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Senate Republicans Unveil Stimulus Proposal. Here’s What You Need to Know

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  • Senate Republicans on Monday announced the $1 trillion HEALS Act, their version of a coronavirus relief bill.
  • Among other things, the bill includes cutting unemployment to $200 a week until October, another stimulus check, school and health funding, and protections for businesses. 
  • The bill does not include any money to state and local governments or any assistance to renters.
  • Democrats have opposed many provisions of the bill, setting everyone up for a battle just days before unemployment insurance expires and two weeks before Congress goes on recess.

Senate Republicans Announce HEALS Act

Following months of anticipation, Senate Republicans on Monday officially rolled out their long-awaited coronavirus relief bill proposal, the $1 trillion HEALS Act.

The proposal comes after weeks of infighting between Senate Republicans, as well as the White House, over what to put in the bill. It also comes nearly five months after the first stimulus bill, the CARES Act, was signed into law in March.

While the Democrat-led House passed its own $3 trillion stimulus bill, the HEROES Act, in early May, Senate Republicans wanted to wait to pass more coronavirus relief legislation, arguing that another was not yet needed and that the reopenings would help the economy.

Now, with widespread coronavirus spikes leading to more closures and many Americans hurting, Senate Republicans are down to the wire to pass a new coronavirus relief bill as key parts of the CARES Act are set to expire—and some already have.

Now that Republicans have hashed out a proposal, they still have to negotiate a bill with the Senate Democrats that could viably be passed by the House, and there are already some major differences between the Republican plan and what the Democrats want.

Here’s what you need to know about the major provisions in this proposal, how they measure up to Democrat proposals, what might happen moving forward, and what all of this means for the American people.

Unemployment Benefits

Likely the biggest logjam between the two parties is the question of federal unemployment benefits.

Under the first stimulus bill, all Americans who filed for unemployment got an additional $600 each week from the federal government on top of the money they were receiving from state unemployment. That extra $600 kept many people afloat, especially because normal unemployment in most states covers less than half of what a worker would normally make on the job.

The main reason this has become such a hot-button issue is because those federal benefits are set to expire in less than a week. While Democrats want to extend the $600, Republicans have argued that some people are making more off unemployment than they would at their jobs.

Under the current version of the HEALS Act, the federal government would provide a $200 a week for each unemployed worker until October. In that time, states would be required to switch over to the new system where unemployed workers would get 70% of the wages they made before.

If states cannot implement that totally new system by Oct. 5, they can request a waiver to continue the $200 for another two months.

Numerous experts have warned that states are already overwhelmed with unemployment requests and were already having trouble paying out the flat $600. As a result, they would really struggle with a major overhaul of their current system that also requires them to implement a difficult and very specific program.

Democrats have already rejected the idea of changing the state distribution method, but it’s also not their only issue.

While a state program that gives people 70% of the wages they made before they were unemployed would, in many cases, come out to more than $200 a week, the bill, as is, would cap those payments at $500. 

Notably, according to Ernie Tedeschi, an economist in the Treasury Department under Obama who spoke to The Washington Post, that means that workers in some states with low unemployment benefits who earn just $50,000 a year would hit the cap and not get the full 70% of their previous income.

In other words, no matter which way you cut it, the Senate GOP’s proposal would be a massive cut to the unemployment benefits that 30 million people—or nearly one out of every five American workers—are currently receiving.

Evictions, Funds for State & Local Governments, & Other Points of Contention

There are several other major issues between the two parties over what is in the Senate proposal—and even more significantly, what’s not.

Another one of the biggest problems for Democrats is that Republicans have explicitly said that they will not give any new money to state and local governments. Their plan does give those governments more flexibility in using the $150 billion fund approved under the last stimulus package, but it still differs significantly from the Democrats, who have long pushed for more funding.

The HEROES Act allocated $1 trillion alone to state and local governments.

Another notable item not in the plan is an extension on the federal evictions ban. That ban, known as the eviction moratorium, was signed into law under the first coronavirus relief bill and made it illegal for landlords who own buildings and homes with federal mortgages to evict renters.  

That ban, which applied to nearly a third of all American renters, expired at midnight on Friday.

Some states and cities have put their own eviction bans in place, but with the eviction ban ending, millions risk losing their homes during a pandemic.

But Republicans have nothing to address that or any other kind of relief for America’s renters. This will likely be a problem for Democrats, who have proposed not only expanding the moratorium beyond the federal level, but also extending it until next March.

