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How A Texas Primary Exposed Divisions Within The Democratic Party

It’s a race that has some Democratic voters scratching their heads: a young, progressive primary challenger versus a pro-life, conservative Democrat who received an A-rating from the NRA. The primary race between one of the most conservative Democrats in the House, Representative Henry Cuellar, and Jessica Cisneros has become a lightning rod within the Democratic Party.

Cuellar declared victory, but as of Wednesday morning, major media outlets have said the race is too close to call. He is just a couple hundred votes ahead of his Cisneros in Texas' 28th Congressional District primary. When neither candidate won a majority in the March 1 primary, the two highest vote-getters faced each other in Tuesday's run-off election.

Top House Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) backed Cuellar despite his status as the only self-identified pro-life Democrat in the Senate.

Cisneros, 29, was supported by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and the young progressive seized on the news of the Supreme Court leak to overturn Roe v. Wade. She closed the gap between her and Cuellar from two percentage points on March 1 to a photo finish on Tuesday.

Abortion, Gun Safety At Issue

Key issues for the Democrats this fall, abortion and gun violence, are central to Texas politics. Texas Republicans are leading the pack to peel back abortion rights, and on Tuesday a gunman killed 19 children and 2 teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Cisneros attempted to paint Cuellar as a conservative Democrat who would hurt the Democrats’ chance of passing key legislation.

“There's so many key issues where he's always siding with Republicans, and he could become the Joe Manchin of the House. We don't want Henry Cuellar to be the deciding vote on the future of our fundamental freedoms and rights in this country. We just can't risk that,” Cisneros told Meet the Press.

For his part, Cuellar tried to thread the needle, claiming he does not run on his pro-life views and focuses on other important issues.

Top Democrats like Pelosi have come under fire from the progressive wing of their party for directing significant resources to Cuellar’s campaign.

As reported by The American Prospect, a Super PAC with former consultants for President Obama, President Biden, and Senator Sanders donated $241,000 to Cuellar’s campaign. Cuellar also regularly highlighted his endorsements from Pelosi, Clyburn, and Hoyer,

Cuellar came under fire not just for his conservative political views, but also for an FBI raid on his home just a month before the March 1 primary. The FBI raided Cuellar’s home as part of an investigation related to Azerbaijan, but the FBI and Department of Justice have been tight-lipped about the status of the probe.

Democratic Discord

The race put divisions within the Democratic Party on display. And questions remain as to whether those disputes can be set aside before the general election in November -- and whether progresssives will line up with party leaders.

Ocasio-Cortez not only backed Cisneros, but she has spoken out harshly against Cuellar and Democratic leadership. She called the race “an utter failure of leadership," adding, “Congress should not be an incumbent protection racket.”

She continued on Twitter, “on the day of a mass shooting and weeks after news of Roe, Democratic Party leadership rallied for a pro-NRA, anti-choice incumbent under investigation in a close primary. Robocalls, fundraisers, all of it.”

Cisneros was seen as a potential new member of the Squad, a group of more progressive female representatives that has faced backlash from Democratic leadership. Nonetheless, the group has fallen in line with party politics more than conservative Democratic senators such as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

But disagreement over primaries has been a regular source of discord between the progressive wing of the party and party leadership. At the end of the day, the story will likely be that Democratic leadership saved Cuellar’s political career. But, the battle between these two wings of the Democratic Party is far from resolved.

Pelosi: House Will Vote $40 Billion Ukraine Aid Package Tonight

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives will vote on a $40 billion military and humanitarian aid package for Ukraine on Tuesday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

The legislation is expected to pass the House and then the Senate within the coming days and go to the White House for President Joe Biden to sign into law, easing fears of an interruption in the supply of military assistance to Kyiv.

Biden asked Congress 10 days ago to approve an additional $33 billion in aid for Ukraine, but lawmakers decided to increase that total to $39.8 billion, adding additional military and humanitarian aid to Biden's request.

"This package, which builds on the robust support already secured by Congress, will be pivotal in helping Ukraine defend not only its nation but democracy for the world," Pelosi said in a letter to House members urging quick passage.

Both Biden's fellow Democrats, who narrowly control both the House and Senate, and Republicans, said they backed the Ukraine aid.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu; editing by Chris Reese and Lisa Shumaker)

Unrepentant Trump Justifies His Inaction During Capitol Attack

Washington (AFP) - Former President Donald Trump defended his conduct during the US Capitol assault in an incendiary interview published Thursday, saying he did not regret summoning his rioting supporters to Washington.

