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Live Updates: Georgia’s Voting Law Reverberates in Washington

New York Times - Wed Apr 7 13:45

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, accused corporations of “bullying” politicians over the Georgia voting restrictions passed recently.
Credit...Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Georgia is still caught up in a political riptide, less than a week after Major League Baseball pulled its summer All-Star game out of suburban Atlanta in a rebuke to the state’s new election rules that restrict access to voting.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, embroiled himself in the controversy this week as he continued to lash out at executives with Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola, Delta and other corporations for criticizing the Republican-led efforts to impose restrictions on voting access in Georgia and other states. He accused them of “bullying” politicians.

“My warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” said Mr. McConnell, after an appearance promoting vaccine distribution in Louisville, Ky., on Tuesday.

When asked to define the activities that executives should avoid, Mr. McConnell — who has long argued that corporate campaign donations are a protected, nearly sacred, form of political communication — said he was “not talking about political contributions.”

M.L.B.’s decision to move the All-Star Game to Denver was a watershed moment for a sport long known for its traditionalism and slow-moving nature. Until 1947, baseball barred Black players from its teams. And just last year, M.L.B. waited nine days before addressing George Floyd’s killing and the ensuing protests, making it the last of the four major professional sports leagues in North America to do so.

The sport’s fan base is older and less diverse than the N.F.L. and the N.B.A. A majority of major league players are white, and many lean conservative in their personal politics. And not unlike their counterparts in professional basketball or football, M.L.B. club owners are largely Republican donors.

“There needs to be a greater reflection by all companies, baseball included,” said Reggie Jackson, 74, the Hall of Fame outfielder. “Baseball’s further behind the other sports.”

But there is at least one major sporting event held in Georgia that has escaped getting tangled in controversy so far.

Even among the fiercest critics of the state’s new election law, there are limited calls to upend the Masters Tournament, which is underway this week in Augusta, Ga.

Golf, like baseball, leans Republican. But the certainty that the state’s most cherished sporting event would go on as planned is a reflection of Augusta National Golf Club’s honed willingness to defy pressure and, crucially, the reality that the mighty, mystique-filled brand of the Masters hinges on that one course. Unlike M.L.B.’s All-Star Game, which is staged in a different city each year, Augusta National has always been the home of the Masters.

What scrutiny Augusta National is facing ahead of tournament play, which begins on Thursday, is focused not least on its membership, which includes executives whose current and former companies are under pressure to condemn the Georgia law.

President Biden on Tuesday said it was “up to the Masters” whether the tournament should be moved out of Georgia, adding that it was “reassuring to see that for-profit operations and businesses are speaking up.”

Lawmakers in more than 40 states are pursuing new voting laws that Democrats predict will make it more difficult for people of color to vote. Republicans argue that limiting early voting and absentee balloting and encouraging poll watchers are necessary steps to ensure election integrity.

But with Georgia’s new law prompting corporate America to began flexing its muscle by publicly criticizing the changes, Republican leaders are warning business executives to steer clear of this fight.

“It’s not what you’re designed for,” Mr. McConnell urged the business community. “And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of America’s greatest political debates.”

James Wagner, Alan Blinder and Bill Pennington contributed reporting.

Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, during an interview in October 2015, the month he left his position.
Credit...Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

John Boehner, the Republican former House speaker, issued a stinging denunciation in his new book of Donald J. Trump, saying that the former president “incited that bloody insurrection” by his supporters at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and that the Republican Party had been taken over by “whack jobs.”

The criticism from Mr. Boehner in his book, “On the House: A Washington Memoir,” is an extraordinary public rebuke by a former speaker of the House toward a former president from his own party, and showed how much Republican winds have shifted since Mr. Boehner left Congress in 2015. And his remarks came as Mr. Trump has sought to retain his grip on Republican lawmakers’ loyalty from his new political base in South Florida.

In the book, an excerpt from which was obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Boehner writes that Mr. Trump’s “refusal to accept the result of the election not only cost Republicans the Senate but led to mob violence,” adding, “It was painful to watch.”

