Virginia gubernatorial hopefuls key on 'election integrity' in major post-Trump contest

The first statewide Republican nominating contest since former President Donald Trump left office has added a new issue to the top tier of traditional GOP campaign messages: “election integrity.”

All four of the leading Republican candidates for this weekend’s “unassembled convention,” where Republican delegates will vote for their nominee at 39 sites around the state, are talking about election and voting rules on the trail and in ads, with some putting forth detailed plans for how they would change Virginia’s election rules.

The proposals are an unmistakable response to Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, which quickly became a cause on the right. “Election integrity” is far from the only thing Republicans are discussing on the trail, with guns, abortion and pandemic policies all playing key roles, too. But the renewed focus on voting laws by four candidates trying to appeal to convention delegates underscores how much this issue is on the minds of Republican voters — and that Republicans who win state office in Virginia and elsewhere are poised to count changing voting laws among their top priorities.

“Election integrity has been a top message that people are concerned about, given some of the allegations that came out of last year’s election,” said Geary Higgins, the chair of the 10th congressional district Republican committee who has remained neutral in the primary. “It’s broader election integrity, but also concern about integrity in this process as well. So it is kind of a two-prong thing.”

Meanwhile, the Republican nominating process itself has been rife with fighting over how to choose the party’s standard-bearer, from the conflict over whether to have a state-run primary or a party-run convention to questions about how the ballots are ultimately counted.

There are seven Republican gubernatorial hopefuls on the ballot this year, and the consensus among the more than half-dozen Virginia Republican officials who spoke to POLITICO is that four are in the top tier: businessmen Pete Snyder and Glenn Youngkin, former state House Speaker Kirk Cox and state Sen. Amanda Chase.

Chase has been the most explicit, parroting Trump’s lies about the election while proactively seeking his support, while Snyder and Youngkin both launched “election integrity” plans or task forces early on in their campaigns.

Cox has also put forward proposals under the election integrity banner — but a spokesperson for Cox noted that he was the only “Republican candidate in the race to acknowledge President Biden as the legitimate president,” which he did following the Electoral College count in the states in December.

“Unfortunately, for too many Virginians, whether they be Republicans, Democrats or Independents, trust in our election system has been severely strained and [sic] due to many last-minute Covid-related changes to our voting systems,” Snyder said in a statement when he launched his plan. “Government has failed to deliver on the transparency and accountability expected from voters.”

Youngkin, Snyder and Cox’s campaigns all declined to make their candidate available for an interview on their election proposals and trust in the state party’s process, citing hectic schedules in the final days before the convention. Chase’s campaign did not respond to an interview request.

Former GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman, who has become a prominent critic of the Trump-era Republican Party, said that the focus on election integrity messaging is harmful to the state and the party.

“We can have an honest discussion about ‘election integrity,’ if that wasn’t a cover term for ‘Stop the Steal’ right now throughout the commonwealth,” he said, calling it less a “wink and a nod” than a “pie in the face.”

“If any candidate did not run on election integrity, because I’ve seen the local polling, they would lose,” Riggleman added.

The former lawmaker has floated running for governor as an independent. He told POLITICO he was “leaning toward the negative” on running, but that he still has time to decide.

Republicans are also grappling with the end of a contentious, months-long fight over how the party will ultimately pick its statewide candidates. After knockdown fights between pro-primary and pro-convention wings of the state central committee, the party settled on this weekend’s “unassembled convention,” with ranked-choice voting.

People who wanted to vote in the convention had to pre-register ahead of time, and the state party said that around 54,000 people had done so. They’ll vote at 39 sites spread out across the state on Saturday, after which ballots will be transported back to Richmond for counting, which will begin on Sunday. The ranked-choice system will reallocate support for the candidates with the fewest votes to those delegates’ next choices until someone secures a majority.

An additional wrinkle is that counties get a certain number of “delegates” based on population and past performance of Republicans in the area, meaning the “raw vote” total from each voting location alone won’t determine the winner.

Virginia Republicans are wary of predictions about either turnout or results because of the unusual system, noting it is a fractured field, even among the top four candidates, with a new process. Those who spoke to POLITICO unanimously agree that it will take multiple rounds to determine a winner, with the second- or third-choice of voters being decisive in the race.

Kristi Way, the party’s first vice-chair and a supporter of Cox, recalled how E.W. Jackson dominated the in-person convention in 2013 to win the lieutenant governor’s nomination after several rounds of voting. “He got up there, he gave a humdinger of speech,” she said. “And lo and behold, E.W. Jackson was the nominee when no one thought that was a possibility walking into the room.”

But that last minute horse-trading and campaigning won’t be an option for candidates this year, with voters having to fill out their ballots ahead of time. “I think it will be a more sort of straightforward outcome, than when you allow dynamics in a room to take over,” Way continued. “Not having that, I think, removes a lot of the emotion from the decision.”

There’s also some concerns that the new process could create room for rabble-rousing from a candidate on the losing side of the ledger. Chase has constantly railed against the nominating process, accusing Snyder of stacking the deck in his favor. Chase — a self-styled “Trump in heels” who was censured by her state Senate colleagues after praising the Jan. 6 insurrectionists and spreading election conspiracy theories — has threatened to run as an independent if Snyder wins the nomination.

The party plans on starting the count on Sunday, the day after voting takes place, starting from the bottom of the ballot: first attorney general, then lieutenant governor, and then governor. Officials are hoping to have the process wrapped up as soon as possible, but they are expecting multiple days of hand-counting the ballots.

“I know that some party officials are talking about later in the week, but I think that would be really tough on the party and pretty tough on the eventual nominee to have it go that long,” said state Sen. Steve Newman, a supporter of Youngkin, who said he was hopeful the process would wrap up quickly.

Republican Party of Virginia officials also said they were confident in the process: “We’ve taken so many steps to ensure this is a well run, functioning, seamless convention,” said John March, a party spokesperson.

Democrats will not select their nominee until June, when a five-candidate field competes in the state-run, first-past-the-post primary. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe is the frontrunner in available polling, with the four other candidates in the field failing to break out with a month to go.

Many Republicans were eager to have another crack at McAuliffe, who edged out then-Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in 2013, believing him to be a well-defined candidate who won’t animate the Democratic base.

But it is also important for Republicans to rally around their nominee quickly in a state Republicans have struggled to win statewide over the last decade. “He will be very, very prepared and very well funded, and we will have to come together quickly,” Newman said. “And then if we do and we have proper funding, I think we have a great shot at taking Virginia back.”

But Democrats assert that, no matter who wins the Republican nomination, they will not be able to pivot successfully to carrying swing voters while still holding on to their base in November — citing Republicans’ “election integrity” talk as a top example.

“Even if they don’t mention Trump by name in a video, they are pushing the exact policies that his base is demanding they follow in order to get credibility, whether it’s the voter integrity stuff, whether it’s ‘The Big Lie,” whether it’s not believing science and COVID,” Marshall Cohen, the political director of the Democratic Governors Association, said in a call with reporters earlier this week.

California population drops for first time in state history

SACRAMENTO — California's population declined in 2020 for the first time in the state's recorded history due to Covid-19 deaths, federal immigration restrictions and declining births, state officials announced Friday.

The nation's most populous state lost more than 180,000 people between January 2020 and January 2021, a decline of 0.46 percent, according to data released by the state Department of Finance. Though population growth has slowed dramatically in recent years, compounded by high costs of living and a housing shortage, this was the first time California experienced an actual annual drop since the state began recording such data in 1900, according to Finance spokesperson H.D. Palmer.

Census data last month showed that California experienced its lowest-ever growth rates in the last decade, resulting in the state losing a House seat for the first time.

"Much has been made of the California exodus, and rightly so. This migration, over the decades, has the power to reshape the state," states a separate report by the Public Policy Institute of California released Thursday.

Opponents of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is facing a recall election, are sure to use the historic decline as proof of California's woes. Republicans have long assailed the state's regulations and tax rates as reasons to leave for red states, a point punctuated by the departure of Tesla CEO Elon Musk for Texas last year. Newsom critics in the past year have pointed to California's pandemic restrictions and school closures as additional reasons to flee.

But state officials insisted Friday that the population decline is likely a blip due to the unprecedented pandemic, and that California is projected to return to "slight annual positive growth" when estimates are released next year.

The biggest loss of California residents in 2020 was due to a continued decline in foreign immigration into the state, "a direct impact" of the Trump administration's suspension of some visas when the pandemic hit, according to the Department of Finance.

Declines in foreign immigration accounted for 100,000 less people living in California, according to the state. That includes 53,000 international students who remained home due to global restrictions.

Meanwhile, 51,000 Californians died of the coronavirus in 2020 — pushing the average death rate 19 percent higher than in preceding years.

The nationwide trend of declining birth rates also impacts California more than most states, resulting in a population drop of 24,000 as calculated by annual births minus deaths.

"In recent years, the slowdown in natural increase — a nationwide trend affecting California more than other states — has contributed to the state’s population growth slowing and plateauing. The addition of 2020’s COVID-19-related deaths, combined with immigration restrictions in the past year, tipped population change to an annual loss," the Department of Finance said in a statement.

Otherwise, people are continuing to leave California.

In 28 of the last 30 years, the state has seen more people moving out than in, according to state officials. Since 2018, that outmigration has outpaced international migration into the state, leaving "natural increase," or the difference between births and deaths, as the only source of population growth, the Department of Finance said.

The PPIC report threw cold water on the political narrative about California's loss of fed-up wealthy residents, noting that people who move into the state continue to be wealthier and more educated than those who leave. Higher-income residents pay the bulk of California's income and property taxes.

Research also shows that people left the state, or moved to cheaper parts of the state, to take advantage of telework in the pandemic.

Still, a high cost of living and a severe housing shortage continue to impact the state. The median price of a single-family home in California rose to a record $758,990 in March — up nearly 24 percent from the prior year. Meanwhile, lower-income workers bore the brunt of pandemic job losses as restaurants, tourism spots and service industries had to shut down. California's seasonably adjusted unemployment rate in March was 8.3 percent, tied for third highest in the nation.

"People who move to California have higher incomes than those who move away. Some have argued that the opposite is taking place—that California’s relatively progressive and high personal income tax rates drive out higher-income residents. But the fact is that California has been losing lower- and middle-income residents to other states for some time while continuing to gain higher-income adults," the report states.

The strange saga of the IRS' plague of broken printers

The IRS is struggling to catch up with a backlog of work, and a new report fingers a surprising culprit: broken printers.

A plague of non-functioning printers and copiers is making it difficult for the agency to process tax returns and provide other types of assistance, an independent agency watchdog said Friday.

“A major concern that surfaced during these walkthroughs [of IRS offices] was a lack of working printers and copiers,” the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said.

Forty-two percent of printers for those involved in processing returns were unusable at the end of March. In the agency’s Kansas City outpost, officials are down to three working printers and “the employees we spoke with were concerned that they would have a work stoppage if these remaining devices became unfunctional.”

Some of the printers didn’t have ink and, in other cases, “the waste cartridge container is full,” the report said, noting the agency uses printers for everything from making copies of tax returns to preparing training packages for new hires.

