Politics

Scoop: Cindy McCain set to land Biden ambassadorship

April 13, 2021

Politico’s Playbook ran a scoop on Monday, April 12—reporting that President Joe Biden is preparing to name Republican Cindy McCain to a coveted ambassador post in Western Europe in what would be his administration’s first Republican appointee to a Senate-confirmed position.

McCain is undergoing vetting to be nominated for U.S. ambassador to the U.N. World Food Programme, a mission based in Rome, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter. This comes after the Administration declined to install at least one member from the opposing party in a Cabinet position—a practice of three consecutive presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama) before Donald Trump broke the streak.

Cindy McCain, the wife of the late military hero and Senator from Arizona John McCain,  gave Biden a critical boost in Arizona with her endorsement of the Democrat over Trump. In doing so, she helped Biden become the only Democratic presidential nominee to carry the state since Clinton in 1996.

McCain, 66, is undergoing a background check for the post, Politico notes. The Biden administration is expected to announce most of its ambassadors at the same time, rather than individually.

As chair of the McCain Institute board of trustees, McCain has worked on curbing world hunger and human trafficking. During the 2008 campaign, she traveled to Georgia with the U.N.’s World Food Programme to visit wounded soldiers after a Russian invasion and also monitored the program’s work in Southeast Asia and Africa.

Research contact: @politico

Biden to unveil commission to study possible expansion of Supreme Court

April 12, 2021

President Biden was scheduled to unveil a bipartisan commission to study structural changes to the Supreme Court on Friday, April 9, according to three people knowledgeable sources, The Washington Post reports.

The move follows the appointments of three conservatives to the court during the Trump Administration: Neil Gorsuch in 2017, Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, and Amy Coney Barrett in 2020—and comes amid liberal calls for expansion to blunt the court’s conservative majority.

The commission—envisioned to include as many as three dozen people—will fulfill Biden’s campaign promise create a group to study changes to the court.

According to the Post, Biden has said he is “not a fan of court-packing,” but he faced pressure during the campaign from liberals to back changes, including court expansion, after Republicans pushed to confirm Justice Amy Coney Barrett shortly before the 2020 election.

The commission, however, is likely to disappoint liberals who are looking for quick action. Most of the commission’s members are academics, and they will come from a range of political backgrounds. Bob Bauer, a top lawyer on Biden’s campaign, and Cristina Rodriguez, a professor at Yale Law School, will chair the commission, which will be run out of the White House Counsel’s Office.

Other members include Caroline Fredrickson, the former president of the American Constitution Society, and Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor.

The three people familiar with the plan spoke on the condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement. The White House declined to comment.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Biden targets ‘ghost guns’ and ‘red flag’ laws in new gun control measures

April 9, 2021

In a Rose Garden speech on March 8, President Joe Biden announced that he would introduce regulations to limit “ghost guns;” and would make it easier for people to flag family members who shouldn’t be allowed to purchase firearms with a series of executive actions taken in the wake of recent mass shootings, NBC News reported.

The actions Biden intends to take are limited—and will still likely face legal opposition from gun rights advocates, who view any efforts to limit access as a violation of the Second Amendment.

The changes come in the wake of shootings in Georgia and Colorado and focus not just on trying to limit mass shootings, but also at reducing other forms of gun violence, such as suicides and domestic violence, Biden said.

“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic and it is an international embarrassment,” Biden said in remarks he made in the Rose Garden. He was joined by Vice President Kamala Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland. A number of Democratic congressional members, gun control advocates, and local officials also attended.

Biden also announced he is nominating David Chipman, a gun control advocate, to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF.

The White House detailed the planned executive actions, arguing that Biden’s instructions to the Department of Justice will curb access to guns, NBC News said.

Biden directed the DOJ to write rules that will reduce the proliferation of “ghost guns,” homemade firearms often made from parts bought online and that do not have traceable serial numbers. Biden said he wants kits and parts used to make guns to be treated as firearms where the parts have serial numbers and are subject to a background check.

