Democrats have failed in their bid to change Senate rules in order to pass major voting rights legislation. On Wednesday evening, Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema joined all 50 Republican senators in voting “no” on a change to the filibuster that would have allowed the voting rights measure to move forward with a simple majority. It was the fifth time in six months Republicans have successfully used the filibuster to block voting rights legislation.
That capped hours of debate Wednesday that saw some Democrats compare GOP-led voter suppression efforts to racial discrimination under Jim Crow. This is Georgia Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock — one of just three African Americans in the Senate.
Sen. Raphael Warnock: “History is watching us. Our children are counting on us. And I hope that we will have the courage to do what is right for our communities and for our country, the courage to cross this bridge, to do the hard work in this defining moral moment in America for the sake of the communities that sent us here in the first place, for the sake of the planet, for the sake of healthcare, for the sake of jobs, for the sake of being able to argue for the things that we care about.”
This comes as Republican-led state legislatures have passed more than 30 laws restricting ballot access and have introduced at least 400 more. Mother Jones reporter Ari Berman tweeted, “It’s completely undemocratic that 41 GOP senators representing 21% of US can block bills supported by 70% of public that expand voting access for tens of millions.”
President Biden capped his first year in office Wednesday with a marathon, two-hour news conference in which he blamed Republicans for stalling much of his legislative agenda. It was Biden’s first formal news conference since March. Speaking to reporters in the White House, Biden said he expects Russia will invade Ukraine, but predicted that President Vladimir Putin does not want a full-blown war. He said Washington and NATO’s response to a Russian invasion will depend on its severity.
President Joe Biden: “Do I think he’ll test the West, test the United States and NATO as significantly as he can? Yes, I think he will. But I think he’ll pay a serious and dear price for it that he doesn’t think now will cost him what it’s going to cost him. And I think he will regret having done it.”
The Supreme Court has rejected a request by Donald Trump to block the release of some White House records to the congressional committee investigating the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Just hours after the court’s 8-1 ruling Wednesday, the National Archives turned over hundreds of pages of documents to the committee.
Meanwhile, the January 6 committee has subpoenaed the two leaders of the white nationalist “America First” — or “Groyper” — movement. Nick Fuentes and Patrick Casey helped to coordinate, plan and fund events that led up to the attack on Congress.
U.S. coronavirus infections are at record highs in many states, but the rapid surge of the Omicron variant appears to be subsiding in several cities, including New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. More than 3,300 U.S. COVID-19 deaths were reported on Wednesday; the vast majority of those who died were unvaccinated.
In Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton has tested positive for COVID and is self-isolating at home. His office would not say whether Paxton has been vaccinated. Paxton is a proponent of the discredited conspiracy theory that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. He previously sued to block President Biden’s vaccine mandates.
In West Virginia, Republican Governor Jim Justice on Wednesday credited vaccinations with possibly saving his life after he became seriously ill with COVID-19 last week.
Gov. Jim Justice: “I would encourage you beyond belief to get vaccinated and whatever you do to get boosted, because I know — I know without anybody telling me in any way — you know, if I hadn’t been vaccinated, I’d have been in the hospital for sure, and I’d have been in really tough shape — really, really tough shape.”
Florida’s Health Department has placed Orange County’s top health official on administrative leave after he encouraged employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19. In an email to employees last week, Dr. Raul Pino lamented the fact that just 38% of Orange County Health Department workers had completed their vaccine series, writing, “I have a hard time understanding how we can be in public health and not practice it!” A state official told The Washington Post the administration of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis was investigating whether Pino’s email violated a new Florida law barring government agencies from implementing vaccine mandates.
The first flights carrying aid arrived in Tonga today, five days after a powerful volcanic eruption blanketed the South Pacific island nation with ash, destroying homes and killing at least three people. Waves as high as 15 meters lashed parts of the archipelago with tsunami warnings issued as far away as the western United States. The aid flights from New Zealand and Australia were finally able to land after runways were cleared of up to four inches of volcanic ash. The supplies come as tens of thousands of people face clean water shortages. Authorities say they are taking extra precautions to prevent COVID-19 from spreading to Tonga’s islands as humanitarian workers arrive; Tonga has thus far been spared from the pandemic. As severed communications lines are restored, Tongans have been able to share with the world the devastation of Saturday’s eruption and its aftermath. This is local journalist Marian Kupu.
