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Senate Republicans Insist They Won't Ban Abortion, Despite McConnell Gaffe

For decades, Republicans have assailed pro-abortion Supreme Court rulings — for instance, 1973’s Roe v. Wade and 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, among others -- but with the end of Roe reportedly imminent, conservative Congressional representatives are quickly dialing back their anti-abortion rhetoric, fearing public reaction could cost them in the midterms.

Despite secretly meeting with leading anti-abortion activists to brainstorm plans for a federal ban on abortions nationwide, GOP lawmakers were quick to dismiss Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s weekend suggestion that the party could soon turn its sights to enacting a total abortion ban.

"I don't think it's really an appropriate topic for Congress to be passing a national law on," said Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), according to CNN.

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), a religious rightist, echoed Cornyn, telling Newsweek, "No, I don't support a federal ban on abortion after Roe vs. Wade, if it's overturned in the first instance."

Hawley added, "I think it would be better for states to debate this, allow it to breathe and for Congress to act where there's national consensus."

Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), the third-ranking Senate Republican, noted that the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion suggested that states should regulate abortion. "I want to see the states have that opportunity and the authority to do so," Barrasso said when asked for his thoughts on a potential federal abortion ban.

Republicans in Congress are trying to keep focus trained on inflation, crime, and border security, as recent polls show that most Americans oppose national legislation to ban abortion. So they want to talk about almost anything else.

“You need — it seems to me, excuse the lecture — to concentrate on what the news is today,” McConnell himself said last Tuesday. “Not a leaked draft but the fact that the draft was leaked.”

Last week, in an interview with USA Today, McConnell promised that Republicans, if they win back the Senate, won’t scrap the filibuster for a total abortion ban by a simple majority vote.

"If the leaked opinion became the final opinion, legislative bodies — not only at the state level but at the federal level — certainly could legislate in that area," the minority leader told the paper. "And if this were the final decision, that was the point that it should be resolved one way or another in the legislative process. So yeah, it's possible."

However, McConnell dodged questions from CNN on whether he’d bring an abortion bill to the floor of a Republican-controlled Senate.

Democrats immediately decried McConnell’s abortion ban suggestion, and GOP lawmakers, sensing a rapidly spreading wave of public outrage at attempts to overturn abortion rights, have expressed little interest in it or noted that there wouldn’t be enough votes to enact such a ban.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) played down the notion his party would have the votes for a total national abortion ban. "It's about as possible as this vote we will take on Wednesday," Graham told CNN, referring to an upcoming Democratic effort to codify in federal law .

"Let's see what happens. I'm not going to get into what-ifs," Senator Shelley Moore Capito said, declining an opportunity to weigh in on the matter.

Senator John Thune (R-SD) declared his support for an abortion ban with exceptions, but noted that his stand might not be a consensus within his party. "That's my personal position," Thune said. "That's certainly not a caucus position. I don't think we have any idea at this point about any of that."

Despite sudden Republican back-pedaling on abortion, Democrats have signaled their intention to use the looming Supreme Court ruling to ask voters to punish Republicans in November.

Republicans Push Racist Lies About Biden’s Supreme Court Promise

Senate Republicans are attacking President Joe Biden over his plan to name a Black woman as his nominee to the Supreme Court, framing Biden's vow to do so as "racial discrimination" and charging that whoever he picks will be "quota" beneficiary.

During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden promised that if elected he would nominate the first Black female justice in the Supreme Court's 233-year history. When Justice Stephen Breyer announced his impending retirement on Jan. 27, Biden reaffirmed that he would keep that promise.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) complained a day later that any Black woman Biden picks will have an inherent conflict of interest on the job.

"The irony is that the Supreme Court is at the very same time hearing cases about this sort of affirmative racial discrimination while adding someone who is the beneficiary of this sort of quota," he told a Mississippi radio network. The court announced Monday that it will hear a case about whether college admissions decisions can take race into account.

On an episode of his weekly podcast titled "Only Black Women Need Apply," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) suggested on January 30 that Biden's move was the real racial discrimination.

"The fact that he's willing to make a promise at the outset that it must be a Black woman, I gotta say that's offensive. Black women are, what, six percent of the U.S. population? He's saying to 94 percent of Americans, 'I don't give a damn about you,'" Cruz charged.

"It's actually an insult to Black women," he added. "If he came and said 'I'm gonna put the best jurist on the court,' and he looked at a number of people and he ended up nominating a Black woman, he could credibly said 'Okay, I'm nominating the person who's most qualified.' He's not even pretending to say that."

