Jon Skolnik

Louis DeJoy’s conflicts of interest as post office head detailed in new documents

U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy faced over a dozen conflicts of interest during his tenure due to his refusal to divest family stakes in companies tied to the policies of his own agency.

According to documents newly obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) via a Freedom of Information Act, Dejoy reportedly recused himself from agency decisions that might have affected the performance of his former freight transportation company XPO Logistics. However, the postmaster general opted out of divesting from the firm altogether, opening him up to a blatant conflict of interest.

Back in August, CNN reported that, despite his role in heading the USPS, DeJoy's stake in XPO fell between $30 million and $75 million – an apparent conflict that came as a complete "shock" to many outside experts.

"If you have a $30 million interest in a company, of course it's going to impact you," Stuart Gilman, a former assistant director at the Office of Government Ethics, said. "I would assume that there is a problem here. It certainly doesn't pass the smell test."

XPO routinely carries out contracts with both the USPS and other government agencies, like the Defense Department. During the first two months of his tenure last year, XPO signed onto at least two new contracts with the USPS.

"There was a period of time where the head of the Postal Service was making decisions when there could have been a conflict, and he could have been thinking about his own financial interest, rather than the interest of the Postal Service and the country," said Noah Bookbinder, the president of CREW. "That's significant."

Last year, by October, DeJoy had announced that he would formally divest from XPO in order to preclude any conflicts of interest from arising. At the time, CREW suggested that the nature of the divestment might be a "sham," largely because DeJoy transferred his assets to his adult children, who could then return those assets to their father after he leaves government.

Also under scrutiny are a series of trades made by DeJoy last June, just a month after he joined the administration. The postmaster general specifically bought $50,000 and $100,000 in stock options for Amazon.

"It's another conflict. He's got the option to buy. That means he's gambling that Amazon's value is going to go up," Marcus Owens, a former top IRS official, told CNN. "Why is he investing in a competitor to the enterprise that he's supposed to be managing? This is a classic case for investigation by an inspector general."

The USPS's Office of Inspector has reportedly reviewed DeJoy finances and concluded he has complied with the necessary ethical requirements. Still, CREW noted, the review did take into account a full picture of the postmaster general's finances.

Over the two years, DeJoy has also come under fire for his gross management of the agency, which last year entailed a series of "cost-cutting" measures, such as the removal of mail sorting machines, that would drastically slow transit times. The move earned the Trump-appointee accusations of attempting to sabotage the election in Trump's favor by undermining the mail-in-ballot process. Many Democrats have called for his resignation.'

This month, DeJoy again announced a set of policies that would "result in serious delays and the degradation of service for millions," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. The agency is expected to apply steep price hikes on commercial and domestic retail packages, as well as slow first-class mail transit by 30%.

Here’s why a second high-profile Republican in Oklahoma just left the GOP

A second Oklahoma GOP gubernatorial candidate has switched party affiliations over the GOP's opposition to COVID-19 health precautions, inviting other "like-minded Republicans" to join him in the Democratic Party.

Dr. Ervin Yen, a former state senator and Oklahoma City anesthesiologist, told The Oklahoman on Tuesday that he "vehemently disagrees" with the state GOP's rejection of mask and vaccine mandates as well as its insistence that the 2020 presidential election was marred by election fraud.

"I vehemently disagree with these views and that is why I have withdrawn my Republican voter registration," Yen said. "I have not changed, the party has."

The doctor explained: "I absolutely believe in temporary mask mandates, when needed, to fight this current Covid pandemic. If the state had instituted a state-wide mask mandate in June of 2020, we could have avoided 70% of the Covid deaths that we have suffered since then."

As a state senator, Yen served as the chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee and the vice chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.

Yen's defection follows that of once-Republican State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, who earlier this month announced her bid for governor amid unrest over school mask mandates, which Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, still opposes.

Over the past two years, Yen has been a critic of Stitt's pandemic response and announced his November candidacy for governor by citing Stitt's failure to contain COVID-19 with common sense health precautions.

