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House Democrats Demand Answers From Cyber Ninjas On Arizona ‘Fraudit’

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The conspiracy theory-driven "audit" of ballots in Maricopa County, Arizona, has raised a lot of questions. After all, it was only partially paid for by the Arizona state Senate, with the rest of the money coming from unknown donors. It was conducted by a company with no known experience in election audits and headed by someone who has tweeted pro-Trump conspiracy theories. And it involved questionable moves like inspecting ballots for bamboo fibers in an effort to prove a conspiracy theory about ballots being flown in from South Korea.

House Democrats are demanding answers to those questions, in a 13-page letter to Cyber Ninjas, the shady company hired by Arizona Senate Republicans to carry out the fraudit. Starting with this: The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee "is seeking to determine whether the privately funded audit conducted by your company in Arizona protects the right to vote or is instead an effort to promote baseless conspiracy theories, undermine confidence in America's elections, and reverse the result of a free and fair election for partisan gain."

As the letter makes clear, detailing Cyber Ninjas' lack of experience with elections, its "sloppy and insecure audit practices" (which were widely reported and commented on by actual election audit experts), and CEO Douglas Logan's "embrace of election conspiracy theories," Democrats expect the answer to that opening question to be that the fraudit was intended to undermine confidence in elections and perhaps reverse the result of a free and fair election for partisan gain, not to protect the right to vote.

The letter, from Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jamie Raskin—the former being the committee chair—asks Cyber Ninjas to turn over nine categories of documents. Those include documentation of any previous election audit clients Cyber Ninjas has had (again, as far as anyone knows there are no such clients), information on who paid for the Arizona effort, documents and communications that might possibly explain why Cyber Ninjas was looking for bamboo fibers and looking at ballots under UV lights, and, just to be sure they got everything, "All documents and communications related to conducting the Maricopa County audit, including but not limited to policies, procedures, audit plans, strategy, staff and personnel, and security or integrity problems that arose during the audit, and any interim or final audit findings."

Oh, and also this: "all communications involving you or any Cyber Ninjas employees, consultants, agents, volunteers, or representatives with" Donald Trump, any Trump administration official or formal or informal campaign or legal representative of Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Lin Wood, and others.

The Justice Department has previously expressed concern about ballots and voting machines at risk of "being lost, stolen, altered, compromised or destroyed" thanks to Cyber Ninjas' poor security practices. And as House Democrats begin their investigation—which could lead to referrals to the Justice Department—Maricopa County announced it would spend nearly $3 million to replace voting equipment compromised by the fraudit, which took the equipment out of the control of the government.

"The frustrating thing is, those were perfectly good machines which passed all of our accuracy tests from the time we first got them in 2019. The taxpayer paid good money for them, but now this equipment will have to be decommissioned because the Senate didn't take our warnings about chain-of-custody seriously," Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chair Jack Sellers said in a statement.

The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, by the way, is majority Republican, but has been outspokenly opposed to the fraudit, calling it a "sham," a "con," and "a spectacle that is harming all of us." Their opposition to a partisan effort to undermine faith in their county's elections led the Maricopa supervisors to be threatened with arrest by other Republicans in the state, as support for Donald Trump's lies about the election having been stolen from him has become a key loyalty test for Republicans.

The House Democrats are giving Cyber Ninjas until July 28 to turn over its documents.

Abbott Threatens Texas Lawmakers With Arrest When They Return

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boebert Joins Greene's Anti-Vax Campaign With Insulting 'Nazi' Smear

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Rep. Lauren Boebert appears to be getting jealous of all that sweet, sweet attention Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is getting … for comparing public health officials to Nazis.

Following President Biden's announcement of a push to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates, including by sending public health workers door to door to offer people information and the opportunity to be vaccinated, Greene proved decisively that her much-touted trip to the Holocaust Museum had been a photo opportunity, not a learning opportunity, describing public health workers as "medical brown shirts." Boebert then followed suit.

"Biden has deployed his Needle Nazis to Mesa County," she tweeted. "The people of my district are more than smart enough to make their own decisions about the experimental vaccine and don't need coercion by federal agents. Did I wake up in Communist China?"

As a description of people going door to door with information to help people make informed decisions, connections to vaccination appointments, and in some cases the offer of in-home vaccination, this is blindingly dishonest. Polling and research has found that many people aren't necessarily opposed to being vaccinated, but they do want more information or need convenience and reassurance that it won't cost them anything. This is an effort to do just that.

It should not need to be spelled out, but just in case: Offering all people public health information and free vaccination can in no way be compared to sending people to death camps because they were Jewish. That is horrific.

But it's also pretty special to have a Republican ranting about government coercion, when Republicans in state after state have passed mandatory ultrasound laws for women seeking abortions. Republicans routinely force women to have one medically unnecessary intimate medical procedure to be allowed to make their own health care decisions, so they cannot talk about "coercion" in this context.

As for the Nazi talk, this is a chance for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to show he meant it when, after Greene compared mask rules to Nazism, he said "Americans must stand together to defeat anti-Semitism and any attempt to diminish the history of the Holocaust. Let me be clear: the House Republican Conference condemns this language."

Your move, Kevin. Did you mean it? (Ha ha ha, yeah, right.)

