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This is a small lake in Sumapaz National Park in Colombia. I don’t know if it’s a permanent lake, or just one that appears during the rainy season and then dries out. But it was very pretty when I was there.
Shortly after the maybe-coup there was a pause on the Hill, a question of whether lawmakers should really try to impeach President Donald Trump—even though his bellicose rally led to the ransacking of the Capitol, with police officers injured and killed.
This mystified me. Why wait? Why try for the 25th Amendment first? Why ask whether impeachment is politically viable? People died. What is there, really, to think about? In the end, Congress moved forward, with speed. But that slight hitch, that subtle pause, has remained on my mind. It brought me back to a book I read during the Democrats’ first attempt to get rid of Trump: Charles L. Black’s Impeachment: A Handbook.
Black’s book is, for those who study impeachment, a sacred text on the booting of a president. Written in Nixonian times, reissued for Clinton’s impeachment, and again in 2018, the Handbook was called by Lawfare the “authoritative guide” and “most important book ever written on presidential impeachment.” The New York Timesused the Handbook in its “word by word” explainer on impeachment last winter. Phillip Bobbitt, who wrote the foreword for the 2018 edition, ordained it a “kind of bible.”
But the lessons drawn from the book are often winnowed down to its very first argument: Proceed with caution. Impeachment is a tool to be used sparingly. The Handbook is chiefly a book about trepidation, the “dreadfulness” of removing a president, and the proper process for doing so—it should be above the political fray.
Last winter, when Trump was impeached over the Ukraine scandal, the Handbook was among the texts cited in the handwringing over the scope of the affair. Should the impeachment be a narrow process, limited to questions of foreign influence peddling? Or a broad reckoning that would include all of Trump’s misdeeds? At the time, Mother Jones senior reporter Tim Murphy compared Trump to President Andrew Johnson, noting that “no narrow indictment could capture the true nature of his offenses.”
The Handbook offered its own advice: Keep it narrow, and act lawyerly. Black relied on the “conscience” of senators, who he believed would rise above their base political leanings to serve the Republic’s pressing need for a fair trial. From the author’s perch, impeachment is not a political venture but a fundamental matter of law. Black disliked even the idea of public commentary on impeachment, mewling that “a snow of telegrams ought to play no part” in the proceedings. He assumed the nobility of Senators would usurp their political instincts, leading them to vote fairly. He addresses the sagacious elected official who “ought to realize the danger and try as far as possible to divest himself of all prejudice.”
That’s not exactly how things panned out. The Senate acquitted Trump last February, following a legalistic impeachment that focused solely on Ukraine—as if any Republican Trump devotee would “divest himself of all prejudice.” New Republic staff writer Alex Pareene raised this issue at the time. In a piece mentioning Black’s book, he asserted that the author’s idealism was now the stuff of fantasy. The book “is lucid and fair-minded,” Pareene wrote. “It also describes a world that no longer exists—one that seemed ironclad and permanent at the time, but turned out, under the pressures of a disingenuous right-wing legal ideology, to have been fleeting.” To feel the ephemeral nature of such ideals, look no further than when Black cited a president’s use of the tax code—instead of, say, foreign relations aid—to harm a political opponent, as a clearly impeachable offense: “Is it not obviously wrong, to any man of ordinary honor?”
For Trump’s second impeachment, everything was so clear, so “obviously wrong,” that it was practically stupefying. Inciting a riot is an impeachable offense, and Trump was duly impeached. “It’s just what Hamilton asked for,” Bobbitt, the scholar who helped reissue Black’s book, told the Huffington Post. The latest, 76-page impeachment document also gets closer than the previous one to capturing Trump’s gradual teardown of democracy as a high crime and misdemeanor in the aggregate. And yet Black’s world no longer exists even in this most obvious of cases. Yes, Sen. Mitch McConnell (privately, cowardly) endorsed impeachment, joining Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking Republican in the House. But even now this “conscience” doesn’t really exist. Nearly 150 Republicans voted to decertify Joe Biden’s win even after the Capitol insurrection. And 197 voted no on the second impeachment resolution Wednesday. The case will proceed next to the Senate, where only perhaps three Republicans appear to favor conviction, and just one, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, has spoken bluntly about it.
