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The Morning Dispatch: Democrats Eye Iowa's 2nd Congressional District
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The Morning Dispatch: Democrats Eye Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District

Plus: A look at the Atlanta shootings and anti-Asian hate crimes.

Correction: An earlier version of this post mistakenly identified Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District in the headline as Iowa’s nonexistent 6th Congressional District. We regret the error.

Happy Friday! If you want to join the Morning Dispatch March Madness pool, this morning is your last chance! Fill out a bracket here (password: PirateSkiff!) before the games kick off at noon ET.

And great news: We got sign off from the suits to give out prizes (Dispatch merch) to the top 50 finishers in the pool. Keep an eye on our store in the coming months—we’ve got some great stuff coming down the pike, including merch featuring some of your favorite canine pals…

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The initial meeting between Biden administration and Chinese diplomats turned contentious yesterday, with the Chinese officials accusing the U.S. of “condescension” and hypocrisy in leveling accusations of human rights abuses and anti-democratic behavior against the CCP.

  • The Senate narrowly confirmed Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday, with just one Republican—Sen. Susan Collins—voting in favor of the erstwhile attorney general of California. William Burns, meanwhile, was unanimously confirmed to lead the CIA.

  • After a review following rare instances of blood clotting, the European Medicines Agency said Thursday that the benefits of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine continue to outweigh any side effect risks and that it is “not associated with an increase in the overall risk of blood clots.” The review did add that the vaccine “may be associated” with “very rare cases of blood clots associated with thrombocytopenia,” but that “a causal link with the vaccine is not proven.”

  • The White House said Thursday that the U.S. plans to send 2.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Mexico and 1.5 million to Canada. Millions of doses of the vaccine are currently being stored in American manufacturing facilities, but the FDA has yet to grant it emergency use authorization in the U.S.

  • The House voted 228-197 on Thursday—with nine Republicans crossing the aisle—to pass the American Dream and Promise Act, which would create a pathway to citizenship for about 2.5 million undocumented immigrants, including those eligible for DACA protections and those currently receiving Temporary Protected Status due to humanitarian crises.

  • Initial jobless claims increased by 45,000 week-over-week to 770,000 last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. About 18.2 million people were on some form of unemployment insurance during the week ending February 27, compared with 2.1 million people during the comparable week in 2020.

  • The United States confirmed 60,659 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard. An additional 1,609 deaths were attributed to the virus on Thursday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 539,659. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 33,466 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, and 2,692,381 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday. 75,495,716 Americans have now received at least one dose.

All Eyes on Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District

The House Administration Committee has begun the process of investigating GOP Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks’ victory in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District last November. With Democrats holding a narrow 219-211 majority in the House, many Republicans consider the effort a thinly-veiled attempt by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to seize a Republican seat. 

In a historical swing district, Miller-Meeks’ margin of victory was tight. She first won the district over her Democratic opponent, Rita Hart, by a mere 47 votes. After Hart requested a district-wide recount, that 47-vote margin shrank to just six—in a district where more than 400,000 ballots were cast. The bipartisan state board in Iowa certified the results, and Miller-Meeks joined the House as one of many Republican women to have flipped a blue congressional district this election cycle.

Hart filed a “notice of contest” with the House, claiming that at least 22 “wrongfully excluded” votes—including curbside and absentee ballots—would have secured her victory.* Eighteen of those votes, Hart argues, were cast for her but removed from consideration for reasons ranging from misplaced signatures, to clerical errors, to incorrectly sealed ballots.

“Although it is admittedly tempting to close the curtain on the 2020 election cycle,” the document reads, “prematurely ending this contest would disenfranchise Iowa voters and award the congressional seat to the candidate who received fewer lawful votes.”

It’s now up to the House’s Democratic majority to determine whether to pursue an investigation and trigger another recount. Asked by a reporter last week whether she could envision a current member of the House being unseated, Pelosi responded that “of course” there could be a “scenario to that extent.”

Expelling a seated member months after their election was certified and they were sworn in would always be contentious. But it’s become even more so given the Democrats’ justified criticism of the 147 Republicans who voted to object to the presidential election results back in January.

“Two months ago, every Democrat, cable news channel, and liberal newspaper was melting down over some Republicans’ efforts to dispute state-certified election results here in Congress. I vocally opposed those efforts myself,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday. “But right now, as we speak, Speaker Pelosi and Washington Democrats are literally trying to overturn a state-certified election result here in Congress. … You don’t often see hypocrisy this blatant, this shameless, so quickly.”

No Iowa Republicans—including Miller-Meeks—voted to overturn the election back in January, so they have sturdy ground to stand on in criticizing the move.

“Unfortunately, Rita Hart now wants Washington politicians to override the will of Iowa voters and disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Iowa voters,” Miller-Meeks said. “She knows her complaints are baseless and that she would lose in any court of law. Instead of choosing to follow the law, Rita Hart is seeking partisan power play.”

