Friday Roundup

Politics

HOUSE VOTES TO REAUTHORIZE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT

The House voted Wednesday to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act by a vote of 244-172.

29 Republicans joined Democrats in the vote.

VAWA, the landmark 1994 law that strengthened protections for women who have experienced domestic and sexual violence, had expired in February of 2019.

The latest iteration would expand victims services, reauthorize grant programs for the criminal justice response to domestic and sexual violence, expand housing options for survivors, end immunity for non-Native perpetrators of sexual violence on tribal lands, expand the criminal threshold to bar an individual from buying a gun to include misdemeanor convictions of domestic abuse or stalking, and close the so-called “boyfriend loophole” to expand existing gun prohibitions to include dating partners.

Said Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, cosponsor of the current bill, “Congress has historically reauthorized VAWA with broad, bipartisan agreement, and I look forward to working alongside my colleagues to ensure that VAWA continues to protect victims and survivors across the nation.”

The bill now moves to the Senate, where Republicans are expected to object to the firearm restrictions on the grounds that they are overly broad, and also to expanded protections for transgender and undocumented immigrant victims.

“This legislation makes it clear that Democrats consider gun ownership a second-class right,” said Rep. Bob Good, adding, “Democrats are using domestic violence, which is a serious issue, as a front for just their latest gun control bill.”

HOUSE PASSES JOINT RESOLUTION TO REMOVE EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT DEADLINE

The House passed a resolution Wednesday by a vote of 222-204 to remove the deadline to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

The vote was almost entirely along party lines, with just four Republicans joining Democrats in the vote.

The amendment, which states simply that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” required the approval of 38 states in order to become the 28th Amendment.

And while Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment in January of 2020, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled this month that the seven-year ratification limit set by the E.R.A.’s preamble in 1972 “is just as effective as one in the text of a proposed amendment.”

“[A] ratification deadline in a proposing resolution’s introduction is just as effective as one in the text of a proposed amendment,” Contreras wrote, adding, “Plaintiffs’ ratifications came after both the original and extended deadlines that Congress attached to the ERA, so the Archivist is not bound to record them as valid.”

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is considering an appeal.

Meanwhile, the resolution is likely to face opposition from Senate Republicans who, like the Justice Department, argue that there is no precedent for retroactively changing a deadline and that doing so could be unconstitutional.

Still, the E.R.A. remains popular amongst Americans, with 78 percent voicing support in a Pew Research Center poll last year.

HOUSE PASSES IMMIGRATIONS BILLS THAT WOULD ESTABLISH PATH TO CITIZENSHIP FOR MILLIONS

The House passed the American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act Thursday — two bills that would establish paths to citizenship or legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants, including Dreamers and workers in the agriculture sector.

The former bill — passed by a vote of 228-197, with nine Republicans joining Democrats in favor — would establish a path to citizenship for the 2.5 million Dreamers who were brought to the U.S. as children, and the latter —  which passed 247-174, with 30 Republicans in favor and one Democrat opposed — would provide a path to legal status for approximately 2.4 million undocumented farm workers.

The bills face an uphill battle in the Senate where they are sure to face Republican opposition.

Said Sen. Lindsey Graham, referring to the recent migrant surge, “It’s going to be really hard to get a bipartisan bill put together on anything that has a legalization component until you stop the flow.”

HOUSE VOTES TO AWARD CONGRESSIONAL GOLD MEDALS TO CAPITOL POLICE AND METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT

The House approved legislation Wednesday evening to award Congressional Gold Medals — the “highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions” — to officers of the Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department for their bravery in defending the Capitol against the Jan. 6 attack.

The measure passed by a vote of 413-12.

The twelve opposed were all Republicans and include Louie Gohmert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Andy Biggs, Thomas Massie, Andy Harris, Lance Gooden, Matt Gaetz, Michael Cloud, Andrew Clyde, Bob Good, Greg Steube, and John Rose.

“HR 1085 does not honor anyone, but rather seeks to drive a narrative that isn’t substantiated by known facts,” Gohmert said. “We absolutely do want to show our gratitude and respect for the U.S. Capitol Police, so I removed the speaker’s false and politicized narrative in order to arrive at legislation that truly honors those who selflessly serve us in Congress.”

Said Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney, “What happened on January 6 was an attack on the Capitol. The officers who defended us, both Capitol Police, the Metropolitan police, all the law enforcement officers who defended us put their lives on the line — some lost their lives — and there should be no question that we’re awarding people a gold medal for their actions on that day.”

XAVIER BECERRA CONFIRMED AS HEALTH SECRETARY

The Senate narrowly confirmed Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services Thursday 50-49 in the closest vote for a Biden Cabinet nominee to date.

Sen. Susan Collins was the lone Republican to join Democrats in the vote, with others arguing that Becerra’s record supporting abortion rights, “Medicare for All,” and California’s pandemic restrictions on businesses and churches made him too progressive and too partisan for the post. 

Said Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, “The distinguishing feature of this nominee’s resume is not his expertise in health, medicine, or administration — that part of the resume is very brief. What stands out are Mr. Becerra’s commitment to partisan warfare and his far-left ideology.”

Republican Sen. Susan Collins disagreed, stating, “Although there are issues where I strongly disagree with Mr. Becerra, I believe he merits confirmation as HHS Secretary.”

Becerra, who served in the House for more than two decades before becoming California’s Attorney General, becomes the first Latino to head HHS.

Coronavirus

CDC UPDATES GUIDANCE FOR SCHOOLS: THREE FEET OF DISTANCING SUFFICIENT

Students can safely sit three feet apart in the classroom as long as they wear masks but should be kept the usual six feet apart at sporting events, assemblies, lunch, or chorus practice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that the revised recommendations are a “roadmap to help schools reopen safely, and remain open, for in-person instruction,” emphasizing the importance of giving students not only “the education they need to succeed” but access to critical social and mental health services, too.

The updated guidance:

— Removes recommendations for plastic shields or other barriers between desks. “We don’t have a lot of evidence of their effectiveness” in preventing transmission, Greta Massetti, who leads the CDC’s community interventions task force, said.

— Advises at least three feet of space between desks in elementary schools, even in towns and cities where community spread is high, so long as students and teachers wear masks and take other precautions. 

— Says spacing can also be three feet in middle and high schools, so long as there is not a high level of spread in the community. If there is, the distance should be at least six feet.

National News

TWO JURORS DISMISSED FROM DEREK CHAUVIN TRIAL FOLLOWING FLOYD FAMILY SETTLEMENT

The judge in the Derek Chauvin trial dismissed two of the nine seated jurors Wednesday after they conceded that they could no longer be impartial upon hearing of the $27 million settlement reached between the city of Minneapolis and the family of George Floyd.

Said Juror 36, “Clearly the city of Minneapolis has some strong opinions as well and this just kind of confirms the opinions that I already have. I think it will be hard to be impartial.”

Said Juror 20, “That kinda sent the message the city of Minneapolis felt something was wrong and they wanted to make it right to the tune of that dollar amount.”

Chauvin’s attorney requested a continuance of the trial and for the court to again consider a change of venue based on what he described as “prejudicial pre-trial publicity.”

Judge Peter Cahill denied both motions Friday.

“Unfortunately I think the pretrial publicity in this case will continue no matter how long we continue it,” Cahill said. “And as far as a change of venue, I do not think it that would give the defendant any kind of a fair trial beyond what we are doing here today. I don’t think there’s any place in the state of Minnesota that has not been subjected to extreme amounts of publicity on this case.”

Thirteen jurors — five men and eight women — have been seated thus far. Seven identify as white, two as multiracial, and four as Black, with five in their 20s or 30s, three in their 40s, four in their 50s, and one in their 60s. Fourteen jurors will be selected in total, with two serving as alternates.

The trial is slated to begin March 29.

Sports

DESHAUN WATSON ACCUSED OF SEXUAL MISCONDUCT

Seven lawsuits have been filed against Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, with two more still to come.

According to attorney Tony Buzbee, there are nine cases in total.

Buzbee announced the first of the seven lawsuits on Tuesday — lawsuits that allege a pattern of sexual misconduct by Watson against a number of massage therapists.

In the first complaint, a woman accused Watson of pressuring her to have sex with him during a massage at her home in Houston. Watson, the lawsuit says, complained that the therapist wasn’t massaging him in the desired manner and then “purposely exposed the tip of his penis from under the towel,” “moving his hips” so that his penis would touch the plaintiff’s hand.

When Jane Doe asked Watson to leave, the quarterback allegedly replied, “I know you have a career and a reputation, and I know you would hate for someone to mess with yours, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.”

The second complaint, filed Wednesday, alleges that Watson exposed himself to the therapist and directed her to massage his genitals and anus, grabbing her hand when she attempted to pull away.

The third complaint, also filed Wednesday, accused Watson of instructing the therapist to move her hand across his genitals and pushing her mouth toward his penis. 

Four more lawsuits filed Thursday accuse Watson of exposing himself and touching the women with his penis.

In response to the initial lawsuit, Watson posted a statement to Twitter, saying, “I have never treated any woman with anything other than the utmost respect.” He has not commented since.

The NFL said Thursday that the matter is “under review.”

FORMER NBA STAR SHAWN BRADLEY PARALYZED IN BICYCLE ACCIDENT

According to a statement by the Dallas Mavericks, former NBA center Shawn Bradley suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed when he was struck from behind by an automobile while riding his bicycle a block from his home.

Bradley underwent neck fusion surgery and has spent the past eight weeks hospitalized and undergoing rehabilitation.

The 7-foot-6 BYU graduate was the No. 2 pick in the 1993 draft and played 12 seasons in the NBA.

Said Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, “We are saddened to hear of Shawn’s accident. Shawn has always been incredibly determined and shown a fighting spirit. We wish him nothing but the best in his recovery. He will always be a part of our Mavs family.”

Bradley plans to use his accident as a platform to bring greater public awareness to the importance of bicycle safety.

LONGTIME BOSTON MARATHON RUNNER DICK HOYT, WHO PUSHED HIS SON FOR DECADES, DIES AT 80

Dick Hoyt — the marathon runner who pushed his son Rick, who is quadriplegic and has cerebral palsy, in a custom wheelchair through 32 Boston Marathons and more than 1,000 total races — died in his sleep Wednesday morning as a result of an ongoing heart condition.

Hoyt was 80 years old and had been inducted into the USA Triathlon Hall of Fame just last year.

Said the BAA, “Dick personified what it meant to a be a Boston Marathoner, showing determination, passion, and love every Patriots’ Day for more than three decades. He was not only a fan-favorite who inspired thousands, but also a loyal friend and father who took pride in spending quality time with his son Rick while running from Hopkinton to Boston.”

In 2013, a statue of Hoyt and his son Rick was erected in front of a school in Hopkinton, near the Boston Marathon’s starting line.

Said Russ Hoyt, another of Dick’s sons, “I know it’s a cliche, but I want people to know that I thought my father was a hero, not just because he pushed Rick in the marathon, but because he was a great father to all of us you could talk to about anything. He inspired people to look at all their children as equals no matter their disability.”

RACING LEGEND SABINE SCHMITZ DIES AT 51

Sabine Schmitz, a popular German racing driver and former participant on the BBC show “Top Gear,” lost her battle with cancer Tuesday at the age of 51.

She was the only woman to win the 24-hour race at the storied Nürburgring track in Germany, winning the race in 1996 and again the following year.

Schmitz is survived by her husband, her mother, her half brother, and two sisters.

Pop Culture

PUBLICISTS GIVE ULTIMATUM TO GROUP BEHIND GOLDEN GLOBES

In a letter to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a group of more than 100 powerful publicists, representing some of the biggest names in entertainment, warned the group that if they did not take steps toward reform and transparency, they would be cut off.

“We cannot advocate for our clients to participate in HFPA events or interviews as we await your explicit plans,” the letter reads, adding, “The eyes of the industry and those who support it are watching.”

While the HFPA said in a statement that it is “committed to making necessary changes within our organization and in our industry as a whole,” the group faces allegations of ethical struggles and self-dealing, and the Los Angeles Times recently uncovered that HFPA members voted against hiring a diversity consultant.

This, despite the fact that the 87-member group has not had a Black member in more than 20 years, and despite recent revelations that the governing body has rejected press events for shows with Black-led casts.

“HFPA rejected our press conference. Until it was a ‘surprise hit’ (Grey’s, Scandal, Murder -SURPRISE!)” producer Shonda Rhimes tweeted. “And yet they STILL asked me to show up in person to present at the Globes. We’re not the only ones. This is why HFPA’s house is on fire. They lit the flame (with) their own ignorance.”

In response to recent criticisms, the HFPA announced that it would hire a diversity and equity expert, engage in outreach to try to recruit Black journalists and others from underrepresented backgrounds, and expand its membership from 87 to 100 or more, adding at least 13 Black journalists to its ranks.

Said NBCUniversal Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Craig Robinson, “Our perceived silence on this should not be equated with apathy or a lack of concern. We are taking these issues very seriously, and we also understand our role and the importance of our role in encouraging HFPA to make what we deem to be necessary changes — and we are using that influence.”

ACTOR ARMIE HAMMER UNDER INVESTIGATION FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT

Actor Armie Hammer “is the main suspect in an alleged sexual assault investigation that was initiated February 3 of this year,” a spokesperson for the LAPD confirmed Thursday.

According to the spokesperson, an attorney contacted law enforcement after her client alleged that she was violently raped by Hammer in 2017 over the course of several hours, prompting the LAPD sexual assault division to open an investigation.

“On April 24th, 2017, Armie Hammer violently raped me for over four hours in Los Angeles, during which he repeatedly slammed my head against a wall, bruising my face,” the alleged victim said in a statement Thursday. “He also committed other acts of violence against me to which I did not consent. I thought that he was going to kill me.”

Following the news conference, Hammer’s attorney released a statement, reading in part: “With the truth on his side, Mr Hammer welcomes the opportunity to set the record straight. From day one, Mr Hammer has maintained that all of his interactions with [the alleged victim] — and every other sexual partner of his for that matter — have been completely consensual.”

Hammer’s attorney went on to release correspondence alleged to have occurred between Hammer and the victim, which purported to show that their encounters had been consensual.

Responded Gloria Allred, the victim’s attorney, “I challenge Armie Hammer to present all, not some, of his communications with Effie to the Los Angeles Police Department and answer all of their questions directly rather than through his lawyers.”

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