Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | April 3
I spent all day writing only to emerge tonight to a flood of news.
Some of it is tragic but seems random: a man apparently drove a car into a barricade near the White House, injuring two Capitol Police officers before hitting the barrier. He got out of the car with a knife, and police officers shot him when he did not respond to their commands. He died. So did one of the Capitol Police officers, an 18-year veteran of the force, Officer William “Billy” Evans. The assailant has been identified as 25-year-old Noah Green of Indiana, and he appears to have feared that the CIA and the FBI were targeting him with mind control.
Other news seems to be about rebuilding the nation from the troubles of the previous administration: President Joe Biden had a 30-40 minute phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in which Biden reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine’s burgeoning democracy as Russia builds up troops in the region. Former president Trump soured the U.S. relationship with Ukraine when he tried to get Zelenskyy to announce an investigation into Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, to discredit the man he expected—correctly—to be his main rival in the 2020 presidential election, before Trump would release money Ukraine needed to defend itself against Russia.
Also today, the U.S. and Iran agreed to talk again about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear deal that Trump abandoned, to limit Iran’s program of enriching uranium that could be used for a nuclear weapon. With our abandonment of JCPOA, Iran resumed elements of its enrichment program. Both sides are hoping to make headway on a new deal before Iran’s presidential election in June.
The United States has also lifted sanctions the Trump administration had imposed on the top prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, after she began an investigation into U.S. forces in Afghanistan for alleged war crimes. The U.S. is not a member of the court, and the Biden administration says it disagrees strongly with the court’s actions but wants to address those concerns through engagement rather than sanctions.
In a new indictment yesterday, prosecutors revealed that the founder of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, his deputy, and three members of the far-right group who acted as guards for Trump loyalist Roger Stone exchanged 19 phone calls over three hours during the January 6 attack on the Capitol. The indictment indicates that federal officials have a very clear timeline of the events of that day.
The trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, continues. Today Lt. Richard Zimmerman, the head of the Minneapolis police department’s homicide division, testified that kneeling on Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed, as Chavin did, was “totally unnecessary,” and that the officers should “absolutely” have stopped restraining Floyd once he was in handcuffs, as that position on its own makes it hard to breathe.
And then there are the ways in which the country appears to be roaring back from the low point of the past year. Today U.S. healthcare professionals put almost 4 million shots into arms, bringing our daily average for the past week to almost 3 million. Nearly 40% of all adults in the U.S. have had at least one dose of the vaccine. And yet, coronavirus infections are rising again, spurred by new, highly contagious variants of the virus into areas where safety precautions have been relaxed. The seven-day average of new cases is more than 62,000 cases a day, with just below 900 deaths a day.
The Labor Department today said that the U.S. added 916,000 jobs in March, the best job growth since last August, dropping the unemployment rate to 6%. This is excellent news, but we still have 8.4 million fewer jobs than we had in February 2020, before the pandemic.
And then there is Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is at the center of a scandal which includes pretty much everything: women, girls, state lines, drugs, cash, fake IDs, and so on. Where it will all end up is entirely unclear, but it is notable that the Fox News Channel, where Gaetz has been a regular, made a point of stating that it has “no interest” in hiring Gaetz. Only Representatives Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) have spoken out to defend Gaetz, and both of them have troubles in their own backgrounds.
But the lasting story today is the one that will hang over everything until it is resolved: the attempt of Republican legislators in 43 states to suppress voting with what are now 361 voter suppression bills across the country.
Today Major League Baseball announced it was pulling the 2021 All-Star Game and the MLB draft from Georgia in response to the state’s new voter suppression law, passed last week. The announcement drew fury from Republican officials.
They attacked MLB’s move by as a product of “cancel culture and woke political activists.” Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston released a statement blaming “this attack on our state” on President Biden and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams and insisting that the bill in fact expands, rather than contracts, the right to vote. Ralston said that “Stacey Abrams’ leftist lies have stolen the All-Star Game from Georgia…. But Georgia will not be bullied by socialists and their sympathizers.”
Republican politicians also piled on at the national level. Representative Buddy Carter (R-GA) tweeted that MLB was “[t]otally caving to the lies of the Left” and called for a baseball boycott. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) called it “a cowardly boycott based on a lie.” Then Representative Jeff Duncan (R-SC) called for Congress to retaliate against MLB with a law to remove MLB’s antitrust exception. The former president urged his supporters to “boycott baseball” and the companies that do not support Georgia’s new voter suppression bill.
But journalists Nick Corasaniti and Reid J. Epstein of the New York Times today reviewed the new 98-page Georgia voting law and had one primary takeaway: “The Republican legislature and governor have made a breathtaking assertion of partisan power in elections, making absentee voting harder and creating restrictions and complications in the wake of narrow losses to Democrats.” Sixteen key provisions hamper the right to vote, especially in the urban and suburban counties that vote Democratic, or take power away from state and local election officials—like the secretary of state, who refused to throw the election to Trump in 2020—and give it to partisan legislators.
If it’s true that the Georgia law is no big deal, Democracy Docket founder and election law defender Marc Elias asked, “why are three separate Republican Party Committees spending money intervening in court to defend it—claiming that if the law is struck down it will disadvantage the [Republicans] in elections?”
MLB’s decision was actually not prompted by Stacey Abrams, who rejected calls for a boycott and urged companies not to leave the state but to stay and fight for voting rights. She tweeted that she was “disappointed” that MLB would move the All-Star Game “but proud of their stance on voting rights.”
Former House Speaker John Boehner, who presided over the House during the Republican wave of 2010, published a preview of his forthcoming book that makes some sense of the Republican attempt to divert attention to Abrams. He says that the rise of the internet meant that by 2010, Republican lawmakers were taking their orders from internet media websites and the Fox News Channel, their only aim to keep viewers engaged and cash flowing.
The Republican focus on media, rather than policy, has mushroomed until lawmakers are now reduced to talking about Dr. Seuss and the Potato Head clan rather than answering the needs of voters, with no policy besides “owning the libs.”
And now they are trying to pin the decisions of MLB on the “socialist” Stacey Abrams, a voting-rights advocate, rather than on the Georgia Republican legislature’s open attempt to undermine democracy.