Sen. Ron Wyden: Capitol riots prove we must strengthen American democracy by protecting voting rights for all

From NBC News Online:

On Jan. 6, at the behest of the outgoing president of the United States, domestic terrorists attacked the legislative branch of the government of the United States. Bombs were left apparently targeting us, gunshots rang out, Molotov cocktails were brought to the building, and five deaths resulted from the melee on the Capitol grounds. It remains unclear who — if anyone — was in command of the military when officials were pleading for help from the National Guard, which didn’t receive orders to assist for several hours. It’s a miracle that the insurrection failed, that the building didn’t burn and that many more people weren’t killed.

At 8 p.m. on Wednesday, my colleagues and I walked past shards of glass and refuse left behind by the insurrectionist mob to resume debate on the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. Some of my fellow senators said they felt that returning to the chamber and finishing the Electoral College count was a signal that America was already turning the page.

Not in my book.

In the wake of this attack, Democrats must use our majorities in Congress to pass reforms that will defend our democracy from the forces that supported, incited and fueled the riots — which means making it easier for every American to vote. Congress cannot — must not — move forward in the belief that the end of Donald Trump’s presidency means all is well in our country.

After all, what happened after police cleared the Capitol building and workers began cleaning up the wreckage and blood? Republicans walked right back into the House and Senate chambers and continued spreading the same lies about voters and voting rights that had drawn the mob to the Capitol in the first place.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for instance, claimed that he just wanted an election commission to study the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania — where Biden won decisive victories. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., claimed that he was just giving voice to his constituents’ concerns about election integrity by attempting to throw out the legally cast ballots of millions of Pennsylvanians. It was all nonsense.

Wednesday’s phony debate about counting the Electoral College ballots was just about two elected officials laundering a violent, fanatical conspiracy — one that had already done great harm to the country and the institution in which they serve — to further their own ambitions. It was nothing more than self-promotion and a barefaced, ham-handed attempt to delegitimize the next administration.

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Members of Trump Cabinet discussing invoking 25th Amendment

From ABC News Online:

There have been discussions among some members of Donald Trump’s Cabinet and his allies over invoking the 25th Amendment, a potential vehicle for removing the president from office, multiple sources with direct knowledge of the discussions told ABC News.

Un-American.' 'Treasonous.': North Texas leaders decry mob breach at U.S.  Capitol

It’s unclear how extensive these conversations have been or whether Vice President Mike Pence is supportive of such action. Many were horrified by Wednesday’s violence at the Capitol as well as Trump’s apparent lack of urgency in marshaling resources to stop the mob, the sources said.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., on Thursday became the first Republican to publicly call for the invocation of the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

The 25th Amendment, which was ratified in 1967 in the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, lays out the procedures for replacing the president in the event of death, removal, resignation or incapacitation.

“The president not only abdicated his duty to protect the American people and the people’s house, he invoked and inflamed passions that gave fuel to the insurrection we saw here,” Kinzinger said in a video posted to Twitter. “When pressed to move and denounce the violence he barely did so, while of course victimizing himself … all indications are that the president has become unmoored, not just from his duty, or even his health, but from reality itself.”

“It is for this reason that I call for the vice president and members of the cabinet to ensure that the next few weeks are safe for the American people, and that we have a sane captain of the ship,” Kinzinger said.

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Trump pressures GA election official to ‘find’ winning votes in taped call

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

President Trump demanded that Georgia’s top election official help him “find” enough votes to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state, according to a phone recording made public Sunday that pointed to a brazen new chapter in the president’s attempt to overturn his election defeat.

In an hour-long phone call Saturday, reported Sunday by the Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Trump cajoled, flattered and implicitly threatened Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, marshaling elaborate conspiracy theories to support his claim that he had won a state that Biden carried by almost 12,000 votes.

Raffensperger, a Republican, rejected the president’s blunt overtures, telling him: “The data that you have is wrong,” according to the audio recording. The Journal-Constitution said the authenticity of the recording was confirmed by two people involved in the conversation.

