White House warns states of potentially dire effects if government defaults



President Joe Biden has demanded that Republicans join Democrats in raising the debt ceiling, but so far, GOP lawmakers have resisted. The memo comes as Democratic leaders are seriously considering adding a debt limit increase to the stopgap funding bill. A final decision on whether to make that move must come by Monday, when the House Rules Committee is slated to take up the short-term continuing resolution, or CR, to keep the government open past September 30.

The US Treasury has said extraordinary measures to avoid default will run out by October.

The memo outlines several key programs that would be halted if Congress fails to increase the debt limit, including disaster relief efforts, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, infrastructure funding, education, public health and child nutrition.

The memo also warned that “hitting the debt ceiling could cause a recession,” suggesting, “Economic growth would falter, unemployment would rise, and the labor market could lose millions of jobs.”

“If the U.S. defaults on its debt — cities and states could experience a double-whammy: falling revenues and no federal aid as long as Congress refuses to raise or suspend the debt limit. This means critical state services will be at risk for budget cuts, from education to healthcare to pensions,” the White House said.

It also warns that capital market volatility “could affect state assets,” which could impact state pension payout obligations.

The White House expressed confidence the matter would get resolved, but declined to say how.

“We have seen this done in a bipartisan way consistently. And the best way to do this is without a lot of drama, without a lot of self-inflicted harm to the economy and to our country. And that’s what we’re going to do, you know, there’s a lot of posturing on this issue, but we’re confident at the end of the day we’ll get this done,” National Economic Council director Brian Deese said Friday on MSNBC.

CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.



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Georgia criminal probe into Trump's attempts to overturn 2020 election quietly moves forward


Since then, her investigation into Trump’s efforts to upend Georgia’s 2020 presidential election results has been more discreet as she juggles the early stages of the Trump probe with an avalanche of backlogged cases and rising violence in the Atlanta area.

“What I can tell you is that the Trump investigation is ongoing. As a district attorney, I do not have the right to look the other way on any crime that may have happened in my jurisdiction,” Willis told reporters this week. “We have a team of lawyers that is dedicated to that, but my No. 1 priority is to make sure that we keep violent offenders off the street.”

Investigators are plowing ahead as Trump continues to weigh his political future and wade into Peach State politics with a Georgia rally set for late September.

Trump — still burned by his 2020 defeat and feeling betrayed by local officials who refused to help him overturn the 2020 election results — has rolled out a number of endorsements in Georgia.

Among them: Rep. Jody Hice, who is trying to unseat Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and state Sen. Burt Jones, who is running for the open lieutenant governor seat. Both Raffensperger and outgoing Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan stood up to Trump’s attempts to overturn the election. Both of Trump’s picks to replace them are Republicans who have embraced Trump’s false claims of election fraud.

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While the Fulton County investigation still appears to be in its early stages, investigators so far have obtained documents from the Georgia Secretary of State’s office and interviewed a handful of its staff, spoken to other Georgia election officials about how elections are conducted and initiated conversations with congressional committees that could obtain information relevant to the Georgia probe, according to people familiar with the investigation.

If Willis is able to gain access to information from congressional committees, it could provide a mountain of documents relevant to her investigation and possibly help her avoid lengthy court fights if she were to seek similar information on her own.

Willis’s probe spans not only the former President’s activities, but also a call between Sen. Lindsey Graham and Raffensperger, Rudy Giuliani’s false allegations of election fraud before Georgia legislators and the surprise departure of Byung “BJay” Pak from his role as US attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.

A key area of focus has been the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, after Trump called officials there following the 2020 election and pressed them to help to investigate his allegations of fraud in the hopes of overturning results showing Joe Biden won the state in November.

Gwinnett County election workers handle ballots as part of the recount for the 2020 presidential election on November 16, 2020 in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
In one call, Trump pressed Raffensperger to “find” the more than 11,000 votes needed for Trump to win the state. In another call, Trump urged a top investigator in the Secretary of State’s office to uncover fraud in Fulton County, telling her, “When the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised.”

Audio recordings of both of those calls have already emerged, and Willis’s office has been poring over those along with other documents and records from the Secretary of State’s office, according to people familiar with the matter.

Investigators have also interviewed a handful of staffers in Raffensperger’s office, including general counsel Ryan Germany, press secretary Ari Schaffer, chief operating officer Gabriel Sterling and external affairs director Sam Teasley, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

In an indication that the investigation remains in its early stages, investigators have not yet spoken with a handful of high-profile officials in Georgia — including Raffensperger, Duncan and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp — who received document preservation requests back in February, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Those requests, which were the first indication Willis was investigating Trump, asked officials to retain records relevant to the administration of the 2020 general election as well as any attempts to influence officials who carried out the election.

The letters said Willis was investigating potential crimes, including “solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local governmental bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election’s administration.”

The Georgia officials have not been accused of wrongdoing and the letters noted that they were not expected to be targets of the investigation.

In the meantime, investigators have spoken to local election officials as they build the groundwork for a potential case against Trump.

Fulton County Elections Director Richard Barron said he was among the election officials who spoke to investigators from the district attorney’s office. He provided them with phone messages and emails documenting the threats his office received surrounding the election, but he said their primary interest was in election procedures.

“That was specifically about how an election runs to help them with their investigation,” so they can build a case to potentially present before a grand jury, Barron told CNN.

Jan. 6 investigations could offer ‘relevant’ details

As congressional investigators dig into to the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol and the events leading up to that day, they are poised to potentially uncover a trove of information that could prove pertinent to Willis’s investigation.

“Clearly, any information she gets could be and would be helpful,” said Michael J. Moore, a former US attorney for the Middle District of Georgia. “I can’t imagine that she would want this case to be languishing in an investigative state for a long period of time, so she may be hoping that she gets some backup from the congressional committees.”

Georgia Secretary of State Ben Raffensperger holds a press conference on the status of ballot counting on November 6, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia.