Another major element of the Senate’s plan is a five-year liability shield, which would protect businesses, schools, non-profits, medical facilities, and other organizations from being sued by their employees if they contracted coronavirus on the job.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said multiple times that he will not pass a coronavirus relief bill without this provision, but Democrats have also expressed a strong desire to keep the liability provision out of the bill. 

Democrats have argued that in addition to prioritizing corporate interests, the protections it would allow businesses to mistreat their workers and put them in dangerous positions—a point they will likely push given the fact that hazard pay for essential workers was also left out of the Republican bill.

Stimulus Checks, School Funding, & Other Points of Agreement 

There are also some places where the Republicans and the Democrats agree, at least in principle.

For example, both have said they want another round of the $1,200 stimulus checks. Under the Republican plan, the checks would go out following the same formula as before—meaning the same people who got them the first time would get them again—though notably, it also has more restrictions on the checks being sent to prisoners and dead people.

The Republican bill also changes the eligibility for the extra $500 per each child dependent, so that families with dependents over 17 years old can get the money, unlike last time, which capped the extra payment at kids 16 and under.

The Democrats plan is basically the same, except that under the package passed by the House, dependents would also receive $1,200.

There is also bipartisan support for another round of support for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Under the Republican plan, there would be another wave of PPP that better targets small businesses, which is something Dems also seem on board with too.

Both sides of the aisle also agree that more there needs to be an expansion of funding for schools and health, though they have each proposed different amounts. In terms of schools, The GOP plan includes $105 billion for K-12 and higher education.

While the House bill allocated a similar amount at $100 billion, Senate Democrats have said they want $430 billion for schools.

Regarding healthcare, Republicans have proposed $16 billion for expanding testing and contact tracing and $26 billion for vaccine development and distribution, but it is unclear how much Dems want, especially because the House bill allocated $75 billion for the same areas.

What Now?

Despite certain bipartisan measures, Republicans and Democrats are clearly set up for a battle.

While rolling out his proposal Monday, McConnell appeared to hit on that note, calling on his Democratic colleagues to “put aside partisan stonewalling,” and “rediscover the sense of urgency that got the CARES Act across the finish line.”

Democrats, for their part, have slammed the Republicans for waiting so long to give them a bill they knew they would have objections too.

While speaking to reporters Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) criticized Republican bill, calling it a “half-hearted, half-baked legislative proposal,” and “too little, too late.”

“The lack of any urgency, understanding, and empathy for people who need help from Senate Republicans has led us to a very precarious moment,” he said, before specifically taking aim at the unemployment proposal.

“The Republican proposal on unemployment benefits, simply put, is unworkable, he added. The idea that we need to drastically reduce these benefits because workers will stay home otherwise is greatly exaggerated.”

Pelosi also made similar remarks after a meeting she had yesterday with top White House officials, where both she and Schumer said that there is still a big gap between Democrats and Republicans.

But that’s not the only gap. There are also divisions among the Senate Republicans, many of whom do not want another coronavirus relief package at all.

Already, some major Republicans have said they will vote against the bill, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.).

“There is significant resistance to yet another trillion dollars,” he said Monday.“As it stands now, I think it’s likely that you’ll see a number of Republicans in opposition to this bill and expressing serious concerns.”

Even before the bill was officially rolled out, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Sc.) also made a similar prediction on Sunday.

“Half the Republicans are going to vote no to any phase 4 package, that’s just a fact,” he told Fox News.

Clearly, there is a long road ahead, but notably, there is not much time. In addition to unemployment benefits expiring at the end of this week, Congress is also scheduled to take a recess starting Aug. 7. That gives them just two weeks to figure everything out. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Forbes) (NPR)

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Trump’s “Star Witness” in Michigan Election Fraud Case Goes Viral After Bizarre Testimony

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  • Melissa Carone, the star witness in the Trump campaign’s Michigan election fraud case, is captured in a now viral video shouting at lawmakers combatively, slurring her words, and making numerous unfounded and false claims. 
  • Among other things, Carone claimed 30,000 ballots had been scanned more than once, then claimed it was 100,000. 
  • A Republican Representative pointed out that if that were true, the poll books would show the discrepancy, which they do not. Carone responded by accusing the Republicans of engaging in voter fraud to help Biden.
  • Carone also argued that she was telling the truth because she signed an affidavit, but the same legal document was thrown out by a judge who said her testimony was “incorrect and not credible.”
  • Carone was also not under oath at the hearing and made multiple claims not in her affidavit, meaning if they were false, she would not face legal consequences.

