Summary

  • West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is insisting that there should be a “strategic pause” in the progress through Congress of Joe Biden’s economic agenda, specifically the passage of his $3.5tn tax and spending budget package.
  • Some Democrats are saying the supreme court has effectively already overturned Roe v Wade after the conservative majority ruled to allow the Texas anti-abortion law, the most extreme in the US, to stand.
  • The White House is pushing, the US president said, for a “whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision, looking … to see what steps the federal government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions.”
  • Chief justice John Roberts and all three liberal associate justices of the supreme court, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, penned dissents to the ruling last night. Each had hugely important points to make. Sotomayor’s language was the most blistering, calling the Texas law “flagrantly unconstitutional” and the court’s order to allow it “stunning”.
  • The death toll from sudden heavy rains and flooding in the US north-east is continuing to climb. More than 40 people died, with at least 23 dead in New Jersey, after the remnants of Hurricane Ida brought extreme weather to the region.
  • The 6 January House committee wants to preserve Kevin McCarthy’s phone records. The committee tasked with investigating the deadly Capitol attack has asked telecommunications companies to preserve records belonging to the House minority leader and other House Republicans.
  • Kamala Harris says the Biden administration will use ‘every lever’ to defend abortion rights after the supreme court’s decision not to consider a Texas law that effectively bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

– Joanna Walters and Dani Anguiano

Updated

White House will use ‘every lever’ to defend abortion rights, Kamala Harris says

Kamala Harris has said the Biden administration will use “every lever” to “defend the right to safe and legal abortion”, following the supreme court’s decision not to consider a Texas law that effectively bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

We will use every lever of our Administration to defend the right to safe and legal abortion—and to strengthen that right. https://t.co/5WQAM7DNag

— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) September 2, 2021

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, the vice-president vowed the administration would act after the justices “effectively allowed a bounty law to go into effect in Texas”.

“This decision is not the last word on Roe v Wade, and we will not stand by and allow our nation to go back to the days of back-alley abortions,” she said.

Changing winds offer hope as firefighters battle blaze near Lake Tahoe

With winds finally turning in their favor, firefighters are throwing all their resources into boxing a California blaze burning mere miles from Lake Tahoe and neighboring Nevada.

Three days of fiercely gusting winds had driven the Caldor fire east through the rugged Sierra Nevada, forcing tens of thousands of people from the region of forests, mountain hamlets, resorts and alpine lakes.

A firefighter lights a backfire to stop the Caldor fire from spreading near South Lake Tahoe.
A firefighter lights a backfire to stop the Caldor fire from spreading near South Lake Tahoe. Photograph: Jae C Hong/AP

Overnight, thousands of firefighters from around the US battled the blaze, which by Thursday morning stretched across roughly 210,259 acres (850 sq km), and achieved 25% containment.

Winds were expected to calm heading into the weekend, although the humidity remained low and the eastern side of the vast wildfire was still burning trees and running through explosively dry grasslands into areas hard for firefighters to reach, authorities said. The blaze was also throwing sparks that caught trees and created spot fires up to a mile ahead of the main wall of flames.

Read more:

Former US ambassador directed business to Trump hotel

Kelly Craft steered government business to Donald Trump’s Washington hotel while serving as the US ambassador to Canada, Forbes reported Thursday.

In November 2018, Craft emailed a staffer about staying at the Trump hotel for a conference in Washington DC, emails released by the state department show. In the first half of 2018, she stayed at Trump’s hotel at least three times while in DC for government business.

Craft, who later served as ambassador to the UN under Trump, previously faced congressional scrutiny after spending more than half her time as ambassador to Canada away from her post.

Virginia court rules state can remove Robert E Lee statue

The Virginia supreme court has cleared the path for the state to remove a statue of Robert E Lee in Richmond. The large monument to the Confederate general, which stood for over a century, became a center of protest after the death of George Floyd.

The ruling came in after lawsuits filed by residents who attempted to block removal of the 21ft bronze equestrian sculpture, which shows Lee in military attire atop a 40ft pedestal.

The statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond.
The statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond. Photograph: Steve Helber/AP

More on the court’s ruling here:

6 January House committee seeks to preserve Kevin McCarthy’s phone records

The committee tasked with investigating the deadly Capitol attack has asked telecommunications companies to preserve records belonging to the House minority leader and other House Republicans, CNN reported.

McCarthy’s name was included along with several other lawmakers and hundreds of others. The California Republican on Tuesday said that any company that complied with such a request from the committee would be “in violation of federal law”.

“If companies still choose to violate federal law, a Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable under the law,” McCarthy said on Twitter.

McCarthy, along with Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House judiciary committee, were already expected to face scrutiny over phone calls to Donald Trump on 6 January.

Updated

Hi folks. Dani Anguiano here taking over the Guardian’s live coverage of US political news for the rest of the day.

The death toll from the unexpected heavy rain and flooding brought by remnants of Hurricane Ida is continuing to climb. Phil Murphy, the New Jersey governor, has reported at least 23 state residents died in the storm.

I am saddened to report that, as of right now, at least 23 New Jerseyans have lost their life to this storm.

