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Sinema Now Defending Trump Tax Cuts She Condemned

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

It's Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's turn to play the skunk at President Joe Biden's picnic. It's almost as if she and Sen. Joe Manchin are deliberately working together to try to kill the large budget reconciliation package that will contain his Build Back Better programs. It's turning into a dangerous game of Whack-a-Mole: Manchin presents his unreasonable demands and the White House and fellow Democrats scramble to meet them, only to have Sinema then pop up with her must-haves. Or in this case, must-have-nots.

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McConnell Sends Biden Another Debt Ceiling Hostage Note

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

The day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blinked and scraped together 11 Republican senators to prevent a global economic meltdown, he was back to making threats to blow it all up in December. Next time, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a typically obnoxious letter to President Joe Biden, next time Republicans are really going to blow up the global economy. Oh, and he took credit for not blowing up the global economy. Because of course he did.

Never mind that it was essentially a face-saving exercise on his part because being dragged into doing the right thing did not go over well with his fellow Republicans. "Republicans are folding here," Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina railed. "This is a complete capitulation."

"The reason the Republican leadership took the deal is because Democrats threatened […] to nuke the filibuster," Sen. Ted Cruz said. "Unfortunately, Republican leadership blinked in the face of the Democratic threat to nuke the filibuster." That's Cruz, by the way, trying to deflect attention from his own self, because the Republicans were ready to agree to letting a simple majority pass the debt ceiling hike in a voice vote. It was Cruz who refused to go along with that, and insisted on a recorded vote. Meaning every Republican had to go on record on their willingness to blow up the economy.

While we're talking filibuster, though, yes. That. And while we're at it, get rid of the filibuster and the whole concept of the debt ceiling in one go.

There's no guarantee that McConnell is going to capitulate again on or before December 2. He remains intent on forcing Democrats to include hiking or suspending the debt ceiling in their reconciliation bill that will include President Biden's Build Back Better human infrastructure and climate initiatives. Lumped together, he believes, the debt and the new package will provide a message for the Republicans who, frankly, need it. Because all they've got right now is "Trump."

Unfortunately, it's a message that certain Democrats fear and are happy to amplify. It's unfortunate, because a) the debt ceiling is about the money the government has already spent with a huge chunk of it attributed to the GOP tax scam of 2017, and b) the things they would be spending money on are massively popular. That's even though they don't really know these plans are in the big package.

In the new CBS polling, which shows that public knowledge about Biden's plans is not good, 88 percent of support federal funding for lowering prescription drug prices; 84 percent support federal funding for Medicare coverage for dental/eye/hearing care; 73 percent support federal funding for paid family/medical leave; 67 percent support federal funding for universal pre-school. Those majorities are going to be swayed a lot more by those things making their lives better than by the cost. Because that's how it works. Which McConnell knows and which is why, in a recent example, the Republicans fought so hard to keep the Affordable Care Act from passing and then getting established.

McConnell is keeping the two fronts of this fight—debt ceiling and the reconciliation bill—tied together to kill the latter. But there is a very straightforward path for Democrats: nuke the filibuster. They could do just a carve-out for the debt ceiling (to go with the 161 exceptions that already exist), but that would be pretty crappy considering they haven't yet decided to do it to restore the Voting Rights Act, you know, saving democracy.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is all for making the debt ceiling as an issue go away. "[T]here is an enormous amount at stake," Yellen told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week" Sunday. "A failure to raise the debt ceiling would probably cause a recession and could even result in a financial crisis," she continued.

"I have said I support, personally, getting rid of the debt ceiling. I believe that, once Congress and the administration have decided on spending plans and tax plans, it's simply their responsibility to pay the bills that result from that," she said. "And that means we have had deficits for most of the post-war period. And that means raising the debt ceiling. It is a housekeeping chore. [W]e should be debating the government's fiscal policy when we decide on those expenditures and taxes […] not when the credit card bill […] comes due."

That's all very true, as is the threat we exist under that, next time, Republicans are going to force a breach. Better that Democrats to take that threat away entirely, and soon.

Debt Ceiling: Save The World From Recession By Dumping The Filibuster

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

The Senate will be voting Wednesday to resolve the debt ceiling crisis. Except they won't actually be voting on the debt ceiling. They'll be voting on whether Republicans will allow a floor vote on suspending the debt limit; as of now, it takes 60 votes to pay the nation's bills. Republicans don't want to do so, even though the bills now come due were incurred by their guy, the former squatter in the Oval Office.

That "moderate, bipartisan" Republican, Susan Collins, proved that yet again this week, suggesting a totally unacceptable trade for her vote: If the Democrats would just totally abandon President Biden's Build Back Better agenda, the cornerstone of his first term in office, some Republicans might consider not jeopardizing the global economy.

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Doctors Ask: What Consequences For Those Who Refuse Vaccines?

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Vaccines and adequate supplies have definitely made the Delta round of the COVID-19 pandemic less horrific for the doctors and nurses trying to save lives. The jeopardy for them and their families is at least reduced by the fact that the vaccine has been available to them, and they don't have to rely on personal protective equipment that's days old. But the fact that there is a vaccine and that many of the people who are filling up ICUs are there by choice adds a whole level of demoralization that didn't exist in the first round.

"It feels very different to me because it is preventable now. So, it's a very different feel in terms of the age of the patients coming in. They are getting really sick, there are a lot of people on ventilators and they are not vaccinated," Dr. Meghan McInerney, the ICU medical director at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, Idaho, said in a recent interview. "It didn't have to be this way and so with that, the air in the ICU is a little bit defeated. You know, the nurses, the doctors, the respiratory therapists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, all the members of our team are feeling a little more deflated with this round of a COVID surge because it is a preventable illness at this point."

Nancy Roberts, a respiratory therapist with St. Luke's Hospital in Boise, concurred. "It's rough. You leave here having worked a very hard shift and trying to take care of people, and not everybody makes it. So it does, absolutely, wear you down. Just knowing that we are having a hard time keeping staff and having new people hire on those are realities, so we are doing what we can do," Roberts said. It's bad in Idaho. But magnify that several thousands of times in Florida, and you can understand why this is happening: Doctors are walking out.

Nitesh N. Paryani, a radiation oncologist in Tampa, tries to shed light on what's happening in his hospital and to send a dire warning to all those people refusing vaccines: "The unvaccinated are killing people in ways they probably never imagined."

"On August 3, I received a call from a hospital that does not have a cancer program," he wrote. "Such calls are routine at the regional referral center where I work. A doctor at the outlying hospital had a patient with metastatic brain cancer. She was unable to walk, and without urgent radiation treatments there was no hope for any meaningful recovery." He couldn't respond to that call for help. "We had no beds available. We had paused elective surgeries the previous week and have been trying to control the influx of patients. Our emergency department had a 12-hour wait that day … But I had no choice. For the first time in my career, I had to say no."

