iShook Daily & : Politics iShook Daily & : Politics en Copyright 2022 iShook & All Rights Reserved. Biden brought down a Chinese spy balloon. But he hasn’t tanked bilateral ties

President Joe Biden’s decision to shoot down a Chinese surveillance balloon on Saturday is a blow to a U.S.-China relationship that has been spiraling downward for years.

But it is not necessarily a death blow.

U.S.-China ties have already weathered years of Beijing’s saber-rattling across the Taiwan Strait, its military installations on disputed islands in the South China Sea and high-tech espionage. Beijing has in turn accused the U.S. of a Cold War mentality and of seeking to suppress China economically and militarily.

This latest incident hits home in the U.S. — literally — because the nonstop coverage of the balloon’s presence in American airspace and its destruction captured on live video made the China threat real for many.

“This was a pretty big hit for the [public] trust factor in U.S.-China relations — Chinese spying has never been so front and center in the American public consciousness,” said Lyle Morris, former country director for China at the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “If there were any people still on the fence about a China threat or not, that's pretty much been foreclosed.”

In the short term, GOP lawmakers are arguing that Biden needs to get tougher on China. A senior State Department official sounded a similar stern line on Beijing by calling the balloon’s incursion “a clear violation of our sovereignty” and declaring that it was “unacceptable”in a press briefing on Friday.

China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Saturday protesting Biden's decision to shoot down the surveillance balloon. The ministry called the downing of the airship “a clear overreaction and a serious violation of international practice” and warned that China reserved the right “to make further responses if necessary."

But the incident will likely only further bruise, rather than break, the bilateral relationship.

Regardless of rampant political rhetoric about economic decoupling, the two countries are too interdependent to opt for a drastic downgrade in bilateral ties. Both the Biden administration and senior Chinese officials, including paramount leader Xi Jinping, have recently emphasized the need to improve the tenor in the U.S.-China relationship. And historically, other U.S.-Chinese incidents that have roiled the relationship eventually faded in favor of resumed, if strained, ties.

In recent weeks, Xi and his aides have launched a charm offensive aimed at easing tensions with Washington as they struggle with a Covid outbreak and an economic downturn. The Chinese government was even preparing to welcome Secretary of State Antony Blinken for a now-postponed visit in which he would potentially have met with Xi.

And because the discovery of the airship is an untimely embarrassment for Xi, he may keep China’s response to the downing limited. In fact, Beijing signaled its desire to prevent the balloon incursion from rupturing ties by issuing a rare expression of “regrets,” although it also claimed the object was a weather balloon that went off course.

In comments Saturday to reporters, Biden said he ordered on Wednesday that the balloon be shot down “as soon as possible.” Ultimately, authorities decided to wait until the object was over water to avoid “doing damage to anyone on the ground,” the president said.

Biden did not answer a question about how the decision would affect U.S. relations with China. Foreign affairs observers, however, predicted that both Beijing and Washington would try to minimize the fallout.

“The Biden administration has already signaled that it will seek to reschedule the Blinken visit when conditions allow,” noted Daniel Russel, a former senior Asia hand in the Obama administration who has close ties to Biden aides. “If this closes the book on the incident, the two sides can get back to work. If, instead, the Chinese elect to play the aggrieved victim or to retaliate, we may find ourselves back climbing the escalation ladder.”

Should the United States recover the remnants of the balloon and prove that it is a spy contraption and not a weather tracker, that could further embarrass Xi and lead him to back down. Biden could use that wreckage “to humiliate China or as a bargaining chip in private discussions,” said Yun Sun, China program director at the Stimson Center.

The Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The United States and China have a history of recovering from relation-disrupting incidents that initially outraged the other.

On May 7, 1999, for instance, a U.S.-led NATO air campaign bombed China’s embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese journalists and wounding 20 other Chinese citizens. Though the United States insisted the bombing was a mistake, to this day it is a source of sore feelings in China, where one state media account in 2021 called it “barbaric.” Still, the incident hasn’t prevented efforts to improve relations.

In 2001, a U.S. spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea and landed in China’s Hainan island. China detained the U.S. plane’s 24-member crew for 11 days, during which the fighter jet pilot was said to have died. After several days of tense negotiations, the two countries brokered a deal hinged on a U.S. expression of regret for the incident.

Even years of rising tensions over Taiwan, the self-governing democratic island that Beijing claims as its own, have not severed ties. In 2013, when Biden was vice president, Beijing declared the launch of an “air defense identification zone” in the East China Sea. Biden went to China with the message that Washington would not recognize the zone; U.S. military planes were already flying through it without Chinese permission.

Biden has also repeatedly said the administration will send U.S. troops to help Taiwan if China attacks, although official U.S. policy is more ambiguous.

And when then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August, the Chinese government reacted furiously, conducting days of live fire military drills around the island. Beijing also suspended bilateral military dialogues and joint efforts in China’s role in the U.S. opioid crisis.

But three months later, Biden met with Xi on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Indonesia, and both pledged to try to ease tensions in order to “manage this competition responsibly.” The Chinese government has also recently shifted to a softer diplomatic tone — an effort by Beijing to reduce U.S.-China tensions while it grapples with a disastrous Covid outbreak and an economic downturn.

The balloon incident is likely to reverberate strongly on Capitol Hill, where there is a bipartisan consensus that China poses a long-term threat to U.S. power.

“Congress will almost certainly hold hearings about the administration’s response, which will extend this story’s shelf life and raise important questions about the efficacy of the Biden administration’s China policy,” said Craig Singleton, senior China fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The possibility of Blinken going ahead with the trip to China was considered before it was ultimately postponed after administration officials realized the visit would be overshadowed by questions about a balloon that could still be hovering over U.S. soil.

“The objective of the trip was to seek a ‘floor’ in relationship and explore potential areas of cooperation in mutual interest,” a U.S. official familiar with the issue said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The balloon, however, “would have dominated all the conversations,” the official said. “It was better to postpone for a better time, and the interagency all agreed with that.”

It’s not clear when Blinken will reschedule his trip. Whether Chinese officials agree to host him fairly soon could be a sign of how quickly they want to put the balloon incident behind them.

Adam Cancryn contributed to this report.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 22:20:03 -0500 ishook
Downing of Chinese Spy Balloon Ends Chapter in a Diplomatic Crisis Sat, 04 Feb 2023 20:20:03 -0500 ishook SEC’s Gensler weighs scaling back climate rule as lawsuits loom

Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler is considering scaling backa potentially groundbreaking climate-risk disclosure rule that has drawn intense opposition from corporate America, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The top Wall Street regulator’s team has signaled that a primary concern is the wave of lawsuits that are expected to challenge the rule once it's finalized, said the people, who asked not to be named while discussing private conversations. The SEC is weighing what to do with one of the most contentious pieces of the plan: A mandate that certain large public companies report data about carbon emissions from their extensive supply chain networks and customers, known as scope 3, the people said.

Potential changes to the proposal have been debated for months. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the agency is also considering whether to ease a separate financial reporting element of the plan because of the legal challenges to come. But Gensler’s lingering legal concerns about the draft scope 3 requirements indicate that the SEC — nearly a year after proposing the rule — is still grappling with what to do about one of the most aggressive parts of the plan.

Officials at the SEC stress that no decision has yet been made. How much the agency might ease up on the proposal is not clear. The final rule will need to be approved by three of the SEC's five commissioners, including Gensler, before it can take hold. But any move to substantially limit the regulation could spark a backlash from climate activists, sustainable investors and progressive Democrats, who have been pressing for years for greater insight into companies’ climate footprints.

Under the proposed rule, public companies would have to disclose information about the climate risks their businesses face, as well as the carbon emissions of parts of their operations — just as they do annual revenue, executive compensation and any new updates on legal issues.

Lawmakers, companies and business trade groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have voiced broad objections to the proposal ever since its introduction, saying the changes are unnecessary and would be too burdensome and costly. Lawsuits are expected to challenge both the content of the rule itself and the SEC’s authority to pursue it — an argument that may carry new weight with the Supreme Court moving to rein in the so-called administrative state.

Another person familiar with the matter said the SEC has also discussed making the scope 3 requirements “more workable” for companies, given the feedback the agency is getting.

If the carbon emission disclosure requirements are curtailed, the SEC could preempt one of the business community’s biggest concerns about the plan.

But if the agency goes too far,it risks causing a significant break with the left. Progressive lawmakers, sustainability-minded investors and environmental advocates have pressed for as strong a rule as possible. They argue that predicting what the courts will do is impossible and shouldn't discourage action now.

“The courts are obviously stacked with pro-pollution judges,” a Senate Democratic aide told POLITICO. “But the SEC should not back down in the face of baseless attacks by corporate lobbyists and preemptively water down the rule.”

An SEC spokesperson declined to comment for this story.

A growing corner of the investment world has been calling on the SEC for years to require companies to provide a clearer lens into how they are handling climate change, as the proposed rule would do. The final rule would also mark another major climate win for President Joe Biden following the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. One of Biden’s first executive orders declared that the federal government must push for climate-related risk disclosures across the economy.

Yet as the rule has taken shape within the agency, Republican state attorneys general across the country, the business world and GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill have criticized it.

Their warnings have varied. But a common one is that the SEC is going outside its mission in seeking to mandate climate risk disclosure. The significance of that complaint quickly escalated following the Supreme Court’s ruling last year that the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its bounds in trying to rein in power plant emissions.

The SEC is seeking a broad slate of new information from public companies under the rule, including details on how climate-related risks are affecting their business models, if the companies use a carbon price and how, and any details about climate-related goals set by the companies, such as net-zero emissions targets.

Companies would also have to detail the greenhouse gas emissions from their operations and energy use.

For many larger companies, though, executives would face the added responsibility of disclosing estimated emissions from their supply chains and customers, the scope 3 emissions. Proponents argue that scope 3 is critical to the rule’s success, given the amount of a company’s emissions that it represents.

“We still think the proposal should be finalized broadly in the same form,” said Alex Martin, a senior policy analyst for climate and finance at Americans for Financial Reform, a consumer and investor advocacy group. “It would be a mistake to not follow through."

But groups like the National Association of Manufacturers say scope 3 emission disclosures would be riddled with legal, reliability and usefulness questions for investors and companies.

“All options are on the table,” said Aric Newhouse, senior vice president of policy and government relations at NAM, in an interview about how the group would respond to the final rule. Newhouse said that could include a lawsuit against the SEC over the rule, once finalized. “We’re going to throw the full weight of the industry behind [this] effort.”

Litigation has been hanging over the SEC’s head for some time. In September, while testifying on Capitol Hill, Gensler was peppered with questions about the rule, as many Republican senators zeroed in on the implications of the Supreme Court case, West Virginia v. EPA. At the time, Gensler said the SEC takes “seriously the courts and particularly the Supreme Court,” but defended the agency’s ability to pursue the plan.

“Investors are using this information now, and they want the information,” Gensler said. “And I think it does fit into our 80- or 90-year history of how we do disclosures. … We have a role to ensure that there is not only investor protection, but, as the law said, fair dealing that the actual disclosures are not misleading.”

Many in the legal world agree. Former SEC officials, including several commissioners from both sides of the aisle, academics and even one former clerk to conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch have written in support of the agency’s powers to regulate corporate disclosures, even if they relate to emissions.

“This is essentially core SEC rulemaking,” University of Pennsylvania law Professor Jill Fisch said.

The final rule is likely to look different from the proposal no matter what, as is typical for many SEC regulations.

Whether the SEC opts to include scope 3 as it is drafted in the proposal or scrap it entirely, the lawsuits will come either way, said Fisch, though she added that scope 3 does make the rule “more vulnerable.”

The question is whether the courts will look to brush back decades of legal precedent.

“It’s very hard to predict how far the court will go,” Fisch said.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 18:30:02 -0500 ishook
U.S. Shoots Down Chinese Spy Balloon Off the Coast of the Carolinas Sat, 04 Feb 2023 15:20:04 -0500 ishook DNC approves Biden’s primary calendar shakeup

The Democratic National Committee on Saturday approved President Biden’s proposal to dramatically alter the state lineup for Democrats’ presidential primary calendar, placing South Carolina in the leadoff spot in a bid to give minority voters more representation in shaping the party’s lineup.

Read more…

The post DNC approves Biden’s primary calendar shakeup appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 14:55:05 -0500 ishook
How Democrats’ early&voting order in 2024 compares with 2020

The Democratic National Committee on Saturday approved a new calendar lineup for the early stages of the party’s presidential nominating contests in 2024. Additional changes are possible. A look at how the revised calendar would compare with the 2020 order:

Read more…

The post How Democrats’ early-voting order in 2024 compares with 2020 appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 14:55:05 -0500 ishook
Biden says he’ll ‘take care of’ Chinese balloon

President Biden said on Saturday that he will “take care of” the Chinese spy balloon that continues to fly over U.S. airspace.

Read more…

The post Biden says he’ll ‘take care of’ Chinese balloon appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 14:55:05 -0500 ishook
Biden officials kept quiet about suspected Chinese spy balloon fearing diplomatic, political fallout

Biden administration officials kept quiet for nearly a week after the suspected Chinese spy balloon first entered U.S. airspace, fearing the matter would derail Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned trip to Beijing, according to a new report.

Read more…

The post Biden officials kept quiet about suspected Chinese spy balloon fearing diplomatic, political fallout appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 13:40:05 -0500 ishook
Electronic pollbook security raises concerns going into 2024

ATLANTA — They were blamed for long lines in Los Angeles during California’s 2020 presidential primary, triggered check-in delays in Columbus, Ohio, a few months later and were at the center of former President Donald Trump’s call for supporters to protest in Detroit during last November’s midterms.

Read more…

The post Electronic pollbook security raises concerns going into 2024 appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 13:40:05 -0500 ishook
State of the Union 2023: What to know ahead of Biden's speech Sat, 04 Feb 2023 13:40:05 -0500 ishook DNC votes to shake up presidential primary calendar

Members of the Democratic National Committee overwhelmingly approved a dramatic shakeup of the party’s presidential nominating calendar Saturday morning, reordering what states will vote first in primaries and upending a century of political tradition.

The new calendar — recommended by President Joe Biden and his advisers and approved by a majority vote of the DNC — elevates South Carolina to the first-place position in the primary calendar on Feb. 3, replacing the Iowa caucuses, which held the coveted perch for a half-century.

Under the new schedule, New Hampshire and Nevada would jointly host their primaries three days later on Feb. 6, followed by Georgia on Feb. 13 and Michigan on Feb. 27, two brand-new states added to the early window. But several hurdles remain to ultimately implement this calendar.

Iowa, which has held its caucuses first since 1972, will fall out of the early nominating process altogether.

“We are overdue in changing this primary calendar,” said Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell, who has led her state’s effort to join the early window for almost two decades. “No one state should have a lock on going first.”

The DNC reopened the presidential nominating calendar earlier this year, under pressure from both inside and outside the party to diversify the voters who get to participate early in the process. In December, Biden recommended his preferred slate, giving a particular nod to states like South Carolina and Georgia that gave him a boost in his 2020 presidential bid. It also nearly eliminates any path for a potential Democratic primary challenge ahead of 2024 by elevating states that represent the president’s base of support.

The vote comes on the heels of a rare joint appearance by Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in back-to-back speeches Friday night, previewing the likely 2024 ticket as the pair road tested campaign one-liners and themes of attack against the GOP.

But there are still logistical challenges that Democrats must face before implementing the new lineup, particularly around New Hampshire and Georgia, where Republican-controlled legislatures and governors stand in the way of changing the primary dates.

Resistance out of New Hampshire is particularly fierce, where elected officials and party leaders insist that they cannot comply with the DNC’s new calendar because it directly conflicts with state law, which requires them to host the first presidential primary one week before any other state. They have vowed to hold their contest first regardless of the DNC’s decision.

On Saturday morning, the New Hampshire and Iowa Democrats made a final appeal to DNC members, urging them to reconsider the proposal. But it did not change the vote.

“This is not about New Hampshire’s history or state pride. This is about a state law that we cannot unilaterally change,” said Joanne Dowdell, who represents New Hampshire on the Rules and Bylaws Committee.

She also raised the possibility that if Biden doesn’t file in New Hampshire, a potential sanction against the state, “it could provide an opening for an insurgent candidate” who could “potentially win the first presidential primary of 2024, something that no one in this room wants to see.”

But some DNC members pushed back on New Hampshire, including Leah Daughtry, a Rules and Bylaws committee member who said she’s “heard a lot about a state law” that “somehow gives some people a divine right of privilege,” but “none of that is more important than what the party says it wants in its process.”

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 13:40:05 -0500 ishook
Biden on Chinese balloon: 'We’re going to take care of it'

President Joe Biden on Saturday broke his public silence on the suspected Chinese spy balloon drifting across the U.S., telling reporters “we’re going to take care of it.”

Biden’s comments in Syracuse, N.Y., come as the balloon is hovering over North Carolina, according to local news reports. It was first spotted in Montana on Wednesday.

China has denied that it was using the balloon to spy on the U.S., saying it was a civilian airship used to monitor weather that blew off course due to unexpected wind. The Pentagon has so far cautioned against shooting the balloon down out of fears falling debris could hurt people on the ground.

“Last thing we wanted was for something the size of a school bus to go through the roof of a preschool,” a Defense Department official said Friday.

The Chinese airship forced the U.S. military to scramble fighter jets and led Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone his trip to Beijing this weekend.

Throughout the week lawmakers have called on Biden to address the potential threat, with Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who chairs the panel that oversees the Pentagon’s budget, calling the balloon a “clear threat” to national security.

“I’m demanding answers from the Biden Administration,” Tester said in a statement. “I will be pulling people before my committee to get real answers on how this happened, and how we can prevent it from ever happening again.”

Adam Cancryn contributed to this report.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 13:40:05 -0500 ishook
China plays down Blinken's canceled visit over balloon

TAIPEI, Taiwan — China played down the cancellation of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken after a large Chinese balloon suspected of conducting surveillance on U.S. military sites roiled diplomatic relations, saying that neither side had formally announced any such plan.

“In actuality, the U.S. and China have never announced any visit, the U.S. making any such announcement is their own business, and we respect that," China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Saturday morning.

Blinken was due to visit Beijing on Sunday for talks aimed at reducing U.S.-China tensions, the first such high-profile trip after the countries' leaders met last November in Indonesia. But the U.S. abruptly canceled the trip after the discovery of the huge balloon despite China’s claim that it was merely a weather research “airship” that had blown off course.

The Pentagon rejected that out of hand — as well as China’s contention that the balloon was not being used for surveillance and had only limited navigational ability.

Uncensored reactions on the Chinese internet mirrored the official government stance that the U.S. was hyping up the situation.

Many users made jokes about the balloon. Some said that since the U.S. had put restrictions on the technology that China is able to buy to weaken the Chinese tech industry, they couldn’t control the balloon.

Others called it the “wandering balloon" in a pun that refers to the newly released Chinese sci-fi film called “The Wandering Earth 2.”

Still others used it as a chance to poke fun at U.S. defenses, saying it couldn’t even defend against a balloon, and nationalist influencers leapt to use the news to mock the U.S. One wrote wryly: "The U.S., because of the balloon incident, delays Blinken’s visit to China.”

Censorship was visible on the topic — the “wandering balloon” hashtag on Weibo was no longer searchable by Saturday evening.

“The U.S. is hyping this as a national security threat posed by China to the U.S. This type of military threat, in actuality, we haven’t done this. And compared with the U.S. military threat normally aimed at us, can you say it’s just little? Their surveillance planes, their submarines, their naval ships are all coming near our borders,” Chinese military expert Chen Haoyang of the Taihe Institute said on Phoenix TV, one of the major national TV outlets.

The balloon was spotted earlier over Montana, which is home to one of America’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base, defense officials said.

President Joe Biden had declined to shoot down the balloon, following advice of defense officials who worried the debris could injure people below. Meanwhile, people with binoculars and telephoto lenses tried to find the “spy balloon” in the sky as it headed southeastward over Kansas and Missouri at 60,000 feet.

The Pentagon also acknowledged reports of a second balloon flying over Latin America. “We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a question about the second balloon.

Blinken, who had been due to depart Washington for Beijing late Friday, said he had told senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi in a phone call that sending the balloon over the U.S. was “an irresponsible act and that (China’s) decision to take this action on the eve of my visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have.”

China has denied any claims of spying, and said it is a civilian-use balloon intended for meteorology research. Experts have said that their response was feasible.

But analysts said the unexpected incident will not help the strained ties between the two countries, and particularly China's initial response where it said they could not control the balloon and “regretted” that it unintentionally entered U.S. space.

On Saturday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs again emphasized that the balloon's journey was out of its control and urged the U.S. to not “smear” it based on the balloon.

Wang said China “has always strictly followed international law, we do not accept any groundless speculation and hype. Faced with unexpected situations, both parties need to keep calm, communicate in a timely manner, avoid misjudgments and manage differences.”

Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore, said China’s apology did not appear sincere.

“In the meantime, the relationship will not improve in the near future ... the gap is huge.”

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 13:40:05 -0500 ishook
Chinese balloon spotted in North Carolina as suspected spy craft floats eastward over U.S. airspace

The suspected Chinese spy balloon that entered U.S. airspace earlier this week was spotted over North Carolina on Saturday as it makes its eastward course toward the Atlantic Ocean.

Read more…

The post Chinese balloon spotted in North Carolina as suspected spy craft floats eastward over U.S. airspace appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 12:35:04 -0500 ishook
Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a … Chinese Spy Balloon? Sat, 04 Feb 2023 12:30:03 -0500 ishook Democrats set to shake up start of 2024 presidential primary

PHILADELPHIA — Democrats are poised to reorder their presidential primary schedule beginning next year, replacing Iowa with South Carolina in the leadoff spot as part of a major overhaul meant to empower Black and other minority voters critical to the party’s base of support.

Read more…

The post Democrats set to shake up start of 2024 presidential primary appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 11:10:05 -0500 ishook
State of the Union: Joe Biden sees economic glow, GOP sees gloom

WASHINGTON — Going into Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Joe Biden sees a nation with its future aglow.

Read more…

The post State of the Union: Joe Biden sees economic glow, GOP sees gloom appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 11:10:05 -0500 ishook
Sen. Jon Tester readies defense panel for hearing into Chinese balloon

Sen. Jon Tester has announced that his Senate defense subcommittee will hold a hearing to demand answers from Biden administration officials on the suspected Chinese spy balloon that overflew U.S. airspace.

Read more…

The post Sen. Jon Tester readies defense panel for hearing into Chinese balloon appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 11:10:05 -0500 ishook
China’s Mideast buildup stirs security worries for U.S.

Chinese state-owned firms are building up their presence near the Strait of Hormuz in the Middle East, a new report says, raising the risks of a future clash with U.S. interests in one of the world’s busiest oil transitways.

The growing footprint of Chinese commercial activity in the area, including billions of dollars in investments in oil pipelines and storage terminals alongside the Persian Gulf, is fueling worries from U.S. national security hawks who fear it could provide Beijing with dangerous influence over a major choke point for petroleum shipments.

About a third of the globe’s seaborne crude oil passes through the strait, which narrows to only about 20 miles between Iran and the Arabian peninsula. That includes as much as 45 percent of China’s own oil imports, the report from the Center for Strategic & International Studies notes.

China has previously used spending on pipelines, ports and other commercial facilities to pave the way for military bases near strategic locations such as the mouth of the Red Sea, the CSIS authors write. Now, China’s investment in regional ports and infrastructure in Oman and the United Arab Emirates could provide an entry point for Chinese naval ships in the strait. Such ships already travel nearby waters to patrol against pirate vessels.

“China has laid the groundwork for something it might do in the future,” said Matthew Funaiole, senior fellow at the CSIS China Power Project. “It’s all about giving itself options.”

He added: “China has cast a wide net in the region, which gives it plenty of leverage. And a military facility on the western side of the Arabian peninsula does make sense from a military planning standpoint.”

The Biden administration has kept an eye on Beijing’s presence in the area, said a senior administration official who requested anonymity because of lack of authorization to speak to the media.

“The administration is focused on infrastructure buildout by China and has developed strategies with our G7 allies to ensure a global high-quality and diversified supply chain,” the official said.

The CSIS report documents China’s billions of dollars of investment over the past decade in port facilities in the UAE and Oman, two countries that straddle the strait across the water from Iran. The expansion of Beijing’s footprint at the Khalifa Port in the UAE, plus its ownership stake at a fuels storage terminal at the country’s Port of Fujairah about 100 miles to the east and investment at Duqm Port in Oman, raise the issue of Chinese power growing in the region, the report says.

The report notes that the China Harbour Engineering Co. won a bid in October 2022 to build a 700,000-square-meter container yard and 36 supporting buildings at Khalifa Port. The company is a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Co., one of the firms that the Trump administration sanctioned for supporting China’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea.

Years earlier,Shanghai-based shipping giant COSCO signed a $738 million agreement to build a container terminal at the same port. The deal includes provisions giving China exclusive design, construction and management rights over the terminal for 35 years.

Good reasons exist for concern that the Chinese government may use its commercial relationships in the Hormuz Strait as a foundation for the development of a military foothold in the region.

Beijing parlayed its commercial relations with Djibouti to seal a deal in 2014 to allow the Chinese navy to use the African country’s port near the mouth of the Red Sea. Beijing used that agreement to establish a naval installation in 2017 that U.S. Africa Command has accused of using military- grade lasers to harass U.S. fighter pilots landing in Djibouti.

Western interests worry that Beijing’s focus on the area may eventually lay the groundwork for the Chinese military to add its presence to the area. The U.S. government has flagged this as a concern for years. The Defense Department noted in a report to Congress last year that China is “likely” considering the UAE as a location for military logistics facilities.

“The [Persian] Gulf area is now going to become a contested region, subject to superpower strategic competition,” said John O’Connor, chief executive at J.H. Whitney Investment Management, a firm that analyzes geopolitical risk. “And that's a new feature, not a bug.”

Not everyone thinks a military buildup is inevitable, however.

Other assessments of China’s military in the Strait of Hormuz suggest that it’s highly unlikely that Beijing will seek to extend its reach in the region with the creation of facilities for People’s Liberation Army Navy units or personnel. A RAND Corp. analysis published in December that rated the relative attractiveness of 24 countries for potential PLA facilities assessed the possibility of such a development in the UAE as “low feasibility” due to the Pentagon’s close scrutiny of the country and the Arab nation’s dealings with potential rivals.

And China has its own concerns about the flow of oil out of the strait that would make it want to build up infrastructure there. It has surpassed the United States as the world’s No. 1 consumer of oil and heavily depends on the Middle East for much of its supply. Ports and storage facilities could be a way to protect China’s own supply from being disrupted in an area known for regional conflict.

Other analysts say the PLA doesn’t need to establish formal military facilities in strategic ports where Chinese state firms are already present.

“Rather than raise international threat perceptions with overt shows of military presence, the PLA may opt to embed plainclothes personnel … and use nominally commercial warehousing, communications, and other equipment to quietly meet military needs,” an article in the spring 2022 edition of the journal International Security concluded.

Despite China's substantial and growing economic and political relations with the UAE and Oman, “I don’t see any indications that China currently seeks to establish a base or enduring military presence in either of those countries, or elsewhere in the Middle East,” said Dawn Murphy, associate professor of national security strategy at the National War College and an expert on China’s relations in the Middle East. “I see no signs that China desires to fundamentally change its security presence in the Middle East, pick sides between countries, or challenge the U.S. security role in the region – for now China is primarily an economic and political power in the region.”

Still, a heavy Chinese presence in the area could roil oil markets if concerns over possible military tensions with the United States or Europe over Taiwan spill into the area. Crude prices often spike whenever anxieties grow over friction between the U.S. and Iran.

That China’s buildup in the area can raise concerns in the United States shows how oil politics can still loom large for the U.S., the world’s biggest oil producer. Even a benign presence at the choke point would give Chinese companies information about fuel or ship movements that they could send back to Beijing as intelligence, said Republican aides with the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Everything in the private industry in China is somewhat connected to the larger CCP or the PLA,” said the official, who was granted anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to be quoted in the media. “Even if you're a private company, you might be called upon by the Chinese government to share intel.”

At worst, having a direct PLA presence on the Strait of Hormuz would set off alarm bells among energy security experts, said Scott Modell, chief executive of consulting firm Rapidan Energy and a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who served in the Middle East, Central Asia and Latin America.

“National security hawks like me will view the news of Chinese bases along the Strait of Hormuz as an unacceptable threat to U.S. national security, sensing that Beijing's long-term objective is the placement of military bases at choke points around the world to offset the risk to strategic commodity flows in the event of a major geopolitical event such as a forced reunification with Taiwan,” Modell said.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 11:10:05 -0500 ishook
Abortion debate to dominate 2024 races with Republican Party doubling down on bans

Abortion, an issue that helped flatten a GOP red wave in the last elections, is poised to make a big comeback in 2024 and likely make it harder for Republicans to win in critical swing states.

Read more…

The post Abortion debate to dominate 2024 races with Republican Party doubling down on bans appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 10:00:02 -0500 ishook
American aid worker killed while evacuating civilians in Ukraine Sat, 04 Feb 2023 08:50:03 -0500 ishook Shrinking Colorado River hands Biden his first climate brawl

A fracas among the seven states along the drought-stricken Colorado River is forcing the first major reckoning for the Biden administration over who should bear the pain of adapting to a changing climate.

At issue is whether it’s fair to use century-old rules, created during an era of relative abundance, to ration water from the rapidly shriveling river now that the West is on the precipice of climate disaster. With California and its six neighbors locked in a dispute over two competing approaches to divvying up the cuts in water deliveries, whatever the administration decides will almost certainly end up in court.

The dispute is an early glimpse of the type of fights the U.S. will face as the warming climate supercharges drought, wildfires, storms and floods, forcing wrenching choices over which communities get protected. Those decisions pose a political minefield — something President Joe Biden's Interior Department is learning from the fight over the West's most important river, which is creating existential risks for some of the country's most economically and politically powerful states and industries.

The current feud centers on California, a longtime Democratic stronghold, and Arizona, a newfound swing state that has proven crucial to the party's control of the White House and Senate.

The 1,450-mile long Colorado River made much of the West inhabitable, and now supplies water to 40 million Americans from Wyoming to the border with Mexico, as well as an enormously productive agricultural industry. But climate change has shriveled its flows by 20 percent over the past two decades, and for each additional degree of warming, scientists predict the river will shrink another 9 percent.

Water levels at the system’s two main reservoirs are falling so fast, the Interior Department has said that water users must cut consumption by as much as a third of the river’s flows or risk a collapse that could cripple their ability to deliver water out of those dams. That would also cut off hydropower production that is crucial to the stability of the Western grid.

The states broadly agree that the vast majority of those immediate cuts must be made by the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada, whose decades of overuse have accelerated the crisis. But the fight is over whether California, which holds strong legal rights to the lion's share of the Lower Basin's water, should have to share in those reductions.

This week, six of the seven states along the river asked the Biden administration to spread the cuts among the Lower Basin's water users. They argued, in effect, that climate change has so fundamentally altered the waterway that the century-old legal system governing who must sacrifice in times of shortage should not be the final word in how those cuts are divvied up.

But California, whose major agricultural regions would be among the last to take cuts under the existing rules, is refusing to budge from its legal claim. Its rival proposal for apportioning the pain would almost entirely cut off Colorado River deliveries to Phoenix, Tucson and the 11 Native American tribes getting water from central Arizona’s primary canal before California's agricultural users would face any mandatory cuts.

“We agree there needs to be reduced use in the Lower Basin, but that can’t be done by just completely ignoring and sidestepping federal law,” said J.B. Hamby, who leads the Colorado River Board of California and serves on the board of the state’s biggest user of the river’s water, the Imperial Irrigation District.

But Tom Buschatzke, director of Arizona’s Department of Water Resources, argued that his state agreed to take junior rights to river water back in 1968, before climate change was known to be a factor in shrinking the river's flow.

“Why should Arizona in the Lower Basin take the entire cost of climate change changes to the river?” he asked.

The state-level politics, alone, are a disaster for a Democratic administration.

On one side of the fight is the most populous state in the country with a $3.4 trillion economy, fueled in large part by its powerhouse agricultural sector. A Democratic stronghold run by a governor with his own presidential ambitions, California has also enacted some of the most aggressive climate mitigation policies in the country.

On the other side is Arizona — a swing state on which Democrats’ national electoral fate could turn — joined by every other state in the river basin.

And while the immediate fight is centered on Arizona and California, the Upper Basin states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, which backed Arizona's approach, have their own interest in moving toward a more flexible interpretation of century-old water rules. Climate change is expected to soon make it impossible for them to deliver the legally required amount of water to the Lower Basin without draconian cuts to their own cities and tribes — an even bigger brawl that will have to be fought out in the next two years.

But within each state, the fault lines aren't always clear. Since Western water law allows whoever claimed the water first to be first in line, agricultural users often hold some of the strongest rights, whereas cities and suburbs are almost always the first to take cuts.

Meanwhile, notably absent from the dueling proposals were any of the 29 tribes that reside within the river basin, and whose interests the Biden administration has vowed to be particularly attentive to. They haven’t been in the room for negotiations involving the states and the federal government.

Tribal interests on the river are also complex and competing: The Gila River Indian Community, whose ancestors farmed with Colorado River water for millennia, are among those most vulnerable to cuts under thepriority approach backed by California. But the Colorado River Indian Tribes hold senior rights decreed by the Supreme Court that align their interests with the Golden State's approach.

Environmentalists are also likely to enter the fight soon, with the fate of nearly three dozen endangered species hanging on the line and a risk that the Grand Canyon could one day have no river running through it.

Adding to the pressure on the Biden administration is the fact that lawmakers on Capitol Hill are increasingly jumping into the fray.

Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly won reelection last fall in one of the most competitive Senate races in the country after staking out an aggressive position defending his state’s Colorado River water interests — and fighting California’s. And a bipartisan group of lawmakers from Arizona and Nevada this week wrote Biden to endorse their states’ “consensus” proposal, calling it “a roadmap to avoid devastating economic impacts while sharing in the sacrifice of adapting to a permanently reduced water supply.”

But California’s Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla shot back in a statement contending that “six other Western states dictating how much water California must give up simply isn’t a genuine consensus solution.” Feinstein has for years wielded intense power over Western water issues on Capitol Hill and chairs the appropriations panel overseeing water funding.

The Biden administration won't have to make any tough decision on who wins and who loses just yet, though. First, the Interior Department will need to publicly lay out exactly what effect the competing approaches would mean to communities and ecosystems across the West if the next few years turn out to be dry ones.

The analysis is part of the National Environmental Policy Act process that Interior's Bureau of Reclamation launched in October to give itself legal cover if the states can’t reach agreement among themselves and the Biden administration decides it must act unilaterally — which it has indicated it could do as soon as this summer.

“The Department remains committed to pursuing a collaborative and consensus-based approach, and ongoing conversations with the Basin states, Tribes, water managers, farmers, irrigators and other stakeholders are helping to inform the supplemental process to revise the current interim operating guidelines for the operation of Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams,” Interior spokesperson Tyler Cherry said by email.

Some of the state negotiators think this process of publicly detailing the exact risks and costs to communities of the two competing concepts could help energize the negotiations among the states.

If the analysis of California's proposal shows the result would be "drying up the Central Arizona Project [and] major metropolitan areas and taking all of the water away from native American tribes, I think the choices will become really stark," said John Entsminger, Nevada's top Colorado River negotiator.

“I definitely think there’s still a chance for a seven-state agreement, and I think the modeling outputs that are going to be public could be very helpful for helping drive some form of compromise,” he said.

Regardless of how the negotiations turn out and what Interior decides, many legal experts expect the fight to ultimately land in court.

“No matter what that decision is, one or more of the states is going to sue the Bureau of Reclamation and we’re going to have to work this out through litigation,” said Rhett Larson, who teaches water law at the Arizona State University and has worked on water rights issues along the Colorado River.

But while a legal battle may be the only way to resolve some of the longstanding conflicts among the river’s users, it could also slow down the federal government’s ability to respond to a fast-evolving crisis on the Colorado River.

Even more concerning tofederal, state and local water managers is the risk that a court decision, particularly from the conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court, could end up curtailing the federal government’s broad authorities to manage not just the Colorado River, but waterways across the West. This would be occurring at a time when climate change requires flexibility to adapt to hydrologic systems that are evolving in unprecedented and unpredictable ways.

“The court could impose real limits on its ability to adapt existing laws to hydrologic and climatologic realities,” Larson said. “That’s something that the Bureau of Reclamation doesn’t want to do for practical reasons — climate change is changing our hydrologic systems and we need to be able to adapt it — and also for institutional reasons. No one likes to give up power.”

Reporter Camille von Kaenel contributed to this report.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 08:50:03 -0500 ishook
‘It’s about damn time’: College workers organize amid nationwide labor unrest

Frustrated by low wages and new laws limiting what they can teach — and buoyed by President Joe Biden's pro-union bent — campus workers across the country are moving with new urgency to organize.

A historic strike at the University of California kicked things off in November. Andthe six-week standoff among 48,000 campus workers, a broader surge in labor strikes across industries, a depleted pandemic workforce and a friendlier atmosphere in Washington has culminated in a wave of uprisings.

University of Illinois-Chicago faculty went on strike for four days last month. Hundreds of graduate students at Temple University in Philadelphia took to picket lines earlier this week. And the University of Washington averted a scheduled walkout by librarians and other campus employees in December just three hours before staff planned to hit the streets.

Workers are demanding increased wages, better health benefits, more job security and improved working conditions, and so far colleges are scrambling to meet them.

“We have seen the past two to three years a lot of interest from higher ed workers organizing in states that do not necessarily have the collective bargaining rights or the ability to bargain with their employer on their wages and benefits,” said Enida Shuku, an organizer with United Campus Workers who said the group is in discussions with several institutions about joining UCW.

Even in Southern states, including Tennessee, Arizona and Mississippi, organizers are pressing school leaders about pay and fights over free speech on college campuses.

“We’re all seeing it and experiencing it … and it's about damn time,” Shuku said.

Graduate students typically double as employees for their institutions, teaching general education classes and working as lab assistants while pursuing their degrees. Many workers say they make below a living wage. At Temple, for example, the average graduate student worker can expect to make around $19,500 a year.

With union-friendly Biden in the White House, campus workers feel they have the extra leverage they need to unionize and strike.

Under President Donald Trump, campus organizers feared the Republican-majority on the National Labor Relations Board would use their cases to overturn a precedent that allowed graduate students at private universities to unionize, said Mark Gaston Pearce, who chaired the board under President Barack Obama.

“Anything that required having to go through the board processes was avoided because they did not want to put the board in the position to weigh in relative to that question,” said Pearce, who is now the executive director of the Workers’ Rights Institute at Georgetown University. “Now — that no longer being an obstacle — it's not surprising that there is a flurry of organizing going on.”

In fact, Biden has been stocking the NLRBwith commissioners who favor unionization among graduate students, something Trump administration appointees once considered banning altogether.

Boston University graduate students had backed off a unionization drive during the Trump administration,fearing a rejection from the board. But workers regrouped last fall, encouraged by a Democratic majority on the NLRB, and eventually voted to unionize in December.

“With the shift in political landscape more recently, it kind of lightened the stressors of whether or not we'd be able to unionize to begin with and allowed us to have another go at it,” said Alex Lion, a PhD candidate and organizer at the university.

UIC faculty almost went on strike in 2019, but the night before they were set to stop work, they agreed on a contract. Following “exhausting” semesters of online instruction, months of inflation chipping away at workers’ earnings and a surge in labor action nationwide, faculty vacated lecture halls in January for four days before agreeing to a contract that will raise the lowest-paid employees’ wages by $9,000.

“Across the nation, faculty and students everywhere are pretty exhausted,” said Charitianne Williams, a UIC English professor and a member of the union’s bargaining team.“I think that whether you're faculty union at UIC or in a union at Starbucks, that's a really difficult space to live in.”

Campus workers at the University of California got tens of thousands of dollars in raises, larger child care stipends and commuter benefits after weeks on the picket line. University of Washington’s union was able to secure salary boosts and academic freedom protections in January, negating reason to strike.

Conservative critics, though, argue the successful labor wave could spread universities’ resources thinner — forcing them to slash student worker positions or make other cuts — to afford the raises won during bargaining.

“The money has to come from somewhere,” said Timothy Snowball, a civil rights attorney at the Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit organization that challenges labor unions, “and I think this is when ideology kind of comes up hard against basic economics.”

He said the UC strike will have unintended consequences across the system.

"The best way to view this in my eyes is not really the strikers versus the administration of the UC system," Snowball said an interview. "The undergrads are the ones who suffered the most, for a public service that the population of California had already paid for."

Graduate students laid the groundwork for labor action in 2022. Students at the University of Southern California, Northwestern University in Chicago, Yale University in Connecticut, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, among others, moved to unionize that year.

At the California State University system, graduate student workers union president Lark Winner said the UC strike will “absolutely” add to her unit’s leverage as it heads into contract negotiations in the coming weeks.

“Bargaining does not happen in a vacuum,” Winner said. “All of us were paying attention to what happened at UC, and we need to make those same critical wins that our UC folks did.”

Labor action is bubbling in right-to-work states in the South too, especially as statehouses move to pass legislation that restricts how educators can discuss “divisive concepts” related to race and gender.

Bills introduced in 2022 targeted higher education more so than in the previous year, according to PEN America. The free speech advocacy group found that 39 percent of bills in 2022 targeted higher education, compared to 30 percent in 2021. At least four bills were passed in Florida, Mississippi, South Dakota and Tennessee.

United Campus Workers started about 20 years ago in Tennessee over fair pay and wages at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. When Tennessee’s S.B. 2290 — which outlines how to discuss race and gender at public universities — was signed into law last year, professors began to organize against the law’s restrictions.

Sarah Eldridge, associate professor of German at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, said while state laws do not allow collective bargaining, the union that represents all campus workers has managed to boost non-tenure track faculty pay by about $9,000 in the last six years. Their graduate student union committee also recently won a fight to waive administrative fees that were being imposed on their stipends.

But when the bill took effect, the union got fired up again.

Some tenured professors are looking to continue to protest the law each semester, despite pushback from state legislators. The union is now urging the university to increase campus minimum wage to $20 an hour immediately, and to $25 an hour by 2025.

While campus workers can’t officially go on strike in the state and don’t have immediate plans to do so, Eldridge said: “Never say never.”

Mackenzie Wilkes contributed to this story.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 08:50:03 -0500 ishook
The Surprising Reason Europe Came Together Against Putin

Since Feb. 24, when Russia launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine, we’ve heard from many quarters that Europe is united as never before. “Fifteen years ago, during the financial crisis, it took us years to find lasting solutions,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in her State of the European Union address to the European Parliament on Sept. 14. “But this year, as soon as Russian troops crossed the border into Ukraine, our response was united, determined and immediate.”

Apart from Hungary (which continues to pay Russian President Vladimir Putin obsequious court), Europe has indeed displayed an uncommon unity since the invasion began. Converging on Brussels within hours of the invasion, European leaders surprised the world by swiftly passing package after package of sanctions designed to crush Russian finance, deprive it of revenue from energy exports, hamstring its defense sector, punish its elites and shut down its propaganda organs.

Von der Leyen attributes this uncommon unity and efficiency to Europe’s “courage and solidarity.” The Biden administration attributes it to the president’s diplomatic prowess: Administration officials told the Washington Post that Biden had engaged “in discreet diplomacy with European allies, and in recent weeks he ha[d] encouraged them to take action.” One European diplomat attributed it to Putin: “Putin has done much more than any other to unite the Europeans and to go for a stronger European Union.” All of this is true. The prospect of invasion by Russia concentrates the mind wonderfully.

But there is another, less widely acknowledged source of Europe’s newfound unity: The latest version of Google Translate, which has turned the ancient dream of a world without language barriers into reality.

Jérôme Piodi, a French Eurocrat who has spent more than a decade in public administration in the European Parliament and in related Parisian ministries, said the key factor in making progress in Europe is a common understanding of complex ideas. “Until very recently, access to instantaneous translation of speech and ideas was reserved to a certain kind of elite — the kind who could spend money to pay translators,” Piodi said.

Europe has more than 200 native languages and mutually incomprehensible dialects. All of its 24 official languages are highly developed, each with its own media, textbooks, movies and language academies. These languages, and their use in schools, workplaces and families, define a country’s identity.

But we’re now living, for the first time, in an era where everyone in Europe — from politicians to cab drivers — can understand one another. It’s true that previously, diplomats could communicate through translators and, typically, in English. Now, ordinary Europeans can understand one another, instantly and accurately, and because of the compulsive lure of social media — and Twitter’s decision to automatically translate every tweet — Europeans can and do talk to each other all day long. Talking to Ukrainians, and hearing directly from them, has hardened public support for sanctions and weapons transfers in the EU, despite Russian threats and soaring energy prices. Eurobarometer polling shows that 74 percent of EU citizens back the bloc’s support for Kyiv.

This public support for Ukraine has translated into action. The West’s assistance to Ukraine has also been notable for the way Western politicians have responded to their citizens’ sentiment, rather than shaping it. At every stage, citizens have pushed their leaders to move faster and further. We’ve seen this recently in German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine after an eternity of hesitation and dithering. He faced mounting public fury and protests, withering criticism and an outraged social media campaign to #FreeTheLeopards. In late January, Scholz relented and freed the Leopards — a decision lambasted by Putin in a flamethrower of a speech on Thursday.

Google Translate isn’t the complete explanation for the newfound European unity, of course, but it’s an underappreciated part of the story.

“It’s had a huge effect on people and their ability to share ideas on social media,” Piodi says. “Twitter is a small window on the world; Google Translate made the window bigger.”

While Peter Thiel lamented receiving 140 characters instead of flying cars, Google was working on a technological revolution that makes flying cars seem like the horse and buggy: high-quality machine translation. The audacity of its accomplishment has been curiously uncelebrated. It ranks with the mRNA platform upon which our Covid vaccinations were built as a great achievement of the 21st century, but it has mostly changed our world without applause. Few truly grasp the technological revolution that has transpired in the past several years.

Research into machine translation, inspired by the mathematician Claude Shannon’s work in information theory, among others, began in the 1950s. Early prototypes relied upon bilingual dictionaries and hand-coded rules. The results were garbled.

In 1964, the U.S. government established a commission to study machine translation. The commission declared the project hopeless: Human language was too subtle, complex, idiomatic, irregular and ambiguous for it to work. The Defense Department ceased funding research, and the technology stalled for decades.

Those early approaches foundered because researchers used a dead-end approach. They had envisioned machines learning language much the way humans learn second languages — by studying a grammar. They tried to analyze sentences in terms of the rules that governed them and translate them into a universal machine language, from which they could then be re-translated into the target language. The approach, called rule-based machine translation, or RBMT, failed because human language is indeed too subtle, complex, idiomatic, irregular and ambiguous for that to work.

With the growing power of processors and falling price of data storage, however, machine translation became a feasible target for the private sector. Google had ample resources for a project like this. Google’s early prototype, which debuted in 2006, was based on statistical machine translation, or SMT. SMT presumes that for each phrase, there are many possible translations, some more and some less likely to be correct. It works by searching a massive corpus of translated texts to see which translation is statistically most probable. The first Google Translate used phrase-based SMT — phrase-based, because it translates one phrase at a time, without considering the context of the phrase.

Such an engine can only be as good as the corpora of translated texts upon which it’s based. For this, Google used United Nations and European Parliament transcripts. The original version was popular, despite its deficiencies, and by 2016, it translated 140 billion words per day.

But while sheer processing power gave Google an edge over other SMT engines, it was still a primitive product. Characteristic was an infamous fiasco, in 2013, involving the English-language version of the Turkish daily Yeni Şafak and the old version of Google Translate. The newspaper decided to embroider an interview with Noam Chomsky with a few fabricated quotes suggesting his enthusiastic support for the Turkish government. (This is typical of Yeni Şafak,an Islamist paper known for fabrications and half-truths.) It ran these invented quotes through the old Google Translate, then published these immortal lines: “This complexity in the Middle East, do you think the Western states flapping because of this chaos? Contrary to what happens when everything that milk port, enters the work order, then begins to bustle in the West. I’ve seen the plans works.”

“Milkport” — from the Turkish süt liman, an idiom akin to “smooth sailing” — became Turkish shorthand for an amalgam of ludicrous machine translation and fake news.

Improvements in quality had stalled.

The revolution came in 2016, when Google introduced digital neural networks, modeled on the way learning takes place, we think, in the human brain. A Neural Machine Translation (NMT) model uses neural networks to study the relationship between the source and target languages by processing massive amounts of parallel text data. It learns from the data and improves the translations by adjusting the weights of the neurons. Unlike its predecessor, it isn’t phrase-based. In NMT, words or parts of words are converted into numerical representations called “word vectors.” These contain information not only about the meaning of the word, but its context. So “milk,” for example, no longer merely represents a word that may be translated as leche, Milch, or молоко. It represents all the information the model has about how humans use that word.

Google formally launched its NMT model for Google Translate in November 2016. It did so discreetly and with little fanfare. By the next day, it had shown improvements equal to the total gains the old system had shown over its lifetime. It continues to learn at this speed. The results, now in more than 109 languages, are astonishing. Mother-tongue language speakers asked to rate Google’s translations on a scale from 0 to 6 offer an average rating of 5.43.

It’s not entirely free of error, of course. At times — especially when the original text is highly idiomatic, misspelled or full of shorthand — the translations are imperfect. But they’re almost always good enough that you can get the gist. The machine model can also be rigged to provide deliberate mistranslations: For a time, for example, it automatically converted “Russian Federation” to “Mordor,” “Russians” to “occupiers,” and the name of Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, to “sad little horse.” But Google Translate is used by too many people, daily, for fraud to be sustained.

In 2019, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a study pronouncing Google Translate so accurate that it could be used to translate the results of medical trials — a task where an error could have deadly consequences. Professional translators hate it. Of course they do: It’s putting them out of work. They’re prone to writing articles insisting that Google doesn’t translate properly. It’s true that for literary nuance, you want a human translator. But for everyday translation — in medicine, in courts, in diplomacy, even — Google Translate often does the job as well as a professional and does it faster, for free. Most participants in translation Turing tests are unable to distinguish its translations from a human’s.

Although these advances were astonishing, it was perhaps unsurprising that many people didn’t realize it had happened at all. If you’re an English speaker, your search engine will serve you English, not foreign-language results. (Google earns money by selling advertising, and you’re not likely, if you live in Milwaukee, to do your shopping in Budapest.) Unless you traveled to foreign countries frequently, Google Translate likely wouldn’t be a daily part of your life.

The new technology’s relatively low profile changed by late 2020, when Twitter integrated the new Google Translate into its platform, replacing the comparatively primitive Bing translation service, which no one liked. From then on, every single tweet on the platform was translated automatically into the user’s native tongue.

This, says Piodi, was the “almost perfect combo, with high [internet] connectivity in most of Europe allowing citizens in Paris, London, Kyiv or Stockholm to (almost) have an immediate understanding of the others.” Twitter integrated the translation engine seamlessly. You didn’t need to sign up, opt in or laboriously copy-and-paste. Suddenly, the whole community of Twitter users could read everyone else’s tweets, no matter what language they were written in. Twitter became multilingual, with people following foreign language accounts and replying to them in their native language, knowing their response would be translated automatically.

Other social media platforms have incorporated Google Translate, too, but Twitter plays a unique role in the social media ecosystem because it’s entirely text-based and because accounts on Twitter are interlinked in a way that makes it ideal for rapid news diffusion and debate. Unlike Facebook or Instagram, Twitter’s primary function isn’t the maintenance or expansion of personal contacts, but the dissemination of news and information. This is why journalists, politicians, NGOs and PR companies are disproportionately represented on Twitter — and why it has outsized political influence. This structure and user base makes Twitter an ideal venue for testing slogans, debunking lies, reproaching politicians and winning converts.

These very qualities also turned Twitter into a playground for Russian information operations. But the eradication of language barriers has compromised Russia’s effectiveness. “Back in 2014,” Piodi recalls, “Twitter users will remember that there was little [international] communication on social media.” In those days, Ukrainian leadership relied on a slow, traditional process to communicate with the European public. Allies helped them craft press releases, which reached no one. Since the war began in early 2022, however, ordinary Ukrainians and governmv ent leaders have been masterful with social media, putting their message out directly (and very creatively).

Today, Ukraine’s official and unofficial communication through social media is focused on the country’s European partners, along with the rest of the international community, especially the United States. It is the unofficial communication, though, that is most powerful. Now, if you’re on Twitter, you don’t need to speak a word of Ukrainian to understand ordinary Ukrainians speaking directly about their experience. “If you don’t understand the message, you can easily ignore it; once you understand it, you have to deal with [it],” Piodi says. NGOs such as the Ukraine Crisis Center, too, have been particularly effective in conveying Ukraine’s message to the world via social media; their international audience outreach aims to share information about Ukraine abroad and ensure the war does not fall out of Western discourse. Their skill in creating infographics, memes, slogans and hashtags — in English and other European languages — has been a tremendous asset to the Ukrainian effort.

Users throughout Europe follow the Ukrainian president and defense minister; they follow Ukrainian defense analysts, soldiers and ordinary families. Ukrainians who don’t speak English tweet in English and often go viral. Ukrainians on the battlefield have used Twitter to show Europeans what they’re facing and what they’re doing with the weapons their allies have sent, giving rise to social media memes such as, “It’s HIMARS o’clock.” They have shown life trapped in subway stations, sheltering from missiles. They have shown the effects on civilians of Russian missile strikes. They have shared photos of fallen soldiers, videos of tearful reunions between soldiers and their small children. They have shown soldiers with cats — a Ukrainian soldier, befriending a cat, is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. They’ve used social media to take on Russian propaganda narratives, exposing fake photos, such as one depicting Ukraine’s first lady dressed in luxury clothes on a First Class flight: They have made the real photo from which the fake photo was cobbled go viral.

When these tweets spread around the world, Westerners not only grasp the horror of the war, but the extent and the nature of Russian propaganda operations. The tweets are often picked up by the news media. Ukrainians mock their Russian tormentors, too, in tweets that because they are amusing are destined to go viral. Western publics have become well-educated about the conflict, and much more adept at separating truth from Russian misinformation.

Multilingual campaigns on Twitter have shaped the course of the war. NAFO, for example — short for “North Atlantic Fellas Organization” — is a self-organized social media army mostly composed of ordinary men and women from around the world, with politicians and members of the national security community joining in pour le sport. Aided by Google Translate, NAFO Fellas respond to Russian propaganda on Twitter with cavalcades of Shiba Inu dog memes and ruthless ridicule. It makes Russian diplomats and propagandists look ludicrous, and the more outraged their response, the more ludicrous they seem. NAFO’s mockery forced one especially egregious Russian ambassador offline. Flustered Russian propagandists insist that NAFO must be some kind of CIA weapon. The Fellas have also raised millions of dollars for the Ukrainian military,

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 08:50:03 -0500 ishook
Karen Bass’ mission: Get 17,000 people off the streets of Los Angeles in a year

LOS ANGELES — Karen Bass has pledged to tackle the homelessness problem here by getting 17,000 people off the streets during her first year in office. But her success as mayor will depend on what happens after that.

Bass’ strategy — to move thousands of people into motels as a stopgap measure while the city works out a long-term fix — is being closely watched by elected officials from Sacramento to Washington, D.C. Both Gov. Gavin Newsom and President Joe Biden have made tackling homelessness centerpieces of their policy agendas this year, and progress in Southern California would play an outsize role in improving overall numbers. Susan Rice, Biden’s top domestic policy adviser, spent a weekend with Bass last month discussing the crisis and meeting with residents.

“The homelessness crisis is front and center,” Bass said in an interview Thursday. “It’s what’s impacting everybody, the fact that people are dying on the streets every day.”

Local leaders have for years struggled to control skyrocketing rents and a shrinking affordable housing market that’s priced countless Angelenos out of their homes, leaving the county short 500,000 affordable units. They readily admit they don’t have enough city staff, social workers or funding to create a safety net for residents struggling with severe mental health conditions or drug addiction.

Jennifer Shurley, who has been in and out of homelessness for years and is now staying at a Venice motel, said she has watched people fall out of the shelter system.

“You can throw as many temporary solutions at it as you want, if there’s no long-term solution to what’s actually causing the homelessness, it’s just a Band-Aid,” she said.

Shurley moved into her motel room last month, an early beneficiary of Bass’ effort. Before then, she lived in her truck among the fashionable restaurants and multi-million-dollar homes in Venice, one of Los Angeles’ most famous neighborhoods.

The city’s homelessness count has steadily grown in recent decades and now stands at nearly 42,000 people, a population larger than many California cities. About two-thirds of the city’s homeless residents live on the streets. Swelling housing costs, a proliferation of drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine and temperate weather have pushed the figure ever higher.

Of the 230,000 unsheltered homeless people across the U.S., one in five is in Los Angeles County — and most live in the city of Los Angeles.

Bass won election in November after an expensive race against real estate developer Rick Caruso on a promise to shrink the encampments that have proliferated across the city.

Residents have made it clear in polling over the last year that homelessness is their top concern, putting pressure on the mayor to quickly show results.

“What they want to see is the problem solved,” Bass said in an interview.

The former congresswoman wasted little time. Soon after taking office in December, Bass got the City Council on board with a state of emergency that gives her office more power to expedite affordable housing development, execute lease agreements with building owners and sign contracts with service providers. County supervisors declared a similar emergency a month later, linking arms with Bass for a photo moments after the decision was finalized.

Veteran local officials have taken note of Bass’ ability to coordinate fractious governmental bodies, a skill she honed as a community organizer and leader of the state Assembly, where she befriended Republicans like House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

“That has not been done before,” said County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who has worked in Los Angeles County government since 1988. “Finally, we are on the same page.”

Bass also launched a new outreach program that has moved 138 people in Venice and Hollywood into temporary housing while promising permanent options and services.

That strategy has so far targeted two large encampments that have been sources of frustration for years, including the Venice location where Shurley lived. The program recently expanded to South Los Angeles and an area near Culver City, and Bass said she hopes to scale it up over the next month.

Jason Neroni, a chef and owner of a Venice restaurant near that multi-block encampment, said he was surprised at the speed with which Bass’ team organized the operation to remove the tents centered on Hampton Drive. He said calls to the city for help often went unanswered in the past, even as car break-ins and confrontations between restaurant workers and homeless people became a problem.

“It happened in such a whirlwind,” he said. “It feels like somebody's trying to do something and help.”

Locals are still wary, having seen encampments disappear, only to return. Carly Achenbach, a server at Neroni’s restaurant who works multiple jobs to afford her rent in Santa Monica, said she worries people who are moved from one location will end up on the street somewhere else.

“I guess if that [encampment] clears and it stays clear, maybe something really happened,” she said. “But do we ever know?

So far Bass has avoided deploying police to forcibly remove people and their belongings, perhaps considering the protests sparked by such actions — even as other liberal cities resort to more punitive measures in response to public pressure.

Shurley, who said she first experienced homelessness as a Colorado teenager fleeing an abusive relationship, is the lead plaintiff in a civil lawsuit against the city of Boulder, where she was ticketed multiple times for violating a ban on camping in public places.

In Venice last month, she was so relieved to have a place to go that she “cried like a baby” when she and her four dogs were offered a ground-floor room at a motel less than two miles from where she’d been living. She said staff at the motel assured her that she can stay on her city voucher as long as necessary.

But Shurley said she’s worried about finding a job that will allow her to afford rent in Los Angeles. She wants tobe a social worker, conducting the same sort of outreach efforts that helped her.

“I need a decent job that pays me a decent amount of money to where I don't need any kind of assistance programs,” she said.

Bass, who herself has a degree in social work, has won early approval from homelessness researchers for her commitment to scaling up programs methodically and measuring the city’s progress. The city’s past efforts have not been closely linked to data, making it hard to see whether they are actually working, said Gary Dean Painter, director of USC’s Homelessness Policy Research Institute.

“That provides me confidence, that, in fact, she will have a plan from her team that will hold everyone accountable,” Painter said.

The goodwill will ultimately be short-lived, however, unlessBass and other local leaders can solve the massive housing shortage and rising cost of living that have made the city difficult to live in. The average cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment in the city is around $2,300, while the sale price of a single-family home is $900,000.

County officials estimate that they’ve moved tens of thousands of people into permanent and temporary housing since 2017, an effort aided by a quarter-cent sales tax. But those successes are offset by a grim reality: On average, 227 people lose their homes each day.

“If the inflow stopped, if people stopped becoming homeless,” said Cheri Todoroff, executive director of the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative, “we would solve homelessness in this county in about three years.”

In the city alone, roughly 352,000 residents live in poverty and are at risk of becoming homeless. That risk will intensify after Los Angeles County’s long-standing eviction moratorium is lifted in April, giving renters just six months to pay off debt. Bass has said that she supports renter assistance programs, but is not pushing for the moratorium to be extended.

Tenant advocates like Tony Carfello, a member of the Los Angeles Tenants Union, said they fear renters will be hit by a deluge of eviction notices from landlords of rent-controlled units who have long wanted to hike rents held below market rate for decades.

Bass, like other city and state leaders, is pushing to build more units of affordable and market-rate housing, and to scrap parts of a bureaucracy that slows the process down. Even if these initiatives are implemented smoothly, Los Angeles would still be years away from closing its affordable housing gap.

She’s already trying to temper expectations.

“Literally, we’re just getting started,” she said, “and I hope that there will be some consideration given to that.”

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 08:45:04 -0500 ishook
Diane Feinstein's extremely awkward, very uncomfortable exit from the political stage

LOS ANGELES — Several of her House colleagues are already running for her Senate seat. She isn’t raising real money. And it’s so widely assumed that Sen. Dianne Feinstein is on her way out that Nancy Pelosi, the former House speaker, felt free this week to publicly endorse a would-be successor — if Feinstein retires.

An extreme awkwardness has fallen over California political circles, where virtually everyone is acting as if Feinstein is done, but without her explicitly saying so. It’s the electoral equivalent of clearing the dessert from the dinner table as one guest sits there, nibbling at the main course chicken dish that had been served hours prior.

“God bless her,” said Garry South, a Democratic strategist who has worked on major statewide campaigns in California. “But the most pathetic part of politics is when somebody doesn’t know when it’s time to leave.”

Feinstein, the longest-serving Democrat in the Senate, is in the midst of one of the most uneasy codas to a political career. Her extended pre-departure has, for many of her fellow Democrats, turned into an abject lesson in the perils of hanging on.

“She’s still the state’s senior senator,” said one longtime Democratic strategist in California. “And they’re dancing on her [political] grave.”

The oldest member of Congress at 89, Feinstein has for decades been a fixture in Democratic politics here. But as the electorate in California shifted, her brand of centrism fell out of step with her party’s progressive base — so much so that the California Democratic Party in the 2018 primary declined to endorse her reelection bid. She ran and won handily anyway.

More problematic for Feinstein has been the persistent questions about her health. Even Democrats sympathetic to the senator have been reading headlines about her cognitive fitness to serve. The stories about it pop up with such regularity now that they no longer elicit the shock value of the early versions, when publication of such matters seemed to be violating some unwritten code of D.C. conduct.

Feinstein’s office has long batted down such talk, saying she has her full facilities and remains utterly capable of executing the job of senator to the nation’s most populous state. Still, it’s a long way from the days of Harvey Milk or the “year of the woman” when she and Barbara Boxer became the first women elected to the Senate from California in 1992. Heck, it’s a long way from 2019, when Annette Bening was portraying her as an anti-torture, Bush administration-fighting crusader in the political drama “The Report.”

In California, Democrats are left looking for signs that she, too, sees that the show is coming to a close. That includes even those supporting her.

After Feinstein this week reported raising less than $600 in the last fundraising period, one of her small-dollar donors, a Carlsbad, Calif., man named William Betts, said, “I have some automatic payments in there that are still ongoing.”

“I would much prefer a younger candidate, certainly anybody from Gen X,” he said. “My preference is that she retires.”

Much of California would appear to be ready for that. In a Berkeley IGS Poll taken about a year ago, Feinstein’s job approval rating in the state hit an all-time low of 30 percent. An October measure by the Public Policy Institute of California put her approval rating higher, at 41 percent among likely voters, but still underwater.

“There hasn’t been much that’s been said in terms of her recent leadership that’s been positive,” said Mark Baldassare, director of the poll. “It really has been a while since I’ve read or heard glowing remarks about her.”

Still, he said that if he was polling on the Senate race now, he would include her.

“Until further notice,” he said, “she’s the senator.”

But almost everyone else in California, it seems — some more gently than others — is preparing for her not to be. Pelosi, before issuing her conditional endorsement of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), said that if Feinstein does seek reelection, “she has my whole-hearted support.” But no politician puts out that kind of statement if they expect her to. Schiff and Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) are already running. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), has told her colleagues she plans to. Rep Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) is giving consideration to the race.

The already declared candidacies, in turn, have ignited a scramble among eager Democrats downstream from them to announce campaigns for their soon-to-be-open House seats.

“It seems like all of them are handling it professionally, and honoring Dianne,” said Bob Mulholland, a veteran Democratic strategist and former Democratic National Committee member.

Even if the rush to fill a chair that Feinstein still occupies is, collectively, “pretty tasteless,” as one Democratic strategist described it, it may be hard to fault politically. The California primary will be in March of 2024 — just more than a year away — and candidates will need to raise tens of millions of dollars to compete in the state’s enormous media markets.

“What’s sad about this is that she’s always been somebody you didn’t dare mess around with,” the strategist said. “And it looks like that’s just gone.”

Already, Schiff is raising money and Porter, with her whiteboards out, is bringing in cash too. At her first campaign event, in Northern California last month, she told the crowd it’s time for “a fresh new voice” in the Senate.

For her part, Feinstein has hardly batted an eye at the spectacle surrounding her, even if the pre-announcement announcements run counter to what Boxer adviser Rose Kapolczynski called “a long tradition of deference.”

“The senator has said on a few occasions the more the merrier,” a Feinstein spokesperson said. Of Feinstein’s own timeline, she told Bloomberg News that she’ll announce plans “in the spring sometime.”

“Not in the winter,” Feinstein said. “I don’t announce in the winter.”

If she does announce her retirement, it may dramatically shift the opinion her constituents have of her. Politicians are often more popular when they go.

“There will be all the usual retrospectives about her career and her groundbreaking moments, and gun control and abortion and Harvey Milk and all of that,” Kapolczynski said. “There’ll be an afterglow. Once you announce you’re not running again, you get an afterglow from the voters.”

That will likely come no matter when Feinstein makes her announcement. And after 30 years in the Senate, some Democrats say, she has clearly earned the right to make her plans on whatever timeline she likes.

“I think she’s been a great senator, but you know … the writing’s been on the wall all for a while,” said Steve Maviglio, a former New Hampshire state lawmaker and Democratic strategist in California. “I think she wants to bow out on her terms.”

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 08:45:04 -0500 ishook
Democrats Set to Vote on Overhauling Party’s Primary Calendar Sat, 04 Feb 2023 06:25:03 -0500 ishook The Pentagon Saw a Warship Boondoggle. Congress Saw Jobs. Sat, 04 Feb 2023 06:15:03 -0500 ishook Before Balloon Sighting, Classified Report Highlighted Foreign Surveillance Tech Sat, 04 Feb 2023 06:15:03 -0500 ishook Ties to Kabul Bombing Put ISIS Leader in Somalia in U.S. Cross Hairs Sat, 04 Feb 2023 06:15:03 -0500 ishook Selling Trump Isn’t What It Used to Be Sat, 04 Feb 2023 06:15:03 -0500 ishook Pentagon says another Chinese spy balloon spotted over Latin America

The Chinese spy balloon above the United States isn’t the only one flying somewhere it shouldn’t be.

News outlets in Costa Rica reported Thursday that a similar-looking aircraft hovered above the country’s western coast, raising suspicions that the balloon over Montana wasn’t alone in the sky.

In a statement first given to POLITICO on Friday night, the Pentagon confirmed that the spherical flying object was another Chinese spy balloon.

“We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” chief Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said.

It remains unclear why China sent such vehicles above the United States and Costa Rica at the same time, especially since Beijing has space-based satellites that can surveil the same territory with more reliability. It’s possible, though unconfirmed, that other balloons were launched elsewhere around the world but not spotted.

But the news of the Latin American balloon adds to the mystery of why China sent another one to fly over Alaska, Canada, Idaho, Montana and Kansas this week. Earlier on Friday, Ryder said the aircraft in U.S. airspace is headed eastward.