Legal experts and some Democrats suggested the president’s actions may have violated the law. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate Democratic whip, issued a strongly worded statement urging a criminal investigation, saying Trump sought to “intimidate an elected official into deliberately changing and misrepresenting” a legally counted vote. Law professors, including Stanford’s Nate Persily, tweeted out relevant sections of Georgia’s election code.

Two months after the election, and almost three weeks after the electoral college certified Biden’s victory by a 306-232 margin, Trump is backing expected challenges to the results by congressional Republicans in a joint session of Congress on Wednesday that typically is ceremonial in nature. Scores of Republican House members and at least a dozen GOP senators have signaled support for the effort, which could result in hours of debate before each chamber is expected to reject the protest.

Republican plans to contest the election have generated scorn from establishment GOP figures, including Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Ben Sasse of Nebraska. On Sunday, seven conservative Republican House members issued an unusual joint statement announcing their opposition to the challenge, warning that congressional action “would amount to stealing power from the people and the states.”

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Battleground states urge SCOTUS to reject Texas bid to overturn Biden’s wins

From today’s CNBC News Online:

The battleground states whose presidential election results are being challenged by Texas at the Supreme Court urged the justices on Thursday not to take up the case.

The four states targeted in the lawsuit warned in uncharacteristically sharp briefs that granting Texas’ unprecedented request would “do violence to the Constitution” and “disenfranchise millions” of voters. Those states — Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia — have all certified their election results, with Democrat Joe Biden defeating President Donald Trump.

Nearly simultaneously, Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine filed a brief at the court on behalf of the District of Columbia and 22 states and territories defending the four states targeted by Texas. That friend-of-the-court brief was joined by California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington.

The flurry of major briefs related to the case — including Trump’s own request to intervene — demonstrated the dramatic and lingering polarization of the U.S. just weeks after one of the most contentious elections in memory.

Pennsylvania in its brief called Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s long-shot bid to overturn other states’ elections “legally indefensible” and “an affront to principles of constitutional democracy. Texas seeks to invalidate elections in four states for yielding results with which it disagrees,” Pennsylvania’s scathing brief read.

Dana Nessel, the attorney general of Michigan, told the court in her state’s brief to reject Texas’ case outright. “To do otherwise would make this Court the arbiter of all future national elections,” Nessel wrote.

Christopher Carr, the attorney general of Georgia, told the court that Texas was seeking to “transfer Georgia’s electoral powers to the federal judiciary.” “Respect for federalism and the constitutional design prohibits that transfer of power, but this Court should never even reach that issue,” he wrote.

The replies came one day after Trump asked the high court to let him intervene in the case. The president, who is refusing to concede to Biden, has hyped Texas’ case as “the big one” — but election law experts say there’s little if any chance the court will allow it to proceed.

So far, the justices have not taken any action in the case. Despite Trump’s frequent pleas, the court has not shown an eagerness to get involved in any litigation related to the presidential election.

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Trump’s false claims laying groundwork for new voting restrictions, experts warn

From NBC News Online:

Even before the final votes in the 2020 election were tallied, President Donald Trump sent his attorneys to court alleging voter fraud.

When it became clear that he had lost to President-elect Joe Biden, his claims — and his campaign’s court filings — accelerated. Trump attacked cities with large shares of Black voters, who had come out in force for Biden, while his lawyers baselessly alleged a global conspiracy and filed dozens of suits in six states.

The legal strategy failed in court after court — not a single incident of voter fraud has been proven in the lawsuits — but experts warn the narrative is laying the groundwork for disenfranchisement of voters across the country.

“I don’t actually think that all of this leads to a different result in January, but I am really afraid about what Donald Trump is currently doing to the country for February and beyond,” said Justin Levitt, an election law expert and professor at Loyola Law School who worked at the Department of Justice during the Obama administration.

Despite the large body of evidence that American elections are secure from both hacking and widespread voter fraud, federal and state politicians are already proposing new laws that will make it harder to vote.

“We’re already seeing trial balloons of new measures to restrict access to voting, and I expect that this false narrative of voter fraud is going to be used as an excuse in many other places to try and drive an anti-voter agenda going forward,” said Wendy Weiser, vice president of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law.