In recent days, other Senate Republicans have also attacked Biden over his pledge.

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley used racist dog-whistle language on Wednesday, warning Biden not to "continue to tear apart this country w/ a woke activist," a term he frequently uses to belittle people who oppose systemic racism.

On January 27 Hawley told CNN, "I think it sends the wrong signal to say that, 'Well if a person is of a certain ethnic background, that we don't care what their record is, we don't care what their substantive beliefs are.' That would be extraordinary."

The same day, Texas Sen. John Cornyn retweeted a message posted by a former nominations counsel to the Judiciary Committee under then-Chair Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) charging that Biden and Senate Democrats "only pretend to care about diversity," based on the fact that they opposed the nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals of right-wing California jurist Janice Rogers Brown, a Black woman, 17 years ago.

On Sunday, Maine Sen. Susan Collins told ABC News that Biden's campaign promise had "helped politicize the entire nomination process."

But there is precedent for the approach. In 1980, candidate Ronald Reagan promised to appoint the first female justice to "one of the first Supreme Court vacancies in my administration." A year later, President Reagan kept that promise with the nomination of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump released two lists of far-right people he'd consider for Supreme Court vacancies; all were white men. He also vowed that any nominees he picked would vote to overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion rights ruling. Collins made no charges of politicization when she voted to confirm one of them, Neil Gorsuch, in 2017.

In 2020, Trump announced that he would pick a woman to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, though he did not yet know who. Republicans did not accuse him of politicizing the process.

Biden has not yet announced his pick. Breyer has said he plans to retire after the current term ends this summer, assuming his successor is confirmed by then.

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Abbott Threatens Texas Lawmakers With Arrest When They Return

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Texas Democrats left the state on Monday as a last stand for voting rights, preventing the state House from having the quorum it needs for Republicans to pass a voter suppression bill, along with an attack on transgender students, during a special session of the legislature. The Democrats—at least 51 of them—said they'll stay out of Texas until the special session ends August 6. But they need Congress to act.

Gov. Greg Abbott has threatened that "As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done." Abbott can call another special session to get the Republican legislation passed. Ultimately, Texas Republicans have the power to force just about any law through that they want, and right now, they want to make it hard for Black and brown people to vote.

"Our message to Congress," said state Rep. Chris Turner, is that "We need them to act now."

In every public statement he's made, Abbott has painted the Democrats as taking a "taxpayer-paid junket" using "cushy private planes." The Democrats, many of whom have left children behind, are pushing back on that to highlight their urgent message to Congress.

"This is not a vacation," said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer. "This is not a junket. I don't want a single U.S. senator to go home for the August recess thinking that everything is completely fine with voting rights in America. We're here to present the case that it is not." (Pssst … Sen. Manchin, Sen. Sinema, I think he's talking to you.)

Senate Democrats including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sens. Cory Booker, Alex Padilla, and Kirsten Gillibrand are meeting with the Texans. Vice President Kamala Harris praised their "extraordinary courage and commitment."

"I do believe that fighting for the right to vote is as American as apple pie. It is so fundamental to fighting for the principles of our democracy," said Harris.

Abbott is not the only Republican to slam the Democrats for blocking a quorum. "It's not very Texan," according to Sen. John Cornyn. "You stay and you fight."

Well, they're not done fighting. They just took the fight somewhere else, rather than staying in a 100 percent unwinnable fight. As for the other senator from Texas ...

Senate Republicans Whining Over Biden’s ‘Two-Track’ Infrastructure Plan

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

Senate Republicans are upset that President Joe Biden plans to enact other spending legislation after striking a deal with them on infrastructure.

The infrastructure deal calls for about $579 billion in new spending on transportation, water systems, power, and broadband infrastructure. It does not include most of the climate change, child care, and caregiving funding — described as "human infrastructure" — that Biden requested in his original $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan.

Democrats plan to enact some of these priorities separately — as well as the health care, paid leave, and educational investments from Biden's American Families Plan— through the budget reconciliation process, without any GOP support.

Biden, who ran on campaign promises to enact such legislation, said Thursday he plans to sign the packages together. While most bills — including the bipartisan infrastructure deal — require a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate, a loophole allows passage of some taxation and spending legislation to pass with a simple majority.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell lamented soon after that Biden was "caving completely" to the "left-wing base" by doing both.

