Voting rights, rogue electors, and Bojo the Clown

Voting rights, rogue electors, and Bojo the Clown


Niels Lesniewski and Kate Ackley of Roll Call report that with the failure of the voting rights bills to pass in the U.S. Senate, attention may turn to reforming the Electoral Count Act.

Senators in both caucuses have been working on legislation that would clarify the functions of both the vice president and members of Congress during the counting of Electoral College ballots and in matters related to election certification. The efforts are designed to avoid having Congress throw out lawful electoral votes, which rioters supporting President Donald Trump were trying to get lawmakers to do when they stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Manchin, who spoke on the Senate floor during Biden’s nearly two-hour news conference, restated his opposition to the Democratic Caucus taking steps to change filibuster rules with a simple majority. Manchin also expressed some optimism, however, about addressing the electoral count piece of the puzzle.

“We can reform the Electoral Count Act, which is what caused the insurrection. We agree on that. We can fix that. We’ll never have to witness another Jan. 6. It was such an absolutely deplorable stain on this great country of ours. And we can protect local election officials from harassment and intimidation by making them federal crimes,” Manchin said.

Even as Schumer and 47 members of his caucus were preparing, with Biden’s support, to go it alone with an effort to force a vote to change Senate precedent and create a path to pass the voting rights measure with a simple majority, Biden was making a broader case for building consensus.

Robert Alexander of CNN reports that most of those “rogue electors” that signed the false 2020 Electoral College certificates were top state Republican Party officials.

Given the extraconstitutional nature of the scheme, I expected that most would be Trump partisans on the political fringe. Instead, most were elected party officials, political officeholders and other key figures in state Republican politics.

The return addresses on the certificates included the Arizona Republican Party, the Georgia Republican Party, the Republican Party of New Mexico, the Nevada Republican Party. Michigan’s came from Kathy Berden, who included the title, “Chair of the Michigan Republican Electoral College.” Pennsylvania’s was sent in by Bill Bachenberg, who referred to himself as the “Chairperson, Electoral College of Pennsylvania.” Wisconsin’s simply stated, “Chairperson of the Electoral College of Wisconsin.” When asked by The Detroit News about why she chose to participate in this scheme, Berden said, “I can’t comment on anything like that. That was a long time ago.” CNN reached out to Bachenberg for comment, but has not received a response.

It is notable that at least a few high-profile would-be electors chose not to participate in the scheme — former US Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia and former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land being the most prominent among them. In total, of 84 people across seven states, 15 chose not to participate in this effort.

Still, that a majority were apparently willing to participate in such a dubious plot suggests that undemocratic efforts have been sanctioned by party regulars and will likely persist if gone unchecked.

Patricia Murphy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a reminder that the demographic category “suburban women” is not at all equivalent to the 1996 demographic category of “soccer moms.”

Republicans’ problems with suburban women became so acute under former President Donald Trump that Trump made an October plea directly to them ahead of his own election in 2020.

“Suburban women, will you please like me? I saved your damn neighborhood, ok?”

What could possibly have gone wrong? Plenty, starting with a fundamental misunderstanding of who “suburban women” are, a problem that’s not unique to any political party.

[…]

By any name, those women have long been assumed to be the same kind of suburban dweller — white, married, with children, and maybe or maybe not employed outside the home.

But times have changed since the original soccer moms in 1996, as have the once-GOP stronghold suburbs of Atlanta, and the women who live there.

Or, to use a non-Georgian example, Lauren Underwood of Illinois’s 14th Congressional District represents the district she was raised in; a district that was once represented by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Claire Thornton of USA Today reports that a new poll by Gallup shows that there is “a steep rise” in the number of Americans who think that the COVID-19 pandemic is getting worse.

The latest poll of 1,569 U.S. adults, conducted online Jan. 3 through 14, found a steep rise in the percentage of Americans who said the pandemic is “getting worse,” as compared to fall 2021 data.

“Worry has jumped … and is now the highest it has been since last winter, before COVID-19 vaccines were readily available to the general public,” a summary of poll results says.