In Georgia, a traditionally red state that Biden flipped blue this year by more than 12,000 votes, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, has proposed several major election changes, including adding a voter ID requirement to mail-in voting and making it easier to challenge a voter’s stated residency.

“Close elections sow distrust,” Raffensperger said on Nov. 20, announcing that a hand recount had shifted Biden’s margin of victory in the state but had not changed the outcome. “People feel like their side was cheated.”

A second recount followed in the state, affirming the same result. Another Republican official in his office, Gabriel Sterling, later forcefully condemned the president and other Republicans’ rhetoric around a “stolen” or “rigged” election, which he said has incited harassment of election officials and death threats.

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Trump lies in the White House briefing room, and networks pull the plug

From today’s New York Times:

President Trump broke a two-day silence with reporters to deliver a brief statement filled with lies about the election process as workers in a handful of states continue to tabulate vote tallies in the presidential race.

The president painted the election results so far as part of a broad conspiracy to deprive him of winning a second term by Democrats, election officials in various cities and the media.

“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” Mr. Trump said shortly after he took the podium in the White House briefing room, a false statement that cast aspersion on the rest of the election. He offered no evidence.

He then listed a series of conspiracy theories about why ballots arrived late in places. And at the same time that he insisted Democrats were figuring out how many mail-in ballots they need in order to counteract his performance in various states, the president listed off a series of Republican wins on Tuesday. He appeared not to see the cognitive dissonance in saying that other Republicans won while he lost as he outlined a plot about others harming him, and left the room without taking reporters’ questions.

The three big broadcast networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — all cut away from President Trump’s appearance as the president’s false claims about the integrity of the election mounted.

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Voting rights group files suit against Trump administration officials alleging voter intimidation

From today’s The Hill Online:

A voting rights group and others filed a lawsuit against President Trump and administration officials on Wednesday, alleging their actions have amounted to voter intimidation.

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia less than two weeks from Election Day names Trump, Attorney General William Barr and acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf as defendants. 

Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, an advocacy group for Latino voters, and two registered voters assert in the 53-page complaint that all three officials have violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Ku Klux Klan Act and the Constitution. The group is represented by Free Speech for the People, Mehri & Skallet and Emery Celli.

The beginning of the complaint lists six actions the officials have taken that the plaintiffs said were equivalent to voter intimidation.

The actions in question include calling on Trump supporters to serve as “‘poll watchers,’” sending law enforcement to polling stations, having “sabotaged” mail delivery, threatening mail-in voting and those ballots’ ability to be counted, proposing to delay the election and not committing to a peaceful transition of power.

“Defendants’ actions over the past five months make these threats terrifyingly credible,” the complaint said. “Defendants have displayed a willingness to use the full force of the federal government to suppress constitutionally protected activity and incite private actors to do the same.”

“The pattern of conduct described above has had, as a foreseeable impact, an objective intimidating effect on eligible voters,” the complaint adds.

The complaint also criticized the administration for sending federal law enforcement to respond to protests “perceived to be in opposition to him” and not to demonstrations of those “perceived to support him.”

Read the complete article here.

CA Republican Party Admits It Placed Misleading Ballot Boxes Around State

From today’s New York Times:

The California Republican Party has admitted responsibility for placing more than 50 deceptively labeled “official” drop boxes for mail-in ballots in Los Angeles, Fresno and Orange Counties — an action that state officials said was illegal and could lead to voter fraud.

The dark gray metal boxes have been popping up over the past two weeks near churches, gun shops and Republican Party offices, mostly in conservative areas of a deep-blue state, affixed with a white paper label identifying them as either an “Official Ballot Drop off Box” or a “Ballot Drop Box.”

To the average voter, they are virtually indistinguishable from drop-off sites sanctioned by the state, which are governed by strict regulations intended to prevent the partisan manipulation of ballots.

The actions of the largely marginalized state party come at a moment when Republicans and Democrats are engaged in a bitter national struggle over voting rights, with President Trump’s allies accusing Democrats in Minnesota and elsewhere of undermining the integrity of the electoral process by expanding absentee voting and other measures to increase ballot access.

