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    The Observer view on Donald Trump’s Truth Social | Observer editorial

    OpinionDonald TrumpThe Observer view on Donald Trump’s Truth SocialObserver editorialAided by his app, the great liar could yet return as the Republicans’ next presidential nominee Sun 24 Oct 2021 01.30 EDTIn the life story of Donald Trump, to his mind an epic saga of unrivalled achievement, these are the wilderness years. After the US electoral college confirmed his 2020 defeat, an outcome he still mendaciously disputes, Trump plunged into despair. He sulked, he raged, he conspired. Yet the 6 January coup plot was an egregious step too far. He was cast into outer darkness.Trump lost the White House bully pulpit and a US president’s ability to command instant global attention. Personally wounding was the ban imposed by Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, which belatedly agreed he posed a threat to democracy. Trump was cut off from social media and his supporter base. He was all but silenced.What worse fate could there be for a narcissist who craves constant attention and approval? Exiled to his luxury Florida estate, the Elba of the Everglades, Trump has struggled since to regain his voice. Last week, he made his move. The result: the so-called Truth Social media app, launching next year.The newly formed company behind the app, Trump Media and Technology Group, plans to disseminate what it calls “anti-woke” news, debate and entertainment to Americans deprived of honest, impartial media outlets. This is total drivel, of course, coming from the mouth of the most shameless liar in modern US history.Abusing truth as only Trump can, Truth Social will more likely prove both false and antisocial. It’s his way of regaining lost ground, prior to a wished-for presidential comeback in 2024. It’s a political propaganda platform intended to magnify and exploit the hate, ignorance and prejudice on which he feeds. MPs please note: Trump is the ultimate definition of “online harms”.This self-serving bid to defeat “the tyranny of big tech” is a commercial long shot. The new app looks remarkably similar to Twitter, which has more than 200m users. Previous US attempts to grow alternative “conservative social space” have failed. Although shares in the new company initially soared, its USP is overly dependent on Trump’s continuing appeal.That appeal looks increasingly fractured. Trump is under fire from Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, and other Republicans who fear his obsession with overturning the 2020 result is deflecting attention from Joe Biden’s mistakes ahead of next year’s midterm congressional elections.An early test will come on 2 November when Democrat-leaning Virginia elects a governor. Polls there currently suggest a dead heat. Trump, meanwhile, is taking legal heat, too. His family business faces a fraud investigation. He was recently questioned under oath for more than four hours in a civil lawsuit in New York.Steve Bannon, one of his best-known former aides, has been found in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify to the 6 January inquiry and faces possible criminal prosecution. Since Trump ordered all his minions to act similarly, the legal bull’s-eye pinned to his back grows ever more unmissable.Yet for all that, Trump remains first choice among Republican voters for the party’s presidential nomination. His average “favourable/unfavourable” rating is almost identical to Biden’s among the electorate as a whole. And he has shown how dangerous he can be when he reaches a wide audience, which is why Truth Social is worrying.Will Trump rise again from the depths, like the “shapeless monsters” imagined by the great 19th-century Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev? Life is akin to an unsuspecting man sitting in a small boat on a calm, limitless ocean, he wrote. “Then one of the monsters begins to emerge from the murk, rising higher and higher, becoming ever more repellently, clearly discernible… Another minute and its impact will overturn the boat.”For now, Trump’s monstrous outline is blurred, his voice muted. He awaits Turgenev’s “destined day”, when he plans, once again, to capsize the ship of state. To which we say: all hands on deck!TopicsDonald TrumpOpinionRepublicansSocial mediaUS politicseditorialsReuse this content More

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    Minnesota politician backs fundraiser for alleged Capitol attackers

    US Capitol attackMinnesota politician backs fundraiser for alleged Capitol attackersRepublican state senator Mark Koran encourages donations to family after four members charged in 6 January riot Victoria Bekiempis in New YorkSat 23 Oct 2021 10.57 EDTLast modified on Sat 23 Oct 2021 10.59 EDTA Minnesota politician has promoted a fundraiser for several constituents who are charged with participation in the deadly 6 January attack on the US Capitol, saying they come from a “good family”.The Republican state senator Mark Koran, who represents the town of Lindström, made this entreaty for the Westbury family in a Facebook post on Friday.Four members of the Westbury family are accused of participating in the insurrection, comprising half of all Minnesotans charged for alleged involvement.