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Tennessee Republicans Expel Two Democrats From the Legislature for Protesting Gun Violence

The GOP-led House has a very twisted definition of “decorum.”

Democratic state Rep. Justin Jones of Nashville
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Democratic state Representative Justin Jones of Nashville during a vote on his expulsion from the state legislature on April 6

The Republican-led Tennessee House of Representatives voted Thursday to remove two Democratic lawmakers from office for breaking “decorum” by interrupting the chamber’s proceedings to draw attention to gun reform.

Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, who are both Black, are now the first lawmakers in state history to be expelled by the opposing party, in nearly party-line votes. A third Democrat, Gloria Johnson—who is white—survived an expulsion vote. Asked about the discrepancy by a reporter, Johnson responded that “it might have to do with the color of our skin.”

The votes come amid protests by gun-control advocates against Tennessee lawmakers in the wake of the Covenant School shooting that left three children and three adults dead. Last week, as thousands of protesters outside the Capitol building demanded gun reform, the three Democrats walked up to the well of the House and began chanting “No action, no peace” through a bullhorn.

Republicans charged the trio with breaking “rules of decorum,” but the Democrats said they only walked up to the well after being repeatedly silenced by Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton. They say their mics were cut off throughout the week whenever they tried to speak about gun violence or about the thousands protesting right outside the building. On a Tennessee radio show last week, Sexton called the trio’s actions an “insurrection.” (One of Sexton’s former colleagues, then-Representative Terri Lynn Weaver, attended the actual January 6 insurrection but was not expelled from the legislature.)

On Monday, all three representatives were stripped of their committee assignments and had their membership IDs disabled.

During Thursday’s vote, Jones pointed out that numerous other members of the House have avoided expulsion while committing far more severe violations, including child molestation:

The tolerance for other violations seems to have continued even this week.

On Monday, Republican Representative Justin Lafferty—who once defended the three-fifths compromise—reportedly shoved Jones, who is Black, on the floor of the House. The assault occurred while protesters entered the chamber and chanted from the gallery. Lafferty and Jones were both recording the scene on their phones. Lafferty then turned toward Jones and appeared to shove him. A voice is heard in Jones’s video saying, “Hey, get your hands off me.” Lafferty has not been charged with any breaching of “decorum.”

Before Thursday’s votes, the Tennessee House did advance some “safety” and mental health–related bills; none dealt with gun regulation, and none confronted more systemic issues surrounding violence prevention. Back in 2020, Tennessee Republicans shut down a red flag law that in fact could have stopped the Covenant School shooter. The following year, Governor Bill Lee signed legislation allowing people 21 and older to openly carry handguns without permits. Since then, state Republicans have been looking to expand the right to people as young as 18—and for any firearm, not just handguns.

Biden Administration Tries to Have It Both Ways on Trans Student Athletes

Activists are calling a proposed Department of Education rule a “betrayal.”

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The Biden administration proposed a rule Thursday to prevent schools from flat-out banning transgender students from playing on the sports team that matches their gender identity.

The move comes as attacks on trans rights are picking up nationwide, with particular emphasis on prohibiting trans girls from playing on girls’ sports teams.

Under the proposal, public schools at all levels would not be allowed to “categorically” ban trans students from playing on the team that aligns with their gender. Instead, schools would have to develop “team eligibility criteria” that factor in the sport, the level of competition, and the grade or education level of the athletes.

But this means that schools could still bar trans athletes from elite sports.

The proposed rule … recognizes that in some instances, particularly in competitive high school and college athletic environments, some schools may adopt policies that limit transgender students’ participation,” the Department of Education said in a fact sheet. “The proposed rule would provide schools with a framework for developing eligibility criteria that protects students from being denied equal athletic opportunity, while giving schools the flexibility to develop their own participation policies.”

It specified that “these criteria could not be premised on disapproval of transgender students or a desire to harm a particular student.”

Trans rights activists slammed the proposal as a betrayal. Instead of actually addressing the issue, writer Erin Reed said, “it’s actually a roadmap to telling schools how to discriminate.”

