Trump attorney defends the right to assassinate political opponents

On Tuesday morning, attorneys for Donald Trump appeared in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to argue that Trump can’t be prosecuted for his acts in attempting to overthrow the 2020 election. Rather than trying to weave some complex legal theory under which recruiting false electors and spreading claims of election fraud is a presidential duty, Trump attorney John Sauer took a decidedly more radical approach.

According to Sauer, a president can do just about anything without facing criminal prosecution unless they are first impeached on the same charge. It was an approach that led to some decidedly jaw-dropping back and forth with the panel of appellate judges.

Judge Florence Pan: Could a president order SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political rival? That is an official act, an order to SEAL Team Six?

Sauer: He would have to be, and would speedily be impeached and convicted before the criminal prosecution.

Pan: I asked you a yes or no question.

Sauer: If he were impeached and convicted first.

If that sounds like Trump’s attorney saying a president could order a hit on a political opponent and never face prosecution unless his own party supported his impeachment, that’s exactly what he said.

Could a president sell pardons? Yes, according to Sauer. Could a president sell military secrets to a foreign government? Sauer tried to weasel out of giving a simple answer to any of the hypotheticals thrown his way, but eventually went back to his central theme: A president has total immunity from all prosecution, civil and criminal, unless they are first charged in the House and impeached in the Senate.

Not only was this a position so extreme that even former Trump attorney Ty Cobb wrote to the court to oppose this view, but it turned out to be a wee bit contradictory to a position that Trump held when he was actually facing impeachment.

In 2021, Trump argued that there was no need for a last-minute impeachment since he could always be prosecuted later. Now Trump is attempting to use his party’s failure to vote for his impeachment as a guarantee that he can’t be prosecuted.

Pan: Say the president was impeached and convicted on a charge of incitement of insurrection. Then the government could bring a prosecution for the same or related conduct?

Sauer: Correct.

Again, I can't WAIT for the reports of how Trump is taking this -- his attorney arguing that Biden can assassinate him.

— emptywheel (@emptywheel) January 9, 2024

At the close of Sauer’s presentation, Pan made it clear that everything in Trump’s case hinged on this interpretation that any charges required an impeachment first.

“That is, if he’s correct that the impeachment judgment clause includes this impeachment first rule, then he wins,” Pan said, “and if he’s wrong, if we think the impeachment judgment clause does not contain an impeachment first rule, then he loses.”

Sauer agreed with the statement.

But the best summary of Sauer’s argument may have come from Judge Karen Henderson. “I think it is paradoxical to say that his constitutional duty to take care of the laws be faithfully executed allows him to violate criminal law,” Henderson said.

The arguments in court followed a midnight social media appearance from Trump in which he delivered a string of false accusations against President Joe Biden. This included claims that all the state and federal charges leveled at Trump were on Biden’s orders.

Following the hearing, which Trump attended, his attorneys were back with a repeat of those same false claims. They threatened that unless Trump gets complete immunity, Biden could be prosecuted just because the DOJ brought charges against Trump.

Lauro: Joe Biden could be prosecuted from trying to stop this man from becoming the next president of the United States.

— Acyn (@Acyn) January 9, 2024

Or, to put it another way …

So far, Trump's lawyer's argument comes down to: If you prosecute Trump, we'll come after you, whether what you've done is crimes or not, and we'll do it in Texas with a Texas jury.

— Joyce Alene (@JoyceWhiteVance) January 9, 2024

Arguments on Tuesday were related to the four-count indictment special counsel Jack Smith filed against Trump in connection with his efforts to overturn the 2020 results. The trial in that case is slated to begin on March 4, but U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan has put further hearings on hold until the issue of immunity is resolved.

Whatever happens at the appellate level, the results are almost certain to be immediately appealed to the Supreme Court.

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Hero Capitol police officer to receive highest honor Congress can bestow, Nancy Pelosi announces

Newly released security camera footage revealed that the Capitol police officer celebrated as a hero for diverting an angry mob away from legislators during the Jan. 6 insurrection also possibly saved the life of a specific legislator who didn’t realize he was in immediate danger. Sen. Mitt Romney didn't know he was approaching a white supremacist mob when he first encountered Officer Eugene Goodman in the hallway of the Capitol building, The Washington Post reported. Rep. Stacey Plaskett presented footage of the scene during the impeachment trial on Wednesday.

"You all may have seen footage of Officer Goodman previously, but there's more to his heroic story. In this security footage you can see Officer Goodman running to respond to the initial breach,” Plaskett said, narrating the footage. “Officer Goodman passes Senator Mitt Romney and directs him to turn around in order to get to safety. On the first floor just beneath them, the mob had already started to search for the Senate Chamber."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Thursday that she’s introducing legislation to award Goodman and other officers who stood guard during the insurrection with a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow, Pelosi said in a press release. “The service of the Capitol Police force that day brings honor to our Democracy, and their accepting this Gold Medal will bring luster to this award,” she said in the release.

Goodman initially attracted praise when HuffPost reporter Igor Bobic tweeted footage of the officer diverting insurrectionists on Jan. 6. It has since been viewed more than 10 million times. “Just now realizing how much of a close call it was in the Senate,” Bobic tweeted. He told Good Morning America that certifying electoral votes from the presidential election, the act that the terrorist mob was trying to interrupt, is normally a routine practice, but last month, “a commotion” and “yelling” began during the process. "And I ran downstairs to the first floor of the Senate building, where I encountered this lone police officer courageously making a stand against the mob of 20 or so Trump supporters who breached the capitol itself and were trying to get upstairs,” Bobic said.

Here’s the scary moment when protesters initially got into the building from the first floor and made their way outside Senate chamber.

— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) January 6, 2021

Goodman, with no gun in hand and no tactical gear, pushed the mob leader in an effort to bait him and ran in the opposite direction of the Senate Chamber. “They were yelling ‘Traitors. We want justice. This is our America. If we don’t stop this now, we won’t get justice. Trump won,’” Bobic told Good Morning America. At times, the insurrectionists chased Goodman slowly. 

“Officer Eugene Goodman’s heroic actions on Jan 6th saved countless lives & prevented a violent mob from breaching the Senate Chamber,” Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. tweeted Wednesday. “We all owe him a debt of gratitude.” 

Officer Eugene Goodman's heroic actions on Jan 6th saved countless lives & prevented a violent mob from breaching the Senate Chamber. Officer Goodman should be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his bravery & service. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.

— Rep. Frank Pallone (@FrankPallone) February 11, 2021

Read Pelosi’s complete letter:

"This week has been an historic one for the Country and the Congress.  We have been reminded of the extraordinary valor of the United States Capitol Police, the men and women who risked and gave their lives to save ours, becoming martyrs for our democracy.

The outstanding heroism and patriotism of our heroes deserve and demand our deepest appreciation, which is why I am honored to introduce legislation to pay tribute to the Capitol Police and other law enforcement personnel who protected the U.S. Capitol on January 6 with the Congressional Gold Medal: the highest honor that the Congress can bestow.  The service of the Capitol Police force that day brings honor to our Democracy, and their accepting this Gold Medal will bring luster to this award.  A draft of this legislation is attached.

We must never forget the sacrifice of Officer Brian Sicknick, Officer Howard Liebengood, MPD Officer Jeffrey Smith and the more than 140 law enforcement officers who sustained physical injuries, or the courage of heroes such as Officer Eugene Goodman.  Indeed, we must stay vigilant against the “silent artillery of time,” as President Lincoln stated in his Lyceum Address – a speech that, fittingly, warned of the dire threat that mob insurrectionists could represent to our Democracy: “If [danger] ever reach us it must spring up amongst us; it cannot come from abroad.  If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher."  We promised the families that we will never forget.”

RELATED: Hero cop comes face-to-face with man so out of touch with reality he seems to consider Trump God

New footage raises questions about Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick’s death on January 6

As investigations into the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection continue, federal authorities have not only arrested multiple individuals in connection to the violence but narrowed down a few suspects connected to the death of Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick. Sicknick was one of five individuals who died during the riot; currently investigations into who is responsible for his death continue. The 13-year police veteran died a day after the riots after collapsing in his office after he was "injured while physically engaging with protestors," Capitol Police said in a statement last month. While initial reports indicated 42-year-old Sicknick was killed after being struck with a fire extinguisher, those reports were proven untrue.