In plenty of hospitals all over the nation those walk-outs have been permanent, and this time around it's staff that's in short supply rather than equipment. Mississippi is now using paramedics and emergency medical technicians to take care of patients in emergency rooms. Tennessee has deployed the National Guard to hospitals and are allowing some health care workers to provide care they are not licensed to give.

Oregon's Gov. Kate Brown has appealed to FEMA to build and staff a field hospital. She's also warned her residents that in some parts of the state "there may not be a staffed bed for you if you have a medical emergency." That's not a scare tactic to get people to get vaccinated. It's reality. It isn't just the medical staff who've left, either. "Sometimes we don't have anyone to answer the phones," said Marsha Martin, a trauma nurse at University of Florida Shands Hospital in Gainesville. "We're constantly interrupting the care we are giving to go fetch stuff," Martin said. "There are delays in patients getting medicine they need."

Then there's the Gulf Coast: "The average per person hospitalization rate for Panama City, Florida; Mobile, Alabama; and Gulfport, Mississippi; is considerably higher than that of their states as a whole, even though they are three of the four states with the highest rates in the country, according to data compiled by The New York Times."

The vaccination rate in all three of those counties is well below 40 percent, and the per person case rate in each is more than twice the national average. The hospitalizations and deaths are from the delta variant, and they're overwhelmingly from vaccine-refusers. "We've had 44 year olds, 45, 35, that have died," said Tiffany Murdock, a hospital administrator for Singing River Health System in coastal Mississippi. "I've been a nurse for 15 years, and I've never seen anything like it." She talked about a husband and wife in their 40s who died last week, both unvaccinated. "We had five people die, like room after room after room after room," just last Friday, she said.

It's enough to start a serious discussion among public health and public policy experts: What are the consequences for the unvaccinated for what they're doing to the nation's health care system? It cost $2 billion in June and July of this year. $2 billion in 2 months, a Kaiser Family Fund (KFF) analysis finds.

Using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, KFF estimates that KFF there were around 37,000 preventable COVID-19 hospitalizations among vaccine-refusing adults in June and another 76,000 in July. That doesn't count the children who aren't eligible for the vaccines, a record high of 1,900 recorded just a few weeks ago.

That has to be paid for, and we're all having to shoulder the costs through either taxes paid for public insurers or higher premiums for our private insurers. "People who don't vaccinate are imposing costs on the community that they're not paying for," Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, an expert in vaccine policy at UC Hastings College of the Law, told Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik. She proposes they be treated like environmental polluters who are fined and forced to pay for the damage they've caused. "'This is not a new idea or a new question,' Reiss told me. She identifies three rationales for making the unvaccinated pay—to internalize the cost of their behavior, extract retribution for creating costs to their neighbors, and deterrence, i.e., to prompt them to get vaccinated."

In the meantime, plenty are pinning their hopes on the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the Pfizer vaccine to bring the remaining unvaccinated around. But that's not going to undo the damage already done.

Really? Senate Republicans Credit Trump For Infrastructure Bill He Opposes

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The Senate slogged away through the weekend, inching toward an agreement on the $1.5 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, which was delayed by one Republican senator's refusal to sign off on an amendment to speed things up. Tennessee Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty refused to allow unanimous consent to forego 30 hours of time-wasting on Saturday, requiring the Senate to be in on Sunday and running the clock out. That sets up a vote for around 3:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, unless somehow Hagerty can be convinced to give in and allow it to move faster.

Hagerty had been on the phone with the former guy, according to sources to AP, who had been egging him on in obstructing the bill. Previous to his election to the Senate, Hagerty had been Trump's ambassador to Japan, and is one of his staunchest allies in Congress. Efforts by Senate Republicans to appease Trump apparently fell on deaf ears.

On Friday, chief Republican negotiator Sen. Rob Portman even went on national television to give all the credit to Trump for this bill. Literally. "I have encouraged President Trump to take credit for this," Portman said on CNN. "President Trump's effort to raise the level of awareness about the need for infrastructure improvement should help us get this done. He proposed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill. He's a developer, he understands the need for infrastructure."

The slobbering over the former squatter in the Oval Office continued on the Senate floor.

The delay also highlighted a growing dispute on amendments. Hagerty, in fact, tried to bring up 17 amendments on Sunday by unanimous consent. More than 20 have already been considered so far. That self-appointed paragon of bipartisanship, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, objected to his request, pointing to the fact that he was just wasting everyone's time.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer got a little testy about it, as well. "I'd repeat that Democrats are ready and willing to vote on additional amendments to the bill before moving to final passage," Schumer said Sunday one the floor. "Once again, that will require the cooperation of our Republican colleagues." He added, "I said yesterday that we could do this the easy way or the hard way. Yesterday, it appeared that some Republicans would like the Senate to do this the hard way. In any case, we'll keep proceeding until we get this bill done."

There's a possibility that more amendments will be considered as the Senate moves toward a Tuesday (sometime) vote, including a problematic cryptocurrency proposal that has created bipartisan tension. It was apparently resolved by mid-morning Monday, helping to clear the way toward finalizing the bill.

The bipartisan infrastructure package includes $550 billion in new federal spending, about $110 billion for roads and bridges including $40 billion for bridges—rebuilding, replacing, and repairing. There's a relatively paltry $39 billion to modernize public transit—a $10 billion cut from the original agreement the senators had worked out with President Biden and less than half of the $85 billion Biden included in his original proposal. It includes $73 billion to repair the electrical grid, and $55 billion for water system upgrades, enough to replace just 1 in 4 lead drinking water pipes in the country.

There's $66 billion split between passenger and freight rail, and $65 billion in expanding broadband networks. Another $42 billion goes to ports ($17 billion) and airports ($25 billion), and $7.5 billion will go to zero- and low-emission buses and ferries. There's also $7.5 billion to build electric vehicle charging stations.

As of now, it looks like there will be Republican votes to pass it, with more than a dozen ending the filibuster on moving it forward. They've apparently decided that being able to go back to their home states and tout this accomplishment is worth helping Democrats. It will mollify some of the anti-Trump Republicans in the key states they need to keep in 2022, and it will give them the excuse to let absolutely nothing else pass for the rest of Biden's first term.

They can point to the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill and scream holy hell about the awful Democrats to resist doing anything else to help the country. In fact, they're already doing that.

Senate Republicans Shield Super-Rich Tax Cheats — And Democrats Are Silent

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Senate Republicans are dead set on making sure that the rich people who they've been helping to avoid pay their taxes continue to have the privilege of cheating the rest of us. It would appear that the Democrats participating in the sham called bipartisan infrastructure negotiations are okay with that. According to Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, the group is "looking at alternative pay-fors to IRS tax enforcement."

Again, this is about letting the wealthy off the hook for the taxes they already owe. It's not about new taxes. It's not about raising anyone's taxes. It's about continuing to allow the super-rich to cheat the rest of us, who do pay our tax bills every year.

