• Ohio GOP Candidate JR Majewski Used a Slur, Considered Dropping Out (Again), But Will Stay in the Race

    J.R. Majewski, a heavier white man with a beard, in a white shirt and red vest pointing to something off stage with a crowd surrounding him and a sign saying "Save America" in the background

    J.R. Majewski at a campaign rallyTom E. Puskar/AP

    Ohio Republican Congressional candidate JR Majewski considered dropping out of his race (again) after backlash for saying that Democrats, like disabled people participating in the Special Olympics, are “retarded” in a podcast episode that aired earlier this month.

    Majewski, who apologized after backlash, told Politico that he would consider dropping out if his “comments put me in a position where I can’t win the general election.” But, this morning, he clarified that he intends to continue “standing strong for patriots” and will not leave the race.

    The phrase used by Majewski became a medical term in the 19th century to describe people with intellectual disabilities and insinuates they are slow. It is now widely considered to be a slur, but it is still commonly used in state legislation and even popular culture. A 2010 law did require the federal government to update language from “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability” in laws that mention disability.

    Steve Lankenau, who is running against Majewski in the Ohio Republican primary, said of his opponent’s statement: “This is a slur on many beautiful, wonderful people who are every bit equal. It’s incredibly hurtful and cruel.” 

    Majewski previously ran for his congressional seat in 2022. During that race, the Associated Press reported that he misrepresented his military background. Majewski lost.

    Early voting for Ohio’s March 19 primary election began on February 21. 

  • Some Michigan Democrats Plan to Vote “Uncommitted” to Send Biden a Message on Palestine

    Protesters in Hamtramck, a city just north of Detroit, rallied ahead of the Tuesday primary.Jim West/ZUMA

    In the Michigan primary tomorrow, some Democrats plan to vote “uncommitted,” instead of casting a ballot for President Joe Biden, to protest his administration’s support for Israel’s war on Gaza. 

    The Listen to Michigan campaign—which has attracted support from dozens of Michigan Democratic leaders, including Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib—comes as the death toll in Gaza has surpassed 29,000 people, according to the latest figures from the Gaza Health Ministry.

    The campaign says it hopes that, if successful, “Biden would feel more at risk of losing Michigan in the general election, prompting a potential reassessment of his financing and backing of Israel’s war in Gaza.”

    Democratic state Rep. Abraham Aiyash, Michigan’s highest-ranking Arab and Muslim leader, told Democracy Now that “it is not a radical idea for us to suggest that the richest and most powerful country in the history of the world should not be funding what we see as a genocide,” adding that supporters want to see a permanent ceasefire, more aid delivered to Gaza, and restrictions on the aid delivered to Israel. 

    Michigan is a crucial swing state—Trump won by just over 11,000 votes in 2016—with large Arab and Muslim populations. And polling shows the majority of voters nationally disapprove of Biden’s handling of Israel’s war. The latest campaign hopes to attract the same number of voters as the ones that made the difference in 2016 to send a message to the White House before November.

    The New York Times published a profile on Monday of a 67-year-old Palestinian American Democratic activist named Terry Ahwal, who campaigned for Biden in 2020 and plans to vote “uncommitted” on Tuesday. 

    “You want my vote? You cannot kill my people in my name. As simple as that,” she told the Times

    Abdullah Hammoud, mayor of the Michigan city of Dearborn, had a similar message for the White House in an op-ed published with the Times last week, alleging that Biden “calls for our votes once more while at the same time selling the very bombs that Benjamin Netanyahu’s military is dropping on our family and friends.”

    When asked about the effort in an interview on CNN on Sunday, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said that “any vote that’s not cast for Joe Biden supports a second Trump term,” before later adding, “I’m just not sure what to expect” on Tuesday. (As the Times notes, it’s unclear just how big the protest vote will be.) Echoing Whitmer’s argument, a centrist Democratic pro-Israel group has launched an ad campaign alleging that “voting uncommitted hurts Biden, which helps Donald Trump and his hateful agenda,” the Intercept reported Friday.

    But the Listen to Michigan campaign disputes this notion, pointing to the fact that “there is a long time between now and November for Biden to change his policies and earn support from Democratic voters.”

  • Texas School Can Suspend Black Student for His Hair, Court Rules

    Dr. Candice Matthews, left, listens as state representative Ron Reynolds, right, with Darryl George, center, makes comments before a hearing regarding George's punishment for violating school dress code policy because of his hair style, Thursday Feb. 22, 2024 at the Chambers County Courthouse in Anahuac, Texas.

    Kirk Sides/Houston Chronicle via AP

    On Thursday, a judge ruled that a Texas school district’s ongoing suspension of a Black teen for his hairstyle does not violate the state’s newly passed law against hair-based racial discrimination. For nearly seven months, the Barbers Hill School District, located in Mont Belvieu, Texas, has suspended Darryl George, an 18-year-old student, for refusing to cut his dreadlocks, which the district claims violate the school’s dress code.
    “It just makes me feel angry that throughout all these years, throughout all the fighting for Black history that we’ve already done, we still have to do this,” said George, who has not been allowed to attend classes since August 31, at a press conference after the hearing. “It’s ridiculous.”
    In court, the school district argued that the CROWN Act, a Texas law passed last year to prevent race-based hair bias in school and work settings, did not restrict school policies on hair length. George’s legal team countered that length was baked into the act by the very nature of certain protected hairstyles.
    “You need significant length to perform the style,” George’s attorney, Allie Booker, said to the Texas Tribune. “You can’t make braids with a crew cut. You can’t lock anything that isn’t long.” Ultimately, District Judge Chap Cain III sided with the school district. The case made national headlines last year, with racial justice and education advocates warning that targeted punishments can tank Black students’ academic performance and damage their relationship with education. As I previously wrote: 

    A 2021 University of Pittsburgh study, promoted by the American Psychological Association, found that not only were Black students cited more often for minor infractions, like dress code violations, than their white counterparts, but that they were more likely to report “an unfavorable school climate” the following year, resulting in lower grades. Another study in the journal Psychological Science found that students who experience in-school punishment are more likely to drop out and to face incarceration. 

    George’s family is still in the midst of a federal civil rights lawsuit against Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, accusing the Republicans of failing to enforce the CROWN Act.

    Correction, February 22: This post has been updated to reflect the title of Attorney General Ken Paxton and include Gov. Greg Abbott in the lawsuit.

  • Biden Is Reportedly Considering an Asylum Restriction From the Trump Era

    President Joe Biden delivers remarks urging Congress to pass the Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriations Act.Michael Reynolds/EFE/ZUMA

    The Biden administration is reportedly considering using executive authority to impose harsh immigration measures, including a push to end asylum for migrants crossing between ports of entry at the US-Mexico border—a move that the Trump administration tried in 2018 and was shot down by the courts.

    The measures, which NBC News first reported on Wednesday, would mimic some of the provisions included in the now-dead Senate bipartisan border deal, including raising the standards for the initial asylum screening known as a “credible fear” interview. Biden’s plans would also instruct US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to prioritize the removal of new migrants in what officials familiar with the discussions described to NBC News as a “last in, first out” policy. 

