Skip Navigation
Breaking News
Breaking News
from Washington and beyond

Florida “Don’t Say Gay” Lawmaker Pleads Guilty in Covid Fraud Case

Former state Representative Joseph Harding now faces up to 35 years in prison.

Someone waves a Pride flag

Joseph Harding, a leading Republican co-sponsor for Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements—and faces up to 35 years in prison.

The former Florida state representative resigned in December, after being indicted by a federal grand jury for using inactive businesses to apply for emergency loans doled out to small businesses during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Harding stole some $150,000 from the Small Business Administration program meant to help struggling businesses serve their customers and pay their workers during the pandemic, according to a news release from the Justice Department.

Harding became a prominent voice among Florida Republicans after introducing and helping lead the passage of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, one of many authoritarian legislative planks pursued under Ron DeSantis’s reign. The bill bans classroom instruction and discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity for students up to the third grade. Beyond the third grade, such instruction is only to be allowed so long as it is “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate,” in “accordance with state standards,” vague guidelines that have led instructors and students alike to worry how the government will over-enforce an already repressive law.

Harding has entered a plea deal on one count of each of the charges, allowing the other counts against him to be dropped. Still, he faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for the wire fraud charge, a maximum of 10 for money laundering, and a maximum of five for false statements. The actual sentence to Harding will be doled out in July.

Beyond being one of the leading co-sponsors for the repressive and DeSantis-blessed “Don’t Say Gay” Florida law, Harding was also named vice chair of the state House Health and Human Services Committee and of the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee before he resigned in December.

Since 2021, lawmakers in at least 22 states have introduced at least 42 bills that restrict education or discussion about gender and sexual orientation. While Florida’s is the only one to become law so far, at least 30 other bills are currently progressing through state legislatures.

Starbucks Workers Are on a Nationwide Strike to Protest Union-Busting

Workers are greeting the company’s new CEO with a demand for a “real seat at the table.”

Starbucks workers protest with signs that read "Baristas over billionaires," "Honk for Unions," and "Starbucks Workers on ULP Strike."
Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram/Getty Images
(From left) Kit Kittleson, Josie Serrano, and Misha Spencer hold picket signs as they strike in front of a Starbucks in Long Beach, California, on December 16.

Workers at more than 100 Starbucks locations across the country went on strike Wednesday to protest the company’s alleged union-busting tactics and demand a contract negotiation.

The strike was timed to fall on “Founder’s Day,” a holiday the coffee chain invented to honor three-time CEO Howard Schultz. Schultz announced Monday that he was stepping down from his post two weeks early. He has been replaced by Laxman Narasimhan.

“We are on strike today … to show Starbucks that we will no longer take the hour cuts, the lack of guaranteed hours. We will no longer settle for anything less than a real seat at the table, and also to show them that we have the power,” a woman named Lola, who works at a Starbucks store in St. Paul, Minnesota, told More Perfect Union.

Starbucks employees took to the streets in more than 40 cities. The first coffee store unionized in Buffalo, New York, almost a year and a half ago, and union efforts have prevailed at hundreds of other locations. At least 421 Starbucks locations nationwide have launched unionization efforts, 287 of which have been successful. Another 39 are currently ongoing.

But over the past year, Starbucks has shuttered multiple locations, some of which were either unionized or reportedly forming a union. The company fired more than 100 union leaders, some of whom were reinstated only after a federal judge ordered Starbucks to do so. And when Starbucks representatives finally met with union members in October, after months of delays, they walked out after just a few minutes because they disliked that some union members had called in over Zoom.

Schultz came under particular fire during his third tenure as Starbucks CEO for alleged union-busting tactics. His retirement announcement came a little more than a week before he was due to appear in front of a key Senate labor committee.

He had agreed to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, just before the committee voted to subpoena him over the union-busting allegations. Schultz will still have to appear in front of the committee, even though he is no longer Starbucks’s CEO.

Trump’s Own Lawyers Could Be Forced to Testify Against Him in Special Counsel Case

The president’s legal issues seem to be growing day by day.

Donald Trump
Alex Wong/Getty Images

A top federal judge ruled that some of Donald Trump’s attorney-client privileges could be “pierced” after prosecutors for the special counsel investigating the former president found he intentionally misled his own attorneys about keeping classified materials when he left office. As a result, two of Trump’s lawyers could now be forced to testify against him.