At another point, he writes, “I’ll admit I wasn’t prepared for what came after the election — Trump refusing to accept the results and stoking the flames of conspiracy that turned into violence in the seat of our democracy, the building over which I once presided.”

Mr. Boehner’s remarks were a rejection of what the party he once helped lead has morphed into over the last several years. While he has criticized Mr. Trump in the past, Mr. Boehner’s comments about the events of Jan. 6 have the most resonance.

The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, sharply criticized Mr. Trump at the end of the Senate trial for the former president’s second impeachment, pointing to his role in the Capitol riot. Others, like Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 in the House Republican leadership, have also excoriated him.

Nodding to the divisions between the parties in Congress now, Mr. Boehner adds, “Whatever they end up doing, or not doing, none of it will compare to one of the lowest points of American democracy that we lived through in January 2021.”

Mr. Trump, Mr. Boehner goes on to write, “claimed voter fraud without any evidence, and repeated those claims, taking advantage of the trust placed in him by his supporters and ultimately betraying that trust.”

Senator Bernie Sanders and Democrats are debating how they might use a new rule that allows them to sidestep a filibuster.
Credit...Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Hours after a top Senate official informed Democrats that they could potentially have more chances to use a complex budget maneuver to push through their agenda without any Republican votes, Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, was on television outlining the breadth of liberal ambitions.

Democrats aimed to enact President Biden’s plan to transform the nation’s infrastructure, he said, provide for paid family and medical leave, and expand health care, potentially including Medicare.

The musing by Mr. Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, reflected the high hopes that Democrats have that a new ruling from the chamber’s parliamentarian will open more avenues for them to push a wide range of their priorities through a Congress where they have precariously small majorities.

“The devil is in the details, and we don’t know the details yet — that’s going have to be negotiated, and better understood,” Mr. Sanders said in an interview on Tuesday. “It gives us the possibility of going forward with more than one piece of legislation, and that’s obviously advantageous to what we’re trying to do.”

All of it could be easier thanks to the parliamentarian’s opinion issued Monday that the budget resolution passed in February could be reopened to include at least one more round of reconciliation, which allows for measures governing taxes and spending to be protected from filibusters. That could give Democrats more chances to steer around Republican opposition and push through major budgetary legislation.

The process is fraught with challenges, including strict rules that limit what can be included, and Democrats would still have to muster 50 votes for any proposal, a tall order for some of their more expansive ideas.

But the newfound leeway could ultimately ease the way for some of their most ambitious endeavors.

Activists have also urged Mr. Biden to consider more remote possibilities, like using reconciliation to provide a pathway to citizenship for some of the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States, including farmworkers, essential workers and those brought to the country as children known as Dreamers.

It remains unclear how and when Democrats might take advantage of the ruling. But pressure is mounting for them to push the boundaries of what the ruling party can do when it controls both congressional chambers and the White House.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, at a rally in opposition to Rep. Liz Cheney, Repbublican of Wyoming, in January.
Credit...Daniel Brenner for The New York Times

Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, was one of President Donald J. Trump’s most vocal allies during his term, publicly pledging loyalty and even signing a letter nominating the president for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the final weeks of Mr. Trump’s term, Mr. Gaetz sought something in return. He privately asked the White House for blanket pre-emptive pardons for himself and unidentified congressional allies for any crimes they may have committed, according to two people told of the discussions.

Around that time, Mr. Gaetz was also publicly calling for broad pardons from Mr. Trump to thwart what he termed the “bloodlust” of their political opponents. But Justice Department investigators had begun questioning Mr. Gaetz’s associates about his conduct, including whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old that violated sex trafficking laws, in an inquiry that grew out of the case of an indicted associate in Florida.

It was unclear whether Mr. Gaetz or the White House knew at the time about the inquiry, or who else he sought pardons for. Mr. Gaetz did not tell White House aides that he was under investigation for potential sex trafficking violations when he made the request. But top White House lawyers and officials viewed the request for a pre-emptive pardon as a nonstarter that would set a bad precedent, the people said.