All of this Nazi talk from the Trump uber alles crowd is also a little disconcerting in light of reports that Donald Trump repeatedly praised Adolf Hitler to the point where then-chief of staff John Kelly had to say, point blank, "You cannot ever say anything supportive of Adolf Hitler. You just can't." Trump praising Hitler plus Trump's most diehard followers constantly talking about Nazis is … a disturbing fixation to have surfacing in the Republican Party.

Biden Plan Is About To Boost Jobless Workers And Families With Kids

Republican governors across the country have cut off federal unemployment benefits for millions of people, but Democratic policies are still kicking in to help people struggling in the uneven recovery from the COVID-19 economy. Two parts of the American Rescue Plan going into effect in July provide direct aid to unemployed people and to families with kids.

In just one of the American Rescue Plan's improvements to the Affordable Care Act, on July 1, unemployed people became eligible for additional Affordable Care Act subsidies. "An average of three out of five eligible uninsured Americans can access $0 plans after subsidies are factored in, and an average of four out of five current consumers will be able to select a policy for $10 or less per month, according to the Department of Health and Human Services," CNN reports.

And on July 15, expanded, monthly child tax credit payments start going out to millions of families. The overall child tax credit increased from $2,000 to $3,000, plus an additional $600 for children under six, and because it will be paid monthly, families can factor it into their regular spending, covering things like back-to-school clothes and supplies, paying monthly bills, or paying off debts. According to one recent survey, though, more than 55 percent of people receiving the credit plan to save it—a move that can cushion families against future instability due to job loss, medical bills, or other unexpected expenses.

It's estimated that the expanded child tax credit will cut child poverty by 45 percent. Currently, the parents with the lowest incomes don't get all of the existing child tax credit—in fact, 10 percent of kids get nothing. That's not true of the new policy.

After getting monthly payments through the end of 2021, families will get an additional lump sum when they file their taxes in 2022. Families that saw an income increase in 2021 over the 2019 or 2020 tax returns used to calculate the tax credit may not get that lump sum if the IRS determines they weren't eligible for the full credit in 2021; a few families with large income jumps may have to repay some of what they got in monthly payments. You can check out this calculator to find out if you're eligible for monthly payments, and how much. Families that don't want monthly payments can opt out. Unfortunately, the process will be much more complicated for families that don't file taxes, since the new IRS tool for them to sign up is generally seen as a user-unfriendly mess. Nonetheless, the money is out there, and parents and guardians of children 17 and younger should make sure to get it.

The combined impact of these two policies is that a jobless parent of two children whose $300 a week federal unemployment supplement has just been cut by their Republican governor could now be getting free health care and $500 to $600 a month in child tax credit checks. These American Rescue Plan provisions are a step toward what the U.S. safety net should look like all the time, not just during a massive global pandemic.

Pelosi Announces Select Committee To Probe Jan. 6 Insurrection

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

You cannot say House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rushed this decision but now, almost a month after Senate Republicans filibustered a commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Pelosi announced that she's launching a select committee to investigate.

"This morning with great solemnity and sadness I'm announcing that the House will be establishing a select committee on the January 6th insurrection," Pelosi said.

On Tuesday, similar reports emerged that Pelosi would form a select committee, only to have Pelosi call it a "false report," with a spokesperson saying: "Speaker Pelosi told Members she plans to announce WHETHER she will create a select committee THIS WEEK. Her preference continues to be a bipartisan commission which Senate Republicans are blocking."

Senate Republicans have forced Pelosi's hand: It's a select committee, investigation by standing committees, or nothing. Pelosi and other Democrats really held out, promoting the idea of another Senate vote even though there was no reason to believe the needed Republican votes would materialize.

Following the Republican filibuster in which 35 Republican senators opposed to the creation of an independent investigatory commission defeated 48 Democrats and six Republicans in favor of it (with 11 senators not voting), Pelosi declared, "Honoring our responsibility to the Congress in which we serve and the Country which we love, Democrats will proceed to find the truth."

It's time to proceed. Past time, really.

In the effort to win Republican votes for a commission, Democrats made major concessions as to the shape the commission would have taken. They don't have to make as many concessions this time. It's a given that Republicans will try to paint anything a select committee does as a partisan witch hunt, so it might as well be an aggressive effort to find the truth as a weak tea effort to look nonpartisan. The weak tea investigation would get the same Republican treatment without the same chance of uncovering important information.

We need a select committee to find out as much as possible about how the attack on the Capitol unfolded, from the earliest planning stages to the days immediately leading up to it to the attack itself to the aftermath and any cover-up attempts. That means getting to the bottom of failures to gather and respond to intelligence about what the crowd of Trump supporters was planning, how the Capitol Police were so unprepared, and why the National Guard was delayed. It includes what Donald Trump was doing during the attack. It includes what Trump told House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has been so opposed to an investigatory commission. It includes which extremist groups were involved, and how, and how far-reaching their conspiracies were.

Federal prosecutors are at work on individual defendants and some conspiracies among the mob, but something this big can't be answered just through prosecution of the people on the scene. This was a violent effort to prevent Congress from doing its part in the peaceful transition of power, and it did not just happen organically.

Republicans have made clear that they don't want it investigated. They're engaged in an active campaign of downplaying and covering up, to the extent of 21 House Republicans voting not to award police responders the Congressional Gold Medal. Their participation in and response to a select committee to investigate has to be reported and assessed through that lens.