    It’s unclear whether or how the White House would move forward with these changes. But the fact that they’re under consideration underscores the president’s shift towards stricter border enforcement at the expense of the asylum system, as I’ve written about before. In 2020, Biden pledged a humane immigration policy as a change from Trump. Now, he is promising to “shut down the border.”

    The Biden administration has already imposed limitations on asylum, including by making it harder for migrants to qualify if they hadn’t first sought and been denied humanitarian relief in other countries on the way to the United States. Now, the White House is floating around the idea of using an authority under section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act that allows presidents to suspend the entry of certain foreigners into the country if they find that it “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

    Former President Donald Trump infamously weaponized this authority against travelers from Muslim-majority countries. He also invoked it in 2018 to crackdown on asylum for migrants crossing outside ports of entry, but a federal judge ultimately blocked the policy, writing that “whatever the scope of the president’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden.” Current laws dictate that asylum seekers have the right to seek protection regardless of how they come into the country. 

    CNN reported that the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel is analyzing the proposal to see if it would survive the inevitable challenges in court. “The courts were emphatic that the Trump administration could not deny asylum based simply on how one entered the country,” Lee Gelernt, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told the New York Times. “Hopefully the Biden administration is not considering recycling this patently unlawful and unworkable policy.”

    In response to reports highlighting the White House latest deliberations, House Speaker Mike Johnson, who promptly shot down the Senate bipartisan border deal that would have catered to GOP priorities, said Biden has “misled the public when he claimed he had done everything in his power to secure the border.” 

  • Biden Administration Cancels More Than $1.2 Billion in Student Loans

    Mother Jones illustration; Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

    On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced it would forgive more than 150,000 borrowers’ student loans, totaling a whopping $1.2 billion. Nearly 153,000 folks who’ve enrolled in the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) repayment plan, borrowed $12,000 or less, and have been making payments for at least 10 years will receive an email from Biden confirming their debt cancellation this week.

    “I’ve heard from countless people who have told me that relieving the burden of their student loan debt will allow them to support themselves and their families, buy their first home, start a small business, and move forward with life plans they’ve put on hold,” the email says, according to NBC News.

    This recent wave of student loan cancellations has been years in the making for the president, who made debt forgiveness a large part of his platform while campaigning.

    In June 2023, the Supreme Court struck down Biden’s original proposal that would’ve erased $430 billion of debt, forcing the president to pivot to a new plan of action: the SAVE program, a smaller debt relief plan that reportedly forgives remaining loan balances after a certain number of years as opposed to the loan balance.  According to the White House, Biden’s administration has already canceled student loan debt for at least 3.9 million borrowers under this plan so far. Out of the 30 million people eligible for the SAVE program, there are 7.5 million people currently enrolled. The Department of Education will reportedly reach out and encourage unenrolled borrowers who qualify for debt relief to join the program next week.

  • Reagan’s Daughter: Cognitive Tests For Presidential Candidates Would Be ‘A Good Idea’

    With polls showing voters' concerns over Biden's age, there are growing calls for him to prove his mental fitness ahead of a rematch with Trump.Michael Reynolds/EFE/ZUMA

    The daughter of the once-oldest president, Ronald Reagan, who was 77 when he took office, thinks cognitive tests for presidential candidates would be “a good idea,” she said in an interview that aired Sunday.

    “Just what we know about what age can do, it doesn’t always do that, but it would probably be a good idea,” Patti Davis said on NBC’s Meet the Press, in response to a question from host Kristen Welker about whether she agreed with the prospect. 

    Reagan was elected in 1980, when he was 69-years-old; by the end of his second term, in 1989, he was 77-years-old. (He announced his Alzheimer’s diagnosis five years later, though his son, Ron, later alleged his father began suffering the effects a decade earlier, while campaigning for his second term.)

    “It seems so young now, doesn’t it?” said Davis, who has written that she has never been a Republican and has heavily criticized Trump.

    Indeed, Reagan has since been surpassed as the oldest president by the two frontrunners for the next election—the current and previous presidents. Trump was 70 when he was elected in 2016, and Biden was 78 when he took office. They’re now 77 and 81, respectively. Their advanced ages have led to calls for cognitive tests—notably, from Trump’s GOP rival and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who launched her campaign last year by calling for “mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old.”

    The combination of Trump’s lead over Biden in several polls, other polls showing voters concerns about Biden’s age and health, and Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report issued earlier this month that described Biden as “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” the issue of the president’s age has taken center stage. Trump, of course, has made his own notable gaffes, including confusing Haley with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But as the New York Times posited in a recent report, Trump isn’t held to the same standard of professionalism and competence by many voters as Biden is, which may be why Biden’s flubs are more of a concern for voters. 

    On Friday, Times columnist Ezra Klein—who has spoken out in defense of Biden in the past—published a column urging Biden to drop out, writing that “his age is slowing him” in his re-election campaign and proposing that Democrats could pick an alternative nominee at their convention.

    “Retirement can be, often is, a trauma,” Klein wrote. “But losing to Donald Trump would be far worse.” 

    This underscores a point my colleague David Corn wrote about last week: that if concerns about Biden’s age are “prioritized in the press above the threat that Trump poses to American democracy (and sensationalized), the national debate is warped and the republic imperiled.” David wrote about how “breathless coverage” by the press of concerns about Biden’s age have obscured the importance of making sure Trump isn’t re-elected. 

    As David wrote: 

    In a way, it is indeed absurd to have such a conversation about Biden’s slips (if that’s all they are) when the presumptive GOP nominee represents a clear and present danger. But if the most important task at hand is to prevent a Trump restoration, should the mission for Democrats and progressives be to promote Biden as best they can (while highlighting the Trump threat) or find a way to field a new guy or gal? The first choice means figuring out how to overcome swing voters’ possible worries about Biden’s abilities. (And the Biden campaign and the party ought to try to accurately evaluate how deep these concerns are.) The second choice would require Biden’s assent and, if granted, could spark political chaos.

    In short, there’s no easy answer. But a cognitive test — which White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre recently said will not be included in Biden’s upcoming physical — for both Biden and Trump could show voters where their mental capacities stand. And that might be our best bet for preserving democracy. 

  • Trump Supporters Are Donating to a GoFundMe To Pay His $355 Million Legal Fine

    Trump's supporters are turning to GoFundMe to raise money for his mounting legal fines.Tess Crowley/EFE/ZUMA

    How will Trump pay his mounting legal bills? 

    It’s a fair question, considering that a New York judge ruled on Friday that he owes $355 million for inflating his net worth to banks and insurance companies, as my colleague Russ Choma reported. The total amount comes to more than $453 million with interest, according to NBC News. And that’s in addition to the more than $83 million another judge ruled he must pay the writer E. Jean Carroll for defamation after she claimed Trump raped her in the 1990’s in a downtown New York City department store. The New York Times reports that the latest sum “threatens to wipe out a stockpile of cash, stocks and bonds that he amassed since leaving the White House.” Trump has about $350 million in cash or assets and investments that could be converted to cash, and he may have to sell or mortgage a property to pay his bills. 

