Sophia Tesfaye

Democrats aren't in disarray — they're being held hostage by so-called centrists

If there was ever a time to hit the panic button in the Biden era, Monday was that day.

Monday marked one week before so-called moderates in the House of Representatives attempt to force a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package passed at the center of President Biden's Build Back Better agenda. With his approval ratings stalling due to the double hits of a lackluster response to the delta variant and continued vaccine hesitancy holding down economic recovery, along with a messy withdrawal from Afghanistan that included the fatal drone bombing of 10 civilians, mostly children, Biden is now facing threats of sabotage from the very people with whom he made a political bed for decades in D.C.

Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona were out on Monday with a pair of demands for their fellow Democrats facing a confluence of deadlines, both real and arbitrary. Manchin, the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who has reportedly sought to "remake President Biden's climate legislation in a way that tosses a lifeline to the fossil fuel industry," now says he would like to delay action on Biden's agenda until 2022. That's just ahead of the midterm elections, so we all know Manchin's suggestion is the fast lane to nowhere. Sinema, for her part, is throwing a last-minute wrench in negotiations to take up for Big Pharma in opposing Democrats' plans to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices directly.

Also on Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear oral arguments in the case against Missippi's abortion law in December, likely dismantling the constitutional right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade by June. Just weeks before, the high court laid the groundwork for this when it upheld Texas' ban on abortions. At least one abortion provider in the state has already been sued.

Monday was also the day that Senate Democrats, rebuffed by the Senate Parliamentarian the day before, frantically introduced an attempt at a legislative workaround to the ruling that granting legal status to immigrants isn't budgetary, and thus can't be included in the filibuster-proof reconciliation bill. Never mind that in 2005, the Republican-controlled Senate used reconciliation to pass immigration reforms citing citizenship as a significant economic and budgetary issue, because Manchin and Sinema have decided that defending a relic of Senate rules is more important than defending Democrats' majorities in Congress — or even democracy for that matter. (Republicans even fired the Senate Parlimentarian in 2001 after he ruled against one of their tax cut proposals.)

Immigration matters, as the world saw on Monday with images of U.S. border patrol agents whipping their horse reigns as they corraled Haitian migrants back into the Rio Grande at the Texas border with Mexico, under a Democratic administration, too. Thanks to a cadre of radical right-wing justices pushed onto the federal bench by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during Donald Trump's presidency, the Biden administration is forced to implement Trump's extraordinarily draconian Remain in Mexico policy which prohibits asylum seekers from entering the U.S. while awaiting review. Now the Biden administration has enlisted the Defense Department to help in one of the fastest, large-scale expulsions of refugees from the United States in decades.

So where is #TheResistance?

For the most part, moderate members of the Democratic caucus in Congress were not flooded at their home districts during the August recess, even as they very publicly threatened to hijack Biden's agenda. Activists like those with Rev. William Barber's People's Campaign have consistently applied pressure to Democrats like Manchin, but without the masses in the streets protesting the horrific images of Haitians hunted on horseback under the Biden administration with the same fervor present when protesting kids in cages under Trump, it's little surprise things stay the same.

"The policies that are being enacted now and the horrible treatment of these innocent people who have come to the border must stop immediately," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., calling the practice "xenophobic," said on the Senate floor on Tuesday. "We must allow asylum seekers to present their claims at our ports of entry and he afforded due process."

A march for citizenship on Tuesday in Washington D.C. aligns Schumer with House progressive and Squad member Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. Democrats are not in disarray, in fact, they are more unified they have ever been; they're just being held hostage.

"I have been working hard on my portion of it," Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told reporters of the multi-trillion dollar reconciliation package. "If it's actually going to happen, we're doing pretty well. So but I, you know, I mean, go ask Manchin or Sinema."

The chaos we are currently watching in Washington, D.C. comes down to the personal interest of these two.

Manchin currently maintains ownership stakes in two coal companies that he founded, including one run by his son, Joe Manchin IV. The senior "Manchin has personally grossed more than $4.5 million from those firms," The Intercept reported. Former Manchin aides with fossil fuel industry clients are able to directly lobby the senator. The same pattern is present with Sinema's newfound opposition to Medicare drug price negotiations despite it's overwhelming popularity across the partisan divide. (Even Donald Trump talked big about lower prescription drug prices.)

In 2009 there were 60 Democratic Senators (briefly). Now, a dozen years later, it is an epic struggle to get the country to elect 50 Democratic senators, after a decade in which the GOP descended into open white fascism. This trendline looks ominous. The flaw in the "Vote Blue No Matter Who" electoral strategy is that what gerrymandered maps and politically polarized sorting leaves us with too often is razor-thin margins where the Who really does matter. Sure Republicans didn't repeal Obamcare when they had control of Congress under Trump, but they passed the main priorities for both of their bases: corporate tax cuts and stacking the federal bench with conservative judges.

The donors can't be the only people Democrats in Congress are afraid of. The time is now for #TheResistance to make its return back to the streets — before it's too late.

The GOP's death cult comes for the kids

There is little doubt that the pandemic has exacerbated the fears parents have about their children's well-being. The typical parental anxiety now comes with worries about the latest delta variant of COVID-19 —which appears to spread more easily in children than the initial coronavirus outbreak — questions on whether their children are going to have to wear masks when they go back to school, and anticipation for a yet-to-be approved vaccine for children under 12.

