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Two Georgia Runoffs Will Decide the Fate of the Senate

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  • Both Senate seats in Georgia are headed for a runoff that is expected to decide control of the Senate.
  • If Democrats flip both seats, the chamber will be divided 50-50, and as the vice president serves as the tiebreaker in split decisions, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris could be the deciding vote, effectively giving Democrats control of the Senate.
  • The runoffs are set for Jan. 5, meaning the election will not be over and the Senate will not be decided until then, prompting many people on both sides to encourage Americans to stay actively engaged in politics.
  • Democrats are trying to use the momentum they have and frame the race as a chance to win the Senate and push Joe Biden’s agenda — specifically on healthcare, which is a very important issue among Georgia voters.
  • Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to spin the races as the last line of defense against far-left policymaking. 

Georgia’s Senate Runoffs

Georgia is now slotted to determine whether Democrats or Republicans will control the Senate after every candidate in both of the state’s two Senate races failed to win more than 50% of the vote required under Georgia law, automatically triggering runoff elections on Jan. 5 to decide the crucial seats.

The unusual position comes after an uncommon election season in the peach state. Usually, Senate elections are staggered, but in addition to the normally scheduled race, Georgia voters were also deciding the outcome of a special election.

That special election took place after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Republican Kelly Loeffler last year to fill the seat that was left by long-serving Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, who retired before his term was up due to health reasons.

Loeffler is facing off against the Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat and the senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was formerly Martin Luther King Jr.’s congregation.

Meanwhile, in the normally-scheduled race, Republican Senator David Perdue is running to be re-elected to the seat he won in 2014. He is facing off against Democrat Jon Ossoff, an investigative journalist and former House candidate.

Senate Still Up For Grabs

With the presidential election firmly decided for former Vice President Joe Biden, the two Georgia Senate races have become the new focal point for politicians and activists all over the country.

Right now, the next Senate class is split 48-48 along party lines with four seats, including the two in Georgia, not yet called. 

Notably, the other two uncalled seats, which are in Alaska and North Carolina, are also both currently held by Republicans. While the seat in North Carolina is still fairly close, both incumbents are expected to win their re-election races.

Assuming that happens, Republicans would then hold 50 seats in the next session, meaning they would have to pick up at least one of the runoffs in Georgia to keep their majority.

If Democrats win both seats the Senate will be evenly divided 50-50. 

Under the Constitution, when the Senate is split on a vote, the vice president becomes the tiebreaker, meaning that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would act as that 51st vote on any and all split decisions, effectively giving Democrats control over the Senate.

Renewed Push

Following the news that both races would officially be headed into runoffs, people on both sides of the aisle took to social media over the weekend to say the fight is not yet over.

On the Democratic side, many tried to capitalize on the momentum Democrats have from President Donald Trump’s defeat.

“The best thing we could do for Joe is to get him a Democratic Senate,”  tweeted former Democratic Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang. “There should be coordination of resources. Everyone who campaigned for Joe should get ready to head to Georgia. I’ll go. It’s the only way to sideline Mitch and give Joe a unified government.”

Others also pushed similar messages while praising former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams for her role in turning out the vote, registering hundreds of thousands of voters, and (with the help of other organizers) generally mounting an unprecedented, sustained voter outreach campaign.

After losing the gubernatorial election in 2018 to Kemp in a race that was chock full of some of the most blatant voter suppression in modern history and believed by many to be illegitimate, Abrams devoted her work to reaching out to disenfranchised voters, turning out Black voters who are traditionally targeted by Republican suppression efforts, and flipping undecided white voters, among many, many other things.

Since 2018, she has registered over 800,000 new voters, a massive feat that seemed to sway both the presidential election in the state and both Senate races. While many sung her praises, Abrams herself has been encouraging people to keep up the momentum.

Speaking on CNN Sunday, she encouraged organizers and activists to keep up the hard work and said she believed both runoffs were winnable. 

