June 22, 2021
Sixty Catholic Democrats have penned a letter urging the Roman Catholic Bishops of the United States not to block President Joe Biden from receiving Communion because of his progressive abortion views, Newsweek magazine reports.
They base their case on two building blocks of American democracy:
- The first clause in the Bill of Rightsstates that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
- The “establishment clause” of the First Amendment of the Constitution—“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”—often is interpreted to require separation of church and state.
“We believe the separation of church and state allows for our faith to inform our public duties and best serve our constituents,” the letter reads. “The Sacrament of Holy Communion is central to the life of practicing Catholics, and the weaponization of the Eucharist to Democratic lawmakers for their support of a woman’s safe and legal access to abortion is contradictory.”
Congressional Democrats continued, “No elected officials have been threatened with being denied the Eucharist as they support and have supported policies contrary to the Church teachings—including supporting the death penalty, separating migrant children from their parents, denying asylum to those seeking safety in the United States, limiting assistance for the hungry and food insecure, and denying rights and dignity to immigrants.”
The letter comes after the group of bishops overwhelmingly voted to draft a statement on the sacrament of the Eucharist, also known as Holy Communion, on Friday, June 18.
The decision, aimed at the nation’s second Catholic president, was approved by a vote of 73% in favor and 24% opposed during the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Biden, who has regularly attended Mass throughout his life, has embodied a liberal Christianity less focused on sexual politics and more on racial inequality, climate change, and poverty.
“To pursue a blanket denial of the Holy Eucharist to certain elected officials would indeed grieve the Holy Spirit and deny the evolution of that individual, a Christian person who is never perfect, but living in the struggle to get there,” the 60 Democrats wrote.
The list of signers include Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Joaquin Castro, Marie Newman and Ted Lieu, among others.
Research contact: @Newsweek
June 21, 2021
The House voted on Thursday, June 17, to repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF)—a measure that that empowered then-President George W. Bush to invade Iraq—and that was fiercely resisted by just one lawmaker, Representative Barbara Lee (D-California), who did not believe the commander-on-chief should receive blanket approval to wage war.
Progressive Democrats issued fresh calls to end “forever wars” after the legislation, H.R. 256—sponsored by Lee— easily passed in a 268-161 vote. Representative Elaine Luria of Virginia was the sole Democrat to vote against the repeal, Common Dreams reported.
In a statement welcoming the vote, Lee noted that—while it originally targeted the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq—the AUMF has repeatedly been used to justify other attacks, including the 2020 assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
“Two decades after casting the single ‘no’ vote against the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, we have seen every administration since utilize the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs to conduct war far beyond the scope Congress ever intended,” she said.
“Let’s be clear,” Lee continued. “U.S. military operations carried out under the 2002 AUMF officially concluded in 2011 and this authorization no longer serves any operational purpose. As long as it remains on the books, the law is susceptible to further abuse by any president.”
“The fight to end forever wars has been a comprehensive movement from advocates and activists,” she said, “and without their work, we wouldn’t be in this position today.”
“That AUMF was based on a lie,” the CPC tweeted, “one that resulted in hundreds of thousands of lives lost, including civilians, U.S. service members, journalists, and humanitarian workers.”
“Today’s vote shows the power of the people who demand an end to the endless wars,” said Diana Ohlbaum, FCNL’s senior strategist and legislative director for foreign policy. “Democratic and Republican legislators alike recognize that their constituents want them to take responsibility for deciding if and when our country goes to war.”
Now, supporters of the repeal resolution are looking to the Senate, which Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said would vote on such a measure. Legislation from Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) and Todd Young (R-Indiana) to repeal the 1991 and 2002 AUMF is set for a markup next week, said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey).
According to Common Dreams, addressing that effort, Lee said she was “thrilled to see the Senate build on our momentum in the House to end forever wars” and would “continue working with Sens. Kaine and Young to get this legislation across the finish line to President Biden’s desk for a signature.”
“It’s far past time to put matters of war and peace back in the hands of Congress, as constitutionally intended,” she said. “We are finally on the cusp of achieving that goal.”
Research contact: @commondreams
June 18, 2021
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday, June 17, that the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, remains valid—rejecting a claim by a group of conservative states that a recent change to the law made it unconstitutional, NBC News reports.
By a 7-2 vote, the court said the plaintiffs did not have legal standing to sue because they did not make a strong enough showing that the law harmed them. But the decision also suggested it would be difficult for any challengers to try again on the same legal theory.
Two of former President Donald Trump’s three appointees to the court— Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett—joined the majority opinion, while the third, Neil Gorsuch, dissented.