Marian Kupu: “When the first explosion happened, ringing — our ears were ringing, and we couldn’t even hear each other. So, all we do is pointing to our families to get up, to get ready to run, to evacuate. So that’s what we — so that’s what we did.”
In Arizona, a federal judge ruled Wednesday Indigenous activist Amber Ortega was not guilty for her 2020 protest in which she blocked construction on the U.S.-Mexico border wall near Quitobaquito Springs. Ortega’s supporters cheered as they greeted her outside the Tucson courthouse. Ortega, who is from the Hia Ced and Tohono O’odham communities, successfully argued the border wall and its construction violated her religious and spiritual beliefs and practice.
The University of Michigan has agreed to pay $460 million to over 1,000 survivors of sexual assault at the hands of former university doctor Robert Anderson. Another $30 million will be set aside for additional survivors who come forward over the next year and a half. Anderson, who died in 2008, was found to have repeatedly assaulted patients over his 37 years at the University of Michigan, including performing unnecessary invasive exams and trading medical services for sexual contact.
In Kansas, a district attorney said he will not be filing charges for the killing of Black teenager Cedric Lofton while in juvenile prison, citing Kansas’s “stand your ground” law. Seventeen-year-old Cedric Lofton was arrested in September last year and removed from his foster home. After arriving at a juvenile jail, staffers shackled and handcuffed the unarmed teenager while he was face down on the ground. Lofton lost consciousness shortly thereafter and died two days later. A medical examiner ruled in December the cause of death was homicide. Andrew Stroth, a lawyer for Lofton’s family, said stand-your-ground laws do not apply in this case, with Lofton posing no threat to the staffers who killed him. “They basically took Cedric’s breath away and killed him,” said Stroth.
In Arkansas, four prisoners held at the Washington County Jail have filed a lawsuit alleging they were unknowingly prescribed the drug ivermectin as a form of medical experimentation. Ivermectin is an antiparasitic widely used as a horse dewormer. It’s been touted in right-wing media as a miracle cure to COVID-19, even though there’s no experimental data to back the claim.
The ACLU of Arkansas condemned the actions of Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder and a jail physician, writing, “No one — including incarcerated individuals — should be deceived and subject to medical experimentation. Sheriff Helder has a responsibility to provide food, shelter, and safe, appropriate care to incarcerated individuals.”
Here in New York, housing activists are demanding passage of a tenants’ rights bill that would require landlords to provide “good cause” for evictions. The Good Cause Eviction bill would bar landlords from removing a renter without a court order and would give tenants the right to renew a lease in most cases. It would also cap rent increases for existing tenants. About 100 lawmakers have co-sponsored the bill, which is stalled in Albany pending the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and other Democratic leaders. This comes as New York officials allowed a moratorium on evictions to expire Saturday — even as daily COVID infections reached their highest level of the pandemic. On Friday, police arrested at least 16 protesters who blocked a busy intersection near Governor Hochul’s Manhattan office.
Raquel Namuche: “I am prepared to do whatever it takes to help protect my neighbors who are most at risk of being homeless because the governor won’t act to provide stronger tenant protections to tenants.”
Alexis LaFrese: “People are dying, and Governor Kathy Hochul is doing nothing about it. And until she does something, we will not stop.”
Workers have started removing the statue of President Theodore Roosevelt from the steps of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The city’s Public Design Commission voted last June to take down the monument amid a national reckoning with the racist legacy of the U.S. The statue depicts Roosevelt on a horse, with a Native American man and an African man standing beside him. In a statement, the Natural History Museum said, “The statue itself communicates a racial hierarchy the Museum and members of the public have long found disturbing.” The statue will go on long-term loan to North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library, despite the objections of some Indigenous groups in North Dakota.