'Exactly right': Progressives back Arizona Dems censure of Sinema

Citing Kyrsten Sinema's obstruction of her own party's pro-democracy agenda, a pair of progressive U.S. lawmakers said Sunday that they support the Arizona Democratic Party's decision to censure the stymying senator.

"I think what the Arizona state party is saying is that 'Kyrsten Sinema no longer reflects our values.'"

Citing her failure to "do whatever it takes to ensure the health of our democracy," the Arizona Democratic Party (ADP) central committee on Saturday voted to formally censure Sinema (D-Ariz.).

The ADP rebuke came after the right-wing Democrat voted last week—along with all Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—to uphold the filibuster and effectively torpedo her own party's popular voting rights legislation, the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act.

Asked about the move during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday morning, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said, "I think it's exactly right."

"Look, on the issue of voting rights... right now you have a Republican Party under Trump's leadership that is perpetuating this "Big Lie" that Trump actually won the election," Sanders said, referring to former President Donald Trump. "You have 19 Republican states that are moving very aggressively into voter suppression, into extreme gerrymandering; some of these states are doing away with the powers of independent election officials."

"They are moving in a very, very anti-democratic way, and it was absolutely imperative that we change the rules so we can pass strong voting rights legislation," Sanders added. "All Republicans voted against us. Two Democrats voted against us. That was a terrible, terrible vote, and I think what the Arizona Democratic Party did was exactly right."

Appearing on MSNBC, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said: "If you are a Democrat and you can't uphold the fundamental right to vote for all citizens... then there's a problem. And I think what the Arizona state party is saying is that 'Kyrsten Sinema no longer reflects our values.'"

Following its decision to censure Sinema, ADP Chair Raquel Terán said in a statement that "the Arizona Democratic Party is a diverse coalition with plenty of room for policy disagreements, however on the matter of the filibuster and the urgency to protect voting rights, we have been crystal clear."

"In the choice between an archaic legislative norm and protecting Arizonans' right to vote, we choose the latter, and we always will," Terán continued. "The ramifications of failing to pass federal legislation that protects their right to vote are too large and far-reaching."

Addressing Sinema's prospects going forward, Khanna said: "I don't think there's any chance she wins a Democratic primary. Whether it's Ruben Gallego or someone else, there are a number of other people who I think would not just win against her in a Democratic primary, but would win decisively... I would be shocked if she was competitive in a Democratic primary in Arizona."

Gallego (D-Ariz.)—who is widely viewed as a potential 2024 primary challenger to the embattled senator—reacted to the ADP censure by saying Saturday that "any reservoir of goodwill that [Sinema] had is gone."

To 'hold her accountable for what she did,' primary Sinema project gets into gear

As outrage grows this week over U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's obstruction of her own party's pro-democracy agenda, a movement to back a 2024 primary challenger to the right-wing Arizona Democrat is gaining momentum.

"At this point, Krusty the Clown could beat Sinema in a Democratic primary."

"It's official," the Primary Sinema Project said in a Friday fundraising email after Sinema joined Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and all 50 Republican senators to uphold the filibuster and kill Democratic voting rights legislation. "We're going to hold her accountable for what she did."

"Kyrsten Sinema is unfit to be a United States senator," the group added. "Just like the filibuster itself, we need to get rid of her if we want to save our democracy before it's too late."

While she's been praised by numerous Republicans, including Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and the GOP U.S. senators who lined up to shake her hand after she voted against modifying Senate filibuster rules—a move that would have stopped Republicans from blocking the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act—Sinema's obstructionism has infuriated many Democrats.

"Her approval rating among Democrats in Arizona is 8%," Emily Kirkland, director of the advocacy group Progress Now Arizona, told KNXV, citing a Civiqs poll conducted last week.

"So the level of frustration is there among voters, organizers, and volunteers," Kirkland added, including her own former staff and campaign volunteers.

In addition to losing the backing of progressive organizations including the reproductive rights groups EMILY's List and NARAL Pro-Choice America, Sinema's actions have fueled increasing support for Democratic primary challengers. Ninety-four percent of respondents to a Tuesday "flash poll" of members of the progressive activist group Indivisible said they favor primarying Sinema if she does not change course.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), widely viewed as a potential primary challenger to Sinema, says numerous Democrats have asked him to make a run for the Senate.

When asked who's asking him to run, Gallego coyly told CNN that "it wasn't Bernie, I'll tell you that," a reference to Sen. Bernie Sanders. The Vermont independent said earlier this week that Sinema and fellow right-wing Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) are imperiling "the future of American democracy," and that he is open to supporting primary challengers to run against the obstructionists.

"I have gotten a lot of encouragement from elected officials, from senators, from unions, from your traditional Democratic groups, big donors," said Gallego, a United States Marine Corps veteran who has served for seven years in the House. "Everything you can imagine under the sun."

Gallego said he believes Sinema is "vulnerable because nobody in the state has seen hide nor hair of her for the last three years."

"She hasn't had one town hall; everything she does is scripted," he added. "She says she refuses to negotiate in public, but we want to know who is she negotiating for? Is it for Arizonans? Or is it for the pharmaceutical companies or whatever other interests that she is more likely to have meetings with than... with the actual constituents?"

Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts wrote Friday that "Gallego could beat Sinema in a primary. Probably, at this point, Krusty the Clown could beat Sinema in a Democratic primary," a reference to the deeply troubled but beloved children's celebrity in the long-running animated TV series The Simpsons.

