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Editorial Roundup: United States

Feb 6, 2023, 6:01 AM | Updated: 9:04 pm

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

Feb. 1

The Washington Post on police reform

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the House in 2021 but stalled in the Senate, would not have prevented the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, who is being laid to rest Wednesday in Memphis. House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) cites this as a rationale for inaction. “I don’t know that there’s any law that can stop that evil that we saw,” he said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” This is the same excuse the country has heard to justify blocking sensible gun restrictions after countless mass shootings, and it’s just as lame.

While there’s no perfect solution to stop police brutality, the federal government could take several steps to deter misconduct and hold officers accountable without undercutting the ability of law enforcement to get bad guys off the streets. The officers charged with killing Mr. Nichols did not put him in a chokehold, but the move is still unnecessary and should be banned as a tool for subduing suspects. Limiting no-knock warrants wouldn’t have mattered in the Memphis case, but it could save others from the fate of Breonna Taylor, who was born the same day as Mr. Nichols: June 5, 1993. A national registry of sustained disciplinary actions against officers would make it harder for tainted officers to keep moving between departments. Federal law-enforcement grants that go to local governments should be conditioned on departments fully and reliably reporting their crime and use-of-force statistics to the FBI.

The Memphis Police Department already has a policy on the books requiring officers to “take reasonable action to intervene” if they observe a colleague “engaged in dangerous or criminal conduct or abuse of a subject.” It’s clear from watching the videos released on Friday, in which so many people wearing badges did nothing to save Mr. Nichols, that the force has cultural problems. Mandating better training so officers know what’s required of them won’t transform the culture alone, but it cannot hurt. Similarly, blaming systemic failures alone unfairly lets individuals off the hook, but that doesn’t mean the deeper issues should be off limits.

Ben Crump, an attorney for the Nichols family who also represents Floyd’s family, is pushing to finally enact the George Floyd Act. “Shame on us if we don’t,” he says. We, too, would love to see broad federal legislation that modifies the “qualified immunity” doctrine, which was largely invented by the Supreme Court and often blocks lawsuits for flagrantly unconstitutional abuses. But this and other elements of the George Floyd Act are unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled House.

Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), who has been the lead GOP negotiator on police reform, delivered an embittered floor speech Monday night that blamed Democrats for failing to scale back their ambitions and accept incremental policing legislation that more members of his party would support. He called for more grants to fund training for officers on their duty to intervene and increased funding for recruiting new officers. “We need the best wearing the badge,” Mr. Scott said. “We should have simple legislation that we can agree upon.” Democrats would rightly press for more than that, but they should still treat this as an invitation to talk.

President Biden signed a modest but commendable bill in December to help local departments implement de-escalation training to guide officers when they encounter people experiencing mental health crises. He issued an executive order in May, on the second anniversary of Floyd’s murder, to form a national accreditation system and a database of federal — though not state and local — officers who have disciplinary records. The president also ordered agencies under his direct control to update their use-of-force policies. But there’s only so much he can achieve without congressional backing. While key players in both parties privately express pessimism, the ground for some compromise nevertheless feels fertile. Improvement by increments is still improvement. Lawmakers should get to work.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/02/01/tyre-nichols-congress-police-reform/

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Feb. 6

The New York Times on stopping senators from blocking federal judges

Last February, Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, abruptly decided to block a nomination for a federal judgeship, though Mr. Johnson actually recommended the nominee just eight months before.

Why the reversal? It was never very clear. Mr. Johnson said it was because the candidate, Judge William Pocan of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, didn’t live in Green Bay, where the federal district is. But Judge Pocan didn’t live in Green Bay when Mr. Johnson first recommended him and, at any rate, offered to move to the city if he got the job. Was it because Judge Pocan had something to do with the prosecutors’ decision to give low bail for a domestic violence defendant who later drove his car into a Wisconsin parade, killing six people? That’s what Mr. Johnson implied in his statement, though that accusation would be false: Judge Pocan had nothing to do with the bail decision and was unconnected to the case.

