- Candidates for two special elections in the Georgia Senate runoffs participated in separate televised debates on Sunday, though incumbent David Perdue (R) refused to attend his debate against challenger Jon Ossoff (D).
- In the other debate, Senator Kelly Loeffler (R) and Democratic Reverend Raphael Warnock (D) attempted to cast each other as radical and out of touch with Georgian voters.
- Notably, Loeffler refused multiple times to answer a question about whether or not she believed the election was rigged, a claim President Donald Trump has repeatedly made despite his arguments consistently being struck down in court.
- Likewise, Warnock did not answer questions regarding how much he believes a second coronavirus stimulus package should total or if Democrats should add additional justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, should they win the Senate.
Ossoff Debates Alone
One candidate debated alone onstage Sunday in a precursor to a special Senate election that will ultimately decide which political party controls the chamber for the next two years. Meanwhile, in another debate connected to that same election, two other Senate candidates tried to paint each other as radical and out of touch with voters.
The lone candidate onstage was Democrat Jon Ossoff, who is challenging incumbent Republican Senator David Perdue in Georgia. During that debate, Ossoff called Perdue a “coward” because last month, Perdue announced that he would not appear at Sunday’s debate.
“My message for the people of our state, at this moment of crisis, is your senator feels entitled to your vote,” Ossoff said. “Your senator is refusing to answer questions and debate his opponent because he believes he shouldn’t have to.”
While Perdue’s staff has said he wants to focus on meeting with voters instead debating Ossoff, not showing up also means that Perdue wasn’t challenged on a number of topics — including the pandemic, his refusal to admit that President Donald Trump lost the Presidential Election, and a scandal involving accusations of insider trading.
Loeffler Won’t Say if Election Was Rigged
In the other debate, both candidates — Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler and Democratic Reverend Raphael Warnock — appeared. Notably, they are campaigning for Georgia’s other Senate seat.
Easily one of the biggest takeaways from the night came with the first question when moderator Greg Bluestein asked Loeffler to explicitly state whether or not she believes, like President Donald Trump, that the 2202 Election was rigged. Additionally, Bluestein asked if she supports Trump’s demand that Governor Brian Kemp (R) call a special election to overturn Joe Biden’s win in the state.
Notably, that win was democratically decided by the people of Georgia. It’s also a win that has already been confirmed twice and is in the process of being confirmed again, per a recount request from the Trump campaign.
For the past month, the Trump campaign has filed dozens of lawsuits in multiple states alleging voter fraud. Despite this, those claims have been overwhelmingly dismissed by judges — even ones appointed by Trump himself — as baseless.
Instead of denying the claim that the election was rigged, when asked, Loeffler dodged the question.
“Look, it’s vitally important that Georgians trust our election process, and the president has every right to every legal recourse and that’s what’s taking place,” she said. “But I’ve called for investigations and now, there’s 250 investigations open here in Georgia.”
“Senator, do you believe the election was rigged?” Bluestein followed up.
“It’s very clear that there were issues in this election,” Loeffler responded. “There are 250 investigations open, including an investigation into one of my opponent’s organizations for voter fraud. And we have to make sure that Georgians trust this process because of what’s at stake in this election. The promise that Chuck Schumer made was to fundamentally change America and I’m making sure that we don’t go down the road of socialism.”
Loeffler then went on to dodge the question three more times over the course of the debate.
Last week, Attorney General Bill Barr, who had previously supported Trump’s calls for an investigation into voter fraud, told the Associated Press that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
On Sunday, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) said that while 250 investigations are underway in the state, his office has found no evidence of “systemic fraud” that could change the election results. In fact, Raffensperger has repeatedly denied such claims while also saying that, as a conservative Republican, he had wanted Trump to win.
On Saturday, at a rally in Georgia, Trump continued to spurt baseless fraud claims and call on Kemp to overturn the results; however, on Sunday, Kemp affirmed that he would not call a special session and that Georgia’s election results will stand.
