Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:
Hypocrites seek ‘unity’
The Citizens’ Voice
Even after the mob inspired by President Donald Trump’s lies mounted a bloody insurrection at the Capitol Jan. 6, Republican U.S. Reps. Dan Meuser and Fred Keller of Northeast Pennsylvania disgraced themselves by voting to reject the results of the Pennsylvania presidential election.
In doing so, they took the perverse position that their own elections were valid, but that the concurrent polling by which President-elect Joe Biden won Pennsylvania somehow was unconstitutional.
Now, as the House prepares to vote as early as today on impeaching Trump for inciting the mob to attack another branch of the government in furtherance of retaining his own power, his two complicit local lap dogs warn that his impeachment would harm the cause of “unity.”
Transcending satire, Meuser issued a statement: “I hoped that this terrible national setback would lead us to attempt to come together rather than continue the pattern of vindictiveness and scoring political points at the expense of the people as we have experienced over the last two years.”
The time to “come together” was after Trump’s mob attacked the home of American democracy, as a few Republican lawmakers did by abandoning the destructive charade. Instead, Meuser and Keller voted to disenfranchise 6.8 million of their fellow Pennsylvanians.
Meuser and Keller should seek not just unity, but their own redemption, by helping to force Trump’s accountability through his well-earned second impeachment.
State GOP senators damaging power play bodes ill
The shouting that erupted in the state Senate on Tuesday, the reports of Lt. Gov. John Fetterman being escorted from the session over which he presides, the words used to describe the 2021 swearing-in ceremony - “ugly,” “bitter,” “chaotic” - will likely be what sticks with Pennsylvanians.
But it would be a mistake to shrug off the spectacle as so much partisan theater or overlook it in view of the anti-democratic violence that erupted in the nation’s capital the following day.
As the nation is now painfully aware, there are consequences to not accepting free and fair elections. However much they pale in comparison, Tuesday’s events in Harrisburg had everything to do with voters’ interests and our democracy, which makes self, not minority, rule possible.
Anger erupted after Senate Republicans refused to seat Allegheny County Democrat Jim Brewster, an incumbent who defeated GOP challenger Nicole Ziccarelli by a razor-thin 69-vote margin. When Fetterman resisted the move, Republicans voted to remove him as presiding officer.
Ziccarelli has a pending federal court challenge based on her objection to the counting of Allegheny County mail-in ballots that lacked dates on their outer envelopes, but which were otherwise cast properly and on time. Voting law does not mandate that a missing date automatically invalidate a ballot, and the courts, including a Trump-appointed federal judge, in weighing Ziccarelli’s challenge, had ruled in favor of protecting voter enfranchisement rather than suppressing votes over a technicality.
But instead of seating Brewster while Ziccarelli’s legal challenge played out, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman said the Senate would first weigh an unusual complaint that Ziccarelli filed with the Senate, asking it to overturn the results of the election based on constitutional language that says the Senate shall “judge the election and qualifications of its members.”
Brewster’s lawyer told the Associated Press the complaint violates established procedure in state law to contest an election. Moreover, it was not immediately clear whether the Senate would seat Brewster even if Ziccarelli lost her court challenge.
That shifts routine Senate business into potentially new, dangerous territory amid context that matters. State Republican senators’ refusal to seat a duly elected representative came at the same time the party, including eight Pennsylvania Congressional Republicans, led by President Donald Trump mounted a baseless, corrosive attack on our democracy over an election that Trump lost. And as The Washington Post noted, the state Senate’s actions Tuesday resonate with other GOP-controlled state legislatures’ brazen maneuvers to wrest power from Democratic governors.
Most importantly, it came as Pennsylvanians confront crises in every aspect of their lives thanks to the unchecked COVID-19 pandemic.
The new year offers legislators a chance to step back from brinksmanship and eschew the impulse to ferret out mechanisms to seize power not earned. If this election season has taught us anything, it’s that the sinews that keep democracy intact risk snapping absent fidelity.
We had looked on Tuesday with hope, urging lawmakers to adopt procedural reforms to enable the flow of bipartisan legislation. That did not happen in the Senate. We urge elected officials nonetheless to resolve to work together to fashion solutions to Pennsylvanians’ most pressing problems, no matter who they voted for.
The state’s new bipartisan expanded mail-in voting options went into effect amid an unprecedented pandemic and bitter, divisive presidential race. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle recognize the process must be improved.
Work with county election officials to fashion reforms. The goal, always, should be to craft a secure system that makes the vote more accessible, not riddled with technical traps set to suppress voters’ will.