Pelosi: ‘Democrats Will Proceed To Find The Truth’ About Insurrection

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Senate Republicans filibustered a bipartisan independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, with 35 Republicans able to vote down 48 Democrats and six Republicans to block the investigation from going forward (11 senators did not vote). So now Democrats turn to Plan B, most likely a select committee.

"Honoring our responsibility to the Congress in which we serve and the Country which we love, Democrats will proceed to find the truth," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday, following the Senate vote. She didn't say the words "select committee," but in the past she has suggested as much, saying last week, as the House voted on the commission, "I certainly could call for hearings in the House, with a Majority of the Members being Democrats, with full subpoena power, with the agenda being determined by the Democrats. But that's not the path we have chosen to go." At the time, she said "I don't want to" have the investigation run through a House committee controlled by Democrats, but "It's a question of if they don't want to do this, we will."

They (Republicans) didn't want to do this (establish an independent commission), so the ball is in Pelosi's court.

Democrats made huge concessions on the shape of an independent commission in an effort to win Republican votes, and got 35 House Republicans in addition to those six senators. They won't have to make so many concessions on a select committee, but Republicans will fight the entire time to have it be seen as a partisan witch hunt, no matter how far Democrats bend over backward to be fair.

The thing is, if Republicans didn't like the way an independent commission was going, they would have fought the entire time to have it be seen as a partisan witch hunt, even after appointing half of its members. That's how they operate. So Democrats shouldn't feel all that constrained by what Republicans are going to say, and should always, always answer any questions from reporters about perceived partisanship by beginning with, "Well, Republicans refused to allow a bipartisan independent investigation, so we went forward with the only option they left us." And then they can get to the specifics of the question, if they so choose.

But Democrats must—they must—press forward and find out as much as possible about how the attack on the Capitol unfolded, from the earliest planning stages to the days immediately leading up to it to the attack itself to the aftermath and any cover-up attempts. That means getting to the bottom of failures to gather and respond to intelligence about what the crowd of Trump supporters was planning, how the Capitol Police were so unprepared, and why the National Guard was delayed. It includes what Donald Trump was doing during the attack. It includes what Trump told House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has been so opposed to an investigatory commission. It includes which extremist groups were involved, and how, and how far-reaching their conspiracies were.

These questions are just the beginning of what must be answered. We saw people beating down the windows and doors of the U.S. Capitol to stop Congress from certifying an election. They were explicitly trying to disrupt the peaceful transition of power. They carried Confederate flags through the seat of the U.S. government, seriously wounded and even killed police officers trying to protect the Congress, chanted about their desire to hang the vice president, broke into the speaker of the House's office, left congressional staffers and indeed members of Congress deeply traumatized. This isn't something that can be allowed to be brushed off, as convenient as that might be for Republicans.

We. Need. To. Know. And we need the media to report the facts, not Republican accusations that Democrats are being unfair, when Republicans and Republicans alone are responsible for the fact that there is no independent commission.

"Democrats will proceed to find the truth," Pelosi said. Great. Proceed with all due haste, please.

Fallen Capitol Police Officer’s Mother Asks To Meet With GOP Senators On Commission

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The fate of the bipartisan plan for a commission investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol is still up in the air, thanks to Republican opposition. With a Senate vote likely on Friday after Majority Leader Chuck Schumer filed cloture on it Tuesday and ten Republicans needed to break the filibuster, Gladys Sicknick, the mother of fallen Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, is asking every single Republican holding Senate office to meet with her Thursday ahead of the vote.

"Not having a January 6 Commission to look into exactly what occurred is a slap in the faces of all the officers who did their jobs that day," Sicknick said in a statement obtained by Politico. "I suggest that all Congressmen and Senators who are against this Bill visit my son's grave in Arlington National Cemetery and, while there, think about what their hurtful decisions will do to those officers who will be there for them going forward."

She added, "Putting politics aside, wouldn't they want to know the truth of what happened on January 6? If not, they do not deserve to have the jobs they were elected to do."

The thing is, Republicans never put politics aside, and it's bad for their partisan interests for the public to know the truth of what happened. For that reason among others, she's right that they don't deserve to have the jobs they do.

That starts with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is opposed to an independent bipartisan investigation into what he called a "disgrace" and "terrorism," acknowledging that Donald Trump was "practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day." But what's more important to McConnell is that, as he told Republicans at a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, a commission could hurt Republicans in the 2022 elections. Truth does not enter in. It's just a question of what helps or hurts Republicans.

Republicans have repeatedly changed their arguments against a January 6 commission, which means it's not worth looking at any of those arguments in any detail at this point. Whatever they're saying at any given moment isn't true, and we know it isn't true, both because of how they keep moving the goalposts and because of what McConnell is saying in private. And because, exactly in line with what McConnell is saying in private, Republicans have very good reasons for wanting to block an investigation into something that will make not just Donald Trump but the entire Republican Party look very, very bad.

The commission needs ten Republican votes in the Senate, and it's not looking likely to get them. So far, just two Republicans, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney, have said they support a commission, while Sen. Susan Collins is claiming to support the idea of one, using that claim to try to water down a bill that already represents a massive compromise by Democrats even as she lays the groundwork to vote no.

