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The IRS Is Finally Semi-Functional, So Of Course Republicans Want to Kneecap It

A new report says the Internal Revenue Service has massively reduced its backlog of unprocessed tax returns. House Republicans see this as a good time to gut the agency altogether.

Kevin McCarthy
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Internal Revenue Service is finally semi-functional, which House Republicans apparently see as a good time to gut the agency entirely, even though doing so would cost the United States billions of dollars.

An independent watchdog agency reported Wednesday that the IRS began 2023 on a high note, having reduced its backlog of unprocessed tax returns by two-thirds over the past year. “We have begun to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Erin Collins, the IRS’s national taxpayer advocate, wrote in the report. “I am just not sure how much further we have to travel before we see sunlight.”

But House Republicans, who control the chamber, voted Monday to rescind nearly $80 billion recently allotted to the IRS and will soon vote on the Fair Tax Act, which would eliminate the agency entirely. While neither measure will pass the Democratic-controlled Senate or White House, both are indicative of Republican plans to undermine any gains Democrats have made in the past two years.

The IRS recently received a massive $80 billion infusion from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, which Phillip Swagel, head of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, predicted would produce more than $180 billion in revenue over the next decade. The money would help hire and train more agents, as well as modernize the IRS’s internal systems.

Republicans have argued that improving the IRS would lead to more audits for middle-class people, spreading a fearmongering, bananas theory that the new agents would actually be part of a highly weaponized “shadow army.”

In reality, as The Washington Post noted, Democrats point out that “audits are meant to collect money from very rich people who are avoiding taxes.”

The IRS is no one’s favorite agency. It is chronically understaffed and underfunded, and burdened with a seemingly Sisyphean task. Even though it has dramatically reduced its backlog, it still has 10 million unprocessed tax returns from previous years to get through. It has also come under intense scrutiny recently for apparently failing to audit former President Donald Trump’s taxes until two years into his term, in violation of standard operating policy.

But Republicans have a long-standing vendetta against the tax agency, and they certainly oppose the Biden administration, even at the cost of progress and their own purported ideals. Despite constantly talking about fiscal responsibility and needing to reduce the federal deficit, the House GOP still voted to rescind the IRS funding, even though doing so would actually increase the deficit by more than $114 billion.

Democrats Flip Crucial Seat in Virginia Senate, Protecting State Abortion Rights

Democrat Aaron Rouse’s victory will help bolster Democrats’ majority in the Senate and likely help block Governor Glenn Youngkin’s proposed 15-week abortion ban.

Rouse campaign
Aaron Rouse

Democrats have flipped a crucial state Senate seat in Virginia, ensuring greater protection of abortion rights in the state.

Democrat Aaron Rouse defeated Republican Kevin Adams in the special election race for Virginia’s 7th Senate district, flipping the seat formerly held by Republican Jen Kiggans. The win extends the Democrats’ advantage in the Senate to 22–18, almost certainly halting some of Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s most radical agenda items, including a proposed 15-week abortion ban.

The Virginia Public Access Project has declared Rouse the winner, with the Democrat leading Adams by fewer than 400 votes as of Wednesday morning (and absentee ballots still being counted). Adams conceded on Wednesday morning.

The election was prompted by Kiggans’s rise to the U.S. House of Representatives, after she defeated Elaine Luria for Virginia’s 2nd district seat in November. Rouse promised to safeguard abortion rights, while his Republican opponent supported a 15-week abortion ban.

Rouse’s win is yet another domino falling on the red-wave-that-never-was for Republicans—one that in no small part was hamstrung by voters motivated by abortion rights. Rouse, a former Virginia Beach councilman and NFL player, had campaigned significantly on the issue.

“One, two, three. One, we are going to protect a woman’s right to choose health care, we are going to build an economy that works for everyone, and we are going to support our public education system, making sure our teachers and staff have a salary they can be proud of,” Rouse said on Tuesday.