Republicans have been raising holy hell over the idea that President Joe Biden wants to strengthen the IRS enough so that it can go after the really big tax cheats, the ones robbing the nation of hundreds of billions of dollars, instead of the working poor peoplewho are easier to audit, the ones who can't afford lawyers to intervene. Fully funding the IRS and clawing those owed tax dollars out of the hands of people who can damned well afford to pay has been included as one of the ways that the bipartisan group has said they'll pay for their almost $600 billion proposal for hard infrastructure.

That, apparently, is out and apparently Democrats in the bipartisan group are accepting that fact. Even though it's the likes of extremist Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and Marsha Blackburn who are raising hell—extremists who were never going to vote for an infrastructure plan that helps President Joe Biden in the first place. Senate aides working with the group confirmed to The Washington Post that "it is likely to be removed from the deal."

That means that the fire sale of existing infrastructure to the highest hedge fund bidders, who would then be in a position to make the public pay for its use all over again, could still be in. Because they have to figure out how pay for it somehow anyway. Or at least they say they do, which they really don't because borrowing money is still cheaper than dirt. As of earlier this month, White House aides were telling Democrats in phone conversations that was not an option, but we haven't seen a high-level, public denunciation of that idea.

Republicans aren't just having hissy fits over the IRS making them and their buddies pay all their taxes, however; they're outraged that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants them to finish their work. A short exhibit of their varied tantrums:

Never mind that they've supposedly been working on this since April, when Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), who is so concerned that there just isn't enough time, started negotiating with Biden. They announced this supposed bipartisan agreement more than three weeks ago. She added that she thought Schumer's scheduling the vote was an attempt "to put pressure on the group to either put up or shut up."

Well ... yes. And about time, too. Because seriously, they've been at this forever. Now, we all know Republicans are awfully rusty when it comes to doing actual work (like writing bills), but there's a bunch of Democrats who could be doing all of that hard part. So what in the hell have they been doing all these weeks, that they can't be ready by next Wednesday?

They've been wasting time, is what they've been doing, hoping to draw this process out and have it die from neglect. And Democrats have been letting them get away with it because "bipartisanship." Now that the $3.5 trillion budget resolution train is getting loaded up, yes, this group needs to put up or shut up. And pay their damned taxes.

Texas Democrats Leave State To Thwart Passage Of Voter Suppression Bills

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Democrats are going to have nothing to do with the special session Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has called. That's because he's not trying to deal with critical issues like COVID-19 or fixing the state's broken and fatal electrical grid, but to "to prioritize 11 issues that largely appeal to conservatives who wanted more out of the regular session." That includes the new voting restriction bills blocked previously by Democrats, as well as banning critical race theory in education, and transgender student athletes from playing sports.

At least 58 Texas House Democrats have left the state to deny a quorum and block these bills, particularly the voting restrictions. "The majority of the members plan to fly to Washington, D.C., on two private jets chartered for the occasion and use the time there to rally support for federal voting legislation," a source told NBC. Others plan to go to D.C. as well, by other means.

What are they going to do in D.C. to convince lawmakers there to deal with voter suppression? "Literally anything," NBC reports. [EDITOR'S UPDATE: On Monday evening the Texas lawmakers arrived at Dulles International Airport near the nation's capital.]

The two new voter restriction bills Texas Republicans are bringing would, among other things: Ban drive-thru early voting; ban 24-hour early voting locations by setting limits of 6 AM to either 9 or 10 PM; add new voter ID requirements for absentee voting; prohibit local officials from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters or using public funds to help third parties to do so; enable partisan "poll watchers" to potentially harass and intimidate voters while limiting their oversight by election officials by imposing criminal penalties for getting in their way. They debated the bills in hearings on Saturday, and on Sunday the Senate committee voted strictly on party lines 6-3 to pass the bill out to reach the floor Tuesday. The House followed suit with overnight hearings, passing their bill out on a party-line 9-5 vote.

The voter suppression they intend to impose on the state was reflected in these hearings, which were supposed to be open to public testimony.

"Early this morning, Republicans voted to advance a bill to ban 24-hour voting, following an overnight committee hearing that lasted nearly 24 hours," Democratic state Rep. Chris Turner said in a statement Sunday. "You just can't make this up: Republicans are passing anti-voter legislation overnight to prohibit Texans from casting a ballot overnight."

One of the people who was able to testify to the Senate was former Rep. Beto O'Rourke. "This is already the toughest state in which to vote, bar none," O'Rourke said to senators. "You are now proposing a set of restrictions in this elections bill that is going to make it that much harder for people to participate." That's certainly their plan. O'Rourke is egging Democrats on, saying he hopes that they'll "go to DC and sit on the steps of the Capitol, forcing their federal counterparts to walk by them, realizing they haven't done enough to help." Sit-ins in the offices of Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema wouldn't be amiss, either.

In West Virginia, Koch Network Pushes Manchin To Oppose Voting Rights

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Prominent Black leaders took their case for restoring voting rights and passing S. 1, the For the People Act, directly to Sen. Joe Manchin Tuesday morning. NAACP President Derrick Johnson and other Black leaders, including Rev. Al Sharpton and the heads of the National Urban League, the National Council of Negro Women, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights tried to convince the obstinate West Virginia Democrat that there's more at stake here than his ego.

"The right to vote is under attack," Johnson said in a statement before the meeting. "We must do everything we can to protect the American people's sacred right to participate in the democratic process. Our vote is our voice, and we will not be silenced." In addition to this full-court and direct press to try to budge Manchin, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the leader of the Poor People's Campaign, is going to lead a "Moral March on Manchin" next week in West Virginia as well as a "nonviolent direct action" targeting Manchin in Washington.

That meeting did not move Manchin. "I don't think anybody changed positions on [S. 1]," he told reporters afterward. It was a "constructive conversation," and "just an excellent meeting," and he is "very much concerned about our democracy." But he's not going to listen to these people who've devoted their entire professional and personal lives to advancing democracy because he's Joe Manchin and knows what's best. Also, he's got the Koch network on his side. They're who he really seems to be listening to.

The Koch network is doing him a real solid right now by running ads in West Virginia, and "specifically calls on its grassroots supporters to push Manchin, a conservative Democrat, to be against some of his party's legislative priorities."

They've tailored their effort to Manchin, with an Americans for Prosperity (AFP) website they're calling "West Virginia Values," where they tell people to email Manchin and urge him to "to be The Voice West Virginia Needs In D.C.—Reject Washington's Partisan Agenda." It's almost like they're ghost-writing Manchin's statements about partisanship. They're sure going all out to make sure they're Manchin's best friends.

"Sen. Manchin has long blazed his own path, and on this issue, we agree: Extreme partisanship gets in the way of finding positive solutions," Lo Isidro, a spokesman for AFP, told CNBC. "Unfortunately, this bill [S. 1] and the tactics some are using to pass it would make it harder to work together—chilling debate, worsening partisanship, and setting up a false choice between voting rights and free speech." All hail the conquering trailblazer Joe Manchin.

