Happy Friday/Rogue One day, everyone. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s pretty cold out there.
We’ll begin at the legislature, where there are shenanigans afoot.
Here’s a quick recap, courtesy of our own Paul Blest, who’s spent the last couple of days down at the legislature and posted some thoughts earlier this morning.
As you can see in the video above, there were hundreds of protesters in the gallery. At one point, an exasperated House Speaker Tim Moore ordered those in the gallery—which included both angry citizens and journalists covering the session and the protest—to leave. One of those reporters, Joe Killian of NC Policy Watch, refused to leave. He was arrested for practicing the act of journalism. (In total, about twenty people were arrested.)
On Thursday, the House and the Senate (many of their members unconstitutionally elected in illegally gerrymandered districts, according to a federal court) began the process of ramming through a series of bills—introduced Wednesday when the fourth special session of the year was suddenly dropped on everyone who wasn’t a member of the Republican caucus—that, among other things, clarified charter school roads funding and approved two business court nominations that Governor McCrory made on his way out the door.
But two main bills are SB 4 and HB 17. The former merges the Board of Elections into a “bipartisan body” that Republicans—so long as they continue to have fewer registered voters than Democrats—will get to control in even-numbered years, reintroduces partisan elections for Court of Appeals and Supreme Court positions, and limits the authority of the Supreme Court to take up constitutional challenges. The latter requires Senate confirmation of cabinet appointees, transfers gubernatorial authority for UNC Boards of Trustees appointments to the General Assembly, and gives other gubernatorial authorities over public education to the Superintendent of Public Instruction (a Republican). Both of these bills passed their respective chambers of origin and will likely see floor votes in the other today.
This is a dark road we’re headed down, folks. As Mark Joseph Stern at Slate succinctly described it:
The INDY will have much more on this today and throughout the next week, so check back often.
This last-minute power grab marks an alarming departure from basic democratic norms—a blatant attempt to overturn the results of an election by curtailing judicial independence and restructuring the government to seize authority lawfully delegated to the incoming Democratic governor.
In other headlines:
1. Congressional Republicans are discovering how hard health care policy is.
Tl;dr: Screaming about Obamacare is easy. Keeping the popular parts while losing the unpopular ones is much more difficult.
This is what’s known as the death spiral.
House Republicans, responding to criticism that repealing the Affordable Care Act would leave millions without health insurance, said on Thursday that their goal in replacing President Obama’s health law was to guarantee “universal access” to health care and coverage, not necessarily to ensure that everyone actually has insurance.
In defending the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration, congressional Democrats and advocacy groups have focused on the 20 million people covered by the law, which has pushed the percentage of Americans without health insurance to record lows. The American Medical Association recently said that “any new reform proposal should not cause individuals currently covered to become uninsured.” …
The House leadership aide said that repealing major provisions of the law was a priority for the first 100 days of the Trump administration. But, he said, the date that those provisions would actually disappear would be delayed, allowing a transition period as short as two years or as long as three or four years. During that time, Republicans plan to pass one or more replacement bills.
By giving people the choice to buy insurance, Republicans could end up dangerously skewing the health insurance market, Obama administration officials and insurance executives say. Sick people are more likely to sign up, they say, and there may not be enough healthy people paying premiums to cover the costs for those who are less healthy.
2. Putin was (allegedly) directly involved in the Russian hacks and election tampering.
Meanwhile, the White House is pledging retaliation for Russian antics.
The Obama administration suggested Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally authorized the hacking of Democratic officials’ email accounts in the run-up to the presidential election and said it was “fact” that such actions helped Donald Trump’s campaign. The White House also assailed Trump himself, saying he must have known of Russia’s interference.
No proof was offered for any of the accusations, the latest to unsettle America’s uneasy transition from eight years under Democratic President Barack Obama to a new Republican administration led by Trump. The claims of Russian meddling in the election also have heightened already debilitating tensions between Washington and Moscow over Syria, Ukraine and a host of other disagreements.
“Only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, repeating the words from an October U.S. intelligence assessment.
Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, connected the dots further, saying it was Putin who was responsible for the Russian government’s actions.
“I don’t think things happen in the Russian government of this consequence without Vladimir Putin knowing about it,” Rhodes said on MSNBC.
President Barack Obama is promising that the U.S. will retaliate against Russia for its suspected meddling in America’s election process, an accusation the Kremlin has vehemently denied.
Amid calls on both sides of the political aisle on Capitol Hill for a full-bore congressional investigation, including assertions President Vladimir Putin was personally involved, Obama said in an interview that anytime a foreign government tries to interfere in U.S. elections, the nation must take action “and we will at a time and place of our own choosing.”
“Some of it may be explicit and publicized, some of it may not be,” he told NPR News Thursday. “But Mr. Putin is well aware of my feelings about this, because I spoke to him directly about it.”
3. The North Carolina idiot who thought Pizzagate was a real thing has been indicted.
4. Dylann Roof convicted of killing nine people in an African-American church.
A federal grand jury Thursday returned an indictment against Edgar Maddison Welch, the North Carolina man who allegedly fired a rifle inside a Washington pizzeria that conspiracy theorists claimed harbored a child sex ring.
Welch, a 28-year-old Salisbury resident, was indicted on a federal count of transporting a firearm and ammunition across state lines, and District of Columbia charges of assault with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm during a commission of violence.
He’s scheduled to appear U.S. District Court Friday morning. If convicted, Welch could face a maximum of 35 years in prison.
5. In Aleppo, evacuations of those in rebel-held areas has halted, and it’s not clear why.
Dylann Roof is guilty of murder and hate crimes, a federal jury decided Thursday in the slayings of nine people last year at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.
The next question is whether the jury will give Roof the death penalty. Testimony for that phase of the trial is set to begin Jan. 3.
Roof’s hatred is “vast,” prosecutors told jurors in closing arguments earlier in the day. Roof, 22, of Columbia, S.C., was convicted of 33 charges, nine of them involving hate crimes, for the June 2015 shooting deaths of parishioners during a Bible study because of the color of their skin.
“After he killed (the Rev.) Clementa Pinckney, he did not stop. He embraced that hatred, and he executed eight more people,” federal prosecutor Nathan Williams told jurors Thursday morning.
That’s it for today. If you can, make your way down to the General Assembly and make yourselves heard.
The process of evacuating residents from the last rebel-held section of Aleppo broke down on Friday, a day after Syrian government buses and ambulances began taking residents out of the besieged area.
The reason for halting the process after more than 8,000 people, mostly civilians but also some insurgent fighters, had been taken to safety was not immediately clear. Nor was it known whether the operation had been suspended temporarily or permanently.
Syrian state news media accused the rebels of seeking to smuggle weapons out of the area and of firing on the convoys of evacuees, while anti-government activists said pro-government militias had blocked the passage to protest the continued siege of two Shiite villages by rebels.
The United Nations said it was asked to leave the area where residents of eastern Aleppo had gathered to be evacuated, but that it did not know why the process had been halted.