Jack Smith was appointed in November as the special counsel to investigate Trump’s role in the January 6 attack and his keeping hundreds of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate. Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

U.S. Judge Beryl Howell wrote in a sealed court filing Friday that Smith’s team had found preliminary evidence that showed “the former president had committed criminal violations,” ABC News reported. Howell, who stepped down Friday as the chief judge for the D.C. district court, found prosecutors had “sufficient” evidence that Trump “intentionally concealed” many of the classified documents from his own legal team.

For now, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has temporarily stayed Howell’s order, but a final ruling could come at any moment.

Howell ordered Trump attorney Evan Corcoran to comply with a grand jury subpoena for testimony on six different lines of inquiry. She also ordered him to hand over records of Trump’s alleged “criminal scheme,” including handwritten notes, invoices, and transcriptions of personal audio recordings.

The judge also ordered Trump lawyer Jennifer Little to testify for unspecified reasons. Little is representing the former president in the Georgia investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in the state.

Prosecutors will need to reach a much higher standard of evidence to seek charges against Trump and prove him guilty, Howell said. But her decision is “an indication that the government had presented some evidence and allegation that they had evidence that met the elements of a crime,” former national security official Brandon Van Grack told ABC.

Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who led the successful prosecution of former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, said Howell’s order could be a “gold mine” for proving wrongdoing by Trump. Howell also presided over Manafort’s obstruction charges.

A Trump campaign spokesman, who sounded a lot like Trump publicist John Miller, hit back at Howell’s order. “Shame on Fake News ABC for broadcasting ILLEGALLY LEAKED false allegations from a Never Trump, now former chief judge, against the Trump legal team,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “The real story here, that Fake News ABC SHOULD be reporting on, is that prosecutors only attack lawyers when they have no case whatsoever.”

Trump and his supporters have repeatedly accused prosecutors of weaponizing their offices to attack the former president. The latest target is Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who is expected to indict Trump this week for his alleged role in hush-money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Trump Wants to Be Handcuffed for the Stormy Daniels Hush Money

Ahead of a potential criminal indictment, the former president is planning out the spectacle of his arrest.

Donald Trump exits a car as someone opens a door for him.
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Donald Trump wants to be put in handcuffs.

The twice-impeached former president currently facing four criminal investigations told his advisers that, if he is indicted by the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation into his role for paying hush money to porn actress Stormy Daniels, he wants to turn it all into a show.

As The Guardian reports, Trump seems more concerned with how to display strength and defiance amid the potential criminal charges than he is with the charges themselves. He has essentially told advisers that if he is going to be forced to surrender to authorities and have fingerprinting and a mug shot done at the courthouse, he may as well turn the whole process into a “spectacle.”

A perp walk of a visually unphased Trump, handcuffed and flanked by the police, all in front of flashing cameras and ardent protesters, is apparently Trump’s fantasy. Unfortunately for the daydreamer, reports indicate that authorities will likely work in tandem with the Secret Service to avoid such pandemonium.

Trump’s reinvigorated thirst for being the main character seems to be a bounce back from when he was on the way out of the White House. Per The New York Times, Trump was deep in the doldrums upon being impeached for the second time, after his supporters attacked the Capitol in a failed attempt to keep him in power. Trump reportedly had a “startling melancholy in his tone and hints of self-reflection as he sighed about his advanced age and expanding waistband,” reported the Times.

But since then, presumably buttressed by his formal entrance back into politics as the leading candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination, Trump seems to be more and more back in his brash, delinquent groove. His eagerness to turn his potentially unprecedented arrest—which would make him the first former president to be criminally indicted—into a spectacle mirrors an augmented egomania displayed in, for example, his insistence that the Secret Service drive him around in a limo after he tested positive for Covid-19 so he could project strength to his supporters.

The spectacle didn’t work then (he lost the election weeks after that, and he and Melania’s cases were a few of many in the White House Covid outbreak), and it likely won’t work now. Because while Trump revels in the showbiz aspect of being criminally charged—and while this could solidify him as a martyr for at least enough primary voters to crowd out any other challenger—he is still mired in three other criminal investigations.

And one indictment alone would be enough to turn off more voters than the ones who chose not to vote for him in 2020.

