Why Biden spoke out against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill
The White House can’t do much about state laws, but the president’s megaphone is still a powerful weapon against anti-LGBTQ prejudice.
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President Biden tweeted on Tuesday evening this in response to the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation proposed by Florida’s legislature and casually supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis:
“The impact of a supportive president is incalculable,” Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, said in a statement to Supercreator. “On a day when five separate states scheduled hearings on bills attacking trans youth, what rose above the noise was different message from President Biden: We have your back.”
Ames said research by The Trevor Project has found that transgender and nonbinary young people who have at least one accepting adult had 33 percent lower odds of attempting suicide in the past year.
The controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill would ban certain discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.
“Schools need to be teaching kids to read, to write,” DeSantis said on Monday. “They need to teach them science, history. We need more civics and understanding of the US Constitution, what makes our country unique, all those basic things.” As I said in Tuesday’s newsletter: “That sure was a whole lot of words to say nothing.”
The White House said on Wednesday that the legislation is one of several efforts across the country to regulate what students can or cannot read, learn or be. And since members of the LGBTQ community are already vulnerable to bullying and mental health challenges, these bills can make matters worse for these students.
“As I think you saw on the president’s tweet, it’s cruel. It’s harmful,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during her daily briefing. “I think the president felt it was important to speak out it. We’re going to continue to voice our strong views on this. It’s significant that the president did that.”
Without legislative action — like Congress passing the Equality Act, a bill that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity — his words are pretty much all the president can offer since these bills are being passed at the state level.
But what they do show is that the president is listening to supporters who believe he should use his megaphone to draw attention to issues that Republicans are attempting to own ahead of the midterms.
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The approval rating for Congressional is 23 percent of as December 2021. And while there are several reasons, one of them is a perception that politicians use confidential information to trade individual stocks at the expense of taxpayers.
That’s one of the key drivers behind the push to ban congressional stock trading, which continues to pick up steam.
Democratic Rep. Katie Porter of California and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York on Wednesday introduced legislation to strengthen disclosure rules and prevent elected officials — and their families and senior staff — from abusing their access to line their pockets through additional financial requirements and restrictions
“Few Americans trust that our government is working for them, and that's a real problem for our democracy,” Porter said. “The American people deserve to have confidence that those in power are working in the public's interest, not in their own self-interests.”
Gillibrand echoed her colleague’s view: “The American people need to know that their elected leaders are putting their constituents’ interests — not their own financial interests — first. That is the job we were sent to Washington to do.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reiterated her support for reforming the current law passed in 2012 that governs how members disclose the purchase or sale of stocks during her weekly press conference on Wednesday.
But she also made it clear that her preference is for any legislation she brings to the floor to be government-wide, including the federal judiciary — specifically, the Supreme Court. She also mentioned the issue is complicated but that she trusts her members will reach a consensus.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer expressed optimism in a floor speech on Wednesday that the chamber would be able to vote on a bill soon.
“I believe this is an important issue that Congress should address,” he said. “And it’s something that has clearly raised interest from both sides of the ailse over the past few weeks.”
Critics of the proposed ban say that it would make public service less desirable than it already to some people. But three in four Americans believe otherwise so members in favor of a ban are looking to seize the opportunity.
In addition to Porter and Gillibrand’s proposal, Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff of Georgia and Mark Kelly of Arizona have been galvanizing support around their bill, which I covered in this post last week.
Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana have their own stock ban that would prohibit lawmakers and their spouses from owning and trading individual stocks but allow them to trade diversified holdings like mutual funds.
And later this morning I’ll be on a press call with Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois and Joe Neguse of Colorado as they pitch their own bill.
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Governors in seven states across the country — New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, California, Delaware, New Jersey and Connecticut — have rolled back their COVID-19 mask mandates this week.
But despite double-digit drops in hospitalizations and deaths from last week, Rachelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is leading the White House’s effort to maintain the status quo.
Walensky said the CDC understands the need and desire to be flexible and wants to make sure its guidance meets the moment we’re in. However, the agency still recommends masking for areas of high and substantial transmission in public indoor settings.
“That’s much of the country right now,” she said.
Although it seems state leaders and the federal government have diverged on their approaches to masking, the White House said they have been consistent in their recommendations and that these decisions must ultimately be made at the local level.
“We know that in different areas of the country, cases and fallen more significantly, and this will lead to different approaches and different timing,” Jeff Zients, the White House’s coronavirus response cooridnator, said on Wednesday. “And we will continue to coordinate closely with state and local leaders.”
And while Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical advisor, said we’re moving toward the end of the “full-blown pandemic,” Walensky is preaching patience.
“Our hospitalizations are still high, our death rates are still high,” she said. “So, as we work toward that and as we are encouraged by the current trends, we are not there yet.”
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TODAY IN POLITICS
→ President Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing this morning before traveling to Culpeper, Virginia to speak on how his economic agenda will lower health care and prescription drug costs. Health and Human Services Secretary Xaiver Becerra will also speak. Once back at the White House this afternoon, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will host Democrats from the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss the Supreme Court nomination process.