"Less than two hours after publicly commending our colleagues and endorsing the bipartisan agreement, the president took the extraordinary step of threatening to veto it," McConnell (R-KY) complained, referencing Biden's statement that he would not sign one bill without the other. "It was a tale of two press conferences — endorse the agreement in one breath and threaten to veto it in the next."

McConnell was not part of the bipartisan negotiations or the infrastructure deal that was eventually struck. His endorsed GOP negotiating team — led by West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito — was unable to reach an agreement previously after they offered only a fraction of the new spending Biden had requested.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) had similar complaints. "Democrat [sic] leaders, including the president, have undermined their own negotiators and the Republicans who've been negotiating in good faith," he tweeted. "They're holding bipartisanship hostage for partisanship."

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) suggested that the deal was really "no deal" because Biden also planned to enact a reconciliation package. And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Politico he would oppose the infrastructure plan because Biden's decision to push other legislation separately somehow amounted to extortion.

"The Dems are being told you can't get your bipartisan work product passed unless you sign on to what the left wants, and I'm not playing that game," he said.

Biden, meanwhile, has been clear throughout the process that the infrastructure package is not his only priority and that this deal did not preclude a reconciliation package.

In initial remarks after meeting with the bipartisan group on Thursday morning, Biden told reporters "there is going to be a two-track system" for the two spending plans.

In an afternoon press conference, he noted that this had always been the plan.

"The bipartisan bill, from the very beginning, was understood there was going to have to be the second part of it," he said. "I'm not just signing the bipartisan bill and forgetting about the rest that I proposed. I proposed a significant piece of legislation in three parts. And all three parts are equally important."

"The question is: How much can we get done? And the bottom line is: When all is said and done, does what you agree to preclude, forever, you getting the things you really want?" he added. "Well, I'm not for that. I'm not going to vote for one of those deals."

As long as Democrats stay united, the GOP will have little power to stop those plans.

Democratic senators from across the political spectrum have indicated that they are on board with passing a major "human infrastructure" bill through the reconciliation process.

"I've come to the knowledge, basically, that budget reconciliation is for reconciling budgets. So it's money matters," West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a staunch holdout on many of Biden's more progressive-leaning policies, told NBC News, while endorsing such a package.

"I think we can, we can make that happen. It's going to be either both or nothing," Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders told reporters, noting that the reconciliation package must address "the needs of working families, climate change and progressive tax reform."

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) concurred. "Ultimately there's two tracks, and both trains have to arrive at the station at the same time," he said, according to NBC News.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Top Sinema Backer Blasts Her 'Preposterous'  Defense Of Filibuster

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) is facing a serious ultimatum from one of her biggest home state supporters. According to HuffPost, former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods has now reached his breaking point with Sinema's stance on the filibuster.

Woods, a former Republican who worked on late Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) presidential campaign but switched to the Democratic Party in 2018, endorsed Sinema during her election campaign in 2018. Now, he appears to be concerned about the decision he made to do so.

On Friday, June 4, Woods sounded off as he shared his concerns about Sinema's unwavering support of the filibuster.

"I do think that Sen. Sinema and every senator should support ending the filibuster for the voting rights bill," he said, adding, "To keep the Jim Crow filibuster while losing some of these basic voting rights that are central to our democracy is preposterous."

"Sen. Sinema should know that, so should Sen. Manchin," Woods said, referring to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who has also been quite vocal about his opposition toward the filibuster's removal. "At the end of the day, I'm very hopeful that they'll come around and do the right thing. But if they don't, then I don't think they belong in the Senate anymore."

Despite the ultimatum, heightened intra-party resistance, and criticism, Sinema has made it clear that she supports the measure. In a public statement released on Friday, the Arizona Democratic lawmaker doubled down on her belief as she works with Republican lawmakers' efforts to preserve the filibuster.

"It is a tool that protects the democracy of our nation," Sinema said Tuesday in Tucson, at an event with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). "Rather than allowing our country to ricochet wildly every two to four years back and forth between policies, the idea of the filibuster was created by those who came before to create comity and to encourage bipartisanship and work together."

Koch Networks Using Dark Money To Kill Voting Rights Bills

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Earlier this year, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives took a stand against voter suppression when they passed House Resolution 1, a.k.a. the For the People Act — a comprehensive voting rights/election reform bill that now faces an uphill climb in the U.S. Senate under the rules of the filibuster, which requires 60 or more votes for most legislation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and many other Senate Republicans are vehemently opposed to HR 1, and according to the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, "dark money" from "the Koch network" is helping to fuel that opposition.

