The Sinister Reason Why Florida Republicans Are Attacking Democracy

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The Sinister Reason Why Florida Republicans Are Attacking Democracy

Florida Republicans have introduced a bill to make it even harder to pass ballot initiatives, ahead of a crucial vote for abortion access in the state.

State Representative Rick Roth quietly introduced a measure in early November to raise the threshold for ballot initiatives to 66.7 percent of votes. Florida already requires 60 percent of voters to support amending the state constitution, meaning the minority rules the Sunshine State. But Roth’s bill would make it even harder to ratify amendments.

Roth and his fellow Republicans argue that the new threshold is necessary to ensure “broader public support” for amendments. But what’s more likely is that they want to ensure certain issues never succeed at the ballot box.

One such issue is abortion access. Florida’s 15-week abortion ban went before the state Supreme Court in September. If the court upholds the law, then an even more restrictive measure banning abortion at six weeks—before most people know they are pregnant—will go into effect. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the hugely unpopular bill in April.

The pro-abortion group Floridians Protecting Freedom is working to get an abortion rights referendum on the state’s 2024 ballot. The group has collected a little more than half the signatures necessary to get on the ballot, but it already has enough for the state Supreme Court to review the amendment for a potential vote.

If it succeeds, then abortion protections would likely be enshrined in the state constitution, overriding any laws the legislature has passed. A February study by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 64 percent of Floridians believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases—more than enough to defeat the state’s 60 percent minimum.

Hence the Republican need for Roth’s bill to raise the minimum to 67 percent. Roth introduced a similar measure last year that easily passed the state House, but it failed in the Senate.

Republicans are panicking about their ability to block abortion, and it’s no secret why. Every time an abortion-related measure is on a ballot, voters consistently choose to increase protections for the procedure, even in otherwise red states.

Most recently, Ohio voters chose overwhelmingly to enshrine abortion in the state constitution. The November ballot initiative came just a few months after Ohioans handily defeated a Republican attempt to raise the ballot initiative threshold to 60 percent.

House Republicans are trying to wrap up their impeachment effort against Joe Biden by January, a move that could disrupt attempts to avert a government shutdown.

Republicans have sought for months to prove that the president is guilty of influence peddling and corruption. The GOP’s lengthy investigation and impeachment proceedings have yet to produce any actual evidence of Biden’s wrongdoing. But House Republicans are hoping to finish the impeachment inquiry by January and then decide whether to file formal articles of impeachment.

“We get those depositions done this year and … then we can decide on whether or not there’s articles,” House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan told Politico in a Tuesday story.

But that schedule would run right up against one of two deadlines for the government budget. Biden signed an eleventh-hour temporary spending bill last week, delaying a potential government shutdown until 2024. Congress has until January 19 to pass appropriations bills for some federal agencies, and until February 2 to determine funding for the rest.

This could spell doom for the impeachment effort. The Republican majority in the House is razor-thin, and the entire caucus would need to vote unanimously for impeachment articles to pass.

It’s unclear that the impeachment backers have the votes. Many centrist Republicans have indicated they don’t think the impeachment inquiry turned up sufficient proof. Meanwhile, there are 18 Republicans who won in districts that Biden carried in 2020. Backing impeachment could put those 18 in vulnerable positions ahead of the 2024 elections.

“Any kind of an impeachment puts our Biden people in a really tough spot,” a GOP lawmaker involved in the investigation told Politico, speaking anonymously. “Impeachment hurts us politically—it makes our base feel better.”

Even some hard-line Republicans are skeptical of the impeachment inquiry. Colorado Representative Ken Buck, a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, has been an outspoken critic of the impeachment effort.

In July, Buck accused then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy of using “impeachment theater” to distract from his efforts to reach a deal on the federal budget.

“What he’s doing is he’s saying, ‘There’s a shiny object over here, and we’re really going to focus on that. We just need to get all these things done so that we can focus on the shiny object,’” Buck said. “Most of us are concerned about spending.”

Buck has decided not to seek reelection, so he won’t be worried about any consequences from voting against articles of impeachment. But other budget hawks may follow his lead.

Elon Musk is going scorched earth on Media Matters after the news watchdog revealed that X (the social media network formerly known as Twitter) was placing ads from reputable companies alongside antisemitic, pro-Nazi posts.

On Monday, Musk filed a lawsuit against the company in a U.S. District Court in Texas, alleging that the publication defamed his platform by publishing its investigation.

The report’s explosive findings resulted in the mass hemorrhage of some of X’s biggest and markedly safe advertisers, such as Apple, IBM, Disney, Lionsgate, and Paramount.

“​​The overall effect on advertisers and users was to create the false, misleading perception that these types of pairings were common, widespread, and alarming,” the lawsuit reads. “Media Matters hid its manipulations through omissions, deceptive image selections, misrepresentations, and secrecy settings.”