→ The House is out.
→ The Senate is in and will continue debate on the president’s executive nominations.
IN THE KNOW
→ Russia-Ukraine latest: President Biden spoke on Wednesday with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss Macron’s recent meetings and Russia and Ukraine as the leaders plan their response to Russia’s intense military build-up on Ukraine’s border.
The White House said its assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin could invade Ukraine at any moment is unchanged.
The Biden administration could call in soldiers to support Americans fleeing the country in the event of an invasion, Courtney Kube and Teaganne Finn at NBC News report. But both Biden and Jen Psaki once again advised Americans to leave Ukraine now.
→ Potential long COVID treatment: Antihistamines show promise in restoring daily function for the millions of people suffering from “long COVID,” according to a new study by the University of California, Irvine.
“Currently, there is no cure for [long COVID], only symptom management. A number of options are being tried, with antihistamines being one of them,” Melissa Pinto, UCI associate professor and the study’s corresponding author, said. “The possibility that an easy-to-access, over-the-counter medication could ease some of the [long COVID] symptoms should offer hope to the estimated 54 million people worldwide who have been in distress for months or even years.”
Long COVID occurs after immediate infection and includes a wide range of symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue and “brain fog.” The condition can also affect major organs like the heart, brain, lungs, among others.
→ Biden’s got jokes: During a meeting with CEOs of utilities to discuss his Build Back Better agenda, President Biden asked if the executives were receiving less resistance when they talk about wind power and windmills.
“I know they cause cancer,” he said, trolling Donald Trump, who claimed that windmill noise caused cancer. “Bad joke,” Biden added.
One of the CEOs said people have embraced wind and reception to solar energy alternatives has been very high.
Speaking of Trump: In a press release attacking the Biden administration, he misspelled “incompetent.”
→ Harris to Germany later this month: Sabrina Singh, Vice President Harris’s deputy press secretary, confirmed the VP will travel to Germany on Feb. 18-20 to attend the Munich Security Conference.
The event is expected to focus on challenges facing the globe amid concerns among the US and its European allies about a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“The Vice President’s engagements in Munich will demonstrate our ironclad commitment to our NATO allies, reaffirm our shared interest in upholding the principles that have underpinned European peace and security since World War II, and underscore our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Singh said in a statement.
→ HHS pushes back against “crack pipe” misinformation: The Department of Health and Human Services issued a public statement against reports that the federal government planned to include free crack pipes in the agency’s safe smoking kits for drug users.
“Accordingly, no federal funding will be used directly or through subsequent reimbursement of grantees to put pipes in safe smoking kits,” HHS Sec. Becerra and Dr. Rahul Gupta, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said. “The goal of harm reduction is to save lives.”
A safe smoking kit may contain alcohol swabs, lip balm, other materials to promote hygiene and reduce the transmission of diseases like HIV and hepatitis.
“They were never a part of the kit; it was inaccurate reporting,” Jen Psaki said on Wednesday. “And we wanted to put out information to make that clear.” Read HHS’s full statement.
→ Related: “Drug-checking programs” have unexpected benefits, according to a recent study from North Carolina State University.
(Drug checking is a way of analyzing illegal drugs, or prescription drugs not acquired from a pharmacy, that people have used or are about to use. It empowers users to avoid more dangerous substances, to use smaller quantities and to avoid dangerous combinations.)
“We already knew that using fentanyl test strips reduces overdoses in the United States — these are used to identify whether fentanyl is present in other drugs,” Jennifer Carroll, an assistant professor of anthropology at North Carolina State University and first author of a paper on the study, said. “Our study suggests that drug checking has a big and positive knock-on effect in other spheres of public health.”
The prorgams allow public health officials to reach and work with people who use drugs but would otherwise not access services such as HIV testing.
→ DHS takes on the Super Bowl: Alejandro Mayorkas, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, traveled to Los Angeles this week to review DHS operations ahead of Sunday’s big game.
“Just like the game itself, vigilance is a team effort,” Mayorkas said. “So please remember: If you see something, say something.”
DHS support for Super Bowl LVI includes more than 500 DHS personnel providing extensive air and maritime security resources plus intelligence analysis and threat assessments; and real-time situational awareness reporting for its partners.
→ Shutdown averted: Congress reached an agreement on a framework to fund the government for the fiscal year.
The House passed a stopgap measure on Tuesday to keep the government open until March 11. The framework now gives lawmakers a chance to draft and vote on legislation for President Biden to sign into law.
Arriving at an agreement was critical for members because many of the provisions in the infrastructure bill Biden signed last November are funded in the legislation that wilk come from the framework.
→ VAWA back in the spotlight: Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska introduced legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
The original VAWA was sponsored by then-Sen. Biden in the 1994 crime bill but expired in 2019 after three previous reauthorizations.