“Here’s a local family in Lindström who can use some help. They attended the Jan 6th Rally and have been accused and charged with a variety of crimes. Some very serious and some which seem to be just to punish opposing views,” Koran wrote. “All I’m asking is that they need assistance to mount a fair defense from an over bearing Dept of Justice. They are a good family!”It’s not clear whether Koran is calling the storming of Congress, when thousands broke in, attempting to stop lawmakers certifying Joe Biden’s victory over Trump, simply a “rally” or whether he is conflating the riot with the rally held prior near the White House, at which Trump urged his supporters to march on the Capitol and try to overturn the election result.More than 50 police officers were injured as they tried to stop the riot, some beaten and seriously hurt. Five people died during the storming, including a police officer. About 500 people have been charged in connection with the events. Donald Trump was impeached for a historic second time, charged with inciting the insurrection, although he was acquitted by the Senate.House Capitol attack committee votes to recommend Steve Bannon prosecutionRead moreWashington DC federal prosecutors charged Robert Westbury, Isaac Westbury, and Aaron James, alleging crimes such as assault on Capitol police officers and interfering with government operations.The charges against them came in early October, about six months after another relative, Jonah Westbury, was charged for his alleged participation in the riot, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.The online fundraiser was launched by Rosemarie Westbury, who claims to be Robert Westbury’s wife and the mother of these other three men.The fundraiser is called “Legal Fees 4 family fighting tyranny 4 you” and is posted on GiveSendGo, which bills itself as a Christian fundraising site. The Star Tribune appears to have first reported on Koran’s support of this fundraiser.“First amendment, second amendment, right to privacy have been ripped away from our peaceful law abiding family. A million people attended January 6th for one purpose, and one purpose only to pray,” she wrote.“My family is being targeted by this illigitimate (sic), tyrannical government…Please understand that we are the forerunners….What’s happening to us is coming to a Theatre near you,” she said, later writing: “We have an attorney who is willing to stand up for us, but this isn’t going to be an inexpensive endeavor.”She hopes to raise $50,000. By Saturday morning, the fundraiser had received more than $1,000. The Guardian has contacted the senator and the fundraising site.Reached by phone on Saturday morning, Rosemarie Westbury said: “I don’t know how the Guardian is – I don’t know if you’re good guys or bad guys, so I don’t know what to say,” and deferred comment to an attorney, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.TopicsUS Capitol attackMinnesotaUS politicsRepublicansnewsReuse this content More

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    Money and misinformation: how Turning Point USA became a formidable pro-Trump force

    US politicsMoney and misinformation: how Turning Point USA became a formidable pro-Trump forceThe rightwing group outgrew its origins on campuses to hobnob with Republican operatives and donors – despite some discomfort in the party Peter Stone in WashingtonSat 23 Oct 2021 05.00 EDTLast modified on Sat 23 Oct 2021 05.02 EDTThe powerful conservative youth group Turning Point USA, which has forged strong ties to Donald Trump and his son Don Trump Jr, has raised tens of millions of dollars from super rich donors and secret backers while pushing disinformation about Joe Biden’s win in 2020, Covid-19 vaccines and other extremist and rightwing issues.The group is campaigning on college campuses across the US, as well as expanding into rightist media and faith activities and – through its campaign arm – is getting directly involved with elections, where it often supports pro-Trump and conservative candidates.The emerging strength and roles of TPUSA in the conservative ecosystem- and the rising visibility of its ambitious and hard driving Charlie Kirk – has sparked withering criticism from medical experts and ethics watchdogs, as well as some Republican party operatives.Founded in 2012 by then-18-year-old Kirk and headquartered in Arizona – where it has built a robust base now backing Trump-endorsed candidates like a former Fox news star running for governor – TPUSA’s revenues have soared from $4.3m in 2016 to almost $39.8m in 2020, according to public tax filings.TPUSA boasts it has allies on more than 2,500 high school and college campuses and is the “largest and fastest growing youth organization in America”. The group, which has non-profit charity status that bars political work, also has a political arm called Turning Point Action that can do election work.The two groups’ fealty to Trump has generated mounting criticism and alarm. Kirk and his outfits have been vocal exponents of baseless claims of election fraud, promoting the 6 January rally that featured Trump’s call to “fight like hell” before the Capitol attack, and running Facebook ads with blatant falsehoods about Covid-19 vaccinations.Several of the right’s top financial donors have poured millions of dollars into TPUSA coffers, including Foster Friess, the late multimillionaire whom Kirk has credited with helping to launch his operations, and the powerful Bradley Foundation. Donors Trust, a major dark money operation used by big donors to keep their names secret, plowed $906,000 into TPUSA in 2019, according to public records.The stunning growth of TPUSA owes a big debt to several fundraising events and meetings with Trump connections, say some Republican consultants. TPUSA held a lavish fundraising gala at Mar-a-Lago in December 2019 that drew Donald Trump Jr and Republican political bigwigs, and Kirk’s cachet was palpable at the 2020 Republican convention, where he gushed that Trump was “the bodyguard of western civilization”.