    His supporters have an idea: they’ll pay his bills themselves. 

    A Florida woman has started a GoFundMe to “stand with Trump” and “fund the $355 million unjust judgment” that, as of Sunday morning, has raised more than $250,000 from about 5,700 donors. That comes out to an average donation of approximately $44 per person. 

    “The recent legal battles he faces are not just an attack on him, but an attack on the very ideals of fairness and due process that every American deserves,” the creator, Elena Cardone, wrote on the GoFundMe. “It’s a moment that calls into question the balance of justice and the application of law, disproportionately aimed at silencing a voice that has been at the forefront of advocating for American strength, prosperity, and security.”
    “In standing with Trump, we’re upholding the cause of every business owner and entrepreneur who believes in the fight against a system that increasingly seeks to penalize dissent and curb our freedoms,” added Cardone, who identifies herself on social media as a CEO, though it’s unclear what company she allegedly helms. She offers an hour-long one-on-one coaching session for $20,000 to “achieve your personal goals, build your empire, and take your life to the next level of success,” according to her website.
    Cardone didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from Mother Jones—but she told her local TV station, ABC affiliate WPLG of Miami, that she has “never been a political person with my viewpoint, but this ruling really rocked me to the core.” (The Federal Election Commission doesn’t list any individual contributions from her or her husband, a real estate investor.) 
    “When you can allow this to happen to one property owner, this can happen to everyone,” she told the local station. “I have no other choice but to stand up and represent property owners and business owners in America.” 
    “I’ve never shown up at a property where the homeowner didn’t think their house was worth more than it is—but now, according to this New York judge, for doing that, you can be considered to have committed fraud,” she added. Trump said his Mar-a-Lago estate was valued at $1 billion—about $970 million more than a Palm Beach county tax appraisal that found it was worth between $18 million and $27 million.
    Many of the GoFundMe donors, unsurprisingly, appear to be staunch Trump supporters. 
    “Trump is a leader,” wrote someone named Hector Mercado, who donated $20. “The Democrats of today are blatant thieves and liars.” 
    “I am a senior citizen living on my well earned social security. Now in my 86th year, Donald Trump is the greatest president of my lifetime and of the nation’s lifetime,” wrote Rena Corey, who donated $10. “My token contribution is a salute to this modern day Teddy Roosevelt.” 
    But among their ranks, there was at least one saboteur. “I have donated $5 to put a comment of normalcy in between the insanity, so people know most people do not support this,” wrote Donna Bauer. “No one is above the law, not even this orange con man. It is obvious he is good at conning gullible people. It is sad that you all can’t see through this farce.” 
    WPLG reported that Cardone had been in touch with Trump’s team and that he would receive the funds. A GoFundMe representative told Mother Jones that the fundraiser is “currently within our terms of service”—though the company’s rules prohibit using fundraisers for “the legal defense of alleged financial and violent crimes.” A spokesperson for the Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 
  • Report: Trump “Favors” a 16-Week National Abortion Ban

    According to the New York Times, "one thing Mr. Trump likes about a 16-week federal ban on abortions is that it’s a round number." Yes, really.Hunter Cone/EFE/ZUMA

    In the past, former President Donald Trump has promised a consensus on abortion, criticizing Republicans for being too stringent but without getting more specific. 

    According to a report published in the New York Times this morning, Trump has landed on a limit that he thinks will do the job: a 16-week abortion ban. 

    Citing “two people with direct knowledge” of Trump’s thinking, the Times reports that the former president “privately favors” a 16-week ban with exceptions for rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother. (It is unclear whether that means only cases of rape or incest reported to law enforcement.)

    Abortion is already banned before 16 weeks in 20 states, so the national ban Trump is reportedly considering would, if enacted, likely further restrict it in another 30 states that currently lack such a limit. (Though the majority of abortions—nearly 94 percent—take place before the 13-week mark, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

    The paper reports that Trump sees that limit as one that can appeal to both social conservatives who want harsh abortion bans as well as voters who want more modest rules. 

    But lest you think this is too calculated, the Times reports

    One thing Mr. Trump likes about a 16-week federal ban on abortions is that it’s a round number. “Know what I like about 16?” Mr. Trump told one of these people, who was given anonymity to describe a private conversation. “It’s even. It’s four months.”

    (As my colleague Jeremy Schulman noted in our internal Slack channel: “it is 10 days less than 4 months…unless he is planning four non-leap-year Februarys in a row.”)

    The Times also reports that the abortion issue is a key factor in Trump’s deliberations on possible running mates, and that he is vetting whether potential vice presidential candidates are “OK on abortion”—to him, the Times reports, that means supporting “the three exceptions,” for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. As I’ve reported, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, and Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance are all reportedly under consideration for the role. Scott—who NBC News reported this week has shot to the top of Trump’s list of potential running mates—previously voiced his support for a 15-week national ban, and attacked Trump and his fellow GOP rivals for failing to get specific on how they’d ban abortion if elected. Meanwhile, Trump’s last GOP rival standing, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, has strenuously avoided nailing down a number of weeks at which she’d support limits to abortion if elected, instead vaguely calling for “compromise” and to “quit demonizing that issue.”  

    We know Trump is a fan of polls, and data shows that most Americans favor abortion access: according to Pew Research, 61 percent say abortion should be legal in all or most cases (though there’s a sharp partisan divide, with 80 percent of Democrats sharing this view and only 38 percent of Republicans). Most Americans, though, are also open to some restrictions, with 56 percent saying the length of a pregnancy should be a determining factor in whether someone can legally access an abortion; Pew has also found that majorities of adults in both parties support exceptions for when a woman’s life or health is threatened or when the pregnancy is a result of rape.

    Trump doesn’t plan to publicly discuss his ideas for restricting abortion until after the Republican primary, the Times reports, adding that he believes abortion has led to Republican losses in congressional elections. (The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Mother Jones on Friday morning.)

    Even though Pew Research notes that 57 percent of adults disapprove of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision which was enabled by three justices who Trump appointed, most voters still don’t hold Trump responsible for rising abortion restrictions nationwide, as I reported last week. But based on how Democrats and reproductive rights advocates are reacting to the Times report, that could change before the next election. 

    “Overturning Roe wasn’t enough for him. Donald Trump wants to pass a national abortion ban,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) posted on X this morning, calling for voters to reelect Biden. 

    “There is nothing “moderate” about a 16-week abortion ban,” the Michigan Democratic Party posted. “Donald Trump and Republicans will do everything they can to take your reproductive freedom.”

    “If elected, we know that Donald Trump will take his dangerous agenda to the White House, sign a national abortion ban, and wreak further havoc on our reproductive rights and personal freedoms,” Jenny Lawson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, said in a statement. “Donald Trump cannot be trusted.”

