Hispanic Caucus urges HHS take additional steps to better protect lives of Latinos and immigrants

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) is asking Health and Human Services (HHS) Sec. Xavier Becerra and White House Coronavirus response coordinator Jeffrey Zients for urgent additional action addressing inequities facing Latino and immigrant communities amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, specifically when it comes to access to the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Members write in their letter of recommendations that as both communities have been harshly impacted by the pandemic, they’re also facing immense difficulties in accessing life-saving doses. “The disproportionate and unjust burden of the coronavirus pandemic on Hispanics demonstrates the need for the Biden-Harris Administration to work to help eliminate these inequities and ensure the well-being of Hispanic and immigrant communities,” they write.

“There are unique barriers that Hispanic and immigrant communities face regarding vaccination and testing, including a lack of reliable information in their languages, misinformation, and fear of deportations,” CHC members write to Becerra and Zients. “Absent adequate communication, these communities may be hesitant to access critical COVID-19 services and share personal information out of fear of potential consequences, such as the inability to adjust their immigration status due to public charge policies.”

Legislators in their letter outline more than a dozen recommendations to the Biden administration, ranging from directly funding “greater number of trusted community organizations connected to Hispanic and immigrant communities,” to increasing the number of mobile vaccination sites in rural and farmworking communities, to working to “ensure that no one is denied a vaccine because they lack identification or eligibility documentation.” 

While the CDC has issued guidelines for partner pharmacies distributing the vaccine that “assures that no one will be turned away for lack of specific identification documents,” like a government-issued ID or driver’s license, undocumented immigrants have been turned away for this exact reason. In March, a Rite Aid location in southern California made headlines for turning away an undocumented mother who had an appointment to get her dose. Amid pushback on social media, the chain contacted her family to reschedule her appointment.

Tina Vasquez reported for Prism that some localities have asked for, but not required, a social security number, which undocumented people lack. The CHC said HHS should “work with vaccine providers to limit the collection of personal data, ensure that any data that needs to be collected is protected, and prohibit data collection on immigration status or place of birth to address vaccine hesitancy.”

Relatedly, the recommendations said the “CDC should develop and disseminate best practices for vaccination sites in areas with large immigrant populations.” Members also called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which operates under HHS, to “have agency-wide plans to vaccinate people in their custody and children in their care and adhere to basic humanitarian standards that go beyond relying on local community health departments for vaccine provisions.”

Recall that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) under the previous administration ignored CDC recommendations urging border officials give detained people flu shots, even after the horrific and tragic flu-related deaths of children in the agency’s custody. A report from the Government Accountability Office later found that CBP violated law by spending humanitarian funds designated by Congress for the care of detained people instead on its own employee vaccine program. The Biden administration can, and should, do better to protect vulnerable communities.

“It is critical that the Biden-Harris administration do everything in its power to ensure immigrant and Hispanic communities can access COVID-19 vaccines,” legislators said in the letter. “The CHC stands ready to assist the task force in these efforts.” Read the full recommendations from the Hispanic Caucus to HHS Sec. Xavier Becerra and White House Coronavirus response coordinator Jeffrey Zients here.

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Liz Cheney can’t be kicked out of Republican leadership, because there is no Republican leadership

No Democrat loves Liz Cheney. Over the years she has consistently taken positions that were among the most conservative, most regressive, and most aggressive of any Republican in Congress. She is among those most protective of the wealthy, most willing to sacrifice the environment, and most willing to ignore injustice. Looking back at the key votes of this past year, Cheney voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, against the Paycheck Fairness Act, against a bipartisan bill expanding background checks, against the SAFE Banking Act, and against the American Dream Act. She also voted against removing Marjorie Taylor Greene from committees.

In fact, Cheney cast a “No” vote on every single key vote in 2021—except one. That one exception was her vote on Jan. 13 in favor of impeaching Donald Trump for his role in inciting an insurrection against the U.S. Capitol. 

Cheney is, in every way, a perfect example of the kind of Republican that progressives have fought so hard for decades. And that’s exactly why she’s being removed from her post. Because that Republican Party no longer exists.

Cheney got a chance to have her own say in The Washington Post, in which made it clear that her struggle with Donald Trump is on a level that goes beyond policy. “Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work—confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this.”

Cheney also calls out House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who was willing to tell at least a modicum of the truth a week after being forced to flee from the House chamber. “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” McCarthy said on Jan. 13. “He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.” At the time, McCarthy suggested that Trump deserved to be censored by Congress.

