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The Justice Department finds itself at odds with Ahmaud Arbery’s family
Arbery’s mother called a plea agreement between federal prosecutors and the son and father convicted of murdering her son a betrayal, while the DOJ said the family was not opposed to the deal.
US District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood on Monday rejected a plea agreement between the Department of Justice and Travis and Greg McMichael, the son and father convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery.
The McMichaels were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole last month in state court but faced federal hate crimes
Wood said that the deal would have locked her into specific terms at sentencing and excluded the family’s wishes, which she said would be appropriate to consider in the case. She gave the McMichaels until Friday to decide whether they will move ahead with a guilty plea.
Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper Jones called the plea agreement a betrayal by Justice Department lawyers.
“The DOJ has gone behind my back to offer the men who murdered my son a deal to make their time in prison easier to serve,” she said in a statement Monday morning issued by a family attorney.
Cooper Jones is referring to a provision that would have allowed Travis McMichael to transfer to federal custody instead of serving his entire sentence in a Georgia state prison, which is the family’s preference. The deal would have also forfeited his right to an appeal had Travis McMichael pleaded guilty.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a statement to Supercreator that the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department consulted with the victims’ attorneys before signing the agreement, which included the McMichaels’ confessions to federal hate crimes charges.
“The Justice Department takes seriously its obligation to confer with the Arbery family and their lawyers both pursuant to the Crime Victim Rights Act and out of respect for the victim,” Clarke said. “The Justice Department entered the plea agreement only after the victims’ attorneys informed me that the family was not opposed to it.”
She also said that the Justice Department accepted the court’s decision to reject the sentencing terms and continue the hearing until Friday.
Russ Bynum at AP News reports that Lee Merritt, an attorney for Arbery’s mother, said that the family had previously rejected an identical plea deal proposed by prosecutors.
“The family no longer wanted to engage them concerning that point,” Merritt said. “They had their answer. [Federal prosecutors] took that as a deferral.”
Harris calls on governors to protect voting rights
Vice President Kamala Harris urged dozens of governors during a meeting with President Biden on Monday to join the administration’s push to pass comprehensive voting rights legislation.
“I would also like to ask that in the spirit of bipartisanship that we think about our partnership in the context of our states being laboratories of our democracy — and in particular, on the issue of voting,” Harris said. “I believe that regardless of who we voted for in the last election, we all, as leaders of our nation, understand the importance of ensuring that all people who are eligible to vote [to] have a meaningful ability to vote and access to the ballot.”
Spokespeople for the Vice President did not respond to multiple requests for comment on if Harris’s remarks were prepared or improvised and if her office will follow up with governors on the issue or if they were a one-time call-to-action.
Voting rights is one of several intractable issues in the vice president’s portfolio. But the issue seems to have taken a legislative backseat after months worth of obstruction from Senate Republicans that culminated with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer moving to change Senate rules to pass legislation with a simple majority. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona voted with all 50 Republicans to render Schumer’s plan dead on arrival.
Instead, Manchin and a bipartisan working group of senators are negotiating a deal that would reform how Congress certifies presidential elections to prevent another president from attempting to overturn future elections through legislative manipulation. The bill would also bolster protections for election officials amid increased threats of violence from misguided voters.
Manchin told reporters on Monday that the group was “on a hot track” with negotiations and could have a bill to introduce soon. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who is leading the group, said subgroups will meet this week with a full group meeting over Zoom this weekend. Collins also said that the bill would likely be referred to the Rules Committee for the standard hearing and markup process instead of going straight to a vote.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that the administration has been a part of conversations about the Electoral Count Act but that it was an insufficient stand-in for the comprehensive voting rights legislation that failed to pass the Senate last month.
“We don’t want anyone to suggest, who supports [the ECA], that it’s a replacement for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act or other voting rights legislation that has important components of it that would provide a basic baseline and important protections for people across the country who are trying to exercise their fundamental right.”