According to CNN, new video evidence has aided investigators in their search and raised hopes that charges may be brought in the case soon. Sicknick’s death has been a complicated case where investigators have struggled to determine what moment he suffered his fatal injuries; while initial reports indicated he was struck by a fire extinguisher, no evidence of blunt force trauma was found. The new video footage suggests that a suspect may have sprayed an irritant, such as bear spray, that caused Sicknick to suffer a fatal reaction, an official said Wednesday.  

Audio clips played during Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial depicted officers screaming during the Jan. 6 attacks that some mob members were spraying them with bear spray. Supporting these claims, Sen. Mitt Romney told reporters Wednesday that Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman had also shared that "he had to breathe a lot of bear spray and tear gas and that he was nauseated.” Other footage of officers being beaten by rioters were also shared to determine Trump’s role in the violence. According to court documents, more than 100 officers were injured during the riots and at least 15 officers required hospitalization.

The evening of the insurrection, Sicknick told his elder brother that while he had been pepper-sprayed at least twice, he felt fine, ProPublica reported. His family was then alerted the next day that he had suffered a stroke in his office.

To honor his bravery and commitment to protecting members of the Capitol Sicknick received one of the highest tributes that Congress can offer a civilian—he was laid in honor in the Capitol building. “That Brian and his family were made to pay such a high price for his devoted service in the Capitol was a senseless tragedy, one that we are still grappling with,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at the congressional tribute for Sicknick.

Sicknick’s death is heartbreaking. The actions that occurred the night of the insurrection were a sad reminder as to how backward the United States had become under the Trump administration. Fueled by hate and violence for years, Trump supporters have continued to hurt others without any regret. To date, more than 50 cases of violence have directly cited Trump as the influence and reason for the crime. Trump supporters have not only directed violence toward those who disagree with them but threatened a large number of public servants amid the pandemic. Additionally, hate crimes have seen a significant increase since Trump’s presidential term.

Trump and his minions must pay for their actions and justice must be served. As investigations continue, we can only hope that not only Sicknick’s murderer but all others involved in the Capitol riots are brought to justice. This new evidence raises questions on what actually happened on Jan. 6 and sheds light on what other crimes may have been committed.

At this time the new video the FBI is reviewing and an autopsy report have not been made public and Sicknick’s death has not yet been declared a homicide. In addition to federal authorities, his death is being investigated by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's homicide branch, and Capitol Police.

‘Six people died’: More than 350 congressional staff members urge Senate to convict Trump

More than 350 congressional staff members signed an open letter Wednesday to the Senate, urging legislators to convict former President Donald Trump for inciting an attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. “As Congressional employees, we don’t have a vote on whether to convict Donald J. Trump for his role in inciting the violent attack at the Capitol, but our Senators do,” the staffers said in the letter. “And for our sake, and the sake of the country, we ask that they vote to convict the former president and bar him from ever holding office again.” Trump called for his supporters to march to the Capitol to block Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory last month. “We will never give up,” he said at a Save America rally in Washington, D.C. “We will never concede. It doesn't happen. You don't concede when there's theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore, and that is what this is all about.”

With those words, he effectively ended a 230-year tradition of peaceful transitions of power, the congressional staffers pointed out. “Six people died. A Capitol Police officer—one of our co-workers who guards and greets us every day—was beaten to death,” they said. “The attack on our workplace was inspired by lies told by the former president and others about the results of the election in a baseless, months-long effort to reject votes lawfully cast by the American people.”

Those who signed the letter represent more than 100 offices from the House, 15 from the Senate, and 10 committees, CNN reported. "No one should have to experience something like this in their place of work," an unnamed staff member told CNN before the letter was released. "And I think it's important to tell this part of the story, because it's not just members of Congress who come to work at the Capitol every day. And it's not just staffers who work at the Capitol who were traumatized by what happened. And I think that is a piece of it.

“The trauma is there; the trauma is very real. And anytime that new pieces of information come out, you know, you're kind of re-traumatized.”

Read the workers’ complete letter below:

“We are staff who work for members of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, where it is our honor and privilege to serve our country and our fellow Americans. We write this letter to share our own views and experiences, not the views of our employers. But on January 6, 2021, our workplace was attacked by a violent mob trying to stop the electoral college vote count. That mob was incited by former president Donald J. Trump and his political allies, some of whom we pass every day in the hallways at work.

Many of us attended school in the post-Columbine era and were trained to respond to active shooter situations in our classrooms. As the mob smashed through Capitol Police barricades, broke doors and windows, and charged into the Capitol with body armor and weapons, many of us hid behind chairs and under desks or barricaded ourselves in offices. Others watched on TV and frantically tried to reach bosses and colleagues as they fled for their lives.

On January 6, the former President broke America’s 230-year legacy of the peaceful transition of power when he incited a mob to disrupt the counting of electoral college votes. Six people died. A Capitol Police officer—one of our co-workers who guards and greets us every day—was beaten to death. The attack on our workplace was inspired by lies told by the former president and others about the results of the election in a baseless, months-long effort to reject votes lawfully cast by the American people.

Our Constitution only works when we believe in it and defend it. It’s a shared commitment to equal justice, the rule of law, and the peaceful resolution of our differences. Any person who doesn’t share these beliefs has no place representing the American people, now or in the future. The use of violence and lies to overturn an election is not worthy of debate. Either you stand with the republic or against it.

As Congressional employees, we don’t have a vote on whether to convict Donald J. Trump for his role in inciting the violent attack at the Capitol, but our Senators do. And for our sake, and the sake of the country, we ask that they vote to convict the former president and bar him from ever holding office again.”

Media Matters’ Bobby Lewis talks insurrection, white supremacy, and the media

In the media ecosphere, researchers may be among the most undervalued players in the industry—especially those who focus on “opposition research,” which is the practice of collecting information on opponents. For Bobby Lewis, this means studying, tracking, and analyzing the many strands of conservative misinformation in the U.S. that threaten our multiracial democracy. Since 2016, Lewis has been a researcher at Media Matters, a progressive research and information center that monitors misinformation in the U.S. media. In practice, Lewis’ job requires that he monitor everything from far-right message boards to Fox News and mainstream print outlets.

During the Trump administration, Lewis’ primary focus was the Fox News morning show Fox & Friends, which he says functioned as “an informal morning briefing” for President Donald Trump that influenced countless policy decisions and in turn, dominated almost every media cycle. Lewis’ work monitoring Fox & Friends and other conservative media gave him tremendous insight into the right-wing narratives that were pushed in the days leading up to and following Jan. 6, when on live television, Trump supporters attempted to carry out a coup in the U.S. Capitol and overturn the results of the election. 

The American public is still processing what happened, and the media is grappling with how to accurately report on the people who stormed the Capitol in an attempted coup. While the actions of these Trump supporters were deadly, reporting makes it clear that it could have been worse. As we headed into Inauguration Day, Prism spoke to Lewis about the language and framing journalists should consider when covering these events, the historical precedence for racial terrorism, and what to expect from the Republican Party post-Trump. Our interview has been condensed and edited. [This interview was conduced before Inauguration Day.]

Tina Vasquez: Many media outlets still seem to be grappling with what language to use to describe the events of Jan. 6. As a researcher, how are you thinking about it or articulating what we saw at the Capitol?

Bobby Lewis: “Insurrection” is an appropriate term for what happened, as is “attempted coup.” Simply put, a group of pro-Trump extremists attacked the U.S. Capitol to stop Congress from certifying an election that Trump fairly lost. Insurrectionists fought police officers to gain control of the building—even murdering one of them—and planted bombs at the Republican and Democratic national committees. Regardless of any other variables, there’s no question that an insurrection against the federal government took place on Jan. 6. As researchers, we watched it unfold on live TV, and more videos are still all over social media. But if you were watching right-wing media, the attempt to downplay insurrection began immediately. Fox’s news division said, “[I]t’s not like it’s a siege,” there was “no vandalism” (aside from all the vandalism), and the “peaceful” gathering was “a huge victory” for the insurrectionists.