Civil rights lawyer Alejandra Caraballo pointed out that this could divert resources away from more consequential fights.

The proposal was announced just hours after the Supreme Court ruled that a 12-year-old trans girl in West Virginia must be allowed to compete on her school’s girls’ cross country and track teams. West Virginia implemented a law banning trans girls from girls’ teams in 2021, but that law is being challenged in court. The Supreme Court said that the law cannot be enforced until the case is decided.

Biden’s proposed regulation is one of his administration’s first forays into the highly contentious arena of trans rights. Republican-led states have ramped up their attacks on LGBTQ rights, particularly for trans and nonbinary people. Twenty states, such as Florida, Texas, and Montana, have banned trans girls from playing on girls’ sports teams. Most recently, on Wednesday, Kansas’s Republican-controlled legislature overrode Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s veto of a bill banning trans girls from playing girls’ sports.

LGBTQ rights activists have slammed these laws as sexist and misinformed. The ACLU pointed out that by singling out trans girls, the laws reinforce the dangerous myth that trans women are sexual predators.

Pediatrician and geneticist Eric Vilain told NPR in 2021 that most laws about trans athletes are not based on science. Being trans doesn’t automatically give an athlete a physical advantage, he said. Instead, the laws—which primarily target elementary and high school students—create opportunities to degrade and humiliate girls by forcing them to prove their gender.

40 Migrants Died in Detention Center Fire Because They Couldn’t Afford to Bribe the Guards

The extortion scheme was revealed in a new report by Vice.

People set candles in memory of the migrants killed in a fire last month at an immigration detention center in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
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People set candles in memory of the migrants killed in a fire last month at an immigration detention center in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

Late last month, a disastrous fire at an immigration detention center near the U.S. border in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, left 40 people dead. And it turns out, the migrants were stuck there because they couldn’t pay a $200 bribe to guards to be released, according to Vice.

The revelations come after a video from the facility showed guards seeming to walk away from migrants burning to death behind bars.

Three survivors and two guards at the facility told Vice that the detention center was essentially an “extortion center,” where only migrants who could pay were released. Joan, a Venezuelan migrant who was locked up there, said he was released not long before the fire because his family back home sent money in time for the guards’ 7 p.m. deadline to pay a bribe or be deported. “I’m only alive because my family paid,” he told Vice.

Guards told Vice that the extortion payments (up to $500) were split among the guards and that they also sold cigarettes, lighters, and “drugs of all kinds” to the detained migrants. “We weren’t forced or anything like that to be part of the scheme, but if you said anything to the managers or didn’t go along with it, little by little they would push you out of a job,” said one guard. The guards admitted that the sales could have helped lead to the fire in the first place.

Vice reported that at least one migrant allegedly started the fire in protest of not being given food and water for some 10 hours. Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the fire began after migrants reportedly lit their mattress on fire in protest as they feared imminent deportation. Mexico’s chief public security secretary, Rosa Icela Rodríguez, said that the detention center would be closed and that its operator “will no longer provide services in the state of Chihuahua—where Ciudad Juárez sits.”

The tragedy came following a hard-right turn from the White House on immigration. Last month, President Biden announced a proposal to bar certain migrants from attaining U.S. asylum access and to expedite deportations of those migrants more quickly—without even giving them a chance to appear in front of an immigration judge. The Trump-like proposal violates U.S. law that grants the right to anyone physically present in the country to seek asylum, regardless of one’s status.

As Felipe De La Hoz wrote in TNR:

It may be a rehash of a Trump-era policy, but it is now a Biden-era policy. It has been drafted, issued, and will likely be defended in court fully at the direction of Joe Biden and his Cabinet. Not only that, it is a rehash of a policy that was rejected already by the courts, with the earlier transit ban having been struck down by a district court, a ruling reaffirmed by a three-judge appeals court panel, and then ultimately vacated.… In any case, now we know—finally and clearly—where Biden stands on the matter, and how that stance has ensured the lasting impact of Trump’s asylum machinations.

