Here’s the lineup from the latest installment of our new Breaking the Vote newsletter, covering the ongoing threats to democracy in the U.S.
Democracy Can’t Afford the Bystander Effect
Former Georgia senator and current GOP governor candidate David Purdue was asked this week if he would have certified Joe Biden’s 2020 win in Georgia, had he been the governor. “Not with the information that was available at the time and not with the information that has come out now,” he said.
Georgia’s election was free, fair, and recounted three times. Large portions of Donald Trump’s 2020 coup plot (see “Jeffrey Clark” below) were directed at Georgia. Republicans who took their jobs and commitments seriously refused Trump’s demands that they overturn the results.
So there was Purdue, stating he would have joined the plot, thus showing he’s qualified in the contemporary GOP to take over Georgia’s voting and earn the 2022 endorsement of the ex-president.
It’s too early to say whether Purdue, who narrowly lost his runoff Senate reelection bid after Trump trashed mail-in voting in Georgia, will win the GOP governor primary, or whether he’ll win against the Democratic front–runner, Stacey Abrams. But he’ll be running on top of the kinds of built-in advantages Georgia’s new, GOP-led voting restriction law was designed for.
Purdue’s bleak mission statement added to something palpable this week: a growing sense among pro-democracy folks that the window to averting Trumpists’ threat to fair voting for 2022 and 2024 is closing. And the reason is that Democrats might not be up to the job.
DAVID PERDUE ON DECEMBER 17, 2020 IN COLUMBUS, GEORGIA. (PHOTO BY ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/GETTY IMAGES)
Republicans in the Senate are committed to blocking voting protections by wielding the filibuster. Democrats could, with their current numbers, change the rules and pass bills to counter GOP voter restrictions. They could restore a key section of the Voting Rights Act that used to help prevent voter suppression before the Supreme Court gutted it in 2013. They could redraft the archaic and ambiguous law that Donald Trump tried to exploit to overturn the election on the House floor on Jan. 6.
But a couple of Senate Democrats, most notably West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, so far refuse to upend the Senate’s filibuster tradition to protect the nation’s democratic one and pass voting protections with only Dem votes.
That’s left people scrambling for alternatives. This week a small group of senators started looking for tweaks to Senate rules that could make passing voting rights protections easier. They’re not sharing details, but the choices are thin. The effort seems like an acknowledgement that the fight’s been ceded.
Legislative remedy is one thing, but what about legal accountability? Detailed Senate and press reports of a coup plot by White House officials and other Trump acolytes are damning, but they’re not enough to bring criminal charges. Is the DOJ investigating the plot as a criminal matter? With Trump lieutenants taking the Fifth in front of the January 6 committee, is it time a special counsel investigated how the Trumpists weaponized the DOJ against the peaceful transfer of power?
It’s impossible to know what AG Merrick Garland and DOJ officials may or may not be up to. But Lawfare’s Ben Wittes wondered aloud this week why Garland isn’t out in public talking about how the DOJ was abused, and why it’s critical to the nation that the abuse never be allowed to happen again. That’s what AG Ed Levi did after Richard Nixon disgraced the DOJ with Watergate. Why not after Trump disgraced it with Trumpism?
Of course, all of this points back to the boss: President Biden. He’s a guy who’s famous for being able to recognize a “big fucking deal” when he sees one. Doesn't an existential attack on American democracy qualify?
Biden could be making a very public show of convincing Joe Manchin to carve out an exception to the filibuster to protect American democracy. He could instruct Garland to undertake DOJ reforms and talk to the public about why they’re vital. He could be commanding prime-time TV audiences and leveraging the world’s most powerful office against a movement he knows is out to dismantle democracy and install authoritarianism.
So where, the Atlantic’s Barton Gellman asked this week, is the president?
Democracy will be on trial in 2024. A strong and clear-eyed president, faced with such a test, would devote his presidency to meeting it. Biden knows better than I do what it looks like when a president fully marshals his power and resources to face a challenge. It doesn’t look like this.