Gallup, a global analytics and advice firm well known for its polling, released the results of its latest poll Thursday morning. The firm has regularly polled Americans on their level of concern related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The latest poll of 1,569 U.S. adults, conducted online Jan. 3 through 14, found a steep rise in the percentage of Americans who said the pandemic is “getting worse,” as compared to fall 2021 data.

“Worry has jumped … and is now the highest it has been since last winter, before COVID-19 vaccines were readily available to the general public,” a summary of poll results says.

And yet that very same polling also shows that the number of Americans that choose to practice COVID-19 mitigation measures such vaccination or mask wearing remains stagnant. Go figure.

John Nkengasong writes for The New York Times reminding all of us that new COVID-19 variants will emerge and that we need to be better prepared for them.

As we near the third year of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world must finally learn from past mistakes. This starts by recognizing that Alpha, Delta and Omicron are not new threats. They are all still the coronavirus. Rather than thrusting our societies into chaos as each new variant emerges, we need to recognize that the virus hasn’t been controlled yet and that nations need better strategies to prepare, detect and respond to future waves. All the knowledge that’s been gained on how to respond to a variant as lethal as Delta or as contagious as Omicron can be put to good use.

SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, will continue to change and produce new variants. This is especially true as long as there are large groups of unvaccinated people around the world whom the virus can easily infect and use as hosts to replicate inside and mutate. Because of this, it’s impossible for a single country to end the pandemic alone.

To mitigate the impact of future variants, the world needs to establish and strengthen virus monitoring and surveillance systems that can identify emerging variants quickly so that leaders can respond.

Renée Graham of the Boston Globe warns that book banning is yet another sign of this country’s creeping authoritarianism.

A Kansas school district has removed more than two dozen books, including Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Fences,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood. A Texas school district pulled 400 books, with “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, John Irving’s “The Cider House Rules,” and William Styron’s “The Confessions of Nat Turner” among them. In Tennessee, a teacher was fired after he assigned his students to read a Coates essay about Donald Trump, “The First White President,” and to watch a video of Kyla Jenée Lacey reading her poem “White Privilege.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, school officials have been under tremendous pressure from irate parents intent on battling every health care guidance proposed to protect students, teachers, and staff. By comparison, keeping certain books in their libraries probably seems like a hill not worth dying on. Yet such right-wing policing of literature is clearly about controlling history’s truths, what children may recognize in themselves, and systemic changes it may spark them to demand of their communities and nation.

These book bans and purges are a backlash to 2020’s “racial reckoning.” Even if it was never a reckoning — when has America ever really reckoned with anything? — it was at least an awakening for some young white people who never gave racism’s scourge much thought until Darnella Frazier’s video of a white police officer murdering George Floyd went viral.

Joan Walsh of The Nation writes up a review of President Biden’s press conference from yesterday, noting that the President actually asked the best question at that news conference.

 …Biden did cite first-year successes underplayed by the media. “We created 6 million new jobs. More jobs in one year than any time before. Unemployment dropped. The unemployment rate dropped to 3.9 percent. Child poverty dropped by nearly 40 percent.” More than 210 million Americans have been vaccinated against Covid, he noted, though more ought to be. When one reporter asserted that he hadn’t been able to pass his “big” legislation, he chuckled. “I got two real big ones done,” he said, referring to the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. “Bigger than any president has ever gotten done.” When another implied that the Omicron spike is forcing massive school closures, Biden retorted: “Very few schools are closing. Over 95 percent are still open.”

[…]

But Biden’s overarching strategy seemed to be to get the media to examine the authoritarian cowards in the congressional GOP, instead of endlessly focusing on Democratic infighting and inadequacies. “I did not anticipate that there would be such a stalwart [GOP] effort to make sure President Biden didn’t get anything done,” he said. On that point, he’s either posing politically, or he’s hopelessly naive. He hammered away at Republicans’ continuing obeisance to Donald Trump.

[…]

And he repeatedly asked: “What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they’re for.” While saying he “likes” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (again, a statement I’d like subjected to a lie detector test), he asked: “What’s Mitch for? What’s he for on immigration? What’s he for? What’s he proposing? What’s he for dealing with Russia?… What’s he for on these things? What are they for?”