Ziccarelli’s complaint claims Allegheny County officials’ decision to count undated ballots was unfair to 45th District voters in Westmoreland County whose undated ballots Republican election officials chose not to count. The solution here does not seem to be to suppress voters in Allegheny County and hand Ziccarelli the win, but to count those ballots passed over in Westmoreland County, which would likely leave Brewster’s victory intact. Voters, not the Senate, should control the outcome.
Instead, the Senate went into session mulling the “unique circumstances” of Ziccarelli’s race, while citizens of the district - Brewster’s district, as the state and courts see it - were denied representation in the government that is of, by and for them.
US Rep. Lloyd Smucker: You no longer can serve the 11th Congressional District effectively. You need to resign.
Republican U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker of Lancaster County was reelected to his third term in November, in the same election in which President-elect Joe Biden defeated incumbent President Donald Trump by more than 80,000 votes in Pennsylvania. Smucker was one of eight Pennsylvania Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives who sought to block Congress from accepting the commonwealth’s 20 electoral votes for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris early last Thursday morning. That was just hours after pro-Trump insurrectionists invaded the U.S. Capitol, seeking to stop the counting of the electoral votes and do bodily harm to Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In 2016, the LNP ‘ LancasterOnline Editorial Board endorsed Smucker and encouraged citizens to place their trust in him to “champion the concerns of Lancaster County residents in Congress.”
We know now that Smucker championed only the concerns of some of his Republican constituents.
He certainly hasn’t embodied the values of Lancaster County residents - of patriotism, of character, of independent thinking, of fidelity to truth and the U.S. Constitution.
He would be unrecognizable to his younger self who, as a state senator, courageously introduced legislation aimed at helping immigrant students living illegally in the U.S. to afford a college education.
He has become an opportunistic lackey to a president who has shattered norms, lied shamelessly about matters great and small and, worst of all, incited violence against his own country.
Smucker has repeatedly echoed Trump’s attacks on the constitutionally protected press, employing the president’s dangerous and false rhetoric as a campaign fundraising tool.
And he has embraced Trump’s lies, including the most egregious one of all - that voters had reason to doubt the legitimacy of the November election.
Instead of telling the truth, instead of exhibiting the traits of a leader, instead of representing all citizens of the 11th Congressional District, Smucker fulfilled the wishes of a violent mob that had been fed lie after lie by the president and his allies.
Last week, Smucker stood on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, where he swore to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and argued without basis in law or fact that the legally cast votes of 115,847 Lancaster County residents should be nullified - which would have disenfranchised more than 4 in 10 of all November voters here. He argued that the votes of nearly 3.5 million Pennsylvanians shouldn’t count.
The aim? To overturn an election that was repeatedly challenged in state and federal courts of law - challenges that were overwhelmingly rejected in decisions that established the election as being free and fair.
All of this was in service to an incumbent president and the violent insurrectionists he incited.
Smucker no longer deserves the title of “representative.” He can no longer do his job effectively. He rightfully will be marginalized in Congress as one of the objectors, and that will be his legacy. That is justice for him but not for the residents of the 11th Congressional District, who deserve someone in Washington, D.C., who can secure funding for district infrastructure projects and support for district concerns.
Smucker must resign.
Doing Trump’s bidding
In the hours after mobs of pro-Trump extremists laid siege to the U.S. Capitol, invading and ransacking lawmakers’ offices, and killing one Capitol Police officer and savagely attacking others, we briefly entertained the hope that Smucker would join other Republican lawmakers in dropping their electoral vote objections.
But ever intent on doing Trump’s bidding, Smucker took to the floor of the U.S. House to attack the very process by which he had been reelected in November.
He claimed, with no foundation, that his objection to accepting Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes was grounded in “unconstitutional measures taken by bureaucrats and partisan justices in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania that have unlawfully changed how this election was carried out,” and “potentially changed the outcome.”
The truth is that state as well as federal judges - including those on the U.S. Supreme Court - rejected dozens of Republican lawsuits about Pennsylvania’s handling of the election.
Judges take an oath to uphold the Constitution, just as Smucker did. While our processes for electing state judges and selecting federal judges may be partisan, judges are expected to rise above politics - a lesson Smucker has not learned.
Those judges heeded the rule of law. Smucker and his fellow GOP objectors undermined it.
Smucker claimed that objecting to Pennsylvania’s electoral votes was “the one time I have a voice in this process, and I cannot simply look away when tens of thousands of my constituents have real and legitimate concerns about how this election was conducted in Pennsylvania.”
Tens of thousands of his other constituents also wanted to be heard, but he sought to erase their voices.
And the concerns to which he referred were based on lies - which conflated procedural concerns with false claims of fraud - propagated by Trump and other Republicans.