The election results will still need to be officially certified, which may take weeks. But if the results hold, the right to abortion in Virginia will have a more resilient safeguard against attacks from Republicans like Youngkin.

Illinois Becomes Ninth State to Ban Assault Weapons

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a statewide ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, a few months after the mass shooting in Highland Park.

 J.B. Pritzker
Joshua Lott/Getty Images
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker

Illinois is now the ninth state in the United States to ban assault weapons. Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a bill late Tuesday night banning the sale and possession of assault weapons.

The state Senate passed the “Protect Illinois Communities Act” 34–20 on Monday, kicking it to the state House, which approved the bill 68–41 Tuesday. Pritzker signed the bill shortly thereafter, immediately enacting it into law. The bill passed just before newly elected officials were to be sworn in on Wednesday.

Illinois will halt the sale and possession of an array of assault weapons, handguns, and high-capacity magazines and “switches”—rapid-fire devices that can convert semiautomatic weapons into automatic machine guns.

The ban comes six months after a mass shooter killed seven people at a Fourth of July parade in a Chicago suburb. The gunman had used a legally purchased semiautomatic weapon.

“After nearly every mass shooting, we’ve seen efforts to ban dangerous weapons thwarted—and then leaders send their thoughts and prayers, while they throw their hands up, resigning themselves to the idea that gun violence is a sacrifice that Americans must accept,” Pritzker said at a press conference. “But it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Now nine states, as well as Washington, D.C., forbid the sale or possession of such weapons. The Illinois State Rifle Association has already threatened to challenge the ban in court. Meanwhile, a recent poll showed 63 percent of Illinoisans in favor of banning assault weapons.

“This assault weapons ban is a step in the right direction,” Pritzker said at a press conference. “But there’s no magic fix, no single law that will end gun violence once and for all. So we must keep fighting, voting, and protesting to ensure that future generations will only have to read about massacres like Highland Park, Sandy Hook, and Uvalde in their history books. It’s our burden and our mandate, one that we carry with solemn honor for our children who will grow up in a better and safer world.”

FAA System Outage Creates Travel Chaos Across the Country

Thousands of flights have been canceled or delayed, after the Federal Aviation Administration grounded planes due to a crucial information system outage.

Travelers wait in the terminal as an Alaska Airlines plane can be seen from the window.
Travelers wait in the terminal as an Alaska Airlines plane sits at a gate at Los Angeles International Airport on January 11, after the Federal Aviation Administration ordered a temporary halt to all domestic flights.

Flights have begun to resume Wednesday after the Federal Aviation Administration grounded planes nationwide earlier in the day due to a crucial information system outage, causing thousands of flight delays and cancellations.

The FAA issued the ground stop after the Notice to Air Missions, or NOTAM, system, which provides pilots and flight personnel with real-time information about hazards and restrictions such as equipment failures or closed runways, stopped working.

More than 5,400 flights have been delayed throughout the United States and more than 900 canceled after the outage, according to the flight tracker site FlightAware. The FAA says it does not yet know the source of the outage, but White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said there is “no evidence of a cyberattack at this point.”

President Joe Biden has been briefed on the issue and ordered the Department of Transportation to conduct a full investigation into the matter, she said.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tweeted that he was in touch with the FAA and would be investigating the outage’s “root causes.”

The outage will put more scrutiny on Buttigieg, who is already facing criticism over the Southwest Airlines debacle during the winter holiday travel season.

Buttigieg made a splash during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, and many speculated that his appointment to the DOT was setting him up as a potential Biden successor.

The airline crises are the latest tests of how Buttigieg performs under pressure, and so far, some find that he is coming up short: More than a dozen Democratic lawmakers sent him a letter last week, urging him to do “much more” to hold airlines accountable for cancellations and protect passengers’ rights.

The House Will Have More Dudes Named “Mike” Chairing Committees Than Women

Under the new Republican majority, the House is set to have six men named “Mike” or “Michael” chairing committees, but only three women.