“We will have the investment and the resources that have never followed our runoffs in Georgia for Democrats,” Abrams added. “And number three, this is going to be the determining factor of whether we have access to health care and access to justice in the United States.”

Democrat and Republican Strategy

That last point is very notable because in addition to trying to use this momentum they already have, Democrats are also setting up these runoffs as a bid for unity and a referendum on the state of healthcare in America.

Healthcare and healthcare access are massively important issues for Georgia voters for a number of reasons. Georgia is one of the few states that did not expand Medicaid to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the coronavirus has been especially bad in Georgia, in part due to a lack of access to healthcare.

On top of all of that, the Supreme Court is set to hear the latest challenge to the ACA Tuesday in the first real test for the newly-seated Amy Coney Barrett, who has openly voiced her opposition to Obamacare in the past. 

With the very real possibility that at least parts of the ACA will be rolled back, both Ossoff and Warnock are expected to capitalize on the fact that millions of Americans could lose their healthcare during a pandemic because of a judge that Republican Senators forced through a week before the election for a president who lost his re-election.

To that point, the Democrats are also expected to frame this as a chance to give Biden the Senate, and thus allow him to advance his healthcare agenda.

“It may be the slimmest of majorities, but it would make a very, very big difference to the ability of a President Biden to build on the ACA and follow through on the affordability and coverage pieces of his agenda,” Maura Calsyn, managing director of health policy at the Center for American Progress explained.

However, on the other side, Republicans have been framing these two races as the last opportunity to stop the Democrats left-wing agenda.

In a series of tweets posted over the last few days, Loeffler claimed that she and Perdue are “the last line of defense against the radical left” and “the last line of defense against socialism.”

Many Republicans also outlined what they believed to be the Democratic agenda, including House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who claimed the Democrats would defund the police and approve the Green New Deal among other things, despite the fact that Biden has repeatedly said he will not defund police departments or approve the Green New Deal as proposed.

What Now?

As for what happens with these absolutely essential races, it is still very much up in the air. While it is almost certain that both parties will pour record amounts of money into these races, it remains unclear if the momentum seen in the state during the general election will translate to high turnout for either party during a special election.

Traditionally, it is almost always much harder to convince voters to turn out for elections that do not also have a presidential contest. On top of that, there is also a lot of election exhaustion, as well as the fact that we are still in a pandemic that may very well get much worse before January.

All of these factors are especially concerning for Democrats because historically, they have struggled with winning runoffs in the state. According to The New York Times, Democrats have only won one of the seven runoffs held in the state since the 1990s.

However, that is also in large part due to a much bigger structural problem. As The Times also notes, Georgia’s law requiring runoffs in races where no candidate gets above 50% “was created in the 1960s as a way to preserve white political power in a majority-white state and diminish the influence of Black politicians who could more easily win in a multicandidate race with a plurality of the vote.”

As for how the current results look, Perdue is leading Ossoff quite handily with about a 90,000 vote-lead. In the special, Loeffler is losing to Warnock by seven points, though that is in large part because another Republican candidate who was allowed to run in the primary but will not be in the special siphoned off a huge chunk of the votes.

While it is possible many of those votes would go to Loeffler now that the other Republican is out, keep in mind that she was an appointee, and not someone elected by the people, so her race will likely be more difficult than Perdue’s.

Regardless of what happens, this race is a good reminder that the election is not over. If you are a voter in Georgia and you are already registered, you can request your mail-in ballot now by going to the Georgia Secretary of State website.

If you are not yet registered, you can still do so by Dec. 7 through the same page. If you are 17 now but will be 18 by Jan. 5, you can register to vote in the runoff. For more resources, go to fairfight.com. 

