More than six months into the Biden administration, Democratic Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said he’s failed to receive adequate answers into the deployment of untrained federal officers in his hometown of Portland by the previous administration last year. CNN reports that a letter sent to the Biden White House in June in anticipation of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) nominee Chris Mangus’ Senate hearing has gone unanswered.
Wyden has now said he’s halting Mangus’ hearing until he gets needed responses. “While it is clear that Customs and Border Protection faces pressing issues, as the senior senator from Oregon, I am unable to advance this nominee until DHS and DOJ give Oregonians some straight answers about what they were up to in Portland last year, and who was responsible,” BuzzFeed News reports Wyden has told the Biden administration.
“Members of Congress, local officials, and the public have expressed concerns about CBP’s presence and questionable actions—especially given the agency’s track record of abusive policing tactics and use of excessive force,” groups said last year in suing for information about the deployment of officers to protests following the police murder of George Floyd last year. Among officers sent to terrorize demonstrators in Portland were members of a special tactical unit that then raided a humanitarian medical camp in the border desert.
“At the time, Wyden had sought answers from then-Attorney General William Barr and former acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf about the deployment of federal officers, calling the response on the ground ‘intolerable,’” CNN reported. Wyden again relayed his concerns to their successors, Merrick Garland and Alejandro Mayorkas. The Washington Post reports that while he has received some information from officials, “the answers fell short.”
“As they have not provided [responses], Sen. Wyden informed the administration this week he would not be able to hold a hearing until his questions are sufficiently answered,” CNN reports Wyden’s office said. Mangus, Biden’s nominee to officially head CBP, is “a progressive police chief who promoted community policing efforts while overseeing departments in Tucson and Richmond, Calif,” The New York Times reported in April.
While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general released a report in April saying the department had authority to ploy officers from CBP, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Secret Service, they were unprepared. “Specifically, not all officers completed required training; had the necessary equipment; and used consistent uniforms, devices, and operational tactics when responding to the events in Portland,” the report said.
Jenn Budd, a former senior border agent turned whistleblower, told The Guardian last year that the special tactical unit deployed to Portland is among “the most violent and racist in all law enforcement.” Humanitarian organization No More Deaths, which exists to prevent the horrific deaths of migrants in the border wilderness, said that members of CBP also stabbed gallons of water during the raid on its camp last year. Border agents already have a disgusting history of destroying water intended for migrants. They’ve even been caught on tape in the act.
Then-candidate Biden slammed the previous administration’s attacks on protesters, saying in a statement at the time that “Homeland Security agents—without a clearly defined mandate or authority — are ranging far from federal property, stripped of badges and insignia and identifying markings, to detain people. They are brutally attacking peaceful protesters, including a U.S. Navy veteran.”
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After six months of Republican attempts to block it from happening, a congressional committee will on Tuesday begin to hear testimony from witnesses on the events of the Jan. 6 insurrection. Four police officers attacked by the crowd will be the select committee’s first witnesses.
All of this is still happening without the support of Republican leaders, who continue to insist that revisiting the “history” of an attempted overthrow of the U.S. government six months ago is merely Democratic gamesmanship to make Republicans look bad. These claims continue despite Donald Trump and Republican allies continuing, even now, to tell crowds that the election that removed him from power was fraudulent and that winner Joe Biden may yet be removed from office so that Trump himself can take over.
Those insurrection-backing false claims represent an ongoing danger to the safety of the American public and the stability of government itself, but Republican Party leaders and lawmakers are nearly unanimous in refusing to even acknowledge that they are happening. On the contrary, each proposed bipartisan probe of a violent insurrection has been blocked by those Republicans, one after the other, and the current select committee formed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is no different. After Pelosi’s rejection of two House Republicans—Jim Jordan and Jim Banks, who had repeatedly expressed an intent to disrupt the committee’s probe—McCarthy pulled all remaining Republican members from consideration in an attempt to portray this committee, too, as solely a Democratic endeavor.
At least two House Republicans have now been seated to the committee anyway, however. Rep. Liz Cheney was stripped of her Republican leadership position after she condemned the false election claims used by insurrectionists to justify their violence, but accepted Pelosi’s invitation to be seated on the select committee over Republican objections. Rep. Adam Kinzinger has similarly accepted Pelosi’s appointment.