While some have asserted that the Chinese balloons wandered into U.S. airspace by accident, two balloons being coincidentally off course in two different places certainly seems to deflate that theory,” said Blake Herzinger of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

Senior Pentagon officials, including Gen. Mark Milley, the Joint Chief chair, recommended that the U.S. military not shoot down the balloon to eliminate the risk of debris harming civilians some 60,000 feet below the flight path. But lawmakers, mostly Republicans, insist that the U.S. should take the aircraft out of the sky.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken indefinitely postponed a high-stake visit to China over the discovery of the first balloon above Montana.

Fri, 03 Feb 2023 23:45:02 -0500 ishook
Trump campaign promised to ‘fan the flame’ of 2020 election lie, audio reveals – as it happened
  • Audio shows strategy to spread word of stolen election
  • Sign up to receive First Thing – our daily briefing by email
  • Senior state officials have commented on the postponement of Blinken’s trip to China after a Chinese spy balloon was discovered over the US yesterday, noting that conditions were no longer right for Blinken’s travel.

    From Reuters’ reporter Hümeyra Pamuk:

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 23:20:04 -0500 ishook
    Republicans remove Ilhan Omar from House foreign affairs committee – as it happened
  • Democrats say ousting from key committee is simply ‘spite’
  • Sign up to receive First Thing – our daily briefing by email
  • The House voted along party lines as it ousted Democratic representative Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee while Democrats defended her.

    The vote was divided 218 to 211, CBS reports. One GOP member voted “present.”

    “This debate today, it’s about who gets to be an American? What opinions do we get to have, do we have to have to be counted as American?… That is what this debate is about, Madam Speaker. There is this idea that you are suspect if you are an immigrant. Or if you are from a certain part of the world, of a certain skin tone or a Muslim.

    Well, I am Muslim. I am an immigrant, and interestingly, from Africa. Is anyone surprised that I’m being targeted? Is anyone surprised that I am somehow deemed unworthy to speak about American foreign policy?” she said.

    “A blatant double standard is being applied here. Something just doesn’t add up. And what is the difference between Rep. Omar and these members? Could it be the way that she looks? Could it be her religious practices?” he said.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 23:20:04 -0500 ishook
    2016 Trump Campaign to Pay $450,000 to Settle Nondisclosure Agreements Suit Fri, 03 Feb 2023 22:45:03 -0500 ishook 'Are you with me?' Biden previews re&elect campaign at DNC

    PHILADELPHIA — President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris delivered an early preview of their reelection campaign Friday night, rallying the Democratic Party faithful ahead of an expected formal 2024 announcement.

    In their back-to-back speeches, Biden and Harris took a victory lap on strong economic numbers released this week, touted accomplishments from their first term and doubled-down on attacking Republicans as “extreme MAGA.” Their rare joint appearance at the DNC served as a soft launch for their reelection efforts as the pair road tested their 2024 pitch.

    "Let me ask you a simple question: Are you with me?” Biden said, sparking chants of "four more years" from the crowd, waving signs blazoned with “Go Joe” and “Kamala.”

    Biden’s campaign rhetoric on Friday night doesn’t necessarily mean a formal announcement is imminent, as Democrats expect an announcement in late March or April. But the DNC has already hired several communications rapid response directors who will be deployed to the four Republican early states and Florida, according to a party aide.

    "We have momentum," Harris said in her speech. "And now, let's let the people know this is what they voted for."

    Democrats are also eager to present a united front, hoping to contrast themselves with a Republican Party that is struggling with its own intra-party drama and a divided presidential field.

    Even though former President Donald Trump announced another presidential run last year, several other GOP candidates are still expected to launch their own bids. Former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley is expected to launch her presidential campaign in two weeks, while Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) will kick off a "listening tour" in South Carolina and Iowa. Former Vice President Mike Pence is also planning stops in South Carolina, an early presidential nominating state. And last weekend, the Republican National Committee closed out its own winter meeting with a contentious chair’s race.

    “It makes sense for them to come here, talk to the party, as a ticket, and both of them make the case, heading into the State of the Union,” said Mo Elleithee, a DNC member, citing Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, another high-profile, message-testing vehicle.

    “It’s feeling like showtime,” Elleithee added.

    It’s also a marked contrast from Biden’s standing a year ago, when his legislative agenda appeared stalled, inflation continued to spike and Democrats privately worried about Biden’s 2024 prospects.

    In his speech, Biden ticked through Democratic priorities accomplished during his first term, including lowering the cost of prescription drugs, investing in combating climate change and appointing the first Black woman to the Supreme Court. He also laid out a number of policy goals for a potential second term, including banning assault weapons, codifying Roe v. Wade and strengthening voter access laws — a policy wish list that’s not currently possible with a divided Congress.

    “America is back,” Biden said, “and we’re leading the world again.”

    Biden and Harris also veered into sharper attacks on Republicans, returning to themes that they regularly hit ahead of the 2022 midterms by tying the GOP to extremism and election denialism.

    In 2022, Harris said, “we defeated ‘Big Lies’ and extremism," but "extremist so-called leaders" are still banning books and "criminali[zing] doctors."

    “This is not your father’s Republican Party,” Biden said. “These aren’t conservatives. These are disruptive people. They intend to destroy the progress we made.”

    Mark Longabaugh, a Democratic strategist who served as a senior adviser on Bernie Sanders’ 2016 bid, said the Democratic Party “feels like this worked for them in the 2022 elections,” and “I'm guessing they've got a certain amount of research that shows that it continues to be a salient message.”

    Biden and Harris also appeared at a Democratic fundraiser Friday afternoon, where Biden told donors that Democrats have to “lay out what we’ve done, tell them what more we have to get done and how we’re going to pay for it.”

    The three-day DNC gathering will culminate on Saturday with a vote to dramatically upend the presidential nominating calendar. The proposal, recommended by Biden, would elevate South Carolina to a coveted first-place position and eliminate Iowa from the early window. It would also seek to add Georgia and Michigan to the early nominating process.

    The proposal has faced significant pushback from New Hampshire Democrats, who have waged a public battle against their state’s position in the lineup, which would put them three days after the South Carolina primary and on the same day as the Nevada primary.

    “We’re in an impossible, no-win situation,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley at a press conference on Friday afternoon, citing the Republican-controlled legislature and GOP Gov. Chris Sununu’s opposition to repealing or changing the state’s century-old law that requires them to be the first-in-the-nation primary.

    “It seems odd we’d be punished for something that’s completely out of our control,” he said.

    They also stressed that by forcing New Hampshire out of compliance with its own state law, it would “give Republicans an opportunity to out-organize us” and “create a perfect storm to hurt Biden and Democrats all the way down” the ticket, Buckley said.

    But the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, the group charged with recommending the new line up early states, delayed any talk of sanctions against New Hampshire by granting them an extension until June 3 to comply with the DNC’s requirements. Georgia, another state controlled by a Republican governor and legislature, was also granted an extension.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 21:25:05 -0500 ishook
    A balloon upended Blinken’s trip to China. That could be a good thing.

    Not everyone in Washington is freaking out about the suspected Chinese spy balloon flying high over the United States. Some former officials say it’s giving U.S. diplomats exactly what they need: more leverage over Beijing.

    The Chinese airship forced the U.S. military to scramble fighter jets, prompted lawmakers to demand answers from the Biden administration and led Secretary of State Antony Blinken to indefinitely postpone his trip to Beijing this weekend.

    But Blinken was going to China without much hope of getting concessions on major issues such as Beijing’s support for Russia’s war on Ukraine, its human rights abuses or its threats to Taiwan. Now, some former officials who’ve worked on international negotiations say he may be in a stronger position, though that advantage may fade over time.

    “This event definitely strengthens the hands of the United States,” said Heather McMahon, a former senior director at the President's Intelligence Advisory Board. “Anytime an espionage operation is exposed, [it] gives the advantage to the targeted nation.”

    Blinken was preparing to see top officials in China on Sunday and Monday in a follow-up to President Joe Biden’s meeting with Chinese paramount leader Xi Jinping in Bali in November. At the time, Biden pledged to “maintain open lines of communication” with Beijing amid worsening bilateral tensions.

    The Pentagon’s announcement Thursday of an alleged Chinese surveillance balloon hovering over Montana changed that plan. In canceling Blinken’s trip, at least for now, the State Department said the incident “would have narrowed the agenda in a way that would have been unhelpful and unconstructive.”

    Beijing admitted Friday that the balloon was Chinese, reversing its initial claims of ignorance, and said it was a civilian airship used primarily for meteorological purposes that had been blown into U.S. airspace by high winds.

    That admission and the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s rare expression of “regrets” for the incident in a statement published on Friday suggests Beijing is in damage control mode at a time when it’s trying to stabilize ties with the U.S.

    The revelation “has pushed China a little bit on the back foot,” said Zack Cooper, former assistant to the deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism at the National Security Council and now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

    And that could give Blinken an edge in his efforts to prod Beijing to deliver meaningful results when he eventually travels to China.

    John Kamm, who has decades of experience negotiating with Chinese officials in his role as founder of the Dui Hua prisoner advocacy organization, said “it puts pressure on China to do something as a goodwill gesture in response to what they've done.”

    Much of Blinken’s planned two days with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang — and a possible meeting with Xi — would have been lost to ritual recitations of respective U.S.-China positions on issues ranging from Taiwan and trade tensions to concerns about Beijing’s human rights record, its growing nuclear arsenal and its alignment with Russia’s war on Ukraine.

    In an interview before the balloon was reported, David R. Stilwell, former assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said the meeting was unlikely to produce movement on any of those issues. “Beijing uses ‘talks’ to reduce pressure — while giving nothing of significance — and to humiliate the other side,” Stillwell said.

    Still, some say Blinken could have seized the opportunity to make heavier demands in person.

    “If Tony went now, Xi and the Chinese would be deeply embarrassed, grateful that he came, wanting to put it behind him,” said Danny Russel, a former senior Asia hand in the Obama administration. The balloon incident could have become “a teachable moment,” he said.

    Delaying the trip risks the Chinese becoming more defensive over time, and less inclined to come to a meeting of the minds, said Russel, who nonetheless stressed that he understood the Biden administration’s calculations.

    The Chinese government had recently shifted to a softer diplomatic tone — an effort by Beijing to reduce U.S.-China tensions while it grapples with a disastrous Covid outbreak and an economic downturn.

    Blinken’s indefinite postponement of his Beijing trip until “the conditions are right” has won him measured praise from GOP lawmakers.

    Delaying the trip is “a right call for now,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) chair of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party, said in a video he tweeted on Friday.

    The trip postponement “is an appropriate step to underscore the seriousness” of the balloon’s intrusion, Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.) said in a statement.

    Blinken can now see if Beijing’s eagerness for even symbolic gestures of reduced bilateral rancor produces Chinese diplomatic sweeteners for a rapid rescheduling of Blinken’s China travel plans.

    But time may not be on Blinken’s side given the crowded Chinese political calendar.

    “The Chinese have their national legislative session in early March, and House Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy is projected to visit Taiwan around Easter, so the trip may not happen until the late spring, where the bilateral atmosphere arguably will be even more challenging,” said Chris Johnson, president and chief executive of the China Strategies Group, a risk consultancy.

    Regardless of the spy balloon’s short-term diplomatic fallout and the possible short-term advantage Blinken could reap from it, the longer-term prospects for U.S.-China relations remain grim.

    “Beijing is hoping talks provide a timeout from bilateral friction that allows it to focus on domestic issues; the U.S. wants China to agree to guardrails that allow relations to remain abrasive without getting too hot,” said Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center. “Those goals are probably irreconcilable.”

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 21:25:05 -0500 ishook
    Biden sounds ready to seek second term while rallying Democrats

    PHILADELPHIA — President Joe Biden sounded like a candidate making his case for a second term Friday night as he rallied a raucous meeting of national Democrats who chanted, “Four more years!”

    Read more…

    The post Biden sounds ready to seek second term while rallying Democrats appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 21:25:03 -0500 ishook
    House G.O.P. Subpoenas Biden Officials for Investigating School&Related Threats Fri, 03 Feb 2023 20:20:03 -0500 ishook Ex&prosecutor’s new book details fight over indicting Trump

    NEW YORK — As the Manhattan district attorney’s office ramps up its yearslong investigation of Donald Trump, a new book by a former prosecutor details just how close the former president came to getting indicted – and laments friction with the new D.A. that put that plan on ice.

    Read more…

    The post Ex-prosecutor’s new book details fight over indicting Trump appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 19:00:02 -0500 ishook
    New House Judiciary panel subpoenas Garland, Wray over FBI targeting of parents

    House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan on Friday subpoenaed Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona for withholding documents relating to the administration’s targeting of parents at school board meetings.

    Read more…

    The post New House Judiciary panel subpoenas Garland, Wray over FBI targeting of parents appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 19:00:02 -0500 ishook
    Ron DeSantis strips liquor license from a theater that let kids watch drag queen show

    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has revoked the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation’s liquor license after the venue hosted an explicit Christmas drag queen show with children in the audience.

    Read more…

    The post Ron DeSantis strips liquor license from a theater that let kids watch drag queen show appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 19:00:02 -0500 ishook
    Kari Lake Teases Arizona Senate Run Fri, 03 Feb 2023 17:45:02 -0500 ishook Agriculture Dept. Proposes Limits on Sugar and Salt in School Meals Fri, 03 Feb 2023 17:45:02 -0500 ishook I Saw Ammunition Being Made for Ukraine Fri, 03 Feb 2023 17:45:02 -0500 ishook Blinken Says Chinese Spy Balloon Is a ‘Violation of U.S. Sovereignty’ Fri, 03 Feb 2023 17:45:02 -0500 ishook Trump slams Biden for allowing Chinese balloon over U.S.

    Former President Donald Trump on Friday slammed President Biden for “deliberately allowing” a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon to fly in U.S. airspace.

    Read more…

    The post Trump slams Biden for allowing Chinese balloon over U.S. appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 17:45:02 -0500 ishook
    NSA wooing thousands of laid&off Big Tech workers for spy agency’s hiring spree

    The National Security Agency is doggedly courting laid-off Big Tech workers as the spy agency undertakes one of its largest hiring surges in the last 30 years.

    Read more…

    The post NSA wooing thousands of laid-off Big Tech workers for spy agency’s hiring spree appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 17:45:02 -0500 ishook
    Florida GOP calls for special session to expand controversial migrant flight program

    TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis will use a special session next week to broaden a controversial immigration program he used in September to fly 50 mostly Venezuelan asylum seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.

    The special session, which legislative leaders called Friday, will include consideration of a bill that would create a “Unauthorized Alien Transport Program,” according to the Florida House and Senate. Lawmakers will also handle other issues during next week’s session, including how to deal with Disney’s Reedy Creek district.

    House Speaker Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) sent separate memos to their members saying the program is in response to an “influx of migrants landing in the Florida Keys.” The DeSantis administration has used state resources in recent weeks in response to hundreds of mostly Cuban and Haitians landing by boat in the Florida Keys.

    The memos don’t contain any specifics about how the program would operate, and legislation on immigration is not yet formally been filed.

    The moves by DeSantis and GOP legislative leaders signal that the governor has no intention of stopping his controversial program to transport migrants to Blue strongholds like Massachusetts. His first and only set of flights, in mid-September, caused a massive uproar, with Democrats and immigration advocated accusing DeSantis of using migrants as political pawns.

    DeSantis received $12 million for the migrant transport program in his current year budget, which he said was needed to highlight what he called the Biden administration’s failed border policies. The money came from funds connected to federal Covid-19 relieve funds.

    The current state budget directs the money only to be used to remove migrants “from this state,” meaning Florida. Because the migrants were sent from Texas last fall, that language has become the subject of a lawsuit from state Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Miami Democrat who says DeSantis violated the spending provision because they were moved from Texas not Florida.

    DeSantis’ new proposed program would allow the state to fund future migrant flights that originate anywhere in the United States, according to the proposal. DeSantis’ proposed budget, which was unveiled Wednesday, asks for another $12 million for the program.

    Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the DeSantis administration over the migrant flights, including from the Center for Government Accountability, which alleged that the DeSantis administration was withholding public records related to the program. Another, from the Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights, accused the governor conducting “premeditated, fraudulent, and illegal scheme” by flying the migrants to Massachusetts.

    Documents released in late December showed that DeSantis’ top safety official, Larry Keefe, helped write the language that helped the company responsible for chartering the flights, Vertol Systems, his former law client, secure a state contract to fly the migrants from the San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard. The records also revealed that Keefe used a non-public email address that made it appear that emails were coming from “Clarice Starling,” the main character in “The Silence of the Lambs.”

    Those records were not originally released as part of the lawsuit, but instead were dropped days before Christmas with a note from the DeSantis’ public records office that they originally were unaware of Keefe’s private account.

    The state has paid Vertol Systems $4.4 million since September, including $950,000 on Jan. 31, state records show, making the total cost of the program nearly $90,000 for each migrant relocated.

    In a September email, James Montgomerie, Vertol’s top executive, told Florida Department of Transportation purchasing administrator Paul Baker, that under the contract, they would transfer “unauthorized aliens from Florida.”

    The email indicated that the “humanitarian services” would take place from Sept. 19 through Oct. 3, and said the “wrap around private” would be $950,000. The email does not offer further explanation, but four $950,000 state payments have been made to the company, records show.

    Though the administration carried out only one set of flights, in late September it signaled that it was chartering another from Texas to near Rehoboth, the summer vacation spot on the Delaware coast where President Joe Biden has a home. Humanitarian organizations in several states scrambled to be in position to offer services for migrants on the flights. A flight took off but it never landed in Delaware and it’s unclear whether migrants were on board.

    During a press conference Wednesday, DeSantis doubled down on his support of the plan amid the growing cost and controversy.

    “We have had a deterrent effect, and people are sick of having an open border with no rule of law in this country,” he said.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 17:10:04 -0500 ishook
    Lucas Kunce launches Senate bid as ‘populist’ to take on Josh Hawley

    Democrat Lucas Kunce will run against Sen. Josh Hawley next year, painting the conservative lawmaker as being “out of touch” with Missourians.

    Read more…

    The post Lucas Kunce launches Senate bid as ‘populist’ to take on Josh Hawley appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 16:25:02 -0500 ishook
    White House says China violated U.S. sovereignty with suspected surveillance balloon

    The White House said on Friday said the presence of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon over U.S. airspace is a “clear violation” of U.S. sovereignty and international law, despite Beijing’s claims that the craft was not engaged in espionage.

    Read more…

    The post White House says China violated U.S. sovereignty with suspected surveillance balloon appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 16:25:02 -0500 ishook
    Victoria Spartz announces retirement at end of term

    Rep. Victoria Spartz announced Friday she is not seeking reelection to the House or launching a bid for Indiana’s open Senate seat next cycle.

    Read more…

    The post Victoria Spartz announces retirement at end of term appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 16:25:02 -0500 ishook
    It’s 2023. Why are militaries still using spy balloons?

    The Pentagon says that a Chinese high-altitude balloon has been soaring above the U.S. this week, adding that it’s carrying surveillance equipment and is violating sovereign airspace.

    Spy balloons have been around since the late 1700s, but why are militaries around the world still flying them in 2023? 

    First, these high-altitude inflatables can conduct surveillance missions for a lower cost than satellites and can carry more payloads than a drone. Modern high-altitude inflatables ride on wind currents and can travel well above commercial air traffic.

    Another reason: Spy balloons can travel great distances without needing to be refueled.

    “It’s also a reminder of the air defense needs of the United States that today it’s a balloon, tomorrow it’s a cruise missile,” said Tom Karako, senior fellow for the International Security Program and Missile Defense Project director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

    The Chinese spy balloon spotted this week could contain a camera, or a device used to capture electronic signals such as cell phone traffic, Karako said.

    Besides cost, another advantage spy balloons have over satellites is they can hover over a specific point longer than the orbital pass of a satellite. Orbital passes can be tracked by adversaries, and the U.S. or another country could schedule around satellite monitoring, Byron Callan, Capital Alpha Partners managing director, said in a client note Friday morning.

    Cause for concern

    High-altitude balloons can also more easily pose as civilian in nature. For example, if a Chinese military drone was flying over U.S. airspace, it is obvious the government sent the aircraft.

    With a spy balloon, foreign governments can claim it is used for a civil purpose, such as monitoring weather patterns. Beijing made that claim on Friday, saying the airship was being used for meteorological pursuits.

    Over the past few years, spy balloons have flown over the continental U.S. a “handful” of times, a Defense Department official said on Thursday. But the distinguishing factor of the Chinese high-altitude balloon compared to other instances is the inflatable was “hanging out” for a longer period, said the official, who asked not to be named in order to discuss sensitive issues.

    The high-altitude balloon was tracked flying over Malmstrom Air Force Base, home to silos containing intercontinental ballistic missiles.

    “Clearly, they're trying to fly this balloon over sensitive sites,” the official said.

    New uses

    Using spy balloons dates to the late 1700s during the French revolutionary wars. The Union also flew them in the 1860s during the U.S. civil war to gather information about Confederate activity.

    NASA began flying helium-filled stratospheric balloons in the 1950s, and the Army in the mid-2010s experimented with them at lower altitudes.

    The service invested in a spy blimp program that it canceled in 2017. The effort is known as the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS.

    Unlike high-altitude balloons, the blimp was tethered and was designed to track boats, ground vehicles, drones and cruise missiles. One of the blimps broke loose over Maryland in 2015 and had to be brought down.

    In 2019, the Pentagon worked on a project called the Covert Long-Dwell Stratospheric Architecture, designed to locate drug traffickers. At the time, the Pentagon launched 25 surveillance balloons from South Dakota as part of a demonstration.

    The Pentagon confirmed to POLITICO last year that the project has transitioned to the military, but would not disclose details because the effort is classified. The airships could eventually be used to track hypersonic weapons from Russia and China.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 15:30:04 -0500 ishook
    Judge demands answers after Jan. 6 defendant recants guilt

    A Jan. 6 defendant’s boast in an interview this week that he had no regrets about his role in the Capitol riot — just days after he acknowledged his guilt in a federal courtroom — may upend the man’s efforts to resolve the criminal case against him.

    U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta issued an order Friday instructing defendant Thomas Adams Jr. and prosecutors why the guilty findings the judge entered on Tuesday following a brief, “stipulated” bench trial should not be overturned in light of Adams’ comments to a reporter the following day.

    "I wouldn't change anything I did," Adams told the State Journal-Register Wednesday outside his home in Springfield, Ill. "I didn't do anything. I still to this day, even though I had to admit guilt (in the stipulation), don't feel like I did what the charge is.”

    In a brief order Friday morning, Mehta gave both sides one week to explain “why the court should not vacate Defendant's convictions of guilt in light of his post-stipulated trial statements” included in the article. The judge also attached a copy of the news report.

    It is unclear how the article in the Illinois newspaper came to the attention of Mehta, who sits at the federal courthouse near the Capitol.

    Judges handling Jan. 6 cases have been repeatedly and increasingly irked by defendants appearing to be apologetic and contrite in court, only to make public statements days later minimizing their guilt and sounding cavalier about their actions. And judges are loath to accept what effectively amounts to a guilty plea from any defendant who doesn’t sincerely believe in their own guilt.

    Adams, who told the Illinois newspaper he was recently fired from his job as a lawn care worker, acknowledged under oath Tuesday that he had committed the conduct Mehta ultimately found him guilty of. He acknowledged walking over broken glass as he went inside the Capitol and that he told the FBI his intent was to “occupy” the building for days, if necessary. Adams also acknowledged that he “knew that he did not have authorization” when he went into the Senate chamber and walked among the senators’ historic desks.

    Entering the Senate chamber has been a sort of red line for prosecutors, with them insisting on felony guilty pleas or convictions to resolve cases against those who went inside, even briefly.

    And so far they’ve been nearly unblemished in their prosecutions, though a judge recently acquitted a defendant of an obstruction charge despite his presence in the chamber.

    Adams was on the Senate floor for about seven minutes before he was kicked out of the building, according to the statement of facts prosecutors and the defense agreed to in his case.

    Stipulated trials have been used in recent months to seek to resolve about a dozen Jan. 6-related criminal cases where the defendant faced a felony charge of obstruction of a congressional proceeding. Almost 1,000 people have been charged criminally in connection with the unrest at the Capitol, which prompted a delay in the congressional session to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election.

    One of Mehta’s colleagues, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols, ruled that the obstruction charge did not apply unless prosecutors could prove that a defendant intended to tamper with or damage the actual electoral vote documents being tallied that day.

    No other judge to consider the issue has agreed with Nichols. Meanwhile, prosecutors are appealing his decision to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

    Unlike the guilty pleas typically offered in deals with prosecutors, stipulated trials allow defendants in other cases to preserve their ability to wipe out their obstruction convictions if the D.C. Circuit sides with Nichols. The obstruction charge carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence, although no Jan. 6 defendant has received a sentence close to that in a case not involving violence.

    The harshest sentence to date — 10 years — was delivered by Mehta to retired New York City cop Thomas Webster, who took his case to trial. Webster was convicted of a brutal assault of a Washington Metropolitan Police officer outside the Capitol, and Mehta found that Webster lied on the stand about his actions.

    Adams also admitted Tuesday to the facts needed to convict him on a misdemeanor charge of entering and remaining in the Capitol without permission. That carries a one-year maximum sentence. Mehta has set sentencing in the case for June 16.

    The FBI appears to have zeroed in on Adams after he said on the day after the Capitol riot that he enjoyed the experience. “It was a really fun time,” Adams told Insider. He has since said he did not know of the violence taking place elsewhere in the building and on the Capitol grounds.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 15:30:04 -0500 ishook
    New U.S. aid package includes longer&range bombs for Ukraine

    The Biden administration is providing Ukraine with a new longer-range bomb as part of the $2.2 billion aid package announced Friday, but the new weapon likely won’t arrive until much later this year.

    The weapon, the Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb, is made up of a precision-guided 250-pound bomb strapped to a rocket motor and fired from a ground launcher. It’s normally launched from the air and the ground-launched version does not yet exist in U.S. military inventory. It could take up to nine months for U.S. defense contractors to do the necessary retrofits.

    The rest of the aid package includes weapons drawn from U.S. stocks as well as funding to contract for new equipment through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, a vehicle set up by Congress to fund aid for Ukraine. The package includes spare parts and munitions for air defense systems, a critical need in blunting the Russian drone and missile attacks on civilian targets across Ukraine.

    Russian forces have moved some of their most sensitive command-and-control centers out of range of Ukraine’s current rockets, frustrating Kyiv’s military commanders, who have asked for longer-range munitions to stay on the offensive.

    Specifically, they’ve asked for the U.S.-made Army Tactical Missiles Systems that have a range of about 190 miles. But the Biden administration has said the weapon is out of the question, citing concerns Ukraine would use them to attack targets inside Russia.

    The new rockets announced on Friday, which can travel over 80 miles, will help Ukrainian forces “conduct operations in defense of their country, and to take back their sovereign territory in Russian occupied areas," Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters.

    They will not be drawn from existing American stockpiles however, meaning it will take months for Boeing and the U.S. government to agree on the terms of the contract and get them to the battlefield. That timeline means they will likely not be available for the warm-weather offensives Ukraine is planning this year.

    Another issue is that the bomb can’t be launched by any of Ukraine’s current equipment. Ukrainian engineers have been working on retrofits for ground launchers for several months.

    Much to the disappointment of some in Kyiv, the last few tranches of aid have not included the weapon.

    But there's real appetite on Capitol Hill to provide Ukrainians with longer-range munitions, along with tanks and other weapons. A senior congressional aide argued the administration had been holding up the process of approving the bomb despite overcoming "the mental hurdle of the range and escalation dynamics" of a longer-range munition because of the need to retrofit it.

    "It's a timeline that's measured in months," the aide said of adapting the weapon to a ground launcher. The aide asked not to be named in order to speak candidly.

    House Armed Services Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) had accused the Biden administration of dragging its feet on providing the system to Ukraine.

    “GLSDB should have been approved last fall," Rogers said in a recent statement. "Every day it’s not approved is a day it’s delayed getting it into the hands of a Ukrainian ready to kill a Russian."

    Lee Hudson and Connor O'Brien contributed to this report.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 15:30:04 -0500 ishook
    Spartz won't seek elected office in 2024

    Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) delivered a surprise announcement Friday, saying she would not seek Indiana's open Senate seat or reelection to the House next year.

    "I won a lot of tough battles for the people and will work hard to win a few more in the next two years," she said in a statement. "However, being a working mom is tough and I need to spend more time with my two high school girls back home, so I will not run for any office in 2024."

    Spartz's announcement removes another obstacle to Rep. Jim Banks' (R-Ind.) quest for the open Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who's running for governor of their home state. Her decision-making was one of the biggest remaining open questions in a Senate field that winnowed earlier this week when former Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.) passed on a bid.

    The Indiana Republican only arrived on Capitol Hill in 2021, but she's cut a peripatetic path since getting there. Just last month, she voted "present" multiple times as Kevin McCarthy struggled to win sufficient support for the speakership, a switch after initially supporting him.

    Then she issued a strong statement opposing the removal of House Democratic members from their panels, citing due process concerns, before backtracking amid party leaders' non-binding concessions and supported yanking Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

    The first Ukrainian-born lawmaker elected to Congress also drew cringes from within her own party after intense criticisms of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy amid the country's struggle against a Russian invasion. Many feared Spartz's comments would be used to undermine the U.S.-Ukraine alliance at a crucial point in the conflict.

    Spartz has also drawn scrutiny for her poor staff retention rate. Several of her former aides described to POLITICO a hostile work environment where the boss wielded an unpredictable and volatile temper.

    Her district, Indiana's 5th, was made significantly more Republican-friendly during redistricting, so the GOP will be favored to retain it next fall.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 15:30:04 -0500 ishook
    Democrats, Seeing a Weaker Trump, Are Falling in Line Behind Biden Fri, 03 Feb 2023 15:05:05 -0500 ishook Chinese Spy Balloon or ‘Civilian Device’? Here’s What We Know So Far Fri, 03 Feb 2023 15:05:05 -0500 ishook Strong hiring hints at more work ahead for the Fed, but wages cool. Fri, 03 Feb 2023 15:05:05 -0500 ishook Report: Navy ships face growing maintenance delays, costs

    Navy ships are getting fewer steaming hours because of growing maintenance delays and costs, a troubling trend that comes at a time when the U.S. is struggling to keep pace with China’s growing fleet.

    Read more…

    The post Report: Navy ships face growing maintenance delays, costs appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 15:00:04 -0500 ishook
    Senate Democrats kill Gov. Glenn Youngkin&backed bill on school awards in Virginia

    RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Senate Democrats this week voted down a priority measure for Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin that would have required student and parental notification about certain scholastic awards.

    Read more…

    The post Senate Democrats kill Gov. Glenn Youngkin-backed bill on school awards in Virginia appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 15:00:04 -0500 ishook
    Senators introduce bill to help military veterans ripped off by scammers

    A bipartisan duo in the Senate wants to make it easier for families of veterans fleeced by financial scams to recoup misused benefits.

    Read more…

    The post Senators introduce bill to help military veterans ripped off by scammers appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 15:00:04 -0500 ishook
    Nikki Haley to hit Trump on age issue, say its time for a new generation of GOP leaders

    After Donald Trump called 2024 soon-to-be presidential rival Nikki Haley “overly ambitious,” she took to Twitter to revive a proposal she floated over a year ago that every person serving in public office be required to take a cognitive test.

    Read more…

    The post Nikki Haley to hit Trump on age issue, say its time for a new generation of GOP leaders appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 15:00:04 -0500 ishook
    Biden to promote administration wins in speech to Democrats

    President Joe Biden hasn’t announced a reelection campaign, but some of the themes likely to be the centerpiece of that expected run should be on display Friday night when he addresses a national Democratic Party meeting.


    The post Biden to promote administration wins in speech to Democrats appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 15:00:04 -0500 ishook
    Fears of Russian Nuclear Weapons Use Have Diminished, but Could Re&emerge Fri, 03 Feb 2023 13:50:03 -0500 ishook Trump campaign staff on 2020 election lies: ‘fan the flame’

    MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A newly released audio recording offers a behind-the-scenes look at how former President Donald Trump’s campaign team in a pivotal battleground state knew they had been outflanked by Democrats in the 2020 presidential election. But even as they acknowledged defeat, they pivoted to allegations of widespread fraud that were ultimately debunked – repeatedly – by elections officials and the courts.

    Read more…

    The post Trump campaign staff on 2020 election lies: ‘fan the flame’ appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 13:45:04 -0500 ishook
    Biden to boast of economic successes in State of the Union address

    President Biden will use his State of the Union speech on Tuesday to take a victory lap and test his reelection pitch, claiming credit for a robust economy and keeping global allies unified against Russia’s war on Ukraine.

    Read more…

    The post Biden to boast of economic successes in State of the Union address appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 13:45:03 -0500 ishook
    Biden on robust jobs numbers: The ‘critics and cynics are wrong’

    President Joe Biden took a victory lap Friday amid a blowout jobs report, telling Americans his economic plan is working.

    “For the past two years, we’ve heard a chorus of critics write off my economic plan. They said it’s just not possible to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out. They said we cannot bring back American manufacturing. They said we can’t make things in America anymore, that somehow adding jobs was a bad thing,” Biden said, speaking in the South Court Auditorium of the White House.

    “Today’s data makes crystal clear what I’ve always known in my gut: These critics and cynics are wrong.”

    The president’s last-minute remarks were added to his schedule Friday morning after the Labor Department announced the U.S. economy created a whopping 517,000 jobs in January, a shockingly high number that underscores a growing and resilient labor market. The unemployment rate fell to 3.4 percent, the lowest level since 1969.

    Biden cheered the report as evidence the economy has bounced back after the pandemic — and that economics’ predictions of an incoming recession are overblown. The data also arms the White House with another line of defense against Republicans’ attacks over the Biden administration’s spending policies.

    And the timing doesn’t hurt either, with the president set to deliver his State of the Union address before Congress next week. “But today, today I’m happy to report that the state of the union and the state of the economy is strong.”

    The president’s public remarks were more giddy than West Wing reactions behind closed doors, as officials had hoped for a less-robust figure. Inflation continues to plague the economy, and Friday’s numbers mean Fed Chair Jerome Powell will have to blunt growth in order to curb prices. Powell is concerned that a hot jobs market will drive high wages, further fueling inflation.

    But asked whether he should take blame for inflation rates, Biden was definitive: “No, because it was already there when I got here.” He noted that when he took office, “jobs were hemorrhaging, the inflation was rising, and we were not manufacturing a damn thing here, and we were in real difficulty.”

    In December, inflation continued to steadily trickle down to 6.5 percent, falling from the Consumer Price Index’s June peak at 9.1 percent. Powell is working to get inflation down to the central bank’s target range of 2 percent, and the Fed raised interest rates by a quarter of a percent on Wednesday — the eighth straight increase.

    He warned on Wednesday that more rate hikes were coming, noting that “the job is not fully done.”

    Ben White contributed to this report. 

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 13:35:02 -0500 ishook
    ‘Biden economic plan is working,’ touts president amid blowout jobs number

    A defiant President Biden crowed Friday over “strikingly good news” in a jobs report that showed U.S. employers added 517,000 jobs in January.

    Read more…

    The post ‘Biden economic plan is working,’ touts president amid blowout jobs number appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 12:35:02 -0500 ishook
    Blinken nixes Beijing trip after furor over Chinese balloon

    Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday abruptly postponed a long-planned weekend fence-mending trip to China after the Pentagon announced it was tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon in airspace over sensitive sites in the Western U.S.

    Read more…

    The post Blinken nixes Beijing trip after furor over Chinese balloon appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 12:35:02 -0500 ishook
    Luke Skywalker to sell signed Star Wars posters for Ukraine: May the funds be with you! Fri, 03 Feb 2023 11:25:05 -0500 ishook GOP threatens investigations over DirecTV's axing of Newsmax Fri, 03 Feb 2023 11:25:05 -0500 ishook Blinken's China trip postponed over Chinese balloon

    Secretary of State Antony Blinken's Beijing trip has been postponed due to concerns over the suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over the U.S., according to a Washington, D.C.-based foreign diplomat. "We were told this morning" by the State Department, the diplomat told POLITICO.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 11:25:05 -0500 ishook
    Jobs blowout: What the employment report means for Biden and Powell

    The U.S. economy created 517,000 jobs in January, a surprisingly strong number that underscores the remarkable resilience of the labor market but could stiffen the Federal Reserve’s determination to squeeze the economy to fight 40-year-high inflation.

    The unemployment rate fell to 3.4 percent, the lowest in more than a half-century, the Labor Department reported Friday.

    The number blew by the Wall Street consensus of 190,000 jobs and suggests that the Fed’s efforts to cool down the labor market by hiking interest rates at the fastest pace in decades are not yet having the desired impact.

    President Joe Biden and the White House can celebrate the report as evidence the economy is continuing to hum along, and it will blunt attacks from Republicans over the administration's spending policies. But senior officials in the West Wing were privately hoping for a less-robust number. So was Fed Chair Jerome Powell.

    Here’s how the number is likely to play with four key political and economic figures.

    Biden — The White House can view the report as evidence that economists’ predictions of an imminent recession are off-base. But inflation is Biden’s biggest enemy on the economy, and the report will cause some unease within the administration, given that it could mean the Fed will crack down harder on growth to curb prices.

    Still, the report clashes with the expectations of many economists and Wall Street CEOs that the U.S. will fall into a recession this year.

    Biden often describes the recent slowdown in job growth that preceded Friday’s number as a good thing as the economy transitions from the rapid Covid-19 comeback to a period of what he calls more “steady and stable growth.

    Senior White House aides have said they are happy with declining numbers — as long as they stay positive — making it easier on the Fed to end the rate increases as soon as possible. They believe the decline in inflation is already well underway, with consumer price growth slowing for six straight months.

    Biden wanted a good jobs number. But maybe not this good.

    Powell — The report is likely to come as a jolt to the Fed chair. Powell said in a recent speech that the economy only needs to gain about 100,000 net jobs a month to keep up with the number of new people entering the workforce.

    He’s strongly committed to bringing inflation to the central bank’s target range of 2 percent. Since the Consumer Price Index peaked last June at 9.1 percent, inflation has steadily fallen, hitting a still-high 6.5 percent in December.

    Powell and the Fed on Wednesday again raised rates by a quarter of a percent, the eighth straight increase. But it was the smallest bump since March. He cautioned at his press conference that more hikes lay ahead, saying “the job is not fully done.”

    Any single report can be an outlier and is unlikely to sway the Fed. But Powell is worried about the hot jobs market driving up wages, fueling inflation. So any news showing the market heating rather than cooling could be unwelcome.

    “My base case is that the economy can return to 2 percent inflation without a really significant downturn or a really big increase in unemployment,” Powell said Wednesday. “I think that's a possible outcome. I think many, many forecasters would say it's not the most likely outcome, but I would say there's a chance of it.”

    In one positive sign for Powell, wages rose 0.3 percent in January, down from 0.4 percent in December. What the Fed chair fears most is a “wage-price spiral” in which higher wages drive prices and create a dangerous inflation cycle. That is not evident in this report.

    Economist Larry Summers — The former Treasury secretary under former President Bill Clinton has long been saying that more Fed rate hikes will be needed to rein in the labor market. This report could offer more fodder for that argument.

    Summers was among the few who predicted fairly early that inflation would soar and stay high for a long period of time. At the time of his initial call last February, the Fed, the White House and other Democrats were still assuring Americans that the inflation spike would be “transitory.” It wasn’t.

    Summers has also repeatedly irritated the White House by suggesting that the trillions in new spending approved by Democrats in Congress and signed into law by Biden over the last two years played a role in the inflation spike.

    He also maintained for months that the Fed’s rate-hiking campaign, while necessary, would almost certainly lead to significant recession and a near doubling in the unemployment rate. He has more recently softened his tone and been more receptive to the idea that a soft landing is even possible.

    "I'm still cautious, but with a little bit more hope than I had before,” Summers said last month. “Soft landings are the triumph of hope over experience, but sometimes hope does triumph over experience.” This number is likely to get Summers to tilt back toward experience.

    House Speaker Kevin McCarthy — The stunning jobs report will undercut the argument by McCarthy and other Republicans that Biden’s economy is fading fast under the weight of inflation, which they say is driven by big spending bills.

    Still, the more aggressive the Fed feels it has to be in killing inflation, the higher the risk that the central bank will push the economy into recession. A slumping economy would give the Republicans ammunition to use against Biden and the Democrats in the 2024 campaign.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 11:25:05 -0500 ishook
    China says it 'regrets' that its balloon violated U.S. airspace

    Beijing says it "regrets" that one of its balloons violated U.S. sovereign airspace a day after reports that the airship is hovering over Montana, causing the Air Force to scramble fighter jets and prompting lawmakers to demand briefings over the Biden administration’s handling of the incident.

    The Foreign Ministry on Friday confirmed the balloon belongs to China and said it's a civilian airship used primarily for meteorological purposes. The ministry claimed it had strayed from its original course due to winds that affected its steering capabilities.

    "The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure," the ministry said, using a term for an event beyond the control of a country. "The Chinese side will continue communicating with the U.S. side and properly handle this unexpected situation caused by force majeure."

    The ministry earlier said any violation was unintentional as it urged calm in Washington.

    “China is a responsible country,” Mao Ning, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in a Friday press briefing. “It has always strictly abided by international law and has no intention of violating the territory and airspace of any sovereign country. As I said just now, we are learning about the verification situation and hope that both sides can handle it calmly and cautiously.”

    The Pentagon had already assessed it had “very high confidence” the balloon was Chinese and had been sent to the U.S. to collect sensitive information.

    A senior Defense Department official told reporters Thursday that the U.S. prepared fighter jets to shoot down the balloon, but senior Pentagon leaders opted against it due to fears of falling debris hurting people on the ground.

    An official said the balloon has “limited value” compared to what intelligence China is able to gather using satellites, although the department is taking “steps” to protect against possible foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information, without elaborating. The official requested anonymity in order to discuss sensitive issues.

    The news of the balloon sighting surfaced Thursday, angering lawmakers including Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who called for an intelligence briefing.

    “China’s brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty is a destabilizing action that must be addressed, and President Biden cannot be silent,” McCarthy tweeted. “I am requesting a Gang of Eight briefing.”

    Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) said on CNN Friday that low-orbit Chinese satellites have flown over the U.S. for years.

    "They're there all the time," he said. "I don't want the American people to think this is something new and that all of a sudden we have a concern that we didn't have before. Those concerns are there. They have to be mitigated, they have to be addressed. We have to confront the Chinese government."

    The balloon was spotted over Montana, including over Malmstrom Air Force Base, which houses ground-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles.

    Montana Sen. Steve Daines demanded a briefing from the Biden administration Thursday night.

    “Given the increased hostility and destabilization around the globe aimed at the United States and our allies, I am alarmed by the fact that this spy balloon was able to infiltrate the airspace of our country and Montana," the Republican said in a statement.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 11:25:05 -0500 ishook
    Blinken Postpones Trip to China After Balloon Is Detected Over U.S. Fri, 03 Feb 2023 11:25:03 -0500 ishook Strong Job Growth in January is a Boost for Biden Fri, 03 Feb 2023 11:25:03 -0500 ishook Black lawmakers put Biden on the spot to deliver new policing laws

    President Biden is facing intense pressure from fellow Democrats to overhaul the nation’s police laws after Tyre Nichols’ death at the hands of five Memphis police officers, but he’s no closer to a legislative deal than when the effort collapsed in the last Congress.

    Read more…

    The post Black lawmakers put Biden on the spot to deliver new policing laws appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 11:15:04 -0500 ishook
    Blinken postpones China trip following balloon discovery

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken has postponed a planned high-stakes weekend diplomatic trip to China as the Biden administration weighs a broader response to the discovery of a high-altitude Chinese balloon flying over sensitive sites in the western United States, a U.S. official said Friday.

    Read more…

    The post Blinken postpones China trip following balloon discovery appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 11:15:04 -0500 ishook
    DeSantis eyes 2024 from afar as GOP rivals move toward runs

    DES MOINES, Iowa — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis may be months away from publicly declaring his presidential intentions, but his potential rivals aren’t holding back.

    Read more…

    The post DeSantis eyes 2024 from afar as GOP rivals move toward runs appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 11:15:04 -0500 ishook
    House Dems say they’re worried about Capitol security for SOTU

    Fourteen House Democrats say they’re worried for the safety of President Biden and dignitaries in the Capitol for the State of the Union address Tuesday.

    Read more…

    The post House Dems say they’re worried about Capitol security for SOTU appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 11:15:04 -0500 ishook
    Daines demands Pentagon briefing on balloon spotted over Montana

    Sen. Steve Daines of Montana wants a full briefing from the Pentagon on a Chinese balloon that was spotted high over his state this week.

    Read more…

    The post Daines demands Pentagon briefing on balloon spotted over Montana appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 10:00:05 -0500 ishook
    Speaker McCarthy breaks with MTG over Ashli Babbitt killing, defends officer

    House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is defending the officer who fired his gun during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, breaking with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s assertion that Ashli Babbitt was murdered.

    Read more…

    The post Speaker McCarthy breaks with MTG over Ashli Babbitt killing, defends officer appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 10:00:05 -0500 ishook
    No going back: Canada’s work&from&home MPs fight to preserve virtual Parliament

    OTTAWA — Canada’s Parliament gave its members the option to work from home during the pandemic, adopting a hybrid model that allowed lawmakers to deliver speeches and vote remotely. Now, the system that was crafted out of necessity may become permanent.

    A federal committee this week recommended to the Liberal minority government that hybrid proceedings and an electronic voting app in use since 2021 be maintained indefinitely. It’s a far cry from the situation in Washington, where House Speaker Kevin McCarthy officially put an end to the Covid-era practice of proxy voting last month.

    A permanent option to work from home would mark a profound shift in the job description for Canadian legislators, many of whom have long faced grueling treks to the nation’s capital and extended periods away from family. Not everyone thinks it’s for the best. But some MPs — especially younger ones — say this is their new normal, and they’re not going back.

    “Imagine if… [your] employer said you're allowed to see your kids on Saturday. And we need you to work that day. That's the current life under the old system,” said Liberal MP Terry Beech, who represents a riding in the western province of British Columbia. “I don't think any Canadian would see that as reasonable.”

    Since the height of the pandemic, when working remotely was the rule, many members of Parliament have returned to Ottawa on a regular basis, preferring to stand in the House of Commons than to appear on a screen.

    But some have not. POLITICO reached out to a group of MPs who’ve chosen to mostly stay home, based on an analysis of travel expense reports since the last federal election in September 2021.

    Some have had serious health problems, and say working remotely was their only option. Some still worry about contracting Covid. But some, like Beech, say they don’t plan on returning to the way things were.

    Beech and Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, both Liberal MPs with young children, are open about choosing to spend more time away from Ottawa.

    “I’ve spent a large majority of my time in the constituency,” said Erskine-Smith, who lives in Toronto. “If you want serious people, younger people, people who want to be good spouses and be good parents to do this job … there has to be a certain level of flexibility to work remotely.”

    If Parliament went back to fully in-person proceedings, he added, “there is no chance I would run again.”

    This may be a moot point, given that Erskine-Smith is seriously considering a run for the leadership of the provincial Liberal party in Ontario. But he’s not alone. Last fall, NDP MP Laurel Collins, who has a young daughter, told the parliamentary committee considering the future of hybrid Parliament that she wasn’t sure she’d run again after the next election if virtual appearances weren’t an option.

    Beech said the pre-pandemic system was particularly unfair for MPs from western Canada, who travel long distances to Ottawa. As a parliamentary secretary — essentially an assistant to a Cabinet minister — Beech had to be in the House of Commons on Fridays, while many MPs head back to their ridings on Thursday evenings. After arriving home late Friday night, he would have Saturday to see his family and do constituency work, before heading back to Ottawa on Sunday.

    The hybrid Parliament has changed all that. “Managed correctly, you have more time to hit the gym, kiss your wife and pick up your kids from childcare,” he said in written comments to POLITICO. “I have to say I really enjoy attending national caucus meetings on my treadmill from time to time.”

    Beech said his new schedule also allows him to spend more time attending events in his constituency.

    Others view things differently, however. The opposition Conservatives have long called for a full return to in-person proceedings, claiming the hybrid option allows the government to dodge accountability. Still, some within their ranks have relied heavily on virtual appearances and remote voting.

    Conservative MP Todd Doherty said he wants to be back in the House of Commons full-time, but a serious injury has prevented him. Shortly after the 2021 election, he had knee-replacement surgery. Then, during the first week of the parliamentary session, he slipped on a wet floor and damaged his leg so badly he was at risk of losing it. He’s now recovering from a second surgery last December.

    “I took full advantage of hybrid because it was out of necessity,” he said.

    Despite a 17-hour commute between Ottawa and his northern B.C. riding, Doherty said he wants to get back to the way things were. “There's not many Canadians that can say that they've been able to deliver speeches on the floor of the House of Commons,” he said. “And I think there's nothing that will ever take that place.”

    If hybrid proceedings hadn’t been an option, he said, “I would have made it work. There’s no two ways about it — I would have done the best I could.”

    A few other Conservatives have also been conspicuously absent. Manitoba MP Ted Falk, one of a small group of Conservatives who disappeared from the House of Commons after a Covid vaccination requirement was imposed in the fall of 2021, appears to have spent very few sitting days in Ottawa between the election and the following summer break. Falk did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

    Other MPs say illness or fragile health has kept them on Zoom and out of Ottawa. Liberal MP Parm Bains, who has spent almost no time on Parliament Hill since he was elected as a rookie in 2021, has spoken openly about the dialysis treatment and kidney transplant that have kept him home in Richmond, B.C.

    “If it were not for the hybrid Parliament provisions, I could not have safeguarded my health and kept my commitment to represent my constituents in Parliament,” he wrote in a recent op-ed.

    Hedy Fry, another Liberal MP from B.C., told POLITICO she’s immunocompromised and has been staying home in Vancouver to avoid catching Covid. But Fry, 81, said it isn’t the same as being on the Hill, where she’s been an MP for nearly 30 years. “It has been difficult not to see [my] colleagues,” she said. “You can't build relationships, either with your constituents or other people, when you're always on a Zoom with them.”

    Erskine-Smith said there’s likely a “distinction on generational grounds” when it comes to how MPs view remote work.

    Tracking the physical presence of legislators in Parliament is challenging. Unlike with the American proxy voting system, data on remote voting in the House of Commons is not publicly available. Travel expense reports shed light on when MPs are in Ottawa, but they aren’t always up to date and can be difficult to interpret.

    Still, there are other cases that stand out. Liberal MP Serge Cormier, who represents a riding in Atlantic Canada, appears to have spent roughly five sitting days in Ottawa between the fall of 2021 and the summer of 2022. He did not respond to multiple interview requests. Neither did Toronto-area Liberal MP Shaun Chen, who seems to have spent about 10 sitting days in the capital.

    NDP MP Niki Ashton, who represents a remote riding in northern Manitoba, also appears to have been in Ottawa for about 10 sitting days. She did not respond to POLITICO’s requests, though she has previously proclaimed that “a family friendly Parliament means a hybrid Parliament.”

    The decision of some lawmakers to spend much less time in Ottawa raises other questions. Many of the MPs who’ve been more often in their home ridings, including Beech, Erskine-Smith, Doherty, Fry, Chen and Ashton, still claim expenses for apartments or condos in the nation’s capital, often charging between C$1,000 and C$2,500 a month.

    Erskine-Smith said he’s been trying to sell his condo for more than a year. Beech said he needs to keep his home base in Ottawa, even though he’s spending less time there, so that his wife and kids have somewhere to stay when they join him.

    But Doherty said it weighs on him. “It is definitely something that you think about all the time,” he said. “These dollars aren't ours. These dollars are taxpayer dollars.”

    The Liberal government must now decide whether to propose permanent changes to the rules governing the House of Commons. But in a possible indication of the direction it will take, Government House leader Mark Holland has spoken out forcefully in favor of hybrid provisions. He told the committee last fall about the impact that being a parliamentarian had on his personal life early in his career, including a failed marriage and a suicide attempt.

    Divorce and mental health issues are all too common among federal politicians, Beech told POLITICO. “I am so happy to still be married to my wife… to be able to watch my kids grow up,” he said. “Hybrid needs to stay… the country will be better for it.”

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 09:20:03 -0500 ishook
    Progressive Rep. Delia Ramirez set to give State of the Union response

    Rep. Delia Ramirez, afirst-term Democrat from Illinois, is set to give a progressive response to the State of the Union address next week.

    Her speech on Tuesday, given on behalf of the liberal Working Families Party, is expected to address President Joe Biden’s speech and rebut the Republican responses given by Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Rep. Juan Ciscomani of Arizona.

    “Social Security, Medicare, abortion rights and comprehensive immigration reform are not political talking points. They’re essential to our nation’s well being,” she said in a statement. “We must also show working people how Democrats will deliver for them if they put us back in the majority. That’s our path to a working families majority in Congress.”

    Ramirez said Sanders’ selection marked a doubling down of Republican “extremism,” pointing to her record as White House press secretary defending President Donald Trump and as a conservative governor.

    “That gives Democrats an opportunity — if we can seize it,” Ramirez added.

    The progressive minor party has offered responses to the presidential speech in recent years, with appearances by high-profile liberals generating more interest in the alternate address. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), both members of the progressive “squad,” gave the response to Biden’s speeches in 2022 and 2021, respectively.

    Ramirez, who represents a heavily Latino district in the Chicago area, also plans to address concerns that Democrats need to do more to win over working-class Latino voters.

    “Delia will be laying out a vision for how Democrats can win working-class voters of all races and nationalities, by fighting for a government that has working people’s backs,” said Rep. Greg Casar (D-Texas), aWorking Families Party colleague.

    She’s also going to urge the Biden administration to take executive action on liberal priorities like drug pricing and raising a threshold to make more workers eligible for overtime pay. Republican control of the House and the tiny Democratic majority in the Senate is likely to stymie most attempts to pass progressive-oriented policy this Congress.

    Last year, Tlaib’s response, which had drawn a contrast with Biden’s remarks, had drawn criticism from other Democrats who saw her message as undercutting the president. This year’s speech could strike a conciliatory tone.

    “We want to make a contribution — productive, in coalition, with the president to ensure that Democrats focus on the issues of working people,” Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party, said in an interview ahead of the speech.

    In addition to the response from the opposing party, last year’s State of the Union also drew a Congressional Black Caucus response and one with a “bipartisan perspective” for the centrist group No Labels. Neither group has announced a speech yet this year.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 09:20:03 -0500 ishook
    Pompeo vs. the Post: The Politics of Jamal Khashoggi

    Has it become popular among Beltway insiders to disparage the memory of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident and Washington Post contributor who was murdered and dismembered by agents of the Kingdom in 2018?

    That’s the somewhat surprising claim from Karen Attiah, the Post foreign-affairs columnist who shared a 2019 George Polk Award for her writings about Khashoggi’s ghastly killing, which the CIA has deemed to have been perpetrated on the orders of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

    “It seems like people in Washington maybe feel safe enough now that it’s almost five years after the murder, to say how they really feel about Jamal, or to try to take potshots at the media for our role in trying to push for justice,” Attiah told me this week, days after the latest scrum over the legacy of the man whose shocking death threatened to upend the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

    Attiah is no disinterested essayist. She was Khashoggi’s editor at the Post as well as his friend, and since his death has been blistering in her criticisms of the Saudi autocrat known as MBS — as well as of people closer to home who underemphasize the murder when thinking about how Washington should deal with Riyadh.

    You wouldn’t know about the turn against Khashoggi from a glance at Attiah’s journalistic home on the Post’s opinion team. The organization has loudly celebrated Khashoggi’s legacy and the righteousness of speaking truth to power, an effort that has included everything from traditional editorials to full-page house ads — which honor the late columnist but also serve as a billboard for the sanctity of a great newspaper’s mission. (Post spokeswoman Shani George says the ads are crafted by a separate team and should be seen as representing the publisher and the organization.)

    That public veneration occasionally draws eye rolls from fellow journalists who think there’s something a bit off about a news organization so energetically embracing the role of bereaved family member in what remains an ongoing story whose tentacles touch everything from the Saudi-Qatar rivalry to last fall’s Saudi-led effort to hike oil prices.

    But if the embrace prompts occasional purist tut-tutting among media insiders, it triggers downright ugly displays on the part of folks whose political identities are wrapped up in antagonizing the media.

    Hence the hook for Attiah’s assertion: Khashoggi is back in the news thanks to a new memoir by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In the book, which devotes a lot more ink to flaying American journalists than to criticizing the Saudi monarchy, Pompeo says that overwrought reporters falsely described Khashoggi as a “Saudi Arabian Bob Woodward,” when in fact he was a political activist who occasionally penned op-eds, a category that includes everyone from Karl Marx to Alexander Hamilton to Mike Pompeo himself.

    Though Pompeo describes the killing as “an unacceptable and horrible crime,” he goes on to say that it was essentially par for the course in a neighborhood where politics is a violent business, and where Khashoggi had his own unsavory allies. Praising the crown prince as a reformer, Pompeo writes that the media’s one-of-us embrace of Khashoggi blew the crime out of proportion in the name of tanking the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia.

    Pompeo also brags that President Donald Trump was jealous that “I was the one who gave the middle finger to the Washington Post, the New York Times, and other bed-wetters who didn’t have a grip on reality” when he made his first post-murder visit to MBS. It’s all in keeping with the chest-thumping, invective-spewing tone of Never Give an Inch, which is very much a campaign book by a possible presidential candidate — and not at all like a measured, for-the-historians memoir by a former statesman.

    It would have been easy enough to ignore the book as such. Instead, in a turn of events that must have pleased Pompeo’s publisher, the passage prompted a quick and very public backlash, driven largely by the Post. An editorial denounced the former secretary as “revolting.” Publisher Fred Ryan released a statement saying that “it is shameful that Pompeo would spread vile falsehoods to dishonor a courageous man’s life and service” as part of what he called “a ploy to sell books.”

    In the end, Pompeo’s Never Give an Inch sold a solid 34,630 units over the course of the week, according to data from Bookscan. If you’re a potential Republican presidential candidate trying to sell books to a conservative audience, there’s nothing that moves product quite like a tussle with a mainstream news organization.

    But in Attiah’s more provocative telling, Pompeo was less a rebel against legacy-media shibboleths than an emblem of something widespread and sordid in the capital’s power corridors, a pseudo-sophisticated stance that dismisses Middle Eastern murder as inevitable and suggests Khashoggi had it coming. “Why does there now seem to be a backlash against Jamal in Washington’s elite circles?” she asked in her newsletter last week. (The piece had plenty of criticism of Pompeo, but I suspect nothing will hurt his feelings more than being cast as a tribune of the Washington elite.)

    Can it be true? When we spoke this week, the only other example of alleged Beltway-insider anti-Khashoggi sentiment she cited was a 2022 Atlantic cover story on MBS that Attiah had lambasted for what she saw as its scant attention to the murder and insufficient pushback against the crown prince’s lame denials. At the time, the story’s author, Graeme Wood, shot back that his piece was plenty damning, and said complaints that he’d given MBS a “platform” ran counter to the values of journalism, which by definition involves quoting problematic people saying problematic things.

    One other place that has produced some unflattering reporting: The news pages of the Post, which reported that an executive at the Qatar Foundation had shaped some of the columns Khashoggi filed to the paper. But that report was four years ago, soon after the murder.

    In fact, while the far-right media is full of vitriol about him, there’s not a lot of straight-up anti-Khashoggi sentiment in “elite” outlets. In my experience, that’s also true of the chatter among the sorts of people who read those outlets or write for them.

    That’s not for lack of effort by some of his foes: I, and a number of other Washington reporters, have over the years gotten off-the-record pitches from publicity operatives urging us to look into how Khashoggi was no angel. The most obvious motivation for this is trying to launder a Saudi reputation that was rightly sullied by an appalling crime. But it’s also a reminder that, as an advocate for democracy in the Arab world during his life — and as someone treated as a martyr for that cause today — Khashoggi leaves behind a legacy that a lot of folks have a real interest in either muddying or elevating all these years later.

    Which is why the Pompeo-Khashoggi flap, though it probably didn’t change a lot of minds on the question of whether Khashoggi was a freethinking truth-teller or (as Pompeo repeats in the book) a sneaky Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer, is worth paying attention to. Four years after the murder in Istanbul, the ongoing politics of Khashoggi’s memory do say something interesting about Washington.

    Start with Pompeo. Playing to the far-right primary electorate, the former secretary engages in the sort of too-clever-by-half logic that plays better on cable TV than in the pages of a book.

    On the one hand, much of what he writes is patently true: Khashoggi had strong opinions; he founded an advocacy group pushing for democracy in the Middle East. Notwithstanding the Post’s embrace of him as a colleague, he wasn’t a career Postie who reached the opinion page after working his way up from being a cub reporter covering the Fairfax County Police Department. He was one of scores of people whose writing shows up in top U.S. media outlets by virtue, one way or another, of already being a player.

    On the other hand, Pompeo never engages with the most obvious response to this information: So what? Should media revulsion at the murder and mutilation of a critic be limited to cases where the critic had a lengthy journalistic pedigree? Or to cases where the critic is a devotee of Edmund Burke, whose allies include only admirers of the United States? By that logic, we should never have columns by anyone the least bit complicated — or by someone able to evolve as a person. Let’s accept, for a minute, Pompeo’s dubious implicit argument that the killing of Khashoggi was a case of brutality against political opposition rather than brutality against journalistic inquiry. Who cares? It’s a distinction without a difference.

    To use a gruesome hypothetical: What if a foreign governmenttried to do violence to Mike Pompeo? Would it be any more horrible if the violence were strictly in response to his book, or actually in response to his “activism” on the world stage? Of course it wouldn’t.

    Every administration in the history of the United States has dealt with unsavory foreign governments and grappled with where to draw the line. There’s nothing inherently disqualifying about Pompeo saying that a grisly murder is not a sufficient reason to treat someone like a pariah given the various things we need from his country. But whatever your views on engaging with the current Saudi leadership, there’s something awfully gross — and all too contemporary — about a former secretary of state exulting in how something that’s clearly a violation of American values has enraged a domestic constituency he dislikes.

    But the reaction of Khashoggi’s admirers is also telling.

    At DAWN, the nonprofit Khashoggi founded to push for democracy in the Arab world, leadership quickly denounced Pompeo for justifying a murder because Khashoggi “did other things” beyond journalism. “I think he was signaling to Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Salman more, or as much as, he was signaling to the right wing,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the organization’s executive director, told me. “It’s like he’s saying, hey, remember me? I was the one who came to see you in Riyadh, after you killed Jamal. I was the first one there, you know, and we covered your ass.”

    Yet the organization’s deployment of Khashoggi’s image also invites critics to take swipes at those other things Khashoggi did. The organization’s list of problematic regimes includes Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but not Qatar, which is also a non-democracy. Even if the roster is shaped by budget limitations or by sound calculations about which government most deserves scrutiny, that’s a choice that puts them on one side of a regional rivalry. Which, in turn, will prompt the other side to tear down the organization’s icon — a motivation that may be untoward and unkind, but remains different from excusing a murder.

    And as for Khashoggi’s journalistic home in Washington, I was struck by the way Attiah recoiled at Pompeo’s use of the word “activist,” as if accepting that description somehow lessened the veracity, independence or bravery of Khashoggi’s criticisms of the Saudi regime.

    “To label someone like that means there’s a somewhat subtle justification for their elimination,” she told me. “Whether it’s from a public sphere, a discourse, as if to say, ‘We shouldn’t listen to them,’ or whether it’s to literally physically assassinate them.” She said she’s been called an activist, too, for her criticism of the Saudi regime, a description that’s deployed in an effort to shut someone up.

    When it comes to Khashoggi, I’m not sure I buy the idea that the term is slander — and I suspect most ethicists wouldn’t see a difference between assassinating a journalist and assassinating an activist (or assassinating someone who does a bit of both). I also can’t actually think of a better term for someone who literally started a nonprofit called Democracy for the Arab World Now. It seems the world of journalism, too, is perhaps unwittingly invested in the idea that to move out of the realm of pure words is to somehow deserve danger in a way that full-time journalists don’t.

    It’s human nature, not to mention good institutional leadership, to clap back at someone who criticizes a murdered colleague and friend. Especially someone who does so in Pompeo’s vulgar way. But for better or worse Khashoggi’s legacy is going to remain a factor in the region, which means the politics of his memory will be a perpetually tricky thing — and the Washington conventional wisdom about whether he was a hero or a villain or a subject of media preening or a victim of far-right smearing is going to remain relevant.

    One person who will continue to be a player in shaping that wisdom: Attiah, who has a book on her late friend expected next year. She said she’s talked to Khashoggi’s admirers as well as detractors. But don’t expect dispassion.

    “I think there’s always an element of emotion, whether it’s anger, grief, sadness,” she says. “I don’t see those things as separate from our work. I don’t have the luxury, honestly, of seeing that as separate from the work that we do.”

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 06:00:03 -0500 ishook
    Meet the border&district Republican at the immigration fight's 'epicenter'

    Many House Republicans are trying to impeach the Homeland Security secretary. Tony Gonzales had a productive breakfast with Alejandro Mayorkas instead.

    The swing-seat Texan met with the Department of Homeland Security chief last month to discuss a Border Patrol station in his district’s tiny border town of Cotulla. Operations in Cotulla got shut down six months ago due to staffing shortages after 53 migrants were found dead in a tractor-trailer in nearby San Antonio due to a reckless smuggling attempt, but the Biden Cabinet official ultimately agreed to reopen the station by the end of his meeting with Gonzales.

    “A very popular guy in the Republican Party, right?” Gonzales quipped of Mayorkas during an interview in his Washington office. Despite the “risk in all this” outreach to a figure contentious among Republicans, he added, what matters is the “tangible result.”

    You might call Gonzales a political rarity, wading into the kind of huge policy fights that would terrify most swing-district members — but he’s been like this for a while. The Navy veteran and father of six has flouted GOP orthodoxy time and time again as his sprawling border district makes national news for the darkest reasons possible.

    Before the smuggled migrant deaths came the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, which hit as another part of his district dealt with a refugee crisis of 12,000 Haitians fleeing political turmoil back home. And now the 42-year-old is clashing with conservatives on immigration, crusading against a draconian immigration bill from fellow Texas GOP Rep. Chip Roy, while also warning his party against big spending cuts that could hurt military bases like those in his district.

    “Whether I want it to or not,” Gonzales said of his district, “it has been at the epicenter.”

    That’s not set to change anytime soon. His latest intraparty tension is spiking over an immigration bill that Gonzales fears would effectively ban asylum claims outright — an interpretation that Roy fiercely disputes.

    “The bill is the bill, and it ain't rocket science. Three pages. You either support enforcing laws and ensuring that the American people are protected and migrants are protected and that in fact, asylum is preserved — which the bill does — or you don’t,” Roy said in a brief interview. His proposal would severely curtail migration by seeking to bar illegal border crossings.

    While Roy said the two Texans have had some “long conversations” about the bill, initially slated for early action in the new GOP majority, he said he’s still waiting to hear a “substantive” disagreement beyond “broad brush statements in the press.” (Gonzales, for his part, called Roy's bill a "bad idea" and delivered a jab to non-border members: "While some people may parachute in and parachute out, we live it every single day.")

    Asked about the Gonzales-Roy disagreement on Thursday, Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters that “a lot of members have a lot of different positions” on immigration and that any legislation will ultimately go through committee: “I know members are working together to try to find a place to get there.”

    Gonzales has long pushed the GOP to adopt a more nuanced view on its single most politically explosive issue. As he’s ferried over 100 fellow lawmakers to his district since 2018, the self-described border hawk has implored other Republicans to look beyond headlines and consider an immigration system that also “welcomes those through the front door.”

    One of Gonzales' strategies: Set up meetings for his colleagues with tough-talking sheriffs whom he’ll later reveal are Democrats, or conservative ranchers whom he’ll point out later actually support loosening some immigration laws.

    After eking out perhaps the most shocking victory of the 2020 midterms, he's warned other Republicans that if they want to hold onto their threadbare majority in two years, they need to protect battleground seats.

    "We can't just throw bombs and rhetoric and expect people to reelect us over and over again," he said.

    Several of his colleagues say they understand and are willing to listen to his perspective on bills like Roy’s.

    “Nobody wants to put him in a difficult position,” said GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw, who also hails from the Lone Star State. “We understand that our border reps are in a more difficult political situation. If they have concerns, let’s hear them out.”

    Sometimes, though, the rest of Gonzales' party can't abide his particular breed of bipartisanship.