Vasquez: As a journalist, I’m really struggling with the mainstream media's continued assertion that Trump supporters descended on the Capitol because they believed their president when he said the election was stolen. That may be true in many instances, but it also seems clear that so many of Trump's supporters simply did not like the results of the election. But perhaps neither of these narratives are accurate or helpful. What is the most responsible way to report on why these people invaded the Capitol?

Lewis: The first thing to keep in mind is that as we all saw, an insurrection took place. Every individual on the National Mall that day isn’t guilty of trying to overthrow democracy, but there were more than enough bad actors to mount a serious, violent attack on Congress, which came seconds from meeting its targets face-to-face with weapons and zip ties. That’s the most important thing that happened that afternoon. Attacking Congress is attacking our democracy, and given the United States’ rich history of violent white supremacists overthrowing democracy, we should remain focused on that threat above all else.

Those who attended the rallies on the National Mall were deluded by right-wing media and the president into believing the election was stolen and Trump actually won. At a minimum, the prevalence of those false claims created a space that allowed the rally and the violence to happen. In either case, it’s another symptom of our country’s depressingly vast information crisis, where tens of millions of Americans believe that our sources for information about the world are “fake news,” a belief that is ironically often based on exaggerated or false claims from unreliable sources they loyally trust.

Vasquez: Broadly, the media tends to convey surprise when right-wing movements have a show of force and there is little articulation of how it was a clear escalation of the rhetoric and conduct that’s been building over the last few years or that there is historical precedent for how white people behave in this country. We've heard that the Capitol was "unprepared" for what happened. Tell me what you know about how openly that week's events were being planned.

Lewis: The attack on the Capitol was, at least in part, planned in public. For weeks, far-right users on Parler and Telegram were openly brimming with violent fantasies about Jan. 6 in Washington. We shouldn’t forget the role of the mainstream social media platforms either. While Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg claimed that the insurrectionist attacks were “largely” not organized on Facebook, our research found at least 70 “Stop the Steal” affiliated groups on that site—importantly, 46 of these were private groups, a type of group that Facebook has struggled to regulate before.

The “Stop the Steal” movement, led by far-right personality Ali Alexander—and reportedly organized with help from GOP Reps. Andy Biggs, Mo Brooks, and Paul Gosar—attracted many extremists to the protest that would become an insurrection. Infowars’ Alex Jones heavily promoted and raised funds for the Jan. 6 event with violent rhetoric. There were plenty of warning signs that the police missed, accidentally or otherwise—an open question, with investigations underway into over a dozen officers—but it is clear that the Capitol Police force, like the rest of the government, doesn’t take the right-wing extremist threat as seriously as it should.

Immediately, the insurrection was an obvious escalation of Trump’s countless lies about voter fraud, which were reliably fed to him by Fox News, Newsmax, One America News, and others for months, even before the November election. In fact, right-wing media outlets have been lying about voter fraud and fearmongering about civil war for many years, so the groundwork for a violent rebellion has arguably been building on the right for a very long time. The precursors to insurrection fell together, more or less right in front of our eyes.

Vasquez: So this is an escalation of what we’ve seen over the last four years, but there is also historical precedence for this. I’ve been thinking about the Wilmington, North Carolina, insurrection.

Lewis: We do need to put the insurrection in a proper historical context. As Adam Serwer pointed out in The Atlantic, true democracy in the United States is not 244 years old—it’s only 55 years old, dating to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which guaranteed the vote (at least officially) to all Americans regardless of skin color. Prior to that we had Jim Crow, a system of racist governments throughout the South that established itself on the ashes of our brief attempts to enfranchise Black men (but not women) after the Civil War. The federal government eventually lost interest in protecting Reconstruction governments, and in time they were all destroyed by white supremacist terrorism.

The era of our true democracy has culminated so far in a multiracial coalition electing the first Black president, Barack Obama—and then an overwhelmingly white coalition electing the man who built a political career on saying Obama was not American. And on the day of the insurrection, this latter coalition stormed the Capitol in a violent attempt to keep its aggrieved leader in office. The insurrection was an expression of the systemically racist history of the country, much of which we also saw in racist coverage of Black Lives Matter protests. American white supremacy always strikes back after Black political achievement, and we already surrendered democracy to racist revanchism once before. It cannot happen again.

Vasquez: Over the course of the Trump administration, the media has reported on Trump supporters as if they are generally "working class" people with "economic anxieties," rather than racists who were moved by Trump’s rhetoric. The use of class status to elide a discussion of race is common, but as recent reporting has shown us, the insurrectionists came from all of the country and some were affluent—a fact mainstream media continues to appear surprised by. What are the characteristics of Trump supporters that you think are worth noting, what are the similarities his followers actually have?

Lewis: The most notable aspect of Trump support is a sense of grievance and anger over anything they feel has been taken from them. Since Trump himself is a perpetual victim, he cultivates this attitude in his followers as an us versus them ethos in which he and his followers are fighting alone for good and everyone else—the establishment, the media, Democratic voters, anyone who gets in Trump’s way—is the enemy of the people. Conservative media focus this hatred into political action, sometimes in ways that betray their poorest supporters, such as lying that Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy improved wages. Clearly, this sort of grievance knows no economic boundaries. Accordingly, there are extremely poor and extremely wealthy Trump supporters, and they all agree that some often intangible thing has been taken from them and that whatever the problem is, Trump will make it “great again.” 

Journalists should strongly resist the trap of assuming that Trump supporters, especially violent ones, are necessarily poor or uneducated. It strikes me as a holdover from the early days of Trumpism, when few in the media seemed to grasp the full picture of what was coming. It lends an embarrassing amount of accuracy to the Trumpist complaint that the media “doesn’t understand” them. And it’s a baffling mistake to make when we know Trump and his allies have had the support of a lot of the conservative intelligentsia and received plenty of donations from wealthy Americans. Also, the kind of tactical gear we saw on display in the Capitol attack is not cheap, much like highly customized AR-15s often seen at right-wing demonstrations. Lazy stereotyping helps nobody, and it actually hinders efforts to fully understand the white supremacist threat.

Vasquez: Leading up to the attempted coup, what were the most marked ways that right-wing media outlets fanned the flames of insurrection?

Lewis: Evidence has always shown that the results of the 2020 election were secure and accurate; there was never any credible reason to entertain the countless fraud claims. Yet in the run-up to Jan. 6, right-wing media kept pushing and entertaining “rigged election” claims in ways big and small, even down to refusing to refer to now-President Biden as “president-elect.” A violent attempt to overthrow the election may have found less popular support if right-wing media hadn’t poisoned the discourse with months, years, and even decades of baseless lies that widespread voter fraud steals elections, while also telling the audience that certifying the 2020 election is “the most dangerous assault on the very nature of America, certainly in our lifetime, and maybe since the previous Civil War.”

Vasquez: What did you find notable about right-wing media outlets' coverage or reframing of the coup? What are the narratives that Americans should be aware of, and how can they push back on them?

Lewis: It was remarkable how quickly false claims spread that “antifa” was responsible for the Capitol attack. Before the mob had even left the building, people across social media began posting videos from Capitol Hill claiming that “antifa” went undercover as Trump supporters to start violence. Conservatives quote-tweeted coverage with assumptions or claims that antifa was responsible, and tried to match people in photos from the Capitol with people in photos from anti-fascist protests. The claim peaked with a Washington Times article “reporting” that facial recognition had proved “antifa” involvement, a false claim which was retracted, but not until after it spread through right-wing media and made it to Congress, thanks to Rep. Matt Gaetz.

If we don’t indulge further right-wing lies about George Soros or “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” it’s unclear who would execute this B-movie “antifa” infiltration plot, or to what end. Unfortunately, it’s easier to share lies than report the truth, and once the lie has spread, truth plays catch-up forever.