Both Republicans are likely to face retaliation from their fellow House Republicans for daring to assist in the insurrection probe. The Republican “Freedom Caucus,” made up of far-right House Republicans who were among the most eager to promote fraudulent election claims and similar propaganda, are demanding McCarthy strip both Cheney and Kinzinger from all other committee assignments as punishment—a move that Pelosi herself could immediately reverse by reappointing them both regardless of Republican complaints.
What is evident, though, is that support for the insurrection is now so solidified among Republican lawmakers that even investigating the events of that day is considered to be an attack on the party.
That view may not be wrong. Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate eagerly pushed false claims about the election results from November onward. Multiple lawmakers spoke to the crowd assembled by Trump just before the attack on the Capitol began. A majority of House Republicans voted to reject the electoral vote totals in Biden-won states due to Trumpian claims of fraud that were knowably false. All of this was aimed at discrediting the incoming not-Republican administration; at justifying further sabotage of not-Republican priorities; at placating a delusional, authoritarian incompetent; and at discrediting the process of elections in general—thus justifying a new nationwide push for new voting laws aimed squarely at complicating the process for working class voters and other not-Republican communities while putting new rules in place allowing Republican-held legislatures to directly manipulate how elections are run and whether their results will be accepted.
Each of these Republican claims, made by Republican lawmakers to a Republican-backing crowd specifically assembled by Donald Trump and his allies as direct counter to the House and Senate verification of the election’s results, is directly responsible for goading that crowd into violence on Jan. 6. The insurrectionists were made to believe that a U.S. election had been fraudulently decided and that they themselves would be patriots if they took action against Congress to prevent the “fraud” from being formally accepted. The whole point of the “march” that day was to intimidate Congress into falsifying the election results in favor of the Republican loser; the whole point of marching in those precise moments was to arrive at the perilously unguarded Capitol exactly as Trump’s singled-out enemies were formalizing his removal from power.
There is absolutely no question that the insurrection was caused by false Republican propaganda promoted by the party as means to overturn a U.S. election. None. There is no plausible argument that the insurrection of Jan. 6 would still have happened if Republican lawmakers had not amplified Trump’s patently false election conspiracy claims, or if Trump’s Republican allies had not specifically arranged for the mob of violent militia members and other alleged “patriots” to assemble outside Congress on that specific day and time, or if Republican broadcasters had not jumped wholeheartedly to manufacture and disseminate an unending series of new conspiracy claims blaming Trump’s loss on everything from dead Venezuelan leaders to Italian satellites to voting companies to the brand of pens used on the ballots to antifa to alleged bamboo-infused ballots shipped in from China.
It was a Republican insurrection, supported by the party up until the moment lawmakers found their own lives in danger—and supported again as soon as lawmakers were convinced the danger had passed. Of course House Republicans intend to block any and all retellings of that day. Trump is making the same claims even now; the insurrection being probed by a new House select committee isn’t even over yet.
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While White House officials continue to be dedicated to the proposition that grassroots groups can “out-organize voter suppression” efforts in the states, leaders of those very same grassroots groups have a different message for the White House: “We’re fucked.”
That’s exactly what Georgia organizer Nsé Ufot told Politico about the GOP’s new voter suppression laws in the crucial swing state.
Ufot, who’s the CEO of the Stacey Abrams-founded New Georgia Project, said their organization is trying to lay the groundwork to overcome the Republican attack on voting rights in the state, but “if there isn’t a way for us to repeat what happened in November 2020, we’re fucked,” she said. “We are doing what we do to make sure that not only our constituents, our base, the people, the communities that we organize with, get it. We’re trying to make sure that our elected officials get it as well,” Ufot added.
In other words, yes, we’re organizing on the ground, but hey, elected officials, how about you do your part too?
Activists across the country are desperately trying to disabuse White House officials of the notion that inaction is a reasonable course of action to combat the raft of GOP-led voter suppression laws already passed in some 18 states.
In Georgia, one of the most onerous changes to state voting laws is the voter identification requirement for mail-in ballots that could prove prohibitive for nearly 300,000 voters who lack such identification. In addition, the GOP’s severe reduction in the availability of drop boxes could jam hundreds of thousands more voters in the Atlanta suburbs who used those boxes to cast ballots in 2020, along with voters in other parts of the state. Taken together, those two changes alone threaten to impact hundreds of thousands of voters in a state where then-candidate Joe Biden eked out a win by roughly 12,000 votes.