    Gonzales appeared alongside Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar during the anti-abortion centrist Democrat's fierce fight to hold his seat in November's midterms. That display of camaraderie irked some senior Republicans who were dumping money to oust Cuellar. His GOP opponent, Cassy Garcia, even conveyed her frustrations to Gonzales, according to two people familiar with the exchange who addressed it candidly on condition of anonymity.

    Cuellar later won reelection by over 13 points. (Gonzales won by 17.)

    “He's not a political guy,” Cuellar later said, speaking broadly about his South Texas neighbor. The two became fast friends after they realized they attended the same school in Camp Wood, Texas (population 700), roughly two decades apart. “He's willing to take certain stands that are right, and sometimes might not be the most politically expedient thing to do, but he's willing to do that.”

    Gonzales is still speaking out as his party starts to govern with the smallest of margins. This week, he criticized the party’s removal of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the Foreign Affairs Committee, despite ultimately voting for it. Last month, he was the sole Republican to oppose the GOP rules package after McCarthy made an agreement with conservatives over concerns about potential defense cuts.

    “It may not make them right, but at least he's got the courage to say, ‘Hey, here's my perspective on this,'” Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) — a fellow battleground Republican and Navy veteran — said of his colleague’s party-bucking tendency. “A lot of people would just kind of roll over and go with the herd.”

    So far, despite his rebelliousness, Gonzales has mostly remained in good standing with McCarthy and his team.

    Gonzales and fellow battleground Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) were the only two freshmen to land on the coveted House Appropriations Committee when they first arrived on the Hill in 2021. They were also tapped to co-lead the House GOP’s "Young Guns" program to work with top campaign recruits.

    But Gonzales has also inserted himself into leadership races that risked major consequences after his preferred candidate lost. Late last year, he threw himself behind Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.) in the GOP whip race, despite clear signals that McCarthy opposed the chief deputy whip’s campaign for that position.

    Gonzales shrugged off any possible blowback from his party, on that and other matters: “I'm a big boy. This is a big institution. You're gonna make friends. You're gonna make enemies. That’s part of the deal. I’m not worried about it.”

    It’s perhaps that attitude that propels Gonzales’ work on various bipartisan groups, including the Problem Solvers Caucus. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), who co-led that group’s immigration talks last year, said of his Texan counterpart: “I think if there's anybody that can really help bridge the divide, and come up with reasonable, decent immigration policy that both parties can work on, it’s Tony.”

    And even though few in either party are counting on much immigration action this Congress, lawmakers might be forced to move anyway. The Supreme Court is set to rule this spring on a pair of presidential orders — Trump’s pandemic-era border expulsion policy and Obama’s “Dreamers” protections — that previous Congresses have punted on.

    “In this Congress, five votes equals 100,” Gonzales said on possible action on immigration issues. “There's opportunity there for those that want to govern and not allow the place to get hijacked.”

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 06:00:03 -0500 ishook
    Old Bay melee: Maryland Dems circle as Cardin weighs reelection

    Sen. Ben Cardin is still assessing whether to run for another six-year term in 2024. In the meantime, ambitious fellow Democrats are preparing campaigns that can strike ASAP if the genial Marylander retires.

    At least three politicians are looking at potential runs to succeed the 79-year-old Cardin. Angela Alsobrooks, the Prince George’s County executive, is staffing up for a potential bid, according to four people familiar with her planning. And two House Democrats with very different profiles could take the leap: Rep. Jamie Raskin, a progressive leader on the Jan. 6 investigation, and moderate Rep. David Trone, a wealthy wine magnate who represents Western Maryland.

    None would challenge Cardin — but Democrats think his retirement is a real possibility. And from California to Maryland to Delaware, the pent-up ambition of younger Democrats is clashing awkwardly with the slow decision-making processes of veteran senators. As announcement time looms and incumbent fundraising slows to a trickle, a crop of Senate hopefuls is beginning to hire up and build out statewide campaign teams.

    In an interview, Cardin made clear he’s not calling it quits yet. He cracked about those raising money with the Senate in mind: “If they raise money now, they can turn it over to me, can’t they?”

    “I guess they're ahead of themselves,” Cardin said, reiterating his end of March timeline. “I’m not concerned about what other people might be doing.”

    Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are getting most of the attention in the latest edition of the chamber’s biennial retirement watch. Yet blue states like Maryland can earn even more scrutiny than battlegrounds within the Democratic Party, because a primary win in an open race can turn into a long and cushy Senate tenure. And Cardin is hardly the only one under pressure.

    Two members of the California House delegation are launching Senate bids without bothering to wait for a retirement announcement from 89-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein, with a third on the way. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) is open to succeeding Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) if he decides to retire. And though Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) is running for a third term, everyone’s quietly keeping an eye on Vacationland — just in case.

    That jockeying is drawing particular attention in Maryland — because Cardin might actually run again.

    “There's a lot of people talking about it,” said Rep. Glenn Ivey, a freshman Democrat who represents part of Prince George’s County. “You got a deep bench in Maryland, too. So there's a lot of people who could, I think, be strong candidates.”

    First elected to Congress in 1986, Cardin has drawn notice after raising less than $30,000 over the last three months and ending December with just over $1 million in the bank. That has many Maryland politicos betting that his deep-blue seat will open up.

    "He's a mentor to me. And I've been here a long time," quipped Democratic Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger about Cardin, adding that he hoped the senator wouldn't retire.

    An early frontrunner could be the 51-year-old Alsobrooks, the first woman ever to serve as executive of her native Prince George's County and the youngest person ever to be elected as state's attorney there.

    Alsobrooks is a proven fundraiser who considered running for governor in 2022 but chose instead to seek reelection to her county post. Asked about a Senate run in a WJLA interview that aired Thursday, Alsobrooks said she would consider it if the seat was open: "It would be an amazing opportunity to represent the state."

    She has taken perhaps the most concrete steps toward a run. Dave Chase, who managed former Rep. Tim Ryan’s 2022 Ohio Senate campaign, has joined Alsobrooks’ political operation, which has also begun engaging with consultants.

    Trone is having conversations with potential senior staff hires who could help him mount a statewide campaign, according to three sources familiar with his preparations.

    The owner of the Total Wine & More empire, Trone would bring nearly unlimited cash to any race, after investing over $13 million of his largesse in a failed 2016 House bid. Raskin ultimately won that seat and Trone ran and won a different district in 2018, which he has held since.

    Both Trone and Alsobrooks declined to comment through spokespeople.

    Raskin, a constitutional law scholar, gained national prominence for his lead role in former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment. But he is also currently battling lymphoma and is undergoing chemotherapy treatments. In an interview with POLITICO, he said he would not rule out a Senate run but that his focus is on his health.

    "When people call me, I tell them, 'Thank you,'" Raskin said. "But I just got to get through this. And then I'll be able to think about the future."  

    He may decline the statewide run for another reason: His recent ascension as the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.

    The current shadow field lacks geographic diversity. All three Democrats are from the D.C.-area — and some will want a Charm City Democrat to succeed Cardin, who speaks with a notable Baltimore accent. Johnny Olszewski Jr., the Baltimore County executive, has been floated for a Senate bid but is seen as more likely to eventually replace Ruppersberger in the House, should he retire.

    Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) advised other Democrats to buzz off while Cardin decides: “Everyone should give him room.”

    One state away on I-95, Carper says he’s doing everything he needs to win reelection. He raised about $180,000 in the final quarter of 2022, significantly more than Cardin, Feinstein or King. A fourth-term senator, Carper has served in politics since the 1970s. And he’s not super eager to start his next campaign — or talk about it.

    “Campaigns are too long and too expensive,” Carper said. “I shorten the campaigns as much as I can. So, I’m doing what I need to do to be able to run. That’s all I’m going to say.”

    Carper, 76, faced a primary challenge in 2018, winning the nominating contest with 64 percent of the vote. His state is much smaller than Maryland, and thus there are fewer people jockeying to succeed him. But there are obvious contenders: Democratic Gov. John Carney and Blunt Rochester, who in 2016 became the first woman to represent Delaware in Congress.

    “If the seat was open, I would definitely consider it,” Blunt Rochester said. She said she was focused on serving Delaware in the House but would “be prepared for whatever comes.”

    Maine, meanwhile, has small benches for both parties. And King’s $56,000 in fundraising has raised eyebrows. But the 78-year-old senator is batting away any suggestion he might not run.

    “I could be struck by lightning. But I am running,” King said of those who say his slow fundraising points to a possible retirement. “I’m doing all the mechanical things. It is two years away. Olympia Snowe once said, ‘there are only two ways to run: Scared and unopposed.’”

    Snowe, of course, blindsided the GOP with her retirement in 2012 and opened the door for King’s election.

    And while shadow races often form in states where an aging senator seems ripe for retirement, California has been the most active.

    Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter launched bids for Feinstein's seat, which she has held since 1992. The incumbent has not said whether or not she will step down at the end of her term. A third colleague, Rep. Barbara Lee, is preparing to join the field.

    “It is definitely awkward, but I believe that people are predicting what could happen in the future,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.).

    It’s all a little much for Sen.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 06:00:03 -0500 ishook
    ‘The Party May Have to Die to Be Reborn’

    PHOENIX — In a megachurch where the Arizona Republican Party met over the weekend to chart its course following heavy losses in the midterms, a package of resolutions was up for consideration, including one to censure Republican officials involved in running past elections.

    The question on the floor was how.

    Stepping to the microphone in the sanctuary, a man who introduced himself as a combat Vietnam veteran suggested that the way the party censures politicians — a punishment previously slapped onthe late Sen. John McCain, his widow, Cindy, former Gov. Doug Ducey and former Sen. Jeff Flake, among others – was insufficient for the times.

    Instead, he said, “We should duct tape people to a tree in a dog park, so the dogs can pee on them. And then, when they’re there for a few hours and they have to crap in their pants, they can wallow in their own shit.”

    Take pictures of them, he said. When I reached him later by phone to make sure I understood, the veteran, a man named Mark Del Maestro, told me the point is “public humiliation.”

    On stage, Tyler Bowyer, a conservative activist and Republican national committeeman, deadpanned that Robert’s Rules of Order would let the body “censure anyone however you want.” But, he said, tongue in cheek, “I don’t know how much duct tape we have here.”

    What he didn’t mention was that the way things are going in the Arizona GOP, it would need a lot.

    In Washington, the lesson many Republican political professionals expected their party to draw from a less-than-red-wave midterm was that the most hard-right politics of the Trump era were weighing them down – that general election voters were tiring of election denialism and, if not Donald Trump himself, his grievances about the 2020 election. Many high-profile candidates the former president rammed through the primaries last year lost in November, and in Arizona, the wreckage was particularly severe.

    Kari Lake, a former TV anchor and one of the GOP’s most prominent election deniers, had become such an electrifying candidate that she was compelled to tamp down speculation about a vice presidential run. But then she lost. So did the hard-liners running for U.S. Senate, state attorney general and secretary of state. For too many independents and moderate Republican voters, they were a turn-off.

    Arizona was a “perfect political science experiment” for the GOP nationally, Stan Barnes, a former state lawmaker and Republican consultant in Arizona, told me.

    “We had the best candidate in anyone’s lifetime in Kari Lake, and she had the Republican wind at her back,” he said. “Yet, Kari lost. And I think the post-mortem is, you can’t stand on, ‘The whole system’s corrupt’ and ‘Elections are stolen’ as a platform for why people should vote for you.”

    He said, “No matter what you or I think of the reality of it, if you want to win the election and you want to change things, it’s not the way to win.”

    Yet denialism and its attendant conspiracies animate a large swath of the Republican Party — still. And if Arizona is any example, it suggests that a not insignificant percentage of the national electorate is determined to run the same doomed experiment again in 2024.

    Inside the cavernous Dream City Church, where a conspiracy movie about the 2020 election called “The Deep Rig” premiered in 2021, and where the GOP now gathered in early 2023, there was no reckoning with midterm losses, at all.

    Addressing the rank-and-file, the outgoing state party chair, Kelli Ward, said, “Things at the party are going great.”

    In “Ultra MAGA” hats and pins that read “Don’t California My Arizona,” about 2,000 convention-goers streamed into a sanctuary with red and blue backlighting and large screens flanking the stage. They wanted audits of the last election, or the one before that, or of the state party’s finances itself. Some complained about voting machines, including those Arizona Republicans had used themselves that day to elect the new party chair, Jeff DeWit, a former state treasurer and former Trump campaign chief operating officer.

    Upstairs, an activist DeWit defeated, Steve Daniels, was sitting alone in the balcony with his unsubmitted ballot on the floor beside him. “Machines are fraud” he’d printed over it by hand in black ink.

    Yet if it’s hard to hold your own elections when election denialism is your thing, DeWit was such a consensus choice that his victory was never really in doubt. It’s the elections Democrats won that the assembled Republicans assembled still have problems with. The party rejected a proposal to accept the results of the 2020 election and “not belabor or try to overturn old elections, but work to win upcoming ones.” It rejected a proposal to honor John McCain for being a "dedicated Arizona statesman and a lifelong Republican who embraced bipartisanship." And it voted by a large margin to censure Republican elected officials in Maricopa County, including Stephen Richer, the county recorder, and Supervisor Bill Gates, for their part in overseeing previous elections.

    Distinct from procedural disputes about voting ID or mail voting, majorities of Republicans in poll after poll still adhere to Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was rigged. In the more than two years since Trump lost, as allegations of fraud have repeatedly been shown to be unfounded and nonfactual, it persists as an article of faith—– more an assertion of a belief that Democrats could not possibly have beaten them, even if they did.

    In the courtyard, Sally Kizer, who, with her husband, Carl, started a tea party group in Yuma County, told me Lake “was robbed.”

    The election “stinks,” said M.J. Coking, a state committeewoman from Chandler.

    “Throw out the election and run it again,” said Chad Moreland, a Republican in an American flag blazer.

    There were things Republicans could do better, they were sure. They could raise more money or run more sophisticated turnout operations than they had last year. A candidate like Lake could learn to “pivot” more effectively for a general election audience, one strategist told me.

    But these were tactical concerns. There was no reason for a more wholesale overhaul if — as nearly everyone I came across maintained — Republicans didn’t really lose.

    Trump, Coking told me, is “the only one who can fix anything.”

    She said, “I’m waiting for marching orders.”

    For true believers, said Barrett Marson, a Republican strategist in the state, “it’s this whole chicken-and-egg thing. Did we lose the election because of denialism, or did Democrats fix the election?”

    It doesn’t matter that it isn’t true, he said. “How do you combat that?”

    Like many more traditionalist Republicans, Marson had thought the party’s losses in November might result in some introspection. But he wasn’t counting on it, anymore.

    At this point, he said, “the party may have to die to be reborn.”

    When I visited Arizona just before the November election, it seemed to many political observers of both parties that Lake might win the governorship and that if American democracy fell apart — no small consideration, after 2020 and the riot at the Capitol — it would probably happen here first. Lake had said she would not have certified the 2020 election, and she was hedging on whether she’d accept the result of her own race — only “if we have a fair, honest and transparent election.” Republicans were camping out in front of ballot drop boxes. Near one, masked men in tactical gear were seen.

    When Lake lost, it didn’t take long to find the reason.

    In an analysis of the vote in Maricopa County, where a majority of Arizona’s votes are cast, a group of elections experts, including Benny White, a former data analyst for the state Republican Party, found Lake and other hard-right candidates had turned off thousands of voters who otherwise leaned Republican. In the governor’s race, about 40,000 voters who favored Republicans in other races on their ballots did not vote for Lake; about 33,000 of them actually voted for the Democrat, Katie Hobbs, instead.

    At least part of the reason so many Republican-leaning voters defected, White told me, was Lake’s insistence on feeding the base’s addiction to election denialism.

    “All of that is nonsense for the most part, but it’s very hard to discredit it,” he said. “Once people begin to think in those terms … it gets ingrained in their thinking about things, and it’s hard to dissuade them with facts and logical presentations of actual records.”

    He said, “I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist. I have to deal with reality most of the time, and it just, it confounds me.”

    One problem is that losing may not be enough to shift the perceptions of conspiracy-minded Republicans. If anything, it may make it harder — not easier — for them to let go.

    Last month, the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research released polling by Echelon Insights, a Republican firm, that showed Republican voters had become more confident in elections administration nationally than they were following the presidential election, especially when asked about elections in their home states, where 82 percent overall said they were run well. But in states where Republicans lost significant races — like Arizona — fewer Republicans expressed confidence in the process. In Arizona, just 56 percent of Republican voters said they were confident about how elections here were run.

    On a call with reporters, I asked David Becker, the group’s founder and executive director, if there was one state more than others that he worried about election denialism in the run-up to 2024.

    “Yeah,” said Becker, a former attorney in the Department of Justice’s civil rights division. “This is not going to shock anyone, but Arizona.”

    In the wake of the 2020 election, it was the site of the farcical “audit” that served as a destination for election truthers from across the country. Now, it is where Lake is still refusing to concede, appealing a failed legal case to overturn the results of her unsuccessful midterm campaign.

    “The election denialism,” Becker said, “has really taken hold.”

    It’s easy to read too much into a party gathering. State conventions attract the most fervent members of a party — the kind of people who not only know who their state party chair is or what resolutions they’re passing, but care. Most voters don’t.

    But what Republicans saw unfolding in Arizona last year was something close to a convergence of the hard-right politics of its convention-going class with its primary electorate. This was no longer the party whose fringe loathed McCain but couldn’t stop him from winning primaries in which non-activist conservatives cast ballots, including in 2016 against Ward. In Lake, they found someone who could beat the traditionalists — in her case defeating a credible centrist candidate, Karrin Taylor Robson. Even after losing the general election, she remains at the center of the Republican universe here.

    The reason for her appeal was evident on the night after the convention, when a large crowd of supporters wedged into a swelteringly hot room and spilled out into the lobby at a golf resort in Scottsdale for a campaign-style rally for Lake. One of her warm-up acts referred to her as a “winner.” And Lake, while she was on stage, took a call from Trump, who despite a slumpy start to his 2024 campaign is still a frontrunner to win the nomination. When Lake brought up Richer and Gates, the two Maricopa County officials the party censured, the room responded with jeers.

    Gates was expecting the censure. Election deniers, he told me when I met him for coffee the day before the state party convention, “control the institutions of the Arizona Republican Party.”

    Before he gained a national profile for his resistance to election disinformation in Arizona — so much so that that he was forced to leave his house temporarily, and with a security detail, following the midterms — Gates had been part of the institution, too. He started a teenage Republican club at his high school with Republican Gov. Jan Brewer’s son Michael in the 1980s. He went on to serve as a precinct committeeman and a state committeeman in the party. But now he was a pariah in party circles.

    He told me, “They call us the establishment. We are literally not … Within the party, they’re the institution. We are now on the outside looking in.”

    He said, “I thought after losing all these races, we would have a reckoning. But it’s going in the opposite direction.”

    Over and over at the state party convention, Republicans suggested they were aware of the splintering in their party. When Rep. Paul Gosar, the far-right Republican, led convention-goers in the Pledge of Allegiance, he asked them to “particularly emphasize the word ‘indivisible.’” DeWit called Democrats the party’s shared, “real enemy.” And in the courtyard, Tim Rafferty of Riders USA, a gun rights group promoting a rally in Arizona a few weeks later, said there had to be something Republicans could do to win over “normals” — if not the members of the party often derided as “Republicans in name only,” or “RINOs,” the “many people in the [political] middle.”

    “That’s a tough nut to crack,” he said.

    The condition of the party, said Mac Rojo, a state committeeman, is “tenuous, because we have too much infighting.”

    But Rojo, a retired sheriff’s detective who was walking two Maltese-Chihuahua mix dogs into the church in a stroller, said the solution was not for Republicans to moderate — or to let the 2020 election go. There was the practical point that Republicans, in his view, were losing elections they’d really won. And then there was the moral argument — the party’s responsibility to “fight evil” in the Democratic Party and the elections that put them in power, which he thought of as crimes not unlike “if somebody shot their mother or raped their daughter.”

    It’s possible that a Republican might come along — either a presidential nominee or a candidate for statewide office in 2024 — who could appeal to Republicans like Rojo, and to more moderate members of the party, as well. DeWit, the party chair, might be evidence of that. Rojo was wearing a DeWit sticker on his shirt. DeWit was widely viewed as the most palatable candidate to traditionalist Republicans. But he also had Trump’s..

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 06:00:03 -0500 ishook
    All shook up: Why Dems see sliver of opportunity in deep&red Mississippi

    Republicans have had a lock on the Mississippi governorship for decades. But Democrats hope that a candidate with one of the most famous last names in America can change that.

    Democrats are coalescing around Brandon Presley, a public service commissioner and a distant cousin of Elvis Presley to challenge Republican Gov. Tate Reeves. Reeves has middling poll numbers and clashed with some other state Republicans, but he secured his party’s nomination since several potential primary challengers bowed out, after sniffing around Reeves’ campaign for weakness.

    Presley’s appeal for Democrats goes well beyond his connection to The King. Democrats believe that his record as a public official — combined with what would need to be a strong campaign and a weakened incumbent — gives them a chance to break the GOP’s streak of dominance over state government. It would follow a similar path to other recent Democratic governors elected in red states like Louisiana, Kentucky and Kansas.

    “He's a great retail politician and a real good campaigner,” former Clinton-era Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, a Democrat who ran for Senate in 2018 and 2020, said of Presley. “He will probably raise enough money.”

    Reeves, the incumbent governor, may be unusually vulnerable for a red-state Republican. Democrats point to months-long rumblings of potential primary challengers — which never ended up materializing — and a recent poll from Mississippi Today/Siena College that found that a majority of registered voters surveyed wanted a new governor. Reeves took a narrow 4-point lead over Presley, 43 percent to 39 percent, in the survey.

    Reeves has at times relished public fights, including with members of his own party, that has created enemies in the state. Still, it’s a mark of how deep Democrats’ deficit is in Mississippi that they still trail in the polls even with better-than-usual starting position.

    Democrats and Republicans alike still believe that Reeves is the clear favorite early in the election. Former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Reeves in the 2019 race, won the state by 16 points in 2020 — and defeating an incumbent governor also happens to be one of the toughest things to do in politics.

    Reeves’ allies were undisturbed by the poll, arguing that a survey of registered voters in January is nothing like who will actually show up in an off-year November election, and they dismissed the idea that Reeves would have any problems rallying Republicans in the state.

    Several prominent Mississippi Republicans — including Secretary of State Michael Watson, state House Speaker Philip Gunn and former state Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller, who Reeves comfortably beat in a runoff for the GOP nomination in 2019 — all floated runs, but all of them ultimately decided to sit out the race. (Reeves is facing a nominal challenge from an anti-vaccine mandate doctor.)

    The relatively clear primary path will be a rarity for Reeves, who has won hard-fought nominating fights at every step of his political ascent — something his allies said is a sign of his strength in the state.

    And Reeves is also sitting on a significant campaign warchest of nearly $7.9 million across his accounts, filings earlier this week revealed.

    Republicans also pointed to similar chatter four years earlier, when then-Lt. Gov. Reeves faced off against Democratic state Attorney General Jim Hood, who was first elected in 2003 and by 2019 was the only Democrat serving in statewide elected office in Mississippi.

    Hood was considered the strongest candidate the party put up in decades — a truck driver without a campaign was the party nominee in 2015 — and the Democratic Governors Association poured millions into the race. But Reeves ended up beating Hood by about 5 points — both the closest Mississippi gubernatorial race in 20 years and, at the end of the day, not that close to actual victory.

    “The proof is going to be there in the pudding. It wasn’t there in ‘19 with a similar type of candidate,” said Austin Barbour, a Mississippi-based GOP political strategist and nephew of former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

    Still, Presley may be a better candidate than Hood was, by the estimation of both Democrats and Republicans who cited his strong on-the-trail presence. Presley also has the potential to be a strong fundraiser in a state with relatively cheap advertising rates in its media markets.

    Presley is also a novelty for a Democrat seeking statewide office in 2023: He has repeatedly described himself as “pro-life.” Democrats also plan to lean into Presley’s history as a public service commissioner and former mayor in his hometown of Nettleton, which is in the state’s northeast.

    Presley’s campaign signaled it planned to hammer Reeves for the state’s sprawling welfare corruption scandal that has entangled high profile figures like football Hall of Famer Brett Favre and former professional wrestler "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase.

    “Tate Reeves is a man with zero conviction and massive corruption,” Presley said in his launch video. “He has been caught in the middle of the largest public corruption scandal in state history.” Democrats note that Reeves fired an attorney investigating the scandal, which Reeves defended at the time because he said the attorney was acting in a partisan manner.

    Reeves’ team pushes back against the attacks more broadly, insisting the scandal falls on his predecessor’s shoulders — then-Gov. Phil Bryant — and not his.

    “He is trying to run against the previous governor, because he knows Tate Reeves’ record is too good on jobs, education and taxes,” said Brad Todd, a longtime political adviser to Reeves.

    Presley’s campaign will come down to his ability to engage and turn out Black voters in Mississippi, especially in the capital city of Jackson and its south. Black voters make up nearly 38 percent of the state, but Black registration and turnout has lagged.

    “In order for Brandon to get the Black vote, he really needs to be better-known, with more money put in infrastructure to re-register Black voters,” said Espy, who commissioned a report after the 2020 election detailing some of the gaps.

    Espy added that Presley is not well known in Jackson, which is outside his public service commission district, but that the candidate has been putting in work to meet with Black leaders in the state. Notably, Rep. Bennie Thompson — the state’s lone Democrat in Congress, who succeeded Espy in the House and represents Jackson — endorsed Presley right after he launched.

    This week brought a small preview of the campaign to come. Reeves delivered his State of the State address on Monday, and Presley was selected by Democrats to give the response.

    Presley delivered his speech from a “closed-down emergency room in a shutdown hospital,” highlighting another issue Democrats are likely to target Reeves on: Medicaid expansion and rural hospitals closing in the state. “Under Tate Reeves’ leadership, we are moving in the wrong direction,” he said.

    Unsurprisingly, Reeves painted a dramatically different picture of the state in his own State of the State, touting Mississippi’s budget surplus, the economy and increases in the state’s graduation rate.

    “I have to thank the 3 million Mississippians who have helped our state usher in an unprecedented period of economic growth, educational achievement, and freedom,” Reeves said. “2022 was perhaps the best year in Mississippi’s history.”

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 06:00:03 -0500 ishook
    The Powerful Lobbyist Behind Kevin McCarthy: Jeff Miller Fri, 03 Feb 2023 05:30:03 -0500 ishook Is Trump Way Up or Way Down? Fri, 03 Feb 2023 05:30:03 -0500 ishook Biden Aims to Deter China With Greater U.S. Military Presence in Philippines Thu, 02 Feb 2023 23:40:03 -0500 ishook Soaring Death Toll Gives Grim Insight Into Russian Tactics Thu, 02 Feb 2023 23:40:03 -0500 ishook Report Traces Rising Prevalence of Semiautomatic Pistols in Gun Crimes Thu, 02 Feb 2023 23:40:03 -0500 ishook McCarthy calls for intel briefing on Chinese spy balloon over Montana

    House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Thursday night called for a briefing of the “Gang of Eight” — the group of lawmakers charged with reviewing the nation’s most sensitive intelligence information — following reports of a Chinese spy balloon flying over Montana.

    “China’s brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty is a destabilizing action that must be addressed, and President Biden cannot be silent,” McCarthy tweeted. “I am requesting a Gang of Eight briefing.”

    The Pentagon said Thursday it had detected and was tracking a Chinese surveillance balloon flying high over the United States. The balloon is floating at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a threat to people on the ground, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said in a statement.

    Ryder declined to say where the balloon came from, but a senior Defense Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive talks, said the Pentagon has “very high confidence” it belongs to China.

    The Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to a request for comment.

    President Joe Biden was briefed on the situation and asked for military options, said the senior DoD official. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin convened senior Pentagon leaders on Wednesday while he was traveling in the Philippines, and discussed the possibility of shooting it down.

    Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley and Gen. Glen VanHerck, chief of U.S. Northern Command, strongly recommended against bringing it down due to the risk that falling debris could pose a hazard to people on the ground, the senior DoD official said.

    “We had been looking at whether there was an option yesterday over some sparsely populated areas in Montana, but we just couldn't buy down the risk enough to feel comfortable recommending shooting it down yesterday,” the official said.

    Officials also assessed that the balloon did not pose a threat to the people on the ground or to civilian aviation, the official added.

    The Pentagon also determined the balloon has “limited value” over what China is already able to collect through its satellite capabilities, the official said. But it is flying over a number of sensitive sites, including Malmstrom Air Force Base, home to some of the nation’s silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles.

    Still, the department is taking “mitigation steps” to protect against possible foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information, the person said, declining to give details. At the same time, officials are gaining “insights” into the balloon’s capabilities.

    “We know exactly where this balloon is, exactly what it is passing over and we're taking steps to be extra vigilant so that we can mitigate any foreign intelligence risk,” the person said.

    At Billings Logan airport on Wednesday, flights ground to a halt as the U.S. military scrambled F-22 fighter jets in case the decision was made to take down the balloon.

    Revelations about the suspected spy balloon sparked angry reactions among lawmakers, beyond McCarthy.

    “Biden should shoot down the Chinese spy balloon immediately,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) saidin a tweet. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)tweeted that the balloon highlighted how “intense & brazen” Chinese espionage efforts targeting the U.S. have become.

    Montana Sen. Steve Daines demanded a briefing from the Biden administration Thursday night.

    “It is vital to establish the flight path of this balloon, any compromised U.S. national security assets, and all telecom or IT infrastructure on the ground within the U.S. that this spy- balloon was utilizing,” he said in a statement. “Given the increased hostility and destabilization around the globe aimed at the United States and our allies, I am alarmed by the fact that this spy balloon was able to infiltrate the airspace of our country and Montana."

    Sen. Roger Wicker, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Pentagon owes a “full and accurate accounting” of what happened.

    “Information strongly suggests the Department failed to act with urgency in responding to this airspace incursion by a high-altitude surveillance balloon,” the Mississippi senator said. “No incursion should be ignored, and should be dealt with appropriately.”

    Not all the criticism came from Republicans. The bipartisan leaders of the newly formed House committee on China issued a joint statement declaring the balloon incursion a “violation of American sovereignty.”

    They hinted it had implications for Secretary of State Antony Blinken’strip to Beijing next week. “Coming only days before Secretary Blinken’s trip to the PRC … it also makes clear that the CCP’s recent diplomatic overtures do not represent a substantive change in policy,” Committee Chair Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and ranking member Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill) said in the statement.

    That suggests there may be a growing chorus of congressional voices over the next 24 hours calling for Blinken to reconsider his trip to China to protest the spy balloon’s intrusion into U.S. airspace.

    “The timing of this provocation is troubling to say the least … it is very difficult to see how Blinken’s trip can proceed as planned,” said Craig Singleton, senior China fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “If he does decide to go, this spying incident will almost certainly overshadow any hopes Blinken may have harbored about stabilizing the fraught U.S.-China relationship.”

    This is not the first time DoD has tracked a Chinese spy balloon flying over the continental U.S. This kind of activity has happened “a handful of other times” over the past few years, including before the Biden administration, the senior DoD official said. However, in this instance the balloon loitered for a longer period of time.

    The U.S. has engaged its Chinese counterparts “with urgency” through multiple channels, both through their embassy in Washington and the U.S. embassy in Beijing, the senior DoD official said.

    “We have communicated to them the seriousness with which we take this issue,” the person said. “We have made clear we will do whatever is necessary to protect our people and our homeland.”

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 23:35:04 -0500 ishook
    America sees itself as a ‘dysfunctional family that’s breaking apart’


    A Fox News poll has asked a dismal question in a new survey: “Would you say America is a dysfunctional family that’s breaking part?”

    Read more…

    The post America sees itself as a ‘dysfunctional family that’s breaking apart’ appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 21:20:03 -0500 ishook
    Reps. Buck, Cicilline form new antitrust caucus to ensure Big Tech crackdown effort survives

    The outgoing leadership of the House’s top antitrust panel is regrouping and making a new push to battle Big Tech amid lingering questions over their successors’ plans.

    Read more…

    The post Reps. Buck, Cicilline form new antitrust caucus to ensure Big Tech crackdown effort survives appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 21:20:03 -0500 ishook
    U.S. reunites nearly 700 kids taken from parents under Trump

    A Biden administration task force designed to reunite children separated from their families during President Trump’s presidency has reconnected nearly 700 children with their families, officials said Thursday.

    Read more…

    The post U.S. reunites nearly 700 kids taken from parents under Trump appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 21:15:03 -0500 ishook
    Black lawmakers prod Biden to demand new policing laws during State of the Union

    President Biden is facing intense pressure from fellow Democrats to overhaul the nation’s police laws after Tyre Nichols’ death at the hands of five Memphis police officers.

    Read more…

    The post Black lawmakers prod Biden to demand new policing laws during State of the Union appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 21:15:03 -0500 ishook
    Hunter Biden laptop lawsuit risks putting Biden family deals, finances under intense legal scrutiny

    Hunter Biden’s threat of a lawsuit over news reports based on the contents of his leaked laptop computer would expose President Biden’s son to depositions and other legal discovery about his family’s far-flung business deals.

    Read more…

    The post Hunter Biden laptop lawsuit risks putting Biden family deals, finances under intense legal scrutiny appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 21:15:03 -0500 ishook
    Debt crunch looms, but nobody knows how much is too much

    Debt doomsday predictions flowed fast and furious a decade ago.

    Read more…

    The post Debt crunch looms, but nobody knows how much is too much appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 21:15:03 -0500 ishook
    House Republicans launch probe into former FBI official Charles McGonigal

    House Judiciary Republicans Thursday launched an investigation into Charles McGonigal, the former FBI official in charge of counterintelligence in the FBI’s New York Field Office who was arrested in January over ties to a Russian billionaire.

    Read more…

    The post House Republicans launch probe into former FBI official Charles McGonigal appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 21:15:02 -0500 ishook
    Biden, Bill Clinton celebrate Family Medical Leave Act, push for paid leave

    Former President Bill Clinton on Thursday joined President Biden at the White House to mark the 30th anniversary of the Family Medical Leave Act, and renewed the push for a national paid leave law.

    Read more…

    The post Biden, Bill Clinton celebrate Family Medical Leave Act, push for paid leave appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 21:10:05 -0500 ishook
    Rep. George Santos rescinds employment offer to a man charged with felony

    Rep. George Santos rescinded an offer of employment to a man his office found out had been charged with felony wiretapping.

    Read more…

    The post Rep. George Santos rescinds employment offer to a man charged with felony appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 21:10:05 -0500 ishook
    Kari Lake meets with NRSC officials

    Defeated Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake met with officials at the National Republican Senatorial Committee on Thursday, two people familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

    The meeting comes as Lake is considering a run for the Senate in Arizona. Caroline Wren, a senior adviser to Lake, confirmed the meeting, saying it lasted about an hour and that the topics of discussion included the differences between running a Senate and a gubernatorial campaign.

    Asked if the meeting got Lake any closer to making a decision about a Senate run, Wren said: “I don’t think so. I think it was more listening.”

    The NRSC meets with many candidates and potential candidates for office and doing so shows no sign of preference on behalf of the committee.

    But in Republican circles, including in Arizona, there are fears of Lake entering the race for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's seat after Sinema defected from the Democratic Party to be an Independent.

    Lake is a conservative firebrand closely associated with former President Donald Trump.She has been litigating her gubernatorial loss in Arizona, contesting without evidence that the final results were marred by fraud. A number of Arizona Republicans, including failed Senate candidate Blake Masters, are also considering a run for Senate.

    Lake is also set to travel to Iowa next Friday for a meet and greet with the Scott County Republican Women.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 20:30:04 -0500 ishook
    Why Erin O’Toole is speaking up

    OTTAWA — Erin O’Toole, the former leader of Canada’s Conservative Party, knows Parliament Hill from the inside and out.

    He led the Conservative Party in the last election campaign and won the popular vote — as he’ll remind anyone willing to listen. But he lost the election. After Justin Trudeau’s Liberals won the most seats, the knives came out for O’Toole.

    His disgruntled caucus ousted him from leadership on Feb. 2, 2022.

    A year removed from that abrupt fall from grace, O’Toole sat down with POLITICO for a rare interview. During a conversation about the highs and lows of a decade in Ottawa, he discussed political culture, the scourge of misinformation, and his latest thinking on his next act.

    We’ve distilled the hour-long conversation into eight takeaways — excerpts that have been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.

    Takeaway 1: He has few regrets about the 2021 election and the turmoil that followed. 

    O’Toole blames the loss in part on the effectiveness of the prime minister’s wedge politics, which convinced Canadians that Conservatives couldn't be trusted to manage Covid.

    “After six to eight months of self-reflection, I kind of said, no, I would not do anything differently, in terms of trying to present a modern, responsible Conservative option to Justin Trudeau.

    “We were winning the seat count a week out from the election, five days out from the election. But the very fear that the prime minister kind of relied on to launch the election [meant] ultimately, we didn’t make enough people comfortable in the suburbs on our approach to handling Covid. That’s the regret, because I do think that different approach might have reduced some of the polarization we see.”

    Takeaway 2: In a world on Zoom, O’Toole struggled to keep his work-from-home caucus united.

    “I didn’t have a caucus meeting in-person until after the election. I saw some people suffering greatly in their personal lives on Zoom. I could see in the Zoom meetings, people multitasking, people putting peanut butter on their bagel. People weren’t engaged. And there was a section that went right down the rabbit hole of Covid — ivermectin, the whole nine yards.

    “I would try to keep people focused on the task at hand, which was working to get the country out of the pandemic and help save lives, help reduce pressure on the hospital waiting rooms.”

    Takeaway 3: Wedges are effective, but they have consequences. 

    O’Toole says Trudeau’s pandemic politics have divided Canada.

    “Right after the election, the first thing Liberals did was enforce a vaccine mandate for the Hill, knowing full well I had some elected members of Parliament that would probably not pass the mandate.

    “Why did they do that? That was all pure politics. That wasn’t keeping anyone safe or anything like that. They wanted to continue the wedge from the election into the post-election period as they were rolling out a mandate nationally. These are very good short-term political wedges. And were instrumental. They were one element of my ultimate demise as leader, but they're also the same element that led to Wellington Street being blockaded. And the flags popping up in my riding that I really dislike.

    “Mr. Trudeau has created these circumstances. And if anything, my biggest regret about not being leader is I’ve always tried to be someone that tries to drive towards consensus and collaboration. I think Mr. Trudeau is setting up the circumstances for the country to be more divided long-term. And that’s not a good thing. And that’s far more important than me or him.”

    Takeaway 4: For the rest of this term, O’Toole plans to pick his spots. 

    He tells POLITICO that with more time to advocate, he’s focused on issues core to his interests.

    “After I moved my family and my kids’ schools and adjusted our family to a bit of the sudden change, I established a number of areas that I wanted to provide unique support in the advocacy efforts. A little bit of goodwill if I could attach my name to a cause.

    “One has been the Afghan interpreters and the 8,000 people that we still haven't gotten out of Afghanistan.

    “Another area has been MAID [medical assistance in dying] and mental health. Probably the first thing I started working on on the Hill was mental health for veterans and first responders.

    “I’ve been advocating for many years for nuclear power, and the small modular reactor at the Darlington site. It’s not only in my riding.

    “Arctic issues and defense issues more broadly.

    “And then, of course, Ukraine, part of the last speech I gave as leader. When Minister [Mélanie] Joly was downplaying a looming invasion. Her speech didn't age well. Mine saying we should have been sharing defensive lethal weapons earlier I think has aged a bit better.”

    Takeaway 5: Substack beats Twitter. 

    O’Toole joined a growing number of MPs who’ve launched podcasts and Substack newsletters. He embraces platforms that promote debate in a way tweets cannot.

    “Social media has become just so tribal and so toxic that I’ll put something out, it could be on the passing of the Queen, and the Liberal angry troll army will hammer it. And now I also get hammered by the anti-lockdown, anti-vax sort of people, too. So that means people who are actually trying to access and learn about something, they’re not taking anything away from those sites anymore.

    “So with Substack, [Conservative MP] Michelle Rempel Garner encouraged me to use it because she found it stimulated some good debate. There’s still some trolls on there. But the posts are longer-form. So it’s not compartmentalizing it into a little tagline.

    “And it’s good for me, because some of the issues I’ve been talking about and droning on about for 10 years are now very topical.”

    Takeaway 6: Under the Liberals, Canada is M.I.A. in the world.

    O’Toole draws a straight line from NAFTA renegotiations to President Joe Biden’s lukewarm approach to Canada-U.S. relations.

    “We have become a complete afterthought in almost every major relationship we have. And I blame the government for its kind of virtue signaling foreign policy.

    “This is one [area] where mainstream media takes a bit of a share of the blame, in my view, too, because they could not move past their own dislike of Donald Trump to realize how ineffective our NAFTA negotiations were, and how we really lost our special place with the United States. And nothing proves that more than how Biden treated Canada in its first year as president, from Keystone XL to everything else.

    “I have a lot of respect for [Finance Minister] Chrystia Freeland, but we completely botched those negotiations and it has set us back. And now in NATO, we’re not taken seriously. Europeans don’t take us seriously. I think with our response to Ukraine, we’re starting to climb back up. We’re finally making the tough decisions on China. There’s a chance we can reverse this decline.”

    Takeaway 7: We should all worry about misinformation. 

    It’s a Conservative problem, he says, but Liberals have vocal fringe elements, too.

    “The one thing that I worry about a little bit in our party — and this isn’t the leader, this is the party and the conservative movement — is creeping misinformation, especially on the Ukraine situation. I’ve noticed right-wing people on social media, especially some veterans, a couple of whom I’ve spoken to personally about it, buying hook, line and sinker, some of the Russian propaganda on Ukraine. That it’s run by Neo-Nazis, or that it’s conducting money laundering with all the aid from Western countries.

    “These are all narratives from Putin and the Kremlin. When somebody sees something posted by a friend, they take it at face value. ‘Hey, I was at the convoy with Jim. And if Jim says this is true about Ukraine, it must be true.’ And I think we have a responsibility to counter that. That was part of the reason I wrote my essay on the F--K Trudeau flags.

    “It’s important for [political] parties not to allow themselves to be defined by the fringe. But when you criticize the fringe, they’re loud. And so a lot of people will just remain quiet. I don’t think we can remain quiet. That accessible observer in the middle, we have to convince them that the Conservative way is right. And if we allow fringe [voices] that are not part of our party to define our party, it’s going to be harder to convince those people that we deserve their vote.”

    Takeaway 8: O’Toole wants a role with his party after the next election — maybe. 

    He hasn’t committed to running for re-election. But he sounds open to another term if he can find a role to play in the Conservative Party.

    “I want to see what we roll out as a party, and where I can help, and where I can add some input. There are people giving up on this country. And there are people that in some cases have been marginalized by their own prime minister. The unvaccinated.

    “I want us to get through that period, and anything I can do to help. I give [Conservative Leader] Pierre [Poilievre] advice from time to time. He’s asked a couple of times. That’s a unique position.

    “All this election talk about a spring election really has me saying, ‘What are we going to put forward? What can I do to help the team?’ But I still consider it an honor to be the MP for Durham. And we’ll see what happens this spring.”

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 20:30:04 -0500 ishook
    A new crypto threat to government launches

    If the spread of social media to the Middle East sparked the Arab Spring, imagine what will happen when people get their hands on crypto tools that allow them to send money, form groups and enter into financial contracts — all with more secrecy than Bitcoin provides.

    That’s the startling pitch from Amir Taaki, an early Bitcoin developer now working with an international group of anarchist coders on next-generation software designed to find out. The coders believe their system will present a graver threat to governments than other internet advances of the past 20 years.

    The group is preparing to launch a testnet, a critical early milestone on the path to releasing a finished product, as soon as Thursday afternoon, according to several members and the text of a draft announcement shared first with POLITICO.

    Fourteen years after Bitcoin’s release, law enforcement and cybersecurity officials continue to grapple with the fallout from the first generation of cryptocurrency-related technology — from money laundering, to unregistered securities offerings, to ransomware attacks. But even as regulators and law enforcement figure out how to handle the first wave of blockchain networks, developers around the world are racing to deploy more advanced variations on the original concept.

    While many of these next-generation tools are being designed to ensure greater legal compliance than their predecessors — or even for use by governments themselves, as crypto’s underlying technology grows in legitimacy and institutional heft — the planned launch shows that radical anti-government ideas remain a driving force in the evolution of many crypto networks.

    The anarchist project calls itself DarkFi, a reference both to “DeFi” — the nickname for crypto-based decentralized finance — and a 2014 speech by former FBI Director James Comey about the “Going Dark” problem that widespread encryption presented for law enforcement agencies hoping to surveil digital activity.

    Representatives of the group say its members are spread across parts of Europe and the Middle East. Though they frame the software as a tool for shielding users from government-imposed violence, law enforcement officials say the proliferation of enhanced encryption is making it harder to catch drug dealers, terrorists and human traffickers

    Bill Callahan, a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent who oversaw money laundering investigations during a two-decade stint at the agency, said that that the potential for advanced encryption to cloak crime is troubling — and that for the sake of public safety, new encryption tools need to strike a balance between personal freedom and government oversight.

    “We have a reasonable expectation of privacy,” said Callahan, who now works at Blockchain Intelligence Group, which conducts forensic investigations of crypto activity. “We don’t have an absolute expectation of privacy.”

    Callahan, who was not familiar with the details of DarkFi, said that people building and running crypto networks could face legal liability for criminal activity conducted on the networks. “If they are allowing this to be used by nefarious actors,” he said, “they run the risk of being held responsible.”

    The risk only grows if developers publicly tout their intention to flout law enforcement. “That’s probably going to be Exhibit A,” Callahan said.

    Like many of the newer crypto tools being developed for use by governments and legally compliant businesses, the DarkFi project leans heavily on zero-knowledge proofs, a cryptographic technique invented by mathematicians in the 1980s that allows for targeted verification of encrypted information in a way that allows most aspects of the information to remain secret.

    Experts who reviewed DarkFi’s announcement and its website at POLITICO’s request said the project appeared to be technically sophisticated, even as they expressed skepticism of its developers’ vision.

    “They seem like they’re actually putting a lot of engineering effort into it,” said Matthew Green, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University and a co-founder of Sealance, a startup that aims to integrate advanced encryption into a legally compliant version of crypto.

    “It’s not a small project,” he said. "They are aiming to do something very, very powerful.”

    “They do know how to do it and they’re thinking correctly,” said Evan Shapiro, the San Francisco-based CEO of the Mina Foundation, which supports another next-generation crypto network backed by venture capital investors.

    But Shapiro said that in critical respects, DarkFi was behind in its development to a handful of venture-backed crypto protocols that had similar technical ambitions while being designed for more conventional commercial purposes. He said that at a technical level, DarkFi was likely to differ little from these more-commercial projects, even if it attracted applications and users more aligned with its anarchist vision.

    Taaki, who has spent time in London and Syria in recent years and did not respond to questions about his current location, says the new platform will permit more secrecy than commercially-minded projects that can't afford to buck government pressure to ensure legal compliance.

    In other words, the group believes that the high-tech game of cat and mouse between rogue crypto coders and governments that has gone on for over a decade is still only just beginning.

    In a sense, this is an extension of the mission of the original cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, which was invented specifically to challenge government control of money and banking. As it has spread and gained wider adoption, governments have found ways to mitigate the threat posed by the original cryptocurrency and its immediate successors.

    Despite Bitcoin’s use of pseudonymous addresses, for example, all transactions on the network are recorded in public view, and law enforcement officials have honed techniques to trace them back to individual users. Even as the total volume of illicit cryptocurrency activity has continued to grow in recent years, its share of transaction volume has fallen to new lows as legitimate usage has exploded, according to a report released last year by analytics firm Chainalysis.

    And on the technical sidea report funded by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and released last year identified several vulnerabilities in Bitcoin that an attacker with the resources of a national government could use to disrupt the network itself.

    Since Bitcoin’s launch, thousands of successors have sought to improve elements of its design. Starting with Ethereum, launched in 2015, many newer systems have offered more advanced functions, such as smart contracts, which can automate financial activity. Others, like Monero — which became a cryptocurrency of choice for illicit use following its 2014 launch — have offered higher levels of secrecy.

    But developers are still trying to perfect blockchain systems that integrate next-generation functionality and secrecy in a single system. Doing so will help fulfill “the destiny of crypto,” Taaki said, to bring about individual freedom at the expense of governments.

    Among the features promised by DarkFi are ones that will allow people to form organizations that collectively raise and distribute money in total secrecy. Taaki said this was inspired in part by the group’s experience using existing technology to form a crypto-based organization to support jailed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

    But technical and political obstacles remain in the way of this anarchist vision.

    "Building private blockchains that can do things like Ethereum is really hard,” said Green, who was instrumental in the development of ZCash, an early privacy-focused cryptocurrency released in 2016.

    Green said that he, too, believes that advances in encryption and network design could bring further crypto-driven disruption. But, at least, for now, he said governments have shown they can and will find ways to crack down on networks used for criminal activities.

    “We’re more in the taking-the-cap-off-of-the-toothpaste phase,” he said. “The toothpaste won’t be out of the tube probably for 10 years.”

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 20:30:04 -0500 ishook
    Florida eyes more changes to voting laws ahead of 2024

    TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida could alter its voting by mail rules yet again ahead of the 2024 presidential election, including blocking voters from being able to request a mail-in-ballot by telephone.

    The office of Florida’s top election official, Secretary of State Cord Byrd, has come up with a list of possible changes included in a recent report that the Republican-controlled Legislature could enact this spring. His office, however, is not recommending new identification requirements strongly opposed by the state’s local election supervisors.

    Some changes outlined by the department in a 60-page report handed over to state lawmakers late Wednesday include requiring that election supervisors verify the signature of a voter who signs a request for a mail-in ballot, even though some local election officials already do that.

    “The Department recommends building on the election integrity measures adopted recently to enhance the security of the vote-by-mail process,” states the report.

    Some of the recommendations could trigger another partisan firestorm from Democrats suspicious of proposals taking aim at mail-in voting.

    Republicans in Florida for many years had dominated mail-in voting in the state, but that shifted over the past few cycles, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. During the 2022 elections, about 2.7 million Floridians voted by mail, with 43 percent of the ballots cast by Democrats compared with 36 percent from Republicans.

    Brad Ashwell, Florida director of All Voting Is Local, a voting advocacy group, called the proposals outlined by the department as largely “unnecessary” — though he did praise a recommendation for legislators to authorize the creation of a uniform vote-by-mail ballot request form.

    “The voters are already being harmed by the last changes they made,” said Ashwell, noting recent changes such as one that forces voters to request a mail-in ballot after every general election and that increased identification requirements to request a ballot.

    He added that it would also be “asinine” to order up additional revisions to mail-in voting ahead of the 2024 election when turnout could be much higher than it was during the midterms. He also suggested that prohibiting ballot requests by phone could be an obstacle to elderly voters and those with disabilities.

    Since the 2020 election — where mail-in voting was repeatedly criticized by former President Donald Trump — GOP legislators in the Sunshine State have pushed through several changes to mail-in voting, many of them at the insistence of Gov. Ron DeSantis. Democrats and voting rights groups widely criticized a 2021 law that place a two-ballot limit on how many mail-in ballots someone could gather for elderly or sick voters.

    DeSantis and Florida Republicans have refused to go along with suggestions to eliminate no-excuse mail voting, or allowing people to vote by mail without providing a reason. But they have made key changes such as banning the collection of more than two mail-in ballots from non-family members, a practice derided by DeSantis as “ballot harvesting.” Lawmakers also put restrictions on drop boxes where people drop off their ballots and required voters to renew their ballot requests after every general election. Parts of this law is still being challenged in federal court.

    Last year, legislators contemplated requiring voters to add personal information — like a driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number to what they mail back to supervisors, a move that would have likely required voters to use an extra envelope. Currently, supervisors compare the signatures on the ballot envelope and what the voter has on file.

    One Republican election supervisor called the initial proposal from GOP legislators a “recipe for disaster.” Legislators backed off the change and instead directed the Department of State to come up with recommendations on how to increase ID requirements.

    In January, election supervisors across the state officially chimed in with their own report warning about making widespread changes.

    A working group of Democratic and Republican supervisors submitted a report to the Department of State that said requiring voters to put their personal information on ballots would be a “seismic” change that would increase costs, confuse voters and potentially lead to identity theft as well as delays in counting ballots.

    The final report from the department did not include any recommendations that voters be required to put identifying information on their ballot envelopes, opting instead to focus on the "ballot request process."

    Mark Earley, supervisor of elections for Leon County and head of the supervisors' statewide association, told Department of State officials that local supervisors appreciated the “credence” given their concerns about potential identification changes. Earley, however, added that some of the recommendations could “pose challenges.”

    In a brief interview Thursday, Earley said eliminating the ability to request ballots by phone “is going to hinder a lot of voters” though he said he understood the desire to create a paper trail for requests.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 20:30:04 -0500 ishook
    Dems fret policing talks will be tangled with Tim Scott’s presidential hopes

    Democrats are signaling that they’re willing to work with Republicans on a new policing bill after the death of Tyre Nichols. Who their GOP partners might be is a trickier question.

    Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), his party’s past lead policing negotiator, is now a possible presidential contender in 2024 — adding new potential political risk to an issue already riddled with pitfalls. Democrats are still eyeing Scott as a partner, indicating they might be open to amending a sweeping law enforcement bill named for George Floyd — the Black man whose 2020 murder by a Minneapolis police officer ignited the Black Lives Matter movement — that the House passed last Congress. But they’re wary of the effect that Scott’s aspirations will have on cross-party talks.

    “Whenever you inject politics into the discussion, people play to a different standard,” said Rep. Troy Carter (D-La.), a Congressional Black Caucus leader. “And I would hope that more people would play to just doing what’s right.”

    Neither Scott nor any other congressional Republican was invited to what’s seen as the opening act of policing discussions after Nichols’ death last month following a brutal beating by Memphis officers: Thursday’s Black Caucus meeting with President Joe Biden. The all-Democratic invite list went out despite the House’s record-high four Black Republicans in office — a group that could be influential in steering the GOP majority. And there’s no guarantee they’ll agree with Scott, whoreiterated Wednesday on Twitter that he’s opposed to Democrats’ Floyd bill but cracked the door to other options.

    A Scott spokesperson pointed to the senator’s tweet when asked whether he would take part in negotiations, and did not respond to follow-up questions about whether Scott’s presidential aspirations affected the talks.

    Underscoring the hot-potato nature of a topic of critical importance to many Black voters, it’s not clear that all four of those Black House Republicans even want a seat at the table on policing legislation.

    “We don’t look at it in terms of, ‘Well, we’re Black members, so we should be leading the talks,’” said Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.). “We need to have people who have expertise in law enforcement and what policy ideas up here mean for local agencies — they have to be a part of that conversation. They should, frankly, be leading good chunks of that conversation.”

    In meetings this week as they prepared to sit down with Biden, many Black Caucus members came to the conclusion that the legislative plan would need to be a scaled-back version of the Floyd bill that stalled in the Senate last term. Talks on a compromise had reached an impasse, mostly over changing qualified immunity, a protection that shields officers from being held personally liable for certain actions on the job.

    “The idea that qualified immunity, if y’all aren’t going to give us that going at minimum, let the departments be held accountable. And I do think that that could be something that is conceivable,” said a senior Democratic aide familiar with the conversations who was granted anonymity to describe the group’s position.

    Working with Republicans would be a balancing act. Democrats need to give in to certain demands to see any action at all, but they’re leery of signing off on a bill with little to no teeth that Congress can cite as evidence of progress.

    However, some Democrats are ready to embrace legislation they’ll sell as a temporary fix, optimistic they could earn back a House majority next Congress and pass more robust legislation later.

    Scott’s “view is not as far as mine,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a former Black Caucus chair. “But if that’s what we have to settle for, and get something else later, that’s what I’m going to do.”

    And Carter, the Louisiana Democrat, said that while he thought the Floyd bill was a “solid one,” being “pliable enough to hear other ideas is smart.” He cited how he departed from other Democrats on how much to reform qualified immunity.

    There’s hope within the Black Caucus that Scott’s coming back to the table would signal a possibility of actually passing a bill that would earn the necessary 60 Senate votes, even if the Republican-controlled House declined to take it up.

    “That doesn’t mean he’s going to pass it, because he will ultimately say, ‘I did my part. The House is not ready.’ But he can show that, look, I can do hard things,” the same senior Democratic aide said.

    But there’s no guarantee negotiators won’t experience a severe case of deja vu. The last round of talks collapsed after both parties were unable to close the gap on a few major sticking points, including changes to qualified immunity and restrictions on the use of force. Negotiators ended up trying to craft a more narrowly focused package before discussions totally fell apart.

    After a nearly two-hour meeting with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, CBC Chair Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) said they and the White House were “in agreement” on plans in three categories: legislation, possible executive action and community-based solutions. He wouldn’t expand on what those agreements looked like.

    “We’re not drawing lines in the sand,” Horsford told reporters. “We understand that it is about the culture of policing and keeping communities safe. All of us should be able to agree that bad policing has no place in any American city or community.”

    Going into the meeting, CBC members planned to push the president to use the bully pulpit to bring the issue back into the forefront of the political arena, specifically using next week’s State of the Union address to zero in on the issue.

    While lawmakers wouldn’t say whether Biden made any commitments, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) said that “you’ll certainly hear from the president … in the days ahead.”

    “We are sick and tired of human beings being turned into hashtags. This has got to stop,” he added.

    Biden told lawmakers he wanted to “talk about whatever you want to talk about … how to make progress on police reform of consequence and violence in our community.”

    Still, some Democrats remain optimistic about working with Scott and other Republicans again. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries called preliminary talks with Scott a “productive, useful first start.”

    And as Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) observed: “It’s not going to all happen in one fell swoop. But public sentiment shifts pretty quickly sometimes.”

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 20:30:03 -0500 ishook
    Pentagon: Chinese spy balloon spotted over Western U.S.

    The U.S. is tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that has been spotted over U.S. airspace for a couple days, but the Pentagon decided not to shoot it down due to risks of harm for people on the ground, officials said Thursday. The discovery of the balloon puts a further strain on U.S.-China relations at a time of heightened tensions.

    A senior defense official told Pentagon reporters that the U.S. has “very high confidence” it is a Chinese high-altitude balloon and it was flying over sensitive sites to collect information. One of the places the balloon was spotted was Montana, which is home to one of the nation’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

    Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, provided a brief statement on the issue, saying the government continues to track the balloon. He said it is “currently traveling at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.”

    He said similar balloon activity has been seen in the past several years. He added that the U.S. took steps to ensure it did not collect sensitive information.

    The defense official said the U.S. has “engaged” Chinese officials through multiple channels and communicated the seriousness of the matter.

    The incident comes as Secretary of State Antony Blinken was supposed to make his first trip to Beijing, expected this weekend, to try to find some common ground. Although the trip has not been formally announced, both Beijing and Washington have been talking about his imminent arrival.

    It was not immediately clear if the discovery of the balloon would impact Blinken’s travel plans.

    The senior defense official said the U.S. did get fighter jets, including F-22s, ready to shoot down the balloon if ordered to by the White House. The Pentagon ultimately recommended against it, noting that even as the balloon was over a sparsely populated area of Montana, its size would create a debris field large enough that it could have put people at risk.

    It was not clear what the military was doing to prevent it from collecting sensitive information or what will happen with the balloon if it isn’t shot down.

    The defense official said the spy balloon was trying to fly over the Montana missile fields, but the U.S. has assessed that the balloon has “limited” value in terms of providing China intelligence it couldn’t already collect by other means, such through spy satellites.

    The official would not specify the size of the balloon, but said it was large enough that despite its high altitude, commercial pilots could see it. All air traffic was halted at Montana's Billings Logan International Airport from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, as the military provided options to the White House. A photograph of a large white balloon lingering over the area was captured by the Billings Gazette, but the Pentagon would not confirm if that was the surveillance balloon.

    The defense official said what concerned them about this launch was the altitude the balloon was flying at and the length of time it lingered over a location, without providing specifics.

    Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte said he was briefed Wednesday about the situation after the Montana National Guard was notified of an ongoing military operation taking place in Montana airspace, according to a statement from the Republican governor and spokesperson Brooke Stroyke.

    “From the spy balloon to the Chinese Communist Party spying on Americans through TikTok to CCP-linked companies buying American farmland, I’m deeply troubled by the constant stream of alarming developments for our national security,” Gianforte said in a statement.

    Tensions with China are particularly high on numerous issues, ranging from Taiwan and the South China Sea to human rights in China’s western Xinjiang region and the clampdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong. Not least on that list of irritants are China’s tacit support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its refusal to rein in North Korea’s expanding ballistic missile program and ongoing disputes over trade and technology.

    On Tuesday, Taiwan scrambled fighter jets, put its navy on alert and activated missile systems in response to nearby operations by 34 Chinese military aircraft and nine warships that are part Beijing’s strategy to unsettle and intimidate the self-governing island democracy.

    Twenty of those aircraft crossed the central line in the Taiwan Strait that has long been an unofficial buffer zone between the two sides, which separated during a civil war in 1949.

    Beijing has also increased preparations for a potential blockade or military action against Taiwan, which has stirred increasing concern among military leaders, diplomats and elected officials in the U.S., Taiwan’s key ally.

    The surveillance balloon was first reported by NBC News.

    Some Montana residents reported seeing an unusual object in the sky during the airport shutdown Wednesday, but it’s not clear that what they were seeing was the balloon.

    From an office window in Billings, Chase Doak said he saw a “big white circle in the sky” that he said was too small to be the moon.

    He took some photos, then ran home to get a camera with a stronger lens and took more photos and video. He could see it for about 45 minutes and it appeared stationary, but Doak said the video suggested it was slowly moving.

    “I thought maybe it was a legitimate UFO,” he said. “So I wanted to make sure I documented it and took as many photos as I could."

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 20:30:03 -0500 ishook
    Ann McLaughlin Korologos, Former Labor Secretary, Dies at 81 Thu, 02 Feb 2023 18:10:04 -0500 ishook Rep. Andrew Clyde formally objects to DC crime overhaul with weaker penalties

    Rep. Andrew Clyde said Thursday he filed a measure to “save our nation’s capital from itself” by blocking a D.C. crime overhaul that would decrease maximum penalties for certain gun crimes and offenses like carjacking and robbery.

    Read more…

    The post Rep. Andrew Clyde formally objects to DC crime overhaul with weaker penalties appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 16:40:03 -0500 ishook
    Manchin scolds Biden energy official as administration bends climate law: ‘Quit fighting us’

    Sen. Joe Manchin III aired his grievances Thursday to a top Department of Energy official over the Biden administration disregarding federal law, doubling down on his frustration with how energy and climate policies from the Inflation Reduction Act are being implemented.

    Read more…

    The post Manchin scolds Biden energy official as administration bends climate law: ‘Quit fighting us’ appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 16:40:03 -0500 ishook
    Biden’s cyberspace ambassador wants less anti&China, anti&Russia talk on tech

    President Biden’s cyberspace ambassador is urging Americans to tone down the anti-China and anti-Russia tough talk on tech in hopes of establishing better relations with nations that have not yet picked a side.

    Read more…

    The post Biden’s cyberspace ambassador wants less anti-China, anti-Russia talk on tech appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 16:40:03 -0500 ishook
    House Republicans launch probe into Biden climate envoy John Kerry

    The House Committee on Oversight and Accountability launched an investigation Thursday into the tenure of White House Climate Envoy John Kerry over national security concerns about his environmental talks with China and green activists.

    Read more…

    The post House Republicans launch probe into Biden climate envoy John Kerry appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 16:40:03 -0500 ishook
    Hunter Biden’s lawyers say they don’t confirm the laptop’s contents are real

    Hunter Biden’s lawyer denies that his letters calling for investigations into the leak of the president’s son’s discarded laptop computer confirms the authenticity of the material discovered on the hard drive.

    Read more…

    The post Hunter Biden’s lawyers say they don’t confirm the laptop’s contents are real appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 16:40:03 -0500 ishook
    House Speaker McCarthy announces bipartisan group to write up lawmaker code of conduct

    House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced Thursday that he and Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries will soon appoint a bipartisan group of lawmakers to write a code of conduct for lawmakers.

    Read more…

    The post House Speaker McCarthy announces bipartisan group to write up lawmaker code of conduct appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 16:40:03 -0500 ishook
    Sam Bankman Fried’s co&founder gave GOP govs group $500,000 right before bankruptcy

    Just days before the cryptocurrency exchange FTX filed for bankruptcy, the company’s co-CEO Ryan Salame wrote a $500,000 check to the Republican Governors Association, the main campaign arm tasked with electing GOP executives across the country.

    The donation was not a radical move on Salame’s part. He was, at the time, an emerging prolific GOP donor who gave more than $23 million to federal candidates and PACs in 2021 and 2022, according to FEC records. But with the fall of FTX and the arrest of Salame’s co-founder Sam Bankman-Fried, a new layer of scrutiny has been placed upon the campaign contributions that emanated from the leaders of the failed crypto empire.

    A number of Democratic candidates have announced their intentions to return donations from Bankman-Fried. The RGA, however, appears to have kept Salame’s funds. A spokesperson for the group declined to comment on that specific donation. Unlike Bankman-Fried, Salame was not indicted.

    The $500,000 donation from Salame was part of a $28.6 million haul that the association brought in over the last three months of 2022, according to filings with the IRS.

    That money — coupled with seven-figure donations from GOP mega-donors — fueled its aggressive push to claim the executive branch in a number of states on Nov. 8. Ultimately, however, Democrats flipped three governorships in their favor. And they did so with an atypical cash advantage.

    “Democrats were on total defense in 2022 and their incumbents were mired in tough races due to their out-of-touch records,” an RGA spokesperson said, pointing to the defeat of the incumbent Democratic governor in Nevada.

    During the fourth quarter of 2022, the Democratic Governors Association raised about $40.2 million, according to filings with the IRS. Veterans of gubernatorial campaigns said it was the rare instance of the party’s donors shifting their focus to the DGA.

    “Major donors are very often focused on national issues and presidential politics rather than state issues,” former DGA executive director Colm O’Comartun said of the party’s donor class, adding that gubernatorial races in swing states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania created a persuasive argument for the Democrats’ major donors. “Starry eyed donors have been used to being with Nancy [Pelosi] on Nantucket but are now warming to Democratic governors.”

    It could have been even worse for Republicans if not for donors like Salame. Last year, RGA also received $6 million from The Concord Fund, a group associated with the powerful conservative legal activist Leonard Leo. Its project, known as the Judicial Crisis Network, spent millions to support former President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominees. In 2022, the Concord Fund also gave $2.15 million to the Republican State Leadership Committee, which supports conservative candidates running for state judiciaries and other state-level campaigns.

    The influx of cash suggests a growing effort by the group to focus on the states. A spokesperson for the Concord Fund maintained, though, that the group, primarily through its support for the Judicial Crisis Network, has already been involved in state court issues for over a decade.

    RGA is free to accept donations of unlimited size, beyond the limits set for federal and many state-level campaigns. Groups like RGA are also free to accept contributions from corporations, unlike federal campaigns.

    RGA’s 2022 fundraising haul also included a number of major conservative donor dynasties. The Las Vegas Sands Corporation — whose majority shareholder is Miriam Adelson — gave $3.79 million. The gift is also the latest indication that Adelson has remained a political force since the death of her husband, Sheldon Adelson, in 2021. Another political dynasty also spent big to support the Republican Governors: Suzanne DeVos gave $300,000, as did Richard DeVos Jr., Doug DeVos, and Daniel DeVos.

    DGA’s haul also included some of the party’s mega-donors: Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker gave a total of $27 million to the group in 2022, and billionaire Stephen Mandel gave $1,000,000 as well. A portion of the haul came as a transfer from an affiliated committee, Democratic Action.

    DGA did not report any gifts from FTX in 2022.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 16:00:04 -0500 ishook
    U.S. supports blocking Russia and Belarus from 2024 Olympics as war rages in Ukraine

    The U.S. supports blocking Russian and Belarusian athletes from the 2024 Olympics unless it is “absolutely clear” that they are not representing their respective countries, the White House announced on Thursday.

    As Russia continues to wage its almost yearlong war in Ukraine, a handful of Ukrainian allieshave called on the International Olympic Committee to ban all Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

    White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stopped short of backing an outright ban on athletes coming from Russia and Belarus. But she said the U.S. supported “suspending Russia and Belarus’ sport national governing bodies from International Sports Federations; removing individuals closely aligned to the Russian and Belarusian states, including government officials from positions of influence and international sports federations, such as boards and organizing committees; [and] encouraging national and international sports organizations to suspend broadcasting of sports competition into Russia and Belarus.”