Another narrative Americans should be wary of is the suggestion that the country should just move on, couched in vague appeals to “unity” that deliberately avoid a full reckoning of the insurrection. Fox & Friends, perhaps the president’s favorite TV show, said that Trump should not be impeached because his supporters are “ready to explode” and a second impeachment could inflame them further. Republican officials, including some who encouraged the insurrection, similarly call for “unity” as a response to impeachment. But there can be no “unity” without consequences for those who endangered the republic. And history has shown us, over and over again, that a failed insurrection with no consequences is a trial run for eventual success.

Vasquez: The events of Jan. 6 and everything we’ve learned in the days since have really shown some of these right-wing movements for what they are. It’s never been about patriotism or religion or freedom of speech, but rather a white supremacist power grab. Could this in any way be a moment of opportunity for progressive movements?

Lewis: Particularly at this moment, I think the most important thing people can do is demand that responsibility be taken not only for the violence on Capitol Hill, but also for the Trump and right-wing media-driven voter fraud lies that built the permissive environment for the insurrection. Dozens of corporations have suspended or eliminated contributions to members of Congress who voted against certifying the election; hundreds of business leaders denounced the insurrection; Trump’s approval is near record lows—society in this moment, including some critical levers of political power, is uniquely hostile to the revanchist conservatism that led to the insurrection. Fox News is still one of Trump’s most powerful allies, but as the Trumpist push against the election grew more extreme, the network lost viewers to right-wing rivals Newsmax and OAN, and Fox may have begun to get on the bad side of its biggest remaining advertiser—because he doesn’t think Fox supports Trump enough. With corporations eager to distance themselves from the insurrection, perhaps even Fox News’ cable fees could be imperiled by the network’s strong push to undermine the 2020 election. People of conscience should press the advantage and demand consequences for the attack on democracy before this unique moment passes.

Vasquez: There is no denying that the Trump administration has been a goldmine for mainstream and cable news and the journalists who cover Trump closely. What are the ways in which mainstream and cable news networks are responsible for normalizing Trump's rhetoric and underplaying how dangerous and violent it is?

Lewis: It was well-documented that CNN gave enormous amounts of free airtime to the Trump campaign in 2016, back when the network was obsessed with the spectacle of a game show host running for president. CNN also developed a terrible habit of hiring former Trump officials to provide commentary, even though they were contractually forbidden from criticizing Trump and many of them abruptly quit or got fired in disgrace. Les Moonves, the former CEO of CBS who later lost his job for being a sexual predator, said Trump’s run for president “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Although those days have passed and in some ways coverage of Trump got much better, some normalizing trends unfortunately remained for the duration of Trump’s presidency.

For one, there is absolutely no need to invite a government official on a show when the network knows the official is just going to lie to the audience. Mainstream media outlets do have a critical “truth-telling” role, but telling the truth does not require platforming a liar, even if the liar has a prestigious job like White House press secretary. Continuing to have them on air, even if the interviews are contentious and filled with fact checks, does harm by treating a violently abnormal administration as normal.

A related scourge is mainstream media companies paying contributors or writers to represent conservative viewpoints with lies and misdirection. Showcasing a variety of viewpoints is one thing, but it is antithetical to the mission of a news organization to pay someone like conservative columnist Bret Stephens to mask vapid concern trolling as principled conservative arguments. Even in an opinion vertical, it’s unacceptable—not to mention the fact that Stephens has repeatedly embarrassed The New York Times with his terrible columns and petulant, entitled behavior. News staffers have likely been fired with cause for much less.

I am also concerned that, in time, Trump officials will get to become well-paid media contributors and consulting executives despite the current popular scorn toward them. It may seem unthinkable amid the current level of popular and corporate outrage, but many former George W. Bush administration officials found comfortable gigs despite their various roles in launching or supporting the Iraq War, which was also based on lies in the media. Some former Trump officials, like John Bolton, are already collecting checks thanks to their time with President Trump. They should never work in or near politics again.

Vasquez: Among journalists, there has been a lot of talk about the words we need to be using in reporting to describe the perpetrators of the attempted coup—white supremacists, domestic terrorists, insurrectionists, etc. As someone who studies media and right-wing movements, what framing do you think is important for journalists to use right now? 

Lewis: It’s important to remember that white supremacy was a central force in the insurrection, much like it is with Trumpism. White supremacy has always been the biggest threat to multiracial democracy, and the federal government often releases assessments to this effect. 9/11 notwithstanding, white supremacist terrorism has killed more Americans than any other kind by far. But people, often conservatives, resist the need to talk about white supremacy, which only helps the white supremacists. Relatedly, it’s equally important to keep our focus on the fact that this was an attack on multiracial democracy, which is still quite young and fragile.

We can also never forget that right-wing media misinformation got us to this point. Whether one goes back to the “rigged election” lies of the 2020 election, the countless lies and misdirection that defended Trump’s other disgraces, or the more mundane “voter fraud” lies of the Bush/Obama era, conservative media have been misleading their audience about the fundamental workings of politics for years. Conservative media poisoned people’s minds with lies about the world, and then kept them from learning the truth by smearing truth-tellers with more misinformation. Trump, conservative media’s biggest fan, amplified these tendencies. Why would a die-hard Trump supporter believe that the election was fair, just because “fake news CNN” and its “deep state” sources said so? Or why would a staunch Republican believe humans cause climate change just because the liberal New York Times and the left-wing intelligentsia say so? The insurrection was, in some ways, an outgrowth of a larger information crisis that sits largely (but not entirely) at the feet of right-wing media.

Vasquez: What do you want Americans to be on the lookout for ahead of Inauguration Day? What are you anticipating will happen, and how do you recommend the media covers whatever happens?

Lewis: Unfortunately, Americans should be on the lookout for people in their communities planning or discussing political violence. The FBI is expecting armed protests at all 50 state legislatures, and again at the U.S. Capitol in the lead-up to the inauguration—if true, it potentially poses a nationwide threat. Americans do have a right to protest, even to protest based on malicious lies, but we must be vigilant for overly apocalyptic rhetoric, calls for and suggestions of violence, and stockpiling of weapons. If there is a protest in your area, consider who’s organizing it and who is scheduled to appear—any person or group who was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, or helped organize or finance those events, should be a red flag. 

As someone who is from D.C. and who works in media, I unfortunately expect there to be violence around Inauguration Day. With any luck, my expectations will be incorrect. Violent far-right actors can often be all talk, but as we recently saw, things turn deadly when they decide they’re not bluffing. And with concurrent armed protests reportedly planned nationwide, there are many more situations that could potentially spiral out of control.

Whatever happens, the media should remember that our democracy itself came under attack on the Jan. 6, and it appears to remain gravely threatened by the possibility of more insurrection. Protest is an American right, but insurrection is not—and it’s not an “unfair bias” for the media to be forcefully direct about who enables attacks on our democracy. Telling that truth will be extremely unpopular, and will likely result in death threats, potentially even actual violence—but with the stakes so high, there is no other option.

Vasquez: You’ve talked about the role of conservatives and conservative media in how we got here, but I’m curious where you see the Republican Party going post-Trump. Actually, where do you think all of this is going?

Lewis: I think people need to begin considering the idea that modern, mainstream U.S. conservatism is fundamentally a racist movement. It can be a difficult and scary concept to think about given that it represents roughly half of the politically active adults in this country—and I’m not calling every conservative a racist or a terrorist—but for the past 50 years, the violent forces that would undo racial democracy have found a mainstream political home in Republican politics and nowhere else. From Lee Atwater’s Southern strategy to Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” white supremacy has been a strong and consistent undercurrent on the right for half a century—like it used to be for the Democrats prior to 1965. Again, we see this reflected in conservative media coverage like that attacking President Obama as a Kenyan Muslim and calling Black Lives Matter activists “thugs” and “terrorists.” The clear racism in this media coverage is only clearer when juxtaposed with coverage of the “protesters” at the Capitol.