Over a year ago, Salon's Andrew O'Hehir described the mad scramble to reopen schools without a vaccine or coherent safety standards as "a 'Deer Hunter'-style game of Russian roulette, played blindfolded under conditions of complete chaos." One year later, Donald Trump is out of the White House but Republican and Democratic executives alike are all rushing to reopen schools — even as children under 12 are still not cleared to be inoculated despite an 84% jump in the number of children contracting COVID-19 last week alone.

On Thursday, the U.S. set a single-day record for the number of children admitted to a hospital with COVID-19, with 261 children, some less than 1 year old, admitted to U.S. hospitals according to updated HHS figures. Anecdotally, Patricia Darnauer, the administrator for LBJ Hospital in Houston, noted that an 11-month-old girl had to be airlifted more than 170 miles away on Thursday because no pediatric hospitals would accept her. "We looked at all five major pediatric hospital groups and none [had beds] available." As of Sunday, there were only six ICU beds left in the 11-county Austin region.

Pediatric doctors in Texas have taken to Twitter to vent their concerns about rising cases of COVID in very young children. Dr. Heather Haq, a pediatrician at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, said she and her colleagues have been called on to work mandatory overtime shifts because the hospital also has "winter-level patient volumes of acutely ill infants/toddlers with" respiratory syncytial virus (RSV.)

"We're heading into dark times," Texas Medical Center CEO Bill McKeon said last week.

"If children are not masking in schools, it will be a major problem," Dr. Christina Propst told Houston's KTRK in a plea for mask mandates. Recently, Texas overtook New York in terms of total statewide deaths. But Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has banned such mandated precautions — even though we've already seen big camp and daycare outbreaks all summer with the delta variant. And inoculations are severely lagging among teenagers for whom the vaccine is available.

"No governmental entity can compel any individual to receive a Covid-19 vaccine administered under an emergency use authorization," Abbott said in an executive order. "No person may be required by any jurisdiction to wear or to mandate the wearing of a face covering."

The Texas Education Agency said last week that schools don't have to inform parents of positive cases or conduct contact tracing; parents can choose to send a student to school if he or she has been in close contact with a COVID positive case. The agency argued that such precautions will not be required because of "the data from 2020-21 showing very low COVID-19 transmission rates in a classroom setting and data demonstrating lower transmission rates among children than adults."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone — students, teachers, staff and visitors — wear masks in schools. But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, blasted the CDC guidance as "inconsistent" and "unscientific" before banning their required use indoors. Florida currently leads the nation in kids hospitalized for COVID-19, with 32 pediatric hospitalizations per day between July 24 and 30 (a rate of 0.76 children hospitalized per 100,000 residents), CDC data shared with The Tampa Bay-Times shows.

"Why would we have the government force masks on our kids when many of these kids are already immune through prior infection," DeSantis, notably not an immunologist, questioned just as the Sunshine State broke a COVID record, reporting more than 21,000 new cases in residents under 19 years old. He has threatened to withhold funding from districts that require masks. As the New York Times reported over the weekend:

Mr. DeSantis has been unyielding in his approach to the pandemic, refusing to change course or impose restrictions despite uncontrolled spread and spiking hospitalizations — an approach that forced him to undertake the biggest risk of his rising political career.

DeSantis' bigfooting on mask mandates is now even being called out by other Republicans. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., conceded on CNN Sunday, "I do disagree with Gov. DeSantis. The local officials should have control here."

It's hard to watch the actions of Republican executives like Abbott and DeSantis in recent weeks and not conclude that the GOP's death cult has worked its way down to the children. After all, the Republican response to the coronavirus has been, in every facet, a method of leveraging, not solving, the pandemic. The delta variant — more aggressively spread in children — looks to be no different.

In Florida, the state school board backed DeSantis while using the pandemic to prop up charter schools with taxpayer funds, providing vouchers to students who face mask requirements. See the plan here? Schools become so unsafe and inhospitable that parents are forced to push their children into private schools. It's a playbook as old as white flight from school desegregation under the guise of religious freedom. It's why conservatives have spent the pandemic rehashing the culture wars on new fronts — so-called critical race theory in schools and trans students in sports — while preventing all of the measures that would have likely meant a much safer return to in-person learning this fall. Republicans are using children as political pawns again. This time it is most certainly a matter of life and death.

Paul Ryan can't save the GOP — he's still a huge part of the problem

Republicans had a golden opportunity to finally kick Donald Trump to the curb after Jan. 6. Instead, the majority of elected Republicans, both in Congress and across the country, have stood by him. They've spent the last five months steamrolling over anyone who dares to speak out against him or in defense of democratic norms. Fealty to Trump has become the latest battle line in the ongoing GOP civil war. That's how we've ended up with Liz Cheney criticizing the Republican Party from the left.

"We can't whitewash what happened on January 6 or perpetuate Trump's big lie," the Wyoming Republican and the No. 3 House GOP leader, said Monday at the annual retreat for the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "It is a threat to democracy. What he did on January 6 is a line that cannot be crossed."

One of just 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump in January, Cheney hasn't let up on her continued criticism of his campaign to undermine the last election. It's made her an apparent target of the leader of Republicans in the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California. McCarthy said in a "Fox & Friends" interview on Tuesday that Cheney's colleagues in the House have "no concern about how she voted on impeachment," but fret about "her ability to carry out the job as conference chair, to carry out the message.

McCarthy was caught on a hot mic telling "Fox & Friends" co-host Steve Doocey that "I think she's got real problems."

"I've had it with her," McCarthy went on about Cheney. "You know, I've lost confidence."

