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January 18, 2022
Three big chunks of news today focus on voting rights before the Senate, Russian aggression in Ukraine, and the January 6 committee.
First, voting rights: Today, the Senate began to debate the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act to protect voting rights. Not a single Republican spoke up for the bill. All 48 Democrats and the 2 Independents who caucus with them—who together represent 40.5 million more people than the 50 Republicans do—support the voting rights bill, but two senators, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), do not support a carve-out for the voting rights bill so that it can avoid a filibuster by the Republicans.
That is, by demanding a supermajority to pass the bill, Republicans can stop the Democrats from passing voting rights measures that are so popular that, as Jane Mayer outlined in a March 2021 New Yorker article based initially on a leaked phone call, Republicans’ own polls told them they could not convince voters to oppose them, so they had better rely on the filibuster.
The Democrats caucused this evening, and observers expect that they will call a roll call vote on the voting rights bill tomorrow. The Republicans are expected to filibuster the bill. Then the Democratic leadership is expected to try to change the filibuster rules to a talking filibuster with some percentage of the senators present, a return to what the filibuster looked like for most of its history and a measure that should answer the concerns Manchin and Sinema had about getting rid of the filibuster altogether. The Republicans will likely vote against that change. Whether Manchin and Sinema will side with the Democrats in favor of voting rights or with the Republicans against them is the key question.
If this measure doesn’t pass, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) says the Democrats will break it up into individual pieces, forcing senators to take positions against the various pieces of the law, all of which are popular.
Next, Russia: A senior official in the State Department gave a briefing today to say that Russia is moving troops into Belarus and it is unclear who is currently in charge of that country. The official said that Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko has become so weak at home that he has turned to Russia for support, and now Putin is calling in the IOUs. The two countries are currently engaging in “joint exercises,” but they might well be a ruse to move troops into Belarus for an attack on Ukraine.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov today, and the two agreed to meet Friday in Geneva, Switzerland, after Blinken travels to Kyiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday and Berlin, Germany, on Thursday. The U.S. and its allies are trying to pull Russia back from again invading Ukraine. The U.S. has threatened massive economic retaliation for such an invasion and has marshaled the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries—members of a defensive organization designed to hold the line first against the USSR, and now against Russia—to stand firm to protect the right of countries to self-determination.
Today, Germany’s new foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, spoke with Lavrov before reporters in Moscow, firmly placing blame for escalating tensions at the feet of the Russians and insisting on the rule of law.
And yet, here at home, Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson is echoing Russian propaganda, suggesting that the U.S. is the aggressor against Russia rather than that Russia is moving against Ukraine without provocation. He appears to be taking a stand against the U.S. president, who is standing with NATO and our traditional democratic allies, and instead standing with Russia much as Trump did.
January 6 investigation: Today, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol subpoenaed Trump’s attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Boris Epshteyn, who were allegedly present in the “War Room” planning the January 6 insurrection, as well as Trump’s lawyers Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis, who were active in trying to overturn the election with accusations of voter fraud.
“The four individuals we’ve subpoenaed today advanced unsupported theories about election fraud, pushed efforts to overturn the election results, or were in direct contact with the former President about attempts to stop the counting of electoral votes,” committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) wrote. The committee has asked for documents and depositions.
On January 13, the committee issued subpoenas to four social media companies. It had asked for cooperation but felt the companies were responding inadequately. Thompson wrote: “Two key questions for the Select Committee are how the spread of misinformation and violent extremism contributed to the violent attack on our democracy, and what steps—if any—social media companies took to prevent their platforms from being breeding grounds for radicalizing people to violence.” The subpoenas went to Alphabet, which is the parent company of YouTube; Meta, the parent company of Facebook; Reddit; and Twitter.
CNN reports that the January 6 committee has subpoenaed and obtained phone records for Eric Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of Donald Trump, Jr. Both were involved in the January 6 rally at the Ellipse before the attack on the Capitol. This appears to be the committee’s first subpoena to a member of the Trump family, although Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows voluntarily handed over text records from Donald Trump, Jr.
Last week, Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a Constitutional law professor and a member of the January 6 committee, said that the committee hearings, planned for later this year, will “blow the roof off the House.” “This is the most bipartisan committee I’ve ever been on, with a great Democratic chair and a great Republican vice chair and what I see is constitutional patriots working every single day and every single evening to get the truth out to the American people before it’s too late,” Raskin said.
A statement by Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) on NBC yesterday suggests that Raskin’s predictions are right. Romney called the January 6 investigation an “important and legitimate effort,” countering the Trump loyalists who are calling it illegitimate and perhaps getting ahead of whatever is going to turn up.
Finally, the case against one of Trump’s key loyalists, Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who has been under investigation for sex trafficking, appears to have gotten hotter. His ex-girlfriend, who was with him and the underage girl alleged to have crossed state lines with Gaetz for sexual predation, has received immunity in exchange for her testimony before a federal grand jury.
The Senate will resume debate on the voting rights bill tomorrow morning at 10:00.