Ossoff keeps pushing to ban congressional stock trading
Leader Schumer outlined a list of five legislative priorities on Monday for the Senate’s upcoming work period: confirming the successor to Justice Stephen Breyer ASAP, confirming 20 of President Biden’s judicial and executive nominees, passing the China competitiveness bill, renegotiating a skinny Build Back Better bill, and bringing together a package to fund the government before mid-Feb.
Excluded from the list is a bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia that would ban members of Congress from trading individual stocks. The goal is to prevent lawmakers, their spouses and dependent children from using inside information to make a profit off their public office. Members who violate the Ban Congressional Stock Trading Act would be fined in the amount of their entire congressional salary.
I asked a spokesperson for Ossoff how the senator’s bill fits into an already-full legislative schedule and they deferred to Leader Schumer’s office. The spokesperson added that Ossoff would continue to push for a vote, referencing a recent survey that found more than three in four Americans who agree that members of Congress should not be able to trade stocks while serving in office.
A spokesperson for Leader Schumer did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked last month about the issue and she expressed confidence in her members. “They are remarkable,” Pelosi said, “So when people talk about, ‘Well, somebody might do this and somebody,’ I think — I trust our members.” But she also asked the House Administration Committee to review all the proposed and enacted bills to gauge the support in the Democratic Caucus.
When asked if Pelosi’s position had changed between then and now, a spokesperson told me she was waiting for a review from the Committee.
A Committee spokesperson declined to comment when I asked for an update and referred me to a previous statement from Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, who chairs the Comittee.
“Speaker Pelosi is correct to observe the issue of some Members’ noncompliance with these important reporting requirements merits a fresh review of the law, including its enforcement requirements and penalties for noncompliance,” Lofgren said. “I look forward to working with members and stakeholders to determine whether new strategies to enhance transparency and accountability and to create public confidence in the United States Congress can be devised.”
Jen Psaki was asked about President Biden’s stance on banning lawmakers from trading individual stocks last month and deferred to Congress to determine what the rules should be.
“The President didn’t trade individual stocks when he was a senator — that is how he approached things,” she said. “He also believes that everyone should be held to the highest standard.”
HBCUs receive bomb threats again
Six Historically Black Colleges and Universities received bomb threats on Monday. It’s the second time within a month that HBCU campuses have been threatened.
The schools were Howard University in Washington DC; Southern University in New Orleans, Louisiana; Bethune Cookman in Daytona Beach, Florida; Bowie State in Prince George’s County, Maryland, Albany State University in Georgia and Delaware State in Dover. Howard is Vice President Harris’s alma mater.
Jen Psaki called the incidents “disturbing” and said the White House was in touch with federal law enforcement leadership. She added that although President Biden did not receive a formal briefing on the threats, he was aware.
Democratic Rep. Alma Adams of North Carolina, founder and co-chair of Congressional Bipartisan HBCU Caucus, and Republican Rep. and Caucus co-chair French Hill said in a statement that solving the crimes and bringing those responsible to justice should be a top priority for federal law enforcement.
“Learning is one of the most noble and most human pursuits, and schools are sacred places that should always be free from terror,” Adams and Hill said. “To our HBCU family, we would like to say that you are resilient and we will not let terror disrupt or demean the academic excellence of our HBCUs.”
House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer, who represents the district Bowie State is located in, called the threats horrifying and inexcusable.
“The terror it has caused raises serious questions about the existence of hate-based violence across our nation and in our communities,” he said in a statement.
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TODAY IN POLITICS
President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing with Vice President Harris before the two host Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley for a meeting about the upcoming Supreme Court vacancy.
The House is in. Members will consider several bills including legislation that directs the Department of Homeland Security to publish an annual report on how the department improved competition, cut costs and awarded contracts to small businesses.
The Senate is in. Senators will continue consideration of President Biden’s executive and judicial nominations.
