Historic strike in Michigan, historic corruption in SCOTUS

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

September 23, 2023

Two major stories today seem to bring together both the past and the future of the country to chart a way forward.

The first involves a historic workers’ strike. A week ago, on Friday, September 15, after workers’ four-year contracts expired, the United Auto Workers union declared a limited and targeted work stoppage in which about 13,000 workers walked off the job at three Midwestern auto plants. For the first time in history, those walkouts included all three major automakers: workers left a General Motors plant in Missouri, a Stellantis (which includes Chrysler) plant in Ohio, and a Ford plant in Michigan. 

Workers accepted major concessions in 2007, when it appeared that auto manufacturers would go under. They agreed to accept a two-tier pay system in which workers hired after 2007 would have lower pay and worse benefits than those hired before 2007. But then the industry recovered, and automakers’ profits skyrocketed: Ford, for example, made more than $10 billion in profits in 2022.

Automakers’ chief executive officers’ pay has soared—GM CEO Mary Barra made almost $29 million in 2022—but workers’ wages and benefits have not. Barra, for example, makes 362 times the median GM employee’s paycheck, while autoworkers’ pay has fallen behind inflation by 19%. 

The new UAW president, Shawn Fain, ran on a promise to demand a rollback of the 2007 concessions in this summer’s contract negotiations. He wants a cap on temporary workers, pay increases of more than 40% to match the salary increases of the CEOs, a 32-hour workweek, cost of living adjustments, and an elimination of the tier system. 

But his position is not just about autoworkers; it is about all U.S. workers. “Our fight is not just for ourselves but for every worker who is being undervalued, for every retiree who’s given their all and feels forgotten, and for every future worker who deserves a fair chance at a prosperous life,” Fain said. “[W]e are all fed up of living in a world that values profits over people. We’re all fed up with seeing the rich get richer while the rest of us continue to just scrape by. We’re all fed up with corporate greed. And together, we’re going to fight to change it.”

Fain has withheld an endorsement for President Biden out of concern that the transition to electric vehicles, which are easier to build than gas-powered vehicles, will hurt union jobs, and out of anger that the administration has offered incentives to non-union plants. That criticism created an opening for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to announce he would visit Detroit next week to show autoworkers that he has “always had their back,” in hopes of winning back the support of Rust Belt states.

But for all his talk of being pro-worker, Trump recently attacked Fain, saying “The autoworkers are being sold down the river by their leadership, and their leadership should endorse Trump.” Autoworkers note that Trump and the justices he put on the Supreme Court have been anti-union, and that he packed the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees labor laws and union elections, with officials who reduced the power of workers to organize. Before he left office, Trump tried to burrow ten anti-labor activists into the Federal Service Impasses Panel, the panel in charge of resolving disputes between unions and federal agencies when they cannot resolve issues in negotiations. 

Fain recently said: “Every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers.” 

President Biden prides himself on his pro-union credentials, and as soon as he took office, he fired Trump’s burrowed employees, prompting the head of the union representing 700,000 federal employees to thank Biden for his attempt to “restore basic fairness for federal workers.” He said, “The outgoing panel, appointed by the previous administration and stacked with transparently biased union-busters, was notorious for ignoring the law to gut workplace rights and further an extreme political agenda.”

Today, in the absence of a deal, the UAW expanded the strike to dozens more plants, and in a Facebook live stream, Fain invited “everyone who supports our cause to join us on the picket line from our friends and families all the way up to the president of the United States.” Biden has generally expressed support for the UAW, saying that the automakers should share their record profits with their workers, but Fain rebuffed the president’s offer to send Labor Secretary Julie Su and White House senior advisor Gene Sperling to help with negotiations. 

Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and John Fetterman (D-PA) have both visited Michigan to meet with UAW workers, but it was nonetheless a surprise when the White House announced that the president will travel on Tuesday to Michigan, where he will, as he posted on X, “join the picket line and stand in solidarity with the men and women of UAW as they fight for a fair share of the value they helped create. It’s time for a win-win agreement that keeps American auto manufacturing thriving with well-paid UAW jobs.”