Or was it because Mr. Johnson later learned that Mr. Pocan would have been the first openly gay federal judge in Wisconsin? That’s what Mr. Pocan’s brother, Mark Pocan, a Democratic congressman from the Madison area, charged in an interview, accusing the senator of homophobia. Mr. Johnson denied it.

In the end, none of these possible reasons, or the lack of them, really matter. Mr. Johnson refused to give his home-state permission for the nomination to proceed — declining to return what is known in the Senate as a blue slip — and the nomination stalled, expiring at the end of the Senate term in January. The White House has not renewed it.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Richard Durbin of Illinois, fumed about Mr. Johnson’s decision at the time, saying he was disappointed by the last-minute turnabout and noting that Judge Pocan had received nothing but praise and high ratings from lawyers.

But in fact, there was nothing formal that stopped Mr. Durbin from ignoring Mr. Johnson and proceeding with Judge Pocan’s nomination. There is no rule or law that prevented him from sending it to the Senate floor for final approval. The only barrier was Mr. Durbin’s interpretation of an archaic Senate tradition of courtesy that allows senators to effectively veto federal district judge nominations from their own state for any reason or for no reason at all.

That home-state veto is a fundamentally undemocratic practice that gives far too much power to individual senators, as the editorial board wrote in 2014. Like the filibuster in all its forms, it allows vital Senate responsibilities to be controlled by small fractions of the chamber or even single members — powers never envisioned in the Constitution. Democrats have used it to block extreme candidates from Republican presidents when they were in the Senate minority. But as we noted in 2017, elections have consequences, and there will be times when Democrats will have to accept unpalatable judges in order for the Senate to operate along the principle of majority rule.

For now, though, it is Republicans who will have to accept the consequences of their failure to regain the Senate last November, and Mr. Durbin holds the power to make that happen. He could unilaterally end this blue-slip custom at any time without requiring any kind of vote or radically upending an important Senate practice, just as Republicans decided to end it for appellate-level judges in 2018. That’s when President Donald Trump was the one nominating judges and Republicans wanted no interference in their goal of filling the circuit courts with conservatives.

It’s far past time for Mr. Durbin to do so. Republicans have worked for years to turn the entire judicial selection process into a proxy war for their ideological goals. Mr. Trump allowed the Federalist Society to pick his judges as part of their crusade to remake the federal courts, and the lack of home-state veto power is one of the reasons the appellate bench now contains so many unqualified and extremist choices. When in power, Republicans did their best to block President Barack Obama’s nominations, which is one reason there were so many openings when the Trump administration moved in.

That’s why appointing judges will be one of President Biden’s most important tasks for the next two years, and many of the openings are in states with Republican senators. As the former senator Russell Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, said in an interview, Democrats would be “chumps” if they honored the blue slip veto system now, knowing that Republicans will almost certainly eliminate it for district judges if they take control of the Senate after the 2024 elections. In a recent letter to his colleagues, first reported by The Washington Post, Mr. Durbin urged both parties not to abuse the blue slip veto, hinting at changes ahead if Republicans do so.

The practice is hardly enshrined in Senate history. In fact, the Senate has been very inconsistent in how it has used blue slips, depending on the whims of the Judiciary Committee chair. For much of the 20th century, until about 1955, home-state senators could object to a nomination but not kill it. Senator James Eastland, Democrat of Mississippi, a segregationist, changed that. He allowed individual senators to kill nominations to prevent federal judges from integrating schools in the South, as one of his successors as chairman, Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, noted years later.

When Mr. Biden ran the committee in the late 1980s and ’90s, he followed a practice similar to one instituted by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, which did not let individual senators veto judicial nominations. A home-state senator could raise objections and refuse to return a blue slip, but that would be considered only an advisory opinion by the Judiciary Committee. Mr. Biden would let such nominations proceed, as long as the White House consulted with the two home-state senators before making the nomination. That would lend weight to the advice part of the Senate’s advice and consent responsibilities on nominations while not allowing a single senator to prevent consent.