"Gallego has a great story and he's a rising star on the left," she continued. "The question is, could he win the general election? Two years ago, no way. But two years from now? That's the calculation Democrats need to make."

Roberts asserts that "if Republicans regain their sanity in the next two years and put up a candidate with broad appeal, Gallego would have a hard time pulling out a win."

However, she adds that if the GOP continues its "bizarre obsession" with former President Donald Trump, and nominates a "Big Lie-spouting, pandemic-downplaying, misinformation-peddling" candidate—someone, she says, like state Republican Chair Kelli Ward—then "Gallego's fortunes would dramatically improve."

Half of mail-in ballot requests rejected in key Texas county

Voting rights advocates responded with alarm to reports this week that around half of the mail-in voting applications in Texas' fifth-largest county have been rejected as a result of a recently enacted voter suppression law that experts say is part of a nationwide Republican effort to restrict access to the polls.

"It's disturbing that our senior citizens who have relished and embraced voting by mail are now having to jump through some hoops."

According to The Texas Tribune, election officials in Travis County—home of the state capital, Austin—said they have rejected around half of the 700 requested vote-by-mail applications they've received so far ahead of the March primaries. The officials say they are complying with S.B. 1, a controversial law signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott last September.

"You know, this seems to be an attempt to suppress individuals from actually going to exercise their right to vote," Tommy Buser-Clancy, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas, told KUT. "This makes it more important for voters to be educated about what is or is not allowed under the new laws."

Described as "state-sanctioned voter suppression" targeting the minorities who make up an increasing share of Texas' electorate, S.B. 1 requires voters to provide their driver's license number or last four digits of their Social Security number—which must match data on file with state election officials—while restricting early voting hours, empowering partisan poll watchers, establishing monthly citizenship checks, and making it a felony for public officials to promote mail-in voting.

S.B. 1 is the target of lawsuits filed by rights groups and the U.S. Department of Justice, which alleges the legislation violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act.

Other Texas counties are also seeing a significant number of vote-by-mail applications rejected.

The Texas Tribune reports:

In Harris County, 208 applications—roughly 16% of the 1,276 applications received so far—have been rejected based on the new rules. That includes 137 applications on which voters had not filled out the new ID requirements and 71 applications that included an ID number that wasn't in the voter's record.
In Bexar County, officials have rejected 200 applications on which the ID section was not filled out. Another 125 were rejected because the voter had provided their driver's license number on the application, but that number was not in their voter record.

"It's disturbing that our senior citizens who have relished and embraced voting by mail are now having to jump through some hoops, and it's upsetting when we have to send a rejection letter [when] we can see they've voted with us by mail for years," Bexar County Election Administrator Jacque Callanen told the Tribune.

In a separate interview with San Antonio Report, Callanen called the new law's restrictions—which also include a prohibition on voters requesting mail-in ballots for their spouses—"just ridiculous."

Democracy defenders argue that legislation like S.B. 1 are part of a nationwide effort by Republicans to suppress access to the polls that include map-rigging, voter identification laws, and a reduction in early voting and polling places and hours.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, between January 1 and December 7, 2021, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting—a "tidal wave" of voter suppression that experts say shows no sign of breaking as the nation heads into the 2022 midterm and, before too long, the 2024 general election campaigns.

Voting rights advocates contend that the best way to counter GOP voter suppression efforts is by passing two pieces of federal legislation—the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act—that have stalled in Congress due to GOP obstruction and opposition to abolishing the filibuster by right-wing Democrat senators, chiefly Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema.

Trump thrashed for lie-laden response to Biden's Jan. 6 anniversary address

Former U.S. President Donald Trump was raked Thursday for doubling down on his "Big Lie" that the 2020 presidential election was "stolen" in a series of spurious statements responding to President Joe Biden's address marking the one-year anniversary of the deadly January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

"Attempting to overturn the election results and stop our country's sacred tradition of a peaceful transition of power is divisive. Demanding accountability is not."

During his speech, Biden said that "we must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie. And here's the truth: The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election."

Trump responded by releasing four statements, one of them calling Biden's speech an attempt to use his name—which the president never uttered—"to try to further divide America."

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) retorted on Twitter that "attempting to overturn the election results and stop our country's sacred tradition of a peaceful transition of power is divisive. Demanding accountability is not."

In response to the former president's statements, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted, "Donald Trump did it again—lying about the election."

"It was Donald Trump's Big Lie that soaked our political landscape in kerosene," he wrote. "We must confront this Big Lie. We will move forward to protect democracy and voting rights."

Speaking in Congress, Schumer said:

For mob violence to win the day it doesn't need everyone to join in, it just needs a critical mass of people to stay out of the way, to ignore it, to underestimate it, to excuse it, and even condone it. The mob can start out as a small number, but if it's allowed to grow and leaders egg on the mob, encourage it, it can become poison.

"That is what Donald Trump is doing," Schumer added, "as even his response to President Biden's speech today shows. And once that happens, the unthinkable can become real. Democracy arose, and could—God forbid... vanish."

Trump packed as many as half a dozen lies into one single sentence-long statement: "Due to inept leadership that gave us open borders, Covid incompetence, loss of energy independence, a military in chaos, rampant inflation, corrupt elections, and lack of world standing, our nation, perhaps for the first time, has lost its confidence!"