If President Biden is showing his support for the strong unions of the past, Vice President Kamala Harris is in charge of the future. The White House today announced the establishment of a National Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be overseen by the vice president. 

Lately, Harris has been taking the lead in embracing change and appealing to younger voters. On September 9 she hosted a celebration honoring the 50th anniversary of hip hop, and she is currently in the midst of a tour of college campuses to urge young people to vote. She has been the administration’s leading voice on issues of reproductive rights and equality before the law, issues at the top of concerns of young Americans. Now adding gun safety to that list, she is picking up yet another issue crucially important to young people. 

When 26-year-old Representative Maxwell Frost (D-FL) introduced the president today, he said that he got involved in politics because he “didn’t want to get shot in school.”

If the president and the vice president today seemed to represent the past and the future to carry the country forward, the present was also in the news today, and that story was about corruption and the parties’ different approaches to it.

ProPublica has published yet another piece about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s connections to wealthy donors. Joshua Kaplan, Justin Elliott, and Alex Mierjeski reported that Thomas attended at least two donor summits hosted by the Koch family, acting as a fundraising draw for the Koch network, but did not disclose the flights he accepted, which should have been considered gifts, or the hospitality associated with the trips. His appearances were coordinated with the help of Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society, who has been behind the court’s rightward swing.

The Koch family network funds a wide range of right-wing political causes. It has had interests in a number of cases before the Supreme Court during Thomas’s term, including an upcoming challenge to the government’s ability to regulate businesses—a principle the Koch enterprises oppose. 

Republicans have been defending Thomas’s behavior since these stories began to surface. 

Also in the corruption file today is Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who, along with his wife, has been indicted by a federal grand jury in New York on three counts of conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit extortion in connection with using his influence to advance the interests of Egypt. 

This is Menendez’s second legal go-round: in 2015 he was indicted on unrelated charges of bribery, trading political help for expensive plane flights and luxury vacations. Ten of the twelve members of the jury did not agree with the other two that he was guilty and after the hung jury meant a mistrial, the Department of Justice declined to retry the case. 

That the DOJ has indicted Menendez again on new charges undercuts Republicans’ insistence that the department has been weaponized to operate against them alone. And while Menendez insists he will fight the charges, he has lost his position at the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under the rules of the Democratic Conference, and New Jersey Democratic leaders have already called on him to resign.

“So a Democratic Senator is indicted on serious charges, and no Democrats attacking the Justice Department, no Democrats attacking the prosecutors, no Democrats calling for an investigation of the prosecution, and no Democrats calling to defund the Justice Department,” wrote former Republican representative from Illinois and now anti-Trump activist Joe Walsh. 

“Weird, huh?

President Biden calls white supremacy “the most dangerous terrorist threat to our homeland.”

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

May 16, 2023

On Saturday, May 13th, President Joe Biden spoke to the graduating class at Howard University, a historically Black university in Washington, D.C. In his speech about “excellence, leadership, and truth and service,” Biden singled out white supremacy “as the most dangerous terrorist threat to our homeland.”

Biden called for Americans to reject political extremism and violence, and to protect fundamental rights and freedoms for women to choose and for transgender children to be free. He called for affordable healthcare and housing and the right to raise your family and retire with dignity. He urged the graduates to “stand with leaders of your generation who give voice to the people, demanding action on gun violence,” and to stand “against books being banned and Black history being erased…. To stand up for the best in us.”

While Biden based his remarks on former president Trump’s declaration after the August 2017 Unite the Right Rally that “there are very fine people on both sides,” there were plenty of examples from just this week that he could have used.

Last night, Hunter Walker of Talking Points Memo broke the story that the digital director for right-wing representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) appears to be Wade Searle, a devoted follower of white supremacist leader Nick Fuentes. Fuentes has openly embraced Nazism and Russian president Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism, and he is one of those to whom the alt-right Groypers look up.