Aides told Mr. Trump of the request, though it is unclear whether Mr. Gaetz discussed the matter directly with the president. Mr. Trump ultimately pardoned dozens of allies and others in the final months of his presidency, but Mr. Gaetz was not among them.

This account of Mr. Gaetz’s dealings with the Trump White House is based on interviews with four people briefed on the exchanges about his pardon request and other Trump confidants. A spokesman for Mr. Trump declined to comment.

In recent days, some Trump associates have speculated that Mr. Gaetz’s request for a group pardon was an attempt to camouflage his own potential criminal exposure.

Either way, Mr. Gaetz’s appeal to the Trump White House shows how the third-term congressman sought to leverage an unlikely presidential relationship he had spent years cultivating.

Mr. Gaetz has denied having sex with a 17-year-old or paying for sex. A spokesman denied that he privately requested a pardon in connection with the continuing Justice Department inquiry.

“Entry-level political operatives have conflated a pardon call from Representative Gaetz — where he called for President Trump to pardon ‘everyone from himself, to his administration, to Joe Exotic’ — with these false and increasingly bizarre, partisan allegations against him,” the spokesman said in a statement. “Those comments have been on the record for some time, and President Trump even retweeted the congressman, who tweeted them out himself.”

Since the existence of the investigation was publicly revealed last week, Mr. Trump’s advisers have urged him to stay quiet and sought to distance the former president from Mr. Gaetz.

Anti-personnel land mines, small explosive weapons that are buried underground or laid on the surface and designed to kill or maim people, can remain deadly for many decades and are banned by 164 countries around the world.
Credit...Reuters

The Defense Department announced Tuesday that it would retain the Trump administration’s policy and keep antipersonnel land mines in its arsenal, reserving the right to use them in war.

In a statement, Mike Howard, a Pentagon spokesman, called such weapons “a vital tool in conventional warfare” that the military “cannot responsibly forgo, particularly when faced with substantial and potentially overwhelming enemy forces in the early stages of combat.”

The announcement drew swift condemnation from human rights groups. The Pentagon press secretary, John Kirby, subsequently addressed the issue with reporters, saying Mr. Howard’s words were “accurate and factual,” but he added that the land mine policy was under review.

The current policy dates to Jan. 31, 2020, when Mark T. Esper, the secretary of defense under President Donald J. Trump, announced a major change to the Pentagon’s policy on antipersonnel land mines, small explosive weapons that are buried underground or laid on the surface to kill or maim people. Their use was permitted so long as the weapons had self-destruct features or could self-deactivate.

Mr. Esper’s decision followed Mr. Trump’s cancellation of a presidential directive signed by President Barack Obama in 2014 that limited the use of so-called persistent mines, which stay deadly indefinitely, to the Korean Peninsula.

Older types of antipersonnel land mines can remain deadly for many decades and their use has been condemned because of the indiscriminate manner in which they operate: Most will explode when stepped upon, no matter whether by an enemy fighter or a noncombatant.

That President Biden might continue to support the use of antipersonnel land mines came as a disappointment to many human rights groups that expected him to join the 164 countries that have the banned the weapons, based on comments Mr. Biden made on the campaign trail.

The Defense Department’s reiteration of the Trump-era policy also seemed to come as a surprise at the United Nations, where the Mine Action Service plays an important role in clearing antipersonnel mines from former war zones.

Supporters of President Donald J. Trump rioted inside the Capitol in January.
Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times

A group of ten Democratic members of Congress on Wednesday joined a federal lawsuit against former President Donald J. Trump and his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, claiming that they violated a 19th-century statute when they tried to prevent the certification of the presidential election on Jan. 6.

Representatives Karen Bass of California, Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, Veronica Escobar of Texas, Hank Johnson, Jr. of Georgia, Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, Barbara Lee of California, Jerrold Nadler of New York, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, and Maxine Waters of California on Wednesday all joined the lawsuit that originally also named the Proud Boys, the far-right nationalist group, and the Oath Keepers militia group.