The department began the year with 8.3 million returns from last year that still needed processing, the watchdog said. Among returns filed on paper, that represented a 1,200 percent increase from the previous year.

Broken printers are hardly the only reason the IRS has been struggling to catch up, the report said.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the agency to close offices for a time, and Democrats made a series of changes to tax law in the middle of filing season, including creating a new tax break for unemployment benefits — why the tax filing deadline this year was delayed until May 17. While IRS offices are open, they are not always operating at full capacity because of social-distancing rules.

The agency has also had trouble finding temporary workers to help out with this year's filing season because "this seasonal work does not provide permanent employment or desirable schedules and shifts."

The report comes as Democrats promise to shower the agency with money after years of budget cuts.

The printer problems appear to stem from the pandemic, though, rather than a lack of funding.

The agency’s contract for the printers ended last September, though “due to COVID-19, these printers remain in the Tax Processing Centers, and the IRS is continuing to use them.”

The agency signed a contract for new printers, from a different provider the following month. “However, [IRS employees] indicated that the new contractor may not have been coming into the sites to replace the old printers due to COVID-19 concerns.”

The IG added: “When we discussed the issue with IRS management on March 30, 2021, they indicated they are working with the IRS Information Technology organization to resolve the issue, and that organization has started replacing the devices.”

Biden finds reasons for optimism in disappointing jobs report

President Joe Biden said Friday afternoon that the United States’ economy is “on the right track” despite a vastly disappointing monthly jobs report.

“Today there is more evidence our economy is moving in the right direction, but it is clear we have a long way to go,” Biden said.

The economy created 266,000 jobs in April, a figure that shocked many Wall Street observers who had been anticipating figures around 1 million as states lift public health restrictions and vaccination rates climb. The numbers for March were also revised sharply downward, to 146,000 jobs added from 770,000.

Biden, speaking from the East Room of the White House, argued that the jobs report underscored the need for the multitrillion-dollar recovery package enacted earlier this year, as well as the huge spending proposals the president has laid out in recent weeks.

“This month’s job numbers show we are on the right track,” Biden said. “We still have a long way to go. My laser focus is on growing the nation’s economy and creating jobs.”

Biden’s remarks were crafted as an apparent rebuttal to conservatives who blamed the disappointing numbers on the juiced-up unemployment benefits put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic, which they said have deterred people from seeking work, and the friction caused by schools not being fully opened in many parts of the country.

Biden recognized that “some employers are having trouble filling jobs,” but dismissed the idea that the supplemental jobless benefits were at fault.

“No, nothing measurable,” Biden told a reporter following his remarks in response to a question on whether the enhanced benefits have incentivized people to stay out of the workforce.

Liberals have argued that employers are contributing to the problem by not offering higher wages and sufficient safety protections to attract workers to fill the open positions.

Biden’s comments echoed those of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, who made the rounds on cable news channels earlier Friday to cast the jobs numbers in a favorable light and defend the administration’s economic policies.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters Friday that "it's clear that there are people who are not ready and able to go back into the labor force," citing child care needs and concerns about the risk posed by the coronavirus. She said she believes those are what's holding back the economic rebound.

"I don't think that the additional unemployment compensation is really the factor that's making the difference," Yellen said.

She added that economic officials believe the U.S. will reach full employment "next year," and that while they are anticipating an uptick in inflation in the near term "I really doubt we're going to see an inflationary cycle."

Keisha Lance Bottoms exits Atlanta's mayoral race without ruling out political future

Keisha Lance Bottoms said Friday morning that she would not seek a second term as Atlanta's mayor, citing the tumultuous last four years.

Bottoms alerted staffers and allies of her plans to exit the race on Thursday evening in a call first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. During a news conference at Atlanta’s City Hall on Friday, Bottoms held back tears as she called her term as mayor her “highest honor.”

“In the same way that it was very clear to me almost five years ago that I should run for mayor of Atlanta, it is abundantly clear to me today that it is time to pass the baton on to someone else,” Bottoms said in her remarks to reporters.

The mayor immediately squashed speculation around her decision, including that her exit from the race was driven by a family crisis, administrative scandal or possible move to work for Walgreens, whose CEO, Rosalind Brewer, is a friend of the Bottoms family. Bottoms did not rule out future political ambitions in her news conference nor in a letter she wrote to the City of Atlanta that was posted online late Thursday evening. But she did not provide any specifics.

“While I am not yet certain of what the future holds, I trust that my next season will continue to be one full of passion and purpose,” she wrote.

The state of Georgia has moved rapidly in Democrats' direction in recent years, capped off by President Joe Biden carrying the state in November and now-Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock winning runoff elections in January that won Democrats control of the Senate. But those narrow victories have limited the options for higher office in the state. Warnock is running for a full term next year, and Ossoff won't be on the ballot again until 2026. Stacey Abrams, the former state House minority leader and 2018 gubernatorial candidate, is widely expected to run for governor again in 2022.

“There is no obvious in-state political reason to do this," said one Democrat with experience in Georgia politics, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. "What else is there to run for?”

“She could go do something for Biden, no question," the Democrat added. "But does that really put you in a better place? And why do that now? It’s all just very odd. Was it going to not be the easiest reelection in the world? Sure, but it’s not an impossible reelection."

Another Democratic consultant, who also requested anonymity, called Bottoms a "star" and said she could join the Biden administration or be an ambassador.

"But there's no office to run for in Georgia right now," the consultant said.

Bottoms, 51, served as a judge and city council member before winning the mayor’s race by fewer than 800 votes in 2017. While mayor, she oversaw a city marred by multiple crises, including a sweeping citywide cyber attack in her first three months, last summer’s protests following the police killing of Rayshard Brooks and a spike in violent crime across the city.

During the news conference, Bottoms said that she had been considering her exit from the mayor’s race for “a very long time” and that she knew as early as her first year in office that she might not seek a second term, citing these issues among others.

Bottoms also served as a surrogate for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign from its early months and was later floated as a possible vice presidential candidate or cabinet secretary — a position she said she turned down to complete her four years as mayor. Before announcing that she would not run again, Bottoms hosted a fundraiser with Biden that she said raised more than a half million dollars.

“If the race for mayor were held today, I would win this race without a runoff,” Bottoms said, citing internal polling. “Just because you can do it doesn't always necessarily mean that you should do it. I can be mayor again. But there is a reason that there are elections every four years.”

Her departure from the race is sure to open it up to a wide range of prospects, including a handful of city council members who have already toyed with the idea of running or have launched campaigns. City Council President Felicia Moore has announced her intention to run and former mayor Kasim Reed is rumored to be exploring a comeback bid.

In a statement posted to his Twitter, Reed thanked Bottoms for her service and wished her well in future endeavors, but did not address the mayor's race.

Emily Cain, the executive director of EMILY's List, a major Democratic organization that supports women for office, praised Bottoms' tenure as mayor in a statement, calling her a "national example of strong leadership in challenging times." She also signaled that the organization could get involved in Atlanta's upcoming elections and back another candidate for mayor.

"We are excited to see what Mayor Bottoms does next, and the EMILY's List community looks forward to working with the people of Atlanta to ensure that her tenure is followed by more Democratic pro-choice women in leadership positions across the city and at all levels of government," Cain said.

Bottoms said she announced her exit from the race early enough to give a candidate who is “not self-funded” the opportunity to organize. She would not identify anyone in particular who she would like to see succeed her.

Bottoms ended the press conference saying the next mayor will have a number of issues to aim to rectify in Atlanta, including its income gap, crime rate and criminal justice record.

Jobs surprise triggers battle over federal aid

The steady jobs recovery from Covid-19 slowed dramatically in April, stunning Wall Street analysts and raising questions about the strength of the pandemic comeback and the impact of generous unemployment benefits.

The government said Friday that the economy created 266,000 jobs in April — a strong number in ordinary times but sharply below the Wall Street consensus of nearly 1 million, driven by reopenings in the beaten-down leisure and hospitality sectors as vaccinations continue.

The figure for March was also revised down by 146,000 to 770,000. The soft April number embarrassed prognosticators and provided fuel for partisans and economists across the ideological spectrum to declare that their policy ideas were vindicated.

For conservatives, the report suggested that generous pandemic-era jobless benefits are discouraging workers from taking available positions. Several states including South Carolina and Montana are already trimming back benefits packages. Other states may soon follow.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce used the weak number to call for an end to the $300 supplemental unemployment benefit included in President Joe Biden’s most recent stimulus package.

“The disappointing jobs report makes it clear that paying people not to work is dampening what should be a stronger jobs market,” the business group said.

For progressives, the report suggested that corporate America has to step up and offer higher wages and that more government intervention is needed, especially with increased child care benefits, to help workers take the millions of jobs that are open. The dismal number could also mean that workers remain hesitant to return to in-person jobs because of Covid-19 even amid the vaccination campaign.

Or the number could mean nothing much at all.

Monthly jobs numbers, especially coming out of deep recessions, can be highly volatile. And any single number can turn out to be an anomaly reversed in subsequent months. Most other data suggest both a strong recovery and a vibrant labor market. Job creation for May could wind up being far stronger and the April number could be revised higher. In August of 2011 for example, the economy created exactly zero jobs, raising fears of a double-dip recession that never materialized. Steady job growth continued the following month.

So economists suggested caution in drawing any firm conclusions from the weak April figure.

“There is nothing definitive here and we will know a lot more after the May numbers and we’ll find out whether something real is happening or this is just noise and problems with seasonal adjustments a year after Covid first hit,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “People with big mouths can bang the table and say they know exactly what happened but they don’t and we won’t know for a while.”

White House officials strongly rejected the idea that enhanced jobless benefits are keeping people from going back to work and leaving employers with millions of unfilled positions.

"Still don't see strong evidence of that,” Council of Economic Advisers member Heather Boushey said on MSNBC. “We are not seeing that there are a lot of folks who are not searching because of unemployment benefits. Indeed as this report shows, there was an uptick in labor supply last month, and it still remains a difficult labor market for millions of workers.”

Congress extended several emergency unemployment benefits programs through September as part of Biden’s massive March rescue plan, including Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation which provides jobless workers with an extra $300 a week in benefits. Some Republican governors have already chosen to cut off the programs to tackle what they call a labor shortage in their states, arguing that the additional aid and the fact that the program doesn't end until September are keeping workers on the sidelines.

“This labor shortage is being created in large part by the supplemental unemployment payments that the federal government provides claimants on top of their state unemployment benefits,” South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said this week. “What was intended to be a short-term financial assistance for the vulnerable and displaced during the height of the pandemic has turned into a dangerous federal entitlement.”

McMaster, following Montana’s Governor Greg Gianforte, announced this week that his state would no longer participate in the pandemic unemployment programs. Georgia and Wyoming officials are also weighing whether to drop out, spokespersons for the states told POLITICO.

Quint Forgey and Louis Nelson contributed to this report.

Top CDC official resigns from post following reassignment

Nancy Messonnier, a senior Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist who was the first U.S. official to warn of the severity of the coronavirus pandemic last year, is resigning from the agency.

