Don’t worry, Republicans! Trump will be on the ballot in 2022

There are so many memorable quotes from Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather series that be can be applied to our current political environment. “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer,” comes to mind, for example.

But there is a lesser known quotation, specifically from The Godfather Part II, that seems uniquely suited to the way Democrats ought to be viewing the circus of abject Trump tongue-bathing currently underway in Orlando at CPAC. It’s a line Michael Corleone delivers to his adopted brother Tom Hagen early on in the film, reflecting a strategy he learned from his father, Don Vito Corleone, but one he applied to friend and foe alike. He advises Hagen to “try to think as the people around you think,” noting that “on that basis, anything is possible.”

A grandiose, egotistical and sociopathic carnival barker with no demonstrable features of human empathy, one with a sordid, shady and criminal past, leaving two impeachments, a single term, and a record of abuses (including the deaths of over a half million Americans) in his wake. For all intents and purposes, this person now wields complete control of the Republican Party, with the power (and intention!) to create or destroy individual careers in that party with a single expression of his disapproval or distaste.

And now his very presence, his likes and dislikes, are being slavishly catered and accommodated in the expectation that he will save that party from irrelevance, simply through the force of his own erratic personality.

It’s no understatement to say that we’re witnessing an unprecedented moment in the country’s  history. One of our political parties has willingly allowed itself to become subservient and beholden to a cult of personality—not just any personality, mind you, but one with a distinct, unmistakable character and history.

So if we want to follow Vito Corleone’s advice, we should try to put ourselves in the positions of Republicans and try to divine exactly what it is they are thinking.

Perhaps, to that end, its most useful to start with what they’re not thinking. They’re clearly not motivated by any high-minded fealty to the country, conservative principles or the Constitution. Other Republicans have survived for over a century paying homage to those things without abjectly prostrating themselves before a figure like Donald Trump. Nor in the last hundred years has a president with so many glaring failures (loss of the House, loss of the Senate, and loss of the general election) continued to hold sway over the Republican Party. 

In fact the cult-like devotion among elected Republicans that we are witnessing with Trump points to only one cause—these Republicans are operating solely out of self-interest, and that self-interest is being driven, for the most part, by fear: specifically, fear of being primaried by someone more closely aligned with Trump, but also fear of what certain of their constituents will do to them if they do not continue to display their fealty to Trump.

For most of them that calculation is purely political, and it goes something like this: By aligning closely enough to Trump, Republicans hope to retain the base of constituents that put them into the office in the first place. They won’t grow that base, but it will be enough to secure reelection. That was the 2020 thinking; although Republicans lost control of the Senate, the margins were not as great as some predicted, and in the House they even gained a few seats. Many voters, disgusted by Trump but still loyal to the Republican Party, chose to keep their Republican senators and representatives even as they voted for Joe Biden.

But these same Republicans saw what happened in January’s Georgia special elections. Trump was nowhere on the ballot, and two GOP incumbents in what had long been considered a very “red” state promptly went down. They went down because of substantial and significant voter participation by people of color, which is why the upsurge in passing voter suppression has been such an urgent imperative in Republican-dominated state legislatures since that election. They went down because Trump himself had cast doubt on the integrity of the election itself, prompting a small but not insignificant number of Republican voters to sit the special election out.

Without Trump on the ballot, any conclusion that could be drawn from either the 2020 general or the Georgia special election would remain murky for Republicans. But faced with this inconclusiveness, the party as a whole has collectively decided to cast its lot with Donald Trump.

Just one short week ago, now-former Georgia Sen. David Perdue thought he might run for Senate again in 2022, for the seat that ex-Sen. Kelly Loeffler lost to Sen. Raphael Warnock. Following the lead of his party, he went down to Mar-a-Lago to pay homage to the dethroned and embittered Orange Ozymandias and secure his blessing.

It didn’t work out well. As reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Trump didn’t want to talk to Perdue about 2022. Instead, the one-term president wanted to enlist him in his vendetta against Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, whom he blames for declining to falsify the results of the 2020 election in his favor.

Perdue trekked to Trump’s private Mar-A-Lago club in Florida on Friday to play golf with the former president, according to people with direct knowledge who said Trump spent much of their time together railing against Republicans he claimed didn’t do more to overturn his defeat.

AJC reports that Perdue later stated that Trump’s behavior didn’t influence his decision. But that’s not what was reported by other outlets, including The New York Times.

The meeting did not go well, people briefed on it said. Mr. Trump was focused on retribution, particularly against Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, and Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, a Republican whom Mr. Trump views as having betrayed him.

[…]

Trying to navigate a feud between the former president and his state’s sitting governor for the next two years was deeply unappealing to Mr. Perdue, according to a Georgia Republican who knows the former senator.

One of the people briefed on the meeting with Mr. Trump said it appeared to be a factor in Mr. Perdue’s decision not to run…[.]

Let’s hit the pause button for a quick recap. To emphasize, the Republican Party leader is exactly what he was before 2020: an accused rapist and sexual harasser who was twice impeached. One who miserably failed the country in the time of its most dire need and incited an insurrection against the American government. An emotionally volatile, spite-driven figure, with multiple looming legal challenges that might very well end him up in prison. One who, with the assistance of a right-wing media firmly in his thrall, has managed to hoodwink tens of millions of Americans into believing that the election was stolen from him through some murky and fantastical exercise of widespread fraud.

Perdue tried to reason with him, to enlist his support, but he quickly discovered that it’s impossible to reason with such a person, to rise and fall with his whims, with his vindictiveness—whims and vindictiveness that are extraordinarily unpredictable. As unpredictable, in fact, as Trump’s own future.

This is the person in whom the Republican Party has placed both its trust and its future. In effect, through their allegiance, they’re consciously angling to make 2022 another referendum on Donald Trump. Beyond demonizing their usual targets (LGBTQ citizens, undocumented immigrants, and people of color they consider inferior) they have no ideas or policies to speak of—this is what “conservative values” have effectively devolved into.

So that explains what they’re “thinking.” It explains their motivation, and, as Michael Corleone would doubtlessly point out, it reveals their weaknesses, in spades.

President Biden is likely to have the benefit of some strong tailwinds going into 2022. The country will be reopened, and many people will be eager to spend money in ways they have been unable to do over the last year, leading to a huge upswing in the economy. Everyone who wants to be vaccinated against COVID-19 likely will be by 2022, and in many ways, able to go back to lives we all considered to be normal before the pandemic struck. The change in quality of life for literally hundreds of millions of Americans will be palpable. The COVID-19 relief bill, which will be passed in about two weeks, will have worked its way through the economy, pumping nearly two trillion dollars into the system, relieving state governments and providing aid to millions of those currently—but hopefully only temporarily—unemployed. Since the bill will pass with exactly zero Republican support, the transformation this country undergoes will be solely attributable to the Democratic Party.

In contrast, we will see a Republican Party that has irrevocably tied itself to the failed presidency of Donald Trump, with all the baggage, current and ensuing, that Trump will force upon them as a consequence of that allegiance. Meanwhile the mercurial, unstable, and vindictive nature of Donald Trump himself will only grow worse. His legions of deplorable followers, including Republican elected officials who chose to become followers, will only become more and more radicalized as their futures grow inexorably attached to his failure. Even the slightest effort to acknowledge Biden’s successes will subject them to irredeemable punishment, resulting in ballot box rejection from their base.

Democrats must be out in front, emphasizing their successes, and taking credit for the resulting changes and improvements to Americans’ lives, as they happen, over and over again, ad nauseum. Draw these accomplishments into sharp relief with the presidency of Donald Trump, and particularly the empty platitudes his followers, elected Republicans, will offer in response.

Those Republicans who have now chosen, out of expediency, to tie themselves to Donald Trump should be given no quarter. They are making their bed now, and they should be forced to lie in it.

The Republican Party has chosen to make 2022 a referendum on Donald Trump. If Democrats do their job till then, it absolutely will be … just not in the way Republicans would have hoped.

I like our chances.