On Monday, California’s secretary of state, Alex Padilla, and Attorney General Xavier Becerra sent a cease-and-desist order to the state- and county-level Republican parties, ordering them to remove the boxes. They also urged voters who might have unknowingly dropped off their ballots in the receptacles to sign up with the state’s voter tracking website to ensure their vote is counted.

“Misleading voters is wrong regardless of who is doing it,” Mr. Padilla said in a conference call with reporters, adding that the boxes “are not permitted by state law.”

Mr. Becerra called the boxes “fake,” adding that it was “illegal to tamper with a citizen’s vote.” He warned that anyone “engaging in this activity” could be subject to criminal prosecution or civil action.

Hector Barajas, a spokesman for the California Republican Party, said the party would continue to distribute the boxes, without adding any label identifying them explicitly as Republican ballot drops.

Mr. Barajas — who disclosed that Republicans were responsible for the boxes only after being bombarded by questions by reporters on Monday — said the party’s actions were legal because state law did not restrict “ballot harvesting,” a practice that allows businesses or other organizations to collect batches of completed ballots.

Read the complete article here.

Voters need an urgent update on mail-in ballots. The media should help.

From today’s Washington Post:

For weeks, President Trump has lied about mail-in ballots. He has falsely claimed they are prone to widespread fraud despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. He has wrongly claimed they are a “scam,” while suggesting he would use their existence to dispute the presidential election results. And most worryingly, he pointed to mail-in ballots as justification for his refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the November election.

Trump’s critics have been right to seize upon his remarks as further evidence of his dangerously authoritarian impulses. Yet we can’t leave it at that.

In this unprecedented election, reporters, producers and editors need to go back to basics. They need to educate voters on how mail-in voting works, demonstrate why it’s not prone to fraud, as Trump wrongly claims, and explain the precise steps voters need to take to ensure that their votes are counted. In the Trump era, none of that can be taken for granted.

It’s worth noting that mail-in ballots are confusing. My absentee ballot came with eight pages of supplemental documents, including five pages of instructions on how to vote. It shouldn’t be so complicated, but it is. The free press has a duty to help make the process as simple and understandable as possible for the millions of Americans who will cast a ballot from their home this year for the first time.

The media can play a vital role in protecting democracy during this unprecedented pandemic election. Traditional coverage of the electoral horse race isn’t enough. Broadcasters and print journalists urgently need to supplement their reporting with tutorials and background on voting procedures. That could help ensure that hundreds of thousands — maybe even millions — more ballots are counted.

In Pennsylvania, for example, election officials have warned that they will reject any so-called “naked ballots” that do not arrive in a “secrecy envelope” that ensures anonymity for each vote. Some have said that up to 100,000 votes could be tossed out. That is an alarming possibility, particularly given that Pennsylvania is likely to prove pivotal in this year’s election.

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Senate GOP, White House propose cuts to unemployment relief checks

From today’s ABC News Online:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a new coronavirus relief plan on the Senate floor after Senate Republican leaders and the White House appear to have overcome their differences.

“I hope this strong proposal will occasion a real response, not partisan cheap shots. Not the predictable, tired old rhetoric as though these were ordinary times, and the nation could afford ordinary politics,” McConnell said Monday afternoon in a floor speech.

But Democrats already don’t agree with the Republicans’ plan, which includes a $200 flat-rate, short-term extension to federal unemployment benefits as opposed to $600 a week, a senior source familiar with the matter confirmed to ABC News, since it will take time before states’ systems can shift to accommodate any federal benefit changes.

Following McConnell’s floor speech, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer criticized the Republican Party for “wasting precious time” in the months since Congress passed its first coronavirus relief package, arguing “the White House and Senate Republicans couldn’t get their act together” in the time since.

“Ten weeks after Democrats passed a comprehensive bill through the House, Senate Republicans couldn’t even agree on what to throw in on the wall,” Schumer said, adding that support for the plan presented Monday is still not clear. “Not only do we not know if the president supports any of these proposals, we don’t even know if Senate Republicans fully support.”

Republican sources familiar with the matter told ABC News later Monday that there could be as much as half the Senate GOP conference voting against the bill.

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