Messonnier’s resignation comes two weeks after she had been reassigned within the CDC from her position heading the agency's Covid-19 vaccine task force, as first reported by POLITICO. Following her reassignment, Messonnier went on leave, which senior administration officials described as an unplanned vacation.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky offered well wishes for Messonnier on Friday but did not elaborate further on the circumstances of her departure.

"Over this pandemic and through a many-decade career she's made significant contributions, and she leaves behind a strong force of leadership and courage in all that she has done," Walensky said during a press conference Friday.

Messonnier will join the Skoll Foundation on June 1, as the executive director for Pandemics and Health Systems, the foundation confirmed to POLITICO. She will lead the organization's work on Covid-19 and preparedness for future infectious disease outbreaks.

The Washington Post first reported Messonnier's resignation Friday morning.

Messonnier had spent more than 20 years at the CDC as a prominent respiratory disease expert. She became a central figure in the Trump administration’s chaotic early coronavirus response last February, when she told reporters the coronavirus outbreak would soon change the nation’s way of life.

“It’s not a question of if this will happen but when this will happen,” she said at the time, two weeks before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. Her dire warning sent the stock market spiraling and contradicted assurances from top Trump appointees, catching the White House off guard.

An infuriated former President Donald Trump threatened to fire her, leading to the halt of regular CDC press briefings on the crisis and Messonnier's sidelining from the administration's communications.

Mesonnier was expected to reemerge in the wake of President Joe Biden's election, as part of the new administration's effort to put top scientists at the forefront of the Covid response and restore public trust in the federal government. But she clashed at times with Biden officials over decision-making, said two people familiar with the matter. The White House has not resumed regular CDC briefings, instead putting its own Covid-19 response team in charge of public messaging. Walensky has regularly participated in those briefings.

Messonnier's recent reassignment came the day before the agency’s advisory panel on immunizations was set to meet to decide whether to lift a pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. She had played a prominent role in the agency’s work investigating the rare but severe blood clots that emerged in multiple individuals after vaccination. Federal officials have since lifted their recommend pause on use of the vaccine.

Messonnier's position was absorbed into the CDC’s incident management response team headed by Walensky and Henry Walke, the director of the agency's Division of Preparedness and Emerging Infections.

As of two weeks ago, Messonnier was still copied on agency emails and was referred to as an "adviser" of Walensky, two officials familiar with the matter said.

4 ex-cops indicted on federal civil rights charges in Floyd death

MINNEAPOLIS — A federal grand jury has indicted the four former Minneapolis police officers involved in George Floyd’s arrest and death, accusing them of willfully violating the Black man’s constitutional rights as he was restrained face-down on the pavement and gasping for air.

A three-count indictment unsealed Friday names Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao.

Specifically, Chauvin is charged with violating Floyd's right to be free from unreasonable seizure and unreasonable force by a police officer. Thao and Kueng are also charged with violating Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure, alleging they did not intervene to stop Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd's neck. All four officers are charged for their failure to provide Floyd with medical care.

Floyd’s May 25 arrest and death, which a bystander captured on cellphone video, sparked protests nationwide and widespread calls for an end to police brutality and racial inequities.

Chauvin was also charged in a second indictment, stemming from the arrest and neck restraint of a 14-year-old boy in 2017.

Lane, Thao and Kueng made their initial court appearances Friday via videoconference in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. Chauvin was not part of the court appearance.

Chauvin was convicted last month on state charges of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death and is in Minnesota’s only maximum-security prison as he awaits sentencing. The other three former officers face a state trial in August, and they are free on bond. They were allowed to remain free after Friday's federal court appearance.

Floyd, 46, died after Chauvin pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck, even as Floyd, who was handcuffed, repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe. Kueng and Lane also helped restrain Floyd — state prosecutors have said Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down Floyd’s legs. State prosecutors say Thao held back bystanders and kept them from intervening during the 9 1/2-minute restraint.

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, argued during his murder trial that Chauvin acted reasonably in the situation and that Floyd died because of underlying health issues and drug use. He has filed a request for a new trial, citing many issues including the judge’s refusal to move the trial due to publicity.

Nelson had no comment on the federal charges Friday. Messages left with attorneys for two of the other officers were not immediately returned, and an attorney for the fourth officer was getting in an elevator and disconnected when reached by The Associated Press.

To bring federal charges in deaths involving police, prosecutors must believe that an officer acted under the “color of law,” or government authority, and willfully deprived someone of their constitutional rights, including the right to be free from unreasonable seizures or the use of unreasonable force. That’s a high legal standard; an accident, bad judgment or simple negligence on the officer’s part isn’t enough to support federal charges.

Roy Austin, who prosecuted such cases as a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, said prosecutors have to prove that the officers knew what they were doing was wrong in that moment but did it anyway.

Conviction on a federal civil rights charge is punishable by up to life in prison or even the death penalty, but those stiff sentences are extremely rare and federal sentencing guidelines rely on complicated formulas that indicate the officers would get much less if convicted.

In Chauvin’s case, if the federal court uses second-degree murder as his underlying offense, he could face anywhere from 14 years to slightly more than 24 years, depending on whether he takes responsibility, said Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor and professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

Osler said the guidelines clearly state that any federal sentence would be served at the same time as a state sentence — the sentences wouldn’t stack. Chauvin is due to be sentenced on the state charges June 25.

The first indictment says Thao and Kueng were aware Chauvin had his knee on Floyd's neck, even after Floyd became unresponsive, and "willfully failed to intervene to stop Defendant Chauvin's use of unreasonable force."

All four officers are charged with willfully depriving Floyd of liberty without due process — for their alleged deliberate indifference to Floyd’s medical needs.

The second indictment, against Chauvin only, alleges he deprived a 14-year-old of his right to be free of unreasonable force when he held the teen by the throat, hit him in the head with a flashlight and held his knee on the boy’s neck and upper back while he was prone, handcuffed and unresisting.

According to a police report from that 2017 encounter, Chauvin wrote that the teen resisted arrest and that after the teen, who he described as 6-foot-2 and about 240 pounds, was handcuffed, Chauvin “used body weight to pin” the boy to the floor. The boy was bleeding from the ear and needed two stitches.

President Joe Biden's administration has made policing reform a major issue. Attorney General Merrick Garland has said he was refocusing the department around civil rights and does not believe there is equal justice under the law.

In late April, the Justice Department indicted three men on federal hate crime charges in the February 2020 death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was running in a Georgia neighborhood when he was chased down and shot. At the time, it was the most significant civil rights prosecution undertaken by Biden’s Justice Department.

The Justice Department also recently announced it was opening a sweeping investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. The investigation will examine whether there is a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing at the department, and it could result in major changes.

Garland announced a similar probe into policing in Louisville, Kentucky, over the March 2020 death of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by police during a raid at her home.

Chauvin was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Experts say he will likely face no more than 30 years in prison when he is sentenced in June. The other officers face charges alleging they aided and abetted second-degree murder and manslaughter. All four officers were fired.

U.S. added just 266,000 jobs in April as hiring slows

America’s employers added just 266,000 jobs last month, sharply lower than in March and a sign that some businesses are struggling to find enough workers as the economic recovery strengthens.

With viral cases declining and states and localities easing restrictions, businesses have added jobs for four straight months, the Labor Department said Friday. Still, the unemployment rate ticked up to 6.1% from 6% in March.

At the same time, optimism about the economic recovery is growing. Many Americans are flush with cash after having received $1,400 federal relief checks, along with savings they have built up after cutting back on travel, entertainment and dining out over the past year. Millions of consumers have begun spending their extra cash on restaurant meals, airline tickets, road trips and new cars and homes.

Most economists expect job growth to strengthen as more vaccinations are administered and trillions in government aid spreads through the economy. Even if another uptick in COVID-19 cases were to occur, analysts don’t expect most states and cities to reimpose tough business restrictions. Oxford Economics, a consulting firm, predicts that a total of 8 million jobs will be added this year, reducing the unemployment rate to a low 4.3% by year’s end.

Still, the economic rebound has been so fast that many businesses, particularly in the hard-hit hospitality sector — which includes restaurants, bars and hotels — have been caught flat-footed and unable to fill all their job openings. Some unemployed people have also been reluctant to look for work because they fear catching the virus.

Others have entered new occupations rather than return to their old jobs. And many women, especially working mothers, have had to leave the workforce to care for children.

Most of the hiring so far represents a bounce-back after tens of millions of positions were lost when the pandemic flattened the economy 14 months ago. The economy remains more than 8 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic level.

The Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion rescue package, approved in early March, has helped maintain Americans’ incomes and purchasing power, much more so than in previous recessions. The economy expanded at a vigorous 6.4% annual rate in the first three months of the year. That pace could accelerate to as high as 13% in the April-June quarter, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

One government report last week showed that wages and benefits rose at a solid pace in the first quarter, suggesting that some companies are having to pay more to attract and keep employees. In fact, the number of open jobs is now significantly above pre-pandemic levels, though the size of the labor force — the number of Americans either working or looking for work — is still smaller by about 4 million people.

In addition, the recovery remains sharply uneven: Most college-educated and white collar employees have been able to work from home over the past year. Many have not only built up savings but have also expanded their wealth as a result of rising home values and a record-setting stock market.

By contrast, job cuts have fallen heavily on low-wage workers, racial minorities and people without college educations. In addition, many women, especially working mothers, have had to leave the workforce to care for children.

Biden’s relief package also added $300 to weekly unemployment benefits. Meyer calculated that for people who earned under $32,000 a year at their previous job, current unemployment aid pays more than their former job did — a reality that could keep up to 1 million people out of the workforce. In addition, higher stock prices and home values might have led up to 1.2 million older Americans to retire earlier than they otherwise would have.

Still, some economists say employers will have to offer higher pay to draw more people back into the job market.

Pfizer seeks full FDA approval of its Covid-19 vaccine

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech have asked the Food and Drug Administration for full approval of their coronavirus vaccine for people ages 16 and over.

The vaccine and two others are currently available in the United States under an emergency authorization from FDA. Pfizer and BioNTech are the first Covid-19 vaccine makers to seek full approval from U.S. regulators, which would allow the companies to market the shot directly to consumers. It could also make it easier for schools, employers and the military to require vaccination against Covid-19.

Pfizer and BioNTech also asked the regulatory agency to allow an expansion of emergency use of the vaccine to people ages 12 to 15.

The U.S. has purchased 400 million doses of Pfizer's vaccine, enough for 200 million people — making it a pillar of the country's vaccination push. The shot is currently available for people ages 16 and older, and Pfizer and BioNTech are now studying the vaccine in children as young as 6 months. The companies have said they expect more results from the child study by September.

FDA authorized the vaccine in December 2020 after reviewing data from a clinical trial that enrolled more than 37,000 people 16 and older in the U.S., Europe, South Africa and South America. Now that Pfizer and BioNTech have applied for full approval in adults, the agency will more closely evaluate the shot's overall safety and efficacy, a higher bar than emergency use authorization — which FDA grants when there is evidence that a vaccine may confer a benefit.

Pfizer has shared data with FDA about its vaccine's long-term efficacy, as well as potential changes in handling requirements, such as evidence that the vaccine can be refrigerated for longer periods, rather than requiring ultra-cold storage temperatures.

