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Biden Names Longtime Advisor Ron Klain as His White House Chief of Staff

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  • In his first official appointment, Joe Biden announced his chief of staff will be Ron Klain, a top advisor who previously served as the chief of staff to Biden when he was vice president.
  • Klain also led then-President Obama’s Ebola task force in 2014, a role that many supporters have highlighted while applauding his selection.
  • Critics argued that Klain had played down the coronavirus pandemic in the past, pointing to remarks he made in February encouraging people not to panic and saying he was unsure how serious the virus would be.
  • However, Klain’s comments were largely taken out of context, and in both instances, he emphasized the need to do more to prepare and condemned the Trump administration for failing to act.

Biden Picks Chief of Staff

President-elect Joe Biden announced the first appointment of his incoming administration Wednesday, officially selecting longtime advisor Ron Klain to be his chief of staff.

Klain, a lawyer and well-established Democratic operative, has known the former vice president for decades, having first worked for Biden in the late 1980s when he was a senator. Klain later served as Biden’s Chief of Staff when he was vice president during former President Barack Obama’s first term — a position he also held under former Vice President Al Gore.

Notably, in 2014, Obama also tapped Klain to be his “Ebola czar,” and lead the task force confronting the outbreak. Biden highlighted Klain’s experience leading that effort in a statement announcing the appointment, saying that Klain was “precisely what I need in a White House chief of staff as we confront this moment of crisis and bring our country together again.”

Klain’s selection as chief of staff was applauded by politicians and reporters, who also noted his work on the Ebola outbreak as an important asset in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Criticisms of Klain

However, on the other side, a number of conservatives, and specifically supporters of President Donald Trump, slammed the decision, arguing that Klain had downplayed the virus in the past.

Many pointed to a specific clip that was tweeted out by the Trump campaign, which showed Klain speaking about the pandemic at an event on Feb. 11.

“Nearly 2 weeks AFTER President Trump restricted travel from China, Joe Biden’s top #coronavirus advisor Ron Klain said #COVID19 ‘may not be’ a serious epidemic.’ The evidence suggests it’s probably not’ serious, he said,” the campaign tweeted.

But that is not the full context of what Klain was saying, and the video of his complete remarks paints a very different picture.

“Fundamentally, the world remains unprepared for a serious epidemic,” he said. “Now, the coronavirus may be that, it may not be that. The evidence suggests it’s probably not. But it will come sooner or later, and the world really lacks the detection systems it needs, the response tools it needs, and the leadership it needs to really deal with that.” 

Others also flagged an interview Klain gave around the same time, where he said there was not yet a reason to be fearful or to panic.

But in the same clip people used to claim he was downplaying the pandemic, Klain also said much was unknown about the virus and how lethal it may be, emphasized the need to be prepared, and even explicitly said the Trump administration needed to be more aggressive in their response.

Some Twitter users also countered these attacks by pointing out that Trump has continually downplayed the virus, and even admitted to doing so around the same time Klain made those remarks.

Beyond the coronavirus, a number of people also circulated a tweet from Klain in 2014 in response to an article tweeted out by Vox titled “68% of Americans think elections are rigged.” Klain responded to the tweet, writing “That’s because they are.”

Numerous conservative voices, including the Trump campaign and other allies of the president, circulated the post, arguing it was proof that Biden’s top adviser believed the election had been rigged.

The Vox article in question is not about election fraud though and is instread about how a majority of Americans think elections are slanted towards incumbents. The report argues that this is in large part due to the fact that incumbents get a voice in gerrymandering, thus getting to effectively pick their voters, and also because they have political leverage ties to influential people.

In fact, the article even explicitly says in the second sentence of the piece: “The term ‘rigged’ might go a tad far. The problem here isn’t fraud. In elections, like in so much else, the scandal is what’s legal.”