Melissa Carone Goes Viral

The star witness of President Donald Trump’s election fraud case in Michigan went viral Wednesday night after a video spread of her making wildly unverified claims, yelling at lawmakers, and slurring her way through a completely unhinged testimony before the Michigan House of Representatives.

The witness in question was Melissa Carone, an IT contractor for the election technology manufacturer Dominion Voting Systems who claims to have witnessed massive fraud at a voting center in Detroit. Carone had been tapped by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani last month to tell her story before the panel.

Despite being unable to explain to the representatives exactly what her role entailed, a combative Carone confidently insisted, without evidence, that poll workers at the voting center had counted 30,000 multiple times. At another point in the hearing, she also claimed the number was more than 100,000. 

Republican Rep. Steven Johnson explained to Carone that if her claims were true, there would be massive discrepancies between the vote totals and the poll book that tracks voters and ballot totals. However, the figures did not show that.

After interrupting Johnson several times and being shushed by Giuliani, Carone appeared to accuse the Republicans of committing election fraud to help president-elect Joe Biden.

“What’d you guys do, take it and do something crazy to it?” she asked the Republican representative.

“I’m just saying the numbers are not off by 30,000 so,” Johnson replied, before Carone interrupted him again.

“I know what I saw,” she interjected. “And I signed something saying that if I’m wrong, I can go to prison. Did you?” 

Affidavit Issues 

It is true that Carone signed an affidavit last month recounting her claims, though she did not provide any evidence. However, that same affidavit was included in a lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign that was struck down by a Wayne County judge. That judge ruled that the testimonies from Carone and other the witnesses’ were “incorrect and not credible.” 

Additionally, despite Carone’s reliance on the fact that her story was true because she signed an affidavit, the 30,000 and 100,000 vote figures she claimed in the hearing were not mentioned in the legal document. In fact, Carone never provided a specific number of votes she claimed to have witnessed being counted more than once.  

That is notable because during the hearing, despite objections from the panel’s Democrats, Carone and the other witnesses were not under oath, meaning she could not be charged for lying in her testimony.

In other words, because those specific numbers were not in her affidavit, she could technically make up the figures she presented to the panel without breaking any rules.

That fact is highly significant when considering the credibility of the witness. Over the last month, Carone, who said in her affidavit she was a Trump supporter, has repeatedly pushed a number of bizarre claims in interviews with right-leaning news networks.

In an interview with Fox News’ Lou Dobbs last month, she claimed vans intended to bring food to poll workers had secretly brought tens thousands of ballots to the voting center in a series of perplexing and contradictory statements.

“The city provides the workers with food for their shift. Well they only had enough food for one-third of their workers,” Carone said. “So that is the reason why they were claiming that these vans were brought in. But these vans did not have food taken out of them.” 

“The vans that showed up, they were supposed to be filled with food, what did they have in them? Do you know?” Dobbs asked.

“I never saw anything being brought out of the vans,” she added, seemingly entirely undermining her own story. “I was not allowed over in that area at all, but the vans were definitely not big enough to be carrying food for two-thirds of those workers.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Daily Beast) (MLive)

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Attorney General Barr Says There Is No Evidence of Widespread Election Fraud

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  • Attorney General Barr said for the first time that he and the Department of Justice had not seen widespread election fraud at a scale that could have changed the outcome of the election.
  • The remarks make Barr the highest-ranking member of the Trump administration to directly contradict the president’s repeated and unproven insistence that there was nationwide voter fraud in the election.
  • Trump’s legal team responded in a statement disputing Barr’s findings and asserting, without proof, that they had “ample” evidence of fraud. Meanwhile, Trump continued to push the false and unverified claims on Twitter.

Barr Disputes Trump’s Claims

In an interview with the Associated Press Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr said that he has “not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” contradicting the claims that President Donald Trump and his supporters have been spreading without evidence for nearly a month now.

“Most claims of fraud are very particularized to a particular set of circumstances or actors or conduct. … And those have been run down; they are being run down,” Barr said. “Some have been broad and potentially cover a few thousand votes. They have been followed up on.” 

Barr also directly disputed some of the unproven and actively debunked assertions spread by Trump and his allies, including a particularly insidious conspiracy theory that Trump’s recently-disavowed attorney, Sidney Powell, has been promoting regarding voting machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems.

Powell has repeatedly claimed that the Dominion machines flipped votes from Trump to former Vice President Joe Biden as part of a global communist scheme using software developed by former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez, who has been dead for over six years.

In addition to failing to provide any semblance of proof for her assertions, there are also a number of issues that entirely undermine this story.