Fast forward three months, and McCarthy was not only visiting with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, but defending his actions on Jan. 6.  With each passing week, McCarthy has moved more and more to not just defend Trump, but rewrite the history of the past four years, including the assault on the Capitol. His willingness to surrender any sign of honesty has earned McCarthy a spot that The New York Times described as “an alpha lap-dog inside Mr. Trump’s kennel of acolytes.”

Trump left office in shame, with an approval rating that matched the worst of his term in office and a record number of impeachments attached to his name. Republicans, including McCarthy, might have decided to move away from Trump and champion their agenda with someone else at the head. It might even seem logical that the 56-year-old congressional leader might push himself forward, seizing the opportunity to stand in the spotlight far from Trump’s orange glow.

Except … there is no Republican agenda. Not any more. That Republicans failed to adopt a party platform in 2020 wasn’t just some fluke of Trump’s bungled management. It’s a 20-gigawatt Broadway sign signaling that there is no there there, with a footnote that McCarthy may be the weakest “leader” Congress has ever seen.

That’s not to say that Republicans aren’t trying to pass bills. It’s just that those bills have no real purpose beyond making people angry. Making people angry—on both sides of the political spectrum—isn’t just the modern Republican brand, it’s all that remains of their party of trolls. Their base has no demands other than to be fed lies that make them angry, and to see Republicans taking action that makes everyone else angry.

Which is why they went crawling back to Trump. He knows how to spread nonsense that makes people angry, and that’s all the party is about.

Liz Cheney, with her positions and her ideas is an alien to this party. She’s talking about a turning point in a party that turned to ash years ago. Meanwhile, the Gaetz-Greene-Boebert base of the party, both in and out of Congress, see her as an alien who, rambling about conservative principles, might as well be High Martian.

So they’ll get rid of her. But only after Politico publishes a few editorials about how “Democrats love Cheney” without bothering to quote a single Democrat. Because then Republicans get to be angry at Cheney and convinced they’ve also upset Democrats. That’s their idea of a win these days.

“While embracing or ignoring Trump’s statements might seem attractive to some for fundraising and political purposes,” wrote Cheney in her editorial, “that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country.” But she’s wrong about a critical point here. The tense.

That damage has already been done. 

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White Republican calls colleague a racist stereotype while on Colorado House floor

Whether or not you’re closely versed in Colorado state politics, you’ve likely heard of Colorado state Rep. Richard Holtorf. For example, while speaking to the Denver Post, Holtorf identified himself as having had a Black, gay friend in college as a defense when called out for downplaying a Black colleague’s concerns about racism at the Colorado Capitol. In February, Holtorf also told a colleague he should “let go” of his son’s murder. Disturbing no matter what, of course, but this colleague’s son, Alex Sullivan, was killed during the Aurora movie theater shooting.

As seen in a clip quickly going viral, the colleague in question—Democratic state Rep. Tom Sullivan—is unafraid to call out Holtorf’s inappropriate and offensive comments. What did Holtorf say this time? While speaking on the House floor about an amendment to a bill he proposed, Holtorf was seemingly interrupted by a colleague and said, “I’m getting there; don’t worry, Buckwheat, I’m getting there.” Perhaps picking up the absolute horror of the room, he added, “That’s an endearing term, by the way.” Then Sullivan confronted him.

Holtorf repeatedly asked Sullivan why he was “yelling” at him, in just about the most typical reaction you might imagine coming from someone who just slurred a colleague and tried to play it off as a term of endearment. Back and forths became so heated, so fast, that Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod had to diffuse the situation after another colleague had to try and hold Holtorf back and wave him away from the mic. Unsurprisingly, the session was called into recess. 

You’re probably wondering: Who was Holtorf referring to as “buckwheat”? We don’t know. What we do know, as Stephen A. Crocket Jr. pointed out at The Root, is that “white people don’t call other white people ‘Buckwheat.’”

Here is that clip.

Colorado State Rep Richard Holtorf (R-Akron) referred to a colleague as “Buckwheat,” leading to a heated exchange and brief recess of the House. #coleg #copolitics #9News pic.twitter.com/jYXNbEMg8q

— Kyle Clark (@KyleClark) May 5, 2021

Julián Castro pointed out that a teacher would be fired for making that comment, so why shouldn’t Holtorf be?

Colorado State Rep. Richard Holtorf referred to one of his colleagues as “Buckwheat” during a floor debate on policing today. A teacher would be fired for saying this in the classroom. Why shouldn’t a state representative? pic.twitter.com/jzNON16MSg

— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) May 5, 2021

Democratic state Rep. Leslie Herod also tweeted about it, pointing out that she has to deal with it every single day.

