News Round-Up: February 2, 2021

Road sign reading Texas

Road sign reading Texas

Some news items you might have missed:

The Advocate: The Human Rights Campaign’s State Equality Index for 2020 measures the rights and protections each state has in place for LGBTQ+ individuals. Texas is ranked in the bottom category, and referred to as a “high priority to achieve basic equality.”

Dallas Voice: With more calls to expel QAnon Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) from Congress for her wild conspiracy claims and more, here’s a break down of what it takes to expel a member of of the House or Senate plus some history of those who were expelled.

Twitter: If you’ve never watched the far-right leaning outlet Newsmax, all you need to know here is Dominion Voting Systems threatened to sue the online newser into oblivion if they continued airing baseless claims of ‘vote manipulation.’ Now hit the play button.

Raw Story: Moderate ‘Blue dog’ Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has told the media he will support President Biden’s coronavirus relief package even if Senate Democrats have to use ‘budget reconciliation’ (bypassing a 60-vote filibuster) to get there. Manchin’s vote is critical with the Senate’s current 50-50 makeup of Dems and Republicans.

AP News: Republicans in Georgia’s state Senate are moving to limit voting in future elections with bills that would restrict who can vote absentee by mail, require a photo ID for those who do vote absentee by mail, ban ballot drop boxes, block outside groups from sending out absentee ballot applications, end automatic voter registration when obtaining a driver’s license and ban new residents from voting in a runoff election. #votersuppression

CNBC: The Senate confirmed Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday to lead the nation’s Department of Homeland Security, making him the first Latino to hold the role. The Senate voted 56 to 43.

Trump Fires Senior Official Responsible For Security Of Presidential Election

Donald Trump (image public domain/White House)

Donald Trump has fired Christopher Krebs, the Department of Homeland Security cyber chief who declared the 2020 general election was the most secure in U.S. history.

From the New York Times:

President Trump fired Christopher Krebs on Tuesday night, retaliating against his administration’s most senior official responsible for securing the presidential election.

Mr. Krebs, who has systematically disputed Mr. Trump’s baseless declarations in recent days that the presidency was stolen from him through fraudulent ballots and mysterious software glitches that changed millions of votes, had worked in the Department of Homeland Security.

The announcement came via Twitter, the same way Mr. Trump fired his defense secretary two weeks ago.

Mr. Trump seemed set off by a statement released by Homeland Security late last week, the product of a broad committee overseeing the elections, that declared the 2020 election “was the most secure in American history.”

Whistleblower: Top DHS Officials Told Analysts To Downplay White Supremacists & Russian Interference

L-R Donald Trump, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf (photo: Flickr/WhiteHouse)

A whistleblower alleges that top officials in the Department of Homeland Security instructed analysts to modify intelligence assessments to ensure they matched up with misleading public comments from Trump about Antifa and “anarchist” groups.

From the New York Times:

Top officials with the Department of Homeland Security directed agency analysts to downplay the threat of violent white supremacy and of Russian election interference, according to a whistle-blower complaint filed by a top intelligence official with the department.

Brian Murphy, the former head of the intelligence branch of the Homeland Security Department, said in a whistle-blower complaint filed on Tuesday that he was directed by Chad F. Wolf, the acting secretary of the department, to stop producing assessments on Russian interference.

The department’s second highest-ranked official, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, also ordered him to modify intelligence assessments to make the threat of white supremacy “appear less severe” and include information on violent “left-wing” groups, according to the complaint, which was released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee.

Trump has regularly downplayed the threat of white supremacist violence during his time in office, including his infamous remarks that there were some “fine people” among the extremists who instigated violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

Murphy previously oversaw the intelligence division at DHS but was reassigned in August. He says the personnel change was retaliation for after he compiled intelligence reports on journalists and protesters in Portland, Oregon. He’s asking the inspector general to investigate.

Former DHS Official Warns Of 2nd Term For Trump

Former Department of Homeland Security chief of staff Miles Taylor

In an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, longtime Republican and former Trump official Miles Taylor warned about Donald Trump if he achieves a second term, “You will see the president align with dictators around the world.”

Republican Voters Against Trump has released a new Miles Taylor ad in which the former DHS chief of staff revealed he will vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen The Latest Target Of “Reputation Killer” Trump

Everyone is talking about the sudden departure of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen this past weekend.
Kirstjen Nielsen

Everyone is talking about the sudden departure of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen this past weekend.

She showed up for a meeting at the White House with Donald Trump on Sunday, and before she could even make her resignation public, Trump beat her via Twitter.

According to the New York Times:

“I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside,” Ms. Nielsen said in a resignation letter. “I hope that the next secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse.”

Ms. Nielsen had requested the meeting to plan “a way forward” at the border, in part thinking she could have a reasoned conversation with Mr. Trump about the role, according to three people familiar with the meeting. She came prepared with a list of things that needed to change to improve the relationship with the president.

Mr. Trump in recent weeks had asked Ms. Nielsen to close the ports of entry along the border and to stop accepting asylum seekers, which Ms. Nielsen found ineffective and inappropriate. While the 30-minute meeting was cordial, Mr. Trump was determined to ask for her resignation. After the meeting, she submitted it.

This morning, folks believe Nielsen’s tenure in the Trump administration could be a “reputation killer.”