The select committee investigating January 6 has already asked the National Archives for a range of documents, including any records of White House communications with Georgia officials such as Raffensperger, Kemp and Frances Watson, the Secretary of State investigator whom Trump phoned, from Election Day through January 20, 2021. The document request also covers communications with Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows, Giuliani and other attorneys who participated in Trump’s call to Raffensperger.

The committee has also asked the Justice Department for communications involving Pak — who has already testified to a congressional panel that he resigned because he heard Trump was thinking of firing him — and Bobby Christine, the prosecutor Trump tapped to replace Pak.

Asked whether she hopes to strike a formal cooperation with congressional committees investigating the insurrection, Willis’s face broke into a smile. “Oh, I hope so,” she told reporters Wednesday. “It is certainly information that my office needs to see.”

The congressional committees are likely to get information that’s “extremely relevant” to Willis’s investigation and staff-level conversations have already begun between the district attorney’s office and congressional committees, a person familiar with the matter said.

Those conversations still appear to be in the early stages, as another source familiar with the matter said there has been no active coordination so far between Fulton County investigators and the select committee investigating January 6.

A painstaking pace

The Trump investigation in Georgia has proceeded at a measured pace, in part because Willis, who took office in January, is trying to pull off a balancing act between investigating a former president and addressing local issues in Fulton County.

“I know there’s pressure on her to get that moving,” Joshua Morrison, an attorney who previously worked for Willis in the district attorney’s office before she took over the top job, said of the Trump investigation. “But she’s not the type of person to slow down an investigation or speed it up just for political expediency.”

In the meantime, Willis’s probe has effectively superseded a separate investigation the Georgia Secretary of State’s office was conducting into Trump’s two calls to officials in that office, Raffensperger and Watson. A person familiar with that investigation said it has been deferred while Willis’s investigation is still active.

Dominating Willis’s schedule has been a double whammy of backlogged cases and rising violent crime.

She has said her office faced a logjam of some 11,000 cases, partly because of court closures during the Covid-19 pandemic, but also from office mismanagement Willis blames on her predecessor. She has also had to grapple with a surge in shootings and homicides in the Atlanta region, including high-profile cases like the metro Atlanta spa shooter, in which Willis intends to seek the death penalty.

“I’m here begging you for help,” Willis told the Fulton County Board of Commissioners this week. “I’m drowning. I need help.”

Willis’s predecessor Paul Howard declined to comment.

It was her second appearance before the board in recent months to request additional funds and personnel.

“They’re overwhelmed,” Morrison said. “Like she told the county commission a few weeks ago, it’s manpower and money that are necessary to fight crime and also handle Trump.”

Willis has already brought on a handful of experts whose experience could prove useful to her Trump investigation, but a person familiar with the matter said they were still in the process of “gearing up” and adding staff to help with that investigation.

Moore, the former US attorney, said it will continue to be a tricky balancing act for Willis to serve her constituents while investigating Trump.

“I can’t imagine that a local DA with the amount of sort of home issues that she faces on a daily basis wants to get bogged down in this case,” Moore said. “At the end of the day, I mean her duties are of course to prosecute crimes, they’re not necessarily to embed yourself in the history books.”

For Willis’s part, she has insisted she’ll treat the Trump investigation like any other — parsing the facts against the law to see what, if any, charges they yield.

“I know that people find that case to be interesting because it was a former sitting president. And that has some historic value. For me, it’s not interesting,” Willis told WABE, the Atlanta-area NPR radio station, last week. “We will put the facts that are learned — literally, cause I’m old school — up on a wall, what those facts are. We will put the statutes that we believe those facts could or could not touch. We will see if the elements of a crime are met. If they are, I will present a case to the grand jury. If they’re not, then we won’t do it.”

CNN’s Zachary Cohen contributed to this story.



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Biden signs executive order authorizing new Ethiopia sanctions amid reports of atrocities


The administration “is prepared to take aggressive action” under the new executive order unless the parties — including the Ethiopian government, the Eritrean government, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and the Amhara Regional Government –“take meaningful steps to enter into talks for a negotiated ceasefire and allow for unhindered humanitarian access,” a senior administration official told reporters.

This official said the administration is looking to see action within “weeks, not months.” Biden approved the executive order after the administration has “telegraphed for months that the parties need to change course,” a second senior administration official said.

“The ongoing conflict in northern Ethiopia is a tragedy causing immense human suffering and threatens the unity of the Ethiopian state,” Biden said in a statement Friday.

“The United States is determined to push for a peaceful resolution of this conflict, and we will provide full support to those leading mediation efforts,” Biden said in a statement.

He continued, “I join leaders from across Africa and around the world in urging the parties to the conflict to halt their military campaigns respect human rights, allow unhindered humanitarian access, and come to the negotiating table without preconditions. Eritrean forces must withdraw from Ethiopia.”

“A different path is possible but leaders must make the choice to pursue it,” the President said.

The executive order reflects a growing sense of urgency at the situation in Tigray, where humanitarian access to deliver critically needed food, fuel and medicine has been largely cut off and hundreds of thousands face famine.

CNN has uncovered evidence that mass detention, sexual violence, and killings that bear the hallmarks of genocide have occurred in Tigray. Those investigations have spurred Congress to ratchet up pressure on the administration to take action, according to one Senate aide, who noted that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pushing for the administration to not only name sanctions targets, but also make a determination on whether the atrocities that have taken place constitute genocide.

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The aide told CNN the US Embassies in Ethiopia and Eritrea have identified names of some potential sanctions targets.

In the statement Friday, Biden said he is “appalled by the reports of mass murder, rape, and other sexual violence to terrorize civilian populations.”

The administration officials acknowledged that the situation in Tigray has deteriorated in recent months and voiced concern that violence could soon escalate as the rainy season comes to an end, allowing for greater movement in the region.

