More stories

  • in

    Exclusive: Georgia lawmaker runs secret election-conspiracy Telegram channel

    A Fulton county commissioner in Georgia has been operating a private Telegram channel for years, propagating debunked claims about the 2020 election, and spreading accusations of crimes by county employees, including Ruby Freeman, an election worker defamed by Rudy Giuliani in the wake of Donald Trump’s 2020 loss.Bridget Thorne, a Republican representing the relatively conservative cities of Fulton county north of Atlanta, indirectly identifies herself as the creator and administrator of the Fulton County Elections channel on Telegram, a mobile messaging platform, in multiple posts to its page. The channel uses the official logo of the Fulton county board of registration and elections.The channel, created in May 2021, had 133 subscribers as of Tuesday night. The Guardian learned of its existence from Marisa Pyle, an Atlanta-based political organizer.In a post from 14 February, the administrator of the page accused Freeman, a former Fulton county elections worker, of misconduct, despite a Georgia elections board finding that all of the conspiracy theories about her were “false and unsubstantiated”.“We clearly see her double scanning ballots,” the channel administrator wrote about Freeman, a regular target of attention on the Telegram page. “We see her incriminating Facebook posts. Yet, she is made to be a victim and given hero awards.”Rudy Giuliani repeatedly attacked Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss, suggesting without evidence that they had committed crimes during the 2020 election. Investigators from the Georgia secretary of state’s office quickly debunked the accusations, but Giuliani continued to make them throughout his campaign to overturn the election, leading to a $148m defamation judgment against him in December. Freeman and Moss were the target of rampant harassment and threats because of the misinformation.View image in fullscreenThorne confirmed in an email to the Guardian that she started the Telegram channel in 2021 “initially for a private archive of events”, but said she is “no longer the primary administrator, nor do I regularly contribute to the conversations found within”. She said the channel was “made private for safety reasons (after receiving online death threats and threatening anonymous mail)”.“I have never stated that Ms Freeman committed any crime or election fraud,” Thorne said. She did not respond directly to a question about whether she posted the lines above. However, Thorne said: “It should be noted that last summer, the state board of elections provided a public reprimand and letter of instruction to Fulton county after the 2020 election specifically noting that ballots were double-scanned. My position has been and will remain that any concerns raised during any election should be thoroughly investigated.”The post about Freeman under the Telegram channel’s administrator account is dated 14 February 2024. A subsequent post in March is self-referential to Thorne: “Oh look! They must have had an earthquake in Union City. My picture along with Hall’s came crashing down in the election warehouse. Somehow in the crash, the actual picture was destroyed.” The March post accompanies an image of a wall of pictures of county commissioners – Thorne’s is the only photo missing in the picture.Thorne is one of two Republicans elected to Fulton county’s seven-member board of commissioners. She has a vote on appointments to the Fulton county board of registration and elections, election office budgeting and some county policies regarding elections administration.Pyle has been pseudonymously subscribed to the channel since its inception and saw Thorne’s posts. “After the 2020 election, I subscribed to as many election-denial channels on Telegram and other platforms as I could, to keep track of things,” she said.Pyle had until recently been the rapid response director for Fair Fight Action, a progressive voting-rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia representative. Fair Fight and rightwing groups claiming election fraud were mutually antagonistic in Georgia even before the 2020 election, a point Thorne herself has regularly noted in posts on the channel.View image in fullscreenThe Fulton County Elections channel went private after Thorne’s election in November 2022, Pyle said. Pyle, now the senior democracy defense manager with the voting rights group All Voting Is Local, exposed posts from the group on X last week after the unexpected resignation of Patrice Perkins-Hooker, the Fulton county elections board chair, who has taken a position as Atlanta’s interim city attorney.“The way in which she is consistently accusing Fulton county and election staff and the state and voters of malfeasance, she has very directly demeaned her own staff, she has accused people within the county of conspiring against her,” Pyle said.Though she can only identify a handful of other people who are following Thorne’s Telegram channel, every time Thorne posts something on the page, other election-conspiracy pages Pyle follows repost it, Pyle said. “She may have the first amendment right to do this, but that is not immunity from it causing repercussions and harm to democracy,” Pyle said. “That delegitimizes the position she holds.”The Guardian initially verified the authenticity of Thorne’s posts by examining Pyle’s device to access the Telegram channel directly.Thorne’s posts on the page level accusations of mismanagement against elections office staff and others. “Fulton Elections Director Nadine Williams and [elections board] Chair Patrice Perkins Hooker creating a hostile environment for anyone observing the polls. … why?” Thorne wrote. “Do they have something to hide? They should be rolling out the red carpet for observers.”Thorne has repeatedly called for the firing of previous and current elections office staff workers, including Williams.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionAfter being made aware of the contents of the Telegram page, Williams said she had never heard Thorne call for her firing directly before, and is concerned about the impact Thorne may have had on recruiting and retaining poll workers. “It does make for an environment that people are uncomfortable in our department, knowing that that person is not working with Fulton but is working against Fulton,” Williams said.Much of Thorne’s ire targets temporary elections workers contracted through Happy Faces, a staffing firm the Fulton county elections board ultimately dropped, and other temporary workers. She pointedly and repeatedly noted the apparent Nigerian citizenship of an IT staffer. The IT staffer Thorne referred to is an American citizen, county officials confirmed Thursday.“Current Georgia law requires poll workers to be United States citizens,” Thorne said in an email Thursday. “I think this is a perfectly reasonable policy and I wish it would have passed last year. To that end, I think I am well within bounds to question whether Fulton county can comply with that law once it takes effect.”Thorne, a Republican, has presented in public statements her concerns about the integrity of the 2020 election in Fulton county as a nonpartisan matter, and avoided describing the election as stolen or fraudulent. “It just seems like every year, Fulton county is a mess,” she said in comments before the Fulton county board of elections in March 2022. “I just want to reiterate that I’m not here as a partisan figure. I’m just listening to anyone who will hear my concerns.”Her comments on the private Telegram channel are not so restrained.Thorne has regularly posted articles during the last three years from fringe and far-right publications like the Epoch Times claiming election fraud in Fulton county and elsewhere around the country. Between the inception of the page in May 2021 and her election in November 2022, Thorne reposted videos and articles by VoterGa, an activist group founded by Garland Favorito, a far-right conspiracy theorist who continues to press debunked claims about the 2020 election in court and the media.Thorne also sought to recruit poll workers through her contacts on the page, using claims of fraud as a rallying cry. “We are in a pivotal time in our country, and we need YOU to stand up NOW,” she wrote. “Voting is not ENOUGH. Freedom is not FREE. YOU can help end the corruption, illegal conduct, and incompetence in Fulton County Elections and restore trust and faith in our system again.”In a 21 March 2022 post, Thorne – as administrator of the channel – wrote a first-person post describing the reasons for her candidacy for the Fulton county commission: “I decided that maybe I could be more effective in fighting for election integrity by running for District 1 Commissioner. Instead of fighting them from the outside, I can fight from the inside. I can ask the tough questions. I can force them to be transparent. I hope that you can help me.” The post is followed by a link to Thorne’s campaign website.Later in May 2022, Thorne posted a recruiting document from Fight Voter Fraud, a Connecticut-based rightwing election advocacy group seeking to raise a “secret army” in Georgia to conduct research on voters the group has “deemed questionable”.Thorne rose to political prominence as an employee of the Fulton county elections office during the 2020 election. A software engineer, she was a Fulton county precinct manager and Dominion-trained poll worker who helped test and set up election equipment in 2020. She claimed that ballots had been mishandled, and before the November 2020 election reported her observations first to elections staff in Fulton county, then to the secretary of state’s office.She then went on social media with rightwing Tea Party organizations and appeared on Fox News to describe a “haphazard” process for handling absentee ballots, and to argue that elections officials were ignoring mistakes. On 3 December 2020, Thorne testified to her observations at a hearing at the Georgia state senate, the same one at which Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani had been pressing a case to overturn the election.Giuliani’s arguments to overturn the 2020 election at this hearing are one element of the racketeering case for election interference brought against him, Trump and 17 others in Fulton county.After the testimony, Richard Barron, the Fulton county elections director, ordered that Thorne and Suzi Voyles, another elections office employee who had been publicly critical of the election, not be rehired for the runoff election in January 2021 – effectively firing them. Barron’s office said the women had committed infractions like taking prohibited cellphone photographs and improperly showing ballots to a poll monitor. But Republican political figures across the state – including Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state – exploded at the firing of two whistleblowers, issuing condemnations of Fulton county and demanding they be rehired.Lawmakers subsequently appointed Carter Jones as an outside observer to review the county’s elections processes. County commissioners eventually fired Barron. Jones declared in June 2021 that Fulton county’s elections operation was rife with sloppiness, mismanagement and disorganization, but wasn’t engaged in malfeasance, dishonesty or fraud. More