Jon Allsop of Columbia Journalism Review has a “report card” on the conduct of the political press on the one year anniversary of the Biden Administration.

The administration has pushed back on claims that it’s falling short of its lofty transparency promises. Psaki has said that reporters don’t need to be seated on “embroidered cushions” in a formal setting to ask questions, with Biden fielding impromptu queries in the course of his daily business more often than any president since Bill Clinton; press officials also note that Biden has both toured the country and used social media to share his policies, chatting with influencers (Olivia Rodrigo, Bill Nye the Science Guy) to meet young voters where they are (which is not watching cable news). Still, critics point out that the latter aren’t hard journalistic settings, and that informal Q&As are often too brief for rigorous scrutiny, with Biden able to dodge questions he doesn’t want to field, or to drop a hot talking point and run. Even some of Biden’s political allies have expressed concern about his lack of deeper engagement with traditional media, arguing that he’s ceding the narrative about his presidency to louder, more hostile voices. “Every network would give him time if he asked for it,” Kurt Bardella, a Democratic adviser, told the New York Times. “He needs to use the trappings of the presidency.”

Transparency, of course, is about more than just press conferences. Last week, the Committee to Protect Journalists published a report by Leonard Downie Jr., a former executive editor of the Washington Post, that sought to assess the question through the broader lens of press freedom. It concluded that there is a “night and day” difference between Biden and Trump when it comes to their rhetoric toward the press, and praised Biden on other grounds, too. His administration moved on day one to restore the credibility and independence of Voice of America, a US-funded international broadcaster, after Trump rampantly politicized it. After initially defending a Trump-era move to subpoena the phone records of several Post reporters in the course of a leak investigation, meanwhile, Biden’s Justice Department reversed course and pledged to stop surveilling reporters. (Biden himself catalyzed this promise. The setting for his doing so? An informal Q&A.)

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Rowena Mason and Jessica Elgot  of the Guardian report on some of the behind-the-scenes political struggles as Prime Minister Boris Johnson struggles to save his tenure.

David Davis caused shockwaves when he told Johnson in the Commons: “In the name of God, go.” Less than an hour earlier, Christian Wakeford, the MP for Bury South, quit the Conservatives and joined Labour in fury at the Downing Street parties scandal.

The prime minister vowed to battle on in No 10 and his supporters insisted he now had the breathing space for a fightback, with many MPs awaiting the outcome of the Sue Gray inquiry.

But Johnson faces a growing clamour from Tory backbenchers to buy their support in any confidence vote by ditching a £12bn-a-year tax rise this spring. National insurance contributions are due to increase from April to fund health and social care and any U-turn could risk a showdown with the chancellor, Rishi Sunak.

Johnson managed to get through the day without a confidence vote being triggered. Tory MPs estimated that as many as 30 letters may have been submitted of the 54 required, with more expected to come in after Gray, a senior civil servant, delivers her finding on alleged rule-breaking in Downing Street next week.

More on those new Tory MP’s that were elected in 2019 and are now giving PM Johnson fits from Esther Webber and Annabelle Dickson of POLITICO Europe.

The scale of the Conservatives’ election win in 2019 surprised most Westminster observers. The party took control of constituencies in England’s post-industrial north and Midlands — dubbed the “Red Wall” — which had voted Labour since their inception. The party also bagged a crop of traditional marginal seats, and it meant the new lineup in the House of Commons was perhaps the most diverse the Conservatives had ever seen.

The Tories are now an uneasy mix of those with more traditional Conservative backgrounds and recent converts to the Johnson cause — alongside some wild cards who hadn’t expected to be elected.

The new intake included the MP for Ashfield, an ex-miner who previously ran the outgoing Labour MP’s office in the same seat, and the MP for Hyndburn, who was just 24 and joined parliament fresh from her job running a sandwich shop.

The scale of the cultural change is striking. When Johnson got on the wrong side of Marcus Rashford over the Manchester United footballer’s campaign to extend free school meals, he was for the first time leading a party where a significant minority had direct experience of childhood poverty.