As another House Republican, Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, better summed up the situation, "If a prerequisite for leading our conference is continuing to lie to our voters, then Liz is not the best fit." Cheney's betting on surviving this battle, even if she loses her leadership seat in the House, as Salon's Heather Digby Parton recently explained:

This week Cheney herself refused to rule out a 2024 presidential bid, and it's obvious her strategy is to run on her new reputation as the tough conservative woman who stood up to Donald Trump. It's not a bad plan. Cheney understands politics and realizes that her only hope for the presidency is to be the anti-Trump, in the hopes that his star fades or he decides not to run and she can emerge as the GOP standard-bearer who might be able to lure back some of those suburban women and college-educated white men who had been staunch Republicans until the Trump circus came to town.

The problem with this bet, however, is that there are no signs the GOP has any intention of abandoning Trump, or — more importantly — abandoning their anti-democratic tendencies.

Cheney's father rode into office with George W. Bush after losing the popular vote. The next Republican in the White House to follow, Trump, also lost the popular vote. Neither showed humility about it and the Republicans proudly marched forward relentlessly pursuing their agendas. Biden won the most votes in history and beat Trump by seven million votes despite Republican efforts to disenfranchise and confuse voters. Still, Republicans have the nerve to cry foul and complain. By contrast, we know for a fact that Trump was calling officials in Georgia (and likely every other red state) demanding that they "find" him more votes. We literally have Trump on tape trying to commit election fraud. Lot of good it did. He's still planning on running in 2024. And as of right now, nothing is stopping him.

Liz Cheney's latest comments came in an off-the-record interview with former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. Ryan, you'll recall, now sits on the board of Fox News, where one executive told Vanity Fair in 2019, "Paul is embarrassed about Trump and now he has the power to do something about it."

Paul Ryan may have the power to do something about it, but unlike Cheney (who at least voted to impeach Trump) he hasn't. Instead, he's been cashing in at the right-wing network and watched as Tucker Carlson has risen to the top spot by spewing barely diluted white nationalism. Ryan wouldn't even say anything after Trump celebrated Mitt Romney, the man Ryan ran on a presidential ticket with a few short years back, being booed by his hometown crowd. The media-supported myth that Ryan was a serious, responsible lawmaker propped up this malevolent character for far too long.

This is the incentive problem in the so-called conservative movement that no one seems to want to grapple with. A similar, but not identical, incentive structure led the Washington Post to host Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley for a livestream on Tuesday, where the Republican defended raising his fist in solidarity with a mob that would eventually rush the Capitol armed with weapons and in search of his colleagues. He went on to complain that he was being canceled when a Post reporter merely attempted to correct the record about his continued mischaracterization of the election in Pennsylvania, a state that was specifically targeted with misinformation by the Trump campaign. It's why CNN's Don Lemon hosted Pennsylvania's former Republican senator, Rick Santorum, after the conservative pundit baselessly asserted that Native American culture is not American culture.

Trump told conservatives that "I am your voice" in his Republican National Convention speech in 2016. He wasn't wrong. Trump's brand of fascist politics is merely a symptom of American conservatism. Anyone in Republican leadership could have put their foot down and said something and even done something about anything the Trump administration did. Instead, they enabled it and now want the positive press.

Republican lawmakers caught helping pro-Trump mobs at US Capitol, Oregon statehouse

"We're in! Let's go, keep it moving, baby!" shouted Derrick Evans, a newly elected Republican member of West Virginia's House of Delegates, as he is seen pushing his way through the rotunda at the U.S. Capitol with a throng of violent Trump supporters in a video live-streamed on Facebook.

"Trump, Trump, Trump!" he chanted as attackers rushed the doors.

The video, deleted by Evans after circulating Twitter, shows him donning a helmet and military gear, shouting, "Derrick Evans is in the Capitol [...] Patriots inside, baby!"

Evans, 34, won his first term as a state lawmaker in November and was charged by the Department of Justice on Friday for illegally entering the Capitol. He is one of several elected Republican lawmakers across the country who have been identified as either participating in or aiding violent pro-Trump attacks on legislative bodies this week.

Virginia state Sen. Amanda Chase, who describes herself as "Trump in heels," spoke at the rally that preceded the riot on Wednesday. She later praised the rioters and blamed the violence on "antifa or BLM agents of destruction," for which her Facebook account was suspended on Friday. After Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem posted photos of himself at Trump's rally, he continued to push a baseless conspiracy theory — that anti-fascist activists, not Trump supporters, broke into the Capitol — which had already been debunked by the Department of Justice.

Missouri state lawmaker Rep. Justin Hill skipped his own swearing-in ceremony to travel to Trump's coup, where he admits he sat back and watched as an angry mob descended on the U.S. Capitol. Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a retired military colonel who said he helped organize a bus ride to the demonstrations, posed for photos with former Republican state representative Rick Saccone, who served for 18 years in the U.S. Air Force.

"We're storming the Capitol!" Saccone said in a video he posted to Facebook. "They broke down the gates!" he continued. "They're macing them up there. We're trying to run out all of the evil people and all the RINOs that have betrayed our president. We're going to run them out of their offices!"

Oregon Republican Rep. Mike Nearman was caught on video opening a door to protestors who rushed into the state Capitol in Salem on Dec. 21. Some rioters then sprayed six law enforcement officers with a chemical substance and others violently attacked journalists.

In light of his actions, West Virginia officials are now calling for Evans' hasty prosecution and resignation.

The West Virginia Democratic Party declared in a statement, "[Evans] must be held accountable for participating in an act of insurrection against the United States government and risking the lives of lawmakers and Capitol police." The Party added, "The West Virginia Democratic Party calls for his immediate resignation from the House of Delegates and that he be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law." A petition, with over 50,000 signatories, has also called for Evans' immediate removal from office.