North Dakota Republican Compares Letting Students Use Their Preferred Pronouns to Murder

More than a bit of hyperbole from state Representative Lori VanWinkle

Mark Rightmire/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register/Getty Images

Lori VanWinkle seems to believe respecting students’ preferred pronouns is the same as committing murder.

The Republican representative in North Dakota made the claim during a state House judiciary meeting Monday on a Senate bill that would ban schools from adopting any policies or curriculum related to “expressed gender” and allow teachers to misgender students without facing penalty. VanWinkle supported the bill and seemed to argue that respecting someone’s preferred pronouns was tantamount to accepting murder.

“I mean this seems to be like we’re promoting them to make things up that aren’t true and then endorse that,” she said, suggesting that simply allowing students to use their preferred pronouns is instead encouraging them to lie about their gender. “I just don’t understand why we’re calling ‘lying’ protecting something, when we wouldn’t do it if [students] came to school and felt like they had the right to murder people,” she added.

The bill, which also bans schools from requiring staff training on gender, passed the Senate last month. Both chambers of the North Dakota legislature are controlled by the Republican Party, as is the governor’s office.

“Senate Bill 2231 only has one outcome for North Dakota,” North Dakota Student Association spokesperson Celeste McCash told local outlet KX News. “Economic losses. Individuals who are part of the LGBTQUIA+ community and their families will not consider moving to or continuing to live in our state.”

None of that is a problem for VanWinkle. “How does this even remotely fit into our constitutional obligation to promote a high degree of intelligence, patriotism, morality, and integrity for our students in the education system?” she asked earlier in the meeting.

Since entering office last year, VanWinkle has made a habit of reading Bible verses on the House floor and focusing on bills banning gender-affirming care and mask mandates. Last month, she cited a Covid-19 conspiracy theory while debating a bill on expanded workers’ compensation for firefighters and police officers, eliciting at least one audible groan from a fellow lawmaker.

Recently, VanWinkle joined Representative Brandon Prichard—known by local outlets as the “George Santos of North Dakota,” for reportedly lying about his education and even where he lives—to push a bill that would ban drag performances in the presence of minors or on public property. That bill, H.B. 1333, is also up for consideration.

John Cornyn Calls GOP Effort to Slander Trump Investigators Waste of Time

The Republican senator had some words for the rest of his party.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Congressional Republicans and right-wing media figures are working to discredit the Manhattan district attorney in the lead-up to a potential indictment of Donald Trump. Republican Senator John Cornyn, a two-decade member of Congress and prominent party figure, finds the effort to be a distraction.

“There’s more than enough to do,” Cornyn told Punchbowl News. “I would hope they would stick to the agenda they ran on when they got elected to the majority.”

The pronouncement by Cornyn may seem tame, but it is still significant given how much stock Trump puts into seeing who sticks out for him, and who does not.

Other Republicans have thus far mostly criticized the investigation into Trump’s alleged hush-money payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels, rather than the former president himself. Senator J.D. Vance lambasted the ongoing investigation as a baseless inquiry funded by George Soros.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik have also perpetuated the conspiracy about Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg serving at the behest of Soros. Stefanik went even further, saying that while Manhattan allows such a supposedly baseless investigation, Bragg has brought “skyrocketing crime” to the city. The latter claim is demonstrably false (violent crime has decreased since Bragg’s election).

The claim about Soros is rooted in a right-wing antisemitic scare campaign about wealthy Jewish people nefariously influencing society. This organized campaign straight from the top of Republican leadership comes from the same people who shamelessly booted Representative Ilhan Omar off a House committee for a comment she said was not meant to be taken as antisemitic but apologized for nonetheless. Republicans have never apologized for their continual invocation of the Soros conspiracy theory.

Cornyn may complain of the behavior of Republicans like McCarthy and Stefanik (not the hypocrisy about antisemitism), but he is mistaken if he thinks this was not exactly the agenda radical House Republicans “ran on when they got elected to the majority.” This kind of time-wasting, hypocritical, obstructive rhetoric was always on the front burner for Republicans—and is one reason why their “majority” is barely one at all anyhow.

Oklahoma Just Barely Expands Abortion Access to Preserve Life of the Pregnant Person

The Supreme Court ruling still leaves abortion inaccessible for most Oklahomans.

Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the state constitution protects a woman’s right to an abortion “when necessary to save her life.”

