More on Biden’s visit to LaPlace, Louisiana, from the Associated Press:
Giant trees knocked sideways. Homes boarded up with plywood. Off-kilter street signs.
Less than a week after Hurricane Ida battered the Gulf Coast, President Joe Biden walked the streets of a hardhit Louisiana neighborhood on Friday and told local residents, “I know you’re hurting, I know you’re hurting.”
Biden pledged robust federal assistance to get people back on their feet and said the government already had distributed $100 million directly to individuals in the state in $500 checks to give them a first slice of critical help. Many people, he said, don’t know what help is available because they can’t get cellphone service.
Residents welcomed Biden’s presence, one of them drawing a sign with his last name and a heart for the dot on the “i.” They laughed and posed for selfies.
Uber and Lyft have said they would cover legal expenses of their drivers if they were sued under Texas’s new extreme anti-abortion law, which allows suits to be brought against people who transport patients to clinics.
Texas’s new anti-abortion law is purposefully broad and allows private citizens to bring suits against anyone who potentially “aided or abetted” someone accessing an abortion after six weeks, as my colleague outlined in an explainer. If plaintiffs are successful, they receive $10,000 and have legal fees reimbursed.
Lyft said in a statement:
Drivers are never responsible for monitoring where their riders go or why. Imagine being a driver and not knowing if you are breaking the law by giving someone a ride. Similarly, riders never have to justify, or even share, where they are going and why. Imagine being a pregnant woman trying to get to a healthcare appointment and not knowing if your driver will cancel on you for fear of breaking a law. Both are completely unacceptable.”
GoDaddy boots Texas abortion ‘whistleblower’ website
The new “whistleblower” website of the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life briefly went down today after GoDaddy, which was hosting the site, said it violated its rules:
My colleague Kari Paul reported on Thursday that pro-choice users on TikTok and Reddit had launched a guerrilla effort to fight Texas’s extreme new abortion restrictions by flooding the online tip website that encouraged people to report potential violations of the law.
GoDaddy said the “pro-life whistleblower” website violated numerous provisions of its terms of service, including the rule that says sites “will not collect or harvest (or permit anyone else to collect or harvest) any user content … or any non-public or personally identifiable information about another user or any other person or entity without their express prior written consent”, the Verge reported.
The site was down earlier this afternoon. Visitors to the website saw an “Access Denied” page. A GoDaddy spokesperson told the New York Times that it had given the website a 24-hour notice about the takedown.
One TikTok user went viral after they said they had submitted 742 fake reports of the governor, Greg Abbott, getting illegal abortions. More on the digital campaign against the site and the new law here:
The Guardian’s Julian Borger has the full story on Biden’s order to declassify the FBI’s 9/11 records:
Joe Biden has announced the wholesale review and declassification of files from the investigation into the 9/11 attack, in response to intense pressure from Congress and victims’ families currently suing Saudi Arabia.
“As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the American people deserve to have a fuller picture of what their government knows about those attacks,” an executive order issued on Friday said.
It said the full record would be disclosed in tranches over the coming six months “except when the strongest possible reasons counsel otherwise”.
The order said that while the “indiscriminate” release of information could jeopardise national security and the ability to prevent future attacks, a better balance had to be struck between transparency and accountability.
It said “information should not remain classified when the public interest in disclosure outweighs any damage to the national security”.
Two major US insurers have agreed to cover the living expenses for residents in Louisiana who evacuated their homes before they were under mandatory evacuation orders, according to CNBC:
The White House had urged the companies not to deny policyholders based on technicalities, and it appears that Allstate and USAA are confirming that they will cover the expenses.
The Guardian’s Gabrielle Cannon reports from the wildfires in northern California, where extreme conditions are making the blazes exponentially worse:
Before the ravenous Caldor fire laid siege to South Lake Tahoe, California’s top firefighting priority lay just to the north, where the Dixie fire scorched more land than any other single fire in state history. Together, the two behemoths have already blackened more than 1m acres (4,000 sq km) along the Sierra Nevada range. And fire season in the American west is just heating up.