Biden also sought to reduce access to stabilizing braces, which can effectively turn a pistol into a more lethal rifle while not being subject to the same regulations that a rifle of similar size would be. Biden said the alleged shooter in Boulder appears to have used one of these devices.

Finally, he asked the DOJ to publish model “red flag” laws for states to use as guides. Red flag laws allow family members or law enforcement agencies to petition state courts to temporarily block people from obtaining firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others. Biden said states with such red flag laws have seen a reduction in the number of suicides.

Biden directed the DOJ to issue a report on firearms trafficking, which hasn’t been done since 2000. He also will announce support for programs aimed at “reducing gun violence in urban communities through tools other than incarceration,” according to a fact sheet shared by the White House.

The new guidelines are bound to face opposition from both sides of the aisle in Congress, NBC noted.

“The idea is just bizarre to suggest some of the things we are recommending is contrary to the Constitution,” Biden said.

And he has vowed to do more. In a call with reporters Wednesday night, administration officials stressed that Thursday’s actions were just the first step and that Biden would still pursue legislative solutions to gun violence.

“This is an initial set of actions to make progress on President Biden’s gun violence reduction agenda,” one official said. “The administration will be pursuing legislative and executive actions at the same time. You will continue to hear the president call for Congress to pass legislation to reduce gun violence.”

“The job of any president is to protect the American people, whether Congress acts or not,” Biden said. “I’m going to use all the resources at my disposal to keep the American people safe from gun violence. But there’s much more that Congress can do to help that effort.”

Biden asked Congress to pass legislation already through the House to tighten background checks and reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act. He also called again for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; and removed liability protections for gun makers.

Research contact: @NBCNews

 

Ten more members of Congress join NAACP lawsuit against Trump, Giuliani for inciting Capitol riot

April 8, 2021

Ten members of Congress who were trapped in the House gallery as rioters breached the Capitol on January 6 are adding their names to a lawsuit first filed in February against former President Donald Trump and his former personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, CNN reports.

The lawsuit—first brought by House Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and the NAACP— accuses Trump and Giuliani of conspiring with extremist groups. the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. to incite the riot at the Capitol.

The amended lawsuit now details the personal stories of each member, describing how they narrowly escaped the mob, and how some still have nightmares and anxiety months later.

“As I sat in my office on January 6th with rioters roaming the hallways, I feared for my life and thought I was going to die,” Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee said in a statement. “This invasion was a direct result of Donald Trump’s rhetoric and words. His calls to gather in Washington on January 6th and his message to ‘be strong’ thwarted the functioning of our Constitution.” Cohen reveals in the lawsuit that he escaped to his office near the Capitol when the mob invaded it on January 6, sitting with the lights turned off and a baseball bat in his hand for protection for two to three hours.

According to the CNN reports, the members joining the lawsuit are: Cohen, Reps. Karen Bass of California, Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, Veronica Escobar of Texas, Hank Johnson Jr. of Georgia, Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, Barbara Lee of California, Jerry Nadler of New York, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, and Maxine Waters of California.

Nadler and Waters were especially outspoken and fiery critics of Trump during his presidency. Nadler led the first House impeachment of Trump in late 2019, and, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he called for Trump’s impeachment and removal from office the day after the Capitol insurrection. Trump was ultimately acquitted in both Senate impeachment trials.

“Those responsible for placing me and my colleagues in danger must face accountability for their criminality,” Nadler said in a statement. “This violence was anything but spontaneous; it was the direct result of a conspiracy to incite a riot, instigated by President Trump, Rudolph Giuliani, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.”

Waters spoke out forcefully against Trump before the House impeachment vote in January, calling him “the worst President in the history of the United States.” In the lawsuit, Waters discloses that following the January 6 attack she increased the number of security personnel who travels with her to and from her California home.