In an article published on May 28, CREW's Meghan Faulkner and Miru Osuga explain, "There's a whole lot of dark money behind the opponents of democracy reform. The Koch network alone has spent tens of millions backing many of the senators who are opposing the For the People Act, which would overhaul campaign finance rules and enforcement and make it harder for dark money groups, like those in the Koch network, to secretly influence our elections."

Faulkner and Osuga note how much "the Koch network" has spent "backing" GOP opponents of the For the People Act, including $5.6 million spent on Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, $1.3 million on Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, $4.9 million on Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, $4.3 million on Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, $5.7 million on Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and $4.3 million on Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

"All told," Faulkner and Osuga note, "groups associated with the Koch network have spent over $100 million boosting the campaigns of current Republican senators, none of whom are supportive of comprehensive campaign finance reform. That total doesn't even include millions of dollars in additional dark money spending from these groups that was never reported to the Federal Election Commission."

KochPAC is a political action committee funded by employees of Koch Industries and their allies. Billionaire oligarch Charles Koch, the 85-year-old brother of the late David Koch, has been a major supporter of right-wing causes.

According to CREW, one of the things that troubles "the Koch network" is how "popular" the proposals of the For the People Act are. The bill comes at a time when Republicans in state legislatures all over the United States are aggressively pushing voter suppression bills.

"The Koch network and other dark money groups know exactly how popular this democracy reform is and how much it threatens the broken campaign finance system they depend on," Faulkner and Osuga stress. "That's why they're doing their best to defeat it quietly in Congress, aided by the senators whose campaigns they've boosted with millions of dollars of secret money."

Smearing An Eminently Qualified Black Woman Is Business As Usual

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call

She has been endorsed by many law enforcement groups, including the National Association of Police Organizations, yet she was accused of being anti-police. Baseless innuendo thrown her way has been refuted by support from the National Council of Jewish Women, the Anti-Defamation League, and dozens of other local, state, and national Jewish organizations. She's been tagged as "extreme," which only makes sense if being an advocate for an equitable society qualifies.

The nomination of Kristen Clarke, President Joe Biden's choice to serve as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, barely made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. Panelists split 11-11 along party lines, and then on Tuesday, the full Senate voted 50-48 to discharge the nomination from the committee, setting up a final floor vote.

Is anyone surprised at the roadblocks this nomination has faced?

Clarke, a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, is a Black woman and president and executive director (now on leave) of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law — and that may be the problem. The fight for "civil rights" for all, or even truthfully teaching about the struggle that made the fight necessary, has become controversial in some quarters, especially the Republican congressional caucuses.

Women of color have had a particularly tough time before the Senate Judiciary Committee with those who won't let the facts get in the way of partisan pushback. Vanita Gupta, despite her experience and endorsements, was attacked at her hearing before her eventual confirmation as associate attorney general. And then it was Clarke's turn.

The Usual Suspects

Some of it was comical, as when Sen. John Cornyn, took Clarke's satirical college writings criticizing the racism of The Bell Curve as literal. Some of it was just bullying, the well-trod territory of Cornyn's Texas partner, Sen. Ted Cruz, who insisted that a Newsweek column, in which Clarke agreed with Biden's call for more police funding, said the opposite.

Usually, presidents get the benefit of the doubt when choosing their teams. President Donald Trump certainly did, despite questionable qualifications for a host of them. His education secretary, Betsy DeVos, not only had no education experience, she also barely hid her contempt for the public schools neither she nor any of her children attended. But the majority of Republicans approved of her, and her prioritizing of Christian and charter schools.

Fellow Texan and former governor of the state Rick Perry got Cruz's vote for secretary of energy, the department he forgot he wanted to eliminate during his infamous "oops" moment at a presidential debate in 2011. Perry also admitted he had to play catch-up on what the department actually did.

You can't make this stuff up.

Hypocrisy is not exactly new to Washington. Recently, Republican lawmakers were falling all over themselves to speechify the honoring of law enforcement during National Police Week. North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, in a floor speech, recognized officers "willing to risk their own lives to protect others" and warned that "demonization of law enforcement will have lasting consequences, and it will ultimately make all of us less safe." This, as members of his GOP are resisting calls to investigate the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol and downplaying injuries suffered by officers protecting those lawmakers' hides.