Who's happy to repay the favor by calling the Kochs (checks notes) "job creators." No, really—he's claimed that in the past. "People want jobs. You don't beat up people. I mean, I don't agree with their politics or philosophically, [but he actually does] but, you know, they're Americans, they're doing—paying their taxes. […] They're not breaking the law. They're providing jobs."

Speaking of Manchin and ego, he stepped in it when he published that opinion piece in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, when he declared that he would not support S. 1, the For the People Act to restore voting rights and in addition would never vote to eliminate the filibuster. The Hill reports that "there appeared to be no heads up to the White House or key Democratic leaders that it was coming. And it was widely seen as an abrasive move." It was absolutely an abrasive move, and he did himself no favors with it among his colleagues or with President Joe Biden. It's the kind of arrogance that will make colleagues disinclined to help him out on his other legislative efforts. It makes him no friends, that's for sure.

He's also stretching the bounds of his friendship with Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who he put on the spot when he declared that the two of them could get the John Lewis Voting Rights Act—which has not yet passed in the House this session—through the Senate. Right now Murkowski is the only Republican to endorse it. Asked if it was possible the two of them could find 10 Republicans to support it, she told NBC: "I don't know. I don't know. It's a challenging one. I think we just have to be honest with it. You've got to find an awful lot of Republicans to join us on this."

Even Murkowski's partner in "moderation," Susan Collins, won't publicly endorse the bill. Her office did not respond to NBC's request for comment. Sen. John Cornyn did comment to say he would talk to fellow Republicans to tank the bill. "It is basically doing through the back door what Democrats are trying to do through the front door on S.1 and H.R.1 [the For the People Act]," he said. "What I don't want to happen is if S.1 doesn't make it because people like Sen. Manchin are opposed to it that people say, 'Well, this is kind of a lesser included provision.' It's just as big of a problem as S.1." Asked if there were 10 Republicans who would support it, he said, "I hope not."

It would be remiss of me not to shout out to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema here now that Cornyn has exposed himself. The last we saw of Sinema was her little trip to the border with Cornyn, where she refused to explain why she blew off the Senate vote on the Jan. 6 commission, and gave an absolutely ignorant and ridiculous defense of keeping the filibuster. Listening to Manchin and Sinema talk on this makes it horrifyingly apparent that neither of them has bothered to read the extensive histories that we've all been shoving at them of the filibuster as a Jim Crow relic.

Manchin and Sinema both seem to be as incapable of being shamed as McConnell, so how a breakthrough is going to be made here isn't clear. But at this point, it's probably going to have to involve threats because they're certainly not going to do the right thing simply because it's the right thing for our democracy.

FBI Probing Trump’s Postmaster Over Possible Campaign Finance Violations

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

One of Trump's most loyal saboteurs still remaining in office might not be able to hold that distinction for a whole lot longer. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is under FBI investigation for campaign finance activity according to the Washington Post. The New York Times advances the reporting by confirming "Mr. DeJoy has received a grand jury subpoena for information connected to the investigation, according to a person familiar with the investigation who was not authorized to talk about information related to the grand jury."

That makes the very careful, very precise statement from DeJoy spokesman Mark Corallo to the Washington Post, confirming the investigation, just a little bit incriminating: "Mr. DeJoy has learned that the Department of Justice is investigating campaign contributions made by employees who worked for him when he was in the private sector," Corallo said. "He has always been scrupulous in his adherence to the campaign contribution laws and has never knowingly violated them." He has never knowingly crimed? He might have accidentally crimed? Seems like now would be a really good time for DeJoy to leave that office, either voluntarily or by having the newly complete Board of Governors fire his ass.

The investigation stems from reporting from the Post last September, detailing how DeJoy's former company, New Breed, was at the center of what looked to be an illegal straw donor scheme to pump more than $1 million to Republican candidates from 2000 to 2014. During that period, DeJoy became a major donor to the GOP in North Carolina and nationally.

The Post investigation found contributions from 124 New Breed employees to Republican candidates and quoted current and former employees who said that managers "received strongly worded admonitions" to give to DeJoy's fundraisers. DeJoy's executive assistant also "personally called senior staffers" to make sure they were attending or to make contributions to Republican candidates. The employees then received bonuses that matched their political donations, which sure looks like an illegal scheme—both federal and state—to funnel corporate money into campaigns and evade campaign finance laws. In April, District Attorney Lorrin Freeman in Wake County, North Carolina, announced she would not pursue an investigation because the matter would be better handled by federal authorities. Who are now, in fact, on it.

What's unclear from the Post's reporting is whether the FBI is also looking into further irregularities in donations in subsequent years surrounding the same company, which was bought out by XPO Logistics in 2014. DeJoy retired from his executive position at the company in 2015, but was then appointed to the board of directors and served there until 2018. The Campaign Legal Center, an advocacy organization, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that the pattern of straw donations continued after New Breed was acquired by XPO, and highlighting donations from employees and from DeJoy's family that look awfully suspicious.

The group alleges that from 2015 to 2018, it found "several instances of XPO employees contributing to the same candidate or committee, during the same period of time, and often in similar amounts," and that "DeJoy family members, including DeJoy's college-aged children, also made contributions on the same day or in the same period as those employees." By 2018, DeJoy had become a Trump donor and former deputy finance chair of the RNC.

During a congressional hearing in September, Rep. Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat, pressed DeJoy about whether he engaged in these campaign-finance irregularities. DeJoy—under oath—denied the claims. Cooper asked DeJoy about his fundraising for the Trump campaign, saying: "you were picked along with Michael Cohen and Elliott Broidy, two men who have already pled guilty to felonies, to be the three deputy finance chairmen of the Republican National Committee."

He asked straight up: "Did you pay back several of your top executives for contributing to Trump's campaign by bouncing or rewarding them?" DeJoy vehemently denied the allegation. Technically, DeJoy's denial of this might not be a lie because the Post'sreporting predates the Trump campaign. It alleges that DeJoy did precisely this, but for other Republican candidates. That's not to say that DeJoy kept up the practice after the XPO Logistics acquisition of New Breed (and by the way, XPO has been under investigation for exceedingly lucrative contracts with the USPS).

Precisely what the FBI and the grand jury are investigating isn't clear. The felony statute of limitations on campaign finance violations is five years, so the initial allegations from the New Breed era, which ended in 2014, are likely not it, though the Post suggests those employees have been interviewed. That could be to establish a pattern that continued through DeJoy's tenure at XPO and clear up until he was donating hundreds of thousands to Trump's 2020 convention. Before he was tapped to head the USPS in May 2020, of course.

This should finally be enough. DeJoy crippling the Postal Service should have been enough. The weeks-long delays in mail delivery should be enough. All of it should finally be enough for the USPS Board of Governors and for President Joe Biden. DeJoy has got to go.

