• Are You Better Off Than Four Years Ago? OMG You Have Got to Be Kidding Me.

    Here's Trump four years ago. At his daily briefing that day, April 5, he said the federal government had stockpiled 29 million doses of hydroxychloroquine. “What do you have to lose?” he said.Patrick Semansky/AP

    “ARE YOU BETTER OFF THAN YOU WERE FOUR YEARS AGO?” blared Trump’s Truth Social account last Monday.

    Let’s take a trip back, shall we?

    This week, four years ago, Trump was in the throes of dangerous denial as his extravagant mishandling of the COVID crisis plunged the nation into almost hourly panic attacks. There were already about 18,000 reported cases in the United States, and more than 260 deaths.

    Trigger warning on this one: On March 21, 2020, Trump tweeted, “HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine,” which was as untrue then as it is now. Two days later—four years ago today, on Day 63 of the crisis—it was reported that an Arizona man died after intentionally ingesting chloroquine phosphate, a fish tank cleaner. Trump told a press briefing, “Parts of our country are very lightly affected.” Just a few days later, the country he ran, and wants to run again, reported more coronavirus cases than any other country.

    These are just a handful of the nightmarish details drawn from March 2020, four years ago. The president’s vanity and lack of preparedness in those first 100 days of the pandemic allowed the virus to metastasize into the supersized public health crisis he’s now asking voters to forget. This period was also a showcase of his very worst traits in office: his reliance on spin and bluster, his aversion to taking responsibility (“No, I don’t take responsibility at all,” he said on March 13, 2020), and his magical thinking. He indulged in desperate blame shifting, bunk science, and mixed messaging—the antithesis of good public health leadership.

    At the time, Mother Jones took on the enormous reporting task of meticulously cataloguing, sometimes hour by hour, the missteps, miscalculations, and cruelties of Trump’s response to the disaster unfolding on his watch. The resulting timeline makes for enraging reading, to say the least.

    I also started to compile video clips of the absurdities and outrages. And the resulting video is both a time capsule of horrors and a teleporter for any voter who might be doubting whether they are better off than they were four years ago this month.

  • No One Wants to Go to GOP Spring Break

    Graeme Sloan/AP

    Work sucks and everyone knows it.

    But for House Republicans, it isn’t the lack of labor protections or benefits that fuels discontent. These privileged men and women who enjoy a lifetime of perks, including weak insider trading rules, appear aggrieved over how much they simply can’t stand each other. 

    In fact, CNN reports that animosity within the GOP conference has ballooned to convince nearly half of the party to skip next week’s annual retreat. The reasons vary. Some are still salty over the humiliating speakership battle. Others are disappointed in Mike Johnson’s choice of venue, a “family-friendly” resort in West Virginia, which is decidedly not Florida where past retreats have taken place. Even the retreat’s keynote speaker, Larry Kudlow, has abruptly ditched the event. 

    The lack of RSVPs seems to reflect wider GOP discord. Over at the Republican National Committee, longtime staffers were recently purged in what has been described as an “absolute bloodbath.” Infighting and dysfunction are at peak levels. And Republicans come dressed to the State of the Union like this and that.

    Work retreats, or really any after-hours work event where attendance is expected, can be soul-crushing. But it’s hard to have sympathy for anyone who helps elect colleagues they don’t want to spend time with.

  • Biden’s “An Illegal” Remark Is More Than Just a Slip

    President Joe Biden walks to the right of the frame against a red background.

    Mother Jones illustration; Shawn Thew/EFE/ZUMA

    President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address last night was, in many respects, better than expected. But one moment, when the president went off-script, will be hard to shake off.

    During the section on immigration, Biden fumbled when mentioning the death of 22-year-old Laken Riley. A nursing student at the University of Georgia, Riley was killed in February. A man from Venezuela who US officials say entered the United States unlawfully was, soon after, charged with kidnapping and murder. Since then, Republicans have elevated the tragedy to accuse the Biden administration of allowing an “invasion” at the border.

    Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), wearing a MAGA hat, interrupted Biden during the speech and shouted at him to say Riley’s name. In response, Biden held up a pin that Greene had handed him earlier and said: “Laken Riley, an innocent woman who was killed by an ‘illegal.’”

    Biden’s slip seemed Freudian in light of the president’s significant shift on immigration and departure from his “moral leadership” agenda. Three years ago, his administration ordered immigration officials to stop employing the term “illegal aliens” in official communications and press releases. Now, he is pushing border proposals that some advocates call “unconscionable.” Biden is moving right on immigration. And now, even if by accident, his language is matching it.

    As my colleague Daniel King wrote, “‘Alien’ was baked into this country’s founding vocabulary to strip British of personhood and legal rights.” Biden’s impromptu flub echoed the direction of his policies—making immigrants, as a collective, seem lesser, somehow stripped of peoplehood.

    “The rhetoric President Biden used tonight was dangerously close to language from Donald Trump that puts a target on the backs of Latinos everywhere,” Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas said on social media. “Democrats shouldn’t be taking our cues from MAGA extremism.” The National Immigrant Justice Center’s X account posted that “blaming an entire group of people for the alleged acts of one person is xenophobia which must not be tolerated in part of the US government.”

    Naturally, Biden’s “an illegal” moment played right into Greene’s hands. The congresswoman took credit for making Biden “go off script” and telling the “truth” by admitting “Laken Riley was murdered by an ILLEGAL!!!” 

    After the ruckus, Biden went back to the prepared remarks. He declared he wouldn’t “demonize immigrants saying they ‘poison the blood of our country,'” referring to a Trump quote. He promised not to separate families or “ban people from America because of their faith.” He gave a nod to his Irish ancestry and talked about migrations who fled persecution to pursue the American Dream. “That’s America,” Biden said, “where we all come from somewhere, but we are all Americans.” 

    Immigration and the border have been front and center this campaign cycle. Biden also took the opportunity to rail against Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers for tanking a bipartisan senate border deal so restrictive it would have previously been unthinkable for Democrats to stand behind it. Biden touted the bill as the “toughest set of border security reforms we’ve ever seen,” saying it would save lives and restore order at the border. (Republican Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), who led the border deal negotiations, seemed to approve.)

    “If my predecessor is watching instead of playing politics and pressuring members of Congress to block this bill, join me in telling Congress to pass it!” the president said. “We can do it together.”   

    For me, a non-American who came from somewhere, a question lingered. Which Biden from the State of the Union represents his true thoughts: The scripted version, who lauds immigration as a strength worth being celebrated? Or the extemporaneous one—who uses language that enables openly anti-immigrant policies?

  • YouTube’s Austin Ambitions Aren’t Going Well. Just Ask These Workers.


    On Friday, a YouTube Music contractor named Jack Benedict took the podium before Austin’s City Council. He was there to urge the council members to encourage Google to negotiate with the Alphabet Workers Union-CWA Local 9009. Instead, mid-testimony, he learned that he and 42 of his colleagues had been laid off. The jaw-dropping moment, captured on a livestream, has already spread across social media like wildfire.

    “Our jobs have ended today, effective immediately,” said Katie Marie Marschner, an Alphabet Workers Union member, shakily in the clip. Marschner and Benedict were attending the city council meeting to push a resolution calling on Google and Cognizant, a professional services company, to negotiate with union members. As Benedict testified to city council members, Marschner received a text about the lay-offs from her co-workers, who’d been let go in a scheduled weekly team meeting. 

    “Basically, Cognizant flew in all their top HR goons from Arizona and Florida and a bunch of Pinkerton security guards to come in and deliver the news to us,” said Marschner in a follow-up video posted to Twitter. “I burst into tears.” In 2023, the team of more than 40 YouTube Music contractors participated in two strikes: a month-long one in February, urging Cognizant to change its return to the office policy and a single-day pause in September.

    In April 2023, YouTube contractors joined the Alphabet Workers Union for better pay and working conditions. Under their current agreement, the workers were making as little as $19 an hour and had no sick pay, according to the Washington Post. Since unionizing, Google has refused to bargain with the contractors- a move that the National Labor Relations Board deemed illegal earlier this year.  