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House passes COVID-19 relief bill along party lines, as Republicans ‘unify’ against helping America

At 2 AM ET Saturday, the House passed the COVID-19 relief package along a 219 to 212 party line vote. The bill includes a $1,400 direct payment to individuals earning less than $75,000 or for couples earning below $150,000. It extends federal unemployment benefits through August. It provides an additional $50 billion to speed the delivery of vaccines as well as create a national strategy for testing and case tracing. Another $200 billion goes to schools to assist in returning students to the classroom safely. It also includes $350 billion for state, tribal, and local governments, which have seen a huge revenue drop over the last year, at the same time there was an increased need for government assistance. And the bill preserves a measure that increases federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.

The reason for the vote taking place at such a late (or early) hour was simple enough—Republicans did everything they could to delay the vote, including calling dozens of witnesses to slow a day that began considering the bill at 9:30 AM. The precise reason that Republicans began making objections and calling a large number of witnesses was simple enough—they wanted to push the vote past primetime, both so no one would see them voting against a bill that will send most Americans a much-needed check, and they wanted to unpack the same “passed in the dark of night” language that they’ve deployed so often in past.

Because Republicans have set opposition to the COVID-19 relief plan as their “unifying” issue.

Republicans are faced with a dilemma: How to bring together a party that is facing a deep rift over the absolute surrender of authority to Donald Trump, when at least a handful of their members still believe that this democracy thing still has a chance?

The answer seems to be to bring Republicans together around traditional values. Such as denying a decent wage to American workers, trying to starve the cities where most Americans live off the funds needed for basic services, and punishing people who lose their jobs in a crisis. Those are rock solid Republican values, Trump or no Trump.

So Republicans are holding hands for a unified stand against COVID-19 relief. The “passed in the middle of the night” rhetoric has already become a talking point on Fox News and is a feature of social media blasts from Republican “leaders”—a position that’s been reduced to role of being a designated Trump surrogate.

To sell their supporters on the idea that a bill that’s about to pay them money is secretly evil, Republicans seem to be depending on listing out some of the smaller items in the bill, under the pretense that “only a fraction” of the bill goes to “’real’ COVID relief,” which they’ve defined downward to little more than vaccine funding.

But the whole point of the bill is that is broad. It does hit a lot of areas. It does contain funding on many different fronts. That’s because the pandemic itself has been hugely damaging the the whole economy, not just the “trucks that deliver vaccine” economy.

That’s why the bill also includes $58 billion to assist pension funds that have come close to collapse over the last year, $25 billion in direct assistance to restaurants and bars that have been hit hard by restrictions during the pandemic, $30 billion for people who have been unable to pay their rent after the pandemic wiped out both their jobs and their savings. These are the kind of things that Republicans have decided to unite against.

Even for their own core supporters, they’re going to need every bit of help that Fox, Facebook, and AM radio can generate, because the COVID-19 relief bill is wildly popular. As Joan McCarter wrote on Wednesday, polls show the bill enjoying the support of 76% of voters, including 60% of Republicans, and 71% of independents. 

“If you want unity, there’s unity—the public is unified with Biden and the majority of Democrats in wanting this package to pass. Among the 76% supporting it, a majority—52%—strongly do so, with healthy chucks of both Independents (42%) and Republicans (34%) saying they strongly support it.”

What Republicans are actually demonstrating with their “unity” against the COVID-19 relief bill is what they’ve been demonstrating so vividly for decades: Opposition is all they have left. As Nancy LeTourneau writes:

“When it comes to actual policies being put forward by the two parties, we are witnessing a significant shift. Democratic policies are not only overwhelmingly popular with voters, they have been demonstrated to work. On the other hand, the Republican policies of trickle-down economics and deregulation have been a colossal failure, but conservatives haven’t come up with a reasonable alternative.”

Republicans know they have a losing hand. They even know that blinding supporting Trump is a losing play. They just … don’t have anything better.

Any Democratic senator (ahem … Joe Manchin) who throws their vote in with Republicans, should realize that they are playing for a losing and deeply unpopular team.

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Vaccination process is frustrating, imperfect … and filled with small joys and triumphs

The coronavirus vaccine is still a ways away for a lot of us, and watching the myriad ways our states are making the vaccination process go slowly or inequitably has become one of the nation’s most infuriating pastimes. The glass is definitely half empty—there have been racial inequities in vaccination rates and indeed, focusing on people over 75 first created its own racial inequity, because Black people have a life expectancy below 75 in the U.S.; teachers are being pushed into in-person teaching without getting vaccinated first; grocery workers are similarly being left out despite having to work in person; and people are outright cheating. There’s a lot to be angry about. But at the same time, the glass really is half full here: 13.9% of the U.S. population has had at least one dose, and 6.5% have had both doses. More than 1.5 million shots a day are being administered. Vaccine production is increasing. Some areas have embarked on meaningful programs to fix racial inequities.

And while we shouldn’t let go of the push to get things right, and the rage when things are done wrong, there’s another vaccination-related pastime available: rejoicing in the people who are getting their shots. Maybe it’s someone close to home. In the lobby of my building, there’s a list posted where people can sign when they’ve been vaccinated, and I’m not going to lie: I look at that list regularly, celebrating that my elderly and immunocompromised neighbors are on their way to safety. Maybe it’s close to someone else’s home—I’m with my coworker Gabe Ortíz on this one:

Tweets about parents and elder family members getting the vaccine are my favorite tweets. 🥺😭

— Gabe Ortíz (@TUSK81) February 25, 2021

One group is getting an extra up-close view of all this relief and joy: That would be the people administering the vaccinations, who got some attention in an uplifting Washington Post article this week.

According to Northern Virginia nurse Akosua “Nana” Poku, “the emotional time is when I see a husband and a wife receive the vaccine together at the same time, and they’re grandparents, and they’re just so excited to see their grandchildren.” Ohio pharmacy Ebram Botros, an immigrant from Egypt, “feels a special responsibility to reassure Black patients who may be ­vaccine-averse from a historical legacy of medical abuse,” the Post reported. 

”I say quite often, this is probably the most important thing I’ll ever do in my career,” Washington, D.C., nurse Corie Robinson said. An Arizona pharmacist administering vaccines in nursing homes who ended up assigned to vaccinate his wife’s grandmother described his family’s excitement and said: “All of these residents that we’re interacting with have at least one loved one or friend or family member that is going to be going through those same emotions.”

After nearly a year of fear and loss and sacrifice and stress, there is something beautiful happening. Hope is here even for those of us who will be waiting a while. It’s an imperfect process, a frustrating process, but every day 1.5 million people are getting that shot. Let’s also witness the joy.

There is life changing work happening out here at the @FEMA vaccination site in Los Angeles. The story of one of our own, a young soldier from right here in L.A., who vaccinated his mother… that’s going to stick with me for a while. pic.twitter.com/xV0arMpCQO

— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) February 25, 2021

My parents received their first shot of the the COVID-19 vaccine today. I am filled with gratitude for the community advocates helping folks like my parents who are essential workers access the vaccine. For the last year my greatest fear was that they would get sick.

— Marissa Molina Q (@MarisitaMo) February 25, 2021

My 82-yo grandma, who left her house today for the first time since March 2020 got vaccinated a few mins ago! She lives in Mexico and getting vaccinating there has not been easy. My mom, a bilingual 3rd grade teacher in TX also finally got vaccinated this week!! #GodIsGood 💕🙏

— Maya Saenz – KMTV (@Maya_Reports) February 26, 2021

Mom just texted with news that she got her first Pfizer dose. Both parents now vaccinated, it’s like a weight was just lifted I didn’t even know I was carrying.

— Tim Hogan (@timjhogan) February 23, 2021

MY MOM GOT VACCINATED TODAY!!!!! I feel like I can breathe for the first time in a year, she’s that much safer and can go back to the classroom doing what she loves 😭❤️

— Lexi Lopez (@_LexiKLopez) February 25, 2021

Today I volunteered at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Baltimore City Senior Public Housing. And My aunt got vaccinated in MN! And My parents got vaccinated in ND!!! What a good day! 😊

— Mike Rose (@MikeRoseMDMPH) February 26, 2021

Water turned on, boil notice lifted, parents got vaccinated, tomorrow is my birthday, thank you america pic.twitter.com/ruOdXVN6cF

— Jake García (@Jake_M_Garcia) February 23, 2021

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White supremacists at Capitol siege? Woman linked to Pelosi’s laptop theft just the latest example

Earlier this week, as part of his campaign to gaslight the public about the Capitol insurrection, Tucker Carlson tried to claim on his Fox News program that “there’s no evidence white supremacists were responsible for what happened on Jan. 6. That’s a lie.” Of course, the claim was immediately debunked, but that hasn’t prevented Republicans from continuing to lie and mislead the public into believing up is down about the event and its meaning, and for online trolls to continue repeating Carlson’s claim.