However, the first administration official said that the decision to sign the executive order but not immediately impose sanctions reflects the administration’s belief that “a different path is possible.”

“This is not a decision that this administration has taken lightly and our preference, quite frankly, is to not to use this tool,” they said. “We would prefer that the parties to the conflict work with the international community to advance discussions toward a negotiated ceasefire.”

“We want to see a prosperous, prosperous, peaceful, united Ethiopia, as well as the region in the Horn of Africa, but this ongoing protracted conflict is risking — puts all of that at risk,” they said.

‘No military solution’

This official added that they are “not optimistic about the situation on the ground and that’s why the President authorized this executive order in order to ramp up the pressure, but we are optimistic about the growing moves by regional leaders, by the (African Union) Envoy (Olusegun) Obasanjo to press for a mediated solution, and we hope that we can marshal support for these efforts.”

The situation is likely to be a “key discussion” at next week’s United Nations General Assembly in New York, the second official said, “because it is right now one of the largest humanitarian catastrophes in the world.”

“There’s a widespread consensus, outside of Ethiopia, at least, that there is no military solution to this conflict,” they said.

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Friday’s executive order is broader in scope compared to previous sanctions announced in the region and will give the Treasury and State Departments authority and flexibility to identify individuals and entities responsible for the conflict if steps toward a ceasefire are not taken.

The first official emphasized that any sanctions will not be targeted at the people of Ethiopia, noting that the Treasury Department will issue general licenses laying out “clear exemptions for any development, humanitarian, and other assistance efforts, as well as critical commercial activity in Ethiopia and Eritrea.”

In May, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced sweeping visa restrictions on “certain individuals responsible for, or complicit in, undermining resolution of the crisis in Tigray” and the US sanctioned the chief of staff of the Eritrean Defense Forces for his connection to “serious human rights abuse committed during the ongoing conflict in Tigray.”

The State Department has also “imposed restrictions on foreign assistance for Ethiopia and have brought our defense trade control policy in line with this action,” according to a State Department spokesperson.

“Security assistance programs have been suspended. A planned Millennium Challenge Corporation economic growth ‘threshold’ program also remains on hold at this time,” they said.

‘Deeply disturbing’

In a statement last week, State Department spokesperson Ned Price called “reports of human rights abuses and atrocities” by parties to the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia “deeply disturbing,” saying that those “mounting reports of human rights abuses underscore the urgency of independent and credible international investigations.”

The statement was released following reporting from CNN that found bodies of Tigrayans, some of which bore signs of torture, washing up in a Sudanese town near the border with Ethiopia. Reuters recently reported that Tigrayan forces killed more than 100 civilians in a village in the Amhara region.

The Biden administration is also conducting “a law and fact-based review” about whether crimes which may amount to genocide have taken place in Tigray.

UN says food aid in Ethiopia's war-torn Tigray region will run out Friday as 400,000 people face famine

That review has been underway since at least late June. Acting Assistant Secretary of State Robert Godec told lawmakers at the time that “the administration is in full agreement that horrifying atrocities have been committed in Tigray and Secretary Blinken did say in earlier testimony, as you’ve said, that there were acts of ethnic cleansing.”

“We are in the process of a fact and law-based review to determine whether the terms crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes can and should be used,” he said. “The final decision on whether we’re going to use those terms is up to the Secretary of State.”



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January 6 vs. September 18: How law enforcement hopes to prevent another riot


Criticism of the security failures around the US Capitol riot last winter has loomed large in the minds of federal officials and law enforcement partners ahead of Saturday’s right-wing rally, resulting in a concerted effort to avoid the mistakes of eight months ago that left front-line officers unprepared for the violence that unfolded.

This time, officials are preparing for the worst and erring on the side of caution. Unlike on January 6, officers are well aware of the threats related to Saturday’s event, which is expected to be a much smaller gathering with some spreading the false narrative that federal agencies will use the rally as an opportunity to arrest attendees.

Concerns around this weekend’s rally have been amplified by recent statements from former President Donald Trump, including one on Thursday in which he defended the Capitol rioters as “people being persecuted so unfairly” and continued to perpetuate false claims about the “Rigged Presidential Election” that security officials have repeatedly warned will almost certainly lead to more violence by domestic extremists.

Security preparations began days ahead of time. US Capitol Police, which has the operational lead for the rally, briefed lawmakers throughout the week and the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, US Capitol Police and others held a call with state and local law enforcement on Thursday to discuss the situation.

The DHS warning noted that event organizers had secured a permit for 700 attendees in Washington, but, according to media reports, local authorities expect a smaller crowd.

Lessons learned

One of the overarching lessons from January 6 has been to increase information sharing about potential threats in a way that allows law enforcement to implement corresponding operational measures, multiple security officials have told CNN.

That’s played out this week with US Capitol Police preemptively reinstalling fencing around the Capitol complex and coordinating with various law enforcement partners to ensure there is a substantial presence.

“What we realized after January 6 is that we had gotten a little bit lax in some of the aggressive conversations. All of us had,” said Melissa Smislova, DHS deputy under secretary for intelligence enterprise readiness, at the Homeland Security Enterprise Forum on Tuesday, adding that since then, DHS has reinstituted biweekly threat calls and committed to meetings to discuss upcoming events and working groups.

“Some of it was just a lack of discipline, I think, a complacency, maybe even,” she said.

The framework for information sharing among federal, state and local authorities was there, Smislova said, but “you had to actually seek it out, as opposed to having it brought to you.”

“We have all collectively seen this as a failure on our part to communicate with each other, and to make absolutely certain that all of us have the same information. So that recommitment is what you’ve seen since January 6,” she said.

Officials are preparing for the potential of violence — both in Washington and in other cities around the US — surrounding the rally, which organizers say is scheduled to start at noon ET.
Republican lawmakers keep Saturday's right-wing rally at arm's length as Democrats spotlight GOP extremism

There has been uptick in threats by individuals who are implying they are coming to Washington or going to other locations to engage in violence in furtherance of their beliefs, including the false narratives that the 2020 election was stolen and that the people arrested for their participation in the January 6 riot are being treated unfairly and were just trying to do the right thing, according to a federal law enforcement source.

