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Minnesota Becomes First State To Legally Guarantee Abortion Rights Since the Fall of Roe

Minnesota’s PRO Act codifies the “fundamental right” to reproductive health care, including abortion.

Tim Walz sits at a desk and holds a signed copy of the bill up for the cameras. About two dozen people (mostly women) cheer around him.
Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune/Getty Images
Surrounded by DFL legislators, Governor Tim Walz signs a bill to add a fundamental right to abortion access into state law on January 31.

One day after the Republican National Committee directed Republicans to go on offense” against abortion rights, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed a bill codifying abortion rights as a guaranteed right to Minnesotans. The legislation will shield residents from any looming Republican attacks, even those that come from the courts.

The Protect Reproductive Options, or PRO, Act codifies protections to reproductive health care, including abortion, birth control, sterilization, and family planning and fertility services. The act, just a page long, guarantees that “every individual has a fundamental right to make autonomous decisions about the individual’s own reproductive health.”

The new law comes as Minnesota Democrats now lead all three chambers of the government, as they maintained the state House and governorship, and took control of the state Senate in November. In a midterm election partially defined by backlash against the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the new narrow majority poetically codified abortion rights into state statutes.

Abortion rights were already protected in Minnesota after a 1995 Supreme Court decision deemed that the right to an abortion was protected by the state constitution’s right to privacy; the PRO Act further enshrines this right and serves to shield it from any potential future court decisions.

In the wake of the overturning of Roe, Minnesota is among 17 states (and D.C.) that have laws protecting the right to an abortion. In New York, which already has protections, lawmakers passed an amendment that would enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution; voters will have the final say as they vote on the amendment through a ballot initiative in 2024.

Ron DeSantis Vows To Defund Diversity Programs at Florida Universities

The new proposal would also require students to take a course on “Western civilization.”

Ron DeSantis waves and has his mouth open
Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

Florida officials are on a tear to block school programs that they deem too “woke.” Governor Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday he plans to defund diversity, equity, and inclusion programs on state college campuses, as public school teachers are hiding their classroom libraries thanks to a new law.

DeSantis told a press conference he wants to see DEI, which he referred to as “bureaucracies,” “wither on the vine.”

These bureaucracies are hostile to academic freedom,” he said.

DEI programs are important in helping combat implicit bias and providing support for students or employees who are members of a minority community.

DeSantis’s plan would also require students to take core classes on the history and philosophy of Western civilization.

The proposal will go before the state legislature in March. It’s part of a larger war the governor is waging against “woke culture.” This includes signing a law limiting what professors can teach about race and another that would require tenured faculty to receive performance reviews every five years. If they are not up to standards, which have not been specified yet, they could be let go (defeating the purpose of tenure). DeSantis has also blocked high schools from teaching an A.P. African American studies class.

Meanwhile, also in public schools, teachers in at least two counties have been told to hide their classroom libraries, either by wrapping the bookshelves in paper or by removing the books entirely.

A state law passed last summer mandated that school libraries must offer books that are age-appropriate, pornography-free, and “suited to student needs.” The state Department of Education issued guidance earlier this month stating the law applies not only to school-wide libraries but also to teachers’ personal classroom collections. Teachers are required to vet all the books in their classrooms—as if they didn’t have enough on their hands—and could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine if any books violate the new, opaque rules.

But there is very little guidance on what exactly constitutes appropriate material, and the draconian approach has upset educators and students alike. Michelle Jarrett, the president of a state association that helps school library programs, warned that removing classroom libraries could be detrimental to students as they could fall behind on reading abilities.

Marie Masferrer, a board member of the Florida Association for Media in Education and a school librarian, told The Washington Post that at one school, “the kids began crying and writing letters to the principal, saying, ‘Please don’t take my books, please don’t do this.’”

Trump Pleads the Fifth More Than 400 Times in New York Fraud Case, Deposition Video Shows

New video shows Donald Trump invoking the constitutional right against self-incrimination hundreds of times.

Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Video released Tuesday by CBS News shows Donald Trump invoking the Fifth Amendment hundreds of times during his deposition last summer in the New York attorney general’s fraud case against him.