While FDA approval reviews typically take six months or more, the agency could act quickly on the vaccine since it had already received authorization. There is precedent: FDA approved Gilead's coronavirus treatment Veklury — also known as remdesivir — roughly two months after Gilead filed.

“We look forward to working with the FDA to complete this rolling submission and support their review, with the goal of securing full regulatory approval of the vaccine in the coming months," Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.

David Lim contributed to this report.

The Black correspondents at the White House

White House reporters have access to the highest seat in the country — and they’re a small group. An even smaller group within that? Reporters of color.

On this episode of Playbook Deep Dive, Eugene Daniels is in conversation with fellow Black White House correspondents April Ryan (The Grio) and Ayesha Rascoe (NPR) about everything from microaggressions to death threats — to Ryan's fiery encounters with former President Donald Trump. “Covering the White House from Bill Clinton to now, race touches everything,” says Ryan. “Everything.”

Kicking off the episode, former journalist Carol McCabe Booker takes us back to the 1950s, when Alice Dunnigan was the first and only Black woman sitting in the White House briefing room. The longest President Dwight D. Eisenhower went without answering her questions? About two years. Listen to the full story on Friday’s episode of Playbook Deep Dive.


"Something, April, that I'm always thinking about is how people that look like you and I built this building." — Eugene Daniels

"Sean Spicer telling me as a grown woman, “Stop shaking your head.” And then the president tells me to sit down. I kept popping up because you're not going to tell me, a Black woman, to sit down. Nope. So I stood up.” — April Ryan

“I think I looked at myself like, you know, [White House reporting] is a trajectory for certain people and that's just not my trajectory. And so I think you can hold yourself back because sometimes we lack the vision, right, to see where you can be because of all these other things that we often put on ourselves.” — Ayesha Rascoe

How Trump is hunting down the GOP’s leading families

In the civil war between Donald Trump and the GOP’s waning establishment, no Republican has crossed the former president and come out ahead.

Yet as Rep. Liz Cheney’s likely ouster from House leadership lays bare, Trump has reserved a special fury for the scions of the GOP’s leading families in his attempt to exercise full dominion over the Republican Party.

Whether it’s the Cheneys, the Bushes or the lesser bloodlines — such as the Romneys or the Murkowskis — Trump has been relentless in his efforts to force them to bend the knee. Even Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Sen. John McCain — who herself has never run for office — has been knocked down, censured by Trump allies who run the state Republican Party in Arizona.

It’s the clearest sign that the modern Republican Party hasn’t just broken with its traditionalist past. It’s shredding every vestige of it.

“It’s a tragedy,” said Arne Carlson, a former two-term Republican governor of Minnesota. “The problem with the revolution is they continue to get more and more extreme. Whereas Liz Cheney was on the right, she now finds herself being pushed into the middle and, ultimately, off the cliff.”

As a prominent link between the old GOP and the new party of Trump, Liz Cheney is more than just another name on Trump’s enemies list. If his supporters in the House ultimately oust the Wyoming Republican from her leadership post, as expected, it will mark the repudiation of decades of Cheney family influence on the Republican party, dating back to her father’s time in the Nixon and Ford administrations, in GOP House leadership and as vice president.

Trump’s erasure of the institutions of the pre-Trump GOP was, of course, the promise of his presidency — his anti-establishment fervor a feature of Trumpism, not a bug. Long before Trump ran for office, he publicly criticized Ronald Reagan, called Pat Buchanan a “Hitler lover,” and wrote of the Bush family in 2013 that “we need another Bush in office about as much as we need Obama to have a 3rd term.”

Even so, Trump’s feats of political engineering — his felling of family legacies that once defined the party — are remarkable. He has almost single-handedly managed to sever the Bush family line, brutalizing “low energy” Jeb Bush, then the Florida governor, in the 2016 primary and depriving the Bush dynasty of a third presidential nominee. Once in office, Trump even described himself as a “far greater” president than Reagan.

“He shits on everybody, even former presidents,” said Mark Graul, a Republican strategist in Wisconsin who oversaw George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign in the state.

Cheney, he said, just “happens to be the daughter of the [former] vice president.”

For the GOP’s base, it doesn’t matter who Cheney’s father is, or that she herself is the highest-ranking Republican woman in House history. The party that was once grounded in tradition is, after four years of Trump, in the process of abandoning the modern pillars it’s built on.

Take Sen. Mitt Romney, the son of former Michigan Gov. and presidential contender George Romney, and himself the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential nominee.

Prompted by Trump’s longstanding animus toward Romney, a measure by Utah Republicans to censure the senator failed over the weekend. But Republicans in his home state still booed him at their party convention. Afterward, Trump wrote, “So nice to see RINO Mitt Romney booed off the stage at the Utah Republican State Convention. They are among the earliest to have figured this guy out, a stone cold loser!”

There’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the daughter of Frank Murkowski, the former U.S. senator and governor of Alaska. After Murkowski voted with six other Republican senators to convict Trump at his impeachment trial — repeating Cheney’s sin in the House — Trump pledged to travel to Alaska ahead of the 2022 midterm elections to campaign against “a disloyal and very bad Senator.” The Alaska Republican Party censured her in March.

And then there’s George W. Bush, Bush’s former vice president, Dick Cheney, and Cheney’s daughter Liz. In his deconstruction of that lineage, Trump has not only ostracized Cheney for her impeachment vote, but repeatedly branded her as a “warmonger,” as he did again on Wednesday, revisiting the wounds of the Iraq War and capitalizing on the schism between the party’s non-interventionists and neocons.

Taking stock of the rift between Trump and the Cheneys, Richard George, a former Republican National Committee member from Wyoming said, “I think that family politics has made a mistake, and I think Liz made a mistake.”

“Most people in Wyoming, they like the Cheney family, but they’re really disappointed with the way Liz voted in the impeachment hearing,” he said.

George looks at Cheney like many Republicans do — in pre-Trump impeachment and post-Trump impeachment terms. Though George said, “I like her very much as a person, and she’s done good things for us in the state of Wyoming,” he said she let her constituents down on “one of the most important, if not the most important votes.”

If the result is that Trump undoes the Cheney legacy — or others — he said, it will be cause for celebration, not grief.

“The undoing of political dynasties,” George said, “is a great thing.”

Trump himself, however, is not averse to dynastic politics — that is, if it involves his own family. The former president’s children are fixtures in the MAGA world and could have political futures. Lara Trump, Trump’s daughter-in-law, has considered running for a U.S. Senate seat in North Carolina, and Donald Trump Jr. is liked by activists enough that he finished a distant third in a 2024 presidential straw poll run without his father’s name on the ballot at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. Ivanka Trump drew frequent mention as a prospective primary opponent to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio until passing on a bid earlier this year.

Trump’s former campaign manager Brad Parscale once predicted the Trumps would become “a dynasty that will last for decades.”

But that’s a Trump dynasty. The old dynasties — the ones that were rooted in an ideological or governance brand, rather than in a style or personality — have been torched.

The scions of traditional political families who have survived have largely done so by choosing Trump when it came to a dispute between the former president and their families. George P. Bush, Jeb Bush’s son, is still a viable politician in Texas, the Trump-supporting state where Bush is the state land commissioner. But that would likely not be the case if he hadn’t split with much of his family and endorsed the former president.

Mitt Romney’s niece, Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, is in Trump’s good graces. But she had to break with her uncle’s criticism of him — and jettison the family name — to stay there.

“In the electorate, I think that there is a growing distaste for political legacies because it provides a hint of elitism that’s going out of style,” said Mark Weaver, a Republican strategist and former deputy attorney general of Ohio.

For Cheney, he said, “She inherits both the enemies and the friends of her father, and in this modern Republican Party, there are more enemies than friends.”

That’s a Republican landscape turned upside down from where it stood before Trump took office — so much so that some legacy Republicans who have not traded their moorings for Trump hardly recognize the party anymore.

The modern GOP, George W. Bush told NBC’s “Today” show earlier this month, is “isolationist, protectionist, and to a certain extent, nativist.”

“It’s not exactly my vision,” Bush said. “But, you know, I’m just an old guy they put out to pasture.”

Cheney has not been discarded yet. But a vote to oust her from her position at the House GOP conference chair — a post once held by her father — is expected to come next week. And Trumpian Republicans are already preparing to challenge her in the Wyoming primary next year.

In part, that’s an outcome Cheney could have expected. Hal Daub, a former Republican congressman from the neighboring state of Nebraska who served in the House with Dick Cheney, said if Liz Cheney believed that the party could “sort of disconnect from Trump,” as she has suggested, “then she’s smoking dope.”

“That’s not reality,” Daub said. “Because his presence as a former president and active, visible Republican is going to help a lot of House members, and it’s going to help a lot of Republicans take back the House.”

In her leadership role, he said, Cheney had an obligation “to toe the party line” as it related to Trump — and say less about their points of disagreement.

The party’s willingness to punish Cheney for not doing so is a major part of Trump’s own legacy. But that endowment — dependent largely on Trump’s whims — is more malleable than the establishment lines the GOP is hacking off in service to him.

Carlson, the former Minnesota governor, has some experience with being banished by the GOP, hung out to dry by his own state GOP for his moderate politics in 2010. In a party that is wholly Trump’s, he said, no legacy — and no politician hoping to create one — is safe.

“What [House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy] doesn’t realize is he may be the next one to go,” Carlson said. “The people who set the guillotines in motion ultimately have their necks under it, as they get into these endless battles about who’s more loyal, who’s more pure.”

Hunger rates plummet after two rounds of stimulus

The percentage of Americans struggling with hunger is now at its lowest level since the pandemic began, suggesting the recent flood in aid from Washington is making a significant difference to families struggling economically.

Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau this week shows the percentage of adults living in households that sometimes or often did not have enough to eat dipped to just over 8 percent late last month, down from nearly 11 percent in March. That is a substantial drop, and it came after hundreds of billions in stimulus checks went out.

“Money helps,” said Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, an economist and director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, who has been tracking hunger rates closely throughout the pandemic. “We’re continuing to see signs of progress. That’s exciting. That’s good news.”

The rate of American adults in households struggling with food is now down more than 40 percent since its peak in December — a fact that Democrats are beginning to tout as proof that hundreds of billions of dollars in direct stimulus is working as intended as they push for another massive package despite growing GOP opposition to more spending.

Republicans have long sought to shrink government aid programs like food stamps, but Democrats see the current crisis as an opportunity to broadly expand the social safety net.

The pandemic marks the first time the federal government has closely tracked in real time how households are faring during an economic crisis. The Census Bureau has been conducting biweekly surveys to probe how Americans are doing on a wide variety of issues, including household debt, missed rent payments and whether they recently went to a food bank.

With all of this data, Washington is learning that if you give people money, they will feed their families.

“I think it shows the wisdom of the rescue plan,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an interview. “This type of support does make a difference. This is a pretty dramatic decrease.”

Republicans have slammed Biden’s plans as the biggest expansion of welfare in a generation. The Heritage Foundation recently pointed out the temporary expanded child tax credits in the American Rescue Plan alone “dwarf” the cost of other sweeping aid programs when they launched, including Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is still known to many as food stamps.

“If the child tax credit expansion is permanently enacted, it would destroy the foundations of welfare reform,” the conservative think tank said recently.