The climate crisis has helped create extreme fire emergencies, with huge, rapid-moving blazes tearing through a hot, parched landscape at lightning speed. Fires have hopped granite summits firefighters had hoped would slow their spread. Blazes have displayed erratic burn behavior, making their movements hard to predict.
The extreme conditions raise fresh questions about the ability of the country’s firefighting forces to control an emergency that has grown exponentially bigger year after year.
Biden addresses hurricane relief efforts in Louisiana
Hi all – Sam Levin here in Los Angeles, taking over our live coverage for the day.
Biden is now in LaPlace, Louisiana, and has just spoken about the US response to Hurricane Ida. He said the disaster was a reminder of the worsening hurricane threats in the US:
Superstorms are going to come, and they are going to come more frequently and more ferociously.”
He said crews from 32 different states were working to restore power: “I know you’re all frustrated.” The president also said he was working to pressure the cellphone companies to restore service, noting that some residents were unaware of the services available to them due to lack of service.
The president further noted that some insurance companies were trying to unjustly deny claims of hurricane victims, based on technicalities:
I’m calling on private insurance companies: Don’t hide behind the fine print … Pay what you owe your customers! Help those in need. That’s what we should all be doing now.”
Here’s the Guardian’s earlier coverage from New Orleans where residents have struggled without power for days:
A man in Mississippi who served 23 years in prison before charges were dropped is suing the district attorney who continued to prosecute his case despite multiple mistrials.
Curtis Flowers, 51, was released from prison in September after the attorney general of Mississippi dropped charges against Flowers after reviewing evidence from the case. Flowers was originally charged with murdering four people at a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi. Flowers’ case was prominently featured in the investigations podcast “In the Dark”.
In 2019, the US Supreme Court ruled that the district attorney, Doug Evans, who continued to prosecute Flowers’ case made sure to keep African Americans off the jury of his trials.
A parent of an elementary school student in Tucson, Arizona threatened to call the local authorities and conduct a “citizen’s arrest” of the school’s principal because of the school’s virus protocols.
The principal of Mesquite Elementary School called the father on Thursday telling him his son was to stay home for at least a week to quarantine after coming in close contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19.
Later that morning, the man walked into the school with his son and two other mans carrying zip ties and confronted the principal on the quarantine policy.
The Tucson police department said that they responded to the incident, but it is unclear if any charges were made, according to the Washington Post.
“One of the most powerful tools as adults is the behavior that we model to young people – and the behavior that was modeled today makes me really sad,” John Carruth, the superintendent of the school’s district told the Post.
The Guardian’s Sam Levine reports:
Civil rights groups have filed two new federal lawsuits challenging the sweeping new election restrictions Texas Republicans approved earlier this week.
One suit, filed by a coalition of Texas civic action groups as well as a former poll worker and Harris county election administrator, argues that the law is intentionally designed to discriminate against minority voters. It also says the law violates the First Amendment’s free speech protections as well as the equal protection guarantee of the 14th amendment along with the Voting Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A second federal suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Texas Civil Rights Project, and Disability Rights Texas, makes similar claims.
Among the provisions the suit challenges are those that allow poll watchers increased movement at the polls, something it says could lead harassment of voters of color at the polls.
“Should poll watchers engage in behavior that intimidates or harasses voters or election workers, including hovering over them or trailing voters through the polling place, election workers run the risk of criminal prosecution if they attempt to stop such behavior. The risk of such intimidation has historically been and will continue to be higher for voters of color,” it says.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Antonio, also challenges provisions in the law that impose new requirements on those who assist voters, including an oath in which they are required to affirm the voter asked them for assistance and that they understand the voter’s ballot may not be counted if they are ineligible for assistance. Assistors may also swear that they did not “pressure” the voter for assistance.
“This additional language will cause assistors to question every voter’s ‘need’ for assistance, which further invades the voter’s privacy and opens assistors to the threat of prosecution for any misstep,” the suit says. “This additional language will cause assistors to question every voter’s “need” for assistance, which further invades the voter’s privacy and opens assistors to the threat of prosecution for any misstep.”