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

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NY Gov. Cuomo Aides Reportedly Altered Nursing Home Death Toll Data

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  • Aides to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) altered a July report from the state’s Department of Health to cover up the extent of COVID-related deaths in nursing homes, according to Thursday reports from The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
  • Last month, Cuomo admitted that his administration withheld death toll data in order to prevent a possible federal misconduct investigation. 
  • However, the new reports claim Cuomo’s staffers attempted to conceal the true numbers earlier than previously known by directly altering the DOH’s report to exclude nursing home residents who died in outside facilities.  
  • The DOH then used the incomplete number to claim New York had lower nursing home deaths than other states that included out-of-facility deaths when in reality their figures were much higher than everywhere else in the country.

New York Nursing Home Scandal Escalates

Advisers to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) allegedly re-wrote a report from health officials to conceal the number of COVID-related deaths in the state’s nursing homes, according to new reports published by The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Thursday.

Both Democrats and Republicans accused the Cuomo administration of intentionally withholding the full toll last month after his top aide, Melissa DeRosa, apologized to state legislators for refusing to provide data they requested in August. DeRosa explained that they had sidelined the request in order to prevent a possible misconduct investigation that stemmed from a similar inquiry by the Department of Justice.

Legislators and the DOJ had asked for the data after the state’s Health Department published a report in July detailing the impact of a controversial nursing home policy Cuomo had enacted at the beginning of the pandemic in March.

The policy, which Cuomo later rescinded in May, prohibited nursing homes from refusing to re-admit residents or admit new residents from hospitals solely on the basis that they had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The directive was aimed at keeping hospital admittance low and mirrored similar actions other states had taken at the time, but many nursing home operators and legislators claimed the move had encouraged the spread of the virus amongst one of the most vulnerable populations.

The Health Department’s July report, however, found the policy was not to blame. Additionally, the agency also said the 6,432 nursing home residents that had died was lower than figures in other northeastern states when measured as a percentage of the population.

Lawmakers requested to see the data behind the report, and suspicions arose when the Cuomo administration refused to provide the information, launching a nearly six-month battle.

State Attorney General Report 

Then at the end of January, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D)  published a report claiming the administration had undercounted the nursing home deaths by the thousands, and that Cuomo’s March directive may have been responsible for higher deaths.

The Health Department’s report, James said, had left out residents who had died of COVID in outside facilities such as hospitals, but still claimed New York’s tolls were lower than other states that had counted residents who died in other places.

Shortly after James’ report, the department publicized more than 3,800 unreported deaths of nursing home residents who had died of COVID-19 in hospitals.

Cuomo refused to address the controversy for weeks, only speaking out after DeRosa’s comments leaked. During a press conference on Feb. 15, he took responsibility for not fulfilling the request for data sooner, but insisted that the nursing home deaths had always been reported correctly and transparently, arguing the difference was just a matter of “categorization.”

What the New Reports Reveal

Both Cuomo and DeRosa have maintained that they withheld the data from legislators out of concern that the Trump administration would politicize the DOJ inquiry.

However, the new reports from The Times and WSJ allege that Cuomo and his aides had actually started hiding the true numbers months earlier and directly altered the Health Department’s July report.

According to a draft of the Health Department’s July report seen by the outlets and at least half a dozen people with direct knowledge, the initial version of the report contained a chart that put the nursing home death toll at 9,250 — 50% higher than the figure that was later included in the final version.

The chart also compared the full total including residents who died in hospitals to the same totals in other states, revealing that New York’s deaths far surpassed that of all others. At the time, the state with the next-highest nursing home deaths was New Jersey with 6,150.

According to The Times, the report was rewritten by three of Cuomo’s top staffers to remove the encompassing figures, including DeRosa. None of the officials had any public health expertise. The move reportedly set off a battle with health officials working on the report and further exacerbated the already tense relationship between Cuomo and his Health Department, which eventually prompted nine top officials to leave in February.  

The governor’s office responded to the reporters in a statement Thursday night from Special Counsel Beth Garvey, who said the out-of-facility data was omitted because the Health Department “could not confirm it had been adequately verified.” 