"Every day I see the new deaths and my anger just increases. If this is allowed to continue, we could still be in this pandemic on election day 2022," Yen said at the time.

In recent months, Oklahoma has had particular difficulty in managing the outbreak.

Back in mid-September, Oklahoma saw a 7-day average high of 3,406 coronavirus cases, according to The New York Times. Just under 50% of the state's population is currently vaccinated, and this week the state reported just over 400 new cases per day. On Monday, the CDC announced that it would be adding 1,000 more deaths to Oklahoma's aggregate death toll, which has surpassed 11,000, compared to the 9,402 reported by the state, according to KUTL.

When it comes to pandemic policies, Stitt has repeatedly refused to implement statewide mask or vaccine mandates, though the Republican governor has allowed private employers to enforce their own internal rules. The Oklahoma Watch found that Stitt did the least out of any governor in surrounding states to promote the vaccination via social media from March to July of this year, with just over 1% of his tweets supporting the practice. On Facebook, the outlet likewise found that the governor hadn't posted about vaccination at all.

A Stitt spokesperson told AP News that the governor is seen by the state's residents as a political outsider "fighting for individual liberties and fiscal responsibility."

"Oklahomans support Stitt because he is delivering results and staying true to his campaign commitments," they added.

Yen said that he thinks Republicans like Stitt are moving the state "backward," adding: "I invite like-minded Republicans across the state to do what I have done."

Marjorie Taylor Greene tweets panicked message to supporters following poll of GOP voters

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., the freshman congressman who has repeatedly spread Donald Trump's baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, was apparently dismayed to learn that 4% of her state's electorate said they "won't even vote" in future elections due to that very "fraud."

"I recently conducted a poll on Georgia's elections and if my constituents felt their votes would count during a teletown hall," she tweeted on Monday. "Sadly, 4% said they won't even vote due to voter fraud. This is WRONG. Legal votes by Rs are just as important as stopping illegal ones."

Greene, who is up for re-election in 2022, has extensively supported Trump's efforts to overturn the election. Back in September, she declared – without evidence – that the former president "won Georgia," later calling for an official audit. In May, Greene also threw her support behind the GOP-backed election recount of Maricopa County, Arizona, which just weeks ago found that President Biden beat Trump by a wider margin than originally reported.

In a series of tweets, Greene also noted that Republican Gov. Brian Kemp would have lost the gubernatorial election against progressive voting rights activist Stacey Abrams if just 4% of the Georgia GOP electorate opted out of voting.

"Combine that with mass absentee ballot harvesting and Rs never win again in Georgia," the conservative lawmaker added, taking issue with the practice of ballot harvesting. Ballot harvesting is the process by which third parties, like volunteers or election workers, gather ballots for voters instead of having voters submit the ballots themselves.

Last week, Trump appeared to lend credence to Greene's concerns around non-voting within the GOP base.

"If we don't solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020 (which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented)," he said in a statement, "Republicans will not be voting in '22 or '24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do."

Trump's remarks came just hours after a state judge dismissed a Trump-backed lawsuit alleging fraud in the Peach State, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The decision dashed Republican hopes of the state conducting an official audit any time soon.

"This lawsuit was the result of the Big Lie, which is nothing more than a meritless conspiracy theory being spread by people who simply cannot accept that their side lost," Robb Pitts,, chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, said in a statement. "Its defeat here today should echo throughout the nation."

Greene defeated her opponent by an approximate 50% margin in the 2020 House races, so it remains unlikely she will be ousted next year, even if she loses 4% of her voting bloc.

The ivermectin craze is being fueled by medical front groups with ties to right-wing dark money

Two years ago, ivermectin was an obscure drug consigned only to those who had the rare displeasure of contracting parasites like scabies or river blindness. American doctors wrote a mere 150,000 prescriptions for the drug in 2019 – roughly 0.1% of the prescriptions written for Lipitor, a widely used atorvastatin designed to lower cholesterol.

Last year, however, as the pandemic raged on and conservatives stood their ground against common sense public health measures like masks and vaccines, ivermectin became a household name. Despite lacking proper consensus from the scientific community, the drug has been widely touted by right-wing pundits, politicians, and entrepreneurs as the unofficial magic bullet for COVID-19.