— A Pfizer two-dose vaccine for children under five could be available by the end of February. The company is expected to submit a request for emergency-use authorization to the Food and Drug Administration as early as today. [Laurie McGinley, Lena H. Sun and Carolyn Y. Johnson / WaPo]
JAN. 6 CAPITOL ATTACK
— The motorcade for then-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris drove within several yards of a pipe bomb lying next to a bench outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters on Jan. 6, 2021. The vice president remained inside the DNC for nearly two hours before the bomb was discovered, raising questions about a security lapse of such proportion was able to take place. [Whitney Wild, Zachary Cohen and Evan Perez / CNN]
— Marc Short, former Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, testified last week before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Short was with Pence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and participated in a key White House meeting two days before the attack, which could make his testimony crucial to the committee’s investigation. [Jamie Gangel, Gloria Borger and Jeremy Herb / CNN]
— The Biden administration released a guidebook to help state, local, tribal and territorial governments navigate the bipartisan infrastructure law so they know what to apply for, who to contact, and how to get ready to rebuild. “This resource is a critical part of our extensive outreach to state, local, tribal and territorial governments to ensure the people of America can benefit from this once-in-a-generation investment,” Mitch Landrieu, the White House infrastructure implementation coordinator, said.
— President Biden signed a proclamation on National Black History Month, which begins today. “Shining a light on Black history today is as important to understanding ourselves and growing stronger as a Nation as it has ever been,” the proclamation read. “That is why it is essential that we take time to celebrate the immeasurable contributions of Black Americans, honor the legacies and achievements of generations past, reckon with centuries of injustice, and confront those injustices that still fester today.”
AGENCIES & DEPARTMENTS
— The Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a notice that authorizes more than $2 billion in federal funds to help communities equitably recover and improve long-term resilience to disasters and extreme weather events. “HUD’s consolidated notice ensures that climate justice and racial equity remain central in our work to deliver swift recovery and keep resiliency at the forefront,” HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge said. “The Department looks forward to continuing to work with communities so that they can get their disaster recovery and mitigation funds as quickly as possible.”
— The Department of Health and Human Services developed a standard clinical definition for opioid withdrawal in infants to help improve care. According to an HHS report in 2021, the number of mothers across the US with opioid-related diagnoses documented at delivery increased approximately 130 percent from 2010 to 2017.
— The Congressional Progressive Caucus called on Congress to increase wages for all workers as the $15 minimum wage for federal employees and contractors goes into effect today. “As we celebrate the implementation of this rule today, we must redouble our efforts to increase the wages of all workers,” Chair Pramila Jayapal said in a statement. “In 2022, we must finally end or reform the filibuster and secure a living wage for every worker in this country.”
— The Democratic National Committee raised $10.7 million in December and $157 million in 2021, which are both record-breaking monthly and annual figures. The DNC ended 2021 with $65 million on hand as Democrats work to defend their slim House and Senate majorities this year. [Max Greenwood / The Hill]
— Related: The Republican National Committee raised $158.6 million last year, including $11.3 million in December. It has $56.3 million of cash on hand. [Paul Steinhauser / Fox News]
— Michigan businessman and two-time Republican Senate candidate John James is running for a competitive open House seat that was created through redistricting. If elected, James would be Michigan’s first Black Republican member of Congress. [David Eggert / AP News]
STATE & LOCAL
— New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a program for residents to get antiviral COVID pills delivered to their homes for free while supplies last. Treatments will be prioritized to New Yorkers who test positive for the coronavirus, are at higher risk of severe illness and receive a prescription. [Ashley Wong / NYT]
— The New York Times Company acquired the viral word game Wordle for an undisclosed amount in the low seven figures. “Our games already provide original, high-quality content and experiences every single day,” the company said in a statement. “Wordle will now play a part in that daily experience, giving millions more people around the world another reason to turn to The Times to meet their daily news and life needs.”