There's no guarantee Republicans will even talk to Gladys Sicknick. When D.C. Metro Police officer Michael Fanone asked to meet with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to talk about his experience fighting the Capitol insurrection and show McCarthy his body camera footage, he was rejected. In fact, McCarthy's staff hung up on him. Will the mother of a fallen officer get a more welcoming reception from Republicans than a traumatized and injured officer did?

Supreme Court Will Hear Case That Endangers Roe Decision

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Reproductive freedom is under direct threat after the Supreme Court said it will review a Mississippi law placing harsh restrictions on abortion rights. The law in question is one of many passed in states around the country by Republicans seeking to get a challenge to Roe v. Wade heard at the Supreme Court, an effort bolstered by Donald Trump's appointments moving the court sharply to the right.

The Mississippi law bans abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions only for "severe fetal abnormality" or medical emergency, and not for rape or incest. Roe v. Wade allows abortion until the point of fetal viability, which comes around 24 weeks. Even though the vast majority of abortions take place before 15 weeks of gestation, banning the procedure starting at 15 weeks would give the most vulnerable pregnant people less time to consider their choice, save money if needed, find a provider, and overcome the many barriers states like Mississippi put in their way. Yet, showing the degree to which the Mississippi law is a political move and not one responding to real conditions in the state, the only abortion clinic in the state only performs the procedure up to 16 weeks.

But the political move is a powerful one, reaching far beyond Mississippi: As part of this case, the court will reconsider whether "all pre-viability prohibitions on abortion are unconstitutional." That raises the possibility of shattering decades of the court's own precedent, and it does so for no medical reason.

"In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's abortion cases have established (and affirmed, and re-affirmed) a woman's right to choose an abortion before viability," Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. "States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman's right but they may not ban abortions."

This is one of the key reasons then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell held open one Supreme Court seat for the last ten months of Barack Obama's presidency, then filled another in an unprecedented rush in the final weeks before the 2020 election. Now, the Trump-McConnell six to three conservative court could fulfill years of efforts to effectively end women's control over their own bodies and right to decide their futures.

But, uh …

Cheney: McCarthy Should Testify About Jan. 6, Under Subpoena If Necessary

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

One thing we know about Cheneys is that they get revenge. If House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy somehow forgot that, he is perhaps remembering about now, with the release of a clip of a new ABC News interview with Rep. Liz Cheney.

Cheney was just stripped of her leadership role in the House Republican conference for the unpardonable sin of telling the truth about Donald Trump, Jan. 6, and the 2020 elections, and calling on the Republican Party to respect election results going forward. She was replaced by Rep. Elise Stefanik, who is less conservative but more loyal to Trump, while McCarthy distinguished himself for his lack of leadership, ditching Cheney and clinging to Trump just months after he said Trump did bear responsibility for the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Now, Congress is moving to create a bipartisan January 6 commission, and Cheney absolutely thinks McCarthy is going to need to testify—perhaps under subpoena. Check out her spectacular deadpan here as she twists the knife:

Jon Karl: Now the speaker, along with at least one Republican—key Republican—announced an agreement on a commission to look into what happened on January 6. Should Kevin McCarthy be willing to speak—testify before that commission? After all, he is one of the few people that we know of that was actually talking to Donald Trump while the attack was taking place.
Cheney: He absolutely should, and I wouldn't be surprised if he were subpoenaed. I think that he very clearly, and said publicly, that he's got information about the president's state of mind that day. The elements of that commission are exactly as they should be. I'm very glad they rejected Leader McCarthy's suggestions that somehow we should dilute the commission. It's really important that it be focused just on January 6 and the events leading up to it.
Karl: So you would welcome a subpoena for Kevin McCarthy to testify to that committee?
Cheney: I would anticipate that, you know—I would hope he doesn't require a subpoena, but I wouldn't be surprised if he were subpoenaed.

Arizona GOP Legislator Admits Audit ‘Makes Us Look Like Idiots’

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

How is the effort by Arizona Republicans to undermine their state's election results going?

"It makes us look like idiots," said Paul Boyer, a Republican state senator who had supported the effort, as quoted in The New York Times. "Looking back, I didn't think it would be this ridiculous. It's embarrassing to be a state senator at this point."

That well, huh?

Republicans are trying to have 2.1 million ballots from Maricopa County—where the majority of the state's voters live—"audited." So far, the conspiracy theorists in charge of the effort have gotten through 250,000 ballots, which puts them on track to finish in August. They only have the space where they're currently working reserved until May 14, at which point they will have to find someplace else to move the ballots and equipment, because there are high school graduation ceremonies scheduled at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum beginning on May 17.

A former Arizona secretary of state involved in the effort claims they will finish in June or July, depending which news outlet he's talking to, after hiring more workers—currently less than half of the tables available for counting are staffed. The hiring process has already led to a former Republican state representative and participant in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol being paid to count ballots, so that should go well. Maybe he can recruit some of his buddies.

A conspiracy theory-inspired effort to find watermarks on the ballots has been abandoned, but the people being paid $15 an hour to inspect and count them are still looking for bamboo fibers due to another conspiracy theory involving a planeload of counterfeit ballots from South Korea. (Apparently Asian nations do not have access to paper without bamboo in it?)