A Lot of Bearded Dudes Are Hilariously Mad Over Bud Light Ad Featuring Trans Activist

They’re expressing their outrage by dumping perfectly drinkable beer down the drain.

Kid Rock performing in 2016
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Kid Rock performing in 2016

People are so mad about Bud Light’s latest ad campaign with a transgender activist that they are throwing their money—and beer—away.

Trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney shared an Instagram post sponsored by Bud Light on Sunday to promote the beer’s March Madness campaign and to mark her one-year anniversary of transitioning.

Transphobic backlash picked up speed over the course of the week and by Thursday had gained two celebrity boycotters.

Musician Kid Rock posted a video of him shooting several cases of Bud Light with an automatic rifle, a move condemned in the wake of the Nashville school shooting. And country musician Travis Tritt announced he would no longer include any products made by Anheuser-Busch, Bud Light’s parent company (which, in turn, is owned by international conglomerate AB InBev), on his tour refreshment request lists. He also complained about Jack Daniels’s Pride Month campaignfrom 2021.

The internet is awash with videos of (primarily white, primarily male, primarily bearded) people expressing outrage over Bud Light’s campaign with Mulvaney by pouring perfectly fine—albeit watery and mass-produced—beer down the drain.

None of these boycotters appear to have ever heard of rainbow capitalism, which is when companies use LGBTQ branding to market products without actually doing anything to support LGBTQ causes. Bud Light hasn’t necessarily gone “woke”; the company just wants to reach a different sales demographic.

In fact, in 2021 it was the Stonewall Inn, the historic LGBTQ bar in New York City, that was pouring Bud Light down the drain—to protest Anheuser-Busch’s political contributions to anti-LGBTQ lawmakers.

More on beards

A Second Crackpot Democrat Joins the Race to Lose to Biden in 2024

Self-help author Marianne Williamson is no longer alone on the list of fringe candidates for the party’s nomination.

Robert Kennedy Jr. in 2020
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Robert Kennedy Jr. in 2019

Leading anti-vaccine activist Robert Kennedy Jr. has announced he is running for president as a Democrat.

Kennedy filed his statement of candidacy on Wednesday. He is the second person to declare a Democratic presidential run, after self-help author Marianne Williamson. President Joe Biden has yet to formally declare his candidacy, although he has repeatedly said he intends to run for reelection.

Kennedy, an environmental lawyer, is the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy and the son of former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy. He has worked on several high-profile cases throughout his career, including Dewayne Johnson v. Monsanto, which found that agrochemical giant Monsanto failed to warn people about the cancer risks posed by its herbicide Roundup.

But Kennedy is also a prominent anti-vaxxer. He has promoted the scientifically discredited link between vaccines and autism since 2005, and in 2011 he founded the anti-vax group Children’s Health Defense.

Public health experts and even his own family members have described his anti-vax work as misleading and dangerous.

At the start of the pandemic, Kennedy criticized public health restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19, such as face masks and the newly developed vaccines. He repeatedly compared the restrictions to the Nazis and the Holocaust, going so far in 2022 as to imply that Americans had it worse than Anne Frank did.

He also accused Anthony Fauci, who led the White House Covid response, of “fascism.”

CBS News journalist Robert Costa reported that white nationalist and former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon had been pushing Kennedy for months to run. According to CBS, Bannon thought Kennedy would be “a useful chaos agent in the 2024 race and a big name who could help stoke anti-vaccine sentiment around the country.”

Although he is running as a Democrat, Kennedy also has ties to the far right. A photo posted on Instagram (and subsequently removed) showed him backstage at a Reawaken America event in July 2021. NPR has described Reawaken America as “part conservative Christian revival, part QAnon expo, and part political rally.”

In the photo, Kennedy is posing with Trump ally Roger Stone, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, and anti-vax campaigner Charlene Bollinger.

Clarence Thomas’s Luxury Vacations Are Paid for by a Republican Megadonor

The Supreme Court justice has traveled the world on superyachts and private jets courtesy of Harlan Crow.