Although Fuentes calls the Groypers “Christian conservatives,” historian of the far right in the U.S. Nicole Hemmer told Walker: “The Groypers are essentially the equivalent of neo-Nazis…. They are attached to violent events like Jan. 6. Nick Fuentes, as sort of the organizer of the Groypers, expresses Holocaust denialism, white supremacy, white nationalism, pretty strong anti-women bigotry, he calls for a kind of return to Twelfth Century Catholicism. They’re an extremist group that is OK with violence.”

Walker has also identified an intern in Gosar’s office as another Fuentes follower.

A February study by the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts independent research on religion, culture, and public policy, found that the so-called Christian nationalism at the heart of those like Fuentes is closely linked with a willingness to commit violence to make the U.S. a white Christian nation. The PRRI poll showed that nearly 20% of those who sympathize with Christian nationalism agreed they were “willing to fight” to take the nation back to what they incorrectly believe it always was.

Maria Cramer of the New York Times noted yesterday that while no one actually knows much about Daniel Penny, a white man who was recently charged with choking Jordan Neely, a homeless Black man, to death on a subway in New York, right-wing politicians and supporters have rallied around Penny. They seem to see him as a symbol of a powerful man who took matters into his own hands to restore order—although the events that led to the choking are still unclear—much as they lionized Kyle Rittenhouse after he killed two people and wounded another at a Black Lives Matter rally in 2020. Florida governor Ron DeSantis tweeted: “We must defeat the Soros-Funded DAs, stop the Left’s pro-criminal agenda, and take back the streets for law abiding citizens.”

Historian Thomas Zimmer explained the danger: “All strands of the Right—leading Republicans, the media machine, the reactionary intellectual sphere, the conservative base, the donor class—are openly and aggressively embracing rightwing vigilante violence,” he wrote. “This sends a clear message: It encourages white militants to use whatever force they please to “fight back” against anything and anyone associated with ‘the Left’ by protecting and glorifying those who have engaged in vigilante violence—call it the Kyle Rittenhouse dogma.”

In Washington this weekend, about 150 masked members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front marched toward the U.S. Capitol, chanting, “life, liberty, victory.”

Professor of journalism at New York University Jay Rosen noted on MSNBC on May 11, the day after CNN gave Trump the space to hold what amounted to a political rally, that journalists could better cover this moment in our history by focusing not on the horse race strategy, but on the consequences for the country if Trump wins again. How will American life change? Who will benefit? Who will suffer? He says the question should be “not the odds, but the stakes” as a principle for better campaign coverage.

A lawsuit filed today in New York by Noelle Dunphy, a woman who says Trump ally Rudy Giuliani hired her in January 2019 to manage his media presence, documents the sordid world she observed in her two years working for Giuliani. He promised her a salary of $1 million a year but said he couldn’t pay her until his divorce was final and, ultimately, paid her only small amounts of cash. In her account, he seemed to become obsessed with her, forcing her into sex and trying to dominate her. She is suing Giuliani, his companies, and 10 unidentified individuals over “unlawful abuses of power, wide-ranging sexual assault and harassment, wage theft, and other misconduct” and is asking for $10 million in compensation and damages.

The story of her time with Giuliani, whom she describes as a chronically alcoholic sexual abuser prone to racist and sexist outbursts, is bad enough—and she claims to have recordings—but her other allegations are politically incendiary. She claims to have heard Giuliani say that he was selling presidential pardons for $2 million a pop, splitting the proceeds with Trump, and that Giuliani told her on February 7, 2019, “about a plan that had been prepared for if Trump lost the 2020 election.” Specifically, Giuliani told Ms. Dunphy that Trump’s team would claim that there was ‘voter fraud’ and that Trump had actually won the election…. That same day, Giuliani had Ms. Dunphy sit in on a speakerphone conversation about a potential business opportunity involving a $72 billion dollar gas deal in China.”

