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Jan. 6 committee’s criminal referral spat was avoidable — and unnecessary

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Jan. 6 committee’s criminal referral spat was avoidable — and unnecessary

ANALYSIS — Evidence. The word was uttered 41 times Monday during the Jan. 6 select committee’s second much-anticipated June hearing and over and over by its members during a weeklong cable TV blitz.

But we have not heard that much direct evidence. Put a different way: The panel of seven Democrats and two politically excommunicated Republicans have yet to turn the hours of video footage from police officers’ body cameras, Capitol security cameras and rioters’ own self-incriminating social media posts into dots that actually connect.

At least not until Thursday’s dramatic hearing, during which the committee connected the dots of conservative attorney John Eastman’s faulty legal theory that a vice president could unilaterally decide who is the next president to former President Donald Trump.

That made Thursday’s session, so far, an outlier. It is telling that panel members are not talking much — or at all, really — about drawing such lines. When pressed about proving their allegations, members typically say very little while making no hard promises.

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“Well, I think you have seen in the last two hearings that we do have evidence for the assertions that we make during the hearings, and I will let folks tune in to the third hearing to see the evidence,” Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., told CNN.

Here was California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren, when asked a similar question: “But we’re doing the best we can, not only the investigation, but laying out the facts and the evidence that we found in a way that’s coherent, we hope, understandable and credible, we hope.”

Republican lawmakers see the select committee as anything but. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California on June 9 called it “the most political and least legitimate committee in American history.”

GOP skepticism about the panel is one reason its members should get on with the dot-connecting. It is the only way to break through to some conservatives and moderates who question the committee’s structure, conclusions and existence.

“It is important for the American people to have the evidence regarding the efforts of President Trump, and his allies, to overturn the results of a free and fair election and to prevent the peaceful transition of power on the basis of that election,” said Mark Rom, a public policy and government professor at Georgetown University.

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But that does not mean the select committee has to get into the tricky business of sending criminal referrals based on any of its findings to federal prosecutors. After all, the panel on Wednesday released video of a man it contends was part of a suspicious tour group led by Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., on Jan. 5 who threatened to use a flagpole with a sharpened end — with Old Glory a would-be accessory to assault, or worse — to harm Democratic lawmakers. Justice Department officials likely do not need a congressional permission slip or recommendation to look into this self-described “American patriot.”

But the matter exposed a major point of contention among panel members this week.

“No, you know, we’re going to tell the facts. If the Department of Justice looks at it, and assume that there’s something that needs further review, I’m sure they’ll do it,” committee Chair Bennie Thompson told reporters Monday evening.

The Mississippi Democrat with the unmistakable drawl of his native region simply does not see that as part of the special panel’s charge.

In a twist, committee members who weighed in, including Democrats, sided with Wyoming Republican Vice Chair Liz Cheney’s stance that the panel has not yet decided about referrals.

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Members denied that Wednesday’s planned hearing being postponed was related to the referral row. “You know, it was a combination of scheduling issues,” Murphy said. It is fair to wonder whether the very public disagreement played a role, however.

It is doubtful any congressional or legislative committee has avoided public spats, but this one is dealing with a matter so important in such a politically toxic and divided time that it cannot afford another if it wants to avoid distractions from its message.

‘Evidence to prosecutors‘

Though the committee has unveiled only six hours of its findings, “the evidence of possible criminal conduct is steadily mounting,” a group of experts tracking and analyzing every second of footage and testimony wrote for national security site Just Security.

The experts called the criminal referrals row “a bit overblown.”

“We favor referrals, but simply providing a roadmap of all the evidence would also be acceptable,” the Just Security experts wrote. “And Chairman Thompson also said yesterday that the committee intended to provide all of its evidence to prosecutors after the hearings. No one disagreed with him on that point.”

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Thompson appears to have the stronger legal argument. But if the panel does start connecting dots and makes the case that, as the chairman himself alleged on June 9, Trump oversaw an “attempted coup,” political pressure will mount for such formal recommendations to the Justice Department to prosecute the 45th president and others in his inner circle.

But doing so would set a new precedent, and perhaps not one Democratic leadership is prepared to take with Republicans in the driver’s seat to capture congressional majorities in November’s midterm elections.

“The Jan. 6 Committee need not, and should not, make criminal referrals,” Rom said. “It should present the evidence regarding the causes of the Jan. 6 insurrection and the events leading up to it.”

