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While Many Cheer Kamala Harris as Biden’s VP Pick, Others Scrutinize Her Past as California’s AG

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  • After Joe Biden named Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Ca.) as his running mate, many celebrities and Democrats cheered the decision.
  • On the other side of the aisle, President Donald Trump immediately attacked Harris, sharing an ad that called her part of the radical left and “phony Kamala.” That phrase was then echoed by Fox News and trended on Twitter.
  • Some who identify as Democrats or liberals have also questioned Biden’s pick, noting that Harris’ time as attorney general has proved to be controversial.
  • Still, some analysts have argued that a vice presidential pick will likely not substantially affect an election, and many already planning to vote for the Democratic candidate have said despite reservations, they don’t plan on changing their vote. 

Celebrities and Major Democrats Cheer Harris Pick

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he has selected Kamala Harris (D-CA.) as his running mate. Immediately, the response to that decision was strong and widely varied, even within the Democratic party. 

Many congratulated Harris for being both the first Black and first Asian-American women to run as vice president on a major political party’s ticket. 

“Was there ever more of an exciting day?” actress Mindy Kaling tweeted.

“For our entire country of course, but especially for my Black and Indian sisters, many of us who have gone our entire lives thinking that someone who looks like us may never hold high office? We work so hard and contribute to the fabric of our lives in America, & now to see @SenKamalaHarris rise to the top like this? It’s thrilling!! I am filled with hope and excitement. Thank you @JoeBiden. Let’s do this!⁣” 

Kaling was also joined by numerous other celebrities, including Kerry Washington, LeBron James, Chrissy Teigen, and John Legend.

Alongside celebrities, a number of major Democrats have backed Harris, including some who are seen as possible candidates to join Biden’s administration should he win the November election.

Trump Denounces Harris as “Phony”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump immediately took aim at Harris, tweeting an ad that called her part of the “radical left” and “phony Kamala. 

The same night, similar sentiments made their way to Fox News, where commentator Jesse Watters said, “She’s kind of a phony who never caught on.” Alongside that, “Phony Kamala” trended on Twitter Tuesday night. 

Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee Chair, has also blasted Biden for picking Harris, saying he “chose the person who would actually be in charge the next four years if he is somehow able to win.”

“Kamala Harris’ extreme positions, from raising taxes to abolishing private health insurance to comparing law enforcement officials to the KKK, show that the left-wing mob is controlling Biden’s candidacy, just like they would control him as president,” McDaniel said. “These radical policies might be popular among liberals, but they are well outside the mainstream for most Americans.”

She added that Harris should expect “an unprecedented level of scrutiny and attention.”

Scrutiny Into Harris’ Time as California AG

Regardless of political views, McDaniel’s prediction has proved right: scrutiny has already been widespread since Tuesday. 

Most of that stems from Harris’ time as the “top cop” attorney general of California, and it’s come from both sides of the aisle. The difference? While many conservatives have painted Harris as too extreme for America, some liberals have argued that she is simply too moderate and that her actions as attorney general don’t align with the current cultural flashpoint America is in — especially for what they want to see out of the Democratic Party.

For example, many online have taken issue with the fact that Harris used to be a police officer, a career that has become increasingly polarized as calls to defund police departments are receiving more support than ever.

Some hoping to oust Trump have feared that Biden’s choosing of her could cause a split in the party, leading to Trump’s re-election. Many experts have shut that idea down, saying that a vice presidential candidate isn’t likely to make or break the election. Others online have echoed that sentiment, saying that even if they aren’t enthused, they still plan to vote for Biden and Harris.

Many have also attempted to ease concerns from liberals by pointing to a Propublica report that shows Harris voting alongside the much more progressive Bernie Sanders 93% of the time in 2017 and 2018. 

Police Shootings in San Francisco

Harris was first elected as California’s attorney general in 2011, and she served in that role until 2017 when she won her current Senate seat. 

For her part, Harris has described herself as a “progressive prosecutor” who’s tough on crime but also addresses inequities in the criminal justice system. She has long-claimed that she became a prosecutor because she wanted to change that system from within.