Vilsack, who’s leading USDA for a second time, said he hopes Congress will take note of the recent reduction in hardship and make some of the stepped up aid permanent. He is using the drop in hunger rates to make the case for Biden’s recently unveiled families plan, which would expand universal free meals to more school districts and permanently give all low-income schoolchildren summer meal benefits. It would also extend the child tax credits through 2025.

“Learn from this. Take the lessons from this horrible crisis and let’s figure out how to turn it into something more permanent,” Vilsack said.

While the recent spate of federal aid is clearly a major factor, it’s still too early to know how much of the recent drop in hunger is related to the stimulus payments and stepped up food aid versus how much has been fueled by the improving economy. Economists have found that previous rounds of stimulus checks also led to declines in hunger amid major spikes of unemployment.

Census Bureau data last month showed a significant decline in food insecurity at the same time the government doled out direct deposits or checks to millions of Americans starting in mid- March. The percentage of adults living in households that sometimes or often did not have enough to eat dropped nearly 18 percent in just two weeks.

Data released this week showed more improvement in late April, suggesting the trend is holding.

Two major aid packages have doled out money to millions of Americans in recent months. In December, Congress passed a $900 billion package after months of on-again, off-again negotiations. The deal increased food stamp benefits, authorized $600 stimulus checks for most Americans and renewed unemployment payments for millions.

Then, in March, Congress passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which authorized $1,400 in direct payments, extended unemployment benefits to September and continued the increase in food stamp benefits.

Taken together, Washington has poured unprecedented levels of government aid into low-income households and millions of other households in a short amount of time.

The Biden administration is now looking for ways to permanently bump up nutrition assistance. USDA is reviewing how Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits are calculated — something that hasn’t been done in decades. The review, which Congress requested in the last farm bill, is expected to lead to a permanent increase in benefits.

Officials have said the results could be out as soon as this summer. The department is under pressure to get it done because the current bump in SNAP benefits is set to expire in September.

Throughout the pandemic, research has shown that many Americans are spending their stimulus checks on food and other household expenses.

Last year, the Census Bureau found that the vast majority of adults — 80 percent — who got a stimulus check in the spring spent it on food. The next most common expense: rent, mortgage and/or utilities bills.

A recent analysis by Bankrate.com found more than a third of Americans planned to spend their most recent stimulus check on day-to-day necessities like food and other supplies. Just 13 percent of Americans planned to spend the money on discretionary items like dining out or vacations.

Along with improvements in food security, aid from Washington has also lifted millions of people out of poverty, or kept them from falling into poverty.

One of the most striking things that’s come from having all this near real time data, according to Jim Sullivan, an economist at the University of Notre Dame, is seeing just how much of an effect government aid had on reducing poverty.

Sullivan and his colleagues recently estimated that poverty declined slightly during the first few months of the pandemic after Washington spent trillions on two early aid packages that stepped up unemployment benefits and sent $1,200 checks to millions of Americans, among many other forms of aid. When some of the initial unemployment benefits expired over the summer, poverty rose sharply, even though unemployment fell dramatically.

“There’s a real success story here,” Sullivan said. “The federal response went a really long way to prevent a massive increase in hardship. That’s not to say there weren’t hardships, but it could have been so much worse.”

While the recent trends are encouraging, the rate of food hardship is still considerable. Even with the recent improvement, more than 16 million Americans live in households that report they sometimes or often did not have enough food in the past week.

There are also glaring racial inequities. Black households with children still report more than two and a half times the rate of food hardship compared with white households.

There are still tranches of federal aid that haven’t made it out the door yet to those eligible.

In September, Congress authorized an extension of Pandemic-EBT, a $2 billion-a-month program to give food stamp-like benefits to families with children to help replace the cost of subsidized or free meals missed at school during the pandemic. Eight months into the school year, billions of dollars in aid remains tied up in red tape as states struggle with the logistics of doling out the money, as POLITICO reported last month.

In Tennessee, for example, officials had initially planned to get this assistance out to families in early January. The money finally started going out in April. Still, many families are waiting on the aid, said Signe Anderson, director of nutrition advocacy at Tennessee Justice Center. The group has been getting calls about it in recent weeks.

“Most families have found P-EBT to be extremely helpful to being able to feed their families during the pandemic,” Anderson said. “We’ve heard from parents who have lost jobs, had hours at work cut or had to stop working to be home with their children.”

At this point, many low-income families are owed thousands of dollars in grocery benefits, dating back to the beginning of the school year. The Biden administration recently announced it will extend the program through the summer.

Once that aid gets going in more states, economists expect hunger rates could go down even further in households with children. Last summer, when the program first rolled out, there was a significant decline when states distributed the aid. The program was estimated to lift somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 million children out of hunger.

Child tax credit payments, which the IRS has said could start as early July, could further reduce hunger rates later this year. Those payments come out to be about $250 per child, per month ($300 per child for those under 6 years of age) for six months.

While anti-hunger advocates are extremely encouraged by the recent data suggesting federal aid is working, they are quick to point out that the overall rates of food insecurity remain persistently high in the wealthiest country on earth.

Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, a New York-based nonprofit that advocates for higher wages and more government aid, said recent data shows that the recent stimulus packages and Biden’s policies “have, in fact, reduced U.S. hunger.”

“But we must also be clear that the nation is still suffering from a massive, long-term hunger crisis,” he said.

She built her career boosting GOP women. Now Elise Stefanik is elevating herself

Rep. Elise Stefanik is on the verge of ascending to the House GOP's No. 3 spot thanks in part to a personal mission: boosting other Republican women.

Stefanik’s most visible identity is that of a moderate New York Republican turned Donald Trump acolyte. But she’s also been instrumental in shifting the GOP’s internal culture to prioritize electing more women to its depleted ranks, a gender imbalance she once dubbed a “crisis” for the party. Following a successful 2020 election cycle aided by Stefanik’s PAC dedicated to that mission, Republicans of all ideological stripes view that model as a winning recipe for seizing back the House next year.

Stefanik’s efforts to promote GOP women have not only added to her star power, but also made her particularly appealing to fellow House Republicans as they move closer to replacing embattled Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) in leadership. In fact, Stefanik turns out to have built something of her own base — an impressive 18 of the 30 female candidates endorsed by her Elevate PAC won their races last year, and some are already lining up behind Stefanik as the next House GOP conference chair.

If Stefanik clinches the No. 3 position next week, as is widely expected, Republicans believe they’ll send a message that neutralizes the tricky optics of yanking Cheney from power. It will add new energy to the cause of elevating GOP women, they think, both in the Capitol and at the leadership table.

"She's definitely the reason why we have a record number of Republican women in our conference today,” said freshman Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa), who flipped a crucial swing seat in November. “I wouldn't have been able to build the campaign I needed to in order to win without early support from E-PAC, and her mentorship and her support along the way.”

Hinson, referring to Stefanik’s candidacy for leadership, added that "when I look at her leadership over the past several months since I've been in Congress, I think she's the right person to unify and lead us right now."

Yet even as the party makes real progress in recruiting and electing more women, the squabble over Cheney’s future has exposed the GOP’s still-lingering weaknesses on that front. The reason Republican leaders were intent on replacing Cheney with another female lawmaker is precisely because the party has no other women in positions of power in the House. Leaders also were careful to tap a veteran Republican woman — Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina — to introduce the formal resolution to oust Cheney, another nod to the uncomfortable dynamic of Republicans dumping their highest-ranking woman.

“It's dismaying,” said former Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), who lost reelection in 2018 in a Trump-fueled blue wave. “I think it's sad to be used by the guys in a way like, ‘OK, we get a skirt to replace a skirt.’ And then now they're saying, ‘Oh, Virginia Foxx, you put in the resolution to get Liz to step down.’”

And the party’s decision to purge its chief Trump critic from the leadership ranks — while replacing her with a Trump die-hard who objected to certifying his loss — could also help Democrats tie some of the GOP’s most vulnerable candidates more closely to the ex-president. That's a particular risk in key suburban battlegrounds, where college-educated women fled the party under Trump.

“Nothing puts an exclamation point on the fact that Trump is the litmus test for House leadership than the fact that Elise sought out Trump's endorsement,” Comstock said. She marveled at Stefanik's decision "that she needed to" start her leadership bid by sitting for an interview with "the indicted-pardoned Steve Bannon."

Comstock, who joined Congress at the same time as Stefanik, said her colleague had gone through a transformation: "I don't recognize her and certainly, I'm not the only one who’s said that.”

Stefanik, 36, was elected in 2014, the youngest woman ever to hold a seat in Congress. She came up in politics through the establishment — as a White House staffer for former President George W. Bush and then as a staffer on former Speaker Paul Ryan’s vice-presidential campaign.

To her once moderate, mostly Republican district, she billed herself as a fresh face and solution to the GOP’s struggles at the time, promising to create jobs and stand with small business owners as part of a new generation of lawmakers in Washington. She spent her initial years appealing to rural, blue-collar voters with more conservative stances on taxes, business regulations and gun rights, while being willing to split with the party in areas like LGBTQ rights and environmental debates that affect her district’s ecosystem and tourism hotbed.

But as the Trump era began, New York’s 21st District experienced a rapid transformation. A region that handed Barack Obama a 6-point win became a 14-point Trump seat in just four years.

It was against that backdrop that Stefanik embraced the role of Trump defender, drawing praise from party leaders and piles of campaign cash after sticking up for the then-president during his first House impeachment in 2019. Now, she has Trump’s full-throated backing as the next conference chair — an endorsement as good as gold in today’s House GOP, even as some conservatives grumble over her voting record.

“Elise as conference chair gives political boost in a cycle when Republicans are just a few yards away from the majority,” said New York Republican consultant Bill Cortese. “It’s important to have people to relate to you. If you’re talking about bringing more people in and reaching out to millennials, having a woman who is a millennial holding that position is a really good idea.”

Even as she sprang to party stardom under polarizing circumstances, Stefanik was working on a passion project that earned the respect of her colleagues: electing more GOP women to Congress. She formed E-PAC after a stint as recruitment chair for the National Republican Congressional Committee during the devastating 2018 cycle, when Stefanik said she recruited some 100 women to run for the House but saw only a single new one elected to Congress.

In her post-mortem after the 2018 shellacking, she decided women candidates needed help getting through primaries — something that no Republican group offered at that time. That foray led her into a Twitter spat with then-incoming NRCC Chair Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), since the NRCC notably does not get involved in nomination fights.

But by the time Stefanik officially re-purposed her leadership PAC for her new mandate, GOP leadership joined her at her launch of E-PAC in January 2019. By then Emmer was so excited by the idea of recruiting new House Republican women that he leaked the news that Hinson wanted to run for Congress in northeast Iowa.

In total, the 2020 cycle saw the number of House GOP women grow from 13 to 31, with every new arrival backed by E-PAC. (Other outside groups dedicated to boosting female candidates, like Winning for Women and VIEW Pac, were also major contributors to that effort.)

Stefanik has boosted fellow Republicans in ways that go beyond her PAC. She’s one of the top five Republican earners on WinRed, the GOP’s digital fundraising platform. In addition, she's raised and donated over $2 million to Republican candidates: $1.4 million for women — including for recounts in seats held by Reps. Claudia Tenney and Mariannette Miller-Meeks — and $700,000 for men, a significant sum for a member not in leadership.

