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Tennessee Governor Rolls Back Marriage Equality in Just Once Sentence

Republican Governor Bill Lee has rewritten the law on how to “solemnize” a marriage.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee is seated on stage and smiles. The words CPAC appear behind him.
Dylan Hollingsworth/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Tennessee has passed a law that, despite being just one sentence long, completely annihilates marriage equality in the state.

Republican Governor Bill Lee signed House Bill 878 into law on Wednesday. The measure simply states, “A person shall not be required to solemnize a marriage.”

This means that any government official can refuse to certify a marriage license for any reason whatsoever. Current Tennessee law states that before a marriage is legally recognized, the couple must have their marriage license solemnized by a “minister or officer.” Marriages can be solemnized by religious leaders or government officials including judges, notaries public, and elected officials.

The new law does not affect anyone’s ability to obtain a marriage license. Republican state Senator Mark Pody, who sponsored the measure in the state Senate, argued last month that the bill was not discriminatory because people can still get marriage licenses.

It just says that a person shall not be required to solemnize a marriage,” Pody said.

But that, critics say, is exactly what undermines marriage equality. The law gives officiants the right to refuse to solemnize any marriage they disagree with. This means LGBTQ, interfaith, or interracial couples could be unable to officially marry in the eyes of the law.

Let’s be clear—this bill is intended to exclude LGBTQ+ folks from equal protection under the law,” Molly Whitehorn, associate director of regional campaigns for the Human Rights Campaign, said last month.

Republican lawmakers introduced H.B. 878 last year. The original version of the bill stated that officials didn’t have to solemnize a marriage if that person had “an objection to solemnizing the marriage based on the person’s conscience or religious beliefs.”

Although marriage equality has been codified into federal law since December 2022, the original bill exploited a major loophole. The Respect for Marriage Act had been amended during the congressional debate process to say that religious organizations do not have to marry same-sex couples, nor are states required to actually issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Critics of the original version of the Tennessee bill said it was completely unnecessary. Tennessee law already says that religious leaders do not have to officiate weddings they object to. It appears state Republicans were listening, as they amended the bill to remove the redundant reference to religious objections, and now officials can refuse to officiate marriages for any reason, not just religious ones.

Because the bill is so broad and vague, it is unlikely to stand up to scrutiny in court. But not before it likely wreaks havoc on LGBTQ people’s ability to get married.

Tennessee House Bill 878 would be patently unconstitutional,” Camilla Taylor, the deputy legal director of litigation for the LGBTQ legal advocacy group Lambda Legal, told CNN. “The Constitution prohibits public officials from discriminating against members of the public based on their personal beliefs.”

“Government officials can’t target people based on who they are and require them to use a different process to obtain marriage licenses relative to everyone else. The effect of forcing same-sex couples to go through a different process relative to everyone else—whether by demanding that they use a different door, or that they wait for a different public official to issue them a license would be to stigmatize them and communicate that their government thinks their marriages are less worthy than everyone else’s.”

Matt Gaetz Admits Republicans May Have Exaggerated on Biden Impeachment

When you’ve lost Matt Gaetz...

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Even Florida Representative Matt Gaetz seems to be growing tired of the impeachment probe into President Joe Biden, admitting on Thursday that the inquiry’s strongest line against Biden was overhyped.

“A few of those characterizations might have been a little oversauced,” Gaetz said on CNN.

The GOP impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden has crashed and burned in a spectacular way since its main witness, an informant who claimed Biden had pocketed millions of dollars from a Ukrainian oligarch, was indicted by the Department of Justice for lying to the FBI. Since then, Alexander Smirnov has reportedly admitted to law enforcement that top Russian intelligence officials were involved in the smear campaign against the sitting president, and was taken back into custody on Thursday after a judge reversed an order that would have allowed him to roam free ahead of his trial.

Still, Gaetz didn’t seem totally ready to give up the goat just yet, claiming that the probe should pursue another angle in spite of previous comments he had made that shot down the probe from the get-go.

“But here’s the thing, you just acknowledged there’s actually no evidence of bribery,” responded CNN anchor Abby Phillips.

“I did not acknowledge that,” Gaetz threw back.

“You acknowledged that there’s no proof—there’s reports of bribery, but there’s actually no proof of bribery actually being consummated,” Phillips said.

“Here’s what you said, congressman, this was in October at a private fundraiser,” she continued. “You said, ‘I don’t believe that we are endeavoring upon a legitimate impeachment of Joe Biden. They’re trying to engage in a “forever war” of impeachment. And like so many of our forever wars, it will drag on forever and end in a bloody draw.’ Honestly, it seems like maybe you were right the first time.”

