Georgia’s Voter Law Shows Trump’s Influence Outlasts His Presidency
The law restricts ballot access for residents, a measure in line with the former president’s false claims of fraud. Here’s the latest in politics.,
A question looming over the last four years — whether Trumpism would outlast Trump — was answered emphatically on Thursday with the passage of a new law in Georgia curbing ballot access for state residents, redefining a national debate on terms dictated by the former president.
Weeks after former President Donald J. Trump tried to overturn President Biden’s victory in the state, Georgia Republicans passed a sweeping measure to restrict an expansion of access to voting that had led to a series of Democratic wins, including victories in two Senate contests earlier this year.
While intended to benefit Georgia Republicans, the measure was very much in line with Mr. Trump’s false claims that expanded voter access had led to massive fraud, and, in turn, his defeat. It was passed on the same day that Mr. Biden criticized efforts by Republican-controlled state legislatures to restrict voting, denouncing what he called a “sick” return to the days of Jim Crow restrictions on Black voters.
“The Republican Party was transformed under Donald Trump in a way that won’t be reversed anytime soon — fanning grievance, disregarding the truth and perpetuating the myth that Trump’s votes weren’t counted,” said Ben LaBolt, an adviser to former President Barack Obama in the White House and on his campaigns. “The Georgia law is part of this battle.”
The new law, signed by the Republican governor, Brian Kemp — who was browbeaten by Mr. Trump for not supporting the effort to overturn the election — introduces more rigid voter identification requirements for absentee balloting, limits drop boxes and expands the legislature’s power over elections.
The Georgia measure will have an outsize impact on Black voters, who make up roughly one-third of the state’s population and vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
The legislation followed Democratic victories that flipped the state at the presidential and Senate levels, and came amid a national movement among Republican-controlled state legislatures to mount the most extensive contraction of voting access in generations.
In the short term, Republican lawmakers say they have regained the political initiative by applying pressure in statehouses. Their efforts have, indeed, prompted an internal Democratic dispute over scrapping the filibuster to void the state-level efforts to restrict ballot access.
But in the long term, Democrats think the strategy could prompt a progressive backlash that would invigorate their party’s base.
In a scene with echoes of the civil rights era, Senator Raphael Warnock, Georgia’s first Black senator since Reconstruction, visited a Democratic state legislator in jail on Thursday after she was arrested for lightly knocking on Mr. Kemp’s door as he was signing the bill.
“What we have witnessed today is a very desperate attempt to lock out and squeeze the people out of their own democracy,” Mr. Warnock said after visiting State Representative Park Cannon in the Fulton County Jail.
“The people are being locked down and locked out of their own democracy,” Mr. Warnock said, adding that the new law only reinforced the determination of Black voters to have their voices heard.
Asked about Ms. Cannon’s arrest, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Friday that “anyone who saw that video would have been deeply concerned by the actions that were taken by law enforcement.”
After two mass shootings in less than a week, President Biden said he did not need to “wait another minute” to address the epidemic of gun violence, calling on the Senate to pass a ban on assault weapons and to close background check loopholes.
So on Thursday, at the first news conference of his presidency, Mr. Biden left gun control advocates dumbstruck and disappointed when he said the key to legislative success was ordering priorities, and that infrastructure — not guns — was next on his list.
“I’m disappointed he has the nerve and audacity to say he’s going to do things in sequential order,” said Maisha Fields, the vice president of organizing for Brady: United Against Gun Violence, a nonprofit group, on a group conference call Friday morning. “It’s out of order to have to bury your child. It’s out of order to be shopping for eggs and to have your life disrupted.”
At his news conference, Mr. Biden was asked specifically about his plans for gun legislation or executive actions on guns. In response, he pivoted to a lengthy explanation of why infrastructure was a bigger priority.
“The next major initiative is, and I’ll be announcing it Friday in Pittsburgh in detail, is to rebuild the infrastructure, both physical and technological infrastructure of this country,” he said.
To some, the response was a pragmatic approach for a president dealing with crises on multiple fronts and a blockade of opposition by Republicans to any gun control measures.