“Kirk and TPUSA owe their success largely to Don Jr and Kimberly Guilfoyle,” his girlfriend and leading Republican fundraiser, said a veteran party operative. “I would often see Kirk and Don Jr hanging out at the Trump hotel restaurant” in DC, he added, where big donors and lobbyists were ubiquitous during Trump’s presidency.TPUSA and Kirk have capitalized on their Maga ties to expand way beyond their campus roots where they initially carved out a niche on the right by attacking left-leaning faculty, who they placed on a “watchlist”, and used campus events to push rightwing agendas.But Kirk and TPUSA have found other avenues to grow. Salem Radio Network, a Christian right operation, now features the Charlie Kirk show daily, and TPUSA this year launched Turning Point Faith to promote a culture war agenda and gain more supporters in conservative religious circles.Kirk is now a member of the influential and secretive Council for National Policy, where conservative political and religious leaders can mingle with and hit up big donors at quarterly meetings.The group’s close ties to Trump generated more criticism in the run-up to the 2020 election and afterwards, when Kirk promoted false claims that Trump’s loss was due to fraud.Turning Point Action worked with about a dozen other groups to support Trump’s 6 January “March to Save America” by bringing busloads of Trump allies to DC for the rally that preceded the Capitol attack.Before the rally, Kirk boasted in a tweet that Turning Point Action – and an allied group, Trump Students, that Kirk also chaired – would bring “80 + busloads of patriots to DC to fight for the president”. Kirk predicted the event “would likely be one of the largest and most consequential in American history”. Kirk’s tweet was quickly removed after the assault on the Capitol.Further, Kirk served before 6 January as an Arizona point person for the Stop the Steal, the group led by Ali Alexander which has been subpoenaed for documents and testimony by the House Select Committee investigating the Capitol insurrection and Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results.On 6 November, Kirk helped lead a Stop the Steal rally in Phoenix that was one of numerous such events hosted by Trump allies that day protesting Biden’s win and spreading falsehoods about fraud, as the Center for Media and Democracy first reported.On another disinformation front, Kirk’s groups have been busy this year promoting falsehoods on campuses and in social media about vaccine mandates, efforts that the groups have used to raise funds and which have sparked criticism from health experts.Kirk wrote false text messages charging that Biden has sent “goons DOOR-TO-DOOR to make you take a covid-19 vaccine”, as the Washington Post first reported.Further, a Kirk non-profit ran alarmist and erroneous Facebook ads, which were seen millions of times, stating that the government has “NO RIGHT to force you to inject yourself with an experimental vaccine,” and warning that in response to advice about shots “LOCK YOUR DOORS, KIDS!!”Doctors warn, however, that Kirk’s fearmongering about vaccines could jeopardize efforts to encourage more young people to get vaccinated, a message that some Republican leaders – including Trump – have, to varying degrees, also endorsed.In July on the Tucker Carlson show on Fox News, Kirk dismissed such Republican efforts to spur more vaccinations as “virtue signaling”.A Kirk spokesperson has portrayed the group’s actions as “pro-freedom” and “not anti-vax”.But medical experts say that’s a dangerous dodge.“Despite Kirk’s patently misleading assertions that he is simply an honest broker of personal freedom, he is also an unabashed promulgator of egregiously false information about the dangers of vaccinations. He probably knows better, but actively chooses to misinform,” said Irwin Redlener, who leads Columbia University’s pandemic esource and recovery initiative, in an interview with the GuardianIn Arizona, Kirk’s groups have recently been busy flexing their muscles to help Trump-backed candidates for governor and secretary of state, both of whom have been promoters of Trump’s oft disproven claims that he lost the state due to fraud, according to Arizona GOP sources and reports.A July rally in Phoenix sponsored by TPUSA drew Trump and a handful of gubernatorial candidates, including a local former Fox News celebrity, Kari Lake, whom Trump endorsed in September and TPUSA and its political arm are backing.“I think the Trump team is utilizing Turning Point Action to fulfill a critical grassroots part of their strategy in Arizona and probably nationally,” said Wes Gullett, a longtime Republican political consultant in Arizona in an interview with the Guardian.Similarly, Chuck Coughlin, a veteran Republican operative in Arizona, said in an interview that Kirk’s groups have taken on roles that historically the party played. TPUSA’s influence in the state is underscored by its chief operating officer, Tyler Bowyer, who was elected in 2020 to be the Republican state committeeman, he noted.