    Update, Feb. 16, 2:40 p.m.: A statement from Planned Parenthood Votes has been added.

  • Report: Threats to Federal Judges Have More Than Doubled Since 2020

    New federal data obtained by Reuters shows serious threats against federal judges and prosecutors have spiked since the 2020 election, as Trump has railed against judges overseeing his many court proceedings.Meir Chaimowitz/NurPhoto via ZUMA

    Threats to federal judges and prosecutors have more than doubled since the 2020 election, according to a Reuters report

    Previously unreported data obtained by Reuters from the US Marshals Service—the agency that’s tasked, in part, with protecting 2,700 federal judges and more than 30,000 federal prosecutors and court officials—shows that the number of serious threats against federal judges rose from 224 in fiscal 2021 to 457 in fiscal 2023, which ended Sept. 30. Serious threats against prosecutors also skyrocketed from 68 in 2021 to 155 in 2023. 

    The spikes come as Trump has publicly railed against the judges presiding over his many court proceedings, and as his supporters have targeted the same judges—and election workers—over disproven objections to the results of the 2020 election. As I reported last month, for example, Judge Arthur Engoron, who presided over Trump’s $370 million civil fraud trial (which unfolded in the New York State Supreme Court, not federal court), was the target of a swatting incident that occurred just hours before closing arguments in the trial—and hours after Trump had called him a “TRUMP HATING JUDGE” presiding over a “RIGGED AND UNFAIR TRIAL” in a Truth Social post. Trump had also clashed with Engoron throughout the proceedings, even storming out of the courtroom when the judge refused to toss the case, as my colleague Russ Choma reported at the time. 

    And while some officials, including Engoron, have tried to clap back at Trump by issuing gag orders, as Russ reported last year, the new data published by Reuters suggests those efforts may come as too little, too late.  

    Judge Tanya Chutkan, who’s overseeing Trump’s election interference case in DC federal court, and who Trump has called “a highly partisan Obama appointed Judge…who should recuse herself based on the horrible things she has said, to silence me,” was also the victim of a “swatting” incident just days prior to Engoron’s, after a false report of a shooting at Chutkan’s residence was called into the Metropolitan Police Department, according to reports. And a Texas woman was charged with threatening to kill Chutkan last August, allegedly telling her, “if Trump doesn’t get elected in 2024, we are coming to kill you,” the Associated Press reported. In October, Chutkan wound up slapping Trump with a limited gag order that barred him from attacking court employees, prosecutors, or witnesses in the criminal case centered on his attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

    Special Counsel Jack Smith—who “hit Trump with four charges for illegally trying to overturn the 2020 election,” as my colleague David Corn wrote—was also reportedly the target of a swatting incident on Christmas Day.

    Marshals Director Ronald Davis, who testified on the threats at a House Judiciary subcommittee oversight hearing today, told Reuters that the agency has “growing concern” about the rising threats, which they attribute to political vitriol—whereas in the past, Davis said, such threats more often came from individuals who were upset about judges’ rulings in their individual cases. 

    “The threat environment right now that is causing me concern is when people disagree with the judicial process or the government, and that turns into those verbal attacks,” Davis told Reuters. “And that is the beginning of the process that threatens the judiciary and threatens our democracy.”

  • A Love Letter to the “Pale Blue Dot”

    Mother Jones illustration; Getty; NASA/JPL-Caltech

    On September 5, 1977, a 1,800-pound, ladle-shaped spacecraft named Voyager 1 took off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, bound for the edge of our solar system. After about two months, it passed Mars’ orbit. Within two years, it made it to Jupiter, and almost two years after that, Saturn. On Valentine’s Day, 1990—34 years ago today—it looked back and snapped an image of Earth, the so-called Pale Blue Dot,” which remains one of science’s most iconic photos, and, in my view, one of the greatest photos ever taken in the history of the world.

    The first time I can remember seeing “Pale Blue Dot” was in high school. I’d won a print of the photo, appropriately, in a science fair competition. In the image, the Earth is about a pixel wide, a minuscule fleck in a grainy sea of nothingness. And that was the point: In his 1994 book, Pale Blue Dot, famed scientist Carl Sagan, whose idea it was to capture Earth from such an immense distance, famously described the image in a way that never fails to make me tear up:

    Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

    Although the “Pale Blue Dot” may have looked static, in 1990, the planet, of course, was as alive and bustling as ever. At the time, the world celebrated the freshly fallen Berlin Wall; scientists had just created the World Wide Web and launched the Human Genome Project, an initiative to map the human genome for the first time; Ghost, Pretty Woman, and Home Alone topped domestic box office sales; Ralph Nader, then in his 50s, graced the cover of Mother Jones.

    Thirty-four minutes after “Pale Blue Dot” was taken, Voyager 1 shut off its cameras, as it was designed to do, and continued its journey. In 2012, the craft crossed the “heliopause,” which NASA describes as “the boundary between our solar bubble and the matter ejected by explosions of other stars,” into interstellar space, or the space between stars. Voyager is still operating, but on its last legs, and is expected to have fully shut off its key science instruments sometime around 2025, NASA says.

    It’s fitting that “Pale Blue Dot” was taken on Valentine’s Day. It was, in its most basic form, an act of love. Even 34 years later, it serves as a paradoxical reminder of our insignificance—and our singular source of life. It is, quite literally, our everything. And today, as our planet is plagued by violent wars, a climate crisis, and the fallout of a devastating pandemic, and in a critical election year no less, that message feels more important than ever.

    Happy Valentine’s Day, dot. (And also to my boyfriend.)

    A small speck is visible in a beam of sunlight

    “Pale Blue Dot,” taken on February 14, 1990


  • The House Just Voted to Impeach Mayorkas. How Did We Get Here?

    Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing .Stephanie Scarbrough/AP

    After failing to muster enough votes last week, House Republicans approved two articles of impeachment against Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. Democrats and constitutional law experts have decried the proceedings, which charge Mayorkas with “willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law” and “breach of public trust,” as a baseless “political stunt.” 

    “I knew I was entering an extraordinarily polarizing environment, an environment where norms were in jeopardy, where civility was not always respected,” Mayorkas told the Los Angeles Times. “I didn’t assume this.”

    The House impeachment of Mayorkas will likely go down in history as one of the most futile uses of this constitutional power. Throughout, Republicans have had trouble distinguishing what makes Mayorkas’ conduct impeachable. Many wanted a crackdown at the border. But, as Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), one of the holdouts from the last impeachment told CNN, removing Mayorkas for disagreements on border policy would amount to “redefining the fundamental definition of impeachment” away from misuse of power to political differences.

    Here’s a brief timeline of how we got to a hard-to-comprehend moment:

    Feb. 2, 2021: The Senate confirms Alejandro Mayorkas as DHS Secretary. The son of Cuban refugees, he becomes the first Latino and immigrant to lead the department.

    March 17, 2021: Mayorkas testifies before Congress for the first time amidst a spike in arrivals of unaccompanied minors at the border.