Multiple examples abound to prove Carlson a baldfaced liar, but the most striking was revealed this week: An investigation by Bellingcat’s Robert Evans found that Riley Williams, the 22-year-old woman from Pennsylvania who faces multiple charges in the Capitol siege and is suspected of having stolen Nancy Pelosi’s laptop, is the same person who posed in neo-Nazi gear in an online video and made Nazi salutes, all while posting on social media as a white nationalist “Groyper” and participating in a popular neo-Nazi Telegram channel.

The criminal complaint against Williams charges her with obstructing an official proceeding, violent entry on Capitol grounds, and other counts related to her entry into the Capitol and Pelosi’s offices on Jan. 6. Investigators stated her ex-boyfriend showed them videos taken from Williams’ livestream that day appearing to show her examining an HP laptop and taking it, but say they are still investigating the matter. They noted the witness told them Williams intended to sell the laptop to a Russian agent, but the deal had fallen through. The laptop has not been located.

Williams’ attorney has adamantly denied she stole the computer, and has complained she has been vilified, and the accusations against her are “overstated.”

The Bellingcat report, however, made clear Williams was not just a Trump fan who got “carried away,” as her mother tried to tell an interviewer. In the process of identifying her as the woman with her face concealed in the Nazi-salute video, it followed a long trail of evidence of her avid participation in far-right “accelerationist” online spaces, including on Parler and Telegram.

Williams also was a fan of white nationalist Nicholas Fuentes, the youthful leader of “America First” and the so-called “Groyper Army” who was present in the crowd outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. Fuentes had helped lead a “Stop the Steal” protest in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 12, and Williams had taken a fan shot with him that day, posting it on Twitter: “Thank you Nick!!” she wrote, adding a laughing emoji. “King of America!”

As Evans explains, Williams was particularly active on the Telegram channel of a Texas neo-Nazi named Christopher Pohlhaus, who specializes in accelerationist rhetoric under the nom de plume “The Hammer.” Much of the gear she wore in the Nazi salute video appears to have come from his online store, including the “skull mask” and a ball cap adorned with a Nazi occultist “Sonnenrad” symbol.

Pohlhaus specializes in recruiting young people to the fascist cause. Nazi stickers he sells were used in late 2020 to vandalize the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in Boise, Idaho.

Of course, Williams is far from the only white supremacist to have been involved in the insurrection. Alt-right troll Tim “Baked Alaska” Gionet, arrested in January for his role in the siege, helped lead Williams and others in vandalizing Pelosi’s office. The ADL found that among the 212 people charged as of Feb. 17, 10 of them were white nationalist “Groypers,” and another 17 were members of the proto-fascist Proud Boys organization.

Numerous far-right organizations, including an array of white nationalists, were involved in the planning of the insurrection. There were dozens of white supremacist banners and symbols being waved by the crowd that day, including a Confederate flag that was paraded around inside the Capitol, as well as various alt-right flags and other white nationalist symbols. One man, Robert Packer, was seen in a “Camp Auschwitz” T-shirt, a reference to the wartime Nazi death camps.

“White supremacists and rebranded alt-right rioters were assuredly there, but there was also a wide variety of other insurrectionists present who share a set of unifying grievances with hardened bigots, who do not necessarily buy into full-blown white supremacy,” Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, told the Poynter Institute.

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Report confirms: Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi murdered on orders of Mohammed bin Salman

After a last-minute delay, and something of a stutter step in which Friday’s release appeared to be momentarily posted, then withdrawn, then posted again, the truth about the U.S. intelligence assessment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is finally public. And that truth is evidence on the very first line of the brief document’s executive summary.

“We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul to capture or kill Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

Since that operation including sending someone with a bone saw, and a body double to wear Khashoggi’s clothes around Istanbul after his death, there can be little doubt that the actual intention of the squad that bin Salman sent to Istanbul was to capture, followed by definitely kill.

Following this release, it’s been announced that the Treasury Department will seek sanctions against the former head of Saudi intelligence, Gen. Ahmed al-Asiri, and against members of the Saudi Rapid Intervention Force (RIF) who were involved in the assassination. However, it also seems that if anything is going to happen to the man who instigated, ordered, and paid for this murder, it’s not going to happen today. Because there are no plans to sanction bin Salman.

But that doesn’t mean there will be no consequences.

While the date on the cover of the barely over two-page document may say 2021, there’s little doubt that this report was prepared shortly after Khashoggi’s murder. Meaning that all the time that Donald Trump and Jared Kushner were laughing it up with bin Salman, they knew he was a murderer. 

Honestly, it’s not as if there was any real doubt. As the report makes clear, at the time of Khashoggi’s murder, bin Salman had consolidated his authority and had an absolute stranglehold over Saudi Arabia. The idea that a hit team was going to travel to another country and carry out a gruesome torture and execution without bin Salman’s express orders was always ridiculous. But of course, not so ridiculous that bin Salman wasn’t willing to execute some of his lieutenants to make a show of “investigating” the death, and not so ridiculous that Trump was willing to offend his most admired brutal dictator.

The failure to directly sanction bin Salman appears to be a recognition that this would essentially represent cutting off the U.S./Saudi relationship, because, for all intents and purposes, there is no Saudi government other than bin Salman. Generating such a deliberate schism could affect the security of other allied nations in the Middle East, including Qatar—which has already suffered from Donald Trump’s endorsement of a Saudi-sponsored blockade around the location, that includes the largest U.S. military base in the region. It could also disrupt efforts to secure peace for Israel.

Following the release, Rep. Adam Schiff issued a statement saying that he was disappointed that the Biden administration hadn’t found a way to sanction bin Salman personally without causing a break in the international relationship. But still: “This is an official U.S. government statement that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia has blood on his hands, and that blood belongs to an American resident and journalist. And I think that’s very powerful.”

Not surprisingly, the Saudi government has issued its own statement in response. 

“The Ministry notes that the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia completely rejects the negative, false and unacceptable assessment in the report pertaining to the Kingdom’s leadership, and notes that the report contained inaccurate information and conclusions.”

The release of the report appears to be intended to set a new tone with bin Salman. Biden has made it clear that they’re not “pals.” He has no intention of building a hotel in Riyadh or developing a golf course in the desert. The United States recognizes the importance of Saudi Arabia in the region, but doesn’t intend to give tacit approval to its brutal acts.

Don’t expect this to be the last word on Khashoggi. Or on the U.S. response.

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Voting Rights Roundup: Kentucky GOP defies red-state trend and advances bill to expand voting access

Leading Off

Kentucky: In defiance of the trend sweeping the nation of Republican legislators in a number of states advancing new voting restrictions in the wake of the 2020 elections, Kentucky’s heavily Republican state House has almost unanimously voted to approve a bipartisan compromise bill that adopts several provisions to expand voting access along with some limited new voting restrictions. The bill includes measures to:

  • Establish three days of in-person early voting;
  • Authorize counties to set up “vote centers” where any voter in the county may cast their ballot instead of just at traditional local polling places;
  • Allow absentee ballot drop boxes;
  • Notify voters and let them fix problems with their absentee ballot signatures;
  • Allow voters to request absentee ballots online;
  • Require routine audits of election results;
  • Mandate that new voting machines produce a paper trail record; and
  • Ban voters from collecting and submitting an absentee ballot on behalf of another voter, with limited exceptions for family members, election officials, and postal workers.

Kentucky has long been one of the worst states nationally for voting access policies, but this bill should make it overall easier to vote in the Bluegrass State, although it doesn’t include another measure that was temporarily implemented in 2020 that waived the excuse requirement to vote absentee. More positively, this latest version of the bill left out a provision that would have purged registered voters from the rolls if they failed to vote in two consecutive election cycles even if they otherwise remained eligible to vote.