“It is unwise for one political body (the Congress) to criminalize the activities of another (the Executive),” he wrote in an email to CQ Roll Call. “Criminal referrals would be (understandably) seen as politically motivated. As the DOJ is watching the hearings closely, it can (and should) make its own judgments as to whether crimes have been committed.”

‘I am watching‘

Enter Merrick B. Garland, the attorney general whom Republicans blocked from joining the Supreme Court during former President Barack Obama’s final year in office.

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“I am watching, and I will be watching all the hearings, although I may not be able to watch all of it live,” the AG said Monday. “But I will be sure that I am watching all of it. And I can assure you that the Jan. 6 prosecutors are watching all of the hearings, as well.”

The select committee’s presentations thus are always focused on or brought back to one man: Trump. It is difficult to imagine Garland’s words were not, in large part, meant for the same audience of one.

Trump’s presidency and post-presidency have been compared to what federal agents call a “RICO case,” meaning ones brought against organized crime figures under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970.

“I thought, at the end of our [Monday] hearing, when we had video of rioters on Jan. 6 essentially repeating the president’s ‘big lie’ was very compelling,” Lofgren said this week. “Those individuals bought the lie that the president gave to them and responded. And many of them are now in prison or in jail. They paid a big price for the president’s misconduct here.”

She was referring to rioters who have been prosecuted already. If the Jan. 6 committee begins connecting the dots it has ably put on the board, those around the former president, as in a RICO case, may soon have to decide between federal charges and giving up their former boss.

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After all, Garland is watching. He doesn’t need Congress’ permission, just its evidence.

Editor-at-Large John T. Bennett writes a weekly column for Roll Call, parts of which first appeared in the subscription-only CQ Senate newsletter.

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EU’s Michel: Oil services price cap must hit Russia, not G7 and partners

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EU’s Michel: Oil services price cap must hit Russia, not G7 and partners

European Council President Charles Michel attends a news conference during a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium June 24, 2022. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

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SCHLOSS ELMAU, Germany, June 26 (Reuters) – The Group of Seven nations will discuss a proposal to impose a price cap on services related to oil trading, European Council President Charles Michel said on Sunday, adding that any measures must minimise the impact on the G7 and its partners.

“If we go in that direction we will need the support of European Union members and we want to make sure the goal is to target Russia and not make our own lives more difficult,” he told a news conference at the G7 summit.

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Reporting by Phil Blenkinsop, writing by Thomas Escritt; editing by Matthias Williams

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Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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In Texas, Mayra Flores is latest Latina to win big in politics. Can others do the same?

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In Texas, Mayra Flores is latest Latina to win big in politics. Can others do the same?

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  • Latinas represent 9.1% of the total U.S. population but only make up only 2.8% of all lawmakers in Congress.
  • Twenty-seven Latinos have won primary battles for the U.S. House of Represenatives so far this election cycle. That’s up from 2018, when 20 Latinas won their primary contests.
  • “We have seen places like Texas, Arizona and Florida, more Latinas are running and winning,” said Anna Sampaio, a politics, race and gender professor at California’s Santa Clara University.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores of Texas became the first Mexican-born woman to be sworn into Congress last week, the latest major victory for Latinas, who are increasingly running for political office – and winning.

Latinas represent 9.1% of the total U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census. But Latinas make up only 2.8% of all lawmakers in Congress, according to the Center For American Women and Politics. They are also underrepresented in local and state political offices. 

Recent election cycles, however, have shown Latinas clamoring to take up more space in U.S. politics. Twenty-seven Latinas have won primary battles for the U.S. House of Representatives so far this election cycle. That’s up from 2018 when 20 Latinas won their primary contests. 

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Democratic Convention speaker: Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto

U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada delivers remarks on the first night of the Democratic National Convention.

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“We have seen places like Texas, Arizona and Florida, more Latinas are running and winning,” said Anna Sampaio, a politics, race and gender professor at California’s Santa Clara University. “There are several factors at work in both of those equations, but we see underrepresentation as well.” 

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Political experts said Latinas are deeply underrepresented in political office for a variety of factors, including discrimination based on gender, ethnicity or race that can limit economic, education and other opportunities. Latinas are the most likely group of people actively discouraged from running by their political party, according to the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators.