While it’s very striking that Loeffler won’t outright admit Trump’s loss, it’s not exactly shocking. Much of the Republican base is also the super-charged Trump base. Even ardent supporters of the president like Barr have faced criticism from conservative media, which blasted him as part of the “deep state” after he contradicted the president.
Thus, how many votes could Loeffler have compromised had she said the opposite of Trump? How many votes from moderate Republicans would she have compromised if she openly went along with Trump?
Warnock Won’t Answer Questions on Stimulus Cost or SCOTUS
Among other unanswered questions, after moderators asked Warnock how much money Congress should siphon into a second stimulus package, Warnock refused to give a specific number. Instead, he answered more generally, stressing the need for that package to support small businesses, essential workers, and infrastructure and green energy.
“Can you give me a number?” moderator Russ Spencer followed up.
“Look, I think that we should at least make sure that whatever we do, workers are at the center of that relief,” Warnock said.
Bluestein later asked Warnock if he supports calls to increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court. That idea has been pushed by some Democrats following Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation by Senate Republicans on Oct. 26 — a week before the 2020 Elections. In 2016, Senate Republicans argued against starting the confirmation process for Obama-appointed judge Merrick Garland because it was an election year.
“As I move all across the state, Greg, people aren’t asking me about the courts and whether we should expand the courts,” Warnock said. “I know that’s an interesting question for people inside the beltway to discuss, they’re wondering when in the world are they going to get some COVID-19 relief?”
“But it will impact people on the ground, so I am wondering if you can answer the question, do you support expanding the Supreme Court?” Bluestein pressed.
“I’m really not focused on it,” Warnock said before shifting the subject back to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other Key Highlights
Among other key highlights, both Loeffler and Warnock said they would take a coronavirus vaccine supported by health experts. Both also said they’ll encourage others to also take that vaccine.
The concern that a large number of Americans might be hesitant to take the vaccine has been around since the beginning of the pandemic, and it’s persisted, in part, because vaccine development has been so rapid. At the moment, top vaccine candidates, such as those from Pfizer and Moderna, appear to be safe; however, the FDA has not yet confirmed them for emergency-use.
Despite answering similarly to this one question, much of the debate was Loeffler and Warnock trying to paint the other as out of touch voters.
Several times throughout the night, Loeffler called Warnock a socialist and referred to him as a “radical liberal,” but Warnock affirmed that he believes in“our free enterprise system,” meaning capitalism.
Loeffler accused Warnock of wanting to defund the police, which Warnock denied.
“I don’t think we should defund the police but we certainly do need criminal justice reform,” he said.
“We need to make sure that we have an independent review process when civilians die at the hands of police. We need to make sure that police officers and departments that have a pattern of misconduct are held accountable. We can do that and celebrate police at the same time.”
Warnock attacked Loeffler’s record by repeatedly accusing her of using a private coronavirus briefing in January to engage in insider trading in the stock market. While that investigation has been the subject of high-level scrutiny, a Senate Ethics Committee investigation found no evidence that she had violated rules.
Like Loeffler, Warnock also trying to paint Loeffler as radical, saying she “welcomed the support of a QAnon conspiracy theorist,” that being Representative-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene (R).
Last month, Loeffler denied attachment to the conspiracy theory, saying, “Look, I don’t know anything about QAnon.”
The elections for both of these seats are going to take place on Jan. 5. Monday is the last day to register to vote both online and through mail.
There is no Election Day registration in Georgia.
From there, early voting will begin next Monday. It will continue until Jan. 1. That is the same day as the deadline to request an absentee ballot. That ballot must also be received, by mail or in person, no later than Jan. 5 at 7 p.m.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CBS News) (The Hill)
Feds Investigate Classified Files Found in Biden’s Former Office
The documents reportedly include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom
What Was in the Files?
President Biden’s legal team discovered about 10 classified files in his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington D.C., the White House revealed Monday.
The Department of Justice has concluded an initial inquiry into the matter and will determine whether to open a criminal investigation.
According to a source familiar with the matter who spoke to CNN, they include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom.