  • in

    The Guardian view on the catastrophe in Gaza: it must not be overshadowed by the Iran crisis | Editorial

    The Middle East is “on the precipice” and “one miscalculation, one miscommunication, one mistake, could lead to the unthinkable,” the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, warned on Thursday. Israel has vowed to retaliate to Iran’s weekend barrage of missiles and drones – itself a response to Israel’s killing of two generals at an Iranian diplomatic facility in Damascus. It is hard to have confidence in either’s ability to calibrate their actions when both have misjudged already.Yet the spectre of full-scale regional conflict, and the many deaths that could result, must not draw attention away from the almost 34,000 Palestinians already killed in Gaza, according to its health authorities, and the many more who will soon die without an immediate ceasefire and massive increase in aid in what Mr Guterres called a “humanitarian hellscape”.Joe Biden, losing support in his own party over his response, finally turned up the pressure on Israel following the deaths of foreign aid workers earlier this month, resulting in the opening of more crossing points for humanitarian goods and pledges of a surge in supplies of food and medicine. In reality, progress was slow to materialise, inconsistent and wholly inadequate, with improvements in some areas offset by problems elsewhere.Restrictions on shipments and the breakdown in security mean that starvation still grips the population, particularly in the north. The US said that monitoring aid shipments was a priority, but it is clear that its attention has shifted. Even in the unlikely event that tomorrow saw an end to the war and vast quantities of aid distributed across Gaza, the famine that has already set in would continue to claim lives.Hopes of a ceasefire have ebbed too. Qatar has said that it will reconsider its role as mediator – suggesting it no longer feels that the investment of diplomatic effort and credibility as a broker is worthwhile with the odds on a deal dwindling. The prospect of an offensive on Rafah, where at least 1.4 million have fled to escape fighting elsewhere, looms. Reports suggest the Israeli military is preparing for an assault by deploying extra artillery and armoured personnel carriers nearby. Benjamin Netanyahu may well prefer continuing to threaten a ground offensive to actually mounting one. But his far-right coalition partners have made no secret of their desire for an assault, and the perpetuation of a forever war staves off the point at which a hugely unpopular prime minister will have to wave goodbye to power and face the corruption cases he has fought for so long.The US has made clear its opposition to such an offensive. Even at its most frustrated, it has also made clear that it is reluctant to attach serious consequences to its demands on Mr Netanyahu’s government. In the wake of Iran’s attack, it has stepped up its support for Israel.Yet an assault on Rafah would be a disaster for those sheltering there, and for the broader distribution of aid arriving via its crossing to Egypt. The urgent need to prevent a regional conflagration need not mean relegating Gaza to an afterthought. Far from it: the two issues are closely connected. A ceasefire and the release of hostages, along with the promised surge in aid, could help defuse regional tensions and find a path out of the dangers. The alternative is many more deaths in Gaza, and increased peril for those outside.
    Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a response of up to 300 words by email to be considered for publication in our letters section, please click here. More