“I applaud the bipartisan group of Senators who have joined together to introduce the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2022 (VAWA), following passage last year of a bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives to renew and significantly strengthen this essential law,” Biden said in a statement. “I commend the tremendous dedication of advocates and honor the courage and resilience of survivors who have been on the frontlines of advocacy efforts to improve laws and work toward creating a society where everyone has an opportunity to thrive without fear of violence or abuse.”
→ R-E-S-P-E-C-T: The House passed the Global Respect Act, which will provide a means to prevent individuals who violate the human rights of LGBTQ people from entry into the United States, by a vote of 227-206.
“America’s foreign policy must be built on our nation’s founding promise of liberty and justice for all, and House Democrats will not rest until that promise is realized for LGBTQ people across the globe,” Speaker Pelosi said.
→ Congressional Union Workers update: Democratic Rep. Andy Levin of Michigan filed a resolution to give congressional workers legal protections to organizae and bargain collectively. The resolution has over 130 cosponsors. Read the backstory.
→ Related: Sen. Gillibrand called on the Senate to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act after Allison Morrow at CNN reported Starbucks fired seven workers who were involved in unionizing in Memphis, fueling accusations that the company is retaliating against a growing labor movement at its locations.
→ The Senate to take up the forced arbitration bill: “Before the end of this week, it is my intention to have the Senate take action on one of the most important workplace reforms that we’ve seen in in decades: eliminating forced arbitration for sexual harassment and assault,” Senate Democratic Leader Schumer said on Wednesday of The Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act that the House passed on Tuesday.
The legislation will void forced arbitration agreements in any contract if a sexual assault or harassment claim is brought. Read the backstory.
→ USC launches new initiative for women directors of color: The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, a think tank at USC exploring diversity and inclusion in entertainment to improve equality, released its annual report that examines gender and race/ethnicity of the top-grossing directors.
As a result of the study’s findings, the Annenberg Initiative is launching an accelerator in the form of a $25,000 scholarship designed to support a woman of color in film school, Angelique Jackson at Variety reports. (WOC are the least-represented cohort in the industry.)
The accelerator will provide the winning director a suite of financial, relational and informational resources as she completes a thesis film and prepares to enter the industry. She will also meet with a set of industry-leading advisors throughout her senior year.
READ ALL ABOUT IT
It’s true, to some degree, that the attitudes that turn people off about Ye now are the same qualities that made him magnetic in the mid-aughts. jeen-yuhs doesn’t explain how the ambitious guy with a streak of humility who adores his mother became the self-proclaimed genius, billionaire and presidential candidate. But its portrait of the Old Kanye reminds us what drew the world in in the first place, and suggests that the sometimes indecipherable New Kanye is what happened when that guy really did touch the sky.
Rebecca Heilweil on the home workout revolution that wasn’t:
There’s no denying that the pandemic made working out at home extremely popular. After gyms were forced to close their doors, people canceled their memberships and invested in exercise equipment and online class subscriptions instead. So much so that companies like Peloton couldn’t keep up with demand, leaving many customers to wait months for their bikes and treadmills to be delivered. But Covid-19 restrictions didn’t last forever. Eventually, when gyms started reopening, people stopped buying — and using — exercise equipment with the same enthusiasm they had in the spring of 2020.
Jessica Grose on what book-banning is really about:
It’s not surprising to me that after two years of pandemic uncertainty and chaos, we’re in a moment where some parents want to exert control over something, anything for their kids, and I do have some empathy for that feeling, if not for the expression of it. Particularly because the early quarantines, when virtual schooling was happening everywhere, brought curriculum and teachers into our homes in much more intimate ways. In that moment, teenagers were at home instead of starting to grow away from their families, which is what they’re supposed to do. While parents always have some sway over their kids, this period of enforced togetherness possibly gave some parents the illusion that they still had full authority over their adolescents’ intellectual lives.
Chris Crowley on NYC’s messy debate over open restaurants:
The sticking point is that, as diners feel increasingly comfortable indoors, many operators have moved on from their sheds but haven’t actually gotten around to taking them down, instead finding all sorts of industrious new uses for the big, empty spaces. One Lower East Side resident testified Tuesday that a streetery in his neighborhood has become “nothing more than a front that hides the parking space used by the restaurant owner so it is available to him when he arrives.” Other critics say they see structures being used as expanded storage space.
Brian Resnick on what science still can’t explain about love:
People who go on dates tend to make guesses based on what they like, says Paul Eastwick, a psychologist at the University of California Davis who also studies relationships. We might think, “I click really well with people who are interested in anime or people who are really interested in vegetarian cooking,” Eastwick explains. “The issue is that we really can’t find any evidence that any of those kinds of factors matter in terms of matching people.”
But it’s true that the problem we face is bigger than Joe Rogan. Indeed, from Rogan to Donald Trump to Fox News, White men have long built cultural, political and media empires off anti-Blackness and the dehumanization of others. In fact, Spotify’s response to the Rogan controversy offers a perfectly curated playbook on how racial capitalism works in America.
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