“Turning Point is supplanting the traditional role that the Republican party used to fill [by] recruiting new members to join Turning Point, and then directing them to become Republican precinct committee members in districts around the state,” Coughlin said.“It’s like a scene out of the early Alien movies, where the mother alien takes over the entire ship,” Coughlin added, predicting that “it’s just a matter of time before the GOP in Arizona will be a pseudonym for Turning Point.”Nationally, Turning Point Action in 2020 made independent expenditures totaling $1.4m between 20 August and 31 December in failed efforts to help Trump defeat Biden and to help defeat two Georgia Democrats who won Senate seats.According to a complaint filed in March with the Federal Election Commission by the watchdog group Crew, Turning Point Action failed to identify donors, as the law requires, for its expenditures, which included online ads and other political operations.After Crew’s complaint, the group amended two of their FEC reports and later responded to FEC letters raising similar concerns. The group so far has disclosed donors for just under $34,000 of their $1.4m in 2020 independent expenditures. It’s unclear if the FEC has taken any further action, a Crew press secretary said.Some GOP fundraising consultants have other worries about TPUSA’s operations and tax status given Kirk’s cheerleading for Trump.“Some GOP donors worry that Kirk’s ostensible goals have been corrupted by spending so much time in and around Trump world,” the consultant said. “Further, people are concerned about the impact of Kirk’s prominent support for Trump on his group’s tax status.”Despite the rising complaints Kirk’s operations are facing, TPUSA keeps expanding. In December it is planning to host a four-day “Americafest” in Phoenix that will feature conservative stars such as Tucker Carlson, Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Jim Jordan. But the biggest draw could well be Donald Trump Jr, who is slated to attend.TopicsUS politicsDonald Trump JrDonald TrumpRepublicansfeaturesReuse this content More

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    Black candidates for US Senate smash fundraising records for 2022 midterms

    US midterm elections 2022Black candidates for US Senate smash fundraising records for 2022 midtermsThird-quarter hauls raise hopes of transforming a body in which only 11 African American senators have ever sat David Smith in Washington@smithinamericaFri 22 Oct 2021 05.00 EDTLast modified on Fri 22 Oct 2021 05.01 EDTAfrican American candidates running for the US Senate smashed campaign fundraising records over the past three months, raising hopes of transforming a body that remains overwhelmingly white.There have only been 11 Black senators since the chamber first convened in 1789 and only two were women. Senator Kamala Harris’s ascent to the vice-presidency means there are currently no female members who are Black.Biden vowed to make racial justice the heart of his agenda – is it still beating?Read moreBut in the most recent Federal Election Commission reporting period, African Americans posted huge sums from donors, especially in the south, suggesting the potential to build a pipeline of Black politicians who can excite the grassroots and reshape the government.Democrat Raphael Warnock, a pastor who won a crucial runoff in January to become Georgia’s first Black senator, took in a staggering $9.5m over three months for his re-election bid. Val Demings, a congresswoman and former police chief challenging the Republican senator Marco Rubio in Florida, was close behind with $8.5m.Notably, both Warnock and Demings raised more money than any other Senate candidate of any racial demographic.Another Democrat, Charles Booker, running for Senate in Kentucky against the Republican Rand Paul, raised $1.7m in the third quarter, which ran from July to the end of September. Cheri Beasley, a judge running for Senate in North Carolina as a Democrat, netted $1.5m.Republicans have also capitalised on the trend. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina took a haul of $8.4m, fuelling speculation that he could mount a bid for the White House. Herschel Walker, a former football player taking on Warnock in Georgia, raised $3.8m in the first five weeks of his Donald Trump-endorsed campaign.The historic tallies – more than a year before the midterm elections – signal a potential turning point after decades in which Black candidates, especially women, struggled to raise funds to rival their white counterparts, feeding a vicious circle in which they were seen as unelectable by party establishments.“When we allow the narrative that Black women and Black candidates are not electable and viable to seep into an election cycle early, that is why money slows down,” said Glynda Carr, co-founder and president of Higher Heights, an organisation that supports Black women running for elected office.“So why the third-quarter report is so powerful is that it’s a proof of concept that Black women are electable and viable. Frankly, many of the Black women that are currently boldly serving across this country in Congress and in statehouses ran races with no early institutional support, party support or money and still ran winning campaigns.