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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)

Politics

California Gov. Gavin Newsom Survives Recall

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Experts say the outcome should act as a warning for Republicans who tie themselves to former President Donald Trump and attempt to undermine election results by promoting false voter fraud claims.


Recall Effort Fails

After seven months and an estimated $276 million in taxpayer money, the Republican-led effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) failed Tuesday.

Just under 70% of the votes have been reported as of Wednesday morning, showing that “no” on the recall received 63.9% of the vote. That’s nearly twice as many votes as “yes,” which had 36.1%.

According to The Washington Post, even if the margin narrows as more votes are counted, this still marks one of the biggest rejections of any recall effort in America over the last century.

Analysts say the historic rebuke was driven by high Democratic turnout and broader fears over resurging COVID cases.

While the Delta variant continues to push new infections to record highs in many parts of the country with lax mask rules and low vaccination rates, California, once a global epicenter of the pandemic, now has one of the highest vaccination rates and lowest new caseloads in the nation.

Newsom has continually tried to convince voters that those figures are the results of his vaccine and masking policies, which have been some of the most aggressive in the U.S. 

Given that polls showed the pandemic was the top concern for California voters, it is clear that the majority favored his policies over those of his competitors. Larry Elder, the Republican talk radio host of led the field of 46 challengers, ran on a platform of getting rid of essentially all COVID restrictions.

Newsom’s Remarks

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Newsom painted the recall’s failure not only as a win for Democratic coronavirus policies but also for Democracy at large.

“We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic,” he said. “We said yes to people’s right to vote without fear of fake fraud or voter suppression.” 

“I think about just in the last few days and the former president put out saying this election was rigged,” he continued. “Democracy is not a football. You don’t throw it around. That’s more like a, I don’t know, antique vase. You can drop it and smashing a million different pieces. And that’s what we’re capable of doing if we don’t stand up to meet the moment and push back.”

“I said this many, many times on the campaign trail, we may have defeated Trump, but Trump-ism is not dead in this country. The Big Lie, January 6th insurrection, all the voting suppression efforts that are happening all across this country.” 

A Warning for Republicans

Newsom’s remarks took aim at the efforts by Elder and other Republicans — including former President Donald Trump — who over the last week have claimed falsely and without evidence that voter fraud helped secured the governor’s win before Election Day even took place.

While it is currently unknown whether that narrative may have prompted more Republican voters to stay home, Newsom’s effort to cast Edler as a Trump-like candidate and the recall as an undemocratic, Republican power grab appears to have been effective.

Now, political strategists say that the outcome of the recall should serve as a warning that Republicans who pin themselves to Trump and his Big Lie playbook may be hurt more in certain states.

“The recall does offer at least one lesson to Democrats in Washington ahead of next year’s midterm elections: The party’s pre-existing blue- and purple-state strategy of portraying Republicans as Trump-loving extremists can still prove effective with the former president out of office,” The New York Times explained.

Even outside of a strongly blue state like California, analysts say this strategy will also be effective with similar candidates in battleground states like Georgia, Arizona, Missouri, and Pennsylvania, which will be essential to deciding control of the Senate.

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

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Justice Department Sues Texas Over Abortion Ban

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The department claims the Texas law violates past Supreme Court precedents on abortion and infringes on Constitutional protections.


Biden Administration Takes Aim at Texas Law

The Department of Justice sued Texas on Thursday in an attempt to block the state’s newly enacted law that effectively prohibits all abortions by banning the procedure after six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant.

The abortion law, which is the most restrictive in the country and does not provide exceptions for rape or incest, allows private citizens to take legal action against anyone who helps a person terminate their pregnancy after six weeks.

In its lawsuit, the Justice Department argued that the Texas law is unconstitutional because it violates past Supreme Court precedents through a technical loophole.

While numerous other states have passed similar laws banning abortion after about six weeks, federal judges have struck down those measures on the grounds that they are inconsistent with Roe v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court decisions that states cannot prevent someone from seeking an abortion before a fetus can viably live outside the womb, usually around 22 to 24 weeks.

The Texas law, however, skirts the high court decisions by deputizing citizens to enforce the law rather than state government officials, taking the state out of the equation entirely and protecting it from legal responsibility.

Individuals who do so do not have to prove any personal injury or connection to those they take legal action against, which can range from abortion providers to rideshare drivers who take someone to a clinic.

If their lawsuit is successful, the citizen is entitled to a $10,000 award.

