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It marked the beginning of a mobilization effort designed to harness the grassroots fury ignited by the GOP’s response to Ginsburg’s death — an opening flurry of activity that Democrats hope will fuel their takeover of the White House and Senate in November’s election.

“This illustrates forcefully that justice is on the ballot in each of those races for U.S. Senate,” said John Walsh, 2020 campaign manager for Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). “We need to succeed, and fulfilling Justice Ginsburg’s wish will be a motivation for millions of people to vote and talk with their friends about the election.”

In the past few years, Democrats have grown increasingly concerned about the composition of the Supreme Court, an issue that’s long been the province of Republican voters. But the battle over the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, along with McConnell’s refusal to hold a vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, in 2016, helped to change that.

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that 66 percent of Joe Biden supporters said Supreme Court appointments were very important to their vote in the presidential election, compared with 61 percent of Trump backers — a reversal from 2016, when Trump fans saw them as more critical.

Liberal groups are looking to use that energy to ramp up pressure against Republican senators to break with McConnell, particularly those who are in competitive races or who have said in the past that they would not confirm a nominee before Inauguration Day. Most see GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Mitt Romney of Utah as being the most promising after Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who said Saturday that the appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the president who is elected on Nov. 3.

Demand Justice is launching a $10 million ad campaign in an effort to stop Republicans from filling Ginsburg’s seat before the presidential inauguration in January. Women’s March is planning big protests. Indivisible has mobilized its members to call Republicans’ offices in the Senate and demand that they “refuse to hold any hearings or confirm any new justices until the next term begins,” according to a prepared script.

The group also said it already has campaign infrastructure in place seeking to oust 12 Senate Republicans, which was originally created in response to the Senate’s impeachment acquittal of Trump, that it plans to utilize in the weeks ahead.

“If the Senate Republicans continue to follow McConnell on this,” said Indivisible press secretary Emily Phelps, “they’re going to be the target of the wrath of millions of grieving, pissed-off, motivated volunteers from all 50 states.”

Democratic activists are particularly incensed by the fact that McConnell and other GOP senators argued in 2016 that, rather than vote on Garland, Americans should be able to weigh in on the next Supreme Court nominee in the upcoming presidential election. In key battleground states, local left-wing organizations are also looking to push Republicans, such as Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, to hold off on confirming a new justice by turning their own words on them.

“Our plans around mobilization are still in formation, but we do intend to remind Sen. Toomey that he blocked the confirmation of Merrick Garland on the grounds that in an election year, ‘it makes sense to give the American people a more direct say in this critical decision,’” said Hannah Laurison, executive director of the progressive group Pennsylvania Stands Up.

But Democrats face a formidable challenge in trying to pick off Republicans, even those in tight races. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is tied with Democratic opponent Jaime Harrison according to a recent poll, has already signaled that he supports Trump nominating a justice, despite the fact that in 2016 he said the Senate shouldn’t fill vacancies in a presidential election year.

The pressure campaigns aren’t limited to Republicans. In a year in which progressives ousted a handful of incumbent House Democrats, a former aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called for a Democrat to immediately announce that they will launch a 2022 primary challenge against Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. The goal: Make him grind the Senate to a halt in hopes of somehow staving off a confirmation.

“Schumer needs to face maximum pressure every single day to use all possible power that his caucus has — and it has power — to stop a Trump appointment,” wrote David Sirota, Sanders’ speechwriter for his 2020 presidential campaign, and progressive activist Andrew Perez in a newsletter. “Not just pressure as in phone calls and protests — pressure as in you-will-be-voted-out-of-office pressure.”

Along with contacting Republicans, Indivisible members are also calling Senate Democrats’ offices to urge them to slow down the business of the Senate in hopes of blocking a future nominee.

Demand Progress, a left-wing group, said 50,000 people have sent emails to Democratic and Republican senators around the country asking them to “block every motion, force every bill to be read in full, and use a wide range of parliamentary tactics to shut down the Senate between now and January, when new Senators and the president are inaugurated.”

Democrats are largely powerless to stop the nomination if Republicans have 50 votes: They can try to put on the brakes, but judicial confirmations run on a separate calendar and McConnell controls the floor. Progressive activists and former Senate aides insist they have leverage to drag it out, though.

“All options have to be on the table,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), referring to efforts to block the confirmation. But asked for details, he declined to elaborate.

In the wake of Ginsburg’s death, left-wing groups are also working to boost support for the campaign to pack the Supreme Court by expanding the number of justices. Once a fringe idea, the cause picked up steam in the Democratic presidential primary when several candidates said they were open to it. Biden, who has opposed the proposal, is likely to face increased pressure from liberals to change course.