A source also told CBS News the batch did not contain nuclear secrets and had been contained in a folder in a box with other unclassified papers.
The documents are reportedly from Biden’s time as vice president, but it remains unclear what level of classification they are and how they ended up in his office.
Biden kept an office in the. Penn Biden Center, a think tank about a mile from the White House, between 2017 and 2020, when he was elected president.
On Nov. 2, his lawyers claim, they discovered the documents as they were clearing out the space to vacate it.
They immediately notified the National Archives, which retrieved the files the next morning, according to the White House.
What Happens Next?
Attorney General Merrick Garland must decide whether to open a criminal investigation into Biden’s alleged mishandling of the documents. To that end, he appointed John Lausch Jr., the U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump appointee, to conduct an initial inquiry.
Garland reportedly picked him for the role despite him being in a different jurisdiction to avoid appearing partial.
Lausch has reportedly finished the initial part of his inquiry and provided a preliminary report to Garland.
If a criminal investigation is opened, Garland will likely appoint an independent special counsel to lead it.
The case mirrors a similar DoJ special counsel investigation into former President Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified materials and obstruction of efforts to properly retrieve them.
On Nov. 18, Garland appointed Jack Smith to investigate over 300 classified documents found at Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.
Trump resisted multiple National Archives requests for the documents for months leading up to the FBI’s raid on his property, then handed over 15 boxes of files only for even more to be found still at Mar-a-Lago.
“When is the FBI going to raid the many houses of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump wrote on Truth Social Monday. “These documents were definitely not declassified.”
Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters he will investigate the Biden files.
Republicans have been quick to pounce on the news and compare it to Trump’s classified files, but Democrats have pointed out differences in the small number of documents and Biden’s willingness to cooperate with the National Archives.
The White House has yet to explain why, if the files were first discovered six days before the midterm elections, the White House waited two months to reveal the news to the public.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (BBC)
Lawmakers Propose Bill to Protect Fertility Treatments Amid Post-Roe Threats
The move comes as a number of states are considering anti-abortion bills that could threaten or ban fertility treatments by redefining embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for IVF.
The Right To Build Families Act of 2022
A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would codify the right to use assisted reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertility (IVF) treatments into federal law.
The legislation, dubbed the Right To Build Families Act of 2022, was brought forward by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Il) and Patty Murray (D-Wa.) alongside Rep. Susan Wild (D- Pa.). The measure would bar any limits on seeking or receiving IVF treatments and prohibit regulations on a person’s ability to retain their “reproductive genetic materials.”
The bill would also protect physicians who provide these reproductive services and allow the Justice Department to take civil action against any states that try to limit access to fertility treatments.
The lawmakers argue it is necessary to protect IVF because a number of states have been discussing and proposing legislation that could jeopardize or even ban access to the treatments in the wake of the Roe v. Wade reversal.
“IVF advocates in this country today are publicly telling us, ‘We need this kind of legislation to be able to protect this,’” Murray told HuffPost. “And here we are after the Dobbs decision where states are enacting laws and we have [anti-abortion] advocates who are now starting to talk, especially behind closed doors, about stopping the right for women and men to have IVF procedures done.”
Fertility Treatments Under Treat
The state-level efforts in question are being proposed by Republican lawmakers who wish to further limit abortions by redefining when life begins. Some of the proposals would define embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for those that are created through IVF, where an egg is fertilized by a sperm outside the body and then implanted in a uterus.
For example, a bill has already been pre-filed in Virginia for the 2023 legislative session that explicitly says life begins at fertilization and does not have any specific language that exempts embryos made through IVF.
Experts say these kinds of laws are concerning for a number of reasons. In the IVF process, it is typical to fertilize multiple eggs, but some are discarded. If a person becomes pregnant and does not want to keep the rest of their eggs. It is also normal that not all fertilized eggs will be viable, so physicians will get rid of those.
Sometimes doctors will also implant multiple fertilized eggs to increase the likelihood of pregnancy, but that can result in multiple eggs being fertilized. In order to prevent having multiple babies at once and improve the chance of a healthy pregnancy, people can get a fetal reduction and lower the number of fetuses.