“When you’ve heard me speak about issues important to me, I haven’t led with impeachment,” Gaetz started, before Phillips interrupted to ask if House Republicans should drop the impeachment probe.

“I disagree with Jordan that this is what’s most corroborating,” Gaetz said, referring to the Burisma allegations founded on Smirnov’s lies.

“I think what’s most corroborating are the payments to Hunter Biden, and Frank Biden, and James Biden. I was deposing James Biden, and the way that they took money from the Chinese government would make your skin crawl,” he added, failing to connect his allegations to the sitting president.

“Everything that you’ve described is an inference. It’s basically saying, ‘Well, it must be,’ but … you haven’t actually given any proof of what you’re alleging,” Phillips replied.

“Is this impeachment inquiry even going anywhere if you cannot provide enough evidence?” Phillips continued, prompting Gaetz to respond to a quote from Jonathan Turley, a conservative attorney who testified before the House Oversight Committee that there was “not enough evidence” to support the impeachment.

“Yea, when Jonathan Turley said that, we should have asked Jamaal Bowman to pull a fire alarm. It was a devastating moment for House Republicans,” Gaetz conceded.

Gaetz’s Republican colleagues are still scrambling to revive the probe. On Wednesday, Jordan insisted to reporters that Smirnov’s indictment “doesn’t change the fundamental facts,” even though those “facts” were lies fed by the Russian government.

MAGA Republican Pledges “End of Democracy” to Rabid Cheers at CPAC

Republicans at CPAC 2024 are openly vowing to take down democracy.

Jack Posobiec
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Conservative activist Jack Posobiec joyfully hailed the “end of democracy” at the Conservative Political Action Conference, further emphasizing Republicans’ apparent desire to completely overthrow America as we know it.

Posobiec, who helped popularize the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, appeared at CPAC’s opening day on Wednesday. He spoke during a panel moderated by former White House adviser and white supremacist Steve Bannon.

“Welcome to the end of democracy. We are here to overthrow it completely,” Posobiec said as the event began.

“We didn’t get all the way there on January 6, but we will endeavor to get rid of it and replace it with this, right here,” he said, gesturing to the crowd and holding up his fist.

As he spoke, Bannon laughed and said, “Amen!”

Posobiec then said, to cheers from the audience, “All glory is not to government. All glory to God.”

Republican primary front-runner Donald Trump has repeatedly indicated he intends to embrace authoritarianism if he is reelected to the White House. Trump has paraphrased Adolf Hitler, floated horrifying and fascistic policy ideas, and joked (so he says) about being a dictator on the first day of his new term.

Trump’s closest allies in Congress have also indicated they would be willing to throw out the rulebook for him. Senator J.D. Vance and Representative Elise Stefanik, both reportedly on the shortlist for Trump’s running mate, have said they would have carried out a coup on January 6, 2021, to keep Trump in power.

Posobiec’s comments, even delivered in a lighthearted tone, are a chilling reminder that Trump and his supporters are not speaking rhetorically. They mean everything they say.

Confused Tuberville Completely Flounders on Alabama IVF Embryo Ruling

The Alabama senator took three different positions on that Alabama court’s embryo ruling in less than two minutes.

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Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville is clearly gunning to win the award for “Dumbest Senator” a second year in a row, fully demonstrating that he has no idea what in vitro fertilization is, nor does he have basic knowledge about the recent Alabama court ruling that effectively banned the assisted family conception procedure from his state.

“Yeah, I was all for it,” Tuberville told reporters at CPAC on Thursday when asked about the state Supreme Court ruling that classified frozen embryos as children. “You just gotta look at everything going on in the country. It’s just an attack on families, an attack on kids. You know, anything we can do for the future of our young people, because they’re our number one commodity.”

“We need to have more kids, we need to have an opportunity to do that, and I thought this was the right thing to do,” he added.

“But IVF is used to have more children, and right now IVF services are paused at some of the clinics in Alabama,” prodded an NBC News reporter. “Aren’t you concerned that this could impact people who are trying to have kids?”

“Well, that’s for another conversation,” said a stumped Tuberville. “I think the big thing is right now you protect, you go back to the situation and you try to work it out to where it’s best for everybody. That’s what the whole abortion issue is about.”

“But this isn’t really about abortion, it’s about IVF and the concern that now families might not have access to it,” the reporter responded.

“But it’s about the same direction, but I agree,” Tubberville said, seemingly bewildered before doubling down on the party line. “People need to have access. People need to—we need more kids. We need people to have the opportunity to have kids.”