So of what use of Black’s “bible” today? Sure, it is an interesting legal document. But, beyond that, I would argue that it offers a second path for Congress now and in the future. There is an important lesson tucked inside—one that was routinely ignored amid all the debate around Trump’s first impeachment. And this was perhaps Black’s most important lesson.
Simply put: Congress needn’t wait for impeachment to rein in a rogue president. In fact, it’s embarrassing that things ever got to this point.
The best course is to use other tools at the lawmakers’ disposal. “Congress is by no means in the position of having to sit idly by, counting up grievances, until time comes to call a council of elders and sharpen the impeachment spear,” Black wrote. Indeed, it “can exercise just about any control it wants on the operations of government including…the actions of the president.”
Congress is “top dog,” Black wrote. The “single thought” underlying his book is that impeachment should be “handled lawfully.” But his grander point is that the law allows Congress to act, dutifully, beyond impeachment. When a president does something beyond the pale, punish him! Punish him long before he incites a group of violent white nationalists; punish him merely for complimenting white nationalists. Make things impeachable that fall far short of a coup. And stop horriblepeople from ever joining the administration.
The impeachment process is sacred. But changing the laws to stop a runaway president is actually Congress’ job. And over the past four years, they failed miserably.
Forget the last-second flip-flops of Mitch McConnell and the rest of last week’s Republican enablers. They had a chance—so many chances—to follow Black’s lessons in full. Instead, they cherrypicked. They waited until the bitter end and hid behind legal nonsense. Accepting Black’s lessons in full requires more than a narrow, slam-dunk impeachment. It means raising our standards to ensure that far lesser things—those “misdemeanors”—are punishable, and not made, as they have been under Trump, de rigeur.
Last year, after the state of Texas temporarily banned abortions in a purported effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, nearly 1,000 Texans crossed the border to access abortion services in other states. According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, there were 1,752 fewer abortions performed in Texas last April (compared to the number performed in April of 2019). But 947 patients traveled to clinics in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma to receive care. A representative of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains told Mother Jones that during the ban, they experienced a sevenfold increase in Texas patients in their New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada clinics alone.
The ban stemmed from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s March executive order that required all procedures that were not “immediately, medically necessary” be postponed, theoretically to preserve PPE for frontline workers and save hospital beds for coronavirus patients. The state’s attorney general interpreted the order to include most abortion services, despite the fact that abortion providers require minimal PPE and, as Kari White, lead author of the study and an investigator for the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) said, “complications from abortion are incredibly rare, particularly those that require hospitalization.”
Abortion advocates said at the time that the ban was more political opportunism than genuine concern for public health. Texas lawmakers have attempted to rollback reproductive rights for nearly half a century—the pandemic was just their latest justification. “The stated reasons for prohibiting abortion during that time period were just not grounded in scientific evidence or typical medical practice,” she said. (Abortions were allowed to resume in Texas on April 22.)
But as per usual, the attempt to stop abortions from happening merely meant that they were happening elsewhere and in less safe conditions. In addition to finding that women were forced to cross state lines to get care, the study also found that second-trimester abortions—which are less safe than first trimester procedures—jumped nearly 61 percent after the ban was lifted because many women had to put off getting care.
Even though it only lasted for a month, the ban had a profound affect on many women. Dr. Bhavik Kumar, a physician at Planned Parenthood Center for Choice in Houston, said during the ban, his patients were desperately seeking help, calling clinics all over town. They were “calling the clinic every day, even driving up to the clinic, just to see if we were open,” he said.
