Biden admin to rescind Trump ‘conscience’ rule for health workers

“The Biden administration is preparing to scrap a Trump-era rule that allows medical workers to refuse to provide services that conflict with their religious or moral beliefs”

“The so-called conscience rule, unveiled in 2018 and finalized in 2019, was blocked by federal courts after dozens of states, cities and advocacy groups sued, and has never been implemented.
Had it gone forward, it would have allowed doctors, nurses, medical students, pharmacists and other health workers to refuse to provide abortions, contraception, gender affirming care, HIV and STD services, vasectomies or any procedure to which they object.”

The January 6 committee is seemingly moving toward recommending charges for Trump

“The House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack seems to be building toward a conclusion that former President Donald Trump broke the law, and developments in recent days have intensified questions about his potential criminal exposure.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that White House records of Trump’s calls on the day of the attack, which had been turned over to the January 6 committee, had a gap of seven hours and 37 minutes in which no calls were listed. Speculation abounded from investigators and commentators that Trump used unofficial “burner phones” on that day to avoid leaving a paper trail with the federal government records. (Trump denied knowing what a burner phone is.)

Meanwhile, earlier in the week, a federal judge took stock of the January 6 committee’s argument that Trump had committed crimes connected to that day’s events — and found them persuasive. As part of a ruling in a civil lawsuit over whether Trump’s lawyer had to turn over some records to the committee, the judge wrote that Trump “more likely than not” committed both obstruction and conspiracy as he tried to impede Congress’s count of the electoral votes, and harshly condemned his actions. This is just one judge’s opinion, but it was a vote of confidence in the case the committee seems to be building.”

“Given that there are multiple reports about Trump making or receiving calls during this time span, it seems obvious the official records are incomplete. Trump may have used his aides’ phones to speak to others. But Woodward and Costa also report that the committee is investigating whether Trump deliberately used cheap “burner phones” that could be used temporarily and then disposed of, therefore avoiding an easily documentable paper trail.

Trump responded with a statement claiming he had “no idea what a burner phone is, to the best of my knowledge I have never even heard the term.”

But former national security adviser John Bolton told Costa he had heard Trump use the term “burner phones” several times and that Trump fully understood what they were used for. And Hunter Walker wrote for Rolling Stone back in November that some organizers of the pro-Trump rally in Washington, DC, on January 6 had obtained burner phones to contact Trump’s team and even members of the Trump family.”

There Is More Than One Big Lie

“There’s a mountain of baseless overlapping claims piled up inside the stultifying biodome of the Big Lie: voters casting multiple ballots, dead people voting, ballot-counting machines flipping votes, foreign nations hacking systems to swap totals. The Big Lie is an à la carte conspiracy theory — a bit like QAnon in that respect — where adherents pick and choose what sounds right to them and disregard what doesn’t. Each individual who believes the Big Lie has their own suspicions about what took place, a personal recipe of different conspiracies to nourish their belief that the election was illegitimate. In right-wing chat groups on the messaging app Telegram, these theories are traded as casually as chats about the weather.”

“Every iteration of the Big Lie, though, is wrong. The ones in the darkest corner of the Internet? Wrong. The ones brought forward in lawsuits by the Trump campaign? Wrong. The ones already debunked by news sources? Still wrong. There is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
Still, polling gives us a glimpse of the most popular theories on the Big Lie menu. Last summer, a YouGov/CBS News poll asked voters who thought there had been widespread voter fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election exactly what they thought had happened. They were asked about various sources of voting and how much of the voter fraud came from those sources, either “a lot of it,” “some of it” or “hardly any or none.”

Seventy-seven percent said “a lot” of voter fraud and irregularities had come from ballots cast by mail, and 70 percent said a lot of it had come from voting machines or equipment that were manipulated, but just 22 percent said a lot of the fraud had come from ballots cast in person. Racism also appeared to inform a lot of thinking around the Big Lie: 72 percent said a lot of the fraud had come from ballots cast in major cities and urban areas, compared with 22 percent and 14 percent who said a lot of it had come from suburbs and rural areas, respectively. And 39 percent of those who believed voter fraud was widespread said “a lot” of fraud had come from ballots cast in Black communities, while 25 percent said so for white communities and 27 percent said so for voters in Hispanic communities.”