McConnell Sends Collins To Kill Jan. 6 Commission — With 'Bipartisan' Lies

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will fast-tracklegislation to establish a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrectionist attack on the Capitol, the bill passed in the House last week with a surprising 35 Republican votes. Schumer plans to bypass sending the bill to committee, bringing it directly to the floor in the coming weeks, where it will almost certainly be filibustered, because while as many as 15 Republicans are ostensibly considering supporting it, the reality is they are playing their usual games.

Which is Sen. Susan Collins' cue. "I strongly support the creation of an independent commission," Collins said Sunday on ABC's This Week. "I believe there are many unanswered questions about the attacks on the Capitol on Jan. 6." Except she just has a few conditions, because of course she does. She says that the bill has to say that the commission's work must be done by the end of the year. Which means that Collins hasn't read the bill because right there on page 17 of the bill, Section 10 (b) it says in black and white "Not later than December 31, 2021, the Commission shall submit to the President and Congress a final report containing such findings, conclusions, and recommendations for corrective measures has have been agreed to by a majority of Commission members."

Not. Later. Than. December. 31. 2021.

There's a 60-day window after the final report is due on the final day of 2021 for wrap-up work "including providing testimony to committees of Congress concerning its reports and disseminating the final report." If that's the part Collins has a problem with, then clearly Collins has no intention of learning anything from the commission, since it's that final testimony to Congress that would be curtailed should this provision be struck. She says she wants this commission but clearly she doesn't want its end product to be shown to the public.

Collins also insists that the commission's staffing is bipartisan, a myth Republicans seized upon that the chair of the committee—appointed by Democrats—would have control over the staffing. The Republican member of Congress who co-wrote this legislation, Rep. John Katko of New York, debunked that one in the floor debate. "There is an equal number of members on both sides, appointed by both sides, they have equal subpoena power—they can't subpoena one person without the other person on the other side of the aisle agreeing, they have to hire a staff together, all those things," he said. "We did this for a reason, because that's exactly what made the 9/11 commission successful."

Speaking of the 9/11 commission, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and former Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, the bipartisan leaders of it, have given their blessing to this legislation. "As Chairman and Vice Chairman of the 9/11 Commission, unity of purpose was key to the effectiveness of the group. We put country above party, without bias, the events before, during and after the attack. We sought to understand our vulnerabilities in order to prevent future attacks or future acts of terrorism," they wrote in a joint statement endorsing the bill.

"The January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was one of the darkest days in the history of our country," they continued. "Americans deserve an objective and an accurate account of what happened. As we did in the wake of September 11, it's time to set aside partisan politics and come together as Americans in common pursuit of truth and justice."

And once again cue Collins, who is playing her usual very partisan game here, carrying Mitch McConnell's water under the guise of pretending to be reasonable and bipartisan. In reality, the commission is as bipartisan as it can get. Everything Katko said on the floor is true; he was representing Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy in the negotiations on the bill and got pretty much everything McCarthy asked for, only to have McCarthy and McConnell trash it.

If Collins is being trotted out by McConnell to cast doubt on the bill as it stands, you can be pretty sure there are only two Republican senators who are actually thinking about joining Democrats on this—Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney—and passing the bill. Collins is going to keep her finger to the wind and ultimately, after expressing her anguish to anyone who will listen, will reject it as not bipartisan enough. Because when it comes right down to it, she's a Republican. Republicans made Jan. 6 happen, with a lot of help from the Collinses of the party.

The only way this commission happens is with Democrats. That means Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have to finally get beyond thoughts and prayersfor the Senate to come together, and stand up for their country. They're going to have to abandon the filibuster.

How That ‘Blue State Bailout’ Is Rescuing The Reddest States

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Since May 10, the federal government has dispersed $105 billion of the $350 billion included in the American Rescue Plan to state and local governments. The Treasury Department says 1,500 entities have received that funding, the funding Sen. Mitch McConnell adamantly opposed for the entirety of the pandemic, calling it a "blue state bailout."

"This state and local aid program is going to provide transformative funding to communities across the country, and our Treasury team is focused on getting relief to these communities as quickly as possible," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement announcing the progress of the funding thus far. "In the past 11 days, almost a third of the funding has gone out the door, and I'm hopeful communities will be able to rehire teachers and help businesses re-open much sooner than otherwise."

Tens of thousands of state, local, territorial, and tribal governments can request funding. The Treasury Department details the uses of the relief: "Support urgent COVID-19 response efforts to continue to decrease spread of the virus and bring the pandemic under control; Replace lost revenue for eligible state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments to strengthen support for vital public services and help retain jobs; Support immediate economic stabilization for households and businesses; Address systemic public health and economic challenges that have contributed to the inequal impact of the pandemic."

Let's check in on how that "blue state bailout" funding is going so far. Arkansas' Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has $1.57 billion for the state, and at the Arkansas American Rescue Plan Steering Committee Wednesday said that they could do a lot with it, from vaccine distribution to expanding broadband. "It is unique in history. It's a unique opportunity to improve the infrastructure in our state from broadband to health care to cybersecurity, from IT to water projects," Hutchinson said. Arkansas received a total of $5 billion, with the remaining $3.5 billion going to local governments and other projects.

"We need all the help we can get. It wasn't until vaccines rolled out that we rounded the corner. I think money allocated for vaccines, not just vaccines, but the education of the public about the safety of the vaccines, is essential to continuing to solve what has been a really long year-plus problem," Rogers, Arkansas Fire Chief Tom Jenkins, a COVID-19 response force member, said. The steering committee chair, Larry Walther, agreed: "COVID response, decreasing the spread of the virus, getting the pandemic under control, vaccinations, contact tracing, those sort of the things are the number one," Walther said.

This week, Muncie, Indiana, Mayor Dan Ridenour, a Republican, announced the city's preliminary plans for using the first tranche of the $32 million his city is getting. Just over $2.7 million will help the city overcome a budget shortfall; another $2 million will help the city's restaurants recover; $2 million each will help small businesses and nonprofit organizations; and over $4 million will go to hotels. There's also funding for substance abuse and behavioral health treatment, public art, and neighborhood assistance.

In another not-blue state, Iowa, "both the city of Des Moines and Polk County are receiving nearly $100 million in aid, the most of any Iowa city or county. Twelve Iowa cities are receiving aid, and all 99 counties are receiving at least $600,000." That means each county is getting about $200 per resident, based on 2019 census data. The state as a whole is getting $1.48 billion in American Rescue Plan money.

Idaho is going to get $1.1 billion, and state officials have said it will be used to "substantially bolster the state's water, sewer and broadband infrastructure." Alex Adams, Republican Gov. Brad Little's budget chief, touted the five-year window for completing projects with the funding. "That's a huge benefit for a rural state like ours where it's going to take years for some of these large sewer, water and broadband projects to come to fruition," Adams said. Idaho's largest cities in the state are getting a total of $124 million, smaller cities $108 million, and counties another $314 million.

