It was a busy week. Here’s everything you need to know about what happened.
1.) This Bill Could Reshape Voting As We Know It
A bill the House of Representatives just passed has the potential to drastically change the way we vote, and it’s igniting both a firestorm of criticism from many Republicans and earning praise from much of the Democratic Party.
Some background: The bill is called the For the People Act, and it’s a Democratic attempt to drastically increase both the number of people that can vote and the ease with which they can do so.
The bill would make Election Day a federal holiday, which could encourage private employers to let their employees have the day off, force states to offer at least 15 days of early voting, allow everyone to vote by mail, and register for federal races on the same day as the election.
It’s a response to what Democrats see as Republican attempts to stifle turnout in crucial districts, some of which are mostly populated by minorities.
More specifically, Democrats are concerned about a recently passed Georgia law that imposes greater verification measures on voting, like including driver’s license number matching for mail-in votes. The Georgia bill also makes it illegal to give food or water to those in voting lines and moves all ballot drop boxes to inside election offices and early voting locations.
Democrats allege that because Georgia’s elections have trended blue as of late, the still-Republican-majority state legislative branch is attempting to stifle Democratic (and especially minority) voting. Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, who unsuccessfully ran for Governor of the state in 2018, said the bill was “blatantly unconstitutional” and “nothing less than Jim Crow 2.0.”
But Republicans aren’t keen on Democrats’ way of making voting easier. They say it opens voting up to fraud and misuse.
John Cornyn, a Senator from Texas, said Republicans would fight back against the For the People Act.
“If they want a fight, they’re going to get a fight,” he said. “It’s an existential threat, I think, to our election system and to our democracy. Basically what they want to do is install a permanent partisan advantage and run all the elections out of Washington, D.C., and eliminate ballot integrity measures like voter ID.”
There are a few voting rights bills up for consideration in the Senate, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said they would each get a vote.
“This Senate will once again be the forum where civil rights is debated and historic action is taken to secure them for all Americans,” he said in a letter to senators. “Each of these bills will receive full consideration in committee and eventually on the Senate floor.”
That will be difficult because of the filibuster. Still, most Democrats are beginning to argue that they have to do away with it in order to get anything done in a highly divided Senate. Even Joe Biden has shown a new openness to reforming the filibuster, after blowing past Republican objections on coronavirus relief earlier in March.
But despite that, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that if Republicans wanted to talk about making voting more accessible, they’re welcome at the table.
“If Republicans want to come to the table [and] have a discussion about what kind of package they can support to make voting more easy, easier and more accessible, the president is absolutely open to having that discussion,” she said.
The bottom line: Voting rights are one of today’s biggest fronts of partisan contention. If Democrats are able to pass the For the People Act, it will undoubtedly unleash fury from most of the Right. But, as it stands, many Democrats see Republicans’ efforts at increasing voting verification efforts as unconstitutional, immoral, and racist.
2.) The Biden Administration is Working On A National Vaccine Passport
As the United States begins to get the coronavirus under control, the Biden administration is planning the release of a national vaccine passport, the Washington Post reports.
Some background: The vaccine passport is an attempt to only allow vaccinated people to gain access to certain venues. It will likely take the form of an app like New York’s Excelsior Pass, which government officials say is a way to fast-track a return to “normal life.”
The idea is this: You get the vaccine, and your data is transmitted to an app. You then show the app to those who require it (although it’s not entirely clear who will, or who will be allowed to), and, if you’re vaccinated, you’ve got the all-clear.
And, in private, the Biden administration is working with companies to bring such an app into the mainstream.
When the Post asked the administration about the passports, they didn’t comment, but rather pointed to comments from Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, who said earlier in March that, “as we increase the number of people vaccinated, we know some people may have a need to demonstrate that they are vaccinated.”
“The private sector and not-for-profit coalitions are already beginning to work on this,” he said. “Our role is to help ensure that any solutions in this area should be simple, free, open source, accessible to people both digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people’s privacy.”
Biden and his administration are not alone in pursuing federal measures, grounded in technology, to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The United Kingdom is considering similar measures, and the European Union has announced a Digital Green Certificate to achieve much the same purpose.
But some aren’t so keen on the idea.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the passports were invasions of privacy, and that he would take executive action to forbid their use in the state.
“It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society,” he said. “You want the fox to guard the henhouse? I mean, give me a break. I think this is something that has huge privacy implications. It is not necessary to do.”
As it stands, most GOP Senators are in agreement with DeSantis. They argue that a federal system designed to give certain classes of people privileged access to events, businesses, and other locations sets a dangerous precedent — one that will likely be used far beyond its current application.
But Democratic opinion on the issue could prove more complicated in a heavily divided Congress already wary of party infighting. Public comments from Democrats on the topic have been limited, and it’s not clear the level to which the Biden administration will succeed in implementing the passports.