But her role as attorney general carries a significant amount of baggage. For example, after Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, many urged her to launch an investigation into a series of police shootings in San Francisco.

Despite this, Harris said that her office did not have the power to initiate those types of investigations except in extreme circumstances. In 2015, she refused to back a bill that would have required her office to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate cases involving police misconduct.

In 2016, Harris proposed what The New York Times described as a “modest” expansion of her office’s powers to investigate police use of force. By that time, she had also begun reviewing two municipal police departments and backed a Justice Department investigation in San Francisco.

“Critics saw her taking baby steps when bold reform was needed — a microcosm of a career in which she developed a reputation for taking cautious, incremental action on criminal justice and, more often than not, yielding to the status quo,” The New York Times reported. 

Critics have similarly held Harris accountable for saying in her 2009 book, “Smart on Crime,” “If we take a show of hands of those who would like to see more police officers on the street, mine would shoot up.”

“Virtually all law-abiding citizens feel safer when they see officers walking a beat,” she added. “This is as true in economically poor areas as in wealthy ones.”

However, earlier this summer following the death of George Floyd, she said, “It is status-quo thinking to believe that putting more police on the streets creates more safety. That’s wrong. It’s just wrong.”

Likely, this plays into the reason why Trump and other conservatives have attacked Harris as being “phony.” For liberals, the opposing comments (along with other controversies) have similarly raised questions about whether she is a “pragmatic progressive” or if she has genuinely shifted ideology over the last 11 years. 

Prison Labor

One of the most notable concerns surrounding Harris stems from 2011 when the Supreme Court ordered California to reduce prison crowding. In that decision, justices ruled that conditions in state prisons were so bad they violated the 8th Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment. 

Then-justice Anthony Kennedy further wrote that the prison system in the state had failed to deliver the minimum level of care to prisoners with serious medical and mental health problems, producing “needless suffering and death.”

At the time, Harris created a division in her office to help counties devise alternatives to incarceration, and in February 2014, the state agreed to reduce its prison population by releasing nonviolent prisoners with only two felonies after serving half of their sentences.

However, by November 2014, Harris’ office unsuccessfully argued in court against releasing too many prisoners eligible for parole — prisoners it had agreed to release — because “if forced to release these inmates early, prisons would lose an important labor pool.”

At the time, Deputy Attorney General Patrick McKinney also argued against releasing those prisoners because many were being used as firefighters to combat California’s fire season.

According to The Los Angeles Times, most of those prisoners were earning only between 8 and 37 cents an hour. 

Harris later denied that she ever knew such an argument was being used in court and later directed her lawyers not to make that argument in the future. 

“The way that argument played out in court does not reflect my priorities,” she told the website ThinkProgress. “The idea that we incarcerate people to have indentured servitude is one of the worst possible perceptions. I feel very strongly about that. It evokes images of chain gangs.”

Mass Incarceration

Also related to prisons, Harris has faced criticism involving her arrest record regarding marijuana offenses. 

In fact, on Tuesday, a clip of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hi.) from a presidential debate last year resurfaced. In that clip, Gabbard attacks Harris’ policing of marijuana offenses. 

“There are too many examples to cite, but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana,” Gabbard said. 

Gabbard’s claims are a little misleading. It appears Gabbard was citing an article from the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative outlet that ran the headline: Kamala Harris Packed California Prisons With Pot Peddlers.”

However, during Harris’ time as attorney general, around 1,900 marijuana and hashish offenses were recorded. Though that’s actually higher than what Gabbard claimed, a few points should be clarified.

For one, marijuana offenses dramatically dropped after Harris’ first year in office. 

The vast majority of those cases also weren’t directly prosecuted by her office. Instead, lower-level attorneys prosecuted those cases.

Both former lawyers in her office and defense attorneys who’ve worked on drug cases have also argued that most of those people were never locked up. In fact, they contend that only a few dozen were sent to state prison for marijuana convictions while Harris was in office.

Blocking DNA Evidence

In the resurfaced Gabbard clip, the Hawaii rep. also claims that Harris “blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so.” 