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty Images
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks with Representative Mike Rogers in the basement of the Capitol.

House Republicans have recommended twice as many men named Michael to chair committees as women in general.

Majority Leader Steve Scalise released a list of recommendations that was ratified on Tuesday. Six men named Mike or Michael will be chairing committees, while only three women will be doing the same.

The only women appointed were Kay Granger to the Appropriations Committee; Cathy McMorris Rodgers to the Energy and Commerce Committee; and Virginia Foxx to what was formerly the Committee on Education and Labor, now the Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Mike Rogers chairs the Armed Services Committee, Michael McCaul leads the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Mike Bost heads the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Mike Turner chairs the Intelligence Committee, Michael Guest leads the Ethics Committee, and Mike Gallagher will helm the new House Select Committee on China.

An honorable mention goes to Mark Green, the new head of the Committee on Homeland Security, for having 50 percent of the same letters in his name as the Mikes. The imbalance is especially stark during an administration that has prided itself on the diversity of its appointees.

All nine of the Mikes, Mark, and women were loyal supporters of Kevin McCarthy during his seemingly unending bid for speaker of the House. Rogers went so far as to threaten to ban anyone who voted against McCarthy from sitting on a committee—and apparently got into a fight with Matt Gaetz on the House floor.

90 Percent of Californians (One in 10 Americans) Are Under Flood Watch

More than 34 million people are at risk, as the rainstorms in California continue and the death toll keeps rising.

In an aerial view, a car is submerged in floodwater.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A car is submerged in floodwater after heavy rain on January 9, in Windsor, California.

A relentless onslaught of winter storms have pummeled California, leaving 16 people dead—more than the number of people who have died from California wildfires in the past two years. Now, as more rain looms, some 34 million Californians are under flood watches, or about 90 percent of the state’s total population and 10 percent of the country’s.

“These floods are deadly and have now turned to be more deadly than even the wildfires here in the state of California,” said Governor Gavin Newsom during a press conference Sunday, where he requested a state of emergency from the White House.

The weeks-long storming has left thousands of people without power as dangerous mudslides and flooding have plagued much of the state.

On Monday alone, between five and 10 inches of rain fell across areas facing flood warnings—with some rain levels peaking as high as 15.5 inches. The National Weather Service says that even six inches of water can reach the bottom of most passenger cars, while 12 would float many vehicles.

Hundreds of thousands have had their power knocked out over the course of the ongoing storms. As of writing, tracks just under 180,000 customers currently without power.

In a vacuum, such amounts of rain may superficially sound like a welcome interruption in a region blighted by drought. After all, the massive rainfall is part of what are known as “atmospheric rivers,” systems operating as rivers in the sky, which provide the region with much-needed water. But outside of the vacuum, this series is dropping too much precipitation too quickly. This is largely due to the ever-worsening impacts of climate change.

Warmer and drier conditions have led to more punishing drought in the region; such conditions have helped spark even more damaging wildfires and left the land less able to soak up precipitation. The conditions also lead to less staying annual snowpack, precipitation coming instead in the form of rainwater. All that combines in a recipe for disaster, as is on display now.

Terrifyingly, an August study warned the risk of once-in-a-lifetime megafloods is increasing and will become more damaging, particularly if human-caused climate change patterns continue. The study suggests that storms like the one in California will happen more often, and the “ceiling” for megafloods will increase in both likelihood and potential damage.

So California demands our attention on multiple fronts: the people who need help now and the dire need to improve our systems of life so these crises don’t get even worse.

George Santos, Hit With Two Ethics Complaints in Two Days, Says He’s Done Nothing Wrong

The New York representative has lied about the majority of his background. But even after multiple ethics complaints and federal investigations, he maintains he’s done nothing “unethical.”

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Serial fabulist George Santos maintained Tuesday that he has done “nothing unethical,” even after being hit with two ethics complaints in as many days.

