Congress roiled by Supreme Court decision revoking abortion rights

Republicans in Congress were jubilant at the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturning decades of precedent to revoke a constitutional right to an abortion, while Democrats were equally despondent about what they called an extremist decision that revoked a long-held right and represented an attack on women’s autonomy.

The party-line reaction hints at how lawmakers will approach abortion as the issue moves away from the court and more directly to the elected branches of government.

Democrats urged that voters remember the ruling when they go to the polls in the November mid-term elections and said they will redouble their attempts to pass legislation protecting the right to an abortion that’s stalled in the evenly divided U.S. Senate.

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who backs abortion rights, said she voted to confirm Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, and their agreement with the majority 6-3 decision was “inconsistent” with what they said during their hearings and in conversations with her. “The court “abandoned a fifty-year precedent at a time that the country is desperate for stability,” Collins said in a statement.

The leaders of the House Pro-Choice Caucus, Democrats Diana DeGette of Colorado and Barbara Lee of California, said in a statement the ruling would force women in half the states to “face a terrifying legal landscape when trying to access the abortion care they need.”

“We cannot overstate the devastating impact that this horrific decision will have on millions of people across this country,” they said. “By disregarding fifty years of legal precedent, the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively stripped away from 36 million women the freedom to control their own bodies and have handed that power, instead, to the politicians in their states.”

The decision would “undoubtedly put the health and economic futures of millions of women at risk,” they said. They pledged to renew efforts to enshrine legal protections to abortion in legislation.

President Joe Biden said the ruling broke new ground for the court in revoking an existing right and would have immediate impact in states with more restrictive laws than Roe would have permitted.

“The court has done what it has never done before: Expressly take away a constitutional right that is so fundamental to so many Americans.”

McConnell compares to segregation decision

Celebrating the ruling, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell compared it to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that invalidated legal school segregation. Like the Friday ruling, the Brown decision also overturned a previous Supreme Court case.

“The Court has corrected a terrible legal and moral error, like when Brown v. Board overruled Plessy v. Ferguson,” McConnell said in a statement.

Statements from some Republican lawmakers recognized the ruling as the culmination of decades of activism aimed at overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

“Millions of Americans have spent half a century praying, marching, and working toward today’s historic victories for the rule of law and for innocent life,” McConnell said. “I have been proud to stand with them throughout our long journey and I share their joy today.”

“I’ve waited 49 years for it and the wait is OVER!!!” Louisiana U.S. Rep. Billy Long wrote on Twitter. “#SCOTUS overturns #RoeVsWade, potentially saving millions of innocent lives!!!”

Several Republican members of Congress tweeted simply, “Life wins.”

Members posting that message or a version of it included Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Jim Jordan and Mike Carey of Ohio, Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Jody Hice and Buddy Carter of Georgia, Yvette Herrell of New Mexico, Diana Harshbarger of Tennessee, Kat Cammack of Florida, Lisa McClain of Michigan and the House Republican Conference account.

President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak about the decision Friday afternoon.

Women in Congress

The leaders of the Democratic Women’s Caucus in the House, including Co-Chairs Lois Frankel of Florida, Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, Jackie Speier of California and Whip Nikema Williams of Georgia, said the ruling would “go down in history as one of (the court’s) worst, most unjust decisions.”

“Women are not chattel, and the government should not have the right to mandate pregnancies,” they said in a statement. “Every situation and pregnancy is different, and all people deserve the freedom to control their bodies and make personal decisions about their lives and futures. We will never give up the fight for access to full health care.”

In her own tweet, Williams noted her decade-long employment with Planned Parenthood before coming to Congress that gave her a closer look at the consequences of restricting abortion access.

“I’ve seen the pain and devastation that comes when states eliminate equal access to legal, safe abortions,” she said. “The Supreme Court’s radical majority hasn’t just opened the door to that, it’s welcoming it with open arms.”

Schumer blames Senate GOP

Several Democrats blamed Senate Republicans for the Supreme Court’s conservative makeup and called for action in the chamber to protect abortion rights on the federal level.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement the ruling made Friday “one of the darkest days our country has ever seen” and called Senate Republicans “complicit in today’s decision and all of its consequences for women and families.”

Schumer urged voters to remember the court’s decision in November.

“Today’s decision makes crystal clear the contrast as we approach the November elections,” the New York Democrat said in a statement.

“Elect more MAGA Republicans if you want nationwide abortion bans, the jailing of women and doctors and no exemptions for rape or incest. Or, elect more pro-choice Democrats to save Roe and protect a woman’s right to make their own decisions about their body, not politicians.”’

Biden also called for Congress to act and for voters to choose candidates in November who support abortion rights.

Ohio’s Tim Ryan, a Democratic House member running for the Senate, sought campaign contributions immediately after the ruling was released.

“I proudly voted for the Women’s Health Protection Act in the House, only to watch it die in the Senate,” he wrote on Twitter. “It’s clear the Senate is not working and women will pay the price unless we act. Make a donation to help us defeat my anti-choice opponent, JD Vance.”

Senate Judiciary ranking Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa celebrated the ruling, which he said protected “the rights of the unborn.” The ruling was well-reasoned in its overturning of judicial precedent — an action the high court has taken before, he noted.

“For many Americans, including myself, this decision is about far more than correcting a flawed legal analysis in Roe,” he said in a written statement. “It means that the rights of the unborn are no longer in jeopardy by our federal government. Our nation was founded on the fundamental principle we are endowed by our creator with the unalienable right to life — a right that must be protected.

“This ruling does not ban the practice of abortion but instead empowers the people, through their accountable elected representatives to make commonsense policy decisions. It takes policymaking out of the hands of unelected judges.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence, a longtime champion of the religious right, called for state abortion bans in every state.

“Having been given this second chance for Life, we must not rest and must not relent until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the land,” he posted on Twitter.

Manchin, Collins blast Trump justices

But the court’s move Friday to directly contradict established precedent — especially by justices who’d explicitly identified Roe as settled during their confirmation hearings — opened it to criticism.

Even the most conservative member of Schumer’s caucus, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin III, said Friday he was “deeply disappointed” in the ruling.

Manchin, who considers himself pro-life and voted for two of former President Donald Trump’s nominees to the court, criticized those justices Friday for breaking with what they’d said in confirmation hearings.

“I trusted Justice (Neil) Gorsuch and Justice (Brett) Kavanaugh when they testified under oath that they also believed Roe v. Wade was settled legal precedent and I am alarmed they chose to reject the stability the ruling has provided for two generations of Americans,” Manchin said in a written statement.

Collins expressed displeasure with Gorsuch and Kavanaugh in a statement that slammed the decision for casting abortion policy into upheaval.

“This ill-considered action will further divide the country at a moment when, more than ever in modern times, we need the Court to show both consistency and restraint. Throwing out a precedent overnight that the country has relied upon for half a century is not conservative. It is a sudden and radical jolt to the country that will lead to political chaos, anger, and a further loss of confidence in our government.

“This decision is inconsistent with what Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh said in their testimony and their meetings with me, where they both were insistent on the importance of supporting long-standing precedents that the country has relied upon.”

Manchin and fellow “pro-life Democrat” Sen. Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania blasted the decision for overturning established law.

“Today’s decision upends almost a half century of legal precedent and rips away a constitutional right that generations of women have known their entire lives,” Casey, whose father, as the commonwealth’s governor, challenged Roe in another of the cases the court overturned Friday, tweeted.

“This dangerous ruling won’t end abortions in this country, but it will put women’s lives at risk,” he added.

Senate fight to come?

With abortion rights no longer guaranteed by the judicial branch, many Democrats on Friday appealed for passage of legislation to protect abortion rights, including a House-passed measure that has stalled under the Senate’s 60-vote threshold.

“The Senate must pass the Women’s Health Protection Act,” U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said in a statement. “Republican obstruction and abuse of the filibuster is not an acceptable excuse for inaction when the fundamental rights of millions hang in the balance.”

Collins’ statement promoted her own bill with Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski that she said would codify the protections in Roe. She was also working with Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine on a bipartisan bill, she said.

Abortion rights should be consistent nationally, Collins said, though states should be allowed to make minor policy adjustments.

“Our goal with this legislation is to do what the Court should have done — provide the consistency in our abortion laws that Americans have relied upon for 50 years,” she said.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, promised the panel would hold a hearing next month to explore the “grim reality” of the decision’s consequences.

“I will keep fighting to enshrine into law a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices,” Durbin said. “We cannot let our children inherit a nation that is less free and more dangerous than the one their parents grew up in.”

Durbin spoke with Vice President Kamala Harris about the ruling as the two traveled on Air Force Two Friday morning, according to a pool report.