Gabbard is likely referring to a Black man by the name of Kevin Cooper, who was convicted of hacking and murdering four people in a family in 1983. In 1985, he was then placed on death row but has continued to maintain his innocence ever since.

Along with his claims, there have been serious concerns over his conviction. For example, an 8-year-old witness described the perpetrators as three white men.

According to an investigative column from The New York Times, brown and blond hairs were found in the victims’ hands, yet Cooper had black hair and an afro at the time. In fact, sheriff’s deputies never found Cooper’s hair or even his fingerprints at the scene.

One woman even called police and told them that she believed the murderer was her boyfriend — a man who was already a convicted murder — after she found his bloody overalls and noticed that a hatchet had gone missing.

Still, police proceeded to investigate Cooper, who had been found hiding near the family’s home after escaping from a prison on a burglary conviction.

Decades later, in 2016, Cooper’s attorneys filed a clemency petition insisting that newly available DNA testing would exonerate him; however, Harris’ office refused to allow that DNA testing.

It wasn’t until 2018 when Harris — now in the Senate — said in a Facebook post that she hoped the state would allow DNA testing for Cooper’s case. That finally moved forward last year after Gavin Newsom (D) was elected governor of California.

While Harris was never forced to lift the block on that evidence like Gabbard claimed, her office did still block it all the same.

Following the attack from Gabbard last year, Harris’ campaign spokesperson denied that she was ever directly involved in that decision.

“Senator Harris ran an office of 5,000 people and takes responsibility for all the actions of the [California] Department of Justice during her tenure,” he said.

“Most of the legal activity around this case occurred before her terms in office, but this specific request was made to and decided by lower level attorneys. When the case was brought to her attention, she publicly called for further DNA testing. She has always been a strong proponent of DNA testing and again, an opponent of the death penalty.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (SF Weekly) (CNN)

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Liz Cheney Ousted From GOP Leadership Role for Calling Out Trump’s Election Lies

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  • Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.) was ousted from her leadership post by Republicans on Wednesday due to her repeated criticism of former President Trump and his continued efforts to spread false information about the 2020 election.
  • The congresswoman remained defiant in remarks Tuesday night, where she argued Trump was “a threat America has never seen before” who “risks inciting further violence.” 
  • While many Republicans cheered Cheney’s removal as a key step to unify the party, others condemned the decision and accused GOP leadership of “canceling” her for speaking the truth.
  • The move represents perhaps the strongest indication since the Jan. 6 insurrection that the Republican Party will continue to embrace Trump and punish dissenters.

House GOP Removes Cheney From Top Spot

The House GOP voted to remove Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), the number 3 Republican, from her leadership position Wednesday over her refusal to stay silent about former President Donald Trump’s false election claims.

The remarkable removal comes just four months after the former president incited an insurrection, causing major splits in the GOP.

The latest move is arguably the strongest signal that Republicans have decided their party line is unwavering loyalty to Trump, and that they believe his support is needed to win back the House in 2022.

This is not the first time that Republicans tried to oust Cheney from leadership. Earlier this year, Trump loyalists in the chamber held a vote to remove her after she voted to impeach the president for his role in the insurrection.

That attempt failed, largely because Cheney received backing from Republican leadership. This time, however, she did not have the support of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.), who began mobilizing to remove the congresswoman last week after she tweeted that the 2020 election “was not stolen.”

“Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system,” she added. 

While Cheney has reiterated this stance many times since January, her latest comment seemed to be the final straw, and on Monday, McCarthy officially announced he was holding a vote on her position in a letter to his conference.

In the letter, which was full of contradictions, McCarthy claimed that the GOP was a “big tent party” of “free thought and debate,” while simultaneously calling for the removal of a leader who broke with Trump, and painting the vote as a necessary step to unify the party.

A majority of the party backed that decision Wednesday morning when McCarthy held a voice vote, making it so that the public will never know exactly how many people voted to remove the congresswoman.

Cheney’s Speech

Cheney, for her part, held firm to her beliefs in a defiant speech Tuesday ahead of the anticipated vote, where she continued to condemn Trump’s lies and accused her fellow Republicans of being complicit in undermining Democracy.