He told The Washington Post he would have accompanied his ultra-loyal followers as they marched on the complex on January 6 last year, but was stopped by his security detail.

He offered no contrition for whipping up the crowd with bogus claims that victory was stolen from him through widespread fraud -- although he was clear in his condemnation of the violence that ensued.

"Secret Service said I couldn't go. I would have gone there in a minute," he said, in the wide-ranging interview, adding that it was the largest crowd he had ever spoken to.

Thousands of Trump's supporters stormed the Capitol last year in an effort to halt the peaceful transfer of power after Joe Biden won a decisive victory in 2020, described by the government as one of the most secure elections in US history.

Trump repeatedly boasted about the "tremendous" size of the crowd at his rally ahead of the riot and glossed over his explosive rhetoric that whipped up the crowd.

"I don't know what that means, but you see very few pictures. They don’t want to show pictures, the fake news doesn't want to show pictures," he said.

The ex-president defended his long silence during the attack, deflecting blame to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, even though she isn't responsible for policing at the Capitol and was a target of the mob herself.

He also pointed a finger at Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who "furiously tried to reach Trump's team that day," according to the Post.

"I hated seeing it. I hated seeing it. And I said, 'It's got to be taken care of,' and I assumed they were taking care of it," Trump said of the violence, which has been linked to at least five deaths.

The interview came after the House of Representatives voted to refer ex-Trump aides Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino for criminal contempt charges on Wednesday for defying congressional subpoenas to testify about the riot.

House Approves Ukraine Aid, Russia Oil Ban, Averts Federal Shutdown

By Richard Cowan and Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to rush $13.6 billion in aid to Ukraine as it battles invading Russian forces, along with $1.5 trillion to keep U.S. government programs operating through Sept. 30 and avoid agency shutdowns this weekend.

The House approved the wide-ranging appropriations in bipartisan votes, sending the legislation to the Senate which aims to act by a midnight Friday deadline when existing U.S. government funds expire.

The aid for Ukraine is intended to help bolster its military as it battles Russian forces and provide humanitarian assistance to citizens, including an estimated 1.5 million refugees already seeking safety abroad.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated that the $13.6 billion is likely to be just the tip of a much broader aid effort.

"All of us will have to do more" to help Ukraine in coming weeks or months and over the long-term to help it rebuild, Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference.

She was mainly referring to the United States and its NATO allies.

The House also passed legislation, by a vote of 414-17 to ban U.S. imports of Russian oil and other energy in response to its attack on Ukraine. Fifteen Republicans and two Democrats opposed the measure.

Passage of the bill came one day after President Joe Biden used his executive powers to impose such a ban. The House measure put lawmakers on record as firmly supporting the U.S. trade ban. It also calls for reviewing Russia's participation in some international trade programs, such as the World Trade Organization.

Lawmakers abandoned an effort to attach language revoking Russia's permanent normal trade relations status, which would have allowed the United States to raise tariffs on Russian imports above levels afforded all WTO members.

The U.S. government funding bill passed following a revolt from Pelosi's own Democrats who objected to a $15.6 billion COVID-19 aid initiative because of the way it would have parceled out money to individual states. The money was to be used for research and to stockpile vaccines for possible future spikes in COVID-19 infections.

Following hours of delay, Pelosi had the provision deleted to clear the way for quick passage of the Ukraine money and the "omnibus" $1.5 trillion in federal funding.

Democrats hope to revisit the COVID aid next week in separate legislation.

'Desperate Hour'

The huge government spending bill is the first to reflect Democrats' spending priorities under President Joe Biden, following four years of the Trump administration.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro said it increases non-defense domestic spending by 6.7% over last year, the largest rise in four years.

The Ukraine aid package, DeLauro said, would "help the Ukrainian people in their most desperate hour of need."

Republicans also applauded the measure - a rare display of bipartisanship in the deeply divided Congress.

"We must get this bill to the president's desk as soon as possible to respond to these acts of aggression," said Ken Calvert, the top Republican on the defense subcommittee of the appropriations panel.

He was referring to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and specifically the bombing of a hospital earlier on Wednesday. Failure, he added, "would undoubtedly demonstrate weakness on a global scale."