“It was chaotic, it was confusing,” said Kumar, who also serves as the national medical spokesperson for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “There was an executive order, but because that went through the courts, there were a total of eight times that we either opened or closed, sometimes in the middle of the day.” When the ban was lifted in late April, Kumar’s clinic had a backlog hundreds of names long.
Back in March, Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, similarly told my colleague Becca Andrews that the ban—as well as it’s near-constant legal back-and-forth—was wearing on would-be patients:
Last Monday night, her team made calls to pregnant people who had appointments scheduled in their Texas clinics to let them know their procedures were canceled, at least for the time being. “People were sobbing, people were begging for us to see them anyway,” she recounted. “‘Can’t you just figure this out?’; ‘What am I going to do?’; ‘Where am I going to go?’” Making those phone calls and hearing the desperation in the voices of would-be patients was gutting, she said. “We’re really concerned about these people’s mental health—it’s palpable,” even through the phone.
Now, her staffers have to make the calls all over again. “It’s absolutely cruel to say to somebody, ‘You have to continue your pregnancy against your will when there’s a pandemic,’” Hagstrom Miller said. “Those patients are just heartbroken.”
The pandemic also compounded the obstacles to abortion already in place in Texas. One woman told TxPEP researchers that she was unemployed during the pandemic when she learned she was pregnant. She had a mandatory ultrasound done, but had to postpone the abortion procedure because she couldn’t afford the cost out-of-pocket and Texas doesn’t allow patients to pay for abortion care using state insurance or Medicaid. But because the same medical provider has to perform both the ultrasound and the abortion, she couldn’t reschedule.
“They said, ‘No, you have to come in the next week and redo the whole process and get another ultrasound and do everything all over again.’ And I’m like, I don’t want to pay an extra hundred dollars,” she said. The woman, who was kept anonymous, decided to carry her pregnancy to term because she was overwhelmed by the logistics and increasing costs of her delayed abortion.
TxPEP researchers talked to her and nine other women who sought abortion care in late March and early April, who detailed the stress and risk they faced while trying to end their pregnancies. Another woman, pseudonymously named Maria Isabel, successfully had an abortion in south Texas, but only after nine weeks of rescheduling at multiple clinics in her city. By the time she was able to get an appointment she was past the gestational age limit for medication abortion, and had to pay $1,200 for a procedural abortion instead. Yet another woman was able to travel 700 miles to New Mexico for an abortion, but worried that she’d contracted coronavirus because she was feeling feverish on the drive home.
“It was stressful time for everybody, everybody was dealing with economic uncertainty,” White said. But to make matters worse, these women either had to wait a month for abortions to resume in Texas or risk contracting coronavirus while traveling across state lines. All of them reported stress, anxiety, or depression.
“I don’t think that I’ve ever been more depressed in my life, to the point where I didn’t see a future for myself,” one woman told White and her colleagues. “I said, ‘Well, I just have to deal with this. This is just going to have to be what it is. I’m either going to have to parent this baby or adoption.’ I think every day I sat there, it just got worse and worse and worse and worse, and I felt like I didn’t have any options.”
As the House convened to vote to impeach President Trump for a second time, surreal photos emerged on Wednesday revealing a Capitol flooded with National Guard troops on high alert after pro-Trump rioters unleashed violence on the Capitol last week. Striking images showed many sleeping on the floor ahead of the vote with their weapons close by—a chilling reminder of the recent violence that shook the nation to its core.
Later, with Wednesday’s proceedings underway, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stood outside the Capitol building facing rows of National Guard members and thanked them for their service.
Today’s historic vote comes amid questions about safety at the Capitol, the failure of Capitol police to intervene in the riot, and the security of the upcoming inauguration. Democrats have also raised concerns about their own safety as some Republicans insist on bringing firearms to the building, while other Republicans have expressed concern for their safety if they vote to impeach.
On Tuesday, the local newspaper Citrus County Chronicle reported that a West Indian manatee discovered Sunday in the Homosassa River “had the word ‘Trump’ scraped into its back.”