    Should the International Olympic Committee allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate, the use of official Russian or Belarusian flags, emblems or anthems should be prohibited, Jean-Pierre said during her Thursday press briefing.

    In recent weeks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged the International Olympic Committee to ban the two countries’ athletes from competing in the 2024 Summer Games in Paris. But last week, the IOC released a statement saying, “No athlete should be prevented from competing just because of their passport,” and proposing that participants from Russia and Belarus could compete as “neutral athletes.”

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 16:00:04 -0500 ishook
    Roy Wood Jr. named entertainer at 2023 White House Correspondents' dinner

    Roy Wood Jr., the stand-up comedian known for his work on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," will be the featured entertainer at the 2023 annual White House Correspondents' dinner, the Correspondents’ Association announced on Thursday.

    “It will be a great night that will go down in the history books, or not, depending on which state you live in,” Wood said in the announcement.

    The dinner, set for April 29, is typically attended by numerous Washington VIPs, including the president and first lady. The annual event, attended for decades by presidents from both parties, became a political flash point during the Trump administration when then-President Donald Trump refused to attend the event amid his frequent tirades against the Washington press corps. The dinner was canceled amid the Covid pandemic in 2020 and 2021 but returned last year with President Joe Biden in attendance.

    Wood, who studied journalism at Florida A&M University in 1998 before shifting to stand-up comedy, is the son of a pioneer radio and television journalist. Roy Wood Sr. covered topics like the Civil Rights movement and the South African Soweto race riots — work that helped him earn a lifetime achievement award from the National Association of Black Journalists.

    “It’s an honor to be a part of a long-running tradition of celebrating those members of the media, who work so hard to uncover the truth, and hold our government accountable,” Wood said in a press release.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 16:00:04 -0500 ishook
    Sarah Huckabee Sanders picked for GOP State of the Union response

    Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders will deliver the Republican response to President Joe Biden's State of the Union address next week, GOP leaders from both houses of Congress announced Thursday.

    Sanders, the youngest governor in the U.S., was elected to the governor's mansion in Little Rock last November and sworn in early last month. She is the daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and spent nearly two years as White House press secretary during the Trump administration.

    “I am grateful for this opportunity to address the nation and contrast the GOP’s optimistic vision for the future against the failures of President Biden and the Democrats,” Sanders said in a statement.

    The press secretary-turned-governor was a polarizing figure during her tenure behind the White House briefing room podium, from which she sparred often with the Washington press corps as she defended then-President Donald Trump amid his administration's controversy and scandal.

    Sanders herself was eventually caught up in controversy in 2019, when a report released by special counsel Robert Mueller revealed that the press secretary admitted to misleading the reporters during a 2017 briefing where she discussed Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey. Sanders said at that briefing that "the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director" and that the Trump White House had heard from "countless members of the FBI" that they had lost confidence in Comey. In its report, Mueller's team said Sanders conceded that those "comments were not founded on anything."

    Sanders will deliver her address from Little Rock next Tuesday after Biden wraps his speech before a joint session of Congress. In a statement, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said everyone should listen to the address, “including President Biden.”

    "She is a servant-leader of true determination and conviction," McCarthy said. "I’m thrilled Sarah will share her extraordinary story and bold vision for a better America on Tuesday."

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 16:00:04 -0500 ishook
    GOP's politicized&government panel sets first hearing for next week Thu, 02 Feb 2023 16:00:03 -0500 ishook Trump Won’t Commit to Backing the G.O.P. Nominee in 2024 Thu, 02 Feb 2023 15:30:03 -0500 ishook Democrat launches ’24 campaign against Kevin McCarthy

    A Fresno Democrat has launched a long-shot bid to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy next year, accusing the Republican of abandoning his central California district.

    Read more…

    The post Democrat launches ’24 campaign against Kevin McCarthy appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 15:30:02 -0500 ishook
    White House says Russian, Belarusian athletes should not compete under flags at Paris 2024 Olympics

    The White House said Thursday it supports a crackdown on Russian and Belarusian officials’ participation in global sports and that athletes from those countries who compete in the 2024 Summer Games should not be allowed to display their national symbols.

    Read more…

    The post White House says Russian, Belarusian athletes should not compete under flags at Paris 2024 Olympics appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 15:30:02 -0500 ishook
    Durbin demands details about work by indicted FBI official involved in Trump&Russia investigation

    The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday demanded the FBI and Justice Department provide more information about the investigations overseen by Charles McGonigal, who was arrested last month on criminal charges.

    Read more…

    The post Durbin demands details about work by indicted FBI official involved in Trump-Russia investigation appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 15:30:02 -0500 ishook
    Crowds decry transgender treatment ban in West Virginia

    CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Crowds decry transgender treatment ban in West Virginia Crowds at the West Virginia state Capitol pleaded with lawmakers Thursday to show as much compassion for saving the lives of transgender children as they showed for unborn fetuses when they voted to ban abortion just months ago.

    Read more…

    The post Crowds decry transgender treatment ban in West Virginia appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 15:25:04 -0500 ishook
    Opinion | Fake it Till You Make It: The Generational Explanation Behind George Santos

    The congressman representing the “Great Gatsby” district of Long Island and Queens, N.Y. faked it till he made it. Much like the self-mythologizing Jay Gatsby, Rep. George Santos lied about his education and work history but still achieved a version of the American Dream — getting elected to federal office.

    Exposed as a fabulist, Santos is now being called on to resign, and even 78 percent of his constituents want him out. While the overt lying may subside, though, it’s unlikely Santos will willingly stop his rousing performance of “congressman.” Why not? Because Santos is getting exactly what he wants: attention. Like many of those in his generation, the 34-year-old millennial lawmaker has watched national recognition lead to power and influence. In an “attention economy” like the ones created by social media platforms, attention is the most valuable currency, over truth or morality — even money. Santos is simply a product of his environment.

    Santos’s Gatsby-esque victory did not come entirely as a surprise to me. He is part of a certain flavor of bombastic New York red wave politician, those who seek power with performative methods. New York is the home of the Enquirer, birthplace of Donald Trump and originator of Madison Avenue advertising. If anything, its Republicans and their tabloid-style tales follow a peculiar local strain of political and cultural style that has inspired others.

    My doctoral research on conservative media influencers features interviews with people like Santos’ new staffer Vish Burra, a Staten Island native who once worked with Steve Bannon on his podcast War Room to break the Hunter Biden laptop story. Later, Burra staffed Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz as he was being investigated for sex trafficking (though prosecutors have recommended not making any charges).

    In interviews, Burra told me about the far-right media’s strategy of penetrating mainstream media and delivering lib-owning, attention-seeking performances. Burra himself has claimed "illegal immigrants" were bringing Covid-19 across the border on The Daily Show. He clashed with Asian-American progressives on a VICE panel discussing upticks in hate crimes against Asians. On local news, he lauded his maskless New York Young Republican Club gala during the 2020 pandemic. He is one of many characters in the Trumpian carnival, the self-described “clout Diablo,” who seeks social capital at all costs. All of this performance is in the name of attention.

    Burra and Santos are both just playing to the incentives of the attention economy, which exploded in the past decade. Those trying to shame Santos will find their words falling on deaf ears: For the congressman, it is more important to be noticed than liked.

    Origins of the Attention Economy  

    After the global financial crisis in 2008, so many in my millennial generation faced the cold reality that a stable job, home and retirement were not givens. Not only that, it was the corrupt big banks that were getting bailed out by the government, not average Americans. With the additional backdrop of a failing War on Terror, cynicism about power, institutions and truth set into my generation. Creating a “personal brand” became a way to rely on the one thing that would never go out of business: ourselves.

    A “fake it till you make it” attitude pervaded this personal branding environment. If powerful people lied for money or power and got away with it — be it in the 2008 financial crisis or the pretense of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — why could you not embellish the truth a little?

    Luckily, anyone could make a business out of themselves using new social media platforms that could quickly turn a regular person into an internet celebrity. Venture capitalists placed bets on “unicorns” with inspiring stories that could reap fame — while attracting users and investors. Online news, like Breitbart or The Huffington Post (which employed a young Andrew Breitbart before he founded his own site), discovered personality-driven news drove more traffic. Forbes launched its 30 Under 30 list in 2011, jumping on the influencer-driven media bandwagon and creating the heroes-cum-villains of my generation.

    As media scholar Alice Marwick points out in her book Status Update, new Web 2.0 technologies encouraged a fixation on status, attention and getting followers in a world of influential leaders. And the increasing demand for content left little time or incentive to look behind or dig deeper into a click-generating story.

    Politicians have simply adapted to this moment, according to Gaetz, who interviewed Santos while guest hosting on Bannon’s podcast. “If we didn’t seat people on committees who embellished their résumé running for Congress, we probably wouldn’t be able to make quorum,” Gaetz said.

    Santos likely thought he was doing what everyone else was doing in the age of the influencer.

    Although he denies any criminal activity, the congressman has admitted to a number of biographical fabrications. And with that, Santos joins other too-good-to-be-true alleged scammers in the news cycle, albeit in different fields, who doctored their personal stories (and businesses) for influence, power or money. The most recent examples include fallen crypto giant and effective altruism-acolyte, Sam Bankman-Fried of FTX, or student aid entrepreneur currently being sued by JP Morgan for $175 million, Charlie Javice of Frank. (Full disclosure: I once made a small attempt to start a company with Javice, but opted to follow a different life-path as a doctoral student.)

    Be it in politics or start-ups, all of these figures played to the incentives of a media and tech landscape that rewards individuals who can sell a niche-story, regardless of its veracity. Such tall tales get clicks, funding, donations and attention from people who want an outsider to do the impossible. In Silicon Valley, it is a story of young people who “do well by doing good” and could growth hack their way to market dominance. In Republican politics, that story may be one of a gay, Brazilian immigrant businessman with “Jew-ish” roots and a questionable animal charity, who also backs Trump’s “Stop the Steal” election denialism.

    It’s a risky game to play, but these attention seekers think their fame — and the influence, money or power they assume will come with it — will insulate them from consequences. And for now, it seems to be true for Santos, who has so far successfully dodged calls for resignation.

    A MAGA Anti-Hero or Villain?

    With Santos joining the orbit of people like Burra and Gaetz, I am even more sure that the performance will not stop. Like a World Wrestling Entertainment fighter, Santos has joined a political promotion where he must fashion a new role for himself. Playing the well-meaning MAGA-dunce may just be it.

    As much as other Republicans, such as Speaker Kevin McCarthy, may express doubts about Santos to the press, Santos and his daily tabloid exposés are now the perfect diversion. Republican-run legislatures around the country are introducing bills banning drag, while Twitter can’t stop talking about Santos’ time as a Brazilian drag queen. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene got a seat on the House Homeland Security Committee, even after saying “we would have won” if she had organized the Jan. 6 riot. Yet, this news is not as salacious as Santos receiving money from a cousin of a sanctioned Russian oligarch. The GOP has little reason to kick out such a welcome distraction.

    Our technology, politics and media have created structural incentives for a scam — and our culture seems to love it. We live in a love-hate relationship with billionaire unicorns and untouchable CEOs. Forty-four percent of Americans believe they can become billionaires, while 40 percent simultaneously hate billionaires. We rue a Gatsby. We live to gossip about a scammer. We may even find it badass (and Netflix-binge worthy) when faux-heiress Anna Delvey, born Russian-German immigrant Anna Sorokin, nearly scammed the world’s biggest banks into investing in her startup.

    In a similar vein, far-right influencer Jack Posobiec

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 14:00:04 -0500 ishook
    Sen. Joe Manchin: Feds ‘not taking my gas stove,’ will file bill to protect appliance

    Sen. Joe Manchin III kicked off his first hearing as chairman of the Senate Energy Committee in the new Congress Thursday by placing the natural gas stove debate on the front burner.

    Read more…

    The post Sen. Joe Manchin: Feds ‘not taking my gas stove,’ will file bill to protect appliance appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 13:00:04 -0500 ishook
    Openly gay U.S. ambassador to Hungary faces personal attacks

    The openly gay ambassador whom President Biden sent to staunchly conservative Hungary is facing a firestorm of criticism in Budapest, where pro-government media accuse him of violating diplomatic protocols, meddling in the judiciary and undermining the country’s traditional values.

    Read more…

    The post Openly gay U.S. ambassador to Hungary faces personal attacks appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 13:00:04 -0500 ishook
    Biden’s economic adviser to resign, adding to White House staff shake&up

    President Biden’s economic adviser Brian Deese is stepping down after his two-year stint in the administration marked by stiff economic headwinds, the White House said Thursday.

    Read more…

    The post Biden’s economic adviser to resign, adding to White House staff shake-up appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 13:00:04 -0500 ishook
    Arkansas Gov. Sarah Sanders to deliver GOP response to State of Union address

    Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders will deliver the Republican Party’s response to President Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.

    Read more…

    The post Arkansas Gov. Sarah Sanders to deliver GOP response to State of Union address appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 13:00:03 -0500 ishook
    Joe Biden set to encounter ‘Don’t Run Joe’ protests at DNC’s annual meeting

    President Biden will be on the receiving end of progressive criticism when he travels Friday to Philadelphia to address the Democratic National Committee, throwing a kink in the party’s desire to show a unified front at the annual meeting.

    Read more…

    The post Joe Biden set to encounter ‘Don’t Run Joe’ protests at DNC’s annual meeting appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 13:00:03 -0500 ishook
    U.S. resettles former al&Qaida courier from Guantanamo to Belize

    U.S. officials have finally found a country — Belize — to take in a Guantanamo detainee and former al-Qaida courier who finished serving his sentence nearly a year ago.

    Majid Khan has already left the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and is now in Belize, a senior State Department official said. The official did not say when the transfer took place.

    The 42-year-old Pakistani citizen pleaded guilty in 2012 to delivering $50,000 to an al-Qaida affiliate that financed a deadly hotel bombing in Indonesia in 2003, and was sentenced to 26 years in prison. Khan’s sentence was later reduced after he cooperated with the government and testified about his torture by the CIA at black sites oversees, making him eligible for release last March.

    But finding Khan a new home proved difficult. Since the end of his sentence, U.S. officials have struggled to find a place that was willing to take in Khan and his family. The Biden administration said in August that the State Department had approached 11 countries, though it did not name any of them.

    The U.S. finally found a solution in Belize.

    “The government of Belize has been super helpful to us,” the State Department official said. “We asked them to do something that is admittedly difficult from a political perspective. It's hard for any country.” The official was granted anonymity to speak freely about the details of the diplomatic negotiations.

    The Biden administration sought out several different agencies to certify that Khan poses no danger to the U.S. or its allies, the official said.

    “They will accept him on [that] premise,” the official said of Belize. “We don't do the transfers just to do transfers. I want to be clear about that. It's an interagency process. We all do agree that not only is the individual ready for transfer, but that [Belize] is capable and willing.” The embassy of Belize in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    Nineteen other detainees are eligible for transfer from Guantanamo Bay, according to the U.S. Before Khan, the U.S. transferred Saifullah Paracha to Pakistan. A total of 34 people are still being held at Guantanamo.

    Khan, who was first taken into custody in Pakistan in 2003, detailed historture by the CIA at a hearing in October 2021. Military officers on the jury condemned the torture in a clemency letter published by the New York Times, calling it a “stain on the moral fiber of America.” He was granted that clemency in March of 2022, when Col. Jeffrey Wood, the convening authority for military commissions, reduced Khan’s official sentence to 10 years, time he had already served.

    “The tribunal had actually written a letter on his behalf to say that they thought that he was the guy who could really find a new home and a new lease on life and acknowledged that yes, he was a good candidate for transfer,” the senior State Department official said.

    Khan, who went to school in Maryland, sued the Biden administration last summer for continuing to hold him even after he finished his sentence. His legal team suggested Khan be transferred to the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay until a country agreed to resettle him.

    Khan “continues to be imprisoned at Guantanamo, beyond the expiration of his sentence, and without foreseeable end,” the complaint filed by Khan and his lawyer read. “Petitioner's conditions of confinement at Guantanamo also have not improved since his sentence ended; in certain respects, they have become more punitive.”

    In a statement provided by his lawyers, Khan said he has "been given a second chance in life."

    “I intend to make the most of it,” he said. “I deeply regret the things that I did many years ago, and I have taken responsibility and tried to make up for them. I promise all of you, especially the people of Belize that I will be a productive, law-abiding member of society."

    Wells Dixon, Khan's lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said his client's transfer "is the culmination of decades-long litigation and advocacy ... to challenge the worst abuses of the ‘war on terror’ and close the Guantanamo Bay prison."

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 12:50:04 -0500 ishook
    House Ousts Ilhan Omar From Foreign Affairs Panel as G.O.P. Exacts Revenge Thu, 02 Feb 2023 12:50:03 -0500 ishook Washington launches a new Google battle — with an old playbook

    The Biden administration’s recent move to break up Google is drawing global attention — but also highlights an awkward reality: Washington is a step behind other parts of the world that have updated their own antitrust rules to keep pace with the digital age.

    Across the Atlantic and in Australia, regulators are writing cutting-edge new laws and regulations to keep the powerful tech platforms in check. The Department of Justice, on the other hand, is using the Sherman Antitrust Act — legislation passed more than a hundred years ago and more associated with dismantling Big Oil than taking on Big Tech — to try to rein in Silicon Valley’s alleged overreach.

    In the European Union, the Digital Markets Act comes into force next year with clear limits — and potentially hefty fines — in how the likes of Alphabet, Meta and Apple can expand their online empires. In the United Kingdom, new legislation is expected to be published later this month that will also give the country’s antitrust enforcer greater powers to hobble tech giants’ ambitions before they harm smaller rivals.

    And Australia — where regulators already followed their European counterparts in forcing social media companies to pay publishers whenever their content appeared on these platforms — officials are also mulling similar changes to create bespoke rules for tech giants after the country’s competition regulator admitted its current powers hadn’t kept pace with industry.

    “Google has leveraged its data and acquisitions to dominate the adtech market,” Rod Rims, the former head of Australia’s competition and consumer protection agency, told POLITICO. “The huge number of acquisitions that companies like Google and Facebook have made raises the question: Do you need any extra hurdles if you’re so dominant?”

    The tech giants simply grew too fast over the past two decades for antitrust law to keep up. And while the U.S. is now trying retroactively to keep them in check, regulators elsewhere can now do so in advance.

    For the world of antitrust officials, this shift — known as ex ante rulemaking, or efforts to stop potentially anticompetitive behavior before it gets out of hand — is a recognition the current enforcement system is too slow, too complex and too cumbersome to stop companies from scooping up smaller rivals or crowding out new markets before policymakers can respond in time.

    In Europe, for instance, the European Commission has already fined Google roughly 10 billion euros for three separate charges of antitrust abuse dating back a decade. Yet those investigations linked to the company’s respective Android mobile software, search products and online advertising services took years to complete, giving the company time to build up an overwhelming dominance.

    Alphabet — Google’s parent company that denies any wrongdoing in its stable of antitrust cases worldwide, including the most recent charges from Washington — also appealed Brussels’ decisions, dragging out those rulings for years.

    That’s why European policymakers shifted gears to create a new competition rulebook aimed at clamping down on problems before they even arise.

    The goal: to create rules more akin to ongoing oversight within the financial services industry that can pinpoint potential abuse before it requires lengthy investigations. For international authorities, it’s less about dawn raids and glitzy press conferences, and more about everyday regulatory supervision to take the sting out of Big Tech’s dominance.

    Here’s how it will work. Within the EU, a small number of (almost exclusively American) companies will be defined as so-called gatekeepers, or firms that hold a disproportionately dominant position within markets like search, online advertising or mobile app stores. These tech giants will then have to abide by a tougher set of rules than smaller rivals, including bans on so-called self-preferencing, or treating their own products and services more favorably compared with those of others.

    That means Apple will likely have to allow people to download apps from rival online stores. Alphabet will almost certainly be forced to open up its online advertising — and the lucrative data that underpins it — to outsiders. And Meta must allow other messaging services to connect, directly, to WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

    “Large gatekeeper platforms have prevented businesses and consumers from the benefits of competitive digital markets,” Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s competition czar, said when announcing the changes last year. “What we want is simple: fair markets also in digital.”

    U.S. policymakers are well aware they are behind their international counterparts.

    Stalled bipartisan legislation, known as the American Innovation and Choice Online Act supported by the likes of Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), would similarly outlaw much of Big Tech’s alleged anticompetitive behavior. That would include stopping these companies from preferencing their own services over those of rivals, as well as banning current limits on how smaller competitors use the dominant services to target potential customers.

    Yet even before Republicans regained control over the House last month, the new U.S. antitrust proposals had run into industry-led efforts that claimed they would harm innovation, restrict consumer choice and undermine national security. Now, expectations are that U.S. enforcers like Jonathan Kanter, head of the Department of Justice’s antitrust unit, will have to work with the powers they already have — and not bank on upgraded rules fit for the digital world.

    “We’re going to have to work with the rules we have,” a Capitol Hill staffer told POLITICO on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

    Still, the new antitrust powers dreamed up in Brussels, London and Canberra aren’t the slam dunk that many of those countries’ officials are hoping for. And while some in the U.S. would welcome such bespoke enforcement regimes, U.S. judges would almost certainly throw them out because existing domestic law makes it illegal to treat some companies differently from others.

    In the U.K., for instance, regulators plan to create bespoke competition rules for specific tech giants — with so-called strategic market importance, according to the upcoming British legislation that may be published as soon as the week of Feb. 13.

    That follows repeated evidence from British authorities that the likes of Apple, Alphabet and Meta hold disproportionate power in the local market in everything from advertising to app stores to social media. The companies deny any accusations they have abused their dominance positions.

    U.K. officials believe regulating Amazon and its e-commerce empire will require a different set of rules to overseeing Apple and its increasingly digital empire. That requires individual antitrust guardrails for each firm, or a customized playbook to keep a close tab on how each company expands.

    For Brussels, whose enforcers still have a series of legacy antitrust cases into Silicon Valley’s biggest names (the likes of Meta, Apple and Alphabet deny any wrongdoing,) the shift from lengthy investigations to more hands-on daily supervision is also still a work in progress.

    European officials are currently deciding which tech giants will be designated as so-called gatekeepers. EU lawyers and their counterparts at the companies are haggling over whether a firm’s entire operations or only specific services like an app store or social network should be included in the new rules, according to four people with direct knowledge of the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.

    “It’s going to take time to stop people thinking that’s just about investigations,” said one of the EU officials who spoke to POLITICO on the condition of anonymity. “We’re in a new era. We have to get our heads around that.”

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 12:45:03 -0500 ishook
    Catholic bishop leader hits Biden’s claim that pope OKs abortion funding

    The head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops fired back against President Biden’s claim that some bishops do not want to block taxpayer funding of abortion, while another bishop accused the president of being a “fake” Catholic.

    Read more…

    The post Catholic bishop leader hits Biden’s claim that pope OKs abortion funding appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 12:05:02 -0500 ishook
    Tortured Guantánamo Detainee Is Freed in Belize Thu, 02 Feb 2023 12:05:01 -0500 ishook Political rarity: Alaska Dem hires GOP rival Thu, 02 Feb 2023 10:40:04 -0500 ishook Buttigieg, two years into Biden’s Cabinet, ‘not planning on going anywhere’

    Pete Buttigieg said Thursday that he’s planning on staying in his job as Transportation secretary, which he called “the best job in the federal government.”

    “I don't have any plans to do any job besides the one I've got,” Buttigieg said in an interview with Punchbowl News on the two-year anniversary of his confirmation. He swatted aside questions about any plans to run for president in 2024 or a bid for an open Senate seat in Michigan.

    Buttigieg, who rose from the mayor of South Bend, Ind., to make an unsuccessful bid for president in 2020, is a rising star in the Democratic Party and widely expected to eventually make a run for higher office.

    He noted that the decision on how long he’ll head up the Transportation Department is ultimately “above his pay grade” and that he serves “at the pleasure of the president for the time being,” as it says on the certificate on his wall. “Every political appointee accepts that,” he said.

    Still, he said, he has no current plans to leave.

    “I love this job and I feel like we're right in the middle of the action,” he said. “I'm not planning on going anywhere because we're smack in the middle of historic work.”

    He said his job leading DOT is “taking 110 percent of my attention and energy” and that he thinks it’s “the best job in the federal government — even if it's pretty demanding some days.”

    “It's a privilege to be doing the work,” he said. “That's what I'm going to be doing.”

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 10:40:04 -0500 ishook
    Bear Hugs and Dad Jokes: Ron Klain’s Tearful Goodbye Thu, 02 Feb 2023 10:40:03 -0500 ishook U.S. Prosecutors Detail Plot to Kill Haitian President Thu, 02 Feb 2023 10:40:03 -0500 ishook U.S. to Boost Military Role in the Philippines in Push to Counter China Thu, 02 Feb 2023 10:40:02 -0500 ishook Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pushes sales&tax exemption for gas stoves

    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing to exempt gas-powered stoves and other appliances from the state sales tax as part of his latest budget.

    Read more…

    The post Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pushes sales-tax exemption for gas stoves appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 10:25:06 -0500 ishook
    Biden confronted with big risk of ditching Harris for the 2024 ticket

    President Biden will ignore Democratic scuttlebutt about replacing Kamala Harris as his 2024 running mate, say party strategists who argue dumping her would alienate key voters and risk creating an image of instability in the administration.

    Read more…

    The post Biden confronted with big risk of ditching Harris for the 2024 ticket appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 10:25:06 -0500 ishook
    Biden prays for unity, pledges to reach across aisle at National Prayer Breakfast

    President Biden on Thursday promised to work closely with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in a pledge of bipartisanship at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

    Read more…

    The post Biden prays for unity, pledges to reach across aisle at National Prayer Breakfast appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 10:25:06 -0500 ishook
    After bitter RNC meeting, Democrats look to project unity

    A week after bitter divisions dominated a national Republican gathering, Democrats holding their own meeting are eager to showcase just how much they agree on.

    Read more…

    The post After bitter RNC meeting, Democrats look to project unity appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 10:25:06 -0500 ishook
    Vindicated: Trump celebrates CJR report on Russiagate

    Former President Donald Trump is crowing over a Columbia Journalism Review probe that found “serious flaws” in the media’s coverage of the 2016 Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia.

    Read more…

    The post Vindicated: Trump celebrates CJR report on Russiagate appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 10:25:06 -0500 ishook
    Pelosi backing Schiff in Senate race in California if Feinstein retires

    Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is backing Rep. Adam B. Schiff’s bid for a California Senate seat — so long as Sen. Dianne Feinstein exits, stage left.

    Read more…

    The post Pelosi backing Schiff in Senate race in California if Feinstein retires appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 10:25:06 -0500 ishook
    Biden approval steady after document discovery: AP&NORC Poll

    More U.S. adults disapprove than approve of the way President Joe Biden has handled the discovery of classified documents at his home and former office, a new poll shows, but that seems to have had little impact on his overall approval rating.

    Read more…

    The post Biden approval steady after document discovery: AP-NORC Poll appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 10:25:06 -0500 ishook
    Florida could end unanimous jury requirement for executions

    TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida lawmakers proposed legislation making it easier to send convicts to death row by eliminating a unanimous jury requirement in capital punishment sentencing – a response to anger from victims’ families following a verdict sparing a school shooter from execution.

    Read more…

    The post Florida could end unanimous jury requirement for executions appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 10:25:06 -0500 ishook
    Democrats reignite ‘price gouging’ furor against Big Oil after record 2022 profits

    Democrats on Capitol Hill have a bone to pick with oil companies after they raked in record profits last year thanks to high prices at the pump, even as they call for less production to combat climate change.

    Read more…

    The post Democrats reignite ‘price gouging’ furor against Big Oil after record 2022 profits appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 10:25:06 -0500 ishook
    Payback? McConnell foes Rick Scott, Mike Lee booted from Senate commerce committee

    Two of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s biggest critics lost prime committee slots after opposing the Kentucky Republican for another term atop the Senate GOP.

    Read more…

    The post Payback? McConnell foes Rick Scott, Mike Lee booted from Senate commerce committee appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 10:25:06 -0500 ishook
    North Korea warns of ‘toughest reaction’ to allies’ drills

    SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Thursday threatened the “toughest reaction” to the United States’ expanding joint military exercises with South Korea to counter the North’s growing nuclear weapons ambitions, claiming that the allies were pushing tensions to an “extreme red line.”

    The statement by Pyongyang’s Foreign Ministry came in response to comments by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said in Seoul on Tuesday that the United States would increase its deployment of advanced military assets to the Korean Peninsula, including fighter jets and aircraft carriers, as it strengthens joint training and operational planning with South Korea.

    South Korea’s Defense Ministry said the United States flew B-1B bombers and F-22 and F-35 fighter jets in an exercise with South Korean fighters on Wednesday above South Korea’s western waters in their latest show of strength. The United States and South Korea are also planning to hold a simulation exercise this month aimed at sharpening their response if North Korea uses nuclear weapons.

    In a statement attributed to an unidentified spokesperson of its Foreign Ministry, North Korea said the expansion of the allies’ drills is threatening to turn the Korean Peninsula into a “huge war arsenal and a more critical war zone.” The statement said the North is prepared to counter any short-term or long-term military challenge by the allies with the “most overwhelming nuclear force.”

    “The military and political situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the region has reached an extreme red line due to the reckless military confrontational maneuvers and hostile acts of the U.S. and its vassal forces,” the spokesperson said.

    North Korea for decades has described the United States’ combined military exercises with South Korea as rehearsals for a potential invasion, although the allies have described those drills as defensive.

    North Korea last year ramped up its own weapons demonstrations as the allies resumed their large-scale training that had been downsized for years. North Korea’s actions included a slew of missile and artillery launches that it described as simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and U.S. targets.

    “DPRK will take the toughest reaction to any military attempt of the U.S. on the principle of ‘nuke for nuke and an all-out confrontation for an all-out confrontation!’” the North Korean spokesperson said, invoking the country’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

    “If the U.S. continues to introduce strategic assets into the Korean Peninsula and its surrounding area, the DPRK will make clearer its deterring activities without fail according to their nature,” the spokesperson said.

    Jeon Ha Gyu, spokesperson of South Korea’s Defense Ministry, said the ministry had no immediate comment in response to the North Korean statement. He said the allies’ latest aerial drills were aimed at demonstrating the credibility of the U.S. “extended deterrence,” referring to a commitment to use the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear ones, to defend South Korea. He declined to reveal the exact number of U.S. and South Korean aircraft involved in the exercise.

    Austin’s visit came as South Korea seeks stronger assurances that the United States will swiftly and decisively use its nuclear capabilities to protect its ally in face of a North Korean nuclear attack.

    South Korea’s security jitters have risen since North Korea test-fired dozens of missiles in 2022, including potentially nuclear-capable ones designed to strike targets in South Korea and the U.S. mainland. North Korea’s elevated testing activity has been punctuated by threats to preemptively use its nuclear weapons in a broad range of scenarios in which it perceives its leadership to be under threat, including conventional clashes or non-war situations.

    In a news conference following their meeting, Austin said he and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup agreed to further expand their combined military exercises, including more live-fire demonstrations. They pledged to continue a “timely and coordinated” deployment of U.S. strategic assets to the region.

    They said that their countries’ resumption of large-scale military drills last year effectively demonstrated their combined capabilities to deter North Korean aggression. The allies had downsized their training in recent years to create room for diplomacy with North Korea during the Trump administration and because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    South Korea and the United States have also been strengthening their security cooperation with Japan, which has included trilateral missile defense and anti-submarine warfare exercises in past months amid the provocative run in North Korean weapons tests.

    “We deployed fifth-generation aircraft, F-22s and F-35s, we deployed a carrier strike group to visit the peninsula. You can look for more of that kind of activity going forward,” Austin said.

    Tensions could further rise in coming months with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un doubling down on his nuclear ambitions.

    During a political conference in December, Kim called for an “exponential increase” in nuclear warheads, mass production of battlefield tactical nuclear weapons targeting South Korea, and the development of more powerful long-range missiles designed to reach the U.S. mainland.

    Experts say Kim’s nuclear push is aimed at forcing the United States to accept the idea of North Korea as a nuclear power and then negotiating badly needed economic concessions from a position of strength.

    Nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea have been derailed since 2019 because of disagreements over a relaxation of U.S.-led economic sanctions against the North in exchange for steps by North Korea to wind down its nuclear weapons and missiles programs.

    The North Korean spokesperson said Pyongyang isn’t interested in any contact or dialogue with the United States as long as it maintains its “hostile policy and confrontational line,” accusing Washington of maintaining sanctions and military pressure to force the North to “disarm itself unilaterally.”

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 09:45:03 -0500 ishook
    Ukraine can’t retake Crimea soon, Pentagon tells lawmakers in classified briefing

    Ukrainian forces are unlikely to be able to recapture Crimea from Russian troops in the near future, four senior Defense Department officials told House Armed Services Committee lawmakers in a classified briefing. The assessment is sure to frustrate leaders in Kyiv who consider taking the peninsula back one of their signature goals.

    It’s unclear what led the briefers to that assessment. But the clear indication, as relayed by three people with direct knowledge of Thursday’s briefing’s contents, was that the Pentagon doesn’t believe Ukraine has — or soon will have — the ability to force Russian troops out of the peninsula Moscow seized nearly a decade ago.

    A fourth person said the briefing was more ambiguous, but the point remained that Ukraine’s victory in an offensive to retake the illegally annexed territory wasn’t assured. All four asked for anonymity in order to disclose details from a classified briefing.

    The briefers included Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, and Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, director of operations on the Joint Staff.

    “We’re not going to comment on closed-door classified briefings nor will we talk about hypotheticals or speculate on potential future operations,” Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh said. “In terms of Ukraine’s ability to fight and take back sovereign territory, their remarkable performance in repulsing Russian aggression and continued adaptability on the battlefield speaks for itself.”

    A House Armed Services spokesperson declined to comment.

    The assessment from the briefers echoes what Gen. Mark Milley, the Joint Chiefs chair, has alluded to in recent weeks.

    “I still maintain that for this year it would be very, very difficult to militarily eject the Russian forces from all –– every inch of Ukraine and occupied –– or Russian-occupied Ukraine,” he said during a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Germany on Jan. 20. “That doesn't mean it can't happen. Doesn't mean it won't happen, but it'd be very, very difficult.”

    Russian forces have occupied Crimea since 2014, and the peninsula is bristling with air defenses and tens of thousands of troops. Many of those infantry forces are dug into fortified positions stretching hundreds of miles facing off against Ukrainian troops along the Dnipro River.

    The issue of retaking Crimea has been a contentious one for months, as American and European officials insist the peninsula is legally part of Ukraine, while often stopping short of fully equipping Kyiv to push into the area.

    One person familiar with the thinking in Kyiv said the Zelenskyy administration was “furious” with Milley’s remarks, as Ukraine prepares for major offensives this spring. Ukrainians also note that U.S. intelligence about their military abilities have consistently missed the mark throughout the nearly year-long war.

    Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month, Zelenskyy adviser Andriy Yermak rejected the idea of a Ukrainian victory without taking Crimea.

    "This is absolutely unacceptable," Yermak said, adding that victory means restoring Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders "including Donbas and Crimea.”

    Ukraine has repeatedly asked for longer-range weapons, including rocket artillery and guided munitions fired by fighter planes and drones, to target Russian command-and-control centers and ammunition depots far behind the front lines in Crimea.

    After the U.S. gave Ukraine the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System in the summer, Russia moved many of its most vulnerable assets out of its 50-mile range. The Biden administration continues to refuse to send missiles for the launcher that can reach 300 miles, which would put all of Crimea at risk.

    House Armed Services Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said in an interview Wednesday that the war "needs to end this summer," placing urgency on the U.S. to rapidly supply Ukraine for a coming offensive and on Kyiv to forge a clearer outline of how the conflict ends.

    "There's a school of thought … that Crimea's got to be a part of it. Russia is never going to quit and give up Crimea," said Rogers, who did not address the contents of the classified briefing his committee received last week. Vladimir "Putin has got to decide what he can leave with and claim victory."

    "What is doable? And I don't think that that's agreed upon yet. So I think that there's going to have to be some pressure from our government and NATO leaders with [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy about what does victory look like," Rogers added. "And I think that's going to help us more than anything be able to drive Putin and Zelenskyy to the table to end this thing this summer."

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 09:45:03 -0500 ishook
    DeSantis builds conservative resume with new $114B&plus budget

    TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Ahead of his likely 2024 presidential bid, GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis is proposing a nearly $115 billion budget that funds some of his most politically divisive policies — including millions of dollars for election police and more state funds to transport migrants from the southern border to blue strongholds.

    DeSantis’ budget, which he released Wednesday, also requests $15 million for New College, the small public liberal arts college that the governor is trying to transform into a conservative learning institution. He also wants to remove sales taxes on purchases of gas stoves, a nod to the GOP outrage over some liberal cities pushing to ban gas stoves in new construction.

    Taken together, the proposed budget outlines conservative themes and priorities that DeSantis routinely uses to excite the GOP base in Florida — but with an eye toward the Republican voters nationally.

    “If we were here four years ago and people said we would be able to propose what we are proposing today, most people probably would have said that would not have been possible,” DeSantis said Wednesday during a press conference at the state capitol.

    “But if you told them everything that happened in the last four years, they definitely would have said it would not have been possible,” he said.

    The Florida Legislature has the ultimate authority to write the state budget, but DeSantis’ growing clout within the national Republican Party has given him great power over the GOP-dominated Legislature, which in recent years has generally handed him everything he wanted. Any budget wins will give DeSantis more talking points if he jumps into the 2024 presidential race, further fueling the impression that he can use public funds to enact a conservative agenda.

    Before the Wednesday press conference began, an administration staffer told state workers at the event to applaud and be “high energy.” Moments later, they cheered and clapped loudly when DeSantis entered the Florida Cabinet room, where he announced the budget plan. The workers broke out into applause three times during DeSantis’ presentation.

    DeSantis framed much of his remarks around not just a single-year budget proposal but rather a recap of his entire first term. He compared the state of Florida’s overall economy with four years ago when he first took office. During that time, Florida’s main state reserve fund increased by $12 billion, the unemployment rate has dropped to 2.5 percent, and Florida has become the fastest-growing state in the country — changes that occurred while the state was grappling with a global pandemic that helped make DeSantis a national star with the conservative base.

    Some of the governor’s more controversial programs would get significant increases if ultimately approved. DeSantis wants $31 million and 27 positions for the Office of Election Crimes and Security, which he created last year to investigate election fraud. DeSantis lauded the office and, in August, held a high-profile press conference highlighting 20 arrests made by his agents. Several of those defendants, however, had the charges against them dropped, and the office has yet to secure a conviction.

    The governor is also seeking another $12 million for his controversial program that uses state funds to transport asylum-seeking migrants from the southern border to other parts of the country,

    The program drew swift backlash when, in September, DeSantis transported 50 mostly Venezuelan asylum seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, in Massachusetts, a move he said was done to highlight the Biden Administration’s border policies. Democrats, including President Joe Biden, widely condemned the flights.

    “We have had a deterrent effect, and people are sick of having an open border with no rule of law in this country,” DeSantis said Wednesday when asked about the funding.

    The migrant flight program is facing several lawsuits, including from state Sen. Jason Pizzo (D-Miami), who argued that the DeSantis administration violated state law because the original funding was earmarked to remove “unauthorized aliens from this state” while the September flights originated in Texas. This year’s proposed budget broadens the scope of the language to say the funds would be used to remove “unauthorized aliens within the United States.”

    House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell approved of some budget proposals, like making diaper purchases tax-free, but said that, overall, it represents a political stunt.

    “Governor DeSantis’s budget proposal is a financial wish list of recommendations to influence decisions made in the Capitol,” she said in a statement. “While I am encouraged to see recommended allocations that will benefit Floridians … I am also concerned to see troubling recommendations like the ‘Unauthorized Alien Transport Program,’ which I worry could lead to further political stunts like when the Governor previously used taxpayer dollars to lure unsuspecting individuals seeking political asylum from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.”

    Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book (D-Plantation) took a slightly different tone, saying the “devil is in the details,” but praised tax breaks in the plan and said she sees “much common ground at first glance.”

    DeSantis’ proposal also relies on more than $400 million in Biden administration Covid-19 aid money. The biggest single chunk from that funding is $220 million to pay for $1,000 bonuses for first responders. Over the past two years, state budgets have included nearly $10 billion from the federal pandemic assistance, money that has been used to pay for some of DeSantis’ most politically divisive proposals heavily criticized by Biden and other Democrats, including the migrant flights.

    Florida GOP Sen. Rick Scott last month sent a letter asking state leaders to return their pandemic relief money in order to help pay down the federal debt. DeSantis said, however, that returning the money would not have a huge impact on the nation’s debt.

    “If you look at how much money that is … it’s like $100 million, $200 million, a few hundred million,” DeSantis said Wednesday. “How much dent would that make in the debt?”

    DeSantis also wants $2 billion in tax cuts, including permanently removing state sales taxes on baby and toddler necessities like cribs and strollers — as well as for gas stoves. Gas stoves have become the newest wedge issue after some liberal cities have sought to ban them in new construction to reduce carbon footprints and for health reasons. The Biden administration does not support banning gas stoves.

    “They want your gas stove, and we are not going to let that happen,” DeSantis said.

    Other provisions in DeSantis’ proposal:

    • $65 million for a state worker pay increase, including a 5 percent across-the-board increase and 10 percent increases for positions deemed “hard to hire" for.
    • The budget unveiled Wednesday by DeSantis would put a record $25.9 billion in the Florida Education Finance Program, the state’s central pot of education funding, which represents an increase of $1.4 billion, or 5.8 percent, compared with current-year spending.
    • On the environment, the governor said his proposed budget provides $1.1 billion for Everglades restoration and water quality programs, including $200 million for replacing septic tanks with sewer system hookups. And he said the proposal includes $406 million for coastal resiliency projects and planning. And it includes $75 million for land acquisition at the Department of Environmental Protection in addition to $25 million for local park grant programs through DEP. The budget proposal does not include money through the agriculture department for conservation easements.
    • The proposal also calls for a health care budget of $47.3 billion, which is a decrease from the $48.9 billion budget that took effect in July. 
    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 09:45:03 -0500 ishook
    The Cold Calculus Behind the Shrinking GOP Presidential Field

    DANA POINT, Calif. — The last time the Republican National Committee held its winter meeting at the outset of an open presidential race, the state chairs and committee members arrived at the Hotel del Coronado to find three White House hopefuls and then shuttled over to the USS Midway to see a fourth prospect, Mitt Romney, give a speech teasing another run of his own.

    Eight years after that gathering near San Diego, the RNC convened 70 miles up the Pacific at another California resort hotel last week for its winter meeting. This time, the party members were greeted by former President Donald Trump’s current top advisers in the lobby and bar, his 2016 campaign manager at their dinner, and, at the check-in table, stacks of the new memoir from Trump’s CIA director turned secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.

    The most prominent political figure there was someone from even further back in yesteryear: Sarah Palin, who posed for pictures from committee members, as confused as they were starstruck, before slipping into the meeting to cast a vote for RNC chair as a proxy for a friend.

    Palin, though, is more likely to belt out another rendition of “Baby Got Back” on The Masked Singer than be the Republican standard bearer in 2024.

    That the GOP primary is developing more slowly this election, a departure from the accelerated trajectory of recent nominating contests, is by now plain to see.

    What’s even more striking three months after the midterms, though, is just how many Republicans are planning to sit out the White House race or remain on the fence about whether to run at all.

    For all the preemptive Republican panic about a 2016 replay, and Trump claiming the nomination again thanks to a fractured opposition, the 2024 GOP field is shaping up to be smaller than expected.

    “I would’ve told you last fall that there would be five senators in the race,” Ward Baker, a Republican strategist, told me, recalling a presentation he put together for lawmakers and donors projecting at least a double-digit sized group of contenders.

    Now, Baker and other well-connected Republicans believe the ultimate field may be closer to seven or eight serious candidates with an even smaller number still standing by the time the first votes are cast in the kickoff states a year from now.

    This is partly because of what those RNC members found in California last week.

    Trump has already declared for a third consecutive run and his imprint was all over the meeting and remains all over the party. Until he declared his candidacy, the RNC was still covering some of his legal bills. And the race for party chair was mostly notable for the fact that neither major candidate was willing to acknowledge the culprit for a disappointing midterm, largely because the committee members would rather focus on nefarious claims about Democratic ballot harvesting than the role of Trump, the man Democrats have organized, mobilized and fundraised off of for six consecutive elections.

    So, yes, a number of would-be Republican candidates this time see the party still in the former president’s grip, cast an eye at his preemptive attacks on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and say: who needs it, I’ll check back in 2028 when, one way or another, Trump is out of the picture.

    However, it’s not only Trump who’s causing the Great Deep Freeze of 2023.

    “They don’t have a Trump problem, they have a DeSantis problem,” explains Scott Jennings, a GOP strategist, of the potential field. “It’s going to be hard fighting for the other 60 to 70 percent of the vote [not going to Trump] when another guy could get 90 percent of it.”

    DeSantis has, thanks to Covid and his ubiquity on right-wing media, become a “national conservative celebrity,” said Jennings, and the other would-be contenders are not likely to claim that status “by giving a bunch of speeches.”

    Republican officeholders and their advisers see the polling, public and private, demonstrating just how formidable DeSantis already is with Republican primary voters, who typically wouldn’t even know the name of another state’s governor this early in a race.

    That DeSantis has already burned in the conservative psyche was on display this week in Mississippi, where far-right State Sen. Chris McDaniel — whose proto-Trump 2014 primary nearly toppled then-Sen. Thad Cochran — opened a campaign for lieutenant governor by asking Republican voters: “Do you want a Trump or DeSantis, or do you want a Mitt Romney or a Liz Cheney?”

    That an undeclared Florida governor is already receiving equal billing on the conservative seal of good housekeeping with a former president and worldwide household name explains a great deal about how this contest is getting underway.

    Now, to be sure, it's early and initialfrontrunners can, and often do, fall.

    However, the history most on the minds of the Republicans considering the race, who are not named Trump or DeSantis, is what happens when there’s a bloody battle between top contenders. Spoiler: It augurs well for a third candidate.

    This is what’s giving hope to the other Republicans most likely to run. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who’s ready to announce later this month, hopes voters will turn to a younger, female alternative when the going gets rough between Trump and DeSantis. And older figures like former Vice President Mike Pence and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson have told people they’re counting on a frontrunner food fight to create an appetite for a so-called adult in the race.

    Where it gets complicated for the would-be third option candidates is when it comes to money. As in: how will they raise it?

    And this question, as much as Trump’s grip or DeSantis’s strength as an alternative, is what’s giving (or what gave) a number of potential candidates pause.

    Among the party’s top contributors, as well as with many small-dollar givers, there’s simply no appetite for a prolonged, fractured primary that could pave the way for another Trump nomination-by-plurality.

    In this sense, the 2024 GOP donor is a lot like the 2020 Democratic primary electorate: They have one criteria and it’s who’s the safest bet to beat Trump. And the bundler bed-wetting about whether a larger field will merely open a path for Trump puts the onus on most every non-Trump candidate to demonstrate why they won’t just siphon votes from a single alternative.

    “The mega donors are going to keep their checkbooks in the desk for a while because they saw what happened in ’16,” said Dave Carney, a longtime GOP consultant.

    This will hurt Trump and DeSantis the least, in part because they’re already sitting on tens of millions of dollars that can likely be used for Super PACs and in part because they’re sure to be the most formidable online fundraisers.

    “If he runs that takes a lot of the oxygen out for others,” Carney said of DeSantis.

    The only other potential candidate even close to Trump and DeSantis on money is Sen. Tim Scott, who has over $21 million in his Senate account that he can transfer to a presidential campaign.

    Then there’s the matter of what wing of the party is not being represented. Between Trump, DeSantis, Pence, Haley, Scott and an anti-Trump Republican to be named later, most of the modern GOP’s factions are covered (and speaking of that anti-Trump Republican wing — let’s call it the John Kasich lane for the television interview-to-votes-received ratio — I hear New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu is planning to meet with a group of well-connected Republicans about his plans when he’s in Washington later this month.)

    Still, as the current president demonstrates, there’s real value to running and losing because it can double as a vice-presidential tryout.

    But to a whole generation, and then some, of ambitious Republicans even that may not be compelling enough.

    Consider the roster of who’s not running or at least uninclined to run, absent a shift in the fundamentals of the race.

    From the 2016 field there’s former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Ted Cruz (Texas). Also on the sidelines from the Senate: Rick Scott (Fla.), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Josh Hawley (Mo.). These are people, for the most part, in their 40s and 50s.

    Among the governors, it’s possible that Sununu, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Georgia Gov, Brian Kemp, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and a pair of former governors, Maryland’s Larry Hogan and New Jersey’s Chris Christie, could all run. But it’s more likely they won’t.

    To speak with members of the RNC is to understand why so many Republicans in the prime of their careers are, at the very least, uncertain about running for president.

    It’s not that Trump’s lieutenants, Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles, were issuing be-with-us-or-else threats alongside some magnificent views of the Pacific or that Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s 2016 campaign chief, used her dinner speech to demand fealty to Trump.

    Yet their presence and the refusal of the two candidates for chair to actually grapple with Trump’s impact on general election voters helps reinforce a sort of code of silence among most of the committee.

    The most frequently cited fig leaf for not offering an opinion on the presidential race is that, as committee members, they’ve taken a vow of celibacy when it comes to primaries.

    What they actually mean is they don’t want to be seen as telling their states’ voters what to do, in part because that could alienate Trump’s diehards, risking their own posts, and in part because Trump could weaponize any such intervention.

    As Luis Fortuño, the former Puerto Rican governor and one of the few RNC members to speak candidly about the committee’s calculations, told me: “There’s a sensitivity to his base in the sense that 30 percent of them will be with him and we need everyone at the end of the day.”

    There were, however, private indications of an eagerness to move on from Trump. While Ronna McDaniel easily won re-election, and with the tacit support of Trump, two candidates for other RNC offices he openly endorsed both lost.

    In the treasurer’s race, Florida GOP chair Joe Gruters was defeated in part because he had Trump’s backing — and trumpeted the endorsement to committee members.

    Gruters’s allies texted committee members the day of the vote with a siren emoji, an all-caps headline: “PRES. TRUMP ENDORSES JOE GRUTERS FOR RNC TREASURER” and a message from Trump about his “Complete and Total Endorsement.”

    However, Gruters told me it was only supposed to go to about 20 Trump diehards on the committee and instead went to the entire 168-member party roster. That, according to Fortuno and other Trump skeptics who want a neutral leadership slate, caused a backlash on the floor and doomed Gruters’ candidacy.

    Not that many potential presidential candidates were there to witness or even hear about what transpired.

    The only likely 2024 contender to show up was Hutchinson, the former Arkansas governor, who’s a longshot but would bring perhaps the most sterling resume to the field. Now a certified member of the old guard, he was once a Reagan-appointed U.S. Attorney, House impeachment manager against Bill Clinton and DEA chief and top border official under George W. Bush before serving two terms in Little Rock.

    Hutchinson wasn’t in the actual RNC program, but didn’t ask to be included. Unlike a number of once-hungry Republicans he’s still intent on testing the 2024 waters — he was the only potential candidate to show up for Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’s inauguration and legislative breakfast last month. He believes the case has to be made directly against the former president.

    Citing a much-read Peggy Noonan column from December, Hutchinson told me flatly: “The only way to get rid of Donald Trump is to beat him.”

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 09:45:02 -0500 ishook
    Cruz control: Texas Republican keeps his distance from 2024 White House hunt

    Ted Cruz's presidential ambitions were no secret even before he became the first Republican to jump into the 2016 race. As 2024 approaches, though, he's playing it uncharacteristically cool.

    The Texas senator isn’t explicitly ruling out another White House run. But asked about his considerations, Cruz described the Senate as “the battlefield right now," with his seat up next year and a closer margin in his last reelection bid than is typical for the red state.

    “I have no doubt that Democrats will dump a whole lot of money into it,” Cruz said in an interview. “In 2018, it was the most expensive Senate race in U.S. history … And there are a lot of national Democrats who want to do everything they can to try to defeat me. I don’t think they’re going to succeed.”

    Should Cruz ultimately bow out of a GOP presidential primary, he'll likely have plenty of company among fellow senators. Both Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), also seen as potential 2024 White House contenders, say they plan to run for reelection in their states. And Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said he's also taking a pass.

    It's a notable divergence from 2016, when four Republican senators jumped into the primary. As GOP lawmakers contend with the tricky dynamics of a polarizing former president's third White House bid, many in their party are also eager to see an alternative candidate — and there's a growing awareness that a crowded GOP field could clear the way for Donald Trump. Potential presidential candidates are also watching what other prominent GOP figures like Ron DeSantis will do, letting the Florida governor absorb Trump's early attacks.

    Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who recently endorsed Trump and attended a South Carolina campaign rally with him, suggested that Cruz may be among the crew of potential candidates who will make a call after more deeply assessing the former president’s strength, especially among the party base.

    Cruz "has a lot of support, he’s a strong conservative voice in the body,” Graham said. “I think he’d be one of the people who will sort of look and see how Trump does and see what happens.”

    Cruz’s focus on his Senate bid follows a tough 2018 reelection fight against former Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who lost by 2.6 points. Combined, the two candidates raised close to $115 million, with O’Rourke bringing in more than $80 million. And Cruz may face another fight in 2024, with Texas and Florida the only conceivable pick-up opportunities for Democrats in a cycle that will have them mostly on defense — 23 of the party's seats are up next year.

    O’Rourke did not respond to a request for comment on whether he was considering a second Senate run against Cruz. After losing his gubernatorial bid against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in 2022, he told the audience in his concession speech that "this may be one of the last times I get to talk in front of you all.”

    But plenty of others are considering a Cruz challenge. A person close to former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said that he is weighing a run. Democrats in the state are also watching Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas); state senator Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, the town devastated by a school shooting; and state Rep. James Talarico, who sparred with Fox News host Pete Hegseth in 2021, according to a Texas Democratic strategist.

    A senior adviser to Cruz, granted anonymity to speak candidly, said he plans to make his formal Senate run announcement within the first half of the year. They added that Cruz would make additional staff hires during that period and that he's already started raising money, including “revamping completely the small-dollar operation.” Cruz currently has $3.4 million cash on hand.

    Democrats acknowledge that Texas has not been an easy state for the party. But they argue that Cruz is more vulnerable than his other GOP counterparts, citing the close 2018 race and his castigated 2021 trip to Cancun while Texas underwent a power-grid emergency due to a winter storm.

    “We look forward to our Democratic nominee retiring Ted Cruz from the U.S. Senate and finally allowing him some time to finally relax at his preferred Cancun resort,” said Ike Hajinazarian, a spokesperson for the Texas Democratic Party. “That is, of course, should he even choose to run for reelection, which would be strange considering his newly-introduced legislation to limit U.S. senators to two terms.”

    Cruz, who would be running for a third term, told reporters this week that he doesn’t support unilateral term limits, but would “happily comply with them if they applied to everyone.”

    When he first came to the Senate in 2013, Cruz quickly started causing trouble for GOP leadership. That year, he infuriated his Senate colleagues over a joint effort with House Republicans to defund Obamacare, which led to a government shutdown. More recently, he supported Sen. Rick Scott's (R-Fla.) challenge to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell amid frustration over the GOP’s disappointing midterm performance.

    This Congress, his allies say he’s focused on his role as the incoming top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, his first stint as a panel's party chief. His Democratic counterpart, Chair Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), said Cruz will be “hopefully productive.”

    As the Texan hones in on his Senate race, his adviser indicated Cruz still has the infrastructure — if needed — for a future presidential run. Under Texas' so-called LBJ law, the senator could technically run for both reelection and the White House at the same time.

    “Unlike some names that are being floated, he has a built-in organizational strength, national name ID and the conservative bona fides where" he doesn't need to be one of the first names to enter the race to be competitive, the adviser said.

    Still, Cruz’s colleagues say his approach to a White House run is notably different than eight years ago, when he rolled out his first presidential bid in March 2015. Cruz campaigned as a political outsider and invested heavily in his ground game in Iowa. He went on to win the Iowa caucus and stayed in the GOP primary until May of 2016, after it essentially became a two-person race with Trump.

    While Trump and Cruz had a bitter rivalry during that campaign, with the New Yorker nicknaming his foe “Lyin’ Ted” and Cruz calling Trump a “pathological liar,” they eventually became allies.

    Trump campaigned for the Texan during his 2018 Senate race; Cruz challenged President Joe Biden's win in 2020 and later was among the senators who advised Trump’s lawyers during his second Senate impeachment trial.

    “We haven’t heard a lot from him,” said one Senate Republican, granted anonymity to speak candidly about a colleague. “By this point, in 2015, I think he was fairly open about what he was doing. But there are a lot of things about this time that are different.”

    With Biden widely expected to seek reelection, all eyes are on the GOP primary. Senate Republicans aren’t sure how many members of their conference will end up running, with many noting that it’s still early in the cycle. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is widely seen as the most likely of them to run.

    Cruz, for his part, only observed that the 2024 presidential cycle is “unusual” because “neither side has any idea who their nominee will be.”

    “I don’t think Joe Biden’s going to run,” Cruz said. "Donald Trump has announced he’s running. I think it’s clear there are a number of people who are preparing to jump in, and I don’t know what will happen in that race. I feel confident it won’t be boring.”

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 09:45:02 -0500 ishook
    Briefing wars escalate as nervous European Union and Britain enter Brexit endgame Thu, 02 Feb 2023 09:30:04 -0500 ishook U.S., Philippines agree to larger American military presence

    The United States and the Philippines on Thursday announced plans to expand America’s military presence in the Southeast Asian nation, with access to four more bases as they seek to deter China’s increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea.

    The agreement was reached as U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in the country for talks about deploying U.S. forces and weapons in more Philippine military camps.

    In a joint announcement by the Philippines and the U.S., the two said they had decided to accelerate the full implementation of their so-called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which aims to support combined training, exercises and interoperability.

    As part of the agreement, the U.S. has allocated $82 million toward infrastructure improvements at five current EDCA sites, and expand its military presence to four new sites in “strategic areas of the country,” according to the statement.

    Austin arrived in the Philippines on Tuesday from South Korea, where he said the U.S. would increase its deployment of advanced weapons such as fighter jets and bombers to the Korean Peninsula to bolster joint training with South Korean forces in response to North Korea’s growing nuclear threat.

    In the Philippines, Washington’s oldest treaty ally in Asia and a key front in the U.S. battle against terrorism, Austin visited southern Zamboanga city and met Filipino generals and a small contingent of U.S. counterterrorism forces based in a local military camp, regional Philippine military commander Lt. Gen. Roy Galido said. The more than 100 U.S. military personnel have provided intelligence and combat advice for years to Filipino troops battling a decades-long Muslim insurgency, which has considerably eased but remains a key threat.

    More recently, U.S. forces have intensified and broadened joint training focusing on combat readiness and disaster response with Filipino troops on the nation’s western coast, which faces the South China Sea, and in its northern Luzon region across the sea from the Taiwan Strait.

    American forces were granted access to five Philippine military camps, where they could rotate indefinitely under the 2014 EDCA defense pact.

    In October, the U.S. sought access for a larger number of its forces and weapons in an additional five military camps, mostly in the north. That request would be high on the agenda in Austin’s meetings, according to Philippine officials.

    “The visit of Secretary Austin definitely, obviously will have to do with many of the ongoing discussions on the EDCA sites,” Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Romualdez said at a news briefing.

    Austin was scheduled to hold talks Thursday with his Philippine counterpart, Carlito Galvez Jr., and National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano, Romualdez said. Austin will separately call on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in June and has since taken steps to boost relations with Washington.

    The U.S. defense chief is the latest senior official to visit the Philippines after Vice President Kamala Harris in November in a sign of warming ties after a strained period under Marcos’s predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.

    Duterte had nurtured cozy ties with China and Russia and at one point threatened to sever ties with Washington, kick visiting American forces out and abrogate a major defense pact.

    Romualdez said the Philippines needed to cooperate with Washington to deter any escalation of tensions between China and self-ruled Taiwan — not only because of the treaty alliance but to help prevent a major conflict.

    “We’re in a Catch-22 situation. If China makes a move on Taiwan militarily, we’ll be affected — and all ASEAN region, but mostly us, Japan and South Korea,” Romualdez told The Associated Press, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the 10-nation regional bloc that includes the Philippines.

    The Philippines and ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, along with Taiwan, have been locked in increasingly tense territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea. The U.S. has been regarded as a crucial counterweight to China in the region and has pledged to come to the defense of the Philippines if Filipino forces, ships or aircraft come under attack in the contested waters.

    The Philippines used to host two of the largest U.S. Navy and Air Force bases outside the American mainland. The bases were shut down in the early 1990s after the Philippine Senate rejected an extension, but American forces returned for large-scale combat exercises with Filipino troops under a 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement.

    The Philippine Constitution prohibits the permanent basing of foreign troops and their involvement in local combat.

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 09:30:04 -0500 ishook
    House GOP looks to prove whipping mettle on Omar ouster

    After a flip-flop-filled struggle, the House GOP's whip operation appears poised to pass its first major test: booting progressive Ilhan Omar from a prized committee spot.

    Just days ago, it seemed like a real possibility Speaker Kevin McCarthy — despite his projected confidence — could lose his long-threatened vow to remove the Minnesota progressive from the Foreign Affairs Committee. Then Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who initially said he would vote against kicking her off, switched to yes on Wednesday, after Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) flipped the same way the day before.

    That leaves Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) as the sole GOP member indicating she'll still vote to allow Omar on the committee.

    “We've watched what she has done,” McCarthy said Tuesday morning to reporters. “I just think she can serve on other committees. It would be best if the Democrats didn't put her in the position of Foreign Affairs. If they do, she will not serve on Foreign Affairs. They can choose another committee for her.”

    The House Rules Committee held an “emergency meeting” Tuesday night to push through the resolution on Omar, and a procedural vote to move forward passed the House Wednesday along party lines. That teed up a full House vote on whether to officially kick Omar off the committee as early as Thursday, though Republicans could be forced to punt the vote into next week due to a handful of expected absences.

    The resolution to remove her was introduced by first-term Rep. Max Miller (R-Ohio), who is Jewish and says he has not spoken with Omar personally. He cited various comments she has made with antisemitic overtones, while also arguing that Democrats watered down a resolution to condemn her for those remarks in 2019 when they held the majority. Omar, for her part, has largely apologized for her previous comments.

    “As an American Jew and as somebody who served in the Marine Corps, I believe that her comments are vile. And while she may have apologized in the past, she continues to erect a pattern of antisemitic rhetoric,” said Miller in an interview about his motivations for leading the resolution.

    Miller added that he put forward the resolution ”in conjunction” with McCarthy, and that he ”obviously expressed interest in wanting to carry this resolution as one of two Republican Jewish individuals within the conference.”

    Democrats, meanwhile, blasted the move as political revenge and are set to unanimously back Omar against the effort to remove her from the panel. She was set to become the top Democrat on a subcommittee on African policy.

    “Kevin McCarthy is acting out of revenge instead of focusing on the real issues,” said No. 2 House Democrat Katherine Clark (Mass.) in the caucus' weekly whip meeting Wednesday morning, according to a person in the room. “How does he speak of ‘integrity’ while packing committees with election deniers?” she added.

    And Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), a fellow member of the progressive “squad,” praised Omar as an “incredible legislator” and said “the Republicans are full of shit.”

    Just days ago, three GOP lawmakers were vowing to oppose the resolution, and party leaders could only afford to lose four votes assuming full attendance. And that was far from guaranteed, as they'd expressed concerns over potential absences, including one GOP member who is recovering from serious injuries.

    Those concerns were mostly assuaged by Wednesday. Spartz (R-Ind.) said Tuesday she would back the measure after it was tweaked to include language about an appeal to the Ethics Committee, despite it containing in a nonbinding “whereas” clause with no legal teeth. And Buck also changed his position Wednesday, saying “the commitment is that [McCarthy] will work with me on clarifying what the standard here is" on removing members from committees, as well as making the process "more transparent and consistent."

    Generally, Republicans argue Omar can serve on other committees and say this is a watered-down resolution compared to a Democratic-led votes to remove Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) from their committees. Democrats took those actions, with some Republican support, over threatening comments and social media posts made by both lawmakers — statements GOP lawmakers are quick to point out that, in Greene's case, were made before she was sworn into Congress.

    Republicans warned at the time that if Democrats wanted to change the longstanding precedent of allowing parties to decide panel assignments and removals internally, then they, too, would have those tools at their disposal when in power. Now, they're making good on that promise.

    "We are taking an unprecedented rule that the Democrats put in place last Congress and using it effectively against them," Miller said.

    Some Democrats have since expressed concern about how the Gosar and Greene situations were handled, with Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), the top Democrat on the Ethics Committee, saying in Tuesday’s Rules Committee meeting she didn’t think “it was the correct process" when the two Republicans were booted. Wild voted in favor of removing both at the time.

    The lack of Democratic support for removing Omar, though, is in part a product of time. In her previous two terms, Omar faced intense pushback from some in the caucus over her controversial comments about Israel and Jews, and while some Democrats may have even supported a measure back then to condemn her remarks, one never came up on the House floor. The House instead passed a resolution generally condemning bigotry. Since then, she's worked to mend relationships with her fellow lawmakers.

    The vote follows McCarthy's announcement last week that he would block two California Democrats — Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell — from the House Intelligence Committee. McCarthy can take unilateral action against members on that committee, due to the nature of the panel, while removing Omar requires a majority vote in the House.

    But Republicans may not get total unification in booting Omar. Mace said Wednesday afternoon her opposition to removing Omar has not changed. When it was noted that both Buck and Spartz had flipped after receiving certain commitments from McCarthy, Mace distinguished that those promises regard "future" incidents, but the GOP leader is not "gonna use it for Omar."

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 09:30:04 -0500 ishook
    'Not a gang discussion': Debt crisis still seeking a savior

    Even before Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy held their first debt limit meeting, many lawmakers were already thinking about a backup plan to avoid a devastating default.

    The president and the speaker’s Wednesday sitdown started what may prove a long Biden-McCarthy dance over averting fiscal disaster by the time the nation hits its “drop-dead” deadline to lift its borrowing limit. But as the duo sized each other up in their first one-on-one under divided government, there are already real doubts on Capitol Hill that the two-man talks will pay off.

    Which leaves inquiring minds in Congress, on Wall Street and across the country wondering: Who’s going to steer the car away from the cliff?

    “If they can’t get anywhere, there are a number of choices, right?” Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) said of Biden and McCarthy. But he’s not ready to put on his bipartisan gang gear yet: “I’m a little bit more fiscally conservative than some Democrats. But this isn’t where you negotiate that.”

    If McCarthy and Biden’s talks flounder, that would seem to leave centrists in a strong position. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sidelined himself and indicated that McCarthy’s in the lead for their party, however, which means his moderates are also taking themselves out of the game to avoid undercutting the speaker. In short, don’t expect one of the Senate’s often-active bipartisan groups to swoop in just yet.

    Still, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has met with McCarthy and a handful of senators are informally chatting about possible debt-limit solutions. Other centrists are moving more formally: A group of House moderates met for the first time last week to discuss escape hatches if Congress gets too close to busting through the debt limit, expected to potentially hit in June.

    Their discussions, according to three people familiar with them, included the long-shot option known as a discharge petition — which requires a majority of the House to force a debt-limit vote against the speaker’s wishes.

    “The goal is to not have that,” Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) said of any potential fallback plans, before adding: “We're in a dire situation.”

    It will only grow more dire as the weather heats up, and with it the risk of default. And don't put it past Congress to kick the can a little further, possibly tying the debt deadline to the expiration of government funding at the end of September.

    But when it comes time for a deal, plenty of players are waiting in the wings to assist or supplant the president and speaker.

    The Senate Gang

    During the last Congress, a roving group of Senate centrists cut a series of seemingly improbable deals on same-sex marriage, infrastructure and gun safety. Right now, there’s no such movement on the debt ceiling.

    But that may well change. And some senators are open to establishing a group to wrestle weighty fiscal issues — once the debt ceiling is raised.

    “I’d be more than happy to do that, truthfully. That’s what it’s going to take. Take the debt limit stuff off the table, because it’s playing with fire,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). “I am more than fine with deficit reduction. It has to be separate from the debt ceiling.”