I’ve believed for all of my adult life that Republicans need an honest reckoning with how they became the party of white supremacy. Similarly, conservative media must think critically about the ways in which their coverage—including the false “voter fraud” obsession—has reinforced white supremacy. But even after the Republican president inspired a white supremacist attack on the Capitol, fed by reckless lies in right-wing media, it seems like that reckoning will never come—and the white supremacists will complete their takeover of the party.

Tina Vasquez is a senior reporter for Prism. She covers gender justice, workers’ rights, and immigration. Follow her on Twitter @TheTinaVasquez.

Prism is a BIPOC-led nonprofit news outlet that centers the people, places and issues currently underreported by our national media. Through our original reporting, analysis, and commentary, we challenge dominant, toxic narratives perpetuated by the mainstream press and work to build a full and accurate record of what’s happening in our democracy. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Every minute of AOC’s hour-long Instagram video about the pro-Trump insurgency is worth watching

On Tuesday night, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hopped onto an Instagram live video and shared her experience during the pro-Trump insurgency at the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday. In a moving address straight to followers (of which more than 100,000 people joined in to listen and watch), the progressive lawmaker said she had a “very close encounter” with the rioters and  “I thought I was going to die.” She repeated the chilling sentiment later in the hour-long video, saying, “I did not know if I was going to make it to the end of that day alive.” She did not give more details on the encounter, citing security reasons.

What did she give more details on? Her concerns about sheltering with some Republican lawmakers. Why? Because she was afraid some of them might give up her location or enable chances for her to be hurt or kidnapped by insurgents. Let’s dive more into that horrifying possibility, as well as the lawmaker’s discussion of trauma and political nihilism, below.

“I didn’t even feel safe going to that extraction point because there were QAnon and white supremacist members of Congress who I felt would disclose my location and create opportunities to allow me to be hurt,” Ocasio-Cortez stated. She did not explicitly name the colleagues she thought might expose her to danger. 

"Let me give you a sneak peek,” she stated in an address to Republican Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. “You will never be president. You will never command the respect of this country, never. Never. And you should resign.”

Ocasio-Cortez also stressed that the two conservatives essentially cast their votes in an effort to overturn election votes “not out of genuine belief” but instead out of “political ambition.” She also described Donald Trump as a “traitor to our country,” which, of course, he is.

“I don't want to see the Republican Party talk about blue lives ever again,” Ocasio-Cortez said in reference to a Capitol police officer losing their life during the riot. “This was never about safety for them. It was always a slogan. … Because if they actually care about the rule of law, they would speak up when people break the law."

Ocasio-Cortez also spoke intimately about trauma, saying, “You have all of those thoughts where, at the end of your life, these thoughts come rushing to you. That’s what happened to a lot of us on Wednesday. I did not know if I was going to make it to the end of that day alive. And not just in a general sense, but in a very specific sense." She also brought up that in addition to members of Congress, staffers, and even the children of lawmakers, were at the Capitol that day. 

On a personal level, Ocasio-Cortez said she found herself sleeping more in the days after the riot, and that, “to me is telling me that my body is going through something and my brain is trying to heal."

People, as usual, were impressed by the progressive’s ability to connect with people—even at 11 PM on a weeknight.

.@AOC just gave an impassioned speech about impeachment to more than 100,000 people on Instagram at 11 o’clock on a Tuesday night. Her natural political skills, spontaneous eloquence and fluency with social media are so striking, especially at a national moment like this.

— Liam Stack (@liamstack) January 13, 2021

AOC is giving a Gettysburg Address level oration over Instagram live right now "White supremacy is doomed to fail... supremacy is a myth, so they resort to violence"

— Prerna Jagadeesh (@PrernaJagadeesh) January 13, 2021

Watching @AOC’s Instagram live and knowing as it happens that it’ll be featured in history books one day as a piece of important oratory of the moment is really something.

— Amanda Litman (@amandalitman) January 13, 2021

And her transparency was, as ever, moving and important.

Turns out the first moment of real human solidarity I've felt in the past 6 traumatizing days is watching @AOC's unbelievably moving instagram live with a bunch of friends and strangers who feel the same way on twitter at 11PM

— Helen Brosnan (@HelenBrosnan) January 13, 2021

Watching @AOC's instagram live helped me finally recognize all of the anger and grief and fear that's become so commonplace that I don't even notice I'm feeling it anymore. I'm really grateful for that.

— Taylor (@taylorjeanjn) January 13, 2021

AOC almost died the other day and got on Instagram Live to talk to us about trauma and what’s actually happening behind closed doors. Her transparency is a gift and will hopefully save lives

— ilana kaplan (@lanikaps) January 13, 2021

In speaking about nihilism in politics, Ocasio-Cortez really hit home with an emotional address, saying, “What claim will you have? That you rule over a destroyed society? That the ashes belong to you?" Those are questions every member of the Trump administration should answer. 

You can also watch snippets of the live stream on YouTube below.

Update: This statement from fellow progressive Squad member Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s chief of staff Sarah Groh about realizing panic buttons had reportedly been “torn out” of the Congresswoman's office adds another unsettling and chilling element.

According to Ayanna Pressley’s chief of staff Sarah Groh, the panic buttons in the Congresswoman’s office were all “torn out—the whole unit.” They don’t know why or who did it.

— Eoin Higgins (@EoinHiggins_) January 13, 2021

Hillary Clinton gets brutally honest about what our nation needs to do if we want to heal post-Trump

Less than one week after a group of pro-Trump insurgents rioted and stormed the U.S. Capitol, former U.S. secretary of state and 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton published a smart, somber analysis in The Washington Post. Surprising few, Clinton calls for Donald Trump to be impeached. She discusses the grief, horror, and trauma that comes with an insurgency at the Capitol. But she also discusses the white supremacy that enabled Trump—who wasn’t surprised by the violent riot in Washington, D.C. last week—and, perhaps most importantly, what President-elect Joe Biden must prioritize as president. 

Let’s discuss her op-ed below.

Clinton (accurately) points out that Trump ran for office “on a vision of America where whiteness is valued at the expense of everything else.” During his time in the White House, he emboldened white supremacists and conspiracy theorists and sowed a deep mistrust in some of the nation’s fundamental values, like a free and fair election, for example. Most recently, Clinton argues, when it came to the riotous attack on the Capitol, “Trump left no doubt about his wishes, in the lead-up to Jan. 6 and with his incendiary words before his mob descended.”

The obvious answer most Democrats, progressives, moderates, and even some Republicans agree on? We need to prosecute the domestic terrorists who attacked the Capitol. But as Clinton points out, it’s not actually enough to merely “scrutinize — and prosecute“ them. According to Clinton, “We all need to do some soul-searching of our own.”

Clinton points out that many, many people in this nation were not in the least bit surprised by what happened last Wednesday. Who? Many people of color. Why? Because, as Clinton puts it, “a violent mob waving Confederate flags and hanging nooses is a familiar sight in American history.” In bringing us through recent horrors, Clinton references police violence during Black Lives Matter protests and stresses the fact that if we want unity and some degree of healing, that process “starts with recognizing that this is indeed part of who we are.”

In practical terms, Clinton outlines a few key starting points. She wants to see social media platforms held accountable in efforts to stop the spread of violent speech, new state and federal laws to hold white supremacists accountable, and tracking the insurgents who stormed the Capitol. 

In the biggest, most immediate picture, Clinton wants to see Trump impeached and believes the Congress members who enabled him should resign immediately. Unsurprisingly, she also argues that “those who conspired with the domestic terrorists should be expelled immediately.”

There are currently 159 House members and 24 senators who are on record supporting impeachment and removal. Regardless of where your members of Congress stand, please send them a letter.

AOC cuts to the point: ‘We came close to half of the House nearly dying on Wednesday’

After an incredibly chaotic, exhausting, and, frankly, terrifying week, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared on ABC’s This Week and talked to host George Stephanopoulos about what we all know is true: “Every minute” that Donald Trump sits in office “represents a clear and present danger.” As many on social media have pointed out, if Trump can’t even be trusted with a Twitter account, how can he be trusted to run the country, hold nuclear codes, or guide us through a global pandemic? 

