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Dems Switch Strategy on Voting Bill as Biden Pushes Action

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Senate Democrats are trying to force a public showdown over their sweeping elections legislation, aiming to launch debate on a key party priority even though there’s no assurance the bill will come to a vote.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer outlined the plan in a memo obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, on the eve of President Joe Biden’s visit to meet privately with Senate Democrats about the path forward. It still leaves the Democrats in need of a way to force a vote on the legislation, now blocked by a Republican filibuster.

“We will finally have an opportunity to debate voting rights legislation — something that Republicans have thus far denied,” Schumer wrote in the memo to his Democratic colleagues, which described a workaround to avoid a Republican filibuster that for months has blocked formal debate over the legislation on the Senate floor. “Senators can finally make clear to the American people where they stand on protecting our democracy and preserving the right of every eligible American to cast a ballot.”

The strategy does little to resolve the central problem Democrats face — they lack Republican support to pass the elections legislation on a bipartisan basis but also don’t have support from all 50 Democrats for changing the Senate rules to allow passage on their own. But the latest tactic could create an off-ramp from their initial approach, which was to force a vote by Monday on Senate filibuster changes as a way to pressure Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to go along.

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By setting up a debate, Schumer will achieve the Democrats’ goal of shining a spotlight that spurs senators to say where they stand. The floor debate could stretch for days and carry echoes of civil rights battles a generation ago that led to some of the most famous filibusters in Senate history.

“I wouldn’t want to delude anybody into thinking this is easy,” Schumer told reporters Wednesday. He called the push an “uphill fight.”

Democrats have vowed to counteract a wave of new state laws, inspired by Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election, that have made it harder to vote. But after an initial flurry of activity, the Democrats’ efforts have stalled in the narrowly divided Senate, where they lack the 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster, leading to their calls for a rule change.

Recently they have tried to breathe new life into the effort. Biden gave a fiery speech in Atlanta on Tuesday, where he told senators they would each be “judged by history” if they failed to act. He is to meet with Democratic senators at the Capitol on Thursday in a bid to jolt the effort forward.

Watch President Joe Biden’s full speech on voting rights in Atlanta, Georgia, on Tuesday.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell gave a scathing rebuttal to Biden’s speech Wednesday, objecting to his comparison of opponents of the voting legislation to racist historical figures, including George Wallace, the segregationist Alabama governor who ran for the presidency, and Jefferson Davis, who was the president of the Confederacy.

“You could not invent a better advertisement for the legislative filibuster than what we’ve just seen: a president abandoning rational persuasion for pure demagoguery,” McConnell, R-Ky., said from the Senate floor. “A president shouting that 52 senators and millions of Americans are racist unless he gets whatever he wants is proving exactly why the framers built the Senate to check his power.”

Asked Wednesday for a response to McConnell’s comments, Biden turned, removed his black mask and said: “I like Mitch McConnell. He’s a friend.” That response came during Biden’s trip to the Capitol to pay his respects to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who died last month and was lying in state in the Rotunda.

Republicans are nearly unanimous in opposing the voting legislation, viewing it as federal overreach that would infringe on states’ abilities to conduct their own elections. And they’ve pointed out that Democrats opposed changes to the filibuster that Trump sought when he was president.

Senators love to debate the validity of the filibuster and whether laws should be passed with a super-majority of 60 votes or a simple majority of 51 votes. But both parties have benefitted at one time from the filibuster, and both parties have revised the rules when they’ve held the majority votes. So what exactly is the filibuster and why does it matter?

For Democrats and Biden, the legislation is a political imperative. Failure to pass it would break a major campaign promise to Black voters, who helped hand Democrats control of the White House and Congress, and would come just before midterm elections when slim Democratic majorities will be on the line. It would also be the second major setback for Biden’s agenda in a month after Manchin halted work on the president’s $2 trillion package of social and environmental initiatives shortly before Christmas.

The current package of voting and ethics legislation would usher in the biggest overhaul of U.S. elections in a generation, striking down hurdles to voting enacted in the name of election security, reducing the influence of big money in politics and limiting partisan influence over the drawing of congressional districts. The package would create national election standards that would trump the state-level GOP laws. It would also restore the ability of the Justice Department to police election laws in states with a history of discrimination.

Many civil rights activists think Biden’s push on voting rights is too-little-too-late in aggressively going after GOP-backed changes in state voting laws, which they view as a subtler form of ballot restrictions like literacy tests and poll taxes once used to disenfranchise Black voters. Some boycotted Biden’s speech in Atlanta on Tuesday.

The New Georgia Project, a group founded by Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, was among those that called on Biden to skip the speech.

“We’ve heard rhetoric like this before,” the group said in a statement. “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Schumer had set the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, on Jan. 17, as a deadline to either pass the voting legislation or consider revising the filibuster rules. It’s unclear if the planned vote on rule changes will still happen.

Manchin, who played a major role writing Democrats’ voting legislation, threw cold water on the hopes Tuesday, saying any changes should be made with substantial Republican buy-in — even though there aren’t any Republican senators willing to sign on.

That befuddled South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat in the House and a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Clyburn questioned the wisdom of reflexively seeking bipartisanship, noting that the right to vote was granted to newly freed slaves on a party-line vote.

“He seems to be supporting a filibuster of his own bill,” Clyburn said of Manchin. “That, to us, is very disconcerting.”


AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed.

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Storms on Friday?

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High uncertainty regarding the forecast late week into weekend. However, strong to severe storms possible Friday.

Small little wrinkle in the atmosphere is producing a few showers this morning with most areas remaining dry. However, chance for rain is up to a 30% having us trade the sweaters for the umbrellas today. Temperatures will be seasonable.

By Friday, models are in better agreement that a cold front moves through South Florida on Saturday. The uncertainty is on timing the rain.

As low pressure tracks Northeast and out to sea, front sags South through the Florida Peninsula. This will help warmer and humid air to filter into South Florida, so with the daytime heat showers and storms could develop. A few isolated to severe producing strong gusty winds and small-size hail could be possible. Lingering clouds and rain showers likely early Saturday until front completely clears.

It should be nicer and cooler Sunday. Chilly (low 50’s) on Monday!

Showers and spotty storms move in ahead and near a cold front through Saturday night. Then behind that front will be dry and cool conditions, but this cool down is expected to be short-lived. pic.twitter.com/rPda3cViFd

— Jackson Dill (@Jackson_Dill) January 20, 2022

Vivian Gonzalez

Meteorologist, AMS Certified

WSVN Channel 7

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Jury selection to start in federal trial over Floyd’s death

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Jury selection is scheduled to begin Thursday in the federal trial for three former Minneapolis police officers who are charged with violating George Floyd’s constitutional rights while fellow Officer Derek Chauvin used his knee to pin the Black man to the street.

J. Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are broadly charged with depriving Floyd of his civil rights while acting under government authority. Separately, they are charged in state court with aiding and abetting both murder and manslaughter.

Legal experts say the federal trial will be more complicated than the state trial, scheduled for June 13, because prosecutors in this case have the difficult task of proving the officers willfully violated Floyd’s constitutional rights — unreasonably seizing him and depriving him of liberty without due process.

“In the state case, they’re charged with what they did. That they aided and abetted Chauvin in some way. In the federal case, they’re charged with what they didn’t do — and that’s an important distinction. It’s a different kind of accountability,” said Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor and professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

As Phil Turner, another former federal prosecutor, put it, prosecutors must show the officers should have done something to stop Chauvin, rather than show they did something directly to Floyd.

Would-be jurors have already answered an extensive questionnaire. Starting Thursday, they will be brought into a federal courtroom in St. Paul, where U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson will question them in groups. The process will continue until a group of 40 is chosen. Then, each side will get to use their challenges to strike jurors. In the end, 18 jurors will be picked, including 12 who will deliberate and six alternates.

Magnuson said he thought the process could be done in two days, unlike the state trial for Chauvin, where the judge and attorneys questioned each juror individually and spent more than two weeks picking a panel.

Floyd, 46, died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin pinned him to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes while Floyd was facedown, handcuffed and gasping for air. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down his legs. Thao kept bystanders from intervening.

Chauvin was convicted in April on state charges of murder and manslaughter and is serving a 22½-year sentence. In December, he pleaded guilty to a federal count of violating Floyd’s rights.

Federal prosecutions of officers involved in on-duty killings are rare. Prosecutors face a high legal standard to show that an officer willfully deprived someone of their constitutional rights; an accident, bad judgment or negligence isn’t enough to support federal charges.

Essentially, prosecutors must prove that the officers knew what they were doing was wrong, but did it anyway.

Kueng, Lane and Thao are all charged with willfully depriving Floyd of the right to be free from an officer’s deliberate indifference to his medical needs. The indictment says the three men saw Floyd clearly needed medical care and failed to aid him.

Thao and Kueng are also charged with a second count alleging they willfully violated Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure by not stopping Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck. It’s not clear why Lane is not mentioned in that count, but evidence shows he asked twice whether Floyd should be rolled on his side.

Both counts allege the officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death.

Federal civil rights violations that result in death are punishable by up to life in prison or even death, but those stiff sentences are extremely rare and federal sentencing guidelines rely on complicated formulas that indicate the officers would get much less if convicted.

“This trial is going to present an evolutionary step beyond what we saw at the Chauvin trial because we’re not looking at the killer, but the people who enable the killer. And that gets a step closer to the culture of the department,” Osler said.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Student shoots, wounds another teen at Florida high school

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SANFORD, Fla. (AP) — A 16-year student at a central Florida high school shot another student three times Wednesday, sending the campus into lockdown, officials said.

The suspect was taken into custody after a brief search on the campus of Seminole High School by officers and deputies, and the 18-year-old victim was taken to a hospital for treatment, Sanford police Chief Cecil Smith said at a news conference. The victim was in stable condition, according to a police department news release.

Preliminary information suggested that the shooting centered on “a dispute over a young lady,” Smith said.

“We are grateful that there was no loss of life today,” the police chief said.

The department plans to pursue charges against the suspect, Smith said.

Serita Beamon, superintendent of Seminole County Public Schools, described the shooting as “an isolated event” between the two students.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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