    Though there's a real possibility that's where Congress ultimately ends up, few want to admit it now. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a frequent member of the chamber's bipartisan policymaking gangs, said “the Senate is not really talking about getting involved at this point.”

    “This is not a gang discussion,” said Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a member of her chamber's Democratic leadership. “Not on the question of whether or not we’re going to crash the economy.”

    The big reason there’s no gang right now: Most Democrats argue that a debt ceiling increase shouldn’t be subject to negotiations, period. And Republicans believe that their position will erode if centrists start breaking ranks with the current GOP position of leaving things to McCarthy.

    Rogue House dealmakers

    House moderates have eyed a possible major role in the volatile debt talks ever since the GOP’s flimsy four-vote majority was sealed in November.

    Now that there's an empowered bloc of deal-making moderates in both parties, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus is edging its way into the talks. While the full group has yet to meet, a smaller band of its leaders gathered last week to begin preliminary discussions.

    People familiar with the meeting made clear that the Problem Solvers have no intention of getting ahead of their respective party leaders, but pointed to early conversations about possible spending caps or broader fiscal reform that could prove valuable when negotiations kick off in earnest.

    “We should just do a clean debt limit. That may not be realistic given where Republicans are,” said Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), who drafted a bill in recent years with now-Budget Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) that proposed several ideas for Congress to avert semi-annual debt brinkmanship.

    And if the McCarthy-Biden talks flame out, Peters said this bipartisan House cohort wants to be prepared: “There’s a group of people here who want to be prepared.”

    Some Problem Solvers expect the group will ultimately launch a dedicated internal effort to tackle the debt, as they previously have with other policy ideas, such as infrastructure. One big topic likely to be discussed — how to force a debt ceiling bill to the floor that doesn’t have uniform GOP support.

    The idea of a discharge petition is getting floated, though some Hill aides and budget experts see that route as too slow and unwieldy to accommodate a rapidly-changing default deadline. Some members are also discussing procedural gambits that would take less time to bring a bill to the floor, such as a House motion for a “previous question,” which has far more flexible rules.

    Mitch McConnell

    The Senate GOP leader successfully negotiated a debt ceiling detente with then-Vice President Biden more than a decade ago, yielding a decade of spending caps that squeezed both defense and domestic spending. McConnell also struck a 2021 deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that allowed Democrats to advance a $2.5 trillion debt ceiling hike with a simple majority.

    But his work on that debt deal, as well as December's government funding agreement, spent big political capital and earned him some criticism. So despite McConnell's vaunted pedigree of negotiating with Biden, he is currently declining to step into negotiations and leaving things to McCarthy — who criticized several bills that McConnell supported last Congress.

    “There’s no way that the House is going to accept something that 60 senators vote on on a bipartisan basis,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “That’s [McConnell’s] position.”

    Some believe that, as Republicans float a variety of fiscal concessions with no clear plan or unifying potential — including another set of spending caps and debt-to-GDP spending targets — that the GOP leader may once again have to step in. McConnell and Biden have maintained their uniquely productive relationship through this year, appearing together at an infrastructure event last month in Kentucky.

    “I cannot imagine there’d be a major deal here and Mitch McConnell isn’t going to be part of it,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). “I suspect he’ll be involved in negotiations when he thinks it’s appropriate.”

    But not yet. Even talking about McConnell’s involvement “would be damaging to" McCarthy during talks with the president, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said: “I think we’re better off sticking with him as the lead sled dog.”

    Thu, 02 Feb 2023 09:30:04 -0500 ishook
    American arrested in Moscow for taking cow for a walk Thu, 02 Feb 2023 09:30:03 -0500 ishook What ‘No’ on F&16 Fighter Jets Might Mean for Ukraine Wed, 01 Feb 2023 19:15:03 -0500 ishook Assessing Political Spin in the Debt Ceiling Fight Wed, 01 Feb 2023 19:15:03 -0500 ishook Largest GOP House group unveils debt policy ideas before Biden&McCarthy meeting Wed, 01 Feb 2023 16:10:05 -0500 ishook Where McCarthy’s detractors landed Wed, 01 Feb 2023 16:10:05 -0500 ishook Marty Walsh under consideration for spot atop NHL players’ union

    Labor Secretary Marty Walsh has been approached about running the NHL Players Association and is in consideration for the gig, in what could be the second major shakeup to the Biden administration in recent weeks.

    A person familiar with the discussions said Walsh is a strong contender for the lead role atop the hockey players’ union but that no deal is yet done. The Department of Labor declined to comment.

    NHLPA spokesperson Jonathan Weatherdon did not deny Walsh was under consideration in an email to POLITICO. "The Search Committee has been actively interviewing potential candidates and remains engaged in the process of selecting a new NHLPA Executive Director,” he said. “While the process is getting closer to completion, we are unable to comment further at this time."

    Should Walsh take the gig, he would be the second member of the president’s Cabinet to depart the Biden administration following Eric Lander, who resigned as Biden’s top science adviser in February 2022 after POLITICO first reported allegations that he bullied subordinates at the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Biden had elevated that post to Cabinet level, making Walsh the first traditional Cabinet official to potentially exit.

    A Walsh departure would also possibly come amid other major administration staff shake ups. Chief of staff Ron Klain is set to hand off duties to Jeff Zients, marking the start of a new chapter for a White House still buoyed by better-than-expected midterm results for Democrats but now forced to tangle with a Republican controlled House.

    Walsh’s name had been loosely discussed as a possible successor to Klain, though the labor secretary maintains his residence in Massachusetts and stays in a hotel when he’s in D.C.

    The former Boston mayor has also been regularly talked about as a future candidate for office in Massachusetts, though his electoral options back home appear limited for the near future. He passed on running for the state’s open governor’s seat last year, unwilling to get involved in a primary against Democrats’ heir apparent, now-Gov. Maura Healey. And Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have both pledged to seek reelection to their Senate seats in 2024 and 2026, respectively.

    Going to the NHLPA would, instead, mark a return to organized labor for Walsh, who previously headed up the Building and Construction Trades Council in Boston before entering electoral politics and becoming the city’s mayor in 2014.

    As Labor secretary Walsh frequently served as a key surrogate for the Biden administration, particularly as a go-between with unions and the business community. That included keeping tabs on the ongoing impasse between dockworkers and West Coast port operators as well as stepping into last year’s Major League Baseball lockout.

    Biden tapped Walsh to lead DOL in part due to his ties to the labor movement, as well as their personal bond: in public appearances Biden often ribs Walsh for his unvarnished Boston accent.

    The White House credited Walsh for his work overseeing negotiations last year that threatened to halt the nation’s freight rail system. However, several of the unions involved in those discussions later rejected their tentative agreements, leading Biden in December to seek Congress’ help and impose contract terms on the industry to keep the system online.

    In his first months as secretary, Walsh also visited striking Kellogg’s workers on a picket line in Pennsylvania, drawing howls from Republicans that it was an inappropriate use of his office.

    The Labor Department’s inspector general looked into the Kellogg’s visit and some of Walsh’s other interactions with unions and did not find ethical violations, though House Education and Workforce Chair Virginia Foxx has vowed to continue probing the matter.

    Apart from his record on labor disputes, Walsh also oversaw a number of regulatory changes at DOL aimed at unwinding Trump-era policies.

    That includes a just-finalized rule allowing retirement planners greater flexibility to factor ESG-metrics in their investment decisions, overseeing the Biden administration’s attempt to impose a vaccination-or-test mandate — much of which was blocked by the Supreme Court — and other Covid-era measures.

    Close associates of Walsh appeared to be in the dark about the NHLPA talks as word spread Wednesday afternoon. But at least one wasn’t surprised by the potential development, given his history with labor relations and his love of hockey.

    Walsh is a lifelong Boston Bruins fan. But he also has a darker history tied to the sport. Walsh, a recovering alcoholic, has spoken openly of being thrown out of a Bruins game in the 1990s for being too drunk, part of a series of events that led him to seek help for his addiction.

    If Walsh did take the players’ association gig, the former Boston mayor would follow his close friend, former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker into the sports-executive world. Baker takes over as president of the NCAA in March.

    Eleanor Mueller and Sam Stein contributed reporting.

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 16:10:05 -0500 ishook
    Feds probing Santos’ role in service dog charity scheme

    NEW YORK — FBI agents are investigating Rep. George Santos’ role in an alleged GoFundMe scheme involving a disabled U.S. Navy veteran's dying service dog.

    Two agents contacted former service member Richard Osthoff Wednesday on behalf of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York, he told POLITICO.

    Osthoff gave the agents 2016 text messages with Santos, who he says used his plight to raise $3,000 for life-saving surgery for the pit bull mix, Sapphire — then ghosted with the funds, as first reported by Patch.

    “I’m glad to get the ball rolling with the big-wigs,” Osthoff said in an interview Wednesday. “I was worried that what happened to me was too long ago to be prosecuted.”

    The alleged fundraising scheme is one of many scandals plaguing the freshman Republican, who has refused to leave office despite a series of allegations of lying and fraud that first came to light in December shortly after he won a swing seat on Long Island.

    New York Democratic Reps. Ritchie Torres and Daniel Goldman, who called for a Federal Election Commission investigation into Santos’ campaign finances last month, welcomed the news that the Eastern District investigation is proceeding at a serious clip.

    “Only the U.S. attorneys are capable of moving at the speed that’s necessary,” Torres said in an interview.

    “There’s no one that poses a greater threat in Congress than Santos. It’s undeniable that he’s broken the law. We have to protect Congress from George Santos, who threatens it from within,” Torres said.

    Goldman, an ex-federal prosecutor who has a seat on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, echoed Torres’ comments in a separate interview.

    “Given that a serial liar like Santos is still walking the halls of the Capitol, it is imperative that the Justice Department move quickly to determine whether an indictment is appropriate.”

    On Tuesday, Santos stepped down from his Congressional committee assignments, telling colleagues he was trying to avoid becoming a further “distraction” for House Republicans. The announcement followed a meeting a day earlier with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who declined to disclose the reason for the discussion.

    McCarthy made his strongest statement yet on Santos last week. He told Capitol Hill reporters that if Santos is found to have broken the law by the House Ethics Committee he will be removed from Congress.

    Joshua Schiller, a senior trial lawyer who has practiced in the Eastern District, said the veteran’s encounter with Santos could offer prosecutors a quick way to hit the Republican congressman with criminal charges even though they’re also investigating heftier possible financial crimes.

    “I think there is an urgency here because Santos is currently in a position to make laws,” Schiller said. “I can think of examples where the government used a lesser indictment to seize assets and try to cause the defendant to plea to a deal before bringing a second or third indictment on more serious charges, and I bet that is the case here.”

    Santos’ attorney, Joseph Murray, declined to comment. Santos has previously said he merely exaggerated portions of his resume and denied that he broke any laws.

    Spokespeople for the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of New York and the FBI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    Osthoff was sleeping in a tent on the side of the road in New Jersey in 2016 when a veterinary technician connected him with a pet charity. Anthony Devolder, who ran Friends of Pets United, promised to help Osthoff get a tumor removed from his dog’s stomach, the veteran said.

    Devolder, a version of Santos’ full name he used before entering politics, set up the GoFundMe account and promoted it on social media saying, “When a veteran reaches out to ask for help, how can you say no?” according to screenshots of the postings.

    When the account had reached its $3,000 goal, Devolder gave a series of excuses about why he couldn’t help Sapphire get treatment, then became difficult to reach, text messages between the two show.

    Osthoff says Santos deliberately used his story of being a homeless disabled veteran with a sickly service dog to extract donations, then took off with the funds, leaving him unable to afford Sapphire’s surgery.

    Osthoff said the experience was so traumatic it prompted him to contemplate suicide. Sapphire died from the tumor in 2017.

    Friends of Pets United was not a registered charity, The New York Times reported in December when it first broke the story that Santos had fabricated much of his campaign biography.

    Schiller said the GoFundMe allegations could result in several types of charges, including wire and mail fraud as well as bank fraud. Santos could have also committed tax crimes if he claimed exemptions for an unregistered charity, Schiller said.

    CBS News first reported that federal investigators in New York were“looking into” Santos following the Times articles and other reporting that raised more questions about his background and how he funded a successful run that flipped his Long Island district from blue to red in November.

    Last week, the Department of Justice asked the FEC to pause any enforcement action against Santos as the department worked on its own case, according to a report last week in the Washington Post.

    Over $700,000 Santos initially listed as a personal loan to his campaign may have been an illegal straw donor scheme, according to FEC complaints.

    The New York Attorney General’s office, as well as the Queens and Nassau County district attorneys, are also probing Santos.

    Osthoff said the New York Attorney General’s Office Public Integrity Bureau, which handles fraud and criminal inquiries into elected officials, began investigating the GoFundMe drive last month.

    A spokesperson for Attorney General Tish James said on Dec. 22 that her office was “looking into” several issues surrounding Santos, but did not get into specifics. The Attorney General’s office did not reply to questions about the status of its GoFundMe inquiry.

    A spokesperson for GoFundMe declined to comment on specifics, but indicated the company has been cooperating with ongoing investigations.

    Joe Anuta contributed to this report.

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 16:10:05 -0500 ishook
    Fed hikes rates again even as inflation cools

    The Federal Reserve on Wednesday raised interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point, bringing policymakers another step closer to an expected pause in their inflation fight sometime this year.

    For now, the central bank’s rate-setting committee signaled that borrowing costs will increase further, saying rate hikes will be "ongoing." But Wednesday’s move is the smallest hike since last March, a reflection of the fact that price spikes have been cooling for months.

    "Inflation has eased somewhat but remains elevated," the committee said in a statement following two days of meetings. The Fed's main borrowing rate now sits between 4.5 percent and 4.75 percent.

    Unemployment is still at modern lows, even after aggressive rate hikes for the past year by the Fed, feeding hopes that the U.S. may be able to avoid a recession — a crucial goal for President Joe Biden before the 2024 election. But that will hinge on how much more the central bank increases rates and how long it holds them at punishingly high levels.

    Fed officials have signaled that they expect to raise rates to about 5 percent before stopping, but that will depend on whether inflation continues its downward trend. They're also closely monitoring worker pay, which grew about 5 percent in 2022. Chair Jerome Powell has said inflation probably won't be able to return to the Fed's 2 percent target without a deceleration in wage growth.

    The economy grew at a 2.9 percent annualized pace in the last three quarters of the year, suggesting the U.S. is still far from dipping into a recession. But growth could slow further as the Fed's rate moves feed through to economic activity.

    A closely watched survey from the Institute of Supply Management on Wednesday showed the manufacturing sector is contracting, and the housing market has been hammered for months by high mortgage rates, though the job market has remained resilient.

    "The Committee is strongly committed to returning inflation to its 2 percent objective," the Fed said in its statement.

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 16:10:05 -0500 ishook
    Guns in the House? A raucous Natural Resources panel debate

    House Natural Resources Committee Republicans on Wednesday defeated Rep. Jared Huffman's (D-Calif.) push to reinstate an explicit ban on carrying firearms to the committee room after a lengthy and occasionally heated debate.

    The panel's chair, Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), repeatedly declined to clarify, under questioning from Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) and Huffman, whether he interpreted House rules as barring firearms from committee rooms. Multiple Democrats contended that different members have various interpretations of the House rules, but Westerman referred their questions to the Administration Committee, which sets the chamber's internal standards.

    At one point, Huffman asked his colleagues for a show of hands to reflect who among them were currently not carrying a weapon — a question many Republicans declined to answer. He then asked how many lawmakers felt like they would need a weapon in the committee room.

    "I feel I need one everywhere here. There are often times we are harassed in the hallways. We walk alone," Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) replied, underscoring that it would "not be an unloaded weapon."

    But the California Democrat defended his push for the amendment: "We can have our political disagreements, and they will be spirited. But no one should have to worry about members of the other side of the aisle — let alone members who have incited political violence — bringing weapons, in violation of House rules, into our committee room."

    While they held the House majority in 2021, Democrats added an explicit prohibition on bringing firearms to the committee room "in the wake of the Jan. 6" Capitol attack, ranking member Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said. That move also responded to an attempt at the time by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) to bring a firearm onto the House floor, a move that further exacerbated security concerns.

    Members of Congress are afforded certain carve-outs to the otherwise outright ban on firearms on the Capitol complex: They are permitted to keep guns in their offices and transport them, if they are unloaded and securely wrapped. Guns are explicitly forbidden on the House and Senate floors, as well as certain nearby areas.

    Panel Republicans repeatedly called the amendment unnecessary and argued they should not be viewed as safety threats by their colleagues.

    "Do you think we're going to hurt you? We would never hurt you. I would use my firearm to defend you. Just to be clear," Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.), a freshman, said.

    Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) asked Ocasio-Cortez whether she thought any committee member was a "homicidal maniac," challenging her to "name the names and present the evidence."

    Ocasio-Cortez replied that she was not trying to "impugn the character of any individual member of this committee" but that "from what I've witnessed, the competence of some members may be something that I would be willing to question."

    Democrats, for their part, repeatedly pressed Westerman to answer how he interpreted the existing House rules for gun possession.

    "When you have reason to believe committee members, right here, intend to bring weapons into this committee room ... we're entitled to your interpretation of the House rules," Huffman said. "You need to tell them that that's either okay or not for the safety and security this committee."

    His push was ultimately unsuccessful though, as the amendment fell 14-25. Huffman is, however, also collecting signatures on a letter to congressional leadership seeking information on security preparations ahead of the State of the Union address next week.

    Nancy Vu contributed to this report.

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 16:10:05 -0500 ishook
    Black caucus press Biden to use the bully pulpit to push for police reform

    When Rep. Steven Horsford heads to the White House to meet with President Joe Biden this week, he will bring a message directly from the family of Tyre Nichols: Act now.

    “They want action,” the Nevada Democrat and Congressional Black Caucus chair said of his conversation with Nichols’ parents. “The action is legislative action; that's here in Congress and at the state and local level, they want executive actions that still can be taken by the president and his administration.”

    Horsford and the CBC will sit down Thursday with Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. But it’s unclear how they will produce the action that Nichols’ family wants following last week’s release of the video that captured the beating death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis, Tenn., police officers.

    The White House and the Black community find themselves at another tragic and all-too-familiar inflection point: eager to respond to another police killing of a Black man that has captured the nation’s attention but with limited capacity to do so. Horsford and the Black caucus plan on leading a full court press to show the country that D.C. isn’t completely toothless when it comes to this issue — that this time should be different. But those calls come in the shadow of a lack of movement on police reform. And even reform’s biggest boosters aren’t bullish on that shadow lifting.

    “I'm not optimistic. I'm not confident that we are going to be able to get real police reform,” said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who will attend the White House meeting. “I approach working on this issue as a responsibility that I have to do, that we must try.”

    Faced with the likelihood of legislative inertia, lawmakers and advocates have looked for solutions — even incremental ones — elsewhere.

    In a CBC meeting Tuesday night, lawmakers zeroed in on their first and biggest request of Biden: a commitment to talk about policing in his State of the Union next week. They also discussed using the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act as a starting framework for legislation to present to Biden — knowing that lawmakers would need to scale back the bill to open up the possibility of passage.

    On Tuesday, Horsford met with Susan Rice, the director of the Domestic Policy Council, to preview requests the CBC will present to the president — including executive actions for changes to criminal justice laws. He said Rice appeared “open to hearing further recommendations for areas that may be things that the executive branch can do.”

    More broadly, lawmakers, civil rights leaders and criminal justice reform advocates are pushing for Biden to use the bully pulpit to gather support to pass legislation, however it is shaped.

    “The president has unique powers in the office of the presidency. He's committed to this issue,” Horsford said. “He can use his position to help, just like he did by getting the [Bipartisan] Safer Communities Law across the finish line. Just like he did with getting the infrastructure law across the finish line, just like he did getting the CHIPS and Science law across the finish line.”

    On both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, the death of Nichols has led to a sense of political agony and déjà vu. Lawmakers recognize they’ve been in this place before, as do White House officials. But there is also the feeling that little is left to do but run the same playbooks.

    The last round of negotiations failed in September 2021 after a flurry of finger pointing and general disagreement over the issue of qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that protects police officers from lawsuits. Advocates say that this time around, they hope that a more consistent message from Biden — not just calling for one piece of legislation and stepping away to let members of Congress hash it out — can move the bill along. But those calling for action are also clear-eyed that Republicans now control the House of Representatives and that nine GOP votes are needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate.

    The White House has taken steps to show it’s invested in the issue. After the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act failed to get a Senate vote in 2021, Biden eventually signed an executive order that created a national database of police misconduct, mandated body-worn camera policies and banned chokeholds from federal law enforcement agencies.

    After Nichols’ death, the administration has taken additional steps to show that it is eager for action and attuned to the anguish felt by the Black community. When the video of Nichols’ death was released, both Biden and Harris reached out to his family to send their condolences. While speaking with Nichols’ mother and stepfather, Harris was invited to attend Wednesday’s funeral in Tennessee and accepted.

    The White House has again called for Congress to pass the police reform bill but Biden has also consistently alluded to a lack of executive power left in his toolbox. “I can only do so much,” the president told reporters Friday.

    “The president will continue to do everything in his power to fight for police reform in Congress,” a White House official said, “but it is Republicans in Congress who need to come together with their Democratic colleagues to ensure our justice system lives up to its name.”

    Whether that will be enough for those looking to the White House for action is doubtful. Advocates praise the White House for doing what it can, often calling attention to the work of the Justice Department to be more aggressive in addressing policing and shootings involving officers. But how the next few days and weeks go will give the country an early indication of the ways in which the president plans to operate during major national crises without the power of both chambers of Congress.

    Next week’s State of the Union address will provide Biden with his biggest audience. Members of the Nichols family will be attending the speech as guests of Horsford. Their presence, one Hill aide said, “means the president will all but have to speak to the issue.”

    “Good politicians are able to adapt to the weather, the political weather. So if it's raining, you go out with an umbrella,” said Maurice Mithchell, the national director of the Working Families Party. “We're counting on his ability to address this in the shadow of this horrific murder that the political climate has shifted. And so that requires a different type of politics, not the politics of two weeks ago or the politics of a year ago.” 

    But activists are also going to be looking at how the White House operates outside the bright lights of next week’s State of the Union.

    Marc Morial, the National Urban League president who has met with Biden multiple times over the administration, said the president has “expressed to us in some meetings before [that he] could get out there and talk about this every day, but then sometimes that undermines the ability to get it done.”

    But Morial, who has commended the administration for its executive orders and work using the Justice Department to address policing, added that on issues like criminal justice reform, the administration needs to be “showing efforts.”

    “People will read that if you don't talk about it, you don't care. Because the way people define the presidency is by the bully pulpit,” Morial said. “They're not in the meetings with members of Congress. They're not in the telephone conversations. They don't see the staff work all the time. And that's the tension that the White House has got to figure that out.”

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 16:10:05 -0500 ishook
    Opinion | Trump Can’t Beat DeSantis on Covid

    Donald Trump hasn’t been impressing anyone with his political acuity lately, but at least he is fully aware of one of his own vulnerabilities.

    His early attacks on the Covid record of Ron DeSantis, who looks at this juncture to be his most formidable potential rival, show that he knows the Florida governor has outflanked him on the populist right — indeed, outflanked him in general — on one of the most central issues of the last couple of years.

    In typical style, Trump isn’t tiptoeing around the issue, or subtly trying to minimize the credit DeSantis gets, but driving right at the governor in an attempt to undercut one of his foremost strengths.

    The “free state of Florida”? No, despite what you might recall, or have experienced at the time, or find when looking up the record for yourself, it was really the “shut down Sunshine state.”

    “Florida was actually closed, for a great, long period of time,” Trump told reporters during his first campaign swing. “Remember, he closed the beaches and everything else? They’re trying to rewrite history.”

    He followed up with a Truth Social post touting “the revelations about Ron DeSanctimonious doing FAR WORSE than many other Republican governors, including that he unapologetically shut down Florida and its beaches, was interesting, indeed.”

    The supposed revelations were, of course, the dubious things that Trump himself had said.

    This is brazen even by Trump’s standards. It will take all of his powers as a political sloganeer, marketeer and wrecking-ball to counter the DeSantis brand on Covid, which has the advantage of being grounded in reality.

    For Republicans, DeSantis’ approach to the pandemic of getting out of shutdowns as soon as possible and resisting mandates and restrictions has been vindicated and has appeal to nearly all factions of the party.

    For populists, he resisted the elites and self-appointed experts. For limited-government conservatives, he (although this is complicated) lightened the heavy hand of government. For everyone right of center, he forged his own path in the face of conventional wisdom and got attacked for it in the media and by the left — demonstrating the paramount GOP virtues of having courage and the right enemies.

    DeSantis would have much to brag about in his record in Florida absent Covid, but it is his response to the pandemic that sets him apart and makes him, for the moment, a near-legend for many Republicans. There’s no wonder that Trump feels compelled to try to deny him this foundational strength.

    Trump is correct that DeSantis issued shutdown orders like nearly everyone else at the outset of the pandemic. In March 2020, the governor issued statewide restrictions and then more far-reaching measures in Palm Beach and Broward counties. Beaches, as Trump said, were shut down.

    The trouble Trump has is that DeSantis was initially acting in keeping with the guidance of the federal government that Trump led. Trump’s argument amounts to a version of the famous Flounder line from Animal House — DeSantis fucked up, he trusted us.

    Despite Trump’s occasional grousing, he had at his right hip during the entire pandemic the man that has come to represent for Republicans all that was wrong with the pandemic response: Anthony Fauci. If Trump had a tense relationship with the long-time federal official, he largely went along with Fauci’s advice.

    It tends to be forgotten, but Georgia went first in re-opening in late April 2020, and Trump hit GOP Gov. Brian Kemp for it.

    At one of his signature coronavirus briefings, Trump said, “I told the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, that I disagree strongly with his decision to open certain facilities.” Trump opined that Kemp had moved “just too soon,” and was “in violation” of step one of his administration’s phased re-opening plan. He urged Georgians to “wait a little bit longer, just a little bit — not much — because safety has to predominate.”

    When DeSantis, too, moved to re-open, Trump’s coronavirus adviser, Fauci, attacked the state for moving too quickly. “Certainly Florida I know, you know, I think jumped over a couple of checkpoints,” Fauci told the 538 podcast. He said that the state needed to shutter bars and prevent crowds.

    By May 2020, Florida had a clearly distinguishable approach to the pandemic. I interviewed DeSantis then, and he already was skeptical of shutdowns and focused on protecting the most vulnerable rather than population-wide measures.

    Florida had begun easing restrictions, cautiously and on a phased basis at first, but more rapidly than in almost all other states. In September 2020, DeSantis lifted capacity limits on restaurants, arguing that the experience of Miami-Dade, which closed restaurants, and Broward, which didn’t, showed they were ineffectual.

    Crucially, the state was absolutely insistent that schools return to in-person instruction. Now there’s a consensus that remote learning was largely a debacle, but at the time DeSantis was believed to be making a risky choice. As the Washington Post reported in August 2020, “Florida is making a high-stakes gamble on school openings, with superintendents pressured into decisions that some fear will result in coronavirus outbreaks.”

    The state had to bludgeon some counties to go along, and fight off a lawsuit from the Florida Education Association.

    Another problem that Trump has is that during this period he was lavishing Florida with praise for its emphasis on re-opening. In July 2020, he enthused, “Look at what’s going on in Florida, it’s incredible,” and at an October campaign rally in Florida he called DeSantis “one of the greatest governors in our country,” specifically citing how “you’re open and you didn’t close, and you’re just amazing.”

    Trump is endlessly flexible and can try to talk his way out of anything, but un-ringing this bell is likely going to be beyond even his powers.

    Over time, DeSantis shifted into a different mode, using the power of his office and the state to block further Covid restrictions by localities, school boards and private businesses. He kept localities from obstructing businesses from opening or fining people for violating mask ordinances. He forbid vaccine passports. He prevented schools from forcing parents to mask their children.

    All of this was a frank use of state power, although toward the goal of allowing as much individual discretion in reacting to the virus as possible.

    DeSantis began talking of choosing freedom over Faucism and of his opposition to the “biomedical security state,” capturing and leading conservative sentiment that had lost all patience with anything associated with the sense of emergency around the pandemic. He took particular aim at vaccine mandates, and called for an investigation of alleged misinformation around the vaccines.

    While DeSantis was a sitting governor who could take concrete and symbolic steps to advance a wholly anti-Fauci perspective, Trump, by this point, was out of office and powerless to revise what had been his partnership with Fauci or take measures more in keeping with the Republican mood in April 2022 as opposed to April 2020.

    DeSantis’ response to Covid isn’t going to be decisive in a prospective 2024 primary battle with Trump. It is, however, what has put him in the game. It also is a large part of the reason that Republicans feel vested in and defensive of the governor, making it harder for Trump to mock and belittle him — not that he isn’t going to try.

    Trump accuses DeSantis of disloyalty. If developing a record on covid that is going to be almost impossible for Trump to counteract counts, he’s guilty as charged.

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 16:10:05 -0500 ishook
    Secret Service confirms that hackers linked to Russia, China stole U.S. pandemic relief money

    Criminal organizations backed by the Chinese and Russian governments have been linked to pandemic fraud, the U.S. Secret Service confirmed to Congress on Wednesday.

    Read more…

    The post Secret Service confirms that hackers linked to Russia, China stole U.S. pandemic relief money appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 13:55:03 -0500 ishook
    Trump endorses Rep. Jim Banks for open Indiana Senate seat

    Former President Donald Trump threw his support behind Rep. Jim Banks on Tuesday for the U.S. Senate in Indiana.

    Read more…

    The post Trump endorses Rep. Jim Banks for open Indiana Senate seat appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 13:55:03 -0500 ishook
    ‘I’ve learned my lesson’: Santos says he won’t lie anymore

    Rep. George Santos of New York says he “learned his lesson” and will be more truthful after revelations that he made up parts of his resume.

    Read more…

    The post ‘I’ve learned my lesson’: Santos says he won’t lie anymore appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 13:55:03 -0500 ishook
    Biden lawyer: FBI searching president’s Rehoboth Beach home

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI on Wednesday was conducting a planned search of President Biden’s Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, home as part of its investigation into the potential mishandling of classified documents, the president’s personal lawyer said.

    Read more…

    The post Biden lawyer: FBI searching president’s Rehoboth Beach home appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 13:55:03 -0500 ishook
    Sinaloa, Jalisco cartels in Mexico are the greatest drug threat in U.S. history: DEA official

    Two Mexican cartels have foot soldiers in every U.S. state and “pose the greatest criminal drug threat the United States has ever faced,” a top Drug Enforcement Administration official told a House panel Wednesday as it debated ways to stop the fentanyl crisis killing tens of thousands of Americans per year.

    Read more…

    The post Sinaloa, Jalisco cartels in Mexico are the greatest drug threat in U.S. history: DEA official appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 13:55:02 -0500 ishook
    Senate GOP move to block D.C. plan for illegal immigrants voting in local elections

    Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas filed a resolution Wednesday seeking to block the D.C. government from implementing a plan that allows illegal immigrants to vote in local elections.

    Read more…

    The post Senate GOP move to block D.C. plan for illegal immigrants voting in local elections appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 13:55:02 -0500 ishook
    Anti&socialism resolution puts House Democrats on the spot

    House Republicans are putting Democrats on the record for their views on socialism with a vote on a resolution Wednesday that condemns the leftist ideology.

    Read more…

    The post Anti-socialism resolution puts House Democrats on the spot appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 13:55:02 -0500 ishook
    Classified documents not found at Biden’s beach home after DoJ concludes search – live Agents however did take away some documents for further review, attorney for the president says

    Monmouth University has new polling out on the classified documents scandal, which finds voters are more inclined to give Joe Biden and Mike Pence the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the government secrets that turned up at their properties than they are Donald Trump.

    According to the survey, 50% think Pence knew there were documents in his Indiana home, while 58% believe Biden was aware of the secrets that have turned up in his Delaware residence and former office in Washington DC.

    Somewhat more Democrats (91%) than Republicans (72%) believe Trump was aware of the presence of classified documents at his home, while many more Republicans (79%) than Democrats (39%) believe Biden was aware. When it comes to being very concerned about the national security implications of these documents, the partisan splits are similar for Trump (62% of Democrats and just 14% of Republicans) and Biden (62% of Republicans and just 20% of Democrats).

    “Obviously, we don’t know exactly what was contained in any of these classified documents. But partisans are already inclined to believe that the other party’s guy took more sensitive information than their own guy,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 13:55:02 -0500 ishook
    Lawmakers find common ground on supporting entrepreneurship in U.S. workforce

    House lawmakers have found an area of bipartisan interest in a divided Congress: American entrepreneurship.

    Read more…

    The post Lawmakers find common ground on supporting entrepreneurship in U.S. workforce appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 13:50:04 -0500 ishook
    Biden’s CFPB proposes capping credit card late fees to $8

    President Biden’s administration proposed new regulations Tuesday capping fees that credit card companies can charge for most late payments to $8.

    Read more…

    The post Biden’s CFPB proposes capping credit card late fees to $8 appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 13:50:04 -0500 ishook
    U.S. announces new sanctions against Russian sanctions evasion network

    The Treasury announced sanctions on Wednesday against 22 people it says have helped Russia obtain weapons and evade sanctions imposed on the Kremlin and its allies since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine almost a year ago.

    The sanctions target the network’s leader, Russian arms dealer Igor Zimenkov, as well as his son and several members of their network, for supplying Russia with “high-technology devices.” Zimenkov and his associates have “been involved in multiple deals for Russian cybersecurity and helicopter sales” and maintain close relationships with the Russian arms exporter Rosoboronexport, according to the Treasury.

    “Russia’s desperate attempts to utilize proxies to circumvent U.S. sanctions demonstrate that sanctions have made it much harder and costlier for Russia’s military-industrial complex to re-supply Putin’s war machine,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in a statement. “Targeting proxies is one of many steps that Treasury and our coalition of partners have taken, and continue to take, to tighten sanctions enforcement against Russia’s defense sector, its benefactors, and its supporters.”

    The latest sanctions against Russia come a week after the U.S. announced it will send 31 highly sought after Abrams tanks to Ukraine to help bolster the country’s defense against Russia.

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 11:45:04 -0500 ishook
    She Went Viral Mocking Trump. Now Sarah Cooper Is Taking on a New Role. Wed, 01 Feb 2023 11:45:04 -0500 ishook Bias and Human Error Played Parts in F.B.I.’s Jan. 6 Failure, Documents Suggest Wed, 01 Feb 2023 11:45:04 -0500 ishook Meet the Women Trying to Avoid a Spending Train Wreck in Congress Wed, 01 Feb 2023 11:45:03 -0500 ishook Biden and McCarthy Are Set to Discuss Debt Limit as Both Sides Trade Barbs Wed, 01 Feb 2023 11:45:03 -0500 ishook Mark Zuckerberg beats back FTC antitrust challenge

    Meta notched early court approval of its bid to purchase Within Unlimited, maker of the virtual reality fitness app Supernatural, a critical blow to the Federal Trade Commission’s efforts to fight against consolidation in the tech sector.

    In a pair of sealed rulings, U.S. District Judge Edward Davila declined to issue a preliminary injunction against the deal while the FTC pursues a separate case in its in-house administrative court, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Davila did put the deal on hold for another week while the agency decides whether to appeal, said the person, who was granted anonymity to discuss the sealed rulings.

    "Out of respect for the court’s orders, the FTC is not in a position to comment at this time," an agency spokesperson said. A Meta spokesperson did not respond for comment.

    Bloomberg earlier reported the outcome of Davila’s rulings.

    The case was the first to challenge a consumer tech deal from the FTC under Chair Lina Khan — the influential antitrust thinker whom Biden nominated to one of the most powerful corporate watchdog jobs in the federal government. The hearing was closely watched in tech and legal circles as a key test of the FTC’s authority under Khan to pursue alleged anticompetitive conduct using aggressive, largely untested legal theories.

    The sealed rulings late Tuesday night from Davila came more than a month after a seven-day hearing, which culminated in Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg taking the stand in a San Jose, California, federal courtroom to defend the deal.

    An administrative trial is currently set to start Feb. 13 and the FTC will also need to decide whether to move forward with that case as well.

    Meta originally announced the $440 million deal in late 2021to purchase Within. The announcement came a day after the company changed its name from Facebook as part of its pivot toward the metaverse. The FTC sued to block the deal in July, arguing that Meta is trying to dominate the nascent virtual reality market through acquisitions rather than boosting competition by attempting to build its own product.

    Meta is by far the dominant player in the consumer virtual reality market, with a roughly 85% market share for the first three quarters of 2022 according to data from research firm International Data Corporation. ByteDance’s Pico headset was a distant second with about 7.5%, and at the hearing the FTC used Meta’s current dominance as evidence of its ability to lock up the market. Meta countered that the industry is still in its early stages, pointing to companies including Apple and Google that are still developing competing products, and the coming rollout of Sony’s new headset this year.

    Tuesday’s ruling isn’t the final word on the deal, however. The FTC went to court only to pause the deal while its challenge to the case in its own in-house administrative court plays out. Only a federal judge has the authority to block or pause a merger, but the FTC could choose to continue its case.

    If it does, it will be fighting an uphill battle. Any ongoing efforts by the FTC will likely center on unwinding it at a later date, a much more difficult proposition than blocking it in advance. And while Davila’s ruling isn’t binding on the FTC’s in-house judge, Michael Chappell, it will likely weigh heavily in any decision he would make.

    The agency typically abandons a merger challenge if it loses the initial preliminary injunction in federal court. If the FTC does continue its case and wins, Meta can then appeal to the FTC commissioners, followed by a federal appeals court of its choice.

    Meta also has a pending petition seeking to recuse Khan from the administrative case. In Khan’s role as chair she will act as both prosecutor and judge, and Meta argues that her past statements and work on a Congressional antitrust investigation of the company should disqualify her from participating.

    Meta had said throughout the hearing that if the FTC won this first round, the companies would abandon the deal.

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 11:40:05 -0500 ishook
    FBI searches ​​Biden's beach home in Delaware

    Federal investigators conducted a search Wednesday of President Joe Biden’s vacation home in Rehoboth, Del., as part of their ongoing probe into his handling of classified documents, officials said.

    Bob Bauer, Biden’s personal lawyer, said in a statement that the president’s team did not seek to provide advance notice of the operation. But he confirmed the search by the Department of Justice was taking place after it was reported by CBS News, which, along with other television outlets stationed outside of the president’s home, observed black vehicles arriving outside mid-morning.

    “The search today is a further step in a thorough and timely DOJ process we will continue to fully support and facilitate,” he said. “We will have further information at the conclusion of today’s search.”

    The search is part of a special counsel investigation into Biden’s handling of the classified materials found in November at his office in Washington and in December and January at his home in Wilmington. In late January, a 13-hour search of Biden’s home recovered additional classified items.

    The drip of new information has widened the scope of the probe into Biden and raised fresh frustration among some Democrats over why the searches weren’t conducted sooner and more thoroughly. Late last month, however, former Vice President Mike Pence revealed a search of his home in Indiana also had resulted in the finding of some classified information.

    There is also a separate special counsel investigation into former President Donald’s storage of a far larger cache of classified documents at his private Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

    The Bidens bought the beach house after his time as vice president, and his family visits the property occasionally on weekends. Biden’s lawyers said previously that they had searched the Rehoboth home and turned up no classified materials.

    The latest search comes as the special counsel in the investigation, Robert Hur, formally begins his work on the case.

    Wed, 01 Feb 2023 11:40:05 -0500 ishook
    Ukraine to get cold shoulder on rapid EU entry Wed, 01 Feb 2023 11:40:04 -0500 ishook F.B.I. Is Searching Biden’s Vacation Home in Delaware Wed, 01 Feb 2023 11:40:04 -0500 ishook Putin is not mad, just 'radically rational,' says former French president Wed, 01 Feb 2023 11:40:04 -0500 ishook 4 key suspects in Haiti presidential slaying in U.S. custody

    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Four key suspects in the killing of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse were transferred to the United States for prosecution as the case stagnates in Haiti amid death threats that have spooked local judges, U.S. officials announced Tuesday.

    The suspects now in custody of the U.S. government include James Solages, 37, and Joseph Vincent, 57, two Haitian-Americans who were among the first arrested after Moïse was shot 12 times at his private home near the capital of Port-au-Prince on July, 7 2021.

    Also charged is Christian Emmanuel Sanon, an elderly pastor, doctor and failed businessman that authorities have identified as a key player. His associates have suggested he was duped by the real — and still unidentified — masterminds behind the assassination that has plunged Haiti deep into political chaos and unleashed a level of gang violence not seen in decades.

    The fourth suspect was identified as Colombian citizen Germán Rivera García, 44, who is among nearly two dozen former Colombian soldiers charged in the case.

    Rivera, along with Solages and Vincent, face charges including conspiring to commit murder or kidnapping outside the U.S. and providing material support and resources resulting in death, the U.S. Justice Department said.

    Sanon is charged with conspiring to smuggle goods from the U.S. and providing unlawful export information. Court documents state that he allegedly shipped 20 ballistic vests to Haiti, but that the items shipped were described as “medical X-ray vests and school supplies.”

    It was not immediately known if the four suspects had attorneys who could comment on the development. The men are scheduled to appear in federal court Wednesday in Miami.

    A total of seven suspects in the case are now in U.S. custody. Dozens of others still languish in Haiti’s main penitentiary, which is severely overcrowded and often lacks food and water for inmates.

    The case has reached a virtual standstill in Haiti, with local officials last year nominating a fifth judge to investigate the killing after four others were dismissed or resigned for personal reasons.

    One judge told The Associated Press that his family asked him not to take the case because they feared for his life. Another judge stepped down after one of his assistants died under murky circumstances.

    Court documents state that exactly two months before Moïse was killed, Vincent texted Solages a video of a cat “reacting alertly” to the sound of gunfire and that Solages laughed, prompting Vincent to respond: “That’s the way Jovenel will be pretty much, but (sooner) if you guys really up to it!”

    The document states that Solages responded that “(this) cat will never come back,” and “trust me brother, we definitely working our final decision.”

    Then in June, some 20 former Colombian soldiers were recruited to supposedly help arrest the president and protect Sanon, who envisioned himself as Haiti’s new leader. Rivera was in charge of that group, the documents state.

    A day before the killing, Solages falsely told other suspects that it was a CIA operation and that the mission was to kill the president, according to the documents. Shortly before the killing, authorities said, Solages shouted that it was allegedly a DEA operation to ensure compliance from the president’s security detail.

    About a year after the killing, U.S. authorities say they interviewed Solages, Vincent and Rivera while they were in Haitian custody and that they agreed to talk.

    The other suspects already in U.S. custody are Rodolphe Jaar, a former U.S. government informant and a Haitian businessman who was extradited from the Dominican Republic, where he was detained in January 2022.

    That same month, U.S. authorities arrested Mario Antonio Palacios Palacios, a former Colombian soldier who was deported by Jamaica after fleeing there from Haiti. While en route to Colombia, he was deained by U.S. officials in Panama during a layover.

    Also in January 2022, authorities arrested former Haitian Sen. John Joël Joseph, who also had fled to Jamaica.

    Alfredo Izaguirre, a Miami-based lawyer for Palacios, said Tuesday’s arrival of the four other suspects will postpone the trial because they all have to be tried at the same time. He said Palacios had been prepared for the trial to begin in early March, but now it could be postponed for up to four months.

    Haiti police say other high-profile suspects remain at large, including a former Supreme Court judge who authorities say was favored to seize power from Moïse instead of Sanon as originally planned. Another fugitive is Joseph Badio, alleged leader of the plot who previously worked for Haiti’s Ministry of Justice and the government’s anti-corruption unit until he was fired, police say.

    Emmanuel Jeanty, an attorney for the president’s widow, Martine Moïse, who was injured in the attack and flown to the U.S. for care, did not return a message for comment.

    In December, Martine Moïse tweeted that her husband — who also has been accused of corruption, which he denied — had fought against it, which resulted in his assassination. “Despite the blockages, 17 months later, the people are demanding #Justice,” she wrote.

    Tue, 31 Jan 2023 19:45:02 -0500 ishook
    House votes to end Covid public health emergency

    The House voted Tuesday on party lines to end the Covid-19 public health emergency despite President Joe Biden’s announcement Monday that his administration would end the PHE along with a separate Covid national emergency in May.

    In revealing its plans, the White House strongly opposed the House bill to end the public health emergency, as well as a separate resolution slated for floor consideration this week to end the national emergency. The administration said an abrupt end to the emergency orders, which have allowed medical providers and patients access to free Covid treatments and have boosted payments for hospitals taking care of Covid patients, would “create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system.”

    It could also affect immigration. Biden said the bill would immediately end the policy known as Title 42 that denies migrants the opportunity to claim asylum. The policy is now tied up in court. Its end would “result in a substantial additional inflow of migrants at the Southwest border,” Biden said.

    Still, the disclosure that Biden plans to wind down the emergencies might have helped shore up the Democratic vote. The final tally was 220-210, with no member crossing party lines.

    Republicans, who know the bill has no chance of being enacted with Biden in the White House, said their aim was to send a message andpush the administration for a more detailed plan for winding down the emergency.

    “We’ve been asking for one for a year,” Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee chair, told POLITICO. “Hopefully, this will have them send a plan … there are issues we need to deal with.”

    Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), noting that Biden had declared the pandemic over in an interview with CBS News in September, argued it shouldn’t take months to unwind the emergency.

    “I’m pleased the administration is following the House Republicans in finally abiding by President Biden’s own acknowledgment,” she said.

    The end of the emergencies will halt a wide-ranging set of eased regulations established at the pandemic’s outset to bolster the country’s response. The administration’s move will mean many patients will have to pay for all, or some portion, of the costs of Covid therapeutics, depending on their health insurance or lack thereof.

    The unwinding could also mean the end of Title 42, ordered by the Trump administration in March 2020 to shut down the southern border, though Republicans argued the policy could remain. The Biden administration has tried to end Title 42, but courts have blocked those efforts several times and Title 42’s fate will likely be decided by the judiciary.

    Democratic leadership whipped against the bill Tuesday, saying the legislation would “abruptly end numerous policies” without sufficient coordination and leave states without billions in funding.

    But they also said the emergencies shouldn’t go on indefinitely and backed the administration’s plan to end them in a few months.

    “There’s a right way to wind down,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). “Make sure there aren’t vulnerable people that would be impacted …This isn’t a serious effort. This is about messaging.”

    The House also voted mostly along party lines, 227-203, to end a federal rule requiring health care workers to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

    Republicans plan to bring to the floor later this week the resolution by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) to end the Covid national emergency.

    That declaration undergirds Biden’s plan, now stuck in court, to forgive some federal student loans. The Senate passed a resolution by Kansas Republican Sen. Roger Marshall in November to end the national emergency, with 12 Democrats joining a united GOP in the 61-37 vote.

    Marshall took advantage of a provision in the 1976 National Emergencies Act that allows senators to call for a vote on presidentially declared emergencies, and he could do so again.

    Guthrie told POLITICO before the House vote Tuesday that Republicans would have a Senate vehicle to end the emergency in case the Biden administration doesn’t do so on May 11.

    Tue, 31 Jan 2023 19:45:02 -0500 ishook
    Trump big money machine prepares for battle with DeSantis, other rivals

    The operatives running former President Donald Trump’s cash-flush super PAC met quietly in December to sketch out their lines of attack against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other potential GOP rivals — the latest indication that the slow-burning 2024 primary is beginning to intensify.

    During the meeting, which was held in an Alexandria, Va. office and led by Trump lieutenants Taylor Budowich and Tony Fabrizio, the group pored over confidential polling, went over legal and communications strategies and laid out a six-month plan for the race. That plan included an opposition research initiative targeting DeSantis and other possible candidates.

    The early planning foreshadows a coming battle between Trump and his would-be rivals. Trump, who bent the party to his will as president, is intensely focused on batting down anyone who challenge him. That’s especially true of DeSantis, whom the former president, over the weekend, derided as “disloyal,” while also attacking his early handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Trump also appeared to tweak Nikki Haley, who is exploring a run after having served as his U.N. ambassador, by noting that she had previously said she wouldn’t run against him.

    Now, Trump’s political apparatus is preparing to follow suit with its own offensive.

    Over the next several weeks, the super PAC’s officials are expected to travel to the four early nominating states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada — to test out possible lines of attack against DeSantis and a handful of other potential rivals before focus groups. The Trump-aligned organization, MAGA, Inc., has begun drafting messages that could be used to undercut opponents, which it says are based on extensive opposition research.

    While the super PAC’s early focus has largely been on DeSantis, officials say its research effort has been expanded to include other prospective candidates. And those involved are not ruling out the possibility of airing early ads targeting Trump’s opponents, potentially before the end of March. The super PAC has hired a media buyer and has begun looking into the cost of running commercials in early primary states, according to a person familiar with the group’s activities. It is also expected to set up a “war room” based in West Palm Beach, Fla. (Trump’s campaign has also set up its headquarters in West Palm Beach, near where the former president’s Mar-a-Lago estate is located.)

    Budowich, who heads the pro-Trump super PAC, did not specify an exact date for when the group would start airing ads. In a statement, he said that “MAGA Inc., through deep opposition research, tested messages, and a significant war chest, is building a GOP primary guillotine that will welcome every challenger with swift and decisive force.”

    A DeSantis spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. But on Tuesday, the governor took a rare swing at Trump, arguing that his landslide reelection win this past November in Florida showed that voters approved of his light-touch approach to handling the pandemic.

    “The good thing is, is that the people are able to render a judgment on that whether they reelect you or not,” DeSantis told reporters during a press conference when asked about Trump’s recent attacks. “And I’m happy to say — you know in my case — not only did we win reelection, we won with the highest percentage of the vote that any Republican governor candidate has had in the history of the state of Florida. ... That verdict has been rendered by the people of the state of Florida.”

    With polls showing Trump and DeSantis leading the field in the early-voting states, some people in the former president’s orbit have privately expressed a desire for Trump’s super PAC to begin going after the Florida governor.

    The group has substantial resources at its disposal: Fundraising efforts did not begin until 2023, but upon its launch last year, MAGA Inc. was seeded with $55 million, much of it transferred from Trump’s political action committee, Save America. (Super PAC officials downplayed expectations for a campaign finance report due Tuesday evening, which will cover fundraising for the final weeks of 2022.)

    Now, the super PAC is looking to build its war chest further, and it is planning to hold its first fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago on Feb. 23. Organizers are describing the event as a “candlelight dinner,” that will be attended by the former president. The super PAC has brought on Meredith O’Rourke, a veteran Republican fundraiser, to oversee its finance efforts and has begun hiring a team of regional fundraisers.

    Raising major funds, however, may not prove easy for Trump. Some of Trump’s top donors from 2020, such as hedge fund executive Stephen Schwarzman, have expressed a desire to move on from the former president. Others have also been supportive of DeSantis.

    And some big donors appear likely to sit out the 2024 GOP primary entirely. Miriam Adelson, the widow of casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson who has recently dined with Trump and was his biggest financial supporter in 2020, has made clear she has no plans to get involved in the nominating fight.

    Tue, 31 Jan 2023 18:35:04 -0500 ishook
    Blue Dogs say they're ready to help on eve of McCarthy&Biden debt talks Tue, 31 Jan 2023 18:35:03 -0500 ishook House GOP sets its expectations low for McCarthy&Biden debt meeting

    House Republicans’ expectations for Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden’s first one-on-one sitdown are so low that many of them point to a single goal: For the president to suggest he’ll negotiate at all on spending cuts.

    As the new GOP majority digs in on its demands ahead of a looming debt crisis, Democrats have so far refused to even entertain giving ground in talks. The White House and Senate Democrats want Republicans to outline the cuts they’d seek in exchange for lifting the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling — or offer any proof of what they can pass with their minuscule margin in the House.

    Given the current debt stalemate, few members of either party expect the McCarthy-Biden encounter to yield any significant breakthroughs. This leaves McCarthy’s conference with little to do but organize its often-fractious ranks for the fight ahead: House Republicans will hold a debt limit meeting Wednesday morning, ahead of their speaker’s time with Biden.

    But the GOP is also entertaining hope that the president shows a shred of openness to taking its demands seriously, even as very few of its members specify what they want Biden to negotiate on. A rare Republican with a concrete proposal was Texas Rep. Chip Roy, who on Tuesday called directly for federal spending caps.

    "It's a lot of work. We got to do it. We're in a big hole because of irresponsibility on both sides of the aisle,” said Roy, who has also specified that the cuts shouldn't touch the Pentagon’s budget or programs like Medicare or Social Security. “But there is a path, and we ought to sit down and figure it out."

    That growing fiscal slash-and-burn pressure from the GOP’s right flank leaves both parties in a state of high-stakes uncertainty as Congress veers towards a summertime cliff that draws parallels to the Obama administration's flirtation with debt calamity more than a decade ago. And this time around, Biden's lead negotiating partner won't be his generational counterpart Mitch McConnell but the younger speaker from California, who brings a more Trump-friendly conservatism and less predictable style to the table.

    McCarthy will also be speaking for a conference where fiscal hawks hold significant sway and spending caps are gaining momentum as a proposed solution. That outcome would be similar to the 2011 debt limit standoff, which ended with Congress enacting strict spending limits that technically lasted a decade, but were waived more times than not.

    “I think the first thing [Biden] should do, especially as president of the United States, is say he's willing to sit down and find a common ground and negotiate together,” McCarthy told reporters Tuesday morning when asked what he would need to see from Biden to consider the meeting a success.

    House Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) put it more simply: “It would be awesome if the president would admit he is going to negotiate. That would be awesome.”

    But GOP members are still fiercely split over major issues like whether to slash the Pentagon’s budget or touch entitlement programs, and broad domestic spending cuts could prove problematic for more moderate, electorally vulnerable members.

    Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), another conservative who supports limits on domestic spending, said of Biden: “He wants to do a free debt ceiling. And I don't think that's what the American people want.”

    The first step this time, as House Republicans see it, is for Biden to acknowledge to their leader that the U.S. needs to start chipping away at the nation’s rising borrowing bills. While GOP leaders have agreed to look at capping spending at fiscal 2022 levels in future spending bills, there’s been little open discussion about whether those demands would carry into the debt conversations.

    “We can't even talk about it without the president and Democrats coming to the table,” said House Budget Committee Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas).

    Democrats, meanwhile, are looking for their own concessions. Biden plans to seek a commitment from McCarthy that the U.S. will never default on its financial obligations, according to a White House memo released earlier Tuesday. Administration officials also said they plan to unveil their proposed budget for the coming fiscal year on March 9, demanding that House GOP leaders reveal their own blueprint detailing their vision for spending cuts.

    Some Senate Democrats have said they’re willing to discuss government funding as part of the annual appropriations process, but not while using the nation’s borrowing limit as a bargaining chip.

    “There shouldn’t be a negotiation about whether or not we pay our bills,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, a member of the chamber's Democratic leadership. “If they want to talk about next year’s budget, certainly that’s a legitimate thing. But we don’t negotiate to pay our bills.”

    Centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), however, has said it would be a mistake for the White House not to negotiate with Republicans over the debt ceiling. Manchin met with McCarthy last week, after which he said the GOP leader agreed not to cut Medicare and Social Security.

    “I think those two can get something done,” Manchin said Monday night of the president and House GOP leader. “I really feel confident about that.”

    Unlike some House Republicans, though, Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said he hopes Biden will entertain changes to ensure the long-term solvency of programs like Social Security and Medicare, which “are both headed for bankruptcy.”

    “That doesn't mean you have to cut programs, but it does mean that you’ve got to make reforms … that will translate into making those programs more sustainable for the long term,” Thune said Tuesday. “If you take that off the table in these negotiations, it does obviously limit the amount of the budget that you can address.”

    More than a decade ago, then-Vice President Biden and Senate GOP leader McConnell successfully hashed out a spending caps deal to stave off a market-rattling default. But this time, McConnell has said McCarthy should take the lead, arguing that nothing would get through the Democratic-led Senate if it can’t pass the Republican-led House.

    McConnell said Tuesday that the 2011 deal was successful when it came to restricting spending in the short-term, but it squeezed defense funding too much.

    “We’re all behind Kevin and wishing him well in negotiations,” McConnell said.

    Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), a senior party appropriator, said Biden will ultimately have to negotiate with the GOP to stave off a debt default that — in Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's recent words — could result in a “global financial crisis."

    “No one holds all the cards,” Fleischmann said.

    Jennifer Scholtes and Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.

    Tue, 31 Jan 2023 18:35:03 -0500 ishook
    Longtime Santos treasurer is out, she tells federal regulator

    The longtime campaign treasurer for embattled Rep. George Santos told the Federal Election Commission Tuesday she resigned from his campaign and affiliated committees last week.

    It was not immediately clear who is serving as treasurer for the New York Republican’s political groups after Nancy Marks’ resignation. Neither Marks nor a lawyer for Santos immediately responded to inquiries.Marks’ electronic signature still appeared on two filings for Santos-affiliated committees dated Jan. 30 and Jan. 31.

    Marks, who had served as treasurer for Santos’ 2020 and 2022 campaigns as well as campaigns of other New York politicians including former Rep. Lee Zeldin, told the FEC she had resigned from Santos’ campaign and affiliated committees effective last Wednesday. That was the same day the groups filed amended forms claiming Tom Datwyler, who has served as treasurer for many GOP candidates, was now the treasurer. But a lawyer for Datwyler said he had not agreed to serve in the role. The FEC then asked Santos’ campaign to clarify the situation, but the campaign has not filed a response other than Marks clarifying her resignation.

    Campaigns must have treasurers in order to accept donations, make disbursements and file mandated reports with the FEC. Tuesday is the deadline for campaigns to file year-end reports, which cover the period from late November through Dec. 31. Santos’ campaign had not yet filed his as of Tuesday afternoon, although his campaign has until midnight to do so.

    Despite telling the FEC she had resigned from each of Santos’ affiliated committees effective Jan. 25, Marks was still listed as the treasurer on the termination report for a joint fundraising committee for Santos and Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-Texas) that bore her electronic signature dated Jan. 30. She was alsoon a year-end report for a recount committee Santos had formed in 2020.

    Santos’ campaign finances have come under intense scrutiny in the past month after the congressman was caught faking much of his biography. Campaign finance complaints with the FEC have alleged that over $700,000 Santos initially reported as a personal loan to his campaign— despite a checkered personal financial history — may have actually represented an illegal straw donor scheme.

    The New York congressman’s campaign also reported a series of improbable expenses, including dozens supposedly costing $199.99 — just one cent below the threshold that would require the campaign to keep receipts. As treasurer, Marks signed the forms reporting those expenses and the personal loans, although an amended filing last week no longer included a checked box indicating that money had come from Santos’ personal funds.

    Santos has not been charged with a crime or faced enforcement action from the campaign finance regulator, although he is being investigated by local and federal prosecutors. The Washington Post reported last week that the Department of Justice asked the FEC to hold off on enforcement action against Santos as the department pursues its own probe.

    Santos, who said Tuesday he would step aside from his committee assignments, dismissed questions about his FEC filings last week, telling reports in Washington he “[did] not touch any of [his] FEC stuff.”

    Tue, 31 Jan 2023 18:35:03 -0500 ishook
    FBI Searched Biden’s Former Think Tank Office in November Tue, 31 Jan 2023 16:45:03 -0500 ishook At the Supreme Court, Ethics Questions Over a Spouse’s Business Ties Tue, 31 Jan 2023 16:45:03 -0500 ishook U.S. Says Russia Fails to Comply With START, a Nuclear Arms Treaty Tue, 31 Jan 2023 16:45:03 -0500 ishook Covid emergency’s end will mean new costs, hassles

    The White House’s announcement that it will end the Covid-19 public health emergency — and a separate Covid national emergency — on May 11 will mean new costs and more hassles for Americans seeking health care.

    It will also affect those receiving government nutrition assistance and could make it easier for immigrants to request asylum.

    The end of the emergency also reinforces the conclusion President Joe Biden expressed last September, that most Americans have moved on from the pandemic despite the toll of more than a million lives, and that they have accepted the risks that come with the disease.

    Key changes Americans can expect:

    — Many will have to pay for Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments. People without health insurance will have to pay out of pocket, while those with private plans could see more costs depending on the terms of their insurance. Insurers typically cover the costs of preventive care, such as vaccines, but often charge deductibles or require cost-sharing for drugs.

    — Medicare, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program beneficiaries could also face more cost-sharing for tests and some Covid antivirals, though vaccines will remain free.

    — Employers will no longer be able to offer telehealth access as a premium, tax-free benefit separate from other health plans.

    — Eased rules for prescribing controlled substances without an in-person doctor’s visit could also end unless the Drug Enforcement Administration moves to extend them. That could affect people seeking mental health care, transgender care, treatment for opioid use disorder, and even for severe coughs.

    — Medicare coverage requirements that were waived during the emergency will now resume. For example, Medicare patients seeking admission to a skilled nursing facility will first have to spend three days in a hospital.

    — The Medicare prescription drug benefit will no longer allow patients to get extended supplies of many drugs.

    — Medicaid and CHIP coverage will change in some ways, as state and federal agencies made changes — such as boosting provider payments, increasing beneficiary access to medicines and expanding some covered services — to their programs because of the emergency. Some of those changes, though, can continue after the end of the emergency, depending on the state and policy.

    — Hospitals will lose the 20 percent increase in Medicare payments they’ve received for treating Covid patients.

    Nutrition assistance

    — Work requirements for federal food assistance programs that were paused during the pandemic will return in more than two dozen, mostly Republican-controlled states that haven’t waived the requirements.

    — Other administrative rules that helped people receive their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits will also end.


    — The White House said the end of the emergency would also end Title 42, a health policy used at the start of the pandemic to shut down the southern border by denying immigrants the opportunity to request asylum. But Republicans in Congress have argued that the policy is not tied to the public health emergency.

    What Biden’s decision on the emergencies won’t change:

    — Medicare patients and people in high-deductible health plans will continue to have eased access to telehealth through the end of 2024 because of an extension Congress included in the year-end spending bill.

    — Lawmakers also agreed in that legislation to wind down beginning in February extra SNAP food assistance that was offered during the pandemic.

    — A requirement that states allow people to stay enrolled in Medicaid regardless of their eligibility for the program will end in April, allowing states to kick millions off the rolls. Many of those affected, whose incomes are now too high to qualify for Medicaid, will be eligible for low-cost Obamacare plans.

    — The FDA will continue to have the power to authorize vaccines, tests and drugs on an emergency basis.

    Tue, 31 Jan 2023 16:00:04 -0500 ishook
    FDA chief: No one getting fired over baby formula crisis

    FDA’s major overhaul of its foods division won’t include reassigning or firing any employees involved in the agency’s delayed response to the babyformula crisis, Commissioner Robert Califf said Tuesday.

    Califf rolled out his “new, transformative vision” of the main agency tasked with overseeing food safety in the U.S. He didn’t include any specific plans to address internal FDA breakdowns around infant formula, and instead focused on general restructuring to boost food safety efforts. But the FDA chief, asked during a press briefing, said he doesn’t have any plans to fire or reassign any FDA officials involved in the internal agency breakdowns as part of the larger reforms to the FDA's Human Foods Program.

    Califf said there had been some “leadership changes.” His remarks come just days after senior FDA foods official Frank Yiannas’ resignation last week. In his resignation letter, Yiannas called for structural reforms at the troubled division.

    “But the short answer is no one's going to be resigned or fired because of the infant formula situation,” Califf told reporters.

    Scrutiny of the FDA's foods division increased after advocates and lawmakers accused the agency of failing to rapidly and effectively address an infant formula contamination event that had a major impact on U.S. supply. The actions unveiled by Califf on Tuesday follow an external review of the foods division that found “constant turmoil” within its ranks, and a complex leadership structure that left staff “wondering which program is responsible for decision-making.”

    Baby formula supplies have bounced back since the widespread shortages triggered by a recall that sent parents scrambling for supplies last year. But some families — especially those with medically vulnerable children — are still struggling to find formula.

    Top FDA officials were warned about food safety concerns at a key infant formula plant months before the agency’s inspectors found strains of a bacteria that can be deadly to babies. Months after those warnings, Abbott, the company at the center of the formula crisis, issued a recall of some formula products and shut down the facility, triggering widespread shortages across the country. The company, which maintains there is no connection between the bacteria found at the plant and the deaths of several babies, is now under criminal investigation by the Justice Department.

    “Where there could have been better performance, that's reflected in the performance evaluation system. And, of course, that's confidential information between supervisors and employees,” Califf said in response to the question from POLITICO.

    FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Janet Woodcock told reporters on Tuesday that FDA’s formula response was “a systems problem, not an individual problem.” She also noted an internal review of FDA’s infant formula supply chain response last year. As POLITICO reported, the report didn’t name any specific teams responsible for breakdowns at FDA and surprised stakeholders with its lack of accountability.

    “And so the system fixes that we are putting in place, both the information technology support as well as many of the changes, will address all the different issues,” Woodcock said.

    “This was a failure of the systems — to the extent there was a failure — to provide the information to the right people at the right time,” Woodcock added.

    Califf and other top FDA officials, despite acknowledging to lawmakers a string of internal breakdowns that contributed to the crisis, have pushed back against claims that there were any major failures at the agency. That includes a breakdown in internal FDA communication that some senior FDA officials said prevented them from knowing about the food safety issues until just weeks before the recall.

    Califf and Yiannas said a whistleblower report alleging food safety problems at the plant, which was mailed in October 2021, did not reach the FDA’s highest ranksuntil mid-February 2022. Califf, in testimony to lawmakers, said senior officials didn’t receive the whistleblower report due to pandemic “mailroom issues.”

    Tue, 31 Jan 2023 16:00:03 -0500 ishook
    Biden says Hudson River Tunnel project is finally full steam ahead

    NEW YORK — President Joe Biden arrived in Manhattan Tuesday to deliver a message that elected leaders in New York and New Jersey have waited more than a decade to hear — the Gateway Program to improve the century-old rail link under the Hudson River is finally full steam ahead.

    Biden visited the rail yard on Manhattan’s west side to formally announce a nearly $300 million grant for the decades-long project to build a new rail tunnel under the Hudson and repair the existing one that suffered significant damage in 2012 from Hurricane Sandy. The federal award will allow developers to install concrete casing in the area, preserving the right-of-way for the new two-tube tunnel to connect to Penn Station.

    Tuesday’s event offered Biden, and his Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, an opportunity to celebrate tangible wins from the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law after a tumultuous few months of air travel meltdowns, supply chain woes and a narrowly averted rail strike that threatened to sink the economy. Biden also stopped in Maryland Monday to celebrate more than $6 billion in upgrades for the aging Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel.

    But the president’s visit Tuesday was particularly symbolic for the New York and New Jersey politicians in attendance who have witnessed the $16 billion endeavor suffer several delays over the years. Biden's trip showed that after repeated setbacks, the critical infrastructure project finally has federal backing— even if it's still years in the making.

    “All told, this is one of the biggest and most consequential projects in the country,” Biden said at an event in a 30-track rail yard in front of commuter trains emblazoned with the presidential seal. “But it’s going to take time. It’s a multibillion effort between the states and the federal government. But we finally have the money and we’re going to get it done, I promise you.”

    In 2009, officials did a ceremonial groundbreaking for a previous version of the tunnel project that was intended to alleviate commutes for the 200,000 passengers who relied on it everyday. The 10 miles of track stretching between Newark, New Jersey and New York Penn Station are a common source of delays and service meltdowns.

    Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said he recalled the celebratory event that was over a decade ago “almost to the day.” Shortly after that, then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pulled state funding for the project and workers who had started digging the tunnel entrance had to fill it back in.

    “Our journey since that press conference has been long and winding. But today it brings me immense pleasure to say we’re finally getting it done,” he said.

    The project was revived after Hurricane Sandy, which inundated the tunnel with seawater. Biden said signs of the damage remain.

    “Today over 10 years later there’s still remnants of seawater in the tunnel eating away at the concrete, the steel and the electrical components within the tunnel,” Biden said.

    New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said the storm underscored the need for the project, recalling how two hurricanes caused severe infrastructure damage when she first entered office.

    “You need to have the redundancy, backups to make sure this region is never ever paralyzed because that’s exactly what would happen,” she said.

    As elected leaders in New York and New Jersey tried to revive the tunnels after Christie killed them, they ran into opposition from then-President Donald Trump. Biden, a known Amtrak lover, made the project a priority when he entered office — approving a required environmental study that had languished.

    Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a major backer of the tunnel, also celebrated the significance of Biden’s visit after years of disappointment.

    “Finally, finally, finally, we can say Gateway will be built,” he said.