Roger Hanshaw, the speaker of the West Virginia's House of Delegates, said Evans will have to "answer to his constituents and colleagues regarding his involvement in what has occurred today."

Evans responded to sharp rebukes online by claiming that he did not participate in any violence or destruction of property, and defended his involvement in the riot as "an independent member of the media." He added, "I want to assure you all that I did not have any negative interactions with law enforcement."

Evans' attorney John H. Bryan told NBC that his client "did nothing wrong." Bryan explained, "He was exercising his First Amendment rights to peacefully protest and film a historic and dynamic event [...] He engaged in no violence, no rioting, no destruction of property, and no illegal behavior."

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Biden's nominee for State backed every failed foreign intervention of the last 25 years. Is there hope?

Donald Trump's defeat doesn't mean that we no longer have to relitigate why he won. He increased his voter base by more than 10 million even while losing, after all. Republicans have (probably) retained control of the Senate, came close to winning the House and did not lose a single state legislature. For all their enabling of Trump, most elected members of the GOP were rewarded. So while Joe Biden has demonstrated that Trump can be defeated without confronting the appeal of Trumpism directly, Democrats' disappointing down-ballot showings across the country this year show what a failure to present a clear and cogent counter-narrative can mean.

The consequences begin now — with Biden's rollout of his official inner circle.

The transition from Trump to Biden is undoubtedly one of the most consequential transfers of power in American history. The Trump administration appears to be pushing full steam ahead to use executive powers to push through damaging policies during the lame-duck period. It's vital that Biden work to rebuild credibility by holding the past administration to account. Perhaps that is why Biden's "Build Back Better" campaign slogan ultimately resonated with a majority of voters. Naming his selection for secretary of state as his first Cabinet pick suggests that Biden is eager to ditch the "America First" approach favored by the Trump administration for a return to U.S. foreign policy managed primarily by the State Department, not the Pentagon.

Newly-named Secretary of State-designate Tony Blinken will prove most useful in building back a hollowed out Foggy Bottom. Back-to-back State Department outsiders under Trump — former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, followed by former Kansas congressman Mike Pompeo — have left a depleted workforce. Returning control to seasoned hands like Blinken, a longtime Biden aide who has held foreign policy positions for more than 25 years, can certainly be reassuring — but that's never more true than in the fog of war. If our recent history is any guide, however, once the haze of Trump's pollutants clears, a return to normal will quickly be viewed as a disappointment.

Institutionalists like Blinken have done tremendous damage. From supporting the invasion of Iraq to backing the Saudi war in Yemen, Blinken has championed some of the worst foreign policy decisions in recent U.S. history. It's important to ask how this consummate foreign policy insider, who was instrumental in providing U.S. aid to the Saudi-led coalition battling Houthi fighters in Yemen's six-year-long civil war, can thoroughly probe the Trump administration's recent $8 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. When the inspector general at Foggy Bottom began investigating, Pompeo fired him. When Democrats in the House issued subpoenas to investigate, Pompeo ordered State Department officials not to comply. For his part, Blinken has expressed regret for his role in pushing for the Saudi war in Yemen and has said the Biden administration will "take a hard look" at the Trump administration's newly announced $23 billion arms deal with the United Arab Emirates.

"There is a premium still, and in some ways even more than before, on American engagement, on American leadership," Blinken said as a Biden campaign adviser, in a critique of Trump's removal of U.S. troops from Germany and hostility toward NATO. Like so many of the establishment players who helped shape the foreign policy of modern Democratic presidents, Blinken has pushed for a multinational, but U.S.-dominated approach that's led to incredible aggression around the world. Even without a multilateral coalition, Bliken has advocated for military adventurism, as in Iraq — which he still maintains was merely a failure of execution, not a fundamentally illegal invasion. Barack Obama took office with the promise to broadly rethink America's historically problematic role in the region, but by bringing in so many people like Blinken who had previously gotten it so wrong, he ultimately failed to do so.

There is somewhat more reason to be hopeful this time around, surprisingly enough. Biden and his team have made some promising rhetorical gestures that suggest an understanding that U.S. foreign policy must evolve.

"The last administration has to acknowledge that we failed, not for want of trying, but we failed," Blinken said on CBS News in May. "We failed to prevent a horrific loss of life. We failed to prevent the massive displacement of people internally in Syria and, of course, externally as refugees. And it's something that I will take with me for the rest of my days."

Blinken's also handled criticism from the left in a manner that bodes well for an administration bound to receive boatloads of pushback from progressives. Faced with a barely passing grade from a "progressive realism report card," Blinken talked of evolving — which is not something I imagine Pompeo would ever contemplate.

Blinken has also been met with attacks from the right already. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has pointed to Blinken's work at a private firm he founded after the Obama administration, leaving concerning questions about the revolving door in Washington. Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin recently resurfaced their report on an alleged conflict of interest involving China, Ukraine and, believe it or not, Hunter Biden, the president-elect's son. Republicans have a track record of successfully tying Democrats to corruption for electoral success — and the appearance of corruption can often be just as politically damaging as the real thing.

Ultimately, Trump won in 2016, and nearly did so again in 2020, because he positioned himself as an enemy of the establishment. If Tony Blinken and the rest of Joe Biden's team of D.C. insiders don't demonstrate some level of contrition for their own past mistakes, and evolve a new approach on matters of foreign policy and national security now, then a Trump comeback in 2024 — or something worse — is very much on the table.

Dutiful civil servant are the true #Resistance leaders amid Trump's disastrous endgame

Donald Trump keeps spiking the ball in celebration of some supposed avenue to overturning the election result, only to be reminded that the game ended two weeks ago — and he lost.