State support for the less well-off has already become one of the recurring battlegrounds for Tory rebellions, with many MPs representing deprived areas that made the switch to the Conservatives either voting against the government on cutting welfare — or becoming increasingly jaded.

Yet there’s more to the current Tory unease than a simple blue-collar revolution in the blue corner. The 2019 intake also included a large group of MPs representing dyed-in-the-wool Tory strongholds.

Danny Russell and Wendy Cutler reviews the first year of the Biden Administration’s foreign policy in Asia for The Diplomat.

From the outset, the Biden presidency was faced with far more than the usual set of challenges that greet a newcomer to the Oval Office. At home and abroad, the new administration confronted thorny problems on virtually every front – economic, social, political, health, environmental, and geopolitical. Asia was certainly no exception, although an early series of initiatives and outreach won back a degree of confidence in the United States and bought the administration some time. These included rejoining the Paris climate accord and the World Health Organization on day one, quickly hosting leaders from Japan and South Korea in Washington, dispatching cabinet secretaries and later the vice president on visits to the region, and in March holding a virtual summit with the leaders of Japan, India, and Australia to reboot the Quad, followed by an in-person meeting between the four leaders in September.

Solidifying the Quad 2.0 is perhaps the Biden administration’s most significant Indo-Pacific accomplishment in year one. Both the early virtual summit and the September face-to-face meeting in Washington deftly dealt with the critical issue of China by jujitsu-ing it – forgoing bombastic anti-China invective in favor of a much more subtle and potent approach. In 2021, the Quad shrewdly focused not on China, but on what the four countries could offer the region through collective action focused on real priorities such as vaccine distribution. This and other work launched by the Quad in effect challenged China in a race to the top and gave countries in the region something even more valuable than vaccines – a credible alternative to what China was selling. Going forward, the Quad process will have to keep delivering on its ambitious promises, and find a way to include others even if on an issue-specific basis, but it remains a highly creative and effective early move by the Biden team.

[…]

In assessing the administration’s overall approach to Asia and the Indo-Pacific in its first year, however, the absence of a credible economic and trade agenda may be the major shortcoming of Biden’s first-year Asia policy. After all, the economic arena is the true battleground in Asia.  As demonstrated by the entry into force of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) earlier this month, and of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) three years ago, trade agreements are prized in the region as vitally important vehicles to achieve growth, innovation, and development – as well as essential complements to a strategic agenda. Countries throughout the region would prefer that trade agreements include U.S. participation as both a means to secure access to innovative American products and services, not to mention the lucrative U.S. market, and to balance their exposure to China.

Finally today, Jeffrey Barg, The Grammarian writes for the Philadelphia Inquirer on the history of the usage of the word “insurrection.”

Though the word insurrection was common through much of the 19th century, its usage fell off a cliff after the Civil War, and never really recovered … until Jan. 6, 2021. Similarly, no one really cared about the word sedition after the U.K.’s Seditious Meetings Act of 1817 expired the following year (save for a small blip during the First World War when the U.S. passed the short-lived Sedition Act of 1918). Following a cicada-like once-a-century trend, sedition also spiked exactly one year ago.

But examine insurrection’s twisted journey in 2021 to see how nefarious actors try to reappropriate a word.

It was the best of times in that the word reentered our lexicon, maintaining a place in our vernacular for more than just a flash. Words get sad when they fall into disuse, and insurrection has maintained its comeback, with many mainstream publications using the word to describe what happened on Jan. 6.

But it was the worst of times when you look at how the word changed in 2021. For the first nine months or so, insurrection was most commonly searched alongside words like capitol, incitement, 25th amendment, Trump — words you’d expect. But starting around September, the Google hits changed. Then you started seeing search terms like legal insurrection and legal insurrection Kyle Rittenhouse spiking in their place. If you want to twist a word’s definition, start associating it with other, seemingly unrelated terms that play into your own pet conspiracy theories. LegalInsurrection.com is a hyper-right-wing blog site and tinfoil-hat factory — in its own words, “one of the most widely cited and influential conservative websites.”

Everyone have a great day!



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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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