But gun control advocates said they were appalled by his shift in tone on guns from a year ago, when Mr. Biden said on the campaign trail that “every day that we do nothing in response, it is an insult to the innumerable lives across this nation that have been forever shattered by gun violence.”
“I was very frustrated that he pivoted to infrastructure week,” said Igor Volsky, the founder of Gun Down America. That the administration successfully passed a $1.9 trillion rescue plan with no Republican support has only added to his frustration.
“We saw what they can do when they hit the gas pedal,” Mr. Volsky said. “They got it across despite unanimous opposition. That’s the kind of leadership we need to see on this issue.” The House passed two gun control bills earlier this month but they are languishing in the Senate in the face of Republican opposition.
Greg Jackson, an organizer with the Community Justice Action Fund, said, “This crisis is beyond any other crisis we’ve seen.”
Notably absent from the chorus of disapproval was Everytown for Gun Safety, one of the most influential gun violence prevention organizations in the country. “It’s unfortunate they’re not here,” Ms. Fields said, while also noting that each group has its own lane and role to play in a shared mission. John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown, has been pressuring Mr. Biden to act immediately, so far without openly criticizing him for a delay.
A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But Po Murray, chairman of the Newtown Action Alliance, said one of the biggest issues is the administration’s apparent inconsistency on the issue. “Their messaging has been so inconsistent and we’re trying to figure out what’s happening here,” she said. “We pushed for it, we supported him, we expected a better response after the election.”
For now, the administration has been working on three executive actions on guns but has yet to roll them out. One would classify as firearms so-called ghost guns — kits that allow a gun to be assembled from pieces — requiring sales be subject to background checks. Another would fund community violence intervention programs, and the third would strengthen the background checks system, according to congressional aides familiar with the conversations.
Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a leading climate scientist, was recently named to a newly created position as senior climate adviser to NASA. Now he faces the challenge of bringing NASA’s climate science to the public and helping figure out how to apply it to saving the planet.
Dr. Schmidt, who since 2014 had headed NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, will be working with an administration that is making climate policy one of its priorities. The Biden team is adding positions throughout the government for policymakers and experts like Dr. Schmidt who understand the threats facing the planet.
“Climate change is not only an environmental issue that belongs to the E.P.A., it’s not only a science issue that belongs to NASA and NOAA,” said Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University. “Climate change is an everything issue,” she said, and “it needs to be considered by every single federal agency.”
Dr. Schmidt has written some 150 scientific papers, and has an active and sometimes acerbic social media presence. At the Goddard Institute, he led development of one of the most authoritative models of Earth’s climate system.
“Climate change changes what you need to worry about,” he said, and the space agency can help the nation, and the world, figure out what we all need to know. That includes things like “How do we accelerate the information that you need to build better defenses against coastal flooding?” and “What do we really understand about intensifying precipitation?”
In announcing Dr. Schmidt’s appointment, acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said, “This position will provide NASA leadership critical insights and recommendations for the agency’s full spectrum of science, technology, and infrastructure programs related to climate,” though the position will have no separate budget or staff.
The space agency, which launches the satellites that monitor the conditions of the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, snow, ice and more, is one of the wellsprings of hard science that informs us all about climate change. But its leaders have sometimes had a difficult time talking about it.
“Not every administration was interested in calling it ‘climate change,’ the Trump administration most notably,” said Lori Garver, a former NASA deputy administrator who is now CEO of Earthrise, a nonprofit that promotes using satellite data to address global warming.
Ms. Garver said she was “thrilled” by Dr. Schmidt’s appointment, calling it a message that “this will be a top priority for NASA.”
Congress is set to leave town for a two-week recess as one of the most tumultuous stints in Washington in recent memory comes to a close.
After lawmakers faced a deadly attack by a mob of Trump supporters at the Capitol, they spent the following weeks impeaching and acquitting a president, confirming a slew of cabinet members and passing a sweeping $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, one of the largest injections of federal aid since the Great Depression.
On the Senate floor on Thursday, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, listed the policy areas he intended the chamber to focus on when lawmakers returned in April, including voting rights, infrastructure and gun safety. He also said the Senate would consider legislation to “reform our broken immigration system.”