“Today we face a threat America has never seen before. A former president, who provoked a violent attack on this capital in an effort to steal the election, has resumed his aggressive effort to convince Americans that the election was stolen from him,” she said. 

“He risks inciting further violence. Millions of Americans have been misled by the former president, they have heard only his words, but not the truth, as he continues to undermine our democratic process, sowing seeds of doubt about whether democracy really works at all.” 

“This is not about policy. This is not about partisanship. This is about our duty as Americans,” she continued later.  “Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar. I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence, while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”

Response

Cheney’s parting speech drew boos from some of her colleagues, many of whom cheered her ouster Wednesday.

“Liz Cheney is the GOP of the past,” Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Co.) tweeted. “We are not going back.”

Trump himself also issued a series of statements calling Cheney a “bitter, horrible human being,” and claiming that Republicans “have a great opportunity today to rid themselves of a poor leader, a major Democrat talking point, a warmonger, and a person with absolutely no personality or heart!”

However, many House Republicans condemned the move.

“i predict that the history books of the future will not celebrate,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Il.) wrote in a thread “They will say this was the low point of the Republican Party.” 

“Liz Cheney was canceled for speaking her mind,” Rep. Ken Buck (R-N.Y.) told reporters.

Next Steps

There has been a similarly mixed reception to Cheney’s anticipated replacement, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who McCarthy has tapped to fill the position.

Stefanik took office as a moderate cheered for openly defying and condemning Trump. Her role in Congress changed drastically in the fall of 2019, when she became one of the most vocal opponents of his first impeachment, prompting him to tweet, “A new Republican Star is born.” 

After that, she booked more TV appearances, campaign donations, and general fame. Her support for the former president grew and she doubled down, spreading his false election claims in 2020.

If she is elected to leadership, as is expected, the top three House Republican leadership positions will all be held by people who voted to not certify President Joe Biden’s win.

Cheney, for her part, has made it clear she does not intend to go anywhere. After Wednesday’s vote, the congresswoman told reporters that she will do “everything” she can “to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office.”

“The nation needs a party that is based upon fundamental principles of conservatism, and I am committed and dedicated to ensuring that that’s how this party goes forward, and I plan to lead the fight to do that,” she added.

According to The Washington Post, sources have said that Cheney already spent the last week planning for increased travel and media appearances to promote her case and rally other Republicans behind her.

She likely will not be alone in her endeavors: on Tuesday, The New York Times reported that more than 100 current and former anti-Trump Republicans are preparing to release a letter this week threatening to split from the GOP and create a third party if changes are not made.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (NPR)

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Biden Says Americans Will Lose Unemployment Benefits if They Turn Down “Suitable” Jobs

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  • President Biden said Monday that out-of-work Americans will lose their enhanced federal unemployment benefits if they turn down a “suitable” job offer.
  • The announcement follows a stark jobs report from the Labor Department, which found that just over 260,000 jobs were added in April when nearly 1 million had been projected.
  • Republican lawmakers blamed the additional $300 a week in joblessness benefits provided by the federal government, and several Republican-led states have opted out of the programs, arguing that doing so will encourage people to go back to work.
  • Biden rejected those arguments, noting that numerous studies disprove that claim. Instead, he said American corporations should do more to entice people to work, such as providing pay raises and COVID safety precautions.

Biden Addresses Benefits as Job Creation Falters

President Joe Biden on Monday ordered the Labor Department to ensure that Americans will lose their enhanced federal unemployment benefits if they do not accept a “suitable” job when offered.

In remarks at the White House, Biden also said he would direct the agency to work jointly with states to reimpose the requirement that people collecting joblessness benefits must show they are actively looking for work.

The comments come just days after the latest jobs report showed far fewer positions created than expected. The Labor Department reported that just 266,000 jobs were added last month, even though economists had predicted it would be about 1 million.

While broad swaths of the U.S. economy are opening up as more Americans get vaccinated, some employers have reported that they are having a hard time finding workers.

Republicans have largely argued that this is because of the additional $300 a week in unemployment benefits Americans are collecting from the last stimulus package.

