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US diplomats blast Biden vaccine mandate in internal cable

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Dozens of diplomats and employees from the United States Department of State sent a cable to the Director of Policy Planning on Thursday protesting the department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate and saying unvaccinated workers were being shunned and bullied by their colleagues, The Times of Israel has learned.

Titled “Dissent Channel: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Medical Freedom,” the internal message argued that the COVID-19 vaccination executive order for all federal employees signed by US President Joe Biden on September 9 violates the US Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the ideals expressed by US Vice President Kamala Harris on the same day.

“On September 9, 2021,” read the cable, “Vice President Harris summarized the importance of these ideals at the White House by stating, ‘When people are able to design their lives in a way that they can determine their own futures, we are a stronger democracy and we are a stronger nation. When people are able to make choices without government interference for themselves — in terms of their wellbeing and the wellbeing of their family, in consultation with whomever they may choose — we are a stronger society.’”

The diplomats, whose names are classified, argued that the mandate has created a “toxic and hostile work environment.”

“Although the Department spends millions of dollars on mandatory training for its employees and other worldwide initiatives to promote diversity, equality, inclusion, anti-discrimination, anti-bullying, and protection of personally identifiable and health information, many of us are experiencing violations of these standards,” they wrote.

“Regrettably, Department leadership has done little to counter the ongoing vitriol and discrimination as the ‘unvaxxed’ are banned from using government facilities, publicly berated by superiors, excluded from work and social events, and subjected to ‘counseling sessions.’”

They told of being called “plague rats” and having colleagues refuse to sit in the same room.

In this file photo taken on August 2, 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington. (Brendan Smialowski/Pool/AFP)

“The enforcement of this mandate will result in the loss of trained and experienced personnel throughout the federal government,” read the cable. “Consequently, the progress of our mission will be impeded, our national security will be at greater risk, and it will take the Department many years to correct the sudden attrition to meet the great challenges around the globe.”

The signatories — “a diverse group including minorities, immigrants, LGBTQI+, people of faith, those vaccinated against COVID-19 and unvaccinated” — argued that they can continue exercising the same precautions they have for the past 20 months.

“We urge the Department, and the Administration, to abandon this divisive and ineffective mandate and to remedy the damage it has inflicted on the Department’s esprit de corps,” the cable concluded. “This pandemic will pass, but the damage to the State Department’s reputation, effectiveness, and employee morale will not.”

Syringes loaded with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine lie ready for use by a nurse, in Jackson, MS, on September 21, 2021. (AP/Rogelio V. Solis)

Established in 1971, the dissent channel is an official State Department internal messaging service for diplomats and employees to criticize US government policy and be protected from retaliation.

Biden’s vaccination mandates could affect as many as 100 million people, including health care workers, employees of government contractors, and employees in companies with more than 100 workers.


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Dems Have 3 Weeks to Pass Biden’s Agenda, Avoid Government Shutdown

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  • Congress has a lot on its plate this month.
  • Democrats want to avoid a government default on its debt and pass Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.
  • A bipartisan effort to authorize defense spending is also on the table to pass before the new year.

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Congress is back in session after a Thanksgiving recess, and lawmakers have a hefty agenda on their plates to complete before Christmas.

Two weeks ago, the House passed President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better framework, and while that was a significant step toward advancing Democrats’ social-spending agenda, they still have a ways to go. Not only does that framework face the Senate now, where it will likely see additional cuts and amendments, but Democrats also have to deal with averting a government shutdown, raising the debt ceiling, and passing a defense spending bill — all of which they hope to accomplish in December.

“As you know, the legislative agenda for the remainder of 2021 is considerable,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told lawmakers in a letter before Thanksgiving. “I am confident we can get each of these important items done this year, but it will likely take some long nights and weekends,” he added.

Raise the debt ceiling by Dec. 5 to keep the US funded and avoid a government shutdown

The first matter Democrats must tackle is avoiding a government shutdown. On October 6, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stepped in to help Democrats raise the debt ceiling and keep the government funded an additional two months. That measure expires in just five days, on December 5, meaning Democrats must figure out a way to once again ensure the US can continue paying its bills.

Although in the months leading up to October, Democrats struggled to raise the debt ceiling given the GOP stance that Democrats must do it on their own without Republican assistance, Insider reported last week that this time around may not quite the political standoff. McConnell and Schumer met to discuss the quickly approaching deadline.

“We had a good discussion about several different issues that are all extant here as we move toward the end of the session and we agreed to keep talking and working together to try to get somewhere,” McConnell told HuffPost following the meeting.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that after December 15, she is not confident the Treasury will have the resources to fund the government and stressed the need for the matter to be addressed in a bipartisan way. Democrats like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar agree.

“You know, if the Republicans want to scrooge out on us, and increase people’s interest rates and make it hard to make car payments — go ahead, make that case,” Klobuchar told ABC News. “We’re going to stop them from doing that.”

Democrats’ sweeping climate and social-welfare package

The vast majority of Democrats have been very clear: Americans need Biden’s Build Back Better agenda signed into law as soon as possible. While the House succeeded in a passing a $2 trillion framework this month, their version is certainly not final as it now rests in the Senate.

As Insider’s Joseph Zeballos-Roig reported, there are a number of measures that could get cut from the bill due to opposition from centrist Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. For example, Manchin had concerns with the inclusion of four weeks of paid leave, arguing it could grow the national debt, and he has also pushed back against expanding Medicare.

Meanwhile, progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders would like to see the bill “strengthened.” After the House passed the bill, he called for the inclusion of lower prescription drug prices, increased taxes on the wealthy, and more robust climate reform.

