Connect with us

Politics

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

Published

on

  • 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)

Politics

Georgia House Passes Sweeping Bill To Restrict Voting Access

Published

on

  • The Georgia House approved an election bill Monday that would impose new restrictions on absentee voting and provisional ballots, cut weekend early voting hours, and limit physical access to voting options, among other measures.
  • Republicans proposed the bill after losing the Presidential and Senate races, arguing that it is necessary to restore confidence in the state’s elections and prevent fraud.
  • Democrats have condemned the proposed law, noting that Republicans created the distrust by spreading former President Trump’s false claims about election fraud even when top GOP officials in the state said there was no evidence. They also accused them of trying to suppress voters, particularly Black residents.

Georgia House Approves Election Bill

Republicans in the Georgia House passed a sweeping bill Monday that would significantly roll back voting access in the state.

The bill, which was proposed by Republicans who want to impose new restrictions after losing the election, was passed 97-72 along party lines. If signed into law, among other things, the legislation would:

  • Require a photo ID for absentee voting.
  • Cut the amount of time voters have to request an absentee ballot.
  • Restrict ballot drop box locations to inside early voting locations.
  • Shorten Georgia’s runoff election period.
  • Impose more strict regulations on provisional ballots.
  • Prevent the governments from mailing out unsolicited absentee ballot applications to registered voters.
  • Ban nonprofit organizations from helping fund elections.
  • Almost entirely cut early voting busses that are key to transport people to the polls.
  • Prohibit food and drinks from being distributed to voters waiting in long lines.
  • Limit early voting hours on weekends.

The last provision is one of the most controversial because it would include limiting the get-out-the-vote campaign known as “souls to the polls,” which is widely used by Black churches. That initiative has been credited with mobilizing Black voters all over the country since the Jim Crow era. The proposed law would limit events to just one Sunday during the early voting period, which would also be cut short.

Arguments For And Against The Bill

The Republicans who have pushed for the bill argue that it is necessary to restore public confidence in Georgia’s elections and help prevent fraud.

But Democrats, voting rights organizations, and protestors who have gathered in front of the capitol to demonstrate against the bill have pointed out that it was Republicans who hurt public trust in the state’s elections by repeating former President Donald Trump’s false claims about election fraud.

Meanwhile, numerous top Republican officials — including Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger — have said time and time again that there was no evidence of fraud in the 2020 elections.

Though notably, many Republican state legislators who supported the former president’s false that massive fraud had occurred in their states never contested the results of their own elections, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Democrats have also said that the bill is just the Republican’s latest, transparent attempt to drive down turnout and suppress voters — particularly Black voters who helped Democrat’s wins in the state and take the Senate — rather than actually increase election security.

Next Steps

As far as what happens next, the bill will head to the state Senate, which is also Republican-controlled, and already considering its own elections bill that would end no-excuse absentee voting, among other things.

From there, it will go to Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who will likely sympathetic to the cause.

Notably, this legislation the only election bill like this being proposed in state capitols around the country or even in Georgia.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, legislators in 43 states are considering more than 250 bills that would create impediments to voting. Dozens of those proposals exist in Georgia alone.

See what others are saying: (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (NPR) (The Associated Press)

Continue Reading

Politics

Second Former Aide Accuses N.Y. Governor of Sexual Harassment

Published

on

  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has been accused of sexual harassment by another former staffer, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, who first relayed the allegations to The New York Times on Saturday.
  • Bennett said Cuomo asked her multiple inappropriate questions about her sex life and told her he would be open to dating women in their 20s, which she interpreted as a request for a sexual relationship.
  • Bennett’s allegations come less than a week after another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, detailed years of sexual harassment from the governor, including an alleged non-consensual kiss, all of which Cuomo denied.
  • In a series of statements over the weekend, Cuomo said he never made advances towards Bennett, apologized to anyone who interpreted his comments as “unwanted flirtation,” and agreed to refer the matter to the state attorney general’s office.

Charlotte Bennett Claims Cuomo Sexually Harassed Her 

A second former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has come forward with allegations of sexual harassment.

The news comes just days after another staffer, Lindsey Boylan, published a Medium essay accusing Cuomo of years of misconduct, including uncomfortable comments and an unwanted kiss.

In the essay, Boylan also said that Cuomo had created a culture of harassment and bullying in his administration. Allegations of hostility and a toxic work environment have also recently been echoed by numerous officials during the political fallout over the Cuomos administration’s failure to properly disclose COVID-19 related deaths in the state’s nursing home.

Now, the most recent accusations made by 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, also support the same narrative. During an interview with The New York Times on Saturday, Bennett described a series of escalating interactions in which the governor asked her multiple questions about her personal life that she “interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship.”

Bennett, who was hired for an entry-level position at Cuomo’s Manhattan office in 2019, said she and the governor became friendly shortly after she started. She said things started to escalate when she was moved to the Capitol office in Albany to work on the pandemic response in March.

She recounted several episodes where she said the governor asked her about her personal and romantic life in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. The most upsetting exchange she said she had was on June 5, during which Cuomo allegedly asked her a number of inappropriate questions, like whether she was monogamous in her recent relationships, if she believed age difference mattered, and if she had ever been with an older man.

