Mother Jones Magazine

Mitch McConnell Is Pretending He’s Holding a Fair Impeachment Trial. He’s Not.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seems to be testing how rigged an impeachment trial his Republican caucus will allow.

With Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts looking on, McConnell was set Tuesday night to push through rules for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial that give Republicans the option of acquitting the president without hearing from any witnesses, examining any White House (or State Department or Office of Management and Budget) documents, or considering any evidence revealed after the House voted to impeach.

The course of the trial is not yet fully determined. The impeachment rules expected to be approved late Tuesday night give senators the chance to vote on whether to subpoena witnesses down the road—after up to three days of opening arguments by Democratic House impeachment managers and three days from Trump’s defense team. But the process drawn up by McConnell, who is up for reelection this year in Trump-friendly Kentucky, will give the GOP leader leeway to stave off testimony that might prove damaging to the president and his party.

The process drawn up by McConnell, who is up for reelection this year in Trump-friendly Kentucky, will give the GOP leader leeway to stave off testimony that might prove damaging to the president and his party.

Democrats derided McConnell’s rules as designed to help Trump cover up his conduct. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer offered a series of amendments on Tuesday that would have altered the rules and immediately allowed subpoenas of witnesses and documents. “This is an obligation we have to the Constitution, to outline what a fair trial would be, to not go along with a cover-up, with a sham trial,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. Republicans rejected amendments pertaining to documents from the White House, State Department, and OMB on party-line votes and were poised to do so for witnesses like acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. 

McConnell’s rules say that the president’s lawyers and the House impeachment managers, not senators themselves, can seek to subpoena witnesses later in the trial. If the Senate votes to allow it, the witnesses “shall first be deposed and the Senate shall decide after deposition which witnesses shall testify, pursuant to the impeachment rules.” This means that the Senate would take multiple votes. It could vote to hear from any of the witnesses Democrats have said should be subpoenaed: John Bolton, the former national security adviser;  Mulvaney; Michael Duffy, an OMB appointee who works on national security issues; and Robert Blair, a top Mulvaney adviser. But—and this is crucial—if those officials reveal damaging information on Trump in private depositions, Republicans could then still vote to block them from testifying in public.

The multiple votes give McConnell several chances to block witnesses. Democrats need four Republicans to vote with them to force witness testimony or subpoena documents. (Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee are most frequently cited as potential crossovers, but they’re not the only GOP senators who could buck their party.) By requiring a second vote, McConnell has better odds at prevailing on one or more of those senators. A senator might bow to popular pressure or try to burnish his or her legacy by joining Democrats on an initial vote but then vote to block actual public testimony based on a White House assertion of national security concerns or an executive privilege claim.

The trial rules also give Republicans the ability to avoid considering revelations that came after the House impeached Trump. That includes the Government Accountability Office’s finding that Trump broke the law by withholding aid Ukrainian aid that Congress had already approved, as well as sensational evidence that Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, recently turned over to the House following a federal court order.

This is crucial: If those officials reveal damaging information on Trump in private depositions, Republicans could then still vote to block them from testifying in public.

McConnell did show some flexibility on Tuesday. After a caucus meeting in the afternoon, the Republican leader altered a proposal for trial rules he had released on Sunday. The new version dropped a requirement that impeachment managers and Trump’s lawyers present their defense over just two days, a provision that could have pushed proceedings past midnight, but ended them as early as Saturday. (He extended the time frame to three days now.) McConnell also dropped a provision that would have left the House unable to put material it compiled during its impeachment inquiry into the evidence at the Senate trial without a vote. (The altered text still allows Trump’s lawyers to object to adding the evidence to the record by describing testimony as “hearsay” or for any other reason.) Sen. Collins, who faces a tough reelection fight this fall, took credit Tuesday for pushing McConnell to tweak his resolution.

Trump’s lawyers have attacked the impeachment as unconstitutional and unfair but have not substantively disputed the facts of Democrats’ case against Trump. Instead, the attorneys, echoing Trump’s personal pronouncements, assert his conduct was unimpeachable.

Senate Republicans set a course Tuesday to support that argument with limited scrutiny. McConnell’s adjustment to the rules shows that he can still be influenced by public pressure. But the majority leader appears set to tilt as far in Trump’s favor as GOP senators, and American voters, will permit.

The Trump Administration’s Defense of Its School Lunch Overhaul Is a Big Nothingburger

The Trump administration has yet another proposal that could disproportionately harm the most vulnerable Americans. Last Friday, the US Department of Agriculture introduced a rule that would allow the nation’s schools to shrink the amount of healthy foods provided to children. The rule is just the latest in the administration’s attempt to dismantle the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, an initiative championed by former First Lady Michelle Obama.

“While there’s plenty of room to strengthen school nutrition further, these proposals instead are basically aiming a flamethrower at it.”

The new rule would allow schools to reduce the amount of fruit included in breakfasts served as on-the-go from one cup to a half a cup. Sweet pastries and granola bars could fill the rest of the required calories. And for lunch, schools can serve potatoes as a vegetable. The rule would also allow them more flexibility in serving pizza, burgers, and french fries a la carte. In a press release on Friday, US Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue asserted that the rollback is necessary because “schools and school districts continue to tell us that there is still too much food waste and that more common-sense flexibility is needed to provide students nutritious and appetizing meals.” 

A study commissioned by Perdue’s own agency and released last April contradicts this claim. Comparing school years before and after the Obama reforms, it found that serving healthier food did not result in significantly higher costs for cafeterias or increased food waste. After the reforms were implemented, lunches did get healthier, the researchers found: students consumed more whole grains, greens, and beans, as well as fewer “empty calories (added sugar and solid fats) and less sodium. 

Advocates scoffed at Trump’s new proposed plan. “The Trump Administration’s assault on children’s health continues today under the guise of ‘simplifying’ school meals,” Colin Schwartz, the deputy legislative director of legislative affairs at the Center for the Science in the Public Interest said in a statement. “While there’s plenty of room to strengthen school nutrition further, these proposals instead are basically aiming a flamethrower at it.”

Nearly 30 million children eat lunch at school a day, and 20 million of those qualify for free lunch.

If it goes into effect, the new rule could have major implications for students across the country. Nearly 30 million children eat lunch at school a day, and 20 million of those qualify for free lunch. These kids rely on school-provided meals for nearly half of their daily calorie needs and 40 percent of their vegetable intake, essentially making free school lunch a social safety net for low-income kids. 

In his press release, the USDA’s Perdue painted the changes as a response to overwhelming demand from school cafeteria administrators. “We listened and now we’re getting to work,” he said. Meanwhile, attorneys general from seven states and the District of Columbia are pursuing a lawsuit, filed last April, charging that the reversals were made without public input and were “not based on tested nutritional research.”

Adam Schiff Is at It Again

Speaking to the Senate during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) outlined what he called President Donald Trump’s “trifecta of constitutional misconduct justifying impeachment.”

“It is the president’s belief that under Article II he can do anything he wants, no matter how corrupt, outfitted in gaudy legal clothing,” Schiff said, echoing previous remarks from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

“And yet, when the founders wrote the impeachment clause, they had precisely this type of misconduct in mind,” he continued. “Conduct that abuses the power of his office for personal benefit, that undermines our national security, that invites foreign interference in our democratic process of an election. It is the trifecta of constitutional misconduct justifying impeachment.”

Watch Schiff’s remarks below:

.@RepAdamSchiff: “When the founders wrote the impeachment clause, they had precisely this type of misconduct in mind: Conduct that abuses the power of his office for personal benefit, that undermines our national security, that invites foreign interference in our [elections].” pic.twitter.com/KMnPndDDSq

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) January 21, 2020

It’s Day One of the Senate Impeachment Trial and Trump’s Defense Team Is Already Lying

It took less than two hours in the Senate impeachment trial on Tuesday for a member of President Donald Trump’s defense team to tell an outright lie.

