Unrepentant Hawley pushes ethics probe of U.S. Senate Democrats who filed complaint against him

Sen. Josh Hawley, (R-MO), speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing (Photo by Carolyn Kaster-Pool/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON—Seven U.S. Senate Democrats urged the chamber’s ethics panel to investigate Sen. Josh Hawley’s role in the pro-Trump assault on the Capitol, and the Missouri Republican is now asking the committee to do the same.

In a Monday letter, Hawley argued that the seven Democrats filed an improper complaint last week against him and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Both Hawley and Cruz objected to Electoral College votes that solidified President Joe Biden’s win in the presidential election.

“In sum, this complaint is none other than a transparent attempt by seven Senators to punish a political opponent for the entirely lawful representation of their constituents,” Hawley wrote.

“The Committee should discipline these Members to ensure that the Senate’s ethics process is not weaponized for rank partisan purposes,” Hawley said.

The seven Senate Democrats who signed the Jan. 21 letter to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics are Tim Kaine of Virginia, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Tina Smith of Minnesota, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Mazie Hirono of Hawai’i, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

Former President Donald Trump made baseless claims that the election was stolen and many GOP members objected to Electoral College results from one or more states prior to the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6. Lawmakers, the vice president, journalists and staff had to barricade themselves for hours until law enforcement secured the building.

Five people died and more than 50 officers were injured and multiple investigations are underway, with numerous defendants already charged in federal court.

Hawley argued that his objection to Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes was not inappropriate. He said that because the state had a massive mail-in ballot movement, it violated Pennsylvania’s state constitution, which is a claim that has been debunked by PolitiFact.

The state Supreme Court threw out those legal challenges and the state’s constitution does not prohibit mail-in voting. Due to the pandemic, more voters sent in their ballots by mail.

Hawley also said the Democrats were peddling conspiracy theories by insinuating that he and his staff coordinated with the rioters who attacked the Capitol.

Democrats did not charge coordination, but asked the committee to investigate if Cruz and Hawley had any communication with any organizers who were in D.C. on Jan. 6 for the “Save America Rally,”  where Trump spoke and urged his supporters to go to the Capitol.

“Three members of the House of Representatives who coordinated with Senators Hawley and Cruz to object to the electors, Reps. Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar, and Mo Brooks, have been identified as alleged co-architects of the rally,” Democrats wrote in their letter Jan. 21.

A “Stop the Steal” organizer has said he planned the rally with all three congressmen. Biggs and Gosar, both Arizona Republicans, preemptively sought pardons from Trump for their roles in the insurrection, according to media reports, but the pardons were not issued before Trump left office.

Hawley also asked the ethics committee to question if the seven senators in preparing their complaint had been in contact with groups including the Lincoln Project, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, MoveOn, Voto Latino and the Sierra Club. He also asked about contacts with Democratic leaders and the White House.

Buttigieg puts greenhouse gas reduction at center of Biden transportation policy

Pete Buttigieg answers questions during his confirmation hearing as secretary of transportation on Jan. 21, 2021. Source: Screenshot/CSPAN

Former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg offered an unapologetic defense of President Joe Biden’s vision for improved transportation and greenhouse gas reductions during a Senate hearing to consider Buttigieg’s nomination for U.S. transportation secretary last Thursday.

“We need to build our economy back, better than ever, and the Department of Transportation can play a central role in this,” Buttigieg said.

The former Democratic presidential nominee largely enjoyed broad support from the members of both parties on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

But Republicans from Florida and Texas challenged him on the new administration’s “Green New Deal” proposals, and several senators peppered Buttigieg with questions about local initiatives or problems in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Tennessee, ranging from self-driving vehicles to bridge maintenance.

He said there was “bipartisan appetite for a generational opportunity to transform and improve America’s infrastructure.”

Cost of climate plans

Buttigieg’s nomination comes at a time when the incoming administration is looking to find areas of bipartisan cooperation. Such efforts could reinforce Biden’s calls to unite as a country.

But they also could help Biden’s agenda move through Congress, where Democrats have a narrow majority in the U.S. House and the Senate is split 50-50 between the two parties.

An infrastructure package could fit that bill, especially because Congress has less than a year before it must pass a new spending plan for some of the most prominent transportation concerns, including funding for transit and highways.