Letitia James filed a $250 million civil fraud suit against Trump, his company, and three of his adult children (Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric). In the footage from August, the former president is seated in a Manhattan conference room answering James’s questions. By CBS’s count, Trump pleads the Fifth more than 400 times over the course of the nearly four-hour interview.

Trump pleads the Fifth so many times that at one point, he is told he can simply say “same answer” to speed up the proceedings. He declines to answer questions about the involvement of two Trump Organization executives in the fraud scheme or about his longtime accounting firm, which said that decades’ worth of his financial statements are unreliable.

At the end, Trump reads a prepared statement in which he calls the lawsuit “very unfair” and says that “anyone in my position not taking the Fifth Amendment would be a fool, an absolute fool.”

The Trump Organization was found guilty of tax fraud and fined $1.6 million earlier this month. James’s civil suit seeks to shut the company down in New York and sanction the four accused Trumps.

Trump also appears to have lied in sworn court documents for the civil suit. The presiding judge ordered him to provide defenses to James’s suit, resulting in a document that The Daily Beast says “read like a joke.”

In the document, Trump says he wasn’t president of the Trump Organization during his term at the White House, despite previously testifying he was an “inactive president.” He also said he didn’t have a financial stake in a real estate company, even though he previously testified that he did. His own lawyer even tried to argue there is no formal entity known as the “Trump Organization.”

Meanwhile, Trump is also facing investigations into his involvement in the January 6 attack, his alleged mishandling of classified documents, and his businesses’ finances. He is being sued by the Capitol Police and Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police for allegedly inciting January 6, and by writer E. Jean Carroll for both rape and defamation. The Manhattan district attorney is presenting evidence to a grand jury this week that Trump allegedly paid hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

78 Percent of George Santos’s Voters Want Him To Resign

An overwhelming majority of Republicans in his district want him gone too.

George Santos walks outside as reporters surround him. He looks directly at a camera phone pointed at him.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Amid a continual stream of reports revealing how George Santos has lied about most, if not all, of his past, an overwhelming majority of his voters want him to resign.

Voters in New York’s 3rd congressional district want Santos to resign, at a margin of 78–13 percent, according to a Newsday/Siena College poll. That includes 89 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of independents, and even 71 percent of Republicans. Eighty-three percent of his constituents view him unfavorably.

The poll, released Tuesday, also showed a 2-to-1 margin of voters who say they voted for Santos now saying they would not have voted for him, had they known what they now know about the endlessly lying congressman.

What’s more, 71 percent of respondents said it was wrong for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to have seated Santos on two congressional committees; on Tuesday, Santos told his Republican colleagues he will temporarily recuse himself from serving on those committees while he remains under numerous investigations.

Santos insisted the recusal was his own decision, and also had little to say about the Siena poll showing his district’s voters overwhelmingly wanting him to resign:

While some Republican officials have called for Santos to resign, that momentary movement has trickled away. But in the meantime, this poll, coupled with Santos’s (voluntary or not) recusal, shows he’s not all in the clear yet.

At the same time, while Santos may face public pressure or moral quandaries (if those affect him), the basic political reality is that, unless Santos is forced out by the magnitude of something like an incriminating investigation, the narrow GOP House majority will want to hold on to Santos as long as they can.

Matt Gaetz Confronted With Video Receipts That He Sought a Pardon From Trump

The Florida representative denied the reports, despite under-oath testimonies.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

At least three people have testified under oath saying Representative Matt Gaetz asked former President Donald Trump for a preemptive presidential pardon regarding a Justice Department investigation into whether the Florida congressman had violated federal sex trafficking laws. Now Gaetz is saying all of those testimonies, provided under risk of perjury, are lies.

On Ari Melber’s MSNBC program Monday, Gaetz repeatedly denied asking for a pardon.

Melber showed Gaetz footage of former Trump officials who testified to the House select committee investigating January 6 that Gaetz had indeed asked Trump for a pardon.

John McEntee, who served as director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office in the Trump administration, also said Gaetz sought a pardon relating to the Justice Department investigation.