In their dissent, JusticesSamuel Alito and Gorsuch said the court should have taken the case and declared it unconstitutional.
According to NBC News, the law’s challengers, 18 red states led by Texas, urged the court to rule that Obamacare’s requirement for nearly all Americans to obtain health insurance or pay an income tax penalty — known as the individual mandate — is unconstitutional. For that reason, they said, the entire law must be scrapped.
“The plaintiffs claim that without the penalty the act’s minimum essential coverage requirement is unconstitutional,” Breyer wrote for the court’s majority, adding, “They also argue that the minimum essential coverage requirement is not severable from the rest of the act,” meaning the entire law is invalid.
“We do not reach these questions of the act’s validity, however, for Texas and the other plaintiffs in this suit lack the standing necessary to raise them,” he wrote.
Republicans have long opposed the law, former President Barack Obama’s signature legislation. But more than 20 million Americans now depend on it for their health insurance, and there is broad public support for its requirement that insurance companies must cover pre-existing health conditions.
The Supreme Court first upheld the health care law in 2012. The majority opinion written by John Roberts said the individual was a legitimate exercise of Congress’s taxing authority. But in 2017, the Republican-led Congress set the tax penalty at zero.
That led the red states to argue that because the tax was effectively eliminated, the revised law could not be saved as a tax and was therefore an unconstitutional effort to require all Americans to obtain something. A federal judge in Texas agreed, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld that ruling.
But 20 blue states, led by California, asked the Supreme Court to overturn those lower court decisions. They said with the tax penalty at zero, there effectively is no individual mandate, so the law is not unconstitutional. It may encourage Americans to buy insurance, but it does not require anyone to do anything, they said.
What’s more, the red states said Congress meant the healthcare law to work as an integrated whole. Prohibiting insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing young people to stay longer on the policies of their parents were meant to work because of the near-universal command to buy insurance. Without the mandate, the challengers said, the law falls apart.
However, the blue states said the test for deciding whether the rest of a law can be saved if part of it is struck down is a simple one: What did Congress want? They said the answer is found in the 2017 action that set the tax at zero: Congress left the rest of the law intact.
Research contact: @NBCNews
June 17, 2021
The talks came at a time when both sides describe relations as being “at rock bottom.” President Biden had said that he expected no major breakthroughs —but hoped to find small areas of agreement.
- Diplomacy: The two sides are expected to discuss the withdrawal of their ambassadors, who returned home amid heightened tensions. America has expelled dozens of Russian diplomats and shut down two compounds in recent years; while U.S. missions in Russia are set to be barred from employing locals, meaning dramatic cuts in services including visas.
- Arms control: Officials also believe there could be common ground on arms control. In February, the countries extended their New Start nuclear arms control treaty. Russia wants this to be further extended.
- Cyberattacks: Biden is expected to raise concerns over recent cyberattacks that the United States has linked to Russia-based hackers. Putin has denied Russian involvement.
- Elections: The issue of alleged Russian interference in U.S. elections is also likely to come up. Again, Putin denies any involvement.
- Prisoners:The families of two former U.S.Marines who are being held in Russian prisons have pressed for their release ahead of the summit. Asked if he would be willing to negotiate on a prisoner swap, Putin told NBC News, “Of course”
- Navalny:The Russian side has called the alleged poisoning and imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny an internal political matter. But a senior U.S. official told the Associated Press news agency that there is “no issue that is off the table for the president.”
- Ukraine: Relations with America when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014. There have been warnings this year of a build-up of Russian troops in Crimea and near Ukraine’s border,sparking concerns of preparations for war. Putin also has baulked recently at the idea of Ukrainian membership of NATO.
- Syria:Biden is expected to appeal to Russia not to close the only remaining UN aid corridor from Turkey into opposition-held northwest Syria. A vote on r-authorizing the corridor will be held by the UN Security Council, in which Russia—which supports Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad—has veto power
According to The New York Times, emerging from his first meeting with Biden since his election as U.S. president, Putin began by saying the talks had gone well—but it soon became clear that tensions between the countries may be unlikely to ease significantly any time soon.
Putin denied that Russia has played a role in a spate of increasingly bold cyberattacks against U.S. institutions, and said the United States was the biggest offender.
The Times reported that the Russian leader’s remarks suggested that he was not interested in discussing what Biden had said was a key objective of the talks: to establish some “guardrails” about what kinds of attacks on critical infrastructure are off limits in peacetime.
Putin did suggest that there had been some kind of agreement to establish expert groups to examine these issues, but U.S. officials fear it is little more than a ploy to tie the matter up in committee.