Late on Tuesday evening, the president tweeted: "Wow! Michigan just refused to certify the election results! Having courage is a beautiful thing. The USA stands proud!" Trump was responding to an effort by the two Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers not to certify the election results in Detroit, home to a majority Black population, while allowing votes from majority-white suburbs to be certified. The two Republicans forced a deadlock on the four-person panel, blocking the county-level certification of election results in the area for the first time in more than 100 years. By the time Trump sent his celebratory tweet, however, public pressure had already caused the pair to backtrack.

"The Trump stain, the stain of racism that you, William Hartmann and Monica Palmer, have just covered yourself in, is going to follow you throughout history," said Ned Staebler, CEO of Detroit business incubator TechTown.

Staebler was one of several dozen people who called out the Republican commissioners during a Zoom meeting initially scheduled for 100 people, but which quickly filled up with 300 attendees. While Staebler's speech went viral, the entire meeting is worth watching, not only to see citizens speak up for their community in the face of such blatant attempts at disenfranchisement, but because of the many first-hand accounts about Republican election observers in Michigan essentially spending the entire time trying to disrupt the election process and harass poll workers.

Curiously, there was no confirmation of anecdotes spread by the Trump campaign that Republican votes were altered. Hartmann and Palmer reversed their votes and certified the election results before the meeting was adjourned after three hours. Even the Republican Senate majority leader in Michigan, who has launched an investigation into the election, has already sworn off any suggestion that the state award its 16 electors to Trump, who lost the state to Joe Biden by more than 146,000 votes.

"That's not going to happen," Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey told Bridge Michigan on Tuesday.

The Michigan episode exposes how loyal some Trump supporters are when faced with even the slightest bit of scrutiny. To be sure, it's beyond dismaying to watch one of only two major political parties in the nation use any means necessary to sow doubt about the integrity of our democracy. And while there's no question our political situation has radically shifted for the worse, it's also worth noting that, as damaging as the Trump era has been, the last two weeks have reintroduced the nation to a species many believed to have long gone extinct: Republicans in elected office, and even in the Trump administration, who act with integrity.

Things would be undoubtedly worse right now if not for a handful of honest Republican election officials and dutiful civil servants. While the Trump campaign has relentlessly attempted to weaponize the government in a bid to stop Biden from receiving 270 certified Electoral College votes, a Republican like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger stands as a lonely voice of integrity among elected leaders in the GOP.

Raffensperger is being attacked by his own party for the sin of running a clean election. Georgia's two Republican U.S. senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who both facing Jan. 5 runoffs against Democratic challengers, have demanded his resignation. Both Raffensperger and his wife have received death threats. Even after all of that, Raffensperger went public after Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally, pressured him to exclude legally cast absentee ballots in the middle of Georgia's recount.

What Graham did would be a felony in Georgia, and likely also a felony under federal law, since it was done through an interstate communication. Yet Graham took to Twitter to laugh about his attempted election interference, admitting that he had also contacted officials in Arizona and Nevada. Arizona's secretary of state, Katie Hobbs, blamed the violent threats she and her family have received on Trump and his allies in the Republican Party.

The Trump campaign is attempting to throw out ballots cast in at least six states, often in the most populous counties where voters of color comprise the majority. It's a transparent attempt to smear any votes not cast by rural and suburban voters as suspicious. Of course, if the Trump campaign were serious they'd also be seeking recounts in heavily red counties to scrounge up more votes. That suggests this entire charade isn't intended to change the outcome of the election; it is intended to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt about the integrity of our democracy — and to generate "legal defense fund" donations to line the pockets of the man identified in previous legal cases as "Individual-1."

Trump has sought to undermine public confidence in the electoral process since 2012, when he baselessly alleged that voting machines changed votes for Mitt Romney to Barack Obama — a claim he resurfaced on Wednesday. The day before, he unceremoniously fired the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security via tweet.

That was Chris Krebs, a highly regarded tech expert who had received bipartisan praise for his work in making sure the 2020 election was secure. His "Rumor Control" website meticulously tracked false claims undermining the elections and corrected them, no matter the source. Hours before he was fired, Krebs spread this message on Twitter: "Please don't retweet wild and baseless claims about voting machines, even if they're made by the president." Don't expect the usual suspects who decry "cancel culture" to utter a peep, even as Trump's flunkies spread lies about Krebs' job performance.

For every loyalist Trump has installed in the government — like GSA administrator Emily Miller, whose refusal to allow for the formal Biden transition to commence ma cause delays in the next administration's COVID response plan, or Trey Trainor, the Federal Elections Commission chairman who floats baseless election conspiracy theories contrived by a Trump lawyer who thinks the Federal Reserve is deliberately sabotaging the economy to enrich George Soros — there are noble public servants like Krebs, willing to sacrifice their positions to speak truth to power.

To sustain a functioning democracy, however, it takes more than a few voices of courage to fend off creeping authoritarianism. Election after election, the most marginalized have shown up to vote for Democrats, who think it suffices to say, "History will be ashamed of you!" seemingly forgetting that history is written by the victors. Democrats gave George W. Bush and his administration a pass and now the GOP is happy to broil the surplus population even as they've wrested control of the judicial branch for the next 30 or 40 years. Republicans need to be held accountable for their bad behavior, or they will go even further the next time. It would be a grave mistake for Joe Biden to discourage investigations into Trump and his people in the interests of "unity." There must be real consequence for open racism and attempted disenfranchisement, if Democrats hope to hold onto the voters who delivered victories for Biden in so many crucial states.