“You now add in early money, it is just going to position more Black women to run in competitive seats and be seeing what we already know are viable candidates that were given the additional resources early will succeed on election day.”The internet has enabled Black candidates to bypass the old networks by reaping small donations online. Elections such as Warnock’s in Georgia also proved the centrality of Black voters in the Democratic coalition. And last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests following the police murder of George Floyd could have a lasting political legacy.Antjuan Seawright, a senior adviser to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said: “The net worth of African American voters has proven over time its value. Therefore, the Black candidates are reaping the benefits not just at the ballot box, but also when it comes to fundraising and other key ingredients it takes to be successful in this business. That is part of the reason you can see this explosion happening.”Seawright, based in Columbia, South Carolina, added: “The African American network has demonstrated over time that without us you cannot win up and down the ballot and so I think all that matters in terms of the conversation and the benefits.“And then you add that to the fact that the country’s changing. There’s not a race in this country that you can be successful at the ballot box without having a strong, deep and wide support amongst what I believe to be the most loyal and consistent voting bloc in the country.”Not all Black candidates swept the board. In Pennsylvania Malcolm Kenyatta, a state representative, was outraised by both the lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, and congressman Conor Lamb.And deep pockets alone cannot buy success. Jaime Harrison, an African American man who is the current chair of the Democratic National Committee, raised more than $100m last year but could not unseat the Republican Trump ally Lindsey Graham in South Carolina.Drexel Heard, a Democratic strategist based in Los Angeles, California, said: “Raising money does not always translate well to a candidate’s viability when it comes to voters. What it does show is that donors and voters can be enthusiastic about a candidate that is Black. I think that’s the difference.”But Heard noted: “The party has always known that Black voters are the most loyal voters to the Democratic party, and that’s been indisputable. The party also recognises that we have to build a bench that is reflective of the voting base and I think you’re seeing that in in those candidates that are popping up.”TopicsUS midterm elections 2022US SenateRaceDemocratsRepublicansUS politicsnewsReuse this content More

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    House holds Trump ally Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress

    House of RepresentativesHouse holds Trump ally Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of CongressContempt citation for Bannon approved by 229 votes to 202Strategist refused to comply with Capitol attack subpoena Hugo Lowell in WashingtonThu 21 Oct 2021 16.32 EDTLast modified on Thu 21 Oct 2021 17.05 EDTThe House voted on Thursday to hold Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress, over his refusal to comply with a subpoena issued by the House select committee investigating the 6 January Capitol attack.House votes to hold Bannon in contempt for defying Capitol attack subpoena – liveRead moreThe approval of the contempt citation, by 229 votes to 202 against, escalates the select committee’s efforts to punish Bannon for his non-compliance as they intensify their inquiry into whether then-president Trump helped plan or had advance knowledge of the insurrection.The House select committee chair, Bennie Thompson, the Democratic congressman from Mississippi, said the authorization of the criminal referral against Bannon signalled their determination to deploy their most aggressive measures to take action both against Bannon and any other Trump aides who might ultimately defy subpoenas.“We need to make it clear that no person is above the law, we need to take a stand for the committee’s investigation, and for the integrity of this body,” Thompson said on the House floor.“What sort of precedent would it set for the House of Representatives if we allow a witness to ignore us, flat out, without facing any kind of consequences? What message would it send to other witnesses in our investigation? I’m not willing to find out,” he added.The move to request the justice department to prosecute Trump’s former chief strategist also marks a stinging personal rebuke to Bannon, and opens a new legal front in the select committee’s efforts to pursue information from inside the White House and Trump circles before 6 January.Members on the select committee recommended that the House hold Bannon in criminal contempt after they unanimously rejected the notion that Trump’s former chief strategist could claim absolute immunity from congressional oversight on grounds of executive privilege.The select committee had issued subpoenas last month to Bannon and top Trump administration officials – including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, his deputy