Sunday, April 14, 2024

DeSantis OKs bills halting police civilian oversight, stopping bystanders from getting close


Gov. Ron DeSantis signed two bills Friday morning that would prohibit civilian oversight boards from investigating police misconduct and stop people from getting too close to first responders doing their jobs.

The governor received both bills (HB 601 and SB 184) on Wednesday and held the signing ceremony on Friday in the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office in St. Augustine. During the ceremony, DeSantis portrayed the bills as efforts to protect law enforcement officers from people who wanted to abuse them publicly.

“They’re not free to use law enforcement as political piñatas,” DeSantis said, referring to the civilian police oversight boards. “They’re not free to create false narratives. They’re not free to try to make it miserable to live or to work in uniform, and these things are highly political.”

In Florida, there are 21 such boards and half of them were formed since the protests over the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, according to a 2022 report. The boards are in cities including Miami, Tallahassee, Orlando, and Tampa.

Under HB 601, which will go into effect on July 1, the boards won’t be able to investigate complaints against law enforcement officers or correctional officers. Instead, sheriffs or chiefs of police will have the power to appoint overnight boards composed of three to seven members.

Equal Ground, a social justice organization aimed at protecting the rights of Black Floridians, bashed DeSantis’ approval of the bill.

“By banning independent citizen review boards, Gov. Ron DeSantis and legislators in Tallahassee are once again taking away the freedom of countless Floridians, whose voices are being silenced and whose safety is now at risk,” wrote Genesis Robinson, interim executive director of the group, in a statement.

He continued: “We know that civilian review boards are often the last line of defense for Black people to hold rogue law enforcement officials accountable for misconduct. Disbanding police review boards contradicts the ongoing efforts to reform policing practices and address systemic issues within law enforcement.”

But DeSantis and the main sponsor of the bill, Republican Rep. Wyman Duggan of Duval County, insisted that the law wouldn’t abolish the boards and that they could still discuss law enforcement policies.

“What they cannot do is use them as a vehicle to persecute our law enforcement officers, which to many of these organizations is the only utility that they think that organization has. So, when you hear people saying that these boards and commissions are being prohibited or abolished, that’s not true,” Duggan said during the bill signing.

However, the oversight boards can’t subpoena witnesses and documents, and none have any actual disciplinary power.


During the legislative session, HB 601 prompted a protest from activists infuriated with the move to strip civilian oversight boards of their power, of which the activists said the boards had little to begin with.

The other bill DeSantis signed Friday prohibits people from getting within 25 feet of a first responder “engaged in the lawful performance of a legal duty” if the first responder has warned the person to stay away. The infraction would be a misdemeanor. SB184 also garnered backlash from groups such as the First Amendment Foundation, which called the bill blatantly unconstitutional in a statement Thursday.

“We appreciate the importance of protecting first responders but are concerned that the bill prevents citizens from going near or filming first responders within 25 feet if told not to approach,” the First Amendment Foundation wrote. “This bill would undermine citizen journalists and could allow for undocumented police misconduct.”

This article originally appeared in the Florida Phoenix on April 12th, 2024.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Students for Justice in Palestine files civil rights complaint against UNC-Chapel Hill

UNC-Chapel Hill is facing a federal complaint filed on behalf of students and faculty members who say the university has systematically discriminated against Palestinian students and their allies in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and subsequent Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Palestine Legal filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice April 5, on behalf of graduate student Kylie Broderick and professor Elyse Crystall, a member and faculty advisor to Students for Justice in Palestine respectively. In a letter and 95-page collection of exhibits, the group outlines what it says is preferential treatment of Israeli students and their allies and targeting of pro-Palestine students and groups from the attack late last year, through campus protests around the conflict and continuing to the current day.

The group is asking for an investigation into discrimination that may violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The complaint is one of a number of such complaints Palestine Legal has filed on behalf of students and faculty involved in protests revolving around the most recent Hamas-Israel conflict. In the last few months the group has taken action against Emory University in Georgia, Columbia University in New York and Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

In the complaint against UNC-Chapel Hill, the group said the discriminatory treatment began shortly after the October 7 Hamas attack.