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone began by complaining about House Democrats’ process for interviewing witnesses in the impeachment inquiry. “The proceedings took place in the basement of the House of Representatives,” Cipollone said. Then he added, “Not even [House Intelligence Committee chair Adam] Schiff’s Republican colleagues were allowed into the SCIF”—the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility where the interviews took place.

There are several issues with that narrative. For one, closed-door interviews are routine for sensitive congressional probes. But more important, plenty of Republicans participated in the closed-door meetings; they sat on the three committees leading the impeachment investigation. The stunt pulled by dozens of Republicans who loudly claimed otherwise was a clear attempt to distract from the inquiry’s bombshell testimonies.

On Tuesday, Cipollone breezed past those truths to parrot Trump’s longstanding claim that the impeachment proceedings have been rigged from the start. It was a clear signal that Trump’s lawyers had no intention of rising up to the solemnity of a historic impeachment trial and instead would seek to turn C-Span into Fox News.

Fact check: “Not even Schiff’s Republican colleagues were allowed into the SCIF.”

1. Closed-door interviews are routine for sensitive congressional probes
2. Republicans participated in the meetings

It's day one of the impeachment trial and Trump's team is already lying. pic.twitter.com/KSZA5KJG5P

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) January 21, 2020

Lunchtime Photo

This is a bobcat at the Orange County Zoo. Isn’t it adorable? Don’t you just want to reach in and scratch its chin? I do. But my mother, who once had a lion clamp its jaws down on her arm,¹ says that this would not be a wise idea . . .

¹No damage was done. The lion didn’t really want to eat her, it turned out.

April 6, 2019 — OC Zoo, Orange County, California

Today’s Left Can’t Afford to Ignore the White Working Class

John Judis is an old ’60s leftist who watched his generation’s revolution burn out and die in a furious backlash, and he’s worried that today’s generation of leftists are making many of the same mistakes. In “A Warning From the ’60s Generation,” he outlines the three biggest trouble spots he sees in today’s revolutionaries:

First, many on the left — and many more-moderate liberals as well — attribute Trump’s victory in 2016 and white working-class reluctance to support Democrats entirely or primarily to “white supremacy” or “white privilege.” They dismiss flyover Americans who voted for Trump as irredeemable — even though there is evidence that many supporters of Barack Obama backed Trump in 2016, and that many Trump voters cast ballots for Democrats in 2018.

….Second, the left is again dividing into identity groups, each of which feels justified in elevating its concerns above others….While activists focused on identity politics have, like their predecessors from the ’60s, made perfectly reasonable demands — for instance, an end to police brutality, or equal wages for men and women — they have also made extreme demands that display an indifference to building a political majority. Some have backed reparations for slavery — an idea rejected by broad majorities of the electorate, most of whom are descended from immigrants who came to America after the Civil War. Other groups have demanded “open borders,” defying a majority of Americans who think the country should be able to decide who to admit as citizens and who will be able to enjoy the rights and benefits of being an American.

Third, many of these demands and strategies are accompanied by a quasi-religious adherence to special language and gestures that echo the experience of the ’60s….At the Democratic Socialists of America convention I attended over the summer in Atlanta, delegates identified themselves on their name tags, and when they spoke, by their preferred pronoun (“he,” “she” or “they”) and signaled their approval by twirling their hands. Someone who used the colloquial “guys” to refer to the audience was sternly rebuked. There were charges of “ableism” and of “triggering” due to loud talking. These kinds of moral stances are fine for a church congregation, but not for a political organization that wants to win a majority of voters. The reality is that 80 percent or more of Americans who wandered into such a gathering would think they were on another planet.

Some of this might be overblown. I was surprised a few weeks ago when I was watching a bog standard CBS courtroom drama and one of the lawyers had a conversation with the judge about her client’s desire to be referred to as “they.” CBS is the official network of heartland folks who are turning gray, so if they figure this is OK then maybe it’s not as off-putting as Judis thinks.

Nitpicks aside, though, I pretty much agree with him. His main point is that his generation tried but failed to form a broad coalition that included the white working class, and that led to Nixon, Reagan, Newt Gingrich, and now Trump. If today’s generation wants to succeed where his failed, they need to show some genuine understanding that the white working class—some of it, anyway—has legitimate economic grievances that are pretty similar to those of the college-educated urban dwellers who mostly lead the Resistance. A real lefty would understand this at a very deep, gut level.

This is probably Bernie Sanders’ biggest strength: he really does want to build a wide political coalition. I think he has weaknesses that will prevent him from doing that, but he’s at least showing the way. Regardless of whether or not you like him, the rest of us should pay attention.

Greta Thunberg Just Dropped a Truth Bomb in the Punchbowl at Davos

On the first day of this year’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, executives from its 1000 member companies as well as politicians and other world leaders gathered to drum up solutions to the world’s most pressing problems, and pat themselves on the back for their progress in certain areas—like climate change. Into this mix, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg appeared and castigated them for having any self-congratulatory feelings over the way climate change is being addressed—an increasingly popular talking point for attendees of the conference. Her message: You’re not even close to doing enough, much less assuming that adopting a measured approach is anything to be proud of.

During a panel discussion there, hosted by the New York Times, Thunberg condemned world leaders who may have sounded the alarm on climate, but then followed up with inaction—a display of bad faith, she said. Measuring the distance between abstract claims of concern and a lack of any real structural change, Thunberg said:

“You say children shouldn’t worry. You say: ‘Just leave this to us. We will fix this, we promise we won’t let you down. Don’t be so pessimistic.’ And then, nothing. Silence. Or something worse than silence. Empty words and promises which give the impression that sufficient action is being taken.”

.@GretaThunberg, to world leaders: “You say children shouldn’t worry. You say: ‘Just leave this to us. We will fix this, we promise we won’t let you down. Don’t be so pessimistic.’ And then, nothing. Silence. Or something worse than silence." pic.twitter.com/kRD0DIco3v

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) January 21, 2020

Thunberg’s speech focused on how industrial and political leaders were trying to fold climate awareness into their current business and political systems, rather than acknowledge that only fundamental structural change—a complete world redesign—could effectively address the climate threat. Anything less would be falling short of the ambitious objectives leaders had set for themselves. “We don’t need to ‘lower emissions,'” she said. “Our emissions have to stop.” Countries stalling on meeting the Paris Accord climate goals are a perfect example of lofty rhetoric and negligible follow through. “The fact that we’re all about to fail the commitments you signed up for in the Paris Agreement doesn’t seem to bother the people in power even the least,” she said.

Even when action has been taken, Thunberg said, it’s uneven or has shown that climate change still isn’t being prioritized as it should. “We are not telling you to ‘offset your emissions,'” she said. “By just paying someone else to plant trees in places like Africa while at the same time forests like the Amazon are being slaughtered at an infinitely higher rate.” While those small-scale efforts are a necessary feature for a sustainable future, they’re “nowhere near enough” to substitute for systemic change.

Thunberg set out a list of four demands for the world’s decision-makers—a true litmus test for whether those in charge take the future of sustainability as seriously as they claim to:

“Immediately halt all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction.

Immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies.

And immediately and completely divest from fossil fuels.

We don’t want these things done by 2050, 2030 or even 2021. We want this done now.”

Whether those demands are met with the expediency Thunberg is calling for seems pretty unlikely. But as the World Economic Forum begins, this 17-year-old activist from Sweden just may have made it impossible for those who attended to pretend they are taking the threat of climate change with the urgency it demands.