Redistricting

Illinois: Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed a bill that will end the practice of “prison gerrymandering” at the legislative level by counting incarcerated people for redistricting purposes at their last known address instead of where they are imprisoned (and can’t even vote if they were convicted of a felony). However, the new legislation won’t take effect until the 2030s redistricting cycle even though there’s theoretically still time to implement reforms this year.​

Campaign Action

Ohio, 2020 Census: Republican officials in Ohio have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to require the Census Bureau to release key population data needed for states to be able to conduct redistricting by the bureau’s original March 31 deadline. The bureau had recently announced that the data wouldn’t be released until at least Sept. 30 due to delays caused by the pandemic and Trump’s attempts to interfere with the census’ operations, causing a major disruption to redistricting timelines in a number of states.

Voting Access Expansions

Arkansas: A state House committee in Republican-dominated Arkansas has unanimously passed a bill to establish online voter registration. Arkansas is one of just a handful of states still lacking an online registration option.

California: Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill that will automatically mail a ballot to all active registered voters for elections taking place later this year, which could include a potential election to recall Newsom himself from office. Democrats had adopted universal vote-by-mail on a temporary basis in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Hawaii: Hawaii’s Democratic-run state Senate has unanimously passed a bill to enable counties to operate more in-person voting centers after in-person voting was plagued by long lines amid the state’s transition to universal mail voting in 2020. Senate Democrats and the chamber’s lone Republican also unanimously passed a bill in committee to establish automatic voter registration via Hawaii’s driver’s licensing agency.

Iowa: A state House committee in GOP-run Iowa has unanimously passed a constitutional amendment that would codify GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds’ executive order that automatically restores voting rights to people with felony convictions who have fully served their sentences, including parole and probation. The full state House passed a similar measure with bipartisan support in 2019 only for state Senate Republicans to refuse to take it up. The latest amendment would need to be approved by both chambers both before and after the 2022 elections before it could go onto the 2024 ballot as a voter referendum.

Nevada: Democrats, including Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, are planning to introduce a bill that would permanently adopt universal vote-by-mail (with limited in-person voting remaining available) after Nevada’s Democratic-run state government temporarily implemented it last year due to the pandemic. Just under half of Nevada voters cast their ballots by mail thanks to last year’s temporary law.

New Jersey: State Senate Democrats have passed a bill that would establish an early voting period, requiring each of New Jersey’s 21 counties to create at least three early voting locations while more populous counties would need more locations. The bill, which Assembly Democrats also passed in committee, would adopt 10 days of early voting for general elections, six days for presidential primaries, and four days for all other primaries.

New York: State Senate Democrats have passed a bill along party lines to permanently eliminate the disenfranchisement of voters on parole by automatically restoring voting rights to anyone convicted of a felony who is no longer incarcerated. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo had previously issued an executive order in 2019 restoring voting rights to many parolees, but that order still left thousands of parolees convicted of certain crimes disenfranchised, and it could be rescinded by a future governor.

Virginia: Democrats in both legislative chambers have passed several bills expanding voting access, including the permanent adoption of some measures temporarily implemented during the pandemic last year. The various bills include provisions for:

The bills now go to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who is likely to sign them into law.

Washington: State House Democrats have passed a bill largely along party lines that would end felony disenfranchisement for anyone is not currently incarcerated. That means people currently banned from voting who are on parole, probation, or owe court fines and fees despite having served their sentences would automatically regain their voting rights if Democrats in the state Senate and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee also approve the bill.

Post Office: The Washington Post reported this week that President Joe Biden plans to move ahead with filling three vacancies on the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, which could result in a new Democratic-leaning majority that is willing to fire Trump-backed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. DeJoy was instrumental to Trump’s attempt to sabotage mail voting last year by significantly worsening mail delivery times, and he thumbed his nose at Democrats this week at a committee hearing by vowing to remain on the job for a “long time.”

Biden will reportedly nominate Ron Stroman, who recently retired as deputy postmaster general in protest of the Trump administration’s efforts; Amber McReynolds, who is one of the nation’s leading advocates for expanded mail voting as head of the National Vote at Home Institute; and Anton Hajjar, who is the former general counsel of the American Postal Workers Union. The board is currently entirely composed of white men, meaning Biden’s appointments would add much-needed diversity to its membership: McReynolds would be the only woman, while Stroman is Black and Hajjar is Syrian American.

Voter Suppression

Arkansas: Republican state legislators have approved a bill over Democratic opposition that would make Arkansas’ voter ID law stricter, sending it to GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson for his signature. The bill removes the option for voters who lack an ID to vote by signing a sworn statement under penalty of perjury, instead mandating an ID in order to have one’s vote counted.

Arizona: Republican state senators have revived a bill that would purge roughly 200,000 voters from the state’s “Permanent Early Voting List,” which automatically mails participating voters a ballot in all future elections. The bill would remove voters from the list who fail or refuse to vote in two consecutive election cycles. Crucially, the lone Republican senator who opposed the bill earlier this month now appears to have gotten on board with the proposal, making it likely to pass the Senate.

Republican state senators have also passed a bill in committee that would shorten the mail voting period from 27 to 22 days before Election Day and require such ballots be postmarked by the Thursday before Election Day. Voting advocates have warned about its particularly harmful impact on Native American voters living in remote rural areas with limited or unreliable mail service.

In the state House, meanwhile, Republicans have passed several new voting restrictions in committee, including a bill that would require people and groups who are registering more than 25 voters in a given year to themselves register with the state, mandating that they put unique identifying numbers on every registration form they submit. Advocacy groups condemned the bill and argued it risked leading to registration forms being thrown out. Other bills would ban election officials from automatically registering voters or mailing ballots to all voters without their request.

Florida: Republican Ron DeSantis has proposed several new voting restrictions for lawmakers to adopt. These proposals include measures that would:

  • Restrict absentee ballot drop boxes;
  • Ban people other than immediate family members from collecting and submitting absentee ballots on behalf of another voter;
  • Ban election officials from mailing ballots to all voters instead of just those who’ve requested one;
  • Bar absentee ballot request forms from applying to two full election cycles, meaning voters who requested an absentee ballot in 2020 will retroactively have their requests canceled for the 2022 election cycle;
  • Require absentee ballot signatures to match the one on the voter’s file, meaning officials with no formal handwriting-analysis training could make subjective decisions about matches; and
  • Ban private third-party organizations from giving grants to local election officials to help increase voter turnout.

Republicans control both legislative chambers and are likely to pass at least some of these restrictions into law.

Georgia: State House Republicans passed a bill in committee enacting a spate of new voting restrictions that had been introduced with almost no advance notice before legislators took it up for consideration. The bill adopts measures that would:

  • Require that voters provide the number on their driver’s license, state ID, or a photocopy of their ID when requesting an absentee ballot and a photocopy of their ID when returning an absentee ballot;
  • Limit weekend early voting;
  • Restrict absentee ballot drop boxes to only the inside of early voting locations or county election offices, making them unavailable outside of regular business hours;
  • Set a minimum of one drop box per 200,000 registered voters (other states such as California require one drop box per every 15,000 voters);
  • Shorten the runoff period in federal elections from nine weeks to four weeks, with the apparent intent of giving campaigns less time to mobilize voters (instant runoffs would be used for overseas civilian and military voters to avoid running afoul of federal law mandating that their ballots be sent out 45 days before an election;
  • Ban state officials from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot request forms to all voters after Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger did so in the 2020 primary;
  • Disqualify ballots that were cast in the wrong precinct but in the right county, which currently may be counted as provisional ballots;
  • Limit mobile early voting buses to only emergency situations;
  • Bar counties from receiving private funding to help administer elections; and
  • Block officials from distributing food and drinks to voters waiting in line to vote.

This legislative blitzkrieg bill drew widespread condemnation from Democrats and voting rights advocates. It’s unclear just which provisions stand a chance of achieving final passage after Republican state senators and some legislative leaders expressed skepticism over some of the provisions.

In the state Senate, Republicans have passed a bill that requires voters to provide the number on their driver’s license, state ID, or a photocopy of their ID when requesting an absentee ballot, but unlike the above provision in the House’s legislation, this bill only concerns requesting absentee ballots, not returning them. Republicans also passed bills in state Senate committee to repeal automatic voter registration and reinstate an excuse requirement for absentee voting, but it would only apply to voters under age 65 (elderly voters typically favor Republicans).