The Georgia State Democratic Party is rushing to reactivate its 2018 midterm network in order to train county chairs, Democratic activists, and voters in all 159 state counties on the new voter ID laws, according to Politico. The party has also hired three new outreach directors for Black, Latino, and Asian American communities.
Democratic activists in the Peach State will get somewhat of a trial run for their new organizing efforts later this fall during the Atlanta mayoral election. While the political contours of Atlanta-based Fulton County are somewhat distinct from other areas of the state, it’s also the most populous county and critical to Democratic fortunes.
But Democratic organizers in states across the nation face similar hurdles, and organizers continue to be baffled by the lax response from Democrats in Washington.
“I’m super worried,” said Max Wood, founder and CEO of progressive data analytics firm Deck. “I do think there are times when this kind of stuff can galvanize enthusiasm and turnout,” Wood added, “but I don’t know that that will be enough, especially with how extreme some of these laws are.”
And for all the pitfalls the Biden administration has avoided repeating from the Obama administration, failing to properly elevate 2018 and spearhead a coordinated midterm campaign could potentially prove catastrophic for Democratic fortunes nationwide, not to mention President Biden’s agenda.
“I don’t think the Democratic Party as a whole is prioritizing this issue and its potential damage in the way that they should,” said Doug Herman, a lead mail strategist for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. “We just went through an insurrection that was stoked by voter fraud lies, and the reaction to that from the Republican Party is to restrict the voting process so severely that only their voters can participate. And I don’t understand the lack of fierce resistance to that from Americans and Democrats.”
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The Biden administration announced on Friday that it’s cancelling two border wall contracts issued during the previous administration. While no construction from these two projects had yet begun, the agreements were for 31 miles of border barrier in South Texas’ Laredo and Webb counties totaling over $500 million in taxpayer funds, Border Report said.
“THE BORDER WALL IN LAREDO IS DEAD,” the #NoBorderWall Coalition declared in a tweet following the announcement. “An epic David vs. Goliath Battle. The people of Laredo won!”
While the Biden administration had in June announced that it would be returning more than $2 billion that the previous administration had swindled from military funds for its stupid and racist wall, the two soon-to-be-cancelled contracts “were funded with DHS fiscal year 2020 appropriations,” CNN reported.
“The contracts worth $564M—more than $18M per mile—would have destroyed the city landmarks of Las Palmas Nature Trail and Riverbend, parts of Laredo College, the downtown Tres Laredos Park, small businesses, private homes, family ranches, and many other iconic river sites,” #NoBorderWall Coalition continued. Environmental activists had previously called the damage inflicted by this stupid project, “incalculable.”
The administration had said in its announcement last month that it would be using appropriated funds “to address urgent life, safety, and environmental issues” stemming from wall construction. In its Friday statement, DHS said the administration “intends to engage in environmental planning concerning these barrier projects, including taking certain actions consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other statues.”
Ecstatic community leaders told Border Report that they hoped that two other contracts negotiated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the region also end up on the chopping block. Advocates said those contracts total $484 million and would “destroy an additional 40 river miles that extend from the Colombia International Bridge to El Pico Rd, as well as the northern reach of Zapata County and historic San Ygnacio.”
“It’s a tremendous amount of money that they wanted to waste for an ineffective, destructive wall that would threaten our life, our property, our culture. We weren’t going to accept it,” Rio Grande International Study Center’s Melissa Cigarroa told Border Report. “But our community, our organization, our people would not accept it. It was so counter to our way of life and to what we live every day. There is no disaster. There is no danger.”
Making that point were the Rio Grande Valley counties that refused to be a part of the Republican governor’s very serious border emergency declaration.
In a tweet, #NoBorderWall Coalition said Friday’s announcement “directly contradicts the ‘disaster’ narrative that Gov. Greg Abbott is using against Laredo and other border communities to launch his reelection campaign, and which Webb County Judge Tijerina joined for possible state taxpayer dollars to fill county coffers.” Educator Dr. Sylvia Dominguez said the “’disaster’ narrative is a fantasy, and clearly refuted by the facts,” the group continued.
Abbott has since announced his own plan to complete some of the previous president’s wall. He’s so into copying that bill he’s also forcing some of that bill onto taxpayers. He also promised “transparency and accountability” in crowdfunding for further funds, but “Abbott’s office is not disclosing the locations of donors, nor is it requiring that they identify themselves with their real names,” The Texas Tribune reported. “The shortcomings in the donation disclosures have raised ethical concerns about the private fundraising effort for the governor’s major state initiative.”