  • in

    House Republican cites threats and swatting of family as reasons for quitting

    Mike Gallagher has suggested that he is resigning from his seat in Congress because of death threats and swatting targeted at his family.The Republican US representative for Wisconsin shared more insight into his decision to vacate his seat while talking with reporters on Tuesday, the NBC affiliate WLUK reported.Gallagher, 40, said: “This is more just me wanting to prioritize being with my family … I signed up for the death threats and the late-night swatting, but they did not. And for a young family, I would say this job is really hard.”Gallagher is married, with two young daughters. He announced last month that he would be resigning from his congressional seat before the end of his term, effective 19 April.Gallagher, a rising star within the Republican party, announced his retirement in February after breaking with other House Republicans and refusing to vote to impeach the homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, a Democrat.But, in March, Gallagher said that he would be exiting Congress in April, before the end of his term. He has represented Wisconsin’s eighth district since 2017.“After conversations with my family, I have made the decision to resign my position … effective 19 April. I’ve worked closely with House Republican leadership on this timeline,” Gallagher said in a statement.Allies said that Gallagher decided to exit after far-right Republicans ejected Kevin McCarthy, the former House speaker, amid other shenanigans.But Gallagher’s latest comments suggest that his early exit is tied to fears of rising political violence in the US on all sides, though the majority of threats and concerns come from the far right.Just this week, two prominent Republican lawmakers encouraged voters to either use violence against protesters or carry weapons.The Republican US Senate candidate Kari Lake, who is vying for a seat in Arizona, told her supporters to “strap on a Glock” ahead of the 2024 elections.During a campaign speech in Arizona on Sunday, Lake warned the crowd that Washington DC was a “swamp” and encouraged people to carry a weapon in preparation for an “intense” election year.A day later, the Republican senator Tom Cotton said Americans should “take matters into their own hands” when dealing with pro-Palestinian protesters, encouraging vigilantism.Cotton, the far-right senator of Arkansas, encouraged people to “forcibly remove” demonstrators who are blocking traffic, a common protest tactic used by those calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.Remarks from Lake and Cotton come as an Alabama man was arrested last week for detonating an improvised explosive device outside the state attorney general’s office.The suspect had reportedly added a “substantial number of nails and other shrapnel to increase its destructive capability”, according to a detention memo reviewed by NBC.An alarming number of Americans are also willing to use weapons to carry out political violence, according to a recent study.The study from the violence prevention research program at the University of California, Davis found that a large number of gun owners in the US said they were willing to engage in political violence. Among people who have carried a firearm in public in the last 12 months, 16.5% said they would be willing to shoot someone.Additionally, an increasing amount of politicians have reported that they are the victims of swatting, a prank which involves calling law enforcement officials to a location under the false pretense of a violent crime taking place.Since January, at least three members of Congress have been swatted, when a call to law enforcement officials provokes an armed response.The House of Representatives’ top security official even issued guidelines to lawmakers and their families on how to handle the incidents, Axios reported. More

  • in

    The America depicted in Civil War is not half as alarming as the real one | Emma Brockes

