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McConnell and Senate Republicans defend Rounds from Trump attacks

Senator Mike Rounds came under withering fire from former president Donald Trump this week after South Dakota’s junior senator admitted over the weekend that Trump lost the 2020 election.

Rounds appeared on ABC’s This Week on Sunday where he plainly acknowledged that “the election was fair.”

“As a part of our due diligence, we looked at over 60 different accusations made in multiple states,” Rounds said on This Week. “While there were some irregularities, there were none of the irregularities which would have risen to the point where they would have changed the vote outcome in a single state.”

Unsurprisingly, Trump took exception to the statement that the election was fair – which is obvious to anyone who is not a fanatical Trump supporter.

“‘Senator’ Mike Rounds of the Great State of South Dakota just went woke on the Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 … Is he crazy or just stupid?” Trump said in a statement using scare quotes. “I will never endorse this jerk again.”

More surprisingly, several Senate Republicans defended their colleague. Mitt Romney – a frequent Trump critic who voted for Trump’s second impeachment after the January 6 insurrection – backed Rounds. But Romney was joined this time by several Republican senators who did not vote for impeachment, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Minority Whip John Thune, and other rank-and-file members like Kevin Cramer and Shelley Moore Capito.

“I think Sen. Rounds told the truth about what happened in the 2020 election,” McConnell told CNN. “And I agree with him.”

“I’ve always said I agree that the election was not stolen – at least to the degree that it was illegal theft,” said Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND). “I’ve moved on a long time ago, and most members of Congress have, including Mike.”

For his part, Rounds has refused to back down, doubling down this week that the election was fair.

Is this a new strategy within the Senate Republican caucus to challenge Trump’s false contention that the election was “rigged?” It’s possible, considering many within the party blamed Trump for depressing turnout in Georgia’s twin runoffs last January, resulting in a split 50-50 Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote. If Republicans had held even one of those seats last year, McConnell would still be the majority leader.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

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The US is now considered a backsliding democracy

For the first time, the United States is considered a backsliding democracy.

That finding is according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, which is based in Stockholm, Sweden. The think tank notes that the US began to backslide “at least since 2019.”

The report specifically cites eroding civil liberties, a decline in freedom of assembly after the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020, and former president Donald Trump’s questioning of election results.

“A historic turning point came in 2020-21 when former president Donald Trump questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election results in the United States,” the report says. “The visible deterioration of democracy in the United States, as seen in the increasing tendency to contest credible election results, the efforts to suppress participation (in elections), and the runaway polarisation … is one of the most concerning developments.”

Unwelcome company

The think tank categorizes countries into three groups: democracies (including backsliding democracies), hybrid (among them Russia and Turkey), and authoritarian (such as China and Saudi Arabia).

The United States joins the ranks of Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia as backsliding democracies. All told, backsliding democracies have doubled in the past decade and now account for a quarter of the world’s population.

Meanwhile, Ukraine was removed from the list of backsliding democracies after improvements in recent years. Serbia and Mali were removed from the list of backsliding democracies because they are no longer considered democracies.

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance is not alone in its assessment of the perilous state of democracy in the United States. One hundred and fifty top scholars of American democracy have signed a letter warning that “midnight is approaching.”

“Defenders of democracy in America still have a slim window of opportunity to act. But time is ticking away,” the scholars write, arguing that Congress must act to protect voting rights.

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Trump defends supporters’ ‘hang Mike Pence’ chants on 1/6

In newly released audio, former president Donald Trump defends his supporters chanting “hang Mike Pence!” during the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

The audio comes from an interview with the former president conducted by ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl. The interview took place in March 2021 for the upcoming book Betrayal, which is set for publication on November 16.

“Were you ever worried about him during that siege? Were you worried about his safety?” Karl asked Trump during the interview.

Trump predictably said no, adding that he thought that the chant was “common sense,” citing the bogus claim that there was election fraud. Trump had urged then-Vice President Mike Pence to interfere in the counting of the Electoral College votes.

Although reporting has since found that Pence hemmed and hawed, consulting both former Vice President Dan Quayle and the Senate parliamentarian to determine his authority, he ultimately refused, drawing the ire of Trump and his mob of supporters who attacked the Capitol.