The majority of these deaths were individuals who got caught in their vehicles by flooding and were overtaken by the water.

Our prayers are with their family members.

— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) September 2, 2021

At least 12 people died in New York City, police said. Officials have said many of those killed were trapped in basement apartments that filled with water.

Afternoon summary

It’s been a lively afternoon and my colleague on the US west coast, Dani Anguiano, will now take over the blog and bring you any remaining developments in US political news for the next few hours, so do stay tuned.

Main events today so far:

  • West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is insisting today that there should be a “strategic pause” in the progress through Congress of Joe Biden’s economic agenda, specifically the passage of his $3.5 trillion tax and spending budget package.
  • Some Democrats are saying that the supreme court has effectively already overturned Roe v Wade after the conservative majority ruled to allow the Texas anti-abortion law, currently the most extreme in the US, to stand.
  • Joe Biden spoke of the “unimaginable damage” caused by the aftermath of Hurricane Ida coming ashore on the Gulf coast last weekend and now causing flooding as far north as New York, so far.
  • The White House is pushing, the US president said, for a “whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision, looking … to see what steps the federal government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions.”
  • Chief Justice John Roberts and all three liberal associate justices of the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, penned dissents to the ruling last night. Each had hugely important points to make. Sotomayor’s language was the most blistering, calling the Texas law “flagrantly unconstitutional” and the court’s order to allow it “stunning”.

Democrat Manchin calls for "pause" in Biden budget bill

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin is insisting today that there should be a “strategic pause” in the progress through Congress of Joe Biden’s economic agenda, specifically the passage of his $3.5 trillion tax and spending budget package.

Manchin digs in against $3.5 trillion plan. "Yet some in Congress have a strange belief there is an infinite supply of money to deal with any current or future crisis, and that spending trillions upon trillions will have no negative consequence for the future. I disagree."

— Manu Raju (@mkraju) September 2, 2021

This endangers the flagship budget legislation that Democratic leaders plan to push through Congress this fall (bypassing the filibuster in the Senate so that Republicans can’t block it).

But the conservative-leaning Democrat said at a chamber of commerce event in West Virginia yesterday - and in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal (subscription) today that the specter of rising inflation and a bloated national debt mean not only applying the brakes but also devising a “significantly smaller” package.

“By placing a strategic pause on this budgetary proposal, by significantly reducing the size of any possible reconciliation bill to only what America can afford and needs to spend, we can and will build a better and stronger nation for all our families,” Manchin said in the WSJ.

Manchin yesterday called on Democrats to “hit the pause button” on the legislation, citing what he thinks are more important concerns, such as the issue of national security in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

“Let’s sit back. Let’s see what happens. We have so much on our plate,” he said.

The Dems will need every single one of its US Senators to vote for the legislation, with the chamber tied 50-50 with the Republicans and vice president Kamala Harris able to cast a deciding vote as president of the Senate, with the passage bypassing the filibuster obligation because it involves budgetary legislation.

But Manchin is right now against.

Manchin: "I, for one, won’t support a $3.5 trillion bill, or anywhere near that level of additional spending, without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs."

— Manu Raju (@mkraju) September 2, 2021

Updated

A former Georgia prosecutor has been indicted today on misconduct charges alleging she used her position to shield the men who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery from being charged with crimes immediately after the shootings.

A mural of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia.
A mural of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia. Photograph: Dustin Chambers/Reuters

The AP writes:

A grand jury in coastal Glynn County indicted former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson on charges of violating her oath of office and hindering a law enforcement officer.

Arbery was killed Feb. 23, 2020, after a white father and son, Greg and Travis McMichael, armed themselves and pursued the 25-year-Black man in a pickup truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood outside the coastal city of Brunswick.

A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan joined the chase and took cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range with a shotgun. The McMichales said they believed Arbery was a burglar and that he was shot after attacking Travis McMichael with his fists.

Police did not charge any of them immediately following the shooting, and the McMichaels and Bryan remained free for more than two months until the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case. All three were charged with murder in May 2020 and face trial this fall.

Greg McMichael had worked as an investigator in Johnson’s office and left her a cellphone message following the shooting.

The indictment says Johnson showed “favor and affection” toward Greg McMichael in the investigation and interfered with police officers at the scene by “directing that Travis McMichael should not be placed under arrest.”

Johnson has insisted she did nothing wrong, saying she immediately recused herself from the case because Greg McMichael was a former employee. She recommended an outside prosecutor, Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill, who was appointed to the case and concluded no charges were warranted. Barnhill later stepped aside after Arbery’s family noted he had a son working for Johnson as an assistant prosecutor.

Johnson lost reelection last year, and blamed the controversy over Arbery’s death for her defeat. She did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Thursday.

The Supreme Court allowing a new Texas law that bans most abortions is the biggest curb to the constitutional right to an abortion in decades, and Republicans in other states are already considering similar measures.

The law prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks before some women know they’re pregnant, The Associated Press reports.

Courts have blocked other states from imposing similar restrictions, but Texas’ law differs significantly because it leaves enforcement up to private citizens through civil lawsuits instead of criminal prosecutors.