    The federal award will defray half the cost of building concrete casing on the far west side of Manhattan, preserving the right-of-way for future trains to enter New York Penn Station. Amtrak and other local partners in the project are expected to pay for the rest of the work.

    Construction is also underway on other components of the Gateway Program, including the planned replacement and expansion of the Portal North Bridge in New Jersey.

    Workers are expected to begin digging the actual tunnels in fall 2024. The entire project isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2038 and will cost more than initial estimates due to delays.

    Buttigieg said the project is long overdue, stating that “we cannot lead the world in this century if we depend on infrastructure from early in the last one.”

    New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy echoed the point about the tunnel that was first opened in 1910.

    “One of these days we’ll get into the 21st [century], I hope sooner than later,” he said.

    Tue, 31 Jan 2023 16:00:03 -0500 ishook
    DeSantis targets ‘ideological’ programs in proposed university changes

    TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a slate of changes to Florida’s university system on Tuesday that could shake up diversity, equity and inclusion programs as well as faculty tenure at campuses across the state.

    The Republican governor is asking the Legislature in the upcoming session to eliminate all state funding toward those programs, which he deems “ideological,” and pass a measure that would give university officials the power to launch a tenure review at any time. These proposals could prove to be banner higher education legislation in 2023 as Florida Republicans seize on colleges in their push to eliminate “woke” lessons in schools.

    “People want to see true academics and they want to get rid of some of the political window dressing that seems to accompany all this,” DeSantis said Tuesday at an event in Bradenton, Fla.

    DeSantis earlier this month laid the groundwork for this proposal by launching an initial probe for data on how much state funding flows to diversity, equity and inclusion programs — as well as critical race theory — at state colleges and universities, giving the first indication that these services could be on the chopping block this year. Diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, encompasses a breadth of policies and programs promoting the representation and participation of different groups in schools, which can include ages, ethnicities, genders, religions, cultures and sexual orientations.

    After universities responded to his request and spelled out at least $34.5 million in spending toward diversity and similar programs, DeSantis pledged to “eliminate all DEI and CRT bureaucracies” statewide. That appears to put at risk positions at colleges such as the University of Florida’s chief diversity office, which develops and coordinates “inclusive excellence” strategy and initiatives across UF and supports compliance with federal Affirmative Action regulations.

    “No funding, and that will wither on the vine,” DeSantis said Tuesday.

    Officials alongside DeSantis claimed Tuesday that DEI programs are a “lie” that are harming students by limiting discourse and restricting debate among students. They criticized universities in other states such as California and Illinois that require applicants to sign diversity and equity statements as a commitment to those principles.

    “We are rejecting mistakes that other states are making,” said State University System of Florida Chancellor Ray Rodrigues.

    DeSantis has sought to reshape Florida’s colleges and universities into more conservative-leaning institutions. He recently appointed six new trustees to the board of the Sarasota-based New College, a small liberal arts college, and last year, his chief of staff helped former Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse navigate the University of Florida application process to become the flagship university’s new president.

    DeSantis also wants Florida lawmakers to give university presidents and trustee boards power to call for a review of a tenured faculty member at any time. The Legislature in 2022 passed a law clearing a path for the state university system’s Board of Governors to adopt rules requiring tenured faculty to take part in a “comprehensive” review every five years. Now, DeSantis wants to expand that policy.

    Additionally, DeSantis is pushing to give university presidents more authority in faculty hiring decisions. The Republican governor also suggested spending $100 million in state cash to recruit “highly qualified” faculty at universities.

    DeSantis also said that the state is preparing to send more funding toward New College of Florida, which is could soon be getting a curriculum and faculty overhaul. He said that Florida lawmakers are set to consider a $15 million budget allocation for new faculty and scholarships at the school in the coming weeks. He also wants a recurring $10 million to bring in faculty at New College.

    “You’re not spending the money on DEI bureaucracies, you’re spending the money on bringing really good people in that are going to be able to teach our university students,” DeSantis said. “I think that makes much more sense from a financial perspective and it’s much more mission-oriented in terms of what we’re trying to do.”

    Tue, 31 Jan 2023 14:05:05 -0500 ishook
    Biden Demands Details on Budget Cuts From McCarthy Tue, 31 Jan 2023 14:05:05 -0500 ishook Pfizer reports record revenue, expects Covid&19 vaccines to be commercialized later this year

    Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer expects billions less in revenue this year as the U.S. government stops buying its Covid-19 vaccine and treatments and fewer people seek shots to combat the disease.

    The anticipated revenue decline underscores how federal subsidies have bolstered the drug industry during the pandemic.

    More than half of the company's record $100.3 billion in 2022 revenue came from Covid-19 vaccines and Paxlovid, its oral antiviral. But in 2023, the company expects to bring in only $13.5 billion in revenue for the vaccine, Comirnaty, and $8 billion for Paxlovid.

    In its 2022 fourth-quarter earnings call, company executives said that they expect sales of Covid-19 vaccines to decrease, in part because they still have shots that the government purchased last year to distribute.

    The decline in revenue also comes in part because an estimated 24 percent of the population will receive a Covid-19 vaccine this year, down from 31 percent in 2022 as fewer people comply with federal recommendations.

    "Fewer people are expected to receive their primary doses," Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said. "And for the most part only those who are older or at higher risk are expected to continue receiving more than one booster per year."

    Pfizer expects to account for about two thirds of Covid vaccinations, and Bourla estimated about 102 million shots of its vaccine, called Comirnaty, would be distributed this year. The company is not expecting any new Covid variants that would prompt more people to get vaccinated.

    The company also noted that the U.S. government had previously purchased a set number of Covid-19 vaccines; but moving forward, there will be less demand once the vaccine is sold on the commercial market.

    Company executives did not mention how much they plan to charge for their Covid products on the commercial market but have previously stated it would be somewhere between $110 and $130 per dose. Moderna, which also makes an mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, has floated a price of $110 to $130 per dose.

    On Monday, the White House announced that it would end the Covid-19 emergency declarations in May. And last week, the FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee discussed the steps it would need to take for a simplified Covid-19 vaccine regimen as it moves toward a model of managing the virus on a yearly basis, similar to the way flu shots are developed and administered.

    Pfizer has its sights set on future iterations of Covid-19 vaccines, which it expects will be needed as immunity wanes as the virus continues to mutate.

    "We expect to see an increase in Covid-19 vaccination rates assuming the successful development and approval of a Covid-flu combination product," Bourla said, noting that about half of eligible adults receive a flu shot annually.

    Other products in the pipeline: Pfizer also noted that it expects to launch its RSV vaccine for adults 60 and older this year. The FDA said Tuesday that it would convene its external vaccine advisory committee to discuss its application in late February.

    The company is also developing an mRNA-based flu vaccine and an mRNA-based shingles vaccine.

    Tue, 31 Jan 2023 14:05:05 -0500 ishook
    Biden Offers Millions for New York Rail Tunnel, Courtesy of His Infrastructure Bill Tue, 31 Jan 2023 14:05:04 -0500 ishook In Debt Limit Fight, Republicans Won’t Say What Spending Cuts They Want Tue, 31 Jan 2023 14:05:04 -0500 ishook Black Americans Are Much More Likely to Face Tax Audits, Study Finds Tue, 31 Jan 2023 14:05:04 -0500 ishook House GOP vowed 11 bills in 2 weeks. It's voted on 6 of them. Tue, 31 Jan 2023 14:05:04 -0500 ishook Dave Durenberger, Censured by Senate in Ethics Breach, Dies at 88 Tue, 31 Jan 2023 14:05:04 -0500 ishook NATO’s new secretary&general, same as the old one? Tue, 31 Jan 2023 14:05:04 -0500 ishook Santos Temporarily Steps Aside From House Committees Amid Calls to Resign Tue, 31 Jan 2023 14:05:04 -0500 ishook IMF: Global growth to be less sluggish than expected Tue, 31 Jan 2023 02:55:03 -0500 ishook The Great British Walkout: Rishi Sunak braces for biggest strike in 12 years Tue, 31 Jan 2023 02:55:03 -0500 ishook Justice Dept. Drops Investigation of Retired U.S. General Mon, 30 Jan 2023 22:45:01 -0500 ishook Wall St. Is Counting on a Debt Limit Trick That Could Entail Trouble Mon, 30 Jan 2023 22:40:03 -0500 ishook Biden Visits Decrepit Rail Tunnel to Promote $1 Trillion Infrastructure Law Mon, 30 Jan 2023 22:40:03 -0500 ishook Biden Commits Over $4 Billion to Fixing Baltimore Rail Tunnel Mon, 30 Jan 2023 22:40:03 -0500 ishook Biden Administration Plans to End Covid Public Health Emergency in May Mon, 30 Jan 2023 22:40:02 -0500 ishook Tyre Nichols’s Parents to Attend State of the Union Address Mon, 30 Jan 2023 22:40:02 -0500 ishook Congressman Sends Inert Grenades to Colleagues at House Offices Mon, 30 Jan 2023 22:40:02 -0500 ishook For Giffords, Progress on Gun Safety Is Like Her Recovery: ‘Inch by Inch’ Mon, 30 Jan 2023 22:30:05 -0500 ishook $5.4 billion in pandemic loans were paid to suspicious Social Security numbers

    The government doled out nearly 100,000 pandemic loans to people whose applications were filed using suspect Social Security numbers, government investigators revealed Monday.

    Read more…

    The post $5.4 billion in pandemic loans were paid to suspicious Social Security numbers appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 22:20:03 -0500 ishook
    Biden repeats debunked Amtrak tale for 8th time as president

    President Biden on Monday repeated a since-debunked story involving an Amtrak conductor who calculated that he logged more than one million miles on the rails while serving as a senator from Delaware.

    Read more…

    The post Biden repeats debunked Amtrak tale for 8th time as president appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 22:20:03 -0500 ishook
    DeSantis’ bid to root out sexually explicit content in schools attacked as book&banning scheme

    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida public schools have begun to implement a new state law to weed out sexually explicit content and other inappropriate material from classroom bookshelves, triggering accusations from the left that Gov. Ron DeSantis is banning books and threatening to jail teachers for stocking their bookshelves.

    Read more…

    The post DeSantis’ bid to root out sexually explicit content in schools attacked as book-banning scheme appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 22:20:02 -0500 ishook
    Trump sues Bob Woodward for $49 million over release of interview tapes

    Former President Donald Trump sued journalist Bob Woodward in federal court on Monday over interview recordings that Mr. Trump claims he didn’t agree could be included in an audiobook.

    Read more…

    The post Trump sues Bob Woodward for $49 million over release of interview tapes appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 22:20:02 -0500 ishook
    The fate of U.S. history


    Americans don’t know much about their own history anymore — a phenomenon that undermines the nation and shortchanges the public.

    Read more…

    The post The fate of U.S. history appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 22:20:02 -0500 ishook
    House GOP eyeing backdoor tactic to block Rep. Ilhan Omar from Foreign Affairs Committee

    House Republicans are scrambling to find a legislative tactic to keep Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar off the House Foreign Affairs Committee, after failing to unify their conference behind the idea.

    Read more…

    The post House GOP eyeing backdoor tactic to block Rep. Ilhan Omar from Foreign Affairs Committee appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 22:20:02 -0500 ishook
    Biden says U.S. won’t send F&16 fighter jets to Ukraine

    President Biden on Monday said the U.S. will not supply Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets to assist in their ongoing fight with Russia, which is heading into its second year.

    Read more…

    The post Biden says U.S. won’t send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 22:20:02 -0500 ishook
    Rep. Jeffries names Hoyer as head of new regional leadership arm to expand Democrats’ reach

    House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries named Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland on Monday to head a new regional leadership initiative aimed at expanding and promoting the party across the country.

    Read more…

    The post Rep. Jeffries names Hoyer as head of new regional leadership arm to expand Democrats’ reach appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 22:20:02 -0500 ishook
    Rep. James Comer readies wide net in Biden family probe

    House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer on Monday said he will cast a wide net in probing President Biden’s potential involvement in his son Hunter’s far-flung business deals, saying anyone involved in the family’s overseas ventures should be prepared to answer to Congress.

    Read more…

    The post Rep. James Comer readies wide net in Biden family probe appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 22:20:02 -0500 ishook
    Schumer tells House GOP to ‘come out of hiding’ and show proposed spending cuts

    Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer escalated his rhetoric Monday over the standoff with the GOP on raising the nation’s debt ceiling, telling House Republicans that they need to “come out of hiding” to outline spending cuts in exchange for avoiding default.

    Read more…

    The post Schumer tells House GOP to ‘come out of hiding’ and show proposed spending cuts appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 22:20:02 -0500 ishook
    Florida weighs allowing concealed carry guns without permit

    TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida is set to become the 26th state to allow citizens to carry firearms without a permit under legislation outlined Monday by Republican House Speaker Paul Renner.

    Conservatives and gun rights groups in Florida have long pushed to give Florida residents to ability to carry firearms with a permit, known by supporters as “constitutional carry,” but past legislation has routinely gotten bogged down. This year’s efforts are bolstered by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has repeatedly said he would sign a permitless carry bill if lawmakers sent it to his desk.

    As the 2023 legislative session approaches, though, the Renner-led House appears to be taking point on getting the bill through the Legislature.

    “Florida led the nation in allowing for concealed carry, and that extends today as we remove the government permission slip to exercise a constitutional right,” Renner said Monday during a news conference, where he was flanked by a handful of county sheriffs.

    Renner spearheaded the press conference, a signal it’s a clear top priority for the speaker, but the bill is being sponsored by state Rep.Chuck Brannan (R-Lake City) and state Sen. Jay Collins (R-Tampa). Lawmakers did not formally file a bill at the time of the news conference but are expected to by Monday afternoon.

    Under the proposal, the state will no longer require individuals to get a permit from Florida to own a gun. The state also won’t mandate other provisions, including a training requirement needed to get a permit. Permits would still be an option for gun owners who want to get them, something needed to be able to legally carry a gun in states that do not have permitless carry.

    The proposal does not address whether people will be allowed to openly carry firearms in public. Under current Florida law, gun owners are not allowed to carry guns in the open.

    In 2021, Texas approved a similar “open carry” law that allows most gun owners 21 and over to carry a handgun in a holster without a permit. The Texas law allows citizens to carry the gun in the open or concealed.

    Democrats blasted the bill that they say will flood the state with gun owners who are not properly trained. Shortly after Renner’s press conference, Democrats pledged to fight to defeat it during the 2023 session — but Republicans have supermajorities in both the House and Senate, giving them near unchecked power.

    “We are united in opposition to this policy proposal,” said Rep. Christine Hunschofsky (D-Parkland), whose district includes the scene of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass school shooting that left 17 people dead.

    Democrats also see the proposal as another in a long line of culture war-infused bills DeSantis will champion during the legislative session to further energize his conservative base as he prepares to run for president. In the past few week alone, DeSantis has asked lawmakers for a sweeping criminal justice bill packed with policies generally supported by conservatives, rejected an Advanced Placement course focused on African-American history, a move that has gotten him national criticism from those who think he is whitewashing American history and signaled he will push for legislation cracking down on teacher’s unions, which are the last bastion of reliable political support for Florida Democrats.

    “This is another effort to appeal to his conservative base as he runs for president,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando).

    DeSantis was not at the Tallahassee press conference, instead holding his own at the same time in Orlando focused on transportation budget requests.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 21:50:03 -0500 ishook
    Stevens passes on Michigan Senate run as field takes shape to replace Stabenow Mon, 30 Jan 2023 21:40:04 -0500 ishook Calls mount to curb classification

    AUSTIN, Texas — Die-hard transparency advocates are expressing guarded optimism that the scandals over sensitive documents found at the homes of President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence could spur action to fight a long-running problem — arbitrary and excessive secrecy around government records.

    One sign of potential opportunity: The high-profile political and legal imbroglios have prompted the typically nerdy debate over government secrecy and overclassification to spill into pop culture.

    Even “Saturday Night Live” has gotten in on the act, noting during its opening skit over the weekend that once-daunting markings like “Top Secret” seem to have lost their luster.

    “Some have said the federal government classifies too many documents — about 50 million a year,” comic Mikey Day declared, impersonating Attorney General Merrick Garland. “This has led some to ask: Does recovering these documents even matter?”

    Those questions were front and center as a motley band of former senior intelligence officials, historians, archivists, journalists, open-government activists and even UFO researchers gathered at the University of Texas last week to assess the possibilities that the newfound attention to the issue could provided the impetus needed to rein in the national security classification system.

    “We were a bit worried we’d be talking to ourselves, but I think things have changed a bit,” said Ezra Cohen, a former senior intelligence official appointed by Trump to an obscure panel that wrestles with issues of classification and transparency, the Public Interest Declassification Board. “There’s things going on in the news that, hopefully, will be another watershed moment to get a lot of these kinds of systematic reforms to the classification system across the finish line.”

    PIDB member Carter Burwell, former chief counsel to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), told the attendees: “We’re grateful that you’re interested in classified information now.”

    Cornyn also turned out to speak to the group, lamented the excesses of the current system for classification and expressed hope that more focus on the issue could inspire changes.

    “This could not be a more timely discussion, given everything that’s going on,” Cornyn said on Friday. “But it also, I think, perhaps will lead to what I consider to be some important debates and discussions and potential reforms of the classification system.”

    The Texas Republican also offered some theories about why hundreds of documents with classification markings were taken to Trump’s Florida home. What appear to be smaller numbers of records with such markings have turned up in recent weeks at Biden’s Delaware home and a think tank office he used in Washington, as well as at Pence’s home in Indiana.

    Garland has appointed separate special counsels to investigate the stashes of files at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate and the discovery at Biden’s residence. Justice Department investigators appear to be handling the Pence matter, at least for now.

    Cornyn, who joined the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2017, said the wayward presidential records might stem from the dubious sensitivity of many classified briefings. That has led many in Washington to question the legitimacy of the classifications that intelligence agencies apply to their work, he said.

    “One of the reasons why perhaps people become lackadaisical and less than vigilant in protecting classified information is the experience of most members of Congress when you go … get briefed [in a] secure facility on whatever it is the administration wants to brief you on and you come out of there saying, ‘I could have watched cable news and read the newspaper as much as they were willing to tell me,’” the senator said. “And so, they think, ‘Well, this is not that big a deal. You say it’s secret, but this is not a secret. It’s open source stuff. …’ But I think that’s part of why we find ourselves in the strange place we are today.”

    Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines traveled to Texas to speak at the conference and bemoaned the overclassification problem. She said it had grown so severe that it was an obstacle not only to public accountability, but also to information-sharing within the government and with allies in desperate need of U.S. intelligence, like Ukraine.

    “I’m just uniquely qualified as a consequence of my position, I think, to make the case for how overclassification can negatively impact national security, particularly given the current threat landscape,” Haines told the event organized by the University of Texas’ Clements Center for National Security. “Not only is this an important issue for our democracy; it is also critical to our national security.”

    There are signs that some in Congress may be tuning in. The new chair of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), and ranking member Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) have agreed to work together on legislation to create a new layer of oversight, potentially through the National Archives, over the process for separating a president’s personal and political records from official ones at the end of a presidency.

    “We have to reform the way that documents are boxed up when they leave the president and vice president’s office and follow them into the private sector,” Comer said on Monday at an event at the National Press Club in Washington. “This is something I think will be a bipartisan legislative fix.”

    Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, questioned whether the Archives should have someone “be there at the very beginning saying before you take anything out of here, we’re going to look at it and give you a yay or nay.”

    “We obviously have a problem in our system,” he added. “When are we going to talk about that? That’s where I am.”

    A drive to go even further and tackle overclassification could draw together strange bedfellows. Such a move would be a logical part of a broader GOP effort to assert legislative prerogatives against the executive branch. And some Democrats who harbor longstanding doubts about the intelligence community could welcome greater sunlight on its work.

    Further reforms to the classification process could become part of what many in Congress and the national security community regard as a must-pass piece of legislation that is expected to work its way through the House and Senate this year: an extension of surveillance authority known as Section 702, which allows U.S. intelligence agencies to tap into email, social media and other U.S.-based tech providers to monitor foreigners suspected of terrorism, ties to foreign governments and for other reasons.

    Many Republicans are already looking for greater assurances that Americans aren’t targeted by U.S. intelligence agencies, but Cornyn suggested some reforms to the classification system could also be part of such a package.

    “We can have part of a larger conversation — that 702 can be a piece of — to provide some reassurance that we’re being responsive to concerns that have been raised,” Cornyn said.

    Still, the odds of major changes being enacted seem long given that national security officials, lawmakers and academics have been lamenting the problem for more than 60 years and that during that time it has, by all accounts, only grown worse.

    A Defense Department committee set up to tackle the issue in 1956, during President Dwight Eisenhower’s first term, said overclassification had reached “serious proportions” and recommended an overhaul. “The use of even Top Secret has gone far beyond that contemplated,” the group wrote.

    Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) took up the crusade again during the 1980s and 1990s, launching a higher-profile commission that warned government secrecy was getting out of control, spurring conspiracy theories and fetishization of all things classified.

    “In a culture of secrecy, that which is not secret is easily disregarded or dismissed,” Moynihan declared as he slammed intelligence agencies. “A culture of openness will never develop within government until the present culture of secrecy is restrained by statute. … The culture of secrecy in place in the Federal Government will moderate only if there comes about a counterculture of openness; a climate which simply assumes that secrecy is not the starting place.”

    Congress has never passed a law comprehensively addressing classification. Indeed, legislation alone probably won’t do the trick. Questions about classification are wrapped up in unresolved constitutional issues about presidents’ executive powers, so any laws passed on the have to step gingerly around claimed presidential prerogatives or could face opposition from the White House.

    For decades, national security secrets have been regulated by presidential executive orders. One that President Barack Obama issued in 2009 was never changed and remains in effect today, over 13 years later.

    As Obama’s presidency wound down in 2016, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper floated a modest reform: eliminating the “Confidential” classification, the lowest of three major tiers of secrets. The proposal was never implemented.

    While Trump often railed against classification of what he said amounted to evidence of misconduct by intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and as he battled with the so-called Deep State to wield his presidential prerogative to force disclosures, neither he nor his aides managed to implement significant reforms to the classification bureaucracy.

    The bipartisan nature of the current scandals could make it easier to advance changes that limit the number of classified records and force disclosure of more secrets sooner.

    Democrats have historically been skeptical about the actions of intelligence agencies, although many lawmakers on the left rallied to the side of those agencies in the face of Trump’s claims that he was unfairly scrutinized. Republicans who have been trusting of the intelligence community and law enforcement often grew more questioning during the Trump years.

    Still, in the current political climate, the possibilities for partisanship to disrupt a coalition seeking reform abound. For example, if criminal charges are filed against Trump over the recovered documents or his actions related to them, the heat around the issue would likely grow so intense that any reform would be derailed. (Biden is unlikely to face charges regardless of what investigators find. Longstanding Justice Department legal opinions preclude criminal charges against a sitting president.)

    In her remarks in Austin, Haines underscored the urgency of reform to the handling of government secrets. And she praised those pressing for sweeping changes, notwithstanding the dusty stack of government reports that have piled up over the issue for half a century, while never managing to prompt action.

    “The fact that you are here is a testament to your capacity to fight cynicism on this issue,” she declared.

    Jordain Carney, Olivia Beavers and Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 21:40:04 -0500 ishook
    Biden to end Covid health emergency declarations in May

    The Biden administration will end the Covid-19 national and public health emergencies on May 11, the White House said Monday in a major step meant to signal that the crisis era of the pandemic is over.

    The move would restructure the federal government’s coronavirus response and unwind a sprawling set of flexibilities put in place nearly three years ago that paved the way for free Covid treatments and tests. The White House disclosed its plan in response to two House Republican measures aimed at immediately ending the emergencies, calling those proposals “a grave disservice to the American people.”

    “This wind-down would align with the Administration’s previous commitments to give at least 60 days’ notice prior to termination of the PHE,” the White House said in its statement of policy.

    Lifting the health emergency could also mean the abrupt termination of Title 42, a health policy reinstated during the Trump administration in March 2020 at the beginning of the Covid pandemic and used to shut down the southern border. The authority gave border officials the ability to rapidly “expel” migrants without a chance to seek U.S. asylum.

    The Biden administration’s attempts to end Title 42 have been repeatedly blocked by the courts, most recently with the Supreme Court's decision to temporarily keep the policy in place. While a ruling by the high court isn't expected until June, the White House's move to end the declaration could lead to the case being dismissed as moot.

    The announcement Monday, which came with little warning, surprised lawmakers and industry officials, raising concerns over how the administration plans to unwind the myriad of options the emergency declarations have provided over the last three years.

    “I’ve yet to hear, 'Okay, here is the rationale,'” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a member of the chamber's health committee. “I’m sure that they have one, I just haven’t heard it.”

    The expiration of emergencies also signals a shift in the administration’s approach to the southern border amid growing scrutiny from House Republicans over its immigration policies. Title 42, which was originally reinstated during the Trump administration in March 2020, has given federal border officials the ability to rapidly “expel” migrants without a chance to seek U.S. asylum.

    A senior administration official defended the decision making, telling POLITICO that “we’re committed to having a smooth, coordinated rollout and we believe today’s announcement does just that.”

    “This decision is based on what is best for the health of our country at this time,” the senior official said. “We’re in a pretty good place in the pandemic, we’ve come through the winter, cases are down dramatically from where they were the past two winters.”

    But others familiar with the matter said the administration had originally discussed announcing its May 11 end date for the emergencies next week, as it approached a Feb. 11 deadline for giving stakeholders advance notice.

    The disclosure was accelerated after it became clear that House Republicans planned to push measures aimed at ending the emergencies, and that some Democratic lawmakers might vote for them absent further clarity from the administration on its official end date.

    Biden health officials have spent the last several months preparing for the complex unwinding of the health emergencies, which will eventually involve shifting responsibility for the distribution of most vaccines and treatments to the private market.

    The process comes as most Americans have returned to their every day lives, and as federal funding for the White House's Covid response dried up in the face of Republican opposition.

    Myah Ward and David Lim contributed to this report.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 21:40:04 -0500 ishook
    Billions in rail grants let Biden hail his infrastructure wins

    NEW YORK — President Joe Biden has spent months fending off public angst about supply chain woes, air travel meltdowns and a rail strike that could have sunk the economy.

    Now he’s finally getting some good transportation news to talk about, with back-to-back appearancesnear rail lines in Baltimore and New York City.

    They are among the first of what the White House hope will be a stream of infrastructure celebrations this year, each one allowing Biden — and Democratic rising star Pete Buttigieg, his Transportation secretary — to highlight the kind of concrete triumphs that voters love, while downplaying other bad news that has plagued the administration.

    “For years, people talked about fixing this tunnel. With the bipartisan infrastructure law, though, we’re finally getting it done,”the pro-Amtrak president said Monday near a 150-year-old rail tunnel in Baltimore, where he hailed more than $6 billion in upgrades that will allow trains to travel through the city at up to 110 mph. Whistles from two Amtrak engines sounded off to mark the start of construction of a new tunnel, named after Frederick Douglass.

    Biden and Buttigieg are following that Tuesday with an appearance on the west side of Manhattan, where they will announce a nearly $300 million grant for a long-debated rail tunnel under the Hudson River. Both announcements stem from the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure law that Biden signed his first year in office, and the New York money will aid a project that the Trump administration had pointedly blocked.

    Beyond the benefits associated with the projects themselves, Biden aides have said they believe that they showcase his ability to strike deals across the aisle, in contrast with the partisanship on display in the new GOP-led House and the Republicans’ potential 2024 field.

    White House aides also said Biden himself, long a lover of trains, has said he was delighted to partake in the unveiling of rail projects so close together. And he has never tired of joking about the failures of his predecessor’s so-called “infrastructure weeks” when Biden himself can tout a legislative milestone that will stand for decades.

    “It lets people know that we're really getting things done,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a major backer of the project, in an interview with POLITICO. “It shows we can do big, important, necessary things when it comes to infrastructure.”

    The New York rail funding will go toward the first phase of the Gateway Program, a series of projects aimed at supplementing the crumbling, century-old tunnels that carry freight and passenger rail under the Hudson. It will also replace a decrepit rail bridge in New Jersey.

    The new tunnel — technically a pair of tunnels that can each carry a train — would reduce headaches facing commuters in and out of New York City and repair damage incurred during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Top transportation officials have warned that if the aging tunnel fails it could have catastrophic impacts for the regional economy.

    Rep. Rob Menendez (D-N.J.), who represents the New Jersey side of the rail tunnel, said voters will begin to care about the new infrastructure investments when they start seeing tangible benefits to their commutes or travel times.

    “Once people have access to an updated rail line and they see fewer delays, better facilities and better experiences, that will immediately crystallize what all this work will be about,” he said.

    When Buttigieg visited Westfield, New Jersey in the summer of 2021 to promote what became the infrastructure law, Shelley Brindle, the mayor of Westfield, N.J., told him that delays and stressful commutes meant she was “never the mom I wanted to be.” Buttigieg has repeated her story during other infrastructure events.

    And that’s the kind of impact the administration hopes will stick in voters’ minds — not cable news footage of passengers stranded at airports for days on end, or fears that a rail strike could provoke shortages of electricity and drinking water.

    In Baltimore, Biden threw a bone to Buttigieg, who has faced weeks of Republican attacks for his handling of Southwest’s holiday debacle and a subsequent Federal Aviation Administration computer failure that snarled thousands of flights.

    “This is just one example of the great work you’re doing, Pete, I appreciate it a lot,” Biden said Monday, referring to the Baltimore project.

    Whether lawmakers will agree with that assessment remains to be seen.

    Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who oversees airlines from her perch as chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), who chairs the House Transportation Committee, are both expected to hold hearings on the airline industry as well as its FAA overseers.

    In addition, their committees are actively working on a major aviation policy bill that is due to be finished by the end of September, which would be a natural vehicle to host any number of changes to the aviation system and DOT’s powers.

    During his remarks in Baltimore, Biden sounded the alarm for infrastructure investment and underscored that his administration is delivering. He warned that an inoperable tunnel in Baltimore or New York would be disastrous for commuters and the economy.

    “Over 2,200 trains run over this corridor every single day,” Biden said. “If this line shuts down, in just one day it would cost the country over $100 million.”

    The new grant money Biden will announce Tuesday is earmarked for installing concrete casing on the far west side of Manhattan, which will allow the future rail tunnel to connect to New York Penn Station. Construction is expected to begin this year and cost $600 million.

    Development of the tunnels still faces lingering hyperlocal obstacles, such as concerns about construction noise in one New Jersey town the tunnels will run beneath, along with competition for a key piece of land in Manhattan. If all goes as planned, work would begin in the fall of 2024.

    Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat who represents many New Jersey commuters, said the project is now a done deal thanks to the infrastructure law, which includes money specifically for mega projects like Gateway.

    “The good news is it’s full steam ahead. Now we just have to keep it on track,” Gottheimer said.

    Biden also used Monday’s speech to praise labor unions, some of whose members have criticized the way he intervened to head off the potential freight rail strike last year. He declared that the Baltimore and New York-New Jersey projects are “all union work.”

    Greg Regan, president of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, praised the administration’s insistence that big-ticket projects like the Gateway Tunnel and Baltimore rail tunnels be constructed with collective bargaining agreements between building trade unions and contractors.

    “If you’re looking at what the administration’s done, there’s a clear focus on getting money out the door but getting money out the door in the right way,” said Regan.

    Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 21:40:04 -0500 ishook
    Trump sues Woodward over audiobook recordings

    Former President Donald Trump sued journalist Bob Woodward on Monday, alleging that an audiobook published using interview tapes from their conversations violated his rights and copyright interests.

    The lawsuit accuses Woodward of “systematic usurpation, manipulation, and exploitation of audio,” by publishing “The Trump Tapes,” Woodward’s 2022 audio compilation of his conversations with Trump.

    Trump’s copyright interests and “rights he holds as an interviewee” were violated by the audiobook, the lawsuit alleges. He is requesting damages and a declaration of his copyright interests, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Fla.

    The lawsuit was filed in the Northern District of Florida. It also named as defendants Simon & Schuster — the audiobook’s publisher — and Paramount, Simon & Schuster’s parent company.

    Woodward and Simon & Schuster said in a joint statement on Monday evening that the lawsuit was “without merit,” since the interviews were recorded on the record with Trump’s consent.

    “Moreover, it is in the public interest to have this historical record in Trump’s own words,” the statement said. “We are confident that the facts and the law are in our favor.”

    Central to the lawsuit’s argument is the claim that Trump never agreed for his voice to be used in an audiobook when he was interviewed for Woodward’s 2021 book on his presidency, “Rage.” Woodward received Trump’s consent to be recorded and “repeatedly informed him that such interviews were for the sole purpose of a book,” the lawsuit said.

    “When it came to treating President Trump fairly, Mr. Woodward talked the talk, but he failed to walk the walk,” the suit said.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 21:40:04 -0500 ishook
    Peace Corps evacuates volunteers from Peru amid worsening political crisis

    The Peace Corps has evacuated its volunteers from Peru amid a political crisis that has included deadly crackdowns by the government on its citizens.

    Troy Blackwell, a spokesperson for the Peace Corps, confirmed the relocation but not the destination.

    “Peace Corps/Peru has temporarily evacuated all volunteers to another Peace Corps post,” Blackwell said in an email. “The safety and well-being of Peace Corps volunteers is our top priority. We are closely monitoring the security situation with local partners on the ground and the U.S. Embassy in Lima.”

    A person familiar with the move, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive withdrawal, said the volunteers are headed to the Peace Corps’ post in Ecuador.

    The decision comes after weeks of popular unrest against a government that has taken over following a failed December coup attempt by a Peruvian president facing impeachment. The South American country has had a politically tumultuous few years, cycling through several presidents amid various corruption and other scandals.

    Peace Corps volunteers often work in areas far from national capitals and with less immediate protections than U.S. diplomats — meaning they are sometimes the first group of U.S. workers to be evacuated when unrest hits.

    Though the U.S. has issued some travel alerts for Peru, there’s no current indication that the U.S. Embassy in Peru, U.S. Agency for International Development officials or other government agents are leaving the country.

    The Peace Corps has a long, though somewhat intermittent history in Peru. Hundreds of volunteers cycled through the country between 1962 and 1975, when the program closed due to political and economic instability. It returned to the country in 2002.

    Analysts are fearful that the situation in Peru — and the conditions that allowed Peace Corps volunteers to work there — aren’t set to improve.

    “The government has doubled down on the crackdowns,” said Jo-Marie Burt, a professor of Latin America studies at George Mason University. “Things are going to get worse before they get better.”

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 21:40:04 -0500 ishook
    Opinion | The Medics Are Also to Blame for Tyre Nichols’ Death

    The medics involved in the death of Tyre Nichols are culpable and need to be criminally charged.

    With the release of video showing the brutal beating of the 29-year-old Black man in Memphis, the world was stunned at the unchecked rage and seeming joy with which police assaulted him. It’s no surprise that we tend to gravitate toward the images and videos of active violence perpetrated by law enforcement, but their visceral impact can create a sort of tunnel vision. We often don’t see the pernicious and insidious passive violence perpetrated by professional bystanders.

    In nearly every police-involved-murder and abuse of force, there is a silent party on the scene whose actions typically go unnoticed: the rescue and medical responders who fail to treat these victims properly. Emergency medical services personnel have, very rarely, faced legal consequences in the past, so charging those who betrayed Tyre Nichols would not be unprecedented. But the bottom line is that all public safety professionals with a duty to act must be held accountable, and that will require a fundamental shift for our society.

    As a former paramedic of 25 years, an EMS educator and author, and a former law enforcement officer, I see these cases through a different lens than most. When looking at these videos, as difficult as it is, I try to look past the violence and assess the actions of the first responders that did not intercede to prevent the act from occurring.

    The case of Tyre Nichols is rife with instances of both EMS and police failing to attempt to save the dying man’s life. The video shows several figures off to the side for long stretches, not actively engaging — simply watching, meandering and occasionally talking with the victim who is clearly in distress.

    The video also shows EMS workers failing to render what we call the “standard of care” for trauma patients. Based on national standards and Tennessee state EMS protocols, this consists of, at minimum, assessing the victim’s airway, breathing and vital signs, and in the setting of head trauma, immobilizing the victim’s spine and neck and applying oxygen to prevent brain damage. In recent days, two Memphis Fire Department EMTs on the scene were released of their duty pending an agency investigation. It has not been confirmed if these were the two medics seen in the video.

    In at least two critical areas, the EMS workers fell short.

    First, both National EMS and Tennessee EMS protocols prescribe the application of supplemental oxygen as the first treatment for head trauma. It’s the simplest and yet most critical step to providing aid and does not require changing the position of the patient or removing any restraints (like handcuffs). When faced with significant head trauma, blood flow to the brain becomes severely restricted from swelling. Untreated, the condition worsens as the injured brain is starved of precious oxygen leading to cerebral hypoxia (oxygen deprivation to the brain).

    Second, in emergency medicine there are two important benchmarks that are taught to every EMS technician. The first is the “platinum 10 mins,” which is how long it should take from the arrival of EMS to the rapid transport of a critically injured patient to ensure optimal survivability. The second is the “golden hour,” originating from Baltimore’s famous Shock Trauma Center, which suggests a higher likelihood of survival when proper pre-hospital care, rapid transport and definitive emergency care in the emergency department or operating room is rendered within 60 mins of sustaining the injury.

    Based on the released footage, the medics on the scene of Tyre Nichols’ assault appeared to squander what could have amounted to precious time for the victim to receive care at a trauma center. While the definitive cause of death is pending the final forensic examination (autopsy) and toxicology reports, the combination of delay in delivering care, specifically oxygen, and the delay in transport may have contributed significantly to the death of this young man.

    Unfortunately, this case is by no means unique. The paramedics who responded to George Floyd made the ill-advised decision to “load and go,” as opposed to assessing and treating him on the scene, which was needed considering his state. EMTs and medics responding to Eric Garner, the Staten Island man killed by NYPD officers in 2014, also did very little when they arrived. The four EMS technicians failed to bring any oxygen or resuscitation equipment to his side, while one EMT failed to even recognize that he was deceased and continued to mill around while talking to him for over two minutes. No criminal charges were filed against these workers, and they faced only administrative discipline. Similarly, in 2016, Dallas paramedics injected a restrained Tony Timpa with a sedative and simply watched him expire without providing any basic care. Those medics never suffered legal consequences and received only administrative discipline for their actions.

    EMS personnel are rarely charged for their malpractice when improperly assessing and treating victims in police custody. There have been several exceptions, however, including in 2017 when medics failed to treat and transport William Marshall, a prisoner in a Michigan jail who swallowed cocaine and subsequently died. In 2021, two medics were charged in contributing to the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year old Black man in Aurora, Colorado, after the medics injected him with a powerful sedative to chemically restrain him. Earlier this month we saw the arrest and indictment of two Illinois EMTs on first-degree murder charges for the mistreatment and subsequent death of a 35-year-old patient after police were called.

    Most EMS workers engage in heroic work. They have suffered greatly during the Covid-19 pandemic and have been rightly recognized for their bravery, skill and compassion. Just a few weeks ago, medics were widely hailed as heroes after saving the life of Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin on live national television.

    So why do so many EMS workers fail to properly treat police-involved trauma cases, yet are competent and capable of treating just about any other form of major trauma?

    The answer is a complex mixture of culture, apathy, racism and cognitive bias. These public servants patrol the very same “mean” streets as their law enforcement partners. And they do so, often arriving before or without police, without the tools law enforcement possesses to protect themselves. EMS is one of the most dangerous occupations in the country according to numerous government and academic reports. While many EMS fatalities and injuries are attributed to automobile accidents and roadside crashes, some are injuries sustained by targeted violence toward these workers. In 2017, a New York City fire department EMT’s ambulance was carjacked in the Bronx and the driver then ran over the EMT, killing her. Last year, a veteran fire department EMS lieutenant was stabbed and killed on a busy Queens street in broad daylight. Numerous EMS workers have been shot or stabbed across the country by those who are intoxicated, mentally ill or involved in violent domestic disputes.

    As such, EMS has come to rely too heavily on their partners in law enforcement to be at their side and protect them. Because it is such a dangerous profession, EMS workers are disinclined to break with their local police by doing anything that is contrary to what the officers want on the scene. It is in this environment that the “blue wall of silence” can extend from police to the EMS.

    While the last few years has been a period of reflection, reform and in some cases reckoning for law enforcement nationwide, EMS workers have largely not addressed their own roles.

    To effect true change will require a broad cultural shift within EMS, but policymakers can also do much to promote reform, including:

    Move EMS out of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

    Because of its origins in preventing deaths on the road, EMS has since its inception been placed in this little-known federal agency. To get the national-level oversight it deserves, EMS should be housed in the Department of Health and Human Services or the Department of Homeland Security, where it can help respond to major incidents like terrorist attacks, active shooter scenes, natural disasters and pandemics.

    Train EMS technicians in the clinical signs, symptoms and trauma inflicted by police use of force and create specific EMS protocols for treatment of patients who are in police custody.

    Responding to police use of force is not part of national or state EMS standards, training or protocols. Technicians should be trained in proper positioning of retrained patients, compression of airway and treatment of patients who have been tased. The use of chemical restraints (sedatives) in the setting of in-custody patients should receive a national-level review.

    Include police use of force training and scenarios in EMS education.

    Most progressive police departments now require training for the deescalation of the use of force and train members in how to deter, deescalate and intercede in acts of excessive force by other officers. EMS personnel need to be trained so they can understand the scenarios involved with use of force and excessive force that they may witness first-hand or be called to respond to afterward. Teaching similar deescalation techniques to EMS would benefit all present on the scene.

    Pass into law requirements for EMS to not withhold care or treatment from individuals who are in police custody.

    The first rule of medicine is “do no harm” but that does not mean do “nothing.” Emergency medical professionals are taught to serve as patient advocates throughout the continuum of care, particularly when the patient cannot speak or defend themselves. EMS workers need to be empowered to do their jobs without fear of retribution from their law enforcement colleagues.

    Change the culture and power dynamic in which EMS workers feel as if they must be silent, complacent or party to police abuses in order to assure their own continued protection on the job.

    State and local jurisdictions need to work harder to prevent violence against EMS personnel. At the same time, law enforcement agencies need to project an expectation that EMS workers are obligated to report abuses they witness. There should be no quid pro quo exchanging police protection for EMS complacency.

    Hold EMS personnel liable for failure to report police violence.

    EMS workers in most states are “mandatory reporters” for child or elder abuse and can be held criminally and civilly liable for failure to report such abuses. Individuals under custody, just like prison inmates, are also a population vulnerable to abuse. Hold EMS personnel to the same standards as law enforcement that stand idly and watch their colleagues abuse citizens. This will send a definitive message to the EMS community that it can no longer stand off camera, hands-in-pockets committing acts of passive aggression.

    The death of Tyre Nichols forces us to confront yet another moment where both those who have sworn to protect and those who have sworn to treat appear to have breached their duty. As this, and future, cases receive scrutiny, lawmakers, prosecutors, government officials and the public need to widen their aperture to consider the inactions of those on the periphery. While EMS workers are not necessarily committing the choking, kicking or pummeling themselves, they are in a position to attempt to stop law enforcement from taking a life.

    EMS was created in the wake of the seminal 1966 white paper entitled “Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society.” Now that we have a modern EMS system in this country, we need it to stop neglecting certain segments of our society.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 21:40:04 -0500 ishook
    Biden seemingly rejects request to send U.S. F&16s to Ukraine

    The United States will not be sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine — at least not now.

    Asked by a reporter outside the White House Monday if the U.S. would transfer the warplanes that Kyiv is pushing hard to receive, President Joe Biden responded: “No.”

    The short remark is likely to send shockwaves across the Atlantic, following days of seeming momentum toward sending the fighter jets eastward. It could also sour relations with Kyiv when officials there were already feeling positive about a coordinated U.S.-German decision last week to send main battle tanks to the front lines.

    But a U.S. official, when asked about Biden's remark, said “there has been no serious, high-level discussion about F-16s." In other words, it doesn’t appear that Biden’s pronouncement is the result of an internal policy review and instead is the current stance of the ultimate decision maker. That official spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal internal matters.

    It’s also unclear from the video of the short exchange if the president’s “no” meant “never” or “not now.” The administration has said repeatedly that decisions about security assistance depend on battlefield realities in Ukraine. In a Thursday interview with MSNBC, deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said the U.S. would be discussing fighter jets “very carefully” with Kyiv and its allies.

    “We have not ruled in or out any specific systems,” he added.

    Another possibility is that the U.S. could approve the re-export of F-16s from third-party countries that operate them, a requirement for the transfer of the American-made warplanes.

    Discussions about sending F-16s to Ukraine are gaining steam at the Pentagon, with one U.S. Defense Department official telling POLITICO last week: “I don’t think we are opposed.”

    Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy, said Monday that Poland would be willing to provide its F-16s to Ukraine in coordination with NATO. Yet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has repeatedly rejected any F-16-related requests emanating from Kyiv.

    “The question of combat aircraft does not arise at all,” Scholz said in an interview with Tagesspiegel published on Sunday. “I can only advise against entering into a constant competition to outbid each other when it comes to weapons systems.”

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 21:40:04 -0500 ishook
    Secret hold restricts DOJ's bid to access phone of Trump ally Rep. Scott Perry

    A federal appeals court panel has put a secret hold on the Justice Department’s effort to access the phone of Rep. Scott Perry as part of a broader probe of efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to subvert the 2020 election.

    In a sealed order issued earlier this month, the three-judge panel temporarily blocked a lower-court ruling that granted prosecutors access to Perry’s communications. The Dec. 28 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell was the product of a secret, monthslong legal battle by prosecutors who have been fighting the Pennsylvania Republican's attorneys on the matter since August.

    The existence of the legal fight — a setback for DOJ reported here for the first time — is itself intended to be shielded from public scrutiny, part of the strict secrecy that governs ongoing grand jury matters. The long-running clash was described to POLITICO by two people familiar with the proceedings, who spoke candidly on the condition of anonymity.

    The fight has intensified in recent weeks and drawn the House, newly led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, into the fray. On Friday, the chamber moved to intervene in the back-and-forth over letting DOJ access the phone of Perry, the House Freedom Caucus chair, reflecting the case's potential to result in precedent-setting rulings about the extent to which lawmakers can be shielded from scrutiny in criminal investigations.

    The House's decision to intervene in legal cases is governed by the "Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group," a five-member panel that includes McCarthy, his Democratic counterpart Hakeem Jeffries, and other members of House leadership. The panel voted unanimously to support the House's intervention in the matter, seeking to protect the chamber's prerogatives, according to one of the two people familiar with the proceedings.

    After this story was first published Monday, McCarthy spokesperson Mark Bednar acknowledged the House has stepped into the legal fight about Perry's communications. "The Speaker has long said that the House should protect the prerogatives of Article I. This action indicates new leadership is making it a priority to protect House equities," Bednar said.

    FBI agents seized Perry’s phone with a court-approved warrant in August but still lack a necessary second level of judicial permission to begin combing through the records. Perry has claimed his communications are barred from outside review because of constitutional protections afforded to members of Congress that were designed to let lawmakers better fulfill their official responsibilities.

    Perry first challenged DOJ’s authority to access his communications in a public lawsuit in August, filed shortly after his phone was seized. He maintained that the Constitution’s Speech or Debate clause prohibited the government from accessing messages he might have sent in connection with his work as a member of Congress. Perry would soon drop the lawsuit, and the status of prosecutors’ efforts to access his records remained unclear.

    More than four months after the government obtained Perry’s phone, Howell sided with DOJ. While Howell’s rulings in the dispute remain under seal, along with any rationale that appeals court judges may have offered for their actions, some spare details about the fight appear in that court’s public docket.

    On Jan. 5, according to the docket, a three-judge appeals court panel put a temporary hold on Howell’s ruling. The appeals panel assigned to the case — which includes Trump appointees Neomi Rao and Gregory Katsas, as well as Karen Henderson, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush — rejected prosecutors’ immediate attempt to access Perry’s documents. Those judges instead set out a schedule for additional legal briefing and a Feb. 23 oral argument at the Prettyman federal courthouse in Washington.

    Perry is a crucial figure in the ongoing investigation into Trump's attempts to overturn his loss to Joe Biden. House and Senate probes have described Perry as an important ally to Trump in the chaotic weeks between the 2020 election and Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol in a bid to disrupt the transfer of power.

    The now-Freedom Caucus chair helped orchestrate a plan for Trump to replace DOJ leadership with figures likelier to support his groundless efforts to pressure states to override the election results. In addition, Perry was a frequent participant in strategy sessions and calls with Trump and other top aides, and the Jan. 6 select committee recovered several text messages between Perry and former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows discussing plans for department leadership, as well as other matters connected to the 2020 election.

    As chief judge of the U.S. District Court, Howell, an appointee of President Barack Obama, oversees all grand jury matters, including those associated with the investigation into Trump’s election-overturning push. While grand juries and the associated legal fights typically occur under a tight veil of secrecy, aspects of the Trump probe have lately been unsealed or leaked out. Howell herself unsealed details in December that revealed prosecutors had prioritized obtaining Perry’s emails with several Trump-world attorneys as early as last spring.

    Several other secret grand jury battles have lined the appeals court docket in recent months. In September, Howell supported DOJ's effortto pierce executive privilege claims related to testimony from aides to former Vice President Mike Pence, and reports suggest Howell issued a similar ruling late last year related to former White House attorneys.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 21:40:04 -0500 ishook
    Manhattan district attorney to present Trump hush money case to grand jury – live Alvin Bragg recently empaneled grand jury to look into allegation that he paid off porn star before 2016 election

    Donald Trump spent this weekend campaigning in New Hampshire and South Carolina, where he made a special effort to attack Florida governor Ron DeSantis. There’s a reason for that, the Guardian’s Maya Yang reports:

    America’s 2024 presidential race is showing signs of kicking into gear amid reports that Florida’s rightwing Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, is now laying the groundwork for a White House bid as Donald Trump finally hit the campaign trail.

    Comer just admitted that one of his previous key rationales for launching an inquisition into the private life of Hunter Biden was actually based on a lie and a flawed reporting system that he now says needs reform. The fact that Comer is already being forced to backtrack from his own lies before he even held his first hearing is clear foreshadowing that his investigations into conspiracy theories are already headed towards the inevitable crash landing as Durham and Barr’s failed four-year investigation for Trump chasing the fake deep state.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 15:20:02 -0500 ishook
    New York Republicans want George Santos gone. They know just the person to help.

    NEW YORK — When Long Island Republicans organized in 2021 to take back the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office after 16 years of Democratic control, no one expected the first blockbuster case to be against a sitting member of the party.

    Yet here we are.

    Anne Donnelly officially became the county's top prosecutor just over a year ago, propelled by a campaign focused on state bail laws and funded almost single-handedly by the county Republican Party. She is a 32-year veteran of the DA’s office who has conducted wide-ranging investigations against gangs and white-collar criminals. And last month, she pledged in strikingly strong terms to train her expertise on newly elected Rep. George Santos (R.-N.Y.).

    That pronouncement launched her from relative obscurity into national headlines. And going forward, her prosecutorial experience, the desire of fellow Republicans to rid themselves of Santos and the unique powers of the district attorney’s office put her in a prime position to pounce on the fact-challenged lawmaker.

    “This fell into her lap. It’s in her backyard. I think she is more than capable of handling it, and she has the will of the people to do something,” said Vito Palmieri, a Long Island attorney who worked in the Nassau County DA’s office in the 1990s. “That the party wants him gone and she is a Republican doing her job — let’s put it this way — I don’t think that hurts her at all.”

    Despite the hue and cry of Democrats, perhaps no one wants Santos out of office more than the Republicans of Nassau County, a leafy suburb abutting New York City that is home to 1.4 million people, many of whom commute into Manhattan.

    “He needs help,” Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said about Santos at a recent press conference. “This is not a normal person.”

    Blakeman was speaking at an extraordinary event convened by the Nassau County Republican Committee earlier this month, where more than a dozen GOP officials took turns excoriating the freshman lawmaker over lies about everything from his family history (not Jewish) to his education (he did not attend Baruch College, let alone play on its volleyball team).

    They had ample reason to fret. Fresh off huge midterm gains there and elsewhere on Long Island, the party will be heading into a tough election season in 2024 with President Joe Biden atop the ticket. With sky-high unfavorability ratings and zero support from fellow party members, Santos will have a tough time clinging to his seat — as evidenced by Democrats and Republicans already drawing up short lists of who might replace him — and could hurt fellow GOP candidates by association.

    Rightward shift on Long Island

    The midterm red wave that washed over New York City suburbs began building in 2021.

    In May that year, the sitting Nassau County DA, a Democrat, was appointed to a judgeship on the state’s highest court, triggering a special election for her successor. As each party scrambled for a candidate, John Wighaus, president of the Nassau County Detectives' Association, later recalled to Newsday how he introduced Donnelly to the head of the Nassau County GOP.

    The then 56-year-old had close to zero political experience. Donnelly had never made a political contribution before 2021, though state campaign finance records show her husband has been a periodic donor to Republican causes.

    Her status as a political neophyte was reflected in her campaign ads, where she never addressed the camera. Instead, third parties appeared on-screen to attack her opponent, Democratic state Sen. Todd Kaminsky. Those surrogates included the detectives’ association leader and victims of violent crime, who starred in several spots leading up to the November election.

    Donnelly, whose office declined to make her available for an interview, had other professional advantages. She spent her career in the DA’s office working under both Republicans and Democrats, first joining as an assistant district attorney in the District Court Bureau and serving most recently as deputy chief of the Organized Crime and Rackets Bureau.

    In the end, few of those details seemed to matter as the race became a proxy for recently changed bail laws in New York state that have drawn Republican criticism and opened a rift within the Democratic Party.

    Her run was fueled almost entirely by the local party apparatus. Out of the $1.3 million she raised, nearly $1 million came from the Nassau County GOP, according to state campaign finance records. That cash infusion, along with the relentless focus on bail, propelled her to a resounding 20-point victory over Kaminsky.

    And now, as Republicans are hoping to be rid of Santos, she has indicated an eagerness to investigate.

    "The numerous fabrications and inconsistencies associated with Congressman-Elect Santos are nothing short of stunning,” she said in a statement in late December, weeks before the county party would reduce their relationship with Santos to cinders. “The residents of Nassau County and other parts of the third district must have an honest and accountable representative in Congress. No one is above the law and if a crime was committed in this county, we will prosecute it."

    That led Joseph Murray, Santos’ attorney, to question whether Donnelly had come under pressure from the Nassau County GOP or protesters calling for an inquiry. Murray said he had supported Donnelly’s run for office in 2021, heartened by her apolitical history, but was disappointed to see the Dec. 28 statement coming from such a seasoned litigator.

    “There’s no way a prosecutor of 32 years is going to telegraph an investigation like that to the whole world,” Murray said in an interview. “From a prosecutor’s perspective — not as [Santos’] lawyer — why would you do that?”

    Murary declined to discuss any of the allegations against Santos.

    The road ahead

    Donnelly’s forceful statement stood in stark contrast to federal prosecutors, who declined to comment on a CBS News story that broke news of their probe, and the New York state attorney general, who said she was looking into allegations against Santos.

    While each of those law enforcment offices has its own jurisdiction, there appear to be a few legal avenues for Donnelly to explore.

    “They are a very solid office, and they are able to do complex cases,” Howard Master, an attorney who has worked for both state and federal prosecutors, said of the Nassau DA. “Essentially the difference is: Their jurisdiction includes state crimes for which the federal government cannot prosecute.”

    Charges related to lying on formal documents or falsifying business records, for example, might serve as a guidepost if Donnelly were to look at Santos’ involvement withan investment fund currently in the crosshairs of the Securities and Exchange Commission. While Santos worked for the company, Harbor City Capital, he was not named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit filed by the SEC.

    District attorneys can often be quicker when it comes to mounting investigations compared to their federal counterparts. But in probes involving major figures like elected officials, state prosecutors often take their time to ensure cases are airtight. And it is likely Donnelly’s office is coordinating with the feds, who enjoy several advantages of their own when it comes to gathering testimony and evidence.

    “It’s common for state and federal prosecutors who are looking at the same subject to work collaboratively with each other to avoid duplication of efforts in obtaining information from witnesses and other sources of information,” Master said, “and to ensure that the appropriate charges are brought in whichever jurisdiction is best suited to hear [them].”

    While Donnelly pledged to uncover any breach of state law, Santos’ fabrications provide much more grist for the feds to bite into: He filed a financial disclosure with the House and submitted campaign finance records to the Federal Election Commission, both actions that fall squarely within the purview of prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York.

    Santos’ campaign finance disclosures with the FEC, for example, contain dozens of expenses that fall just cents short of a threshold that would have required him to preserve documentation of those purchases. And he provided dramatically different information on financial disclosure forms filed during his first run for Congress and his successful campaign last year.

    “There are blinking red lights related to the comparison between his financial disclosure in 2020 and the entire campaign finance process, including his financial disclosure in 2022,” Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), who has penned both an ethics complaint against Santos and a bill mandating more disclosure from candidates alongside his colleague Rep. Ritchie Torres, said in an interview.

    Thus far, no one has released information even hinting an indictment against Santos is imminent. And, according to Goldman — a former federal prosecutor who has been tapped for the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability — the various probes could ultimately lead somewhere unexpected.

    “Investigations are rarely ends-oriented,” he said. “It’s much more often you are investigating one thing, you dig into bank records and then start to see a totally different picture.”

    An attorney and a spokesperson for Santos did not return messages.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 10:35:04 -0500 ishook
    Police reform talk returns to the Hill after Tyre Nichols killing Mon, 30 Jan 2023 10:35:03 -0500 ishook Meadows ally faces charge, possible plea over illegal campaign finance contribution

    A family friend of Mark Meadows has been charged with accepting an illegal campaign contribution during an ill-fated 2020 run to succeed the former Trump White House chief of staff in Congress, according to newly-released court papers.

    Lynda Bennett, who lost in a 2020 Republican primary campaign to Madison Cawthorn, accepted a contribution from a family member totaling at least $25,000, according to charging paperwork filed by prosecutors. That contribution was given “in the name of another person,” according to the papers, signed by U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves and Corey Amundson, chief of the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section.

    It’s unclear if Bennett has agreed to plead guilty to the felony charge, but the form of the charge against her typically precedes a guilty plea. Details about the allegation were sparse.

    Bennett did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. An attorney for Mark Meadows also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    Bennett’s campaign finance records don’t immediately make clear which contributions prosecutors believe to have been unlawful. Bennett’s reports indicate she loaned herself $80,000 at the end of 2019 and paid a portion of it back. Her report terminating her political committee did not list any outstanding balance.

    Campaign finance laws limited individual campaign contributions for the 2020 election cycle to $2,800 in the primary and $2,800 in the general for an aggregate total of $5,600 in that campaign cycle. However, candidates can make unlimited donations or loans to their own campaigns.

    Meadows backed Bennett to replace him in Congress after he resigned his seat to join the Trump White House, until she lost the primary to Cawthorn. Then-President Donald Trump also endorsed Bennett in the primary, and Republicans in North Carolina worried that Meadows’ aggressive effort to steer his seat to an ally might backfire.

    Meadows’ wife Debbie was active in support of Bennett on the campaign trail and Meadows pointed to his wife’s closeness with Bennett to underscore her support for Trump.

    Mark Meadows is facing intense legal scrutiny for his role in Donald Trump’s effort to subvert the 2020 election. Prosecutors in Washington and Georgia are investigating the effort, as well as the role that some of Trump’s close allies played.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 10:35:03 -0500 ishook
    Biden’s new debt ceiling problem: Wall Street’s not freaking out

    The Biden administration warns of catastrophe if Congress fails to raise the government’s borrowing limit in the coming months. But some Wall Street executives and analysts are starting to break from that script.

    A number of prominent financial experts at Bank of America, Barclays and other major firms are confident that the U.S. will avert a global market meltdown by continuing to pay its bondholders if the Treasury Department crosses the threshold where it can’t cover all its other bills. They think the U.S. can do so by withholding funds for things like benefits owed to individual Americans or payments to firms doing business with the government.

    It’s a view that aligns with those of conservative lawmakers, who argue that payment prioritization on Treasury securities — the bedrock of the international financial system — is a viable contingency plan as they push for budget cuts opposed by President Joe Biden.

    The White House and Treasury are already putting up resistance to the idea, which Treasury says would amount to a default. But disclosures over the past several years — driven in part by investigations by House Republicans — have revealed that officials believe the government has the technical capacity to implement payment prioritization, though it would be experimental and risky.

    "Most investors who follow this closely are very aware the United States will not default on its bonds,” Ajay Rajadhyaksha, global chair of research at Barclays, said in an interview.

    The debate around the potential backup plan underscores the economic uncertainty that’s already being triggered by the political stalemate around raising the debt limit, the total amount of money that Congress authorizes the government to borrow. Many on Wall Street doubt payment prioritization would work.

    It’s also a window into the fraught choices awaiting the Biden administration if lawmakers are unable to resolve the impasse. Paying bondholders instead of everyone else — individuals and businesses depending on checks from the government — would likely trigger a political backlash and potentially slow the U.S. economy as a possible recession already looms, depending on how long it lasted.

    “The notion is intellectually bankrupt,” former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who led the department under President Barack Obama, said in an interview.

    But even some critics of payment prioritization concede it might be the least-bad of what are all bad alternatives, such as legally questionable proposals like minting a trillion-dollar coin to pay the government’s bills. Conservatives, including Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), have suggested maintaining payments on Treasury debt, Social Security, Medicare, veterans and the military.

    “Of all the unilateral options on the debt ceiling, prioritization is probably the healthiest horse in the glue factory,” Cowen policy analyst Chris Krueger said.

    Washington and Wall Street are ramping up discussions around contingency plans after the U.S. hit its legal borrowing limit on Jan. 19. Treasury is now using accounting maneuvers known as extraordinary measures to keep paying the government’s obligations. In this case, Treasury is suspending investments in government retirement accounts.

    The department hasn’t publicly outlined its ability to pick and choose whom to pay if it breached the “X-date” — the deadline when it wouldn’t have enough cash to cover all its bills. The idea came into focus when the U.S. nearly went over the cliff during the 2011 debt limit fight — an episode of brinksmanship that resulted in S&P downgrading the country’s credit rating for the first time in history.

    House Republicans spent the ensuing years investigating what Treasury could and couldn’t do.

    In a 2014 letter to the GOP chair of the House Financial Services Committee, a top Treasury official said systems at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York would be “technologically capable of continuing to make principal and interest payments while Treasury was not making other kinds of payments, although this approach would be entirely experimental and create unacceptable risk to both domestic and global financial markets.”

    The official, then-assistant secretary for legislative affairs Alastair Fitzpayne, said “no decision regarding what to do in such a situation was made during the recent debt limit impasses, and potential responses have not been tested.”

    J.W. Verret, who worked on the investigation as an aide to the Financial Services Committee, said Treasury and the Federal Reserve made available documents that showed in-depth tabletop exercises for how to prioritize payments. They indicated “there’s no inherently structural issue that stops them from doing it,” according to Verret, who reviewed the documents.

    The committee's Republican leaders — including current Chair Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) — told Treasury in a 2014 letter that documents prepared by the New York Fed "exhaustively detail how the department and the bank would implement any plan to prioritize payments on Treasury bonds."

    Lew confirmed in the interviewthat officials ran an exercise to see whether the government could physically pay bond payments and nothing else. He still thinks it’s a bad idea.

    “As a tabletop exercise, we reached the conclusion you might be able to,” he said. “It’s never been tested in the real world. We don’t know what the cash flows required are. We don’t know how that would interact with other systems being on or off.”

    Lew, who argues that prioritization is “accepting default,” said the two presidents he worked for — Bill Clinton and Obama — never made the decision to pay bonds over other obligations.

    “Only the president can make that decision,” he said. “It’s not a decision the Treasury secretary alone can make. No president should be forced to make that decision.”

    Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has also come out forcefully against the concept.

    “A failure on the part of the United States to meet any obligation, whether it's to debt holders, to members of our military, or to Social Security recipients, is effectively a default,” she told reporters earlier this month.

    She added that Treasury's systems were built to "pay all of our bills when they are due and on time, and not to prioritize one form of spending over another.”

    PIMCO, a bond-trading behemoth, has added its voice to the naysayers.

    PIMCO head of public policy Libby Cantrill said in a statement: “We take Secretary Yellen and previous Treasury secretaries – both Republican and Democratic – at their word that prioritizing payments under Treasury’s existing systems is simply not viable and should not be viewed as a feasible alternative to Congress raising the debt ceiling.”

    But warnings aren’t enough to dissuade some financial industry analysts and executives that Treasury could pull it off.

    “They have the tools available to be able to avoid a default or a disruption in the capital markets,” said Unlimited Funds CEO Bob Elliott, who previously led research at hedge fund giant Bridgewater Associates. “We would expect them to use those tools to ensure that the U.S. doesn’t experience a default.”

    Bank of America rates strategist Ralph Axel said Treasury should be more forthcoming.

    “They need to tell everybody what the real deal is with the Treasury market and whether or not this is a true massive threat or if it’s actually completely benign, which I think it is,” he said.

    But payment prioritization believers on Wall Street still argue that it carries risks.

    Even if the market for Treasury securities avoided disruption, the missed payments to other individuals and businesses could be a drag on the rest of the economy.

    Elliott said the real risk is that it goes on for months, in which case people would start to cut spending.

    "My fear is that X date is hit. The day after, not a whole lot happens and a bunch of people who are holding out say, 'See, everything’s totally fine,'” Rajadhyaksha with Barclays said. “This is a slow burn. The longer it takes the worse it gets."

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 10:35:03 -0500 ishook
    Trudeau knows there’s trouble on the horizon

    OTTAWA — It’s unclear if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will still be in power at the end of the year.

    The Liberal leader played up the uncertainty in a speech to caucus Friday, identifying the upcoming parliamentary season as a consequential one with political hazards that could trip the country into another early election.

    “We're in a minority Parliament, and we need to be ready for anything,” Trudeau told Liberal MPs ahead of Monday’s return of the House of Commons. Liberals seeking re-election are already door knocking and fundraising, thanks to new party rules.

    Trudeau’s campaign-style tone is unmistakable.

    “There are two leaders today that you have to choose between,” he said in reference to Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, a formidable communicator who has been tapping into the politics of misery to build an anti-Trudeau coalition.

    In his Friday speech to his party, Trudeau cast himself as a leader with a “positive vision of the future” and portrayed his rival as full of rage and light on policy and “positive solutions.” But by Saturday’s caucus meeting, the prime minister had softened his language on the threat of his government falling.

    “We are still in delivery mode,” Trudeau said in French after being asked if his government is aiming to walk the talk on promises made in the last campaign, in case another one comes sooner rather than later.

    Here are some hazards that could bring Trudeau some trouble in the year ahead.

    Inflation, affordability and recession woes

    Canada’s gross domestic product per capita dropped 1.3 percent during the pandemic, a stark contrast to the 1.2 percent growth tracked before 2020. The souring economy risks curdling Trudeau’s progressive agenda — and boosting Poilievre’s appeal to a broader swath of Canadians.

    Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem offered a bleak forecast last week, predicting economic growth will be “pretty close to zero” over the next two, three quarters.

    “It's not going to feel good,” he said shortly after the central bank raised its benchmark interest rate 25 basis points — its eighth consecutive hike in the past year to tamp down inflation.

    A potential recession, mild or full blown, will give Conservatives ammunition to callback some sass from the last campaign when Trudeau asked a reporter for forgiveness, “if I don't think about monetary policy.”

    Macklem’s prognosis, and the Bank of Canada’s decision to pause interest rate hikes, puts pressure on the Liberals to slow government spending.

    It will be a hard trick to pull off.

    A new health deal with provinces and territories is anticipated soon, plus Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has promised a budget decked with measures in response to the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, so that Canada isn't left scrounging for crumbs in a global energy investment race.

    McKinsey controversy

    Government contracts awarded to the world's most powerful consulting firm have spiked since Trudeau’s Liberals took office in 2015. Now a parliamentary committee is investigating the deals, valued at least C$116 million.

    Dominic Barton, McKinsey's former global managing director and Canada's most recent ex-ambassador to China, has been called to testify before members of Parliament. This week’s showdown will give opposition members an opportunity to grill the former Trudeau political appointee about cronyism and government bloat — issues Poilievre has amplified in a bid to portray Liberals as out of touch.

    Convoy inquiry report

    A final report due by Feb. 20 risks inflicting massive damage for Trudeau.