It helped that her breakout role in backing Trump during his first impeachment transformed her into a fundraising juggernaut. She raised a seven-figure sum for the sixth consecutive quarter in the first three months of 2021 and has a lucrative email list that includes 30,000 donors, 10,000 of them new ones, with an average contribution size of $25.

That fundraising prowess is a huge asset and selling point as she pitches herself as the new conference chair. And a source close to Stefanik said that once she lands in leadership, “we’re going to blow it up” even more.

Some ultra-conservatives, however, are uneasy that Stefanik has played so aggressively in primary races, which can alienate future colleagues. Yet Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and members of the House Freedom Caucus, have lately grown more comfortable picking sides in primaries.

For the most part, Republicans recognize the benefits of getting involved in races early on. And Stefanik allies say she has zero plans to slow down if she lands in the No. 3 chair.

“If you look at us picking up seats in 2020, of course Kevin McCarthy and Tom Emmer were the architects of that, but Elise Stefanik played a huge role,” said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.), who was actively whipping for Cheney to keep her post in February but is now campaigning for Stefanik.

“Her recruitment of women was key to making sure we have the most women elected in the party ever. That was Elise Stefanik.”

Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.

The Fox News Reporter the White House Hates to Love

It was late March, days before Joe Biden would hold his first formal news conference, and the on-air personalities at Fox News were setting the stage for a titanic collision between the president and the network’s new, 33-year-old White House correspondent.

On the campaign trail, Peter Doocy had emerged as the 24/7 news-and-opinion network’s latest reporting star. At one stop after another, his blond husk of hair and 6-foot-5 frame towering over other reporters, he became known for needling Biden, particularly about his adult son Hunter, whose foibles were being pumped up elsewhere in the Murdoch news empire. Doocy’s father, Steve, is the genial longtime co-host of the morning show “Fox & Friends,” but the son’s style is different — courteous, crisp, oppositional. Often, it’s worked: Doocy got Biden to engage even on sensitive topics that other reporters might be less inclined to bring up.

All the attention landed Doocy a prestigious assignment covering the White House, where he soon positioned himself as the chief foil to the administration in the press room. Early briefings were often marked by crossfire between him and press secretary Jen Psaki — a laconic yet spring-loaded question, followed by Psaki’s smiling and curt replies, the resulting clips soon disseminated by like-smashing Twitter partisans.

Now, as Biden’s first press conference approached, a whole lineup of talent at Fox began rooting openly for the young correspondent. Sean Hannity, on his prime-time program, expressed little faith in the rest of the White House press corps. “I’m not expecting tough questions,” Hannity said, “except maybe Peter Doocy.” The Federalist’s Chris Bedford, appearing on Fox, said, “I’m hoping that [Biden] gets a few hard ones — at least from Peter Doocy.” Brian Kilmeade, another co-host of “Fox & Friends,” told me he was keeping his fingers crossed for Doocy. “I know they have their list” — the names of the reporters White House staffers instruct the president to call on — “but I hope that they’re gonna call on him,” Kilmeade said.

But it didn’t happen. Instead, the date of the press conference arrived, March 25, and over 62 minutes in the East Room of the White House, Doocy looked on eagerly, signaling for Biden’s attention, as the president summoned others.

Almost instantly, Fox — which had more than 3.2 million viewers tuned in to the event — seemed to decide Doocy himself would become the story. “BIDEN SNUBS FOX DURING FIRST NEWS CONF,” one Fox chyron read. On air, Doocy leafed through a thick, black binder he said was full of questions he had prepared for Biden, about everything from his “green jobs” agenda to the origins of Covid-19 in China. “Sorry you didn’t get a question,” Fox anchor Sandra Smith told him. The network’s Dana Perino, a former White House press secretary for George W. Bush, said she would have instructed the president to call on Doocy had she been there. “Why make Peter Doocy a story?” she asked. “Just take his question and move on.” Joe Concha, a media and politics columnist at the Hill and a Fox News contributor, dismissed the whole episode as a disgrace for the press corps and for Biden, whose handlers needed to answer for why they were “so afraid of a rookie White House press correspondent.”

The Fox-getting-ignored subplot finally reached its climax the following afternoon, when Doocy himself pressed Psaki in the James S. Brady briefing room. Arching over a front-row seat, he asked about immigration and the Senate filibuster before arriving at his final question: Is ignoring Fox News official administration policy?

Psaki’s answer was no: She shot back that she was conversing with Fox’s reporter at that very moment. She reminded Doocy that she regularly took questions from him, and that Biden had done so in other settings, too. Fellow reporters in the room knew Biden had skipped over plenty of other big news organizations at the press conference, even the New York Times. Psaki soon moved on to another reporter, though not without complimenting Doocy on his “awesome” argyle socks. The exchange predictably ricocheted around the internet and was featured on Fox.

In one sense, the Doocy saga can be seen as a distillation, in a single reporter, of the challenge facing Fox in the Biden era. Everyone expects the network to be a source of irritation for the new White House, as it was in the Obama years. CEO Lachlan Murdoch recently said ratings would improve as the network became Biden’s “loyal opposition,” borrowing a phrase from European parliamentary politics, which didn’t go unnoticed among Biden’s aides. But Fox also faces some competition for its conservative viewership from the likes of Newsmax and One America News Network, stridently right-wing networks that made a point of questioning the validity of the 2020 election. Fox needs to keep the Trump-friendly, anti-Biden end of its demographic watching, at a time when “opposition” and “loyal” are more often seen as contradictions on the American right — while also protecting its position as a news network with a big reporting outfit. Fox wants a seat in the room, but many of its viewers also want to see a fight.

That conflict is embodied in Doocy: a smooth yet aggressive, social media-savvy correspondent who might feel like a fresh face on TV, yet is indisputably of, by and for Fox.

Jim Acosta, the former CNN White House reporter, embraced a version of this role during the Trump era by jumping into loud, heated sparring matches with Donald Trump and his spokespeople. That isn’t Doocy’s style. He rarely raises his voice. “He’s not yelling at them. He’s not jabbing his finger in the air,” says Bryan Boughton, a senior vice president and Fox’s Washington bureau chief. “He’s presenting a question to answer, and how they choose to respond is totally up to them.” Supporters within Fox also praise him for being willing to challenge an administration they believe most rival outlets show too much deference to, and his colleagues describe him as having an innate sense of what makes a good story on their airwaves.

Doocy himself maintains he’s just a straight news reporter doing his job, which he mostly views as getting officials to say newsworthy things on camera. He even revealed, and a White House official confirmed, that when he’s planning to ask about a story that isn’t leading national news, he runs the topic (though not the question) by Biden’s press aides in advance. Doocy says he genuinely wants to understand the president’s thinking — plus, “I’ll have to get back to you on that,” a common Psaki refrain, doesn’t make for a useful soundbite. Reflecting on the press conference snub, he noted that Biden aides had left Fox off their list of reporters for the president to call on for months, going back to the campaign and the transition. He said it finally felt like the right time to have Psaki answer for that on camera. “There are bigger problems in the world than Fox not getting called on,” Doocy acknowledges. “However, there was an interest just by me in trying to get to the bottom of it.”

But many other media-watchers and TV rivals see his sharp-edged, juxtaposition-heavy questions as veering dangerously into bad-faith trolling. Doocy, these critics charge, is a functionary for an agenda-driven network, and more concerned about personal slights than actual news. Ultimately, they view Doocy’s elevation as a sign of just how partisan Fox, even its more traditional news division, has become. During the Trump years, veteran Fox anchors like Bret Baier and Chris Wallace sought to draw a line between their reporting and the fawning coverage of the network’s opinionators. To Fox’s detractors, Doocy’s style feels more in line with the latter, and it doesn’t help that he’s the son of a network host beloved by Trump.

Within the Biden White House, all this raises the question of how to handle Doocy. Some liberals, including alums of the Obama administration, have publicly pressed Biden’s team to ignore Doocy, arguing that Fox is an arm of the Republican Party, not a serious news outlet, more so than ever before. But there are perhaps more compelling arguments for staying engaged with Doocy that have traction inside the president’s orbit, according to White House aides. For one thing, Biden’s team wants to avoid the combative, disruptive attitude his predecessor took toward the media. They also acknowledge that Peter Doocy is a proxy for a huge audience, or a sizeable slice of it anyway, that still might be reachable with Biden’s message. By engaging with Fox, a president who campaigned on unifying the country stands a better chance of getting through to voters he wants, and ultimately might need.

On a chilly March morning at the Willard hotel café near the White House, Doocy arrived wearing an overcoat and took a seat on the mostly empty patio. He scrolled through his phone and sipped coffee with half and half, pausing between measured answers about his work at Fox. Depending on his shift, he gets up at 4 or 7 a.m., reads emails he missed overnight and scans his note from the Fox “brain room” that includes international headlines and big opinion pieces. He clicks around through show rundowns to see when his TV hits might be. If he’s in the briefing room that day, he starts figuring out what to ask. He arrives at the White House about an hour before he goes on air and does a round of hellos with folks on the grounds.

Anticipating Biden’s big infrastructure push, he had recently picked up Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s latest book, mostly out of curiosity, after getting to know the former mayor a bit during the presidential campaign. He scanned it for inconsistencies or flip flops — a Doocy reporting trait — but he didn’t spot many.

There are two main views of Peter Doocy among people who’ve encountered him in Washington and on the campaign trail. One is that he’s hardworking, serious, with enough reporting heft that he can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with correspondents who’ve covered the White House for decades. The other is that he’s a just a Fox scion — the journalistic equivalent of a legacy admission.

Steve Doocy says he never intended for his son to be a journalist, having urged him to go to law or business school instead. “TV is a very complicated, competitive, tough business,” Steve said recently over Zoom, his home office covered with family photos, Emmy awards and the jackets of his books on fatherhood, marriage and cooking.

But he certainly made his son’s path easier.

Peter is the first child of Steve and Kathy Gerrity, also a TV journalist who had grown up in Southern California and starred in a TV commercial for the Chatty Cathy doll before becoming a model and a sports reporter. Steve, a features reporter from Kansas who had come up in the business as a wacky weatherman in the mold of Willard Scott, followed Roger Ailes from an early 24-hour news channel to Fox News, at first reprising his role as a weatherman before the 1998 debut of “Fox & Friends” — comfort food to wake up to, as Steve describes its early days.

Long before Peter Doocy was on-camera talent for Fox, he was something of a regular on set. Along with sisters Mary and Sally, he often visited the Fox studio in New York to see Steve, meet musicians or get baseballs signed by legends like Roger Clemens and Cal Ripken Jr. He got on-air exposure, too. When he was 7, he and Mary did a story with their dad for “take your child to work day.” “If Al Roker’s kids are watching, my dad can beat up your dad any day,” Peter deadpanned, reading from a script Steve had written.