Already, some Democrats are expressing support for adding seats to the court.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, tweeted that if Republicans “were to force through a nominee during the lame duck session — before a new Senate and President can take office — then the incoming Senate should immediately move to expand the Supreme Court.”

Meanwhile, in a call with Senate Democrats Saturday, Schumer said, “nothing is off the table for next year” if Republicans move forward with their plan.

“Court expansion is on the map in a way that it’s never been before,” said Aaron Belkin, director of Take Back the Court, a group leading the charge for court-packing. “Part of that is because [McConnell] stole the court in 2016, and the fact he’s now pledging to violate the ‘rule’ he used to steal the court in the first place is, of course, electrifying the opposition and underscoring the need to rebalance the court so this doesn’t happen again.”

Given the obstacles they face in trying to stop McConnell, however, progressives had not effectively prepared for this moment, said a person involved with one liberal group opposing the confirmation.

“There’s no clear strategy,” the individual said. “It’s another one of these moments where if we were the other side, we would have had much more of a plan in place.”

But many Democrats said the upcoming Supreme Court battle is making their voters even more motivated than they were before, which could pay dividends in November.

“Enthusiasm is through the roof,” Schatz said. “Nothing motivates voters like righteous anger.”

Laura Barrón-López contributed to this report.

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Delhi sees deadliest month amid raging pandemic


India has the second highest number of Covid cases in the world. November was the deadliest month for the capital Delhi, which has been struggling to contain the virus, with more than 100 deaths on some days.

The death toll has overwhelmed the Indian capital’s crematoriums, where many families say goodbye to their loved ones in ancient rituals.

A lack of social distancing at the city’s markets has been blamed for the recent uptick. Some hospitals have run out of ICU beds – with pollution and cold weather adding to the burden.

Cases are starting to fall, but doctors warn that if people don’t take care, the situation could get worse again, as the BBC’s South Asia correspondent Rajini Vaidyanathan reports.

Produced by Kunal Sehgal, Shalu Yadav and Greg Brosnan.

Filmed and edited by Varun Nayar.

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India farmers protests: Thousands swarm Delhi against deregulation rules

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Farmers from the nearby states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh began arriving by tractors and on foot at the outskirts of New Delhi last week, where they blocked roads and set up makeshift camps, according to protest leaders. Some slept on the road or in their tractors, and several places of worship offered protesters food.

Police attempted to block demonstrators from entering the city. They fired tear gas and water cannons Thursday and Friday after protesters pelted police officers with stones and damaged public property, according to Manoj Yadav, a senior police official from Haryana.

The farmers are protesting laws passed in September, which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi says will give farmers more autonomy to set their own prices and sell directly to private businesses, such as supermarket chains.

But the move has infuriated India’s farmers, who say that the new rules will leave them worse off by making it easier for corporates to exploit agricultural workers who make up more than half of India’s 480 million-strong workforce, according to India’s most recent Census in 2011.

According to Ashutosh Mishra, the media coordinator of protest organizer All India Kisan Sangharsh Committee, which represents around 200 farming unions, tens of thousands of demonstrators have gathered at each of New Delhi’s three borders — a line of protesters at one of the borders stretches for 30 kilometers (19 miles), he said.

Police have put up barriers and dug up roads to prevent protesters from coming into the city center to hold sit-ins. Mishra expects more farmers from around the country to join the protests in the coming days.

That’s despite New Delhi being a hotspot for Covid-19 in a country that has already reported more than 9.4 million reported cases, the most in any country bar the United States.

“We are trying to be weary of Covid but we don’t have an option — it is a question of life and death,” said Mukut Singh, the president of a farmers union in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, who is leading thousands in protest in his home state, and says he will join the protesters in Delhi later this week.

“We are the ones who have provided food, milk, vegetables when the whole country was in lockdown — we were still toiling in the fields,” he said. “It is the government who has put us at risk by introducing these laws during Covid.”

What the protests are about

For decades, the Indian government has offered guaranteed prices to farmers for certain crops, providing long-term certainty that allows them to make investments for the next crop cycle.

Under the previous laws, farmers had to sell their goods at auction at their state’s Agricultural Produce Market Committee, where they were guaranteed to get at least the government-agreed minimum price. There were restrictions on who could purchase at auction and prices were capped for essential commodities.

Modi’s new laws dismantle the committee structure, allowing farmers to sell their goods to anyone for any price. Farmers have more freedom to do things such as sell direct to buyers and sell to other states.