Also of note is her claim that, since part of her job was managing emails, Giuliani gave her access to his email account. The system stored at least 23,000 emails on her own personal computer, including “privileged, confidential, and highly sensitive” emails from, to, or concerning Trump, his children Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump; Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner; Trump’s lawyers and advisors; media figures including Rupert Murdoch, Sean Hannity, and Tucker Carlson; and so on.

There are a number of stories in the news today that wrap up long-standing issues. John Durham, the special counsel picked by Trump loyalist attorney general William Barr to undermine the FBI investigation into whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election, released a report today finding fault with the categorization of the FBI’s initial investigation into the Russia attempt to swing the 2016 election to Trump.

Representative George Santos (R-NY) has pleaded guilty to charges of theft in Brazil, but insists he is not guilty of the federal charges against him for financial crimes. He says he will not resign from Congress.

As predicted by everyone who correctly attributed the high cost of eggs late last year to the deadly avian flu and price gouging, there are now so many eggs on the market that the wholesale price is $0.94 a dozen, down from $5.46 a dozen six months ago.

The number of migrants at the southern border has dropped 50% since the end of the pandemic restriction known as Title 42 on May 11.

And finally, Representative James Comer (R-KY), chair of the House Oversight Committee, yesterday told Fox News Channel personality Maria Bartiromo that the committee has lost track of a top witness to alleged wrongdoing by the Biden family. “Well, unfortunately, we can’t track down the informant,” Comer said. “We’re hopeful that the informant is still there. The whistleblower knows the informant. The whistleblower is very credible.”

GOP embraces replacing democracy with white Christian nationalism

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

April 17, 2023

House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was in New York City today, trying to calm jitters among investors by explaining to members of the New York Stock Exchange that the Republicans will not allow the government to default on its debts even as he insisted that the Republican Party must use the debt ceiling to enact legislative policies it can’t win through normal political negotiations.

The debt ceiling is an artificial limit to how much the Treasury can borrow to pay existing obligations to which Congress has already committed. It has nothing to do with future spending, which is hammered out in budget negotiations. 

But McCarthy has not offered a budget proposal because the Republican conference cannot agree on one. Yesterday, for example, McCarthy floated the idea of cuts to food assistance for millions of low-income Americans, which Senate Republicans want no part of. Unlike House members, many of whom represent such gerrymandered districts they feel insulated from any backlash to extreme proposals, Senators run at-large. For them, cutting food support while backing tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations would be politically dangerous.

Instead, McCarthy is trying to use the threat of national default to extract the cuts extremist members of his conference want. The Biden administration has made it clear that it will not negotiate over paying the nation’s bills, especially since about a quarter of the debt was accumulated under former president Trump, $2 trillion of it thanks to tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. In those years, Congress raised the debt ceiling three times. Biden presented his own long, detailed budget, full of his own priorities, as a start to negotiations in March, and he says he is eager to sit down and hammer out the budget once McCarthy produces his own plan. McCarthy is trying to deflect from his inability to do that but is confusing the issue, suggesting that he has the right to negotiate instead over whether or not to pay our bills. 

Since defaulting, or even approaching default, would devastate both the U.S. and the global economy, not even all Republicans back McCarthy’s threats. When Sara Eisen of CNBC asked McCarthy if he had the support of his party for what he is proposing, McCarthy answered, “I think I have the support of America,” and that he would “get the party behind it.” 

Meanwhile, when asked about a potential default, Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, told Tony Romm of the Washington Post, “It will be financial chaos…. Our fiscal problems will be meaningfully worse.… Our geopolitical standing in the world will be undermined.”