Biden just hosted a “Summit for Democracy,” welcoming 110 countries—via Zoom—to discuss how they were dealing with democratic erosion in countries large and small. The irony of the U.S. playing host a week after being labeled a “backsliding democracy” for the first time was evident.
Democracies have fallen before under stresses like these, when the people who might have defended them were transfixed by disbelief. If ours is to stand, its defenders have to rouse themselves.
Rouse your friends! Tell them to sign up for the Breaking the Vote newsletter. They’ll never be able to say they were transfixed by disbelief.
Frontiers in Obstructioning
- Steve Bannon now has a trial date on the two criminal contempt charges that could send him to jail for refusing to come clean with the committee seeking accountability for the Jan. 6 insurrection and related coup plot. But it’s not until mid-July, and it’s getting difficult to see how a committee report including Bannon’s testimony can be completed before the election that’s likely to convert the House to GOP control, and a certain shutdown of the committee.
- Last week I told you how former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows had pulled a shocker and agreed to cooperate with the January 6 committee. I also delivered that big fat caveat that his cooperation could be short-lived. Turns out I was way off: It was extremely short-lived. Meadows, who is selling a new book and would never (ever!) game the committee to stay in the headlines the week of its release, reversed course yet again and refused to show. He even capped off the snub by suing to get a federal court to block his subpoenas. A court will decide whether the committee’s subpoenas for Meadows’ phone records and Meadows himself are overly broad, as he alleges. But the most important principle to remember here is delay. Like Bannon, Meadows has every incentive to delay cooperation for as long as possible, hopefully until Republicans take over the House, quash the committee, and complete the cover-up. Meadows has turned over documents to the committee, however, including emails and PowerPoints detailing a plan to have Trump declare a national security emergency while Mike Pence delayed the electoral vote count, and a text exchange where he responded to a lawmaker’s “highly controversial” plan to have states appoint alternate slates of electors with “I love it”. (Very Don Jr., BTW.)
- Donald Trump lost his bid to keep hundreds of pages of White House documents away from the January 6 committee. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Thursday denied Trump’s request to withhold about 700 pages of notes, phone logs, talking points, and draft speeches from investigators. They slapped Trump down 3-0 and said he’s provided “no basis” for denying the documents to Congress. He’s got two weeks to make an appeal to the Supreme Court.
The delay-and-cover-up strategy is obvious, so maybe January 6 committee vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney sensed pro-democracy Americans could use some bucking up. The Wyoming Republican issued this thread, claiming the committee is “firing on all cylinders.”
TALES FROM THE FIFTH
The Constitution's Fifth Amendment protections are very important, and available to all. But they’re also SUPER frustrating when you want to hear the facts about a plot to overturn an American election!
Several of Trump’s purported plotters told the January 6 committee they’d refuse to answer questions on the grounds it may incriminate them.
You’ll be shocked to learn that one of them was self-described ratfucker and convicted felon Roger Stone, who arrived at Washington’s Willard Hotel protected by Oath Keepers who later went on to participate in the insurrection. Stone mugged on the Willard steps and was reported to be in contact with Trump’s coup-plotters inside the hotel.
Meanwhile, Stone’s “Stop the Steal” associate and Jan. 6 rally organizer Ali Alexander says he’s going to cooperate with the select committee. Alexander sat for a deposition Thursday and is pledging loads of information and documents, on things including his communications with members of Congress. He says he did nothing illegal but goes out of his way to diss Willard “war room” operators and other organizers who he accused of “sipping donor-funded champagne.”
ROGER STONE, FORMER ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, GREETS SUPPORTERS IN WASHINGTON, DC ON JANUARY 5, 2021 (PHOTO BY TASOS KATOPODIS/GETTY IMAGES)
Back to how Trump weaponized the DOJ to assist in stealing the presidency: Former Acting Assistant AG Jeffrey Clark told the January 6 committee this week that he’d also use Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.