Ariana Figueroa contributed to this report.

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Pence was within 40 feet of mob inflamed by Trump, Jan. 6 committee reveals

The private and public conflict between Donald Trump and Mike Pence over certifying the 2020 election results put the vice president within steps of the Jan. 6 attackers, the U.S. House committee investigating the insurrection said Thursday.

As the mob approached the U.S. Senate chamber in the Capitol, the vice president’s Secret Service retinue hustled him into a secure location. Pence’s and the rioters’ paths were within 40 feet of each other, said U.S. Rep. Pete Aguilar, a California Democrat, who led much of the committee questioning in the panel’s third public hearing.

Then-President Trump put Pence in danger by pressing him to execute a plan championed by John Eastman, an outside Trump attorney, to reject slates of electors from seven states that Trump lost: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Pence viewed that plan as illegal and wrong and consistently told Trump as much, people close to Pence told the House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, Attack on the U.S. Capitol. Pence later publicly declared he was duty-bound to respect the will of voters and not single-handedly overturn the election.

“President Trump is wrong,” Pence said in February 2022 remarks to the conservative Federalist Society that the committee replayed Thursday.

“I had no right to overturn the election. The presidency belongs to the American people and the American people alone. And frankly, there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president.”

Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson said he didn’t often agree with Pence, but that he endorsed that view.

“He resisted the pressure,” the Mississippi Democrat said of Pence. “He knew it was illegal. He knew it was wrong. We are fortunate for Mr. Pence’s courage on Jan. 6. Our democracy came dangerously close to catastrophe. That courage put him in tremendous danger.”

Eastman also knew his plan was illegal, committee testimony and documents show.

Emails obtained by the panel included one in which Eastman implored Greg Jacob, an attorney for Pence, to have the vice president commit a “minor violation” under election law and throw out contested electors.

The committee also showed an email from Eastman to Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani in which Eastman asked for a presidential pardon. In a deposition where the committee sought to question him, Eastman invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination 100 times, committee member Aguilar said.

Eastman himself conceded in front of Trump on Jan. 4 that his plan was illegal, Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, testified in a taped deposition.

Trump-Pence split

The plan to replace legitimate electors with slates of fake electors who would support Trump gained steam in early January, driving a wedge between Trump and Pence.

Pence told the president several times the plan was unconstitutional and illegal.

“He articulated to me that no, he wouldn’t want that power bestowed upon any one person,” Short said.

In a late afternoon call on Jan. 5 with Trump, Pence, Short and Jacob, Eastman said that he understood Pence would not reject legitimate electors.

On the morning of Jan. 6, before addressing supporters on the White House Ellipse, Trump phoned Pence, who moved into a room to be alone to take the call.

Witnesses to Trump’s end of the call, including his daughter Ivanka Trump, characterized it as “heated.”

Former White House aide Nicholas Luna said Trump called Pence a “wimp.” Ivanka Trump’s former chief of staff, Julie Radford, said the first daughter told her Trump used an obscener term with a similar meaning.

Ivanka Trump said her father’s tone was different from what she’d “heard him take with the vice president before.”

The previous day, staffs of Trump and Pence argued over a statement the Trump campaign released responding to accurate reporting in the New York Times that Pence did not believe he had the legal authority to certify alternate electors.

The campaign statement said the president and vice president were in agreement that Pence had the power to act.

“We were shocked and disappointed because whoever had written and put that statement out, it was categorically untrue,” Jacob said.

An angry Short phoned campaign spokesman Jason Miller to complain.

Under questioning from the committee, Miller said he and Trump created the statement together and the final product reflected what Trump wanted it to say.

Eastman scheme

At the center of the rift between Trump and his loyal understudy of four years was the plan Eastman was advocating to replace electors from seven states with fake slates that would support Trump.

Arizona was the first state alphabetically where Eastman sought to replace the electors. The others were not named Thursday but have previously been reported to be Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Mere hours after the attack, just before midnight on Jan. 6, Eastman implored Jacob in writing to have Pence commit a “minor violation” of the Electoral Count Act and adjourn the Senate for 10 days to allow for state legislatures to finish investigations into untrue fraud claims.

Told in the following days of that email, Pence responded, “That’s rubber-room stuff,” according to Jacob.

“I interpreted that to mean that after having seen play out what happens when you convince people that there is a decision to be made in the Capitol legitimately about who is to be the president and the consequences of that, that he was still pushing us to do what he had been asking us to do for the previous two days,” Jacob said. “That that was certifiably crazy.”

Eastman’s continued efforts to overturn the election, even after the riot and after Pence certified the results, were astounding to others in the White House.

Eric Herschmann, a White House attorney said Eastman called him on Jan. 7 about preserving evidence in Georgia for an appeal.

“Are you out of your f-ing mind?” Herschmann said he responded. “Because I only want to hear two words coming out of your mouth from now on: orderly transition.”

Trump tweets, mob erects gallows

In his speech the morning of Jan. 6, Trump invoked Pence several times. Drafts of the speech did not mention the vice president, but Trump added in lines and ad-libbed more, Aguilar said. Hearings later this month will detail that process further, he said.

“All Mike Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify, and we become president and you are the happiest people,” he told his supporters.

At 2:24 p.m., Trump tweeted a criticism of Pence for not seeking to execute the fake-elector strategy. That tweet inflamed the mob that had by then breached the Capitol.

The rioters, who’d erected a makeshift gallows, chanted, “Hang Mike Pence,” Aguilar said. The panel showed video of the attack that included rioters making threats against Pence.

A confidential informant associated with the far-right Proud Boys group — which the panel has said was among the organizers of attempts to violently overturn the election — told the FBI the group would have killed Pence at the Capitol if they were able, Aguilar said, citing an affidavit.

Secret Service agents tried to get Pence into a car to leave the Capitol complex, Jacob said.

Pence refused, saying he did not want the world “to see the vice president of the United States fleeing the United States Capitol, and he was determined that we would complete the work that we had set out to do that day,” Jacob said. “And rioters who had breached the Capitol would not have the satisfaction of disrupting the proceedings beyond the day on which they were supposed to be completed.”

Instead, Pence stayed in the secure location, where he monitored events of the day. The committee showed a photograph, made public for the first time, of Pence in the secure area watching a Trump video praising the rioters but telling them to leave the Capitol.

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Here are 3 things from the second Jan. 6 hearing you might have missed

A “definitely intoxicated” Rudy Giuliani. Conspiracy theories in Pennsylvania. Fundraising for a non-existent Trump “Election Defense Fund.”

The second hearing in the series held by the Jan. 6 U.S. House panel to present its findings focused on claims repeatedly voiced by former President Donald Trump that fraud occurred in the 2020 election.

Members of the House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol and witnesses examined various theories in some depth on Monday to show that spurious claims raised by Trump and allies including former New York Mayor Giuliani fell apart under moderate scrutiny from campaign lawyers and the U.S. Justice Department.

The panel provided several interviews of campaign and Justice Department staff that showed advisers and officials repeatedly told Trump there was nothing to his claims.

Trump’s continued expression of the debunked claims helped drive his supporters to siege the Capitol on Jan. 6, the panel said.

Here are some intriguing details from Monday’s hearing:

‘Intoxicated’ Giuliani pushed for declaring immediate victory

At the White House on Election Day 2020, a mix of campaign staff, outside advisers and Trump family watched election returns come in.

Later in the night, the results looked better for Democrat Joe Biden. A turning point for most in the room came when Fox News called Arizona for the former vice president, former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien testified.

As the night turned into early morning, the results were inconclusive for Trump’s chances, at best.

Stepien and campaign spokesman Jason Miller advised Trump not to say anything conclusive that night until more votes were counted.

In taped testimony for the committee, both identified Giuliani as disagreeing with that strategy, vocally advocating for declaring victory that night.

Asked if anyone had too much to drink, Miller singled out the former New York mayor.

“The mayor (Giuliani) was definitely intoxicated, but I did not know his level of intoxication when he spoke with the president,” Miller said.

Giuliani posted and deleted tweets Tuesday saying that Stepien and Miller lied about what happened on and after Election Day and disputed that he was drunk.

“I REFUSED all alcohol that evening,” he wrote in a since-deleted post. “My favorite drink..Diet Pepsi.”

Trump that night sided with Giuliani, declaring victory in the early morning hours of Nov. 4.

Pennsylvania conspiracy theory debunked

The panel spent time Monday individually explaining and debunking several prominent election conspiracy theories.

One of those concerned Doug Mastriano and Bill McSwain, both of whom ran in the 2022 Republican primary for Pennsylvania governor, a contest Mastriano won last month.