This is what I have to deal with Every. Damn. Day. #onwepress https://t.co/oXfwEPAxt4

— Leslie Herod (@leslieherod) May 5, 2021

Surprising no one, when Holtorf returned to the floor, he offered a meager apology, stating, “I apologize if I’ve offended anybody in any way. It is not my intent, ladies and gentlemen. If anyone would like to talk to me afterward, I’d be more than happy to visit with them,” according to KDVR.

Here is a clip of Holtorf’s comment, as well as his apology, but with the reaction from his colleagues and recess cut out.

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Arizona Republican election ‘audit’ now testing ballots for ‘bamboo’ to see if they came from Asia

The Arizona Republican “recount” of Dear Orange Leader’s presidential election loss continues, and continues to be the Fyre Festival of fascist conspiracy peddling. It is the “Springtime for Hitler” of election audits. No matter how bad you think at can be, it somehow manages to be inspirationally worse.

To review, the Republican-controlled Arizona Senate ordered a bizarre private audit of the state’s 2020 presidential election results after a large chunk of the Republican rank-and-file and party officials both simply refused to believe that an unpopular twice-impeached incompetent blowhard responsible for a half-million pandemic deaths could possibly be rejected by the American electorate, so there must have been “fraud” involved. The Republican senators hired an online conservative conspiracy theorist peddling those fraud theories to conduct the “audit” through his company, Cyber Ninjas, which has absolutely zero experience in any of this, and the results have been a fountain of bumbling conspiracy-premised chaos.

Some of the chaos is mere ridiculousness, and therefore funny. Some of the chaos has called into question the integrity of the ballots the conspiracy-promoting Republican volunteers are thumbing through, which is not funny because at the end of this the ballots will have been permanently spoiled, thus introducing the very “uncertainty” this conspiracy-promoting clown car of militant weirdos claim they are attempting to put to rest.

Among the not-funny fiascos introduced by the Chuck E. Cheese-inspired Cyber Ninjas Ballot Ballpit since its late-April start:

• Observers reported that the ballot auditors were using black- and blue-ink pens on the counting floor. These are banned in real recounts, because they can obviously be used to alter ballots and change votes. Organizers had to scramble to procure the customary red pens instead.

• Both ballots and computers used in the audit procedure have been left unattended at times, raising the possibility that they could have been tampered with.

• There are no fixed procedures for doing the counting. Ballots are being evaluated according to varying standards depending on which workers are doing it and when.

• Observers have warned of a possible intermingling of counted and uncounted ballots, which could result in ballots being counted multiple times or not at all.

• Cyber Ninjas claim that their methods of counting ballots are a trade secret, and thus has refused to divulge their procedures. A judge has declared that to be absolute bullshit, in the very real and legally binding sense, and ordered them to produce it.

As a result of those court battles, we now know that while the private auditing team had no apparent standards for evaluating how the ballots should actually be counted, once they got to the actual counting part, they did spend considerable time gaming out what would be done if antifa attacked the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in an attempt to ruin their counting efforts.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, the vibes coming off from this thing already have a heavy aura of “somebody is going to end up in jail by the end of this, and it’s not going to be antifa.”

Actual non-seditionist authorities are, after two weeks of this bumbling, now paying close attention. The potentially criminal incompetence in how Arizona voters’ official ballots are being handled has resulted in the Arizona secretary of state, a Democrat, penning a six-page letter asking the Senate’s appointed “Audit Liaison” what they intend to do to rein in this clown show, only to be quickly rebuffed by clown management.

More ominously for the audit’s backers, the Department of Justice is now warning the Arizona Senate that its audit appears to be breaking federal laws. Federal law requires ballots to be kept in control of state elections officials for 22 months after an election; delivering the ballots to a collection of private cranks may not count as keeping “control” of them. The Justice Department is also warning about Cyber Ninja’s plan to contact individual voters to ask them about their ballots, which could amount to “intimidating” those voters—especially if the private company appears to target minority voters with such calls.

Given that most of the Republican-backed hoax theories as to how the election was “stolen” from Trump are specifically premised on supposed plots by Black Americans, Latino Americans or “China,” the Justice Department doesn’t have to go far with its speculation that Cyber Ninjas may highlight names that don’t sound white for these additional ballot checks.

Already, then, we have at least one sure outcome of this Republican-ordered, propaganda-premised audit: These Arizona ballots will never be able to be recounted again, because chain-of-custody concerns and incompetent ballot handling has resulted in ample opportunities for just the sort of crooked ballot tampering the auditors claim they themselves are looking for. Whether that is by plan or only side effect is not fully apparent. Whether any of it will turn out to be criminal is also unclear.

