'Just the next step' towards justice: Memphis Police ditch SCORPION unit

The family of Tyre Nichols and others appalled by his death—for which five fired Memphis cops now face murder charges—welcomed the police department's decision on Saturday to disband a unit created in 2021 to patrol high-crime areas.

The move came a day after the Tennessee city put out videos of the former Memphis Police Department (MPD) officers—Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith—brutally beating Nichols following a traffic stop on January 7. The 29-year-old Black man was hospitalized and died three days later from cardiac arrest and kidney failure.

The MPD's Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods (SCORPION) Unit hasn't been active since Nichols' January 10 death, according to the mayor. The five ex-officers, who are all Black, were part of the unit and on assignment with it when they pulled over Nichols, police spokesperson Maj. Karen Rudolph confirmed to multiple news outlets on Saturday.

In public comments leading up to the footage being released Friday night—which sparked nationwide peaceful protests—Nichols' family along with Memphis residents and people across the United States called for the unit to be shut down.

The MPD said in a statement that members of the unit met with Chief Cerelyn "C.J." Davis on Saturday "to discuss the path forward for the department and the community in the aftermath of the tragic death of Tyre Nichols."

"In the process of listening intently to the family of Tyre Nichols, community leaders, and the uninvolved officers who have done quality work in their assignments, it is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the SCORPION Unit," the statement continued. "The officers currently assigned to the unit agree unreservedly with this next step."

In response, attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci said in a statement that "the Nichols family and their legal team find the decision to permanently disband this unit to be both appropriate and proportional to the tragic death of Tyre Nichols, and also a decent and just decision for all citizens of Memphis."

"We hope that other cities take similar action with their saturation police units in the near future to begin to create greater trust in their communities," the pair added. "We must keep in mind that this is just the next step on this journey for justice and accountability, as clearly this misconduct is not restricted to these specialty units. It extends so much further."

Memphis City Council Member J.B. Smiley Jr. told the Commercial Appeal that shutting down the unit was "essential for the family" of Nichols, but "my ultimate concern is just, it may just be surface level," because "the police department has the ability to create other units and just call it something else."

Fellow Memphis City Council Member Patrice Robinson toldCNN's Jim Acosta that "the community has a lot more questions and a lot more demands."

"We have gotten emails from many citizens in our community, they're all concerned and they're expressing exactly what they see and what they want to see in our police department," she said. "We really need to investigate and find out what's going on."

Rolling Stonereported on institutional changes that some locals want, according to Memphis organizer Amber Sherman:

They're calling for widespread reforms in the Memphis police: dissolving similar task forces in the city, ending the use of unmarked cars and plainclothes officers, and banning traffic stops without probable cause. All three help escalate police violence, Sherman tells Rolling Stone. "We can't just get rid of one of them. We have to do all three." The SCORPION Unit was only 14 months old when it was disbanded. Founded in late 2021 during a rise in the city's murder rate, it was touted by local officials for its high number of arrests and a decline in violent crime, but locals say the unit quickly developed a reputation for its policing tactics. "Here in Memphis we call them the Jump-out Boys," Sherman says. "They're in unmarked cars, and they jump out of them and assault people."
Activists in Memphis emphasized that this type of policing is not a new phenomenon. "It's not just the SCORPION Unit. We've had these task forces for years," Sherman continues. "I'm born and raised here, in my 20s, and this has always been a practice."

National leaders also responded to the development on Saturday by warning that much more must still be done at all levels.

"This is what immediate action looks like in the face of crisis and traumatic events on behalf of a community," NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson declared of the department disbanding the unit, while also wondering why local leaders can "move to address the needs of the people faster than elected officials throughout the halls of Congress."

Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson tweeted: "This is good. And not enough. And we've seen this happen before only for these units to pop back up when the world isn't watching."

\u201cAs news spreads the Memphis PD will disband the murderous \u201cScorpion\u201d Unit, it is important to know that back in 2020 NYC disbanded its own \u201canti-crime\u201d unit responsible for shootings, brutality, & Eric Garner\u2019s murder. \n\nNYC Mayor Eric Adams revived & expanded the unit last year.\u201d
— Scott Hechinger (@Scott Hechinger) 1674949043

"I must reiterate that this is not the win they want you to think it is. Cops have and will continue to be brutal despite not being in a cool 'special taskforce,'" coder, organizer, and YouTuber Sean Wiggs warned.

Legal reform advocate Dyjuan Tatro similarly argued that "the problem with this statement is that the SCORPION Unit should have never existed. It's well documented that police special units are violent, reckless, and racist. Furthermore, the rest of the officers of this violent unit are still on the police force, armed and ready to kill."

Strategist and writer Jodi Jacobson took issue with another element of the department's statement, telling the MPD: "It was NOT a 'tragic death.' It was murder at the hands of our department. What you say matters, and you clearly are not taking responsibility."

GOP Utah governor signs ban on 'lifesaving medical care' for trans youth

Defying the guidance of the nation's leading medical organizations, Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox on Saturday signed into law a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors in the state.

Passed by the Utah House of Representatives on Thursday and the state Senate on Friday, S.B. 16 prohibits gender-affirming surgeries for trans youth and bars hormonal treatment for new patients who were not diagnosed with gender dysphoria before the bill's effective date, May 3.

"This bill effectively bans access to lifesaving medical care for transgender youth in Utah," said Brittney Nystrom, executive director of the ACLU of Utah, after the Senate vote Friday. "It undermines the health and well-being of adolescents, limits the options of doctors, patients, and parents, and violates the constitutional rights of these families."

Nystrom also sent Cox a letter urging him to veto the bill. She wrote that "the ACLU of Utah is deeply concerned about the damaging and potentially catastrophic effects this law will have on people's lives and medical care, and the grave violations of people's constitutional rights it will cause."

Cathryn Oakley, Human Rights Campaign's state legislative director and senior counsel, had also pressured Cox to veto the bill, arguing Friday that "Utah legislators capitulated to extremism and fear-mongering, and by doing so, shamelessly put the lives and well-being of young Utahans at risk—young transgender folks who are simply trying to navigate life as their authentic selves."

"Every parent wants and deserves access to the highest quality healthcare for our kids," Oakley said. "This discriminatory legislation bans care that is age-appropriate and supported by every major medical association, representing more than 1.3 million doctors. Medical decisions are best left to medical experts and parents or guardians, not politicians without an ounce of medical training acting as if they know how to raise and support our children better than we do."

Dr. Jack Turban, an assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco who researches the mental health of transgender and gender diverse youth, also pointed out that the new Utah law contradicts the positions of various medical organizations.

— Jack Turban MD \ud83c\udff3\ufe0f\u200d\u26a7\ufe0f\ud83e\udde0\ud83c\udff3\ufe0f\u200d\ud83c\udf08\ud83e\ude7a (@Jack Turban MD \ud83c\udff3\ufe0f\u200d\u26a7\ufe0f\ud83e\udde0\ud83c\udff3\ufe0f\u200d\ud83c\udf08\ud83e\ude7a) 1674936238

Some LGBTQ+ advocates had hoped Cox would be compelled to block the bill because last March, citing trans youth suicide rates, he vetoed H.B. 11, which banned transgender girls from playing on school sports teams that align with their gender identity. Utah lawmakers swiftly overrode his veto but a state judge in August issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the law.

Republican lawmakers in various states have ramped up efforts to enact anti-trans laws—particularly those targeting youth—over the past few years. As The New York Timesreported Wednesday:

But even by those standards, the start of the 2023 legislative season stands out for the aggressiveness with which lawmakers are pushing into new territory. The bills they have proposed—more than 150 in at least 25 states—include bans on transition care into young adulthood; restrictions on drag shows using definitions that could broadly encompass performances by transgender people; measures that would prevent teachers in many cases from using names or pronouns matching students' gender identities; and requirements that schools out transgender students to their parents.

Legislative researcher Erin Reed, who is transgender, told the Times that the more aggressive proposals could make others seem like compromises.

"I really hope that people don't allow that to happen," Reed said. "Because these bills still target trans people who will then have to suffer the consequences."

In a tweet about Cox's decision Saturday, Reed said that "my heart breaks for Utah trans kids."

\u201cMy heart breaks for Utah trans kids.\n\nThe governor of Utah has signed a gender affirming care ban for trans youth into law. Utah becomes the first state of 2023 to ban gender affirming care and unless it is blocked in court, it would be the only state with such a ban in effect.\u201d
— Erin Reed (@Erin Reed) 1674931607

After the Utah House passed the measure Thursday, the chamber's Democrats expressed their disappointment with what they called "a misguided step by our Legislature and a violation of parents' rights," and said that "we recognize that gender-affirming healthcare is lifesaving, patient-center healthcare."

