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Senate Judiciary Chairman Demands FBI Answer For Jan. 6 Intelligence Failures

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin is among the Democrats in the U.S. Senate who is demanding answers about the attack on the U.S. Capitol Building by far-right extremists. The Connecticut Democrat, in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray on Monday, inquired about "deeply troubling reports suggesting" that the FBI failed to "use its sources in the Proud Boys to develop intelligence about the January 6, 2021 insurrection."

The Proud Boys is among the far-right groups whose members are facing criminal charges in connection with the January 6 attack. Other extremist groups implicated in the attack include members of the Oath Keepers and the QAnon conspiracy cult. Durbin didn't mention QAnon at all in his letter to Wray, but the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman had a lot to say about the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.

Durbin told Wray, "In your recent appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, you testified that the January 6 insurrection was an act of domestic terrorism whose perpetrators included violent White supremacists and a 'large and growing number' of militia violent extremists who associate with militias such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. Following your appearance, evidence has continued to mount that adherents of these violent right-wing militias coordinated in advance to attack the Capitol on January 6."

Durbin, in his letter, went on to note that federal prosecutors have "produced evidence of coordination between the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, several of whose members have been indicted for conspiracy."

"Despite clear evidence that these violent extremists coordinated in advance," Durban told Wray, "the FBI does not appear to have warned of potential violence targeting the January 6 Joint Session of Congress until January 5, 2021 — and even then, the FBI's warning was limited to a Situational Information Report that you have characterized as 'raw, unverified' intelligence. The FBI's failure to issue a formal intelligence bulleting or other finished intelligence product addressing potential violence on January 6 is deeply concerning, particularly given the prevalence of publicly available social media posts discussing plans to 'occupy' and 'storm' Congress."

Durbin concluded his letter by asking Wray to respond "no later than May 24, 2021."

The January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol Building followed then-President Donald Trump's "Stop the Steal" rally in Washington, D.C., where he continued to promote the false and thoroughly debunked claim that widespread voter fraud occurred in the 2020 presidential election. The Trump supporters who attacked the Capitol were hoping to stop Congress from counting the votes affirming now-President Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over Trump; regardless, the counting later went ahead as scheduled, and Biden was inaugurated two weeks later.

Biden Endorses Reforms To Bring Back 'Talking Filibuster'

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

President Joe Biden, fresh off the massive success of passing a $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, knows the only way to keep the momentum going and get his stuff done is to deal with the Senate. And to deal with the Senate, he's talking filibuster reform. He told ABC's George Stephanopoulos in a Wednesday interview that he's behind an effort to reform it. "I don't think that you have to eliminate the filibuster. You have to do what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days," he said. "You had to stand up and command the floor, you had to keep talking [...] so you've got to work for the filibuster."

"So you're for that reform? You're for bringing back the talking filibuster?" Stephanopoulos asked in response. "I am," Biden answered. "That's what it was supposed to be. It's almost getting to the point where democracy is having a hard time functioning." That's an understatement. The new message from the president—who flirted with the idea of filibuster reform during the primary campaign but never unequivocally backed it—reinforces what amounted to a declaration of intent from Senate leadership on the filibuster.

This week, Majority Whip Dick Durbin took to the floor with the strongest anti-filibuster speech yet. He spoke at length about returning to a talking filibuster, saying the current procedure "has turned the world's greatest deliberative body into one of the world's most ineffectual bodies."

The filibuster used to require deliberation, or at least it forced the senators opposing a bill to make their case on the floor in debate, sometimes lasting for hours and hours. That's not how it works anymore. All it takes is one senator to say they are opposed to a bill moving forward—they don't even have to say it on the floor—and they've started a filibuster. A bill can't progress in the Senate without 60 senators saying they want it to, no matter whether it has majority support—59 senators could support it, but if they can't find one more, they won't have the opportunity to vote on it.

For example, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin teamed up with Republican Sen. Pat Toomey on a gun background check bill following the 2012 massacre of school children at Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Connecticut. Republicans blocked it with just 46 votes—a majority of 54 Republican and Democratic senators supported the bill but it failed. No Republican had to stand on the floor and say why they felt the slaughter of little children did not demand a change that would keep weapons of war out of the hands of domestic terrorists. They just voted "no."