“We are taking a very measured approach,” the federal law enforcement source added, “but what we are seeing is definitely enough to cause concern that is resulting in these increased security measures.”

Specific threats have been directed at the Capitol, members of Congress, Democrats, the Jewish community and liberal churches, according to two sources familiar and the DHS intelligence briefing obtained by CNN.

Warnings

The second major concern is potential violent interactions between those who are coming to Washington for the rally and those who are coming to oppose it, since there has been an increase in calls for counterprotesters, the federal law enforcement source said.

There is a real difference in how authorities are preparing for this event and what happened in the lead-up to January 6, the source said, pointing to both the planning efforts and increased information sharing.

“There’s right now more people with their ears to the ground than I’ve seen before, that if a threat does pop up or information does, someone becomes aware of it, that it hopefully will not be left in a memo that doesn’t get to people or report that people don’t read,” another law enforcement source said.

Temporary fencing to surround Capitol ahead of September 18 right-wing rally

Leading up to this weekend, DHS has been involved in facilitating information sharing both within the national capital region and with state and local officials across the country.

On Monday, DHS designated the “Justice for J6” rally as a Special Event Assessment Rating 3, which is given to events of national or international importance that require limited federal support.

There are five potential levels for these security assessments, with the top rating requiring extensive federal interagency support.

However, no DHS security designation was given ahead of January 6 — despite indications, such as social media posts, that additional security may have been needed at the Capitol that day, according to a Government Accountability Office report released earlier this summer.

“Out of an abundance of caution, DHS is coordinating with the U.S. Capitol Police and its partners across every level of government to maintain situational awareness and ensure public safety at rallies over the weekend,” a DHS spokesperson told CNN in a statement Wednesday.

Officials have also acknowledged that over-communicating and making clear there will be a strong law enforcement presence can have a deterrence effect, pointing to two dates earlier this year — the presidential inauguration on January 20 and the QAnon conspiracy about Trump becoming president again on March 4 — as examples where threats did not materialize.

Pleas for a peaceful protest

The upcoming rally is being planned by Look Ahead America, a nonprofit led by former Trump campaign staffer Matt Braynard. The group is “dedicated to standing up for patriotic Americans who have been forgotten by our government,” according to its website.

Braynard said in a recent interview with CNN that “this is a completely peaceful protest” and “we have told people that when they come, we don’t want to see any messaging about the election, we don’t want to see any messaging on T-shirts and flags or signs about candidates or anything like that.”

Capitol Hill, which was shocked and traumatized by the deadly riot in January, has taken extra precautions.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, for example, warned her Democratic colleagues in a letter that “there is a wish by some to continue the assault on the U.S. Capitol with misinformation and malice.”

“The leadership of the Congress, on a bipartisan and bicameral basis, has been briefed by the Capitol Police Board on the nature of the threat and the unprecedented preparations to address another attempt to defile our national purpose,” Pelosi said, referring to a briefing that congressional leadership received from US Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger on Monday.

Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, a member of the House select committee investigating January 6, got a detailed briefing last week about rally security from Manger, the architect of the Capitol and the House sergeant-at-arms, according to a source familiar. It lasted roughly an hour.

The briefing was “much more thorough” than the one lawmakers had received prior to January 6, the source added.

A Capitol Police spokesperson told CNN on Tuesday that the department is in contact with the rally organizer. The Capitol Police has also taken several steps to prepare in ways it did not prior to January 6, despite there being no specific threat around the event.

“We have talked to the military and we have multiple agencies assisting,” the Capitol Police said in a statement to CNN when asked if there was an imminent request for National Guard help. “We cannot provide specifics as we do not want to give away security sensitive info.”



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The Supreme Court's actions on abortion and voting rights would have stunned RBG


“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg knew that laws about voting rights and reproductive choice are not abstract legal ideals,” Jessica A. Levinson of Loyola Law School told CNN. “But she might have been astonished by the breadth and depth of the court’s decisions to eviscerate protections for access to the polls and a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion.”

The two issues represent a part of Ginsburg’s legacy built over her near 30-year tenure on the high court. She was a prolific supporter of access to abortion and contraceptive coverage, and she condemned efforts to weaken the Voting Rights Act. Indeed, in 2013 after the Court gutted a key provision of the historic law, Ginsburg issued an opinion that reverberated throughout a new generation of progressive activists who came to refer to her as the “Notorious RBG.” The majority’s move to scale back the law, Ginsburg famously wrote, was like “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
Because Ginsburg died just weeks before Election Day, then-President Donald Trump was able to replace her with a conservative justice, Amy Coney Barrett — a move with critical implications.
After Barrett took the bench, the court considered the Mississippi case for months behind closed doors before finally announcing it would hear arguments next term and decide a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide prior to viability, which can occur at around 24 weeks of pregnancy.
The justices, in agreeing to take up the case and consider the law that bars most abortions in the state after 15 weeks of pregnancy, will hear the most important abortion dispute in some 30 years.

Barrett also provided the critical vote early this month when the court allowed the Texas law that bars abortion before most women even know they are pregnant to go into effect pending appeal.

And last term, she was in the majority when the court broke along traditional ideological lines and upheld two controversial Arizona provisions that restricted how ballots could be cast.

Abortion

Supporters of abortion rights fear that Barrett’s votes will undermine Ginsburg’s legacy when it comes to abortion.

During her confirmation hearing in 1993, Ginsburg declared: “There is something central to a woman’s life, to her dignity.”

“It’s a decision that she must make for herself,” she continued, “and when government controls that decision for her, she’s being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”

On the bench, she repeatedly ruled in favor of reproductive rights.