    As the supreme court heard arguments relating to the 6 January riot and Donald Trump sat in a criminal court in Manhattan, cinemas across America have been showing scenes from an imagined world after the end of democracy. The movie Civil War, written and directed by Alex Garland, depicts a conflict-ridden US in which rebel forces battle to overthrow the government. As a thought experiment, this would be a lot more fun in a year in which a man with 91 felony charges wasn’t standing for his second term as president. As it is, the film currently at No 1 at the US box office is under some pressure to say something meaningful about where we are now.Civil War does have things to say: about how war is bad, and violence corrupts, and once things get under way people exploit the chaos for all sorts of reasons – which explains the presence of Florida in the film’s imagined secessionist uprising. It’s a gripping ride that, depending on your view, is either shrewdly non-partisan in a way that assumes the audience can fill in the gaps for themselves (the New York Times), an empty but entertaining romp with lots of explosions (the New Yorker) or a provocation to liberals who don’t understand what movies are for (the Hollywood Reporter). Meanwhile, in court this week, prospective jurors in the former president’s hush money trial were warned to keep details of themselves confidential, to preserve against the possibility of juror intimidation – the kind of deep background detail in which the film has no interest.View image in fullscreenInstead, we jump to an unspecified near-future in which the US president, a generic strongman played by Nick Offerman, has seized an illegal third term and disbanded the FBI. Two factions across three states have popped up to secede from the US, a coalition between Texas and California fighting under a two-star flag and calling themselves the Western Front, and, separately and with perfect on-brand randomness, Florida, doing its own thing. Much has been made of the political incompatibility of the coalition states, but, it seems to me, this was Garland’s smartest move: California and Texas both have strong regional identities combined with huge resources of land and money that make a coalition against a common enemy feasible.The problem in this scenario is this: where are the president’s supporters and what are they doing? The movie has no thoughts. There’s no explanation of who the president is, how he got to the White House or what happened to the popular movement that elected him. Instead, the story focuses on a band of plucky photojournalists, led by a brilliant Kirsten Dunst, as they battle to get from New York to the capital to document the fall of DC. In this studiously apolitical setup, we hear references to the “Portland Maoists” and the “Antifa massacre”, while the Western Front is stationed at Charlottesville – a loaded reference evoking the real-life dickheads who marched with tiki torches through that city in 2017 and who, per the film’s implication, eventually managed to upgrade their weapons supplier from Bed Bath & Beyond.View image in fullscreenThe intention of these scattergun political references, is, I suspect to make a point about the incoherence of war, or rather, the irrelevance of politics to those suffering at the sharp end. That’s not how it lands. The visual imagery is stunning in the manner of Garland’s brilliant 2002 zombie flick, 28 Days Later, in a way that in other years might have carried the film. There is the burnt-out shell of a JCPenney, a downed helicopter on one side in the car park. There is the creepy gas station attendant torturing looters he went to high school with out back. There is the spectacular, minutes-long assault on the West Wing.And here, in real life, is Trump, charged with falsifying business documents with an intention to violate election laws. Held up against the events that suggested the film in the first place, Civil War has about it a vibe of the guy who doesn’t vote because “they’re all as bad as each other”. The timing matters, and the blandness of the film’s politics, along with its can’t-be-arsed approach to broadening the scope of the story, makes it feel less like a cautionary tale and more like a piece of fantasy unanchored from history. Coming home on Tuesday and turning on the news to hear about Trump nodding off in court, I flashed to the under-imagined world of the film and thought: nah, couldn’t happen here. More

  • in

    Mike Johnson aid bills: what is the US speaker’s plan for Ukraine and Israel, and will it pass Congress?

    US House speaker, Mike Johnson, has said long-awaited votes on aid for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific will take place as soon as Saturday, putting the senior Republican on a collision course with members of his own party.At stake is $95bn of US security assistance that has been in limbo for months, amid fierce objections from far-right Republicans. Johnson’s decision to push ahead with the votes also puts his own job at risk, with at least two Republicans threatening to put forward a motion to remove him, just six months after he assumed the job.How did we get here?Congress has been frozen for months in its efforts to approve military aid for Ukraine due to growing opposition among Republicans.The voices of isolationist Republicans have grown louder, bolstered by former president Donald Trump who has said foreign aid should be structured as a loan, not a “giveaway”, while calling into question America’s commitment to its Nato allies who are committed to Ukraine’s defence.Efforts to pass legislation that would secure military assistance for Ukraine hit another barrier in 2023, as some Republicans began to insist that the foreign aid bill must be tied to addressing the needs at the US-Mexico border, where arrests for illegal crossings have hit record highs.In February, the Senate voted to block the advancement of a bill that guaranteed foreign aid, while also providing new powers to shut down the border and expedite deportations.Later that month the Senate passed a bill that provided $95bn of wartime aid to Ukraine, Israel and other American allies, but contained no provisions related to the US border.Despite this legislation passing with broad, bipartisan support in the Senate, Johnson continually refused to bring the Senate bill to the floor of the House. Without the House voting to approve it, the bill remained stalled up until this week.How do the new bills differ from those the Senate approved?On Tuesday, Johnson unveiled his proposals, which involved holding votes on three separate funding packages for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific – as well as a fourth bill that contains other Republican foreign policy proposals.The package totals $95.3bn in spending, which matches the total the Senate passed in February, but contains a few differences designed to win over some House conservatives.Aid to Ukraine would total about $61bn, but more than a third of that amount would be dedicated to replenishing weapons and ammunition systems for the US military.The $13.8bn provided to Ukraine for the purchase of weapons from the US is roughly the same as the previous Senate bill.The main difference between the two packages is that the House bill provides more than $9bn in economic assistance to Ukraine in the form of “forgivable loans”. The Senate bill included no such provision seeking repayment.The idea of structuring the aid as a loan is a key Trump policy proposal and is supported by a number of Republicans.Johnson says the House bill package also includes a requirement for the Biden administration to provide a plan and a strategy to Congress for what it seeks to achieve in Ukraine. The plan would be required within 45 days of the bill being signed into law. House Republicans frequently complain that they have yet to see a strategy for ending the war.Aid to support Israel and provide humanitarian relief to Gaza comes to more than $26bn. The money dedicated to replenishing Israel’s missile defence systems totals about $4bn in both the House and Senate bills. Some of the money allocated to Israel will also cover the cost of US military operations responding to recent attacks.Johnson has said his package for the Indo-Pacific will include about $8bn to counter China and ensure a strong deterrence in the region. The overall amount of money is about the same as the Senate bill, with a quarter of funds used to replenish weapons and ammunition systems that had been provided to Taiwan.Why has Johnson chosen to advance the aid packages now?After Iran’s unprecedented weekend attack on Israel, the White House and top Democrats and Republicans in the Senate called on Johnson to approve the Senate’s aid package. On Sunday, he told Fox News that Republicans understood the “necessity of standing with Israel”.At the same time, as US aid to Ukraine has stalled, Kyiv’s position on the battlefield has reached a perilous position. Insufficient ammunition and dwindling air defence missiles have left the country’s defences exposed.In Washington, alarm has grown at the deteriorating situation and at a hearing on Wednesday, Pentagon leaders testified that Ukraine and Israel both desperately need weapons.On Wednesday, Johnson told reporters: “History judges us for what we do. This is a critical time right now.” According to reports in the Washington Post, Johnson’s opposition to Ukraine aid has changed since he became speaker and began to receive intelligence briefings more frequently.Will the aid packages pass?Johnson is attempting to corral a divided Republican party with the slimmest of majorities in the House. With a number of Republicans avowedly committed to opposing the bills, the speaker will be reliant on support from Democrats to push the legislation through.House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries has said he plans to gather Democrats for a meeting on Thursday morning to discuss the package.“Our topline commitment is ironclad,” he told reporters. “We are going to make sure we stand by our democratic allies in Ukraine, in Israel, in the Indo-Pacific.”The proposals have already received a ringing endorsement from Joe Biden, who has said he will sign the packages into law immediately, should Congress pass them. A number of Republicans have indicated they will support them as well.In an effort to satisfy conservatives in his own party, Johnson said he will hold a separate vote on a border security package, however some Republicans have already denounced the plan as insufficient.At least two Republican House members have threatened to try to oust Johnson if he goes ahead with the votes.Far-right congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, was joined by Thomas Massie of Kentucky, in calling for Johnson to resign.“I want someone that will actually pursue a Republican agenda and knows how to walk in the room and negotiate and not get tossed around the room like some kind of party toy,” Greene said. But she added that she would not move on the motion to vacate Johnson as speaker before the vote on foreign aid.The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report More