A principled leader would have made it clear that this election was legitimate. Smucker asserted that it was “unlawfully” certified, giving fodder to the insurrectionists.
He claimed that simple “measures like audits should be routine and random and supported by both parties.”
As LNP ‘ LancasterOnline pointed out in a news article fact-checking Smucker, “Election audits are already required by state law. At least 64 counties began auditing the November election last month.”
So he was ill-informed as well as irresponsible.
In an interview with CBS 21, Smucker said he was “very disappointed” with the president after the events of last Wednesday, but he made it clear that he doesn’t believe there should be any consequences for Trump. He said Trump should highlight his successes in the remaining days of his term.
And Smucker said we should “find ways to come together as a country” - as if that’s possible without a full reckoning with the truth.
As for the notion that he bore some responsibility for the insurrection, Smucker called that notion “preposterous.”
But platitudes cannot erase reality.
As the violence was unfolding, Smucker tweeted, “I am horrified by the violence and destruction at the Capitol. This is not who we are as a country. Please go home now.”
Smucker couldn’t be more wrong. This is exactly who we’ve become, in part because of Smucker’s intellectual dishonesty and lack of courage.
“Regardless of party, all Americans must accept the results of the election once they are certified, including President Trump and former Vice President Biden,” Smucker said in a statement Nov. 7.
Pennsylvania certified its election results Nov. 24. But by then, Smucker had caved to the president and other Republicans who refused to accept the election results, and he’s been pandering ever since.
On Saturday, National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day, Smucker tweeted that “we must always remember, honor & thank all law enforcement officials across our great nation. … I want to especially thank the U.S. Capitol Police & honor Officer Sicknick.”
Brian Sicknick died because a violent, pro-Trump criminal hit him with a fire extinguisher and he developed a fatal blood clot in his brain. According to The New York Times, more than “50 members of the U.S. Capitol Police were injured, including 15 who required hospitalization, most of them with head wounds.”
None of that might have occurred had Trump not urged his supporters to go to the Capitol to “show strength,” because “you’ll never take back our country with weakness.”
That goes far beyond “very disappointing.”
In a news release issued Monday, Smucker said he “fully” rejected “the violence that occurred last Wednesday” and supported “the prosecution of the insurrectionists to the fullest extent of the law. We as Americans must recognize that this violence and destruction is simply unacceptable.”
Because he lacks the courage to hold the president responsible for that violence and destruction, Smucker’s words are meaningless.
Moreover, while he acknowledges in that news release that President-elect Biden will be sworn into office Jan. 20, Smucker still refuses to state the plain truth: that Biden was the legitimate winner of a free and fair election.
Lack of decency
Smucker was complicit in undermining the election. He and his fellow GOP objectors laid some of the kindling for last Wednesday’s conflagration.
Even after the carnage was evident, they lacked the decency to back off from their objections. They need to own their culpability and its consequences. And perhaps they will, now that some of their corporate donors have halted contributions to their campaigns.
But Smucker forever has lost his chance to take a principled stand for democracy.
Consider, by contrast, what Republican Sen. Pat Toomey said last week as Congress considered Pennsylvania’s electoral votes.
“Certainly there were irregularities in this election - there always are - but there’s no evidence of significant fraud, conspiracies or even significant anomalies that cast any serious doubt on who actually won the election,” Toomey said.
He said, “Joe Biden won the election” in an “honest victory,” and rejecting Pennsylvania’s electoral votes would be “very damaging to our republic.”
Toomey also said this: “We witnessed today the damage that can result when men in power and responsibility refuse to acknowledge the truth. We saw bloodshed because the demagogue chose to spread falsehoods and sow distrust of his own fellow Americans. Let’s not abet such deception.”
We’ve disagreed with Toomey on policy matters, but we admire his stalwart defense of democracy.
We wish we could say the same of Smucker. Instead, we’re appalled by his inability to show any backbone in this perilous time for our nation.
He is not the man we thought Lancaster County was sending to Washington, D.C., four years ago.
Faced with an opportunity to side with truth over the dangerous fiction that motivated the seditionists who stormed the Capitol last week, Smucker chose to embrace the big lie.
Resign, Rep. Smucker.
Trump shouldn’t be allowed another day in the White House. But what about complicit Pa. lawmakers?
The Philadelphia Inquirer
We join the bipartisan calls for the removal of President Donald Trump from office by invoking the 25th Amendment or a swift impeachment. His incitement of his supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday was a treasonous act that cannot be tolerated.
His continued insistence that the fair and legitimate election that he lost was rigged - claims he began making even before the election - is the mark of totalitarian inclinations and disregard for the country and its founding principles. For four years, Trump faced few consequences for his outrageous behavior and denial of the truth, galvanizing a bandwagon of followers within the GOP. Wednesday’s insurrection was incited by Trump, fueled by his enablers, and facilitated by four years with little accountability. That must stop.