The lawsuit was the first civil action filed against the former President related to the attack at the U.S. Capitol, and it cited a scarcely used federal statute passed after the to combat violence from the Ku Klux Klan. The law allows civil actions to be brought against people who use “force, intimidation, or threat” to prevent anyone from upholding the duties of their office.

The lawsuit is backed by the NAACP, and its president, Derrick Johnson, accused the former President of inciting “a meticulously organized coup … that placed members of Congress and the integrity of our democracy in peril.”

In addition to Trump and Giuliani, the far-right extremist groups Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are also named as defendants. This newly filed amended complaint additionally names as defendants the Warboys, which operated in conjunction with the Proud Boys; and Enrique Tarrio, the alleged leader of the Proud Boys and Warboys.

Attorneys for Trump and Giuliani have not responded to requests from CNN for comment.

Research contact: @CNN

Study: Fears of ‘White people losing out’ permeate Capitol rioters’ towns

January 7, 2021

Most Americans take the Capitol rioters at their word—accepting that their motive for breaching the U.S. Capitol on January 6 was to stop the Congress from verifying the election of Democratic President Joe Biden.

However, The New York Times reports, when the political scientist Robert Pape of The University of Chicago began studying the issues that motivated the 380 or so people arrested in connection with the attack against the Capitol, he found something very different: Most of the people who took part in the assault came from places, his polling and demographic data showed, that—goaded by then-President Trump– were awash in fears that the rights of minorities and immigrants were crowding out the rights of white people in American politics and culture.

Indeed, if Pape’s initial conclusions— published on Tuesday in The Washington Post—hold true, they would appear to connect the January 6 insurrrection  to the once-fringe right-wing theory called the Great Replacement— that an indigenous European (e.g., White) population is being replaced by non-European immigrants.

What’s more Pape’s conclusions appear to link the January 6 riot to events like the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 where crowds of white men marched with torches chanting, “Jews will not replace us!”

“If you look back in history, there has always been a series of far-right extremist movements responding to new waves of immigration to the United States or to movements for civil rights by minority groups,” Pape told the Post, adding,  “You see a common pattern in the Capitol insurrectionists. They are mainly middle-class to upper-middle-class whites who are worried that, as social changes occur around them, they will see a decline in their status in the future.”

One fact stood out in Pape’s study, conducted with the help of researchers at the Chicago Project on Security and Threats—a think tank he runs at the University of Chicago. Counties with the most significant declines in the non-Hispanic white population are the most likely to produce insurrectionists. This finding held true, Pape determined, even when controlling for population size, distance to Washington, unemployment rate, and urban or rural location.

Law enforcement officials have said that between 800 and 1,000 people entered the Capitol on January 6—and prosecutors have spent the past three months tracking down many of them in what they have described as one of the largest criminal investigations in U.S. history. In recent court filings, the government has hinted that more than 400 people may ultimately face charges, including illegal entry, assault of police officers and the obstruction of the official business of Congress.

According to the report by the Times. Pape determined that only about 10% percent of those charged were members of established far-right organizations like the Oath Keepers militia or the nationalist extremist group the Proud Boys. But unlike other analysts who have made similar findings,

In an effort to determine why the mob that formed on January 6 turned violent, Pape compared events that day with two previous pro-Trump rallies in Washington, on November 14 and December 12. While police records show some indications of street fighting after the first two gatherings, Pape said, the number of arrests were fewer and the charges less serious than on January 6. The records also show that those arrested in November and December largely lived within an hour of Washington while most of those arrested in January came from considerably farther away.

The difference at the rallies was former President Donald Trump, Pape said—noting that Trump promoted the January 6 rally in advance, saying it would be “wild” and driving up attendance. He then encouraged the mob to march on the Capitol in an effort to “show strength

Pape said he worried that a similar mob could be summoned again by a leader like Trump. After all, he suggested, as the country continues moving toward becoming a majority-minority nation and right-wing media outlets continue to stoke fear about the Great Replacement, the racial and cultural anxieties that lay beneath the riot at the Capitol are not going away.

“If all of this is really rooted in the politics of social change, then we have to realize that it’s not going to be solved—or solved alone—by law enforcement agencies,” Pape said. “This is political violence, not just ordinary criminal violence, and it is going to require both additional information and a strategic approach.”

 “We really still are at the beginning stages,” he said.

Research contact: @nytimes

Power play: Putin signs law enabling him to serve two more terms as Russia’s president

April 6, 2021

On April 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin—who already has served two decades as his nation’s leader—signed into law a change to the country’s constitution that will allow him to run for two more six-year terms; thereby granting himself the chance to remain in power until 2036, CBS News reports.

A copy of the new law was posted on the government’s legal information website on Monday, confirming that the legislation—the success of which was really never in doubt — had been finalized. Prior to the new law, Putin would have been required to step down after his fourth and current term in 2024. 

But in March last year, Valentina Tereshkova, a lawmaker from Putin’s ruling party, proposed the constitutional change during a discussion in the State Duma (congress). After Tereshkova, who is a Soviet cosmonaut and was the first woman to go to space, suggested the amendment, Putin himself showed up in the parliament building and offered his backing for the idea, undermining earlier speculation that he might seek to maintain power by taking another role.

In principle, CBS notes, this option would be possible, but on one condition,” Putin told lawmakers in a televised speech a year ago. “If the constitutional court gives an official ruling that such an amendment would not contradict the principles and main provisions of the constitution.”

Putin said then that the Russian president was “the guarantor of the country’s security and domestic stability” and that the country should avoid political upheavals. “Russia has fulfilled its plan when it comes to revolutions,” he said.

In July last year, Russians were given the opportunity to vote on a raft of constitutional reforms, including the change to the limit on presidential terms. Other measures included a proposed ban on same-sex marriages, new language mentioning for the first time the importance of “faith in God,” and measures meant to protect “traditional family values” and forbidding top officials from holding dual citizenship.

Russians could either vote for or against the whole package of changes, but there was little doubt even as ballots were cast about the outcome. The vote was seen widely as an effort to demonstrate Putin’s broad support in the country.

Political opposition leader and outspoken Putin critic Alexey Navalny—who is currently on hunger strike as he serves a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence on charges he insists are politically motivate— criticized the vote last summer as a populist spectacle designed to give the Russian leader the right to be “president for life.”

“I know that in two years, instead of working normally at all levels of the state, all eyes will be on the search for potential successors,” Putin said in an interview with state-run television last year. “We must work and not look for successors.”

He’s said at the time that he might consider running for a fifth term, but insisted that he hadn’t yet made a final decision.

Research contact: @CBSNews

GOP lawmaker’s family calls him out over insurrection in scathing ad to be shown on Fox News

April 5, 2021

Three siblings of Representative Paul Gosar (R-Arizona)—Jennifer, David, and Tim—say in a 60-second advertising spot that he’s one the key instigators of the deadly January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol carried out by pro-Trump insurrectionists  and they want him held accountable, HuffPost reports.

“He should have criminal consequences,” one of his brothers, Tim Gosar, said in a video from the conservative group Republican Accountability Project. “And if he’s found guilty, he should go to jail.”

In the ad, two of Gosar’s brothers and one of his sisters claim that the Arizona legislator helped spread false conspiracy theories after the election; and worked with one of the key organizers of the January  6 “Stop the Steal” rally, which turned into an attack on the Capitol.

“There is no one member of Congress more responsible for the attack on the Capitol than Congressman Paul Gosar,” one of his sisters, Jennifer Gosar, said in the ad, which will run this week on Fox News in Gosar’s district; as well as in Flagstaff, where he lives, but which is not part of his district:

The three siblings featured in the video—posted to YouTube on April 2, and already gleaning 25,000 views as of noon on the same date—suggest that he be expelled from Congress over his role in the insurrection and his attempts in the House to overturn the election results from multiple states.

Gosar’s siblings have spoken out against him in the past. In 2018, six of his brothers and sisters united to endorse his opponent, notes HuffPost..