“On October 10, 2023, the Dean of Students’ office sent an email to all current and former students whose birthplaces were listed ‘in or around Israel’ in UNC records to extend support and resources—including mental health counseling and academic accommodation,” wrote Zoha Khalili, senior staff attorney with Palestine Legal, in the letter. “According to students we have spoken with, several Palestinian students received this message because their birthplace was listed as Israel. No other Palestinian students reported receiving this message.

On October 12 and 13, the group wrote, then-Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Chief Diversity Officer Leah Cox met with members of North Carolina Hillel for two hours. They then sent follow-up letters to the campus saying “senseless acts of terror in Israel by Hamas are horrifying.”

University administration sent no similar messages acknowledging “the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians by the Israeli government,” the letter said. Similarly, the group said, the administration said there is “no place for antisemitism or prejudice on our campus” without similarly condemning racism against Muslims, which was also on display as the conflict took shape or offering the same support and resources to Palestinian students who were impacted.

“By reducing the issue to one that affects students based on their religious identities, the chancellor omitted the ways national origin also shapes how people, particularly Palestinians, are affected by the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians, irrespective of their religious affiliation or lack thereof,” the group wrote in its complaint.

In a written statement to Newsline Tuesday, a UNC-Chapel Hill spokesman said the university “has not been notified by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) about a complaint filed by or on behalf of Palestinian students.”

We will cooperate fully with any requests for information from OCR,” the statement read. “And remain committed to promoting a safe and equitable environment to all members of the Carolina community that is free from harassment and discrimination.”

Objections to comments by UNC-Chapel Hill trustee 

The eight-page complaint also alleges the university has ignored bullying and harassment of Muslim and Palestinian students and those protesting against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and attacks on Gaza.

University leaders and members of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees mischaracterized on-campus protests on the issue, the complaint alleges, singling out UNC-Chapel Hill Trustee Marty Kotis specifically.

Kotis, like all members of the board of trustees, are political appointees of the North Carolina General Assembly’s Republican majority. He is also a former member of the UNC System Board of Trustees, whose members are overwhelmingly conservative.

“Kotis said in an October 12 email referencing the campus rally for Palestine that had been held that day that ‘it’s been reported that some of the speeches today were given in Arabic and the need [sic] to translate those to ensure there were not calls for or threats of violence,'” the group wrote in its complaint.

A headshot of Marty Kotis, member of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.
 Marty Kotis, member of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.

The group cites similar emails expressing concern about the use of Arabic from Frederick E. Seller, vice president for Safety & Emergency Operations for the UNC System and former State Rep. Jon Hardister.

“The baseless association of the Arabic language with threats reflects longstanding anti-Arab and anti-Muslim tropes,” the group wrote in its complaint.

References to needing a “threat assessment” were particularly disturbing because students involved in the protest movement had reported receiving their own harassment and death threats online, the complaint reads.

Shortly after the cited email, Kotis called for the university to investigate Students for Justice in Palestine, to end any official university recognition and funding of the student group.

Speaking to Newsline Tuesday, Kotis reiterated his stance, citing the fact that the group recently disrupted a board of trustees meeting. Kotis said he wasn’t surprised to find himself cited in the group’s complaint.

“If I’m at odds with people who call America a colonizer nation or call for death to America, great,” Kotis said. “I’m happy to be at odds with a group that wants to wage a global intifada on American soil because I’m completely opposed to their ideology.”

This article originally appeared in the NC Newsline on April 10th, 2024.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2024

DeSantis signs tougher penalties for retail theft, ‘porch piracy,’ into law


Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Wednesday boosting penalties for retail theft, including sanctions for “porch pirates” who steal deliveries from outside people’s homes.

The governor’s office pointed to reports from retailers estimating losses as $112 billion during 2022, with hot spots in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.

Senate committee advances changes to juvenile law reform measure

By William Ford

A Senate panel recommended several changes Wednesday to resolve differences on separate juvenile justice reform bills that have been moving through the General Assembly.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee advanced House Bill 814 to the full Senate with a few provisions that coincide with the Senate version of the legislation — including that children ages 10 to 12 could be sent to juvenile court if charged for a third-degree sex offense, aggravated animal cruelty and certain firearm offenses.

Louisiana might tap into state savings to build more juvenile correctional facilities

Louisiana legislative leaders are giving thought to withdrawing money from a state savings account to build and refurbish juvenile justice facilities around the state. 

Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, filed legislation this week to allow lawmakers to withdraw up to $400 million from Louisiana’s Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund before July 1, 2025. Juvenile justice campuses would be prioritized if they tap into the money, said House Speaker Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, and state Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro.

Monday, April 8, 2024

World Marks Six Months of 'Relentless Death and Destruction' in Gaza

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated his call for an "immediate humanitarian cease-fire, the unconditional release of all hostages, the protection of civilians, and the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid."

 Peace and human rights advocates on Sunday renewed calls for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and an increase in lifesaving  humanitarian aid for its starving people as the embattled enclave  marked six months since the start of Israel's genocidal retaliation  for the October 7 attacks.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Puerto Ricans take to the streets against Kamala Harris’s visit

By Peoples' Dispatch staff

Puerto Ricans protested Harris’ visit citing the ongoing US occupation of Puerto Rico and support to Israel’s genocide against the Palestinian people

On Friday, March 22, Kamala Harris marked her first visit to Puerto Rico since becoming Vice President of the United States to attend a Democratic Party fundraiser, and was met with mass protests. 

In an embarrassing gaff, Harris spent a moment clapping along to a protest song before quickly freezing up after an aide translated it for her. The lyrics called out the longtime US occupation of Puerto Rico: “We want to know, Kamala, what did you come here for? We want to know what you think of the colony.”

UN Security Council demands ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza, ending months-long deadlock

This was the Council’s first explicit call for an immediate ceasefire since Israel began a military offensive in the Gaza Strip following last October’s brutal attack by Hamas and other Palestinian groups against settlements in southern Israel, in which over 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage.

Israel’s military operation has since reportedly claimed over 32,000 Palestinian lives, mostly women and children, displaced about 1.7 million and left massive destruction across the enclave.

The 15-member Security Council has failed in its four previous attempts to adopt a resolution on the Gaza crisis, most recently this past Friday, when permanent members China and Russia vetoed a proposal led by the United States (another permanent member, along with France and the UK rounding out the so-called ‘P-5’).

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

DeSantis signs law prohibiting the homeless from sleeping in public spaces

One Democrat says the law “strips away the humanity of those enduring homelessness”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Wednesday that will prohibit cities and counties from allowing individuals and families to sleep and camp on public property.

“It will help maintain and ensure that Florida streets are clean and that Florida streets are safe for our residents,” DeSantis said at a press conference held at a Greek restaurant in South Miami Beach.

DeSantis once again emphasized that he does not want any community in Florida to resemble cities on America’s west coast that have had problems handling their homeless population in recent years, first and foremost San Francisco.

‘Tough-on-crime’ policies are back in some places that had reimagined criminal justice

Several states are considering or have already enacted legislation undoing more progressive policies.

Fueled by public outrage over the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and other high-profile incidents of police violence, a seismic shift swept across the United States shortly afterward, with a wave of initiatives aimed at reining in police powers and reimagining criminal-legal systems.

Yet less than half a decade later, political leaders from coast to coast are embracing a return to “tough-on-crime” policies, often undoing the changes of recent years.

Dem Donors Warn Biden's Support for Israeli War on Gaza May Hand Trump the White House

"Because of the disillusionment of a critical portion of the Democratic coalition, the Gaza war is increasing the chances of a Trump victory."

More than 100 Democratic donors and activists on Monday warned U.S. President Joe Biden that his administration's "unconditional support" for Israel's catastrophic war on Gaza "is increasing the chances" that former President Donald Trump will win this year's election.

In a letter, the Biden supporters—who according toThe New York Times include some six-figure donors—condemned the Hamas-led October 7 attacks on Israel while also arguing that Israeli military actions are not achieving the goals of eliminating the Palestinian group or freeing hostages.

Advocates to Gov. Moore: Veto juvenile justice measures

Respective committees from each chamber must now review some of the differences in House Bill 814 and Senate Bill 744 such as when the legislation goes into effect, specific diversionary programs for children ages 10 to 12, and who would serve on a Commission on Juvenile Justice Reform and Emerging and Best Practices.