“There has been no hostility,” Putin declared. “On the contrary, our meeting took place in a constructive spirit.”
Addressing reporters at the Geneva villa where the meeting took place, the Russian president said: “Both sides expressed their intention to understand each other and seek common ground. The talks were quite constructive.”
Research contact: @BBCNews
June 16, 2021
The race to replace Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who cannot run again because of term limits, is gaining another candidate—a nuclear engineer who says he’s running as a Democrat to offer voters another alternative to the Trump brand of politics, NBC News reports.
A political novice—he once served as student body president at Morehouse College, a historically Black university in Atlanta—Jones, 44, said he was turned off by the political divisions of the past few years.
“Our campaign is about lifting people up and building a fair Arkansas so there are opportunities for all of us,” he said, adding that “the reality of this moment in our nation’s history is that if we want our politics to be different, we have to be different.”
As a candidate, Jones will face Sarah Huckabee Sanders, familiar to most Americans as the press secretary who served under former President Donald Trump, who announced her bid for the 2022 governorship in Arkansas on January 25 of this year. State Attorney General Leslie Rutledge also is running on the GOP ticket.
Jones also will face several Democrats—among them, Anthony Bland, a teacher and the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018.
Early polling and name recognition have given Sanders an edge, and Trump quickly endorsed her in January through his political action committee. Sanders already has raised nearly $5 million as she runs a campaign vowing to fight the “radical left” and federal government overreach.
Political observers say Jones, who is Black, could ride a wave of recent years in which people of color and from historically disenfranchised groups with limited political experience are getting elected to higher office.
“Jones is a native son. This is important because he’s not seen as an outsider,” said Najja Baptist, an assistant professor of Political Scienceat the University of Arkansas. “But what he’ll have to do is take the opposite approach of a Sanders: galvanize small donors and build a multicultural coalition.”
At the very least, Baptist said, this election may be a springboard to inspire a diverse group of people to run for office in a state that remains a conservative GOP stronghold.
“The question is how much of an impact can a young Black candidate make in this election, even if they don’t win?” he said.
Research contact: @NBCNews
June 15, 2021
John Demers, the Trump-appointed head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, is expected to step down at the end of next week, according to a person familiar with the matter—a departure that was arranged months ago, but that now comes amid widespread backlash over DOJ investigations into leaks of classified information that began under the administration of the former president, The New York Times reports.
Demers is the longest-serving Senate-confirmed official from the Trump Administration to remain at the Justice Department during the Biden presidency.
John Carlin, the second in command in the deputy attorney general’s office—who, himself, left the agency in April—had before his own departure asked Demers to remain at the department, according to the person. Lisa O. Monaco had just been confirmed to serve as the deputy attorney general, and the three officials had a long history of working together on sensitive national security cases.
In response, Demers asked to leave by summer, and the two men eventually agreed that he would stay on through June 25, the Times’ source said.
But , the Times notes, Demers’s departure also comes as Democrats and First Amendment advocates have attacked the Justice Department following revelations that prosecutors supervised by Demers seized the records of reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN and of classified information.
The department’s inspector general announced an investigation on Friday into the matter.
While it is common for the Justice Department to try to find out who shared classified information with the media, it is highly unusual to secretly gather records from the press and lawmakers. The prosecutors also prevented the lawyers and executives of the Times and CNN from disclosing that records had been taken, even to their newsroom leaders, another highly aggressive step.
Much of the spotlight on national security cases during Demers’ three-year run focused instead on the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller, III, who ran the Russia investigation, the Justice Department’s highest profile and politically fraught national security matter.
Justice Department officials say that all appropriate approvals were given for those orders, meaning that the attorney general at the time, not Demers, signed off.
Former Attorney General William P. Barr approved the decision to seize records from CNN and The Washington Post in 2020, people with knowledge of the leak investigations have said. But it is unclear who approved the request for email records from Google that belonged to Times reporters. The request was filed with a court days after Barr left,although he could have signed off on it before leaving.
Leak investigators in 2018 also obtained data from Microsoft and Apple that belonged to Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, including Representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both of California. Mr. Schiff is now the panel’s chairman.
In those instances, the Justice Department also told the technology companies not to inform customers about the subpoenas until recently.
The data was collected and the gag orders were imposed on the tech companies weeks before Demers was confirmed to lead the National Security Division.
Still, some Democrats demanded answers about what he knew about the leak cases. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, called on Demers on Sunday, June 13, to testify before Congress.