“When they asked Americans to compare hypothetical political candidates, Republican voters favored candidates who embraced the Big Lie by an average of 5.7 percentage points to candidates who accurately said Trump lost the election. This suggests that the Big Lie is not going anywhere soon and that it will have a meaningful sway on elections. Already we’ve witnessed the Big Lie being wielded as a campaign tool by Republican candidates across the country, demonstrating the power of this belief among the party’s voters.

And as polls continue to capture the millions of Americans who endorse the Big Lie, precisely what they believe matters less than how that belief influences their actions.”

Trump’s Trade Deal With China Was an Abject Failure, Just Like the Trade War

“The so-called “phase one” trade deal inked in December 2019 by former President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping might have put an end to the spiraling trade war between the two countries, but the agreement did not result in China buying more American goods, as both leaders promised it would. In fact, during the two years covered by the deal, China imported fewer American goods than before the trade war began—meaning that the deal did not even succeed at patching up the damage caused by Trump’s bellicose trade policies.”

“We now know that the promised benefits did not materialize. But the costs certainly keep adding up. Auto manufacturers, for example, shifted supply chains to avoid the cost of tariffs and economic uncertainty created by the trade war—by relocating some American manufacturing jobs to China, which has become a large and growing market for auto sales. BMW, for example, shifted much of the production of its X3 sport-utility vehicle from Spartanburg, South Carolina, to China after reporting that tariffs had cut the company’s American profits by about $338 million in 2018. The higher costs imposed by the trade war caused Tesla to announce that it was “accelerating construction” of a new plant in Shanghai.
Overall, Bown estimates, exports to China would have been $26 billion higher in 2020 and $39 billion higher in 2021 if not for the impact of the trade war and subsequent trade deal. That doesn’t account for other losses sustained during the trade war, like the increased farm subsidies paid for by American taxpayers and the run-of-the-mill cost increases created by tariffs.

Aside from some positive developments with regard to China’s treatment of intellectual property and financial services, probably the only good thing about Trump’s “phase one” trade deal is that it has now expired.

“President Trump’s trade war and phase one agreement did little to change China’s economic policymaking,” Bown concludes. “Beijing seems intent on becoming more state-centered and less market oriented.””

Why Didn’t Putin Invade Under Trump? It Wasn’t Personal.

“Consider where Trump and Biden stand on three key issue areas the Kremlin cares deeply about: NATO, political leadership in Ukraine and undermining democracy. Under Trump, there was little daylight between Russia and the United States on these issues.

Even as Trump’s vocal criticisms may have inadvertently strengthened the alliance, Trump worked to diminish the influence of NATO, reportedly planning to withdraw from it in his second term. As a candidate, Trump had even remarked that, “Maybe NATO will dissolve, and that’s OK, that’s not the worst thing in the world.”

Trump also broke with longstanding bipartisan support of Ukraine. During the Trump administration’s first year, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was still a showman whose comedy troupe performed patriotic musical numbers with lyrics like “There’s fog over Brussels and frost in Washington” and used a MeToo leitmotif comparing Ukraine’s treatment by Russia and the West to a sexual assault. When Zelenskyy beat an incumbent president in a landslide, Trump actually withheld military aid to Ukraine, sending personal emissaries to Kyiv to try to pressure and undermine Zelenskyy in the eyes of Ukrainians by asking him to “do us a favor, though.”

And both while in office and since leaving it, Trump worked tirelessly to cast doubt on the legitimacy of American elections, going to great yet unsuccessful lengths to find evidence of fraud in the 2020 presidential contest. Trump makes assertions about American elections that echo the Kremlin’s, even reciting a trope about voting by “dead souls” that comes from 19th century Russian literature. At rallies Trump repeats the same claims he made the day of the January 6 attack on the Capitol: “You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.”

The truth is that during his administration, Trump’s policy alignment with Putin advanced the aims of Russia’s political elites, who could imagine that the United States was on their side. Their comfort with Trump was evident from the start; Americans may remember that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was warmly received in the White House and photographed in the Oval Office, while Russian parliament members toasted Trump’s electoral victory in 2016.