“It would be difficult to see my brother as anything but a racist,” one of his sisters, Grace Gosar, said in a video.

Since then, the congressman has done little to change that impression: Gosar spoke at a white nationalist event in Florida earlier this year and last month he tweeted a message with the motto of a white nationalist organization.

The Republican Accountability Project—which has been calling out enablers of former President Donald Trump’s election lies by name—also created an online feature to allow voters to see if their lawmakers tried to overturn the election results and make a pledge not to support anyone who did.

Research contact: @HuffPost

On the money: Biden says corporate tax hike will pay for infrastructure plan

April 2, 2021

President Joe Biden vowed on March 31 to make companies like Amazon pay their fair share in taxes in order to fund his ambitious $2 trillion infrastructure plan, Raw Story reports, crediting Agence France Presse as a source.

In his speech in Pittsburgh, Biden expressed outrage over the imbalance between taxes paid by the wealthiest corporations and the burden for middle-class workers. He cited a 2019 study, which found that 91 Fortune 500 companies, “the biggest companies in the world, including Amazon … pay not a single, solitary penny of federal income tax.

“That is just wrong.”

“A fireman and a teacher paying 22% and Amazon and 90 other major corporations paying zero in federal taxes? I am going to put an end to that,” the president said.

Biden on Wednesday unveiled the far-reaching plan to shore up the nation’s highways, bridges, and ports; fund telecommunications upgrades; and increase financial backing for research and development to increase the nation’s competitive edge—especially compared to China.

A key source of the financing would come from boosting the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, and cracking down on the use of tax havens to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

The package already is drawing condemnation from corporations that balk at reversing the tax cuts signed in late 2017 by then-president Donald Trump, Raw Story says. That measure slashed the corporate rate from 35%— although, with various deductions and loopholes, the average rate companies actually pay was, and remains, much lower.

Companies in the United States pay an average tax rate of just 8% compared to the 16% they paid prior to 2017, according to a recent analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Even if Congress approves Biden’s proposed increase, a corporate tax rate of 28%  still would be the lowest since World War II, with the exception of the past three years.

First enacted in 1909 in the United States, the corporate tax rate got as high as 52% in 1968 before a series of cuts in the 1970s and 1980s, Raw Story notes. .

Among the 37 member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States has a relatively high official tax rate after France and Colombia at 32%, and Australia, Mexico and Portugal at 30%.

But the average US rate after deductions trails far behind many advanced economies, according to OECD data.

Amazon’s SVP for Policy and Press Jay Carney defended the company’s use of research and development tax credits on Wednesday, Raw Story said.

“If the R&D Tax Credit is a ‘loophole,’ it’s certainly one Congress strongly intended,” he wrote on Twitter; noting that it had been extended by lawmakers several times since its inception in 1981 and was made permanent by president Barack Obama in 2015.

Biden contended that the corporate tax hike was “not about penalizing anyone. I have nothing against millionaires and billionaires.”

The eight-year investment plan “builds a fairer economy that gives everybody a chance to succeed,” he said, noting it would “create millions of jobs, good-paying

As expected, business groups have sent early signs of their opposition to the Biden plan.

Research contact: @RawStory

Two U.S. Capitol Police officers sue Trump over January riot

April 1, 2021

Two U.S. Capitol Police officers who were on duty during the deadly January 6 insurrection at Capitol formally filed suit on March 30 in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia against former President Donald J. Trump—saying he was responsible for the physical and emotional injuries they had suffered as a result of the day’s events.

The plaintiffs, James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby,  said in their filing that former President Donald J. Trump “inflamed, encouraged, incited, directed, and aided and abetted” the Capitol Riot, according to a report by The New York Times. The complaint also cited the former president’s January 6 speech and other conduct—including what it said was his failure that day to “take timely action to stop his followers from continued violence.”

Each of the plaintiffs is seeking compensatory damages in excess of $75,000, plus punitive damages. The lawsuit is the first to be brought against the former president by Capitol Police officers.  The force has more than 2,000 officer, the Times notes.