    Aug. 12, 2021: Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) becomes the first lawmaker to move to impeach Mayorkas, accusing the DHS secretary of “reckless abandonment of border security and immigration enforcement.” At the time, Biggs falsely claimed that the DHS secretary was “systematically releasing COVID-19 positive aliens into our communities.”

    Oct. 2021: GOP Texas Rep. Chip Roy circulates among his fellow Lone Star Republican lawmakers a memo, which Fox News has an exclusive on, making a case to impeach Mayorkas. “Republicans should unify behind that message and push against the President and Mayorkas,” Roy tells Tucker Carlson, “to impeach them both.” 

    Nov. 16, 2021: Mayorkas testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration where Republicans grill him on the number of migrant encounters and a proposed settlement payment to families separated under the Trump administration. 

    Nov. 21, 2022: “It will be a happy day when Mayorkas leaves DHS and an adult takes over,” the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing some 18,000 agents, posts on X.

    Dec. 13, 2022: Republicans hold a press conference with former Trump administration border officials calling on then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to pursue articles of impeachment against Mayorkas.

    Jan. 10, 2023: Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) files articles of impeachment against Mayorkas for high crimes and misdemeanors.

    Feb. 2023: DHS hires a law firm to help with the response to a potential impeachment process. 

    April 2023: Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security Mark Green (R-Tenn.) reportedly tells donors “get the popcorn—Alejandro Mayorkas comes before our committee, and it’s going to be fun.”

    April 19, 2023: At a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing, Mayorkas tells lawmakers the “border is secure.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) is silenced after calling the secretary a “liar.” 

    July 26, 2023: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) holds a House Judiciary Committee hearing where Republican lawmaker Ken Buck of Colorado (who has voted against the impeachment) said his constituents consider Mayorkas a “traitor.” Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee calls out Republicans, saying “this is an oversight hearing, not an impeachment hearing.”

    Nov. 9, 2023: Marjorie Taylor Greene introduces a motion calling for the impeachment of Mayorkas to try and force a vote. The House blocks her efforts and sends the resolution to the House Committee on Homeland Security. This does stop Greene from trying again and filing a second motion accusing the secretary of failing to “maintain operational control of the border” and violating the Secure Fence Act of 2006. (She later backs down.)

    Jan. 2024: House Republicans recruit two lawyers: Paul Taylor, a Republican Counsel for the House Judiciary Committee who defended Trump in the 2019 impeachment case as minority counsel, and George Fishman, a former DHS official under Trump and a senior legal fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.

    Jan. 28, 2024: House Republicans unveil articles of impeachment against Mayorkas. In a memo rebutting the accusations, DHS says Republicans have failed to prove that Mayorkas committed high crimes or misdemeanors and calls the process a “transparent attempt to appease their most extreme Members.” 

    Jan. 29, 2024: Greene claims credit for the House impeachment proceedings. “Absolutely this is happening because I forced that floor vote,” she told The Hill.

    Jan. 30, 2024: After more than 10 hours of debate, the House Committee on Homeland Security approves and moves the articles of impeachment to the House Floor in a 18-15 vote along party lines.

    Feb. 6, 2024: House votes 214-216 against the articles of impeachment. Reps. Michael Gallagher (R-Wis.), Ken Buck (R-Colo.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), and Blake Moore (R-Utah) joined Democrats in voting no. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) was absent. 

    Feb. 13, 2024: Despite three “no” votes from GOP lawmakers, House Republicans manage to adopt the impeachment resolution with a 214-213 vote. It is likely to go nowhere in the Democrat-led Senate. 

  • My Dad Was a White Slave, Kentucky Republican Tells NAACP

    Kentucky Republican state Rep. Jennifer Decker told a local NAACP chapter on the first day of Black History Month that her white father was a "slave"—before later admitting she "probably overstated," according to a local report.Jon Cherry/Getty

    A Kentucky Republican politician made an audacious claim on the first day of Black History Month, according to a local report: her white father, she said, was a slave. 

    State Rep. Jennifer Decker made the comments, first reported by the Louisville Courier Journal, while speaking to a local chapter of the NAACP on Feb. 1 about why she’d introduced a bill seeking to eliminate diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at public colleges and universities, which she has said make schools “more divided, more expensive, and less tolerant.” According to an audio recording of the meeting obtained by the Courier Journal, during the Q&A portion of the event, an audience member asked Decker if her family played any role in the slave trade. 

    Per the Courier Journal, Decker replied: “My father was born on a dirt farm in Lincoln County. His mother was the illegitimate daughter of a very prominent person who then was kind enough to allow them to work for him as slaves. So, if you’re asking, did we own slaves? My father was a slave, just to a white man and he was white.” 

    When a Courier Journal columnist tracked Decker down to ask what she could have possibly meant—given that white people were not, in fact, subject to the chattel slavery that millions of Black people endured on American soil for more than 240 years—she tried to brush off the reporter before seemingly walking back her originally comments. 

    “Irrelevant, irrelevant.” Decker initially told the reporter about her initial comments, adding, “my father’s past poverty is a great equalizer.”

    When the reporter persisted, Decker explained that her father—a preacher born around 1933, according to the Courier Journal, or 68 years after slavery was outlawed—was “born into poverty” and worked for free with his family on the property they lived on. (It’s unclear whether the adults were paid, though the Courier Journal notes that it sounds more like “Decker’s father was forced by his parents to do chores” and that the family were tenant farmers.) 

    Decker eventually conceded that she “probably overstated. Was I saying that it was kidnapping and abuse the same as the slaves? No.” 

    That’s one thing Decker is right about. As my colleague Garrison Hayes discussed with Nell Irvin Painter, Princeton historian and author of The History of White People, back in October, there is a historical difference between white people who worked as indentured servants and the centuries-long enslavement of Black people on American soil. As Painter explained: 

    Irish people—and vulnerable English people, Scottish people, Welsh people, poor people, people considered criminals, or orphans—were often shipped outside of the British Isles to places like what became the United States, and what later became Australia and New Zealand, as indentured workers. There were lots and lots of unfree white people. But their unfreedom had a term limit. If you survived your indenture—and many, many, many people did not survive—then you could become a free person.

    So yes, many early North American white people were unfree, but they were not enslaved for life. It took the North American colonies several decades to go to permanent enslavement. It didn’t happen overnight. The people whom warlords had rounded up in places like what is now Angola and sold to Europeans, it was their descendants who became permanently enslaved. So by the end of the 17th century, what we recognize as permanent servitude, that chattel slavery, was in place. And it did not include people we now consider white.

    Ricky Jones, a professor of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville, was one of many readers who called Decker out for the ahistorical comment. 

    “A white slave in the mid-20th century? Talk about recreating history!” Jones wrote in a post on X. “Maybe this makes sense in the alternate supremacist reality that is Kentucky, but nowhere else. Jennifer Decker and her Republican friends lie about and distort everything else, why not this?”