Still, allies of the president, including his son, Donald Trump Jr., continued to spread the deceptive post on Thursday, signaling that as Biden continues to announce his administration, Trump’s top cronies can be expected to spread more misleading claims and outright disinformation in the coming weeks.

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

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Senate Democrats To Introduce Voting Rights Bill This Week

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Republicans are expected to block the legislation, but Democratic leaders hope the GOP’s unified opposition will lay the groundwork to justify getting rid of the filibuster.


Voting Bill Set for Floor

Senate Democrats are officially set to advance their voting rights bill this week, with a procedural vote to start debate on the legislation scheduled for Tuesday.

The move comes as an increasing number of Democrats and progressive activists have begun to embrace a more watered-down version of the bill proposed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), the sole Democrat who opposed the initial proposal on the grounds that it was too partisan.

While Democrats have spent the weekend hashing out the final details of compromise on Manchin’s bill, which he has touted as a more bipartisan compromise, Senate Republicans have still broadly rejected it.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who previously opposed the initial For the People Act as too far-reaching, called Manchin’s alternative proposal “equally unacceptable” and predicted that no members of his party will vote in favor.

The legislation is all but guaranteed to fail in the chamber, where it will require all 50 Democrats and at least 10 Republicans to overcome the filibuster.

However, bringing the bill to the floor still has major utility for Democrats because it will lay the groundwork for the party to justify scrapping the filibuster entirely.

Pathway for Filibuster Reform

Specifically, if Manchin agrees to some form of the bill which Republicans then filibuster, Democrats can say they had the to votes to pass the legislation if the filibuster were removed. 

That, in turn, would bolster the Democratic argument that bipartisanship cannot be a precondition to taking actions to secure our democracy if it relies on reaching common ground with a party that they believe is increasingly and transparently committed to undermining democracy.

It would also give more ground to the Democratic claim that the GOP is abusing existing Senate rules to block policy changes that have gained wide public support following the Jan. 6 insurrection and amid the growing efforts by Republican governors and legislatures to restrict voting access in their states.

As a result, if Republicans block the legislation along party lines, Democratic leaders hope that could change objections to scrapping the filibuster voiced privately by some members and publicly by Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.).

This is especially true for Tuesday’s planned vote, because it is just a vote to proceed to debate, meaning that if Republicans filibuster, they will be preventing the Senate from even debating any efforts to protect democracy, including Manchin’s plan which he crafted specifically to reach a compromise with the GOP.

Whether a full party rejection would be enough to move the needle for Manchin and the other Democrats remains to be seen. Any successful overhaul of the contentious Senate rule would not only be incredibly significant for President Joe Biden’s agenda, but also for the precedent it could set.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (USA Today)

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McConnell Says He Would Block a Biden SCOTUS Nominee in 2024

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The Senate Minority Leader also refused to say whether or not he would block a hypothetical nominee in 2023 if his party overtakes the chamber’s slim majority in the midterm elections.


McConnell Doubles Down 

During an interview with conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threatened to block a hypothetical Supreme Court nominee from President Joe Biden in 2024 if Republicans took control of the Senate.

“I think in the middle of a presidential election, if you have a Senate of the opposite party of the president, you have to go back to the 1880s to find the last time a vacancy was filled,” he said. “So I think it’s highly unlikely. In fact, no, I don’t think either party if it controlled, if it were different from the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election.” 

McConnell’s remarks do not come as a surprise as they are in line with his past refusal to consider former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the court in February 2016 on the grounds that it was too close to the presidential election.

The then-majority leader received a ton of backlash for his efforts, especially after he forced through Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation just eight days before the 2020 election. At the time, McConnell argued the two situations were different because the Senate and the president were from the same party — a claim he reiterated in the interview.

McConnell also implied he may take that stance even further in comments to Hewitt, who asked if he would block the appointment of a Supreme Court justice if a seat were to be vacated at the end of 2023 about 18 months before the next inauguration — a precedent set by the appointment of Anthony Kennedy.

“Well, we’d have to wait and see what happens,” McConnell responded.