"With no pathway forward for children in need of care, this legislation will inevitably lead to litigation and a likely injunction," they added. "This is a tremendous waste of taxpayer money, and worse, a terrible message for our Legislature to send to transgender Utahns, their family, and their friends."

After the governor signed the bill, the ACLU of Utah tweeted Saturday that "trans kids are kids—they deserve to grow up without constant political attacks on their lives and healthcare; we will defend that right. We see you. We support you."

Protests erupt across the U.S. after Memphis releases video of former cops beating Tyre Nichols

The Memphis-based Commercial Appeal reported that protesters advocating for police reform shut down the Interstate 55 bridge that connects Tennessee and Arkansas:
As of 8:30 pm, more than 100 people remained on the Harahan Bridge with protest leaders saying they wanted to talk with Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Memphis Police Department Chief Cerelyn "C.J." Davis before disbanding. MPD officers closed off roads leading to the bridge―and several others downtown―but had not directly confronted protesters. Protesters started moving off of the bridge around 9:00 pm. As they marched eastbound on E.H. Crump Boulevard towards police, they locked arms and chanted "we ready, we ready, we ready for y'all." Protestors then turned north, toward central downtown. As they passed by residences, some people came out on their balconies to cheer.

Surrounded by protestors on I-55, NBC News' Priscilla Thompson said that "they are chanting, they are calling the name of Tyre Nichols. They are calling for change."

\u201c"They are chanting, they are calling the name of Tyre Nichols."\n\n@PriscillaWT reports from protests on a Memphis highway after the release of a video showing the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols. https://t.co/KYY7bFKvMQ\u201d
— NBC News (@NBC News) 1674868123

Demonstrators and the Nichols family have called for disbanding the MPD Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods (SCORPION) team that launched in 2021 and was involved in the traffic stop. The Memphis mayor said Friday afternoon that the unit has been inactive since Nichols' January 10 death.

The footage shows that after police brutally beat Nichols—pushing him to the ground; using pepper spray; punching and kicking him; and striking him with a baton—it took 22 minutes from when officers said he was in custody for an ambulance to arrive and take him to the hospital, where he later died from cardiac arrest and kidney failure.

\u201c#Breaking LIVE: Memphis protesters block traffic on Old Bridge on I-55 call for justice for Tyre Nichols and out about #PoliceBrutality. "Please don't shoot me dead. I got my hands above my head." \n\nFull Video: https://t.co/ddGVpjTe29\n\n#JusticeforTyreNichols #TyreNichols\u201d
— Status Coup News (@Status Coup News) 1674870579


In Georgia, though Republican Gov. Brian Kemp earlier this week signed an executive order enabling him to deploy 1,000 National Guard troops "as necessary" following protests in Atlanta over law enforcement killing 26-year-old forest defender Manuel "Tortuguita" Teran, those who gathered after the video release Friday night "expressed outrage but did so peacefully."

That's according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which detailed that "a small but spirited crowd" of roughly 50 people formed in downtown Atlanta.

"We want to make one thing very clear, no executive order and no National Guard is going to stop the people for fighting for justice," Zara Azad said at the corner of Marietta Street and Centennial Olympic Park Drive. "We do not fear them because we are for justice."

\u201c#Memphis chief, Davis, also led Atlanta\u2019s REDDOG unit, which was disbanded after being sued for excessive force. https://t.co/2TUvnaJ7Gw\u201d
— Atlanta Community Press Collective (@Atlanta Community Press Collective) 1674877239


Just before the footage was released Friday, a vigil was held at "The Embrace" statue installed on Boston Common to honor Rev. Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King.

The Boston Globe reported that Imari Paris Jeffries, executive director of King Boston, which installed the monument, highlighted that the civil rights icon was assassinated while visiting Memphis in 1968 to advocate for sanitation workers whose slogan was "Am I a man?"

"Today we are thinking about Memphis and Brother Tyre, and the slogan of today is still, 'Am I a man?'" Jeffries said. "Seeing the humanity in each of us is the cornerstone of true change. Experiencing another heinous display reminds us that no family should feel this pain, ever. And there's still work to do."

"This is a problem that confronts us all," he added. "This is a problem that we need to defeat together, as a family, as a community."

\u201c\u201cThey executed him!\u201d\n\nProtests erupt across the country in wake of video showing brutal police beating of Tyre Nichols in TN. Protesters in Boston last night called for justice. \n\nDetails on another demonstration today in Boston on @boston25 from 8-10 AM\u201d
— Julianne Lima (@Julianne Lima) 1674912243


"From Memphis to Chicago, these killer cops have got to go," chanted about a dozen people who gathered near a police precinct in the Illinois city despite freezing temperatures, according to USA TODAY. Their signs read, "Justice for Tyre Nichols" and "End police terror."

Kamran Sidiqi, a 27-year-old who helped organize the protest—one of the multiple peaceful gatherings held throughout the city—told the newspaper that "it's tough to imagine what justice is here because Tyre is never coming back."

"That's someone's son, someone's friend lost forever. That's a human being's life that is gone," he said. "But a modicum of justice would be putting these killer cops in jail. A modicum of justice would be building a whole new system so that this can't happen again."

\u201cAna Santoyo, 33, a Chicago native running for alderperson, said the killing is another reminder that police brutality is pervasive in the U.S. \u201cIt\u2019s not just bad apples. It\u2019s the whole bunch,\u201d she said.\n\nhttps://t.co/7xnFV94oo0\u201d
— Ana Santoyo for Alderperson (@Ana Santoyo for Alderperson) 1674875708


In Texas, The Dallas Morning News reported that Dominique Alexander, founder of the Next Generation Action Network, called Nichols' death a "total disregard for life, for humanity."

"The culture of policing is what is allowing these officers to feel like they can take our lives," Alexander said. "We want peace and calm in our communities, and we will do whatever is necessary to demand justice so our children don't have to deal with the same bullcrap we are dealing with now."

Around two dozen people who came together outside the Dallas Police Department headquarters Friday night shouted, "No justice, no peace" and "No good cops in a racist system," and held signs that said, "Stop the war on Black America" and "Justice for Tyre Nichols," according to the newspaper.

\u201cAt a Friday night protest at the Dallas Police Department headquarters, community organizer Shenita Cleveland recounted the events shown in the recently released body cam footage of Tyre Nichols' fatal beating by Memphis police officers.\n\nRead more here: https://t.co/L4y13l0m3S\u201d
— Dallas Morning News (@Dallas Morning News) 1674872544


The Detroit branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) organized a Friday rally featuring speeches and a moment of silence. Michiganders held signs that declared, "Unions against police murder" and "Systems of racist police, violence must end."

"I'd like to see a civilian oversight board in every city, community control of the police department," 30-year-old Cameron Harrison, a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 876 who attended the rally, told the Detroit Free Press.

"I'd like to see funding go away from weapons and [go to] jobs, housing, and water," said Harrison, adding that he does not need to watch the footage released from Memphis to know "what the police are capable of."

\u201c\u201cWe\u2019re tired, and we are sick and tired of being sick and tired,\u201d said Detroit activist Sammie Lewis, referencing a quote by civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer. https://t.co/LJwCyXBozI\u201d
— Ron Fournier (@Ron Fournier) 1674902324


A demonstration outside the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) headquarters became "tense" late Friday after a "protest march grew out of a candlelight vigil for Nichols and Keenan Anderson, who died this month after L.A. police pinned him to the ground and discharged a Taser on him at least six times in 42 seconds," according to the Los Angeles Times.

\u201cRodney King's daughter spoke on the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, drawing parallels to the brutality her father suffered at the hands of Los Angeles police officers more than 30 years ago.\nhttps://t.co/WzChVV74nN\u201d
— NBCBLK (@NBCBLK) 1674912610

The videos of Memphis police brutalizing Nichols have provoked comparisons to the 1991 footage of LAPD officers brutally beating Rodney King—who survived the assault but died in 2012.

"My dad didn't die that night, but a big part of him did that we never got back," Lora Dene King, who was seven years old when her father was abused by police, told NBC News this week. She said that Nichols' death was "very triggering" for her and part of a "repetitive pattern" that includes her father, Eric Garner, and George Floyd.

"The whole situation is sickening to me, there is no reason he shouldn't be alive," she said of Nichols. "It'll just be another hashtag and we'll go on with our lives, and then it'll happen again."