Watch a video of Thunberg’s entire speech below:

Watch Chuck Schumer Make the Case for Impeachment in 90 Seconds

Addressing the Senate at the outset of the historic impeachment trial against President Donald Trump, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the offenses of which Trump is accused “crimes against democracy itself.”

“It’s hard to imagine a greater subversion of our democracy than for powers outside our borders to determine the elections from within,” the senator from New York said. “For a foreign country to attempt such a thing on its own is bad enough. For an American president to deliberately solicit such a thing, to blackmail a foreign country with military assistance to help him win an election, is unimaginably worse.”

Schumer then attacked Trump’s oft-repeated claim that Article Two of the Constitution enables him to “do whatever he wants.”

“We are staring down an erosion of the sacred democratic principles for which our founders fought a bloody war of independence,” he concluded.

Watch the full address below:

.@SenSchumer just laid out the case for impeachment in 90 seconds. #ImpeachmentTrial pic.twitter.com/SyZCilCiHo

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) January 21, 2020

No, Voter Fraud Is Not the Biggest Threat to Democracy

Nearly a quarter of Americans believe that the biggest threat to safe and secure elections is voter fraud, according to a new NPR poll.

But despite President Donald Trump’s false claims that “millions of people…voted illegally” in the 2016 presidential elections, voter fraud almost never happens. In fact, an individual is more likely to be struck by lightning than to impersonate another at the polls, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. A Washington Post review of the 2016 election found just four documented cases of voter fraud.

Still, the voter fraud myth fuels voter suppression, which 16 percent of Americans consider the biggest threat to elections, according to NPR. Bolstered by the false notion that hordes of voters were bound to show up to polling places and cast ballots under false identities, many states have enacted strict voter ID laws that disproportionately restrict low-income Americans and Americans of color from voting. As Mother Jones voting rights reporter Ari Berman wrote in 2017, these laws may have handed Trump the election:

According to a comprehensive study by MIT political scientist Charles Stewart, an estimated 16 million people—12 percent of all voters—encountered at least one problem voting in 2016. There were more than 1 million lost votes, Stewart estimates, because people ran into things like ID laws, long lines at the polls, and difficulty registering. Trump won the election by a total of 78,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Ranking even lower among voters’ concerns is the issue for which the president of the United States is now subject to an impeachment trial: foreign interference in our elections.

New NPR poll finds that nearly 1/4 of Americans think voter fraud is the biggest threat to American elections. This is testament to how successful Republicans have been in framing this issue over the last two decades. No evidence voter fraud is widespread https://t.co/hX5tWLWlOw pic.twitter.com/yoeRH5mrPI

— Sam Levine (@srl) January 21, 2020

Hillary Clinton Wants a Fox News of the Left. Oh, and She Really Loathes Bernie Sanders.

Today’s big gossip news is Hillary Clinton’s interview with the Hollywood Reporter, in which she confirms that she really, really doesn’t like Bernie Sanders. “Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done. He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.” Plus he’s a massive sexist.

That should get people talking! But really, the most important part of the interview was this:

How can the left combat Fox News?

It’s really a shame that all the people who support progressive politics and policies haven’t understood that that’s exactly the right question to ask. We do have some well-off people who support Democratic candidates, there’s no doubt about that, but they’ve never bought a TV station. They’ve never gobbled up radio stations. They’ve never created newspapers in local communities to put out propaganda. That’s all been done not just by Murdoch and Fox, but by Sinclair and by the Koch brothers and by so many others who have played a long game about how we really influence the thinking of Americans.

It’s hard to overestimate the influence of Fox News. The radio talkers are one thing. Drudge is one thing. Breitbart is one thing. And they all form a cohesive ecosystem that envelops the conservative movement these days. But without Fox News they have no anchor. Fox is the sun around which they all revolve.

The problem, though, is that I suspect there’s no market for a Fox of the left. MSNBC is part of the way there, and they don’t have a fraction of the influence of Fox. For whatever reason, liberals simply don’t want to spend hours each day watching Fox-style propaganda. We prefer our propaganda in the form of humor; movies and TV shows; and subtler news outlets that temper their point of view with lots of actual facts about things. A media empire of the left probably wouldn’t be a moneymaker.

There are times when I wonder how things would be different if Rupert Murdoch had simply met different people at various times in his life. It’s not as if he’s been a consistent conservative ideologue, after all. He just wants to make money. But willy nilly, he discovered that he could make money in America with conservative news, so that was that. Conservative it would be. And our country has never been the same.

House Impeachment Managers Started the Day by Slamming Trump’s White House Counsel

Three hours before the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump was set to begin in the Senate, the House impeachment managers sent a letter to Trump’s lawyer, Pat Cipollone, accusing him of being a “material witness” in the case and demanding that he disclose any first-hand knowledge of evidence that he will present in the impeachment trial.

According to the letter, which was delivered to the White House Tuesday morning, Cipollone was deeply involved in the Ukraine scandal at the center of the president’s impeachment from the beginning. The Democratic House managers argue that in his role as White House counsel, Cipollone knew about the concerns raised by all the key players who testified about the president’s phone call with the president of Ukraine. These include Fiona Hill, the former top White House adviser on Russia; Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Ukraine expert on the National Security Council; and Timothy Morrison, a former NSC aide to John Eisenberg, the top NSC lawyer. In his NSC role, Eisenberg directly reports to Cipollone. 

“You must disclose all facts and information as to which you have first-hand knowledge that will be at issue in connection with evidence you present or arguments you make in your role as the President’s legal advocate so that the Senate and Chief Justice can be apprised of any potential ethical issues, conflicts, or biases,” the House managers wrote in the letter. The managers also accuse Cipollone of being involved in the president’s briefing on the whistleblower complaint that sparked impeachment “and in the decision to withhold that complaint from Congress in violation of the law.”

The letter notes that “ethical rules generally preclude a lawyer from acting as an advocate at a trial in which he is likely also a necessary witness.” Though the House managers do not ask Cipollone to recuse himself from the trial, they do ask him to “disclose all facts and information as to which you have first-hand knowledge that will be at issue in connection with evidence you present or arguments you make in your role as the President’s legal advocate.” 

Read the letter here:

Ukrainegate Is All About a Personal Benefit

Scott Jennings, a longtime Republican political operative, writes in the LA Times today about Donald Trump: “We aren’t being willfully blind. We’re not liars or hypocrites. We haven’t abandoned our ethical standards. We do, however, have concerns about what’s driving this impeachment and whether the proposed punishment fits the alleged infraction.” Most of these concerns boil down to the fact that Democrats have disliked Trump from the very start.

Fine. Whatever. But a bit later Jennings gets to the heart of the impeachment charges against Trump:

And then there’s the matter of the Ukrainian aid. Republicans perceive Democrats as simply ignoring the long history of administrations using aid to reward or punish foreign governments for their actions.

This is it. The big difference between Trump and Biden—and everyone else—is that Trump used military aid as a way to extort a personal benefit from Ukraine. That’s the start and the finish of the whole thing. If he had used military aid as bait to get Ukraine to fall in line with American interests in one way or another, no one would have blinked.¹

But he didn’t. He used the aid as bait to get a personal favor from Ukraine: namely an investigation into an opponent in a presidential campaign. That’s as plain an example of abuse of power as you could imagine. And after he was caught, Trump didn’t apologize or promise not to do it again or anything like that. He conducted a scorched-earth attack that left Democrats with no choice but to impeach.