"He can't accept he lost, even though that’s what 93 United States senators, his own attorney general, his own vice president, governors, and state officials in every battleground state have all said: He lost."

There are no "open borders." In fact, Biden has continued some of Trump's most controversial immigration policies, including jailing large numbers of children in makeshift detention facilities, the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols, or "remain in Mexico," and Title 42 deportations.

There is no "loss of energy independence." In fact, the Biden administration has approved new fossil fuel drilling leases at a faster rate than either the Trump or Obama administrations. Among these is the largest-ever sale of drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico. The current administration has also gone to court to defend a major Trump-era drilling project in Alaska.

There is no "military in chaos." In fact, the United States retains the world's most powerful armed forces by far, and Biden recently signed off on a $778 National Defense Authorization Act that is $38 billion bigger than the last NDAA signed by Trump.

There was no "corrupt election." In fact, Trump's own administration called the 2020 presidential contest "the most secure in American history." Trump filed more than 60 lawsuits challenging the results of last year's presidential election. He lost all but one of them.

There has been no loss of "world standing." In fact, according to a June 2021 Pew Research survey of 16 nations, global confidence that the U.S. president will "do the right thing regarding world affairs" skyrocketed from 17% under Trump to 75% under Biden—a more than 400% increase—while U.S. favorability soared from 34% to 62% after Trump left office.

And while the assertion that the nation may have "lost its confidence" for the first time is difficult to quantify, times within living memory such as the post-Watergate, post-Vietnam, fuel crisis and inflation-addled 1970s—to say nothing of historical events like the Civil War—suggest Trump was speaking falsely again.

"The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies... because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interests as more important than his country's... and America's interests, and because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our constitution," Biden said during his speech.

"He can't accept he lost," the president added, "even though that's what 93 United States senators, his own attorney general, his own vice president, governors, and state officials in every battleground state have all said: He lost."

ACLU files suit to block 'brazen' effort in Georgia to thwart Black voters

Alleging that Georgia's new GOP-drawn General Assembly district maps violate the Voting Rights Act and attempt to disenfranchise Black voters, civil rights groups on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against the Republican secretary of state in a bid to block the maps.

"Politicians don't get to choose their voters—voters get to choose their politicians."

The suit was filed in the United States District Court in Atlanta by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Georgia, and WilmerHale on behalf of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and individual Georgia voters against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

"These newly drawn maps are a brazen attempt by Georgia politicians to undermine the political power of Black voters," Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, said in a statement.

"State legislatures are responsible for laws and policies that profoundly impact our daily lives," she added. "There's no legitimate justification for drawing maps that deny Black voters an opportunity to elect representatives who will fight for them in these critical state House deliberations. Politicians don't get to choose their voters—voters get to choose their politicians."

The suit alleges that "Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act makes it illegal for states to draw district lines that water down the voting strength of voters from particular racial groups. Yet Georgia's newly-adopted legislative maps do just that."

"The new state Senate and state House maps dilute the voting strength of Black Georgians," the document contends, "because they fail to include more than a half dozen additional districts where Black voters could form a majority and have the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice."

The lawsuit continues:

Georgia is one of the fastest growing states in the nation—and that growth has been driven entirely by Black Georgians and other Georgians of color. Over the last decade, Georgia's Black population grew by 16%, while the population of white Georgians fell during the same period.
Black Georgians today comprise a third of Georgia residents, and people of color now make up nearly half of the state's population. The growth of the state's Black and other minority communities is driving Georgia's continued economic growth and its increasing prominence on the national stage.
Yet the new legislative maps for Georgia's General Assembly, which were rushed through the legislative process in a week and a half, do not account for the growth of Georgia's Black population. Rather, the new maps systematically minimize the political power of Black Georgians in violation of federal law.

The suit claims that the new district maps "negate the unprecedented growth of Black communities in Georgia, unnecessarily packing Black Georgians together in some places, dissecting areas with large, cohesive Black populations in others, and ultimately diminishing Black Georgians' true voting strength statewide and in specific districts."

"The new maps systematically minimize the political power of Black Georgians in violation of federal law."

"Especially in light of Georgia's legacy of racial discrimination against and subordination of its Black population and the ongoing, accumulated effects of that legacy, the state's maps will prevent Black Georgians from exercising political power on an equal playing field with white Georgians," it states.

"Georgia can and must do better than this," the lawsuit asserts. "The state's manipulation of the redistricting process to dilute the political strength of Black voters robs fellow citizens of the ability to engage in politics with equal dignity and equal opportunity, violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965."

Earlier this year, the U.S. Justice Department sued Georgia over a law passed by the state's GOP-controlled Legislature and signed in March by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp that the Biden administration and civil rights advocates allege is meant to disenfranchise Black voters.

The new Georgia lawsuit comes days after civil rights groups including the national and state branches of the ACLU sued South Carolina leaders over a new state House district map that plaintiffs claim was racially gerrymandered by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

"For 150 years, politicians on both sides of the aisle have stopped at nothing to prevent voters from fairly electing their leaders, especially citizens who are Black," ACLU of Georgia legal director Sean J. Young said in a statement. "It's well past time for Georgia to turn the page and allow all citizens to participate fully in our democracy."