But since the official dissolution of the Proud Boys organization in February, the suit now names as defendants The Van Dyke Organization L.L.C., Warboys L.L.C. and Jazu Transport L.L.C., which it describes as successors to the Proud Boys.

The legal action accuses Mr. Trump, Mr. Giuliani and the other groups of conspiring to incite a violent riot at the Capitol, with the goal of preventing Congress from certifying the election. It contends that Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani violated the Ku Klux Klan Act, an 1871 statute that includes protections against violent conspiracies that interfered with Congress’s constitutional duties.

The N.A.A.C.P. originally brought the suit on behalf of Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi in February, adding to a host of legal problems that Mr. Trump is facing since leaving office. A spokesman for Mr. Trump, Jason Miller, said at the time that Mr. Trump did not “plan, produce or organize the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse.”

Mr. Thompson and the other plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages in the lawsuit that was filed in Federal District Court in Washington, as well as injunctive relief. The dollar amounts would be determined by a jury at a trial, an N.A.A.C.P. spokesman said.

All nine of the lawmakers joining the suit were in the House gallery when pro-Trump rioters breached the Capitol on Jan. 6. Many of the lawmakers who were in the building that day continue to suffer from the trauma of hearing gunshots and seeing broken windows and the faces of rioters on the other side of the doors, the N.A.A.C.P. said. That includes ongoing nightmares and difficulty sleeping.

“As I sat in my office on Jan. 6 with rioters roaming the hallways, I feared for my life and thought that I was going to die,” Mr. Cohen said in a statement, even contemplating whether he would want to be buried with his family in Memphis or at the Congressional Cemetery.

“This violence was anything but spontaneous,” Mr. Nadler, who sought refuge in the Judiciary Committee Office for hours, said in a statement. “It was the direct result of a conspiracy to incite a riot, instigated by President Trump, Rudolph Giuliani, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.”

The vice president’s residence, on the grounds of the Naval Observatory in Washington, in 2018.
Credit...Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

Number One Observatory Circle is finally ready for its newest resident. After months spent living in temporary quarters at Blair House, Vice President Kamala Harris moved into her 33-room official residence on Tuesday evening following the completion of renovations, an administration official said.

Ms. Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, spent last weekend in California. On Tuesday, Ms. Harris stopped in Chicago to tour a coronavirus vaccination site before flying on to Washington, while Mr. Emhoff visited Washington State.

Scheduled improvements delayed the vice president’s move to the Victorian home, which has housed vice presidents and their families since the Mondales in the 1970s. Over the past two months, the home underwent extensive renovations, including the installation of a new heating and air system, refurbished wooden floors and updated chimney liners, the vice president’s office said.

The house, which features a large veranda, a pool and a sunroom, sits on the grounds of the Naval Observatory in Northwest Washington.

According to government spending data, the Navy has awarded contracts worth at least $4.2 million in air conditioning, plumbing and heating upgrades since 2018.

Payment for preservation or aesthetic-related home improvements comes from the coffers of the Vice President’s Residence Foundation, which also pays to hang artwork and install new drapes, and handles some larger projects.

When the Bidens lived there, they painted the dining room the same shade of blue as their home in Delaware, and hung pieces on loan from the National Gallery of Art.

It has also become somewhat of a tradition for each new tenant to preside over improvements to the 128-year-old house. The Cheneys remodeled the kitchenette, for instance. The Pences added a beehive. (On Tuesday, an official with Ms. Harris’s office said the bees would “absolutely” be staying.) And the Bidens added a small garden that features the names of past occupants, and their pets, etched in stones surrounding a fountain.

“Each person has added something to make the home better for the next family,” Jill Biden told The Washington Post as the Bidens, then vice president and second lady, prepared to depart the residence in 2017. Most residents hired a designer to help, but Ms. Harris and Mr. Emhoff have not done so yet.