I should know: I’m one of them. Lots of my fellow liberals have been calling for Trump’s impeachment practically since he was elected. I haven’t. As much as I loathe the man, I didn’t think he had done any single truly impeachable thing, and I also wasn’t sure that impeachment was politically wise anyway. Then came Ukraine. I continued to think that impeachment might be politically unwise, but it took only a few weeks for the question of whether Trump’s actions were impeachable to become obvious. Of course they were. Secretly withholding congressionally-approved military aid in return for a personal benefit? Putting responsibility for this in the hands of his personal lawyer instead of US diplomats? Instructing aides to lie to Congress about what was going on? Politically wise or not, of course Trump had to be impeached over this. It would be both cowardly and a mockery of the Constitution to do otherwise.

But this all hangs on the fact that Trump’s price was personal, not national. This is the thing that I suspect hardly anyone really gets.² Investigating a campaign opponent is a personal benefit. In an autocracy, campaigns are treated as mere appendages of governing, but in democracies they aren’t. We’re a democracy.

¹Jennings tries to pretend that Joe Biden did the same thing, withholding aid to Ukraine in return for firing a prosecutor who was investigating Hunter Biden. This is simply a lie. Biden was publicly carrying out US policy which was supported by the president, the State Department, and virtually all of Europe.

²Not us political junkies, of course. I’m talking about the other 99 percent of the country.

Clinton Blasts Sanders, Refuses to Say Whether She’d Endorse Him Over Trump

Hillary Clinton, nearly four years after a bitter race for the 2020 Democratic nomination, blasted her former primary opponent Bernie Sanders, claiming in a new interview that “nobody likes” him and that Sanders has achieved nothing during his time as a senator from Vermont. 

“Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done,” Clinton told the Hollywood Reporter as a part of the upcoming Hulu documentary on the former secretary of state. “He was a career politician. It’s all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.”

Clinton also declined to say whether she would endorse or campaign for Sanders, a leading contender in the current 2020 primary race, if he were to clinch the Democratic nomination to run against President Donald Trump. “I’m not going to go there yet,” she said.

The stinging remarks were roundly condemned on the left, even by Clinton supporters, many of whom expressed confusion as to why she’d seek to relitigate the 2016 primary and potentially sow more divisions ahead of the fast-approaching Iowa caucus. 

This is inexcusable. If Bernie wins the nomination, we all need to work our asses off to help him win. If someone else is the nominee, we all do the same for them. Don't kick up this bullshit right before Iowa, especially after complaining about Bernie's lack of support in 2016. https://t.co/VXKCixb4Ci

— Tommy Vietor (@TVietor08) January 21, 2020

I proudly voted for Hillary Clinton, and if Bernie Sanders should win the nomination, I will campaign my heart out for him and believe he would make a great president.

I don't see how any other opinion on this is helpful to anyone. At some point, we gotta come together, folks.

— Charlotte Clymer (@cmclymer) January 21, 2020

when the accounts that tweeted snakes at you last week are suddenly distracted by Hillary pic.twitter.com/v4DbsMJf7D

— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) January 21, 2020

Clinton previously defended Joe Biden against allegations that he interacted inappropriately with women throughout his political career.  “This man who’s there in the Oval Office right now poses a clear and present danger to the future of the United States,” Clinton told People in September. “So get over it.”

“Vote for anybody to get rid of Donald Trump,” she added. It appears, however, that this exhortation might exclude her former primary opponent.

Raw Data: Prime Age Women vs. Prime Age Men

Whenever I hear the phrase “prime age workers” I have a hard time not thinking of cattle stockyards. But that’s just me. All it really refers to is workers aged 25-54, those who are in the “prime” of their working years. It’s a useful construct because it eliminates things like kids who are in college and older adults who perhaps retire at different rates. The assumption is that between the ages of 25-54, basically everyone who wants to work is available to work. That makes it a good metric for analyzing the labor force.

This popped into my brain after reading the dozenth story about how there are now more women in the workforce than men. In particular, women made up 50.04 percent of the workforce in the most recent count. But that includes everyone, and there are some other statistical artifacts that creep into this as well. A better way of looking at this is the percentage of prime-age working women as a ratio of the percentage of prime-age working men. Here it is:

If prime-age men and women were working at the same rate, this ratio would be 100 percent. In reality it’s only 85 percent. That’s up a lot—really a lot—over the past 40 years, but it’s still well below even. Among prime-age workers, the share of men working is still considerably more than the share of women working.

They Were Promised Broadband and High-Tech Jobs. They’re Still Waiting.

This story was originally published by ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for ProPublica’s The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox as soon as they are published.

A year ago, Mary Lou Muncy landed her dream job advising home health care agencies on wound care.

The timing seemed perfect. Muncy’s contract as a nurse at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Lexington had ended, and she wasn’t ready to retire. With an annual salary of $77,000, Muncy would have enough money to help her daughter pay for medical school.

But the position required high-speed internet access, which Muncy didn’t have on her farm, an hour’s drive from Lexington, the state’s second largest city.

So, Muncy gave up the job. She hasn’t found another since.

“I realized there was no hope for us,” said Muncy, 64, who after losing the position wrote a letter to state lawmakers begging them to move quickly on a plan for broadband access in rural communities. Muncy hoped to spare other residents the helplessness she felt when she was forced to turn away employment.

KentuckyWired, the much-heralded plan to improve internet connectivity across the state, promised to create financial opportunities through reliable, high-speed internet access for rural communities that have repeatedly been hammered by the loss of jobs in the coal and tobacco industries.

But the project is stalled and its future looks increasingly bleak because of a number of missteps by state officials and Macquarie Capital, the Australian investment bank managing the ambitious plan, the Louisville Courier Journal and ProPublica have reported.

In the next few months, the state’s new governor, Andy Beshear, will have to make key decisions on the direction of KentuckyWired, which is already two years behind schedule and could cost $1.5 billion over the next 30 years.

Beshear, a Democrat who was elected in November, has repeatedly declined to say what he plans to do as impatient lawmakers threaten to block funding. A spokeswoman for his office said he is still receiving briefings and information related to the project, which began under the gubernatorial administration of his father, Steve Beshear.

Meanwhile, the project that promised so much to residents in rural communities has yet to deliver, and it’s unclear if and when it will.

“It’s becoming a pretty dire situation for some folks here who had hoped to build businesses around access to high-speed internet,” said state Rep. Angie Hatton, a Democrat who represents Letcher County, where the median household income is about $30,000 annually and 31 percent of the population lives in poverty.

Rural Kentucky Keeps Getting Left Behind

Rural Kentucky has long grappled with crippling poverty and high unemployment rates. In 2020, 38 counties in eastern Kentucky were deemed economically distressed by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

The state’s ambitious broadband internet plan was not meant to solve all the needs in rural communities. Still, state leaders said it would help bring a wave of high-tech jobs to the region and provide residents better opportunities to start their own businesses given the lack of companies investing in such areas.

But residents, some of whom don’t know about KentuckyWired, are still waiting.

Erica Scott, a mother of two who lives in Defeated Creek, a tiny community in rural Letcher County, said the unavailability of high-speed internet makes it difficult to run her online business.

Scott said it can take hours to download the designs she needs for the T-shirts and candles she sells online, slowing production and delivery to customers.

The satellite internet service she has isn’t even fast enough for her children to access their schoolwork from home via Google Classroom, a web application teachers use to post assignments and communicate with students. They’ve had to get special permission to complete their homework on paper during snow days, which further hamper already spotty internet.

“We’re not the only ones,” Scott said. Still, she added, in Kentucky’s mountain hollows, or hollers as they are known, “it’s a real job to get internet.”

Rural Kentucky’s steep hills and thick forests make the installation of fiber-optic cable difficult and costly.

One in 11 Kentuckians—roughly 405,000 mostly rural residents—have no wired broadband service in their area, according to Federal Communications Commission data. For those who do have internet access, it’s either too slow or simply unaffordable.