AOC, Joyce introduce bipartisan bill for 'immediate relief' from cannabis convictions

Drug war foes welcomed the introduction Thursday in the U.S. House of Representatives of a bipartisan bill to help states expunge cannabis convictions by reducing costs and red tape through a new federal program.

"There is no justification for continuing to prevent tens of millions of Americans from fully participating in their community and workforce simply because they bear the burden of a past marijuana conviction."

Reps. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) teamed up to introduce the Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act. If passed, the measure would create a new federal initiative—the State Expungement Opportunity Grant Program—through which the U.S. attorney general could dispense funds to state and local governments "to reduce the financial and administrative burden of expunging convictions for cannabis offenses that are available to individuals who have been convicted," according to Ocasio-Cortez's office.

"Goes to show that lawmakers don't have to agree on everything to find common ground on solutions to the challenges facing everyday Americans," tweeted Joyce, who earlier this year co-sponsored the first GOP-led legislation to federally decriminalize cannabis.

"Having been both a public defender and a prosecutor, I have seen firsthand how cannabis law violations can foreclose a lifetime of opportunities ranging from employment to education to housing," he continued. The collateral damage caused by these missed opportunities is woefully underestimated and has impacted entire families, communities, and regional economies."

"By helping states establish and improve expungement programs for minor cannabis offenses, the HOPE Act will pave the way for expanded economic opportunities to thrive alongside effective investments to redress the consequences of the War on Drugs," Joyce added.

Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement that "as we continue to advocate for the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, this bipartisan bill will provide localities the resources they need to expunge drug charges that continue to hold back Americans, disproportionately people of color, from employment, housing, and other opportunity."

State Expungement Opportunity Grant Program funding could be used for:

  • Technology to provide cost-effective legal relief at scale;
  • Automation of the process of expunging convictions for cannabis offenses;
  • Clinics, including legal clinics, that assist individuals through the expungement process;
  • Implementation of a notification process for those whose records are expunged;
  • Sealing records of conviction for cannabis offenses if appropriate; and
  • Other innovative partnerships to provide wide-scale relief to individuals who are eligible for the expungement of a conviction for a cannabis offense.

Cannabis legalization advocates welcomed the new bill.

"This bipartisan effort represents the growing consensus to reform marijuana policies in a manner that addresses the harms inflicted by prohibition," said Justin Strekal, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "There is no justification for continuing to prevent tens of millions of Americans from fully participating in their community and workforce simply because they bear the burden of a past marijuana conviction."

Maritza Perez, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance, noted that "at this point, most Americans live in a state that has legalized marijuana to some extent."

"This bill will provide immediate relief to countless individuals who are still suffering the consequences of the war on drugs," she contended. "An expungement will allow greater employment, education, and housing opportunities, among other life-changing freedoms. The Drug Policy Alliance is proud to support this bill."

According to NORML:

Legislatures in over a dozen states have enacted laws explicitly facilitating the expungement of low-level cannabis convictions. State officials have vacated an estimated 2.2 million marijuana-related convictions under these laws over the past two years.
According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, over 350,000 Americans were arrested by state and local law enforcement for marijuana crimes in 2020. Ninety-one percent of those arrested were charged with simple possession. Since 2010, state and local police have arrested an estimated 7.3 million Americans for violating marijuana laws.

"Ultimately, efforts to provide necessary relief to those who carry the scarlet letter of a marijuana conviction must be carried out primarily by state and local officials," asserted Strekal. "Having this federal incentive available will go a long way toward empowering local leaders and citizens to take these steps to address the past injustices brought about by the failed policy of marijuana prohibition, and will also move us closer toward embracing more reasonable cannabis policies."

Noam Chomsky warns of 'very dangerous' US antagonism toward China

Linguist and dissident Noam Chomsky this week condemned the Biden administration's aggressive anti-China foreign policy, while dismissing the imperialist notion that Beijing poses a threat to the United States and urging a departure from the "provocation" that for decades has characterized the U.S. stance toward the rising giant.

"There is constant talk about what is called the China threat... What exactly is the China threat?"

Appearing on Democracy Now! earlier this week, Chomsky—a renowned critic of American militarism—accused President Joe Biden of continuing a perilous policy of confrontation with China.

While acknowledging that Biden "has eliminated some of the more gratuitously savage elements" of former President Donald Trump's policies—including suspending U.S. funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA)—Chomsky contended that "the trajectory is not optimistic."

"Biden has pretty much picked up Trump's foreign policy," he asserted. "The worst case is the increasing provocative actions towards China. That is very dangerous."

Chomsky continued:

By now there is constant talk about what is called the China threat. You can read it in sober, reasonable, usually reasonable journals, about the terrible China threat, and that we have to move expeditiously to contain and limit the China threat.
What exactly is the China threat? Actually that question is rarely raised here. It is discussed in Australia, the country that is right in the claws of the dragon. Recently the distinguished statesman, former Prime Minister Paul Keating, did have an essay in the Australian press about the China threat. He finally concluded realistically that the China threat is China's existence.

Speaking at the National Press Club of Australia earlier this month, Keating—who served as prime minister representing the center-left Labour Party from 1991 to 1996—accused his country's right-wing government of acting against its own interests by supporting the United States as it engages in what anti-imperialists have called "saber-rattling" over Taiwan.