McEntee told the committee that Gaetz allegedly said “he did not do anything wrong but they are trying to make his life hell, and you know, if the president could give him a pardon, that would be great.” McEntee also recalled Gaetz saying he had asked Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows for a pardon.

Gaetz told Melber that he shared many conversations with McEntee “about pardons for other folks and different groups of people.”

Former Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson similarly told the committee that Gaetz “was personally pushing for a pardon.” She testified that “Mr. Gaetz had reached out to me to ask if he could have a meeting with Mr. Meadows about receiving a presidential pardon.” Hutchinson had also listed several other members, including Andy Biggs, Louie Gohmert, and Scott Perry, who had all asked for pardons.

Gaetz told Melber that Hutchinson is “a known liar,” without specifying when exactly she has lied.

Former Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann also said Gaetz sought a pardon. “The general tone was we may get prosecuted because we were defensive of the president’s positions on these things. The pardon that he was discussing, requesting, was as broad as you could describe,” Herschmann said. “I remember he said, from the beginning of time up until today for any and all things.”

“I do not remember it the same way Eric Hershmann does,” Gaetz said. “I did have conversations with [him] about groups of people that could potentially receive pardons, even including some of the people who may have committed a technical violation of federal law but weren’t engaged in violence on January 6.”

“Was I asking something specifically for me and only me under those circumstances, the answer would be no,” Gaetz told Melber, with careful word choice.

Gaetz’s associate Joel Greenberg, a former Florida tax collector, pleaded guilty to federal charges including a count of sex trafficking a child. No charges have been filed against Gaetz, however, and he has denied any involvement in the sex trafficking allegations.

George Santos Says He’s Stepping Down From House Committees Until Ethics Issues Are Resolved

The New York representative, who has admitted to lying about his background, says that he will temporarily recuse himself from his committee assignments.

George Santos
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Embattled congressman and serial fabulist George Santos told his House Republican colleagues Tuesday that he would temporarily recuse himself from his committee assignments, amid ongoing investigations into his past behavior.

Santos was assigned seats on the Small Business Committee and the Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

A spokesperson for Santos has confirmed the news. “He has reserved to see it until he has been cleared up both campaign and personal financial investigations,” the spokesperson said.

Other Republican House members have also confirmed the news. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene told CNN the decision was Santos’s own: “He just felt like there was so much drama really over the situation, and especially what we’re doing to work to remove Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee.”

Santos, who appears to have fabricated the bulk of his background, is the target of multiple ethics probes and criminal investigations. Democrats and Republicans alike have called for him to resign. But House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who needs all the votes he can get as his party holds a razor-thin majority, refused to penalize Santos for his lies and instead seated him on two committees.

Santos has repeatedly insisted he has done “nothing wrong,” but said Tuesday in closed-door meetings that he would not sit on the committees.

The freshman congressman’s falsehoods range from bizarre—he says he was a volleyball star at Baruch College, which has no record of him attending—to unethical, including that his grandparents fled the Holocaust, his mother died in the 9/11 attacks, and some of his employees were killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting.

Santos is facing multiple ethics complaints with the House Ethics Committee and the Federal Election Commission. He is also under criminal investigation in Brazil for fraud and at the New York state and county levels into his background and finances.

A recent report by Mother Jones found that many of the donors listed on Santos’s campaign finances reports do not seem to exist.

Santos could even face a Department of Justice investigation into his financial issues, including his dramatic increase in reported wealth and income, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars he loaned his campaigns from personal accounts, a potential violation of campaign finance law.

Santos has remained mum about the issues plaguing him, though, giving evasive responses to the more out-there accusations but refusing to address his professional background, his finances, or his apparently nonexistent animal charity.

GOP State Lawmakers Are Pushing a Slew of Dangerous Anti-Trans Bills This Week

The bills attack everything from gender-affirming care to birth certificates to trans kids in school.

A protester holds a trans flag and raises their left hand in the sky.

A slew of bills attacking transgender and LGBTQ rights will go up for debate across the United States this week.

State governments in Iowa, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia will hold hearings on bills covering everything from gender-affirming care to bans on drag performances.