    While shocking, Decker’s comments—and her political priorities—are not anomalies. Republicans across the country have been seeking to downplay the history of Black enslavement and abolish DEI initiatives and critical race theory in schools for years now (though CRT is a framework for legal scholarship that is not, in fact, being taught to six-year-olds). But still, as the Courier Journal columnist pointed out, comments like Decker’s are exactly why it’s so important for schools to teach diverse curricula about the real history of slavery and racism in the US—which is exactly what she’s fighting against. 

    Decker and a representative of the local NAACP chapter she spoke to didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday afternoon. 

  • Elise Stefanik’s Latest VP Audition? Seeking to Have Letitia James Disbarred.

    In her latest apparent bid to secure her place as Trump's running mate, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) has filed an ethics complaint against New York Attorney General Letitia James.Michael Brochstein/ZUMA

    The Trump veepstakes rages on. The latest apparent audition? Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) on Monday filed an ethics complaint against New York Attorney General Letitia James over her handling of the state’s $370 million civil fraud trial against Trump. 

    Stefanik, the fourth-highest-ranking House Republican and chair of the House GOP Conference, alleges that James conducted a “biased investigation and prosecution” of Trump that was motivated by “personal vendetta.” The formal complaint seeks to have James disbarred or suspended, a request that echoes Trump’s claims that James has long demonstrated bias against him. The move by Stefanik comes as Trump reportedly considers her as a potential running mate and days before the judge who presided over the case is reportedly expected to issue his final ruling over how much Trump owes. (Judge Arthur Engoron—who Stefanik also filed an ethics complaint against in November—already found Trump liable for fraud before the trial got underway, and the court proceedings that are the subject of Stefanik’s complaint essentially amounted to a penalty phase.)

    Accordingly, Stefanik’s complaint reads like a document intended to appeal to Trump’s complaints about the case, which could end in significant financial damage to the former president. Stefanik cites James’ own description of “leading the resistance against Donald Trump in NYC” as evidence of James’ alleged bias against the former president. Stefanik declined, however, to include the full facts of what transpired during the court proceedings, including Trump’s repeated attacks against the federal judge and his clerk, the resulting gag order, and subsequent violations of that order.

    As my colleague Russ Choma reported at the time, James filed the lawsuit against Trump back in September 2022, accusing him “of committing a variety of fraudulent business practices for a decade in the run-up and during his presidency.” James alleged that Trump and his adult children inflated the value of their family businesses to get tax breaks and beneficial terms for loans and insurance coverage. 

    Spokespeople for Stefanik and the New York State Unified Court System didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from Mother Jones. A spokesperson for the New York Attorney General’s office declined to comment on the record. 

    This is hardly the first time Stefanik has made headlines for her seemingly undying loyalty to Trump. She recently refused to commit to certifying the November election results. During an appearance on Meet the Press last month, she repeated the unfounded and discredited conspiracy theory that the 2020 election was stolen before noting that she’d “be honored to serve in any capacity in a Trump administration.” As I reported then, her parroting of Trump’s “Big Lie” was unsurprising, based on her political evolution:

    The onetime moderate, who at one point called Trump misogynistic, rose to her position as the highest-ranking Republican woman in the House by riding this very wave of election denialism, successfully booting Liz Cheney from the post in the process. And in the hours after the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, Stefanik was one of 147 Republicans who voted to overturn election results. 

    But the odds of Stefanik becoming Trump’s right-hand woman may be a bit bleaker now than back in January, given that Sen. Tim Scott has landed at the top of Trump’s list, according to an NBC News report published yesterday.

  • As Israel Attacks Rafah, Biden’s Warnings to Netanyahu Seem “Meaningless”

    Netanyahu and Biden shaking hands

    President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York in 2023.Susan Walsh/AP

    Using a “wave of attacks” this weekend, Israel bombed Rafah—a southern city in Gaza holding more than 1 million displaced people—killing dozens. The reason? The Israeli government said it was, at least in part, to provide cover for a military operation that successfully liberated hostages. The calculus is haunting: Israel killed 67 people to free two people.

    With over 27,000 killed in Gaza already, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not publicly backed down from an aggressive war effort—begun in response to the October 7 attack that killed over 1,200 people—even as the deaths mount. “Only continued military pressure until total victory,” Netannyahu said after the operation in Rafah, according to the Guardian, “will bring about the release of all of our hostages.”

    So far, the United States government has mostly backed the war, despite mounting criticism. For years, as my colleague Noah Lanard reported, President Joe Biden has been fiercely pro-Israel—and even more hawkish than the typical Democrat. But there are tiny indications of a potential change. Last week, Biden in a press conference said the Netanyahu government’s response in Gaza was “over the top.” In recent days, as Israel has prepared for a ground invasion of Rafah—drawing heavy international criticism—the administration has, at least in leaks to the press, said it is asking for much clearer plans from Israel.

    But much of this seems to just be talk. Or, if it is not, Netanyahu has made no public statements that would indicate he is changing course. Netanyahu told ABC’s “This Week” that the only two options available to Israel are to either enter Rafah or to “lose the war.” Last week, he called a ceasefire proposal from Hamas “delusional.”

    It’s hard to square all the reporting about Biden supposedly taking a harder line with actual US policy. As Matt Duss—the executive vice president of the Center for International Policy and a former foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders—points out, such warnings are “meaningless” when the United States shows no signs of “consequences for anything Israel does.”

    When I called Duss to ask him if the “over the top” statement by Biden should be seen as a legitimate pushback to Netanyahu he said: “I can’t take that seriously. I’m sorry. You’re still delivering the weapons. You’re still enabling this massacre. That is what matters.”

    The private pushback, Duss continued, isn’t compelling when the impacts of it are clear. “The message is: Oh, he’s putting pressure in private. And my response to that is: How’s that going?” Duss told me. “They turned Gaza into the moon. You have almost 30,000 people killed; almost 2 million people displaced. Whatever Biden is saying in private, what he’s doing in public is sidestepping Congress to rush more ammunition to Israel. That’s the message. That’s the policy.”

    Duss said that what is occurring now in Rafah makes it clear that Biden’s diplomatic approach does not seem to be having an impact on Israel’s behavior: “How much is enough? Is there actually a red line? Is there actually a number of dead Palestinian children that is too much? Thus far the answer is no.”

    As the war unfolds, there has been some movement by some Democrats in response to the mounting horror. Sanders—despite reticence to call for a ceasefire—has become more vocal about the war, pushing to impose conditions on aid to Israel. And last week the Biden administration put out a memorandum, NSM-20, requiring written confirmation from foreign governments receiving arms transfers that humanitarian law is being followed.

    But, as critics pointed out, there are already policies against war crimes. The provisions of NSM-20, as Duss told me, are a step forward in that the Biden administration is publicly saying it is unwilling to send military aid to a country committing atrocities. But “if they really wanted to uphold US legal commitments and international legal commitments around military force, we don’t need this new layer of paper,” Duss said. They can just enforce laws and policies already in place.