"Taiwan is not a vital Australian interest," Keating insisted in his controversial speech. "We have no alliance with Taipei."

"We are committed to ANZUS for an attack on U.S. forces, but... not an attack by U.S. forces, which means Australia should not be drawn, in my view, into a military engagement over Taiwan," he added, referring to the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty.

That Cold War-era pact is now 60 years old. More recently, the U.S. and some of its close allies have antagonized Beijing by signing the anti-China Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) military agreement. The U.S., Australia, India, and Japan have also launched the Quadrilateral Security Dialog to address concerns about China.

"One U.S. submarine can destroy almost 200 cities anywhere in the world with its nuclear weapons."

Chomsky said U.S. antagonism toward China is motivated by the fact that the burgeoning superpower cannot be controlled by Washington.

"The U.S. will not tolerate the existence of a state that cannot be intimidated the way Europe can be, that does not follow U.S. orders the way Europe does but pursues its own course," he said. "That is the threat."

While acknowledging the "terrible things" the Chinese government does within its own borders, Chomsky insisted that "they are not a threat."

Turning the rhetorical tables, he asked: "Is the U.S. support for Israel's terrorist war against two million people in Gaza where children are being poisoned—a million children are facing poisoning because there's no drinkable water, is that a threat to China?"

"It is a horrible crime," he said, "but it is not a threat to China."

Critics of U.S. foreign policy have noted that while China has not started a war in over a generation, the United States has invaded, bombed, or occupied over a dozen nations since the 1980s.

Chomsky called the imbalance in military power between the United States—which has thousands of nuclear weapons and spends more money on its war machine than the next 10 nations combined—and China "laughable."

"One U.S. submarine can destroy almost 200 cities anywhere in the world with its nuclear weapons," he noted. "China in the South China Sea has four old noisy submarines which can't even get out because they're contained by superior U.S. and allied force."

'Let's get it done': House moves to vote on Build Back Better Act after CBO score is released

Progressive U.S. lawmakers on Thursday evening looked forward to an imminent vote on President Joe Biden's flagship Build Back Better reconciliation bill after the Congressional Budget Office released its estimates for the sweeping package—an analysis that a few conservative Democrats demanded before they would support the legislation.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Thursday that it "estimates that enacting this legislation would result in a net increase in the deficit totaling $367 billion over the 2022-2031 period, not counting any additional revenue that may be generated by additional funding for tax enforcement."

The $367 billion figure does not account for the $207 billion that the CBO projects in Internal Revenue Service savings, "meaning CBO's effective estimate is $160 billion in new deficits," noted NBC News' Sahil Kapur. "Treasury estimates IRS enforcement saves $400 billion, which could satisfy Dems on pay-fors—if they trust it."

Responding to the CBO publication, President Joe Biden tweeted that the $1.75 trillion social and climate package "is going to lower costs, create jobs, and rebuild our economy."

"Let's get this done," the president said.

Progressives relished the prospect of passing the reconciliation package following the publication of the CBO estimate and confirmation by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that a vote would take place Thursday evening.

"Let's get it done," tweeted Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.).

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramilia Jayapal (D-Wash.) tweeted, "Now, let's vote this bill through the House and move one step closer towards making this transformational package law!"

Jayapal added: "It's time to invest in paid leave, child care, universal pre-k, home care, climate action, affordable housing, healthcare, immigration reform, and so much more. It's time to Build Back Better."

When a handful of right-wing Democrats earlier this month sabotaged plans to simultaneously pass the Build Back Better Act and a Senate-approved bipartisan infrastructure bill—fearing that decoupling the two would kill the bolder legislation's chances in the evenly split upper chamber—Jayapal struck a deal with the House holdouts to vote after the CBO finished its review.

Right-wing Democrat Stephanie Murphy of Florida said Thursday she would vote to approve the package after seeing the CBO figures.

"The bill is fiscally disciplined," she said in a statement. "There is a lot of good in this bill, and as a pragmatic Democrat who wants to deliver for my constituents, I am never one to let the perfect become the enemy of the good."

Obstructionist holdout Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) told CNN Thursday that he did not know whether he would vote for the measure when it reached the upper chamber.

"I'm still looking at everything," he said. "I just haven't seen the final bill. So when the final bill comes out, CBO score comes out, then we'll go from there."

Popular drug pricing provisions of the package would save nearly $300 billion over the next decade, according to the CBO.

Meanwhile, Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) took aim at a provision of the reconciliation package that would extend a $285 billion tax cut in the form of a higher cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, saying, "It's bad policy, bad politics."

The SALT deduction provision—now the second-costliest piece of the Build Back Better Act—is supported by several conservative Democrats in high-tax states like New York and New Jersey and would disproportionately benefit wealthier households.

Progressive lawmakers' calls for a vote came as new polling from Data for Progress and Invest in America found that 64% of voters—including 87% of Democrats and 63% of Independents—support the Build Back Better Act.

Big Ag furious after EPA determines top herbicides driving vulnerable species toward extinction

As Big Ag fumed Monday over a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determination that herbicides including the endocrine-disrupting atrazine and carcinogenic glyphosate are likely to harm more than 1,600 protected plant and animal species, environmentalists pointed to the agency's findings as proof of the need for stricter limits on the use of the dangerous poisons.

"Without real conservation action, these pesticides will continue to push our most endangered wildlife closer to extinction."

