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For the national Republican Party, this issue gives us the chance to do some good, win back millions of voters we’ve alienated, and move on to other important areas where we still have the moral high ground.

Some Republican operatives think they’re better off continuing to fight on this front of the culture war, and plenty of Democratic operatives think the same. The partisan vote in the House reflects an unwillingness—on both sides—to negotiate. But gay and trans rights are no longer the wedge issue they were in the early aughts. Times have changed, and Republicans’ best bet now is to reach a negotiated peace with the other side.

Democrats know the current version of the Equality Act could never pass in the Senate in its current form. And it might seem that in the current environment, common ground is out of reach. But senators of both parties have no chance of portraying themselves as reasonable unless they make a good-faith effort to reach a deal. Democrats cannot clear this hurdle unless they deal fairly with Republicans like Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski, as well as conservative Democrat Joe Manchin. As for Republicans, they need to be willing to back an alternative rather than just saying “no.”

For religious conservatives, and by extension the Republicans who represent many of them, the problem with the current bill is that it appears to threaten their religious freedom and fails to adequately grapple with First Amendment concerns. They cannot support legislation that would imperil their operations, including the vital social services they provide in underserved communities around the country.

Several states have enacted laws similar to the Equality Act in recent years, but always with religious liberty protections. For instance, Rhode Island has a robust anti-discrimination law with reasonable protections for religious groups. These protections ensure that Catholic Social Services—and any other religious groups—can continue to provide valuable services in the state.

Similarly, Utah’s success in passing anti-discrimination legislation offers a path forward. Although its state government is controlled by Republicans at every level, Utah has some of the strongest protections for gay and trans people in the nation. In 2015, with the support of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and state LGBTQ leaders, Utah’s Republican legislature passed a comprehensive non-discrimination bill with reasonable protections for religious organizations.

I worked on the campaign to pass it, and found that Republicans were far more open to gay rights if a bill simply respected these protections, and Democrats were able to get behind it as well. It was a fair outcome that both sides liked. As a result, the law has enjoyed widespread support among the public. The people of Utah are tied with Vermont for the second-highest rates of support for LGBTQ non-discrimination protections.

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In Congress, instead of working toward such a deal, many Democrats grandstand and posture, insisting—wrongly—that they can pass the Equality Act as currently written. Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, for instance, has never complained about the religious exemptions in his own state’s anti-discrimination laws, yet for some reason he draws a line in the sand at the federal level, denouncing any effort to provide similar exemptions in the Equality Act. Meanwhile, most Republicans complain about these missing provisions without offering their support for a bill that included such guarantees.

Utah should serve as a blueprint for both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate. The Fairness for All Act, an alternative version of the Equality Act, draws from the popular Utah law. Senate Republicans should introduce this bill and use its language to amend the Equality Act.

Support by Republican lawmakers for these types of changes would deliver a broader win to religious conservatives as well: Perhaps surprisingly, the best and possibly only way to achieve robust religious-freedom protections nationwide is by agreeing to LGBTQ non-discrimination protections, codifying an expansion of civil rights for religion alongside protections for sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.

This move would also help Republicans gain back some of the ground they lost with voters over the past several years. Public opinion polling shows that support for LGBTQ civil rights continues to climb, particularly in more educated, suburban districts.

With public support at sky-high levels, a version of the Equality Act will pass eventually. The question is: Which version? And will Republicans take the opportunity to shape it?

Religious conservatives should seize this chance now to influence the process before the culture shifts even more decidedly against them on LGBTQ issues. By making peace on this issue, religious conservatives could get the legal protections they want while also showing themselves to be decent and reasonable people—winning them political goodwill for any future disagreements that might emerge, and allowing lawmakers to move on to pressing issues like the crushing federal debt, defeating coronavirus, unaccompanied minors at the border, human rights abuses by the Chinese Communist Party, crumbling infrastructure and energy independence.

Responsible legislation is within reach, but you can’t win if you don’t play. Reaching a settlement on these issues is better for people of faith, better for LGBTQ people, and better for the country. Republicans should sit down with Democrats and insist on a deal that works for both sides. Common ground is possible.


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Garland pauses federal executions as DOJ reviews policies

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Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday paused federal executions as the Department of Justice reviews its death penalty policies and procedures.

“The Department of Justice must ensure that everyone in the federal criminal justice system is not only afforded the rights guar anteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States, but is also treated fairly and humanely,” Garland said in a statement. “That obligation has special force in capital cases.”

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Legal battles over the traditional three-drug protocol for carrying out execution by legal injection, and a shortage of sodium thiopental — one of the drugs — led to a two-decade lapse in federal executions. But then-Attorney General Bill Barr ordered federal prisons to resume executions in 2019, after making changes to the federal execution protocols.


