 people, including 28 children, have been killed in Gaza since Monday, and over 580 others wounded. At least six Israelis and an Indian national have also been killed, some by rockets that Palestinian militants have fired from Gaza, many of which have been stopped by Israeli air defenses.

Thursday also saw global protests in solidarity with Palestinians against Israel's bombing of the Gaza Strip and ethnic cleansing campaign in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Lindsey German of the United Kingdom's Stop the War Coalition said in a statement that "these ongoing Israeli war crimes have the backing of both the U.S. and the U.K. and as a result continue as the world looks on in horror."


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