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North Carolina U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn calls Volodymyr Zelenskyy a “thug”

Video critiquing Ukrainian leader comes to light on same day newspaper reveals Cawthorn was busted for driving on revoked license

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

North CarolinaASHEVILLE, North Carolina (CFP) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy may be viewed around the world as a bold freedom fighter standing up for his people against a tyrannical dictator – but not, apparently, by North Carolina Republican U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn.

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U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-North Carolina

WRAL-TV in Raleigh obtained a video of Cawthorn speaking at a constituent event where he calls Zelenskyy a “thug” and tells the audience to “remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”

It was unclear where the video was shot. However, Republican political guru Karl Rove, who disclosed the video’s existence in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, said the remarks were made at a town hall event in Asheville over the weekend.

On Wednesday, Cawthorn was one of just 17 House members who voted against imposing an oil embargo on Russia for invading Ukraine.

The disclosure of the video came on the same day that the Asheville Citizen Times revealed that Cawthorn had been charged with driving on a revoked driver’s license after being pulled over on March 3 in Cleveland County, when a state trooper saw his vehicle cross the center line.

It is the second time Cawthorn has been charged with driving on a revoked license, and he also has two pending citations for speeding in Buncombe and Polk counties, the Citizen Times reported.

He could face up to 20 days in jail if convicted for driving on a revoked license.

Shortly after WRAL reported on the video, Cawthorn took to Twitter to try to walk back his remarks, calling Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine “disgusting.”

However, he also said “leaders, including Zelensky, should NOT push misinformation on America,” posting a link to a Reddit site that accuses Ukraine of spreading misinformation about the war.

Cawthorn also said that while he was “praying for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” he was also praying that “we are not drawn into conflict based on foreign leaders pushing misinformation.”

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Sound and Fury: Will Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s impassioned speeches impact voting rights results?

White House chooses historic, symbolic setting in Atlanta to draw line in the sand with Republicans, Democrats hesitant about changing filibuster

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

GeorgiaATLANTA (CFP) — The setting was both symbolic and historic. To promote their push for federal voting rights legislation in the U.S. Senate, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris chose Atlanta, the cradle of the civil rights movement, and spoke on the campus shared by three historically black colleges with a rich legacy of activism.

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President Joe Biden gives major address on voting rights in Atlanta (From YouTube)

Georgia is also the state where Republicans undertook a wholesale revision of state election laws after Biden carried the state in 2020 and Democrats flipped two U.S. Senate seats, based on claims of voting fraud for which no evidence has yet to emerge.

However, whether Biden and Harris’s dramatic exhortations will affect the outcome of the Senate vote in the coming days remains very much up in the air.

While that result could have impact nationwide, it will be of particular interest in three Southern states – Georgia, Florida and Texas – where Republicans control the political machinery and are striving to thwart any Democratic advance by reworking the rules to their advantage.

If the 50 Democrats in the Senate don’t unite to find a way around united Republican opposition to the bill, Democrats in Georgia fear their 2020 breakthrough will be short-lived, and the uphill task Democrats face in Texas and Florida will be even steeper.

The headline from Biden’s January 11 speech was his most full-throated endorsement yet of changing the Senate’s filibuster rule to advance the voting rights legislation on a simple majority vote.

Biden argued that if state legislatures, in the South and elsewhere, can pass laws restricting mail and in-person voting, ballot drop boxes, and even handing out food and water to voters stuck in long lines, then senators should be able to stop them with the same simple majority.

But U.S. senators, perhaps above all else, enjoy their perks and traditions, and the filibuster, which allows a small number of senators to thwart the will of a majority, is one of the most cherished.

In essence, it makes every senator a king, which can go to some of their heads.

From a small “d” democratic perspective, the filibuster is indefensible; indeed, no state legislature anywhere in the country operates this way.

But its supporters – currently led by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky – argue that it acts as a check on the untrammeled will of a majority.