“DHS continues to review all other paused border barrier projects and is in the process of determining which projects may be necessary to address life, safety, environmental, or other remediation requirements and where to conduct environmental planning,” Friday’s announcement from the administration continued.
“We continue to call on @POTUS to terminate remaining construction contracts across the border region, and we demand that @DHSgov rescind its waivers issued under the REAL ID Act. We also urge officials to prioritize remediation of border ecosystems damaged by wall construction,” #NoBorderWall Coalition continued. “As always, shout out to all the organizers and volunteers who tirelessly contributed to our growing movement! Stay tuned for more …”
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Another infrastructure week begins just like all the other ones have, with Republicans saying they’re “optimistic” but Democrats laying out issues yet to be resolved in this bipartisan “hard” infrastructure proposal: “highways/bridges, water funding, broadband, Davis-Bacon [prevailing wages for projects using federal funds], using unspent Covid [money] as [a] payfor, infrastructure bank and transit.”
Which is, well, most of it really. That leaves negotiators in essentially the same place they were Friday and, shockingly, not where Republican Sen. Susan Collins insisted they would be Monday: ready to vote.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer tried to push Republicans with a vote last Wednesday to kick off a legislative process on this bipartisan infrastructure bill, and Republicans unanimously filibustered it because they just weren’t ready after something like six weeks of “working” on it. On Friday, Republicans were trying to change the standard 80/20 funding breakdown between highway/transit programs. And were calling Democrats unreasonable for assuming that this standard funding formula was a given. One could say Republicans are not necessarily acting in good faith on that. Nonetheless, the White House and Democrats offered what they’re calling a global deal—on every outstanding issue—Sunday.
The time crunch hasn’t changed. If this isn’t done this week, at least part of the August recess—now set to begin Aug. 9—will be rescinded, but this process has to play out to get the Democrats who insist on this bipartisan fiasco to be reassured that they’ve done everything possible with Republicans so they’ll support the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill that contains the rest of President Joe Biden’s economic priorities, in which the human infrastructure parts include education, paid leave, child tax credits, and expansion of health care—all potentially transformational programs.
The bipartisan bill, for lack of a better description of what still seems to be cocktail napkin scribblings, is a number—$579 billion in “new” spending—that was agreed to weeks ago, and nearly a trillion in total spending. Where it’s coming from and where it will be spent beyond the broad categories of infrastructure—water systems, highways, maybe transit, broadband—seems to continue to be in discussion. Details are scarce other than Republicans saying it’s too much public transportation.
Their argument, according to Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, is that transit got plenty of COVID-19 relief money. “Nobody’s talking about cutting transit,” Toomey said Sunday. “The question is, how many tens of billions of dollars on top of the huge increase that they have already gotten is sufficient? And that’s where there is a little disagreement.”
That funding was to keep transit programs afloat during the pandemic, allowing them to essentially survive. New funding is necessary for public transit to meet future requirements. That’s where House Transportation Committee Chair Peter DeFazio—an Oregon Democrat—and 30 of his committee members come in. They’ve warned the Senate in a letter that they won’t accept less than the $715 billion in the infrastructure bill, which they have already passed.
Public transportation groups agree. “The historical share for public transit from the Highway Trust Fund is 20%,” Paul Skoutelas, president of the American Public Transportation Association, said Sunday. “It is the absolute minimum acceptable level to help sustain our nation’s public transportation systems. It is imperative that we make robust, forward looking investments to modernize and expand public transit that will assist in our economic recovery from the COVID pandemic and get Americans back to work.”
As of Monday morning, Republicans are rejecting that global offer from Democrats, saying it “goes against” what had already been agreed to, but since anything they’ve already agreed to hasn’t been released to the public (if it has even been written down anywhere), no one outside the negotiations has any way of verifying that. A Republican source told Punchbowl News: “The ‘global offer’ we received from the White House and Chuck Schumer was discouraging since it attempts to reopen numerous issues the bipartisan group had already agreed to.”
In other words, when Collins said last Wednesday that they “are making tremendous progress, and I hope that the majority leader will reconsider and just delay the vote until Monday,” she was lying. Republicans insisted they had to have a bill before they could vote, even though last week’s vote was purely procedural, an agreement that eventually there would be a bill to consider on the floor. Collins insisted that they could have that much by Monday—today. They don’t. Surprise, surprise.
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