Idaho: State House Republicans have passed a bill making it a felony to collect and submit another voter’s mail ballot on their behalf, with only limited exceptions for family members, election officials, and postal workers. Spearheaded by GOP House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, who argued that “voting shouldn’t be easy” to justify the restriction, the bill limits family members to turning in no more than six ballots. It also imposes burdens on voters who lack sufficient access to transportation and other voting options, such as people with disabilities or those living in remote rural areas like Native American reservations.

Indiana: State Senate Republicans have passed a bill that strips GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb and the state Election Commission of their power to implement emergency changes to election procedures after they had used that power to expand voting access last year due to the pandemic. Republican legislators in several states are considering similar measures to constrain the emergency election powers of governors from both parties who had expanded access to voting during the pandemic.

Iowa: Republican state legislators have passed a bill along party lines that enacts a broad range of new voting restrictions, sending it to GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds for her expected signature. The bill would:

  • Cut the early voting period from 29 to 20 days;
  • Close the polls on Election Day at 8 PM instead of 9 PM, making it harder for working people and those with children to vote;
  • Require mail ballots to be received by officials on Election Day instead of postmarked by Election Day and received a few days afterward, which would have disqualified roughly 6,500 ballots in 2020;
  • Ban county officials from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot request forms to all voters (a previous version of the bill banned county officials from mailing even requested forms);
  • Prevent county officials from mailing absentee ballots to voters more than 20 days before Election Day, a reduction from the current 29 days and a shorter window than in all but five states; and
  • Bar voters from requesting an absentee ballot less than 15 days before Election Day instead of the current 10 days.

Missouri: State House Republicans have passed a bill that would revive Missouri’s photo voter ID requirement in the wake of a state Supreme Court decision last year that gutted most of the GOP’s previous voter ID law. That ruling allowed voters to present non-photo ID such as a utility bill, but the new bill would require voters who lack a photo ID to cast a provisional ballot that would only be counted if they later return with a photo ID or if their signature matches the one from their voter registration.

While the GOP’s previous voter ID law was thoroughly curtailed by the state Supreme Court, it’s unclear if the court will block this latest voter ID restriction. Republican Gov. Mike Parson is set to appoint a replacement for Justice Laura Denvir Stith, who was appointed by former Democratic Gov. Bob Holden and is retiring on March 8 five years before her term was set to expire, which would give GOP appointees a majority on the bench. However, last year’s ruling saw GOP-appointed Justice Patricia Breckenridge side with her four Democratic-appointed colleagues against the law, so it isn’t a foregone conclusion that this latest bill will survive in court.

Montana: Republican state senators passed a bill earlier this month that would make Montana’s voter ID law more restrictive. Photo IDs are already required under state law, but the GOP’s bill would require voters to present a second form of ID such as a paycheck or utility bill if they use particular forms of identification such as a student ID. Democrats and Native voting rights advocates have argued that this would make it more difficult for certain groups of people to vote.

Meanwhile, in the state House, Republicans and a handful of Democrats have passed a bill that would prevent the governor from making emergency election changes without legislative approval, as former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock did last year to authorize counties to adopt universal vote-by-mail during the pandemic. While newly elected GOP Gov. Greg Gianforte is unlikely to take steps like these expanding access, this bill would give GOP legislators a veto over similar attempts by any future Democratic governor.

House Republicans also narrowly failed to advance a bill that would require people who are claimed by another person as a dependent for tax purposes to vote at the claimant’s address in local elections. Under this proposal, many college students would have been unable to vote on campus or even in Montana altogether. (Similar laws have been subject to litigation in other states, with lower federal courts ruling that students have a right to vote where they go to school.) That bill had previously won initial approval in the House, and it could be revived if a few Republicans change their minds.

Finally, Republicans passed a bill in a state House committee that would limit who can turn in someone else’s absentee ballot on their behalf. This bill would bar anyone who isn’t a family or household member, caregiver, or an “acquaintance” who is a registered voter in the same county from turning in another person’s ballot, thereby preventing voter advocacy groups or political campaigns from organizing ballot collection efforts.

A previous Republican-backed law imposing similar restrictions was blocked in court last year for discriminating against Native American voters, who often live on remote rural reservations where mail service and transportation access are limited. This latest bill may therefore also face difficulty surviving a likely lawsuit.

North Dakota: State House Republicans have rejected a bill that would have required an excuse for voters under age 65 to be able to vote by mail. Republicans have also withdrawn another bill that would have dramatically extended the residency requirement for voting by mandating that voters be a resident of their jurisdiction for a year before Election Day instead of the current 30-day rule.

Pennsylvania: On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up Republicans’ appeal of a lower court ruling that had rejected their challenge to Pennsylvania’s 2020 election rules. The decision removes a barrier to counting roughly 10,000 absentee ballots from last November that had been stuck in limbo, but a separate challenge to those ballots remains and means they won’t be counted just yet.

Republicans had challenged a decision by the Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court to extend the deadline for returning absentee ballots, allowing ballots postmarked by Election Day and received within three days to count. Far-right Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch all dissented and would have taken the case.

Republicans had argued an extreme and unprecedented view of the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause, which gives the “legislature” in each state the power to set the “times, places, and manner of holding” federal elections. Republicans contended that this clause only empowers the state legislature itself, not those who hold the power to set laws under state constitutions such as state courts, voters (via the ballot initiative process), or potentially even governors when they exercise their veto powers.

The Supreme Court rejected this interpretation in a 5-4 ruling in 2015 upholding the right of Arizona voters to strip their GOP-run legislature of the power to control redistricting via a ballot initiative. However, two of the justices in the majority in that ruling, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy, are no longer on the court and have since been replaced by justices much further to their right.

Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch all signaled that they would have accepted this radical rejection of two centuries of federalism and given Republican-gerrymandered legislatures like Pennsylvania’s free rein to dictate federal election laws. If these hardliners had gotten their way, almost no force would have been left to check GOP legislators’ efforts to gerrymander and pass new voting restrictions.

Voting advocates had expressed significant fears that a majority of the court would sign onto this view after Justice Brett Kavanaugh indicated last year that he was amenable to the argument. However, Kavanaugh, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justice Amy Coney Barrett nonetheless didn’t agree to advance the case.

But the dispute over the Elections Clause remains unresolved. Election expert Rick Hasen opined that the court’s conservative majority may have refused to take up the Pennsylvania appeal because the specific issue is moot with the election resolved, or because the case’s association with Trump’s attempt to overturn his election loss makes it politically “radioactive.” But the issue could ultimately find its way back before the court in future litigation.

Wyoming: Republicans have passed a bill in state House committee to require voter ID. Previous attempts to adopt a voter ID requirement had narrowly failed in recent years, but with a majority of the full House and half the state Senate sponsoring this latest bill, it is likely to pass this time.

Ballot Measures

North Dakota: Republican state senators have passed a constitutional amendment that would raise the threshold needed for voters to approve ballot initiatives from a simple majority to 60% instead. If state House Republicans also approve the amendment, it would go onto the November 2022 ballot as a voter referendum and only require a simple majority for passage.

Had this supermajority threshold been in place in 2018, a successful ballot initiative to create a state ethics commission would have instead failed since it only won 54% voter approval. Voting reformers also tried to pass an initiative banning gerrymandering last year, and while conservative judges blocked it from appearing on the ballot, reformers could try again later this decade, meaning this 60% supermajority threshold could serve as an additional roadblock to taking redistricting out of the hands of legislators.

Electoral College

 ArizonaProposed legislation that would have given Republican legislators the power to overturn democratic elections by rejecting future presidential election outcomes and having the legislature directly determine the state’s Electoral College delegates has failed to advance.

North Dakota: Republican state senators have passed a bill seeking to undermine the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact by barring election officials from releasing the vote totals for presidential election results until the Electoral College has voted if the compact ever enters into effect. The bill specifies that only the vote percentages won by candidates would be available in the two months between Election Day and the Electoral College vote.

No other state does anything like what this bill proposes, and it would only further undermine public trust in the electoral process by adding secrecy to vote counting. The bill appears intended to do just that by seeking to make it impossible to know which candidate won the national popular vote, especially if other GOP-run states were to follow suit.