This comfort evaporated with the election of Biden. And for good reason: from the start, the Biden administration has been at odds with Putin on the issues Putin needs to care about to preserve his own rule. After Biden’s election, Russian political elites once again articulated profound, existential anxieties about a renewed United States projecting its power abroad. State television in Russia emphasized the Kremlin will not allow American influence in Ukraine, “regardless of the cost to us, and regardless of the cost to those responsible for it.”

The Biden White House has taken positions opposite those of the Trump administration on NATO. Biden has insisted on principles of state sovereignty, reaffirming and rebuilding the United States’ trans-Atlantic relationships, including strengthening NATO.

Biden took meaningful steps to support Ukraine in defending itself. Far from undermining Ukraine’s democratically elected government, the Biden administration has tried to create roadblocks for the Kremlin by getting inside Putin’s decision cycle, declassifying and broadcasting intelligence about Russia’s plans to attack Ukraine. Biden exhausted diplomatic channels trying to come to a peaceful resolution and worked with allies to prepare a sanctions package in advance of a Russian invasion.

And Biden has worked to protect democracy. Unlike Trump, rather than questioning the integrity of contests his party lost, Biden has spoken forcefully about the close legal scrutiny and fairness of all the 2020 elections. And he has supported congressional efforts to protect the franchise in the United States.

In Trump, Putin had a fellow-traveler. Far from ensuring world peace, the Trump years instead offered Putin a useful pause he utilized to further military readiness and prime the Russian population for a hot war. Earlier this month, the Russian state adopted new standards for mass graves — not because of the coronavirus pandemic in Russia, but for situations that involve “urban destruction.””

“Far from deterring Putin, Trump did the opposite. Thanks to Trump, Putin was able to take advantage of a period of apparent detente during which Trump actually pursued Putin’s own policies of weakening NATO and democracy and destabilizing the West — leaving Putin free to prepare his war against the free people of Ukraine and their democratically elected government.”

The revealing Trump White House debate over whether to seize voting machines

“By December 2020, as President Donald Trump was trying feverishly to overturn Joe Biden’s election win, his closest remaining advisers had broken into two warring camps.

Both factions, at this point, supported and encouraged Trump’s strategy to retain power: pressuring state legislatures, state officials, and members of Congress to throw out results in key states, claiming they were tainted by fraud. Both were even interested in using the federal government’s power to seize voting machines in key states.

But one camp, led by Sidney Powell and Michael Flynn, wanted to go even further and use the military to seize those machines — while the other, led by Rudy Giuliani, thought that was a bridge too far.

Think of it as a divide between the dangerously unhinged and the totally batshit.”

“The story makes clear just how dire things were for democracy at this point. Everyone around Trump was recommending extreme measures that, if successful, would have amounted to stealing the election.

Yet even some of Trump’s unhinged, irresponsible, and conspiratorial advisers, like Giuliani, were still trying to steer him away from the even worse actions counseled by Powell and Flynn, who seem to have been totally unmoored from factual and political reality at this point.”

“while some officials might have refused to go along with Trump’s whims, he did have the option to replace them but simply chose not to — due to his own calculations that this would be too far, or because other advisers talked him out of it. But there was no guarantee that Trump, who had been willing to push so far already, would back off here. If he were just a bit more stubborn and willing to stretch the boundaries of his power, the election 2020 crisis could have grown far worse.”

““Mike Pence did have the right to change the outcome,” Trump said in a statement…“Unfortunately, he didn’t exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!” That same day, he mused at a rally about pardoning January 6 rioters. In a battle between the unhinged and the batshit for Trump’s favor, the latter camp may be gaining strength.”

One Year Into His Presidency, Joe Biden’s Immigration Policy Hasn’t Made Anyone Happy

“On his first day in the presidency, Biden began to tackle some of the harsh immigration measures imposed by Trump. He lifted Trump’s so-called Muslim ban, which prevented citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from coming to the U.S. He signed an executive order halting construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. And he sent the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 to Congress. Among other things, that bill set out to create a path to citizenship for undocumented people, clear backlogs in the family-based immigration system, and improve immigration courts.