If lawmakers pass the legislation with what advocates call “regressive provisions,” then Gov. Wes Moore (D) should veto the bills when they come to his desk, the advocates said Thursday.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Kenya halts police deployment to Haiti after resignation of de facto Prime Minister

The government of president William Ruto has suspended the deployment of 1,000 Kenyan police officers as part of a US-backed mission to Haiti. The news followed a day after Haiti’s de facto PM, Ariel Henry, announced his resignation to pave the way for the appointment of a “Transitional Presidential Council” amid rising insecurity in the country.

Kenya has suspended a police deployment to Haiti to be part of a US- and UN-backed mission, shortly after the de facto prime minister and president of the Caribbean country, Ariel Henry, announced his decision to resign on March 11.

Abraham Korir Sing’Oei, the principal secretary of Kenya’s foreign ministry, stated on March 12 that the deployment would be “contingent on the ground situation, and the critical ground situation is that there has to be an authority that can be the basis for a police deployment, that enjoys constitutional authority in Haiti”.

Henry had assumed power in the aftermath of the assassination of former president Jovenel Moïse in July, 2021. The transition, which took place without the consent of the Haitian people who at the time had been organizing mass protests against Moïse’s attempts to prolong his term in office, was quickly sanctioned by western powers including the United States.

The following period saw a surge in violence by armed groups in Haiti, causing mass displacement especially in the capital of Port-au-Prince. Even as people in the country were taking to the streets to protest the government’s failure to respond to issues of poverty and insecurity, social and political movements in the country had repeatedly warned that the situation must not be used as a pretext for foreign intervention in the country.

Especially given the role that countries like the US had historically played in undermining Haiti’s sovereignty, through the 2004 coup and direct occupation, and the fact that much of the weapons being used by groups in the country had flown in from the US.

Meanwhile, the 2021 Montana Accord— a product of consultations among hundreds of civil society organizations, popular movements, political parties, and individuals to devise a solution out of the present crisis from within the country— was largely sidelined.

“We have to organize the elections, organize the bases to solve the problem of insecurity in the country and reorganize the judicial system. But the United States and other imperialist powers have blocked the [Montana] agreement because it also provides for the end of interference by foreign powers in Haiti,” Jean Waltés Bien-Aime, a journalist with Radio Resistencia and the Haitian Popular Press Agency, told Brasil de Fato.

In October 2022, Henry requested the international community for a “specialized armed force” to be deployed to the country, sparking protests in the country. In October 2023, the UN Security Council voted to authorize a “Multinational Security Support” (MSS) to Haiti, with abstentions from Russia and China. Kenya offered to lead the mission, pledging to deploy 1,000 police officers.

The MSS would not be a UN mission, which had itself had an over decade long military presence in Haiti through its “stabilization mission” MINUSTAH, which raised concerns of accountability.

The US announced USD 200 million in funding for the mission, announcing an additional USD 100 million on March 11, while the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin and Chad formally notified the UN of their intention to provide personnel for the deployment.

Meanwhile, at the end of January, the High Court in Kenya declared the deployment of personnel to Haiti unconstitutional, ruling that the country’s National Security Council did not have the authority to deploy police officers outside the country. The order was the extension of interim measures first issued by the court in October, which Kenya’s parliament defied to authorize the mission.

Progressive forces within the country, particularly the Communist Party of Kenya (CPK) had vehemently rejected the deployment, reiterating that “Haiti requires no foreign intervention; this crisis is orchestrated by the core group of the US, Canada, and France, aiming to maintain hegemony and settle scores with Haiti for its historic slave revolution against French rule”.

Read more: “We will fight in the streets of Nairobi for our brothers and sisters in Haiti” 

Nevertheless, President William Ruto had declared his intention to proceed with the deployment. At the end of February, Ariel Henry flew to Nairobi to sign “reciprocal agreement” with Ruto to “enable the fast-tracking of the deployment”. In Henry’s absence, armed groups within Haiti launched a major offensive, leaving him unable to return to the country.

Transitional government

On March 11, an emergency meeting was convened by the regional bloc CARICOM in Jamaica, also involving representatives from Brazil, Canada, France, Mexico, the UN, and the US. The meeting produced a “transitional governance arrangement” which would involve the establishment of a Transitional Presidential Council and subsequently the appointment of an interim Prime Minister.