A Familiar Refrain

Most every Black person gets a certain bit of oft-repeated parental advice: "You have to work twice as hard to get half as far." It's resulted in a lot of overworking achievers (too close for comfort right here), and a lot of stuffed résumés. But even if you follow it to the letter, as Clarke did when she earned a scholarship to an elite prep school that took her far from her Brooklyn home and on to positions in both Republican and Democratic administrations, you might get smeared when you dare to be excellent while Black, and use that excellence to make life better for all Americans.

Many Black female leaders, allies and organizations have supported Clarke, who would be the first Black woman to hold the post, and she would certainly be a needed change from the previous administration. Business leaders, perhaps less timid after finding their voice on other issues, have signaled their approval. The Biden Justice Department, under new leadership, has tried to rebuild its mission after the Trump team seemed bound and determined to make a mockery of its name.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, who did pass muster this time at his Senate confirmation after then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to consider his Supreme Court nomination by President Barack Obama, is settling in with a full agenda. Garland has announced that the DOJ is reinstating consent decrees to reign in rogue police departments and going after white supremacists that Trump's own FBI director deemed the No. 1 domestic terror threat.

It's a big job that the likes of Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, not only ignored but subverted. In Clarke, the department would get a professional who has seen unequal treatment in her work and up close.

As Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and another Black woman who is about the country's unfinished business, told theGrio: "Those who oppose her confirmation are actually opposed to the confirmation of a real civil rights advocate to run the Civil Right Division. They don't really oppose Kristen — they oppose robust civil rights enforcement."

In her own remarks before the Judiciary Committee, Clarke made her mission clear by quoting the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, under whose leadership the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund was founded: "'Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.' I've tried to do just that at every step of my career."

If only her opponents could say the same.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

GOP Senators Underestimated Stacey Abrams — And Got An Earful

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

File this under asked and answered. Former Georgia House minority leader and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams trended much of the day on Wednesday after Republican Sen. John Kennedy questioned whether she thought a restrictive voting bill signed into law last month is racist. "I think there are provisions of it that are racist, yes," the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate answered. Abrams was speaking during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on voting rights on Tuesday when Kennedy made the mistake of asking her for a list of the provisions she objects to in the Georgia legislation.

The former state legislator, who is nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize for her work to register voters of color in Georgia was perfectly prepared to fulfill Kennedy's request.

"It shortens the federal run-off period from nine weeks to four weeks," Abrams said. "It restricts the time a voter can request and return an absentee ballot application.

"It requires that a voter have a photo identification or some other form of identification that they're willing to surrender in order to participate in the absentee ballot process. It eliminates ..." Apparently seeing that she wasn't the stumbling, ill-equipped naysayer he might've assumed she was, Kennedy cut Abrams off to ask her other questions. Then he cut her off again when she attempted to answer them. "What else? What else?" the Louisiana Republican demanded. Abrams ignored the slights and just kept listing.

"It eliminates over 300 hours of drop box availability," she said. Kennedy responded with a hurried, "Okay, what else?"

"It bans nearly all out-of-precinct votes," Abrams said, "meaning that if you get to a precinct and you are in line for four hours and you get to the end of the line and you are not there between 5 and 7 PM, you have to start all over again."

Kennedy interrupted: "Is that everything?"

"No it is not. No, sir," Abrams responded with a chuckle. "It restricts the hours of operation because it now, under the guise of setting a standardized timeline, it makes it optional for counties that may not want to see expanded access to the right to vote. They can now limit their hours. Instead of those hours being from 7 to 7, they're now from 9 to 5, which may have an effect on voters who can not vote during business hours during early voting. It limits the voting hours ..."

Kennedy interrupted yet again. "Okay, I get the idea. I get the idea," he said.

Georgia Democrats had been fighting elements of the bill spread among other proposed legislation in the state for months when Republicans decided in the final days of the legislative session to hijack a tangentially related piece of legislation. They turned a two-page bill to make sure eligible voters didn't repeatedly receive absentee ballot applications into nearly 100 pages of voter suppression tactics. "The GOP just won't stop when it comes to making it harder for Georgians to vote," the Democratic Party of Georgia said in an earlier statement.

Abrams told Republican Sen. John Cornyn at the same committee hearing that she thought Georgia lawmakers made "deliberate attempts to suppress the minority vote."

When asked if she thought the law in question was a "racist piece of legislation," she responded that she did indeed. "I think there are components of it that are indeed racist because they use racial animus as a means of targeting the behaviors of certain voters to eliminate their participant and limit their participation in elections," Abrams said.