That’s a process that Mr. Durbin should reinstitute. A senator who doesn’t want to seat a judicial nominee should step up and explain why and allow colleagues to evaluate the objection. Mr. Durbin is right to be frustrated by the impasse over judges; the Senate’s own traditions offer him a solution.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/06/opinion/editorials/biden-nominations-senate.html

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Feb. 5

The Wall Street Journal on the DNC moving the South Carolina primary

Imagine if the Republican Party rigged its presidential nominating calendar to help Donald Trump slide past states where he’s politically weak. Would that go down easily with the GOP or the press corps? That’s essentially what Democrats are doing to help President Biden–to little protest or even much media notice.

The Democratic National Committee voted Saturday to revise the party’s nominating calendar to put South Carolina first in line, upending a half century of tradition. The Iowa caucuses, which have been first since 1972, will be relegated to the back of the bus. After South Carolina’s primary on Feb. 3, 2024, the new order will be: New Hampshire and Nevada both on Feb. 6, followed by Georgia on Feb. 13 and Michigan on Feb. 27.

All of this is being done at the request–please don’t say orders–of the Biden White House. South Carolina rescued Mr. Biden’s candidacy in 2020 from defeat by Bernie Sanders, and black voters in that state and Georgia make up a large part of the Democratic electorate and Mr. Biden’s core support. Michigan’s primary was held on March 10 in 2020 and is another state where he won.

Mr. Biden finished fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire, where retail campaigning in restaurants and school auditoriums counts for as much as TV advertising. The last thing the White House wants is Mr. Biden at age 81 unscripted on the hustings.

This insider political play isn’t going down well in the Granite State, which has a law stating that it must be the first primary. The state’s Democrats aren’t happy, and perhaps GOP Gov. Chris Sununu and the Legislature will respond by moving the primary ahead of Feb. 3, though maybe the DNC will then kill its primary.

The political parties set their own nominating rules, subject to state law. The main benefit of the early New Hampshire and Iowa contests is that they give voters a chance at close-up vetting, and they give long-shot candidates a chance to elevate an issue or emerge from obscurity. The winners don’t always go on to be nominated, much less take the White House, but they are a different kind of candidate test than debates and TV advertising.

The risk for Democrats is that by greasing the wheels for Mr. Biden they will miss such a signal from the electorate. The polls are showing that even most Democrats prefer another nominee in 2024. But the President is plowing ahead, perhaps because he thinks Republicans will be foolish enough to nominate Mr. Trump, who would be the easiest opponent to beat. But what if they don’t?

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/rigging-the-primaries-for-biden-president-election-2024-south-carolina-new-hampshire-tradition-campaign-democrats-11675632443

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Feb. 2

The Los Angeles Times on congressional committee tit-for-tat

After unfairly blocking the appointment of two California Democrats from the House intelligence committee on specious grounds last week, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is now seeking to fulfill a long-standing promise to remove a prominent progressive Democrat from another important panel.

On Wednesday the Republican-controlled House approved a rule in preparation for a vote — perhaps as early as Thursday — barring Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from the House Foreign Affairs Committee because of comments she made in 2019 and 2021. It is still possible that a handful of Republican members will realize that a vote to exclude Omar would be partisan payback that would prolong the poisonous relationship between the parties in the chamber. (Rep. Matt Gaetz, the often-odious far-right Republican congressman from Florida, said he was undecided and offered a surprising defense of Omar in a Monday interview on Newsmax.)

But the move against Omar seems likely, especially after at least one Republican member was apparently persuaded to support the resolution because of language saying that members barred from a committee could appeal.

As speaker, McCarthy was able to exclude Reps. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) and Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which oversees the intelligence activities of an array of federal departments and agencies. The speaker claimed that under Democratic leadership the committee had “severely undermined its primary national security and oversight missions.”

More to the point, Swalwell and Schiff have been fierce critics of former President Trump, whom McCarthy profusely thanked for his help in securing the speakership on the 15th ballot. Under Schiff’s leadership, the intelligence committee developed the case for Trump’s first impeachment and Schiff was an impeachment manager. Schiff called his exclusion from the intelligence committee “petty, political payback for investigating Donald Trump.”