    For now, it seems we are stuck in the same cycle. Early today, NBC News reported that behind the scenes Biden has repeatedly called Netanyahu an “asshole” standing in the way of peace. And, at the same time, the administration is pushing for $14.1 billion in military assistance to Israel, which does not include many conditions for how it is used or strong provisions for transparency.

    As Lanard reported previously for us, the dynamic makes clear US priorities:

    “The administration’s rhetoric is slowly shifting, but the world is seeing [America’s] actions,” the podcast host and former Obama National Security Council spokesperson Tommy Vietor said last week. “It kind of doesn’t matter what Biden says at a closed-door fundraiser.” The world sees the Biden administration vetoing a UN ceasefire resolution that only 10 out of 186 nations opposed, bypassing Congress to get tank shells to Israel more quickly, and maintaining “unshakeable” support for a nation multiple human rights groups in and outside of Israel—as well as a former head of the Mossad—have concluded forces Palestinians to live under a system of apartheid.

    “So long as you are supporting Netanyahu’s military operation in Gaza without condition, it makes absolutely no difference how much you turn the dial in your comments,” Ben Rhodes, who served as deputy national security adviser to President Obama, told the Washington Post. “Fundamentally, you have to make a decision not to give [Netanyahu] a blank check of support.”

  • Trump Killed Abortion Rights. But Voters Still Don’t Blame Him.

    Few voters hold Trump accountable for his foundational roll in eradicating abortion rights across the country, according to a new poll.Allison Dinner/EFE/ZUMA

    Despite Trump appointing three of the Supreme Court justices that were part of the majority that overturned the constitutional right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade, most voters don’t hold him responsible for rising abortion restrictions nationwide, according to the results of a new poll released Monday. 

    The poll, conducted in December by the progressive think tank and polling firm Data for Progress, found that less than a quarter of voters overall (only 36 percent of Democrats—and, oddly, only 11 percent of Republicans) see Trump as “responsible for new bans or restrictions on abortions in states across the U.S.” So who do voters hold more responsible? Republicans in state office (33 percent), Republicans in Congress (34 percent), and the Supreme Court (50 percent). That’s not necessarily surprising, given that it was the high court that ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn Roe; that Republicans in Congress have already introduced several bills over the last few years aimed at essentially eliminating abortion rights; and that Republicans in statehouses across the country continue to say unhinged things as they seek to curtail abortion access. 

    But, still, Data for Progress says the poll results—as well as another data point from that poll, showing that 52 percent of voters overall, and 67 percent of Democrats, believe the outcome of the next election will be significant for addressing abortion—show that “Biden’s focus on directing the blame to Trump” for the end of Roe “could help voters make more of a connection to the role Trump has played in curtailing abortion rights.”

    To be fair, the Biden-Harris re-election campaign has been vocal about abortion rights being an important issue in the next election—and they have blamed Trump directly. Last month, on the 51st anniversary of the Roe ruling, Biden released a statement noting that “Vice President Harris and I are fighting to protect women’s reproductive freedom against Republicans officials’ dangerous, extreme, and out-of-touch agenda”; the White House also announced a slate of new initiatives aimed at bolstering protections for abortion access, including new guidance from the Treasury, Labor and Health and Human Services departments aimed at expanding access to contraception under the Affordable Care Act and defending the right to emergency abortion care under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. Biden has also called on Congress to codify the protections Roe offered, pledging to “immediately” sign such a bill into law if it passed. 

    An ad released by the Biden campaign last month highlights Trump saying he’s “proud” to have had a hand in facilitating the overturning Roe, and that “there has to be some form of punishment” for people who get abortions—a comment he later walked back after widespread outrage, stating that “the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman.” In addition to those comments, the Biden campaign ad also features footage of Kate Cox and Brittany Watts as examples of people who are “living with the consequences” of Trump’s anti-abortion politics. 


    A Biden-Harris campaign spokesperson also noted that other polls have shown that a candidate’s support for abortion rights is a particularly important issue for majorities of swing voters and that most independent voters believe Republicans will try to further restrict abortion access—alleging that these findings show that voters are, indeed, aware of Biden’s and Trump’s different stances on abortion rights. 

    But Biden has also continued to attract criticism from some reproductive rights and justice activists who say he’s too tepid in his support for abortion rights, given that polling shows a majority of Americans not only disapprove of Dobbs, but also believe that abortion should be legal in all or most instances.

    The Hill reported that at a fundraiser in New York City on Wednesday, Biden repeated a talking point he has said before: “I’m a practicing Catholic. I don’t want abortion on demand but I thought Roe v. Wade was right.” That quote attracted a lot of criticism on X, where abortion rights experts and supporters said the statement emboldened restrictions on abortion that are already in place as a result of Dobbs and undermined longer-term efforts to re-enshrine protections that go beyond what Roe did.  

    “Can we be clear about what ‘abortion on demand’ is? It’s getting an abortion when we need it,” said Renee Bracey Sherman, co–executive director of the abortion storytelling advocacy organization We Testify, adding that Biden was “stigmatizing abortion.” 

    A report published by Vox earlier this week found that while leaders of many abortion rights groups demand more be done to protect abortion access, none will explicitly call Biden out for his messaging around “restoring Roe.” Alexis McGill Johnson, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, perfectly highlighted this tension in comments she made to Vox. On the one hand, she said the upcoming election presents voters with “a very clear choice between holding the line or descending further into what will be irreparable chaos and confusion”; on the other, she also said, “you can be certain that we are fighting for more than Roe v. Wade.” 

    That’s the same needle Biden has chosen to thread ahead of November: appear moderate enough to appeal to the majority of Americans who believe in some restrictions on abortion, according to Pew Research, while also keeping in mind that most Americans broadly favor abortion access—and that there are a lot more protections many activists, and Democrats, want to see enshrined in the future. 

  • A Former President Who Lived in Florida Has Just Been Accused of an Attempted Coup

    Carlos Bolsonaro, son of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro, whispers in his father's ear.Bruna Prado/AP

    Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro probably wishes he was still in Florida right now. On the same day the US Supreme Court considers whether Donald Trump should be on the ballot because of his role in connection to January 6, his “great friend” and Brazilian counterpart has been ordered to surrender his passport.

    On Thursday, the police unveiled new accusations against Brazil’s defeated leader as part of a sweeping search-and-seizure operation linked to an ongoing federal investigation—overseen by the Supreme Court—into Bolsonaro and his allies’ alleged coup-like efforts to overturn the results of the 2022 elections.

    The police accused those under investigation of “criminal organization that acted in an attempt to stage a coup d’état and abolish the Democratic Rule of Law” to keep Bolsonaro in power. They arrested two of Bolsonaro’s former aides and instructed him not to contact the other targets of the operation. Police officials who spoke to the Washington Post said the plot to undermine Brazil’s democracy “was far more advanced than previously known.” 

    An order signed by Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes authorizing the operation states that Bolsonaro had access to and made requests for edits on a draft decree to subvert the election results and seek the arrest of Moraes, another justice, and the Senate leader. The decree was then presented to military commanders.