After decades of refusing to comply with its obligations under the Endangered Species Act, the EPA on Friday released its final biological evaluations for atrazine, glyphosate, and simazine in order to comply with a 2016 legal agreement with the advocacy groups Center for Biological Diversity and Pesticide Action Network. The EPA evaluations concluded that the chemicals are likely to adversely affect 1,676 animals and plants on the federal threatened or endangered species lists.

"It's no surprise that these chemical poisons are causing severe harm to imperiled wildlife since U.S. use exceeds 70 million pounds of atrazine and 300 million pounds of glyphosate every year," Nathan Donley, environmental health science director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

Both atrazine and glyphosate have been re-approved for use in the past two years. Earlier this year, the EPA was denounced by environmental and consumer advocacy groups after the agency argued that Bayer's glyphosate-based Roundup—the world's most widely used herbicide—should remain on the market despite acknowledging that a Trump-era review of the chemical was flawed and required reevaluation.

Bayer announced in July that it would end U.S. sales of Roundup for residential use by 2023.

In 2019, the administration of former President Donald Trump moved to increase the allowable levels of atrazine, which has been linked to hermaphroditic amphibians, and birth defects, cancer, and other ailments in humans.

While green groups welcomed the delayed evaluations, commercial agricultural interests expressed anger over the EPA's findings. Several Big Ag lobby groups including the American Farm Bureau Association and American Soybean Association claimed the agency failed to use the "best available science and data" when formulating its decision.

The EPA's findings will now be reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, which will determine what steps to take to protect affected species and ensure that the herbicides do not further harm animals and plants at risk of extinction.

"It's long past time for atrazine to be banned, and the EPA needs to crack down on the reckless overuse of glyphosate," Donley added. "Without real conservation action, these pesticides will continue to push our most endangered wildlife closer to extinction."

Documents expose 'staggering pattern of political interference' in Trump's Covid response

Documents released Friday reveal how in early 2020 the Trump administration downplayed the deadly danger posed by the nascent Covid-19 pandemic, silencing and sidelining top health officials who tried to warn the public and destroying evidence of political interference while issuing rosy declarations that the outbreak was "totally under control" and would soon be over.

"The Trump administration's use of the pandemic to advance political goals manifested itself most acutely in its efforts to manipulate and undermine CDC's scientific work."

The emails and transcripts—released by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis—show that as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) became aware that the highly infectious virus that causes Covid-19 was spreading rapidly, agency officials requested to hold briefings about mask guidance and other issues. Their requests were denied.

Top Trump officials also moved to block the CDC from publishing information about the pandemic and tried to alter the agency's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWRs) to reflect former President Donald Trump's unrealistically optimistic Covid-19 messaging—which infamously included such claims in January and February 2020 as "we have it totally under control," that the outbreak is "going to have a very good ending," and that infections would "be down close to zero" with days.

As of Friday, there have been more than 760,000 U.S. deaths from Covid-19, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University, making it the deadliest pandemic in the nation's history.

According to Politico:

The emails and transcripts detail how in the early days of 2020 Trump and his allies in the White House blocked media briefings and interviews with CDC officials, attempted to alter public safety guidance normally cleared by the agency, and instructed agency officials to destroy evidence that might be construed as political interference.
The documents further underscore how Trump appointees tried to undermine the work of scientists and career staff at the CDC to control the administration's messaging on the spread of the virus and the dangers of transmission and infection.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who chairs the coronavirus subcommittee, said in a statement that "the Trump administration's use of the pandemic to advance political goals manifested itself most acutely in its efforts to manipulate and undermine CDC's scientific work," adding that the investigation "has uncovered a staggering pattern of political interference."

Peter Suwondo, a former CDC global health adviser, said the new revelations are "more evidence of how health leaders at the CDC were silenced and overruled in the early days of the pandemic."

"Top elected officials preferred to keep Americans in the dark and set policy based on political considerations, not science," he added.

In addition to interfering with the work of CDC officials, the documents show that Dr. Scott Atlas, Trump's special adviser, weakened Covid-19 testing while pushing a dubious herd immunity strategy. They also reveal Trump's anger at Dr. Nancy Messonnier—then director of the agency's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases—after she gave a February 25, 2020 press conference to warn about the outbreak's severity.

"It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore," Messonnier said of the rapidly spreading pandemic, "but rather more a question of exactly when."

When asked about a CNN report that CDC officials felt "muzzled" by the administration's actions, Dr. Anne Schuchat, the agency's former principal deputy director, said, "That is the feeling that we had, many of us."

Friday's revelations follow reporting Thursday that ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl's new book, Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show, contains details about how the former president's reelection team ordered a stop to Covid-19 testing during a June 2020 outbreak in which infected campaign staffers and Secret Service agents spread the virus before, during, and after a rally in a Tulsa, Oklahoma arena.

Former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, who spoke at the Tulsa event, died of Covid-19 about a month later.

"We killed Herman Cain," a senior Trump campaign official told ABC News reporter Will Steakin, according to the new book.

'Catastrophic and irreparable harm' to wolves averted as Wisconsin judge cancels hunt

In what wildlife defenders called "the biggest news so far for wolf protection in the United States in 2021," a Wisconsin court on Friday sided with conservation groups and canceled this year's wolf trophy hunt season just 15 days before it was set to begin.