Dan Scavino, and former defense department aide Kash Patel – under the threat of prosecution.But directed by Trump and his attorney to defy the orders, Bannon ignored his subpoena in its entirety, infuriating the select committee that then moved immediately to vote to recommend that the House find him in contempt of Congress.The referral now heads to the justice department, where the attorney general, Merrick Garland, the US attorney for the District of Columbia and the Office of Legal Counsel are required by law to weigh a prosecution and present the matter before a grand jury.Should the justice department secure a conviction against Bannon, the consequences could mean up to a year in federal prison, $100,000 in fines, or both – though it would still not force his compliance and pursuing the misdemeanor charge could take years.The select committee views Bannon’s testimony as crucial to their investigation, since he was in constant contact with Trump in the days and weeks leading up to the Capitol attack.Bannon was one of the key architects – alongside Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and lawyer John Eastman – of the plan to stop the certification of Joe Biden election’s win and attempt the extraordinary move of returning Trump to the Oval Office, according to a source familiar with the matter.That meant Bannon was involved in meetings with the Trump campaign – and potentially even Trump himself – at the Trump International hotel and the Willard hotel in Washington the night before the Capitol attack.Bannon also appeared to predict the Capitol attack itself, saying on his War Room podcast the day before the insurrection that left five dead and 140 injured, including dozens of police officers, and lawmakers and staff in fear for their lives: “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”In opening remarks before the vote to recommend Bannon’s prosecution, the Republican vice-chair of the select committee, Liz Cheney, suggested the reason for his non-compliance might be because he was fearful of compromising Trump.“Mr Bannon’s and Mr Trump’s privilege arguments do appear to reveal one thing, however: they suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6th. And we will get to the bottom of that,” Cheney said.But despite the high stakes, Bannon informed the select committee he would not cooperate with his 23 September subpoena, and claimed the materials and testimony requested by the panel were protected by executive privilege and could not be turned over to Congress.The select committee rejected that argument on Tuesday.Bannon’s legal argument also faces a steep uphill struggle, with the Biden justice department appearing inclined to adopt a narrow interpretation on executive privilege, previously allowing top Trump justice department officials to testify to Congress about 6 January.In the contempt report for Bannon, the select committee noted that they had requested documents and testimony regarding his contacts with members of Congress and the Trump campaign, which could not conceivably be covered by a White House secrecy protection.The contempt report noted that even if the select committee accepted his executive privilege claim, it would still not have allowed him to ignore the subpoena since the protection exists for White House officials – and Bannon was fired by Trump in 2017.TopicsHouse of RepresentativesUS politicsSteve BannonDemocratsRepublicansDonald TrumpUS CongressnewsReuse this content More

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    Republicans blocked a voting rights bill again – are Democrats out of options? | The fight to vote

    Fight to voteUS voting rightsRepublicans blocked a key voting rights bill. Are Democrats out of options?No one is surprised by the Republican effort to block the measure – but the higher-stakes fight is what Democrats do next with the filibuster The fight to vote is supported byAbout this contentSam Levine in New YorkThu 21 Oct 2021 10.00 EDTLast modified on Thu 21 Oct 2021 10.02 EDTSign up for the Guardian’s Fight to Vote newsletterHello, and happy Thursday,Senate Republicans on Wednesday again blocked Democrats from advancing sweeping federal voting rights legislation, escalating one of the most important fights for the future of US democracy.The bill failed to advance on a 49-51 party-line vote (Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, changed his vote at the last minute in a procedural maneuver that will allow him to bring it up again). It would have required states to automatically register voters when they interact with motor vehicle agencies, offer two weeks of early voting, allow anyone to request a mail-in ballot, and outlaw the severe manipulation of electoral districts, a practice called gerrymandering.No one was particularly surprised by the Republican effort to block the measure – they already blocked an earlier version of the bill two times this year. But the higher-stakes fight is what Democrats do next with the filibuster, a Senate rule that requires 60 votes to advance most legislation. Republicans are using the provision to prevent a vote on the bill.