Electoral System Reform

Colorado: Democrats in a state House committee have passed a bill along party lines that would make it easier for local governments to adopt instant-runoff voting for local elections, with state support for administering its use. Cities already have the option to use instant-runoff voting, but this bill would remove remaining hurdles to help facilitate the transition.

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Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: COVID relief takes a step closer to passage

Bloomberg:

House Set to Pass Stimulus as Minimum-Wage Hike Dealt Blow

Friday’s vote in the House will bring most Americans one step closer to receiving $1,400 relief payments and move action to the Senate, where disagreements among Democrats over the minimum wage had been the biggest obstacle to turning the pandemic relief plan into law.

However, Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough found that the wage provision did not qualify for action under budget reconciliation, a fast-track procedure that would let Democrats pass the stimulus with only 50 votes in the evenly divided Senate.

That’s the budget chair, finance chair, and majority leader on board. So seems like pretty serious momentum. https://t.co/TS8Ubufm9H

— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) February 26, 2021

Megan Garber/Atlantic:

American Cynicism Has Reached a Breaking Point

The nation’s politics is in dire need of earnestness. Can its culture meet the moment?

Lies are not semantic. Lies can lead to violence—in some sense, they are violence. They are as destabilizing to the social environment as guns can be to the physical: When someone is armed with a willingness to deceive, nobody else has a chance. And cynicism, that alleged defense against duplicity, can have the upside-down effect of making the cynic particularly vulnerable to manipulation. One of the insights of Merchants of Doubt, Erik Conway and Naomi Oreskes’s scathing investigation into the American tobacco industry’s lies about its products, is that the deceptions were successful in part because they turned cynicism into a strategy. Faced with a deluge of studies that made the dangers of smoking clear, tobacco firms funded their own—junk research meant not to refute the science, but to muddle it. The bad-faith findings made Americans less able to see the truth clearly. They manufactured doubt the way Philip Morris churned out Marlboro Lights. They took reality and gave it plausible deniability.

Trump’s Big Lie worked similarly. He understood, with the fabulist’s blithe intuition, how many people had a vested interest in unseeing the election’s obvious outcome. He took for granted that Fox and other outlets would repeat the fantasies so dutifully that soon, in their hermetic worlds, the fictions would seem like facts. Trump’s legal team filed 62 lawsuits alleging election fraud and lost 61; the resounding defeats made notably little sound. In early December, The Washington Post reported that 220 Republican lawmakers were refusing to say who had won the election. In mid-January, a poll asked likely Republican voters whether they continued to question the election’s results; 72 percent said they did.

if you want a friend in washington get a dog. if you want bipartisanship hate on ted cruz.

— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) February 26, 2021

Axios:

About 20% of U.S. adults have received first vaccine dose, White House says

The big picture: The Biden administration has previously said it has secured enough doses to vaccinate most of the American population by the end of July.

  • On Thursday, the Biden administration said 50 million doses have been administered since Biden took office.
  • Slavitt said Friday that the milestone puts the country ahead of schedule for meeting its goal of 100 million doses in 100 days.

How about some good news? Vaccine demand continues to *increase*, with most Americans either vaccinated already or wanting to be ASAP. While vaccine hesitancy is always a problem, fears that this is driven by scientific uncertainty are baseless.https://t.co/TMDuBCuDwY

— Dr. Angela Rasmussen (@angie_rasmussen) February 26, 2021

Robert M Kaplan/USA Today:

COVID-19 cases are falling. This could be the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

Herd immunity may already be taking hold, but this is not the time to back away from vaccines, masks and social distancing. Extinguish all the embers.

Why are we paying so little attention to natural immunity? Perhaps it is because natural herd immunity came to be identified with a political ideology that also advocated reckless behavior. There are very dangerous consequences to encouraging people to get infected as a pathway to immunity. But we should not neglect the possibility that herd immunity might already be taking hold.

To be clear, this is not the time to back away from vaccines, social distancing and mask wearing. Just as firefighters should not leave the forest while the fire still smolders, we need to double down on proven medical and public health tools until all embers are extinguished. But we should also recognize that the vaccines are arriving at a time when cases are rapidly declining. Medical historians offer several examples of vaccines and treatments that became available after a pandemic was on its way to resolution. When all is said and done, vaccines will deservedly be given credit. But it is not clear they should be given all of the credit.

INVESTIGATION: Covid vaccination registration websites at the federal, state and local levels violate disability rights laws, hindering the ability of blind people to sign up for lifesaving vaccine. Even @CDCgov ‘s embattled VAMS system is inaccessible. https://t.co/wr11CJGF3h

— Lauren Weber (@LaurenWeberHP) February 25, 2021

STATNews:

FDA advisory panel endorses Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine

Authorization of J&J’s vaccine could be a potential game changer, at least in some areas. Made by J&J’s vaccine division, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, the single-dose vaccine does not need to be frozen when it is shipped and distributed. The vaccine is what’s known as “fridge stable,” meaning it can be shipped and stored at the temperature of a regular refrigerator. Both those characteristics will make this vaccine much easier to deploy if the FDA authorizes its use. The two vaccines already in use in the United States, from Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech partnership, are both two-dose vaccines with onerous cold-chain requirements.

So far so good, pregnancy-wise https://t.co/ym6RoFUbxe

— Matthew Herper (@matthewherper) February 26, 2021

Richard Parker/Politico:

‘Look What You Did to Us’: The Big Chill of Texas Politics

After the devastating freeze, Texans in blue cities blame the state GOP leaders for leaving them in the cold.

The hardest breach to repair, however, might be between Texans and their elected officials. Over the course of the cascading humanitarian crisis high-ranking Texas politicians didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory.

First, Austin falsely blamed renewable energy, even assailing a policy proposal that hadn’t even become law yet. One GOP member of Congress sent a letter to constituents with a link to warming centers before closing with a warning that “radical ideologies have politicized energy policy at the state and federal level in recent years.” Then they went after the utility industry that was once the state’s pride.

2. People right away associated the graven image with the golden calf of the Bible—when Moses took so long bringing Yahweh’s Law down from Mt. Sinai that his brother succumbed to pressure to erect an idol to a competing god.

— The Editorial Board (@johnastoehr) February 26, 2021

Michael Kruse/Politico:

‘Nobody Listened To Me’: The Quest to Be MTG

All Marjorie Taylor Greene ever wanted was someone to pay attention to her.

In some respects, she’s supercharged: Trump, after all, had half a century of built-up fame to propel his improbable run; Greene, on the other hand, armed with anger, opinions and time, spun her policy-light bid out of little more than a deep need to be seen and heard, showing that Trump-style national political figures can be minted with an almost industrial speed. Greene, like Trump, willed herself into the role of a star in 21st-century American politics’ nonstop, social-media-shared, pick-a-side, ill-tempered spectacle. Greene declined to comment for this article, but Nick Dyer, her communications director, responded in a terse email: “You are a scumbag, Michael.”

The reason presidents can do war stuff with hazy legal basis and no explicit congressional support is that most members of congress prefer having it conducted that way; it’s a not a power grab happening in the face of opposition. pic.twitter.com/IPB4T2ri6i

— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) February 26, 2021

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Florida man, desperate to retain ‘right’ to discriminate, defies separation of church and state

Republicans continued to invoke the Bible in their speeches in support of discrimination against the LGBTQ community Thursday. When I hear people make appeals to scripture to justify their deep-seated bigotry, I often think of Patton Oswalt’s great bit about opposition to homosexuality based on biblical teaching.

“These lunatics always go, ‘Well, ‘cause it says in the Bible.’ Oh, okay, stop, hang on. I’m glad you like a book, I really am. … But just because you like something in a book doesn’t mean you can have the thing you like in the book happen in real life. That’s what crazy people want! I can’t go to the White House with a bunch of Green Lantern comics and go, ‘I want a Green Lantern ring! I saw it in a book I like! Make the thing in the book I like be here now!’ I would be justifiably tased if I did that.”

Yeah, that’s pretty much my reaction, too.