That same day, posts featuring photos and a video of a sea cow with President Donald Trump’s name “scraped” or “carved” into its back circulated on Twitter.
⚠️HELP FIND WHO MUTILATED A MANATEE: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating who carved the word "Trump" on a Florida manatee. USFWS is looking for any information: cal Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation hotline at 888-404-3922. https://t.co/FXQ2l3fYTjpic.twitter.com/jI9kL1BNe5
“The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is investigating the harassment of a manatee…reported to federal authorities over the weekend discovered w/ words "Trump" scraped in its back …discovered in Blue Hole on the Homosassa River” (via @CitrusChronicle ) – Insurrectioning wildlife? pic.twitter.com/PvzI3pZ5Xn
A spokesperson for the Fish and Wildlife Service told HuffPost via email that the federal agency is “investigating this matter” but added that the manatee “does not appear to be seriously injured.”
The letters seem to have been formed by someone scraping away sections of the algae on the manatee’s back, the FWS spokesperson explained.
It’s unclear if the manatee was physically hurt at all, marine biologist Ruth Carmichael from Dauphin Island Sea Lab told Vice News.
“It’s a little hard to see the extent of damage from the video,” she said. “It is harassment, regardless. If the scrape penetrates the skin, then it likely caused some pain and stress. The animals have nerves and sensory hairs in the skin. Additionally, open wounds could become infected.”
But even if no physical damage was done to the animal, the act is still likely a crime. “Harassing or harming a West Indian manatee in any way (including touching or writing on it) is a violation of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act,” the FWS spokesperson said. The agency could not provide any photos or video of the harassed manatee.
According to the FWS website, there are more than 6,300 manatees in Florida ― a significant increase from the estimated 1,267 in 1991.
Yet it seems that 2020 wasn’t a great year for Florida manatees, the Miami Herald noted earlier this week. The newspaper reported that 10 manatees were crushed or drowned by floodgates and locks, per the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s preliminary mortality report. That is twice the number of manatees killed by flood control structures the previous year. And Florida boaters remained a huge threat to the survival of manatees, killing more than 130 in 2019 and at least 90 in 2020, according to the mortality report.
Skipwith added in her statement that the federal agency is working closely with the state’s conservation commission.
The FWS director urged anyone with information regarding this case to call the wildlife crime tips hotline at 1-844-397-8477 or email FWS_TIPS@FWS.GOV.
The story has been updated with more information on the nature of harm to the manatee.
There were five words Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) refused to say at a House Rules Committee meeting Tuesday: “The election was not stolen.”
During a heated exchange with committee chair Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Jordan repeatedly dodged McGovern’s demands that he admit the election was not stolen. At the same time, Jordan attempted to shirk responsibility for promoting dangerous conspiracy theories, claiming that he never asserted that Joe Biden stole the election and was simply questioning the constitutionality of certain states’ election processes.
“I never once said that this thing was stolen,” he said Tuesday. “I said there were major problems, and when you’ve got a third of the electorate who think it was stolen, that’s not a healthy situation for our nation.”
Jim Jordan claimed that he "never once said that [the election] was stolen." But the attempt to shirk responsibility for promoting dangerous conspiracy theories doesn't quite hold up.
It’s hard to square Jordan’s insistence that he “never once said that this thing was stolen” with his statements on the House floor last week shortly before pro-Trump rioters forced the body into a six-hour lockdown.
“Americans instinctively know there was something wrong with this election,” he said on January 6. “During the campaign, Vice President Biden would do an event and he’d get 50 people at the event. President Trump at just one rally gets 50,000 people.”
“President Trump increased his vote with African Americans; increased his vote with Hispanic Americans; won 19 of 20 bellwether counties; won Ohio by 8, Iowa by 8, and Florida by 3. He got 11 million more votes than he did in 2016, and House Republicans won 27 of 27 tossup races,” he continued. “But somehow the guy who never left his house wins the election?”