In many ways, the right-wing frenzy around ivermectin can be traced back to that of hydroxychloroquine, which was last year baselessly extolled by Donald Trump and many of his supporters in media and congress. However, ivermectin appears to have taken a much stronger hold over Trump's following (and beyond), benefiting from a robust network of profit-seeking providers continuously selling it to thousands of Americans.

Over the last several months, much of the battle to normalize ivermectin as a legitimate COVID treatment has played out in courts, which have seen a sudden surge in lawsuits filed against hospitals unwilling to administer the drug. Such offensives have arisen in states like Louisiana, Illinois, California, Kentucky, Delaware, Texas, and more.

"I've never encountered this and I've been in practice over 40 years," Dr. Rodney Hood, who serves on the National Medical Association's COVID-19 Task Force on Vaccines and Therapeutics, told FiveThirtyEight. "You don't get treated based upon what you feel or think," Hood said. "There are certain approved treatment regimens for certain diseases. If [what a patient is demanding] doesn't fit within that regimen, then you cannot treat them."

In one of the most widely publicized cases from August, Julie Smith, the wife of a 51-year-old coronavirus COVID patient in Ohio, sued a Cincinnati-based hospital network for not administering the ivermectin to her husband, demanding that the hospital deliver a three-week course of the drug. That month, Smith saw a favorable ruling from Butler County Judge Gregory Howard, who formally ordered the hospital to administer the drug to her husband despite warnings from the Centers for Diseases Control that its use could be unsafe. In September, the decision was reversed by a different Ohio judge, who noted that "medical and scientific communities do not support the use of ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19."

In May, Desareta Fype, the daughter of a 61-year-old woman with COVID-19, similarly sued an Illinois hospital after all of its affiliated doctors refused to administer ivermectin to her mother. A judge later told the hospital to "get out of the way" and allow any board-certified doctor to give Fype's mother the drug, according to The Daily Herald. The hospital's attorney, Daniel Monahan, said that 20 physicians and 19 other health care workers at the hospital all refused to deliver the medicine despite the ruling, ultimately prompting Fype to hire an outside doctor to administer the drug.

While many of the ivermectin suits have been filed by seemingly unconnected individuals throughout the country, there do appear to be several common threads.

One of these threads is Ralph Lorigo, who this year became the most "in-demand" attorney for plaintiffs looking to compel the use of ivermectin in hospital systems for their loved ones, according to The Daily Beast. Lorigo helms a general practice law firm in West Seneca, New York, and has reportedly worked on at least 60 ivermectin cases, per a Journal News report. The attorney, who represented both Julie Smith and Desareta Fype, claims to be "largely successful" in delivering wins, allowing patients to force ivermectin's use.

Citing an array of dubious studies, Lorigo told the Beast that his legal actions are aimed at delivering "last-ditch" treatment for patients that have exhausted every option. But many medical professionals argue that the suits put unnecessary strain on hospitals that are already buckling under the weight of a pandemic.

"Hospitals are dealing with the unvaccinated COVID-19 patients at a very high pace," Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told the Beast. "And then you're going to burden them by filing a lawsuit or creating legal problems over them trying to provide the best care for these people who chose not to be vaccinated and who are now crushing their hospitals?"

Timothy Brewer, an epidemiology professor at UCLA, added that Lorigo's "why not?" approach is far from justified, largely because the studies proffered by Lorigo are hardly conclusive, potentially adding complications to drugs patients are already being given. For instance, many of the studies use statistically insignificant sample sizes, deliver unsafe doses of the drug, or were written by doctors with clear conflicts of interest.

In recent months, Lorigo, the chairman of New York's Erie County Conservative Party, has said that his business has become effectively consumed by ivermectin suits, telling SpectrumNews1 that he receives "somewhere between 80 and 150 emails and requests for information and help" on a daily basis.

"We freely give the information. I've been here seven days a week for the last seven weeks without a day off, trying to get people the information that they so desperately need," he added.