It was a job at an upscale grocery store near their New Jersey home that forced Peter, a somewhat shy kid, to start opening up more. He “developed that loud voice yelling to the customer service booth: ‘I need a cleanup over in deli!’” Steve says. In 2004, as a rising high school senior, Peter got an internship at Fox, where he appeared on air to read sports highlights with Kilmeade. During one segment, when Kilmeade asked if he was ready, Peter responded, “I was born ready,” his hair forming a straight line across his forehead. “You actually were,” Kilmeade replied. “That’s in the genes.”

Steve was known to celebrate his kids’ birthdays and other milestones on the show, and in 2005 came a family announcement: “Peter Doocy will go to Penn State University!” Peter was accepted at Villanova and ended up going there instead. Steve and Kilmeade still managed to weave him into their broadcasts when the university or the city of Philadelphia was in the news.

Peter’s debut in political TV coverage wasn’t particularly journalistic, but it showed a knack for saying the right thing on camera. During the 2008 presidential race, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews interviewed John McCain at the Villanova campus. When it came time for questions from the audience, Peter, who had just seen a viral photo of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton tipping back a shot of Crown Royal with a bar owner in Indiana, asked McCain whether he thought Clinton had “finally resorted to hitting the sauce just because of some unfavorable polling.” Then Doocy continued: “I was also wondering if you would care to join me for a shot after this?” McCain cackled and later allowed that he enjoyed the college junior’s smart aleck question. (No shots were taken.)

Within hours of the MSNBC town hall, Steve was interviewing his son on “Fox & Friends,” where Peter speculated that Matthews might have recognized his famous last name and described it as a “good moment” for McCain. It turned out even better for the young Doocy. Fox producers asked him to contribute to the network’s 2008 coverage. That summer, he joined his dad at the national conventions, where Steve helped his son produce packages that seemed to embrace the Fox ethos. In Denver, where Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination, Peter did a man-on-the-street piece that quoted young voters talking far more about Obama’s celebrity than his policy ideas. “Could this be the first ‘American Idol’ president?” Peter asked.

He was getting better-known in his own right, to the point that the campaign reports became a target for liberal commentators like Keith Olbermann, who tagged Doocy with his “Worst Person in the World” award, and dubbed the young Fox contributor a “replaceable cog in the vast Rupert Murdoch media manipulation machine.” Peter says he and his friends laughed about it, but the insult upset Steve, who spoke of Peter less like a colleague than a kid with no platform to defend himself. “Next time you see Keith Olbermann on TV, just remember that is a guy who picks on people’s children!” he said on Fox.

Peter was hired by Fox News after graduation and, following stints in New York and Chicago, relocated in 2010 to Washington, where he soon covered Capitol Hill. He recalls feeling pressure to make the whole thing work, especially when he was received warmly by Fox’s news crew and brass, who would look out for him and introduced him to people at happy hours. Chief Washington correspondent Mike Emanuel had Doocy over for Thanksgiving when he was new in town and had the morning shift the next day.

If there were any lingering doubts about his place at Fox, Doocy seemed to allay them when he landed his first major scoop at age 27. He met Robert O’Neill, the Navy SEAL who shot and killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, at an Irish pub in Pentagon City. While O’Neill’s name leaked online, he ended up giving Doocy and Fox his first on-camera interview, which aired in 2014. At the time, it was the most-watched special in Fox’s history, earning Doocy praise inside the network as a serious journalist on the rise.

But as Peter was trying to carve his own lane as a reporter, his dad’s show was becoming more political — and overtly partisan — than ever before. Trump was a superfan of “Fox & Friends,” which relentlessly promoted his presidency, and an even bigger fan of Steve’s. During the 2018 midterms, Peter was on the campaign trail in Elko, Nevada, doing live shots when Air Force One approached. Trump had bantered with father and son at the White House during an impromptu, and lengthy, interview a few months earlier. At the rally, the president scanned the risers, reminiscing about his winning 2016 campaign, and spotted Peter.

“Was that the greatest single political movement in the history of our country?” Trump asked, looking straight at Doocy: “Peter Doocy. The great Peter Doocy,” Trump riffed. “There is no doubt who his father is. Look at him. Peter Doocy. Fox.”

Steve, who happened to be watching live with Gerrity, says he found the whole thing hilarious. Peter also was amused, though he prefers not to have it happen again — “just the once,” he says. For all the Trump attention, Steve, whose personal politics are surprisingly hard to pin down, says that, based on what he’s heard from his son, the association with “Fox & Friends” hasn’t been a problem for him as a reporter. Asked about his own politics, Peter said he hasn’t been registered with a political party since he began at Fox, and that he was a registered Democrat in college.

The younger Doocy doesn’t quibble with the obvious fact that he was a legacy hire at Fox. “I definitely benefited from my dad working at the channel,” he says. (The Doocys are so close that, during our Zoom interview, Steve’s phone pinged incessantly with messages on the “family thread thing.”) But Peter stresses he’s confident he would have ended up working in news regardless. And he insists it’s not favoritism that has kept him working at Fox for more than a dozen years, but his performance — plus his network colleagues.

“It’s kind of like a big family,” Peter says.

It wasn’t really until the 2020 campaign that Peter began to emerge from his dad’s shadow at Fox, developing a new set of supporters, as well as detractors.

When the Democratic primary underway, Peter became the network’s main reporter covering the sprawling field of candidates, and eventually just Biden. Chasing him though Iowa snowstorms and staking out parking lots for hours to put a microphone in front of him, Doocy began to stand out partly for his relentless focus on Hunter, whose business and personal life kept making news, but mostly because of Biden’s reactions — exchanges that often took off on Twitter.

In the runup to the Iowa caucuses, Doocy asked the candidate how many times he had spoken with his son about Hunter’s work on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm. Biden said he hadn’t, then shifted attention to a whistleblower complaint about Trump’s talks with the Ukrainian president. Jabbing an index finger toward Doocy, Biden argued it was Trump who was behind the “smears.”

“Ask the right questions!” Biden bellowed.

After a primary debate in Atlanta in the fall of 2019, Doocy brought up a report that Hunter had fathered a child in Arkansas. Biden called it “a private matter.”

“Only you would ask that,” he snapped at Doocy. “You’re a good man. Classy.”

When Doocy again asked about Hunter at a transition event in December, Biden responded, “God love you, man! You are a one-horse pony.”

Doocy downplays the desire to go viral during the campaign, contending that his busy travel schedule made it hard to keep up with the online reaction to his questions. He attributes the knack for generating buzzy content not only to his parents’ careers, but also to his own news diet growing up: Fox in the mornings, Oprah and other talk shows in the afternoon, Tom Brokaw’s newscasts at night. “I know as a consumer of news since I was a little kid that when things get repetitive, it’s just not interesting to watch,” he says. “We want people who are flipping through to know that, when they see [Biden] answering a question from us, it will be different from what they see everywhere else.”

As he has moved from the more rough-and-tumble campaign world into the bright lights of the White House briefing room, Doocy has focused less on Hunter. But his relentless jousting with the Biden administration has drawn more criticism from the left and even from some journalists at other networks. They view his approach as intentionally provocative, in service of his own image and the network’s, as Fox tries to make its oppositional stance clear.

“Doocy has Fox’s back, and Fox has Doocy’s back,” says Frank Sesno, the former Washington Bureau Chief at CNN who later directed the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University. “And if he wants to be a gadfly and a provocateur, and if Fox is going to give him traction and proudly point to ‘I-told-you-so’ questions, well, it will probably be something that works for him, at least at the outset.”

In the scaled down briefing room, where most seats remain empty because of coronavirus safety protocols, Doocy switches off with colleague Kristin Fisher in the Fox seat. So far, he has tangled with Psaki over a long list of culture war topics, along with jobs and immigration. He wanted to know why Biden wasn’t wearing a mask “at all times” at inauguration festivities. When fossil fuel industry workers losing their jobs would be able to get their promised “green jobs.” Whether the White House considers it a compliment that Mexico’s president said people coming into the United States right now see Biden as the “migrant president.” Whether the Biden administration has a “message problem” at the border. And whether the White House was concerned that Major League Baseball was moving its all-star game to Colorado from Georgia, when, he said, the voting laws in the two states are similar. Recently, Doocy asked about a New York Post article claiming that migrant children crossing the border were receiving Vice President Kamala Harris’ kids’ book in “welcome kits.” The story was soon debunked.

The Obama alums from “Pod Save America” have called for a blanket ban on Doocy questions, and suggested Psaki was probably showing Fox too much regard. Olbermann, too, has gotten his licks in on Twitter. Oliver Darcy, senior media reporter at CNN, says he thinks Doocy has less in common with a conventional network White House correspondent — like, say, John Roberts who proceeded Doocy in the role and now co-hosts a midday show on Fox — and is more closely aligned with the kind of reporter that a conservative news website would be expected to send to the White House, or Fox’s opinion personalities.

“Doocy’s line of questioning fits neatly into the messaging pushed by Fox’s conservative newscasts and propagandistic primetime shows,” Darcy told me. “If you want to predict what he will ask, take a listen to what the hot-button issues are on Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity’s shows. That would likely be a good indicator.”

Roberts, a co-anchor of Fox’s “America Reports,” says Doocy’s role is to “speak truth to power.” “When you do that, which he does regularly, it doesn’t always go over well in some circles,” Roberts says, adding he thinks Doocy is “doing a solid job in his new position.” Kilmeade, the “Fox & Friends” co-host, also defends Doocy’s approach in the briefing room. “He’s not showboating. He actually just wants the answers to tell a better story.”

Ari Fleischer, a press secretary under George W. Bush and now a contributor to Fox, adds, “My advice to the White House would be: Treat Fox as the canary in the coal mine, because eventually, the others are going to catch up with Fox,” pointing to issues Doocy has quizzed Psaki on before they gained wider attention.

Within the Biden team, there are mixed opinions about how to handle Doocy and Fox. The White House declined to comment for this article, in part because officials said they preferred not to focus on the work of a single reporter, but a handful of administration aides spoke on the condition of anonymity. Some who worked on the presidential campaign say they still feel frosty about the network’s treatment of Biden. They don’t like Fox’s intense focus on Hunter, or its general attitude toward Democrats.

Still, administration officials engage with Fox and its news reporters, including Doocy. Cabinet members and senior officials have been guests on Fox shows, with Chris Wallace’s Sunday program emerging as a favorite among the administration.

“It’s an audience we need to reach,” a Biden official conceded, a position others echoed.

Nor do White House officials necessarily think Doocy is trying to embarrass them with off-the-wall questions. They see him as playing a role for his network. He’s a Fox “personality,” as another Biden aide put it to me, albeit from the more buttoned-up news side.

Biden, meanwhile, seems to enjoy and even encourage the give-and-take. His animated answers to Doocy play against the stereotype of him as a staid, grandfatherly figure, while reinforcing his reputation as a fiercely loyal father. Twice, in response to a question from Doocy — about whom Biden had picked as his running-mate and what he had talked about on a call with Russia’s Vladimir Putin — Biden retorted: “You.” On one of his first days in office, when Doocy shouted a question as aides were herding reporters out of a room, Biden told them all to wait. “I know he always asks me tough questions, and [they] always have an edge to them. But I like him anyway,” the president said. He urged Doocy to ask.

