As it turns out, California cannot cut ties with pharmacy chain Walgreens.
Governor Gavin Newsom announced last month that his state would cease to do business with Walgreens because the pharmacy chain decided not to dispense abortion pills in nearly half of U.S. states following pressure from Republican attorneys general. Medication abortions make up more than half of all abortions in the United States and are considered a crucial tool in maintaining access to the procedure since Roe v. Wade was overturned.
But California legally has to maintain ties with Walgreens because of the state’s Medicaid program, Kaiser Health News reported Thursday, citing health law experts.
Medi-Cal provides health coverage for about 15 million people. Federal law states that patients can get their Medicaid-covered prescriptions at any approved pharmacy. Had California abruptly stopped covering Medi-Cal prescriptions filled at Walgreens locations, it would have broken federal law. This also would also have contradicted a key part of Newsom’s platform: to expand Medi-Cal as much as possible.
The Newsom administration said it will “continue to comply” with federal law by keeping its partnership with Walgreens. Gubernatorial spokesperson Anthony York said Newsom will not “take any action that hurts people who need access to care.”
Walgreens had said in January that it would offer mifepristone, one of the medications used to induce an abortion. The Food and Drug Administration changed its rules to allow pharmacies in states that still allow abortion to dispense the drug. Pharmacies would need to get certified to do so because the FDA currently classifies mifepristone as a high-risk drug, despite the fact that there is no data backing that decision up.
Walgreens and CVS, two of the biggest U.S. pharmacy chains, said they would seek certification. But in March, following intense pressure from Republican attorneys general in 20 states, Walgreens announced it wouldn’t dispense mifepristone in those states—and threw Kansas in there for good measure, too.
The chain has said it will dispense mifepristone “in any jurisdiction where it is legally permissible to do so.” Abortion is still legal in more than half of the states where Walgreens will no longer offer the drug, but the company said in a statement to TNR that some of those states don’t allow pharmacists to dispense mifepristone. “Failure to follow these state laws could result in individual pharmacists facing very real and serious legal risk, including criminal charges that could lead to jail time, steep fines and the loss of their license by state boards of pharmacy,” the company said.
In February, Newsom slammed Walgreens for its decision and said the chain “cowers to extremists and puts women’s lives at risk.” He said California was “done” with Walgreens but did not clarify what he meant. It now appears that was never an option.
This article has been updated to clarify Walgreens’ position.
Just over a week ago, North Dakota lawmakers voted to prevent giving free school lunches to low-income students. Then, on Thursday, they voted to increase the amount of money they get to spend on their own lunch.
On March 27, the Senate narrowly rejected a bill, which had passed the House, guaranteeing free school lunches to K-12 students in families at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
On Thursday, the Senate voted 26–21 to pass a bill to raise per diem meal reimbursements for state employees traveling within the state, from $35 to $45.
Republican Assistant Majority Leader Jerry Klein told local outlet InForum that state employees should be getting a higher sum because inflation costs have made meals more expensive. Klein voted against giving students, whose parents are also being squeezed by inflation, free school lunch.
“I thought today’s vote was very self-serving,” Democratic Senate Minority Leader Kathy Hogan told InForum. “How can we vote for ourselves when we can’t vote for children?”
The effort to give low-income students free school lunches for the next two years would have cost just some $6 million, a relatively small price to pay to ensure children don’t go hungry. While the Senate failed to pass the bill, the House is not giving up quite yet, reattaching the provision to a broader school funding bill.
Bills that target marginalized people, meanwhile, have been sailing through the North Dakota legislature. On Monday, the Senate passed bans on providing gender-affirming care to people under 18 and on transgender women’s participation in female sports in grade school and college.
The Senate also revived a push to prevent teachers and government employees from recognizing transgender students using their preferred pronouns—a bill that Republican Governor Doug Burgum had vetoed last month. While the House fell short of overriding his veto, Senate lawmakers put the language back into a separate bill that aims to restrict transgender students’ access to restrooms. Last month, Republican state Representative Lori VanWinkle likened respecting students’ preferred pronouns to murder.
The U.S. labor force held relatively steady in March, with unemployment sticking near a 50-year low, according to a report released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Non-farm employers added 236,000 jobs in March, a slower pace than in recent months but almost precisely as expected, while the unemployment rate remained at 3.5 percent. The unemployment rate in February 2020—just before the pandemic kicked off in earnest in the United States—was also 3.5 percent. Unemployment for Black people fell to 5 percent, a record low.
The labor force participation rate, or the number of people in the labor force, was mostly unchanged, ticking up one-tenth of a percent to 62.6 percent. The leisure and hospitality sectors, which were some of the hardest-hit at the peak of the pandemic, added the most jobs in March as businesses begin to recover.
Crucially, hourly earnings also held fairly steady, with average wages increasing 0.3 percent in March, up just a little from an average of 0.2 percent in February. This is the lowest increase since the fourth quarter of 2019.
Harvard economics professor Jason Furman warned that “average hourly earnings are poorly measured and volatile,” but if the rate holds, it could be a sign that inflation is on its way out. Slower wage gains help keep businesses’ operating costs down, which means employers will be less likely to keep consumer prices high to offset in-house expenses.
Both the employment gains and the potential decrease in inflation are huge wins for President Joe Biden, who has been under fire since he took office for sky-high inflation and unemployment, due to first Covid-19 and then Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
People have been jumpy about the economy lately, particularly after a string of high-profile bank failures, including Silicon Valley Bank’s. Economists have been warning that a recession is on the horizon—some even claim that “a recession is underway now”—and the Federal Reserve has kept up its relentless campaign of interest rate hikes, although it has decreased by how much.
But Friday’s jobs report is a good sign that a soft landing, when inflation is brought down without tipping the economy into a recession, could still be possible.
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.
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.
More on trans discrimination
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.
People are so mad about Bud Light’s latest ad campaign with a transgender activist that they are throwing their money—and beer—away.
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 campaign—from 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.
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.”
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’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.
More on Idaho GOP extremism