In a legal complaint, the company argued that the Media Matters investigation “exploited” the platform’s features and algorithm in order to “force a situation in which a brand ad post appeared adjacent to fringe content.”

X CEO Linda Yaccarino, who has faced immense pressure to resign as chief executive amid the scandal, said she’s siding with the company. “If you know me, you know I’m committed to truth and fairness. Here’s the truth,” Yaccarino said.

“Not a single authentic user on X saw IBM’s, Comcast’s, or Oracle’s ads next to the content in Media Matters’ article. Only 2 users saw Apple’s ad next to the content, at least one of which was Media Matters. Data wins over manipulation or allegations. Don’t be manipulated. Stand with X.”

On Monday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that his office was opening an investigation into the publication’s report, claiming he was “extremely troubled” by allegations that Media Matters had manipulated data on the social media platform.

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who introduced an emergency rule earlier this year to ban health care for transgender adults in his state, also joined the legal charge, posting that his team “is looking into this matter.”

“Great!,” responded Musk.

Media Matters appeared unthreatened by the challenge, shrugging off the lawsuit in favor of standing behind its reporting. “This is a frivolous lawsuit meant to bully X’s critics into silence,” Media Matters’ president, Angelo Carusone, told Reuters in an emailed statement.

After Musk initially threatened the lawsuit on Friday, Carusone called Musk a “bully who threatens meritless lawsuits.”

“Musk admitted the ads at issue ran alongside the pro-Nazi content we identified. If he does sue us, we will win,” Carusone said.

Apparently not satisfied with endorsing one horrific conspiracy theory, Elon Musk on Monday resurrected another: Pizzagate.

In 2016, a man opened fire in the Washington, D.C., restaurant Comet Ping Pong. He believed the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that prominent Democrats were running a child sex trafficking ring partly through the pizza restaurant. Pizzagate’s clearest ideological successor is QAnon.

Musk tweeted Monday that “Media Matters is pure evil,” quoting a post that pointed out the media watchdog group was founded by liberal political consultant David Brock. One X (formerly Twitter) user replied that Brock used to date Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis.

“Weird,” Musk commented.

Musk’s animosity towards Media Matters is due to a report the group published last week. Media Matters found that X has been placing ads for brands including Apple, Bravo, IBM, Oracle, and Xfinity next to posts that promote Hitler and Nazi beliefs. Multiple major advertisers have yanked their business from X while they look into the report’s findings.

This isn’t the first time Musk has shared a dangerous lie. It’s not even the first time this month: Just last week, an X user posted that Jewish communities have pushed “diabolical hatred against whites,” a neo-Nazi talking point.

Musk replied, “You have said the actual truth.” About an hour later, he tried to claim he was only criticizing the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish nonprofit Musk has threatened to sue for monitoring hate speech on X.

Two rulings by Trump-appointed judges could gut the Voting Rights Act, dramatically reducing the protections it offers to millions of voters of color.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky ruled in February 2022 that only the U.S. attorney general, the head of the Justice Department, can bring lawsuits about Section 2 of the act, which forbids voting practices that discriminate based on race. Rudofsky, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, dismissed a case brought by advocacy groups on behalf of Black voters in Arkansas.

The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Rudofsky’s ruling on Monday, with Judge David Stras, another Trump appointee, writing the majority opinion.

“For much of the last half-century, courts have assumed that [Section 2] is privately enforceable,” Stras wrote. “A deeper look has revealed that this assumption rests on flimsy footing.” This suggests that no one had previously bothered to look closely at the Voting Rights Act for more than 50 years, an assertion that simply does not hold up to scrutiny.

Stras was joined by Judge Raymond Gruender, a George W. Bush appointee. Judge Lavenski Smith, another Bush appointee, dissented. He argued that nonfederal individuals should be allowed to bring Section 2 lawsuits until the Supreme Court or Congress formally changes the statute.

If allowed to stand, the two rulings would gut the protections offered by the Voting Rights Act. Civil rights groups, individual voters, and political parties would not be able to challenge discriminatory voting practices. This includes redistricting gerrymandered maps and voter ID requirements.

But Smith’s dissenting opinion pointed to how the case is likely to go. The case is widely expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court. While it’s never clear how the conservative-leaning court will land, the nine justices gave a major hint earlier this year.

The high court ruled in June that Alabama’s Republican-drawn congressional districts discriminated against Black voters under the Voting Rights Act. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the three liberal justices for the 5–4 decision. It’s possible they could do so again when the Arkansas case comes before them.

A growing number of politicians have decided that the rat race to the highest echelons of government is simply not worth the effort anymore.

Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer announced his retirement last month, joining 28 other members of the House who’ve recently decided to pull the plug on their legislative careers. Other recent evacuees of Capitol Hill include Texas Representative Michael Burgess and Arizona Representative Debbie Lesko.