The AP writes further:

Here’s what to know about the new Texas law that took effect Tuesday, which already has abortion clinics in neighboring states reporting a surge in the number of Texas women seeking the procedure:

WHAT DOES THE TEXAS LAW DO?
It allows any private citizen to sue Texas abortion providers who violate the law, as well as anyone who “aids or abets” a woman getting the procedure. The law does not make exceptions for rape or incest. The person bringing the lawsuit who needs to have no connection to the woman getting an abortion is entitled to at least $10,000 in damages if they prevail in court.
HOW MANY PEOPLE COULD BE AFFECTED BY THE TEXAS LAW?
The new Texas law could affect thousands of women seeking abortions, though precise estimates are difficult. In 2020, Texas facilities performed about 54,000 abortions on residents. More than 45,000 of those occurred at eight weeks of pregnancy or less. Some of those abortions still could have been legal under the new law, if they occurred before cardiac activity was detected.
HOW IS THE TEXAS LAW DIFFERENT FROM THOSE IN OTHER STATES THAT HAVE TRIED TO RESTRICT ABORTION EARLY IN PREGNANCY?
The key difference is the enforcement mechanism. The Texas law relies on citizens suing abortion providers over alleged violations. Other states sought to enforce their statutes through government actions like criminal charges against physicians who provide abortions.

Texas is one of 14 states with laws either banning abortion entirely or prohibiting it after eight weeks or less of pregnancy. The rest have all been put on hold by courts. Most recently, a court halted a new Arkansas law that would have banned all abortions unless necessary to save the life of the mother in a medical emergency. Other states with blocked laws banning abortions early in pregnancy are Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.
HOW DID THE TEXAS ABORTION LAW COME ABOUT?
Texas has long been a major battleground over abortion rights and access, including a 2013 law that closed more than half of the 40-plus abortion clinics in the state before it was blocked by the Supreme Court.
Emboldened by victories in the 2020 elections, Republicans responded with a hard-right agenda this year that included loosening gun laws and further tightening what are already some of the nation’s strictest voting rules. Anti-abortion groups say the new law was in response to frustration over prosecutors refusing to enforce other abortion restrictions already on the books.
Before Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law in May, voters in Lubbock, Texas, approved an ordinance similarly intended to outlaw abortion in the city by allowing family members to sue an abortion provider.

House Democrats have promoted Republican congresswoman Liz Cheney to become vice chair of the specially-convened committee investigating the January 6 Capitol insurrection by extremist supporters of Donald Trump.

Liz Cheney, left, and Bennie Thompson, right, in foreground, after the first hearing of the House Select committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, in July.
Liz Cheney, left, and Bennie Thompson, right, in foreground, after the first hearing of the House Select committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, on Capitol Hill in Washington, in July. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The move places her in a leadership spot on the panel, even as some Republicans are threatening to oust her from the GOP party conference for participating, the AP reports.

Cheney, who has become a fierce critic of former Trump, has remained defiant amid the criticism from her own party, insisting that Congress must probe the Capitol attack, in which hundreds of Trump’s supporters violently pushed past police, broke into the building and interrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential election victory.

The Associated Press further reports:

“We owe it to the American people to investigate everything that led up to, and transpired on, January 6th,” Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, said in a statement as Democrats announced her promotion on Thursday. “We will not be deterred by threats or attempted obstruction and we will not rest until our task is complete.”

Cheney’s appointment as vice chairwoman comes amid an effort by some Republicans to oust Cheney and congressman Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, from the GOP conference because they accepted their appointments to the panel from House Speaker and top Democrat Nancy Pelosi. A draft letter by Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs to Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy obtained by The Associated Press calls Cheney and Kinzinger “two spies for the Democrats” whom Republicans cannot trust to attend their private meetings.

Biggs, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, is calling on the conference to change its rules to state that any Republican who accepts a committee assignment or serves on a committee without a recommendation from GOP leadership “shall immediately cease to be a Member of the Conference.”

As the committee has met privately, Cheney has worked closely with Democrats in determining the direction of the probe. The committee’s chairman, Mississippi Representative Bennie Thompson, said in the statement announcing Cheney’s appointment that Democrats are “fortunate to have a partner of such strength and courage” and that Cheney’s insights have shaped the early work of the panel.

Cheney “has demonstrated again and again her commitment to getting answers about January 6th, ensuring accountability, and doing whatever it takes to protect democracy for the American people,” Thompson said.

Meanwhile, McCarthy has issued a veiled threat to telecom and social media companies who comply with committee requests to turn over records that illuminate what certain politicians may have been saying in the run up to and during the insurrection, CNN has reported.

We mentioned earlier that Joe Biden didn’t specifically link climate change with the extreme weather that’s exacerbating storms in the south and east and wildfires in the west, when he spoke at the White House earlier.

But it would be remiss of us not to point out that he did mention his infrastructure plans, which include measures to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis.

The president said:

When Congress returns this month, I’m going to press for their action on my Build Back Better plan. That’s going to make historic investments in electrical infrastructure, modernizing our roads, bridges, our water systems, sewer and draining systems, electric grids and transmission lines, and make them more resilient to these superstorms and wildfires and floods that are going to happen with increasing frequency and ferocity.