Utah U.S. Senator Mitt Romney even advanced an argument to support the filibuster that is the stuff of Democratic nightmares — what if Donald Trump wins in 2024, Republicans control both houses of Congress, and Democrats have no tools to stop them from doing whatever they want?

Support for the filibuster is not just a Republican view – it is also held by some Democrats, including most notably, but not exclusively, by West Virginia U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. Until recently, it was held by Biden himself.

Manchin, who as a former secretary of state once oversaw elections in his home state, has expressed support for the underlying voting rights legislation. Indeed, the version the Senate is now considering, the Freedom to Vote Act, was written by Manchin as part of a quixotic quest to find a bipartisan way forward.

But Manchin has made it clear that even though he wrote the bill, he won’t blow up the filibuster to get it passed, and he wants any change in Senate rules to be made on a bipartisan basis, which McConnell has made clear isn’t going to happen.

Biden apparently believes that his Atlanta speech – which cast the senators’ filibuster vote not in institutional Senate terms but as a moral issue of right or wrong, justice or injustice – will change Manchin’s mind, even though the West Virginian has given little indication he’s receptive to that argument.

Biden and Harris drew a rhetorical line in the sand, with sharp language; Biden went so far as to liken opponents of moving forward with voting rights legislation to George Wallace and Jefferson Davis. The president and vice present took an unambiguous, firm stand that will no doubt please the Democratic base and voting rights activists, some of whom boycotted the speech to protest what they see as lack of action from the White House.

But the line having been drawn, it is also unclear what the next steps might be if Manchin and other Democrats balk at the filibuster reform needed to get the bills through. There can be political benefit in trying and failing; there’s much less political wisdom in trying something when there isn’t a clear way forward.

In his speech, Biden also castigated Republican senators for unanimously opposing this voting rights legislation, contrasting that position with the actions of Republican senators in the past (including Strom Thurmond) and Republican presidents who supported extensions of the Voting Rights Act.

Yet, that denies the reality that some Republican senators’ objections are not to voting rights per se but specific parts of this legislation, including limits on partisan gerrymandering, greater federal oversight of state elections, changes to campaign financing laws, and a fund to match donor contributions to political campaigns.

Opposing creation of a vehicle to lavish more money to the political grifter class, or defending the primacy of states in election administration as set out in the Constitution, does not make someone Bull Connor. Romney and Maine’s Susan Collins are not opposing this because they are power-mad racists bent on the destruction of democracy, and, one might argue, casting them as such isn’t likely to change their minds.

Democrats have a strong argument here that Republican efforts to change voting laws aren’t necessary because the rationale on which they are based – that the 2020 election was rife with fraud – is specious. It is also the case that the changes will make it more difficult for Democrats to win elections in Georgia, Florida, Texas and elsewhere, which Democrats should oppose out of plain common sense.

But the ultimate success of Biden and Harris’s sound and fury — casting the fight over this legislation as a black-or-white moral imperative and its opponents as maliciously misguided — is rather less clear.

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Democrat Joe Manchin deals death blow to Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill

West Virginia senator drops bomb in TV interview, enraging Democratic left and earning White House rebuke

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WashingtonWASHINGTON (CFP) – For more than five months, the political class, and the chattering class, in Washington have been obsessed with one question: Will West Virginia Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin support President Joe Biden’s ambitious $2 trillion Build Back Better plan, or won’t he?

In one of the year’s most dramatic political interviews, Manchin gave his final answer Sunday morning.

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West Virginia Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin announces decision on Build Back Better on Fox News Sunday

Joe’s a no. And with every Republican in the Senate also opposed, his no – if he doesn’t change his mind – deals a death blow to the bill in the evenly divided chamber.

“If I can’t go home and explain it to the people of West Virginia, I can’t vote for it,” Manchin said on Fox News Sunday. “And I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t.”

Moderator Brett Baier, who appeared to be taken aback by Manchin’s bombshell, asked, “This is a no?”

“This is no,” Manchin quietly repeated.

Watch Manchin’s full interview on Fox News Sunday

His announcement came at the end of a tense week of negotiations over Build Back Better before senators left town for their Christmas break. Manchin had been the subject of intense media attention and pressure from colleagues and the White House, prompting the usually amiable lawmaker to lose his temper at one point and shout an explicative at a reporter.

