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Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) called comments by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) "racist" on the Senate floor Tuesday evening, after Johnson told a radio show that he would have been more afraid of the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters if they had been Black Lives Matter protestors or antifa.

Why it matters: Menendez himself acknowledged that the speech broke with Senate decorum, noting that "we often twist ourselves into pretzels to avoid saying anything that might be interpreted as a criticism of another senator."

Catch up quick: Johnson said on a radio talk show last week that he was not afraid during the Jan. 6 pro-Trump Capitol insurrection because he felt the rioters were people who "truly respect law enforcement."

  • “Now, had the tables been turned — Joe, this could get me in trouble — had the tables been turned, and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned," Johnson said.
  • Five people died as a result of the Capitol attacks, including U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died after being assaulted by rioters.

What they're saying: "Look, I get no one likes to be called racist, but sometimes there's just no other way to describe the use of bigoted tropes that for generations have threatened Black lives by stoking white fear of African Americans and Black men in particular," Menendez said.

  • "I don't think the senator is ignorant of the fact that for centuries in this country white supremacy has thrived on using fear to justify oppression, discrimination and violence against people of color," he continued.
  • "I do, however, think my colleague may be ignorant of the pain caused by his comments and unaware of how they compound the trauma that so many still feel in the wake of the events of Jan. 6."

Between the lines: Many comparisons have been drawn between how law enforcement responded to 2020's Black Lives Matter protests vs. how they responded to the Capitol riots.

  • William Walker, commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, told the Senate earlier this month that he received "immediate approval" to deploy forces during Black Lives Matter protests last summer, but faced delays in getting approval on Jan. 6.

Johnson has continued to defend his remarks, per NBC News, stating, "This isn't about race. It's about riots."

Go deeper

Updated 4 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden says Russia likely to invade Ukraine

President Biden addressed the brewing conflict between Russia and Ukraine during a press briefing Wednesday, saying of Russian President Vladimir Putin, "my guess is he will move in."

Why it matters: U.S. officials have issued a series of warnings about Russia's threatening military buildup on the border with Ukraine, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying in Kyiv earlier Wednesday that Russia could invade "on very short notice."

Updated 13 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court rejects Trump's attempt to shield documents from Jan. 6 committee

Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

The Supreme Court rejected on Wednesday night a bid by former President Trump to block the release of documents and records from his administration to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

Why it matters: Trump asked the Supreme Court to step in and block the release of the documents last month after a panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously denied his attempt to prevent the committee from obtaining the materials.

23 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Senate Democrats join Biden to pivot Build Back Better strategy

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A growing number of Senate Democrats are urging their colleagues to begin paring back the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better agenda to salvage what they can, abandoning hopes of the transformational to achieve the possible.

Why it matters: Democrats are desperate to notch a win. President Biden's popularity is sagging in the polls, the pandemic is raging and the party's record of passing crucial legislation has been muddled. Biden himself conceded during his news conference Wednesday that passing the parts was more likely than getting the whole.