Still, Buttigieg, who frequently appeared on Fox News to promote Biden’s candidacy, sparred with Republican senators at the hearing over the cost of Biden’s climate plans and their potential impact on the economy.

Biden wants to spend $32 billion in the short term to help financially beleaguered transit agencies, install half a million charging stations for electric vehicles across the country, and increase fuel economy standards for new vehicles.

The transportation nominee told skeptical GOP lawmakers that the country could reduce carbon dioxide pollution while still sustaining a healthy economy.

“Ultimately, we cannot afford not to act on climate,” Buttigieg told U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, a Florida Republican who questioned Buttigieg about his support for the “Green New Deal.” “The question becomes: How can we do that in a way that creates economic benefit in the near term, as well as preventing catastrophe in the long term?” Read more

Drug overdose ER visits in NC increased 22%

Image: AdobeStock

While the state and the nation have been overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid epidemic has marched along its shadow.

Preliminary data from the NC Department of Health and Human Services says that hospital emergency room visits for drug overdoses in 2020 increased 22% over the previous year.

According to DHHS, heroin overdoses were the top reason people were treated in hospital ERs for drug overdoses. “Commonly prescribed opioids” were the third-most common reason for overdoses that led to trips to the hospital.

Ben Powell of SouthLight Healthcare, a substance abuse and mental health treatment non-profit in Wake County, said he considers the COVID-19 pandemic the overarching reason for the increase, and the anxiety and social isolation that have resulted as secondary factors.

Powell is a physician assistant who runs the SouthLight opiate treatment program under the guidance of the medical director.

Another factor is the rising prevalence of fentanyl, a strong synthetic opioid, being mixed with other drugs, Powell said.

There’s increasing concern “about the mix of drugs that are being placed into illicit substances that people are buying now,” he said. Many times, people don’t know that they’re using fentanyl, he said.

Powell referenced a 2017 paper out of the National Bureau of Economic Research that said that for every 1% increase in unemployment, the opioid death rate per 100,000 increases 3.6% and the rate of opioid overdose ER visits per 100,000 increases 7%.

Information on drug overdose deaths in 2020 was not available, but the CDC said in a December press release that the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to be leading to increased deaths.

More than 81,000 people in the country died of a drug overdose in the 12 months that ended in May 2020 the CDC said, more deaths than in any 12-month period in recorded history.  The data suggested that overdose deaths were increasing with the pandemic, the CDC said.

Complete data on overdose deaths over those 12 months in North Carolina was not available.

Before COVID-19 killed more than 2 million people worldwide and devastated economies, opioid addiction was the most prominent public health challenge that focused the attention of the state and the nation.

NC’s response to the COVID-19 crises: Hindered by the “The Big Lie”

Failure to allocate billions in available dollars while North Carolinians suffer is beyond the pale

For decades, community leaders have pleaded with General Assembly members for expanded access to health care, housing supports, and educational opportunities. When COVID-19 and economic recession began to ravage communities and small businesses, state agencies joined the chorus of advocates asking for more public resources to help respond to the pandemic.

Today, additional state dollars are needed to address ongoing threats to our public health, economy, and democracy. Yet, continued cries for help are met with one response: “We can’t afford it.”

In North Carolina, that is a Big Lie.

According to the Office of the State Controller, North Carolina currently has more than $4 billion in unreserved public funds available today. That’s above and beyond the more than $1 billion in the state Savings Reserve, commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund. This unprecedented amount of cash on hand is the result of a delayed tax deadline in 2020, revenue collections that came in ahead of predictions, failure to pass a comprehensive budget, and tax cuts for the few combined with chronic underinvestment over time.

This cash-rich reality has failed to change the “we can’t afford it” approach of lawmakers who will reconvene in Raleigh to start the legislative session in earnest on January 27.

When asked about their priorities for the session, leaders of the General Assembly focused on COVID-19 relief, expediting the vaccine rollout, and constraining the Governor’s powers. If Senate and House leadership truly cared about expanding COVID-19 relief, they would not have restricted 2020 appropriations to federal dollars when they knew North Carolina had an abundance of money sitting in a bank account ready to be deployed.

The Big Lie is not exclusively a Republican problem. Democrats perpetuate the lie when they fail to propose, support, and fund transformative policy changes that have the power to raise people out of poverty, boost economic growth, and undo discriminatory policies and practices that exacerbate inequities.