The mass desertion follows several weeks of chaos, including historic infighting among the Republican caucus that led to the ousting of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, as well as actual fighting between McCarthy and Representative Tim Burchett, one of the members who voted for him to lose the coveted position.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol Building, Senator Markwayne Mullin threatened to brawl with a committee witness, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Sean O’Brien.

Amid the high drama, the House has teetered on the brink of a government shutdown several times over the last several months, opting each time to dismiss it with a stopgap spending measure rather than get to work on a bona fide budget. After passing yet another stopgap resolution, parts of the government will run out of funding in mid-January.

So far, 19 Democrats and 10 Republicans have decided to disconnect from the House, though out of that number, 16 members are planning to run for separate offices, reported The Washington Post.

That may not be an atypical resignation number for any year, but some politicians argue that the value of those retirements, which constitute several senior members and signify a sizable loss of expertise, will be felt for years to come.

In 2021, almost 46 percent of House members had served for less than five years, according to data from the Center for Effective Lawmaking—up 12 percent from nearly two decades prior.

“It’s not the quantity of retirements. It’s the quality,” former Representative Steve Israel told the outlet. “These are people who really understand how to get things done.”

But the recent slew of resignations could just be the tip of the iceberg, reported the Post, which hypothesized that another wave could be forthcoming after the holidays.

Joe Biden, the oldest president in American history, turned 81 on Monday. For Biden,  it’s a bittersweet occasion, a birthday that serves as a reminder of his deep struggles with young voters who increasingly view him negatively.

Biden’s mental and physical fitness have been a major issue since his 2020 campaign. Although his predecessor (and likely 2024 opponent), Donald Trump, is only about four years younger, Biden has received far more questions about whether he is capable of being president. 

Younger voters are already dreading a potential second Biden-Trump matchup, with some saying they may just sit out 2024. But the turn against Biden is much more dramatic.

A national NBC News poll that came out on Sunday found that just 42 percent of voters aged 18–34 support Biden. This is a significant drop compared to the 2020 election, when exit polls found that 60 percent of voters aged 18–29 backed Biden. That poll also found Biden trailing Trump with this demographic by four points—an alarming trend, given the president’s success with young voters in the last election. In 2020, 18–29 year olds, for instance flocked to Biden by more than 20 points. 

Multiple polls have found that the majority of voters worry about Biden’s age and how it will affect his ability to work. But younger voters are also concerned that Biden’s age prevents him from understanding their perspective on major issues.

Rachael Carroll, who graduated last year from Clark Atlanta University, told CNN that both Trump and Biden are too old to understand younger voters’ progressive views.

“They don’t understand what we’re going through now because we’re living in two completely different times,” Carroll said.

One crucial issue for young voters is the ongoing war in Gaza. Biden has so far resisted demands from voters to call for a cease-fire there and has provided Israel with significant, unrestricted aid. The outpouring of public support for Palestine has started to wear down Democratic lawmakers, but Biden is holding firm.

That could cost him. Although members of Gen Z are only just reaching voting age, the limited data shows that the majority of Gen Z adults are pro-Palestine.

More than 70 percent of OpenAI’s employees signed a joint letter on Monday demanding that the company’s board of directors resign, capping a weekend fracas sparked by the board’s spontaneous decision to oust co-founder and CEO Sam Altman over a video call during lunch on Friday. Company president Greg Brockman quit the following day after discovering he was being forced out of the board.

“Your actions have made it obvious that you are incapable of overseeing OpenAI,” wrote 505 employees in a joint statement, notifying company heads that they intend to join Microsoft’s AI division as a fallback. “We will take this step imminently, unless all current board members resign, and the board appoints two new lead independent directors, such as Bret Taylor and Will Hurd, and reinstates Sam Altman and Greg Brockman.”

Breaking: 505 of 700 employees @OpenAI tell the board to resign. pic.twitter.com/M4D0RX3Q7a

— Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) November 20, 2023

That demand for a mass resignation included the company’s chief scientist, Ilya Sutskever, who helped orchestrate the coup against Altman.

“I deeply regret my participation in the board’s actions,” Sutskever posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, shortly after the letter was issued. “I never intended to harm OpenAI. I love everything we’ve built together and I will do everything I can to reunite the company.”

Altman’s dismissal followed a disagreement over the direction of the company’s research division, led by Sutskever, reported CNN. Company heads have denied that narrative. In a Friday letter, the board claimed that Altman had to go because the executive “was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities.”

OpenAI has scrambled to replace Altman since his firing, naming several interim CEOs throughout the weekend before landing on ex-Twitch CEO Emmett Shear, who is tasked with the awkward yet tall order of mending the torn relationship between the company’s board, its employees, and its investors.

The company briefly entertained reinstating Altman before the Silicon Valley entrepreneur announced he had taken a job leading the in-house AI division at Microsoft, OpenAI’s largest financial backer.