In 2007 when the court upheld a federal law that barred so-called “partial birth abortion,” Ginsburg dissented. She took issue with the majority’s contention that “women who have abortions come to regret their choices, and consequently suffer from ‘[s]evere depression and loss of esteem.'”

“This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women’s place in the family and under the Constitution — ideas that have long since been discredited,” Ginsburg said.

In 2014, the majority ruled in favor of a closely held corporation that brought a religious objection to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health care plans include contraceptive coverage. Ginsburg dissented, calling the majority’s decision one of “startling breadth.”

In a concurring opinion in a 2016 case in which the court blocked abortion restrictions in Texas, Ginsburg wrote to emphasize what would happen to poor women if the restriction had been allowed to go into effect. “When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners,” Ginsburg said, adding, “at great risk to their health and safety.”

In 2020, she dominated during oral arguments in a case concerning a Louisiana law that required doctors to have admitting privileges in a nearby hospital.

“Most of the people who get abortions never have any need to go to the hospital, isn’t that so?” she queried, continuing to dismantle each argument in favor of the law, point by point.

In another case in 2020, when the court was hearing oral arguments by telephone because of Covid 19, Ginsburg called in from her hospital bed as she was fighting off infection. The case concerned the Trump administration’s attempt to weaken the Affordable Care Act’s so-called contraceptive mandate.

“You have just tossed entirely to the wind what Congress thought was essential — that is that women be provided these services with no hassles, no cost to them,” she told a government lawyer.

“Justice Ginsburg said time and again that we will never have true gender equality in the absence of women having reproductive freedom,” said Amanda Tyler, a former Ginsburg law clerk who was writing a book with the justice at the time of her death.

“The two are inextricably intertwined,” Tyler said.

Flash forward to September 1, just shy of the one-year anniversary of Ginsburg’s death. In a late night order, the court formally allowed the controversial Texas law to go in effect. Overnight, Roe became a dead letter in the second largest state. Critics of the law said it was carefully crafted to make it difficult to challenge in court. That’s because it specifically precluded Texas officials from enforcing it. Instead, any individual, from anywhere in the country, could bring a lawsuit against a person who helped someone access the procedure in violation of the law.

The majority — including Barrett — said that while the court wasn’t weighing in on the constitutionality of the law, it would allow it to go into effect pending appeal. “It is unclear whether the named defendants in this lawsuit can or will seek to enforce the Texas law against the applicants in a manner that might permit our intervention,” the majority wrote.

John Roberts has lost control of the Supreme Court

Chief Justice John Roberts, in dissent, wrote that the law was “unprecedented.” He said that he would have blocked the law to give courts the chance to consider procedural questions.

“The desired consequence,” Roberts wrote, “appears to be to insulate the State from responsibility for implementing and enforcing the regulatory regime.” Writing for her liberal colleagues, Justice Sonia Sotomayor went much further, lashing out at the majority for its “stunning” order.

“Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand,” she said.

Ginsburg would not only have disputed the case on the merits, but those who know her said she would have called out the procedural tactics.

“Ginsburg was a consistent voice for procedural integrity at the Court,” Tyler said. “She would have been up in arms over the court allowing such a restrictive law to go into effect in direct contravention of longstanding precedent and while the court has a pending merits case before it implicating the same core issues.”

“We are now seeing just how profoundly unfortunate her absence from the Court is, given that her vote could have stayed the Texas law from going into effect,” Tyler concluded.

Voting Rights

In the voting rights area, the court has also moved right since Ginsburg’s death.

In 2013, Roberts wrote a 5-4 majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, effectively gutting Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a provision that required states with a history of discrimination to obtain the permission of the federal government or the courts before enacting new laws related to voting.
Shelby County ruling could make it easier for states to get away with extreme racial gerrymandering

Ginsburg dissented, invoking the umbrella metaphor and calling the Voting Rights Act “one of the most consequential, efficacious, and amply justified exercises of federal legislative power in our Nation’s history.”

Last term, with Ginsburg no longer on the bench, the court heard a case concerning two provisions of Arizona voting law that critics said violated a separate provision of the Voting Rights Act.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the 6-3 majority opinion upholding the laws and stressing that the state had an “entirely legitimate interest” in the prevention of fraud.

Justice Elena Kagan responded fiercely in dissent, noting that the justices had “no right” to remake the law.

“What is tragic here is that the Court has (yet again) rewritten—in order to weaken—a statute that stands as a monument to American’s greatness, and protects against its basest impulses,” Kagan wrote.

In her dissent, Kagan cited Ginsburg eight times.



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Washington has a China fixation and France got in the way



The Biden administration justifies US policy on infrastructure, the economy and even on public services by the need to strengthen the country to better compete with China. America’s foreign policy is increasingly organized as a bid to counter the rising great power. President Joe Biden keeps saying he had to get out of Afghanistan because China loved the US being bogged down there. Take some of the biggest issues rocking Washington — the Covid-19 pandemic and the fight against climate change — and China is at the center of them. The furor over the new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa about Donald Trump’s final days in office was most heated over claims that the top US military officer called Chinese counterparts to reassure them the then-President wouldn’t attack.

China’s perceived power is so great that the idea it poses a threat is about the only issue on which Republicans and Democrats, Trump and Biden supporters can actually agree. Biden has put democracy promotion at the center of his presidency — there’s no need to guess why. And President Xi Jinping has taken on an outsized persona. Both the current and former president have each publicly boasted about their phone calls with the Chinese leader to highlight their own status and toughness.

It is perhaps a commentary about waning US prestige as the dominant global power after a tumultuous first two decades of the 21st century that so many leaders spend so much time defining the country against the next great US adversary.

The United States is running to catch up. The hopes at the dawn of the 2000s that ushering China into the global economic system would inexorably promote internal political freedoms and a placid global partner foundered. Now Washington’s response has to be built hurriedly on the fly.