So it seems that Democratic leadership, including Biden, have coalesced behind the idea of a talking filibuster, and that might even have been negotiated with at least one of the recalcitrant Democrats, Joe Manchin. Following his day of obstruction on the COVID-19 relief bill, Manchin made the rounds of Sunday shows saying he'd be okay with making the filibuster "a little bit more painful, make them stand there and talk, I'm willing to look at any way we can."

But here's the rub with that: In subsequent interviews on following days, Manchin made it clear that he still wants to keep a 60-vote margin. He told Politico that there still has to be a 60-vote majority to overcome a filibuster, or a way that forces the opposition to come up with 41 votes to sustain it. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema goes even further, saying: "I want to restore the 60-vote threshold for all elements of the Senate's work," including all judicial and executive confirmations.

That's a problem. Yes, it would force Sen. Mitch McConnell to make sure that he always has 41 Republicans at his beck and call, but he's a spiteful enough bastard with enough spiteful bastards in his conference to do just that. But democracy is not going to be restored unless the most basic principle—majority rule—is restored in the Senate.

Biden was careful in his comments not to saying anything about abolishing the 60-vote requirement, as Durbin pointed out in an interview Wednesday morning. "He didn't say that and as a student and creature of the Senate he certainly knows how to choose his words carefully on this subject. But I think he's acknowledging the obvious: the filibuster has really shackled the Senate." Biden was being "vague" about what exact remedy to use, Durbin said, "but that's alright. I think he is acknowledging the fact that the filibuster has become institutionalized by Sen. McConnell. We now accept the premise that everything needs 60 votes."

It is an accepted premise—a false one. Even the Capitol Hill press corps, who should know better, talk about the 60-vote margin required to pass anything as the norm, as though this has always been how it is. It's not. When Biden entered the Senate in 1973, the filibuster was a rarity. From 1917 to 1970, there had been a total of 49 filibusters. In 53 years, 49 filibusters. Since McConnell's takeover of the Republican Senate conference, there's been an average of 80 votes each year to end filibusters. That doesn't just block legislation, it ties the Senate in knots. Every cloture vote requires 30 hours of floor time, in which nothing else can be done.

So when McConnell threatens, "Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like," it's not anything we haven't already seen from him. Which is Durbin's exact response. "He has already done that. He's proven he can do it, and he will do it again."

The filibuster fight is going to happen soon, so we'll see how it plays out. On the Senate floor Wednesday morning, Schumer promised he would bring the elections reform bill, the For the People Act, to the floor. The Senate hearing for the bill is scheduled for next week.

Spooked McConnell Threatens ‘Scorched Earth’ To Protect Filibuster

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

As momentum grows to eliminate a tool Republicans have used over the years to kill overwhelmingly popular legislation, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday threatened to make the Senate into an unbearably slow and hostile work environment as retribution.

"Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin, can even begin to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like," the Kentucky senator declared in a speech on the Senate floor, referring to what he'd do if Democrats repealed the filibuster, the extended debating tactic that makes it possible for the chamber's minority to block legislation. Invocation of cloture, a move to limit the debate, requires a total of 60 votes to be adopted.

McConnell said he'd require a quorum to be present to conduct even mundane business. That would slow down work in the Senate because it would pull lawmakers from committee hearings and take away time senators have to meet with constituents in their offices in Washington, D.C.

It's a similar tactic to that used by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) in recent weeks, as she forced the House of Representatives to reject motions to adjourn ahead of planned votes on landmark bills such as the COVID-19 relief bill; the pro-LGBTQ Equality Act; and H.R. 1, a government reform bill that would make it easier to vote.

Greene's tactics are angering her own GOP colleagues, who were forced to leave constituent meetings and hearings in order to vote on her procedural motions.

McConnell said that if the filibuster is eliminated, Republicans would respond by repealing bills Democrats passed and then pushing through conservative legislation without any Democratic input if the GOP wins back control of the chamber.