All of those actions could become illegal under proposals that do not provide exemptions.
“In my case, I had five fertilized eggs, and we discarded three because they were not viable. That is now potentially manslaughter in some of these states,” said Duckworth, who had both of her daughters using IVF.
“I also have a fertilized egg that’s frozen. My husband and I haven’t decided what we will do with it, but the head of the Texas Right to Life organization that wrote the bounty law for Texas has come out and specifically said he’s going after IVF next, and he wants control of the embryos,” Duckworth added.
In a hearing after Roe was overturned, Murray also raised concerns about “whether parents and providers could be punished if an embryo doesn’t survive being thawed for implantation, or for disposing unused embryos.”
Experts have said that even if anti-abortion laws defining when life begins do provide exceptions, it would be contradictory and confusing, so providers would likely err on the side of caution and not provide services out of fear of prosecution.
“[Abortion bans] are forcing women to stay pregnant against their will and are, at the very same time, threatening Americans’ ability to build a family through services like IVF,” Murray said in a statement to Axios. “It’s hard to comprehend, and it’s just plain wrong.”
The federal legislation to combat these efforts faces an uphill battle. It is unlikely it will be passed in the last few days of lame duck session, and with control of Congress being handed to Republicans come January, movement in the lower chamber will be hard fought.
Duckworth, however, told Axios that she will keep introducing the legislation “until we can get it passed.”
Hundreds of Oath Keepers Claim to Be Current or Former DHS Employees
The revelation came just weeks after the militia’s founder, Stewart Rhodes, was convicted on seditious conspiracy charges for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
An Agency Crawling With Extremists
Over 300 members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group claim to be current or former employees at the Department of Homeland Security, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) reported Monday.
The review appears to be the first significant public examination of the group’s leaked membership list to focus on the DHS.
The agencies implicated include Border Patrol, Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Secret Service.
“I am currently a 20 year Special Agent with the United States Secret Service. I have been on President Clinton and President Bush’s protective detail. I was a member and instructor on the Presidential Protective Division’s Counter Assault Team (CAT),” one person on the list wrote.
POGO stated that the details he provided the Oath Keepers match those he made in a sworn affidavit filed in federal court.
The finding came just weeks after Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted on seditious conspiracy charges for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“Law enforcement agents who have associations with groups that seek to undermine democratic governance pose a heightened threat because they can compromise probes, misdirecting investigations or leaking confidential investigative information to those groups,” POGO said in its report.
In March, the DHS published an internal study finding that “the Department has significant gaps that have impeded its ability to comprehensively prevent, detect, and respond to potential threats related to domestic violent extremism within DHS.”
Some experts have suggested the DHS may be especially prone to extremist sentiments because of its role in policing immigration. In 2016, the ICE union officially endorsed then-candidate Donald Trump for president, making the first such endorsement in the agency’s history.
The U.S. Government has a White Supremacy Problem
Copious academic research and news reports have shown that far-right extremists have infiltrated local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
In May, a Reuters investigation found at least 15 self-identified law enforcement trainers and dozens of retired instructors listed in a database of Oath Keepers.
In 2019, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that almost 400 current or former law enforcement officials belonged to Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia Facebook groups.
The Pentagon has long struggled with its own extremism problem, which appears to have particularly festered in the wake of the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nearly one in four active-duty service members said in a 2017 Military Times poll that they had observed white nationalism among the troops, and over 40% of non-white service members said the same.
The prevalence of racism in the armed forces is not surprising given that many of the top figures among right-wing extremist groups hailed from the military and those same groups are known to deliberately target disgruntled, returning veterans for recruitment.
Brandon Russell, the founder of the neo-Nazi group AtomWaffen, served in the military, as did George Lincoln Rockwell, commander of the American Nazi Party, Louis Beam, leader of the KKK, and Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nation.
In January, NPR reported that one in five people charged in federal or D.C. courts for their involvement in the Capitol insurrection were current or former military service members.