  • in

    House Republicans’ bid to impeach Alejandro Mayorkas fails in US Senate

    Senate Democrats on Wednesday dismissed the impeachment case brought by House Republicans against Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, on grounds that the charges failed to meet the bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors” outlined in the constitution as a basis for removing an official from office.In a pair of party-line votes, Democrats held that two articles alleging Mayorkas willfully refused to enforce the nation’s immigration laws and breached the public trust with his statements to Congress about the high levels of migration at the US southern border with Mexico were unconstitutional. On the first article, the Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, voted “present”.Democrats then voted 51-49 to adjourn the trial, just one day after House Republicans presented the articles to the Senate. Chuck Schumer, the senate majority leader, moved to dismiss the charges outright, arguing that a cabinet official cannot be removed from office for implementing the policies of the administration he serves.“It is beneath the dignity of the Senate to entertain this nakedly partisan exercise,” Schumer said in a floor speech opening Wednesday’s session.Constitutional scholars, including conservative legal experts, have said the Republicans’ impeachment case is deeply flawed and weakens Congress’s most powerful tool for holding despots and delinquents to account. But Republicans pushed ahead, arguing that Mayorkas’ handling of the southern border warranted a historic rebuke.“This process must not be abused. It must not be short-circuited,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, said, imploring Democrats to hold a full trial. “History will not judge this moment well.”After the Senate convened as a court of impeachment, Schumer offered his plan to hold votes to dismiss the two articles of impeachment after limited debate. Senator Eric Schmitt, a Republican of Missouri, immediately objected to Schumer’s proposal and accused the Democratic leader of “setting our constitution ablaze” by seeking to dispense with the charges against Mayorkas.The majority leader then called for votes to dismiss the trial, setting off a series of procedural maneuvers by Republicans to delay the proceedings, all of which were rejected 51-49 by the Democratic majority.Had they moved to a trial, Republicans still would have lacked the support of two-thirds of the Senate that is needed to convict and remove Mayorkas from office.Mayorkas has denied wrongdoing, defending the work of his agency as it grapples with soaring migration and a refusal by Congress to act.“As they work on impeachment, I work in advancing the missions of the Department of Homeland Security. That’s what I’ve done throughout this process,” Mayorkas said on Wednesday during an appearance on CBS to discuss a new federal initiative to combat online abuse of children.Democrats cast the impeachment effort as election-year political theater designed to draw attention to the situation at the border, one of the president’s biggest liabilities. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has made immigration the centerpiece of his campaign for the White House.“The impeachment of Alejandro Mayorkas has nothing to do with high crimes and misdemeanors and everything to do with helping Donald Trump on the campaign trail,” Schumer added on Wednesday.He charged Republicans instead to join Democrats in passing the bipartisan Senate border bill aimed they derailed at Trump’s behest.Some Senate Republicans have expressed deep skepticism of the impeachment effort. But conservatives have cried foul and are preparing to deploy a series of procedural tactics in an effort to delay the vote ending the trial without arguments.“What Senator Schumer is going to do is fatuous, it is fraudulent and it is an insult to the Senate and a disservice to every American citizen,” said John Kennedy, Republican Senator of Louisiana, at a press conference on Tuesday.By a single vote, House Republicans impeached Mayorkas in February for his handling of the border. It was the first time in nearly 150 years that a cabinet secretary was impeached.But Mike Johnson delayed the transfer of the articles for several weeks, initially to allow the chambers more time to complete work on government funding legislation. Upon returning from a two-week recess, the House speaker again postponed the transfer at the request of Senate Republicans, who requested more time to prepare.The outright dismissal of the charges, without the opportunity to argue their case, was yet another setback for House Republicans, plagued by internal drama and a vanishingly thin majority.In a joint statement, House Republican leaders said: “The American people will hold Senate Democrats accountable for this shameful display.”The White House, meanwhile, applauded Senate Democrats for dispensing with what it called a “baseless” case.“President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas will continue doing their jobs to keep America safe and pursue actual solutions at the border, and Congressional Republicans should join them, instead of wasting time on baseless political stunts while killing real bipartisan border security reforms,” said the White House spokesperson Ian Sams.The proceedings began at 1pm, when Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, administered the oath of office to the Senate president pro tempore Patty Murray, a Democrat of Washington. Each senator was sworn in as a juror and signed their name in an oath book.“Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye!” the sergeant-at-arms proclaimed, reminding senators that they are to “keep silent on pain of imprisonment” for the duration of the trial.Had the Senate moved to an impeachment trial, it would be the third time in five years. Trump was impeached twice during his presidency, first over his dealings with Ukraine and later over his involvement in the January 6 assault on the US Capitol. He was acquitted both times by Senate Republicans. More