The only antidote to a Big Lie is a Big Truth.

The Big Truth is that in 2021, North Carolina can afford to provide health care for all, pay people a living wage, ensure everyone is safely housed, and make good on our constitutional obligation to adequately educate every child. The truth is we can’t afford not to.

By committing to truth, we can create the vibrant economy, resilient communities, and just society that we deserve while healing racial divisions, recognizing the contributions of immigrants, and protecting all people from the threat of poverty and discrimination. This future is only possible if we have leaders who are willing to propose and support the elimination of loopholes that allow profitable corporations to pay fewer taxes than working families do and if we have voters who are willing to support these changes.

Leila Pedersen is a policy analyst at the N.C. Budget & Tax Center.

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Moving day for the Trumps

MOVING DAY, THE WHITE HOUSE…

Melania: Donald, eez time to go. Wakey wakey.

DT: I’m not leaving. I won the election by 200 million votes. Everyone says so. Please tell the movers to go away…

Eric: Dad? It’s time to go. Look, I know we fought hard…

DT: Who are you?

Don Junior: Dad, we know you don’t want to go but it’s time. Right, Kimberly?

Kimberly Guifoyle: IT’S TIME TO LEAVE. AND, NO, I CAN’T SPEAK IN NORMAL TONES. I YELL EVERYTHING. INCLUDING THE FACT THAT DON JUNIOR LIKES TROPHY HUNTING BECAUSE HE HAS A TINY, LITTLE…

Don Junior: OK, kitten, that’s enough…

DT: But I can’t leave. I won’t leave. The people elected me. My thinking place told me so.

Don Junior: Yeah, uhhhhhhh, about that….

Tiffany: Hey everybody! Where do y’all want these likker store boxes? Over here OK?

Ivanka: What on earth are those for? Tiffany, could you just, for once, look a little less (shudder) poor?

Jared: I think they’re to be used as moving boxes, pet. I remember seeing a classmate at Harvard struggling with several of them on the quad. He was a scholarship student. I laughed at him.

Ivanka: Jared, that sounds cruel and insensitive. I love you.

Kimberly Guifoyle: HEY, DAD, YOU SHOULD PUT ON SOME CLOTHES. IT’S GO TIME!!

DT: I’m not going anywhere. I’m the president. Forever. Period, no backstops, nanny nanny boo boo.

Eric: Dad, please….

DT: Look, I don’t know how you got in here, but you need to get out. Security! Rush! Rudy!

Melania: Ack, Donald. This eez getting ridiculous. The Bidens will be here any minute.

DT: Sleepy Joe? Coming here? (presses fingers to temples and squeezes eyes shut)

Ivanka: Daddy, what are you doing?

DT: I’m mind melding the Proud Boys. They will stop this. We’re going to Make America…

Kimberly Guifoyle: GREAT AGAIN!!!!! THE BEST IS YET TO COME!!!DON JUNIOR LEFT HIS WIFE AND FIVE CHILDREN FOR ME. I CAN’T FIND KANSAS ON A MAP. SERIOUSLY. TRY ME. I CAN’T DO IT.

Tiffany: I’m hungry. Where’s the pizza? I’ve never moved anybody that I didn’t get pizza.

Jared: I’m sorry; what-za?

Mary Trump: Hey Cuz! They just let me walk in the front door. Who? Joe and Jill. They love me because I say stuff like how the whole family knows you’re a monster.

Eric: Is that true, Dad? Are you a monster? Monsters are scary.

Joe Biden: Donald? You’re still here? Jiminy Cricket, this is awkward…

DT: Proud Boys! Weird guy wearing horns! Duck Dynasty Guy! Somebody help me!!!!!

Joe: C’mon man. The people have spoken.

DT: Hmmmph. Dead people, you mean….

Secret Service: Time to go, Big Orange.

DT: Was that my code name?

SS: No, but we can’t say the real one in polite company.

DT: Wait! What’s that? He’s acting like a DOG!

Joe: It is a dog. That’s Major. He’ll be living with us.

Tiffany: I got a pit bull on a chain outside my trailer home…

Ivanka: Of COURSE you do…

Celia Rivenbark isn’t going anywhere…