It remains unclear how much the attorney profits from each suit – or how the suits are structured. Asked who fronts the money, Lorigo refused to answer. According to Bloomberg Law, he alleges that he offers his services at a "reduced rate."

Aside from Lorigo, another common thread in the ecosystem of ivermectin litigation is America's Frontline Doctors (AFLD), a conservative political group founded by Dr. Simone Gold in 2019.

AFLD is arguably the most dominant force currently working to legitimize ivermectin as a valid COVID treatment, connecting hundreds of patients with drug providers happy to fuel what's become a multimillion-dollar industry in ivermectin sales, Time reported. The Intercept estimated that, between mid-July to mid-September of this year, AFLD and its partners raked in roughly $6.7 million in revenue by coordinating telehealth consultations for the drug. But in the process, the group reportedly bilked hundreds of unsuspecting customers out of thousands in consultation fees by, in many cases, failing to deliver the drug at all.

Irwin Redlener, who directs the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University said that the group AFLD is "the 21st century, digital version of snake-oil salesmen."

"And in the case of ivermectin, it's extremely dangerous," he added.

Throughout the pandemic, AFLD waged a whole host of right-wing disinformation campaigns. It advocated for the use of hydroxychloroquine, called lockdowns "mass casualty events," disputed the efficacy of mask-wearing, and alleged that death certificates were being forged to artificially inflate the pandemic death toll.

While Gold has reportedly labeled the group "grassroots," AFLD is led by a cavalcade of high-brass conservatives with roots in think tanks and advocacy groups like the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and FreedomWorks. Its founding director, Jenny Beth Martin, is the co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, a right-wing group started in opposition to President Obama's domestic agenda before becoming a pro-Trump outfit.

On top of AFLD's connection to the Tea Party Patriots, the group is also affiliated with the Council for National Policy (CNP), a "shadowy coalition" founded in 1981 "that coordinates initiatives among conservative megadonors, political operatives, and media owners, many of them Christian fundamentalists," the Washington Examiner reported. Conservative businessman Richard Uihlein gave the group $4.3 million over a five-year period through 2020.

Trump brings up 'golden showers' during private event with GOP senators — unprompted

Donald Trump denied ever enjoying "golden showers" during a posh Thursday event with Republican donors, defending himself against years-old allegations that he hired two Moscow prostitutes to urinate on a bed together.

"I'm not into golden showers," Trump said at a National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) retreat, which hosted sitting senators. "You know the great thing, our great first lady – 'That one,' she said, 'I don't believe that one.'"

Trump's remarks, first reported by The Washington Post, are a clear reference to allegations first floated in 2016 when British spy Christopher Steele released a dossier probing Trump's alleged collusion with Russia to undermine Hillary Clinton's candidacy in the 2016 election. Steele's dossier reportedly contained a video – now colloquially known as the "pee tape" – that shows Trump instructing two prostitutes at Moscow's Ritz-Carlton Hotel to urinate on a bed that President Obama had previously slept on. The video was allegedly taped as part of surveillance done by FSB, Russia's main state security agency, and had been lightly corroborated by a number of Steele's sources who had second-hand knowledge of the dossier, according to The New Yorker.

Ex-FBI Director James Comey, who in 2017 testified about the Trump campaign's alleged relationship with Russia, wrote in his book that the former president was fixated on the rumor, dead set on dispelling it from the national discourse.

"I'm a germaphobe," Trump reportedly told Comey, per the book. "There's no way I would let people pee on each other around me. No way."

In 2018, Comey told ABC News back that he couldn't be sure whether the rumor was true. "I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don't know whether the current President of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013," the ex-FBI director said. "It's possible, but I don't know."

Besides dredging up old rumors unprompted, Trump reportedly cast himself as the "GOP's savior" during Thursday's event, stressing that he has held the party together over the past several years. "It was a dying party, I'll be honest," he said, according to the Post. "Now we have a very lively party."

The former president also castigated a number of his Republican detractors, including Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Ben Sasse, R-Neb, stressing that the party needs to "stick together" rather than splinter off into pro and anti-Trump factions.