The Unemployment Debate

In his address, however, Biden hit back on that claim. He said the White House does not “see much evidence” that benefits have deterred people from taking jobs — a fact that is supported by numerous studies on pandemic unemployment benefits. He also argued that corporate America has to do more to encourage people to come back to work.

The president placed responsibility on employers, especially those who have accepted federal relief, to raise their pay, protect their workers from the virus, and help them gain access to vaccinations so out-of-work Americans feel safe going back.

“My expectation is that as the economy comes back, these companies will provide fair wages and safe work environments, and if they do, they’ll find plenty of workers,” he said. “And we’re all going to come out of this together and better than before.”

Some companies have already started to take similar steps, like Chipotle, which announced Monday that it was raising its average wage to $15 an hour to address the labor shortage. However, many big companies will simply wait it out.

Those businesses may not have to wait long because a growing number of Republican-led states have been rejecting the increased federal unemployment money. On Monday, the governors of Alabama and Mississippi joined Montana, South Carolina, and Arkansas and announced their states would be leaving the programs by mid-June. More states are likely to do the same. 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (CBS News) (CNBC)

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Trump’s DOJ Allegedly Obtained Phone Records of WaPo Reporters Covering Russia Probe

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  • Former President Trump’s Justice Department secretly obtained phone records from Washington Post journalists covering Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, the outlet reported Friday.
  • The DOJ seized records of the work, home, and cellphone numbers of three reporters from April 15 to July 31, 2017. Those records included who the calls were with and how long they were, but not what was said.
  • Many journalists and Free Speech activists condemned the action and called on the Biden administration to end the practice of record subpoenas, which are often used by the government to find clues about possible sources and can harm key newsgathering.
  • A DOJ spokesperson defended the previous administration’s actions, arguing that the news media are not the targets of such investigations but rather, “those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required.”

Washington Post Reporters Subpoenaed

The Washington Post reported Friday that the Justice Department under former President Donald Trump secretly obtained phone records from some of its journalists regarding reporting they did on Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

According to the outlet, the DOJ sent three separate letters dated May 3 and addressed to three former Post journalists to inform them they were “hereby notified that pursuant to legal process the United States Department of Justice received toll records associated with the following telephone numbers for the period from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017.” 

The letters, which listed work, home, or cellphone numbers, also stated that prosecutors had gotten a court order to obtain records for the reporters’ work email accounts, but that they did not ultimately not obtain those records.

The phone records, the outlet said, “included the numbers of all the calls made to and from the targeted phone over the specified time period, and how long each call lasted, but do not include what was said in those phone calls.”

“Investigators often hope such records will provide clues about possible sources the reporters were in contact with before a particular story published,” it added.

The Post reported that the letters do not say why the DOJ was seizing the phone records. However, it did note that toward the end of the time period outlined, the three reporters had written a story about classified U.S. intelligence intercepts that indicated then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had discussed the Trump campaign with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. when he was a sitting senator in 2016.

The alleged move is significant because it is rare for the DOJ to use subpoenas in order to obtain records of reporters in leak investigations. In fact, the last high-profile seizure of communication records was part of an investigation into a source cited in 2017 reporting that was also about the investigation into Russian election interference.

Also very notably, these subpoenas need to be approved directly by the attorney general. A spokesperson for the DOJ told The Post that the records had been requested in 2020, meaning it would have likely taken place under Attorney General William Barr, who stepped down on Dec. 23.

Response

The allegations immediately drew criticism from First Amendment advocates and journalists, who have long opposed the practice of obtaining these kinds of records, and argued that attempts to identify sources of leaks hurt critical news gathering and reporting.

“We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists,” said Cameron Barr, the current acting executive editor of The Post. “The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment.”

Many other journalists also demanded that the Biden administration ensure such practices are not replicated, noting the escalated efforts to subpoena reporters records under both the Trump and Obama administrations.

However, a DOJ spokesperson defended the previous administration’s decision to subpoena The Post reporters in a statement to the outlet.

“While rare, the Department follows the established procedures within its media guidelines policy when seeking legal process to obtain telephone toll records and non-content email records from media members as part of a criminal investigation into unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” the spokesperson said. 

“The targets of these investigations are not the news media recipients but rather those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Variety) (CNN)

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