Former Attorney General Bill Barr testified that Mastriano, a state senator, originated a false claim that more people voted by mail in Pennsylvania than had requested mail-in ballots.

Barr called McSwain, then the U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, and asked about it. McSwain explained Mastriano’s error was comparing the number of requested ballots for the 2020 GOP primary with the number of ballots cast in the general election, according to Barr.

“The problem is that Mastriano threw out this number, and what he did was he mixed apples and oranges,” Barr said he was told by McSwain. “Once you actually go and look and compare apples to apples, it’s no discrepancy.”

Fake election defense fund

The Trump campaign continued to fundraise after the election, using unsubstantiated fraud theories as a marketing tool. The campaign asked for donations to an official Election Defense Fund, which it said would pursue claims of a fraudulent election.

Contributors provided $100 million in the week after the election, and $150 million more before the end of the year, Amanda Wick, an investigative staffer with the committee, said in taped remarks.

But no Election Defense Fund actually existed, and most of the money was not spent on the fruitless efforts to uncover fraud.

“The Trump campaign aggressively pushed false election claims to fundraise, telling supporters it would be used to fight voter fraud that did not exist,” Wick said.

Instead, Wick said, funds were sent to a variety of pro-Trump organizations.

Most went to a newly created “Save America PAC.” The pro-Trump research group America First Policy Institute and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’ charitable foundation each received $1 million from the PAC.

Event Strategies Inc. has received more than $5 million from the Trump campaign and related committees since Election Day 2020, according to Federal Election Commission records. That Virginia-based event management and production company “ran President Trump’s January 6 rally on the Ellipse,” Wick said.

Save America PAC has paid $5.4 million to Event Strategies in the 2022 election cycle, when Trump has held events with candidates for state and federal offices, including U.S. Senate hopefuls Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and J.D. Vance in Ohio, U.S. Sen Chuck Grassley of Iowa — and Harriet Hageman, who is challenging House Jan. 6 committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney in the Wyoming Republican primary.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Here are 5 things we learned about Jan. 6 and Trump from the first hearing

The opening U.S. House hearing in a series on the Jan. 6 attack included some eye-opening new details about the events of the day and the broader plot to halt the peaceful transfer of presidential power.

The nine-member investigative committee put former President Donald Trump at the center of the plot, while accusing leaders of two far-right organizations, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, with planning tactical details of the assault on the Capitol.

Thursday night’s hearing was comparable to an opening argument of a trial, with committee leaders Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, and Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, mostly laying out the broad outlines of their investigation and hinting they will be digging in further in future hearings.

Yet a few key details emerged that hadn’t been known or widely reported earlier. Here are five of them:

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry asked for a pardon.

Pennsylvania Republican Scott Perry has not cooperated with the committee, despite a subpoena to appear.

Thursday, Cheney provided a glimpse into what the panel wanted to question him about: Trump’s scheme to replace U.S. Justice Department leaders with people willing to use the department to pursue his claims of a stolen election.

Perry was among a group of “multiple” Republicans in Congress who “sought presidential pardons for their roles in attempting to overturn the 2020 election,” Cheney said.

Perry spokesman Jay Ostrich wrote in an email Friday the allegation was “a ludicrous and soulless lie.”

Pence pleaded with military leaders as Trump refused to intervene.

The panel showed taped testimony from General Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said Vice President Mike Pence had “two or three” calls with military leaders on Jan. 6.

Pence, who was at the Capitol to certify the 2020 electoral college results and was a target for Trump loyalists who believed he could undo the election results by refusing to certify them, was “very animated, very direct, very firm” to acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, Milley said.

“Get the military down here, get the [National] Guard down here,” Milley said Pence ordered. “Put down this situation, etc.”

Trump, meanwhile, was not in touch with Milley, Miller, the Justice Department or anyone else in the federal government about putting an end to the attack as he watched it unfold on a White House TV, Cheney said.

“He placed no call to any element of the U.S. government to instruct that the Capitol be defended,” Cheney said.

To the extent the White House was concerned with military intervention, its goal was to counter the narrative that Pence was in charge, Milley said. While Trump did not contact military leaders, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows did call, Milley said.

“He said: ‘We have to kill the narrative that the vice president is making all the decisions,’” Milley testified of Meadows, a former Republican congressman from North Carolina. “‘We need to establish the narrative, you know, that the president is still in charge and that things are steady or stable,’ or words to that effect.”

Milley said he ignored Meadows’ request.

Told about threats to Pence specifically, Trump said his vice president “deserved it,” Cheney said.

Trump’s inaction came even as congressional leaders implored him to step in, Cheney said.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy phoned Trump and members of the first family during the attack, seeking the president’s intervention, Cheney said.

“You will hear that leaders on Capitol Hill begged the president for help, including Republican Leader McCarthy, who was ‘scared,’” Cheney said.

A spokesman for McCarthy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The panel will examine Trump’s interference with state officials, and the creation of “fake electors.”

The fifth hearing in the series, which has not been officially scheduled but is expected later this month, will focus on Trump and his allies’ pressure on state lawmakers and election officials, Cheney said.

The panel will provide new details of Trump’s calls to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom Trump told to “find” nearly 12,000 votes to swing the state to him.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Politico reported Thursday that Raffensperger is scheduled to testify at a hearing this month.

The panel will also describe efforts by Trump loyalists to produce slates of illegitimate electors in several states Joe Biden won in the 2020 election and replace them with electors who would cast their votes for Trump.

Slates of false electors have been linked to the competitive states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Top Trump administration and campaign officials knew Trump lost the election.

The panel presented taped testimony from former Attorney General Bill Barr, who said he told Trump the president’s claim of electoral fraud was “complete nonsense.” Barr expressed that sentiment to the president several times in a variety of words.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka testified she found Barr’s analysis credible and believed her father lost.

Campaign spokesman Jason Miller testified that the leader of the campaign’s data team, Matt Oczkowski, bluntly told Trump he was going to lose the election.

Trump’s call for his supporters to come to Washington was a catalyst.

Despite many of his closest advisers telling him he lost, Trump continued to pursue avenues to stay in power, including by bringing his most committed supporters to Washington the day Congress was to ratify the election results.

The first hearing closed with a montage of people involved in the attack saying that they came because the president told them to do so. Trump tweeted in December 2020 to invite supporters to rally on Jan. 6, saying it would be “wild.”

The people who took up that call include members of the Oath Keepers and other extremists, who interpreted the tweet as a call to arms, Marcus Childress, investigative counsel for the committee, testified.

“The President called us to the Capitol,” the president of the Oath Keepers Florida chapter posted on social media, Childress said. “He wants us to make it wild.”

The Oath Keepers were then among the most organized participants in the attack, setting up “quick reaction forces” near Washington’s Virginia suburbs.

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

Misinformation, violence and a paper shortage threaten midterm elections: officials

Members of a U.S. Senate panel and election administrators raised a bevy of concerns Thursday about the challenges elections officials will face this fall, saying problems ranging from a lack of paper to coordinated misinformation campaigns could affect confidence in U.S. democracy.
A bipartisan panel of current and former elections officials and experts told the Senate Rules and Administration Committee that state officials face threats of physical violence, while dealing with misinformation, supply chain challenges and funding shortfalls — making the administration of this year’s midterm elections more difficult.

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Robert Zullo for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

House panel grills oil executives at hearing on soaring gas prices

Democrats blamed the oil industry, Republicans blamed President Joe Biden and oil executives blamed global market forces at a U.S. House hearing Wednesday on how to reverse a dramatic increase in gas prices.

Over nearly six hours, members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and executives from six oil companies painted a complex picture of an industry reaping substantial profits, but still roiled by the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and federal regulations.

Democrats and Republicans also differed on possible solutions to high prices. Democrats called for moving away from oil and gas and toward renewable sources of energy.

“If this crisis has shown us anything, it’s why we as a country must work to break our addiction to oil as quickly as possible,” Subcommittee Chairwoman Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said.

“It’s reinforced the urgent and existential need to transition to a more sustainable energy future. For the sake of our economy, our environment and our national security, we must work as quickly as possible to go to that clean energy future.”

Republicans said the administration should reverse policies that made energy production more difficult. Subcommittee ranking Republican Morgan Griffith of Virginia said Biden’s first-week actions to cancel the XL Keystone crude oil pipeline and ban new oil and gas leases on federal lands discouraged domestic production.

In Maryland, gas tax ‘holiday’ bill advances; lawmakers hope for lower prices at the pump

“The majority is laying the blame for the problem at the wrong feet,” he said. “Rather than deflect blame, President Biden should consider his own culpability for higher energy prices thanks to his relentless pursuit of policies that discourage domestic energy production.”