“The government that I am leading will resign immediately after the installation of [a transition] council”, Henry stated in a video address. The Council will be composed of seven voting members, drawn from seven designated groups including the signatories of the Montana Agreement, and two-non voting observers from the civil society and the InterFaith community.

Importantly, the Council will exclude anyone who opposes the UN Security Council Resolution 2699, which authorized the deployment of the Multinational Security Support mission to Haiti.

Even though Kenya’s deployment seems to be on hold at the moment, the US-sponsored intervention in Haiti remains on the table, in complete defiance of the sovereign demands of the Haitian people.

Meanwhile, the Transitional Presidential Council will also be in charge of appointing an “inclusive Council of Ministers” and set the criteria for selecting an “impartial Provisional Electoral Council (CEP)” to hold the long-delayed elections.

Not only does the un-elected Council go against the demands of the Haitian masses and popular organizations, prominent leaders of armed groups including Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, a former police officer, have warned that Haiti will be plunged into further chaos if the international community “chooses a small group of politicians to negotiate with them on paper to decide who can be president and what kind of government”.

Speaking to Democracy Now, Dr. Jemima Pierre, a professor at the University of British  Columbia and the coordinator of the Black Alliance for Peace’s Haiti/Americas Team, said of Henry’s announcement, “They are trying to put a veneer of legality on the situation basically saying that Henry has to resign in order to have a presidential council, in order to move on to so-called free and fair elections…The people making the decisions continue to make the decisions…and that is a problem that is not going to be solved.”W]hat is fascinating about the negotiations with CARICOM is that they key foreign negotiators were US, France, Canada, and Mexico…the US, France, and Canada were behind the coup d’état that removed our elected president and led us to the precipice that we are at right now,” Pierre emphasized.

This article originally appeared at on March 13th, 2024.  

Additional posts related to the Haiti issue

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Thursday, March 14, 2024

Columbia Sued Over 'Retaliatory' Suspension of Pro-Palestine Student Groups

By Brett Wilkins

"Universities should be havens for robust debate, discussion, and learning—not sites of censorship where administrators, donors, and politicians squash political discourse they don't approve of," said the head of the NYCLU.

The New York Civil Liberties Union and Palestine Legal on Tuesday filed a lawsuit on behalf of members of two pro-Palestine student groups at Columbia University which avocates say were illegally suspended for engaging in peaceful protests and other events protected under the First Amendment.

House Votes Against TikTok—and for More Cold War

 By Ari Paul

A bipartisan effort to effectively ban the social media network, TikTok in the United States has taken a great leap forward. The House of Representatives voted 352–65 that the network’s parent company, ByteDance must divest itself from Chinese ownership.

Lawmakers contend that “TikTok’s Chinese ownership poses a national security risk because Beijing could use the app to gain access to Americans’ data or run a disinformation campaign” (New York Times3/13/24). While proponents of the legislation say this is only a restriction on Chinese government control, critics of the bill say this constitutes an effective ban.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Haitian Prime Minister Henry Agrees to Resign as CARICOM Announces Formation of Presidential Council

By Jake Johnston

In a prerecorded message released on social networks just after midnight, Ariel Henry, who has held de facto power in Haiti since shortly after the 2021 assassination of Jovenel Moïse, agreed to resign. Sort of.

Henry has been holed up in Puerto Rico for a week, unable to return to Haiti as coordinated attacks from armed groups shut down the airport. Once the US pulled its support last week, he was left in limbo and had not issued any public statements until early this morning. It is unclear to what extent he was under pressure from the US to remain out of the country and to stay quiet.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Biden warns ‘freedom and democracy are under attack’ in fierce State of the Union address

 BY:  AND 

WASHINGTON — In remarks pivotal to his reelection this fall, President Joe Biden in his State of the Union address Thursday night portrayed himself as the defender of democracy, touted the bipartisan deals he’s brokered during his first term in office and appealed to Congress to support Ukraine in its battle against the Russian invasion.

“My lifetime has taught me to embrace freedom and democracy,” Biden said. “A future based on the core values that have defined America: honesty, decency, dignity, equality. To respect everyone. To give everyone a fair shot. To give hate no safe harbor. Now some other people my age see a differently: an American story of resentment, revenge, and retribution. That’s not me.”