Still, some people are frustrated at the notion of removing Trump so close to the end of his term, wondering, Well, what’s the point? There’s symbolism, of course, in impeaching Trump for a second time. But there are also real, tangible benefits to removing Trump from office that can affect the country in both the short and long-term. Let’s check out how Ocasio-Cortez breaks them down in the clips below.

“Our main priority is to ensure the removal of Donald Trump as President of the United State,” Ocasio-Cortez told Stephanopoulos. “Every minute and every that he is in office represents a clear and present danger not just to the United States Congress but to the country. But in addition to removal, we’re also talking about completely barring the president—or rather, Donald Trump—from running for office ever again. And in addition to that, the potential ability to prevent pardoning himself from those charges that he was impeached for.”

Here’s that clip.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez backs impeachment, telling @GStephanopoulos “every minute" that Trump is "in office represents a clear and present danger.” “We’re also talking about complete barring of (Donald Trump) from running for office ever again.”

— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) January 10, 2021

Stephanopolous asked Ocasio-Cortez about the concerns of some that having an impeachment trial could slow down getting Biden’s agenda underway, including, for example, passing coronavirus relief and confirmations. Ocasio-Cortez argued that the “safety” of the president, Congress, and the “security of our country takes precedence over the timing of nominations” and potential “confirmations.”

Asked about some concerns that an impeachment trial in the Senate would delay Biden’s agenda, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says she believes “safety” and the “security of our country takes precedence over the timing of nominations” and “confirmations.”

— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) January 10, 2021

Stephanopoulos referenced a letter sent on behalf of a number of Republicans who implored President-elect Biden to forego impeachment for the sake of “unity,” arguing that it is “unnecessary” and “inflammatory.” The group of House Republicans, led by Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, wrote: “In the spirit of healing and fidelity to our Constitution, we ask that you formally request that Speaker Nancy Pelosi discontinue her efforts to impeach President Donald J. Trump a second time.”

To that, Ocasio-Cortez hammered down on the point that what happened this past week was an “insurrection against the United States.” The New York City progressive argued that “healing” requires “accountability.” She pointed out that if we allow insurrection to happen with impunity, “we are inviting it to happen again.” 

“We came close to half of the House nearly dying on Wednesday,” Ocasio-Cortez stated. “If a foreign head of state, if another head of state, came in and ordered an attack on the United States Congress, would we say that should not be prosecuted? Would we say that there should be absolutely no response to that? No. It is an act of insurrection. It is an act of hostility.” She stressed that without accountability, “it will happen again.”

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez pushes back against some GOP lawmakers suggesting a second impeachment of Pres. Trump would threaten unity: "The process of healing is separate and in fact requires accountability... because without it, it will happen again."

— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) January 10, 2021

There are currently 159 House members, and 24 senators who are on record supporting impeachment & removal. Regardless of where your members of Congress stand, please send them a letter.

Trump administration grants permit to maskless superspreader ‘worship protest’ on National Mall

Apparently all you have to do to have your COVID-19 superspreader event approved by Trump’s National Park Service is play the religion card.

As reported by the Independent:

The National Park Service has approved a permit for an evangelical “worship protest” gathering this weekend on the National Mall in Washington DC, which is expected to attract 15,000 attendees amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Sean Feucht, a singer and former Republican congressional candidate, will host the event as part of his “Let Us Worship” tour. He’s held the tour in cities across America amid the coronavirus pandemic to protest Covid-19 restrictions against religious gatherings.

Current guidelines in the nation’s capital prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people. But the National Mall is under the jurisdiction of the Park Service, which has been without a director for the entirety of Trump’s term. Instead, a series of quasi-directors hand-picked by interior secretary and fossil-fuel lobbyist David Bernhardt have controlled the agency. As a result, as pointed out in this article written by Mark Kaufman for Mashable, “The president's office can manipulate or bend it to its whims.”

And those whims apparently extend to subjecting Washington, D.C. residents to COVID-19 infection—as long as its done in the name of Jesus.  According to the Daily Beast, the Park Service issued the permit for the Oct. 25 “protest” with no COVID-19 restrictions required. A spokesman for the Park Service confirmed to the Daily Beast: “While the National Park Service strongly encourages social distancing, the use of masks, and other measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, we will not require nor enforce their use.”

Public health experts are appalled.

“It’s disgraceful,” Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University who advises the World Health Organisation, told The Daily Beast. “It violates DC’s Covid-19 plan and it’s almost certainly going to lead to a superspreader event — and cause many new cases, hospitalisation, and even death. It violates virtually every principle to mitigate this pandemic.”

As noted by the Independent , the instigator of this “worship” protest is Sean Feucht, a failed Republican candidate for Congress, singer/musician, and “worship pastor” at the Bethel Church in Redding, California. Feucht was denied a permit for a similar event by the city of Seattle last month. He also provoked the wrath of local health officials in Nashville after holding one of these public gatherings in violation of that city’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Feucht’s attitude towards social distancing measures amounts to mockery. After his permit to infect Seattle was denied, he penned a screed for the right-wing Federalist, which decried the infringement on his “God-given freedoms.”

Now in major cities across America, godless politicians are adopting tactics that more closely resemble those of jihadist ayatollahs than men and women who are sworn to uphold the rule of law.


Truly, the actions of militant, anti-Christian forces, who want to shut down our churches, silence our worship, and even shoot our fellow believers in the streets, have stirred the soul of the American church.

Feucht is careful to call his superspreader events “protests.” After the Nashville gathering he posted a video on Instagram, stressing: "It's officially a protest, OK? So it's legal."

During the run-up to Donald Trump’s impeachment, Feucht and about 50 other “worship leaders” met with Trump in the Oval Office for a “faith briefing.” At that time, Feucht posed for a picture in which he conspicuously posed touching Trump’s sleeve in the same manner Jesus is described as being touched in the Gospel of Luke. Vice President Mike Pence recently appeared at one of Feucht’s “protests,” and Feucht has also appeared on Fox News.

The event is taking place this Saturday and includes a tent where attendees can be “baptized” by a group of “pastors,” after which the participants will doubtlessly return to wherever they came from, putting everyone they encounter at risk along the way. The Daily Beast interviewed one Washington, D.C. resident, who called the event “fucking stupid” and an “attention-grab” for Feucht.

“This is insane,” D.C. resident Allison Lane told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “This is truly selfish behavior from people who claim to be devoted to the word of God. I don’t get it. The National Park Service is being willfully ignorant.”

No one should be fooled into believing that Feucht’s dangerous agenda is about God. It’s about Feucht.

We are down to the final days of the 2020 campaign. Will you give $5 or more to help our slate of Democrats win on Nov. 3?

Voting Rights Roundup: Trump order to remove noncitizens from key census data sparks lawsuits

Leading Off

2020 Census: Donald Trump signed a new executive order on Tuesday directing the census to exclude undocumented immigrants from the data that determines how many House seats and Electoral College votes each state will get following the 2020 census.

Within days, civil rights advocates and Democratic officials filed separate federal lawsuits arguing both that Trump's order violates the Constitution because the 14th Amendment mandates counting the "whole number of persons" for reapportionment and that it intentionally discriminates against Latinos.

This order comes after Trump's failed attempt to add a citizenship question to the census last year, a move that documents showed was motivated because GOP operatives believed it would be "advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites" in redistricting.

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​While that effort imploded, Republicans still aim to let states such as Texas draw districts based strictly on the adult citizen population instead of the more diverse traditional total population, which would shift representation away from Democrats and Latinos in states with large immigrant populations. To that end, Trump issued a separate executive order last year directing the Census Bureau to match existing administrative records with 2020 census responses in order to determine citizenship status, a step that prompted litigation of its own.

But while the Supreme Court could ultimately allow the use of citizenship data for redistricting, it's unlikely to do so for reapportionment: A unanimous 2016 ruling saw even arch-conservative Justice Samuel Alito acknowledge that the 14th Amendment required using the total population for reapportionment purposes. But even if the justices did overturn hundreds of years of precedent, excluding undocumented immigrants from reapportionment would likely have a far smaller partisan impact nationally than citizen-based redistricting would within states such as Texas.