Later, Trump reportedly reiterated his equally baseless conspiracy that the 2020 presidential election was "stolen" by President Biden, telling the crowd that Democrats "cheat like hell."

"It's a terrible thing what they did in Georgia and other states," he said. "You look at Texas, you look at a lot of states — they are correcting all the ways we were all abused over the last election ... last two elections if you think about it."

There continues to be no significant evidence that the 2020 election was marred by outcome-altering fraud.

A Biden DOJ official is blocking a Democrat-led inquiry into Trump's election fraud crusade — why?

A top Department of Justice career official thwarted a Democratic-backed Senate Judiciary probe into Trump's effort to overturn the election, arguing that the ambit of the committee's inquiry was far outside the legal limit.

Official transcripts released by the Democrat-led committee on Thursday reveal that DOJ lawyer Bradley Weinsheimer made "a dozen" attempts to curtail the investigation, even when the Biden administration has promised heightened transparency for the proceeding.

In one exchange, Weinsheimer effectively pulled the plug on multiple lines of inquiry with Byung Pak, the former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. Pak abruptly resigned from his post back in January, later telling the Senate Judiciary Committee in August that he would have been fired by Trump for failing to back Trump's claims of election fraud in Georgia.

In the transcript, Democratic investigators ask Pak if his office came up with any evidence for Trump's now-debunked claim that 2,560 felons had voted in the Peach State. But Weinsheimer stopped the line of questioning in its tracks, arguing that it was outside the scope of the committee's inquiry, according to POLITICO.

"You're getting into specific investigations that don't have anything to do with specific pressure put on Mr. Pak, and so I would object," Weinsheimer said.

"It seems to me that it is inherent in understanding … whether there were particular things that [White House chief of Staff Mark Meadows], the President thought that Mr. Pak's office ought to be looking into that they were not looking into," replied Sara Zdeb, chief oversight counsel for Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

On Thursday, Durbin released an official committee reporting culminating an 8-month investigation into Trump's attempted weaponization of the DOJ. In the report, the committee details that Trump made multiple failed bids to pressure top DOJ officials into probing his baseless claims of election fraud. The president at one point nearly replaced the then-acting attorney general Jeffrey A. Rosen with another official who was more sympathetic to his election conspiracies, but the plan never materialized.

The newly-released transcript also features an interview with Rosen in which Weinsheimer again brings the proceedings to several standstills.

In one back-and-forth, Republican counsel Josh Flynn-Brown asked Rosen whether his agency opened cases into Trump's fraud allegations prior to 2020 election certification.

"I would object to that question," Weinsheimer interjected. "It's beyond the scope of the authorization."

"I think it's precisely in scope and a very critical question for him to answer," Flynn-Brown replied.

Frustrated, Flynn-Brown later added: "I think in the Donoghue interview I had five objections. In the Rosen interview, I had one. I have two now. So let's see how many I can rack up today,"

"Then I recommend you stay within the scope, and I won't object," Weinsheimer rebutted.

Back in July, the DOJ formally waived executive privilege for interviews with Trump, his staff, and advisors surrounding the events that preceded the Capitol riot on January 6.

"The extraordinary events in this matter constitute exceptional circumstances warranting an accommodation to Congress in this case," the department wrote at the time. "President Biden has decided that it would not be appropriate to assert executive privilege" on this issue.

Still, it appears that the DOJ is insistent on preserving certain DOJ "prerogatives," POLITICO noted, which is allowing the agency to effectively stall the committee's probe.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee's top Republican, argued that Weinsheimer's pushback contradicts the department's insistence on openness.

"It's remarkable that while President Biden took the extraordinary step of waiving executive privilege to publicize the former president's deliberations with his top advisers, Biden's own Justice Department thwarted the same level of transparency when asked about records the Department provided and what it did to actually investigate claims of irregularities in the 2020 election," Taylor Foy, a Grassley spokesperson, told POLITICO.

It isn't the first time the DOJ, now led by Biden-appointed Attorney General Merrick Garland, has been accused of protecting Trump.