At the White House briefing a little earlier, press sec Jen Psaki was asked if the extreme weather events had changed Biden’s view on action needed on carbon reduction to combat global heating.

Psaki pointed out that: “I think it’s reaffirmed with his his commitment today to getting his Build Back Better agenda passed, which has a huge focus on addressing the climate crisis and taking a number of steps, including investing in resiliency for infrastructure, also setting ambitious goals and taking policy steps to reach those.”

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives plans to debate and vote on legislation aimed at stopping states from enacting tough anti-abortion regulations like the one in Texas, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said today.

Speaker Pelosi holding a press conference on Capitol Hill last month with leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign.
Speaker Pelosi holding a press conference on Capitol Hill last month with leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign. Photograph: Lenin Nolly/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

But the bill’s prospects in the Senate are slim unless this is the hill the Biden White House chooses to kill the filibuster on.

Pelosi said the new Texas law: “delivers catastrophe to women in Texas, particularly women of color and women from low-income communities.”

Pelosi said in a statement that a Democratic bill would be brought before the full House after September 20, when its recess is scheduled to end.

The Reuters news agency adds:

Most legislation requires the support of at least 60 lawmakers to advance in the Senate. The House Democrats’ measure, the Women’s Health Protection Act, would likely struggle to get 10 votes among Republicans.

Most Republicans oppose abortion, one of the most divisive issues in the United States, and many have urged the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark decision making it a woman’s constitutional right.

The Women’s Health Protection Act has been introduced in Congress multiple times since 2013 but never advanced in either the House or Senate.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki is now briefing the media. Joe Biden is busy simultaneously (but in another room) talking with Jewish religious leaders to celebrate the beginning of the season of Jewish high holidays.

White House Press Briefing with Jen Psaki yesterday.
White House Press Briefing with Jen Psaki yesterday. Photograph: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Psaki is now speaking to the point that the US president made earlier, on the anti-abortion law that has come into effect in Texas this week, with the US Supreme Court refusing the block it.

Biden said earlier that he was directing the Office of the White House Counsel “to launch a whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision [by Scotus], looking...to see what steps the federal government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions.”

Psaki just said, in response to a question, that the impact of last night’s decision requires immediate processes to get underway, effectively, to figure out if there is any recourse by the administration.

She added that he has asked his team “to determine what if any steps can be taken here to protect a woman’s right to choose, and access to abortion in Texas.”

Asked if the White House was surprised by the supreme court ruling last night, Psaki said: “We know the make-up of the court, but we try to stay away from predictions.”

Amy Coney Barrett, Donald Trump’s arch-conservative selection to replace the late liberal champion Ruth Bader Ginsburg, tipped the court to a swing-proof conservative majority.

Chief Justice John Roberts is regarded as a more moderate conservative, but even if he sides with the three liberal justices on the bench, as he did last night on the Texas anti-abortion law, those four are no match for Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas when those conservatives opine as a bloc.

Here’s more from my colleague Stephanie Kirchgaessner on Amy Coney Barrett:

And this:

Updated

This is the second time in recent weeks that subway stations and streets have been submerged in New York city as flooding and heavy rain impacting the city and the wider US north east region have killed more than 20 people.

The Biden administration has pledged to tackle climate change but this week it was also being criticized by environmental groups after resuming drilling auctions for oil and gas exploration.

Four environmental groups have filed a lawsuit in Washington federal court challenging the decision to hold the offshore auction, alleging the underlying environmental analysis was flawed and violated federal law, Reuters reports.

“The Biden administration has folded to the oil industry ... ignoring the worsening climate emergency we face,” said Brettny Hardy, an attorney with Earthjustice, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the groups.

Interim summary

The morning has been dominated by reaction to the US Supreme Court decision last night, refusing to block an extreme anti-abortion law in Texas. And there has also been a lot of attention by leaders from Joe Biden on down on the devastation caused by a storm system spawned by Hurricane Ida.

We’ll have lots more US politics news going forward. White House press secretary Jen Psaki is due to brief the media at 2pm ET.

Here are the main points so far today:

  • Democrats decry supreme court refusal to block Texas’s extreme anti-abortion law after issuing an emergency opinion last night.
  • Joe Biden spoke of the “unimaginable damage” caused by the aftermath of Hurricane Ida coming ashore on the Gulf coast last weekend and now causing flooding as far north as New York, so far.
  • The White House is pushing, the US president said, for a “whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision, looking … to see what steps the federal government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions.”
  • Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general of the US called on Congress to act immediately over the Scotus majority-conservative decision not to block the Texas anti-abortion law.
  • Chief Justice John Roberts and all three liberal associate justices of the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, penned dissents to the ruling last night. Each had hugely important points to make. Sotomayor’s language was the most blistering, calling the Texas law “flagrantly unconstitutional” and the court’s order to allow it “stunning”.

Democrats decry supreme court refusal to block Texas's extreme anti-abortion law after issuing an emergency opinion

Many are saying that the supreme court has effectively already overturned Roe v Wade after the conservative majority ruled to allow the Texas anti-abortion law, currently the most extreme in the US, to stand.