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz, who was running for governor of Massachusetts before she dropped out Thursday, said the underrepresentation of Latinas holding political office correlates with multiple barriers, including psychological, financial, childcare and being a marginalized community member. 

“We know that you don’t have to raise the most money in order to win office, I’m living proof of that. But you need to raise enough to run a vetted campaign,” said Chang-Díaz, who became the state’s first Latina state senator in 2009. 

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Stephanie Lopez, program director for LatinasRepresent, a national, nonpartisan organization focused on increasing the number and diversity of Latinas in public office, said many Latina candidates are still fighting off outdated assumptions about their electability. 

“It is incredibly difficult for Latinas to run for office, I think that needs to be said. A ton of barriers exist even before they decide to run,” Lopez said. “A lot of the time, they’re not receiving the support from major parties. So, what are the options, wait for them or run as independents?” 

Despite the barriers to a victorious Election Day, more Latinas have steadily won high-profile electoral contests in recent years, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez becoming the youngest woman at the time to serve in Congress in 2019 and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham becoming the nation’s first Latina governor in 2019. There’s also Elizabeth Guzmán and Hala Ayala, who in 2017 became the first Hispanic women elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates. That same year, Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) became the first Latina to serve in the U.S. Senate. 

“Communities realize that they need to be politically engaged,” said Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, chair of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus. “And right now, Latinas realize that they need the political power to change the dynamics in their community.”

Christina Bejarano, a professor of political science at Texas Woman’s University whose research focuses on Latinas in politics, said much of the growth of women of color running for political office stems from the growing networks of political and civic organizations aimed at helping such candidates.

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Bejarano said Latinas sometimes can benefit at the polls by leaning on their identity to draw support and interest from multiple demographic groups, such as other women and people of color. 

“They often run as highly qualified candidates, likely due to the expected obstacles they will encounter running as women of color,” Bejarano said.

Flores’ campaign focused on her culture, pointing to her parents’ history of being migrant workers. Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile, has celebrated her family’s links to Puerto Rico and aligned with other women of color in Congress. 

Sonja Diaz, founding director of the University of California, Los Angeles’ Latino Policy & Politics Institute, also said Latinas do not need to run in a Latino-majority district to win. 

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“One thing that is true from our political science research and history is that Latinas are ideal candidates who can win districts that are a variety of voters from a different race or ethnic backgrounds,” Diaz said. 

Latinas candidates need more support

Kelly Dittmar, director of research at the Center for American Women and Politics, said the key for Latinas is to maintain political momentum. She said profound structural change must happen within the major political parties to bolster the success of Latina candidates.

“You need to create networks, what we call a support infrastructure, for women in ways that speak to their own distinctive experience,” said Dittmar. “There is also the potential to create a funding stream, reducing some of the financial barriers.” 

In November, the final midterm elections will show how well Latinas candidates perform this election cycle. Flores is likely to face a tougher road to victory when she faces off against Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez in a redrawn district that leans overwhelmingly Democratic.

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Whether Flores wins or loses, Chang-Díaz and others are hoping to see more Latinas in office in the near future. 

“I want to be clear; we should be encouraging more Latinas to run,” said Chang-Díaz. “Our country needs more Latinas in offices. We need to have people at the table who represent our country’s full breadth and diversity.”

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As an adoptive mother, I know adoption doesn’t fix a lack of abortion access

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As an adoptive mother, I know adoption doesn’t fix a lack of abortion access

“Your son is so lucky.”

As mother to an 11-year-old who came to our family via adoption four years ago, I hear this comment a lot. Friends and strangers alike tell me that my child is fortunate, that he “seems like such a happy kid” and “You would never know he’s adopted, he’s so well-adjusted!” Some say these things within earshot of my son or my biological daughter. 

I know that their comments are mostly well-meaning, so I usually just change the subject, not wanting to start a weighty conversation at the grocery check-out line or at school pickup. But what I want to say is, “He is not ‘lucky.’ He will never ‘adjust.’ Adoption is trauma, and no child — or birth parent — should ever have to go through it.”

It took me a year to find an adoption-literate therapist who could take us on (at $200 per week, no less) and longer to find a trauma-trained caregiver.