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Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has spent decades secretly enjoying lavish island-hopping excursions on superyachts and on-demand private jet rides courtesy of a billionaire Republican megadonor, ProPublica has revealed.

Harlan Crow, a real estate tycoon, reportedly has gifted Thomas an array of luxurious trips “virtually every year” for more than 20 years, including a nine-day adventure in Indonesia on a yacht staffed with attendants and a private chef, as well as visits to Crow’s exclusive “all-male” retreat in California, his Texas ranch, and his private resort in the Adirondacks.

And Thomas disclosed none of it. While the gifts themselves are permissible, shockingly, ProPublica notes that Thomas’s failure to disclose them violates a law passed after Watergate that applies to justices, judges, members of Congress, and other federal officials.

The warm relationship between Thomas and Crow began some three decades ago, and Crow wasted no time in showering Thomas with gifts. One of the first, which Thomas did kindly disclose, was a $19,000 Bible originally owned by Frederick Douglass. The gift giving has continued ever since—and not just to the justice. Thomas’s wife, Ginni, joined many of the trips—such as the Indonesian jaunt—and as Politico revealed in 2011, Crow has given at least $500,000 to a Tea Party group she founded (and which later shut down).

This is hardly the first of the couple’s ethical entanglements. Ginni Thomas was intimately involved in attempts to overturn the 2020 election, as revealed in texts with numerous officials, including Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows. In January 2022, her husband was the only justice to vote against ordering the release of the paper trail of such communications.

The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer reported that same month that Ginni Thomas “has held leadership positions at conservative pressure groups that have either been involved in cases before the Court or have had members engaged in such cases.” The following month, The New York Times Magazine described “the extent to which Justice Thomas flouted judicial-ethics guidance by participating in events hosted by conservative organizations with matters before the court.”

That was enough for TNR to crown the couple “Scoundrels of the Year.” As editor Michael Tomasky wrote last December, “No one has damaged the Supreme Court’s reputation more than the Thomases. It’s one thing to have a hard-right ideology.… But to impose that vision on the democracy while flouting its rules, which literally every other Supreme Court justice has followed? That shows contempt for the democracy they tell themselves they are saving, and it announces to the rest of us that nothing is more important to Clarence Thomas than using his remaining time on the court, and this earth, to do as much as he can—with Ginni surely egging him on—to force his extremist agenda on us.”

Idaho Becomes the First State to Ban Helping People Get an Abortion

The new law against “abortion trafficking” carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.

Idaho Governor Brad Little at the Conservative Political Action Conference
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Idaho Governor Brad Little at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year

Idaho’s Republican governor, Brad Little, has signed a law banning people from helping others access abortions.

The bill, which became law Wednesday, would ban any adult from taking a minor out of state to get an abortion or abortion medication without their parents’ consent. The measure originally said this would constitute human trafficking but was later amended to use the phrase “abortion trafficking.”

Anyone who helps a minor obtain an abortion out of state could face up to five years in prison. The bill also changed existing law to say that the person who impregnated the minor, even if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, can sue over the abortion. The new law makes no exceptions for minors who are in abusive households, and it does not clarify whether both parents need to consent to the abortion or just one.

If a local prosecutor declines to take the case, the law says, the Republican state attorney general can take the case instead.

Idaho Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow, a Democrat, warned last week that the bill is “unnecessary and unneeded and further shackles young girls who are in trouble, and then it harms the parents’ friends, the relatives, etc., who are trying to help her.”

Abortion has been banned in Idaho since Roe v. Wade was overturned, with exceptions to save the pregnant person’s life or for rape or incest. But rape and incest survivors must first report the crime to law enforcement before they can get an abortion. Neighboring states including California, Washington, and Oregon have touted themselves as safe places to get an abortion, but Idaho’s new law will make it all the more difficult to access those services.

Idaho is not the first Republican-led state to try to criminalize traveling out of state for an abortion, although it is the first to codify it into law.

In March, before the Dobbs draft opinion had even been leaked, Republican state lawmakers in Missouri introduced a bill that would allow individuals to sue anyone who helped a state resident get an abortion, including an out-of-state health care provider or anyone providing transportation across state lines. State House lawmakers blocked the bill a few weeks later.