The Texas law bans almost all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and, given that about nine of of 10 abortions are performed after six weeks and many don’t even know they are pregnant before that, it more or less bans abortions in the state.

Judges in Texas did not stop the law taking effect and an appeal from the pro-choice side to the supreme court failed last night. The law not just imposes a ban but allows ordinary citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone allegedly “aiding and abetting”, such as someone who drives someone to a clinic, although it does not allow the suing of the patient themself.

New York progressive congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on twitter:

“Republicans promised to overturn Roe v Wade, and they have. Democrats can either abolish the filibuster and expand the court, or do nothing as millions of peoples’ bodies, rights, and lives are sacrificed for far-right minority rule. This shouldn’t be a difficult decision.”

Republicans promised to overturn Roe v Wade, and they have.

Democrats can either abolish the filibuster and expand the court, or do nothing as millions of peoples’ bodies, rights, and lives are sacrificed for far-right minority rule.

This shouldn’t be a difficult decision. https://t.co/GcEjkxt3gs

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 2, 2021

She means the Biden administration should decide to expand the supreme court beyond the nine-member bench, so that Joe Biden could pick more liberals and get them seated on the court to provide a liberal majority there. Right now there are five arch conservatives and three liberals, so even if chief justice John Roberts sides with the liberals, as he did last night, it does not stop the will of the conservative majority.

Democrats wouldn’t be able to get approval to expand the court through the narrowly-balanced US Senate without destroying the filibuster, a rule that means a majority of 60 is needed to approve things, while the Democrats only have 50 Senators and the Republicans have 50.

Freshman progressive congressman Jamaal Bowman of New York backed up AOC on twitter:

For 48 years, Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land in America.

Republicans on the Supreme Court just effectively struck it down. They’re not playing by the rules, and it’s time for the President and Senate to act to save lives.

Expand the Court. https://t.co/gptdYm4E7P

— Jamaal Bowman (@JamaalBowmanNY) September 2, 2021

He later added:

Republicans are quick to talk about “individual liberties” and “freedom,” but remain relentless on legislating what decisions people are allowed to make about their own bodies.

— Jamaal Bowman (@JamaalBowmanNY) September 2, 2021

Joe Biden is urging insurance companies not to hold back on paying out to people engulfed by flooding as a result of the storms unleashed by Hurricane Ida, across a huge swath of the US, after the tempest came ashore at the weekend near New Orleans.

The US president is calling on the corporations to “do the right thing” and not to refuse to pay out for relocation costs based on “fine print” such as whether a state or locality ordered a mandatory evacuation or urged voluntary evacuation, pointing out that often there isn’t time to upgrade an evacuation announcement to a mandatory order, before a tempest hits.

And he pointed out that sometimes staying at home instead of evacuating can mean the difference between life and death, so it’s not exactly voluntary.

Biden said he spoke earlier today to New York state’s new governor, Kathy Hochul, and New Jersey governor Phil Murphy and would soon be talking with Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf (all Democrats) about the terrible impact the storm had on their states last night and the continued effects today.

Following the stunning flooding, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul says she just got off the phone with President Biden and he told he’d approve “any declaration” she needs.

— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) September 2, 2021

Rivers around Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia are so swollen that the city is hamstrung by major flooding in the region today.

Last night the National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency warning for all five boroughs of New York City: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island.

“This is the first time that such a warning has ever been issued for the city. People were trapped in the subways” and had to be rescued by firefighters, he said.

The death toll in the New York region has now risen to 14. The death toll in the US Gulf area so far is six. All from the same storm.

Biden also noted that the massive Caldor wildfire burning in California and into Nevada “is one of the few fires that has ever burned from one side of Sierra Nevada’s mountain range to the other. So far it has burned more than 200,000 acres.”

Disappointingly, he did not take the opportunity to address the role the climate crisis is playing in making these extreme weather events such as hurricanes and fires more devastating and more frequent.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez just retweeted this:

I never want to hear anyone say that a Green New Deal is too expensive ever againpic.twitter.com/AAO6Xo26OO

— Dr. Lucky Tran (@luckytran) September 2, 2021

Updated

Biden said “the nation is here to help” those who have fallen victim to the storms unleashed by Hurricane Ida.

First responders pull residents in a boat following flooding in Mamaroneck, New York, that trapped people.
First responders pull residents in a boat following flooding in Mamaroneck, New York, that trapped people. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

Buildings have been ripped apart and floods have inundated areas from Louisiana to New York.

Boats are going house to house in parts of Pennsylvania right now rescuing people. Maryland and New Jersey saw tornadoes twisting through and New York city was under a rare tornado warning for a while last night.

It’s widely acknowledged now that the climate crisis is leading to more extreme weather hitting the world more often, including in the US. From the floods caused by Ida to the drought and high temperatures fueling humungous wildfires out west, climate change is upping extreme weather in the US from coast to coast.