The bottom line: Vaccine passports are on their way, and so are the debates over their use. Expect Republican outrage and defenses from the Biden administration, but don’t expect the idea to go down without a fight.
3.) Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz is Being Investigated for Sex With Minor
The New York Times reported Tuesday evening that the Justice Department is investigating GOP Representative Matt Gaetz for allegedly having sex with a 17-year-old girl and paying for her to travel with him two years ago.
The article sources the claims to three anonymous people briefed on the matter. Those people say that the Justice Department is investigating whether Gaetz violated sex trafficking laws, which, in numerous states, forbid individuals from bringing minors across state lines and participating in sex in exchange for something of value.
They also say that the investigation was opened in the last months of the Trump administration under Attorney General Bill Barr. It supposedly originated with an investigation into Joel Greenburg, a tax collector in Seminole County, Florida, a suburb of Orlando.
Greenburg was indicted last June on multiple charges, which included sex trafficking of a child and providing money to multiple people, at least one of whom was a minor, in exchange for sex.
Gaetz denies the claims. In an interview with Fox’s Tucker Carlson, Gaetz said that a former DOJ official contacted his father requesting a meeting wherein the official said he would make the sex trafficking allegations go away for $25 million.
He said the interaction was “attempted extortion,” and when his family contacted the FBI about the interaction, they requested that his father wear a wire when speaking with the DOJ official.
“Tonight, I am demanding that the Department of Justice and the FBI release the audio recordings that were made under their supervision and at their direction, which will prove my innocence and that will show that these allegations aren’t true — they’re merely intended to bleed my family out of money. And this former Department of Justice official, tomorrow, was supposed to be contacted by my father so that specific instructions could be given regarding the wiring of $4.5 million as a down payment on this bribe.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that tonight, somehow, the New York Times is leaking this information, smearing me, and ruining the investigation that would likely result in one of the former colleagues of the current DOJ being brought to justice for trying to extort me and my family.”
Gaetz also identified the DOJ official who he says was attempting to extort him as David McGee, who now works in a Florida law firm. McGee called Gaetz’s comments a distraction. Even stranger, McGee’s LinkedIn profile states that he has not worked at the DOJ in more than two decades.
Both the DOJ’s and Gaetz’s allegations come amid reports that Gaetz was seriously considering not running for re-election and pursuing a career at Newsmax, a right-wing news outlet known for its frequent defenses of former President Donald Trump.
4.) Biden Unveils Sweeping Infrastructure Bill
What you should know: President Joe Biden unveiled the details of his blockbuster plan to revitalize American infrastructure. Here are the details.
— The bill’s price tag would total more than $2 trillion. It contains plans to provide $621 billion toward roads, bridges, airports, electric vehicle development, and more.
— It also allocates $400 billion toward so-called “human infrastructure” — specifically, expanding Medicaid.
— Drinking water infrastructure, broadband internet, and electricity get $300 billion, as does construction and renovation of affordable housing and schools.
— Manufacturing, research and development and job training efforts get $580 billion.
— Lastly, the bill proposes a major tax hike on American corporations — from 21 percent to 28 percent.
If passed, the bill would be Biden’s second major legislative victory. However, as it stands, Republicans likely will not give Democrats the 60-vote majority needed to get past the filibuster and pass the bill.
In that case, Democrats would need to attempt to pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which doesn’t require a 60-vote majority. More on that here.
The bottom line: This proposal is big, and has a long road to passage. But it signals a more aggressive Biden, one who is willing to blow past Republican wishes in order to achieve policy victories and is getting more daring every day.
5.) Matt Gaetz’s Past Behavior Is in the Spotlight
Representative Matt Gaetz’s alleged criminal behavior put him in the spotlight. Now, it’s getting worse.
Earlier this week, The D-Brief reported that the Justice Department was investigating Gaetz for sex trafficking of a minor.
And on Thursday, dual reports from CNN and the New York Times further cast doubt on the Congressman’s sexual propriety.
First, CNN reported that Matt Gaetz showed nude photos and videos of his past sexual partners to congressional colleagues, even while on the House floor, and that at least one anonymous source believed that “it was a point of pride” for Gaetz.
Then, the Times reported that the aforementioned Justice Department investigation was focusing in on the relationship between Gaetz and Joel Greenburg, a Florida politician indicted in 2020 for making online payments to multiple people in exchange for sex, and whether Gaetz was also participating in the illicit sexual activity.
In a statement, Gaetz’s office denied both allegations.
“Matt Gaetz has never paid for sex,” the statement said. “Matt Gaetz refutes all the disgusting allegations completely. Matt Gaetz has never ever been on any such websites whatsoever. Matt Gaetz cherishes the relationships in his past and looks forward to marrying the love of his life.”
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