McConnell's home state of Kentucky is getting $2.183 billion. "Our economy is surging and strong," Gov. Andy Beshear (a Democrat) said. "We are in a strong position to sprint out of this pandemic with continued positive economic indicators and with this funding that will create jobs, momentum and a better quality of life in every corner of the commonwealth." The state had already planned to use "use 1.3 million to boost the state's economy, expanding broadband, delivering clean drinking water and building new schools," and is "expected to create more than 14,500 new jobs." The state's general fund will be shored up.

The Tennessee Comptroller, Jason Mumpower, talked to one county's leaders this week to tout the projects available with the funding. "This could include helping workers, households, small businesses, nonprofits and impacted industries, such as tourism, travel and hospitality industry. Yes. You can use this money to make grants to individuals and small businesses," Mumpower said. "We look out across the landscape of Tennessee on a daily basis and think, 'Where does the greatest financial peril lie?' It lies in water and sewer. It lies underground," Mumpower told the Wilson county officials, who are expecting $28 million in relief funds.

All these Republican states getting all that funding passed solely by Democrats in the Senate, benefitting from the commitment to good governance -- and acting like they're goddamned adults like Democrats continue to model.

House Democrats: You Can’t Preserve The Filibuster And Protect Voting Rights

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is concerned about the lack of movement of any kind in the Senate on H.R. 1, the sweeping elections reform bill. They're preparing a more narrow strategy in hopes of getting quick action: sending the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to President Joe Biden's desk by September. They believe a bill named for their colleague and hero, the late John Lewis, has a better chance with a Senate that is deadlocked 50-50 and is being held hostage by Mitch McConnell, with the help of Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

The urgency is real. States are starting the process of congressional redistricting, and without a law which restores the key sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act gutted by the Supreme Court, there will be no curb on states drawing discriminatory districts. The Supreme Court struck down the VRA's pre-clearance formula in 2013, a requirement that certain states and localities with histories of racially discriminatory voting practices—including drawing of electoral maps—had to get pre-approval from the U.S. Department of Justice to make changes to the voting process.

"If you want to play into [Republican] hands, you do nothing at all and let them pass redistricting maps that absolutely don't have to be pre-cleared where they can do whatever the hell they please, and they can discriminate at will. Or, you step up your game and you do what needs to be done," said Rep. Marc Veasey, a Texas Democrat, of the effort to get this bill passed. "If you don't pass" this voting rights bill, he said, "you're basically giving them a green light to just go ahead and discriminate against Black and Hispanic voters."

"I certainly think our focus ought to be on [the Lewis bill] and voting rights," said Rep. Anthony Brown of Maryland, a member of the CBC. "You would think that that would provide a real good opportunity for a handful of Democratic senators who want to hold onto the filibuster [to say] 'Yes, we can do it on this John Lewis Voting Rights [Act].'"

You would think that, and this could be the bill that puts the necessary pressure on the filibuster holdouts in the Democratic conference in the Senate—for their own job security, if nothing else. As of March 24, 361 state bills to restrict voting have been introduced in 47 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which has been keeping track. They are not slowing down, either. "That's 108 more than the 253 restrictive bills tallied as of February 19, 2021—a 43 percent increase in little more than a month. Forty-seven states is almost all of them, including the ones that have Democratic senators. Their majority in the Senate only exists because of Vice President Kamala Harris. It could be gone very easily in January 2023 if states have free rein on keeping Democratic voters out of voting booths.

The House Judiciary Committee is responding, with its Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties holding a hearing Thursday to discuss the need to restore the VRA. "Congress cannot continue to let these challenges to the VRA go unanswered," Judiciary chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler said during the hearing. Nadler isn't a member of the subcommittee; he crashed the hearing, perhaps in order to emphasize how serious he is about moving this legislation forward. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro testified Thursday.

"In my home state of Texas today there is an all-out assault on the right to vote. For generations,
Texas has been a testing ground for devious ways to restrict access to the polls," Castro said. "Since the Shelby decision in 2013, the state has cut more polling locations than any state in the nation. Texas enacted a strict voter ID law that permits firearm licenses to be used to vote, but prohibits the use of student IDs. And lawmakers have used things like voter registration deadlines, restricted voting hours, and limitations on early voting to chip away at the franchise of millions of people."

He reminded the committee that "Congress knew in each of the four times they reauthorized the VRA that we must protect the rights of voters and reaffirm the American principle of anti-discrimination." Since 2013, however, Senate Republicans have prevented restoration of the VRA, looking ahead to this moment—the 2020 census and their chance to gerrymander Democrats out of power and suppress enough Democratic voters in perpetuity to have a permanent stranglehold on government. It's why they packed the courts with Trump judges.

Castro had a message for lawmakers in his testimony, directed particularly at those in the Senate who put their so-called principles about a bipartisan Senate over the "timeless truth" of our democratic system. "[T]his timeless truth: the right to vote shouldn't depend on the color of one's skin, how much money one has, or what state one lives in."

"It's a right guaranteed to every eligible American citizen. It's the cornerstone of our democracy. And it's what the late Representative John Lewis—for whom the new Voting Rights Act is named—described in his final letter as 'the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society.'"

Democrats Introduce DEJOY Act To Thwart Postal Service Sabotage

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Postmaster Louis DeJoy has made a very powerful enemy: the U.S. Congress. Well, the Democrats who control the House, anyway. A group of House Democrats has introduced the "Delivering Envelopes Judiciously On-time Year-round Act." Yes, the DEJOY Act, which is a crime against legislative nomenclature. But the lawmakers are serious, intent on blocking DeJoy from implementing the service changes he intends, including slowing delivery of first-class mail to as long as five days.

"This is the best way to kill your business," Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, the Illinois Democrat and lead sponsor of the bill, said. "To basically say to your customers, 'We're not going to meet your expectations. You're going to meet our service realities, regardless of what ends up happening.'" Krishnamoorthi told The Washington Post that this "particular change, going from 100 percent of first-class mail being delivered one to three days to only 70 percent, would be a nonstarter, in my opinion, with the American people."

DeJoy's response to Congress in a hearing before he released his plan doomed the reception of it. While DeJoy wasn't quite as obnoxious and insulting to members as in previous outings, he still angered many of them. DeJoy actually said "Does it make a difference if it's an extra day to get a letter?" as if people weren't relying on the mail to get their prescriptions, to pay their bills, to receive checks. Then he had the chutzpah to say, "I would give myself an 'A' for bringing strategy and the planning and effort to here."

It's not just Congress that is set against DeJoy. Pennsylvania's Attorney General Josh Shapiro threatened legal action if DeJoy's changes "illegally come at the expense of those who rely on the mail for everything from paychecks to medications." The Postal Service, he reminds us, is a public service and "Changes to its universal service guarantee must go through a process that is designed to protect the public interest." Shapiro's office told the Post that "it was encouraged that DeJoy recognizes the legal obligations to secure limited regulatory approvals, but said it remained concerned about timely mail delivery."