Trump's bogus voter-fraud claims could blow GOP's chances of holding Senate

Mitch McConnell never acted as if Barack Obama were a legitimate president. More than a decade later, the Senate majority leader has decided to the best use of Republican resources is to humor Donald Trump's delusion that he won an election he clearly lost. McConnell's desperate play appears to be a grift meant to fire up Republican voters ahead of a pair of critical Senate runoff races in Georgia. But what if that plan backfires? Trump's attacks on America's electoral system could just as easily depress GOP turnout.

Joe Biden is on track to win 306 Electoral College votes, the same number Trump received when he was elected four years ago. As Salon's Roger Sollenberger has reported, none of the half-dozen or so lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign in states like Pennsylvania, Nevada, Michigan and Georgia since Election Day have presented any evidence of systemic irregularities, or any information that could even hypothetically reverse Trump's electoral defeat. So while our tax dollars are at work defending against meritless lawsuits by an outgoing president, the Republican civil war has suddenly reignited with a new round of finger-pointing and recrimination.

McConnell took to the Senate floor on Monday to argue that "President Trump is 100% within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options." While several reports suggest that McConnell's anti-democratic strategy is meant to appease Trump and fire up his base, there is already evidence that points to a real risk of depressing Republican voters.

Trump's campaign has seized on news that fewer than 400 ballots had not been scanned over the weekend in Atlanta to stir up cries of voter fraud. In reaction, Georgia's two Republican senators, both facing Jan. 5 runoffs against Democratic challengers, have demanded the resignation of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican. Raffensperger has dared to deny allegations of voter fraud and pointed out some simple arithmetic: Biden leads by 11,595 votes in Georgia, and that's highly unlikely to change in Trump's favor with a recount. Georgia's voter suppression tactics already mean that elections are heavily rigged in Republicans' favor, so the Democratic turnout this year is all the more notable.

"There have been too many failures in Georgia elections this year and the most recent election has shined a national light on the problems," Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue said in the statement, which did not list a single example of any such problems. "The Secretary of State has failed to deliver honest and transparent elections." All reports and indications suggest, however, that the Georgia election was clean and clear, with no major irregularities.Republicans are essentially calling the voters of Georgia cheaters and their fellow Republicans corrupt in pathetic attempts to align themselves with a president who refuses to accept their own votes. McConnell and the majority of the Republican Party are egging Trump on at the expense of their own voters. They are at once getting Republican voters' hopes up for some miracle — and also convincing them their votes don't count. Deflating the GOP base while riling up the Democratic base with Trump's refusal to concede seems an ill-conceived strategy going into a crucial runoff race.

Trump's showing last Tuesday shows that many of his voters only come out to support him, not the GOP as a whole. While plenty of loyal Republicans will still come out in Georgia with control of the Senate on the line, I suspect a good number won't bother now that the president GOP voters adore has said that America's elections are rigged. Democrats, meanwhile, sense an unusual opportunity to turn out even more voters, including those who may not have voted on Nov. 3 because they assumed Georgia would remain red no matter what — and now they have an opportunity to reshape power in Washington.

Take, for instance, the message from former Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who posted a video to social media where she appealed to God to "SMASH the clay jar of deceit in America. SMASH the clay jar of delusion in the United States of America. SMASH the delusion, Father, that Joe Biden is our president. He is not." Extremist rhetoric like that is likely why 70% of Republicans now say they don't believe the 2020 election was free and fair, compared to the 35% who held similar beliefs before the election.

On the other side of the coin, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, easily the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, has done multiple Fox News interviews to calm the fears of moderate voters who are reluctant to see Democrats control that body, promising to block any progressive agenda presented by Biden. As usual, Democrats and Republicans are simply not playing the same game.

Trump, meanwhile, is simply playing aggrieved and trying to fleece the rubes one more time while he still holds office, telling his worshipers that the system is out to get him. It's a distinctly odd thing for the president of the United States to say, but he continues to schedule rallies and raise funds — same grift, different day. All this will work just about as well as his "big, beautiful wall" on the Mexican border, his long-promised replacement for the Affordable Care Act and all the promises to throw agents of the "deep state" in prison. the Great Mexican Wall, the ACA replacement and all the deep state lockups. But even if Republicans lose in the short term, they're setting the stage for new restrictions on voting in states they control by pointing to Trump's false claims of fraud. Much the same thing happened after 2016, paving the way for the new voting rules that helped create the confusion of 2020.

Trump goes all-in on the nightmare scenario with millions of legally-cast votes left to be counted

None of us have seen a year like 2020 — and now it has finally snapped the tether that seemed to hold it to the realm of reality. After a relatively calm Election Day, leading into a nail-biter evening that left the result very much in doubt, President Trump did exactly what many observers feared he might do, prematurely declaring victory over former vice president Joe Biden, even though millions of votes in several important states remain uncounted.

It was a rambling, incoherent and extraordinary speech even by Trump's standards, delivered in an extraordinary setting — the East Room of the White House, rather than a campaign headquarters at a Washington hotel, as would be traditional for an incumbent president running for re-election. Whether it represents a genuine attempt to subvert democracy or was just an example of "Trump being Trump" and letting off some steam depends on one's perspective. Vice President Mike Pence attempted to assert the latter interpretation, arriving on stage after Trump had concluded and making relatively normal remarks about "the integrity of the vote," while of course praising Trump in fulsome terms and urging him to "make America great again, again."