Yet one glance at the state’s recent politics would indicate that’s absolutely not a priority in the state. Infertility impacts one in five women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But last week, the Alabama Supreme Court decided that embryos created through IVF would be protected under the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, classifying single-celled, fertilized eggs as children. The decision has spelled certain doom for IVF clinics across the state, three of which have already announced that they will no longer be offering the procedure for fear of being hit with wrongful death suits.

Still, that wasn’t enough for Tuberville to pay it any mind, and he at first mistook the judicial decision for a “bill” before admitting that he “hasn’t looked at it” and that he didn’t consider it a “big conversation” with regard to the general election.

“But women aren’t going to be able to have IVF to get kids already, in some places,” the reporter responded. “What do you say to them?”

“Yea, that’s unfortunate,” Tuberville said, repeating “unfortunate” a few more times.

“IVF is not a Democrat or Republican issue. Families across the board use it. What is your message to the Supreme Court if this does in fact stop families from using IVF?” the reporter asked.

“We don’t need that,” Tuberville said.

Nikki Haley Desperately Tries to Walk Back Comment on Alabama Embryo Ruling

As hospitals across Alabama pause IVF treatments, Nikki Haley is suddenly trying to claim she never said what she said.

Nikki Haley closing her eyes and looking down
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Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is frantically trying to quell the controversy over comments she made about IVF after an Alabama court’s recent ruling that frozen embryos are children.

“We don’t want fertility treatment to shut down, we don’t want them to stop doing IVF treatment, we don’t want them to stop doing artificial insemination,” Haley said on CNN on Thursday. “But I think this needs to be decided by the people in every state. Don’t take away the rights of these physicians and these parents to have these conversations.”

It was Haley’s second such attempt to explain away her controversial stance on the issue. On Wednesday evening, Haley blurted out a much more gibberish response.

“Well first off all, this is, again, I didn’t say that I agreed with the Alabama ruling. The question that I was asked is, ‘Do I believe an embryo is a baby?’” Haley said on CNN Wednesday evening. “I do think that if you look in the definition, an embryo is considered an unborn baby. And so yes, I believe, from my stance, that that is.”

But calling an embryo—the stage before the microscopic cellular mass is labeled a fetus—an unborn baby is not exactly correct.

In Handmaid’s Tale–esque fashion, Haley has tried to toe the line on the issue of third-party fertility in a futile effort to keep voters from turning away from her floundering campaign, even though she conceived her son via artificial insemination.

Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court decided that embryos created through in vitro fertilization would be protected under the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act, effectively classifying single-celled, fertilized eggs as children. The decision has spelled certain doom for IVF clinics across the state, three of which have already announced that they will no longer be offering the procedure for fear of being hit with wrongful death suits.

So when Haley initially claimed that embryos “are babies” and that she could see where the court was “coming from” on the issue, people were stunned.

“Embryos, to me, are babies,” Haley told NBC News. “When you talk about an embryo, you are talking about, to me, that’s a life. And so I do see where that’s coming from when they talk about that.”

Guess What Just Disappeared From GOP’s Biden Impeachment Website

It’s not going great for House Republicans after their star Biden impeachment witness was indicted.

Representative James Comer looks at the camera
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House Oversight Republicans have yanked a reference to their major flop of an FBI informant on the committee website, where it previously had pride of place as part of the impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden.

Republicans have hinged their Biden investigation on accusations from a supposedly credible but confidential FBI source that Biden and his son Hunter accepted bribes from a Ukrainian oligarch. But the Justice Department has since charged that source, former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, with making false statements and revealed his accusation may have been Russian disinformation.

As of Thursday, the House Oversight website displays a list of key evidence in the committee’s Biden family investigation, including an error-ridden timeline of the president’s supposed corruption, the family’s bank records, and a transcribed interview with a witness who actually debunked all of the Republicans’ claims.

But an archived version of the website shows the key evidence list used to include a link to “FBI Form 1023 alleging then-Vice President Joe Biden engaged in a bribery and extortion scheme and ultimately received $5 million from a Burisma executive.”

FD-1023s are forms that the FBI uses to record anonymously sourced, unverified information. The form in question alleges that a source reported Biden and his son Hunter each accepted a $5 million bribe from an executive at Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company on whose board Hunter served.

Republicans have repeatedly cited this form as concrete proof that Biden is guilty of corruption, despite the fact that the FBI could not prove the information was credible. GOP leadership was warned as much, but it still pushed forward with the investigation into the Bidens.