Politico reported that just before he was about to go on the air Sunday, Manchin dispatched an aide to the White House to let administration officials know what was about to happen – and then rebuffed a phone call to try to get him to change his mind.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki then released a statement with extraordinarily strong language aimed at a senator from the president’s own party.

“Senator Manchin’s comments this morning on Fox are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances,” Psaki said. “They represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the President and the Senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate.”

Manchin explained that his decision was driven by concerns about inflation, the federal debt, and the looming specter that the COVID-19 omicron variant will extend the duration and severity of the pandemic.

He also complained that Democrats pushing the bill were trying to disguise the full, eventual cost of the total package by artificially phasing out provisions after short periods of time, rather than funding a smaller, more affordable package of priorities for a 10-year period.

“That’s not being genuine with my constituents in West Virginia,” he said, pointing to a Congressional Budget Office estimate that fully funding all of the priorities in the bill for 10 years would cost $4.5 trillion.

But those explanations fell flat with many of his Democratic colleagues, who erupted at the news of his decision.

“I think he’s going to have a lot of explaining to do to the people of West Virginia, to tell them why he doesn’t have the guts to take on the drug companies to lower the costs of prescription drugs, why he is not prepared to expand home health care” said Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union.

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the House Progressive Caucus, said Manchin “has betrayed his commitment not only to the President and Democrats in Congress but most importantly, to the American people.”

“He routinely touts that he is a man of his word, but he can no longer say that. West Virginians, and the country, see clearly who he is,” Jayapal said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Texas U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett likened Manchin to the Grinch who “just stole Christmas for many and don’t expect any last minute Dr. Seuss happy ending.”

“After 6 months of talking and talking, Joe Manchin finally made it unequivocal … he’s with the Republicans,” Doggett said in a Tweet. “What an outrage!”

Lawmakers on the Democratic left who style themselves as “Progressives” were particularly irked because they reluctantly agreed to go along with a bipartisan infrastructure bill that Manchin supported in exchange for a promise from Biden to push Build Back Better through the Senate.

However, New York U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez — who refused to go along with that bargain — tweeted out an I-told-you-so after Manchin’s appearance on Fox.

“People can be mad at Manchin all they want, but we knew he would do this months ago,” she tweeted. “Where we need answers from are the leaders who promised a path on [Build Back Better] if [infrastructure] passed: Biden & Dem leaders … So they need to fix it.”

Sanders said he wants the Senate to vote on Build Back Better, even if it fails, saying if Manchin “doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world.”

However, Manchin told Baier that he has no problem with a Senate vote on the bill – which he will oppose.

“I’ve tried everything humanly possible,” he said. “I can’t get there.”

Manchin’s no is unlikely to harm him politically in West Virginia. Even though the state has many economically disadvantaged residents who would benefit from Biden’s social spending, it is also deeply conservative, handing Biden a 39-point loss in 2020.

Manchin, who is 74, is also not up for re-election until 2024 and has been non-committal on whether he’ll run again.

However, Manchin’s increasingly bitter dispute with members of his own party is likely to heighten speculation that he might change parties (which he has dismissed) or leave the Democrats to become independent, which he had previously offered to do if he became a “problem” for his caucus.

A party switch would flip control of the Senate to Republicans, which could also happen if he left to become an independent but caucused with the GOP.

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U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace is lone Southern Republican to support Steve Bannon contempt vote

South Carolina lawmaker was one of just nine Republicans to support criminal referral for former Donald Trump aide

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

South CarolinaWASHINGTON (CFP) — South Carolina U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace was the lone Southern Republican to vote to hold former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the panel investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-South Carolina

The House voted 229 to 220 on October 21 to hold Bannon in contempt for refusing to comply with the committee’s subpoenas for documents and a deposition. Mace was one of just nine Republicans to support the contempt citation, which Republican leaders had lobbied their caucus to oppose.