In any case, this truly is a ballot “audit” unlike any government-conducted election audit in modern U.S. history. In exchange for spoiling every presidential ballot in Arizona, what crack tools are being brought to bear by the hired team now “checking” the ballots for evidence of conspiracy?

• Holding them up to UV light. This is, um, never actually done in real audits, but is ostensibly being used by this team to check for fingerprints on each ballot, with some theorists speculating that all of the ballots on which such traces of bodily fluids are not readily apparent may have been mass-produced by robot and dumped into the ballot stream “somehow.”

• Looking under microscopes to determine the manner in which they were folded, if they were folded. This one’s a stumper, but apparently hand-folded and machine folded ballots would look different, under a microscope, enabling the crack Ninja team of “whoever we could find” to sort them into human piles and robot shenanigans piles.

• Looking for bamboo fibers in the ballots.

No, really. I am not f–king making that up.

In an interview, volunteer observer John Brakey explained that one piece of equipment is meant to take high-definition images of the ballots to test for “bamboo in the paper.” This is because there is an insurrection-backing conspiracy theory that supposes “that 40,000 ballots were flown into Arizona and stuffed into the box, okay, and that it came from” Asia. Obviously, the way to test this theory is to look carefully to see if any of the ballots have “bamboo” in them. Or pandas. Or fragments of communist literature. Mostly the bamboo, though.

John Brakey, an official helping oversee the audit of the 2020 Arizona election, says auditors are looking for bamboo fibers because of a baseless accusation that 40K ballots from Asia were smuggled here. #AzAuditPool pic.twitter.com/57UOBYIehg

— Dennis Welch (@dennis_welch) May 5, 2021

So after the ballots are tested for Suspicious Asian Bamboo, what tests are next? Do the auditors then test the ballots for werewolfism? Do they put each ballot under bright lights and ask the ballot a series of math questions? The Senate Republican audit of Donald Trump’s election loss appears, literally, to be a carte blanche means of poking at the ballots to test any and all conspiracy theories any anonymous brickhead on the planet ever tweeted out in the past six months.

The premise of the audit, at least according to the Republican sedition-backers justifying it, is that if this collection of incompetent, inexperienced yahoos can find no bamboo fibers or robot sperm on the ballots even after a comprehensive regime of whatever, it will reinstall “confidence” in the election that they have lied about since last November. A more likely scenario might be that the Cyber Ninjas collection of Some Guys will file a report declaring that they still believe trickery was afoot, but the plot between Communist China and sexy robots was simply to complicated to unravel in the limited time available.

That argument is already being field tested. The ballot free-for-all is scheduled to end on May 14, because the Veterans Memorial Coliseum has been booked next for the Phoenix Union High School District’s graduation ceremonies. Because the counting so far has been (say it with me now) an incompetent, bumbling fiasco, the conspiracy team is already trying to weasel out of that deadline by proposing that, like, what if we just move the ballots into some other room so the high schoolers can graduate, then move them back.

It will never end. Conspiracy theories by design never have an end date to them; if the conspiracy cannot be proven to exist, say its promoters, that only proves that the conspiracy is even more wide-ranging and nefarious than anyone had anticipated. They will demand another recount, and a recount to be done by some other group, and a recount of that other group’s recount, and it will not end because the Republican Party has declared that the election was “fraudulent” not based on any evidence at all, but simply because they did not win. It is a fascist propaganda campaign, and one that Donald Trump and his team of deplorables openly stated they would be promoting if Trump lost the election. He did. They did. It resulted in insurrection inside the U.S. Capitol, a barrage of new voting restrictions premised on ex-presidential delusions, and an Arizona Republican move to throw the counting of ballots to the very people promoting the hoaxes.

The Arizona Senate will simply declare that the results are whatever they wanted them to be, much like William Barr announced that Robert Mueller’s conclusions were whatever William Barr said they were. The propaganda is the strategy; the goal is to stoke the notion that elections not won by the Republican Party are illegitimate, and that new means must exist for throwing out those election results when Republican lawmakers don’t like them. It is a fascist movement; the insurrection is still going on.

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As Republicans cling to Trump, House Democrats make it central to their midterm strategy

In 2018, House Democrats rode suburban disgust with Donald Trump to historic wins to retake control of the lower chamber. Now, facing very different odds in next year’s midterms, they think House Republicans are handing them a lifeline with the ouster of Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming from her leadership post for refusing to peddle Trump’s 2020 election lies.

In Democrats’ view, it’s a fresh opportunity to make Trump a central feature in yet another crucial midterm cycle, according to Politico. In fact, if Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York takes over as the House GOP’s No. 3, the entire Republican leadership team will be lockstep in propagating Trump’s Big Lie, each of them having voted against certification of the 2020 election following the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.