Back in June, the DOJ announced that it would continue to defend Trump in his defamation lawsuit against former journalist E. Jean Carrol, who accused the former president of sexually assaulting her in the 1990s. The agency also convinced a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit filed by several protesters who were forcibly cleared out of Lafayette Square during the George Floyd protests back in June.

GOP governors who ended unemployment benefits failed to spur job growth: September numbers

The September jobs numbers released on Friday suggest that the GOP governors who decided to end federal unemployment payments failed to accomplish their goal of jumpstarting the economy out of its pandemic-era mire — something experts predicted months ago.

According to the Bureau of Labor, employers reported 194,000 new jobs, a far cry from the 500,000-plus expected by analysts. The labor force likewise shrank by 183,000 since August, though unemployment did see a slight dip from 5.2% to 4.8%.

President Biden has pushed back on claims that the numbers indicate a serious level of contraction, stressing that the unemployment rate hasn't fallen below 5% since the beginning of the pandemic. Biden also noted that the monthly average job growth is still around 600,000 under his watch, suggesting the administration is slowly but surely steering the economy back to health.

"The monthly total has bounced around, but if you look at the trend, it's solid," Biden said.

Recently, the debate around monthly job growth has mapped onto distinctly political lines, as Salon's Brett Bachman reported back in May, when the Department of Labor released a similar batch of less-than-stellar jobs numbers.

At the time, conservative pundits and politicians aggressively pounced on unemployment benefits, suggesting with scant evidence that Americans were no longer motivated to work, thereby causing a massive "labor shortage." In the months following, over two dozen Republican governors jumped to end their federal unemployment programs, promising an economic rebound in return.

This week's numbers, however, appear to fly in the face such promises.

Last month, Axios reported that states that discontinued benefits saw roughly half the job growth enjoyed by states that maintained the program. Neil Irwin, senior economics correspondent for The New York Times, this week echoed a similar sentiment, citing "no surge in participation in the labor force" despite the "labor shortage woes that many business groups" have pushed.

In a Friday analysis, Matt Bruenig, founder of the People's Policy Project, pointed out the wide discrepancy in the number of people who lost their unemployment benefits in September (about 8 million) and the number of people who acquired work (about 194,000).

"194,000 jobs is equal to less than 3 percent of the people who were removed from the UI rolls in September," Breunig said. "At this rate, it would take 3.5 years for jobs-added to equal the number of people who lost their pandemic UI benefits."

It remains unclear precisely why September's numbers fell so far below analysts' expectations, but many have speculated that the pandemic continues to hold back economic growth. During the summer, many schools expected to reopen in September, but another surge in COVID-19 cases dashed those hopes, potentially leading to a wave of economic cutbacks.

"All the evidence points toward pandemic [unemployment benefits] not being the main factor," Nick Bunker, economic research director for North America at the Indeed Hiring Lab, told CNBC. "The best estimate right now is that it's the pandemic itself."

According to NPR, the jobs numbers may be artificially depressed because sudden seasonal changes in school hiring.

Some analysts found that the discontinuation of benefits may have even contributed to the underperforming labor market.

Peter McCrory, an economist at JPMorgan Chase Bank, wrote that "the loss of benefits is associated with a modest decline in employment growth, earnings growth and labor force participation."

Others have speculated that workers are readjusting their professional priorities amid the pandemic. According to a Pew poll, roughly 66% of unemployed Americans have seriously considered switching jobs.

"It's not just money, sitting on both sides of the scale," Melissa Swift, global leader of workforce transformation at consulting firm Korn Ferry, told Axios, citing the challenges of working with an understaffed team, juggling parenting with work, or being the only person of color at one's place of work. "We basically burned out the global workforce over the last year. One of the ways people deal with burnout is switching employers."

'McConnell caved': Mitch slammed by both Trump and Senate Democrats following debt ceiling standoff

Donald Trump accused Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., of "folding" in the current debt ceiling standoff after the legislator signaled that he would support a short-term extension, allowing the federal government to avoid default for the time being.

"Looks like Mitch McConnell is folding to the Democrats, again," Trump said in a Wednesday statement. "He's got all of the cards with the debt ceiling, it's time to play the hand. Don't let them destroy our country!"