— Apple TV+, Disney+, HBO Max, and other streaming apps struggle to retain US subscribers who joined to watch a hit show and then churn after a few months. The result: The media companies must consistently produce and release popular and often expensive programming to retain promiscuous viewers. [Ben Mullin and David Marcelis / WSJ]
— Rihanna and A$AP Rocky are expecting a baby! Prior to the reveal, she hid her bump under with all sorts of fashionable looks. [Georgia Slater / People]
READ ALL ABOUT IT
Fulton says that once you know better, you do better: “And so me knowing better, I’m doing better because now I know my eyes are open, and I tell a lot of people, ‘Listen!’ The people don’t know ’cuz they got cataracts over their eyes. They don’t know. And so once you remove the cataracts, once you remove the rose-colored glasses, then you really see what America is. It’s an emergency on people of color. You can no longer sit back and just wait for somebody else.” She praised the mothers of Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Dontre Hamilton, and Hadiya Pendleton, who embraced activism after losing their children. She’s also hopeful that the younger generation will make major changes because people her age, in their 50s, are “already set in their ways.”
David Dayen and Rakeen Mabud on how we broke the supply chain:
Behind all of these choices was Wall Street, insisting on more profit maximization through deregulation, mergers, offshoring, and hyperefficiency. They demanded that companies skimp on long-term resilience, build moats around their businesses by undermining or buying up rivals, adopt practices that kept inventories lean, break down the social contract between employers and workers that offered economic security, and return outsized profits to shareholders. Financiers built our supply chain to enrich investors over workers, big business over small business, private pockets over the public interest.
Sean Illing in conversation with Dan Pfieffer on why the Democrats’ message is falling flat:
The biggest problem is that most Democrats continue to believe the best way we’re going to communicate, or maybe the only way to communicate our message, is through traditional press. We’re going to tell the New York Times, we’re going to tell CNN, we’re going to tell the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and they’re going to communicate that to the public. That model hasn’t worked for a very long time.
We’re in a world where Facebook dominates, where right-wing propaganda and disinformation dominates. The idea that anyone other than the most plugged-in news junkies are going to have any real information about what’s happening is just folly.
Our party tends to think the press will do our job for us. We think they’re going to communicate our message. But it’s our responsibility to get the message, or the news, from Joe Biden’s lips or Nancy Pelosi’s lips to the voters’ ears. And that’s not going to happen organically. It has to happen through paid advertising, through social content we generate, through progressive media, and there has been very little effort to adjust our communication strategy.
Uché Blackstock M.D. on the battle wounds of protest:
These particular assaults on protesters, so many of whom were Black, came at a time when I, a Black physician, was seeing the deleterious health impact of simply being Black in this country. I bore witness to the human suffering and tragic loss of Black life while twin pandemics — the novel coronavirus and racism — intersected and raged. Consider that right now Black Americans have a six-year life-expectancy gap compared with white Americans, the widest since 1998, made worse by the pandemic. Black Americans experience disproportionately higher rates of high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, among other potentially deadly health problems. Understand, too, the “weathering” hypothesis, which explains how racism and oppression, in ways both large and small, slowly chip away at Black Americans’ physical health over the course of our lives.
She seems to excuse the allegations of abuse against her father (“He protected us”) while refusing to entertain the allegations of abuse against Michael (“My brother would never do something like that”). She isn’t angry with her exes. She isn’t mad at Justin Timberlake for what happened at, or after, the Super Bowl. There’s some muted anger at the media’s fixation on her tragic family, plus a dash of vague contentedness about the joys of motherhood. While Jackson always seems genuine, she also seems quite distant, which, in an era of endless digital oversharing, makes this entire undertaking feel like a convoluted privacy flex.
Damon Young on getting doxxed by white supremacists:
But the worst of white people are more interested in status retention and terror than in mirrors. So now I’m a new member of an exclusive club of Black Americans who told the truth about America to Americans and were rewarded with a dox. And for real, I ain’t special. Any non-white person who speaks on America’s symbiotic relationship with white supremacy is a candidate.
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