Abortion providers and reproductive rights groups had asked the court to find that the constitution protected a person’s right to choose to end a pregnancy. But the justices ruled only on a narrow exception, leaving the majority of the state’s tight restrictions in place. This means that abortion is still inaccessible for most Oklahomans.

The majority opinion founded its argument on the constitutional provision guaranteeing that “all persons have the inherent right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the enjoyment of the gains of their own industry.”

That section “stands as the basis for protecting a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy in order to save her life.”

After Roe v. Wade was overturned, Oklahoma enacted a near-total abortion ban, one of the strictest laws in the country. It only made an exception for someone in a “medical emergency.” Abortion was also made a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison or a $100,000 fine. Individuals could sue anyone who helped provide access to an abortion.

The state Supreme Court struck down that law, ruling that “a woman has an inherent right to choose to terminate her pregnancy if at any point in the pregnancy, the woman’s physician has determined to a reasonable degree of medical certainty or probability that the continuation of the pregnancy will endanger the woman’s life.”

“Absolute certainty is not required, however, mere possibility or speculation is insufficient.”

But the court left in place a law passed in 1910 that makes it a felony to intentionally perform an abortion unless necessary to save the patient’s life. This means that health care providers will still have to tread incredibly carefully when performing abortions, lest they risk up to five years in prison. And by not ruling on elective abortions, the court’s decision means that most abortions are still not an option for state residents.

The right recognized today is so limited that most people who need abortion will not be able to access it,” Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, tweeted. “Providers’ hands are still tied by an abortion ban that would make them criminals for providing essential care.”

While it’s good that Oklahoma now has even marginally increased abortion access, the ruling makes clear that the bar is so incredibly low for abortion wins. And as writer Jessica Valenti has repeatedly noted, abortion law exceptions aren’t really about restoring rights at all. “The truth is that abortion exceptions are a lie: A political tool that’s more about helping Republicans’ public image than making abortion accessible to victims,” she wrote in a September newsletter.

Even Alex Jones Has a Problem With Donald Trump’s Calls for Protest

The far-right conspiracy theorist said Trump’s call for protest, ahead of his potential indictment, is dangerous.

Alex Jones
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“I’ve got an issue with Trump,” far-right provocateur Alex Jones said on Steven Crowder’s show Tuesday, referring to the twice-impeached former president’s call for protests in response to his potential indictment.

Jones disapproved of Trump’s Truth Social posts urging people to “TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” and “PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!” He compared the call to the January 6 attack on the Capitol (which Jones called a “setup”), arguing that “he’s lighting up a cigarette while he’s playing with gasoline,” by potentially inciting “some people” to become violent once again.

Of note is that Jones’s opposition appeared largely as strategic advice to Trump, not as condemnation.

“Someday, there may be a 1776 issue, where things are so bad we gotta get physical,” Jones conceded humbly. “But I think we should exhaust all the remedies first, and I don’t think, if there is a violent revolution, it should be randomly attacking police or Capitol buildings.”

“Of course,” Crowder chimed in, nodding and verbally affirming everything Jones said about how best to carry out “violent revolution.”

Crowder continued with the baton, assuring listeners that he did not think Trump would have wanted violence. “He didn’t word it, maybe, prudently,” Crowder suggested, describing how Trump could have simply said, “‘Protest, make your voices heard peacefully,’ which he did, by the way, on January 6.”

In the weeks leading up to, and on the day of, January 6, Trump continually instructed his supporters to “show strength,” and “stop the steal.” On December 18, he insisted that he won the election. “FIGHT FOR IT. Don’t let them take it away!” Trump tweeted.

At a rally on January 6 itself, Trump dropped the word “peacefully” in once; otherwise, his remarks focused on directing his supporters to demand Congress overturn the election results. “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators, and congressmen and women,” Trump said to his supporters. “We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”

This is what Crowder calls “peaceful,” as if that instills any confidence that Trump certainly did not intend to call for violence this time around.

“Unnecessary and Cruel”: Georgia Senate Passes Bill Banning Gender-Affirming Care for Trans Kids

The bill now goes to the desk of Republican Governor Brian Kemp.

A heart made from transgender flag stickers outside
Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe/Getty Images
A heart made from transgender flag stickers

The Georgia Senate passed a bill Tuesday banning gender-affirming care for minors and criminalizing medical workers who provide that care.