Without ever uttering his name, Biden rebuked likely Republican opponent Donald Trump by calling him “a former president” and said that Trump’s recent comments at a rally in South Carolina about allowing Russia’s military to attack NATO allies were outrageous, dangerous and unacceptable.

“History is literally watching,” Biden said. “If the United States walks away, it will put Ukraine at risk. Europe is at risk. The free world will be at risk, emboldening others to do what they wish, to do us harm.”

Biden said that “what makes our moment rare is that freedom and democracy are under attack, both at home and overseas, at the very same time.”

The president promised to seek the restoration of reproductive rights — speaking to a chamber full of Democratic women dressed in white, intended to show their support for such rights — and with a heavy emphasis on an economic agenda he vowed to reduce health care costs, impose higher taxes on the wealthy and bring back an expanded child tax credit.

Back and forth over immigration

Trump has made immigration a main theme of his campaign, and the Republican-led House earlier Thursday passed legislation named for a murdered college student from Georgia, Laken Riley, whose death has been tied by conservatives to White House immigration policies.

As Biden walked down the House aisle before the speech, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who was wearing a t-shirt bearing Riley’s name, attempted to hand Biden a button with Riley’s name on it. And when Biden mentioned immigration during his remarks, Greene continued to interrupt the president.

Biden’s address to the joint session of Congress was part campaign speech, part legislative agenda and part victory lap on the laws enacted during his first term. But it was also significant because it was the largest audience he is likely to have to himself all year, both in person and watching on television.

The speech marked an especially important moment for Biden’s reelection bid after dozens of Republicans questioned his mental faculties following Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report on classified documents, which said the president “would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

Biden will have dozens of opportunities to take the message in his State of the Union speech directly to voters in the months ahead, beginning with a visit to the Philadelphia area on Friday and a trip to Atlanta on Saturday.

On foreign policy, Biden used the address to call for the protection of civilians in Gaza and for Hamas to release the hostages that militants have held since attacking Israel in October.

He pressed Congress to approve aid for Ukraine and Israel as well as the bipartisan border security and immigration bill that senators negotiated earlier this year — and that Republicans then dropped under pressure from Trump.

FDR reference

Biden began his speech referencing one that President Franklin Roosevelt gave in January 1941.

“President Roosevelt’s purpose was to wake up Congress and alert the American people that this was no ordinary time. Freedom and democracy were under assault in the world,” Biden said.

“Tonight I come to the same chamber to address the nation. Now it is we who face an unprecedented moment in the history of the Union,” Biden added. “And yes, my purpose tonight is to wake up this Congress, and alert the American people that this is no ordinary moment either.”

Biden assured lawmakers who think that Russian President Vladimir Putin will stop if he successfully overtakes Ukraine that he will not end his military campaign there.

Biden criticized Trump and Republican lawmakers in statehouses throughout the country for restricting or banning access to abortion in the last two years after the Supreme Court’s conservative justices overturned the constitutional right to end a pregnancy that had stood for nearly 50 years.

“My predecessor came into office determined to see Roe v. Wade overturned,” Biden said. “He’s the reason it was overturned and he brags about it. Look at the chaos that has resulted.”

Biden then called on voters to flip the U.S. House back to Democratic control while keeping the Senate blue during November’s elections.

“Clearly those bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade have no clue about the power of women in America,” Biden said. “But they found out when reproductive freedom was on the ballot and won in 2022, 2023, and they will find out again in 2024.”

“If Americans send me a Congress that supports the right to choose, I promise you: I will restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land again,” Biden added.

Popular policy issues

Biden’s address touched on many of the policy issues that Americans view as important areas for lawmakers to address, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

About 73% of Americans view the economy as a top policy priority for the Biden administration, followed by defending against terrorism at 63% and reducing the influence of money in politics at 62%.

Reducing health care costs, improving education and making Social Security financially sound all tied at 60% in the poll.

Dealing with immigration received 57% while reducing the availability of illegal drugs got 55% in the survey.

Biden also called on Congress to pass a so-called Unity Agenda that includes issues he believes Republicans and Democrats can agree on.

Those bills, he said, should increase penalties for people who traffic fentanyl, provide protections for children online, bolster artificial intelligence while protecting people from “its peril” and find new ways of treating cancer.