Today, McCarthy offered to kick the can down the road by a year, raising the debt ceiling so long as the Democrats agree to cuts that he described only vaguely. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) rejected this idea out of hand, saying: “If Speaker McCarthy continues in this direction, we are headed to default.” Schumer reiterated that the Democrats will be happy to negotiate with McCarthy over the budget when he can produce a detailed plan that can get the 218 votes it needs to pass the House. He noted that McCarthy’s vague proposals are “a recycled pile of the same things he’s been saying for months, none of which has moved the ball forward an inch.” 

In part, McCarthy’s problem is that many of the members of his conference are in the majority for the first time. They are discovering that it is much easier to say no when opponents are in charge than it is to hammer coalitions together to advance realistic legislation. In the New York Times today, editorial board member Michelle Cottle called many of the current House Republicans “chaos monkeys” but noted that it is McCarthy’s fault that he gave them so much power by promising things he can’t deliver—like refusing to hike the debt ceiling without cuts—and by putting them at the head of important committees.

Ohio representative Jim Jordan, for example, sits at the head of the Judiciary Committee, as well as the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, and his investigations so far have not produced the results he promised the Republican base. As Jesse Watters of the Fox News Channel put it last month: “Make me feel better, guys. Tell me this is going somewhere. Can I throw someone in prison? Can someone go to jail? Can someone get fined?”

Instead, Democrats on the committees have met Jordan’s wild rapid-fire accusations with facts that show the difference between unchallenged myth-making on right-wing media and actual governance. Today, at Jordan’s insistence, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing in New York City, a venue Jordan suggested was chosen to highlight how the policies of Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg had exacerbated violent crime, although in reality, Jordan’s attacks on Bragg for investigating former president Trump started even before Trump’s indictment in that jurisdiction.  

Jordan set out to argue that Bragg was neglecting violent crime in New York City only to have Democrats point out that New York City is “not only safer than most large cities in America, it is safer than most cities of any size, and on a per capita basis, New York City is safer than most of the states of the members sitting…on the majority side,” as Jim Kessler, the co-founder and senior vice president for policy for Third Way, explained. Indeed, in 2020, Ohio’s murder rate was higher than the rate in New York City. Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) asked Jordan if the hearing could be moved to Ohio.

If one part of McCarthy’s problem is his extremist colleagues, another is that his argument is out of date. In what Catie Edmondson and Jim Tankersley of the New York Times called “a speech that was sprinkled with misleading statements and erroneous assertions,” McCarthy told the Wall Street executives, “We’re seeing in real time the effects of reckless government spending: record inflation and the hardship it causes….”

In reality, the inflation that plagued the U.S. as it reopened from the worst days of the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed dramatically, making it clear that the policies of the Biden administration are working. As Jennifer Rubin noted yesterday in the Washington Post, the annual inflation rate for producers is 2.7%—the lowest rate in more than two years—while consumer price increases are at their lowest point since May 2021: 5%. Gasoline prices have dropped 17.4% since the high prices that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The overall declines mark nine months of slowing inflation. 

At the same time, labor force participation is at record high levels and unemployment is at a 50-year low of 3.5%. Black unemployment, which stands at 5%, has never been lower.  Real incomes—that is, incomes after inflation is factored in—have risen 7% for those making $35,000 a year or less and 1.3% across the whole economy. Meanwhile, the deficit has dropped more than $1.7 trillion in two years.  

The successes of Biden’s policies would seem worth considering in negotiations, but as Sarah Longwell noted in Bulwark+ today, the Republican Party has abandoned normal democratic politics. She notes that it is a mistake to look at the Trump years as a wild period from which the party will return to normality. Instead, she notes, “You have to think of Trump’s election as year zero” because “Republican voters say they don’t want any part of a Republican party that looks anything like it did before 2016.”

Trump’s administration was a culmination of forty years of Republican attempts to get rid of taxes and regulations by insisting that anyone calling for business regulation and a basic social safety net was a socialist who wanted to redistribute tax dollars from hardworking white men to minorities and women. But the racism, sexism, and religion in that formula used to be the quieter undertones of the call for small government. Now, though, the party is openly embracing the replacement of democracy with a strong government that would make white Christian nationalism the law of the land.  