Republicans also attacked the Biden administration’s claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine — and the subsequent sanctions on Russia and disruptions to the global supply of oil — are responsible for the rise in gas prices.

“This was happening before Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” U.S. Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter, R-Ga., said.

Democrats slam big oil

Democrats on the panel chastised the companies for providing shareholder dividends and stock buybacks instead of reinvesting profits into more production or lowering prices.

DeGette noted crude oil had returned to the same price it was before Putin invaded Ukraine, yet gasoline remained 50 cents per gallon higher than it was in late February.

Meanwhile, the six companies represented at the hearing, bp America, Chevron, Devon Energy, ExxonMobil, Pioneer and Natural Resources Co. and Shell USA, recorded $75 billion in profits in 2021.

“Something doesn’t add up,” DeGette said.

Executives for major oil producers said individual gas stations — not the oil companies — set retail gas prices. Most gas stations, even those carrying a large company’s brand, are independently owned and operated.

“No single company sets the price of oil or gasoline,” ExxonMobil CEO Darren W. Woods said. “The market establishes the price based on available supply and the demand for that supply.”

Full committee Chairman Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat, rejected that argument.

Pa. lawmaker proposes lowering state liquid fuels tax amid rising gas prices

“The bottom line is you set the wholesale price and that’s the biggest part of the real retail price,” he said. “So don’t tell us that you can’t do anything about it. You can do something about it. And we expect you to do that. Maybe it’s a matter of patriotism.”

Several Democrats on the panel raised the prospect of reducing tax subsidies to energy companies, though the Ways and Means Committee is the primary House panel for tax law changes.

“This committee is not going to sit back and allow this system, which forces American taxpayers to pay oil companies out of both pockets — first at the pump and then again through tax breaks — to continue in its current form,” DeGette said.

Chevron Chairman and CEO Michael K. Wirth said his company was providing both shareholder payments and increased production.

“We’re investing more capital to grow production,” Wirth said. “We can do that and return value to shareholders. They’re not mutually exclusive.”

Production was also hurt by industry changes during the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. As demand dried up, companies slowed production. Returning to pre-pandemic levels is not simple, the executives said.

GOP blames climate action.

Republicans on the panel said Democrats who now blast the industry for not producing enough had previously called for ending fossil fuel production.

Biden campaigned on climate pledges to move away from fossil fuel.

“President Biden walked in on day one with an agenda to kill American energy,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise said.

The Louisiana Republican then asked the executives if federal regulations made it harder to produce oil.

Wirth, Scott Sheffield of Pioneer and Richard E. Moncrief of Devon all said regulations did make their business harder. Gretchen Watkins, Shell USA’s president, said some regulations were necessary, but that Shell was waiting on outstanding federal permits.

U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin of Virginia said Republicans’ attack on the Keystone XL pipeline decision was off base because that pipeline wouldn’t even be in operation yet if it had been approved. It was also primarily planned to transport Canadian oil to overseas markets, doing little for the domestic supply, he said.

McEachin also asked each executive if a potential suspension of the 18.3 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax would translate to savings for consumers.

The executives responded that they would not collect the tax, but that the price of oil is not predictable, and they could not guarantee an exact price drop to match any tax waiver.

“What I’m trying to do is disabuse the American public of this myth that if we do something like declare a federal tax holiday that the price of gasoline will go down,” McEachin said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Instead of a gas tax holiday, Congress should provide direct payments to help cover the cost of more expensive gas, he said.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Clarence Thomas pressed to recuse himself from Jan. 6 cases

Two dozen congressional Democrats are calling for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to recuse himself from cases involving the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, following revelations his wife communicated with the Trump White House about overturning the election.

In addition, it appears likely that the U.S. House committee probing the attack will ask Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a Nebraska native and longtime conservative activist, to answer questions about her recently disclosed text messages as the panel’s investigation steps up.

In a Monday letter to Chief Justice John Roberts and Thomas, the 24 Democrats from both chambers of Congress cited recently published texts between Ginni Thomas and then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, a former North Carolina congressman.

The Democrats said the texts present a serious conflict of interest for Clarence Thomas and a court that is unique in not being governed by a code of ethics.

In the 29 texts, first reported by the Washington Post and CBS News, Ginni Thomas urged Meadows to resist the results of the 2020 election: “Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!…You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

Many of former President Donald Trump’s supporters, including those who breached the Capitol on Jan. 6, contend the election was somehow stolen, though there is no evidence to support the claim.

The correspondence, given to the Jan. 6 panel by Meadows, documents a closer relationship between Ginni Thomas and the White House than was previously known, though she had publicly advocated for Trump and allies to try to reverse the election results.

The texts “raise serious questions about Justice Thomas’s participation in cases before the Supreme Court involving the 2020 election and the January 6th insurrection,” the congressional Democrats wrote.

Clarence Thomas, the longest-serving member of the court and a stalwart member of its conservative wing, was the only justice to disagree with a ruling allowing the Jan. 6 committee access to Trump White House records.

He did not disclose at the time his wife’s activism on the issue, or that her messages could be part of the records being sought.

In addition to Thomas recusing himself from future cases, the lawmakers said the court should adopt a formal code of ethics to govern future situations. They asked for Roberts to commit to creating a “binding Code of Conduct” by April 28. The Supreme Court is the only court in the country that is not formally governed by any code of ethics, they said.

The Democrats also asked for a written explanation from Thomas for why he declined to recuse himself from the case concerning White House records.

The group was led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington. No members of Congress from Nevada signed on to the letter.

Johnson also is calling for legislation to be passed which would require the Judicial Conference of the United States to create a code of ethical conduct for the Supreme Court.

Representatives for the court did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

In the texts, Ginni Thomas professed beliefs in far-right conspiracy theories, including that Trump had watermarked ballots to track potential fraud and that supporters of Joe Biden would face military tribunals for sedition at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

She also provided unsolicited advice to Meadows about Trump’s legal team and strategy as the lame-duck president sought to challenge the election in court.

Meadows was generally supportive of Thomas’ efforts, but noncommittal about her specific recommendations.

“I will stand firm,” he wrote in a Nov. 10 text. “We will fight until there is no fight left. Our country is too precious to give up on. Thanks for all you do.”

Though he did not sign the Democrats’ letter, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters Tuesday Clarence Thomas should recuse himself from future cases involving Jan. 6.

Other Democrats, including Johnson and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have gone further and called for Justice Thomas to resign or be impeached.

Committee action

The House Jan. 6 committee is considering questioning Ginni Thomas, according to media reports.

CNN reported Monday that “most” members of the committee favor questioning her.

Members of the panel, which is made up of seven Democrats and two Republicans, did not discuss that possibility in a Monday evening meeting.

A spokesman for committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., did not respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday. A spokesman for committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., declined to comment.

The panel on Monday did adopt a report recommending that the U.S. House cite Daniel Scavino, Jr. and Peter Navarro, both Trump administration officials, for criminal contempt of Congress. If the House agrees, the referral would be sent to the Department of Justice.

‘Coup in search of a legal theory’

Several cases involving the 2020 election and its aftermath are working their way through federal courts.

A federal judge found Monday that Trump and legal adviser John Eastman likely broke the law in their efforts to challenge the 2020 election.

U.S. District Judge Court Judge David O. Carter ordered Eastman to hand over documents to the Jan. 6 panel, denying Eastman’s claim for attorney-client privilege because that privilege does not extend to unlawful acts.

“Dr. Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history,” the judge wrote.

“Their campaign was not confined to the ivory tower — it was a coup in search of a legal theory. The plan spurred violent attack on the seat of our nation’s government, led to the death of several law enforcement officers, and deepened public distrust in our political process.”

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

Attack on the US Capitol lives on in hundreds of court cases

On the afternoon of Jan. 6, 2021, four men affiliated with the Kansas City chapter of the right-wing Proud Boys gathered on the west side of the U.S. Capitol, along with thousands of others urged on by then-President Donald Trump.

The crowd pushed ahead and overwhelmed the few Capitol Police officers guarding the entrance, toppling waist-high metal barriers and pressing into another police barrier closer to the building, according to court documents.

“You shoot and I’ll take your f- – -ing ass out!” William Chrestman, a 47-year-old Proud Boy from Johnson County, Kansas, clad in olive green body armor and carrying a wooden club wrapped in a blue flag, yelled at an officer, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Authorities arrested Chrestman, and his fellow Kansas City Proud Boys, all of whom pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial, after investigators pieced together that narrative — and hundreds more like it — from thousands of disturbing videos and photos of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

With the police battered and reeling on the day of the riot, few arrests were made and federal prosecutors have had to rely on recorded material.