However, many of those early wins—and supposed reversals of Trump’s policies—came with asterisks. Biden was right to rescind Trump’s “Muslim ban,” but nearly all families affected by the policy remained separated because of visa application backlogs. He was right to halt construction of the border wall (which was never going to work), but his administration failed to stop Trump’s land grab lawsuits and the federal government continued to seize private property along the U.S.-Mexico border through eminent domain. That ambitious immigration bill has gone nowhere.

Since taking office, Biden has cherry-picked which of Trump’s most controversial policies he’ll keep and which he’ll discard. The ones he’s kept are cruel, counterproductive, and are failing to please either side of the political aisle.

Key among them is Title 42, which critics say violates longstanding U.S. asylum law. The policy was first imposed by the Trump administration and allows Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to expel migrants on public health grounds. Deprived of the opportunity to present their cases for asylum, migrants are very often returned to dangerous communities and countries. Biden has kept Title 42 in place, even though it was the brainchild of notoriously anti-immigration Trump adviser Stephen Miller. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have questioned its efficacy as a COVID-19 mitigation measure from the very beginning.

CBP expelled over 1 million people under Title 42 in 2021, with over 7,000 migrants getting kidnapped and attacked by cartels and Mexican authorities post-expulsion since Inauguration Day. The Biden administration has also used Title 42 to deport thousands of Haitians to Haiti, even though many of the deportees hadn’t lived in Haiti for years and were actually coming from South America. Some Biden appointees have suggested that the president’s continuation of Title 42 “is largely based on optics—that it’s staying in place because of concerns that ending it will fuel perceptions of a chaotic border.”

But Biden’s critics falsely claim that the Southern border is open. It’s true that CBP reported a 21-year high of 1.66 million migrant encounters at the border in fiscal year 2021. The majority—61 percent—of those apprehensions resulted in Title 42 expulsions, and the figure fails to account for repeat crossings. “Perversely, continuing this Trump policy has also given ammunition to the hard-right nativists, because it has the unintended consequence of inflating the count of U.S. border crossings,” writes The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell. Over one-quarter of encountered individuals were apprehended multiple times by CBP, Rampell notes—”nearly quadruple the share in 2019.”

All the while, inefficiency has plagued day-to-day aspects of the U.S. immigration system. Two years into the pandemic, 60 percent of U.S. embassies and consulates are still partially or completely closed for visa processing. Nearly 440,000 immigrant visa applicants whose cases are “documentarily complete” are still waiting for visa appointments (the State Department scheduled just 26,605 appointments for this month). The nation’s refugee intake hit a record low in fiscal year 2021 and our numbers aren’t on pace to be any better in 2022. Legal immigration collapsed under Trump; it hasn’t rebounded under Biden.

All that said, it would be unfair to say that Biden’s immigration policy has been a complete failure. The administration evacuated a staggering number of Afghans after their country fell to the Taliban in August. Visa processing has been imperfect and many vulnerable people are still trapped in Afghanistan, but the Biden administration smartly introduced a private refugee sponsorship program that allows U.S. citizens to help support and resettle evacuated Afghans. Biden has rescinded some Trump-era rules that needlessly slowed down visa and work permit processing, and recently added 20,000 visas to this fiscal year’s cap for the nonimmigrant nonagricultural worker H-2B visa. The administration restarted the Central American Minors program, which allows at-risk children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to come to the U.S. as refugees.”

China bought none of the $200 billion it promised from the U.S. under ‘Phase 1’ trade deal, study reveals

“Even on the day two years ago that the trade deal was inked, there was skepticism that China would live up to its pledge to spend $200 billion more on U.S. goods and services.

But a new study finds China didn’t even spend an additional dime on U.S. products.”

“China agreed to buy at least $227.9 billion of U.S. exports in 2020 and $274.5 billion in 2021, for a total of $502.4 billion over the pact’s two years, he noted. In reality: U.S. exports of covered goods and services to China over the two years totaled $288.8 billion.”