In this context, it’s not surprising that France should have found itself trampled by Washington’s China fixation this week. The Biden administration big-footed a deal for Paris to build conventional submarines for Australia with a new strategic alliance with Canberra and London that will see stealthy nuclear-powered boats sent down under.

Understandably, the French erupted with fury, motivated by more than embarrassment in Paris, that Washington had prioritized an anglophone compact over its oldest alliance.

‘A stab in the back’

The deal was announced suddenly, with no regard for France’s global ambitions or self-image as an important power and totally overshadowed Europe’s own unveiling of its own Indo-Pacific policy.

“Speaking politely, it’s a real stab in the back,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on French radio Thursday, in remarks that were far from polite. That jab was at Australia. But he was not less sparing about the United States. Months after Biden went to Europe and declared America is back, Le Drian unfurled the ultimate insult.

“This is a decision that is unilateral, brutal, unpredictable. It really looks like something Mr. Trump would do,” he said.

The word “unpredictable” was a real blow. European leaders didn’t expect to agree with Biden on everything. But they at least expected the sudden lurches in US policy that would have grave consequences for their own security, which were a feature of Trump’s term, would be replaced by a return of diplomatic civility.

The flap over Australia will do nothing to dim an impression across the Atlantic, fueled by Biden’s lack of communication with the allies over the US pullout from Afghanistan, that he has a narrow interpretation of US interests and cares little for how his actions might complicate the political position of allied leaders. Biden, for all his touting of a return to alliances, does seem to be getting a reputation for clumsiness with allies whom the US will need in a pinch.

But it’s unlikely that Biden set out to deliberately antagonize France. And Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who partly grew up there, did his best to smooth over the controversy. “France in particular is a vital partner on this and so many other issues stretching back generations, and we want to find every opportunity to deepen our transatlantic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and around the world.” His comment was a reference to France’s belief that, given its territories in the region, it has a vital role and clear belief that it had been betrayed. As France’s ambassador to the US, Philippe Étienne, told Hala Gorani on CNN International: “We want to be part of the Indo-Pacific strategies.”

US ‘will not leave Australia alone’

But while the trans-Atlantic alliance remains a cornerstone of US foreign policy, the current episode makes clear that it is no longer the dominant one. During the Cold War, the preeminent threat to the United States was centered in Europe — and the challenge from the Soviet Union. Its next great foe is in Asia, so it is not surprising that its focus is turning there. If then-President Barack Obama engineered a pivot to Asia, Biden is presiding over a headlong rush there. This means there is a new reality in Washington to which America’s traditional allies will have to adapt.

Still, the decision on the submarines could have implications in other areas of foreign policy. The extremely rare US move to share technology with Australia on the nuclear plants that power the boats could weaken its arguments against nuclear proliferation elsewhere, in negotiations with Iran, for instance.

The agreement between the US, Australia and the United Kingdom came with such compelling political and geo-strategic advantages for each, that France wouldn’t have a chance of blocking the deal on the submarines, had it known. (Étienne said the first Paris heard about it was in the Australian and US press.)

The entire focus of Biden’s foreign policy is on the rising challenge from China. And senior administration officials say they are alarmed by the increasingly aggressive and nationalist approach from Beijing, toward Taiwan, in the South China Sea and toward American allies like Australia. Washington’s answer is to draw its allies into a broad anti-China coalition.

“The United States will not leave Australia alone on the field, or better yet, on the pitch, in the face of these pressure tactics,” Blinken said Thursday.

“We’ve raised publicly and privately our serious concerns about Beijing’s use of economic coercion against Australia.”

The government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Australia has been alarmed by fierce economic and diplomatic pressure from China. Effectively, it has now chosen sides in any new Cold War between Washington and Beijing. The introduction of a new Australian fleet of nuclear-powered submarines will not transform the geopolitical picture in the Asia-Pacific region. But in conjunction with the allied international forces that Washington views as sharing its burden in safeguarding free navigation there amid Beijing’s aggressive territorial claims, it could help shape the balance of power. In another step in his campaign, Biden will host a summit next week in Washington — including Morrison and the other two members of the so-called Into-Pacific Quad powers, India and Japan — in another unmistakable sign to China.

Post-Brexit Britain under Prime Minister Boris Johnson has two overwhelming foreign policy goals — projecting global strength independent of its former European partners and cozying up to the Biden administration. The anglophone alliance represents a mission accomplished on both counts and a propaganda victory against Brussels. The United Kingdom currently has one of its two new super aircraft carriers deployed in Asia in a sign of its intent. That and Australia’s decision to seek US sensitive technology for its submarines may indicate that Washington is paying close attention to allies that prove their commitment to its Indo-Pacific policy with military clout as well as diplomatic support.

There will need to be some hard thinking among European leaders. While Britain and Australia have now fully signed up to Biden’s efforts to contain China, France, Germany and European Union leaders have been more cautious — apparently seeking a middle path between two great powers.

The last few days prove that making such a choice brings consequences.



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Justice Clarence Thomas says judges are 'asking for trouble' when they wade into politics



“When we begin to venture into the legislative or executive branch lanes, those of us, particularly in the federal judiciary with lifetime appointments, are asking for trouble,” he said during a sweeping lecture at the University of Notre Dame that also touched on themes of equality, race and the state of the country.

The problem, the justice said, has bled into the nomination and confirmation process.

“I think that is problematic and hence the craziness during my confirmation was one of the results of that,” Thomas said, adding that “it was absolutely about abortion — a matter I had not thought deeply about at the time.”