“Remember the old dial up?” said Defeated Creek resident Adam Smith, imitating the antiquated swish and beep sounds familiar to former AOL users. “That slow internet? That’s fast for us.”

KentuckyWired’s new proposed completion date is nine months away. Even if the state meets that deadline, many rural residents won’t have immediate access to broadband.

The project is installing fiber-optic cable that will bring broadband to state agencies across Kentucky, but in order for individual homes and businesses to tap into the new network, third-party providers still need to hang the so-called last mile. And many of those providers are reluctant to make plans without first knowing how much the state’s private-sector partner, Macquarie, will charge for access to the network.

“That might be another 10 years or 20 years while all that last mile stuff gets built,” said Doug Dawson, a telecommunications consultant based in North Carolina.

The wait may be too long for Mike Joseph, a lifelong resident of Yeadiss, an unincorporated community in rural Leslie County.

Joseph, 55, said after his father purchased a house in London, Kentucky, he no longer had family in the area. His wife of 18 years suggested that they move to Harlan in southeastern Kentucky near the Virginia border, where they own a rental property and where broadband is available.

“That’s the deciding factor on us moving, better internet,” said Joseph, a maintenance and IT supervisor at the Leslie County jail, which relies on the internet for communication and pays nearly $1,700 per month for a sluggish connection.

It’s money that could be used for better vehicles and better salaries, Joseph said.

At least one third-party provider, Vernon Engle, who owned B&B Communications, started stringing fiber in Joseph’s county in anticipation of KentuckyWired.

Engle said he spent tens of thousands of dollars to do so while he awaited the opportunity to tap into the network.

But Engle said he was forced to sell his business last year at a $340,000 loss after the state blew past its July 31 completion deadline.

“The state failed me,” Engle said.

“Darned if You Fund It and You’re Darned if You Don’t”

Uncertainty over the plan for KentuckyWired has lawmakers clamoring for action from the governor as they field questions from frustrated rural residents.

State Sen. Jimmy Higdon, a Republican from Lebanon, said the rural residents he serves regularly request that his office help improve internet service in their communities.

KentuckyWired was the state’s bet for catching up.

But now, Higdon said: “It’s one of them subjects you’d just as soon not talk about. You’re darned if you fund it and you’re darned if you don’t.”

Project managers are asking lawmakers to approve $100 million for KentuckyWired this legislative session, an increase of $28 million from the previous budget.

It’s not the current request but the skyrocketing price tag, which is 50 times the cost originally quoted to taxpayers, that worries state Rep. Robert Goforth.

“I mean, $1.5 billion is a considerable amount of money that these folks sent us to Frankfort and entrusted us to spend wisely and do the best job we can with it,” Goforth, a Republican from East Bernstadt, said. “Someone dropped the ball here, and we need to figure out what we can do to make the best of a bad situation.”

Andy Beshear, much like Matt Bevin, a Republican who served as the state’s top official before him, has offered no solution.

“Unless somebody in the Beshear administration can come up with a plan to save it—a viable plan, a workable plan—and somebody steps up and says this will work, I don’t see us funding something that’s going down a dead-end street,” Higdon said.

Some lawmakers fear that cutting off funding for KentuckyWired will be more expensive in the long run. Others are ready to kill the project.

“What do they say? Fish or cut bait?” said state Rep. Lynn Bechler, a Republican from Marion and one of KentuckyWired’s harshest critics. “Well, it’s no longer fishing. Let’s cut the bait.”

While at a “hog kill” in Defeated Creek, Roger Fields said delays in getting high-speed internet have slowed promises for relief as jobs continue to disappear in his community. But the 66-year-old former coal worker was focused on a more pressing issue, ensuring that he and his neighbors had enough meat for the winter.

In communities still waiting for high-speed internet, residents say they’ll just have to continue doing what they’ve always done: They’ll have to depend on each other.

“Wouldn’t want to live no other place, though,” Fields said as he carved up a warm pig’s head while others hacked away at a torso dangling from a nearby tractor. “Look what neighbors we’ve got. See all this work. For this, they don’t charge nothing.”

With Trump’s Impeachment, American Democracy Is on Trial

The start of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump is a reminder that the American political system does include safeguards and norms that are meant to protect the citizenry from corruption and misdeeds in the highest offices of the land. What happens in the Senate over the next few weeks will show whether these measures still matter.

The rule of law trumps power and presidents. At least, it is supposed to.

The impeachment process, as shaped by the rules devised long ago by members of the House and Senate, is loaded with archaic tradition and stuffy ceremony. The House speaker signs articles of impeachment. House managers then stride through the Capitol complex to hand-deliver the articles to the Senate chamber. In a somber session, senators take a solemn oath to deliver “impartial justice” and sign their names one by one in an oath book near the marble Senate rostrum. These rituals were designed to highlight the gravity of the prospect of removing a president and to signal that in the United States, process and principle transcends all. The rule of law trumps power and presidents. At least, it is supposed to.

Trump has tested the system and pushed it to a breaking point—to this breaking point: only the third impeachment trial in the history of the republic. The narrow case against him brought by the House is strong: Trump used—that is, abused—the power of his office for personal political gain. The evidence is clear. His hand-picked ambassador to the European Union—a hotelier with no previous diplomatic experience who contributed $1 million to Trump’s inauguration—testified there was an explicit quid pro quo: Trump would not grant a highly sought-after White House meeting to the new Ukrainian president or provide congressionally approved military assistance to Kyiv unless Ukraine announced investigations to sully Joe Biden and to legitimize a crazy conspiracy theory that held Ukraine, not Russia, hacked the Democrats in 2016.

Trump’s actions were not in pursuit of any official aim. Period. He didn’t give a damn about corruption in Ukraine. In a May 10 letter to the new Ukrainian president—which only became public last week—Rudy Giuliani noted that his efforts in Ukraine on behalf of Trump (which centered on digging up dirt on Biden) arose out of his personal representation of Trump and served Trump’s private interests. That’s a nice way of saying Giuliani was on a purely political mission at Trump’s direction to gather from another government mud to hurl at Biden. This letter ought to be regarded as a smoking gun. And the General Accounting Office on Thursday released a finding that the withholding of aid to Ukraine that Trump ordered violated the law. In other words, the president, in his official capacity, had demanded illegal action for his private benefit—to obtain derogatory information on a 2020 political rival and to try to absolve Russia of intervening in the 2016 election.

Those data points should seal the deal. But there’s so much more. Other congressional testimony confirmed key elements of the extortion plot. The quasi-transcript of Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky depicts Trump putting the squeeze on the Ukrainian leader with a mobster-like request for a “favor.” In a stunning interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Lev Parnas, the now-indicted associate of Giuliani who aided the former New York City mayor’s search for negative material on Biden, described a brazen shake-down scheme that was headed by Trump, and Parnas maintained that Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and then-Energy Secretary Rick Perry each were co-conspirators. Parnas’ claims and other evidence suggest there was an even larger conspiracy in which Trump’s muscling of Zelensky was related to an attempt by Giuliani and two Fox News regulars—Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing, husband-and-wife lawyers—to lobby William Barr’s Justice Department to help indicted Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash escape bribery charges in return for Firtash supplying them negative material on Biden and information that supposedly could discredit the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller. RudyGate is becoming a scandal of its own.

The full story is complicated. House Democrats thought they had a simple impeachment narrative: Trump improperly and arguably illegally pressured a foreign leader to take steps to influence the 2020 election in his favor. That would—or should—be enough to impeach a president. Yet pulling on that thread led to the unraveling of a bigger and uglier tapestry of crookedness. And all the shenanigans and skulduggery reflect a wider and deeper rot that Trump has imported into the White House and spread throughout the US government.

Leaving the Ukraine affair aside, the man who is now being tried in the Senate has not only violated a specific provision of the Constitution—the emoluments clause—he has trampled long-existing norms that serve as guidelines for the nation’s leaders. For example, a president should release his tax returns and not hand White House jobs to relatives, especially those who cannot receive a security clearance. Trump ignored both of these long-adhered-to but informal rules. He also ignored long-standing guidance about conflicts-of-interest. In fact, the moment Trump was sworn into office, he was in breach of this emoluments prohibition, which bans presidents from accepting gifts and payments from overseas governments and officials. Through the Trump Organization—which Trump still owns—he has pocketed money from foreigners and governments who buy apartments from his firm or pay for rooms in his hotels. Never has it been easier for seekers of influence and access—from across the oceans and from here in the United States—to buy it straight from a president. Trump, though, has disregarded this section of the Constitution and fought lawsuits that would force him to comply with it. This, too, could be the stuff of impeachment.

So could his interactions with Russia. During the 2016 campaign, Trump encouraged Moscow’s attack on the election, which was waged partly to help him win the White House. He also denied this attack was under way, echoing and signal-boosting Vladimir Putin’s we-didn’t-do-it disinformation, as his campaign maintained a series of covert interactions with Russia. While running for president, Trump was also secretly negotiating a deal to develop a tower in Moscow that could have earned him hundreds of millions of dollars, and his company sought help with the venture from Putin’s office—and yet Trump lied to voters and said he had nothing to do with Russia.

As president, Trump continued to deny, discount, downplay, or dismiss the Kremlin’s attack, complaining endlessly about the “Russian hoax.” According to the Washington Post, he even told senior Russian officials, during a meeting in the Oval Office, that he was not concerned with Putin’s assault on a US election. That was a serious dereliction of duty—a commander in chief informing a foreign adversary he didn’t care that it had attacked the United States. Such an action might be grounds for removing a president from office. As could be the multiple cases of potential obstruction of justice that Mueller documented in his final report. Mueller noted that due to a Justice Department policy that says a president cannot be indicted on a federal charge, he did not reach a decision on whether Trump ought to be indicted for any of these actions. That was a job for Congress, Mueller explained in his final report—basically saying this was possible impeachment fodder.

From grand betrayal to sleazy scandal, Trump has covered it all. His onetime fixer, Michael Cohen, now resides in a federal prison in part for making an illegal hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, who has claimed to have had an affair with Trump. According to the evidence in that case, Trump—identified as “Individual 1″—directed Cohen to slip the $130,000 to Daniels to shut her up before Election Day in 2016. (Cohen said that Trump also indirectly encouraged him to not tell Congress the full truth about the Moscow tower negotiations and their interactions with Putin’s office—a lie that helped to land Cohen in the slammer.) This means that the man who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was a co-conspirator in a proven criminal conspiracy. That’s according to the US Department of Justice, which prosecuted the case.

Trump’s presidential tenure has been a never-ending swirl of conflicts of interest, nepotism, law-breaking, norm-squashing, and corruption. (And lies. Over 16,000 lies and false statements so far.) All this has placed a tremendous strain on the system. The media does not always know how to accurately and responsibly cover the flood of mendacity and misconduct. House Democrats, once they took control of their side of the Capitol, were unsure what to do in response to Trump’s transgressions. Investigate everything? Focus on the Mueller-documented obstruction? Just plow ahead to the next election? It wasn’t until a whistleblower who worked in the CIA sounded the alarm about Trump’s Ukraine caper that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues realized they had no choice but to kick-start an impeachment inquiry.

In a way, Trump got off easy, with just two articles of impeachment: abusing his power in the Ukraine scandal and obstructing the House investigation of this episode by blocking administration officials from testifying and by preventing the release of documents to Capitol gumshoes. As for the Republicans, in a cultish manner, they have adopted the line that Trump does no wrong. They deny reality. They live in the land of Fox News, infected and overwhelmed by dearleader-itis. And their slavish devotion to Trump—out of love or fear—undermines the system, for the system is predicated on the notion that most of its inhabitants are good-faith actors who care about preserving it. The built-in protections of this system—such as those that are symbolized by the ritualistic ceremonies of impeachment—only work if they are fully honored. Should a significant number of the guardians of the system say, “Screw it,” a democracy may not be able to protect itself from an enemy within.

So much of Trump’s presidency has served up causes for impeachment. Yet still the national debate, due to Trump’s incessant shouting of falsehoods and the loud and robotic amen-ing of Republicans and the conservative media, often becomes fixated on debating reality—was an obvious quid pro quo a quid pro quo or not?—rather than what to do about that reality. The founders envisioned the possibility of a scoundrel gaining control of the White House. But could they envision an entire political party putting on blinders and becoming the loyal and unyielding foot-soldiers of that scoundrel? Could they imagine a wholesale attack on the rule of law and the principle that no man is above the law? Could they imagine a party-wide abandonment of the elemental notion of checks and balances? This impeachment focuses on one corrupt incident, but it addresses a deeper and wider assault on the nation’s governance and its most fundamental values. Even if the ultimate verdict for Trump is essentially pre-ordained, how this trial is handled and staged will be one indication of just how broken the system is.

In many of our homes, offices, workplaces, schools, places of worships, and businesses, fire extinguishers are stored and kept in accessible spots—just in case. They are rarely needed and not often thought about. But they have been purposefully placed in these positions as a precaution. They can be grabbed should an emergency arise and deployed to prevent or limit damage and injury. Our political system has its own safeguards—some written down, others that exist merely in practice. As Trump and his impeachment demonstrate, these protections are there. Yet they are not self-enforcing. They only work if they are used when a threat emerges and disaster strikes.

Jessica Cisneros Could Be the Next AOC. (But Don’t Tell Her That.)

Jessica Cisneros needed to find a dentist. When she decided to challenge Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar in the upcoming Democratic primary, Cisneros quit her job and moved back in with her parents in Laredo to save money. She’d bought her own insurance plan after turning 26 last May, but it didn’t include dental, and she still had six figures in law school debt. So when Cisneros needed a root canal in July, she went with the cheapest option: Mexico.

Affordable and accessible health care is hard to come by on the border. A third of the county she lives in is uninsured. Diabetics go to Nuevo Laredo for insulin. Women go there for birth control. Cisneros met a woman who saved up for a mammogram, only to be hit with another expense out of nowhere. “She had to choose between getting the study that she needed done and fixing her AC,” Cisneros told me when we met in August. “Sometimes people just decide to go to el otro lado, right?”

As she introduces herself to the district, Cisneros mixes in stories like that with her own to make the case for sweeping structural changes: She wants to blow up the private health insurance market, demilitarize the border, and shut down private immigration prisons.

A year and a half after Rep. Alex­an­dria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) stunned the political world with an upset victory over the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, Joseph Crowley, Cisneros is hoping to accomplish something similar. A Vogue headline distilled the buzz surrounding her to a question: “Is Jessica Cisneros the Next Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?” Cisneros had a ready response to such comparisons: “I admire her a lot,” she told me. “But right now I’m just focused on South Texas and trying to be the leader South Texas needs, and trying to be the next Jessica Cisneros.”

And Laredo is a long way from the Bronx. Cisneros and the eight-term incumbent she’s running against have radically divergent ideas about the electorate and what kind of ideas will play in a large rural border district. Cuellar, in whose DC office Cisneros once interned, has a lifetime A rating from the National Rifle Association, opposes abortion rights, and has voted with President Donald Trump more often than any other Democrat in Congress. You might expect a record like that—in a district similar to this one—to doom the incumbent. Cuellar is running on it.