Even some Democrats are a little uneasy about the prospect of swapping Hart in for Miller-Meeks. “I want to see what compelling reasons there are for the feds to get involved in this,” Rep. Lou Correa said. “I think these are issues that right now are probably best left at the state level.”

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, longtime GOP strategist Karl Rove detailed the ugly partisanship unseating members of the congressional minority would hearken back to. “The Constitution provides that each congressional chamber ‘shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members,’” he writes. “Using this clause, both parties routinely expanded their majorities during the Gilded Age by challenging the minority’s narrow or suspect victories and replacing them with their own or declaring the seat vacant, provoking a time-consuming special election.”

The process ultimately flipped 59 seats over a 28-year period, with both parties deploying the tactic for their own political gain. “Mrs. Pelosi could widen her margin by ousting a Republican congresswoman and installing Ms. Hart,” Rove concluded. “But if she does, she’d divide the House even more bitterly. There will be payback, one way or another. We’ll soon see how desperate the speaker is.”

Suspect Charged in Georgia Spa Shootings

A 21-year-old man was charged with eight counts of murder Wednesday after he opened fire on multiple massage parlors in Georgia earlier this week in the most fatal U.S. mass shooting since August 2019. The gunman—who was captured 150 miles south of Atlanta after his parents recognized him in surveillance footage and alerted authorities to a tracking device in his car—allegedly traversed suburban Atlanta at around 5 p.m. Tuesday night, killing eight people at three different spas. The shooter was acting alone and is now in custody, so law enforcement officials believe there is no longer an outstanding threat.

Because six of the gunman’s eight victims were Asian women, much of the police investigation into the tragedy has thus far centered on whether to classify the shootings as a hate crime. “We are still early in this investigation, so we cannot make that determination at this moment,” Rodney Bryant, Atlanta’s acting police chief, said Wednesday. “We are just not there as of yet.”

Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said the gunman, once captured, was asked explicitly if his crime was racially motivated—and that he said no. Rather, the shooter told investigators that he struggled with pornography and sex addiction, and viewed the spas—at least two of which he had previously patronized—as “temptations” that he wanted to “eliminate.” A former roommate said the gunman had been treated for sex addiction in the past, and that his relapses often took the form of visits to massage parlors to have sex with employees. He was on his way to Florida when he was captured, allegedly to carry out similar atrocities.

The roommate said the shooter had told him he chose to frequent Asian-run spas because they felt “safer” than other avenues of paying for sex. Thousands of such massage parlors across the country serve as fronts for prostitution, and come with a host of exploitation and sex trafficking concerns for the women working there. But Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said this week that law enforcement had not confirmed such illicit activity at the locations in question.

“We are not about to get into victim-blaming, victim-shaming here,” the mayor told reporters. “And as far as we know in Atlanta, these are legally operating businesses that have not been on our radar, not on the radar of A.P.D.”

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were scheduled to travel to Georgia tomorrow for a political event touting the passage of the American Rescue Plan, but the White House announced yesterday that, in light of the shooting, the trip to Atlanta will instead include meetings with Asian-American leaders and a visit to the Centers for Disease Control. Biden ordered flags at the White House and on public grounds to fly at half-staff until March 22 as a “mark of respect” for the victims.

Evidence that the gunman’s crimes were explicitly racially motivated remains murky—FBI Director Chris Wray said as much yesterday. But the attack has struck a chord with Asian Americans across the country after a year that featured one high-profile instance of assault and harassment after another as China and the coronavirus dominated headlines.

Just this week, a 76-year-old Asian woman in San Francisco was attacked while standing on the sidewalk by a white man in his 30s, who allegedly also assaulted an 83-year-old Asian man the same morning. A 28-year-old black man was arrested in February on charges of assault, battery, and elder abuse after he was caught on video attacking a 91-year-old Asian man in Oakland’s Chinatown, and he is also accused of assaulting a 60-year-old Asian man and a 55-year-old Asian woman on the same day. A homeless black man in White Plains, New York was arrested earlier this month after he spit on and punched an 83-year-old Korean American woman so hard that she lost consciousness.

One recent study shows that these are more than just isolated incidents. An analysis of police data by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino published earlier this month found hate crimes against Asian Americans in 16 major U.S. cities increased 149 percent from 2019 to 2020—from 49 to 122—even as the number of hate crimes overall decreased by 7 percent. Unverified self-reporting on issues like this can be tricky, but a second report from Stop AAPI Hate tracked 3,975 “hate incidents” against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders over the past year—“only a fraction” of the number that the organization believes actually occurred—and found 11 percent of them to include physical assault.

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing yesterday to discuss this phenomenon, listening to testimony from Asian American lawmakers, researchers, and academics. 