Investigating the coup attempt

The 1/6 Committee is stepping up its investigation, subpoenaing Trump administration officials and campaign staffers, even as members of Congress receive death threats. The bipartisan committee is examining Trump’s role in organizing and fomenting an insurrection in a desperate attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

While we have consistently used the words “coup attempt” to describe January 6th – after all, it bears all of the hallmarks of a self-coup – major media outlets have only recently begun to recognize the concerted effort to subvert America’s democracy and install an illegitimate president.

We’re hardly alone in acknowledging this. The Brookings Institute recognized the coup attempt for what it was back on January 9.

Charles T. Call writes:

Trump’s behavior constitutes a self-coup since he has sought to undermine the integrity of the November 3 election and has sought to overturn the results of an election. He urged voters to illegally vote twice; he sought to disenfranchise voters; he sought to coerce officials to alter the vote results. On January 6, Trump explicitly urged the mob to “walk down to the Capitol,” to “demand that Congress do the right thing,” to “show strength,” and to “take back our country.”

Trump’s mob

It should come as no surprise that Trump defended his supporters when they chanted “hang Mike Pence.” When the mob descended on the US Capitol, they did so at Trump’s behest.

While the 1/6 Committee is doing its job – despite the best efforts of Trump to undermine the investigation – Congress needs to step up and defend American democracy with stronger voting rights laws and enforcement against states that engage in voter suppression.

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Republicans who voted for bipartisan infrastructure bill receive death threats

Republican members of Congress who helped pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill are receiving death threats from far-right extremists.

The Washington Post reports:

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has received multiple death threats in the days since he voted for President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal, with the overwhelming majority of the calls coming from outside the congressman’s district.

In a CNN interview Monday night, Upton played the audio of one of the calls, which he said came from a man in South Carolina.

“You’re a f—ing piece of s— traitor. I hope you die,” the man can be heard saying. In the expletive-filled call, he goes on to say he hopes Upton’s family and his entire staff die.

An Upton spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Upton told CNN his office has received several such calls after a House colleague tweeted the names and office phone numbers of the Republicans who voted in favor of the bill. The measure passed the House on Friday with a 228-to-206 vote, two months after it was approved by the Senate on an overwhelming 69-to-30 vote.

It’s worth noting that Upton was among those who voted to impeach Donald Trump for the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

Trump leads the far-right attack

Donald Trump took direct aim at the thirteen House Republicans who voted with Democrats to pass the bipartisan bill, calling them “RINOs” for supporting the measure. The bill passed 69-30 in the Senate back in June.

Meanwhile, some of the most conservative Republican members of the House lambasted their colleagues, promising recriminations in the form of primary challenges.

“I can’t believe Republicans just gave the Democrats their socialism bill,” Representative Matt Gaetz tweeted.

“Insanity”

Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger, a member of the 1/6 Committee, says that “a party with leaders like Kevin McCarthy, that cannot stand up to the insanity from people like Greene, Gaetz, Gosar, etc, is going to have a hard time standing up to countries like China.”

Needless to say, death threats over a bill that funds roads, bridges, and public transit is not normal. It’s yet another sign of the ugliness in our politics and the fascist impulses of a growing number of Republicans.

The unhinged comments from Gaetz et al and the death threats from their supporters come within days of Representative Paul Gosar tweeting a threatening video at Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

As the AP puts it:

In the past week, Republican Rep. Paul Gosar tweeted a video showing a character with his face killing a figure with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s face. Several of the 13 House Republicans who backed a bipartisan infrastructure bill said they faced threats after their vote. In one profanity-laced voicemail, a caller labeled Rep. Fred Upton a “traitor” and wished death for the Michigan Republican, his family and staff.

The response from Republican leaders? Silence.

Extremist members of Congress like Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Paul Gosar are no longer outliers in a radicalized Republican Party. Worse yet, they’re giving cover to the most violent elements in the party’s base, which already staged an insurrection as part of an attempted coup.

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Appeals court delays release of Trump White House records as 1/6 Committee issues more subpoenas

The United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit has temporarily delayed the release of White House records that the 1/6 Committee is seeking as it investigates Donald Trump’s role in the attack on the US Capitol.

The National Archives was prepared to begin handing over the records to the 1/6 Committee on Friday, November 12 after Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled that Trump cannot block the release of the documents, rejecting a claim of executive privilege from the former president.

Politico reports on the appeals court decision to delay the release of the documents:

A federal appeals court on Thursday granted a short-term delay in the Jan. 6 select committee’s access to Donald Trump’s White House records.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — including President Joe Biden’s first and only appointee to that court, Ketanji Brown Jackson — will instead hear arguments in the matter on Nov. 30.