DeJoy wants to slash service, cut USPS post office hours, and increase postage costs for consumers, delivering worse service for higher cost in his attempt to save $160 billion over 10 years. That's along with legislation from Congress that is likely to pass that will repeal the 2006 law forcing the USPS to pre-fund retiree health benefits 75 years in advance. It's the only agency that Congress has ever required to do that, a decision made when cooking the books to make the deficit look better.

The USPS is an off-budget entity—its operating expenses don't come out of the Treasury, but its payments into the federal health benefits system do, so this intergovernmental agency pumping funds in for retiree health benefits could be counted as revenue for the federal government. It was so much book-cooking but had real consequences in burdening the USPS. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, has legislation that would both repeal the 2006 law and enroll future retirees in Medicare. They're now in the federal employees benefits plan, where all that pre-funding money has been going.

DeJoy's planned price hikes and service cuts are getting panned by consumer groups—including business groups that rely on the mail. There are lawsuits in the works to force a stop to the changes. "In the entire fifty-eight pages of the plan there does not appear to be any effort to retain mail volume," PostCom, a national postal commerce advocacy group, wrote. "Apart from price increases and service reductions, there is little about mail in the plan at all. That's inaction." Another group, the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, said "the plan will drive mail volume down to levels not seen since before it reached 100 billion in 1980. […] If we mailers win our federal lawsuit, the plan is sunk."

DeJoy has to be stopped before he can implement these changes. He should have been gone before now—when his disqualifying conflicts of interestsurfaced. The fact that the USPS Board of Governors picked DeJoy—who was unqualified, had never worked in the Postal Service, and who got the job after making big donations to Trump's convention—without any vetting process means they have to go, too.

Biden should fire the board. The Senate should make confirming Biden's new board members a top priority. The Postal Service is too critical an institution to let this malfeasance continue.

Trump Holdovers Blamed For Delay In Social Security Survival Checks

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The Internal Revenue Service, which has some longstanding problems of its own, has another recent, urgent one: a backlog of survival checks meant for millions of disabled and retired Americans. They can't send out the $1,400 checks authorized by the American Rescue Plan President Joe Biden signed into law two weeks ago, on March 11. The reason they can't get those checks out to some of the millions who aren't regular tax filers is because they need the Social Security Administration (SSA) to send them the information to do it. And the hold-over Trumpers at the head of the SSA, commissioner Andrew Saul and deputy commissioner David Black, are likely the problem.

A handful of House Democratic committee chairs including Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal are on the case, demanding immediate action from SSA commissioner Saul to fix this. "We are aware that the IRS asked SSA to start sending payment files two weeks before the American Rescue Plan became law on March 11, 2021," wrote the chairmen. "As of today, SSA still has not provided the IRS with the payment files that are needed to issue EIPs to these struggling Americans. We demand that you immediately provide the IRS this information by tomorrow, March 25, 2021."

It's unclear if the AWOL Saul was actually at work to receive the letter. He has a storied history of not bothering to show up at work, just one of the problems the people who work at SSA have with him. Someone, however, got the message. According to an agency spokesperson, the letter was received, because they told HuffPost they'd get those files over to Treasury by Neal's deadline of Thursday. "Social Security staff is working day and night with Treasury and IRS representatives to ensure that the electronic file of Social Security and SSI recipients is complete, accurate, and ready to be used to issue payments," the spokesperson said.

Which is fine, but it will probably take another week for the IRS to get all the information sorted and checks out to the 30 million people who so far have been left out—those who don't normally have to file taxes. The IRS relies on SSA for the information of people who are disabled and retired and are non-filers. The SSA and IRS have already been through two rounds of this, so the procedure wasn't sprung on anybody. On top of that, the IRS gave SSA a two-week notice ahead of the bill being passed and signed essentially to say "get ready, we're going to need to be on this."

Social Security Works, a group that has been advocating for Social Security for years, was not amused. Executive director Alex Lawson slammed SSA's Saul and Black for the delay in an emailed statement, pointing out the real harm of the delay. "As a result, nearly 30 million seniors and people with disabilities—who are among those hit hardest by COVID—still haven't received their relief checks," he wrote. "They are counting on these checks for basic necessities like food and medication."

"Saul and Black were appointed by Donald Trump and have been acting as his agents for years," Lawson continued. "President Biden can't stand for this any longer. He must protect Social Security beneficiaries by firing Saul and Black immediately."

Saul and Black can both be fired by Biden. Since taking office in 2019, they have been working as doggedly to undermine the system as Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has at the U.S. Postal Service. Like DeJoy, they're longtime Republican operatives and big donors. Like DeJoy, destroying beloved institutions seems to be their jam, and making life particularly hard for the most vulnerable among us their goal. The two have not only run roughshod over staff at the SSA, but they have politicized the Social Security disability program, trying to make benefits harder to get and more burdensome to keep by creating all sorts of hoops for disabled people to jump through.

Democrats, including Senate chair of the Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy Sherrod Brown and the members who called out the SSA for delaying checks, have been demanding that President Biden immediately fire and replace the two. They are "incapable of carrying out Democrats' vision of protecting and expanding Social Security," Brown said in his first statement as committee chair. "As agents of the Trump Social Security agenda, they cut the benefits that hardworking Americans have earned, attacked the Social Security Administration's employees, denied beneficiaries due process, and needlessly increased disability reviews during the Covid-19 pandemic," said Brown.

Add unnecessarily delaying critical financial help to 30 million of the most vulnerable Americans to the list. These guys have got to go.

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.

Democrats Can Save Democracy Or Preserve The Filibuster — Not Both

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

A lie repeated often enough doesn't become truth, it gets codified by Republican state legislatures. That's the case with the Big Lie, that voter fraud stole the 2020 election from Donald Trump. Whether or not they actually believe it, Republican lawmakers across the country are acting on it, introducing more than 250 bills in 43 states making it harder for people to vote. That's despite the fact that the most litigated presidential election in history exposed no fraud at all. Trump's legal team couldn't prove it in court after court.

As of now, just three states—Iowa, Arkansas, and Utah—have enacted new voter suppression laws, but the wave of new state laws is likely just cresting. There's a remedy: federal action. It can only be applied, however, with Senate reform of the filibuster. As long as Republicans see that their only hope of ever winning elections again is to limit the voting population, to gerrymander and silo Democratic voters into nonexistence, and to cheat, Republican senators are not going to allow federal legislation to pass. There might be one or two who don't want to be lumped in with the rest of the white supremacists, but there won't be 10 of them willing to pass either the For the People Act, the vast elections reform bill passed in the House this month, or the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

We are facing what one voting rights activist calls "a once-in-a-generation moment." Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United and Let America Vote, told The New York Times, "We either are going to see one of the most massive rollbacks of our democracy in generations, or we have an opportunity to say: 'No, that is not what America stands for. We are going to strengthen democracy and make sure everyone has an equal voice.'"

