US Democrats eye new strategy after failure of voting bill

US Sen Joe Manchin (D-WV) walks behind a group of protesters blocking an entrance to the US Capitol as they end an eight-day hunger strike in favor of voting rights legislation in Washington, US, January 20, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 January 2022

US Democrats eye new strategy after failure of voting bill

  • Biden conceded this week that updating the electoral bill may be Democrats’ best opportunity to pass voting legislation through a 50-50 Senate, where much of his agenda has stalled

WASHINGTON: Democrats were picking up the pieces Thursday following the collapse of their top-priority voting rights legislation, with some shifting their focus to a narrower bipartisan effort to repair laws Donald Trump exploited in his bid to overturn the 2020 election.
Though their bid to dramatically rewrite US election law failed during a high-stakes Senate floor showdown late Wednesday, Democrats insisted their brinksmanship has made the new effort possible, forcing Republicans to relent, even if just a little, and engage in bipartisan negotiations.
The nascent push is focused on the Electoral Count Act, an 1887 law that created the convoluted proces s for the certification of presidential election results by Congress. For more than 100 years, vulnerabilities in the law were an afterthought, until Trump’s unrelenting, false claims that voter fraud cost him the 2020 election culminated in a mob of his supporters storming the Capitol.
An overhaul of the Gilded Age statute could be Democrats’ best chance to address what they call an existential threat to American democracy from Trump’s “big lie” about a stolen election. But with serious talks only beginning in the Senate and dwindling time before this year’s midterm elections, reaching consensus could prove difficult.
“We know history is on the side of voting rights, and we know that forcing leaders to take stands will ultimately move the ball forward,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday.
Just weeks ago, many Democrats were adamant that updating the Electoral Count Act was no substitute for their voting legislation. Updating the 1887 law, they pointed out, would do nothing to counter the Trump-inspired push in 19 states to make it more difficult to vote.
They still hold that position, but after the defeat of their marquee elections bill, they are running out of options. Meanwhile, Trump loyalists are girding for the next election, working to install sympathetic leaders in local election posts and, in some cases, backing political candidates who participated in the riot at the US Capitol.
Biden conceded this week that updating the electoral bill may be Democrats’ best opportunity to pass voting legislation through a 50-50 Senate, where much of his agenda has stalled.
“I predict to you they’ll get something done,” Biden told reporters Wednesday.
Any legislation would have to balance Democrats’ desire to halt what they view as a GOP plan to make it more difficult for Black Americans and other minorities to vote with Republican’s entrenched opposition to increased federal oversight of local elections.
“What other things could be put in there?” said South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat and a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus. “I want to deal with more than just counting the votes for the president. I want to be sure that we count the votes for everybody else. So voter nullification like they’re doing in Georgia, I think it can be addressed.”
Republicans involved in the effort to update the Electoral Count Act acknowledge that the bill would need a wider focus.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is holding bipartisan talks with Republican Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Mitt Romney of Utah, as well as Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
“It’s such a needed thing,” said Manchin, who added that the narrower scope was “the first place” Democrats “should have started.”
Manchin and Sinema effectively tanked Democrats’ marquee bill Wednesday, joining Republicans in voting against a rule change that would have allowed the party’s voting legislation to pass with a simple majority.
Collins has proposed new protections for poll and elections workers, some of whom received chilling threats to their safety after the 2020 election. She has also called for more funding for local elections. Manchin wants harsh criminal penalties for those convicted of intimidating or threatening poll and election workers.
“It’s a heavy lift, but if we continue to get people to talk there’s a path,” said Tillis, who said tensions over the Democrats’ failed voting bill will need to cool before coalition building can seriously begin. “We are going to have to have more Republicans get on board because there are going to be protest votes.”
But at its core, many Republicans want any legislation to primarily focus on the Electoral Count Act.
“This is directly related to Jan. 6,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Thursday. “It needs fixing.”
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday called it “an old piece of law, so you can always modernize it.”
The bipartisan House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection is also working on a proposal.
As Trump’s legal appeals and efforts to pressure state and local officials ran out of steam, he began to focus on Mike Pence, who presided over the certification in Congress of the Electoral College results. Trump spent days in a futile bid trying to convince Pence that the vice president had the power to reject electors from battleground states that voted for Biden, even though the Constitution makes clear the vice president’s role in the joint session is largely ceremonial.
Separately, he encouraged Republican lawmakers to take advantage of the low threshold to lodge objections to the outcome. Even after rioters fought in brutal hand-to-hand combat with police as they lay siege to the Capital on Jan. 6, 147 Republican lawmakers later voted to object to Biden’s win.
Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, is working on a bill that would shore up several key vulnerabilities in the Electoral College process.
Any legislation should make clear the vice president holds only a ceremonial role, limit the scope of Congress’ involvement in the certification of the election and narrow the grounds for raising an objection to a state’s results, according to a summary provided by his office.
Civil rights activists don’t object to the revisions. But they question the value of the effort if Republican-controlled states can still enact voting restrictions.
“It doesn’t matter if your votes are properly counted if you cannot cast your vote in the first place,” said Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., who is also pastor at the church Martin Luther King Jr. once led.