Trump was impeached in the fall of 2019 for withholding foreign aid to pressure the president of Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. He was acquitted by the Senate early in 2020 - and learned nothing from the entire experience.
It is tempting to want to just run out the clock, fewer than two weeks, before Trump’s tenure as president ends. But the images of the assault on the Capitol are proof that the risk of allowing Trump to stay in the White House, with the power of the presidency, for even that short period is just too high.
Trump needs to face consequences. So do the Republican lawmakers who were complicit in sparking a coup attempt by their continued support of Trump’s baseless lies of a rigged election.
When Congress returned on Wednesday night to certify the Electoral College results, 147 Republicans voted to overturn the results of the election. That includes eight of the nine Republicans who represent Pennsylvania in the House of Representatives. In their actions, they validated the lies that led to the siege and so were complicit in the assault on the Capitol. They were undeterred even after blood was spilled in the halls of Congress. They, too, should be held to account.
Shortly after midnight, Rep. Scott Perry of the Harrisburg-York area objected to the count of the Pennsylvania vote. The election process and ballots that were good enough to give him another term in Congress, he implicitly argued, were at the same time not good enough to give Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Pennsylvania’s 20 Electoral College votes.
In speeches into the night, Perry and his Republican colleagues from the commonwealth and elsewhere repeated easily disputed lies - including those about Pennsylvania voting law that originated in the Republican General Assembly - that have been already debunked or dismissed by the courts.
Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano was in D.C. for the rally - he says he didn’t break into the Capitol building, as a newly sworn-in West Virginia delegate did. Mastriano, who has been peddling lies on the election, was in fact also reelected in 2020. The ballots that got him his seat were legitimate, but the ones for Biden were somehow fraudulent.
In attendance in D.C. was also former state representative and Republican congressional nominee Rick Saccone. Captioning a Facebook video from D.C. on Wednesday, Saccone says: “We are storming the Capitol. Our vanguard has broken thru the barricades.” He resigned from his instructor position at St. Vincent College the following day.
Meanwhile, riding the wave of lies about the election, last Tuesday, the Republican majority in the Pennsylvania state Senate refused to swear in the duly elected Jim Brewster, depriving a quarter-million people in Pennsylvania from representation.
What do we do with lawmakers who flagrantly disregard reality, and are either blind or indifferent to the consequences of their actions?
Any Pennsylvania Republican who continues to charge that there was fraud in the 2020 election should resign immediately and demand a special election for their own seat. If they believe so strongly in election fraud that they’re calling to overturn the presidential race, how can they serve with confidence that their own elections were legitimate? If they don’t resign, they should take responsibility for the damage that they inflicted to American democracy, and at the very least, apologize. But we won’t hold our breath.
Making companies immune from misconduct is sick
When we think about immunity, we usually think about being resistant to a disease. Immunity is the ability to shrug off an infection, to ignore a virus.
It’s an idea that has occupied us for much of the last year. The possibility of being immune to covid-19 because of having already had the disease. The manufactured immunity of a vaccine.
But there is another use of that word - a legal one.
It’s the state of being exempt from consequences. Legal immunity could mean that someone would not be prosecuted for a crime in a plea deal. It might mean the way a public official is insulated from personal liability for an official action.
Or it might mean a kind of inoculation against civil liability.
That’s what Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center’s lawyers claimed in a recent court filing where they invoked the federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act as the shot that protects the nursing home from being sued.
Brighton Rehab in Beaver County emerged early in the coronavirus pandemic as not just one of the most prominent long term care outbreaks in the state but in the country. Hundreds of people - both residents and staff - tested positive and more than 70 died. Fifteen people who lived at the home or their families are suing for claims including corporate negligence, vicarious negligence and wrongful death.
The 2005 act says that health care providers “shall be immune from suit and liability under federal and state law,” so the attorneys’ argument does make sense.
Except that Senior U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab refuted it when it was similarly raised in another case - the covid-related death of Brighton housekeeper Elizabeth Wiles. In that case, Schwab said the PREP Act isn’t a shield for “willful misconduct.”
Whether that is the case with Brighton remains to be seen. The issue is worth keeping in mind, however, as Congress will no doubt raise the argument again this session. The subject of liability shields was a key stumbling block in covid relief legislation negotiations in 2020.
Protecting businesses from the unavoidable, wrath-of-God variety of emergency is worth doing. A doctor should not be held responsible for a death he can’t prevent, for example.
But such legislation should not be a vaccination against taking responsibility for the kind of willful misconduct Schwab cited in his decision.
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