People can, of course, live their lives with slavish devotion to biblical principles, but it’s really fucking hard to do. One guy did it once, and it was such an extraordinary exercise he wrote a book about it

But for some reason, the people who clutch their pearls over gay sex and gender fluidity never seem put off by tattoos (Leviticus 19:28), treating immigrants more harshly than they treat the native born (Leviticus 19:33-34), or offering their children as a sacrifice to Molech (Leviticus 20:2). 

But, yeah, anything that diverts from the traditional “one man, three wives, and one unnervingly familiar relationship with one’s oldest daughter” is automatically viewed as suspect.

And so you get nonsense like the following, from Florida Rep. Greg Steube.

During Thursday’s debate on the Equality Act, which seeks to prohibit discrimination against Americans based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, Steube read a passage from the Bible to support his deeply bigoted notion that God is somehow put off by transgender people.

Transcript, via Raw Story:

“A woman must not wear men’s clothing nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this,” he read aloud.

“Now, this verse isn’t concerned about clothing styles, but with people determining their own sexual identities,” he said. “It’s not clothing or personal style that offends God, but rather the use of one’s appearance to act out or take on a sexual identity different from the one biologically assigned by God at birth.”

“When men or women claim to be able to choose their own sexual identity, they’re making a statement that God did not know what he was doing when he created them,” he continued, later adding that “when a nation’s laws no longer reflect the standards of God, that nation is in rebellion against him and will inevitably bear the consequences.

Notably, Steube appeared to be wearing clothing to hide his nakedness while he read his speech, and he evidently trims his beard. Maybe he even bleaches his asshole. Who knows? (Though with guys like this, it’s often difficult to determine where the literal asshole ends and the rest of him begins. I mean, Steube looks like 99.44% pure asshole to me.) 

Think God didn’t know what he was doing when he made you naked and commanded your beard to grow long, Greg? You really think you know better than God?

More importantly, though, we are not a theocracy. You can believe what you want, Greg. That’s fine with me. But the moment you attempt some bullshit alchemy meant to transform that subjective belief into law, you’re gonna get an argument. A big one.

Anyway, here’s the dominionist dipshit in his own words:

Interesting that Greg’s “interpretation” seeks to absolve women who wear pants. Because my reading of that scripture passage is that God wants all women to wear poodle skirts and all men to rock Zubaz. At all times.

But then what do I know? I’m just a filthy agnostic.

”This guy is a natural. Sometimes I laugh so hard I cry.” — Bette Midler on author Aldous J. Pennyfarthing via TwitterNeed a thorough Trump cleanse? Thanks to Goodbye, Asshat: 101 Farewell Letters to Donald Trump, Dear F*cking Lunatic, Dear Pr*sident A**clown and Dear F*cking Moron, you can purge the Trump years from your soul sans the existential dread. Only laughs from here on out. Click those links, yo!

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Q&A: The healthcare industry is segregated. Here’s how one organization is trying to change that

There are few industries as rife with inequity and occupational segregation as health care, where 79% of workers in low-wage health services jobs are women and more specifically, Black women, Latinas, and immigrants. These entry-level healthcare workers are paid poverty wages and are ineligible for benefits, including paid sick leave. One organization is trying to change this.

The Healthcare Career Advancement Program (H-CAP) is a national labor management organization comprising healthcare employers and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) locals who provide programs, trainings, and educational opportunities to healthcare workers historically locked out of higher paying union jobs. Of particular interest is enrolling Black and brown healthcare workers into registered apprenticeship programs that provide the skills and training needed to be considered for management positions.

According to Daniel Bustillo, a former unionized healthcare worker and H-CAP’s executive director, almost all of the healthcare industry’s major inequities fall across race and gender lines. Bustillo recently spoke to Prism about dismantling institutional barriers, the importance of apprenticeship programs, and the fight for long-term care workers. Our conversation has been condensed and edited.

Tina Vasquez: I have to say, I was particularly interested in speaking to you because I’ve never heard of a pipeline program and education fund like H-CAP that specifically works to dismantle institutional barriers for Black and brown healthcare workers.

Daniel Bustillo: It’s very different from traditional workforce development narratives that you might hear about, and what we do is especially needed right now. The pandemic has really brought a heightened level of awareness regarding structural inequities within healthcare, for both patients and workers. They are not new inequities, of course; they are the result of historical policy and current practices. Health care is a heavily raced and gendered field and that has a particular impact on Black and brown women. This is why we center our work explicitly at the intersection of racial and gender equity. It’s not just about training or skills or educational attainment. Without centering racial and gender equity, you’re not getting to the heart of job inequality. Most people tackle one or two of these things and in workforce development narratives, you’re really just tackling skills attainment.

Health care is the fastest-growing job sector in the U.S. and it is the largest sector in terms of employment in the U.S., and it’s rife with huge inequities. Occupational segregation is a real problem and you see an overrepresentation of Black and Latina workers in entry-level, lower paying, lower quality jobs like direct care work. There are major inequities in wages, working conditions, and job security—and you see how it plays out across race and gender lines.

Vasquez: Based on what I’ve read, apprenticeship programs are really central to H-CAP. Tell me why.

Bustillo: If you boil it down, apprenticeship programs are a way to remove some of the institutional barriers for entry into the higher paying positions. Registered apprenticeship traditionally has been a very white male-dominated field. We wanted to use the institutional power and ability that we have, and the partnerships that we have, to flip the traditional registered apprenticeship paradigm.

Within H-CAP, 65% of our registered apprentices are Black or brown, primarily Black and Latina. Over 86% of our apprentices are women. Nationally, the figure for apprentices for women is around 8% or 9%. I don’t care what anyone says: In health care, lived experience is really important. Most of the members we work with live in the communities where they provide care, so helping women of color move up in the healthcare field also has an impact on the community.

Vasquez: I imagine that disrupting the demographics of registered apprenticeship also has an effect on the kind of occupational segregation you mentioned earlier.

Bustillo: It does, and it matters a lot in this moment because we are without a long-term, robust job stimulus program. We’re not going to get to pre-COVID levels of employment in this country again until 2023 or 2024. We have a massive job crisis and in health care and broadly, there is always a lot of focus on entry into a profession, but we have to think about supporting the existing workforce with opportunities for progression. More than 60% of direct care workers are BIPOC and they spend their careers segregated in lower paying entry-level roles that are really difficult. These are the same workers who have carried us through the pandemic and who have suffered severely. Creating a pipeline for workers to advance imbalances power in a good way, and allows workers who have been sidelined to aggregate power.

Vasquez: When Black and Latina women in the healthcare industry are relegated to specific kinds of jobs, or they’re locked out of union jobs or better-paying jobs, what does that look like in practice?

Bustillo: Here is where it’s important to talk about adult learners. The typical thinking is that you need to create structures that support a progression to higher-paying, good union jobs. You have a lot of Black and Latina women in health care who have a lot of experience and if they want, they should be able to progress in the industry. On paper, you can map out how to progress along a career path, but it’s actually really difficult to actualize because there are multiple breakages along the path and frankly, existing systems are not really designed to support people along the path—especially if you are older. The median age of the workers that we work with is mid-40s and depending on the geographic location, 80% of these workers are immigrants.

Here is a tangible example from the perspective of an immigrant adult learner. Say you’re a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and you want to progress in your career and become a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Oftentimes, LPN programs are five days a week. What happens if you have kids and other family to support? You still have to work while you do this program. How do you go to school five days a week while still making a wage that enables you to support your family? Usually, it means people are pulling double shifts on the weekends. That’s a seven-day work week for years. That is overwhelmingly difficult. There’s no way that I could do that right now.

Vasquez: I don’t even have kids and there’s no way I could do that.

Bustillo: Right? Really think about what that would be like and understand that you’d be doing all of it without the support of a union or an organization like H-CAP that would provide the support that is needed, even basic stuff like getting an employer to accommodate your schedule or provide funding support or supportive services. Without that, you are setting people up to fail from the beginning.

Vasquez: Talk to me about the National Center for Equity and Job Quality in Long-Term Care. I understand it’s a new initiative that H-CAP is launching for long-term care workers, who are overwhelmingly Black and brown immigrants who experience some of the worst wage standards and working conditions in the healthcare industry.