The groups are also challenging a new prohibition blocking election officials from soliciting vote by mail applications. The law, the suit says, chills the speech of officials like plaintiff Isabel Longoria, the Harris County election administrator, from encouraging people to vote by mail.
Several more suits are expected in the coming days.
Secretary of state Tony Blinken has been speaking to reporters about Afghanistan, once more defending the Biden administration’s record on the withdrawal, and in particular on the evacuation of Afghans who had worked with or for the US military or government and are entitled to special immigration visas (SIVs).
Earlier in the week, state department officials admitted that a majority of SIV applicants had been left behind. Blinken was less definitive on that.
“Of the roughly 124,000 people who’ve been evacuated, the vast majority, 75-80% are Afghans at risk. And of those, some significant number will be SIVs either people who already hold an SIV visa or those who are actually in the pipeline, some number will be potential P1 (first priority) or P2 refugees and some other number will be Afghans at risk, who may not fit into any of those categories,” Blinken said.
On Sunday, Blinken will fly to Doha and then to Ramstein Air base in Germany, to meet refugees and the US officials dealing with their processing.
In terms of getting vulnerable Afghans out of the country, he said the US had shared detailed “a tremendous amount of very detailed information” about Kabul airport with other capitals, with the aim of getting it back up and running as soon as possible, and was looking at land routes out of the country, “as well as making sure that we have very clear and precise plans to help people, as as necessary, use those routes.”
A judge in Buffalo, New York will allow Byron Brown to run in the city’s mayoral election, though he was defeated in the primary election by India Walton, a self-declared socialist candidate.
The judge, US district court judge John Sinatra, has ordered the Erie County Board of Elections to put Brown’s name on the ballot as an independent in the November general election. Brown has served as mayor for four terms.
Walton, a nurse and community organizer, said that is considering an appeal of the decision.
“Today’s ruling was a travesty and mockery of justice,” she told the Buffalo News. “The hearing should never have proceeded.”
Walton said that the lawsuit shows that Brown “is a true sore loser” and that she doesn’t think “voters are going to be fooled.”
With no Republican challengers in the race, Walton was sure to win the general election in November, which would have made her the first socialist mayor of a major US city in decades.
Biden orders declassification of documents from FBI 9/11 investigation
Joe Biden just announced that he signed an executive order today that will declassify documents related to the FBI’s investigation of 9/11, a little over a week before the 20th anniversary of the attack.
Biden said he is directing the justice department to oversee a declassification review of documents related to the investigation. The order requires the attorney general to release the declassified documents over the next six months.
Families of 9/11 victims are currently suing the Saudi Arabian government in a federal court in New York for alleged involvement in the attack and have indicated they want information about who financed and supported the attacks. They have said that an earlier offer from the FBI to release some documents from investigation have not gone far enough and demanded a more comprehensive declassification review.
Families of victims have put pressure on Biden to undergo a declassification review, saying that if he took no object, they would “publicly stand in objection to any participation by his administration in any memorial ceremony of 9/11”, the group said in a statement.
In a statement, Biden expressed sympathy for the families of victims, saying that the administration “will continue to engage respectfully with members of this community.”
“I welcome their voices and insight as we chart a way forward.”
A group of parents in Iowa are filing a lawsuit against the state for its ban on mask mandates, says the law discriminates against students with disabilities that make them more susceptible to Covid-19.
The plaintiffs in the case are asking the federal judge to block the ban on mask mandates and order to allow the states to allow mandates.
Like many Republican governors across the country, Iowa governor Kim Reynolds signed an order banning masks in May, arguing that she does not believe in government mandates.
Heather Preston, a mother in Des Moines whose child has a rare organ disorder who makes him at risk of serious illness if he gets Covid-19, said in a statement that the lack of a mandate is a serious safety threat.
“For my son, going to school where not everyone is wearing masks puts him at huge risk. Meanwhile, because of his needs, he needs to be learning in person.”
In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal published yesterday, Democratic senator Joe Manchin said that he will not pass the $3.5tn spending bill that progressive members of the party want to pass through reconciliation.