Mace, a first-term lawmaker already facing three 2022 primary challengers in her Lowcountry district, cast her politically risky vote as a defense of the Constitution and warned Republicans that they are better off leaving the subpoena power intact in case they take the House majority next year.

“We will want this same tool in our toolbox to release the spigot, investigating the crises facing our nation: the southern border, the botched exit from Afghanistan, and Antifa, for starters,” she said in a statement after her vote. “We will need the same subpoena power upheld today.”

But Mace also took a swipe at the work of the January 6th committee, which she voted against when it was created by the House in June.

“I want us to imagine the positive impact on our country if Congress invested the same amount of time, energy and effort into investigating violent acts and domestic terrorism within groups such as Antifa or Black Lives Matter,” she said. “We’d all be better and safer for it.”

Bannon has based his refusal to cooperate with the committee on a claim of executive privilege, which has been asserted by Trump. But Mace said Bannon needed to appear before the committee and make that claim himself, rather than ignoring the subpoena.

“Executive privilege protects the advice given to the President. That protection can be invoked when called before Congress,” she said. “When Congress issues a subpoena, that individual must appear before Congress and invoke that privilege.”

Mace was sharply critical of Trump after the January 6th attack, but she did not vote in favor of his impeachment. Her vote to hold Bannon in contempt is likely to fuel complaints from Trump supporters in her district that she is insufficiently supportive of the former president.

All of her three current Republican challengers — T.J. Allen, Ingrid Centurion or Lynz Piper-Loomis — are political newcomers, and none have raised significant money. But the filing deadline isn’t until March, leaving time for another big-name candidate to join the field with Trump’s blessing

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Louisiana US. Sen. Bill Cassidy is only Southern Republican to support Jan. 6 commission

All 5 Southern Democrats vote for bipartisan independent panel to take deep dive into Capitol assault by pro-Trump mob

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WashingtonWASHINGTON (CNN) — U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana stood alone among his Southern Republican colleagues Friday in supporting formation of an independent bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana

The bill setting up the commission died after supporters fell six votes short of the 60 votes needed to break a Republican filibuster led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who said the panel would add an “extraneous layer” of investigation into events at the U.S. Capitol, which was stormed by a pro-Trump mob trying to block certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College win.

All five Southern Senate Democrats — Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of Georgia — voted in favor of the independent probe.

Eighteen Southern Republicans voted no, while four did not vote, including U.S. Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, who, along with Cassidy, voted to convict Donald Trump in an impeachment trial for his actions that day.

The three other Southern Republicans who did not vote on the commission bill were Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, and Richard Shelby of Alabama. All three had previously indicated that they were opposed to the commission.

In a statement defending his decision not to support the commission, Burr said several investigations are already underway “being led by the committees with jurisdiction, and I believe, as I always have, this is the appropriate course. I don’t believe establishing a new commission is necessary or wise.”

But Cassidy warned his colleagues that if the independent commission wasn’t approved, Democrats in the House would push ahead with an investigation by a select committee “the nature of which will be entirely dictated by Democrats and would stretch on for years.”

The proposed investigative commission — modeled after the panel that investigated the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 — would have had 10 members, half appointed by each party. Subpoenas could only have been issued if agreed to on both sides, and the investigation would have wrapped up by the end of 2021, nine months before the 2022 midterm election.

When the measure passed the House, 35 Republicans had voted for it. But when it got over to the Senate, McConnell began urging GOP members to oppose it as unnecessary and potentially politically detrimental.

Trump also came out firmly against the idea, calling it a “Democrat trap” and castigating House Republicans who supported it.

Manchin, the leading centrist voice among Senate Democrats, had been particularly forceful in lobbying his Republican colleagues to support the investigation, saying there was “no excuse for Republicans not to vote for this unless they don’t want to know the truth.”

But Manchin also refused to budge on his long-standing opposition to eliminating the filibuster, the procedure that allowed Republicans to block the commission even though 54 senators were in favor of it.

The Republicans who voted against formation of the commission were:

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