However, Trump's continued push for this change shows that the GOP will not give up in its fight to exclude noncitizens from redistricting and representation, and further litigation is certain. Additionally, Trump asked Congress for $1 billion in the next pandemic spending bill to ensure a "timely census," which suggests Trump is backing away from a potential delay in the deadlines by which the administration must deliver apportionment and redistricting data to the states.

The Census Bureau has previously said it didn't expect to be able to meet its year-end deadline to give the White House its reapportionment data, or the March 31, 2021 deadline for sending redistricting data to the states. Any such delays mean that Joe Biden could block the release of citizenship data if he defeats Trump and takes office on Jan. 20. However, if the first batch of census data is released on time, that would mean Trump would still be in office, meaning opponents would have to rely on court challenges to block him.

Voter Registration and Voting Access

Deaths: Following the death of Democratic Rep. John Lewis, who was one of the nation's most prominent supporters of voting rights both during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and his long career in Congress, Senate Democrats introduced a bill named in Lewis' honor to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court gutted in 2013, a bill that House Democrats already passed last year.

Should the bill become law, it would be a fitting way to enshrine Lewis' legacy in public life. The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer aptly called Lewis “an American Founder” for his role in creating the modern American republic, which was no less than radically transformed by the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. These two landmark pieces of legislation ended the authoritarian one-party oligarchy that existed in the South under Jim Crow and finally established America as a liberal democracy nationwide—almost 200 years after the country's founding.

Lewis was one the leading figures in the civil rights movement for Black Americans from an early age. When he was just 23, he was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King gave his legendary "I Have a Dream" speech. Two years later, he marched for voting rights in Selma, Alabama in 1965. There, law enforcement reacted to the peaceful protest by brutally attacking the marchers and beat Lewis nearly to death, fracturing his skull. But even real and repeatedly threatened violence did not deter his activism.

The events in Selma became known as Bloody Sunday, and TV news audiences around the country were so shocked by images of police brutality against the marchers that it galvanized the ultimately successful effort to pass the Voting Rights Act, which became law on Aug. 6, 1965. Civil rights leaders like Lewis and King deemed the Voting Rights Act the most important achievement of their movement because it protected the right that helped secure all the others that they were fighting for.

Lewis' career of activism for the cause of civil rights did not end with the 1960s, nor did his role as a protest figure end with his election to Congress in the 1980s: Even in his final decade, he led a sit-in on the House floor to protest the GOP's refusal to pass gun safety measures after a horrific mass shooting in Orlando left 49 dead and 53 wounded in 2016. Lewis would steadfastly make the case that the struggle for civil rights was an unending one, and his leadership inspired countless people who came after him. You can read more about Lewis' lifetime of activism in The New York Times and The Atlanta Constitution.

New York: Both chambers of New York's Democratic-run legislature have passed a bill to enact automatic voter registration, sending the measure to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his likely signature. Senate Democrats had approved similar measures both this year and last, but Assembly Democrats refused to sign off until changes were made.

Part of the compromise between the chambers means the law wouldn't go into effect until 2023. However, automatic registration would involve a number of state agencies beyond just the DMV, which is critical since New York has one of the lowest proportions of residents who drive of any state.

Separately, Senate Democrats also passed a constitutional amendment that would let 17-year-olds vote in primaries if they will turn 18 by the general election, a policy that many other states have already adopted. The amendment would have to pass both chambers before and after the 2020 elections before needing the approval of voters in a referendum.

Felony Disenfranchisement

District of Columbia: Mayor Muriel Bowser has signed a bill into law that immediately restores voting rights for several thousand citizens and will require officials to provide incarcerated citizens with registration forms and absentee ballots starting next year. However, because the bill was passed as emergency legislation, it must be reauthorized after 90 days, though Council members plan to make it permanent soon.

With this law's passage, D.C. becomes only the third jurisdiction in the country after Maine and Vermont to maintain the right to vote for incarcerated citizens. It is also the first place to do so with a large community of color: The District is 46% African American, and more than 90% of D.C. residents currently disenfranchised are Black.

Voter Suppression

Alabama: The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled 2-1 to uphold a lower court ruling dismissing the NAACP's challenge to Alabama Republicans' voter ID law. The two judges in the majority, who were both appointed by Republicans, ruled that "no reasonable factfinder could find that Alabama’s voter ID law is unconstitutionally discriminatory," even though Judge Darrin Gayles, an Obama appointee, noted in dissent that one white GOP lawmaker who supported passing the law said that the lack of an ID requirement was "very beneficial to the Black power structure and the rest of the Democrats."

Republicans passed this law in 2011 to require a photo voter ID in nearly all circumstances, with the only exception being if two election officials sign an affidavit that they know the voter. However, the law didn't go into effect until 2014, after the Supreme Court's conservative majority gutted a key protection of the Voting Rights Act that had required states such as Alabama with a history of discriminatory voting laws to "pre-clear" all changes to voting laws and procedures with the Justice Department before implementing them.

The plaintiffs sued in 2015 by arguing that the law violated the Voting Rights Act and Constitution and presented evidence that Black voters were less likely to possess acceptable forms of ID than white voters. That year, Republicans sparked a backlash by trying to close 31 of the state's 75 driver's licensing offices, which subsequent reporting revealed was an effort by GOP Gov. Robert Bentley, who later resigned in disgrace, to pressure his legislative opponents, but Republicans ultimately reversed course amid litigation.

Election expert Rick Hasen called this latest decision "very troubling" because it ruled unequivocally for GOP officials without letting the case proceed to trial, despite the plaintiffs' evidence of both the intent and effect of racial discrimination against Black voters. The plaintiffs could seek to request that all judges on the 11th Circuit reconsider the ruling, or they could appeal directly to the Supreme Court. However, with Republican appointees holding majorities on both courts, their chance of success appears small.

Michigan: A panel of three judges on the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled 2-1 along ideological lines to uphold Republican-backed voting restrictions that Democrats were challenging. The ruling maintains a limitation on what counts as proof of residency for voter registration. It also rejects Democrats' demand that the state start automatically pre-registering all citizens under age 18 who conduct business with the state's driver's licensing agency so that they will be automatically added to the rolls when they turn 18. Currently, only citizens aged 17-and-a-half or older are automatically registered.

Democrats have not yet indicated whether they will appeal to Michigan's Supreme Court. The high court has a 4-3 Republican majority, though one of the GOP justices has been a swing vote when similar issues have come before the court.

Tennessee: Voting rights advocates have filed a lawsuit in state court to require Tennessee officials to comply with a 1981 law that restores voting rights to people convicted of a felony in another state if they have had their rights restored in that state. The plaintiffs argue that the state's Republican-run government has failed to educate affected voters of the ability to regain their rights. They also charge that the state is requiring the payment of any legal fines or fees, even though such repayment isn't required under the law.

Texas: A federal district court has rejected a Republican motion to dismiss a Democratic-backed lawsuit seeking to require that Texas allow voters to register online via a third-party website. The case concerns the website, which allows applicants to fill out a registration form and then (on its end) automatically prints it and mails it to local election officials. However, the GOP-run secretary of state's office rejected thousands of such applications shortly before the registration deadline in 2018 on the grounds that the signatures were transmitted electronically rather than signed with pen on paper.

Democrats argue that these rejections violate both state and federal law. They note that the secretary of state already allows electronic signatures if they're part of applications when voters register in-person through the state's driver's licensing agency. Texas Republicans have long resisted online registration, making it one of just a handful of states that doesn't offer it to most voters. As a result, the Lone Star State is home to a majority of the Americans who live in states without full online registration.

Electoral Reform

Massachusetts: Massachusetts officials have approved an initiative for the November ballot that would enact a statute implementing instant-runoff voting in elections for Congress and state office. It would also apply to a limited number of local contests such as countywide posts for district attorney and sheriff, but not those at the municipal level, which is the primary unit of local government in New England. If adopted, the new system would come into effect in time for the 2022 elections and would make Massachusetts the second state after Maine to adopt this reform.


