Thanks for reading our US politics blog today and we welcome you to strap back in on Thursday morning for a white-knuckle day - US Supreme Court decisions to be issued from 10am ET and the House January 6 committee’s fifth hearing at 1pm ET.
Here are today’s highlights.
- Senate majority leader and New York Democrat Chuck Schumer wants the chamber to approve the gun control compromise introduced on Tuesday by “the end of the week”.
- Joe Biden detailed two proposals to lower gas prices across the US: suspending the $0.18 per-gallon federal gas tax for 90 days and calling for state government to suspend their own gas taxes “or find other ways to deliver some relief” to consumers on prices at the pump.
- Congressman Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the January 6 select committee in the House, said that the final set of hearings into the Capitol attack will take place in mid-July.
- Rusty Bowers, the Republican speaker of Arizona’s House of Representatives and a key witness at yesterday’s House January 6 committee hearing, said he could vote for Donald Trump again despite testifying to his having to flatly refuse pressure from Trump’s team to disrupt or overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election victory in Arizona.
Andrew Gillum, the 2018 Democratic nominee for Florida governor, is facing 21 federal charges related to a scheme to seek donations and funnel a portion of them back to him through third parties, the US attorney’s office announced today, the Associated Press writes.
Gillum, 42, and co-defendant Janet Lettman-Hicks, 53, face 19 counts of wire fraud. Gillum is also charged with making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The US attorney’s office said the pair “conspired to commit wire fraud, by unlawfully soliciting and obtaining funds from various entities and individuals through false and fraudulent promises and representations that the funds would be used for a legitimate purpose.”
Lettman-Hicks then used her company to fraudulently give money to Gillum disguised as payroll payments, the office said in a press release.
Gillum issued a strong statement, via his lawyers.
Make no mistake that this case is not legal, it is political. Throughout my career I have always stood up for the people of Florida and have spoken truth to power. There’s been a target on my back ever since I was the mayor of Tallahassee. They found nothing then, and I have full confidence that my legal team will prove my innocence now,” he said.
Gillum met with undercover FBI agents posing as developers while he was mayor and during his campaign for governor. His associates sought donations from the agents, and suggested ways to provide money without listing them as political contributions, including paying for a fundraising dinner, according to the indictment.
The agents were asked to contribute $100,000 to Gillum’s campaign and said the money could be given to a private company in order to keep the agents’ names out of campaign finance documents.
The agents said they would want favorable consideration on development projects and were told that wouldn’t be a problem, according to the indictment.
Gillum lost to Republican governor Ron DeSantis in a race that required a recount.
The former Tallahassee mayor had won a crowded Democratic primary against better funded candidates with 34.4% of the vote, stunning political observers. The charismatic politician won over the hearts of hardcore Democratic activists and ran a strong grassroots campaign, being seen as a rising star.
In March 2020, Gillum was found intoxicated and unconscious in a hotel room with two men, including one who works as a male escort. Two days later he entered a rehabilitation center, and later did a television interview in which he said he’s bisexual.
It’s not often that you find a poll that calls into question Donald Trump’s position as the most popular politician in the country among Republicans. Since his ascent through the ranks of the 2016 GOP primary crowd, the opposition he has faced from other Republicans during his time in the White House and after has proved to be either short-lived, or manageable.
But now the University of New Hampshire Survey Center has released a poll showing Trump in a statistical tie with Florida governor Ron DeSantis in the swing state’s 2024 Republican primary. And it also shows DeSantis faring better against Biden in a hypothetical match-up than Trump, and notes “support for DeSantis has more than doubled since October”.
“Trump slipping in pre-primary polls is part of a typical pattern,” the Survey Center’s director Andrew Smith said. While the losing candidate in a party’s previous election enjoys the spotlight for a while, “As the primary gets closer, new candidates emerge and attract more media attention, and therefore more voter attention, than the losing candidate from the previous election.”
If the 2024 election were held today, the survey said Biden holds “an almost identical lead” over Trump as in the state’s 2020 race: 50 percent would vote for Biden, and 43 percent would vote for Trump.
But when matched up against DeSantis, it would basically be a tie, the survey said. The Florida governor would win 47 percent of the vote, while Biden would end up with 46 percent, proof, perhaps, that DeSantis’s efforts to become a national figure for Republicans are paying off.
Schumer wants senate to pass gun bill by 'end of the week'
Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer wants the chamber to approve the gun control compromise introduced on Tuesday by “the end of the week”.
“After 64 senators voted to getting on the bill, senate’s now on the brink of passing the first significant gun safety bill in decades,” Schumer said today, speaking at a press conference of the Democratic leadership in the chamber. “It’s my intention to make sure this Senate bill passes before the end of the week. The American people have waited long enough.”
The compromise negotiated between the two parties won the vote of every Democrat and 14 Republicans yesterday, which is enough support to overcome filibusters by lawmakers opposed to the compromise. The bill would tighten gun access and fund mental health care across the country in response to the recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York, though it isn’t as stringent as some Democrats would like.
Another Democrat has come out against Biden’s proposal to cut the federal gas tax, and this time it’s the head of the House transportation committee.
Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio said Biden’s proposal would deliver “only miniscule relief” while taking revenue away from the federal Highway Trust Fund, which pays for road and mass transit improvements nationwide:
Biden did address the concerns about the Highway Trust Fund in his speech announcing the tax cut proposal, saying, “With tax revenues up this year and our deficit down over $1.6 trillion this year alone, we’ll still be able to fix our highways and bring down the prices of gas. We can do both at the same time.”
Biden outlines plan to lower gas prices
Speaking at the White House, Biden has detailed his two proposals to lower gas prices across the United States.
He called for suspending the $0.18 per-gallon federal gas tax for 90 days, and channel that savings to lowering costs overall. “We can bring down the price of gas and give families just a little bit of relief. I call on the companies to pass this along, every penny of this 18 cents reduction to the consumers,” Biden said. However, as this blog reported earlier today, the proposal doesn’t have a lot of support in Congress.
The president then called for state government to suspend their own gas taxes “or find other ways to deliver some relief.” Because of “our historic economic recovery” states are in a “strong position” to cut these taxes, Biden said, pointing to Connecticut and New York’s decision to temporarily suspend their taxes, among other states. These policies are, of course, are up to the state governors and lawmakers to implement.
He again tried to focus Americans’ wrath over expensive gas towards Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying the higher prices are the cost of “defending freedom.” “We could have turned a blind eye to Putin’s murderous ways; the price of gas wouldn’t have spiked the way it has. I believe that would have been wrong... I believe then and I believe now, the free world had no choice,” Biden said.
“Together, these actions could help drop the price at the pump by up to $1 a gallon or more. It doesn’t reduce all the pain, but it will be a big help,” Biden said. “I’m doing my part. I want the Congress the states and industry to do their part as well.”
High gas prices are part of an overall spike in inflation across the United States, and Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell was in the Capitol today, testifying about how the central bank will use its control of interest rates to fight the price hikes. Dominic Rushe has this report:
The Federal Reserve will keep raising rates until it sees “compelling evidence” that inflation is coming down, the Fed chair, Jerome Powell, told Congress on Wednesday.
The US is wrestling with rates of inflation unseen in 40 years and Powell warned that “further surprises could be in store”.
“Over coming months, we will be looking for compelling evidence that inflation is moving down,” Powell said. “We have both the tools we need and the resolve it will take to restore price stability.”
Last week the Fed raised interest rates by 0.75 percentage-points – the largest hike since 1994. Powell and other Fed officials have signaled that further outsized increases are in the works as they try to drive inflation down to their 2% target from the current annual rate of 8.6%.
Biden hasn’t even detailed his proposed three-month pause on the federal gasoline tax, which he is expected to do at a 2pm address, but it is already running into opposition in the Senate.
Congress would have to approve the president’s proposal intended to deal with the high prices Americans are facing at the pump, but neither Democrats nor Republicans in the Capitol seem to have much time for it.
Democratic senator Joe Manchin, who has acted as a spoiler to Biden’s agenda in the past, says he is opposed:
Nor does it appear the president can expect much support across the aisle:
Opposition from top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell is always a bad sign:
January 6 hearings likely to stretch into July: chair
Congressman Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the January 6 select committee in the House, said on Wednesday that the final set of hearings into the Capitol attack will take place in mid-July.
The panel will conduct its fifth hearing – examining Donald Trump’s pressure campaign on top justice department officials to overturn the 2020 election results – as scheduled on Thursday, the chairman said.
But Thompson said the final few hearings, which are expected to focus on the militia groups that stormed the Capitol and Trump’s lack of action to call off the rioters, will be pushed back until after the July recess.
The chairman said the reason for the delay was because of new evidence that has arisen since the hearing started, including leads on its tip line, more records obtained from the National Archives, as well as video footage.
The final set of hearings were originally on a collision course with a number of major supreme court decisions, including on abortion rights, that would probably have eclipsed the hearings if they happened simultaneously.
The House is currently scheduled to leave Washington, DC for its next recess on 24 June and return on 12 July2. The timetable suggests that hearings would probably resume after that date.
Guardian US columnist Robert Reich has been watching the January 6 committee hearings, and shares his thoughts on what they mean for the Republican party:
We tragically fool ourselves if we believe that the televised hearings of the January 6 committee will change the Republican party or end Donald Trump’s attempted coup.
The Republican party is becoming ever more divorced from reality, and Trump’s attempted coup continues unabated.
The first four hearings of the committee have demolished the myths of voter fraud repeated incessantly by Trump.
Yet the Republican response to those hearings has ranged from indifference to hostility. Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader of the House, tweeted that the members of the committee “will not stop lying about their political opponents,” and called the committee “despicable.”
On Friday, speaking at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Nashville, Trump repeated his big lie – as if the hearings never happened.
The lie is now so deeply entrenched in the Republican party that it has become a central tenet of Republican dogma.
It is now the vehicle by which Republican candidates signal their fealty both to Trump and to a broad range of grievances (some imaginary, some derived from the so-called “culture wars”) that now constitute the Republican brand.
So far, at least 108 Republican candidates who embrace the big lie have won their nominations or advanced to runoffs, and there is no sign that the hearings have reduced the intensity of their demagoguery.
Republican voters have chosen eight big liars for the US Senate, 86 for the House, five for governor, four for state attorney general and one for secretary of state.
These big lie candidates feel no pressure to respond to the findings of the committee because their districts or states already lean Republican, and most voters in them have dismissed or aren’t paying attention to the committee hearings.
The Democrat Bee Nguyen easily won her primary runoff in Georgia last night, and will now face off against Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state who has attracted praise for his refusal to endorse Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election.
Raffensperger was among witnesses who testified at the January 6 committee hearing on Tuesday, about Trump and his allies’ pressure campaign on state officials.
Raffensperger explained how Trump leaned on him to “find” enough votes to reverse Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia, but he refused to do so. As a result, he and his family members were subjected to violent threats from some of Trump’s supporters.
Nguyen, however, wants to dispel any notion that Raffensperger is a moderate just because he stood up to Trump.
“The reality is Brad Raffensperger is a conservative Republican with a long track record of undermining our voting rights,” Nguyen said on a Wednesday press call.
Nguyen, who currently serves in the Georgia house, noted that Raffensperger endorsed SB 202, the 2021 state law that imposed sweeping new restrictions on voting access.
“That is not the pro-democracy secretary of state that Georgians deserve,” Nguyen said.
Two Democratic senators, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Jon Tester of Montana, have released a very strange video about their attempts to tackle “big ag consolidation”.
In the phone-shot video, the senators repeatedly tackle each other around the Capitol. Chided by an aide, that “We’ve been through this before, you have to stop tackling each other”, Booker says: “All right. Then we’ll just tackle big ag consolidation.”
Tester says: “Big ag consolidation is killing rural America. We need to get to work and help the cow-calf guys and the feeders and the consumers at the meat counter too. That’s why we introduced a couple bills, Booker. We need to get these bills done.”
Booker says: “We’re gonna get them done, man. I appreciate you, you’re a good guy.”
He throws a comedy elbow. Tester throws one back, and giggles. To cod-ragtime piano, the video ends with more tackles and a message: “Only 4 packers control 82% of the US beef market. Just 4 traders control at least 75% of the global grain market. It’s time to tackle big agricultural consolidation. Pass the Food & Agribusiness Merger Moratorium & Antitrust Review Act.”
Tester’s last hit on Booker, from behind, is a big one. “Sorry,” he says.
Booker knows how to hit and be hit, as it happens, being not just a former candidate for the presidential nomination, in 2020, but also once a high school wide receiver, tight end and safety who was recruited to play football at Stanford.
Tester has the size to deal out some big hits but gripping his opponent might be a problem, given he lost three fingers to a meat grinder when he was only nine.
Finally, the Guardian would like to observe that on the rugby field, which as the world knows is superior to the football gridiron, none of the “tackles” in Booker and Tester’s video would qualify for anything other than a yellow card, given how neither senator even remotely attempts to wrap his arms around the other and thereby bring him down with any sort of control.
Booker and Tester may therefore wish to contact a fellow Democratic senator, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, for instruction. He played at Williams College, you see, confirming to the Guardian last month: “Although I wasn’t very good, I loved the sport and made lifelong friends.”
The day so far
With the supreme court taking the day off from releasing decisions and no hearings scheduled by the January 6 committee, much of the action today has been elsewhere in Congress, where lawmakers are weighing gun control legislation and president Joe Biden’s apparently imminent call for a gas tax holiday.
Here’s what’s happened today thus far:
- The supreme court has added Friday as an opinion issuance day. It was only scheduled to issue opinions on Thursday, and the extra day gives them the opportunity make public long-anticipated decisions on abortion rights, gun control and other contentious issues.
- Rusty Bowers, an Arizona lawmaker who was one of the main witnesses at yesterday’s January 6 hearing, said he would likely support Trump again.
- Biden is expected to propose a temporary holiday to the federal gas tax and will make remarks about the idea at 2 pm eastern time.
- The senate has opened debate on a gun control compromise that appears to have enough support to pass with votes from both Republicans and Democrats.
What would the January 6 committee hearings be like if there was a forceful Republican presence? The party largely dropped out of participating, and only two GOP lawmakers are currently on the panel, both of which are avowed enemies of the former president and were appointed to the panel by the Democratic House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.
But there’s a rising sense among Republicans that it may have been a mistake to opt out of participating in the inquiry — including, apparently, Trump himself.
The former president told Punchbowl News he wished Republicans participated in the panel, and singled out the House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who is largely responsible for the decision:
“Well, I think in retrospect, I think it would have been very smart to put [Republicans on the committee] and again, I wasn’t involved in it from a standpoint so I never looked at it too closely. But I think it would have been good if we had representation. …
“I think in retrospect [McCarthy should’ve put Republicans on] to just have a voice. The Republicans don’t have a voice. They don’t even have anything to say.
Key January 6 hearing witness says he’d likely support Trump again
One of the star witnesses at yesterday’s hearing of the January 6 committee was Rusty Bowers, the Republican speaker of Arizona’s House of Representatives. He detailed how he was pressured by Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani to take part in a scheme to disrupt the certification of Arizona’s vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 election, or overturn it entirely.
He said he wanted nothing to do with their plans, which he described as unsupported by evidence and “against my oath,” adding, “I will not break my oath.”
It was powerful testimony from a lawmaker who began by telling the House committee that he hoped for Trump to win a second term. You might think that the experience would have a long term-impact on his view of the former president, but it turns out, it did not.
“If he is the nominee, if he was up against Biden, I’d vote for him again,” Bowers told the Associated Press in an interview. “Simply because what he did the first time, before Covid, was so good for the county. In my view it was great.”
The Biden administration is stepping up its efforts to stop Americans from smoking by moving to cut down on nicotine content in cigarettes and banning Juul’s e-cigarettes.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Food and Drug Administration could as soon as today announce its decision against Juul following a two-year review of data provided by the company:
Uncertainty has clouded Juul since it landed in the FDA’s sights four years ago, when its fruity flavors and hip marketing were blamed for fueling a surge of underage vaping. The company since then has been trying to regain the trust of regulators and the public. It limited its marketing and in 2019 stopped selling sweet and fruity flavors. Juul’s sales have tumbled in recent years.
The FDA has barred the sale of all sweet and fruity e-cigarette cartridges. The agency has cleared the way for Juul’s biggest rivals, Reynolds American Inc. and NJOY Holdings Inc., to keep tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes on the market. Industry observers had expected Juul to receive similar clearance.
Juul had no immediate comment. The company could pursue an appeal through the FDA, challenge the decision in court or file a revised application for its products.
Meanwhile, Reuters yesterday reported that the Biden administration would like to put a maximum cap on nicotine content in a bid to help Americans quit tobacco use and stop getting hooked in the first place:
The proposal comes as the Biden administration doubles down on fighting cancer-related deaths.
Earlier this year, the government announced plans to reduce the death rate from cancer by at least 50% over the next 25 years.
Nicotine is the addictive substance in tobacco. Tobacco products also contain several harmful chemicals, many of which could cause cancer.
Tobacco use costs nearly $300bn a year in direct healthcare and lost productivity, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The city of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota has agreed to pay $3.2m and change its police training and traffic stop policies in a settlement stemming from the shooting death of Duante Wright last year, the Associated Press reports.
The payment will go to the family of Wright, a Black man who was shot by Kim Potter, a white police officer who pulled him over for expired registration tags in April 2021. She was earlier this year sentenced to two years in prison after being convicted of first- and second-degree manslaughter.
According to the AP:
Wright’s family members “hope and believe the measures of change to policing, policies and training will create important improvements to the community in Daunte’s name,” said co-counsel Antonio M. Romanucci. “Nothing can bring him back, but the family hopes his legacy is a positive one and prevents any other family from enduring the type of grief they will live with for the rest of their lives.”
The Associated Press left a message Wednesday seeking comment from the mayor’s office.
The shooting happened at a time of high tension in the area, with former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, standing trial just miles away for the killing of George Floyd, who was Black. Floyd’s May 2020 death prompted a reckoning over police brutality and discrimination involving people of color.
The fallout from Wright’s death led the Brooklyn Center City Council to pass a series of reforms, including the use of social workers and other trained professionals to respond to medical, mental health and social-needs calls that don’t require police.
The changes also prohibit police from making arrests for low-level offenses and require the city to use unarmed civilians to handle minor traffic violations.
The supreme court has added a second upcoming decision release day to its calendar: Friday. The justices had already scheduled to issue their latest opinions on Thursday, and the additional day will give them more time to work through the backlog of cases they have yet to publicly announce rulings on.
The court is expected to continue its rightward streak in its upcoming decisions, which could deal with some of the must contentious issues in American society, including abortion, gun access and environmental regulation. Indeed, an unprecedented leak of their draft opinion on an abortion access case before them shows the conservative majority ready to overturn Roe v Wade entirely. They are also viewed as leaning towards rolling back restrictions on carrying concealed weapons and weakening the government’s ability to enforce regulations.
For an idea of how a gas tax holiday might work at the federal level, The Wall Street Journal went to Connecticut to see if the state legislature’s decision to suspend part of its gas tax made consumers any happier.
Connecticut was one of the first states in the U.S. to suspend part of its gasoline tax, but Ana Rodriguez, after refueling her 2017 Toyota Highlander here, said she barely noticed.
The 35-year-old social worker spent $67 and didn’t leave with a full tank as she usually does.
“It affects the trust that I have in them,” Ms. Rodriguez said of state lawmakers. “It makes me not want to vote.”
President Biden is planning to call for a temporary suspension of the federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents a gallon, according to people familiar with the matter. If Connecticut’s experience with suspending its own 25-cent-a-gallon tax is any guide, a federal hiatus might not get noticed by consumers or relieve much political heat.
“Consumers are a very poor gauge because they don’t understand that the wholesale price of fuel may be rising just as the tax holiday was implemented, so it offsets it,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for price tracker GasBuddy.
The federal gas tax holiday the Biden administration is set to propose is billed as an attempt to lower prices at the pump, but as Nina Lakhani reports, it may not work:
Joe Biden will call on Congress today to temporarily suspend federal gasoline and diesel taxes in an attempt to quell voter anger at the surging cost of fuel.
In a speech on Wednesday afternoon, Biden is expected to ask the House to pause the federal taxes – about 18¢ per gallon for gas and 24¢ per gallon for diesel – until the end of September.
Biden will also call on states to suspend local fuel taxes and urge oil refining companies to increase capacity – just days after accusing executives of profiteering and “worsening the pain” for consumers.
If all the measures Biden will call for are adopted, prices could drop by about $1 per gallon at the pumps, according to senior officials who briefed CNN, although energy experts have questioned the effectiveness of gas tax holidays.
Yesterday’s January 6 hearing gave further details of the fake electors plot Trump pursued to try to throw the 2020 election his way, and the Guardian’s Hugo Lowell reports that the justice department has taken notice of what the committee found:
The House select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol attack made the case at its fourth hearing on Tuesday that the Trump 2020 campaign tried to obstruct Joe Biden’s election win through a potentially illegal scheme to send fake slates of electors to Congress.
The panel presented a text message sent on 4 January 2021 that appeared to indicate the Trump campaign was seeking to use fraudulent election certificates they would have known were not state-certified to obstruct the congressional certification of Biden’s win.
“Freaking Trump idiots want someone to fly original elector papers to the Senate president,” said Mark Jefferson, the executive director of the Republican party in Wisconsin in the text, seemingly referring to the Trump campaign and then vice-president Mike Pence.
The Senate doesn’t pass gun control legislation very often, and if approved, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act would be the most significant such bill since 1993.
It’s also only a small step compared to what gun control advocates would like to see happen. But Republicans have little political inclination to crack down on firearm access, and thus, this bill represents the best offer Democrats are likely to get — a fact Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer is aware of.
The proposal would increase background checks on gun buyers under the age of 21, give money to states to implement red-flag laws, tighten gun ownership restrictions on people who abuse previous romantic partners and fund mental health services, among other provisions. It does not raise the minimum age to buy an assault weapon to 21, as some Democrats hoped it would, nor does it come anywhere near restoring the assault weapons ban or outlawing high-capacity magazines, as Joe Biden has called for.
A reminder of what finally spurred lawmakers to act on the contentious subject: the massacre of 21 students and teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and the racist killings of 10 Black people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York.
The bipartisan gun violence bill is here, and ready for debate
Good morning, US politics blog readers. After days of negotiations, a bipartisan bill to address gun violence has finally been released, and all Democratic senators as well as a handful of Republicans last night approved the start of debate on the proposal. Meanwhile, another set of primary elections gave a mixed verdict on Donald Trump’s ability to influence voters.
Here’s what else is happening today:
- Joe Biden is set to propose a three-month holiday in the federal gas tax in a bid to lower pump prices, which have soared in recent months.
- The Uvalde, Texas school where last month’s mass shooting occurred will be demolished, the city’s mayor announced.
- Bill Cosby sexually abused a 16-year-old girl at the Playboy mansion nearly 50 years ago, a civil court found, and awarded her $500,000.
- Yesterday’s January 6 committee hearing dived deeper into the fake electors scheme Trump hoped would allow him to subvert the will of the voters in the 2020 election, and the justice department is investigating whether those involved in the plot should face charges.