McConnell’s Calculus

Many Democrats immediately condemned McConnell’s remarks, including progressive leaders who renewed their calls to expand the court.

“Mitch McConnell is already foreshadowing that he’ll steal a 3rd Supreme Court seat if he gets the chance. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again. We need to expand the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Ma.).

Some also called on Justice Stephen Breyer, the oldest SCOTUS judge, to retire.

“If Breyer refuses to retire, he’s not making some noble statement about the judiciary. He is saying he wants Mitch McConnell to handpick his replacement,” said Robert Cruickshank, campaign director for Demand Progress.

Others, however, argued that the response McConnell’s remarks elicited was exactly what he was hoping to see and said his timing was calculated.

The minority leader’s comments come as the calls for Breyer to step down have recently grown while the current Supreme Court term draws near, a time when justices often will announce their retirement.

On Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was asked if she thought Breyer should leave the bench while Democrats still controlled the Senate. She responded that she was “inclined to say yes.”

With his latest public statement, McConnell’s aims are twofold here: he hopes to broaden divisions in the Democratic Party between progressives and more traditional liberals, who are more hesitant to rush Breyer to retire or expand the court, while simultaneously working to unite a fractured Republican base and encourage them to turn out in the midterm elections.

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

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Gov. Abbott Says Texas Will Build Border Wall With Mexico

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The announcement follows months of growing tension between the Texas governor and President Biden over immigration policies.


Texas Border Wall 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced during a press conference Thursday that the state would build a border wall with Mexico, extending the signature campaign promise of former President Donald Trump.

Abbott provided very few details for the border wall plans, and it is unclear if he has the authority to build it.

While some of the land is state-owned, much of it belongs to the federal government or falls on private property.

Even if the state were able to build on federal ground, private landowners who fought the Trump administration’s attempts to take their land through eminent domain would still remain an obstacle for any renewed efforts.

During his term, Trump built over 450 miles of new wall, but most of it covered areas where deteriorating barriers already existed, and thus had previously been approved for the federal project.

The majority of the construction also took place in Arizona, meaning Abbott would have much ground to cover. It is also unclear how the governor plans to pay for the wall.

Trump had repeatedly said Mexico would fund the wall, but that promise remained unfulfilled, and the president instead redirected billions of taxpayer dollars from Defense Department reserves.

While Abbott did say he would announce more details about the wall next week, his plan was condemned as ill-planned by immigration activists, who also threatened legal challenges.

“There is no substantive plan,” said Edna Yang, the co-executive director of the Texas-based immigration legal aid and advocacy group American Gateways. “It’s not going to make any border community or county safer.”

Ongoing Feud

Abbott’s announcement comes amid escalating tensions between the governor and the administration of President Joe Biden.

Biden issued a proclamation that stopped border wall construction on his first day of office, and has since undone multiple Trump-era immigration policies. Abbott, for his part, has blamed Biden’s rollback of Trump’s rules for the influx of migrants at the border in recent months. 

Two weeks ago, the governor deployed over 1,000 National Guard members and troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety to the border as part of an initiative launched in March to ramp up border security dubbed Operation Lone Star.

Last week, Abbott issued a disaster declaration which, among other measures, directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to strip the state licenses of all shelters that house migrant children and have contracts with the federal government.

The move, which federal officials have already threatened to take legal action against, could effectively force the 52 state-licensed shelters housing around 8,600 children to move the minors elsewhere.

During Thursday’s press conference, Abbott also outlined a variety of other border initiatives, including appropriating $1 billion for border security, creating a task force on border security, and increasing arrests for migrants who enter the country illegally.

“While securing the border is the federal government’s responsibility, Texas will not sit idly by as this crisis grows,” he said. “Our efforts will only be effective if we work together to secure the border, make criminal arrests, protect landowners, rid our communities of dangerous drugs and provide Texans with the support they need and deserve.”

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

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