Israel-Hamas war

Biden also discussed the war in Gaza, saying that Hamas’ attack on Israel was the “deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”

Biden added that more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, “many of whom are not Hamas.”

“Israel has an added burden because Hamas hides and operates among the civilian population, like cowards – under hospitals, daycare centers and all the like,” Biden said. “But Israel also has a fundamental responsibility to protect innocent civilians in Gaza.”

Biden said the United States would lead an effort to get more humanitarian assistance through a temporary pier installed off the coast, but he called on Israel to “do its part” and allow more aid into Gaza.

“To the leadership of Israel I say this: Humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip,” Biden said. “Protecting and saving innocent lives has to be a priority.”

“As we look to the future, the only real solution to the situation is a two-state solution over time,” Biden said.

Democratic Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan held up small posters that called for an immediate ceasefire.

Hours before the president’s address, pro-Palestinian activists blocked roads leading to the U.S. Capitol, according to media reports.

Many activists have pushed for Biden to call for a permanent ceasefire, as Israel’s assault on Gaza since October. Voters across numerous primary states in this week’s Democratic 2024 Super Tuesday cast “uncommitted” ballots as a protest of Biden’s continued support of Israel’s bombardment in Gaza.

GOP blowback

Republican Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama delivered the traditional Republican response to Biden after he spoke, blasting his handling of immigration, the economy, crime and foreign policy, while questioning if the 81-year-old is up to the challenge of leading the country.

“The American people are scraping by while the President proudly proclaims Bidenomics is working,” she said, seated at a kitchen table. “Goodness, y’all. Bless his heart. We know better.”

Other Republicans, such as Greene, yelled at Biden to “say her name” during his speech, referring to Riley. Greene and Troy Nehls of Texas wore pins with Riley’s name on their clothes. Greene also wore a shirt that read: “Say Her Name,” followed by Riley’s name.

The “Say Her Name” is a social movement spurred by intersectional feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw that specifically raises awareness for Black women who are victims of police brutality and gender based violence.

Biden expressed his condolences to Riley’s family, saying he knew how it felt to lose a child, talking about his son, Beau, who died of cancer.

After the outburst from Greene, Biden took another swipe at Trump. He called out how the former president has used dehumanizing language to describe migrants claiming asylum at the southern border.

“I will not demonize immigrants saying they are ‘poisoning the blood of our country,’” Biden said. “I will not separate families. I will not ban people because of their faith.”

House Republicans have repeatedly clashed with the Biden administration on its policies at the southern border, as the White House deals with the largest number of migrant encounters at the U.S.-Mexico border in 20 years.

That disagreement has continued to escalate, first with the walking back of a bipartisan border security deal that would have resulted in the overhaul of U.S. immigration law. It reached a crux with the recent impeachment of U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in February.

Since Republicans walked away from that immigration deal, Biden has pressed for them to reconsider it, so his administration can adequately address migration at the southern border.

“Unfortunately, politics has derailed this bill so far,” Biden said. “I’m told my predecessor called members of Congress in the Senate to demand they block the bill.”

Republicans have argued that Biden can take executive action to address the border — however, immigration law is set by Congress. So far, the Biden administration has taken 535 executive actions related to immigration compared to the 472 executive actions under the Trump administration, according to an analysis by the Migration Policy Institute. 

Democrats celebrate

Following the speech, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pumped his fists up and down and shouted, “We are exhilarated.”

Sen. Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, said that “the whole world is watching” what the U.S. does. He also dismissed worries about Biden’s age.

Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia said he was pleased to hear Biden’s support for a six-week ceasefire in Gaza, and wants to see humanitarian aid delivered quickly to the region.

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said she felt optimistic after Biden’s speech, especially how he touched upon conservation and climate initiatives. She said she believes he’ll be supportive of the Senate’s work on the delayed farm bill.

“Our farmers need it, our families need it and our rural communities need it,” Stabenow, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, said.

Louisiana’s GOP Rep. Garret Graves said he felt Biden’s speech was more of “a campaign speech” rather than a “sincere sort of message to the American people.”

“This administration thought it was a good idea to double and triple down on stupid,” Graves said, talking about some tax proposals Biden mentioned. “The very policies that got us into this quandary that we’re in right now.”

This article originally appeared in the South Carolina Daily Gazette on March 8th, 2024

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