Long fuel queues persist in Sri Lanka despite scramble to deliver supplies

Updated 23 sec ago

Long fuel queues persist in Sri Lanka despite scramble to deliver supplies

  • Another 40,000 metric tons of petrol supplied by India reached Sri Lanka on Monday
  • New Delhi delivered 40,000 tons of diesel to its southern neighbor two days earlier
COLOMBO: Long queues snaked around gas stations in Sri Lanka’s commercial capital and its outskirts on Monday even though the island nation’s government was scrambling to deliver fuel supplies and douse any unrest as it battles a devastating economic crisis.
Kanchana Wijesekera, Sri Lanka’s minister for power and energy, said supplies of 95-octane gasoline, mostly used in cars, had been received and were being distributed across the country of 22 million people that has been struggling with fuel shortages for months.
“With the 2 cargo vessels unloaded, petrol stocks will be available for the next 6 weeks comfortably,” Wijesekera said in a tweet.
Another 40,000 metric tons of petrol supplied by India had also reached Sri Lanka on Monday, the Indian High Commission (Embassy) said, two days after New Delhi delivered 40,000 tons of diesel to its southern neighbor.
Sri Lanka is in the throes of its worst economic crisis since independence, as a dire shortage of foreign exchange has stalled imports and left the country short of fuel, medicines and hit by rolling power cuts.
The financial trouble has come from the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic battering the tourism-reliant economy, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, Mahinda, who resigned as prime minister this month.
M. Sudeera, an auto-rickshaw driver, was waiting in a two-kilometer (1.5-mile) -long queue at Kumbuke, on the outskirts of Colombo, to fill his vehicle, a popular form of public transport in the city and its suburbs.
“Last time, I spent two days in line for 3,000 rupees ($8.46) worth of fuel. With that I did a few hires but it’s barely enough to cover costs,” Sudeera said, standing beside parallel queues of auto-rickshaws, cars and motorcycles.
“Usually we run during the day and spent the night in line for fuel,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Veteran politician Ranil Wickremesinghe, who took over as prime minister earlier this month, has warned of hardship worsening over the coming months, including food shortages.
Protests against the government’s handling of the crisis have continued for weeks, and erupted into violence earlier this month in which nine people were killed and over 300 injured. But the protests have been peaceful since then, although anger against the government is high.
Inflation in the island nation rose to 33.8 percent in April, compared to 21.5 percent in March, according to government data released on Monday.
Wickremesinghe’s cabinet was expanded on Monday, with eight new ministers sworn in for portfolios including agriculture, fisheries, industries, transport and highways, water supply and irrigation.

Russian soldier sentenced to life at Kyiv war crimes trial

Updated 23 May 2022

Russian soldier sentenced to life at Kyiv war crimes trial

  • Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin pleads guilty, testifies that he shot the man after being ordered to do so

KYIV: A Ukrainian court sentenced a 21-year-old Russian soldier to life in prison on Monday for killing a Ukrainian civilian, in the first war crimes trial since Russia’s invasion.
Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin was accused of shooting a Ukrainian civilian in the head in a village in the northeastern Sumy region in the early days of the war.
He pleaded guilty and testified that he shot the man after being ordered to do so. He told the court that an officer insisted that the Ukrainian man, who was speaking on his cellphone, could pinpoint their location to the Ukrainian forces.
During the trial, Shishimarin asked the widow of the victim to forgive him.
Shishimarin’s defense attorney Victor Ovsyanikov argued that his client, a member of a Russian tank unit who was eventually captured, had been unprepared for the “violent military confrontation” and mass casualties that Russian troops encountered when they first invaded Ukraine.