More than a year later, as national Republicans seek to downplay the attack on the Capitol as normal political debate, the Department of Justice continues to spend enormous amounts of time and energy pressing cases against insurrectionists from across the country who tried to overturn a presidential election with violence. The prosecutions appear destined to go on for months or even years yet. Two more people were arrested Wednesday.

Authorities have said in press releases that they have charged more than 725 attackers with federal crimes in connection with the January 2021 assault on the Capitol. The U.S. Justice Department maintains an online database that showed 696 defendants as of Thursday.

States Newsroom analyzed the court documents laying out cases against the 412 defendants from the 26 states with a States Newsroom outlet. A searchable, state-by-state database including every one of those 412 defendants is here.

Of the defendants States Newsroom reviewed, more than 18% lived in Florida. Slightly fewer, 15.5%, had ties to Pennsylvania. All 26 states included in the sample had at least one defendant connected to the state.

Defendants in that sample are accused of a range of crimes, from seditious conspiracy and assaulting police officers to disorderly conduct and demonstrating in the Capitol. Many revealed themselves through their own boasts on social media.

Four rioters died that day. Ashli Babbitt was killed by a Capitol Police officer during a confrontation in the Speaker’s Lobby off the House floor.

Five police officers who were on duty at the Capitol that day also died. Brian Sicknick died of a stroke on Jan. 7 after being attacked with bear spray the day before. Four other officers later died by suicide.

Firearms were relatively rare among these 412 people, but defendants did wield weapons. Prosecutors say some rioters used bear spray or a similar irritant, or a blunt weapon such as a baseball bat, axe handle or, in the case of one defendant from Maryland, a lacrosse stick.

More than 165 people have pleaded guilty to charges connected to the attack, according to the DOJ. That leaves nearly 500 pending cases. The first trial, of Texas resident Guy Reffitt, began this week.

Social media

Of the defendants in the sample States Newsroom analyzed, 246 — nearly 60% — were identified by law enforcement through some social media, either their own or others, that placed them at the Capitol during the attack. Of the 412 defendants in the sample, 150 implicated themselves in their own social media.

Those numbers represent only cases in which prosecutors explicitly cited social media accounts in charging documents and likely undercount the actual figures. Many charging documents cite nonspecific videos or photographs of the defendants that plausibly came from social media.

William Calhoun, of Georgia, posted on Facebook on Jan. 6 that he was among “the first of us who got upstairs kicked in Nancy Pelosi’s office door and pushed down the hall toward her inner sanctum.”

“We physically took control of the Capitol Building in a hand to hand hostile takeover,” Calhoun, who pleaded not guilty, wrote, according to court documents. “We occupied the Capitol and shut down the Government — we shut down their stolen election shenanigans.”

The eagerness of participants to post their exploits to platforms like Facebook may show that the defendants believed themselves to be heroes.

“Their mentality was they’re very happy to participate in some sort of movement they really believe they were taking back their country,” Shan Wu, a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, said in an interview. “So social media was particularly valuable to mine.”

Serious seditionists

The Republican National Committee last month approved a resolution calling the events of Jan. 6 “legitimate political discourse.”

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel later clarified that the resolution wasn’t meant to include those who committed violence, though that is not clear from the resolution itself.

But in the States Newsroom sample alone, 44 defendants — more than 10% — had ties to the Proud Boys or Oath Keepers, another extremist group that sought to disrupt the presidential transition.

That includes a group of 11 Oath Keepers, hailing from Florida, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Georgia, Arizona, Texas and Alabama, who were charged together in an indictment that alleges seditious conspiracy and 16 other charges.

A grand jury added the seditious conspiracy charge in January with a superseding indictment that named Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes as a defendant. Prosecutors say Rhodes, a Texas resident with ties to Montana, coordinated the group’s planning for the Capitol assault. Rhodes has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors say the group planned for weeks to travel to Washington heavily armed and sought to stop Congress from validating the Electoral College results of Joe Biden’s victory over Trump.

Joshua James, of Alabama, became the first of that group to plead guilty Wednesday.

Arizona siblings Felicia and Cory Konold joined the group of four Kansas City Proud Boys during the attack. The Konolds stayed close to Chrestman as the crowd overtook police on the Capitol’s west side, according to charging documents. The Konolds also pleaded not guilty.

The extremist groups viewed the attack, which caused an hours-long delay in the certification of the vote as the rioters overran the Capitol and members of Congress evacuated, as a success.

“We f- – -ing did it,” Felicia Konold said in a social media video that night.

Though charging documents allege the Oath Keepers discussed in detail plans for moving firearms close to the Washington, D.C., border to have them easily accessible, few rioters were charged with gun crimes.

Only two people in the States Newsroom sample, less than one-half of 1 percent, were charged with improper firearms possession.

Using the ‘normies’

With Trump holding a “stop the steal” rally in the morning, thousands of Trump supporters without ties to right-wing groups were in place to become part of a mob, Jon Lewis, a research fellow with George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, said.

“So much of the violence was alleged to have been done by individuals who had no real clear known named affiliation to any coherent, identified domestic violent extremist group,” Lewis said. “Individuals who were part of this stop the steal conspiracy or adherents to QAnon and kind of fell down that rabbit hole.”

“The government alleges that the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers were content to… ‘let the normies burn the city to the ground,’” Lewis said.

Felicia Konold bragged on social media later in the day about her role leading other rioters, authorities say.

“I never could [unintelligible] have imagined having that much of an influence on the events that unfolded today,” Konold said in a video recorded later on Jan. 6, according to court records. “Dude, people were willing to follow. You f- – -ing lead, and everyone had my back, dude.”

In his speech earlier in the day, Trump did his part to whip up the crowd, telling the supporters the election had been stolen by Democrats and media and urging them to “fight like hell” or “you won’t have a country anymore.”

“You will have an illegitimate president. That’s what you’ll have,” he told the crowd. “And we can’t let that happen.”

For prosecutors, the focus is on the leaders at the Capitol and those who committed violence, said Gregg Sofer, a former state and federal prosecutor now in private practice.

“That’s a much deeper dive than a trespass case where … there’s videotape of John and Jill sauntering through the Capitol, and really not doing anything else,” Sofer said.

Beating an officer with a crutch

Jack Wade Whitton, of Locust Grove, Georgia, had no ties to extremist groups. He didn’t post on social media that he planned to stop the election certification.

But he engaged in one of the more violent episodes of the day on the Capitol’s lower West Terrace, prosecutors say.

He used a crutch to beat one Capitol Police officer and kicked another.

He told an officer, “You’re going to die tonight.”

Afterward, he boasted of his bloody hands and that he “fed an officer to the people,” according to court documents.

Whitton’s defense in an April 2021 hearing over whether he would be released pending trial argued his actions were at least in part due to being part of a hive.

“This was a very rare and unusual event that is not likely to reoccur, hopefully ever, obviously, in our country’s history,” his attorney, Benjamin Alper said. “There’s a reason why we have the phrase ‘mob mentality,’ because crazy things happen when these events occur.”

Whitton has pleaded not guilty.

Coast to coast

George Washington University’s data shows the most defendants overall came from Florida, followed by Texas and Pennsylvania.

Only one defendant in the States Newsroom review had any connection to Nebraska, and none lived in the state at the time of the attack.

Brandon Straka, a pro-Trump online influencer with a substantial online following, has lived in New York City since at least 2018, but was arrested in Omaha weeks after the siege. He grew up in rural Nebraska, according to his website.

In Jan. 6 tweets he later deleted, Straka urged the rioters to “hold the line” and bemoaned a perceived loss in enthusiasm for the riot. Prosecutors recorded the tweets before they were deleted.

“I’m completely confused,” he tweeted. “For 6-8 weeks everybody on the right has been saying ‘1776!’ & that if congress moves forward it will mean a revolution! …now everybody is virtual signaling their embarrassment that this happened.”

Straka also responded to a falsehood that took place in some conservative circles following the attack — that the pro-Trump attack was infiltrated by members of the loosely organized radical leftist group known as antifa who sparked most of the violence

“Also- be embarrassed & hide if you need to- but I was there,” he wrote. “It was not Antifa at the Capitol. It was freedom loving Patriots who were DESPERATE to fight for the final hope of our Republic because literally nobody cares about them. Everyone else can denounce them. I will not.”

Straka pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge.

Loyalty to Trump

Vocal Trump supporters comprised the mob. MAGA apparel, Trump campaign flags and other signals of their connection to Trump flooded the landscape of the day.

As pro-Trump as the group was, it was almost equally against his political opponents. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, was perhaps the most frequent target of threats.

In a video depicting Coloradan Hunter Palm walking through a Capitol hallway, a crowd can be heard calling for “Nancy,” in an apparent reference to Pelosi, authorities said. “One individual shouts ‘Where are you?,’ and another can be heard stating ‘We’re gonna kill her.’”

Palm, accused of obstruction of Congress and other charges, has pleaded not guilty.

The charging documents provide an insight into how much influence Trump exerted over the group — and how an earlier call for the group to disperse could have quelled much of the day’s threat.

Patricia Hemphill, a Boise resident, posted to Facebook in late 2020 that she planned to travel to Washington for the Trump rally on Jan. 6. It would not be “a FUN Trump rally,” she wrote, but “a WAR.”

Despite her rhetoric, Hemphill is not alleged to have been on the front lines of skirmishes with police or committed any other violence. She pleaded guilty to parading, demonstrating or picketing in the Capitol, a misdemeanor.

After arriving in Washington on Jan. 5, she told several people at an outdoor event that night that Trump would remain president.

She stayed inside the Capitol for nine minutes before asking for help out because she feared injury from the crowd, according to a statement of facts she signed as part of a guilty plea.

She remained on the steps outside for more than half an hour, taking video of the riot and talking with others, according to the statement.

She left when other rioters told her Trump had tweeted they should go home.

“When Trump says something, I listen,” she said.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

Arizona GOP chair sues to block Jan. 6 panel’s records subpoena

Kelli Ward, the chairwoman of the Arizona Republican Party, and her husband, Michael Ward, filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday challenging a subpoena from the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The subpoena sought phone records from Nov. 1, 2020, through Jan. 31, 2021, for four phone numbers associated with the Wards and Michael Ward’s business, Mole Medical Services. Both Wards were among the Arizona Republicans who signed a bogus document claiming that Donald Trump won the state in the 2020 election.

The Wards’ suit asks the court to block their phone company, T-Mobile, from delivering those records to the committee.

The subpoena is “overbroad,” the Wards said, because it is “unrelated to the enabling resolution of the issuing Committee” and doesn’t make a clear connection between the records and potential legislation.

The Wards have not been accused of being at the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, and they say their involvement with the slate of fake electors has no connection to the attack, which limits the committee from seeking their records, they say.

A statement last week from the office of Jan. 6 committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) announcing subpoenas for people who led slates of fake electors in seven states said the fake electors were directly tied to the Jan. 6 attack. Some advisers to former President Donald Trump used the false slates as justification for blocking the certification of the vote in a joint session of Congress that day.

“The Select Committee is seeking information about attempts in multiple states to overturn the results of the 2020 election, including the planning and coordination of efforts to send false slates of electors,” Thompson said in the statement. “We believe the individuals we have subpoenaed today have information about how these so-called alternate electors met and who was behind that scheme.”

The Wards, both of whom are doctors, also said the records subpoena should be blocked because they use the phone numbers to communicate with patients, and that releasing phone data would compromise protected medical information.

The Wards’ case was initially assigned to U.S. District Judge Susan M. Brnovich, who is married to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican who is running for U.S. Senate. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has asked Mark Brnovich to investigate the group of fake electors for improperly using the state seal without permission from her office.

Susan Brnovich signed an order Wednesday recusing herself and assigning the case to Judge James F. Metcalf by random lot.

Attorneys for the Wards did not return messages Wednesday.

The Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol and the Arizona GOP did not immediately return requests for comment.

States Newsroom DC reporter Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

House progressives file resolution yanking Boebert committee assignments

U.S. House progressives are pushing to strip Rep. Lauren Boebert of her committee assignments after the Colorado Republican suggested Minnesota’s Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of only three Muslims in Congress, was a terrorist.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) introduced a resolution Wednesday to remove Boebert from the Natural Resources Committee and Budget Committee for violating a House rule requiring members to act “in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House.”

“For a Member of Congress to repeatedly use hateful, anti-Muslim rhetoric and Islamophobic tropes towards a Muslim colleague is dangerous,” Pressley said in a statement.

“Without meaningful accountability for that Member’s actions, we risk normalizing this behavior and endangering the lives of our Muslim colleagues, Muslim staffers and every Muslim who calls America home.

Asked about the resolution at a press conference on Wednesday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that she was not yet ready to make an announcement on how Democrats would proceed.

“How we deal with addressing the fear that they have instilled with their Islamophobia and the rest is something that hopefully we can do in a bipartisan way,” she told reporters. Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other members of the House Democratic leadership last month called on GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy to “finally take real action against racism” in reaction to Boebert’s comments.

Boebert issues apology after suicide-bomber reference to Rep. Omar, who calls Colorado lawmaker ‘buffoon’

“I don’t feel like talking about what the Republicans aren’t doing or are doing about their members, the disgraceful, unacceptable behavior of their members,” Pelosi added

In addition to Pressley, 18 fellow House Democrats cosponsored the measure, including Cori Bush of Missouri, Rashida Tlaib and Andy Levin of Michigan, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, Hank Johnson of Georgia and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey.

Another 15 Democrats, including Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), signed onto a statement last week calling for Boebert’s removal from committees.

A group of 62 Muslim congressional staffers and 378 “allied staffers” wrote an open letter to House leadership Wednesday calling for Congress to “categorically reject this incendiary rhetoric that endangers the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of Muslim staff.”

“Witnessing unchecked harassment of one of only three Muslim Members of Congress — and the only visibly Muslim Member — we feel that our workplace is not safe nor welcome,” the staffers wrote. “We must now come to work every day knowing that the same Members and staff who perpetuate Islamophobic tropes and insinuate that we are terrorists, also walk by us in the halls of Congress.”

The staffers signed the document with initials and did not disclose which offices they worked for, saying doing so could make them targets for abuse.

NBC News first reported on the letter.

In a video posted to Facebook late last month and since deleted, Boebert told a group of supporters that she comforted a supposedly fretful Capitol Police officer concerned about Omar’s presence on an elevator by telling the officer, “She doesn’t have a backpack, we should be fine.”

She then said she called Omar, a Minnesota Democrat and one of only four Muslims ever elected to Congress, “the jihad squad.”

Omar said in a Thanksgiving Day tweet the story was fabricated.

“Fact, this buffoon looks down when she sees me at the Capitol, this whole story is made up,” she tweeted. “Sad she thinks bigotry gets her clout. Anti-Muslim bigotry isn’t funny & shouldn’t be normalized. Congress can’t be a place where hateful and dangerous Muslims tropes get no condemnation.”

Boebert released a statement on Twitter the following day apologizing “to anyone in the Muslim community” she offended and said she reached out to Omar to discuss the incident directly.

But that conversation, a Nov. 29 phone call, went poorly.

Omar said she hoped for a direct apology, but that Boebert refused to acknowledge her comments and “instead doubled down on her rhetoric.”

Boebert said on the right-wing Newsmax network the call was an attempt to “make amends” and that Omar hung up on her after Boebert demanded Omar be the one to apologize.

The resolution to remove Boebert from committees was drafted two days later, according to a timestamp on Pressley’s office website.

A spokesman for Boebert did not return an email seeking comment Wednesday.

Ariana Figueroa contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 11:26 a.m., Dec. 8, 2021, to include more information about the open letter from congressional staffers.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

Josh Hawley sued for accepting nearly $1 million in illegally coordinated campaign expenses

The Giffords gun safety organization has sued the National Rifle Association and the campaigns of U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley and U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana, alleging group used shell corporations to improperly aid the Republican lawmakers in 2018.

The suit alleges two NRA affiliates made up to $35 million in illegal campaign contributions — in the form of coordinated communications efforts — to the GOP Senate campaigns of Hawley, Rosendale, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, as well as Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

It was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia this week.

The NRA Political Victory Fund, a political action committee, and the NRA Institute for Legislative Action spent millions on supposedly independent political advertising for the six Senate candidates and Trump in the 2014, 2016 and 2018 federal election cycles, according to the suit.

The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan campaign finance group, is representing Giffords, a gun-safety group founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., in part to counter the NRA's influence in national politics.

Under a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, outside groups are allowed to spend unlimited amounts on political speech, including advertisements in favor of candidates.

But federal campaign finance rules require such advertisements to be commissioned without coordinating with campaigns. Coordinated messaging counts as an in-kind contribution.

Political action committees are subject to a $5,000 limit per cycle on contributions, including in-kind contributions, to a single candidate. Corporations are not allowed to spend treasury funds for coordinated messaging on behalf of political candidates.

The suit accuses the NRA and the campaigns of using the same political messaging firms to disguise coordinated campaign activity as independent advertising.

The NRA paid Starboard Strategic Inc., a Virginia and Maryland-headquartered company, for advertising in support of the candidates. The candidates paid a company called OnMessage that the suit says is “functionally indistinguishable" from Starboard.

“They are led by the same people and located at the same address, and no internal separation or firewall exists between the staff who work for each entity," the suit says. “OnMessage has been nominated for, and has accepted, industry awards for [NRA] ads contracted through Starboard."

The companies, which the suit alleges are actually one firm operating under two names, then coordinated to create and place complementary advertisements—exactly the type of coordination that is not supposed to be allowed between campaigns and outside groups.

“By falsely claiming their advertising spending was independent, however, the NRA affiliates evaded [federal] contribution limits, source prohibitions and disclosure requirements," the Campaign Legal Center said in a statement.

OnMessage previously drew controversy in Missouri after the Kansas City Star revealed that soon after Hawley was sworn in as state attorney general in 2017, he brought consultants from the firm who would go on to run his Senate campaign into his official office to help direct taxpayer-funded staff.

A report issued by the state auditor's office in 2020 was unable to say conclusively whether the arrangement violated the law because state business was being conducted using private email and text messages.

During the 2018 campaign, Rosendale seemed to publicly confirm his campaign was coordinating with the NRA, the suit alleges. At a July 18, 2018, fundraiser, Rosendale said the NRA Institute for Legal Affairs political director, Chris Cox, would make expenditures in support of Rosendale, then accurately described the content and the timing of the ads that ran weeks later, according to the suit.

The suit says Rosendale accepted up to $383,196 in coordinated expenditures. Hawley accepted up to $973,196, the suit says.

The bulk of the illegal expenditures—$25 million of the $35 million total alleged—went to Trump's 2016 campaign, according to the suit.

Although the suit only names Hawley and Rosendale, other matters concerning the other candidates named in the suit could be proceeding at the Federal Election Commission, the federal regulator for campaign finance violations. The FEC keeps proceedings secret while they are ongoing.

The suit arose from an administrative proceeding at the FEC that Giffords brought in April 2019, but the commission— long derided as a toothless regulator—took no action.

A September court order gave the agency 30 days to act. If the agency did not act, Giffords would be allowed under that order to bring the matter to civil court. The FEC has not acted since that court order.

Because the original complaint was made in 2019, it did not cover the 2020 elections, when Rosendale, Tillis, Gardner, Cotton and Trump all ran again for federal office.

Representatives for the NRA, Hawley, Rosendale, Tillis, Johnson and Gardner did not respond to messages seeking comment Friday.

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

Revised voting rights bill named for John Lewis wins over one GOP senator

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Tuesday she would join Senate Democrats in backing a compromise voting rights bill, marking the first time this year a Republican has signed on to a measure that likely still lacks enough GOP support to become law.

Murkowski, of Alaska, joined Democrats Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia to introduce a new version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named after the late Georgia civil rights icon.

The compromise version is more permissive of state voter ID laws. It also includes a provision to expand Native American voting access.

The senators said the changes were the product of “months of bipartisan negotiations," but Murkowski was the only Republican senator to endorse the legislation Tuesday.

Under Senate rules, the measure would have to receive 60 votes to advance to debate, meaning nine more Republicans beyond Murkowski would have to vote for it.

Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said in a statement he was “hopeful that more Republicans will follow Senator Murkowski's lead."

The compromise measure includes language that would require courts hearing challenges to state practices to consider whether the practice “advances a valid and substantiated state interest." The bill's sponsors said that would strengthen the landmark Voting Rights Act's protections against discriminatory voter laws.

The bill would also allow courts not to consider voter photo ID laws when looking at the totality of circumstances in Voting Rights Act lawsuits.

In the release, Murkowski highlighted the inclusion of the Native American Voting Rights Act, a bill introduced earlier this year by New Mexico Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Luján.

The measure would allow tribes to request the number and location of voter registration sites and polling places on tribal lands, authorize tribal ID cards as a valid form of voting identification and authorize a $10 million Native American Voting Rights Task Force grant program, according to a summary from cosponsor U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, (D-Calif.).

The evenly divided U.S. Senate is expected to vote on cloture on the bill Wednesday. If that procedural vote fails, the bill will be stalled.

Congressional Democrats have made several previous efforts at voting rights reform this year, as Republican-led state legislatures in Georgia and elsewhere put in place more restrictive laws, but have not won support from any Republicans.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Georgia US attorney quit after Trump pressure to reject election results, new report confirms

Former President Donald Trump forced a top federal prosecutor in Atlanta to step down because he wouldn't help Trump overturn his loss of Georgia in the 2020 presidential election, a U.S. Senate report released Thursday said.

The report, written by Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats, found that the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, Byung Jin “BJay" Pak, resigned under pressure from the Trump White House in early January.

Pak would not substantiate unfounded claims that the election results in Georgia were fraudulent, the report said.

Trump's attorney general, William Barr, asked Pak to make an investigation of supposedly illegal ballots carried around in suitcases “a top priority," Pak told committee investigators in an interview made public for the first time Thursday.

Thursday's report was only an interim account, released as committee investigators continue to gather evidence in their investigation into Trump's efforts shortly after the November election to undermine President Joe Biden's victory.

Though the findings aren't final, the report adds details about Pak's ouster and confirms it was related to his resistance to pursuing Trump's demands to find nonexistent election fraud.

Pak's resignation letter, submitted Jan. 4, made no mention of his reason for leaving the post he'd held since October 2017, though the move raised questions at the time because it broke with the Justice Department's succession protocol.

Bobby Christine, then the U.S. attorney for the neighboring Southern District of Georgia, replaced Pak on an acting basis. Under normal procedure, Pak's top deputy, Kurt Erskine, would have become the acting U.S. attorney.

A 'never-Trumper'

In a Jan. 3 Oval Office meeting, Trump complained to acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who by then had replaced Barr, and acting Deputy Attorney General Richard O'Donoghue that Pak was a “never-Trumper," according to the report.

Trump said he'd prefer Christine to take over the Northern District office, which includes Atlanta, because “he'll do something about [election fraud]."

Trump was displeased that Pak, a former Republican state legislator whom Trump had appointed to the U.S. attorney post, wouldn't back unfounded claims of election fraud related to ballots inside State Farm Arena in Atlanta.

Rudy Giuliani, a personal attorney and adviser to Trump, traveled to Georgia in early December to promote the theory that a video showed poll workers at the arena delivering suitcases full of illegal ballots.

Barr, before he stepped down as attorney general Dec. 14, asked Pak to make an investigation of Giuliani's claim “a top priority," Pak told committee investigators.

U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff, (D-Ga.), and Richard J. Blumenthal, (D-Conn.) and Judiciary Committee staff members were present for Pak's interview.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office quickly debunked that Giuliani claim, finding instead that the supposed suitcases were secure ballot boxes holding legitimate ballots.

Pak personally reviewed video and audio from the arena and confirmed the secretary of state's findings were valid, he said.

“I was comfortable that the main allegation that Mr. Giuliani made with respect to the secure ballot box being a suitcase full of fake ballots, that was not true," Pak told committee investigators. “That was debunked. I was satisfied of the explanation."

But Trump and some allies continued to push that theory and other strategies to overturn Biden's victory in Georgia.

On Jan. 2, Trump called Raffensperger and asked him, during an hour-long call, to “find" enough ballots to change the election result.

The next day, Trump met with Rosen and Donoghue and said he wanted to fire Pak, whom he called a “never-Trumper" who wouldn't zealously pursue fraud claims.

Donoghue resisted. But when Trump overruled him, Donoghue told him Pak planned to step down the next day anyway, though Pak had actually told colleagues he planned to stay in office until Inauguration Day.

“That's fine," Trump responded, according to Donoghue's testimony. “I'm not going to fire him, then. But when his resignation comes in, it's accepted. Tomorrow is his last day as U.S. attorney."

Trump then suggested Christine take over the Northern District. Donoghue responded that Erskine was next in the line of succession, but Trump insisted on Christine.

Pak did submit a “very bland" letter of resignation on Jan. 4 in order to avoid disrupting a special U.S. Senate election the next day, he told investigators.

The committee report concludes that the Trump White House made inappropriate demands of the Justice Department to investigate claims of election fraud, especially in Georgia.

Mark Meadows, a former North Carolina congressman who was Trump's White House chief of staff, asked Rosen to “investigate various discredited claims of election fraud in Georgia," the report said.

Grassley retort

After the Democrats' report was issued Thursday, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa's senior senator and the ranking Republican on the Judiciary panel, pushed back against it and said it vindicated Trump rather than implicating him.

The report focuses on Trump receiving advice from Jeffrey Clark, then the head of the Justice Department's civil division, outside counsel John Eastman and others to take drastic actions to subvert the election results.

Those steps included firing the top DOJ leadership and installing Clark, sending letters to states asking them to contest the results, and suing states with voter issues.

But Trump rejected the most extreme options, Grassley said.

“The Democrats' report makes much of efforts by individual lawyers to push the department to take these steps," Grassley said. “But the fact is, none of these steps were taken because President Trump made the ultimate decision not to."

Representatives for Ossoff did not return a message seeking comment Thursday. A spokeswoman for fellow Georgia Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock also did not return a request for comment.

Both were elected in the historic special election runoff on Jan. 5, the day after Pak resigned.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

'Wildfire year’ meant record days at the highest preparedness level: Forest Service chief

The U.S. Forest Service spent more consecutive days this summer at the agency's highest level of preparedness for wildfires than in any previous year, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore told a U.S. House subcommittee Wednesday.

Moore's comments reflected the growing danger from more intense and harder-to -control fires that have swept Western and Midwestern states this season, even if fewer acres actually have burned than in recent years.

Moore, appearing at his first congressional hearing since taking office in July, told the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry that firefighters should be paid more and deserve better work-life balance. The pay raises the administration provided earlier this year were “a good beginning" to improving conditions for firefighters, he said.

By some measures, the 2021 fire season has been milder than in recent years. The 5.9 million acres burned as of Wednesday is only the fourth-highest on the same date in the last five years, according to data from the National Interagency Fire Center.

Still, the 2021 season started unusually early, Moore said. And many of the individual fires were more intense, subcommittee ranking Republican Doug LaMalfa of California said. Lawmakers said the wildfire season had extended to “wildfire year."

The federal government should focus more on forest management, which is equally important to fire suppression, Moore said.

“We talk a lot about fire suppression," Moore said. “But we need to spend an equal amount of time on treatments out on the ground."

About 20 million acres should be prioritized for treatment in the next 10 years, he said. More than 66 million acres are at high risk for wildfire, according to the Forest Service.

But that task is made more difficult by the loss of workers. The agency has lost 38 percent of its non-fire workforce in the last 20 years, Moore said. The loss of those staffers has diminished the agency's ability to manage forests in ways that make fires less likely and severe.

Arizona Democrat Tom O'Halleran said that was a result of underfunding.

“Congress has been not willing to put the money forward," he said.

Moore said the agency would benefit from additional funding.

“If we have more, we'll do more," Moore said. “It's up to you all to determine what more looks like."

Reconciliation and infrastructure bills

Wednesday's subcommittee hearing took place against the backdrop of fast-approaching deadlines for major legislation to enact much of President Joe Biden's domestic policy agenda through a $1.2 trillion physical infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion budget plan that Democrats plan to pass through the budget reconciliation process.

Moore said the “legislation being considered now" would increase the Forest Service's ability to prevent fires.

In response to a question from Subcommittee Chair Abigail Spanberger, (D-Va.), Moore said a Civilian Climate Corps, a conservation jobs program that would be created in the $3.5 trillion package, would help bolster resilience to wildfires and create a pathway to forestry careers.

Spanberger called on Congress to act on wildfires by passing the $3.5 trillion budget plan that includes provisions meant to address climate change.

“It should not take the ash of these wildfires or the debris and floodwaters of hurricanes ravaging our coasts or the severe heat felt by millions across the nation and across the globe on a daily basis — it should not take that reaching the Capitol steps for Congress to take action on the environmental crisis we are currently facing," she said.

The $3.5 trillion budget plan includes $14 billion for thinning national forests to mitigate their fire risk, $9 billion more for similar state programs, $1 billion for critical vegetation management and other forest management provisions, Spanberger said.

But Republicans on the panel criticized the measure for not making policy changes to make forest management easier.

Glenn 'GT' Thompson, a Pennsylvania Republican who is the ranking member on the Agriculture Committee, said the reconciliation bill would make management more difficult.

“It restricts the Forest Service's ability to do the restoration necessary for millions of acres," Thompson said of the forestry measure in the reconciliation bill. “We can't just throw money at wildfire while limiting the service and hope for a different outcome."

LaMalfa said there was too great a focus on climate change and not enough on overgrown forests, which he said are a major factor in worsening fires.

“While many continue to blame a changing climate for the increase of acres burned each year and the greater intensity of recent wildfires, the fact is that most of forests are overgrown and overstocked," he said. “We aren't doing enough to reduce these fuel loads… We will not solve this crisis without a fundamental shift in how we manage these lands."

Spanberger also said climate was not the only factor in worsening wildfires. The encroachment of housing developments into wild areas and human behavior also contribute, she said.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Huge uptick in pandemic ‘air rage’ hits flight attendants

Flight attendants have been subject to unprecedented harassment over masks and more during the pandemic, and a U.S. House panel on Thursday heard the raw details of those “air rage" incidents.

While there's no hard data, the leader of the flight attendants' union said the most aggression appears to occur in Southern states where there's been pushback against mask mandates.

Teddy Andrews, an attendant based in Charlotte, N.C., for American Airlines, told the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee he had “lost count" of the number of times he'd been insulted. But he related one incident in particular that made him “question [his] career choice."

Andrews said he asked a passenger to put his mask on properly, after the passenger had already brought another flight attendant to tears.

The passenger exploded, insisting he did not have to comply, and twice hurled racist slurs at Andrews, who is Black.

“While I am trained for this, I know I don't deserve to be spoken to like this under any circumstance," said Andrews, who testified on behalf of the flight attendants' union, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.

Andrews said he responded calmly, the passenger eventually complied and the rest of the flight continued without incident.

The confrontation was one of thousands that have plagued flight attendants and other airline and airport employees during the pandemic, especially as air travel has picked up—along with seeming frustration about mask mandates.

Earlier this year, unruly passenger reports in 2021 were on pace to outnumber all previous years' incidents combined, said Sara Nelson, the influential leader of the Association of Flight Attendants.

Of the 4,385 reports so far this year, nearly three-quarters were related to mask wearing, according to Federal Aviation Administration data.

That pace of unruly passenger reports has since dipped, according to the FAA. An agency news release Thursday said the rate last week of six incidents per 10,000 flights was half of its peak in February and March.

But the rate is still more than double what it was at the end of last year.

Nelson said there is little hard data on demographic trends, but she said that survey results show more incidents in Southern hubs in North Carolina, Florida and Texas airports where there is more discord over COVID-19 restrictions.

“Incidents are more likely happening out of places where there has been a real inconsistent communication and very clear opposition to masks and dealing with this public health crisis," Nelson said.

Mandates, pricey snacks, security screenings

Without excusing the behavior, Republicans on the panel said mask mandates contributed to the passenger frustration that has led to increased incidents of air rage.

The aviation panel's ranking Republican, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, said members should look at the issue “holistically" and seek to understand what made air travel so anxiety-inducing, including policies meant to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Graves ran through a litany of frustrations, ranging from inconsistent airport security screening protocols to overpriced snacks to a federal mask mandate for transportation, saying all contributed to passengers feeling on edge.

“We've got to make sure that we're looking at the entire flight experience," Graves said. “Why are these incidences increasing, spiking like they are? … Seventy-five percent of air rage incidents that are occurring are tied back to masks."

Graves and Rep. Troy Nehls, (R-Texas), also said photos of U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John F. Kerry and a group of Texas Democratic state lawmakers traveling without masks on planes showed a frustrating double standard.

Calls for better enforcement

Democrats on the committee called for greater enforcement of existing rules against unruly passenger behavior.

In about 40% of cases, no one on the plane alerts on-ground law enforcement of the incident, Nelson said.

Flight attendants often feel pressured to get to their next flight and don't feel their airlines will support them in pausing to file a complaint, she said, noting United Airlines as an exception through a program that encourages attendants to file a police report.

Other cases of harassment don't necessarily rise to the level needed to involve police.

Andrews, for example, said he didn't alert law enforcement or the plane's captains of the incident he told the panel about because the passenger was not threatening.

The FAA adopted a zero-tolerance policy for unruly passengers in January, enabling the agency to skip warning letters and go straight to fines. It has issued $1.1 million in fines so far this year.

Nelson and Democrats on the panel called for greater criminal enforcement from the Justice Department and FBI as well.

Asked Thursday whether the Biden administration would support criminal prosecutions against unruly airline passengers, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded by highlighting the recent move to double fines issued to those who refuse to comply with mask mandates.

“We're hopeful it will have an impact on people behaving in a safer way on flights," Psaki said.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio, (D-Ore.), also raised the idea of banning to-go alcohol sales in airports and allowing airlines to share information on unruly passengers.

DeFazio said the FAA could coordinate a nationwide list of unruly passengers. Under the current system, passengers banned by one airline have no restriction on flying with another.

Laura Olson contributed to this report.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.