Research contact: @nytimes
June 14, 2021
After a series of damaging leaksto the media about contacts between senior White House functionaries and Russian officials during the early moments of the Trump Administration, the Department of Justice took the extraordinary step of subpoenaing data from Apple on top Democrats, their families, and their staff, in an effort to identify the source of the leaked information, The New York Times was first to report on Thursday night, June 10.
Indeed, the Times reported, at least a dozen people associated with the House Intelligence Committee had their records seized, including then–ranking member of the committee Adam Schiff and committee member Eric Swalwell
According to a report by Slate on Friday, the surveillance reportedly encompassed the subjects’ metadata, whom they were communicating with—not the content of those communications. One of the individuals whose records was subpoenaed was a minor, presumably a family member of one of the targets, because the DOJ suspected officials might be using their children’s computer to leak to avoid detection.
Other administrations, including the Obama Administration, have aggressively hunted leakers—but, Slate notes, the latest revelations show how far and beyond the Trump administration was willing to go, essentially from the start of the Trump presidency.
The records seized were reportedly from 2017 and early 2018, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions bore the brunt of Trump’s rage about all things Russia. Leaked contacts between Michael Flynn and then–Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak led to Flynn’s ouster and ultimately federal charges.
The leaked information was explosive: It showed the continuation of curious contact between Trump World and Russia; it also revealed that the FBI had used a court-authorized secret wiretap on Kislyak that ensnared the future national security adviser.
“Ultimately, the data and other evidence did not tie the committee to the leaks, and investigators debated whether they had hit a dead end and some even discussed closing the inquiry,” the Times notes. “But William P. Barr revived languishing leak investigations after he became attorney general a year later. … Barr directed prosecutors to continue investigating, contending that the Justice Department’s National Security Division had allowed the cases to languish, according to three people briefed on the cases.” The moves smacked of political targeting to some in the Justice Department.
The secret targeting of sitting members of Congress by the opposite party—particularly, those leading an investigation related to the White House, is an extraordinary step that requires truly extraordinary evidence, Slate says. Adding that,so far reports indicate no evidence was found linking the targets to the actual leaks.
What was found was that the Trump Administration had an ulterior motive: snooping on its political enemies.
These disturbing revelations come on the heels of news that the Trump DOJ carried out similar, secret surveillance of journalists covering the White House for a host of major news organizations—raising serious questions about the appropriateness of the Trump administration’s use of its surveillance powers in what Slate characterized as “a broad and dangerous overreach.”
Research contact: @Slate
June 11, 2021
In a speech set to be delivered on Thursday, June 10, on the eve G7 Cornwall Summit in the United Kingdom, President Joe Biden plans to outline plans for the United States to donate 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses to about 100 nations worldwide over the next year—in addition to the 80 million doses he already has pledged will be delivered by the end of this month.
According to a report by The New York Times, in making the announcement, the president will challenge his fellow G-7 leaders— from the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan—to step up vaccine distribution in their own nations and in others in order to beat the COVID-19 pandemic.
The White House reached the deal just in time for Biden’s eight-day European trip, which offers his first opportunity to reassert the United States as a world leader and restore relations that were badly frayed by former President Donald Trump.
“We have to end COVID-19, not just at home, which we’re doing, but everywhere,” Biden told American troops after landing at R.A.F. Mildenhall in Suffolk, England, on June 9. “There’s no wall high enough to keep us safe from this pandemic or the next biological threat we face, and there will be others. It requires coordinated multilateral action.”
People familiar with the Pfizer deal said the United States would pay for the doses at a “not-for-profit” price. The first 200 million doses will be distributed by the end of this year, followed by 300 million by next June, they said. The doses will be distributed through COVAX, the international vaccine-sharing initiative.
Biden is in Europe for a week to attend the NATO and Group of 7 summits and to meet with President Vladimir Putin of Russia in Geneva. In a statement on Wednesday, Jeffrey Zients, the White House official in charge of devising a global vaccination strategy, said Biden would “rally the world’s democracies around solving this crisis globally, with America leading the way to create the arsenal of vaccines that will be critical in our global fight against Covid-19.”
According to the Times, the White House is trying to spotlight its success in fighting the pandemic — particularly its vaccination campaign — and use that success as a diplomatic tool, especially as China and Russia seek to do the same. Mr. Biden has been insistent that, unlike China and Russia, which have been sharing their vaccines with dozens of countries, the United States will not seek to extract promises from countries receiving American-made vaccines.
