Here’s an image that encapsulates more or less everything about the young new year so far: Rep. Kathleen Rice said that when she was taken to her undisclosed safe location during the siege of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, she found herself sitting in a room with other members of Congress, including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul who — despite the deadly coronavirus pandemic — “refused to wear a mask.”
Rice told The Point Thursday that she felt like “sardines” in the room, and Paul, who contracted COVID-19 in the spring, wasn’t the only Republican without a mask. (The senator’s press team did not return a request for comment.)
It was just part of what the Garden City Democrat described as an unprecedented experience. She said she had been in a Senate colleague’s office when Trump supporters breached the Capitol, and she could hear them go by right above her: footsteps, screaming, “trampling over Capitol Police and running through the building.”
She was not present on the House floor later in the evening when order had been restored and members were debating the Electoral College certification: COVID-19 limited who would appear in the chamber in person.
Instead, she watched the proceedings on C-SPAN in the office of her Florida colleague, Stephanie Murphy, growing frustrated with Republican fellow New Yorkers who objected to the certification.
“I don’t know how I can have a conversation with someone like Lee Zeldin and Elise Stefanik and Nicole Malliotakis, who has been in Congress for all of about five seconds, when they know what they are saying is false,” Rice said. “Not one shred of credible evidence has been presented to multiple courts of law, presided over by Trump-appointed judges.”
Around 3 or 3:30 a.m., she headed home.
On Thursday (and in a Wednesday tweet), she was among the members of Congress pushing for consequences for President Donald Trump over Wednesday’s events.
“I think everything is on the table,” she told The Point. “People are talking about impeachment, we’ve already been down that path. People are talking about censuring the president on the floor of the House. And I personally am calling for the cabinet to act and stop resigning, and act and remove him for these last 13 days.”
Snapshots in time
The Justice Department is expected to bring charges late Thursday against more than a dozen of the most extreme and readily recognizable actors responsible in the attack on the U.S. Capitol, and federal prosecutors around the country are beginning to scrutinize public videos to see whether they can identify any culpable individuals in their home jurisdictions.
Acting U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Rosen in Washington issued a statement Thursday that said federal prosecutors for the D.C. jurisdiction “have been working throughout the night with agents from the FBI, ATF, and local police to gather evidence, identify the perpetrators and make arrests.” And the FBI is asking the public to share “tips and digital media depicting rioting or violence.”
Both U.S. attorneys in Ohio announced such actions on social media Wednesday. “Make no mistake … Federal crimes were committed today at our nation’s Capitol building,” U.S. Attorney David DeVillers tweeted. “Anyone who traveled from the Southern District of Ohio with the intent to commit such crimes will be prosecuted in the Southern District of Ohio.”
Will federal prosecutors on Long Island follow suit? A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District replied to The Point with a crisp “no comment.” But don’t be surprised if they do.
The list of those calling for consequences for President Donald Trump grew by Thursday afternoon to include local non-federal officials such as Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.
Arguing that Trump was responsible for inciting the “insurrection” in D.C., Bellone said in a statement, “I urge our members of Congress to support Senator Schumer’s call to invoke the 25th Amendment or begin impeachment proceedings immediately.”
Bellone, a Democrat, has cut a middle-of-the-road figure in the past, including by working with and speaking kindly of the member of Congress who represents much of his county, Lee Zeldin. Suffolk itself voted for Trump in both 2016 and 2020, though by a slim margin the second time around. Bellone, however, is term-limited and won’t have to face Suffolk voters again for his current position, though bolstering his left flank may be helpful if a statewide run ever emerges.
Meanwhile, some Long Islanders were trumpeting proudly their involvement in Wednesday’s events. The front page of this week’s 5 Towns Jewish Times featured a large photo of columnist Gila Jedwab, wearing a Trump hat and scarf and smiling with arms spread in front of the Capitol. Jedwab has written previously in the weekly newspaper that Democrats used COVID-19 as “a weapon of fear that was used to terrify a nation and accomplish one agenda: to create enough chaos to get their candidate elected.”
The photo caption on the front page, which was posted online Thursday, said Jedwab, a Cedarhurst dentist, “returned to New York before the violence broke out.” But the photo shows people swarming on the Capitol steps, indicating it was taken during the riot.
Teachers union worried about return to school
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and New York State United Teachers President Andrew Pallotta on Wednesday released a statement that, at any time other than an assault on the U.S. Capitol, would have garnered a lot of headlines.
They called for schools in regions where COVID-19 infections are spiking to go to remote learning immediately, and demanded the state adhere to a standard that would likely close all the state’s public-school campuses to in-person learning in the next few days or weeks.
The statement begins:
“Over the past week, we have seen 6 out of 10 regions in the state surpass the 9 percent state infection rate threshold that was set by the Reimagine Education Advisory Council in the summer. Educator confidence in the safety of our school buildings has fallen as COVID rates have risen in our communities.
“We have a moral duty to follow the science on reopening — that’s why New York schools should immediately go to remote learning if positivity rates exceed 9 percent, as calculated by the state. The science is what drove the Council, on which Randi served, and was the basis for the threshold.”
As the current school year drew near last summer, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo decreed that schools could not open in regions where the COVD-19 test positivity rate was above 3%, and would have to close once opened if that rate hit 9%.
And for months, as the rate hovered at or below 1% statewide, the limits didn’t cause much fuss. But as of Wednesday, as infections again raged, every part of the state but New York City was above that limit or hovering just below it, and Long Island’s test positivity rate was 9.51%.
But if Cuomo set a rule, why issue the statement?
Because in the past two weeks Cuomo has pulled back from the “9% in a region” rule, arguing that schools may be the safest place for kids, and the standard should be COVID positivity rates in the schools, not the communities.
This isn’t sitting well with the unions, who fought hard for the protections now in place. The statement by Weingarten and Pallotta goes on to argue that the current rules ought not to be abandoned, particularly because, they say, new studies in Europe show schools can be transmission vectors.
“The positivity triggers for closing must be upheld, and if they are exceeded, we must close buildings and then redouble our efforts to crush community spread so they can reopen,” the statement goes on to argue.
What’s not certain is whether the call to adhere to the 9% rule is a hard demand or the beginning of a negotiation.
—Lane Filler @lanefiller
Behind the scenes
I was about to ink and color a final version of this pencil sketch when the U.S. Capitol was stormed by a pro-Trump mob and a cartooning change-of-plans quickly ensued.
— Matt Davies @MatttDavies
For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/cartoons