News You May Have Missed: January 17, 2021

To see which Republican members of Congress have been embedded in the project of trying to overthrow the results of the 2020 election, see our attached chart, newly updated. You’ll be able to see who voted to invalidate the Pennsylvania and Arizona votes, who spoke at the January 6 rally, who voted against impeachment–along with who refused to wear a mask in lockdown. You can write, tweet or phone them if you are so inclined.


1. A possible repeat of the January 6 insurrection

On Sunday night, defense officials told the AP that “they fear a possible inside attack at inauguration, will have National Guard troops vetted.” 25,000 National Guard troops are in Washington for the event. Attacks are also expected at state capitals, according to a January 14 piece in the Washington Post.

While Inauguration Day is the center of the concern, the Post reported that various federal and state experts fear that “President Trump’s incitement of his supporters before their attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 has galvanized a nationwide extremist movement and fueled those determined to disrupt the transfer of power to President-elect Joe Biden and violently challenge the legitimacy of the election for months — and possibly years.”

While it has become difficult to ascertain these extremists’ plans since Parler does not have a host and thousands of Twitter accounts have been shut down, security researchers downloaded 70 terabytes of data before it was closed, according to Cyber News, so information could emerge from that data. RLX

2. Who they were and what they did

Trump may have thought that the rioters on January 6 were a ragged bunch, but in fact the rallies before the assault on the Capitol were organized by former congressional staff, White House aides, and the Republican Attorneys General Association,  according to the Washington Post. A number of well-paid former campaign staff were involved, the AP reported, including the Trump campaign’s Director of Operations. The campaign told the AP that if any former staffers took part in the event, “they did not do so at the direction of the Trump campaign.” However, the Director of )perations is still on the books as of January, 2021. A GOP fundraiser who helped organize the rally was paid $20,000 a month until November.

The AP also reviewed a great deal of publicly available documentation on 120 of those attending, including social media posts, public records, court filings, and so forth. As the AP put it, based on that review, “the crowd was overwhelmingly made up of longtime Trump supporters, including Republican Party officials, GOP political donors, far-right militants, white supremacists, off-duty police, members of the military and adherents of the QAnon myth that the government is secretly controlled by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophile cannibals.”

At least 13 off-duty police officers from around the country participated in the riot, the Washington Post reports, along with 21 former members of the military. In another article, the Post notes that a number of veterans see the various conspiracy theories surrounding the election as congruent with their service. One veteran told a Roanoke television station, “I am a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan where I was wounded severely. I fought and bled for the rights of all Americans.”

If you want to see what the scene looked like from the point of view of the riots, ProPublica stitched together publicly available video from Parler before the site was taken down. It’s unnerving. RLS

3. Complicity and failures of security in the January 6 insurrection

On January 5, an FBI office in Virginia issued a warning that “extremists” intended to travel to Washington to engage in violent acts and “war”; however, a senior FBI official had claimed that there was no such intelligence, according to the Washington Post, and the FBI had dismissed any concerns about a security threat on the 6th. The Post quotes the document as including an on-line post which read, “‘Be ready to fight. Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood from their BLM and Pantifa slave soldiers being spilled. Get violent. Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die. NOTHING else will achieve this goal.”

The Capitol police chief who resigned after the insurrection said he never received the FBI warning. However, on January 3, the Capitol police intelligence service released a report warning of a violent assault on Congress; the Washington Post published a picture of the warning, which talked about the likely presence of lethal weapons and the fact that Trump had encouraged rioters to act. The FBI claims that it did not receive the Capitol police warning.

The Capitol police chief said he requested on January 4 that the National Guard be on standby, but the House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger rejected the idea. The police chief said he urgently requested National Guard support when rioters broke through the barricades, but they did not arrive for four hours.

Unusual tours of the Capitol complex took place in the days before the January 6 insurrection, even though tours have been prohibited since March. These visitors had to have been given access by a member of Congress, Rep Mikie Sherrill (D New Jersey), a military veteran, explained in an interview with Rachel Maddow. Sherrill was not prepared to say which members of Congress had authorized these tours.

ProPublica has collected “scores” of tweets advocating violence at the Capitol in the weeks leading up to the insurrection. RLS

4. Democrats get COVID from sheltering with unmasked Republicans.

It’s not news that many Congressional Republicans have been refusing to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, putting their colleagues at risk. During the January 6  insurrection as lawmakers were sheltering in tight quarters, a group of six maskless Republicans were offered masks, but refused to take them. The Washington Post reports that Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) left the secure room before the Capitol had been cleared, saying, “we’re not going to survive a terrorist attack to be exposed to a deadly virus.” Since then, three Democratic members of the House have tested positive for COVID-19 and believe they contracted the virus while in close proximity with maskless Republicans: Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), a 75-year-old cancer survivor; Pramila Jayapal (D-WA); and Brad Schneider. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has since imposed stiff, daily fines for those not complying with House mask requirements. S-HP

Let the maskless Republicans know what you think about the way they put the health of their colleagues at risk in an already-fraught situation.