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives reintroduced a bill in February that would protect anyone seeking an abortion out of their home state, as well as anyone who helps them. But the bill has yet to even make it to committee and is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled chamber.

Chicago Voters Do Care About Crime. That’s Why They Voted for Brandon Johnson.

Brandon Johnson offered voters a new way to think about public safety.

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Ever since Brandon Johnson began to ascend in the Chicago mayoral election, armchair experts hammered away at the notion that his campaign was “dogged” by issues surrounding crime. The thinking was that a candidate who has called for a reimagination of public safety is inherently signing up for an uphill battle, and cannot win without changing that vision.

Chicago voters proved those national pundits wrong on Tuesday when they elected Johnson to serve as their next mayor. Presumably, as the people actually living in Chicago, they chose someone who they thought would keep them safe. So it’s worth revisiting those media narratives on crime and the baked-in assumptions beneath them—in the hopes that fewer people in the media will participate in these narratives, or that they’ll even just let them slide.

The main argument seems to be encapsulated in a New York Times headline on Johnson’s victory: “Brandon Johnson Elected Chicago Mayor, Turning Back Tough-on-Crime Opponent.”

Other stories perpetuated the idea that only one of the two candidates would be “tough” on crime.

In March, a Politico story read that “some in the [Democratic] party” believed that neither Vallas and Johnson were “particularly compelling.” But the story went on to quote Paul Vallas adviser Joe Tripp, who said, “You do have someone who has talked about defunding and I just don’t know why any national people would get into that debate.”

Another New York Post story postured Vallas as the only anti-crime candidate—which would, of course, imply that Johnson is somehow “pro-crime,” rather than someone proposing a different vision of how to be “tough” on crime.

“Look what happened in Chicago,” Democratic consultant James Carville told NBC News in early March, arguing why crime was the “front and center issue” that Democrats should be tackling. Carville seemed to be referring to the ousting of incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot and success of Vallas, as if Johnson wasn’t also still in the running for mayor.

Yet another Axios story boldly proclaimed, “‘Defund the police’ dogs Chicago mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson.”

The story, which did not include thoughts from voters actually interested in Johnson’s candidacy, focused on comments he made in 2020 expressing support to “redirect and defund the amount of money that is spent in policing.” The story was published a day after Johnson had modulated his earlier comments, saying in a debate that he would not defund the police.

But Johnson still maintained the broader spirit of his vision, one that he has spent months proposing to the public. In January, he told TNR that the best way forward for Chicago is to invest more in mental health, housing, year-round youth employment opportunities, and the like. He envisions deeper crime prevention, rather than just carceral crime response.

You wouldn’t have picked up on that from all the stories published on Johnson’s supposedly uphill campaign, all the result of assumptions—constructed and affirmed, year after year—about what it means to stop crime.

We are quick to deem throwing cash haphazardly at the police or building more jails as solutions; we are less conditioned to imagine preventing crime as meaning to ensure people feel economically secure, mentally healthy, or able to pursue a solid education. The default mindset persists even as our political and media apparatuses archetypically frame a “criminal” as poor, or mentally unstable, or uneducated.

But again, Chicago voters—like all voters—care about preventing crime and cultivating safe and healthy communities. They just happened to look past the media narratives that suggested that such a vision could only be accomplished in one way (a way that has not seemed to work despite its primacy the last few decades). And in looking past such lazy narratives, and holding onto their sincere hopes for a stronger Chicago, the people elected Brandon Johnson.

Two States Have Banned Health Care for Trans Kids in Less Than 24 Hours

Anti-trans legislation is picking up speed across the country. Is anyone paying attention?

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A protester outside the Indiana Statehouse on February 20

Indiana and Idaho banned gender-affirming care for transgender minors in less than 24 hours, as a Republican-led nationwide assault on trans rights appears to be ramping up.