“What we saw from Republicans today is not how the Senate is supposed to work,” Schumer said after the vote.Democrats have been calling to get rid of the filibuster, arguing that the rule, once envisioned as a tool to bring compromise, had turned into a GOP weapon of obstruction. Now, all eyes will be on two Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, two of the staunchest supporters of keeping the filibuster. If Democrats were to get rid of the rule, they could advance the voting rights bill with a majority vote.A few weeks ago, I wrote about why I was optimistic that this vote could be a crucial turning point for Manchin. After Republicans blocked a more expansive voting rights bill earlier this year, Manchin reportedly made efforts to get GOP support for the measure. Republican recalcitrance in the face of those good-faith efforts could push Manchin to open up to changing the filibuster rules. I still think that Manchin would not have put so much effort into the revised measure if he wasn’t willing to do something to get it passed.Civil rights groups and other activists are also going to be closely watching how Joe Biden responds in the aftermath of another voting rights failure. While the president strongly supports voting rights legislation, the White House has not explicitly endorsed getting rid of the filibuster. Senate Democrats would like to start debate on the Freedom to Vote Act. Senate Democrats have worked hard to ensure this bill includes traditionally bipartisan provisions. But Senate Republicans are likely to block even debate on the bill, as they have before on previous voting rights bills. “It’s unconscionable,” the president said in a statement on Wednesday.Aside from a brief comment earlier this year, the White House also has not publicly pressured Manchin and Sinema around the voting rights bills. That has infuriated some activists, who feel that the White House is not putting enough political muscle behind pushing voting rights legislation.“You said the night you won that Black America had your back and that you were going to have Black America’s back,” the Rev Al Sharpton, the civil rights leader, said at a voting rights rally in August. “Well, Mr President, they’re stabbing us in the back.”What’s next?The next few weeks are going to be some of the most critical for Democrats – and no one quite knows what will happen. After the vote, Schumer and other Democrats immediately suggested they weren’t giving up on voting rights legislation, hinting they would do away with the filibuster if necessary. Schumer also promised he would bring the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, a separate bill that would restore a critical provision of the Voting Rights Act, up for a vote next week. Another filibuster of that would only increase pressure on Manchin and Sinema.It’s also worth watching whether the White House escalates public pressure on Manchin and Sinema after the repeated filibusters – something it has not been willing to do.Senator Amy Klobuchar, one of the main sponsors of the bill, said in a statement on Wednesday that Democrats would not give up on the bill, hinting that changes to the filibuster were needed.“We will continue to fight. We must restore the Senate so we can work together in the way the Founders intended to take on the challenges facing our democracy,” the Minnesota Democrat said in a statement.There would be immediate, tangible consequences if Democrats were able to pass the bill. In Texas, Republicans are on the verge of implementing a new congressional map filled with district lines that are distorted to entrench the party’s control of the state for the next decade and blunt the growing power of minority voters. The bill contains a provision that would allow courts to block maps if a computer simulation shows they produced an unacceptable level of bias in two of four recent elections. The new Texas map would fail the bias test, said Michael Li, a redistricting expert at the Brennan Center for Justice.On Tuesday, I spoke with Rafael Anchia, a Democrat in the Texas House who sat on the panel tasked with redrawing district lines. The previous evening, the Texas legislature gave final approval to the maps, and Anchia had been working until 3am. He described how frustrating it was to watch his Republican colleagues rush through the maps, giving the public little chance to provide feedback on the plans.“It’s pretty demoralizing, to be honest with you,” he told me. “The Senate has to act. They have to act because democracy requires it,” he added.Reader questionsThank you to everyone who wrote in last week with questions. You can continue to write to me each week at sam.levine@theguardian.com or DM me on Twitter at @srl and I’ll try and answer as many as I can.John writes: Is it now time for the US to adopt the obvious system that appoints the presidential candidate who has the most popular votes?There have been growing calls to get rid of the electoral college in recent years, especially after two presidents, George W Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016, won the presidency but lost the electoral vote. To me, it’s part of a broader recognition of how certain rules and practices – the filibuster, partisan gerrymandering – undermine America’s democratic ideals.I’m curious to see how and if the push grows ahead of the 2024 election. There is an interesting effort, bubbling in some states, to create a compact where states would agree to award their electors based on the winner of the popular vote.TopicsUS voting rightsFight to voteRepublicansDemocratsUS politicsfeaturesReuse this content More