It seems impossible to imagine Biden doing an interview with a Fox prime-time opinion host, as Obama did when he sat down with Bill O’Reilly during the 2014 Super Bowl. But, overall, despite Doocy’s persistent provocation, the Biden White House has taken a more conciliatory approach to Fox in the early months, compared with the Obama administration. After the network’s false reports about Obama’s birthplace and education, Obama White House aides moved to block its reporters from asking questions of officials and at news briefings. Journalists at other outlets objected, and over time administration officials decided to place surrogates on the Fox shows that reached more independents.

“But by that point of the administration, there was no big battle to be won or lost with the network. It was just a pervasive naysayer nipping at our heels,” says Ben LaBolt, Obama’s 2012 campaign press secretary.

The Biden team has continued to engage, even if Psaki, perhaps calculating that the back-and-forth can be mutually beneficial, has begun to try out different tactics when fielding pointed questions from Doocy. She has tasked him with reading entire quotes to provide fuller context, if not rejecting the premises of his questions outright. In response to Doocy’s MLB question, she noted that Colorado has universal mail-in voting and same-day registration and said Georgia’s new law was “built on a lie” about fraud in the 2020 election. “Jen Psaki Stuffs Fox News’ Peter Doocy in Metaphorical Locker During White House Press Briefing,” read Vanity Fair’s headline, one of several to capture the exchange.

Doocy disputes the characterization of his job as one big troll, citing instances where he has asked Republicans uncomfortable questions. “If a partisan likes one side or the other, and their person or their side might be exposed, I think that does make some people nervous,” he says. “I’m not going to change the way that I do it, though.”

He dodged a question about whether the Biden administration is more honest than Trump’s. “I never really dealt with …” Doocy trailed off. “Too early,” he continued. “I think that’s something where you can weigh it at the end.”

Lately, he has been upbeat about his relationship with Psaki and the press shop. Since Biden’s late March press conference, Doocy managed to shout a few questions directly to the president while on duty at the White House. He mostly has stopped tweeting. He says it was taking too long to compose even brief messages. It also makes it easier to ignore the online peanut gallery.

He doesn’t know exactly what’s next for him, offering that it’s anyone’s guess what the TV news business will look like in a few years, let alone decades. Steve and others at the network, including producer Pat Ward, who spent hundreds of hours on the road with Peter, say the younger Doocy doesn’t talk about his career plans. He does, however, have role models at Fox, singling out Baier, a former White House correspondent himself who now anchors his own nightly newscast.

For now, Doocy wants to be reporting from the White House for as long as he can, and he doesn’t aspire to do it at any other network.

“I can’t see myself going anywhere else,” he says.

In fact, he’s now even more a part of the Fox family: In April, he married Hillary Vaughn, a correspondent for Fox Business. His dad was the best man, delivering a speech and writing a poem for the big day, a Doocy tradition. The family announcement was made — how else? — by a beaming Steve upon his return to the “Fox & Friends” set.

Opinion | Facebook Thought It Was Solving a Problem. It Just Got Handed A Bigger One.

The long-awaited decision on Donald Trump by Facebook’s independent oversight board turned out to be just a passing of the buck. The board, an entity set up by Facebook in 2020 to review disputed content moderation decisions selected by the company and submitted by the public, handed down its highest-profile judgment on Wednesday, agreeing to keep President Donald Trump off the social media platform, but it kicked the ultimate decision back to the company, criticizing the original “indefinite” suspension as arbitrary and demanding that Facebook revisit it within six months.

For Trump critics, it may be a temporary relief to see Trump denied a platform. The board’s decision—which came after a lengthy public comment period during which it received more than 9,000 submissions from all over the world—deserves credit for its attention to human rights principles. It also notably cut against what Facebook executives have stated in the past, arguing that “heads of state and other high officials of government can have a greater power to cause harm than other people.”

And yet, with Trump’s ban upheld, the oversight board sent a message to Facebook that its rules ought to be enforced across the board, even and perhaps especially when broken by world leaders. The decision also makes clear that it’s time for Facebook to contend more seriously with its own policies and supposed values.

For the past decade, I’ve studied the impact of what I refer to as “platform censorship”—that is, the effect that Silicon Valley’s tech platforms have on our free expression. I know, of course, that it is well within the platforms’ First Amendment right to curate their own spaces as they see fit and that Section 230 of the U.S. Code protects these companies from liability for what they choose to leave up or take down. From a purely American legal perspective, this is not censorship.

But in a functional, working sense, it is a kind of censorship. Facebook plays host to around 2.7 billion users—more than twice the population of China—and owns numerous entities across the web, including Instagram and WhatsApp, all of which makes it a formidable authority over the world’s expression. Turning over power to an unaccountable entity to restrict what we can say or what information we can access sure feels like censorship, especially when its reach extends beyond the U.S.

The company regularly denies, sometimes permanently, a voice to all kinds of people—from ordinary users to political activists—with little fanfare and few consequences. Rarely do these individuals have the opportunity to appeal to a person, much less a board, even when the decision is made in error. The effect of such decisions should not be underestimated: For better or worse, Facebook and its products are core to how many people around the world experience the internet. Losing access can deeply affect one’s ability to communicate with others or stay in touch with distant friends and family, and it can even have professionally devastating consequences.

It’s important to note that Trump’s ban is not the first time that a social media company has denied access to a politician—prior examples include Twitter removing white supremacist congressional candidate Paul Nehlen, Facebook blocking the accounts of top Burmese military brass who engaged in hate speech against the Rohingya community, and temporarily suspending Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro. Until now, the company has frequently acted in favor of authoritarian states over the needs and rights of the people all over the world, on the grounds that keeping its product available to all is more important than taking a principled stance on freedom of expression.

In recent years, a growing divide has emerged between those who want these platforms to engage in more content moderation, and those who believe that companies should take a step back. While in the U.S., this has often been presented as a partisan struggle, it is in fact one that crosses all kinds of borders and boundaries and lays bare the notion that it’s time to rethink speech governance for the 21st century.

Since the advent of the commercial web, the status quo has been a hodgepodge of U.S. law and self-regulatory practices (based on U.S. speech norms) to which the entire world is subject. But this balance has never worked; an international platform like Facebook needs to take into account the needs of its worldwide user base. This means relying on existing international standards—codified in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—and taking into account the changing global landscape and needs of its users through a process of truly inclusive policymaking.

This is, of course, why the oversight board was created, and thus far, the board has demonstrated itself to be a strong corrective force for a company that has always put profit before people—and for that matter, before principles.

And yet, we should take care not to see the oversight board as the ultimate answer to these questions. We need to think about what it means, more broadly, to give corporations this much power over state leaders and elected officials. The rules regarding what we can say and what information we can access are no longer a creation “of the people” but the decisions of an unelected few.

So while the oversight board rightfully acknowledges the complexity of the Trump case, argues for the consistent application of the rules to all users, and acknowledges that speech from public figures has a greater impact than that of ordinary individuals—things civil society has long argued—it remains a stopgap measure at a time when the company can’t be trusted to act responsibly. Real progress will occur only when Facebook takes human rights into account throughout the entirety of its operations.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms not seeking reelection

ATLANTA — Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced Thursday she will not seek a second term, an election-year surprise that marks a sharp turnabout for the city’s second Black woman executive who months ago was among those President Joe Biden considered for his running mate.

Bottoms, 51, disclosed her decision publicly in a lengthy open letter and accompanying video Thursday night after having told family and a close circle of associates and supporters.

“It is with deep emotions that I hold my head high and choose not to seek another term as mayor,” Bottoms wrote, saying she’d prayed over the decision with her husband, Derek, an executive at The Home Depot.

Bottoms, who narrowly won a runoff election four years ago, pushed backed against any questions about whether she could have secured a second victory later this year. She noted a re-election fundraiser she held with Biden and said polls showed her in a strong position.

“‘Is she afraid of the competition?’ NEVER,” Bottoms wrote.

Bottoms’ tenure has been a mix of rough-and-tumble City Hall politics and an ever-brightening national spotlight for her beyond the city. She was among Biden’s earliest endorsers and watched her profile rise early during the coronavirus pandemic and the renewed attention on policing in the United States after George Floyd’s killing by a white Minneapolis officer last spring.

She drew plaudits for a nationally televised news conference in which she chided protesters to “go home” while noting her own experiences as a mother of Black sons to empathize with citizens distraught over police violence.

Bottoms became the focus of criticism herself weeks later when an Atlanta police officer shot and killed Rayshard Brooks. The officer, Garrett Rolfe, was fired last June, a day after he shot the Black man in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. Rolfe was later charged with murder.

But the Atlanta Civil Service Board on Wednesday reversed the firing, finding that the city did follow its own procedures and failed to grant Rolfe due process. Bottoms said then that Rolfe would remain on administrative leave while criminal charges against him are resolved.

The mayor did not mention Floyd or Brooks in her announcement letter, alluding only “social justice movement (that) took over our streets ... and we persisted.”

Federal appeals court overturns conviction of former Rep. Corrine Brown

TALLAHASSEE — A divided federal appeals court late Thursday overturned the conviction of former Rep. Corrine Brown, ruling that a judge was wrong to remove a juror in her trial who said the “Holy Spirit” told him Brown was not guilty.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in a 7-4 decision said that Brown, who was found guilty in 2017 on 18 felony counts connected to using a phony charity as a personal slush fund, deserved a new trial on the corruption charges.

The former Democratic congresswoman from Jacksonville, who had been in office for more than two decades, had lost her bid for reelection the previous year after her seat was dramatically altered following a long-running legal battle over redistricting.

Chief Judge William Pryor, writing for the majority, said the decision of a district judge to remove the juror after deliberations had already begun in the trial was wrong because there was no evidence that the juror had engaged in misconduct or would have ultimately held out against a conviction.

“Corrine Brown was entitled to the unanimous verdict of a jury of ordinary citizens,” Pryor wrote. “The removal of Juror No. 13—a juror who listened for God’s guidance as he sat in judgment of Brown and deliberated over the evidence against her—deprived her of one.”

Judge Charles Wilson, in a dissenting opinion, said the appeals court should not have overruled the district judge who talked directly to the juror before making the decision to remove him.

“The majority casts the district court’s decision as misconstruing religious expression while failing to safeguard the right to a unanimous jury verdict. On this record, I cannot agree,” wrote Wilson. “The decision to remove Juror No. 13 was a tough call, and one the district court did not take lightly. But from the district court’s superior vantage point, it was necessary to ensure that a verdict was rendered based on the law and evidence—a principle that is foundational to our system of justice.”

Brown, whose political career began in the Florida Legislature, was famed for her clout and ability to motivate voters in her district.

Her district for years had stretched from Jacksonville to Orlando and included various minority neighborhoods in between. But after a lengthy legal battle, the Florida Supreme Court in 2015 approved new congressional districts that shifted her district westward from Duval County all the way to Gadsden County west of the state capital.

Brown challenged the new district in federal court, but after losing the battle, she ran for reelection.

With her corruption trial looming at the time, Rep. Al Lawson, a former state senator from Tallahassee, defeated Brown in the Democratic primary and has held the seat since then.

Brown was sentenced to five years, but she was released from prison last year during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit upheld her conviction in January 2020, but the full court decided to take up the case.