The delay is a minor setback for the House Jan. 6 committee, which had prevailed in U.S. District Court against Trump’s legal effort to block access to his records altogether. The National Archives, which house Trump’s records, had been preparing to deliver them to the committee on Friday afternoon.

The committee has repeatedly emphasized the urgency of accessing Trump’s records as it explores the former president’s effort to overturn the 2020 election results, including the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol that disrupted the electoral vote count and sent lawmakers fleeing in fear.

If unsuccessful in his attempt to quash the release of the records, Trump can appeal the ruling to the full DC Circuit or the Supreme Court.

Subpoenas keep flying

Earlier this week, the 1/6 Committee issued additional subpoenas to former Trump administration officials and campaign staff. On Monday, they issued subpoenas to six witnesses with close ties to the former president.

The committee subpoenaed attorney John Eastman, the disgraced former general and Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and former New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik. Campaign staffers Jason MillerBill Stepien, and Angela McCallum were also summoned to testify. The six were among those with links to the “war room” that sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election on January 6.

The following day, the 1/6 Committee sent subpoenas to ten other officials. CNN reports that the list includes the following individuals:

  • Nicholas Luna, former President Donald Trump’s personal assistant
  • Molly Michael, Trump’s special assistant to the President and Oval Office operations coordinator
  • Ben Williamson, Trump’s deputy assistant to the President and senior adviser to then-chief of staff Mark Meadows
  • Christopher Liddell, former Trump White House deputy chief of staff
  • John McEntee, Trump’s White House personnel director
  • Keith Kellogg, national security adviser to then-Vice President Mike Pence
  • Kayleigh McEnany, former White House press secretary under Trump
  • Stephen Miller, Trump senior adviser
  • Cassidy Hutchinson, special assistant to the President for legislative affairs
  • Kenneth Klukowski, former senior counsel to Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark

The 1/6 Committee is clearly stepping up its investigation, but their work is at least somewhat dependent on outside actors including federal judges. How many of the Trump allies are prepared to defy the subpoena? Will the Department of Justice enforce the subpoenas? These lingering questions will determine how effective the committee is in performing its essential duties.

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Insurrectionist receives 41-month prison sentence for assaulting police officer

A supporter of Donald Trump who was among the insurrectionists at the US Capitol on January 6 was sentenced on Wednesday.

Judge Royce Lamberth handed down the sentence for Scott Fairlamb, a Capitol insurrectionist who assaulted a police officer during the January 6 coup attempt.

According to CNN:

A New Jersey gym owner and former MMA fighter who punched a police officer during the January 6 riot was sentenced to 41 months in prison on Wednesday, becoming the first rioter sentenced for violence against the police during the attack.

Scott Fairlamb pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer and obstructing an official proceeding in August.

In addition to the prison sentence, Fairlamb will also receive 36 months of supervised release following his time behind bars. Fairlamb is the first person to receive a sentence for attacks on police officers that day.

The sentencing comes one day after a federal judge rejected Donald Trump’s attempt to obstruct the 1/6 Committee investigating the coup attempt. Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled that Trump cannot block the release of the documents, rejecting a claim of executive privilege for the former president. President Joe Biden has already waived executive privilege.

In her ruling, Judge Chutkan wrote that “presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not president.”

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Republican-backed election review shows that Biden won Arizona

President Biden’s lead in Arizona increased after a Republican-backed election review found no evidence supporting claims of fraud.

The Republican-backed “audit” of the vote in Maricopa County, Arizona was designed to show that Trump actually won the state. The Republican-controlled state senate funded the review, which was conducted by a company whose CEO spread pro-Trump conspiracy theories.

However, as the New York Times reports, it didn’t go exactly to plan:

After months of delays and blistering criticism, a review of the 2020 election in Arizona’s largest county, ordered up and financed by Republicans, has failed to show that former President Donald J. Trump was cheated of victory, according to draft versions of the report.

In fact, the draft report from the company Cyber Ninjas found just the opposite: It tallied 99 additional votes for President Biden and 261 fewer votes for Mr. Trump in Maricopa County, the fast-growing region that includes Phoenix.

As the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, David Becker, puts it: “If Trump and his supporters can’t prove it here [in Arizona], with a process they designed, they can’t prove it anywhere.”

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Should Donald Trump be permanently banned from Facebook and Twitter?