Supporters of Trump overran the Capitol with an intention to stop the Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the November presidential election. Before the incursion, Trump spoke at a nearby rally, where he urged his supporters to “show strength” and “fight like hell.”

Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died in the mayhem. Trump was later impeached by the House of Representatives on a single charge of “incitement of insurrection,” but was acquitted in February after a brief Senate trial in which few Republicans broke ranks to vote guilty.

During the attack, Officer Hemby, an 11-year veteran of the Capitol Police, was outside the building,—crushed against the side and sprayed with chemicals that burned his eyes, skin and throat, the complaint said. One member of the mob screamed that he was “disrespecting the badge.”

Officer Hemby remains in physical therapy for neck and back injuries that he sustained on January 6 and “has struggled to manage the emotional fallout from being relentlessly attacked,” according to the complaint.

Officer Blassingame, a 17-year veteran of the force, suffered head and back injuries during the riot, the complaint said; and experienced back pain, depression. and insomnia afterward.

“He is haunted by the memory of being attacked, and of the sensory impacts—the sights, sounds, smells and even tastes of the attack remain close to the surface,” the complaint said. “He experiences guilt of being unable to help his colleagues who were simultaneously being attacked; and of surviving where other colleagues did not.”

Lawyers for the officers and for the former president could not be reached for comment early Wednesday, the Times said. Trump has previously denied responsibility for the attack.

The Capitol and Metropolitan Police departments have said that at least 138 of their officers were injured during the riot. The injuries ranged from minor bruises to concussions, rib fractures, burns, and even a mild heart attack.

Research contact: @nytimes

Rights and wrongs: Congress prepares for heated battle over massive voting rights bill

March 30, 2021

Congress is preparing for a heated battle over the way Americans vote, with the two parties set to clash over proposed federal election standards versus Republican-led state restrictions, NBC News reports.

At issue is the fate of the For the People Act, which would that would modify the rules for American elections from start to finish. The bill would expand access to the ballot box by:

  • Creating automatic voter registration across the country and offering same-day registration for federal races;
  • Restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated;
  • Enforcing the time allotted for early voting to at least 15 days in every state nationwide;
  • Providing universal access to mail-in voting;
  • Modernizing America’s voting infrastructure; and
  • Making Election Day a national holiday.

The House measure passed 220-210, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in voting against it. The divisions between the two parties are sharp, NBC notes. President Joe Biden and Democrats say federal intervention is needed to stop Republicans from reviving racist Jim Crow-style restrictions that make it harder for minorities to vote. Republicans say Democrats are executing a power grab to remove necessary protections on the voting process and usurp authority from states.

Where they agree: This is about the future of democracy.

According to the network news outlet, the fight is sure to touch raw nerves in a country that saw its Capitol attacked just months ago by a mob of former President Donald Trump’s supporters—who were egged on by groundless claims that rampant fraud had stolen the election from their candidate.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) has promised a Senate vote on the House bill after the committee process, along with the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which empowers the federal government to review discriminatory voting laws.

“This Senate will once again be the forum where civil rights is debated and historic action is taken to secure them for all Americans,” Schumer said in a letter to senators. “Each of these bills will receive full consideration in committee and eventually on the Senate floor.”

The bill, known as H.R.1 and S.1, got a hearing on March 26 in the Senate Rules Committee that featured rare sparring on the panel between Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), signaling the commitment on each side to their irreconcilable positions.

McConnell criticized the bill as “a grab-bag of changes” that go beyond voting rights. He highlighted a provision to restructure the Federal Election Commission, calling it a ploy to make it more partisan. He called the campaign finance restrictions an assault on free speech and a gift to “cancel culture.”

“ The S.1 bill is highly unlikely to win the minimum ten Republicans needed to break a filibuster. And Democrats have yet to unify their 50-member caucus to secure a majority.”

Research contact: @NBCNews