Erika Lee, an Asian American studies professor at the University of Minnesota, ticked through the United States’ long history of discrimination against Asians, from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s internment of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II. “Many Americans believe the deceptive ‘model minority’ stereotype portraying Asian Americans only as success stories,” Lee said. “But these recent acts of anti-Asian violence show that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders do indeed experience systemic racism and discrimination.”

Writer Cathy Park Hong told The Atlantic this week that it’s important Asian Americans speak up about the discrimination they experience. “I think many Asian Americans have never talked about it, and so white people still don’t believe that Asian Americans face racism. Because we’re invisible, the racism against us has also been invisible,” she said. “This has been going on for a long time. We just haven’t really talked about it. And now we’re talking about it, and you have to pay attention.”

Charles Fain Lehman, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute focused on crime research, argued there has been a clear spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans—“doubtless driven by rhetoric blaming Asians for the Coronavirus crisis”—but that the narrative is a little bit more complicated. “While some of these offenses were doubtless motivated by bias, you should be cautious when interpreting the broader trend solely as a spike in hate crimes,” he said. “These crimes should be understood as part of a larger surge in violence.”

Some Republicans on Thursday—including Reps. Tom McClintock and Chip Roy—bristled at the scope and premise of the hearing. “To attack our society as systematically racist, a society that has produced the freest, most prosperous, harmonious multiracial society in human history, well, that’s an insult,” McClintock said. Roy said he was concerned that the hearing was venturing toward the “policing of rhetoric in a free society,” particularly with respect to criticizing the Chinese government.

But two of their GOP colleagues—Reps. Young Kim and Michelle Steel—also spoke yesterday. “The hate, bias, and attacks we’ve seen against the Asian American community are unacceptable and must be stopped,” Kim noted. “This should not have to be said, but I want to be very clear. No American of any race or ethnic group is responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus does not discriminate. It affects everyone.”

“Combating hate is not a partisan issue,” Steel added, continuing on to discuss alleged discrimination against Asian Americans in college admissions. “As a first-generation Korean American, who is now serving her community in the halls of Congress, this is my American dream. I want future generations of Americans to know they can achieve anything in this great country.”

Worth Your Time

  • As we discussed on Wednesday, Sen. Mitch McConnell issued a series of warnings earlier this week about how Republicans would respond to Democrats abolishing the legislative filibuster. In a piece for National Review, Jason Richwine compares McConnell’s comments to the Joker’s in The Dark Knight: “You have nothing – nothing to threaten me with.” The reason, Richwine argues, is relatively straightforward. “Potential legislation must seem long-lasting and transformative if it is to function as a genuine threat, but here Democrats have the advantage,” he writes. “They have policy options that fit the ‘long-lasting and transformative’ criteria, while Republicans have no comparable threats to wield. If the filibuster ends, destruction is not mutually assured.”

  • In an ABC News interview on Wednesday, President Biden called his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, “a killer.” This sharp rhetoric prompted Russia to immediately recall Moscow’s U.S. ambassador, but Washington Post columnist Marc A. Thiessen isn’t too worried about that. “Biden is right,” he argues in his latest essay. “And he can prove it with a stroke of his pen: by declassifying the results of an FBI investigation into the attempted murder of Russian opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza, who was arrested last weekend after two failed attempts by apparent Putin operatives to kill him by poison.”

  • World Down Syndrome Day is this Sunday, and CoorDown has released an important message—performed by Sting!—about the importance of what they call the Hiring Chain. “By hiring someone with Down syndrome, you start a virtuous chain: the more that people with Down Syndrome are seen at work, the more they’ll be recognized as valuable employees, and the more they’ll be hired.” Thank you to Mark, a Dispatch member, for bringing this worthy cause to our attention.

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • A big thank you to the many of you who joined Sarah, Steve, David, and Chris for Dispatch Live last night! After a delay for technical difficulties, it was a fun and spirited discussion. If you missed the show—or want to rewatch it—you can tune in here (🔒).

  • On Thursday’s episode of Advisory Opinions, Sarah and David discuss a lawsuit in which a high school student sued his Nevada charter school for “repeatedly compelling his speech involving intimate matters of race, gender, sexuality and religion.” Later on, special guest Chris Bogart joins the show to chat about his career in commercial litigation finance.

  • From Park City, Utah, Jonah is joined by his AEI handlers—Nick and Guy—for a pop culture-filled Remnant with the help of listener-provided questions. Why does Jonah go on trips fit only for Survivorman? Why is Pam Grier so fascinating? Was Angel actually better than Buffy? And, the most important question of all, which one of Jonah’s former coworkers in conservative news media does Guy sound exactly like?

Let Us Know

Do you have any ideas for future Dispatch-themed merch? Anything TMD specific?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Correction, March 19, 2021: An earlier version of this newsletter said Rita Hart “struck out in court” with her elections challenge, but she bypassed court challenges entirely by appealing to the House.