Bustillo: Dismantling inequity within long-term care is really essential to the future of health care. We were fortunate enough to get a three-year foundation grant to launch something really groundbreaking. The National Center for Equity and Job Quality in Long-Term Care will focus on the narrative and policy changes needed to help raise the floor on standards across the field. This is a really opportune moment to do this because of the Biden administration’s caregiving plan, which is centered on raising the floor of occupations as opposed to telling people they have a skills gap, which is something that always really bothers me. That basically says: “It’s up to you to acquire the skills that you reportedly don’t have, in order to proceed to this higher paying occupation.”

Vasquez: I don’t want to just flatten this to “diversity,” but what you’re saying has me thinking about reporting I did on the American Nurses Association and the overwhelming whiteness of the organization and their refusal to speak out against the Trump administration during the pandemic, even as healthcare workers were dying. In doing that reporting, I thought a lot about what it must be like for women of color nurses navigating the healthcare industry. But I also thought a lot about what it means for patients. If Black and Latina women can’t move along in the healthcare industry, what does this mean for patients?

Bustillo: I think that’s an important question to ask. In nursing—an occupation where the requirements to become a nurse have just increased—a two-year degree used to be sufficient. Now that is no longer the case. In many places, it’s a four-year degree. If you look at the demographic breakdown as you transition up the traditional nursing ladder, you see an overrepresentation of Black and brown workers at the entry level among CNAs. The higher you move up, it becomes overwhelmingly white. This is an occupational segregation issue—and it clearly makes a difference. We have so much evidence that when you have patient-provider concordance, it makes a difference in patient care outcomes.

This is why a core part of our work is to lessen occupational segregation. There’s still a lot of work to do. There’s a general understanding in our industry that this is a serious issue, but few are attempting to tackle it in any real substantive way. COVID-19 has absolutely put a spotlight on disparities experienced by both caregivers and patients that are not new, and we’re seeing it play out with vaccinations as well. Whites are overwhelmingly vaccinated compared to other groups. We see disparities everywhere in the healthcare system.

Vasquez: President Joe Biden has already signaled that federal worker protections are going to be important to his administration. How are you thinking about the next four years under this administration—is there an opportunity here for healthcare workers?

Bustillo: I do think this is an interesting moment, one when we can potentially increase quality of jobs, access to good benefits, access to unionization, and access to training opportunities for direct care workers. This is the work we’ve been doing, but now we are looking forward to playing a part in supporting that work nationally. There is clearly also an opportunity around registered apprenticeship. At the end of the last legislative session, the House reauthorized the National Apprenticeship Act and it’s going to be introduced again.

The big thing I’m really thinking about is building back better. I don’t want to go back to what existed before because that clearly did not work for so many people and so many communities. We have an opportunity to move the needle. I’m feeling hopeful that we can do things differently. Is it going to be everything we want? No. But it’s our job to continue to push for as many healthcare workers as we can and to make sure we’re doing it in a way that explicitly focuses on racial equity and gender equality in the industry.

In part two of this series, hear directly from Trinidad Garcia de Ochoa, a former hospital housekeeper who participated in an H-CAP program and is encouraging other Latino immigrants to do the same.

Tina Vasquez is a senior reporter for Prism. She covers gender justice, workers’ rights, and immigration. Follow her on Twitter @TheTinaVasquez.

Prism is a BIPOC-led nonprofit news outlet that centers the people, places and issues currently underreported by our national media. Through our original reporting, analysis, and commentary, we challenge dominant, toxic narratives perpetuated by the mainstream press and work to build a full and accurate record of what’s happening in our democracy. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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Louisiana votes on 2 House seats in March. Meet the lone Democrat in a field with 9 Republicans

There are two special primary elections taking place in Louisiana on March 20, 2021. One is for the House seat vacated by Rep. Cedric Richmond in the 2nd Congressional District when he joined the Biden administration. There are 15 candidates, but the 2nd is a comfortably safe blue district. 

In the 5th Congressional District, a dozen candidates are jockeying for the chance to fill the seat won by Luke Letlow in 2020; the Republican died of complications from COVID-19 before he could be sworn in.

In its long history, Louisiana has never had a Black female congressional representative, and in the ruby-red 5th—a sprawling, largely rural district hugging the Mississippi border—all of the candidates are Republicans or independents … except one.

Sandra “Candy” Christophe is the lone Democrat, and the only Black candidate.

Louisiana has a primary system that differs from most other states; it’s often referred to as a “jungle primary,” or more properly, the majority-vote system.

All candidates compete in the same primary, and a candidate can win the election outright by receiving more than 50 percent of the vote. If no candidate does, the top two vote recipients from the primary advance to the general election, regardless of their partisan affiliation.

Christophe, 52, missed qualifying to run against Letlow in the 2020 general election by just 428 votes, and she’s back for another try. People might question why a Democrat would run in a district that favored Trump by 30 points—twice. Why would Christophe run in a district that is so bright red, the last Democrat to win it only won reelection in 2004 by switching to the Republican Party?

My answer is this: As long as the Democratic Party lets Republicans run uncontested, we have zero opportunities to raise issues at the a local level. As long as we give into a dismissive “it’s the South” attitude, we do the South and our fellow Democrats who live there a disservice.

Thankfully that has not been the attitude of women like Stacey Abrams, and other Black Southern women who came before her, who continue to organize. It’s certainly not the attitude held by Christophe, who was born, raised, and educated in the Bayou State.

Here’s a brief bio.

Sandra “Candy” Christophe was born in Independence, Louisiana. She obtained an undergraduate degree in May 1990 after attending Louisiana College in Pineville, La., and Southern University in Baton Rouge, La.. She obtained a graduate degree in May 1993 from the Grambling State University School of Social Work in Grambling, La. Her professional experience includes working as a licensed clinical social worker, a licensed addiction counselor, a small business owner, and the founder and volunteer executive director of a nonprofit organization.

It takes a certain sort of bravery to enter a race with no clear path to victory. The Dems who have the courage to run in these red districts deserve our support. 

With no front runner emerging from the pack of 9 Republicans, Candy, the only Dem in the running for LA-05, is poised to surge past her Republican opponents and become Louisiana’s first black Congresswoman We can win this but we need your support: https://t.co/X87b9qZcpW pic.twitter.com/Qjfa8rTxPg

— Sandra “Candy” Christophe (D) 🇺🇸 (@ChristopheCandy) February 11, 2021

There was no frontrunner when that tweet was sent; currently Letlow’s widow-turned-candidate, Julia, a university administrator, is predicted to win the primary, if not the seat, with “the sympathy vote.” I question this, particularly since her husband never served a day in office. All the same, right-wing media is already hard at work trying to smear Christophe, an indication they may be concerned about her chances.

Meanwhile, Christophe’s campaign is kicking into high gear.

We had an incredible showing at our first ad shoot. We cannot thank this diverse crowd of Cajuns enough for their time and effort! This will be our first advertisement, if you can please chip in to our ActBlue so we can spread this video far and wide:https://t.co/X87b9rgNhu pic.twitter.com/wZUrFRcwRt

— Sandra “Candy” Christophe (D) 🇺🇸 (@ChristopheCandy) February 23, 2021

What impressed me most from her campaign website was this hands-on experience with a major sociopolitical problem—not just in Louisiana, but across the U.S.

A champion of her community with a demonstrated track record of finding solutions to complex problems, Candy is no stranger to the issues plaguing her district. To combat economic strife and family separation, Candy founded Re- Entry, a Louisiana nonprofit that provides needed support to formerly incarcerated persons assisting with employment, housing, and reintegration.

The lifelong Louisianan’s campaign platform focuses on issues that are in tune with those confronting  the people of her district: support for agriculture, small business, and veterans, as well as expanded health care. She is also a devout Christian who supports a woman’s right to choose.

Christophe has been endorsed by the Louisiana Democratic Party.

Louisiana Democrats are proud to endorse @ChristopheCandy for US Congress in LA-5. She will work to increase wages, decrease the cost of health care, & improve schools. We look forward to her being sworn in as the 1st African American female to represent Louisiana in Congress. pic.twitter.com/2d0VyF7FgB

— Louisiana Democrats (@LaDemos) February 13, 2021

We don’t (and won’t) win if we don’t get involved and show our support. Regardless of the outcome, I’m proud to see this sister running for this seat; I even sent a donation to her campaign.

Republicans should not be running uncontested. After all, we will never win it if we ain’t in it.

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