Which is precisely what Republican state legislatures are fighting, with states about ready to tip blue at the fore. Arizona and Pennsylvania—home to some of the most intense Big Lie litigation—have the most voter suppression legislation under consideration now. It's Georgia, though, that's becoming the epicenter for the fight. The state's flip to electing Joe Biden president and Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock as its two senators, flipping the U.S. Senate to the Democrats in the offing, has resulted in omnibus voter suppression bills in both the state House and Senate. Earlier this month, the House passed legislation to restrict in-person voting; require voter ID for absentee ballot requests; limit absentee ballot drop boxes and require the boxes be inside buildings and thus inaccessible when the buildings close; limit weekend early voting; shorten the absentee voting period; and make giving people waiting in line to vote food or drink a misdemeanor. Last week, the Senate passed S.B. 241, 29-20 legislation that ends no-excuse absentee voting; restricts it to disabled people and people over 65 or who can provide they won't be home on Election Day; and requires ID for absentee ballot requests.

That ID requirement is just one of a litany of barriers for people of color. "That is a burden for people, particularly working folks and poor folks," LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "Any time there are barriers placed on people who are already at an economic disadvantage, what you're going to see is a drop-off in voting." Which is precisely what Republicans intend.

Advocacy groups are now ramping up action to get Georgia's largest national corporations—among them Coca-Cola, UPS, and Delta Airlines—to get involved by stopping their donations to Republican legislators and to speak out. "They spent most of Black History Month peppering us with Martin Luther King quotes, but now that Blacks' future is in jeopardy, they're silent," Nsé Ufot, the chief executive of one participant, the New Georgia Project, said. "We're using digital ads, billboards, direct action at warehouses and call centers—we're serious. This is urgent."

Many of those same corporations succeeded in 2016 in a pressure campaign that resulted in then-Gov. Nathan Deal's veto of an anti-LGBTQ "religious liberty" bill.

That's one of the strategies for fighting the Georgia bills. But there has to be a national strategy for all the other states, one that addresses what's happening in that state and all the others. "Well, first of all, I do absolutely agree that it's racist," Georgia grassroots leader Stacey Abrams told CNN's Jake Tapper Sunday.

"It is a redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie," Abrams said. "We know that the only thing that precipitated these changes, it's not that there was the question of security." In another interview on Meet the Press Abrams argued for her proposal that Senate Democrats carve out "an exemption to the filibuster for the purposes of protecting our democracy," for passing voting rights and election legislation. "Look, I understand wanting to protect the prerequisites of an institution. I served as minority leader for seven years," Abrams continued.

But I also understand that there were times where we had to look at the fundamentals of our processes and do what was right. And we know the Senate has done so to suspend the filibuster for the purposes of judicial appointments, for Cabinet appointments and for budget reconciliation. I would say protection of the fundamentals of our democracy, which we have seen bloodily debated through the January 6th insurrection, certainly counts.

She argues that the move is justified in the Constitution, which gives the Congress power "that it alone has, which is to regulate the time, place and manner of [federal] elections." Muller agrees. "It is too important an issue and we are facing too big a crisis to let an arcane procedural motion hold back the passage of this bill," she told the Times arguing that the threat to voting rights is an existential threat to democracy. Without a free and fair vote, everything else is lost.

If anyone thinks there's any chance Republicans relent for this, consider the second most likely convert (after Sen. Lisa Murkowski), Sen. Susan Collins. Her Maine colleague, independent Sen. Angus King told News Center Maine that he wasn't thrilled with the idea of getting rid of the filibuster, but "If Mitch McConnell and his caucus are going to be no, no, no, to everything, and everybody's going to be on board, then we've got to get things done for the country." Collins showed her true feeling about "bipartisanship" in response. "I would remind my dear friend Angus that the Democrats could be in the minority two years from now. And they will wish that they had not done away with the filibuster if that happens, that I can assure you."

Add threats to lying, cheating, and reimposing Jim Crow to the Republican toolbox for what they call governing.

At Judiciary Hearing, Garland Vows Tough Prosecution Of ‘Heinous’ Jan. 6 Insurrection

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Merrick Garland finally got his Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Monday. Not for the original position for which he was nominated by President Barack Obama—the Supreme Court—back in 2016, but for attorney general under President Joe Biden. The chair and ranking member of the committee, Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Chuck Grassley, each brought up that contemptible episode when Republicans under Mitch McConnell refused, for eight months, to consider his nomination. "I want to welcome you back to the Senate Judiciary Committee," Durbin said. "I know this return trip has been a long time in planning and you're here, finally."

Grassley was, let's say, less gracious. "It was an election year with a divided Congress," Grassley said, excusing the blockade. Then the nasty. "Yes, it's true I didn't give Judge Garland a hearing. […] I also didn't mischaracterize his record. I didn't attack his character. I didn't go through his high school yearbook." Given that there aren't multiple allegations of rape against Garland going back decades, no, that would not have been appropriate. Ah, unity.

At the outset of the hearing, Durbin acknowledged Garland's unique qualifications for this particular moment in time: his service as a top official in the Clinton Justice Department investigating the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people. "When you are confirmed, Judge Garland, you, along with the rest of this nation, will continue to grapple with the January 6th attacks," Durbin said. "As nation's chief law enforcement officer, you will be tasked with the solemn duty to responsibly investigate the events of that day, to prosecute all of the individuals responsible and to prevent future attacks driven by hate, inflammatory words, and bizarre conspiracy theories," Durbin continued, not really asking a question.

Garland responded that he believes the current situation is "more dangerous" than Oklahoma City, and that the investigation in the attempted coup and insurrection will be his "first priority." He elaboratedon that in answer to a question from Sen. Dianne Feinstein. He called the insurrection "the most heinous attack on the Democratic processes that I have ever seen and one I never expected to see in my lifetime." He said that he will ensure that career prosecutors working on the investigation "all the resources they could possibly require." Garland also pledged to cooperate with congressional probes into the family separation policy from the previous administration. "I think that the policy was shameful. I can't imagine anything worse than tearing parents from their children. And we will provide all the cooperation that we possibly can," he told Durbin.

Grassley had one major concern: was Garland going to keep on with the Trump-era probes by John Durham, the special counsel into that other special counsel investigation by Robert Mueller on Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the investigation by Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss, who is heading an investigation involving Hunter Biden's taxes. Garland was noncommittal in response. He told Grassley "I don't have any information about the [Durham] investigation," and said of the existence of the Durham probe, "I have no reason to think that was not the correct decision. […] I don't have any reason to think he should not be in place." He said he had not spoken with Durham and would only dismiss Durham and the probe for cause. As for whether he might have talked with President Biden about the Hunter Biden probe? "The answer to your question is no." Garland told Grassley that he would leave decisions regarding the Hunter Biden probe to others in the department.

The attacks on the Congress and the rise of the white supremacist insurrectionists are key. In his opening statement Garland pledged "If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6th, a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government." He's well positioned to do so. "This almost feels like a precursor. How much more experience could you possibly have in domestic terrorism?" said Donna Bucella, a former Justice Department official who also worked on the Oklahoma City case. "He'll be very methodical. I think he'll demand it's being done the right way."