“When the Senate returns to session, our agenda will be no less ambitious than it was over the past few months,” Mr. Schumer said.
At his first formal news conference on Thursday, President Biden said he would do “everything in my power” to pass the voting rights legislation that Democrats were trying to advance through the Senate and called Republican efforts to limit voting in some states “sick” and “un-American.” The news conference came hours before Georgia passed a major law to limit voting access.
But despite his sharp words on voting rights, Mr. Biden said his administration’s “next major initiative” would be infrastructure, an issue that lawmakers from both parties agree should be addressed — though they disagree on details like how to pay for it and what constitutes “infrastructure.” The president pointed to the issue as his priority when asked about the prospects for gun safety legislation in Congress, in the wake of mass shootings in Colorado and Georgia that left 18 people dead.
Much of the news conference focused on immigration, as a surge of migrants have arrived at the border, creating a pressing challenge for the new administration. Mr. Biden said his administration was working to have Mexico take back more migrant families and vowed to accelerate efforts to move children out of crowded facilities at the border.
But the prospects for major immigration legislation remain dim. The House voted last week to create a path to citizenship for about four million undocumented immigrants. Like so much of the president’s agenda, the roadblock is in the Senate, where each party holds 50 seats.
Mr. Biden said at his news conference that he was more open to the Senate changing its rule that requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and approve most legislation. Such a change would allow Democrats to pass laws without Republican support.
With Congress on an extended recess, Mr. Biden’s plans include continuing to promote his $1.9 trillion stimulus plan.
— Madeleine Ngo
The calculus around vaccine production is about to change, with significant and unpredictable political and policy implications.
Vaccine manufacturers have been steadily increasing their output, and states have snapped up new doses as quickly as the government could deliver them. But officials expect the supply of vaccines to outstrip U.S. demand by mid-May, if not sooner, and are grappling with what to do with looming surpluses when scarcity turns to glut.
President Biden has promised enough doses by the end of May to immunize all of the nation’s adults. But between then and the end of July, the government has locked in commitments from manufacturers for doses to cover another 100 million people — totaling tens of millions more than the nation’s entire population.
Whether to keep, modify or redirect those orders is a question with significant implications, not just for the nation’s efforts to contain the virus, but also for how soon the pandemic can be brought to an end. Of the vaccine doses given globally, about three-quarters have gone to only 10 countries. At least 30 countries have not yet injected a single person.
And global scarcity threatens to grow more acute as nations and regions clamp down on vaccine exports. With infections soaring, India’s government is holding back nearly all of the 2.4 million daily doses manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, the private company that is one of the world’s largest producers of the AstraZeneca vaccine. That action follows the European Union’s decision this week to move emergency legislation that would curb vaccine exports for the next six weeks.
Biden administration officials who are inclined to hold on to the coming U.S. surplus point to unmet need and rising uncertainty: Children and adolescents are still unvaccinated, and no one is certain whether or when immunity could wear off, which could require scores of millions of booster shots.
Vaccine manufacturers and some top federal officials say decisions about what to do with extra vaccine orders must be made within weeks, or the uncertainty could slow production lines.
The manufacturing process can take up to 10 weeks, so changes for a foreign market need time. The regulatory rules that govern vaccine shipments present another hurdle, as does the limited storage life of the drug substances that make the vaccine.
Senior officials say the administration is leaning toward keeping the doses it has ordered, and at some point directing the excess to other nations in one-off deals or giving it to Covax, an international nonprofit backed by the World Health Organization that is trying to coordinate equitable vaccine distribution. The Biden administration has already donated $4 billion to that international effort.
If the so-called Stop the Steal movement appeared to be chasing a lost cause once President Biden was inaugurated, its supporters among extremist organizations are now adopting a new agenda from the anti-vaccination campaign to try to undermine the government.
Adherents of far-right groups who cluster online have turned repeatedly to one particular website in recent weeks — the federal database showing deaths and adverse reactions nationwide among people who have received Covid-19 vaccinations.