The Justice Department has raised serious concerns about the proceedings, noting that "the ballots, elections systems, and election materials that are the subject of the Maricopa County audit are no longer under the ultimate control of state and local elections officials, are not being adequately safeguarded by contractors at an insecure facility, and are at risk of being lost, stolen, altered, compromised or destroyed," which could violate federal laws relating to the preservation of election records.

The Justice Department further expressed a concern that the plan to "identify voter registrations that did not make sense, and then knock on doors to confirm if valid voters actually lived at the stated address" and to contact voters in selected precincts to "collect information of whether the individual voted in the election" is potentially in violation of federal laws against intimidating voters, including in the Voting Rights Act. Arizona State Senate President Karen Fann subsequently backed off that part of the plan.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who has criticized the partisan and slipshod manner of the proceedings, now requires a 24/7 security detail after death threats.

All of this when the votes were counted the first time, then underwent a partial hand recount and two audits, in a county where the Board of Supervisors is controlled by Republicans who have strongly defended the integrity of the election and the count. The reason is simple: "They lost, and they can't get over it," as Grant Woods, a former Republican Arizona attorney general who became a Democrat during the Trump years, told the Associated Press. "And they don't want to get over it because they want to continue to sow doubt about the election."

Republicans Glom Credit For  Funding They Opposed -- And Media Finally Notice

Let's hope this is one of the hot trends of May 2021—the media is noticing how congressional Republicans are promoting funding from the American Rescue Plan despite having voted against the law. The Associated Press is on the story, with a bluntly accurate headline: "Republicans promote pandemic relief they voted against."

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) voted against the COVID-19 relief package, the AP reports, then described funding her district got from the law as one of her "achievements," and touted "bringing federal funding to the district and back into the pockets of taxpayers."

Malliotakis is one of a long list of Republicans who've gone from voting no to making absolutely sure their constituents knew that federal money was flowing into their districts—usually highlighting either the Restaurant Revitalization Fund or money for community health centers.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), poised to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) as the third-ranking House Republican, has been especially brazen, going from slamming the American Rescue Plan as "Pelosi's partisan COVID-19 package" to bragging about Head Start funding as well as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently shredded Republican hypocrisy on this issue, noting how "All of a sudden they are deficit hawks when they were giving away money to wealthy people under President Trump," but after yelling about the deficit when it was time to pass the stimulus package, "A number of them are trying to take credit for something they didn't vote for—that's not unusual. Vote no, take the dough—that's what the Republicans do."

The Democratic National Committee is also focusing on this issue, the AP reports, with a digital advertising campaign on local news websites in Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Nevada, New Hampshire, Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, while putting up billboards in 20 states.

Will any of it stick? That depends in part on the media. The American Rescue Plan continues to be very popular, so it makes sense that Republicans are trying to associate themselves with it despite their opposition. Any time a Republican says anything good about the effects of the law, any media coverage of it needs to note the fact that if it had been up to that Republican, the law would not have passed.

Just quoting a Republican saying, for instance, they're "Happy to announce" federal money going to community health centers in their district—as Rep. Madison Cawthorn did (R-NC) —without correcting the false impression that they supported that funding coming to the district is aiding and abetting them in that falsehood.

GOP Anti-Vaxxers Are Destroying America's Hope For Herd Immunity

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

If you've been holding out hope that the coronavirus pandemic would end when the United States reached herd immunity … I have some bad news for you. Thanks in large part to vaccine hesitancy and slowing rates of vaccination, scientists now say herd immunity is not attainable, and COVID-19 is likely to be a public health threat that we live with and try to manage for a generation or more.

And let's be clear: There's a ton of overlap between the "we don't need no stinkin' masks, we're waiting for herd immunity" crowd and the vaccine-rejecting crowd. They're certainly part of the same broad approach to the pandemic—total lack of personal responsibility in the guise of personal liberty—and the damage keeps accumulating.

Nearly half of Republicans still say they don't want to be vaccinated, while parts of their party—like the Nevada Republican Party—are leveraging vaccine opposition for partisan gain. Republican officials across the country have downplayed the threat of the virus and refused to embrace public health guidelines, leading to nine out of the ten states with the highest cases of COVID-19 by population being Republican-led, and Republican-controlled states also dominating the list of states with the lowest vaccination rates.

Anti-vaxxers continue to thrive on social media, often driven by profit motives. On top of all that, the U.S. continues to contend with serious inequities in vaccine accessibility, leading to a situation where, as ProPublica reported, "Counties with high levels of chronic illnesses or "co-morbidities" had, on average, immunized 57 percent of their seniors by April 25, compared to 65 percent of seniors in counties with the lowest co-morbidity risk."

Add those things together and you get a situation where vaccination can give many people a strong level of protection and drive down overall rates of new COVID-19 cases, but herd immunity as it has been talked about over the past year—as the great hope for a return to normal—is not happening. Even if there are high levels of vaccination in many parts of the U.S., the virus will be able to find its way in to the places where there are not. And while prior COVID-19 infection confers some degree of protection from reinfection there are reasons to believe vaccination is more protective, so the view that if you let enough people get sick, eventually you'll reach the gleaming horizon of herd immunity has significant problems.