“Liz Cheney is being attacked for being a woman of integrity and telling the truth,” Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan told Politico in an interview. “What the Republican leadership is doing is destabilizing people’s trust in government.”

Republicans’ big bet is that demonstrating their 100% subservience and fealty to Trump will help energize his deep well of loyalists and get them to the polls. To do that, House Republicans are clearly hoping to turn 2022 into a referendum on 2020, ginning up turnout by giving Trump voters who baselessly think the election was “stolen” an opportunity to register their disgust at the polls. It’s a risky bet. Trump voters in Georgia, despite being convinced the November election was fraudulent, didn’t turn out in January in numbers great enough to deliver victories for the state’s two Republican senators.

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats are hoping Republicans’ jump off the deep end into Trump’s pool of wackadoodle conspiracy inspires anti-Trump voters to get to the polls in order to save democracy … again. Of course, Democrats will also be running on the policy they are pushing through in concert with the White House, which has the benefit of being very popular with the electorate.

While no one can predict 2022 turnout or the effect of the GOP’s voter suppression efforts, Trump’s polarizing effect on the electorate remains quite stable. According Civiqs tracking of Trump’s favorable rating, he’s at 42% favorable, 55% unfavorable—with 96% of Democrats viewing him unfavorably and 87% of Republicans viewing him favorably (a slight slip from 90% on Election Day). With independents, Trump is 9 points underwater—43% favorable, 52% unfavorable—a slight improvement from where he was in late March (41% unfav./54% fav.). Perhaps a little less exposure is improving Trump’s image, but who the heck knows?

What Democrats do know is that Trump absolutely grates on the nerves of their base voters, and his historic unpopularity certainly supercharged their electoral fortunes in 2018. So if this is the path Republicans have chosen, so be it. 

“I think it’s a real weakness in the Republican Party that they have jettisoned their principles, jettisoned adherence to the truth and simply pandered to one individual — Donald Trump,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Wednesday during a Washington Post event.

New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, who’s leading House Democrats’ 2022 campaign strategy, also lamented Cheney’s ouster. “It seems like the only way to get ahead over there is to be a dangerous liar, accused sexual predator, or perpetrator of white supremacist ideology,” Maloney said, referencing scandals that have recently enveloped several GOP members.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took the opportunity to paint Cheney as a patriot, full well knowing that Republicans are about to rip her to shreds. 

“I do commend Liz Cheney for her courage, for her patriotism, and I wish her well. Perhaps this challenge will make her stronger. I don’t know, that’s up to their caucus,” she said. Pelosi had poked fun at Republicans earlier in the week for turning on Cheney for telling the truth. “Help Wanted — Non-Threatening Female,” read a mock press release posted to the Speaker’s website. The post noted and linked to several reasons GOP congressman had recently given for Cheney’s fateful turn: “she won’t lie, she isn’t humble enough, she’s like a girlfriend rooting for the wrong team, and more.”

President Joe Biden wielded the knife in his own understated way on Wednesday, noting that we “badly need” a Republican Party for the sake of our two-party system. Biden then marveled at just how far off the rails Republicans had gone. 

“I’ve been a Democrat for a long time. We’ve gone through periods where we’ve had internal fights and disagreements. I don’t ever remember any like this,” he told reporters at the White House. “I think the Republicans are further away from trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for than I thought they would be at this point.”

In other words, we need a two-party system, but heaven help us if voters put the GOP, in its current form, back in control of the country.

Congresswoman Cheney herself said as much in a Washington Post op-ed. “The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution,” she wrote. Identifying herself as a conservative Republican with “reverence” for the rule of law, she added, “The electoral college has spoken. More than 60 state and federal courts, including multiple Trump-appointed judges, have rejected the former president’s arguments, and refused to overturn election results. That is the rule of law; that is our constitutional system for resolving claims of election fraud.”

As Cheney’s op-ed makes clear, you’re either with democracy or you’re against it. House Republicans have unequivocally cast their lot with being against it, and it’s anyone guess right now as to whether they will be able to ride the wave of fascism overrunning their party and caucus to retake control of the chamber next year.

On the one hand, the GOP infighting can’t be helping their chances. On the other, even if Democrats prevail, the country is still stuck with one diseased party in our two-party system. 

“Part of me is like, disarray in the Republican Conference is fine. That’s good for everybody. That’s good for Democrats,” Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts told Politico. “But watching this unfold, I can’t help but think this is bad for the country. And it’s bad for democracy… it’s bad for solving future problems in a bipartisan way.”

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