As it turns out, the story was totally made up. Last week, the Justice Department charged the source, businessman Alexander Smirnov, with making a false statement and creating a false record related to the bribery allegation. And on Tuesday, the department revealed Smirnov confessed that Russian intelligence officers helped him smear Hunter Biden.

With the investigation going up in smoke around them, Republican leaders have started to erase references to Smirnov. House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan and Oversight Chair James Comer, who have spearheaded the probe, sent a letter Tuesday evening to former State Department official Amos Hochstein requesting an interview. The GOP has accused Hochstein of advising Hunter Biden at Burisma.

The original letter, which was obtained by The New Republic, included a section explaining the reason for the Biden investigation, with a paragraph that described a credible, confidential source’s accusation that a Ukrainian gas company executive had bribed the president. This background information has been standard for Republicans’ interview request letters during the impeachment inquiry thus far.

But an hour later, Republicans sent out a second version of the letter, also obtained by TNR. This time, the entire paragraph about the informant had been deleted.

John Fetterman Claims Democrats Criticizing Biden Are Basically MAGA

The Pennsylvania senator is railing against Democrats who try to voice some criticism of the president.

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Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman can’t seem to wrap his head around negative reviews of President Joe Biden, claiming on Thursday that Democrats who criticize the president are only helping Donald Trump return to the White House.

“I don’t understand why,” Fetterman said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I don’t know what’s in it for you to do that, whether you’re just chasing clout or you want to make it in the news or anything like that. But if you’re not willing to just support the president now and say these kinds of things, you might as well just get your MAGA hat, because you now are helping Trump with this.”

Fetterman’s attack comes as Democratic strategists and voters are raising concerns about the 81-year-old president—whether in regard to his age, his immigration policies, his stance on Gaza, or something else.

“The president is going to win here in Pennsylvania, and I’ve always believed that whoever wins Pennsylvania is going to be the next president as well, too,” Fetterman said, adding that it’s going to be “difficult,” and Democrats have to “lean in on that.”

It’s not the first time that Fetterman has dismissed criticism of the sitting president, adding to what seems to be a developing portrait of a DNC bootlicker rather than an independent lawmaker. In December, Fetterman resorted to the political strategy of a middle schooler to push back against a dire 2024 prediction for Biden by longtime Democratic political strategist James Carville.

“I’ll use this [as] another opportunity to tell James Carville to shut the fuck up,” Fetterman told Politico at the time, responding to a question about Biden’s floundering polling results. “Like I said, my man hasn’t been relevant since grunge was a thing. And I don’t know why he believes it’s helpful to say these kinds of things about an incredibly difficult circumstance with an incredibly strong and decent and excellent president. I’ll never understand that.”

Fetterman has spent the last few months transforming himself into a full-blown liberal, insisting that he was never a progressive politician despite previously leveraging the label for fundraising, claiming to be one online, and calling himself a “Bernie Sanders 2.0.

Texas Judge: It’s Totally OK That School Punished Black Kid Over His Hair

The shocking ruling comes after a Black high school student’s monthslong punishment over his locs.

Michael Wyke/Associated Press

A Texas judge ruled Thursday that the monthslong punishment of a Black high school student over his hairstyle somehow does not constitute race-based discrimination by his school.

Darryl George, a junior at Barbers Hill High School, has spent most of his school days since August in either in-school suspension or an off-site disciplinary program. The 18-year-old wears his hair in long locs twisted on top of his head. His school says the hairstyle violates the school district dress code, which states male students’ hair cannot hang below the eyebrows, earlobes, or neckline of a T-shirt.

George says he plans to appeal the judge’s decision.

George’s mother filed a federal lawsuit in September against the Barbers Hill school district and state officials. Darresha George accused the district of violating federal civil rights law and the state’s Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair, or CROWN Act, which bans discrimination based on hair texture or protective hairstyles associated with race. Darresha George also argued that Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton are failing to enforce the CROWN Act.

Darryl George says his locs are an expression of cultural pride but have unfortunately resulted in demeaning treatment and a loss of education.

“I am being harassed by school officials and treated like a dog,” he said in the lawsuit filing. “I am being subjected to cruel treatment and a lot of unkind words from many adults within the school including teachers, principals and administrators.”

After just a few hours on Thursday, state district Judge Chap Cain III ruled in favor of the school district. Cain said that disciplining George for the length of his hair is legal under the CROWN Act, which does not mention hair length.

But the lawmakers who wrote the act argue that length should be inherently protected. Democratic state Representative Ron Reynolds testified as much on Thursday.