The bill passed by a vote of 31–21 and now goes to Governor Brian Kemp, who is likely to sign it. The measure passed the state House of Representatives last week.

If it becomes law, the bill will ban hormone therapy and transition-related surgeries for anyone under the age of 18. It was amended in the House to include civil and criminal penalties for health care workers who provide gender-affirming care.

The Human Rights Campaign condemned the bill as “unnecessary and cruel.”

“When medical associations representing 1.3 million doctors say that age-appropriate, gender-affirming care is medically necessary for trans and nonbinary youth, who are these politicians to say that they know otherwise?” HRC State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel Cathryn Oakley said in a statement.

These extremist lawmakers have been told what this harmful bill will do, and now the families of transgender youth in Georgia will be the ones who have to live with the consequences. This is cruel and unconscionable legislation, designed only to hurt marginalized kids.”

Major medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, support giving gender-confirming care to children, deeming it medically necessary and even lifesaving.

The cruel irony of Georgia’s bill, part of a nationwide effort by Republicans to curtail LGBTQ rights, is that its supporters insist they are protecting children. But gender-affirming care actually decreases the amount of depression and anxiety that trans and nonbinary teenagers feel. It also makes them less likely to consider suicide.

What’s more, by targeting LGBTQ people through legislation, Republican lawmakers are only demonizing the community and exposing them to more violence and hatred.

Kemp has not commented recently on the gender-affirming care ban, but he has previously signed a law banning transgender girls from playing girls’ sports.

Kevin McCarthy Dismisses Potential Trump Indictment As “Political” Witch Hunt

The House speaker’s claim comes right after he begged Trump supporters to please not protest if in an indictment really happens.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

The investigation into Donald Trump’s alleged hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels is all just some frivolous and unjust “political” exercise, but also nobody should protest an indictment if it happens. This is Kevin McCarthy’s running line, as the twice-impeached former president and current leading 2024 Republican candidate faces potential arrest.

McCarthy was asked Tuesday by CNN’s Manu Raju about allegations that Trump falsified business records to cover up a hush-money payment to Daniels, a porn actress he reportedly had an affair with. Rather than answer the question, McCarthy demurred, talking instead about Hillary Clinton, attacking the Manhattan District Attorney’s office handling the case, and interestingly not even disputing the actual core of the allegations themselves.

“This was personal money. This wasn’t trying to hide. This was seven years ago, statute of limitations,” said McCarthy. “And I think in your heart of hearts you know too that you think this is just political. And I think that’s what the rest of the country thinks. And we’re kind of tired of that.”

The comments came after McCarthy urged people on Monday to not protest the possible indictment. “I don’t think people should protest this, no,” he said. “I think President Trump, if you talk to him, he doesn’t believe in that either.”

“PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” Trump had urged on Truth Social on Saturday, in an all-caps rant on George Soros–funded nefariousness and “ILLEGAL LEAKS” from the DA’s office. (Trump himself was the one who leaked the coming potential indictment.). Later that same day, Trump posted again, saying that “IT’S TIME!!!” as he warned about the nation being in a “STEEP DECLINE,” due to “EVIL & SINISTER PEOPLE” in power. “PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!” Trump called to his loyal supporters.

The call to protest naturally raised concerns, given the last time Trump’s supporters heeded the call to protest (read: attack the Capitol). But apparently not for McCarthy.

“I think the thing that you may misinterpret when President Trump talks, when someone says that they can protest, he’d probably be referring to my tweet, ‘educate people about what’s going on,’” McCarthy said on Trump’s posts. “He’s not talking in a harmful way. And nobody should.”

McCarthy purported to be frustrated with questions about Trump and his crimes during a House issues retreat, instead of questions about policy. But framing the Republican Party as one interested in solving material problems is difficult when it’s simply the party of “No” when it comes to government action—and hyperfocused on couching its opposition to such action through meaningless terms like “Wokeism.” After all, House Republicans have spent more energy trumping up their select subcommittee “on the Weaponization of the Federal Government,” than on any of their supposed initiatives to manage good governance. 

The line McCarthy is fumbling between can be seen in real-time. McCarthy was asked if Trump is still the leader of the Republican Party. “In the press room, for all of you, he is,” he retorted. Curiously, at a different point, McCarthy also referred to Trump as already being a “nominee for president.”