Although negative reactions have been relatively rare, the numbers are used by many extremist groups to try to bolster a rash of false and alarmist disinformation in articles and videos with titles like “Covid-19 Vaccines Are Weapons of Mass Destruction — and Could Wipe out the Human Race” or “Doctors and Nurses Giving the Covid-19 Vaccine Will be Tried as War Criminals.”
Bashing of the safety and efficacy of vaccines is occurring in chat rooms frequented by all manner of right-wing groups, including the Proud Boys; the Boogaloo movement, a loose affiliation known for wanting to spark a second Civil War; and various paramilitary organizations.
These groups tend to portray vaccines as a symbol of excessive government control. “If less people get vaccinated, then the system will have to use more aggressive force on the rest of us to make us get the shot,” read a recent post on the Telegram social media platform, in a channel linked to members of the Proud Boys charged in storming the Capitol.
The marked focus on vaccines is particularly striking on discussion channels populated by followers of QAnon, who had falsely prophesied that Donald J. Trump would continue as president while his political opponents were marched off to jail.
“They rode the shift in the national conversation away from Trump to what was happening with the massive ramp up in vaccines,” said Devin Burghart, the head of the Seattle-based Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, which monitors far-right movements. “It allowed them to pivot away from the failure of their previous prophecy to focus on something else.”
Apocalyptic warnings about the vaccine feed into the far-right narrative that the government cannot be trusted, the sentiment also at the root of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The more vaccine opponents succeed in preventing or at least delaying herd immunity, experts noted, the longer it will take for life to return to normal and that will further undermine faith in the government and its institutions.
Last spring, a common purpose among far-right activists and the anti-vaccination movement first emerged during armed protests in numerous state capitols against coronavirus lockdown measures. That cross-pollination expanded over time.
On Jan. 6, while rioters advanced on the Capitol, numerous leading figures in the anti-vaccination movement were onstage nearby, holding their own rally to attack both the election results and Covid-19 vaccinations.
Fox News and its powerful owner, Rupert Murdoch, are facing a second major defamation suit over its coverage of the 2020 presidential election, a new front in the growing legal battle over media disinformation and its consequences.
Dominion Voting Systems, an election technology company that was at the center of a baseless pro-Trump conspiracy about rigged voting machines, filed a lawsuit on Friday that accused Fox News of advancing lies that devastated its reputation and business.
Dominion, which has requested a jury trial, is seeking at least $1.6 billion in damages. The lawsuit comes less than two months after Smartmatic, another election tech company, filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit against Mr. Murdoch’s Fox Corporation and named several Fox anchors, including Maria Bartiromo and Lou Dobbs, as defendants.
In a 139-page complaint filed in Delaware Superior Court, Dominion’s legal team, led by the prominent defamation firm Clare Locke, portrayed Fox as an active player in spreading falsehoods that Dominion had altered vote counts and manipulated its machines to benefit Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the election.
Those claims were false, but they were relentlessly pushed by President Donald J. Trump’s lawyers, Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell, in public forums, including appearances on Fox programs. In January, Dominion sued Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell for defamation.
The company also sued Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow and a Trump ally who was also a frequent guest on Fox programs, as well as shows on other conservative media outlets. Each of those suits seeks damages of more than $1 billion.
“The truth matters,” Dominion’s lawyers wrote in Friday’s complaint against Fox. “Lies have consequences. Fox sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process. If this case does not rise to the level of defamation by a broadcaster, then nothing does.”
In a statement on Friday, Fox said that its 2020 election coverage “stands in the highest tradition of American journalism” and pledged to “vigorously defend against this baseless lawsuit in court.”
Fox Corporation previously filed a motion to dismiss the Smartmatic lawsuit, arguing that the false claims of electoral fraud made on its channels were part of covering a fast-breaking story of significant public interest. “An attempt by a sitting president to challenge the result of an election is objectively newsworthy,” Fox’s legal team wrote in the motion.
Dominion, which was founded in 2002, is one of the largest manufacturers of voting machine equipment in the United States, and its machines were used by election authorities in at least 28 states last year, including several states carried by Mr. Trump.