Biden previously said he would like to sign this bill into law “as soon as possible.” 

A bipartisan task: authorizing key defense programs

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers are hoping to finalize the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2022, which will likely be the easiest thing lawmakers can pass this month. The NDAA has historically been bipartisan, and as The Washington Post reported, lawmakers are hoping to pass the $768 billion annual measure this week. 

However, this measure is being considered far later than it had in previous years and has raised concerns for some lawmakers that Congress could break a 60-year streak and fail to pass the defense policy bill.

“Don’t mess up the one thing that you can count on the Senate to do in a bipartisan way every year,” Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine told Politico. “A Senate that cannot do this hardly deserves the title.”

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Trump’s Capacity to Steal the 2024 Election Is Only Growing

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Ahead of his likely reelection run in 2024, Donald Trump is building an infrastructure for insurrection. The “fraud” cries on social media, the desperate begging of administrators to “find” votes for him, the blustery calls for his supporters to “fight” for him—all that may be so last year. Now, he and his allies are trying to lay the foundation to allow him to undermine democracy without resorting to such overt measures.

Across the country, proponents of the “big lie” are angling for jobs overseeing election systems, seeking to replace officials who proved insufficiently loyal to Trump in his 2020 loss to Joe Biden. Some of the officials Trumpists are aiming to replace, like Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, have been punching bags of the former president for months now. But as the Washington Post reported Monday, it’s not just the comparatively high-profile posts under threat; Trump allies are also trying to take over lower-level positions as well. This movement has been in progress for months, running in parallel with the GOP rush to enact voter suppression laws based on Trump’s election lies. But Trump himself has seemed increasingly involved in this campaign of late: As NBC News reported over the weekend, the former president has made a number of endorsements in low-level races—unusual for a national figure—in recent weeks, aimed at lifting loyalists into key positions in swing states like Michigan.

“President Trump is committed to saving America and saving Michigan by endorsing and supporting candidates up and down the ballot who will fight for his America First agenda,” Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich told the outlet Saturday.

For all the coy euphemisms about “election security” Trump and his acolytes put forth about their efforts, the premise of all this is simple: He won’t need to break through the guardrails of democracy if those guardrails are not there. “The attacks right now are no longer about 2020,” Colorado Secretary Jena Griswold told the Post. “They’re about 2022 and 2024. It’s about chipping away at confidence and chipping away at the reality of safe and secure elections. And the next time there’s a close election, it will be easier to achieve their goals. That’s what this is all about.”

American democracy narrowly passed the stress test Trump put it through in 2020. But his relentless, multi-pronged pressure campaign also underscored major vulnerabilities in the system. Among them: That system is highly dependent on officials up and down the line performing their jobs in good faith. Though Raffensperger is hardly a model for the promotion of democracy, as he’s backed the anti-voting legislation Republicans in the state enacted based on Trump’s lies, he still refused to manufacture enough votes to lift Trump over Biden in Georgia. In standing up to the former president in the fraught, frenzied weeks between the election in November and the inauguration in January, he at least showed there were limits to what he would do. Trump, who is making louder and louder noises about a 2024 bid, seems to be supporting challengers who have no such limits. “This is a great big flashing red warning sign,” as former Michigan Republican Party chair Jeff Timmer, a critic of the former president, put it to the Post. “The officials who fulfilled their legal duty after the election are now being replaced by people who are pledging to throw a wrench in the gears of the next election. It tells you that they are planning nothing but chaos and that they have a strategy to disrupt the certification of the next election.”

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Dallas Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy in COVID-19 protocol, will miss Thursday night game

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FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys’ COVID-19 outbreak has now reached head coach Mike McCarthy.

McCarthy was placed in COVID-19 protocols Monday and will not coach Thursday against the New Orleans Saints. Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Dianna Russini that McCarthy tested positive for the virus. In a statement, the team said McCarthy “will continue to direct, and be in involved in, all meetings and game preparations on a virtual basis for the remainder of the week, including Thursday’s meetings in New Orleans.”

The team will conduct all of its Monday meetings virtually and proceed with its regularly scheduled practice.

The Cowboys will also be without offensive line coach Joe Philbin, assistant offensive line coach Jeff Blasko, strength and conditioning coordinator Harold Nash and assistant strength and conditioning coach Kendall Smith. So far, right tackle Terence Steele is the only player not playing this week because of COVID-19.

A league source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter there are “up to eight positives in Dallas. Details still rolling in.”

Running backs coach Skip Peete missed the Nov. 14 game against the Atlanta Falcons because of the virus.

Wide receiver Amari Cooper is expected to return to practice Monday after he missed the past two games on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

After minimal COVID-19 issues last season, the Cowboys have been hit much harder by it this season. Pro Bowl right guard Zack Martin missed the season opener on the COVID-19 list. Linebacker Keanu Neal and Cooper, who were the only two unvaccinated players on the 53-man roster, missed two games apiece on the COVID-19 list. Defensive end Randy Gregory, kicker Greg Zuerlein, guard Brandon Knight and defensive end Bradlee Anae also missed games on the list.

McCarthy would be the fourth head coach to miss a game while in COVID-19 protocols since last season. Kevin Stefanski missed the Cleveland Browns’ playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Kliff Kingsbury of the Arizona Cardinals and Matt Nagy of the Chicago Bears each missed a game this season.

The team has not said who would replace McCarthy on Thursday. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn spent parts of six seasons as head coach of the Falcons. Special teams coordinator John Fassel was the interim head coach for the Los Angeles Rams in 2016.

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