5. Capitol police exempt from the Freedom of Information Act

You may not have known that the Capitol Police are exempted under law from the Freedom of Information Act, which means that journalists, policy organization employees, and ordinary Americans will not be able to request access to documents relating to the January 6 insurrection.

You can urge Congress to eliminate the Capitol Police’s FOIA exemption while they are in the process of investigating all that went wrong on January 6—we want and deserve access to those documents. You can find your Senators here and your Representatives here.

6. News you may have missed during the insurrection

The insurrection, the pandemic, climate change, the impeachment–it’s all linked together, of course. But as Columbia Journalism Review pointed out, many stories have fallen off the media radar since the insurrection on January 6. Partly, of course, this is because there could be another one on Wednesday. But it’s also the function of the news cycle, and the way that the news about the insurrection keeps unfolding, becoming worse with every new revelation. Still, it’s newsworthy that US deaths from COVID will hit 400,000, likely on Monday, CJR points out. 2020 (along with 2016) was the hottest year on record. The Michigan governor, along with eight other officials, are being charged in Flint for neglect of duty for their handling of the water crisis. And Trump succeeded in getting everyone on his list from federal death row executed–for reasons that defy speculation. The CJR article has links to all these stories and more. RLS

7. Midnight policy changes

The outgoing Trump administration is making major policy changes on their way out the door; ProPublica is tracking 69 of these. Among them: the H1B visa process will be changed to prioritize the most highly paid workers rather than the most needed workers, eg., in healthcare. Disabled veterans will be less likely to qualify for assistive medical devices. Faith-based organizations will be shielded from having to observe federal funding conditions that conflict with religious practices. Judges’ discretion around immigration orders will be removed, so that they will no longer be able to stop deportations. Asylum eligibility will be drastically reduced. Wages will be lowered for immigrant farmworkers. You can read about these in more detail in ProPublica.

A Securities and Exchange Commission whistleblower has blown the whistle on the government’s plan to lower the fees paid to whistleblowers, according to ProPublica. These fees are necessary to offset the risks that whistleblowers take, risking their jobs to bring corporate wrongdoers to justice. Without them, high-level white collar crime would go undetected.

In a particularly cruel rule change, a mentally ill prisoner at Guantanamo has been denied a medical examination. A judge ordered that rules in place since 2002 must be changed so that detainees could receive a medical review, according to the New York Times, but outgoing  Secretary of the Army, Ryan D. McCarthy, established a new rule excluding Guantanamo prisoners from the order. Without the review, the prisoner cannot be sent home to Saudi Arabia for psychiatric care.  RLS

You can urge Congress, President Biden, Cabinet Departments and agencies to complete a review of cruel, corrupt and unfair Trump administration actions and to nullify them as quickly as possible. Remind Congress that they have the power to use the Congressional Review Act, if they move swiftly enough. See key figures to write or call here.

8. On the way out the door, Trump turns back the clock on civil rights

The Trump administration also is attempting to eliminate protections for minority groups–including women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people–which the New York Times said “would mark one of the most significant shifts in civil rights enforcement in generations.” Essentially, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act now prohibit discrimination against a number of protected groups by organizations who receive federal funding. The new rule would prohibit discrimination only if it were intentional, not if the action simply had a “disparate impact.” Civil rights groups point out that the “disparate impact” element of civil rights law is essential, as “intent” is so difficult to prove. Maintaining the “disparate impact” section of the law is essential in addressing inequities in education, policing and housing.  President-elect Biden will not be able immediately to reverse this policy, though a new attorney general can put the brakes on enacting it. RLS

9. Katie Porter is needed

To the disappointment of those who are paying attention, Katie Porter will not be serving on the House Financial Affairs Committee during this session of Congress. The reasoning underlying this change is a bit arcane. Democratic caucus rules identify certain committees with demanding workloads as “exclusive” committees—meaning anyone assigned to one of those committee may not have any additional committee appointments.