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Yet ahead of the anticipated overturning of Roe v. Wade, many opponents of abortion rights held up adoption as an antidote for unwanted pregnancies. After the draft opinion leaked in May, Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, in a typical comment, told ABC News’ “This Week” that his solution if abortion were outlawed would be “increase the services for maternal health, to increase the services for adoption services … We want to invest in those areas that will help those women with very difficult circumstances of the pregnancy.” He did not elaborate on what specific “adoption services” he would invest in, or how much, or where the money would come from. It’s almost like he hadn’t thought about that part.

He certainly didn’t acknowledge what those services entail, and how they can never compensate for the difficulties adopted children or their parents face. As life without Roe becomes a reality in the United States, lawmakers must understand the toll they are foisting on families if they don’t allow women to pursue abortions.

My son is funny, gregarious and wise, with arresting almond eyes that take up a third of his face and a killer jump shot. If anyone is lucky, it’s us; being his mom is one of the great joys of my life. But that joy comes with trauma — his, ours, his biological family’s — that has forever changed us. We chose to adopt and therefore accept the humbling, messy, demanding work of navigating the road toward healing and connection. Our son did not get to choose, and soon thousands of infants and birth mothers may not have a choice, either.

In my work as the director of a nonprofit supporting child welfare-involved youth and families, I’m well aware of how there is already a serious lack of accessible, effective trauma-healing resources for children, birth mothers and adoptive families in this country. But then I experienced this first hand after bringing our son home. 

Though my husband and I had ready access to experts in adoption and trauma via my work, a supportive network of family and friends, and the time, money and desire to provide every available resource to support our son’s healing, we struggled. It took me a year to find an adoption-literate therapist who could take us on (at $200 per week, no less) and longer to find a trauma-trained caregiver who we trusted to watch our son for even a couple of hours. 

We needed help addressing his intense rages, in which he punched himself and the walls while wailing from a place so deep inside that it sounded primal — which it was. He would fight in school and run away; he scrawled “I hat u mom and dade” in Sharpie on his bedroom wall. Despite being loved, wanted and safe, he was operating in fight-or-flight mode 24 hours a day, his pulse racing under my tentative fingers even as his eyelids drooped during book time. 

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No amount of training or education could have prepared my husband and me for the force of his pain, but slowly, day by day, we inched forward. We threw “normal parenting” out the window, battling our own triggers so we could model calmness and safety even as he tantrumed. We patched the holes in the drywall without a word and stopped chasing him when he ran away. 

Over time our son’s nervous system came out of overdrive, and he stopped perceiving everything and everyone as a threat. We started to see glimpses of the compassionate, silly, creative boy trapped inside that shell of fear. Exhausted but hopeful, we stayed the course.

Not every adopted child will rage, but every one will carry trauma that manifests in diverse ways until it is faced and processed. The son of a friend, adopted at birth from a mother who experienced food insecurity, suddenly began hoarding food as a teen; an adult I know, adopted at two months old, was a self-described “happy, perfect child” until she left for college, when seemingly out of nowhere she began cutting herself, failing classes and fantasizing about suicide. The transition of leaving her safe hometown, where everyone knew her as so-and-so’s daughter, and going to college, where her dorm room photos raised questions about why her entire family was white though she was Asian, opened up the wound of her early trauma.

As for birth mothers, the young women who never wanted to be mothers in the first place, they also suffer complicated losses — the loss of their freedom to choose when and under what circumstances they give birth, the loss of the children they never intended to have.

Four years later after his adoption our son is thriving, though the impact of his past has changed him — and us — forever. He steps out of that shell of fear almost every day now, but it is always there, just as the ache for his first parents will always be there, too. He trusts and loves me but remains hypervigilant, anxiously asking “What’s wrong, Mom?” when he observes even the tiniest micro-expression of frustration or annoyance crease my brow. He wakes often at night and paces; at 11, he worries about the future.

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Republican lawmakers are prepared to take away a woman’s right to choose without any sign that they’ve given earnest consideration to, let alone resources for, the long-term effects of such a decision. Adoption, a fraught reality for many that is made more complicated because it contains both beauty and pain, should never be propped up by lawmakers as the easy solution to a problem they created by wielding their outsized power over millions of Americans. 

Adoption requires a lifelong commitment, and serious patience, time and therapeutic interventions. It should never be forced on anyone. Lawmakers should strive to understand, plan for and fund trauma-healing support services for the thousands of youths and families in the United States already touched by adoption, instead of committing thousands of more Americans to it without their consent.

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