Almost all of the claims about Dominion machines flipping votes and having ties to foreign actors or left-wing groups have been entirely debunked. Additionally, in order for this far-reaching conspiracy to have any legs, Republican governors who have been major supporters and allies of Trump — such as Brian Kemp in Georgia and Doug Ducey in Arizona — would have had to play a key role in helping ensure their states went to Biden.

Even then, the majority of key swing state counties that used Dominion machines actually voted for Trump. Now, the top law enforcement official in the country has also added his voice to refute these falsehoods.

In his interview, the Attorney General explicitly told the AP that both the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security have investigated the claim.

“And so far, we haven’t seen anything to substantiate that,” he said.

Barr’s remarks represent a near-complete reversal from his pre-election stance. In addition to echoing many of the false claims touted by Trump about how mail-in ballots were not secure and vulnerable to fraud, he was also accused of using the DOJ to implement policies to undermine public confidence in election systems.

Barr is now the highest-ranking administration official to break ranks with Trump and dispute his claims about widespread fraud. The last high-ranking official to contradict Trump on the subject here was Christopher Krebs, the former Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, who Trump promptly fired.

While experts say Barr likely will not lose his job, the fact that the country’s top election security official and its top law enforcement official — both of whom were appointed by Trump — have now undermined the president’s claims is highly significant.

Response 

However, following Barr’s interview, Trump and his team still continued to push the same narrative that widespread voter fraud had occurred. 

In a statement to the media, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and legal adviser Jenna Ellis claimed, without evidence, that they had “ample” proof that there was nationwide fraud significant enough to sway the election.

“With the greatest respect to the Attorney General, his opinion appears to be without any knowledge or investigation of the substantial irregularities and evidence of systemic fraud,” they wrote.

While Trump himself did not directly address Barr’s comments, he continued to post tweets claiming that there had been nationwide fraud and that the election was rigged.

However, with Barr’s new stance, other people, including key Republican officials, have begun to express their feelings that Trump and his cronies have gone too far.

In a now-viral video, Gabriel Sterling, a Republican and one of the top election officials in Georgia, delivered an emotionally charged statement at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

There, he noted several instances of Trump’s supporters directly inciting violence because of the misinformation Trump himself was spreading, like the fact that Trump lawyer Joe diGenova said earlier this week that Krebs “should be drawn and quartered. Taken out at dawn and shot.”

Sterling also pointed to the fact that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has also recently had caravans of Trump supporters in front of his house, some of which have gone on their property. On top of that, his wife has received sexually explicit threats on her personal phone.

Sterling said that for him, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the fact that a 20-something contractor who worked for Dominion in Georgia was facing death threats after a video thread that circulated that claimed to show him altering votes during the recount.

The video led to his identity being released, people calling for him to be “hung for treason” in a Twitter thread, and his family being harassed by Trump supporters.

“It has to stop. Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language,” Sterling said. “This is elections, this is the backbone of democracy, and all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this. It’s too much.” 

“Mr. President. It looks like you likely lost the state of Georgia. We’re investigating. There’s always a possibility, I get it, and you have the rights to go through the courts,” he continued. “What you don’t have the ability to do — and you need to step up and say this — is stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone’s going to get hurt. Someone’s going to get shot. Someone’s going to get killed.” 

“Be the bigger man here and stop. Step in, tell your supporters: Don’t be violent, don’t intimidate. All that’s wrong. It’s unAmerican.”

However, it seems as though Trump will not be heeding that call any time soon. Shortly after Sterling’s remarks started to gain traction on Twitter, Trump did the exact opposite, retweeting the video and using it to continue to spread disinformation.

“Rigged Election. Show signatures and envelopes,” he wrote. “Expose the massive voter fraud in Georgia. What is Secretary of State and @BrianKempGA afraid of. They know what we’ll find!!!”

There has been no evidence of voter fraud in Georgia, and it is illegal in the state for the signatures on envelopes to be displayed once the ballots have been opened and counted.

See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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Trump Threatens To Veto Yearly Defense Spending Bill if Congress Doesn’t Throw Out Protections for Social Media Companies

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  • On Tuesday, President Trump threatened to veto the $740 billion annual defense spending bill if Congress does not repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
  • Section 230, which became law in 1996, gives social media companies the ability to moderate posts on their platforms without liability. It also shields them from lawsuits for what people post on those platforms.
  • Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that the section should be revised but for different reasons. 
  • It is unlikely that Congress will completely repeal the law and bend to Trump’s threat.
  • If Trump does veto the defense bill, that could potentially be overridden by Congress. If it’s not, the process for proposing and passing the bill would begin anew in January and would possibly not be passed until President-elect Joe Biden takes office. 

Trump Threatens to Veto Defense Spending

President Donald Trump stepped up his attack on big tech companies Tuesday night in a novel way: by threatening to veto the country’s annual defense spending bill, which Congress is scrambling to pass before it goes on break for the holidays. 

In a pair of tweets, Trump railed against Section 230, which gives social media companies the ability to moderate posts on their platforms without liability. 

“Our Country can never be safe & secure if we allow it to stand,” he said after calling the statute a threat to national security and election integrity.

“Therefore, if the very dangerous & unfair Section 230 is not completely terminated as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill when sent to the very beautiful Resolute desk. Take back America NOW. Thank you!”

Section 230 allows companies like Twitter, without repercussion, to remove tweets that include false information and to mark other tweets if they are misleading — something it’s been actively doing against Trump’s tweets since May. In recent weeks, Twitter has flagged a flurry of Trump’s tweets pertaining to unfounded conspiracy theories about election fraud. 

This isn’t the first time Trump has criticized Section 230. After he was first flagged in May, he signed an executive order instructing federal regulators to look into how to roll back parts of the section. With that, he argued Section 230 allows social media companies to engage in “anti-conservative bias.”

Trump’s attempt to repeal Section 230 hinges on what provision is contained in the final version of the NDAA, which totals roughly $740 billion this year. It’s an annual bill that shapes Pentagon policy by directing how funds are appropriated. That includes pay raises, troop levels, new weapons, and even how to compete with other world powers like China and Russia. Notably, this year’s defense bill includes a 3% pay raise for U.S. troops.

Congress has been working to finalize the bill this week. That’s because the House will break on Dec. 11 and the Senate on Dec. 18 for the holidays. With such a short time span before the new Congress comes in on Jan, 3, there is a rush to pass the bill. If this Congress doesn’t, the whole process will have to start over from scratch in January.

For the last 59 years, the NDAA has passed through Congress on a bipartisan basis. 

Earlier this year, Trump had once already threatened to veto the NDAA if Congress voted to rename Army posts named after Confederate generals. 

Will Section 230 Be Repealed or Amended?

Trump’s threats are not likely to fully repeal Section 230. 

“It’s a fucking joke,” a senior House staffer told Politico. “This is a complex debate that has no business as an eleventh-hour airdrop.”

Several Republican members of Congress have also openly criticized Trump for the ultimatum and its timing. 

Still, that doesn’t mean a reform to the section entirely out of the question.

In September, the Justice Department submitted legislation to Congress that would erode protections granted by Section 230. Like Trump, it also argued that tech companies have engaged in an “anti-conservative bias.” In fact, such an argument has become increasingly common among Republicans.

In October, the Federal Communications Commission said it would re-examine and clarify the meaning of Section 230, a move that could potentially change the protections the statute currently gives tech companies. Because of that, the agency was criticized by some as being a puppet of the Trump administration. 

It’s not just Republicans who’ve criticized Section 230. Democrats also have problems with it, particularly because they say it still allows for harmful content to be spread online. For example, they’ve argued that platforms like Facebook haven’t done enough to crack down on election disinformation and hate speech. 

According to The Washington Post, Republicans in recent days have suggested a trade that would involve bipartisan reforms to Section 230 in exchange for renaming the military bases named after Confederates. Reportedly, Democrats have largely dismissed that idea.

In fact, many Democrats have said they want to wait to discuss reforms to Section 230 until the next Congress begins.

What Happens If Trump Vetoes the NDAA?

If Congress doesn’t issue a total repeal of Section 230 (as expected), there could be several outcomes.

Trump could back down from his threat to sign the veto. Some analysts even expect him to back down, though others have been more skeptical about that claim. In its nearly six decades, the NDAA has never been vetoed by a president.

Congress could also override Trump’s veto. As it stands right now, each chamber has passed their own versions of the bill with enough bipartisan support to do just that. Still, it’s unclear if those margins will hold up once a final bill is negotiated between the chambers. 

For reference, Congress hasn’t been able to override any of Trump’s eight vetoes during his time in office. On top of that, many Republicans would likely question whether to side with Trump or the Pentagon. 

Finally, Trump could successfully veto the NDAA. If that happens, as noted earlier, the next Congress would then have to start the process over and likely wait until President-elect Joe Biden is in office to pass it. 

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (The Washington Post) (Politico)

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