Gary Holmes, a spokesman for the Health Department, also told reporters the agency “was comfortable with the final report and believes fully in its conclusion that the primary driver that introduced Covid into the nursing homes was brought in by staff.”

The new allegations, however, come as Cuomo is already facing mounting political pressure and calls to resign over the nursing home scandal as well as recent accusations of sexual misconduct by three women, including two former employees.

After the third woman came forward, Cuomo apologized on Wednesday for the “pain” he caused, but rejected calls for his resignation. The FBI has opened an inquiry into the nursing home scandal, and the sexual harassment allegations will soon be investigated by state Attorney General James’ office.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal) (The Guardian)

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House Passes Landmark Elections Bill To Expand Voting Rights

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  • House Democrats passed the For the People Act on Wednesday, a broad voting rights bill that aims to enhance voting rights.
  • Among other measures, the legislation would mandate automatic voter registration, expand early and mail-in voting, restore voting rights to former felons, and impose new disclosure requirements for campaign donations and political advertising.
  • Democrats say the act is necessary to ensure American’s right to vote, especially as state legislatures have proposed dozens of bills that would roll back voting access and consolidate GOP power.
  • Republicans have argued that states, not the federal government, should decide how elections are run and claimed the new bill would lead to fraud that helps liberal candidates. 

House Approves For the People Act

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a sweeping elections bill Wednesday that aims to significantly expand federal voting rights all over the country.

The bill, called the For the People Act, was proposed by Democrats and passed 220 to 210 almost entirely along party lines. According to reports, if signed into law, it would be the most comprehensive enhancement of federal protections since the 1960s.

The bill contains a wide variety of provisions, but the most significant fall into two broader categories: creating uniform standards for voting and increasing financial transparency.

Regarding the voting rights standards, among other things, the bill would:

  • Weaken restrictive state voter ID laws.
  • Mandate that state governments use existing records to automatically register voters.
  • Guarantee no-excuse mail voting and at least 15 days of early voting for all federal elections.
  • Make it harder to purge voter rolls.
  • Restore voting rights to former felons.
  • End partisan gerrymandering by requiring states to appoint independent commissions to draw congressional districts.

As for what the bill aims to do regarding expanding transparency, it would:

  • Impose new disclosure requirements for “dark money” donations used to finance campaigns.
  • Create a public financing option for congressional campaigns.
  • Require presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.
  • Require tech platforms to disclose political advertising information.

Arguments For And Against

Democrats have argued that this legislation is essential to protecting and ensuring the right to vote. 

The task, they say, is especially important now because Republican-controlled state legislatures have proposed dozens of bills that would roll back voting access as a reaction to former President Donald Trump’s loss and efforts to undermine the election. Many Republicans have used Trump’s false claims about voter fraud to promote their legislation.

Democrats have said these bills are a very transparent attempt by Republicans to consolidate their power because they know they benefit from lower voter turnout, and thus their strategy to win more races is just simply to make voting harder. As a result, Democrats have said the For the People Act is key to combatting these bills

“Everything is at stake,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) said Wednesday. “We must win this race, this fight.”

Republicans, for their part, have argued that states, not the federal government, should make changes to how elections are run, and that the legislation would lead to fraud that benefits Democrats. 

“House Democrats do not get to take their razor-thin majority — which voters just shrunk — and use it to steamroll states and localities to try and prevent themselves from losing even more seats next time,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in response to the bill’s passage.

However, many have disputed that claim by noting that there is no evidence of widespread fraud that helped Democrats in the last election. By contrast, there are years of evidence that Republicans do benefit from making it harder for people to vote and gerrymandering districts, a fact that McConnell himself seemed to acknowledge by implying that Democrats win more when voting rights are expanded.

Despite Republican objections, recent polls have found that most Americans support having more voter protections. According to a January survey by Data for Progress, 67% of Americans back the For the People Act, including a majority of Republicans.