    This recent round of firings come at a time where Austin, which became hotbed for tech talent in recent years, is struggling with its tech economy. Companies like Apple, Google, and Meta fled from California for cheaper taxes and living conditions in Texas during the pandemic. Now, these huge companies are starting to pack up their operations and leave the area after underestimating people’s willingness to return to the office without appropriate compensation, leaving a city of empty office buildings in its wake.

    In a statement to the Verge, Google insisted that the decision to terminate the team’s employment was Cognizant’s, who claimed that the employees had reached the end of their agreed-upon business contract. However, the union says these lay-offs are textbook silencing tactics. 

    “This is Google attempting to fire us and make us go away,” said Marschner. “But we’re not done. And we won’t stop fighting.”

  • Walgreens and CVS Will Sell the Abortion Pill—and the Pill’s Investors Could Make Bank

    Jimin Kim/Zuma

    On Friday, Walgreens and CVS announced they would begin selling the abortion pill mifepristone in their pharmacies in select states, part of a plan to eventually expand access to about half of US states where abortion is still legal. The announcement is notable ahead of arguments in a Supreme Court case that could further restrict access to the abortion pill, making pharmacy access to it especially critical for women—and potentially profitable for the pill’s backers.

    Part of the case, which is scheduled for argument later this month, is a challenge by abortion opponents to the Food and Drug Administration’s 24-year-old authorization of mifepristone. Last year, I wrote about the private equity investors who helped to secure that authorization, bringing the abortion pill to market in the United States and creating the secretive web of financial entities that would become Danco Labs—today one of only two US retailers of mifepristone. (Until 2019, Danco was the country’s only retailer of the medication.) In the years since, they’ve earned tens of millions on their investment. As the story explained:

    Their windfall has come through a byzantine corporate structure set up in the 1990s by a private equity fund, now called MedApproach Holdings, to allow investors to pour money into Danco Labs—until 2019 the only US retailer of mifepristone—without disclosing their identities. As states have imposed ever-stricter limits on abortion access, their investments have generated hefty returns.

    On the heels of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last June, undoing the federal right to abortion—and the FDA’s announcement, in January, that retail pharmacies can now sell abortion pills—these investors are likely to earn even more, as medication abortion becomes the only option for millions of women living in the 26 states where abortion is now illegal or severely restricted. The potential is so promising that two of the primary investors have engaged in a bitter court battle to take control of the investment, and Danco itself.

    The story had a dizzying plot that involved shell companies on the Cayman Islands, a priest, a disbarred lawyer, and a couple of racehorses. And there was plenty that remained uncovered—Danco is famously secretive. What I was able to report emerged only because several investors decided to sue each other for greater control of the company, putting their names and some of the company’s financials into the public record. That reporting revealed that the average return on investment for Danco’s private equity investors was, before the Dobbs decision, about 452 percent. One of the main investors had earned in the ballpark of $20 to $25 million. 

    Depending on the contours of the high court’s final decision this spring, Danco’s investors could lose money—or they could earn an impressive return. (Danco is one of the parties to the lawsuit.) The Supreme Court could go as far as to throw out the FDA’s authorization of the abortion pill—which is used in more than half of US abortions—closing down Danco’s ability to sell its only product. But the court could also limit how mifepristone is dispensed, prohibiting the ability to mail it but making pharmacies one of the few places able to give it to patients. (Previously the drug could only be dispensed directly from clinics or via mail.) That decision could make Danco’s investors untold additional money. 

  • Nikki Haley Joins GOP Colleagues in Suddenly Pivoting on IVF

    Jim Lo Scalzo/EFE/ZUMA

    Just a week after saying that “embryos, to me, are babies,” Nikki Haley is now joining other Republicans in suddenly claiming to support IVF access in the wake of rising abortion restrictions and the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that frozen embryos can now be considered children under state law.