"I think we're going to be looking over our shoulders—or at least public health officials and infectious disease epidemiologists are going to be looking over their shoulders going: 'All right, the variants out there—what are they doing? What are they capable of?" Columbia University epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman said to The New York Times. "Maybe the general public can go back to not worrying about it so much, but we will have to."

The United States doesn't stand alone, either. The situation in India continues to be horrific, reminding us both of how bad the worst can be and that the U.S. cannot expect to be an island of safety in a world where the pandemic continues to rage.

Gaetz Exposure Deepens With New Evidence Of Trump Pardon Effort

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene were about to kick off a road show, traveling the nation to attack "the radical left" and insufficiently extremist Republicans. And then the other shoe dropped in the ever-developing scandal around Gaetz's apparent habit of paying for sex, in one case allegedly with a minor.

That scandal has been developing for a month, starting with the revelation that Gaetz is under federal investigation as part of a broader sex trafficking investigation involving former Seminole County, Florida, tax collector Joel Greenberg, who is under indictment already. Gaetz initially tried to deflect by claiming his family was being extorted in a bizarre scheme involving a hostage in Iran who is generally believed to be dead—a claim that Gaetz mostly moved on from when it became clear that no one thought it exonerated him.

Revelation after revelation followed: Gaetz had showed nude pictures of women to fellow members of Congress. As a Florida legislator, he participated in a sex game in which points were awarded for sex with different categories of women, including interns. He took a trip to the Bahamas paid for in part by a "marijuana entrepreneur" … and part of what was paid for may have included women.

So we've already heard a lot. Really, we've probably heard more than enough about Matt Gaetz and sex, because even before you get to the predatory behavior, just … ick. But there is more.

Gaetz typically didn't pay women for sex directly — instead, he paid Greenberg, who then paid the women. That means Greenberg knows a lot, and since Greenberg is facing significant legal trouble, he appears to be motivated to talk. But before he started talking to the federal government, Greenberg talked to Roger Stone in late 2020 in hopes that Stone could convince Donald Trump to give him a last-minute pardon.

Greenberg talked to Stone a lot, and The Daily Beast has the receipts in the form of Signal chats between Greenberg and Stone, and a lengthy confession letter Greenberg wrote for Stone to use in his efforts with Trump. Of note, Gaetz had at one point posted a social media picture of himself, Stone, and Greenberg.

In the letter, of which The Daily Beast has multiple drafts, Greenberg describes learning through "an anonymous tip" that a woman—well, as it turned out, girl—in his and Gaetz's sex trafficking scheme was 17 years old.

"Immediately I called the congressman and warned him to stay clear of this person and informed him she was underage," Greenberg wrote. "He was equally shocked and disturbed by this revelation."

They were so shocked and disturbed that they stayed away from the girl only until after she turned 18. She was one of the women paid by Greenberg immediately after Gaetz sent him $900 through Venmo with the note "hit up [her nickname]."

In his communications with Stone, Greenberg was hanging his argument for a pardon in part on the threat to Gaetz. "And while I have not had any communication with MG, he absolutely has to know that the sex charge they hit me with would be what they would hit him with," he wrote in one of the Signal messages. "All he has to is explain to POTUS the situation and his exposure, and it would be very easy to do."

"MG is like a son to POTUS. MG is like a brother to me."

Well, we know how far "like a son" goes with Donald Trump, and now we know how far "like a brother" goes with Matt Gaetz. And to Greenberg, who seems to have been screen-shotting his Signal chats with Stone before they could disappear, in just one of a series of insurance policies he set up for himself should the pardon effort fail, as it did.

Gaetz is defiant and is attempting to remain a significant figure in the Republican Party, as his planned tour with Greene shows. But even before the investigation into him became public, it was serious enough that then-Attorney General William Barr was reportedly taking steps to avoid being photographed near him. Attacking the media will only go so far if and when he faces federal charges.

Despite Pandemic Pressures, Big Banks Screwed Consumers On Overdrafts

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Last year was a difficult one for millions of people in the United States.

It was not so difficult for big banks, and one of the ways the banks raked in revenue was by hitting struggling people with overdraft fees.

During the final quarter of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic was battering the country, JPMorganChase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo each took in more than $300 million in overdraft fees alone. Those fees are slapped on people who are by definition struggling, and banks often use strategies to maximize the number of fees people pay, like ordering transactions so that the biggest amounts go through first, which lets them charge fees on more, smaller transactions. And it's no thanks to the banks that it wasn't much, much worse—COVID-19 relief from the government protected many people from the worst.

Around one in three checking accounts has at least one overdraft a year, and five percent of checking account holders have 20 or more overdrafts a year, accounting for more than 60 percent of overdraft fees. In 2020, the average overdraft fee was over $33. Many of these fees are triggered by debit card transactions for less than $25 that are repaid within three days.

This is an ongoing story—bank overdraft fee policies have been terrible for years. But it took on new dimensions during the pandemic, with sky-high unemployment creating a financial emergency for so many people.

"Banks could've capped overdraft fees for a certain number of months, or had no fees during the pandemic, but they didn't want to give up a dollar of overdraft revenue in any formal way," Rebecca Borné, senior policy counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending, told The American Prospect's Alexander Sammon. "So what we see now is a return to business as usual, where our largest banks each took over a billion dollars out of the checking accounts of people during one of the worst years in our history. It's a gobsmacking amount of money."

It would have been much worse without COVID-19 relief bills, from the CARES Act to the American Rescue Plan. Check out how Google trend data on searches for "overdraft" tracked the passage of those laws:

OverdraftandGoogleSearches1.png

After each round of relief payments, you see searches for "overdraft" drop. Because the banks weren't interested in going easy on people being hammered by a once-in-a-century pandemic and the accompanying economic devastation.

Consider it one more reminder that what we need are regulations and laws to protect consumers. There are two prime ways that could happen on this issue. Early in the pandemic, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) proposed legislation to crack down on overdraft fees during the COVID-19 emergency, banning them altogether for the duration of the emergency and preventing banks from reporting overdrafts to credit reporting agencies—but that didn't get passed. Booker and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) have other legislation on overdraft abuses more generally, but as always, there's that Senate filibuster problem blocking progress.

Under President Biden, though, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) could do a lot more protecting consumers than the agency did under Donald Trump. Biden's nominee to head the CFPB, Rohit Chopra, hasn't yet been confirmed, but he's known as a strong consumer advocate. He could regulate the practice, which is extraordinarily abusive even in non-pandemic times.

Senate Confirms Vanita Gupta To Civil Rights Post Despite GOP Attacks

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

After months of Republican attacks, Vanita Gupta was confirmed Wednesday afternoon as associate attorney general. Vice President Kamala Harris was available to break a tie, but Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) voted to advance Gupta's nomination to a full Senate vote earlier in the day, then followed up in making it a 51 to 49 vote to confirm. Gupta is the first woman of color and the first civil rights lawyer in this role.

Gupta is eminently qualified: She headed the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division under then-President Barack Obama and is the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. But she's a woman of color who has focused her career on civil rights, which means Republicans see her as an enemy.

Gupta has been the target of nearly $1 million in attack ads by the far-right Judicial Crisis Network, and a group of Republican state attorneys general also attacked her, focusing on her work in the Obama Justice Department heading up investigations of police departments after white officers killed Black people. Those attacks came despite glowing endorsements from many law enforcement leaders. "She always worked with us to find common ground even when that seemed impossible," wrote the head of the nation's largest police union.

At her confirmation hearing, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) sneeringly attacked Gupta for having the nerve to believe that implicit bias is a real thing, trying to turn it around on her by asking: "Against which races do you harbor racial bias?" Cotton also claimed that Gupta supports "decriminalization of all drugs," which she does not, and that she had misled the Senate Judiciary Committee about her stance on decriminalization, which she had not.

The Republican attacks weren't done there. On Wednesday, as the Senate moved toward a vote on Gupta's nomination, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell painted Gupta as having "a record of astoundingly radical positions." The notoriously dishonest McConnell also assailed Gupta's honesty, charging: "She's levied attacks on members of this body, and during the confirmation process, she employed the loosest possible interpretation of her oath to deliver honest testimony." The attacks on Gupta's truthfulness come essentially because she said that she would represent the Biden administration's positions, as she has in the past represented other organizations, be it the Obama Justice Department or the ACLU. This is a standard position for a nominee to take, but when it comes from a woman of color, it's portrayed as a character issue.

Gupta is far from the only woman of color whose confirmation has run into ferocious Republican attacks in recent months. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first American Indian Cabinet member ever, was likewise described as a "radical" during her confirmation process, of which former Sens. Tom Udall and Mark Udall noted, "Were either of us the nominee to lead the Interior Department, we doubt that anyone would be threatening to hold up the nomination or wage a scorched earth campaign warning about 'radical' ideas."

Many of the same Republicans who managed not to hear about any of Donald Trump's most outrageous tweets for four years were extremely well-informed about every strongly worded tweet ever to come from former Office of Management and Budget nominee Neera Tanden. Her nomination was ultimately sunk by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, ostensibly over those tweets, though Manchin had voted to confirm full-on misogynist Twitter troll Richard Grenell as ambassador to Germany under Trump.

Most recently, Republicans pulled out pretty much the same playbook on Kristen Clarke, Biden's nominee to head the Justice Department Civil Rights Division, that they tried on Gupta: She's a radical who cares about civil rights—how dare she! In fact, she's the real racist, whether because she wrote a satire of The Bell Curve as a college student or has called for accountability in police killings of civilians.

If Republicans were distributing their venom equally across Biden's nominees, you'd say, well, they just hate all Democrats. But that's not what's happening here. There's a very clear pattern of especially fierce, personal opposition to women of color, and it doesn't seem like Senate Republicans mind how obvious it is, either.

Report: Capitol Police Warned Days Before Jan. 6 That Congress Was Targeted

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

The Capitol Police absolutely did know that the crowd of Trump supporters on January 6 was threatening violence, and that "Congress itself is the target," a new inspector general's report confirms. But the agency's leadership not only failed to act on that, it did the reverse, not allowing the Civil Disturbance Unit to use its most serious crowd-control equipment and techniques.

The warning from a Capitol Police intelligence assessment three days before the attack could not have been much more explicit, noting that a map of the Capitol's underground tunnels had been posted online.