For the past several months, Democrats and Republicans have been at a standstill in negotiating a new limit for the nation's national deficit, which has skyrocketed from roughly $5 trillion in 2000 to about $27 trillion today. Democrats have argued for a bipartisan plan to raise the ceiling by October 18, when the country is expected to default if Congress fails to act. But McConnell has repeatedly encouraged the Democrats to do so on their own via budget reconciliation. Budget reconciliation would avoid the inevitable filibuster Republicans would use to impede a Democratic-backed debt ceiling hike, but reconciliation would have been an arduous process with no guarantee of completion before the default deadline.

Trump, for his part, has been adamantly opposed to negotiating a debt deal with the Democrats, often chiding Republicans from the sidelines – even with the nation's economy on the brink of collapse.

"The way I look at it, what the Democrats are proposing, on so many different levels, will destroy our country," Trump said in a September statement. "Therefore, Republicans have no choice but to do what they have to do, and the Democrats will have no choice but to concede all of the horror they are trying to inflict upon the future of the United States."

On Wednesday, McConnell offered a slight legislative detente, agreeing to let the Democrats suspend the debt ceiling until December. This will give the caucus more time to employ a budgetary tactic that would allow them to raise the ceiling without any Republican support.

Democrats have widely heralded the move as a sign of McConnell finally backing down.

"McConnell caved," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told a gaggled of reporters late Wednesday. "And now we're going to spend our time doing child care, health care, and fighting climate change."

It's possible that McConnell ultimately backed down because Democrats were threatening to "nuke" the filibuster in order to approve a debt ceiling suspension, as POLITICO noted. In fact, President Biden – who previously stressed the need to preserve the filibuster – recently said that scrapping it was becoming a "real possibility."

"The filibuster is McConnell's instrument of obstruction," one Democratic senator told POLITICO. "He wants to protect that at all costs. He was at real risk of overplaying his hand as he faced the growing prospect that we would have 51 votes to waive it for the purpose of dealing with debt."

Coalition of lawyers urge CA bar to probe Trump coup memo author’s role in failed effort to overturn the 2020 election​

A coalition of over two dozen influential lawyers are calling on the California bar to open an inquiry into John C. Eastman – a right-wing lawyer who has recently come under national scrutiny over his key role in Donald Trump's failed effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

"The available evidence supports a strong case that the State Bar should investigate whether, in the course of representing Mr. Trump, Mr. Eastman violated his ethical obligations as an attorney by filing frivolous claims, making false statements, and engaging in deceptive conduct," the group wrote to George Cardona, who handles disciplinary affairs for California bar.

Eastman's plot to undermine the 2020 election first emerged in public discourse back in late September, when it was revealed that he had produced a six-step "memo" outlining various ways in which the former president could challenge President Biden's victory. CNN reported that the memo – first obtained by The Washington Post's Post's Bob Woodward and Robert Costa for their forthcoming book "Peril" – directed former Vice President Mike Pence to declare Trump the winner by throwing out electors from seven key states in which the former president lost.

"The main thing here is that Pence should do this without asking for permission -- either from a vote of the joint session or from the Court," the memo read. "The fact is that the Constitution assigns this power to the Vice President as the ultimate arbiter. We should take all of our actions with that in mind."

Under Eastman's plan, neither candidate would garner 270 electoral votes, leaving the U.S. House of Representatives with the final vote. Since the House was Republican-led during Trump's presidency, Eastman figured that the chamber would vote in the former president's favor.

Ultimately, Trump did not have alternate electors to validly appoint, and Pence opted out of the plan, citing his limited roles under the Constitution.

But the group of attorneys – which include U.C. Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, and former California judge Thelton Henderson – argue that Eastman's work is enough to warrant an official probe by the California state bar.

"The available evidence supports a strong case that ... Mr. Eastman violated his ethical obligations as an attorney by filing frivolous claims, making false statements, and engaging in deceptive conduct," they claimed. "On January 6, 2021, Mr. Eastman continued this pattern of misconduct by giving the crowd at the 'Stop the Steal' rally on the National Mall another version of his misleading advice and stating that, by rejecting it, Mr. Pence had proved himself undeserving of his office."

