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Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

 

President Donald Trump is inching toward declaring a national emergency to secure funding for his long-sought wall on the southern border, repeatedly telling reporters late last week that he may take that step if Congress does not reach a border security compromise he approves of before government funding expires on February 15. If Trump does declare a national emergency, he will be prioritizing the advice of his trusted propagandists at Fox News, who have been urging him to do so for the last month, over the counsel of Republican legislators who have been warning him away from the tactic.

A national emergency declaration would be the strongest sign yet that the conservative propagandists at Fox are effectively running the federal government. Their programs and private counsel are fueling Trump’s decisions, raising dire questions about the nation’s governance and stability.

The feedback loop between Trump and Fox played a key role in causing the partial government shutdown that lasted for a record 35 days between December 21 and January 25, as I noted Sunday in a piece for The Daily Beast:

Trump’s incessant craving for validation from the network’s conservative commentators triggered his initial refusal to sign any legislation funding the government that did not include money for a border wall, and then that need sustained his intransigence over the following weeks. His eventual cave shows the limitations of prioritizing the whims of right-wing infotainers during congressional negotiations. But there is no evidence Trump has learned anything from the crushing defeat, suggesting that he will continue trying to make policy with respect to the wall and other issues, on the basis of whether it pleases Fox hosts.

Trump first suggested in early January that he might declare a national emergency and reallocate funding appropriated for other purposes, such as military construction or disaster relief, to build the wall. Ever since, some congressional Republicans have objected on the grounds that the executive branch would be seizing legislative power, that the move could set a new precedent for when Democrats win the White House, that it would trigger a long legal struggle, or that it could be stymied by a congressional resolution disapproving the declaration.

For a few weeks, those Republicans were successful, and the president backed down.

But Trump is being pulled between them and the Fox advisers begging him to go through with it.

For much of his presidency, Trump has devoted hours of each day to watching cable news programs, frequently live-tweeted his favorite Fox shows, and treated the network’s stars like members of his cabinet. Now he is poised to take their advice and declare a national emergency.

Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs, Fox hosts whom the president reportedly leaned on for advice about how to manage the shutdown, seem to have played key roles in this drama. The pair of loyal propagandists, who each championed Trump’s shutdown, had very different reactions when Trump agreed to sign a three-week continuing resolution without wall funding. Hannity claimed that anyone “thinking President Trump caved today, you don’t really know the Donald Trump I know,” while Dobbs said it was a “victory for Nancy Pelosi” and anyone saying otherwise is “try[ing] to escape from reality.” But in the weeks before and after Trump’s decision, both used their programs to urge Trump to declare a national emergency, exhorting their audiences to support him if he did.

Hannity, who regularly speaks with Trump and has been described by White House aides as the administration’s “shadow” chief of staff, said on his January 7 show, “Without a doubt, this is a national emergency. It’s time to build the wall.” The next night he argued, “This is a national emergency. The situation is now dire. And whether or not we secure our border, it does have real life or death consequences.” He added on his January 9 broadcast that Trump had “the full authority and power to declare a national emergency and tackle this head on,” adding, “This is about protecting our homeland.”

During an often incoherent January 10 softball interview with Hannity, Trump said he “most likely” would declare a national emergency if he “can’t make a deal with Congress.” He also said he had watched Hannity’s show the previous night and praised him for producing “real news,” not “fake news.”

Since then, Hannity has called for Trump to declare an emergency to secure wall funding on his January 11January 15January 16, January 23January 24January 25January 28January 29January 30, and January 31 programs. “Now, the president holds all the cards. He gets no deal, February 15th, I’ll give you odds,” Hannity argued on Wednesday night. “I’m 99 percent certain that he will lawfully declare a national emergency or just send down the military and start building the wall with defense funds.”

Dobbs’ commentary has been even more over-the-top, with the Fox Business host using explicitly authoritarian language in urging Trump to seize more power and crush his enemies.

“This is the president of the United States,” Dobbs said January 9. “He says a wall should be built; that it’s a national emergency. At that point, the nation should rally behind him, Democrats as well as Republicans.”

“I really believe,” he added the next night, “that the way forward here is for [Trump] to declare a national emergency and simply sweep aside the recalcitrant left in this country. They have — they have obstructed, resisted, and subverted for far too long.”

The drumbeat has continued, with Dobbs pushing for a national emergency declaration on January 11January 14January 15January 23January 24January 25January 28January 29January 30January 31, and February 1. “There is only one way forward and that is an honest straightforward declaration of a national emergency, because that’s where we are,” Dobbs said on one such broadcast. “This president has no choice but to act, and act I am confident he will.”

Other Fox News hosts and personalities have called for the president to declare a national emergency on the network’s airwaves, including longtime Trump friend and confidante Jeanine Pirro and Fox & Friends’ Pete Hegseth and Steve Doocy.

There were some moments of dissent on the network, even on the president’s favored programs. Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade argued that the strategy is flawed because the courts have repeatedly “turned on the president,” while Fox senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano flatly warned the program’s audience that declaring a national emergency to get funding for his wall would be unconstitutional. But those moments were rare, and they were quickly washed away with more b-roll of border chaos and warnings about violent undocumented criminals.

This same battle for the president’s ear between congressional Republicans and Fox hosts eventually ended with December’s partial government shutdown. Several times last year, spending bills that the White House and Congress had agreed to were nearly torpedoed at the last minute when the president heard someone on his television saying that he should oppose the bills and even shut down the government over them because they lacked wall funding. For a while, Republican leaders were able to talk him out of it, until eventually they couldn’t.

Now it’s happening again.

Header image by Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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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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(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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