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April 4, 2023 (Tuesday)
There are two huge stories afield tonight. First, Finland has officially joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Finland opted for neutrality after the organization of NATO in 1949 to stand against the expansion of the Soviet Union, but Russia’s invasion of non-NATO country Ukraine last year sparked concern in a country that shares an 832-mile border with Russia. NATO members share an ironclad security guarantee among them, agreeing to come to each other’s aid if any of them is attacked.
“The era of nonalignment in our history has come to an end—a new era begins,” Finland’s president Sauli Niinistö said.
The second huge story is domestic. Today, Wisconsin voters elected Janet Protasiewicz to the Wisconsin Supreme Court by a ten-point margin. Her opponent, Dan Kelly, supported the heavily gerrymandered district maps in the state and was supported by antiabortion groups. Protasiewicz has called those maps, which make it virtually impossible for Democrats to win control of the assembly, “rigged” and supports abortion rights. Her election switches the political orientation of the court for the first time in 15 years.
This court will likely take up cases relating to the state’s abortion ban, its extreme gerrymandering, and its voting rules for the 2024 presidential election. Far-right activist Ali Alexander, who was deeply involved in the attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election, tweeted: “We just lost the Wisconsin Supreme Court. I do not see a path to 270 in 2024.”
Wisconsin Democratic chair Ben Wikler tweeted: “This isn’t a prediction. It isn’t a hint. It’s just a note. And my note is, this election was a release valve for twelve years of Democratic rage in Wisconsin about Republicans rigging our state and smashing our democracy—and then using that power to rip away our rights.”
Across the state, Republican numbers slumped. Political commentator Brian Tyler Cohen noted: “Republicans are losing across the country, even in historically red areas—Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin. The abortion bans, climate denial, gun idolatry, anti-democratic behavior and extremism has lost them entire generations of Americans.”
That disaffection was on display in Tennessee, where 7,000 schoolchildren marched to the Capitol yesterday to demand gun safety legislation after a school shooting killed six people last week. Republican lawmakers have taken steps to expel three Democratic representatives who used a bullhorn on the floor of the House to help lead the protest.
Representatives Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones, and Justin Pearson led chants from the House floor. Their Democratic colleagues support them, but their Republican colleagues have stripped them of their committee assignments and filed resolutions declaring that the three Democrats engaged in “disorderly behavior” and “knowingly and intentionally” brought “dishonor to the House of Representatives.” The House will vote on the resolutions Thursday. Kimberlee Kruesi of the Associated Press reports that only two House members have been expelled since the Civil War.
In other news today, the former president, Donald Trump, was arraigned in Manhattan on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. In order to quash damaging stories before the 2016 election, the charges allege, he paid a doorman who claimed to know about an out-of-wedlock child (a story apparently proved incorrect) and two women to keep them quiet about affairs. The payments were structured to hide them. This violated both election law and falsified business records, as well as mischaracterizing the payments for tax purposes.
There were far more Trump opponents than supporters in the crowd outside the courthouse, and while Trump-allied representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and George Santos (R-NY) were there, other Republican lawmakers steered clear.
While Trump seemed subdued and angry in the courtroom, where he pleaded not guilty, his tone had changed markedly by tonight. Back at Mar-a-Lago and surrounded by supporters, he launched into a half-hour speech tonight rehashing his favorite complaints.
Last week, as he waited for indictment, Trump circulated on social media a picture of himself with a baseball bat next to a picture of Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg. This morning, his son, Don Jr., posted on social media a picture of the daughter of the judge presiding over the case. In court today Judge Juan Merchan asked the former president to “refrain from making comments or engaging in conduct that has the potential to incite violence, create civil unrest, or jeopardize the safety or well-being of any individuals” and suggested that, having made that warning, if he had to revisit it he would “take a closer look at it.” Nonetheless, tonight Trump went after those prosecutors pursuing cases against him.
Mark Barabak of the Los Angeles Times noted the “stark contrast between the humbled Trump facing justice Tuesday and the swaggering Trump—all toughness, cunning and hyper-masculinity—that he prefers to project.”
Also today, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled that several of Trump’s top aides must testify before the grand jury investigating the attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
In his statement welcoming Finland to NATO today, President Joe Biden noted that the United States and 11 other nations came together to sign the original NATO declaration 74 years ago today: April 4, 1949. On that day, President Harry S. Truman said, “If there is anything inevitable in the future, it is the will of the people of the world for freedom and for peace.”
At the end of the night, the Wisconsin Democratic Party released a statement congratulating Justice-elect Protasiewicz on her victory. “The resurrection of democracy and freedom in Wisconsin has begun,” it read.
“On paper, this campaign may have lasted only a few months. But tonight’s victory is the result of years of unglamorous work by volunteers, activists, union members, and organizers across our state who knocked doors, made phone calls, chipped in, and never lost the faith that a better future was possible—even when hope seemed all but lost. Tonight is a testament to the power of never giving up. And it’s a testament to the whirlwind that the foes of democracy—in Wisconsin, and in America—can expect to reap.
“While we may have won tonight, we know that the threat posed to our freedoms and our democracy by MAGA extremism continues. And that’s why we will never stop organizing. We will use this moment as a springboard into the long work ahead—to build a multiracial democracy in which all of us, no matter our gender or gender identity, our generation or the geography in which we live, has a voice, has dignity, and has the power that is supposed to be the birthright of all American citizens.”