Discover more from Letters from an American
January 11, 2022
January 11, 2022 (Tuesday)
The United States came perilously close to losing its democracy in 2020, when an incumbent president refused to accept the results of an election he lost and worked with supporters to declare himself the winner and remain in power.
We are learning more about how that process happened.
Yesterday, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol revealed that it has been looking at attempts to overturn the election not just at the national level but also at the state level. It has gathered thousands of records and interviewed a number of witnesses to see what Trump and his loyalists did to overturn the 2020 election in the four crucial states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.
In those states, officials generally tried to ignore the pressure from Trump and his loyalists to overturn the election. In Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, was uncomfortable enough with a call from South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham on the subject that he recorded a call in which Trump urged him to “find” the votes Trump needed to win the state.
In Pennsylvania, right-wing Republican Representative Scott Perry tried to throw out Pennsylvania’s votes for Biden and to replace Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen (who took over when Attorney General William Barr resigned on December 23) with Jeffrey Clark, a Justice Department lawyer who promised to challenge the election results.
But it turns out there was more. We knew that Trump supporters in Wisconsin had submitted fake election certificates to the National Archivist, but yesterday, public records requests by Politico revealed that Trump loyalists in Michigan and Arizona also submitted false certificates to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) declaring Trump the winner of Michigan’s and Arizona’s electoral votes. In Arizona, they actually affixed the state seal to their papers. NARA rejected the false certificates and alerted the secretaries of state. (Shout-out here to the NARA archivists and librarians, who are scrupulous in their roles as the keepers of our national history.)
Today, the committee issued more subpoenas, this time for documents and testimony from Andy Surabian, Arthur Schwartz, and Ross Worthington. Surabian and Schwartz were strategists communicating with Donald Trump, Jr., and Kimberly Guilfoyle about the rally on the Ellipse on January 6 before the crowd broke into the Capitol. Worthington helped to write the speech Trump gave at the rally.
The committee today also debunked a story circulating on right-wing media that government agencies rather than Trump loyalists were behind the January 6 insurrection. Arizona resident Ray Epps was captured on video in Washington on January 5 and 6, and Trump allies, including Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL) have argued that he was a government agent trying to entrap Trump supporters. The committee says that it interviewed Epps and that he had told the members “he was not employed by, working with, or acting at the direction of any law enforcement agency on January 5th or 6th or at any other time, and that he has never been an informant for the FBI or any other law enforcement agency.”
“Sorry crazies, it ain’t true,” committee member Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) tweeted.
As the attack on our country has become clearer, the determination to restore our democracy has gained momentum.
Today, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took to the road to champion voting rights. They went to the district of the late Representative John Lewis, the Georgia congressman for whom one of the voting rights bills before the Senate is named.
Lewis was beaten by mobs and arrested 24 times in his quest to regain the vote for Black Americans. On March 7, 1965, as Lewis and 600 marchers hoping to register African American voters in Alabama stopped to pray at the end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, named for a senator at the turn of the last century who was a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, mounted police troopers charged the marchers, beating them with clubs and bullwhips. They fractured Lewis’s skull.
The attacks on the Selma marchers prompted President Lyndon Johnson to call for federal legislation defending Americans’ right to vote. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. The VRA became such a fundamental part of our system that Congress repeatedly reauthorized it, by large margins, as recently as 2006.
But in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, the Supreme Court gutted the provision of the law requiring that states with histories of voter discrimination get approval from the Department of Justice before they changed their voting laws. Immediately, legislatures in those states, now dominated by Republicans, began to pass measures to suppress the vote. Now, in the wake of the 2020 election, Republican-dominated states have increased the rate of voter suppression, and on July 1, 2021, the Supreme Court permitted such suppression with the Brnovich v. DNC decision.
Speaking in Lewis’s Atlanta district, Biden called out the people behind the events of January 6 as “forces that attempted a coup—a coup against the legally expressed will of the American people—by sowing doubt, inventing charges of fraud, and seeking to steal the 2020 election from the people.”
“They want chaos to reign,” he said. “We want the people to rule.”
After Selma, “Democrats, Republicans, and independents worked to pass the historic…voting rights legislation,” Biden said. He reminded his audience that Congress repeatedly reauthorized the VRA, most recently in 2006 with a vote of 390 to 33 in the House and 98 to 0 in the Senate.
Sixteen Republican senators who voted to reauthorize the VRA are still in the Senate, now united against the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act that restores the protections the Shelby v. Holder decision stripped from the VRA. Republicans also oppose the Freedom to Vote Act, hammered out by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and a team of other Democrats and Independent Angus King of Maine, which would make it easier to register and to vote, stop partisan gerrymandering, and prohibit the partisan changes Republican-dominated state legislatures have made to guarantee their states go Republican in the future.
Biden called Republican senators out. “Not a single Republican has displayed the courage to stand up to a defeated president to protect America’s right to vote,” he said. “Not one.”
Biden called for rebuilding our democracy and for passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. And he came out for a reform of the filibuster to enable the Democrats to get the bills to the Senate floor for debate, a step Republicans have been obstructing. With states able to pass voting restrictions with simple majorities, he pointed out, “the United States Senate should be able to protect voting by a simple majority.”
The next few days will mark a turning point in this nation’s history, Biden said. “Will we choose democracy over autocracy…?”
“I ask every elected official in America: How do you want to be remembered?”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says Republicans have until Monday, January 17, the holiday celebrating the birth of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., to drop their opposition to a debate and a vote on the measure. If they refuse, the Senate will begin to debate changing the rules of the filibuster.
Voting rights journalist Ari Berman noted that even as Biden was speaking, a state court in North Carolina upheld redistricting maps that are so extreme they would give Republicans 71–78% of the seats in a state Trump won with just 49.9% of the vote. This, Berman notes, “is exactly the kind of partisan & racial gerrymandering [the] Freedom to Vote Act would block[.]”