    It's been nearly a year since the Trudeau government invoked unprecedented powers to clear blockades on Parliament Hill and at U.S.-Canada border crossings. The convoy protests threaded together far-right extremists with the pandemic fatigued, disenchanted voters and QAnon enthusiasts in a weeks-long occupation of downtown Ottawa.

    It is up to the Public Order Emergency Commission, led by Justice Paul Rouleau, to determine if the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act was appropriate and effective.

    A damning report could elicit a vote of non-confidence in the House of Commons, giving the New Democrats' deal to prop up the minority Liberals' until 2025 its first major stress test.

    A Biden visit

    Trudeau’s team has dined out on the prime minister’s friendship with former Preisdent Barack Obama to lift his progressive credibility in times of need. Biden’s first in-person visit to Canada as president will be a bromide for the prime minister on the heels of whatever the Rouleau's inquiry finds.

    New economic and geopolitical challenges brought on by Russia’s war in Ukraine have brought Canada’s challenge in building major infrastructure projects to the fore. Ottawa is under pressure to move fast and build liquefied natural gas and hydrogen facilities, develop its battery supply chain from critical minerals to electric vehicles, in order to create jobs, maintain gross domestic product growth and relevance to its allies.

    Budget politics

    Health care and the green energy transition will take center stage in Freeland’s 2023 budget which, she said, will take a “fiscally prudent” approach.

    Freeland’s Fall Economic Statement introduced C$11.3 billion in new spending. A potential big price tag for her upcoming budget risks sinking her party’s fiscal credibility. Russia's ongoing war in Ukraine has put new demands on Freeland to increase military funding and shed the perception of Canada as a laggard in the NATO alliance.

    A prudent spring budget won’t necessarily mean a thrifty Fall Economic Statement. In 2021, the Liberals campaigned on a platform that touted C$78 billion in new spending, a bulk of which remains unallocated.

    Policy pressures

    The Liberal’s proposed gun legislation (Bill C-21), prohibiting some hunting rifle and shotgun models, is a ripe opportunity for Conservatives to cast Liberals as an urban party.

    Government House Leader Mark Holland has described it as an “emotionally charged” issue with no quick fix. A lack of consultation created blowback for the Liberals, irritating Trudeau-friendly premiers, Indigenous communities and compelled Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price to speak out against the bill.

    On the energy front, details of the Liberals’ promised cap on oil and gas greenhouse gas emissions are expected this year — policy guaranteed to spark debate between Ottawa and Alberta.

    There will be a provincial election in Alberta in May, which means United Progressive Conservative Premier Danielle Smith will use spring to squeeze in attacks against Trudeau, and specifically Ottawa’s imminent energy transition legislation, to shore votes in Canada’s oil and gas sector.

    Bill C-11, the Liberals’ Online Streaming Act, is on the cusp of becoming law, much to the disappointment of U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. If passed, the new law would require online streaming giants such as Netflix, Spotify and YouTube to pay up to support more Canadian content on their platforms or be hit with penalties if they don’t comply.

    Tai has criticized the legislation as being discriminatory against American companies and has not ruled out potential retaliation.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 10:35:03 -0500 ishook
    Schumer plots debt ceiling course against McCarthy: ‘We’ll win’

    Chuck Schumer, as he’s known to do, is talking a lot these days. And it’s all aimed at Kevin McCarthy.

    The Senate majority leader is directing heat at the new House GOP majority on the daily, casting McCarthy’s conference in the role of villain as the 2024 election cycle kicks off. Schumer first attacked House Republicans for giving airtime to conservative hopes of replacing income taxes with a national sales tax, and now he’s directing his ire toward McCarthy’s insistence on spending cuts in exchange for agreeing to raise the debt ceiling.

    Schumer helped leverage debt ceiling and spending deadlines in 2017, reaching a deal with former President Donald Trump that infuriated Republicans. Six years later, he’s demanding something placid from the GOP: “No hostage-taking, no brinkmanship. Pass the debt ceiling.”

    “Unfortunately, [McCarthy] let a group of very extreme people, he gave them the tools" to wield power, Schumer said in an interview. “The plan is to get our Republican colleagues in the House to understand they're flirting with disaster and hurting the American people. And to let the American people understand that as well. And I think we'll win.”

    It's something of a new, dual-track role for the New Yorker. For the last two years, Schumer and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi allowed bipartisan Senate groups to work and usually avoided a top-down approach that could have disrupted aisle-crossing negotiations. Before that, Schumer spent four years as one of Trump’s chief antagonists, occasionally negotiating with the former president but mostly focusing on stopping him.

    Today, Schumer is somewhere in between, haranguing the House GOP while keeping the door open for the bipartisan work his deal-seeking senators crave. And he’s preparing for a long face-off with McCarthy as Washington charts this year’s mid-year debt ceiling deadline like an approaching meteor.

    Asked to respond to Schumer, McCarthy criticized the Democrat’s December drive to pass a year-end spending bill shaped in part by two retiring senators.

    “When was the last time he did a budget? So, he wants somebody to lift the debt ceiling, but he won’t tell the American people where he’ll spend money?” McCarthy said of Schumer in a brief interview. (During the last Congress, Schumer's Senate did pass budget bills to set up filibuster-proof party-line legislation on covid relief, taxes, climate and health care.)

    At the moment, there’s little cooking in the Senate on the debt ceiling or otherwise, and Schumer is filling the vacuum with a fusillade of attacks on the GOP. Schumer greeted McCarthy’s chaotic speaker election with a snarky congratulations that the Californian's “dream job could turn into a nightmare for the American people.”

    Notably, however, he has since focused mostly on McCarthy’s more conservative members instead of the new speaker personally. He also hasn’t explicitly ruled out negotiations.

    And those conservative members are front and center in the new GOP majority after McCarthy’s stumble-filled but ultimately successful bid for the speakership. One concession he made along the way: House Republicans would refuse to support raising the debt ceiling without a “budget agreement or commensurate fiscal reforms,” according to a slide shown during a closed-door conference meeting earlier this month.

    Schumer and McCarthy have not yet held a one-on-one meeting. Aides are hopeful there will be one soon, but it is not yet scheduled.

    “There's a fine line between saying, ‘We disagree, and we have our issues,’ as opposed to saying, ‘They're no good, they're scum of the earth,'” said Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), who added that he hopes both leaders treat their rhetoric carefully.

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is staying away from the fray, saying he’ll leave things to McCarthy and Biden. And Schumer has declined to address the possibility of bringing a so-called clean debt ceiling increase to the floor, a move that could fail and shake financial markets.

    Just the same, Democrats don’t want to open the door for a negotiation that unfolds in the unpredictable style that 2011's debt ceiling talks did. They're wary of what happened when Biden himself cut a deal with McConnell that resulted in both domestic and military spending cuts.

    “There will be opportunities to work together, but not in the context of them threatening the global economy,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said of House Republicans.

    Schumer, contra McConnell, is not encouraging Biden to get in a room with McCarthy. Instead, he said that if McCarthy wants to cut spending as a condition for raising the debt ceiling, Democrats need to see their plan to do so first — echoing the combative tone that House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has long taken toward McCarthy.

    “When you hear from Biden, they agree with us. [Republicans] have to show us their proposal. They have to show us their plan. Plain and simple. Hakeem Jeffries talked about it today. I believe the president will,” Schumer said. “Democrats are united: Show us the plan. That's the first step.”

    Well, Democrats are mostly united, at least. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) called it “unreasonable” to not negotiate and said he’s not going to tell the House what to do.

    “Kevin McCarthy and I know each other. We’re trying to build relationships, because we have responsibility,” said Manchin, who met privately with McCarthy last week.

    But Manchin has always done his own thing — and at times of crisis, the Senate Democratic caucus is often nearly lockstep behind Schumer.

    “It's pretty predictable. He wants to turn the heat up on Speaker McCarthy. And I would say it's not particularly productive, but maybe it's good political theater,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who has sparred with Schumer for two decades. “I was visiting with some of the Texas congressional delegation at lunch [last week]. And they've sort of tuned it out.”

    Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Texas), chair of the House Budget Committee, said Republicans want to get specific with fiscal changes “like the 2011 spending cap.” Even today, Republicans still praise aspects of the bipartisan 2011 deal, which created a failed deficit-reduction “supercommittee” and then imposed blunt spending cuts that both parties eventually eliminated.

    Arrington suggested Republicans would seek a deal with Biden that could include things like a debt commission, a spending freeze or a 10-year spending deal with budget caps. In response to Democrats’ description of the GOP’s position as “extreme,” Arrington responded: “The American people will be the judge of what is extreme.”

    But when it comes to the debt ceiling, Schatz said, “there's not going to be negotiation. They're gonna have to just realize that this thing is the biggest loser they’ve ever wrapped their arms around.”

    That tack may seem to deviate from Schumer’s approach in the last Congress, but as majority leader, the New Yorkers relied on his own unofficial system for legislating. First, he tries to be bipartisan, and if that doesn't work, he tries to pass things without Republicans.

    And if he can’t do either of those, then it’s time to bring the fight to the Senate floor and the cameras.

    “I’ve always had a hierarchy,” Schumer said. “We'll try to work with them when we can, but when they're as extreme as they are, we have an obligation to stand up.”

    Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 10:35:03 -0500 ishook
    Meet Ron DeSantis’ inner circle

    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is easily one of the most recognizable names in American politics today.

    He won reelection by historic margins, stumped for candidates across the country during the 2022 election cycle and is widely expected to run for the presidency.

    Yet DeSantis has relied on a remarkably small coterie of aides to help guide all that political activity.

    The dozen confidantes he leans on most — to shape his agenda in Tallahassee, assemble an extensive fundraising operation and devise his political future — include his chief of staff, well-known lobbyists and especially his wife.

    Now he’s leaning on this group of insiders as he plots his next move toward 2024 and a collision with former President Donald Trump.

    To understand the world of Ron DeSantis, you need to know these names. Here’s a cheat sheet.

    Generra Peck Campaign manager

    Peck led the day-to-day operations of DeSantis’ 2022 midterm reelection campaign that saw him win by nearly 20 percentage points over Democrat Charlie Crist,a former governor. Peck had as much influence over the campaign as anyone but did so with very little attention or headlines.

    She’s a classic behind-the-scenes operator — but one who was instrumental to DeSantis’ campaign success. She is very likely to remain a part of Team DeSantis for the foreseeable future. She previously helped lead the effort to get Trump’s USMCA trade deal with Canada and Mexico through Congress.

    Ryan Tyson Campaign senior adviser

    Tyson is one of Florida's best known Republican pollsters and has worked for GOP candidates and organizations across the country. He quickly became a key cog in DeSantis’ campaign operation, taking on polling and broader advisory roles.

    He was among the staffers updating DeSantis’ VIPs and donor-types on election night, underscoring the central position he played in the campaign. Prior to joining DeSantis’ team, he worked for Associated Industries of Florida, one of the state’s largest business lobbying and political organizations.

    Phil Cox Campaign general consultant

    Cox was among the campaign’s first hires, joining the team in March 2021 and serving as its top big picture consultant throughout the duration of the campaign. He is expected to remain a key part of DeSantis’ political operations moving forward. Cox, like many other DeSantis campaign staffers, largely stayed out of the headlines. But the campaign tapped him to do an interview with Business Insider in October 2022 to publicly push back against the idea that DeSantis has a gruff personality and lacks charm. During the rare interview, Cox said the framing was a “total fabrication.”

    Cox has a lengthy resume: He served as a top staffer for the Republican Governors Association in the 2010 election cycle when he had to help smooth things over after Rick Scott beat then Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum in the GOP primary for governor. McCollum was the heavy favorite and Republican establishment pick.

    Taryn Fenske DeSantis administration communications director

    Fenske has led the DeSantis administration’s messaging efforts from April 2021 to the present, a time that coincided with DeSantis’ rise through the national Republican ecosystem. During that period, DeSantis championed controversial policy proposals that energized the GOP base but were demonized by Democrats nationally. Those included a series of so-called “election integrity” proposals, legislation and administration rules targeting transgender youth and a planto fly mostly Venezuelan asylum seekers from the southern border to Martha’s Vineyard, which the administration says was to highlight the Biden administration’s immigration failures.

    Through it all, Fenske has remained mostly out of the public’s eye — especially compared to DeSantis’ former press secretary, Christina Pushaw, who forcefully defended DeSantis’ publicly before being sent to the campaign after she sent tweets that ran afoul of DeSantis and others in the official office.

    Nick Iarossi Owner, Capital City Consulting

    Iarossi and other members of his firm, including fellow Capital City lobbyist Scott Ross, played a huge role in DeSantis’ early 2018 campaign, and have been among the lobbyists closest to the governor since. Iarossi backed DeSantis early in the 2018 election cycle when few thought he could beat then-Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who was the heavy favorite to win the GOP primary and the pick of nearly all of Florida’s Republican establishment and donor class. Iarossi remains both an informal adviser and fundraiser for DeSantis’ political efforts.

    Casey DeSantis Wife

    Casey DeSantis is unquestionably the most important person influencing DeSantis’ policy and political operations. The former Jacksonville television personality is seen as perhaps the most powerful first lady in Florida political history, taking both public positions on key issues like mental health funding as well as more behind-the-scenes duties, including playing a leading role in changing the makeup at the Republican Party of Florida to bring in people seen as DeSantis loyalists. She is the governor’s closest confidant and has more sway than any other adviser.

    James Uthmeier Chief of staff

    Uthmeier is considered the most influential of DeSantis’ three chiefs of staff and led the governor’s office during much of the time when DeSantis became a post-pandemic political star. DeSantis’ first two chiefs of staff were longtime operative-types, while Uthmeier is seen as further right on the political spectrum and a better fit for DeSantis, who is championing a policy portfolio directed, in large part, to those on the Republican Party’s right flank.

    As DeSantis has focused on bigger picture messaging and a likely 2024 presidential bid, Uthmeier has been given wide-ranging authority to oversee the administration’s day-to-day activities. Prior to serving as chief of staff, Uthmeier was DeSantis’ general counsel. He also served as senior adviser to former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

    Brian Ballard Lobbyist, GOP fundraiser

    Ballard leads one of Florida’s largest lobbying firms and has been a staple in Republican politics for years. Though he didn’t support DeSantis in the 2018 gubernatorial primary, he quickly became part of DeSantis’ inner circle, including serving as the co-chairman of DeSantis’ 2018 inauguration celebration. One of his lobbyists, Adrian Lukis, who was a former DeSantis chief of staff, served as a co-chair of DeSantis 2022 inauguration events.

    Adam Laxalt Longtime friend, former Nevada Attorney General

    Laxalt is considered one of the closest friends of DeSantis, who has a reputation of not having many close friends or associates. The two were roommates at the Naval Justice School and have remained close friends, including continuing to talk on the phone regularly. DeSantis gave Laxalt’s failed U.S. Senate campaign a boost in April when he traveled to Nevada to rally for his campaign and raise money.

    Chris Spencer Director of Policy & Budget, Executive Office of Governor

    Spencer is the administration’s point person on building and developing state spending proposals, which is the lifeblood that runs through nearly every policy decision. During the 2022 legislative session, Spencer oversaw the crafting of a $112 billion budget, the largest in state history. He then led the effort to veto a record $3.1 billion in lawmaker-approved spending projects. Having a huge degree of control over such a heavy veto pen comes with a large degree of power and influence.

    Heather Barker Longtime DeSantis fundraiser

    Barker is one of DeSantis’ longest running campaign aides, surviving in a world that is well known for high levels of turnover. Barker has been the top fundraiser for DeSantis’ political operation for years. At one point, she was the only full-time political staffer on the campaign’s payroll before the 2022 midterms really kicked off. She was given the title of senior adviser during the 2022 campaign and continues to be a vital staffer in DeSantis’ political operation.

    Miriam Adelson Republican mega-donor

    Adelson and her late husband, Sheldon, who founded Las Vegas Sands and was one of the Republican Party’s largest and most influential donors, gave DeSantis’ 2018 campaign its first major boost when Sheldon and Miriam agreed to sign on to his finance committee.

    The Adelsons’ connection to the campaign helped boost its legitimacy and helped change the perception that DeSantis was the underdog in the race. Miriam Adelson has remained a confidant to DeSantis, advising him on a range of issues from foreign policy to substance abuse.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 10:35:03 -0500 ishook
    The House GOP’s investigations: A field guide

    Kevin McCarthy has told House Republicans to treat every committee like the Oversight panel — that is, use every last bit of authority to dig into the Biden administration. That work begins in earnest this week.

    Several sprawling probes — largely directed at President Joe Biden, his family and his administration — set the stage for a series of legal and political skirmishes between the two sides of Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s all with an eye on the true battle, the 2024 election, as Biden flirts with a reelection run and House Republicans hope to expand their control to the White House.

    After two impeachments of former President Donald Trump and a select committee that publicly detailed his every last move to unsuccessfully overturn the 2020 election results, GOP lawmakers are eager to turn the spotlight. And their conservative base is hoping for fireworks, calling on Republican leaders to grill several Biden world figures, including Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, retired chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci and presidential son Hunter Biden.

    But GOP leadership has to mind its swing-district members and centrists, whose jobs are on the line if the strategy backfires in 2024, as early calls to impeach Mayorkas have sparked grumbling in that camp. Striking the right balance will be a difficult lift, even without Democrats constantly blasting the investigations as revenge politics run amok.

    Regardless, the GOP’s investigative firehose will leave few parts of the administration untouched. POLITICO has been chatting with lawmakers, aides and outside allies about Republicans’ plans. Here’s a field guide to navigating the investigative landscape, with hearings expected to start this week:

    Biden Family

    A top priority for Republicans is investigating Hunter Biden, with Joe Biden being the party’s ultimate target of the probe. GOP lawmakers are hunting for a smoking gun that will directly connect the president’s decisions to his son’s business dealings. No evidence has yet emerged to show that the clients taken on by Hunter Biden, who’s been under a years-long federal investigation, affected his father’s decisions as president.

    The public phase of the Republican investigation will kick off on Feb. 8, with the Oversight Committee expected to hold a hearing on Twitter and its handling of a 2020 New York Post story on Hunter Biden. Twitter initially restricted users’ ability to share the article, with top officials characterizing the decision as a mistake in the aftermath.

    House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) has invited testimony from three former employees — James Baker, former Twitter deputy general counsel; Yoel Roth, Twitter’s former global head of trust and safety; and Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s former chief legal officer. A GOP committee aide told POLITICO that they “expect” the former employees to testify. (POLITICO has not undergone the process to authenticate the Hunter Biden laptop that underpinned the New York Post story, but reporter Ben Schreckinger has confirmed the authenticity of some emails on it.)

    Beyond that, Comer is re-upping questions to a gallery selling Hunter Biden’s art. The chair is also asking for Treasury Department Suspicious Activity Reports, or SARs, related to Hunter Biden and his associates. Those records are filed by financial institutions and don’t necessarily suggest wrongdoing but are frequently used as investigative leads.

    Comer warned he is willing to subpoena the relevant records after Treasury rejected his initial request, saying it needed to engage in discussions with the committee about the thrust of its investigation.

    The Kentuckian has vowed that his committee’s Hunter Biden investigation will be "credible," but GOP leadership’s decision to name some of the conference’s most conservative members to the committee, including Reps. Scott Perry (Pa.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), is raising fresh skepticism about that among Democrats and their allies.

    Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) warned that the ascension of Oversight panel conservatives would "infect the credibility of the committee," including on investigations.

    Mayorkas and the border

    House Republicans will soon formally launch a multi-committee investigation into the nation’s southern border and DHS, all with an eye on Mayorkas.

    The Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearing on Feb. 1, focused on the border — with Republicans warning that it’s only “part one” of the public grilling. The Oversight Committee will follow suit during the following week of Feb. 6. Comer invited four Border Patrol officials to testify. In return DHS offered Border Patrol chief Raul Ortiz and a member briefing with the four officials Comer asked for, sparking stonewalling accusations and threats of possible subpoenas from the GOP chair.

    The GOP’s border hearings come as the party has struggled to reach a consensus about how to move forward legislatively, including a split between two Texas Republicans: Reps. Chip Roy, who’d prefer a more conservative approach, and the more centrist Tony Gonzales.

    The border investigations also come as the party faces pressure from both its right flank and its base voters to take the historically rare step of trying to impeach Mayorkas.

    Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) recently became the new majority’s first Republican to introduce an impeachment resolution, which targeted Mayorkas. A second group of Republicans, led by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), is expected to unveil impeachment articles against Mayorkas this week.

    Justice Department/FBI

    Republicans are planning to house a wide-ranging probe of the Justice Department and FBI under the Judiciary Committee and a new subcommittee — created as a concession to conservative detractors during the speaker’s race — focused on what the GOP calls the “weaponization” of the federal government.

    Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a McCarthy antagonist-turned-ally who will chair both the committee and subpanel, has fired off a laundry list of requests to Attorney General Merrick Garland in addition to seeking hearings or transcribed interviews with more than a dozen DOJ officials.

    Jordan has sent off a similarly lengthy letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray. He’s warned both that he’s ready to use subpoenas to get information if they don’t comply with his information requests.

    Judiciary Republicans are likely to make Biden’s handling of classified documents and last summer’s FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence part of their sweeping DOJ oversight efforts. Two other panels are currently investigating the broader issue of classified document handling and related law enforcement activity: the Oversight and Intelligence Committees.

    The Oversight Committee is requesting documents on the matter from the National Archives and has an interview with a top Archives official on the books this week, while the Intelligence Committee wants a security assessment.


    After two years of Democratic-led investigations into the pandemic, Republicans are ready to shift the focus with probes of their own.

    The Oversight Committee will hold its first hearing on Wednesday about the use of government funding on the coronavirus — homing in on a series of coronavirus relief bills that amounted to trillions of dollars in aid in total. Comer described his focus on coronavirus aid as an attempt to guide the committee toward rooting out “waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.”

    But pandemic aid is a topic that the previous Democratic-led House has already visited. A select subcommittee in the previous Congress held a hearing last year with federal watchdogs in charge of overseeing pandemic aid funds.

    In addition to investigations by the Oversight Committee, Republicans created their own select subcommittee on the pandemic. McCarthy is vowing that the new Covid panel will probe so-called “gain of function” research, which involves the intentional manipulation of viruses and pathogens in ways that could make them more deadly or contagious.

    That goal connects to an unproven theory espoused by some Republicans that the coronavirus was intentionally created in a lab.

    Foreign policy

    House Republicans will also use their majority to delve into several foreign policy targets, as they seek to push back on the Biden administration’s decisions abroad.

    The most prominent investigation so far stems from a new select committee designed to look at “strategic competition” between the U.S. and China, which is expected to be a major focus of the GOP national security agenda heading into 2024. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who was tapped by McCarthy to lead that select panel, has said he’ll focus on supply chains, bolstering the U.S. military and privacy and social media — particularly TikTok.

    The vote to set up the panel was largely bipartisan, but Democrats cautioned even as they voted for it that Republicans might steer the select committee toward conspiracy theories or xenophobic language.

    Beyond China, GOP foreign policy investigations are likely to focus on two other areas: Afghanistan and Ukraine. The Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 sparked bipartisan outrage, making it a prime target for the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees.

    Meanwhile, Republicans are also vowing tougher oversight of additional U.S. aid to Ukraine. That sets the stage for intra-party skirmishes between budget hawks or isolationist-leaning lawmakers and a coalition of more establishment-minded Republicans in both the House and Senate who have pledged to greenlight more help.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 10:35:03 -0500 ishook
    Dems launch new abortion ads in battle for state governments

    Democrats’ political committee focused on state legislatures is launching a new affiliated nonprofit whose first move is a digital ad campaign on abortion in Virginia — an early example of Democrats continuing to lean into the issue after a strong midterm performance.

    Virginia is one of four states that are holding legislative elections this year. Members of the state House and Senate will be on the ballot in November, and the state is expected to be highly competitive.

    The new ad, which comes from the State Democracy Action Fund, raises the possibility of an abortion ban in the state, according to details shared first with POLITICO. “Will Virginia pass an extreme abortion ban?” the ad’s narrator asks, before attacking GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin and “extremist lawmakers” for wanting to ban abortion in the state after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

    The ad will run on digital platforms in the swing region of Hampton Roads in southeast Virginia. It is backed by a buy of about $150,000 over six weeks, the organization said.

    The ads from the Democratic-aligned group are a sign that strategists for the party believe abortion will remain a major motivating factor for voters.

    “This is obviously top of mind for a lot of people right now,” said Kate Stoner, the new executive director of State Democracy Action Fund, which is affiliated with the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. “And this is happening in Virginia right now. We want to make sure that folks in the state know what is going on.”

    Democratic campaigns across the country hammered Republicans on abortion policy after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. The decision — and Democrats’ subsequent focus on it in many races — was credited with helping the party notch an unexpectedly successful midterm election, expanding its Senate majority and reelecting a number of governors even while narrowly losing the House.

    And on the state legislative level, Democrats notched some of their greatest successes in a generation. They did not lose control of a chamber in 2022, and flipped four away from Republicans: both chambers in Michigan, the Pennsylvania state House and Minnesota state Senate.

    It was a notable reversal of fortune from just one year earlier in Virginia. There, Democratic gubernatorial nominee and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe relentlessly attacked then-candidate Youngkin on abortion, warning that Youngkin would try to institute a ban in the state.

    “It will be a huge motivator for individuals to come out and vote,” McAuliffe predicted in an interview in September 2021. But despite that focus, Youngkin stormed past McAuliffe for an upset victory, with Republicans also flipping the state House in the process.

    A special election earlier this year in Virginia suggested that the potency of abortion as a deciding issue for voters has stuck past the midterms. In early January, Democrat Aaron Rouse flipped a GOP-held state Senate seat in the Hampton Roads region. That came after a significant focus on abortion rights in the race, both from Rouse’s campaign and from national organizations.

    Stoner, SDAF’s executive director, said that the group would also focus on issues like voting rights and health care in addition to abortion rights.

    She declined to name other specific states that it would be running programs in, but noted that several legislative chambers flipped last year. New Jersey, Mississippi and Louisiana are the other three states with legislative elections in 2023, with Democrats controlling both chambers in the former and Republicans the latter two. Virginia is widely considered to have the most competitive state legislative elections this year.

    SDAF’s mission will not be to suggest model legislation, Stoner said, but to “educate” voters about what legislators are proposing. Nonprofit groups like SDAF — which are common in both parties — are technically nonpartisan and in most cases do not have to disclose their donors.

    “Washington is going to be a bit in gridlock for the foreseeable future,” she said. “And so what's happening in your state legislature always impacts your day to day life in such a large way, but even more so now.”

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 10:35:03 -0500 ishook
    House GOP grits its teeth for the ‘big lift’: A budget battle

    Debt ceiling negotiations are struck in limbo, as House Republicans demand severe spending cuts without saying where they’d start. Pretty soon, though, their hands will be forced.

    GOP lawmakers say they’re committed to adopting a budget plan for the coming fiscal year, which would reflect where they’d slash government funding. It’s a demand they’ve said President Joe Biden and Democrats must meet before they’ll agree to raise the debt ceiling in the coming months, a potential calamity as economic indicators already point towards recession.

    Passing a budget is guaranteed to be a painful test for the new majority. It’s one thing to call for fiscal responsibility — it’s another to be the political face of program cuts. GOP leaders will have to thread the needle between members loath to cut Pentagon funding and conservatives like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who say military cuts must be on the table.

    At the same time, party leadership will have to ensure steep domestic cuts won’t hurt moderates back home, bruising members in vulnerable districts and threatening an already slim House majority. And in the center of what seems like a near-impossible effort — to draft a budget plan with broad GOP support — sits newly installed House Budget Committee Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas).

    In an interview, Arrington acknowledged that it’s going to be a heavy lift for a conference deeply split by federal spending issues. If the budget measure ever makes it out of committee and to the floor, Republicans can only afford to lose four of their 222 votes.

    “It won’t be easy,” Arrington said. But he added that he’s “looking forward to the challenge of pulling that 218 together so that we can know what it feels like to succeed, and know that we can succeed.”

    Passing a budget resolution — which is technically non-binding — would set a “very defined measure of success” for Republicans, Arrington added, by laying out party demands and putting the negotiating onus back on Democrats in talks over hiking the nation’s $31.4 trillion debt limit.

    Republicans in the upper chamber are also pressuring the House GOP to adopt a fiscal 2024 budget, particularly Senate fiscal hawks who want to adopt a measure that embraces military funding cuts, in addition to reductions to domestic programs.

    “I think it’s going to be difficult,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said of getting a budget through the House, even as he urged the GOP not to hold military funding “sacrosanct.” Adopting a budget would show that House Republicans “have their ducks in a row” as they pursue fiscal restraints, Braun added.

    Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) echoed that sentiment, saying his House GOP counterparts have "a big task ahead of them.

    "We want to do everything we can to support their efforts, but also encourage them," Johnson added, "because the crucial aspect to what they need to do is they have to pass these things with Republican votes.”

    At the same time, House Republicans have to mind the political headaches their fiscal choices will pose to their vulnerable members — which is particularly true when it comes to the messy internal politics of entitlement reform. Some of their members are hesitant to touch mandatory spending and others insist that reforms are necessary for the long-term solvency of programs like Social Security and Medicare.

    Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) this week said Speaker Kevin McCarthy assured him that those programs are safe from cuts.

    Many House Republicans are loath to take a knife to the Pentagon’s budget, however, and doing so would almost certainly jeopardize broad support for a GOP budget plan.

    Despite all its potential to cause intraparty angst, a budget resolution isn’t a particularly detailed document. While it could detail the GOP’s vision for slashing spending over a decade, outline preferred discretionary spending limits, and instruct committees to work on taxes or mandatory spending changes, the budget wouldn’t outline cuts to specific programs.

    Such a plan is considered a basic task of the majority party, but it often gets skipped during the annual budget process.

    Drafting one is a high-stakes dance that many former Budget Committee leaders know all too well. That includes former House Budget Chair Diane Black (R-Tenn.), who shepherded the adoption of a budget resolution in 2017 — allowing Republicans to pass their party-line tax bill.

    Black described it as a “nailbiter” of a vote that followed months upon months of navigating warring factions within the GOP conference. This time, Republicans may not have that kind of time, with a debt default threatening the U.S. in a matter of months, she warned.

    “I think it’s a big lift,” Black said. “I don’t know, frankly, because of where they are right now … that they really have the time to dig in and do it that well. Maybe they do.”

    “There definitely is a time element to how you get everyone on board, given what they’ve already been through with the leadership process,” Black added, referring to the 15-ballot speakership race that consumed the conference earlier this month.

    Former Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who chaired the House Budget Committee until he retired last year, watched his own budget resolution crash and burn on the floor in 2019, when Democratic leaders were forced to cancel a vote on the measure as progressives decried defense funding levels they deemed too high.

    “Jodey Arrington is a really reasonable guy,” Yarmuth said of his successor. “He’s setting a bar that he may not be able to get over, and Jodey knows that, I’m sure. But they’ve committed to do it, so he’s going to have to try to do it.”

    “When you have the margins that they have … it’s going to be very unlikely that they can bring a budget resolution to the floor that can pass,” Yarmuth added of House Republicans. “That’s the problem we always had.”

    Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), now his party's top member on the Budget Committee, echoed that point, saying that “getting 218 votes for a budget resolution is difficult under ordinary circumstances.”

    Republicans “have a grueling battle ahead if they decide to pursue this unpopular path,” he said.

    Mon, 30 Jan 2023 10:30:05 -0500 ishook
    In divided Russia, ‘compassion has become civil resistance’ Mon, 30 Jan 2023 05:55:02 -0500 ishook Ukraine wants to join European Union within 2 years, prime minister says Mon, 30 Jan 2023 05:50:03 -0500 ishook Drones reportedly attack convoy in east Syria coming from Iraq

    BEIRUT — Drones attacked a convoy of trucks in eastern Syria Sunday night shortly after it crossed into the country from Iraq, Syrian opposition activists and a pro-government radio station said. There was no immediate word on casualties.

    The strike comes amid heightening tension between Iran and its rivals in the region.

    It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack on the convoy in the Syrian border region of Boukamal, which is a stronghold of Iran-backed militias.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the drones appear to have been from the U.S.-led coalition, adding that they targeted six refrigerated trucks. The group said there were casualties and ambulances rushed to the area.

    Another activist said the strike hit a convoy of trucks of Iran-backed militiamen. Omar Abu Layla, a Europe-based activist from Deir el-Zour who runs a group that monitors developments, tweeted that there was no immediate word on casualties.

    The pro-government Sham FM radio station also reported that six refrigerated trucks were hit.

    In Baghdad, an official with an Iran-backed militia confirmed there was a strike saying it only targeted one truck. He gave no word on casualties.

    The attack in eastern Syria came hours after bomb-carrying drones targeted an Iranian defense factory in the central city of Isfahan causing some damage at the plant.

    Last month, Israel’s military chief of staff strongly suggested that Israel was behind a strike on a truck convoy in Syria in November, giving a rare glimpse of Israel’s shadow war against Iran and its proxies across the region.

    Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who finished his military service earlier this month, said Israeli military and intelligence capabilities made it possible to strike specific targets that pose a threat.

    Israeli leaders have in the past acknowledged striking hundreds of targets in Syria and elsewhere in what it says is a campaign to thwart Iranian attempts to smuggle weapons to proxies like Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group or to destroy weapons caches.

    The November strike hit tanker trucks carrying fuel and other trucks carrying weapons for the militias in Syria’s eastern province of Deir el-Zour, the Observatory reported at the time. It said at least 14 people, most of them militiamen, were killed in the strike.

    The strike, along the border with Iraq, targeted Iran-backed militiamen, Syrian opposition activists said at the time. Some of those killed in the attack were Iranian nationals, according to two paramilitary officers in Iraq.

    At the time, Israel declined to comment on the strike.

    Iran is a main backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has sent thousands of Iran-backed fighters to help Syrian troops during the country’s 11-year civil war. Both Iran and Assad’s government are also allied with Hezbollah, which has fought alongside Assad’s forces in the war.

    Israel consider Iran to be its chief enemy and has warned against what it views as its hostile activities in the region.

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 21:35:02 -0500 ishook
    Memphis pastor prays for continued peace after video release

    MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Members of Mt. Olive Cathedral Church in Memphis gathered for worship on Sunday, two days after Tyre Nichols’ parents spoke from the sanctuary and called for peace following the release of video showing their son’s fatal beating at the hands of police.

    “We’ve had calm so far, which is what we have been praying for,” Pastor Kenneth Thomas said before the service. “And, of course, we hope that continues.”

    Cities nationwide had braced for demonstrations after body camera footage was released Friday showing Memphis officers beating 29-year-old Nichols, who died of his injuries three days later. Several dozen demonstrators in Memphis blocked the Interstate 55 bridge that carries traffic over the Mississippi River toward Arkansas. Protesters also blocked traffic in New York City, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon, but the protests have been scattered and non-violent.

    During the church service, Thomas offered a prayer for Nichols’ family, asking God to “shower them with your blessings.”

    The loss is “still very emotional” for the family, a lawyer representing them said Sunday, but they are using all their energy to advocate for reforms both in Memphis and on the federal level.

    “His mother is having problems sleeping but she continues to pray with the understanding, as she believes in her heart, that Tyre was sent here for an assignment, and that there will be a greater good that comes from this tragedy,” Attorney Ben Crump said on ABC’s “This Week.”

    Crump welcomed disbanding the city’s so-called Scorpion unit, which Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis announced Saturday, citing a “cloud of dishonor” from the newly released video.

    Davis acted a day after the harrowing video was released, saying she listened to Nichols’ relatives, community leaders and uninvolved officers in making the decision. Her announcement came as the nation and the city struggled to come to grips with the violence of the officers, who are also Black. The video renewed outrage over repeated fatal encounters with law enforcement that keep happening despite nationwide demands for change.

    Crump told “This Week” that Nichols’ case points to a systemic problem in how people of color are treated regardless of whether officers are white, Black or any other race.

    The “implicit, biased police” culture that exists in America is just as responsible for Nichols’ death as the five Black officers who killed him, Crump said.

    “I believe it’s part of the institutionalized police culture that makes it somehow allowed that they can use this type of excessive force and brutality against people of color,” Crump told “This Week.” “It is not the race of the police officer that is the determinant factor whether they’re going to engage in excessive use of force, but it is the race of the citizen.”

    He alleged other members of the Memphis community have been assaulted by the now shuttered Scorpion unit, which was composed of three teams of about 30 officers whose stated aim was to target violent offenders in high-crime areas. The unit had been inactive since Nichols’ Jan. 7 arrest.

    Scorpion stands for Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace In Our Neighborhoods.

    The five officers involved in Nichols’ beating — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith — have been fired and charged with murder and other crimes in Nichols’ death. They face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.

    Video images of Nichols’ encounter with police show officers savagely beating the FedEx worker for three minutes while screaming profanities at him. Nichols calls out for his mother before his limp body is propped against a squad car and the officers exchange fist-bumps.

    Brenda Goss Andrews, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, told The Associated Press she was struck by the immediate aggression from officers as soon as they got out of the car: “It just went to 100. ... This was never a matter of de-escalation,” she said, adding, “The young man never had a chance.”

    On a phone call with President Joe Biden, Crump and Nichols parents discussed the need federal reform like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would prohibit racial profiling, ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, limit the transfer of military equipment to police departments, and make it easier to bring charges against offending officers.

    Biden said he told Nichols’ mother he would be “making a case” to Congress to pass the Floyd Act “to get this under control.”

    Memphis Police had already implemented reforms after Floyd’s killing, including a requirement to de-escalate or intervene if they saw others using excessive force.

    Speaking on “This Week,” Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said Congress can pass additional measures like “screening, training, accreditation, to up the game so that the people who have this responsibility to keep us safe really are stable and approaching this in a professional manner.”

    The fact that law enforcement is primarily a state and local responsibility “does not absolve us. Under the federal Constitution we have standards, due process standards and others, that we are responsible for,” Durbin said.

    “What we saw on the streets of Memphis was just inhumane and horrible,” he continued. “I don’t know what created this — this rage in these police officers that they would congratulate themselves for beating a man to death. But that is literally what happened.”

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 21:35:02 -0500 ishook
    Germany's Scholz doubles down on refusal of fighter jets for Ukraine Sun, 29 Jan 2023 21:35:01 -0500 ishook Jordan: Legislation alone wouldn’t have stopped Nichols beating

    While many lawmakers and people across the United States have been compelled by brutal videos of police violence to advocate for reform, one member of Congress on Sunday said legislation is not the cure.

    "I don't know if there is anything you can do to stop the kind of evil that we saw in that video," Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" after watching a clip of the fatal beating of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols in Memphis.

    The beating of the Memphis FedEx worker and father after a traffic stop Jan. 7 has renewed nationwide protests against police violence. As seen in the video released by the city of Memphis late last week, Nichols, a Black man, pleaded for his safety and called for his mother. He died three days later.

    "What strikes me is just a lack of respect for human life, so I don't know that any law, any training, any reform is going to change — you know, this man was handcuffed, they continued to beat him," Jordan said.

    But Jordan did tout a bill introduced in 2020 by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who has worked with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to get a package of policing measures through Congress. The legislation would have offered financial incentives to states that implemented certain types of reforms in use of force, without mandating the changes.

    The extent of potential reform — as well as questions of individual moral responsibility and systemic faults — has been a focus of lawmakers' debate over policing, particularly since the protests following Minneapolis police's murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in 2020. Few Democrats on the Hill have called to lower funding to police, but Republicans have still argued that Democratic proposals are a bridge too far when it comes to public safety.

    Lawmakers, as well as Nichols family attorney Ben Crump, have called for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to be passed since Nichols' death. That bill, which passed in the House in 2021, would prohibit racial profiling by law enforcement and ban chokeholds at the federal level, among other measures.

    President Joe Biden has said he was "outraged" watching the surveillance footage of Nichols' death.

    The five Memphis officers shown beating Nichols have been charged with murder and other crimes related to his death, and they were all fired from the police department.

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 15:05:04 -0500 ishook
    Top House Foreign Affairs Republican agrees with possibility of war with China

    The Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Sunday he agreed with a statement that suggested the U.S. could be at war with China in 2025 — but the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee pushed back.

    "I hope he's wrong as well. I think he's right, though, unfortunately," Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said Sunday on "Fox News Sunday," in reference to a U.S. Air Force general who reportedly predicted war with China.

    The question was brought up in reference to reporting from The Drive, which said an Air Force general told troops he thought the U.S. would be at war with China in 2025. "My gut tells me will fight in 2025," Gen. Mike Minihan was quoted as saying in a memo obtained by the publication.

    A Democrat who chaired the House Armed Services Committee for four years was nowhere near as fatalistic.

    "Anything is possible. I'm really worried when anyone starts talking about war with China being inevitable," Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said, also on "Fox News Sunday."

    War with China is "highly unlikely," and "generals need to be very cautious about saying we're going to war," he added.

    Pushed by host Shannon Bream, McCaul cited China's interest in possibly invading the island nation of Taiwan — which it considers part of its territory — as a catalyst for war, and he accused President Joe Biden's administration of "projecting weakness."

    But Smith and McCaul agreed that the United States' military supplies are insufficient in the face of possible conflict, in China or elsewhere.

    "This is a huge problem," Smith said. "We don't have the industrial base, and we don't have the ability to ramp up that industrial base."

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 15:05:04 -0500 ishook
    Time for ‘national conversation’ on policing, Durbin says

    Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin said Sunday that the brutal footage of Memphis police beating Tyre Nichols demonstrated the need for "a national conversation" on law enforcement.

    Speaking on ABC's "This Week," the Illinois Democrat said, "We need a national conversation about policing in a responsible, constitutional and humane way. These men and women with badges put them on each day and risk their lives for us. I know that, but we also see from these videos horrible conduct by these same officers in unacceptable situations."

    Durbin told host Martha Raddatz "that law enforcement, by and large, is a state and local responsibility," but added that Congress can insert itself into the conversation, noting a package of police reforms that Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) had been working on after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police in May 2020.

    That legislation stalled. One factor was a debate over the question of whether to retain "qualified immunity" for police officers.

    "I think," Durbin said of Booker, "he and Senator Scott should sit down again quickly to see if we can revive that effort."

    Nichols died Jan. 10, three days after being beaten repeatedly after a police stop by five Memphis officers, who have since been fired and charged in his death.

    As for his own reaction to the footage of the beating of Nichols, Durbin said he was aghast.

    "It was horrible. Inhumane. My heart goes out to the Tyre Nichols family to think that their son went through this," he said, adding later: "What we saw on the streets of Memphis was just inhumane and horrible."

    First-term Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) said she found Nichols' death horrifying but not surprising, saying it was not the first time the nation has seen an African American mother grieve in response to her child's death.

    "There are so many Black cities across the country that have re-lived this," she said on CNN's "State of the Union." "But it's painful every single time and never gets any easier."

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 15:05:04 -0500 ishook
    Warner and Rubio together call for document oversight for national security

    Sens. Mark Warner and Marco Rubio, the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, jointly said they spoke for their entire committee in demanding access to documents found in the possession of President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

    "I don't know how congressional oversight on the documents, actually knowing what they are, in any way impedes an investigation," Rubio (R-Fla.) said in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation," referring to the ongoing Justice Department investigations of the storage and handling of the documents.

    The conversation highlighted what the senators characterized as an urgent need to understand whether the recent document discoveries associated with Trump and Biden pose a risk to national security.

    Sets of documents found last year at Trump's residence in Mar-a-Lago and at locations associated with Biden in the past several months included classified material, and Rubio and Warner (D-Va.) said they had a right to know the content to the extent that it could affect national security.

    The most immediate issue is determining whether the Trump and Biden documents contained sources and methods for gathering intelligence, or even if they were current enough to pose a threat to national security, Warner said.

    "We are united in we have to find a way to do our job. That means we need these documents," Warner said.

    The members of Congress are not interested in individual criminal justice matters, Rubio said.

    "We're not interested in the timeline, the tick-tock, the who-got-what, who-did-that," he said.

    And as members of Congress who have access to classified materials, the senators might already have access to the specific documents, but they "just don't know which ones they are," he added.

    The Justice Department told the Senate Intelligence Committee in a letter dated Saturday and obtained by POLITICO that prosecutors were actively working to find ways to share information with the intelligence panel, though DOJ practice constricted the amount of information that could be shared about ongoing investigations like the special prosecutor probes in the case of Trump and Biden.

    “We are working with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to support the provision of information that will satisfy the Committee’s responsibilities without harming the ongoing Special Counsel investigations,” wrote Carlos Uriarte, DOJ’s legislative affairs chief, in a two-page letter.

    DOJ had separately informed the House Judiciary Committee earlier in January that it would be unlikely to share information about ongoing investigations sought by Hill Republicans.

    While Warner acknowledged that Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines is in charge of classification issues, he said Congress could take broad action by writing guidance on classification for executive agencies.

    For his part, Rubio said he'd prefer not to "go down that road" of withholding funds from agencies involved. But, he added: "We're not going to sit here and just issue press releases all day."

    As for the classified documents turned over from former Vice President Mike Pence's home, Warner said: "We've not really focused as much on the Pence documents, but who knows what additional shoes may fall."

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 15:05:04 -0500 ishook
    Opinion | In Praise of Russia’s Political Exiles

    When it comes to regime change, there’s an important relationship between regime opponents inside the country, and exiles outside the country. This has played out over and over again in history, particularly in Russia. This dynamic will be important to whatever happens in Russia in the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ill-conceived invasion of Ukraine.

    Political exiles rarely lead revolutions. There are two exceptions: Vladimir Lenin in Russia in 1917, and Ayatollah Khomeini 62 years later in Iran. But both returned to their countries when the old regimes were all but gone, the leaders deposed and the prior regime discredited. As Lenin famously put it, the power was lying in the mud on the ground, all one had to do was to pick it up.

    Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has weakened him, just as tsars in the 19th and 20th centuries were weakened by conflicts including the Crimean War and World War I. So when the Putin regime begins to teeter and wobble — whether in yet another instance of the merciless pattern of Russian history unforgiving of military setbacks or because of an anemic economy further degraded by sanctions, oil and gas revenues drying up or all these calamities at once — the most likely to lead the revolution will be the leaders on the ground. Many of those are currently in prison, including Alexei Navalny, serving a nine-and-half-year term, Vladimir Kara-Murza, in his eighth month of imprisonment without trial and facing up to 24 years in prison, or Ilya Yashin, sentenced last week to eight-and-half years. With the Putin regime’s rapidly descending into savagery of a military dictatorship, they might not emerge from jail alive. But even if they don’t survive, others will step forward and when the time comes, the West can lend a crucial hand.

    Yet no revolution succeeds unless the legitimacy of the old regime has been eroded by alternate visions of the country’s present and, even more importantly, its future — ideas persuasive enough for the politically active minority to withdraw their loyalty. (It is always a minority that rebels while all that’s required of the vast majority is not to come to the existing order’s defense.)

    Those on the inside of the country can’t do much to disseminate such subversive thoughts. Unlike the revolution overseen by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose abolition of censorship allowed glasnost to demolish the Soviet regime’s legitimizing mythology, the anti-Putin movement has to contend with the systematic extirpation of free discourse and independent media by the Kremlin.

    We’ve seen this before. Finding himself in a similar bind over a century and a half ago, Alexander Herzen — the founding father of Russian political emigration, brilliant essayist and memoirist, and 19th century revolutionary democrat and socialist — started a magazine called Kolokol (which means “Bell” in English), the first free Russian press in Europe.

    Getting his publication into Russia proved difficult. “If only my words could reach you, toiler and sufferer of the land of Russia!” Herzen wrote. “How well I would teach you to despise your spiritual shepherds, placed over you by the St. Petersburg Synod and [the] tsar.... You hate the landlord, you hate the official, you fear them, and rightly so; but you still believe in the tsar and the bishop ... do not believe them. The tsar is with them, and they are his men.” Herzen didn’t live to see the end of Russia’s tsarist imperium, but those who did end it traced their vision back to the writings of exiles like him.

    Not much has changed in the last 150 years. Millions of Russians continue to detest incompetent, callous, thieving and corrupt local authorities but heartily approve of the tsar in the Kremlin. But reaching their compatriots, especially the silenced and dispirited anti-war, pro-Western intelligentsia still living in Russia, is much easier today for self-exiled journalists — at least a hundred of whom left just this past year. Although the Russian government has blocked over 180 media outlets as well as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, the toll of many internet “bells” is breaking through the deafening din of the Kremlin propaganda. With many Russians using virtual private networks (VPNs), an estimated 15 percent or more of the population continue to read and watch the same independent Russian journalists they had followed before the invasion.

    Every month, millions of Russians visit the sites of the Dozhd (Rain), Novaya Gazeta, and Meduza or follow them on YouTube and Telegram. Along with the Congress-funded Radio Liberty, particularly its flagship 24-hour a day Russian-language 'Current Time’ program, these outlets provide platforms for some of the finest essayists, opposition politicians, and independent experts inside and outside Russia.

    Emerging from these writings, interviews, videos and news reports is a vision of a post-Putin post-authoritarian, democratic Russia. This vision, if it can take hold in Russia, is a key step needed for Russia’s defeat. In the play “The Coast of Utopia” by Tom Stoppard, Herzen actually raises a glass to Russia’s 1856 defeat in Crimea by La Grand Alliance of the Ottomans, France, and the United Kingdom. Today’s émigré writers and politicians, too, believe that the rise of a free Russia is predicated on the Kremlin’s defeat in Crimea and everywhere else in Ukraine.

    No matter what Putin tells the Russian people and the world, this is not a war to secure a neutral Ukraine and save Russia from an imminent NATO aggression. It is a war to the bitter end to eradicate a sovereign Ukrainian state whose very existence as an independent, democratic nation is a threat to Putin’s autocracy. Given his obsession, Leonid Gozman, an opposition politician and leading commentator, argues that a genuine, lasting peace — and not a fraudulent and short-lived ceasefire which Putin is bound to violate — can result only from Russia’s capitulation.

    Some Putin opponents go further. Gathering outside Warsaw this past November, a group of exiled politicians called the Congress of People’s Deputies of Russia declared that in addition to ending the occupation of Crimea and other Ukrainian territories, Russia must pay reparations to Ukraine — and give up war criminals for trials. (The Congress was led by Ilya Ponomarev, the only member of Russia’s parliament to vote against the annexation of Crimea in 2014; he’s now living in exile in Ukraine.)

    The stakes could not be higher. Another exile organization, the Anti-War Conference of the Free Russia Forum organized by the former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former political prisoner, has stated that the conflict is not regional, that Putin’s war is not just with Ukraine but with the liberal Western world order. It is a war over the “basic values” of Western democratic civilization.

    Considering their importance to a Russian defeat and a successful outcome of the war, Russia's political émigrés deserve our support. So far, they have been adept at self-organization and, for the most part, at self-financing. The West’s assistance is needed mostly in lowering or removing bureaucratic barriers. For instance, the U.S. and the EU should be faster at processing temporary year-long visas for political exiles who have found quick but impermanent refuge in countries like Armenia, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Turkey. A recent study by the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank, also suggests that Western consulates should be more efficient in issuing work permits and refugee identification papers. Germany and the Czech Republic have already begun designating special categories of immigration for such cases to expedite processing.

    Yet the West should avoid arbitrating or taking sides in the inevitable internecine spats within the émigré community. The goal is an opposition that would as closely as possible reflect the diverse segments of the Russian political configuration that are today being flattened under the regime’s deadly weight. Herzen, again, shows the way in seeking to be as inclusive as possible and welcoming all those who were “not dead to human feelings” into “a single vast protest against the evil regime,” as Herzen’s biographer Isaiah Berlin put it.

    Nor should the West impose political tests; there should be only two criteria for acceptance and support of the political émigrés. One is an unconditional affirmation of Russia’s borders as of January 1, 1992. The other is a broad, deep, persistent and patient de-Stalinization and de-imperialization of Russia — cultural, educational, historiographic. Of course, it would be up to the Russians themselves to decide on how to accomplish these mammoth tasks. We can only hope that, resuming where the sincere but fitful glasnost assault on totalitarianism and the Soviet empire left off, a future Russia that’s at peace with its own people and the world would systematically expunge the foundation of the house that Putin built: Russia as a providential power, a “Third Rome” with a special God-given mission in the world; the equation of greatness with fear and terror; the primacy of state over individual; and the cult of violence.

    As in every modern mass migration, the civic-minded among the Russian immigrants — the human rights activists, bloggers, environmentalists and members of the political opposition — are a tiny minority: an estimated 10,000 men and women out of as many as 1.4 million who have left their country since the beginning of Putin’s third presidency in 2012. Yet the scale of their effort to edify and inspire has already by far exceeded their size.

    “We have saved the honor of the Russian name,” Herzen wrote to his fellow self-exile, 19th century writer Ivan Turgenev. That, ultimately, is why Russia's political émigrés deserve the West's admiration and its help.

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 15:05:04 -0500 ishook
    House Dems who were kicked off committees by Republicans air grievances against McCarthy

    A trio of House Democrats kicked off committees by Republicans took to CNN on Sunday to air grievances against Speaker Kevin McCarthy, accusing him of playing politics.


    The post House Dems who were kicked off committees by Republicans air grievances against McCarthy appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 15:00:04 -0500 ishook
    RNC’s Ronna McDaniel moves on after messy chair race, puts fresh focus on GOP grassroots

    Ronna McDaniel easily won reelection as Republican National Committee chairwoman, but the aggressive campaign to topple her nevertheless succeeded in spilling what is usually a family quarrel into the public sphere.


    The post RNC’s Ronna McDaniel moves on after messy chair race, puts fresh focus on GOP grassroots appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 15:00:04 -0500 ishook
    Concerns over prayer breakfast lead Congress to take it over

    The National Prayer Breakfast, one of the most visible and long-standing events that brings religion and politics together in Washington, is splitting from the private religious group that had overseen it for decades, due to concerns the gathering had become too divisive.


    The post Concerns over prayer breakfast lead Congress to take it over appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 15:00:04 -0500 ishook
    Memphis beating video puts spotlight on first police account

    Newly released video shows Memphis police officers battering motorist Tyre Nichols with punches and kicks and also using pepper spray and a baton, with Nichols howling in pain as he tried to shield the blows.


    The post Memphis beating video puts spotlight on first police account appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 15:00:04 -0500 ishook
    Durbin reflects on failed police reform: ‘That in and of itself is not enough’

    Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin doubled down on his party’s decision years ago in the wake of George Floyd’s murder to pass up bipartisan changes to policing to prevent deaths of unarmed Black men by law enforcement.


    The post Durbin reflects on failed police reform: ‘That in and of itself is not enough’ appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 15:00:03 -0500 ishook
    McCarthy, Biden to meet on debt limit as speaker says entitlements are ‘off the table’

    House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Biden will meet Wednesday to discuss lifting the nation’s $31.5 trillion debt ceiling to avoid default in June.


    The post McCarthy, Biden to meet on debt limit as speaker says entitlements are ‘off the table’ appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 14:55:03 -0500 ishook
    Jordan pours cold water on federal law enforcement reform after Memphis police kill Tyre Nichols

    House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan on Sunday pumped the brakes at the notion Congress should take up legislation to address policing in the wake of Tyre Nichols’ death at the hand of Memphis police officers.


    The post Jordan pours cold water on federal law enforcement reform after Memphis police kill Tyre Nichols appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 14:55:03 -0500 ishook
    Biden, McCarthy to discuss debt limit in talks on Wednesday

    House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Sunday he is looking forward to discussing with President Joe Biden a “reasonable and responsible way that we can lift the debt ceiling ” when the two meet Wednesday for their first sit-down at the White House since McCarthy was elected to the post.


    The post Biden, McCarthy to discuss debt limit in talks on Wednesday appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 14:55:03 -0500 ishook
    House Intelligence Committee chair cites ‘systematic problem’ in mishandling classified documents

    The Ohio Republican said he “can’t imagine a circumstance” in which politicians would need classified documents outside of their secured government locations.


    The post House Intelligence Committee chair cites ‘systematic problem’ in mishandling classified documents appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 14:55:03 -0500 ishook
    Trump says he’s ‘more committed now’ in his first campaign events in New Hampshire, South Carolina

    No longer the GOP’s shiny new object, former President Donald Trump over the weekend gave supporters a glimpse into how he plans to freshen up his act and confront simmering concerns over him leading the Republican ticket in 2024.


    The post Trump says he’s ‘more committed now’ in his first campaign events in New Hampshire, South Carolina appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 14:55:02 -0500 ishook
    Paul Pelosi Attack Suspect Tells TV Station He Has No Remorse Sun, 29 Jan 2023 12:25:05 -0500 ishook Russian diamonds lose their sparkle Sun, 29 Jan 2023 09:15:05 -0500 ishook Rishi Sunak fires minister after tax investigation Sun, 29 Jan 2023 08:05:02 -0500 ishook GOP national sales tax talk backfires, as Dems see political gold

    House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has backed his fellow Republicans into a corner with one of the promises he made to his far-right flank to land his job: opening the door to considering fringe legislation that would replace the income tax with a federal sales tax and abolish the IRS.

    Most GOP members appear determined to distance themselves as much as possible from the idea and McCarthy himself said this week he doesn't support the legislation. But Democrats aren't going to let the issue die quietly. They've been more than happy to use it as a cudgel to portray Republicans as dangerous radicals..

    “You gotta be kidding me. What in God's name is this all about?” President Joe Biden said Thursday about the plan, saying it would slap a 30 percent national sales tax on "every item from groceries, gasoline, clothing, supplies, [and] medicine."

    Various forms of the legislation, dubbed the "FairTax Act,"have been around for decades and attracted little serious attention from Republican leaders. But a spokesperson for Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia, one of the 21 GOP holdouts who initially blocked McCarthy’s speakership bid and is a co-sponsor of the legislation, said McCarthy promised that the legislation would go through the committee process.

    Forcing the discussion of the unpopular tax puts the GOP in a political bind that seems doomed to repeat itself for the House's slim majority. McCarthy must walk a tightrope between appeasing the renegade factions of his caucus and disassociating the party from policy proposals that could hurt Republicans at the ballot box.

    The newly anointed chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), said he’s committed to having a committee hearing on the legislation in which members can have an open and transparent debate.

    Supporters of the legislation argue that it would create a fairer, more transparent tax system. It would eliminate federal income, payroll and estate taxes and replace them with a 23 percent — or depending on the way you calculate it, 30 percent — national sales tax.

    But many Republican members of Ways and Means are so far treating the legislation like it’s radioactive.

    “I have no opinion yet,” said Rep. Carol Miller (R-W.Va.) when asked about the bill.

    “Let me withhold that for now,” said Rep. Randy Feenstra of Iowa, who is one of the 10 new GOP members to join the committee this Congress.

    Others were more blunt.

    “There’s never going to be a vote for it,” said Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), a policy wonk on the committee who proceeded to give his view of how FairTax is technically flawed. Schweikert said a more effective version of the idea would involve taxing goods at each point that value is added to them in the supply chain, rather than all at once at the point of sale.

    Sensing the political peril of the legislation, longtime tax critics from The Wall Street Journal editorial board to Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform have launched their own offensive against the legislation.

    "The Fair Tax isn’t happening and won’t survive regular order, despite assertions from Democrats like Chuck Schumer and President Biden," ATR said in an email blast. "In fact, House co-sponsorship of the Fair Tax Act is at a 20-year low. Support has been dwindling for the past decade, dropping by two-thirds since 2013."

    But the chief sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.), issued his own broadside disputing what he called the "myths" surrounding the bill.

    Taking on one of the biggest criticisms — that a national sales tax would hit lower-income folks as well as retirees particularly hard, while the rich would benefit disproportionately — Carter's release said: "The FairTax is the only progressive tax reform bill currently pending before Congress."

    "Each household will receive a monthly prebate based on federal poverty levels and household size that will allow families to purchase necessary goods, such as food, shelter, and medicine, essentially tax-free. This is similar to our current individual exemption and refundable tax credit system."

    Democrats aren’t wasting time debating the fine points.

    Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, in a Wednesday press conference, depicted the legislation as part of an extreme Republican agenda that would also target Social Security and other entitlement benefits.

    “I believe it would cause the next Great Depression if we would impose it. Thank God there are firewalls in Leader Jeffries and Democrats in the House.” Schumer said of the national sales tax, contending that data shows the tax would raise the cost of a household by $125,000, the cost of a car by $10,000 and the average grocery bill by $3,500 a year.

    A hearing on the FairTax bill wouldn't be unprecedented. The Ways and Means Committee held onein2011 when former Republican Rep. Dave Camp chaired the panel. It mostly faded from sight after that.

    Camp, who is now at PwC, cited some pressing questions he thinks the legislation raises.

    “Will it fill the revenue? Is it regressive? And what happens to state income tax?” he said in an interview this week.

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 08:05:02 -0500 ishook
    Israeli police seal off home of Jerusalem synagogue attacker

    JERUSALEM — Israeli police on Sunday sealed up the east Jerusalem home of a Palestinian attacker who killed seven people and wounded three outside a synagogue, one of several punitive measures approved by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet overnight.

    The move came following a deadly weekend in which seven people were killed and five others wounded in two separate shootings in Jerusalem, in one of the bloodiest months in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem in several years. The measures threatened to further raise tensions and cast a cloud over a visit next week by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

    The weekend shootings followed a deadly Israeli raid in the West Bank on Thursday that killed nine Palestinians, most of them militants. In response, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired a barrage of rockets into Israel, triggering a series of Israeli airstrikes in response. In all, 32 Palestinians have been killed in fighting this month.

    Addressing the Cabinet on Sunday morning, Netanyahu said that “we sealed the home of the terrorist who carried out the horrendous attack in Jerusalem, and his home will be demolished.”

    “We are not seeking an escalation, but we are prepared for any scenario. Our answer to terrorism is a heavy hand and a strong, swift and precise response,” he said.

    The police on Sunday released footage of Israeli army engineers welding metal plates over the windows and welding the front door shut as part of the operation in response to Friday night’s deadly shooting.

    Police said the attacker, identified as a 21-year-old east Jerusalem resident, was killed in a shootout with officers after fleeing the scene in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox east Jerusalem settlement of Neve Yaakov.

    On Saturday, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy opened fire elsewhere in east Jerusalem, wounding two Israeli men, paramedics said. The attacker was shot and hospitalized.

    Funerals for the victims in Friday’s shooting, the deadliest attack on Israelis since 2008, were scheduled to take place Sunday.

    Netanyahu’s Cabinet also said it plans a series of other punitive measures, including canceling social security benefits for the families of attackers, and would take steps to “strengthen the settlements” this week as part of the government’s response to the weekend’s attacks.

    Netanyahu said that strengthening settlements in the occupied West Bank was aimed at “sending a message to the terrorists that seek to uproot us from our land that we are here to stay.”

    Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. It has built dozens of settlements, now home to more than 500,000 Jewish settlers, in the decades since.

    Most of the international community considers the settlements an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians, who seek the West Bank as the heartland of a future independent state.

    In Cairo, Blinken opened his Mideast tour on Sunday and was to speak with students at the American University in the city before holding talks with Egyptian officials on Monday. He was then scheduled to travel to Israel for the most critical leg of the visit for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 08:05:02 -0500 ishook
    Iran says drone attack targets defense facility in Isfahan

    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Bomb-carrying drones targeted an Iranian defense factory in the central city of Isfahan overnight, authorities said early Sunday, causing some damage at the plant amid heightened regional and international tensions engulfing the Islamic Republic.

    The Iranian Defense Ministry offered no information on who it suspected carried out the attack, which came as a refinery fire separately broke out in the country’s northwest and a 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck nearby, killing three people.

    However, Tehran has been targeted in suspected Israeli drone strikes amid a shadow war with its Mideast rival as its nuclear deal with world powers collapsed. Meanwhile, tensions also remain high with neighboring Azerbaijan after a gunman attacked that country’s embassy in Tehran, killing its security chief and wounding two others.

    Details on the Isfahan attack, which happened around 11:30 p.m. Saturday, remained scarce. A Defense Ministry statement described three drones being launched at the facility, with two of them successfully shot down. A third apparently made it through to strike the building, causing “minor damage” to its roof and wounding no one, the ministry said.

    Iranian state television’s English-language arm, Press TV, aired mobile phone video apparently showing the moment that drone struck along the busy Imam Khomeini Expressway that heads northwest out of Isfahan, one of several ways for drivers to go to the holy city of Qom and Tehran, Iran’s capital. A small crowd stood gathered, drawn by anti-aircraft fire, watching as an explosion and sparks struck a dark building.

    “Oh my God! That was a drone, wasn’t it?” the man filming shouts. “Yeah, it was a drone.”

    Those there fled after the strike.

    That footage of the strike, as well as footage of the aftermath analyzed by The Associated Press, corresponded to a site on Minoo Street in northwestern Isfahan that’s near a shopping center that includes a carpet and an electronics store.

    Iranian defense and nuclear sites increasingly find themselves surrounded by commercial properties and residential neighborhoods as the country’s cities sprawl ever outward. Some locations as well remain incredibly opaque about what they produce, with only a sign bearing a Defense Ministry or paramilitary Revolutionary Guard logo.

    The Defense Ministry only called the site a “workshop,” without elaborating on what it made. Isfahan, some 350 kilometers (215 miles) south of Tehran, is home to both a large air base built for its fleet of American-made F-14 fighter jets and its Nuclear Fuel Research and Production Center.

    The attack comes after Iran’s Intelligence Ministry in July claimed to have broken up a plot to target sensitive sites around Isfahan. A segment aired on Iranian state TV in October included purported confessions by alleged members of Komala, a Kurdish opposition party that is exiled from Iran and now lives in Iraq, that they planned to target a military aerospace facility in Isfahan after being trained by Israel’s Mossad intelligence service.

    Activists say Iranian state TV has aired hundreds of coerced confessions over the last decade. Israeli officials declined to comment on the attack.

    Separately, Iran’s state TV said a fire broke out at an oil refinery in an industrial zone near the northwestern city of Tabriz. It said the cause was not yet known, as it showed footage of firefighters trying to extinguish the blaze. Tabriz is some 520 kilometers (325 miles) northwest of Tehran.

    State TV also said the magnitude 5.9 earthquake killed three people and injured 816 others in rural areas in West Azerbaijan province, damaging buildings in many villages.

    Iran’s theocratic government faces challenges both at home and abroad as its nuclear program rapidly enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels since the collapse of its atomic accord with world powers.

    Nationwide protests have shaken the country since the September death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish-Iranian woman detained by the country’s morality police. Its rial currency has plummeted to new lows against the U.S. dollar. Meanwhile, Iran continues to arm Russia with the bomb-carrying drone that Moscow uses in attacks in Ukraine on power plants and civilian targets.

    Israel is suspected of launching a series of attacks on Iran, including an April 2021 assault on its underground Natanz nuclear facility that damaged its centrifuges. In 2020, Iran blamed Israel for a sophisticated attack that killed its top military nuclear scientist.

    Israeli officials rarely acknowledge operations carried out by the country’s secret military units or its Mossad intelligence agency. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who recently re-entered the premiership, long has considered Iran to be the biggest threat his nation faces. The U.S. and Israel also just held their largest-ever military exercise amid the tensions with Iran.

    Meanwhile, tensions remain high between Azerbaijan and Iran as Azerbaijan and Armenia have fought over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Iran also wants to maintain its 44-kilometer (27-mile) border with landlocked Armenia — something that could be threatened if Azerbaijan seizes new territory through warfare.

    Iran in October launched a military exercise near the Azerbaijan border. Azerbaijan also maintains close ties to Israel, which has infuriated Iranian hard-liners, and has purchased Israeli-made drones for its military.

    Anwar Gargash, a senior Emirati diplomat, warned online that the Isfahan attack represented one more event in the “dangerous escalation the region is witnessing.” The United Arab Emirates was targeted in missile and drone attacks last year claimed by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

    It “is not in the interest of the region and its future,” Gargash wrote on Twitter. “Although the problems of the region are complex, there is no alternative to dialogue.”

    Sun, 29 Jan 2023 07:55:04 -0500 ishook
    Memphis police disband unit that beat Tyre Nichols

    MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis police chief on Saturday disbanded the city's so-called Scorpion unit after some of its officers beat to death Tyre Nichols, reversing an earlier statement that she would keep the unit intact.

    Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said she listened to Nichols' relatives, community leaders and uninvolved officers in making the decision.

    Referring to “the heinous actions of a few" that cast “a cloud of dishonor” on the unit, Davis said it was imperative that the department "take proactive steps in the healing process.”

    “It is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the Scorpion unit,” she said in a statement. She said the officers currently assigned to the unit agreed "unreservedly" with the step.

