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President Joe Biden

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

As Democrats maneuver to pass a $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill to rescue the U.S. economy, journalists are using the fact that most Republicans oppose the emergency legislation to to raise doubts about President Joe Biden's ability to "unify" the country. Instead of marveling at the fact that the GOP stands poised to reject a bill that is highly popular with voters and would send generous payments to tens of millions of American families, the press keeps its focus on Democrats, while missing the larger story.

Echoing the Republican narrative that Biden is supposed to surrender this agenda to the party out of power days after being sworn into office (that's not how elections work), journalists are misreading the "unity" story. At a White House press briefing during Biden's first week as president, a reporter demanded to know, "When are we going to see one of those substantial outreaches that says, 'This is something the Republicans want to do, too'?"

The press insists that Biden's welcome call for unity, following a bloody insurrection inside the U.S. Capitol last month, now means that any policy push by him is divisive because Republicans oppose it.

The focus on the Beltway political process misses the more meaningful story that continues to unfold in the early weeks of the Biden presidency — he is "unifying" the country because his agenda is wildly popular. Unlike the divisive and unpopular agenda that Trump pushed, and the way he governed by caring only about his Republican base, Biden's first weeks in office have been marked by polling that shows deep public support for his domestic and foreign initiatives. That's key because being a leader who can "unify" the country is more important that being a leader who can pick up some Republican votes in Congress.

The dirty little secret the press doesn't like to dwell on, as it excitedly plays up the "unify" theme? Republicans are committed to opposing Biden, period. Just as they were committed to opposing President Barack Obama. The party's radical obstruction has become so normalized over the last decade that journalists no longer recognize it. Instead, they start legislative conversations from a mythical starting point, assuming there are lots of open-minded Republicans who are willing to support Democratic legislation if the Democratic president would properly court them. (Barack Obama criticized for not knowing how to schmooze his opponents, as if that were the reason they wouldn't budge.)

Following the Republicans' radical obstruction of a Democratic-sponsored gun law in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre in Connecticut in 2012, a bill that enjoyed 90 percent public support, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) admitted that most of his Republican colleagues refused to allow a vote in favor because they didn't want a Democratic president to get a 'win.' "There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it," said Toomey.

That GOP partisanship has only hardened today. Yet the press' focus remains fixed on how Democrats can achieve two-party cooperation in the name of unifying the country.

Biden's already doing that. He began his presidency 25 points more popular than Trump, and then began signing a flurry of executive orders designed to eradicate his predecessor's most divisive policies. While Republicans whined about the moves not "uniting" the country, polling show that many of Biden's executive orders enjoy overwhelming public support. They include banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation (83 percent support), requiring masks be worn on federal property (75 percent), overturning the ban on transgender people being able to serve in the military (71 percent), restarting the federal DACA program to protect undocumented "Dreamer" children (65 percent), rejoining the World Health Organization (62 percent), and rejoining the Paris climate according (59 percent).

The list goes on and on as Biden forges a path with policy markers that unify the country.

That includes the proposed Covid relief bill. Depicted in the press as being a deeply partisan and divisive issue, simply because the Republican Party stands opposed to the Democratic legislation, the bill enjoys sweeping support nationwide. Nearly 80 percent of Americans support sending $1,400 checks, 79 percent support federal assistance for state and local governments, and 73 percent are in favor of extending unemployment benefits. Even among Republican voters, the Democrats' $1.9 trillion relief bill gets higher approval marks than does Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Politically, the bill represents a home run for Democrats, but the Associated Press depicts it as a "dilemma" for them because Republicans oppose it. (Why isn't it a "dilemma" for the GOP?) And The Wall Street Journal stressed that Biden faced a "big decision" whether to pass the bill even if all Republicans objected. (Spoiler: He does not.)

Meanwhile, Biden continues to garner high marks for his leadership on fighting the pandemic, the most pressing issue facing the country.

Biden is already helping to unify the country, even if Republicans and the press don't want to acknowledge it.


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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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