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Democrats' losing hand on voting rights

The 50-50 Senate, GOP-controlled state legislatures, gerrymandering and a conservative Supreme Court are blunting Democrats' ability to fight back against historic efforts to restrict voting in states across the U.S.

Why it matters: Voting rights advocates say the moves could artificially prop up conservative, white power structures for a decade or longer by installing hurdles that disproportionally hit people of color. Democrats increasingly see this as an existential threat.


Driving the news: Senate Republicans on Tuesday stalled a sweeping federal voting rights bill — and Democrats don't have enough support in their own caucus to end to the legislative filibuster and break the partisan logjam.

What's next: Democrats' next best move may be to turn to state-by-state fights in places like Texas, Arizona, Florida and Georgia.

  • "Plan B looks a lot like the status quo, which is hand-to-hand combat," said Matthew Miller, a former Department of Justice spokesman during the Obama administration.

Between the lines: Some Democrats are frustrated that President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris haven't more aggressively sought to shame Republicans into supporting codification of some expanded voter protections — or resistant Democrats into modifying the filibuster.

  • Ezra Levin, co-director of the progressive group Indivisible, said "so far we just haven't seen them do it" to the degree they pushed for action on coronavirus and infrastructure legislation.
  • Beto O'Rourke, advocating for expanded voting rights in Texas, tells Axios that ahead of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, "President Johnson brought the country to this decision and then helped to bring us through to the right choice on it... And that's the opportunity President Biden has right now."
  • The nonpartisan group Freedom House cited unequal treatment of people of color — especially through restrictions on voting rights — as one of its reasons for lowering the U.S. democracy score this year.

The intrigue: Biden has charged Harris with leading the White House's efforts to protect voting rights. It's not clear too much can be accomplished through executive actions alone. That means more attention on what she's doing personally to engage Congress and get more Democrats to register and turn out.

  • A White House official says Biden already has used executive authority where possible, including his executive order directing federal agencies to expand access to voter registration.

And Attorney General Merrick Garland has made it clear that voting rights and domestic violent extremism are his priorities.

  • Garland is kicking off a hiring spree for more staff to help on voting rights issues, and said the department will be watching threats toward election workers and areas where people of color have to wait in line longer to vote.
  • But the Justice Department's powers are limited now that it no longer has preclearance authority under the Voting Rights Act. It can sue to challenge some state restrictions, but its chances of victory probably aren't good.

Be smart: There's some momentum in Congress behind narrower voting rights bills including the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore an updated version of the Justice Department's preclearance authority to approve voting changes in advance.

  • That's the power it lost in 2013 when the Supreme Court struck it from the original Voting Rights Act. But without changes to the filibuster, those bills may not stand a chance either.

What we're watching: The courts.

  • Marc Elias, a key Democratic attorney and founder of Democracy Docket, filed a new voting rights suit in Texas on Tuesday morning.
  • He expects new voting rights litigation to be filed in the coming days or weeks in Georgia, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Arizona and Michigan.
  • Iowa, Georgia, Montana, Florida, Arkansas and Kansas already have active voting rights cases.

Yes, but: In the states that restrict voting the most, the courts are unlikely to push back.

  • The Supreme Court struck down preclearance, and most observers expect the justices to uphold a series of GOP-led voting restrictions in Arizona in their next big voting rights ruling, which could come any day now
  • State supreme courts in places like Texas, Florida, Georgia and Arizona all tend to have more conservative judges, according to a Ballotpedia study.

What to watch at the Olympics today: Gymnastics, golf, 3x3 basketball, swimming

5 events to watch today...

  • 🤸‍♀️ Men’s gymnastics: Team USA’s Sam Mikulak and Brody Malone compete in the individual all-around final. Coverage starts at 6:15 a.m. on Peacock (watch the replay at 8 p.m. ET on NBC)
  • 🏀 3x3 Basketball: The women’s gold medal game between the U.S. and Russia starts at 8:55 a.m. ET on USA Network. Russia and Latvia will play in the men’s final at 9:25 a.m. ET.
  • 🏌️ Men’s golf: Round one tees off at 6:30 p.m. ET on the Golf Channel or stream on nbcolympics.com.
  • 🏊 Swimming: Men’s 800m freestyle, 200m breaststroke and 100m freestyle finals and women’s 200m butterfly final. Coverage starts at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.
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National parks "drowning in tourists"

Data: National Park Service; note: Gateway National Recreation Area is excluded due to missing data in 2021. Chart: Connor Rothschild/Axios

National Parks across the U.S. are overflowing with a post-pandemic crush of tourists, leading to increased issues with congestion, traffic jams, user experience, strain on staff and increased damage to the parks.

Why it matters: Some are seeing such a record number they're being forced to limit, and even close, access to certain areas to avoid the danger of eroding the land. The result, ultimately, could change the way Americans interact with the parks going forward.

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Facebook's next chapter: Build the "metaverse"

Facebook's "next chapter," Mark Zuckerberg says, is to be prime builder of "the metaverse" — an open, broadly distributed, 3D dimension online where, he says, we will all conduct much of our work and personal lives.

The big picture: Zuckerberg admits Facebook will only be one of many companies building this next-generation model of today's internet — but he also intends Facebook to lead the pack.

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CDC asks the vaccinated to help save the unvaccinated from themselves

The Biden administration is essentially asking vaccinated Americans to help save the unvaccinated from themselves.

The big picture: America's "pandemic of the unvaccinated" has gotten bad enough that vaccine mandates are starting to catch on, and masks are coming back — in some cases, even for the vaccinated.

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Least persuadable unvaccinated Americans are largely white and Republican

Data: Axios-Ipsos Poll; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

The most hardcore opponents of coronavirus vaccination — the group who say they'll never get one — tend to be older, whiter and more Republican than the unvaccinated Americans who are still persuadable, according to an analysis of our Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: As the Delta variant triggers more COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, mostly among the unvaccinated, the Biden administration and even some high-profile GOP political and media figures are trying to figure out how to nudge the country's vaccination rate higher.

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Female Olympians push back against double standard in uniforms

Female Olympians in Tokyo are rejecting the uniforms that have long defined their sports, highlighting a double standard that exists how women dress in competition vs. men.

Driving the news: During their qualifying round Sunday, Germany's women's gymnastics team wore full-length unitards, eschewing the conventional leg-barring leotards worn by most female gymnasts.

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Simone Biles won't defend Olympic title at gymnastics all-around final in Tokyo

U.S. gymnastics great Simone Biles won't defend her Olympic title in the upcoming all-around final as she continues to focus on her mental health, USA Gymnastics announced Wednesday.

After further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all-around competition. We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many. pic.twitter.com/6ILdtSQF7o

— USA Gymnastics (@USAGym) July 28, 2021

Editor's note: This a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

DOJ declines to defend Mo Brooks in Eric Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit

The Department of Justice declined late Tuesday to represent Rep. Mo Brooks in a civil lawsuit against the Georgia congressman concerning the Capitol riot.

Why it matters: Brooks had argued he should have immunity in the suit, filed by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) against him, former President Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and lawyer Rudy Giuliani over the insurrection. He said he was acting as a government employee when he spoke at a rally before the insurrection.

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