Modi said increasing market competition would be a good thing as it fulfills farmers’ demands for higher income and gives them new rights and opportunities.

“The farmers should get the advantage of a big and comprehensive market which opens our country to global markets,” Modi said on Monday, as farmers protested in the capital. He hopes it will attract private investment into the agricultural industry, which has lagged as other parts of the country’s economy have modernized.

But farmers argue that the rules could help big companies drive down prices. While farmers could sell crops at elevated prices if the demand is there, conversely, they could struggle to meet the minimum price in years when there is too much supply in the market.

Singh, the Uttar Pradesh farmer, said that removing the price guarantees will make life tougher for farmers.

“There is a lot of anger among farmers,” he said. “We don’t get even the minimum support price that is presently declared — removing these protections and making it easier for corporates to enter will completely buy us out.”

Why it’s such a hot political issues

Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 58% of India’s 1.3 billion population, meaning farmers are the biggest voter block in the country.

That’s made farming a central political issue, with farmers arguing for years to get the minimum guaranteed prices increased.

Security personnel deployed to stop farmers from entering the national capital during a protest against the Centre's new farm laws at Singhu border near Delhi, India on November 30, 2020.
In a bid to win over farmers, Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said in its 2014 general election manifesto that all crop prices should be fixed at a minimum of 50% higher than the production costs. In 2016, Modi promised to boost the country’s agriculture sector with a target of doubling the income of farmers by 2022.

Modi and his government continue to insist that they are supporting farmers.

He hailed the new laws as a “watershed moment” which will ensure a complete transformation of the agriculture sector. But besides calling the move long overdue, Modi has not said why he opted to introduce these measures during the pandemic, which has caused India to suffer its first recession in decades.

“The Indian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi has always stood in full commitment to resolving the problems faced by farmers and will continue to stand by them,” said Narendra Singh Tomar, the Minister of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare.

Tomar urged farmers to abandon their protests and instead discuss their issues with the government — although so far, Modi has shown no sign of capitulating to protesters’ demands.

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House steering panel backs DeLauro for Appropriations chair

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While the full caucus typically backs the Steering Committee’s pick, an upset has occurred as recently as 2014.

Lawmakers and aides watching the race expect it will be decided on a second round of voting for DeLauro and Wasserman Schultz, with allies of the Florida Democrat hopeful she can eke out a win with the help of Kaptur supporters forced to throw their support behind another candidate. The Ohio Democrat is not expected to secure enough support on the first ballot.

Kaptur, 74, the most senior Democrat on the spending panel and the longest-serving woman in Congress, has won support from many members of the Congressional Black Caucus — a powerful bloc that typically respects seniority in leadership elections. Supporters of Wasserman Schultz say she could win if she can secure even some of those votes.

DeLauro’s supporters, however, are confident that the close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and long-time champion of the public health and education communities will be confirmed as chair.

Pelosi typically doesn’t get involved in steering races after she publicly backed Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) in 2014, who won the steering panel’s nod to become the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee in 2014, only to lose the spot in a stunning caucus-wide vote. The caucus instead chose Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who went on to become Energy and Commerce chair.

DeLauro — the second-most senior contender for the gavel who controls the largest chunk of nondefense spending as the head of the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee — has long been expected to lead the appropriations panel and has a reputation for working with senior Republican appropriators like Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

DeLauro, 77, is a “work horse” and a “force of nature,” said Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), who’s pushing her colleagues to vote for the Connecticut Democrat, in an interview last month. “Her appeal is that she has integrity, that she has wisdom, that she’s such a hard worker and a strong fighter for the issues that she cares about.“

Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the Military Construction-VA spending panel, has been expected to pick up support from freshmen, moderates and some members of the CBC. Supporters point to her robust fundraising for Democrats — particularly for vulnerable members that will be crucial to keeping the House majority in 2022.

Some Democrats said a disappointing Election Day that cost the party more than a half-dozen House seats underscores the need for change, including a more moderate candidate that could bring generational diversity to the leadership ranks.

“I think that in the aftermath of the election, it makes clear that the old ways of doing things just aren’t going to work anymore,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), a co-chair of the moderate Blue Dog Democrats who supports Wasserman Schultz, said last month.

The three Democrats are vying to succeed retiring Chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the first woman ever to lead the spending panel. All three have vowed to make the appropriations process more transparent and accessible to members, while supporting the return of earmarked spending to help Democrats secure cash for pet projects at home.

Heather Caygle contributed to this report.

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