  • in

    Far-right US Senate candidate tells crowd to ‘strap on a Glock’ before elections

    Republican US Senate candidate Kari Lake has told supporters to “strap on a Glock” ahead of the 2024 elections as she struggles to gain ground against her Democratic rival in Arizona.In a campaign speech made to a crowd in Arizona’s Mohave county on Sunday, Lake echoed Trump-like terms in calling Washington DC a “swamp” – and used a reference to carrying guns when she told people to prepare for an “intense” election year.Lake hopes to represent Arizona in the seat to be vacated by Democrat turned independent Kyrsten Sinema.Lake told the crowd: “We need to send people to Washington DC that the swamp does not want there. And I can think of a couple people they don’t want there. First on that list is Donald J Trump; second is Kari Lake.“He’s willing to sacrifice everything I am. That’s why they’re coming after us with ‘lawfare’,” Lake said, referencing the ex-president’s many legal troubles as he stands trial in New York.“They’re going to come after us with everything. That’s why the next six months is going to be intense. And we need to strap on our … ”Lake briefly paused before deciding on the item her supporters should strap on. After suggesting a “seatbelt”, a “helmet” and “the armor of God”, she said: “And maybe strap on a Glock on the side of us just in case.”Before running for the Senate seat, Lake ran for governorship of Arizona in 2022 on a hard-right platform where she echoed Donald Trump’s false claims that he was not beaten in the 2020 presidential election by Joe Biden. She lost to her Democratic rival, Katie Hobbs.She told supporters on Sunday, referring to constitutional gun rights and free speech rights: “We’re not going to be the victims of crime. We’re not going to have our second amendment taken away. We’re certainly not going to have our first amendment taken away by these tyrants.”But despite Lake’s assertive remarks, more voters are now moving towards her Democratic opponent, Ruben Gallego, Politico reported.Politico cited election analyst Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, which moved the likelihood of the open Senate race from “toss-up” to “leans Democratic”.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotionIt’s not yet clear how much the issue of abortion will sway elections in the state, where last week the Arizona supreme court ruled a divisive 19th-century near-total abortion ban would soon go into effect, almost two years after the overturning of Roe v Wade’s federal abortion rights protection by the US supreme court. The revived historical law in Arizona makes no exceptions for rape or incest and only allows abortions if the mother’s life is at risk.Lake has flip-flopped on the issue, previously supporting the law and now saying she opposes it.Democrats in the Arizona house of representatives are seeking to repeal the pending 1864 ban on abortion, but they will need the help of some Republicans in the closely divided legislature.Reuters contributed reporting More

  • in

    Senators kill first article of impeachment against Alejandro Mayorkas – as it happened