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed Senate Bill 480 into law Wednesday, despite protests from hundreds of medical professionals and trans kids and their families. The law bans all gender-affirming care, including hormone therapy and puberty blockers, for people under 18. It also bans surgical interventions, despite repeated testimony that no such surgeries were performed on minors in the state.

Minors currently receiving gender-affirming care can continue to do so until the end of the year. Health care providers who break this law will be subject to discipline by their regulatory board.

Less than 24 hours before, Idaho Governor Brad Little signed a similar bill into law. House Bill 71 bans all gender-affirming care for trans kids, and makes it a felony for a medical professional to help a minor seek such treatment. Those care providers could face a $5,000 fine.

The ACLU announced Wednesday that it has filed lawsuits against both laws, calling the Indiana measure “cruel and unconstitutional” and the Idaho one “clear government overreach and … unacceptable” in separate statements.

These two laws are the latest in a Republican-led onslaught of anti-trans legislation that only seems to be picking up speed. Just last week, Kentucky lawmakers overrode Democratic Governor Andy Beshear’s veto of one of the most extreme anti-trans measures in the country, forcing the legislative package into law.

Beshear had warned the measure would cause an “increase in suicide among Kentucky’s youth.”

Republicans in Texas, Florida, and Kansas have pushed anti-trans measures in the last few days. North Dakota’s Republican-led legislature and Republican governor are in a standoff about yet another.

The bills’ backers argue that they are protecting children by barring them from gender-affirming care. But major medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, support giving gender-confirming care to children, deeming it medically necessary and even lifesaving.

Gender-affirming care actually decreases the amount of depression and anxiety that trans and nonbinary teenagers feel. It also makes them less likely to consider suicide. But targeting LGBTQ people through legislation only demonizes them and puts the community at higher risk of violent attacks.

Florida’s Anti-Drag Bill Is So Extreme It Would Ban The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Hair the Musical

Florida Republicans admitted as much.

Steve Wilkie/Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again” film from 2016

Florida Republicans are pushing forward a bill that seeks to ban drag shows from allowing someone under the age of 18 to be in attendance.

But the bill is so vaguely worded, using the term “adult live performance,” that even Republican lawmakers have admitted it would prevent a high school kid from watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show or even the musical Hair.

The bill also explicitly targets Pride parades and celebrations, by preventing a government entity from issuing permits to an organization that may put on such a performance. If a violation occurs, say in a city like St. Petersburg, which hosts the largest Pride celebration in the state, the person who issued the permit could be charged with a misdemeanor.

In addition, any establishment that violates the law would be subject to license suspension or revocation and liable to large fines and a misdemeanor charge. One violation would spur a $5,000 fine; subsequent incidents would spur $10,000 fines.

The bill defines “adult live performance” to include “any show, exhibition or other presentation in front of a live audience,” that in any form “depicts or simulates nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or specific sexual activities,” such as “lewd conduct, or the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.”

The bill is concerned especially with any such conduct that is deemed “patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community of this state as a whole with respect to what is suitable material or conduct for the age of the child present.” It’s unclear what those standards are, and at which Adult Community Conference they were hashed out.

“Politicians are imposing their personal beliefs on Floridians by punishing businesses that support the LGBTQ+ community,” said the Florida ACLU. “This is a far cry from the ‘Free state of Florida’ that Governor DeSantis is claiming to promote.”

While Florida Republicans advance this bill, they and other Republicans have been busy just this week pushing forth other anti–civil rights legislation throughout the country. Idaho and Indiana both instituted bans on gender-affirming care for trans people under the age of 18. Florida and Texas advanced their own similar bills banning gender-affirming care, and Kansas advanced legislation banning transgender people from using public bathrooms or even being able to update their name or gender on their driver’s license. Florida Senate Republicans also passed an extreme six-week abortion ban. 

All in all, these Republicans are doubling down on infringing upon people’s civil rights under the guise of “protecting the children,” while thousands of students demand actual protection in the form of taking action on mass shootings and gun violence. But no matter for Florida Republicans; just last week, they made it legal to carry concealed weapons in the state without a permit, training, or background checks.