November 4, 2021

Republican state legislatures are gerrymandering districts to elect members to the House of Representatives. The results are extreme.

According to voting expert Ari Berman, in Ohio, where former president Trump got 53% of the vote in 2020, the new maps would give Republicans 86% of seats. In North Carolina, where Trump won 49.9% of the vote, Republicans would take 71–78% of seats, which translates to a 10–4 advantage if the voters split the vote evenly. In Wisconsin, where Trump won 49% of the vote, the new maps give Republicans 75% of the seats. In Texas, where Trump got 52% of the vote, Republicans would take 65% of the seats.

Skewing election results toward Republicans plays to former president Donald Trump, who tried to steal the 2020 election by using the power of the federal government to hamstring his Democratic opponent.

Today, news broke that federal prosecutors have uncovered a new angle in the 2019 Ukraine scandal. It appears Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani, Victoria Toensing, and Joe DiGenova were working with corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko to announce and promote an “investigation” into Hunter Biden in Ukraine to damage his father Joe Biden’s chances of election to the U.S. presidency. To curry favor with the Trump administration, Lutsenko promised hundreds of thousands of dollars to the three lawyers. Volodymyr Zelensky’s election upended the scheme, Trump tried to pressure him to take it up, and the rest of that story is history, but the original plan appears to be deeper than previously proven.

Trump’s attack on the 2020 election is getting pushback, too, from Smartmatic, a company that provides election technology. On Wednesday, it sued right-wing media outlets Newsmax and One America News Network for defamation, after the outlets aired stories accusing Smartmatic of rigging the 2020 vote. Today, CNN called attention to videos from Giuliani and Trump lawyer Sidney Powell in a different lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems saying they did not check any of their accusations of voter fraud before putting them in front of the public.

And yet, as Democrats try to restore a level playing field through the Freedom to Vote Act, Republican senators yesterday blocked even discussion of the measure for the third time. And they are launching objections to the confirmations of nominees to routine appointments, running out the clock on the Senate calendar.

Today the Department of Justice used the slim means the Supreme Court has left to it in order to sue the state of Texas for its new voter restriction laws, saying they “disenfranchise eligible Texas citizens who seek to exercise their right to vote, including voters with limited English proficiency, voters with disabilities, elderly voters, members of the military deployed away from home, and American citizens residing outside of the country.”

Texas governor Greg Abbott tweeted in response: "Bring it. The Texas election integrity law is legal. It INCREASES hours to vote. It does restrict illegal mail ballot voting. Only those who qualify can vote by mail. It also makes ballot harvesting a felony. In Texas it is easier to vote but harder to cheat."

This is, of course, the standard Republican defense of the many new laws Republican-dominated state legislatures have passed after the 2020 election, which they falsely claim was marred by voter fraud. Perhaps more to the point was the response of Georgia officials to a similar lawsuit by the Department of Justice, saying that the lawsuit was "not a serious legal challenge but a politically motivated effort to usurp the constitutional authority of Georgia’s elected officials to regulate elections."

Republicans are holding tight to the idea of pre–Civil War Democrats that our system of democracy gives to the states alone the power to determine how people within those states live, and who in those states gets to vote to determine those rules. After that idea led to the Civil War, Republicans overturned it with the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, which give the federal government the power to protect equality within the states.

Since World War II, the federal government has taken that charge seriously, protecting minority voting in the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the Civil Rights Act of 1960, and, most thoroughly, in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since the passage of that measure, Congress repeatedly reauthorized it by large, bipartisan majorities, most recently in 2006, when the Senate voted unanimously in favor of it. But then in 2013 the Supreme Court gutted that law, and now, only 8 years later, Republican senators claim federal protection of voting rights is an assault on states’ rights.

Today, Delaware Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat, published an op-ed in the USA Today network describing how he happened, as a first-year student at Ohio State University on a Navy ROTC scholarship, to hear arguments in the House Judiciary Committee over the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Those debates inspired him to pursue a career in government. Today, as state legislatures pass laws to curb minority voting, Carper called for Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Carper said he hoped Republicans and Democrats could come to an agreement on the voting rights bills, “But,” he said, “I cannot look the other way if total obstruction continues. I do not come to this decision lightly, but it has become clear to me that if the filibuster is standing in the way of protecting our democracy then the filibuster isn’t working for our democracy.”

Montana Senator Jon Tester, another of the Democrats vocal about protecting the filibuster, agreed with Carper that his patience was not unlimited. Republicans, he said, were “weaponizing the filibuster.” “Right now, I am focused on getting voting rights moving forward,” he told Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan. But “[a]t a certain point, if we can’t accomplish that, I am going to say, ‘We have to move forward, with or without you.’”

Meanwhile, the Biden administration continues to push its agenda.

The Build Back Better bill got a boost today when a new report from Moody's Analytics concluded that the current package would strengthen long-term growth, starting to adjust the currently badly skewed economic playing field by helping lower- and middle-income Americans. Answering the concern that the measure would create debt, Moody’s concluded that it would indeed pay for itself. It added, “Concerns that the plan will ignite undesirably high inflation and an overheating economy are overdone.”

“The bipartisan infrastructure deal provides a modest increase in infrastructure spending and it thus supports only a modestly stronger economy,” the report says, but “[t]he reconciliation package is much larger and thus meaningfully lifts economic growth and jobs and lowers unemployment.” It concludes that together, the two measures will add 1.5 million jobs per year and increase GDP by nearly $3 trillion relative to the baseline in the next decade.

“The nation has long underinvested in its infrastructure and social needs and has been slow to respond to the threat posed by climate change, with mounting economic consequences,” the report concluded. “[F]ailing to pass [this] legislation would certainly diminish the economy’s prospects.”

And that economy is healing in the wake of the pandemic. Jobless claims last week dropped to a low since the start of the pandemic, down 14,000 to reach 269,000 last week. This is about 75% lower than they were when Biden took office. In early January, they were more than 900,000. We are almost back to the level they were before the pandemic, when they were around 220,000 a week. About 2.1 million Americans collected unemployment insurance last week, down from 7.1 million a year ago.

The strength of these two reports helped to close the S&P 500 Index that tracks the performance of 500 large companies at 4,680.06, an all-time high.