"Zealots hell-bent on eliminating wolves invited this legal action."

In an oral bench ruling expected to be appealed, Dane County Circuit Judge Jacob Frost issued a temporary injunction halting the hunting season—which would have started on November 6—by reducing a 300-wolf kill quota to zero until the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) complies with its own rules, Wisconsin Public Radio reports.

"I'm not overruling the wolf hunt law. In fact, I'm saying it has to be enforced as it was written and intended," Frost explained, adding that DNR "is currently not following the law" or the state constitution.

"[DNR's] decisions are built on a faulty basis, meaning they can't stand, either," the judge added. "DNR needs to stop it. They need to actually comply with the law."

Paul Collins, Wisconsin state director for Animal Wellness Action, said in a statement that "the court brought sanity and balance to the wolf debate in Wisconsin by requiring DNR to follow the constitution and stop taking unlawful actions related to wolf management, including its reckless approach to the planned November wolf hunt."

"Zealots hell-bent on eliminating wolves invited this legal action," he added.

Michelle Lute, who has a doctorate in wolf management and is the national carnivore conservation manager for the advocacy group Project Coyote, said that "we are heartened by this rare instance of reason and democracy prevailing in state wolf policy."

"The DNR violated the constitution and... the wolf slaughter scheduled to start in November would result in catastrophic and irreparable harm," she added.

Last month, Ojibwe tribes and environmental groups sued Wisconsin seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the state from holding November's hunt.

According to the Associated Press:

Among other things, the coalition argued that the season is illegal because the Department of Natural Resources hasn't updated its regulations setting up season parameters and has been relying on an emergency rule put in place shortly after then-Gov. Scott Walker signed a law in 2012 authorizing annual seasons.

Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa President John Johnson explained in a court declaration that "the Ojibwe that hunt, fish, and gather; we take and give back. We are supposed to be looking out for the next seven generations."

"I try to do that by teaching my grandsons to just take what they need to survive," he added. "When we know it is wrong to hunt, we do not hunt. We take a step back and assess the damage. We determine how we can help so we can have the animals, the plants, the fish, for our future."

Last month, organizations representing nearly 200 tribes signed a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland urging her to restore Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections to wolves nationwide, a move the groups said would "allow for the Biden administration to not only show its commitment to Indian Country, but [also] correct a wrong birthed by the previous administration."

During the final weeks of the Trump administration in January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted gray wolves from the ESA after 45 years of protection, despite warnings from Indigenous leaders and other conservation experts. According to a July study, Wisconsin lost as much as a third of its gray wolf population following the move.

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"The largest canine native to North America, gray wolves were once common throughout more than two-thirds of the lower 48 states," before being "nearly wiped out in the mid-20th century due to habitat loss and deliberate eradication efforts," Environment America explained in a statement released on Thursday, October 29, 2020. (Photo: Dennis Fast/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Study Details How Trump Unleashed 'Outright Slaughter' of Wolves in Wisconsin

Andrea Germanos

"The delisting of the gray wolf without tribal consultation is a stain that we are certain you don't want to preserve under your leadership," the groups wrote to Haaland.

Gussie Lord, an attorney at EarthJustice—which represents tribal nations in separate legal challenge set to be argued in federal court next week—said in a statement Friday that while "we applaud today's well-crafted decision... we also understand that it may not be the last word on this issue in the Wisconsin court system."

"We intend to pursue every opportunity to protect the Ojibwe tribes and the Wisconsin wolf population," she added.

'We shouldn't do it at all': Joe Manchin confesses he doesn't want any deal

Underscoring the yawning chasm between progressives' demands for a $3.5 trillion Build Back Better package and right-wing Democrats' refusal to accept such spending, U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Bernie Sanders wrangled over the bill's price tag behind closed Senate doors Wednesday, according to colleagues present during the fracas.

According to Axios, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who witnessed the exchange, recounted that "Joe said, 'I'm comfortable with nothing,'" while "Bernie said, 'We need to do three-and-a-half [trillion dollars].'"

"The truth is both of them are in different spots," said Tester.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who was also in the room, said Manchin argued, "We shouldn't do it at all," and that the $3.5 trillion proposal "will contribute to inflation."

"We've already passed the American Rescue Plan. We should just pass the infrastructure bill and, you know, pause for six months," Manchin reportedly argued, referring to the $1.2 trillion bipartisan legislation passed by the Senate in August before being indefinitely delayed by House progressives who insist upon first passing the reconciliation package.

Last month, Manchin admitted that it had been his plan all along to secure passage of the corporate-backed bipartisan infrastructure bill and then scupper the more ambitious $3.5 trillion package.

Coons claimed that "significant progress" was made in the meeting, despite the tension between Manchin and Sanders. The two senators have tussled in recent weeks, with Sanders calling Manchin's obstruction "absolutely not acceptable" and the West Virginian lashing out after the democratic socialist published an op-ed in a Charleston paper criticizing his intransigence.

While Coons and Tester both said they remain hopeful that Democrats will agree upon a top-line figure for the reconciliation package by the end of Thursday, Manchin threw cold water on the notion, warning that "this is not gonna happen any time soon."

On Thursday, West Virginia activists traveled to Manchin's houseboat in Washington, D.C., where they urged him not to sink his party's agenda while asking, "Who will you throw overboard?"