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New York Assembly OKs subpoenas in Cuomo impeachment probe

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Additionally, members have taken the technical step of issuing a commission to the law firm of Davis Polk, which the Assembly has retained to handle much of the probe. That step “allows our independent counsel to take testimony under oath,” Lavine said.

The Assembly launched its investigation of Cuomo in March. It is probing a litany of allegations made against Cuomo on subjects ranging from sexual harassment to the governor’s $5.1 million book deal.

State Attorney General Tish James is examining several similar issues. She started issuing subpoenas in March.

James said last week that she does not “share information” with the Assembly investigators. But Abinanti said on Wednesday that the granting of a commission to Davis Polk opens up that possibility, “because now they are authorized to subpoena the same information the attorney general’s office is subpoenaing … so I would assume the attorney general’s office would feel more comfortable cooperating with our counsel.”

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Wednesday’s meeting was notable as the Assembly’s first mostly in-person committee meeting since state government shut down in March 2020. Since Cuomo ended New York’s state of emergency last week, the Legislature is now fully subjected to the Open Meetings Law, and the public was allowed into the room in the state Capitol for five minutes. The remainder of the roughly two-hour gathering took place in executive session.

Does the issuing of subpoenas mean that the investigation of Cuomo is nearing an end?

“Oh no, not yet, no no,” Abinanti said. “Let’s face it, we’ve given [Davis Polk] a huge task. There’s a lot of issues for them to look at.”


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Opinion | Republicans Shouldn’t Sign on to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal

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The conventional wisdom is that the Senate has to prove that it can work, and the test of its functioning is how much of Biden’s spending Republicans endorse.

This is a distorted view of the Senate’s role, which shouldn’t be to get on board a historic spending spree for which Biden won no mandate and which isn’t justified by conditions in the country (it’s not true, for instance, that the nation’s infrastructure is crumbling).

Besides, if bipartisan spending is the test, the Senate just a few weeks ago passed a $200 billion China competition bill by a 68-32 vote. It used to be that $200 billion constituted a lot of money, but now it doesn’t rate, not when there’s $6 trillion on the table.

The infrastructure deal lurched from gloriously alive to dead when Biden explicitly linked its passage to the simultaneous passage of a reconciliation bill with the rest of the Democratic Party’s spending priorities in it.

Then, it revived again when Biden walked this back, and promised a dual track for the two bills.

The fierce Republican insistence on these two tracks doesn’t make much sense and amounts to asking Democrats to allow a decent interval before going ahead with the rest of their spending—Democrats are going to try to pass a reconciliation whether the bipartisan deal passes or not.

At the end of the day, then, there’s only one track: Democrats are going to spend as much money as they possibly can. The bipartisan deal might shave some money off the hard infrastructure priorities (according to Playbook, the White House says it doesn’t want to double dip, on say, electric cars or broadband by getting some money for them in the deal and then getting yet more in the reconciliation bill). But the emphasis is going to blow out spending across the board.

The calculation of Republicans supporting the bill is that a significant bipartisan package can take some of the heat off of Sen. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema in their resistance to the filibuster.

A deal that passes and is signed into law will certainly be a feather in their caps, but it’s hard to believe they’d change their minds on the filibuster if the deal fell apart.

They are both so extensively and adamantly on the record in favor of the filibuster that a climb-down would be politically embarrassing and perilous. They may be sincere in believing that the filibuster is important institutionally to the Senate. But the politics also work by allowing them to brand themselves as a different breed of Democrat.

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If they flip-flip on the filibuster, they release the brake on the left-most parts of the Democratic agenda and find themselves taking a lot of tough votes on priorities dear to the Democratic base.

Republicans supporting the deal also think that it will make passing the subsequent reconciliation bill harder. First, the parts of infrastructure that have the widest support—roads and bridges—will be in the deal and not in the reconciliation bill. Second, the unwelcome tax increases excluded from the bipartisan deal will be in the reconciliation bill.

This isn’t a crazy calculation, although it’s not clearly correct, either. The higher the top-line number is for the reconciliation bill, the harder it is to pass. By allowing Democrats to cleave off some of their spending into a bipartisan deal, the overall number for the reconciliation bill gets smaller. In other words, the bipartisan deal could make the partisan reconciliation easier rather than harder to pass.

If this is true, the deal is bipartisanship in the service of a partisan end.

It not as though Biden is fiscally prudent on all other fronts, except in this one area which he considers a particularly important national investment with unmistakable returns. No, he’s universally profligate. His reckless spending on all fronts (except defense) makes it more imperative for Republicans to stake out a position in four-square opposition.

It’s not as though the bipartisan bill is exemplary legislation, by the way. It resorts to all the usual Beltway gimmicks to create the pretense that it’s paid for, when it’s basically as irresponsible as the rest of the Biden spending.

Bipartisanship has its uses, but so does partisanship. Joe Biden wants to be known for his FDR- and LBJ-like government spending, believing that it’s the key to political success and to an enduring legacy. Fine. Let him and his party own it.


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