In illustration of that position, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who has used the government to impose a Christian agenda on his state, today continued his crusade against the Walt Disney Company. A year ago, angry that then–chief executive officer Bob Chapek opposed his measure limiting discussion of gender identity in public school classrooms, DeSantis tried to take control of the company’s special self-governing district through a new board. Shortly before the takeover, Disney CEO Bob Iger outfoxed DeSantis by legally changing the terms of the agreement under which it has operated for decades, limiting the power of the board in perpetuity.

After Trump officials mocked him for being beaten by Mickey Mouse, DeSantis today suggested he is determined to use the power of the government to force Disney, a private company, to bend to his authority. He threatened to build a rival amusement park or a state prison on land next to Disney’s Florida park. 

Disney promptly responded by advertising a “first-ever Disneyland After Dark” LGBTQIA+ themed event night at its California Disneyland resort, and former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele tweeted: “When families stop visiting & Disney’s $75.2B economic impact & $5.8B tax revenues drop; its 75K employees face layoffs & 463K jobs are also imperiled what would your analytics say caused that to happen? WTF, Dumbo.”

Clarence Thomas’ relationship with ‘right-wing megadonor’ Harlan Crow

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

April 7, 2023

This Friday night’s news dump is a biggie: Texas judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, an antiabortion Trump appointee, has ruled that the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the drug mifepristone in 2000 was flawed and must be suspended. In the 23 years since its approval, the drug has been widely proved to be safe, and this is the first time a court has ordered the FDA to remove a drug from the market. 

Mifepristone is used to induce abortions as well as for other medical applications. Although the Supreme Court argued last year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, that getting rid of Roe would enable states to make their own decisions about abortion, Kacsmaryk’s decision would remove mifepristone across the entire United States. Mifepristone accounts for about 53% of medically induced abortions. 

Vice President Kamala Harris, who has led the administration’s policy on reproductive rights, noted that Kacsmaryk’s decision does not simply impact abortion: it opens the door to politicizing chemotherapy drugs, asthma medicine, blood pressure pills, insulin, and so on.

Kacsmaryk also said that mailing mifepristone across state lines is illegal based on the Comstock Act, which Congress passed in 1873, making it illegal to send contraceptive materials through the mail. He went further than that, though, going far beyond the Dobbs decision to embrace the concept that a fertilized egg is an “unborn human” from the time of conception. 

He stayed the ruling for a week to give the government time to respond.

President Joe Biden vowed to fight the ruling. He noted that the Department of Justice has already filed an appeal and will seek an immediate stay. “But let’s be clear,” he wrote, “the only way to stop those who are committed to taking away women’s rights and freedoms in every state is to elect a Congress who will pass a law restoring Roe versus Wade.  Vice President Harris and I will continue to lead the fight to protect a woman’s right to an abortion, and to make her own decisions about her own health.  That is our commitment.”

Less than an hour after Kacsmaryk’s ruling, federal judge Thomas O. Rice in Washington state issued an injunction prohibiting the FDA from pulling mifepristone from the market. 

With two opposing rulings in place, the case will go quickly to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

But the Supreme Court has its own issues right now. Today, Justice Clarence Thomas released a statement saying that he did not disclose the lavish gifts he received from right-wing megadonor Harlan Crow on the advice of “colleagues and others in the judiciary,” but he did not say who those individuals were. He says he will comply with new regulations in the future.

Thomas said that he and his wife Ginni had been dear friends of the Crows for over 25 years, but he joined the court over 30 years ago, making more than one commenter note that the friendship certainly seemed to be based on Crow’s access to the Supreme Court through Thomas. In 2011, Ian Millhiser, then of ThinkProgress, noted that Thomas sided with the American Enterprise Institute and the Center for the Community Interest, both of which were affiliated with Crow, in every case concerning them that had come before the Supreme Court.  