    The Senate has voted to kill the first article of impeachment – “willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law” – against Alejandro Mayorkas.Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, voted “present”, neither for nor against, but all other senators voted along party lines, resulting in a 51-48 vote.On to the second article, “breach of public trust”.We’re closing our US live politics blog after an eventful day in both chambers of Congress. Thanks for joining us.In the Senate: The impeachment trial against Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, was crawling towards a close after Democrats killed off one of the two articles against him, and were poised to dismiss the second. A campaign of delay and obfuscation by Republican members, in the form of a succession of points of order, motions to adjourn or calling for private session, slowed proceedings to a snail’s pace. Ultimately, the second charge, that Mayorkas broke the law by enacting Joe Biden’s immigration policies, was set for a similar fate as the first: dismissal on a party-line vote.In the House: Members will vote Saturday on a package of foreign aid for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan after Mike Johnson, the beleaguered Republican speaker, finally unveiled details of four bills he hopes will appease hard-liners in his party seeking to oust him. Three of the bills provide aid funding, while the fourth, the text of which is forthcoming, is expected to include measures to redirect seized Russian assets toward Ukraine and force the sale of TikTok.Here’s what else we were following:
    Joe Biden said he was considering tripling tariffs on Chinese steel, with indications that he wants to go to 25%. “China is cheating, not competing on steel,” the president said at an event at the United Steelworkers union headquarters in Pittsburgh.
    Republicans in Arizona again blocked an effort by Democrats to overturn an 1864 rule outlawing almost all abortions, enacted by a ruling earlier this month by the state’s supreme court. Respected pollster Larry Sabato says November’s Senate race in the key swing state now “leans Democratic” following the controversy, a change from “toss-up”.
    Republicans Ron DeSantis and Jeb Bush, current and former Florida governors, led tributes to Bob Graham, a two-term governor of the state, three-term US senator and Democratic political heavyweight who has died aged 87.
    Please join us again on Thursday.Two more Republican points of order are stalling the vote to kill the second and final article of impeachment against Alejandro Mayorkas.Rick Scott of Florida wanted an adjournment until 30 April, repeating an earlier motion that failed. It met the same fate, a 51-49 defeat.Now John Kennedy of Louisiana is back again. He wants an adjournment until 1 May. No prizes for guessing how that motion will turn out.We’ve been talking a lot about the two articles of impeachment filed against Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, but what exactly do they charge him with?Here’s the official text from congress.gov. Both articles were introduced by Marjorie Taylor Greene, the firebrand Republican representative, in November 2023, and passed the House in February after a first vote to impeach failed.Article 1 alleges Mayorkas “willfully and systemically refused to comply with the law”. It says he ignored congressional law and that “in large part because of his unlawful conduct, millions of aliens have illegally entered the US on an annual basis with many unlawfully remaining in the US”. It tries to pin the border crisis firmly on the shoulders of the Biden administration, and Mayorkas for delivering it.Article 2 alleges “breach of public trust”. It says Mayorkas “knowingly made false statements, and knowingly obstructed lawful oversight of the department of homeland security, principally to obfuscate the results of his willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law”. One of the alleged “false statements” was telling Congress he believed the border was secure, which Greene and others insisted rose to the threshold of being a “high crime or misdemeanor”.The Senate has voted to kill the first article of impeachment – “willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law” – against Alejandro Mayorkas.Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, voted “present”, neither for nor against, but all other senators voted along party lines, resulting in a 51-48 vote.On to the second article, “breach of public trust”.US Steel should stay a US-owned company, Joe Biden said on Wednesday during remarks to steelworkers at an event in Pittsburgh, Reuters reports.US Steel, he said at a campaign event:
    … should remain a totally American company. And that’s going to happen, I promise you.
    US Steel Corp has agreed to be bought by Japan’s Nippon Steel for $14.9bn.Republican tactics to handle the Mayorkas impeachment trial in the Senate this afternoon are becoming clear: delay proceedings as much as they can.Each motion, or point of order, a Republican makes must be subjected to a roll call of all 100 members. Ted Cruz, the Texas senator, made a motion to debate the articles of impeachment in closed session. Senators voted along party lines and the motion failed 49-51.Next up, John Kennedy of Louisiana made a point of order to adjourn the hearing until 30 April. One more roll call later, it also fell.Now Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Senate minority leader, has tabled a point of order to try to block a first vote to dismiss the first article of impeachment. The roll call on that is under way.It too will fail on straight party lines, but each of these Republican efforts soaks up more and more time.Biden just drew laughs from the steel union members watching his campaign event in Pittsburgh, when he made several mentions of “my predecessor” Donald Trump, saying he “is busy right now”.He was referring to the fact that his rival is standing trial in New York, the first-ever criminal trial of a former US president.Joe Biden just confirmed what had been flagged before his trip – that he is considering tripling tariffs on Chinese steel, with indications that he wants to go to 25%.“China is cheating, not competing on steel,” the US president said, at an event at the United Steelworkers union headquarters in Pittsburgh.He protested that “for too long, the Chinese state has poured money into their steel industry” and that it was not fair competition.He also said that Donald Trump “and the Maga” Republicans want to impose tariffs across the board on all imports, which the president said will hurt American consumers. He referred to the Make America Great Again slogan of Trump’s election campaign, which has come to signify the hard right of the Republican party.“Trump simply does not get it,” he said.Joe Biden is now speaking at the steelworkers’ union headquarters in Pittsburgh.The US president is 45 minutes behind schedule. Pro-Palestinian protesters are demonstrating outside the event.Biden is on a three-day swing through the vital battleground state of Pennsylvania.He was in his home town of Scranton yesterday, where he contrasted how his roots have kept him humble while presidential rival Donald Trump trades on his rich man’s persona.Tomorrow, Biden will visit Philadelphia again; it has been a frequent stop on the campaign trail.Biden just raised cheers and claps from the gathered union members when he said: “I’m president because of you guys.”Chuck Schumer has now made a motion to dismiss the first article of impeachment on the grounds it “does not allege conduct that rises to the level of a high crime or misdemeanor”.A formal vote will follow shortly, unless there are any efforts or motions to delay it.It could be at least an hour or two before any vote to dismiss the articles of impeachment against Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary. Or it could all be over very quickly.Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, has just told the chamber he wants to allow up to 60 minutes of debate on each article before he calls a vote to dismiss.Republican senator Eric Schmitt of Missouri isn’t happy. He says Schumer’s efforts to kill the impeachment are unprecedented:
    Never before in the history of our republic has the Senate dismissed or tabled articles of impeachment when the impeached individual was alive and did not resign.
    I will not assist Senator Schumer in setting our constitution ablaze, bulldozing 200 years of precedent.
    There’s now a debate about whether the articles of impeachment actually meet the high bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors” required, which would make them invalid if it’s found they don’t.If it is determined the articles are unconstitutional, then the vote to kill will likely follow in short order, and without the need for more debate.Watch this space …Senators are lining up to sign the oath book in the chamber, the opening formalities of the impeachment trial that’s just got under way against Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary.It’s a slow process, as each of the 100 members must sign individually. But things are expected to pick up pretty quickly at its conclusion, with opening statements.It’s unclear at what point Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate majority leader, will call a vote to dismiss the two articles of impeachment received from the Republican-controlled House yesterday.But Schumer says he will do so after “a period of debate”. Such a vote will effectively kill the impeachment outright.There is no chance of Mayorkas being convicted, even if the trial were allowed to conclude. Prosecutors would need 60 votes in a chamber controlled by Democrats, and several Republicans have already indicated they would acquit him.Florida governor Ron DeSantis has signed a bill mandating that kindergartners in the state learn “the truths about the evils of communism”.The hard-right Republican, who frequently touts an agenda promoting “freedom” in education, and giving parents rights over choices for their children’s curriculum, has made it compulsory for students up to 12th grade to attend the “history of communism” class, beginning in the 2026 school year.Lessons must be “age appropriate and developmentally appropriate”, according to the bill. The state’s board of education will draw up academic standards for the lessons.Florida high schoolers are already required to attend a 45-minute instruction class about “Victims of Communism Day” before they can graduate.Wednesday’s bill-signing took place at the Assault Brigade 2506 museum in Hialeah Gardens, near Miami. DeSantis was flanked by former Cuban rebels who took part in the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, which took place 63 years ago today against the island’s communist dictator, Fidel Castro.The voting-equipment company Smartmatic has agreed to settle a defamation lawsuit with the far-right One America News Network (OAN) over lies broadcast on the network about the 2020 election.Erik Connolly, a lawyer for Smartmatic, confirmed the case had been settled, but said the details were confidential. Attorneys for Smartmatic and OAN notified a federal judge in Washington on Tuesday that they were agreeing to dismiss the case, which Smartmatic filed in 2021.Smartmatic sued OAN in November 2021, saying the relatively small company was a victim of OAN’s “decision to increase its viewership and influence by spreading disinformation”.Smartmatic was only involved in the 2020 election in a single US county, Los Angeles, but OAN repeatedly broadcast false claims that its equipment had flipped the election for Joe Biden.Donald Trump allies Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell played a key role in advancing the outlandish claims.Read the full story:The extent of the opposition by hardline Republicans to speaker Mike Johnson’s foreign aid bills unveiled Wednesday is becoming clear, with some promising to block their passage.“The Republican Speaker of the House is seeking a rule to pass almost $100bn in foreign aid – while unquestionably, dangerous criminals, terrorists, & fentanyl pour across our border,” Chip Roy, the Texas representative, tweeted.“The border ‘vote’ in this package is a watered-down dangerous cover vote. I will oppose.”Roy is among those refusing to consider US aid for Israel, and particularly Ukraine, without massive investments in border security, which he and others say isn’t included in Johnson’s just-released package.Marjorie Taylor Greene, the extremist Georgia representative who has threatened to call a vote to oust Johnson, is also furious.“You are seriously out of step with Republicans by continuing to pass bills dependent on Democrats. Everyone sees through this,” she wrote, also on X.Johnson says the House will vote on the bills on Saturday night. There’s no guarantee he will still be speaker at that point if Greene, or others, deliver on their threat to call a “motion to vacate” vote.It’s been a busy morning in US politics on several fronts. An impeachment trial in the Senate is about to get under way for homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and there have been developments in efforts to progress funding for Israel and Ukraine.Here’s what we’ve been following:
    Democratic Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer is preparing to hold a vote that could dismiss the two articles of impeachment filed by House Republicans on Tuesday alleging that Mayorkas broke the law in enacting Joe Biden’s immigration policies. Schumer called the charges an “illegitimate and profane abuse of the US Constitution” and said the votes would come after a brief “period of debate”.
    Embattled speaker Mike Johnson said the House would vote Saturday evening on three foreign aid bills, including money for Ukraine and Israel. The Louisiana Republican has been walking a fine line trying to find a solution that will appease rightwingers seeking to oust him, while standing a chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate.
    Democrats in Arizona are resurrecting an effort to overturn an 1864 rule outlawing almost all abortions, enacted by a ruling earlier this month by the state’s supreme court. Respected pollster Larry Sabato says November’s Senate race in the key swing state now “leans Democratic” following the controversy, a change from “toss-up”.
    Republicans Ron DeSantis and Jeb Bush, current and former Florida governors, led tributes to Bob Graham, a two-term governor of the state, three-term US senator and Democratic political heavyweight who has died aged 87.
    And still to come this afternoon:
    Joe Biden meets with steelworkers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as he touts his fair tax plan for workers and high earners. The president is due to deliver remarks at 1.45pm ET.
    In response, Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate minority leader, is not happy that the impeachment trial is about to be tanked.He’s accusing Democrats of failing to live up to their obligations to assess the evidence and render a verdict, and taking potshots at Joe Biden’s border policies:
    Today it falls to the Senate to determine whether and to what extent Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas enabled and inflamed this crisis. Under the Constitution and the rules of impeachment, it is the job of this body to consider the articles of impeachment brought before us and to render judgment.
    The question right now should be how best to ensure that the charges on the table receive thorough consideration. But instead, the more pressing question is whether our Democratic colleagues intend to let the Senate work its will, at all.
    Tabling articles of impeachment would be unprecedented in the history of the Senate. Tabling would mean declining to discharge our duties as jurors.
    It would mean running both from our fundamental responsibility and from the glaring truth of the record-breaking crisis at our southern border.
    Absent from McConnell’s statement blaming Democrats for the border crisis is any mention that his own Republican senators negotiated, then sank, bipartisan legislation to address it.The about-face came apparently at the urging of Donald Trump, Biden’s presumptive opponent in November, who did not want Republicans to hand the president a pre-election victory on a campaign issue. More