    The unit is composed of three teams of about 30 officers who target violent offenders in areas beset by high crime. It had been inactive since Nichols' Jan. 7 arrest.

    Scorpion stands for Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace in our Neighborhoods.

    Protestors marching though downtown Memphis cheered when they heard the unit had been dissolved. One protestor said over a bullhorn “the unit that killed Tyre has been permanently disbanded.”

    In an interview Friday with The Associated Press, Davis said she would not shut down a unit if a few officers commit “some egregious act” and because she needs that unit to continue to work.

    “The whole idea that the Scorpion unit is a bad unit, I just have a problem with that,” Davis said.

    The disbanding was announced as the nation and the city struggled to come to grips with video showing police pummeling the Black motorist.

    The footage released Friday left many unanswered questions about the traffic stop involving Nichols and about other law enforcement officers who stood by as he lay motionless on the pavement. It video also renewed doubts about why fatal encounters with law enforcement continue to happen after repeated calls for change.

    The five disgraced former Memphis Police Department officers, who are also Black, have been fired and charged with murder and other crimes in Nichols’ death three days after the arrest.

    The recording shows police savagely beating Nichols, a 29-year-old FedEx worker, for three minutes while screaming profanities at him in an assault that the Nichols family legal team has likened to the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King. Nichols calls out for his mother before his limp body is propped against a squad car and the officers exchange fist-bumps.

    The five officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith — face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.

    Sat, 28 Jan 2023 18:20:05 -0500 ishook
    At the Pentagon, push to send F&16s to Ukraine picks up steam

    A contingent of military officials is quietly pushing the Pentagon to approve sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine to help the country defend itself from Russian missile and drone attacks, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

    Ukraine has kept American-made F-16s on its weapons wish list since the Russian invasion last year. But Washington and Kyiv have viewed artillery, armor and ground-based air defense systems as more urgent needs as Ukraine seeks to protect civilian infrastructure and claw back ground occupied by Russian forces.

    As Ukraine prepares to launch a new offensive to retake territory in the spring, the campaign inside the Defense Department for fighter jets is gaining momentum, according to a DoD official and two other people involved in the discussions. Those people, along with others interviewed for this story, asked not to be named in order to discuss internal matters.

    Spurred in part by the rapid approval of tanks and Patriot air defense systems — which not long ago were off-limits for export to Ukraine — there is renewed optimism in Kyiv that U.S. jets could be next up.

    “I don’t think we are opposed,” said a senior DoD official about the F-16s, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive debate. The person stressed that there has been no final decision.

    However, Ukraine has yet to declare that fighter jets are its top priority, the official stressed, noting that the Pentagon is focused on sending Kyiv the capabilities it needs for the immediate fight.

    But fighter jets may be moving to the top spot soon. Kyiv has renewed its request for modern fighters in recent days, with a top adviser to the country’s defense minister telling media outlets that officials will push for jets from the U.S. and European countries.

    A top Ukrainian official said Saturday that Ukraine and its Western allies are engaged in “fast-track” talks on possibly sending both long-range missiles and military aircraft.

    One adviser to the Ukrainian government said the subject has been raised with Washington, but there has been “nothing too serious” on the table yet. Another person familiar with the conversations between Washington and Kyiv said it could take “weeks” for the U.S. to make a decision on shipments of its own jets and approve the re-export of the F-16s from other countries.

    "If we get them, the advantages on the battlefield will be just immense. ... It's not just F-16s: fourth generation aircraft, this is what we want,” Yuriy Sak, who advises Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov, told Reuters.

    A White House spokesperson declined to comment for this story, but pointed to remarks by deputy national security adviser Jon Finer. He said the U.S. would be discussing fighter jets “very carefully” with Kyiv and its allies.

    “We have not ruled in or out any specific systems,” Finer said on MSNBC Thursday.

    Ukraine wants modern fighters — U.S. Air Force F-16s or F-15s, or their European equivalents the German Tornado or Swedish Gripen — to replace its fleet of Soviet-era jets. Dozens of the more modern planes will become available over the next year as countries such as Finland, Germany and the Netherlands upgrade to U.S. F-35 fighters.

    Despite the age of Ukraine’s jets, Kyiv’s integrated air defenses have kept Russia from dominating its skies since the Feb. 24 invasion.

    But now, officials are concerned that Ukraine is running out of missiles to protect its skies. Once its arsenal is depleted, Russia’s advanced fighter jets will be able to move in and Kyiv “will not be able to compete,” said the DoD official involved in the discussions.

    Modern fighter jets could be one solution to this problem, argues a group of military officials in the Pentagon and elsewhere. F-16s carry air-to-air missiles that can shoot down incoming missiles and drones. And unlike the Patriots and National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems the West is currently sending, fighter jets can move around an area quickly to protect different targets.

    “If they get [F-16] Vipers and they have an active air-to-air missile with the radar the F-16 currently has with some electronic protection, now it’s an even game,” the DoD official said.

    Even if the U.S. decided not to send the Air Force’s F-16s, other Western nations have American-made fighters they could supply. For example, Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Wopke Hoekstra told the Dutch parliament last week that his Cabinet would look at supplying F-16s, if Kyiv requests them. But the U.S. must approve the transfer.

    Senior Pentagon officials acknowledge that Ukraine needs new aircraft for the long term. But for now, some argue that Ukraine has a greater need for more traditional air defenses, such as the Patriots and NASAMs that the U.S. and other countries are supplying, because jets may take months to arrive.

    Sending Ukraine F-16s “does not solve the cruise missile or drone problem right now,” the senior DoD official said.

    Big push for training

    Others say the need for fighter jets is more urgent. Ukraine has identified a list of up to 50 pilots who are ready now to start training on the F-16, according to a DoD official and a Ukrainian official, as well as three other people familiar with the discussions. These seasoned pilots speak English and have thousands of combat missions under their belts, and could be trained in as little as three months, the people said.

    Many of them have already trained with the U.S. military in major exercises before the invasion. In 2011 and 2018, Americans and Ukrainians participated in military drills in the skies over Ukraine. In 2011, the Americans brought over their F-16s and taught the Ukrainian pilots, in their MiG-29s and Su-27s, how to protect a stadium in preparation for the 2012 Euro Cup.

    After Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, the U.S. and Ukraine held a second joint 2018 exercise aimed at teaching Ukrainian pilots homeland defense tactics and controlling the skies. The American pilots used their F-15s to replicate Russian fighter tactics.

    Ukraine is pushing the U.S. to start training its fighter pilots on the F-16s now, before President Joe Biden approves supplying the jets, according to the Ukrainian official and one of the people familiar. But there is no appetite in the Pentagon for this proposal, U.S. officials said. One alternative under discussion at lower levels is to start training Ukrainian pilots on introductory fighter tactics in trainer jets.

    Ukraine has also considered contracting with private companies in the U.S. to begin training pilots, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.

    It’s likely U.S. military training would not start without a presidential decision to supply American fighters. One concern for the Biden administration all along is that sending advanced weapons could be seen by Russia as an escalation, prompting Vladimir Putin to use nuclear weapons.

    But officials point out that the F-16 was first built in the 1980s, and the Air Force is already retiring parts of the fleet. While sending Ukraine the stealthy American F-22s or F-35s would be considered escalatory, sending F-16s would not, they said.

    “Let’s face it, a nuclear war isn’t going to happen over F-16s,” the DoD official said.

    One European official agreed, saying F-16s “cannot be considered escalatory.”

    “It’s simply part of the toolkit of having conventional weapons,” the person said.

    Yet F-16s are complex systems that also require massive infrastructure and highly skilled technicians to operate and maintain. Training Ukrainian maintainers would likely take longer than training the pilots, and the U.S. may need to bring in contractors to do some of that instruction.

    Lawmaker support

    Providing F-16s is likely to win some support on Capitol Hill, where Democrats and Republicans alike have chided the administration for not moving quickly enough or for withholding certain capabilities, such as longer-range artillery. Sending Russian-made MiG fighters to Ukraine, via Eastern European countries that still fly them, won bipartisan support, though a weapons swap ultimately never came to fruition.

    Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), who co-chairs the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus, said he's "not against" providing F-16s to Kyiv, but broadly favors providing Ukraine with "whatever works."

    "You can't half-ass a war. Putin's not. You've got to meet Putin armor for armor, weapon for weapon, because there's already an extraordinary disadvantage in number of troops," Quigley said. "Whatever works, whatever they need, send to them.

    "My message when I first started talking about this is what were once vices are now habits," he said. “Everything we ever proposed was seen as escalatory."

    But the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), cast doubt on the need to send F-16s into the conflict, where fighters haven't proved pivotal.

    "I'm not opposed to it," Smith said. "It's just not at the top of the list of anybody's priorities who's focused on what [weapons] the fight really needs right now."

    He noted that F-16s, much like older MiG jets debated last year, would be vulnerable to Russian air defenses and fifth-generation fighters. Instead, Smith underscored the need to supply ammunition for air defense batteries, longer-range missiles, tanks and armored vehicles.

    "What we really need to be focused on is air defense, number one," he said. "And number two, artillery."

    Sat, 28 Jan 2023 16:35:03 -0500 ishook
    Trump hits the trail again, eager to show he's still the GOP King Kong

    SALEM, N.H. — Since announcing in November, Donald Trump had an unconventional start to his third presidential campaign: He did not campaign at all.

    That’s now changing, and part of the reason the former president is holding his first formal campaign events of 2024 in New Hampshire and South Carolina this weekend is that others may be forcing his hand.

    In recent days, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called Trump and suggested she would be announcing her decision to enter the presidential race soon, a conversation that a person familiar with it described as cordial (a Haley spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment).

    For months Trump has been tucked away at his resort in Palm Beach, where he has hosted parties, sent out missives on his social media site Truth Social, played golf, and plotted out his next steps.

    When he re-emerged on Saturday, flying to New Hampshire on his rehabbed Trump-branded 757 plane, he was determined to showcase himself as a candidate who still has the star power that catapulted him to the White House in 2016, and could once again elbow out a full field of Republican challengers.

    “They said ‘he's not doing rallies, he is not campaigning. Maybe he's lost his step,’” Trump said at a meeting of the New Hampshire Republican Party. “I’m more angry now, and I'm more committed now than I ever was.”

    Unlike 2020, when he ran unopposed as president, Trump is expected to have a field of Republican challengers to deal with this time around, beyond Haley. In anticipation of a crowded field, Trump’s campaign has compiled research on different potential candidates, according to an adviser. But Trump himself brushed off concerns that he is in danger of not securing the nomination. “I don’t think we have competition this time either, to be honest,” he said.

    At the New Hampshire GOP meeting, Trump announced outgoing New Hampshire GOP Chair Stephen Stepanek would help oversee his campaign in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

    And later in the day, at an appearance at the South Carolina statehouse, Trump is expected to announce endorsements from close ally and occasional golf buddy Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Republican Gov. Henry McMaster — a notable display of political muscle in Haley’s home state.

    But Republican activists in New Hampshire are plainly divided. As Stepanek rejoins the Trump campaign, outgoing Vice Chair Pamela Tucker was recruiting volunteers for Ron to the Rescue, a super PAC formed after the midterms to boost Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis if he runs for president.

    “We’re not never-Trumpers. We’re people who supported Trump. We love Trump. But we also know, more importantly, that we need to win. And Ron DeSantis has proven it time and time again now he can win elections,” Tucker said in an interview.

    Matt Mayberry, a former congressional candidate and past New Hampshire GOP vice chair who supported Trump and has appeared at rallies with him in the state, said he isn’t taking sides yet in the still-forming primary.

    “Let them all come,” he said.

    Walter Stapleton, a GOP state representative from Claremont, sat toward the back of the auditorium wearing a Trump hat. But he said he, too, was undecided as to whom he’s backing in 2024.

    “We have to put a candidate there that can win and maybe draw some of the independents and some of the voters from the other side of the aisle. I think DeSantis is the runner for that,” Stapleton said. “But I’m always willing to see if Trump will change his tack … and come across more balanced and more reasonable.”

    During his speech in New Hampshire, Trump doled out red meat to a friendly crowd. The crowd roared with applause when he said that, if elected, he would “eliminate federal funding for any school that pushes critical race theory or left-wing gender ideology,” and support “direct election of school principals by the parents.”

    His speech in New Hampshire echoed policy prescriptions he has released over the past several weeks in the form of video addresses, on issues such as education and protecting Social Security and Medicare. His team has seen those pronouncements as a way to maneuver back onto the political stage without having to organize the signature rallies that defined Trump’s prior bids.

    Saturday, however, was about preparing for life back on the trail. The day comes as Trump has dipped in recent polling from New Hampshire and South Carolina.

    Despite those surveys, Trump — the only declared candidate — consistently leads in national polls against a field of potential challengers, including DeSantis, his former vice president Mike Pence, and former members of his cabinet, including Mike Pompeo and Haley.

    Trump was joined Saturday by some familiar faces from his White House days, including social media guru Dan Scavino, political director Brian Jack, and Jason Miller, as well as his campaign’s new top lieutenants, Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita. The campaign has grown in recent months with a series of new hires and the establishment of a campaign headquarters in West Palm Beach, Florida, not far from Trump’s home in Mar-a-Lago.

    Along with staff from the Trump-allied Save America PAC, there are around 40 people working on Trump’s campaign, according to multiple advisers.

    There is a push for the campaign to be scrappier than it was in 2020, when a massive operation worked out of a slick office building in Arlington, Virginia. And that ethos, according to an adviser, extends to how Trump will approach fundraising with a focus on small-dollar donations over big donor events.

    The Trump campaign will still be working with longtime adviser Brad Parscale’s Nucleus to send out emails, and fellow GOP operative Gary Coby continues to handle digital communications for the campaign, such as text messaging. But the campaign is also working with an entirely new vendor in 2020 — Campaign Inbox — to help with digital fundraising.

    Both Trump and his team seemed eager on Saturday to get back to the hustle and bustle of his time in the White House, and there were signals he has kept his same habits. Following Trump on the plane on Saturday were his assistants — Natalie Harp, the young OAN-anchor turned aide, and Walt Nauta, who carried a giant stack of newspapers on board for Trump to read through on the flight. Margo Martin, a former White House press aide who has worked for Trump in Florida since his 2020 loss, watched from the tarmac as Trump boarded the plane with a wave.

    "We need a President who is ready to hit the ground running on day one, and boy am I hitting the ground running,” Trump said later in the day.

    Lisa Kashinsky contributed reporting from New Hampshire. 

    Sat, 28 Jan 2023 16:35:03 -0500 ishook
    Trump’s Evolution in Social&Media Exile: More QAnon, More Extremes Sat, 28 Jan 2023 14:40:04 -0500 ishook To Fix Its Problems in Ukraine, Russia Turns to the Architect of the War Sat, 28 Jan 2023 14:40:04 -0500 ishook Lawmakers press to remove oil boss from leading COP28 climate talks Sat, 28 Jan 2023 13:40:03 -0500 ishook Petr Pavel, former NATO general, to become next Czech president Mark Scott is chief technology correspondent for POLITICO. ]]> Sat, 28 Jan 2023 13:40:03 -0500 ishook Trump makes his first big move in New Hampshire

    Former President Donald Trump is tapping outgoing New Hampshire GOP Chair Stephen Stepanek to help oversee his campaign in the first-in-the-nation primary state, according to a person with direct knowledge of the hire.

    Stepanek, a state co-chair for Trump’s 2016 campaign who went on to serve two terms as head of the state GOP, will serve as a senior adviser focused on New Hampshire, the person said. Trump plans to announce his hire at the party’s annual meeting Saturday, where members will also be voting on Stepanek’s successor.

    The choice of Stepanek signals a potential return to the roots of Trump’s 2016 campaign in the state that handed him his first primary win that year. Trump lost New Hampshire by a fraction of a point in that general election. Four years later, the state slipped away from him badly, as he lost to President Joe Biden by 7 points.

    But Stepanek’s involvement is also likely to rankle some Republican activists. State committee members were clamoring for a change in party leadership after a disastrous election in which the GOP’s slate of hard-right, pro-Trump congressional candidates got pummeled and the party lost seats in the state Legislature. Stepanek was expected to face a challenger for party chair before he decided not to seek a third term.

    And it will do little to quell concern among some of Trump’s former allies in the state about the seriousness of his operation as he mounts his third bid for the White House.

    Associates from Trump’s past campaigns have expressed frustration with what they describe as lackluster — or nonexistent — communication since his November launch. At least one key ally was left in the dark about the former president’s visit this weekend, his first trip back to the state since 2020.

    And while Trump will likely lock in some old supporters during his visit, others are holding off on recommitting as they wait to see how the Republican primary develops.

    Interviews with 16 former Trump aides and allies, veteran presidential campaign operatives and current and former party officials revealed heavy interest among Republican operatives and activists in his biggest potential rival — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

    And a University of New Hampshire survey released this week showed the Florida governor with a 12-point lead over Trump among likely New Hampshire GOP primary voters — despite DeSantis not setting foot in the state in recent months. Younger operatives in particular expressed an eagerness to be scooped up by DeSantis, whom they see as the next big thing.

    “President Trump starts the [New Hampshire] primary season as a frontrunner but his standing isn't what it once was,” veteran New Hampshire consultant Jim Merrill said. “There is curiosity among voters and operatives alike to check out the potential field.”

    Ron to the Rescue, a pro-DeSantis super PAC formed after the midterms to boost the governor if he runs for president, is also setting up shop at the New Hampshire GOP’s meeting Saturday. The PAC has been planning to attend the event for a couple of months — long before Trump was set to deliver the keynote — to hand out DeSantis-themed swag like hats and koozies and to sign up in-state volunteers to support its effort.

    Trump’s last-minute appearance “really throws this intriguing dynamic into the whole event,” John Thomas, a GOP consultant who founded the PAC, said in an interview.

    Other potential contenders are also drawing interest — and have spent years cutting into Trump’s advantages in New Hampshire. Former Vice President Mike Pence, former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have become fixtures in the state after making several visits each the past two years. Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has also made the trek north to “Politics & Eggs” at St. Anselm, a prerequisite stop for would-be presidential hopefuls. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) has headlined multiple party fundraisers over the years.

    The state’s popular four-term governor, Chris Sununu, is a wildcard. Sununu hasn’t ruled out a presidential bid and has been acting like someone who’s gearing up to run, though several seasoned operatives in the state doubt he’ll go for it after declining to run for Senate last year.

    The interviews with Republicans highlight the steep hurdles ahead for Trump in New Hampshire. Despite his pedigree as former president and de facto leader of the GOP, nothing will be handed to him.

    Some Republicans see Trump’s early trip as a sign the former president expects a crowded primary — and is willing to compete. Though the former president has been absent from the state since 2020, he still has time to assemble a team and organize his campaign, especially with other competitors taking their time getting in.

    On Saturday, he’ll speak directly to a few hundred GOP activists in a high school auditorium — in contrast to the arena-size crowds he commanded in the run-up to the 2020 election. Trump will then head to South Carolina for another smaller-scale event.

    “This shows me that one, he’s going to work to win this nomination and two, he’s not taking it for granted,” longtime New Hampshire Republican consultant Mike Dennehy said.

    Republicans have been waiting for Trump to emerge from Mar-a-Lago after keeping an uncharacteristically low profile since his fall announcement.

    His lack of infrastructure buildup in New Hampshire had concerned some Republicans who worked on his previous campaigns. His New Hampshire trip wasn’t added to his schedule until Monday, nearly two weeks after aides announced plans for an event in South Carolina.

    Joshua Whitehouse, who served as Trump’s New Hampshire coalitions director in 2016 and went on to work in his administration, said in an interview that the former president’s “grassroots are still there” but that the “main gap is staffing and infrastructure.”

    “Once he puts those ducks in a row, he can be smooth sailing,” Whitehouse said.

    Sat, 28 Jan 2023 13:40:03 -0500 ishook
    ‘There Is a Real Sense That the Apocalypse Is Coming’

    When Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — many of them carrying Christian symbols like crucifixes, statues of the Virgin Mary and even life-sized portraits of Jesus Christ — a terrible thought occurred to Bradley Onishi: "Could I have been there?"

    For much of his young adult life, Onishi had been steeped in the very same mixture of religiosity and radical far-right politics that was on display at the Capitol. After growing up in a secular household in Orange County, California, Onishi joined an evangelical megachurch at age 14. During high school, he led prayer meetings during lunch break and handed out anti-abortion pamphlets to his classmates. By the time he was 20, he had married his high school sweetheart, taken a job as a full-time youth minister and made plans to enter the seminary.

    “I wasn't just a member of a church. I was a leader, and somebody who gave everything that I had to faith and to my community,” Onishi says today.

    In college, though, as Onishi began to learn more about the history of American evangelicalism, he discovered that the theology he had embraced as a teenager wasn’t merely a reflection of eternal biblical truths. It was also the product of a particular style of conservative Christian politics. Eventually, he came to view evangelicalism as inextricably intertwined with American nationalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and xenophobia. Eleven years after joining the church, he left his faith behind to pursue a career as a writer and academic.

    Now, two years after Jan. 6 rioters carried the cross to the Capitol, Onishi — a faculty member at the University of San Francisco and the co-host of the popular podcast Straight White American Jesus — is bringing his background in the evangelical movement to bear on the rise of white Christian nationalism.

    Premised on the belief that America is a white Christian nation whose laws and culture should reflect its biblical heritage, Christian nationalism has attracted fresh scrutiny in recent months thanks to endorsements from prominent Republicans like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and failed Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano. But what’s been missing from the broader conversation about the movement, Onishi argues in his new book, Preparing for War: The Extremist History of White Christian Nationalism — and What Comes Next, is a nuanced sense of how contemporary strains of white Christian nationalism relate to earlier iterations of conservative Christian politics.

    For Onishi, understanding the history behind today’s movement doesn’t just explain white evangelicals' support for Trump or demystify the religious valences of Jan. 6. It also provides a window into the political forces shaping the American right as a whole.

    “There is a real sense [among white Christian nationalists] that the apocalypse is coming for this country if [they] don't do something radical,” Onishi says. “The idea that they would continue in ways that are standard — campaigns, voting drives, national renewal through ecumenical movements — that went by the wayside.”

    The following has been edited for clarity and concision.

    Ward: You identified the origins of white Christian nationalism in the conservative counter-revolution to the social and political changes of the 1960s. Ideologically, that backlash took the form of anti-communism, libertarianism and militant social conservatism. How did Christian identity fit into that matrix?

    Onishi: Christian identity provided a very expansive story to that movement. It offered a story that could unite people who may have had disparate ideas about policy or who came from different regional settings. If you have a story that says, “This is a Christian country, it was built for and by Christians” — and implicitly stated these are white Christians — you start to have a narrative that is, in some tragic sense, a unifying one.

    It also gives extraordinary authority to ordinary political policies and movements. It says that the push to overturn Roe v. Wade, or some military or foreign policy matter, is not just a political matter, as pressing as it may be. It's actually something that is of divine importance.

    I think the last thing it does is it puts those who buy into this story on the side of God. That may sound trite, but when you have an understanding of yourself as playing a special role in history, as outlined by the Creator, your political life takes on a supercharged dimension. I think we saw that on Jan. 6.

    Ward: An important but underappreciated factor in the rise of white Christian nationalism were two Supreme Court cases in the 1960s pertaining to prayer in schools — Engel v. Vitale in 1962and Abington v. Schempp in 1963. How did the reaction to those decisions shape the early Christian nationalist movement?

    Onishi: In essence, what those cases did was make it illegal for public school districts to teach the Bible in their curricula as a religious text, as something that is instructive for all students. They also banned prayer in school on the part of school officials and school authorities. What those court cases did for many Americans was just to say, “Look, if you're a Jewish kid sitting in a fourth-grade classroom, or a non-religious kid sitting in a junior high, you don't have to start your day with the principal saying a Christian prayer or a teacher saying that it's now time for us to do our daily Bible reading.”

    However, they were framed [by conservative Christians] as signs that the United States was moving toward an anti-Christian and an anti-God future. They were presented as taking God out of schools, taking prayer out of schools, taking the Bible out of schools — and this became their rallying cry. It was so easy for ministers and political leaders to say, “Well, when you take God out of the schools, what do you expect to happen to the country? Children are going to lose their way, the country is going to fall into chaos, and we have no choice but to challenge public school curricula and send our kids to private Christian schools that are going to emphasize God and a God-focused curriculum.”

    Ward: “They’re taking God out of the schools,” has persisted as a rallying cry among conservative Christians, but you point out in the book that that was really only half the equation. The other half was captured in a quotation from George Andrews, a congressman from Alabama, who responded to the Supreme Court decisions on prayer in schools by saying, “They put the Negroes in the schools and now they've driven God out.”

    Onishi: I think that quote from George Andrews really provides us with both factors that are at play here. The context for this debate is the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that integrated schools across the United States, particularly in the South. There were many white families that did not want to send their children to integrated schools, and this led to the advent of hundreds of schools attached to churches that were, in essence, segregation academies. They did not allow Black students.

    If we fast forward to the late 1960s and early 1970s, the IRS and the federal government began threatening to take away the tax-exempt status of those churches if they continued to practice segregation. This led to a second rallying cry: that the federal government is interfering in the life of the American church, that it is persecuting Christians, and that it's persecuting the choices of families who want to send their children to the schools of their choice. The George Andrews quote really encapsulates how racism and a sense of Christian persecution are the double foundations of this early movement.

    Ward: Hopefully POLITICO’s readers will be familiar with Randall Balmer’s argument about “the abortion myth” — the thesis that the issue that first mobilized evangelicals politically was the fight over school segregation and not the fight over abortion.

    Onishi: I'm happy to say that Balmer outlined that history in grand detail in POLITICO and elsewhere.

    Ward: You also argue that Barry Goldwater's campaign in 1964 prefigured some of the Christian nationalist themes that became more explicit in the 1970s. Goldwater famously broke with the religious right in the 1980s, but how did his campaign contribute to the incipient white Christian nationalist project?

    Onishi: Goldwater presented an uncompromising conservatism. He was bombastic on the campaign trail. He said that we might need to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam. He said that while he personally supported the idea that Black and white folks in the South should live and work next to each other, he said that he was not going to sign any laws that forced integration. And he famously delivered a line during his presidential nomination acceptance speech where he said, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

    I think that's worth thinking about. In essence, he's saying that in times like these — the 1960s, when the civil rights movement was brewing, there were calls for immigration reform, women were pushing for independence and autonomy — extremism is the way that you can keep a hold on your country. Extremism is the modus operandi you are going to need to adopt if you are going to continue to hold positions of power in the political, social and economic realms. The foot soldiers of Goldwater's campaign never forget this message.

    Ward: Speaking of his foot soldiers, historians often point to the formation of the Moral Majority in 1979 as the moment when the religious fervor of evangelicals like Jerry Falwell formally entered into a political alliance with the political extremism of the New Right, led by former Goldwater supporters like Paul Weyrich and Richard Viguerie. But in some respects, that moment marked not only the beginning of a new sort of conservative politics, but also the culmination of a decades-long project of organization and collaboration between those two camps. What sort of political legwork went into making that union possible?

    Onishi: Goldwater lost in a landslide in ’64, but his foot soldiers never lost their enthusiasm for his message and for this extremism. So throughout the ’60s, people like Paul Weyrich, Richard Viguerie and Morton Blackwell were working to build a political apparatus that would match what they saw on the Democratic side. What they wanted to do was take all of the charisma of Goldwater and turn it into a set of institutions and bureaucracies that would enable the takeover of the GOP and of American politics writ large.

    What they realize in the early 1970s is that they don’t have enough votes, but they realize that if they can form a coalition with white, conservative Christians, they can find tens of millions of votes. And if they can promise the leaders of that movement — someone like Jerry Falwell — access to power, [those leaders] will no longer be laughed away as backward, rural Christians or old-timey people that have not caught up with modern America. This coalition building was already happening in the late ’60s and early ’70s, well before the official formation of the Moral Majority in 1979.

    Ward: Weyrich, in particular, was not coy about his aims. For instance, you cite his statement: “We are all radicals working to overturn the present power structure.” If that's not a pretty clear echo of Goldwater's endorsement of political extremism, I don't know what is.

    Onishi: That's exactly right. And Weyrich said that as somebody who was actively building the Council for National Policy and the Heritage Foundation. It's easy to write him off as a boring institution builder, but what he was trying to do was instill the revolution into the institutions that make the GOP move and run — and he succeeded, largely.

    Ward: One of the first actions of the New Religious Right was to declare war on Jimmy Carter. Carter was an evangelical, but he embodied a very different style of evangelical politics. What did the clash between the New Religious Right and the Carter administration reveal about the nature of their project?

    Onishi: Jimmy Carter was almost made in a lab, in terms of being a white Christian president. He's a Southern Baptist by birth, a military officer, a peanut farmer, and married to his high school sweetheart. However, when Carter got into the White House, he put more women and people of color in the judiciary than anyone before him. He was not publicly outraged by calls for more representation of gay Americans and gay families. He was not taking a hard-line stance on abortion. And perhaps most damning was that he was a dove on foreign policy — he wanted to use diplomacy when it came to America's interest in conflicts all over the world.

    It was all of those components that led Weyrich, Falwell and their cohorts to put everything they had behind Ronald Reagan, who was not one of them in a very strict sense. What this tells me is that their project was about power and not piety.

    Ward: Another defining feature of the New Religious Right was an intense focus on “family values” — and in particular on a certain vision of sexual purity — embodied by groups like James Dobson's Focus on the Family. You write very movingly in the book about how purity culture influenced your own upbringing, but could you explain how the movement’s intense focus on individual purity also contributed to its political radicalism?

    Onishi: Purity culture dates back to the ’80s and ’90s, and it is a movement within predominantly evangelical churches that encourages young people to abstain from sex before marriage. But it goes further than that. It teaches that one should abstain from sexual thoughts before marriage, because even a sexual thought is adultery, and it teaches really rigid gender roles about men being leaders.

    But there's another component that often goes missing when we discuss purity culture. It was a project of national renewal. The idea was that if churches could get their young people to build the right kind of families with the right kind of straight, patriarchal relationships, and if they could get them to abstain from anything that transgressed any of those boundaries, then those families could be the building blocks of the right kind of America. What this meant was excluding any sense of impurity, not only in teenage relationships but in the American body politic as a whole. And impurity in this vision is infection coming from immigrants and the infecting of the American bodies through queer families and queer relationships that are not part of God's plan.

    So the idea of purity when it comes to the individual teenager is really just a projection of a national renewal project that envisions a pure American body that is heterosexual, white, native-born, that speaks English as a first language, and that is thoroughly patriarchal. You can see how the theology and the politics really go together here.

    Ward: The religious right’s attitudes toward democracy also started to shift in the 1990s. What prompted that shift?

    Onishi: In the last five or six years, we've seen a surprising affinity with Russia on the part of some white Christian leaders and politicians in this country. But that affinity did not start in the Trump era. That affinity started before the dawning of the new millennium, and it started because by the 1990s, Weyrich realized that he wasn’t going to get the votes that he had been searching for since the 1970s. He realized that the country was changing and that the demographics were not in his favor — and if you don't have the votes, democracy is not the mode you want to operate in.

    What Weyrich also started to realize was that [Russian President Vladmiri] Putin — who was rising to power throughout the early aughts — was starting to harness the rhetoric of the Orthodox Church by talking about Russia's spiritual heritage and its Christian values. And he was doing that as somebody who increasingly did not have to wait for Congress or courts or anyone else to make decisions. Weyrich realizes that this kind of governance structure — with a strong man at the top who uses the powers of the church — is probably the most effective way to build the kind of nation that he wants. What results is a sense that Putin — and eventually Viktor Orbán in Hungary — are examples of the kind of leaders that Christian nationalists want. There's a sense that democracy may have to be martyred in order to save the American nation.

    Ward: That anti-democratic tendency dovetails with a proclivity on the religious right for a kind of conspiratorial approach to politics. For instance, you cite a recent poll that found that around 50 percent of nondenominational Christians today believe in some elements of the QAnon conspiracy. What political purpose do conspiracy theories serve on the religious right?

    Onishi: I think it is easy to write people off as irrational or unhinged when they engage in conspiracy theories, but if we ask what conspiracy theories do in the context of the religious right, we arrive at a kind of power analysis.

    This is a group that is used to having an enormous amount of privilege and influence over American politics, culture and economics, and over the last 60 years, they have increasingly felt as if that power has been slipping away. In my mind, conspiracy theories are a very effective way to mobilize one's community and to leverage what is actually real and true in the public square, even if you don't have the evidence or data to back it up. For the religious right, conspiracy is a reaction to not having unilateral decision-making power over what is accepted as true and unreal in the American public square. In many senses, conspiracy is a revenge fantasy — it's an expression of resentment that says, “We are the ones who decide what is fact, we're the ones who decide what is real, and we are going to push that vision on the public square even if you continue to tell us that there is no actual evidentiary basis for it.”

    Ward: Shifting to the present day, the ubiquity of Christian symbols on Jan. 6 underscored the lines of continuity between older conservative Christian movements and today’s white Christian nationalist movement. But is there anything new or different about today's movement that distinguishes it from the religious right of the past?

    Onishi: There is a sense of acceleration in today’s movement. In the Obama years, you had somebody who really embodied the fears of the counter-revolution of the ’60s: a mixed-race man with a Black family, a Muslim dad, an immigrant dad, somebody who grew up in Hawaii, that far-away corner of the Union. And then during his presidency, through the Obergefell decision, same-sex marriage is made legal. So in the wake of that presidency, there is a real sense [among white Christian nationalists] that the apocalypse is coming for this country if we don't do something radical. The idea that they would continue in ways that are standard — campaign, voting drives, national renewal through ecumenical movements — that went by the wayside.

    What set in during 2016 — and has remained with us ever since — is militant rhetoric that says, “It's now all-out warfare.” What I've seen — and what I've documented with my colleague Matt Taylor — is an exponential rise in the rhetoric of spiritual warfare. You have pastors who have influence over hundreds of thousands of people saying, “It is time to get your swords bloody, it is time to realize you're in the battle for your life, it is time to realize that the demons controlling the Democratic Party, the deep state and the United States government will not stop until they have rooted out God from this country.” And that kind of rhetoric is not something that you see from the Jerry Falwells or the Ronald Reagans of the ’70s and ’80s. That kind of acceleration, I think, is what enables political and actual violence to be legitimated from religious communities and by religious people.

    Ward: Does that help..

    Sat, 28 Jan 2023 13:40:03 -0500 ishook
    ‘Thousands of Men Have Come Home Because of Him’

    DENVER — If you are a close relative of a soldier, or a sailor, or a Marine, or a pilot who is still missing in action, there’s a good chance you’ve sat across a table from a tall, mustachioed man with a light Texas drawl looking for answers.

    At the first such meeting, he would more than likely have soberly recounted the circumstances of your loved one’s disappearance in battle. He would have cautioned you about the numerous obstacles to locating your relative’s remains — the passage of time, the perilous terrain, the lack of records, uncooperative foreign governments, or an apartment block now standing where the battle or plane crash happened. But he would also have assured you that every possible lead was being pursued to try to solve the cold case of your missing father or brother or uncle.

    Over the years, you might have had so many of these conversations with this man that you came to know him on a first-name basis, even added him to your family’s Christmas card list. Because if anyone representing the American government was going to bring you and your family closure, it was likely going to be “Johnie.”

    For nearly half a century, Johnie Webb has been the heart and soul of the Pentagon’s effort to put the pieces back together for thousands of families whose loved ones were taken prisoner, killed in action, or buried in an unknown grave and never got their proper homecoming. He has navigated the fraught politics in the aftermath of an unpopular war, balancing the sometimes competing interests of Congressional budgets with those of anguished family members who turned their grief into activism. Though approximately 80,000 U.S. service members are still unaccounted for, the team Webb built at what is now the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has located and identified and returned to their families for a proper burial the remains of more than 3,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines from far-flung battlefields as far back as World War II and as recent as Iraq.

    He has also been the personal emissary of a government that asked its citizens to risk making the ultimate sacrifice — but couldn’t always fully honor that sacrifice. He has crisscrossed the United States — logging more than 3 million miles on one airline alone — sharing with families the latest on their loved ones’ cases. Whether the news was good or bad, or there was none at all — just more promises to keep searching — Johnie delivered it, face-to-face. 

    Most recently, and quite possibly for the last time, Webb, 77, performed the ritual on a gloomy weekend in September, at a Doubletree hotel in Denver that drew 164 relatives related to 89 MIAs. There were many familiar faces. Like the family members of Air Force Captain Michael Lee Klingner, who took their seats around a table in one of the partitioned ballrooms. 

    There was his widow, Jane Adams, who has never given up hope of finding the remains of her first husband since his F-100D Super Sabre was shot down over Laos on April 6, 1970. There were his older brother, Tom, and sister-in-law Andrea, and Marty Russell, Klingner’s best friend from high school in Nebraska. They were joined by a pair of Pentagon analysts, armed with reports, charts and maps.

    And, of course, Johnie.

    “I won’t let you off the hook,” Jane Adams ribbed him. 

    “You don’t have to remind me of that,” Webb chuckled. “I know you have my phone number. It’s on your speed dial.”

    “So you can’t retire,” was her rejoinder, setting off a round of laughter.

    But he has. A few months after the Denver meeting, Webb cleaned out his office at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu, where the facility he helped build and ran for more than a decade as an Army officer has evolved into one of the most advanced forensic laboratories in the world, regularly pushing the boundaries of DNA research.

    Yet the Texas farm boy has always considered his most sacred duty to be consoling the grieving mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, grandchildren, nephews, and nieces who are still seeking closure all these decades later — taking their calls at all hours, keeping them regularly informed, and promising that their loved one would not be forgotten. 

    “I had one daughter who came out and said, ‘I never really got to know my dad. My mom wouldn’t talk to me much about him. It wasn’t until you identified my dad and all of those who served with him started getting in contact with us and I got to talk to them and they would tell me war stories about things they did with my dad. So for the first time, I felt like I got to know my dad,’” Webb told me during one of several recent interviews looking back on his storied career.

    “When you hear stories like that,” he continued, “it can’t help but have an impact on you.”

    Even the relatives of Vietnam-era MIAs, who have been among the harshest critics of the Pentagon’s efforts to locate MIAs and POWs and still distrust the government’s word, consider Webb one of their own.

    “Johnie, just the name — without rank or position — is legendary in the POW/MIA community,” Ann Mills-Griffiths, who served as executive director of the League for 33 years, wrote in a tribute to Webb that was read at his recent retirement ceremony in Hawaii.

    “Not just the Vietnam War,” she continued, “but all wars back to World War II and sometimes even further back into our history.”

    Dr. Thomas Holland, the gregarious former lab chief who himself has been part of the MIA recovery effort for more than 30 years, recalled some of the ups and downs that Webb guided him through in a job that has never lacked for adventure or disappointment. 

    “I hired and fired anthropologists with Johnie,” Holland said in his own tribute. “I attended funerals with Johnie. I talked with angry family members in public and private settings with Johnie. And I briefed uninformed congressmen in D.C. with Johnie. I cussed out generals … and left Johnie to smooth things over afterward. I drank gin and tonics at family updates with Johnie. I went to Cambodia where the Khmer Rouge threatened to kill us with Johnie. And I went to League meetings where [Ann Mills-Griffiths] threatened to kill us with Johnie.

    “No one, no one deserves more credit for making the POW/MIA issue a national one,” Holland added. “Thousands of men have come home to their families because of him. That is as good and sound a legacy as any man can hope to have.”

    ‘It was pretty rowdy, to say the least’

    In 1968 and 1969, perhaps the deadliest period of the Vietnam war, Army 1st Lt. Johnie E Webb Jr. was a logistics officer running supply convoys near the Cambodian border.

    “We’d get ambushed by the Vietnamese,” he recalled. “Of course, a great target is a 5,000-gallon tanker with all that fuel in it. But fortunately, during the time I was there, we only lost one man.”

    By 1975, as the Americans were completing their ignominious withdrawal from Southeast Asia, Webb’s organizational skills landed him an assignment in Thailand as the operations officer of the Army’s Central Identification Laboratory, which was established to identify fallen service members from the conflict.

    Webb was ultimately put in charge of moving the lab in 1978 from Thailand to its current location in Hawaii when the communist governments of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia blocked access to search teams. So Webb pushed to expand the search to other battle zones from earlier wars. 

    In 1978, he led one of the first recovery missions to Papua New Guinea to bring home the remains of missing World War II fliers. The jungle island, where in some areas tribal rule and warfare still reigned, posed its own set of dangers. “We were warned when we went down there,” Webb said of the early missions to New Guinea. He was told that tribes could exact deadly revenge for any damage to their land or property. 

    Over the years Webb also made two dozen trips to North Korea to negotiate with the reclusive regime, whose lack of cooperation in locating allied dead from the Korean War is one of the most frustrating chapters in the annals of the MIA recovery effort.

    “Sometimes they lived up to the agreement, sometimes they didn’t,” he told me. “We wanted to go to the POW camps. They wouldn’t let us do that.”

    By the early 1980s, Webb was running the entire MIA recovery effort when the U.S.’s former adversaries in Southeast Asia began to relent. “There was a period of time we were going every other month, taking information in, records in, to share with the Vietnamese,” he said.

    “I will never forget our first drive from the airport into Hanoi,” Webb said. “You’d cross the bridge over the Red River and you could see all the damage [from] all the bombings that we had done.”

    But back home Webb and his team were under attack. The families of the missing were demanding the government press harder to locate their relatives who they believed might still be alive in prisoner of war camps. The biggest group of detractors was the National League of POW/MIA Families, which was organized by many of the wives of the missing — including Jane Adams. 

    “We used to say going to a League meeting was like going into the Wild, Wild West,” Webb said. “It was pretty rowdy, to say the least.” 

    The criticism continued even into the early 1990s, when dissatisfied families at one of the gatherings interrupted a speech by President George H.W. Bush, shouting “no more lies.”

    Webb led the first MIA recovery mission into Vietnam in 1985 and steadily managed to secure more personnel and funding for the mission. He enlisted troops with a broader range of skills — from explosives experts to help navigate battlefields or crash sites littered with leftover bombs to mountaineering specialists to repel down treacherous hillsides — to carry out more recoveries, in more places. And he hired additional anthropologists, scientists, historians and genealogists.

    The advance of forensic science, combined with more regular access to some of the world’s most remote locations, has increased the pace of successful recoveries in recent years — with nearly 1,300 identifications since 2015 alone.

    It also meant that Webb was often away from his wife of more than 50 years, Scher, his son J.D. and daughter, Shalena. 

    “He was thousands of miles away, often in the middle of a jungle for weeks at a time or in a foreign country negotiating with foreign dignitaries for access to crash sites,” his daughter, Shalena, told me. “As a child, my friends would ask, ‘Where is your dad?’ and I wouldn’t know.”

    In 1994, when Webb retired from active duty as a lieutenant colonel on a Friday, he returned to work the following Monday, this time as a civilian employee. He has remained ever since, filling a series of top posts, and has become a mentor for generations of military officers, enlisted personnel and scientists who have toiled alongside him. And multiple times a year he led gatherings like the one in Denver, where he methodically briefed dozens of families on the status of the searches.

    ‘Vietnam War losses are still our number one priority’

    The families of the missing signed in for the day-long agenda in the main ballroom, covering the agency’s field and lab work. Place settings had been prepared ahead of time, including literature about the MIA mission and case summaries of attendees’ loved ones.

    “We love to have family members visit us in Hawaii,” Webb told one elderly couple attending for the first time.  “We’ll give you a grand tour.”

    In another room down the hall, staff swabbed family members for DNA, in the hopes of one day matching the samples to the recovered remains of their missing relatives. Webb also had a full schedule of private meetings with families in rooms across the hall, each devoted to a different conflict.

    One family member came to the Doubletree even though her missing loved one had already been returned. A glimpse of Patricia Gaffney in the lobby immediately softened Johnie’s usually stoic demeanor. “Patricia is one of my first loves in this business,” he confided to me after they greeted each other. “I have had a lot of first loves.”

    Gaffney was born three months after her father George was reported missing over New Guinea in 1944. When she learned Webb would be in Denver for the weekend, she didn’t want to miss a chance to see the man who was so instrumental in the return of her father’s remains in 1999.

    I asked her what role Webb played in her achieving closure. “That word has never satisfied me,” she told me. “This whole thing was about opening an aperture. It was about learning about my father. We missed each other by 102 days.”

    And she said it was Webb who helped her to get to know him. “Johnie has been a very important person in my life, a connection between me and my father,” she said. “He stood with me in the mortuary when I was with my father’s remains for the first time.”

    For the family of Capt. Klingner, the search is still on.

    Webb deferred to the Pentagon analysts to go over the latest for Jane Adams. Another excavation took place last March at the crash site in Laos that is believed to be where her husband was shot down, one of numerous visits to the area dating back more than 15 years. This time, the recovery team found some of Klingner’s personal gear, including an ID located roughly 30 feet from the cockpit area of the wreckage. It was a strong indication, the family was told, that Klingner went down with the plane.

    “The recommendation was to continue the excavation in the future,” one of the analysts reported. 

    It was not exactly what Adams wanted to hear after all these years. “Does that make Mike’s case a higher priority?” she asked.

    “I’ll step in and answer that,” Webb interjected. “Yes. Fair enough. We know exactly who was lost there. We still have got to get in there as quickly as possible now and complete the excavation of the area that we’ve started.”

    She still sounded wary, remarking that Webb previously told her about the impact of budget cuts.

    “We didn’t have enough money to put teams in for Vietnam and Laos for three or four quarters,” he acknowledged, explaining that Congress’ repeated delays in passing annual appropriations bills have delayed the agency’s ability to mount all the missions it had planned.

    “OK. So it’s still worth lobbying,” she said. 

    “Absolutely. Absolutely,” he said. “I’m glad you asked that question. Yes.”

    Adams also said she feared that missions to recover MIAs from the Korean War and World War II could be taking precedence over the search for her husband. 

    “I don’t want you to think that takes away from the Vietnam War,” Webb insisted. “It does not.” 

    “Some people feel it does,” Adams responded.

    “I recognize that,” he said. “But I want to tell you it does not detract from going into Vietnam and Laos. It has not pulled any teams out of there. Vietnam War losses are still our number one priority.”

    Webb also committed to get her a full copy of the field report from the last excavation of her husband’s suspected crash site.

    “I’ll make sure, Jane, that you get the latest,” he said. “I’ve already told the guys I need to get that report sooner rather than later.”

    ‘I want my son back’

    For years, Webb has kept a talisman on his desk in his Hawaii headquarters from one of the Vietnam cases he worked so long and hard on.

    “The father became very bitter,” Webb related. “I said, ‘Look, you can’t give up hope. At some point we’re hopeful of bringing him back.’”

    The father didn’t want to hear it. “He would say to me, ‘Johnie, I gave my son to the Army. I want my son back. I don’t want any damn bones.’”

    Some years later, his son’s remains were recovered and the family needed more than a little convincing to bury him with full military honors in a national military cemetery. 

    “Two, three weeks after that,” Webb recounted, “this little brown envelope shows up in the office.”

    It was a note from the father to the effect: “Johnie, I just want to thank you for all you’ve done for us over the years and let you know what it really meant to me to get my son back.’” 

    And tucked inside was the POW/MIA bracelet the father had been wearing for decades with his son’s name engraved on it. 

    So what does retirement look like for Johnie Webb? 

    His daughter Shalena thinks he’s probably through with traveling. He’s spending more time with his three young grandchildren and fixing all the things around the house he hasn’t had time for, she said. But on his first official day of retirement, he spent more than an hour on the phone with a former colleague who called for guidance.

    The head of the agency “told us he hasn’t given in his papers yet,” Shalena said. “So we will see if he actually goes through with this.”

    Sat, 28 Jan 2023 13:40:03 -0500 ishook
    Protests after video of fatal Memphis police beating isreleased – as it happened
  • ‘I’m just trying to go home’: Tyre Nichols heard pleading in released video
  • Sign up to receive First Thing – our daily briefing by email
  • Attorney Ben Crump is holding a press conference alongside Tyre Nichols’s family, where he has compared the swift indictment and arrest of five Black police officers for Nichols’s death to the comparatively slow response to other high-profile killings of Black men.

    “This is not the first time that we saw police officers committing crime and engaging in excessive brutal force against Black people in America who were unarmed, but yet we have never seen swift justice like this,” Crump said.

    Sat, 28 Jan 2023 01:15:02 -0500 ishook
    Biden vows to veto Republican plans that threaten economic‘chaos’ – as it happened
  • ‘I will not let that happen – not on my watch’, president says
  • Sign up to receive First Thing – our daily briefing by email
  • The US economy expanded at a 2.9% annual pace from October through December, ending 2022 with momentum despite the pressure of high interest rates and widespread fears of a looming recession, the Associated Press reports.

    Thursday’s estimate from the Commerce Department showed that the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP)— the broadest gauge of economic output — decelerated last quarter from the 3.2% annual growth rate it had posted from July through September.

    Sat, 28 Jan 2023 01:15:02 -0500 ishook
    Pence documents discovery sparks scrutiny on USclassification system – as it happened Some lawmakers on both sides now asking if discoveries mean it’s time to look at how government manages its secrets

    Joe Biden will at 12 pm eastern time speak about the United State’s support for Ukraine, amid reports that Washington plans to send its Abrams tanks to help Kyiv defend against the Russian invasion.

    Earlier in the day, the White House announced the American president had spoken to president Emmanuel Macron of France, Britain’s prime minister Rishi Sunak, chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany and prime minister Giorgia Meloni of Italy “as part of our close coordination on support for Ukraine.”

    Sat, 28 Jan 2023 01:15:02 -0500 ishook
    Jan. 6 rioter who maced Brian Sicknick sentenced to 80months

    A Jan. 6 rioter who pepper sprayed three police officers in the face — including Brian Sicknick, who died of multiple strokes the next day — was sentenced Friday to 80 months in prison.

    U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan found that Julian Khater made a calculated decision to work his way to the front of the mob and unleash a prolonged spray attack that injured at least three officers, including Sicknick.

    “It’s inexcusable,” Hogan said, rejecting Khater’s claim that his “crippling anxiety” led him to act impulsively amid the chaos.

    Dozens of members of the Capitol Police turned out to witness Khater’s sentencing and remained for the entire four-hour hearing. Among them: Caroline Edwards, who was sprayed by Khater moments after Sicknick. Edwards delivered a courtroom statement describing “survivor’s guilt” for being unable to assist Sicknick because she, too, was incapacitated. Members of Sicknick’s family, including his longtime partner Sandra Garza, delivered scathing victim impact statements directed at Khater.

    A medical examiner found that Sicknick’s death was the result of natural causes — two strokes that occurred in the evening of Jan. 6 resulting in his death the next day. But Sicknick’s family made clear they viewed Khater as culpable for his death, combined with the stress of the riot.

    The hearing also laid bare how a series of mace attacks on Capitol Police officers early in the riot that day helped lead to the collapse of the police line and the breach of the Capitol building.

    Prosecutors played footage showing that Khater’s attack caused not only the three injured officers to flee the outnumbered police line but several others to help guide them to safety while they were blinded by the spray. Prosecutors showed video of Sicknick pacing alone on a Capitol terrace, struggling to regain his sight and his balance. While he paces, a slew of other officers, also maced by the mob, joined him on the terrace, also struggling to return to action.

    Five minutes after Khater’s spray attack, prosecutors noted, the police line collapsed and rioters reached the foot of the Capitol.

    Hogan’s sentence was one of the harshest handed down to Jan. 6 defendants — far more than the sentence of time served sought by Khater, who has already served 22 months in pretrial detention – but it fell short of the 90 months sought by the government. Hogan said that was partly to account for what he described as inhumane conditions of the Washington, D.C., jail, which Hogan called a “disgrace.” The jail has been plagued by allegations of substandard living conditions and a pattern of mistreatment by corrections officials that have, at times, drawn rebukes from federal judges.

    Hogan faulted Khater for refusing to directly apologize to Edwards or for the injuries he caused to Sicknick and others that day. Khater responded that he hadn’t made a more direct apology following the advice of his lawyers, and because he had recently been served with a civil lawsuit related to his actions.

    Khater’s codefendant, George Tanios, was sentenced Friday to five months time served for his actions. He purchased and carried the spray used by Khater but took no part in the assaults.

    Fri, 27 Jan 2023 21:45:03 -0500 ishook
    Listen to Paul Pelosi’s 911 Call After an Intruder Entered His Home Fri, 27 Jan 2023 19:55:03 -0500 ishook Surveillance Video Shows David DePape Breaking Into the Pelosis’ Home Fri, 27 Jan 2023 19:55:03 -0500 ishook Court Releases Video of Paul Pelosi Hammer Attack, Adding Chilling Details Fri, 27 Jan 2023 19:40:03 -0500 ishook Mishandling of Classified Information Has Congress Asking Questions Fri, 27 Jan 2023 19:40:03 -0500 ishook Man Who Shot Pepper Spray at Officer on Jan. 6 Gets Nearly 7 Years in Prison Fri, 27 Jan 2023 19:40:03 -0500 ishook Harris headed to Munich conference before Ukraine war’s 1&year mark

    Vice President Kamala Harris will once again head the U.S. delegation to the Munich Security Conference, two people familiar with her plans said, a sign of the continued importance the U.S. is putting on transatlantic cooperation on Ukraine nearly one year into the war.

    Harris’ appearance at Europe’s premier defense conferenceis meant tounderscore that America won’t abandon Kyiv even as the war is expected to grind on for at least another year. She’ll arrive in the southern German city after a few tense weeks of negotiations between Washington and Berlin over supplying more advanced weapons to Ukraine.

    Following discussions with German officials, who had said they’d send their Leopard tanks to Ukraine if the U.S. sent its Abrams tanks, President Joe Biden authorized the transfer of 31 Abramson Wednesday. In response, Germany quickly greenlighted its own Leopard tanks and those held by other nations.

    It’ll be Harris’ second go in front of the conference, taking place Feb. 17-19.

    Just ahead of the one-year anniversary of the invasion, Harris will get a chance to update transatlantic-minded officials and experts on the progress the U.S.-led Western resistance has made and potentially preview further steps. Ukraine, for instance, has made no secret about its desire to field fighter jets, including F-16s, from the United States.

    Last year, the vice president gave a well-received speech just five days before Vladimir Putin sent his forces across the border into Ukraine. Harris, echoing her boss’ sentiments, vowed that the United States would stand up for Kyiv and the broader transatlantic alliance under such dire circumstances.

    “If Russia further invades Ukraine, the United States, together with our Allies and partners, will impose significant and unprecedented economic costs,” she said.

    A White House official said there's no travel to announce for the vice president.

    The news of Harris’ involvement in the event comes as rumors grow that Biden might make a visit to Europe in commemoration of the one-year mark of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The White House has yet to confirm any discussions of such a trip, let alone say that a flight over the Atlantic is officially on the schedule.

    Fri, 27 Jan 2023 18:55:04 -0500 ishook
    Ronna McDaniel wins RNC chair race that grew very messy by the end

    DANA POINT, Calif. — Ronna McDaniel will serve a rare fourth term as chair of the Republican National Committee, emerging victorious in a contentious bid for reelection.

    McDaniel on Friday defeated her main challenger, the RNC’s California national committeewoman Harmeet Dhillon, by a vote of 111 committee members to 51. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, whose campaign drew little support, received four votes.

    The at times fierce, two-month-long race sparked debates about how the RNC has managed its finances and fared in recent elections. It also saw some members — on both sides of the contest — publicly calling into question the character of their colleagues, putting McDaniel and her allies on the defensive and forcing the incumbent chair to assemble an aggressive whip operation to shore up her support.

    “We need all of us,” McDaniel told committee members after calling Dhillon and Lindell to join her onstage. “We heard you, grassroots. We know. We heard Harmeet; we heard Mike Lindell… [W]ith us united and all of us joining together, the Democrats are going to hear us in 2024.”

    Speaking to a swarm of reporters after the vote, Dhillon said she is committed to working toward repairing fractures in the party, but that party unity won’t come overnight.

    “We did not expect this to become a national grassroots movement,” she said. “So I'm committed to healing and coming together with folks, but at the end of the day, if our party is perceived as totally out of touch with the grassroots — which I think some may take away from this outcome — we have some work to do.”

    The committee meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach, a luxury seaside resort, illustrated the tense division within the Republican ranks that continue to exist months after the 2022 elections.

    Dhillon, whose firm represents former President Donald Trump, raised her profile over the last year with regular appearances on Fox News’ evening programs — garnering support in her bid for chair from a prominent cast of conservative commentators. That list included Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Charlie Kirk, who helped mobilize an army of grassroots activists to call and email RNC committee members, urging them to oppose McDaniel’s reelection. But those high-profile figures were not always a value add.

    On multiple occasions, on-the-fence members told Dhillon and her allies that they would be open to supporting her if Kirk weren’t one of her surrogates, said Oscar Brock, the national committeeman from Tennessee who was part of her team. Dhillon had assured concerned members that Kirk, a firebrand conservative figure, wouldn’t be part of RNC staff, should she win. But there was never a conversation among her whip team about asking Kirk to dial down his support.

    “There probably should have been,” Brock said. “But there wasn’t.”

    In an interview Friday, Kirk called McDaniel’s victory “a direct insult to the grassroots people that they send 10 emails a day to, begging for money.”

    “I think the RNC is going to have a lot of trouble raising small-dollar donations, a lot of trouble rebuilding trust,” Kirk said. “Going into 2024, the apparatus that should be a machine and clicking on all cylinders and firing on all cylinders is going to be in a trust deficit.”

    Kirk wasn’t the only Dhillon ally whose aggressive advocacy ended up turning off members of the committee. Caroline Wren, who most recently ran Kari Lake’s gubernatorial campaign in Arizona, got into a heated exchange with Georgia state Rep. Vernon Jones on Thursday night in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria.

    According to three people familiar with the confrontation, Wren, who has been Dhillon's top adviser in her campaign for chair, told Jones: “Everyone knows you’re here fucking whipping votes for Ronna.” She proceeded to call him a “fucking sell out,” adding that, “the grassroots will never support you again.”

    A person familiar with the conversation said Wren had also approached Jones two other times this week, once while he was speaking with an RNC member, during which she called him “the fucking enemy,” and another time as Jones was speaking with Lake, during which she called him a “sellout.”

    Wren confirmed she was frustrated with Jones because he had previously been a public supporter of Dhillon. But she downplayed the tenor of Thursday night’s conversation, saying she did not use profanity and adding that she even laughed at one point. Asked Friday about the encounter, Jones smiled and shrugged, saying “there’s not much more to say.”

    In addition to relying on prominent conservative figures, Dhillon’s whip team also held calls once or twice weekly, said Brock. But several committee members in recent days said that calls and emails from Dhillon’s team had become too much, eventually solidifying their support for McDaniel.

    “I think Harmeet could have taken a different approach and said, ‘The RNC, it isn't where we want to be. And here's what it will be like when I become chair,’ without, you know, calling into question the motives of all the people that are a part of the organization,” said Paul Dame, the Vermont Republican Party chair who joined the committee in fall 2021. After remaining undecided for much of the chair race, Dame put his support behind McDaniel this week.

    Dhillon drew a last-minute nod of support from Ron DeSantis on Thursday, though it’s unclear whether it swayed any votes. The Florida governor’s decision to weigh in on the race stood in contrast to Trump.

    Despite choosing McDaniel as his RNC chair after his 2016 victory, the former president publicly stayed out of this year’s contest, though Dhillon said he sent her a text message through one of his advisers on Wednesday. In the text, Trump joked about disliking one of her endorsers (she declined to say who). Prior to that message, Dhillon hadn’t spoken with the former president since shortly after she announced her chair bid. She said that when she told Trump she was running, he remarked that McDaniel had also announced a campaign.

    “He said, ‘OK, well, that'll be interesting,’” Dhillon recalled. “‘Good luck.’”

    Despite calling for wholesale reforms to the party moving forward, Dhillon declined on Friday to answer whether she supports Republicans moving on from Trump in 2024, saying it was inappropriate for an RNC committee member to influence voters in the primary process.

    While Trump stayed mum, his top aides were privately supporting McDaniel’s reelection bid — though advisers Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles disputed the notion that they were whipping votes for her while meeting with members at the Waldorf Astoria in recent days.

    Ultimately, McDaniel’s team, with the help of allies, convinced members that a fourth term was earned even after the lackluster midterms. It left Dhillon’s supporters exasperated.

    “Ya got me,” said Bill Palatucci, the national committee member from New Jersey, about why his colleagues on the committee overwhelmingly backed McDaniel, despite multiple cycles of GOP disappointments. “That has been my speech to these people on email and via phone calls and meetings here. We just had this terrible midterm cycle, and you guys don’t want to make a change? For whatever reason, they have their heads buried in the sand.”

    McDaniel’s bid for a fourth term was a fight before it officially started.

    Former Rep. Lee Zeldin, the GOP gubernatorial nominee in New York whose race drew national attention for being closer than expected, floated his name for RNC chair shortly after the midterms. (He received one write-in vote on Friday.) And Palatucci — upset by what he described as McDaniel’s brief “disaster” of a call with RNC members on Nov. 9 — emailed top RNC staff and some members his concerns. In the note, he wrote that McDaniel’s remarks “showed incredible unwillingness to face the reality of what happened last evening,” adding that he and other members “want a real, honest assessment of what happened.”

    When she formally announced her bid on Nov. 14, McDaniel held a lengthy call with members — taking questions and making her case for why she should continue in the role. McDaniel had previously told members in 2021 she would not seek another term after her third.

    By the end of the week, McDaniel had assembled a list of more than 100 members publicly supporting her. Just after Thanksgiving, she announced she was launching a “Republican Party Advisory Council” to “review” the party’s electoral performance in 2022.

    Last week, McDaniel sent members a document she called her “Vision for Unity,” which included plans to improve Republicans’ “legal ballot collecting” efforts, find new tactics for small-dollar fundraising that has suffered in recent years, and boosting the youth vote. In the document, first reported by POLITICO, McDaniel made an appeal to members who were inclined to support Dhillon, saying she would work with Dhillon and Lindell over the next two years in an effort to unite all corners of the GOP.

    “I look forward to uniting once again as a Party and working together, alongside Harmeet and Mike, to heal as a Party and elect Republicans,” McDaniel wrote.

    The event at the Waldorf Astoria drew an assortment of Republican officials, from Lake and Jones to former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a likely 2024 presidential contender who could be seen meeting with reporters in the hotel lobby on Wednesday and Thursday. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — another presidential hopeful, though he did not attend the meeting — left stacks of his new book on a check-in table for attendees.

    Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin made an appearance Friday morning, posing for photos with attendees before an RNC security guard at one point asked to see her credential lanyard.

    Rachael Bade contributed to this report.

    Fri, 27 Jan 2023 18:55:04 -0500 ishook
    AOC in line to become her party's No. 2 on Oversight panel

    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is set to step into a larger role on the House Oversight Committee this Congress, perhaps even its No. 2 Democratic spot.

    An elevation to the vice ranking member position, while it's not yet final, would give the well-known third-term progressive Democrat a high-profile perch to tangle with Republicans on a laundry list of controversial investigations they're planning — on topics ranging from Hunter Biden’s business dealings to the southern border to GOP efforts to probe the "origins" of the coronavirus.

    “There’s been conversations, but nothing's been finalized,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a brief interview Friday when asked about her interest in the party's No. 2 position on the panel, which is sparking open discussion among her fellow Democratic lawmakers.

    Should Ocasio-Cortez become vice ranking member, she's also likely to take on more responsibility in helming Democrats’ messaging and strategy on a panel that's stocked with some of the House GOP's most rhetorically rowdy conservatives, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). That's in part due to the cancer treatment that Oversight's current ranking member, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) is currently undergoing.

    “I have the greatest admiration for her skill, and I'm sure we're going to be able to deploy her to maximum effect on the committee, along with all these other amazing new members,” Raskin said in an interview about her position on the committee, declining to directly address whether Ocasio-Cortez would become his No. 2.

    A Democratic aide noted that Ocasio-Cortez would be able to sit in for Raskin on the committee if he’s absent during hearings, a role typically played by the No. 2 member on any panel but one that other panel members are also able to assume.

    Ocasio-Cortez and Raskin worked closely together during the last Congress, particularly on the Oversight subpanel he then chaired overseeing civil rights issues. The younger New Yorker had served as the subpanel's vice chair, and the duo's close relationship had fueled speculation among some Democrats that Ocasio-Cortez would follow Raskin as he rose on the committee.

    Committee Democrats are expected to meet on Monday to organize for the next two years, two party aides told POLITICO. Democrats will likely use the meeting to finalize internal leadership positions like the one Ocasio-Cortez is under consideration for. The “vice ranking member” position was created by Democrats back in 2017, when they were last in the minority after failing to flip the House in 2016, in order to elevate more junior members.

    Ocasio-Cortez’s potential ascension comes as the Oversight Committee’s work is preparing to kick into high gear after Republicans have spent months conducting behind-the-scenes planning.

    The full committee will hold an organizational meeting on Tuesday and its first full committee hearing on Wednesday, focused on coronavirus relief funding.

    Oversight panel chair Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) is also setting the stage for two high-profile hearings early next month: He’s invited Border Patrol officials to testify during the week of Feb. 6 and will hold a hearing on Feb. 8 related to Twitter’s handling of a 2020 New York Post story on Hunter Biden. Comer has invited three former Twitter officials to appear at the latter hearing, with a GOP committee aide saying those witnesses are expected to testify.

    “I think I'm going to have a lot of fun on this committee,” Ocasio-Cortez told reporters generally earlier Friday after her formal naming to the panel. “Of course, [Republicans are] going to be calling hearings on horrible things, but our job is to protect the people and protect the vulnerable communities that they seek to attack … it gives us an opportunity and a platform to de-legitimize a lot of the disinformation that they've been advancing.”

    Fri, 27 Jan 2023 18:55:04 -0500 ishook
    Campaign finance regulator asks Santos to clarify who's in charge of his political accounts

    The Federal Election Commission lobbed questions at Rep. George Santos over his latest campaign finance filings on Friday, saying five committees affiliated with the embattled congressman may have “failed to include the true, correct, or complete treasurer information.”

    The letters — the latest in a long series of correspondence between the FEC and Santos’ campaign — follow the campaign’s apparent attempt to hire a new treasurer amid intense scrutiny.

    A flurry of amended quarterly filings for Santos’ campaign on Tuesday were signed by Nancy Marks, his longtime campaign treasurer. But further amendments to statements of organization for Santos’ congressional committee on Wednesday listed Tom Datwyler, a treasurer for many GOP candidates, in the role. A lawyer for Datwyler, however, said he had not agreed to serve as treasurer for the Santos campaign, stating that the Wednesday filings reflected a miscommunication.

    Santos told CNN on Wednesday that he had no involvement with the amended filings, saying he “[did] not touch any of [his] FEC stuff.” It was still not clear on Friday who actually filed the Wednesday amendments that bore Datwyler’s electronic signature, although the number of people who would typically have access to a congressional campaign’s system for submitting filings to the FEC is small.

    Neither Santos’ attorney nor Marks responded to multiple inquiries this week about who is currently serving as the campaign’s treasurer.

    Campaigns are required to have a treasurer in order to carry out most functions, including accepting contributions. Santos’ campaign was still listed as accepting contributions via WinRed, the widely used Republican fundraising platform, as of Friday. WinRed processed more than $1 million in transactions for his campaign during the 2022 cycle, according to a POLITICO analysis of FEC data.

    The company did not respond to inquiries about Santos’ use of its platform this week. But NBC News reported on Friday that the company had reached out to the Santos campaign over its reports, which show the committee paying more than $200,000 in fees to WinRed. That’s a greater total than would be expected based on the campaign’s total fundraising on the platform.

    Santos, who was sworn into Congress earlier this month just weeks after The New York Times reported he had fabricated much of his biography, is also facing several campaign finance complaints before the FEC.

    Complaints filed by nonprofits including the Campaign Legal Center and End Citizens United allege Santos may not have had the personal funds to loan his campaign the $700,000 it reported receiving from him last year, and the complaints also allege that his campaign may have misreported components of its spending. The Santos campaign reported dozens of transactions charged at exactly $199.99, just 1 cent below the threshold that required the campaign to keep receipts detailing the expenditures. Federal and local prosecutors are also investigating Santos’ finances, but he has not been charged with a crime.

    The FEC has sent more than two dozen letters to Santos’ campaign and affiliated groups in the past two years. While the agency frequently sends such letters to campaigns to correct mistakes in filings, Santos’ political groups have received more of the notices than is typical.

    Fri, 27 Jan 2023 18:55:04 -0500 ishook