OpenAI is worth nearly $100 billion. Artificial intelligence’s capabilities are currently more fantasy than reality, and yet programs like ChatGPT could prove to be among the most important technological developments of this era. The mess at OpenAI suggests that the people in charge of A.I. are barely capable of managing themselves, let alone a potentially transformative program.

Asked about X (formerly Twitter) owner Elon Musk’s antisemitic comments, Florida governor and struggling Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis shrugged.

During a Sunday interview on CNN, anchor Jake Tapper asked DeSantis if he condemned Musk’s comments. DeSantis insisted that he “did not see the comment”—despite the fact that Musk’s claim that Jews “push hatred” against white people had sent advertisers fleeing the platform.

“I know that Elon has had a target on his back ever since he purchased Twitter, because I think he’s taking it in the direction that a lot of people who are used to controlling the narrative don’t like,” the presidential hopeful said.

Tapper then read Musk’s tweet aloud, and DeSantis replied that he is concerned about antisemitism “across the board.” He pointed to recent legislation he signed to combat antisemitism on Florida college campuses. His efforts have resulted in a lawsuit for allegedly violating the First Amendment.

TAPPER: Elon Musk is a pretty powerful guy and he’s out there endorsing some pretty hideous antisemitic conspiracy theories and I still haven’t heard you condemn it.

DESANTIS: Well, because I haven’t see it. I have no idea what the context is. pic.twitter.com/Nnh9EXKBQr

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) November 19, 2023

The University of Florida chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine announced last week that it is suing DeSantis and university leaders for shuttering the group. University Chancellor Ray Rodrigues claimed that SJP provides “material support” to a “terrorist organization,” which the chapter says is untrue.

Later in Sunday’s interview, Tapper pointed out that DeSantis still hadn’t actually condemned Musk’s comments. DeSantis hedged once more.

“I know you tried to read it, I have no idea what the context is,” he said. “I know Elon Musk. I have never seen him do anything. I think he’s a guy that believes in America. I have never seen him indulge in any of that. So it’s surprising if that’s true, but I have not seen it. So I don’t want to sit there and pass judgment on the fly.”

An X user posted last week that Jewish communities have pushed “diabolical hatred against whites,” a neo-Nazi talking point. Musk replied, “You have said the actual truth.” About an hour later, he tried to claim he was only criticizing the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish nonprofit Musk has threatened to sue for monitoring hate speech on X. (ADL head Jonathan Greenblatt came to Musk’s defense over the comments, thanks in large part to his support for Israel.)

The next day, a report published by Media Matters found that X has been placing ads for brands including Apple, Bravo, IBM, Oracle, and Xfinity next to posts that promote Hitler and Nazi beliefs.

Advertisers have fled the site in the wake of Musk’s comments and revelations that ads have been displayed on hateful, antisemitic posts.

Meanwhile, marketing leaders have started to urge X CEO Linda Yaccarino to resign. Yaccarino, who used to chair NBCUniversal’s global advertising division, was hired to help steady X from Musk’s tumultuous reign and woo advertisers back to the platform.

But now her former peers are warning her that she risks doing permanent damage to her reputation if she stays on.

“The issue is no longer about content adjacencies or content moderation,” Lou Paskalis, the founder and CEO of marketing firm AJL Advisory told Axios. “It’s simply that the owner is not someone marketers can do business with.”

A new survey of House members indicates that at least 60 Republicans intend to vote to expel Santos, Politico reported. That’s more than double the number who voted against him in another expulsion attempt earlier this month.

The sudden change of opinion follows the release of a scandalous, 56-page ethics report on the New York Republican, which found that he blew campaign funds on personal expenses, including Botox injections, trips to Atlantic City with his husband, and subscriptions on OnlyFans, an online content service primarily used by sex workers.

In order to remove him for good, Democrats will need to rally a unanimous vote from their party along with roughly 80 Republican votes. And that is looking increasingly likely, as right-wing opinion of Santos continues to sour, flipping more Republican votes by the day.

“He’s fucked,” one GOP leadership aide told Politico under the condition of anonymity.

Other Republicans took to social media to express their frustrations, believing that they had given Santos enough time following initial reports that found the freshman congressman lied about almost every detail of his life, including obtaining a college degree, working on Wall Street, and his alleged Jewish heritage.

“I gave Rep. George Santos the time needed for an ethics report following his indictments,” said Iowa Representative Randy Feenstra in a statement.

“Rep. George Santos has proven that his ethics do not align with what we expect from our leaders. In light of the Ethics Committee report, I will vote to expel him from Congress for his illegal and unethical behavior should he choose not to do the right thing and resign,” Feenstra added.

Santos has been indicted on 23 charges related to wire fraud, credit card fraud, money laundering, falsification of records, and identity theft.

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