Jordan may not have explicitly uttered the words, “The election was stolen”—just as Trump never explicitly implored his supporters to storm the Capitol. But, as we saw last week, a heavy implication will do the trick.
Long before the Capitol attack brought into wider view the far right’s assault on fundamental freedom and democracy, another siege on statehouses had been gathering—an attack on reproductive rights. Legislatures across the country have eroded abortion access with chilling consequences, particularly in the South, where Mother Jones’ Becca Andrews has been reporting extensively on the immediate impact and broader historical implications.
On Thursday, Andrews joins legal scholar Mary Ziegler in a livestream about Ziegler’s new book, Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v. Wade to the Present. The free conversation, in partnership with the Booksmith, starts at 6 p.m. PT / 9 p.m. ET. RSVP here. Andrews’ own book, No Choice, on dwindling access to abortion, is forthcoming from Hachette’s Public Affairs imprint. And catch Andrews’ on-the-ground coverage of the historic win by Sen.-elect Raphael Warnock, whose campaign in Georgia she closely followed and expertly framed in a series of interviews and dispatches. The Capitol attack dominated the headlines and eclipsed the senator-elect’s victory lap, but Andrews’ reporting is in the books, and Warnock’s movement continues.
Better science communication can help combat the coronavirus pandemic. But as Mother Jones has reported since the beginning of the outbreak, scientists are frustrated by the lack of coordination and coherence in the Trump Administration’s public health messaging. “The government is missing a huge opportunity in not using social media as a means to get people aligned on COVID messaging,” a microbiologist Jessica Malaty Rivera told us in November. “Science communication just can’t be an afterthought,” said Yale epidemiologist and science messaging expert Saad Omer.
The Trump administration could learn a thing or two from Rob Swanda, a 26-year-old PhD student at Cornell, whose social media talents have earned him overnight science communication stardom.
When Swanda first created his viral video explaining the mRNA technology used in two coronavirus vaccines, he had a smaller audience in mind: his parents. “My mom is a hairstylist,” he told me on a recent Zoom call. Her clients were asking how the vaccine worked. He knew he could help them understand things clearly. “So you can imagine my shock that it has been seen by over 3 million people,” he said.
The video is an energeticand simple explainer of how mRNA, a new genetic technology, is being used in both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Using a whiteboard, Swanda explains complex science in a way that has connected with over 4 million people so far.
Explaining jargon like “mRNA,” “spike protein,” and “lipid nanoparticle”, Swanda breaks down fears about the vaccine. “Being cautious of how the thing how the mRNA vaccine works is very reasonable, it’s a new innovation,” he says. “But if we just only relied on the old technology, like the attenuated or weakened version of the virus, we’re still waiting on those clinical trials to end, so how many more months are we going to be waiting?” While mRNA isn’t new in the newest sense (mRNA vaccines have been development for the last decade or so), it’s never been utilized on such a massive scale. And because the mRNA process eliminates the need for labs to grow a protein and then inject it—the mRNA teaches your body to make the protein itself—it cuts out a time-consuming production step in traditional vaccine manufacturing.
Here I describe a brief overview of how the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna mRNA vaccines work. Taking a vaccine is one’s personal choice, and I hope this video can help someone make that decision rooted in science. pic.twitter.com/ZjFH0DH5ca
So far, feedback has been good. “I was pleasantly surprised that like 99.9 percent of everything has been super positive,” he says. But there’s still that .01 percent. Some commenters accused him of “listening to music” in his AirPods, or claimed that he “was being paid by these companies.” (A few even insinuated that Rob was a pawn of Bill Gates.)
But that hasn’t dissuaded Swanda from the task at hand. Between the pandemic and an encroaching climate crisis, science is increasingly part of our everyday lives, and Swanda believes that he and his peers can use viral social media communication to help. “The connectedness of this new generation coming into science is going to be super critical for pushing out new research that’s going to span multiple disciplines,” he says. “We can use that.”
Check out more of Swanda’s science explainers on YouTube.