May 13, 2021
Today, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus can stop wearing masks, both outdoors and indoors, except on public transportation and in crowded indoor venues. The new guidelines come as cases are dropping and as the U.S. is now vaccinating children ages 12 and up. They are intended, at least in part, to encourage people to get the vaccine. The CDC guidelines do not override federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial laws, or regulations put in place by businesses and workplaces. Still, they are a big step toward emerging from the pandemic.
"If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic," Walensky said. President Joe Biden, who made vaccines the centerpiece of his early administration, spoke to reporters without a mask. “I think it’s a great milestone, a great day,” he said.
On morning television, Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) hammered her point that the former president continues to endanger our nation. She also insisted that the U.S. must have a January 6 commission, as it has had an investigative commission for every similar threat, but said that fellow Republicans opposed such a commission because it threatened those “who may have been playing a role they should not have been playing.”
Those who were playing a role they should not have been playing today turned out to include an active-duty Marine Corps officer, Major Christopher Warnagiris, who was arrested for assaulting the Capitol on January 6.
And there are others associated with the administration who may have been playing a role they should not have been, aside from the events of January 6.
For weeks now, rumors have swirled about Trump loyalist Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and his friend Joel Greenberg, the former tax collector for Seminole County, Florida, who is under indictment for sex trafficking of a minor and 32 other counts. Papers filed today suggest that Greenberg has made a deal with prosecutors. The terms of the deal are not public, but they might not bode well for Gaetz.
At the New York Times, Adam Goldman and Mark Mazzetti wrote today that Project Veritas (that right-wing group always trying to catch people on video doing something illegal) was part of an effort during the Trump years to discredit both FBI agents and H.R. McMaster, the former three-star general who was at the time Trump’s national security advisor. Project leaders hoped to get the agents and McMaster, who was perceived as being insufficiently loyal to the former president, to say something damning about the president so they could be removed. One of the participants in the project was Barbara Ledeen, a staff member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was, at the time, led by Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA).
But the real blockbuster political story of the day came in the form of a video obtained by Mother Jones and written about in a detailed article there by Ari Berman and Nick Surgey. The leaked video shows Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action for America—the political arm of the right-wing Heritage Foundation think tank—explaining to big-money donors that Heritage Action has worked closely with Republican state legislators to enact voter suppression laws. “In some cases, we actually draft them for them,” she said, “or we have a sentinel on our behalf give them the model legislation so it has that grassroots, from-the-bottom-up type of vibe.”
The story is not entirely new. Heritage (as it is known) published a report last February outlining “best practices” for voting, many of which are in the new bills coming out of Republican-dominated state legislatures. And in a March article for the New York Times, Nick Corasaniti and Reid J. Epstein outlined the role of Heritage Action in Georgia’s and Arizona’s voting restrictions, noting that at least 23 of the proposed state bills that dealt with voting had language that looked like that of Heritage. They also wrote that Heritage plans to spend $24 million to change voting laws in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, Texas, and Wisconsin before the 2022 election, and that the person behind the Heritage voting policies is Hans von Spakovsky, who mainstreamed the idea of voter fraud in the Republican Party, although experts agree it is vanishingly rare.
What is new and dramatic about the video is seeing Anderson make her pitch to donors for a coordinated right-wing effort to take the vote away from their opponents. She talks of working with similar groups: “We literally give marching orders for the week ahead,” Anderson said. “All so we’re singing from the same song sheet of the goals for that week and where the state bills are across the country.”
Heritage Action is fighting hard against the Democrats’ For the People Act, which would protect the right to vote, end partisan gerrymandering, and limit money in politics. Heritage summarized the bill, which it called the “Corrupt Politicians Act,” in a short sheet for lawmakers. Anderson explained: “We’ve made sure that every single member of Congress knows just how bad the bill is…. Then we’ve made sure there’s an echo chamber of support around these senators driven by your Heritage Action activists and sentinels across the country where we’ve driven hundreds of thousands of calls, emails, place[d] letters to the editor, hosted events, and run television and digital ads.”
Democrats cannot pass the For the People Act through the Senate without buy-in from all 50 of their senators, and Surgey noted that in March, Heritage Action and similar groups bussed protesters to West Virginia from other states for a big rally at the capitol to pressure Democratic West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.
The “grassroots” protest against “voter fraud” is, in fact, conceived, funded, and organized by one of the most powerful elite political organizations in the country.
Manchin has suggested he will not support the For the People Act without Republican support, so yesterday, he suggested a different way to address the recent voter suppression measures. Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, states and local governments that had a history of racist election laws had to get clearance from federal officials before they put new election rules in place. The Supreme Court gutted that rule in 2013 with the Shelby County v. Holder decision (which is why all these new laws are going into the books). Manchin called for restoring the old system of preclearance, but applying it to all states and territories, not just the nine to which it had previously applied, thus taking away the Supreme Court’s objection that it singled out certain states.
Manchin’s workaround wouldn’t deal with gerrymandering or big money, but it would certainly be a start toward leveling the electoral playing field, and historically, support for the Voting Rights Act was bipartisan. No longer. Almost immediately, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) shot Manchin’s plan down.