Issues Nationwide Injunction in Lawsuit Brought by Texas on Behalf of 13 States
As expected, a federal district judge in TexasÂ has issued a nationwide injunctionÂ blocking the Obama administration from enforcing recent guidance saying public schools should allow transgender students to use restroom and locker rooms based on their gender identity.Â
U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee who has a record of opposing LGBT rights, handed down the 38-page order Sunday in a lawsuit brought by TexasÂ Attorney General Ken Paxton on behalf of 13 states. At a hearing 10 days ago,Â Paxton’s office argued the administration is holding â€œa gun to the headâ€ of the states by threatening to withhold federal education funds if they donâ€™t â€œmix the sexes in intimate areas.”Â
However, O’Connor didn’t rule on the merits of the lawsuit â€” or the question of whether trans students are protected against discrimination under existingÂ federal law. Rather, he concluded that the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice failed to follow proper legal procedure before issuing the guidance in May. Â
“This case presents the difficult issue of balancing the protection of studentsâ€™ rights and that of personal privacy when using school bathrooms, locker rooms, showers, and other intimate facilities, while ensuring that no student is unnecessarily marginalized while attending school,” O’Connor wrote. “The resolution of this difficult policy issue is not, however, the subject of this Order. Instead, theÂ Constitution assigns these policy choices to the appropriate elected and appointed officials, who must follow the proper legal procedure.”Â
O’Connor’s order states that the injunction bars the administration from “initiating, continuing, orÂ concluding any investigation” based on its opinion that Title IX, the 1972 federal law prohibiting discrimination based on sex in education programs, also covers gender identity. The injunction also bars the administration from “asserting the Guidelines carry weight in any litigation initiated” going forward. Â
LGBT advocates have said they expect the Obama administration to immediately appeal the injunction.
Freedom for All Americans, the bipartisan campaign to secure nationwide protections for LGBT people, called O’Connor’s order “outrageous.”Â
â€œTodayâ€™s ruling is a step back for transgender protections by a conservative judge who refused to hear the voices of a single transgender student or worker during court proceedings,” FFAA chief program officerÂ Kasey Suffredini said. “It is shameful that opponents of equality have forced this lawsuit forward in an attempt to make transgender Americans pawns in a political game; but this ruling will not stand the test of time. All transgender Americans â€” particularly transgender youth â€” deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. No singular court ruling negates the right of all Americans to receive equal treatment under the law â€” thatâ€™s one of our nationâ€™s founding values.”
Paxton said in a Â statement he was “pleasedÂ that the court ruled against the Obama Administrationâ€™s latest illegal federal overreach.Â
“This President is attempting to rewrite the laws enacted by the elected representatives of the people, and is threatening to take away federal funding from schools to force them to conform,” he said. “That cannot be allowed to continue, which is whyÂ we took action to protect States and School Districts, who are charged under state law to establish a safe and disciplined environment conducive to student learning.â€Â
Sarah Webelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, said O’Connor’s order “puts thousands of transgender students at even greater risk of marginalization, harassment, and discrimination.”Â
“Despite this judgeâ€™s decision, schools are not barred from following the federal guidance, and school administrators still have a responsibility to ensure that the civil rights of all students are respected and that transgender students have access to facilities consistent with their gender identity,” Warbelow said. “As lawsuits on the scope of Title IX proceed, we believe that justice will prevail as courts continue to recognize that discrimination against transgender students is a form of sex discrimination.â€
Read O’Connor’s order here.Â
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McConnell to Step Down as Minority Leader
Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the longest-serving party leader in the history of the U.S. Senate, will relinquish his leadership role in November. The Kentucky Republican, who is 82 and has suffered health issues, has served in the Senate since 1985.
“One of life’s most underappreciated talents is to know when it’s time to move on to life’s next chapter,” Leader McConnell said in prepared remarks, The Associated Press reports. “So I stand before you today … to say that this will be my last term as Republican leader of the Senate.”
McConnell, who told colleagues Wednesday that “the politics within the Republican Party” have “changed,” is stepping down but not retiring. He plans to serve out his current term to the end, in January 0f 2027.
News outlets have reported McConnell has been under pressure to endorse Donald Trump’s bid for re-election. The New York Times reports “conversations between the Trump and McConnell camps have been happening between key advisers to both men,” despite that neither has “said a word to each other since December 2020.”