On Tuesday, two of his fellow New York representatives filed an ethics complaint against him. Ritchie Torres and Daniel Goldman, both Democrats, filed a formal complaint asking the House Ethics Committee to investigate whether Santos broke the Ethics in Government Act by failing to file “timely, accurate, and complete financial disclosure reports.” They then personally hand-delivered the complaint to Santos.

The two say that his reports for 2020 and 2022 lack sufficient information and that Santos has contradicted what is in the 2022 reports in his public statements.

“They’re free to do whatever they want,” Santos told reporters in response. “I have done nothing unethical.”

Santos, who was sworn in Saturday, has admitted he fabricated parts of his professional background. But it appears he also made up details of his educational history, his ethnicity and religion, and even his mother’s death.

The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center also filed a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission on Monday, accusing Santos of masking the real source of campaign’s funds, misrepresenting his campaign’s spending, and using campaign funds to pay for personal expenses. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors and prosecutors in Nassau County, New York, are investigating Santos’s finances and financial disclosures.

Santos has faced multiple calls to resign from Democrats, but Republican leadership seems unsure of what exactly to do with him. With the party holding onto the House majority by only a few seats, every vote counts—and Santos proved his loyalty by voting for Kevin McCarthy in every round of votes for speaker.

As Politico put it, “House Republicans know George Santos is a problem. They’re just not sure what to do about him yet.” One option includes not seating him on any committees, but the final consequences of his fabrications are still unclear.

No, the Case of Biden’s Classified Documents Is Nothing Like Trump’s

Biden’s lawyers reported the handful of classified documents immediately. Trump hoarded hundreds of classified documents and refused government attempts to retrieve them.

President Joe Biden speaks at a podium
Ting Shen/Bloomberg/Getty Images

After a handful of classified documents were found at President Biden’s former private office, Donald Trump, his allies, and even some of the mainstream media are stumbling over themselves to equate it with Trump’s hoarding of hundreds of classified documents after he left office. But the two cases are nowhere near the same.

The classified documents were discovered by Biden’s personal attorneys in his former office at the Penn Biden Center in Washington, D.C. Fewer than a dozen documents were found, with CBS reporting the number at roughly 10. It is unclear what the documents contain and how sensitive they are. CBS News reported the documents do not contain nuclear secrets.

On the same day the attorneys found the documents, the White House counsel’s office notified the National Archives. The documents were handed over the next morning.

Meanwhile, recall that the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago came after numerous attempts by the government to retrieve documents from Trump. The raid uncovered droves of documents that included documents from the CIA, NSA, FBI, and materials that described a foreign government’s nuclear defense capability. Overall, the government has recovered at least 300 classified documents since Trump left office; again, Biden’s team themselves actively returned the roughly 10 such documents that they found.

Of course, the difference isn’t stopping Trump or other Republicans from reacting in bad faith.

“When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump asked on Truth Social Monday night. “These documents were definitely not declassified.”

“We want to know exactly what documents were taken by both President Trump and now President Biden and want to know if they’re gonna treat President Biden any differently than they treated President Trump,” said GOP Representative James Comer.

Based on what we know so far, the number of the documents in question and the responses by the pair are radically different—so both cases indeed warrant different treatment. But it seems some mainstream media sources are not interested in laying out that plain fact:

Here—though the clip is not as bad as Froomkin’s tweet implies—the pair of commentators discuss how much of a “political gift” the situation is to Trump and pessimistically assert that nuance that could accurately communicate the differences in the two cases just won’t “cut through.” The duo speak as if they themselves aren’t also how thousands of people take in information, and aren’t ones who can help communicate that nuance. So, sure, they and we can agree that the right wing might operate in bad faith. But the mainstream media can’t haplessly stand in the middle of it all, shrugging their shoulders and saying it’s all just a darn shame.

Progressive Star Katie Porter Announces 2024 Senate Run

The California representative, known for her number crunching and whiteboards on the House floor, will seek Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein’s seat in 2024.