DOJ Lawsuit Targets Constitutionality

During a press conference detailing the DOJ lawsuit, Attorney General Merrick Garland referred to the enforcement mechanism as “an unprecedented” effort with the “obvious and expressly acknowledged intention” to prevent Texans from their constitutionally protected right to have an abortion.

“This kind of scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States is one that all Americans — whatever their politics or party — should fear,” Garland said, adding that the provision of the law allowing civilians “to serve as bounty hunters” may become “a model for action in other areas, by other states, and with respect to other constitutional rights and judicial precedents.”

The Justice Department argued that the Texas policy violates equal protection guarantees under the 14th Amendment as well as the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which establishes that the Constitution and federal law generally take precedence over state law.

The lawsuit also claimed that the law interferes with the constitutional obligation of federal employees to provide access to abortion, including in cases of rape or incest, to people who are under the care of federal agencies or contractors such as those in prisons.

Both Sides See Path to Supreme Court

While proponents of abortion rights applauded the Justice Department’s legal challenge, officials in Texas defended the law and accused the Biden administration of filing the lawsuit for political reasons. 

“President Biden and his administration are more interested in changing the national narrative from their disastrous Afghanistan evacuation and reckless open border policies instead of protecting the innocent unborn,” a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), said in a statement. 

“We are confident that the courts will uphold and protect that right to life.”

The DOJ’s suit will now be decided by a federal judge for the Western District of Texas, based in Austin. 

Depending on how that court rules, either opponents or supporters of the abortion ban are expected to appeal the case, sending it to the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal and likely ultimately placing the matter before the Supreme Court again in a matter of months.

The Supreme Court allowed the law to go into effect by declining to approve an emergency petition to block the measure last week, but it did not rule on the constitutionality of the policy.

As a result, the Justice Department’s legal challenge could force the high court to hear another facet of the law that it has not yet considered if it decides to see the case.

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

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Texas Governor Says Rape Victims Aren’t Forced To Give Birth Because They Have 6 Weeks To Get an Abortion

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The governor also defended the six-week abortion ban’s lack of exceptions for rape and incest by saying the state will “eliminate all rapists.”


Abbott Defends Texas Abortion Law

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Tuesday defended the state’s new controversial law that bans abortion after six weeks, before many know they are pregnant, after facing criticism that the policy does not provide exceptions for rape and incest.

During a press conference, Abbott refuted a reporter’s assertion that the law forced victims of rape and incest to carry their pregnancies to term, claiming that it “provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion.”

“Let’s make something very clear: Rape is a crime,” the governor continued. 

“And Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets.” 

Backlash Over Remarks on Abortions at Six Week 

Abbott’s claim that rape victims would still have plenty of time to get an abortion was widely criticized by many, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who called his remarks “disgusting” in a now-viral interview on CNN

“I don’t know if he is familiar with a menstruating person’s body. In fact, I do know that he’s not familiar with a female or menstruating person’s body because if he did, he would know that you don’t have six weeks,” she said. 

“But in case no one has informed him before in his life, six weeks pregnant means two weeks late for your period,” Ocasio-Cortez continued. “Two weeks late for your period for any person, any person with a menstrual cycle, can happen if you’re stressed, if your diet changes, or for really no reason at all.” 

Those comments were echoed by a lot of other people who pointed to data from Planned Parenthood that said 85-90% of people who obtain abortions in Texas are at least six weeks into their pregnancy.

Critics Note Flaws in Abbott’s Claims About Rapists

Many also took aim at Abbott’s claim that he was going to “eliminate all rapists” by mocking the governor.

“Wait. Governor Abbott had a solution to end all RAPE and he sat on it until now?” Texas State Representative Gene Wu (D) tweeted. 

Others argued that historical evidence proves Abbott’s promise was ignorant.

According to data from the Justice Department analyzed by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), only 1 out of every 3 rapes and sexual assaults are reported. 

Source: Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network

Out of every 1,000 assaults, only 50 lead to arrest, and only 25 lead to incarceration, meaning that more than 97% of people who commit assault walk free.

Some critics also said that Abbott’s goal of getting rid of “all rapists” relied on a faulty conception of who actually perpetrates sexual crimes.

“The majority of people who are raped and who are sexually assaulted are assaulted by someone who they know,” Ocasio-Cortez told CNN. “And these aren’t just predators that are walking around the streets at night. They are people’s uncles, they are teachers, they are family friends.”

“And when something like that happens, it takes a very long time, first of all, for any victim to come forward,” she added. “And second of all, when a victim comes forward they don’t necessarily want to bring their case into the carceral system.” 

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

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