The 500 million doses still fall far short of the 11 billion the World Health Organization estimates are needed to vaccinate the world, but significantly exceed what the United States has committed to share so far. Other nations have been pleading with the United States to give up some of its abundant vaccine supplies. Less than 1% of people are fully vaccinated in a number of African countries, compared with 42% in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Advocates for global health welcomed the news, but reiterated their stance that it is not enough for the United States to simply give vaccine away. They say the Biden Administration must create the conditions for other countries to manufacture vaccines on their own, including transferring technology to make the doses.
“The world needs urgent new manufacturing to produce billions more doses within a year, not just commitments to buy the planned inadequate supply,” Peter Maybarduk, the director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program, said in a statement. He added, “We have yet to see a plan from the U.S. government or the G7 of the needed ambition or urgency to make billions more doses and end the pandemic.”
The deal with Pfizer has the potential to open the door to similar agreements with other vaccine manufacturers, including Moderna, whose vaccine was developed with American tax dollars—unlike Pfizer’s. In addition, the Biden administration has brokered a deal in which Merck will help produce Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, and those doses might be available for overseas use.
The United States has already contracted to buy 300 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires two shots, for distribution in the United States; the 500 million doses are in addition to that, according to people familiar with the deal.
Research contact: @nytimes
June 10, 2021
The Biden Justice Department is forging ahead with a controversial legal effort started under former President Donald Trump to intervene on Trump’s behalf in a defamation lawsuit brought against him by a writer who says Trump sexually assaulted her in the 1990s, NPR reports. But the question remains, why?
E. Jean Carroll leveled the accusations against Trump in her memoir published in Jean Carroll leveled the accusations against Trump in her memoir published in 2019. Trump denied the allegations and accused Carroll of lying to sell books.
Carroll sued the then-president for defamation, but the suit has been caught up in litigation since the Trump-era Justice Department attempted to step in on Trump’s behalf and make the government the defendant instead of the now-former president.
In its filing late Monday, the Justice Department—now led by Attorney General Merrick Garland under the Biden Administration—sought to continue its defense of Trump while distancing itself from his alleged actions.
“Then-President Trump’s response to Ms. Carroll’s serious allegations of sexual assault included statements that questioned her credibility in terms that were crude and disrespectful,” Brian Boynton, the acting head of the department’s Civil Division, wrote in the brief. “But this case does not concern whether Mr. Trump’s response was appropriate. Nor does it turn on the truthfulness of Ms. Carroll’s allegations.”
Instead, Boynton said, it boils down to a few legal questions, including whether a president is an “employee of the government” and whether Trump’s denials were made within the scope of his office. The department said the answer to both questions is yes, and therefore under federal law it said the government should be able to replace Trump as defendant in the case.
According to NPR, Carroll’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan, slammed the Justice Department’s decision to continue the Trump-era effort to intervene.
“The DOJ’s position is not only legally wrong, it is morally wrong since it would give federal officials free license to cover up private sexual misconduct by publicly brutalizing any woman who has the courage to come forward,” she said on Twitter.
The new filing is the latest development in the case since the Trump-era Justice Department first took the unusual step of seeking to intervene in the lawsuit last year.
The Justice Department and then-Attorney General William Barr came under fierce criticism for the move, which opponents argued was one in a series of actions the department took under Barr that benefited Trump or his friends.
A federal judge in October denied the Justice Department’s initial attempt to step in on Trump’s behalf. Trump appealed the decision to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, where the matter now stands.
Research contact: @NPR
The voting rights group Fair Fight Action—founded and headed by activist and former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams—has announcing a month-long campaign to help mobilize young voters of color around the For the People Act (S. 1)—for the Senate version of the extensive voting rights bill championed by Democratic lawmakers, CBS reports.
The campaign, called Hot Call Summer, will last throughout June, and will feature virtual events, a paid media campaign and plans to text at least 10 million voters in 2022 battleground states that have seen controversial voting legislation move in state legislatures.
“We can’t wait any longer for Congress to protect Americans’ freedom to vote, which is why we need Senators to pass the For The People Act,” Abrams said in an email to supporters first obtained by CBS News. “With voting rights under attack in 48 out of 50 state legislatures across the country, the moment has never been more urgent, and it will take all of us to ensure that Congress passes the voting rights protections our country and democracy desperately need.”
The announcement comes on the heels of West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin’s announcement in an opinion piece over the weekend that he’ll vote against the bill, which raises a significant roadblock in getting it passed.
“I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy, and for that reason, I will vote against the For the People Act. Furthermore, I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster,” Manchin wrote in the Charleston Gazette-Mail on June 6.
He has instead urged his colleagues in the Senate to focus on passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which has some bipartisan support, but has not yet been introduced in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vowed to bring the For the People Act to a vote by the end of June.
Research contact: @CBS