    “I think there should be federal protection that we allow for IVF places to be able to function…I think the only thing the federal government should do is make sure IVF places are protected or available,” Haley said in an interview on CNN on Friday after host Dana Bash asked if she thought there should be federal protections for IVF and doctors who perform the procedure.  

    “We don’t need government getting involved in an issue where we don’t have a problem,” Haley added. “We don’t have a problem with IVF facilities. If you have a certain case, let that case play out the way it’s supposed to, but don’t create issues, and that’s what I feel like has happened with this IVF.” 

    That’s a stark departure from what Haley told NBC News last week. “Embryos, to me, are babies,” she said in an interview, adding, “I do see where that’s coming from when they talk about that,” in reference to the Alabama Supreme Court ruling. 

    Haley’s not the only member of the GOP rushing to signal their support for IVF after a national outcry over the ways the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade—which was repeatedly cited throughout the Alabama ruling—is imperiling access to fertility treatments and care. 

    Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), no stranger to flip-flopping for political gain, introduced a non-binding House resolution on Friday pledging “strong support for continued access to fertility care and assisted reproductive technology.” This is ironic given that Mace was a co-sponsor of the 2021 Life at Conception Act which would’ve effectively banned IVF by establishing a “right to life” from “the moment of fertilization.” Several other Republican supporters of the legislation, which was re-introduced in the House last year, have similarly scrambled to fend off criticism since Alabama’s ruling. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), for example, who co-sponsored the Life at Conception Act both times it was introduced, claimed Thursday to “support IVF and its availability.” 

    But, once again, Republicans’ actions appear to speak louder than their words. When Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) introduced a bill on Wednesday to establish federal protections for IVF—the same measures Haley claimed on Friday to support—Republicans killed the measure. 

    “I don’t know the details of any of the bills,” Haley said on Friday when asked about Duckworth’s bill. “So I can’t weigh into that.” 

  • Trump Says Gov. Abbott, Who Doesn’t Want to Be Vice President, Is “Absolutely” a Contender for Vice President

    Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is "absolutely" on Trump's short list of potential running mates, the former president told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday.ZUMA

    Trump is considering Texas Gov. Greg Abbott as a potential running mate, he told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday—even though Abbott has said that he doesn’t want the job. 

    When Hannity asked Trump if Abbott was on his short list during a joint interview with the two politicians in Eagle Pass, Texas—the epicenter of the fight between Texas and the feds over control of the border—the former president said yes.

    “He’s a spectacular man,” Trump said of Abbott, praising him for endorsing his reelection campaign. 

    “Certainly he would be somebody that I would very much consider,” Trump added later. 

    Abbott, meanwhile, sat there nodding and smiling and presumably feeling awkward given that just last week he told CNN that “there’s so many people other than myself who are best situated” to the role. 

    After the interview, Abbott reiterated his disinterest, according to the Texas Tribune. “Obviously it’s very nice of him to say, but I think you all know that my focus is entirely on the state of Texas,” Abbott said at a press conference today, according to the Tribune. “As you know, I’m working right now on the midterm election process. I’ve already talked about that I’ve announced that I’m running for reelection two years from now, and so my commitment is to Texas and I’m staying in Texas.” 

    According to the Tribune, Trump also awkwardly floated Abbott as a potential replacement for outgoing Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell—even though, as the Tribune notes, Abbott isn’t in the Senate. The governor was also (surprise, surprise) not interested in a role he cannot take: “I’d rather be governor of Texas,” Abbott told Trump.

    But the two share a hardline anti-immigrant stance that, if Abbott changed his mind, could make their joint ticket attractive to many voters within the GOP.

    In January, Trump urged states to send troops to the southern border to curb illegal immigration, and pledged in a Truth Social rant that, if reelected, he would “work hand in hand with Governor Abbott” to enact what he called “the Largest Domestic Deportation Operation in History.” (As my colleague Isabela Dias reported, many of Trump’s proposals are both terrifying and legally dubious.) Abbott has used similarily caustic rhetoric, telling a right-wing radio host earlier this year that “the only thing that we are not doing is we’re not shooting people who come across the border—because, of course, the Biden administration would charge us with murder.” (Those remarks earned him widespread condemnation from Democrats, as I reported at the time.)