“Kirstjen Nielsen I think is a great example of what happens when you go to work for Donald Trump,” said CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin. “He is the great reputation killer. Here is this woman who was a reasonably admired bureaucrat. For the rest of her life people will look at her and think, ‘Oh, that’s the woman who put children in cages. That’s the woman who broke up families across the border.’ You know what? They’ll be right.”

The NY Times also notes that Trump reportedly urged Nielsen to take illegal actions to tamp down what he saw as the immigration ’emergency.”

The president called Ms. Nielsen at home early in the mornings to demand that she take action to stop migrants from entering the country, including doing things that were clearly illegal, such as blocking all migrants from seeking asylum.

She repeatedly noted the limitations imposed on her department by federal laws, court settlements and international obligations.

Those responses only infuriated Mr. Trump further.

Trump Distorts Former Homeland Security Secretary’s Testimony

President Trump lied yet again in this early  morning tweet claiming “Former Homeland Security Advisor Jeh Johnson is latest top intelligence official to state there was no grand scheme between Trump & Russia.”

First of all, Johnson was Homeland Security Secretary, not “Advisor.”

Second, that’s not at all what Johnson said in testimony yesterday. What Johnson told the House Intelligence Committee yesterday was:

“In 2016, the Russian government, at the direction of (President) Vladimir Putin himself, orchestrated cyberattacks on our nation for the purpose of influencing our election. That is a fact, plain and simple.”

At no time in his testimony did Johnson ever state that there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Former Homeland Security Secretary: A “Plain And Simple Fact” That Putin Ordered Cyber Attack On 2016 Election

Speaking before Congress today, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson left no doubts regarding Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee and interference that was meant to disrupt the 2016 presidential election.

“The Russian government, at the direction of Vladimir Putin himself, orchestrated cyber attacks on our nation for the purpose of influence our election,” he said. “That is a fact, plain and simple.”

From Raw Story:

President Donald Trump has regularly hedged in public when asked if he believes Russia interfered in the 2016 election. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday claimed that he had not spoke with the president about his views on Russia’s role in disrupting the election, and would not confirm if Trump actually believed Russia was behind the hacks of the DNC and former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

New York Times Op-Ed Questions Homeland Security Raid Of Rentboy

I’ve been wondering all week why, after almost two decades of operation, the Department of Homeland Security decided to focus on, and ultimately raid, the offices of gay escort website Rentboy.

Especially when you consider that dozens of straight escort sites continue to operate in New York City. Why just target the gay escort site?

Apparently, I’m not the only one as the New York Times editorial board pens an op-ed questioning the motivation and ultimate goals of the office raid.

Here’s just an excerpt from the op-ed:

Prosecutors can credibly argue that the site’s operators were breaking the law. But they have provided no reasonable justification for devoting significant resources, particularly from an agency charged with protecting America from terrorists, to shut down a company that provided sex workers with a safer alternative to street walking or relying on pimps. The defendants have not been accused of exploiting sex workers, featuring minors on the website, financial crimes or other serious offenses that would warrant a federal prosecution.

Amnesty International announced this month that it would be pushing for the decriminalization of consensual sex work worldwide. After a lengthy and at times fraught debate, the organization’s experts concluded that sex workers were less likely to be harmed and exploited in places where the trade is lawful. Several gay and transgender rights organizations, including Lambda Legal and the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, issued a joint statement supporting Amnesty International’s position.

[snip]

The Rentboy.com bust may spook clients and sex workers for a while, but it would be naïve to think it will do much more. Federal authorities should consider whether continuing to spend time and money turning the website’s operators into felons is worthwhile, while far more serious crimes, including human trafficking and sexual exploitation, go unpunished.

I’ll add that I personally support the decriminalization of consensual sex work. I think as long as no one is physically harmed and it’s between two consenting adults, the government shouldn’t be involved.

House Speaker John Boehner Relents – Allows Clean Vote On Homeland Security Funding

And it would seem the game playing with the security of the United States is over.

According to NBC News, the House of Representative has passed a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security by a vote of 257-167.

In a 257 to 167 vote, the House passed a “clean” Homeland Security funding bill on Tuesday without provisions that would curtail the president’s executive orders on immigration. The Senate passed the legislation last week and the president’s signature is certain.

Funding for Homeland Security, which was set to run out midnight on Friday, will now go through Sept. 30 of this year.

The vote is a blow to conservatives in the House who fought to use the spending measure as a way to force the president to roll back his orders aimed at allowing millions of undocumented immigrants the chance to stay in the U.S. legally. Conservatives contend that the orders are unconstitutional and all 1of the 67 no votes came from Republicans.

But Senate Democrats blocked legislation that included language on immigration, and some Republicans publicly acknowledged they would be the party that would get blamed if the agency shut down.

Boehner announced in a closed-door meeting of Republican members on Tuesday morning that the House would vote on the year-long funding bill.

BREAKING: House Fails To Pass Homeland Security Funding

By a vote of 203-224, the House failed to pass a bill that would continue to fund the Department of Homeland Security.

The bill today would have funded Homeland Security for three more weeks. A version was passed in the Senate that would have funded the department for the rest of the fiscal year.

Mere hours left for the Republicans to make sure the country stays safe…

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