Congressmembers can, however, request exceptions to this rule. Porter was granted one in the previous session of Congress that allowed her to serve on both the Financial Services Committee and the Oversight and Reform Committee. She requested a second such exception, which was denied, and she is now assigned to the Oversight and Reform and the Natural Resources Committees. Porter will do well, wherever she’s placed, but we will desperately miss her ability to explain financial concepts clearly—and the presence of her whiteboard that she used to crunch numbers to illustrate her points as she made them. The Washington Post notes that moving Porter could be connected to complaints from financial industry figures, who did not appreciate her ability to demonstrate that they didn’t understand how interest is compounded or why $16.50 isn’t a livable wage. Washington Post columnist Helaine Olen mourns the loss of Porter from Financial Services: “If you are an American desperately seeking help with your finances and looking for someone, anyone in Washington to listen, arcane congressional protocols are the least of your concerns. You want a champion. You want a Katie Porter.” S-HP

You can urge members of the Democratic Caucus Steering and Policy Committee, which appoints committee members, to keep Porter on Financial Services because we need her intelligence, concision, and commitment to ordinary Americans


10. Aid workers at risk from terrorist designation of Houthi rebels in Yemen

The State Department declared the Houthi rebels in Yemen terrorists, doubtless to impede Iran from sending them military and medical supplies, according to the New York Times. However, in his rush to get the policy through, outgoing Secretary of State Pompeo neglected to put legal protections in place, so that aid workers who get food and medical supplies to the Houthi people could be accused of aiding terrorism. Representative Gregory W. Meeks, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee told the Times that “the terrorism designation makes it harder to deliver lifesaving assistance in a country already experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. People will suffer and die, and those deaths are entirely preventable.” RLS


11. What Congress needs to do first

If you don’t know about the Congressional Review Act (CRA), you may want to get familiar with it. The CRA allows regulations from U.S. departments and agencies to be cancelled within sixty days of enactment via a majority vote in Congress and the President’s signature. The Republican Trump administration has been racing to achieve a major roll-back of environmental regulations and wildlife protections before Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20. The Washington Post and Politico offer a sampling of some of these recent actions that will need immediate attention from Congress and the executive branch as soon as possible. Recent Trump Administration moves reported by the Washington Post:

◉A“discretionary” decision by interior secretary David Bernhardt to expand logging land within the range of the threatened northern spotted owl from an original—and already substantial—205,000 acres to 3.4 million acres. The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife recently declined scientific recommendations to move the owl’s listing from threatened to endangered;

◉A draft decision from the U.S. Forest Service to allow two mining companies to develop the Resolution Copper Mine on land in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest—land that is sacred to San Carlos Apaches;

◉The opening of 550,000 acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for energy development;

◉The opening of another 9.7 million acres in Alaska to mineral leasing;

◉Approval of a four-lane highway to run through Utah’s Red Cliffs National Conservation Area—lands that have been under federal protection for twenty-five years;

◉An EPA rule that exempts oil refineries, steelmakers, and landfills from future carbon emission limits;

◉The abandonment of an Obama-era plan to restrict the use of three toxic chemicals;

◉Energy Department approval to keep less-efficient furnaces and water heaters, scheduled to be eliminated, on the market;

◉An Interior Department decision to overturn an Obama administration measure that increased federal royalties that oil, gas, and coal have to pay the federal government;

◉A pending Treasury rule that would penalize big banks that refuse to lend to fossil fuel operations.

Recent Trump Administration moves reported by Politico

◉An order from the Office of Management and Budget reinstating a rule from the George W. Bush era that requires “gold standard” health assessments to undergo White House review before release;

◉The overruling of career scientists’ recommendations regarding safe levels of the highly toxic chemical PFBS, which is currently in the drinking water of some 860 thousand Americans. S-HP

You can urge Congress, President Biden, Cabinet Departments and agencies to complete a review of Trump administration actions threatening our environment and/or unfairly catering to the wishes of corporations in the fossil fuel and related industries–and to nullify them as quickly as possible. Remind Congress that they have the power to use the Congressional Review Act, if they move swiftly enough. Key contacts to write or call are here.

12. Want some propaganda with your essential oil?

QAnon is finding its way to adherents by way of wellness sites, reports Cosmopolitan (remarkably but appropriately). The early days of the pandemic were fertile times for this convergence. People off work or working from home were online more, searching for “wellness” in the pandemic. And the government at the time was clearly untrustworthy, so people inclined to mistrust “authoritative” sources were vulnerable to these alternatives. Cosmo describes how trusted wellness advisors talking about ways to stay well and how to protect children began slipping in QAnon content, possibly without knowing it. A central reason why “QAnon messaging was so successful on social media is that many influencers didn’t know (at least at first) that the language they were slipping in between stories on meditation and essential oils was linked to a conspiracy theory whose main goal was to prop up Donald Trump.” RLS


◉The Guardian has a collection of letters, “Dear America,”  by a variety of thinkers and writers with a vision of what America could become. Rebecca Solnit talks about the importance to teaching critical thinking, while Dedrick Asante-Muhammad writes about the need for reparations to end the wealth disparity. Bill McKibben recommends divestment from fossil fuel companies, and Alejandra Gomez argues for grassroots democatic organizing.