Still, the legislation is all but doomed in the Senate, which struck down an almost identical version passed by the House in 2019. While Democrats technically have a majority now, the current 50-50 split will require a minimum of 10 Republicans to join forces with all 50 Democrats to avoid the 60-vote legislative filibuster.

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

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Texas Governor Will Reopen State “100%” and End Mask Mandate Against Expert Advice

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  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Tuesday that he was opening the state “100%” and ending the mask mandate starting March 10, against health guidance from federal officials.
  • Abbott justified his decision by noting that nearly 6 million Texans have been vaccinated and hospitalizations are down in the state.
  • Experts, however, pointed out that less than 2 million of the state’s 29 million residents are fully inoculated, and the CDC currently ranks Texas 48th for vaccination rates out of all 50 states.
  • On Tuesday alone, governors in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Michigan as well as local leaders in Chicago and San Francisco also announced plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions.

Abbott Announces Major COVID Policy Changes

Starting March 10, Texas will no longer have a state-wide mask mandate or any coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses and facilities, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Tuesday.

The move represents the most expansive reopening of any state and makes Texas the largest state to lift its public masking requirement. However, it also goes entirely against the recommendation of the nation’s top experts.

During a press conference Monday, Rochelle Walensky, the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned leaders against rolling back restrictions. She cited the fact that the recent nation-wide decline in cases has been stalling and that there has been community spread of the new variants  — three of which have been found in Texas, saying:

“With these new statistics, I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19,” she said.

“Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained. These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress,” she continued.

“Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of covid-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.” 

Conditions in Texas

While cases have been declining in Texas, like most of the country, there is still a lot of data that makes Abbott’s decision especially concerning.

According to The New York Times tracker, Texas still ranks within the top ten states with the highest weekly cases per capita, reporting a weekly average of just over 7,200. Texas also has more hot-spot counties than any other state, according to Business Insider’s analysis of the Times data, which found that 10 counties have reported more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents on average over the last week. 

Notably, that number could be skewed because of the massive drop in the testing due to a recent storm that left millions without power and clean water. In fact, experts have warned that Texas could see more COVID cases in the fallout of the storm because people were forced to shelter together.

Abbott, however, did not focus on any of that in his announcement. Instead, he cited other metrics, noting that nearly 5.7 Texans have been vaccinated. He also pointed to declines in hospitalizations.

But both of these justifications are misleading. While it is true that Texas has vaccinated close to 6 million people, according to the CDC, less than 2 million out of 29 million state residents have received both doses needed to be considered fully inoculated. 

Beyond that, the CDC’s latest vaccination report ranks Texas 48th in vaccination rates out of all 50 states. Part of that is tied to the lag the state faced because of the storm, but experts still say this just proves that the state needs to be focus on catching up and vaccinating more people instead of rolling back restrictions.

To that point, public health officials have also pushed back against Abbott’s use of declining hospitalization rates as a rationale for his reopening plans. They warned that current hospitalization declines are already slowing and could reverse, and that will only get worse with reopenings.

Other States Reopen

Texas, however, is not the only state that has rolled back restrictions lately, or even just in the past 24 hours.

On Tuesday alone, the governors of Louisiana and Michigan as well as the mayors of Chicago and San Francisco all announced that they would be easing some restrictions on businesses and/or the capacity at which they operate.

Right after Abbott’s announcement, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) made a nearly identical one with an even shorter timeline. In a tweet, he said that starting Wednesday, he would lift all county mask mandates and allow businesses to “operate at full capacity without any state-imposed rules.”

The recent easing of restrictions is part of a broader trend — and not just in states that have Republican governors or large conservative populations.

While California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) slammed Abbott’s move as “absolutely reckless,” he has also been widely condemned by leaders in his state for recently rolling back numerous restrictions.

Over the last few weeks, the Democratic governors of Virginia, North Carolina, and New York have all also lifted or otherwise modified regulations to make them less restrictive. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Dallas Morning News) (Business Insider)

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