The US president just said that rain was falling in New York’s Central Park last night at the rate of three inches per hour at a certain stage. More rain fell during the storm, which lasted for about 12 hours, in New York than normally falls in the whole of September, Biden pointed out.

Biden speaks of "devastation" from storm unfolding from Hurricane Ida

The US president is speaking now on the historic northeast US flooding caused last night by the huge storm that howled in across Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York and had started in the US Gulf as Hurricane Ida that hit Louisiana as a Category four and then downgraded to a still-destructive storm.

Biden said that Hurricane Ida, which hit at the weekend, was the fifth largest in US recorded history.

Biden pointed out that the winds “literally cause the Mississippi River to change course” temporarily as a result of the massive winds.

He said there were winds believed to have gusted up to 170mph, causing “unimaginable damage” and cause such damage that it slowed rescue and clear-up efforts.

The president is going to New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana tomorrow.

Here is Joe Biden’s statement from moments ago on the Supreme Court’s refusal to block the most extreme anti-abortion law now in effect in the US, in Texas.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris strongly support abortion rights. The US president and vice president have called on Congress to codify the rights afforded by Roe v Wade, to protect them from action in the courts.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris strongly support abortion rights. The US president and vice president have called on Congress to codify the rights afforded by Roe v Wade, to protect them from action in the courts. Photograph: Chris Kleponis/UPI/REX/Shutterstock

He said:

The Supreme Court’s ruling overnight is an unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights under Roe v. Wade, which has been the law of the land for almost fifty years. By allowing a law to go into effect that empowers private citizens in Texas to sue health care providers, family members supporting a woman exercising her right to choose after six weeks, or even a friend who drives her to a hospital or clinic, it unleashes unconstitutional chaos and empowers self-anointed enforcers to have devastating impacts.

Complete strangers will now be empowered to inject themselves in the most private and personal health decisions faced by women. This law is so extreme it does not even allow for exceptions in the case of rape or incest. And it not only empowers complete strangers to inject themselves into the most private of decisions made by a woman—it actually incentivizes them to do so with the prospect of $10,000 if they win their case.

For the majority to do this without a hearing, without the benefit of an opinion from a court below, and without due consideration of the issues, insults the rule of law and the rights of all Americans to seek redress from our courts. Rather than use its supreme authority to ensure justice could be fairly sought, the highest Court of our land will allow millions of women in Texas in need of critical reproductive care to suffer while courts sift through procedural complexities.

The dissents by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan [note: which you can read in earlier posts in today’s blog] all demonstrate the error of the Court’s action here powerfully.

While the Chief Justice was clear to stress that the action by the Supreme Court is not a final ruling on the future of Roe, the impact of last night’s decision will be immediate and requires an immediate response. One reason I became the first president in history to create a Gender Policy Council was to be prepared to react to such assaults on women’s rights. Hence, I am directing that Council and the Office of the White House Counsel to launch a whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision, looking specifically to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to see what steps the Federal Government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions as protected by Roe, and what legal tools we have to insulate women and providers from the impact of Texas’ bizarre scheme of outsourced enforcement to private parties.

We are waiting for Joe Biden to make public remarks on the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, which has sent a storm rampaging across a huge swath of the US, causing death and suffering from Louisiana to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.

The president is running behind schedule on this, as is very common for him. In the meantime he put out a statement on the Supreme Court emergency opinion just before midnight last night that refused to block an extreme law in Texas that came into effect on September 1 and bans almost all abortions in the state.

This is seen as opening a very obvious path for the court to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v Wade that essentially legalized abortion nationwide in the US for the first time.

Biden said of the court’s conservative majority opinion: “For the majority to do this without a hearing, without the benefit of an opinion from a court below, and without due consideration of the issues, insults the rule of law and the rights of all Americans to seek redress from our courts.”

Here is the full statement and we’ll spell out more of it in the next post.

Updated

Biden pledges action to stop Texas anti-abortion law

The US president just spoke and said that the White House is pushing for a “whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision, looking … to see what steps the federal government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions.”

Yesterday Biden was looking to Congress to solve this, in the face of the failure to do so by the US Supreme Court. But clearly the pressure is building on the administration after last night’s Scotus decision not to block the Texas law.

Breaking from Biden:

"I am directing that Council and the Office of the WH Counsel to launch a whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision, looking … to see what steps the Federal Gov't can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions."

— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) September 2, 2021

Neal Katyal referred in his tweet last night to an opinion piece he wrote for the Washington Post in June and gives good context to his call for Congress to act.

Neal Katyal speaks to the media outside the Supreme Court in 2018 after arguing against the Trump administration in a case.
Neal Katyal speaks to the media outside the Supreme Court in 2018 after arguing against the Trump administration in a case. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

Congress passing a law that enshrines the right to abortion in legislation, if possible, would certainly be a faster and maybe less controversial approach than Biden trying to expand the supreme court to engineer a new liberal majority on the bench.

Katyal wrote the piece in June, when Scotus agreed to consider in its next term, which begins in October, what at that point was the most significant major challenge to US reproductive rights, saying it would consider a case where the state of Mississippi wants to enforce a ban on almost all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.

The Mississippi case was to be the first on abortion to come before the court since the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett on the eve of the election last year. She is a devout Catholic and gave conservatives on the court a 6-3 majority.

The Mississippi case could lead to the landmark Roe v Wade precedent being gutted after nearly half a century.

The Mississippi law, enacted in 2018, was blocked by lower courts as inconsistent with supreme court precedent that protects the right to obtain an abortion before the foetus can survive outside the womb. The block was appealed to Scotus.

Then came this week’s Texas shock and everything changed. However, Katyal is consistent in his argument in that Washington Post piece that:

Congress can, right now, by simple majority vote, protect those rights and nullify any threat posed by the Mississippi case or any other....because the Constitution says that federal law reigns supreme over state laws, this insight also means that Congress can sweep away state laws that conflict with federal protections. Congress uses this power of “preemption” all the time — blocking states from having their own food and drug laws, employment rules, banking regulations and the like. Congress also frequently passes legislation to guarantee rights. Indeed, almost all of the major civil rights protections you have at your job or at restaurants or in hotels are guaranteed by Congress, not the courts or the Constitution.

That is because the Constitution restricts only governments, not private individuals or corporations.

Congress has a bill before it that would capitalize on this insight and statutorily guarantee the reproductive rights recognized by the Supreme Court since 1973. Called the Women’s Health Protection Act and sponsored by senators including Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), it would codify the rights [on abortion] two generations have taken as part of American life....

Some in the Senate would try to filibuster the legislation, claiming 60 votes, not 50, is needed to pass it. But if there is ever a piece of legislation that merits a departure from the filibuster, this is pretty much it. Recall that it was the Republicans in the Senate who bypassed the filibuster when they confirmed President Donald Trump’s three nominees to the Supreme Court, including Barrett.

Former acting solicitor general calls for Congress to act immediately to codify Roe v Wade abortion rights into legislation

Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general of the US, and a professor in national security law at Georgetown University, in Washington, DC, tweeted early this morning shortly after the Scotus (Supreme Court of the United States) decision not to block the Texas anti-abortion law, calling on Congress to act.

Congress should tmrw pass legislation to codify Roe. SCOTUS powerless to stop it. If try filibuster, great arg to get rid of it. Trump nuked filibuster for S Ct. If 50 is good enough to confirm a justice for life&against Roe ...https://t.co/prjHTyUrA5

— Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) September 2, 2021

Elena Kagan was solicitor general before she was tapped by Barack Obama to join the supreme court.

Katyal urges the US Congress right now to take up legislation that would codify the rights afforded by the Roe v Wade landmark 1973 decision that essentially legalized abortion nationwide in the US for the first time.

But as we see, that constitutional right is constantly under attack from the political right, both with restrictive state laws and with appeals to the supreme court that aim to reduce the right to abortion further and further and ultimately overturn Roe v Wade.

So Katyal (and president Joe Biden and vice president Kamala Harris) is freshly urging Congress to act.

This article from New York magazine’s The Cut explains:

Codifying Roe v. Wade would take the question of safe and legal abortion out of the Supreme Court’s hands by passing legislation in Congress that guarantees women in every state the right to unfettered access to abortion care. This would protect the right to choose even in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Finally, Justice Stephen Breyer, the most centrist liberal, if you like, on the US Supreme Court, also wrote a dissenting opinion to the conservative majority’s last night after the court refused to block Texas’s extreme law banning most abortions and encouraging the public to sue providers and “abettors” of the service.

Breyer has been under pressure to retire so that Joe Biden can have his best chance of successfully picking a liberal replacement without running into schemes by the Republicans to block the confirmation of his choice. But Breyer has indicated that that is not about to happen.

He’s the court’s oldest justice, at age 83.

Stephen Breyer, the oldest member of the supreme court bench at 83.
Stephen Breyer, the oldest member of the supreme court bench at 83. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

Last night he joined the dissenters in opposing the majority and expressing his view on their decision.

He, as had been mentioned by other dissenters, talks about the effort by the Texas state legislature to insulate its law from judicial review by “delegating” to the general public the power to sue abortion providers, which critics slam as sanctioning vigilantism.

Bryer wrote last night:

“I recognize that Texas’s law delegates the State’s power to prevent abortions not to one person (such as a district attorney) or to a few persons (such as a group of government officials or private citizens) but to any person.

But I do not see why that fact should make a critical legal difference. That delegation still threatens to invade a constitutional right, and the coming into effect of that delegation still threatens imminent harm.”

Justice Elena Kagan, on the liberal wing of the supreme court, brought up the conservative majority’s opinion last night in the context of two landmark cases - Roe v Wade from 1973 and Planned Parenthood v Casey from 1992.

US Supreme Court Justices (L-R) Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh arrive for the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in Washington on January 20. To the right is Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
US Supreme Court Justices (L-R) Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh arrive for the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in Washington on January 20. To the right is Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

Roe was the milestone that for the first time lead to abortion being a legal right across the United States. The 1992 case was a key reaffirmation by the court of the constitutional right afforded by Roe.

The court found that individual US states may not impose an “undue burden” on the right to abortion before the stage where the fetus is considered viable (which differs from state to state but has typically been around six months).

Kagan also echoed Sotomayor in calling the Texas law “patently unconstitutional” and decried the rushed case. Kagan points out that the court majority has not tried to dispute that the Texas law contravenes constitutional rights.

In her fierce dissent last night, she said:

“Without full briefing or argument, and after less than 72 hours’ thought, this Court greenlights the operation of Texas’s patently unconstitutional law banning most abortions.

The Court thus rewards Texas’s scheme to insulate its law from judicial review by deputizing private parties to carry out unconstitutional restrictions on the State’s behalf.

As of last night, and because of this Court’s ruling, Texas law prohibits abortions for the vast majority of women who seek them—in clear, and indeed undisputed, conflict with Roe and Casey.”

Sotomayor says court order is 'stunning' in her dissent, Texas law 'flagrantly unconstitutional'

The reaction to the supreme court’s majority decision last night by the court’s dissenting justices was interesting in that all four of the judges regarded as the liberal wing issued statements and so did the chief justice.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor poses during a group photo in Washington DC, in April.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor poses during a group photo in Washington DC, in April. Photograph: Reuters

Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent was characteristically blistering.

She wrote:

The Court’s order is stunning. 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.

Last night [Tuesday], the Court silently acquiesced in a State’s enactment of a law that flouts nearly 50 years of federal precedents.

Today [just before midnight on Wednesday], the Court belatedly explains that it declined to grant relief because of procedural complexities of the State’s own invention....

Because the Court’s failure to act rewards tactics designed to avoid judicial review and inflicts significant harm on the applicants and on women seeking abortions in Texas, I dissent.

Updated

Supreme Court chief justice John Roberts issued a firm dissent to the conservative majority’s opinion on the Texas anti-abortion law on Wednesday.

John Roberts (L) is greeted by Joe Biden as the president arrived to deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress in the House chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, in April.
John Roberts (L) is greeted by Joe Biden as the president arrived to deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress in the House chamber of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, in April. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

“The statutory scheme before the Court is not only unusual, but unprecedented.

The [Texas state] legislature has imposed a prohibition on abortions after roughly six weeks, and then essentially delegated enforcement of that prohibition to the populace at large.

The desired consequence appears to be to insulate the State from responsibility for implementing and enforcing the regulatory regime.

Although the Court does not address the constitutionality of this law, it can of course promptly do so when that questions is properly presented,” Roberts wrote last night

Roberts has sided with the liberal wing of the court before and that has been enough to stop the conservative supreme court judges from having their way - such as a few years ago when he was instrumental in protecting the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), where the federal government helped millions more Americans get health insurance cover.

But now, since Donald Trump replaced the late liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg with arch Christian conservative Amy Coney Barrett just before the presidential election last year, that ‘wing’ of the court now has a swing-proof majority.

The opinion issued by the court last night was a so-called emergency opinion - it fell outside of the normal supreme court season, which begins again in October, and there were not oral arguments presented to the court.

This was an opinion requested and delivered in matter of a few days.

So Roberts is hinting that the court is not necessarily done with this case. Meanwhile, however, the law goes into effect in Texas.

Updated

US supreme court refuses to block Texas abortion ban

Good morning, US live blog readers, the politics news landscape has been very lively overnight despite Congress not being in session, and it’s going to be a dramatic day so please tune in and stick with us as we bring you all the developments pronto.

The US supreme court overnight handed down an unsigned opinion that it will not block the new law that went into effect in Texas yesterday that bans almost all abortions and offers the public the right to sue anyone providing the service or anyone allegedly “aiding and abetting” in the provision of that service.

It is the most extreme anti-abortion law in the US. Donald Trump consolidated a swing-proof ultra-conservative majority on the court after liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death just before the election last year. Chief Justice John Roberts swung behind the liberal minority on the nine-member bench last night but it was not enough to override the conservatives and the opinion was handed down by five supporters versus four dissenters.

There were some blistering written dissents, calling the decision “stunning”. Yesterday Joe Biden said the law in Texas was blatantly unconstitutional.

We’ll have all the fall-out here. This is seen as almost the final straw to the supreme court overturning the 1973 Roe v Wade landmark ruling that led to abortion becoming a legal right nationwide in the US.

Also on our docket today:

  • Joe Biden is due to make public remarks at 11.40 ET on the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, with other leaders already talking about how the climate crisis is driving more extreme weather.
  • Ida drenched and battered New York and New Jersey last night with excessive wind and rain and tornadoes, causing loss of life and the governor of New Jersey calling his state the most vulnerable to climate change in the US. Louisiana remans underwater and many, many without power after Ida made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane at the weekend.
  • This as the climate crisis is also driving the fierce record wildfires out west, with the Lake Tahoe fire in California, in particular, raging there.
  • Republican leadership is shrieking about efforts by the special House committee (led by Democrats) to obtain social media records about what politicians were up to in the lead up to the insurrection at the US Capitol by extremist Trump supporters, and threatening retaliation against the media companies. We’ll get into all that.

Contributors

Dani Anguiano in Portland (now) and Joanna Walters in New York (earlier)

The GuardianTramp

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