A couple of other stories before I call it quits tonight: 

The Internal Revenue Service yesterday explained how it intends to use the $80 billion appropriated for it by the Inflation Reduction Act. After a decade of budget cuts, audit and enforcement rates on taxpayers earning $1 million or more annually had dropped significantly, from 7.2% in 2011 to just 0.7% in 2019. The IRS will focus on restoring those audits.

It will also look at allowing taxpayers to file directly with the government system for free, as taxpayers in other countries do. This plan has the lobbyists who work for tax preparers fighting back out of fear such a free system will cripple their businesses. They are joining with Republicans to complain that such a system will give the government too much information about individual taxpayers. 

Today’s jobs report for March showed continuing job growth as unemployment fell to 3.5% and the economy added another 236,000 jobs. Unemployment among Black Americans is at a historic low of 5%. While jobs are still being added, they are increasing at a slower rate than they have been. Wage increases are also slowing, which reinforces the idea that inflation will continue to ease and perhaps lead the Federal Reserve to slow down on the interest rate hikes that cool the economy. 

In a statement, President Biden noted the good jobs news and reminded people that the government is investing in infrastructure, innovation, and clean energy to build the economy for the long term. But, he warned, “[e]xtreme MAGA Republicans in Congress…are threatening to wreak havoc on our economy with debt limit brinkmanship. Their extreme agenda would send the unprecedented investments we’ve made here in America—along with the jobs that come with it—overseas. And it’s all to pay for even more giveaways to the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations.” He promised to stop them from moving the country backward.

Today, Vice President Harris traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, where she met with the state Democratic caucus and with the two young Black legislators, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, whose colleagues expelled them from the state legislature yesterday. While in Nashville, she spoke at historically Black Fisk University to call for gun safety legislation and condemn the expulsion of the Democratic lawmakers.

Restricting the vote is now a central part of Republican policy

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson

April 5, 2023

In yesterday’s election in Wisconsin, the two candidates represented very different futures for the country. One candidate for the state supreme court, Daniel Kelly, had helped politicians to gerrymander the state to give Republicans an iron lock on the state assembly and was backed by antiabortion Republicans. The other, Janet Protasiewicz, promised to stand behind fair voting maps and the protection of reproductive rights.

Wisconsin voters elected Protasiewicz by an overwhelming eleven points in a state where elections are usually decided by a point or so. Kelly reacted with an angry, bitter speech. “I wish that in a circumstance like this I would be able to concede to a worthy opponent,” he said. “But I do not have a worthy opponent to which I can concede.”

Yesterday’s vote in Wisconsin reinforces the polling numbers that show how overwhelmingly popular abortion rights and fair voting are, and it seems likely to throw the Republican push to suppress voting into hyperdrive before the 2024 election.

Since the 1980s, Republicans have pushed the idea of “ballot integrity” or, later, “voter fraud” to justify voter suppression. That cry began in 1986, when Republican operatives, realizing that voters opposed Reagan’s tax cuts, launched a “ballot integrity” initiative that they privately noted “could keep the black vote down considerably.”

That effort to restrict the vote is now a central part of Republican policy. Together with Documented, an investigative watchdog and journalism project, The Guardian today published the story of the attempt by three leading right-wing election denial groups to restrict voting rights in Republican-dominated states by continuing the lie that voting fraud is rampant.

The Guardian’s story, by Ed Pilkington and Jamie Corey, explores a two-day February meeting in Washington organized by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and attended by officials from 13 states, including the chief election officials of Indiana, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. At the meeting, participants learned about auditing election results, litigation, and funding to challenge election results. Many of the attendees and speakers are associated with election denial.

Since the 2020 election, Republican-dominated states have passed “election reform” measures that restrict the vote; those efforts are ongoing. On Thursday alone, the Texas Senate advanced a number of new restrictions. In the wake of high turnout among Generation Z Americans, who were born after 1996 and are more racially and ethnically diverse than their elders, care deeply about reproductive and LGBTQ rights, and want the government to do more to address society’s ills, Republican legislatures are singling out the youth vote to hamstring.