    The investigation cites Bolsonaro’s baseless attacks on the integrity of the Brazilian electronic system as evidence of coordinated efforts to “enable and legitimize a military intervention.” The former President went so far as to hold a meeting with dozens of foreign diplomats in July 2022 to raise suspicion of fraud. The police also reportedly have access to video of a meeting in which Bolsonaro claims he would “walk onto the field using my army, my 23 ministers…” 

    “I left office more than a year ago, and I’m still suffering implacable prosecution,” Bolsonaro, who has been ruled ineligible to run for office until 2030 and is currently at his vacation home in a beach town outside of Rio de Janeiro, told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper. “Forget me, you now have another person governing the country.”

  • With Over 27,000 Killed in Gaza, Netanyahu Calls Hamas Ceasefire Proposal “Delusional”

    Benjamin Netanyahu in front of an American and Israeli flag

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2011 at the UN building.Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

    On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a ceasefire and hostage exchange deal presented by Hamas, calling the proposal “delusional.” Hamas’ plan, according to CNN, would have involved three 45-day-long phases in which fighting subsided and hostages were traded for Palestinian prisoners in Israel. Hamas did not seek an immediate end to the war, a sticking point in earlier discussions. The deal was presented as a counterproposal by Hamas as the groups trade demands related to the potential pause in fighting and hostage exchange.

    The ceasefire would have put a temporary halt to a military campaign by Israel in Gaza—begun in response to an attack by Hamas on October 7—that has reportedly killed over 27,000 in Gaza, displaced 1.9 million people, destroyed or damaged an estimated 50 to 62 percent of all buildings in Gaza, brought about an acute risk of famine in which “pretty much everybody is hungry,” and made life in Gaza, as one witness told us, “hell on earth.”

    Netanyahu told the press that Israel will continue fighting until there is a more “complete victory.” He has promised the campaign would not end until the country achieves its goals: “the elimination of Hamas, the return of all our hostages, and ensuring that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel.” The prime minister has rejected the idea of establishing a Palestinian state. Israel is currently creating a “buffer zone” between Gaza and Israel. “I like to call it a ‘killing zone,’ but since ‘killing zone’ is not a nice term, we use the words ‘buffer zone,'” a former national security adviser to Netanyahu told Jewish Currents.

    For months there has been persistent pressure for a ceasefire. At the United Nations, over 150 countries voted for a ceasefire resolution. Throughout the world, mass protests have been held. And a growing list of Democratic politicians have pushed for a cessation of fighting. Last October, a group of progressive Democrats introduced the Ceasefire Now Resolution. “We can’t bomb our way to peace, equality, and freedom,” Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), a sponsor of the bill, said. “With thousands of lives lost and millions more at stake, we need a ceasefire now.” Similar calls for an end to the fighting have been made by the city councils throughout the US, hundreds of Jewish organizations, Black faith leaders, the United Auto Workers (disclosure: Mother Jones workers are represented by UAW Local 2103), the editorial board of the Financial Times, and a slew of staffers at Democratic institutions.

    On October 7, 2023, Hamas launched a deadly attack on Israel, killing over 1,200 people and taking more than 200 hostages. Almost immediately, Israel declared war. President Joe Biden publicly made clear the United States would stand with its close ally Israel in the campaign. For five months, as Israel bombed the Gaza Strip relentlessly, the Democratic administration continued providing weapons and diplomatic cover—even as resistance grew.

    The United States sends over $3 billion in aid to Israel annually. Since October 7, the Biden administration has pushed for $14.3 billion in additional aid. With that request stalled in Congress, Biden has twice avoided congressional approval to send $250 million in weapons to Israel. In November, the US pushed for humanitarian “pauses”—stoppages in the conflict to allow for some aid to enter Gaza and the exchange of some hostages and prisoners.

    As my colleague Noah Lanard reported, Biden has shown a far deeper commitment to Israel than a typical Democrat might:

    Much of Biden’s deference to Israel is deeply personal. As his supporters have put it, he identifies with the nation in his kishkes—his guts. That can be seen in the highly emotional and graphic way in which he has talked about victims of the Hamas attack being massacred, sexually assaulted, and taken hostage.

    Both before and after October 7, the empathy Biden is known for has rarely extended to Palestinians. Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, said such statements are missing “to the degree that I don’t really think he sees the Palestinians at all.” In contrast, Khalidi added, Biden sees Israelis “as they are very carefully presented by their government and their massive information apparatus.”

    A former Biden administration official shared a similar perspective with me. “The President does not seem to acknowledge the humanity of all parties affected by this conflict,” this person said. “He has described Israeli suffering in great detail, while Palestinian suffering is left vague if mentioned at all.”

  • Republicans Block the Bipartisan Deal to Fund Border Security and War

    Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.Jim Lo Scalzo/EFE/ZUMA

    We are in an odd place when Republicans are voting down a bill that funds border security and war.

    After months of negotiations, Senate Republicans have officially tanked a bipartisan border bill linked to a national security supplemental funding package. The now-dead agreement would have represented the most restrictive immigration overhaul in decades. And it would have given billions in aid to Israel and Ukraine. (Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) plans to strip the border security provisions from the larger national security bill and hold a separate vote on the latter.) 

    President Biden has been urging Congress to pass the 370-page bill, calling it the “thoughest and fairest set of border reforms in decades.” But Donald Trump’s attacks coupled with House Speaker Mike Johnson’s statement that it was “dead on arrival” in that chamber led Senate Republicans to walk away from a deal largely catered to Republicans’ priorities. “The Senate bill has reforms Trump never came close to getting,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote in support of the proposed legislation, which also garnered an endorsement from the Border Patrol Union representing some 18,000 agents. 

    The proposal, spearheaded by Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), would have directed $20 billion in funding towards border enforcement, increased detention capacity, and raised the standards for initial asylum screenings.

    At the center of it was a provision that would have created a new border expulsion authority allowing the Department of Homeland Security to quickly expel migrants arriving between ports of entry when the average daily border encounters reached 4,000 in the span of a week. (That authority would be mandatorily triggered when that number rose to 5,000 or 8,500 in a single day, but officials would still have to process at least 1,400 asylum seekers at ports of entry.) This expulsion authority, immigrant rights advocates and some Democrats opposed to the deal have warned, would potentially create more chaos at the border.

    Still, immigration experts have described the axed proposal as a “mixed bag.” It would have created a new process to expedite asylum determinations and added 50,000 new family and employment-based visas, among other provisions.

    In an analysis, the American Immigration Council said the bill represented a “serious attempt to acknowledge, and solve, some of the key problems with current border and asylum policy” but “positive steps in this direction are ‘smothered’ by a new ’emergency authority’ that repeats mistakes made by the Trump and Biden administrations: making protection much less available for those in need, while failing to send a clear message to future arrivals.” 

    Perhaps most importantly, as I have written, the deal signaled President Joe Biden and some Democrats’ willingness to compromise on longstanding goals like pushing for the legalization of long-term undocumented immigrants living in the United States. That will be hard for many to forget.