Security guard killed in Qatar Embassy attack in Paris

Updated 57 min 38 sec ago

Security guard killed in Qatar Embassy attack in Paris

  • The Paris prosecutor’s office said it had opened a criminal investigation for manslaughter

PARIS: A person has been killed at the Qatar Embassy in Paris and one person has been arrested as part of the investigation, the Paris prosecutor’s office said on Monday, confirming earlier media reports.
A source close to the investigation said the person killed in the early hours of Monday was a security guard and that the death did not appear to have been a terrorism act.
“I can confirm that an investigation was opened today on the count of murder,” the prosecutor’s office said, adding that it was not clear yet if a weapon had been used.
“The circumstances of the death of the guard are yet to be determined precisely.”
Newspaper Le Parisien said earlier on Monday that one person had been killed within the embassy, citing police sources. 


Deluges of rain flood parts of India, Bangladesh

Updated 23 May 2022

Deluges of rain flood parts of India, Bangladesh

  • Both heavily populated nations in South Asia are prone to frequent floods and are considered major victims of climate change

DHAKA: Pre-monsoon deluges have flooded parts of India and Bangladesh, killing at least 24 people in recent weeks and sending 90,000 people into shelters, authorities said Monday.
Both heavily populated nations in South Asia are prone to frequent floods and are considered major victims of climate change.
The deaths have been reported since April 6 in India’s northeastern region with Assam state continuing to experience floods. Those who have left their homes due to the floods are staying in 269 camps set up by authorities.
The Indian army and air force have had to evacuate thousands of people in the last two weeks. Helicopters have been dropping essential items to people stuck in vulnerable spots in worst-hit Dima Hasao district. The Indian Space Research Organization is using satellites to assess the damage.
Flash flooding has been occurring in the Bangladeshi districts of Sylhet and Sunamganj, which border India’s northeast.
At least three rivers were flowing above the danger level Monday, said Arifuzzaman Bhuiyan, executive engineer of the Flood Forecasting and Warning Center in Dhaka, the nation’s capital.
Bangladeshi media said hundreds of villages have been marooned while crop fields have been damaged greatly. People also lack drinking water as wells have been under floodwaters or water supply system has been damaged.
No casualties have been reported in Bangladesh so far.
Jamuna TV station said while flood waters were receding from some areas, many new areas were affected by new flooding on Monday.
Authorities said hundreds of villages remained cut off from electricity supply while road infrastructure has been damaged extensively.


Philippines’ Marcos Jr says discussed defense agreements, climate funding with US envoy

Updated 23 May 2022

Philippines’ Marcos Jr says discussed defense agreements, climate funding with US envoy

  • Possible extension of a pact that allows US troops to conduct exchanges on Philippine soil

MANILA: Philippines president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr said on Monday he discussed the extension of a joint military agreement with an envoy of defense ally the United States, after meetings with senior diplomats of four countries.

Ambassadors of Japan, India and South Korea and the US Chargé d’Affaires made courtesy calls on Monday to Marcos, the son and namesake of the notorious late dictator, following his landslide election victory this month.

Marcos, 64, who take office late in June, said he discussed with the US envoy the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and how it would be redefined amid a changing regional landscape, plus funding for climate change mitigation.

“We would welcome any assistance for the economy that we can get from the United States,” Marcos told a news conference. “Trade, not aid.”

The VFA, which provides a legal framework by which US troops can operate on Philippine soil, was a bone of contention for incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, who repeatedly threatened to scrap it.

“Security concerns of course has always been a big part of our relationship with the United States,” Marcos said.

India’s envoy to the Philippines Shambhu Kumaran during a courtesy visit to president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (BBM Media Office)

Analysts expect Marcos to pursue close China ties, which could complicate relations with former colonial power Washington, his military, and the Philippine public, with which the United States is popular.

He last week spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping and said he wanted bilateral ties to “shift to a higher gear.”

Marcos said he discussed aid projects with Japan’s ambassador, microfinance with India and with South Korea, information technology, regional security and the possible reactivation of a disused nuclear plant.

South Korea ambassador Kim Inchul during a courtesy visit to president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (BBM Media Office)

The plant was intended by his late father to be part of his economic modernization legacy, but was mothballed after his overthrow in a 1986 “people power” uprising, two years after completion.

Marcos said he asked Arsenio Balisacan, the national anti-trust agency chief, to be economic planning minister, a role he held from 2012 to 2016 under an administration that was a rival to the influential Marcos family.