With money for the federal government due to run out at midnight on Friday, the Democratic-controlled House also unanimously approved a separate measure to keep the government funded through Tuesday.

This was seen mainly as a housekeeping step so that congressional clerks would have enough time to process the sprawling omnibus bill following House and Senate passage. That clerical work could extend beyond the midnight Friday deadline.

Acting White House budget director Shalanda Young urged Congress to promptly approve the Ukraine aid and government funding measure and send it to Biden for signing into law.

"The bipartisan funding bill is proof that both parties can come together to deliver for the American people and advance critical national priorities," Young said in a statement.

The omnibus spending plan will boost funding for domestic priorities, including money for infrastructure passed under an earlier bipartisan measure to revamp U.S. roads, bridges and broadband internet.

The plan includes $730 billion in non-defense funding and $782 billion for the U.S. military.

Amid fears that Russia and other "bad actors" could wage cyber attacks against U.S. infrastructure, the government funding bill increases the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency budget by $568.7 million for a total of $2.6 billion for this fiscal year.

In its continuing attempt to unravel the Trump administration's "Remain in Mexico" immigration policy, the bill provided no additional money for immigration hearing facilities that support the program, which forced tens of thousands of migrants to wait in Mexico pending resolution of their U.S. asylum cases.

(Reporting by David Morgan, Makini Brice, Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey, additional reporting by Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru; Editing by Scott Malone, Doina Chiacu, Jonathan Oatis and Bernard Orr)

Martin Luther King's Family Joins Call For US Voting Reform

Washington (AFP) - Members of Martin Luther King Jr's family joined marchers Monday in Washington urging Congress to pass voting rights reform as the United States marked the holiday commemorating the slain civil rights leader.

King's son Martin Luther King III spoke at the march, warning that many states "have passed laws that make it harder to vote" more than half a century after the activism of his father.

The march's message was aimed at boosting support for the Freedom to Vote Act currently before the Senate, and which passed in the House of Representatives last week.

But the bill faces an uphill battle as President Joe Biden negotiates with two holdout senators in his own Democratic Party to change a procedural rule that would allow Congress to pass the law without Republican support.

Biden argues the bill is vital to protecting American democracy against Republican attempts to exclude Black and other predominantly Democratic voters through a spate of recently enacted laws at state and local levels.

Marchers at Monday's Peace Walk echoed demands made by MLK more than 60 years ago as they chanted, "What do we want? Voting rights! When do we want it? Now!"

Many carried posters printed with King's image and his famous 1957 appeal to "Give us the ballot," which called on the federal government to enforce Black Americans' right to vote nationwide, including in the heavily segregated South.

"We march because our voting rights are under attack right now," pastor Reverend Wendy Hamilton told AFP at the demonstration.

"As a matter of fact, our democracy is very fragile," said Hamilton, a local politician in Washington, whose residents themselves do not have full representation in Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, such as Terri Sewell from Alabama and chairwoman Joyce Beatty from Ohio, also spoke at the march -- as did King's 13-year-old granddaughter Yolanda Renee King.

King's daughter Bernice King also took to the social media platform to call for the Senate to pass voting reform.

"If these state voter suppression laws persist, the America my father dreamed about will never come to be," she wrote.

At the White House, Vice President Kamala Harris urged senators to pass the Freedom to Vote Act in honor of King's legacy.

King "pushed for racial justice, for economic justice and for the freedom that unlocks all others: the freedom to vote," she said.

She denounced bills under consideration or already passed in state legislatures that she said could make it harder for 55 million Americans to cast ballots.

"To truly honor the legacy of the man we celebrate today, we must continue to fight for the freedom to vote, for freedom for all," Harris said.

Biden and Harris last week visited the crypt where King -- who was assassinated in 1968 at age 39 -- and his wife, Coretta Scott King, are buried in Atlanta.

'Titan': Former US Senate Leader Harry Reid Dies At 82

Washington (AFP) - Former US Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who rose from humble beginnings to lead the upper chamber during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, has died aged 82.

"I am heartbroken to announce the passing of my husband," his wife, Landra, said in a statement released to US media, adding he died "peacefully... surrounded by our family."

Reid, who used his experience in Congress to help Obama steer his landmark Affordable Care Act through the Senate, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018.

Laconic and soft-spoken, Reid was born and raised in the mining town of Searchlight, Nevada on December 2, 1939, in a house with no hot water or indoor toilets.