The blackballing of Schiff and Swalwell also looks like retaliation for decisions made two years ago by the Democratic-controlled House (with support from a few Republicans) to remove Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) from committees. The removals were in response to Greene’s inflammatory statements and Gosar’s sharing of a cartoon video that depicts him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and wielding swords against President Biden.

McCarthy insisted that his targeting Schiff and Swalwell “is not similar to what the Democrats did” and noted that Schiff and Swalwell could serve on other committees. It’s hard to take those protestations seriously.

McCarthy’s intention to bar Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee also looks like a tit-for-tat for the removal of Gosar and Greene. Omar, a Somali American and one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress, was widely criticized — including by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) — for a 2019 tweet in which she suggested that support for Israel was ” all about the Benjamins,” referring to $100 bills. Omar apologized for that statement, which seemed to draw on antisemitic tropes.

When Democrats proposed removing Greene from her committees, we warned in an editorial that ousting her against the will of her party “could invite future majorities to do the same thing to minority lawmakers for less substantive reasons.”

But two partisan wrongs do not make this practice right. McCarthy, who toadies to Trump and refused to join the call for Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) to resign for the mountain of lies he told during the 2022 campaign, has no moral authority to dictate to Democrats who will represent them on important committees.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2023-02-02/editorial-congressional-committee-assignments-shouldnt-be-political

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Feb. 6

The Guardian on the Turkish-Syrian earthquake

Though the full scale of the catastrophe is still emerging, the earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria in the early hours of Monday morning is already known to have been one of the most deadly in decades, claiming thousands of lives. A 7.8-magnitude temblor is extremely powerful, and all the more damaging when it strikes at a relatively shallow depth and is followed by a second major shock. But even when disasters are natural in origin, their impact is shaped as much by human actions before and in the aftermath as they are by their inherent force. Poor and otherwise vulnerable people are almost always disproportionately affected.

Photos and footage testify to the terrible destruction wreaked on the Turkish side of the border, where the highest death toll is currently recorded. Bitter winter storms have worsened the plight of survivors. Among the victims will be some of the 4 million Syrians who fled the war; many have been living in southern Turkey, often in overcrowded conditions. More remain in northern Syria, where war has pulverized homes and essential infrastructure, and traumatized the population. Millions have taken refuge in rebel-held Idlib, where most of them are dependent on aid. Then came the Covid-19 pandemic and a cholera outbreak, which a threadbare health service in Idlib – deliberately targeted by airstrikes – is struggling to handle. Fuel shortages and skyrocketing prices have deepened the misery. Now those battling with freezing temperatures and inadequate food have been left without even temporary homes. This is, as the International Rescue Committee has warned, “a crisis within multiple crises”.

Turkey faces an immense challenge. It does so with trained and experienced rescue workers, due to its history of quakes, and support from 45 countries. Both rescue and relief efforts will prove far harder on the Syrian side of the border. Providing aid is likely to be diplomatically as well as logistically challenging. Its White Helmets have had to become expert at rescuing people from rubble. But they are in desperate need of search-and-rescue equipment, spare parts and fuel. The organization also urged the international community to pressure Bashar al-Assad’s regime – and Moscow, which supports it – to hold back on airstrikes. Though conflict in Syria has faded from international attention, the complex regional struggle – not only of the regime against rebels, but of Turkey against Kurdish groups and Israel against Iranian-linked targets – continues to claim lives in the north and there are fears it could escalate.

The mandate for Syria cross-border aid via Turkey has, thankfully, been extended until July. But, at present, Damascus allows it to enter via only one border point. It would be unconscionable if the others remained closed at this time of desperate need. Though the regime bears the primary responsibility for the suffering of its people, others must step up. Ankara’s attempts to accelerate the return of Syrian refugees would exacerbate the situation were they to continue. The humanitarian response plan for Syria was already severely underfunded; less than half of the $4bn needed has been provided – the lowest level since the crisis began. The need is all the greater now. Ensuring that aid reaches the most vulnerable will be difficult in the extreme. But every effort must be made. It would be not only tragic but shameful if the international community’s failures were to compound this disaster.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/feb/06/the-guardian-view-on-the-turkish-syrian-earthquake-tragedy-on-tragedy

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Editorial Roundup: United States