Free speech and free assembly are essential rights in any democracy.

Average citizens should always have the right to petition their government for redress, peacefully assemble (with reasonable limits during true emergencies, including pandemics), and protest. We hold these values deep in our hearts.

Speech, assembly, and protest are clearly protected under the First Amendment, but they only prevent the government from imposing undue restrictions on the population. It is a failsafe against an unchecked, Chinese-style authoritarian government where censorship is the rule.

That being said, corporations are not the government. They may restrict content on their platforms – and there are many legitimate reasons why they should. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and other social media companies all have sets of rules that define a code of conduct for users – and users agree to those terms in order to use their services.

So when we hear griping from some about how Facebook or Twitter ban high-profile politicians like Donald Trump from their platforms, it is not a genuine First Amendment argument so much as a political or ideological argument. Seeing that Trump routinely broke those platforms’ terms of use with little or no consequences for years, it’s more surprising that he was allowed to continue to use them despite breaking the rules than that he eventually faced a ban.

In fact, it took a coup attempt on January 6 for Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to finally crack down on the former president. Likewise, it took far-right extremists organizing a violent insurrection online for Apple and Google to pull the far-right social media app Parler from the App Store and Google Play. (Parler is already back on the App Store.)

Big Tech’s laissez-faire attitude toward violent extremist groups organizing, recruiting, and spreading dangerous conspiracy theories and propaganda on their platforms is disconcerting, to say the least. They have contributed to the erosion of American democracy, allowing anti-democratic forces to propagate and thrive online while restricting users for artistic expressions of nudity.

So what should Twitter, Facebook, and other social media giants do about Trump?

Until January 20, 2021 at noon, Donald Trump was president of the United States. In effect, as president, he was the most visible representation of the American government with a dedicated communications staff, a press pool, and access to the international press. He was a regular on cable’s highest-rated ‘news’ network, Fox.

Needless to say, Trump enjoyed (as do all presidents) a giant platform, a megaphone – or, as President Theodore Roosevelt would say, a bully pulpit – even without his Twitter account. The idea that Trump’s Twitter and Facebook bans amount to unconstitutional censorship is laughable on its face.

However, just as social media companies have the right to ban him from their platforms, they also have the right to unban him. But should they?

As the lead organizer of anti-democratic and white supremacist forces in the United States, Trump poses a particular threat to American democracy. He has already attempted a coup, inspiring supporters to gather in Washington DC on January 6 and then instructing the mob to go to the Capitol as Congress convened to certify the Electoral College results.

Trump’s actions that day – and in the months both prior and since – have endangered the lives of our nation’s leaders. Former vice president Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi were specific targets of insurrectionists, although all members of Congress can count their lucky stars that the plot was ultimately thwarted.

Indeed, law enforcement was less fortunate on that day. Outrageously, countless Republicans in Congress ignored the pleas of  Gladys Sicknick, the mother of fallen Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick. Instead, the focus of the likes of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been to re-write history and cover up Trump’s unprecedented attacks on our democracy.

Facebook’s ban extended but not permanent

In response to news that Facebook would extend Trump’s ban on the platform until January 2023 – while leaving the door open for a return – the disgraced former president yet again repeated the Big Lie.

“Facebook’s ruling is an insult to the record-setting 75M people, plus many others, who voted for us in the 2020 Rigged Presidential Election,” Trump said in a statement.

Should the ban get lifted, Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that he will immediately resume the same behavior that got him banned from social media platforms in the first place. He will use Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms to lie, divide, incite violence, and spread conspiracies.

A second insurrection is certainly not farfetched. His supporters – including disgraced former National Security Advisor, retired general, and convicted felon Michael Flynn – are calling for a military coup. Flynn previously called on Trump to declare martial law and overturn the election results.

Should the government sanction Big Tech?

It should go without saying that what Trump and his acolytes are doing is not normal political discourse. It is sedition.

Social media companies who aid in undermining our democracy – either directly advocating the overthrow of a democratic government or simply failing to police their platforms – should find themselves in legal trouble for facilitating violence.

That being said, I do not support governments – federal or state – taking action to force social media companies to restrict or ban speech from any particular individual. Social media companies should, however, face civil penalties if they fail to act when there are credible threats of violence. They should also have clear terms of use that are applied consistently.

I also oppose laws in states like Florida that compel social media companies to host content that violates their terms. A new Florida law makes it illegal for companies to ban candidates. The Florida law directly challenges Facebook and Twitter’s ability to moderate content, including fake news and hate speech. It’s a dangerous law that should be immediately struck down.