New York: Democratic legislators in New York swiftly passed a constitutional amendment with little debate that would increase the likelihood that they could exercise full control over redistricting after 2020 and gerrymander the state's congressional and legislative maps. However, the amendment's provisions are more complicated than an attempt to just seek partisan advantage, and it still has a ways to go before becoming law.

New York has a bipartisan redistricting commission that proposes maps to legislators for their approval. Legislative leaders from both parties choose the members, and the 2014 amendment that enshrined it in the state constitution requires two-thirds supermajorities for legislators to disregard the commission's proposals and enact their own if one party controls both legislative chambers, as Democrats currently do. The biggest partisan impact this new amendment would have involves lowering that threshold to three-fifths.

Democrats hold a two-thirds supermajority in the Assembly but currently lack that in the state Senate. However, they exceed three-fifths in the upper chamber, meaning they would gain control over redistricting if the amendment were law today. However, there's a good chance the lowered threshold would be irrelevant for the next round of redistricting.

That's because Democrats have a strong opportunity to gain a Senate supermajority in November, thanks to a large number of Republican retirements in swing districts and an overall political climate that favors Democrats. Still, lowering the supermajority requirement to three-fifths could still prove decisive in the future, especially if Democrats fall short of their hopes this fall, so it's therefore fair to describe the move as an attempt by Democrats to gain greater control over redistricting.

Nevertheless, several other provisions in this amendment promote nonpartisan goals that would strengthen redistricting protections regardless of who draws the lines, complicating the case for whether or not New York would be better off in the short term if the amendment were to become law. Most importantly, the amendment would let New York conduct its own census for redistricting purposes if the federal census does not count undocumented immigrants, as Trump has ordered.

It also enshrines an existing statute that bans prison gerrymandering by counting incarcerated people for redistricting purposes at their last address instead of in prisons that are largely located in whiter rural upstate communities, restoring representation to urban communities of color. In addition, it freezes the number of senators at the current 63; in the past, lawmakers have expanded the size of the body in an attempt to gain a partisan advantage. Finally, it sharply limits the splitting of cities between Senate districts, something the GOP used extensively in their successful bid to win power (supported by several renegade Democrats) after the last round of redistricting.

Democrats would need to pass this same amendment again in 2021 before putting it on the ballot as a referendum that year, meaning it could pass without GOP support, but it would still require voter approval. If enacted, it would immediately take effect.

North Carolina: Earlier this month, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bill passed almost unanimously by North Carolina's Republican legislature to undo one of the GOP's many gerrymandering schemes, specifically one involving gerrymandering along racial lines in district court elections in Mecklenburg County. The GOP's about-face came as Republicans were facing a near-certain loss in state court for infringing on Black voters' rights in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Mecklenburg County is a Democratic stronghold that's home to Charlotte and more than one million residents. In 2018, Republican lawmakers changed Mecklenburg's procedures for judicial elections from a countywide system to one in which the county is split into separate judicial districts, even though all of the elected judges still retain countywide jurisdiction. The GOP's 2018 law gerrymandered the districts in an attempt to elect more white Republicans in place of multiple Black Democratic incumbents—precisely what came to pass that November.

Republicans had already agreed to revert back to countywide elections for 2020 while their case proceeded, but the lawsuit is moot now that Republicans have repealed the law in question. This GOP defeat means Republican legislators this past decade have lost lawsuits over their gerrymandering once or even multiple times at virtually every level of government in North Carolina, including for Congress, state legislature, county commission, city council, local school board, and, as here, judicial districts.

Ballot Access

West Virginia: A federal district court has denied the GOP's motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit in which Democrats are challenging a law that gives the party that won the last presidential election in the state—which has voted Republican in every race since 2000—the top spot on the ballot in every partisan contest. Barring a settlement, the case will now proceed to trial, which was previously set for July 27.

The plaintiffs argue that this system violates the First and 14th Amendments because candidates listed first can enjoy a boost in support that can prove decisive in close elections, particularly in downballot races where voters have much less information about the candidates than they do for the top of the ticket.

Court Cases

Maine: Maine Republicans have filed yet another lawsuit in federal court arguing that instant-runoff voting violates the U.S. Constitution and should be blocked in November, when it will be used in all federal races. Democratic Secretary of State Matt Dunlap recently determined that Republicans were roughly 2,000 voter signatures shy of the 63,000 signatures needed to put a veto referendum on the ballot in November that would suspend the use of IRV for the Electoral College until voters weigh in, but the GOP will separately challenge his decision in state court.

The federal suit is just the latest in the GOP's long running campaign against IRV after voters approved it in a 2016 ballot initiative for state and congressional races (a state court later blocked it for state-level general elections). However, they may not have much more success than former Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin did when he argued that IRV was unconstitutional after he lost the 2018 election to Democratic Rep. Jared Golden once all instant-runoff calculations were completed. In that case, a federal court thoroughly rejected Poliquin's arguments that IRV violated voters' First and 14th Amendment rights.


Please bookmark our litigation tracker for a complete summary of the latest developments in every lawsuit regarding changes to elections and voting procedures as a result of the coronavirus.

Arkansas: A panel of three GOP-appointed judges on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has unanimously overturned a district court ruling that made it easier for redistricting reformers to gather signatures for a ballot initiative to create an independent redistricting commission. The lower court's ruling, which the 8th Circuit had already temporarily blocked while the appeal proceeded, had suspended a requirement that voter petition signatures be witnessed in-person, enabling supporters to sign the forms at home and mail them in.

Republican Secretary of State John Thurston had recently thrown out all signatures gathered for the redistricting reform initiative and a separate initiative to adopt a variant of instant-runoff voting, and initiative supporters are separately challenging that decision in state court. Organizers have not announced whether they will appeal this latest federal court ruling.

New Hampshire: Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has signed a law passed by New Hampshire's Democratic-run legislature that will allow voters to use a single application to receive absentee ballots for both the Sept. 8 state primary and Nov. 3 general election.

North Carolina: North Carolina's Board of Elections has issued a rule that every county this fall must have at least one early voting location for every 20,000 registered voters and that smaller counties only operating one location must provide for a backup location and extra staff as a precaution.

Oregon: A panel of three judges on the 9th Circuit Circuit Court of appeals has ruled 2-1 against Democratic officials' request to block a lower court ruling that resulted in officials having to lower the number of signatures and extend the deadline to collect them for a ballot initiative to establish an independent redistricting commission. It's possible that the Supreme Court could block the district court's ruling if Oregon Democrats appeal, but they have yet to indicate whether they will do so.

Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Democratic Party has filed a lawsuit in state court seeking to effectively short-circuit a federal lawsuit that the Trump campaign and several GOP Congress members recently filed to restrict voting access, which the federal district court recently agreed to expedite.

Democrats are asking the appellate-level Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court to guarantee that counties can set up drop boxes for returning mail ballots; count ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and received within a few days afterward; give voters a chance to fix problems with mail ballot signatures; count mail ballots lacking an inner secrecy envelope; and prohibit voters from serving as poll watchers in a county where they aren't a resident. The GOP's federal lawsuit is trying to block drop boxes and allow out-of-county poll watchers, which is likely intended to facilitate voter intimidation.

Rhode Island: Voting rights groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging Rhode Island's requirement that mail voters have their ballots signed by two witnesses or a notary, something that very few other states require. The plaintiffs argue that this requirement violates the Constitution during the pandemic, and they're asking the court to waive it for the Sept. 1 primary and November general election.

Tennessee: A federal district court judge has sided against civil right groups seeking to ease access to absentee voting ahead of the state's Aug. 6 primary, ruling that the plaintiffs waited too long to bring their challenge, but the court allowed the case to proceed for November. The plaintiffs wanted the court to require that voters be notified and given a chance to correct any problems with their mail ballots and also allow third-party groups to collect and submit absentee ballots on behalf of voters.

Texas: The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed with state Democrats' request to expedite consideration of the GOP's appeal of a lower court ruling that had ordered that all voters be allowed to vote absentee without needing an excuse instead of only voters aged 65 and up. The expedited timeline means there's a chance of a resolution in time for November.