None of us have seen a year like 2020 — and now it has finally snapped the tether that seemed to hold it to the realm of reality. After a relatively calm Election Day, leading into a nail-biter evening that left the result very much in doubt, President Trump did exactly what many observers feared he might do, prematurely declaring victory over former vice president Joe Biden, even though millions of votes in several important states remain uncounted.

It was a rambling, incoherent and extraordinary speech even by Trump's standards, delivered in an extraordinary setting — the East Room of the White House, rather than a campaign headquarters at a Washington hotel, as would be traditional for an incumbent president running for re-election. Whether it represents a genuine attempt to subvert democracy or was just an example of "Trump being Trump" and letting off some steam depends on one's perspective. Vice President Mike Pence attempted to assert the latter interpretation, arriving on stage after Trump had concluded and making relatively normal remarks about "the integrity of the vote," while of course praising Trump in fulsome terms and urging him to "make America great again, again."

"This is a fraud on the American public," Trump said, with no explanation of what that fraud might entail

Minutes after Trump falsely claimed, "As far as I am concerned we already have won it" — meaning the entire presidential election — the Associated Press called Arizona for Biden, the first state in a long and tense election night to flip from Trump in 2016 to Biden in 2020. While the outcome is by no means decided, losing Arizona makes Trump's path to victory exceptionally difficult

"We want all voting to stop," Trump added, asserting that it was "clear" he had won close swing states like Georgia and North Carolina, which have not yet been called by any major media outlet. "They knew they couldn't win," Trump claimed — without identifying the "they" in question — "so they said, 'Let's go to court.'"

In the realm of reality, all voting has ended. It's only a question of collecting and counting the votes, a process that differs widely from state to state and can sometimes take days or weeks. In this year of pandemic, that process is undeniably complicated, and millions of votes remain uncounted in key states like Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which now appear certain to decide the presidential election. Trump's attempt to claim there is something nefarious about the process flies in the face of election law, democratic norms and political history. One might be excused for asking what else is new.

Ironically, the president's comments will almost certainly hurt his legal team's chances in court — the path to potential re-election that Trump has long telegraphed he is banking on. Chris Christie, the former Republican governor of New Jersey who has been a frequent Trump confidant and adviser, said on ABC News that the president's extraordinary White House speech was "a bad strategic decision. It is a bad political decision."

That remains to be seen. Trump's gambit is certainly a terrible idea and an overtly anti-democratic power play that sent immediate shockwaves through the media and political classes, as inured to Trump's delusional theatrics as they have become. With the loss of Arizona and millions of Democratic-trending mail-in votes yet to be counted in major states, it appears probable that Trump is headed for a narrow electoral defeat — albeit a great deal narrower than most Democrats expected. Given that context, perhaps Trump's vicious election-night surprise is no surprise at all. It's the last and most desperate ploy of a man with no respect for the democratic process and no willingness to accept the verdict of the voters.

Joe Biden showed he learned the lessons of 2016

The bar was set so low — yet Donald Trump still failed to clear the mark. In his final debate performance of the 2020 campaign (and with any luck, his last one ever), the president fumbled the one attack line that his campaign had prepared against Joe Biden for years.

It was like he whiffed at tee-ball.

The first time Trump tried to hit the former vice president over his son Hunter Biden's foreign business dealings, the senior Biden defended Hunter with the compassion and empathy he so often conveys while recalling the loss of his other son, Beau Biden, or of his first wife and infant daughter in a 1972 car accident. Clearly hesitant to queue up another softball for his opponent, Trump was forced to tread lightly on Thursday night, even though his campaign has revved up its wild Biden-centric conspiracy theories through the right-wing media echo chamber. Indeed, it was Biden who baited Trump into bringing up Hunter first, illuminating what the Biden campaign — after prepping the nominee extensively for days — thinks of the Trump campaign's last-minute gambit.

"All of the emails ... the horrible emails of the kind of money that you were raking in, you and your family," Trump began. "And Joe, you were vice president when some of this was happening. And it should've never happened. I think you owe an explanation to the American people."

It's unclear how many viewers understood any of that. But apparently, when you launch your re-election campaign as soon as you take office, all you can really come up with is, Hey, let's try "emails" all over again. Trump's October surprise is no surprise at all. This was always his Plan A and Thursday's performance proves that there was no plan B. As Salon's Amanda Marcotte points out, this new fake Biden scandal, somehow involving China, is a continuation of the same effort to push a phony scandal in Ukraine that got Trump impeached: "[T]he only thing he knows how to do is cheat — and the only way he knows how to cheat is by threatening and blackmailing other people to do the work for him."

This entire concoction is several layers of stupid, as demonstrated to perfection by the pre-debate release of a Wall Street Journal editorial alleging that the former vice president allowed Hunter to sell access to him, followed by the post-debate debunking of those claims — by the Wall Street Journal's news division. It would be comical if it weren't so dangerous.

All of this amounts lukewarm leftovers from the election that shall forever haunt us: 2016. Once again Trump attempted to troll his opponent with his debate guest list, this time including a former "business partner" of Hunter's who has claimed that the pair were looking to make a deal in China in 2017 — when Joe Biden was a private citizen. After characterizing Biden as weak and senile for months, Trump now wants us to think he's a powerful mob boss, with his fingers in financial pies around the globe. Although Trump called the latest allegations "damning," Tony Bobulinski, Hunter Biden's former business partner, has admitted that no Chinese deal was ever happened. To top it off, the New York Times has reported that during the time of these supposedly scandalous dealings, Donald Trump personally opened a secret bank account in China.

Even by the standards of Rudy Giuliani's sleaze-mongering projects, this one was inept. Maybe Rudy farmed this particular operation out to Jacob Wohl.