A prize-fighter in his youth, he used his pugilistic instincts to work his way up to becoming one of the longest-serving majority leaders in the history of the US senate, and even called his memoir The Good Fight.

Current Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said Reid was "one of the most amazing individuals I've ever met."

"He never forgot where he came from and used those boxing instincts to fearlessly fight those who were hurting the poor & middle class," Schumer said on Twitter.

'Skill And Determination'

Despite his hardscrabble upbringing, he was elected to the Senate in 1986 and became the upper chamber's Democratic leader in the 2004 elections. He served as Senate majority leader from 2007 to 2015.

Reid often referred to his working class origins -- his father was a miner, his mother a laundress, and neither parent graduated from high school.

He hitchhiked 40 miles (65 kilometers) as a teenager to attend the nearest high school, and then graduated from Utah State University and put himself through George Washington University Law School by working nights as a member of the US Capitol police.

Quixotic, he once filibustered the Republicans by himself for nine hours, by reading from the history book he wrote about his hometown of Searchlight.

Reid was more conservative than most other Democrats in the Senate. A practicing Mormon, he was staunchly against abortion rights -- a stance that sometimes found him working at cross purposes with others in his Democratic caucus.

In lieu of a statement, Obama made public a letter he had written to Reid shortly before his death, in which he said: "I wouldn't have been president had it not been for your encouragement and support, and I wouldn't have got most of what I got done without your skill and determination."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Reid a "titan," describing him as "a leader of immense courage and ferocious conviction who worked tirelessly to achieve historic progress for the American people."

Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader in the Senate, said that Reid's rise from poverty to political power was a "quintessentially American story, and it took Harry's legendary toughness, bluntness, and tenacity to make it happen."

Biden's COVID-19 Relief Bill Created Millions Of Jobs, Report Confirms

A new report from the Roosevelt Institute found that the American Rescue Plan — the $1.9 trillion spending bill passed by Democrats and signed into law by President Joe Biden in March — blunted some of the worst economic effects of COVID-19.

"There are many achievements to celebrate, from millions more jobs and higher wages to greater economic security and increased worker power," the report's authors, Mike Konczal and Emily DiVito, wrote. "And even better, we avoided the worst-case alternative: the weaker, slower recovery that was projected if the American Rescue Plan (ARP) had not passed, and deeper harm to those who've historically been left behind by past recoveries."

The stimulus package pushed growth beyond government predictions across several categories, including employment, wages, and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to the report.

Before the stimulus package was passed, the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee predicted a slow, grinding recovery similar to the one that followed the 2008 economic recession. But after the American Rescue Plan went into effect, unemployment rates fell rapidly with the addition of more than 1.3 million jobs. At present, the U.S. economy is rebounding roughly eight times faster than it did after 2008.

The American Rescue Plan has been especially crucial for younger and lower-income workers. Using data from the Atlanta Federal Reserve, the Roosevelt Institute found that workers aged 16 to 24 saw a 9.7 percent wage increase, while the bottom quarter of wage-earners saw a 5.1 percent increase — even when accounting for inflation.

The American Rescue Plan has also benefited American workers more broadly. According to
Arindrajit Dube, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the bottom 70 percent of workers have seen "real wage growth" over the past two years. Given that U.S. wages have remained stagnant for decades, this represents a significant shift in favor of American workers. From 1964 to 2018, the average American hourly wage increased by just two dollars, adjusted for inflation — a paltry 10 percent raise over the course of 54 years.

Other benefits have accrued to the bottom of the economic pyramid.

The Roosevelt Institute's analysis found that, in large part because of the American Rescue Plan, the wealth of the bottom 50 percent of households has grown 63 percent from pre-pandemic levels. Now, the bottom half of Americans collectively own $3 trillion.

Despite these wins for American workers, staggering levels of wealth inequality persist. The wealthiest one percent controls more than $42 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. Still, the American Rescue Plan has given economic relief to millions of U.S. households, many of whom were struggling long before the COVID-19 pandemic began. In 2018, 40 percent of Americans said they would struggle to cover an unexpected $400 expense, the Federal Reserve found.

As a result of this newfound economic security, workers are now better positioned to find new and better jobs, according to the Roosevelt Institute's report. The authors point to markers of worker mobility, which are at historic highs. They also argued that workers now have more leverage to fight for better working conditions, with nearly 1,000 strikes and labor actions taking place this year. And data show that workers largely support this resurgent labor movement: fully 68 percent of Americans say they approve of unions, the largest share since 1965.