Thomas’ remarks come as the newly solidified conservative majority will consider a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade in the term that begins in October as well as a major Second Amendment case and possibly a dispute centering on affirmative action. In addition, the court earlier this month sparked outrage among supporters of abortion rights when a 5-4 majority allowed a controversial six-week abortion ban in Texas to take effect pending appeal.
Of all the members of the high court, Thomas has made his views on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that legalized abortion across the US, crystal clear. In 2007, he said that he believed that Roe and the follow-up decision called Planned Parenthood v. Casey had “no basis in the Constitution.” And in 2020, he said that Roe is “grievously wrong for many reasons, but the most fundamental is that its core holding — that the Constitution protects a woman’s right to abort her unborn child — finds no support in the text of the Fourteenth Amendment. “

Some of those in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party see adding seats to the court as the only way to protect landmark decisions like Roe.

Although he did not directly address the issue of so-called court packing, Thomas seemed to nod to the controversy.

“We have lost the capacity” as leaders “to not allow others to manipulate our institutions when we don’t get the outcomes that we like,” he said.

Thomas, appointed by then-President George H.W. Bush in 1991, is currently the longest-serving justice. Noting his 30 years on the bench, Thomas said Thursday that while the institution may be flawed, it works.

“I think we should be careful destroying our institutions because they don’t give us what we want when we want it,” he said. “I think we should be really, really careful.”

The 73-year-old justice dedicated the bulk of his lecture to the Declaration of Independence, weaving in his own personal story of growing up in the segregated South. Despite the pervasive racism, he said, he was taught about the value of equality.

“I am a product of the state of Georgia,” he said, adding that he had grown up in a world that was “quite different than the world of today.” In the 1950s and 1960s, he said, there was “quotidian and pervasive segregation and race-based laws, which were repulsive and at odds with the principles” of the country.”

But despite that, Thomas said, in his community there was also a focus on a “deep and abiding” love for the country and a “firm desire to have the rights and the responsibilities of full citizenship regardless of how society treated us.”

Having grown up knowing he was “a child of God,” Thomas said, there is “no force on this Earth that can make me any less than a man of equal dignity and equal worth.”

“This accepted truth reinforced our proper roles as equal citizens, not the perversely distorted and reduced role offered us by Jim Crow — a role that is not unlike the reduced but apparently more palatable image of Blacks that is bandied about or assigned to us today,” he said.

Thomas’ lecture follows public appearances from other justices ahead of the court’s new term, including Justice Stephen Breyer, who has been promoting a new book, and Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who recently delivered a speech at the University of Louisville.



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McAuliffe and Youngkin spar over Covid vaccine requirements in first Virginia debate



The fight over measures to combat Covid-19 was the focus of the first gubernatorial debate from the outset of the contest, with both candidates attempting to go on offense on the issue during the event hosted by Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia.

Youngkin argued that while he personally supports the Covid vaccine and wants everyone to get the shot, he believes “that individuals should be allowed to make that decision on their own.” He also pushed for McAuliffe to join him in taping a public service announcement to “encourage all the Virginians to get the vaccine.”

Pressed on whether he, as governor, would join his Republican colleagues and challenge President Joe Biden’s recent vaccine mandates, Youngkin did not give a direct “yes” or “no” answer, but said, “I don’t believe that President Biden has the authority to dictate to everyone that we have … to get the vaccine.” Biden announced earlier this month a series of new vaccine rules on federal workers, large employers and health care staff.
McAuliffe, a former governor of Virginia, fired back, calling Youngkin anti-vaccine and saying that he, as governor, would back up employers who mandate vaccines and would call for such mandates for people working in health care and in most education settings and for those pursuing higher education. The Democrat also said, after being pressed by moderator Susan Page, that he would support adding the Covid vaccine to those required for students older than 12, since the US Food and Drug Administration has authorized use of the vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds.

“I am for requiring, mandate vaccinations. He’s not,” said McAuliffe, who is running for a second stint in office in a commonwealth that bars governors from serving successive terms. “He wants to do PSAs. PSAs aren’t going to get you anything. I want everybody to be vaccinated here in the commonwealth of Virginia.”

Youngkin responded to the barb by saying, “My position on the vaccine has been very clear. I absolutely encourage all Virginians to get the vaccine.”

McAuliffe jumped back in: “He is not requiring vaccinations. That is the difference between the two of us. Asking to do a PSA is a political stunt. … Who cares about PSAs? Half the people wouldn’t know who you are on TV.”

A recent CNN poll found that Americans have grown more supportive of coronavirus vaccine mandates for workers, students and in everyday public life, with specific support for requiring vaccinations for office workers returning to the workplace (54%), students attending in-person classes (55%) and patrons attending sporting events or concerts (55%).

The fight to stop the spread of the coronavirus has become one of the most salient political issues for Democrats right now, with many Republicans pushing back against any vaccination mandates.

The Democratic strategy to focus on the coronavirus and mandating the vaccine has been buttressed by the recent failed recall of California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who defeated the attempted ouster by running primarily on the strict coronavirus measures he put in place while the state’s top executive and attacking his primary Republican opponent, Larry Elder, for saying he would roll back those coronavirus actions.

A primary lesson Democrats have taken away from Newsom’s easy win is that pledging to aggressively fight the coronavirus pandemic, including by mandating vaccines in certain settings, is good politics, especially with the Democratic base and independent voters who are concerned about the spreading Delta variant.

That is why McAuliffe returned to the issue throughout the debate, at one point attacking Youngkin’s pledge to do certain things on his first day in office by blithely saying, “His day one plan would be to unleash Covid.”

The issue, though, was not the only one to split the candidates during the debate, with each taking on the topics of abortion rights, Virginia’s economy and election integrity.

Both candidates pledged that they would accept the results of the gubernatorial election, even if the other won. And Youngkin said he doesn’t “believe there’s been significant fraud in Virginia elections” and that he did not agree with former President Donald Trump’s attacks on the Virginia voting system.

“I think we’re going to have a clean, fair election and I fully expect to win,” Youngkin said.

Even still, McAuliffe looked to tie Youngkin to Trump throughout the night, calling the gubernatorial candidate a “Trump wannabe” who has been endorsed by the former President and is “following all Trump’s policies.”