Eastman, for his part, has tarred their complaint "hyperpartisan and political," telling CNN: "I trust that the bar association will dispense with it summarily."

This isn't the first time that Eastman, once a tenured professor of law and dean at the Chapman University School of Law, has come under fire. Last year, the conservative lawyer wrote an op-ed erroneously alleging that then-vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris did not qualify because she was not an American citizen. The piece was widely panned by legal scholars, but it was reportedly pivotal in helping him establish a relationship with Trump following the 2020 election.

'Disgraceful': Florida faces questioning from Biden admin after failing to submit COVID funding plan

Florida was the only state that failed to submit a plan necessary to qualify for a federal aid program designed to buoy the state's public school system, according to the U.S. Department Education – and the department is struggling to ascertain why.

"[The Florida Department of Education's] delay raises significant concerns because of the unnecessary uncertainty it is creating for school districts across the state and because it is hindering their ability to confidently plan for how to use these funds to address the needs of students," wrote Ian Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Programs for the U.S. Department of Education, in a Monday missive.

The state's failure "to meet its responsibilities is delaying the release of essential … resources that are needed by school districts and schools to address the needs of students most impacted by the pandemic," Rosenblum added, noting that the state missed multiple timelines for the relief money.

Back in March, as part of President Biden's American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER), Florida received two-thirds of its $7 billion federal aid package to support "students' health and safety and address their social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic," Rosenblum explained in his letter.

But according to The Tallahassee Democrat, the federal government is still holding onto $2.3 billion of this package because the Sunshine State failed to submit plans detailing how the remainder would be spent.

In addition, Department of Education records indicate that Florida has scarcely spent the federal funds it has already been distributed by the Biden administration. The state has reportedly spent 79% of its disbursement from the CARES Act, 15.6% of its allotment from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, and 4% of its ARP funds.

No money has been directed to local school districts, according to federal officials, but parents, employees, and local officials have clearly expressed that Florida's public school system is in dire need of a lifeline, Rosenblum said in his letter.

"There is a massive crisis with bus shortages and teacher shortages. It's clear that districts need the money," Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Educators Association, echoed to The Tallahassee Democrat.

Meanwhile, the governor's office has casted doubt over the scope of the state's needs, telling CNN on Tuesday: "At this time, no district has articulated a need for funding that cannot be met with currently available resources. Whenever this may change in the future, the state of Florida will coordinate with USDOE to ensure Florida students and educators have all the resources they need."

State Sen. Lori Berman, who sits on Florida's Education Committee, suggested that the state's failure to meet the federal relief is likely an "ideological statement."

"It's disgraceful. I've seen this state repeatedly turn down federal money because of ideological reasons," Berman told Salon in an interview. "You have to look no further than the issue of Medicaid expansion. We are one of only twelve states in the country that has not expanded Medicaid, and it's billions of federal dollars that we continually refuse to draw down because of ideological reasons."

State Sen. Tina Polsky, speculated that the state's failure to use and apply for federal aid stems from a pattern of "distrust and dislike of public schools."

"I don't understand because 90% of Floridian students go to public school," Polsky told Salon in an interview. "As much as [Republicans] would like to change that to all voucher, all charter, or all anything but public, it's not going to happen. And they're not looking out for the 90%."

The development is just the latest in an ever-widening rift between Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, CNN notes. Throughout this year, the governor has fought tooth-and-nail against Democratic-backed proposals to institute vaccine and mask mandates for both schools and businesses.

Back in July, DeSantis issued an executive order banning the enforcement of mask mandates in schools, even though children under twelve are not eligible for vaccines. In August, Florida's Department of Education further revealed that it withheld money from school districts whose boards backed mask mandates.

But Biden has started to push back on DeSantis' crusade. Last month, the U.S. Department of Education repaid members of school boards whose salaries were withheld by Florida's Department of Education. It has also opened a civil rights probe into whether the governor's ban on mask mandates violates the rights of students with disabilities.


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