Cuomo allegedly said he felt lonely during the pandemic and that he wanted a girlfriend, “preferably in the Albany area.” She claimed he also told her “age doesn’t matter” and that he was fine with dating “anyone above the age of 22.”

She said she then tried to shift the conversation, at one point telling him she was thinking about getting a tattoo, but said that Cuomo had suggested should put it on her buttocks so people would not see it when she wore a dress. 

Bennett told The Times Cuomo never was physical with her, though she believed that what he wanted from her was clear. 

“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared. And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”

Others Back Bennett’s Account 

Notably, Bennett also shared text messages she had sent friends and family after each interaction that were verified by The Times. Additionally, both her mother and a friend who was also a Cuomo official at the time confirmed that she had told them about the details of the June 5 interaction. 

Shortly after that incident, Bennett also disclosed what happened with Cuomo to his chief of staff, who she said was very apologetic, asked if she wanted to move jobs either inside or outside the executive branch, and ultimately helped her transfer to another job in a different part of the Capitol.

Towards the end of June, Bennett met with a special counsel to the governor — a fact that was confirmed to The Times by another special counsel to the governor — but she ultimately decided just to move on and not pursue an investigation.

Cuomo Calls for Investigation

Cuomo, for his part, told The Times in a statement Saturday that he believed he had been acting as a mentor and “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.”

His special counsel also said later that day that the governor had tapped a federal judge to launch an independent investigation into the allegations.

That announcement, however, sparked backlash from top lawmakers who believed there needed to be a truly independent probe, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), who called the allegations from both women “serious and credible.” 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also told reporters that President Joe Biden supported an independent review.

On Sunday, Cuomo reversed his position in a statement and said that he would refer the investigation to the New York attorney general. The governor also claimed that he “never inappropriately touched anybody” and “never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm,” but that he just liked to tease people about their personal lives.

“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended,” he said. “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (CBS News)

Continue Reading

Politics

House Passes Equality Act Aimed at Preventing LGBTQ+ Discrimination

Published

on

  • The House voted Thursday to approve the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Democrats and civil rights groups have applauded the move, saying it is necessary to protect LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination in employment, housing, education, and other public areas.
  • Republicans and conservative groups have opposed the bill, arguing it violates religious freedoms by forcing organizations that refuse to serve LGBTQ+ people to choose between operating on their beliefs.
  • The legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where it will need 60 votes to avoid the legislative filibuster.

House Approves Equality Act

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act on Thursday, a broad measure that would greatly expand protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

The legislation would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity in numerous public areas such as employment, housing, education, credit, and jury service, among other places. 

The bill also would expand the 1964 act to cover other federally funded programs and “public accommodations” like shopping malls, sports stadiums, and online retailers. 

Currently, anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people fall under the umbrella of “sex,” a relatively new development that came last June after the Supreme Court ruled that gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans were protected under the Civil Rights Act on the basis of sex.

But the existing law still has many loopholes that have allowed for discriminatory practices against the LGBTQ+ community.

A person can still be denied housing due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in 27 states, according to a statement released by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the leading sponsor of the measure. They can also be denied access to education in 31 states and the right to serve on a jury in 41.

Support and Opposition

Many Democrats, civil rights organizations, and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups have praised the House’s passage of the bill, which has been decades in the making, and which President Joe Biden had promised would be one of his top priorities during his first 100 days in office.

“Today’s vote is a major milestone for equality bringing us closer to ensuring that every person is treated equally under the law,” Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David said in a statement. “Now, the ball is in the Senate’s court to pass the Equality Act and finally allow LGBTQ Americans the ability to live their lives free from discrimination.”

However, the legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, which previously blocked the legislation when the House initially passed in it 2019. While the Senate was controlled by Republicans at the time, the current 50-50 split still means that at least 10 Republicans will have to join all 50 Democrats to break the 60-vote legislative filibuster.

But Republicans in Congress have largely opposed the act. Only three GOP representatives voted in favor of the measure Thursday, just half of the number who voted for its passage in 2019.

Many Republicans have echoed the claims of anti-LGBTQ+ groups, arguing that the act will infringe on religious freedoms by forcing businesses and organizations that have religious objections to serving LGBTQ+ people to decide between their beliefs or continued operation.

Others have also said the bill that would roll back protections for women who were assigned female at birth by allowing transgender women to participate in women’s sports.

Shift in Public Opinion

Still, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday he will fight for the act in his chamber and condemned Republicans who have voiced their opposition to it.

“Their attacks on trans people in the transgender community are just mean,” he said. “And show a complete lack of understanding, complete lack of empathy. They don’t represent our views and they don’t represent the views of a majority of Americans.”

Several recent polls have found that Americans broadly support legal protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

According to the 2020 Public Religion Research Institute American Values Survey, more than 8 in 10 people said they favor laws that would protect LGBTQ+ people against discrimination in public accommodations and workplaces.

A 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found the number of Americans who support these laws to be slightly lower, roughly 7 in 10. Notably, that also included 62% of Republicans, which may indicate that the actions of GOP leaders in Congress do not represent the will of their voter base.

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

Continue Reading