    Besides Abbott, other rumored Trump veep contenders include Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio). NBC News reported last month that Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) had shot to the top of Trump’s short list, and reported this week that Alabama Sen. Katie Britt (R)—who will deliver the GOP response to Biden’s State of the Union address next week—is also on the list. 

    In yesterday’s interview, Trump told Hannity that Scott has been “a surrogate…he’s done a very good job.” 

  • Washington State’s Biggest Private-Sector Union Backs “Uncommitted” Democratic Vote

    Mother Jones illustration; Gripas Yuri/Abaca/ZUMA

    Washington state’s largest private-sector labor union has followed Michigan voters lead, urging its 50,000 members to vote “uncommitted” rather than for Joe Biden in the state’s March 12 primary.

    The news, first reported by NBC today, comes as Biden faces growing protests from voters on the left about his support for Israel in its war in Gaza, and concerns about his ability to defeat Trump, the GOP’s all-but-certain nominee, in November.

    The executive board for the Washington chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers—which represents more than 50,000 of the union’s more than one million workers, including some in parts of Oregon and Idaho—unanimously voted for the endorsement Wednesday night, just one day after more than 100,000 voters in Michigan, or 13 percent overall, opted to vote “uncommitted” as a protest vote, as my colleague Noah Lanard reported. Enough uncommitted votes can mean some state delegates at the party’s national convention are uncommitted, and can vote for the nominee of their choosing. 

    “While Biden has been an ally to workers over the last four years, low-wage workers cannot afford setbacks when it comes to the right to organize and the protections we’ve won during Biden’s time in office,” UFCW 3000’s statement said

    The Washington union also said it’s “in solidarity with our partners in Michigan who sent a clear message in their primary that Biden must do more to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Biden must push for a lasting ceasefire and ending US funding toward this reckless war.” As I wrote on Tuesday about the effort in Michigan, a state with large Arab and Muslim populations: 

    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.”

    While Michigan has historically been a crucial swing state, Washington state has reliably voted blue—and the union doesn’t want its “uncommitted” endorsement to change that, noting that it will send “staff, members, and resources to any swing state across the nation to support the Democratic nominee to win and defeat Trump.” 

    Representatives for the Biden campaign didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

    Clarification, March 1: This story has been revised to make clear that UFCW 3000 is Washington’s largest private-sector union, not the state’s largest union overall.

  • 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. 

  • Florida Man Facing 91 Criminal Counts Wins Michigan Primary

    Trump wins Michigan

    Mother Jones illustration; Getty

    Donald Trump keeps losing in the courtroom, but that isn’t stopping him from prevailing at the ballot box. The former president is facing four indictments covering a combined 91 criminal counts. He’s racking up hundreds of millions of dollars in civil judgments against him. And still, he’s winning GOP primaries. On Tuesday, he won Michigan’s.

    With his massive victory over Nikki Haley in Michigan, Trump has now been victorious in all six states that have held Republican primaries or caucuses so far this year. His Michigan win is especially significant given that the state was a major epicenter of Trump’s failed, and allegedly criminal, efforts to overturn the 2020 election. 

  • 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.”

  • Fox News Aired Some Dumb Racist Shit About Trump’s New Sneakers This Week

    Donald Trump holds a pair of sneakers while speaking on a stage.

    Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

    Donald Trump’s newly launched $399 “Never Surrender High-Tops” had Fox News gushing about his savvy appeal to Black voters this week.


    “They love sneakers,” explained Fox commentator Raymond Arroyo. “This is a big deal. Certainly in the inner city.”

    My reaction? This is one of the most frustrating parts about living in a hyper-segregated white supremacist society. White people often fundamentally misunderstand Black people and yet they are almost always in positions where they get to describe us and our culture authoritatively. That’s a problem. To say the least.

    Watch my full video on the recent Fox fiasco below:

  • 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