Some of the bills will prevent trans people from changing their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity or will set a legal definition of gender that excludes them. In Iowa, the House Education Committee will discuss a bill that would require teachers to out transgender students.

Bills in Virginia, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Tennessee ban gender-affirming care for anyone under the age 18 and prohibit the use of public funds such as Medicaid for gender-affirming care for people over 18.

Proponents of anti-trans legislation argue they are trying to protect children. But as critics point out, it’s not about the kids—it’s about stopping anyone from transitioning. And if anything, bills such as these could make life more dangerous for young queer people, as protests against drag shows and even children’s hospitals have escalated.

“State lawmakers pushing anti-LGBTQ+ bills and spewing dangerous rhetoric towards our community has led to more stigma, discrimination, and ultimately, deadly violence—particularly against the transgender community,” Sarah Warbelow, the legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, told Salon.

Republicans have made it very clear that they are targeting women and gender minorities. The raft of cruel legislation comes just days after a Florida panel recommended requiring student athletes to give their menstrual history to their school. Meanwhile, on a national level, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives included transphobic policy items in the new rules package.

Florida Republicans Push to Let People Carry Guns Without a Permit

A new bill would allow people to carry concealed loaded guns without any permits.

A man has a gun in the holster on his hap. His hands are on the gun as his shirt is tucked up.
George Frey/Getty Images

In Florida, just weeks before the anniversary of the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Republicans are pushing to allow people to carry concealed loaded guns without any permits.

Republicans hold supermajorities in both state chambers. The bill, filed Monday by State Representative Chuck Brannon, has a clear path of passage, especially under the wing of Governor Ron DeSantis, who had promised to pass such a bill. Just hours after the bill was filed, a mass shooting in Lakeland, Florida, left 10 people injured.

Meanwhile, though Florida is dominated by Republicans in office, voters seem less enthused by such a proposition. A poll conducted by the Global Strategy Group in December showed that 68 percent of voters in Miami-Dade oppose permitless carry—this includes 65 percent of registered Republicans and 60 percent of voters who said they voted for DeSantis in November.

Once voters were told explicitly that the bill would allow anyone who can purchase a gun to carry it in public, opposition grew by 12, to 80 percent—with 81 percent of Hispanics and 69 percent of DeSantis voters being opposed to such a policy. Moreover, more voters were found to attribute crime to lax gun laws than to lack of police funding.

Another poll conducted last September showed similar results, with 61 percent of Floridian voters opposed to permitless carry, including 71 percent of Hispanics.

Republicans, however, no strangers to proceeding with dangerous and unpopular policies, look poised to steamroll ahead. Along with DeSantis, the bill is endorsed by House Speaker Paul Renner, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, the Florida Sheriffs Association, and of course, the NRA.

If the bill passes, Florida would become the twenty-sixth state to allow permitless concealed carry. This, as the country continues to be plagued by deadly mass shootings. A recent analysis found that states that pass a permitless carry law suffer from a 22 percent increase in gun homicide for the three years following the law’s passage. While states could be responding to the crisis of gun violence in this country, especially after another string of mass shootings this month, Florida instead looks poised to loosen restrictions even further—against the will of its voters, and threatening their lives too.

This post has been updated.

Trump Sues Journalist Bob Woodward for Making an Audiobook of Multiple Interviews He Agreed To

Donald Trump is seeking nearly $50 million in damages over the audiobook of his interviews, which Woodward says were voluntary and on the record.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Donald Trump sued Bob Woodward Monday for using recordings of interviews they did to make an audiobook, claiming he only gave the journalist permission to use them for a book.

Woodward interviewed Trump for hours over the course of 19 interviews in 2016, December 2019, and August 2020. The recordings became the basis for Woodward’s 2020 book Rage, which was about the Trump presidency. About two years later, publisher Simon & Schuster released the recordings as an audiobook, The Trump Tapes.

The lawsuit, first reported by Bloomberg, focuses on Woodward’s alleged “usurpation, manipulation, and exploitation” of the material, according to court documents filed Monday.

“Defendants have converted the audio not only into an audiobook but also into derivative works, including a CD, paperback, and e-book—again, all at the expense of President Trump and without accounting to him,” the lawsuit says.

Trump is seeking nearly $50 million in damages from Woodward, Simon & Schuster, and the publisher’s parent company for alleged violation of his copyright interests, arguing that he never gave permission for the recordings to be made public.

Trump criticized Woodward right after the audiobook was released, insisting on Truth Social that he allowed the interviews to be recorded “only for the purposes of making sure that he got my quotes & statements correct for ‘the WRITTEN WORD.’”

Trump also claimed The Trump Tapes was “highly inaccurate” and edited to make him look “as bad as possible.”

Woodward, however, told CNN that the recordings were “done voluntarily” and “all on the record”—meaning, agreeing “for people to report and repeat what you are saying.”

Trump has a history of suing news outlets and people who do or say things he doesn’t like. He has filed libel suits against The Washington Post, The New York Times, and CNN, the latter two of which have been tossed out of court.

Last week, he dropped a lawsuit against New York Attorney General Letitia James, who had sued his Trump Organization for fraud. Less than a week before, Trump was hit with about $1 million in sanctions for what a Florida judge slammed as a “completely frivolous, both factually and legally, lawsuit against Hillary Clinton.”

CNN Welcomes Bill Maher, Who Once Used a Racial Slur on Air, to Its Lineup

If CNN wanted to dip its toe into comedy, Bill Maher wasn’t the only option.

Matt Winkelmeyer/VF20/WireImage

When Chris Licht took over CNN last year, he told employees he sought to make CNN “an organization that exemplifies the best characteristics in journalism,” pillaring values like “fearlessly speaking truth to power” and “educating viewers and readers with straightforward facts and insightful commentary.” Seeming to forget all of that, CNN will now be hosting Bill Maher’s late night HBO segment, Overtime, every Friday night, beginning this week. Falling short of some of these pillars, Maher comes with a spanning history of issues.

In 2017, Senator Ben Sasse appeared on Maher’s show, where he invited the host to “come work in the fields with us” in his home state.

“Work in the fields?” Maher replied. “Senator, I’m a house n*****.” Sasse and the audience awkwardly laugh (Maher later apologized for using the word).

Maher once questioned where Zayn Malik, the Pakistani-British member of One Direction, was during the Boston bombing and has described Muslims as dangerous and anti-American. He once said, “What if during Black History Month, we all bought lobster with food stamps? What if for Cinco de Mayo we all went swimming in blue jeans?” Maher also hosted alt-right commentator and alleged pedophilic advocate Milo Yiannopoulous. 

Maher hosted anti-vaxxer Jay Gordon, giving the “doctor” open and unopposed headway to peddle anti-vaccine talking points. He also praised Republican Governor Ron DeSantis for being a “voracious consumer of the scientific literature” on Covid-19. Maher said DeSantis “protected his most vulnerable population, the elderly, way better than did the governor of New York.” As of January 30, Florida’s seven-day average of Covid deaths stands at 53.6 deaths; New York’s is 32.3.

Maher appeared on Chris Cuomo’s show to talk about the need for “an honest history of racism,” only to then use right-wing terms to denounce “critical race theory,” manufacturing a nonexistent conflict between the two ideas.

To be fair, Maher has hosted people from across the political spectrum for years: from Cornel West and Ann Coulter to Andrew Yang and Barbara Lee. Maher, and his guests, may not fit in one particular ideological box, and some use that as evidence of Maher’s independence. After all, though espousing some culturally conservative and simply problematic stances, Maher has also earned favor with different factions of the left. Liberals may support him for his general anti-Trump stances; progressives may find appreciation in his endorsing Medicare for All and marijuana legalization or platforming people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

But Maher isn’t unique; millions of people have complicated and cross-ideological views. And if someone peddles baseless conspiracy or dehumanizes (or gives permission for others to dehumanize) entire groups of people, there’s no need to pay them to lead your network’s expansion. Even if CNN wanted to expand into comedy, and wanted a charismatic host who can roll with wherever punches may come, it’s not as if Maher was their only option.