In March of 2016, as Majority Leader, he refused to follow the U.S. Constitution’s call for “advice and consent” of Presidential nominees, derailing then-Judge Merrick Garland’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
McConnell partnered with then-President Donald Trump to install a record-number of judges to the federal bench, many chosen by the far-right Federalist Society. But even before Trump’s election, McConnell, PBS’s Frontline reported, held open “vacancies that Trump then filled with conservative federal judges at a breakneck pace.”
“When President Trump took office and McConnell served as Senate majority leader, Trump had more than 100 vacancies to fill in the lower courts, including 17 in the U.S. courts of appeals — all of them lifetime appointments,” according to Frontline. “The Supreme Court hears around 80 cases a year, while the courts of appeals handle tens of thousands of cases annually — often making them the last word in most cases that impact the lives of Americans.”
MSNBC/NBC News legal analyst Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor for 30 years, remarked in a thread on X: “Mitch McConnell’s legacy, at least in part, will be violating the Constitution by denying a president’s Supreme Court nominee a confirmation hearing – ignoring the Senate’s ‘advice and consent’ responsibilities. McConnell then led Trump by the nose, orchestrating the degradation of the Supreme Court, with the predicable results being a callous and conflicted Supreme Court revoking women’s constitutional privacy rights, damaging equality of educational opportunities for minorities, and unleashing business discrimination cloaked in religious piety.”
“McConnell also improperly orchestrated an acquittal at Trump’s first impeachment trial,” Kirschner continued, “enabling Trump to launch a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. American will be better for Mitch McConnell’s departure from the US Senate.”
Watch McConnell’s announcement below or at this link.
McConnell on the Senate floor announcing his upcoming retirement as Senate leader: “Believe me, I know the politics within my party at this particular moment in time. I have many faults. Misunderstanding politics is not one of them.” pic.twitter.com/gyvZjNoxba
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 28, 2024
‘MAGA-Motivated Conspiracies’: Hunter Biden Decimates Comer and Jordan in Opening Remarks
Hunter Biden is testifying behind closed doors in a joint hearing of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees, but the President’s son released his opening statement Wednesday morning, accusing Republican Chairmen Jim Comer and Jim Jordan of basing their investigation on an “entire partisan house of cards” of “lies” told by two people who have been indicted, a third who is behind bars, and fourth who has been “exposed” for his “false statements.”
Politico calls Hunter Biden’s opening statement a “blistering rebuke of Republicans’ investigation into his father, President Joe Biden.”
“I am here today to provide the Committees with the one uncontestable fact that should end the false premise of this inquiry: I did not involve my father in my business. Not while I was a practicing lawyer, not in my investments or transactions domestic or international, not as a board member, and not as an artist. Never,” Hunter Biden’s statement begins.
“You read this fact in the many letters that have been sent to you over the last year as part of your so-called impeachment investigation. You heard this fact when I said it weeks ago, standing outside of this building. You heard this fact from a parade of other witnesses – former colleagues and business partners of mine, including my uncle – who have testified before you in similar proceedings. And now, today, you hear this fact directly from me.”
“For more than a year, your Committees have hunted me in your partisan political pursuit of my dad. You have trafficked in innuendo, distortion, and sensationalism – all the while ignoring the clear and convincing evidence staring you in the face,” Biden’s statement reads. “You do not have evidence to support the baseless and MAGA-motivated conspiracies about my father because there isn’t any.”
Biden goes on to charge Comer and Jordan with building their “entire partisan house of cards on lies told by the likes of Gal Luft, Tony Bobulinski, Alexander Smirnov, and Jason Galanis. Luft, who is a fugitive, has been indicted for his lies and other crimes; Smirnov, who has made you dupes in carrying out a Russian disinformation campaign waged against my father, has been indicted for his lies; Bobulinski, who has been exposed for the many false statements he has made, and Galanis, who is serving 14 years in prison for fraud.”
Alexander Smirnov is the latest witness House Republicans chose whose credibility has been destroyed. Two weeks ago today he was arrested on federal charges including lying to the FBI about the very topic Comer and Jordan have based their entire impeachment investigation on: the debunked “Burisma” conspiracy theory. Smirnov has admitted, according to court documents, those claims were handed to him by Russian intelligence officials.
“Rather than follow the facts as they have been laid out before you in bank records, financial statements, correspondence, and other witness testimony, you continue your frantic search to prove the lies you, and those you rely on, keep peddling. Yes, they are lies. To be clear, I have made mistakes in my life, and I have squandered opportunities and privileges that were afforded to me. I know that. I am responsible for that. And I am making amends for that. But my mistakes and shortcomings are my own and not my father’s, who has done nothing but devote his entire life to public service and trying to make this country a better place to live.”