"Unlike previous postelection protests, the targets of the pro-Trump supporters are not necessarily the counterprotesters as they were previously, but rather Congress itself is the target on the 6th," the inspector general's report quotes the threat assessment. "Stop the Steal's propensity to attract white supremacists, militia members, and others who actively promote violence may lead to a significantly dangerous situation for law enforcement and the general public alike."

Skip forward to Jan. 5—the day the FBI's Norfolk field office forwarded a social media thread with threats like "Get violent … stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die. NOTHING else will achieve this goal"—and Capitol Police leadership concluded, in a plan for handling the next day's events, that there were "no specific known threats related to the joint session of Congress."

In February, Steven Sund, the former chief of the Capitol Police, testified to the Senate, saying "None of the intelligence we received predicted what actually occurred." He added, "These criminals came prepared for war."

Yes, they did. As they repeatedly pledged on social media to do. As the Capitol Police intelligence assessment warned days before the attack. As Sund and his leadership somehow … overlooked, as they planned for the kind of protest that could be controlled by the simplest metal barricades and an underequipped, understaffed roster of police.

As a result, "Heavier, less-lethal weapons"—you know, the kind you've seen used against far, far less threatening protesters time and time again if they're carrying Black Lives Matter or Water is Life signs—"were not used that day because of orders from leadership."

The report from Michael Bolton, the inspector general for the Capitol Police, also notes that there were significant equipment failures that day, as well as that training and audits of equipment hadn't been kept up.

But as damning as it is, Bolton's report leaves significant questions, Dan Froomkin of Press Watch argues. Froomkin obtained part of the report—which is not public—and wrote that "the part of the report I saw doesn't get into why officials weren't more alarmed. It doesn't address the either covert or overt role of racism. I see no sign that, to this day, anyone—not the inspector general, not congressional overseers, and certainly not journalists—has gotten hold of contemporaneous correspondence between the key players or any other evidence that would offer insight into their states of mind." That's significant.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has called Bolton to testify before a House panel on Thursday. There should be questions about this, because the investigation needs to keep going deeper. We know the Capitol Police failed. This inspector general's report tells us more about how they failed. Why did they fail?

Republicans are trying to prevent a serious assessment of what happened, getting in the way of the 9/11 Commission-style independent investigation House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for. If Republicans make that kind of investigation impossible, she told USA Today, investigations by existing congressional committees will continue, and a select committee is "always an option." That said, "It's not my preference in any way. My preference would be to have a commission." But Republicans have their reasons for wanting to keep what happened on January 6—and in particular what motivated the insurrectionists—obscured. They may not be able to stop investigations, but they especially don't want an investigation from an independent commission that will command added media and public attention.

This inspector general's report once again makes clear why it's so desperately important that we learn what really happened.

McConnell’s Political Threat To Corporations Is Backfiring

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Apparently Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's threat to corporations to "stay out of politics" didn't have the result he intended. Big business seems to be getting more serious about pushing back as Republicans continue to push voter suppression measures in states across the country. More than 100 top corporate executives joined a Zoom call Saturday to discuss how to apply pressure against such legislation, The Washington Post reports.

Companies represented included Delta, American, United, Starbucks, Target, LinkedIn, Levi Strauss, and Boston Consulting Group, as well as Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, the Post reports, and the discussion included "potential ways to show they opposed the legislation, including by halting donations to politicians who support the bills and even delaying investments in states that pass the restrictive measures."

The call, which lasted over an hour, "shows they are not intimidated by the flak. They are not going to be cowed," according to one of its organizers, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a Yale management professor. "They felt very strongly that these voting restrictions are based on a flawed premise and are dangerous."

That "flawed premise" is in fact Donald Trump's big lie, which even Georgia Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan has made clear, saying on CNN, "This is really the fallout from the 10 weeks of misinformation that flew in from former President Donald Trump."

Before Georgia passed the instantly notorious voter suppression law that started the blowback from corporations, some top Georgia businesses worked behind the scenes to try to blunt the bill's worst provisions. But once the law passed, they saw that that wasn't going to cut it, prompting the more public corporate opposition to attacks on voting rights.

Republicans in Georgia responded to that corporate opposition with threats of retaliation, including a failed (for now) attempt to strip Delta Air Lines of a major tax break. In Texas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick claimed: "Texans are fed up with corporations that don't share our values trying to dictate public policy." And, of course, there was that "warning" from McConnell, though he quickly tried to walk it back a little when he saw how badly it played.

All this—the voter suppression measures that prompt blowback, the sudden turn against their usual corporate allies—comes because, first, Donald Trump lost and couldn't admit it and made it an article of faith for his base that elections are being stolen, and second, because Republicans know that their electoral future depends on making it harder to vote, especially for Black and brown people, low-income people, and young people.

Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to protect the right to vote and expand access to voting, from Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms trying to mitigate the impact of the new Georgia anti-voting law to House Democrats passing historic voting reforms—which, of course, Senate Republicans are blocking. But this can't be framed as a partisan fight. It's about whether the United States really values its democracy. Whether voting is a right that all eligible people can equally access, or a privilege easily extended to some while others are forced to overcome barrier after barrier to use it. Whether our voting laws are made in the name of justice or in the name of Trump's big lie. If you're on the wrong side of that, it's not a routine partisan issue. It's a stain on your name and on your soul.