Manchin said that Democrats looking to pass the bill have “no regard to rising inflation, crippling debt or the inevitability of future crises.”
Unsurprisingly, Manchin’s some of Manchin’s Democrats have not responded in kind.
“The Northeast is flooded after torrential rain. The West Coast is on fire. The Gulf is still reeling from the hurricane,” tweeted the House Progressive Caucus yesterday. “There is not time to pause or pull back.”
It seems that the White House is taking a less aggressive approach toward convincing Manchin and other moderate Democrats, saying in a statement that Manchin is “an important partner to our administration”.
“The president firmly believes that critical investment in our future should be paid for and if we do, economists tell us that they should not increase the inflation risk.”
This is Lauren Aratani taking over for Martin Pengelly.
Ethics watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint against House minority leader Kevin McCarthy and US representative Marjorie Taylor Greene for allegedly violating House rules by threatening companies who comply with records requests issued by the House committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot.
“If these companies comply with Democrat order to turn over private information, they are in violation of federal law and subject to losing their ability to operate in the United States,” McCarthy wrote in a statement on Tuesday. “If companies still choose to violate federal law, a Republican majority will not forget.”
Greene echoed this statement in an interview, saying that if companies “go along with this, they will be shut down and that’s a promise.”
In its complaint, CREW has asked the congressional ethics office whether McCarthy and Greene violated House rules by threatening companies
“McCarthy and Greene are transparently trying to thwart the Select Committee by illegally threatening companies with reprisals if they comply with the committee’s proper and lawful requests – quite possible to protect themselves,” said Noah Bookbinder, president of CREW, in a statement.
It was revealed on Monday that the House committee has asked telecommunication companies like AT&T and Verizon to preserve records of Republican House members, including Greene and McCarthy for the investigation.
This is Martin Pengelly, handing the controls to Lauren Aratani with a few highlights of the morning in US politics:
- In remarks at the White House, Joe Biden said disappointing August job numbers were the result of the surge in cases of the Delta variant of the coronavirus. He also championed his infrastructure and budget plans, which must still find a way through Congress, as a way to ensure that the economic recovery from Covid does not falter.
- The New York Times reported that senior US health officials have told the White House to scale back plans to offer vaccine booster shots this month, given a lack of relevant data.
- Biden also attacked the stringent and controversial anti-abortion law passed in Texas and effectively OK-d by the supreme court as “almost un-American” and said he wanted to examine the “possibilities within the existing law, to have the justice department look and see whether are the things that can be done”.
- In Congress, Democrats who control the Senate judiciary committee said they would investigate the growing use of the “shadow docket” by the conservative-run supreme court, to deal with rulings expeditiously and without full hearings.
- The president then left for Louisiana, where he was scheduled to see damage done by Hurricane Ida last weekend and meet people still without power as a result of the historic storm. Entergy, a power supplier, said power would be restored for most but not all by midweek next week.
- In the north-east, states continued to count the cost of flooding and tornadoes unleashed by the remnants of Ida on Wednesday night. The death toll nudged 50, or by some counts passed it. Leaders including New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and New York governor Kathy Hochul warned that such evidence of the quickening climate crisis meant much more needed to be done to cope with future floods.
- Biden’s secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, said the US expects to admit more than 50,000 people airlifted from Kabul after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban last month. At the same time, a new Washington Post poll showed Biden still underwater with the public about his handling of the US withdrawal, despite strong public support for ending the near-20-year war.
- From Iowa, a reporter released hidden-camera video of the Ohio congressman Jim Jordan telling Republicans: “President Trump, he’s gonna run again.”
Much more to come, no doubt. Stay tuned.
Some light reading in the meanwhile:
How does someone in Texas get an abortion now and what’s next?
The vast majority of people in Texas can effectively no longer access an abortion in the state after it banned the procedure except in the earliest weeks of pregnancy often before most know they are pregnant.
In a 5-4 vote on Wednesday, the US supreme court refused to block the law, which permits private citizens to enforce the ban and possibly collect $10,000 if they win a case against a person helping someone obtain the medical procedure.
Here’s what you should know about the most restrictive abortion law in the US: