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Normal Politics Is Not Enough – The Nation

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The master Democratic strategy for the 2022 midterm elections is coming into focus. After four years of the Trump show, President Joe Biden and congressional leaders will make a case that echoes Warren G. Harding’s 1920 campaign promise of a “return to normalcy.”

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Biden is fresh off a victory with the infrastructure bill that represents peak normal politics and validation of everything Biden holds dear: compromise, negotiation, bipartisanship, and getting something done. Infrastructure is hardly a topic to get ordinary Americans’ heart rates up, but that is the point. Biden demonstrated the ability to take the mundane—money for nonpartisan essentials, for roads and bridges—and pass a bill with some Republican support. Of course, the cost of minimal GOP support was removing almost all the important progressive elements from the bill, but to most Americans who neither know nor care about the details, it reads as a win.

Normal Washington politics are, as George Will puts it, the politics of “splittable differences”—of one side wanting the corporate tax rate at 21 percent while the other insists on 28 percent. In contrast to the permanent crisis atmosphere created by the Trump presidency, Biden and congressional Democrats want to create an impression of managerial competence, of politics that Americans can safely look away from without worrying that a constitutional crisis will erupt. The infrastructure bill fit nicely into a recognizable narrative of Democrats wanting to spend a dollar amount, Republicans demanding to spend less, and a compromise in the broad middle. Americans know that story line; it’s pleasantly boring, which is refreshing after Trump.

With luck, the strategy goes, voters will compare this kind of Biden-led normal with the inevitable absurdity of divided government (picture a GOP-majority House impeaching Biden every 20 minutes for two years and no laws ever passing) and decide to keep the status quo. Democrats hope to be rewarded with a slightly larger Senate majority—of the 34 seats up in 2022, Republicans must defend 20 to the Democrats’ 14—and maintain or expand the current narrow House majority. Then, theoretically, Democrats can tackle the big structural problems. Crucially, the 2022 strategy addresses GOP voter suppression efforts not by preventing them from happening but by asking Democrats to work harder—to “out-organize” them.

The problem is that normal politics fit normal times, and the current political environment is definitely not normal. This rather hopeful strategy, requiring numerous breaks to fall Democrats’ way, is a sign that the party has given up hope of being able to meaningfully address any of the institutional advantages that Republicans are using to march the country toward pseudo-democracy with entrenched minority rule.

The Democrats, it seems, are hoping that a good dose of normalcy will win out over a lack of action on:

  • Addressing the structural GOP advantage in the Senate by pushing a vote on statehood for D.C. or, if its citizens choose to pursue it, Puerto Rico. For the second time in a year, the House has passed a D.C. statehood bill, a vote easier for House reps to make when they’re certain that the bill isn’t going anywhere in the Senate. It has 45 Senate cosponsors there, including majority leader Chuck Schumer, but getting the five more Senate supporters needed to make the bill law appears to be hopeless, and trying to change minds does not appear high on Schumer’s list of priorities. Symbolic action—the “Hey, we tried” strategy—accomplishes nothing.
  • Internal Senate reforms like eliminating or at least meaningfully modifying the filibuster. Venerating a rule with no constitutional standing that has largely functioned as a defense of the status quo and white supremacy makes absolutely no sense, but that’s Democratic “moderates” for you. Biden appears not to support total elimination but has voiced support for half-measures like a “carve-out” for voting rights legislation or a reversion to the “talking filibuster” that would at least increase the costs of obstructionism. Even that appears to be a long shot right now.
  • Reforming the federal courts, including expanding the Supreme Court. Both Biden and most Senate Democrats have rejected this as undesirable or impossible. This means key rulings on the panoply of Republican voter suppression laws (and challenges to election results) will happen before a court with a conservative majority embracing contemporary right-wing interpretations of how elections should work. That’s bad.
  • Even the business of confirming judges has been a failure. Since the president’s inauguration, the Senate has confirmed a grand total of nine Biden appointees to the federal courts. Twenty-six additional Biden appointments are awaiting Senate action. Remember, a single Democratic senator’s death, retirement, or resignation could end the bare majority Democrats currently hold. Mitch McConnell is no doubt thrilled to let Democrats focus on bipartisan spending bills at the cost of letting judicial confirmations languish. “We’re busy doing other things” isn’t good enough. This is a crisis. Act like it.
  • Voting rights. This cannot be said often or loudly enough. Recent laws—at least 30 major antidemocratic “reforms” have been passed in 18 states—in states like Texas, Arkansas, and Georgia restrict ballot access and, worse, codify the kind of post-hoc election theft Trump attempted in 2020. The Georgia laws are especially ominous, allowing state election officials to take over and replace local election boards in addition to a rash of measures designed to limit mail-in and early voting. The stage is set for Georgia Republicans to invalidate ballots on whatever ridiculous pretense they concoct on the spot. The 2020 election demonstrated how much difference a handful of ballots can make—and the extent of the delusions that conservatives are capable of internalizing about “voter fraud.” There is no way for voters to “out-organize” statutory power to decide which votes count.
  • Redistricting once again will be a partisan cudgel for Republicans. Of the 99 state legislative chambers in the United States, Republicans hold the majority in 61. That’s a whopping disadvantage for Democrats (though note that legislative involvement in redistricting varies by state). In one humiliating case, Oregon Democrats have a majority in both legislative chambers but cut a deal to make Republicans equal partners in redistricting in exchange for allowing the reading of bills in the legislature. The suicidal pattern of Democrats’ pursuing “neutral” redistricting as an antipode to Republicans seeking partisan advantage will worsen.

Certainly Biden and the House and Senate leaders have accomplished something by passing the infrastructure bill, but that accomplishment is skimpy when it stands next to a list of what isn’t being done. If Democrats lose the Senate because, say, Raphael Warnock’s successful defense of his Georgia Senate seat is invalidated by baseless fraud claims from state Republican election officials, the infrastructure bill won’t offer much comfort.

In the aftermath of 2020, many Democrats learned the wrong lessons, that moderation will win out and that, broadly speaking, The System Works. In reality, Biden won narrow victories in several key states; Democrats lost House seats; and only a superhuman effort in Georgia led by Stacey Abrams and relying on the sweat of hundreds of street-level organizers achieved control of the Senate. Democrats needed to come out of that experience ready to govern like this will be their last chance to rectify the antidemocratic lurch of the Republican Party. Rather than doing whatever it takes and by whatever means necessary, they’re banking on a return to normal politics to fire up enough voters to “out-organize” Republican erosion of electoral legitimacy.

It’s a helluva gamble, and if it doesn’t work, a neutered infrastructure bill will be a meager consolation prize.

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Uyghur refugee vote by Canada MPs angers China

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OTTAWA –

The Chinese government says a motion MPs passed Wednesday to provide asylum to persecuted Uyghurs amounts to political manipulation by Canada.

MPs including Prime Mister Justin Trudeau unanimously called on Ottawa to design a program that would bring 10,000 people of Turkic origin, including Uyghurs, to Canada from countries other than China.

They passed a motion that acknowledges reports that Uyghurs outside China have been sent back to their country of birth, where they have faced arrest as part of Beijing’s crackdown on Muslim groups.

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Foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said in Beijing that people in the Xinjiang region live in peaceful harmony, contradicting widespread reports of forced labour and sexual violence.

An English translation by the ministry said Canada should “stop politically manipulating Xinjiang-related issues for ulterior motives,” and Ottawa is “spreading disinformation and misleading the public.”

The non-binding motion said the government should come up with the outline of a resettlement program by May 12 that would begin in 2024 and meet its target within two years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.

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Republicans push to remove Ilhan Omar from foreign affairs panel

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Washington, DC – In one of his first moves since becoming speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy is leading an effort to block Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from serving on the chamber’s Foreign Affairs Committee over her past criticism of Israel.

On Wednesday, the Republican majority in the House advanced a resolution to remove Omar from the panel. Democrats opposed the move, accusing McCarthy of bigotry for targeting the politician – a former refugee of Somali descent who is one of only two Muslim women serving in the US Congress.

A few Republicans initially opposed McCarthy’s effort, casting doubt over his ability to pass the resolution against Omar, given the GOP’s narrow majority.

But on Wednesday, all 218 House Republicans present voted to move forward with the measure, as Democrats remained united in support of Omar with 209 votes. A final vote is expected on Thursday as progressives rally around Omar.

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The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) defended Omar, calling her an “esteemed and invaluable” legislator.

“You cannot remove a Member of Congress from a committee simply because you do not agree with their views. This is both ludicrous and dangerous,” CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal said in a statement on Monday.

The resolution

The resolution aimed at Omar, introduced by Ohio Republican Max Miller on Tuesday, cites numerous controversies involving the congresswoman’s criticism of Israel and US foreign policy.

“Congresswoman Omar clearly cannot be an objective decision-maker on the Foreign Affairs Committee given her biases against Israel and against the Jewish people,” Miller said in a statement.

Omar retorted by saying there was nothing “objectively true” about the resolution, adding that “if not being objective is a reason to not serve on committees, no one would be on committees”.

While the Republican resolution accuses Omar of anti-Semitism, it only invokes remarks relating to Israel, not the Jewish people.

For example, the measure calls out the congresswoman for describing Israel as an “apartheid state”, although leading human rights groups – including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – have also accused Israel of imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians.

Early in her congressional career in 2019, Omar faced a firestorm of criticism when she suggested that political donations from pro-Israel lobby groups – including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – drive support for Israel in Washington.

Omar later apologised for that remark but Palestinian rights advocates say accusations of anti-Semitism against Israel’s critics aim to stifle the debate around Israeli government policies.

In the past two years, AIPAC and other pro-Israel organisations spent millions of dollars in congressional elections to defeat progressives who support Palestinian human rights, including Michigan’s Andy Levin, a left-leaning, Jewish former House member.

‘Different standards’

Although the Democratic Party is standing behind Omar now, the Republican resolution prominently features previous criticism against the congresswoman by top Democrats.

Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, an advocacy and research group, said Republicans are trying to validate their talking points against Omar by using the statements and actions of Democrats.

“They own this,” she said of Democrats who previously attacked Omar. “They made a decision in the last few years to jump on board and score political points at Ilhan’s expense … And that decision is now the basis for the resolution that is being used to throw her off the committee.”

Friedman added that Omar and her fellow Muslim-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib are held to “different standards” when it comes to addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Both legislators were the subject of racist attacks by former President Donald Trump who in 2019 tweeted that they, along with other progressive congresswomen of colour, “should go back to the broken and crime-infested places from which they came”.

Omar in particular became a frequent target of Trump’s anti-refugee rhetoric in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. At one rally in 2019, Trump failed to intervene as his supporters chanted “send her back” in reference to Omar.

Friedman said attacks on Omar appeal to the Republican base and play well for the party politically.

“It’s a really handy way to embarrass and corner Democrats because when Democrats vote against this tomorrow, the Republican argument is going to be: ‘I don’t get it. You said all these things [against Omar]. Why are you not holding her accountable?’ Politically, this is just fantastic for them.”

For her part, Omar has remained defiant, calling McCarthy’s effort to remove her from the committee, against initial opposition from his own caucus, “pathetic”.

Yasmine Taeb, legislative and political director at MPower Change Action Fund, a Muslim-American advocacy group, praised Omar’s commitment to a “human rights-centered foreign policy”.

“Rep. Omar speaks truth to power – a rarity in Congress. And House Republican leadership would rather waste time by attacking a progressive Black Muslim woman and pushing a far-right agenda than working on addressing the needs of the American people,” Taeb told Al Jazeera in an email.

Omar has been a vocal proponent of human rights and diplomacy in Congress. While her comments about Israel often make headlines, she criticises other countries too – including those in the Middle East – for human rights violations.

Still, critics accuse her of perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes in her criticism of Israel and even allies have described some of her comments as “sloppy”, if not malicious.

On Thursday, Win Without War, a group that promotes diplomacy in US foreign policy, decried the Republican push against Omar as an attempt to strip the House Foreign Affairs Committee of a “progressive champion and skilled legislator who challenges the political status quo”.

“Rep. Omar has helped raise the bar for progressive foreign policy in Congress. She has steadfastly advocated for cuts to the Pentagon budget, held US allies accountable for human rights abuses, and confronted the racism and Islamophobia present in US foreign policy,” Win Without War executive director Sara Haghdoosti said in a statement.

Committee wars

Congressional committees serve as specialised microcosms of Congress. The panels advance legislation, conduct oversight and hold immense power over the legislative process.

Usually, the party in power appoints the chairs and majority members of committees, while the opposition party names its own legislators to the panels.

But back in 2021, Democrats voted to remove Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene from her assigned committees for past conspiratorial, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments.

That same year, the Democratic House majority also formally rebuked Paul Gosar, another far-right Republican, for sharing an animated video that depicted him killing Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Now, Greene is an outspoken proponent of removing Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“No one should be on that committee with that stance towards Israel,” Greene said earlier this week. “In my opinion, I think it’s the wrong stance for any member of Congress of the United States – having that type of attitude towards our great ally, Israel.”

After Greene was stripped of her committee assignments, McCarthy had openly promised payback against the Democrats if they became the minority in the House, an event that came to pass in the 2022 midterm elections.

“You’ll regret this. And you may regret this a lot sooner than you think,” McCarthy said at that time.

The newly elected speaker has also blocked Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from joining the intelligence committee. Schiff was the former chair of the panel.

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman George Santos, who is facing calls to step down for lying about his heritage and professional and personal history, “temporarily recused” himself from committee assignments as he is being investigated over his campaign conduct.

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Former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen steps down as MP

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Member of Parliament and former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen has resigned her seat in the House of Commons.

Bergen, 58, has represented the Manitoba riding of Portage—Lisgar since 2008. She served as interim leader of the Conservatives and leader of the Opposition from February to September 2022. Prior to that, she served as deputy leader of the Conservatives.

In a video posted to Twitter Wednesday, Bergen said she has submitted a letter of resignation, “ending an incredible and very fulfilling 14 years.”

Bergen thanked her constituents, family, volunteers, staff and political colleagues “on both sides of the aisle, regardless of your political stripe.”

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Bergen announced in September of last year that she would not seek reelection. Pierre Poilievre replaced her as Conservative leader that month.

Bergen did not give a specific reason for her resignation and did not mention any future plans.

“I’m choosing to leave now not because I’m tired or I’ve run out of steam. In fact, it’s the exact opposite,” she said in the video.

“I feel hopeful and re-energized. Hopeful for our strong and united Conservative Party, and our caucus, under the courageous and principled leadership of my friend, Pierre Poilievre.”

Bergen ended her goodbye message on a hopeful note.

“With God’s grace and God’s help, I believe that the best is yet to come. Thank you so much Portage—Lisgar, and thank you Canada.”

The Toronto Star was the first to report the story.

“On behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada, thank you Candice for your leadership, your devotion to our Conservative movement and your service to the people of Portage—Lisgar, and all Canadians,” Poilievre said in a tweet Wednesday.

The news means there will be a byelection in Portage—Lisgar to replace Bergen.

Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen announced last week that he’d step down as an MLA to seek the federal Conservative nomination in the riding.

The death of MP Jim Carr late last year set up a byelection in another Manitoba riding — Winnipeg South Centre. The Alberta riding of Calgary Heritage and the Ontario riding of Oxford are also up for byelections later this year.

“I thank her for her many years of service,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said of Bergen in a media scrum Wednesday.

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