In New York City, "protests were mostly peaceful, but emotions ran high," reported a local ABC affiliate, noting three arrests.

According to the outlet:

Demonstrators held up signs, chanting: "What's his name? Tyre! Say his name. Tyre!" They demonstrated at Grand Central Terminal and Union Square, and crisscrossed the city, eventually bringing the Crossroads of the World to a screeching halt.

"When is this gonna end?" Bronx resident Chris Campbell said of police killings during a street interview with a CBS reporter.

\u201cHundreds of New Yorkers protested Friday after the Tyre Nichols video was released. People told us they felt angry, but also dejected.\n @CBSNewYork \n\nhttps://t.co/4MnQQ7yaM1\u201d
— Ali Bauman (@Ali Bauman) 1674881988


"It's absolutely disgusting," PSL organizer Talia Gile said of the footage during a Friday speech in Philadelphia's Center City. "It shows the complete and utter disregard for human life. It shows the fact that police, no matter what their race is, are going to terrorize people because that's what the system is meant to do. It's meant to abuse its power against citizens."

\u201cMore people have joined the rally. The demonstrators have now taken to 15th Street to march\u201d
— Matt Petrillo (@Matt Petrillo) 1674864793

Five former MPD cops, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III, and Desmond Mills Jr.—who are all Black—were charged with second-degree murder and other crimes related to Nichols' death on Thursday.

After the videos were released Friday, Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. announced that two deputies "who appeared on the scene following the physical confrontation between police and Tyre Nichols" have been relieved of duty pending the outcome of an internal investigation.


The Oregonian reported that in Portland on Friday night, "People kept mostly to sidewalks but blocked the Burnside Bridge for a few minutes as they stood to honor Nichol."

"The marchers chanted 'Whose lives? Black lives!' 'No justice, no peace,' and 'Say his name—Tyre Nichols!'" the newspaper added. "Some people knocked down road barriers but there were none of the clashes with police that had marked many of the nights of unrest in Portland after the 2020 killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis."

\u201cThe group dispersed where they began at Burnside Skatepark. And while the demonstrators have gone home, their messages of solidarity remain\u201d
— Joelle Jones (@Joelle Jones) 1674881040


Protests were held in the nation's capital Friday night on K Street Northwest and at Lafayette Square.

"It should not take the releasing of body cam footage of a Black man being murdered by police for people to jump to action, and for those who feel moved by this, and you should, ‘cause it could be any one of us standing out here today," said one speaker at the former event. "We urge you to not only protest, to not only engage on social media, to not only be flabbergasted and distraught and angry, but to take action."

\u201cA justice for Tyre Nichols rally is underway at Lafayette Square in DC following the release of bodycam video footage.\n\nWATCH LIVE HERE: https://t.co/5E4OZ2uhlU\u201d
— 7News DC (@7News DC) 1674868085

Additional protests were planned for the weekend. The group ColorOfChange shared resources for demonstrators on Twitter:

\u201cIf you\u2019re protesting in Atlanta or Memphis, stay safe using these resources:\n\n\u2705 Direct action training w/ @BlkDirectAction: https://t.co/dpxF1iaDH2\n\u2705 @EqualityLabs' digital protest resilience guide: https://t.co/RFszqUAD6d\n\u2705 Collective action toolkit: https://t.co/7ZY3wGcJRt\u201d
— ColorOfChange (@ColorOfChange) 1674865865

"Tyre Nichols was a father to a 4-year-old boy, a son, a skateboarder, a beloved member of his community. And he was murdered after complying while the cameras were rolling," ColorOfChange president Rashad Robinson said in a series of tweets Friday. "Cosmetic 'solutions' like body cameras will not prevent the police from taking Black lives, nor will hiring Black police officers without reforming the overall racist, violent system."

"Now," he argued, "we must make sure the Memphis City Council takes action to end the practice of pretextual stops, hold officers accountable, eliminate the [Organized Crime Unit] and the SCORPION task force that killed Tyre, and fund a civilian response unit."

'Sounds like a plan': Biden given roadmap for 100% clean energy by 2035

A pair of green groups on Monday released a report detailing how U.S. President Joe Biden can work toward his goal of 100% clean electricity nationwide by 2035.

The roadmap from Evergreen Action and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) comes after Biden last year signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) following a bitter battle in Congress. While elements of the legislation alarmed climate campaigners, they welcomed that it contained about $370 billion in climate and energy investments.

"This new report not only shows that President Biden's climate goals for the power sector are achievable—but it is among the first to lay out how we can actually get there," said NRDC president and CEO Manish Bapna in a statement.

"There is no time for half-measures or delay."

"We don't need magic bullets or new technologies," Bapna stressed. "We already have the tools—and now we have a roadmap. If the Biden administration, Congress, and state leaders follow it, we will build the better future we all deserve. There is no time for half-measures or delay."

While the Inflation Reduction Act is a positive step, new modeling in the report shows that "the U.S. must take further action to meet its clean energy goals this decade," the publication states. "The IRA's investments are projected to increase carbon-free electricity in the U.S. from approximately 40% in 2022 to 66% clean power by 2030. This falls short of the 80% target that's consistent with the path to 100% clean electricity by 2035."

The legislation "is also estimated to help cut economy-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution to 40% below 2005 levels by 2030—an important step, but short of America's 50-52% commitment under the Paris agreement," the report adds.

To deliver on Biden's climate pledges, the report urges U.S. policymakers to:

  • Set ambitious carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants under the Clean Air Act, through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and set EPA pollution standards that reduce traditional air and water pollutants and improve public health;
  • Expand transmission capacity, speed up interconnections, and create market parity for clean energy at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC);
  • Implement the Inflation Reduction Act effectively, with timely federal guidance on the IRA's tax credits and grant programs and the distribution of funds in a way that maximizes carbon reductions and equitable economic opportunity; and
  • Advance climate action at the state level, including through accelerated 100% clean electricity and pollution standards that align with 80% clean power by 2030 and heightened oversight of polluting utilities.

"The IRA was a pivotal moment for climate action in the United States, but it is not mission accomplished for the Biden climate agenda," said Evergreen Action power sector policy lead Charles Harper. "President Biden committed to the most ambitious set of climate goals in American history—including getting us to 100% clean power by 2035 and slashing 2005 climate pollution levels in half by 2030."

"Important progress has been made, but President Biden must take bold action this year in order to deliver on those commitments," Harper continued. "By ramping up its work to transition the U.S. economy toward 100% clean energy, the Biden administration and state leaders can reduce toxic pollution, cut energy costs, create good jobs, and advance environmental justice. Let's get to work."

Although further progress could be hampered by Republicans controlling the U.S. House of Representatives, advocates are emphasizing the importance of the president and other supporters of climate action not wasting the remainder of his first term.

Evergreen co-founder and senior adviser Sam Ricketts, who co-authored the report, toldThe Washington Post that "it's really incumbent upon the administration to use these next two years to make important progress on cleaning up the power sector."

Ricketts plans to join Bapna, Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), the NRDC's Lissa Lynch, and University of California, Santa Barbara professor Leah Stokes for a Tuesday afternoon presentation of the new report.

'Open admission of fraud': United CEO says airlines are scheduling flights they can't fulfill

Three unidentified U.S. airlines are under federal investigation for potentially scheduling flights the companies know they ultimately will not be able to fly—a revelation The New York Times reported Friday, just two days after United Airlines' CEO suggested competitors are doing just that.

The Times focused largely on how air travel issues—including mass cancellations from a winter storm during the holidays last month and a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) system outage that grounded air traffic across the country last week—have put Pete Buttigieg, the head of the U.S. Department of Transporation (DOT), "in the hot seat."

"Unfortunately, the Department of Transportation has been hesitant to hold the airlines accountable," John Breyault, the vice president for public policy at the National Consumers League (NCL), told the newspaper. "While Secretary Buttigieg has talked a tough talk, particularly over the past few months, we have yet to see that really translate into action."

"Imagine any other industry taking money for products it can't deliver."

In an interview, Buttigieg defended his record—which has included a proposed rule on refunds, an online dashboard of airlines' commitments, and nearly $16 million in fines—saying that "in terms of what we've done and in terms of what we're doing, I would stack up our work in this area against anybody who’s taken this on at the federal level."

According to the report, "The department is also investigating three U.S. airlines over whether they scheduled flights that they did not have enough staff to support, a spokeswoman for the agency said, though she declined to identify the airlines."

That reporting came after United CEO Scott Kirby said Wednesday during an earnings call with investors that "there are a number of airlines who cannot fly their schedules. The customers are paying the price. They're canceling a lot of flights. But they simply can't fly the schedules today."

"What happened over the holidays wasn't a one-time event caused by the weather, and it wasn't just at one airline. One airline got the bulk of the media coverage, but the weather was the straw that broke the camel's back for several," Kirby said—presumably referring to Southwest Airlines, which faced intense scrutiny for canceling nearly 17,000 flights partly due to issues with its personnel management system that employees and other critics claim could have been avoided with technological upgrades.

United has recognized "the new reality and the new math for all airlines," Kirby asserted, while warning that "our industry has been changed profoundly by the pandemic and you can't run your airline like it's 2019 or you will fail."

"We believe any airline that tries to run at the same staffing levels that it had pre-pandemic is bound to fail and likely to tip over to meltdown anytime there are weather or air traffic control stresses in the system," the CEO said, highlighting the need for investments in not only staff but also technology and infrastructure.

Kirby's comments about competitors' alleged scheduling practices caught the attention of the anti-monopoly think tank American Economic Liberties Project (AELP), which described them as "the airlines' open admission of fraud."

\u201cAnd yet, crickets from @USDOT.\n\nJust one more reason why we need to eliminate federal preemption and allow state AGs, courts, and consumers to crack down on the airlines themselves.\nhttps://t.co/4f3hHswTyR\u201d
— American Economic Liberties Project (@American Economic Liberties Project) 1674146197

"What an extraordinary admission," William McGee, senior fellow for aviation and travel at AELP and author of the airline industry exposé Attention All Passengers, tweeted Thursday.

For months, the AELP has asked the DOT "to investigate IF airlines were accepting bookings (and $!) for flights they couldn't operate," he said. "Now United's CEO confirmed it. Imagine any other industry taking money for products it can't deliver."

"Ironically, we're learning more about canceled flights from the airlines than we are from the Department of Transportation," McGee toldThe Lever, while also pointing out that the DOT's "complaint database showed that United was by far the worst offender on unpaid refunds dating back to the earliest days of Covid in 2020."

As The Lever reported Friday:

Complaints against the major U.S. airlines, including United, more than tripled in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, as companies routinely sold tickets for flights they could not adequately staff, canceled the flights at the last minute, and slow-walked or withheld refunds while collecting billions in taxpayer bailout dollars. The behavior prompted 34 attorneys general to write to Buttigieg on December 16 asking his agency to "require airlines to advertise and sell only flights that they have adequate personnel to fly and support, and perform regular audits of airlines to ensure compliance and impose fines on airlines that do not comply."
The letter, submitted as part of the rulemaking process for a still-delayed consumer protection proposal at Buttigieg's agency, also noted that the proposed rule "includes no provision that would correct this practice and that would prevent airlines from advertising and selling tickets for flights that they cannot reasonably provide."

In an opinion piece published by the Times last week in the wake of the FAA outage, the AELP's McGee traced U.S. air travel troubles back much further than the ongoing pandemic, explaining that although "the airlines were initially regulated in the 1930s for many reasons, some of which should be familiar to us in 2023," Congress passed the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA) in 1978.

"One could envision a wholesale return to the pre-1978 era, with route-setting and price-setting brought back into public hands entirely," he wrote, noting that the AELP "has proposed more FAA funding and eliminating federal preemption, which would allow consumers and state officials to sue airlines over consumer and safety rules."

"My colleagues and I are, however, eager to take part in a national conversation about regulating the industry more comprehensively," McGee added. "We haven't had a national discussion for 44 years about the state of air travel. It's time to have that discussion, rather than playing whack-a-mole with each crisis as it arises."

Buttigieg "has taken a tougher line than most of his predecessors" at the DOT, the NCL's Breyault tweeted Friday, while sharing his critical remarks to the Times. "But he is hamstrung by the ADA, which gives airlines far too much power. To truly protect passengers, Congress needs to act."

READ: Feds say Elizabeth Holmes ‘attempted to flee’ the US with one-way ticket after conviction

Iowa Republicans push 'profoundly cruel and petty' restrictions

Republicans in the Iowa House introduced legislation this month that would impose a slew of fresh restrictions on the kinds of food people can purchase using SNAP benefits, sparking outrage among local groups who say the measure would exacerbate hunger in the GOP-dominated state.

The Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC), an interfaith group that operates the largest food pantry network in Iowa, noted in a statement earlier this week that if the bill passes, "Iowans could no longer use their SNAP benefits to purchase meat, nuts, and seeds; flour, butter, cooking oil, soup, canned fruits, and vegetables; frozen prepared foods, snack foods, herbs, spices—not even salt or pepper."

"This is a punitive policy that will do nothing to improve the health and nutrition of Iowans, but rather be a detriment," the group said.

The Iowa Hunger Coalition (IHC) also condemned the bill, voicing opposition to its proposed food restrictions as well as new asset limits that would make it more difficult for families to qualify for SNAP, a program funded by the federal government and administered by states.

"This bill would restrict SNAP participants' ability to make their own food choices, take food away from Iowans, and increase hunger and food insecurity in our state," IHC warned.

According to Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the U.S., roughly 229,500 people—including 80,160 children—are facing food insecurity in Iowa.

The details of the new legislation—which is sponsored by 39 Iowa House Republicans, including Speaker Pat Grassley—were met with national anger.

"This is so profoundly cruel and petty," said Leah Greenberg, co-executive director of the progressive advocacy group Indivisible.

Sarah Bowen, a sociologist who studies food and inequality, noted in a tweet on Thursday that "Republicans have tried to destroy SNAP for years," animated by the lie that "SNAP recipients are all stocking up on lobster and steak."

"This is the most ridiculous proposal I've seen though," Bowen added. "No chicken or ground beef. No chili beans. No American cheese?!"

SNAP recipients are already limited in what they can purchase at the grocery store using their benefits, but Iowa Republicans are seeking to dramatically expand those restrictions.

As Todd Dorman of the Iowa Gazette explained in a column on Thursday, the legislation "would require the Department of Health and Human Services to seek a federal waiver allowing Iowa to scrap an already restrictive federal list of approved foods and replace it with a list of food available to recipients of aid to Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC."

"The bill would also, for the first time, create an asset test, limiting household assets to $2,750 or $4,250 if one member of the household is over 60. It exempts just one vehicle, potentially making households with two cars ineligible," Dorman wrote. "Beyond all of that draconian wisdom, the bill would force recipients to jump through far more regulatory hoops to become eligible and stay on SNAP, wrapping recipients tightly in red tape and likely costing the state millions more to administer the program."

"Only two groups support the bill," Dorman added. "One is the Florida-based Opportunity Solutions Project, which sends its minions across the country to cut holes in the social safety net and oppose policies such as Medicaid expansion. The group is part of a web of conservative think tanks and bill mills bankrolled by rich donors who think if you just make poor people hungry and sick enough, they'll utilize their bootstraps."

The other group is the right-wing Iowans for Tax Relief.

Docs reveal hundreds of US agencies spying on Americans' money transfers: ACLU

"These records paint a damning portrait of government overreach."

That's how Nathan Freed Wessler, deputy director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, and Fikayo Walter-Johnson, a former paralegal with the project, introduced over 200 documents obtained via public records request and released Wednesday on the civil liberties group's website.

The national ACLU and its Arizona arm sought the records after U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) revealed last year that "Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a law enforcement component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was operating an indiscriminate and bulk surveillance program that swept up millions of financial records about Americans."

Following a February 2022 briefing with senior HSI personnel, Wyden wrote a March letter urging DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to launch a probe into the Transaction Record Analysis Center (TRAC)—a nonprofit created as a result of a settlement between the Arizona attorney general's office and Western Union, a financial services company that fought in state court against the AG's attempt to obtain money transfer records.

As the ACLU released records about TRAC, Wyden on Wednesday shared a new letter requesting that "the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigate the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) relationship" with the Arizona-based clearinghouse.

"My oversight activities over the past year have uncovered troubling information, revealing that the scale of this government surveillance program is far greater than was previously reported," Wyden wrote to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

"Between October and December of 2022, my office received information from three other money transfer companies—Euronet (RIA Envia), MoneyGram, and Viamericas—which confirmed that they also delivered customer data in bulk to TRAC, in response to legal demands from HSI and other governmental agencies," the senator divulged.

Some customs summonses—a form of subpoena—applied to transfers of $500 or more between any U.S. state and 22 other countries and one U.S. territory. Those summonses were withdrawn "just 10 days after HSI had briefed my staff" in February, Wyden noted, adding that HSI has not yet scheduled his requested follow-up briefing.

\u201c"Hundreds of federal, state and local U.S. law-enforcement agencies have access without court oversight to a database of more than 150M money transfers"\n\nWyden: TRAC is "an all-you-can-eat buffet of Americans\u2019 personal financial data"\n\nhttps://t.co/Z84CnUfnIp\u201d
— Alex Gladstein \ud83c\udf0b \u26a1 (@Alex Gladstein \ud83c\udf0b \u26a1) 1674064852

Summarizing the documents acquired by the ACLU, Freed Wessler and Walter-Johnson wrote:

From 2014 to 2021, Arizona attorneys general issued at least 140 administrative subpoenas to money transfer companies, each requesting that the company periodically provide customer transaction records for the next year. Those subpoenas were issued under the same state statute that the Arizona Court of Appeals held in 2006 could not be used for these kinds of indiscriminate requests for money transfer records. This means the Arizona attorney general's office knowingly issued 140 illegal subpoenas to build an invasive data repository. The documents we obtained reveal the enormous scale of this surveillance program. According to the minutes of TRAC board meetings we obtained, the database of people's money transfer records grew from 75 million records from 14 money service businesses in 2017 to 145 million records from 28 different companies in 2021. By 2021, 12,000 individuals from 600 law enforcement agencies had been provided with direct log-in access to the database. By May 2022, over 700 law enforcement entities had or still have access to the TRAC database, ranging from a sheriff's office in a small Idaho county, to the Los Angeles and New York police departments, to federal law enforcement agencies and military police units.

As Freed Wessler told The Wall Street Journal, which exclusively reported on the materials, "Ordinary people's private financial records are being siphoned indiscriminately into a massive database, with access given to virtually any cop who wants it."

The Journal also spoke with TRAC director Rich Lebel, who "said the program has directly resulted in hundreds of leads and busts involving drug cartels and other criminals seeking to launder money," and "because money services companies don't have the same know-your-customer rules as banks, bulk data needs to be captured to discern patterns of fraud and money laundering."

According to the newspaper:

Mr. Lebel said TRAC has never identified a case in which a law enforcement official has accessed data improperly or the database has been breached by outsiders. The program has seen an increase in use in recent years because of the surging opioid crisis in the U.S., he said. Law-enforcement agencies use TRAC's data to establish patterns in the flow of funds suspected of being linked to criminal activity, Mr. Lebel said, and the more comprehensive the data, the better the analysis. TRAC manages data that law enforcement provides, he said, and what it is receiving and storing is often in flux.
While declining to discuss TRAC's funding, Mr. Lebel said the nonprofit was originally stood up with money from the Western Union settlement that has since been exhausted. Mr. Wyden and others have said TRAC is federally funded.

Wyden wrote in his letter to Horowitz that "this unorthodox arrangement between state law enforcement, DHS, and DOJ agencies to collect bulk money transfer data raises a number of concerns about surveillance disproportionately affecting low-income, minority, and immigrant communities."

"Members of these communities are more likely to use money transfer services because they are more likely to be unbanked, and therefore unable to send money using electronic checking or international bank wire transfers, which are often cheaper," he explained. "Moreover, money transfer businesses are not subject to the same protections as bank-based transactions under the Right to Financial Privacy Act."

The senator's office said Wednesday that he "is working on legislation to close legal loopholes and ensure people who use money transfer services have the same privacy as those who use banks or money transfer apps."

Freed Wessler and Walter-Johnson also highlighted that "because members of marginalized communities rely heavily on these services rather than traditional banks, the burden of this government surveillance falls disproportionately on those already most vulnerable to law enforcement overreach."

"The government should not be allowed to abuse subpoenas and sweep up millions of records on a huge number of people without any basis for suspicion," the pair argued. "This financial surveillance program is built on repeated violations of the law and must be shut down."

GOP House Speaker drama sparks fears about debt ceiling fight

The refusal by U.S. House Republicans to collectively get behind a speaker candidate in six rounds of voting so far this week has renewed concerns about the coming fight over raising the debt ceiling to prevent an unprecedented government default.

After the GOP won a narrow House majority in the November midterm elections, economists and progressives in Congress called for raising the federal borrowing limit during the lame-duck session. However, Democrats failed to pass standalone legislation or include a provision in the omnibus package President Joe Biden signed last week, setting up the battle for this year.

The arbitrary cap was last increased by $2.5 trillion to $31.381 trillion in December 2021 and is expected to be reached no sooner than the summer. Although that means lawmakers likely have months to act, some Republicans have signaled that they intend to use the threat of a potential default—which could cause a global economic crisis—to force concessions.

Specifically, GOP lawmakers have set their sights on cuts to Medicare and Social Security. While Biden vowed in November that "under no circumstances" would he go along with GOP attacks on such programs, the political theater in the House on Tuesday and Wednesday has fueled fears that some Republicans would be willing to force the first-ever default.

The House adjourned Wednesday afternoon until 8:00 pm ET, after a trio of votes in which far-right House Republicans repeatedly denied Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) the speakership—events that followed three similar voting rounds on Tuesday. Members briefly returned to the chamber as planned Wednesday night and narrowly voted to adjourn until noon on Thursday. The chamber can't move forward with any legislative business until the leadership position is filled.

"The 20 opposed to McCarthy want all-out war against Democrats and Biden," Institute for Policy Studies fellow Sanho Tree said of the Republicans blocking his path to speaker. "They think that by taking the debt ceiling hostage this year, the House can force the Senate and [White House] to agree to slashing spending, a border wall, and cuts to Medicare and Social Security."

Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) suggested to Punchbowl News' Brendan Pedersen that the speaker fight doesn't "necessarily portend a problem with the debt limit," adding that "I think there will be a way forward," but some Democrats aren't convinced.

"If House Republicans can't even get it together to choose their leader, they can't be trusted with the debt ceiling, fighting inflation, or helping families make ends meet," Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) tweeted Wednesday evening. "They've proven they can't lead."

One of the House Freedom Caucus members who has repeatedly voted against McCarthy for speaker, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), discussed the debt limit with journalists on Wednesday, reportedly saying: "Is he willing to shut the government down rather than raise the debt ceiling? That's a non-negotiable item."

According toThe Intercept's Ryan Grim:

A reporter asked Norman if he meant default on the debt, as the debt ceiling and a government shutdown are not directly linked. "That's why you need to be planning now what agencies—what path you're gonna take now to trim government. Tell the programs you're going to get to this number. And you do that before chairs are picked," he said, referring to the process of choosing and installing House committee chairs.

A quirk of parliamentary procedure requires Congress to authorize spending, then appropriate money for those authorized expenditures, and then to authorize the Treasury Department to issue debt in order to pay for that appropriated money. Some constitutional scholars argue that the debt ceiling is unconstitutional, but currently both parties recognize it as a legal and valid restriction on the government's ability to issue debt.

Appearing on a Bloomberg Radio program Wednesday, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) floated the possibility of trading Democratic voters in favor of McCarthy for a debt limit deal.

"Eventually, he's going to have to cut a deal with Democrats, because it's going to be easier to get a deal with us than with his 20-headed monster he has over there," Sherman said. "He's going to have to agree with Democrats to not hold hostage the full faith and credit of the United States, to not put us in a position where we're going to shut down the government. And eventually, I think Americans will benefit from this ugly picture of chaos."

The New York Daily Newsreported Wednesday that though Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) "emphatically ruled out supporting embattled" McCarthy, the progressive congresswoman suggested to journalists that there was potential for a compromise speaker who agreed to raise the debt ceiling along with "a combination of" other concessions.

Meanwhile, some critics of the Republican Party used the ongoing speakership drama to remind Americans that no matter who ultimately ends up at the helm, "they all want to cut your Social Security" and protect wealthy tax dodgers.

Concerns over disinformation grow after Musk relaxes Twitter ban on political ads

As advertisers depart Twitter in the wake of Elon Musk's recent takeover, the billionaire owner continues to shake up the social media platform, which on Tuesday relaxed a ban on political and issue-based advertising put in place for over three years.

When then-CEO Jack Dorsey announced the ban in October 2019, he explained that "this isn't about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today's democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle."

The Twitter Safety account revealed the policy change in a pair of tweets late Tuesday:

We believe that cause-based advertising can facilitate public conversation around important topics. Today, we're relaxing our ads policy for cause-based ads in the U.S. We also plan to expand the political advertising we permit in the coming weeks.

Moving forward, we will align our advertising policy with that of TV and other media outlets. As with all policy changes, we will first ensure that our approach to reviewing and approving content protects people on Twitter. We'll share more details as this work progresses.

Politiconoted that "advertisers have fled the platform in droves after Elon Musk's takeover last October, which was followed by a spike in hate speech and the reinstatement of several previously banned right-wing accounts. The move also puts Twitter in alignment with several of the other major social media companies, such as Meta's Facebook and Google's YouTube, which both allow paid political content. One notable exception is ByteDance's TikTok, which still has a ban on political advertising."

Some digital media experts noted issues with the 2019 ban. For example, Fight for the Future director Evan Greer on Wednesday pointed to what climate journalist Emily Atkin called "Twitter's Big Oil ad loophole" in her February 2021 reporting.

As Ars Technicareported Wednesday:

That 2019 ban included exceptions for some cause-based advertising, where advertisers were permitted to conduct some microtargeting of Twitter users based on limited geographic location information, keywords, and interests. Notably, advertisers were not allowed to target audiences based on political affiliation like "conservative" or "liberal." Under these prior rules, Twitter-certified cause-based advertisers approved to promote content created to "educate, raise awareness, and/or call for people to take action in connection with civic engagement, economic growth, environmental stewardship, or social equity."

In 2019, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said that Twitter limiting cause-based advertising wasn't a good policy because the microtargeting exception applies to "an almost impossibly broad range of advertisements adjacent to the banned campaign content." The EFF said this policy had "the potential to worsen the problem it is trying to solve," suggesting that smaller social media platforms that "let users choose the moderation approaches that work for them" do more to empower their users to "protect themselves from manipulative advertising."

Meanwhile, some critics expressed concern about the impacts of the new policy on U.S. democracy.

"A major new forum for massive amounts of money to be spent to influence politics. Awesome!" Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington president Noah Bookbinder sardonically tweeted with a facepalm emoji.

Tim Karr, senior director of strategy and communications at Free Press, said he was skeptical that Musk would pair the ban reversal with the sort of fact-checking "that would actually 'facilitate' healthy public discourse," given the new owner's "obsession with spreading [disinformation] and conspiracy theories."

Republican digital strategist Eric Wilson told The Washington Post that while there would be a "learning curve" for campaigns that choose to now advertise on Twitter, "obviously it's good to have more options" and he expects that political candidates will take advantage of the advertising opportunity as long as journalists continue to use the platform.

"We know voters are not as active on Twitter as they are on places like Facebook and Instagram," Wilson said, referring to Meta's social media platforms. "But it remains important for shaping political narratives."

While advertising was Twitter's primary revenue source pre-Musk, it's not clear that the policy change will notably benefit the company from a financial standpoint. Before the ban, political ad spending for the U.S. 2018 midterm cycle was less than $3 million. Twitter's total revenue was $3 billion in 2018 and in 2021 it topped $5 billion, $4.51 billion of which came from ads.

A few weeks after Musk bought the company in October, Media Matters for America revealed that 50 of its 100 top advertisers—which collectively "accounted for nearly $2 billion in spending on the platform since 2020, and over $750 million in advertising in 2022 alone"—had "announced or seemingly stopped advertising on Twitter."

This post has been updated to clarify Twitter's 2021 revenue figures.

'This must be stopped': House Republicans plan to gut ethics office

Government watchdog groups on Monday blasted plans by U.S. House Republicans to gut an independent, nonpartisan ethics office that was established 15 years ago to review allegations of misconduct against members of the chamber and their staffers.

The GOP is set to have a narrow House majority once new members are sworn in on Tuesday. The party's proposed changes to the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) were among various controversial policies included in the rules package for the 118th Congress that was unveiled late Sunday.

As Politico's Nicholas Wu summarized on Twitter, the Republican proposals "would effectively sack most of the Democratic-appointed board members by instituting term limits and make it much harder to hire staff."

Wu was among the political observers and ethics experts who pointed out that the changes would likely make it harder to investigate U.S. Rep.-elect George Santos (R-N.Y.), who was caught lying about his education, employment history, and religious background.

Although Democrats have called for Santos to step aside over his campaign trail lies and the Republican Nassau County district attorney has launched an investigation into him, the incoming congressman is still expected to take office on Tuesday.

\u201c\ud83d\udea8 \ud83d\udea8 \ud83d\udea8 The 1st thing the GOP is planning to do when they vote on their rules package is gut Congressional ethics oversight\n\nI call it the Santos protection package\u2014it would cut off one important avenue for investigating him\n\nCall your GOP rep (if you have) to object 2022253121\u201d
— Norm Eisen (@Norm Eisen) 1672686990

Kyle Herrig, president of the group Accountable.US, noted in a statement that the move could help not only Santos but also members such as Republican Congressman Jim Jordan (Ohio), who—along with GOP Rep. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), and Scott Perry (Texas)—was referred to the House Committee on Ethics for ignoring a subpoena from the select committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

"It's telling that one of the very first actions of the incoming MAGA Republican-led House will be to kneecap a bipartisan office that oversees congressional ethics," said Herrig. "This is about protecting their ethically challenged members like fraudster George Santos or January 6 subpoena-defying Jim Jordan from accountability—or perhaps in anticipation of a new wave of corruption allegations and ethics violations from other MAGA extremists."

"There is certainly no good reason to make it easier for members to get away with ethics violations, which only invites bad behavior," he added. "It sends a clear message that the MAGA House is more interested in sweeping any corruption amongst their ranks under the rug and performing political stunts against the Biden administration than they are doing anything constructive on behalf of the American people."

\u201cThis is a big deal: when the new Congress convenes tomorrow, the incoming Republican majority is set to vote on a rules package gutting the Office of Congressional Ethics.\u201d
— Citizens for Ethics (@Citizens for Ethics) 1672696503
\u201cWhen Republicans tried to gut it in 2017, they backed down after significant public outrage. \n\nWe can do that again. \n\nCall your member of Congress at 202-224-3121 and tell them not to attack the Office of Congressional Ethics.\u201d
— Citizens for Ethics (@Citizens for Ethics) 1672696503

Public Citizen government affairs lobbyist Craig Holman highlighted in a statement that "OCE is a bipartisan ethics office that helps monitor and report on ethics issues involving members of Congress, and frequently makes its recommendations to the House Ethics Committee on a unanimous vote. It has a proven track record of enhancing transparency and enforcement of ethics rules and has gained widespread support among the American public."

"These are measures that will render the ethics office ineffectual and which no member, from either party, should support," Holman said of the GOP's proposed changes. "Today's Republican Party is rife with ethical transgressions. And it is now trying to make it much harder to hold members of Congress accountable to the standards of decency we expect."

Key democratic campaign firms ditch newly Independent Sen. Sinema

While U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has declined to say whether she'll run in 2024 since leaving the Democratic Party earlier this month, political consultants are already making plans, with some firms now declining to work with the Arizona Independent, HuffPost revealed Wednesday.

"Consequences for Kyrsten Sinema? Finally."

"NGP VAN, which manages Democratic voter data, is set to cut off Sinema's access at the end of January, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation," the outlet reported, noting that the development is "likely to be a headache for Sinema, since it will make it more difficult to target voters for digital advertising, mailers, and door-knocking."

Though a spokesperson for Bonterra Tech, NGP VAN's parent company, declined to comment, HuffPost pointed out that other companies are making similar moves:

The ad makers who worked with her in 2018, Dixon/Davis Media Group, have split with her campaign. Two other Democratic sources said polling firm Impact Research made the same decision.
Both Dixon/Davis and Impact have the type of pedigree you would expect for firms that work with senators in key races. Dixon/Davis worked on President Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign, while Impact Research does polling for President Joe Biden. Both firms made the decision before Sinema's recent party switch.
A spokesperson for Sinema did not respond to an email seeking comment.

HuffPost's revelations come after Politico reported within hours of Sinema announcing her departure from the party that the progressive digital firm Authentic has dropped her as a client.

While Authentic declined to comment on that report and Sinema's office did not immediately respond, the firm faced an internal revolt earlier this year over its work for the senator.

According to internal union messages reviewed by Politico, Authentic employees said things like, "I am doing the devil's work," and "I feel sick about it tbh," shorthand for "to be honest."

Those messages, made public in February, reportedly stemmed from frustration with Sinema blocking federal voting rights legislation. She has faced intense criticism from Democratic lawmakers and voters over the past two years for obstructing various party priorities.

Before Sinema became an Independent, there were mounting calls for a strong candidate to challenge her in the 2024 Democratic primary if she sought reelection. While that will no longer be possible, critics are still pushing to replace her in two years. The two contenders receiving the most attention are Democratic Arizona Congressmen Ruben Gallego and Greg Stanton—who have both criticized Sinema but not officially said whether they are running.

The "Primary Sinema" campaign, a Change for Arizona 2024 PAC project, rebranded as "Replace Sinema" the day after the senator made public that she will finish out her current six-year term as an Independent—though she has claimed that she won't caucus with the GOP and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) agreed to let her retain her committee assignments.

Sacha Haworth, who previously served as Sinema's communications director and is now a senior adviser for the Replace Sinema campaign, suggested Wednesday that others in the campaign field should follow the lead of firms that are reportedly cutting her off.

"Kyrsten Sinema abandoned the Democratic Party because she knew she couldn't win a primary after spending years obstructing popular reforms and alienating her own voters," Haworth said. "She chose to forfeit the Democratic Party infrastructure, so it's only right that no Democratic staffer, consultant, or vendor should work with her."

However, HuffPost reported that Democrats who work with Sinema "privately signaled" that they are waiting on direction from the likes of Schumer and Biden about how to handle her.

"Many D.C. Democrats would prefer to find a way to back Sinema for reelection—from a legislative perspective, it would make their lives far easier if they could rely on her to back Biden's judicial selections and in forthcoming fights over funding and the debt limit—but fear she could be running third in a three-way battle, which would make it difficult to convince either Stanton or Gallego to stay out of the race," according to to the outlet.

Noting that national Democrats will soon have to decide whether to support Sinema in 2024, assuming she runs, NPR's Domenico Montanaro wrote earlier this month:

There's a real danger here for both the party and for Sinema. Backing someone wearing the team jersey could imperil Democrats' chances at retaining the seat. It's very likely her candidacy would pull more from the Democratic nominee and open up a path for a Republican to win with a mere plurality.
But backing Sinema could enrage the Democratic base and also potentially cost them the seat. Without party support, Sinema could find herself in something of a political no man's land. But she's banking on her brand being enough to pull from moderates on both sides.
That's going to be a difficult test, especially since Sinema is widely unpopular.

While polling suggests Sinema isn't popular with Arizona voters, she is backed by some deep-pocketed donors, as More Perfect Union pointed out in a tweet Wednesday.

"Before switching parties, Sinema received a flood of donations from Wall Street and private equity," the outlet noted. "Sinema's PAC just had its biggest fundraising quarter yet, and at least 40% of the money was from private equity and hedge fund figures."

New petition pressures US House members not to seat GOP insurrectionists in 2023

A pair of progressive advocacy groups launched a petition on Friday to pressure the U.S. House of Representatives not to seat returning members who supported the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

The petition, led by Free Speech for People and MoveOn, takes aim at three Republican members of Congress in particular, citing the section of the 14th Amendment that bars from federal office anyone who has taken an oath to support the Constitution then "engaged in insurrection or rebellion."

Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) "are ineligible to hold future public office," the petition argues, "having voiced support for and helped facilitate the deadly insurrection on our nation's Capitol on January 6th, 2021."

The petition, which nearly 67,000 people have signed as of Saturday morning, continues:

Publicly available evidence establishes that Rep. Paul Gosar helped facilitate the insurrection, before, during, and after January 6, 2021. Not only was he among a handful of Congress members who expressed vocal support for the insurrection as it was happening , but, according to news reports, Gosar went so far as to offer organizers of the pre-attack demonstration a "blanket pardon" in connection with unrelated criminal investigations, encouraging what would no doubt be an illegal act of violence.
In the weeks leading up to January 6, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene publicly stated that violence might be necessary to keep Trump in power, exhorted her followers not to allow Congress to transfer power peacefully, and, the night before the attack, called the date "our 1776 moment" (a codeword used by violent extremists to refer to an attack on government buildings). Greene has since attempted to defend the violence on January 6 as justified by the Declaration of Independence, calling convicted participants in the insurrection "political prisoners of war." In December 2022, she bragged that "if" she had organized the attack, "we would have won. Not to mention, it would've been armed."
Rep. Lauren Boebert echoed Greene's coded sentiments during the insurrection, tweeting, "Today is 1776." She was billed as a speaker for the pre-attack Capitol protest, though she did not speak. Three days prior to the insurrection, Boebert released an ad featuring herself walking through federal buildings while brandishing a firearm, pledging to carry a handgun in the Capitol despite D.C. laws banning open carry. In addition, two January 6th organizers told Rolling Stone of "dozens" of planning meetings with Boebert and several other Congress members in the days leading up to the insurrection.

Free Speech for People and MoveOn note that a member-elect of the House—soon to be controlled by Republicans who supported former President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election—"may challenge, under House procedures authorized by the Constitution, the qualifications of another member-elect" when the new Congress convenes next month.

"We must urge them to do so," the groups said.

The petition came a day after more than 40 House Democrats introduced legislation aiming to bar Trump from ever holding office again, also pointing the 14th Amendment's insurrection clause.

"Donald Trump very clearly engaged in an insurrection on January 6, 2021 with the intention of overturning the lawful and fair results of the 2020 election," said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the lead sponsor of the new bill. "You don't get to lead a government you tried to destroy."

Watchdog groups have also launched or pledged to launch legal efforts to bar Trump and other Republican insurrectionists from office, campaigns that have thus far fallen short in court. Earlier this year, a Georgia judge allowed Greene to remain on the 2022 midterm ballot after a group of voters represented by Free Speech for People sued to have her removed.

Greene was among the Republican lawmakers who asked Trump for a pardon over their roles in the January 6 attack, according to the House panel investigating the insurrection.

Climate defenders celebrate as Manchin's dirty deal defeated a third time

The U.S. climate movement and people on the frontlines of the planetary crisis celebrated Thursday after the U.S. Senate declined to add Sen. Joe Manchin's fossil fuel-friendly permitting bill to a military spending package.

"The Senate's rejection of this dangerous bill is a resounding win for environmental justice communities and the climate."

While the $858 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was ultimately approved, the West Virginia Democrat's amendment fell short of the 60 votes needed to include his Building American Energy Security Act.

The 47-47 vote Thursday evening came after two earlier defeats: The bill was left out of the NDAA draft last week; and in September, Manchin asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)—who agreed to push through permitting reforms if Manchin voted for the Inflation Reduction Act—to remove a previous version from stopgap funding legislation.

"Defeated for the third time this year, this zombie bill would have fast-tracked dangerous fossil fuel and mining projects that would undercut the positive impacts of the Inflation Reduction Act," explained Chelsea Hodgkins, Oxfam America's climate policy adviser. "Sen. Manchin's proposal would do nothing to address the real barriers to renewable energy development, which include fully resourcing underfunded agencies and investing in community-supported renewable systems."

"Continued reliance on fossil fuels is making communities in the U.S. sick and driving climate change impacts in communities around the world," she stressed. "Sen. Manchin's dirty deal had absolutely no place in a must-pass bill like the National Defense Authorization Act; it is unpopular and dangerous."

Matt Casale, environment campaigns director for U.S. PIRG, argued that "it's already too easy to get permits to pollute."

"If it were harder to permit polluting projects, we could have less asthma, cleaner drinking water, and a more stable climate," he said. "The last thing we should do is allow more destructive, polluting, and dangerous projects such as oil pipelines to be easily approved without fully considering the damage they could cause to our health and climate. Thank you to all the senators who voted against this amendment."

Several campaigners not only praised the senators who opposed Manchin's amendment but also called out those who supported it.

"We are thrilled that Manchin's push to get his Big Oil wish list attached to must-pass legislation has failed for the third time," said Ariel Moger, government and political affairs director at Friends of the Earth. "Leader Schumer and Democrats who voted for the dirty deal should be ashamed of themselves."

"It is appalling that they are willing to sacrifice frontline communities and the climate to appease Manchin and corporate polluters," she charged. "Democratic leadership owes a swift apology to those suffering from environmental racism and climate change impacts for insisting this deal ever see the light of day."

"The people have triumphed over the polluters once again," said People vs. Fossil Fuels, a national coalition of over 1,200 organizations. "Sen. Manchin's dirty deal was a direct assault on frontline communities and the environmental laws that protect our air, water, climate, and public health."

"But we know this fight isn't over: The fossil fuel industry and the politicians in their pocket will continue to try and rubber-stamp more dangerous fossil fuel projects," the coalition continued. "Wherever they go, we'll be there to stop them."

Collin Rees of Oil Change International declared: "Good riddance to Manchin's dirty deal—the Senate's rejection of this dangerous bill is a resounding win for environmental justice communities and the climate. We've stopped this zombie bill three times and we'll do it as many times as needed."

Crystal Mello, an organizer with the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights Coalition, delivered a similar message: "Every time we defeat Manchin's dirty deal, it gets weaker. This isn't the end of the fight because Manchin will continue to endanger our lives for his profit by trying to pass fossil-fueled legislation. We will continue to fight this dirty deal until it is defeated because our future is at stake."

Mello also had a message for President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Schumer, and all other members of Congress who have supported Manchin's effort: "Wake up and back frontline communities as we continue to fight this bad bill."

Food & Water Watch policy director Jim Walsh said that "it's time for Sen. Schumer to realize that fast-tracking a dirty backroom deal on behalf of the fossil fuel industry is a political loser and a climate disaster. Instead of looking to rush through favors for corporate polluters, lawmakers should turn their attention to real solutions that promote clean energy and protect our climate future."

Ahead of the vote, Biden on Thursday reiterated his support for Manchin's proposal, provoking widespread outrage.

"The dirty deal directly contradicts President Biden's climate plan and his rhetoric about environmental justice," People vs. Fossil Fuels said after the vote. "President Biden needs to listen to communities, not Big Oil CEOs, and use his power to reject all fossil fuel projects and declare a climate emergency, and we will continue to demand that he protects our public interest and follows through."

Rees asserted that "President Biden's strong support of this deadly legislation is a deep stain on his climate legacy."

"We'll keep standing with communities on the frontlines," he vowed, "to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline once and for all, oppose fossil fuel expansion and sacrifice zones, and build a just renewable energy future."

Tom Cotton blocks Senate PRESS Act designed to protect journalists

This is a developing story… Please check back for possible updates...

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton on Wednesday blocked the passage of a House-approved bipartisan bill that's been heralded by advocates as "the most important free press legislation in modern times."

The Senate had in recent days faced mounting pressure from journalists, press freedom groups, and others to follow the House's lead and approve the Protect Reporters From Exploitative State Spying (PRESS) Act, spearheaded by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).

After Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Tuesday revealed in the Chicago Sun-Times that he supported fast-tracking the PRESS Act (S. 2457/H.R. 4330), Wyden took to the floor early Wednesday to try to pass the bill by unanimous consent and send it to President Joe Biden's desk.

Cotton (R-Ark.) objected, claiming that "the PRESS Act would immunize journalists and leakers alike from scrutiny and consequences for their actions."

"This bill would prohibit the government from compelling any individual who calls himself a 'journalist,'" Cotton continued, indicating scare quotes with his hands, "from disclosing the source or substance of such damaging leaks."

Wyden pushed back against Cotton's claims, pointing to the exceptions in the law that were adequate enough to satisfy all Republicans in the House, which advanced the bill by a voice vote in September.

As Durbin detailed Tuesday:

[In] considering the PRESS Act—and the shield from subpoenas and other compulsory legal process it provides—you have to think through the tough questions, such as: Who qualifies as a journalist? What information should be shielded from law enforcement? Should law enforcement be prevented from seeking evidence from a white supremacist or other domestic violent extremist with information about a planned act of domestic terror just because he or she occasionally posts to a blog?
It's questions like these that I've wrestled with for over a decade as bills similar to the PRESS Act have been debated.
That's why I am glad that today's PRESS Act—like recent Justice Department regulations issued by Attorney General Merrick Garland—accounts for these scenarios. It makes exceptions for information necessary to prevent or identify the perpetrator of an act of terrorism or to prevent a threat of imminent violence, significant bodily harm or death. And it doesn't apply to foreign agents, terrorists, or journalists suspected of committing crimes.

Considering the inclusion of those exceptions, Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress said of Cotton, "His reasoning is... specious."

Demand Progress was among the media outlets along with civil liberties, government accountability, and press freedom organizations that on Monday had urged Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to include the PRESS Act in the omnibus spending bill.

Highlighting that the PRESS Act would codify the Justice Department's recently announced reforms so they couldn't be repealed by a future administration, they wrote to Schumer that "it is crucial that you act before this Congress adjourns so that journalists do not need to wait another decade or more for the protections they need to do their jobs effectively."

Ahead of Cotton's obstruction on Wednesday, Freedom of the Press Foundation—which has been backing the bill and signed the letter to Schumer—published a piece by Seth Stern, the group's director of advocacy, explaining why all Republicans should support the legislation.

Noting how "conservative journalists are often targets of government surveillance" but also that "most harassment of journalists isn't political," Stern argued that this "strong anti-surveillance" bill "recognizes national security concerns" and would protect all reporters—regardless of politics—while helping independent and alternative media thrive.

In a series of tweets Wednesday, Freedom of the Press Foundation executive director Trevor Timm pointed to the end-of-the-year omnibus bill and the fact that a Boston Globe reporter was forced to testify in federal court this week despite First Amendment concerns.

"If the Senate passes the PRESS Act this week," he said, "this type of press freedom violation would become a thing of the past."

'There is evidence of criminality': Jan. 6 panel meets to decide referrals to DOJ

Members of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol are expected to finalize decisions on criminal referrals during a virtual meeting Sunday afternoon.

CBS News' Margaret Brennan inquired about the panel's plans earlier Sunday, when Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)—a member of the subcommittee created to deal with outstanding issues, including potential referrals—to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)—appeared on "Face the Nation."

Pointing to reporting that the committee is considering referrals for former President Donald Trump, ex-DOJ official Jeffrey Clark, right-wing attorney John Eastman, former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and ex-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, she asked, "Is there a consensus on whether to send a referral for criminal prosecution to the Justice Department, and would doing that be anything more than symbolic?"

"I think we are in common agreement about what our approach should be. I'm not ready or authorized at this point to tell you what that is. We are, as a subcommittee—several of us that were charged with making the recommendation about referrals—gonna be making that recommendation to full committee today," Schiff said, adding that the decisions will be included in a panel report set to be released later this month.

Schiff continued:

What I can tell you about the process is we're looking at: What is the quantum of evidence that we have against individuals? What is the impact of making a referral? Are we gonna create some suggestion by referring some, that others, there wasn't sufficient evidence, when we don't know, for example, what evidence is in the position of the Justice Department?
So, if we do make referrals, we want to be very careful about how we do them. But I think we're all certainly in agreement that there is evidence of criminality here and we want to make sure that the Justice Department is aware of that.

In the wake of Trump's announcement last month that he is seeking the GOP's presidential nomination for 2024—despite his various legal issues and inciting last year's deadly Capitol attack with his "Big Lie" about the 2020 contest—Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith, a longtime federal prosecutor, as special counsel to oversee ongoing investigations involving the twice-impeached former president.

The DOJ notably does not need a referral from Congress to bring charges. Referencing the department's probes, Brennan asked Schiff, "So what does the committee sending a referral do other than look political?"

"Well, look, we have been far out ahead in most respects of the Justice Department in conducting our investigation," the congressman responded. "I think they have made use of the evidence that we have presented in open hearings. I think they'll make use of the evidence that we present in our report to further their investigations."

"And I think it makes an important statement, not a political one, but a statement about the evidence of an attack on the institutions of our democracy and the peaceful transfer of power, that Congress examining an attack on itself is willing to report criminality," he added. "So I think it's an important decision in its own right if we go forward with it and one that the department ought to give due consideration to."

Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) had confirmed to reporters on Thursday that the committee planned to make decisions about criminal referrals during Sunday's meeting.

"I think the more we looked at the body of evidence that we had collected," he said, "we just felt that while we're not in the business of investigating people for criminal activities, we just couldn't overlook some of them."

The panel's only two Republicans—Vice Chair Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.)—are both leaving office in a few weeks and the GOP is set to take control of the House. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who hopes to be the next speaker, has vowed to hold hearings investigating the committee.

The Hill reported Sunday that McCarthy and the other four members of Congress who ignored subpoenas from the committee—GOP Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Mo Brooks (Ala.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), and Reps. Scott Perry (Pa.)—could be referred to the House Ethics Committee rather than the DOJ.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a constitutional law expert who chairs the subcommittee focusing on referrals, pointed to the relevant part of the U.S. Constitution.

"The speech or debate clause makes it clear that Congress doesn't hold members of Congress accountable in the judiciary or other places in the government," he said. "Members of Congress are only held accountable through Article 1 in their own chambers for their actions."

This post has been updated with reporting about the five House Republicans who defied subpoenas from the panel.