'Our problem with you is not your name': Facebook critics say rebrand is just a distraction

Digital rights advocates on Wednesday shrugged off reports that Facebook is planning to change its name by accusing the company of attempting to divert attention from its failure to address problems plaguing the platform and calling for meaningful regulation of—and in some cases, breaking up—the social media giant.

"Like Big Tobacco and Big Oil rebranded to deflect attention for their crimes, Facebook thinks that a rebrand can help them change the subject."

According to The Verge, Facebook will be rebranded next week "to reflect its focus on building the metaverse," a shared digital environment enhanced by virtual and augmented reality. The new name remains a secret.

Earlier this year, Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg told The Verge that the metaverse "is going to be a big focus, and I think that this is just going to be a big part of the next chapter for the way that the internet evolves after the mobile internet."

Critics were quick to deride the potential name change, which comes on the heels of whistleblower testimony accusing the company of threatening children and democracy, as well as a "How to Stop Facebook" campaign launched last week by a coalition of over 40 advocacy groups.

"Just to be clear Facebook, our problem with you is not your name," tweeted the progressive political action committee MeidasTouch.

In a statement, the Real Facebook Oversight Board (RFOB) said, "Like Big Tobacco and Big Oil rebranded to deflect attention for their crimes, Facebook thinks that a rebrand can help them change the subject."

Some observers responded to the news of the possible rebrand with tongue-in-cheek tweets:

Others wondered how a name change would help reduce the dissemination of misinformation and hate speech on Facebook.

"When are you going to stop profiting off hate?" tweeted the NAACP. "Our advice: Keep the name, change the policy!"

"It's easy to dismiss this as a joke or think Nick Clegg has snapped a tether," RFOB said, referring to the company's vice president for global affairs and communications, "but this is a sign Facebook will go to any length to distract from their failure to keep hate off of their platforms."

"Whatever they call themselves, the issue remains," the group added. "Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp, under any parent brand or name, need real and independent regulation and oversight now."

Still others renewed calls for more aggressive measures against the social media giant.

"Now would be a great time to break up Facebook," tweeted the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.

'A toxic presence in the Party': Ocasio-Cortez joins calls for Jay Jacobs to resign

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Tuesday joined progressive colleagues and activists in calling for the resignation or removal of New York Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs after he compared India Walton—a Black woman running for mayor of Buffalo—to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

"India Walton is the Democratic nominee for mayor of Buffalo. No amount of racist misogyny from the old boys' club is going to change that," Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted.

"This is just his latest incident," she added. "Jacobs is a toxic presence in the party and his continued post as chair is shameful."

Jacobs had sparked outrage Monday after offering a perplexing explanation of why he has not endorsed Walton, a democratic socialist and community activist.

"Let's take a scenario, very different, where David Duke—you remember him, the grand wizard of the KKK—he moves to New York, he becomes a Democrat, he runs for mayor in the city of Rochester, which is a low primary turnout, and he wins the Democratic line," he said. "I have to endorse David Duke? I don't think so."

Although Jacobs later apologized for the comparison and acknowledged that Walton and Duke were "not in the same category," condemnation was swift and strong.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Jacobs' analogy "outrageous and beyond absurd," while U.S. Reps. Jamaal Bowman and Mondaire Jones—both New York Democrats—joined progressive activists in demanding his ouster, with Jones lambasting his continued chairmanship a "shame to the party."

Rana Abdelhamid, a democratic socialist running for the 12th Congressional District seat currently held by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), said in a statement Monday that "from repeatedly attacking young women of color running for office, to protecting disgraced former [Democratic] Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Jay Jacobs is part of the problem."

"It's clear," added Abdelhamid, "that Jacobs has no respect for the will of the voters, and that he does not speak for New York Democrats."

Joe Manchin fumes after Bernie Sanders Op-Ed in West Virginia paper calls out obstruction of Biden agenda

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia lashed out Friday after a major newspaper in his home state published an op-ed by Sen. Bernie Sanders that called out Manchin's obstruction of his own party's Build Back Better reconciliation package.

"Congress should proceed with caution on any additional spending and I will not vote for a reckless expansion of government programs," Manchin said in a statement shared on social media.

"No op-ed from a self-declared Independent socialist is going to change that," he added.

At issue is an op-ed by Vermont Sen. Sanders—an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats—published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail in which he calls the proposed reconciliation bill "an unprecedented effort to finally address the long-neglected crises facing working families and demand that the wealthiest people and largest corporations in the country start paying their fair share of taxes."

Sanders details how the proposal would take action to tackle the climate emergency and make sweeping investments in Americans' wellbeing including through lowering prescription drug prices, expanding Medicare, continuing cash payments to working class parents, and making community college tuition-free.

"Poll after poll shows overwhelming support for this legislation," wrote Sanders. "Yet," he continued, "the political problem we face is that in a 50-50 Senate we need every Democratic senator to vote 'yes.' We now have only 48. Two Democratic senators remain in opposition, including Sen. Joe Manchin." The other is Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

"This is a pivotal moment in modern American history," Sanders continued. "We now have a historic opportunity to support the working families of West Virginia, Vermont, and the entire country and create policy which works for all, not just the few."

The op-ed was published the same day the New York Times and CNN reported that Manchin's opposition to the Clean Electricity Performance Program—dubbed "the most impactful climate investment under consideration in Congress"—would likely mean it's left out of the budget package.