Katie Porter smiles at a podium
Apu Gomes/Getty Images

Representative Katie Porter announced Tuesday that she is running for California senator in 2024.

The progressive star will run to replace long-serving Senator Dianne Feinstein. In her announcement video, the representative highlighted threats to democracy and socioeconomic inequality. She called out the Senate as a place where “rights get revoked and special interests get rewarded,” name-dropping Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in particular.

A former law school professor, Porter has made a name for herself as a tough interrogator and a progressive who can still appeal to swing voters. She is often seen on the House floor with whiteboards breaking down complex numbers and has achieved name recognition in a body of 435 members based on merit, not controversy—no small feat. Recently, she went viral for reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck during Kevin McCarthy’s interminable run for House speaker (and even coordinated her outfit to the dust jacket).

The California representative is also a strong fundraiser, raising more than $25 million during the November midterms and finishing with $7 million still in her coffers. She won her third term after a tight race that ended with days of vote counting. Although the Senate seat is expected to remain solidly blue, Porter is well positioned to run a competitive campaign.

Porter’s announcement comes before Feinstein has given any indication that she will retire. Feinstein, 89, has served in the Senate for 30 years and accomplished major achievements, such as chairing the Senate Intelligence Committee and assembling the 2014 CIA torture report, which found the agency had misled the government and American public about its use of torture in interrogating terrorist suspects. But in the past year, there have been concerns that she is losing the mental ability to continue serving.

Porter’s Senate bid would give Feinstein an opening to retire gracefully, passing the baton to the next generation as Nancy Pelosi did to Hakeem Jeffries.

Everyone is of course welcome to throw their hat in the ring, and I will make an announcement concerning my plans for 2024 at the appropriate time,” Feinstein said in a statement after Porter’s announcement.

“Right now I’m focused on ensuring California has all the resources it needs to cope with the devastating storms slamming the state.”

This post has been updated.

Diamond of Pro-Trump Duo “Diamond and Silk” Dies at 51

Lynette Hardaway, also known as Diamond in the MAGA duo “Diamond and Silk,” has died.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Lynette Hardaway (left) and Rochelle Richardson, also known as Diamond and Silk, speak at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum on May 4, 2018.

Lynette Hardaway, better known as “Diamond” in the ultra-pro-Trump duo Diamond and Silk, passed away Monday night, the pair’s official Twitter account said. She was 51.

Hardaway and her sister Rochelle Richardson (“Silk”) have been some of Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters since he launched his first presidential campaign in 2015.

Trump announced Hardaway’s death on Truth Social before the official Diamond and Silk tweet, calling it “really bad news for Republicans and frankly, ALL Americans.” Both posts said her death was unexpected, but neither shared the cause of her death.

Diamond and Silk gained notoriety during Trump’s 2016 campaign through their political commentary videos on YouTube, in which they embraced his MAGA ideology. They said they had switched their political affiliation from Democrats to Republicans after Trump announced he was running.

Trump was quick to latch on to them, hyping up the fact that they were two Black women, thus supposedly proving that he was not racist. Diamond and Silk spoke at his rallies for the 2016 campaign, attended his inauguration, and testified in Congress multiple times in 2018 about Facebook supposedly suppressing their content.

Their fame and close relationship with the then president helped them get contributor jobs at Fox News, which at the time was aggressively pro-Trump. Diamond and Silk held multiple commentator roles at Fox News from 2016 to 2020, when the network cut ties with them for actively pushing Covid-19 conspiracy theories on air.

The women said that Covid-19 death numbers were being inflated to make Trump look bad. They also said they would refuse to get a Covid vaccine if Bill Gates had been involved in its production, accusing him of trying to control the global population, and suggested that 5G technology was being used to infect people with the coronavirus. All of these claims are untrue.

Diamond and Silk then landed their own show on far-right network Newsmax, calling themselves Trump’s “most loyal supporters.”