“Length was inferred with the very nature of the style,” Reynolds told the courtroom. “Anyone familiar with braids, locs, twists knows it requires a certain amount of length.”

Reynolds said it is “almost impossible for a person to comply with this [grooming] policy and wear that protective hairstyle.”

Lawmakers and civil rights advocates say that the Barbers Hill dress code is based on anti-Black prejudice and stereotypes. In fact, George’s case isn’t the first time the school has caught heat for hair discrimination.

In 2020, Barbers Hill High School told a Black student that he could not attend his graduation ceremony unless he cut off his locs. His cousin, a sophomore at the time, was also given in-school suspension due to his hair length.

The students’ families filed a federal lawsuit arguing the dress code was discriminatory. That case is still ongoing, but it did prompt Texas to implement the CROWN Act statewide last year. Only 23 other states have passed the anti-discrimination law.

Before Abbott signed the CROWN Act, the Harris County Commissioners Court approved the measure in 2021. The county does not encompass the Barbers Hill school, but some Harris residents have been following George’s case.

Rodney Ellis, a Harris County commissioner and the sponsor of the resolution to enact the CROWN Act there, told The Texas Tribune he saw the Barbers Hill case as part of a larger national strategy. Throughout the country, Republican leaders have sharply restricted schools’ and libraries’ ability to teach Black history or have books about race.

“When young students are punished for simply expressing their cultural identity through their hair, it sends a chilling message that their heritage is unwelcome and that they do not belong,” Ellis said.

This story has been updated.

Biden Considers Asylum Ban, Using Same Statute as Trump’s Muslim Ban

Joe Biden is eyeing a sweeping new executive order on immigration.

Joe Biden
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The Biden administration appears to be dutifully taking advantage of the ways Donald Trump reshaped executive power on immigration, even going so far as to consider utilizing the same statute that Trump relied on to enact his Muslim Ban.

President Joe Biden is reportedly mulling an executive order that would restrict asylum access in the U.S., following the rejection of a border deal in Congress that would have placed a weekly threshold on unlawful entries through the U.S.-Mexico border, capping it if more than 8,500 tried to cross the border on a single day. Biden is considering instituting a similar trigger via executive order.

To do so, he would leverage the section of the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act that allows the suspension of entry for anyone determined to be “detrimental to the interests of the United States.” This is the exact statute Trump used to ban travelers from several from Muslim-majority countries during the course of his presidency.

If true, Biden’s executive order would essentially reverse a longstanding law that any person arriving at the border is entitled to seek asylum protections, whether or not they have a sponsor, passport, or plane ticket. The National Immigrant Justice Center notes this right to claim asylum is critical since “people fleeing for their lives are often unable to access pathways that require identification documents and a safe haven to wait for processing.”

No decisions have yet been made in regards to the order, according to an unidentified White House official who spoke with The New York Times.

The proposal is a stark contrast to the campaign promises of 2020 candidate Joe Biden, who had pledged a more humane future for immigrants entering the country than the one offered by his predecessor. But whether or not the proposal passes may not matter—it could prove the difference for American voters, who as of a January poll ranked immigrants as their primary concern.

Meanwhile, Trump is finding his own ways to escalate his old border policies, promising to bring back President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Operation Wetback,” which used military tactics to ship some 1.3 million immigrants to locations without food or water, and radically expand detention centers.

Pot, Meet Kettle: Tuberville Mocks Biden’s Walk, Forgets Own Viral Fall

The Alabama Republican had the gall to criticize Biden after his own epic stumble, trip, and nosedive down the stairs.

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Senator Tommy Tuberville took aim at Joe Biden’s physical capabilities during the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday—conveniently forgetting his own recent struggles.

Republicans have repeatedly argued (and some Democrats worry) that Biden, who at age 81 is the oldest president ever, is mentally and physically unfit to hold office. Thursday was no exception: during an onstage interview, Tuberville claimed Biden has declined so much that “he doesn’t know what day it is.”

Later, Tuberville told Newsmax that it has been concerning to “see [Biden’s] decline over the last few months.”

“I don’t think he’ll make it,” Tuberville said. “Just watched him yesterday walking on a tarmac in L.A. with Nancy Pelosi, shuffling his feet, looking at the ground.”

Tuberville, though, is 69—no spring chicken himself. And the Alabama Republican appears to have conveniently forgotten a major lapse in his own physical abilities, when exiting a plane in October.

Biden and Tuberville are not alone in their advanced years. This Congress is the third-oldest since 1789, when the legislative branch in its current form was first established. And the Senate is the second-oldest in all of U.S. history.