On abortion, Youngkin said he would “not sign the Texas bill” that bans most abortions after as early as six weeks into pregnancy, calling the law “unworkable and confusing” and noting it doesn’t contain the exceptions he supports. The Texas law does not include exceptions for rape or incest, although there is an exemption for “medical emergencies.”

But after being pressed by the moderator on whether he would support a similar law that barred abortions just after a fetal heartbeat is detected — which is often before a woman knows that she is pregnant — and included the exceptions he supports, Youngkin said, “I do believe that a pain threshold bill would be appropriate.”

McAuliffe, meanwhile, said he would support “enshrining Roe v. Wade in the Virginia Constitution” and pledged to stand up to abortion laws like the one in Texas.

Youngkin criticized McAuliffe’s record and positions on crime and policing, claiming the Democrat would end so-called qualified immunity, civil lawsuit protections currently afforded to police officers. Progressive activists have argued that qualified immunity has been abused and shields police officers from punishment for misconduct, particularly in cases of police brutality toward minorities.

“We’re going to protect qualified immunity, and my opponent is going to get rid of it,” Youngkin said.

Asked by a moderator if he would end qualified immunity, McAuliffe said, “No, I would not end it.”

Youngkin accused McAuliffe of flipping his position from the one he had held during the Democratic primary. In an April statement from McAuliffe’s campaign, spokesman Jake Rubenstein said the candidate supported ending “policies like qualified immunity that can prevent accountability when heinous acts are committed against Virginians.”



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Democratic legislation aims to address State Department restrictions on certain diplomats


“To strengthen American foreign policy and diplomacy, we must ensure our best and brightest individuals are able to serve,” said Rep. Ted Lieu of California, who introduced the bill with Reps. Joaquin Castro of Texas, Andy Kim of New Jersey and Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania. “The State Department’s Assignment Restrictions Policy is discriminatory, disproportionately impacts federal employees who can’t trace their heritage to the Mayflower and directly undermines the department’s goal of promoting diversity and inclusion.”

The State Department’s assignment restrictions are applied by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, sometimes to employees who otherwise hold top-secret clearances, to prevent them from serving in particular countries or even, while they’re in Washington, from working on issues related to those countries.

According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, the goal is “to prevent potential targeting and harassment by foreign intelligence services as well as to lessen foreign influence and/or foreign preference security concerns,” for instance, if an employee or close family members maintain dual citizenship with that country or have substantial financial interests or foreign contacts there.

The restrictions, which affect diplomats of all backgrounds but appear to fall disproportionately on employees with Asian American and Pacific Islander backgrounds, have concerned lawmakers who point to the potential loss of cultural and linguistic knowledge that could give the US an edge in global competition.

Asian American Pacific Islander national security professionals, in particular, have argued that Chinese Americans are the US’ greatest asset in understanding and countering Beijing’s economic, political and military aggression.

The current assignment restrictions process is somewhat opaque. Until the Obama administration, Diplomatic Security wasn’t even required to tell diplomats they were barred from certain countries. Often, they would find out only after they had accepted jobs there.

Blinken's battle to make State Department more diverse will face steep resistance, diplomats of color say

“I’ve come across a number of instances of State Department employees who are given assignment restrictions for no apparent reason,” Lieu told CNN in an interview.

“It appears to me that there are a disproportionate number of Asian Americans who have been affected,” Lieu said, adding that “these assignment restrictions affect all ethnicities and races in the State Department.”

The bill cites State Department data showing that approximately 1,800 employees are currently subject to assignment restrictions. The top four countries to which restrictions apply are China, where 196 US diplomats are barred from serving; Russia, where 184 US diplomats are not allowed to serve; Taiwan, with 84; and Israel, with 70.

The “Accountability in Assignment Restrictions Act,” introduced Thursday, would require the State Department to create an independent appeals process for diplomats seeking to challenge restrictions. Currently, if diplomats ask for assignment restrictions to be reconsidered, they go back to the same office — Diplomatic Security — that made the original decisions.

The bill would set a 60-day deadline for those appeals to be resolved and would require Diplomatic Security to transmit all files related to the appeals to an “Assignment Restriction Appeals Panel” without redaction. That panel would be made up of senior officials, including the department’s chief diversity and inclusion officer.

The rationale

The State Department would be required to report annually to Congress on the rationale for assignment restrictions, including specific case examples; the ethnicity, national origin and race of the precluded employee; their gender; and the country to which they are barred from being posted.

The report would have to include Diplomatic Security’s reasoning for the restrictions and the number of restrictions that were appealed, along with the success rate of those appeals and the impact of assignment restrictions in terms of unused language skills.

The government spends up to $480,000 per diplomat for two years of language training in what the State Department inspector general calls “super-hard languages” — Arabic, Japanese, Chinese, Korean — before diplomats are sent to posts. When diplomats are then barred from going to the posting, that investment is lost.

The bill also includes a mandate that State ensure the group of adjudicators and investigators overseeing the assignment restrictions process is diverse itself.

Historical discrimination

Lieu says the restrictions and their disproportionate impact on AAPI diplomats have to be seen in the broader context of historical discrimination against Asian Americans, a bitter timeline that runs through the Yellow Peril hysteria and the Chinese Exclusion Act of the 1800s to the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II and, more recently, during the Covid-19 pandemic, to the surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans.

There are specific challenges within the federal government, as well, Lieu said. “A number of people in our federal government, when they look at an Asian American, they put them to a higher level of suspicion than if they were looking at someone whose last name was Smith. That’s illegal and wrong, by the way,” he said, before adding that it’s also “sort of endemic.”

Lieu doesn’t expect resistance to the bill in Congress. If it becomes law, he hopes it boosts morale, results in fewer restrictions and helps improve diversity at the State Department.

“You got a problem with diversity as a department, and this problem goes all the way to the highest levels of leadership,” Lieu said. “It simply makes it much more difficult to rise to the top of the State Department if you have an assignment restriction.”



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