The report also notes that, according to the International Monetary Fund, the American economy is expected to grow by nearly 8% between 2020 and 2022. This far outpaces the economic growth rates of comparable countries such as Canada, Germany, Japan, and Italy. It even outpaces the IMF's earlier projections for the United States, which had GDP increasing by less than 2% over the same time period.

This sharp uptick in U.S. economic growth is "a direct effect" of the American Rescue Plan, according to the Roosevelt Institute report.

The United States still faces very real challenges, including new coronavirus variants, supply chain issues, and "surprising inflation," the report's authors write. But overall, they argue, the American Rescue Plan's successes "deserve a central place in the story of this recovery. Everything, from rapid job growth on down, was a choice based on prioritizing full employment. That was the right decision."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Congress Averts Government Shutdown One Day Before Deadline

Washington (AFP) - The US Congress approved a stopgap funding bill Thursday in a rare show of cross-party unity to keep federal agencies running into 2022 and avert a costly holiday season government shutdown.

With the clock ticking down to the 11:59 pm Friday deadline, the Senate voted by 69 to 28 to keep the lights on until February 18 with a resolution that had already advanced from the House.

The "continuing resolution" avoids millions of public workers being sent home unpaid with Christmas approaching, as parks, museums and other federal properties and services closed.

"I am glad that, in the end, cooler heads prevailed -- the government will stay open," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

"And I thank the members of this chamber for walking us back from the brink of an avoidable, needless and costly shutdown."

Congress watchers had expected to see the resolution getting a rough ride in the Senate, where a small group of hardline Republicans threatened to tank the measure in protest over the White House's pandemic response.

But Democrats agreed to allow a straight majority vote on defunding President Joe Biden's vaccine-or-testing mandate for large companies, which promptly failed as expected.

The right-wing Republican group, led by Utah's senior senator Mike Lee, argues that the mandate is an assault on personal liberty.

780,000 Dead

The pandemic has killed more than 780,000 people in the United States and the troubling new Omicron variant of the coronavirus has raised fears of a winter surge in cases.

But legal challenges have mounted against Biden's edict requiring vaccination or weekly tests for some sections of the US workforce, including companies with more than 100 employees.

Lee had campaigned to remove federal funding to implement the mandate and was backed by right wingers in both chambers.

"If the choice is between temporarily suspending non-essential functions on the one hand and, on the other hand, standing idle as up to 45 million Americans lose their jobs, their livelihoods, and their ability to work, I'll stand with American workers every time," he said.

The figure Lee cited would represent more than a quarter of the 157 million people that make up the US workforce, according to the Pew Research Center.

Only five percent of unvaccinated adults say they have left a job due to a vaccine mandate, according to an October survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In the evenly divided upper chamber, any single senator can torpedo any vote.

But the majority of Senate Republicans -- including their leader Mitch McConnell -- were against the move, fearing they would be blamed for a shutdown.

Ahead of the House vote McConnell had indicated that Republicans would support the continuing resolution, although he gave no indication that he bring Lee and the other hold-outs to heel.

Deadlocked

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the most senior Democrat in the House of Representatives, earlier hit out at Lee and his backers, accusing them of "defiance of science and public health."

If Congress had failed to keep the government open, the closures would have begun just after midnight on Saturday and would likely have bled into the following week.

There has never been a shutdown during a national emergency such as the pandemic, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the 2018-19 stoppage wiped $11 billion from the economy.

The stopgap measure buys legislators time to negotiate full-year spending bills for the rest of fiscal 2022.

And with the threat of a shutdown off the table, Democratic leadership is now free to focus on passing Biden's domestic agenda -- a $1.8 trillion social welfare and climate spending plan.

The bill is central to Biden's legacy, but risks failing because of feuding between the Democrats' progressive and centrist factions.

Lawmakers are also deadlocked over the prospect of a first-ever US debt default that would erase an estimated six million jobs and wipe out $15 trillion of household wealth, tanking the economy.

The government is likely to run out of cash on or soon after December 15, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned, unless Congress raises the federal borrowing cap.

But Republicans say they won't help, despite having pressed for hikes under former president Donald Trump, because they want no part in the Democrats' historically large package of social reforms.