There’s a lot riding on how well Cisneros does. If the kinds of policies she’s pushing, like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, are going to take hold in the Democratic Party, they’re going to have to catch on in places like South Texas. Either you figure out how to sell universal health care to people crossing the border for a mammogram, or your movement withers on the vine. Cisneros’ success or failure will rest heavily on a question that a lot of Democrats are asking: Just how much of a revolution do people want?

So far, Cisneros has reason for encouragement. When we met, she had just gotten off the phone with emily’s List, which supports pro-choice Democratic women and would eventually endorse her in October. In September, she picked up her first congressional endorsement, from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), and introduced the presidential candidate in front of 5,000 people at a rally in Austin. Not long after that, Ocasio-Cortez herself offered a stamp of approval, telling HuffPost, “I want to be the shortest-lived ‘youngest congresswoman ever.’”

We met at Cisneros’ temporary campaign office in a neighborhood of single-family homes on the east side of Laredo. The house had belonged to the grandparents of a staffer and still bore trappings of its past life: Old, faded family photos lined the walls and nice china filled a cupboard. Cisneros walked in wearing a purple campaign T-shirt with her name on it. Her necklace said “Justicia.

“Right now I’m just focused on South Texas and trying to be the leader South Texas needs, and trying to be the next Jessica Cisneros.”

Cisneros was born in Laredo, the daughter of Mexican immigrants who received legal status as part of President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 overhaul of the nation’s immigration system. She gravitated toward immigration law, she told me, because the families she saw crossing the Rio Grande reminded her of her own. Cisneros was skeptical when Justice Democrats, the group that had recruited Ocasio-Cortez, reached out to her about taking on Cuellar. “I think that’s kind of a product of imposter syndrome that women of color have,” she reflected. But she jumped into the race last June. She raised $100,000 within 48 hours of her announcement and picked up more small-dollar donations than Cuellar did in his last campaign.

In her launch video, Cisneros took aim at Cuellar, calling him “Trump’s favorite Democrat,” touting his opposition to sanctuary cities and Planned Parenthood funding, and painting him as a tool of the “big corporations” who fill his campaign coffers. (More than half of Cuellar’s fundraising this cycle has come from PACs.) Cuellar’s proudly conservative voting record makes him such a natural target for a progressive challenge and national grassroots energy. But Cisneros is not just running against Cuellar. She is also running against the regional economy as it currently exists.

The past two decades have seen a boom in federal law enforcement jobs in South Texas and a growing infrastructure of detention facilities to house immigrants caught in the ever-­expanding dragnet. The Laredo area alone houses three ICE detention centers, including the Rio Grande Deten­tion Center, run by the GEO Group, the nation’s largest private prison company. The number of Border Patrol agents in the Laredo sector has nearly doubled since 2002. Cuellar has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from GEO, and he boasts of the border security pork he’s brought to his district. Cisneros said Cuellar has created a “dependence” on border security jobs at the expense of other kinds of investment—in health care, education, housing, and new industries. And it’s a corrosive kind of monoculture, creating jobs for some Laredo­ans by depriving others of their freedom. She recently heard from a woman whose daughter had been put in deportation proceedings after being pulled over with a busted taillight. “Instead of her working, being with her kids who really need her, private prisons like GEO Group are making thousands of dollars off her while she’s being detained there,” she said. Who was this economy really for?

The alternative is still a work in progress. When I asked Cisneros what other lines of work a Border Patrol agent might pursue in her economy, she said, “That’s something that we’ve been trying to talk about in terms of strategy,” but “if people like the fieldwork and being out there, I think it would probably involve something along the lines of environmental regulation of the river”—part of a Green New Deal, the centerpiece of her economic agenda. Ditto for South Texans employed in the oil and gas industry. Cisneros talks eagerly about the wind turbines she sees when she drives through the Rio Grande Valley and about a program that would give residents of public housing jobs retrofitting the buildings they live in to be more energy-efficient.

A few hours after our interview, Cisneros and her campaign manager, Danny Diaz, a former public school administrator, dropped by a house down the street from their campaign HQ for a listening session with a half-dozen supporters. The attendees were young, and over chips and soda, they unloaded on the problems they faced in the district, and their dreams of what it could be. Cisneros took notes.

They talked about the strain that truck driving puts on families, the symbolism of making Laredo—the nation’s largest inland port—“green,” and how their families struggled to make ends meet. Cisneros and a college student recalled getting dragged along to warehouses to help their parents put labels on consumer goods to earn extra money. They vented about going to Mexico for health care. Above all, they were tired of how debates in Washington complicated their lives—Border Patrol showing up unannounced at the front door, checkpoints, cops asking where you’re really from. Cisneros told them that when she has a light-skinned client, she sometimes gets asked if she’s the one in removal proceedings. “Even though I’m dressed in like a full suit with a whole case file under me,” she said. “It doesn’t matter, because I’m the brown one and they’re not.”

These are the sparks of revolution she’s banking on—a long-ignored progressive base that is tired not just of Cuellar individually, but of the status quo he represents. So far, there are signs of that revolution in small groups and in grassroots money pouring in from outside the district, but it’s still early.

The 64-year-old Cuellar speaks for a much different community—not the Laredo of millennial frustration, but the Laredo of people who found work and stuck around. Like his opponent, he was a child of migrant farmworkers who worked his way through law school and ran for office at a young age. In 2004, he beat a Democratic incumbent by 58 votes and has barely been challenged since. The Cuellars virtually run the city—his brother is the county sheriff; his sister is a judge. Although he’s recently sharpened his attacks on Trump, Cuellar seems comfortable doing what he’s always done. “[He’s] definitely not in a situation like Crowley, where we’re gonna get weak in the knees and pierce our nose and adopt a socialist platform,” his campaign manager, Colin Strother, told me.

“Sometimes people just decide to go to el otro lado, right?”

In the eyes of Cuellar’s campaign, the entire premise of Cisneros’ candidacy represents a fundamental misreading of the region, its voters, and its economy. “They’re welcome to come in here and tell 17,000 oil and gas field workers that they’re no longer gonna have jobs under the Green New Deal,” Strother said. Ditto for the “3,700 ICE families” and the “high-end hunting ranches” that dot the vast stretches of South Texas. A vote for Cisneros, he argued, would be a vote to gut the regional tax base, and the religious, conservative, gun-owning residents won’t stand for it. “Jessica Cisneros knows nothing,” he added.

When I mentioned this conversation to Cisneros, she laughed. “He’s running a campaign of fear, telling people, ‘If you vote for Jessica Cisneros, she’s gonna kill these jobs,’” she said, referring to Cuellar. “That’s not true. We have a jobs program that we’re gonna be advocating for and we’re gonna end up so much better if we make this transition. The only job that I’m trying to kill is his.”

Impeachment Trial Will Start on Wednesday

Mitch McConnell has set out the ground rules for the impeachment trial of President Trump:

McConnell’s organizing resolution, which he circulated late Monday afternoon, offers each side 24 hours to make their opening arguments starting on Wednesday but compressed into two session days. It is unclear whether Democrats would press to use all their time, which could push testimony past midnight.

After the House managers and Trump’s lawyers make their case, senators will be allowed 16 hours to question the opposing sides.

After that, the sides will debate for a maximum of four hours on whether to consider subpoenaing witnesses or documents at all, followed by a vote on whether to do so.

….The Senate trial also won’t automatically admit evidence from the House process, according to GOP officials, a key difference from the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton more than two decades ago. Though the material will be printed and made available to senators, it won’t be automatically admissible unless a majority of senators approve it.

McConnell is obviously trying to get this over with quickly, and he’s also trying to bore people to death by forcing Democrats to hold the floor for hours on end. Hopefully Democrats are smart enough not to take the bait. These opening arguments, after all, aren’t aimed at senators, most of whom already know how they’re going to vote. They’re aimed at the public, and that means they need to be short, pointed, and simple. If Democrats can’t actually convict Trump, they can at least use the impeachment trial to introduce the American public to the highlights of what Trump did.

(The Trump side is already well aware of this. As the Post article says, their defense brief is “a legalese version of the scorched-earth rhetoric commonly used in the president’s Twitter feed.” That’s for the benefit of Fox News and talk radio, not the Senate floor.)

The only real question mark in this whole affair is whether the Senate will vote to call witnesses. My guess, as usual, is that McConnell will hold his caucus together and vote down a motion to subpoena witnesses, but you never know. All it takes is three or four defectors.

Anyway, it looks like things will start Wednesday and probably end sometime next week.

Virginia’s Massive Pro-Gun Rally Draws Big Crowds, Big Weapons, and Alex Jones in a Big Armed Vehicle

It had all the ingredients for a powder keg: Thousands of heavily armed protesters pissed off about proposed gun control laws, troubling online calls for violence and a new civil war, and echoes of a deadly rally that took place in the same state three years ago. But the pro-gun rally in Richmond, Virginia, on Monday did not end in violence, as many had feared. Instead, it ended with the shrill, gravelly baritone of Alex Jones’ voice, as the notorious conspiracy theorist and Infowars founder popped out of a hatch from inside an armored Infowars’ vehicle, cruising around and screaming at passersby through a megaphone.

“If they try to take our firearms,” he yelled, “1776 will commence again!”

Ever since a newly elected Democratic majority took control of Virginia’s state legislature in November, gun owners and 2nd Amendment activists have been preparing for a fight to protect the state’s gun laws, which for years—partially because the headquarters of the National Rifle Association are located in the state—have been some of the loosest in the country. The gun rights group Virginia Citizens Defense League had planned a peaceful pro-gun rally on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, which in Richmond happened to fall on Lobby Day, an annual day for residents to lobby lawmakers on all sorts of issues, including gun laws.

But in the weeks leading up to the massive gun rally, neo-Nazi and fascist groups online shared plans to co-opt the rally to advance their own violent agenda. On Facebook pages, and on sites like 4chan and the encrypted messaging app Telegram, militia members, fascist coalitions, and white supremacists were calling the day the “boogaloo”—neo-Nazi slang for the start of a new civil war. “If you are not ready to leave your family, friends and daily life and get violent then you need to sit the fuck down,” said one message posted to Telegram by an account with over a thousand followers. Last week, the FBI announced they had arrested seven members of the extremist neo-Nazi group known as The Base, three of whom had allegedly planned to attend the Richmond rally and commit acts of violence.

In response to the heightened sense of potential danger, Virginia governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency, temporarily banning weapons from the grounds of the state capitol—Virginia law allows gun owners to openly carry firearms without a permit. But his move only exacerbated the fury of gun advocates.

To get into the official rally space on the Capitol grounds, where the VCDL had set up a stage for local pro-gun activists and politicians to address the crowd, attendees had to go through a single gate lined with metal detectors—no one packing heat could slip through. Instead, thousands of gun-wielding Second Amendment advocates—many of whom were carrying assault weapons and AR-15-style rifles—crowded the streets around the security perimeter of the capitol grounds. Many proudly held signs that said, with variations, that Northam and other government officials could “pry their guns out of their cold, dead hands” and that “gun rights are civil rights.” 

If any other members of The Base were in attendance, they did not make themselves known, and the only neo-Nazi I spotted was Jovi Val, the disavowed former Proud Boy, who was booted from the group because his anti-Semitic and racist views were too extreme even for this far-right group. He has been an outspoken supporter of Jason Kessler, who organized the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, as well as James Fields Jr., the avowed neo-Nazi who killed Heather Heyer at that rally and is now serving a life sentence. Though members of other far-right groups—including the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers, and Proud Boys—were spotted at the rally, the crowd mostly consisted of a smattering of militia types and extremely vocal Donald Trump supporters wearing MAGA hats and frequently breaking out into chants of “TRUMP!” and “USA!” Trump did not attend, but he managed to fire off a tweet in support of the rally: 

The Democrat Party in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia are working hard to take away your 2nd Amendment rights. This is just the beginning. Don’t let it happen, VOTE REPUBLICAN in 2020!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 20, 2020

Inside the state capitol, it was business as usual for all lawmakers, with a full session of the state’s House of Delegates and Senate, as is Lobby Day tradition. Though the rally outside the state capitol was peaceful, there was no shortage of rage, especially directed at Northam, with signs comparing him to Adolph Hitler and other famous fascist leaders throughout history. 

Well then. pic.twitter.com/OIpeAgKGQA

— Matt Cohen (@Matt_D_Cohen) January 20, 2020

Nonetheless, despite the anger and the tensions, the violence that had been feared never took place. Local law enforcement officials estimated that 22,000 people were in attendance, and only one person was arrested—a 21-year-old woman who allegedly broke the state’s anti-mask law (though, for what it’s worth, I saw hundreds of militia-styled attendees in masks at today’s rally). 

One reason for the relative calm might be that unlike previous right-wing rallies, there was no counter protest. Antifa and gun control groups like Everytown and Moms Demand Action urged their supporters not to show up to counter protest, citing the concerns for safety. “I think that their intimidation tactics are a way to scare us into backing down,” said Courtney Champion, a volunteer with the Virginia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Despite the threats of violence, Champion, along with a few other Moms Demand Action volunteers were in a hotel room a few blocks from the rally where they closely monitored the day’s events. “I think that a lot of the pushback that we’re getting right now is because we flipped our state’s legislature in the NRA’s backyard,she added, “and they know that we’re winning.” 

Donald Trump, a Racist, Sends Awful Tweet About MLK Jr. Day

The Washington Post on January 17th:

More than 8 in 10 black Americans say they believe Trump is a racist and that he has made racism a bigger problem in the country. Nine in 10 disapprove of his job performance overall.

The pessimism goes well beyond assessments of the president. A 65 percent majority of African Americans say it is a “bad time” to be a black person in America. That view is widely shared by clear majorities of black adults across income, generational and political lines. By contrast, 77 percent of black Americans say it is a “good time” to be a white person, with a wide majority saying white people don’t understand the discrimination faced by black Americans.

Courtney Tate, a 40-year-old elementary school teacher in Irving, Tex., outside Dallas, said that since Trump was elected, he’s been having more conversations with his co-workers — discussions that are simultaneously enlightening and exhausting — about racial issues he and his students face every day.

“As a black person, you’ve always seen all the racism, the microaggressions. But as white people, they don’t understand this is how things are going for me,” said Tate, who said he is the only black male teacher in his school. “They don’t live those experiences. They don’t live in those neighborhoods. They moved out. It’s so easy to be white and oblivious in this country.”

Donald Trump is a racist. This has been true since long before he became president. It was true when he called for the Central Park Five to get the death penalty. It was true when he was called out for not hiring black people. It was true when he said he would be more successful if he were black. It was true when he said Obama was born in Kenya. It has been true throughout his presidency. It will be true long after his presidency is over. Time and time again he has shown it every step of the way.   Donald Trump, today:

It was exactly three years ago today, January 20, 2017, that I was sworn into office. So appropriate that today is also MLK jr DAY. African-American Unemployment is the LOWEST in the history of our Country, by far. Also, best Poverty, Youth, and Employment numbers, ever. Great!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 20, 2020

What an embarrassment. 

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