"We wouldn't just erase every liberal change that hurt the country. We'd strengthen America with all kinds of conservative policies with zero — zero — input from the other side," McConnell said.

McConnell said Republicans would defund Planned Parenthood, a move that 75 percent of Americans oppose, and loosen gun laws, which 60 percent of Americans oppose.

This is not the first time McConnell has threatened to terrorize the Senate if the filibuster is repealed. He kept Democrats from taking their positions as the majority party in the Senate in January to demand the filibuster be kept in place, finally giving up the skirmish — but not before delaying Democrats from assuming the majority they rightfully won for a week.

McConnell reiterated his threats on Tuesday, as Democrats signaled an openness to making it harder for Republicans to use the filibuster to block any and all legislation.

On Monday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) said that the filibuster has a "death grip on American democracy": "Senators don't even have to stand for one minute to shut down the Senate. All they have to do is to threaten it. ... 'Mr. Smith Phones It In' — that wouldn't have been much of a movie, would it?"

Durbin said he wants senators to be required to stand and speak on the Senate floor indefinitely in order to block a piece of legislation: "If a senator insists on blocking the will of the Senate, he should at least pay the minimal price of being present. No more phoning it in. ... If the Senate retains the filibuster, we must change the rules so that any senator who wants to bring the government to a standstill endures at least some discomfort in the process."

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who has said he doesn't support eliminating the filibuster, says he is open to implementing the "talking" filibuster.

"People have to make sure that they're willing to show — it'd be great, don't you think, if someone was down there telling you why they're objecting?" Manchin told Fox News last week.

McConnell, for his part, wants to use the filibuster to block passage of H.R. 1. Known as the For the People Act of 2021, the bill would make it easier to register to vote, allow anyone who wants to vote absentee to do so, limit the implementation of voter ID laws, and block voter roll purges.

Despite making threats to gum up the Senate and pass conservative policies that majorities of voters oppose, McConnell himself was quick to get rid of the filibuster in 2017 in order to confirm Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominees.

McConnell also took advantage of the fact that the filibuster doesn't apply to other judicial nominees to confirm a spate of Trump's right-wing judges to vacancies he had held open during Barack Obama's presidency.

McConnell also got around the filibuster under Trump in 2017 to pass the GOP tax cut bill, which overwhelmingly benefited the rich and added to the deficit, without measurably benefitting the economy.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Lying About Garland, Cruz Gets Publicly Rebuked By Senate Judiciary Chairman

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) voted with many of his Republican colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee against confirming Judge Merrick Garland to be the next Attorney General, and did so in a speech designed for the Fox News and OANN cameras – and the fact-checkers. In short, most of Cruz's claims were lies, easily smacked down by Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL).

"Not only did he refuse to answer questions at the hearing," Senator Cruz said falsely, "not only did he refuse to answer questions for the record, but Judge Garland is also one of the few Biden Cabinet nominees refusing to take in person meetings with Senators – categorically refusing to take them. Multiple other Biden nominees are taking them."

Later Cruz stretched his falsehood into an outright and extended lie, claiming Judge Garland "essentially refused to answer all questions," and saying, "on question after question after question Judge Garland refused to answer virtually anything."

Judge Garland, who is 68, decided he did not want to risk in-person meetings during the pandemic. He offered to meet via Zoom, as Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin later explained to Cruz, noting that Cruz refused to meet on Zoom with him. Every Republican in the U.S. Senate in 2016 refused to meet with Garland when he was a Supreme Court nominee.

"If he's not willing to answer questions, now, before he's confirmed, the likelihood of his being willing to answer questions after he was confirmed is only smaller on the response to the questions," Cruz went on to say.

Again, Chairman Durbin reminded Cruz that Republicans sent Garland in writing nearly 850 questions, including 127 from Cruz. Garland answered them all. As he did in his in-person confirmation hearing, when he did not know the answer, he said so.


Chairman Durbin politely smacked down Cruz's claims.

In the end, Garland was reported positively out of committee, 15-7.

Watch Sen. Cruz: