Trump and lawyer appeal $1 million in sanctions from Florida judge: report

Former President Donald Trump and his lawyer, Alina Habba, have appealed the nearly $1 million in sanctions a Florida judge ordered them to pay last month, CNBC reports.

Florida District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks ordered the sanctions for Trump and Habba due to their filing of a "frivolous" lawsuit against Hillary Clinton, a few of her advisors and former FBI Director James Comey for "what [Trump] believed was an attempt to compromise his presidential campaign by 'alleging ties to Russia.'"

“We are confronted with a lawsuit that should never have been filed, which was completely frivolous, both factually and legally, and which was brought in bad faith for an improper purpose," Middlebrooks wrote in his order.

Per CNBC, Trump and Habba's appeal comes "days after" their lawyer, Jared Roberts, told Middlebrooks they could post "a bond of $1,031,788 to cover the costs of the sanctions" as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reviewed the issue.

The video player is currently playing an ad.

Although the suit was dropped in September 2022, AlterNet reports Trump persisted in "undermining the rule of law" — as written in the judge's order — which ultimately led Middlebrooks to order Trump and Habba "to pay approximately $938,000" in sanctions to the defendants.

Furthermore, Middlebrooks called Trump “the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process," who usually employs a “pattern of abuse of the courts,” in an effort to seek “revenge on political adversaries.”

'Shocking and filthy': Alleged harassment of South Dakota GOP senator’s aide sparks state party chaos

The South Dakota Republican Party is in peril after a state GOP senator's aide recently alleged that she was harassed by her boss for vaccinating her child, The Associated Press (AP) reports.

This comes as some hard-right South Dakota Republicans, under the guidance of Governor Kristi Noem, actively stir up controversy within the party by "pushing for hard-line stands on social issues and passionately staking out positions that defy evidence, whether it is from medical authorities or election officials," per the Associated Press.

Among the group of hard-right Republicans is Senator Julie Frye-Mueller, who is currently suspended after she was accused of harassing her aide following an incident that occurred between the two in the lawmaker's office.

According to AP, both the senator and the anonymous aide confirm that their discussion about a draft bill somehow morphed into a conversation about "childhood vaccinations and breastfeeding," and went downhill from there — although their stories differ.

The aide recalled in her complaint that after she responded “yes” to Frye-Mueller’s question about whether she had vaccinated her child, the senator “pointed her finger and aggressively told her the child could have health issues or die.”

AP reports that during her testimony before the Senate committee, Frye-Mueller said "she questioned whether newborn babies in Pierre were receiving vaccinations and informed the aide about legislation that would have eliminated school requirements for childhood vaccinations."

The senator’s husband, Mike Mueller, was also present in the office during the debacle and played a part in the alleged harassment, per the aide’s complaint.

When the topic of conversation switched to breastfeeding, the aide recalled she said to Frye-Mueller that “she wished she could breastfeed,” to which the senator allegedly said “the aide’s husband could ‘suck on her breasts’ to get milk to come in.” In response, Mr. Mueller allegedly “smiled and nodded.”

During testimony, Frye-Mueller disagreed with the aide's memory of what occurred in that moment, alleging that the aide first "brought up breastfeeding," to which the senator asked "whether she wanted advice she had received as a young mother," and once given consent, she told the aide, “Have your husband help.”

Furthermore, Frye-Mueller described the aide's account of the incident as “shocking and filthy,” asserting that she was "falsely accused" and that her remarks can be classified as "an issue of freedom of speech."

Still, South Dakota Republicans “treated the incident as a personal issue and a serious harassment allegation,” placing Frye-Mueller on suspension and voting to censure her amid an investigation. However, the senator’s suspension has since ended.

While testifying, Frye-Mueller alleged that GOP Senate Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck's recent Facebook post “about the death of a family cat” was “proof of a conspiracy that he was employing a ‘dead cat strategy’ of drawing attention to something shocking to distract media attention from another story.”

Although known for often blasting his hard-right colleagues, and calling the senator and other South Dakota GOPers “wackadoodles,” Schoenbeck contends the post was about nothing other than the loss of a family pet, according to AP.

Former South Dakota GOP Senator Tom Dempster said, “When you have a supermajority, you will always tear yourself apart. The primary system incentivizes extreme candidates.”

Professor of political science and history at the University of Rochester, Gerald Gamm said, “Polarization at the state level is probably as high today as it’s ever been."

Regardless of the clear party tension, Frye-Mueller's supporters continue to stand by her side, having recently "drafted a resolution to back" the senator.

Elections expert says Kari Lake tweet 'looks like a felony'

Kari Lake, the 2022 GOP gubernatorial candidate who has spent nearly three months claiming that she won the election, may have committed a felony by illegally tweeting confidential information, an elections expert tells the Mesa, Arizona NBC News affiliate KPNX.

This comes after Arizona Democratic Secretary of State Adrian Fontes requested an investigation into Lake’s tweet, which alleged that 40,000 ballots were "illegally counted" and included 16 voters signatures.

Tammy Patrick, former Maricopa County elections official and Chief Executive for Programs at National Association of Election Administrators, said that aside from “very few exceptions,” voter signatures should “never” be distributed in any way.

“Arizona statute is very clear about when and where a voter signature can be shared or replicated or reproduced, or put online or used in social media,” Patrick said. "When I read the law, it looks to me like that's a felony.”

On Tuesday, the Republican National Committee’s “National Election Integrity Team” released a draft “election integrity” report, which restates the GOP talking point that more secure “access to the ballot box is needed in the face of a ‘continuing onslaught of Democrat election manipulation.’”

But Patrick warns Lake's tweet may have the opposite effect and may, in fact, harm election integrity.

"Having signatures being promoted and presented online and other places actually does great harm to the potential integrity of the outcome of an election," he said.

According to 12News, defying the Arizona statute could lead to a jail sentence.

Regarding the investigation, Fontes said in a statement, "It is my responsibility to protect Arizona voters. In keeping with my duties, I have referred this matter to the attorney general."

'Set yourself up for problems': Republican leaders worry Trump is handing Dems an electoral advantage

Republican officials are worried that former President Donald Trump's recent 2024 presidential campaign appearance in New Hampshire will deter GOP voters from participating in early in-person voting, Bloomberg reports.

During his campaign speech, Trump mentioned that he hopes "someday" the U.S. will be more like New Hampshire and go "back to “be back to doing it the way it’s supposed to be: one-day voting.” According to Bloomberg, New Hampshire is only one of four states that does not offer early voting.

While states such as Ohio, Texas and Virginia move towards cutting the length of early voting periods or ending the tactic all together, other GOP leaders across the country see the importance of adapting the strategy.

“When you stick all of your eggs in the basket of in-person voting on a single day, you set yourself up for problems,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.

Likewise, during the recent RNC chair election, Chair-elect Ronna McDaniel and former RNC Vice Chairwoman Harmeet Dillon both asserted that their party should "embrace" the idea "despite Trump's opposition" in order to defeat Democratic opponents.

Dhillon, who ran for chair against McDaniel said, “We have differences of opinion in the party. I’ve come around to the position that we need to be voting as early as possible, everywhere legal in the country.”

Reinforcing the party's desire to beat Democrats after suffering midterm election losses, Wisconsin GOP Chair Brian Schimming agrees with Dhillon and says he's "trying to sell the advantages of Republicans voting early to skeptical activists."

Schimming believes his GOP allies see the benefit of early voting, and added that he, himself, will be voting early by mail in his state's upcoming Supreme Court justice election. “I think there’s a sea change on early voting,” he said.

Robert Cahaly, a GOP consultant would like his respective party "to be pragmatic in its approach," and consider "all of the methods" of voting.

Referencing professional baseball, Cahaly said, “It’s just accepting the rules of the game, even if you don’t like them. If you play in the National League, you might not like the designated hitter rule, but it’s there, and you’d better learn to win with it.”

Herschel Walker campaign staffer to sue former NFL star for $500,000

The former Herschel Walker campaign staffer who sued American Conservative Union (ACU) Chairman Matt Schlapp earlier this month for alleged sexual assault has filed another lawsuit against a GOP fundraiser for defamation, NBC reports.

The lawsuit names top Trump campaign fundraiser and "Stop the Steal" supporter Caroline Wren as the defendant for tweeting “false and defamatory” statements about "Mr. Doe."

Last month, in an interview with The Daily Beast, the former Walker staffer alleged that Schlapp “groped” her “in a sustained fashion.” After the report, Wren, a close friend of Schlapp’s and his wife, took her thoughts about the incident to Twitter.

READ MORE: Text messages corroborate sexual assault allegations against CPAC Chairman Matt SchlappText messages corroborate sexual assault allegations against CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp

According to Politico, Wren is accused in the suit of including the staffer’s name in tweets that claimed he was “fired from multiple jobs ‘for lying and unethical behavior’ and ‘for being a habitual liar.’”

And when the plaintiff’s legal team requested that she retract her tweets, the rally organizer “continued to maliciously post statements about 'Mr. Doe'.”

This week, Wren tweeted directly at the plaintiff, saying "it's pretty absurd" that he "would sue for defamation" because she "said he has been fired from multiple jobs considering he was just fired AGAIN from yet another job (this time for being a white supremacist)."

The suit claims Wren’s words “have placed Mr. Doe into contempt, ridicule, and disgrace within the community." As a result, the staffer is seeking $500,000 in damages.

READ MORE: ‘Are you uncomfortable?’: Details emerge in groping allegations by male staffer against CPAC’s Matt Schlapp

Trump struggles as his 'decades-old playbook' starts to fray: report

While former President Donald Trump pursues a third presidential run amid a flurry of criminal investigations, it’s clear that the effectiveness of his typical tactics of “defiance and counterattacks” is starting to dwindle, Maggie Haberman at the New York Times reports.

Haberman named nearly six current investigations facing Trump — from his pending classified documents case, rape accusations, potential indictment in Georgia following allegations that he attempted to overturn the 2020 election and more.

New York Attorney General Letitia James recently filed a $250 million lawsuit against Trump for “widespread financial fraud.”

Sources close to Trump, Haberman reports, say the former president’s main worry is the potential of facing criminal charges, which “he has worked to avoid since the late 1970s,” under the guidance of his former attorney, the late Roy M. Cohn.

In an attempt to distract officials from pending litigation, Trump has kept Cohn's legacy alive by attempting to ambush the legal system while finessing his way around potential consequences.

“Always distraction, and apparent scorched earth and counterattacks at the start, and after much passage of time, settlement as quietly as possible,” First Amendment attorney and New York Democratic activist Victor A. Kovner said. “And the counterattacks as scurrilous as possible. Mostly from the Roy Cohn playbook.”

Trump has continuously engaged in harmful tactics such as calling Black prosecutors like Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis “radical, vicious and racist,” or accusing the Department of Justice of partisanship.

As lawsuits come for Trump, he has proceeded to file a few lawsuits himself — most recently against Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward.

But former attorney and FBI official, Chuck Rosenberg, told Haberman that this approach is losing its power.

“You can wear down a private party if they do not have the same resources as you, or you can settle a civil case and make it go away, but criminal cases are not about money,” Rosenberg said. “Criminal cases are about liberty and justice, and it is really rather difficult — if not impossible — to wear down federal prosecutors and the F.B.I. and make them go away.”

Rosenberg continued, “I think he thinks that everything can be bought or fought. And that is just not true.”

In the past, and still, according to former Trump Organization employee Alan Marcus, “Trump views the judicial system as he sees everything else: corrupt, ‘fixable’ and usable as a bullying tactic.”

Marcus mentioned that when he worked under Trump in the 1990's, he noticed that Trump would quickly dismiss cases against him as a “waste of time and money” but proceed to search for a “friendlier” judge to take on the case.

Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks of South Florida, who fined Trump $1 million this month for his 2016 “frivolous lawsuit” against Hillary Clinton, likely would not be considered a “friendly” judges in Trump’s eyes.

“Mr. Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries,” Middlebrooks said. “He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process, and he cannot be seen as a litigant blindly following the advice of a lawyer.”

Trump dropped his lawsuit against Letitia James as a result of the $1 million fine, proving Haberman's point that Trump's “decades-old playbook” is becoming worn and torn.

Why a billionaire’s lawsuit against Beto O’Rourke portends a bleak future of 'dark money contributions': analysis

Billionaire Kelcy Warren is suing former Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke for defamation after he publicly denounced Warren’s $1 million donation to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s 2021 campaign, Truthout reports.

Truthout reporters Andy Lee Roth and Steve Macek analyzed the pending lawsuit — which was originally reported by Jordan Uhl at Lever News — and what the legal action means for the future of the relationship between money and political campaigns.

The donation was reported by the Texas Ethic Commission and Federal Election Commission to be the “single largest donation” towards any political campaign — both state and federal.

READ MORE: How Donald Trump's massive 'dark money machine' is 'designed to confuse': report

The former Texas congressman has called out Governor Abbott in the past for not holding the Texas oil and gas companies from which Warren’s company, Energy Transfer Partners, makes a billion-dollar profit.

Despite Warren’s claim that O’Rourke's public criticism is defamation because he suffered “mental anguish,” Lee Roth and Macek offer three reasons why the lawsuit likely won’t go anywhere:

  1. First, truth often prevails in defamation cases. And the assertion that Warren’s top-dollar donation influenced the campaign outcome is “likely true.”
  2. Lee Roth and Macek highlight that subjective opinions “are not generally actionable.” And O’Rourke’s criticism is based on his opinion of the billionaire’s contribution, but his critique also sits on “factual evidence”.
  3. Warren, who is worth $5 billion, is considered a “public figure” by the Supreme Court’s definition: someone with “general fame or notoriety in the community and pervasive involvement in ordering the affairs of society.” There’s proof that Warren has donated to a long list of political candidates across the country, to political actions committees, proving his “pervasive involvement” in campaigns. Therefore, it would be difficult to prove that O’Rourke exhibited “malice” or “knowingly uttered falsehoods or, at least, acted in reckless disregard of the truth — in order to claim any damages.”

READ MORE: How 'dark money' funded the far-right campaign against Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 policies: report

Nonetheless, as Uhl wrote, the legal action against O’Rourke still “could send an intimidating message to political candidates across the country: if you suggest billionaire donors buy political influence, you could face severe punishment.”

Additionally, Lee Roth and Macek assert that the lawsuit is an example of a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP), which are defined as “attempts to use civil tort action to stifle political expression.”

And although SLAPPs are not legal in Texas, the lawsuit also exemplifies use “of the legal tactic to deter critical speech,” Uhl reports.

Nonetheless, The Texas Citizen Participation Act (TCPA) says that people like O’Rourke who are “defendants of frivolous SLAPP actions” — and being sued for exercising the freedom of speech — can request that the case be dismissed.

In their conclusion, Lee Roth and Macek warn this specific lawsuit is a direct reflection of dark money groups' influence on political campaigns. The writers also pointed to a recent Project Censored report that found GOP lawmakers continue to push legislation that makes "it more difficult, if not impossible, to identify the sources of dark money contributions, ultimately shielding them from public scrutiny.”

Read the full report at Truthout.

READ MORE: Dark money groups pump nearly $90 million into "independent state legislature" case

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hits back at Republican House member who told her to 'educate herself'

New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did not mince words when South Carolina GOP Rep. Jeff Duncan urged her to “educate herself” after she proposed an amendment to a fossil fuel bill, HuffPost reports.

The bill, according to Roll Call, would “require the federal government to approve a plan to increase drilling on deferral lands and waters prior to any non-emergency drawdown of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve."

Ocasio-Cortez argued on the House floor that “leasing more land to fossil fuel companies wouldn’t guarantee a drop in gas prices," and that the corporations financially benefiting likely wouldn’t “pass along” funds to consumers.

In his response on the House floor, Duncan said to the New York lawmaker, “Go and learn for yourself about this. Educate yourself on how America attained its low emissions. You care about the air quality. You care about climate change. Natural gas is what got America there. Educate yourself on that and then we can have a better debate about future resources.”

"This is not the first time that the opposing side can’t seem to be able to debate the issue, and so they must come after my character," Ocasio-Cortez said.

She continued, "While I cannot control that the other side seems to have made the assumption that I am uneducated, one of the things I can say is that — while I may not work for Wall Street, that is true. I may not be here with the mission to increase profits for corporations — my mission here is for the well-being and dignity of our family and for our future. For our children’s ability to live on this planet. That is what this amendment is about.”

Using Duncan’s words, Ocasio-Cortez concluded her address by charging all of the lawmakers with the task to “educate ourselves on the science of the challenge of climate change that is before us.”

Following the debate, Ocasio-Cortez took her thoughts to Twitter.

She tweeted, "Fewer things are more predictable than Republicans having a meltdown when I'm clearing them in debate."

She continued, "In case you’re curious about why this man is so angry with me, it may be because I introduced an amendment to a GOP bill that would prohibit oil and gas companies who engage in stock buybacks from leasing federal lands. Seems as though I hit a nerve!"

Political science experts explain how rural voters’ growing 'resentment' fuels a rural-urban 'apartheid'

The rural-urban voter divide has plagued the United States for nearly three decades, and only continues to increase. For decades now, rural districts are typically governed by Republican House members, while suburban and urban areas tend to be governed by Democrats.

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall spoke with many political science experts who have done extensive research on how rural voters’ growing "resentment" continues to fuel a rural-urban “apartheid,” and why it will likely persist for years to come.

MAGA politician Ron Johnson’s Senate win over Democrat Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin last year, Edsall wrote, is the one of the best case studies for “rural realignment and the role it plays in elections.”

Johnson is a Trump-backed lawmaker who staunchly denies the reality of climate change, has referred to Jan. 6 rioters as “people who love this country, that truly respect law enforcement,” and proposed cuts to social programs. Still, he has managed to win reelection.

Edsall talked to Marquette Law School scholar Craig Gilbert who found in his analysis that Johnson’s votes were much lower in the “red and blue suburbs of Milwaukee” compared to his 2016 race, but the group of voters that ultimately steered his win came from “white rural Wisconsin.”

He won the rural vote by 25 points in 2016, but that increased to 29 points this time around, leading him to victory.

University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Katherine Cramer summarized the reasons for this shift in her study “The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker," highlighting three points: “A belief that rural areas are ignored by decision makers, including policymakers; a perception that rural areas do not get their fair share of resources; and a sense that rural folks have fundamentally distinct values and lifestyles, which are misunderstood and disrespected by city folks.”

Edsall likens rural voters’ resentment towards Democrats to the “upheaval in the white South after Democrats, led by President Lyndon Johnson, won approval of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

But the start of the rural-urban split, according to Boston College political scientist David Hopkins's book “Red Fighting Blue: How Geography and Electoral Rules Polarize American Politics,” began during a “conflation of cultural and racial controversies starting in the late 1980s and accelerating into the 1990s,” such as two major Supreme Court abortion rulings and the 1993 debate over gay people in the military.

However, Hopkins says the milestone that really solidified the divide was the 1992 presidential election, as it started “the emerging configuration of ‘red’ and ‘blue’ geographic coalitions that came to define contemporary partisan competition.”

After the election, the percentage of House Democrats representing suburban districts increased by nearly 20 percent while Democratic seats in rural districts dropped from 24 percent to 5 percent.

Hopkins wrote in a 2019 study, “The Suburbanization of the Democratic Party, 1992-2018, that “Democratic suburban growth has been especially concentrated in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, reflecting the combined presence of both relatively liberal whites (across education levels) and substantial minority populations, but suburbs elsewhere remain decidedly, even increasingly, Republican in their collective partisan alignment.”

One of the reasons Republicans continue to pull in rural voters, Jordan Gest of George Mason University gathered in recent research, is that “Republicans are now beginning to attract socioeconomically ascendant and white-adjacent members of ethnic minorities who find their nostalgic, populist, nationalist politics appealing (or think Democrats are growing too extreme).”

Harvard postdoctoral research fellow Kristin Lunz Trujillo and University of Minnesota Ph.D candidate Zack Crowley, in their research found, “the key factor driving rural voters to the Republican Party: anger at perceived unfair distribution of resources by government, a sense of being ignored by decision makers or the belief that rural communities have a distinct set of values that are denigrated by urban dwellers.”

The scholars also found that, “culture differences play a far stronger role in determining the vote than discontent over the distribution of economic resources.” And stances on what they call symbolic issues “positively predict Trump support and ideology while the more material subdimension negatively predicts these outcomes, if at all."

'Come on, man!' Fox News host whines GOP has 'to be fair' — says Pence 'could’ve just destroyed' documents

Fox News host and commentator Jesse Watters and a few of his Republican colleagues on Tuesday shared their discontentment with news that “about a dozen” classified documents have been discovered in former Vice President Mike Pence’s Indiana home, Huffpost reports.

In a clip from Fox News Tuesday night show "The Five," Watters suggests that because documents were found in Pence’s home, all the fun Republicans were having with President Joe Biden’s classified document matter is officially over.

“I mean, Pence, seriously," Watters said. "We have this great thing going with Joe."

Fellow commentator Greg Gutfeld responded, “Yeah, he just ruined it!”

Jeanine Pirro agreed, “He did!”

But the group of displeased pundits didn’t stop there.

“Come on, man!” Watters continued.

Gutfield asked, “Now what are we gonna do?”

Watters asserted that he personally would have preferred if the former vice president broke the law by getting rid of the documents instead.

Critics have argued there’s a “big difference” between the discovery of hundreds of classified documents at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate and "a small number" of classified documents discovered at Biden's Delaware home and former think tank office. And U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently defended President Biden, asserting he'd be "shocked if there was anything sinister going on with his handling of classified documents." Still, many Republicans insist on comparing the two discoveries.

“I know Pence is so clean," Watters said. "Squeaky clean! It’s nothing like the real bad documents that Joe Biden was squirreling away." Gutfeld then facetiously wondered whether Pence’s documents were discovered for attention.

“Do you think [Pence] just wanted to be included?” Gutfeld asked.

“He’s like 'Hey! I’m running for president, too! Investigate me!'” Watters replied.

Scathing column explains the 'real problem facing Floridians' — and it’s not 'drag queen story times'

A columnist at The Palm Beach Post highlighted what he believes is the “real problem facing Floridians,” arguing the most pressing issue in the state is "not trans swimmers, unvarnished Black history or diversity training at your job," but the right's ongoing effort to gut Social Security.

According to Frank Cerabino’s column, Florida relies on social security payments to its residents more than any other state. He reported that more than 1 million residents look to the program to keep "from living below the poverty line."

But even with that knowledge, Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) has his sights set on eventually cutting Social Security payments as he claims the program is "going bankrupt."

Cerabino counters Scott's assertion with a statement from the Social Security Administration.

“After the projected trust fund reserve depletion in 2034, continuing income would be sufficient to pay 78 percent of program cost, declining to 74 percent for 2095,” the administration confirmed.

Scott's ideas around the program approaching bankruptcy are outlined in his "Rescue America" plan, which Cerabino asserted could "gut" Medicare and Social Security in five years.

As of now, Floridians can receive Social Security payments if they're at least 62 years old, and "as late as 70." But Scott's fellow GOP lawmakers are considering raising the "retirement age" — or "the point that the monthly payments are paid at 100 percent of the primary insurance amount" — from 67 to 70.

Matt Bruenig with The People’s Policy Project explained that "there are really 96 retirement ages in Social Security, one for each month between the ages of 62 to 70." Further, "the earlier you take your benefit, the less you get; the more you wait, the higher the monthly payment," Cerabino reported.

"A proposal to raise the retirement age to 70 is just a proposal to cut monthly benefits by around 23 percent at all 96 retirement ages," Bruenig said.

The AARP Policy Institute studied the number of people who use Social Security at age 62 versus the number of “later claimers,” and found that “early takers have less education and are more likely to live in rural areas and less likely to have IRAs or other defined-contribution plans.” They also are prone to live with a “work-limiting health condition.”

As a result, Cerabino reports that cutting their Social Security will result in poverty for many.

READ MORE: House Republican claims people 'want to work longer' to justify attack on Social Security

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said, “Without Social Security benefits, 37.8 percent of older adults would have incomes below the official poverty line, all else being equal. With Social Security benefits, only 9 percent do.”

Research done by the center highlighted that over 1.3 million Floridians, or 6 percent of Florida's population, aged 65 and older can live above the poverty line with the help of Social Security.

Cerabino concludes his analysis by once again drawing attention to the issues Florida lawmakers are focusing on, such as "peril from asylum seekers in Texas, drag queen story times or felon voters." Perhaps, the sunshine state's lawmakers and those voting for them should instead turn their attention to the stealth "retirement" of Social Security.

House Democrats seek IRS probe for 'failures to conduct presidential audits' in letter to government watchdog

Democrats in the House of Representatives are asking a government watchdog to probe the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for the agency’s failure to audit former president Donald Trump for the first two years of his presidency, Politico reports.

Spearheaded by California Rep. Jimmy Gomez, 15 Democratic lawmakers sent a letter this week to Government Accountability Office (GAO) chief Gene L. Dorado, which included several questions for the watchdog.

The members wrote, "Members of Congress need further information related to the failures to conduct presidential audits during the Trump Administration to ensure that, as elected representatives, we are adequately equipped to assess and address the integrity and continued function of the presidential audit program, as well as necessary improvements to the program.”

As Trump’s campaign staff gear up for his 2024 presidential run, the Democratic House members are set on ensuring the agency’s mistake is not taken lightly.

In the letter, the members ask why the IRS didn’t begin to audit Trump until Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) requested the former president’s tax information in Spring of 2019, over two years into his term.

According to Politico, the group also asked in the letter that why did the agency not seek assistance from the Treasury Department or from Congress if the obstacle to conducting a proper audit was mainly Trump’s hundreds of entities.

After years of Trump fighting the release of his tax returns and insisting that he had nothing to hide, House Democrats released six years worth of returns last month.

The release, which included over 2,700 pages of Trump’s business entities as well as “income flowing from foreign countries,” revealed that the former president cheated on his tax returns for years.

Director of damning Kavanaugh documentary slams FBI for lacking investigation

The Sundance Film Festival added a new documentary to its lineup that intentionally slams the FBI for its probe into Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanuagh’s sexual assault allegations, Mediaite reports.

Director Doug Liman says his first documentary named Justice “picks up where the FBI investigation into Brett Kavanaugh fell woefully short” following Christine Blasey Ford’s 2018 allegations of sexual assault against the justice in 2018.

Democratic lawmakers "were highly critical" of the FBI probe during Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings, arguing that the investigation “was rushed” and that “Trump's nominee should have been more thoroughly vetted.”

READ MORE: FBI 'did not further investigate' Brett Kavanaugh allegations

IndieWire, which called the film a “secret,” reported Liman financed the film himself. He said, “It shouldn’t be this hard to have an open and honest conversation about whether or not a Justice on the Supreme Court assaulted numerous women as a young man.”

Kim Yutani, director of the prominent Sundance Film Festival said the film does just that — allows for open and honest conversations, while “asking tough questions” and “challenging existing narratives."

Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied Blasey Ford's allegations and maintains his seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Liman said, “The film examines our judicial process and the institutions behind it, highlighting bureaucratic missteps and political powergrabs that continue to have an outsized impact on our nation today.”

READ MORE: Brett Kavanaugh voted to strike down Roe — but believes there is a constitutional 'right to interstate travel'

How DeSantis 'could potentially transform American society'

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has become well-known for his efforts to incite culture wars and influence the politics of education across Florida as he considers running in the 2024 presidential election.

In doing so, the potential GOP candidate has violated the First Amendment in numerous ways over the course of his gubernatorial reign, Vox Senior Correspondent Ian Millhiser reports. Millhiser offered an analysis of the ways DeSantis consistently violates the U.S. Constitution by enacting laws that blatantly challenge and disregard freedom of speech and expression.

During his reelection victory address in November, DeSantis promised Floridians that he would “fight the woke in the legislature,” “fight the woke in the schools,” and “fight the woke in the corporations,” which is what he’s already actively tried to achieve as governor.

With that, “DeSantis, in other words,” Millhiser wrote, “does not seem content to simply enact policies that hew to a right-wing economic or social vision. He wishes to use the sovereign powers of government to shape public discourse itself — punishing some ideas, rewarding others, and conscripting public schools and universities into his culture war.”

Millhiser also highlighted DeSantis’ goal of completely changing the trajectory of education across the state, as he recently chose anti-critical race theory leader Christopher Rufo to sit on the board of the liberal New College of Florida. Rufo plans to do all he can to transform the school into an institution that mirrors the conservative Michigan-based Hillsdale College, which boasts ties to Donald Trump. DeSantis also appointed conservative Republican and former Senator Ben Sasse as president at the University of Florida last week.

AlterNet previously reported that journalist Jonathan Chait likened DeSantis’ approach to education in Florida to Hungarian politician Viktor Orbán, who used several strategies to implement an authoritarian educational system.

After his “Stop WOKE Act,” which would ban race-related coursework from college classrooms, was temporarily blocked by a judge, DeSantis distributed a memo requesting course data from state colleges that teach “diversity, equity and inclusion.” And following the governor’s successful passing of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill last year, some Florida schools have already removed books with LGBTQ characters from their libraries.

However, when anyone speaks out against the governor’s authoritarian-like leadership decisions, he immediately retaliates.

After the Walt Disney Company denounced DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” bill last April, he made claims that the company “tried to attack me to advance their woke agenda,” and he retaliated by signing a law that would ultimately disband the “Reedy Creek Improvement District,” a large area of land that houses Walt Disney World, and “where Disney has an unusual amount of control over local land use and taxation.”

Prior to signing the legislation, DeSantis gloated that the “Democrat machine Disney and other woke corporations won’t get away with peddling their unchecked pressure campaigns any longer.”

Millhiser argued that the law is unconstitutional because even though the state of Florida isn’t necessarily “required to maintain” the land, the state “cannot strip Disney of a legal benefit it already enjoys in order to punish Disney for expressing a political opinion.”

Millhiser provided a list of the legislative decisions a governor can make that are actually considered constitutional, such as “give speeches arguing that the United States is somehow miraculously immune from systemic injustice,” “sign legislation repealing programs intended to cure these injustices” or “appoint officials to public school boards that share his belief that the US is immune to these injustices.

"“He may even enact policies that help perpetuate these injustices, assuming that those policies violate neither the state nor federal constitution," Millhiser added

But, the correspondent asserted that DeSantis “goes much further than that” by “sanctioning speech” he simply doesn’t like.

Although Texas Governor Greg Abbott has enacted laws that are considered “even more aggressive than Florida’s," DeSantis’ rhetoric and unconstitutional actions appear much more alarming, Millhiser warns, as he could “take his speech war national if elected president” in 2024.

Millhiser argued that even though the Constitution acts as a shield, to some degree, to DeSantis’ efforts to violate the right to free speech, “it is a worthless shield if the judiciary is controlled by partisans and ideologues who will not enforce the First Amendment against men like DeSantis.”

In the same vein, what’s most alarming about the governor’s attack on freedom of speech is that, if elected president, DeSantis could appoint conservative judges who share his views to fill courts across the country — judges who will allow him to violate the First Amendment without consequence. If ultimately elected to national office, Millhiser wrote, “with the right judges in place, DeSantis could potentially transform American society and culture in ways that would be unrecognizable to everyone accustomed to how the First Amendment has been interpreted for the last 60 years.”

Lastly, in regards to the ongoing debacle between DeSantis and Disney, Millhiser noted that although a company as vast as Disney likely possesses the necessary resources to stand its ground against unconstitutional state government laws, the main disconcerting component here is “the fact that DeSantis targeted one of the largest and most popular producers of First Amendment-protected art in the world is also a warning about how far his agenda could reach if it is successful.”

Kevin McCarthy receives brutal fact-check following his op-ed on GOP accomplishments

After a few arduous days of voting, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) finally won over his GOP colleagues on the 15th vote and began his stint as House Speaker. Now that he’s been in the role for a full week, McCarthy reflected on what he believes was a successful first week for the party in a recent New York Post op-ed.

In his reflection, McCarthy asserts that he is currently basking in the confidence that he and fellow House Republicans are already making significant progress on behalf of the American people.

However, MSNBC blogger Steve Benon reports that the Republicans’ impact, so far, is quite the opposite of successful, and he set the record straight on what the House GOP members have actually achieved

READ MORE: Kevin McCarthy's humiliation is a case study of entitled comeuppance

McCarthy wrote that his reign is “the start of a new direction in Washington," insisting that the party is “following through on our pledge for a more accountable, more transparent, more open chamber."

"House Republicans began this Congress by passing a rules package that transitions away from the top-down, centralized control that has defined this institution for many years," the GOP leader claimed.

In his reporting, Benon argues that McCarthy's view of success is "a matter of perspective" and offers a look into the real impact of the rules package, as well as the impact of the ongoing list of what House Republicans have both done and “undone” in their effort to “address Americans’ top concerns."

Benon contends that McCarthy’s new rule package has already "weakened congressional ethics rules.” AlterNet previously reported that advocates pushed back on the rule changes, arguing in a letter to Congress that the "changes weaken [the Office of Congressional Ethics] to the point where the office would struggle to perform its core function, dismantling one of the only ways members of Congress are held accountable for ethics violations.”

House Republicans also managed to pass their first bill, which repeals funding for 87,000 Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents. Though McCarthy claimed in his op-ed that the bill fulfills Republicans’ “commitment to America to protect hardworking taxpayers and small businesses from being spied on and shaken down by tax collectors," the Congressional Budget Office said the bill will increase the deficit by $114 billion.

READ MORE: Kevin McCarthy's debt to the 'anti-science resistance' is a recipe for 'epidemiological disaster': virologist

Mother Jones Senior Editor Michael Mechanic notes that the "Family and Small Business Taxpayer Protection Act," as the bill is named, is actually a misnomer. Rather than protecting taxpayers, it would instead protect “tax cheaters” by rolling back IRS funding from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

In the op-ed, McCarthy also shed light on his spearheading of the House GOP’s launch of the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of Government. In a recent statement, and as a response to the launch of this committee, New York Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler said, "Jim Jordan and Kevin McCarthy claim to be investigating the weaponization of the federal government when, in fact, this new select subcommittee is the weapon itself."

Nadler continued, “It is specifically designed to inject extremist politics into our justice system and shield the MAGA movement from the legal consequences of their actions.”

Benon also highlighted that Republican members have also started the process of “imposing new abortion restrictions," placed an alarming number of "election deniers” on existing congressional committees and have notably "pretended to care about the mishandling of classified materials” amid former Republican president Donald Trump’s investigation by the Department of Justice.

Despite McCarthy’s optimistic analysis of the GOP's first week in power, and his prediction of a bright future for America under their congressional leadership, Benon concludes that the party's success is, perhaps, in the eye of the beholder.

READ MORE: Paul Krugman: House Republicans’ economics are as 'divorced from reality' as their election lies