Biden points to his “battle with addiction,” praises his father for his support, and says, “He helped save my life. His love and support made it possible for me to get sober, stay sober and rebuild my life as a father, husband, son, and brother.”
“What he got in return for being a loving and supportive parent is a barrage of hate-filled conspiracy theories that hatched this sham impeachment inquiry and continue to fuel unrelenting personal attacks against him and me.”
Biden charges Republicans with taking his “communications out of context,” and alleges they “relied on documents that have been altered, and cherry-picked snippets of financial or other records to misrepresent what really happened.”
He then told the Republican Chairmen they used “a few references to my family in emails or texts that I sent when I was in the darkest days of my addiction.” And he starkly warned: “If you try to do that again today, my answers will reveal your tactics and demonstrate the truth that my father was never involved in any of my businesses.”
U.S. Rep. Robert Garcia (D-CA), who is attending today’s hearing, blasted Speaker Johnson, Donald Trump, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“We’ve been in the deposition now for about an hour, and one thing is crystal clear: Republicans have zero evidence linking Hunter Biden to any sort of business dealings with the president,” he told MSNBC. Garcia also accused Speaker Johnson of having “absolutely no plan” as the government shutdown deadline approaches.
Watch below or at this link.
Rep. Robert Garcia on MSNBC: “We’ve been in the deposition now for about an hour, and one thing is crystal clear: Republicans have zero evidence linking Hunter Biden to any sort of business dealings with the president.” pic.twitter.com/CAH5HnIuUn
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 28, 2024
‘Neck Snapping’: Speaker Johnson’s Latest ‘Flip Flop’ Could Kick Shutdown Down the Road
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, opposed to a government shutdown but appearing willing to allow it to happen, during Tuesday’s White House meeting offered President Joe Biden and top congressional leaders to kick the can down the road in his latest policy “switch.” His reputation for flip-flopping is so strong it’s being described by the D.C. press as “neck snapping.”
“Johnson has offered to shift existing government funding deadlines from March 1 and March 8 to March 8 and March 22,” Punchbowl News reports, calling it “Johnson’s Latest Shift.” Johnson had chosen the March 1 and March 8 dates and the concept of a “laddered” government shutdown, which other stakeholders opposed but accepted.
Johnson has made clear he opposes stop-gap funding, or continuing resolutions, known as CR’s, which this would be.
“After saying late last year he was done with any more short-term stop-gaps to avoid a shutdown, Mike Johnson had to do one in January and may have to do one again. Facing a partial shutdown Friday, he’s bowing to reality and floating another CR,” notes CNN’s Manu Raju. “Negotiators say they’re making progress to complete at least some of the annual funding bills (that they were supposed to get done by last October.)”
The Speaker is now offering up a continuing resolution, but with strings attached.
“Any CR would be part of a larger agreement to finish a number of appropriations bills, ensuring adequate time for drafting text and for members to review prior to casting votes,” Johnson Press Secretary Athina Lawson said in a statement, Punchbowl’s Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan report.
“In this offer, Johnson also is making an explicit threat – if the Louisiana Republican doesn’t have a bipartisan agreement in hand by Friday, he’s not willing to pass a short-term CR to avert a shutdown. Johnson will let government funding lapse starting at midnight Friday. Four bills expire at that point.”
Punchbowl reports this is the “first time” that “Johnson is making explicit to Democrats and the White House that he’s willing to shut down federal agencies unless he has a global agreement – of sorts – on all 12 FY 2024 appropriations bills.”
“These kinds of course changes have become a hallmark of Johnson’s speakership. Plans shift drastically without much notice. Lawmakers are often settling into one strategy when the entire scheme changes. It’s neck snapping,” declare Punchbowl’s Sherman and Bresnaahan.
The House has been on vacation for the past two weeks, and is not scheduled to be back in session until Wednesday evening, giving them just over 48 hours to craft legislation, pass it, have the Senate pass it, and the President sign it into law, all before the 12:01 AM Saturday shutdown deadline.
As Axios reported Tuesday night: “More than a year after Republicans took back the House, the sum result of their work on government spending so far is to extend the budget passed under former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).” Axios added, “What comes next in the shutdown drama is solely up to House Speaker Mike Johnson.”
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