We need to strike a balance – one that protects the rights of individuals to express themselves in actual public forums (i.e. on the street) and curtails the ability of violent extremists to organize.

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Murkowski slams Republican colleagues over January 6 Commission opposition

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has criticized her Republican colleagues for their opposition to the January 6 Commission.

At the urging of Donald Trump and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the vast majority of Senate Republicans plan to block the bill that would establish an independent commission tasked with investigating the insurrection. The commission would also make recommendations for preventing a future attack on the Capitol.

As we reported earlier today, only three Republicans in the Senate – including Murkowski – have signaled that they would vote against a planned filibuster when the bill comes up sometime tonight. That isn’t sitting well with Murkowski.

CNN reports on her comments:

“To be making a decision for the short-term political gain at the expense of understanding and acknowledging what was in front of us, on January 6, I think we need to look at that critically,” she said.

“Is that really what this is about is everything is just one election cycle after another? Or are we going to acknowledge that as a country that is based on these principles of democracy that we hold so dear. .. One of those is that we have free and fair elections, and we respect the results of those elections and we allow for a peaceful transition of power. I kind of want that to endure beyond just one election,” she continued.

It’s too bad that Senator Murkowski is in the minority within her party. If there were more Republicans like her, Trumpism might have never taken hold in the first place.

Image Credit: AFGE, Flickr

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Senate Republicans likely to filibuster January 6 Commission

Senate Republicans appear likely to have enough votes to successfully filibuster the bipartisan January 6 Commission.

According to the AP:

Senate Republicans are ready to deploy the filibuster to block a commission on the Jan. 6 insurrection, shattering chances for a bipartisan probe of the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol and reviving pressure to do away with the procedural tactic that critics say has lost its purpose.

The vote Thursday would be the first successful use of a filibuster in the Biden presidency to halt Senate legislative action. Most Republicans oppose the bill that would establish a commission to investigate the attack by Donald Trump supporters over the election.

“We have a mob overtake the Capitol, and we can’t get the Republicans to join us in making historic record of that event? That is sad,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat. “That tells you what’s wrong with the Senate and what’s wrong with the filibuster.”

The filibuster is likely to hold despite Gladys Sicknick – the mother of fallen Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick – urging Republicans to support the commission. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell came out against the commission last week.

So far, only two Republican senators – Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski – say they will support the commission bill as it is currently written, which passed in the House of Representatives with bipartisan support. Susan Collins says that she will oppose a filibuster but wants changes to the House-passed bill. Ten Republicans would need to join all Democrats for the bill to overcome a filibuster.

What is the proposed January 6 Commission?

The proposed independent commission would be made up of both Democrats and Republicans, most likely former lawmakers. It would be tasked with investigating the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol. Trump supporters ransacked the Capitol to prevent the certification of the Electoral College results in what amounted to an attempted coup that put at risk the lives of members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence.

The commission would have subpoena power to force witness testimony and officially document what happened on that day. It would also offer recommendations to prevent a future attack. Importantly, the scope of the proposed independent commission’s investigation would be broader than anything that individual Congressional committees would have the necessary jurisdiction or expertise in.

McCarthy’s motivation for opposing the commission is clear.

One likely witness is Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who had an expletive-filled phone call with former president Donald Trump as the insurrection took place.

“Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” Trump said during the phone call.

The former president refused to call off his supporters for several hours, only after it became clear that the coup attempt had failed. When he finally released a video tepidly telling his supporters to “go home,” he repeated his lies that the election was “fraudulent.”

For his part, McCarthy is seeking to become the next Speaker of the House. So he has a clear motivation in not wanting to see a commission force his testimony and upset Trump supporters in the leadup to next year’s midterm elections.

Time to eliminate the filibuster.

Should the filibuster hold, Republicans could only bury the commission depending on whether or not Democrats eliminate or reform the filibuster. Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are the two main holdouts. Aside from the commission, the filibuster also threatens the Democrats’ entire agenda.

We have argued on here that the filibuster is anti-democratic, and it’s time to eliminate it. This latest abuse of the filibuster – blocking an independent commission from investigating and offering recommendations to prevent a future attack on the Capitol – demonstrates yet again why the antiquated obstruction tactic must go.

Photo Credit: John Brighenti, FlickrCC BY 2.0