That determination to silence younger Americans is playing out today in Tennessee, where a school shooting on March 28 in Nashville killed six people, including three 9-year-olds. The shooting has prompted protesters to demand that the legislature honor the will of the people by addressing gun safety, but instead, Republicans in the legislature have moved to expel three Democratic lawmakers who approached the podium without being recognized to speak—a breach of House rules—and led protesters in chants calling for gun reform. As Republicans decried the breach by Representatives Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones, and Justin Pearson, protestors in the galleries called out, “Fascists!”

Republican efforts to gain control did not end there. On Twitter today, Johnson noted that she had “just had a visit from the head of HR and the House ethics lawyer,” who told her “that if I am expelled, I will lose my health benefits,” but the ethics lawyer went on to explain “that in one case, a member who was potentially up for expulsion decided to resign because if you resign, you maintain your health benefits.”

The echoes of Reconstruction in that conversation are deafening. In that era, when the positions of the parties were reversed, southern Democrats used similar “persuasion” to chase Republican legislators out of office. When that didn’t work, of course, they also threatened the physical safety of those who stood in the way of their absolute control of politics.

On Saturday night, someone fired shots into the home of the man who founded and runs the Tennessee Holler, a progressive news site. Justin Kanew was covering the gun safety struggle in Tennessee. He wrote: “This violence has no place in a civilized society and we are thankful no one was physically hurt. The authorities have not completed their investigation and right now we do not know for sure the reason for this attack. We urge the Williamson County Sheriff’s office to continue to investigate this crime and help shed light on Saturday’s unfortunate events and bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice. In the meantime, our family remains focused on keeping our children healthy and safe.”

The anger coming from losing candidate Kelly last night, and his warning that “this does not end well….[a]nd I wish Wisconsin the best of luck because I think it’s going to need it,” sure sounded like those lawmakers in the Reconstruction years who were convinced that only people like them should govern. The goal of voter suppression, control of statehouses, and violence—then and now—is minority rule.

Today’s Republican Party has fallen under the sway of MAGA Republicans who advocate Christian nationalism despite its general unpopularity; on April 3, Hungarian president Viktor Orbán, who has destroyed true democracy in favor of “Christian democracy” in his own country, cheered Trump on and told him to “keep on fighting.” Like Orbán, today’s Republicans reject the principles that underpin democracy, including the ideas of equality before the law and separation of church and state, and instead want to impose Christian rule on the American majority.

Their conviction that American “tradition” focuses on patriarchy rather than equality is a dramatic rewriting of our history, and it has led to recent attacks on LGBTQ Americans. In Kansas today, the legislature overrode Democratic governor Laura Kelly’s veto of a bill banning transgender athletes who were assigned male at birth from participating in women’s sports. Kansas is the twentieth state to enact such a policy, and when it goes into effect, it will affect just one youth in the state.

Yesterday, Idaho governor Brad Little signed a law banning gender-affirming care for people under 18, and today Indiana governor Eric Holcomb did the same.

Meanwhile, Republican-dominated states are so determined to ignore the majority they are also trying to make it harder for voters to challenge state laws through ballot initiatives. Alice MIranda Ollstein and Megan Messerly of Politico recently wrote about how, after voters in a number of states overrode abortion bans through ballot initiatives, legislatures in Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, and Oklahoma are now debating ways to make it harder for voters to get measures on the ballot, sometimes even specifying that abortion-related measures are not eligible for ballot challenges.

And yet, in the face of the open attempt of a minority to seize control, replacing our democracy with Christian nationalism, the majority is reasserting its power. In Michigan, after an independent redistricting commission redrew maps to end the same sort of gerrymandering that is currently in place in Wisconsin and Tennessee, Democrats in 2022 won a slim majority to control the state government. And today, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a bill revoking a 1931 law that criminalized abortion without exception for rape or incest.