with Tobi Raji

Good morning. It's Friday. We made it. This is the Power Up newsletter – see you on Monday. 

The policies

CHANGE OF HEART: Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) is admitting to a rare thing in politics. She's changed her mind on a key issue regarding the way the military justice system handles sexual assault – and it might lead to bipartisan agreement that will facilitate a radical shift in military law. 

The lone Senate Republican who is a female combat veteran introduced bipartisan legislation on Thursday with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to remove prosecutorial decisions involving sexual assault cases in the military from the chain of command, and into the hands of independent military prosecutors. 

Ernst appeared alongside an unlikely bipartisan smattering of lawmakers yesterday to roll out the bill, including Gillibrand, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn). As of last night, the bill already has 46 co-sponsors, and Ernst believes that will grow to 60 by next week. 

  • “This has been hard for me because I'm a former commander and I know how important the commanders role is – and most commanders take this issue very seriously and keep sexual assault out of their ranks… But I also understand we have to do more – we haven't seen a dent in the sexual assault cases out there,” Ernst, who is a survivor of sexual assault, told Power Up.
  • “I've always said I'd keep an open mind if things didn't get better and things didn't get better – and it's hard for me to admit that,” Ernst added.
  • “…we believe that if you gave the decision to trained military prosecutors, they would make a better decision,” Gillibrand told NPR's Noel King. “They would pick the right cases to move forward to trial, and more cases would end in conviction. And if you want to change the culture and start convicting predators and rapists and make sure they go to jail, that will send a message that this crime is not tolerated.” 

Ernst said she sees the matter as a “readiness issue for armed services,” as the U.S. military “cannot be ready to fight or win if there's division in the ranks." Referencing her daughter, who is enrolled at West Point right now, Ernst said she “guardedly supported her decision to join the U.S. army… but if you want to make changes, you need to have a seat at the table." 

  • “I'm just like any other parent who wants to make sure our troops are safe – and I’m in a position to something about it,” Ernst added.

The Iowa lawmaker did, however, reference the “toxic environment” at Fort Hood, Texas as an impetus to focus on ensuring survivors of military sexual assault “are seeing justice." A report last year from the military base in Texas detailed a pattern of sexual assault, harassment and suicide in the command culture at the base. 

  • CBS News's Norah O'Donnell asked Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy what surprised him about the report's findings: Just the scale and the concern about retaliation, the high numbers of individuals that were concerned about reporting because in fear of retaliation from someone in an echelon above them." 
  • In the most recent Sexual Assault Annual Prevention and Response prevalence report that was issued in 2018, the Department of Defense estimated that about 20,500 service members experienced a form of sexual assault. In 2019, the number of reported assaults the Department of Defense tracked increased by 3% between 2018 and 2019. The 2020 report has not been released yet," CBS News's Eleanor Watson reports. 

Ernst told Power Up she is hopeful the bill will be passed as part of the defense authorization act, and signed into law by President Biden this year. 

  • “If that fails,” she added. “We’ll take it up on floor of Senate... it’s going to pass.”
  • It's very important because this has to be widely bipartisan,” Gillibrand told NPR. “ And adding Joni Ernst, a combat veteran, only female combat veteran in the Republican Party in the Senate, to this bill is very powerful.” 
  • Adding to the momentum, a panel appointed by Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has made a similar recommendation, saying that independent judge advocates should take over the role that commanders currently play,” the New York Times's Jennifer Steinhauer reported. “These independent military lawyers would report to a special victims prosecutor, who would decide whether to court-martial those accused of sexual assault, sexual harassment or domestic violence. The responsibilities could also extend to those accused of hate crimes.”

The campaign

🚨 FLORIDA ACTS TO RESTRICT VOTING RIGHTS: “Florida’s legislature on Thursday night became the latest to approve far-reaching legislation imposing new rules on voting and new penalties for those who do not follow them, passing a measure critics said would make it harder for millions of voters to cast ballots in the Sunshine State,” our colleague Amy Gardner reports. “Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is widely expected to sign the bill in coming weeks.”

  • “Like similar bills Republicans are pushing in dozens of state legislatures across the country, the Florida measure adds hurdles to voting by mail, restricts the use of drop boxes and prohibits any actions that could influence those standing in line to vote, which voting rights advocates said is likely to discourage nonpartisan groups from offering food or water to voters as they wait in the hot Florida sun.”
  • “The bill makes Florida the first major swing state won by former president Donald Trump to pass significant voting limits and reflects Republicans’s determination to reshape electoral systems even in states where they have been ascendant,” the New York Times’s Patricia Mazzei and Nick Corasaniti report

INSIDE TRUMP’S FIXATION ON MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZ: “More than five months after the 2020 presidential election, and after numerous failed attempts to overturn the results, Trump has seized on a new avenue to try to call the outcome into question: a hand recount of 2.1 million ballots cast in Arizona’s largest county,” our colleagues Rosalind S. Helderman and Josh Dawsey report

  • “Several advisers said the former president has become fixated on the unorthodox process underway in Phoenix, where the GOP-led state Senate took ballots and voting equipment from Maricopa County and turned them over to Cyber Ninjas, a private contractor whose chief executive has echoed baseless claims that the election was fraudulent.”
  • “Ensconced at his private club in Florida, Trump asks aides for updates about the process multiple times a day, advisers said, expressing particular interest in the use of UV lights to scrutinize Maricopa’s ballots — a method that has bewildered election experts, who say it could damage the votes.”

Meanwhile, former vice president Mike Pence is back and possibly eyeing a 2024 bid. 

From the courts

SCOOP 👀: “The FBI warned Rudolph W. Giuliani in late 2019 that he was the target of a Russian influence operation aimed at circulating falsehoods intended to damage President Biden politically ahead of last year’s election,” our colleagues Ellen Nakashima, Shane Harris and Tom Hamburger report

  • “The warning was part of an extensive effort by the bureau to alert members of Congress and at least one conservative media outlet, One America News, that they faced a risk of being used to further Russia’s attempt to influence the election’s outcome.”
  • “The warning, made by counterintelligence agents, was separate from the Justice Department’s ongoing criminal probe, but it reflects a broader concern by U.S. intelligence and federal investigators that Giuliani — among other influential Americans and U.S. institutions — was being manipulated by the Russian government to promote its interests.”
  • “Despite the alert, Giuliani went forward in December 2019 with a planned trip to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, where he met with a Ukrainian lawmaker whom the U.S. government later labeled ‘an active Russian agent.’”
  • “The FBI last summer also gave what is known as a defensive briefing to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who ahead of the election used his perch as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to investigate Biden’s dealings with Ukraine while he was vice president and his son Hunter Biden held a lucrative seat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.”

More on the DOJ investigation: “Giuliani’s push to oust [U.S. Ambassador], Marie L. Yovanovitch, has landed [him] in the crosshairs of a federal criminal investigation into whether he broke lobbying laws,” the New York Times’s Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Kenneth P. Vogel report.

  • “At issue for investigators is a key question: Did Giuliani go after Yovanovitch solely on behalf of Trump, who was his client at the time? Or was he also doing so on behalf of the Ukrainian officials, who wanted her removed for their own reasons?”

At the White House

BIDEN TOUCHES DOWN IN THE PEACH STATE: “Biden spent his 100th day in office in Georgia, where he thanked the state’s voters for delivering a Democratic majority in the Senate and credited them for making possible the ambitious economic plans he wants to push through Congress in the coming weeks,” our colleague Tyler Pager reports

  • During the trip, “Biden and first lady Jill Biden met with Carter and his wife, Rosalynn. Biden and Carter, 96, have spoken multiple times since Biden took office, and the two share a deep relationship that spans decades.”
  • “The trip also kicked off the administration’s latest nationwide tour to tout Biden’s achievements, continuing with more travel in the coming weeks.”
Touting his American Families Plan, President Biden on April 29 said the U.S. needs to invest in families during a rally in Duluth, Ga. (The Washington Post)

On the Hill

TIM SCOTT AND RACISM IN AMERICA: “Republicans rallied Thursday behind comments on race made by Sen. Tim Scott as part of his response to Biden’s address to Congress, embracing what they hoped was an effective message in the ongoing debate over the role of racism in America that has sometimes left them struggling to articulate a clear position,” our colleagues Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Mike DeBonis report.

  • “Republicans, who have sometimes found themselves on the defensive in recent months when it comes to race, praised the South Carolina senator for addressing the notion that Democrats and Black activists are too quick to shout down those who disagree with them by calling them racists.”
  • Key quote: Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.): “Clearly we have people in America who feel contempt for our country,” Kennedy said. “They should feel gratitude, but they feel contempt. There are people who believe that America was wicked in its origins and it’s even more wicked today. They believe that most Americans — at least White Americans — are racist and misogynistic and ignorant.”
  • Meanwhile: “Democrats treated Scott’s words with caution.”

“But many Black activists deemed him the latest in a line of Black apologists who give political and racial cover to White grievance.” 

  • “Trotting out sycophantic Black folks who will serve as apologists for white supremacy is a tried-and-true tactic that racists have used for centuries,” Bishop Talbert Swan, president of the Greater Springfield, Mass., chapter of the NAACP, told our colleagues. 
  • “These are your go-to people for white supremacists to put in front of Black people and say, ‘See, even your own people are saying we’re not racist, that America isn’t racist.’”

Bernice King, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s daughter, also weighed in.

Outside the Beltway

TEXAS ENABLED THE WORST CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING CATASTROPHE IN RECENT U.S. HISTORY: “After the power flicked off in millions of homes across Texas during the state’s historic freeze in mid-February, families like [Shalemu] Bekele’s faced an impossible choice: risk hypothermia or improvise to keep warm. Many brought charcoal grills inside or ran cars in enclosed spaces, either unaware of the dangers or too cold to think rationally,” Pro Publica, the Texas Tribune and NBC News report.

  • “In their desperation, thousands of Texans unwittingly unleashed deadly gases into homes and apartments that, in many cases, were not equipped with potentially lifesaving carbon monoxide alarms, resulting in the country’s ‘biggest epidemic of CO poisoning in recent history,’” said Dr. Neil Hampson, a retired doctor who has spent more than 30 years researching carbon monoxide poisoning and prevention.
  • “Over the past two decades, the vast majority of states have implemented laws or regulations requiring carbon monoxide alarms in private residences, often on the heels of high-profile deaths or mass poisonings during storms. But in Texas, where top lawmakers often promote personal responsibility over state mandates, efforts to pass similar carbon monoxide requirements have repeatedly failed.”

In the media

WEEKEND REEEADS: 

Viral

2021 NFL DRAFT: Thursday was the first round of the 2021 NFL draft. Our Post colleague Mark Maske has all of the details.