Hunter Biden's alleged wrongdoing isn't a real story, at least not yet. But this stuff is never about legitimate evidence. It's about creating a distraction and allowing Trump to make egregious claims that the right-wing media regurgitates and amplifies with massive speculation of what might be there, not what can actually be proven or established. As with Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, there isn't time for an investigation. (You will notice that Trump has been in charge for nearly four years with the likes of FBI Director Christopher Wray and successive attorneys general Jeff Sessions, Matt Whitaker and Bill Barr at his disposal, and no charges have been filed against Clinton for anything at all). This is just another way to rile up the president's shrinking base. The people who claim to want answers are also the same people who already believe they know the whole story. (Time for Trump supporters to yell "Fake news" followed by chants of, "Lock him up!")

The incoherent saga of Hunter Biden's "laptop from hell" is a bad story, badly told. And the Trump campaign didn't even start peddling this nonsense until 50 million people had already voted. Trump's team is beginning to craft exit strategies, and the president himself is visibly floundering.

To be fair — as if that were remotely necessary — there was a notable shift in Trump's tenor to kick off the final debate. But trying to execute that elusive "presidential pivot" 12 days before Election Day can hardly be described as a success for an incumbent who is badly trailing in the polls. Considering that there has been essentially no change in public opinion on this race since the spring, even with everything that's transpired, it's preposterous to think that Trump's lackluster performance can swing a significant number of votes in his favor. Yet another night full of unchecked lies from Trump is dangerous but it's not nearly enough to change this race.

Of course, both Trump's Department of Justice and the Republican Senate have found no discernible wrongdoing on Biden's part to date. Trump fumbled his biggest political play before Election Day, but Biden also did something important. By simply ignoring the demands to answer the Trump campaign's wild allegations, Biden shows he may know how to deal with the right-wing smear machine better than his eagerness to deal with Republicans in Congress conveys.

Even beyond the personal attacks on his family and character, Biden has shown remarkable savvy by not caving in to pressure to appease conservatives in a manner that might deflate his base in the final days. For weeks, Biden has refused to outright reject expanding the Supreme Court, and has repeatedly reframed the discussion around Republicans' remaking of the federal courts through obstruction. Looks like at least one candidate in this race isn't stuck in 2016.

Trump's town hall stunt backfires

Donald Trump made the wrong choice when he refused to appear for a virtual face-off against Joe Biden.

NBC News was nothing short of reckless in its pursuit to offer the president a platform to continue to promote his dangerous lies even after contracting COVID-19. As Salon's Melanie McFarland wrote, NBC executives' decision to fall back on their long history of providing Trump a national audience "is terrible for democracy." So given the grim state of American media, it's notable that Trump's panicked play to refuse a second debate against the former vice president may have backfired.

A sweaty and often out of breath Trump floundered on his stool under the bright studio lights and accompanying Miami weather Thursday night. While he looked almost suspiciously triumphant over his recent COVID diagnosis, a relentless grilling from moderator Savannah Guthrie certainly didn't do him any favors — at least outside of his already secured base whose Pavlovian disgust for the media was undoubtedly reinvigorated.

Guthrie's past experience working with disgraced "Today" show host Matt Lauer may have prepared her well for managing a most unruly Trump. More than merely moderating questions from would-be voters in the audience, Guthrie was quick to offer relevant follow-ups and fact checks. She was often able to pin down the president's familiar pattern of interrupting the preamble to a question, talking about whatever he wants, pretending the interviewer is interrupting him when she tries to finish, then moving on to the next question. She was prepared and pointed, delivering the grilling I suspect many anti-Trump voters found reassuring.

There was a missed opportunity for Guthrie to work with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, the moderator of Biden's debate which aired at the same time, to have coordinated questions and give voters the debate they were deprived of in a roundabout way — but, alas, television is a business.

With no other reporter to go to, Trump struggled to dodge Guthrie's follow-up questions. In twenty minutes of questioning before turning to the first town hall attendee, Guthrie got Trump to admit that he wasn't tested for COVID before the debate, that he has more than $400 million in foreign debt and that he doesn't read his own retweets. The best part was when she backed him into simultaneously failing to disavow a dangerous and growing conspiracy theory while also disappointing its rabid believers whom he counts as his most fervent supporters.

"Let me ask you about QAnon," Guthrie, a trained lawyer, opened. "It is this theory that Democrats are a satanic pedophile ring, and that you are the savior of that. Now can you just once and for all state that that is completely not true and that –"

Trump interjected: "I know nothing about QAnon ... I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard. But I know nothing about it."

If you've seen even one video testimony from a QAnon devotee, you understand how incredibly deflating Trump's non-denial must feel. This comes the same week that Attorney General Bill Barr admits that he can't deliver John Durham's report on the origins of the Russia investigation before the election. Trump offering his base such dejection this close to Election Day can't be mobilizing.

Clicking away to Biden on ABC offered quite the contrast.

Biden did his best to appear rational and bipartisan, even if he was a bit rambling and evasive in his answers. If you answer questions honestly, however, the opportunity for the Guthrie-sort of grilling vanishes. For that reason, the boring feel of the Biden town hall helped sell him as presidential. That he stuck around and conducted an impromptu, unscripted Q&A further undermines the right-wing push to paint Biden as having dementia.

Ultimately, however, we all lose.

Trump showed himself to be a glib, shameless liar. And that's nothing new. Guthrie's grilling certainly played right into his "liberal" media complaints. But he again spread the lie that masks do not help stop the spread of the coronavirus and with more than 200,000 dead Americans, we're in danger every time he's able to talk to an audience.


Happy Holidays!