Clark reportedly hatched a plan to have Trump fire Acting AG Jeffrey Rosen unless Rosen agreed to help intimidate Georgia officials into withholding their election certification. (Imagine if Gov. David Purdue had received those calls!) He also leaned on Rosen to appoint special counsels to investigate cockamamie conspiracies like the one where Dominion Voting Systems was secretly working for Venezuela.
Clark was supposed to appear last weekend but got excused with a doctor’s note. He’s now set to appear on Dec. 16.
TEXAS SECTION 2-STEP
The Justice Department sued Texas this week for the second time, this time alleging that the GOP’s congressional and state-level redistricting plans are racist. DOJ says Texas is intentionally diluting the voting power of Black and Latino citizens in a bid to counteract years of demographic change.
The feds are using Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits redistricting with an intent to discriminate on the basis of race or language group. The cases can be hard to prove, however: Is that district drawn to disempower minorities or just people who are more likely to vote for, say, Democrats?
Speaking of the Senate filibuster, AG Merrick Garland pointed out while announcing the suit that Texas never would’ve been able to draw its districts this way to begin with had the Supreme Court not destroyed VRA’s Section 5. That’s the section that required federal “pre-clearance” of voting changes originating in places with a history of racial discrimination (like Texas).
Garland called on Congress to reinstate Section 5, which Democrats have tried to do via the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. It’s been… you guessed it… filibustered.
“There is a clear and present danger that American democracy will not withstand the destructive forces that are now converging upon it. Our two-party system has only one party left that is willing to lose an election. The other is willing to win at the cost of breaking things that a democracy cannot live without.” - Barton Gellman, The Atlantic
Bored of Canvassers — If you’re reading this in Utah and some randos come to the door asking questions about how you voted, check for a microphone. A group of conspiracists has begun going door to door, recording whoever answers and looking for signs of voter fraud they can manufacture into evidence of widespread voter irregularities, an investigation by the Salt Lake Tribune found.
The group, which calls itself the Utah Voter Verification Project, was started by a woman who appears to have been inspired by the Arizona GOP’s “Cyber Ninjas'' audit. The group’s training includes instructions on how to secretly record subjects (this is legal in Utah) and convert their statements into affidavits.
UVVP is linked to a group of Colorado conspiracists called the United States Election Integrity Project, a QAnon-linked, Three-Percenter gang spreading similar canvassing trainings to other states.
Hogan’s Heroes — For decades, the American Legislative Exchange Council, aka ALEC, was a corporate-funded one-stop shop for conservative model legislation on everything from voter ID to union busting to repealing the 17th Amendment and its requirement that U.S. senators are directly elected by the people.
Now ALEC is jumping back into the voter suppression game. Spend some time with this great investigation from Documented, where you can hear former Trump officials at an ALEC-hosted forum giving the lowdown on model voter suppression, like banning absentee ballots, same-day voter registration, and ballot drop boxes. There’s so much more!
Presenters included former White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley, who now runs the unironically named Center for Election Integrity at the Trump-aligned America First Policy Institute. Also on hand was former Trump attorney Cleta Mitchell, who can be heard on Trump’s Jan. 2 call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger…the one where he told Raffensperger, “I just want to find 11,780 votes.”
It’s a long report but a vital example of how integral undermining fair voting is to the Trumpist GOP.
Elector Set — The effort to overhaul the archaic law governing how electoral votes are counted in Congress could be getting some Republican support. Donald Trump and over half the House GOP tried to exploit the Electoral Count Act of 1887 when they objected to elector slates from Arizona and Pennsylvania.
All this chicanery was possible because of a whole lot of bad faith, but also because the Electoral Count Act, according to experts, is ambiguous and outdated. A bunch of Republicans, including GOP election lawyer Ben Ginsburg, are urging a rewrite, warning it’s ripe for continued abuse by both parties. At least Liz Cheney is behind the overhaul, though the fact that the January 6 committee is likely to recommend reform could turn Republicans against it.